This post is the tenth in an occasional series. This site already contains a large number of documents produced by Big Flame or its members. Most can be found in the 30 posts in Episodes in Big Flame History series. Each post contains links to documents which relate to its theme. Links to the same documents are also listed on the website’s Publications Publications page , this time sorted by type – pamphlets, journals, newspaper, internal documents.
This series aims to add to these documents by making available others I find interesting which didn’t fit with any of the post themes, were overlooked when the posts were written, or a copy was not available to me at the time of the post.
Earlier in this series I published some documents reflecting Big Flame’s approach to International Solidarity.
Over on the Commune website there is a discussion following a report in issue 18 of its paper on a forum about BF. One of the contributors responded to someone saying that BF’s position on anti-imperialism being superior to that of “libertarians” with: “I think that BF’s relatively uncritical attitude to certain concrete national liberation movements looks very problematic in hindsight”. Of course the position set out in the previous post is inevitably very abstract. It can only be judged properly by seeing how it was applied. Was Big Flame able to raise substantive criticisms of liberation movements from within a position of overall solidarity? I’ve gone back and looked at some of the newspaper articles which reflected a key priority area for BF international solidarity in the 1980s – Southern Africa. These contain criticisms of national liberation movements, within a context of support for independence.
An article How shall we fight the oppressor? The British Left and the Anti-Apartheid Movement from the April 1982 newspaper takes issue which the RCG (Revolutionary Communist Group)’s position of unquestioning support. It gives as an example trade union solidarity. The ANC was insisting that its component part SACTU (South African Congress of Trade Unions) could be the only vehicle for solidarity. This would mean cutting yourself off from the independent trade union movement FOSATU (Federation of South African Trade Unions) which was more active in struggles within the country.
Another article “Workers Power” in a Southern Africa Special Supplement to the February 1986 paper (produced by the handful of people who carried on as BF after the organisation’s effective demise in 1985) discusses how the ANC in ignoring independent trade unions was effectively leaving the question of workers’ rights until after the revolution. Documents like the “Freedom Charter” are said to provide little information about forms of workers’ control in the new South Africa. Raising questions about whether the ANC would confront capital or whether there would be the rise of a new bourgeoisie aligned with internal capital.
Turning to Zimbabwe, an article Women in Zimbabwe from the October 1982 paper describes how most women were being denied a right to land under the resettlement programme, striking teachers and health workers were being labelled “criminals” and the co-ops which had been established were being assessed in terms of profits rather than politics.
A few months later in Zimbabwe: ZANU Turns Sour in the April-May 1983 paper discusses how a wave of strikes had been put down by the army (with a representative of the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions expressing opposition to the right to strike), in Matabeleland how the army was not only fighting dissidents from its armed wing but terrorising their potential supporters in the local population. ZANU is seen as having made massive compromises with international capital. The writer argues that this is not surprising as it was by no means certain that national liberation would immediately provoke a struggle for socialism.
These articles show that Big Flame did express criticisms of national liberation movements at a time when much of the left was silent. Apart from groups like the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party) which were judging them against an impossiblist pure standard. No doubt other examples could be cited were BF was slow in making criticisms (and perhaps even others where it went too far). However, what I think this shows is that it was possible to reflect in practice the position on international solidarity set out in the previous post.