Big Flame



Posted by archivearchie on June 4, 2009

This post arises out of a comment by Nate on “Who We Were” (the post rather than the page version). He asked: “is there anything written about the context that Big Flame comes out of, the time period in the UK in general and the left in particular.” My initial was there isn’t any book that covers this. On further reflection, I realise there are very many books that could be mentioned. Just that each touches on a single aspect of the context

Housing Struggles at Villa Road, Lambeth

Housing Struggles at Villa Road, Lambeth

The Libertarian Left

Today the term “libertarianism” has been appropriated by the right or, if not them, the Frank Furedi current (LM / Spiked). There are contemporary successors of the movement I want to talk to talk about – libertarianism of the 1960s and 1970s – in the green and peace movements and elsewhere. However, these don’t seem to adopt the term “libertarianism”.

The milieu of 1960s and 70s libertarianism is a complex one. It bears the imprint of the events of 1968, particularly in France. I want to distinguish between libertarian Marxism and anarchism. This is just one of a number of blurred boundaries of libertarianism. Another similar boundary merges into the Underground. Yet another situationism. A few of those involved in the milieu were members of organised political groups – Solidarity and some small Council Communist groups. The vast majority were not. Libertarians were involved in the following areas of activity:

(a)   community struggles,

(b)   squatting,

(c)   claimants unions,

(d)   local community newspapers,

(e)   arts groups,

(f)     lifestyle politics

 Housing Struggles at Villa Road, Lambeth

I am not saying that all these movements were entirely composed of libertarian Marxists. There were clearly others involved – anarchists, members of Trotskyist groups, the Communist Party, etc. But I don’t believe that in the 1960s and 1970s at the core of many of these struggles/initiatives you would have found libertarians.

From out of the strands, some of the members of Big Flame emerged (not all – some were previously members of Trotskyist, Maoist and anarchist groups). As did, but going in an entirely different direction, those who formed the Angry Brigade.


Below is an initial list of some relevant reading. It reflects things I’ve bought and read, and the fact that I‘m much less in touch with what has been published in the last 20 years. I certainly wouldn’t claim that it covers all the significant movements of the period. The absence of references on/from the women’s and black movements are only the most obvious examples. Where I know a member/s of Big Flame were involved in the struggles/initiatives I will mention this.

On Britain in general

CSE State Group Struggles over the State: Cuts and Restructuring in Contemporary Britain (CSE Books, 1979).

–   Takes a broader approach that most of the other left literature on the crisis from the 1970s e.g. chapters on education, housing, health, etc. The conclusions are somewhat vague reflecting political differences within the editorial group.

There is a voluminous literature on the political and social history of the 1960s, with a slower flow, mostly journalistic, on the 1970s. In the last few months, there have been two additions – Andy Beckett When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the Seventies and Alwyn W. Turner Crisis What Crisis? Britain in the 1970s. I have read either, so I can’t make a recommendation.

On the British left

David Widgery The Left in Britain 1956-68 (Penguin, 1976).

–   Despite a major over-representation of material from Widgery’s own group International Socialists (who became the Socialist Workers Party), the chapters on Student Politics and 1968 reveal the chaotic diversity of the left at the time. The book is also very funny.

Peter Shipley Revolutionaries in Modern Britain (Bodley head, 1976).

–   Written by someone unsympathetic to the left and in many ways flawed. Still the only book I know which seeks to cover the full diversity of the left. There are better books if you focus on specific tendencies e.g. John Callaghan British Trotskyism: Theory and Practice (Basil Blackwell, 1984). 

Squatters from Huntley Street, Bloomsbury Squatters from Huntley Street, Bloomsbury


On community struggles

Lynne Segal “A Local Experience” in Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal and Hilary Wainwright Beyond the Fragments (Merlin, 1979).

–   Discusses rather briefly initiatives in Islington, north London including a Women’s Centre and a local newspaper. Some of those involved were later members of North London BF. Some of the same ground is covered in the section “Life as Politics” in her book Making Trouble (Serpent’s Tail, 2007). See also Chris Whitbread (below).

Cynthia Cockburn The Local State: Management of Cities and People (Pluto, 1977).

Despite the then fashionable Althusserian theoretical framework, contains interesting information on struggles in Lambeth, south London. Members of South London BF were involved.

Jan O’Malley The Politics of Community Action (Spokesman Books, 1977).

–   An account of struggles in Notting Hill, west London, mostly around housing. Someone who was later in West London BF is thanked in the Introduction as involved in the activities described.

Nick Wates The Battle for Tolmers Square (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976).

–   A very detailed account of struggles against property speculators in Somers Town, north London.

Helene Curtis & Mimi Sanderson The Unsung Sixties : Memories of Social intervention (Whiting and Birch, 2004)

–   Interview accounts of a large number of projects which as Sheila Rowbotham says in her Introduction opened up a precious political space. As well as those mentioned below the sections include ones on Release, a Law Centre, Women’s Aid and a Disability Income Group. Squatting2

On squatting

Nick Wates and Christian Wolmar Squatting: The Real Story (Bay Leaf Books, 1980)


–   A wonderfully illustrated and detailed account of the whole movement.

Jim Radford “The point of a battle is to win it” in Helene Curtis & Mimi Sanderson The Unsung Sixties : Memories of Social intervention.

–    On the Family Squatting campaign. 

On Claimants Unions

 Bill Jordan “Collective Action and Everyday Resistance” in Rile van Berkel et al (ed) Beyond Marginality: Movements of Social Security Claimants in the European Union (Ashgate, 1998)

–   Draws a lot on the authors involvement in the Newton Abbott Claimants Union in the early 1970s.

Joe Kenyon “I was in the natural way of trying to put something right that was wrong, see” in Helene Curtis & Mimi Sanderson The Unsung Sixties : Memories of Social intervention.

–    On the Union in Barnsley and beyond.

On local community newspapers

Chris Whitbread “Islington” Revolutionary Socialism no4 Winter 1979-80

–   The main focus of the article is Islington Gutter Press, but Community Press, a print workshop, and Islington Socialist Centre are also mentioned.

I am not aware of anything written about local community newspapers. Therefore these books on the national Underground press must suffice. Nigel Fountain Underground: The London Alternative Press 1966-74 (Pluto, 1988) provides accounts of all the main national Underground publications. Jonathon Green’s two book (one a set of interviews, the other his own discussion) Days in the Life: Voices from the English Underground (2nd ed Pimlico, 1998) and All Dressed Up: the Sixties and Counter Culture (Pimlico, 1999) covers publications like Friends and Ink.

Many BF (future or then current) members worked on local community papers. As well as Islington Gutter Press, they include Manchester 11Ned Gate/Nell Gate and Bush News. The first series Big Flame newspaper in Liverpool can be regarded as a local community paper.

The Underground and Alternative Press in Britain from Harvester Press (already mention in Episode 1 of the Big Flame History series as a place to find the newspaper of that name) has a lot of the source material on microfilm or microfiche. Not just Friends, Ink and IT but local publications like Manchester Free Press, Mole Express, Leeds Other Paper, Hackney People’s Press and Nottingham Voice.

On arts groups

It is no doubt perverse to mention articles from an obscure and probably impossible to find source. However, the left cultural magazine Wedge included some extremely interesting articles in its short life of only three issues. The editorial collective was mostly independents, but included 2 members of IMG and 2 from BF (although members at different times). A few of the articles were:

Anon “Grant Aid and Political Theatre 1968-77 Part 1 Wedge no1 Summer 1977 and Part 2 Wedge no 2 Spring 1978.

–   About a lot more than just Grant Aid. Includes the author’s views on the differences between reformist and revolutionary theatre.

Newsreel Collective “Newsreel Collective: Five years On” Wedge no3 Winter 1978.

–   Written by the Agit prop documentary film group. Early version of the collective included 2 members of BF. Within a few years, one left BF and the other Newsreel.

Jane Clarke & Rosie Elliot “The Other Cinema: Screen Memory” Wedge no 2 Spring 1978.

–   Written after the collapse of the film distribution and exhibition collective, the article aims to learn from the experience.

On lifestyle politics

“Revolutionary Household Rotas” in Lynne Segal Making Trouble (Serpent’s Tail, 2007).

–   Discusses collective living arrangements.

Andrew Rigby Alternative Realities: A Study of Communes and their Members (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974)

–   A sociological study which brings out the political and religious diversity of communes (e.g. one consisting of Young Liberals). Another book by the same author Communes in Britain consists of more detailed case studies.

In addition there is a enormous literature from the women’s (and men’s) movement on relationships.

The above list is bound to leave out a lot of important books. Please tell what I should have included.

Some questions

If anyone were to sit down and read through this (or a similar) list, what would be the benefit? Well they might be better equipped to start to try to answer the following questions, which I think would improve our understanding of the impact of left libertarianism in 1960s and 1970s Britain:

(i)            Do the various strands I have mentioned have sufficient in common to bear description as a milieu, or going even further a movement? Or should I have adopted a narrower interpretation of the libertarian left?

(ii)          If there is something in common, what were the core ideas which many of the people involved?

(iii)         Am I right in thinking that the influence of libertarianism declined as the 1970s moved into the 1980s?

(iv)        If it did, what were the reasons – the impact of the national Thatcher government? the revival of the traditional left?

Archive Archie


  1. archivearchie said

    Max Farrar sent me some additional reading suggestions on the 1970s. These were:
    Nell Dunn’s Living as I Do (1977)
    Alison Fell’s novel Living as I do (1984) (set in Lynne Segal’s house and referred to in Lynne’s autobiography Making Trouble) [Please see corrections to title in the comment below]
    David Widgery’s Beating Time (on Rock against Racism) is excellent.
    Hari Kunzru’s recent novel My Revolutions is worth reading, as is Doris Lessing’s The Good Terrorist (though utterly hostile to our movement).

    Neil Dunn’s Living as I Do (a.k.a Different Drummers) is of particular interest as one of the case studues is a Leeds Libertarian household (see Max’s article in the Opinions about Big Flame series).

  2. archivearchie said

    I say in the post that “I am not aware of anything written about local community newspapers”. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Here is a bibliography which has been forwarded to me (with a brief description of the article or book added by me).

    Tony Harcup, one time of the Leeds Other Paper and now of Sheffield University, seems to have made the alternative local press his specialist subject. Here are his relevant writings:

    Harcup, Tony (1994) A Northern Star: Leeds Other Paper and the alternative press 1974-1994. Pontefract: Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.
    [A history of the Leeds Other Paper, renamed the Northern Star in its final days]

    Harcup, Tony (1998) “There is no alternative: the demise of the alternative local newspaper” in Bob Franklin and David Murphy (eds) (1998) Making the Local News: local journalism in context. London: Routledge.
    [Looks at the reasons for the demise, with a focus on the Leeds Other Paper]

    Harcup, Tony (2003) “The unspoken – said: the journalism of alternative media”, Journalism: theory, practice and criticism Vol 4, no 3, August 2003, pp356-376.
    [Issues examined include the contents of the papers, again with a focus on the Leeds Other Paper]

    Harcup, Tony (2005a) “I’m doing this to change the world: journalism in alternative and mainstream media”, Journalism Studies Vol 6, no 3, August 2005, pp361-374.
    [Based on interviews with 22 journalists in the mainstream media who formerly worked on alternative projects]

    Harcup, Tony (2006) “The alternative local press”, in Bob Franklin (ed) Local Journalism and Local Media, Abingdon: Routledge, pp129-139.
    [A brief introduction to the alternative local process]

    Harcup, Tony (2009) “It wasn’t all about Arthur: alternative media and the miners’ strike”, in Granville Williams (ed) Shafted: the media, the miners’ strike and the aftermath. London: Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, pp61-71.
    [As the title indicates looks at coverage of the miners’ strike]

    Works by other authors include:

    Aubrey, Crispin, Charles Landry and Dave Morley (1980) Here is the Other News. London: Minority Press Group.
    [Includes accounts of six papers: Aberdeen People’s Press, Alarm, Brighton Voice, Islington Gutter Press, Response and Rochdale’s Alternative Paper]

    Dickinson, Robert (1997) Imprinting the Sticks: the alternative press beyond London. Aldershot: Arena.
    [Discusses the alternative press in Manchester, including Grass Eye, Mole Express and Manchester Free Press]

    Fountain, Nigel (1988) Underground: the London alternative press. London: Routledge.
    {Mostly about the national “underground” press]

    Whitaker, Brian (1981) News Ltd: why you can’t read all about it. London: Minority Press Group.
    [Largely about the Liverpool Free Press]

    Finally, a book which is due to be published in October next year. I don’t know if it will cover the British local press, but just about everything else will be in it:

    Downing, John D H (2010) Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
    [Contents will include tabloids during the French Revolution, anti-British pamphlets from the American Revolution, anti-colonial radio in the Algerian war of independence, contemporary environmentalist media, conservative Christian television broadcasts, neo-Nazi Web activism, some popular music, and subway graffiti.]

    No doubt my lists of publications for topics other than local media are just as faulty. Corrections would be greatly appreciated.

  3. archivearchie said

    Another key part of the story of 60s and 70s libertarianism are the radical printshops and poster collectives.

    This website contains a lot of interesting information and memories:

  4. Jakartass said

    In giving a synopsis of Nick Wates’ The Battle for Tolmers Square (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976), you describe it as “A very detailed account of struggles against property speculators in Somers Town, north London.”

    Sorry, but the Somers Town squatters were very different in that our 40/50 houses, largely in a block fronted by Charrington Street, were empty awaiting renovation by the Greater London Council.

    I knew Nick Wates at the time and we were in solidarity, but our struggle was not confrontational, as in Piers Corbyn’s Elgin Avenue, nor essentially defensive as in Tolners Square. We emphasised the need for ‘Housing For All’. We were teachers, doctors, musicians and derelicts trying to get along; we proposed the GLC hard-to-let policy and were ‘offered’ alternative empty GLC properties when it came time to move. That said, a great many of us moved to Lambeth BC houses, notably around Stockwell and Wandsworth Rd. (There are still residents from that time in Rectory Gardens, SW4.)

    In Somers Town we had a couple of community newspapers: The Summerstown News (reviwed in the paperback Alternative London and the Daily Hernia, which was specially produced for the annual Daily Hut Exhibition in Earl’s Court. We also had a food co-operative, The Great Joint Happiness Co-operative, which sponsored a rabbit for election to the GLC. How it got 70 votes remains a mystery as I don’t think that any squatter was actually on the electoral role!

    We were certainly libertarians, but very few of us were allied to a particular socialist group. We were raided by the Bomb Squad one early morning in ’73 or ’74, supposedly as part of the search for the Angry Brigade. (And, yes, I did know the whereabouts of one or two at the time.) Various accounts appeared in the Evening Standard (Bomb Squad Raids Hippy Stronghold) and other newspapers,

    An ad hoc ‘Civil Rights’ group was given permission to march to Scotland Yard; this was mere theatre on our part. And the police played their role to the fullest.

    There is much else that could be related, but I just want to emphasise that each community of squatters had its own identity.

  5. archivearchie said

    Thanks to Jackartass for the very interesting information on struggles in Somers Town. Apologies if my one sentence guide to Nick Waites’ book was misleading. I didn’t mean to suggest that the Tolmers Square struggle was the only thing happening in the area, or that the book was about anything more than the Square. I felt that I needed to explain where Tolmers Square was for those who had never hear of it. In retrospect the label Somers Town was not the right choice.

    I do know that the estate of Baron Somers leased for development from 1784 onwards lies to the north east of Tolmers Square. What lay behind my choice was that I tend to think of the borough of Camden in terms of the Council wards (and specifically the boundaries which operated from the 1960s to the 90s, before recent changes). The ward of Somers Town then covered the entire area between Hampstead Road and Pancras Road, including Tolmers Square and not just the old Somers estate.

    However, it was a wrong choice. Not just because most people who live in the area will take Somers Town to refer to a much smaller area, but also because most people who don’t will be no more familiar with this name than Tolmers Square. I see that the boundary changes have moved Tolmers Square from Somers Town ward to Regents Park ward. But this description would be just as misleading. I now think it would have been best if I had chosen the label Euston. At least some people might have heard of the railway station!

  6. Jakartass said

    Thanks for the ‘correction’. However, the London squatting movement was based, as I said above, on particular locales reflecting our common ‘enemies’ rather than political boundaries.

    In other words, although we had friends scattered around other streets, our strategies varied according to the particular threats of eviction we faced and the friends we made among local residents.

    There were regular meetings of ‘All-London Squatters’ where tactics were reviewed and alliances forged. Not all of these were ‘political’ (cf. Piers Corbyn and Elgin Avenue’s confrontational, ‘man-the-barricades’ approach), At one meeting, following our move from Somers Town to Rectory Gradens, I was castigated at one meeting for daring to move into a Lambeth BC house by Jack Dromey (yes, THE Jack D.) and the Brixton squatters, based around Railton Rd., who’d already reached an agreement to not squat further Lambeth BC properties.

    At one point we had squatted nigh on 200 properties in Stockwell, Clapham and Wandsworth (behind The Plough in Wandsworth Road), which is/was a claer demonstration of housing need as well as the catastrophic state of the public sector housing market.

    I worked for a while at FSAS, then at Blackfriars Settlement,and when agreement was reached with the ‘old’ axis of Ron Bailey, Jim Radford and Jack Dromey that not just families were entitled to a roof over their heads, the Advisory Service for Squatters was set up and we went off to squat 2a St Pauls Rd. as the new HQ. (Incidentally, I suggested the name: note that I still use ASS in my online persona.)

    Apart from the Squatters Handbook, we were also responsible for the legal section/appendix in Andrew Ingham’s Self Help House Repairs Manual, as well as contributing to various reports published by CHAR, Shelter,

    Although some squatters may have had specific political aims (i.e. marxist), my perspective is that most of who were activists had a more social perspective.

    Not that we ever achieved much ….

  7. max farrar said

    Thanks to Jakartass for his comments, and for Archie’s (typically undefensive) reply. Just shows how hard it is to write this history and how much we need web-sites like these to improve upon the first efforts to produce many-sided (but never ‘true’) accounts of what’s been did (so much was hid).

  8. archivearchie said

    This is intended as a “clarification” rather than a “correction”. This post was a response to a comment elsewhere on the site asking what had been written the left in the 1960s/70s out of which the group which is the topic of this blog, Big Flame, emerged. Whilst there is (as far as I am aware) no book whose specific subject matter is the libertarian left of this period, there is a lot of literature which is about different aspects of the context. Which isn’t to say that everyone who squatted (or who was involved in the claimants union, an alternative local newspaper, etc, etc) was a left libertarian.

    Obviously all these movements involved people with different political views. I never squatted myself so this isn’t based on first hand knowledge, but no doubt amongst the squatters of the 1960s/70s you could find people with little politics who just wanted a roof over their head) and supporters of a variety of political perspectives. There would have been a fair number of anarchists and even some IMG members like Piers Corbyn. Many who general identified with the left without any more specific definition.

    However, I do believe that a significant proportion of those who adopted squatting as a political act in the 1960s/70s, and took part in the other movements mentioned, came from what I describe as the left libertarian milieu (most of whom would have called themselves Marxists). I only make this claim for the 1960s/70s. Left libertarianism declined substantially as a political influence from the late 1970s onwards (though there people around today who share a lot of the ideas but wouldn’t identify with the label). Exactly why this happened is a fascinating topic, which I hope the planned book about Big Flame will address.

  9. Jakartass said

    Left libertarianism declined substantially as a political influence from the late 1970s onwards …. Exactly why this happened is a fascinating topic, which I hope the planned book about Big Flame will address.

    One simple answer is relationships, e.g. family responsibilities, with the need for a ‘career’ (i.e. money)

    Also society adapted to us, e.g. licensed squatting, so we had the space to explore other areas of our potential.

    Amongst the outgrowths, such as the Law Centres and adventure playgrounds, were taken on board by local authorities. And don’t forget music, from the Pink Fairies to the punk explosion of 75/76.

    According to his wiki page, Piers Corbyn has continued along his own idiosyncratic path – as a ‘weatherman‘ and global warming denier.

    Me? I certainly have socialist leanings, but will remain diametrically opposed to the confrontational tactics as then espoused by Piers. I hope he is willing to acknowledge that in being “rehoused to Southwark, South London, by the GLC in 1975”, it was as much to do with our (Somers Town squatters) proposal to the GLC that there was a simple solution to the problem of ‘squatters’: give us a licence to occupy the property, thus negating the label, and we would leave willingly if other empty properties, which we all knew were available, were offered to us.

    One definition of libertarianism would be the freedom of individuals to make personal life style choices, generally unconnected with the current definition of consumerism.

    I’d be happy to add further memories if they help with your researches, and look forward to reading your planned book.

  10. archivearchie said

    I think that both of Jackartass’s answers to why libertarianism declined are important and need to be part of the discussion.

    There is a tendency for the radicals of a particular generation to be diminished in numbers by, on the one hand, the push of burn out from hyperactivity and, on the other, the pull of having children, starting careers, etc. This has been discussed a few times on this site e.g. in the why did BF only last 13 years section of Kevin McDonnell’s “Opinion about BF”: However, why did the more orthodox Leninist left (Trotskyism in Britain, Maoism in Europe, Eurocommunism)find themeselves in a lesser decline in the 1970s/80s. I’m talking in relative terms here. Obviously these weren’t massive popular movements. Nevertheless, they did manage to sustain themselves as organisations, and recruit new members from those younger than their previous activists. It can’t be that their ideas were better suited to the onset of hard times for the left. Orthodox Trotskyism for instance was predicated on the immediate collapse of capitalism.

    It is true that libertarianism yielded to no-one in its suspicion of the state and fear of co-option (social workers as soft cops, etc). Despite this within a few years a large proportion of its former adherents were following a route into state institutions (and I count myself as part of this trend). You can ask what ultimately did they gain from the process. However, not everyone took this approach. Others rejected this path and maintained their independence, not succumbing to grant aid and so on. Did they achieve any better outcome? I don’t think this is an all or nothing question. It is a matter of how you interact with the state, the exact choices you make. What happened in the 1970s/80s was that we now know as neo-liberalism (and was called Thatcherism or monetarism at the time) diminished all the oppositional spaces, both inside and outside the state.

    All this suggests that a second key question to understanding the period, in addition to why did left libertarianism decline, is why as neo-liberalism so successful. When I say successful I don’t mean that there weren’t constant struggles against it, rather than for the most these were fleeting and limited. It was not just left libertarianism which has affected. I have been reading recently some interesting literature on the decline of rank and file trade union militancy after the 1960s/early 70s. Probably part of the answer (but not all of it) lies in the deficiencies of the left itself. It (then and now) lacked credible answer to the questions many people asked, lacked an ability to relate to them in an effective and non-manipulative way. If this blog, and the planned book, are to be anything more that nostalgia for an ageing set of 1970s radicals, there needs to be an understanding of and lessons drawn from the past.

    Finally, on the issue of confrontation. I’m not sure exactly how Jackartass defines this term. Clearly there are limitiations to approaches which always seek confrontations for their own sake. The tactics you adopt need to depend on the situation and opportunities. However, I don’t think that radicals faced with the power gap compared to those they are struggling against are in most circumstances going to achieve much without a significant amount of confrontation.

  11. Jakartass said

    ………. on the issue of confrontation. I’m not sure exactly how Jakartass defines this term. Clearly there are limitations to approaches which always seek confrontations for their own sake. The tactics you adopt need to depend on the situation and opportunities. However, I don’t think that radicals faced with the power gap compared to those they are struggling against are in most circumstances going to achieve much without a significant amount of confrontation.

    Good question and I’ll try not to be too autobiographical in my answer. However, having worn glasses from the age of 7 I learnt to be scared of physical confrontations unless absolutely necessary. (Last year I had the laser ops and life has been much simpler since.)

    That could be one reason why I developed the skill to ‘defend’ my position with words. I was also a qualified teacher and had worked in a variety of inner-London schools, so was ready to quell classes with the lash of my tongue rather than the back of my hand.

    I was active in the N.U.T and was secretary of the Camden teachers’ strike committee in 1970, not having sought the position but nominated because I’d argued strongly against fellow teacher Roger Silverman, son of Sydney. Roger, who I recall as Julian, described himself in December 2009 as “a former full-time socialist activist.”

    London teachers were after an interim pay rise: Roger/Julian wanted to bring in other issues, e.g. class sizes, which although of great importance, would have diminished the focus of the first ever teachers’ strike, which my school, incidentally, not selected for.

    We won because our cause was just, we remained focussed on it and thereby gained great public support (inc. Ken Loach, George Melly and other local parents who formed their own ad-hoc ctte.)

    And that was, for me, a valuable lesson, one I was to take with me into the squatting movement. Arguing for a clearly just cause, presenting the reasons through meetings, demonstrations if tactically important, and contesting court cases (with lawyers such as Dave Watkinson and Lord Anthony Gifford’s chambers alongside in an amicus curae capacity were non-confrontational yet effective.

    I’d also fallen for the yippies ‘fun’ approach to life, so much of what we did had a non-conformist element, much encouraged by the late Sid Rawle (who, sadly, I’ve just discovered, died last year. Ho hum. I’ll post a belated obit on Jakartass later this week.)

    [Brief aside: I discovered this page whilst researching memories of Roger Diski – and Quentin Crisp, who to my knowledge is not part of this history!]

    So, to sum up. I was an implacable opponent of Piers Corbyn because of his Marxist perspective which needed a ‘struggle’ to overcome injustices. There’s no fun to be had when paranoid, and squatting wasn’t ever a ‘class struggle’. It was a social movement about housing rights. Living behind barricades would not have been fun, or ensured a life outside.

    And to paraphrase, “radicals faced with the power gap compared to those they are struggling against are in most circumstances going to achieve much with a significant amount of hard work and intelligent compromise based around alternative solutions.”

    We did!

  12. archivearchie said

    Back in the 1970s and 80s (I was still at school in the 60s), no doubt I was pretty confident of the merits of confrontation and struggle. I would have said that you didn’t win things through the reasonableness of your case, but by applying pressure. There were times when you had to settle for less than you wanted, but this was a practical decision and you waited for another day. Such outcomes were a disappointment (I don’t think I adopted the perspective of some who would have labelled all such instances as sell outs). Wanting the world to change, I believed that consciousness changed through struggle (horizons could expand and the advantages of working collectively coud be learnt).

    At the time there was a definite glorification of violence, influenced by support for third world struggles and the Black Panthers. I think that I had my doubts. I certainly didn’t support the Angry Brigade and others who adopted forms of armed struggle. When I was at Grumwick and the counter National Front demonstrations at Wood Green and Lewisham, I was one of the more cautious types who remained in the background.

    30 or 40 years later, I’ve gone through political changes. I’d like to see the world change, but am pessimistic about much in the way of steps in that direction. I would be pleased to see Governments today adopt any of the social democracy which I once totally dismissed. I am even more dubious about the casual support for violence. I would be very fearful if the leaders of many of the small left groups were indeed able to launch a revolution, based on their handling of dissent in their own organisations. Nevertheless, by and large I still support struggle and confrontation as a way of making some progress with radical ideas, and the effects they have on those who take part.

  13. max farrar said

    this is a good discussion – pity so few of us are writing into it! It looks like I’ve made similar moves to archive archie when it comes to confrontation, and to welcoming social democracy, and all I’d add to the discussion is the influence of age and the process of ‘getting older’. Big Flame championed a Schools Out movement for a while (ie aiming to help form a ‘school students’ movement’) and the fact was that our average age could not have been much more than 30, possibly 35 by the time we folded. There is a special enthusiasm and utopianism about ‘youth’ which I continue to admire. Apart from the incident with the fire extinguisher, I rejoiced at the invasion of the Tory Party HQ by the students. In those days I would have done exactly the same (maybe even the fire extinguisher). But I would probably have hung back had I been there this time around. At the demo on 26th March I will be entirely peaceful, because that’s what I now believe in, but I won’t condemn the ones who do things the mass media will label as hooliganism. We need that kind of crazy, youthful, naive, utopian energy (short of doing physical harm to people) in the broad movement. Back in the day we (BF) supported Piers Corbyn – but we should also have supported the arguments by people like our friend Jackartass. I really do think (now) that left libertarian socialists should embrace what appear to be contradictory positions like that.

  14. […] After we were (illegally) evicted from Adamson Rd. by the police, we moved south of the river to Charrington Street in Somers Town, behind Kings Cross station. (Further snippets of my time there can be found here.) […]

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