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(en) Britain, Organise* #64 - REVIEWS

Date Sat, 09 Jul 2005 16:38:45 +0300


A Day Mournful And Overcast by an "uncontrollable"
from the Iron Column --- Kate Shapley Library - £2, 21 pages
The Spanish Revolution of 1936 initially
defeated the Fascist uprising. Militia
columns put together at a moment's notice
like the Iron Column were formed to fight
the Fascists. But soon the Revolution began
to go wrong. The Communist Party was one
of those forces that undermined the
Revolution. It attempted to destroy the
militias and put them under state control.
As the foreword to the pamphlet notes:
"Militarisation was not about discipline or
uniforms but about restoring power to the
state."
A Day Mournful and Overcast was written by
an anonymous member of the Iron Column.
This column was made up mainly of
"criminals" who had been released from
prison with the outbreak of the Revolution.
He was imprisoned when he was 23 and
liberated when he was 34. He had revolted
against his conditions and killed a political
boss in his home village. "Many prisoners
who had suffered as I had from bad
treatment received since birth, were
released with me. Some of them, once on
the street, went their own way. Others, like
myself, joined our liberators, who treated us
like friends and loved us like brothers. With
them we gradually formed the Iron Column,
with them, at a mounting tempo, we
stormed barracks and disarmed ferocious
Civil Guards..." The Iron Column was one of
the anarchist columns that drove back the
Fascists and changed the mode of life
through which they passed, wiping out the
political bosses there.
This lyrical text, imbued with revolutionary
fervour, is a complaint against the
militarization that was being forced on the
columns. As he says "Our past opposition
tomilitarisation was founded on what we
knew about officers. Our present opposition
was founded on what we know about them
now. Professional officers form, now and for
all time, here and in Russia, a caste.." The
Iron Column was the most intransigent of
the anarchist columns against militarization.
Alas, the Revolution for which they had
sacrificed so much was being destroyed and
swept back.
-----------------------------------------------------

The Early Days Of Greek Anarchism: `The Democratic
Club of Patras & Social Radicalism in Greece' edited
and translated by Paul Pomonis
Kate Sharpley Library - £2, 26 pages
This pamphlet charts the emergence of
anarchism in Greece from the 1860s when
Emmanuel Daoudoglou, under the influence
of the International Workingmen's
Association (First International) of Naples,
where he was then staying, became an
anarchist. The Russian anarchist Bakunin
was living in the Naples area at the time. A
number of other Greeks started developing
anarchist ideas around the same time and
this further developed with the influence of
the Paris Commune of 1871.
Patras, a port town, had good links to Italy,
and anarchists there were able to maintain
links with anarchists from Italy and other
par ts of Europe. They attempted to form the
first local section of the First International.
State repression set back these endeavours
for a decade. The Democratic Club of Patras
included workers and intellectuals. It
established contact with other groups and
individuals throughout Greece. Soon after it
produced a newspaper at least 4 of its
member s were imprisoned in 1877. Later
they were acquitted of all charges against
them but this caused some of them to
retreat from further involvement. The
remaining members had to work secretly
during a long period of clandestine activity.
Later on at the end of the 19th century/
beginning of the 20th century anarcho-
syndicalist groups emerged. Although
Greek anarcho-syndicalism never became a
mass movement (like it did in several other
countries) it contributed significantly to the
first major strikes in Greece and worker's
organisation. Groups like the League of
Anarchist Workers of Athens emerged.
Anarchists were also involved in strike
activities in the Lavrio mines. Meanwhile
anarchism was propagated among the
peasants, especially in the Peloponneseus
and Thessaly. Raisin workers organised
large demonstrations as a result of many of
them losing their jobs and anarchists were
involved in demonstrations organised by
them in Achaia and Ilia. The anarchists of
Pyrgos were also involved in peasant revolts
and organised public debates in the villages.
However, reformist ideas became dominant
in this period in Greek history, and
anarchism never took off the way it had in
other Mediterranean countries. This little
known chapter of anarchist history describes
the pioneers of anarchism in Greece, where
a new anarchist movement began to
emerge and grow after the fall of the
Colonels' dictatorship in the 70s.
---------------------------------------------------

The London Years by
Rudolf Rocker
AK Press/Five Leaves - £14.99,
228 pages
This book, long out of print, has made a
welcome return, and is published at the
same time as another reprint, Bill Fishman's
East London Jewish Radicals. It was written
by Rudolf Rocker, a gentile German who
became involved in the Yiddish-speaking
anarchist movement of Britain. Not only did
Rocker animate the highly popular
newspaper Der Arbeter Fraint, he was also
involved in setting up the monthly Germinal
which dealt with anarchist theory and
culture "to acquaint its readers with all
libertarian tendencies in modern literature
and contemporary thought". Interned during
the First World War he spent the rest of his
life in Holland, Germany and the USA. The
thriving movement that he had helped build
(in London, but also in Leeds, Manchester
and other northern towns) was devastated
by the war, by the number of anarchists
returning to Russia to assist in the
Revolution, many perishing there, and by the
upsurge of the Communist Party. But for
several decades there was a vibrant
anarchist movement among the Jewish
working class in Britain.
Here is described the strike that broke out
among the tailoring workers of the West End
in 1912, with over 8,000 attending a
meeting addressed by Rocker and others.
Following this successful strike, many
Jewish families took in the children of
London dockers who were also on strike.
This was one of the great triumphs of
Rocker and the Jewish anarchist movement.
This active solidarity broke down the
barriers between the dockers,
predominantly of Irish Catholic background,
and the Yiddish speaking working class of
the East End. It was a hammer-blow against
anti-semitism. As Colin Ward says in the
introduction: "Rudolf Rocker's own story,
that of an immigrant, deprived of citizenship
in his country of origin, and deported from
Britain after years of internment, has its own
message for another generation struggling
with the dilemmas of a multi-cultural
Britain".
---------------------------------------------------
A Wee Black Booke of
Belfast Anarchism (1867-
1973) by Mairtin O Cathain
Organise! (Ireland) - £2,
42pages
This fascinating pamphlet produced by the
Organise! grouping in Ireland charts the
history of anarchism in Belfast. It examines
anarchist influences within branches of the
Socialist League in the 1890s. The first
specifically anarchist group in Belfast did
not appear until1910, when John McAra,
who may have discovered anarchism within
the Socialist League in Edinburgh, visited
Belfast to propagandise for anarchism.
Whilst speaking on the steps of the Custom
House he was arrested for sedition. He was
sentenced to 3 months jail. The conditions
there had a bad effect on his health and
shor tened his life by a number of years. His
courage and anarchist politics were well
received in Belfast. As a result of his
determined work, an anarchist group was
set up, supported by anarchists across the
sea in Scotland.
Colour ful characters like Captain Jack
White, who came to anarchism through his
experiences in the Spanish Civil War, and
`Slumdom' Jack McMullen, with his hatred
of slum landlords, are dealt with in some
depth.
The modern Belfast Anarchist Group which
appeared in 1967 with the civil rights
movement in the North, gathered about 20
people together. It had an often difficult
relationship with Peoples Democracy, the
broad civil rights movement. Eventually a
split emerged among those who took an
internationalist position and those who gave
some support to the IRA. The Belfast
Libertarian Group, who had broken with the
latter, continued its criticisms of
republicanism, and was threatened with
kneecapping for their pains by both
republicans and loyalists! Soon after the
group disappeared. There this interesting
little pamphlet ends. Organise! sums up:
"Anarchists have our work cut out for us and
many battles to fight, but fighting in the
knowledge that we inherit the name and
spirit of those working class militants who
went before us under the banner of anarchy
should encourage us, in Belfast and
wherever else we may be found today".
------------------------------------------------------
Nestor Makhno: Anarchy's
Cossack. The struggle for
free soviets in the Ukraine
1917-1921 by Alexandre
Skirda
AK Press - £13.00, 415pages
"We part with the feeling that we have done
our revolutionary duty. Long live solidarity
and unity of the toilers! Long live the third
social revolution! My thanks to all of you for
everything."
Nestor Makhno's farewell address to the
Makhnovist movement, July 17, 1921
The French historian Alexandre Skirda has
long been an admirer of the anarchist
peasant Nestor Makhno. No academic
divorced from reality, he has participated in
the anarchist movement from the time he
fought on the barricades of Rue Gay-Lussac
in the Latin Quarter of Paris in May 1968.
He is an historian devoted to anarchism and
this is probably his greatest book.
In an exceedingly well-researched book,
Skirda uses his knowledge of both Ukrainian
and Russian (his father was Ukrainian, his
mother Russian) to source material in those
languages. The book, first written in 1982,
went through three editions with revisions
and this English translation is of the 1999
edition with its substantial additions from
material that had recently come to light.
Nestor Makhno was born into a poor
peasant family in the town of Gulyai-Polye in
the Ukraine in 1888. His father died when
Nestor was only 11 months old, and his
mother had to raise him in straitened
circumstances. He and his four brothers
worked as farmhands. Nestor moved on
from this to work in a local foundry as an
apprentice, and then as a sales assistant for
a wine merchant. During the Russo-
Japanese War, Nestor's older brother Savva
was called up. The 1905 Revolution broke
out and Savva started reading revolutionary
literature. In 1906 he make contact with a
group of peasant anarchists in Gulyai-Polye.
Despite the atmosphere of severe
repression and a detachment of Don
Cossacks quartered on the town, 10 to 15
anarchists met at least weekly. Nestor
himself started attending group meetings
and he said appreciatively of its founder,
Voldemar Antoni, the son of immigrant
Czech workers and a lathe operator himself
that he had rid Nestor's "soul once and for
all of the lingering remnants of the slightest
spirit of servility and submission to any
authority".
Nestor served 10 months in prison for his
activities. Undeterred, at the age of 18, he
returned to work with the Gulyai-Polye
anarchist-communist group. He set up an
anarchist study group of 25 in a nearby
village. The Gulyai-Polye group was
informed upon and surrounded by
gendarmes. They managed to shoot their
way out. Nestor was again arrested. Four
members of the group were hanged,
another poisoning himself to escape the
hangman. Nestor himself was sentenced to
hard labour for life. In Butyrki prison in
Moscow, he met another anarchist activist,
Piotr Arshinov, with whom he was to have a
long association.
The February Revolution of 1917 freed
Nestor and he returned to the Ukraine to
help set in motion a mass movement of
peasants, imbued with anarchist ideas. It
fought the German and Austro-Hungarian
occupiers, fought the puppet Ukrainian
government, fought the forces of the Tsarist
Whites. They soon clashed with the
Bolsheviks. Although sometimes in military
alliance with them against the Whites, the
Makhnovist doctrine of free, anti-
authoritarian soviets was anathema to the
followers of Lenin. As the anarchist Boino
said at the second regional congress of
peasants, workers and fighters in Gulyai-
Polye in 1919; "Whatever the cost, we must
set up soviets which are beyond pressure
from any and every party. Only non-party
soviets of workers, freely elected, are
capable of affording us new liberties and
rescuing the labouring people from
enslavement and oppression."
The Makhnovists fought bravely against the
Whites. Meanwhile the Bolsheviks prepared
to attack the Makhnovists, surrounding
them without warning and shooting many of
them on the spot. Their behaviour was
shameful and appalling and Trotsky, the
leader of the Red Army, distinguished
himself with his bloodthirstiness, arrogance
and deviousness. Skirda mentions in an
after word a secret order from Trotsky that
the "Makhnovschina be mopped up without
prevarication or hesitation and with all
firmness and severity" and that this
amounts to "a veritable indictment of
Trotsky who stabbed the insurgents in the
back and had them gunned down, whilst
they were trying, with scarcely any arms or
munitions, to hold the line against the White
offensive". As he says these secret orders
deser ve to be publicised as they highlight
Trotsky's role in the repression.
Sometimes Skirda's enthusiasm gets in the
way of a critical analysis of the Makhnovists.
Just what was the relation between the
military groups of the Makhnovists and the
mass of peasants? How did the peasant
soviets and committees relate to the
military groups and to Makhno himself?
Makhno's haste in shooting down insurgents
guilty of infractions without having looked
into their cases thoroughly are touched upon
and Skirda agrees that this is the most
considerable of charges against Makhno.
Skirda goes into great length about the
animosity between Makhno and the
anarchist activist and historian Voline.
Whatever Voline's faults (not least his
cooking up of Synthesist anarchism) he was
a sincere revolutionary and adopted a
courageous internationalist position during
World War II, when he was forced to live
underground in southern France (which led
to a premature death due to malnutrition
and TB just a few days after the Liberation).
Much of what Skirda says about Voline may
be true, but he surely does not deserve this
consistent attack on him that adds up to a
virtual character assassination.
Finally some words on the translation; Paul
Sharkey has done a good job translating
over 400 pages into English, but the
standard of proof-reading means some
blinding mistakes are produced. For
instance, the fiery female anarchist
Marussia Nikiforova becomes male on page
100! What's worse, she becomes a
Bolshevik commissar on page 97! A careful
reading of the original French text would
have revealed that the commissar and
Nikiforova were two different people
especially as later in the book there is a
whole paragraph on her and her anarchist
belief s.
That said, the Makhnovist movement and
Makhno himself are extremely important,
interesting and inspiring, and deserve the in-
depth treatment that Skirda has given them.
Everyone should read this book, especially
all Leninists (go on, maybe it will finally
open your eyes!).
-------------------------------------------------------
The Almost Perfect Crime: The Misrepresentation of
Portuguese Anarchism by Julio Carrapato
Kate Sharpley Library - £2, 13 pages
Por tuguese anarchism was a little known
movement that reached mass proportions.
Anarchism started to spread through
Por tugal around 1870, but really took off
around 1886 with the visit of the French
geographer and anarchist Elisee Reclus. It
star ted making strong inroads among
workers circles in the cities but also in rural
areas like the Alentejo where many rural
labourers came over to anarchism. By 1914
a large syndicalist organisation had
emerged. The syndicalist daily newspaper A
Batalha was launched in 1919 and survived
up till1927 and the Salazar dictatorship, and
its sales ranked number two or three across
the country!
Anarchists were extremely active in many
social struggles. During the First World War,
the anarchosyndicalist and anarchist
organisations urged workers to desert and
rioting and shootings followed. Many
anarchists were deported to deadly African
penal colonies during 1922 to 1926, and
this repression continued with the fascist
dictatorship of Salazar.
The insurrectionary general strike launched
in 1934 by the CGT, the mass
anarchosyndicalist union, was defeated.
Many hundreds were arrested, the Tarrafal
concentration camp was set up and the CGT
was dismantled. Secret anarchist
organisations continued their work of
resistance and propaganda. The
Communist Party refused to support the
insurrection, and in 1935 its militants were
ordered to enter the Salazarist unions!!
Portuguese anarchism re-emerged in 1974
with the Portuguese Revolution and the fall
off the fascist regime. Anarchists started
organising again. In fact the only
unmistakably anti-militarist demonstration
held in post-fascist Portugal, against the
Iberian Agreement and in solidarity with
Spanish workers, was organised by the
anarchists. Unfortunately Portuguese
anarchism has as yet not managed to turn
itself into a mass movement again. This
handy little pamphlet tells the story of a
chapter in anarchist history which should be
better known.
===========================================
Organise is the magazine of the Anarchist Federation.
It is published twice times a year to promote discussion
and the development of anarchist communist theory.



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