EVERYONE who speaks on the subject of anarchism meets the ever-recurring question, ‘But in a social condition of anarchy, who will clean out the sewers?’ There are variants of the question; sometimes the enquiry concerns those who will do the hardest work or the dirtiest work, but generally the sewers are mentioned specifically. It would seem that everyone wants to be sure that he will not have to work in the sewers in a free society. Perhaps the capitalist and authoritarian status quo derives the apathetic support it does conditional on the fact that only a tiny fraction of the working-class are economically forced to work in the sewers. I have had no contact with sewer-workers myself; perhaps, not having had the usual bogey before them, they are unafraid of the coming social revolution, for, after all, they work in the sewers, anyway.
I have for many years evaded this haunting question when speaking to public audiences, for I am convinced that the real motive that prompts it must be left to the psychoanalysts, who could tell us quite a lot about the basis of this sewer-dread in the unconscious mind. I feel that sense of embarrassment that we all feel when we are in danger of unearthing someone else’s pet neurosis. However, I am now prepared to treat the question, in print, as though it were a rational one. (more…)