Big Flame

1970-1984

Posts Tagged ‘Chile’

LOTTA CONTINUA Part 3 (Related Political Organisatons no 2)

Posted by archivearchie on May 24, 2011

I posted on this site a brief review of the history and positions of Lotta Continua. I then followed this up in Lotta Continua Part 2 by making available some articles written by or about Lotta Continua from the Big Flame Internal Bulletin. I now want to conclude this series (unless something more BF/LC related which I don’t know about turns up) with two items I have obtained since the last post. Another internal document and a pamphlet published by West London Big Flame.

Discussion with Lotta Continua members no3

I previously published two sets of notes of conversations between BF and LC members from the BF Internal Bulletin. This discussion predates them. The discussions took place in January 1974 before Big Flame had an Internal Bulletin: Italy 1973.

Sections of the notes set out LC’s views on contemporary developments in Italian politics (the fall of one coalition Government and its replacement by another) and the Oil Crisis. Of more interest today are the Lotta Continua members’ responses to three questions from BF:

–   Changes in its attitude towards factory delegates (equivalent to shop stewards in Britain). With the failure of autonomous assemblies LC members were standing for delegate positions, but not feeling obliged to follow the decisions of delegate committees.

–   Its attitude towards the Italian Communist Party (PCI). The LC members took from developments in Chile the importance of the space created by the Allende Government in supporting the formation of bodies like the cordones obreros. Their strategy was for working class pressure to force the PCI into some form of Popular Unity Government (this was despite the PCI having shifted its position in favour of the “historic compromise” of an alliance with forces to its right).

–   Its attitude towards women’s struggles. This was answered by a women LC comrade who was angry with LC’s lack of a perspective on women. She said it was up to women in LC to change this situation. Her remarks are interesting in the light of developments in Lotta Continua in the years which followed.

Documents from the 1975 Lotta Continua Congress

Libcom has posted a pamphlet produced by West London Big Flame: Fighting for Feminism: The ‘Women Question’ in an Italian Revolutionary Group. The local group also produced another Lotta Continua related pamphlet.

Lotta Continua only ever had two National Congresses. It fell apart after the second in 1976. What happened there is recorded in detail in Il 2. Congresso di Lotta Continua, Rimini, 31 ottobre- 4 novembre (Rome: Edizion Co-op Giornalisti LC, 1976). Extracts in English can be found in the Red Notes pamphlet Italy 1977-9: Living with an Earthquake pp 81-96. The West London BF pamphlet covers the earlier Congress which was held in 1975: Documents from Lotta Continua.

Despite Lotta Continua being formed in 1969, it did not hold its first national meeting to constitute itself as a party until January 1975. Three Big Flame members attended as observers. The pamphlet is in three parts:

–   A brief summary of the Congress by BF.

–   Translations of some of the key Congress documents – on Materialism, on Tactics, on Internationalism and on the LC Newspaper.

–   Notes by a BF member on the Workshop on Women. This shows the diversity of opinions held by LC women members, some fairly critical of the organisation.

Archive Archie

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OPINIONS ABOUT BIG FLAME no 2: PAUL THOMPSON

Posted by archivearchie on July 17, 2009

This post is on behalf of Paul Thompson. It is the third in what will be a series of “Opinions about Big Flame”, which will set out a variety of different assessments of the organisation by ex-members.
 
Paul was a member of Big Flame in Liverpool from its inception to 1981. He was co-author of the pamphlet The Revolution Unfinished? A Critique of Trotskyism (1977), and of numerous contributions to internal Big Flame debates.He left Big Flame in 1981 to join the Labour Party. He became Chair of the Labour Co-ordinating Committee in the mid-1980s and remained on its executive until founding Renewal: A Journal of Labour Politics in 1993, along with three other LCC executive members. He edited the journal for 13 years, working closely with Neal Lawson. In 2003, he was one of the founding signatories to Compass, which has now grown to be a leading left pressure group with a presence inside and outside the Labour Party.
 
Paul has held professorial positions at the Universities of Central Lancashire, Edinburgh and Strathclyde, where he currently has a Chair in Organisational Analysis. He has written or edited a number of books, the most recent of which have been The Oxford Handbook of Work and Organisation (with Stephen Ackroyd, Rosemary Batt and Pamela Tolbert – Oxford University Press, 2004), Participation and Democracy at Work (with Bill Harley and Jeff Hyman – Palgrave, 2005), New Technology @ Work (with Paul Boreham, Rachel Parker, and Richard Hall  – Routledge, 2007) and Work Organisations (with David McHugh – 4th edition, Palgrave 2009) .
 
Note: Paul’s article was originally written for publication in the Socialist Register. The article which was published in the Socialist Register 1981 (Merlin Press) by John Howell can be found here: Big Flame: Resituating Socialist Strategy and Organisation’
 
 
Paul comments:

Designating the article below an ‘opinion about Big Flame’ is a little misleading on two counts. It is not a retrospective ‘take’ from my 2009 incarnation as a left social democrat. Rather it is an account of the evolution of BF’s politics written in 1980/1. Second, whilst all such perspectives are subjective, I intended at the time that it would not be partisan with respect to the organisation’s by then politically fractured membership. Although the article was intended to be signed in my name, it was written to reflect the views of Big Flame as a whole rather than my personal opinions. It was commissioned by Socialist Register (for its 1981 edition) and allocated to me by the National Committee, of which I was a member (and to whom I brought the draft).  My memory at that point is vague, but those with better memories than me say that Socialist Register regarded it as too long and that the editing task was given to another Big Flame member. Apparently he found it easier to write a new article rather than edit the existing one. Therefore the published article was completely different from my draft. Given the amount of time I spent on this, I don’t remember being too concerned. This is probably because I and others (including, ironically, the author of the new version) were on the point of exit from BF and ‘entry’ into the Labour Party.

No doubt this will lead some to think that my protestations about non-partisanship are bogus or self-deluding. Read and draw your own conclusions. I just want to make a few brief points. The draft tries hard to tell a coherent story that links theory and practice. Of course, it overstates the coherence, partly because hindsight is a good teacher and because publication in Socialist Register would allow us to ‘put our best foot forward’. This also helps to explain why it starts with links to a (larger) international movement. But throughout, the account tries to be honest and reflective about events, experiences; innovations and limitations. After the international opening, it defaults to earlier history and tries to show the impact of the Italian connection, first on industrial, then on community and social movement practices.  Pretty much all the internally and externally contentious issues covered in documentation elsewhere on this site are represented in the rest of the document: the politics of autonomy; the nature of socialist societies; party, class and movements. The only issue I was surprised to find absent was the experience of electoral work in Socialist Unity. It does, however, in the last section address the question of reformism and the state in the context of the downturn in militancy and the eventual rise of Thatcherism. Whilst the discussion probably reflects something of the exit route I and others were taking, the section does engage with issues of ‘transitional politics’ that the whole organisation had been grappling with out of the experience of Chile, Portugal, as well as the domestic political agenda.  Reading the article reinforced the sense for me that it was the end of a journey – one that shaped my life and politics and which I don’t regret, but have no interest in repeating or regurgitating. And that’s pretty much how I view the site in general.

Socialist Register draft article

BIG FLAME: HISTORY AND POLITICS

1. THE EMERGENCE OF A NEW POLITICS

In June 1979, a number of Far Left organisations from different countries came together on a common platform to use the context of the EEC Elections to raise key issues under the theme – ‘Against the Bosses Europe: For workers’ Unity’. The organisations involved, included some of the most significant revolutionary Marxist groupings in Europe, notably Ventresocialsterne (VS:Denmark), Democrazia Proletaria (DP:Italy),. Moviemento Cominista (MC:Spain), Kommunistischer Bund (KB:Germany), and the Oganisation Communist de Travailleurs (OCT:France). DP succeeded in getting a representative elected to the European Parliament, while VS and MC have representatives at national levels. (1)

One of the smaller groupings was Big Flame as the English component of the Co-ordination. In Britain and Europe, Big Flame has had an influence out of proportion to its size in debates among socialist militants. This emphasises the central importance given by militants to questioning vital aspects of socialist theory and practice. The major theme of this article is an attempt to situate such re-thinking and the contribution of Big Flame, in the context of emergence of a new independent Marxist current on an international scale, before, during and after the resurgence of class and social struggles in the late 1960’s.

Despite attempts to stick a common label on this ‘tendency’, like ‘soft Maoist’ (2) it is not politically unified. Nor does it have any desires or pretensions to be a ‘Fifth International’. What they have in common is an attempt to critically evaluate existing political traditions in the light of changes in the nature of capitalist societies. As the Movimento Communista put it:

“Too often past legacies or external contributions are assimilated uncritically, leading to a simple repetition instead of contrasting them with reality and discarding what is erroneous. This has impoverished and atomized the revolutionary left, leading not to a clear divide between revolutionaries and reformist, but to the multiplication of dogmatic sects.” (3)

 Many of the cadres forming the new organizations were ex-members of the orthodox Socialist and Communist Parties, as well as from Trotskyist and radical nationalist formations. The specific national dimensions of these political developments were given added impetus by the uneven impact of international and domestic events. The increasing success of anti-imperialist movements in the Third World, the crisis of the super-powers of the USSR and USA, the emergence of Cuba and China as alternative ‘models’, were all felt differently according to the location and assimilation into the existing political traditions of each country. When combined with the uneven development of worker, student, regional, womens’ and other struggles, diverse political development was guaranteed.

In retrospect, looking back over the last decade, common themes do appear among the new organizations in addition to the points already mentioned. The most prominent of these include:

  • A changed and wider conception of the working class than held by other currents, focusing on the less skilled mass worker, immigrants, tenants and those on the margins’ of modern capitalism.
  • Consequently, a greater sympathy and support for new movements, not only of women and gay people, but national, regional and cultural struggles.
  • Trying to react by constructing more open forms of organization than the traditional vanguard or social-democratic types, with an emphasis on the personal life of the militant and pre-figurative socialist politics.
  • A positive assessment of the Cultural Revolution in China, seeing it as evidence of mass politics, a possibility of avoiding the Russian model and an emphasis on the transformation of social as well as property relations in the transition to socialism.

Yet this is retrospective. It is more important to grasp the process of practical and theoretical development that led in these directions. This is particularly important for Big Flame, for our starting point in the late 1960’s was very different. Big Flame started life as a local socialist newspaper put together by a group of left-wing activists and rank and file workers of various ideological persuasions. It had a specific Merseyside flavour and politically reflected the period of trade union disenchantment with the Labour Government in its last years. The actual politics, however, were based primarily on information about the system and struggles against it, rather than any line. Its orientation was primarily industrial and it built up a very big sale in the larger factories. Even the name reflected industrial roots, being based on the title of a TV play dealing with the imaginary occupation of the Liverpool docks by port workers.

Yet, information was a political issue, as rank and file workers were mot getting it from the official labour movement. ‘Student-worker’ links may not have been as dramatic as in Italy and France, but it manifested itself in initiatives like Big Flame, who were prepared to popularise new ways of working, tactics and demands for a growing number of militants seeking alternatives.

Of course, once information is discussed as politics, it was impossible for the original coalition putting out the paper to survive the inevitable divisions. The nucleus left was made up of people breaking from rival orthodoxies of Leninism and libertarianism. They found themselves thrown into the Pilkington strike in 1971, which was a significant indicator of just how far workers had to struggle against their own union machines, as well as the employers. Big Flame became almost the official paper of the strike committee, and the lessons learnt were useful in a series of servicing jobs that the political collective did for shop stewards’ committees and groups of workers in disputes at Fords, in the Post Office and other places in that year. For while the paper itself collapsed, there was plenty of call for political and technical help with leaflets and other initiatives. The major general initiative was put into an abortive attempt to set up a Merseyside Rank and File Committee.

The rather limited servicing role adopted was a reaction to existing left-wing theory and practice. For even those outside the ‘official’ movement, mainly Trotskyists, had not broken from manipulative and bureaucratic political methods. These primarily consisted of making demands on Labour and trade union leaders in order to ‘expose’ them, calling for general strikes that had no chance of happening and endless new leaders in preference to different politics and ways of organising. Despite the denunciation of existing political programmes, working class politics was still seen as defensive, largely economistic trade unionism, socialism being a sphere of Party propaganda and special occasions like elections and May Day rallies. It was no accident that the organisation seeking to break most from these traditions of the Far Left – the International Socialists – and which put most emphasis on rank and file activity, grew fastest in these conditions.

In opposing these ideas, beyond being committed to exploring new ways of building independent working class activity, Big Flame did not have a well formed political alternative. Nor did the practice extend beyond the industrial sphere. By the middle of 1971, the activists were formed in a number of sexually mixed ‘base groups’ comprising of internal and external militants at places like Fords, Standards and Plesseys. The stress was still mainly on servicing the struggle. Anything more structured and politically directed was seen, misleadingly, as detracting from working class self activity.

More positively, emphasis was laid on learning through practice. This slow and uneven process would have been helped by being more aware of earlier experiences like that of the British New left of the late 1950’s. Their opposition to a tradition on the Left, which had come to see the Party as the subject of history and the working class as passive object, allied to the struggle against theoretical dogmatism, had much to offer. Bur for the ‘children of 68’, that is when history began, and the older groups which had tended to drift away from explicit revolutionary socialist theory and practice were seen as ‘part of the problem’. Big Flame’s main source of inspiration and influence was to come from parallel groups abroad, notably in Italy. The next section explores the basic political foundations of this new tendency in the early 1970’s.

Click here to read the full text of Big Flame History & Politics

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MOVIMIENTO DE IZQUIERDA REVOLUCIONARIA [MIR] (Related Political Organisations no 3)

Posted by archivearchie on June 26, 2009

Episode 10 in the Big Flame History series mentioned a left group in Chile – the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Left Movement) [MIR]. This post gives some more information about the group. An argument can be made that in terms of left groups outside Britain, the MIR’s influence on the early Big Flame was second only to that of Lotta Continua.    

MIR1Beginnings 

The MIR was founded in August 1965 as an attempt to bring together a variety of revolutionary left anti-electoral forces. It included people who came from the Socialist party, Communist Party, trotskyist and anarchist backgrounds. At a congress in 1967, the General Secretary elected in 1965, Enrique Sepulveda (a veteran Trotskyist), was replaced by Miguel Enriquez (then aged just 23). A group of Enriguez’s friends from university days such as Bautista Van Schouwen and Luciano Cruz (who died in an accident in August 1971) also assumed prominent positions. The personnel changes were accompanied by a clearer political definition of MIR’s positions, with a greater emphasis on armed struggle. Some forces such as the anarchists left.  

A Declaration of Principles gave MIR’s objective as being “the Marxist-Leninist vanguard of the working class and the oppressed and exploited masses of Chile”. It called for “an audacious revolutionary policy capable of opposing this cynical violence with a virile and proud response from the armed masses”. Many commentators have seen a clear connection between MIR and the ideas of the Cuban revolution. However, in a recent interview Andres Pascal Allende, General Secretary from 1974 to 1985, played this connection down.   

In the late 1960s the MIR conducted a series of “expropriations” – bank robberies, bombings, the kidnapping and public humiliation of a right wing journalist – which resulted in its leaders needing to go underground.    

MIR2Under Popular Unity 

In the run up to the September 1970 election, the Popular Unity candidate Salvador Allende met Miguel Enriguez. As a result MIR suspended its armed actions. After the election victory Allende pardoned or waived legal actions against Miristas. MIR remained outside Popular Unity and did not participate in the election.  

During the Popular Unity period the MIR sought every opportunity to push for popular power, encouraging land and factory occupations. It had a wider conception of the revolutionary movement than other groups, sending militants to work amongst the peasants, and with the unemployed and other marginalised sectors in the cities. MIR believed that an armed confrontation with the right was inevitable and the key task was to prepare for this.   

Under the Military Junta   

When the coup occurred in September 1973, the MIR for the most part did not confront the military directly but went underground. It had built up a network of safe houses and arms dumps, and adopting the slogan “The MIR does not exile itself” said it would take way MIR membership from anyone who left the country.    

Miguel Enriguez

Miguel Enriguez

 The secret police DINA (Direccion Nacional de Inteligencia – National Intelligence Directorate) targetted its activities on MIR in the early years after the coup. Through the torture of those captured and a series of so-called “armed confrontations” DINA decimated the organisation.   

–      In December 1973 Bautista Van Schouwen was arrested and “disappeared” (desaparecido).   

–       In October 1974 the General Secretary Miguel Enriquez was shot dead.   

–       In October 1975 some of the remaining MIR leaders were attacked in the village of Molloco, and either killed or, like the new General Secretary Andres Pascal Allende, forced into exile after seeking refuge in a foreign embassy.   

–       In April 1976 Edguardo Enriquez (Miguel’s brother) who went abroad to gather international support was arrested by the Argentinian police and disappeared.After the end of the junta, the Rettig report found that 384 Miristas died or disappeared. That is 16.9% of the membership (a percentage not too different to that for the Communist Party or the Socialist Party). One surviving leading MIR member has estimated that 80% of the leadership cadres were casualties, and 10% of the membership.   

Starting in 1977 Miristas who had fled abroad and received military training started to return to Chile (Oparacion Retorno). A series of small scale attacks took place in both the countryside and the cities. However serious losses of life in 1981-83 (including the deaths of Arturo Villabella and Hugo Ratier) had a severe impact on MIR’s capacity. The last MIR armed action was around January 1988.   

In 1987 differences within the MIR came to the fore, and it split into three factions. These were exacerbated by Pinochet’s defeat in a plebiscite in October 1988 over another 8 years as President, and the formation of a centre-right opposition alliance which won the election in December 1989. Two of the factions MIR-Historico (led by Andres Pascal Allende) and MIR-Militar (led by Hernan Aguilo) retained a belief in armed struggle and a suspicion of electoral activity. The third MIR-Politico (led by Nelson Gutierrez) renounced the armed struggle and campaigned for a “No” vote in the plebiscite and joined the Communist Party and others in an electoral alliance (Izquierda Unida – United Left).   

MIR leaders sought to dissolve the organisation in the early 1990s and only the third variant survives today as a small organisation participating in another electoral alliance formed in 2003 with the Communist Party and others – Junto Podemos Mas por Chile (Together We Can Do More for Chile, Podemos is also an acronym for Poder Democratico Social – Social Democratic Power).   

Archive Archie   

Note:   

I thought it might be helpful to list some of the sources I found on the internet whilst researching this article. They are all in Spanish unless otherwise stated.   

There are many documents both original ones from MIR and contemporary commentaries at Centro de Estudios Miguel Enriquez and Centro de Estudios Públicos (some of the same documents are on both sites). They include a couple of articles in English by Cristián Pérez: A History of the MIR and The Years of Shootings and Torture (1973-1975): The Last Days of Miguel Enriquez.   

As mentioned above the only surviving MIR offshoot comes out of MIR-Politico (founded by Nelson Gutierrez) This has a site: http:/chile-mir.org. The site is currently unavailable, but promises to return. Documents on the site include:   

‘Declaración de Principios’ (Declaration of Principles) from 1974.   

‘La matriz cultural mirista etc…’ (MIR’s cultural matrix…) gives a description of the different splits since 1986 as well as other groups who claim to have been influenced by them.   

‘Porque seguimos siendo MIR’ (why we are still MIR’) explains why the group still uses the name MIR and their current platform.   

‘Entrevista realizado por CEDEMA’ (long interview carried out by CEDEMA (Armed Movements Documentation Centre) also gives a good overview of the history and what they are up to today.   

There is another site about the same group: http://mir-chile.cl/. Unfortunately most of the links are not working.   

There is a 2003 interview with Andrés Pascal Allende, and a 2000 article by Andrés Pascal Allende.   

Also a 2007 interview with Hernán Aguilo.   

Finally In English some memories of the young Miguel Enriquez by Marcelo Ferrada Nodi.   

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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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