Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Who Killed Freedom?: an unauthorised history 3.

Talent for Trouble 

WITH only layout artist Jayne Clementson and cartoonist Donald Rooum remaining on the editorial collective from the old days it was no wonder yet another class warrior, Dean Talent of SolFed replaced Saunders. Having previously ousted FREEDOM loyalists Charles Crute and Kevin McFaul on the claimed grounds of economy and with the paper pleading poverty the collective curiously agreed to reinstate the stipend for Dean.

By 2009, FREEDOM had comprehensively alienated former supporters yet demonstrably failed to secure the support of a new network. Anarchists belonging to national organisations continued to prioritise the interest of their own organisations.  FREEDOM by then offered little to those of us with less narrowly defined anarchist outlooks who preferred informed and considered debate to hectoring demands and political posturing.  Nevertheless, when FREEDOM published a tendentious account of its history culminating in a panegyric to the Revd Toby Crowe I felt obliged to submit a comradely yet challenging alternative account. Predictably, Dean Talent refused to publish or even justify his refusal.

In 2011, Dean and the collective discovered they couldn’t treat everyone with such contempt and get away with it so easily.  Their arrogance and incompetence created the worst crisis FREEDOM had faced since the stick up of 1944.  Talent persuaded the collective to publish a book that had already been turned down by several other publishers (including the anarchist press, A.K.). 'Beating the Fascists' was the title and Sean Birchall the purported author, although this was widely held to be the alias of Gary O’Shea, leader of the now defunct Marxist 'Red Action' (R.A.).   Illustrated throughout with photographs of violent confrontations between fascists and anti-fascists the book presents Red Action’s version of how AFA (Anti-Fascist Action) physically fought the fascists off the streets. 
As soon as FREEDOM advertised the forthcoming publication they were, 'inundated with negative emails' and a blizzard of bad publicity; 'R.A. – a posturing bunch of macho bullies…shame on Freedom for giving them publicity' 'It is sickening to see Freedom publishing this inveterate anarchist hater' 'Why on earth are Freedom publishing this…would they publish Trotsky’s memoirs on Kronstadt?' 

Much of the criticism focussed on the character of the collective;  'A friend of mine emailed to see if they would be interested in publishing the first English translation of anarchist former prisoner Xose Tarrio’s book Hay! Hombre Hay!   She didn’t even get the courtesy of a reply, let alone the red carpet treatment Red Action have received''The stupidity of the current Freedom Collective…If they had any sense they’d have told R.A. to publish it themselves' 'Dean you are a fucking moron!”; “Freedom’s reputation has been very badly tarnished by all this'.

Anarchy in Action?

'Beating the Fascists' should never have been published by Freedom.  It is a paean to political violence.  Whilst some anarchists believe in going beyond defence to proactively seek out and attack supposed fascists most reject this strategy.  The former do not need Marxists to write the history of anti-fascism and the latter don’t want to promote such violence in any case. Although the collective voted only 5 for and 4 against publication FREEDOM went ahead evidently unconcerned that it is standard practice for anarchists to secure consensus before collective action.  Even that majority was questionable as Dean Talent was absent and voted by proxy.  A critical insider noted that, 'The four collective members had a choice of either supporting a project they disagreed with or resigning.  This is fundamentally un-Anarchist.  What kind of society do Freedom believe in if their collective is run in such a way?' 

The collective also gave scant regard to another traditional practice, checking copyright before publication.  Not long after 'Beating the Fascists' went on sale they heard from press photographer, David Hoffman that FREEDOM had included several of his pictures without permission, credit or payment.  FREEDOM initially refused to acknowledge their error, apologise or offer recompense. A political radical, sympathetic to anarchism, as a professional photographer, Hoffman nonetheless relies on the sale of his pictures to make a living and some of the included photographs even had his claim to copyright stamped on the back yet no-one contacted him pre-publication.  FREEDOM didn’t have a legal leg to stand on and as the book was being sold through commercial channels (Amazon etc) and bore the © Freedom Press imprint they had no moral justification either. 
In Hoffman’s experience the collective proved an extremely slippery customer.  FREEDOM either knowingly took a commercial gamble on overlooking copyright obligations or acted out of ignorance.  Either way once Hoffman showed up it was time to eat humble pie and beg for a low tariff on the pictures.   Instead FREEDOM tried to take the moral high ground, accused him of trying to unfairly extract money from an impoverished organisation and initiated a vicious hate campaign against him on the web.  Members of FREEDOM’s  editorial collective variously described Hoffman online as a, 'piece of shit', 'rat bastard cunt' and a 'piece of excrement'.

This debacle dragged on for another 13 months before FREEDOM finally handed over four thousand pounds to avoid court action (part of this sum was paid by Hoffman to the widow of Mike Cohen, whose copyright pictures had also been used).  Hoffman claims he would have settled for far less if the collective had acted honourably but:
'The greed and hypocrisy of the current incompetent collective has stained a previously respected organisation and it’s that issue that Freedom’s few remaining friends really need to address.'

The End is Nigh

By August 2012, FREEDOM was politically, morally and financially bankrupt.  The holding company still owned the building and Aldgate Press still printed the paper for free but the writing was on the wall, and the fate of Dean Talent?  In his own memorable words, 'I was slung out of the collective', so neophyte turned know-it-all Simon Saunders popped up to announce, 'Freedom Press is in some difficulty, both financial and in terms of volunteer labour – basically we need you…we are proposing to have a series of meetings…and discuss how we can drag the paper, the bookshop, the publishing house and the building out of trouble.'

Unfortunately this 'series of meetings' didn’t extend beyond London and the appeal soon proved entirely disingenuous. That very same month all copies of the popular magazine Northern Voices produced by a band of Manchester-based, unaffiliated anarchists were removed from the shelves of FREEDOM bookshop as the collective objected to an article it contained.
When, just a few weeks later, an anarchist was attacked at his stall at the 2012 London Anarchist Bookfair, and his publications stolen by a bunch of Anarchist Federation thugs the FREEDOM collective (which includes an AF faction) refused to publish an account of the incident.

The paper limped on with caretaker editors nominally in charge, whilst Saunders and chums remained behind the scenes, ready to tighten the leash whenever there was any danger of a politically challenging piece being published.  In January 2013 for example, editor Matthew Black promised (by email) to publish an article by anarchist Barry Woodling before being overruled by the ruling clique.  Unsurprisingly Matthew left before the end of the year to be replaced by an editor with even less knowledge or experience of anarchism than a freshly minted Simon Saunders.
Charlotte Dingle, a Green Party local election candidate was handed the, by then, poisoned editorial chalice.  She, no doubt, appreciated the editorial internship and political platform but her appointment only served to reinforce suspicions that the real power brokers had lost interest in the paper. Yet there was still time to squeeze in a bit more censorship. In October 2013, FREEDOM accepted a review from Northern activist Paul Salveson, with editor Charlotte Dingle confirming publication before being overruled by the ruling clique.
In the next installment Chris Draper assesses who is to blame  at Freedom Press, and asks if the asset strippers will take-over?


Matt Black said...

Just a couple of points I would like to clarify…..
"In January 2013 for example, editor, Matthew Black promised (by email) to publish an article by anarchist Barry Woodling before being overruled by the ruling clique."
---- Firstly, Yes I did agree to publish the article, and yes, I did change my mind – which was my Prerogative as editor, and was for reasons I outlined at the time…. I take full responsibility for that decision, and I have no regrets. Secondly, I was NOT overruled by anyone. Yes, there were individuals who had strong opinions on the matter, and they made those feelings known to myself and the rest of the collective… I asked the collective via email for their opinions, and they gave them to me… Regardless of their individual views, everyone who discussed the matter with me was clear in their opinion that the decision was MINE and that they would support me.... It was my decision, I decided not to publish that letter, and if I had been ‘forced’ by the collective to publish/not publish, then I would have resigned….
“Unsurprisingly Matthew left before the end of the year”
-----I am assuming that you are suggesting that the ‘scandal’ of my not publishing Barry Woodling’s letter led to my resignation…. Unfortunately, I was hospitalised with pneumonia, and suffered from severe breathing difficulties for the next two months. Added to this, a close family member was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I was no longer able to dedicate as much time as the paper deserved, so I tendered my resignation. So to be clear, my decision to step-down was in no way, shape, or form, to do with ‘Barry Woodling’s letter.
A few other minor issues…..
Throughout your ‘many’ postings about Freedom Newspaper, you make many references to the ‘Anarchist Federation’ …. To be clear, I am not a member of the Anarchist Federation. Not that I am suggesting there would be anything untoward if I was….. Just making the point.
Furthermore, you talk about ‘Freedom’ being centred in and around London (in negative terms)… Not surprising really, as that is where it is, and has always been based….. Freedom was ‘so’ London centric that they appointed me as the editor… (I am from Accrington & still live in the North West)…

barry said...

Chris Draper has written an excellent series of articles on the demise of Freedom. Its a superb piece of investigative journalism which is required reading for all anarchists/libertarians concerned about future developments in the movement.

barry said...

Chris is to be commended on his series of articles on the demise of Freedom. It is a tour de force and essential reading for all anarchists and libertarians

Anonymous said...

Dean Talent was NEVER a member of the Solidarity federation. Ask him, ask them. Yet another of many inaccuracies in your smear campaign.

bammy said...

MATTHEW BLACK wrote about his decision not to publish an article by Barry Woodling in January 2013. He writes:
‘I asked the collective via email for their opinions, and they gave them to me…' He then says: 'I did change my mind – which was my Prerogative as editor,'but ' I was NOT overruled by anyone.’
It is worth mentioning this now because of the departure of Andy Meinke, the generation bad influences at FREEDOM that are by now obvious, and the shambles which has prevailed at FREEDOM over the last decade or so. It all suggests a corruption at the root of the problem at FREEDOM over recent years of which the Matthew Black episode was a small part.
Alas, the vacillation of Matthew Black from Accrington, when he briefly editor of FREEDOM, was not unique but has been repeated over the years. It’s worth readers perusing what Donald Rooum said in an e-mail to me at the time: it hardly represents heroic stuff.
It is the usual game of sweeping things under the carpet which is typical of much of the British left.
On Thursday 10/01/2013, Donald Rooum explained the position in an e-mail:
‘Poor Matthew. Just been appointed editor of Freedom, and already faced with this controversy. He circulated the collective asking for views on whether your letter should appear, and got a nasty letter from Nick Heath saying if your letter was published, he would withdraw co-operation, including his offer of a book.
‘You already know my opinion. If I take sides atall in the quarrel between Norther Voices and Anarchist Federation, I am on the side of NV. But I am against the publication of your letter in Freedom.
‘Freedom is a propaganda sheet, aimed at the general public, hoping to convince people of the anarchist point of view. Any fracas within the movement should stay within the movement, in internal newsletters and bulletins.
‘Regardless of Nick Heath's threats, I ask you to withdraw your letter. Not all publicity is good publicity.’