Black Flag 218 (1999)


Issue of the London-based anarchist magazine Black Flag from the 1990s.


  • The hate that dares not speak its name!
  • Press release from FAF Bandung Indonesia
  • Mark Barnsley
  • Biba Sarkaria fights for parole and equal rights for Asian women prisoners
  • Nick Cohen Interview
  • Robert Thaxton: An Urgent Call For Support And Action
  • Introduction to the Black Flag
  • Obituary: Karl Kreuger December 1946 - March 1999
  • Blast from the Past... and Back to the Future
  • Social cleansing and the end of council housing
  • A New Internationalism?
  • Iraq: The Invisible War
  • Repression: resistance and dirty tricks in Italy
  • Mayday in Medellin
  • Drugs and Guns
  • Review: Film and the Anarchist Imagination
  • Review: Detroit I Do Mind Dying
  • Review: Rigoberto Menchu And The Story of All Poor Guatemalans
  • Review: Redemption Song
  • Review: Twenty-first Century Anarchism: Unorthodox Ideas for a New Millennium
  • Letter: Reply to Article - A Visit to the Paris CNT .

The hate that dares not speak its name!

Football is the national sport in Britain, as in most the world, and New Labour have embraced the cheap popularity the spin doctors reckon it brings with relish. Most media criticism of the dominant role of football in popular culture comes from people who hate it, such as supposed feminists denouncing it as sexist in terms which reveal their class hatred. Its acceptance by the establishment has been aided by an image makeover of the game as middle class, or at least as a Loaded-style middle class parody of working class culture.

The reaction to this has taken a number of forms, notably hooliganism's image with the fans beginning to change from that of mindless violence against one's own to that of defending our turf against the middle class invasion. Working class football culture had changed in reaction to the Heysel and Hillsborough stadium disasters and through the rise of the fanzine movement, making it easier to be an intelligent football fan, rather than just an anorak or a hooligan. Rupert Murdoch's use of football as a battering ram to establish Sky TV, and the consequent increased commercialisation of the sport have damaged this.

The fact that all the changes in football have been imposed from above - all-seater stadia, satellite TV, pay-per-view, Bosman, etc. - and exploited by the clubs, many of whom are now accountable to shareholders as plc's, TV companies, or players and their agents, leaves fans marginalised and resentful of change. In the absence of a strong progressive movement among the fans, the frustration and resentment taken out on opposition or under-performing players and officials as routine is becoming a vehicle for a nasty undercurrent.

To be a fan of a Premier League club these days requires an unprecedented degree of planning and financial commitment. For all that money and effort, the product has got to deliver, so light-hearted criticism and having a laugh are endangered by a new fanaticism. Fanzine culture has been assimilated by the media - Sky are really good at this - and commercialised. How do you assert the working class character of football support when your other means of expression have been usurped? By unacceptable behaviour, of course.

Yes, we have no bananas!

Consider for a moment one of life's little ironies. Kevin Campbell, a refugee from the racial abuse of his Turkish club's president, scores nine goals to win Everton four games and save them from relegation. The irony is that until fairly recently Everton, as their fans boasted, were "white", as they had been reminding Liverpool fans since the latter's club signed John Barnes. The Reds' own racist contingent had marked Barnes' first game by throwing bananas onto the pitch.

The signings of Barnes by Liverpool in the late 1980's, then of Daniel Amokachi by Everton in the "buy a World Cup player, any player" frenzy of 1994, "cleared" the clubs, and their fans, of the racism charges. In the eyes of such myopic institutions as the Football Association and the media, that is. What really makes racism unacceptable is big black geezers suggesting that you have offended them in a menacing fashion. When racists feel safe, they still express their hatred. A guy sitting near me at Highbury once vented his frustration at perceived time-wasting by Amokachi as he was substituted by calling him a "Jigaboo", for example.

Racism still affects football, even in the image-conscious Premier League, but it is usually isolated. Not so homophobia, which is what this article is actually about. So why is the government so concerned about the former, but part of the conspiracy of near-silence about the latter? The short answer is they are nice, liberal homophobes who think we are merely pursuing a lifestyle. While Blair and co. think we should be tolerated, and oppose overt hatred, they don't really understand what the fuss is all about.

Jack Straw was expressing this view when he recently declared that same-sex couples would be second-best as parents to the nuclear family. Since "gays" are all in Old Compton Street bitching over cappuccino (lesbians don't rate a mention, as they are all at home with their monogamous, asexual lover and the cats), we can't be on the football pitch or in the stands, can we? This means that unlike black people we can be discounted, and the establishment's preferred response to racism - ignore it and it will go away, attack it and you'll only encourage them - can be applied to homophobia.

When Paul Ince, then a Manchester United player, returned to West Ham United, his first club, a few years ago, much was made of the racism in his hostile reception. Bananas were allegedly thrown, but what you could hear on the highlights, so loud even the BBC couldn't disguise it, was "Incey takes it up the arse!". No comment was made on this whatever, and the BBC likes to keep crowd noise low so that the vocal emissions of the lower classes do not reach the delicate ears of the armchair "fans".

Regular racial abuse still happens, and is still ignored by commentators. At the last European Cup Winners' Cup Final, covered by the BBC at Villa Park, Real de Mallorca's Lauren was routinely greeted with monkey noises by the Lazio fans, to deafening silence from the commentary team, including Trevor Brooking who as a national sports administrator might reasonably be expected to express political views.

The allegation of homosexuality directed at Ince was easily identifiable as the worst conceivable insult in the minds of those chanting. Similarly, when discussing the Robbie Fowler-Graeme Le Saux incident, Sky pundit Frank McClintock thought being called a "poof" justified Le Saux's reaction. This is not unique to football, and doing something about homophobic abuse at grounds can not be isolated from the need to tackle the criminalisation of, discrimination and hate crimes against us in wider society.

But what about those of us for whom football is important who are also lesbian, gay or bisexual? I can't speak for players or managers as, significantly, there are none out, and I don't definitely know any. I can give you an idea of what it's like to be a queer fan. Yes, I take it up the arse and I object, as any self-respecting Gooner would, to being likened to Graeme Le Saux. You might say it's questionable whether I really have any self-respect, however, as I have three times sat silently in the midst of thousands of my peers as they have gleefully sung "Le Saux takes it up the arse!" (to the tune of "Go West!", some people have no sense of irony).

The media and the football authorities have reluctantly been forced to acknowledge homophobia by Le Saux's whack to the back of Robbie Fowler's head after the latter had stuck out his backside and (allegedly) taunted our sensitive-but-straight hero with the words "Come on, Graeme, give it to me up the arse!". Le Saux, incidentally, got only a one-match ban for the assault, in spite of the fact that "violent conduct" gets you a three-match ban, and Fowler got two matches for "bringing the game into disrepute". I can't help feeling that three matches apiece would have been best, and that Le Saux was treated leniently because he is straight, and no red-blooded man could let such an insult go unpunished.

The incident did at least, partially and temporarily, break the silence. The only previous media coverage of this salient feature of Arsenal-Chelsea games had been by gay football journalist Chas Newkey-Burden in Time Out, and that had been run in the gay, not the sport, section of the London listings magazine. Why people interested in the gay scene need to know homophobia is offensive, and sports fans don't, is a question that begs asking. Ironically, it was Le Saux's defence of his heterosexuality, through stereotypical violence, which brought the issue before a wider audience.

Le Saux's assault on Fowler meant there had to be media coverage. Professional Footballers' Association Chief Executive Gordon Taylor even said the unsayable, that there are gay footballers, but managed to make it sound like a hypothetical concept, rather than a reality. Unlike racism, homophobia is not just unacceptable, it is almost unspeakable. This is itself a problem, because it demonstrates that to acknowledge, or highlight, the existence of homophobia, is to admit to the existence of homosexuality in football. The reluctance to do this speaks volumes.

Real men take it up the arse!

I read a full page article on Le Saux in The Independent shortly before the Fowler incident where there was a coy reference to abusive chants "some of which question his masculinity". I actually missed a game because of those chants. True, it would also have cost me £21 to see Arsenal Reserves get thumped 5-0 at home by Chelsea in a competition so worthless Spurs won it, but the crunch was the homophobic crap.

Given recent events, it is unsurprising that gobshite Sports Minister Tony Banks, with his affiliation to Chelsea, should have weighed in. According to the Pink Paper, having been contacted by a group of gay professional footballers, he urged them to come out and start a discussion on the subject. Since the manifestations of homophobia at football can not be separated from those in wider society, about which the "gay friendly" government is determined to do as little as possible, it is a bit rich putting the onus on gay footballers to kick it off in isolation.

Especially at the highest level, professional footballers' earnings (which are crap - as little as £8,000 a year - in the lower divisions of the League) are often made up of significant amounts of sponsorship. Now, call me a pessimist, but who is going to buy boots endorsed by a poof for their little boy? And how much stick would they get from their peers if they wore them? Unless there is significant progress towards making homosexuality (and bisexuality) acceptable, advertisers know the answer to those questions. Sponsors find gay events which "stay within the community" like Prides attractive, but gay events which reach a wider audience don't get as much support.

Queer as folk's sponsor Beck's Beer pulled out after two episodes, and there have been gay- or lesbian- themed ad ideas pulled by the likes of Guinness and Virgin Vodka. The same would probably apply to out-gay professional footballers' chances of sponsorship. "Don't frighten the heterosexuals" remains the bottom line. Ironically, there was an ad for Amstel Beer during the African Nations Cup in South Africa a couple of years ago on Eurosport which featured a couple of drag queens and a leather-clad arse over a techno soundtrack with the slogan "... and enjoyed in the Amsterdam tradition"!

The gay footballer's dilemma also includes a big fear factor. Justin Fashanu may have had a lot of other stuff on his plate too, but "gay footballer's suicide" is a big deterrent. So are the fans. As it was put in the Comic Strip's "The Crying Game", Martina Navratilova never had to go to Elland Road. Until we can overcome these barriers, we can't cause the trouble which would be necessary to make the authorities and the media tackle homophobia.

The breakthrough might come if someone was forced out of the closet. Players are now precious commodities with the whip hand in contract negotiations. They aren't going to take too much abuse, and the clubs aren't going to relish losing their assets because of hate-filled morons. This issue might arise, because the Sun and the News of the World have recently run an "ethical" (no-names) outing campaign on two footballers.

I haven't read these papers, but from the Gay Times coverage I can make an educated guess that one was pictured "once too often" in the company of his native country's answer to Julian Clary before moving to England, and that the other is someone for whom he displays obvious affection. If I'm right these are two world class players at one of the country's most powerful and sophisticated clubs. If they were outed it might provide the kick up the arse that's needed to tackle homophobia in football.

It's difficult to say definitely why the level of homophobia has blown up now - the Le Saux storm began at Highbury in January 1998. Certainly the perceived gay-friendliness of the government, aggravated by its failure to actually take any effective measures, might be a factor. The tabloid hate campaigns, focused around the "heroic" battle of Baroness Young and the Bishops against the "all-powerful gay lobby", established the lie that "gay sex" and "gay lessons" were going to be imposed on "our kids". This could be part of the backlash, like the Soho bomb. The two bombs which preceded Soho were certainly part of a wider backlash to the gains made by the black community as the result of the Macpherson Enquiry into Stephen Lawrence's murder.

Here are some examples of the kind of casual homophobia we've taken for granted over the years: * One of two geezers who stumbled past me outside Islington Town Hall in May 1994 singing "One Nil to the Arsenal!" saying to the other "I can't believe we're singing a song by a couple of poofs!" (the aforementioned "Go West!" by the Pet Shop Boys, originally by the Village People; they never said this about "We are the Champions!" by "bisexual" Freddie Mercury!); * the North Bank chanting "Walker takes it up the arse!" at the Spurs goalkeeper for most of the second half of a home derby game; * the Highbury Italians sitting behind me at a screening of Newcastle United vs. Arsenal calling Graham Barber a poof for sending off Tony Adams, and me thinking "not with that haircut!".

Up the Arse!

Mind you, the previous year the guy sitting next to me had literally screamed "Eric's a wanker!" for the entire second 45 minutes of the derby at Walker's predecessor, and the year after some plonkers sang "Chim chimeney, chim chimeney, chim chimgeroo, Jurgen was a Nazi and now he's a Jew!" - xenophobic, anti-Semitic, inaccurate and, worst of all, crap! That day there had been a Police Message about racist chanting before the game, which brought a predictable chorus of "Yiddo! Yiddo!" in defiance.

All this pales into insignificance beside what a bloke two rows in front of me screamed one year when Spurs equalized from a throw when we'd put the ball out to allow Patrick Vieira to be treated after a deliberate foul by Chris Armstrong the ref. didn't give. "I can see why Hitler gassed you lot, you dirty cheating Yid scum!". Fortunately, I've never heard more than a couple of people singing "Spurs are on their way to Belsen!", and never at a game.

Football is overpriced, so Richards whose idea of machismo is laddism, tourists, etc. are often in evidence at the glamour clubs. When it matters, however, more of the real fans can find the money, and some people you'd definitely cross the street to avoid. Generally, anti-Semitism at Arsenal is exaggerated, we probably have more Jewish fans than Spurs, they just don't think it's a big deal. Nor have I ever heard anyone remark on the fact that our biggest shareholder is a diamond merchant(!) called Danny Fiszman.

I once heard some middle class tosser moaning about Arsenal fans' anti-Semitism to his mate once, and thought "the guy who's just equalized for Southampton is Eyal Berkovic, yer actual Israeli International - do you hear any 'Yiddo!' chants? No!". Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and homophobia in football are usually ways of getting at opposition players and fans. Football-related motives do not excuse such hatred, however.

All of which serves to put Arsenal fans' leading role in homophobic abuse of Le Saux into some kind of context. What started as a typical reaction to a particularly fractious and annoying player - I remember an unpunished elbow on Lee Dixon - for first Blackburn Rovers, then back at Chelsea, has turned into something far worse. (David Beckham annoys us for similar reasons, and was still having running battles with Fredrik Ljungberg during the England-Sweden game. We don't envy him "Posh" - her parents live in Chingford, which we know is where publicans go to die.)

There is no gay equivalent of the big intimidating black guy who's part of the Firm taking exception to racist remarks. Without fear, challenging prejudice and hatred becomes a lecture, becomes a "middle class" restriction on your "freedom". I've toyed with the idea of saying many things - "you're just jealous 'cos the missus wouldn't wear the strap-on last night!"; "I take it up the arse, and I object to being likened to Graeme Le Saux!"; etc. There is a remote possibility of being killed by someone who's come to football to take out all their frustrations on anyone different, but mostly it just wouldn't work.

All Fools' Day

Confronting someone when you need to assert yourself for your self-esteem is something else. It might even make people stop, but it won't change their minds. Football still has an element of All Fools' Day to it. This means being able to do what is forbidden by authority, including hurling racial abuse and other expressions of hatred. Explaining the unacceptability of racism or homophobia to your peers in a rational environment might work. To tell people they can't or shouldn't do something in an atmosphere like a football match is to assume the mantle of the very authority they are trying to escape.

The authorities and the media could make a big difference if they built on the good work they have done with anti-racist initiatives outside the stadia. However, the government has demonstrated in relation to hate crimes that it considers equating homophobia with racism as devaluing the latter, "diluting the anti-racist message" is how they put it. Presumably they also deplore the fact that the nailbombers' evidently greater hatred of queers than of black and Asian people "diluted [their] racist message".

Part of the reason for this differential treatment is that black and ethnic minority people have had to argue, lobby and riot for more than 20 years to get from lipservice to the Macpherson Enquiry. Homophobia does not equate easily with racism, it is more like anti-Semitism, but the crucial difference in government attitudes is down to insufficient pressure to force them to act. We are too socially and politically diverse, and too many of us are invisible, to be able to assert that kind of sustained pressure.

The biggest problem is the heavily-gendered culture of sport. Homophobia is used to police masculinity and femininity. A sensitive man or an athletic woman lets the side down, and is therefore accused of being queer. Someone who "betrays" their sex by acknowledging their desires or relationships is considered to be of the other sex, which amounts to "cheating" in women's sports, and invites ridicule in men's. Even the Gay Games is dogged by repeated controversies over Transsexual athletes.

Amelie Mauresmo was likened to a man by both Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport recently because of her lesbianism, rather than her impressive shoulders. Many straight women tennis players are overweight for professional athletes, finding that the lean, hungry look brings their "femininity/heterosexuality" into question. Players like Anna Kournikova have also been hyped because of their appearance, rather than their ability, by a media which is obsessed with women players' underwear and the length of their skirts. Women footballers also tend to have long hair and an almost exaggeratedly "feminine" appearance, presumably to prevent accusations of lesbianism.

The flip side of the coin is that even (male) golfers are macho! (When did you last see someone play a golf shot as a six-foot-three hardman flew in showing two sets of metal studs?) A lesbian-I-work-with's partner has seen one of Britain's top athletes with his boyfriend, but he's in the closet, so what hope is there for lesser mortals? Football, as a contact sport, is among the most macho.

Argentina's last national manager, Daniel Passarella, famously wouldn't pick players with long hair. His prohibitions also extended to "homosexuals", which drew flak from one Diego Maradonna, who argued that playing ability should be the sole criterion for selection, not sexual orientation or hairstyle. Argentinian gay rights organisations countered that there were already gay players in the national side, anyway. Maradonna is currently suing the wife of fellow cocaine-ban recipient Claudio Caniggia, because she accused him of being in love with her husband, incidentally.

Football is the working class sport, and its culture reflects that of the working class in Britain, from which the players, coaches and fans still overwhelmingly come. This means that middle class and "gay" cultures are as alien to it as the greater sophistication of the equally proletarian overseas players. Difference is perceived as a threat, and xenophobia directed towards French players in particular is on the increase even as the integration of (British) black players helps racism decline. The same mindset which sees Graeme Le Saux as a "poof" because he reads the Guardian, sees Emmanuel Petit as a "shit, French bastard".

"But there'll never be a girl who can take my heart away..."

Same-sex desires do have expression within working class culture, however. Whether they meet men through clubs and bars (outing is frowned on in the gay community, so it's relatively safe), or by cruising, sex with other men is not incompatible with a "straight", i.e. "masculine", identity, although it obviously has to be kept secret. Many footballers experience personal problems, especially in their early twenties when they are supposed to grow up a bit, and a lot of these have got to be around sexual identity, homophobia is after all the biggest single cause of teenage suicide and self-harm attempts.

Most footballers are encouraged by their clubs to get married and have children as young as possible, to provide them with stability and prevent "off-pitch" problems affecting their performance. Ostensibly, early marriage is supposed to keep players out of clubs and betting shops, and to give them a maturity they wouldn't get from the perpetual adolescence of British dressing-room culture. In folklore marriage would also "cure" bisexual footballers with regular sex, and help keep them on the "straight" and narrow.

Bisexual behaviour by married men is a phenomenon common to many cultures. Another widespread cultural expression of same-sex desire is pederasty. That is a mentor-pupil relationship with a sexual dimension, which is the form which most of the mythical Greek Homosexuality took. Now, I might be reading too much into this, but a common phenomenon in English football is the manager with favourite players, whom he has often known since their teenage years. These relationships usually include an element of close friendship, and involve a manager buying the same player for several clubs as he moves around.

It is always possible to read too much into some things, but we are always on the lookout for others of our kind "passing". Jew-spotting is an activity in which both anti-Semites and Jews indulge, and the same applies to queer-spotting. This is based on a desire for affirmation of our identities through confirming that we are not alone. Isolation in a heterosexual family as children, followed by not knowing any other queers "like us", alienation from the commercial scene etc., have a lasting impact on most of us. We tend to indulge in speculation, looking for signs of what we know is there, somewhere.

In English football there was one very strange recent transfer where a player moved from a club where he was happy, which he had supported as a boy, after an incident involving the then manager. An incident, moreover, about which he has been gagged. How many unspeakable things are there in football - straight sex, drugs, violence, and crime are all acknowledged? Another unexplained incident involved a charismatic, high profile manager, who was mugged in a lay by in circumstances which were never fully explained. The common assumption is that he picked up a rent boy, who robbed him.

The majority of people who acknowledge our same-sex desires are working class, and many of us have our own problems with (middle class) "gay" culture, and the commercial scene. Soho queens and football hooligans might both agree that sport is not for nancy boys, but if you're working class and queer football is part of your culture, and maybe of your social life too. Our dilemma is whether to pretend that our gay and working class lives are separate, or to try and integrate the two and develop a distinctive expression of our gay lives in a working class context.

"Who the fuck's Kinsey?"

Isolation and fear would dog any such attempts. For the last four years Arsenal have launched their new kit on the same day as Pride. To celebrate both a decent shirt and my sexuality, I ordered one with my Kinsey number on the back, combining a joke about gay culture with football shirt modification. This being Arsenal World of Profit, one member of staff was allocated to the hundreds of pre-ordered shirts, and two dozen to the queue-on-the-day. Football and the gay scene have more in common than either would like to admit.

Inevitably, one guy in the queue complained that he had "a wedding to go to". I thought about chipping in with "And I've got a Gay Pride parade to go to!", but what's the point unless there's a wider campaign going on? I saw several other blokes wearing the new shirt at Pride later, but I just tell the curious at football it's a joke, if you don't understand it, it's not for you. And the Gay Football Supporters' Network is a social group, not a lobby group.

You could also read a gay subtext into some of the in jokes about my club and its players. Known both abusively and parodically as "The Arse", the kind of adolescent male fascination with gender boundaries football fans (and a lot of other macho subcultures) indulge in has produced some odd nicknames for Arsenal players. The goalkeeper is, of course, known as "Spunky", Ray Parlour's long blond curls got the obvious "Shirley (Temple)"; a noted hardman got the sinister "Uncle Bouldy" from Alan Smith's daughters! You might think Dutch people are liberal, progressive, etc., but Bergkamp was christened "Denise" in Holland because he was seen as soft! I have been known to refer to the team as "the girls".

Some of the peripheral interests of the football fan take on a different slant if you're gay, too. I remember being disappointed when Javier Zanetti transferred to Internazionale from Banfield in Argentina, because Inter's black-and-blue stripes didn't go well with his complexion! Me and a gay mate who supports Barcelona had some fun at an Arsenal vs. Liverpool game speculating about "ecru" - the alleged colour of Liverpool's away shirts - and what name "designers" might call the off-tangerine colour of their goalkeeper's shirt. Since we lost 2-1, I was relieved I remembered where we were and stopped myself kissing him goodnight outside the ground - maybe, but not after a home defeat! Far too dangerous.

Back on February 13th I missed most of the first London Bisexual Festival, including the Bi Pride march, due to the 4th Round of the FA Cup. It's difficult to think of your life as taking place in different worlds - if I hadn't been on my way to Bloomsbury after the game, I wouldn't have heard about the Replay, or had a discussion with Sheffield United fans about it, and found out that they used to show Ian Wright's goal against Wednesday in the 1993 Final at half-time at Bramall Lane to cheer the fans up!

The Replay itself was on the same night as the first episode of "Queer as hype", but being a real fan who supports my local team, I didn't have to rush through the gleeful crowds ("Would you like to start again!") with a cry of "let me through, I've got a controversial gay drama to watch!". Two more Tuesday nights combined footie with QAF. And a woman I see on the train who I thought looked likely turned up at an away game screening with two teenage boys and another woman who looked even more likely.

We are more visible when we are not "the only one in the room", and invisibility and isolation inhibit speaking out far more than fear does. What company also does is allow you to relate to each other, not just to the heterosexual world on its own terms. This makes your behaviour change, and means that tolerance is no longer an option for liberals. Because you are no longer a lone aberration, people have to accept or reject you. If they reject you and you won't go away, the struggle begins.

Most of that struggle has to take place in wider society, particularly in schools to combat homophobic bullying and heterosexist sex education. Repealing Section 28 would send out the right message, and help people gain the confidence to take up the issues. Anti-discrimination measures and hate crimes legislation with teeth are also long overdue. Then Banks can urge gay footballers, and football fans, to do our bit. The catch is that we can't wait until it's safe, none of this will happen without pressure on the streets, and in community organisations. Who knows, I might eventually tell someone what "Kinsey 3" means.

Perry Groves

Press release from FAF Bandung Indonesia

I'm lukman representing FAF Bandung Indonesia heres teh press release from our last action against militerism that held on 21st mei 1999, the day when soeharto's rezim was fall.


On May 21st, the day Suharto overthrowned last year, FAF along with other resistance organisation held a demonstration using the moment to campaign for recent issues : eliminating militer's dual function, boycot the next election (because it's a fake one, a trap), campaigning for the real transitional government. The rally was 500 strong, consist of students, labours, farmers, slum-dwellers and local hc/punk scenesters harassed by a number of riot police. The police attacked the our peaceful protest and a clash happened causing three of us injured. In this action we try to waken up the mass so they realize that June election is just another b.s. Because the militer and the status quo still exist in legislatives, in other words, they still oppressed us, the people. It's quite difficult for us because right now the mass is illusioned by the election, they're still on that old euphoria state of mind.

The same actions also happened in other cities like Jakarta, Solo, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Lampung, and Padang with different scales of chaos. The biggest one happened in Jakarta which cause 75 injured and hundreds being jailed.

Right now, Indonesia is in campaigning days. Most people believe that the June election will change the condition which going worst day after day. They don't realize that whoever win this election the regime is already win 34% position in legislative. In the other place people still killed in Aceh, Timor and Papua. Bloodshed's still everywhere. The next weeks we try to campaign the issues as long as we can. We try to keep organising mass for the insurrection moment. We're waiting for it patiently with our fist clenched.

herewith i enclose our mail address maybe if you guys have any literature or anything could help us is very helpful to us, for supporting our struggle please write on the envelope those letters, never adding anything else, because we are avoiding censoring from the gov'nt ppl

PO BOX 1853
bandung 40018
west java

ok that's it for now for the future action we were planning to made an action in 7 june when the election were held, and so on and so on, we will inform you guys for our future action

in solidarity
(Front Anti Fasis)

Mark Barnsley

The Sheffield Star was one of the papers that carried lies about Liverpool fans in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy. It continues its tradition with printing lies about ordinary people from Big Issue sellers to Mark Barnsley.

The Star claimed that Mark was a madman who attacked fifteen students with a knife. Now it attacks the campaign to free him saying that it is adding fresh agony to his "victims". Well one campaign achievement for a start!

June saw two actions in support of Mark. One was a picket of the court and the Star, joined by people from the Hillsborough campaign. After the pickets, leaflets were handed out in the high street. There was also a well attended public meeting addressed by Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham 6, who drew together the themes of class and police cover-ups.

One unwelcome guest at the meeting was a Star reporter who left after being offered the option of being removed.

Contact the campaign for updates, a video of the meeting and their new Justice for Mark Barnsley t-shirts. Justice for Mark Barnsley c/o 145-149 Cardigan Road, Leeds, LS6 1LJ

Write to Mark at WA2897 HMP Full Sutton, York, YO41 1PS

Biba Sarkaria fights for parole and equal rights for Asian women prisoners

Biba Sarkaria fights for parole and equal rights for Asian women prisoners

Biba Sarkaria, who has for years fought for the rights of women prisoners has been waiting over 19 weeks now to hear the outcome of her own parole application which she made in April 1999. Prison policy states that every prisoner will hear the result of their parole application within six weeks. So why asks Biba am I still waiting.

Biba says that in all the time she has spent in prison (over ten years) she has only ever seen one or two Asian women ever get parole, home leave, town visits, tagging, no matter what their circumstances. She herself has tried on many occasions to fight for home leave for Asian women whos fathers were dying or whos chidren were seriously injured but the authorities showed no compassion. However the same prison authorities (Cookhamwood) give white prisoners home leave, tagging, parole and all the best jobs in prison. While `we (Asian women) are even taken to the local hospital with handcuffs and three prison officers. Last time they did that to me I refused to go. She goes on to say that Since April 1996 only one Asian woman at Cookhamwood has ever been given Home leave, and yet so many others have been refused and given flimsy reasons. One governor even said:

`He was worried about his job if he allowed an Asian Woman Home leave.

While Biba awaits the outcome of her parole application, while suffering from acute backpain (the result of a protest she made against the racism at Cookhamwood), and a serious heart conditions (among other things), she is now also faced daily with the brutal decision of the prison authorities not to meet her request for specially prepared food. Biba who is a practising / baptised sikh needs to eat food prepared in conditions which are `hygenic and not mixed with foods forbidden by her religion (certain meat). Up to now Biba was able to prepare this food herself or get fellow prisoners to prepare it and it as she is one of the (83 out of 150) enhanced prisoners who is given privelege preparing her own food. However recently (May 1999), the kitchen in which she used to cook (often for many others), clean (and after many others) has been now allocated to seventeen additional inmates. For Biba this has meant that she can no longer cook there. The fridge is full of food which has been there for days, the floor has not been cleaned in weeks and every health and safety regulation is broken. When asked about the prison providing cleaners and health inspectors Biba replied: `theres only one cleaner and she only comes once a week and theres only so much she can do. As for inspectors, the only inspectors we see are the ones who come here, talk, smile, drink coffee and smoke cigarettes and then go away.

Asian women prisoners group is demanding that:

Prison authorities meet their legal responsibility with providing Biba Sarkaria (and others in a similar situation) with the food she needs.

A response from the parole board Biba Sarkarias application (fourth) for parole. .

A response from all the authorities she has written to demanding an investigation into the racism at Cookhamwood prison.

Letters and faxes of protest should be sent to: Parole and Lifer group

Terry McCarthy (Head of Parole Board)
Abell House
John Islip St
SW1 4LH London

or fax to: Jon Irving,
Parole Unit, Rm 126
Abell House, John Islip St, SW1 4LH London, Tel: 0171-217-5124 / 5216/3000

Lord Williams of Mostyn QC
Minister Responsible for Oversight of Prisons and Probation
Fax 0171 273 2936
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State George Howarth
Minister Responsible for Prisons and Probation
Fax 0171 273 2565
The Home Secretary: Jack Straw
Fax: 0171-273-3965

Asia Women Prisoners Group
c/o Londec, Instrument House
205-217 Kings Cross Rd
London WC1X 9DB
Tel: 0171-713-7907

Nick Cohen Interview

Observer journalist Nick Cohen has been one of the most consistent and intransigent opponents of Jack Strawıs Immigration and Asylum Bill. His weekly "reports on the sinister and preposterous" machinations of New Labour have captured that combination of rage and sheer disgust felt by so many at the continued venality of Blairıs government. As he puts it in his book Cruel Britannia, "Joining New Labour is like joining the Mafia ­ you must first kill what you love to prove loyalty to the capo." Among the many reasons to interview Nick Cohen, two stand out beyond simply his consistency and commitment. He treats the Westminster soap opera with real contempt, and, as importantly, heıs one of a very few left wing voices in the mainstream press (Francis Wheen and Christopher Hitchens alongside) who combines rage and wit in equal measure. In person, heıs as scathing and funny as youıd expect, and as "off-message" as you could hope for.

BLACK FLAG: Nick, can you tell us a bit about how you came to be at The Observer?

NICK COHEN: Well,.. simply,Š I left University, started at the bottom with local papers, and downhill from there really! I worked on the Childrenıs page of the Sutton Coldfield News, the Birmingham Post and Mail, then came down to London, worked for the Independent, the Independent on Sunday and the Observer. The Independent on Sunday was then quite a strong left-of-centre paper in the classic English broadsheet tradition ­ itıs since got a bit wet ­ and essentially, Iım from a generation of people who were 18 when Thatcher came to power, and coming from the north I found the acceptance of the Thatcherite concensus in the media baffling. Iım form Manchester, I lived in Birmingham when the manufacturing industry was decimated, and I come from a radical, Labour family. These days you find that just by standing still you end up on the extreme left.

BF: Youı've talked about becoming disillusioned with New Labour in office, of being a schmuck for believing any of the promises Labour made. Is that disillusion genuine -­did you have expectations of Blair?

NC: It was and it wasn't. I was a home affairs specialist when Labour was in opposition. I used to know Straw and Blair quite well. I quite liked them, particularly Blair. And then.. you remember all the things they said to you.. and you watch them abandon every tiny humane political commitment they made. I was genuinely shocked by them. This government is doing things quite proudly, with no sense of shame, which however far to the left you were, you would have regarded as inconceivable by a Labour government.

BF: What do you think underpins New Labourıs agenda?

NC: There was a brilliant essay written by Raphael Samuel 1 in the early 80s called "The SDP and the New Middle Class", which could be reprinted today, substituting New Labour for the SDP, and what he talks about is an English middle class thatıs gone sour. Itıs not frightened of an insurgent poor. The period that began with the rise of the organised working class in the 1880s is over. Theyıre not frightened any more. Theyıve no sense of guilt or duty any more. They look at the people beneath them and just think "if you had anything about you ­ youıd be me." So New Labour represents a set of politics that says the best thing that can be done for the lower orders is give them a good slapping. Get them to shape up. Get them to be like us, stop drinking and eat Italian food! We live in an age where racial hatred is persona non grata, so is hatred of women and hatred of gays, but the one thing thatıs absolutely flourishing is class hatred.

BF: Itıs clear that that real contempt for working class people pervades a big chunk of the media as well.

NC: In the 30s and the 60s there were quite serious attempts made to get authentic working class voices published, but now if you say in journalism or in publishing "where are working class writers?" people look at you like youıre mad.

BF: And equally, the solution to working class problems, whether it be education or poverty, is to get them to ape the middle class more closely, or get the middle class to move back in and set an example. Itıs seen as a moral not an economic or political issue.

NC: I think there is something to be said for stopping white flight from cities, but I think whatıs interesting is how much Blair has moved away from even the limited promises he made. The one real promise they had was that theyıd increase democracy. Once youıve got greater democracy, all kinds of things become possible, marginalised voices get heard, minorities get access to power. Whatıs interesting therefore is that on their own terms, by their own standards, by their own better instincts, New Labour have betrayed themselves. The debate about Old Labour v. New Labour is beside the point. New Labour isnıt carrying on as New Labour. We only have to look at its attitude to official secrecy, the lack of a democratic element in the health service reforms.. on their own terms they are failing. I could have put up with , although it wouldnıt have been all I wanted.. a Labour Party committed to democratisation, even that would still have been worth having. Even before the election, Peter Mandelson was saying the commitments to a freedom of Information Act were going to have to wait. "What we donıt want is rights to know whatıs happening, we just want good people in office, people like me, for example. People you can trust"!

You've got to understand as well that New Labour inside the Labour Party is run as a clique. The majority of MPs, the majority of party members donıt like it. But New Labour is a clear ideological project, so they have to control. Conservative friends of mine often ask, "How do you attack this government from the right?"

BF: One of the issues thatıs never addressed, is what kinds of political organisation are likely to fill the vacuum left by Labour in working class areas. Darcus Howe 2 has just returned from a "tour of the North" for Channel 4 and was shocked at the extent of sympathy for the far right expressed by white working class kids in areas like Bradford.

NC: The 1997 election was supposed to be the most important election since 1979. Everyone knew there was going to be a change of government. The turn-out ­ 72% -was the lowest in the history of British democracy. In one sense, thatıs understandable working class abstentionism. What scares me is that weıll end up like America, where only the middle classes vote and so the parties compete for ever more rightward moving votes. The Labour Party have been wooing the upper middle class and taking the working class core vote for granted. What theyıve failed to realise is that if they canıt mobilise their core vote they could lose the next general election.

Also the nature of the kind of turbo-charged capitalism that we have now is such that whole communities are suddenly rendered surplus to requirements. In the past theyıd look to the left, where do they go now? So weıre faced with two possible and equally depressing scenarios. 1) we become like America, with a massive underclass which is politically passive, and you lock up huge amounts of people (there are now 2million people in jail in America ­ you can now talk quite seriously about an American gulag) or 2) we become like parts of Europe, with a quasi FN on the rise.

BF: recently, youıve written a lot about the Immigration and Asylum Bill. Tell us why.

NC: Partly because no one else was. Partly because itıs based on a gigantic lie. Partly because Iım the great grandson of refugees and one does get the feeling that if Tony Blair had been in power Iıd never have been born. Iım in a very privileged position. I can write what I like, and if something very bad is happening youıve just got to get stuck in, youıve got to be relentless. On that issue I really tried. When it went through virtually unchallenged I decided Iıd had it with the Labour Party. I genuinely couldnıt vote for them. Theyıre a bunch of sickos and child abusers really. Theyıre very good at telling everyone else that they must live up to the bracing standards of the private sector (where Iıve worked for most of my adult life, and where most of them have never worked), but if anyone who managed the Home Office like Jack Straw does, worked in the private sector, theyıd be fired.

BF: What sort of response do you get from Labour MPs?

NC: Oh, in private itıs all "keep going", "weıre right behind you". On one occasion I was with a Labour MP who told me, "Itıs disgusting what theyıre doing, Iım going to fight them in private etc." After our conversation I asked him to drop me in the bar. On the way we bumped into a tall, distinguished looking man in his early 40s. The MP practically throws me into the bar, going "Fuck! Fuck! Thatıs my career finished." Oh, I said, was that Alistair Campbell? I thought it was hilarious. This is an elected member, a representative of the British people ­ Alistair Campbell when all is said and done is just a boring, brutish press officer.

BF: One of the things that makes your column unique is that its not just about you. How difficult is it to write "politically" in the media now?

NC: If you work for the Murdoch press, say, youıd think twice about taking them on. The Labour wonks do try and exert pressure. If you work for a reasonable paper and youıre not dependent on the New Labour spin doctors, what can they do? There are a lot of journalists who have been publicly humiliated who will one day take a chance to bite the hand that slapped them.

Iım very concerned about the decline of radical writing in Britain. The best of English writing historically has been from the left. Something has gone radically wrong if it is somehow considered low class to use all the skills of a writer ­ to use bathos, to use rhetoric, to use irony. Although I think New Labour is an absolute disaster for the country, professionally itıs wonderful for me ­ itıll keep me in work forever! But seriously, one of the difficulties is that, with the amalgamations of modern business, itıs very difficult for an independent radical press to survive. Where is the advertising which would support it, when the local coffee shop has been replaced by Coffee Republic, and the radical bookshop has given way to Waterstones. To do something like, say City Limits would be so much harder today. Every age has a spirit, and the spirit of our age is deconstruction. It sounds absurd to suggest that a bunch of bonkers and boring and obscurantist Parisian philosophers can affect the spirit of the age ­ but they at least represent it very well; so that there are no great causes, no great issues everything is suspect. They might think themselves very radical for saying this, but its effects are profoundly conservative, because all you breed is a cynicism, which substitutes facts for opinion and places a great premium on the personal. So debate gets reduced to journalists burbling on about Irritable Bowel Syndrome or arenıt husbandıs horrid. That works profoundly against a rational, radical journalism.. Itıs afault of mine that my work tends to depress people. I hope it doesnıt. Firstly, because you canıt do anything unless you see things clearly, and secondly, I think if I can get a bit of fire in someoneıs stomach or a mocking smile on one personıs lips, then Iıve succeeded.


1. The SDP and the New Middle Class, in Island Stories ­ Raphael Samuel, (Verso)

2. Darcus Howe ­ founder of Race Today magazine and collective, journalist and broadcaster

"Cruel Britannia" by Nick Cohen is published by Verso.

NB Something strange has happened to some of the non-alpha-numeric characters in this article - I'll go through it and replace - it's on my todo list. Webed.

Robert Thaxton
An Urgent Call For Support And Action

After Two months, Anarchist Robert Thaxton remains in Jail around charges stemming from the June 18th Reclaim The Streets Event in Eugene Oregon. During his arrest after Reclaim The Streets, Robert was severly beaten. Eugene police have made an effort to cover-up this beating and continue to deny Robert's lawyer some access to Robert. Robert has been singled out for prosecution because of his anarchist beliefs and as an effort by the Eugene police to put the June 18th event on trial.

Robert is 36, has a two year old daughter, and is a committed anarchist who has made many positive contributions to the movement over a considerable period of time - most recently writing for "Anarchy, A Journal Of Desire Armed". Robert is hanging tough and will not be hiding his beliefs during his trial. The claim that Robert threw a rock at a police officer is false. The only evidence for this the report of the officer who beat Robert and who is known for harassing and singling out activists. Robert acted as a peace-maker during the event but likely was singled out because he was active in the event.

All struggles are linked. Through his web site, Robert provided considerable support for Leonard Peltier and other American political prisoners. It is important for all partisans of the class struggle to see the link of different struggles and different political prisoners.

Eugene has been the site of an extremely militant and effective anti-gentrification struggle - even as much development and speculation continues. The prosecuation of Robert is an effort to increase repression in Eugene and could an effect through-out the country.

Robert most needs funds for his legal defense. He would also appreciate people writing to him in jail.

Rob can be written to at:

Robert Thaxton #1370036 101 West 5th Eugene, OR 97401

Jail letter restrictions are demanding and arbitrary. Paper should be new and perfectly clean (for some reason). All books sent should come from the publisher - although even books from AK press have been rejected.

All donations should be sent to

Anti-Authoritarian Anonymous
PO Box 11331
Eugene OR 97440

Send check, money order or cash. Any checks and money orders should have the payee left blank.

Introduction to the Black Flag

Anarchism has always stood deliberately for a broad, and at times vague, political platform. The reasoning is sound; blueprints create rigid dogma and stifle the creative spirit of revolt. Along the same lines and resulting in the same problems, Anarchists have rejected the "disciplined" leadership that is found in many other political groupings on the Left. The reasoning for this is also sound; leadership based on authority is inherently hierarchical. It seems to follow logically that since Anarchists have shied away from anything static, that they would also shy away from the importance of symbols and icons.

While this is may be an explanation of why the origination of Anarchist symbols is elusive and inconclusive, the fact is, Anarchists have used symbolism in their revolt against the State and Capital, not only the black flag, but also the circled-A and the red-and-black flag. Circled-As are spray-painted on walls and under bridges all over the world; punks display them on their jackets and scrawl them into half-dried cement. Black and red-and-black flags were resurrected in Russia and eastern Europe after the fall of state socialism and continue to fly in most parts of the world.

Therefore, the anarchist movement has various symbols associated with it. The most famous of these are the circled-A, the black flag and the red-and-black flag. This appendix tries to indicate the history of these symbols. Ironically enough, the one of the original anarchist symbols was the red flag (indeed, as anarchist historians Nicolas Walter and Heiner Becker note, "Kropotkin always preferred the red flag" [Peter Kropotkin, Act for Yourselves, p. 128]). This is unsurprising as anarchism is a form of socialism and came out of the general socialist and labour movements. Common roots would imply common imaginary. However, as mainstream socialism developed in the nineteenth century into either reformist social democracy or the state socialism of the revolutionary Marxists, anarchists developed their own images of revolt, starting with the Black Flag.

In this appendix we present a short history of the more famous symbols, namely the Black and the Red-and-Black Flags as well as the circled a. We would like to point out that this appendix is based on Jason Wehling's 1995 essay Anarchism and the History of the Black Flag. Needless to say, this appendix does not cover all anarchists symbols. For example, recently the red-and-black flag has become complemented by the green-and-black flag of eco-anarchism. Other popular symbols include the IWW inspired "Wildcat," the Black Rose and the ironic "little black bomb" (among others). However, we concentrate here on the three most famous ones.

1 What is the history of the Black Flag?

There are ample accounts of the use of black flags by anarchists. Probably the most famous, was Nestor Makhno's partisans during the Russia Revolution. Under the black banner, his army routed a dozen armies and kept a large portion of the Ukraine free from concentrated power for a good couple years (see Peter Arshinov's History of the Makhnovist Movement for details of this important movement). On the black flag was embroidered "Liberty of Death" and "The Land to the Peasant, The Factories to the Workers." [Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, p. 475] In the 1910s, Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican revolutionary, used a black flag with a skull & crossbones & the Virgin on it -- it also had "Land & Liberty" as a slogan ("Tierra y Libertad"). In 1925, the Japanese anarchists formed the Black Youth League and, in 1945, when the anarchist federation reformed, their journal was named Kurohata (Black Flag) [Op. Cit., p. 525-6]. More recently, Parisian students carried black (and red) flags during the massive General Strike of 1968 as well as at the America Students for a Democratic Society national convention of the same year. At about the same time, the British based magazine Black Flag was started and is still going strong. Today, if you go to any sizeable demonstration you will usually see the Black Flag raised by the anarchists present. But the anarchists' black flag originated much earlier than this. The first account is actually unknown. It seems that this credit is reserved for Louise Michel, famous participant in the Paris Commune of 1871. According to Anarchist historian George Woodcock, Michel flew the black flag on March 9, 1883, during demonstration of the unemployed in Paris, France. With 500 strong, Michel at the lead and shouting "Bread, work, or lead!", they pillaged three baker's shops before being arrested by the police [George Woodcock, Anarchism, pp. 251]. No earlier reports can be found of Anarchists and the black flag.

Not long after, the black symbol made it's way to America. Paul Avrich reports that on November 27, 1884, the black flag was displayed in Chicago at an Anarchist demonstration. According to Avrich, August Spies, one of the famous Haymarket martyrs, "noted that this was the first occasion on which [the black flag] had been unfurled on American soil" [Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy, pp. 144-145].

On a more dreary note, February 13, 1921 was the date that marked the end of black flags in Soviet Russia. On that day, Peter Kropotkin's funeral took place in Moscow. Masses of people whose march stretched for miles, carried black banners that read, "Where there is authority there is no freedom." [Paul Avrich, The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution, p. 26] It seems that black flags didn't appear in Russia until the founding of the Chernoe Zhania ("black banner") movement in 1905. Only two weeks after Kropotkin's funeral march, the Kronstadt rebellion broke out and anarchism was erased from Soviet Russia for good.

While the events above are fairly well known, as has been related, the exact origin of the black flag is not. What is known is that a large number of Anarchist groups in the early 1880s adopted titles associated with black. In July of 1881, the Black International was founded in London. This was an attempt to reorganise the Anarchist wing of recently dissolved First International [George Woodcock, Op. Cit., p. 212-4]. In October 1881, a meeting in Chicago lead to the International Working People's Association being formed in North America. This organisation, also known as the Black International, affiliated to the London organisation. [Clifford Harper, Anarchy: A Graphic Guide, p. 76, Woodcock, Op. Cit., p. 393] These two conferences are immediately followed by Michel's demonstration (1883) and the black flags in Chicago (1884).

Further solidifying this period (circa early 1880s) as the birth of the symbol is the name of a short lived French Anarchist publication: "Le Drapeau Noir" (The Black Flag). According to Roderick Kedward, this Anarchist paper existed for a few years dating sometime before October 1882, when a bomb was thrown into a cafe in Lyons [The Anarchists: the men who shocked an era p. 35]. Backing up this theory, Avrich states that in 1884, the black flag "was the new anarchist emblem" [Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy, p. 144]. In agreement, Murray Bookchin reports that "in later years, the Anarchists were to adopt the black flag" when speaking of the Spanish Anarchist movement in June, 1870 [Murray Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists, p. 57]. At that time, anarchists widely used the red flag. It appears obvious (though not conclusive) that this is the period that the black flag bonded with Anarchism. However, use of the red flag did not instantly die out. Thus we find Kropotkin writing Words of a Rebel (published in 1885, but written between 1880 and 1882) of "anarchist groups . . . rais[ing] the red flag of revolution." As Woodcock notes, the "black flag was not universally accepted by anarchists at this time. Many, like Kropotkin, still thought of themselves as socialists and of the red flag as theirs also." [Words of a Rebel, p. 75, p. 225] In addition, we find the Chicago anarchists using both black and red flags all through the 1880s.

The general drift away from the red flag towards the black must be placed in the historical context. During the later part of the 1870s and in the 1880s the socialist movement was changing. Marxist social democracy was being the dominant socialist trend, with libertarian socialism going into decline in many areas. Thus the red flag was increasingly associated with the authoritarian and statist (and increasingly reformist) side of the socialist movement. In order to distinguish themselves from other socialists, the use of the black flag makes perfect sense. Not only was it an accepted symbol of working class revolt, it shared the same origins in the 1831 Lyons revolt [Bookchin, The Third Revolution, vol. 2, p. 65].

It seems that figuring out when the connection was made is easier than finding out why, exactly, black was chosen. The Chicago "Alarm", which is right from the horses mouth, stated that the black flag is "the fearful symbol of hunger. misery and death" [Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy, p. 144]. Bookchin asserts that the black flag is the "symbol of the workers misery and as an expression of their anger and bitterness." [Op. Cit., p. 57]. Historian Bruce C. Nelson also notes that the Black Flag was considered "the emblem of hunger" when it was unfurled in Chicago in 1884. [Beyond the Martyrs: A Social History of Chicago's Anarchists, p. 141, p. 150]

Along these lines, Albert Meltzer maintains that the association between the black flag and working class revolt "originated in Rheims [France] in 1831 ('Work or Death') in an unemployed demonstration." [Albert Meltzer, The Anarcho-Quiz Book, p. 49] In fact he goes on to assert that it was Michel's action in 1883 that solidified the association. The links from revolts in France to anarchism are even stronger. As Murray Bookchin records, "[i]n 1831, the silk-weaving artisans. . . rose in armed conflict to gain a better tarif, or contract, from the merchants. For a brief period they actually took control of the city, under red and black flags -- which made their insurrection a memorable event in the history of revolutionary symbols. Their use of the word mutuelisme to denote the associative disposition of society that they preferred made their insurrection a memorable event in the history of anarchist thought as well, since Proudhon appears to have picked up the word from them during his brief stay in the city in 1843-4." [The Third Revolution, vol. 2, p. 157]

Kropotkin himself states that its use continued in the French labour movement after this uprising. He notes that the Paris Workers "raised in June [1848] their black flag of 'Bread or Labour'" [Act for Yourself, p. 100]

The use of the black flag by anarchists, therefore, is an expression of their roots and activity in the labour movement in Europe, particularly in France. The anarchist adoption of the Black Flag by the anarchist movement in the 1880s reflects its use as "the traditional symbol of hunger, poverty and despair" and that it was "raised during popular risings in Europe as a sign of no surrender and no quarter." [Walter and Becker, Act for Yourselves, p. 128]

This is unsurprising given the nature of anarchist politics. Just as anarchists base their ideas on actual working class practice, they would also base their symbols on those created by the practice. For example, Proudhon as well as taking the term "mutualism" from radical workers also argued that co-operative "labour associations" had "spontaneously, without prompting and without capital been formed in Paris and in Lyon. . . the proof of it [mutualism, the organisation of credit and labour]. . . lies in current practice, revolutionary practice." He considered his ideas, in other words, to be an expression of working class self-activity. [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, pp. 59-60] Indeed, according to K. Steven Vincent, there was "close similarity between the associational ideal of Proudhon . . . and the program of the Lyon Mutualists" and that there was "a remarkable convergence [between the ideas], and it is likely that Proudhon was able to articulate his positive program more coherently because of the example of the silk workers of Lyon. The socialist ideal that he championed was already being realised, to a certain extent, by such workers." [Piere-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism, p. 164] Other anarchists have made similar arguments concerning anarchism being the expression of tendencies within society and working class struggle (for Kropotkin see section J.5) and so the using of a traditional workers' symbol would be a natural expression of this aspect of anarchism.

But there are other possibilities.

Black is a very powerful colour, or anti-colour as it were. The 1880s were a time of extreme anarchist activity. The Black International saw the introduction of "propaganda of deed" as an anarchist platform.

Historically black has been associated with blood -- dried blood specifically -- like the red flag. So while it is tied to working class rebellion, it was also a symbol of the nihilism of the period (a nihilism generated by the mass slaughter of Communards by the French ruling class after the fall of the Paris Commune of 1871). It is this slaughter of the Communards which may also point to the use of the Black Flag by anarchists. Black "is the colour of mourning [at least in Western cultures], it symbolises our mourning for dead comrades, those whose lives were taken by war, on the battlefield (between states) or in the streets and on the picket lines (between classes)." [Chico, "letters", Freedom, vol. 48, No. 12, p. 10] Given the 25 000 dead in the Commune, many of them anarchists and libertarian socialists, the use of the Black Flag by anarchists after this event would make sense. Sandino, the Nicaraguan libertarian socialist (who use of the red-and-black colours we discuss in the next section) also said that black stood for mourning ("Red for liberty; black for mourning; and the skull for a struggle to the death" [Donald C. Hodges, Sandino's Communism, p. 24]).

There is a possible philosophical rationale behind the use the colour black. Another reason why anarchists turned to the black flag could be because of its nature as a sign of "negation". Many of the writers on the Black Flag have mentioned this aspect, for example Howard J. Ehrlich argues that black "is a shade of negation. The black flag is the negation of all flags." [Reinventing Anarchy, Again, p. 31] As a symbol of negation, the black flag fits nicely in with some of Bakunin's ideas -- particularly his ideas on progress. Being influenced by Hegel, Bakunin accepted Hegel's dialectical method but always stressed that the negative side was motive force within it (see Robert M. Culter's introduction to The Basic Bakunin for details). Thus he defines progress as the negation of the initial position (for example, in God and the State, he argues that "[e]very development . . . implies the negation of its point of departure" [p. 48]). What better sign to signify the anarchist movement than one which is the negation of all other flags, this negation signifying the movement into a higher form of social life? Thus the black flag could symbolise the negation of existing society, of all existing states, and so paves the way for a new society, a free one. However, whether this was a factor in the adoption of the black flag or just a coincidence we cannot tell at this moment.

There is also an interesting connection between the black flag and pirates. There is an unconfirmed report that Louise Michel, while lead the women's battalion during the Paris Commune of 1871, may have flown the skull and crossbones. But the association may go further.

Pirates were seen as rebels, as free spirits, and often ruthless killers. While pirates varied a great deal, many had an elected Captain of the pirate ship. In some cases the captain wasn't even male, which was very unusual for the time. He or she was "subject to instant recall", and life on board a pirate ship was certainly more democratic than life on board ships of the British, American or French Navies -- let alone a merchant ship.

For pirates, the black flag was a symbol of death; the give-away being a skull and bones on black. A sign equivalent with "surrender or die!" It was intended to scare their victims into submitting without a fight. It operated in much the same way as Ghengis Khan's armies.

Many others also adopted the black flag as a sign of "surrender or die!". A Confederate officer named Quantrill in during the American Civil War fought under the black flag. He was known as unwilling to show mercy to his opponents and he did not expect any mercy in return. Also, General Santa Anna of Mexico was a notorious flyer of the black flag. He even flew them at the Alamo. Accompanying the black banner, he had his buglers play a call named "The Deguello," which was a call that meant "no quarter will be given" (Take No Prisoners). This use of the black flag was echoed by the America anarchists of the Black International. While it "was interpreted in anarchist circles as the symbol of death, hunger and misery" it was "also said to be the 'emblem of retribution'" and in a labour procession in Cincinnati in January 1885, "it was further acknowledged to be the banner of working-class intransigence, as demonstrated by the words 'No Quarter' inscribed on it." [Donald C. Hodges, Sandino's Communism, p. 21 -- see also Avrich, Op. Cit., p. 82]

While Khan, Quantrill and General Santa Anna are not connected to anarchism in the slightest -- pirates, on the other hand, are more complicated. They were seen as rebels. Rebels without a state, owing allegiance to no code of law except whatever makeshift rules they improvised amongst themselves. Certainly pirates were not consciously anarchist, and often acted no better than barbarians. But what is important is how they were seen. Their symbol was the embodiment of rebellion and the spirit of lawlessness and rebellion. They were hated by the ruling class.

This may have been enough for the starving and unemployed to pick up the black flag in revolt. In fact, one could quickly get a hold of a piece of red or black cloth in a riot. Getting hold of the material was easy. Painting a complicated symbol on it took time. So an improvised rebel flag raised in a riot was likely to be of just one colour. Hence it follows nicely that the black flag flew without the skull and bones because it was necessarily make-shift for a riot.

To this question of the black flag, Howard Ehrlich has a great passage in his book Reinventing Anarchy, Again. It is worth quoting at length:

"Why is our flag black? Black is a shade of negation. The black flag is the negation of all flags. It is a negation of nationhood which puts the human race against itself and denies the unity of all humankind. Black is a mood of anger and outrage at all the hideous crimes against humanity perpetrated in the name of allegiance to one state or another. It is anger and outrage at the insult to human intelligence implied in the pretences, hypocrisies, and cheap chicaneries of governments . . . Black is also a colour of mourning; the black flag which cancels out the nation also mourns its victims the countless millions murdered in wars, external and internal, to the greater glory and stability of some bloody state. It mourns for those whose labour is robbed (taxed) to pay for the slaughter and oppression of other human beings. It mourns not only the death of the body but the crippling of the spirit under authoritarian and hierarchic systems; it mourns the millions of brain cells blacked out with never a chance to light up the world. It is a colour of inconsolable grief. "But black is also beautiful. It is a colour of determination, of resolve, of strength, a colour by which all others are clarified and defined. Black is the mysterious surrounding of germination, of fertility, the breeding ground of new life which always evolves, renews, refreshes, and reproduces itself in darkness. The seed hidden in the earth, the strange journey of the sperm, the secret growth of the embryo in the womb all these the blackness surrounds and protects.

"So black is negation, is anger, is outrage, is mourning, is beauty, is hope, is the fostering and sheltering of new forms of human life and relationship on and with this earth. The black flag means all these things. We are proud to carry it, sorry we have to, and look forward to the day when such a symbol will no longer be necessary." [Reinventing Anarchy, Again, pp. 31-2]

Karl Kreuger December 1946 - March 1999

Some of our readers may remember Dutch anarchist Karl Max Kreuger from The Hague. Karl used to sell English-language anarchist literature in the Netherlands, and came over to the annual Anarchist Book Fair in London. Karl died in his sleep, aged 52, from a stroke, in March this year.

Karl was, in many ways, almost a stereotype of an anarchist - gentle, attuned to nature's rhythms, yet passionate about fighting for a better, freer world. He was consciously non-sectarian when it came to international contacts, as well as supporting much of the English language anarchist press, Karl was the contact for both the IWA and the A-infos project in the Netherlands. When the Marxists expelled the anarchists from the Dutch proto-syndicalist union the OVB, Karl became a founder member of the Vrije Bond. Typically, the dispute with the OVB had been that it failed to take an interest outside the workplace - something no anarchist would go along with.

Karl's last journey was by bicycle. Around 200 friends and comrades accompanied the black-covered carrier-cycle from long-established Hague squat De Blaue Aanslag through the city centre to the crematorium. The coffin was embellished with children's drawings and last greetings of friends, and later that day the funeral procession walked along the beach

Blast from the Past…
... and Back to the Future

Given that Tony Blair's government seems intent on extending the legacy of Thatcherism into the new millennium, it is useful to remember some of the claims made by Thatcher's ideological heavy-weights from the past. In that way we can see whether the succ ess of Thatcherism is all it is claimed to be and what are effective forms of struggle.

One of the major "improvements" claimed for Thatcher is successful trade union "reform." The idea that social struggle and working class organisation are harmful was expressed constantly in the 1970s. If we look at the arguments of the right in the 1970s, we find evidence that the notion that "Thatcherism" was a great success is decidedly wrong -- as is the notion that "trade union reform" aided working class people.

With the post-war Keynesian consensus crumbling, the "New Right" argued that trade unions (and strikes) hampered growth and that wealth redistribution (i.e. welfare schemes which returned some of the surplus value workers produced back into their own hands) hindered "wealth creation" (i.e. economic growth). In February this year, the Blairite Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers argued that "wealth creation is now more important that wealth redistribution,"} echoing the claims of Thatcher and her cronies. Do not struggle over income, the "New Right" argued, let the market decide and everyone will be better off. Twenty years later, "New Labour" is repeating the arguments of the "New Right."

Unsurprisingly, the right-wing anti-trade union argument was dressed up in populist clothes. Thus we find the right-wing guru F.A. von Hayek arguing that, in the case of Britain, the "legalised powers of the unions have become the biggest obstacle to raising the standards of the working class as a whole. They are the chief cause of the unnecessarily big differences between the best- and worse-paid workers."} He maintained that "the elite of the British working class. . . derive their relative advantages by keeping workers who are worse off} from improving their position."} Moreover, he "predict[ed] that the average worker's income would rise fastest in a country where relative wages are flexible, and where the exploitation of workers by monopolistic trade union organisations of specialised workers are effectively outlawed."} ["1980s Unemployment and the Unions"} reproduced in The Economic Decline of Modern Britain}, p. 107, p. 108, p. 110]

Now, if von Hayek's claims were true we could expect that in the aftermath of Thatcher government's trade union reforms we would have seen the following:

1) a rise in economic growth (usually considered as the} means to improve living standards for workers by the right);

2) a decrease in the differences between high and low paid workers;

3) a reduction in the percentage of low paid workers as they improved their positions when freed from union "exploitation"; and

4) that wages rise fastest in countries with the highest wage flexibility.

Unfortunately for von Hayek, the actual trajectory of the British economy exposes his claims as nonsense. Given that Blairism is based on the same flawed theories, the claims of the past are continuing to haunt us and so are worth looking at

Looking at each of von Hayek's claims in turn we discover that rather than "exploit" other workers, trade unions are an essential means to shift income from capital to labour (which is way capital fights labo ur organisers and agitators tooth and nail). And, equally important, labour militancy aids all} workers by providing a floor under which wages cannot drop (non-unionised/militant firms in the same industry or area have to offer similar programs to prevent unionisation and be able to hire workers) and by maintaining aggregate demand. This positive role of unions/militancy in aiding all} workers can be seen by comparing Britain before and after Thatcher's von Hayek inspired trade union and labour market reforms.

As far as economic growth goes, there has been a steady fall since trade union reforms. In the "bad old days" of the 1970s, with its strikes and "militant unions" growth was 2.4% in Britain. It fell to 2% in the 1980s and fell again to 1.2% in the 1990s [ Larry Elliot and Dan Atkinson, The Age of Insecurity} , p. 236]. So the rate of "wealth creation" (economic growth) has steadily fallen as unions were "reformed" in line with von Hayek's ideology. Falling growth means that the living standards of the worki ng class as a whole do not rise as fast as they did under the "exploitation" of the "monopolistic" trade unions.

If we look at the differences between the highest and lowest paid workers, we find that von Hayek again proved wrong. Rather than decrease, they have in fact shown "a dramatic widening out of the distribution with the best-workers doing much better"} since Thatcher was elected in 1979 [Andrew Glyn and David Miliband (eds.), Paying for Inequality}, p. 100]

Given that inequality has also increased, the condition of the average worker must have suffered. For example, Ian Gilmore states that "[i]n the 1980s, for the first time for fifty years. . . the poorer half of the population saw its share of total national income shirk."} [Dancing with Dogma}, p. 113] According to Noam Chomsky, "[d]uring the Thatcher decade, the income share of the bottom half of the population fell from one-third to one-fourth"} and the between 1979 and 1992, the share of total income of the top 20% grew from 35% to 40% while that of the bottom 20% fell from 10% to 5%. In addition, the number of UK employees with weekly pay below the Council of Europe's "decency threshold" increased from 28.3% in 1979 to 37% in 1994 [World Orders, Old and New}, p. 144, p. 145] Moreover, "ack in the early 1960s, the heaviest concentration of incomes fell at 80-90 per cent of the mean. . . But by the early 1990s there had been a dramatic change, with the peak of the distribution falling at just 40-50 per cent of the mean. One-quarter o f the population had incomes below half the average by the early 1990s as against 7 per cent in 1977 and 11 per cent in 1961. . ."} [Elliot and Atkinson, Op. Cit., p. 235] "Overall," }notes Takis Fotopoulos, "average incomes increased by 36 per cent during this period [1979-1991/2], but 70 per cent of the population had a below average increase in their income."} [Towards an Inclusive Democracy}, p. 113]

Looking at the claim that trade union members gained their "relative advantage by keeping workers who are worse off} from improving their position"} it would be fair to ask whether the percentage of workers in low-paid jobs decreased in Britain after the trade union reforms. In fact, the percentage of workers below the Low Pay Unit's definition of low pay (namely two-thirds of men's median earnings) increased} -- from 16.8% in 1984 to 26.2% in 1991 for men, 44.8% to 44.9% for women. For manual workers it rose by 15% to 38.4%, and for women by 7.7% to 80.7% (for non-manual workers the figures were a 5.4% rise to 13.7% for men and a 0.5% rise to 36.6%) [Paying for Inequality}, p.102]. If unions were} gaining at the expense of the worse off, you would expect a decrease} in the number in low pay, not} an increase. An OECD study concluded that "[t]ypically, countries with high rates of collective bargaining and trade unionisation tend to have low incidence of low paid employment."} [OECD Employment Outlook}, 1996, p. 94]

Nor did unemployment fall after the trade union reforms. As Elliot and Atkinson point out, "[b]y the time Blair came to po wer [in 1997], unemployment in Britain was falling, although it still remained higher than it had been when the [the last Labour Government of] Callaghan left office in May 1979."} [Op. Cit., p. 258] Von Hayek did argue that falls in unemployment would be "a slow process"} but over 10 years of higher unemployment is moving at a snail's pace! We must note that part of this fall in unemployment towards its 1970s level was due to Britain's labour force shrinking (and so, as the July 1997 Budget Statement correctly notes, "the lower 1990s peak [in unemployment] does not in itself provide convincing evidence of improved labour performance."} [p. 77]).

As far as von Hayek's prediction on wage flexibility leading to higher wages for the "average worker" goes, it has been proved totally wrong. Between 1967 and 1971, real wages grew (on average) by 2.95% per year (nominal wages grew by 8.94%) [_P. Armstron g, A. Glyn and John Harrison, Capitalism Since World War II}, p.272]. In comparison, in the 1990s real wages grew by 1.1 per cent, according to a TUC press release entitled Productivity Record, how the UK compares} released in March 1999.

Needless to say, these are different eras so it would also be useful to compare the UK (often praised as a flexible economy after Thatcher's "reforms") to France (considered far less flexible) in the 1990s. Here we find that the "flexible" UK is behind t he "inflexible" France. Wages and benefits per worker rose by almost 1.2 per cent per year compared to 0.7% for the UK. France's GDP grew at a faster rate than Britain's, averaging 1.4 per cent per year, compared with 1.2 per cent. Worker productivity is also behind, since 1979 (Thatcher's arrival) Britain's worker productivity has been 1.9 per cent per year compared to France's 2.2 per ce nt. [Seth Ackerman, "The Media Vote for Austerity",} Extra!}, September/October 1997]. And as Seth Ackerman also notes, "[w]hile France's dismal record of job creation is on permanent exhibit, it is never mentioned that Britain's is even more dismal."} [Ibid.]

Moving further afield, we find von Hayek's predictions falsified yet again. Looking at the USA, frequently claimed as a model economy in terms of wage flexibility and union weakness, we discover that the real wages of the average worker has decreased} since 1973. The weekly and hourly earnings of US production and non-supervisory workers, which accounts for 80% of the US workforce, have fallen in real terms by 19.2% and 13.4% respectively [Economic Report of the President 1995} , Table B-45]. If we look at f igures from U.S. Bureau of the Census (Current Population Survey) we discover that increased flexibility has affected income adversely for the bottom 60 per cent of the population. Between 1979-1993, the lowest 20% saw their income fall by 15%, the next 2 0% saw a 7% fall, the next a 3% fall. Between 1950 and 1978, when the labour market was more inflexible and had stronger unions, income growth grew by 138%, 98% and 106% respectively. Moreover, the growth of the US economy has also slowed down as wage fle xi bility and market reform has increased. It was 4.4% in the 1960s, 3.2% in the 1970s, 2.8% in the 1980s and 1.9% in the first half of the 1990s [Larry Elliot and Dan Atkinson, Op. Cit. p. 236]. Inequality since the 1960s has steadily increased, reaching am azing levels by the 1990s.

As can be seen, flexible wages and weaker unions have resulted in the direct opposite of von Hayek's predictions. Of course, being utterly wrong has not dented his reputation with the right nor stopped him being quoted in argument s in favour of flexibility and free market reforms. Nor has this utter lack of accuracy been reflected when Thatcher or Blair are being evaluated by the media for their performance on economic matters. Rather than look at the claims and predictions of the Thatcherites and their ideological mentors and how they measure up with what happened, a myth of economic success is created, a myth which the Labour Party seems to emulate.

Why bother to document the utterly wrong predictions of an icon of the right? Part ly, of course, it is fun to show up the massive errors of our enemies. However, and even more important, it is necessary to expose the hype and short-term memory of the media in order to fully counter the claims that the last 20 years have been anything b ut a disaster for working class people. In addition, it shows the way to improve our conditions. Militancy, direct action, solidarity and working class organisation works, they are effective and they get results. This is the message that is easily seen f rom comparing von Hayek's claims and predictions with reality. It also shows the necessity of creating a new working class movement based on these principles, the principles of anarchism.

[b]Social cleansing and the end of council housing

At the end of the 19th century, local authorities started building housing for the poor. They were not the only organisations to do so, charitable trusts like Peabody and co-operative societies also built homes for working class people, but the councils came to dominate housing in most districts, and particularly in the bigger cities. Though council housing produced some awful homes, and in the late 60s/early 70s municipal control of housing allowed arrogant architects to inflict their theories of brutalism on us, most of what was built (or bought) was better than what went before.

Council rents remain among the lowest, far lower than private and those of most housing associations (the successors to the charitable trusts). For 18 years the Tories attacked council housing, chipping away at it with the divisive right to buy policy, trying to get tenants to vote for different landlords, forcing competition on councils, and so on. With the exception of right to buy, all the Tory policies aimed at destroying council housing failed. (Ironically, one - ring-fencing of the Housing Revenue Account - actually benefited some council tenants as it stopped some councils using rents to subsidise rates/council tax). Tenants, when faced with the choice of the devil they knew or the devil they didn't, always opted for the council. Right to buy worked because it tapped into a need of tenants to have more control over their homes Š the days of being told what colour their front door should be etc., Š as well as appealing to the greed element. (Until the rules were recently revised, homes sold under right to buy for £10,000 or so were often worth £60,000 when sold on).

But after 18 years of surviving Tory attacks, council housing is going. As a local housing manager told me recently, Ņwe survived all the Tory attacks and now we (meaning the Labour Party) are selling them off.Ó Every council which still has it is setting up one or more Ņlocal housing companiesÓ to take over the stock. And for almost every local housing company, there is a tenants' or workers' campaign fighting it.

Perhaps the most well known transfer was HARCA in Tower Hamlets, where a very narrow majority voted to transfer out of the council's control. So, what do these local housing companies mean, and why are they being pushed? Their advocates say that they will be able to invest in housing, something denied the council because of rules on public sector borrowing, and that this investment will offset any other disadvantages. These other disadvantages include changing the tenure from secure to assured, which means it is easier for the new landlord to evict the tenant. Rents will rise to pay for the extra borrowing, though the apologists for these companies say they will be pegged for 5 years or so. As it means fragmenting the total council stock, it will normally mean that management costs will be higher as a proportion, and tenants will get less for their money. And many councils don't pay VAT, so that's 17_% less their rent will buy.

One of the things all the ballots about selling off have featured is that leaseholders don't get a vote, even though they will be hit by huge bills for the improvements planned. Fair enough, you might think, they all made a killing out of the right to buy. Unfortunately, many of these flats have now been sold on to often quite poor people, forced to buy on the open market because so much council housing has been sold off and they can't get a flat. Not surprisingly, these people would likely vote no, so they don't get a vote.

So, as anarchists, do we want to be defending control of housing by corrupt and power-hungry local councillors? Clearly no, but we should also be clear why we are against this wave of selling off. It does nothing to further tenants' control over their own housing, indeed, many housing 'professionals' are keen to get away from councillors' interference in their work. And also, it doesn't address the real question Š except in a few areas in the north, there is a huge shortage of affordable homes, particularly acute in parts of London where gentrification is going on.

To illustrate this process, it is worth looking at Southwark in South London. The council wants to clear three popular riverside estates to make way for the new London Assembly (the old County Hall site having been used in part for luxury housing). And while this was going on, the Council's director for economic regeneration (yuppification?) Fred Manson said, Ņbecause social housing generates people on low incomes coming in and that generates poor school performances, middle class people stay away.Ó

Tenants' groups attacked Manson, saying this was about class-cleansing, and pushing the working class out. Southwark has huge areas which are just endless council estates built by admirers of East European Stalinist architecture, but there are also enclaves of the middle classes. Harriet Harman lives there, famously refusing to send her kids to a local school, preferring to make them travel an hour and a half to a grammar school in the Orpington. Manson's comments, though, get it arse about face, as middle class professionals often do. Where should poor people live? They've already been socially cleansed from Battersea, Wandsworth and the posher bits of Clapham (or Claa'm as the chinless scum who now live there call it). There just aren't that many choices for people Š live close to your low-paid job, your family and friends, or move to the soul-less out of town estates.

In Hackney, the council has opted for a piecemeal approach to privatisation, but the effects are already becoming clear. On the Haggerston estate, where tenants recently lost a ballot after the council manipulated the number of homes included, the new company has already made changes. Where a tenant misses an appointment for a repair, they are charged a callout fee. Insurance has gone up by £35, and the estate cleaners have had their wages cut by at least £1000. (On some estates in Hackney the figure is more like £4000). Tenants in Tower Hamlets and Lewisham have both recently voted no to sell-off plans, and a crucial vote is coming up in Coventry, where the campaign to defend council housing is riven with factionalism. Perhaps most importantly of all, tenants need to make sure they are properly informed. Councils will spend hundreds of thousands giving a one-sided view - it's vital that those opposed to it get their facts right. There is the potential for damage when the SWP sends ill-informed students onto estates. Changing from a secure to an assured tenancy that contains the same clauses is really not the big deal that some people have tried to paint it.

It's important for the tenants' movement that it wins more of these ballots - the Labour Party are in fact considering removing the right to ballot because they keep on losing. But it is not just around sell-offs that tenants are being ignored. Workers in Tower Hamlets recently went on strike over plans to introduce a call centre and close local estate offices - after tenants had been surveyed and said no. The council argued that only 10% of tenants had responded - yet they never use that argument when only 10% of electors can be bothered to vote for whichever Tory is on offer in council by-elections.

What is needed here is a co-ordinated, nationwide campaign to extend tenants' rights - not just council tenants, but all landlords. This should be based around fighting for proper consultation (rather than just information which is what passes for consultation these days); legally-binding ballots on all transfers, demolitions and sell-offs; rents to be pegged and all councils allowed to borrow to make up the shortfall in investment. Tenants will generally find willing allies among workers in housing, who are generally sick of seeing cuts in jobs and services and endless re-organisations just to massage bureaucrats' egos.

Contact: Defend Council Housing 0171-254 2312

A New Internationalism?

On Friday 30th July those "saviours" of the Balkans,Tony Blair and Bill Clint on , arrived in Sarajevo to hold a press conference at the Zetra Olympic stadium, wherein they revealed their agenda for the "reconstruction" of the kegion. Anyone still enamoured of the notion that NATO bombarded the people of Yugoslavia out of humanitarian concerns for the Kosovar Albanians will have found little rational cause to harbour such delusions after the Bill and Tony show laid out their stalls.The NATO agenda for the Balkans,then;"Balkan countries that build democracy and market economies will be embraced by Europe and NATO-but Serbia will stay in the cold until it gets rid of Slobodan Milosevic." (qu lan Black- " Summi t Warning To Serbs" The Guardian 31/6/99.)

NATO 's commitment to a humanitarian agenda always rang hollow.Tony Blair talked of a "new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated."

NATO,meanwhile, was warned in advance that air strikes would lead to massive displacement of refugees ,and proceeded with a course of action which left 670,000 Kosovans in Albania and Macedonia,70,000 in Montenegro and 75,000 outside the region. When the KLA tried to reach refugees displaced within Kosovo NATO refused it any air cover.When Serb gun emplacements shelled the refugees it stood back and watched.0ne could be forgiven for thinking that,far from being an unfortunate consequence of facing down Serb aggression,the mass movement of refugees was a consequence NATO actively embraced .And if,as is now admitted,the agenda was only ever the securing of market economies in the region,and if the prospect of a drawn out and bloody civil war in Kosovo was a clear obstacle to such aims, then indeed it makes sense to engender such displacement;the end result-the ariel suppression of Mi los evi c , and the weakening of the KLA by i) the dispersal of its communities of support and 2) its disarmament in the face of such dispersal and the filling of the subsequent vacuum of control by K-For troops- facilitating the restoration of stability on the US and Europe 's terms in a way which the other option-leaving the contending forces to seek their own resolution-could not ,in the short term,allow.It is clear enough that the Kosovar Albanians elicited little "moral concern" in Washington or Whitehall when yugoslav tanks rolled in to deny them the taste of democracy in 1989.In February 1998 the US condemned the KLA as "without any question a terrorist group." The BBC has su Jgested, rightly, that this statement gave Milosevic the green light to step up his ethnic cleansing programme in the region. At the EU General Affairs Council Meeting on 8 December 1998,with Milosevic's brutality a matter of public record,the GAC expressed its concern at the "intensification of military action" but pinned the blame on "increased activity by the RZIA.". One cannot but be reminded of the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War with Iraq, when US Ambassador April Glaspie told Saddam Hussein that the US had "no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts like your border disagreement with Kuwait." Having set the trap, all the NATO forces had to do was wait for Milosevic to blunder in. At the Rambouillet talks, the sole obstacle to a settlement was Yugoslavia's refusal to sign up to a deal which was to tie them to a process whereby(to quote the New York Times) "a purely NATO force was to be given full permission to go any where it wanted in Yugoslavia,immune from any legal process." On March 23rrejecting the Rambouillet deal ,the Serbian National Assembly called on the OSCE and UN to facilitate a peaceful diplomatic settlement (in terms not dissimilar to those presented by NATO subsequently as a "ViCtoTyá")

Simply, then,Washington gave Milosevic the go-ahead to suppress the KLA, then used his actions as a basis to threaten war in the region. When the Serbs indicated their willingness to negotiate,albeit under duress, they were faced with an ultimatum that abused their national sovereignty to such degree that it was clear to all parties that they could not accept it.War,in effect, was presented by NATO as a fait accompli, in the clear knowledge that such conflict would lead directly to the displacement and murder of the Kosovar Albanian community.Not then,quite the picture the media has tried to sell us;"Milosevic's refusal to accept ...or even discuss an international peace keeping plan was what started NATO bombing on March 24",as the New York Times tries to pass it.

The "war" with Serbia was the end game of a strategy with one clear aim-the entrenchment of European and US capital in the Balkans.As Doug Henwood has observed "It's no mere detail that Yugoslavia came under the tutelage of the IMF in the early 1950s,and the country borrowed heavily and disastrously.Over the decades,the IMF promoted decentralisation,competitionrand a weakening of development policies that favoured poorer regions,and the promotion of market principles.In the 1970sImar ket liberalisation and nationalism went hand in hand ; for example, Croatian nationalists demanded to keep their foreign exchange earnings." (qu Left Business Observer April 1999). Peter Gowan, one of the few left academics to consistently document the means by which the American government and business elites have attempted to entrench the US as the power that controls the major economic and political outcomes across the globe ( and whose book The Global Gamble (Verse 1999) is one of the most comprehensive investigations of the aims and methods of American expansion available) r comments that " the Western powers r by their deliberate acts of commission and omission,played a central role in creating the conditions in which barbaric acts were bound to flourish. "(New Left Review 234). Gowan contends that the logic behind the war ,far from humanitarian,lay entirely with the strategic US European interests of the NATO alliance."Success would decisively consolidate US leadership in Europe.Success outside the framework of UN Security Council permission would ensure no collective security in Europe by the UN back door of a Russian veto.And it would seal the unity of the alliance against a background where the launch of the Euro-an event potentially of global political significance-could pull it apart." (ibid).

So;thousands dead,hundreds of thousands displaced,and the infrastructure of Kosovo and Yugoslavia destroyed .What, thoug the "cause" of multi-ethnic democracy' NATO has established a Kosovan protectorate on the same basis as that established in Bosnia under the Dayton agreement.The Kosovo Accord,like Dayto"ris only binding on the Balkan parties to it,not on the international organisations which have ap~ointed themselves to bring "democracy" to the region.The Dayton A~Jreement was supposed to allow for a year of supervised transition.In 1997,the transitional international administration prolonged its own juri sdiction indefinitelyáThe Chief of the Implementation Mission (or High Representative under Dayton) will oversee implementation of the Accord.The High Representative has the authority to impose economic sanctions at local or regional level on bodies which do not comply with his recommendatj.ons-He has the power to curtail or suspend any media network or programme which can be held to contravene "either the spirit or the letter of Dayton."He can impose restrictions on travel abroad for obstructive Bosnian representatives. As the Bosnian High Representative himself defines it "if you read Dayton carefully.ááit gives me the possibility to interpret my own authorities and powers." David Chandler notes that "Far from facilitating autonomyrthe transformation of the Dayton mandates has led to the creation of a US run international protectorate in Bosnia . President Cli nt on r the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have,in practice,established the framework of international engagement in the Bosnian state and the UN r OSCE, EU r World Bank, IMF and other international bodies have run their own empire building projects within this. Compar ed with the vast international bureaucratic-military machine of around 50,000 international troops and administrators I the elected institutions have little capacity for policy making or im~lementation." (New Left Review 235.) As for Bosniarso too r under the terms of the Accord,for Kosovo.

In the run up to East Timer 's ballot on independence from Indonesia, over 25% of the population has been displaced by pro Indonesian militias.Britain meanwhile has,since May 1997,approved 91 arms licences to Indonesia. Between 1990 to 1994 over 1 million Kurds were displaced by Turkish repression. Turkey is the single biggest importer of US military hardware r and is the world's largest arms purchaser.So much,then r for that II new i nter na t i onal i sm where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated. " Still,as Bill Clinton put it, on 23rd Marchr "If this dome st i c policy is going to work r we have to be free to pursue it.And if we're going to have a strong economic relationship that includes our ability to sell around the world,Europe has got to be a key.And if we want people to share our burdens of leadership with all the problems that will inevitably crop up,Europe needs to be our partner.Now r that ' s what this Kosovo thing is all about ... it' s about our values." (qu.Left Business Observer April 1999).

Iraq: The Invisible War

In 1990, then-US Secretary of State James Baker told Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz that if Iraq did not comply with US demands, "we will reduce you to the pre-industrial age." Nine years on, that objective has not changed.

The US and Britain have launched more than 200 multi-missile air strikes against Iraq since January, following the Operation Desert Fox assaults. Almost completely ignored by the media, these raids have led to at least 80 deaths and hundreds of injuries.

US Secretary of Defence William Cohen has claimed the raids are in "self-defence", but the US has re-written the rules of engagement with Iraq to such a degree that US aggression can be justified in any circumstances at any time. US pilots can choose to attack whenever they "believe" Iraq has threatened air patrols or violated the no-fly zones. "Retaliatory" targets can be chosen from a list of pre-selected sites, which need have no link with the site of the purported transgression. Targets can be hit long after the "danger" is over. As an example, a US bombing raid on 18th July at Najaf in southern Iraq - according to Washington aimed at military targets - was in fact the bombing of a car park, which left 14 civilians dead and 35 injured. (Strangely, the US noted no Iraqi violations in the build-up to the launch of the air war against Yugoslavia).

Large numbers of the Iraqi people continue to be affected by the extensive deployment of depleted uranium ammunition during the Gulf War. Professor Siegwart-Horst Gunther has described the effects of DU material following research carried out in Iraq:-

"1. A considerable increase in infectious diseases caused by the most severe immunodeficiencies in a great part of the population.

2. Frequent occurrence of massive herpes and zoster afflictions, also in children.

3. AIDS like syndromes.

4. A hitherto unknown syndrome caused by renal and hepatic dysfunctions.

5. Leukaemia, aplastic anaemia and malignant neoplasms

6. Congenital deformities caused by genetic defects, which are also to be found in animals.

An American nuclear scientist, Leonard Dietz, has described the Gulf War as "the most toxic war in history." The US and UK Defence Departments are attempting to suppress details of the effects of DU on Gulf veterans. The clinical chief of the Department of Nuclear Medicine of the US Veterans Administration, Dr Asaf Durakovic, was sacked after diagnosing DU contamination of some 24 Gulf vets sent to see him. In December 1998, the Ministry of Defence raided the homes of two British Gulf veterans after they obtained documents showing that the MoD was carrying out research on the effects of DU contamination of Gulf War returnees.

UN imposed sanctions meanwhile lead to the deaths of 6000 Iraqi children each month. Iraq is not able to buy medication, repair its infrastructure (including the electricity grid, water purification and sanitation systems) or maintain basic health services. The US and UK purportedly displayed humanitarian concern for the Iraqi people when they agreed to increase the amount of oil Iraq could export under the oil-for-food arrangement to $5.2 billion every 6 months. But Operation Desert Fox targeted the oil industry and it barely pumps $2 billion every 6 months. Forty percent of oil profits are directed to the UN, as reparations and to meet UNSCOM costs. "Sanctions", as Tariq Aziz has declared, "are genocide."

The notion that the US's main concern is "democracy " does not stand up to examination. Prior to its incursion into Kuwait, Iraq was a US client state. Saudi Arabia, which remains a US ally, is run by just one man. Iraq is a "threat to peace and stability" because it is a major oil producer which, unlike Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, clings to a belief in its right to self determination.

Last year, the US congress passed the Iraqi Liberation Act, making $97 million available for "lethal and non-lethal aid" to opposition groups deemed "eligible" (pro-US). As Middle East International noted, "the Americans are effectively trying to hand pick Iraq's future rulers and lay down the line for them in policy terms."

The ongoing genocide against the people of Iraq has been ignored by the mainstream media. Those of us who are anti-imperialists have a duty to resist the implementation of organised genocide in Iraq, and to break the silence over its commission.

resistance and dirty tricks in Italy

In Bologna a squatted anarchist-centre (Laboratoria Anarchico Paglietta) was evicted on May 25th, 1999. Inside two people were sleeping, Andrea and Sara. The police, together with the media, were looking for Andrea, a well-known anarchist luckily he escaped through a hidden hole behind a wardrobe. Sara was arrested for obstructing the police and was put into jail and then under house arrest, because she is pregnant.

All of this started because in Bologna a DS-office had been burned during the war. DS is the left party in power in Italy, and almost 30 offices had been burned war all over Italy during the war. In the squat the police had found a poster signed "Individualita Anarchiche", used to sign posters in Italy for years, but in Bologna some military tanks had been burned some months ago, leaving a flyer signed "Individualita Anarchiche". So the police invented a new conspiracy of 18 people. In the end there were about 30 raids around Bologna, seven warrants were put out and 11 people were told to report to police stations daily. 16 of the these 18 people were already hiding, as they realised what was going on. A guy named Tommaso was put into jail, and Sara was already at her home. Her charge is no longer "obstructing the police", but "forming a subversive organisation", which is really serious accusation in Italy.

After a month or so there was a successful application to the "Court of Justice" as there was no proof for the charges. Now these 18 people are free on remand, but the charges have not been dropped! The accusations are of squatting different places, flyposting, creating one disturbance in a square and a theft, not for burning DS offices or tanks !The activists had already been charged for the former and were awaiting sentences. So the "subversive organisation" is only an invention to allow heavier sentences.

In the past few years we have seen the "ORAI" conspiracy, [see BF 206 and onwards] the "Gray Wolves" in Val Di Susa [BF 215 ] and now this. The first didn't work, the second managed to kill Edo and Sole. Don't let them get away with this.

Innsbruck ABC

The above must be seen in the context of widespread criminalisation of militant grassroots opposition movements in Italy. This is nothing new. The huge social movements of the 70s were smashed by dirty tricks and criminalisation. As another Italian militant writes:

So, it's again repression against the social centres. It's not unexpected, because we learnt that as soon as you really bother the authorities they unleash all kinds of hounds and servants. But will what happened take us back to the '80s: cold war, secret services and terrorism ? Just in this last month, June, we had 12 people sued on April 25 in Milan for reclaiming the streets, demonstrating against the USA consulate and burning the Italian flag hanging outside a police station: they are accused of 16 "crimes".

On April 25, the social centre "Askatasuna" in Turin was completely smashed down by a dirty squad of anti-riot police.

The Mayor of Milan declared that in the grassroots trade unions which promoted the general strike against the Kosovo war, involving more than 1 million workers, there are "signs of terrorists committees". Interrogated later by the police, the Major could not specify the name of a single terrorist.

Mr D'Antona, shy and dutiful bureaucrat working for the Ministry of Work, was killed in Rome by a supposed "Red Brigade" group. The first analyses on the communication claiming the murder shows a very different style from the old Red Brigade style, and the famous five tops star is different from the traditional one.

7 arrests in Naples in late July for an unauthorised demonstration by unemployed people. They were released a few days later. At the beginning of August warrants were issued for 40 Milan militants for "Illegal association aimed to terrorist actions".

What next ?

All this shows a very simple thing: they are scared. So, whoever opposes power from beneath, from the people's point of view, must bear the label of terrorist—the general strike against the Kosovo war must have rang some alarm in many important heads. The Social Centres are not terrorists. So the authorities produce a "spectacular murder" to prove that terrorists still exist amongst the militants. Against this, all the squats and Social Centres in Milan will organize in September a large mass demonstration, in September, possibly a national demo, peaceful, colourful and as united as possible.

Mayday in Medellin

It was all supposed to start at 8.30 am, but when we arrived we could already feel a heavy atmosphere building up because of the speech making by local union bureaucrats which held up the start of the march for at least an hour. In any case there was a real air of combativity: the young supporters of the CAP (Peoples Armed Commandos) were there all masked up, which gave the march a wonderful whiff of insurrection about it. From the start the police weren't feeling too friendly, and the CAP gave them what they wanted - a volley of small fireworks. Further along, passing the main police station, the bombardment intensified with stones as well. The atmosphere was really charged because a few blocks back the police had cordoned off a major department store as if it belonged to them. Someone then had the brilliant idea not to throw stones at the police and incendiary devices at the buildings, but incendiary devices at the buildings and stones at the windows of all the business premises. Clashes between the demonstrators and police became more frequent as the march continued, with police baton charges. The atmosphere of the last few days had fired people up, because parliament was about to approve the so-called 'National Development Plan', which proposes 'fiscal austerity ' aimed at reducing state expenditure (while the president and his henchman take foreign holidays).

The clashes reached their climax at Berrio Park, where the march was supposed to end, with endless baton attacks (of which I had a taste), petards being thrown and happy tunes being sung to the police ("The police are also exploited / that's why they march alongside us!" "murderers!", etc). Basically there was a festive atmosphere which ended with who knows how many injured, disappeared or even dead demonstrators. Now calm has returned: the autodefensas (name which the paramilitaries call themselves) groups kidnap, disappear and kill people, the guerrillas kidnap, make propaganda and strengthen their authoritarian military structure, the army is upset - more than half of it's top brass resigned in solidarity with the Minister of Defence and then went back to work in exchange for who knows what perks, the president keeps travelling and has just come back from Canada etc.

Local press reports afterwards noted that the march followed a similar pattern to the last five years, that it was 'infiltrated' by 'rebellious young people' and that this time round 'the intense heat and length of the speeches at the start caused bad feeling among some demonstrators', resulting in 'unknown persons' disconnecting the sound system of the speakers and thus sabotaging the final rally.

The CAP are a relatively new and independent urban militia group operating in the city who profess a Marxist-Leninist ideology and sympathy for the national guerrilla movement (FARC/ELN) while remaining outside their structures. They grew out of the generalised militias movement of the 80s in poor neighbourhoods of Medellin, which span off in different directions in the 90s.

Drugs and Guns

There have been 26 shooting incidents in Harlesden in the last year. Six recent killings connected to "Yardie" infighting have had a connection to London NW10, including, most recently, those of Henry "Junjo" Lawes and Dean Roberts. Harlesden has more than its fair share of crack, more than its fair share of young men desperate enough to be ghetto stars that they’ll sell rock to other young men who just want not to be who they are, if only for 15 minutes. Most people here though just want to live their lives, 2nd and 3rd generation Irish and Afro-Caribbean couples getting by as best they can. Most of the shootings have involved small time criminals in turf wars over drug spots and security rackets. No big deal -- and no threat to anyone outside the circles of those directly involved. A combination of media hype, paramilitary policing and the council’s withdrawal of funding from local services have contributed to a sense of crisis -- street crime is really the icing on the cake -- working class communities turning in on themselves. On Saturday 19th June the Nation of Islam held a rally in Harlesden town centre. Well over 100 turned out for it, demanding, simply, "Stop the Killing", "Gunmen Get Out", "To Shoot Your Brother Is Suicide." The Black United Front, a community based coalition, held another rally later in July. The NoI has begun to organise Black Watch patrols in Harlesden.

The NoI activity has had a real impact. The NoI mixes an apocalyptic version of Islam with an orientation to the self-pride of minority urban communities. It is riddled with contradictions -- black pride mixed in with anti-Semitism and sectarian theology. None of that mattered on June 19th. The demonstrators were 95% black, with a few supportive whites in attendance. Junjo Lawes was killed on the 14th. Five people had been shot in the preceding weeks. People had been afraid. For an hour or so, grouped together by the clocktower, that fear was gone, replaced by a new sense of community and a sense that the lives lost had some value, that the families mourning mattered, that people in NW10 mattered, if only to ourselves. A sense also that something could be done.

In his forceful new book "Redemption Song" (Verso), Mike Marqusee points to the basis for the NoI’s continued presence within poor ghetto black communities. "The Nation grew within and against the culture of the ghetto. It set itself up as a counter-attraction to all the temptations of ghetto life: drugs gambling, prostitution, prize fighting." In the most fragmented working class communities, "its promise of redemption linked the individual to the collective, self discovery to nationhood." The left in NW10 doesn’t exist, except in the fantasies of its few remaining members. The SWP tell us on a Saturday that all our ills will be cured by the abolition of capitalism, but in much the same way that temperance societies used to tell us that all our problems were down to drink. As to what we do about the problems caused by capitalism in the here and now, they have nothing to say. New Labour has declared war on the poor and a vacuum now exists as the local labour movement decays. In Harlesden, that vacuum has been, at least temporarily, filled by the NoI. If we want to contest that space, if we want to build a movement committed to the self-determination of working class communities, we have first to understand why so many people looked at the NoI demo and said "At least someone’s trying to do something."

Crime is endemic to capitalism, a fairground mirror distortion of the social relations engendered by capital. For every belly there’s an underbelly, as the crime writer Ian Rankin puts it. One of the myths being spun by both police and politicians about the shootings in Harlesden is that they’re somehow particular, entirely about "Yardie" gangs battling for turf, as if crime is something imported from Jamaica. All of this of course allows New Labour’s local representatives the chance to play the race card, and the police an opportunity to step up their presence again, this time with community consent.

There are 2 big holes in the "Yardie" argument, though. One, it pretends that crime, that battles for drug turf, the use of force to gain that turf and the market for hard drugs are all peculiar to the "Yardie" gangs and the community around them. Two, it denies the role of the police in perpetuating the idea of "Yardie" crime. The trial recently of Yardie informer Eaton Green revealed that officers of the Drug Related Violence and Intelligence Unit ran Green and protected him while he carried out a spate of armed robberies in the UK, even allowing him to bring two accomplices, Cecil Thomas and Rohan Thomas into the UK. From 1994 they also ran Delroy Denton, who raped and murdered Marcia Lawes in Brixton, and was shielded from both crime squad and immigration attention by his handlers, PC Steve Barker and immigration officer Brian Fotheringham. Roy Ramm, former head of the Met’s Yardie Squad, has stated that "I’m absolutely convinced that there is no such thing as a black mafia or black Godfather operating in this country" and described the Yardie gangs as, unlike the Mafia or Colombian cartels, opting for a "little and often" method of importation rather than any large scale drug smuggling operation. In truth, we have a government in office which is set on redistributing the resources currently spent on welfare into the pockets of the upper echelons of the middle class. The social consequences of this, so far as New Labour is concerned, will be confined to working class areas. Policing becomes containment, making sure the poor prey only on the poor. The notion of "Yardie" crime as a distinct phenomenum allows us the illusion that such policing is "for our own protection."

The Guardian’s Nick Hopkins and The Observer’s Tony Thompson have worked particularly hard on behalf of Scotland Yard’s Operation Trident to perpetuate the myths about Yardie crime. Thompson, in a recent Observer piece described an interviewee, purportedly of St Mary’s Road NW10, fearfully crossing the street to a butcher’s shop on the other side, scared, as she puts it "of being shot hit by a stray bullet." There has only ever been one shooting incident in St Mary’s Road, and there’s no butcher’s there either, but as Thompson’s interview was a fabrication that’s no surprise. Nick Hopkins’ piece Turf Wars (8/7/99) paints a vivid picture of a Yardie war between the Kick Off Head Crew, the Much Loved Crew and a Posse from South London, with uzis and Ingram Mach 10s the weapons of choice. In fact these weapons weren’t used in the majority of shootings, and the majority of those killed were UK nationals. There is no evidence of the involvement of any of the gangs named. (We wrote to The Guardian and asked for their comments -- sadly their commitment to freedom of information didn’t stretch to a reply.)

It is, though, precisely because crime thus becomes something that the poor do to each other, that those of us who believe in working class self-organisation cannot afford to ignore it. As the criminologists John Lea and Jock Young remark, "working class crime really is a problem for the working class." In their work "What is to be Done about Law and Order" (Pluto) they put forward as a solution an unworkable reformist strategy based on increased police accountability. Nevertheless, they understand the core issues; "It is vital to realise the contradictory nature of working class crime. Its cause is seeing through the deception and inequality of the world; its direction is towards that of selfishness. Its cause is righteous, its direction individualistic. The political energies that could have been harnessed for a transformation of society become channelled into ensuring its inertia."

There has been little real work done by the "left" to tackle issues around crime in working class communities. The obvious reason for this is -- tellingly -- that most "left" activists don’t live in communities affected by crime. Republicans and socialists have come together on estates in Dublin and in the Six Counties to organise campaigns against dealers. It is good to see also the Independent Working Class Association set itself the task of addressing issues around drugs and crime. The IWCA statement "Cracking Up" is rare in having the courage to tackle the issues head on. As they say, "drug use clearly has a major impact on working class communities which cannot be avoided by those who are committed to championing working class agendas." But what can be done? In his book Anarchism and the Black Revolution, Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin tackles the issues around drugs and crime head on. As he puts it, "Only the community can stop drug trafficking, and it is our responsibility , however you look at it." The strategy advanced is based on establishing a combination of street counselling and street clinics with community action against dealers:-

"1. Set up drug education classes in the community .. to expose the nature of the drug trade, who it hurts, and how the government, banks and pharmaceutical companies are behind it all.

2. Expose the death merchants and their police protectors.

3. Harassment of the dealer, i.e. threatening phone calls.. having citizens march outside their place of business and other tactics.

4. Set up drug rehabilitation clinics so that junkies can be treated.

5. Physical elimination of the dealer, intimidation, driving the person out of a neighbourhood or out of town."

The only way ultimately to tackle crime in working class communities is by replacing it with politics -- by rebuilding community solidarity and self-organisation such that crime is no loner seen as the only survival option. In doing so, we have one clear lesson to learn form the Nation of Islam. The left’s orientation to the state has left it exposed in areas like Harlesden where the state is the main landlord and a primary employer. Meanwhile, many who would claim to speak for a tradition of struggle from below have abandoned an urban politics for pastoral/primitivist utopias that mean nothing in working class areas. We have lost what the US socialist Marshall Berman calls the capacity to "imagine modern life together afresh."

In the US, much of the urban credibility of the NoI was based on the success of its "dopebusting" patrols, which gave those living in crack-infested blocks an alternative to a state which used crime as an excuse to criminalise whole communities, and gave local kids a chance to feel as if they could take control of their lives. As one Chicago youth put it, "Police treat you like garbage. The Muslims treat you with respect, and the way they come to us is the way we come back to them." (Chicago Sun-Times 13/2/94)

If we are not concerned with giving communities a sense of self-worth, of pride and respect, if we are not able to operate, as Mike Marqusee puts it, "within and against the culture of the ghetto", then our politics will be irrelevant to the communities we purport to address, and the chance to rebuild working class solidarity will be lost.


314pp £13.00 paperback

Richard Porton’s book is intended as “an authoritative, alternative account of films featuring anarchist characters and motives . “ As such, it has much to recommend it r but r interesting and provocative though it is, it does not succeed entirely. Porton ‘s attitude to anarchism is refreshing. He defends the anarchist record of “working class self activity” and reports approvingly Victor Serge ‘s comment (from Memoirs of a Revolutionary) that “Anarchism swept us away completely because it demanded everything of us and offered everything to us. There was no remote corner of life that it failed to illumine. “ The opening chapters of the book detail the stereotypes of anarchists which “permeate both Hollywood fluff and European art cinema . “ He launches a stout and often amusing defence of the anarchist left,against the notion that anarchism is reducible to 11 assassination, bomb throwing and violence.“ Porton notes Robert Baker’s film The Siege of Sidney Street (1960) as typical, being a fictionalisation of the 1911 shoot out between emigre bank robbers (almost certainly not anarchists at all,as he rightly notes) and the police .Peter the Painter r the gang’ s leader r “played with sinister relish by Peter Wyngarde, combines the dissolute bohemianism and impulsive violence that constitute the classic stereotype of the wild anarchist.”

Sadly, as Porton observes, attempts by those sympathetic to the anarchist cause to rebut the stereotype have too often countered the negative representation with a gutted version of the politics they would~ claim to defend.Joel Sucher and Steven Fischler’s documentary Anarchism in America (1981) is one such case.The film compares anarchism to a rugged (and often reactionary individualism, a “ twentie th century Americanism” as the author notes .Bo Widerberg ‘s Joe Hill (1971) provides a further example .Porton observes that the film creates “a sentimentalized Joe Hill who is more archetypal folk hero than anarchist or libertarian Marxist (and) avoids the more anarchistic components of Hill’s life while emphasizing his status as a folksy balladeer.” Lizzie Borden’s 1983 film Born In Flames is preferred as an alternative,for its defence of revolutionary violence and its “disdain for social democracy”.Porton recommends its “emphasis on alternative media as a locus of insurrectionary discontent” and claims that “Borden’s inventive cinematic style is matched by her resourceful appropriation of important anti authoritarian currents.” As someone who thought “ Born In .Flames “ an entirely flawed work(because it reduced its politics to charicature, and,with its focus on affinity groups and an anarcho-feminist Womens Army “set in a not too distant future”,fudged the issue of how to portray an insurrectionary politics relevant to the here-and -now) I can’t share Porton’s enthusiasm, nor do I share his belief that Ken Leach’s 1995 Land and Freedom fails ultimately because it “much too often holds an admirable political stance hostage to wooden dramaturgy. “ Porton claims that “Throughout the film, a tenuous attempt can be discerned to contrast the current climate of political despair with the 1930s arduous, if more optimistic, ideological battles.” But it is precisely this attempt to centre the politics of the film, to provide a context for an audience coming to the debates around the Spanish Civil War for the first time, that sets Land and Freedom apart from works like Born In Flames or Jean Luc Godard’s Tout va Bien.Porton refers to Godard ‘s “anguished reflexivity” but Tout Va Bien oozes pseudo radical complacency, so assured of its formal radicalism that it takes form as an end in itself. And there’s the rub.Are the only alternatives the “left nostalgia” which Porton rightly dismisses in Joe Hill and Anarchism in America,or the experiments with form of Tout Va Bien and,another Porton recommendation ,Brownlow and Mollo’s Winstanley (1975)? Porton notes favourably the Bakhtinian concept of the work of art as a “cacophony of voices”,as a possible means of undermining the notion of authorial supremacy and moving towards a collaborative r collectivi st approach to f ilm r but the examples he cites betray only the pretence of such cacophony. Leach at least,made genuine efforts to include a multiplicity of real voices in his film.Land and Freedom includes a sequence where villagers debate the merits of agrarian collectivisation. Porton quotes Lisa Berger,a researcher on the film, who was responsible for finding “people who could argue for collectivisation... others who could be opposed r and others who could see the point,but weren ‘ t really convinced, based on real, lived experience working in the countryside. “ If Land and Freedom tries to give voice to lived experience in its fictions, Tout Va Bien surely does the opposite-attempts to obscure the authorial voice (Godard ‘s) and pass it off as authentic working class experience.

At the root of this is the question of aesthetics.Porton makes this hard to address,by never defining his own political groundings,and never entirely coming clean about his own views on cinema and aesthetics.He tells us that a “monolithic anarchist aesthetic must be dismissed as elusive and dubiously essentialist”rand quotes sympathetically Shelley’ s Romantic anarchism and concern to “champion the resources of creative immanence.” Nevertheless r Proudhon,as the book details,adhered to the notion that “a realist aesthetic represents the zenith of artistic achievment” and Bakunin “had little time for Rimbaudian inwardness and aesthetic formulations . “ Porton claims the Situationist International as “profoundly indebted to anarchism,libertarian Marxism,as we 11 as surrealism”, but has to concede that Debord’s (awful) La Societe du Spectacle (1973) “reveals how his anti-authoritarianism manifested itself in oracular pronouncements that gave this potted version of his treatise a quasi-authoritarian tenor.” (One might note also that Debord’s “ anti -authoritarianism” is called into question as much by the bitter personal infighting that wracked the SI r by his general boorishness and his drunken misogyny, as by his “ art “, but the notion that aesthetics and practice ought, for revolutionary anarchists at least, to have some connection, appears to be one with which Porton does not wish to address)Those anarchists who have engaged with the development of an anarchist aesthetics through film criticism,like Emma Goldman(who attacked movies as the “opium of the masses”)or Dwight Macdonald (a dubious anarchist-but let’s give Porton the benefit of the doubt) who (to paraphrase Umberto Eco) believed “avant -garde is synonymous with “high” art”, appear to have retreated to the ground occupied also by the likes of Theodor Adorno ;cultural elitism disguised as a defence of modernism Porton concludes only that it is “difficult to say authoritatively what anarchist plots ,images and forms arelor should be:they are constantly in flux and subject to revision.” All well and good.It is certainly the case that an anarchist politics should seek to def end r a s Porton puts it elsewhe re r “ the full range of aesthetic and political options that Stalinism sought to obliterate.” Left as it is r tfiough.this reduces the political struggles around “culture” to a defence of the avant garde.That this leads us nowhere is clear enough from the case of Adorno.who railed against jazz and saw Beethoven and Mahler as the aesthetic guardians of the age. “Culture” is, in its essence, (whether by culture we mean fi Ims r books r music) about communication . An anarchist praxis-if ana rch i sm is to mean,as Porton infers,a commi tment to “proletarian self emancipation” and not merely Romantic “acts of total insubordination” -has to consider what is communicated r by whom, to whom, and r cruc i ally r who owns the medium of communi cation. For ton passes up the opportunity to seriously engage wi th these issues when he examines, somewhat cursoril~ r the works produced by the CNT following the collectivisation of the film industry and control of exhibition and distribution. Among the works produced were Aurora de Esperenza (1937)-charting the political development of an unemployed worker r Nosotros somos Asi ! ( 1937)-an anarcho -syndicalist musical comedy r and the record of Durutti ‘s funeral , Entierro de Durutti .Porton tells us that the CNT ‘s films grew out of an “ear nestrif sometimes inept attempt to fuse radical politics with mass entertainment . “ Inept they may possibly have been but its surely the attempt to reach a popular audience with a radical message which is the crux of what’s at issue here.Furtherdoes our commitment to artistic revolution preclude,as it does for MacDonald “any attempt to mediate its results”? Porton leaves us to conclude that the only options on offer are crude populist nostalgia trips (an anarchist mirror of the arts of the Popular Front period) or the tedious elitism embodied in the “creative jests” of Craig Baldwin’s 1995 Sonic Outlaws .Because Porton refuses to take a position himself r the book fails to push any real debate forward,leaving us to conclude that “anything goes” .He tells us that he does not propose a “Manichean division between “retrograde”and “progressive” styles of film making” and contends that he is “ chiefly concerned with films that explore and promote anarchist self activity”-but it is here that an otherwise entertaining and well researched work falls on its face .Either there is no such thing as “anarchist film” except in the widest sense of that “full range of aesthetic and political options” -or there exists the possibility of using film to “promote anarchist self activity”-and the implication that there ought to be a specific anarchist praxis that engages with this possibility. In the CNT films r in the works of Leach and Jim Allen,I would contend such praxis can be glimpsed.Porton fudges on this r and the book is worse because of it.

In “ The Condition of Pos tmode rn i t y “ (Blackwell 1990) David Harvey considers the films Bladerunner (directed by Ridley Scott) and Wings of Desire (directed by Wim Wenders.) He notes that “ Postmodern art forms and cultural artefacts by their very nature must self consciously embrace the problem of image creation,and necessarily turn inwards upon themselves as a result.It then becomes difficult to escape being what is being imaged within the art form itself.” It is clear from Harvey’s writing that he fears that this may not be an issue simply for that which might be loosely termed the “ postmodern . “ What gave rise to such enthusiasm for cinema as a possibly liberating medium at an early stage was the possibilities seemingly offered by its then-new techniques-its new ways of recording motionlof cutting,of montage,of playing with perspective. The problem,as Raymond Williams once drily noted,is this:”When I was a student it was usual to say that montage and the dialectic were closely related forms of the same revolutionary movement of thought.To be sure that was before we had seen what looked like the same kind of thing done in a thousand films of every conceivable ideological emphasis.That was a period in which it was still widely supposed that the new was inevitably the radical.”(Cinema and Socialism in Politics of Modernity.Verso) The newr then r is not enou3h.As Williams notes r wi th film,we can see how “this new and at first marginal capitalism was,both to develop and to exploit,a genuinely popular medium.” (ibid)Breaking ground within medium immersed in the logic of capital is only to take part in the production of the next new thing . An anarchist i nte rvention into cinema then, must surely address this. Harvey contends that the techniques of cinema are such that the very notion of a revolutionary cinema may be unrealiseable; “Cinema is after all, the supreme maker and manipulator of images for commercial purposes,and the very act of using it well always entails reducing the complex stories of daily life to a sequence of images upon a depthless screen." The way out of this is perhaps to move away from what Harvey identifies as the "condition in which aesthetics premominates over ethics."

We are back, then, to the Bakhtinian "cacophony of voices." If the best a revolutionary cinema can achieve is to end the predominance of”aesthetics over ethics” in film making then the key to an anarchist praxis might be simply in seeking to allow those normally unheard to speak.Williams talks of a return to cinematic naturalism as one way of doing this; “For the central socialist case,in all matters of cultureris that the lives of the great majority of people have been and still are almost wholly disregarded by most arts.It can be important to contest these selective arts within their own terms r but our central commitment ought always to be those areas of hitherto silent or fragmented or positively misrepresented experience.” In Ken Leach’s work with Jim Alien r in the works of Alan Clark, in the best work of John Sayles (“Baby It’s You “ for instance) we can begin to see what such a cinema might look like.

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers worked with the New York Newsreel group in 1970 to produce a film about their politics and their interventions in Detroit;”Finally Got the News . “ Fusing a montage history of American labour with Detroit music and League leaders talking straight to camera,its probably the best contemporary example of a revolutionary group succesfully combining “aesthetics and ethics” in that it allows the politics of the group to be forefront without swamping the film as “film”. Echoes of “Finally Got the News “ can be seen in Paul Schrader’s 1977 film Blue Collar, which Schrader calls an exercise in the “politics of resentment.” “Finally Got The News” gets barely a ment ion in Porton ‘ s book r but his fascination with “ creative jests” gives us pages on Guy Debord and Craig Baldwin.

“Film and the Anarchist Imagination” should be read. It is, as it intends, the first comprehensive survey of anarchism in film. Porton defends ably the anarchist legacy against the distortions of its cinematic portrayals. As a writer, he is lively and informative -and his love of film and his genuine desire to retrieve a lost history of radical film-making leap from the page . Porton argues that “In recent years, certain scholars seem to believe that anarchism is a sub-variety of post modernism, thereby ignoring more than a hundred years of labor agitation and revolutionary struggles. Film and the Anarchist Imagination endeavours to demonstrate how these struggles have been both celebrated and derided by a diverse group of filmmakers.” In this he succeeds,and we should be grateful for that.

NB Something strange has happened to some of the non-alpha-numeric characters in this article - I'll go through it and replace - it's on my todo list. Webed.



Detroit-I Do Mind Dying presents the history of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, described by the socialist activist Manning Marable, in the book's introduction, as "in many respects the most significant expression of black radical thought and activism in the 1960s.At a time when even reactionary politicians such as Richard Nixon were embracing the slogan "Black Power", the League represented a militant black perspective calling for the fundamental socialist transformation of US society."

The roots of the League were in the 1967 Detroit uprising, which led to over 3,800 arrests and the military occupation of Detroit by the Michigan National Guard. In the aftermath of the Great Rebellion, a group of activists began to produce a newspaper, Inner City Voice, which set its goal as being the production of a revolutionary paper produced by, and written in the language of, the urban black working class. The ICV's agenda was set out in one of its first editorials: "In the July Rebellion we administered a beating to the behind of the power structure, but apparently our message didn't get over...We are still working, still working too hard, getting paid too little, living in bad housing, sending our kids to substandard schools..á0nly a people who are strong, unified, armed and know the enemy can carry on the struggles which lay ahead of us. Think about it, brother, things ain't hardly getting better. The Revolution must continue."

Detroit's massive auto plants were built on "niggermation"-the super-exploitation of the black working class. As the ICV described it "Black workers are tied day in and day out,8-12 hours a day, to a massive assembly line, an assembly line that one never sees the end or the beginning of but merely fits into a slot and stays there, swearing and bleeding, running and stumbling, trying to maintain a steadily increasing pace. Added to the severity of working conditions are the white racist and bigoted foremen, harassing, insulting, driving and snapping the whip over the backs of thousands of black workers, who have to work in these plants in order to eke out an existence." The ICV collective set out to smash niggermation in Detroit.

One of the key ICV activists was General Gordon Baker, who worked at Dodge Main, an assembly plant of Chrysler Corporation. Baker pulled together a group of workers who began to meet at the ICV offices. Within 10 months of the Detroit Rebellion, the group around the ICV had begun to hit back at the auto industry. On 2 May 196814000 auto workers shut down Dodge Main in the first wildcat strike to hit the factory in 14 years. The immediate cause was speed up-the driving force was the ICV group-which now named itself DRUM-the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement. DRUM inspired the initiation of other independent black workers' groups ,FRUMI at Ford's massive River Rouge plant, and ELRUM at Chrysler's Eldon Avenue Gear and Axle Plant. Other RUMs were established in the steel mills of Birmingham, and the auto plants of Freemont, California and Baltimore, Maryland. The Detroit RUMs coalesced into the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

The League's activities were a real threat to the effective operation of capital in Detroit. The auto industry arrayed a mass of police, private security and white union members to physically smash the League, but through a combination of discipline and militancy, the League continued to wage "the revolutionary struggle of the ghetto." At one point, a fascist group, Breakthrough, attempted to disrupt an ICV public meeting. As the paper tersely reported, "Lobsinger ( the Breakthrough organiser)found one of his followers laying in the lavatory in a pool of his own blood." The success of the League, as the book explains, was in part the cause of its downfall. Students linked to the League took editorial control of the South End, the Wayne State University campus newspaper, and turned the paper into a voice for "the interests of impoverished, oppressed, exploited and powerless ",with a daily run of 18,000.From there, the League produced a film, "Finally Got the News", and, through the involvement of radical black lawyer Ken Cockrel, entered into community organisation against police oppression which culminated in League supporter Justin Ravitz becoming a Recorder's Court Judge. In moving the focus of struggle to the cultural/community arena, the League neglected its industrial base, activists began to drift away to other groups, and the League shattered as individual activists became locked into cultural-political agendas, each arguing for the importance of his/her forum over other League activities. As League activist Mike Hamlin sums up,"The League began to recruit large numbers of students and professionals. I think that our understanding of proletarian consciousness at that time was very low and we did not do a good job of transforming the understanding of our new members. We were held together by personal loyalties rather than ideology...Community organising and industrial organising are linked up. They go together. The working class should lead the community effort."

It is easy, at a time when working class self activity is at such a low level, to focus on the failures of the League. Yet the League's achievements, the extent of its success, the threat it posed to Detroit capital, and the political alternative it represented (a syndicalist Marxism drawn from founder John Watson's links with the group around Martin Glaberman and James Boggs which originated in" CLR James' News and Letters project) to the student orientated Maoism of the US left, have been a resource for labour and community activists in Detroit through to today. á'Detroit-I Do Mind Dying" is proof, .faced with a middle reformist left, of how working class rage can hit its class enemy effectively. At its best the League was an inspiring example of what working class revolutionary organisation really looks like.



Michel Foucault once observed that “Each society has its regime of truth, its “general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statement, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.”

(Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-77 Pantheon Books 1980). With the flight of the Western left in the face of the revealed bankruptcy of Stalinism and the establishment of a viciously anti-working class social democratic hegemony, ”the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true” has moved to the foreground of political contest. Simply - the only truth is the truth of the status quo, and any attempt to hold on to an alternative history, of resistance to power, is no more than an exercise in self-deception. Denouncing as liars any who seek to deviate from such an agenda has become, also, part of the process.

In 1998 the Afro-American feminist poet Patricia Smith was forced to resign from her position as columnist at the Boston Globe, having been found to have fabricated characters and quotations in her columns in late 1995 and early 1996. Smith, who saw herself as a voice for “the unheard” admitted, “I wanted the pieces to jolt... So I tweaked them to make sure they did. It didn’t happen often, but it did happen.” The progressive movement around Boston ran for cover-as if Smith’s “tweaking” of her stories turned the reality of social oppression into an entirely fictional affair. Soon thereafter another Globe journalist, a white male, Mike Barnicle, was revealed to have continually fabricated stories and plagiarised other writers. At one point the Globe had paid out $40,000 to a victim of Barnicle’s “misquotes”. Barnicle was shielded by the Globe. The NAACP noted “In our view the unacceptable journalistic practices of Smith, an African American female and Barnicle, a middle aged white man were handled differently because of who they are and not what they had done.” However much the “general politics of truth” seeks to erase the recognition of discrimination in the popular media, the reality seeps through.

David Stoll’s attack on the reputation and integrity of the Guatemalan activist and 1992 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rigoberto Menchu attempts also to portray as a lie Menchu’s involvement in revolutionary struggle, her history and the history of the movement of which she was a part. Stoll’s book is fairly shoddy, less expose than cheap slander. That so few who would once have embraced the movements of resistance in Latin America have come forward to challenge his account is but further proof of the scale of the retreat of the post-‘68 left, long since driven from the streets and now unwilling even to contest the ideological arena. The postmodernist icon Friedrich Nietzsche once argued that “truths are illusions… coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.” In 1990 the Guatemalan journalist Julio Godoy recorded that what had taken place in Guatemala was “a virtual genocide that has taken more than 150,000 victims,·in what Amnesty International calls a government program of political murder.” No illusion then, and it should be cause for shame that we of truth in Guatemala allow Stoll to pass off the bloody currency as counterfeit coin.

Stoll’s premise is simple enough. ”What if much of Rigoberta’s story is not true?.. ·While interviewing survivors of political violence in the late 1980s, I began to come across significant problems in the life story she told at the start of her career. There is no doubt about the most important points: that a dictatorship massacred thousands of indigenous peasants, that the victims included half of Rigoberta’s immediate family, that she fled to Mexico to save her life, and that she joined a revolutionary movement to liberate her country.0n these points, Rigoberta’s account is beyond challenge and deserves the attention it receives. But in other respects, such as the situation of her family and village before the war, other survivors gave me a rather different picture, which is borne out by the available records.” Some of us could be forgiven for thinking that the “significant” instances in Rigoberta’s life story are precisely those events which Stoll concedes are true. As the author concedes “I agree that it would be naive to challenge Rigoberta’s account just because it is not a model of exactitude···Indicting a Nobel laureate for inaccuracy is not the point of what follows here.” precisely what the point is, is made clear by Stoll from the start; ”Was the guerrilla movement defeated in the early 1980s a popular struggle expressing the deepest aspirations of Rigoberta’s people? Was it an inevitable reaction to grinding oppression by people who felt they had no other choice?” Stoll’s conclusion, not surprisingly, is negative; ”When a person becomes a symbol for a cause, the complexity of a particular life is concealed in order to turn it into a representative life. So is the complexity of the situation being represented.” In attacking the factuality of Rigoberta Menchu’s story Stoll seeks deliberately to attack the legitimacy of the Guatemalan guerrilla movement per se.

The charges Stoll lays against Rigoberta amount to...nothing much. Many of the issues have been subsequently dealt with by Rigoberta herself. He contends that the land dispute Rigoberta’s father was involved in was not a battle between “noble Indians and evil landlords”, but a dispute between small-holding peasants. Rigoberta’s father contests the land claim of the Tum family. Stoll contends that Rigoberta’s account is mythologised because the Tums are indigena rather than ladina(European landholders). The fault here must surely lie with Stoll’s inability to grasp the fact that land in Guatemalan society is an issue of class not one simply of racial polarisation. As he notes, by 1928 the Tums had bought up over 800 hectares of land and had “the requisites for an independent life for their children and grandchildren.”

Stoll tells us that Rigoberta was not illiterate and monolingual, but attended a Catholic boarding school. She replies (NACLA Report on the Americas March/April 1999)”I was there for a long time, but as a servant. I mopped floors and cleaned toilets, work that I am very proud to have done.” He charges that her account of the death of her brother Petrocinio is false. In “I, Rigoberta Menchu” we are told that soldiers soak 23 prisoners, including her brother, in gasoline and set them afire. Stoll interviews 7 townsmen who state that the army had never burned prisoners alive in the town plaza. Rigoberta states (NACLA March/April 1999)that her sister and other living witnesses saw the murders and she refused in 1982 to reveal their identities as “I would have been exposing (them) to death. “

Vicente Menchu, Rigoberta’s father, died on 31 January 1980-one of a group of Indian peasants who peacefully occupied the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City in an attempt to force an official enquiry into Army atrocities in the highlands. A fire broke out as police began to smash their way into the embassy. The Guatemalan state contend that the occupiers started the fire. Rigoberta states that ”Neither we nor any of our compañeros can say what the real truth is, because no-one from the Spanish embassy siege survived.” Stoll prefers the account of the Spanish foreign minister who records that the Ambassador, Cajal, saw one of the protesters light and throw a gasoline bomb. Fifteen years later, Cajal tells Stoll that “not having eyes in the back of his head, he never saw the fire’s actual source, therefore cannot say for sure that the protesters started it. ”There was, however, one survivor, and potential witness. In his book “Garrison Guatemala” NACLA researcher George Black records his fate; ”... Badly burned, he was dragged out of his hospital bed by the customary “unknown assailants” and his mutilated corpse later found dumped at the University of San Carlos.” Stoll himself accepts that Gregorio Yuja Xona, the survivor, was found with a sign next to him which read “The ambassador of Spain runs the same risk.” On the balance of probability, most rational observers would assume the truth lay with the peasants. Not Stoll.

On and on it goes. Having conceded the truth of “the most important points” Stoll is left with muddying the waters of a very shallow pool. As he grants “With problems cropping up in Rigoberta’s testimony, readers may ask, how reliable are your own sources? Perhaps many of the people I interviewed have some reason to discredit Rigoberta and her father. Or perhaps they did not like being questioned and misled me... Who are we to believe? If there are disagreements, Might not the stories I gathered be as unreliable as Rigoberta’s? Perhaps they are even less reliable: While Rigoberta was presumably free to tell her story in Paris, peasants in Guatemala must still reckon with the power of the Guatemalan army. Maybe the truth is unknowable, because the milieu is too ambiguous and fraught with repression to have confidence in any particular version.” Which makes you wonder whether it was all worth the effort at all. Except that “the truth” was never the issue at all. Stoll’s book is intended to smear not Rigoberta Menchu but the idea of resistance itself. We are told that “Insurgency would seem to be the remedy that prolonged the illness” that the Guatemalan army’s “fanatical anticommunism” was a response to “the specter of foreign communism”. Stoll ‘s book is one more in a long line of poorly written would-be exposes that are no more than a contrived attempt at blaming the victim for the sins of the aggressor. Stoll wants us to believe that “middle class intellectuals”, seduced by the “moral simplicity of the just war” are responsible for the “disaster” of armed struggle. In Guatemala, he tells us, ”For the better part of four decades, a misguided belief in the moral purity of total rejection, of refusing to compromise with the system and seeking to overthrow it by force, has had profound consequences for the entire political scene. It has strengthened rationales for repression, poisoned other political possibilities . . . guaranteeing a crushing response from the state.” What other political possibilities? The legally elected Arbenz government was overthrown in 1954, because its embrace of “policies designed to bring about a broader distribution of wealth and to raise the standard of living of the masses”(qu. US State Department) was seen by the CIA as “communist. ”Social democracy was put to death in Guatemala because it threatened the interests of the United Fruit Company. In 1960 an army rebellion against the corruption of Miguel Ydigores Fuentes’ military regime was bombed into submission by US planes. Ydigoras was in turn overthrown in 1963 by a US backed coup which brought to power Col. Enrique Peralta Azurdia. As William Blum observed (Killing Hope-US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2)”The tone of the Peralta administration was characterised by one of its first acts; the murder of eight political and trade union leaders, accomplished by driving over them with rock-laden trucks.” Peralta proved too much of a liberal for the US, who engineered his replacement with Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro. From then began “Guatemala’s final solution to insurgency; only mass slaughter of the Indians will prevent them joining a mass uprising.” (Richard Gott-The Guardian-22/12/83). 0ther political possibilities?

The clandestine peasants' organisation, the Comite de Unidad Campesinos, was only formed after the suppression of legal avenues of resistance in Guatemala (assassination of social democratic politicians, the murder of the entire CNT leadership). To aid agribusiness expansion, the bourgeoisie organised land grabs throughout the 1970s, creating a radicalised migrant “semiproletariat” which was drawn to the guerrilla organisations for its own defence. What legal options were available, Stoll doesn't say -perhaps because no organisations representing the interests of the poor had been legalised since 1954!

As Rigoberta Menchu pointedly observed in her NACLA interview, ”I think that the intention is to divert the question of collective memory by bringing the discussion to a personal level. Of course, there are other intentions here as well. I think that underlying this is the fact that the “official history” is always written by others.. It is unfathomable for certain sectors in Guatemala that we have written our own history, that we have insisted on our rights to our own memory and our own history. They would like to see us remain victims forever.” Stoll would have it that social change can only come about through a patient reformism that seeks to persuade the state. Guatemala’s history tells us that the price for such illusions is death. Assata Shakur, the exiled Black Panther Party activist has said that “It is the obligation of every person who claims to oppose oppression to resist the oppressor by every means at his or her disposal.” Unless the left is able to refute the smears of those like David Stoll who would trap us in a social democratic blind alley, we deny ourselves the chance to make history on our own terms, deny ourselves any role in history save as victims. Nor should we fool ourselves that armed struggle is a matter only for the Latin American left, that it is the end of some long, strange Maoist trip. Since 1969, the nationalist community in the Six Counties in the north of Ireland has been engaged in an armed resistance to the British state. Much of the left here has failed the test of solidarity on its doorstep. When, in 1969, Civil rights marchers were attacked by the RUC at Burntollet Bridge, the North’s Prime Minister Terence O Neill ranted “We have heard sufficient for now about civil rights. Let us hear a little about civic responsibility.” The “general politics of truth” tells us that democratic society allows us, if we exercise civic responsibility, a range of political possibilities. The history of those like Rigoberta Menchu, which David Stoll here tries to turn to “illusion”, tells us that such promise is, quite simply, a lie.



Mike Marqusee, Verso £17 hardback

In 1996, a frail, trembling Muhammad Ali was cast in a starring role in the opening ceremony of the Atlanta Olympics. Ali's role was to light the Olympic torch as the climax of the 84 day Coca Cola sponsored torch relay. In 1960, in protest against the all-American racism which he saw as a mockery of the Olympic ideal, Ali had flung his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River. In 1996 he was presented with a replacement medal by, as Mike Marqusee dryly notes, "the Olympic boss and former Francoist, Juan Antonio Samaranch."

Ali attended the Atlanta ceremonies as an American hero. Marqusee's book tells the story of a different Ali, the Ali who consorted with Malcolm X; who joined the Nation of Islam; who "refused to serve America in time of war and as a result was threatened with prison, barred from practising his trade, harassed by his government and condemned by his country's media." Marqusee wants to reclaim Ali as a symbol of resistance, and in "Redemption Song" he succeeds admirably.

On February 25th 1964, Ali, (then still fighting as Cassius Clay) defeated Sonny Liston against the odds to become the heavyweight champion of the world. The next morning he held a press conference and announced his membership of the Nation of Islam: "I was baptised when I was twelve, but I didn't know what I was doing. I'm not a Christian any more. I know where I'm going, and I know the truth, and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want."

"I don't have to be what you want me to be." For Marqusee, those words and Ali's subsequent career, have a resonance that echoes through all of the battles of the sixties. Ali's bravado, his refusal; to allow a white media to determine the limits of his identity, come to symbolise the search for personal freedom of a generation.

Boxing, as Marqusee notes, is seen by a predominantly middle class media as "an expression of ghetto criminality or primitive aggression or some innate human propensity for violence." In recording Ali's dignity and skill in the ring, and his articulate militancy outside it, he marks out an alternative perception of the sport as "a highly structured response to and safe haven from the anarchy of poverty. It is not boxing itself, but its historically constructed social and economic framework which has ensured the persistence of criminality and exploitation."

Sport, generally, is perceived all too often by writers either as empty spectacle or a site of the rituals of commerce. If those who participate are written of as little more than expensive human chess pieces, those who pay to watch are entirely absent from the record. Marqusee's book is important for its recognition of sport as both a real and a metaphoric battlefield for the forces of progress and reaction which contend in society "at large": "The loyalties and identifications are not inherent in the spectacle; the tie between spectator and competitor is a constructed one, and the meanings it carries for either are generated by the histories - collective, individual - brought to bear on a contest that would otherwise be devoid of significance to all but direct participants." "Redemption Song" gives us a history of the black heavyweight as "symbolic representative" of the black community; detailing the racism endured by fighters like Jack Johnson and Joe Louis as they "wrestled with this ambiguous burden, the burden of making "blackness" present in a white-dominated world." It is Ali, though, whose wit, vigour and refusal to be other than he wished to be, dominate every page.

Ali's relationship with the Nation of Islam is counterposed to Malcolm X's break with Elijah Muhammed and his quest for a "new freedom of political action." At a time when the ban on Louis Farrakhan entering the UK has just been renewed, one cannot help but reflect on Marqusee 's acknowledgement of the significance of the Nation of Islam as being in its linking "the individual to the collective, self-discovery to nationhood."

Marqusee recognises the weakness of the NoI as being its social and political conservatism, its strength residing in its roots "within and against the culture of the ghetto." It is worthy of note, then, that in banning Farrakhan, Jack Straw has determined that black youth in the UK will not be accorded their right to be "free to be what I want." As "Redemption Song" makes clear, so many of the battles of the '60s remain to be fought again.

Marqusee takes us through Ali's fight against the draft, his journeys to Africa, his role as figurehead for the wider anti-war movement. He touches on the development of a pan African consciousness, links in WE Du Bois and Paul Robeson with Patrice Lumumba, CLR James with Bob Dylan and Michael X, and makes the connections between cultural and political upheavals with an exhilarating sweep that recalls Greil Marcus at his best.

"Redemption Song" is a genuinely inspiring work. Marqusee 's wider theme, in restoring Ali as a symbol of courage and radical conviction, is the way in which popular culture can be "simultaneously a vehicle of protest and a vehicle of incorporation." Marqusee intends to reclaim Ali from the marketplace where he serves as an "instrument for monetary gain or national aggrandisement" and pay tribute instead to his "example of personal moral witness, of border crossing solidarity." In this, and in his goal of linking the often derided values of those who fought for change throughout the '60s to the "common future of humanity" he succeeds, with a wit and fervour that are testimony to that spirit of resistance he seeks to uphold.


A Review Article by Graham Purchase
Twenty-first Century Anarchism: Unorthodox Ideas for a New Millennium
Various authors, edited by Jon Purkis and James Bowen. London, Cassell,
ISBN 0-304-33743-9

This collection of essays is optimistically introduced with the statement: "Modern anarchism has long since needed a major overhaul, and this book...while happily rejecting much of the historical part of a new theoretical and practical tradition which has started to develop over the last few years." There is little that is futuristic or original about this book. It is an ethnocentric survey of the last few decades of Twentieth century British (sub) culture by a group of trendy academics and PhD students. The "new theoretical tradition" is that of the completely fraudulent gibberish collectively known as post-modernism/structuralism. This is blended with a generous serving of liberal environmentalism and a little post-modern feminism. The "practical" revolutionary tactics of the next millennium are, we are told, best illustrated/foreshadowed by aspects of youth subculture and the road protest movement. The unnecessary "historical baggage" is a neat euphemism that really means the authors reject any meaningful industrial and class analysis whatsoever. In this respect the book can be likened to "new labour" in comparison to traditional labour party politics.

The introductory essays are rather traditional academic articles. The first examines concepts of human nature. It concludes that the traditional anarchist notion of the environmental malleability of human nature conflicts with the rather deterministic assertion that power always corrupts. This contradictory duality, it is suggested, rather than theoretically undermining the anarchist position is a creative antinomy grounded in empirical fact. The essay ends by warning (as if we needed warning!) anarchists against new rightism/libertarianism, (with its inherently authoritarian notion of a minimal state) and existentialism (with its emphasis on human choice--as the people can equally well choose fascism or anarchism!). This typically parasitic academic essay is entirely unoriginal and adds nothing whatsoever to anarchist theory. The second essay criticises state-welfarism on the familiar grounds that it is biased in favour of the middle classes (in terms of access to health facilities and uni education), it merely contains capitalism, and encourages individualistic atomism through discouraging spontaneous and local mutual aid. Many anarchists, and no/low state socialists have been saying this for years. The essay argues for the development of participatory neighbourhood self-help groups but offers no practical suggestions nor examines any contemporary examples. The third essay focuses on non-violent resistance. It liberally quotes from (the ascetic state-nationalist) Gandhi and focuses upon road protests in the UK. The industrial aspects/origins of the concept and practice of direct action within the workers" movement are not discussed at all!?

The second part of the book examines contemporary (alternative) culture. The first essay examines the "Anarchy in the UK Festival", chiding members of the Black Flag group and other old-fashioned workerist fanatics for ridiculing bizarre sub-cultural critiques and their blanket rejection of popular (TV) media as a monolithic vehicle for promoting undiluted capitalist propaganda. With a fair-wack of meaningless post-modern jargon the author surveys some examples of "subversive" British cultural trends/movements/writings. There is a long discussion of "Mr Blobby", some trash TV personality, of whom the rest of the world (out side Britain) are thankfully unfamiliar. As usual with so many British political works (which seem to unintentionally assume that they are still the Centre of some vast world wide empire) this analysis is ethnocentric, insular and of no interest or relevance to people from other countries (including other English speaking former colonies such as Australia). The second essay continues with the same themes. It asks us to reject traditional (read: economic, class, industrial, workerist) methods of social resistance in favour of "symbolic, playful and culturally expressed" ones (since when has anarchism not been interested in culture?). A number of self-edited/produced xerox zines are reviewed. These reviews are remarkable only in the degree of vacuity and fatuity they exhibit. Self-indulgent, occasionally humorous, but essentially useless marginalia is certainly symbolic and playful. Nobody denies that symbolic playfulness (re political humour) is a part of life, and a nice part, but it is hardly the stuff of revolutions. Political humour is more a way of letting off steam by laughing at those who oppress, rule or frustrate you. Beyond this, the political cartoon and other forms of satire have a long history in both mainstream and revolutionary media, but the author seems painfully unaware of this historical dimension. The next essay is more interesting and examines the rise and fall of DIY culture and record labels during the punk music/fashion era (in which I grew up and am familiar with the bands/labels he mentions). Again, however, the author assumes that this is a completely new phenomenon. There is however, a long tradition of youth and other marginalised groups (eg Black Americans) creating their own unique entertainment with very limited resources. The cotton pickin" blues singers which started rock n roll was co-opted and commercialised by white imitators. And every new generation have created their own interpretation and expression of it. Fashion and musical expression has always come from the people. The media did not create rock n roll, flower power, punk, or the rave scene etc. Again and again in the twentieth century young people who can"t afford the pre-packaged entertainment offered them and wishing to differentiate themselves from the previous generation have generated their own expressions. Commercialisation comes later. The entertainment/fashion industry is big business and has always lived off the popular creativity of the masses. This is undoubtedly an interesting area of inquiry. However, fashion, and the youth who create it, are transient and epiphenomenal aspects of life. We cannot and should not ignore it, but politics is essentially about economic and social battles, not teenage fashion statements. The last essay on culture examines the ambiguous notion of "subversion" as a literary, legal and political term. It begins by raising a few interesting points but degenerates behind a smokescreen of post-modernist verbiage.

The final section of the book is cryptically entitled "If Not Now, When?". It contains 4 essays. The first examines transport. It is a largely unoriginal philosophical overview of personal-transport politics in relation to spatial (re geographical) and environmental issues. It offers no practical solutions (other than individual lifestyle choices) and adds little to an important and ongoing debate. The next essay thinly examines the decline in full-time employment/work-ethic and uninspiringly promotes the anti work/why work? position. It ends by suggesting that May 2nd should be declared a "day of idleness". Even this idea is not original but attributed by the author to a bunch of Argentinain beach bums. I might point out that orthodox Jews (re: Sabbath) have practiced this on a weekly basis for four or five thousand years. The penultimate essay looks at sexual transgression and how the public exhibition of unorthodox sexualities sometimes fails to address broader issues of social change. To this is added a few scattered comments on post-modernism and cyber-sex. The ending of this book is truly bizarre. It consists of a series of quite unrelated and half-baked paragraphs by some would-be futurist/novelist who fictionally presents some pessimistic and optimistic flashes of several imagined futures. Although the idea of ending a book (which is purportedly futurist) with a short work of fiction is not inherently silly, what we are presented with is very, very silly and completely incoherent. In order to deconstruct presumably one must construct something first.

Although this book contains a few scattered insights and some of the discussions are in themselves interesting or entertaining, as one would hope from an anthology comprising of the work of many (university lecturer and student) brains, from the point of view of anarchist theory it has absolutely nothing of value to offer. In so far as it does not provide any introduction to anarchism for someone unfamiliar with the idea/movement, and explicitly rejects traditional anarchist ideas/practices, it is positively harmful. It can only serve to confuse and obfuscate. Utter Crap! Shame on all of you!

Graham Purchase



ASG-M Letter
Greetings Black Flag,

My name is Georgios Alexandrou, and I am the current secretary of the Anarcho Syndicalist Group of Melbourne. You published an article in BF #216 titled 'A Visit to the Paris CNT'. I wish to reply to the article as an individual.

The author of the article, Ben Debney, is neither a current paid member of an IWA section nor has he ever been one to my knowledge.

In his article, Ben Debney states "There would appear to be no shortage of cases in the IWA's recent history where ideological witchhunting was used as a cheap substitute for constructive criticism." I am not a member of the IWA, but merely a supporter, as Australia currently (in 1999) has no official IWA section. Thus, I consider myself (as an outside supporter) not in a position to analyse the expulsion of the Vignoles CNT except to say that expelling a section (Vignoles CNT) from an international organisation (IWA) for appa

[NB - the text of this letter cut short here in the text also]

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Apr 14 2018 20:10



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