Big Flame

1970-1984

Posts Tagged ‘Big Flame Pamphlets’

SEXUALITY AND FASCISM (Miscellaneous Big Flame Documents no 12)

Posted by archivearchie on March 31, 2011

This post is the twelveth 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. Each post contains links to documents which relate to its theme. Links to the same documents are also listed on the website’s 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.

On this site, or elsewhere on the internet, are all the significant pamphlets written by Big Flame members (tell me if you think I have missed something). Up to now there one short pamphlet which has been overlooked.

Sexuality and Fascism, first published in 1979, contains the write ups of three talks given at a Big Flame Dayschool in December 1978. One focuses on the 1930s, another on the 1970s and the third shifts between the two. Two of them examine Fascism and Women, the third Fascism and Men. A wider ranging discussion of Fascism can be found in a pamphlet which came after this one: See the post in the BF History series on Racism and Fascism.

“Women and Nazi Germany” discusses how the Nazi Party’s perspectives were based on the aims of increasing the birth rate and promoting the “ideal peasant wife”. Marriage and the family were supported and abortion and birth control attacked. It reveals some contradictions in the position. A shift in the position on unmarried mothers took place as the priority of the birth rate won out over traditional morality. There was no parallel shift in relation to women’s employment, despite the economic requirements of rearmament and the need to win the war.

“Women and the NF” found similar statement in contemporary National Front literature – the emphasis women as wives and mothers and the need to build the white race, the opposition to abortion and contraception. It raises a couple of interesting issues without really exploring them. How was the NF able to explain how its position on motherhood apparently didn’t apply to black women? What was the appeal of the NF to the quarter of its membership who were women?

“Men and Fascism” discusses the relationship between the Nazis and masculinist currents in inter-war Germany (which promoted male comradeship and were extremely anti-women). It also argues that the NF’s appeal had something to do with the politics of everyday life and a desire to recover masculine self respect. Men’s power and privilege had been increasingly lost, both at work and in the home. The NF promised to return women to their traditional place and its street fighting offered an opportunity to prove manliness.

Archive Archie

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LABOURING UNDER THE TORIES? (Miscellaneous Big Flame Documents no 2)

Posted by archivearchie on April 21, 2010

This post is the second 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. Each post contains links to documents which relate to its theme. Links to the same documents are also listed on the website’s 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.

The second document I want to discuss is: Labouring Under the Tories? This short pamphlet was written in the summer of 1979. I’m not sure of the exact date, but it is first mentioned in the September issue of the Big Flame newspaper. Thus it was produced only a few months after the Tories General Election victory in May of that year.

Given the publication date, it is surprising that the analysis of Thatcherism is not especially prescient (what became known as Thatcherism only emerged over a period of time). This is not to argue that the Tory polices described weren’t important features of Thatcherism – structural long-term unemployment, removal of trade union rights, cuts in public expenditure, the strong state, etc. Like rest of left Big Flame not appreciate immediately how fundamental a change had occurred. The pamphlet did acknowledge that election victory signified that the Tories had won working class support for their “vision of an individualistic, competitive society”. However, the new government is mainly seen as “consolidating” the previous Labour government’s adoption of similar polices at the behest of the IMF.

The pamphlet is less about the Tories, than the Labour Party and need to develop a socialist alternative. The problem is how to break out of the cycle of militancy, followed by reformist politics and back again. The key message is to avoid the mistake made under the previous Tory spell in government 1970-74, and for those struggling against the government to limit themselves to calls for the return of a Labour government, and to rely on Labour and the trade union left to lead the struggles. In this respect the position laid out in the pamphlet is very similar to the 1971 broadsheet featured in the previous post in this series: How To Fight Them (link to https://bigflameuk.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/how-to-fight-them/). The key task is to develop wider perspectives which link defensive struggles to a challenge to capitalist ideas and control.

I can’t recall much disagreement in Big Flame about the pamphlet. However, there were clearly some members who weren’t happy with the contents. One referred to it a few years later (1983) as “that terrible pamphlet” and dismissed “the battle of ideas, ideologies, alternative plans and similar wishful thinking” by counter posing them to “solid working class organising”. This suspicion of the pamphlet may in part be due to the fact that by then some main of the authors had departed BF for the Labour Party. Myself I can’t see that pamphlet says much which leads on to that decision. Entryism in the Labour Party is rejected as based on a “fundamental misconception about the relationship of the Labour Party and reformism, and to the working class”. It also argues that “slogans and demands” will not prove to people that socialism is the answer, and that alternative plans are not ”the solution” and can’t be “a substitute” for more familiar forms of struggle.

If I have a criticism of the pamphlet it is that it is very limited in developing the wider perspectives it said were needed. I don’t disagree with any of the things it supports: alternative plans, rank and file organisation, solutions based on the needs of all oppressed classes and groups, material internationalism, a strategy based on the active participation of the working class, and making the struggle for socialism “meaningful, worthwhile and enjoyable”. The problem is that it fails to go beyond this level of generality. However, to expect much more is probably unrealistic from something brought out very quickly to promote a position as soon as possible after the election. Further, everyone else on the left, at the time and since, equally failed to develop much in the way of perspectives which would make socialism meaningful and popular.

If the coming election works out as predicted in the opinion polls, socialists will face a situation in some ways similar to that of 1970 and 1979. However, there is little need to warn anyone about the need to avoid having illusions in the Labour Party.

Click here to read: Labouring Under the Tories?.

Archive Archie

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EPISODES IN BIG FLAME HISTORY: No 25. State Collectivism

Posted by archivearchie on December 7, 2009

When many on the left discuss “soviet type societies”, there seems to be an obsession with labels. It is almost as if many of them feel the need to have a “unique selling position” on these societies to distinguish them from rival groups. Big Flame’s contribution to these discussions, as should everyone else’s, needs to be judged on the basis of whether or not the terminology increased our understanding of these societies, and the sort of the nature of the socialist society to which we aspire.

The October 1976 Big Flame conference had passed a motion “Resolution on the Nature of Russia, China and Post-Revolutionary Societies” which took the position that the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe countries “are not socialist or even in transition to socialism” with China “building socialism” but with the possibility that it might “degenerate into a new class system” (see Episode 7). As we have seen The Revolution Unfinished? published in 1977 (see Episode Episode 24) used the term “state collectivist” in relation to Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, while again taking a more favourable position on China.

The Pamphlet

Debate about the pamphlet carried on in BF’s International Committee (which included non-members of the organisation), primarily about the pro-Chinese Cultural Revolution positions contained within it. In particular by a BF member who had helped the authors of The Revolution Unfinished? with their pamphlet and by Moshe Machover of the Israeli Socialist Organisation Matzpen. They collaborated on what was originally going to be an article for Revolutionary Socialism, but instead became a pamphlet Century of the Unexpected: A New Analysis of Soviet Type Societies, published in 1979. A Preface makes clear that the views expressed in the pamphlet were not BF’s agreed position, rather a contribution to an open debate taking place within it.

Here is the pamphlet – split into two parts:

Century of the Unexpected front-p12

Century of the Unexpected p13- back

The pamphlet rejects the views that the mode of production in the Soviet Union and other countries is either a degenerate workers state or state capitalist. Rather than a transient aberration or half way house, they represented an alternative path for underdeveloped countries. The new term state collectivist is appropriate as it “emphasises the fact that in these systems the principle means of control is not through private property but through formally collective property controlled from above by the state and by the ruling bureaucracy”. The authors recognise that (up to 1976) there were some differences in the Maoist and Soviet conceptions of socialist construction, the lack of proletarian democracy at the state level placed China in the same category. The pamphlet is influenced by a variety of authors (some of whom used a different label or others no new label at all): Max Schachtman, Jacek Kuron and Karel Modzelewski, Antonio Carlo, Umberto Melotti and writers from the journal Critique.

The pamphlet was relatively short in length, and the nature of a state collectivist mode of production was never really explored in any depth. Neither in general, or in the very different countries to which the label was applied. The link between state collectivism and underdevelopment is stated rather than argued.

After the Pamphlet

In 1980 Big Flame published another pamphlet The Nature of So-Called Socialist Societies. It contained 6 articles by 5 authors as a contributing to a continuing debate. I will consider three of them here.

The Origins and Basis of State Collectivism.  Argues that there two conceptions of the origins and basis of state collectivism. The first, set out in the previous pamphlet, saw it as a theory of underdevelopment. From such societies a transition to socialism was difficult if not impossible. The second, held by the author, saw it as the product of a “failed” revolution. The revolutionary overthrow of capitalism leaves open three roads – a return to capitalism, a new class society, or a transition to socialism. A “failed” revolution is as possible in an advanced capitalist country as well as an underdeveloped one.

Some Notes on Big Flame’s Contribution to the Discussion of Soviet-Type Societies. Believes that the previous pamphlet failed to present a cogent argument about what are the driving forces in a soviet society, shying away from a detailed discussion of soviet production relations. The author believes that a more productive approach is being developed by Critique writers.

The Failure of So-Called Socialism. Suggests that both external and internal factors need to be examined to understand why so-called socialist societies bear no relation to socialism. The article is critical of the notion that the state immediately withers away after the overthrow of capitalism, and the conception of socialism as state planning. Concludes that socialists need to provide their own detailed and concrete model of socialism if they are to have any chance of mass involvement in the struggle to achieve it.

At the December 1980 BF Conference this motion was passed: Motion on BF’s Analysis of the USSR, other Comecon Countries and China. Whilst the label state collectivism was adopted, nowhere was it defined. As the motivation for the motion makes clear this still left the field open to a number of different interpretations of what it meant. The short motion was makes no distinction between Russia, China and the other countries. Either in the contemporary period, or previous decades.

The position was agreed by the organisation, but not by everyone within it. However, unlike some other left groups, BF members didn’t regard a position on the nature of the Soviet Union as a fundamental issue in determining their membership. Most were probably only interested in taking a position which highlighted that “soviet type societies” were very different from both the sort of society they wanted to create and the one they were living in. They were less interested in the exact details of how the position was defined. To return to the question posed in the opening paragraph. The label state collectivist may have help, but only to a limited extent.

Archive Archie

Note: Titles of articles or documents in red and bold are links to the full version. Press on them to bring up a PDF of the document.

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EPISODES IN BIG FLAME HISTORY: No 24. Trotskyism

Posted by archivearchie on November 30, 2009

In Britain, unlike many other countries, Trotskyism has been a significant force on the revolutionary left. As Big Flame aimed to help develop a current in this political space, it is not surprising to find it devoting its attention to Trotskyism. One of its most popular pamphlets was published in 1977, entitled The Revolution Unfinished? A Critique of Trotskyism.

Before the Pamphlet

In August 1974 two BF members produced “Trotsky and Trotskyism: A Critique” for the Merseyside Big Flame educational programme. Around 1975 one of them produced another document “Class and Party in Trotskyism and Leninism”, originally intended as an article for Big Flame Journal. The two documents together can be seen as an early draft of the pamphlet. The first covered the same ground as sections 2 to 4 of The Revolution Unfinished? – the period between 1917 and 1960. The second discussed some key aspects of section 5 – the analysis of modern Trotskyism. The former is rather too long to be included here. However for purposes of comparison, this is the latter: Class and Party in Trotskyism and Leninism.

For reasons I am unaware of there was a long period of gestation between these documents of 1974-75 and the publication of the pamphlet in 1977. This was written by one of the authors of the earlier documents and a new collaborator, and was the first BF publication to carry the names of individuals on the cover rather than the previous anonymity. Perhaps this was to signal that it was a discussion document, and that not all the positions taken within it were agreed by BF. However, as far as I am aware, there wasn’t much internal disagreement (with one exception mentioned below) to the positions set out in The Revolution Unfinished?.

The Pamphlet

Here is the pamphlet – split into four parts:

The Revolution Unfinished?: front to section 2

The Revolution Unfinished?: sections 3 to 5(b)(i)

The Revolution Unfinished?: section 5(b)(ii) to 5(c)

The Revolution Unfinished?: section 5(d) to back

The arguments developed in the pamphlet cannot be summarised easily in a single paragraph. A few of the main criticisms of Trotskyism are its overemphasis on leadership and the elevation of consciousness above the conditions of struggle, a tendency towards the timeless application of abstract principles, the failure to give sufficient recognition to post World War 2 changes in capitalism, an obsession with bureaucracy e.g. in the emphasis on replacing bureaucratic leaders, and a simplistic view of the transition to socialism (something linear and uninterrupted).

The pamphlet contains the strongest pro-Chinese Cultural Revolution sentiments (albeit with some criticisms of developments in the country) to be found in any BF publication. It was this aspect of the pamphlet with which there was the most noticeable disagreement within Big Flame. The organisation, including the authors, was soon to take a more critical position in relation to China (for a discussion of BF debates on China see Episode 7). The discussion of the Labour Party (a vehement rejection of entryism) is also interesting in light of the subsequent political trajectory of the authors, and of others who helped them with the pamphlet.

Unlike many other political groups, Big Flame rarely used its publications to make explicit critiques of other groupings. The Revolution Unfinished? is the major exception, and here there was no in depth discussion of any contemporary organisation in Britain. Quotations are assembled from a variety of groups to illustrate general arguments about Trotskyism (although the last two pages do contain a diagrammatic family tree of British Trotskyist groups and a Glossary of the groups, with a few sentences on each).

Internal Documents

If you look at BF’s internal publications, you find more of a discussion of other left groups. “Towards a New Revolutionary Organisation” produced for an Open Conference of the Project (see Episode 11), contains a section on ‘The State of the Left’ with paragraphs on the Communist Party, Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and International Marxist Group” (IMG). While there are positive comments about the IMG (its initiatives have been “open and principled”) the differences “remain quite strong” and the conclusion is “we don’t see the IMG as a whole as part of the same potential political tendency as ourselves”.

Discussion of the IMG came to the fore as it invited Big Flame to participate in Socialist Unity – the standing of election candidates under a cross group platform. BF agreed, unlike a subsequent offer to participate in its newspaper Socialist Challenge. This article in the Internal Bulletin March 1978 was a contribution to the debate within BF: On the IMG’s Concept of the Vanguard and Ours. It argued that there were significant differences between the two concepts – BF’s concept was broader, and it saw the function of a newspaper as a tool for the vanguard to use in its political work, rather than an educator of the vanguard.

The IMG and ISA (the International Socialist Alliance) – a grouping of former members of the SWP [see post on ISA] – next approach BF with a proposal that the three organisations should work towards regroupment. The October 1978 Discussion Bulletin contained an article “Has Big Flame got a Future?”. This argued that while BF contained many “infantile opinions” about the IMG, the latter did exhibit “programme fetishism” and a tendency towards “caucus style politics”. Only one voice was raised in favour of the unity proposal, in an article in the next Discussion Bulletin November 1978 “For a Regroupment Project with the IMG/ISA”.

At the December 1978 there was a vote at the BF National Committee on whether or not to sign an appeal from the IMG and ISA on joint work as a move towards regroupment. Only the author of the last mentioned document voted in favour. The other 9 persons present voted against. The vote was influenced by a strong reaction amongst the BF membership against the idea of fusion with the IMG.

State Collectivism

The Revolution Unfinished? uses the term “state collectivism” in relation to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. This pamphlet led on to another one from Big Flame. About “soviet type societies”, it was called The Century of the Unexpected. This will be discussed in the next episode of this series.

Archive Archie

Note: Titles of articles or documents in red and bold are links to the full version. Press on them to bring up a PDF of the document.

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EPISODES IN BIG FLAME HISTORY: No 20 Children

Posted by archivearchie on November 2, 2009

Children-p1As the 1970s developed more and more members of Big Flame became parents and  the organisation’s interest in children as a political issue increased. In May 1980 BF held a Day School for its members on the topic of “Children and Socialism”. This was an opportunity to bring into the open the dilemmas and contradictions they felt. Much of the Discussion Bulletin for that month was given over to articles on this theme. Here are two of the articles:

Children and Socialism: Discussion Bulletin May 1980 and Children and Socialism (1981). 

Draws on an experience of collective childcare involving 6 adults and 3 children in two homes. Talks about supporting members of BF with children, noting some improvements in childcare within the organisation. Also considers the issue of passing politics on to children – letting them learn how politics is part of everyday life, that socialist politics can be fun, and that children must be given a chance to define what they do.

Socialism and Childcare: Discussion Bulletin May 1980 and Children and Socialism (1981).

Discusses the pressures on isolated mothers with very young children, the factors crucial to the job of bringing up children, and the how the medical profession controls women (induced childbirth, breast feeding) and how schools exclude them from involvement with the children (in relation to the last two issues there may have been some improvements over the last 30 years).

Other articles in the Bulletin were “Notes on Being a Red Teacher” (included in the post on Education see Episode 13), a guide to organising a crèche and one on Kinderhaus, a childcare facility in Hamburg.

The Day School involved workshops on the topics Women’s and Children’s Oppression; Possessiveness and Jealousy; Racism and Children; and Class Differences in the way we deal with Children. In 1981, about a year after the Day School, a pamphlet entitled Children and Socialism was issued. It included the previous Bulletin articles, the workshop notes (where available), a talk given in a general session and notes for the Opening Plenary session. Here are the Plenary notes:

Children and Socialism: Opening Plenary Session: Children and Socialism (1981). 

Covers a range of issues such as the difficulties of bringing up children as socialists; non-parents and kids; state nurseries and the interaction between revolutionary politics and bringing up children (the lack of sympathy from many on the left to the problems, resentment from children with parents constantly out at meetings).

Archive Archie

Note: Titles of articles or documents in red and bold are links to the full version. Press on them to bring up a PDF of the document.

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EPISODES IN BIG FLAME HISTORY: No 14. Racism and Fascism

Posted by archivearchie on September 22, 2009

Past-p1Big Flame members were active in the struggle against racism and fascism. Two pamphlets set out the perspectives they brought to these struggles. A Close Look at Fascism and Racism from 1978 is a collection of more journalistic pieces, mostly reprinted from the Big Flame newspaper. The Past against Our Future: Fighting Racism and Fascism from 1980 is a more analytic work, which sought to develop the theory that underlay the practice.

Elements in the Big Flame perspective included:

–          The focus on fascism with little attention to racism by much of the left was a mistake.

–          The term fascism is sometimes used too loosely to describe a variety of movements.

–          The ideas behind fascism are often more extreme examples of the “commonplace” and “common sense”.

–          Racism is more than prejudiced opinions but a whole process of domination built into the institutions of society.

–          Racism within the white working class is more than false consciousness as it has a material basis.

–          Because of the divisions within the working class and because real unity can only be based on equality of power, the autonomous organisation of black people should be supported.

–          Anti-racism and anti-fascism should not be abandoned in favour of other easier struggles or compartmentalised from those struggles.

–          There had been problems with both the network of local anti-racism anti-fascism committees and the Anti Nazi League (ANL) which operated during the 1970s.

CloseLook-p1Click here to view the two pamphlets – split into two and four parts:

A Closer Look at Fascism and Racism: front-p10

A Closer Look at Fascism and Racism: p11-back

The Past against Our Future: Intro & Ch1

The Past against Our Future: Ch2

The Past against Our Future: Ch3

The Past against Our Future: Ch4

As mentioned above, one theme developed in these pamphlets is the need to support the organisational and political autonomy of black people. However, there was not complete agreement within Big Flame on what this position meant. This is discussed in an article from the Discussion Bulletin of January 1984: Black Autonomy and the White Left (Note: This scan of a duplicated document will be difficult to read. I have included it as it is only two pages long).

Archive Archie

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EPISODES IN BIG FLAME HISTORY: No 13. Education

Posted by archivearchie on July 13, 2009

Crisis-p1Teachers in Big Flame came together at various times in the 1970s as part of an Education (or Teachers) Commission or a more general Public Sector Commission.

As with other Commissions experiences and strategic perspective were brought together in a pamphlet. Published in 1977 it was called The Crisis in Education. A draft version had been circulated the previous year, and the final version took on board comments from a broad collection of people involved in education.

Looking back from 2009 in the light of thirty years of Labour and Conservative Government policy on education can influence our perspective. Schools and further education in the 1970s can easily appear in a better light than the way socialists saw them at the time. However, in the mid 1970s schools experienced rounds of severe cuts as part of a general process of the state reducing public expenditure. Right wing traditionalists had launched attacks on progressive methods of education. Steps were underway towards a core curriculum and to increase the links between schools and industry.

The pamphlet saw the cuts as not simply about reducing expenditure, but as a process to restructure education to make it more controllable by the state and big business. The task for socialists, it argued, as not just to defend the status quo but to raise questions about the kind of education and learning we wanted. The pamphlet starts to raise these questions. Whilst those involved in producing the pamphlet would later acknowledge that it lacked practical direction and that its feminist content was inadequate, it stands up fairly well to the test of time. Click here to view the pamphlet – split into two parts:

The Crisis in Education: front-p12

The Crisis in Education: p13-back

An article in the Discussion Bulletin May 1980 took up the issue of how socialist teachers might apply their ideas in a classroom. The author writes: “what I have developed is practical and largely an extension of liberal/radical education ideas with a dash of socialism added.” Click here to view Notes on Being a Red Teacher. This article was later reprinted in a pamphlet Children and Socialism.

Archive Archie

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EPISODES IN BIG FLAME HISTORY: No 11. 1976-78 Debate – The Project and Socialist Unity

Posted by archivearchie on June 30, 2009

78ConfMot-p1Episode 5 of this series covered a Big Flame internal debate in 1975. This post covers one aspect of the debate between 1976 and 1978 – how to create a larger organisation with others who had similar politics.

The history of Big Flame can be seen as an ongoing debate with members pulling in two directions – those striving to uphold Big Flame’s traditional political positions and those who felt these needed some form of revision. This is inevitably a simplification – sometimes there were more than two positions, the issues being debated often changed, and people moved in and out of the two camps – but it does help provide one key to understanding of the organisation’s development. There were no permanent names for the two groupings. In 1976 the labels Plans X and Y were used. Unlike 1975, the split was not a geographic one. For example, the three movers of the Plan X position came from West London, Liverpool and Leeds, whilst the three movers of Plan Y came from Liverpool, South London and Manchester.

The Project

The Plan X motion at the October 1976 Big Flame conference proposed what became known as the Project for a New Revolutionary Organisation. The starting point was that Big Flame’s politics had a lot to offer the working class, but were having little impact. This was because BF has a “small organisation mentality” and those who shared its politics were fragmented and isolated. There were many, perhaps without realising it, who shared the same ideas as BF (referred to as the working class autonomy tendency). To make a qualitative leap forward a new organisation was required which would be different from Big Flame simply growing. BF should be willing to dissolve itself within a year to help the new organisation come into being. The first step to bring potential members together would be to write a Manifesto/strategic programme.

Plan Y’s alternative approach was for political centralisation of leadership, ideas and resources. This together with systematic mass work inside key united fronts would enable Big Flame to grow steadily. The proposal for the Project was criticised. Plan Y supporters didn’t believe there was a semi-constituted political tendency similar to BF. They doubted whether several of the names mentioned in the Plan X document as people who could be approached had common politics with BF. The argued that trying to create a new organisation in a period of political defeat before and to stimulate a higher level of class struggle was a denial of materialism. Finally, they queried the suggestion that women’s and black groups should be approached to be part of the organisation was a misunderstanding of autonomy.

When the vote was taken, it was Plan X which won the day. Click here to view the two positions Towards a New Communist Movement [first part] (Plan X) and Put Politics in Command [first part] (Plan Y) [the second half of both document are omitted as they name a lot of individuals whom the Plan X document suggested could be approached to form part of the proposed new organisation].

DraftMan-p1In line with the motion passed at the 1976 Conference, in March 1977 Big Flame published a Draft Manifesto for the proposed new organisation Towards a New Revolutionary Socialist Organisation. It provides the best extended discussion of BF’s general politics ever published. The pamphlet contains an analysis of modern capitalism, the changing composition of the working class, the nature of reformism, an explanation of the terms mass politics and working class autonomy, and an understanding of the dynamic between party and class.

Click here to view the pamphlet – split into three parts:

Towards a New Revolutionary Socialist Organisation: front-pviii

Towards a New Revolutionary Socialist Organisation: p1-p10

Towards a New Revolutionary Socialist Organisation: p11-back

The Project fizzled out with out much in the way of an explanation or balance sheet of the experience. There were some successes, as in West London where the local BF group’s contacts were brought together to create a large Socialist Network. But this was the exception. There was some growth in Big Flame – the Revolutionary Marxist Current (RMC) (see post about the RMC) and some individuals who responded to Project decided to join BF. However, this was very different from the original aim. Opponents of the Project repeated their criticisms: “The mistake of the project was to believe that BF could be the major centre and organisational focus for creating such a qualitatively different organisation. We simply do not have the political clarity, size and roots in the struggle to play such a role” (Internal Bulletin October 1977).

At the next Big Flame conference in May 1978, two motions were passed on left unity – one from former Plan X supporters and one from former Plan Y supporters. However, because of an amendment to the latter which inserted text from the former, the key sections of both motions were identical. The common text rejected regroupment, merger or reallignment as the solution and reflecting on the past few years stated “It has been a failing of BF to believe it could achieve such a project in isolation from the rest of the left, and in a relatively short space of time”. This replaced some text which was against regroupment as the fusion of existing organisations but added “we should be willing to unite with any force on the revolutionary left on given conditions”.

SULogoSocialist Unity

At a conference to assess developments with the Project in July 1977 Tariq Ali of the International Marxist Group (IMG) had invited Big Flame to participate in the IMG’s newspaper Socialist Challenge. Big Flame had already taken a decision in favour of standing independent working class candidates at elections, and in September 1977 supported an IMG candidate at a Parliamentary by-election in Birmingham. This led on to the IMG’s next proposal – for candidates to stand at Parliamentary and local elections under the name Socialist Unity (SU). A motion passed at the 1978 Big Flame conference confirmed BF’s position: “We should continue to support SU as a priority area of our work and continue with our perspective that it is more than an electoral alliance”. BF had argued with Socialist Unity for a continuing presence in an area after elections were over.

The Internal Bulletin included a series of articles on Socialist Unity. Nearly all of them described problems encountered working with the IMG. Several argued that Socialist Unity should not aim to be anything more than an electoral alliance. There is caution about Socialist Unity being seen as another “miracle solution” like the Project. Click here to view some of the articles from the debate.

Big Flame and Socialist Unity (Internal Bulletin October 1977)

The Debate on Socialist Unity (Internal Bulletin October 1977)

Socialist Unity (Internal Bulletin December 1977)

Socialist Unity: A Critical Assessment (newspaper June 1979)

Only the last article draws attention to one matter. However well it is felt things went locally in terms of independents being drawn into joint work, the overall voting figures were invariably disappointing. No better than those achieved by previous far left candidates at elections.

Big Flame decided not to participate in Socialist Challenge, keeping its own paper. When the IMG suggested unity talks between the two organisations and the ISA (International Socialists Alliance, a group of former International Socialists members – see post about the ISA), very few people in Big Flame had any sympathy with the idea, and the proposal was rejected. Soon after the overtures from the IMG came to an end, as it directed its attention to a “turn to industry” and then the Labour Party.

Those who had been most supportive of participation in SU believed it was “highly successful political initiative” improving BF’s profile on the left (Discussion Bulletin October 1978).The 1978 conference vote on supporting Socialist Unity had been overwhelming, with little in the way of opposition voices. In retrospect, some others in Big Flame came to see this phase in BF history as another step in the path away from its traditional positions. The mass work which had previously characterised BF had been “unconsciously undermined” by a series of debates about “joining with the IMG, joining Socialist Challenge, getting involved with Socialist Unity” (Discussion Bulletin October 1981), These debates were also seen as leading on to a later one about Labour Party membership. However, further discussion of this must wait until a later episode in this series (see Episode 27).

Archive Archie

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EPISODES IN BIG FLAME HISTORY: No 10. Chile and Portugal

Posted by archivearchie on June 21, 2009

In addition to Italy, the two countries from which the early Big Flame developed the greatest political lessons were Chile and Portugal. Two of its earliest pamphlets were devoted to these countries. The issues which Big Flame emphasised in them were different from those highlighted by the rest of the revolutionary left in Britain – “what was needed was a revolutionary party with the right programme”. Instead Big Fame focussed on the positive things which happened for a brief time in both countries. Developments that can be best viewed through the phrase “Popular Power”. Chile 1970-73 and Portugal 1975 were seen as key moments in the struggles of the working class alongside such other as Russia 1917, Italy 1921 and Spain and France 1936.

Si-p1Chile

The pamphlet Chile Si! was published in 1974. The bulk of it is devoted to the period between the election of the Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) Government in September 1970 to the military coup in September 1973. There are short sections on the period since the coup and on the group Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Left Movement) [MIR], which I will discuss in a separate post (see Movimento de Izquierda Revolucionara [MIR]). An article from Lotta Continua “The Chilean Lesson” from February 1974 was reprinted.

During 1970-73 the actions of Popular Unity set in motion a mass struggle in which various forms of direct democracy were created as people gained the confidence to do things for themselves. There were occupations of industry and land, and after taking control of production, this was followed by distribution and transport. The mechanisms were the Cordones Industriales (Industrial Assemblies) and the Comando Comunal (Area Assemblies).

Click here to view the pamphlet – split into four parts:

Chile Si!: front-p10

Chile Si!: p11-p25

Chile Si!: p26-p37

Chile Si!: p38-back

 

Blaze-p1Portugal

The pamphlet Portugal A Blaze of Freedom was published in 1975. It looks at developments since the military coup which overthrew fascism in April 1974. As in Chile, there was a pattern of occupations, strikes, Factory Commissions, Agricultural Co-ops, Neighbourhood Committees, etc.

Attention is given to the role of the Movimento das Forces Armadas (Armed Forces Movement) [MFA]. While divisions within the MFA were recognised, it was described as in many ways “the party of the working class”. This was because the Portuguese Communist Party was one of the “most Stalinist” and a “break on the development of working class power” and all the revolutionary parties had no roots in the country prior to 1974. Big Flame members were later to acknowledge that they had been too optimistic about the MFA.

After the pamphlet was published, the developments Big Flame championed came to an abrupt end. In September 1975 moderates gained control of the MFA. In November the same year they seized control of the country (the “cold coup”), on the basis that they were responding to a Communist Party attempted coup. Militants from groups like the Partido Revolucionário do Proletariado (Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat) [PRP] were arrested, and the mechanisms of popular power disbanded.

Otelo Saravaria de Carvalho, one of the leaders of the radical elements in the MFA stood as the left candidate in the Presidential election in 1976 and came second with 16.2% of the vote (four years later he got only 1.5%). In 1985 he was arrested a charged with being the leader of a terrorist organisation. He received a 15 year sentence, before being granted an amnesty.

Click here to view the pamphlet – split into four parts:

Portugal A Blaze of Freedom: front-p12

Portugal A Blaze of Freedom: p13-Supp piv

Portugal A Blaze of Freedom: Supp pv-p22

Portugal A Blaze of Freedom: p23-back

Archive Archie

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EPISODES IN BIG FLAME HISTORY: No 9. Ireland

Posted by archivearchie on June 17, 2009

When Big Flame became a national organisation in 1975, the minimum political agreement for the group stated: “We oppose British involvement in Northern Ireland, and support the republican and revolutionary demands for troops out now, for self determination for Irish people as a whole, and for a united socialist Ireland”. In the years that followed motions on Ireland at Big Flame Conferences repeatedly contained the slogans of the Troops Out Movement: “Troops Out Now” and “Self Determination for the Irish People as a Whole”. Sometimes with an additional one along the lines of “Solidarity with all forces fighting British Imperialism in Ireland”.

Rising-p1Big Flame’s Analysis

Big Flame’s only extended discussion of Ireland was in a 1975 pamphlet Ireland: Rising in the North. The analysis in the pamphlet was largely similar to that of many other left groups: The origin of the situation in the north of Ireland was traced back to British imperialism and the partition of the country. The introduction of British troops was seen not as move not to keep the peace, but to contain Catholic rebellion. However, there were also two themes not so commonly found in other discussions:

(a) An emphasis on the “creative and revolutionary power” of the working class in Ireland. Shown for example in the “massive community mobilisation” in 1972 which led to the abolition of Stormont – the street demonstrations, rioting, strikes, and the withholding of rent, rates and utilities payments.

(b) The differences between the Catholic and Loyalist communities were based in real divisions in the working class, material interests which could not be wished away. Big Flame saw this as a lesson for Britain, where divisions in the working class (e.g. on the basis of race) also needed to be acknowledged.

Another aspect of the pamphlet was the fear that the Government might impose a Loyalist takeover, relying on the war weariness of the Catholic population to achieve this end. This didn’t happen in the form anticipated in the 1970s, although some might argue in the light of recent developments that this perspective was somewhat prescient.

Click here to view the pamphlet – split into three parts [warning: downloading may take some time]:

Ireland: Rising in the North: front-p12

Ireland: Rising in the North: p13-p22

Ireland: Rising in the North: p23-back

Obviously this pamphlet wasn’t the only place where Ireland was discussed. There was a regular series of a bulletin Irish Struggle Notes and extensive coverage in the newspaper (including a history of the last ten years in Ireland published in 1978-79).

TOM2

Troops Out Movement

The Troops Out Movement (TOM) was founded in October 1973 by six people, two of whom were Big Flame militants. Over the next few years, when most left groups abandoned Irish solidarity work, Big Flame had a record of consistent activity. Then when some left groups sought to take over TOM, Big Flame’s so-called “community orientated” approach to solidarity work was dismissed. The BF perspective was the subject to caricature. It was not against work in Parliament, the trade union movement and the Labour Party. It was against these being the sole work for TOM.

This report to the October 1976 Big Flame Conference has a lot of detail about exactly what was happening in that year. It also has an interesting discussion of debates within TOM between those solely interested in work in the labour movement, and those who also advocate “mass work” in local areas, with Irish people, school children, students, etc. Click here to view Irish Commission Report.

Big Flame saw the question of Ireland as something all members should raise, not just those with Irish solidarity as a specific work area. This document written in the lead up to the November 1979 Big Flame Conference was a guide for how this could be done. Click here to view But How Can I Raise the Question of Ireland from Day to Day? [warning: because this document was printed on a coloured background, it is difficult to read in places].

Unconditional Support

At its November 1981 conference Big Flame passed a motion on Irish and other international solidarity work. This sought to remedy an apparent contradiction, which occurred at the 1980 conference when the position set out below was adopted for international solidarity work in general, but for Ireland it was agreed that “any criticism we may have would only be made within the anti-imperialist and solidarity movements”. The position agreed in 1981 was:

“We are in solidarity with all national liberation struggles which are anti-imperialist. We do not make our support for these struggles conditional on them being struggles for socialism. In our solidarity work we give support specifically to those forces carrying forward the socialist and/or feminist and/or anti-racist and/or gay struggles.

…We retain the right to criticise any national liberation struggle because we are concerned with developing an opposition to imperialism the world over – not just in one country. And because we recognise that in itself ‘anti-imperialism’ may not be progressive in the sense of advocacy of the workers, women, peasant and gay movements. Any criticisms we make of a national liberation movement must be made within the general context of solidarity and on the basis of a thorough understanding of the history of the movement and the conditions and needs of its struggle.”

An article in the Discussion Bulletin of March 1983 explains the issues which lay behind the motion: the difficulties campaigners for Irish self determination face in making any criticisms of groups in Ireland in a climate of anti-Irish hysteria. The article was in response to the approach of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Click here to view SWP and Ireland.

TOM1

Bombings in England

Big Flame was careful in exercising its right to criticise. Such criticisms as were made publicly were oblique and highly qualified. An article in the newspaper no5 Nov-Dec 1972 said that oppressed people in Ireland had the right to use violence, but it did not “necessarily agree with every single act”. In no 23 Dec 1974 the Birmingham bombings were condemned, but attributed to the British presence in Ireland. A further article in no 77 Aug 1979 said of the Provisionals “they may have used tactics we in Big Flame disagree with”.

The November 1979 Big Flame Conference documents included a debate on responding to Irish military activity in England. The first article argues that “moral grounds” can enter into judgements of actions as well as their political objectives, and that a sustained military campaign in Britain could be counter productive to the objective of the withdrawal of British troops. The second article starts from the position that Big Flame has the right to criticise publicly if that is its view. It then goes on to argue that bombings do not aid an anti-war movement. The author’s position is distinguished from one based on “abstract moral rules”. Click here to view Discussion on Ireland and Contribution to the debate on Ireland .

Archive Archie

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