After the bulletin goes out it’s not uncommon to get ‘keep up the good work’ type comments from our comrades, which is always encouraging. Issue 90’s critical comment ‘Thoughts on Anarchism in “the Thatcher years”’ received some comment in turn.
Nick Heath felt it was ‘a tad harsh’ and could have mentioned his own account which included the period. Author Rich Cross responded with a letter which we reprint below.
2 ‘The UK anarchist movement - Looking back and forward’ https://libcom.org/library/the-uk-anarchist-movement-looking-back-and-forward
Thoughts on thoughts on anarchism in ‘the Thatcher years’
Despite the rather snarky tone of the review of my chapter ‘British anarchism in the era of Thatcherism’ in the May 2017 issue of KSL Bulletin, it’s good to see the anonymous reviewer acknowledge that: “Writing a chapter really puts you on the spot because you have to leave so much out”. I agree. My chapter is neither a comprehensive chronology nor an anarchist almanac. It’s an argument about (frequently misrepresented) shifts in the centre of political gravity in British anarchism within the course of a decade.
That same accusation of “incompleteness” could, of course, be levelled at the review. If you were to take the KSL Bulletin writer at their word, you’d conclude that my short essay contains no reference to Black Flag, Freedom, Direct Action, the Direct Action Movement (DAM), the Anarchist Communist Federation, the Anarchist Workers Group or the writings of Meltzer and Christie, amongst several others. You’d also to be led to believe that there’s no reference to the history of the post-war British anarchist movement, including the Anarchist Federation of Britain, the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists, the Anarchist Workers Association or the Libertarian Communist Group.
If you were to rely on the review, you’d also be none the wiser about the central argument of this short piece: that the widely-accepted notion that anarcho-punk and Class War were polar opposites in political and practical terms (an idea that Class War were extremely keen to promote at the time) cannot survive any kind of sustained scrutiny. I think this is an important issue, as this misconception has distorted the presentation of the history of anarchism in the UK in the 1980s. But this is not a contention that the reviewer even attempts to address, preferring instead to misrepresent my position in relation to Class War in order to denounce it as “utter bollocks”.
I’ve no problem at all with a reviewer taking issue with these and other arguments (especially when they address ideas that I actually put forward). But I do object hugely to the implication that the piece is the work of an outsider, rather than of someone who was an active participant in the history discussed in the chapter. What an extraordinary, not to say insulting, assumption.
How much better would it be if the KSL Bulletin could welcome the chapter as a small contribution to a process of writing the contemporary history of our movement, however much this one reviewer might dislike strands of the analysis it offers? There’s a huge amount more to be written about British anarchism in that decade, and no one article, chapter, pamphlet or book will be able to cover everything. But how depressing is it that the instinctive reaction of one anarchist historian to the work of another is not one of critical comradeship but of sweeping dismissal? That sort of sniffy political condescension, something that was sadly all too common in the UK movement in the 1980s, is one thing I don’t feel remotely nostalgic about.
We’re glad to hear Rich is a veteran of the struggle but still think calling the chapter ‘Anarcho punk and Class War in the era of Thatcherism’ would have been better. Rich feels his position has been misrepresented. This is a shame when ‘Utter bollocks’ was directed at a statement by ‘The editors of the collection’ [emphasis added].
We also received a great personal account from an ex-member of Bristol Class War (printed in this issue). This is what we were thinking of when we said ‘Tell me a story’: www.katesharpleylibrary.net/p8d05b. We’re also printing some primary sources as a small contribution to recording the history of British anarchism during those ‘Thatcher years’. We hope you find them interesting. Anyone else want to put their recollections of class struggle anarchist history down? Thanks to Glasgow’s Spirit of Revolt collection for help with documents (www.spiritofrevolt.info/).
As always, there’s more stuff on the website: www.katesharpleylibrary.net.
An anarchist eyewitness to the revolt of May-June 1968, Le Flûtiste (‘the flute player’) looks back on the highs and lows of Paris’ student-worker rebellion. Topics covered include, student life before the revolt, the barricades of the Latin Quarter, the student and worker occupations and strikes and the part played by the anarchists in the upheaval.
‘Anarchy, which the Stalinists and socialists generally – not to mention the bourgeois – had declared a dead duck in the land of Utopia, was rising like the phoenix from the ashes! Its burial licence had expired, to the great annoyance of all those respectable folk.’
ISBN 9781873605110 £3 24 pages [https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/rxwfqq]