Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Tribune in 1945 vs Freedom in 2014!

Writing Reviews & Obituaries  
SOMEONE told me recently that there are no rules for writing reviews or obituaries, but Alex Dennis, the sociologist, squirmed when I told him some years ago that the anarchist intellectual, Nicolas Walter, had placed a number of obituaries of political individuals on the spike before he died; in readiness for publication when it became their turn to go.  Once Vernon Richards, a Freedom editor, took hold of Albert Meltzer by his lapels at a London Anarchist Book Fair, and told him that he was going to outlive him, promising him that he was writing Albert's obituary and that it was going to be a good one:  this obituary was ultimately to appear in Freedom and proved very contentious. 

Since I wrote the Bob Miller obituary in Northern Voices 13, in April 2012, I have come to feel a bit sorry for Bob whose nearest and dearest have describe as 'grumpy'; I didn't find him grumpy in the least, indeed he was a bit of a softy who was often bullied by being at the mercy of the people around him, and was ultimately a victim of his choice of career and circumstances – yet I still remain confident that the facts in the original obituary are basically correct and nothing has been put forward to contradict anything in the substance of the text.  Poor Bob, when I interviewed him over the police investigation into the Brimar case he tried to say that he had little to tell them, but just as he uttered this he was subjected to a bout of hectoring abuse from a third party who was trying to stop him speaking to me, and above the din he struggled to say that he only knew one woman involved  – a well known and respected activist in the Manchester area, but he didn't say if he gave her name to the police and I didn't ask him.  I don't know if anyone else in his own political organisation debriefed him over his experience with the police.  The only specific rational complaint about a detail of the obituary came in a long friendly telephone conversation I had from Tom, Bob's son, at the end of November 2012, when he claimed that unlike Mike Ballard, he had actually said Bob was an 'anarchist' in his eulogy at his father's funeral; at my invite he agreed to write a 400-word letter explaining this for publication in the Voices, but the next day Barry Woodling was excluded from the Manchester Anarchist Book Fair, accused of 'anti-Semitism' despite the fact that his ancestors died in the gas chambers, and perhaps as a result of this Tom never sent us his letter correcting our account.  
The policy of the printed publication of Northern Voices was established in 2003, and was to be based on the editorial panel which would supply support, but that the detailed editorship would rest with a single individual rather than a committee.  From the first issue the 48-page journal was divided into two with news and politics at the front, and with the back half devoted to northern arts, literature, food and drink, and even something on northern gardens and films.  Initially, in the first few issues we published some historical academic stuff on Peterloo, and some imaginative short stories by a talented writer called Mike Fielding.  Chris Draper, who has written illuminating essays in every issue of Northern Voices since it began, used to complain passionately about the strict apartheid between politics and the arts with a bias to the former.  Mr. Draper has occasionally accused us of being too 'workerist' or 'municipal' or in the case of Mike Fielding's imaginative short stories 'ladish'.   Some have even criticised our extensive coverage of the discovery of the blacklist and our support for the electricians in the construction industry.  Yet, looking back perhaps over half of each issue of the journal has been dedicated to the arts, history and literature, and even some of our leading stories such as the interview with Sophie Lancaster's mother in N.V.13 are human interest based.  
Years ago, a criticism of N.V. by a reviewer in Freedom, reported in N.V.8 in 2007, was:  'Another major criticism of the magazine... is that it doesn't seem to carry any anarchist content', though the writer does admit that Northern Voices is 'appealing to a broad canvas ideal of northern working class community and history...'
Against those who want us to be more artistic and culturally based it is worth considering what George Orwell wrote when he was literary editor of Tribune in 1945: 
'We can assume that our public is intelligent, but not that it is primary interests are  literary or artistic, still less that our readers have been educated in the same way and will know the same jokes and recognise the same allusions. The smaller literary magazines tend to develop a sort of family atmosphere – almost, indeed, a private language unintelligible to outsiders – and, at the risk of offending a contributor now and then, we have made efforts to prevent that kind of thing from being imported into Tribune.  We never, for instance, review books written in foreign languages, and we try to cut out avoidable foreign quotations and obscure literary allusions.  Nor will we print anything unintelligible.  I have had several angry letters because of this, but I refuse to be responsible for printing anything I don't understand..' 

One example of what Orwell means by a smaller arty type magazine would be The Cunningham Amendment edited by Peter Good who was one of the founders of Northern Voices in the Summer of 2003, it is the kind of publication which has what Orwell calls a 'private language' and with a readership which sociologists would describe as being part of the adherents of an 'interpretive community'.  Another publication of this type would perhaps have been The Booster, which appeared in French and English and was published in Paris between September 1937 and  Easter 1939, in which Henry Miller, Abe Ratter, Alfred Perlès, Lawrence Durrell, William Saroyan, and Anaĭs Nin participated.  This is not the kind of thing that would appeal to the kind of person who reads Northern Voices.  
And yet, recently Steve from down South wrote us a letter saying:  'What I like about Northern Voices is its mixed content, it's very accessible and readable...'  
Before the ship went down at Freedom, ending the life of perhaps the oldest left-wing publication, Freedom agreed to publish a review by the northern historian and Labour councillor Paul Salveson.  The current editor Charlotte Dingle sent out an e-mail agreeing this in October 2013, but this decision was reversed in November 2013 on the grounds that Mr. Salveson's review was 'patronising'.  Now apart from the editor not knowing her arse from her elbow, one would have thought that it is in the very nature of a review to be patronising in the sense that as George Orwell says about Tribune which contrasts with the position adopted by Freedom before it died: 
'(What) is particularly important in the case of book reviews, in which it is often difficult for the reviewer to avoid indicating his own opinions...  We hold that the reviewers job is to say what he thinks of the book he is dealing with, and not what we think our readers ought to think.  And if, as a result, unorthodox opinions are expressed from time to time – even, on occasion, opinions that contradict some editorial statement at the other end of the paper – we believe that our readers are tough enough to stand a certain amount of diversity.  We hold that the most perverse human being is more interesting than the most orthodox gramophone record.'   

Donald Rouum and Charlotte Dingle, and other anarchists on the Freedom collective in 2014, would do well to ponder the contents of this statement put out by Orwell as literary editor of Tribune in his New Year message in 1945 .  And the pedantic and rather dogmatic Mr. Anonymous who wrote in a comment on the Northern Voices Blog: 'Why would an anarchist newspaper publish something written by a Labour Party hack? exactly! They wouldn't.... Grow up and get over yourself...' would do well to consider what Orwell's has to say below on reviews and the arts: 
'Obviously we cannot print contributions that grossly violate Tribune's policy.  Even in the name of free speech a Socialist paper cannot, for instance throw open its columns to antisemitic propaganda.  Looking through the list of our contributors, I find among them Catholics, Communists, Trotsktists, Anarchists, Pacifists, left-wing Conservatives, and Labour Party supporters of all colours.  All of them knew, of course, what kind of paper they were writing for and what topics were best left alone, but I think it is true to say that none of them has ever been asked to modify what he had written on the grounds that it was “not policy”.'   

Northern Voices has strongly supported Freedom for years, particularly when it was under attack from David Hoffman over theft of intellectual property and copywrite issues, but over a year ago we were told of crude threats to Freedom: 'don't publish or else' from a leading member of the Anarchist Federation (AF) in London this is clearly unhealthy in a libertarian publication.  This contrasts with Orwell's more mature editorial approach at Tribune, and whose journalism has been described by Timothy Garton Ash as a 'Gold Standard' for us all to aspire to.   Of late this doesn't seem to have been the case at Freedom Press and in 2012, the manager of the Freedom Bookshop, Andy, even took Northern Voices off the shelf and refused to sell NV13 after an approach from Nick Heath, the AF leader.  This in itself suggests a certain intellectual and moral bankruptcy, but in the case of the recent Paul Salveson review of Northern Voices' decade of publication, the editor Charlotte, had at first agreed to publish the review and later withdrawn this offer.  This time there is no indication that any external threats were applied.  This is only the latest in a long series of cases of clumsy decisions of this kind going back over a decade in which it often seemed the different editors of Freedom didn't know their arse from their elbow.   When a publication founded in 1886 by the geologist Peter Kropotkin begins to look like it is being managed by Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs it begins to look like English anarchism has begun to outlive its mission. 

1 comment:

Capra coitus interuptus said...

Yet more deluded bollocks from goat bothering Bamford and his ever decreasing band of crusty comrades.

Do you really believe the drivel you write Brian? Do you look in the mirror, chin up, trying to strike an authoritative pose ready for the portrait to be used on stamps, banknotes and hardback versions of your mighty cannon of literary works?

The vanity publishing you engage in is embarrassing. Is it any wonder people often avoid you in polite company? They are sick of the dull drivel dressed up as authentic northern commentary.

Brian, the only thing authentically anarchic about you Brian is your haircut. And perhaps your curious attachment to goats on a rope.