Black Flag 219 (2000)

Black Flag 219 (2000)

Complete contents in PDF. Some contents also available as text below (taken from http://flag.blackened.net/blackflag/). A work in progress.

Editorial

"Capitalism? No thanks! We will burn your fucking banks!" So chanted a group of black-clad anarchists in Seattle. A slogan of immense theoretical power and clarity, it sums up well the promise and power of anarchism! We have the politics to understand the world and, more importantly, the tactics (direct action), the ideas (a free and libertarian socialism) and ideals (liberty, equality, solidarity) to change the world for the better.

Needless to say, after the event, the hordes of self-proclaimed vanguards will publish articles trying to "educate" us poor, thick, anarchists of the errors of our (petty-bourgeois/ lumpen proletariat) ways. Of course it never enters their minds that we are anarchists not because we have never heard of (or mis-understand) Marxist-Leninism. We are anarchists because we understand Leninism. We reject the ideas of vanguardism and embrace the lessons learned by people actually active in the class struggle. Kropotkin was right, Anarchism "originated in everyday struggles" and draws its ideas and ideals from those struggles. Struggles such as those in Seattle and the organising and organisations that preceded it.

That is why Seattle is so important - it was an expression of the class struggle which inspires and informs anarchism and from this struggle anarchist ideas will grow. Black Flag congratulates all involved! Well done! One in the eye of capitalism and the state! Direct action gets results, yet again!

Contents

NATIONAL NEWS

  • Reclaiming the Railways London's N30 Mini-Riot
  • Close Campsfield Down! Sixth Anniversary Demo & John Ouaquah's Victory
  • Solidarity with West Papua - Direct Action Across UK
  • Massacre in West Papua - 300,000+ Killed Since 1962
  • British Nazis in Spain - ITP Buys a Village
  • Mayday 2000 Festival of Resistance
  • ABC Network UK Folds But Local Groups Continue
  • Rat Thrown Off... Nick Hudson Sacked
  • Death Control? Spanish Peace Activism

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • Butchery in Chechnya - Russia's Diversionary War
  • Blood for Oil - Colombian Resistance
  • iViva Las Mujeres Creando! - Bolivian Anarcha Feminists
  • Swedish Activist Murdered - Fascist Violence Exposed
  • The Zlin Ten - Czech Anti-Fascists On Trial
  • In the Ghetto - Roma in the Czech Republic
  • Rioters Greet Clinton - Greek Anarchists Strike
  • Social Exclusion in Colombia - Civilians Respond to 'Peace Talk' Exclusion
  • Raid at Mehringhof - Berliner Autonomists Hit
  • Crackdown in Indonesia - State Terror Against FAF
  • The Class War Kills Again - Death at NZ Picket Line

FEATURES

  • Stateless in Seattle - N30 Eyewitnesses' Report
  • Global Capitalism, Global Protest - N30 Around the World
  • Clinton - Champion of Labour Standards? N30 Workers' Mobilisation
  • On to Davos - Swiss Militant Protest
  • After Seattle '99 - Where We Go From Here
  • Shooting to Kill - New Politics Of Punishment
  • Talking In Their Sleep - The 'Affair' With Democracy
  • Health, Wealth & Inequality – It's Official – Poverty Kills!
  • Anarcho-Quiz
  • The Murmuring Volcano - Ecuador's Economic Crisis
  • Technology, Capitalism and Anarchism - Dehumanisation of Labour

PRISONERS

  • Nikos Maziotis
  • Ron Easterbrook
  • Mark Barnsley Update
  • Amelia Johnson
  • J18 Prisoners

REVIEWS & LETTERS

  • Evolution & Environment Kropotkin's 11th Volume
  • The Last Flight Of The Ornithocheirus - Walking With Dinosaurs
  • More Reviews
  • Letters
  • Peter Miller Obituary
  • Contacts

Close Campsfield Down

Three hundred people, from Kent, Bristol, Bradford, Leeds, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Coventry, Birmingham, Brighton and London, marked the sixth anniversary of the opening of Campsfield Immigrant Detention Centre. Despite a heavy police presence and constant police harassment, (two pigs for every protester, backed up with police horses and a police helicopter), protesters kept up a noisy protest for two hours before dispersing.

On arrival at the detention centre all transport carrying protesters was forced by the police to park half a mile away from the camp. Every protester was photographed and videoed by the police as they arrived at the gates of the camp and the surveillance continued throughout the demonstration only stopping for ten minutes when police attacked the protesters.

Campsfield is surrounded by a 20 foot high, half inch thick metal wall. Protesters banged on it with their hands to let the refugees in the camp know they were there. Police decided this was causing "criminal damage" to the fence and ordered the protesters to desist. This only encouraged people to bang even harder. The police then charged the demonstrators and pulled people away from the fence dragging them through a hedgerow and physically throwing them into the field adjacent to the camp. A line of police was then formed at the fence to keep protesters away.

Demonstrators let off multicoloured helium balloons that tangled above the fence, their strings caught on the razor wire. Paper planes flew over carrying messages of support to the detainees. Protesters played drums, flutes, guitars and makeshift drums with pots and pans.

Group 4, who run Campsfield for the Immigration Service, were clearly nervous of the protest. Bolts along the fence had been welded solid. Detainees were locked indoors until the demonstration finished. The government need to understand that these protests will continue until they stop imprisoning people without trial, without reason and without time limit. Punishing people for seeking asylum.

At the end of the demo protesters agreed to continue opposition to existing detention centres Campsfield (Oxfordshire), Harmondsworth (Heathrow), Tinsley (Gatwick), Haslar (Portsmouth), Rochester Prison (Kent) and against the new detention centres planned at Oakington (Cambridgeshire), and Aldington (Kent).

National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC)
110 Hamstead Road
Birmingham B20 2QS
Phone: 0121-554-6947 FAX: 0870-055-4570
E-mail: ncadc@ncadc.demon.co.uk x
Web site: http://www.ncadc.demon.co.uk

The Murmuring Volcano

Ecuador's history is perhaps not as turbulent as its neighbours, but it shares with them a common heritage of resistance to oppression and the exploitation of its people and resources. The neo-liberal model that has been so enthusiastically adopted in many parts of Latin America is designed to make the poor pay - with higher prices, lower wages and increased social costs. The underlying causes of the economic crisis in the country lie in the country's corrupt and fragmented political classes.

The government of Jamil Mahuad was inaugurated in August 1998. His predecessor, Alarcón, was arrested for corruption. He in turn had replaced Abdala Bucaram, called "El Loco" fled the country after people surrounded the Presidential Palace. The political classes, such as the financial and export elites of Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, are so neo-liberal in outlook they have been criticised by the IMF! Among other thins, they got income tax abolished and have rigged bailouts for a series of banking scandals, all of which they have profited from.

Ecuador is heavily reliant on oil and banana exports and the national currency, the sucre, has long been prone to hyper-inflation. Mahuad's solution has been to try to pass the costs onto the poor. In early 1999, an attempt was made to increase the price of gasoline, which prompted widespread strikes and blockades by taxi and bus drivers, until the price hike was removed.

In October, the crisis deepened and the country suffered two volcanic eruptions, Pichincha near the capital, Quito, and Tungaragua, which caused the resort town of Baños to be evacuated.

In January this year, Mahuad answered the deepening crisis by freezing bank accounts, announcing the privatisation of the oil fields and decreed that the US dollar would be the nation's currency. This "dollarisation" did not just mean the end of the sucre, but increased spoils for the rich who could speculate in dollars. This measure was immediately met with calls for a uprising by the main Indian organisation, CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) on January 15th.

CONAIE launched an "Indian and Popular Parliament", going for a conscious strategy of dual power, with talk of forming a Council for National Salvation.The oil workers and students struck.

A long-term resistance struggle was planned. As CONAIE's vice-president, Ulcuango, noted, if they resisted 500 years of oppresion they can very well resist several months more.

Their goal is a new economic and political order, far from neoliberalism and based on the Parliament of the Peoples of Ecuador. By the 20th January, between 20 and 30 thousand Indians were in Quito. The Indians managed to assemble outside the National Congress but were dispersed by the police and army, using tear gas.

CONAIE appealed to the army, many of whom are Indians themselves, to support them. An offer to negotiate with Mahuad was rejected, as they didn't recognise his legitimacy. The Parliament of the Peoples of Ecuador demands included the suspension of the state of emergency, the abandonment of "dollarisation", the resignation of Mahuad , actions against corruption, and a freeze on public transport fares and the restoration of a Council for National Salvation. Though not demands an anarchist would make they were designed to appeal to the majority of the Indians and the urban poor. The Ecuadorian Constitution allows for the people assuming such powers when the authorities are incompetent and act against the national interest. There were riots in other cities and troops took over an oil refinery in Esmereldas that had been occupied by striking workers. In the province of Chimborazo, 50000 Indians blocked the Pan-American Highway. In a desperate attempt to back-pedal, Mahuad announced a pay rise for private company employees from $47 to $60 a month. But as the basic cost of living for a family in Ecuador is $200 a month, this was an insult.

On Friday 21st January, the Indians took over the Congress backed by junior and middle-ranking officers. They established a provisional government, the Council for National Salvation, headed by Colonel Lucio Gutierrez, with the President of CONAIE, Antonio Vargas, and Carlos Solerzano, formerly of the Court of Justice.

The official military leader, General Carlos Mendoza, arrested Gutierrez, and forced Mahuad to resign. Vice-President Noboa was initiated as President, pledging the same policies. The faces changed, but the economic misery remained.

The indigenas tried to continue the uprising in Quito, but lacking the support of the army, they decided to leave the city. They were evicted from the Peoples Parliament by the army, which officially dissolved it. According to Ecuadorians United in Montréal, Canada, General Jaime del Castillo led 400 soldiers to massacre the Indians at El Arbolito in Quito, but fortunately the soldiers refused to obey.

The indigenas said that they would watch the new government and the struggle would continue. The new government started to purge the military and arrest prominent leftists, Indian leaders and people from the Co-ordination of Social Movements.

While not as libertarian in character as some other indigenous movements in Latin America, CONAIE has several tendencies, explained here by an activist at an alternative news agency in Quito.

"Not all the indigenous people are for a change of goverment, the big capitalists among them, for example, who are large exporters of handcrafts. They are happy with the idea of dollarization and neoliberalism.

And so, within the organized indigenous movement there are various factions.
(O)ne that holds the indigenous position ... excludes anyone who is not indigenous. They are purists and call for the return of Tahuantinsuyo (the Inca Empire.)
... The democratic faction for a New Ecuador is the most structured politically and has the great majority. The various uprisings and taking over the main churches has been their work. Theirs is the design for the Parliament (and) the proposed political reforms.

The bad thing about this faction is that when they allied themselves with the democratic party line, they lost 40% of what they had gained before. They formed the Pachakutik movement and let themselves become taken in by the siren song of "democracy", though it seems, luckily, that they are beginning to resist. Nowadays they are saying that they have shown that with the current democracy the people have no alternatives, so a takeover of power is the only solution.

The utilitarian position includes those who are selling the indigenous movement as a mendicant movement, those who ask you for money at every turn, even for the air they breathe... This faction is into the world of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations).

They talk of a New Plurinational and Democratic State in order to make room for all the anti-neoliberal factions that don't want to be classified as orthodox or leftist. The idea is to attract the small and medium-size producers, who have been seriously hurt and who have recently played a significant part in the development of the national economy. There is nothing to discuss with big business.

We're not thinking about an autarchy, nor in the total destruction of what is in the country in order to start all over again, an idea that is not acceptable. It is believed that the middle and lower class sectors of society can foster a new Ecuador.

Politics by alliance should be this way. Remember that the movement of the indigenous and rural people is not one of armed conflict but it is political and this is the world of ideas. For this reason, proposals are accompanied by protests."

Though their immediate aim of a more popular government was thwarted, the uprising is not over and the indigenas are discussing new strategies. The local and regional plenaries remain, and already one in Quito has demanded the release of the detainees and repeated the demands of the Peoples' Parliament.

For updates:
www.ainfos.ca
www.amarc.org/pulsar has the most update reliable information in Spanish.

In the Ghetto

ROMA COMMUNITY IMPRISONED BY WALL IN CZECH REPUBLIC

Unhindered by the Czech government, a town in the Czech Republic has been able to build a wall round an area occupied by Roma, confining them to a Ghetto. The town of 'Usti and Labem' began to build its two metre high wall of breeze blocks and steel around buildings on one side of Maticni Street at about 4 am one morning in early October. It was completed by the evening.

The builders were protected by an 80 strong force of police. With grim echo's of Nazi occupation, Roma people from the new ghetto were not allowed out of their houses while the wall was built. The wall has three brown steel doors to allow access to the block. It is intended that these will be locked at ten at night. The creation of the Ghetto, probably the first in post war Europe, was fought all the way by Roma activists and Human Rights institutions. Yet the Czech Government has displayed extraordinary complacency in its handling of the crisis. The proposal for the wall first appeared in May 1998 and the international community warned that the wall would be a violation of international law.

In March 1999 The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination warned that the Czech government was not doing enough to prohibit this unlawful act of racial segregation. More recently, in June, Ramiro Cibrian, the EU envoy to the Czech Republic, said that the Czech Republic could not be considered for EU membership if the wall was built. In May 99, and again a week before the wall was built, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) called on Czech authorities to halt the municipal plans to build the wall.

The first attempt to build the wall took place on October 5th, when builders put up a series of pillars, a gate, and three sections of wall before Roma, acting peacefully, blocked further construction. The next day Romani activists from around the Czech Republic came to Usti and Labem and dismantled sections of wall. By 7th October Romani activists had taken down the rest of the wall. Protests against the wall continued throughout the week both in Usti and around the Czech Republic.

It was not until two days after the first parts of the wall had been built and pulled down, that the Czech Prime Minister, Milos Zeman stated , "The wall in Usti divides the Czech Republic from the European Union."

However, other high ranking Czech officials down-played the importance of the wall and, although legally empowered to do so, Czech authorities entirely failed to prevent its construction. Indeed The Czech parliament didn't get round to annulling the original resolution of the Usti and Labem town council to build the wall until the afternoon of 13th October, two hours after the wall was completed.

Taxing times in France

In response to a call by four mining unions for action, on November 30th, in Lorraine, East France, hundreds of miners demonstrated against a pay freeze and a £50 end of year bonus. They set fire to police cars and government offices. In Forbach, 400 miners broke through a cordon of riot cops and ransacked a tax office, pulling furniture into the street and setting it (and the building) on fire. Earlier, in Metz, other miners set fire to 3 police cars and smashed the ground floor offices of another tax office. Furniture and files were dragged into the street and trashed.

Death Control?

Four Spanish war-resisters may face up to two years in prison after being judged by a military court (consejo de guerra). Their crime? - putting giant condoms on cannons! Of course, in order to do this, they had to get into the military installations, and in the process violated military safety rules under which they are being charged despite being civilians. The action was part of a larger campaign which aims to take civil disobedience and non-collaboration with all aspects of the war machine into the military institutions. It is a new strategy developed by the Spanish and Basque war resisters and the Army is fighting back with their own laws. International solidarity with the war resisters may be needed as the case progresses.

Contact Daniela CNT-Gipuzkoa (address?)

Free Trade benefits all?

Faced with the protests in Seattle, the Economist opined that the benefits of Free Trade included faster economic growth. Is this true?

The Brazilian economy is often pinpointed as an example of the positive effects of neo-liberal change. However, here the evidence does not support the Economists assertions. Over the last decade, Brazil's per capita GBP growth averaged approximately 2.5 per cent a year. By comparison, according to UN data, it averaged 4.7 per cent during the period 1960 to 1980 when it followed a more inward-looking path to development.

It could be argued that reform in Brazil has not progressed enough, that Brazil is still a relatively closed economy. If we look at Mexico, a nation much more integrated into the world economy, we discover that, according to data from the IMF, over the last 15 years its per capita GBP growth per year has averaged approximately 1.0 per cent.

Of course, both countries have seen the rich grow richer and inequality increase, proof that neo-liberalism works, only for those who matter in a capitalist economy - the capitalists.

Social Exclusion in Columbia

Parties in Columbia are in the middle of peace talks to deal with two armies trying to seize power. FARC thinks it's winning but so does the army and both sides are negotiating for privileges before they are ready to talk about peace. Civilian society has been systematically excluded from these peace talks and from every single decision that is made in Colombia, only those in power (including the guerrillas and paramilitaries who have got to the negotiating table by the gun, and union leaders who represent no-one but themselves) can be included. ELN said they would include civil society in the negotiations and brought in a couple of friends and some representatives of big economic conglomerates but didn't ask a single peasant or poor person to join. So civilians are suffering the effects of war but aren't given a say when it comes to finding a solution.

Everybody thinks they represent the people and all talk as if they did. They ask the government for solutions, the guerrillas for peace, the paramilitaries to stop slaughtering peasants, but they can't do anything, or at least don't think they can. The problem with the authoritarian tradition of the left here is that it has reproduced the myth of the necessity of a vanguard to represent and make decisions for the people, thus spreading the problem of social exclusion to the political arena.

The response has been massive civil disobedience campaigns that reflect people’s need to have a say about their own situation. There have been strikes everywhere, highway blockades, hunger strikes and riots in prisons. People are beginning to find their own way and to distrust their leaders. They now know that following leaders, including so called ‘revolutionary’ ones - leads to yet more exclusion.

The indigenous movements have been very influential in this process as they have always had alternative - more democratic and horizontal - forms of organisation here. As their lives and interests have been affected by the current situation, they have stimulated alternative ways of responding and direct action which had seldom been an option in the past.

If peace talks are to achieve anything, the common people must be included and the only way of achieving this is through direct action. The armies sitting at the negotiating table do not represent anyone, people have to break into the peace talks and they're doing it now. Those movements which espouse direct action and civil disobedience are the ones to watch. The essential work now is to find a way to confederate and articulate these movements. They had, until recently, been isolated from the rest of the political arena, mainly by the powers in control, but partly by the lack of experience of this kind of organisation in a political arena dominated by an authoritarian tradition, a tradition that is finally beginning to break apart.

Chechnya

On 12 December anti-war activists took action against the war in Chechnya on one of the main streets in Moscow "Tverskaya". The idea was to declare "Tverskaya" as an area autonomous from the state and the Russian army. 27 people (mostly anarchists and people from Rainbow Keepers) took part but the action lasted only about 10 minutes until 7 people were arrested. TheTransnational Radical Party, Russian Democratic Union, Movement against Violence (Ekaterinburg), Tatarian Muslim party "Vatan" and Revolution Contact Committi (a new group) have organized several actions but usually with only 3-20 people each time. Anti-war stickers have been put up in the underground with slogans like "The state is the main terrorist", "No war", "Bring the army home", "War-money-war" on the walls. But it isn’t easy: Moscow is full of police and there is a pre-election campaign with the usual attendant propaganda. Most people don't support the protests against the war and the media won’t report anti-war actions.

Butchery in Chechnya

Overseeing the aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia, Tony Blair justified NATO's actions in the name of a "new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated." Those of us who condemned this "military humanism" (as Noam Chomsky has dryly termed it) as the same old imperialism in post-Cold War guise were denounced by the state department socialists of today. The slaughter of thousands of Chechens by a resurgent Russian military, though, has roused neither the ire of the NATO "internationalists" nor their "humanitarian" cheerleaders. Beyond token condemnation of the "excesses" of the Russian military, the butchery in the Caucasus has become an "internal" matter for Yeltsin and his generals to deal with as they see fit.

Moscow's ultimate aim, as in its ill-fated 1994-6 war, is to install a puppet regime in Chechnya. The government-in-waiting consists of the 48 members of the previous pro-Moscow parliament, in exile since 1996, "loyal to the Russian constitution and Russian laws". The likely leader of the new government is a convicted fraudster released from gaol to head the imposed regime.

In the run up to the 2000 presidential elections, a war in Chechnya is a useful distraction from the economic chaos and corruption of daily life in Russia. Anatoly Chubais, a key Kremlin insider, has remarked that "the Russian army is being revived in Chechnya and any politician who doesn't think so is not fit to be seen as a Russian politician." Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Boris Yeltsin's preferred candidate and the man who calls the shots (literally) whenever Yeltsin is "unwell" (and Yeltsin is more often than not "unwell" in the way Jeffrey Bernard was "unwell"), clearly relishes the opportunity to use a popular war to underwrite his claim to the presidency. It should be remembered that the pretext for the invasion of Chechnya was the battle against "terrorism" in response to the recent apartment block bombings which killed 300, and which Moscow blamed on Chechen militants. Not a scrap of evidence has been produced to demonstrate a Chechen connection to the bombs and given Putin's KGB links and the level of premeditation involved in the Chechen invasion, we should be cynical as to the real source of the bombings.

In 1994-96, Russian soldiers were slaughtered in their thousands in combat in the region, culminating in the April 1996 humiliation when an armoured regiment was ambushed in a mountain pass near Yarysh-Mardy. The Chechen triumph was videotaped and broadcast in Chechnya and Afghanistan as a recruitment aid to the multi-ethnic Islamist guerrillas. This time, inspired by the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia, the Russians have decided to raze the region through aerial bombardment before risking engagement on the ground. Thousands of refugees have attempted to flee the region, only to be held in camps at the Ingushetian border, where they freeze or starve. Over 300,000 have been displaced by the Russian onslaught.

Russia has fired tank shells at teenage boys in Novy Sharoy, pummelled the village of Samashki with aircraft, rocket-launchers and tanks even though they know the village is empty of rebels, and signalled its intention to destroy the city of Grozny. "The city of Grozny cannot be restored", Nikolai Koshman, Russia's viceroy in Chechnya announced. "Grozny must be blocked from all sides and its civilians should leave. Following Grozny's destruction, the city of Gudermes would become the new Chechen capital. Russian bombers are flying more than 100 sorties a day over Grozny. The mayor of the City, Lecha Dudayev, reported that over 500 died in the capital over the weekend of 27th-28th November.

It has been suggested that the West's apathy in the face of the slaughter of the Chechen people (in greater numbers and with greater force than Milosevic's forces used against the Kosovars) is a result of its having no strategic interest at stake. In fact, the opposite is true. As Fergal Keane has observed, "Having long ago decided that Mr Yeltsin was the Russian with whom we could do business, we have turned a blind eye to his drunkenness, to the corruption of his state and now to the brutality being inflicted on the Chechens. It is all part of the implicit bargain of keeping Yeltsin on our side." The Russian elite and the politicians of the West have a common agenda, the looting of the wreckage of the USSR. Since 1991, over $200 billion has left Russia, with both legal and illegal currency finding its way to Western banks. On August 19th the New York Times reported that up to $10 billion may have been laundered through the Bank of New York since 1998. The asset stripping of the USSR has been cheered on by the IMF, the World Bank and the US Treasury.

Meanwhile, some 70% of Russians now live below the poverty line, and capital investment is one-tenth what it was a decade ago. Those denounced as "corruptionalists" when they're caught out are the liberal reformers Washington, Bonn and London have kept in power. They remain the West's first choice, and the impoverishment of the Russian people, and the massacre of the Chechens cannot be allowed to stand in the way of business as usual.

At some point the Russians will have to engage with Chechen fighters on the ground. Faced with a prospect of a repeat of the 1994-6 humiliation and with a long winter ahead, the Russians may yet lose face. Certainly the ease with which the rebel forces of Khattab and Shamil Basayev occupied a number of Daghestani villages in August 1999 suggests that the Russians have no stomach for a prolonged engagement in the region. Whatever happens, though, the "new internationalism" suggested by Blair has proved itself quite content to watch while Moscow seeks to drown in blood the Chechens' right to independence. Yeltsin, Putin and "reformers" like Anatoly Chubais (who supervised the give-away of the USSR's oil, metal and telecommunications assets) are worth money tot he West. Chechen lives have no value at all. The rules of war in the era of "military humanism" seem clear enough. As Umar Vitayev, a Chechen refugee, observed; "Everything has been destroyed; our factories, our industry. We're going to have to remain dependent on someone, because we don't have anything left.

Mujeres Creando

Mujeres Creando are, in their own words, "a group of affection and defects, creativity and proposal." Set up with "the intention to be a transforming movement.. a movement of cultural space, art and social proposals where we paint, we tell stories, we dance them, we cook them, subverting the patriarchal order." They draw from their Andean heritage, from feminism, and anarchism to fight patriarchy, power, the State and militarism. "Along with other Latin American sisters," they have "managed to separate what is the feminism of technocracy from the historically useful struggle against patriarchy." The group only has 15-20 members, including the only openly lesbian activists in Bolivia. They run a small cultural centre, as well as publishing and agitating. The group is best known for its graffiti, always signed Mujeres Creando (which means "Women Creating". Favourite targets include neo-liberals, smug macho leftists, and mainstream feminists ("gender technocrats")).

A website about them describes them as "the country's only organisation that publicly, consistently and clearly speaks up for the oppressed, no matter who they are."

Reach Mujeres Creando at Casilla 12806, La Paz, Bolivia;
creando@ceibo.entelnet.bo
There is a website about them at:
http://www.americas.org/News/Features/9906_Gay_Rights/bolivias_mujeres_c...

The Zlin Ten

More state victimisation of anti-fascists in Czech Republic

Regular readers will remember the cases of Vaclav Je and Michal Patera, Czech anarchists arrested for defending themselves against fascist aggression. While Vaclav is now free and Michal is on bail, there is a new case.

In February 1999 an important trial began against ten anti-fascists and anarchists in Zlín, a major town in the east of the Czech Republic. The comrades, Vladimir Futák, Radek Velecký, Pavel Burian, Jakub Jancik, Marek Hradil, Václav Kotrla, Radim Kogler, Jakub Janícek, Petr Hríbek, Martin Betík and David Šrott, are accused of "ideologically motivated heavy injury and public disturbance committed in an organised group," and could face a ten year sentence. The accusations date back to the spring of 1997, when a dozen nazi skinheads, from the "Patriotic Front", clashed with a smaller group of anti-fascists, leaving one nazi badly wounded before they ran away.

The police subsequently arrested all the anti-fascists and rounded up well-known anarchists. The police case is that the ten anarchists attacked without provocation some "innocent citizens" waiting for a bus. Of course, these innocent citizens were nothing to do with the neo-nazis, not even the one wearing a Celtic cross!

Until August 1999, the situation for the Zlín Ten had looked good. Lawyers paid for by the Czech ABC Fund proved that several nazis had perjured themselves, and it looked like our comrades were not in great danger. Unfortunately, the situation changed, and confidential discussions with lawyers indicate that there is political pressure to convict and give the Ten very long sentences (5-10 years).

The Federation of Social Anarchists (Czech IWA section) are asking for international publicity for the Zlín Ten. The Zlín City Court's decision is not final, but it is rare for the High Court to overturn such a sentence.

Rioters Greet Clinton

Athens, 20 Nov. Almost at the same moment as Clinton arriving at the almost completely evicted Athens' airport, for his delayed 12 hour visit, hundreds of anarchists rioted through the centre of town for hours while the riot cops gassed leftist demonstrators. Clinton’s visit was bound to result in this. It was set originally for November 17, traditionally a day of protest in commemoration of the 1974 Polytechnic Uprising against the US backed military junta. On top of this the US backed bombing of Serbia has made Clinton even more of a hate figure in Greece than Bush. Bush visited a few months after the Gulf War - to a similar welcome.

Violence erupted despite the commitment of the KKE [Communist Party] to ensure that anarchists were not able to act. The KKE leadership have a record of attacking anarchists, arresting or grassing them. This time they were themselves gassed by the cops as they tried to demonstrate. These arseholes even went so far as to accuse the anarchists of being “"provocateurs in service of the government", intending to discredit communism and anti-Americanism”.

Smoking Guns

The selection, 20 months on from the Good Friday Agreement, of the 12-member power-sharing executive, has left hard-line unionists furious. The Democratic Unionist party has described the holding of ministerial office by SinnFein's Martin McGuiness (education) and Bairbre de Brun (health) as casting "a shadow over the so-called new dawn in Northern Ireland." Ian Paisley probably gave the game away when he condemned the fact that McGuiness was in charge of primary and secondary education and the SDLP's Sean Farren had control of higher education. For all the bluster, Paisley's concern was not with supposed "paramilitaries" entering the political arena, but the holding of office by Catholics per se. The Guardian (30/11/99) appeared fascinated by the idea that McGuiness, who "left school at 15 without qualifications" could presume to handle his brief at all. More than one taboo it appears has been broken – for the Unionists it was the presence of Taigs in the government, for the liberal middle classes it was the invasion of the unskilled working classes onto their terrain!

As always, violence and the pursuit of political aims through the use of force are presumed to be a historical baggage of the nationalists and Loyalist paramilitaries of the Progressive Unionists alone. It's worth, then, looking at the background of the "respectable" Unionist leader in Parliament Buildings.

David Trimble is seen as a fervent opponent of the politics of the gun. Leaving aside the allegations made by Jim Sands in Sean McPhilemy's book "The Committee", Trimble was a member of William Craig's Ulster Vanguard movement, and was political adviser to Craig when he told a 1972 rally in Belfast's Ormeau Park "We must build up a dossier of the men and women who are a menace to this country because if and when the politicians fail us, it may be our job to liquidate the enemy." Trimble was also involved in the Ulster Club's opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and said of the campaign, "I would personally draw the line at terrorism and serious violence. But if we are talking about a campaign that involves demonstrations and so on, then a certain element of violence might be inescapable." 1 In July 1996, Trimble, who, at the time "would never talk to terrorists", met mid-Ulster UVF murderer Billy "King Rat" Wright at the church hall at Drumcree, around the time Wright was involved in the killing of a catholic taxi driver, Michael McGoldrick.

Nor is it the case that the guns, which have echoed throughout the period of deadlock over decommissioning, have been those of nationalists. A variety of Loyalist front organisations have continued to ply their trade throughout. In November, a Loyalist death list was discovered at Stoneycroft Orange Hall in South Antrim. The list contained over 300 names. Included on the list were SinnFein councillors Sean Hayes and Alex Maskey and Lower Ormeau Concerned Community spokesperson Gerard Rice. Only a handful of those on the list have been warned by the RUC of the threat against them. The lists are believed to include copies of British army files compiled as recently as 1997. Since the lists were discovered a North Belfast family on the lists have been targeted in a pipe bomb attack and five people in the Newry area have been sent letters containing a bullet and signed OV (Orange Volunteers). Community activist Michael O'Hara, chairperson of the Short Strand Residents Group, was attacked by a machete wielding Loyalist group on 19 November. There is speculation that the attack was the work of the LVF. In the past few months there have been two pipe bomb attacks and 6 petrol bomb attacks in the Short Strand enclave and 2 British soldiers were caught by local Republicans after they took part in a loyalist gang attack on the area. Both the Orange Volunteers (a flag of convenience for the LVF) and the Red Hand Defenders (members of the UDA) continue to recruit and actively target nationalists. Among Loyalists recently arrested, one, Clifford Peebles, was a Protestant fundamentalist pastor, and member of Families Against Intimidation and Terror. Peebles was arrested in possession of a pipe bomb and hand grenades.

The majority of both communities in the six counties will welcome the "normalisation" of politics through the Good Friday Agreement. Whether the interests of working class communities of either side can be met through the Stormont coalition remains to be seen (although we can guess!) Amidst the mock-outrage over "paramilitaries" in Parliament, though, we should not forget that men like Trimble and Paisley were quite prepared to support violence in defence of a sectarian state, or that paramilitaries armed by the British state continue to actively target nationalists, using information supplied by that state; a state which purports to support the peace process.

..........more importantly at least McGuiness doesn't have links with Orange Order members who ran Kincora Boys Home and should not be allowed anywhere near anything to do with young people [maybe that's why Sinn Fein got the post !]. Which if any of the above loyalists are closest to that ? -

1. Loyalists, Peter Taylor, Bloomsbury Publishing

Rio Tinto Occupied

In solidarity with West Papua
Direct actions in solidarity with the indigenous people of West Papua took place around the UK on the 4th October. An area almost the size of England is to be destroyed by a giant infrastructure project in the Mamberamo region. A large dam flooding an area the size of Holland will spearhead logging, monoculture plantations, mining and heavy industry in the surrounding area. The 9,000-strong indigenous population of the area to be flooded, including at least 14 uncontacted tribes, are to be forcibly removed.

Activists from across the South West occupied both offices of Rio Tinto in Bristol in solidarity with the Free Papua Movement (OPM). Rio Tinto is the largest mining company in the world, supporting oppressive regimes across the world in return for military protection of their profitable operations. In West Papua, together with the brutal Indonesian military they have inflicted massive environmental devastation and human suffering. However in the face of corporate and state violence the people of West Papua have fought back. The aims of the action in Bristol were to disrupt the business of the company, to expose their abuses and show solidarity with the OPM, and take action with activists from other areas. It was successful on all counts.

Just before 9am 12 suited activists walked past security (busy dealing with diversionary "drunks" )and occupied the Mining and Exploration offices on the 7th floor. Police arrived very quickly in 5 cars and 3 vans, trashing a door and office equipment while clearing activists out. After an hour people left with no arrests to join the picket outside. Police confiscated a D-lock from one occupier and banners after a banner drop from a nearby footbridge. After a break for lunch and getting the D-lock back from the cop shop, the well-dressed rabble visited the second offices (central registration) for more of the same. The D-lock was put to good use as two women locked on to each other and a filing cabinet. In another office files were well shuffled, and next door a man barricaded himself in and got down to some useful office work. Three were arrested and held overnight for Breach of the Peace. All the time outside leaflets were given out and the building transformed with banners. People involved felt very positive about the first regional action in the South West, with lots of useful lessons and good experience of working together. The SWARM ( South West Active Resistance Movement ) is alive.

An Arco Infiltration The oil giant ARCO are involved in the exploration and development of Benoui Bay off West Papua and give economic and political support to the murderous Indonesian regime. On October 4th their offices in Guilford were invaded by a dozen besuited Brighton people who went almost totally unnoticed by staff for up to half an hour. During this time they walked around the finance department, reading and re-organising files, losing keys to locked filing cabinets, having creative fun with computers and distributing hundreds of flyers into files, handbags and outgoing mail.

When people eventually left, the fire alarm to the three floored building mysteriously went off. Two people were chased by security for a mile across town before making a cheeky getaway in a taxicab. The workers had the chance to wonder what the fuck was going on for an hour on full wages; the company lost hundreds of worker hours and they'll be discovering our flyers for years to come!

For up to date news from West Papua get on the OPM SG e-mail news list or check out the web page @ http://www.eco-action.org/opm/ UK contacts include: S London C/o PO Box 9384, Brixton, London, SW9 7ZB, S.East & General Information OPM SG,43 Gardner Street, Brighton, E.Sussex, BN1 1UN, North c/o Manchester Earth First!, Dept 29, 255 Wilmslow Road,Manchester,M14 5LW mancef@nematode.freeserve.co.uk, South-West c/o Kebele, 14 Robertson Road, Bristol, BS5 6JY email: kebele@marsbard.com

Plus Do or Die.…

John Quaquah Victory

The High Court on December 15 1999 quashed a decision of the Home Secretary to deport John Quaquah, an asylum seeker who is in the middle of suing the Home Office after events at Campsfield Immigrant Detention Centre in 1997.

John Quaquah was detained at Campsfield in August 1997 when he, and eight others, were charged with offences of riot and spent ten months in prison before coming to trial. All nine were acquitted of those charges after the criminal trial collapsed in June 1998 when the evidence of Group 4 employees - running the detention centre under a private contract - was found to be unreliable. The behaviour of these Group 4 officers was, described in the following terms in the High Court decision: 'It was accepted on behalf of the Secretary of State that if the conduct of the Group 4 officers both during the incident of unrest itself as well as their conduct in giving unreliable/false evidence was established then it satisfied the description of having been "wicked".'

After his acquittal, Mr Quaquah sought to bring a claim for damages for malicious prosecution against the Home Office as well as Group 4. He was then served with a deportation order. However the High Court ruled on 15 December that the deportation order should be quashed for failing to pay proper regard to the requirements of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights and the requirements of the new Civil Procedure Rules, both of which require an 'equality of arms' for parties engaged in litigation. Put simply this means that Jack Straw’s attempt to avoid being sued by deporting someone has failed.

John’s solicitor, Mark Scott of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, commented that: 'My client is delighted that the court has recognised his right to seek redress through the courts on an even playing field for his treatment at Campsfield House. The stress arising from that treatment and the uncertainty about his situation in this country has been extremely difficult for him. I trust that the Home Secretary will accept this judgement and will not make any further attempts to deport him. I hope he has now learnt that he should not deploy the battery of powers at his disposal in any way which suggests even an appearance of unfair advantage in the face of action brought by individuals against him.'

In fact Straw has learnt no such thing. Group 4 are amongst the front runners, along with weirdo godbotherer private prisons outfit Wackenhut, to run the new “open” detention centre at Oakington. The Campsfield 9 campaign to try and teach the Home Office a lesson goes on.

contact: Campsfield Nine Defence Campaign 01865 557282 or 07961 392 510. More info on anti-deportation website at http://www.ncadc.demon.co.uk

Evolution and Environment - Review

Evolution and Environment
Peter Kropotkin
Black Rose Books - £11.99

This work, volume 11 of The Collected Works of Peter Kropotkin, is in two parts. The first is Kropotkin's classic book "Modern Science and Anarchism." The second is concerned with his thoughts on the latest theories and experiments in biology and evolutionary thought. As will become clear, the combining of these two very different works is not as contradictory as it first seems.

"Modern Science and Anarchism" is Kropotkin's attempt to place anarchist theory in the context of 19th Century scientific thought. In so doing, he stresses the importance of the inductive-deductive method, namely the analysis of everyday society and the basing of theory on the results of that analysis rather than creating a theory in abstraction and fitting the facts to it. This methodology is particularly fruitful when used, as Kropotkin did, to analyse anarchism as a product of the class war ("Anarchism... originated in everyday struggles"). Kropotkin stresses that anarchism is not a utopian theory but rather a product of the needs and aspirations of working class people, as expressed in their resistance to authority, exploitation and domination. In Kropotkin's eyes, all anarchist writers did was to "work out a general expression of [anarchism's] principles, and the theoretical and scientific basis of its teachings" derived from the experiences of working class people in struggle as well as analysing the evolutionary tendencies of society in general. Thus, Kropotkin (like Bakunin and Proudhon before him) placed socialist tendencies in the struggle within but against capitalism, namely the generation of new forms of social organisation and ways of living together created in resistance to capitalist and state oppression.

In contrast, Marxism places socialistic tendencies towards socialism in the increasing centralisation of capital (to quote Capital, the "centralisation of the means of production and the socialisation of labour reach a point at which they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated"). While capitalism may create its own "gravediggers," it is not working class needs that signify its end. Rather it is the objective needs of production, the contradiction between socialised production and private property (which ends with the actual socialisation of production). Thus Marxism (particularly in its Leninist form) sees socialism as a result of tendencies within but part of capitalism. Little wonder it proved, in practice, to be little more than the nationalisation of capital as capital ("the new form of the Wage System," in Kropotkin's words) and a nightmare. Only a "professional revolutionary" - or non-worker - such as Lenin could suggest the world as one big office or factory as a positive vision!

This vision of anarchism as a product of working class struggle and its organisations can be seen from Kropotkin's comments that "the Anarchist movement was renewed each time it received an impression from some great practical lesson: it derived its origin from the teachings of life itself." He pointed to the experience of the Paris Commune and the trade union movement - "the idea of independent Communes for the territorial organisation, and of federations of Trade Unions for the organisation of men [and women] in accordance with their different functions, gave a concrete conception of society regenerated by social revolution." So, for Kropotkin, the present and the future are linked by the struggle against capitalism (and the state) and the organisations and solidarity created by that struggle rather than the development of capitalism. After all, the centralisation/accumulation process pointed to by Marx exists precisely to support and increase the power of capitalists over their workers (to extract more profits from them via technological innovation) and society as a whole (to gain competitive advantage by the increased market power associated with big business). Capitalism seeks centralisation in order to empower and enrich the few. Why should this development be considered as the basis for socialism? Surely, by definition, it is opposite of socialism? Unsurprisingly, rather than seeing the free society as one big office, Kropotkin saw it as a free federation of self-managing communes in which "associations of men and women... work on the land, in the factories, in the mines, and so on, [and are] themselves the managers of production."

Rather than base society on the model of the (capitalist) workplace, Kropotkin envisioned its transformation by the values of those resisting capitalist domination at the point of production and based the future society on the self-managed structures created by that struggle. Again and again Kropotkin links anarchist ideas to the class struggle, to the everyday struggle of the oppressed to free themselves.

Such a perspective is as essential now as it was then and this is why "Modern Science and Anarchism" should be read by all anarchists. It gives an essential base from which to develop and build anarchist theory in the future. Also of interest is the way Kropotkin links revolutions in science with social movements and transformations. This is important, for as any student realises, education does not exist in a vacuum. What is taught in schools, colleges and universities will be influenced by social struggles going on outside. If social struggle is low, radical ideas (in all areas of science, not only in the social sciences) may be safely ignored. However, when social struggle heats up, new ideas appear and enter all aspects of society, including education and science. People develop new ideas and rebel against the authority of what passes for science as well as against the authority of the state or the boss. Thus, as well as linking anarchism to the daily struggles of the oppressed, he links this struggle to the evolution of ideas, of science. This is to be expected as the ideal, as Bakunin argued, is the flower whose root lies in the material conditions of existence. The very process of struggle, the changing of those material conditions, will necessarily find expression in the world of science and thought. And it is this challenge to existing scientific authority which is expressed in the second half of the book.

This second half, entitled "Thoughts on Evolution", contains articles on evolution previously unpublished in book form. They date from 1910 to 1915, and discuss the effects of the environment on planet and animal evolution and its relationship to previous theories on evolution particularly those of Darwin. The articles are relevant to anarchists as they suggest that if animals and plants adapt quickly to changing environments, the same applies to humans. It is these rapid adaptations to the environment which Kropotkin discusses, along with their influence on long-term evolutionary change. The research Kropotkin discusses implies that rather than a fixed and definite "human nature" people (like other animals) can adapt and evolve quickly to different environmental circumstances. Thus an anarchist society is neither utopian nor incompatible with "human nature" as human nature will change in response to new stimuli (the "direct action of the environment"). This complements Kropotkin's ideas on the nature of anarchism as a product of struggle. By resisting power, people create new forms of social organisation and modify their environment. This new environment encourages adaptations in those who experience it, thus a process of accumulate changes occurs in a specific direction provoked by the direct action of the (changing) environment on individuals.

The two sections of this work complement each other remarkably well. Modern Science and Anarchism arguing that anarchism comes from daily struggles which change society and Thoughts on Evolution arguing that the changing society would have a direct effect on those within it, encouraging and enhancing the liberation of the individual (in a process initiated by their own direct action). One question does remain, however. If animals and plants adapt to changing environments then will humans adapt to hierarchical society? If this is the case, then the spirit of revolt can only occur from external influences, not from any need for liberty, equality or solidarity. It also implies that alienation cannot exist, as there is nothing to be alienated from. This can be inferred from Kropotkin's comments that "Anarchism is a conception of the Universe based on the mechanical interpretation of phenomena." This vision is lacking in that it ignores the fact that people have always striven for freedom no matter how terrible the environment in which they live. While people do adapt to their environment, they also try and change that environment to better satisfy their needs, needs which exist in spite of their environment.

Hence Kropotkin's vision must be informed by Malatesta, who argued against Kropotkin's fatalism and mechanistic tendencies and reminded us that anarchy "is a human aspiration" and "can be achieved through the exercise of the human will." This subjective element in the struggle for freedom is essential and one Kropotkin addresses in "Modern Science and Anarchism" when he writes that "Anarchy represents... the creative constructive force of the masses, who elaborated common-law institutions in order to defend themselves against a domineering minority." In other words, anarchism comes from the resistance of those who do not adapt to hierarchical society and act to change it to one more fitting their needs and desires. Kropotkin was obviously aware of this but, unfortunately, did not see how it contradicted his mechanistic philosophy.

This minor point aside, these works are of use to anarchists today. Rather than produce a "science" of the class struggle - Kropotkin applies the techniques of science to that struggle in order to ground anarchism in the struggle of the oppressed and to show it was a product of our own self-activity. This methodology is one anarchists should continue to apply while ignoring the mechanistic comments of Kropotkin. For this reason, despite its flaws, this book (especially "Modern Science and Anarchism") is essential reading for anyone interesting in both analysing and changing the world.

Review: City of Darkness, City of Light
Marge Piercy
Penguin - £6.99

Piercy's novel paints a vivid picture of the French Revolution and its background. Drawing on the lives of six historical characters (the famous - Robespierre, Danton, Madame Roland and Condorcet - as well as the not so famous - the san culottes Pauline Leon and Claire Lacombe) she combines the personal and the political to show the nature of the peoples revolution and its ultimate defeat by the rich and the instrument created to protect it, the new Republican state.

Piercy, as readers of her excellent science fiction novels Woman on the Edge of Time and Body of Glass, will know, is a feminist writer with a strong libertarian theme to her politics and writing. This libertarian theme is also at the fore in City of Darkness, City of Light. The liberating nature and effectiveness of direct action as a means of social change is brought home by the development of the two female san culottes. Thus the revolutionary transformation of individuals and social relationships is stressed along with the revolutionising of the wider society. Similarly, the progression of the revolution from its moderate original aims towards a social revolution is also vibrantly portrayed, with the very process of direct action producing wider, more radical demands and changes in society and individuals.

The Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War
Robert Alexander
Janus Publishing Co. - £16.95 per volume

This two volume work is a useful addition to the existing studies of the Spanish Revolution and the role anarchists played in it. It is essentially a summary of previous studies, complemented by extensive interviews. The author visited Barcelona in August 1936, while on holiday in Europe. From this visit to revolutionary Barcelona came a life long interest in the Spanish Revolution ("one of the most interesting social experiments that has taken place in the twentieth century" as he puts it).

Volume One is the more useful of the two, with an overview of both the rural and urban collectives. What comes out most from the discussion of both the successes and failures of the collectives is that, for all their faults, there were far more of the former than the latter. Another interesting aspect of his discussion is how many collectives were built from existing forms of libertarian and working class organisation (for example, before the war the CNT had established health service institutions which were built upon and expanded after the revolution). This suggests the importance of thinking about alternative forms of social life and organisation we can create today, to aid the class struggle and build for the new world in the existing one. By so doing, we show the viability of our ideas and tactics to other working class people. The evidence he presents indicates that the worker-managed collectives were a viable alternative to capitalism - an alternative which anarchists should study in order to better understand the dynamics of a social revolution in order to be prepared for the next time.

Alexander also discusses the roots of Spanish Anarchism as well as pre-revolution visions of what an anarchist society could be like. He discusses the role of anarchists in the Republican military, exposing a few myths along the way (such as the "indiscipline" of the militias and the alleged flight of the Durruti Column under fire on the Madrid front). Alexander also discusses the role of force in creating the rural collectives, presenting evidence to show that Stalinist claims of CNT terror were, as anarchists claimed at the time and since, lies. The bulk of useful and interesting information is contained in this volume. Volume 2 is mostly about the communist betrayal of the revolution, with a useful appendix on anarchist violence during the civil war. There is also a useful bibliography and an index (which will help in its use as a resource for anarchists).

On the negative side, both volumes are riddled with typing mistakes, which is very annoying. A major problem is the author's desire to expose the Stalinist betrayal of the revolution. This leads, for example, to a chapter in volume 2 of over 300 pages called "The Anarchists Role in Republican Politics" being mostly about the role of the Communists! Also, the author is not an anarchist which means that much of his analysis and discussion ignores many of the questions anarchists would seek to answer - namely what lessons can be drawn from the revolution, the role of the CNT and FAI, the functioning of the collectives. However, this work will be an essential resource for any comrade seeking to produce such an analysis.

The World is Not Enough
Why even mention the new James Bond movie in Black Flag? Well, for starters, Robert Carlyle plays the main thug, a terrorist labelled an "anarchist" by MI6. Needless to say, the usual lies about anarchists are spread - this "anarchist" is said to believe in "nothing" and aims at "chaos" (according to MI6, the villain does not say anything about his politics, or lack of them, bar saying that Bond is "preserving Capital" while he is helping his girlfriend monopolise oil production!). Now with the end of Stalinism, will we anarchists (suitably misrepresented as believers in chaos) become the major villains to defend the "free world" against? After Seattle, probably.

What about the film. It is a bit disjointed and the set pieces impressive but, like the rest of the film, cold (saying that the friends I saw it with and my work mates rated it higher than me). The last one was far better and Pierce Brosnan is no Sean Connery (although far better than Moore). Go and see Sixth Sense - now that is an excellent movie.

Review: Walking With Dinosaurs

I wouldn't normally review a TV programme, and I don't actually watch that much TV, so why am I moved to write about this one? It was obviously fake, a lot was guessed at and almost all the animals featured died out so long ago that it is hard for humans to even conceive of such time. Firstly, because despite its faults, I liked the series. And secondly, because it touches so many themes that I've wanted to write about for so long.

One is that humans need to ditch some of their arrogance about their place in the world. It is entirely a fluke, and the story of the dinosaurs illustrates this. Secondly, it shows us something about science, which all too often is perceived as an absolute, rather than a method of making assumptions and testing them. Thirdly, it's about time we stopped referring to conservative or reactionary political opponents as dinosaurs -it's a disservice to the beasts. Finally, it touched my sense of wonder at life itself, and the beauty of the forms that adapt themselves to survival in different environments.

On the technical side, most of the recreated creatures were well done. The skin colours and other features were inferred, of course, but generally done in the context of debates about dinosaur behaviour, and observation of species in similar ecological niches today. Some failed to convince - for example the didelphodon nest raiders in the final episode, and some of the feeding sequences didn't quite gel, but overall, most had a "jizz" as birders would say, that felt unique. The programmes proceeded as if they were normal natural history documentaries, of the sort that the BBC actually does well. The bombastic narration from Kenneth Branagh was a bit too much - all the pomp of Attenborough without the enthusiasm. Why don't they ever use someone with an accent from somewhere, instead of all this BBC English? The series was also interestingly split up - showing different periods in natural history and different places. Far too many films and books mix everything up, which is why you would never really see a stegosaurus fight a tyrannosaurus rex. I suspect that some of the very interesting recent feathered dinosaur discoveries from China came too late for the film makers - they might otherwise have added feathers to the baby tyrannosaurs in the final episode. What the series aimed to do was to put the dinosaurs in their context, which it certainly succeeded in.

So why is this at all relevant to a political mag? Well, the popular idea about dinosaurs when I was growing up (and interested in them, which I suspect almost all kids go through) was that they were supplanted by mammals which were somehow "better " than these slow lumbering cold-blooded reptiles. This is all now known to be false - dinosaurs were warm blooded and filled most of the large animal ecological niches filled by mammals today. Feathers probably originally involved from reptilian scales as a means of keeping warm, only later becoming adapted for flight. Their distant relatives, the pterosaurs, filled most of those that are today occupied by birds. As a family of animals, dinosaurs probably reshaped the planet more than any others since blue-green algae started poisoning the atmosphere with oxygen, at least until man came on the scene. Their habits and behaviour were probably responsible for what Darwin called the "abominable mystery" of the origin of flowers. Oh, and they didn't all die out. In South America until it was joined to North America and on several island groups to this day, their descendants, the birds, successfully kept at bay the supposedly more advanced mammals for millions of years.

These creatures evolved, and dominated all those large animal niches, for one hundred and fifty five million years. In contrast, relatively intelligent apes have been around for four million, and our own species is only a few hundred thousand. Started feeling smaller? 1

But this is also a story of science. The same popular myth that says that mouse-sized mammals wiped out dinosaurs by eating their eggs also believes science sets things in stone. It doesn't and the story of the dinosaurs illustrates that very well. Science isn't an either or equation - it is, as Stephen Jay Gould notes, "rooted in creative interpretation....(scientists) believe in their own objectivity, and fail to discern the prejudice that leads them to one interpretation among many consistent with their (data)." 2

Dinosaurs were originally called ante-diluvian monsters because they were supposedly all killed in Noah's flood. The plethora of fossil-hunting parsons and men of letters in the nineteenth century led to them being re-assessed as ancient reptiles. The theory of evolution by natural selection published by Darwin in 1859 began the slow process of restoring these collections of ancient bones to their proper place in natural history. While backward American states still insist on banning the teaching of evolution (is that why they have to import scientists from more rational countries?) it is now widely accepted, if misunderstood. The last twenty years have put feathers on dinosaurs and birds in the same family as theropods (dinosaurs like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park). Discoveries have been made that show some dinosaurs cared for their young, and basically did many of the things we today associate with mammals and birds. So, is the picture of the dinosaurs from the BBC accurate? Well, it's a good guess, but it's as accurate as current research will allow, probably less so as so much of it is necessarily conjecture - the fossil record leaves no absolute clues about mating behaviour for example.

I think I've probably said enough now about why I think dinosaurs shouldn't be used as a metaphor for reactionaries unwilling to change. By a similar line of argument I object to those highly intelligent quadrupeds pigs being compared to policemen. But I should really leave this review with the sense of awe and wonder I felt at seeing these creatures brought to life. The dolphin like opthalmosaurus chasing bony fish through turquoise waters. The newly revised diplodocus grazing the ground (not the treetops). The sociable leaellynasaura coping with the Antarctic winter. But what sticks with me most is the flight of the ornithocheirus, an albatross-like pterosaur with a wingspan up to 12 metres, gliding across the infant Atlantic to its final resting place. And how can anyone fight for the planet we live on without a sense of wonder?

NOTES

1. How small and how lucky can be seen from the Burgess shale fossils, a remarkable collection of soft-bodied animals preserved in British Columbia, which represent the Pre-Cambrian explosion of multi-cellular life after its bacterial origins. All of the phyla currently alive are represented among the fossils. An uncommon fossil is that of Pikaia, the representative of the ancestors of the phylum vertebrata - containing fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, dinosaurs etc. Only luck can account for why the vertebrata weren't wiped out in the mass extinction that ended the pre-Cambrian, and saw the extinction of so many other potential body plans for animals.

2. Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, Penguin 1996, p.106

AttachmentSize
bf219_compressed.pdf11.34 MB

Posted By

Rob Ray
Oct 16 2014 18:27

Share

Black Flag magazine

Attached files

Comments

Rob Ray
Oct 16 2014 18:25

More stuff to move across over at http://flag.blackened.net/blackflag/ if anyone wants to contribute a cut n paste job, I've done this one as a little pre-bookfair thing, as we're bringing out a new issue on Saturday!

plasmatelly
Oct 16 2014 18:41

Fantastic! Black Flag was thee most influential magazine for me in the late 80's early 90's - though it wasn't quite a magazine in those days. Absolutely loved it!