Friday, March 28, 2014

Book Review: “The great collective iniquity called war”

This August will bring the 150th anniversary of the founding congress of what became the Red Cross. The review reproduced below considers some of the issues involved in the existence of such an international organisation, and at how its practice and ethos were modified by the wars of the twentieth century. 

(A far cry from the British Red Cross of recent years, with their doorstep collectors boasting of its presence at the royal wedding, and endless wasteful freebie junk mailings…)

John F. Hutchinson, Champions of Charity: War and the Rise of the Red Cross,  Westview Press, 1996; 448 pp.


John Hutchinson’s well-researched consideration of the first 60 years of the Red Cross is not an official history, in fact there were difficulties in gaining access to sources because of organisational defensiveness. It challenges some cherished assumptions, including the organisation’s very raison d’être, apparently so obvious and  so obviously correct. From the start there were two views on the desirability of setting up an international organisation of volunteers to alleviate the suffering of war. One strong critic (on interesting grounds) was Florence Nightingale: ‘Such a society would take upon itself duties which ought to be performed by the government of each country and would relieve them of responsibilities which really belong to them and which they can properly discharge and being relieved of which would make war more easy.’ (p.40)

The alternative was put by two of the founders,  Gustave Moynier and Louis Appia, in their book War and Charity, alluding to the ’… duty of conscience and humanity, which, by a happy coincidence, harmonized with the acknowledged interests of the belligerents.’ (p.55) For Hutchinson, this ‘happy coincidence’ with belligerents’ interests strikes a sinister note. But both sides of the argument, initially at least, denounced war. Thus Louis Appia:

 ‘Everyone understands that in our era war is not fought to make the enemy suffer… To humanise war – if it is not a contradiction to bring such things together – that is our mandate. Let us protest against the great collective iniquity called war… but after… let us alleviate its distress…’ (p.65).

In spite of such statements, however, Hutchinson discerns evidence of a latent fascination with and glorification of battlefield heroics.

It all began with a book, Henry Dunant’s A Memory of Solferino, (1862) [Battle of Solferino 1859] which he sent out to a target readership of people who might, he felt, be persuaded to take action. It worked, but not perhaps as quickly, simply and straightforwardly as the author and his early allies might have hoped. For anyone seeking to change the world by international action, the saga of conferences, minutes, resolutions, personalities, organisational moves and counter moves form a challenging case-study. There are highlights such as the speech of Rudolf Virchow undermining the essence of the movement and the moral basis of its priorities (p.100):

‘Does it not seek forcibly to annex to war a great many activities that belong to civil life, which can find a natural and abundant source of nourishment in the needs of the masses? As if war were the normal state in Europe, and as if peace existed only to prepare for war?’

In the welter of detail some intriguing stories are relegated to footnotes or parenthetical reference. One such is the role of the Red Cross vis-à-vis the overseas territories and peoples of colonial powers, e.g. an allusion to expeditions to the empire by the British society, p.237, another the behaviour of the French society during the Paris Commune of 1871 (note 14, p.377), when it moved to Versailles and treated only the French Republic’s soldiers. Moynier is cited to the effect that in civil wars the Red Cross was not always well inspired  and that ‘Political considerations have exercised much more influence than they ought to have done.’ The question of extending humanitarian relief to insurgents was addressed differently by the Japanese society, which nevertheless became closely integrated with the armed forces of the state, as did the national societies in general.

Between 1880 and 1906, Hutchinson tells us (p.150), the Red Cross was transformed, from its first allegiance to the idea of civilisation, to the whole-hearted support of aggressive nationalism and militarism, Keeping a distance from movements for peace and disarmament, it became closely implicated in preparations for war and in the patriotism of competing nations, in exchange for official recognition and status. It had arisen (p.27) from a perception that the changing relationship between armies, states and peoples and the spread of information (telegraph, press, mass armies, conscription) meant that ‘in our time public opinion has sought to lessen these evils [of war]’. The evident readiness of the Red Cross to lessen evils may have militated against rejection of the great evil –war– itself. Anticipating war became an unquestioned state of affairs with the prime aim being to further one’s ‘own’ country’s patriotic effort.

In  the First World War this attitude reached its apotheosis with slogans about loyalty to  Red Cross being loyalty to the country – and a treason trial in the United States for speaking against it. (p.271) But the unprecedented experience of war on a global scale in 1914-18 could not leave attitudes unchanged. There were protests, even if belated and ineffectual, against the use of chemicals and violations of the Geneva Convention, and in the aftermath, in 1923, an anti-war declaration. Hutchinson is dismissive about this – they had been warned, and should have known how terrible a modern war would be – underestimating the trauma, shock and widespread change in mentality that had occurred. An article cited from the American Journal of Nursing (pp.274-5), which denounced the ‘repair work’ of patching up victims of war for return to the front line and called on nurses to strike if their patients could not be rehabilitated into civilian life, may have been exceptional if not unique, but the fact of its publication remains significant.

One lesson of this history may be that the fate of well-meaning people who do not confront and refute the dominant ideology of their time is to sink into conformity with that ideology. No recipe is available for prevention of this outcome, other than the implicit one of clear thinking, integrity and ceaseless vigilance on the part of the grass-roots. There is more in the book than can be covered here: the function of the International Committee; the painful definition of a peacetime role; ideas of social class, gender, race; details of what happened in various countries. Many illustrations and a pictorial essay enliven the text and there are copious notes. In the second sixty to seventy years of the Red Cross the organisation and the world have changed, but the issue of humanitarian relief in conflict situations is clearly still only too relevant today.

(L.W., December 1996)

Slightly adapted from Medicine, Conflict & Survival vol. 13, no. 2, 1997 pp. 158-9.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Ruskin College 'strike' of 1909

News from Nowhere Club/
IWCE Network

supported by Labour Heritage

8pm Saturday 12 April

Plebs Magazine

Colin Waugh

The Ruskin College 'strike' of 1909

Independent workers' learning existed across the C20
 but can the Plebs ideal of politically committed education be realised today?

The Epicentre,
Leytonstone, E11 4LJ
0208 555 5248
07443 480 509


RaHN Notes circulated for a similar meeting held on Feb. 11 2009
Plebs League, Ruskin  College strike and independent working-class education
The historical events of a hundred years ago are still mulled over, and concerned  the responsibility for  post school education. In those years, the unions in this country were extending  their activities beyond the realm of skilled workers and seeking to ensure a proper adult education for those many less skilled  who missed out on  secondary schooling.. Many of those with high ability wanted university style education as befitted  their capacities, in order to  take part in the expansion of unions in workplaces  but this  corner was being  dominated by university authorities.  They tried to extend conventional education which directed working class students away from the  labour movement.

The few dozens workers students at Oxford resisted the takeover move in 1909. They used the traditional methods and went on strike, making the issues a national one.  After a few months , when the academics did not back down, the students established the Labour Colleges system.  Classes were run in numerous cities , correspondence courses were soon set up and the adult education system divided down the middle as the conventional teachers  kept to their intentions.  They continued with the-middle-of-the-road  Workers Education Association, the bitter rival of what was to become the National Council of Labour Colleges (NCLC),  with its own college in Tillicoulty, Scotland.  This continued right up to 1964, when the TUC took over the residue  in numerous cities.

The more aggressive unions, especially the miners, called on their financial and political resources.   They sent  full time students  to the NCLC and their members received correspondence sheets and other materials  for a decade or so.  Then the situation was complicated by the divisions within the labour movement as the political party adopted conventional parliamentary procedures but many of the rank and file supported the Communist Party and the new Russian society.   Readers may have their own views on the  fate of the USSR but the struggle still continues for education free from open capitalist influences.

Colin Waugh  who is active on the Post 16 Educator journal, has written a booklet to tell more fully the story above.  Today education is not totally subject to strong influences from powerful institutions in society but many union members feel  that the old master institutions are still very influential. And there is still alienation   Many children grow up  without any personal knowledge of  how, when and where  unions  can act to benefit workplace members , let alone the higher reaches of current society.
The subject is wide open for debate…

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Activities of women protesting against World War One

a series of events giving a feminist perspective
WILPF 1919
WILPF UK Seminar, 'Those Dangerous Peacettes: Then and Now', 
2-4pm on 29 March 2014 
at Amnesty Human Rights Action Centre, 
17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA

Speakers: Professor June Hannam, recent guest on BBC Women’s Hour; 'Isabella Ford and peace campaigning in the First World War';
Dr Marie Sandell 'International Travel and WILPF's Expansion in the Interwar Period';
Katrina Gass, Ann Scott, Helen Kay 'What do we need to know about the Centenary at The Hague in 2015'? 
More information: WILPF UK Office, Tindlemanor, 52-54 Featherstone Street, London, EC1Y 8RT; 

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom 99th Anniversary: Scottish Conference

2 pm - 5 pm, Saturday 26 April 2014
Studio, Augustine Centre, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh
Dangerous Women: The women who campaigned against the First World War and for economic and gender justice.
Speakers: Lesley Orr,  'An overview of women's anti-war activism, Helen Crawfurd and the Women's Peace Crusade';
Helen Kay: 'Chrystal Macmillan, the Hague Conference and the Women's International League';
Catriona Burness: 'Looking for Mary Barbour: the anti-war protests and the rent strikes'.
More information: Contact Anne Scott,

International Webinar:
'History of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and 100 years' of women's peace activism'  28 April 2014  More information at

More information: Contact Anne Scott or WILPF UK Office,;;  0207 250 1968.

If you’re going to San Francisco...

(or thereabouts) – Or even if you’re not, book titles worth noting...

Some interesting events coming up stateside:  details from WWW.PMPRESS.ORG

The 19th Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair

DATE AND LOCATION:   Saturday, March 22nd at The Crucible @ 1260 7th St., Oakland, CA 94607, two blocks from the West Oakland BART station


10:30 AM: The Commons, Enclosures, and Global Uprisings with Peter Linebaugh author of Stop, Thief!: The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance, Silvia Federici author of Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, and George Caffentzis author of In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines, and the Crisis of Capitalism and contributor to The Debt Resisters' Operations Manual

11:30 AM: Until the Rulers Obey: Global Grassroots Resistance to the Extractivist State with Clifton Ross & Marcy Rein coeditors of Until the Rulers Obey: Voices from Latin American Social Movements and Jose Artigas

 2:30 PM: Social Transformation through Cooperatives: Reclaiming our rights to democracy in work and to commons ownership/access to space and property with Jai Jai Noire, Tim Huet, and John Curl author of For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America

4:30 PM: Against the Global Land Grab with scott crow author of Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective, Andrej Grubacic author of Don't Mourn, Balkanize!: Essays After Yugoslavia and coauthor of Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History, Alexander Reid Ross, and Helen Yost

                For the full schedule and more information, please go HERE.


CIIS and PM Press Present:

Anthropology and Social Change Second Annual Conference:

The Commons, Enclosures and Mutual Aid

Friday, March 21st at The California Institute for Integral Studies main building @ 1453 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94103, four blocks South from the Civic Center BART station.      

EVENTS:               2pm-3:30pm: Capitalism and the Enclosure of the Commons

             Silvia Federici author of Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle on gender and the social production of the working class

             Peter Linebaugh author of Stop, Thief!: The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance on commons, enclosures, and Magna Carta

             Norman Nawrocki author of Cazzarola!: Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy (A Novel) on migration, resistance, statelessness: the case of the Roma

             Eddie Yuen coauthor of Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth on extinction and enclosure

4pm-5:30pm: Commonism and Mutual Aid

             George Caffentzis contributor to The Debt Resisters' Operations Manual on Strike Debt! 

             Karl Beitel author of Local Protest, Global Movements: Capital, Community, and State in San Francisco on San Francisco and the urban commons

             John Clark coeditor of Anarchy, Geography, Modernity: Selected Writings of Elisée Reclus on Humanity as Nature Becoming Self-Conscious: A Politics of Solidarity with the Earth

             Ignacio Chapelacoeditor of Mycology in Sustainable Development: Expanding Concepts, Vanishing Borders on liberation biology and mutual aid

6:30pm-9:15pm: Final Discussion on the Commons, Enclosures, and Mutual Aid.

                For the full schedule and more information, please go HERE


Bay Area Events During the Anarchist Bookfair Week

Wednesday, March 19th  

Peter Linebaugh author of Stop, Thief! at Shaping San Francisco at 7pm

Norman Nawrocki, Tomas Moniz and others for Lyrics & Dirges at Pegasus Books in Berkeley at 7pm 

Radical Fiction with Kenneth Wishnia, Jim Nisbet, Nick Mamatas, & Sin Soracco at Borderlands Books in SF at 7pm

Thursday, March 20th

Peter Linebaugh at the Marxist School of Sacramento at 7pm

Clifton Ross and Marcy Rein, coeditors  of Until the Rulers Obey at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in SF at 7pm

A Conversation with Strike Debt Bay Area, Silvia Federici, and George Caffentzis about The Debt Resisters' Operations Manual at The Green Arcade in SF at 7pm

Radical Fiction with Summer Brenner, Owen Hill, Norman Nawrocki, Kenneth Wishnia, Jim Nisbet, Nick Mamatas, Sin Soracco at the Bay Area Public School in Oakland at 7pm   

Saturday, March 22nd

John P. Clark, coeditor of Anarchy, Geography, Modernity in conversation with Andrej Grubacic, author of Don't Mourn, Balkanize! at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in SF at 7pm

Silvia Federici, author of Revolution at Point Zero and George Caffentzis author of In Letters of Blood and Fire for a discussion on Reproduction, Labor, and Capital at the Bay Area Public School in Oakland at 7pm

Sunday, March 23rd

The Debt Resisters' Operations Manual book launch party with George Caffentzis, Silvia Federici, Strike Debt New York and Strike Debt Bay Area in Oakland at 3:30pm.

John P. Clark, coeditor of Anarchy, Geography, Modernity and scott crow, author of Black Flags and Windmills discussing "Writing Politics" at the Bay Area Public School in Oakland at 7pm

Peter Linebaugh, and Iain Boal, coeditor of West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California to discuss commons and resistance in California and beyond at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in SF at 7pm

Carework: From Crisis to Common. A talk and discussion with Silvia Federici at Station 40 in SF at 7pm.

Norman Nawrocki author of CAZZAROLA! Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy and Terry Bisson author of Fire on the Mountain at The Green Arcade in SF at 7pm

Monday, March 24th

Clifton Ross and Marcy Rein at the Bay Area Public School in Oakland at 7pm

Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in SF at 7pm

Norman Nawrocki will read and perform his new novel, CAZZAROLA! at Redwood Gardens in Berkeley at 7pm

Wednesday, March 26th

scott crow uses Black Flags and Windmills as a foundation for a visual and engaging presentation at Redwood Gardens in Berkeley at 7pm

Norman Nawrocki will read and perform his new novel CAZZAROLA! at Shaping San Francisco at 5:30pm

Thursday, March 27th

Norman Nawrocki will read and perform his new novel at the Marxist School of Sacramento at 7pm

                For details and directions, please go HERE.  

Author Events Everywhere Else

AUTHORS IN MARCH:    Mat Callahan editor and composer of the Songs of Freedom: The James Connolly Songs of Freedom book and CD

Selma James author of Sex, Race, and Class-The Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952-2011

Chris Crass author of Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy

Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch coauthors of In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternative

Stewart Dean Ebersole author and photographer of Barred for Life: How Black Flag's Iconic Logo became Punk Rock's Secret Handshake

J. Smith coeditor of The Red Army Faction, A Documentary History: Volume 2: Dancing with Imperialism and Volume 1: Projectiles For the People

Terry Bisson author of Fire on the Mountain, TVA Baby, and The Left Left Behind

Robert King author of From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King

Marge Piercy author of The Cost of Lunch, Etc., Braided Lives, Vida, and Dance the Eagle to Sleep

Tomas Moniz author of Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood

Gary Phillips author of The Jook, The Underbelly, and editor of Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!: Stories of Crime, Love and Rebellion
                For all event details, please go HERE.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Where to for the Flâneur?

Adam Kossoff in discussion with Owen Hatherley

7pm, Wednesday 19th March 2014
Third floor, 316-318 Bethnal Green Road, London E2 0AG
Free for Associate Members / £3 Members, Students & Unwaged / £5 non-members
No bookings - first come first served.
Doors open 6.45pm.

Walter Benjamin's flâneur investigated the origins of modernity and its roots in the past, together with the effects of industrialisation on contemporary urban life's labyrinthine and ever-shifting experiences. A reflection of the writer/artist/filmmaker who sees, thinks and operates inside and outside the boundaries of society, who draws the private spaces of subjectivity into the public spaces of everyday life, and vice-versa. But with the control, development and the homogenisation of urban life, where urban memory is all but obliterated, where mapping is digitalised and available at the touch of a finger, does the flâneur have anywhere to go?

Adam Kossoff will be presenting his recent work in discussion with Owen Hatherley, this will include his Benjamin trilogy, Not Our Darkness (2009), Moscow Diary (2011), Made in Wolverhampton (2012), and his just completed film on East End anarchist Rudolf Rocker, The Anarchist Rabbi (2014, narrated by Steven Berkoff).

Owen Hatherley is the author of A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys Through Urban Britain (2013), A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (2011), Militant Modernism (2009) and Uncommon (2011) about the pop group Pulp.

Notes from rWW1 London meeting, 20 February 2014

(Edited for blog) 

There is now a plan for London Remembering the Real World War 1 group to hold some event in May, in London, rather than the national organising conference previously proposed..

The two main suggestions were Public Meeting or a Freeschool.

It was felt that the less formal format of a Freeschool drop-in day might attract more curious members of the public, and be more effective generally; this idea was approved by those present on a show of hands.

It was suggested that the Freeschool could consist of a series of informal talks on a variety of topics concerning the real world war one, with members of the group and invited speakers.

 These could include:

The Calais Mutiny 1919

General summery of world war one..causes, key events, etc.

What happened in France

Red Clydeside  

Other ides for the day (or another):

Songs of world war one /concert/performance (tie-in with the revival of Oh what a lovely war, at Stratford East.)

Film screening, e.g. Abel Gance, J'accuse - ( section with live music?)

Possible performance/theatre piece/presentation.
Date, venue and details to be confirmed – watch this space.

Other events/reports

Adam Hochschild’s talk at Friends’ meeting house last month. In general, people spoke positively about his presentation, his book - To End All Wars - and the full turn-out on that evening.

Also mentioned: Alice Wheeldon - Blue Plaque in Derby - and Derby people's history group.

Visit and talk at Bank of Ideas, Occupy movement on Gray's inn Road. Young activists wanted to know about world war one  - an impromptu summary from a group member received a round of applause. 

General discussion/ future plans including publicity being worked on:
Blog set up at [still at an early stage; already includes a reading list and reviews section]    – noted that contributions and comments would be welcome.

Stickers and flyers: image , wording tweaked

Fact sheets: A general one-page leaflet might be backed by a variable fact-page on specific topics. 

 Reminder about regular Meetings:

London Remembering the Real World War 1 group meets on the third Thursday of each month, so the next is Thurs. 20th March. Time: 7.30 p.m.

At:  88 Fleet St, London EC4Y 1DH (look for ‘88’ up on wall, entrance round corner, St Bride’s Ave.)

Group direct email:





Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A New Publication from Past Tense

Occupational Hazards
Occupying Hospitals: Some inspirations and issues from our history.

past tense have recently published a dossier on some of the history of
occupying hospitals in the UK, with some longer accounts of a couple of
occupations, and shorter summaries of some twenty others.

Through the 1970s, 80s and early 1990s, more than twenty hospitals were
occupied either by NHS workers or people from local communities, usually
to prevent closures of wards or buildings. Occupational Hazards recounts
the stories of some of these actions, with first hand accounts of some,
and raises some questions about who controls the occupations and work-ins.

Can tales of these events be useful the face of current closures in the
NHS? We hope this dossier can be something of a contribution to
discussions about what control workers and 'users' can have over the NHS,
how occupations could defend services that we have now, and what
possibility there might be of extending that control. 'Occupational
Hazards' is not a finished product, more of an opening of a conversation.

Format: A4.
Cover price: £5.
84 pages
plus 40 page supplement: 'Something Should be Done'

Occupational Hazards is available by post for £5 plus £1.50 P&P

from: Past Tense
c/o 56a Info Shop
56 Crampton Street,
SE17 3AE

or from the publications page at our website:

And is also available on the usual Sale or Return arrangements for shops
and distros.