Monday, November 19, 2012

As Alan Saw It: Radical History, why it matters

As Alan Saw It: Radical History, why it matters

The study of radical ideas and events is the ultimate in “hidden history”, perhaps the final stage in the movement for the examination of the unofficial, the informal, the less well recorded side of the past. There is a tendency to accept the institutions and procedures of modern society as if they have always been there, pre-formed, in a pristine condition, but the reality is more like a struggle between those in power, anxious to hold onto it at any price, and insurrectionary forces, plus direct action, from  those below, challenging that power. Radical history aims to correct the illusion of accepted wisdom.

But does all this matter, many would ask? As well as the pursuit of truth, a more pressing reason concerns future development. The authorities within what has been described as representative capitalist society today will naturally wish to promote concepts of continuity, planned change and other conventional concepts that the school curriculum holds dear. Hence dissent and resistance to the powers-that-be are usually relegated to sanitised explanations, or nominal appearances.  

In the present “War against terror” the government have gone beyond traditional and customary bias. Today dissent is trampled on in an unprecedented way. Say a word out of place at a political conference, display placards opposing government policy, demonstrate without  police permission, try to give out leaflets on the streets of Haringey and you run the risk of prosecution under Terror Laws or similar repression. So the need for celebration of our past in all its diversity is even greater now.  

Risking repetition, it is worth examining briefly the extent to which modern society is indebted to  the informal, unofficial, un-sponsored activities of past dissenters. The right to vote was violently opposed for centuries by the autocrats in charge of Britain. The first recorded demands came from the common soldiers in Oliver Cromwell’s New Army, as expressed by  their “agitators” [shop stewards]. Their demands are in the Putney Debates. Centuries of repression and killings followed before the modern system was finally conceded. Thus it can be said that modern “democracy “ had its origin in  dissenting movements, and labour organisations like unions.        

The National Health Service - collective clinical provision for all without payment at the point of treatment - can be traced back to the pioneering mineworkers of the last century, who hired doctors, set up clinics, etc., in their locality. There was none of the charity, petty accounting or condescension that was characteristic of the age. The capacity of ordinary people to create bodies to meet their own needs, without the paid experts, cannot be better exemplified.

Even  “the beautiful game” came from the non-official working class practice. Despite recent attempts to hijack football  history by Lord Melvyn Bragg and co., close examination of their case reveals that the role of the bureaucrats came only in the regulation by Rule, a function that  they were very familiar with. Without so much as a penny of government or corporate funding, and beyond the care of a protective Board, the game was adapted, expanded and applied, all over the world. Not even a vanguard party in sight!! We can see the results on our televisions.

So to sum up: within the ranks of the unofficial, the dissenter and the “threats to society as we know it”,  may be found the ideas of  future improvements. History is still being made. Ignoring radical history is to be short sighted indeed and the local Radical History Network of NE London, or RaHN, caters for those with a stronger sense of perspective.

Extract (slightly edited) from Alan Woodward’s March 2009 draft entitled  No gods, no masters, no wars - an interim history of the Radical History Network of North East London. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Alan's funeral will be on Thursday 8th November. Due to restricted places this is by invitation or for those close to Alan. Immediately afterwards will be an open commemoration/celebration of Alan's life from 3.30pm - 6.30pm at St John Vianney Hall, 386 West Green Road, N15 3QL. All welcome.
A Tribute & Celebration of Alan's Life (pdf document given out at commemorative event)


The Tottenham working class activist/campaigner Alan Woodward passed away on Saturday 20th October.

Alan had a stroke and fall on Tuesday 16th October and was admitted to the North Middlesex Hospital the following day. His close family* had rallied round during his hospital stay and were with him when he died peacefully.

Alan Woodward was a lifelong trade union activist and working class revolutionary immersed in support for workplace struggles and other anti-capitalist movements.

In 1961 he joined the International Socialists (later the Socialist Workers Party). For three decades he ran courses for shop stewards. He was very active in the Haringey Trades Union Council. In recent years he gravitated towards independent libertarian politics, including the Haringey Solidarity Group – his view was it was necessary for workers to take direct control of all workplaces and through workers coordination councils create a new economy and society without capitalism or governments. In his writings he explained he was drawing on what he saw as the best traditions of revolutionary socialism and anarchism.

He actively supported and tried to attend every local workers’ picket line in Haringey, either as the organiser for the Trades Council or as part of local campaigns. In the last few years this included strikes by postal workers, local bakery workers, public sector pension disputes, railworkers picket lines and anti-cuts campaigning. When the Visteon Ford Car Parts factory in Enfield was due to be closed he joined in the workers week-long occupation of the site and later wrote a pamphlet on the experience.

At the same time he helped set up the Radical History Network of NE London** and as the RaHN Convenor he organised and wrote up summaries of dozens of local talks and meetings on a whole range of past disputes and struggles to ensure that the voices of those who took part in them would continue to reverberate and help us all in our struggles and movements today. He took RaHN stalls to many local and national events.

He produced a huge body of agitational, campaigning and radical literature, leaflets, strike bulletins, newsletters, historical snapshots, pamphlets and recently an autobiography***. Yet he  underplayed his own role as he preferred to promote the collective self-activity of those involved in industrial strikes, disputes and working class movements.

He is irreplaceable and will be sorely missed****, but his influence will remain with us all as the struggle for a new society continues unabated.

Dave Morris (Tottenham, 21.10.2012)

*      The contact for the family is: Peter Woodward -   
**    Alan’s autobiography ‘Poor Boy’s Tale’ (Vol 1 – ‘the first 60 years’) is available from Housmans Bookshop – as are some of his pamphlets on Workers Councils, Shop Stewards movements, NHS history, Visteon Factory Occupation, and on other London working class activists like Joe Jacobs and Joe Thomas. All were self-published by Alan under the name of Gorter Press. Many can be found, summarised or reviewed on the RAHN site (see below). 
***  Radical History of NE London -
**** Details of his funeral and any commemorative events or publications will be circulated. See the above site.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bad News for Radical (and other) Researchers

In a ‘Statement on status of destruction of archival material Ruskin college’ dated 15 October 2012 historian Dr Hilda Kean tells the sorry tale of how ‘Archive material dating back to the first decades of the twentieth century of the internationally renowned labour movement college, Ruskin College, Oxford has been destroyed and material constituting its radical history has been dispersed. The integrity of the material in the college as an archive of working class history no longer exists. Sadly, this process of destruction and dispersal has not finished.’
In summary (from her pdf, further summarised here) the destruction involved:
·         Unique student files from c.1900 to c.2000 containing application forms, details of union sponsorship, progress within the college, in some instances press cuttings on future activity. Contents destroyed with only some bare-bones material digitised.
·         Records of the Ruskin Student Union. (Thrown away).
·         Duplicates of rare labour movement pamphlets. (Shredded rather than given to another library).
·         Former student dissertations. (Many destroyed at the behest of the ‘Principal’ – [on the evidence ‘Dictator’ would be more apt. - LW]).
·         Historic labour movement collections listed on the National Register of Archives. (Dispersed to other collections).
·         Artefacts reflecting the radical history of the college. (Gone to other institutions or individuals).
Although Bishopsgate Institute in London advised the college management that it could take unwanted material in July, the college management did not take up that offer.
College management has not said that it will save the remaining student records despite worldwide petitioning and emails and letters.
Background to how this came about, and the implications:
What digitisation does and doesn’t mean: (blog) (By the College Librarian 1972-2004)

Whose archive, whose history?
(Comment by L.W.)
There are parallels, obviously, with things happening in other institutions and organisations where mindless authoritarian management rides roughshod over the welfare of people working in them, the needs of those they were intended to serve, and, often, the principles which led to their being set up in the first place. The breath-taking arrogance and ignorance of the Principal’s quoted comments beg the question of how anyone like that was allowed to get into a position to wield such power unchecked, in such a context, but will be horribly not unfamiliar to many who have found themselves working within an admin-heavy hierarchical set-up where corporate newspeak mentality and unquestioning subservience to government policy rule.
On a brighter note, Volunteer students working in the archive instructed to shred labour movement pamphlets acted with the imagination and integrity one expects of the best of the Ruskin tradition. Other material such as pamphlets or ephemera has been squirreled away by staff keen to preserve the past.. .’ Grass-roots spontaneous action has thus achieved some damage limitation at least. Copy that!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Events at Anarchist Book Fair 2012, Saturday 27 October

2012 Anarchist Bookfair, SATURDAY 27th OCTOBER from 10a.m. to 7p.m.
at Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS.              

The following meetings may be of particular interest from a radical history point of view:

Room 3.22   3rd Floor
11am – 12 noon
The Path Not Taken - welfare history and the libertarian perspective
To know where you're going, you need to know where you came from. One piece of hidden history is the way working class people, in face of the most ruthless capitalism ever, erected a system of welfare services, based on mutual aid "friendly societies". Health, education, housing, benefits, etc, were all included as the new book tells.  We can't resurrect the friendly societies but we can work for modern collective libertarian welfare services, as well as defending the compromise welfare state. 
Books available.
Organised by:  Socialist Libertarian Group

[This meeting was restructured as a tribute to Alan Woodward; his booklet on the subject is available as a pdf - here]
Room 3.18   3rd Floor
12 noon – 1pm
1839: The Chartist Insurrection
The Chartists were the original political movement of the working class, and 1839 was the year a National Convention assembled in London, and revolution seemed a real possibility. The year ended with an armed uprising in London, followed by the trial of its leaders for treason. Our speaker, David Black, is co-author (with Chris Ford) of a new book on the events of 1839.
Organised by: Hobgoblin

Room 3.22   3rd Floor
2pm – 3pm
Strikes, Nukes & Overdue Subscription Fees – Anarchist organisation in original documents (1944-64)
This presentation showcases some of the recent work of the Sparrows' Nest anarchist library, using unique documents relating to Anarcho-Syndicalism in Britain and around the world. Focusing on the overlooked period in the history of radical politics between the end of the Spanish Civil War and the iconic events of the late 1960s we hope to give an insight into some of the political and organisational issues faced by the movement, and suggest further opportunities for research into anarchist history and practice.
Organised by: The Sparrow’s Nest (

Full listing and other details available at

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

For All the People!

John Curl: For All the People – uncovering the hidden history of co-operation, co-operative movements  and communalism in America [2009 USA, 489pp]. Review by Alan Woodward.

This book is a survey of almost everything that comes under its heading, including both individual and collective communal expressions. It is primarily a survey since the area to be covered is huge, but some indication of the extent even in modern America is found in the opening lines: –

‘In 2008, more than 120 million people in the Unites States are members of 48,000 co-operatives, about 40% of the population. Some 3,400 farmer–owned co-operatives market about 30% of all American farm products today. More than 6,400 housing co-operatives provide homes for more than one million households. Two million homes get their service from two hundred and seventy telephones co-operatives. Nearly 1,000 rural electric co-operatives provide power to 36 million people. Over 50,000 independent small businesses belong to 250 purchasing co-operatives for group buying and  shared services ... Eighty four million American belong to credit unions. Numerous small co-operatives running not-for-profit activities, and other small co-operatives  fly beneath the statistical radar. Community Directory lists over 900 intentional communities.’ 

The volume is from the new US project ‘PM’, a sort of sister organisation to AK Press, and promises to become the standard publication on this subject. It has three main sections –
q       a survey of  all the organisations that can be called ‘co-operative’ going back to the collective structure of the native tribes. It has been brought up to date from a previous book but opens the way for more volumes;
q       a personal account of the writer’s participation in the co-operatives in the San Francisco Bay Area  of the Pacific coast from 1971;  this is set in the context of the new co-operative movement, less formal and structured than the mainstream;
q       an exploration of some of the larger scale settlements on a communal basis,  and their ideological basis,  again going back a hundred years.

The first section is massive and the role of the reviewer in these circumstances is to place this huge bank of facts into a context. We need to look at the industrial revolution. The full implications of employment with its loss of freedom for the working day, its accompanying removal to an urban area and isolation from supporting welfare services is likely to have created apprehension in our ancestors living mainly in villages and would not have been considered lightly. However in Britain the economic and legal pressure exercised by landlords through parliamentary Acts of Enclosure deprived thousands of citizens of their access to land and my own grandparents were part of the one quarter of the population forced to move when Enclosure hit a Buckinghamshire village in the 1840s.

New urban living was horrific with its slums, calamitous infant mortality rates and dangerous work  - when you could get it – and many appear to have thought that co-operation offered  a possible way out of this hell. The response in Britain to Robert Owen’s plans for communal work and living was sizable and after a few false starts, the co-operative movement took off and quickly left the founder behind with his grand schemes. The practical took over from the visionary. [Taylor]

Co-operation spread quickly. At almost the same time similar initiatives occurred in the USA for example. In that home of free enterprise and hegemonic politics, co-ops of both the production and distribution variety have grown, and a 21st century assessment tells of their mainly hidden extent.
Curl links the early American co-ops to union invention, primarily as employers were just destructive. Indeed the book can be seen as a version of labour history and this link is true right up to the present. There is an endless series of new formations and growths –  so the volume is likely to become an essential reference for this aspect of hidden history, as the title indicates.

Though US labour is noted for its enthusiasm and boundless energy, most historical initiatives did not get much beyond foundation level - probably due to the vast geography, the sharp repression and the regularity of economic failure. In consequence, the USA has seen an absence of  a workers’ councils movement, unlike any other country in the advanced industrial world. Similarly with co-operatives: many local beginnings - even city or region wide federations - but almost nothing, almost up to contemporary times, of national organisations. However we must salute John Curl for his considerable labours in cataloguing all the manifestations in all the localities. A gigantic task.

Curl examines workers’ productive co-ops and their decline since the wounds of the Reagan era, as well as the hundreds of examples of co-op shop, stores, buying clubs and warehouses. After the extraordinary growth round the Knights of Labor at the end of the previous century, the repression is even more tragic and the rise of the non-political American Federation of Labor can be seen as a double tragedy [Guerin]. We read the same story with the Industrial Workers of the World after the first world war but the whole rejuvenation of the mid 1930s with its strikes, sit-ins and general strikes that set in train a rebirth of collective structures, is a welcome start to the post war expansion. He notes the neglect of the KoL and IWW periods in other histories.

A few more points from this section, which is chronologically organised. The huge farming co-op movement has been decimated by the expanding agribusiness empires which have government and banking finance. While the head count of people involved has declined a little, the numbers of units have been drastically reduced by forced federation and amalgamations. This loss accounts for a percentage of the overall decline.

Two - Personal
In this middle section, Curl switches from his research mode into an interesting narrative about his personal experience in local co-ops, which just happens to have been the most creative in the whole country. He tells of the Berkeley Co-op and myriad collectives for small scale production and consumer stores. Some, like the Plywood Collectives, survived the Reagan axe and others are still forming.

This is the new movement – less formal, structured and permanent than the others, in what he calls the mainstream. These are the fruits of the participation of many of the youth and students, primarily in the Californian North Bay Area. Curl moved into the area of San Francisco in 1971 and was deeply involved with Berkley and a wood products group, Heartwood. The book contains a good deal of technical information, survival plans, etc, as well as an appendix of unique US co-ops today, and International Documentation.

Perhaps the core of the new movement is the attack on the business of the Food Industry. The counterculture is studded with well-supported organic and nature food enterprises as well as buying clubs. It is not fanciful to credit many of the wider reforms in consumer habits as a whole to this movement. ‘Fair trade not free trade’ is the slogan and we can expect more changes in this direction, though Curl looks only at America.

Three - Communalism
The development into settlements from individual units can be seen as a commitment to a broader idea of capitalist rejection that goes beyond co-operation. Despite this, there was still conflict in the system as people brought baggage with them, but a good deal or progress has been recorded. Again the study is chronological.

We have already mentioned in passing the innovatory Robert Owen communities which had a clear socialist theme and during the 1820s there were more than ten examples set up. Later, in the 1840s, treble this were established by another tendency; this was the associationism of Charles Fourier. Associations or phalanxes were highly structured communities that would allow man’s natural goodness to emerge. More than 30 were established all over the land.

In Europe, associationists were a part of the huge post-1840s expansion that was finally split in 1872 into broadly authoritarian marxists and the libertarians classifications. Whatever Fourier’s ideology, and it seems a confusion, the idea of combination for association purposes made sound sense to tens of thousands of Americans for a decade or so, in the a century, before the labour movement ideas were widespread. The cause of the eventual failure is a debatable subject but the remaining links with orthodox economics – phalanxes were joint stock companies – and influence of outside investors no doubt contributed to a slow decline.

Of course, throughout the period, some of these experiments had definite religious origins and the better known still retain ancient ritual and practices like the well known Amish. The contribution has continued up to the recent past. The core of the settlements however comprised ordinary people for whom the dream of co-operation did not go far enough. The hard core, retaining their traditional practices and habits, have often survived.

Another consistent if minority element were the settlements set up by the mutualists, abolitionists and the Underground Railway for escaped slaves. Joseph Henson’s ‘Dawn Community’ is perhaps the best known. Battling difficult circumstances and local racism, the latter groups had also to come to terms with the growing State repression that was beginning to emerge. After the mid century, many of the new settlements were established in the light of the labour philosophy and some were explicitly political.

The State, predictably
Hence from this time onwards, the settlements were seen as vaguely subversive and regularly repressed by State forces. Indeed there was something subversive about the alternatives to the so-called free market. The mythical nature of this animal was exposed time and time again, as in fact, very closely regulated indeed. The objective was, and is, to maximise profits and extinguish anything that reduces this. Then as now, the corporations were quite aware of the settlements as sources of engagement beyond employment. The combination of employers/ state offensive is a growing element in the narrative from around 1880 onwards.

Knights of Labor and Industrial Workers of the World
We have briefly touched upon the enterprise of these two bodies, and the new Socialist Party also joins the list of players. A small number of examples of communalism were established before disaster, natural or man made, defeated them. One remarkable episode, amid the energetic but ultimately ephemeral enterprises, arose from Henry George and his Single Tax campaign. After the Haymarket police massacre and electoral defeats, at least three communes were set up as consolation.

Perhaps the final contribution of that century came from the collective communities that arose after the Kawaeh socialist model in California in 1886. This was crushed by the familiar State intervention but in its place came a network of communities at Puget Sound. This was closely linked to labour unions, especially the remains of the once great American Railway Union after the ill-fated Pullman strike of 1894, and the Brotherhood of Co-operative Commonwealths. A consequence of these was the ‘ Home’ anarchist colony. This attracted many activists - William Z Foster, Emma Goldman, Elisabeth Gurley Flynn  and Bill Haywood, etc. It fought off state harassment and lasted to 1919, of which more below.

q       the Seattle and San Francisco general strikes in 1919 and 1934 respectively
q       the Minnesota episodes in 1934 [Dobbs ]
q       the sit-in wave including the great Flint factory occupation and the series of battles around recognition for auto, or car, workers
q       miscellaneous strikes like that in Lordstown in 1972 that are still not fully explored. [Weller]

The Palmer raids were the latest in the wave of State repression and the IWW were greatly weakened. Haywood was forced into exile in Russia with nearly 90 supporters. Their relation with the state capitalist regime are unknown and the leaders were reported as victims of Stalin’s 1930s official repression. [Brinton]

But all this was just a foretaste of the massive capitalist collapse of the Depression. Curl outlines the terrible years and the modest consolation of the New Deal colonies. This is sad reading and the experience of the McCarthy era just after is quite as bad.

The narrative cheers up with the sixties communes. We have looked briefly at the expression of this new movement of co-operation/ communalism and clearly more publications are needed. A good deal is within recent knowledge but the survey continues with the case study of Drop City, an artists’ colony in Colorado from 1965.

Perhaps belonging to the middle section, this personal account is quite explicit about the structure and weaknesses of this project. The economics turned on the technical innovation of the Dome and re-cycled material. Places were open to all at first but then publicity threatened to swamp the places and limitations were set. It was quite dependent at first on established local co-ops for water and electricity, and good relations were soon established. There was a continuous turnover of residents before it was closed in 1973.

All decisions were made collectively which means a unanimous vote in favour. Murray Bookchin has written critically about the effectiveness of this mechanism and the writer – a teenager at the time - adds more details on this theme. He tells of the clash of personalities within this unregulated institution in a classic case of baggage imported. He describes the experiences as intense and spent some years here with his partner before moving to California.

I am a little surprised at the neglect of communalism’s grandest recruit, Murray Bookchin. This eminent writer and thinker began life as a communist then went on to trotskyism before occupying the leading position among libertarians. Single-handedly, he developed the awareness of the environment decades before it became popular. He laid into those who became what he regarded as obsessively concerned with its implications, at the same time as he worked on the major project of the revolutionary history of the working class. [Biehl]

He refined his views, deplored ‘lifestyle’ anarchism, wrote dozens of very popular books, and finally settled for communalism over orthodox anarchism. His title was ‘libertarian municipalism’ – or communalist equivalent – and to most people he is the only known person in this category. A proper assessment of his role is still awaited after his death in 2006 so patience is required.

For further information, this reviewer is prepared to discount the many political accounts by those advocating their own viewpoint or defending the myth of parliamentary ‘democracy’. We are left with two categories:  writings about the events directly and authors from a libertarian viewpoint, preferably socialist. The text mentions specific reading references at the appropriate place and here we can add a few titles. There is no general history from our viewpoint but the next best thing is Daniel Guerin’s volume, best seen as Selected Notes. This is perceptive and concentrates on the key issues like the role of the official trade union leaders, the value of politically aware leaders and writers and description of important events and periods. The book is difficult to get hold of, but worth the effort.

The nearest to a wider history is the more blunt book by Howard Zinn, and there are some good narratives in Boyer and Morais.

Libertarian writers are fewer in number. Murray Bookchin is the best source but he leads on the environment and his historical studies end with WW2. Paul Mattick came to the USA  in 1926 after direct experience in the council communist movement in Germany after WW1. He wrote up to his death in 1981, participating in the Root and Branch group among others. Again he specialised in economic but his volume on ‘Anti-Bolshevik Communism’ is a treasure generally. His writing on American labour issues are sporadic. Among his supporters, Peter Rachleff seems to be carrying the flag with his many strike accounts. We still await some more comprehensive and accurate.

The writer
John Curl is a woodworker by trade and follows the libertarian practice of providing leadership by example and while otherwise occupied. For this book is a classic example of intellectual and social initiative and deserves a place on the bookshelves of serious students of the labour movement. Highly recommended.

q       Stanley Aronowitz; False Promises  - the shape of American working class consciousness, [1973, 465 pp].
q       Janet Biehl, editor: The Murray Bookchin Reader, [1997, 244pp].
q       Maurice  Brinton ( Chris Pallis): The Bolsheviks and Workers Control,   1917-21   [1970, 86pp] see also  Goodway, David.
q       David Goodway, editor: For  Workers’  Power – the selected writings of  Maurice Brinton [2004, 379pp] which includes useful accounts of debate over  original publications, plus reprints of his three main works.
q       Daniel Guerin: 100 years of  Labor in the USA  [1979,  252pp].
q       Farrell Dobbs: Teamster Rebellion, [1972, USA, 185pp],  Teamster Power [1973, USA, 255pp]  Teamster Politics [1975, USA, 257pp] Teamster Bureaucracy [1977, USA, 304pp];
q       Root and Branch (editors) : Root and Branchthe rise of the workers movements  [1975 USA, 544p].
q       Root and Branch (editors) The Seattle Strike Committee: The Seattle General Strike – an account of what happened in Seattle and especially in the labor movement, during the general strike February 6 to 11, 1919 [1972 USA, 75 pp]   R&B pamphlet 5.
q       Barbara Taylor: Eve and the New Jerusalem – socialism and feminism in the nineteenth century [1983,  402pp]; Owenism and its influence.
q       Stan Weir; ‘Singejack Solidarity  [2004USA,, 384pp].
q       Ken Weller:  The Lordstown Struggle and the real crisis in production, Solidarity pamphlet 45 [1972?, 12 pp].

Empathy YES, Human greed NO !

  Book Review:  Frans De Waal: The Age of Empathy –
nature’s lessons for a kinder society   [2009,  293pp]

This American paperback collates the evidence from recent experiments in the animal world to show that empathy – a technical name for sympathy – is in fact a built-in basis for animal and human nature. He thus attacks the prevailing ideology of greed and competition, and confirms the alternative libertarian philosophy. Though his publication is libertarian, De Waal is mainly concerned with refuting conventional opinion and includes only passing references to classical writers.

The author is a prominent primatologist – scientist studying animal behaviour - and writes from many years’ experience. His book has some unusual features but has been widely reviewed including an article in Freedom in June 2012. The first five chapters collect evidence from experiments, institutional events, direct accounts from the wild and anecdotes from other scientists. Unless people are qualified in this subject, readers will  have to take the text at face value here, though many may find it confirms their views and/or experience. 

De Waal’s writing confirms the almost universal existence of empathy among elephants, dolphins, some whales, some primates and some birds. His evidence is overwhelming for these groups. Other animals show only partially developed  capacity and must await more research. On the main theme, however, the facts are increasingly well known, and, as this is a science, may be readily believed. We should all know about the dolphins protecting swimmers from sharks, the astonishing elephant mourning of dead family members, the apes regularly responding to their keepers’ experiments, the large brained magpies able to recognise added adornment in mirrors and whales thanking their saviours.

This section also includes effective attacks on conventional psychologists and their writings which is particularly satisfactory. De Waal also concludes that the empathy  tendency is not just an evolved development but lies deep in human psyche – he is always drawing conclusions for humans today and aligns himself  with radical opinion. ”We are all born as revolutionaries”, he concludes. These chapters make pleasant reading even for those without formal affiliations, as he plumps for “enlightened self interest”.

In the final two chapters, he applies his ideas more openly. Conventional social writings are critically examined and those who depend on their version of “human nature“ like Milton Friedman roundly condemned. Accounts of chimps jumping into water to save others completely confound even progressives like Richard Dawkins who ramble on about ‘selfish genes’. New perspectives present themselves in sharp contrast to the newspaper headline world.

There are many paragraphs worth quoting but the best perhaps is a startling analysis of soldiers in war. He shows that a huge majority of soldiers, despite the movies, are averse to killing, fire deliberately to miss and apparently believe that taking human life is just unacceptable. This astonishing concept runs entirely counter to aspects of popular ideology, as created by the film industry and politicians’ propaganda but my own brief military experience of the call-up, albeit in peace, confirms the lack of interest in guns, etc. This is ground-breaking stuff.

The reader should know of the unusual construction of the book. There is at the end of the volume a whole section of “un-annotated” notes to the text. These are not indicated by any means and while some are just reading references, many do elaborate the source of the anecdotes etc, and provide further proofs. The reading references unfortunately are compartmentalised into chapter headings but are generous in their content. The book is in paperback format, costs around £12 but is widely discounted in bookshops. Well worth reading or even as a present.

Finally what of the implications of his work? Offering himself the chance to further promote libertarianism, he declines the opportunity and wishes only for a decline in popular chauvinism that so often reflects past ideas. While this is a worthwhile project and perhaps we would all join him, libertarian readers need not be so modest. This reviewer  backs the conclusion that De Waal validates Peter Kropotkin’s ‘Mutual Aid ‘ and would surely look towards a movement that takes us in the direction of an anarchist/libertarian future that the prolific Russian believed in. As well as a ‘kinder society’, we want a fairer and more controlled one too.

Review by Alan Woodward.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Searchlight smearing Anarchists - Paul Preston & "The Spanish Holocaust"

Nostromo | 14.03.2012 00:31 | Anti-racism | Social Struggles | Workers' Movements

The Hope Not Hate website run by Anti-Fascist campaign group Searchlight has published a review by Sam King of historian Paul Preston's new book "The Spanish Holocaust". Sam King states that "Preston makes it clear that the Anarchist CNT were as anti the Republic as the Fascists", and that claim is historically false...

The Hope Not Hate website run by Anti-Fascist campaign group Searchlight has published a review by Sam King of historian Paul Preston's new book "The Spanish Holocaust". The review states that Paul Preston's earlier book "The Spanish Civil War" has "eloquently portrayed the sacrifices that men and women from across the world made to fight Franco's brutal Fascist regime and the shadowy and sinister support he received from Hitler and Mussolini". The review goes on to say that Preston's new book is a "tour de force", which recounts "the tragic tales of men and women who took up arms against a military machine that wanted to crush all vestiges of democracy, humanity and secularism". While most people in the UK are disgusted by the thousands, sometimes tens of thousands murdered by the Fascist regimes of post-war South America, perhaps most importantly this book agrees with the many historians who estimate the number of Anti-Fascists that Franco butchered as being around 200,000. Even today Spanish people are struggling to obtain permissions to open Franco's mass graves and to identify the remains of their murdered relatives and loved-ones, while few people in the UK seem to have much idea of the sheer scale of the Fascist violence that occurred, with the connivance of our own government, so close to Britain. 

So far so good. The problem occurs however when Sam King states that, referring to the democratically elected Republican government that was overthrown by General Franco's Fascist uprising, "Preston makes it clear that the Anarchist CNT" (the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, which is still active today) "were as anti the Republic as the Fascists, viewing it as a bourgeoisie government". Whether this claim is one made by Paul Preston, or is a claim rehashed and not checked by Hope Not Hate, it's still false. Certainly elements within the Anarchist movement opposed alliances with Communist and liberal Republicans, preferring instead to pursue immediate and decisive social revolution, and arguably that did "destabilise the Republic" and "played right into the hands of the right wing", however brutal Communist oppression of Anarchists also played into the hands of the Fascists, with equally catastrophic results. Differences of historical interpretation aside however, the CNT helped form a Republican government in 1931, and even after the revolution of 1936, the CNT worked with other Republican groups, with Anarchist Federica Montseny becoming Minister of Health (and in fact Spain's first woman cabinet Minister), Anarchist Joan Peiró becoming Minister of Industry, Anarchist Segundo Blanco becoming Minister of Education, and militant Anarchist Juan García Oliver becoming Minister of Justice, in the very same Republican government the Hope Not Hate review says the CNT opposed. 

This response is written to remind Searchlight / Hope Not Hate that their intermittent smear campaigns against Anarchists aren't appreciated and won't go unchallenged, and to remind them that if they want to create an atmosphere of trust within the Anti-Fascist movement they need to stick to telling the truth. This response is not written from the point-of-view that Anarchist mistakes should go unchallenged however - it is for instance fashionable in Anarchist circles to lionise strong-arm men like militia leader Buenaventura Durruti, but somewhat less fashionable to admit that part of the reason the CNT was the largest and most successful Anarchist organisation EVER was because it contained strategically sophisticated pragmatists who were willing and able to pursue their ideals within the context of (relatively speaking) mainstream politics.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

BOOK REVIEW - Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere – the new global revolutions by Paul Mason

reviewed by Alan Woodward
This book – the author’s third – is a volume of two distinct parts. The first part follows the pattern of his first publication in that it looks at the experience in different countries while the second part offers some miscellaneous thoughts, comparisons and explanations on what is happening now in the Arab Spring , and Europe too . This are of quite different approach – and quality - and while sometimes separated neatly into chapters, are also put in sequence with factual reporting. Hence the overall effect is something of a mish mash. The book , or reportage as the author would have it, is certainly timely, with occasionally insights , and in places quite significant politically.

For A’ That

Burns Night – as seen 56 years ago.
Gastronomic Immortality?

All over the world, at this time, elaborate preparations are being made to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of “Scotland’s National Bard” and to “honour” the ploughman poet who has found for himself a place, if not in the hearts, at least in the stomachs, of a wide variety of people in many countries and climes.

So now would seem as good a time as any for me to confess that I have never attended a Burns’ Supper. Not that I have any rooted objection to supping, or to Robert Burns – although he wrote almost as much bad verse as he wrote good – but rather because I cannot reconcile in my own mind two such separate appetites as one for food and one for poetry; and I feel that by trying to combine the two I would only succeed in confusing both. For me, there is no common link between a palate for whisky and haggis and an aesthetic appreciation of lyrics.