Letters - Black Flag #216

Letters to Black Flag about prison conditions, the London Anarchist Bookfair, Green Anarchist and Kieran Casey of the IWA.

Submitted by Fozzie on August 9, 2020

Letter from an American Prison
Dear BF. I was reading BF 214 and noticed several well written letters from prisoners on page 29 and 30. However the focus of this letter is the letter that Mark Barnsley wrote regarding the conditions he and other prisoners are undergoing. I was amazed to read that prisons in Britain have become more like and have adopted the American prison system. i.e. the three strikes law. the re-opening of "control units' etc. This is important information because most of us in the united states are not aware and had not been aware of the conditions prisoners face there. British prison officials, like those in the American Prison system, have begun to punish prisoners for proclaiming their innocence and for working to prove their innocence. Like America. the British prison system have begun to lock up those whom they feel are "subversive” and the only reason why ones are labelled this is because the prison authorities want to silence the voice of the prisoner. They want to make sure that the injustices done to the prisoner are not known and that the prisoner receives no outside support.

We find this to be the case in America with their maddening prison build up. America leads the world in incarceration of its people. Why? Because the government have found a way to make huge profits off the backs of prisoners. They have found out how to incarcerate and how to make those they incarcerate work and generate millions of dollars for them under the conditions of slave labour. They have discovered that it is profitable to have prisoners making products for pennies a day and resell those products for dollars.

Mark was right to say that the "so-called 3 strikes law is going to lead to an increase in both the murder rate and the number of miscarriages of justice”. This is evident by what is happening here in the American prison system. More and more people are being denied anything close to adequate representation in the judicial system and the courts. The quality of adequate and impartial representation from lawyers has gone down. Mainly this is so because it is a vast conspiracy [in my opinion] to ensure an overload of prisoners to fill the high priced prisons America has. With the influx of more people being incarcerated we also find the quality of life for many people on the streets has gone down. The working class I am speaking of. The police and the legal system have the working class hostage and in fear of taking proactive measures to demand an end to state-terrorism by law enforcement who run wild over the rights of the people. It doesn't change much for anyone to be trumped-up on a charge and held for years in prison before the truth of their innocence is discovered.

However. there's still hope and there is still time to stop this madness. What we need to do is make our voices known in such a way that the authorities understand, without a doubt that we are not going to stand for their abuses any more. However this will take a strong networking commitment of prisoners in the UK and here in the US. It will also take a lot of networking between the anti-racist and anti-prison groups in the UK and in the US. I believe that we can make sure that the prisons aren't filled and that those in the prisons are [not] tortured, denied human rights and dignity if we all stand together and fight this evil. This is not merely a war being declared. by, the governments, on so-called crime. It is a war on the working class and the masses of unemployed, Blacks. the poor. the homeless, and those who are economically disadvantaged. In the trenches...

Ahi Khalid Abdullali #14830 S.C.F.,9625 Pierce Rd, Freeland, MI 48623. USA
(You might also like to write to: Mark Banisley.WA2897..E Wing HMP Full Sutton, York, YO4 IPS)


This years anarchist bookfair was probably one of the best bookfairs so far. For the first time there was not enough space for all those groups who wanted a stall, meetings were packed out, and those attending were not just the normal anarcho & punk types we all know, and are part of. This year there were actually people who were not anarchists, who heard about the event and came along to see what our ideas were about. perhaps all the stickers, posters and leaflets actually had a effect?

The anarchist bookfair has always been a well organised event, and a chance for those of us "in the movement" to meet up, swap information and generally make (or re-establish) contacts with others. For most of us the bookfair seems to just happen and we either go along as punters or as stall holders. It's good it "just happens" as it means a lot of us can carry on doing the stuff we are doing and we do not have to make time to organise another event. Congratulations to those behind the scene who make it happen every year.

However, looking at the 1998 bookfair there seems a few questions that need to be asked and maybe a few problems that need solving.

Firstly, has the bookfair outgrown Conway Hall? Groups are being packed tighter & tighter into the building because space is so limited and being on the stage is not exactly the best place for stalls. Meeting are cramed to bursting point and at times can be clastrophobic, because we don't have any larger rooms. The creche this year was put in a very small room because of limited space - although congratulations to the organisers, as again there was a properly staffed creche, which meant those of us with kids felt better about leaving our kids. Hopefully the creche will now be a regular, well publicised, feature of future bookfair. I have heard people say we should not change a formula that works and it should be kept at Conway Hall. But should our ideas and propaganda not be seen by 1000's more if we can do it. And how much longer can we cram into Conway Hall?

Secondly, the bookfair is organised every year by a dedicated, but small, group of people - although others do get involved from time to time. This is good for the rest of us because we can "leave it to them". But should this be the way. Should more of us not get involved in making the event a much bigger and better expression of our ideas and beliefs? Should we not take more of an interest in one of our only "annual" events to promote our ideas? However, this must be done tactfully as those who have been organising it for the last 17 years need to still be involved in the decision making. It could be easy for enthusiastic newcomers to feel they have all the answers and side line those of us who have put on this event over the years.

Thirdly, the running of the bokfair on the day. There were a number of events at this years bookfair which caused problems, which as anarchists we should be better at dealing with.

The first was the tactics of dealing with the alleged fascist who turned up. After talking to a number of people I guess the person involved did have fascist links. However there was quite a lot of disruption to the bookfair and this was only one fascists. People with kids were a bit worried, as I am sure were people who had turned up to see what anarchist ideas were about, and had no connection with fascism/anti-fascism. If we intend to increase publicity about the bookfair we must assume there is a chance individual fascists or groups of them may turn up - if just to sniff around. We need to plan better for these situations. I am not suggesting "security" on the door, but maybe people agreeing to be stewards, who would quickly and quietly deal with the situation.

Secondly, at the end of the bookfair. This year, like last year, there was a benefit event in the evening. I was not involved in organising the evening event, but did agree to help clear away the tables, clear up the building, and get money of people if they were coming to the benefit. Yet again it seemed to be the same faces who agreed to help out. Even more annoying was the attitute of some people in the hall at this time. Those of us who helped out did so because things needed to be done: firstly to get the hall ready for the evening event, and secondly so we left the building in the state Conway Hall expected us to, so we could use it again. As anarchist we have to take control of our own lives and environment. It's a shame these views are felt by so few of us. A number of "anarchists" sat by and watched as we rushed around clearing away tables, cleaning the floors and removing all the posters/ leaflets from the walls. Maybe I am living in cloud cookoo land, but it would have been nice to have other "comrades" offering with a few minutes help. After all most of you lot were at the bookfair and were waiting for the gig. The attitude of a few of those there ranged from not even moving out of the way while we were clearing up, to down right abuse at being asked to move. This from people who would probably call themselves anarchists at an anarchist bookfair.


This leads onto the next "problem. The evening event was a benefit for the Anarchist bookfair and the Zapatistas. A number of us went round people in the hall explaining that there was going to be an evening event and what the money was to be used for. We expected the normal round of excuses about why people couldn't pay £3 - and generally we gave in and took less that £3 from those who pleaded poverty. What we didn't expect is the level of abuse we got. This ranged from being called a "fascist" and "being worst that fucking coppers", to claiming we were ripping people off, to claiming we were pocketing the proceeds from the gig. I know that anybody who has put on benefit gigs has gone through this, but why the fuck should we - especially from other "so called" anarchists.

Although I left before the bands came on, I understand the night got even worse. Apparently, some lovely chap (or chaps) decided it would be really anarchic to piss over the balcony onto fellow anarchists in the hall below; two kids let of fire extinguishers (over other people) & throw bottles at council flats nearby; and quite a few stickers were plastered all over Conway Hall. All in all Conway Hall charged the organisers £200 to clean up all the mess. One, this is £200 that could have been used for next years bookfair and two, why should Conway Hall staff (who are also working class) have to clean up piss and the rest after us lot. There are a lot better targets than Conway Hall or fellow gig goers- but then again that might take a bit to much effort. Some anarcho types have been a bit holier-than-thou and said the organisers should have expected this if they are having punk bands at a benefit. This is not the answer either. I for one like punk gigs, but I don't feel I have to fuck over other punters or like minded organisers. It would be good to hear replies from those who were involved in the anti social behaviour justifing their actions - or would that not be an anarchist enough thing to do?

I don't have all the answers, nor am I that brilliant at putting my views accross in writing. I would guess there will be loads of oppertunities in this open letter for those more articulate than me to critise individual words or sentances. Hopefully not many of you will feel the need to do this. The idea of this letter is though to get discussion going about improving the anarchist bookfair, pushing our ideas onto a much wider and diverse audience and how we treat each other and anti social elements of our "movement" who turn up regularily at such events.



Dear Black Flag,

It took a great deal of courage for Black Flag to print Kieran Casey's open letter to the IWA in your last issue. At last we are beginning to see admissions by folks with connections to the IWA, that something is wrong. The false portrayal of SAC as an organization trying to promote a reformist agenda on the international syndicalist movement has kept the IWA from working together with the SAC during a critical time in our history. Just when the world marxist movement has disintegrated, and left a political opening for alternatives, the anarchists and syndicalists are fragmented and more interested in fighting each other than in building a mass revolutionary movement. Now when a strong IWA is needed, its sectarianism has made it unable to carry out the functions it was created for.

Why is the IWA so sectarian? Basically it is because of two reasons: the domination of the Spanish section, and the IWA's haphazard affiliation process. In the first case, the rebirth of the CNT in the 1970s revitalized the IWA by recalling the past glories of the Spanish Revolution. Unfortunately the CNT of today is not the the CNT of the 1930s. After a brief explosion of activity, the CNT begin to split apart as it faced the problems of all revolutionary unions working within liberal democracies, and it did not have enough members with either the experience or commitment to adapt to these conditions. As a consequence of the internal schism, the CNT began to look for scapegoats, and saw enemies everywhere. The non-Spanish sections of the IWA, naturally followed the CNT's leadership. Every internal problem in the revolutionary syndicalist movement in every country became part of a grand conspiracy. If the sections of the IWA, however, had been a little less influenced by CNT paranoia, they might have seen CNT fears as being specific to what the CNT was going through domestically, and taken these fears less seriously.

The paranoia of the CNT was made worse by the affiliation policies of the IWA. After the CNT reorganized there was a rush of syndicalist groups wanting to become part of the IWA. In some countries these syndicalist groups were representative of the revolutionary unionists living in that country and had some roots in the workplace. In other countries these groups were small sectarian outfits wanting to promote themselves by becoming the "official voice" of the IWA (ie. CNT) and did not represent the majority of syndicalists in that country. The IWA did not make a serious effort to distinguish the one candidate from another, but awarded section status on a "first come, first served" basis. So in the countries where sectarian outfits became the IWA affiliate, the majorty of syndicalists suddenly found themselves "beyond the Pale", outside of the IWA, and with no way to communicate to the IWA except through the offices of their sectarian rivals. The sectarian affiliates of the IWA, in turn, fed the paranoia of the CNT by implying that anyone who criticized any IWA affiliate must be part of the "counter-revolutionary" conspiracy.

Can the situation be salvaged? This will depend on the non-Spanish sections of the IWA. There is probably nothing that anyone outside of Spain can do about the internal problems of the CNT. The CNT will have to get its own act together. However there is no reason why the rest of the IWA should let the Spanish situation dictate what goes on in the rest of the world. This may mean "biting the bullet" and voting down CNT proposals that promote sectarianism, and voting for re-establishing communications with the SAC. If the CNT doesn't like it, then make them decide what is more important: always getting their way, or co-operating with the rest of the movement? Also the IWA needs to re-examine its affiliation process, and make sure that its affiliates in every country actually represent the revolutionary unionists there. This might mean establishing direct communications with organizations like the IWW, which are presently having to work around small IWA affilates, one tenth their size, in a ludicrous diplomatic protocol.

The IWA should be a forum for the majority of the revolutionary labor movement, not an umbrella group for a collection of small anarchist or syndicalist sects.

In Solidarity, Jeff Stein



I'm writing to you after reading BF215 which I picked up at the 1 in 12 Club in Bradford as normal. I was impressed by this issue which had a lot of useful and inspirational stuff in it. However, I was less impressed when I read on.. The reports in BF214 and the booklet from the Mayday conference about the lack of backbiting, and the feeling of moving forward were good and uplifting. Upon getting to the latter half of the magazine I was dismayed to read the letters page and some of the articles, which o hearkened back to the bad old days of constant sniping at each other through the pages of different magazines. The amount of space spent having a go at Green Anarchist appeared to me to be a waste which could be put to better use having a go at our real enemies - those who have authority over us, our lives and our futures. Much of it was irrelevant unless you are heavily involved in the scene and already knew what was going on - in Bradford we have real problems to deal with, which means that you either get along or find something else to do - but you don't waste precious time and resources having a got at each other. I realise that GA has been of great importance to us recently with the GANDALF trial, but this doesn't mean we have to re-open old arguments that are never going to be resolved. This appears to be what is wrong with us all, constantly rehashing the same old lines at one another, particularly London groups who seem to maintain feuds with one another, instead of getting together and working round problems. Too much time thinking and theorising and not enough doing has led to the usual result of a lot of pissed off and separated people, Cheers Jon

Black Flag Comment: We have had letters from three of the Gandalf defendants, which we are not going to publish. One is from Noel Molland answering the attacks on him by GA, the others are from GA editors, insulting us and anyone else who doesn't share their great theoretical insights. If anyone wants to see them, write to us. We stand by our decision to publish the article in BF215, and in the event of Steve Booth ever coming up with a considered reply instead of the usual rants, lies and insults, we'll publish that. A quick perusal of "Do Or Die", for example, shows that "irrationalism" has a deeper currency than just GA. We consider such ideas are a serious barrier to building any anarchist movement worthy of the name, as are the people who can say that they'd rather see mass starvation than mass society.