A Wee Black Booke of Belfast Anarchism and Down with the Fences! Battles for Commons in South London [Review]

A Wee Black Booke of Belfast Anarchism (1867-1973) Mártín Ó Catháin. £2.50

Down with the Fences! Battles for Commons in South London: Past Tense Publications £1

Two pamphlets which came out last year and reflect a growing interest in history which the KSL can only applaud. The Wee Black Booke is an attempt to locate antecedents of the current anarchist movement in and around Belfast. That this is difficult comes as no surprise and the author acknowledges this in the context of explorations of the history of city's labour movement barely touching on any anarchist or libertarian groups or individuals. The pamphlet focuses on individuals and deliberately stops before considering the groups that were established in the late 70s and in whom Organise can trace their roots.

Regular readers of the KSL Bulletin will almost certainly be aware of Captain Jack White who became an anarchist after seeing the Spanish revolution in practise. Two of the other lives explored, Bolton Hall and William Baillie were Ulstermen who emigrated to the US. Hall was involved in communal experiements, propaganda, legal defence and union organising. Baillie was more of an individualist, though still realised that "personal freedom was tied inexorably to collective and economic freedom."

John McAra was a Scottish anarchist who came to speak in Belfast, where he was arrested and jailed. A group did form from his activity, but appears to have died away after the First World War.

"Slumdom" Jack McMullen was an independent, anarchist-inclined socialist and stump speaker, who spent much time organising around housing and unemployment in the 20s and 30s, as well as baiting organised religion.

The last character considered is John McGuffin, who was involved in Peoples Democracy and the civil rights movement and was a founder member of the Belfast Anarchist Group. The pamphlet traces his trajectory through interment and a growing sympathy with republicanism, together with how the anarchists in Belfast responded to the challenges of the time.

Down with the Fences takes a necessarily broader approach, concerned as it is with the struggle to save the commons from enclosure and, later, to save parks and other open land from development. This sort of activity, mainly between the 16th and 19th centuries when enclosure and then suburbanisation was going on, is local and outside the view of traditional politics.

Nonetheless, local peasants and later workers recognised what was going on and fought it. For those who depended on the commons for grazing or fuel, enclosure meant the end of their livelihood. The pamphlet makes no claims to completeness, but will hopefully inspire others to find out about those who tore down the fences in other parts of Britain.

Martin H

Organise! PO Box 505, Belfast BT12 6BQ

Past Tense Publications, c/o 56 Crampton St, London SE17