The Invisible Dictatorship [a short history of Anarchy magazine (second series)]

[Rob Ray’s A Beautiful Idea: history of the Freedom Press anarchists (2018) mentions the Second series of Anarchy ‘Helmed by Phil Ruff, this was spun off and became an independent production, briefly working out of Angel Alley again in the 1980s.’ (p119). Phil Ruff has produced this short account of Anarchy.]

Humbled as I am to be awarded the position of Great Helmsman of the Anarchy Collective, the historical facts are rather different.

Colin Ward’s Anarchy was wholly owned by Freedom Press, and viewed as private property rather than an organ of ‘the movement’. When Ward relinquished the editorship in 1971, a ‘Second Series’ was launched by a new ‘Anarchy Collective’, of younger, more activist comrades based in Bethnal Green. For the first year of the new series Anarchy was printed on a commercial basis by ‘Express Printers’, a printing press owned by Freedom Press, and the new collective continued to use Freedom’s address for mail. The editorial in Anarchy 7 points out that half the work was done by Anarchy Collective and half commercially. This is reflected in the style of the magazine.

The big sea-change came with Anarchy 10, by which time the break with Freedom was complete. Anarchy moved to a squatted four-storey house at 29 Grosvenor Avenue, in Newington Green, north London. The house was home to a ‘commune’ of people active in many other anarchist, feminist and community struggles (not all of them legal), and achieved notoriety as ‘Angry Brigade headquarters’ (according to Lewisham police) after being raided by the Bomb Squad and Special Branch in search of evidence to convict Jake Prescott and Ian Purdie, and the Stoke Newington Eight. More importantly, by this time Anarchy now had its own printing press (which was housed in the basement), purchased by Chris Broad from a family inheritance. Though many comrades passed through the Anarchy Collective over the years (including SN8 defendant Kate McLean, Dave Coull, Kathy Perlo, Dave Morris and Martin Wright) it was Chris Broad and his partner Charlotte Baggins, who really were the twin anchors of the editorship and production of Anarchy throughout the 1970s and into the 80s. They were also the people who transformed the basement press into ‘Little @’ printers. By the mid-1970s, 29 Grosvenor Avenue had ceased being a squat, the ‘commune’ moved on, and Chris and Charlotte rented the house from the council. But Anarchy Collective still used the address for meetings, which were open to all-comers, and a ‘minutes book’ was scrupulously kept (now in the possession of KSL), until the late 1970s, when the council saw the prospect of making money by turning the property into flats. Chris and Charlotte moved out and Little @ press was transferred to rented premises in a dockland warehouse in Wapping. After the copy for Anarchy 29 was done, the Anarchy Collective folded.

A year later, winter 1979, a few people decided to resume publication of Anarchy, including two members of the ‘old’ collective. Anarchy 29 was printed and published. It was the worst issue ever. Anarchy Collective then endured a succession of new people joining and leaving, while managing to publish Anarchy 30, 31 and 32. Charlotte Baggins, the last of the ‘old collective’, finally called it a day in November 1981. Those who remained brought out two issues, Anarchy 33 and 34 (October 1982). But the reduced collective faced insurmountable problems and could no longer continue publication. Rather than see Anarchy disappear, they approached me and asked if I could take over publication.

I had been loosely associated with Anarchy since 1973 (while a member of the Anarchist Black Cross and Black Flag groups), and while never a member of the ‘old’ Anarchy Collective had worked closely with Chris and Charlotte and other members of Anarchy during the Murray Defence Group campaign in 1975/76. And in the summer of 1977 I moved in to 29 Grosvenor Avenue as a lodger. The ‘new’ Anarchy Collective which assembled at the end of 1982 had a somewhat fluid membership (including Chris Broad, tempted out of retirement) but was composed at its core of myself, Vince Stevenson (ex-Rising Free and Persons Unknown) and Robyn Miles (Anarchist Black Cross); with contributions from among others Iris Mills and Ronan Bennett (Persons Unknown), Albert Meltzer, Stuart Christie, Martyn Everett and Ros Kane. Collectively we published Anarchy 35 (early 1983), Anarchy 36 (summer 1983), Anarchy 37 (winter 1983/84) and Anarchy 38 (1985); as well as publishing Stefano Delle Chiaie: Portrait of a “Black” terrorist by Stuart Christie (1984). Everything we published (with the exception of Anarchy 38, which was printed abroad) was printed by Little @ press at Wapping. For most of that time we received correspondence via a post box at Freedom Press, but absolutely no other assistance from them. And eventually we were told by Freedom to go elsewhere and please never darken their doors again.

No formal decision was ever taken to cease publication. Those of us in Anarchy Collective simply turned our attention to other things, and a rather long pause has ensued. So be careful, or Anarchy will be back!

Philip Ruff, November 2018.

Photo [Links and] captions:
Anarchy 36 (summer 1983). Cover price 50p, no wonder we never made any money!
Press conference at the offices of Time Out on 10 December 1972, after the acquittal of four of the Stoke Newington Eight (SN8) defendants in the so called ‘Angry Brigade’ trial. Front row-L-R: Kate McLean, Angie Weir and Stuart Christie with Brenda Christie. Back row centre in sheepskin is Chris Broad (sadly deceased), a member of the SN8 Defence Group.
The indefatigable Charlotte Baggins, anchor-woman of Anarchy Magazine (Second Series), looking pretty, er, fatigued c. 1976.  Taken in the Conway Hall (small hall), after a public meeting of the Murray Defence Group (Photo by Phil Ruff).
Vince Stevenson, part of the governing troika at the heart of the Invisible Dictatorship that was Anarchy. A very talented journalist.
The Great Helmsman, Phil Ruff, in full ‘Ah, Mr Bond. We’ve been expecting you’ pose, 1983.