Black Flag 209 (1996)

Partial contents of Black Flag issue 209, published in 1996.

Contents

After You've Gone... (Humanist funerals)

AFTER YOU'VE GONE....

Sadly, we have reflected a lot about funerals recently. How his funeral was conducted was important to Albert Meltzer, not least because he had seen so many old comrades and friends receive totally inappropriate send offs. Our secular correspondent (see note below) takes up this theme in the article below.

There are problems facing people who do not wish their death to be taken over by the religious. Most burials and cremations are carried out after a religious service. The service seems largely to be for the benefit and consolation of those mourning the departed, though how any sensible person can find consolation in a time of sadness by renewing their belief in an almighty being who could have avoided the sadness by prolonging the dead person's life had they wanted to is a mystery to me.
But there is no need to have a religious service as part of a funeral. Anybody can conduct a funeral. I have done a number myself. Anybody who wishes their remains to be disposed of without any religious ceremony should make this wish known to their friends and relations. It should be stated in your will and your executor should be made aware of it.
The principal organisations offering non religious funeral observances are the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society. The best way to make sure you are given a non-religious funeral is to get a friend to agree to do one for you and to make sure you die before the friend. Clearly the friend must be someone reliable and not given to making promises they do not expect to keep.
The other way would be to make a bequest to the National Secular Society or British Humanist Association conditional upon them providing you with a non-religious funeral observance. The bequest need not be substantial but I would say £100 would be a reasonable amount. Whichever way you decide to follow to get a non religious send off make sure your executor knows about it and sets the thing in motion in good time, which is as soon as you are dead.
The addresses are National Secular Society, 47 Theobalds Road, London WC1
Tel 020 7404 3126

British Humanist Association,
1 Gower Street, London WC1E 6HD
020 7079 3580

But don't be too selfish about this. The funeral observance is for the benefit of those you leave behind, not yourself. They may feel the need of a religious element in your funeral, even if for reasons plain people like me cannot fathom. On the other hand non religious observances have great dignity and feeling. Those who have attended having only been used to the religious sort are usually very favourably impressed because of these factors.
Because of these considerations, as a lifelong atheist, my arrangements with my Christian wife are that if I predecease her she will give me a religious funeral, but that if she dies before I do I will give her a non-religious send off. It gives me an additional reason to seek to live for a very long time.

Note: this appeared in Black Flag #209 and was written by the late Peter Miller, a veteran anarchist and humanist. I've changed the addresses and phone numbers to bring them up to date and added urls.

In the Shell of the Old - Italy's Social Centres

Article from the 1990s containing information about Italy's movement of political squats called "social centres."

Living In The Heart Of The Beast - Italy's Social Centres
Every May Day since 1986, Forte Prenestino in Rome has hosted the 'Festival of Non-Labour'.

Through music, videos, theatre, good food, and debate, its occupants celebrate not only the coming of Spring, but the ongoing efforts of people like themselves to challenge and overturn the rhythms of capital and the state.

Forte Prenestino covers eight hectares south-east of Rome, not far from the Viale Palmiro Togliatti. Originally built a century ago as a military base, the Forte was abandoned in the sixties like so many of Italy's public buildings in this time of property speculation and public corruption.

Despite recent gentrification, the nearby suburb of Centocelle is still best known for its high levels of unemployment and heroin addiction. When a group of mostly young people from the neighbourhood decided to occupy the Forte on May Day nine years ago, they were inspired not by the legacy of Togliatti - the Italian communist leader who effortlessly blended stalinism and social democracy - but by a determination to establish and extend a radical, self-managed alternative to the marginalisation which life on the city fringes offered.

"All of a sudden, we were inside, 'running' the place - we who had never managed anything except our unemployment, our homelessness", they later commented wryly. "Many people are convinced that the Forte is run by just a handful of people, a management committee that makes decisions in the name of and on behalf of everyone else. Such people simply can't conceive - whether for reasons of ideology or cynicism - that a micro-society of equal persons can survive and prosper..."

Today Forte Prenestino plays an important role in its local community. It houses an exhibition gallery, practice rooms for bands, space for theatrical performances, a dark room, gymnasium, and cafe. Classes are held, there are regular film nights, courses on design and sculpture, and a documentation centre. Outside Rome, the Forte is best known for its music label, featuring local rap and reggae bands. It also produces the journal Nessuna Dipendenza, which documents the Forte's activities and engages in political discussion and debate.

Forte Prenestino is one of about fourteen 'Occupied Self-Managed Social Centres' (CSOA) in Rome. There are about hundred or so CSOA elsewhere in Italy - it's hard to be precise, as any given week brings news of a new site or two established, or an old one evicted. Their origins go back to the mid-seventies, a time when the extra-parliamentary left played an important part in Italian youth culture. Even then, the CSOA were often established in reaction to the growing conservatism and authoritarianism of such groups, whether these be the little parties formed after the Hot Autumn of 1969, or the apparently more radical collectives known as Autonomia Operaia (Workers' Autonomy).

By the end of the seventies, the organised far left had largely been smashed, caught between extensive State repression on the one hand, and a flight into private life or terrorism on the other. In industry, a decade-long battle for control over working conditions came to an end, with the massive 1980 lay-offs at FIAT flagging an impending victory for managerial prerogative throughout Italy.

The CSOA that survived the chaos of those years eked out their existence during the early and mid-eighties as bastions of an 'alternative lifestyle'. 'Transgressive' identities - from those associated with punk music, to more traditional anarchist or autonomist politics - played a central role in holding many of the remaining social centres together, in the face of an Italy where opportunism, fear and cynicism apparently reigned supreme.
The late eighties onwards have confounded many of the glib arguments that class war in Italy is over, or that the future has been reduced to a choice of 'Export or death'.

Beginning in 1987 among school teachers and railway staff, a growing dissatisfaction with the inability of existing unions to defend pay and conditions has spread to other sections of the workforce, creating a small but lively current of rank and file groups and 'alternative' unions pledged to direct action and self-organisation. Unrest among school and university students has brought a similar cycle of mass action since 1990, with occupations 'under self-management' a frequent occurence.

Much of this activity has fed into the revival of the social centres in the nineties. As dozens of abandoned buildings have been seized up and down the Italian peninsula, the social and political identity of the CSOA has become richer, more complex. Here are brief descriptions of three of the newer social centres, taken from an account published in 1994:

PIRATERIA DI PORTA is the most recent of the Roman CSOA, and the first to be established in the city centre. Born in December 1993, it is housed in a large warehouse near the Porta Portese Sunday market. With an emphasis upon youth concerns, it offers many activities for children: films, dance classes, martial arts.

In February 1994 it was shut down by the police, only to be immediately re-opened by the occupiers.

OFFICINA 99 can be found in a former garage in the working class suburbs of eastern Naples. It was first occupied in December 1990 by members of that year's mass student movement (popularly known as Pantera - the Panther) but immediately evicted by the authorities. It was reoccupied on May 1st, 1991, when 500 students and unemployed people marched from the university and took the site over. It is the most active social centre in the region, offering a meeting place not only for younger people, but also for workplace rank and file groups and the local unemployed movement. Its strength lies in its activity within the surrounding community, particularly over the questions of jobs and the fight for a guaranteed income. The first floor of Officina 99 offers a lovely view of Vesuvius, and was used as a location for the film Sud (by Gabriele Salvatores, director of Mediterraneo). The social centre has also spawned the popular political rap group 99 Posse.

BAROCCHIO is a spin-off from another of Turin's CSOA - El Paso - with which its members continue to work. It was occupied in October 1992, on the initiative of a local anarchist group. Both a social centre and a living space, Barocchio is best known for its music scene. For reasons of space, its annual film festivals
have been transferred to El Paso.

Two computer networks - the European Counter Network, and CyberNet - play an important role in keeping the social centres in touch with each other but the CSOAs' biggest risk continues to be that of closure. This problem has expressed itself in several ways: among the most immediate, are the difficulties involved in drawing the thousands who regularly attend concerts and other public activities into the daily work carried out by the dozens (often hundreds) of 'regulars'. Beyond this, there is also the challenge of communicating with, and learning from, activists outside the social centres' 'natural' constituency of urban youth. Interestingly enough, some of the more important initiatives taken by many CSOA in recent years have involved questions such as housing, jobs, racism, the lack of parkland in many urban landscapes.

Recently, Bruno Cartosio, a sympathetic observer of the CSOA from an older generation of the radical left stressed the importance of the social centres as practical examples of direct democracy in action. "This doesn't necessarily mean taking the social centres as a model, but rather of seeing, in their structure - in their very existence - an example not only of a necessity, but also of an opportunity from which to begin anew any overall political project".

Primo Moroni, another veteran and unofficial chronicler of Milan's radical scene, disagrees. Whilst conceding that "a formidable transformation" is presently underway within the CSOA, he has expressed some concern that the social centres remain "zones of defence", the product of "a generation which has decided to prolong its adolescence ad infinitum". Perhaps he is right. Or could it be that, in an age when "almost everyone lives in a state of terror at the possibility that they might awake to themselves" (Vaneigem), a self-conscious prolonging of adolescence might yet have its merits?

Adapted from an article by Steve Wright

This appeared in Black Flag #209, October 1996, with the following introducton.

Continuing our series looking at solidarity centres, we pulled this interesting article off the internet. We've edited it a little, but it gives an interesting flavour of a country where local centres are much more numerous, and are part of a much more significiant movement than we have here. The potential of the centres is, we believe emphasised by the act they are linked to local communities, and the individual centres featured here are more than just a home for youth rebellion.

The Christie Carballo committee and the rewriting of history

Article from Black Flag by Mark Hendy responding to lies from the then-editors of Freedom.

Attempting to cast doubt on Albert's sixty years of commitment and militancy, certain persons better known for the volume than the quality of their utterances (and that's being charitable - very) have asked in print "Where was he when Stuart Christie was arrested in Spain in 1964? What did he do to save Stuart from the death penalty?" As the Secretary of the Christie-Carballo Defence Committee, I can only say that I do not remember for sure. I do know, though, that Albert made available for our meetings his premises near the British Museum and that we only met elsewhere to make use of a telephone. After Stuart and Fernando Carballo Blanco's trial and conviction the Defence Committee met regularly at Albert's premises, and it was at least partly as a result of its efforts that Stuart was released in 1967.
I know that Albert's premises were available to any anarchist or related group, entirely free of charge - despite the fact that he himself was paying rent for them - for a number of years, both before and after their use by the defence committee, a service that was both unparalleled and extremely convenient in view of their situation. This in itself makes recent attempts to belittle his contribution to the cause of human freedom seem not merely spiteful but downright ungrateful!

Mark Hendy

This originally appeared in Black Flag #209, Oct 1996, with the following introductory note:
Editors' note: The article below is in response to some sadly typical lies in Freedom about our late founder, Albert Meltzer, and his activities in the sixties.

Mark Hendy was secretary of the Christie Carballo Committee. The article was in response to repeated claims in Freedom made by its then proprietor Vernon Richards (Vero) that dismissed Albert's involvement in the Spanish movement and supporting Christie.

"A Class Act" - review of "Educating Who About What - The Circled A and Its Parasites"

A CLASS ACT - Anarchism, Class and who we really want to talk to.

This article started out as a review/ response to the pamphlet "Educating Who About What - The Circled A and Its Parasites". Once I started getting into the issues, though, it took on a life of its own. I hope this provokes some debate. The pamphlet begins with the statement "90% of the Anarchist Movement is a Joke" and goes on to blame middle class domination of anarchist organisations for the fact that the people anarchism is from and for don't get the message. What I want to do is look at why those people don't get the message, whose fault it is, and to look at issues of class, culture, identity and organisation as a whole.

For a pamphlet which puts down situationism so neatly - "criticising society in the language of the privileged" it is irritatingly laid out in different typefaces, styles and sizes, very arty but a pain to read (it reminded me of the 80s popstars who wrote their names with capitals and normal letters reversed - bOLLoCks, if you ask me).

What is the middle class, so despised by the pamphleteers? Well, they don't define it. The sort of middle class attacked here are the "radical" types, who, to be fair, are an easy target. In my experience, the "radical" middle class always live in bohemian areas, anywhere where real people live is just too dull.

Most of the middle class doesn't live in inner cities - they live in the posher bits of every town and city in this country. We are not likely to come into contact with them much, except as bosses, bank managers etc, unless we mix with them socially. Yes, I find the bohemian types slumming it for a few years before they return to their overflowing trough irritating in the extreme and destructive to getting any real organising done politically. But they're an obstacle in the way of getting at our target, not the target itself.

The pamphlet's writers advocate a purely working class organisation as a solution to middle class domination of anarchist politics. Unfortunately, the working class isn't defined here either, so we get no idea of who decides who fits in a "working class" organisation? I have a good job, a mortgage, I like to engage my intelligence and I'm working class.

Many of our class cannot be defined by work, because they haven't got it. Increasingly there are all sorts of barriers between those of us who do have jobs and those without. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the DSS and Department of Employment. On the one hand, there are working class people expected to "seek" non existent jobs by poorly paid working class people, a lot on temporary contracts, and not very far from the same situation. There are still some workers in good situations - usually those who are well unionised or where there is a genuine shortage of their skills in the labour market (certain types of computer programmers spring to mind to illustrate the skills shortage, train drivers, airline pilots and engineering workers in large firms illustrate the former). Some would argue that the difference between the two classes is that between order givers (such as our poorly paid civil servants, teachers, social workers, cops etc.) and order takers (everyone who doesn't have any order-giving status in their job). While there is clearly a germ of truth in this, it is a misleading picture.

As a kid I remember being banned from the local swimming pool for staying in for three hours. The worker there told me I was "defrauding the council". He was giving orders, to me, a small child, because he had the power to do so. He had no power to order anyone else about, as he was just the changing room attendant. It was something in his psychological make-up that made him do it. Whether teachers are middle class or not is a debate that goes on and on. In purely economic terms, they're nearly all working class. Like the rest of us in work, they're only a few months pay packets away from poverty on the dole. The pamphlet calls this a cartoon view of the world, in that it simplifies the class relationships and misses some of what's going on in there.

However, the pamphleteers' version of the world does the same, only from a different angle. Bloody teachers, etc, - they have a limited amount of power and can give orders to kids, therefore they are middle class. Some teachers are bullies and take full advantage of the power they have over kids. But most are just people trying to do a job as well as they can within the restrictions placed on them - like class sizes, national curriculum full of bollocks, kids with no future, no books etc... The key issue here is power, and an anarchist approach has to be one of minimising any concentration of power and recognising cultural differences within the working class.

Many of the "middle class teachers, social workers and civil servants" wielding this power over working class people are people (usually women) who have escaped the drudgery of a small-minded working class culture. As well as asking them difficult questions about why they are doing what they are doing, we ought to be asking ourselves equally difficult questions about why so much working class culture encourages people to get out.

[b]MORE CULTURE THAN YOGHURT
[/b]
This is one of the strengths of the pamphlet - it recognises that there are working class cultures which are diverse and have different strengths. This is something we need to promote otherwise many talented working class kids will seize any opportunity to join the middle classes. These are the people in previous generations who filled the shop stewards' and convenors' jobs, acted as barrack room lawyers on their estates and stirred things up against the council, the boss or whatever dead arm of bureaucracy was interfering in their lives. We can't afford to lose them, and to keep them we have to show that there are alternatives within the working class. I remember talking to a woman brought up in a pit village who desperately wanted to be middle class. She saw middle class women with more control over their own lives than those of the women from her village. I suspect she'll be disappointed with the class to which she aspires, but decades of lionising of the miners by the left meant she identified that as the working class way to live, not merely a working class way of life.

To give another example of where we need to be critical of elements of working class culture, many out of town estates were hit by riots over the last few summers. Bored young men (and it was nearly all young men) had pitched battles with the police, stole cars, looted shops and set fire to community centres. The effect of this on other members of the community - who are no less working class - is often ignored by anarchists cheerleading for anyone having a bash at the cops. But the shops and community centres are vital to the rest of the community, the pensioners, those without transport to go to the shops in town, the single parents (overwhelmingly women) who use these facilities for mutual support, maybe a creche etc,. Anyone with an opportunity is going to get out of that estate, but why should they have to leave our class? There is a danger in mixing up class and identity too much, so in affirming their own identity, people must reject their class.

On a better point, I totally agree about other struggles, such as anti-racism and anti-sexism. Class is the most important factor in the struggle for a new society. Of course sexism affects all women, but the Queen mother (bless her!) gets to 94 and the media gush about how well she's doing for her age. Of course, she's never had to work for a living, or do the housework, or wait for years on an NHS waiting list for a hip operation. Anyone who does not recognise the class divisions at work is merely out for their own advantage (such as those liberal middle class women who wnat 50% of all MPs to be women, as if it will make a blind bit of difference to anything other than their careers) and as the pamphlet rightly says, they have no place in our movement. The opposite, unsaid, is also true - any anarchist who thinks it's OK to be sexist or racist, even using the excuse of "it's part of working class culture" should get short shrift from us.

ON ORGANISATIONS

The pamphlet is very critical of organisations, harping "Where are your members?" Why do anarchists then continue to try to form organisations, if no one is joining? I am not going to answer this question, except to say that people will always organise to achieve their aims. The problem with most anarchist organisations is their aims are so distant their purpose becomes blurred. The point of organisation is to improve your prospects of winning and facilitate collective action. Another trouble with anarchists in this country is that they get jealous of the Trots, even though we shouldn't be trying to replicate them as they don't share our aims.

Trot parties are set up to mirror the state they want to set up and control - with the rank and file paper sellers being the working class, the middle class consisting of branch organisers and full timers and the ruling class consisting of the leadership and central committee. They even go so far as to discuss getting a "few of the younger comrades arrested" when the need arises, like generals committing troops to battle. It might work, though evidence for this is scanty, but anarchism it ain't.

I am only interested in looking at two forms of anarchist organisation - the affinity group and the syndicalist union and commune (I have put these together for reasons which I shall explain). There are of course, others, such as the much tighter political group advocated by people like the Anarchist Communist Federation and the Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland, where membership depends on agreeing with aims, principles and often policies.

The affinity group is based on shared belief and other close ties, friendship, socialising and so on. It is obviously self-selective and not open to general membership. It is vitally important for direct action as the members of an affinity group grow to learn from each other and trust each other. It is unlikely to win many people to anarchist ideas on a direct basis, and certainly not in any large numbers.

The syndicalist union and commune are libertarian, democratic and open to all who are part of their constituency - either workers in that industry or people who live in that area. By their nature they are working class bodies which can include all the workers. Indeed, modern anarcho-syndicalism has improved on the classical model by moving on to the syndicalist union advocating and calling "workers assemblies", sovereign decision making bodies open to all workers who accept their decisions as binding, regardless of union affiliation. (This is usually conveniently forgotten by Bookchin and other critics of syndicalism who really should know better).

We often come up against the "spontaneity" argument here. You know the sort, there's no need to organise workers, they will organise themselves when the need arises, spontaneously, and will be more revolutionary without unions, parties or ideologies to hold them back. This argument simply doesn't wash, and asks us to deny our own existence as workers. It's OK for the workers to do it, but not the anarchists. But aren't the anarchists workers too? Organisations can be sapping and contradictory at times, but it is through the experience of organising that lessons are learnt and digested.

These two models are not contradictory, it's simply a matter of recognising different tactics; you can go out there and "just do it" as the ad goes, or you can build a long, steady fightback by gaining respect from those immediately around you, and hopefully some of our ideas will find an echo in their experience. The point is to see that an active anarchist movement usually benefits from an active libertarian workers movement, and vice versa.

MINOR TARGETS

A good chunk of the pamphlet is taken up on attacking Chumbawumba and praising Pulp for their connectedness to working class culture. The points made are valid enough, and I prefer Pulp myself, but they are only pop stars. Pop stars are not going to change the world. Crass played the same role in the late 70s early 80s as Chumbawumba do now. I am one of the few anarchists of my generation who wasn't into punk, but I am glad it got loads of people interested, even if 99% have since fucked off, there are some real gems in that 1%. If Chumbawumba can do the same, good. If not, who cares?

MH

"Educating Who About What - The Circled A and Its Parasites" (£1 from Black Economy Books, Dept 8, 1 Newton St, Manchester M1 1HW).

This review was originally published in Black Flag #209, October 1996