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Solidarity with the Anarchist Bookfair.

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Image result for anarchist book fair london 2017 

A statement in solidarity with the London Anarchist Bookfair Collective. From some friends of the Bookfair.

From here.

On Saturday 28th October the 2017 London Anarchist Bookfair took place in North London. As usual several thousand anarchists and fellow travellers from diverse tendencies attended, ran stalls, held meetings and other activities.

The Bookfair is organised by a small voluntary collective of five, with a wider group of supporters who help out with setting up, facilitating areas or aspects of the events on the day, collecting donations to cover costs of this free event, tidying up at the end, and so on. It is a monumental amount of work, that generally falls on this small group of people (with families and lives, like the rest of us), who come together to spend much of the year running up to October facilitating the staging of an event and a space for several thousand others in the movement. The Bookfair Collective have always shown willing to take on board suggestions, follow up ideas, and include people and organisations with a view to broadening the range of ideas encompassed and the diversity of the program. They have always been open to more involvement in running the Bookfair.

Saturday’s events and the Open Letter

There were a series of incidents at the Bookfair this year which included distribution of leaflets about the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act being consulted on and an ensuing stand-off. Several people intervened to stop what looked like a developing potentially physically violent incident against a lone woman activist by a group of people. We would hope that most people reading this would do the same.

Some of the people who intervened to do this were members of the Bookfair Collective but they were not doing so as a group in ‘authority’ on the situation, but as individuals and friends supporting a comrade; just as other bookfair-goers in the past have stepped up to stop others being chucked out. We would suggest it is a misinterpretation of events, and the role of the collective, to see this as a ‘Bookfair Collective intervention’ in order to stop the self-organisation of the group involved.

In the wake of the events on Saturday, an Open Letter has been written and circulated online, calling for changes to, and a potential boycott and/or picket of, next year’s Bookfair. Other public statements are also being discussed around withdrawal/disaffiliation with the Bookfair, here for instance.

The open letter claims

“a pattern of response from Bookfair organisers where incidents of transphobia, anti-semitism, islamophobia, racism and misogyny are ignored” and “organisers have stepped in to defend and support those who use oppressive, violent and dehumanising language to perpetuate racist, colonial and patriarchal systems of oppression.” and the collective “allows racist imperialism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny and ableism to ingratiate themselves as part of the culture of the Bookfair”

We would dispute this and would call for specific examples for any of the above, and evidence that we can reasonably judge from, enough to prove a pattern that the Bookfair Collective have refused to deal with them when raised.

What is the Anarchist Bookfair?

More fundamentally, we would ask to whom are the demands in the open letter really directed?

The Bookfair is not set up to be the representative body for anarchists, nor can it be. It is neither a membership organisation, nor are members of the collective Mediation Practitioners, there to settle the sometimes seismic differences and different perspectives that attendees bring to the event.

Come the day of the Bookfair that space the organisers have facilitated is filled with the politics brought into it by the anarchist movement itself, in all its initiatives, vivid colours and traditions. If a chasm of difference exists over issues that flare up, such as last weekend, the Bookfair Collective are not in a position, nor have the physical resources to arbitrate. So we ask: whose responsibility is this and how do disagreements (sometimes leading to threats of violence or actual violence) get dealt with? The existing statement on these issues can be found on the Bookfair’s website.

We are left to wonder whether anarchist practice has become so inculcated by ‘customer service’ culture that even the Bookfair is attended by consumers forgetting the fundamental essence of DIY, self-organisation and self-regulation of events.

The Bookfair Collective operates on the principle that it is not for the small collective that organises it to take on defining and enforcing a rigid policy on safety and behaviour; it is for the wider movement that takes part in the Bookfair to do so, along anarchist principles of opposing centralized authority with dispersed and grassroots responsibility.

Points raised in the open letter call for a radically different event, with a much more centralized program, organized or tightly overseen by the collective. If we as a movement, decide that this is what we want, many more of us will need to commit time and energy to organising and supporting this annual event.

Where next?

We reject transphobia and have all actively supported struggles against oppression. We support the right of trans identifying people to live their lives free from harassment and abuse, to organise, campaign and engage in debate with whoever they choose; and to be addressed by the gender pronouns of their choice. We support the rights of all women to be heard. We recognise that both trans activists and gender critical feminists are currently feeling attacked, at times to the level of their very existence and identities. We would hope that everyone participating in London Anarchist Bookfair would treat each other respectfully and continue to believe that dialogue is possible so that we can strengthen our struggle against oppression and build a better world. We reject bullying and intimidation – in physical or written form.

The Bookfair can never be the ‘dreamed of Utopia’ the open letter imagines, despite all our desires and dedication. We agree with the open letter on one thing, that we should all always be challenging ourselves and each other to widen liberation and ensure the Bookfair is a safe and respectful event, drawing in communities, and reflecting them. But we also believe it needs to allow for discussion and dissent, while excluding hatred and oppression.

We are not members of the Bookfair Collective but some of us have been in the past, and some of us have been involved in wider support work for Bookfairs. All of us are long-time attendees of the Bookfair. As such we hope that it continues, we offer our solidarity and practical support to the Bookfair Collective. We urge the Collective to look beyond the signatories of the open letter to the many wider groups and individuals who attend and take part in the event every year, and to realise that they do have a groundswell of support out there.

Rather than calling for a boycott of the Bookfair, we would challenge the writers of the open letter to engage meaningfully with the Collective and others to help create the change they want. In the light of the statement’s refusal to engage with the Collective until their minimum demands are met, the Bookfair Collective would be reasonably entitled to ignore the open letter.

So we stand by the Bookfair Collective, and salute how the Bookfair is organised; recognising the immense work done in making it happen every year. But it remains up to all of us who attend and take part in it to ensure that it measures up to the standards of love, solidarity and empowerment that we all desire. It is not possible for the small collective that currently facilitates the space to police them. Nor is it fundamentally anarchism.


Transphobia at the London Anarchist Bookfair 2017

Reading this ‘debate’ makes me if anything more supportive of the above declaration.


I am not an anarchist but like many people I consider our anarchist comrades fundamentally part of the left.

I am not an anarchist but I have attended this bookfair in the past and found it a good event, an important occasion to learn and to talk.

I am not an anarchist but I stand in fundamental solidarity with this statement. 


Written by Andrew Coates

November 3, 2017 at 11:52 am

Black Bloc in Egypt, Anarchism/Autonomism Emerges in the Arab Revolt.

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There have been reports in the last few days (see notably this) of the emergence of an Egyptian Black Bloc.

Albawaba has just reported, here.,

In 2013, an anarchist group called the Black Bloc appeared on the Egyptian revolutionary scene and got incredible media attention. Despite their very low numbers (maximum 100 combined in all incidents all over Egypt), the media went into a state of utter frenzy over this new group and the circus started in earnest, culminating in the appearance of one Black Bloc member on a TV show with a sock on his face. The fun thing about this absurdity is that everyone seems to be taking them seriously, but the dangerous thing is that it might continue.

The article suggests, no doubt correctly, that this benefits the Muslim Brotherhood regime,

The genius of turning the Black Bloc into the new enemy is how perfect they are for it. An anarchist group that targets the police, public structures and roads, juxtaposed against the Brotherhood who are always calling for stability. It doesn’t hurt that the Black Bloc has no real structure, charter, spokespeople or leadership.

Nevertheless it is interesting to see that autonomist/anarchist politics have finally breached the frontier of the Arab world.

And there is this: in the Guardian on women sexually assaulted during the anti-Morsi demonstrations.

“Two middle-aged women were guided around the tent to us – the men protecting us had rescued them from the mob. While we were being urged into the field clinic, the group moving out of the square included remnants of the Egyptian Women for Change march, mostly women over 40, which had been attacked and dispersed in the square. Many women made it away from Tahrir, but a few got stuck in the throng – including the women now with us.

One woman, shaking and crying, put her head on my shoulder, and I wrapped my arms around her. Her companion screamed and yelled. Gameela pleaded with her to save her energy; we had no idea what would happen next, or how long we would stay out of sight – and reach – of the mob. Another woman, also rescued from the mob, soon joined us, crying and yelling.

Suddenly men wearing black ski masks and carrying long knives and clubs were jumping the fence to our left. It was impossible to tell which side they were on, but they turned out to be from the Black Bloc and joined those protecting us. Some of them were now trying  to rescue another woman stripped naked by the mob metres away.”

I think better, a lot lot better, of the Black Bloc after reading that.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 29, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Terry Liddle, 1948 – 2012, Comrade.

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Terry Liddle 1948 – 2012, Comrade.

Terry Liddle died on November the 16/17 November 2012 aged 64 , after suffering ill health for a long time.

Many people on the left will have memories of Terry. There are those much more familiar with him than myself. A full obituary will be difficult to write. But this is one tribute to his memory.

I first became acquainted with Terry around 1979-1980, when he was involved in setting up an explicitly socialist atheist group. With my house-mate John, a cockney anarchist and shop steward at Warwick University, I joined. But living in Leamington Spa we had only written contact.

This group, according to the secularist anarchist Nicolas Walter, was bound to run into difficulties, as non-belief in religion takes many, often clashing, forms on the left. Indeed the organisation did not last. But Terry continued to place atheism, along with left democratic socialism and republicanism, at the centre of his politics.

Terry was, as they say, involved in many left wing groupings. In the Labour Briefing pamphlet Why Socialists Should Stay in the Labour Party (1991-2) he wrote with self-depreciating humour, “After a decade as an intransigent ultra-left sectarian, joining the Labour Party wasn’t easy. Staying in it is harder still.” But like other contributors (including myself) he placed his hopes in building a Labour left that would “work as a unified coherent force”. This would challenge the Party’s rightward drift, and give body to the “hopes and dreams of our class.”

The “long hard slog” of refounding the left led Terry, like many of us (such as the writer of the pamphlet’s introduction, Mike Marqusee, then Editor of the Briefing) outside the Labour Party.

A full history of these attempts to form a fully socialist party, principally in England, around the Socialist Alliance (SA), has yet to be written. Its derisory votes in the General Election of 2001 counted less towards it dissolution than the bandwagon launched by George Galloway and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) backed the Respect party.

The type of ‘vanguard’ Leninism offered by groups like the SWP never attracted Terry. Still less would he follow Galloway’s populist ‘anti-imperialism’, support for ‘Muslims’ and self-promotion, into Respect. His hostility, widely shared on the left, looks more than justified when we look at Respect’s present, sorry, state. Terry sought a different future for the left in democratic and robustly socialist groupings and networks.

Terry Liddle was anchored in the activist and intellectual traditions of the British left. His own family background included a grandfather who was a member of Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation (SDF). He had his forebear’s two volumes of Hyndman’s autobiography (The Record of an Adventurous Life, 1911 Further Reminiscences, 1911). An article on the heritage of  William Morris illustrates the depth not just of his reading, but equally his easy familiarity with the heart of the historic labour movement and the left. As he wrote, “Morris belongs neither to Marxists, Anarchists or Greens. He belongs to all of toiling humanity, for his is a message of hope for their freedom.”

Terry entered left-wing politics early. His experiences in the Young Communist League (YCL) in South London (he told me they felt that us young North London leftists considered ourselves a bit ‘above’ them), left him a committed anti-Stalinist.

Terry was a Marxist. But it was the kind of democratic Marxism, which many of us believe in, which crosses over with other types of socialism, left libertarian thought, and anarchism. As such Terry kept alive two strands from the pre-Great War left, secularism, and republicanism. He was open to new, and different, ideas, from feminism to ecology. He was also an advocate of animal rights, relating this to the writings of 19th century socialist, Henry Salt, on the issue (Extending the Circle of Compassion What Next. No 29.2004).

This openness was illustrated in some of his last writing. This year he reviewed a collection of Colin Ward’s writings, (Autonomy, Solidarity Possibility – a Colin Ward Reader). He stated, after a friendly overview of the Editor of Anarchy’s ideas on “autonomous direct action”, “Anarchists are all too often seen as crusties in ragged black clothing with mangy dogs on strings or mindless nihilistic trouble makers. But anarchism has always been a part of the movement for working class self-emancipation. It has a long history and some important thinkers.” (Chartist July/August 2012).

I feel glad that I was able to tell Terry how much I appreciated this piece.

Atheism remained, as well, very much part of Terry Liddle’s outlook. he set up the Freethought History Research Group. He was active in the Humanists. He was supported the main thrust of  French laïcité, particularly the ideas of the important left wing of French secularist thought and campaigning.

Terry wrote sympathetically on the ‘New Atheism’. He distinguished it from purists, like the National Secular Society, who are largely concerned with the separation of Church and State. Writers like Dawkins, Hitchens and Frank Harris were ‘science based’ and interested in arguing about the truth of faith. This was valuable, if with limits. While he was critical of Christopher Hitchen’s entrance into the “camp of imperialism” Terry had no time for those who have become “apologists for political Islam” (War on the Heavens. The Rise of ‘New Atheism and its Meaning for Socialists. New Interventions Vol. 13. No 4. 2011).

He commented, “While the New Atheism provides an arsenal of ammunition to hammer religion, to undermine the foundation of its mythology, it falls short in failing to describe or make an analysis of the ideological role played by religion in sustaining the alienated social relations of social relations of bourgeois society.” (Ibid) He cites FA Ridley, “Once a Communist order was fully established, the twin foundations of religion would be torn up by the roots.” (Ibid)

Terry’s contribution to the left was outstanding.

He was a great bloke.

He will be much missed.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Police Spy Mark Kennedy and the Tarnac Affair.

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Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy,  ‘Mark Stone’, British Police Spy.
The Guardian reports,

The former British police spy Mark Kennedy is being accused of making fake claims after leaked documents indicated he was the source behind claims that French activists were learning to make homemade bombs.

Ten French leftwing activists are under investigation over an alleged terror plot to overthrow the state in a case that has convulsed France and drawn criticism from human rights lawyers.

Leaked documents seen by the Guardian reveal how claims against some of the activists, including the suggestion they discussed and “practised” building improvised explosive devices (IED)s, came from the British police unit Kennedy worked for.

This was covered in great detail in Le Monde yesterday (print edition) – here.

L’espion anglais qui a piégé le groupe de Tarnac

Finalement, il y avait bien un homme qui vivait dans la “clandestinité” dans l’affaire de Tarnac. Mais il ne s’agissait pas d’un des jeunes gens interpellés le 11 novembre 2008 en Corrèze, à Rouen et à Paris, contrairement à ce que les rapports de police décrivaient. C’était Mark Kennedy. Son métier : policier britannique infiltré dans la mouvance altermondialiste 2003 and 2010.

The British spy who tricked the Tarnac Group. But it wasn’t  any of the young people arrested on in Corrèze, à Rouen et à Paris on the  11th of  November 2008 . – against the reports set out by the  Police . It was Mark Kennedy. His profession? He was a British police agent who infiltrated the ‘other-globalisation’ movement between 2003 and 2010.

Le Monde goes on to describe the key role Kennedy played in fabricating the dossier against the Tarnac group and Julien Coupat.  In the case against them, “il est partout, dès le début.” – he is everywhere, right from the start. Kennedy, they say,was responsible  for the way the French intelligence service, (at the time the DCRG) took an interest in the group. That is the claim that they were making explosive ‘engines’.

Yet his role did not figure in the court case that eventually took place.


Le Monde cites the lawyer, Me Bourdon, commenting on the ““extraordinaire déloyauté de la procédure” – the extreme bad faith of the legal process. That is, they failed to mention cheating Kennedy and his sordid behaviour.

The Tarnac affair, in which Coupat (fuller details in French here) is described in Wikipedia,

The TGV sabotage affair

In the night of 7–8 November 2008, Coupat and Lévy went for a car ride and played cat-and-mouse with police cars following them. Their trip included a 20-minute stop in Dhuisy  in the Seine-et-Marne department, by their account for a sex session in the vehicle. Their car was parked near a train line in one of the locations where iron hooks were left dangling from the overhead lines that night, paralysing the high-speed TGV network.

On November 11, gendarmes raided the Tarnac farm and arrested nine residents in connection with the sabotage. Four of the nine were released on November 15, under conditions. A further three were released on December 2, and the last but one, Lévy, in January 2009. Coupat remained in jail until May 28, 2009, when he was released under bail with instructions to remain in the Paris region and have no contacts with the other 8.

This site has supported the Tarnac 9 since the beginning.

Now we learn that agent provocateur Kennedy was involved in the injustice.

Who is Kennedy?

Wikipedia again,

Mark Kennedy (also known as Mark Stone and Flash) is a former Metropolitan Police officer who, whilst attached to the police service’s National Public Order Intelligence Unit, infiltrated many protest groups between 2003 and 2010 before he was unmasked by political activists as an undercover policeman

Kennedy’s role as a “mole” in the Tarnac Affair is also  exposed in, amongst other places, in Les Inrocks (November the 7th) “Mark Kennedy” la taupe de Tarnac.”

De 2003 à 2010, Stone/Kennedy a infiltré la gauche radicale anglaise et européenne. Il a vécu undercover chez les activistes écologistes, altermondialistes, anarchistes et antifascistes, partageant leurs repas, leurs fêtes, leurs manifs. Parfois leurs lits. Ils ont fini par découvrir sa trahison mais trop tard. Tout ce qu’ils faisaient et disaient depuis sept ans était déjà entre les mains de la police.

From 2003 to 2010 Stone/Kennedy infiltrated the radical left, in Britain and in Continental Europe. he lived undercover amongst ecologists, anti-globalisers, anarchists and anti-fascists. He shared their meals, their demonstrations, and sometimes their beds. The left found him out, but it was too late. Everything they had said and done was already in the hands of the police


In France Tarnac supporters demand that all the relevant documents relating to Kennedy’s  involvement in their case  be made officially public by the Minister of Interior, Manuel Valls.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 10, 2012 at 11:44 am

European revolutionaries and Algerian independence 1954-1962. Review with Additional Notes.

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Andrew Coates reviews: Revolutionary History Vol 16, No4: Ian Birchall (guest editor) European revolutionaries and Algerian independence 1954-1962. Thursday September 27 2012 Weekly Worker 931

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Algerian independence. Revolutionary History has published a collection of essays and documents about “the largely unknown story of French anarchists and Trotskyists” who supported the successful fight against French colonialism. The editorial states that a “colonial war spearheaded by a ‘socialist politician’, a national liberation movement strongly influenced by Islam; repression and torture on one side, terror tactics on the other” has echoes in the world today. It is hoped, continues the editorial, that accounts of those who sided with the Algerian people can “educate and inspire a new generation of anti-imperialists”.

But what can be learnt? Does the Arab spring mark the “return of the Arab revolution” that shaped the Algerian struggle? Last year Alex Callinicos saw potential in the Arab world for (as Trotsky asserted) “the democratic revolution [that] grows over directly into the socialist revolution and thereby becomes a permanent revolution”. The Socialist Workers Party leader denied any repetition of the past, when the Arab revolution led to bureaucratic and authoritarian states. He hoped that independent working class politics could develop from democratic movements, above all in Egypt.1

Although Algeria has seen some unrest – over democratic rights, unemployment and food prices – le pouvoir, the army-state, remains. Its limited democracy, and the position of president Bouteflika, has been barely affected. Syria’s uprising is marked by sectarian warfare, in which repression and torture are not the monopoly of imperialists. The Islamists in power from the Maghreb to the Mashriq are unlikely to inspire many socialists, for all their ‘anti-imperialism’. At present, while struggles for social rights exist, mass protest is dominated by religious outrage at The innocence of Muslims.

The revolution

European revolutionaries publishes extensive extracts from Sylvain Pattieu’s The comrades of the brothers. This is the “first full history of the role of Trotskyists and anarchists in solidarity with the Algerian liberation struggle”. The Trotskyist Fourth International had in 1948 defended the “struggle for freedom from imperialism by the colonial peoples, even in cases where this struggle is led by nationalist and bourgeois-democratic elements” (p19). This was the benchmark for their anti-colonialism.

As a colony Algeria had specific features. Ten percent of the population (around a million people) were full French citizens. These pieds-noirs ran nearly all the industry and commerce, and cultivated the best land. Other Algerians were ‘subjects’ of France, and, despite post-war reforms, could not take French citizenship without renouncing their Islamic civil status. Few did so. As editor Ian Birchall notes, they were in an inferior position under the Code de l’indigéant (native code). The colons were determined not to leave. The French army shared their wish. It had in 1954 lost at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam to general Giap’s Viet Minh forces and it resolved not to concede another defeat.

Despite these obstacles the FLN’s armed wing, the Armée de Libération Nationale, launched an uprising in 1954. On Halloween bombs went off and there were attacks on police stations and farms. A dozen people were killed. But soon guerrillas began to operate in mountainous regions and the attacks grew. The French state began a vicious response. This had escalated by 1956 to the extent that the Socialist prime minister, Guy Mollet, who claimed to embrace Marxism as well as anti-communism and pro-Americanism, passed special powers to repress the insurrection.

The historian, Pierre Vidal-Naquet, described opponents of the French state’s ferocious response as “Dreyfusards, Bolsheviks and third worldists”. But there were those who defended human rights against the French military’s use of torture. Others were attracted to solidarity with the anti-colonial uprisings as an alternative to an apparently stagnant European left.2 The French Trotskyists became committed to the cause of independence as part of the ‘world revolution’. New, non-Stalinist, Marxist leaderships, they thought, would emerge from anti-colonial fighting. This contrasted with the view of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF), which promoted ‘peace’ and believed that some degree of ‘common interest’ existed between the Algerian nation and France.

Split during the early 1950s, French Trotskyism took different views over which wing of the Algerian nationalist movement they should support.

In 1926 Messali Hadj (1898-1974) founded the first Algerian anti-colonial movement, the Étoile Nord-Africaine, in Metropolitan France. He was then a member of the PCF. By the end of World War II, when the independence movement began to take hold in Algeria itself, Hadj had evolved away from communism. His anti-colonialism went with a democratic and social interpretation of Algeria’s Arab and Islamic identity. He spent 22 years of his life in French prisons or under house arrest. One wing of French Trotskyism, the ‘Lambertist’ Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI) had enjoyedd long contacts with Hadj. They claimed his Mouvement National Algérien (MNA) was an “authentic proletarian organisation” and potentially socialist.

The ‘class struggle’ anarchist Fédération Communiste Libertaire (FCL) also argued that national liberation was a necessary and progressive, though transitory, stage. The FCL differed from the – much larger – Fédération Anarchiste (FA), which distrusted nationalism (and militarism). While denouncing colonial repression, the FA refused to back any actual liberation movement. Pattieu notes the FCL’s links with an Algerian group, the Mouvement Libertaire Nord-Africain (MLN), though not its tiny size and its largely European membership. The FCL worked with the MNA and suffered severe French state repression.

Michel Raptis (‘Pablo’), one of the most active Trotskyists who rallied to the Algerian cause, threw himself into supporting a “national anti-imperialist united front rallying all classes”, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN). The position of the ‘Pierre Frank’ wing of French Trotskyism, the PCI, was, Pattieu says, not to cut themselves off completely from the MLN. But the FLN was soon the main interlocutor.

European revolutionaries recounts the nuts and bolts of the solidarity work these French leftwingers carried out. They printed false papers, and FLN literature, carried suitcases of cash – the origin of the expression “les porteurs de valise” – and helped supply information. As the French army mobilised hundreds of thousands the Jeune Résistance network encouraged refusal to do military service and for others to desert. The independent left Jeanson network and the network run by the Egyptian communist militant, Henri Curiel, closely helped the FLN. They were dismantled in 1960 and Curiel spent time in jail. Pablo, and his comrade, Salomon Santan, were arrested in 1960 while setting up a workshop to print forged money for the FLN. They were sentenced to 18 months in prison.

What all these positions had in common was the principle that it was the duty of revolutionaries to assist indigenous anti-colonialist movements. Unlike in metropolitan France, Algerian communism was marginal and swiftly repressed during the conflict. Organised Trotskyism did not exist. The FLN and MNA, willing to attract this backing, would, Pattieu observes, adopt “Marxist language to win support from the French left, but took good care that French leftists should not influence their cadres” (p89).

Today we see most Trotskyist groups attempt to create their ‘own’ sections in every country they can. With the massive ‘globalised’ increase in international exchanges of all types, it would be artificial to fence off each nation. But ‘branches’ of a western left have yet to make much headway in north Africa and elsewhere.

Internecine wars

In the fight for national liberation over 300,000 Algerians and 25,000 French military died. Between 1954 and 1960 two million people were in bleak ‘resettlement’ camps and 300,000 were refugees in Tunisia and Morocco. The brutality of the police in France and the army in Algeria appeared to overwhelm the resistance. Pontecorvo’s film The battle of Algiers (1966) depicts an FLN bombing campaign that was met in 1957 by systematic repression, killing and torture. The pieds-noirs joined in anti-north African rationnades (pogroms). But in A dying colonialism (London 1959) the Martinique FLN supporter, Frantz Fanon, said that the “Algerians already consider themselves sovereign”. He predicted that they would win.

But violence did not only come from the French. The FLN announced that, since it was a ‘front’, parties could not join it – only individuals. The MLN was hostile. The FLN accused Hadj of knowing nothing about the reality in Algeria. He was said to be paternalist and reluctant to let loose a movement on the ground that would escape his control. To impose the ‘front’ it was decided to wipe out the MLN ‘traitors’.

Conflict rapidly reached intolerable levels. There was a full-scale war in France and Algeria. Fictionalised in Racid Bouchareb’s film Hors la loi (2010), this meant the FLN rooting out a whole layer of activists. European revolutionaries estimates that more than 4,000 people were killed in mainland France and 6,000 in Algeria. The FLN committed a brutal massacre of 300 MNA-supporting villagers in the Mélouza region in 1957. Less mentioned is the internal repression inside the FLN. The fate of Abane Ramdane, the author of the most political FLN document, the Soumman Declaration (1956) – which rejected claims that this was a “religious war” – is one of the best known. He was strangled in Morocco in 1958.

Some on the French left knew of these practices and kept silent. In Le lièvre de Patagonie (2009) Claude Lanzmann, who liaised between the FLN, Frantz Fanon and Jean-Paul Sartre, talks of being made aware of their brutal treatment of dissenters and suspected French agents.3 This tendency to deny all criticism of liberation or anti-imperialist movements is not dead today.

Ian Birchall notes that the central argument on the pro-FLN left was that “it was the FLN which was the main leader and organiser of the struggle against French rule, and which successfully carried out the struggle for independence” (p165). But he also cites with some approval the observations of the Socialisme ou Barbarie group, which stated that the FLN might be the womb for the birth of a “new class”. The militarisation of the independence struggle gave power to the army, which has had lasting effects on the development of the Algerian state.

It is unlikely that anybody would claim that the war of independence justified the Trotskyists’ hopes. Michel Raptis asserted that the Arab revolution “forms part of the proletarian revolution, by which the end of the capitalist regime will be completed and the new socialist social order will begin”.4 Pablo’s own expectations were dashed, when Ben Bella, first leader of the Algerian state and a sympathiser with many socialist aspirations, was unceremoniously ousted in 1965 and replaced by a military man, Boumédienne.

The libertarian Marxist, Daniel Guérin, who had close ties to the Algerian struggle, had by the time of independence come to the conclusion that the FLN’s leaders were “Jacobins and authoritarians”. He added: “.. the single party is a swindle.” In Quand l’Algérie s’insurgait (1979) he stated that Algeria had fallen into “a new feudalism – bourgeois, military and bureaucratic”. The FLN had been dominated by a “narrow-minded nationalism with little social reforming substance”.5

The brief experiments in workers’ self-management, largely in enterprises and on land left by the departing French (which Michel Raptis encouraged), or the longer period of state socialist third worldism have long passed. The 1965 constitution, which emphasised Islam and the Arab identity of the independent nation, and the army that became the pillar of the state after the 1965 coup, have proved enduring influences. Arabisation, and the 1970s promotion of Islam against the home-grown Algerian leftism that finally arrived, were the soil in which Islamism flourished in the 1980s.

The left’s view of Islam as a simple cultural marker, that did not pose political problems, has proved false. Inflected in the country in a reactionary and exclusive way, with Arabism it became an alternative to the FLN party-state. The 1990s civil war, which left over 200,000 dead, followed the cancellation of elections in 1992 that the Islamist Front Islamique du Salut was expected to win.

In 1989 a – tightly controlled – multi-party system was brought in. Ironically it is the Parti de Travailleurs (PT), the largest Marxist force in Algeria, which lays claim to the heritage of Messali Hadj and his call for a constituent assembly. Louisa Hanoune led 20 PT deputies into the parliament following elections this year. The PT forms part of the Lambertist Entente Internationale des Travailleurs.

Revolutionary History is to be congratulated for producing European revolutionaries. It gives a lot to think about. There is plenty of interesting material not covered in this review, such as JJ Plant’s account of the British Labour MP, John Baird, who backed the Algerians, Ian Birchall’s biographical guide, pieces on the war from far-left groups such as the forerunner of Lutte Ouvrière, and Manus McGrogan on the influence of the war on the left that developed in 1968.

Are there useful lessons to be learnt from the Algerian revolution? Some thought that it would lead to socialism. Sylvian Pattieu says that the FLN adopted Marxist “overtones” to win valuable practical backing from the French left – which had its own need to believe. It would suppress criticisms in the hope that the war of national liberation would ‘grow over’ into a socialist revolution. Even though it chose the ‘winner’, the pro-FLN Fourth International gained little from their work with Ben Bella. The Boumédienne coup expelled or imprisoned leftwingers. The Fourth International criticised the influence of Pablo in overestimating the FLN and the new state’s socialist, or ‘anti-capitalist’, character. By 1969 it also referred to a failure to “form a nucleus of a future Algerian revolutionary party”.6 This appears to be a warning in relation to future Trotskyist activity.

As for Callinicos, his wish to see the Arab spring develop along lines favourable to the socialist left has disintegrated rapidly. His small ‘nucleus’ in Egypt remains politically irrelevant. But it exists.

Perhaps the last word on Algeria should go to Daniel Guérin. Was it worth supporting the revolution? Writing in Ci-gît le colonialisme (1973)Guérin said: “The Algerian revolution, despite all its blunders and its limits, if only in proving the military impotency of a great colonial power and the inexhaustible bravery of the humblest of the colonised, has written a new chapter in the history of human liberation”.7


1. A Callinicos, ‘The return of the Arab revolution’ International Socialism No130, April 2011.

2. See D Macey Frantz Fanon: a life p347, London 2000.

3. C Lanzmann Le lièvre de Patagonie Paris 2009, pp498-501.

4. M Raptis The Arab revolution Amsterdam 1959.

5. See D Porter Eyes to the south: French anarchists and Algeria Oakland 2011, p108.

6. J Hansen, ‘The Algerian revolution from 1962 to 1969’ in SWP (US) The workers and farmers government 1974.

7. D Porter Eyes to the south: French anarchists and Algeria Oakland 2011, p146. Read the rest of this entry »

Libertarian Marxism and Anarchism.

with 2 comments


I just thought I’d signal this, somebody I truly admire.

He expressed the best of left politics.

I am particularly fond of this letter,

Dear Comrade Trotsky:

I take the liberty of adding a personal word to the letter which Marceau Pivert has written you. I was out of town, and not present at the meeting of the party executive at which the contents of that letter were approved.

If I had been present I should undoubtedly have insisted that the last section should have been put differently.

I am not altogether in agreement, indeed, with my comrades on the executive when they emphasize serious differences which might exist between the POI and the PSOP I believe that these “serious differences” were created artificially by the sectarianism of certain of your friends, such as Naville. And I regret that we take up, on our side, the assertion that these “serious differences” exist. I have the impression that, on both sides, we take refuge behind these “differences” in order not to unite.

I do not believe, moreover, that a “united front” would be preferable to fusion, nor that such a fusion would necessarily carry “in its breast the germs of confusion and speedy disintegration”.

It is possible, even quite possible that it might be so, but only in the event that your friends should consider the fusion as a disloyal maneuver, planning to get a foothold as an “alien body” in the PSOP, in such a way as to destroy it from within and to prepare a new split – that is, to drag along, for the purpose of forming a new POI, a certain number of our militants. Yes, if that should be the plan of your friends, the fusion would be “illusory” and disastrous.

But I cannot believe, in spite of the suspicion which the tactic of certain of your friends arouses in me, I cannot believe that, in the present serious circumstances, they would commit the crime of destroying the only movement which, in France, can serve as the crucible for forming the revolutionary vanguard. Consequently, I do not dismiss the possibility of a loyal fusion.

You will not stand on formality if I tell you exactly what I think: it is upon you, upon you alone, that there depends the question of whether the fusion would be loyal or disloyal.

In order to avoid any misunderstanding, I point out that by fusion I mean, naturally, the entry of the members of the POI as individuals into the PSOP: the numerical disproportion between the POI and the PSOP, on the one hand, and the approach of our next convention, on the other, rule out a special fusion convention.

But it is actually a question of fusion, because the voice of your friends, in accordance with our principles of full workers’ democracy, will be able to be freely heard in our party – as early, I believe, as our convention in May.

The only difference which I see between your friends and us, and I persist in regarding it as purely formal, is the question of the “Fourth”. We want to build a new revolutionary international. The only “difference” springs from the fact that you have baptised your international secretariat as the “Fourth International”, whereas in our opinion the new international cannot be created by a wave of the magic wand. It will be borne within the masses, and the masses must be actively prepared for it, must be made to understand its necessity, must be made to find the road that leads to it. Yes, I repeat (though I understand in advance your vehement protest) that it is a question only of a formal difference. It should not become an obstacle to the indispensable re-grouping, the indispensable and urgent re-enforcing of the revolutionary vanguard in France.

  Fraternally yours,
Daniel Guérin

His books are freely available on the Net in (English and French). I’ve just (re) read his classic Anarchism.

“Hommage à Daniel Guérin, la synthèse du marxisme et de l’anarchisme” (More here)

Daniel Guérin (19 May 1904, Paris – 14 April 1988, Suresnes) was a French anarcho-communist author, best known for his work Anarchism: From Theory to Practice, as well as his collection No Gods No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism in which he collected writings on the idea and movement it inspired, from the first writings of Max Stirner in the mid-19th century through the first half of the 20th century. He is also known for his opposition to Nazism, fascism, Stalinism and colonialism, in addition to his support for the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) during the Spanish Civil War, and his revolutionary defence of free love and homosexuality (he was bisexual).

CGT, PSOP, and Libertarian Marxism.

Read rest on Wiki.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 13, 2012 at 10:42 am

Eyes to the South. French Anarchists and Algeria. David Porter. Review Article.

with 2 comments


Eyes to the South. French Anarchists and Algeria. David Porter. AK Press. 2011.

“..est-ce que quelqu’un peut nier qu’il y a plus de justice, plus d’ordre matériel et moral, plus d’équité, plus de vertus socials dans l’Afrique du Nord, depuis que la France a fait son conquête?”

Can anybody deny that in North Africa there is more justice, more moral and physical order, more equity, more social virtue, since France has made her conquests?”

Jules Ferry. Parliamentary Debate. 1885. (1)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Algerian independence. The long fight to win self-government is the background to everything described and analysed in Eyes to the South. David Porter presents “an alternative history of Algeria, an introduction to the French anarchist movement since the 1950s, and a heavy plateful of major generic anarchist theoretical and strategic issues.” (Page 475) He is indebted to those “who courageously struggled for Algerian liberation, those in Algeria for fought for genuine workers’ self-management, and those in the anarchist movement more generally.” (Page 11) It is inspired by the “universal impulse and language of freedom”. One theme dominates. The way authority has been abused to suppress liberty in the country, is probably the most important issue still facing post-independence Algeria.

Colonialisation to Anti-Colonialism.

In 1830 Algeria was brutally colonised. Ostensibly aimed at suppressing piracy, and the thriving slave trade based in Algiers, the semi-autonomous Ottoman province was conquered ‘village by village’. By the end of the end of the century it is estimated that up to a third of the population had disappeared, through massacres, deportations, famines and epidemics.

After the Franco-Prussian war of 1871 French refugees from Alsace-Lorraine were transferred to the Algerian countryside (such as the grandparents of the philosopher Louis Althusser) and local land was confiscated for their use. Other settlers followed. European colons, or ‘pieds-noirs’ totalled a million people by 1954 (10% of the population). But even as Algeria became, in the 20th century, three French Départements, Non-Europeans were described as “indigènes” with their own – inferior – legal status.

This glaring contradiction between this and the official egalitarian rhetoric of the Republic did not go unnoticed. After the Great War L’Etoile nord-africaine (ENA) was founded in France in 1926, on the initiative of those inspired by the anti-imperialism of the 3rd International. It became the focus for demands for equal rights for North Africans, and their independence (Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria). It was a public platform for the first important Algerian nationalist leader Messali Hadj (1898 – 1974). Hadj was on the Colonial Commission of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). He presented the Etoile’s programme to the 1927 Anti-Imperialist League in Brussels in 1927. When the Popular Front Government, with the support of the PCF, dissolved his organisation in 1937 (putting it in the same category as the ‘factious’ leagues of the extreme-right) Hadj set up a new party, the Parti du people algérien (PPA). This began to organise in Algeria itself. He was placed under House Arrest. (2) Small numbers of French leftists, such as Daniel Guérin (1904 – 1988), continued to work with Hadj, and sustained opposition to French colonialism.

The same period also saw the creation of the Sunni Association of the Algerian Ulema, led by Ben Badis (1889 – 1940). This promoted an Islamic-Arab identity and the teaching of classical Arabic. These principles have had a long-term influence. Hadj, and the rival Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) created in 1954, broadly agreed with this national and religious basis for an independent state.

At end of the Second World War, in which many Algerians were conscripted, or volunteered, to fight for the Free French armies, there were widespread hopes that North Africa would see its own liberation. These were crushed. The French state massacred nationalist, killing thousands in the Constantine region at Sétif. Messali’s supporters formed an underground section, the Organisation Spéciale (OS) and began carried out attacks on selected physical targets. In 1954 they created a new body, the Mouvement Nationale Algérien (MNA). The FLN and its armed wing on the ground, the Armée de Libération Nationale, launched the armed fight for anti-colonial liberation that year. Lasting until 1962, the uprising is estimated to have cost from 300,000 to a million Algerian deaths as well as between 50 to 60,000 French Algerians.

Most people exploring (the word is carefully chosen) Eyes to the South will find it is often unwieldy. It is not a smooth narrative. Large slabs of French anarchist debate are stuck next to – not always in neat chronology – the dramatic course of Algerian politics. To search through it thoroughly is often an effort. But with this in mind, it can be seen as a complement to the latest Revolutionary History. This advertises articles on the role of the “porteurs de valise” (suitcase carriers), leftists, often Marxist, and Trotskyist, who actively aided the FLN, by carrying supplies to the insurgency. Porter offers evidence for at least some anarchist help to the revolution, though with the tradition’s debt to anti-militarism and opposition to nationalism, and, critics allege, ‘Gallo-centrism’, this was not a majority stand. Eyes to the South is however not just a historical study of French anarchists and Algeria. It deals with “the critical issues of ‘national liberation,’ revolutionary violence, and collaboration with hierarchical or statist forces.” This makes it a significant study in its own right.

The French Left and Anti-Colonialism.

France, as Eyes to the South’s title indicates, is at the heart of the book. Anarchist opponents of the war were only one, small, strand on the left. “Special powers” for the French army were voted under the Socialist Prime Minister Guy Mollet in 1956. The Justice Minister, François Mitterrand declared that Algeria is “French”. They did not succeed in suppressing the uprising. They were unable to impose the slightest reform, starting with the unequal political representation of non-European Algerians. As Porter states, Mollet’s government began secret negotiations with the FLN – to be sabotaged by the military. (Page 32) Right-wing pied noirs continued to call for more resolute – repressive – action. 400,000 French troops on the ground-committed atrocities, often without informing the Cabinet before they carried out their operations. Governments were unable to function. This encouraged the 1958 Algiers-initiated Military Coup supported by colonialist “ultras”. In the growing chaos De Gaulle returned to power. He told European demonstrators in Algiers “Je vous au compris” and increased the armed presence to 500,000. But the new 5th Republic began the process that ended in independence.

The war in Algeria gave rise to fierce, if initially powerless, opposition. Anti-colonialism was a major issue for the French left, as France tried to hold onto its Empire, and was confronted with insurgencies in Indo-China as well as in North Africa. By the end of the 1950s fears about ‘charismatic’ Gaullist power added another factor. The febrile atmosphere of French politics, as news of the authorities’ mass “displacements” of Algerians (over a million) filtered through, and serious protests began in the French capital, is captured in Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiographical La Force des choses (1963). De Gaulle announced in 1958 that torture would no longer be used. But, as de Beauvoir noted, it took place, even in metropolitan France. Read the rest of this entry »