Monthly Archives: February 2005

new video project

[ from the dept. ]

Am editing now the new video project. Am pretty tired, lots to do. Women meeting the last weekend, and projects coming up for International Women’s Day, too.¬† The book project is draining along, lots of guests are coming, most of them whilst I am away,¬† and on sunday I had one of the worst headaches in my life, it felt like its possible to die from it.
Last week I was sick for several days with a horrible stomach bug.
It has been snowing here a little bit, though there is hardly any snow left now.

quote for book

[ from the dept. ]

Have enquired about the prices of getting the book reprinted, about a hundred copies cost about a 1000 pounds, about five hundred cost about 2500 pounds, and I am pretty confident that this is a good quote, and the finished books would be of the most excellent of quality.

But now I understand why there are so many more people wanting to get their books published by somebody  rather than doing it themselves.

At this point it seems to be pretty important to consider the amount of books worth printing and if to go in partnership with other people and enterprises in this area, and also to consider carefully if this book is really worth putting so much money in, especially – well – especially as it is not per se an anarchist or libertarian book, which loosing money with is not that much of a disillusion cause the soul is refreshed..

It might be good to know more about the probablities and possibilities of marketing and selling the book.
I guess, totally contradictory to any business advice will possibly first put the book as a pdf on the internet for people to read and then decide with interested folks what they suggest; if a physical copy would be worth it, and maybe if it is possible to get a grant for it, or to illustrate it to make it a bit more attractive.

Autobiography of a Working Man

Finished reading Alexander Somerville’s “Autobiography of a Working Man”, first published in 1848. To publish, it would be good to write a summary, write a C.V. of the author, get a map of the local area of that time, and design a nice cover.

Here I’ll reproduce the preface of the latest edition, written by Brian Behan.


SOMMERVILLE’S England was a turbulent place. A pastoral heaven was being changed by the industrial revolution into a smoky, fiery hell. Human beings counted for very little in the scales of the great (they st:ill count for nothing in the councils of the world). Men have always risen to challenge this madness, to say that we should make love not war. We live in a world invented by criminals whose only sex is power, who have nationalized Christ and declared him a god of war. Somerville was a part of this eternal struggle. He intervened at a decisive moment in our history and played his part to make the world a little better for working people. He supported the movement for parliamentary reform. He opposed the Duke of Newcastle who, arguing against the extension of the vote, said, ‘Why cannot I do what I like with my Own?’
Sommerville, the soldier, didn’t believe lie was the noble Duke’s property, and he was flogged for it. A hundred lashes of the cat-o’-nine tails with six stripes to each tail. He was wounded 5,400 times before they cut him down. And this because he had dared to say that he and his comrades would never allow, `a military dictatorship to be set up in this country’.
He and his fellow soldiers dropped letters in the streets of Birmingham assuring the locals that their swords would never be turned against them. At a meeting in that city 200,000 people had sworn to march on London if the Reform Bill wasn’t passed without delay. There was a real danger of a military dictatorship being established. The army had been ordered to stand-to and have their swords rough- edged for jagged action against the machers.
The wealthy foretold doom and disaster if the bill were passed. Despite a vote in favour in the House of Commons, the House of Lords, packed tight with feverish bishops, threw the bill out.
The masses rioted and burnt down Newcast1e’s stately home. England moved nearer to revolution.
The shadow of the French revolution of 1789 stretched long enough to chill the bones of the great. Frightened, the King sent a message to the Lords requesting, `in view of the alarming situation that now exists’, that nothing further be done to hinder the passage of the bill.
Before Somerville was flogged, a trooper offered him rum.
`Not one drop for me, Charley Hunter. I shall not sing out I promise you, if they cut me to pieces. Take away that rum. I shall not drink it, nor the half of it. Not a drop of it shall I touch.’

They did nearly kill him. As they shredded the living flesh from his bones he wondered if he had ever known anything except this eternity of torment. He didn’t cry out, and even though he nearly bit his tongue off, he endured his Calvary with dignity. Word of his punishment leaked out and a Court of Inquiry was set up by parliament. It reprimanded the major in charge of the regimental court martial to such good effect that he not only succeeded to the command of his regiment, but wound up Lord-Lieutenant of the Tower. For his part in this action alone Somerville would deserve to be remembered. But he was more than a landless labourer turned journalist.
His Autobiography of a Working Man gives a fascinating picture of life in the Eastern lowlands of Scotland. His book is full of people, how they lived and worked, told in a lively romantic way that flows as easily as his native brooks.
He tells of his father working eighteen hours a day to realize the labourer’s dream, that his sons might become tradesmen. Somerville’s mettle can be traced to his father, who apologized for the luxury of a pipe with the plea, `it helps me to get through the hard long day.’
His mother was a gentle, kind woman, who died nursing a sick neighbour. He paints a picture of a rural community that, though poverty-stricken, was richly tied together by strings of humanity in a way that is painfully absent now. An intelligent boy, his struggle for knowledge was a hard one. He walked six miles just to look at and handle a book in the hope that some day he would be able to buy it. Sensitive to the feelings of others, he hated injustice. Not in an abstract way, of posing class against class. He went deeper and saw that those who would be free must never enslave others. Watching some stone masons beat one of their labourers, he stepped forward to intervene with the challenge,
`How can you hope to oppose tyranny when you are the greater tyrants?’

He wandered around hiring himself out, harvesting and wood- cutting. Always he found the poor ready to share their bed and board with him. The more people had, the less they would give. His impressions are one of life, of people suffering the outrages of wind and sun but of living. They danced and drank at harvest time. They knew each other as people and not through television shadows. They knew nature and not the battery-hen existence that we have become cooped up in. His family was an adventurous one. He had a brother who took to smuggling spices into South America, then crossed the Andes four times seeking gold, and finally wound up sailing the seas in a man of war.
Somerville’s strength, and weakness, was that he was not a politician. He had a narrowness of view, compounded of his peasant background and his army training, which made him hostile to revolutionary change. He couldn’t see that events deeper than the immediate question of the vote were bubbling and boiling up, pushing the crust of class-peace to breaking point.
The first of these was the cost of the Napoleonic wars, which sent the price of food sky high. Then came the first of capitalism’s little slumps, which forced wage cuts in various trades. They were as much as twenty-five per cent in some cases, forcing one man to cry out, ‘the longer and harder I have worked the poorer and poorer I become, untill at last I am nearly exhausted. I would put an end to my existence sooner than kill myself working twelve hours a day in a cotton factory, eating potatoes and salt’.
The unions, despite the Combination laws, grew in strength. One declared that as `labour is the source of all wealth, then let us bring about a different order of things, in which the really useful and intelligent part of society shall have the direction of its affairs’.
The Chartists sprang up, to take independent political action. Socialists like Robert Owen began their experiments in co-partnership in industry. Owen found he could increase wages, grant vastly superior social services and still make a greater profit than his competitors. Others have followed him since, in much the same path, but in those days to suggest that any profit should go back to the worker was regarded as lunacy, if not worse. The Chartists went a little further and founded `O’Connors- ville’.
This was an agricultural community bought by funds raised publicity for the purpose of `demonstrating to the working-class of the kingdom, the value of land as a means of making them independent of the grinding capitalist’. Mankind has always had this Jekyll-and-Hyde face, the struggle for survival coupled.with the tendency towards mutual aid. In fire, flood and farnine, the mutual aid tendency comes out in everyone. When society stands naked, exposed as a greedy war-making animal, movements grow in opposition. It is not natural for man to elevate a struggle for survival into a dogma that becomes `rend and tear’, regardless of your fellow man. In this society, even the very rich are deeply unhappy. Property developers find that the only thing that attracts them sexually is a brick.
People are not taught in schools how to live, they are taught how to compete. which can be vastly different. Nations base themselves on their strong competitive position. which demands a vast army, forgetting that if your trading position becomes stronger at the expense of someone else’s, you merely succeed in beggaring your neighbour. This leads to slumps and so to wars, local and national. The defence of private property is the most sacred law in our society. You have only to look at the treatment of the train robbers to see that. Because they stole old, burnable bank notes, they are to live in a land of eternal light, poor fluttering moths pinned to lime-washed walls. Is this society to go down in history as the most efficient defenders of the banker? If the whole educational system was devoted to really educating people for life, what changes could be brought about. If we don’t do this, how can we wonder that the twisted beings we produce become the child murderers of the future?
Why can’t we set up communities like the Chartists, communities which forswear war and resolve to help each other. We can contract out of the rat race if we can live closer to our fellow man.

Of course Somerville couldn’t see all this, in the same way that we can’t evaluate properly the social tendencies of our time. But it helps to understand his later attitude. He quarrelled with and denounced most of the revolutionary movements he came in contact with. He hated the mob, and this was a pity, because your definition of what is a mob very often is conditioned by your place in the theatre of life. For example, many people thought Somerville part of a lawless mob when he refused to turn out against the people of Birmingham. But when the army officers mutinied in the Curragh, were not they a mob? A mob is simply people and not always the ones we associate with the word. George Rude, in The Crowd in History, shows that the mob was not the very poorest and declassed; on the contrary, it was mainly artisans and upper-working class. Again, even where the mob doesn’t succeed in its immediate demands, its presence can have a salutary effect on author- ity. Somerville himself would hardly have escaped hanging if the mob outside hadn’t been so powerful. Again, mobs are provoked into rioting when it’s obvious they have no other lawful means of redress. The mobs that rioted and sacked the Bishop of Bristol’s palace only did so after the Lords had rejected the Reform Bill. Thirteen of those died of the effects of drink, having gorged themselves in his grace’s well- stocked cellar. After the Court of Inquiry, when Somerville was discharged from the army in double-quick time, he became a journalist and gradually began to take himself too seriously. Believing that he now had a mission to save the constitution, he saw conspiracies everywhere. One that he informed about, a plan to kidnap the Cabinet, I find fascinating. He refused to go to Australia because, as he told the Colonial Office, `they are plotting against me there’. He did go to Canada, where he died a staunch conservative. Still, we have to take people as we find them, good and bad, with all their warts and wrinkles. Whatever he may have said or done in later life, on that day they flogged him, Somervi1le stood up for us all.


republishing book

Fabian, a friend of mine, came up with the idea of republishing a particular book. At the moment I am reading it, after we had some problems finding a copy of the 1848 published book about the life of a working man, living near Edinburgh. Actually it is quite an interesting account, though it hasn’t got much to do with anarchism as such; the poverty people suffered under then was quite terrible. I am trying to have some idea for making the book more attractive; such as finding some illustrations, such as maps of the area, finding out about the reform bill passed in 1832 and a picture or drawing of the uniform of the regiment he served in.
I would also like to do a little CV of the author, write a summary for the back page and a review about the book, too.
Also it would be good to visit some of the places the author is talking about in his book and get some pictures of it to maybe be put on the front cover, which as such is only red linen.

The radical bookshop Word Power in Edinburgh has also started now its own publishing, as does AKPress, but it might not be ready before the whole G8 Circus starts up here, and we would like to publish it before as an educational tool.

Unfortunately I am a little bit sick at the moment, not being able to make it to the Zapatista fundraiser tonight, which I was looking forward to.

The film screening yesterday in The Forest was another non-success. It wasn’t exactly a failure, but I was unable to connect the borrowed laptop to the LCD projector, the DVD I put in as replacement with the film “Surplus”, started to hang in the last 15 Minutes unrecoverable and the other film I screened: “Black and Gold – Latin King and Queen Nation” was good, but at that time most of the audience was already gone, but got 2 requests to make copies of it.

The new Variant is out, an arty & political newspaper from Glasgow. Somebody put in a brilliant Indymedia Scotland advert, which I like very much, thanks to whoever did it.

Dissent network meeting in Glasgow

Last weekend saw the Dissent gathering happening in Glasgow. The media even brought an article about the gathering, see The Scotsman
Though some people thought that the media coverage of Dissent could be improved, the article as such does not really seem to be that hostile. It is quite funny though how the journalists at once assume there is something hidden from them just because the venue changed- obviously they probably can’t imagine that we are that disorganised to not know where to meet in a days or 2 time.

As such the Dissent! gathering was actually quite good; no big confrontations as expected, no physical confrontations between hostile cliques, groups or attitudes as it was feared by some, and quite constructive discussions, though important issues were hardly mentioned nor – of course- resolved. Also good to meet up to get again some positive experiences with some people with whom relationships were troubled with difficulties in the last months.

In total it seemed most people got back form the gathering more inspired and enthusiastic than before, and that is something.

I wanted to disappear in the kitchen actually for the gathering but most food was already prepared, so hung around in the meeting for quite a while. The soup on Sunday seemed to have an anaerobic experience because it smelled a bit like vomit. I did not taste it, though my friend told me it actually had a vomit aftertaste. Though despite any different suggestion no mass food poisoning could be observed during the next hours of meeting.

A lot of work seemed to have gone into the food preperation though, because a big amount of pasta, frozen stewed apple, lentil paste, salad and potato mash appreared, which was all excellent.