Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Who Killed Freedom?: an unauthorised history 4.

The End but Not for Everyone…

by Chris Draper

ON March 10th, 2014 FREEDOM announced:
“We have come to realise that a solid hardcopy newspaper is no longer a viable means of promoting the anarchist message…An underlying problem has been a lack of capacity to sustain it. We had hoped that Freedom would be adopted as THE paper of the anarchist movement…Although Freedom Press has changed from a political group with a particular point of view to a resource for anarchism as a whole, we have not managed to shake the legacy of the past and get different groups to back it as a collective project…the shop, publishing and book distribution will continue…As will the use of Angel Alley for meetings, events, offices…”   

Four aspects of this statement deserve close scrutiny:
  1. no longer viable
  2. a resource for anarchism as a whole
  3. not managed to get groups to back it
  4. shop, publishing, book distribution…meetings, events, offices.  
I dispute all four, interconnected, elements.  


FREEDOM’s viability was adversely affected by the development of the internet but in 2000 Freedom Press published a quarterly journal, the Raven, and a fortnightly newspaper so it should now be possible to finance a monthly paper.  The premises are owned freehold (and contribute almost 6K annual rental income), Aldgate Press printed the paper free (which alone equates to a 10K annual subsidy), hundreds of subscribers paid upfront, the paper had an established brand name and distribution network so FREEDOM enjoyed huge commercial advantages over other aspiring anarchist publications but as I’ve attempted to illustrate, successive collectives took all this for granted, alienated existing writers and readers and failed to secure a new constituency.


Resource for All

Under Charles Crute’s editorship FREEDOM welcomed articles of every variety of anarchist thought and practice.  When two articles presenting opposite sides of an argument were submitted both were published. Until 2001 FREEDOM relished controversy and open debate, after Toby’s ascendancy a narrow class-struggle line was enforced.  The collective’s claim to be a resource for 'anarchism as a whole' whilst consistently refusing to publish material that challenges their party line exemplifies their arrogance and dishonesty. 

Not Managed to Get Groups to Back It

I lied about disputing this section of the statement, for it indicates a rare flash of insight on the part of the collective.  As I argued from the beginning, groups, like SolFed and AF have enough problems maintaining their own organisations to put much effort into FREEDOM.  It’s the bit claiming:  
We have not managed to shake the legacy of the past'  that I dispute. 
Successive editors have not just shaken the legacy; the intellectual, moral and political legacy of pre-Crowe FREEDOM has been razed to the ground. 

Spoils of Class War (shop, book publishing, offices, meeting rooms etc)

Having provided a political play-school for aspiring class warriors FREEDOM newspaper is no longer of interest.  Like the Revd Toby Crowe, several members of the collective past and present have gained other pulpits for their sermons. Political organs from libcom to Morning Star now 'benefit' from the opinions of interns schooled in Angel Alley.   The alumni’s attention is now focussed on other assets in the FREEDOM portfolio and the collective privately admit that most were always more interested in getting their hands on the building than producing the paper.   'Within the Freedom Collective only a small minority were involved in producing the paper, not so much lack of commitment as not seeing it as central to what Freedom as a building was for.'   Vernon Richards must be spinning in his grave.

Conveniently situated between Aldgate East tube station and Whitechapel Art Gallery; the premises now provide convivial clubrooms for members and friends of the FREEDOM collective. Class-struggle groups might not have done much for the paper but ironically FREEDOM now provides them with convenient London meeting rooms.

FREEDOM’s book-publishing business was initially exploited by the clique to produce the decidedly dodgy,'Beating the Fascists'.  In 2014 they reprinted John Quail’s, 'Slow Burning Fuse' with the added 'benefit' of a new introduction penned by collective member and leader of AF, Nick Heath.

The collective have grand ambitions as Andy Meinke, who now runs the bookshop explains:
'At some point we want to move out of here, somewhere on a street front to get more passing trade.'  Sale of the freehold could raise around a million pounds.

Many of FREEDOM’s lesser assets have already been disposed of to friends and associates of the collective. In 2008, former FREEDOM editor John Retty discovered classic books from the shop of no appeal to class-struggle types were being destroyed en masse.  Confiding to friends at the London Bookfair that he’d managed to salvage a few copies of his own literary works, he appeared gloomy and depressed as he reflected on the significance of the destruction.

FREEDOM’s archive of historic books and newspapers has been similarly looted:
'We have multiple copies of pretty much every issue ever printed of our august newspaper, along with a big batch of foreign publications…Multiple copies are already kind of getting promised out…With the books, we’re hoping to keep a lot of them but of the ones which are going it’ll probably be first come first served.'   'I was in Freedom this week with Iain Mckay flicking through back issues of Freedom and War Commentary…We in AF have been discussing setting up an archive…its our history and pretty interesting too'.  Pretty interesting it undoubtedly is but is it not outrageous that individuals and groups like AF and Black Flag who unceasingly denigrated FREEDOM now exercise proprietorial rights over its assets?  

Authoritarian Asset Strippers

The takeover of FREEDOM didn’t require much planning, the new boys on the block were astonished how easily they gained control, 'When Vernon Richards died (2001) he handed over FREEDOM to the “Movement” on a plate but it was too surprised to notice, it was comrades coming out of the Anarchist Youth Network (AYN) who saw the opportunity with the paper and reclaimed it for class-struggle.'

Whilst the class warriors consider this coup commendable, to me it was invasive, cynical, dishonest and exploitative. The people who piled into FREEDOM had nothing but contempt for the paper’s political outlook. FREEDOM embraced a gentle, considered, constructive range of anarchist ideas and practice that contrasted sharply with the class-struggle politics of alternative anarchist organs (Class War, Black Flag, Organise! etc).  The new regime swept into power on a triumphant wave of youthful enthusiasm. Once Simon Saunders found his feet, stopped admitting his own ignorance and started proclaiming his infallibility there was no going back.  Gainsayers were systematically treated with contempt.

In 2006 Saunders described FREEDOM stalwarts as:
'reeking of allotments, of forgetting class, of irrelevance and reformism.'   
An obvious, yet demeaning, reference to Vernon Richards who ran a commercial organic market garden and Colin Ward who wrote extensively about allotments as a model of mutual aid.

Crowe, Saunders, Talent and associates ridiculed FREEDOM’s prefigurative politics and dismissed the paper’s distinctively anarchist critique of Britain’s welfare state, characterised by David Goodway as, 'Freedom Press being unswervingly hostile to the Labour governments and their nationalization and welfare legislation.'  
As a disenchanted subscriber posted on the History Workshop web-site following FREEDOM’s demise:
'The problem is that, for many years now, Freedom has been run by dimwits.  It has had nothing of value to say for a long while.   It is such a shame that this historically important paper has been ruined…In recent years, every edition of Freedom was anti-denationalisation and pro-welfare.  It was often difficult to tell it apart from a left Labour paper except for the juvenile photos of people in masks throwing things at the police.'

In 1986 Tony Gibson could still claim:
'FREEDOM has survived while many other anarchist journals have failed, because among its many virtues it has been flexible, intelligent and able to withstand periods when this or that bunch of bone-headed zealots have striven to turn it to the service of their own narrow creed.'  
From 2001 the 'bone-headed zealots' imposed 'their own narrow creed' with predictable consequences. 
Although the zealous class warriors had a range of apparently more appropriate newspapers available in which to indulge their class struggle fantasies they latched onto the fact that capturing FREEDOM offered them unique advantages.  FREEDOM loyalists were too polite, trusting and geographically scattered to react as swiftly and determinedly as the situation demanded.  Those of us who spoke out were constantly frustrated by the censorship and evasion of the new regime.

FREEDOM was taken over by entryists with no allegiance to the organisation whose assets they have now monopolised and exploited for more than a decade.  The collective have doubtless convinced themselves of their entitlement but are living off the hard won gains of anarchists they despise.

In the end just 2 of the collective of 14 voted against ending FREEDOM. For most of them, their heart was never really in it, their allegiance lay elsewhere.

Collective member, Nick Heath dismissed the newspaper as 'a pole for liberal anarchists' and used an internet thread mourning the passing of FREEDOM not to offer condolences but to advertise his own newssheet ('if you want to spread real class struggle anarchist ideas then think about ordering a bundle' ) until informed by a fellow contributor that it was;'in bad taste on a thread about the ending of another paper.'

Collective member Meinke was always, 'very sceptical of its (FREEDOM’s) liberal bent'  whilst Jim Clarke wasn’t at all bothered about FREEDOM’s disappearance:  
'I’m not sure FREEDOM had much of an illustrious history…I’m more concerned about Black Flag to be honest'. 
The tone of Charlotte Dingle’s joyful celebration of the ending of the newspaper more befits a party invite than the passing of an invaluable institution:
' * Waves * Hello, Freedom editor here…Frankly I am overjoyed that the paper is going online…(SMILEY FACE)…'

What is to be Done?

Those of us who loved FREEDOM are not prepared to sit back and see its ideas traduced and its legacy misappropriated by authoritarians. The primary aim of this essay is to puncture the myth and challenge self-serving accounts of the downfall of FREEDOM propagated by successive editors since 2001.

This is also an extended appeal to Steven Charles Sorba (Aldgate Press); Sonia Markham (Retired Illustrator), Richard Parry (Solicitor); and even rather plaintively to Donald Rooum (Cartoonist and collective member), the directors of the holding company, FRIENDS of FREEDOM PRESS Ltd. to belatedly get a grip on the legacy, both intellectual and material, handed down to us by anarchists who didn’t hide behind aliases or enforce their own narrow political creed.  Please do not allow the collective to sell the building without yourselves ensuring that the whole anarchist movement benefits not just the current ruling clique.

Finally the destruction of FREEDOM should give all anarchists pause for thought.  The very openness of FREEDOM left it vulnerable to subversion of its political ideals. We tolerated illiberal behaviour for too long and allowed authoritarians to take over.  FREEDOM stalwart Nicolas Walter had forewarned us:
'In a sense, anarchists always remain liberals and socialists, and whenever they reject what is good in either they betray anarchism itself.'  

A Final Challenge

I challenge any, or all of the current clique that closed down the paper to leave your comfy clubrooms for the day, come up North and politely debate, 'THE FATE of  FREEDOM' at the next (2015) Manchester Anarchist Bookfair. Hopefully you will offer a positive response, though I rather suspect open debate is not your preferred medium.                         

                                                            Christopher Draper, Llandudno, February 2015


barry said...

Chris has written an excellent expose of the role of Freedom Editorial Collective in the "killing" of the Freedom newspaper. In particular the role of those members of AF and Sol Fed. The Freedom Bookshop and building must be retained as an essential resource for the libertarian movement.

Iain McKay said...

Dear Brian,
I'm getting increasingly sick of these posts which are basically personal attacks on individuals. I'm unhappy that Freedom is no longer being published -- however, for years those involved in the paper asked for people in the movement to get involved but with little response. Without active participation from others then any newspaper will run into trouble. No massive conspiracy is needed to explain this -- just basic awareness of producing a magazine. As for the class struggle bugbear, having went through the archives of Freedom from the 1880s to the 1940s I can assure you that it was always a "class struggle" journal, a communist-anarchist one. The problem with Freedom in the post-war period is that it drifted away from it.
So rather than attack individuals, name them when they prefer not to be publicly known, and so forth, it would be better to discuss whether enough people can be found to get a regular revolutionary anarchist journal going. We are trying to achieve that with Black Flag and we don't waste our time with personal diatribes. Iain McKay (7/02/15)

Richard P.Griffin said...

From Griffin 7/02/15
Well said Iain, couldn't have put it better myself. As an aside,as someone who regularly wrote for Freedom, including plenty of non class related articles ( on food, gardening, architecture, skate boarding, sport, history, art, film, music) I personally found the collective including the editors decent people working really hard to keep the paper afloat. Not perfect but who the fck is?

Barry Woodling said...

CHRIS Draper's forensic analysis of the demise of the Freedom newspaper is excellently researched and demonstrates the culpability of the Freedom Collective. It deserves to be widely read throughout the libertarian movement.