This series will draw on a range of Big Flame publications – pamphlets, the newspaper, internal and conference bulletins – to illustrate key events and issues in the group’s history.
In the beginning … there was the paper. The first issue came out in February 1970 with the strapline “Merseyside’s Rank and File paper” after the title. Inside it said: “Big Flame is an independent newspaper. It is not run by any group or party. The paper will be written by its readers and run by its readers”. Those involved included members of a variety of groups (the Communist Party, the International Socialists [predecessors of the SWP] and the Communist Federation of Britain [a Maoist group]), and others who were in no organisation.My archive doesn’t include issue no1, so click here to view issue no 2 – Big Flame Newspaper March 1970 (warning: this may take over a minute to appear).
The paper’s politics were extremely broad as shown in the programme set out in issue no3 of April 1970:
“When Labour and Tories have the same policies, and many trade union leaders condone them, the only solution lies in the hands of rank and file workers.
1. 1. Share all existing work without loss of pay.
2. 2. Fight all Productivity Deals which inevitably lead to redundancies, open or hidden.
3. 3. Open the unions to the unemployed. Don’t let the bosses use of jobless as a weapon against organised workers.
4. 4. Let unemployed building workers build homes for the homeless.
5. 5. Fight for a socialist Britain where only the bosses are redundant.”
The coalition producing the paper lasted seven issues – until July1970 (although there was also a special free edition about the Pilkington Strike – no 8 October1970). After which some of the independents involved continued working together as Big Flame. In 1971 they started producing a Bulletin, and by June 1972 they were ready to relaunch the paper.
Click here to view issue no1 in the new series – Big Flame Newspaper June 1972 (warning: this may take over a minute to appear).
An article “Why Big Flame” in this issue explains the reasons behind starting “another revolutionary group”. The focus of the paper was similar (although this time there were occasional articles which strayed further afield e.g. Ireland, Palestine and Italy), but the politics were more defined. The strapline evolved from “Merseyside Socialist Newspaper” to “Monthly Newspaper of the Revolutionary Socialist Organisation Big Flame”.
By 1975 Big Flame as being produced with Merseyside, Manchester (and briefly London) editions, as well as a national one. These has the same four central pages, with their own different outer four pages. This stopped the next year. From then on there was a single national edition. Publication continued (becoming slightly less regular in the final period) to no 114 (July/August 1983), when it was suspended to allow for a discussion about the group’s publication format.
The next year Big Flame fragmented. A very small group of people carried on, briefly reviving the paper in 1985-86. This was to be the last of Big Flame.
A future episode in the series will focus on the Big Flame newspaper (see Episode 15).
P.S. If any anoraks reading this are moved to want to read more issues, Harvester Press published on microfiche (a form of microfilm on flat cards) something called The Underground and Alternative Press in Britain. It includes just about every issue of series one and series two of Big Flame (but not the 1985 reprise), as well as many other extremely interesting publications of the 70s and 80s. They may have it at a large academic library near you. I know that in London there are copies at the British Library in Euston and the LSE Library.