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(en) UK, class war 86 - Interview with Mark Barnsley for "Direkte Aktion" (German FAU-Newspaper), October 2003

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 5 Apr 2004 09:11:14 +0200 (CEST)

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You've been to prison two times. Both seem strange at first sight.
How comes that a 19 year old anarchist is caught with plastic
explosives [the word in German is "Plastiksprengstoff"]? How did
you get 8 years of prison for defending yourself, your friend and
child against a mob of drunken highly aggressive students?

I was involved with the struggle from my earliest years. The
1960's and 1970's were very different times, the working class
were far more powerful than they are today, the struggle was at a
more intense level with people more willing to fight for a better
world, and certainly in Britain there was talk of a right-wing
backlash and even of a military coup. The politics of active armed
struggle are now only advocated by a minority within the
European Left and Anarchist movement, but in the 1970's things
were different. If you got involved in the movement then you
would come into contact with these ideas very quickly. I was
involved in some very militant anti-fascist activity, and in many
respects taking up the gun was a logical progression from that. Of
course, with the hindsight of more than 25 years it's not hard to
see our failings, but some comrades are, even now, still paying the
price for the courage they showed then. I was never a vanguardist,
I have always believed in the mass action of the organised working
class, but there was a time when I was involved in the armed

Revolutionary solidarity should never be a stranger within our
movement, today people risk their lives in Palestine by facing
tanks and Israeli bullets as part of the ISM, in the 1970's we did
things slightly differently. In 1978 I was 17, the Lebanese civil war
was still raging, and the Israelis invaded the country that year.
Together with other Anarchist comrades I decided to travel to
Lebanon to show solidarity with the Palestinian and Lebanese
anti-fascist and anti-imperialist struggle. Two years later, a few
weeks before my 19th birthday, I was arrested at Dover in England
in possession of a small amount of plastic explosives, and as a
result got my first prison sentence.

In the 1980's I was sent to prison twice again, though only for a
few days, for refusing to pay fines in relation to minor political
offences - in one case what I was sent to prison for was putting up
a poster against busfare increases! And by coincidence the man
who ordered this prosecution was David Blunkett, then leader of
Sheffield City Council, and now British Home Secretary, a
right-wing scumbag who still has an unquenchable thirst for
locking-up working-class people.

What happened in 1994 was a little bit different to what had
happened to me in the past. When I had been involved in the
armed struggle, when I had been on picket lines and
demonstrations, I'd viewed arrest as an occupational hazard, but
when I went out on the afternoon of June 8th 1994, pushing my
baby daughter in her pram, I never expected that it would lead to
me going to prison for 8 years. I think the German revolutionary
Bommi Baumann once said, "Illegality is like treading in dogshit,
it can happen to anyone at any time." He was right. The British
cops hated my guts, they'd been harassing me in Sheffield for
years, and they were about to get an opportunity, however
unlikely, to take me out of circulation for a long time.

Basically, what happened is that myself and the friend who was
with me, Jane Leathborough, decided to stop to have a drink
outside a pub. Unfortunately though, we had picked the same pub
as a gang of drunken middle-class louts, who first verbally abused
us and then physically attacked me. I was hit over the head with a
bottle or heavy glass, had my nose broken, my teeth knocked out,
my ribs broken, I was kicked and punched by a large gang over a
distance of several hundred metres, and was lucky to escape with
my life. Several weapons were used by my attackers, and in the
early stages of the assault one of them produced a knife and I was
cut on the hand. To stop myself being killed I succeeded in
gaining possession of the knife, and continued to try and get away,
but because of the way they continued to throw themselves onto
me, to kick and punch me, and knock me to the floor, it is
certainly the case that some of the students were cut with the knife
as well as possibly being injured with the other weapons they were
carrying themselves. These louts were so drunk they didn't even
realise they'd been injured until after they'd finally finished beating
me up.

There were plenty of witnesses to the incident, even some of my
assailants admitted attacking me, but nonetheless the only person
arrested was me. I was taken to Woodseats police station in
Sheffield, against which I'd previously brought civil proceedings
for wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution. But the biggest
surprise was yet to come, the man now in charge of this Sheffield
police station was none other than the very same man who'd
arrested me in Dover, on the Southern coast of England, in 1980
for possession of explosives, when he was then a Detective
Inspector in the British Special Branch (Britain's political police.) I
knew I could expect no favours.

After more than a year locked up in prison I came to trial charged
with injuring 5 of the middle-class thugs who'd attacked me. The
trial was a farce, the prosecution withheld huge amounts of
evidence, my attackers and the cops lied through their teeth, the
judge used every dirty trick he could think of. I was convicted on 2
of the charges, and strangely of 3 lesser offences with which I
wasn't even charged. Ordinarily, upon conviction you might
expect probation or a relatively short prison sentence, with my
political history I got 12 years.

You've been moved about 20 times during your 8 years penalty.
Sound's like a lot of trouble and fights. What were the general
points of conflict and what was the hardest one?

Prison states always try to isolate prisoners. In Britain we call it
'ghosting', the sudden transfer of a prisoner via the segregation
unit. I was moved 22 times, from seg unit to seg unit, all around
the country, to try and isolate me from my supporters, those
outside prison and those within the prison system. It never
worked, no matter where I was sent I still had support, comrades
would visit me and organise protests where necessary, other
prisoners would help me in whatever way that they could. Even
from in solitary, I was able to organise actions and protests. Why
did this happen? Prison systems are not run like liberal
democracies they are run like fascist police states, they aim to
crush any resistance or defiance swiftly and brutally, not just to
punish the person who stands up to them, but to send a message
to others: "Stand against us, and this is what will happen." That is
why I thought it so important to continue to fight back, to subvert
that message, and send in return a message to other prisoners that
resistance will always endure, and that while solidarity exists no
prisoner is ever alone. None of the time I spent in solitary was
easy, often the conditions were absolutely brutal, and certainly
challenging, but in the segregation unit I always felt very strong,
because I knew that the Enemy could never stop me resisting, and
that even if they beat me to death I would remain defiant to the
end. Once you have seen the worst they can do to you, once you
have endured that without breaking, you have triumphed, and they
know that.

How did the British jail system change between 1994 and 2002
from your day-by-day perspective?

In 1994 there was an escape by IRA prisoners from the 'Special
Secure Unit' of Whitemoor maximum security prison, and 6
months later another escape from Parkhurst maximum security
prison on the Isle of Wight. The circumstances of these escapes,
the ease with which they had happened, were a great
embarrassment for the prison system, and this was the signal for a
wave of repression to be unleashed. The changes implemented
over the next few years were far-reaching and numerous, but
among the most significant were the introduction of Mandatory
Drug Testing and the so-called Incentives and Earned Privileges
Scheme. From late 1995 prisoners were forced to give urine
samples for drug analysis, in this way a culture of cannabis use
(which was largely tolerated or even encouraged) was replaced by
greater heroin use, because cannabis stays in the body for up to 45
days whereas heroin can be flushed out in one or two. The
'Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme' is a 'divide and rule'
system, a State-defined class system, which splits prisoners into
one of 3 groups, according to their perceived "behaviour and
overall compliance", and determines the "privileges" (visits,
phonecalls, pay, time out of cell, conditions, etc) they are entitled
to. Both of these schemes were an attempt to undermine
inter-prisoner solidarity and replace it with a culture of selfishness.
Other changes have included deliberately eroding the quality and
quantity of visits, and harassing visitors, to undermine
prisoner-family contact, reducing the statutory exercise period to
only half an hour per day, savage cuts in education budgets, and
greater exploitation of prison labour. Since 1994 the State have
managed to reclaim almost all the concessions to humanity
prisoners fought so hard to achieve in the previous 25 years, they
have taken back control of the high security prisons where
solidarity and prisoner autonomy was greatest, and having
subjugated the mainstream prison population, they are now busy
exploiting it as never before.

You give the impression of an optimistic and powerful person.
How did you manage to survive prison?

With a smile and a twinkle in my eye!

Seriously, while it's true I'm a survivor, I am often left in awe by
the tales of fortitude of other people. Even in the face of the
darkest repression, where brutality is at it's worst, and hope seems
at a low point, people fight on with integrity and courage. It is this
indominitable spirit of humanity, that I have seen on so many
occasions first-hand, which I sincerely believe will eventually
bring down this rotten system that makes prisoners of us all. It is
this that keeps me optimistic.

What do you do now? How did you get along during your first year
of "freedom"?

I organise as I have always done, I am as politically active as ever,
in prisoner support work, as an anti-fascist, in environmental
politics, in squatting, and in every area of struggle it is possible for
me to be involved in. Despite what happened to me in 1994, and
despite the police harassment I have suffered since my release,
and continue to suffer, I will not for a moment turn away from the
revolutionary path I embarked on as a child. Things have not been
easy for me, far from it, day to day life has been a struggle, even
with the help I've received from comrades, but if struggle was easy
they wouldn't call it that would they? We're fighting for a whole
world, our enemies aren't going to give it up easily, and they will
fight dirty, we have to expect that, we have to remain strong. I
think it was Alexander Berkman who once said, 'As Anarchists
we do not look forward to a revolution in the future, but to a
revolution from the moment we become Anarchists.' My
revolution has thus far endured for nearly 30 years, and despite the
worst efforts of the State to crush my resistance it only gets
stronger. Continuing to take the fight to the Enemy, to struggle
for a better world every day, is not just something I have always
done, and will always do, but it is an act of vengeance against the
State which stole 10 years of my life.

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