Tuesday, December 6, 2011


proudly LUDDITE – OCCUPY now


8 pm on 14 December, Wood Green Social Club, Stuart Crescent, N22 (normally in room 1)

(Just opposite the Civic Centre on the High Road, at the start of White Hart Lane, 50 yards from the main road. A 100 yard walk from the bus stop at Wood Green tube station, past the Wood Green bus depot)

We are celebrating that it is exactly 200 years since the clothing workers in northern counties who had tried talking to employers and politicians, were finally forced disguise themselves, take large hammers [Enochs – there is a picture of one on the blog] and start breaking up the new machines that had destroyed hundreds of jobs. They were not opposed to technology as such just machines that were crushing their livelihoods. After a brave revolt, that scared the ruling class, they failed and we know today that destruction does not work. Now we have to consider other methods for the widespread introduction of technology that threatens millions of jobs. Dockers, printers, and others have seen jobs eaten by new inventions and millions of others less publicised, are under threat. Today many think in terms of occupation of premises, property and equipment, to control their use and ensure production is for social need, not just profit.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

BOOK REVIEW - Joe Jacobs biography

Review: Alan Woodward, After Cable Street – Joe Jacobs 1940 to 1977. 84pp. London, Socialist Libertarians, September 2011.
(Available from Housmans bookshop and at meetings).

Alan Woodward has done another service to radical history in producing this well-researched booklet, continuing the narrative of a varied and active political life begun in its subject’s posthumously published autobiography (Joe Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, 1978). Using Joe’s letters and other papers, backed up with reference to a range of background sources, he places the life in the context of its times, showing how Joe’s political ideas developed after his days as a Communist Party activist in the 1930s. Those ideas were repeatedly applied in support of working-class struggle; and against those who Joe believed would take over or sell out that struggle for their own ends.

The core chapters are: Joe and the war; Shop stewards, workplaces, unions and the occupation; Joe and the international dimension; Strike reporting; Politics and organisations. Key events – confrontation with military authority, industrial strife and organising, political debates and clashes – and Joe’s role in them are recounted along with their effects on his thinking, with frequent quotes from his own writing, some of it still unpublished notes. Relevant theories and their more notable advocates are discussed in detail, displaying Alan’s impressive knowledge of the history of leftist ideas in the 20th century. The helpful lists of dates, sources for each section, and index are further added value.

More on Invergordon: Reporting the Mutiny.

The Strike Signal
There was no news blackout on the events at Invergordon in mid September 1931 (see this blog, September 2011, and Black Flag No.234, late 2011, pp.17-19), much as the Admiralty and government might have liked to impose one. Things had moved fast, and the Cromarty Firth where the ships of the Atlantic Fleet were gathered, although distant from the corridors of power, was not so remote from centres of population and lines of communication that what was happening there could be kept secret.

The Daily Herald newspaper, the only national daily that supported the Labour Party, went to town on the story of what were seen as sensational developments. On Wednesday 16th September, when the sailors’ action was under way and its outcome unpredictable, most of the front page was devoted to different aspects of the situation, with multiple headlines. The following day almost as much space was occupied by the follow up and the announcement of the mutiny’s end result, successfully blocking the imposition of massive pay cuts. Excerpts are reproduced below.

Two of the most prominent among the mutineers refer to the Daily Herald in their memoirs of Invergordon:. Fred Copeman, later of Spanish Civil War fame, says that he was a reader of the paper, which was viewed as ‘red’ in the Navy, the Communist Daily Worker being seldom seen at all by sailors (Reason in Revolt. London, Blandford Press, 1948). Len Wincott, asserting the lack of any left-wing political culture on the lower deck, noted that ‘Even the Daily Herald was not allowed on the ships till 1926,’ (Invergordon Mutineer, 1974, p.66) He too was a reader though, and had, before the mutiny, ‘found time to pen and send an angry letter’ to the paper, not printed or even acknowledged (p.83), about an inaccuracy in one of its reports about the Navy.

Front Page News, Daily Herald, Wednesday September 16, 1931
Headlines, sub-headings, captions including:

ATLANTIC FLEET RECALLED – Official; Unrest Follows Pay Cuts Among Lower Ratings; Exercises Suspended Pending Admiralty Enquiry; Premier’s Talks with Crew of Warship at Portsmouth; Sailors hold mass meeting on shore. Photos: guns on HMS Warspite; Rear Admiral Tomkinson.

From Our Special Correspondent ABERDEEN, Tuesday

Invergordon to-night is as quiet as a village on the shore of a South Sea island.

All the ships of the fleet are lying peacefully at anchor in the bay, and there is no sign of trouble or disturbance.

Members of the town council and municipal officials assure me that for two days there has been no difficulty with members of the crew.


Meetings of the lower ratings were held ashore on Saturday and Sunday at which resolutions were passed protesting against the cuts to pay and seeking their withdrawal.

The Saturday meeting was very boisterous, for many of the sailors had been to Invergordon games, and attended the meeting in a lively mood. Extra pickets were brought on shore to prevent disturbances.

The Sunday meeting was an orderly and serious affair, at which speeches were delivered and questions asked and answered. There was no trouble with pickets or police.

Resolutions passed at the meeting were presented to the commanding officer with the request that they should be communicated to the Admiralty.

I learn to-night that a high officer travelled by air to London to-day. The lower deck hopes that he will return to-morrow with a reply to their resolutions.

All shore leave was stopped yesterday and to-day, when Invergordon was surprised to find the Fleet had not sailed, nor a single bluejacket landed.

Meanwhile no hostility has developed between the men and the bulk of the officers, and the ships seem absolutely at peace.

Yesterday spectators on the shore observed crowds of men meeting on board various ships from which sounds of cheering could be heard, followed by the singing of popular choruses.

On one ship sailors were collected in groups on deck. A party gathered round a piano and held an informal concert.

Another crowd indulged in an acrobatic performance, and this indicated that they were having time off from their usual duty.

Front Page News, Daily Herald, Thursday September 17, 1931

Headlines, sub-headings, captions including:

FLEET OBEYS “MIDNIGHT” ORDER: Sailing For Home Ports After Admiralty Promise; Crews State Their Grievances Against Pay Cuts; Cheers for the King and Flag; Commands of Officers Not Obeyed; Destroyers Lead Way Down Firth.

From Our Special Correspondent INVERGORDON, Wednesday

After a good deal of persuasion, the men of the Atlantic Fleet who have been on “strike” all day, decided this evening to obey the Admiralty order to take the ships to their home ports.

The Government’s promise to “make proposals for alleviating hardships” was conveyed to the men during the afternoon.

It was discussed at length by the crews, who then decided to ask for assurances that they would in fact be taken to their home ports.

Men Reassured

There seems to have been suspicion that once at sea the order to go home would be cancelled, and the ships sent to some distant station.

I understand that the men required a great deal of persuasion to agree to man the ships. In some cases, more than two hours were spent debating the question.

The men were finally reassured that they would be taken to their home port, and that cases of the greatest hardship would be investigated.

Valiant, which had taken the lead in the “strike”, was one of the last ships to agree to the order, and word was passed round that the men had decided to man the vessel.

About half-past ten to-night the first of the Fleet, one or two destroyers, steamed down the Firth.

The men are now confident that their representations will be investigated.

“We have not been beaten,” was the declaration of one of the leaders.

They have sent the following letter to the Admiralty: [Manifesto demanding rethink on pay cuts].

[Description of ‘extraordinary scenes on board’ on Wednesday 16th, Page Two]

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Socialisme ou Barbarie and the origins of Solidarity.

Origins of an influential
libertarian socialist organisation - 'Genesis' Part 2

The politics of the Socialisme ou Barbarie (S ou B) group were a considerable influence on Solidarity and had origins, like Solidarity, in the Trotskyist movement. The prime movers, Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort, were members of the Parti Communiste Internationale (PCI), the French section of the Fourth International. Working together from 1946 these two argued that the Stalinists in the USSR and out of it were not a part of the workers’ movement but bureaucrats who were as much enemies of the working class as the capitalists. (The US Johnson-Forest Tendency, subsequently the group round the publication Facing Reality, were thinking along similar lines at this time. Relations were close between the two groups or at least their key members for many years.) At the end of 1948 ten or twenty dissidents left the PCI and in March 1949 the first issue of Socialisme ou Barbarie was published. The choice posed in the title – Socialism or Barbarism – stemmed from the emergence of two atomic-armed superstates, both aiming for world domination. The result of the conflict between them would be atomic war and a return to barbarism for
humanity unless the power elites both east and west were overthrown by socialist revolution.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

MEETING - What does Rosa Luxemburg have to say to today's Anti-Capitalist Movements?

Speaker: Peter Hudis, co-editor of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg (Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg Vol. I) 2011.

7.30 pm Thursday 10 November, Brockway Room, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1 (5 mins walk from Holborn Tube).

"[In the 1905 Russian Revolution] there fermented throughout the whole of the immense empire an uninterrupted economic strike of almost the entire proletariat against capital – a struggle which caught, on the one hand, all the petty bourgeois and liberal professions, commercial employees, technicians, actors and members of artistic professions – and on the other hand, penetrated to the domestic servants, the minor police officials and even to the stratum of the lumpenproletariat, and simultaneously surged from the towns to the country districts and even knocked at the iron gates of the military barracks." -- Rosa Luxemburg, 'The Mass Strike'

With comments by Kevin Anderson, author of Marx at the Margins, David Black, author of The Philosophic Roots of Anti-Capitalism, and Heather Brown, author of Marx on Gender and the Family

Sponsored by the International Marxist-Humanist Organization (http://www.usmarxisthumanists.org/) and Hobgoblin Online (http://www.thehobgoblin.co.uk/)


Saturday, October 29, 2011

“GENESIS” – earliest days and prehistory of SOLIDARITY

Origins of an influential libertarian socialist organisation - Part 1

Based on extracts from a working draft by John Quail, plagiarised with permission by LW.

In the beginning: a gripping tale of splits and factions, in which our heroes finally escape from the scary authoritarian left, after many adventures

The first issue of the magazine that was to become Solidarity was published in October 1960. Called Agitator for its first few issues, it was produced by ‘Socialism Reaffirmed’– the group’s name being also the title of what was effectively a manifesto, libertarian and autonomist in content, issued the same month. In brief, the earliest members of the Socialism Reaffirmed group were expelled from or left the Socialist Labour League (SLL, precursor of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, its heirs and assigns) at various times in 1960 and formed a new organisation with a new perspective which then attracted further recruits.

Trotskyist background
The SLL emerged in 1947 from a split in the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), a short-lived unification of the UK Trotskyists, following a dispute about the correctness or otherwise of joining the Labour Party as a clandestine faction, the alternative being to continue as an open independent party. It was now forbidden to

Sunday, October 9, 2011

After Cable Street - Joe Jacobs, 1940-77 - Meeting

Wednesday 12 October, 8 p.m.
at the Wood Green Social Club, Stuart Crescent, N 22.
(The WGSC is 100 yards up the hill just up from the tube station, cross the gardens and there we are, opposite the Civic Centre)

Joe Jacobs' life was important for two reasons. The first was that he was one of the best examples of a political working class activist who automatically associated with the Communist Party of Great Britain at its peak. Yet within a few years, the CPGB had lost the leadership of many of this group and in Joe's case had expelled him twice, simply over their Stalinist politics and practices. His example could be written tens of thousands of times in the CPGB's long decline into political conventionality and disintegration.

Secondly Joe did not just hide himself away and pack in political activity but joined what was by far the best example of a libertarian marxist group , Solidarity, sometimes called Solidarity-for-workers'-power. Here he participated in full and worked in both an industrial and political context - he was an ace reporter and writer.

Even so, Joe found himself increasingly in conflict with the organisation and through his contact with more libertarian politics eventually was expelled here as well. Joe had made contact with the Echanges et Mouvement group, effectively a council communists off-shoot, that is sitting outside both the marxist and main anarchist movements. His relations with E&M were terminated by his early death in 1977.

Hence Joe's life and times are hugely significant especially for socialist libertarians who identify themselves as being in this broad category. The events of his life, outlined below, should be put into these two contexts.

In 1936, Joe had defied the CPGB and mobilised dissident communists organising against the fascists of Oswald Mosley. His comrades did stop the fascists from marching through the East End, but at great personal risk. In the following years Joe played a less public role but was active right up to his death. His story is at last told here.

He did war service and did a spell in the nick after a clash with an officer. After returning to his work in the clothing trade, Joe was as active as ever in the workplace and led a strike/occupation at a factory in Warren Street. He fell out again with the Communist Party, too much thinking for himself, and moved towards less authoritarian politics. Joe had always been critical of the CPGB policy of concentration on the official trade union structure, favouring building up the working class organisation at the workplace. Eventually he left manufacturing and began work at the Post Office at Mount Pleasant. After brief contact with trotskyists he also turned to a more radical alternative, libertarian marxism.

He joined Solidarity for workers' power and was active in writing reports of industrial events . He was a very diligent writer about the important Post Office workers' strike in 1971, as he had just retired from employment at the PO. Next he was prominent in the dispute with the Big Flame over the 1972 Fisher Bendix strike and that organisation was forced to back down. Joe also wrote for the [at best] monthly journal doing reviews and suchlike.

Available from Housmans bookshop
Joe was increasingly involved in international contacts. He had lost friends as volunteers in the Spanish Revolution [/Civil War] and later took a serious interest in French libertarian groups. He was enthusiastic about the council communist group Echanges et Mouvement. Ultimately this new version of politics took him away from Solidarity and he was expelled after a pointless campaign for change. His politics were now centred in this aspect of ideas and activity. Joe had worked on his autobiography and had practically finished the key passages when he died in 1977. His daughter completed his manuscript and published the book privately, the great classic Out of the Ghetto.

Alan Woodward has written up his life story since 1940 for Gorter Press, and the book will be available at cost price. Currently celebrations are taking place of the 75th anniversary of the great Cable Street Resistance which gave Joe his most important role in organising against the fascists of Oswald Mosley. This curiously has been written out of the official version.

Numerous other events and publications will be involved in the events of the never-ending fight against fascism. We celebrate Joe's life, mourn his early death and continue the struggle of his efforts.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Striking a Light: The Matchwomen and their place in history

Waltham Forest Radical History Workshop
Tuesday 11 October, 7.30pm,
Orford House Social Club
73 Orford Road Walthamstow E17 9PU

Railway/underground station: Walthamstow Central

Buses: Hoe Street

Louise Raw will talk about her book Striking a Light: a new history of the Bryant & May matchwomen’s strike of 1888.

Her book celebrates the achievement of a remarkable group of young East End women, who took on a ruthless cartel and won. Raw proves conclusively that these women changed the entire course of British labour history, and were in fact the mothers of the modern union movement.

The life histories of matchwomen like Eliza Martin and Mary Driscoll, who were instrumental in the strike, are told for the first time.

Copies of the book will be available for signing.
All Welcome

Admission: £2.50 Concessions £1.50

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (7)

Eric Hobsbawm and the politics of writing history

Examining the writings of historian Eric Hobsbawm it is easy to discern a theme that consistently runs through his writings on the Spanish Civil War (SCW), that is that the Spanish republic had to be defended first, that the revolution had to be thwarted to carry out this aim, and lastly that the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) was the only organisation capable of carrying through this task.(1) However what is not laid bare for the reader is how much of Hobsbawm's personal political opinions lead to his analysis of the the SCW. And secondly that Hobsbawm constructs an historiography that always engages and dismisses at the same time an alternative view of history, that from an anarchist or libertarian tradition.

The Background
In 1959 the book Primitive Rebels (PR) was published. It is Hobsbawm's history of movements, criminals, and social banditry that represent naive, backward, and most importantly unorganised attempts at social revolution. Chapter 5 of the book examines the history of peasant anarchism in Andalusia

MEETING - No to privatising the Post Office

Wednesday 14 September 8 pm at the Wood Green Social Club, Stuart Crescent , N 22,
on the second Wednesday of the month.
[The WGSC is 100 yards up the hill just up from the tube station,cross the gardens and there we are, opposite Civic Centre]

This useless piece of proposed anti-social legislation which reverses the gains of the last century when the PO finally replaced costly private provision with public service, deserves to be opposed by anyone not obsessed by the profit motive. Historically this area has direct links with the introduction of Rowland Hill’s famous Penny Post. Mr Hill was resident at what is now the Bruce Castle Museum in Lordship Lane, N17 – they have exhibits on the subject well worth a visit. Over the years the Post Office has become a model of social

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

'Your money is permanent' - Invergordon Mutiny Poem

Would you ask your sleek Committee

By whom the probe was begun

To manage on twenty-eight bob a week

or try it on twenty-one?

For six long years they dallied

And jiggled the wedge so thin

For six long years we wondered

How far they would drive it in

But you spoke and we believed you

‘Your money is permanent’

And now you’re chipping the plain AB

by twenty-five per cent.

Excerpts from unpublished poem about the 1931 mutiny over Navy pay cuts, by AB John Bush.
AB = Able Seaman.

Verses printed in Anthony Carew, The Lower Deck of the RN, 1900-1939: the Invergordon Mutiny in Perspective, Manchester, 1981, pages 142 and 171.


Review by J. J. (Joe Jacobs), Solidarity: for Workers’ Power, vol. 7, no. 12, November 1974, pp.19-20, posted here to mark the 80th anniversary this September of the Invergordon Mutiny* – a small-scale, short-lived episode but extensive in its effects, and one with significance for libertarians. A few notes have been added for clarification or updating.

* (More on this story later).

Invergordon Mutineer by Len Wincott (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974).

I got to know Len Wincott soon after the mutiny, and saw him off when he went to the Soviet Union in 1934. I was pleased to be among those who met him again during his recent visit to Britain to promote his book.

From the very beginning of his visit Len made it clear to all concerned that he was not here to talk about his experiences in Russia over the last 40 years. A circular handed out by his publishers stated:
‘During the Second World War he served in the Red Army, but later was arrested as a “British spy” and spent 11 years in a labour camp in the Northern Urals. In 1957 he was released and cleared of all charges when the gates of the labour camps opened after Khrushchev’s denouncement of Stalin’.
Len Wincott, now aged 67, lives in Moscow with his fourth wife Lena whom he married in 1965. He decided to return to the Soviet Union because (as he explained to the assembled newsmen at a press

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Spanish Revolution Meeting Report

RaHN, which had not met for some months, kicked off again this week with a well attended meeting to celebrate the Spanish revolution of 1936. The military invasion by General Franco, aided by Hitler and Mussolini, sparked off the immediate resistance of much of eastern Spain. Everyone took to the streets, disarmed the troops, stormed the barracks and prisons then occupied their workplaces in factories, depots, mines and the land. It took nearly three years of civil war to dislodge them, aided even so by the so-called helpers of the communists who also turfed out occupiers. People paid tribute to the International Brigades who went to the country to defend the people's action. In the end, the fascists won, and this became a curtain raiser for WW2 a few months later.
The speaker, Brian Bamford from Manchester, gave an interesting discourse on the events, covering various historical sources and views. Speakers from the floor emphasised what was and still is the greatest mobilization of ordinary people fighting to control their lives. There were people at the meeting from the Haringey Solidarity Campaign, some visitors from Walthamstow and two Spanish students who were able to add details about the recent big demonstrations all over Spain.
There was a good supply of literature available including the recently published book on the workers' control in this period and a pamphlet on the war from Manchester. A reprint of a booklet on Women in the Spanish Revolution had been made. The RaHN blog which has had many hits on this subject was publicized. Housmans of Kings Cross supplied a bookstall.

The forthcoming RaHN programme:

14 September The Closure of the Post Office. After one and a half centuries of the Post Office as a publicly owned business, it is now facing privisation with the undermining of workers' rights. Local resident Rowland Hill introduced the national system. Merlin Reader, a union representative for the Communications Workers Union, outlines the Post Office history and the current struggle.

12 October  Joe Jacobs. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the famous Cable Street events of 1936, we remind people that Joe's magnificent struggle against the fascists is recorded in detail in a working class classic Out Of the Ghetto. Alan Woodward has written up the second half of his life after 1940 and introduces his booklet.

22 October Anarchist Book fair, Queen Mary, University of London , Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS. All day Saturday, 10 am to 7 pm. Come and talk to us at the Radical History Network stall.

9 November : to be arranged

14 December The Luddites Remembered. It is 200 years since the clothing workers smashed up the machinery that was destroying their jobs. Many regard modern technology as similarly destructive but a better way is needed to deal with it this time round. We examine the prospects.

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War online pamphlet by supporters of the RaHN - click on this link

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

FILM SHOWING - Land and Freedom

Haringey Independent Cinema are showing Ken Loach's film land and Freedom on Thursday 21st July at 7.15pm, West Green learning Centre, West Green Road, London N15

" Told from the point of view of Dave, a British volunteer who journeys from Liverpool to fight in the brutal civil war that engulfed Spain in 1936, Ken Loach’s masterpiece neither romanticises the conflict nor diminishes the dilemmas of individuals caught up in it.
     Dave’s political journey starts out in the Communist Party. But, he goes on to fight with the Marxist POUM militia in a civil war within the civil war, in which the POUM sided with a glorious but short lived anarchist inspired revolution in the City of Barcelona, ranged against the increasingly repressive forces of Stalinism.  "

This film has attracted much controversy simply because of the May Events of 1937 in Barcelona, when a communist coup that led to the annihilation of left wing party the POUM, and severely weakened anarchist power in Catalonia. Supporters of the Spanish communists and the Popular Front government have attacked the film both for its politics and its alleged historical inaccuracy. In many ways Loach based his film on Orwell's view of events in Catalonia, and communists have been vituperative in thier condemnations of Orwell's Homage to Catalonia.(1) Another example is Martha Gellhorn, travel writer and journalist, who was with Ernest Hemingway in Madrid in 1936; both were life-long fellow travellers. She rubbished the film in a review published in the London Evening Standard on 5 October 1995. An exchange of views about the film, with both the communist view and the contrary view, can be found at the website of the Marxist journal 'What next' . A contemporary view of the events in Barcelona written by Liston Oak - a communist - can be found on this blog

(1) Bill Alexander 'Spain and Orwell' in Inside the Myth : Orwell : views from the left. London 1984.

Pamphlet published on this blog Spain and the World : Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War

Saturday, July 9, 2011

New pamphlet on Workers' Control

The New World: perspectives on workers' control in revolutionary Spain 1936-39
Alan Woodward
Available from Housman's bookshop, Housmans, Peace House, 5 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London N1 9DX, UK

In Alan Woodward's new publication he looks at the whole tradition of workers' control, covering the libertarian tradition from the 1905 Russian revolution, and the theorists of the 1920s on to the Spanish revolution.
Looking at the Spanish revolution Alan examines all aspects of the cooperatives from transport, food production, and small workshops tothe health serivce and local government. The pamphlet is also a polemic against those socialists who are ideologically against workers' control.

It is an inspiring story of workers taking control of their own political and economic lives; as he says:
"The essence remains the same - to help the formation of a collective, open, federated, responsible society without repression by capitalism or its state. This allows maximum freedom for the individual and a fair permanent structure in which it operates. This is a New World many are seeking and your help in realising it is invited." (p65)
See also on this blog (online pamphlet):
 Spain and the World : Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (6)

Barcelona May 1937 : a contemporary view

The article below was written in May 1937 and published in the weekly periodical New Statesman and Nation (NSN). In many ways it is an extraordinary piece of political writing, firstly because of who the writer is and secondly that it should appear in the NSN.

Liston Oak was a member of the American Communist party and in 1936 went to Moscow to work on the English language daily Moscow News. While awaiting clearance for the post he went to Paris. For reasons that are not clear he used his contacts with the Comintern (Communist International) to move on to another job based in the offices of the foreign minister of the Spanish Republic, Alvarez del Vayo. Del Vayo was in charge of propaganda in the English speaking world and Oak was to be the Director of Propaganda for Britain and the United States. Part of his responsibility was to chaperone leading celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway around. Oak was therefore a committed communist and an apparatchik of the Comintern. He went to Valencia at the beginning of 1937, but quickly moved on to a new office that was opened in Barcelona. It seems highly likely that Oak knew what was happening, that is the disappearances and assassinations, and that the intrigues against the anarchists and the POUM were leading to a full scale assault. In fact Oak did something that was extraordinary considering his politics: he went to interview Andres Nin, the leader of the POUM, not once but twice! This would have marked him and meant his life would be in danger. Oak was aware of the situation and made plans to escape from Spain.

Another American writer who was in Spain at this time was John Dos Passos. He was in Spain for the same reason as Hemingway, to contribute in the making of the film Spanish Earth. Oak and Dos Passos know each other, as

Saturday, June 18, 2011

MEETING : The Spanish Revolution 1936-39

Speaker is Brian Bamford from the Solidarity Federation [Manchester]: Trades Council secretary, building worker, writer, and editor of Northern Voices.
8 p.m. on Wednesday 20th July, at Wood Green Social Club, Stuart Crescent N22-
Just up the hill from Wood Green tube station, across the gardens and the WGSC is on your right.

Seventy-five years ago many of the Spanish people launched a spirited defence of their country against an attempted coup by right-wing Spanish Army generals, supported by German and Italian military power. The popular insurrection took a ‘leftward turn’ as the armed people began to take over factories, depots, farms, estates, municipal authorities – indeed the whole of most of east Spain. Militias with 100,000 volunteers including the famous Durruti column, marched against the Nationalists under Franco.

In the rear, regions of Catalonia, Aragon, etc., became a workers’ republic, as chronicled by George Orwell and others. In a social experiment that last nearly three years, the people were in control and business institutions were collectivised or ‘adjusted’ to the new world. This can be regarded as the foremost example of workers’ power the world had ever seen, and remains so today.

Sadly fascism – Franco, Hitler, Mussolini – had armed forces and air power to ensure the eventual defeat of the people. There were divisions among the defenders, many were anarchists while the socialists/communists held more orthodox left-wing views, but armed might won out anyway. And the ‘civil’ war became a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the world war against the Axis powers that began within a few months. However we still celebrate the 1936 libertarian revolution, the breathtaking courage of the Spanish people, and the vision of a workers’ New World, not forgetting the international volunteers who went to assist them.

Already published on this blog about the Spanish revolution
Spain and the World : Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War
Women in the Spanish Revolution

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (5)

British Imperialism and non-intervention

The revolt of the sections of the Spanish army led by Franco in July 1936 left the British ruling class with a series of immediate dilemmas, the most important of which was to stay out of a war that had a potential to conflagrate and not to support the Republic a state that had shown itself incapable of stable government. The British ruling class hoped that Franco’s forces would be quickly successful and stable government that represented no threat to British interests would resume.
Leon Blum : Socialist Prime Minister of France's Popular Front Government
The establishment of the Non-Intervention Committee
Since the First World War Britain and France were in alliance and tended to follow the same diplomatic path. In 1936 a Popular Front government was elected in France consisting of Socialists, Radicals and Communists. This government had strong links with the Spanish Popular Front government in Spain and indeed contracts in place were for the provision of French arms and munitions for Spain. Immediately after Franco's revolt some aeroplanes and other munitions were dispatched to Spain on the order of the French premier Leon Blum. Blum had strong sympathies for Spain but found himself constricted in his actions by the attitude of the British, the possibility of a split in the French government with the Radicals clearly indicating their aversion to any support to Spain; and lastly the possibility of igniting mass protests against the PF government by the very large French fascist

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (4)

Workers’ control in the Spanish Revolution 1936

The Army mutiny in Spain in July 1936, and the resulting 3-year civil war, had a few positive effects. Well away from the fighting, in the cities, towns and countryside, thousands of anti-fascist committees were set up; thousands more workplaces were occupied and work kept going. The collectivised workplaces were run by workers’ committees, or Comités, and we give two examples below - a major transport system and a health service.

Barcelona Tramways
Perhaps one of the best examples of socialisation was that of the Barcelona Tramways, described extensively by the major book on the collectives. It covered trams, buses, underground, taxis and two funicular railways, and 7,000 workers of whom 6,500 were members of the CNT*. After the military coup there were 600 operating trams and many of them had been used in the street barricades, ther was also extensive road damage and the main company's offices were guarded by Civil Guards. Armed workers saw off these troops and found the building deserted except for a lawyer left behind to parley. This man was well known as he had led the prosecution two years previously of workers’ leader Comrade Sanches, which resulted in a 17 year sentence. He had demanded 105 years for the crime of heading a 28 week strike! The workers wanted to shoot the man on the spot but Sanches opposed

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (2)

The tragic consequences of anarchist participation in the Popular Front government

At the time of the conflict there were two governments in Spain, the central government in Madrid and the Generalitat, the government of the autonomous region of Catalonia. The CNT-FAI entered the latter on September 27th 1936 referring to it as a Regional Defence Council; on November 4th 1936 four members of the CNT entered the central government [Richards 1995 p63 and 68].
 Juan Garcia Oliver : leading anarchist became Minister of Justice
Collaboration and its prelude.
Was the entry of the CNT-FAI into the Popular Front (PF) government an abandonment of principle [Richards p42] or a strategic mistake that led to an abandonment of principle and a dismantling of its autonomous and revolutionary structures [Schmidt and Van der Walt 2009 p200]? From the start of the military uprising anarchists were placed in a very difficult, or maybe an impossible situation that according to Peirats they had no clear plan to deal with [ibid p202]. Lacking, as they saw it, the necessary support to carry through a revolution, they put all their efforts into the fight to defeat Franco. To many putting the war before revolution was a false dilemma [Guerin 1970 p129] and by this thinking they failed to recognise that the real enemy was the capitalist system of which fascism was but one form of expression [Richards p51]. The basis of the CNT, its independence from political parties, opposition to the state, its decentralised structure and opposition to permanent and paid officials should have prevented any temptation to participate in government [ibid p82]. There were tight rules preventing anyone representing a political party from becoming a militant of

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (3)

Writing about medicine and health care in the Spanish Civil War

Angela Jackson, Beyond the Battlefield: Testimony, memory and remembrance of a cave hospital in the Spanish Civil War. Pontypool, Warren & Pell Publishing, 2005.

Nicholas Coni, Medicine and Warfare: Spain, 1936-1939. London, Routledge, 2008.

Jim Fyrth, The Signal Was Spain: The Aid Spain Movement In Britain, 1936-39. London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1986.

Jim Fyrth, Sally Alexander, eds. Women's Voices from the Spanish Civil War. London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1991.

Paul Preston. Doves of War: Four Women of Spain. London, HarperCollins, 2002.

These books deal with the civil war rather than the revolutionary aspects of events in late 1930s Spain. Some information on healthcare in relation to the latter can be found in the ‘Libertarian Medicine’ posting on this blog, May 2010.

The focus of Angela Jackson’s analysis in Beyond the Battlefield is memory and remembrance – an angle that has special significance in Spain after the decades-long suppression and willed forgetting of those times, institutionalised until quite recently in the post-Franco ‘pacto de olvido’ (‘Don’t mention the civil war’). She looks at the hospital set up in a cave to treat casualties from the battle of the Ebro, summer 1938. By this stage the People's Army medical services were bringing their most seriously wounded to improvised hospitals as near to the front line as possible. Many patients were International Brigade volunteers, interspersed with injured prisoners-of-war and civilian victims of bombing raids. (Caves were also used as bomb shelters.)

Many foreigners were sent to help set up and run the hospital; others came later. Memoirs, letters and interviews are used extensively in the book, along with photographs. Conditions were, inevitably, incredibly difficult – up to a hundred beds, ‘all higgledy-piggledy’ – but somehow the work proceeded. At least one nurse ‘even began to doubt that anything could be worth the suffering that she saw around her … this misery and this horror’. Still the staff managed some improvements: in wound treatment, a new system of triage, blood transfusion (sometimes direct arm-to-arm), and training Spanish nurses. There were of course numerous patients who did not survive, buried in a grave outside the village. Eventually the cave, which had featured in pro-Republican reportage, had to be evacuated, at the end of 1938.

Parts of the broader medical history of the Spanish Civil War were being written up in professional journals as they happened, but the comprehensive treatment of the subject provided by Nicholas Coni’s book was long overdue.

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Civil War (1)

Spain 1936: the view from the East End

Extracted and adapted from: Joe Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto – My Youth in the East End: Communism and Fascism 1913-1939. London, Janet Simon, 1978, 319pp. (Later reprinted by Phoenix Press)

Joe Jacobs, in his well-regarded memoir of early 20th-century left-wing political activism, had quite a lot to say about the Spanish Civil War, showing how important it was in the political life of the time, in London’s east end as elsewhere. He refers extensively to his files of the Daily Worker (DW, the Communist Party newspaper which eventually became the Morning Star), highlighting the inadequacy and inaccuracies of its coverage and using it to show how the official ‘line’ lagged behind events.

Chapter 10 of his autobiography is entitled ‘Three Tailors from Stepney in Spain’ (pp.213-21 in first edition). He tells the story of how Nat Cohen, Sam Masters, and Alec Sheller set off by bike for the Barcelona Olympiad (the alternative to the ‘Nazi’ Olympics in Berlin), due to start on 19th July 1936; Joe and his wife Pearl were expecting to see Nat and Sam in Antwerp in about a fortnight. But by 20th July headlines were appearing, if not yet as front-page news, about the attempted right-wing military coup, already termed ‘Fascist’, and resistance to it: ‘Masses defend the Republic’; ‘General strike begins’...

Within a week reports had started coming from a DW special correspondent, the headlines were big, and the word was out to rally supporters to the cause of the Spanish Republic: ‘All into action now’. Joe noted that no more than two days’ notice was required to fill any hall when events in Spain were being

Spain and the World: Aspects of the Spanish Revolution and Spanish Civil War

Preface : Celebrate the Spanish Revolution

This is a first for the Radical History Network of North East London: a pamphlet published only online. This is an unusual undertaking for us, as normally we would publish in paper and charge a price to recoup our printing costs. However we have decided to publish a series of short pieces on various aspects of the Spanish revolution and civil war (SR/CW) which interest members of the group and our supporters. Books, pamphlets and articles abound on the SR/CW, but we hope that these pieces will add a different take on things and give a different point of view on these historical events. We hope that from the beginning of publication to the year's end more contributions will be received and enlarge the project. Anyone who is in broad agreement with the group can make a contribution.

The pamphlet is published on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the attempted military coup begun on 18 July 1936 by right-wing generals, and stopped in its tracks by the people of Spain who went on to fight a bloody civil war that lasted nearly three years. During this period sections of the Spanish people experimented with self-managed organisation of work and society in town and country, and with a new economics. This revolution was to be destroyed by the authoritarian communist reaction and the politics of popular frontism, fascist militarism and the machinations of international deplomacy. The pamphlet explores some of these themes, how they have been perceived, and how the contexts changed and undermined the truly phenomenal revolution in life undertaken in such adverse circumstances. Anarchists and libertarian socialists celebrate this achievement!
 "You Comrades of Barcelona and Catalonia in general are giving a shining example to the workers of the rest of the world, that you fully understand the meaning of revolution. For you have learned through past mistakes that unless the revolutionary forces succeed in feeding, clothing and sheltering the people during the revolutionary period, the revolution is doomed to ruin. For its strength and security lie not in the state or in the political power of parties but in the constructive efforts during the fighting period. Your marvellous experiment will and must succeed. But whether it does or fails, you are planting new roots deeply in the soil of Spain, in the hearts and minds of your people and in the hearts and minds of the oppressed all over the world."
Emma Goldmann - Barcelona September 1936

* Spain and the World - originally published by Freedom in London from 1936-39, edited by Vernon Richards


Please click on link to go to any of the chapters
Workers' control in the Spanish Revolution 1936
Spain 1936: the view from the East End
Spain 1936 and the tragic consequences of anarchist participation in the Popular Front government: a lesson for the future
British Imperialism and non-intervention
Writing about medicine and health in the Spanish Civil War
Barcelona 1937 : a contemporary view of events
Eric Hobsbawm and the politics of writing history

Previously published on this blog
Women in the Spanish revolution

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Great Enoch - a weapon of choice


The 'Great Enoch,' was the name given to the sledge hammer that smashed the hated shearing frames. The sledge hammer was made by Enoch and James Taylor who ironically also made the shearing frames that were so effectively dismantled under the hammer's blows.

Such a weapon had its mythology which is remembered in the chants

'Enoch did make them, Enoch shall break them'


'Great Enoch still shall lead the van,
Stop him who dare! Stop him who can'

An original hammer head is held in the Matress Factory Museum in Pitts burgh PA, with the unfortunate curator's blurb:

"The vitrine in the centre of the room houses and iron sledgehammer head, specially the common type
 referred to as an Enoch Hammer. The tool sits alone ina room dark except for the spotlight on the case Rendered impotent by its treatment as a relic of tiem other than our own, the case is guarded by a security camera on each wall and a proximity-triggered alarm on the case. By rendering this former implement
of rebellion safe in plxiglass box in a quiet and guarded museum, the hammer head itself can in insured
against future inspiration and use."


Luddites - Anniversary meeting and publication

Anniversary Meeting Luddite Uprisings: Technology Politics Then and Now

Venue: Feminist Library meeting room Westminster Bridge Road London SE1 7XW.
Nearest tube Lambeth North.
Date: June 8th, 7pm
Organised by: Luddites200 Organising Forum

In 1811-12 Artisan cloth workers in the Midlands and North of England rose up against factory owners who were imposing new machines and putting them out of work. Since the 1950s the Luddites have been painted as fools opposed to all technology and progress, but in fact the Luddites were very selective in their attacks, breaking only machines they thought were 'hurtful to Commonality'.

What can the Luddites teach us about the ongoing use of technology to replace workers’ jobs, as well as issues like GM food and nuclear power? Can we escape the myth that technology always brings progress? On the anniversary of the first action against a GM crop site in Britain, come and discuss the issues with speakers from the Luddites200 Organising Forum, Stop GM, a trade union activist, and the Stop Nuclear Network.

The Land : special Issue : The Luddites
The Land magazine have published a special issue on the 200th annivesary of the Luddite uprising of 1811-13. The issue contains numerous articles on a range of themes including:
  • Mr Lud's Song - Theo Simon traces the history of Luddism through the movement's songs
  • King Ludd in the countryside - The Luddite rebellion in the industrial north was matched 19 years later by an even more widespresd uprsing in the rural south.
  • Lessons from the Luddites - Kirkpatrick Sale reflects on the contemporary relevance of King Ludd's message
  • Technology and equity - Simon Fairlie argues that new agricultural technologies are inherently inequitable
  • Gandhi on technology - a selection of observations from the world's most successful Luddite
Available from Monkton Wyld Court, Charmouth, Bridport DT6 6DQ or see The Land is Ours website

Red Sayles: Alexei, the teenage maoist

Alexei Sayle, Stalin Ate My Homework. London, Sceptre, 2010. 304pp.

“ I knew Sayle's family CP background – it's been mentioned by him many times. But Maoism? Blimey.”

As suggested by the comment quoted above, this enticingly-titled memoir of a childhood and adolescence in an atmosphere of left-wing political commitment contains a number of surprises. No doubt its author’s fame as an actor, comedian and author will attract readers not normally much concerned with what makes Reds tick. Conversely, those of us with an ingrained resistance to celebrity culture, not to mention suspicion of the Party, may be dubious about its value to radical history. It turns out to be well worth reading from several points of view.

Alexei Sayle describes in detail what having openly active Communist parents meant in practice, at the height of the Cold War, in working class Liverpool. The city itself gets a lot of attention, from the now vanished community environment where he grew up n the 1950s-60s through industrial decline to the urban devastation wrought by the planners. His father Joe was a railwayman, however, active as a shop steward in the NUR, with free rail travel for himself and his family, so that they could and did seek wider horizons. This meant not only regular attendance at the union’s AGM, but a series of holidays in Eastern Europe: Hungary in 1961 and 1963; Czechoslovakia 1959, 1960, 1962; Bulgaria 1966. Despite the family being on most of those occasions (with a few blips) treated as honoured guests in a privileged delegation, the young Alexei eventually became aware of a ‘nascent sense of unease about the Communist experiment’.

At the same time he remained at odds with the conventional values peddled by his schoolteachers and resisted pressures to conform, finding his own career path, as it turned out, in the direction of comedy early on. Politically, the chapter ‘I Was a Teenage Maoist’ is about his brief sojourn in the by-ways of Merseyside Marxist-Leninism, an episode of what he calls ‘split-brain thinking’, when he simultaneously ‘both totally believed it and totally didn’t believe it’. Tales of demonstrations, paper-selling, meetings and attempts to convert the masses will strike a chord with many who did not share his precise affiliation.

Along the way he touches on a number of points of 20th-century, from the Police Strike of 1919 and the 1926 General Strike via Hungary, Suez and the Cuban Missile Crisis to Czechoslovakia 1968. Brought up to take the party line as read with reference to the Spanish Civil War and the Russian Revolution, he was accustomed to hearing George Orwell denounced and found the reading of ‘Animal Farm’ something of a revelation. He nevertheless arrived at his own understanding of Marxist (class-struggle) historical theory, also as a result of reading, in this case Marx himself, which was bad news for his teachers.

Not all about Sayle – his concern for issues affecting ordinary people’s lives is evident – it’s not a-laugh-a-line, and punches are not pulled when, for example, repressive regimes or bureaucratic obtuseness are up for discussion. He doesn’t let himself off too lightly either. All the same, it is quite funny in a lot of places – and is a good read throughout.

What is libertarian history - Continued

Liz Willis continues her examination of libertarian history - This article is published in Black Flag issue 233 for mid 2011 with the title 'History turned on its head by class'. Part 1 is available on this blog 'What is Libertarian History - part 1'

Revolutionary Theory

For committed marxists who came into the system, the real and earnest, especially economic type of history was preferred among the growing number of options and specialisations, and it was obligatory to fit political events into the appropriate categories.

Two Trotskyist students going into a history exam: one (not a Trot swot) calls to the other, ‘Was 1848 a bourgeois revolution?’ The other indicates affirmative: sorted. Or up to a point – they may not pass but at least they can write something, more than likely involving the conclusion that what the revolutionaries needed was correct leadership.

The Communist Manifesto (K Marx and F Engels, 1848) begins with the assertion that ‘the history of all hitherto-existing society has been the history of class struggle.’ This proposition was of course more

Sunday, January 16, 2011

WikiLeaks - from World War 1

The recent and continuing publication of US secret diplomatic cables by the Guardian newspaper clearly demonstrates the arrogance of power, the manipulations and machinations, and the plain perfidy of American imperialism towards democratic ideals and its continuing quest to police the world. What is perhaps of greater interest for us who live in the UK is the utter obsequiousness of Britain's ruling eltite in the face of American power. To have a few crumbs from the top table they have to grovel and prostrate themselves before their American masters.

However to return to the title of our story on 12 December 1917 the Guardian newspaper began the publication of secret diplomatic correspondence in which Britain and its allies were to carve up the world after the end of World War 1 in order to bolster and expand their respective colonial empires.

The new Bolshevik Government in Russia - whose Commissar for Foriegn Affairs was Leon Trostky - first published the documents in the Izvestiya in November 1917. The historian E H Carr argues that the Bolsheviks had a definite purpose in mind with their publication:
     "...the publication of the treaties...was in one respect an appeal to American opinion and to radical opinion in allied countries over the heads of allied governments whose sinister bargains with one another and the dethroned Tsarist regime were thus revealed to the world."  (1)

Carr also argues that their publication influenced President Wilson of the USA and his 14 points that were put before the participants who met to draft treaties for the future of peace at Versailles in 1919.

In Britain the publication of the secret treaties had a major effect on radical opinion and in particular that of the Union of Democractic Control. In 1918 the UDC published a book containing all the treaties and correspondence (The Secret Treaties and Understandings) *. Trotsky points out that the machinations of secret diplomacy operate against the people of the world, his words are still poignant today:
      "Secret diplomacy is a necessary weapon in the hands of the propertied minority, which is compelled to deceive the majority in order to make the latter obey its interests. Imperialism, with its world-wide plans of annexation, and its rapacious alliances and arrangements, has developed to the highest extent the system of secret diplomacy. The struggle against imperialism, which has ruined and drained of their blood the poeples of Europe, means at the same time the struggle against capitalist diplomacy, which has good reason to fear the light of day" (2)

*The UDC was setup in 1914 by disaffected liberals and Ramsay MacDonald of the Labour Party, all of whom opposed war with Germany with the UDC arguing for a negotiated peace and an end to secret diplomacy. The UDC was supported by Quakers and the Independent Labour Party and by 1916 many trade unions were affiliated. Individuals such as J A Hobson and Bertrand Russell were also members.
(1) E. H. Carr, The Boshevik Revolution 1917-23, Volume 3 page 24, Penguin 1966
(2) From the opening page of the 'The Secret Treaties and Understandings - UDC, 1981; see above link