Black Flag 231 (Mid 2010)

This issue is both a celebration of big anniversaries and big voices who are sadly no longer with us, while also keeping an eye on the future for information.

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE

REVIEWS

Black Flag is stocked in radical bookshops across the UK and available from AK Distribution and Active Distro. The editorial address is Black Flag, BM Hurricane, London, WC1N 3XX, UK. Each issue costs £3 + £1 p&p. UK cheques payable 'Black Flag'.

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For other issues of Black Flag, go to:

Black Flag 230 (Late 2009)
Black Flag 229 (Mid 2009)
Black Flag 228 (Late 2008)
Black Flag 227 (Mid 2008)
Black Flag 226 (Late 2007)

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Prefuturist anarchism - Raz Chaoten

An article arguing the division between lifestyle and class struggle anarchism is a false one, published in Black Flag magazine, with which we do not agree but reproduce here for reference and discussion.

Errico Malatesta, an Italian Anarchist revolutionary and propagandist in the 1920s wrote two articles entitled “Let’s Demolish…and then?” and “Postscript to ´Lets demolish…and then?” In these he wrote of the need for revolutionaries to have firm and practical ideas about what we could replace the institutions we wish to abolish with. A good and clear example would be food: in a hypothetical situation in which somehow the working class (not limited to actual employed urban workers, but as a general term to describe those that do not constitute, and are exploited by the ruling class) managed to destroy the institutions of the state and capital, how would we feed ourselves the very next day? If we do not have solid answers to questions such as these, all talk of revolution is foolish and perhaps even dangerous, as a successful insurrectionary period against the established order would most likely simply result in chaos, out of which a new oppressive order would arise, rather than a society based on the principles of anarchism. If people’s experience of post-revolutionary life seems to be significantly worse than what preceded it, it is only to be expected that they will put trust in authoritarian figures promising a return to stability - and such figures, history shows, are always to be expected to reveal themselves in like circumstances.

If we accept this line of reasoning, it seems imperative for those interested in working to achieve such a revolution to experiment in the here-and-now with “anarchic” alternatives to the hierarchical structures which today, whether we like it or not, meet so many of our basic needs. If such alternatives are discovered, it then becomes imperative to raise awareness as much as possible of their existence and the practicalities of how they function. For instance, if an ingenious and highly feasible alternative to policing and incarceration is devised by a small collective of revolutionary experimenters, they must spread the knowledge of it as much as possible amongst the general population. Therefore, if a successful insurrection ever takes place there will hopefully be enough people with knowledge of this new system to be able to implement it immediately, or without significant delay. Thus, if the mass of people perceive that their quality of life has significantly improved as a result of the revolution, it is likely that they will keep faith in it and work to advance its ends, which after all, should be their own, or else what’s the point?

This revolutionary experimentation, which I shall henceforth refer to as “prefuturist anarchism”, cannot be limited merely to material questions. It must also be about experimentation in different modes of relating both to one another, and our environment, for a genuine revolution is a fundamental change in social relations, with consequences for all aspects of our lives. Prefuturist anarchists would ask the question “how would I behave after the revolution, in a given situation?” This is in line with prefuturism in general, which is a philosophical school that conceptualises the present in terms of it’s relation to an as-yet-undefined future, asking the question “what would I do now, with the benefit of hindsight?”.

The great appeal of prefuturist anarchism is that it is not necessary for its participants to actually believe in the likelihood, or even possibility of an anarchist revolution coming about. They may simply like the idea of anarchism, or even just prefer the “anarchic” alternatives to material, social and environmental relations to the mainstream. There are many people in such a condition, which I will refer to as “anarcho-cynicism”. Anarcho-cynics may never join a revolutionary organisation or even discuss the idea of revolution as a serious possibility. But this would not stop them from participating in, say, workshops on consensus decision making, or a co-operative enterprise of some kind. Thus what many revolutionary anarchists dismiss as “lifestylism” is actually integral to the class struggle, as long as it meets the above criteria of being combined with attempts to spread the “anarchic” alternatives beyond the limited circles in which they are currently practiced. Anarchist revolutionary strategy is, by necessity “a strategy of having many strategies”, as an American comrade once put it. Workplace agitation (which most revolutionaries put so much emphasis on) is one such strategy, “lifestylism” is another, and it is meaningless to debate which is the more significant as to be ultimately successful they must complement each other.

The practice of mutual aid and cooperation in the here and now almost always helps the cause of revolution, the exception of course being cooperation with the bosses, the State, or any other source of authority when they try to prevent revolutionary activity. To me this is what George Fontenis meant when he wrote in the “Manifesto of Libertarian Communism” that anarchism is not a humanism, and that there is not one humanity but two (which he called the ruling class and the working class, others may prefer different terminology) - we do not apply the same ethical standards to our class enemies as we do to each other (i.e. mutual aid and cooperation). This is contrary to “anarcho-pacifists” who take lifestylism to such an extreme that it does indeed cease to be revolutionary.

“Revolutionary” activity itself can be said to be prefuturistic, when it is undertaken in non-revolutionary circumstances. We imagine ourselves in a post-revolutionary mode of existence, in which class society and the institutions, ideologies and relations that sustain it have been abolished. We then imagine ourselves looking back, with hindsight, to the present, and we ask, “what did I do back then which helped to achieve this?” We then base our action in the present on such a thought process, and do what we think must be done in order to one day make possible an anarchist revolution.

This is not to say that we believe such a revolution to be inevitable - one of the fundamental errors of certain branches of Marxism. All that we can ever know about the future is that is has not happened yet. This truism is the existential basis for pre-futurist thought: the condition of being “before the future” or “prefuturist”, is fundamental to human existence. However, recognition of the agency of our conscious desires allows us to know at least one more basic fact about the future: that our actions, conscious or not, will affect it, possibly in ways that our desirous to us. We have all experienced desires that came to fruition on the basis of action we took as a result of the very same desire. So if the future is up for grabs, at least in the sense that it is not predetermined, why shouldn’t we be the ones to try and grab it?

If a hypothetical post-revolutionary future is desirous to us, why should we not work to achieve revolution? Not to do so would be to deny ourselves, at least so it seems to me. This line of argument may not be enough to convince the proponents of anarcho-cynicism, but the beauty of prefuturist anarchism is that it does not need to. As long as they participate in activities that may have a knock on effect on making possible a revolution in the future, whether or not they do it for that reason, then they are revolutionaries, and so is anyone else who participates in such activity.
So enough of “class struggle anarchists” moaning about “hippies” and “lifestylists”. To commit yourself to living differently from the norm in this society is truly a struggle in itself, and one which goes hand in hand with the struggle to liberate the working class. And enough of lifestylists and Anarcho-cynics dismissing revolutionary ideology and its adherents as close-minded idealists stuck in the past. Class society still exists, as is evident by a moment’s contemplation of social reality, so opposition to such a society should not be considered a relic of a by-gone age but an urgent necessity for the present.
Our struggles are one.

Toward a revolutionary future, by whichever means seem necessary to us in the present.
Towards Anarchy!

Stuart Christie interviewed for Black Flag in 2010

Interview: Ade Dimmick talks to the famed author, agitator – and Black Flag founding member – Stuart Christie for the magazine’s 40th anniversary on anarchism and us.

Four decades on from its first issue, Black Flag is one of the few remaining publications from that time. So it is a great pleasure to be able to interview its founding editor, or at least the surviving half of that editorship, Albert Meltzer having died in 1996, as we enter the next ten years of struggle.

When Black Flag was launched did you expect it to still be going 40 years later?

Didn’t really think about it actually, our only concern was to get the next issue out and doing the other things we were doing.

Would you care to talk a little about the founding of Black Flag?

When I came out of prison in Spain one of my concerns was the lack of a pro-prisoners defence group, to which Albert suggested we relaunch the long-defunct Anarchist Black Cross, which we did. The result was Black Flag, which was subtitled “the organ of the Anarchist Black Cross.”

We made an announcement about its launch at a meeting of the Anarchist Federation of Britain in Soho Square, London, that year – either late ‘67 or early ‘68.

At first it was duplicated, then Albert bought an offset-litho printer — and I learned how to use it from Ted Kavanagh who had worked with Albert at the Wooden Shoe Bookshop (and on Cuddons’ Cosmopolitan Review).

We were based first of all in Coptic Street, then Albert rented premises in Kings Cross – and from there we moved to what became the Centro Iberico in Havelock Hill – all paid for entirely out of Albert Meltzer’s own pocket.

History tells us there was some antagonism with the editors of Freedom?

Yes, there was a lot of antagonism with Freedom, but that had to do with the history – personal and political – between Albert and Vero Richards, and to a certain extent with Philip Sansom, tensions which went back to the 1940s and early 1950s. Richards was a very patrician – and divisive – figure and as editor-in-chief, publisher and freeholder of Freedom, he behaved as though the anarchist movement were his personal fiefdom. It’s not uncommon in all political movements; there were close parallels with what happened with the CNT and the FAI secretariats/committees and the rank-and-file activists who supported armed resistance after the Liberation in France in 1944. Germinal Esgleas, Federica Montseny and Roque Santamaria did much the same thing to marginalise Laureano Cerrada Santos who was a pivotal figure among the activists and the action/defence groups, much as Richards did to Albert, disparaging him and putting him down at every opportunity.

Are you surprised how Freedom has changed in recent years?

Not particularly surprised, just pleased.

How do you view the movement of today compared to when Black Flag began?

It’s not really helpful to compare then with now: the political and social context of the 1950s and 1960s, the degree of radicalisation of the baby-boomer generation and all the expectations (and possibilities) we had for change. But probably most important of all was the fact that behind us was a powerful and radical rank-and-file working class labour movement, the trade unions, particularly the shop-stewards movement. The anarchist movement today faces serious problems of apathy and alienation – and the lack of a cohesive labour movement. Then we had an industrial proletariat, today it is a service-industry precariat, and an increasingly rootless one at that. Anyway, these are problems that this and future anarchist movements will resolve in their own way, and probably a lot more imaginatively than we were able to do.

Are you surprised by the relative lack of struggle in response to the current economic crisis compared to the 1970’s?

We are living in different times, but I’ve no doubt the pendulum will swing our way again.

With 50 years of experience, do you have any suggestions on what we, as a movement, should be doing?
Absolutely none, other than keep spreading the word — and example!

Are you optimistic about the growth of the movement?

I’m always optimistic, not that the numbers game is at all important, I’d leave that to the SWP, but what is important is its continued existence and the influence of its ideas and the impact of its voice.

Where do you think today’s movement can make the best mark on events?

Education, example and action.

What sort of response do you hope to see from the wider working class to the current situation? What do you expect?

At the moment, not a lot, but I hope to be surprised.

A few years ago you cast a vote for George Galloway’s Respect party – has your politics changed much since writing and publishing seems to have become your primary focus?

No, neither my politics nor my world view have changed in any meaningful way since I was 18 except I can no longer call myself an anarcho-syndicalist as there is no organised labour movement to speak of – although I was, until recently, a member of the NUJ. Also, while some people who need to get a life might see it as hair-splitting, I did not vote FOR Respect, I voted AGAINST the Labour Party on that particular day. I woke up that morning more than usually angry about Blair’s war so, as it happened to be voting day, I thought to myself I’d make a gesture – other than throwing a brick through the party office window – Respect being the only party opposing the war and with the least chance of getting elected. By the way, writing and publishing have always been my primary focus – as I keep telling the police! Nothing new there.

This is the sixth issue of Black Flag published by the “new” collective since the re-launch in October 2007. What do you think about it?

I must say I am extremely impressed not only with the production values, which would have enthused Albert no end – I can see him beam with pride even now – but with the extraordinarily rich mix of editorial copy. Congratulations! For me it’s not a question of agreeing or disagreeing with what the contributors are saying, I’m very impressed with the broad range of views, themes and subjects you’re covering – in fact what you appear to have done is seamlessly combine the politics of the original Black Flag with the cultural aspirations of the old Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review. If I had any criticism at all it would be that it could do with a bit more humour...

You are a prolific publisher, writer and anarchist film buff. Tell us a bit about the film archive you’ve been building...

I’m not a particular film buff, anarchist or otherwise. It just so happened that a few years back when video-streaming technology and improved broadband became available we decided to set up a community internet TV/video station in Hastings. It coincided with some of the CNT-FAI films from 1936-37 becoming available on DVD, which I decided to put up on the site so it all built up from there. The communal TV station idea went down the tubes because we didn’t have the funds to sustain it, the guy who originally funded it having been made bankrupt. So, having learned a little about how to do it, I set up the christiebooks web site with a view to making available as many anarchist/libertarian oriented films as possible – all part of the educational process. We now have an archive of about 800 plus films to which we’re adding more on a regular basis. We have a growing number of audio broadcasts as well, and are trying to build up a photographic and poster archive along with pdfs of out of print texts – books, magazines, pamphlets and such like.

Would you like to tell us what you are doing at the moment? Have you got any interesting new projects up your sleeve?

The main problem is trying to keep the site going – it is quite expensive and we don’t get any sponsorship apart from the occasional donation from generous comrades, but you can number those on the fingers of a one-handed man. Apart from that my time’s mainly taken up with editing the second part of the McHarg memoirs – Pistoleros! 1919.