Saturday, December 11, 2010

THEY CAN'T EXTINGUISH THE FIRE - Leaflet on recent events from PastTense

The outbreaks of rebellion on November 10th/24th,  and the (right royal) fun on December 9th gave us all a boost – there’s nothing like rioting to warm up a chilly winter. Hopefully the demolition of Millbank, the tugs of war with the police and the attacks on government buildings and random royals, as well as the wildfire of college occupations around the country are just the opening round, not only for the students, but for the rest of us facing grim years of cuts, losing our jobs, homes or services… Can we look forward to defiance of the austerity program spreading to public sector workers, council tenants, and beyond?

So far many local or not so local anti-cuts campaigns have sprung up to try to work together to resist. The writers of this leaflet have been involved in anti-cuts campaigns before. For years, in fact three decades, each Spring seemed to bring new rounds of threats to this service or that community centre in our localities.


Chapter 4


IN the days before the War - the romantic period of revolutionary oratory - Socialist speakers wore soft felt hats and red ties. Anderson conformed to this custom. He had, too, a well-shaped head, a good broad forehead crowned with a mass of curly hair and a slight cast in one of his eyes which gave them a fine rolling frenzy on the platform. He had energy, audacity and tireless­ness in attack. He would leap on to the platform and challenge all corners. And he was ready to leap on to his opponent's platform, too. Whether he loved Socialism or his own voice best perhaps he himself could not have told us, but if estab­lished society could have fallen before oratory, I am sure Anderson would have brought it down. He could talk all day - in fact, he did spend most of his Sundays talking - and remain fresh, ener­getic and interesting. On Sunday morning he held his meeting at West Green Corner. In the afternoon, snatching a scrappy meal, he went on to Finsbury Park. Here he occupied a disused bandstand around which the people flocked to listen. After buying cakes and tea at the Park restaurant, he took the tram back to West Green Corner and spellbound an audience until mid­night, or even later, when a small dazed group would stumble away convinced that they had assisted in striking thundering blows at the edifice of Capitalism. During his oratory he refreshed himself with long drinks from a lemonade bottle, its gassy sharpness making him hoarse or thin­ning his voice to a husky whisper, but he would talk on until his throat eased again.
     I could not resist these avalanches of oratory, especially as Anderson gave expression to all those feelings of resentment and bitterness which I could not put into words. My only regret was that I had to be up so

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

ANTIGONE in VICTORIAN ENGLAND - Helen Macfarlane, Revolutionary and Feminist in the Year 1850. By David Black

The Divine Idea of Liberty
 Following the overthrow of Louis Philippe in France in February 1848, the tide of Revolution reached Austria within weeks. In March, the citizens of Vienna overthrew the government of Prince Metternich and forced Emperor Ferdinand to concede a representative Diet and a new constitution. But the Hapsburgs played for time and struck back. In October, Field Marshall Windischgratz’s troops stormed the city and restored the status quo. A new Emperor, Franz Joseph, annulled the constitution. In Hungary however, the imperial army was driven out and independence was declared. Here, counter-revolution required outside help, and this was provided by Czar Nicholas I under the terms of the Holy Alliance. Russian troops invaded Hungary and restored Hapsburg rule. Afterwards, Windischgratz’s successor, Field Marshall Von Haynau, unleashed his own troops on the defeated Hungarian population in an orgy of reprisals.
            Present in Vienna in 1848 was a British woman called Helen Macfarlane, then about 30 years old. The experience of Revolution and ensuing Counter-Revolution had a profound effect on her. When she


Chapter 3


From the workshop gate I could see, at the corner of the street, a big stone cross - the High Cross, a relic of the days of chivalry. I thought it marked a stage of the journey taken by the funeral procession of Queen Eleanor in 1290. The story of how she had sucked the poison from a dagger wound inflicted by a Moor upon her husband, King Edward, when he was crusading in the Holy Land was one of the romances of my school­days. Afterwards I learned that this was not one of those famous crosses, yet it held for me the glory and thrill of romantic history.
    Though not so fine as Charing Cross or Waltham Cross it still raised itself to the sky with a proud gesture as if the men who made it said, " We are not so little after all! " My eyes rested gratefully on the delicate stone traceries of the High Cross in those early misty mornings when I hurried by it to work. Almost opposite the High Cross above a shop - which may have been a saddler's - was the skeleton of a horse, propped up with iron supports against the sky. The wind whistled through its unprotected ribs and made play around its knobbly knees. It looked in­credibly mournful and desolate. As a decoration I preferred the medieval cross with its suggestion of beauty and dignity, but as an introduction to an age of realism perhaps the bony skeleton was more fitting. Alas! the age of realism proved too much for its symbol, for the bony skeleton has long since vanished while the High Cross still celebrates the triumph of human hands and minds.


 Chapter 2


I soon slipped into the life of the workshop, extracting interest and amusement, as well as enduring boredom. Up in the woodwork shop we boiled cans of tea at breakfast time on the gas jet used for heating glue, and sometimes we fried sausages. Reid, a thick-set, clumsy young man, who was the workshop humorist, gained general applause one morning by cleaning the greasy frying-pan on his mop of hair. Another jest of his was to pour out grey paint from a bucket on to the newly made wooden shutters, then-instead of a paintbrush - he seized a broom and painted vigorously.
     I wore a leather apron now - black and shiny with oil - and with my sleeves rolled up, I ran every morning to the corner shop for "a penny tin of skim milk" for our workshop breakfast. The grocer asked me one morning if it had to be "skim," but I saw no humour in this. About five-thirty a.m., on my way to work, I would buy hot cheese cakes fresh from the oven for a half­penny at a coffee stall. Another halfpenny would buy a cup of hot tea. Thus fortified, the sleepy desolation of my morning journey gave way to a sense of well-being.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What is libertarian history?

A differently formatted and illustrated version of this (half) article is published in
Black Flag, Issue 232, 2010/11, pp.28-29, under the title ‘The history of history itself.’
Part 2 is due to appear in the next issue of Black Flag in May 2011 (watch this space).

There are a number of historical contexts which might be expected to attract a libertarian historian looking for a research topic, those times when significant numbers of people did appear to be acting collectively to take control of their lives and inaugurate a fairer, non-authoritarian form of society: the Paris Commune of 1871, workers’ councils in the Russian Revolution, Spain 1936-37, and Hungary 1956 spring to mind. A lot of good work has been done on these and there is room for plenty more, not only to draw the lessons – that what was achieved once could be possible again; what went wrong and why – but as a corrective to the disinformative history that the opponents of libertarianism tend to propagate. In the case of Spain, there are still books being produced which manage almost entirely to ‘disappear’ the anarchists. 
Hungary Revolution 1956

It has been well observed that history is written by the winners, and libertarians have not won in the long run (yet), although the proposition is less tenable now that your actual working historians are a comparatively large and varied set of people and many amateurs have access to a range of resources for research and communication. Historians of medicine sometimes tell the story of the brain surgeon who said ‘I think I’ll take up history when I retire’ to a historian, who replied ‘Good idea. I’m retiring soon too, maybe I should take up brain surgery!’ It doesn’t quite work, though: while taking the point that history can claim to be a serious occupation rather than a hobby and a bit of study and training in techniques is likely to be useful, it isn’t really rocket science, or brain surgery, and there is some sense in the idea that anyone  can decide to do it. This article will look at some ways in which it has been done, and at some of those who have done it, and consider whether a case can be made for a distinctive libertarian contribution to the theory of the subject as well as to its content.

Book Review - Who Do You Workers Think You Are?

Mark Crail, Tracing Your Labour Movement Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. Barnsley, Pen & Sword Books, 2009. 176pp, £12.99 pbk. (Or try public libraries around shelf-mark 929.107, or in the family history section)
You don’t have to be a celebrity or a distant descendant of aristos, royalty or other dodgy characters to stand a good chance of finding some interesting twigs on your family tree. This small information-packed volume indicates some of the directions enquiries may lead in if there is, for example, a trade-unionist, Chartist, or Co-op supporter among the ancestors, and how they might be followed up. It includes many illustrations from the author’s own collection of labour movement memorabilia, showing that his knowledge of the subject is more than academic.
Great Dock Strike 1889

Unfortunately for libertarians, bureaucratic organisations tend to keep and preserve better records, and it is inevitably the mainstream movement that gets most attention here. Then again, few of us can expect to have an impeccably anti-authoritarian pedigree, and at least in the chapters on the historical context, a substantial part of the book, the author includes a lot more than the obvious big players. The Great (syndicalist) Unrest of 1911-12 is mentioned along with other episodes of intensified industrial struggle, including the two world wars, and not forgetting the state’s repressive response. For some researchers, police (special branch) files and prison records may therefore be a fruitful source.

Some smaller organisations are briefly described including sundry Trotskyists, the Co-op Party, and Common Wealth which Crail says took a ‘libertarian socialist stance’.  He doesn’t go so far as to give anarchists as such a look in, but anyway as he points out with reference to other groups, those who are openly up against the law are not likely to keep too many personal details written down. Here too the reports of their watchers in the good old National Archives may be helpful.

Altogether there are many useful pointers to help in the continuing work of uncovering hidden history, in addition to and beyond the family, not only of struggle but of workers’ lives and constructive action.

October 2010

VISIT - Phoenix cinema celebrates 100 years

Wednesday   10   November   at  8 pm,   first floor bar

The Phoenix Cinema, 52 High  Road, East Finchley, N2 9PJ

This year the  Phoenix , one of the old cinemas in Britain, is celebrating  its 100th birthday. Its architectural features alone are outstanding.  Come and join us while we celebrate with an appreciation.

The invention of the cinema is one of the signposts of the modern  era. Previously culture meant either trips to the theatre [ the cost !]  or to the rowdy music halls, which have their virtues  but even applied art is not  one of them.  The cinema opened up a whole new world  to which even people born and brought up like Charlie Chaplin, from the London workhouse,  were able to contribute and make their own distinctive mark.

America of course was the home of this startling new medium but it was not long before the long arms of capitalist enterprise engulfed it . Over time various artists have attempts  to establish a degree of professional autonomy . Many were sympathetic to, or actually joined, the communists, more as a sign of resistance than to signify ideological commitment. McCarthy did his best to eradicate that.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Published in 1937, Smoky Crusade by R M Fox is the autobiography of a socialist, anti-imperialist and supporter of the the Irish national revolution whose teenage years were spent in Tottenham. The Radical History Network is republishing those chapters of his autobiography that cover his early years and also his fight against the First World War.


On my fourteenth birthday I left a London elementary school and was flung into industrial life, or, to be exact, I left on Friday and was fourteen on Monday. There was nothing unusual about this, most of the boys at school followed that custom. I do not know what became of any after the school door closed on them and me, except one, whom I met some years later in prison. He recalled himself to my memory. I was then working in the prison kitchen.
    "I was at school with you - poke us a bit of pudden through the window!" he muttered urgently from outside. The others called him my college chum.
    When I left the red-brick building called the Lancastrian School, whose bell at the end of the street had so often hastened my morning toilet, I was anxious to find work and make my way in the world. I was very vague about how to do this. For although I took a vivid and romantic interest in the world around me I had no definite, practical aim. In any case I had to find a job whatever was open. It was not for me to choose.
I went to see an estate agent who advertised for a boy in his office. He was a most gentlemanly man, with

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The variously radical life of Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst

(Estelle) Sylvia Pankhurst
5 May 1882 to 27 September 1960

September 2010 brings the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Sylvia Pankhurst. Her surname is inevitably associated first and foremost with the Suffragette movement, the militant campaign for votes for women in the early 20th century, and she was certainly active and prominent in that, repeatedly risking health and liberty in the cause. But her determination to act on her principles led her into involvement in many other areas of equal or more interest to radical historians, including syndicalism, anarchism, soviet communism, peace campaigning and anti-fascism.


Sylvia Pankhurst grew up in the early stages of the British political labour movement, in a household on close terms with some of its key elements – Fabians, Independent Labour Party (ILP) – and stood by the ideas she absorbed. Eventually she was to take them much further, and in rather different directions. She became a close friend of Keir Hardie, whom she called in an obituary (1915) the ‘greatest human being of our time’.
In 1907 she undertook a tour of parts of Britain, with the aim of making a visual record in paintings of working women; she had given up her studies in art to work for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Despite her social awareness she was not prepared for the scenes of hardship she found and heard about from the women themselves: in industry - pit-brow, textiles, potteries; on quays packing and gutting North Sea herring; doing agricultural labour in Berwickshire.

A few years later her travels extended to the USA, in the first three months of 1911and 1912, primarily for the suffrage movement but not confined to that. She noted the ‘squalid poverty’ of new immigrants in the ‘nightmare industrialisation’ of Pittsburgh, incurred hostile criticism by agreeing to speak at the Negro University of Tennessee, and Insisted on seeing prisons, as well as Nashville sawmills and a blanket factory. Such observations confirmed her misgivings about single-issue politics and elitism.
Nevertheless in 1913-14 Sylvia the Suffragette was arrested numerous times and suffered the torture of forcible feeding under the notorious ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act. She continued to speak and work for the WSPU, but was against the sort of ‘stealthy act of destruction’ (arson) ordered by her sister Christabel.

Tottenham 100 years ago; R M Fox's autobiography

Wednesday   13 October   at 8 pm

Meetings venue; The Postmen's Office; at the North London Community House, 22 Moorefield Road, London, N17 (The old Post Office). The venue is just around the corner from Bruce Grove British Rail Station, where Bruce Grove meets the High Road in Tottenham. Wheelchair accessible. Any High Road bus is OK 

Richard Michael Fox - more commonly known as R M Fox - was brought up in Tottenham and went on to become an 'Influential Irish Historian'.  We shall be examining his autobiography 'Smokey Crusade'. R M Fox lived in Bruce Castle Road, attended the Lancastrian primary school on the Roundway, N17, and worked in several local  factories, mainly in the Tottenham Marshes area; and they were 'marshes' in those days. His life can be divided into sections
* Working in Tottenham area factories up to 1912;
* Working around  London and active in the socialist and anti-war movement pre-WW1;
* Anti-war work after 1914, street corner meetings, court martial and prison, released 1919;
* Trade union student at Ruskin College, Oxford, visits to Russia, Germany and Ireland, as a journalist, the  move to Ireland, marriage, and a career as writer and academic.

We are concerned with his first 30 years and can look at three main themes in his book:
1.    Industrial work. He slaved away  for some years in various small plants then some big, organised ones. The original JAP motor cycle engine which eventually moved to Northumberland Park Road, then a sweat-shop on the marshes  and lastly in a  massive plant just over the border into Walthamstow. He worked as a machine operator, often on shifts and subject to the cut backs and the sack. This was the age of Taylorism as described in the mis-titled 'Sabotage', (see Brown below in further reading).  Fox read as he could and later wrote a book on 'Factory Echoes'.  Outside work he was become active socialist and he was a keen union member.  Later, he also lived and worked for a period in Woolwich.

Radical History Network at the Anarchist Bookfair - 23 October

3pm to 3.50pm - Room EB2

Discovering hidden history - Radical History at the Anarchist Bookfair

Those who have seized ownership and control of the resources of society are also very keen to control what goes on in our heads, so a big part of radical history's agenda  is finding examples of resistance that the authorities have kept hidden. In the meeting we look at two examples (1) Joe Jacobs who lived in the East End of London, a political activist and organiser for 40 years, who had fought Moseley's fascists in 1936. And (2)  Walter Conway, who from humble beginnings, was the main organiser for hospital medical services for ordinary people in Tredegar, South Wales, before the advent of the National Health Service.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

MEETING - RaHN - Autumn Programme

To all our friends and supporters RaHN is holding a meeting to organise our Autumn programme. 8pm Wednesday 8 September at the Tollgate Pub, Turnpike Lane, near Turnpike Lane Tube Station. Come along with your ideas.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Women in the Spanish Revolution by Liz Willis

Originally published by the London Solidarity group in 1975 as Pamphlet No.48
This text utilised the version at (accessed 29/7/10) with some changes to details of formatting and numerous corrections to misprints/mis-scans which appear on the Internet – and, in a few cases, in earlier editions.

In a way, it is clearly artificial to try to isolate the role of women in any series of historical events. There are reasons, however, why the attempt should still be made from time to time; for one thing it can be assumed that when historians write about "people" or "workers" they mean women to anything like the same extent as men. It is only recently that the history of women has begun to be studied with the attention appropriate to women's significance - constituting as we do approximately half of society at all levels. (1)

In their magnum opus The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain (Faber & Faber, 1972), Pierre Broué and Emile Témime state that the participation of women in the Spanish Revolution of 1936 was massive and general, and take this as an index of how deep the revolution went. Unfortunately, details of this aspect are scarce in their book elsewhere, but the sources do allow some kind of picture to be pieced together. In the process of examining how women struggled, what they achieved, and how their consciousness developed in a period of intensified social change, we can expect to touch on most facets of what was going on. Any conclusions that emerge should have relevance for libertarians in general as well as for the present-day women's movement.

Conditions of life for Spanish women prior to 1936 were oppressive and repressive in the extreme. Work was hard, long and poorly paid (2), and when improvements did occur they were not always entirely beneficial to women. Figures from the Instituto de Reformas Sociales (quoted in S.G.Payne, The Spanish Revolution, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970), show that in the decade 1913-22, men's wages increased by 107.1% and women's by only 67.9%, while prices rose by 93%. When the 1931 Republic established the eight-hour day for agricultural labourers, this meant, according to a peasant in Seville Prison who talked to Arthur Koestler, that the men could go to meetings and gossip, while their wives could return home at 5 p.m., prepare the meal, and see to the children's clothes.

Minimal reforms including maternity compensation had, however, been introduced, and featured in the aims of most progressive groups. Politically, the Republican Constitution of 1931 brought-votes for both sexes at 23, a radical departure for the time and place. At first, it has been said (by Alvarez del Vayo in Freedom's Battle), a woman's vote merely doubled the power of her husband or confessor. But the situation was being modified. The Republic brought measures of education and secularisation, including provision for divorce if "just cause" were shown. Despite the weight of internalised inferiority under which they must have laboured, many women were starting to involve themselves actively in politics. (3)

On the libertarian side, the strong anarchist movement incorporated a certain awareness of the necessity to envisage changed relationships between people. For its adherents, the abolition of legal marriage at least was on the agenda. It is more difficult to assess to what extent their personal lives embodied a transformation in attitudes, but it seems that the particular problems of women were not a priority concern. (4)

In fact they were not much of a priority with anyone. Margarita Nelkin, a Socialist who was to become a deputy in the Cortes, wrote about The Social Condition of Women in Spain (Barcelona, 1922) and Women in the Cortes (Madrid, 1931); there was a movement for women's rights in the early twenties, but it had a reformist and careerist orientation, based on women in the professions. For anarchists, a reformist, minimal or transitional programme was more or less out. The focus was on thoroughgoing social revolution. Unfortunately, any theoretical discussion of what such a revolution might involve was often out too, in favour of an assumption that things would work out spontaneously in the best possible way.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Colin Ward Life and Work - Meeting

Saturday, 10 July 2010, 2.00pm-5.00pm
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1

Ken Worpole: Colin Ward and the anarchism of everyday life

"Colin Ward in conversation with Roger Deakin", introduced by Mike Dibb

Harriet Ward: On meeting Colin Ward

Stuart White: Colin Ward: making anarchism respectable, but not too respectable

Peter Marshall: Colin Ward in the history of Anarchism

Tony Fyson: Colin Ward at work

Dennis Hardy: On the margins

A Very Short Introduction to the History of Resistance to Public Sector Cuts

Wednesday 14 July,   at 8 pm

Meetings venue ; “The Postmen's Office”  at the North London Community House, 22 Moorefield Road, London,  N17. [The old Post Office]  The venue is just around the corner from Bruce Grove British Rail Station, where Bruce Grove meets the High Road in Tottenham.  Any High Road bus is OK . Wheelchair accessible

This subject is likely to dominate people’s lives for some time, due to the debts run up by the capitalists who own and run our society. For them, profits  rule.  Their greedy mismanagement is a repetitive theme in history but since they also seek to control the ideas in our heads, the resistance to their cuts is usually hidden from view and has to be re-discovered  by successive generations. This is un-hidden history and a main objective of radical history.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Can Medicine be Libertarian?

A differently formatted and illustrated version of this article appears in
Black Flag, Issue 231, Mid 2010, pp.20-23, under the title 
‘The war for control of our health. Overview: Libertarian approaches to medicine.’ 

Those who argue that anarchism would never work sometimes cite the practice of medicine as an example of the type of situation where a libertarian outlook would create insuperable problems and have disastrous consequences. Medicine is one of the areas which are sometimes said to be necessarily authoritarian and hierarchical, beyond the scope of a self-managed society based on workers’ control because of its complexities and the specialised knowledge required. Yet critiques of established or orthodox medicine, in theory and  practice over many centuries, have perhaps more often than not taken a markedly libertarian turn, whether from people who tried to find ways of helping and with luck healing themselves and each other, or from reformers within the profession who were ready to demystify and democratise their subject. Some of these have been consciously radical and even revolutionary in intention, seeing collective efforts at mutual aid as pointing a path towards a different organisation of society.


Traditional histories of ‘western’ medicine usually pointed out a path of progress, overall, towards ‘scientific’ remedies, and in Britain the supposedly universal access to a health service provided by a benevolent state. Writers who were often doctors themselves paid homage to the great men, ‘fathers’ of this and that advance or specialism – a history riddled with paternity suits, as someone said. By the later 20th century this view was being challenged from various perspectives, including feminist ones; the work of medical historians, notably Roy Porter, transformed the subject, and the debates continue.

Radical Thinkers

In Britain the later 18th century was a time of widespread satire and scepticism about medical practice and the power of doctors. John Moore, himself a Glasgow physician and surgeon, wrote in Medical Sketches, 1786: ‘The difference between a good physician and a bad one is certainly very great, but the difference between a good physician and no physician at all, in many cases, is very little.’ He advocated the ‘healing power of nature’ as against ‘being teased to swallow drugs... a species of distress to which the rich are more exposed than the poor, provided the latter keep out of hospitals.’ 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Colin Ward : the anarchist of everyday life :

Wednesday 9 June at 8pm

The Postmen's Office at the North London Community House,
22 Moorefield Road, London, N17.[The old Post Office]
The venue is just around the corner from Bruce Grove British Rail Station, where Bruce Grove meets the High Road in Tottenham. Any High Road bus is OK. Wheelchair accessible.

Glyn Harries introduces us to the anarchist and social theorist, author of nearly 30 books on a wide range of questions, who died in February of this year. We would like to celebrate his life.
(Selections from the DVD Colin Ward in conversation with Roger Deakin will also be shown.)

Colin Ward was the editor of the newspaper Freedom for a number of years,and was also the founding editor of the influential journal Anarchy from 1961 to 1970, which was described as the most original political/intellectual monthly journal being published at that time.

He became influenced by anarchist ideas after being conscripted into the army and ended up in Glasgow where he saw many of the local anarchist orators in action. In 1945 he was summoned as a witness to the trial of the editors of Freedom who were being prosecuted by the government for 'incitement to disaffection' with the publication of War Commentary. Ward, an avid reader of these anarchist publications, had been found with these in his possession and had to appear at the Old Bailey.

In 1973 his most famous book was published: Anarchy in Action, a work that has been translated into many languages. In this Colin Ward presents an alternative view of anarchism, he says: 'The argument of this book is that an anarchist society, a society which organises itself without authority, is always in existence, like a seed beneath the snow buried under the weight of the state and its bureaucracy....Of the many possible interpretations of anarchism the one presented here suggests that, far from being a speculative vision of a future society, it is a description of a mode of human organisation, rooted in the experience of everyday life....'

This idea is perhaps his most distinctive contribution. He elaborated it in his approach to the welfare state, calling the voluntary, non state option the path not taken, and returned to the theme of social policy several times over the years.

His published books cover a range of topics with perceptive criticisms of the social world and its problems and possible practical anarchist solutions to them. Colin Ward saw his body of work as integral from an anarchist point of view. The topics covered included town planning, housing, vandalism, education, child care, the politics of water etc. He was an acknowledged expert on tenants and housing. He also wrote histories on squatting, self-help housing of the working class, allotments and self-built holiday camps. His prolific writing resulted from what he saw his role as being: essentially that of an anarchist propagandist.

In the 2003 book Talking Anarchy Colin Ward is interviewed by David Goodway in what is an interesting and thought provoking biographical work. His influences from Kropotkin, Landauer and Goodman are clearly shown, as well as how he chose the topics that he wrote about.

The meeting will discuss the ideas and writings of Colin Ward, his achievements and how these can be used by anarchists and libertarians, now and in the future.

Freedom obituary of Colin Ward

Guardian obituary of Colin Ward

Monday, May 3, 2010


Meeting on the role of elections in the strategy of the libertarian left and the changing of society at the North London Community House. 22 Moorefield Road, London N17 [The old Post Office  Sorting Office] at 8pm Wednesday 5 May. All welcome.                 

See previous blogs for material on this plus the different views offered by Dale Evans and PastTense.

In the meantime below are a few thoughts on voting, parties, parliaments and democracy.

"In many countries workers nominally have a more or less important say in the election of the government. It is a concession made by the bourgeoisie, both to avail itself of the popular support in its struggle against the monarchical and aristocratic power as well as to dissuade the people from thinking of emancipation by giving them the illusion of sovereignty."

Errico Malatesta (Anarchy p23)

"What is called democracy and is alleged to be government of the people by the people for the people is in fact the government of the people by elected rulers and would be called 'consenting oligarchy'"

Nicolas Walter (About Anarchism p32)

"...essentially the power is in the hands of capital, whether there are voting qualifications or some other rights or not, or whether the republic is democratic or not - in fact the more democratic it is the cruder and more cynical is the rule of capitalism."

V I Lenin ( The State p20)

"' Do you go to the polls? do you vote? Again, it depends on whether there is a choice worth making, whether the effect of voting is significant enough so it is worth the time and effort. On local issues I almost always vote.'"

Noam Chomsky (On Anarchism p241)

"Social life as a whole keeps up its democratic facade (with political parties, trade unions etc.) But these organisations, as well as the state, politics and public life in general are profoundly bureaucrastised. Any active participation by individuals in the life of political or trade union organisations can have, properly speaking, no meaning at all."

Paul Cardan (Modern Capitalism and Revolution p70)

"A party is not as classical doctrine (or Edmund Burke) would have us believe,  a group of men who intend to promote public welfare 'upon some principle on which they are all agreed'. This rationalization is so dangerous because it is so tempting. For all parties will of course at any given time provide themselves with a stock of principles or planks and these principles or planks may be as characteristic of the party that adopts them and is as important for its success as the brands of goods a department store sells are characteristic of it and important for its success. But the department store cannot be defined in terms of its brands and a party cannot be defined in terms of its principles. A party is a group whose members propose to act in concert in the competitive struggle for political power. If that were not so it would be impossible for different parties to adopt exactly or almost exactly the same program"

Joseph Schumpeter (Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy p251)

Past Tense Reply - No Parliamentary Elections in any circumstances

Apologies for the lateness of this reply… The author of the past tense leaflet was away when Dale post went up, and since then has been busy with work and childcare… Finally here is our respsonse. We have dealt with some of the points, one by one, so sorry if it seems slightly disjointed.

Past tense doesnt call itself anarchist, though some of us have spent time in the anarchist scene over the years… Some useful ideas come from various traditions, including those that label themselves, communist, anarchist, socialist or feminist ; we are unhappy with some elements of these strands of thought, and are open to other influences. As well as evolving our own ideas, shock horror.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Meeting - Vote for a new society not a political party - Wednesday 5 May

At the North London Community House. 22 Moorefield Road, London N17 [The old Postal Sorting Office]. All welcome. 

Chartists on Kennington Common

Our five-minutes-every-five-years  worth of "democracy"  happens on 6 May. But is there anyone out there who still believes that the world, owned and run by a partnership of private property and state regulation, is in any way controlled by electing  members of parliament?   That the great dictatorship of modern society is supervised by the House of Commons?  That any social control exists over bankers running up massive debts to someone or other, or over police seen murdering and attacking people on television, or over judges finding them NOT GUILTY? Or any of the tin pots?  or  any MPs claiming expenses?  or any of the  "celebrities "?

Friday, April 2, 2010

All elections are a joke - a reply by Dale Evans

The refusal of anarchists to take part in elections stems from the ideas and criticisms of the classical thinkers of anarchism from the 19th century. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was himself deputy - representing the socialist party - in France's Chamber of Deputies. His views on social questions were ignored, leaving him with a disparaging attitude to parliamentary democaracy. For Proudhon 'universal suffrage is the counter-revolution', and Bakaunin argued that the  revolutionary party would become corrupted once it had gained power through universal suffrage. Indeed, uinversal suffrage only undermined the possibility of attaining socialism. These views have been reiterated by numerous anarchist theorists since, and they form one of the basic tenets of anarchist opposition to the state.

My criticism of Past Tense's leaflet on the upcoming general election arises from 2 areas. Firstly the attitude that elections are joke, all parliamentarians are corrupt and libertarians (anarchists and libertarian socialists) should not touch them with a barge pole; and secondly that their use of history to support their argument is misplaced.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Past Tense Election Leaflet

The text below contains what is the traditional anarchist position on elections, written and published by Past Tense. As a general election approaches it is important that all those of the libertarian left (anarchists and libertarian socialists) discuss this important issue, please feel free to add your comments.



Oh God it’s another General Erection!
We know – all elections are a waste of time. Politicians of all parties fill their pockets, you couldn’t tell their policies apart without a microscope, the power of the rich, the global corporations and financiers continues merrily whoever is elected; well-meaning do-gooders get elected, then become sucked in or ground down by the weight of the system. While the meaningless circus at Westminster rattles on, our lives are at the mercy of their economic upturns and downturns, grinding away at work just to survive. While the rich and their parliamentary puppets wine and dine, whoever gets in next time will slash the NHS and other services many of us need to get by, to balance the national debt – at our expense, again.

The question is, what do we DO? Sink into apathy and distrust, giving up even the controlled lack of interest our rulers hope to kindle in us...? or take back the power in our own lives, now, every day, at work, in the streets, in our relations with each other, not every five years on a bit of paper but for real? We could do away with all politicians, bosses, bureaucrats, and run the world ourselves for the pleasure of us all and love of each other…

Radical Reading Collective

The Radical Reading Collective a new orgainsation devoted to reading and discussing many of the classic texts of anarchism, marxism and libertarian socialism, and will be discussing 'Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists' at LARC* on Sunday 11 April at 2pm, for more information visit their blog

In 1926 a group of exiled Russian anarchists in France, the Dielo Trouda group (Workers' Cause), published the 'Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists' or The Platform as its often referred to. It arose not from some academic study but from their experiences in the 1917 Russian revolution. They had taken part in the overthrow of the old ruling class, had been part of the blossoming of workers' and peasants' self- management, had shared the widespread optimism about a new world of socialism and freedom . . . and had seen its bloody replacement by State Capitalism and a centralist party dictatorship. What should revolutionaries learn from the Russian Revolution, how should they organise....

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Poll Tax and the Battle of Trafalgar Square - 20 years on

Wednesday April 14th 2010 - 7.30pm
At the North London Community House. 22 Moorefield Road, London N17 [The old Postal Sorting Office]. All welcome.

*  Come along to hear about one of the largest and most successful grass-roots opposition movements of the 20th century in the UK
*  Exhibition of material/posters etc from the time
*  Film of the battle of Trafalgar Square
*  Rub shoulders with activists from all over London who were there!
*  Bring food to share..

What was it all about?  How was the campaign won?  What we can we learn from what was achieved?

An unfair and hated tax    

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tony Cliff ten years on - what did he achieve?

The Postmen's Office  at the North London Community
House, 22 Moorefield Road, London,  N17
Bruce Grove  British  Rail Station, Bruce Grove meets the High Road in Tottenham.  Wheelchair accessible
Any High Road bus is OK 

It is ten years since Tony Cliff   died and like him or not, it has to be admitted that he was a major figure in the politics of what is called revolutionary  politics in the last century.   His advocacy of a return to the politics of Marx and Lenin was distinctive,  rejecting the stalinism and trotskyism  of the day.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Exhibitions - Striking Women: voices of South Asian Women from Grunwick and Gate Gourmet


 An exhibition hosted by the Women's Library highlights the role of South Asian Women in the history of the trade union movement. In order to further their demands these women often had to fight not only white male managers and bosses but also the union leadership as well. The exhibition reflects on the struggles that took place at Grunwicks in 1976 and Gate Gourmet in 2005. The Women's library is located at London Metropolitan University, Old Castle Street, London E1 7NT

Radical Ex-Soldiers

Wednesday 10 February at 8 pm

Paul Burnham talks on  The Radical Ex-soldiers of 1918

Re-arranged from last month

Meetings for the autumn/winter will be at: The Postmen's Office at the North London Community House, 22 Moorefield Road, London N17.[The old Post Office] The venue is just around the corner from Bruce Grove British Rail Station, where Bruce Grove meets the High Road in Tottenham.

From 1916, a new and radical movement amongst wounded and discharged soldiers emerged in Britain. As more and more were demobilised, the movement mushroomed, rejecting charity to demand rights and
representation. The ex-soldiers had been through life-changing experiences. They were young and impatient.  

Ford Visteon Workers occupation and picket

April - May 2009
The role and activities of the Enfield Support Group

An account, by some of those involved, of the history, activities and effectiveness of the Ford Visteon Workers (Enfield) Support Group


This booklet looks at the effectiveness of the Ford Visteon Workers (Enfield) Support Group (SG) that was set up in April 2009. The group was formed solely to give solidarity and support to the Enfield Ford Visteon workers who first occupied, then picketed their factory for six weeks from April 1st to 15th May 2009. There were 3 Ford Visteon car parts plants involved in the joint struggle against closure, including one in Belfast which was occupied by the workers throughout the dispute, and one in Basildon, Essex where the workers effectively picketed their factory around the clock for the whole dispute.

This pamphlet is intended as a record of the London support group that set up to assist the Enfield workers and as a tool for future workers support groups. We do not discuss the actual dispute here, as that has been looked at in detail already (See references at the end for further reading).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Burns Night 25 January

Burns Night celebration in Tollgate pub, Turnpike Lane, nearest tube Turnpike Lane tube station from 8 pm, as we meet to read, drink and generally make merry in honour of the Scottish poet .

BOOK REVIEW - Dear Granny Smith - a letter from your postman

Roy Mayall, Dear Granny Smith - a letter from your postman, 2009, Short Books,, ISBN: 9781906021979. £4.99

A review by Alan Woodward, Libertarian Socialists

This timely book, conveniently published in envelope size, gives the inside story from a postal worker  about what's happening to a major public service and the reasons why posties have been taking one day strikes over the last 5 months of 2009.  Its outline of working conditions is quite unusual and is a thorough account of the present Government and Royal Mail's offensive against ordinary workers.  The title uses the posties' own term for the public and  pulls no punches, being written in workshop language, and presents a totally devastating critique of the management's inflammatory commercial approach.  Because small bookshops may experience trouble obtaining it, I have given internet details.  The author uses a pen name but has apparently  been a working postman for some years. Whoever wrote the eleven chapters, it is an imaginative well constructed book and at  £4-99, it  is an absolute bargain.

An actual Granny Smith
As the blurb says, postal workers  have a pet name for their customers. It's "Granny Smith"  a name that calls to mind every old lady who lives alone and for whom the mail service is a lifeline.  The title is taken from yet another management meeting to  announciing to the staff some further details of the proposed  modernisation changes:

Someone piped up in the middle of it. "What about Granny Smith?" he said. He's an old-fashioned sort of postman, the kind who cares about these things. "Granny Smith is not important," was the reply. "Granny Smith doesn't matter any more."

Roy Mayall  gives reasons for the industrial action including a consideration  for all the Grannie Smiths and the book is likely to swing the public behind the postal workers once and for all.  Its exposure of corporate dominance is as relevant as it is timely in an election year.

The book is written in a conversational style, with some workplace humour that sometimes approaches being crude and the postie is blunt in his message about reversing the  adoption of commercial values. All this subversion was edited out by the BBC when the book was serialised on Radio 4 as Book of the Week in December 2009 but will ring a bell with anyone who went to the picket line during the dispute.  With its rotas, barbeques and careful monitoring of persons allegedly going into work, the strike, like the book,  was well organised and  successful.

The two main themes of the text are the degradation of working conditions and the market inspired transition from an efficient public service into a shambolic and inefficient business enterprise.  The first theme would be familiar to anyone concerned with the condition of the working class  it has been their constant companion for the best part of two centuries.  The author describes in some detail, and with some bitter humour,  how well-established workplace practices have been just replaced with crackbrained schemes, designed  it seems with just proving that the current  management are in charge.

Or so they like to think. Roy Mayall tells how the impracticality of the new technology based modernisation, has ground to a halt in all its essential features - address reading machines, replacing bikes with cumbersome electric trolleys, Starbursts or bulk delivery teams and suchlike. Mech-ed- mail machine sorted - from a target of over 80% , has now dropped to 50% and that just the official figures!

What has not failed is the re-organisation of work, the consistent bullying,  the abolition of even the smallest amount of free time, the extremely authoritarian Attendance Procedures that force even quite ill people into work on threat of dismissal, and such like.  You may say there's nothing new about all that. Everyone knows that there is no democracy in our totalitarian workplaces and that an ancient political commentator remarked that the only true wealth is time - the point is that all these processes are cunningly hidden by the alliance of the politicals, management and most of the media.  Once again victim blaming is announced - "the posties are being obstructive".

Now old timers may recall the promises of 30 years ago that new technology would liberate society .  People would work for only a few hours, machines would do the heavy toil and our most onerous task would be to decide what to do with our leisure.  In reality Roy Mayall describes taking out six  bags of mail each day instead of one,  the huge increase of junk advertising mail despite the lying assurances that mail levels are falling, constant and aggressive management interviews [interrogation more like], and the leisure room turned into a management lecture centre for open propaganda sessions , or corporate drivel as he calls it.

All this is done in the interests of renewed capitalism by Thatcher, Blair and Brown, can you tell them apart? Small wonder the political confusion as the leaders of the Communication Workers Union  try to boost Labour while the members revolt into confusion.  And we haven't even mentioned the Final Agreement.

This brings us  to the second theme, switching over from public to private ownership. We have described above the new slavery, posties too tired to do anything but work and sleep. Everyone  knows the management strategy:
~ allow pension holidays for management, but not workers, so that the pension fund is deeply in debt,
~ hound out the full timers,
~ bring in part timers and casuals,
~ reduce the enterprise to the point of collapse to make a private take over seem like salvation:  THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE as we may remember.

The author gives chapter and verse about the public service ethos.  How posties have a social role, just like the hospital cleaners who were abolished for disease spreading contractors, and, as part of the community, are useful contributors. Reporting domestic ill health, helping out pensioners, transmitting information, monitoring temporarily empty houses, acting as a counsellor and so on.

Today Grannie Smith doesn't matter, the needs of the corporate bodies take first, second and all places.  Despite the record of these companies - and it was their failure that caused the modern pre-Thatcher society to be set up, it should be remembered -  the private sector dominates  both industry and wider society.

The complicated process of privatisation  has been well publicised recently but what is less well known is the "creeping commercialisation".  Take downstream access, which allows private companies to  select out any part of the process which they think profitable and privatise it.  This is already used by operators like TNT, but the use of this surrender to profit scheme has now appeared in the NHS.  Clinicenta, despite some appalling performances, is still allowed to cherry pick and make money from its choice.  The union leadership seems passive in various unions and allows this insidious practice to continue.  Once again it's down to the rank and file.

Another feature is the use of language, a key factor as Orwell noted.  Here "modernisation"  means  privatisation, more speed up, no job security, all casual labour, poverty wages. " Flexibility"
means  obeying instructions however absurd.  Management "discretion " in fact means mandatory.   "Public Service" means total subordination to corporate  objectives . "Attendance "  means absenting yourself from medical attention, "Mail sort" means junk mail or around two thirds of the total, and so on.  Royal Mail management have nothing to learn from 1984.

The recent international financial crisis should, in an ideal world, have demolished the credentials of the free market. (There is little evidence that this has happened, and even less that the political leaders have any intention of changing course. For them no alternative exists, so they press ahead with cosmetic reforms while keeping the pressure on the rest of us in the same old way. Mayall is quite clear about the consequences, in terms of blame for general issues, on the central role of the market. To an extent he also implicates the union for losing sight of the social aims of the labour movement in pursuit of the free market.  While his affection for old Labour may be exaggerated (remember George Brown and Harold Wilson?) his basic sentiments ring quite true.

He ends with a tale where an old person in a future world  that is totally commercial describes the Royal Mail set up as it used to be to an obviously incredulous audience.  The McMail  option he calls it. But as he also says, it's not too late to save it, though prospects under Cameron, Brown  and co. do seem bleak.

Generally the text has no overall political message, despite his reference to the gods of wealth and economics.  He doesn't waste ink either on the alternative promises of The Revolutionary Party any more than conventional politicians.  His memories of old Labour  are likely to be illusory  but his demolition of the present institutions and their scurrilous roles is complete. As he says "my tale is of loss and deceit, anger and despair, and the wanton destruction of an ancient and venerable organisation".

It seems likely that no one has told him of the libertarian philosophy, and in particular the idea of workers' control of the workplace, then society.  This idea is implicit in his critique of management and politicians -  the workers can manage the place quite well on their own  but the political implications are missing.  This is a deep-seated problem and one which the conscious minority has been slow in tackling.

A happy postie in olden times
Finally, this is a unique publication.  There were some examples of solidarity from other workers in the long dispute.  Drivers and service workers refusing to cross picket lines and some workplace money collections, though  the strike leaders gave this a low priority.

What of the future? The 2007 strike was followed  by the 2009 one, as management kept on with its predetermined free market strategy - modernisation at all costs. At present as management press on with their only delayed plans,  we can expect more conflict and picket lines. Labour intends continuing to worship the gods that have failed  - be prepared  for more early rising.

Radical Ex-Soldiers Meeting Postponed

Due to extreme weather and very cold temperatures, we have had to postpone this meeting to next month, that is Weds 10 Feb at 8 pm.