Saturday, 30 April 2016
FOR seven weeks in 1903 Jack London dossed down with drifters and derelicts in East End lodging houses. On returning to America, Jack famously published his account of these exploits as the hugely influential, 'People of the Abyss'. Three years earlier, a Chesterfield anarchist published an account of life in common lodging houses drawn from a lifetime’s experience tramping around the North as a militant navvy. Andrew Hall’s historic account has been completely ignored and his activism unappreciated, until now.
Hall was defiantly bottom drawer, a navvy who looked, lived and spoke the part and no intellectual slouch. According to the local paper, at a Hull 'Paris Commune Commemoration' in 1893, Andrew 'traced back the history of the fight now pending for more bread and more pleasures of life for the toilers…He held that it was better to die fighting than starve like a rat in a hole.' Andrew Hall was a navvy with attitude.
Born in Coatbridge in 1851, as a teenager Andrew laboured in coal mines until, aged 17, a protracted strike forced him to leave home and seek work south of the border. On the tramp around Newcastle, Bishop Auckland and Durham, Andrew slept in common lodging houses until he found employment navvying on the railways. After a period in the early eighties employed on the 'Hull to Barnsley', Hall followed the line south to London.
Years wielding a pick in cold, wet, dangerous conditions meant “Navvy Hall” didn’t need lectures from metropolitan soap box agitators to hate bosses but he lapped up their ideas of an organised fight back. In 1886 Andy joined the Hampstead branch of Britain’s first Marxist party, the Social Democratic Federation (SDF).
To militants of the SDF Andrew certainly looked the business. In complete contrast to frock-coated, top-hatted stockbroker Henry Mayhew Hyndman, the party’s self-appointed leader. Hall’s fustian jacket, flat cap and twisted muffler shouted “navvy”. Both cap and jacket were flamboyantly discarded as Andy invariably introduced himself to audiences with the words, “I’m Andrew Hall the navvy!” Crowds loved him but the authorities despised the rabble-rousing “Navvy Hall”.
Hall’s agitational ability was immediately exploited by the party elite who allotted him a prime spot on the “Number 2 platform” at the NW corner of Trafalgar Square for their Sunday 29th August 1886 demo. The rambling resolution put to the crowd concluded by urging the SDF, “to secure for the producing classes collective control over the railways, shipping, mines, factories, machinery and land…and to recommence at once their vigorous agitation in favour of the organization of the labour of the unemployed.”
The press denounced the rhetoric but praised the attire of most platform performers, 'Nearly all the orators wore red ties, scarf, rosette, ribbon or red flowers. Not a few were well dressed and wore top hats'. Sartorial standards were maintained by the socialists at the evening’s celebratory dinner, 'The company might have been one entire and perfect bourgeoisie in the predominance of black coat and the hat of civilisation…one of the few exceptions was the navvy Hall, who literally came in his working clothes, though they were very clean ones and who sat at meal with his shirt sleeves tucked up and showing the brown arms as high as the elbows and in his belcher twisted with nautical freedom round his sinewy throat.'
In September Hall was arrested for “obstruction”, along with comrade Ernest Rossiter, for speaking from a chair in Bell Street, London. According to police, “He was surrounded by about 500 people, entirely blocking the roadway and footway…During the meeting three cabs passed along Bell Street and had to pull up and stop, while the speakers got off their stand and a way was made through the crowd for them to pass. The cabmen and the fares were booed by the crowd and one cab and fare was followed and chased into Edgeware Road.”
Religionists and temperance soap-boxers who caused similar obstruction were ignored by public authorities who confined their efforts to driving socialist agitators off the streets.
A month later, the Sussex Courier, suggested the SDF’s new roving agitator was guilty of more than obstruction and dress-code faux pas, intimating that, “Navvy Andrew Hall whose outrageous threats and language towards the upper and trading classes” had incited Tunbridge Wells’ socialists to embark on an incendiary spree causing considerable damage to three commercial premises.
On 9 November 1886, the day of the London Lord Mayor’s Show, Andrew Hall, Tom Mann and comrades organised an unofficial Trafalgar Square counter-demonstration to draw attention to the plight of the unemployed and the public’s right to free speech. It was promptly banned by the authorities but as a defiant crowd gathered, “Andrew Hall - who previous to addressing the crowd, took off his coat and rolled up his shirt sleeves – said, amid great cheering, that they meant to show Sir Charles Warren that no unauthorised and irresponsible Chief Constable was to be allowed to proclaim a meeting of British subjects…at no distant date the working men would raise in their strength and sweep away the last vestiges of despotism…The speaker’s gesture bespoke a considerable acquaintance with the art of self-defence – Looks as if he wanted to hit him a clip under the jaw – remarked a critical bearer – and this won him the sympathy of the crowd.”
“The resolutions had scarcely been passed when the police…commenced to clear the Square. The foot police pushed and elbowed the people off as well as they could and were aided by mounted police. A body of Life Guards was sent by Sir Charles Warren and immediately rode up”. Andrew’s politics were too revolutionary for the SDF, not straightforward Marxism nor undiluted anarchy but more an iconoclastic libertarian communism. He was deeply suspicious of constitutional politics and a powerful advocate of insurrection.
After the Trafalgar Square demo the SDF sent Hall north. According to the Times, “The relief of the unemployed is becoming a serious question in Northampton. Many persons are out of employment and meetings of Socialists and the unemployed are held on Sunday mornings. A London Socialist named Hall appeared at the police-court yesterday with a following of unemployed and Socialists. He asked the magistrates for assistance and on account of his behaviour was ordered out of the place. Hall then harangued the crowd outside the Town-Hall…Hall advised the men to attend the police court in hundreds next morning and show the magistrates they would not be trampled on by the police nor by the upper classes…The following day police arrested two local men assisting Hall’s campaign. They were questioned and following their eventually release an open-air demonstration was held on the large market square, when the navvy Hall made a bitter speech against the Corporation.”
The following Sunday Andrew was recalled to London to speak from the platform at another mass demo in Trafalgar Square. “Sir Charles Warren has at his disposal not less than 4,000 men, nearly a hundred of whom are mounted… and two guns of the Royal Horse Artillery battery will be located in the vicinity of Charing Cross…loose stones and debris, which might be used as missiles were removed from the streets…” but they needn’t have worried, the socialists were well behaved. Not so the following February when Hall played a leading role in disrupting a religious service at St Paul’s Cathedral. The SDF issued the following (abbreviated) statement, “The Archbishop of Canterbury has been asked to preach to the unemployed next Sunday in St Paul’s Cathedral on a text chosen by one of our comrades, Let him that stole steal no more but rather let him labour…Modern Christianity is essentially a middle-class creed with a capitalist paradise here and hereafter held up before its votaries to cheer them on in their struggle for personal gain on earth and individual glorification in Heaven.” Andrew and chums secreted themselves inside the Cathedral whilst most of the demonstrators stayed outside with banners and flags, “Most of which were red but some were black with white letters…one sentence ran, I was hungry and ye gave me no meat . Another was, I was naked and ye clothed me not. The red flags were
surmounted by caps of Liberty”. “That the purpose of the gathering was to disturb the congregation and to scoff at religion was very early seen…The doors were closed and then there were heard by those under the dome the sounds of speech-making and cheering…from the spot where the disturbance occurred came the navvy Andrew Hall.” No arrests were made and Navvy Hall continued campaigning for revolution without regard for the approval of the authorities or the party hierarchy.
In February 1887, after the authorities banned a torchlit parade Andrew had organised to pass through the West End he held a token demonstration at Clerkenwell Green. Torches were defiantly lit, Hall’s incendiary rhetoric delivered and an hour’s frenzied window smashing and riot ensued before the police finally regained control of the streets. A few weeks later, after one of Andrew’s SDF colleagues was harassed and then arrested by police, Hall organised an “Indignation Meeting” at Marble Arch that thousands attended. “Mr Hall (a navvy who took his coat off to speak though a few snowflakes were falling) said that for the future when one comrade was arrested Sir Charles Warren would find that ten men would jump into the breach (Cheers).”
By 1888 Andrew had already accrued eleven arrests and considered it expedient to go navvying on the “Towcester & Olney”. Revisiting Northampton he supported the SDF election campaign with Hyndman but his help proved a two-edged sword as the local candidate observed, “The press boycotted (his campaign) until the services of Navvy Hall were obtained and no sooner did he use rough language that his remarks were inserted.” Hall’s rough language offended polite society and Mr Hyndman was not amused but this only encouraged Andrew to ditch SDF Marxism and embrace the anti-parliamentary politics of the Socialist League (SL).
In 1889 Navvy Hall moved north to Chesterfield where he helped Raymond Unwin start an SL inspired socialist group and attracted the favourable attention of Edward Carpenter. In June, Edward cycled over from Millthorpe with his friend Jim Shortland, “with a bicycle between us, to Chesterfield for an evening meeting in the market-place. There is a navvy there – Andrew Hall – a regular rough looking chap who lives in a common lodging house, who speaks on Socialism every Sunday evening. He has read a lot of history and all sorts and speaks well. There was an attentive audience of 400 to 500.”
On Sunday 1st June 1890 the pair shared a platform, “In the morning Andrew spoke on Brimmington Common and in the evening a large audience assembled in the Market Place and in spite of the rain kept together and listened attentively to the addresses given by comrades Hall and Carpenter”. In Sheffield, a couple of weeks later, “Our comrade Andrew Hall, from Chesterfield, addressed some very large meetings.” Two weeks after that, in Nottingham, Andrew addressed a conference of socialist clubs. Hall returned to Nottingham in late July where his militant brand of socialism was much appreciated, “Andrew Hall of Chesterfield gave three stirring addresses to very large audiences. He created great interest by the way in which he spoke of gaining our object by any means. He advocated the same methods in defence of our cause as were used against us. We are expecting some lively meetings when our comrade again visits us which he has promised to do in a few weeks time.” When he visited Leicester in early August, “Hall’s evening address was truly eloquent and the audience was much impressed.” The Hull dockers were equally impressed a couple of weeks later, though the unappreciative police arrested him for “obstruction”. Fined five shillings plus costs, Andrew refused to pay and was sent down for seven days. When Tyneside libertarians founded Newcastle Communist Anarchist group in December, Navvy Hall was the man they chose to headline their first public event where he “addressed a large workmen’s meeting on the Quay and in the evening spoke against Parliamentary action.”
Andrew’s fiery spirit struck a chord with Sheffield navvies who begged him to represent them against the bosses. In autumn 1890 the Working Man’s Times reported that, “Mr Andrew
Hall, the Secretary of the Sheffield and District General Labourer’s Union has been actively engaged during the past weeks organising men at various firms in the town and much credit is due to him for the energy he has shown in that direction…We are bound to admit that whilst admiring the ability of the lecturer, we think such statements as ”that if all capitalists went to ---- tomorrow we could do without them”, are calculated to do more harm than good and would counsel moderation on some of these points.” Forty years on one old labourer recalled Andrew’s militancy in the Sheffield Daily Independent, “Navvy Hall’s policy was Strike first and negotiate afterwards!”
It wasn’t long before Andrew’s men exercised their collective muscle as trouble erupted at Messrs Samuel Osborne and Company’s Rutland Works. After a foreman tried to discipline eight labourers the rest came out in sympathy and instructed the management to negotiate through Secretary Hall. “The men have today chalked the walls with the word STRIKE and on the door has been written: Don’t come to work here there is a strike!”
Invariably labelled “Socialist”, Navvy Hall’s politics were roughly anarchist and he often accompanied well-known libertarian speakers on the most advanced platforms. In November 1890 Andrew commemorated the judicial killing of the Chicago anarchists alongside Cores, Samuels, Charles and Maguire at Leeds. At another Commemoration alongside Cores, Creaghe, Samuels et al at Sheffield Hall was “received with the utmost enthusiasm by the large audience”. By then Andrew’s fiery rhetoric had begun to worry the more pacific Carpenter faction. George Hukin recorded his own anxiety in a letter to Carpenter, “I suppose you’ll have heard how Andrew Hall during his speech dropped to his knees and, well I’ll give you his own words; “With the shadow of the rope hanging over me, I call upon each of you to vow with me that we will never rest till the murder of our Comrade has been avenged, blood for blood and life for life” and etc. There was a good big meeting and nearly everybody held up their hands for the vow. I must say I didn’t like the proceedings much – too much blood and vengeance about it.”
Undeterred, in 1891 Andrew commemorated Chicago at the old Alhambra Palace in Porter Street, Hull alongside anarchists Naewiger (future biog), Gustav Smith, George Cores and Chas Reynolds. His political principals proved more enduring than his union career. Despite adding the endorsement of Tyneside labourers to his appointment by the Sheffield men he soon met opposition from union “moderates”. As local unions merged to create a national organisation a bureaucratic mentality and strike-averse policy developed, which Hall virulently opposed and he didn’t expect any support from Sheffield Trades Council; “The gravamen of the charges was that that body was the tool of the Liberal Party and that it was doing nothing in the interests of the working classes…The working classes did not get a fair share of what they produced and would not do so as long as they had trade union officials who were drawing their £2, £3 and £4 per week for doing nothing. He did not believe in paying such high salaries. They ought to be paid at the same rate as when they were working in the shop and then they would not go among the better classes for he found when they did and they got onto Town councils and other offices they were no good to working men.” In 1892 Hall resigned in disgust from the union he’d help create.
Throughout the 1890’s Hall was based at the Beehive Common Lodging House, Knifesmith Gate, Chesterfield. The Derbyshire Courier published a brief description, “The rooms on the ground floor are dark and the ceilings low and broken. The walls of the bedrooms on the ground floor are damp and the floor is paved with bricks. The living room for the lodgers is dark, its floor is in bad repair and it is unfit for use. The scullery and pantry are roofed with glass skylights which are in a very bad state of repair. The back yard is small and its surface in bad repair as are the also the floors of the slop-closet privies. Only three of the eight bedrooms on the first floor are fit for use…” but according to Andrew it was preferable to other doss houses. At Alfreton “there’s three men, or if there is a double bed, six men for each bed (or rather bundle of rags, which is a more accurate description) every 24 hours: the moment one man gets out there is another waiting to take his place”.
In March 1893 Andrew Hall revisited Hull to speak at the Liberty Club Commune Celebration (as referred to in the introduction). Andrew “held that the worker was kept, in a large extent, in ignorance by the parson who sometimes stated that it is God’s will that some people should be poor…it was the will of the profit monger and sweater. He referred to the gallant conduct of the soldiers of ’71 who, when ordered to fire on the people, refused to do so, and fraternised with the people. He held that it was better to die fighting than starve like a rat in a hole; and a bullet at a barricade was more preferable than a crust in a slum. He held that a man who starved was a coward.”
Andrew spent the summer of 1893 navvying at the Loughborough sewage works. By September he was back at the Beehive when a fellow lodger and his mate were killed navvying in separate incidents at Calow tunnel. Thomas Carrigan was crushed by a fall of dirt in a “shoot hole” following the death just the day before of John Morris who was hit by a runaway wagon. Mr Busby, the coroner made no criticism of safety on site, simply recording both fatalities as “Accidental death”.
Without abandoning his revolutionary ideas in 1893 Andrew Hall joined the newly founded Independent Labour Party (ILP) and the following July at a huge gathering in Sheffield he spoke from the platform alongside Labour luminaries Keir Hardie, Pete Curran and Emmiline Pankhurst. Ignoring ILP policy, Andrew continued to also speak up for anarchism. As late as November 1896 Hall was billed alongside Louise Michel, Joseph Perry, Alfred Marsh, John Turner, Will Banham and Herbert Stockton (future biog) at what Freedom described as “the largest ever commemoration of the Chicago anarchists” at Holborn Town Hall.
As the century came to a close so (almost) did the English anarchist movement, eclipsed by Labourism. Andrew Hall was too old for navvying and in September 1900 was glad to accept an offer of employment as live-in manager of the Beehive. As a local personality, the editor of the Derbyshire Times commissioned Andrew to reflect on his lifetime’s experience of common lodging houses across the North. The result was a fascinating series of articles published in the paper as, “Sketches of Lodging House Life”; and then nothing.
In 1905 Chesterfield Council condemned the Beehive as “unfit for human habitation” and it was pulled down without a murmur from Andrew. Where was he? He wasn’t among a handful of anarchists whose activism survived until the 1910 syndicalist revival and he never rose through the ranks of the Labour Party. Did he just retire from activism or perhaps succumb to early death and an unmarked grave?
Peace & Love
(Northern Anarchist Lives – 4)
(NAL: 1 Oldham Anarchism, 2 Lupton from Leeds, 3 A Liverpool Nut Case…next month… NAL 5 – “Frank Kapper’s Cunning Plan”)
Monday, 25 April 2016
Vote Leave silly Ass - Dominic Cummings
IT's been a pretty bad couple of weeks for the pro-leave 'Brexit' campaigners, with U.S. President, Barack Obama, telling the British public that Britain would be in the back of the queue in trade negotiations with the U.S. if it votes to leave the E.U. In addition, pro-leave Justice Minister, Dominic Raab, recently announced that if Britain leaves the EU, Brits may have to apply for visas when travelling or holidaying in other EU countries. If this wasn't bad enough, 'Vote Leave's' campaign director, Dominic Cummings, made an ass of himself when he appeared before a Treasury select committee last week. When asked about the accuracy of 'Vote Leave's' figures on it website, he told the committee - "Accuracy is for snake-oil pussies... And besides, I've got a really bad memory." To top it all, some of the pro-leave camp, such as the the Labour MP, Gisela Stuart - born and raised in Bavaria Germany - are now calling on the Home Secretary to ban Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, from entering Britain to support the Brexit campaign.
Some pundits take the view that the EU referendum is a bit of a sideshow offered to get the Tories re-elected at the last election and that Obama's recent trip to Europe, was basically to finalise negotiations on the neo-liberal'Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership'(TTIP) the U.S. / E.U. trade deal, that is being pushed by Britain's Conservative government. The trade deal which was dreamt up by corporate lobbyists, involves a radical agenda for further deregulation and privatization across Europe. If TTIP is adopted, businesses would be able to sue national government's under the 'Investor-State Dispute Settlement' (ISDS), if they felt laws, such as social and environmental protections, were 'unfair'. Although other European countries have expressed concern about TTIP's corporate court system, David Cameron's Tory government, have secretly written to the European Commission, demanding that it be retained.
The following analysis is taken from the 'Monday Briefing', a personal view by Deloitte chief economist, Ian Stewart:-
* Last week was a good one for the 'remain' camp in the UK's EU referendum campaign. The Treasury published an analysis of the economics of leaving the UK which concluded that a Brexit would involve significant net costs for the UK. Later in the week US President Barack Obama warned that outside the EU the UK would be "at the back of the queue" for a trade deal with the US.
* But where does public opinion stand?
* No opinion polls had, as of Sunday evening, been released which covered the period following President Obama's comments on the risks of Brexit. But even before the President's comments the lead for the remain camp had widened.
* Taking an average of the six major polls published up to 19th April, adjusted for the removal of the 'don't knows', the remain vote stood at 54% and the 'leaves' at 46%. This is the widest lead for remain since 23rd February.
* This is a snapshot of public opinion. But taking a longer perspective on the opinion polls what lessons emerge?
* First, polls carried out by different pollsters frequently give different results. Thus ComRes and ICM both conducted polls between the 8th and 10th April. ComRes gave remain a seven percentage point lead; ICM put leave three percentage points ahead. This difference reflects a wider conundrum. On-line polls tend to show a stronger showing for the leaves than telephone polls. Unfortunately we don't know which approach is right, something that introduces a further uncertainty into gauging public opinion.
* Second, public opinion is changeable. Last summer, a poll by IPSOS Mori, one of the most longstanding pollsters on the EU issue, showed that 66% of UK voters support EU membership, the highest reading in more than 35 years. Since then there has been a reduction in the lead for remain, probably partly in response to the migration crisis. Our calculations show that, on average, remain had a three percentage point lead over leave in April's polls so far, down from 14 percentage points in June of last year. More recently, in the space of just over four weeks, between 10th January and 14th February, the lead for the remain camp using a smoothed, six-poll average, went from 10 percentage points to zero.
* Third, UK public opinion often shifts in tandem with the relative economic fortunes of the UK and of its major EU partners. In 1975, at the time of the last UK referendum on membership of what was then the European Economic Community, the UK was the "sick man of Europe", wracked by high inflation and low growth. To a troubled UK Germany offered a model of prosperity and stability. In 1975 the electorate voted by 67% to 33% to stay in, a level of support which, as far as we can tell, has never been repeated. UK public support for the EU also surged in the early 1990s as the UK fell into recession and Germany boomed in the wake of reunification. Conversely the euro crisis of 2011-13 saw UK public opinion turn cooler on membership of the EU.
* Fourth, support for the EU is lowest among less affluent voters. Currently support for remaining in the EU is running at just 32% among skilled and unskilled manual labourers and the unemployed. More educated, affluent voters tend to be strongly pro-EU.
* Fifth, young voters, those aged 18 to 24, tend to support EU membership, with April's polls showing support running at around 60%. Older voters, those aged 60 and above, are more sceptical, with support for remaining currently at 32%.
* Sixth, unsurprisingly, views on Europe vary by political affiliation. A majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters favour remaining in the EU. Only 37% of Conservative supporters polled in April would vote to remain in the EU. Puzzlingly, an average of 6% of UKIP supporters polled so far this month say they would vote to remain in the EU. Voters in Scotland and London tend to show higher levels of support for the EU than other regions. The former is in marked contrast to the referendum in 1975 when Scotland was resolutely Eurosceptic and the Scottish National Party campaigned to leave the EEC.
* What is clear, and last year's General Election result demonstrated this, is that political polling is not a precise science. BBC's analysis of data from 92 opinion polls carried out in the run up to the election showed 56% had predicted a Labour lead rather than a Conservative majority.
* There are, of course, other measures that can be used to assess the likely outcome of the referendum.
* As of Friday, the odds offered by bookmaker Paddy Power implied a 33% chance of Brexit. It seems probable that betting markets are focussed on the significant number of don't know voters, averaging at 15% in April's polls so far, and expect a repeat of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, where the don't knows tended to go with the status quo.
* In its April issue of economic forecasts, Consensus Economics polled economists on the likely outcome of the EU referendum. Both UK and euro area economists assign the same probability to Brexit at 41%, a rather higher figure than betting markets.
* Turnout will be key. Older people are more likely to vote than the young. In both the Scottish referendum and the General Election, older voters strongly favoured the 'no' campaign and the Conservatives respectively. Given younger voters are more likely to vote for remaining in the EU, a low turnout will favour the leave camp while a high turnout should favour the remain camp. But, as post-summer and recent moves in polls suggest, public opinion is volatile and susceptible to outside events.
* To keep abreast of the latest polling trends we have the found the following websites useful: The National Centre for Social Research - http://whatukthinks.org/eu/ and its poll of polls - http://whatukthinks.org/eu/opinion-polls/poll-of-polls/ The IPSOS Mori polling data - https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2435/European-Union-membership-trends.aspx The Economist's poll tracker - http://www.economist.com/Brexit
Sunday, 24 April 2016
by Brian Bamford
Reviews: 'The Slow Burning Fuse: The Lost History of the
Reviews: 'The Slow Burning Fuse: The Lost History of the
British Anarchists' by John Quail, published by Freedom Press  price £15.,
and 'Aspects of Anarchism' published by the
and 'Aspects of Anarchism' published by the
Anarchist Federation price £1. Both available from
Freedom Press: 84b, Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX.
IN concluding his book 'The Slow Burning Fuse; The Lost History of the British Anarchists', John Quail writes:
'...the anarchists of England have paid for the gap between their day-to-day activities and their utopian aspirations. This gap consists basically of a lack of strategy, a lack of sense of how various activities fit together to form a whole, a lack of ability to assess a general situation and initiate a general project which is consistent with the anarchist utopia, and which is not only consistent with anarchist tactics but inspires them.'
Mr. Quail admits that 'Such general Anarchist projects have existed, perhaps the best examples being the anarcho-syndicalist trades unions of Spain and France.'
In his Forword to the Freedom Press 2014 edition of Quail's book Nick Heath* writes 'I would take issue, as very much an organisational anarchist, with some of (Quail's) comments on organisation in his conclusion.'
John Quail's book fundamentally emphasises the reactionary nature of English anarchism: only capable of responding in a series of fits-and-starts to specifically social and political conditions. In contrast to Quail, Mr. Heath no doubt believes what is documented in his Anarchist Federation's pamphlet 'Aspects of Anarchism' (2003) that 'The structure (of an anarchist communist organisation) must increase the ability of the organisation to perpetuate itself while its ends remain un-realised'.
The historical characteristic of the British left in general has been to react to the agenda set by the establishment and initiatives developed by governments. The Anarchist Federation in Britain is well within this defensive tradition of reactionary responses as is shown in their pamphlet under review 'Aspects of Anarchism' in the closing paragraphs of this booklet under the subheading 'Our Role' the author writes: 'Large demonstrations and strikes can often turn to violence and we should accept the need for self-defence.'
Or the author writes: 'In non-revolutionary periods anarchist communists will be a conscious minority with “the leadership of ideas”.'
There is much talk of 'revolution' here, but the writer mentions 'self-defence' because the nature of British politics is so much about reacting to the authorities in a tactical way rather than developing a serious strategy for social change. And in the very next sentence the writer continues: 'Groups like the hit squads arising from the miners strike (1984-5) are genuine expressions of working class resistance.' And then the writer goes on to argue 'we will need to defend ourselves against the violence of our enemies.' This is all about 'defence' and 'resistance' not about a pro-active program for social transformation, what's so revolutionary about that?
The fact is that this is typical of the British left over the ages, and of the most memorable struggles in this country from the General Strike of 1926, to the Peace Movement of the 1960s, to the Miner's Strike of 1984-5, have been reactionary in that they have been responses to the actions of governments.
Much of the rest of the AF's pamphlet in an act of belief in commitment or act of faith and of solving the problem of 'other minds', or as the writer puts it:
'Determination and Solidarity: To create effective organisations we must know our own and other's [sic] minds, therefore there must be a high degree of communication, of sharing. We must set about creating aspiration, setting achievable targets, celebrating success, rededicating ourselves again and again to the reasons why we have formed or participate in organisation.'
When at random I compare this kind of feeble analyse to an interview in 1977, between the Spanish anarchist, Juan Garcia Oliver entitled 'My revolutionary life' the nature of the abstraction of 'Aspects of Anarchism' becomes clear. When the questioner, Freddy Gomez asks 'What were the circumstances in which you became active in the libertarian movement and the CNT?'
Garcia Oliver answers: 'We need to be precise about this. The idea of the “libertarian movement” surfaced well after the period we are talking about. The CNT, on the other hand, was a long-established battle organisation which in those days marshalled revolutionary syndicalists, especially in Catalonia and therefore throughout Spain. I join as a 17 year old. I was working in the hospitality trade, as cafe waiter. We had just seen the “La Canadiense” strike which is still famous because it was handled to perfection and won by the CNT's Light and Power Union.'
For people like Nick Heath they want to create an organisation or anarchist movement before there are anarchists, were as Garcia Oliver realises that it is in the practical life of the social body of the working class that anarchists are formed and from which the political organisation may then arise. I became an anarchist out of my experiences in the national strikes of engineering apprentices in the early 1960s; those experiences showed me first-hand how the bosses operated, and how the trade union officials and the local politicians operated, just as Garcia Oliver learnt through his experiences in the strikes of waiters for the abolition of tipping.
The point is the theory and the ideas evolve out of the shopfloor struggle. It is this half-baked idea of the struggle developing out of the theory that is wrong with the approach of the Anarchist Federation: theirs is a form of cookbook anarchism in which the chef knows best.
The dispute over what Peter Kropotkin stood for 'anarcho-communism', and what Bakunin believed 'collectivism', according to the anthropologist Gerald Brenan in his 'The Spanish Labyrinth' (1962), divided the Regional Federation of Spanish anarchists in 1888: the argument was about whether anarchist organisations should consist just of convinced Anarchists or if all workers should be included if they were willing to join. Brenan writes:
'...with the introduction of Anarcho-Syndicalism in 1909, it was finally decided in accordance with Bakunin's ideas, the question of the nature of the future form of society became less importance.'
It is necessary to mention that this Spanish experience because the history of anarchism there is significant as a consequence of its success in that country. Garcia Oliver responding to a question about the time when in about 1920 he joined the anarchist 'Bandera Negra' about 'some sort of understanding between syndicalists and anarchists' said: 'We were still a long way from what came later – anarcho-syndicalism – which overcame this dichotomy. Anarcho-syndicalism allowed anarchism to become part and parcel of trade unionist groups which were imbued with anarchist thinking'. Garcia Oliver said that he had joined 'Bandera Negra' by mistake and implies that at that time he ought to have been more syndicalist or 'revolutionary syndicalist', because 'Bandera Negra' (Black Flag) 'spent its time liaising – nationally and internationally – with other groups and its main activity was reading incoming correspondence and replying to it.' The Spanish 'Bandera Negra', according to Garcia Oliver, like the Anarchist Federation was firmly against trade unionism and the CNT.
John Quail recalls the International Anarchist Congress of 1881 in London thus:
'The International Congress was basically an affair of and for Continental and Russian revolutionaries. The minutes ... reveal that the English delegates played little part; yet many of the people involved were ... exiles in London and the British socialists that a more sophisticated libertarian philosophy was to develop relevant to British conditions.'
Brenan has written of the same 1881 Congress;
'The Spanish delegate, when he went back to Madrid, took several new ideas with him. (But) Spaniards lived then at a great distance from the rest of Europe. Besides, anarchism had still a large proletarian following. Under such conditions terrorist action was madness and would not find any encouragement among workers. The new Regional Federation had in any case no need to appeal for violent methods. Its progress during the first year or two of its existence was rapid. A Congresss held in Seville in 1882 represented some 50,000 workers, of whom 30,000 came from Andalusia and most of the rest from Catalonia.'
In England, John Quail has demonstrated in his conclusion:
'The anarchist movement in England has shown itself capable of a progression of initiatives taken according to circumstances. Take, for example, the beginnings of the squatters movement in London.'
Quail realises that the English anarchists are prisoner's of historical circumstances when he argues 'it is only when anarchist strategies develop [and] move from pin-prick defiance and piecemeal defence to confront and change all this that the anarchist movement will make history instead of being dependent on it.' But this is true of the British left in general and even the trade unions, nay especially the British trade unions in this country, in so far as they are always reacting to events. Perhaps it is because he now sees change in this respect as such an hopeless expectation in this country that I understand Mr. Quail is no longer sees himself as an anarchist. As one northern anarchist once said to me: 'Each new batch of English anarchists have to learn the same old lessons every few decades, until in the end some of them give it up as a bad job.'
Starting in 1881, Quail identifies 'the first systematic propaganda defining itself as anarchist that had any effect within the (English) socialist movement came from America the shape of Benjamin Tucker's paper Liberty'. It seems that Liberty was a 'lively and far ranging and even (Tucker) was prepared to give space for the Anarchist Communist view', though according to Quail, Tucker had 'a good eye for revolutionary humbug'. And, on the English left there is so much 'humbug' about.
John Quail then goes on to remind us that '[t]he introduction of specifically anarchist ideas into the working class movement was thus going on well before the alleged Year One of English anarchism, 1886, which saw the foundation of Freedom.' (p37) (Freedom was finally closed down in 2014, and since then there has been an ongoing disputes between those who scuttled the ship of Freedom and their critics).
In conclusion Quail [page 333] writes:
'The anarchists have since shown the same astonishing ability to suddenly come from nowhere when everyone had assumed that they were finished... A new movement emerged out of CND and the Committee of 100 and to dispersed. The student movement of the 1960s again showed strong libertarian proclivities. And that too seems to have disappeared. I do not propose to talk about these movements in this book... A bare mention, however, is sufficient to bear out the general thesis that has emerged throughout the book that the anarchist movement grows in times of popular self-activity, feeds it and feeds off it, and declines when that self-activity declines.'
In contrast to Quail, Nick Heath wants to keep the anarchist movement alive in the fallow years with what he calls the 'leadership of ideas'. John Quail's book is very London oriented and it fails to include what the northern anarchist James Pinkerton sometimes called the 'anarchist fellow travellers': for in the same way that some say 'Christianity doesn't depend on the Christians', so very often anarchism doesn't depend upon the anarchists, as people like Colin Ward seems to have been aware. William Morris was close to anarchism politically but his influence was larger than mere politics and people like both Quail and Heath will both tend to overlook the 'Arts and Crafts movement' intellectually dominated by Morris, John Ruskin's ideas and the development of the National Trust, and self-help societies, and other kinds of cultural and intellectual spin-off.
Colin Ward's ideas developed in around 1960 is a more recent example of this approach, which in those days he described as 'permanent protest' or as some claim 'revisionist anarchism'. In a soon to be published memoir by the veteran anarchist Laurens Otter writes: 'Colin (while retaining the term Revisionist Anarchism) was by 1961 defining his aim as “widening the sphere of freedom”.' Mr. Otter then writes: 'Ward's then desired journal (which became “Anarchy: a journal of anarchist ideas”) would from its beginning reject any belief in progressive fundamental change.'
These ideas of Colin Ward contrast not just with the kind of intellectual bigotry of Nick Heath and the the more refine historical determinism of John Quail, but also with the whole of left-wing ideology in this country. This rupture which Colin Ward developed in the 1960s can best be understood by considering what George Orwell has to say in his essay 'Writers and Leviathan' (1948):
'The whole of left-wing ideology, scientific and Utopian, was evolved by people who had no immediate prospect of attaining power. It was therefore, an extremist ideology, utterly contemptuous of kings, governments, laws, prisons, police forces, armies, flags, frontiers, patriotism, religion, conventional morality, and, the whole existing scheme of things.'
Anarchism, like the rest of the British left, inherited a certain evolutionary faith associated with the Whig theory of history, or as George Orwell writes:
'Moreover the Left had inherited from Liberalism certain distinctly questionable beliefs, such as the belief that the truth will prevail and persecution defeats itself, or that man is naturally good and is only corrupted by his environment.'
Elsewhere, Orwell points out in his essay 'Inside the Whale' (1940) that no 'real revolutionary feeling' had not existed for years and that the 'pathetic membership of all extremist parties show this clearly'. In that situation the British Communist Party became a subservient tool of Russian foreign policy and the rest of the left became for most part insignificant.
It seems to me that it is hard to see how English anarchists can escape the 'fate of history' or what Mr. Quail calls 'its pin-prick defiance and piecemeal defence' anymore than the British left can transform itself from the perpetual reactionary role of resisting changes imposed by the British establishment. Mr. Heath and his Anarchist Fed. show no sign of capturing the public imagination with his own belief in what Wyndham Lewis once called the 'associational habit' of membership organisations.
The Spanish anarchists, as Garcia Oliver says, benefited from having the trade union 'battle ground' of the CNT, and British anarchism gained vast influence when it had the peace movement to work inside in the 1960s. Today, anarchism lacks any focus or serious social movement to seriously promote its energies, in that situation some of us have found it more prudent to adopt politics with a regional tinge.
* Nick Heath leads a small sectarian grouping called variously the Anarchist Federation or A.fed. which grew up in the 1980s. Unlike John Quail, he does not embrace the broader Church of British anarchism.
Saturday, 23 April 2016
Did you know our Co-op is at risk?
THE Co-operative has always been different. It’s always been owned by its members, which means that it’s not just another grey PLC with the usual disinterested shareholders.
Because it is owned by its members, we have always been able to trust it.
That is why we – and this includes many Unite members who work in it - don’t want that change.
However, while all eyes are on May’s elections and the EU referendum, the Co-operative Group is once again calling a vote that would change the Co-op forever – but not for the better.
Starting this week, millions of individual members of the Co-operative Group will have a vote on whether or not to continue their historic partnership with the Co-operative Party.
If you’re a Co-op member - if you shop or bank at the Co-op - a ballot paper could be arriving any day either in the post or by email.
On behalf of your union, Unite, I urge you to vote to Keep it Co-op and vote in favour of motion 12.
We believe that if support for the Co-operative Party comes to an end there will be one less voice in Parliament speaking up for our communities and one less organisation telling big business it can’t have it all its own way.
So whether you are eligible to vote or not, please sign up at the ‘Keep it Co-op’ website to call upon the Co-op Group to maintain its radical, progressive roots, with a democratic voice for its members and staff, and a powerful voice in changing politics.
It’s vital we ensure that voice remains. Last year, thousands of people rallied around, voting resoundingly to keep the link between the Co-operative Group and the Co-operative Party.
Let’s ‘Keep it Co-op’ again.
Yours in solidarity,
Unite general secretary
Unite general secretary