Notes on the activities and organisations of anarchists in the Glasgow and Clydeside area in the 1970s and 1980s.
A LIBERTARIAN SOCIALIST group forms at Strathclyde University, reproducing an expanded version of Solidarity’s As We See It as a founding statement; an ad appears in the last issue of the ‘Glasgow News’ about an Anarchist group participating in squatting in the Glasgow University campus; a prominent NUSS activist gets involved in the Anarchist Workers Association. Contact made between individuals leads to a Group being formed and the ‘withering away’ of former pursuits such as candle-making in favour of class struggle politics. A primitive duplicator churns out the first leaflet on Binmen’s dispute. Formation of the Glasgow Union of Squatters and attempts made to make contact with individual squatters in Maryhill, Govanhill & elsewhere. Anarchist centre set up in Bute Gardens in large squat with 9 rooms, a large public room equipped with duplicator, silkscreen (donated by Art Lecturer) & space for 20-30 bodies. Skirmishes with University officials when door repainted a defiant Red but this abates when bottles owned by Dept of Urology are released, without more samples being added! Another squat exists with less ‘political’ elements (interview appears in the ‘Daily News’) but another, vacated by Trotskyite Lecturer is closed down by the authorities.
By way of bookstalls, leafleting, demonstrations and Public meetings the nucleus of the GAG makes contact with other anarchists. Some of the Public Meetings were notable: the late John Olday (veteran anti-militarist & revolutionary who tried to assassinate Hitler) spoke on ‘German Anarchism’ which he equated with armed struggle groups, & cooked us a meal at the Social afterwards; also in Partick we had a talk & films-how about the Kirkby Rent Strike on the outskirts of Liverpool, which was supported by ‘Big Flame’; a debate on the Spanish Revolution included the participation of the late Miguel Garcia & Albert Meltzer but ascendancy over the International Marxist Group was only achieved by speakers from the floor, veterans of groups in the 1960s.
By then a federation, the SLF, not to be confused with the punk ‘New wave’, was established in 6 Scottish Centres. In Aberdeen a breakaway from the Socialist Party of Great Britain had formed an effective direct action group with individual anarchists; in Dundee spasmodic activity by the group lacked cohesion; in St. Andrews there was a brief student group fronted by somebody called ‘Haggis’; in Stirling the Local Council took fright & cancelled the inaugural Anarchist meeting but a group was formed, largely student base with an Anarchist Collection established at the University Library; in Edinburgh there were close ties with Glasgow & joint campaign work, the nucleus being members of AWA. A series of 7 Conferences were held between the beginning of 1975 & the end of 1977, three of which were in Glasgow. The formal sessions, like the interminable Internal Newsletters that were intended to sustain the momentum of the network in between conferences & joint campaigns, deserve scant memory. The after conference spirit was usually much more interesting & intoxicating. In Edinburgh the SLF Conference was interrupted by a marching Orange procession below & some comrades has to be dissuaded from uttering challenges: in Aberdeen the Glasgow group were confronted with the ideology of Anti-sexism by a Dundee Libertarian who persuaded them to refrain from uttering expletives like ‘Fuck’ & say ‘sneeze’ instead.
More practical was immersion in International Solidarity work. This included solidarity with the hanged Salvador Puig in Spain, Ralf Stein in Cologne, the ‘accidental death of’ Pinelli in Italy framed by the State, Akatasuna in the Basque country, and the 1976 uprising in South Africa. Closer to home was the case of Noel & Marie Murray in Dublin who was facing the death penalty for allegedly killing a Garda (policeman). This led to support activities including the picket at the Anglo-Irish Bank in Jamaica Street & the occupation of Aer Lingus in St. Enoch Square, a successful exercise aided by a squad from Easterhouse linked to ‘Clydesider’ & Scottish Republicanism. Such protests were widespread in the British Isles, and abated with the commuting of the sentence. A feature of such activity was the generation of a moral righteousness & selfless exterior which, being flawed human beings, we couldn’t sustain long.
A real progression was the move into ‘community issues’, including the struggle to save Partick Bus Garage in 1977. More influential was the Fair Fares campaign which saw the group in 1976 launch a widespread poster campaign to popularise resistance to fares increases. Silkscreened ‘Snoopy says No’ purple posters appeared on bus shelters all over the city, especially by the nightshift of flyposterers who jumped in and out of vans on drives from Drumchapel to Easterhouse. Others scaled bridges and painted slogans, and the ‘catalyst’ efforts led to community groups linking in protests (and SNP gains from Labour in the peripheral estates). A few ‘situations’ were created on buses on a proclaimed ‘Day of Action’ & mysteriously a confrontation with transport police who happened to be on a 43 bus into town which a squad of Fares Fighters had boarded, refusing to pay the new fare & engaged in persuading passengers to join in the spirit.
The Glasgow Peoples Press was launched in September 1977. We had teamed up with a Possilpark based graphic artist/amateur journalist who had produced a ‘pilot edition’ called ‘The Source’. His appeal for support was joined by a dozen anarchists and we worked together on several issues before he bailed out. The paper, with an initial print-run of 2,000, was modelled on a fusion of radical community investigative paper integrated with an anarchic spirit of fostering revolt. Inevitably the blend was patchy and the project witnessed a steady drop in editorial collective participation & print run, dropping to less than a thousand. On the plus side 11 issues were produced & the G.P.P. provided a training ground in producing propaganda for popular consumption and spread knowledge of local community issues, campaigns on fares and setting up claimants unions, and awareness of projects such as the Alternative Bookshop Collective & libertarian publications.
The spread of the Claimants Union movement initially was due to anarchist influence centred in Drumchapel, Partick,& Maryhill. The anarchists also made links with the Firemen during their winter 1977/78 dispute. Support for local activists in Possilpark, Blackhill & Castlemilk led to the establishment of Unions with more entrenched credibility. Other unions in Rutherglen, Govanhill, Garthamlock & Paisley were formed, usually with a nucleus of 6 to 10 activists. A bond of mutual aid and distrust of the local State originally pervaded at the monthly coordination meetings. Yet within a year forces had combined to weaken the libertarian socialist element – apart from Castlemilk – and establish the Clydeside C.U.s as predominantly parochial, and seduced by a welfare rights mentality. A contributory factor in this process was the Community Development Officers attached to the Social Work Department to award Start Up Grants & second Community Workers whose remit was to institutionalise the service of the local Union, allocate community flats & so on. The squabbles with a handful of IMG activist’s also diverted attention from the emerging ‘non-political’ hegemony of welfarism, disregarding the socialist & more confrontational model of the C.U.s in England 0 in London organised on a borough-wide basis. The region also set up a network of Welfare Rights Officers & other posts linked to Urban Aid projects & (after years of self-imposed austerity) many of the ‘Westenders’ were sucked into jobs as ‘insiders’. Activity in the C.U. movement was part-and-parcel of a ‘revolution of Everyday Life’ approach which recognised a need to be involved in ‘bread & butter’ issues and negated identity as Anarchists.
In 1979 the General Election produced a Thatcherite victory, largely courtesy of exploiting the fallout from the ‘Winter of Discontent’. & the vacillation of Callaghan in ‘going to the country’. It also saw the end of Teddy Taylor’s fiefdom in Cathcart. And it was in the ‘sleeping giant’ of Castlemilk that the anarchists concentrated a local campaign to ‘Put Rubbish in its Place’, intended as a spoof of the District Council ‘clean up’ campaign redefined by the anarchists as politicians being consigned to the ‘rubbish bin of history’. The joke was well intended but the campaign imploded as Maxton mobilised the highest Labour turnout in the seat, despite an inert & corrupt local party. A similar effect occurred two years later in the Hillhead by-election which ushered in the claret era of Roy Jenkins. Anarchist flirted with ant-parliamentary street meetings & propaganda which included a speaker exhorting the crowd the crowd to trash a Rolls-Royce stuck in a Byres Road traffic jam & a verbal assault of Pastor Jack Glass’s cavalcade. Unlike the earlier era which drew from the everyday interaction engendered by living in squats and the solidarity of claimants in regular contact, the activity on this period lacked a sense of purpose & belief. Episodes nevertheless occurred including public meetings in Scotland addresses by John Quail & a quick debate on Libertarian Education; the launch of ‘Hard Times’ as a Glasgow insert in the Anarchist Communist Association paper ‘Bread & Roses’; anti-militarist leaflets by rendezvous & other efforts at radicalising CND from the outside; solidarity with the Polish workers faced with the military clampdown of Dec ’81 in a march to the Polish Consulate; the one-off appearance of the Izel Liberation Front; anti-nuclear action at Torness; and the fracas at Virgin Records which led to two arrests after the megastore had been invaded by anarchists declaring ‘all records are free!’
The last mentioned event , and the possibly misguided intervention of masked anarchists in the huge unemployment march in 1981, nevertheless ushered in a new era & the birth of the Clydeside anarchists as a fighting force. The momentum started in Paisley in 1980 with the punk-inclined Practical Anarchy fanzine accompanying Grouch Marx Records promoting local bands such as the Fegs & XS Discharge. This led to the widespread circulation of a local broadsheet Paisley Gutterpress which achieved a notoriety through lampooning politicians and revealing scandals in the corridors of the Local Council. ‘Practical Anarchy’ then went on to its second reincarnation as a Group magazine, only 1 of the 2 issues being distributed. The inspiration from England of the 1981 riots became an underlying factor & the perceived need to combat the ‘politics of despair’ & rituals that personified the Left transfixed with the decisive ending of consensus politics. A new influx of lively characters formerly involved in punk, CND or Trotskyite circles revitalised the approach. Facilitating this was the use of the Glasgow Bookshop Collective’s basement in Great Western Road, where a printing press was located & meetings could be held to plan activity. The Bookshop Collective has been set up with the participation of anarchists & fellow-travellers in feminist & other circles and managed to combine a base for promoting anti-authoritarian activities with the voluntary based selling of alternative literature.
In April 1982, Practical Anarchy was relaunched as a broadsheet & and its notoriety was immediately achieved by the coincidence of the Falklands War. ‘Fuck the Falklands’ declared the tabloid –style front-page & to underline the tension at the targeted CND demonstration a dozen anarchists were arrested as the local constabulary desperately tried to impound the offending challenge to anti-militarism.. Issues followed at more or less monthly intervals, and although circulation rarely exceeded 4,000 an issue, there was a generally well-received response at CND demonstrations & the like, excepting the Stewards & the straight Left who were wrong-footed by the audacious & lampooning approach. Apart from broadsheets, which came to predominate up to mid-1984, flyers were produced, ideal for flypostering, announcing ‘This Man is Rat’ (Wm Gray, ex-Provost); ‘’Anarchist Alternative to Suicide’ after two unemployed youths topped themselves in Warrington; an ‘expose’ on an underground shelter in the Burrell Collection vaults(!); an anti-parasite warning on the occasion of Pr Charles’ wedding; and odd creations such as the ‘passport’ leaflet during the Falklands War, the giro leaflet paid to A. Doler of nowhere Place, and the Songs for Swinging Scroungers at the Picket of the CBI Conference in 1984.
This group was organised on fluid principles but inevitably this let to its perceived domination by able individuals & the beginning of a momentum to reorganise the ‘Clydeside Anarchists’ by 1984. The previous year, the public persona of the group had expanded with a series of Public Meetings held in Clydebank, Paisley, East Kilbride & Shawlands following on from a large rally (a disaster) at the McLellan Galleries shortly after the June 1983 Thatcher ‘second term’ victory. Thereafter one of the most positive developments took place with the ‘free speech fight’; to establish a weekly pitch for Street Speaking in Argyle Street fronted by a pool of 4 varied speakers using contrasting styles to ‘capture’ the audience, briefly freed from the routine of shopping (or shoplifting). There was also the production of local anarchist broadsheets – Toejam in kilmarnock, West End Crimes in Hillhead/Maryhill, Refuse Collection in East Kilbride & Springburn Follies, produced by a couple of people in each locality and federated to the wider group, who often covered printing costs. Carries along by frenetic activity and the suspicion that our influence was more superficial and merely anecdotal to the ‘serious’ Left, there developed a move to re-establish the group the group as an Organisation, to which activity would be more accountable & coordinated by an agreed strategy. To this end, a discussion journal, The Clydeside Anarchist produced two issues in 1984. This was cast aside by the momentus development of the miners strike.
Not fully appreciating the significance of the miners’ resolve to ‘take-on’ the Government, the anarchists originally produced a couple of Practical Anarchy specials. As the dispute become more determined , with the deployment of centrally coordinated Policing, control over movement& so on, the mood of the Clydeside Anarchists changed, and the playful spirit was discarded. The mentality of self-sacrifice became enshrined in the Price-Waterhouse occupation and the ensuing intense street-collections (6 times a week) which raised £12,000 which was passed direct to Strike Centres, especially those in Ayrshire. Links with Union activists from Ayrshire were briefly formed, but in the process the Street-speaking pitches & the opening up of a public sphere for anarchist ideas was abandoned in favour of a role as an unofficial miners support group. Inevitably such activity & the delayed trial of the Price Waterhouse defendants exhausted those involved intensively, while those unable to match such commitment dropped by the wayside, often afflicted by a sense of guilt that they had not ‘done enough’. An impetus to this mood was provided by the growing influence of Animal Rights activity alongside anarchism & its stress upon indignation & anti-intellectualism.
Although spasmodic activities organised around ‘Clydesider’ broadsheet occurred in 1986, heralded the new Sheriff Court, & a visit by a Wapping militant trying to open up a ‘second front’ at the News International Plant in Kinning Park, another cycle of popular anarchist organising has dissipated with negligible legacy.
Reflecting on such activity over the years, which achieved a greater impact in the 1982-4 period than previous anarchist projects, it is often difficult to analyse, by adopting the standpoint of a detached ‘outsider’, why certain activities occurred at certain times & why cycles of activity took place without apparent direct influence if historic events (excluding the observations about the miners; dispute). The questions of praxis, the fusion of theory and practical activity, interested few militants over the years. The inability of the theorists to express themselves in clear, concise ways led to their ridicule, or at least marginalised influence, which they could only redeem by a bout of militarism. Similarly as J.T Caldwell has remarked, anarchist groups tend to attract a ‘rank-and-file’ member with an outlook pre-disposed to ideological certainties, an idée fixé which sees theory in terms of historical dogma, a heritage enshrined on tablets of stone. Invariably many of the prime movers in successive groups, myself included, do not subscribe to such an approach, but our ‘practical reflexivity’ is rarely communicated with a relish & clearsightedness that dovetails with the collective imagination of a political project which measures its impact in terms of ‘bearing witness’. As an interesting tangent to this it is instructive to note the marginal involvement (in Glasgow, especially when compared to Edinburgh) of women in the myriad of activities. In 1975 there was a joint discussion meeting of the GAG with the Women’s Liberation Movement & in 1983 a brief anarcho-feminists discussion circle, an offshoot from the Bookshop collective & anarchist group. The Glasgow tradition is of workerism fused with Stirnerism, and the cultural transfer of such an approach over the last 50 years, helps to explain the peripheral concern with ‘new social movements’ around cultural and gender concerns. Glasgow has a more enduring working class culture than most other UK cities & one interesting result of the Thatcherite authoritarian strategy in the coming years will be to undermine the hold of Labourism, the Welfare State & the electoral basis of ‘dependency’ politics.
NOTE: Inevitably activities & influences have been missed by this survey of anti-politics. To view leaflets & the mass of material received in 'mutual exchange' in UK and overseas, visit the Mitchell Library, second floor, Social Science & ask to see the Anarchist referecen collection. See also the article by Robert Lynn in Workers City, Clydeside Press, 1988. For obvious reasons, names & certain direct actions have been omitted from mention.
First published in New Edinburgh Review, issue 83, p.96-105.