Liverpool Anarchists in the Early 1980's

The writer of the following contribution left Merseyside in 1985 and was subsequently an active anarcho-syndicalist in London.

The Liverpool Anarchist Group of the later 1980’s, and beyond, centred on the Mutual Aid Centre, had an earlier predecessor. Together with its spin-off, Liverpool Direct Action Group, the development, mistakes, evolution and changes of direction of the earlier Anarchist Group in the early eighties can be said to have paved the way for the later flowering of Anarchism in Liverpool.

The first meetings of this earlier Liverpool Anarchist Group took place in the spring and summer of 1982, alternately in group members’ homes and in the News From Nowhere bookshop, a link with the past activism of the 60’s and 70’s of which none of us were then aware. It is no coincidence that this group, and others across Britain at the time, were getting off the ground at a time of widespread interest among young people in anarchist ideas unknown for a long time, due in large part to the then anarchist punk music scene. For example, the leafleting by the Anarchist Group of a gig by the anarchist band Crass in May 1982 resulted in a large influx of new members and contacts. Sifting through the genuine and bogus was learned through experience.

There were strands other than the above, however. The initial advert in News From Nowhere bookshop which had led to the setting up of Liverpool Anarchist Group had been placed by a member of the national anarcho-syndicalist organisation, the Direct Action Movement.

The early interests and activities of members of the Anarchist Group at this time, 1982, reflected the directions from which people were coming, namely the non-violent direct action wing of the peace movement, and the Hunt Saboteurs. This changed with the influx of new members from the end of 1982 into 1983 with decided class struggle views, and as the views of existing members changed and developed while other members drifted away.

Membership at this time was informal. Anyone who attended more than a couple of meetings was a ‘member’. Collections were made at meetings to cover the postage costs of the Group Secretary and for printing leaflets. Two further things should be said here. Most of the then members of Liverpool Anarchist Group were from young working class backgrounds, with no earlier experience in student or Left politics. There was, briefly, an anarchist group at Liverpool University, the strangely-named ‘Discordian Association’. There were no joint activities of any significance, save an occasional bookstall; when member of Liverpool Direct Action Group intervened on several occasions at the university during the Miners’ Strike a couple of years later, it was as outsiders. The Discordians had long gone.

Secondly, Liverpool Anarchist Group did not represent the sum total of all libertarians on Merseyside. There were other libertarians with a class perspective, some of whom did later join the LDAG.

[break in text] of the North West Anarchist Federation. A loose coalition of disparate views, this fell apart in 1984. However, it did result in wider contacts with other areas, contacts which were later strengthened in some cases, and contributed to the politicisation and further development of views of comrades in Liverpool.

Evident of this politicisation was the wider field of activities of Liverpool Anarchists in 1983. These included pickets of Army Careers Offices in protest against the newly-introduced Youth Training Scheme and its military links; participation in the first of the “Stop The City” protests in London during September of that year; regular attendance on the picket lines during “The Messenger” dispute at Warrington; and regular leafleting to highlight the case of K. Omori, an anarchist and Ainu native people’s activist then on death row in Japan for alleged involvement in a bombing which killed two people. Also in this year, Liverpool Anarchist Group moved its meetings to a city centre pub. Discussions became a regular part of meetings.

Some Liverpool anarchists by now were involved in “The Black and Red”, a musical and cultural project inspired by the 1 in 12 club in Bradford. A plan to squat an old cinema in New Brighton fell though but, from loss-making beginnings at the end of 1983, regular gigs at the Lark Lane Community Centre in 1984 began to attract considerable numbers, and a regular weekly venue was started up in Liverpool city centre. The Black and Red would up in 1985, as people involved either moved away or were busy elsewhere.

In 1984 the Liverpool Direct Action Group was set up. Solidarity work during the Miners’ Strike, following on from The Messenger dispute, brought class struggle anarchist members of Liverpool Anarchist Group, including members of the Direct Action Movement, into regular working contact with other class struggle libertarians. The setting up of the new group addressed the need to build on that contact at a very important time. Although nothing to do with the DAM, the name of the new group did cause some confusion.

The above decision meant that, for a time, there were two anarchist groups on Merseyside, with overlapping memberships. Anarchists were active in support work throughout Merseyside during the Great Strike. This, combined with leafleting and graffiti campaigns in the city centre meant a significantly greater anarchist presence, which in turn began to attract the active hostility of sections of the bureaucratic Left running Liverpool City Council and local unions. Three issues of a local anarchist paper – Renegade, later Agitator – were produced and widely-circulated. Apart from the Direct Action Movement, contacts were developed with Class War at this time.

The Liverpool Anarchist Group set up in April 1982 called it a day in November 1984. From its first activity, leafleting a CND march in Preston, time had moved on. Views had changed, people had moved away, there was so much more else happening. Later anarchist activists, and some old faces, would build on the foundations it had laid.