Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Greece: Anti-Fascist meeting. Nottingham, November 14

There will be a public meeting entitled
Anti-Fascist Resistance in Greece Today: Golden Dawn and Lessons for the UK
Thursday 14th November at 7.30 p.m.
in the
Chase Community Centre
Robin Hood Chase (off St Ann’s Well Road)


Maria Nikolakaki will talk about the rise in Greece of the far-right organisation Golden Dawn, which has been involved in brutal attacks e.g. on ethnic minorities and migrants. She will discuss recent developments following the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, as well as Golden Dawn’s links with the government, police and intelligence services.

Maria will also debate the anti-fascist resistance to Golden Dawn, and what lessons can be learnt for anti-fascists in the UK fighting the EDL, UKIP and the increase in anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric by all the main political parties.

Maria is an Associate Professor of Education at the University of the Peloponnese in Greece, and also an activist and trade unionist. She is a member of "Sispirosis", the biggest left coalition union of academics in Greece, and is currently involved in anti-fascist education work with secondary school students, a group that Golden Dawn is trying to recruit.

Free event
Refreshments provided

Please see the leaflet attached or on Notts Indymedia:
See also

Monday, October 21, 2013

Next RaHN meeting: updated notice

Public Meeting
A people’s history of campaigning for access to drinking water, recreation water and navigation systems

Wednesday November 13th
7.30pm, Wood Green Social Club
3 Stuart Crescent, N22 5NJ (off the High Rd, near Wood Green tube)

We hope to have speakers discussing struggles over navigation on the River Lea, the New River's relationship to capitalism and how it was subverted and challenged by Londoners, and discuss other NE London streams too. But anyone else with tales of waterways and the issues around them us are of course welcome...

For discussion, see past tense post.
Radical History Network of N.E. London
Celebrate our history, avoid repeating our mistakes, & get inspiration to help create a better society for the future

Sunday, October 13, 2013

RaHN: New general leaflet just out

available here
Free to forward, put on websites, print out (2 sided and 3 way folded!), and distribute at any events, venues and mailing lists...
Text as below (not necessarily in that order).
We’re associated with...

Haringey Independent Cinema
West Green Learning Centre, Park View Academy, West Green Road, N15. Show alternative films on the last Thursday of every month at 7pm

Haringey Solidarity Group
PO Box 2474, N8. Radical network of activists engaged in community campaigns.

London Anarchist Bookfair
Over 3,000 people attend every October and we usually have a stall and/or meeting.

Bruce Castle Museum
Lordship Lane, N17. Haringey’s local history archives are based there, and there’s an annual Haringey Local History Fair every February.

Housmans Bookshop
5 Caledonian Road, N1. ‘London’s premier radical bookshop’. They hold regular meetings on topical subjects or to launch a new book etc.

Radical History groups
We also link up with other Radical History groups across London including Hackney Radical History Network and Past Tense.
RaHN meetings
Meetings are normally held on a Wednesday, and currently occur every three months or so. We meet at 7.30pm at Wood Green Social Club, 3 Stuart Crescent, N22 - normally in room 1. The club is just opposite the Civic Centre on the High Road, at the start of White Hart Lane, 50yds from the main road (100yds walk from the bus stop at Wood Green tube station).

We have a very popular blog and archive which we add to regularly.
Get involved

Please contact us to be added to our email list to receive updates about RaHN and radical history news. You can also get actively involved in our work. 

Contact us

Graphic   Gert Arntz, whose woodcut is featured on the front of this leaflet, was a ‘council communist’, who decided the pictogram as a means of communication for the non literate. 
[picture of duplicator] Gert Arntz, Krise, 1931

History Network
of North East London

Celebrate our history, avoid making the same mistakes - and get inspiration to help create a better society for the future

Past meetings have included...

·         Community Empowerment in Parks and Open Green Spaces (in Haringey, north East London and beyond...)

·         ‘Everywhere and Nowhere’: General Strikes, Solidarity Strikes and Industrial Solidarity

·         The Past, Present and Future of Radical Pamphleteering. (Organised in commemoration of the life and work of Alan Woodward)

·         The Housing of the Working Class in Haringey

·         The London Support Committee for the Liverpool Dockers Strike

·         The Fight Against the Poll Tax in Haringey 1988-90

·         The Old Age Pension from 1908 to the Present

·         London Chartism and the 1839 Insurrection

·         The Spanish Revolution 1936 – 1939

75th anniversary meeting

·         The NHS is 60

·         Ford Motor Company versus the Workers - a short history of the conflict
Details of next meeting usually enclosed

Alan Woodward & his archives
Alan Woodward, former co-convenor of the Network, died on 20 October 2012. Alan left an extensive personal archive of radical reading matter behind him collected over a lifetime of radical working-class activity and campaigning. He wanted this material to be maintained as a local archive, open for people to use, research and read, under the administration of a libertarian group. In the long term this should be used as the basis of a local radical history library.

There are currently discussions about short, medium and long term housing of the archive. We are particularly interested in finding a Haringey-based venue, so if you have any suggestions please get in contact.

We have a bookstall which we take to various local and London wide events. We distribute small books and pamphlets produced by the group or members of the network - for free, or for sale, or for small donation.
Aims & Procedures
Our aim is to look at subjects that are local, topical, radical or of special interest. Most of our contributors are local people with specialist knowledge or experiences – and everyone is encouraged to chip in with their own views. The aim is to learn about past struggles and campaigns and relate them to present day events and movements.

We usually prepare an A4 information sheet for those attending in order to summarise the details, allow pre-reading and emphasise the importance of the subject.

Each meeting is scheduled to last 1½ hours with ample chance for discussion + up to date local reports and coming events. A facilitator is elected for each session.

Meetings are currently running every three months or so, and tend to be agreed at the one before to allow time to organise the next.

We publish documents as and when required.

 Our intention
To bring people together and spread awareness of our collective struggles in the past in order to celebrate our history, avoid making the same mistakes, and get inspiration to help create a better society for the future

[printer logo]

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Saturday 19th October 11.00 - 7.00

Room 315,
3rd Floor,
Frances Bancroft Building,
Queen Mary & Westfield University,
Mile End Road,
E1 4NS.

This year's London Anarchist Bookfair will host something new - a Radical History Area. Inspired by the successful Radical History Zone that has featured at the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair over recent years, some individuals from Bristol Radical History Group and Past Tense, among others, are attempting to kick start something similar.

Programme avvailable here

Radical History? Oh no, we hear you cry, not a serious terminally dull academic debates about dusty and irrelevant events hundreds of years ago...!
No... at least we hope not...
We have put together a series of talks which we hope people will find interesting, but also useful. We don't see 'history' as a dry 'subject'; it isn't separate from our own experiences and the struggles, and situations we are part of now, and the ideas and movements we hope can help build a freer future. Our own stories are also history; but reversing that, history is made up of experiences, battles, events, individuals and mass movements - linked to ours by both resistance to the hierarchical and unequal social relations they faced, and the desires, ideas and dreams of life could be, and how to get there.
We also think that history isn't just about reading, texts, lectures – we have always tried to put on events, actions, to commemorate and inspire ourselves and others with humour and theatre. Next year we hope to expand and bring in other ideas and ways of discussing and remembering our subversive past.

We are also putting on two exhibitions, which will be displayed on the walls in the History Area.

We hope that the meetings and exhibitions we are putting on make some contributing to linking, past, present and future. We know not everyone will be interested, and others will think we should have put on talks about other issues...!
However we see this idea as becoming a regular feature of future Bookfairs, if this one works out; if anyone is interested in helping plan future Radical History Areas, please get in touch. This could be just the beginning...

This Area has been put together by individuals from Bristol Radical History Group and Past Tense, and other interested individuals.

Bristol Radical History Group - email brh@brh.org.uk

Past tense - email: pasttense@alphabetthreat.co.uk


11.00 - 12.00 - Solidarity: Martial Law - Capitalism in Poland, 1980-1989

Speaker: Marcin Wawrzyn

The black and white picture of the struggle of Polish anti-communist opposition, with its flagship Solidarity trade union, against the Moscow-backed regime, is just another official version of history that the victorious write in the school books of our children. But what if Solidarity was just a major scam of Pierestrojka that span out of control, and what if communists didn't believe in communism, but what they did believe in was simply money and power?

12.00 - 1.00 - Running down Whitehall with a black flag: memories of anarchism in the 1960s

Speaker: Di Parkin

Di Parkin was a revolutionary activist from the early 1960s to the 1980s.
This talk focusses on her personal memories as an anarcho-syndicalist in the 1960s and on interviews with members of the Syndicalist Workers' Federation and its links to the Spanish CNT in exile.

1.0 - 2.00 - Anarchist Visual Art, Then and Now?

Speakers: Kev Caplicki and Gee Vaucher

This striking montage of history and political art is a one-off chance to catch comrades from the celebrated JustSeeds Collective, sharing a space with Gee Vaucher, from legendary punk band Crass.

Kevin Caplicki is a socially engaged printmaker, member of Justseeds Artists Cooperative & DIY archivist at Interference Archive, in Brooklyn, NY, which explores the relationship between cultural production and social movements.

Gee produced what are surely the most familiar and influential images of anarcho-punk artwork. She continues to experiment and push boundaries as an artist using whatever it takes to say it.

JustSeeds and Gee are also exhibiting some of their work in the Radical History Area (see below).

2.00 - 3.30 - Occupying is Good for your Health?

Speakers: Rosanne and Myk, hospital occupiers from the 1980s and 1990s.

In the 1970s, '80s and '90s, many UK workers and patients occupied hospitals under threat of closure. Currently the NHS is under threat of closures again. How is the situation different now? Are tales of previous occupations relevant? The NHS, useful as it is, has never really been under our control - are occupations a step in that direction? Or is calling for occupations just empty radical-sounding sloganising?

3.30 - 5.00 - British armed forces' strikes and mutinies in 1918-19:

a radical history project for the anniversary of World War I

Speakers: Roger Ball, Neil Transpontine.

Bristol Radical History Group and Neil Transpotine will outline the conveniently forgotten history of British armed forces' post WWI strikes and mutinies revealing  how the mass refusal of troops across Europe included expressions of  militant dissent in Britain. Such widespread revolt led to the collapse  of the Allied invasion of Soviet Russia. The second part of the meeting  will discuss what we can do to disrupt attempts by Cameron and the Tories to spin the 100th anniversary of the War's outbreak next year. Never mind their flagging credentials; radical historians can start the resistance right here!


We are also hosting two exhibitions, on show all day, in the meeting room, and on the Second Floor landing.

Inside Room 315: Just Seeds and Gee Vaucher.

Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative is a network of artists, working in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, committed to making print and design work that reflects a radical social, environmental, and political stance. They produce collective portfolios, contribute graphics to grassroots struggles for justice, build large sculptural installations in galleries, and wheatpaste on the streets...

Gee Vaucher’s surreal, always challenging, artworks and collages have graphically depicted a commitment to radical social change for decades, ranging from her work with Crass to more recent international multi-media shows and exhibitions, and publishing through Exitstencil Press.

Second Floor Landing:

Been hearing about 1834 recently? Does the phrase "New Poor Law" weirdly make you think of now? The Anarchist Time Travellers’ Association have splashed some soundbites on the walls; come and see if you can tell the 1830s from the 2010s! (we would have made it into a proper quiz but couldn't afford the prizes...)


Please publicise the Radical History Area in every way you can... And don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions...

For blogs/websites: you can link to http://www.past-tense.org.uk, the
index page has info on the Radical History Area...


[Update from New River Festival post]

past tense have just published 'Free Like Conduit Water', an updated and expanded version of our old pamphlet on the New River. It discusses the moral economy of water distribution in medieval London, how the New River altered this in the interests of embryonic capitalism, and how the River became contested between the Company and the people who lived near its banks, who subverted it for their own uses... It also includes a long walk down the River's length in London, and relates it to the radical history and present of some of the areas it passes through.

'Free Like Conduit Water' is available for £5 plus £1.50 P&P from
past tense, c/o 56a Info Shop, 56 Crampton Street, London SE17 3AE,
(cheques payable to 'past tense publications'),

or from the publications page on our website:


North London's New River is four hundred years old. For much of its length it is buried beneath our streets and parks...


For centuries people swam, bathed and played in the River...
Think of the fun we could have! Boating from Wood Green to Angel...
Sunbathing on the banks in Green Lanes...
Skinny-dipping in Palmers Green...?

North London’s New River was opened in 1613, in an attempt to alleviate, but also to cash in on, the shortage of water in the City of London. The New River Company, a private enterprise, had the river dug, selling shares and making a profit from the supply of water to the growing City of London. This was one of the first capitalist ventures into both the creation of infrastructure, and the providing of staples like water for profit.

One of the first PFIs you might say.

The Company was an important fore-runner of huge corporations that today dominate the global economy, not only selling the earth’s resources to us, and wrecking the planet in the process, but also robbing us of the fruits of our daily labours... There are numberless statues and roads remembering Hugh Myddelton, the entrepreneur who organised the financing of the New River - but hard-working navvies dug the New River: who remembers them?

Water, like all the riches of the earth and the fruits of our labour, should be shared freely by all, for need and joy, not profit and loss. As a token towards the abolition of all wage slavery, profits, fences, borders and corporations, we demand: the immediate opening up of the New River as a waterway and pleasure park!


Since the nineteenth century, large sections of the New River have gradually been re-routed underground, covered over by the growth of suburban streets. Much of its length is still open, more was opened up in the last few decades by pressure, and can be walked. Much more flows through pipes, or even runs above ground but is fenced off. In some places the River runs beneath a green pathway down the middle of wide streets, or dives and resurfaces, flitting between secrets conduits and a landscaped narrow green promenades... Some sections are now cut off from the stream entirely, sterile or stagnant ponds.

Thames Water, successor to the New River Company, a huge enterprise, extorting an unhealthy dividend from what should be free to all; they allow us to walk some sections of the path, not as a right of way, but as a PR gesture. When we know that all paths, like water and all other necessities, belong to us all.

Capitalism, a powerful engine driving England’s developing industrial society, played a big part in the development of the New River. Without a doubt the risks taken by capitalists objectively allowed some of London’s most important and useful features to be built. Others were built despite capital and property interests, pushed through by enlightened or foresighted local authorities, or philanthropists and private charitable institutions. Undeniable social progress, over the last few centuries, came about for a myriad web of reasons, including the drive for profit, genuine ideologies of humanitarianism and compassion, or of political conviction of the rights of working people, or a fear of the potential of the poor rising in revolt.

But capital’s needs, the drive for profit, can only produce social progress as long as it’s profitable, as long as it coincides with hard cash... It’s also easy to see how we have benefitted from some developments, long term; but for the people who lived through the actual progressing sometimes it made their lives rapidly worse. London’s water bearers were gradually force out of existence by the New River; but on a wider scale, the industrial Revolution in England was instrumental in the destruction of myriad ways of life, forced people into factories, or workhouses, drove down life expectancy for decades, and robbed working people of security and all the fruits of their labour bar a pittance. Progress in Britain also came at the expense of mass slavery for Africans, pillage and plunder of resources all over the world, the near-destruction of whole races and species of animals.

We have to go beyond ‘progress’ based on wealth and profits, to a world where all of us have free access to resources, more than just to survive, but to flourish and prosper. For centuries, people have opposed the rise of we broadly call capitalism, this way of life where our only relations are supposed to be mediated by cash, the selling of our time, our bodies, our minds, in return for enough to live on, or a bit more, if times are booming... Many opposed the digging of the New River, at the time, because they felt that water shouldn’t be controlled by private companies. Early medieval Londoners had a saying - “free as conduit water: necessities should be open to all. For two hundred years the poor of London couldn’t even afford the New River water.

Despite all attempts to reduce us to just counters in a cold cash economy, we refuse. In every era, people constantly break the banks, subvert restrictions, and create connections with each other, based on human relations and shared pleasure, not greed and barriers. Since its opening, people undermined the New River’s control of water, tapping the river illegally for free, fishing, swimming and washing themselves and clothes, and making merry by its banks.

In the current climate of ‘austerity’, disillusion is widespread, cynicism about the possibility of a freer way of life pretty general, and hope for the future thin on the ground. As belts get tightened (mostly around the necks of those with little or nothing), some of us are, however, still afloat and battling the rapids. We have long fought the forces that push all of us towards dealing only with each other through money, competition, getting ahead, the forces that rob us of our time and pay us a grudging fraction of what we earn for them... Against that we build human relations, the needs of people, our creativity, the potential we have to live totally differently to the daily grind.

But a change in society to us doesn’t just mean a bland change in economic relations; we also dream of altering the physical space around us – for use, yes, but also for beauty. The places we live, the space we inhabit, the environments around us where we work and play, are there to transform. We love to walk the banks of the canal from Limehouse to Brentford, the banks of the smaller streams that feed the Thames, the Thames banks themselves. For decades we’ve watched these banks change, to some extent opened for all to wander, but lined also with the increasing developments designed overwhelmingly for the rich. We walk the Thames now, yes, from Deptford to London Bridge, but at the sufferance and under the eye of the yuppie towers and ever-multiplying high-rise penthouse playgrounds. It seems a city increasingly beyond our control, rented to us part-time at extortionate rates - because they need us to run the place, make it work; but more and more they see us like the rats that carried the plague.

All this we want to change - all of existence should be free, creative, shared and open to all... Not hipster bars by trendy New Riversides, fake edge for rich kids playing at living in Hackney (until they can turn it into another reprint of whatever suburb they crawled out of)... but a freely running stream for freely dancing folk. All of life "free as conduit water."

It’s not just landscaped paths we want... wildness is being bred out of the city, green spaces being built on unless they’re protected, or fought for... But the half-wildernesses and empty spaces, demolished buildings left to tumble, the Bricklayers Arms or Beckton after they were knocked down, and before the new estates, were claimed by people and opened up as unofficial playgrounds... In some ways this made for wilder and more fun spaces. The banks of South London’s Wandle, for instance, were more fun to wander when the path was half-wild, half overgrown factories falling down, part-reclaimed by weeds, parts where you had to scramble and trespass. The ordered council walks are probably better for baby-buggies though, and open space is a playground for dodgier elements too, who have to co-exist with kids... So it’s a toss-up, always, a negotiation about who gets to use space, who it’s for... It’s hard to consensus use of space.

We would like to see the New River open throughout its length, not only dug up, but navigable. We want to drift by dinghy or home made raft, from Wood Green to Angel, stop off and picnic drink by its banks, go skinny-dipping where the River crosses Salmons Brook. Obviously for this to happen would means the re-instating of the River at points where roads now run... In some places where gardens or allotments grow... Some people living and working, growing there might object. Perhaps the New New River we foresee would only some about in a radically different North London, where roads and cars would be less important, in a social system where work could be transformed too, where time wasn’t driving us always to some other place for the purposes of earning enough to get by...

We have wandered almost every mile of the rivers of London, those on the surface and those stretches lost or buried. For some reason waters and waterways call to us, pull us along their ever-onward meandering. Maybe its cause we’re two-thirds water ourselves; though ways that are lost always have a special urge for some humans. For years a vision of a new London, teeming with canals and opened up lost rivers, new waterways and other paths, has haunted us. Snatches of the New River have been part of the inspiration for this - the stretch from St Paul’s Road to Canonbury Road, or round the Stoke Newington Reservoirs. You can walk there, and think: London should be filled with paths like this, in every area there should be hidden paths and secret ways, dark water and willows barely weeping, kids fishing for the one fat carp that has ate the rest. They are in some ways an answer and a rebuttal of the ever-growing M25ising of the city, as interesting and alternative space is ironed out, everything that is not for profit is slowly dried out and drained of its moisture. We have fought that process for years, a war that continues. Currently we’re losing.

Beyond that, we have stood on Holborn Viaduct and day-dreamt a Fleet river estuary re-flooded, with boats wandering up as far as the Apple tree pub, to share a pint with some Mount Pleasant postal-workers. Or going further - the streets of the City flooded for ever, with the banks and transnational corporations long fled, new canals linking their abandoned sky-scrapers, squatted and turned into vertical playgrounds for kids (whole floors hollowed out for adventure slides and zip-wires), allotments on the 33rd floor of the Gherkin, open to the wind and weather. All of London one vast waterway, not even as stinking as Venice in the Summer (OK, so we’ll have some gong-ferming to do). The new waterways in fact could be the arteries and veins of new social networks.

But if this vision seems a long way off, remember the thousands who always reclaimed the New River in defiance of the Company. Who says we can’t dig up the hidden stretches ourselves, even if no great social change seems like it’s round the corner? Gates are there to be opened and fences climbed.

past tense, September 2013

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Thoughts of Maurice Brinton on the NHS, 1978

Originally published in Solidarity: for Social Revolution (London, UK) No. 2 April 1978, under the title “YOUR STATE OF HEALTH AND THE HEALTH OF THE STATE”.
The NHS is the biggest, sickest employer in the country today, an employer dealing with over a million people.
Every week the media carry reports of hospital closures, difficulties in maintaining standards, long waiting lists, ill-treatment of the mentally ill, of scandals due to inadequate staffing and of rampant dissatisfaction (both among those working for the NHS and among those for whom it was designed). Have you ever tried to ‘get through’ to your GP in the course of a 5-minute surgery consultation?  Have you ever tried to get minor surgery carried out on a child, in a hospital, on a Sunday afternoon? If you have, you will know exactly what I am talking about.
The NHS crisis is developing against a background where – despite substantial improvements in health standards since 1948 – there are still gross inequalities. These involve both the social distribution of disease (1) and the distribution of facilities for coping with it. A general practitioner has even written of an Inverse Care Law (2) whereby the availability of good medical care tends to vary inversely with the need for it. The cut-backs in the NHS are widely – and rightly – perceived as an attack on the social wage.

Confronted with these truths, the average radical talks about ‘the crisis of capitalism’ and ‘the onslaught on the working class’. He bemoans the small proportion (only some 8%) of the Gross National Product devoted to health care, and the wrong priorities of governments – both Conservative and Labor.

I don’t propose to deal here with this wider perspective – not because it is irrelevant but because I want to focus on another aspect of the crisis: the bureaucratisation of the NHS. This is part of a trend which started long before the last five years. Inflation and recession have certainly accelerated the trend. But ‘administrative’ reflexes and attitudes, widespread on the left, have also reinforced it, thereby creating further  problems.

Growth of the Bureaucracy

If we think of a bureaucracy as a group of people primarily concerned with ‘the direction and management of the work of others’ (and with the perpetuation, while at it, of their own privileges), then the NHS has witnessed an undoubted growth of bureaucracy over the last couple of decades. Anyone working in a British hospital – through the 1960s and 1970s – will have seen the remorseless forward creep of areas allocated to administration. Areas devoted to patient care have meanwhile grown little or not at all; sometimes they have actually shrunk.

New blocks go up, noisily and dustily, near the seriously ill. New Committee rooms are built, where planners plan and administrators administrate. New furniture is ordered and delivered. Men carrying carpets or delivering filing cabinets suddenly appear in cluttered hospital corridors, among the trolleys carrying patients. The alienation due to the growth of specialisation (where doctors in one specialty can hardly understand what those in another are talking about) is now compounded by another alienation, where no one understands what the administrators are talking about. New memos, new regulations, new rules, a new vocabulary. The phones can hardly cope with [the] surging tide of administrative yap. Patients cannot get through to doctors.  Doctors can’t get through to the lab, or to other hospitals. Both swear at the telephonists, who return it… with interest.

In 1964 there were 52,085 doctors and dentists in the NHS. A decade later there were 63,110 (an increase of about 20%). Over the same decade the number of administrators and clerical staff had increased from 48,016 to 79,114 (i.e. by nearly 65%). (Written reply, House of Commons, Oct. 29, 1975). By 1975 the administrative staff had swollen to 86,707.

The cost of this vast bureaucratic superstructure (and its relation to expenditure on medical care) can be seen in the following figures:

Hospital expenditure (UK) 1974-75:  (Source: Written answer, House of Commons, February 10, 1976)
Administration £107,930,991          Medical Care  £167,118,313     

In other words, the administration of the NHS consumes nearly 2/3 [two thirds] as much as the provision of medical care.

The basic facts can be put in a different way. A decade ago there was an administrator for every 9.5 hospital beds. Today the figure is one to every 4.8 hospital beds. (Evening Standard, Jan. 24, 1977). This is undoubtedly a change in the organic composition of the Health Service. ‘Dead labour’ in the offices is clearly dominating ‘living labour’ on the wards.

Unfortunately few on the ‘official’ left are prepared to campaign on such issues. Their cult of a certain (bourgeois) type of efficiency and their endorsement of hierarchy in so many aspects of their lives – not least in their own organisations – renders them rather impervious to facts of this kind. It was left to rank and file workers at the Westminster Hospital to point out that ‘senior management… are provided with flats and offices furnished with expensive and unnecessary desks and equipment, while the cleaning budgets have been cut, allowing mice and cockroaches into wards and kitchens.’ (Evening Standard, Jan. 24, 1977).

The Question of Priorities

This is not the place to discuss the growth of social services or of the ideology of ‘welfare’ in the 20th century. They were the result of a developing awareness among those who ruled society:  those who made it function had to be kept in a reasonable state of health.

When Aneurin Bevan spoke of the NHS as inaugurating an era when ‘poverty would not be a disability, and wealth not an advantage’, he was speaking through his hat. He had himself described politics as ‘the language of priorities’. Those of a social structure that had only been tampered with were soon to assert themselves.

That NHS priorities over the last 10 years have been ‘wrong’ is certain. But the ‘errors’ were no accident. They were an essential feature of how bureaucratic societies function. They show the sort of issues such societies can sweep under the carpet, the sort of pressures they respond to, even the nature of their responses. People like health. They get angry when health facilities are cut back. The bureaucrat reasons that people won’t miss what they haven’t had. The lower limits of expenditure on health are therefore always determined by fears of political backlashes (i.e. lost votes).

Between 1953 and 1973 the annual expenditure on the NHS has only increased, in real terms, by 141%. During this 20 year period government spending on education increased by 274%, and on personal social services by 506% (World Medicine, Nov. 17, 1976). The NHS bureaucracy realised, at an early date, that the best way of ensuring that potentially expensive ‘demand’ did not arise was to ensure that the resources to meet it were never available. ‘A hospital that has not been built, a bed that has not been put in place, a specialist who has not been trained, a complex piece of equipment that has not been bought, all of these cannot be used. The secret of saving in the Health Service was quickly understood to be the non-provision of resources. Here was the origin of the waiting lists that are so characteristic of the Health Service today’. (ibid.) From the government’s point of view there was and is no cost attached to the wretchedness and misery of a patient who must wait a month, a year, or several years, to get his ‘elective’ (i.e. non-urgent) problem handled; the patient’s pain, discomfort and mental turmoil do not have to be entered in the books.

Organising… for Chaos

In 1968 the Labour Government published a Green Paper on the Reorganisation of the NHS. McKinsey & Co., an American-based firm of management consultant[s], had offered  expensive advice, much of which was accepted. In 1972, after further talks with the select few, the DHSS [Dept. of Health and Social Services] (now under a Tory administration) published its famous Grey Book (Management Arrangements for the Reorganised Health Service). The pregnancy had been long and difficult: no fewer than 6 members of the Steering Committee producing the document had resigned between Sept. 1971 and June 1972. The opening words were prophetic:  ‘The way in which the National Health Service is organised, and the processes used in directing resources, can help or hinder the people who play the primary part’.  The hindrance really got going.

It is said that a camel is a mammal designed by a committee. The main principles of the new Act could only have been conceived by a Committee of bureaucrats, sitting in an office. There would be ‘three levels of statutory authority: Area Health Authorities (AHAs) accountable to Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) accountable to the Secretary of State. Authority would flow downwards, accountability upwards. This was stated in so many words. To make things nice and tidy the AHAs were to be co-terminous geographically with new Local Authorities (Counties and Metropolitan Districts) and with the present London Boroughs or combinations of boroughs.

It was  conceded that the odd problem might arise. ‘For example, although Henley-on-Thames will be in the Oxfordshire Area over 90% of Henley residents requiring in-patient treatment will receive it in Reading, which is in the Berkshire area’. The ‘overlap’ problem would, it was admitted, ‘arise in many places’. But who cared? A whole new group of office staff would be devoted to ‘defining District boundaries’. The basic operational unit of the new Scheme had to be the ‘District’– defined as a population (usually about 200,000 to 300,000 people) supported by the specialist services of a District General Hospital. And that was that!

The Scheme sought to ensure the participation of those concerned ‘as a systematic part of the service’. The participation (its limits clearly defined) was imposed from above. There was precious little discussion among working nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, radiographers, laboratory technicians and all the others involved in the functioning of a modern hospital.

Great emphasis was placed on ‘integration (with  other social services) at District level’. This was to be carried out by District Management Teams (DMTs) [… ]

[… Quite lengthy description of the DMTs in the new organisation, as summarised in charts:]

The whole structure is firmly in the hands of a permanent bureaucracy. The elected representatives are just the gilt. The DMT, it is stipulated, need meet ‘no more frequently than once a week’. Some only meet once a month. Under these circumstances the role of the full-time administrator becomes paramount [… ] These full-time officials know who pays the piper. They know which side their bread is buttered. They know they are there to implement government decisions, not to challenge them. They ensure that economies never start with the administration itself. In the upper echelons of the hierarchy they are past masters at ‘losing’ a request or a decision. Meanwhile, at DMT level – and even more in hospital wards and corridors – the issues have become stale, or have suppurated. Those concerned may have left in disgust.

The thinking behind the ‘reorganisation’ is bureaucratic through and through. According to the Grey Book the non-medical members of the DMTs ‘can suitably be organised in managerial hierarchies and the effective provision of health care will thus depend to a considerable extent on the effectiveness of many thousands of managers’. Incidentally the minutes of DMT meetings are secret. There can be few other instances where an overwhelmingly non-elected body has such power and need give so little account of how it uses it.

The provisions of the Act have now been in operation for nearly 4 years. They seek to define not only the functions of the DMTs but also, in ridiculous detail, those of the RHAs and AHAs. Every conceivable relationship between these bodies, and between these bodies and the outside world, is envisaged, discussed, blue-printed – in the abstract. So abstract are some of the discussions that ridiculous and often mutually incompatible recommendations are made: for instance to ‘increase throughput’ in the wards  while cutting down on the number of radiologists or laboratory technicians necessary to ensure any ‘throughput’ at all! No one really understands how it works. No one really knows how or where decisions are made, sometimes not even the Administration itself. Recruiting a new typist becomes a major procedure.

Everybody’s work is scrutinised from above, below and sideways: from ambulance drivers to laundry workers, from medical records officers to catering staff. Space prevents me from going deeper into all this here. Suffice it to say that dissatisfaction is widespread. Not only with salary structures, but with the strains and frustrations caused by the incredible inefficiencies of the system. Seeking to organise everything and everybody from the outside, the system generates a colossal ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude. People withdraw. And the chaos deepens.

This is the bedlam that is now the NHS. The structures and mechanisms have been endorsed by the politicians of both parties. No wonder that the firm of McKinsey & Co. now describe the 1974 ‘reorganisation’ as ‘bureaucratic, overelaborate and cumbersome’. They should know, They played the key role in setting it up!


[Slightly edited for typography and as indicated by square brackets]

An Interview with Maurice Brinton has been posted on-line at libcom.org, along with some more of his Solidarity articles.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Occupy London Tours - October/November 2013 programme

Forget Jack the Ripper and the London Dungeons, we show you the murky side of the capital’s more recent past.

Occupy London Tours is a free tour company, run by (very well informed!) volunteers, who want to throw open the secretive world of finance and politics for all to see.

We run regular, free, tours:

The Canary Wharf Tour
Thursday 17th October. 7pm. Approx. 1.5 hours. Meet Canary Wharf tube, main exit (
Book a place here.

Most people have never been to this revamped dockland in East London, yet the home of the financial services industry touches our lives everyday. In this tour we narrate the financial crisis of 2007/8 through the banks, ratings agencies and regulators clustered around Canada Square and discuss what - if anything - has changed since. Help us try to set up an offshore bank account Barclays, make your very own ‘credit default swap’ and visit the last resting place of the infamous Lehman Bros.

The City of London Tour
Saturday 2nd November. 2pm. Approx. 2 hours. Meet at St Paul’s Cathedral steps (
MAP). Ends opposite Liverpool St Station.
Book a place here.

We tell the story of the UK’s smallest city (really!), the history of money in the heart of London and the Square mile’s role in the financial crisis of 2007/8. Find out just what the Corporation of London actually is, why the Queen has to ask permission to enter the City and why the ‘Black-Scholes equation’ matters to you!

The tours are designed to be informative, entertaining and - most importantly - accessible. Our aim to is to enable people from London, the UK and all over the world to engage with the financial system and its impact on their lives. We de-mystify this secretive and badly understood world through colourful stories, exciting histories, rock-solid facts and figures, pavement art - and even our very own collateralised-debt-obligation rap (!). The tours offer a critique of the status quo without being politically affiliated.

Attendees often join us in the pub afterwards to carry on the conversation.

Enquiries & to reserve places for tours:
Press enquiries: 07749552063 (Max)

What they say about us:

Trip Advisor: 5-star reviews all the way!
El Pais (Spain):
Liberation (France):
Die Welt (Germany):
npr (Spain):
Toronto Star (Canada):
Business Line (India):
The Independent:
Radio France:
Ouest France:

Occupy London Tours
Occupy London Tours is a free tour company, run by volunteers, who want to throw open the secretive world of finance and politics for all to see.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

19th Century radical secularists: lecture series Oct. - Nov. 2013

Alternatives to Religion

A five week lecture series In conjunction with The Socialist History Society and
The Freethought History Research Group

8th October – 5th November 2013
Tuesdays, 7p.m.
at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square
Holborn, London WC1R 4RL

8th Oct
George Jacob Holyoak
– Stefan Dickers
George Jacob Holyoake was the leader of the Victorian Secular movement and was imprisoned for Blasphemy in 1842. He was a Chartist, campaigner for Co-operation, Free Speech, and a feminist, but while he supported votes and education for women, in 1877 he fell out with Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh over the issue of contraception.

15th Oct
Charles Bradlaugh
– Deborah Lavin & Bryan Niblett
Without ignoring the two big Bradlaugh controversies of the “Fruits of Philosophy” (Birth Control) Trial or the Oaths Question, Bryan Niblett, explores the importance of atheism to Bradlaugh’s radical thinking and Deborah Lavin looks at radical secularism’s response to the Irish Question.

22nd Oct
John Stuart Mill
– Prof. Greg Claeys
With reference to Mill’s “On Liberty” and “The Subjection of Women”, Greg Claeys examines Mill’s idea of secular progress, his arguments in support of Malthusianism and feminism; alongside a discussion of his growing interest in socialism and concern to reconcile the conflicted demands for more equality and social justice with the dynamism of the Liberal meritocratic and individualist ideal.

29th Oct
Harriet Law
– Dr Laura Schwartz
Harriet Law was a deeply unrespectable woman. Freethinker, feminist and socialist, she abhorred religion, condemned the institution of marriage and was the only woman on Karl Marx’s First International. A newspaper editor, lecturer and Secularist activist in Victorian Britain.

5th Nov
Annie Besant
– Louise Raw & Marie Terrier
Annie Besant was a socialist, strike leader, secularist, lover of famous men and de facto religious guru. Louise Raw looks at why these interpretations of one woman’s life miss the point and Marie Terrier will talk on Annie Besant’s secularism as a weapon in the fight for women’s emancipation (1874-1890).


All lectures are £5 (£3 to members of the participating societies) and available online at

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Before the Plebs. Talk on Sat. 12th October

News from Nowhere Club


 8pm Saturday 12 October

Author of "Chartism after 1848" - see

Keith Flett


Before the Plebs:

Independent Working Class Education

in the Nineteenth Century

They sought not the useful knowledge of a conventional education but really useful knowledge to take on capital.  We look at this lost tradition of radical education in the working class and reflect on what it might mean for today.

 News from Nowhere Club

The Epicentre,
E11 4LJ



0208 555 5248

07443 480 509