Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Who Killed FREEDOM?: update two: April 2015

by Christopher Draper

IN 2014 the world’s oldest radical newspaper, FREEDOM, ceased publication. In February 2015 I (with help from NV comrades) identified the culprits and causes of its destruction in a detailed critique, 'Who Killed FREEDOM?' (available on this website). If you’ve been following the thread, here’s the latest update…

1. Despite their angry responses not one member of the FREEDOM collective has had the courage to accept our challenge to come up North and publicly debate Who Killed FREEDOM? at a Manchester Bookfair.

2. Two recent FREEDOM respondents, Iain McKay and Richard Griffin, are no exceptions. Both signally failed to offer any substantive analysis of why a paper that had survived so long through such a variety of adverse circumstances should now find it impossible to continue. As the authors of an excellent analysis of the failure of alternative organisations observed:
'If we refrain from rigorous criticism for fear of upsetting our friends we can be sure our enemies will be much less restrained and when reality eventually kicks in our initiatives will continue to collapse' ('What a Way to Run a Railroad', Commedia, 1985).

The FREEDOM collective’s continuing refusal to accept responsibility or properly analyse its own failure adds insult to injury.

3. Both McKay and Griffin have nothing to say about key issues such as FREEDOM’s refusal to print criticism of Anarchist Federation intimidation or the paper’s censorship of further specified articles. Neither confronts the fundamental criticism that FREEDOM abandoned its core role of fostering open-minded anarchist debate and instead introduced a regime of simplistic, sub-Marxist rhetoric enlivened by images of masked, missile-throwing juveniles.

4. When McKay claims FREEDOM from “the 1880’s until the 1940’s was always a class-struggle journal” he exemplifies his limited understanding of the FREEDOM tradition perhaps best illustrated by an example that appears in FREEDOM’s centenary edition, published in October 1986.  When Tom Keell, the paper’s editor in 1919 heard that anarchist William Charles Owen had returned to England he asked him to write for FREEDOM.  As Owen had grown sceptical of the merits of communism he wrote back pointing out that as an Individualist he thought his writings might not suit the readers of an Anarchist Communist paper, 'but on being told we were Anarchists first and foremost, he consented'. That is the point, for 115 years FREEDOM was 'Anarchist first and foremost'.  From 2001, in the words of editor Simon Saunders, FREEDOM 'enforced a strict class first line'

5. Griffin claims his contributions to FREEDOM on 'gardening, architecture, skateboarding etc' lacked class analysis and still got published.  Sadly he failed to draw the obvious conclusion that he served the collective as a 'useful idiot'.  His offerings challenged nobody, he had and apparently still has, nothing to say about the collective’s censorship or abusive treatment of critical contributors.  His sycophantic attitude is embarrassingly obvious from his pat on the back to Comrade McKay,  'Well said Iain, couldn’t have put it better myself'

6. It is apparent to impartial observers that Iain McKay and Simon Saunders, assisted by cabin boy Griffin are better suited to sailing off into the sunset under the 'Black Flag' of vicious old sea-dog, Captain Meltzer (deceased) who never let facts get in the way of a good story.  It is to my profound regret that before doing so they first drove the graceful old flagship FREEDOM onto the rocks.

7. Flaunting his ignorance, McKay celebrates the demise of the magazine 'Anarchist Voices', which 'lost its way long before FREEDOM did' but  I can reassure Iain that it’s alive and well and the current issue contains some excellent articles, including one by myself and a chap named Richard Griffin!   Interestingly, in his 'Anarchist Voices' piece Griffin reveals that he actually stopped reading FREEDOM many years ago but omits to explain whether it was his own or Iain McKay’s articles that caused him (along with many others) to loose interest in the paper.  

8. Echoing McKay’s mix of arrogance and ignorance, Griffin advises, 'Rather than spending hours on this (critique) why don’t you produce and distribute something along the lines you think FREEDOM should have taken?'  It’s clearly escaped Griffin’s attention that besides writing for 'Anarchist Voices' us Northern anarchists have also recently produced 'Boys on the Blacklist' and 'Northern Voices' magazine.  Anarchist campaigns and literature that not are only exemplify lots of imaginative ideas absent from FREEDOM but also popular and bought by ordinary people uninterested in the tired, formulaic nonsense trotted out by recent FREEDOM editors (copies available from the editor of this website).  For further ideas Griffin and McKay could also flick through copies of FREEDOM before 2001 where they’ll readily find articles written by myself and others that don’t simply reduce to their latter-day, 'fight capitalism and create heaven on earth' formula.  If they’re inspired enough they might belatedly reconsider another idea of ours, proposed back in 2001, that FREEDOM practices what anarchism preaches and introduce federated editorial control  (ie - each region contributing a couple of pages per issue through a local editor).  Despite the rhetoric, London wouldn’t accept our idea, retained central control and cultivated group-think.

9. None of this should have happened. Formally, the assets of FREEDOM are not ultimately controlled by the editorial collective but safeguarded by a Board, 'THE FRIENDS OF FREEDOM PRESS Ltd (FFP)'.  As the main purpose of the enterprise is to publish the newspaper FREEDOM if it ceased then FFP are supposed to step in and appoint others to take over production but this did not happen. We will, in the course of time, reveal exactly what has been going on at FFP, for the time being we will simply say all is not well.  In 1982 the FFP Board was constituted with seven directors.  There has been much irregularity since and suffice it to say there is now urgent need to appoint additional directors with integrity and political credibility to restore proper oversight of the activities of the collective and recommence publication of FREEDOM. On the 24th June 2015 FFP are scheduled to hold a meeting to consider the appointment of two new directors; long-time peace activist, Ernest Rodker and libertarian writer and academic, Dr. David Goodway.  Predictably, the collective are already scheming to promote their own tame, rival candidates so the outcome of the Board meeting will have critical significance.  The result is not a foregone conclusion as the legitimacy of some Directors is open to challenge and there is a serious issue of conflict of interest. We will most assuredly reveal more in a future update.

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