Black Flag on hiatus

I’m a little sad to announce that Black Flag won’t be coming out with a London Bookfair issue this year, as all three of the core editorial members are just too swamped with other commitments to put it together.

We’re hopeful that this isn’t the end of the road for the magazine (though that is a possibility), as we’re not shutting down due to a financial mess or lack of interest/contributors and our reputation remains, as far as we know, pretty decent. In terms of what we offer as a non-denominational anarchist class struggle magazine there’s not really much out there that compares.

What we’re short of is core personnel - editors who can solicit and field copy that’s of a high quality, layout people who can make sure articles of up to 2,400 words (or even 3,200) don’t look too intimidating across 40 pages, and distro people who can make sure we’re getting out there.

This is a perennial problem for most anarcho-rags, but not an unsolveable one. If our core editors find things have eased up in March for example, we might be able to get back to it. Or if we get another three or four people prepared to share the load on a long-term basis, that could work too.

We’ll be looking at this again in March. If you want to make sure Flag continues we could use a hand, get in touch via this blog, PM me, or you can email blackflagmag at

Posted By

Rob Ray
Sep 6 2012 13:49


Attached files


Sep 6 2012 17:03

I really think you should pool resources with Freedom. This is not the first time this has happened with Black Flag and I really don't see it being resolved in or before March. BF doesn't speak for a n organisation or really for the movement as it stands. Alternatively or in tandem you could ask Organise! for a "free tribune"

Rob Ray
Sep 6 2012 17:27

If I had a pound for every time someone said a pointlessly negative comment to me about a project they're not personally involved in I'd be a rich man but seriously, could you try for five minutes not to do shit down? Especially when I've already replied to you once.

I did say on the Facebook page that "pooling" with Freedom isn't possible because Freedom has no spare capacity to put out a specialist in-depth 40 page bi-annual, repeating yourself here doesn't make that any less true. As for putting a freesheet through Organise that makes even less sense, as not only does it not solve our editorial issues we'd be unable to fund it.

And the whole point of Black Flag is that it's not tied to a federation and doesn't try to speak for "the movement" - that's why we've had input from so many different sources. I've got Direct Action to work on if I want to do a "mandated" effort (I've actually done a bit of work on just that and will probably do more once we get ourselves more editorially sorted), but as I've said to you before I think that model generally ends up with an inferior level of debate and a product which has nowhere near the potential of a pan-movement platform.

Sep 6 2012 17:54

Hmm, I dunno Rob.. this is a project that you've put loads of time and effort into and as such I'm hesitant to get into it.. that said, being worried about offending someone coz you disagree on something is also a pretty shit reason not to get involved..

So I guess the main question really is: what does Black Flag bring to the movement (taking into account how little of a 'movement' there is)? I ask this as someone who has written for BF recently.. in fact, related to this, how many people read BF? My guess would be 3,000 every six months but I don't know. But for instance, when I google either of the two articles I wrote for BF, one shows up only on libcom, the other nowhere.

Now, I've got to get out, but I think that's a big question. And without wanting to look like I'm blowing my own phallus, libcom is another 'pan-movement' project (with contributions from SF, AF, IWW in the UK and US, Collective Action plus other individuals) and its read by hundreds of thousands of people every month.. and if you write something here tomorrow, someone will probably stumble upon it again in six months, or even six years.

Like I said, I need to go out, but I wanted to say this in the least cuntish way possible.. maybe I'm completely wrong and there's something I haven't thought about but I won't know unless I write this innit..

Rob Ray
Sep 7 2012 14:26

It's about 500 with sales that go solely through the Bookfair (where we've never not sold out), Freedom, Housmans and AK Press, with pretty much no promotion. Put a decent distro plan together for it with someone to chase up and 3,000 probably would end up being the rough number (somewhere in line with what Red Pepper gets for its broader-left base).

But tbh dick-waving its headline readership against Libcom (which I've also consistently supported, defended against critics and indeed upload Black Flag to) is a bit pointless as they're completely different media aimed at totally different arenas and with very different outcomes. You might as well ask the same question about Aufheben, for example, or about the new SF pamphlet, or about Catalyst:

- Flag's a paid-for (ie. commitment-based) media aimed specifically at giving a structured, balanced overview of a given period and set of topics which you can get through in 40 pages or less (though as a personal vision, I'd like it to be more like 60-80 with sections specifically from the AF, SF, IWW, Radical Routes etc and carrying advertising from groups like Sabcat, Active Distro etc to keep prices down to fulfill its overall promise, think the Spectator but with an anarchist line).
- Freedom is similarly based but monthly with a greater focus on internal movement matters, less on history and more on current affairs.
- Libcom is 10,000 articles-odd of text with no word limits where you kind of need to know what you're looking for if you're not being brought in by a specific link and are more likely to have a "casual" (ie. dipping in to something particular and then bouncing out again) relationship with.
Catalyst is a free paper for casual readers with a SolFed-specific bias.
- Organise is specifically the magazine of the Anarchist Federation, bought by people interested in what it has to say.
- Aufheben is very heavy theory aimed at people who want to go into pretty much monograph territory on a given topic.
- Fighting for ourselves is a monograph about the political thinking which has characterised Solfed over the last few years.

Edit: I think the thing which gets me irritable about people weighing in with "why bother" type responses as opposed to offering constructive ideas and advice is that "why bother" is actually more accurately pointed at the response itself. I mean when people have slagged off L&S, or Alarm, or Collective Action or whatever what did they think was going to happen other than instant irritation and alienation on the part of the members of the target project?

Are they going to stop? Of course not, because your opinion is that of an outsider and they've already committed to giving it a go. Will they think more of you if you turn out to be right? No because they'll feel like you humiliated them and usually failure is nothing to do with the idea and everything to do with shortfalls in resources. Will you be able to work with them if they turn out to be right? Less likely because you'll be remembered as that negative guy who tried to kill the project early.

It's pretty much zero win as far as I can see (which is why I try not to do it) and more often than not is poisonous to actually getting things done. I'm not saying never be critical, but fuck I'm sck of the negativity that so often characterises everything about this movement. (oh sorry, "movement.")

(NB// You may have guessed that's not just about you wink - it's something I've been seeing a lot recently)

Sep 7 2012 14:50

Isn't part of the issue here that the publication model being followed is something that last worked reasonably well in the 1980's and has become progressively more difficult as time passes due both to the internet and the related loss of most of the small radical bookshops that carried out distribution. Clearly with both Freedom & Black Flag there is still an audience but that audience is harder to reach then it once was.

The valuable part of the model has been described above - a relatively quick to read summary of the stuff considered important by the editors over a given period (6 months for BF, 2 weeks for Freedom) that is independent of any given organisation. I don't think the value of that has changed - its just the distribution model for both is broken in a way that probably can't be fixed.

It's a universal problem and why we ditched publication for sale with our newspaper in 2000 and out magazine in 2006ish. The purpose of both is different but doing so meant that instead of decreasing print run we could greatly increase it and that instead of unsold copies lying around we could distribute most. The boost in circulation gave a much greater incentive to writers, editors and layout people. I'm not advocating the same distribution model in either case here but both are examples where a significant shift in distribution model had a considerable effect on reviving publication without significantly changing other factors we considered worth preserving.

Rob Ray
Sep 7 2012 14:58

Actually Flag's done fine financially as a paid-for at £3 (as I say, we've actually paid back historic debts from the 80s/90s over the last few years), distro is only really a problem because we don't have a dedicated person chasing it - Freedom's paper has pretty similar issues tbh. I've got a list of about 30 places which if I ever had time I'd chase up to sell us, plus the London list of independent shops alone has 80 potential outlets, not counting the potential through direct sales by individuals who then take a percentage.

Obv Britain's a bigger domestic market than Ireland though and as a whole I'd agree the number of potential outlets has gone down - the solution from this end I think is that we need to have people actually focused on doing any distro model!

Sep 7 2012 17:04

Rob, we know that you have been one of libcom's biggest supporters, and we have always supported Black Flag. Ed wasn't trying to dick wave, as Andrew says I think it was more talking about the problems with the medium.

Sep 20 2012 20:34

I think BF is a worthwhile project. AF has consistently supported BF over recent issues by providing a decent article each issue plus individual contributions. We starting contributing a regular 'AF endorsed' article in 229. We have covered in order: economic crisis, welfare reforms, nationalism, cuts, students' actions, the anti-cut movement.

As the eds of course know, we have also seriously discussed BFs proposal to commit more. Distribution appears to be a difficult one for any anarchist paper in Britain. We can only weep when we look at Monde Libertaire having country-wide distro in newsagents. Freedom does well with subscribers which shouldn't be overlooked but obviously this is less attractive for more expensive and infrequent mags. So I think it's important to have both free online (at or very close to print publication) plus printed issues esp if most print copies are sold at bookfair. We get approxmiately 3000-4000 web hits per issue (you see look at the hit stats on the top right of any AF page) and we have a print run of around 800 which generally sell out. We have been committed to a dual publication approach since the beginning of Resistance and since Organise! was DTPed. It's great to see the individual articles appear on a-infos too.

I would definitely like to see individual BF articles more accessible online, at least from recent issues. Maybe that could be a project between now and March 2013? The exposure might be helpful?

Organise is here: for anyone that is not already aware of it.