Monday, 23 April 2012

Anarchist Censorship

by Christopher Draper

SOVIET citizens said there was no real news in Izvestia (NEWS) and no truth in Pravda (TRUTH). Ironically, the editors of the leading organ of the British anarchist movement have shown there's also no freedom in 'FREEDOM'.

Through a series of five articles published in consecutive issues of FREEDOM Donald Rooum, one of the editorial collective, charted 'the turbulent history of the UK's longest running anarchist paper'. Although presented as an objective history it's really the view from Donald's own editorial chair and I think his editorial visor must have slipped over his eyes when he was composing it.

Regular readers of FREEDOM will appreciate how much its appearance and approach has altered over the years. Positive reports of small-scale political initiatives and social experiments were once commonplace but these are long gone, replaced by repetitious pictures of masked youths confronting various agents of a repressive state. Anarchism is thus visually and philosophically reduced to conflict, violence and confrontatiobn; a rather unpleasant and unthinking cross between Socialist Worker and the Sun.

The most obvious and dramatic change resulted from a 'palace coup' engineered by Donald that resulted in Toby Crowe replacing Charles Crute as the main editor. Under Charlie the paper had appeared old-fashioned and was often politically inconsistent but it remained unerringly libertarian, under the new Crowe regime it looked more modern and dynamic but promoted a rigid party-line exemplified by an editorial column headed, 'What We Say'!

I took issue with the editors at the time and when Toby began interfering with my own articles I resigned as a regular contributor yet nothing of this radical realignment was reflected in FREEDOM's recently published history of itself. I therefore wrote to FREEDOM in March submitting a short alternative account, along with a comradely personal letter to the editors. Neither were acknowledged and nothing of my account appeared in the April edition of the paper.

As a lifelong anarchist I've always considered FREEDOM a sort of newsletter of the movement, sadly it seems to have declined into the mere mouthpiece of a clique uninterested in the lives, views and opinions of others. I won't persevere with what now seems a lost cause but in the interests of open debate I've reproduced below my recent submission to FREEDOM that editors don't want you to read.

Chris Draper's letter to FREEDOM:


Like Alan Bennett, Donald Rooum is a national treasure but unlike his dramatic counterpart he makes a very unreliable 'History Boy'. Donald's concluding episode in his 'Short History of Freedom Press' (March 2012) was a rewriting of history more akin to the work of Joseph Stalin than Alan Bennett.

The appointment, a decade or so ago, of 'a big, energetic young man who had been General Secretay of the Socialist Party of Great Britain' as editor of 'FREEDOM' was far from being the 'rescue' that Donald claims, it was a disaster. Promoting Toby Crowe, a Marxist since reborn as an Anglican priest, drove many old libertarians like myself away from writing for the paper as Toby determined to create an 'anarchist' version of 'Socialist Worker'. The Crowe soon proved to be more of a cuckoo.

Prior to Toby's ascendancy, 'FREEDOM' reflected the diversity and inconsistency of the wider anarchist movement. Under Charlie Crute's editorship the paper was admittedly rather ragged and un-dynamic but crucially it was open-minded and characteristically libertarian. When Toby took over he imposed a visual and ideological uniformity on 'FREEDOM' that it has not entirely abandoned.

I wrote to Toby at the time challenging what he was doing but to no effect. Long-time readers might well recall Toby's notorious SWP-style, 'What We Say' column: as if anarchists are, or should be, of one hectoring opinion. Regrettably, Donald's role in recruiting and promoting Toby blinds him to the debititating effects of such unthinking agit-prop anarchism.

Donald is a good lad but he slipped up on this one. The pernicious influence of Commissar Crowe lives on with 'FREEDOM's' continuing overemphasis of the violent and confrontational aspects of anarchism. The positive, creative and often low-profile initiatives that delighted anarchists from Kropotkin to Colin Ward are all too often overlooked in favour of 'exciting' pictures and articles attacking agents of the State.

Come on Donald admit it, Toby has a new pulpit better suited to his Milleniarial beliefs, it's time for 'FREEDOM' to finally escape from his shadow. Drop the pretence that we are on the verge of revolution and rediscover the less sexy but more constructive aspects of anarchism.

Chistopher Draper,

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