Reviews of some anarchist, communist and ultra-left magazines and papers from Datacide 12 (2012): Black Flag, The Commune, Communist Left, Internationalist Papers, and Proletarian.
Black Flag, Issue 233, Mid 2011
Black Flag, founded in 1970 by Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer, has gone through a number of mutations in format and publishing frequency. After a near-standstill, a few years ago it was re-launched in 2007/8 and appears about twice a year with 40 pages and a colour cover. Issue 233, which we picked up at the Anarchist Bookfair 2011, came out after the March 26 rally and before the riots, and focuses on the student protests, the economic downturn, as well as digging out old classic Kropotkin. There is also a reprint of a text by Daniel Guerin on the Kronstadt rebellion, as well as more contemporary anti-Leninist stuff (in the form of an anti-Trots/SWP tirade). As much as much as we agree with the necessity to critique Leninism, the conclusion remains unsatisfactory: “We take direct action and if that doesn’t work we try again and again. We don’t build parties but achieve our objective one way or another”.
There are interviews with Active Distribution (big up for distributing datacide!) – and Atari Teenage Riot. The fact that ATR is presented as an “anarcho-band” is already an eye-brow raiser, which one could expect from politically un-sussed music hacks whose job consists in turning promo-sheets into articles, but apparently Black Flag are also taking the statements of ATR at face value – there’s no critical probing, it’s just another promotional interview to advertise the new album. The regrouping of ATR is seen in a context of rising protest movements (and not sinking sales for Alec Empires solo works). There are some platitudes about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, or the internet getting more and more controlled by government and corporations, but Alec is also bringing up some more interesting issues when the sore point of music downloads is mentioned. Here it would have been the job of the interviewer to probe a little deeper, instead he lets the interviewee rant and then just asks the next question. Alec stated his opinion that “Copyright must be defined from new. It has to protect the writers, musicians, filmmakers, artists, anybody who is doing creative work and NOT the big publishing companies and the major record labels.” Surely he knows that – at least in theory – copyright law is suppose to protect the rights of the creators, unless they sell those rights to companies whose job it is to exploit those rights. The dichotomy of creative people and business people is false here. Empire himself was (is?) involved with running a publishing company – Digital Hardcore Music – which was marketing the creative output of the artists on the label Digital Hardcore Recordings Ltd. So is this ok because it’s a “small” publishing company? In any case, there is no doubt that he is completely in favor of the concept of copyright to the degree that he claims: “There is a mob mentality right now, almost like fundamentalist Christians they attack any artist who wants to get paid for his/her work”. While I find this a somewhat telling exaggeration, there are some real issues here. “When I started there was a strong support for underground and independent music everywhere. When you were into music, you just knew the enemy. We need to bring down the major record industry when they finance artists like 50 Cent or Beyonce who perform for dictators like Gaddafi”. And if they were not performing for dictators, would the industry be ok then? Presumably so, after all Digital Hardcore was marketing their commercially most successful band – Atari Teenage Riot – via Intercord Record Services as early as 1995. Intercord was owned by EMI. Even before that the money to start DHR was taken from a deal with Vertigo/Phonogram which after a couple of singles had fallen through.
I do agree that the support of the “scene” was a lot stronger in the 90’s, but I sometimes wonder if dual strategies like the one employed by DHR/ATR were not contributing to the erosion of this support. It is of course completely fine to experiment with different strategies – but it becomes a different matter if public pronouncements and the business strategies are only partially compatible. But maybe this is unfair – after all, ATR never set out to critique the spectacular system as such, they are more to be seen in the tradition of bands trying to “use” it while inevitably being used by it. The underground scene DHR was briefly a part of at the very beginning of their existence was only seen as a stepping stone. When Alien Underground, in some respects the precursor to Datacide, published a label portrait of DHR in 1994, and we all seemed to be comrades in the same struggle for a short time, it was only months before I was told at one of my visits to the office in Dean Street that their strategy was to use the underground press on their way to mainstream recognition. I cannot judge whether this is the idea behind the Black Flag interview. However it does highlight a tendency in the mag to limit articles to a mere 2 pages, which obviously in many cases will leave us with superficial contributions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Black Flag, BM Hurricane, London WC1N 3XX, UK.
The Commune, Issues 25 and 26 (September 2011/October 2011)
The Commune is a group that emerged at least partially as a split in 2009 from the Alliance for Workers Liberty, the Third Camp Trotskyist organization that publishes the bi-weekly paper Solidarity. Unusual for splits in this milieu is that The Commune has not become a group to hold near-identical positions as the one they split from, but seems to have moved away from Trotskyism. The sub-title of their paper is towards a position “for workers’ self-management and communism from below”. By the time the most recent issues we picked up had came out, the scope of the group and paper had been widened to include both Marxist and anarchist points of views, and a few other changes have taken place compared to the first issues. The format has changed from a 12-page A3 paper to 16-page A4, and the cover price of one pound has been dropped, and the paper is now distributed for free.
Since the British far left scene is full of pseudo-parties of the proletariat, it’s good to see that The Commune with its a loose organization and paper is aiming at discussions in the wider milieu of the radical left. This is evident in the pieces on the UK riots in issue 25, where different viewpoints collide on the meaning of the riots. Naturally workers struggles as well as articles on the nature of the crisis of capitalism make up a substantial part of The Commune, while the reactionary knee-jerk anti-Imperialism à la SWP seems largely absent, all of which are good things. Pick up a copy at the usual outlets, or contact them here:
email@example.com, The Commune c/o Freedom, Angel Alley, London E1 7QX.
Party Press of the Organized Ultra-Left:
Like most organizations on the far left fringes that go back several decades, the International Communist Party was crippled by a succession of splits over the years. One of them occurred in 1973 and produced two parties, both still using the same name (in the early 80’s there were even two more parties with the same name). Not only are the different ICP’s using the same name, they also essentially have the same program, which makes it hard to keep them apart even for trainspotters. This is why the groups are generally referred to by the titles of their publications. However, things are again made difficult here by the fact that in different languages different groups sometimes publish titles of the same (translated) name!
The various ICP’s are all fierce defenders of the same tradition, going back to the abstentionist faction of the Italian Socialist Party led by Amadeo Bordiga. Bordiga was to become the leader of the Italian Communist Party before it was bolshevized and he was replaced by Gramsci in 1926. Bordiga was already targeted in Lenin’s pamphlet “Left Wing” Communism – An Infantile Disorder”, and was arguably the last person standing up to Stalin at the 1926 in front of the Executive Committee of the Komintern, calling him the “gravedigger of the revolution”. Bordiga went to jail under Mussolini and was expelled from the Communist Party in 1930. Bordiga spent the following years under Fascismin in some kind of internal exile and didn’t take part in political discussions or activities until after the war. In the meantime, a number of his comrades went into exile and developed further positions. These groups around the journal Bilan, the Gauche Communiste de France and others were later regarded by groups such as the ICC as the true heirs of the Left Communist tradition.
In 1943 the Internationalist Communist Party was formed by militants around Onorato Damen and Bruno Maffi. Their position was that all forms of capitalist forces had to be fought, whether they were democratic, fascist or Stalinist. Bordiga initially didn’t join the party (until 1949) but was a frequent contributor to its press. When a major split occurred in 1952 he sided with the faction opposed to Damen, which a little later became the International Communist Party. This – as well as the various products of later splits – are hence usually referred to as “Bordigist”.
When the International Communist Party went through a first major split in 1973 it produced a minority publishing Il Partito Comunista in Italy, the Communist Left in the UK, a majority publishing group Le Prolétaire (newspaper) and Programme Communiste (theoretical journal) in France, and Programma Comunista in Italy etc.. For the next decade the “Le Prolétaire” group was not only the largest ICP, but also the largest group in the wider ultra-Left milieu. This changed when in 1982 there was yet another split, which proved to be particularly debilitating, and cut down the size and influence of the various ICP’s to roughly the magnitude it has now. Bordigism on an organized scale never quite recovered from this, but the various ICP’s are still publishing their papers and journals.
To confuse matters further it was the split from the “Le Prolétaire” group that managed to hold on to the name of the Italian paper “Il Programma Comunista”, while the “Prolétaire” group – who everywhere else use the “Communist Program” title – were forced apparently in a court case to let go of it and henceforth publish “Il Comunista” in Italian. “Il Programma Comunista” is now published by the same group that publishes “internationalist papers” in English and “cahiers internationalistes” in French.
However it is a tell tale sign of the scale of their activities that in some cases the theoretical journal of a couple of these parties comes out about every two years. Yet they still intone defiantly that they are indeed the only real international party of the proletariat! What is even more cryptic is that the basic program of all the ICP’s is not just essentially, but in some cases, almost word by word the same!
Each of International Communist Party publications usually feature a short text titled “What distinguishes our party”. Unsurprisingly the wording of this programmatic text is almost the same from each group. The “Prolétaire” group have slightly expanded theirs, but not changed its basics. I’m not saying they should, but it still illustrates the weird fact of the existence of various near-identical mini-parties.
Also I don’t think that these splits were ever in detail discussed in public, with the exception of the 1952 split, which at least was founded on actual political differences. The existence of the various ICP’s on the other hand makes one wonder if perhaps the splits are more based on personal conflicts than actual political debates, or if it then seems to have been rather about tactical questions than programmatic ones. In any case, there are few texts from within this current that go deeply into these issues. This is not the case with the differences between the ICP tradition and other traditions of the organized ultra-Left as we shall see below.
First a quick round-up of the current English language publications of this tendency.
While it is historically strongest in Italy and France, the ICP current was always marginal in the english- (as well as german-) speaking areas. “Communist Left” – is published by an ICP which only has addresses in Florence and Liverpool (there also used to be a Madrid address). It comes out about every 1-2 years in English. The most recent issue we’ve seen is No. 29/30, dated 2010/11. It contains about 50 pages of relatively sweeping news, historical analysis, and 25 pages of reports on party meetings. The most interesting article is the second part of the series “The Workers Movement in Modern Iraq”. It seems to me that this is the smallest remaining ICP. They have some texts in other languages on their web site, but clearly – at least in German – these are some kind of google-translations. Remarkably not even the name of the party itself is translated correctly into German (“Kommunistischen International Partei”). It’s Italian paper “il Partito Comunista” appears every two months with 8 pages.
“Internationalist Papers” is/was published in a journal-sized book format about as infrequently as “Communist Left”. The most current issue we’ve seen in number 15 from October 2011. Again it is obvious that it’s not really possible to react to current affairs like that. This group is drawing consequences by announcing that this issues will be the last one to be printed, and – at least the English language texts – will only appear on the web site.
This group publishes “il Programma Comunista” every two months in Italian.
“Proletarian” is the English language supplement to “Le Prolétaire” coming out once a year now. This group may still be the “largest” in this milieu internationally, but doesn’t seem to have an organized presence either in the UK or in Germany. It publishes the bi-monthly papers “Il Comunista” in Italian and “Le Prolétaire” in French, as well as the theoretical journal “Programme Communiste” in French as well as a Spanish language edition. There are a couple of other organizations in this tradition, but they don’t have a presence outside of the Italian or French speaking areas.
A lot stronger than the various International CP’s just described is the tendency coming out of the other side in the historic 1952 split, the Internationalist Communist Party, then led by Damen and his comrades, which is often described with the title of their organ “Battaglia Comunista”. They currently form an “Internationalist Communist Tendency” (formerly the “International Bureau for the Communist Party”) consisting of Battaglia Comunista in Italy, the Communist Workers Organization in the UK, and other organizations such as “Sozialismus oder Barbarei” in Germany. In English they publish “Revolutionary Perspectives” as a quarterly journal.
So as you can see: to be continued…
- release date: 20 October 2012. 68 pages Datacide: Introduction Darkam: The Art of Visual Noise Nemeton: Political News: Surveillance and Control; Update on the American Radical Right and the Tea Party Movement Christoph Fringeli: Neo-Nazi Terror and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Germany Cherry Angioma: Communisation…