Anarchism in North East England 1882-1992 [review]
This is a big book, but don’t let that put you off, it’s a great piece of history from below. The work that has gone into it is animated by the Archivist’s passion for the subject. They are intent on giving ‘a voice to the voiceless’, to anarchists who are often written out of history (even what passes for anarchist history!): ‘for the first time, this history records what they were actually speaking about at open air meetings, what they were saying during lectures, and what they wereactually writing about at the time, hence long sections of the book are given over to them.’ [p10]
The results of this patient search are presented chronologically. There are familiar stories, like the Clousden Hill commune (1895 onwards), but also some completely new ones (a curate lecturing on ‘Anarchism: what is it? A Christian view’ in South Shields in 1900) [p44]. The author is no neutral compiler, but shares their reactions with us. After quoting a 1919 Catholic Church ruling which ends up declaring ‘to be a catholic and a socialist at the same time is an impossibility’ comes ‘What more could I possibly add to that? Other than… HOLY SHIT!’ [p95-6]
Tom Brown, the Tyneside-born syndicalist who spent most of his working life down south, appears regularly in the first half of the book. His pieces are always worth reading, but I’ll just quote one from 1966, a time of high working-class self-confidence, about the need to push for revolutionary social change: ‘We have won not only a larger slice of the national cake for less toil, but greater protection, more job control, more respect. There are even places where the old order is reversed, and the foremen walk in fear of the men. But all this is not enough. The next big step is overdue. […] Now we have won this round, what next?’ [p180-1] Hopefully one effect of the book will be for historians to rummage around and see if they can find his missing memoirs, or more notes and manuscripts of his. [note 1, below]
The second half of the book covers the tumultuous period of ‘the Thatcher years and the Conservative Party’s relentless psychotic endeavours against, and near destruction of, the working class.’ [p222] This is within living memory, and the Archivist takes a safety-first approach of only using initials unless a writer is well-known. This is not just about security: ‘Individual personalities go unexplored, priority given to what was being said, not the speaker.’ [p10]
Quotes from publications in the Tyneside Anarchist Archive let us hear our comrades: ‘Will it make any difference to the fat London capitalist who owns 33 Tesco stores whether you steal a mince pie? If you are hungry and the capitalist isn’t then that pie doesn’t belong to him it belongs to you.’ [p247 Quoting Treason no.1, November 1981, from Sunderland]. As the Archivist says: ‘Beautiful in its naive simplicity but remember this was written in 1981 by young punks from Gateshead housing estates, embracing and endeavouring to articulate their flowering rebellion – not learned anarchist philosophers.’ The book is full of treasures like this, or Big Toot steering young punks away from using swastikas: ‘It might be to shock but the swastika stands for oppression and not punk. The NF are a bunch of heartless morons. They are worse than the police or the Thatcher regime.’ [note 2]
Some participants have even been rounded up to look back (anonymously!) I liked the one about pirate broadcasting in Sunderland: ‘Our first test run was from Tunstall Hills in Sunderland just outside the town. […] The tape recorder was started and we left the scene, keeping a watch with binoculars from the next hill, the rest us got in a car and drove with a radio on to see how far we were transmitting, fuck, it was miles.’ [p266] Some light is also shone on the history of the Archive itself, which might one day turn up in a book on anarchist libraries.
This is a wide-ranging book, from Chopwell miners to Class War hunt sabs, and doesn’t cut history down to just the best or most inspiring bits. [note 3] Obviously it’s a must-read for anyone interested in anarchism in the North East. But it’s also a useful contribution to the history of anarchism in Britain, with accounts of Tyneside Class War and the generally co-operative attitudes of local anarchists. They were happy to work together with ‘a genuine feeling of having common aims and interests. This is exemplified most in a local strike at “HFW Plastics” in Gateshead. We are seen by others as “the Anarchists”, and are a recognised force. We were instrumental in helping to form a support group for the strikers which is non-hierarchical in form.’ [p368]
Which is not to say that there were no conflicts! The patronising response by Freedom to protests about racism obviously still rankles: ‘A deemed racist article in the paper sparked much protest, in particular that of a “black” member of the local Newcastle group, and the patronising responses from Freedom in their letters pages, even criticising the spelling in some of the protest letters, a fact that personally infuriates. Many of the older generation of anarchists on Tyneside actively boycotted Freedom after this debacle.’ [note 163 on p470]. I found it staggering: TJ’s description of Freedom’s response as ‘a ridiculing, sneering contempt’ [p363] sums it up.
Maybe the thing that stays with me most is the question of ‘where do we look for anarchists?’ I hope we’re a long way past the time when books written by the ‘big names’ were supposed to tell us what anarchists of the time were thinking. There was a whole world of people writing, thinking and talking that made up the anarchist movement. Some of them will have left only the thinnest of paper trails but been important for all that. But when the Archivist says ‘sometimes the anarchists are so entrenched within their own community, […] that they can, at times, barely venture out of it’ [p152] you realise there’s at least as many who won’t have left a paper trail at all. How do we hear from them? The Tyneside Anarchist Archive have done a great job in recording at least some voices of the voiceless.
1, See ‘The missing memoirs of Tom Brown, Tyneside syndicalist’ https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/4xgzk7. There’s a reference in note 245 to ‘notes for a projected autobiography [… ] found after his death in “rudimentary form”‘ which makes me wonder what else is out there.
2, Page 243, leaflet and article in local punk band Total Chaos’s No Comment zine, no.1, late 1981. ‘Big Toot, a loveable human being who was taken from us too early, was instrumental in the continuation of the local punk scene throughout most of the 1980s’. [note 453 on page 486]
Coming next week are two new Active titles just in time to remember the hundreth anniversary of the Kronstadt Rebellion. The first is Ida Metts much praised book The Kronstadt Commune the second is two essays about Kronstadt we have collected together as a booklet called Remember Kronstadt One Hundred Years On.
We have also reissued the great little pamphlet about the Bonnot gang that we did many years ago with Shortfuse Press as an A6 pocket booklet. Appel was also shortfuse pamphlet and we we have “borrowed” their design added a critiique and shrunk it to an A6 size! Street Art and Revolution is now a pocket book too. Crass, No Adult and Emma Goldman’s autobiography Living My Life in 3 Volumes are all still full size books.
June 2021 sees three of the largest books Active has ever published released on the unsuspecting world!
Anarchism in North East England 1882- 1992 is a 500 odd page in depth look at the activities of anarchists in the Tyneside area of the UK. Including everything from the visits and speeches by Kropotkin to the impromptu demos against the Tories Poll Tax. A fascinating and inspirational read for anyone involved in anarchism in the UK over the last 100 years or less!
A Primer on Anarchist Geography is Simon Springer’s collection of writings on all things “From Neoliberal Damnationto Total Liberation”. It is a mighty work of over 570 pages and well worth the tenner it’s priced at.
Three of our good sellers from the past two decades have been republished as A6 booklets. Anarchy & Alcohol from the Crimethinc crew, You’re Already Dead by the band CRASS and Brian Dominicks Animal Liberation & Social Revolution.
All the above should be available from the Active shop by the beginning of July.
Nailing Descartes to the Wall subtitled Animal Rights , veganism and punk culture has been one of our popular pamphlets for some time. Written by L.Tilburger and C.Kale it examines the frequent overlap between punk culture and animal rights activism/vegan consumption habits. It was originally printed, collated and stapled by Active volunteers in an A5 size format. It is now one of the pamphlets we have resized to a handy A6 pocket book format. It is currently at the printers but will be available from the Active shop in early December.
Other titles getting the same shrinking treatment include, The Abolition of Work by Bob Black, The Individual, Society and the State, and Anarchism; What it Really Stands For, both by Emma Goldman. We also have a new title called Rojava Anarchists which is an in-depth look at what the situation is for the remarkable Rojava revolution now that the Americans have left the field open for the local fascist dictators to run amok. It is another A6 pocket book as is The Beautiful Season a short novel based around the beginnings of the Spanish Civil War by Roger Yates.
Killer Tunes and Screaming Bloody Murder in the Basement of Hell and other stories. Is a hilarious collection of stories by the zinester Rich Cubesville all with a common theme of “getting the band back together” written with a wry political punk rock style. That is an A5 book format. We have reprinted a rare little story zine by Nick Blinko called The Ghosts in the Chess Machine and The Herbal Colouring Book by Nicole Vosper. This is an A4 colouring book with 50 illustrations of common plants wit descriptions of the medicinal properties and a benefit for prisoner support.
The GAB is here!
Our latest co-publication with Dog Section Press has arrived at Active! A lovely collection of the first 10 Great Anarchists pamphlets (yes there will be more!) We call it GAB or The Great Anarchists Book!
August 2020 Otter’s Run!
We have just shipped the Otter Lieffe trilogy including the brand new Dignity book to our distribution hub in the UK. Otter’s books are sexy, trans friendly, futuristic tales of resistance and repression with an ecocide theme.
Oh and we also shipped the latest in our “academic punk” series called What is Anarchist Music, by R.Noys. This one is our first co-publication with Black Fox Boox and is an A6 pocketbook format.
May 2020 Pocket books a go go!
We reprinted and published for the first time a whole bunch of titles this month. They are on their way to the Active Dsitribution crew in Bristol and will soon be available from them. Highlights include new A6 pocket book versions of Dysophia pamphlets “What About The Rapists” and “From Animals to Anarchism”. We hope you like the pocket book format as this is our preferred size for publications in the future.
2020 brings two new Great Anarchists!
Numbers nine and ten of our Great Anarchists series (co-published with Dog Section Press) are out now. We start the new decade with a look back at the anarchist activists and intellectuals of the 19th century. Godwin who inspired so many – not least his daughter Mary! – wrote the influential book Political Justice comes in at pamphlet number nine. Number 10 attempts to cover the huge input that Errico Malatesta had on the anarchist world at his time and since.
September’s mini print run!
We have just printed the 7th and 8th of the Great Anarchist pamphlets, Proudhon and Parsons respectively are their names! We also reprinted The Anarchist Teapot’s Feeding the Masses which is a guide to mass vegan catering for ethical activists which should have been done last time but wasn’t. Finally another pamphlet in our series of an academic analysis of punk is titled, Bakunin Brand Vodka: Anarchism and Early Punk (1976-1980) . This is a look at the politics of early punk before the prefix “anarcho” was commonly used before the word punk to determine the nature of the politics.
Summer releases coming soon!
We have the pride and pleasure to have helped Nicloe Rose get her long awaited “Overcoming Burnout” book published as well as her “The Prisoners Herbal”. Both books are DIY self help books written passionately from a perspective of personal experience and expert knowledge. We’ve also reprinted The Anarchist Teapot’s Feeding the Masses which is a guide to mass vegan catering for ethical activists. Beasts of Burden has been out of print for many years so we have reissued it with a brand new introduction. The European version of Desert the much discussed booklet that asks as more questions than it answers has also been out of print until now.
We bring you a new text from Peter “Cunningham Amendment” Good, his amusing story of trying to work within the English Trade Union movement, is called “Something Should Be Done”, as indeed it should! We have repressed Chav Solidarity with a few corrections and alterations from its author. Last but not least we are releasing a new cersion of Nick Blinko’s The Primal Screamer, the ‘simple’ version as Nick “always wanted it to be”.
Total Liberation Now!
Nope it’s not just a natty ‘catch all’ slogan for marches and grafitti! This is the title of our latest release specially rushed through for the summer activist and festival season. Total Liberation is of anoymous authorship and is our first co-publication with Signal Fire. The back page describes its intent thus;
“It seems every generation thinks theirs will be the most remarkable,yet ours might just be the first that turns out to be right. To saythis century is the most crucial our species has ever faced isactually an understatement: we’re dealing with the most significantcrisis life in general has ever faced, even amidst billions of yearsof evolution.”Total Liberation sets out an insurrectional project that draws itsstrength from social ecology, deep ecology, and anti-speciesism.Casting aside outdated methods, it proposes a holistic, multiformstruggle fought in defence of all forms of life – humans, animals, andthe earth.A new revolutionary manifesto for the 21st century.
Look out for this on our websites and from AK Press soon.
The latest Great Anarchists to be published in our series with Dog Section Press are Oscar Wilde (5) and Max Stirner (6). We finally publish Gerfried Ambrosch’s Punk Matters book with its interviews and commentry from the great and the not so great of the political punk scene. We have reprinted the Chav Solidarity book that is causing much dscussion in the activist world. The Continuing Appeal of Religion by Giles Dauve is one of several pamphlets we have turned into an A6 size pocket book along with the classic SCUM Manifetso by Valeri Solanas. Also shrunk to A6 is a new version of Jean Barrot’s Fascism / Anti-Fascism which includes a short dialogue between the author and Aufheben magazine about the text. Dysophia 0 the introduction to Green Anarchism also gets the shrinking effect as does Peter Singer’s The Animal Liberation Movement pamphlet. We are also reprinting Peter Gelderloos’s Anarchy Works again, and 23 Theses, Revolution is More Than a Word. Finally a new text taken from the website Current Affairs we have created a pocket book called Lessons From Chomsky by Nathan Robinson. All to be available from the Active shop come the beginning of June.
There’s no such anarchists…
The Michael Bakunin and Louise Michel Great Anarchists pamphlets are now available from all good radical outlets. As is our A6 pocket pamphlet version of Crimethinc’s ‘There’s no such thing as revolutionary Government’. Coming in the next month or two are reprints of Anarchy Works, The ABCs of Anarchy, Feeding the Masses a new book Punk Matters by Gerfried Ambrosch Matters, a book on Burnout and hopefully some more Great Anarchists!
More Great Anarchists.
Michael Bakunin and Louise Michel are the next two infamous anarcho’s to make it in to our Great Anarchists pamphlet series co published with Dog Section Press. These two are at the printers and will hopefully be available for all the usual disreputable outlets within a couple of weeks. We also have a pocket pamphlet version of Crimethinc’s ‘There’s no such thing as a revolutionary government’ text at being printed this week so look out for that.
We are pleased to announce the titles of our forthcoming print run which is happening next week and these books should be available in the UK by the first week of November all being well! The ABC of Anarchy is a child friendly alphabetical break down of what anarchism is all about. It has an American slant, the author Brian Heagney lives in North Carolina so thats excusable! This edition is the first European version and a proper offset litho print using recycled paper. We will be donating 50p from each copy sold to Rebel City the London anarchist free magazine.
In a break with Active’s anti esoteric tradition (?) we are publishing a book of poetry! Lisa Fannen author of the formidable Threads book launches her spoken word career with Faultline. She will be touring in November but if you are unable to catch her… buy the book. “Faultline is a breath of fresh air in a crowded Poetry scene”
Next we have a long overdue anthology of Fredy Perlman work co-published with Theory and Practice. This collection includes the best and most relevant of Perlman’s work and came with the blessing of and indeed help from Lorraine Perlman. Titled “The Machine and its Discontents” the book includes most of the essays that have for some time only been available as pamphlets.
We are also reprinting our two “best selling” Chomsky pocket pamphlets, “Notes on Anarchism“, and “On Anarchism, Marxism and Hope for the Future” . Another 500 copies of “No! Against Adult Supremacy” are also being printed this time on recycled paper, along with a thousand more copies of our version of Bakunin’s God and the State. Slowing down? Moi? Jamais!
12th Oct 2018 Pallets arrived!
As of last week the three pallets of newly printed Active books arrived at our Sunderland base. Please start ordering copies of the 2019 Bottled Wasp Diary and the other new titles mentioned below from Active Distribution. If you are outside the UK and interested in bulk orders feel free to get in contact with me direct too. jon(at)activedistribution.org
18th Sept 2018 Backwoods!
We have copied the first issue of the Backwoods journal from the US for European distribution. Described by its editors as “Backwoods has a focus on trying to live according to anti-civilization values here and now, with a suggested praxis of “desertion, autarky, and reinhabitation” – that is, withdrawing from civilization materially and psychically as much as is practical and possible” it is intentionally challenging. If there is enough interest we will publish issue two when it arrives.
6th Sept 2018 Forthcoming titles!
The Bottled Wasp 2019 ABC benefit diary (image below) is at the printers along with our fourth reprint of Another Dinner is Possible and the first European pressing of Peter Gelderloos’ How Non Violence Protects The State. We have joined up with Detritus Books in the U.S. for this publication, which means in this case we have used their layout and artwork for this new edition and just added our name to it! Next years Bottled Wasp diary – probably the last – has Anarchists as its theme. We also launch the beginning of a major new collaboration with Dog Section Press starting the Great Anarchists pamphlet series. The first two of these A6 pamphlets is Peter Kropotkin often called the Grandaddy of Anarchism he gets to be Great Anarchist Number 1! Voltairine de Cleyre is the subject of pamphlet number 2 in the series and will be followed by most of the usual suspects later. The short introductory texts are written by Ruth Kinna and the cover art is by Clifford Harper. Finally we have published an academic text titled “The ‘Punk Anarchism’ of Class War and Crimethinc”, which is an A5 pamphlet analysing the differing currents within anarchist punk.
3rd Aug 2018
Currently winging their way across Europe to our Northern warehouse are reprints of several of our titles. These include: Threads, The Russian Counterrevolution, Eat Like it Matters, Fuck NeoLiberalism and our co-publish with Dog Section Press Advertising Shits in Your Head. They have all been reprinted at a new printers so expect slightly differing specs and colours. And both Threads and The Russian Counterrevolution have been “corrected” and slightly altered just to compel all you collectors out there to buy second versions!
Active is moving and changing.
After 28 years of being based in Hackney, London, Active Distribution is moving to Bristol. It will now be run by a co-operative of 4 or 5 comrades. This might lead to all kind of improvements! Active will also now have an “open” office in central Bristol from where one can collect orders.
As of the 15th February 2018 I (Jon) will not be sending out any more orders. As of the 12th of February all mail and deliveries for Active should be sent to Active Distribution, Exchange, 72 – 73 Old Market, Bristol, BS2 0EJ . Active Bristol should be up and running and sending out orders from the weekend o the 24th Feb.
Emails for Active Distribution should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org from the 15th onwards, but don’t worry all communication to me (Jon) that relates to Active will be forwarded to the Bristol crew.
I will be trying to agree account balances with all suppliers and customers before handing over but thats rather ambitious. The Active bank accounts and Paypal accounts will continue unchanged. But please note the Bristol crew includes a very competent accounts person so dealing with Active might be a little different from now on.
I started doing an anarchist distribution in 1986 and named it Active in 1989 when I linked up with a record distro and opened a squat bookshop in Hackney, now I’m leaving the UK. I will continue to publish books and pamphlets as Active but not be involved in the running of the distribution.
Thank you for you help and support over the years.
For the last 7 or 8 years we have been talking with Antisect about how to release their next LP. They originally asked if we would be interested and we said yes. It seemed we could do a different style release with lots of comment and politics involved and more interestingly we intended to release it for a “Pay what you want” price. Antisect spent years working on the LP and have now decided to sign to a “proper label” and “reach a wider audience” etc. Heard that before? We wish them luck.
As mentioned below we are slowly divesting ourselves of most of the “punk rock” associations with Active. (The CD’s are all about to go on sale! ) This included a cull of most of our punk badges a few weeks ago and we are now replacing them with some of the designs we never got around to putting on the website. Check out our 25mm button Badges still home made by Marta and designed – or stolen- by Jon! (30/12/16)