In days gone by it was a popular cry for mediums when attempting to conjure the spirits of the deceased to ask: ‘is there anybody there?’ (for older readers think Margaret Rutherford in Blythe Spirit). The same phrase seems to have found its way into the lexicon of the state in recent weeks as it attempts to mop up the strays and slackers who have failed to return their census forms. An army of civil servants have been annoying people around the UK who have forgotten to fill in their forms.
As anarcho-syndicalists we are often placed in highly contradictory positions with regard to the state as the current anti-cuts campaign illustrates. We support public services but not in the manner in which they have been delivered under the welfare state. But to make such criticisms, in a time when said services are under attack by a Government eager to open them up to businesses to profit from, leaves us open to the charge of being anti-public services.
Indeed, we live in an age where the state is, arguably, not the biggest threat to our existence when compared with the power of financial capital and the world’s leading corporations to control our lives (leaving aside environmental issues). However, the state is always ready to bare its fangs when necessary and so when the census man knocked on our door, not once, but twice, it was to cheerily inform us that if we didn’t complete the survey we would be fined up to £1000. Maybe.
On balance I am inclined to believe him. The State loves to kick people who they think can’t fight back; even if the rewards are not much it sends out a message that dissent is not to be tolerated. Whilst the state will not pay civil servants to go round knocking on people’s doors to make sure that they have received all of the welfare benefits that they are entitled to – ‘if we can be of any help you have only to ask’ – it will pay them to go round and intimidate people into filling in their census forms. The census has played an important role in the history of the British state, providing it with the raw data it needs to plan for public service provision over the next ten years. In theory. Given the current governments commitment to the destruction of our public services one assumes that the data is really for the benefit of the private companies that they want to take them over.
A society that was built around anarcho-syndicalist principles would, of course need similar data in order to guarantee that people’s needs were met but the data would not be gathered and controlled in a centralised and unaccountable way. And that point illustrates precisely the failure of the British state even when judged on its own terms. It has been recording information on individuals since 1841 with a view to planning for the provision of public services. Long enough, you might think, to get it sorted, if they were inclined to do so. But as we know it won’t happen because our society is not built upon satisfying people’s needs but instead is built upon the power of the state to dominate us and of capital to exploit us. So remember, when the census man rings not once, but twice, he is not just an irritant, he is part of a long and no doubt proud tradition of state failure (or failed state’s) that is as far away as ever from delivering what people need.