When Phil Ruff took over Anarchy in 1982 he made a positive anarchist magazine out of the third attempt, even though it did not last long. A measure of his success was that, although Freedom had built their commercial viability upon the old magazine, they speedily withdrew not only recognition but even use of “their” address from the magazine, because it upset the liberal elements who had been prepared to swallow the second series as a painful necessity. They denied Anarchy was the same journal as it had different editors from the original, which Freedom also had many times over.
Anarchy concentrated on investigative research and among its scoops was a lot of the dirt about the two fascisms, high and low. This peaked with their publication, jointly with Refract, of Stuart’s Steffano delle Chiaie, Portrait of a Black Terrorist in 1984. The maladroit title ensured the book wasn’t widely read, but it exposed the Italian fascist-financial-terrorist racket. Anyone who took the trouble to read it and had money to invest would have been spared involvement in the sensational collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, in which hundreds of Asian shopkeepers lost everything, enticed by its Arab ownership, and one or two councils lost their ratepayers’ money, induced by the phoney Green aura. Conversely, I heard of one or two readers without money to invest took out loans for cars with BCCI knowing they need never repay. But these were readers of Refract and Anarchy. What respectable person would take note of “mindless militants”? It took nine years more for official investigations to discover what was revealed in the book, and about the same time for television to find out about the “stay-at-home-Army” of Italian fascists recruited by the Americans after the War (Gladio) to carry out terrorist operations in the event of a Russian invasion, Communist coup or workers’ rising.
One wonders what sort of reports these Special Branch and Intelligence people make. Considering the huge amount of time and money they poured into investigating the Anarchists, why could they not seize on revelations issued by the same people? These pointers were ignored. One can understand that the financiers or the investigative broadcasters did not read these publications, but the police most certainly did. Are there some rackets the Government want kept quiet?
The parties playing at street fascism faced the dilemma after the War that fascism had become associated with the defeated enemy and they lost their natural backers in the Establishment. In any case, it did not need them any longer. They were now a political embarrassment, unlike Mosley in his heyday, when leading Tories thought he would eventually return to the Conservative Party as a workers’ leader and, whatever personal views they had of him, take the place they eventually, and reluctantly, gave to Winston Churchill, with similar pro-fascist but not pro-(German) Nazi views. High fascism had no need for the street fascists after the War. They sought to take advantage of diverse political trends, pro-Europe, anti-Europe, anti-Communism, anti-Zionism, pro-Irish nationalism, anti-Irish Republicanism, above all the racial tensions created by immigration.
The Establishment would only need them as a stick to beat the workers. To make itself credible, fascism had to strike at an unpopular minority nobody would defend, and then another, and another, until finally it seemed invincible. The technique had worked elsewhere, but it was not needed here and the fascists could not build up a home base. Eventually they settled on what was regarded as a “skinhead” base of youngsters who just wanted a fight, the sort of people who spent large sums travelling abroad to away football matches just for the pleasure of beating up foreigners or supporters of rival home teams. With such people there was no question of argument or discussion. With the racially-motivated punter one could argue, or with experience convince, but with the street-fascist there was only one argument that carried weight. The police had long stood by while street speakers were beaten up, even, perhaps especially, women in the Suffrage days. When fascism came along and up to the present the police have been concerned with free speech for them, indeed treated them as a protected species.
This is why conscious anarchists were engaged in smashing into fascists every time they emerged, and from them, and one or two other groups, came the slogan of “No platform for fascists”. It was to the great credit of the DAM that it did so, when the Failed Mandarins were echoing the Liberal line of “leave them alone and they’ll go home”, presumably wagging their swastikas behind them. The SWP and others such as the Anti-Nazi League wanted to make political capital out of fascism, by selling their newspapers and chanting “Nazi Scum”, often at the very people going out to bash the fash.
Perhaps recognising this, the National Front at one time cast envious eyes at what they thought of as the anarchist movement. Like the Leninists they thought they might “convert the Anarchist masses and turn them against their leaders”. (sic) They wrote to Black Flag suggesting we debate. We answered in our columns with the words “Fuck Off!” Later Martin Webster, when he turned from the National Front and denounced his former comrades in the usual fashion, elaborated that “they even approached anarchists like Stuart Christie but he told them to get drowned in their own shit”. In fact the apt if not witty or original two word reply was written by the then Brixton editorial but everyone enjoys namedropping. In one press statement one NF faction claimed hopefully it was no longer fascist or even racist but “anarchist and libertarian” but this only caused the faction to vanish. Perhaps like the Young Tory right wing “anarchists and libertarians” all they meant by the former was the legalisation of cannabis and by the latter not having to pay tax on it either.
Meanwhile Searchlight, ostensibly a magazine to combat fascism but ever more dodgy since its founder Maurice Ludmer died, had been full of misinformation about anarchists and direct actionists (meaning DAM) “co-operating with Nazis”. Searchlight tried guilt by association. If a person lived on a squatted flat in an estate where a couple of Nazis legally lived, this was trotted out as suspicious. Neither could they forget if someone in his or her youth had been a fascist. Perhaps they took themselves as proof that anti-fascist propaganda could never have an effect. Unless ex-fascists worked for Searchlight, they were damned for ever more.
It admitted it had “agents at every Channel port” watching Nazis coming in and out, but for a small monthly paper to have this meant only one thing. They were referring to contacts with Special Branch, with whom they swapped information, though it was never difficult to “listen in” to fascist inside events. Several members of fascist groups worked for anti-fascist organisations. I knew one former anarchist (maybe he still was one, though he had told everyone he had renounced his faith) who had lost both legs in war service. He was supposed to have become a fascist overnight. I saw him in a wheelchair in Furnival Street, and found he was going to the Jewish Chronicle office. I waited until he came out and spoke to him. He admitted he sold information and reckoned he was doing a good job for anti-fascism, being a member of three rival fascist organisations. There were several others of whom I know, one or two still living and whose cover I will not blow, who supply tidbits to different news and investigative agencies. I doubt if the motive is ideological in these cases.
Some of the professional anti-fash, mind you, stink almost as much as the fascists. One such approached me to find out what dirt I had on an actor, who for at least sixteen years had been a firm supporter of anti-fascist causes. He was not particularly well known (except as a TV soap character) but, according to this “anti-fascist” investigator, had once been in a fascist youth group. The sleuth was determined to “expose” the infamy. Even if it had been true, which I could not possibly know, I reckon the actor must have been all of fourteen years old at the time. I need not repeat my remarks but they were in a similar vein to those of Black Flag to the National Front.
The politicos who controlled the ANL like nothing better than having their followers chanting at Fascists and in individual confrontations being beaten up by fascist gangs, in mass ones by the police. It proves what they say about Tory governments. They themselves write letters to the Press signed by the hopefully famous, appealing for a legal ban on whatever fascist party is going. Having seen the same show for the first two or three performances, I never troubled much about the last to date.
Anti-Fascist Action is somewhat different. In the latest manifestation to the date of writing, it has countered fascist-style terror applied by gangs against isolated individuals, on the classic 20s German model, with positive action against fascists venturing out in mass under police protection. Thus it has prevented repetition of the 30s in the East End, when mass fascist demonstrations, surrounded by a serried police guard, made the fash fashionable. The same, multiplied, goes for the Continent. It is not the violence of the Nazi parties that constitutes an ultimate political danger, whatever individual damage it does, but the apathy and submission to them of everyone else. Break that pattern and they splinter.
Few nowadays remember, as I learned from contemporaries, how puerile and ridiculous the German Nazis seemed in the years before they were handed power. and how powerful the organised Social Democratic workers and the Communist Red Front were. Unfortunately, with the first whiff of illegality, the leaders vanished. One day they were parading through the streets as if they were about to take power, the next day they were skulking in cellars, corralled in warehouses converted into concentration camps. The military leaders, trained in Russia in the Red Army, went into exile and in Spain sneered at the Anarchist workers who fought without any knowledge of the correct Marxist discipline required to do so.
My experience is that passive non-resistance is the other side of the coin to tyranny. Pacifism can be positive when governments are perpetuating conscription and war. But when there is no war the judiciary that condemns pacifism in wartime looks much more adversely on ‘violent’ action in defence of a class or a scapegoated minority.
Premature conception of a fascist menace can prevent a revolutionary movement making its own agenda. As that is the primary object of fascism, the ruling class does not need to go to the inconvenience of financing a fascist movement, as the British and American Establishment did in Germany and Italy the 20s and 30s.
It should never be forgotten that the Nazis were a conscious creation of American big business and the US government, that Italian fascism was encouraged to grow by British interests. Both turned against them and they had to expend their blood and their own treasure to defeat it. Only the most extreme Marxists deny this. I heard an Oehlerite during the War saying it was a phoney struggle, to disguise the fact that the capitalist powers wanted to destroy the Soviet Union. But it didn’t stop him decamping to an air aid shelter twenty minutes later.
I remember how in the period of the Cold War the American Government, terrified lest Irish Republicans (then under Stalinist control) penetrate the dockyards, set out to destroy the Official IRA. They created the Provisionals, originally backed by the Republic, and originally with an emphasis on Nationalist tradition rather than Nationalist revolution. When the new set of Troubles began twenty years ago, the Provisionals pushed the Officials out of existence and took over. It ignored its sponsors in the same way as Lenin spurned his German Imperial sponsors who paved the way for the Bolshevik takeover.
A few years later I pointed this out in our journal, and received some feedback and hate mail. An article in Red Action, one of the other participants in AFA, but neo-Trotskyist, ignoring the visit by Gerry Adams to the President of the United States for help in the anti-imperialist struggle, scornfully repudiated the fact that the imperialist powers could have set up the Provisional IRA when they could clearly be seen fighting against it. They took the view that the Northern Republicans were fighting fascism, and the Loyalists were fascist, as ‘proved’ by the attitude of British fascists to the struggle, though almost every other fascist party in Europe supported the PIRA. The Provos took advantage of their faith by asking them to put their money where their mouth was, and two English members of Red Action were charged with the Harrods bombing and went to prison for 20 years, still confident of IRA military victory. As, typical of Trots, they had taken the key posts in AFA, its records and addresses fell into the hands of the police.
The End of Fleet Street
What was known as “Fleet Street” vanished not with a bang but a whimper. A history that began with the struggles by people like Richard Carlile for unlicensed printing and a free press ended sordidly as a result of “Eddie” Shah and the Murdoch-Maxwell empires.
A few years before, J. M. Alexander, Kitty Lamb and myself had laid a wreath outside the former offices from which Carlile (1790-1843) had launched his battle for a press independent of the government. True to the morality taught by the new press lords, it had been stolen within five minutes of our leaving.
After Shah’s cost-cutting and union-bashing exercise in launching Today, Murdoch had taken the initiative in the transformation to the new technology as an opportunity to smash trade unionism. It was backed by legislation, to introduce by quasi-constitutional means, like Mussolini, what Hitler and Franco had done by force of arms. Other industrialists, with the printers and miners defeated and the re-introduction of rising unemployment to provide added threat, were able go for recession, pretending it was a natural or divine plague like those of Egypt, but only hitting the low-born.
Within the national print industry, others achieved the same thing with varying degree of effrontery and enthusiasm, encouraged by the craven words of the journalists who had for so long depended on the printers always to back them when they were in dispute. When the Battle of Wapping was over, other press mandarins who had stayed aloof came out with the daggers they had been sharpening in silence. It was the real time to heap wreaths upon Richard Carlile, whose spirit was now dead, if not at peace.
What was almost immediately noticeable was the decline and fall of whatever standards remained in British journalism. For years proprietors, and certainly editors under instructions from proprietors, had been hesitant of the worst exercises in power because of the fear that the printers might not print the edition concerned. It was bad enough what did go through in the name of not wanting to interfere with the freedom of the press proprietor, but now grossly racist cartoons, virtual incitements to mob rule, violently offensive anti-worker stories or incredible exploitation of individual suffering, which had all at one time or another been considered too risky to pass the print room or had to be withdrawn, were the order of the day.
Before long The Times had degenerated to the gutter, while the Sunday Times in its newfound exhilaration was writing sleaze even upon royalty let alone anyone else, and libel lawyers flourished like the green bay tree.
Maxwell, on the other hand, used his newspaper assets to cover his criminal empire. His crookedness had been known for years. I had seen them proved years before in the Simpkin Marshall deal, and I was an obscure figure with no inside knowledge. Everyone knew what he was up to, but while he had the money to splash around he could buy any member of the Establishment and any journalist. The City gentlemen who had for years conspired to keep him out as a foreign crook, when they had plenty of their own, thank you all the same, had been bought by him.
With his mysterious death they turned against him, but until then, the only people who tried to keep him in check were the printers, whom he hated. They were unsuccessful eventually, paying for their curbs on him by his stealing their pension funds while decimating their ranks, taking advantage of the draconian measures of the government and the revolution in print production.
At the Telegraph the death was less dramatic. Union activity remained fighting to the finish at the shop floor when the official leadership lost interest and negotiated deals in which the management scored hands down under a new proprietor imported from Canada. By relocating the building the new tycoon neatly divided the workforce. They split the firm into two, one company for print and the other a pre-production plant in the new Canary Wharf building, which meant an end to solidarity with the new laws against secondary picketing.
Large redundancy payments were paid, even to those past retiring age, as long as the bulk of printers and maintenance workers had not moved to the Isle of Dogs and remained organised and strong. Gradually these faded in deals done with union officials, but not with reference to members, until the pre-production workers they needed were shifted. When but a handful of us were left in Fleet Street, the bonanza ceased. When it came to the end, I had to retire without qualifying for the large sums others had got while the union was still effective. I was in the same boat as those who had moved to Canary Wharf when they had served their purpose.
I had never seriously thought of what retirement would be like. For years I had been a “barrack room lawyer” which kept me busy between my paid work, my holidays and my propaganda activities. I had forgotten how to be idle. It was gratifying to know I wasn’t totally forgotten and people still brought their troubles to me. I remained active with old friends in the anarchist movement, an undeserved legend among the younger activists, and a bete noire to the phoneys.
Just before retiring I had a holiday in Morocco which was the first I had for years in which I did not encounter the movement in one part of the world or another. Now that I could go further afield than Europe, North America and Africa I thought I would do a lot of travelling. I had never been seriously sick and apart from one or two minor accidents had never seen the inside of a hospital as a patient except once for two weeks, to lose weight. But no sooner had I finally retired from work than I suddenly experienced an alarming vertigo which stayed with me for three years.
I seemed to be spinning around dizzily and the specialists suggested it was Meniere’s disease. Finally they agreed it was not, as that goes with deafness which I did not have, though the tinnitus I suffered years before returned, but they could not decide what it was beyond an affliction of the inner ear causing loss of the sense of balance. Fortunately I could still drive but getting out of the car to walk caused the outward signs of drunkenness. After being breathalysed by the police twice when I was perfectly sober, I used a stick purely as an alibi at first but came to rely on it for a couple of years.
We were still producing Black Flag but four of our editorial team, the most valuable we had since Stuart ceased to take an active part after the collapse of Cienfuegos Press, went to Australia. Margaret and Peter had already gone; Jessica and Terry were about to go. Terry had the idea that if I also went, we might produce Black Flag from Down Under. I was a bit sceptical about that possibility, as were others, but when I had an invitation from some friends with whom I had formerly worked in Deptford DAM to come and visit them out there, I decided on combining a long holiday with a lecture tour, hoping that a trip around the Australian continent might do me good anyway.
I must confess too that the vertigo had made me feel near death a few times, and I reasoned that if I made the grand tour on credit card and died in the process I would have the last laugh on the banking system and made sure there was someone to weep at my grave, if only from Access and Visa.
I had some good meetings in Sydney which the anarcho-syndicalist organisation put on for me and I renewed old friendships, as many people in anarchist circles had been to London for a time. I had not realised some of them were Ozzies. There were a few in the Spanish and Bulgarian circles I had met, too. Both circles had long been stalwarts of the Australian scene. Indeed, the anarchist movement had been strong in Bulgaria and fought long and hard against the monarchy and the Nazi invasion, and continued the fight against the Communist dictatorship, but before total annihilation a shipload of Bulgarian comrades had left for Australia. They and the veterans of the Australian IWW had been the last representatives of the international movement in Australia for years until a new wave of youth came along to join their ranks.
In Alice Springs I met for the first time the indigenous Australians, in particular the new generation in whom the old Dreamtime was reawakened in the form of nationalism. Their ambitions are unlikely to be realised. Australian Genocide has been much more complete than in North America, where the indigence was at a far higher state of civilisation when crushed by military intervention, euphemistically described as Discovery. The Australian folk were doomed to extinction by whoever ‘discovered’ them first, if not the British, then the French or Portuguese, or maybe at a later date the Japanese. The way of life of the remnants of the so-called “aboriginals” is one dispirited, workless, driven from their old homes and sacred sites, bemused by drink; notwithstanding those who have moved into modern times and are equal to anyone. The latest trend among white folks is to boast, not merely of being descended from convicts but of a hint of aboriginal blood in their ancestry. But it does not do the “blackfella” in the outback much good.
Yet after two centuries of being first feared, then hated, despised, and finally murdered by the conquerors, the “abos” at last have come, after a fashion, into their own. It has been realised they have a key commercial use for exploitation in modern life. The tourist does not come to Australia to see the Test Match or the Sydney Opera House, nor even the beautiful West Pacific beaches, but (or at least, also) the attractions of the Outback with its sacred sites of Dreamtime. Historic places like Ayers Rock are incomplete without colourfully dressed unpaid extras in their original settlements, and so the sacred sites have now been officially declared their “spiritual” possession where the people who once ruled the vast spaces of what was then a wholly unspoiled beautiful land need do nothing more strenuous for their dole cheques than pose for the cameras, secure in the knowledge it is “theirs” for ever by historic right and law. Spiritually, of course.