Black Flag 223 (2003)

Issue of the London-based anarchist magazine Black Flag from 2003.


So, once again a year has passed and we've only managed to produce this one issue. Black Flag, unless something truly wonderful happens (like a couple of people decide to get involved), now looks set to be an annual event. So any attempt for us to cover 'news' is pointless. This is not such a disaster now that Freedom are producing a relevant and worthwhile fortnightly paper (see 'Thoughts on Freedom' on page 34) libertarians with access to the Internet can also keep up to date with news and events using sites such as Indymedia and Urban 75. We hope that any news shorts that are submitted to us can be (with the author's permission) passed on to Freedom. In return, we'll probably pick up some of the longer, more analytical articles submitted to Freedom when space is tight.

We believe that Black Flag is still a worthwhile project. There are few (if any) other non-aligned national anarchist magazines being published in the UK and Black Flag has a wide national and international readership. We believe there is a need for a forum for anarchist and libertarian practice and theory to be debated and for our ideas and the way we put them into practice to be analysed. We hope that Black Flag can be such a forum (but if anyone has ideas for a better way of achieving this, which will make Black Flag redundant, then go for it - the magazine is not and should not be an end in itself).

We also believe we have lots to learn from non-anarchists, especially where they are working in areas where we are weak. In the past we have covered the work of anti-racist and women's groups working with issues where our movement barely scratches the surface. In this issue we look at the work of the IWCA with communities trying to take back some control in the face of crime, poverty and gentrification.

Talking of communities taking control, the new London bid for the 2.012 Olympics prompted us to look back at successful campaigns by citizens of other cities across Europe to ditch their Olympic bids, The autonomist Berlin campaign in the early nineties, which we cover, was, in addition to being spectacularly successful, a lot of fun too. Get inspired. The deadline for the next issue is 26th of January, 2004.







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Disarm DSEi

Black Flag on protests against a London arms trade event in 2003.

The biannual Defence Systems & Equipment International exhibition (DSEI) took place at the ExCel Centre in London's docklands during the second week of September. The week of events against Europe's largest arms fair saw counter-conferences, vigils, film screenings, protests, direct action and blockades. Sept 11th was the penultimate day of the arms fair.

Trafalgar Square became Red Square, as anti-arms trade campaigners filled its famous fountain with fake blood, Sept 11th was also the auspicious date chosen for the DSEi / DMA Gala Dinner at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in central London. Arms dealers dined in luxury while around the world the dead were remembered.

Anti-arms protestors and peace activists showed their disgust outside the hotel throughout the evening with a noise demonstration. Diners arriving were greeted with shouts of 'How many children have you killed today?", while the surrounding streets were repeatedly blocked by cyclists and drummers. Hundreds of police, some in riot gear sealed the area off.

There was strong support from passers by, while at least one person infiltrated the hotel dressed in a ball dress. Free food was given out as people stayed late into the night making as much noise as possible, banging pots and pans.

After their gala dinner, the world's arms industry left the Lancaster Hotel under heavy police guard. They were able to leave the area via Lancaster Gate Tube Station which, closed to members of the public, was commandeered for arms dealer only transport.

The main day of protest against DSEi took place at London's Dockands on Wednesday 10th September. Activists, angry, both about the items on sale, the well-known human rights abusing countries invited, and the devastation caused by weapons, attempted to "Shut DSEi by any means possible". This was the day that bargaining at the DSEi arms fair began in earnest and general press were prohibited from entering.

Early in the morning the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) was stopped in the first of several actions with activists D-locking themselves onto trains at various stations or climbing onto the roof. This disrupted the DLR (the main means of transport for delegates to the arms fair) for much of the day. Many delegates were forced to walk to the ExCel centre due to the disruption caused by the protests. Also on the DLR, activists posed as arms dealers. On their way to the ExCel centre they announced they had arms for sale and opened their cases revealing the various sets of arms (prosthetic and dolls arms) they had to sell,

At Custom House DLR, activists in suits went to a "Meet the Delegates" action, mingling with the arms dealers on the trains. At 8am a Critical Mass [cycle protest bloc] left from the City of London to the Docklands. On their way to the ExCel Centre around a hundred cyclists blocked traffic while comedian Mark Thomas entertained the crowds. Just after 9am the International Solidarity movement visited the Israeli arms company Rafael in an attempted office occupation, later unfurling banners outside.

At 11am affinity groups converged to form mobile groups engaging in various actions, At Connaught Bridge a car partially blocked the ExCel approach road in a D-lock action while groups moved in a variety of directions, many up to Connaught roundabout and some down to the underpass, blockading traffic for several hours. Groups remained mobile; some pushing through police lines as other roads nearby were temporarily occupied or blockaded.

Meanwhile at the ExCel centre six activists infiltrated DSEi, occupying two tanks, daubing them in 'Stop Death' banners and locking on, before being removed by security.

At 4pm the Reclaim the Streets party mobilised many of the roaming affinity groups at Rathbone Market where a crowd of around 300 took to the streets soon meeting up with a critical mass bicycle group complete with sound system.

Meanwhile next to Canning Town DLR a second RTS group occupied the roundabout, as the DLR was again stopped, banners hung on top of the flyover ("Disarm DSEi"), arms delegate buses blockaded and riot police deployed. With a samba group playing, there were more arrests and scuffles as police cleared the roads, later blocking in two main groups of protestors for several hours as people tried to push through police lines.

Overall, the week's actions caused a high level of disruption to the arms fair, especially given the relatively small numbers of protestors, and extensive use of anti-terrorist stop and search powers by the police.

Terrorist Alert

The DSEi protests served to highlight the police's growing use of 'anti-terrorism' measures (in particular, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000) to intimidate, disrupt and deter people from taking part in demonstrations in the UK. On the morning of September 10th, there was widespread media coverage of the use of the anti-terror legislation against non-violent protesters at DSEi the day before.

Initially the chief of police for the London area denied any use whatever of the anti-terrorisrn legislation against protesters, but later was forced to admit that it was being used. Attempts at justifying the use of such tactics were laughable - it was said that real terrorists might use the opportunity (presumably disguised as protesters) to enter the arms fair to carry out their dastardly work.

The UK human rights organisation, Liberty announced that they were to challenge these police tactics in a high court judicial review on the 2nd of October, 2003.

The pressure became so strong that Blunkett (the home secretary) was forced to order a Scotland Yard investigation into alleged misuse of the anti-terror searches at DSEi. His statements suggested that this was the first time anti-terror search powers may have been misused, but there is substantial documentation of such police tactics being employed against protesters around 'RAF Fairford' airbase during the invasion of Iraq.

The government's use of the all-consuming terrorist ‘threat' as an excuse for increasing internal repression is rapidly losing credibility and it remains to be seen how long we will let them get away with it. For more details, visit

For an example of anti-terror law use in Spain, see page 5.

Direct Action against War - the battle for Shannon Airbase

All over the world millions of people have mobilised against the war in Iraq. These mobilisations were biggest in countries like Britain, Italy and Spain where the government supported the war but the population was against it. Southern Ireland also saw a massive demonstration on February 15th when around 10% of the capital's population marched through the city of Dublin.

Article from Black Flag in 2003.

The turnout on these demonstrations has been great but in reality they have had little effect on the war. The governments concerned have simply ignored them. in Ireland however anarchists promoted direct action against the war machine. Specifically action was directed at driving out the commercial airliners who had been flying tens of thousands of Gulf bound US troops through Shannon airport in the west of the country. Three of the four companies involved pulled out before the war began as a result. World Airlines, which had brought in over 8,300 soldiers, pulled out in early February. North American Airlines and Miami Airlines also announced they were quitting Shannon because of concerns about security at the airport at the end of February.

The acting head of the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, Jane Fort, blamed the “threatening" behaviour of protestors for their decision to leave:

"The combination of two back-to-back incidents of real destruction would prompt any company to ask if it would put people in harm's way, people who might be working on planes or riding on planes."

Ireland might be expected to be something of a sideshow with regard to the war. Yet because of our dependence on US capital and our geographic location on the edge of Europe we have been given an opportunity to strike a blow against war that we hope can provide real inspiration for those elsewhere.

Our economic dependence on the US (Ireland is by far the largest per capita receiver of US investment in Europe) means that we have a ruling class slavishly chained to the interests of the US government.

Our geographical location has made us relatively essential for the war effort. Official government figures revealed that some 20,000 US troops were flown through Shannon airport in the opening weeks of the year. This amounts to over 40% of the US ground troops heading for the Gulf, showing the importance of this airport in the US military supply chain.

Direct Action gets the goods

Over half a dozen successful actions have taken place at Shannon airport ranging from a large scale breach of the fence in October to physical attacks on planes as the build up to war escalated.

Shannon has long been a target of Irish anti-war movements for it has been used to refuel US military planes as far back as the Vietnam war. During the 1991 Gulf war many of us marched around Dublin demanding ‘no refuelling at Shannon' - to no effect. In the years since many things have changed. not least the growth of a libertarian network and a direct action culture, "Reclaim the Streets" events have been the most visible manifestation of this, growing in a couple of years from one hundred participants to over a thousand.

As elsewhere the questions anarchists faced was how to help organise this new movement into forms that could take effective action. A couple of years back Irish anarchists in the "Workers Solidarity Movement" (WSM) initiated the first of a series of conferences, the Grassroots Gatherings, aimed at bringing together the new groups of activists who could be described as libertarian in the broadest sense of the word. With the build up to war in Afghanistan it seemed obvious that this was the time to move from the traditional passive opposition to the refuelling of war planes at Shannon to taking direct action. At the first Grassroots Gathering it was decided to call a protest for December 15th.

About 70 people took part, far less than the 3,000 at the Dublin anti.-war parade around the same time. There were no passionate speeches from politicians and only one paper seller. This was a direct action protest not a carnival. Some people infiltrated the terminal but a solid phalanx of airport police and Gardai meant that any mass entrance was impossible. It turned out that as the protest was in progress a jet loaded with US marines had landed. A protest took place outside the terminal with the outlines of bodies being drawn on the ground, slogans chanted etc. A minute's silence was observed for the dead of the war and then word filtered through that US marines were re-boarding their plane.

The protesters proceeded to the fence near the plane to let the US marines know what we thought of them and nervy airport police and Gardai became more aggressive. Some of the barbed wire atop the fence was pulled down. One courageous soul legged it across the margins towards the plane but was tackled to the ground and arrested. There was a stand off for about 20 minutes and then we withdrew in an orderly fashion, the message given and a marker put down.

A report written shortly afterwards observed

"What we could have done with 3,000 people will remain in the realms of speculation until those opposed to war realise that direct action is the way forward."

This was a challenge to the other anti-war movements in Ireland as well as ourselves, one that we have yet to meet. Demonstrations started to become regular from that point on including further demos at the terminal building and incursions onto the runway.

Pressuring the IAWM

These protests were still small, again around 70 people. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) controlled Irish Anti War Movement (IAWM) continued to prefer marching around Dublin to taking action at the site where the Irish state was directly aiding the US war effort. Pressure was put on the IAWM to help organise major protests at Shannon that could shut the airport for a period of time.

In October the pressure paid off when the IAWM finally organised a demonstration there. As they had greater resources over 300 people attended. However problems arose almost immediately on arrival.

Many of us thought we had agreed to hold a mass meeting at the gate to discuss tactics for the day. But when activists began to gather SWP stewards with the megaphones announced that we were going to start marching to the terminal This resulted in bad feeling afterwards both from those who wanted direct action to happen (and would have liked a chance to organise it properly) but also from those who did not (who wanted to argue against it or at least that there should be a clear division between the two groups).

It became clear that the IAWM aimed to confine the demonstration to a very tokenistic effort to enter the terminal building and the usual speeches from the usual politicians. Meanwhile some of those who had travelled to Shannon to engage in direct action held a small meeting of their own. They decided that as we marched out of the airport they would go to the perimeter fence and start to shake it.

Some two and a half-hours after the demonstration had started we were told that as the buses were leaving soon it was time to march back down to the airport entrance. On the way back about a dozen people crossed to the perimeter fence. When they started to shake it, the fencing rapidly fell away from the supports and within seconds a 50m section was down. The Gardai grabbed one activist standing near the fence but as they did so another jumped through the fence and entered the airfield.

After a stunned few seconds she was followed by half a dozen more and then seconds later another 20 or 30. As the Gardai took up the chase, more and more people streamed over the fence until about half the protesters had got through and the other half were watching from just behind it.

Inside the thirty or so protesters at the front made it to a point near the tarmac where a UPS plane was parked. It was decided for safety reasons not to move onto the runway and instead everyone sat down on the grass and started to chat and sing.

As more Gardai arrived they initially concentrated on stopping this group moving any further into the airfield by standing in front of us. Meanwhile other Gardai, some with dogs, concentrated on intimidating those between us and the fence into leaving the airfield. A third group of Gardai pushed a group of fifteen or so who had linked arms back to the fence.

With most of the protesters back behind the fence the Gardai then concentrated on those sitting on the grass. They grabbed a number of people from this group and threw them into vans, concentrating on those they thought were organisers. If they hoped this would intimidate the others it failed to work, as they said they would only leave if those arrested were released.

Meanwhile on the other side of the fence a group of a dozen or so blocked the airport road, bringing traffic to a halt, and demanding the release of the prisoners. This action was actually opposed by the SWP who ordered their more eager members off the road. Inside the airfield two fire engines were brought up and the Gardai moved back a little, making out that they were going to use water cannons, but when the activists still failed to move they moved back in again.

At this stage the vans carrying the prisoners were driven off and the activists on the grass decided to head to the police station to support those arrested. Within minutes of us arriving they started to release those arrested.

They hadn't been charged but were told a file was being sent to the DPP and that charges might arise from this. Months later, after the March 1st action the cops finally decided to prosecute these people.

On the buses back to Dublin a debate was organised over events on the day. This was probably useful to clear the bad feeling that resulted in the failure to debate tactics in advance. But it also revealed some pretty deep divisions over what direct action was and how the taking of such actions could be decided. If the movement as a whole was to grow (and here I include both those involved in the IWAM and those who choose to remain outside it) then these questions need to be resolved, at least on the level of agreeing to differ.

That day was our first real success. For the first time there was a trespass at Shannon that involved dozens of people. It also revealed just how vulnerable the airport was to such tactics: there are miles of perimeter fence and it would take hundreds if not thousands of police to protect it from a large demonstration.

Tactical Questions

The question of tactics was really a question of how best to stop refuelling at Shannon. Some, including many of the far-left parties, seem to think it is just a question of mobilising a large number of people to march up and down and listen to speeches. Others, including the anarchists, argue that the government will continue to ignore such mobilisations because of the depth of its affiance with imperialism. In that context what is needed is larger and larger numbers of people willing to engage in mass direct action against the war.

As it was increasingly dear that the IAWM intended to talk tough about Shannon but do nothing beyond the usual protests, those involved in the Grassroots Gathering realised there was a need to seriously organise to get more people to Shannon protests. A Grassroots Gathering meeting in Belfast resulted in the formation of the Grassroots Network Against the War which called a demonstration for December 8th.

This was successful in that 350 or so people took part. But beyond this nothing much happened - the Gathering had decided to leave it up to affinity groups to organise their own thing on the day, but with a couple of exceptions these were never formed. This and a substantial police presence meant that people ended up standing around wishing something would happen but without the organisational structures needed to get things going.

Saturday 18th of January saw a second IAWM demonstration at the airport at which around 3,000 people took part. These numbers represented the first real possibility of a successful mass action, but the IAWM took a position of not taking part in direct action and no real organisational efforts had been made by the "Grassroots Network Against War" (GNAW). We had hoped to meet up on the day but even this didn't work out and we proved unable to even march as a block up to the terminal.

Spontaneous Direct Action

The day was somewhat salvaged when the ‘direct action' aspect of the demonstration developed spontaneously. Aer Rianta have reacted to the presence of anti-war plane spotters at Shannon through various methods including shutting down the public viewing gallery at the Airport. At the edge of the demonstration a few people used the staircase onto the roof of the two-storey building to get a view of the crowd. The Gardai ordered them down at which point they realised they had accidentally reclaimed the viewing space.

Then some bright spark noticed that the adjoining one storey building also had a flat roof. A group went around the side, scaled a drainpipe and appeared with banners facing the front. Lots of others ran to join them. At this point four Gardai with dogs charged into the crowd who were trying to scale the pipes, the dogs bit a couple of people as they were driven back.

Those on the roof responded by dousing the cops below with milk and throwing down a lit flare. The dogs went apeshit but the crowd calmed down and backed off, many people finding other ways to climb onto the roof. The roof top protest came to a voluntary end after 30 minutes or so. The protest was a bit scrappy but showed that more people were willing to engage in direct action, to shut down Shannon. What was very much missing on the day was any real attempt to organise this sentiment and create an action in which a large number could participate.

As the crowd drifted back to the buses a second action was organised. A poorly guarded gate appeared to offer a way through onto the tarmac, near two military planes. A group of about 30 people tried to charge through the five cops at this gate. Some eight or nine made it but found themselves charging into a dead end. When they kept going into a warehouse, they were then trapped by the police. Thinking they might be arrested, those at the gate attempted to block a Gardai van gaining access by sitting in front of it. But as it turned out they were allowed to leave without arrest after 20 minutes or so.

Striking a blow for peace

As well as the large scale protests, both individuals and small groups were planning their own actions. These were to have a very direct effect on the issue. On January 29th Mary Kelly, who had been arrested on the December 2001 demonstration at the airport, entered the airfield. She found a US Navy Boeing 737 on the runway and whacked the nose with a hatchet, putting the radar out of action (and according to the state, causing 500,000 Euros worth of damage).

In the early hours of February 1st five activists from the Catholic Worker organisation entered the airfield and began to tear up the runway. They then discovered the US military jet damaged by Mary Kelly in a hanger and smashed up the more sensitive external equipment with a hammer. Some time later the WSM received an angry email from Fort Worth in Texas which claimed to be from one of the US repair crew who had worked on the plane. It turned out they had just finished fixing up the plane the evening before the new attack took it out of commission again.

The direct actions before March 1st had been fairly minor, involving no more than 150 people. They had been organised either in secret or by small groups of friends at the protests themselves. Not surprisingly many people felt that this was less than ideal, Some party political hacks took the opportunity to label these actions 'elitist' or bizarrely to claim that while they would support mass direct action they couldn't support these smaller actions.

Mass Direct Action

The two consecutive failures to organise ourselves seriously - and the two missed opportunities they represented - did however give us the kick up the arse we needed. Proper planning was got underway for the next demonstration. As it became obvious not only that war was imminent but that opposition was overwhelming a debate began in the GNAW about organising a mass action whose details would be publicly announced in advance. It was reckoned that it would now be possible for thousands of people to take part. However disagreements within GNAW began to surface. The need to agree to a single plan sat unhappily with some of the groups which meant that commitment to any decision was either half-hearted or in one case withheld.

But on the morning of February 15th a meeting in advance of the 100,000 strong march that day, started to devise plans for a publicly announced direct action on March 1st. The plan. that was later agreed was simple. One group would form a line facing the fence, march over to it and attempt to tear it down. Another group would stand behind them as observers in solidarity. Full details are still online at

Within a day of the plan being made public two of the remaining three troop carrying airlines announced they were pulling out of Shannon citing security concerns. The small but highly effective disarming actions along with the threat of another mass trespass had obviously caused ructions amongst the companies making profits out of the war. A successful mass action at the airport on March 1st just might drive out all military traffic before the war was even underway.

Action or Excuses?

We recognised that for cynical party-political reasons and straightforward control freakery some would still oppose that plan. But with war imminent, March 1st represented the last chance for such a mass action before its outbreak. We did not expect to win over the die-hard 'law and order' brigade but we did hope that those claiming to be from revolutionary organisations would recognise that this was the moment to act (or at least not to get in the way!).

Alas that is not how things seem to be. The so-called revolutionary organisations told us that the action would be 'premature'. But with war expected to formally break out only days after March 1st, the question was 'if not now, when'? There was a further range of miserable evasions that did their authors no credit. With three troop carrying airlines already gone from Shannon they asserted that such actions cannot work! They muttered. darkly about state repression, soldiers with guns, armoured cars, plastic bullets and the special branch. What should we conclude from this, that we should avoid effective opposition in case a cornered state strikes back?

Worst of all perhaps was the argument that direct action will alienate people from the anti-war movements. This ignores the fact that a good part of the movement building in this country happened through the publicity following direct actions, in particular the physical attacks on planes at Shannon. A more poisonous aspect to this argument was that the direct actions would somehow stop workers in Shannon striking against refuelling. The sad truth is that while all of us would welcome such action as the most effective in stopping refuelling there was little evidence of it being about to happen.

Some people in GNAW had been talking to Shannon workers and it was clear that there was little or no talk in support of ant-refuelling strike action. With the war just days away, to put all our eggs in the 'workers must strike' basket seemed foolish, to say the least. Particularly if it meant failing to take action that had been proved capable of driving out the troop carriers.

We did say this to the workers at Shannon: If they took strike action against the war then the mass of the population would support them. Those of us in the anti-war movements will owe them solidarity. Beyond this the vast majority who oppose the war should be open to the argument that any loss of income at the airport should be made up by the state or that equivalent jobs should be created in the area.

On the other hand if the Shannon workers continue to agree with their bosses in insisting that war work is essential for jobs then where will that leave them after the war? This war is all about the same forces of corporate globalisation that are privatising and slashing airlines and ground services across Europe. Militancy and public solidarity are the only weapons Shannon workers have to defend their jobs in the long term, sacrificing both for short term gain (won at the expense of those who will die in Iraq) was no way forward.

After March the 1st GNAW activists initiated a letter signed by hundreds of Irish trade unionists to the Shannon workers asking them to take some sort of action and pledging our support if they did so. Ironically this was the first such attempt to formally engage with Shannon workers despite all the previous talk from the Trotskyists. We knew that direct action in Shannon had worked. Each and every action catapulted refuelling into the headlines and ensured that people talked about Irish involvement in the war at work, at school and in the pub. And these were small actions. Now we were talking of an action that should have involved thousands.

Media Hysteria!

In the end the March 1st direct action at Shannon failed to get onto the airfield. But it demonstrated to the anti-war movements that such an action is possible and that is a major step forward. Indeed were it not for the week of 'its going to be violent' hype from the media, the bishops and even some other sections of the anti-war movements we almost certainly would have succeeded.

A major mistake had been placing too much trust in the comprehension skills of journalists. 'Non-violent action' became 'violent protest' and headlines to that effect were splashed all over the media. Things turned to real farce when Sinn Fein, the Green Party and the Labour Party released press statements saying they were staying away from the protest for fear of violence. Sinn Fein's new-found fear of violence would normally have had us splitting our sides. But unfortunately there was little room for humour as we knew that many people thinking of going would presume Sinn Fein 'knew something' and wonder what possible level of violence we could be planning that would frighten Sinn Fein off?

The sheer level of hysteria seems a little unbelievable now after the event. But it's a game that our opponents can only play a limited number of times. The credibility of those who added fuel to that fire is now pretty damaged - next time far fewer people are likely to be scared off.

Despite all this and the searches of coaches travelling to the protest, over 300 people decided to take part in the GNAW action. The IAWM had also decided to hold their own march there at the same time and, as agreed, we explained what we intended to do to all those at the meeting point and then left for the airport building ahead of their march.

We had expected most people with us would be joining the pink observer line rather than the white direct action line but this turned out not to be the case. At least two thirds chose to march up to the fence with the white flags.

Taking Action

At the fence were a couple of hundred Gardai waiting for us, including the riot squad. The decision to publicly deploy the riot squad in the first line in this manner is very unusual in southern Ireland. Normally at demonstrations they are sitting in vans, out of sight, on standby.

Arriving at the fence the agreed plan was put into action where the people carrying the white flags spaced themselves out at regular intervals and everyone else in the white line linked arms and filled in the gaps. We then slowly walked forward until we came into contact with the line of Gardai. We had hoped that at this point we would outnumber them and be able to simply walk around them. (Before the protest their senior officer had said it would be impossible to guard 7km of perimeter with 500 men but they would try their best).

Unfortunately, in the event there was pretty much one cop for each protester in the white line. Plus they had enough to spare to have a cop every 5 metres or so running up either side of us and dozens more visible inside the fence. There was a long good-natured face of at this point. Our line up included several US citizens and Bob from Yale (Cork) who celebrated his 84th birthday this week. When the IAWM march (with around 800 on it) passed us, far from witnessing a violent fracas they were greeted by the sight of the white line doing a can can in front of a solid line of cops.

Shortly after they had passed we decided to try something different and got the whole white line moving parallel to the fence. Surprisingly this caught the Gardai on the hop and quite a few of them just stared at us until their senior officers ordered them to follow. This meant one end of our line suddenly found they were no longer facing a wall of cops but that there was only one every 5 metres or so. Seizing the opportunity people walked up to the fence or threw crude grappling hooks to the top of the fence and started to pull it down.

In the space of a couple of seconds the fence had started to peel off from the top and cops had come charging in, rugby tackling people to the ground, grabbing the ropes and generally shoving people around.

Most of the arrests happened at this point as cops randomly grabbed people out of the crowd and threw them into vans. There were further arrests of the few who attempted to stop these vans moving off - despite the fact that a sea of cops surrounded them. But on our side at least things remained calm.

We formed up and marched back to the car park by the airport entrance where we had a short meeting, to get details of all those arrested for the legal support team. Both here and on the coach back to Dublin the overwhelming feeling was very positive.

Those arrested were taken to court that evening and released on bail. The bail conditions excluded them from the entire county of Clare (and not just the airport). In cases of barring orders to prevent wife-beating the offender is often told to stay 500m or less away. It seems that the state values protecting warplanes way ahead of 'protecting’ battered women.

The Future

Post Shannon the anti-war movements find themselves in a difficult place. The direct action proved to be a catalyst, around which all the differences simmering in the movements surfaced, often in pretty ugly forms. Now that all this is out in the open we need to start a discussion of how we overcome these problems in the future.

A few things seem essential. Firstly, we must accept that although we disagree on tactics we must unite in opposing the war. Organisations using their media contacts to attack the plans of other groups should not be repeated. All they succeeded in doing was damaging the movement as a whole and damaging their own credibility.

Secondly those who opposed the action because they believed it to be premature should now spell out how they want such actions to be planned in the future and when they think they may become appropriate. GNAW will presumably continue to insist that the time is now and that mass actions should be called in a public format so that all those attending can be aware of and discuss the consequences. As well as our own actions we should continue a dialogue with the IAWM and others aimed at building towards a mass action supported by as many sections of the anti-war movement as possible.

On March 1st it was obvious that even the few hundred of us there seriously stretched the ability of the Gardai to enforce the wishes of the government against the wishes of the Irish people. We got to the fence despite being outnumbered by police. We aimed to pull it down and failed, but only just. We came close enough to demonstrate that this sort of action can work, it just needs more people to be willing to take part.

Two weeks into the war and it had been announced that 120,000 US reinforcements on their way to the Gulf would be using Shannon as a refuelling stop. Routine and constant harassment of plane spoilers at the airport became the rule. Even small demonstrations are faced with massive police mobilisations, including the stopping and searching of coaches en route to Shannon,


The protests outlined above scored a maior success in forcing the hidden issue of refuelling to the top of the agenda. Before this it had been an open secret, known to activists but not discussed in the media. The actions at Shannon transformed that situation. This in itself is a considerable victory – it’s very hard to organise people to oppose something they are unaware of.

A vote has been forced in the Dail (the southern parliament) to enable refuelling to continue. This should effectively bury the lie of supposed Irish neutrality. It is now clear that the southern Irish state has never been neutral and has always allowed its facilities to be used by the US military in particular. This will help move the debate from the nationalist dominated terrain of 'neutrality' to the more libertarian ground of anti-militarism.

To date the direct actions have had a fairly limited impact on the war - although airlines were driven out of Shannon. The reality is that only a couple of dozen people were the core organisers of these and now over 20 have been arrested, tried and in some cases done time for their role. Well over a dozen are actually banned from the whole of county Clare for the next two years. And the state now takes the threat seriously enough to diffuse the sort of action that the couple of hundred we could mobilise to date can offer.

In terms of the original groups of organisers and in particular the Grassroots Gathering we have succeeded both in raising the issue and demonstrating that direct action is an effective way of stopping refuelling. We now have to recognise that being able to build on this requires that we convince far, far wider forces in the anti-war movement that they also need to be willing to act.

This is not impossible. The outbreak of war has widened the acceptance of the need for more militant action. The strategies open to the rather cynical Trotskyist parties that were forever claiming to be 'for direct action, but not this action' have pretty much been exhausted. So the Irish SWP for instance has suddenly woken up to the need for 'mass civil disobedience'.

The immediate aftermath of March 1st and the outbreak of the war saw a move towards more local actions and internal work to both increase the numbers involved in GNAW and improve communication and organisation. Talks have started about calling another mass action in the future - but this time where we have much more preparation time to organise ourselves. If, as is likely, we continue to learn from the problems that have arisen we can look forward to greater success in the future.

The general model however has been shown to work. In countries where libertarian movements can claim thousands or tens of thousands of adherents it should be possible to organise similar actions on a far, far larger scale. Above all else GNAW demonstrated that if we take ourselves seriously we can move from complaining about the tokenism of the left's opposition to the war to demonstrating an alternative. A mass movement organising action against both refuelling and Anglo/US military bases in the European countries could have a very serious impact on the ability of the Bush/Blair army to wage more wars.

Some time later the WSM received an angry email from Fort Worth in Texas which claimed to be from one of the US repair crew who had worked on the plane. It turned out they had just finished fixing up the plane the evening before the new attack took it out of commission again.

Fighting On Home Turf: Community Politics & the IWCA

A Black Flag article on the working class community politics of the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) from 2003.

We are printing this article on the IWCA because it is an example of political activists acting as a catalyst for working class communities to act on their own behalf. Struggling over real problems makes a difference, whether at work or where you live. Anarchists need to be aware of what other activists are doing and learn from them.

The article does not address in detail the IWCA tactic of putting up candidates for elections. Nor does it go into the arguments for and against elections that most of us are familiar with. This is because electoralism isn't a central plank of the IWCA strategy (which is one of the reasons they actually do better) but also why we should look at their successes in reaching people no one else wants to know about. Clearly most anarchists reject electioneering as a tactic and as a contribution to this debate we will run an article in the next Issue on anarchist rejection of electoralism and what we can do Instead. Until then, we hope this article will provoke debate and provide an example of practical work in the community.

In 1995 elements in Anti-Fascist Action started to look outside the physical opposition to fascism that the organisation had carried out for a decade. It was obvious to many involved that the election of the Labour government would provide an opportunity for the far right to flourish. AFA had argued that the street cleaning work it was doing should have been making space for a working class alternative politics to emerge. The Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) was formed to make this happen. AFA continued to operate but suffered internal difficulties and external pressures. By 1997 a number of IWCA local groups were launched. At this time the IWCA comprised AFA activists, Red Action members but also anarchists from the anti-fascist movement. While the IWCA is perceived by many as a front for Red Action, there were anarchists openly involved and working within it. In time, AFA activity declined - it was felt that the BNP needed to be opposed politically, that whacking a few of them was not going to prevent electoral success or prevent them gaining influence amongst a wider working class. So how far has the IWCA come as a working class response to New Labour or as an alternative tactic in the fight against fascism?

Winning in the polls?

While the fascists have by no means made the same electoral gains as their counter¬parts in Europe, the BNP has grown in size and in influence. Every electoral gain gets them national publicity in a way the Green Party can only be, well, green with envy over. On the other hand, proportionately, candidate for candidate, the IWCA have done phenomenally well. Over 10% of their candidates got elected. Well, one, in fact. Oddly this success as well as some very close results in North and East London - has not benefited them with the same media hype as the BNP.

But the elections are neither the most important nor the most interesting part of what the IWCA groups have been doing. Much of their work over the past few years is extremely relevant to class struggle activists, in raising issues that need tack¬ling, and in providing an opportunity for strengthening work that many already do.

The strength of the IWCA is its relevance to working class people in the areas where they are functioning. This is because the IWCA activists are working in their own communities. An early example of the direction that has been followed was in Newtown, Birmingham, where community activists mobilised against anti-social crime and found themselves confronting the police, racists and the local authorities as well as the muggers themselves. This was reported in Red Action 75 Autumn 1997 and is or the Red Action website. This was not the IWCA as such but the Newtown Independent Residents Association.

Community responses to anti-social behaviour

Crime is one area where existing IWCA groups have responded to the real genuine concerns of the people around them (as opposed to fears whipped up by Crimewatch or the Daily Mail) and shown how a community response can work. The anarchist movement has produced little more than a few "anti-mugger" stickers and articles optimistically hoping for community control "after the cops fuck off". If we are serious about living without government we have to take this issue seriously now.

Harold Hill is in the borough of Havering in East London. Here local IWCA activists have helped organise meetings and set up an action group to deal with anti-social behaviour by gangs of young people. The Petersfield (an estate on Harold Hill) Action Group was set up and the IWCA organised citizens patrols along with other locals.

In groups of three or four, local people took to patrolling the streets in and around the Petersfield area, The IWCA worked alongside residents patrolling areas where groups of 30-40 youths had been causing various problems.

The patrols were at first every night, but they were so successful in reducing anti-social behaviour that nightly patrols became unnecessary. Various tactics were used including taking photos and videos to unnerve those who were known to be involved in anti-social behaviour. However at all times the IWCA stressed that confrontation was not the aim of the patrols.

After the problem had reduced some local people along with the IWCA continued to hold regular patrols to monitor the situation. Local shop keepers and those most affected by the problem gave unanimous support for what had been done (and indeed had backed the setting up of the patrols at the first anti-social behaviour meeting).

The IWCA's work was constantly advertised in its local newsletter the Harold Hill Independent. This led to work being under¬taken in at least five other parts of the estate and the IWCA successfully stopped a spate of garage break-ins after its patrols spent a week patrolling on the Briar Road area of the estate.

Local people who were given a small flyer which informed them the Citizens Patrol had been in the area, actually came to their front doors and thanked the IWCA for the work they were doing.

It should be stressed that the IWCA has more recently moved onto arguing that to solve the ongoing problem of anti-social behaviour then youth investment is essential. They have supported efforts by local youth and community to engage the youths not only in getting involved in a positive way on the estate, but also to lead the way in promoting issues that directly and indirectly affect young people.

And the backlash?

Predictably, the police and councillors were more concerned about "vigilantism" than about the suffering of the people on the estate. The police response has been periodic ineffectual swamping of the area when budgets or elections are on the horizon. The IWCA's work has continued -working to reinforce the strength of the local community, talking to the young people involved and pushing for better leisure and youth provision.

Another of the local IWCA campaigns was support for a young man who had been left in a wheel chair after an attack but had twice been refused compensation by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. He was finally successful in his appeal.

On Blackburn Leys estate in Oxford, the IWCA have a councillor, Stuart Craft. There the IWCA have been involved in action against drug dealers - publicising the addresses in public meetings and pressurising landlords to evict. You might expect the police to be grateful for the community spirit but at the time, July 2002, Inspector Gratwohl of the local Police said that residents who tried to gather their own evidence or demonstrated outside the homes of drug dealers risked 'contravening the human rights of those implicated'

Early IWCA newsletters had covered concerns about other anti-social behaviour by a couple of residents and the failure by the Housing Association to act against them. More recently local residents have had to resist the local Housing Association’s threats against "noisy street games". It is of course this street presence - along with action such as reclaiming parks used by crack dealers by using them for football and kick boxing - that allows communities to resist the police tactics of containing drug dealing, and the problems associated with the trade, on particular working class estates.

As a councillor Stuart Craft has a more obvious profile with the police (he pays their wages) but has resisted, publicly, attempts to draw him in to the system and refuses to attend meetings with the police unless they are open to Blackburn Leys Constituents.

The IWCA national website places anti¬-social behaviour and the idea of community restorative justice at the top of its manifesto. More usefully the local groups in Oxford and Havering have been instrumental in showing how communities can take control in this area. However as well as promoting practical responses IWCA groups have pushed other vital - though perhaps less immediately obvious - issues. In Finsbury and South Hackney, areas of central London, a central plank of IWCA activity has been resistance to gentrification and the driving out of working class people from these areas.

Resisting gentrification

Finsbury is part of the borough of Islington. After over a decade and more of council house sales, rent rises, gentrification of pubs and shops, parts of the borough are unrecognisable. However there is still a large working class community in Finsbury and in other parts of the borough. If you are in any doubt about what class hatred is - and the necessity for working class resistance - listen to local businessman and New Deal Board member David Abramovitch:

"People who have lived here for 40 years are upset about it changing - but what's so wrong about change? The new businesses and people who come in are the ones who are going to bring change. The older generations will fade away, while the people who run the coffee bars and the restaurants - like it or not - will remain."

(Islington Gazette - 7,3.02). He's just one businessman but he is a New Deal Board Member.

New Deal is a government scheme to put money into inner city areas. The amounts of money are large in terms of local resources - £5M per year in Finsbury - though minimal in the bigger picture. Obviously the money does not come from anyone other than ourselves as taxpayers. The money is allocated by a New Deal Board. These have some locally elected members (who, it is hoped will be easily manipulated, whilst giving the appearance of community participation) and others drawn from "partners" such as the police or council and some local appointees. In Finsbury the IWCA decided to back local activists and won all the available seats - only one was contested. In a new twist for democracy the unsuccessful candidate managed to still make the board - as an appointee. A second election in early 2003 was more heavily contested - as the political parties put up front candidates but the IWCA continued to support the local activists who were ultimately successful. Getting involved in these structures is a new direction but it gave a much-needed boost to a community whose needs and views have been pushed aside over the last 20 years. It didn't do the IWCA any harm either.

In Shoreditch the IWCA worked with tenant activists to fight off proposals by the New Deal board there that would have led to estate sell-offs and, instead, pushed successfully for the money to be spent on refurbishing council flats. The New Deal organisation had their own paper which, together with the council's propaganda sheet (both paid for by you and me) attacked the activists and tenants organisations who were opposing sell-offs. The IWCA countered by distributing their own paper amongst local people. The New Deal realised the strength of opposition and tried to put forward a "preferred option" of demolishing 20% of council housing in the area. But when 100 angry tenants turned up at the board meeting they backed down. The New Deal was not intended to involve local people - the hope was that local representation would be tame, unrepresentative or easily outmanoeuvred. In Finsbury and Shoreditch the IWCA have helped people mobilise to take some degree of control.

Council housing sell-offs

Harwood Court is a rundown block on prime land that the council had been running down for some years. It was targeted for demolition. Working with the Tenants Association the IWCA talked to virtually all the tenants and established that rather than be moved out they simply wanted the repairs, services and security they are entitled to. Meetings were held and 90% of tenants signed a petition to the New Deal board making it very difficult to say that demolition was acceptable to them, and work has now started on some improvements.

Estate sell-offs is a major issue for both Hackney and Islington IWCA. As the prospect of blatant privatisation has become less welcome on the estates, the idea of Arms Length Management Organisations is being pushed. These are clearly bad for any real tenant control and also for the council's workforce. Given that most people who live on council estates will have a jaundiced view of the council's ability to run housing effectively, it is important that tenants realise what is going on. For those of you who don't understand ALMOs check where Islington IWCA have helpfully posted a Centre for Public Services report on ALMOs. More immediately, IWCA in Hackney were alerted to a "consultation" meeting where tenants on one estate were being asked if they favoured a private landlord or an ALMO. 40 tenants made it to the meeting- waving the IWCA leaflet demanding 'Option 3" (the one they hadn't been offered.)

Given what is happening in South Hackney it is no surprise that a major part of the IWCAs work there has been over housing. It has given them good contacts with tenants associations and respect and appreciation from the tenants themselves. This converted into a close second at the last local elections in the ward where they stood.

Local campaigns

One of the key features of the IWCA's work is the sheer hard work they put in. In Shoreditch a small group distributes 15,000 newsletters across estates - fortunately they now have contacts on many estates who will help out with this. However they also spend a lot of time talking to tenants about what issues concern them. Hackney IWCA carried out a survey - knocking on people's doors and asking them what they thought the important issues were… and since then have taken these issues up. A novel approach for any political organisation or movement - including - sadly, many of our own.

The action these issues have led to have not always been massively successful. An idea for promoting better street lighting, hassling the council to mend lights in areas where people felt unsafe did not get lots of people involved - though the lights in question were mended.

The IWCA's contacts made their involvement in a campaign to stop the closure of Laburnam School (in South Hackney) useful. Long-term contact made it easier to draw links between this, the closure of a local swimming pool, threats to a one o'clock dub and the overall move to exclude ordinary people from the area. They felt they could point to the bigger picture - of how the local authorities work with the City and how gentrification affects these decisions.

Other initiatives include Islington IWCA's support for a campaign by a family whose son, Christopher Pullen, had been killed when a steel door left on his estate fell on him while he was playing. Neither the council nor the Health and Safety Executive had taken their responsibility for this incident seriously. The campaign has centred around supporting his mother's attempts to see the authorities brought to account. Now the HSE are facing a judicial review of their failure to act. With luck this cannot now be swept under the carpet.

Hackney IWCA took on the cases of individual tenants facing eviction when they fell into arrears when their housing benefit was being mismanaged by the private firm IT net - at a time when due to cuts to the local advice centre many found it hard to get any representation or advice.

More happily Hackney IWCA organise shows in tenant's halls for children. Inspired by Blackburn Leys children's film club, these have been well attended. They showed Harry Potter which reflected the wishes of the children rather than the ideology of the local IWCA.

The lessons for anarchists

There is no compatible anarchist organisation doing the same sort of work. Only Haringey Solidarity Group has had the same level of involvement with community politics in recent times. However many anarchists are involved with Tenant's Associations, anti council sell off campaigns, local initiatives on saving schools, libraries or other resources, usually on a fairly individual basis. All too often, when one campaign ends that's it. Some contacts or friendships are made but the impetus is lost. However the IWCA approach is to support these initiatives as well as-providing a political perspective and some longer term sustainability. I think the approach of asking people what they want, what concerns them, is key to this. Some left wing militants are often seen as "parachuting in" - even when they have lived or worked in a community for many years. This is because ultimately their agenda is from outside that community.

On 28 July the IWCA moved on from their "pilot projects" and re-launched as a national organisation - with a website and manifesto. There aren't lots of local groups as yet - it certainly does not have the same national coverage as AFA ever at its lowest ebb. They intend to stand a candidate in the London Mayoral elections. This is obviously quite a gamble - their electoral success in Oxford and respectable showings elsewhere have come as a result of consistent intelligent hard work by local activists. At present they do not have the numbers - or the time - to have the same sort of impact across London.

Many anarchists may feel uneasy about the IWCA’s standing in elections - particularly for the London mayor. This article is not going to rerun arguments about elections or representation. However, even if they stood for Parliament, it would not write off the work that they have done in promoting working class self-activity and strengthening the idea and the practicality of working class resistance. Equally there are issues where their manifesto is totally silent - such as work place organisation. However the point is that what they are doing they have shown them-selves good at.

The sort of work the IWCA do is not "sexy" for some activists. This is not a bad thing. Firstly we need to ask why some activists describe political activity as "sexy" anyway. Secondly I think we are starting to see how unsustainable the "sexy" activist protest politics of the last few years has become. If there is to be any effective resistance to the state it has to be sustainable. The IWCA are not writing off direct action or confrontation but neither are they making promises they can't keep or threats they can't back up. In areas where there are IWCA groups it makes sense to work with them at whatever level works. What they are doing and promoting comes down to necessary self-defence. We have the same interests.

IWCA, BM 1734, London, WCiN 3XX

The IWCA in Hackney were alerted to a "consultation" meeting where tenants on one estate were being asked if they favoured a private landlord or an ALMO. 40 Tenants made it to the meeting- waving the IWCA leaflet demanding 'Option 3" (the one they hadn't been offered.)

Yes We Have No Bananas: Class and Sectarianism in Northern Ireland by T.J.

Black Flag article from the 2000s about class and other divisions in Northern Ireland / the six counties.

From my home in the north-east of England I can catch a flight to Belfast which will get me there quicker than one to London. When I've been to Belfast before I've seen things that remind me of home: shipyards, rolling hills, terraced houses, the bloody rain. When I'm there I spend the same currency, speak the same language, and drink the same beer. I perceive that I see, what I sense I see at home, a population made up of a mainly white working class with a heritage shaped by the industrial Revolution, modern capitalism and the British state. Yet I realise that there is more to Belfast than this. For well over twenty years I've read left-wing articles which have implored the Catholic and Protestant working class communities of the north of Ireland/six counties to 'open their eyes' and to thus see the true enemy — the bosses.

However, in the history of Belfast, class solidarity across the religious divide has only really happened twice, in 1907 and 1932. Why only twice, if it is so bleeding obvious who the 'true enemy' is? Are the working class of the north of Ireland stupid? Of course not. The reality for the majority of people in Belfast is that it is religious affiliation, although as much a quirk of fate as mine of being born English, which is generally more important than any feelings of class solidarity, even though the latter do definitely exist. Therefore, in the north of Ireland/six counties, a worldview may be created in which religious affiliation is seen as the crucial, central factor in life. Just as, to my eyes, and based on my life experience, class is the crucial central factor in my life. By looking at some aspects of Belfast's social history, this article sets out to explore some of my anglo-centric class (mis) conceptions. Firstly, a word about definitions. The terms nationalist, republican, and Catholic are often used interchangeably as are Protestant, unionist, and loyalist. These amalgamations can be too simplistic. For example, a 1994 survey showed that a quarter of Catholics want the Union preserved and could therefore be called unionists1. Furthermore, 'it is erroneous to suggest that Republicanism is Catholic in ethos, motivation and ambition’2 and the Catholic Church has often criticised Republicans. Also, the two communities can be described as representing two different Christian religious sects (Catholic and Protestant), two different nationalist views (Irish nationalist and British nationalists) and two different ethnic groups. Though whether any of these terms help with understanding is open to debate.

In comparison, the importance of Belfast within the history of the north of Ireland over the last 150 years cannot be overstated. It has been said that, ‘without the existence of Belfast it seems likely that Ireland would have been united and independent by 1920’3. Historically, Belfast saw the foundation of, amongst others, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, the Northern Ireland Labour Party, People's Democracy and it was here that the 100,000 strong Ulster Volunteer Force drilled before the First World War. Belfast was essentially a product of the Industrial Revolution, it had a significant working class, and Belfast has a long history of working class unrest and organisation. On the one hand some aspects could be viewed as positive. For example, one of the earliest Trades Union Congress meetings was held in Belfast, in 1893, in recognition of the importance of Belfast within the British labour movement. The 1907 Docks Strike, the first time that Catholics were unionised in significant numbers, saw Catholic and Protestant workers unite. At the height of the strike 100,000 marched on a demonstration in its support4. The strike led to rioting, the first and only mutiny by the Royal Irish Constabulary and thousands of troops on the streets of Belfast (not for the first time). Its main organiser, Jim Larkin, was an English Catholic, who employed the tactics of syndicalism. Posters of the time warned of the dark cloud of anarchy over Belfast and of 'Mercenary Anarchist Agitators'5. In 1919 an Engineers Strike saw 60,000 affected across Belfast in a dispute aimed at reducing the working week from 54 to 44 hours and only the presence of troops caused the strike to collapse6.

In 1932, at the height of the Depression, when a quarter of Belfast's workforce was unemployed7, an organisation called the Unemployed Workers Committee was formed. It included members of both the Catholic and Protestant working class of Belfast. A march in October 1932 attracted 60,000 people, led by a band that played the only non-sectarian tune they knew, 'Yes, we have no bananas'. The next day there were 7,000 in a subsequent march and serious rioting broke out8. Due to such disturbances, substantial increases in benefit were achieved and no further riots took place. However, once again working class unity between the communities was short-lived, as indicated by the severe sectarian riots of 19359.

Indeed there are several other aspects of Belfast's working class history which may be viewed negatively, and Belfast's history of segregation mirrored that of its surrounding region. For example, Protestant workers led sectarian riots and evicted Catholics10 with the result that, 'working class districts became entirely monoethnic’11. The majority of trade unionists in the shipyards and engineering industries of Belfast were skilled Protestant workers and were content to maintain their relatively privileged position. Furthermore, 'in 1892-3 the shipyard engineers were an essential element in the background of Unionist opposition to the threat of home rule'12. Thirty years later, in 1920, it was Protestant workers in the Belfast shipyards and engineering works who expelled all they considered ‘disloyal' meaning Catholics and socialists, the 'rotten Prods' as they were abusively called13. More recently, in 1974 the Ulster Workers Council, a body of Loyalist trades unionists, appeared and directed the general strike which brought down the power-sharing executive.

For these and other reasons, negative views of the entire working class of the north of Ireland have been put forward. For instance, one author describes 'the working classes of each side as the main carriers of the more conservative, irrational and extreme political philosophy, to be realised, if necessary, by violent means'. She continues by describing the requirement 'to modernise the working classes and thus obliterate their need to cling to their fundamentalist political and cultural values'14. Such a view of the working class as some dangerous animal, best caged and not stirred from its 'natural' position is not new, however to write off tens of thousands of individuals in such a way is arrogant.

Today, class remains important in the north of Ireland. Prior to the current 'Troubles' a major social survey noted that 39% of Catholic and Protestant respondents said they had more in common with people of their same class rather than those of the same religion15. Another large survey from 1997 showed that class politics are alive and well within both communities16. While Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) stated 'my Britishness is rooted in my sense of belonging to the wider British working class and its struggles and it is from the British working class movement that we take our political philosophy and perspective’17.

The two communities of Belfast have also tended to align themselves with two competing nationalisms. The nationalism of Belfast Protestants has been tied to ideas of British nationalism, which viewed itself as advanced, progressive and internationalist18. Further, being descended from, and part of, the same stock that had 'conquered' or 'civilised.' a huge part of the globe19 many Unionists saw themselves as a special people, superior and having a unique civilised culture20. These ideological differences were exaggerated by the fact that most Catholics in Belfast aligned themselves with Irish nationalism. Their perspectives were based on a sense of injustice at oppression and domination from Britain as well as a belief in the idea of self-determination for the people of Ireland. Importantly, the two competing nationalisms fed off each other. While differences between the two nationalisms were and remain important, it is also worth pointing out that the debate between them automatically downplays the concept of working class solidarity. Each nationalism 'has preached a community of class interests within the national group'21. When the issue of class was raised, 'the Protestant view was internationalist, characterising Irish nationalism as a backward-looking creed with no place in the strategy of the Irish working class. In the Catholic view this internationalism was "indistinguishable from imperialism" in that it ignored the colonial nature of the relationship between Ireland and England'22. Other authors would also argue that viewing the situation in terms of colonialism may provide understanding of the history of conflict in Northern Ireland23, 24.

As radical nationalism has always tended towards socialism25, so Irish nationalism, republicanism and the IRA have often found sympathy on the left. Jim Larkin and James Connolly added socialism to republicanism, while the IRA pronounced socialist ideals, especially in the 1930s and 1960s 26. A similar ideology can be seen in the pages of Sinn Fein's newspaper, where it has been stated that the 'objective of the republican movement is a socialist republic. Republicans cannot achieve equal citizenship or democracy under capitalism, where class, profit and exploitation prevail’27. It is also commonly accepted that, in general, Catholics were, and remain, discriminated against and the poorest in Northern Ireland28 so the socialist tradition of sympathy for the oppressed has meant that the left has inclined towards the Catholics of Northern Ireland. In turn it was recently shown that Catholics in Northern Ireland are more left-wing than Protestants29.

There is also a history linking unionists with right-wing ideology. There are the obvious links of Unionist clans to the British Conservative party, but there is evidence of fascist groups (Combat 18) being linked to loyalist para-militaries30. Such connections can lead to some left-wing commentators writing off the bulk of the Protestant working class of Belfast and the north of Ireland as reactionary31 or as dupes of the ruling class32 though other commentators are more sympathetic to the Protestant working class) 33 , 34. Indeed, some working class Belfast Protestants are proclaiming a class-based view. For example, David Ervine of the PUP has said that the 'politics of division see thousands of people dead, most of them working class'35. Conversely, it should be recognised that class conflict and ethnic conflict are not mutually exclusive and that 'ethnic militancy was not incompatible with class consciousness'36. Other authors have gone further and suggested that class consciousness and ethnic consciousness can be inseparable37.

In Northern Ireland the colonial relationship from plantation onwards was nurtured and sustained for four hundred years. With the Industrial Revolution, Belfast grew to be a major industrial centre within Britain and housed a significant working class community. Or more precisely, two separate working class communities. In discussing the issue of working class organisation in Belfast, it is important to be aware of any inherent bias. This author interprets events from an ideology in which class is a crucial factor. However, such a philosophy can entail an implicit belief in the 'naturalness’ of class consciousness compared with the 'divisiveness' of national consciousness38; of the authenticity of the class consciousness but the falseness of national consciousness as many on the left suggest39. However, this view is unlikely to be shared with a citizen of Belfast, where 'religious affiliation remains the best single predictor of party support and of attitudes to a range of politicised issues such as national identity and preferences about the constitutional status of Northern Ireland'40. Or, put another way `national identity assumes an importance in Northern Ireland not evident elsewhere in the United Kingdom'41 41. In a 'British' working class environment, poverty. industrial heritage, and a class-based analysis of the situation is not the full story. A little more understanding of the situation in the north of Ireland/six counties is needed.

By way of a conclusion

What I'm trying to say is that a lot of "our" left-wing theory which sees and interprets the world primarily or completely in terms of class, appears to me to be incomplete in a British city only 50 miles from Liverpool. If it is incomplete somewhere where people watch Coronation Street, follow both Premier Leagues and spend pounds in pubs, then how can we expect it to apply in places further away such as Gaza?

So no, I don't have any big conclusion about what to do next. Partly because any conclusion must be a product of collective discussion and work. Partly because the article comes from self-questioning and I aimed to pass on the results of that self-questioning, This is not to say that I've moved away from a class-based analysis, but I now feel that what I interpret as applying in Newcastle and Middlesbrough won't necessarily apply in Belfast or Derry, despite the huge similarities between these four British cities.

Ultimately, any theory must be informed by practice and vice versa. If our theory cannot handle complex issues without falling into the crudest class reductionism then we won't be taken seriously by the people we seek to influence. It also means that our practice will be flawed. Unless we understand reality we will never be able to change it.

  • 1. Breen, R. Who Wants a United Ireland/ Constitutional Preferences Among Catholics and Protestants in Breen, R., Devine, P. and Dodds, L, (eds) Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland: the Fifth Report, Appletree Press, Belfast, 1996,40-46
  • 2. Brewer. J. D, and Higgins, G.I. Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland, 1600-1998. MacMillan Press, Basingstoke, 1998, 162
  • 3. Hepburn. A. A Past Apart. Ulster Historical Foundation. Belfast-1996, 218
  • 4. Gray, J. City in Revolt. Blackstaff, Belfast, 1985. 205
  • 5. Gray, ibid, 84
  • 6. Patterson, H. Class Conflict and Sectarianism, Blackstaff Belfast, 1980, 92-114
  • 7. Maguire, W A. Belfast. Town and City Histories. Ryburn Publishing, Keele, 1993, 140
  • 8. Maguire, ibid, 141
  • 9. Maguire, ibid, 141
  • 10. Maguire, ibid. 90
  • 11. Hepburn. ibid. 149
  • 12. Maguire, ibid. 105
  • 13. Wichert, S. Northern Ireland since 1945, Addison Wesley Longman, Harlow, second edition, 1999,3
  • 14. Rose, R. Governing without Consensus. An Irish Perspective. Faber and Faber, London, 1971
  • 15. Rose, R. Governing without Consensus. An Irish Perspective. Faber and Faber, London, 1971
  • 16. Evans, U and Duffy, M. Beyond the Sectarian Divide,. the Social Bases and Political Consequences of Unionist and Nationalist Party Competition in Northern Ireland. British Journal of Political Science, 27, 47-81. 1997
  • 17. Quoted. in Brewer and Higgins. ibid. 44
  • 18. MacLaughlin, J. Theorising the Nation: 'Peoplehood' and 'Nationhood' as 'Historical happenings'. In Re-imagining the Nation-State. The Contested Terrains of Nation Building. Pluto Press, London, 2001.
  • 19. Mackenzie, J. Imperialism and Popular Culture. Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1986
  • 20. MacLaughlin. ibid
  • 21. Rumpf, E. and Hepburn, A. Nationalism and Socialism in Twentieth Century Ireland. Liverpool, 1977, 222
  • 22. Hepburn, ibid., 133
  • 23. Miller, D. Colonialism and academic representations of the troubles. In Miller, D. (ed), Rethinking Northern Ireland, Addison Wesley Longman, Harlow, 1998. 3-6
  • 24. Brewer and Higgins, ibid, 209-211
  • 25. Rumpf and Hepburn. ibid, 13
  • 26. Bishop. P and Mallie, E. The Provisional IRA Heinemann. 1987, 52, 70
  • 27. An Phoblacht, 1998 Accessed 10/12/2001.
  • 28. Duffy, M sad Evans,. U. Class, Community Polarisation and Politics. In Social Attitudes in Northern Ireland, the Sixth Report by Dowds, L., Devine, P. and Breen, R. Appletree Press, Belfast, 1997. Or at
  • 29. Duffy and Evans, ibid
  • 30. Guardian. 2000. Accessed 10/12/2001
  • 31. Douglass, D. A Progressive and Just Cause. Heavy Stuff. 5, 1994
  • 32. Black Flag. 218, 2000
  • 33. Morgan ,ibid
  • 34. Patterson, ibid
  • 35. quoted in Black Flag, ibid.
  • 36. Hepburn. ibid, 176
  • 37. MacLaughlin, ibid.
  • 38. MacLaughlin, ibid.
  • 39. Hobsbawm, E. 'Policing Classes sad Nations, Saothar, vol. 7. 1982
  • 40. Duffy and Evans, ibid
  • 41. Maxon-Browne, E. National Identity in Northern Ireland. In Social Attributes in Northern Ireland; the First Report by Stringer, P, and Robinson, G. Blackstaff Press, Belfast, 1991.
In 1932, at the height of the Depression, when a quarter of Belfast's workforce was unemployed, a marchof working class Catholics and Protestants attracted 60,000 people, led by a band that played the only non-sectarian tune they knew, ‘Yes, we have no bananas’.

Ditching The Olympics

A Black Flag article on resistance to the Olympic Games in Berlin and the Netherlands in the 1980s and 1990s.

London is bidding to host the 2012 Olympic Games. The official website announces proudly that "not only have the Government given strong backing to the bid, but the project has received cross party support in Parliament and from the business community". The residents of London's East End, where the Games are proposed to take place, on the other hand, haven't been asked. Nor are they likely to be.

Fluid - the company being paid a small fortune to consult the public on the 2012 Olympic bid recently confirmed that it would not be speaking to the public until its ‘masterplan' had been put in place! The company had only three months in which to carry out the consultation and submit its masterplan to the government, who must, in turn place full plans before the IOC by 15th January 2004. One month into their contract, no consultation had been carried out. In October 2003, Fluid still had no plans to hold any public meetings or to approach key members of local communities. Instead, plans have been discussed with invited guests behind closed doors.

The public will be presented, towards the end of the process in November, with a fait accompli. Public meetings, if Fluid can be bothered to hold them, at this stage will serve only to "ask us if we want it green or white, but not if we want it at all" (Chairwoman Hackney Marshes Users Group, Hackney Gazette 2/10/03). The bid is being sold to East Londoners as a means of regenerating a severely depressed and under-resourced area. But who is going to pay? Tessa Jowell and Ken Livingstone have agreed a £2.4billion funding package for the Games, with the actual bid costing around £17 million. The government have apparently put together "innovative funding schemes, including an Olympic Lottery and increases in council tax". Wow that really is innovative. And to really kick the boot in, Tessa Lowell says "I believe the cost should be borne at least in part by those who would most benefit". Which presumably is us...

The official website declares that "security is a priority. London is one of the world's safest major cities. So much so that the police routinely patrol without guns." Tell that to residents of 'shotgun mile' in Clapton, Hackney, where shootings happen on a depressingly regular basis. The website then boasts "the Metropolitan Police has unrivalled experience in managing large-scale events safely and unobtrusively, covering everything from traffic control to counter-terrorisms," How reassuring. If this is the picture that Ken and his friends want to paint for the IOC, then we could have a lot of fun disillusioning them. The articles to follow show how it can be done...

Dutch Courage?

During the campaign against the Amsterdam bid, activists found one of the most effective tactics was to counter each glossy pamphlet, each PR event, each bribe to the IOC with their own:

"Until October 17th, 1986, the day of the lOC's deciding vote, a minimal group of activists would succeed for at least two years in achieving the maximal media effect. The fact that ... the administrators had been using the candidacy for image improvement, which by definition belongs in the media sphere, made it possible to slay them with mere media presence. If the city had put all its money on, for example, the encouragement of sports in Holland, such ...(a) strategy would have been impossible... Unscrupulously they copied all the methods and techniques of the enemy foundation: the organiser's personal gift to the IOCers was followed by a bag of marijuana, received in the mail, with a letter signed Mayor Ed van Thijn: "After the South African diamonds, we're sending you something with which you can clear your mind. The Dutch Olympics Committee would like to acquaint you with one of the products of Amsterdam. We hope to exert a positive influence on your decision in this matter. Our national product can be obtained in five hundred legal sales outlets. Please don't be bothered by increasing opposition in Amsterdam"."

From 'Cracking the Movement' - Squatting beyond the media, Adilkno pps 133-135


This article, "How did the Anti Olympia Committee stop the Berlin Olympics", has been translated from the Granwacke Collective's "Autonomists in the Movement: from the 1st 23 years".

When US President Reagan visited Berlin In June 1987, he floated the Idea for an Olympic games in East and West Berlin. Stupid, we thought, just like his demand -"Mr Gorbachev tear down this wall!”... After the fall of the wall we were forced to take this idea seriously, when the Berlin Senate applied to host the games in 2000. The International Olympic Committee's decision was due in 1993.

Our starting point was different to other "Stop It" campaigns. We didn't want to focus on the actual event with actions and a huge demo on the first day - instead we wanted to stop the Games coming to Berlin at all. Because once the decision to give the games to Berlin was made, a whole lot of things would happen which we didn't want.

Restructuring (of the city) was always only a part of the issue for us, but it was the main push factor for the campaign. The examples of other host cities spoke volumes. The rents go up, tenants are forced cut and yuppification occurs. It's a great party for the City bosses and top bureaucrats - fuel for their "city policies". But there were other important reasons why we were opposed to the Olympics as a whole - which differentiated us from other groups and parties who often just argued that Berlin was "the wrong city at the wrong time".

The elitist history and practice of the Olympics was a first fundamental point of criticism, In the ancient Olympics only male nobles or (later) rich "citizens" were allowed to take part either as participants or observers. Only victory counted - nothing else. The revival of the Games in the late 19th century was by racist imperialists like Pierre Coubertin and excluded once again the great majority of the population. Amateurism meant that only those sportspeople who could afford to without payment could take part.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is a reactionary, antisemitic Brotherhood. As Fidel Castro put it "A mafia of white counts, princes and millionaires". Our opinion, which we put on a billboard in Mitte (central Berlin) was that "the IOC is a pigsty of corrupt, dope dealing mafia with a fascist leadership".

The hosting of the 1936 Games by the Nazis was another ground for our complete opposition. In every host city there has been, with varying levels of seventy, some sort of "clean up operation". Under the Nazis, Roma were sent to a concentration camp at Marzhan on the edge of the city. In Mexico City, shortly before the start of the 1968 Games, 300 people were murdered by security forces at an extra parliamentary opposition demo. In Los Angeles for the 1984 Games, homeless people were driven out from the city.

Elite, competitive sport is itself a copy of capitalism's system of competition - and is designed to propagate the dog eat dog ideology of individualism. The heightened state of security that accompanies any Olympic event requires not only thousands of coppers to keep people in line, but also an enforced mass consensus. A radical oppositional movement is, in this context, potentially even more irritating (for the state) and requires from them tough preventative action. The wider global political situation was for us, only the final dot on the in arguments against the spectacle of the Olympics in Berlin.

We started early, and by the beginning of '91 we were organising to build an "up for it" group. Our opponents weren't too far ahead then and the media were also slow to take up the issue. We needed stamina but had yet to recognise that the autonomist scene would only mobilise itself for the highlights and not for a sustained campaign that could last for two and a half years,

Nonetheless at the start it was an attempt at another "classic" Autonorne campaign. We only realised that we could sustain this campaign in the absence of a 'movement' in the relative lull of 1992. Before that we were convinced that this theme of the Olympics with all its aspects and sub themes needed to be taken up by a wide range of other groups, who would incorporate anti Olympic politics into their existing theory/practise.

So Antifascist groups would work around a critique of "Greater Germany" and the Olympics; Neighbourhood campaigns would take up the Olympics and urban restructuring, anti-sexist mens’ groups would discuss competitive sport and the competitive system and the Olympics etc. Our hopes and plans were that there would be many more similar link-ups without the need for any specific anti-Olympic group. In short, we wanted to gather together the existing (autonome) forces around the issue in order to strategically intervene and topple a central project of the Berlin Senate Government.

Opinion in the city was divided from the start. In none of the opinion polls was there ever a clear majority for the Olympic bid and scepticism in the population and the negative effect of 'Olympic mania' increased. We always thought we had a good chance of winning because we were seeking to influence a non-state decision making body (the IOC) in deciding between various host cities. A decision against Berlin would involve no loss of face for the IOC, nor would it be 'backing down' because of 'pressure from below', In this aspect it was very different to other campaigns we'd been involved in which directly threatened the state - because the state was always extremely reluctant to back down from any position - fearing this would mean the beginning of the end.

We began talks in the early summer of `91 with some people from the AL (the Greens in Berlin) and PDS (ex East German Communist Party) and so knew that there were people who would take part in certain types of mobilisation. Over the summer we prepared the ground for the first big action - the visit of the IOC executive in September '91 - through posters, meetings and discussions in Interim (the Berlin Autonomist magazine). The demo was two and a half thousand people strong and was quite feisty. After the demo people were still hanging around the Alexanderplatz (the main square in East Berlin) and a number of windows were put in and the French President Mitterand's (who happened to be visiting) limo was given a free panel beating.

After this came a long silence. There were many things which people had to take care of. The fascists were on the move, most horrifically in the Hoyerswerda and Rostock pogroms against refugees. All the same, there were some nice Volxsport1 actions e.g. In January '92 the "Lutz Gruttke" commando (named after the first Olympic hid chief who was sacked because of incompetence) kidnapped a memorial plaque for the Nazi sports administrator Carli Dieu from the 1936 Olympic Stadium Memorial. Among the ransom demands were the withdrawal of the bid for the 2000 and all future Olympic Games. The TV news from RTL humourlessly hyped this as "Anti Olympic activists blackmail the senate".

In February, we tried to make a routine Senate presentation more interesting through a mobilisation of activists. But only 80 people came. A couple of us got into the Hall, stopped the Minister for Construction's speech and managed to throw some leaflets giving our opinion on the issue.. until some undercover cops firmly invited us to leave the hall. We were frustrated by this flop and began to think over what we were doing and to broaden our ideas on what could be done in the future.

By now we had realised that “bad press was good news". The more the terribleness of the anti-Olympic activists was hyped up, the more the bigwigs of the IOC would get the idea that Berlin was an unreliable candidate in terms of security and that there was a halfway active resistance. We added to our plans the tactic of image damage. Using the model of the Amsterdam anti-Olympic campaign who'd sunk their bid for the 1992 Games in 1986 we operated as a small but beautiful "communications guerrilla".

This was not restricted to our small group, a video made by the then Green politician Judith Demba, and other activities fed into this new way of working. The video wasn't particularly spectacular, but the final scene was used by many TV programmes - a balancing activist juggles a stone and then puts a finger up at an imaginary IOC member..."We wait for you".

Image damage meant that every report about resistance and problems for the bid was in our terms good news. So for example in Amsterdam, tourist boats were attacked as a media stunt - not because they had much against tourists, but rather because it created headlines which damaged the bid. Opportunities for creativity were boundless - so for example, a fake autonomist “strategy paper" was "leaked" to the national press and city parliament. The paper itself was a boring set of rehashed old ideas, but the effect nonetheless, was immense. CM) representatives foamed at the mouth ("...Fire-bombings! Lady and Gentlemen representatives..."), the press fumed, autonomes smirked and the IOC was bewildered.

Image damage was a deciding factor -the Senate was powerless to stop it. When Diepagen (the leader of the Berlin Senate) tried to play down the actions, the international press asked if his casual attitude was because street battles and other volxsport actions were normal here. And when the press hyped it up as usual, this damaged the bid too.

From the start of 1993 we heightened targeted pressure on the IOC and its members. At the end of January we were in Lausanne (the Swiss LOC Headquarters) at the official presentation of the bid. The IOC confused the official delegation with two anti-Olympic politicians. At night a bit of colour was added to the IOC Headquarters - to tremendous effect - Marc Hinder from the IOC said "We won't vote for cities what besmirch our building...".

We offered each IOC member a bribe of $1 - only 7 sent them back so the rest were clearly buyable. A second trip to Lausanne in June ended up with IOC boss Samaranch getting paint bombed... and visits to the local nick for many. A glossy brochure for all of the IOC members detailing the advantages of riot capital Kreuzberg (a suburb of Berlin) was sent shortly before the vote in September - to some effect.

In April and September 1993 there were mass demos of fifteen to twenty thousand people in Berlin - as well as a growing number of militant actions against sponsors and others - the spice in a successful campaign soup. True to the "Strategy Paper", there were three levels of activity. The official coalition (Berlin Anti Olympic Committee - BAK), the autonomist AOK and the rapidly increasing number of night-time volxsport activists. The only annoying people were those from the PDS and the Greens who only participated in preparing for the mass demos and managed even to annoy their own members.

Otherwise the division of work was accepted - we provided the demo infra-structure and had a free hand in terms of action - whilst the parties would talk to the media. This worked so well that at the last press conference the autonomist representative could say, without contradiction from the PDS, Greens and SPD youth – "Arson attacks (without danger to people) are an integral part of the anti-Olympic campaign".

At the vote on 23rd September 1993, Berlin got just 9 votes and got kicked out just after Istanbul. This was broadcast live on the Oberbaum bridge (by Kreuzberg and Griedrichsshain) where over one thousand people celebrated.

  • 1. Literally "people’s sports” – but with undertones of (unarmed) guerrilla actions.
We didn't want to focus on the actual event with actions and a huge demo on the first day - Instead we wanted to stop the Games coming to Berlin at all. Because once the decision to give the games to Berlin was made, a whole lot of things would happen which we didn't want.

Democracy is… Undemocratic

One of the strangest arguments against anarchist ways of organising is that they are "undemocratic." This argument Is usually associated with Trotskyists. As It crops up with regular frequency, it is worthwhile to discuss this accusation in detail.

An article from Black Flag in 2003.

Anarchists are for federations of self-managed groups. This means that the group membership decides policy directly at open meetings, Anyone delegated from that group to do specified tasks or to attend a federal meeting is given a strict and binding mandate. Failure to implement that agreed mandate means that the delegate is instantly replaced. In this way power remains in the hands of all and decisions flow from the bottom up. Anyone placed into a position of responsibility is held accountable to the membership and any attempt to usurp power from the grassroots is stopped.

Such forms of organisation do not a spring from the brains of a few anarchist thinkers, independently of working class struggle. The idea of strict and accountable mandates can be found in the works of Bakunin and Proudhon after both became active in working class struggle. Proudhon raised the idea during the 1848 revolution, while Bakunin talked about it after becoming active in the struggles of the International Workers' Association in Switzerland. So these ideas were developed within the class struggle itself, often spontaneously. For example, both the Paris Commune and Russian Soviets implemented a system of imperative mandates.

Anarchists have long argued that we should organise in ways that prefigure the kind of society we want. We often call this "building the new world in the shell of the old.” Moreover, in anarchist theory, the class struggle is the link between capitalism and any future libertarian socialist society. We start to build the structures of the free society when we fight against capitalism. In support of our arguments we point to the unions, factory committees, workers' councils, collectives, community assemblies and other popular organisations which have been created during numerous revolts and revolutions which have later become the structural basis for post-revolutionary working class management of society (before being undermined or destroyed by either the bourgeois or so-called workers' states).

This means that the way we organise today is important to anarchists. We only become capable of managing society if we make our own decisions and directly manage our own struggles and organisations today. Self-management today is the foundation for the self-managed socialist society of tomorrow.

Others disagree. They say that anarchism is "undemocratic," They argue that while anarchist groups are, in theory, directly democratic, in practice a few leaders still call the shots without being accountable. It is still a leadership except it is not democratically decided and would be taken up by those with the most time, charisma, experience etc. Because not all activists can attend all activist meetings, it is argued, a lot of decisions are made at meetings with low attendance. A hierarchy exists, masked by fine sounding rhetoric. Worse still, there is no structure to change the leadership that exists under the surface. Would it not, ask the critics, be far more democratic if some people were elected to regularly meet and do essential work and then hold these elected people accountable in general meeting that everyone can attend?

Does this proposed "democratic" solution sound familiar? Well it is. It is representative democracy, a basic principle of liberal bourgeois ideology. That self-proclaimed socialists should be seeking to reproduce one of the principles of capitalist politics into anti-capitalist movements might seem strange to anarchists. Moreover, the influence of those with the most time, charisma, experience, etc will be, at best, as strong in a representative democratic group as in a directly democratic group. Why does this render only the latter "undemocratic"? And, in practice, this problem will be far worse in representative groups. Would-be leaders are likely to use all their skills and ability to get elected, making use of their charisma, experience, resources and time to sway voters to give them power. The key difference is that the voters would not be in a position to question these "leaders" when the decisions were actually being made. They would simply be left with a fait accompli, being reduced to simply trying to find better leaders next time. In representative democracy decisions are not make by the whole group, but rather by a few leaders who may, or may not, have been elected by a majority.

Look at the UK. Tony Blair was elected by a quarter of the population. Most recently, he ignored the clear wishes of the majority and attacked Iraq. Is that really more "democratic" than self-management?

In response it will be argued that leaders will be held accountable more frequently to the group than is the case in current parliamentary politics. But this "solution" raises more problems than it solves. After all, how can the group hold these elected people accountable unless they meet to evaluate their leaders’ decisions? And if they are able to evaluate the decisions made for them at such meetings, surely they are capable of making the decisions in the first place?

And what enticement is there for people to attend infrequent "'general meetings”,- where all they do is elect leaders? The example of apathy within the trade union movement, were members rarely turn up to meetings, seems appropriate here. Why assume new hierarchical organisations will not have the same problems as existing ones? And, of course, between elections those elected leaders with the most time charisma, experience, etc., will be applying them within the small minority elected to the representative committee. Why is this not labelled "undemocratic"? If self-management is "undemocratic" when applied to the base of an organisation, why does it become "democratic" at the top? There is no logical reason why it should and so the leadership faces the exact same problem. To overcome it in the leadership group there can be only one solution, namely to concentrate all power into the hands of one person…

In summary, therefore, we can say that the self-proclaimed democrats are wrong. Rather than anarchism being undemocratic, it is representative democracy that is so. Their "far more democratic" organisation simply empowers a few leaders at the expense of the rest, whose job is to pick who will tell them what to do until the next election. At best, the arguments against direct democracy are applicable to representative democracy. At worse, they are far more applicable to a hierarchical system than a non-hierarchical one.

This is an age-old debate. During the American and French revolutions self-managed popular assemblies were created in many towns and cities. The wealthy were horrified by this participation of the many in society's affairs. They consistently favoured representative democracy over direct democracy and delegates. They did so to reduce participation and ensure minority class rule. Today, in Argentina politicians are calling the popular assemblies "undemocratic." Self-proclaimed socialists are, together with bourgeois politicians, advocating a structure explicitly designed to restrict mass working class participation in social decision making. Is this a coincidence? Perhaps not, as the aim of Trotskyism is, after all, for the party to seize power on behalf of the masses. To quote Lenin:

"the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised through an organisation embracing the whole of the class, because in all capitalist countries... the proletariat is still so divided, so degraded, and so corrupted in parts… that an organisation taking in the whole proletariat cannot directly exercise proletarian dictatorship. It can be exercised only by a vanguard... for the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised by a mass proletarian organisation."

Trotsky held this Bolshevik truism until his death, repeatedly arguing in favour of party dictatorship over the working class.

“The very same masses," he argued in 1939, 'are at different times inspired by different moods and objectives. It is just for this reason that a centralised organisation of the vanguard is indispensable. Only a party, wielding the authority it has won, is capable of overcoming the vacillation of the masses themselves."

And yet they call anarchism "undemocratic" for advocating and implementing participatory decision making in the revolutionary struggle! These opinions, needless to say, have not stopped his followers claiming that Trotsky or his ideas were democratic. If working class people are deemed incapable of running the future socialist society directly, then why expect Trotskyists to support self-management in the struggle today? Or, for that matter, within their own parties? With regards to whether the referendum could be used as a means of setting policy within the party, Trotsky argued that it was "not possible to answer this question except in the negative." He goes on to argue that "whoever is in favour of a referendum must be in favour of imperative mandates," While allowing the right for locals to vote on "every question" he considered it right that the representatives could ignore that decision as they had "the right to weigh all the arguments" made at the party conference. The party members only had the right to "subsequently deprive him of its political confidence" while implementing the decisions they had no part in determining, either at conference or subsequently.

Compare this to Marx who praised the Communards of 1871 for implementing the "imperative mandate". Today his modern followers pay lip service to that idea while, in practice, dismissing it as "undemocratic." Now, why would Trotskyists oppose a form of decision making praised by Marx? Could it be because they, just like the bourgeois politicians, are aware that it stops, to quote Engels, the "transformation of the state and the organs of the state from servants of society into roasters of society"? Why should self-proclaimed socialists be so against self-management, calling it "undemocratic”, while, at the same time, subscribing to a organisation structure which places power into the hands of a few? The answer seems all too plain.

Look at the UK. Tony Blair was elected by a quarter of the population. Most recently, he ignored the clear wishes of the majority and attacked Iraq. Is that really more "democratic" than self-management?

Book Reviews - Black Flag #223 (2003)

Book reviews from Black Flag #223 (2003).

by John Barker (Christie Books)

Older readers may well remember the Angry Brigade trial in 1971. John Barker made a famous defence at the trial, and later remarked that “they fitted up a guilty roan". In his preface Barker calls this book "an unsentimental celebration of the class spirit of many cons" as well as an "obviously selective account" of his first stretch inside. Necessarily so, as the boredom involved would have detracted from a fascinating, humorous book. What you get is a chronological collage of the jails he was in, the mates he made, and their refracted perspectives on what was going on outside. It starts with his period on remand, and that first experience of the cons exercising collective power by having a sit-down in Brixton prison.

The 1970s had a lot more going on in terms of everyday politics than now, and this is reflected in the level of consciousness generally among the cons, and the events going on outside. The Hull prison riot particularly energises them. Barker tells of his own experiences, like his first acid trip or the toy rat his mates or the outside send him. When Irish republican prisoners start arriving in the English prison system, he finds much to share with them. In this selective account, it's the spirit of resistance and the imagination the prisoners use to fight back that shines through.

Most of the book is in dialogue form, which is worth elaborating on. Unlike many autobiographical writings which paint the author as a hero who was largely right a lot of the time, Barker knows he is a human. He has a different political consciousness to most of the other cons, but he never pretends it makes him better. He might understand the theory of the class nature of prisons, but all inside are experiencing it. That he gives space to all at times makes the book harder to read, but the value in hearing all those normally-silenced voices makes up for it. Some of the cons' strategies for coping are clearly of their time (obsession with Erik von Danikin's spaceships, for example) but this is like good oral history. If I have a criticism, it's that at £12 this is quite a whack for a book of just over 100 pages. It's written in an informal style and is thus unlikely to feature in many "Best of" lists of prison memoirs, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Martin H

Edited by Anna Key, ISBN 1-873605-13-7. (Kate Sharpley Library, 2003)

This pamphlet presents 110 years of anti-militarist propaganda, from Spain's last imperialist adventure in 1893, through the First World War right up to the 'War on Terror'. It includes Randolph Bourne's classic analysis of why war is the 'health of the state' and a recent dissection of the myths of Rememberance Day.

Libertarians have opposed the armed forces as the ultimate prop of the state, a pool of scab labour and the place where the authority principle (orders, not logic) runs rampant. Anarchists have always argued that the alternative to dying for our leaders is fighting for a new world. There's a brief glimpse of how this looks in practice, from the Ukraine's Makhnovist insurgents to Spain's revolutionary militias.

Libertarian anti-militarists don't want the kind of peace that is only a breathing space between wars but peace from below. To get all leaders and bosses off our backs, no war but the class war will do!

by Gordon Carr

“You can't reform profit capitalism and inhumanity. Just kick it till it breaks.” - Angry Brigade, communique 8

Between 1970 and 1972 the Angry Brigade used guns and bombs in a series of symbolic attacks against property, A series of communiques accompanied the actions, explaining the choice of targets and the Angry Brigade philosophy: autonomous organisation and attacks on property alongside other forms of militant working class action. Targets included the embassies of repressive regimes, police stations and army barracks, boutiques and factories, government departments and the homes of Cabinet ministers, the Attorney General and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

These attacks on the homes of senior political figures increased the pressure for results and brought an avalanche of police raids. From the start the police were faced with the difficulty of getting to grips with a section of society they found totally alien. And were they facing an organisation or an idea? This book covers the roots of the Angry Brigade in the revolutionary ferment of the 1960s, and follows their campaign and the police investigation to its culmination in the ‘Stoke Newington 8' conspiracy trial at the Old Bailey - the longest criminal trial in British legal history.

Gordon Carr produced the BBC documentary on the Angry Brigade and followed it up with this book. Written after extensive research - among both the libertarian opposition and the police - it remains the essential study of Britain's first urban guerrilla group. This expanded edition contains a comprehensive chronology of the 'Angry Decade', extra illustrations and a police view of the Angry Brigade. Introductions by Stuart Christie and John Barker (two of the 'Stoke Newington 8' defendants) discuss the Angry Brigade in the political and social context of its times - and its longer-term significance.

Peter Glassgold (editor), (Counterpoint Washington)

Emma Goldman is, rightly, considered a key figure in US anarchist history. You need only read "Anarchism and Other Essays" or "Red Emma Speaks" to see that she was an important thinker, able to discuss clearly and convincingly on a host of subjects. From 1906 to 1917, she helped produce the legendary Journal "Mother Earth."

Whilst the journal is often referred to, archive material from the magazine is hard to find. A few essays by Goldman can be found in the above-mentioned books but that was it, until now. Peter Glassgold must be congratulated for taking the time to go through over a decade of issues to cull this excellent anthology. It contains articles by anarchists on a wide range of subjects, with contributors including lesser known comrades to such notable anarchists as Goldman herself, Peter Kropotkin, Alexander Berkman and Voltairine de Cleyre (and given the lack of material by the latter two, this makes this book doubly valuable).

All the articles are well written and till enthralling, Reading this anthology makes it clear why the name Mother Earth is still mentioned nearly one hundred years on. It is anarchist publishing at its best and a great contribution to the development and spreading of anarchist ideas. You can understand why the US government suppressed it and exiled Goldman and Berkman!

The anthology itself is broken up into five sections: "Anarchism," "The Woman Question," "Literature,' "Civil Liberties" and “The Social War," Each has important articles, the great bulk of which are unavailable anywhere else. Voltairine de Cleyre writes about the Paris Commune, the Philadelphia General Strike and the Mexican revolution; Goldman discusses the Russian revolution, atheism and feminism; Berkman defends anarchist internationalism, anti-imperialism and anti-militarism against Kropotkin and his support of the allies in the First World War; Max Baginski argues for anarchist methods to be applied in the labour movement; Kropotkin writes on Mutual Aid and the failure of prisons. All this and so much more.

A powerful collection of essays which not only shows the validity of anarchist ideas but will inspire readers today. It is an essential work for all anarchists who seek to know the history of their movement and use that knowledge to build upon and surpass past glories.

By Tony Allen (Gothic Image Publications)

Tony Allen Is probably best known as the grandfather of alter-native cabaret. His book Is part biography, part history, part comedy manual and part analysis.

In his book, Tony Allen is concerned with how comedy differs from theatre by demolishing the "fourth wall", the shared deceit of acting. This relationship to the audience is what Allen argues characterises performance and his book is called Attitude because attitude is what a performer needs to make that relationship work.

Early on, it becomes clear that Allen likes to play to his home crowd, as his particular political humour requires an understanding of the subculture it springs from. He mentions that one of the crucial differences between an anarcho-squatter audience and a lefty one is that lefties don't like anti-work jokes. (Another thing they have in common with bosses).

The most enjoyable parts for me are the tales of creating Alternative Cabaret and what it was like at the early Comedy Store shows. That stand-up comedy is today dominated by lads retelling knob jokes and professional patter merchants on a corporate circuit obscures the break that comics of Allen's generation made with the past. Allen himself is keen not to overstate the role of Alternative Cabaret, noting that the rise of the raconteur style of comedians meant that personal authorship became the norm, therefore comics couldn't hide behind the argument that it was only a joke. I get the feeling that Allen would rather see performers challenging themselves and the audience in the process of being funny, rather than entertainment being an end in itself. Even his descriptions of clowning have a political edge to them, albeit an edge that is only visible if you accept that personal behaviour is political, and that play is subversive.

The book is humorous and made me laugh out loud several times, but it's not uniformly funny and certain references are very specific to the squatting scene. It’s in the nature of comedy that some parts are already dated, like the famous chemistry on "Have I Got News For You” Yes, it was there, but it ain't no more! He is scathing on the laziness of comedians doing a weekly topical show at the Comedy Store. I stopped going to comedy shows because they failed to excite me any more and don't think things have changed a lot since then. Perhaps most interesting is where he sees the current mirror of the energy and radicalism from the late seventies/early eighties' scene: spoken word, a performance form that goes under the sinister alias of poetry. A couple of reviews illustrate the power that contemporary spoken word has, and made me want to check it out, so it's fulfilled at least one part of its purpose.

Not for the humourless, but well worth a read if you've ever considered getting up on stage and literally making a fool of yourself.

Martin H

Bullshit Detector

A Review of May '68 and its Afterlives' by Kristin Ross
University of Chicago Press, 2002. ISBN 0-226-727971- 527.50

The events of May 1968 in Paris are one of the great legacies of the sixties. They show that no matter what concessions are made to create social peace (bigger cages, longer chains) revolution still has plenty to offer; and not just to groups of political nit-pickers. Whole swathes of people can get up and say 'Enough of this! We want to live!' Such inspiring examples, when too large to be ignored, have to be explained away. The rivers of ink which have been used to try and blot out this significance are the subject of May '68 and its Afterlives.

This is an academic book, and the author's not afraid to come out with lines like this: "Liberation: would play a central role in producing and circulating the tropes and images through which May came progressively to be transcoded.” (page 116) Thankfully, most of the bock is clearer than that. If this book has a sound, it's the sound of an axe being sharpened, rather than someone applauding their own cleverness. Ross has her axe out for accounts of May'68 which attempt to portray it as a high-spirited tea party rather than a revolutionary situation, or paint it as the growing pains of capitalism, not an attempt to destroy it. It's important because it reveals the agenda of those who focus on students in Paris in May and sweep under the carpet the unruly workers all across France - before and after May. All history runs the risk of getting tangled in myth, and it's very pleasing to see the process of deliberate falsification and its purpose laid bare. Make no mistake, the neo-Liberal fuckers are just as bad as the Stalinists.

Anarchists would do well to read this since the examination of the 'prehistory' may challenge a few myths of the ‘Situationists paint great slogans on walls, and Paris erupts' type. But the greatest strength of this book is that it gives some sense of the liberation people felt, freed from being bounced between working and consuming, able to get on with living - a yawning gap opening up between the-world-as-it-is and the-world-as-it-could-be. My favourite example of this is the origins of those famous posters: the artists first produced some to sell to support the -movement. These were taken off them and fly-posted: art goes immediately from being just another commodity to something useful. The discussion of the political process during the ferment of May plays up the importance of equality, direct democracy and self-management. It also explains the role of capitalism's expert 'loyal opposition' the unions and Communist Party in the destruction of the movement and that of 'expert' historians and ex-militants (poachers turned gamekeepers) in making sure the idea of liberation stays dead.

“Anonymous militants, neither celebrities nor martyrs, people embedded at the time in the texture of everyday neighbourhood grassroots activity - these are the voices that by the mid 1980s had all but disappeared from any version of ‘68, eclipsed by those who had become the post facto stars, leaders and spokesmen for the movement.” (page 143).

This is not a study of the events of May themselves - there are no pictures of barricades - but it is a great mental detonator to encourage us to look at them and their meaning. Hopefully next time well remember that every-thing must change and that the privileges of experts - even experts of revolution or social change - are trouble waiting to happen.