Black Flag 214 (1998)


Issue of the London-based anarchist magazine Black Flag from the 1990s.

Submitted by Fozzie on April 6, 2018

Full contents in PDF at the bottom of the page.

Some of the shorter articles are below (with some longer articles linked). These are taken from the flag.blackened site and in some cases appear to be versions prior to final editing.

Thanks to Kate Sharpley Library for providing a physical copy to scan.


Editorial - the possible

Being a revolutionary anarchist can sometimes seem daunting. With all the attacks facing us from bosses, the State and other forms of authority, it can appear that a free society is a long way away. But in this issue there are a nuImber of articles which show that the way we organise can be achieved in the here and now and that in itself can open up new possibilities for resistance, creativity and self-organisation.

This can be on a small scale, as the example of the IWW in New Milton Shows. One person was able to make a difference. This doesn't mean that the five workers who joined the IWW will immediately or automatically become revolutionaries, but it will give them a sense of what can be done when you organise collectively in a libertarian way.

We speak to a Liverpool docker about the struggle of the whadfies in Australia. His message is clear “Each individual can change things, and collectively we can do more". The dockers are considering transforming their paper, The Dockers Charter, into a paper for a rank and file union movement. We hope they do, not because we see that as an end in itself, but because such a forum, run by a group as universally respected as the dockers, would open up more possibilities.

We interview Newham Monitoring Project, a grassroots group who haye done practical work against racist and police attacks for nearly 20 years, They used to be funded, but it was withdrawn last year. Despite that they carry on and the lessons we can learn from them are many, and relevant to much we do as anarchists.

And to Bradford -a lot of work well done, a lot of barriers broken down and communications established. But there is more to it than a weekend of celebration and discussion for 250 or so activists. One of the contentions of authoritarian Socialists like the SWP is that you need a centralised Party to “learn the lessons of the past". What events like May Day 98 in Bradford prove is that you don't and that forums which respect differences can be more constructive than anything that ever happens at Marxism.

Now who wants to organise next year's?

May Day 98

The May Day Celebrations in Bradford this year included not only a march and bands but a three day conference organised by anarchists from groups around the country.

May Day 98 grew out of the desire for change and self analysis that has been making itself felt in the movement for about a year. The main priorities of the conferences were not to produce any orderly proposals or achieve on-paper unity, but to talk to each other without sectarian barriers, to look honestly at our failures and to use our collective imagination as to the way ahead. To achieve this the conference was structured into groups of fifteen to twenty people and participants were split up from their mates to encourage a wider circulation of ideas and to stop cliques from dominating discussions.

The groups had four main themes for discussion, which were: away from the margins, all worked up, land ecology and the environment and dreamtime. Some groups stuck to this, others ignored it and just talked about what they wanted. Topics of note ranged from a discussion of space travel in one group to a big argument about whether we can have cups of tea after the revolution in another (If there's no tea I quit now! But we will eradicate lemsip.)

The conference was attended by about 250 people, a quarter women. There had been plans to have a women-only group, but most women felt this would mean the other groups were very male dominated. So instead there was one men only group (not self-selecting and some men weren't too happy about it) so that there were at least a third women in the other groups.

Some felt the conference would have been more productive if it had been more focused, but overall people were positive and felt inspired, especially by the friendliness and lack of backbiting. For me the conference was summed up by the feedback session on the last day, where instead of the usual dismal bureaucracy the room was buzzing, people were laughing, joking and hurling affectionate insults at the speakers. I left for once with faith in our movement, and hope for the future.

Trade Union Recognition

Recognition of trade unions by employers was initially sought and fought for by working people to ensure that proper collective bargaining took place and collective agreements were observed. This was a step towards securing reasonable levels of pay and working conditions. It could only be gained if workers were united and determined to get it.

The recent debate about whether legislation should be passed to allow employees to vote on whether they want to have a trade union recognised by their employer has little to do with these struggles of an earlier era apart from the recurrence of some of the terms.

In the 1990s trade unions have become massive and bureaucratic bodies with interests and agendas of their own quite distinct from those of their members. So the extent to which they represent and pursue the interests of their members is often slight and coincidental. So, any decision by Blair as to how the legislation on trade union recognition should be framed will have but little impact on working people at large and the problems and difficulties they face.

There are elements in the discussion that we should think about. For instance the argument about whether it is acceptable to require a level of support from among the whole of a workforce is an idea that has a history and a number of resonances. But there is one very particular consequence. The proposed level at the time of writing is 40%. No agreement to recognise a trade union in a place of work could be enforced unless at least 40% of the total of employees in that workplace had voted for it. Very few MPs obtained as much as 40% from the whole of their electorate. No post war government has ever got that much support Such a system applied to Parliament would return only half a dozen MPs. But let us leave such pleasant fantasies and get back to trade union recognition.

It is clearly a cheek for MPs to say what levels of support are needed to legitimise any proposal. And aside form this the trade union organisations are keen to get legislation that gives them the best chance of winning votes for recognition. This might be a means through which they can get back into the industries where their support has declined, mainly because trade union membership never stopped anyone from losing a job when a company was on the skids. Indeed trade union activism was often the factor that meant someone was picked out to be made redundant.

The employers' organisations are opposed to recognition presumably because they are living in a 1950s time warp and believe that the trade union recognition means trade union activism which means that working people will again be campaigning and struggling with militancy and effectiveness for improved conditions and wages. I reckon that trade union recognition works as much in the interests of the employer as it does in the interest of the worker. Where trade unions are recognised the whole system of negotiations and deals works within a pattern that is acceptable to and often largely imposed by the employer. The significant industrial battles carried out by workers in the past decade have been conducted in spite of rather than with the active support of national trade union leaderships. The campaign of the Liverpool dockers is the outstanding recent example of this.

But trade unions can be useful. I have always belonged to the trade union appropriate to my job. Indeed I have been an active lay officer for over 25 years and regard trade union work in my workplace - defending people on disciplinary charges, accompanying members in meetings with managers, negotiating local conditions of service - as being useful work. But on the big issues the inertia of the large organisations and the hostility of highly paid trade union professionals to troublesome members mean that workers fight these battles outside the main organisations they have formed for the purpose.

Therefore I take the unorthodox view among trade union activists that recognition of trade unions by employers cannot have much impact on working people and that their most important campaigns will continue to be fought autonomously and using such external resources as they can recruit to their aid.

The success of these campaigns will depend on the levels of this support and the effectiveness and imaginativeness with which it used. Highly paid suits in top trade union jobs will make no helpful contribution here. They are more interested in influencing legislation on trade union membership and thereby extending their membership and income and the areas in which they can negotiate deals on behalf of their members and with the minimum contribution from the members as to what sort of deals they want.

Danish strike fails to bring home the bacon

About 400,000 private sector workers in Denmark went on indefinite strike on the 27th April) against a background of employers making big profits and workers having shown "restraint" for the last few years. Employers had refused to accept any demand that increased company costs, despite the fact that the economy is booming and workers wanted more time off.

The unions declared their willingness to re-enter negotiations but this offer was rejected. The employers locked out more workers in retail and distribution. By the third day of the strike the stock exchange fell by around kr34 bn.(about £3b) and foreign investors were getting jittery. The Social Democrat government warned that if the strike went on longer than 10 days they would be forced to intervene.

As in the big strike of 1985, there was a national meeting of shop stewards in Odense to decide on the outcome of the strike. The meeting agreed the formation of national and local co-ordinating committees to organise the running of the strike. This was also in response to the union leaders who were talking about opening negotiations where the demands of the strike could be watered down. The strike remained solid and the employers started to complain about a "workers' dictatorship" as they have to ask permission from the unions for any movements they want to make. The unions only allow things to happen on the basis of emergency cases. One cannot get petrol, cannot get out of some of the islands, without permission from the trade unions. During the strike there was a unionisation campaign with workers going to non-organised workplaces to recruit them.

On May 7th a special law dictating the terms of the "contracts" of the sectors affected by the strike (and lockout) was passed, thus making all further industrial action illegal. The striking workers returned to work the following Monday, though some held stop-work meetings and went home for the day. The new law gives between one and three extra days leave, depending on service, but it also cuts back on the employers' contributions to pension funds and abolishes a special tax paid by employers to cover some of the governments expenses for pay during sick leaves.

According to the government, the terms of the special law will not cost the employers any more than the agreement which was rejected by the workers and started the strike. We spoke to a Danish union activist attending the march for Social Justice in London and asked him about the end of the strike. His view was that Danish workers were too 'comfortable' to find the will to continue in defiance of the law. His union, the Scaffolders club of the general union, had instead used their anger and frustration to good effect in the local contract bargaining that was going on, and had signed new agreements with several previously non-unionised firms, usually after pickets. Other groups of workers have decided to stop their financial support for the Social Democratic party as a protest, such as the Copenhagen airport workers.

A short History of Polish Anarchism

An anarchist movement of Narodnik ( Russian anti-capitalist democratic activists of the late 19th century) and Anarchist ideas from Russia and Western Europe came into existence at the turn of the 1th century. The ideas were by no means uniform, from the uncopromising and controversial Nechaev, gallant Bakunin, anarcho-communist prince Kropotkin or Leo Tolstoy, promoter of a pacifist christian negation of statehood.

The first and most significant anarchistic group in the pre-independence Poland originated in 1903 in Bialystok and consisted in an enormous part of Jewish people. In the next years some similar centres came into being in Nieznow, Warsaw,Lodz, Siedlce, Czestochowa, Kielce and a couple of other towns.What particularly intensified activity in all centres was news from the Russian Revoluution, Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg. These groups took part in terrorist activity as well as propoganda actions such as attempts on police officers' and factory owners' lives. There were also bank robberies to gain funds. Nowadays the majority of us anarchists entirely reject such methods but to understand the motivation to act in this way it is important to realise the level of cruelty and despotism of the tsar's authority. For example in Warsaw, on Governer general Saklow's order, 16 young anarchists, (about 18 years old) were murdered by the authorities and their bodies thrown into the Vistula. Shots at demonstrating workers were not uncommon either.

At the same time material popularising the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism came pouring in. Adherents of this kind of anarchism repudiated terrorism claiming it did not contribute to an increase in society's consciousness, but on the contrary averted it from anarchism and caused disarray in the movement. That is why anarcho-syndicalists encouaraged other anarchists towards propagandistic activity and joining trade unions.

The best known theoreticians of Polish anarchism were Edward Abramowski, Waclaw Machajski and the anarcho-sydicalists Dr Jozef Zielinski and Augustyn Wroblewski.

Edward Abramowski claimed to be a non-state socialist . However it should be noted that the word "socialism" at that time did not have such a limited meaning as it has nowadays and a majority of groups of liberation, leftist groups and struggles for independence identified with it. Abramowski presented his views in works such as "Ethics and Revolution", "Republic of Friends " and "A Public Collusion Against Government". An alternative to the state system was, in his opinion, free associations of producers and mutual services federated in bigger co-operatives.) Only they are a support of a real freedom, give welfare, order, justice and brother hood to the individual. Furthermore they are organised from the grassroots, spontaenaeously without compulsion.Existing associates should form on a specified territory a free commune without authority and police. However the lack of a supposedly indispensable repression machinery does not mean the eruption of chaos into human life art all. The reverse happens- it releases energy and fervour that were being reduced in a system so far and that make people wanting to create the surrounding reality and to find themselves in it. An example of a big growth of social consciousness in the big solidarity days and then the repression of 13/12 ?????? is the best evidence of an enormous potential in people who have realised that they can change something in their life and surroundings at last. But let's return to Abramowski's theories. An unquestionable authority of those days, Tolstoy, had a considerable influence on his views. Follwoing him he advocatied non-paymnet of taxes and refusing to join the army. At the same time as being against the church as an institution he referred to Jesus' sermons which in his opinion denied statehood and authority. In his book "A public collusion agfainst governemnt" he gave some instructions about how people should struggle with the Tsar for thier own national maintenance. it certainly did not mean promoting another dictatorship which statehood is. Abramowski was also ( as every anarchist) opposed to national socialism. He prophetically warned "The politics of modern socialism is a politics of strengthening and extending national authority that tends not towards setting people free but towards towards authorising everything which only they themselves can authorise."

Another popular polish anarchist was Waclaw Machajski, born in 1876, an originator of a new current, so-called machajewszsczism. Originally he was a patriotic activist in the PPS party but gradulaly he came to anti-intelligentsia views. he claimed that all the greatest evil that surrounds people comes form ideas and ideologies of intellectuals. Although the consequence of that attitude was the setting aside not only of democracy and socialism but anarchism as well his ideology was closely related to this movemnt. Foretelling the constraints that follow socialism he augured an arrival of a slavish system in which bureaucratic machinery set up by intelligentsia would constrain an ordinary workman. During the interwar period syndicalist ideas had reercussions in the Union of Trade Unions ( ZZZ in Polish) this was 130000 strong and active from 1931-1939. The association presented itself to join the IWA. It is still active today and assembles anarcho-syndicalist and syndicalist trade unions. During the war the ZZZ and other organsiations formed the Polish Syndicalist Union (in polish ZSP) which actively battled against fascists. However it was not isolated from other formations and coperated with the National Army (AK) and the People's Army (AL). An illegal newsheet, the Syndiclaist, was published and ZSP detachments took part in the Warsaw Uprising.

Anarchistic ideas reappeared after the war at the same time as the Alternative Societies movementand the Sigma club which originated in the early 80s. Other groups like the Autonomous Anarchistic Federation of Lublin, Freedom and Peace, Intercity Anarchistic Federation and Orange Alternative shot up like mushrooms after that. They were all active against the communist system however as distinct from Solidarity they defended themselves with irony and humour and refusing to join the army than more traditional methods. A lot of the radical ecological activists came form these movemnts. Some still exist and there are new ones as well such as Social Activity Membership in Slupsk. Anarchist ideas of the workers movemtn found a lot of support. A group of the Anarchist Federation published a paper "Works" in Nova Huta.

An inspiration to that kind of activity was often the original Solidarity which has a lot of syndicalist features in its programme. "the only possible way to change the actual situation is to set up authentic workers' autonomies which would make the employees the real master of a factory. Our association demands a restoration of the autonomous nature of the co-operative. It is necessary to pass a new bill which will protect from administrative interference." This was passed by the National Deputies conference of NSZZ (Solidarity) in 1981. The real programme of this association is now much less radical and far from the original.

It should be said that Polish anarchist history is not as impressive as the Spanish, Italian or Russian. [ this is according to the Polish authors of this piece ] A strong desire for its own statehood after years of slavery won in Polish society. As always this situation gave independence to only a minority, to the majority only new chains. I hope the future will not bring us a sadomasochistic cult of the headman to Polish society but instead the triumph of freedom and autonomy.

Long Live Anarchy!

Obituary: Merle Austin Africa

In early March 1998, eco-revolutionary MOVE activist Merle Africa died in prison. As one of the MOVE Nine she was serving a 30-100 year sentence for a crime she did not commit having been framed by the Philadelphia Police in an attempt to silence the revolutionary voice of MOVE.

Despite knowing that she would probably die in prison, Merle was one of the strongest, most determined women I have ever known. Staunch in her belief in defence of life, all life, she always remained positive and focused. She never appeared bitter by her wrongful imprisonment, instead she turned her energies to compassion and support for others. When Merle found out that I'd been arrested under the Gandalf prosecution, she was quick to offer support and advice. Like all of the MOVE Nine, Merle was a staunch revolutionary. "MOVE's work is to stop industry from poisoning the air, the water, the soil, and to put an end to the enslavement of life - people, animals, any form of life."(quote from MOVE) With the death of Merle we have lost her inspirational voice and Chuck, Debbie, Janet, Janine, Delbert, Ed, Mike and Phil have lost their sister.

Obituary by Noel Molland (aka Rabbix)

For more information about MOVE read "A Quick Guide to MOVE" in BF209

Review: "Parliament or Democracy?"

by Kevin Doyle, published by the WSM, PO Box 1528, Dublin 8, Ireland. £2

This comprehensive, well written pamphlet is one I would recommend. It traces the evolution of the idea of democracy, what anarchists mean by the term and how the State uses it to have a completely different meaning. The roots of modern democracy lie primarily in the 18th century, with the revolt against those born to privilege which was the French revolution, and from where most modern European political ideas and movements can trace part of their ancestry. At school, we are always presented with a straight black and white question whenever there is a great historical moment. In this case, it is the absolute monarch against the people. Obviously, the 'people' are the good guys (no one these days who isn't an absolute monarch or an eastern mystic believes in divine right). But what's never mentioned is that the "people" aren't a homogenous mass, and contain both the would be new ruling class (the bourgeoisie) as well as peasants, artisans, workers and so on. They can all use democracy as a rallying cry, but the bourgeoisie put a number of conditions on it - property ownership and sex being the main ones.

The pamphlet goes on to address how workers organising was sidetracked into Parliamentary politics, and why as anarchists such parliamentary antics are the antithesis of our politics. An examination of Labour Parties records in power shows just how dismal was the failure of early socialists who trod that first step on the chimera of the Parliamentary road to socialism. A quick look at many countries around the world quickly shows that "democracy" as most people would understand it is not practised anywhere at a governmental level.

It would have been very easy to end the pamphlet with that, a survey that shows up how far from democracy Parliament is. However, in closing, Doyle puts forward the anarchist alternative to Parliament, what we can really call democracy, and looks at the mechanisms of democratic control developed during the Spanish revolution.

Letter: Back to Looking Inwards - again

The notion that anarchist ideas are so hot and the continuing conundrum as how to make anyone give a monkeys changed up a gear this May as the hordes gathered in Bradford to discuss how to get noticed. Maybe it's too much to ask for a summary and conclusion of the events, discussions and rants which took place - the whole four days were massive, with unknown hundreds turning up - however it's perhaps a little too convenient an excuse to avoid giving a personal view of what happened in Bradford.

The build up to Bradford '98, the pre-event debates, saw a lot of unlikely characters sitting down and discussing what they thought to be their differences, the very notion that these people could be found in a room trying to make sense of it must have shocked some into tragic pathos. This possibly was the most exciting part, but to be fair they all speak, or at least understand the same language. The admission from some anarchists that the claim that all is well in the anarchist is in fact a myth, shows a healthy level of critical analysis - something anarchists are good at-although this reality hasn't hit home for some, and the myth goes on.

London Smoke

With arguably the most anarchist activity and the strongest concentration of self-aware anarchists in the country, London is home to the perpetuation of this myth. With enough numbers and smart-arses in each camp to keep a sectarian war going, the rest of the anarchist groups around the country have to make sense of their disenfranchisement from the ordinary people, whilst attempting to peddle pages of bitter infighting included in anarchist propaganda all of which is based in London. The very fact that in London the two closest aligned libertarian organisations, the ACF and SolFed, seem to spend every opportunity in putting each other to the test, or chastising for some ideological wrong doing, speaks volumes.

Perhaps one benefit of not having as many people in the libertarian communities outside London is being able to step back and examine the real differences and what is actually being said to each other. It may strike people on the periphery that it's just a case of language and attitude as the greatest obstacles.

Into the ghetto

The eighties were blighted by individualism and arguably inconsequential single issue campaigning, sometimes a thousand years form most people's interests. Political correctness was rife, for some people everyday conversation changed forever. Anarchists were found taking up the cause for the likes of veganism and using it as a moral club to beat , and to score points against fellow comrades. The 90s backlash against all that pointless hot air was harsh, though overdue. And although too much could not have been expected of Bradford 98, some of those attitudes were inevitably present. It's not that libertarian ideas are crap, it's the libertarians. If they're not beating each other up with words they're jumping down other people's throats for sounding un-PC. But to be fair, the past ten years have seen interest in class struggle libertarian ideas progress in leaps and bounds, though not at the expense of the ever busy DIY attitude. Recently there have been attempts by class struggle anarchists to claim the direct action eco movement as a prodigal son returning to its roots and embracing class consciousness. Possibly true for some, though an awareness of genus over class seems to be de rigeur for most eco activists. The argument that there have been recent examples of association between everyday people's struggles and eco activists holds very little water. The DIY scene is presented by hopeful anarchists as radical, united and collected, one step away from joining a class struggle federation. Anyone can pass on views on pieces of paper on behalf of the eco movement in just the same way anyone can form opinions about that movement by the people from within it they speak to, and there's some would have you believe the Liverpool dockers were nothing bar manure for trees. Language. (?? -Ed.)

More hot air

Rather than set up any list of people who libertarians, especially class strugglers, should be speaking to, let's just enjoy speaking to each other for a while; smaller miracles like speaking to people outside anarchist circles may one day happen. Go Bradford!

In Solidarity Arthur T.S.Jackson

Comment: While we found some of these points valid, it's not true that all the anarchist press is centred in London. Direct Action is based in Sheffield, Subversion in Manchester, Counter Information in central Scotland, Taking Liberties has recently moved to Sheffield. Similarly, the description of the behaviour of London ACF and SolFed in London leave at least this writer bemused.


1. In 1904, the French psychologist Alfred Binet was asked to devise a way of measuring which children needed special help in French schools. He rejected the view that his test could identify the cause of those special needs, and was particularly scathing of those teachers who used an assessment of irremediable stupidity as an excuse to avoid the “special effort that such students require”. What happened to his test when they were imported into the English speaking world?

Answer Choices:
a: It was used to justify racial discrimination.
b: It was used to allocate resources in a fair and equitable way.
c: It was used to filter applicants to 'The Price is Right'
d: It was used to determine the IQ of people applying to join

2. In what way might the British royal family be descended from elves?

Answer Choices:
a: The queen mother is an elf.
b: The family name was changed from Elvenberg (meaning 'of elves') to Windsor (when being German was not fashionable).
c: They are related to a medieval Italian political faction, the Guelph from which the word 'elf' derived.
d: In the 15th Century, people used to believe that the King had god-given powers, known then as 'elvine'.

3. There are two individuals whom some claim are anarchists who have been commemorated on British stamps. Who are they and for what were they commemorated?

Answer Choices:
a: Mohandas Gandhi and Guy Faulks.
b: William Blake and William Morris.
c: Mohandas Gandhi and William Morris.
d: Guy Faulks and Albert Meltzer.

4. Which fictional character, which far more claim to anarchism, and whose creator is an anarchist, was featured on a British stamp in 1990?

Answer Choices:
a: Dennis the Menace.
b: Minnie the Minx.
c: Rhubarb
d: Midge (The mouse from Mary Mungo and Midge)

5. Why do the grammarians in the anarchist movement get annoyed when younger comrades write about celebrating Mayday?

Answer Choices:
a: They need to get out more.
b: Because it should be marked, not celebrated (until all authority has been overthrown).
c: It should be spelt 'May Day'.
d: It should be spelt - M'aidez!

Correct Answers:
1: a

They were vulgarised as the Stanford-Binet test in the United States, and were used to assign places in society, i.e. blacks at the bottom, followed by recent immigrants from Latin and Slav countries and with white Northern Europeans at the top. Apologists for the tests claimed that someone’s position in society was a “natural” effect of their intelligence, rather than to do with racial and social discrimination. Similar arguments were used in Britain as a justification for selective education.

2: c

Dr Johnson quotes the derivation of the word elf as being from Guelph, a political faction in medieval Italy (and the word goblin from their rivals the Ghibellines). The names of the factions originated in Germany, and the Guelph dynasty reigned in Hanover until 1866. The British royal family is descended from the House of Hanover.

3: c

Mohandas Gandhi was featured on a stamp in 1969 to celebrate the centenary of his birth. While the likes of George Woodcock claim Gandhi was an anarchist, they are really confusing anarchism with pacifism, and at best Gandhi was only a tactical pacifist.
The libertarian communist William Morris explicitly stated he was not an anarchist, even though he worked very closely with anarchists in the Socialist League. He was recognised in 1982 for his contribution to textile design. The Post Office refused to commemorate the centenary of his birth in 1996.

4: a

Dennis the Menace was featured in a book of “smiles” greetings stamps.

5: c

It gives them a chance to show off their pedantry by making the point that May Day is the First of May, celebrated as International Workers Day, while Mayday is the international distress call derived from the French “M’aidez!”, meaning “Help me”.


BlackFlag-214.pdf (12.79 MB)



9 months 1 week ago

Submitted by Fozzie on August 12, 2023

PDF added.