Under review: the new revised edition of Geo. Woodcock’s ‘Anarchism’, published by Penguin books; the Centenary Edition of ‘Freedom’, published by Freedom Press.)
HEALTH WARNING; Responses to Freedom Press clique have been described by our friends as ‘terminally boring’ but can we let everything pass? We suggest using this as a supplement to either ‘Anarchism’ or ‘Freedom Centennial’, especially when you feel tired of living.
Gradually a new sector of the bourgeoisie are trying to take over the working class movement. Those who establish their class superiority by profit making have long since taken over in the main parties, but an even greater sector has long been muscling in on the scene – those whose class power is based on State control, grants, subsidies, the lower echelons of public service, especially those based on university graduation. These are seen in what is called the ‘loony left’ of the Labour Party (‘loony’ because they need to establish a cause, one based upon the workers, or upon different minorities, and the solutions are impracticable under capitalism). The Anarchists are not exempted. The failed mandarins or lower echelons of the bourgeoisie have established a rival anarchism, or a duality of them (capitalist-‘anarchist’ or communist-‘anarchist’).
NO FEUD – NO MIDDLE GROUND
Those who think we have a ‘feud’ with Freedom Press and its general tendency, or its ‘personalities’ – any more than with the Libertarian Alliance – are wrong. With the exception of the disgraceful Philip Sansom, who has clung like a limpet to the benefits attached and whose lies and humbuggery are here exposed, many of them are quite nice people. We have nothing in common with them politically. If they could think of another description to call themselves we might quite like them. If only they could forget our names (as Woodcock does in his Penguin) we would gladly ignore them. So far as political impact is concerned they don’t matter a damn. Presumably they put no more people off than do the media journalists with their shock horror stories (sometimes, as in the case of Woodcock, they coincide).
The knowledge that their pretended history and glories of the past are false make them cynical. But it is manifest from the Centennial edition produced by Freedom Press that they do not understand how widely they differ from Anarchists, how remote they are from struggle or how absurd are the pretensions they make, in their claims to actually be anarchist history while eschewing anarchism.
WRITING UP THE PAST
There are now more people interested in anarchist history than in anarchism: history is always established by the dominant class, or its hangers-on. But these people are only concerned to establish what they did in the past – which was always as trivial as it is now – to glorify their hanging on. A worthy German professor, whom God preserve, is even now walking around notebook in hand preparing for a three volume history (‘I find the influence of Stirner on British anarchism very interesting…’) The Amsterdam Institute for Social History, funded by the Dutch government, now utilises the CNT archives to establish itself (to quote Rudolf de Jong) as ‘paterfamilias’ between the CNT of Spain and the phoney CNT; the Herr Doktor proposes to do the same for them in this country, only trying to write the Anarchists out of his officially prepared history of Anarchism in Woodcock style. Pardon us for laughing: Dr Heiner Becker has written to us thinking our objection to his manipulation of Spanish archives is to a German intellectual doing it. But Woodcock is more alien to us.)
Freedom Press tendency has no existence other than the production of its journals. It sells less than a thousand copies – nearer five hundred.
It wants to create no movement, but to remain isolated in its splendour. It is useful for the middle class failure who likes to pose as an anarchist intellectual. But what they mean by anarchism is vastly different from what Anarchism means, as may be seen here. Its uneasy semi-alliance with Class War is explicable by the fact that posing as leaders but having no movement beneath them, and they are but the intellectual leadership – some sections of Class War, on the other hand, like to have a ‘leadership’ which they reject but has to be invented to show they broke from it! It is summarised by asking Donald Rooum to speak and then throwing beer cans at him. Or by someone from Class War knowing so little of Richards as to describe him as a ‘wealthy socialite’, but attacking his ‘leadership’.
SNIPE & WOODCOCK
Let us begin by examining the Woodcock story of ‘anarchism’.
Some years ago the late George Woodcock, a trade union leader with no connection with this George Woodcock, wrote an essay in a trade union symposium; he was highly flattered by the literary-reviewers’ fulsome praise of his ‘customary brilliance’ (he had only written one other piece) and ‘incisive insight’ – it was a Pavlovian response from his namesake’s coterie. It explains what this George Woodcock set out steadily to build up.
He came on the anarchist scene during the war, profiteering on the boom in anarchism to get into the good graces of Marie-Louise Berneri (who was always overly impressed by intellectual pretensions) who enabled him to utilise a printing press and publishing facilities bought for anarchist propaganda, to produce his literary magazine and help him build up a sycophantic clique (hence the Pavlovian response).
This led to a split within what was then still an anarchist grouping which controlled Freedom, in the course of which Vernon Richards subsequently went off with the lot.
Both Woodcock and Sansom (Penguin and Centennial respectively) blame ‘extreme syndicalists’ (whatever they are) and ‘arrogant’ Spaniards (Sansom). Nothing to do with Woodcock! Not a peep about double agent Sonia Clements! According to Sansom the Spaniards blighted his life by persuading people what a load of wimps moved in on Freedom.
After the war the anarchist movement went into the doldrums, chiefly because the middle class pacifists had moved in and the working class felt pushed out. Not so, says Woodcock, in his Penguin book, the disaster it suffered was that George Woodcock had moved to Canada! Having gone to Canada, he wrote his first Penguin on ‘Anarchism’ consisting largely of painstaking biographies of arbitrary selected men, all patronised to some extent or another (Godwin wrote ‘painstaking biographies’, Bakunin was a fool, Kropotkin an optimist and so on; significantly Woodcock can’t even manage to spell correctly the name of the most talked of anarchist in the anarchist movement proper, Durruti – one academic after another, copying from each other, has followed the same mistake of calling him ‘Durutti’, an impossible spelling to anyone ‘aggressive’ enough to speak Spanish).
The book wrote the Anarchists off altogether. The movement was dead. He was its ‘obituarist’. Now he has issued a revised version of the book brought up ‘to date’. He wasn’t wrong, he says, it did die – but his book brought it back to life again! It adds a ‘history’ of the British movement for his self-glorification, actually referring to the British delegate to the Carrara conference denouncing those who pretended to be anarchists but were so in name only – he omits to mention this was a reference to himself! In his ‘history’ he adds such pieces as the present constituent parts of the International Workers Association (he doesn’t know it changed it’s name from ‘Workingmens’ for obvious reasons – but then the women’s movement has passed him by) – omitting only the British section. To include it would be to demolish the myth that he makes of Freedom Press being the only anarchist movement, instead of something representative of another class, another philosophy.
SPLINTERDICK & HORROR
Woodcock glories in the name of Intellectual conceiving it as a sort of trade union mark of mostly unsuccessful writers and artists (not so far from the other George, perhaps!) (he doesn’t mention Ethel Mannin, for instance, whom Nicolas Walter supposes to have done far more than she did). His contacts were with a group which he says was a lot less than fifty (fifteen perhaps). He refers to his astonishment at seeing the growth of the anarchist movement once it had recovered from the blow of his departure, but does not see he is looking at something different from Freedom Press in which it has no interest: squatting, feminism, the association with Spanish and European resistance groups which influenced and cross-fertilised British anarchism have passed him by. He vaguely read of the Angry Brigade in the press.
After the war he went to ‘a different life in Canada’ – as he describes his taking up a professorship and writing anti-anarchist articles for the bourgeois media. His only contribution to the anarchist press were articles denouncing anarchism and lauding pacifism. He claimed numerous atrocities had been committed by the Spanish anarchist, including the murder of people just because of their family connections, or in some cases their sexual orientations – including all the homosexuals. This far-fetched story is demolished by the absence of the actual name of even one victim. Admiral Franco, for instance, was visited in Madrid by the anarchist militia following a denunciation. ‘What have I to do with my idiot son?’ he asked angrily – and stayed unmolested until General Franco entered in triumph, when he left the city. As to the sex murders, they were alleged by Woodcock to have ‘been established’ (he was told of them by another Intellectual so it must be true) and ‘Red Lion Street’ – which is another way of saying Vernon Richards and perhaps dear old Lilian Wolfe who ran it – were accomplices in covering them up. He hinted, in another pot-boiler, at the mysterious death (!) of someone connected with the IRA who had presumed to meddle with Richards (Bur perhaps Penguin’s legal adviser prevented him from repeating this in the Penguin). Even worse, however, Freedom Press failed to recognise the genius of George Orwell – but this accusation was too much for Richards and this time he weighed in and exposed it!
What are we to make out of this politically. We turn to Colin Ward in the Centennial. He pleads that he – and no doubt Woodcock – receives very little for writing books, having spent most of his life doing jobs which he ‘actually believed’ (no believer in the class struggle, he). He finds there is something ‘rather shortsighted about our automatic anarchist sneer at the anarchist authors who write for the non-anarchist press as ‘academics’, ‘intellectuals’ or ‘literary gents’ it’s one explanation of why there are so few of them.
But according to Woodcock’s Penguin, they abound. He regards it as a tribute that he should be regarded as an intellectual (no less) and therefore a leader, because he is a professional writer of painstaking biographies. He delights in mentioning ‘literary gents’ (no ladies): Julian Symons, for instance, a high-brow thriller writer and book critic, wrote for Woodcock’s ‘Now’ – thus justifying a place in anarchist history.
This is a ‘sneer’? Only because Woodcockery has made a claim for leadership and dominance. What have we to do with this idiot stepson?
Woodcock’s idea of an ‘anarchist’ in his Penguin is someone like the late Frederich Lohr who happened to be a friend of his but was a German Nationalist who thought Hitler had treated the Catholics badly and put all the problems of the world down to international finance. Not so Richards: his idea is Hugo Warburg a scion of the rival Warburg dynasty who happened to hand out a lot of money to his circle, as contrasted with people like the NGA trade union who tried to get the right payment for the job and a proper working agreement even with Freedom Press, they are commercially motivated.
Richard’s bias comes out when he treats with the three directors of the (unionised) firm of Narod Press: one brother was ‘serious’ (he was the one commercially motivated) but he hints that he might reveal dark secrets about the other two were it not for the rules of libel (actually, one was a gambler and the other semi-shunned by his family for the ‘crime’ of marrying a Gentile and continuing a working class life style).
This underlying background of a non-money-making middle class is seen in many quotations from the Centennial document – in which they tried to appear at their best and least cynical.
They may scoff that we are reproaching with them ‘the dreaded liberalism’ and that the accusation of ‘quietism’ (do-nothingism as distinct from pacifism) is invented by wicked Spaniards or people who dislike them. But it is the liberal capitalist approach of the State-aided middle class which hasn’t made it to the top, it is not by any stretch of the imagination anarchism.
Woodcock – having blamed the divisions that arose in 1944 on the ‘extreme syndicalists’ – then refers to the new group taking ‘the name of Kropotkin’s old paper’. This is true: but within eighteen months of taking the name, they assumed it was the same paper that had been going since 1886, and the Centennial production is the latest manifestation of this. Kropotkin’s old paper, the paper of George Cores and John Turner, was taken over by Keell in one coup d’etat (Keell justified this by proclaiming Kropotkin’s alleged pro-war stand, which effectively destroyed Kropotkin). It was ‘brave’ him standing up to a ‘secular saint’ like Kropotkin they say – we wonder if they will think us equally brave for standing up to the ‘intellectuals’ of the Brand of Woodcock.
This reasoning does not extend to ‘Anarchy’, which on its ‘25th’ anniversary was kicked out by Freedom Press and denied postbox facilities. In case they deny it is the same paper. But it is the same, as much or as little the same paper as Freedom purports to be. It changed editors and policy. Freedom has had many editors only one publisher since Richards. But it was a distinct break from the past.
The Centennial issue, like ‘Freedom’ is devoting to building up for purely historical purposes – with the good professor tagging behind with his notebook for a ‘historical’ follow-up based on it – to celebrate the ‘intellectuals’ failed mandarin dominance.
It also establishes Richard’s claim to leadership.
How can we go through all the many bits of Freedom Press self-glorification with the sneering of real anarchists? Self effacing Richards – who steals the whole of past history of the anarchist movement, who was given a backlog of publications by Thomas Keell (so the stalwart of the old Freedom Group and especially Cores is written down and derided) – now bemoans that he had lost a few of the old issues and has the audacity to accuse us of stealing them, in a sneaking innuendo. No, Mr. Richards, we don’t have your old junk. But have you forgotten that for fifteen years you let it all rot in an attic, going mildew, and any antiquarian bookseller or researcher could help themselves (but no militants), and you only discovered its value when you needed to ‘prove descent’ being offered a pension by someone mistaken as to your part in the movement? Or that you let whole editions of pamphlets, ready for the press but wanting a few lines of pied typesetting, rot away for the sake of a few bottles of cheap wine? How true that when people accuse others they expose themselves.
Do we make such attacks, as the worthy professor from Fulda University has said in a letter to us? It is only when the crux of the attack upon anarchism comes that we have to protest – else the tame historian behind Nicholas Walter will be taking it seriously with all the other junk. The most offensive and outrageous libel comes, needless to say, from Philip Sansom. Usually such attacks are made on Albert Meltzer, but instead in this Centennial, perhaps to his disappointment, we are spared them. Woodcock of course does not mention him at all. Here his name is dotted-through the issue (he did this or that ‘with’ him…) to suggest that we are ‘all one movement’; his name even appears, without consent, in the promotional material together with part of an article written long ago.
He is not accused of (metaphorically) pissing on the floor or wanting to become the Minister of Justice, (whatever that is), as the highly ‘intellectual’ Freedom has put it – in reply to justified political criticism. His only crime one can adduce from the Centennial is that, like most Anarchists, at one time he thought one could live alongside them. With the Featherstone Letter that Freedom put itself beyond the pale. This was the notorious appeal for funds to help a police officer who had fallen from his horse while trying to crush a bunch of anarchists. It was the final straw (and no evil Spaniard prompted it!) Nor did Woodcock care to mention it – though he mentions in passing the fortnightly Black Flag (‘a propaganda sheet’ – unlike the monthly ‘Freedom’ – comparing it with ‘Ludd’ thinking it contempareneous (Ludd was indeed a propaganda sheet published some twenty-five years ago during the dockers’ strike. Maybe he picked up the names from a bibliography).
The Glasgow Anarchists are treated with contempt by Woodcock (he met a bunch of ‘Glasgow workmen’ one time, who were too humble to have names, apparently, in the Centennial, Tony Gobson refers to ‘horny handed workingmen’!). Perhaps we should explain, for the benefit, of the soft-handed psychologist, there was a long tradition of Anarchism in Glasgow, quite apart from ‘Freedom’ even in the twenties. In the thirties ‘Freedom’ was wound up by the London Anarchists and incorporated with the Glasgow ‘Fighting Call’. These papers ceased publication only in order to let ‘Spain and the World’ get off the ground, thanks to Frank Leech in Glasgow, and Leah Feldman in London.
Leech, an ex-Navy man turned news-agent, built up a strong vigorous movement in Glasgow, weekly attracting thousands at the meetings. Among the speakers were two, Eddie Shaw and Jimmie Raeside who had adopted some phraseology of Stirner to make a new approach to anarcho-syndicalism propaganda. (It is this which Woodcock and Gibson make so much of, otherwise they are London-centred and Freedom Pressers). Frank Leech, though clearly of our tendency, supported ‘Freedom’ through thick and thin (as did many of us, for our sins) until one day a heckler at his meeting asked what price your Herbert Read now that, according to the Daily Record, he’d taken a knighthood. Frank told him to wait until Freedom arrived the following week to answer the libel. He did not dream it was true, and Freedom not only confirmed Read’s knighthood, it defended it, Woodcock, Richards and Sansom all ganging up to say how wonderful it was. Coincidence it may be, and Frank was certainly over-weight and out of condition like many who took up boxing in their youth, but he died of a heart attack that day.
Of course opposition to Read’s action was put down to ‘personalities’ if not the terrible curse of sectarianism. Nothing to do with principle! Taking a knighthood is purely a matter for the individual, it was [s]aid. How Woodcock and Sansom wish that Meltzer (another overweight veteran), would succumb similarly to blood-pressure from their efforts under review!
TAKING A TITLE
Perhaps it might be a useful time to explain this episode. When Richards, then editing ‘Freedom’, heard that Read had taken a knighthood from Sir Winston Churchill no less, he telephoned him urgently for an explanation. Read obliged, sending a letter for publication, stating what a sacrifice it was for someone of his principles, but one he would gladly make in the cause of art. Surrealism had always been neglected by the State, and if the government were to give him a knighthood for his services to art, that would attract grants to neglected surrealists. Richards was about to publish this when he got an urgent call from Read telling him not to. He had just found out it wasn’t given for his services to unorthodox art but for his services to very orthodox literature.
So there was really no explanation: however, someone else – referred to by Sansom as ‘a doctor comrade’ – wrote the article and the other ‘intellectual’ heavies weighed in. It is a lack of intellect to suppose that it was a clear betrayal of anarchist principles, and that the truth was that someone wanted to be Lady Read? To do him justice, Read never denied this. He said in excuse ‘I am a philosopher, not a militant’ – which explains this whole bunch. They regard themselves as ‘philosophers’, which sounds grand, but means that anarchism is for them only a cerebral weekend playscheme with no bearing on real life.
MEMORIES OF A COL. SANDERS LOOKALIKE
Philip Sansom whose most ‘cherished memories’ include the Malatesta Club, so-called, which was a very small affair compared with the club at Haverstock Hill which was later started (but by Black Flag grouping) and became the International Libertarian Centre (also Centro Iberico) but which does not appear in either the Centennial or Woodcock. But author Colin MacInnes visited the Malatesta club and so did MP Tom Driberg (I wonder why!) – the one we started (and without funding) was used by anarchist resistance groupings from many countries. The club he refers to was used by an African group representing independence movements (all of which subsequently rose to power in their own countries and a few of whom became extremely rich). It must be granted they were never short of cash, even in exile.
The difference between the two anarchisms becomes clearer. In the Centennial issue Sansom deals with the two ‘remarkable stories’ of the mid-sixties. Woodcock knows of none, though this was the most exciting period of international anarchist resurgence. The one Sansom knows is that of Donald Rooum, who was framed by an police sergeant in a celebrated case (when Donald kept his head, and the evidence). By the way, Donald mentioned at the time that he wished to avoid the type of ‘defence’ offered by Freedom, which treated somewhat patronisingly his case by ‘swinging into action’ on his behalf, to use a phrase of Sansom’s to describe the ‘second’ case.
Go along to Aldgate and see how these boring old farts ‘swing into action’ the centre of attraction, and recollect that as they are now, so they always were. It has long been considered a mausoleum even by persons of their tendency – it only got busy for a few months when A-Distribution got Anarchists to come along and help them – only to abandon the set-up in disgust when the same old problem arose, with self-appointed Liberal leaders, wanting to use activists to distribute their slander sheets, but insisting they should never be criticised.
This comes out when we observe Philip Sansom’s scurrilous contribution to the symposium. Ever whining about criticism of ‘Freedom’ as being ‘personalities’ while stooping to the worst personal lies he can dream up in a Wimpy mind under a Colonel Sanders get-up, he has brought up, twenty years and more after the event, amazing allegations against Stuart Christie
‘The second big story of the mid-sixties is somewhat different. It is the Stuart Christie story – the tale of an 18 year old Scottish lad who in August 1964 hitch-hiked all the way to Madrid with a rucksack full of dynamite to blow up Generalissimo Franco. He was arrested in Madrid by Spanish police, who had followed him all the way from Paris (if not London!)
Immediately the story broke, the comrades of the Freedom Press Group swung into action. Four members formed the nucleus of a Defence Committee, which organised meetings in Conway Hall and at Trafalgar Square addressed by representatives of Freedom Press (myself), LAG, the Syndicalist Workers Federation, CND and others. One member of LAG, John Pilgrim, appointed himself press relations officer and manned the telephone in the Committee´s office day and night, to ensure that any news we had from Spain was immediately available to the British press, and everything published about Christie was as true as we could make it… Establishing what was true was the difficulty in the Christie case. In the light of a telegram, ‘Please believe in my innocence’, Freedom at first took the line that the whole thing was a frame-up by the Spanish police. But when the trial came on, it was found that Christie had confessed ‘freely’ – having been caught red-handed. The sad thing was that a Spanish comrade, Fernando Carballo Blanco, had been caught with Christie (and it could have been a dozen other!) and ended up with 30 years against Christie’s 20 – of which he served three.
What is even sadder is that the effort Freedom put into supporting the Christie-Carballo Defence Committee has been denigrated by techniques of sneer and smear, and reduced, in the minds of some who do not take the trouble to check what actually appeared in print, to the dread ‘liberalism’. What Freedom actually printed on 29 August 1964, when we were asked to believe in the ‘frame-up’ line was:
If Stuart Christie is, as we suggest, innocent of all the charges made against him, there is no question but that a campaign on as wide a scale as possible on his behalf must be organised. But if he is guilty? Then in our opinion, the efforts of all men of good will must be redoubled irrespective of whether they approve or disapprove of his methods. For what will count, what will remain in people’s minds is the noble intention.
When did he ‘confess’? Artful Sansom uses quotation marks ‘freely’ confess – suggesting it might have been under torture and therefore forgivable (no torture was used) or might have been free, frank and open… and involving others. Fortunately Sansom was nowhere around the anarchist movement except for his pay-outs at Freedom, or such an accusation at the time would have had serious consequences. But curiously, people in prison with Stuart or in the 1st of May resistance – such as Miguel Garcia and Luis Edo – who might have had better knowledge even than Philip Sansom seem to have a vastly different idea of Stuart’s contribution to the Spanish movement. Read Miguel Garcia’s ‘Franco’s Prisoner’ – in which he says that in him for the first time Britain had a decent ambassador in Spain. Such arrogance! How could he know George Woodcock didn’t have a holiday there with dear old Gerald Brenan – when he explained the Anarchists were really ‘primitive Christian mystics’!
‘Christie went to jail for three years but the sad thing was…” Even then, it seems, Sansom was secretly delighted that an impetuous activist was out of the way! He, poor devil, had gone to jail years earlier only because he happened to be in the Freedom Press office at the time they came around to arrest people.
The telegram, by the way, is fictitious. Surprisingly, in the archaic State of Spanish prisons no telegraphic facilities exist, nor can one pop out to the Post Office from the Security Headquarters. The ‘being followed from London’ bit may be believed by anyone who has hitchhiked from Calais to Madrid, and has been followed all the way by a police agent, but there can’t be many on the ground.
WHO WAS THE TRAITOR?
We have no interest in defending Stuart, who can look after himself, but note only a few years ago, Sansom was still saying that people working with him were ‘jumping on a bandwagon’. Only a few months ago, learning that Murray Bookchin, undoubtedly someone who has used his intellect to some purpose and was an anarchist, was visiting England discussing differences with friends in the Anarchist movement, Sansom went frantic to think that he would probably not trouble to come and see the Freedom Press clique so their spokesperson urgently telephoned Christie to make an appointment for Bookchin to see them at Sansom’s flat. This he did (no doubt hoping Murray would pardon him). Indeed, only a few weeks later Christie was asked, like other of his friends in the Anarchist movement, to write for this very symposium – they didn’t respond.
So when did Sansom get his ‘information’? Are they startling revelations he unearthed in the last few weeks – or did he know all along? Would you cooperate, even to this limited extent with someone who had been persuaded, forcibly or otherwise, by the fascist police to recant and get others sentenced to prison, or death? It would seem Sansom would. But of course in his cerebral playscheme the real world does not penetrate. He may not even realise what a gross libel on an anarchist activist it is. He does not understand anarchism. He hates activism. He may not comprehend what libel is… except when someone writes that ‘Freedom’ seems to consist of liberals. When he protests indignantly at ‘sneers and smears’. Like Richards, who hesitates for legal reasons to call a business person a gambler, but thinks nothing of calling an Anarchist a thief. And when his deficiencies are pointed out he cries ‘Personalities!’
John Pilgrim it may be said, was an avid supporter of Freedom Press at the time, who cornered the market in old jazz records and made a fortune, went to University and became a follower of Prof. Lipset and a Marxist. At the time he was in earnest about the press campaign – but after Christie’s release, Nicolas Walter accused him of actually having known Stuart was guilty. Pilgrim was furious. He told Nick Walter angrily in front of witnesses, that if he dared repeat that he would sue him. Some anarchism!
However we don’t want to spoil Sansom the pleasure of letting us know the source of his recent information – before he becomes an ‘ibid’ of the learned trans-Rhenish pedant.
We would like to know the dozen people who ‘might have been’ imprisoned as a result of the Confessions? They might be the very same people who carried out the sex murder known only to Woodcock, which he said Richards covered up – with Lilian Wolfe an accomplice!!
Or is the sad thing that the still aspiring artist Sansom is still trying to be a Woodcock intellectual and starting by inventing stories hoping to make him look important?
Sansom concludes with lavish praise for Richards (in private he is less flattering).
VERO AS GOD
If people make Marx into an idol, we don’t therefore make Bakunin into one, so far be it from us to elevate Stuart into ‘another Vernon’. But if Sansom wants directly to compare Christie and Richards don’t let us be relectant. The contrast might help us underline what are the essential differences between Anarchists and Phoneys.
Both, indeed, have something in common in that they tend to be ‘loners’ who go off on their own and blaze new tracks. Richards, when at University and (as Sansom might put it, did not need ‘courage’ to say it of a ‘secular saint’) a ’19 year old Italian lad’ (or as Woodcock says, ‘a young engineer’) he published a pamphlet, as he says, and then under the influence of the Spanish war, began Spain and the World, originally single-handed.
This is a long war from Sansom’s grandiose claim that every single current anarchist activity, even emanating presumably from people in the movement before Richards, stemmed from there.
After Christie’s release, he had opened up a channel of information into the Spanish resistance, shamefully ignored by ‘Freedom’, and indeed by many Spanish in exile. Though the whole thing was (as Sansom earlier said, before he had his ‘information’ about Stuart having recanted and confessed) ‘a ridiculous episode’ (some anarchism!) a lot stems from it, though obviously not everything, and all was due to his being prepared to work with veterans, with resistance people, and with the new generation.
Those whom the Phoneys prefer to work with are people like Peter Cadagon, who contributes an article ‘Therefore Break Free!’. He has battled less than nobly within Conway Hall as a ‘libertarian’ for the ‘right’ of the National Front to use it as an office, a meeting place and a rally point – until Conway Hall broke free from him.
As one won’t get the information from Sansom or Woodcock, one may mention that from the ‘ridiculous episode’ of someone eighteen years old no less, stems the collaboration of Christie with the Cuddons Group, which led to the co-operation with French students including Cohn-Bendit which sparked off the MAY 68 Paris revolt, a story yet to be told. It led to the formation of the Black Cross, ‘with Albert Meltzer’, (he isn’t ashamed of this!), and so directly to the speaking tours of Miguel Garcia which had so much repercussion in various countries.
The Cuddon’s Group were only partly responsible for ‘Ludd’ which had temporary effect on the seamen’s strike so even Woodcock heard of it, and to the creation of Black Flag, with no pretence at being one hundred years old, but with a very real influence in the modern movement. After the Angry Brigade, and the intensive publicity received as a result, Christie went off on his own to found Cienfuegos/Refract which have published far more titles than Richard’s Freedom Press – though dear Vero carefully tells Italo-Americans who might be tempted from their traditional allegiance that this is a ‘johnny-come lately’ and they should give all their cash to him!
With Black Flag and allied tendencies we have proved that the profession of revolutionary activism is no bar to the consideration of genuine theoretical discussions of anarchism, and that the contributions of self-styled intellectuals are unnecessary. Thought and action do not need to be divided.
Our activity have been in many directions, from propagandism to manifold activity, attracting media intensive coverage without any clowning to obtain it.
But perhaps we are wrong. David Peers, writing in the next article, mentions – no doubt as an 18 year old English lad! – how he went around selling ‘Freedom’ in Huddersfield for years, without the least impression; a year after he moved away, Christie moved to Huddersfield where housing was cheap. The Black Cross was organised from there and it became a centre of activity. He says he complained (!) to Albert Meltzer whose ‘only comment’ was that somebody has to be John the Baptist. This remark was taken seriously and is recorded deadpan. So maybe the Anarchist Black Cross owes it existence to the fact that Freedom was being flogged unsuccessfully round Huddersfield a year previously to its being there temporarily! If obviously it’s got to be traced back to Vernon Richards!
THE BRYLCREEM BOY – or My lad the psychologist
Tony Gibson attempts – in an oblique character assassination of Tom Brown in the Centennial – but he is actually getting at Brian Bamford, who is Freedom’s pet syndicalist-baiter and contributes to the same issue; when refers to another regular Freedom supporter who became an ‘individualist’ he means, Sid Parker, in a Sansom-like sneer as a ‘lad’.
Why should Sid Parker be so put down, almost as if he were one of us? Well, Individualist he may be, Intellectual he may aspire to be, but he actually works on the railway. Down, Parker! Join the proles in the corridor!
When Tony Gibson was a ‘lad’ of 19 or so, he donned RAF uniform – posing for the famous war-time Brylcreem advertisement before hastily undoffing it! Though a conscientious objector, he may be said to be the most famous air force face of the war from the Brylcreem adverts. Why, the whole of one of the three arms of the Services was named in his honour – The Brylcreem Boys! One can be a male model when one is an extra-slim smoothie.
This Gibson is an admirer of the racialist psychologist (and former colleague) Eysenck, whom he has defended in the pages of ‘Freedom’; he boasts of his ‘public school accent’ and refers sadly to his ‘fate’ during the war at being thrown ‘into working class company with ex-taxi drivers and other commercial drivers made redundant’. He compares Hitler and Arthur Scargill ‘leading a bunch of extra-thick thickies to a humiliating defeat’ and boasts that this is what ‘the anarchist movement’ (i.e. Freedom) has taught him.
One recalls that when the miners strike was on, the Intellectual ‘Freedom’ seemed to be supporting the scabs and called for a ballot. When some of the ‘extra heavy thickies’ called at the Whitechapel offices – thinking it was an ‘anarchist paper’ and they might get some support – Freedom announced that it had been fooling all the time, and that it really supported the ‘extra thick thickies’ and asked for financial support to be directed to their office – and was quite hurt at the sectarians who were out making direct collections.
Some similar Intellectualism went on with the constant support of the phoney CNT until it was found they were losing readers so it was then announced that they were merely seeking free hearings for all – in the manner of Peter Cadogan, perhaps?
Are we calling these Intellectuals idiots? Who called the idiots Intellectual? Defend Prof. Eysenck against his anti-racialist students. Defend the National Front’s right to the cathedral church of humanism, Conway Hall. To hell not just with Scargill but with all union miners.
Are we talking about the movement rich in diversity, spoilt only by the nasty Black Flag daring to hit back at accusations against their members, friends or class? Or are we talking about two separate movements between there is nothing whatever in common? And is it hard to spot where the difference lies? Or was the Gibson article inserted by arrogant Spanish saboteurs, anxious to mislead people as to Freedom’s real character?
No, indeed – Woodcock assures us that Gibson is an anarchist, he even wrote a pamphlet once (not to say in the league of Woodcock who says George Woodcock’s tedious little ‘Homes and Hovels’ was the earliest indication of an anarchist interest in housing, but omits to talk about squatting).
We say that those who consider it libertarian to extol Prof. Eysenck, with his racial superiority notions, or defend the National Front’s right of speech, or who consider it absurd to take action against Franco, or a libellous accusation if one said they were involved in such an attempt, or think the miners are ‘thick thickies’, or that we mustn’t be beastly to the Intellectuals, are nothing to do with us and our movement, but constitute something separate, apart and hostile.
Is it to be said unchallenged that this constitutes a section of Anarchism? We accept that it is a valid criticism of the Anarchist movement that they have been allowed to get away with it for so long.
One can only say that when the movement was small it did not seem to matter; and now they have become traditionally accepted with a yawn, or dismissed as ‘middle class intellectuals’ but anarchists none the less – after all, some academics are anarchists.
What is meant by Intellectuals? The phrase comes from Tsarist Russia where the educated upper and middle class was taken to be liberal at least in their youth. In France it was taken to mean liberal academia. In Britain, it meant such writers and artists who had ‘progressive’ views and felt they had a common economic interest. It has nothing to do with intellect, as we can see. Nor does it necessarily apply to all writers. Indeed, Woodcock would huffily cut out all women writers for a start!
Note how Gibson picks up Tory jargon (‘the commies’). In contrast it becomes a pleasure to turn to the page by Arthur Moyse, who claimed in the Observer to be the only true proletarian among them, only allowed to do his art criticism that could only mean anything to about six people living in London, because Augustus John had given Freedom Press so much money (unaccounted for) that they couldn’t do otherwise than accept the cash and him. Much after John’s death, they have cut out Moyse’s art column but he reappears in the centennial issue with an article which, unlike some of his publications, does not slander anarchists, plus FP people, by sly innuendo and the use of names used in fictional humorous episodes. It is a masterpiece of saying nothing.
We can recommend it to all his colleagues in Hammersmith North Labour Party to cure insomnia caused by canvassing with him.
It is only sad, to use a Sansomian turn of phrase, that so lavish a production, expended without regard to cost and laid out beautifully, with expensive paper and type, should be wasted on such tripe as the whole thing, at the expense of sincere Italo-American workers who over the years of hardship still club together to finance Anarchist papers and ventures in Italy, but feel they should contribute to an English-language venture. But at least their flimsy knowledge of English, while laying them open to con-artists, prevents them from every knowing how they got conned.
Are we wrong in saying this is a separate movement, not ours, with no anarchist or revolutionary content – perhaps libertarian in the sense it is nowadays used – certainly ‘liberal’? If you think so, call around 84b Whitechapel High Street any old time – and say are interested in giving financial support or helping out in any way, and ask if there’s anything else going on in London. No no – like the Woddcock-Sansom school of falsification, there is only Freedom Press. But ask if you can be put up or get into any action and lo and behold, 121 Bookshop will be then quoted. It’s the only time it comes into their existence!
Try and see Vernon Richards – he hasn’t been seen around for forty years and it’s rumoured he is living under wraps at the Amsterdam Institute or the British Museum. (If you think it’s age, it was the same forty years ago). With a bit of bad luck you might meet Sansom, you certainly, unless you live in rarefied circles won’t meet Woodcock or Ward and that lot.
Their differences – referred to vaguely as ‘personal and political’ – with Aldgate Press came when they expected them to lay out the paper as well as printing it, and complain if something was short or had been cut out at the last moment.
Their world is as we have said a cerebral playscheme. The ‘anarchism’ they profess is also picked up, sanitised and used by the Tory right and the Labour left – by the Individual marketers and by the Livingstone faction, tailored out, ready for use by anyone else who wants a manufactured history with selected episodes picked out to enhance their glory leaving them free to reject any and every episode they don’t like.
Anarchism is of the real world. It has a history of its own – a history of class struggle. At best, these people were flies on the wheel. Now they bask in the sun of neo-libertarians and are irritating horse-flies.
THE ENEMY ‘WITHIN’
Those who enjoy calling themselves ‘the Old Guard’ – as if they ever did anything – will call this an amalgam smear, and deny being responsible for any particular constituent part. But do the parts differ much from the whole?
How can we describe differences other than we have done here? When we first used the word Liberal, Donald Rooum thought this a ‘gratuitous insult like the word bourgeois’ (which is not accurate, ‘lesser mandarin’ would be more appropriate). He would still regard the word Liberalism as a fair description of his views.
But others of his sect reject this. When we first produced a leaflet calling attention to the dangers of ‘Liberal Anarchism’ Laurens Otter wrote in Peace News an indignant full-page ‘review’ of ‘Floodgates of Anarchy’ in which he stated that after reading the phrase ‘liberal Anarchism’ in it for the sixth time he threw it away indignantly and went on to rebut what Rooum accepted, that there was such a thing. Some measure of his indignation can be judged by the fact that the words ‘Liberal Anarchism’ did not appear in the book once, and the book was not written by the same people who wrote the manifesto.
It is true that Freedom Press do publish some books on Anarchism, very few considering their resources, and always reprints of the classics. Their greatest success has been with constant reprints of Alexander Berkman’s book on the ABC of Anarchism, retitled and with half of it omitted because of its trenchant criticism of capitalism now and dealing in the truncated version only with after. But publishers of anarchist books need not be anarchists – the University presses have got in on the act too, with ‘classics’ as distinct from what Woodcock sneeringly calls ‘propaganda sheets’.
What can we call the Woodcock-Sansom lot to distinguish them from us if not Liberals? We tried quietists. This angered Nicolas Walter who thought it applied to a minor sect of mediaeval Christians – but has now settled to accept it as a smear. It means in this usage those who are not pacifists but are opposed to any action irrespective of the degree of ‘violence’. Their ‘ideal’ is anarchism of a marble saint – hence the ‘saintly Dorothy Day’ (Woodcock; Walter, as a professional humanist, protested that he uses the word only as a quotation) or – how Peter might squirm – the ‘saintly Kropotkin’ (Woodcock) or ‘secular saint’ (as modified by the humanists in the centennial). It does not mean pacifism – some, like the Greenham folk, are after all quite militant. It does not mean gentle – Gibson as a ‘lad’ was just as noisy and aggressive as any miner may seem to a don of psychology today but held to the same attitudes. Quietism is the cult of inertia as opposed to revolution; the idealisation of cynicism which characterises them all.
Whatever you call them, don’t call them Anarchists! It’s a gift to our opponents! ‘Anarchists were divided on the miners’ strike’ – Becker, ibid. ‘The squatting movement had nothing to do with anarchism, as the anarchists instead followed Woodcock’s advice…’ Woodcock ibid. These quotes are from Prof. Ludwig Gans book, ‘British Anarchism’ to be published 1993.
Ward says his book ‘Utopia’ was the first to introduce Kropotkin to twelve year olds. What is frightening when we consider future generations is Woodcock’s use (or abuse) of Penguin mass distribution which may make it the one to introduce it to a vast audience, unaware what anarchism is, and not knowing the book to be a piss-take suitable for vending round the politicos to provide them with fake slogans and second hand ideals.
This makes the perpetrators enemies, whether you like it or not, dear comrades who think there’s a middle ground that can accommodate them as a sort of eccentric right wing.
Not the main enemy? Certainly a marauding force, a fifth column, a Wooden Horse.
We spit them out as contemptible.
[Thanks to Sovversiva https://sovversiva.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/liars-and-liberals/ ]