Black Flag 206 (1995) partial

Partial selection of contents from Black Flag magazine issue 206, published in 1995.

Cover image courtesy of Anarcho Covers.


An interview with the Awareness League of Nigeria, 1994

Here we publish extracts of an interview with Samuel, General Secretary of the Awareness League, the newest section of the International Workers Association, the anarcho-syndicalist international. The interview took place in Spain in August 1994, and is translated from "Le Combat Syndicaliste".

Mona: Do you think there is a real danger of civil war in Nigeria? Is there any chance for free elections to take place?
Samuel: The way things are developing there is a real danger of civil war. You must remember that Nigeria has already been through a civil war, between 1967-70, when the east of the country proclaimed independence as the Republic of Biafra. All the elements of that crisis are present today;
A. The controversial federal elections of 1964 and the annulled presidential elections of 1993.
B: The trial and imprisonment for treason of one of the leaders of the opposition in the sixties, and the same thing today with Abiola.
C: The military coup in 66, strong possibilities of a coup in the near future.
D: The secesson of the east in 67. The West and some ethnic groups in the east are demanding a confederation with regional armies.
War isn't inevitable. We still remember the lesson we were taught in 67. Furthermore if internal and external pressure can force the army to surrender power in the next six months, atht ought to prevent the catastrophe.
As for the elections, the experience under Babangida's regime shows we cannot trust the military [..]

Mona: Does the Awareness League take part in the strikes, and in what ways?
Samuel: Yes our members are involved in the strikes. Principally our membership are civil servants, students, professors, university teachers, journalists and other activists on the left. There is a national strike in the Universities, which our militants participate in and certain public services are also on strike where our militants are active. Many of the head offices of the newspapers are closed and occupied by soldiers, but our militants are still present.

Mona: What is the position of the AL towards the elections?
Samuel: The elections for President on 12th June 1993 were between Moshood Abiola (candidate of the Social Democratic Party) and Bashir Tofa, candidate of the right and also of the army. All progressive groups, unions, pro-democracy organisations and left organisations, including AL, supported the candidate of the SDP. This action was a vote against the Army. The AL believe that installing a government of the centre left is a minimal condition for the development and propagation of anarcho-syndicalist struggle. (See Black Flag 203 for more analysis on this.)

Mona: Do you co-operate with other organisations in Nigeria and Africa?
Samuel: The AL collabarate with movements for human rights, with the Campaign for Democracy, even though we are not members of them. There is a new organisation which is being formed called the Left Coalition, in which AL participates. Our next congress must ratify this choice.
We have tried to establish, without success, contacts with left oriented and anarchist organisations from other countries in Africa, particularly South Africa.

Mona: What are the AL's fields of activity? To which social groups and professions do your members belong?
Samuel: Our activities are mainly in the field of workers in education, and our work is propaganda and mobilisation. [..]

Mona: Are there any women in the AL and what are their activities?
Samuel: Unfortunately, there are very few women in the AL. That is because of the structure of African society, where women rarely play a part in political activities. The vast majority of women do not benefit from the education system [..] We must do much work in raising the consciousness of women. [..]

[i] Translation: Signe
Published in Black Flag #206 Autumn 1995 [/i]

Interview with Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin from 1995

Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin interview
(originally published in Black Flag #206, Autumn 1995)

Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin's story could have come out of the pages of fiction. The fact that we were privileged to hear him speak and interview him is easily the best thing to come out of the "Ten Days" debacle. Even Ian Bone admitted that at least it was worth it to "get Lorenzo over here".

However, Lorenzo's visit is a classic case of how not to organise a speaking tour by a foreign comrade. It was shameful that it wasn't until three days before his departure that he got his full fare refunded to him. Equally, he had to fill in for so many other advertised but absent speakers it did not present a good view of what anarchists in Britain are capable of. Fortunately, speaking is something Lorenzo not only enjoys, but is very good at.

As you will read in the interview, Lorenzo isn't interested in being a "token black" to soothe white anarchists' guilt about there being so few black anarchists. He was keen to meet black workers and activists and discuss anarchism with them. It was only on the last day he was in London that he got the chance, when he met members of the independent Panther group. Although he had differences with them, he came away impressed with their clarity, vision and sense of purpose. He had also hoped to meet Newham Monitoring Project but it didn't come off.

He has been invited back and we need to ensure that this time, both Lorenzo, and the anarchist movement as a whole, reaps full benefit.

BF: How dd you first become active politically?
LKE: Well, I got active in the civil rights movement of the early 60s, particularly the sit-in movement. This started in Greensboro in 1960 and came quickly to a number of other cities, including Chattanooga, my home town. I was a grassroots youth radicalised by these activities.
Out of that agitation, the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC) was born. SNC was creted after most of the sit-ins had started. Ella Baker, Secretary of Dr Martin Luther King, recognised how important the sit-ins were and that the adult movement hadn't done anything in a while. She called a mass meeting in South Carolina, which was attended by 300 black southern activists and 200 white activists and observers. SNCC was originaly meant to be a way of co-ordinating these struggles.

It went on to become a unique organisation. It was anti-authoritarian in that it had no leadership (certainly not at the beginning). Power was in the hands of the membership and grassroots organisers. It was exceptional in that it did not emphasis charismatic leadership, but instead field organisers went into communities and built autonomous organisations. Field organisers would develop a person or persons who already commanded respect in the community into local leaders and subsequently back out, unless asked for support or advice. These were generally the SNCC methods throughout the south.

It was also unique in that it was secular, though in the early stages there were people who were motivated by Christian doctrine. SNCC won many of the major victories that have been credited to others, particularly King. This myth is to build faith in the government and belief in leadership, when in fact the masses make the struggle and the revolution.

Even in Montgomery Alabama, King was picked to be the public face of the struggle by E.D.Nixon, who was the local organiser. Nixon planned the bus boycott, but his important role has been lost to history. He was a grassroots activist, unlike most at the time who were middle class. The struggle lasted over a year, and the mases made it win.

BF: How did you go from SNCC to the Panthers? It seems like a big leap because of the non-violence of SNCC?
LKE: SNCC laid the grounds for the Panthers. SNCC lasted ten years, but in 1966 started to reassess the struggle. The phrase "Black Power" came through SNCC, and SNCC wasn't a non-violent organisation. It saw non-violence as a tactic not a principle. When SNCC met Malcolm X he impressed upon them the need for armed self defence. SNCC also agitated for local communities to be armed to repel racist attacks and police brutality.

In SNCC's Black Power phase there was more chance of black revolutionary tactics. But most of SNCC came from the black middle class and most had very little association with black workers, which is why they made the mistake of redirecting their energies away from their base in the south towards the north and the west. This changed the politics and made the organisation weaker.

Ideologically,SNCC provided the politics of armed self defence and the symbols (the black panther was originally from the SNCC chapter in Lowndes County, Alabama) to the Black Panther Party (BPP). In 1967 the BPP and SNCC merged and memberships united. I used to sell the Black Panther paper and consider myself a member. The merger was short-lived, and while it lasted the BPP felt SNCC should be its southern wing and didn't organise chapters in the South until the 70s.

SNCC had won most of the civil rights gains - voting, freedom rides, desegregation. In 1966 it analysed that racism and economic inequalities still existed, and that the Vietnam War, with its increasing number of black dead, were political issues they had to come out against. This attracted the BPP.

The alliance died because there were two different kinds of organisations. SNCC was anti-authoritarian and only changed after it got weaker. The BPP fell apart because of government subversion and leadership egos, SNCC just faded away.

The BPP were one of several Black Panther Parties - originally from Oakland in the Bay Area. They came to the fore because they had a more advanced programme and were able to dramatise their actions. The BPP was made up of grassroots youth while the other groups were middle class. Huey Newton was a good organiser and a brave individual. The BPP had a different class composition and a different kind of style - hard language, direct talk and encouraging resistance to the "pigs".

The local BPP attracted members and I stayed in from SNCC. I was isolated because they didn't really build in the south at that time, except for New Orleans. The BPP had an advanced social programe but in the first few years it was mainly military confrontations with the police.

Then they became a political party - part of the world black revolution - denounced the black bourgeoisie and called for new black struggles. They implemented "survival programmes" before the welfare state started by the federal government, which won them respect. This included "Breakfast for Children" Programme, which served breakfast across 40 chapters. They provided free clothing, shoes and medical care. The BPP captivated most of the US left and influenced their programmes. Some formed Panther style organisations like the Brown Berets (Chicanos), the Puerto Rican Young Lords, the Y Ching (in San Francisco) and some white radical groups, like Rising Up Angry in Chicago, and the White Panther Party in Michigan. Even today the idea of a Panther is someone who is resolute and would fight for their rights against the state.

However, there were internal probems, such as the tight leadership, who were also tightfisted. There was a division between cadres and leaders. There were abuses of women and of individual members for idiotic reasons. Police informers got in and even committed murders. What really killed the BPP was military and police action. The COINTELPRO conspiracy murdered at least 39 members of the BPP as well as other black militants, and jailed hundreds. People were summoned before grand juries.There was a legal, political and police offensive which disrupted the Party's work. Funds were diverted from the programmes into legal defence and bail.

This came down on me. Rebellion took place in Chattanooga. I was summoned to testify before a grand jury and refused. I'd been harassed for some time - this was another in a long line. I could have been jailed for five years, and the local jail was a chain gang- no way. I left the City for Atlanta hoping it'd just blow over. But the FBI got involved and circulated bulletins nationwide giving shoot to kill orders, so I had to get out of the country.

There had been some hijackings to Cuba. I got a gun, went to the airport, took over the plane and flew to Cuba. The Cuban authorities questioned me and took me to Hijack Hotel. Eldridge Cleaver was also in Cuba and in dispute with the government there. Cuba wouldn't act on him, so they jailed us and started deporting us. I was supposed to go to Guinea but instead ended up in Czechoslovakia. While there the Cubans got me arrested and turned me over to the US authorities. I escaped into East Germany but was captured, smuggled nto Berlin, tortured for a week and brought back into the States. I was put on trial in a small town in Georgia and sentenced to two life sentences.

This was the heaviest sentence for air piracy up to that time, because I wouldn't show any regret or apologise.They drugged me at my trial so I couldn't make statements and tried me in a small redneck town.

I was only 20. It brings you face to face with your own mortality at an early age and puts you to the test. I was not going to compromise or let them see me weak. I would be part of, or leading, any resistance. But you've got to have some reason to do this.

I started analysing my philosophy and my life. Thinking about my experiences in Eastern Europe I started looking at an alternative method, theory and strategy of revolution. All these, in a manner of speaking, led me to anarchism. I was not happy with the local anarchists in the US - they were too middle class, white and it was pretty much a countercultural scene. But this didn't stop me working with other anarchists around the world who had written to me. I desired a new way forward for the black revolution - which had been smashed by the state and finished off by reformism and neo colonialism. The original writings around my book came from this. Kropotkin influenced me most - I was engaging in all kinds of debate, hostile and friendly. It made me reevaluate what I had been involved in, particularly the authoritarian problems in the BPP and SNCC in its later stages, and the black movements of the 70s and 80s.

Anarchism in the US has always been an immigrant thing - the Jews, the Germans of the original International Working Peoples Assocation, the Italians of the 30s and 40s and so on. Why it should suddenly seem threatening that there was a black anarchist I don't know. Blacks and hispanics will surely constitute the backbone of the US anarchist movement in the future.

My prison writings called for an international anarchist resistance movement and a new International Working Peoples Association. This won me a following in Europe, Africa and among Australian aborigines. I was made an honorary member of one of the Aboriginal tribes. I distributed stuff in Nigeria. I don't know what impact it had, but I have to believe someone read this stuff.

Since the fall of communism even more people are looking at anarchism as a serious alternative, as set out by past and even some current movements. Especially if we were to speak to more so called ordinary people.

The real political conversion came from contacts with anarchists around the world. In Europe there was a campaign to get my freedom, by the Anarchist Black Cross (Stuart Christie, Albert Meltzer and Miguel Garcia) and Help A Prisoner Oppose Torture in the Netherlands. This sharpened my beliefs and made me more serious about anarchism as a force for black revolution. I never saw myself as a token black anarchist, but as someone to apply anarchism to the black community.

My other writings dealt with how the movement should have a predominant class struggle tendency. I never thought lifestylists would still be in the ascendancy - we need to go further than rebellion.

Letters to prisoners are especially important, to reach them at a certain stage amd talk to them about this. The main thing is the contact. It didn't happen much in the US, as they were hostile to prisoners and the black movement. I got particular support from the Australian aborigines.

It is important for anarchists to make contact with the black movement, even if you don't agree with them, as it may be possible to change their politics. They may adopt some of the core of anarchist politics and go deeper and build their own autonomous formation - they don't need to have white people telling them what to do. People have to find their own path. It is always good to keep those bridges open - we shouldn't be sectarian, be partisan instead.

I got out in 1983 and immediately started doing anti-racist work in Chattanoooga. Lots of people were dying in custody. When the son-in-law of the local police chief killed 66 year old Wadie Suttles in jail we started a ten year campaign which drove this bastard from office. Since 83, I've concentrated on local organising - fighting the Klan and the police. Though there's purportedly a new South, the same kind of racist murders, economic exploitation etc goes on. From 83-93 I worked in Chattanooga, which made me current with 90s struggles and put me in contact with other activists, some of whom were anarchists. I came back into anarchism in 93 and have been trying to find a place in it ever since.

BF: What are your critiscisms of anti fascist and anti racist organisations?
LKE: The role of white anti racists is not to usurp the role of people of colour. We must build a mass movement against racism, this is understood by all independent black activists. We need to challenge the fascists politically, not just beat them on the street, by mobilizing the progressive wing of the working class into a cohesive coalition. This is possible. Vanguard against vanguardism is no good - a section of the class cannot substitute for mass action.

This needs to be a broad based initiative under a radical banner, it won't win with an undemocratic vanguard strategy. It must have its own agenda, not that of the vangaurd parties. This is one of the reasons blacks don't come out on demos.

BF: What about the role of white anti-racists, ie fighting racism amongst their own communities?
LKE: This was said when SNCC expelled whites in 67. This hasn't happened in America because fo the class base of white radicals. White anarchists also need to support black organisers in terms of resources. It must be remembered that the police state, in alliance with the KKK, was effectively nazi in the past, and the Klan machine had control over the State apparatus of a number of states during the 20s and 30s.

BF: Can you tell us about the organisation you are part of?
LKE: Well, it's called the National Federation of Black Community Partisans, and it's an anti-authoritarian organisation of black radicals. It's at a formative stage at present, but it's meant to be a mass organisation. It's non-political in that it doesn't support parties. It's revolutionary in programme and attempts to use the black communities as a base. It's somewhat based on the affinity/ direct action movement I raised in Anarchism and the Black Revolution. Ideology is one of black autonomy, a conglomeration of black revolutionary and anti-authoritarian politics. You don't have to be an anarchist to join.

The black authoritarian tendency differs from us in that we are not xenophobic, we do not want a nation state, but advocate other solutions. We do not simply aim for power, but to empower the masses.

BF: A lot of your ideas in the book advocate mutual aid solutions to the pressing problems of the black community, with community organisation supplanting the state and driving it out. How do you envisage this situation of dual power?
LKE: Our ideas of dual power means that an opposing force would battle with the State, but on the Community's terms, not the State's. Dual power is not an end in itself, it is an effort to delegitimize authority and fight the ruling class strategy of using back congressmen etc. It is a counter power to oppose every aspect of the State's ability to have power over and police our communities. That's the intention, it's not meant to be a permanent situation. The movement must be the people.

BF: Generally, from your writings and talking to you, you're very optimistic about the prospects for anarchism, and the black revolution:
LKE: I've been at this 15 years and more people than myself have come forward. The Federation is small in number but high in quality. We have veterans of labour, student and community movements, as well as ex-prisoners and 60s struggle veterans. We're not going to get trapped into single issue campaigns. I had no idea of this federation - people came to me after my speaking tour. People are looking for answers.

BF: How big was the tour?
LKE: A major tour in the US is usually 25 cities. I've done 30 so far, the East and West Coasts, Canada and the South West. I've talked to 25,000 people or more in the last 7 months. It started on the spur of the moment and here I am in England.

BF: Do you have contact with the black anarchists in prison?
LKE: There's a lot of contact with black activist prisoners, as well as a great deal of interest. They're looking for a new direction. From my personal experience, letters from Europe, Africa and Australia kept me going, and put prison officials under the gun and prevented worse things happening. In many cases the US left don't write.

BF: What's your opinion of MOVE and what relations do you have?
LKE: We have good relations. Some consider them the first black anarchist formation. Regardless of some of the peculiarities of their politics ( ie deference to John Afrika) their politics are anarchist, including environmental and animal rights platforms, they're against government as an institution, in favour of autonomous communities, co-operative lifestyle and society. The problem has been conservative anarchist-purists who refuse to accept it, except in Philadelphia. MOVE were the first organisation since the BPP to advocate black armed self defence and I have great respect for them. They have all the essentials of an anarchist political formation.

Lorenzo's book will be reviewed in the next issue.

On the closure of the Nestle plant in Norwich, 1995

This article originally appeared in Black Flag #206, Autumn 1995. It was written by Norwich Solidarity Federation, who had contacts in the plant and tried to organise action against the closure.

Nestlé Plant to Shut in Norwich

Nestlé's decision last year to shut the Norwich factory came as little surprise after years of rumours.
The company has long been condemned for the harm caused by their baby milk products in the third world. In the 1930s they bankrolled the launch of the Swiss Nazi Party. The nazis' smashing of effective workers' organisation in their factories guaranteed higher profits.
Their current yearly profits are £3 billion, obviously not enough.

The Response of Norwich Nestlé Trade Unions

Of the numerous unions that claim to represent the workforce, the largest are USDAW (shop and distribution workers) and the AEEU (engineers and electricians).
Their initial reaction to the announcement of the plant closure was decidedly directionless. Following a push from the city council and trades council, who organised a march and rally through the city, they embarked on a public relations campaign. This involved councillors, MPs and the MEP eloquently pleading to the company. A firm of consultants were hired at a cost of thousands of pounds, to come up with a formula which would make the Norwich site attractive to Nestlé - something that Nestlé themselves must already have looked at.
This display of hot air wasn't just buying time while the unions geared up for serious resistance, however. As the weeks rolled by, it became clear that it wasn't just a tactic to rely on the politicians and PR men, it was the whole strategy!
A similar strategy two years ago didn't stop the closure of almost every British coal mine. You'd have thought they might have learned.

Snatching defeat from the Jaws of Victory

The most glaring cock-up was the unions' total inaction in the one area capable of stopping the closure. Early on came declarations from York, Halifax and Newcastle workforces that they did not want to take Norwich's work. Here was something to build on. In this closure it is the three other chocolate producing plants that hold the key. With only half the time, money and energy put into the hot air campaign, the other plants' reluctance to take Norwich's work could become resolutions to totally black the transfer, installation and renewed production of the Norwich lines.
In not pursuing this, the unions opted to reject resistance and the fight was all but lost. All that remained was posturing. While Nestlé bosses hold ultimate responsibility for shutting the factory and throwing 900 families into misery, the unions must share the blame for their inaction, their neglect of workplace organisation and futile tactics.

Norwich Solidarity Federation

Following the announcement of the closure Norwich Solidarity Federation (SolFed) wrote to all the unions at the plant with the offer of support in any and every way, particularly internationally, as the French CNT organises at two Nestlé subsidiaries. SolFed informed the unions of the International Workers Association's decision to hold a day of protest, and the launch of a local support group.
To the disappointment of those involved in the support group, the Nestlé unions showed at best indifference, not even bothering to say "no thanks". Following the day of action, the Norwich unions had the gall to tell the local Trades council they were not informed. When the Trades Council was presented with copies of all the correspondence, there was only silence...
A clearer illustration of the bankruptcy of these unions and the need for the alternative methods and principles we promote could not be found. These unions succeeded only in cutting off their noses to spite their faces. The losers are all those who work for Nestlé in Norwich. We will not forget.

From Norwich Solidarity Centre bulletin

What is the middle class? - Albert Meltzer

Albert Meltzer writes for Black Flag magazine on the idea that "we are all middle class now".

Prime Minister John Major referred to Tories achieving a 'classless society'. He was referring to the gradual move from the English class system to the American. In England the survival of the old upper class is ensured by the constitutional monarchy, against which the middle class is beginning to rebel, or at least not regard exxpressions of rebellion as reprehensible.
The old upper class has managed to snatch on to influence (where once it had supreme power) by social snobbery, beginning with the schools, ensuring that people who make huge sums of money are frozen out of the Establishment unless and until they conform to their requirements. The upper class classically retain certain areas within themselves, such as the leadership of the Church and Army, the judges, the Foreign Office and the upper reaches of the Civil Service. But now the bourgeoisie is moving in. Power in the Tory Party has shifted from the patricians to those whose only God is Money and of whom Baroness Thatcher is still the prophet
The idea that a multi-millionaire could be excluded from an Establishment of which slobs like the Marquesses of Blandford and Bristol, the late Lord Moynihan or Lord Lucan are members by birth has lingered on in Britain. It is now moving to the American conception of class. The middle class, now on top, has finally won its revolution and creates its own myth, not one of Birth and Breeding, but that anyone with ability can rise to any position regardless of birth. It is equally false.

Many Russians have fallen for the notion that the end of State communism would bring the American dream and they would be driving their Cadillacs at week-ends to country cottages complete with swimming pools. The favoured few had this under Stalinism. What was in power, generating wealth for itself, was the Civil Service and the politicians. It was as hereditary as the middle class system, since wealth begets education and opportunity, though not based solely on birth as is the aristocratic system. Trotskyists demur at the term 'ruling class' to describe this class, but what else were they? Whatever they should be termed, they are now determined to retain their status in a ruling class capacity.

The myth of Marxist-Leninism was that all in Russia were working-class, including the favoured few with wealth and power. It was supposed to be a workers' state. The parallel myth of Western capitalism is that all are (or could be) middle class, which is the norm, the middle of nothing!
Just as only vestiges of the old upper class exist on Britain, politicians and the media now have it that only vestiges of the working class exist. They are trying to erode both the aristocratic class and the working class. Eroding the upper class means that they are pushed down from being wealthy landowners to becoming company directors. Eroding the working class means they are pushed down from productive work to pauperism. The middle class want to put into effect what they have always believed - that the capitalists or the State 'give' work' to the worker, who is parasitic on them. and not vice versa as is so obviously the case,

"But we are all workers now". Humbug! What they mean is everybody functions some way - even the Queen opens bazaars. But a once productive class is being pushed out of productive jobs to go into dead end occupations servicing the rich. Production is being switched to Third World countries so that it can be done as cheaply and shoddily as possible, and the pretence of generosity by aid progammes maintained. On the other end of the scale, the interesting and glamorous jobs that were once entirely working class are becoming available almost exclusively to the gilded young of the middle class, occasionally the formerly upper class too. The theatrical profession is a typical example, where the 'rogues and vagabonds' of Elizabethan times became the trod-upon outcasts of the eighteenth century and the working stiffs of the 19th, but by the second half of the 20th century, pampered darlings, almost exclusively middle class. Journalism, and by extension the media, is another instance. Sub-editors. and even editors, once came from the same class as printers. Now all but a very few specialists come from the posh universities and are in a position to ascertain that authors will be of the same social class.

The Mandarins

There is in any case another class, thought of as middle class but depending for its status on power, not profit. Like Stalin's bureaucracy, it is a ruling class though it is dependent on the politicians. It may makes a profit or not. it may run a quango or a monopoly, a multi-national or a university,a public company or a State industry or its individual members can pass from one to the other. These are the new lords and occasionally ladies of creation, whether one thinks of them as Soviet commissars, company directors or old-style Chinese scholar mandarins. They call themselves the meritocracy. They are becoming the most powerful in the dominant middle class, the most likely to aspire to becoming a new aristocracy.

The hangers-on

Marxist-Leninism claimed in Russia everyone was working class, whether proletarian, commissar or gulag slave, while the former aristocracy, hiding out or in exile, were reckoned as scapegoat ruling class to be blamed for all the ills of the system. American capitalism claims all are middle class and there is no class division. British capitalism adds a few more illusions to this by way of educational snobbery or the honours system. The lies put over by the Hollywood Dream Factory or the Lie Factories of Britain's press lead many to suppose that they are not working class when they patently are, or even that the working class has ceased to exist.

The middle, now dominant, class embraces the very rich, the parasites on business, the business careerist, the upper ranks of the civil servant, and the hangers-on to certain social values. It does not include those who acquire property instead of spending their wages on booze and fags, or have a mortgage or a car bought by their own work. The working class in good times can prosper, but remain under capitalism. If active in economic struggle they can, when labour is scarce, earn the same as, or more than, the lower middle class. It is a fallacy to suppose that prosperity changes their status.
Those with specialist skills sometimes fool themselves, invariably to their own detriment, that they have different class interests, and identify with the ruling class. Nationalism and patriotism are used for the same purpose: to identify with the State and sio with one's own exploitation. This obscures the issue, but does not change it.

We do not have to accept being ground down by parasites upon society. The destruction of heavy industry does not necessarily mean the destruction of the productive class itself but of its organisations within heavy industry. The alternative to heavy industry need not be pauperism, which is being accepted today as if it were a natural catastrophe, but co-operation based on self-employment. Self-employed, small local collectives and a new kind of co-operative movement can link up with other forms of industrial organisation. University-processed Marxism sneers at the independent worker as 'petty bourgeois'. But the value of artisan organisation as part of the working class struggle has been proven time and again in industrial disputes and in revolutions. Today the capitalist not only does not give work but actively takes it away. To be strong enough to fight back we need to set our own work agenda. In fighting back it is not enough make reforms, to curtail profits or to circucmvent the effects of wage slavery. These are desirable but leaves the dangerous capitalist beast of prey wounded but all the more dangerous. The class system has to be wiped out.

a. m

Originally published in Black Flag #206 Oct 1995

Anarcho-syndicalism in Puerto Real (review)

Anarcho-syndicalism in Puerto Real

From Shipyard resistance to direct democracy and community control

This short pamphlet consists of a talk given at an anarcho-syndicalist dayschool in London in 1993, by Pepe Gomez, a militant of the CNT in Puerto Real / Cadiz. There are other elements to this pamphlet but its real value lies in setting out, from the mouth of an anarcho-syndicalist, what anarcho-syndicalism is all about.

This is directly opposite from what most critics of anarcho-syndicalism claim anarcho-syndicalism is. People like Murray Bookchin, who should know better, describe anarcho-syndicalism as an "archaic ideology rooted in a narrowly economistic notion of bourgeois interest" (From "The Ghost of Anarcho-syndicalism" in Anarchist Studies 1). Groups like Class War also dismiss anarcho-syndicalism as having no relevance because of the decline of traditional industries and the need, for them, to focus on the "community". Council communists tell us that when the time comes the workers will spontaneously form the necessary organisations of struggle, without anyone having to do any work beforehand. Sounds good, when did that last happen?

The struggle described in Puerto Real was only successful because the CNT, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union, had built up a solid presence over the previous ten-fifteen years, in Puerto Real, the shipyard area just outside of Cadiz in the south of Spain. Shipyards in Spain, just as in the rest of Europe, face "rationalisation" and closure. The difference between Puerto Real and say, Tyneside, is that workers on Tyneside were limited by the vision of the Labour Party, that nothing can be done within a capitalist system, ships can be produced much cheaper in Korea where workers get paid a lot less.

Such people exist in Puerto Real too, half the shipyard workers were in either the Socialist UGT or communist CCOO unions, who tried to do a deal with the bosses without any concessions. But the vision of the CNT carried the workers, many CCOO members tore up their union cards. By accepting the bosses' arguments, as the socialists and communists did, you fight with one hand behind your back - you admit that profitability and and the needs of the bosses are good reasons to destroy your livelihood. Standing true to the anarcho-syndicalist spirit, the CNT fought back with everything they had, regardless of whether they might win, but because they knew that fighting back is the only way to go forward.

Every Tuesday, workers blockaded the port and the only bridge to Cadiz, even blockading the king at one point. Running battles with the police and other forces of oppression were regular. Every Thursday, the CNT called village assemblies involving the whole population, where decisions were made, delegates elected, and the conduct of the struggle discussed.

In the end, the Puerto Real shipyard was given some work, including some from contracts at European Union level. The workers won an exemplary settlement in terms of pension rights where retirees at 55 had their pensions 100% linked to workers wages. There was also a rotation of people, so that if there was not enough work, some would work for 2 months, then others would take their place, but all workers received full wages. The shipyards are still functioning, and the CNT Puerto Real has made links with other militant shipyard unions all over Spain.

This direct democracy was very real, and the CNT were conscious to try and break the dependency culture that social democratic politics encourages. Their success is self evident - even though the struggle was won in 1988, the village assemblies are still going strong, and working on a whole range of issues, involving a broad range of local groups. These include struggles against local taxes, the construction of a golf course, struggles around the environment. This is anarcho-syndicalism in action - workers organising in their own interests, both at work and where they live. The combination of workplace militancy and a supportive, almost insurrectionary local population, is unbeatable. If only workers in Britain had tried it.

This article originally appeared in Black Flag #206, Autumn 1995