Thursday, 26 July 2012

A response from John Desmond to 'Anarchist Censorship'! (see 23rd, April 2012 posting by Christopher Draper)

I SUGGEST that Christopher Draper’s important post has become even more important and most timely with the publication of the article ‘The future of Freedom’ in the current (July) issue of the newspaper. Lest the reader hasn’t seen the article, it has the following subheading: ‘Now that we’re bust and what we’re going to do about it’.  Lest the reader hasn’t read the article, it includes the following announcement towards the end: ‘If the situation remains as it is now we will end the hard copy version in October on its 125th Anniversary and put out some guff [that’s right] about it transforming into a digital entity for the online age.’

My response to Christopher’s post is to comment upon:

• his allegations about Toby Crowe and Donald Rooum

• an observation and an opinion in his post, and

• the announcement in FREEDOM.

Christopher’s allegations about Toby and Donald:

I read Donald’s history of FREEDOM with particular interest for three reasons. I was a member of its editorial collective. I have known Donald for many years. And I also knew Toby.  One of the things which struck me about Donald’s history was his description of Toby as ‘a big, energetic, young man’.

I remember three things that Toby achieved. First, if I remember correctly, and I think I do, Toby was responsible for implementing a much-needed and much-improved redesign of FREEDOM.  Second, Toby gave at least one introductory talk about anarchism at a London bookfair. His talk at a bookfair held in Conway Hall had a packed audience.  I was there.  Third, Toby inaugurated (or perhaps revived the tradition of) holding readers’ meetings at FREEDOM. During one meeting Toby described to me how he put together the paper.  He would start on a Sunday night and continue into the early hours of Monday morning.  Then, after at most a few hours’ sleep, he would start his job as a nursery teacher. Because of this account, Donald’s description of Toby as being ‘energetic’ has a particular resonance for me.

I had known Donald some years before I met Toby. I initially met him when I used to visit the FREEDOM bookshop on Saturdays, when he was regularly in attendance. I always found him friendly and hospitable.  Later, in the many conversations I have had with him at the anarchist bookfairs in London, I have always found him courteous, extremely knowledgeable and non-partisan.  I remember one occasion, at a bookfair which was held in Conway Hall when we were both taking a breather in the balcony of the Main Hall. Embarrassingly to relate, I had let slip my intolerance of a particular group of anarchists. He gently corrected me.  Some years later, at a bookfair which was held in the University of London Union in Malet Street, I met Donald working at the FREEDOM stall. I asked his advice about which of Colin Ward’s books he would recommend. I had never previously seen Colin. Consequently I didn’t know that, coincidentally, he happened to be a few feet away. Donald pointed him out to me and suggested that I ask him, which I did.  A short but very pleasant conversation with Colin ensued.

Because of the many kindnesses that Donald has extended to me, Christopher’s description of him as being ‘a good lad’ has a particular resonance for me.

My accounts about both Toby and Donald do not imply that they did not do what Christopher alleged – only that his allegations conflict with my experiences of them.

I am concerned about Christopher’s allegations about Toby and Donald.  But I am also concerned by something else. I am concerned that the editorial collective decided to publish a history of FREEDOM written solely by one person.  A history of FREEDOM which is based upon invited contributions from others, a history which is collaborative and which includes what might otherwise be hidden, might be very different from Donald’s version.

An observation and an opinion in Christopher’s post:

Christopher observed about FREEDOM that: ‘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.'  His observation reflects my concept of ‘negative anarchism’.  Negative anarchism is anarchism which is mostly against. Negative anarchists have many characteristics.  One of them is that they are against without understanding and being capable of articulating what anarchism is for.

Christopher opined about FREEDOM that ‘sadly it seems to have declined into the mere mouthpiece of a clique uninterested in the lives, views and opinions of others.’  His opinion reflects my concept of an ‘organizational enclave’.  An organizational enclave is an organization in which its centre of power ignores and isolates itself from its internal milieu and external milieu.  The centres of power of organizational enclaves have many characteristics.  Two of them are: they are opposed to the organization adequately inviting feedback, and they reject any feedback which the organization receives.

The announcement in FREEDOM

I have subscribed to FREEDOM for many years and still am a subscriber.  But in 2010 I decided not to send any more contributions to it because I no longer trusted the editorial collective to prevent a correspondent from obscenely abusing me in its letters’ page.  This fate had befallen Ian Pirie, a subscriber of thirty years standing, when, in the February of that year, FREEDOM published a letter which subjected him to a stream of obscene abuse.  Ever since the publication of the letter, about which I don’t think the editorial collective has ever issued an apology, I have speculated about the number of subscribers to FREEDOM.  I seem to remember being told, not so many years ago, by a member of the editorial collective, that it was approximately five hundred, which I seem to remember having been the case some years previously.  Now, from the article ‘The future of Freedom’, it seems that the number of its subscribers is down to three hundred.

How has this situation happened?  The article ‘The future of Freedom’ offers two explanations: ‘printed newspapers have had their day’ and ‘the paper’s rubbish’.  I am not convinced by either of these explanations.  The existence of printed mainstream newspapers refutes the first explanation.  And, for me, the inclusion of the long-standing regular cartoons by Donald, the long-standing regular column ‘A sideways look’ by Svartfrosk and the innumerable articles by Iain McKay refute the second explanation.  I suggest an alternative explanation.  My explanation is that FREEDOM has cut itself off from many of its subscribers.  Perhaps the meeting which the editorial collective has said it will have at the London Anarchist Bookfair will afford an opportunity for this issue to be adequately discussed.

John Desmond:  25th July 2012.

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