Newcastle Lyon Sonvillier Dresden Berlin Petersburg Chita Moscow Helsinki Amsterdam Newcastle

In progress.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Northern Spring Begun

I was going to do a full post with all images and things I've drawn and everything, but my camera won't talk to the internet so instead, here in brief is where I am going to be doing the anarchist pilgrimage thing this Spring :

Sheffield, Thursday-Saturday 15th of this week. I moved from being an official part of the Sheffield zine fest to being a probable official part, but now I'm back to unofficial. But I have been doing my research in the archives there and will be producing a zine and display to feedback at the zine fair. I will also be giving away the first chapter of the anarchist pilgrimage zine, in a low-key fashion.
Sheffield Zine Fest

Leeds, Sunday 16th. Second part of the Yorkshire Zine Weekender, I'll be there with a collective of zine-makers and continuing what I began in Sheffield.
Leeds Zine Fair

Dumfries, 9th April. I hope to walk there over the hills, using the bothies. Details tbc!
Dumfries Anarchist Symposium

Huddersfield, June 8th-9th.
Unofficial Histories Conference

Others tbc and more details to come.
This blog's been quiet for a while but it's about to rush back into a busy life for the spring!
And, I promise, images to come!

Thursday, 19 December 2013


I hope in 2015 to go around the world, to repeat/continue and maybe even conclude the anarchist pilgrimage that I began in 2010.

But there's no way I can afford that in 2014. I need to spend at least some of the year saving up the money. And there are some other linked things I want to do here, at the beginning, at home. This blog post now is to introduce one of these.

It will be in March, I think. I've sent out feelers but nothing's fully confirmed. It comes from a suggestion that AJ made and that I've talked to quite a few of you about. About local research, about our specific cities, and about the difference between the past and now.

In the pretty recent past, men and women from the non-stinking-rich section of society tried to reach out across the world. They made international ties and formed mass organisations, the likes of which we would hardly dream of now. These were ties, were organisations, that took real commitment, with meetings, discussion, reading and organising, disputing and deciding and working out what it meant to work together, as a class. And they were revolutionary : their aim was to overthrow this world of exploitation, of poverty, rich versus poor, of lies and manipulation in the cause of injustice. Bakunin and Marx are the most famous names connected to the International on its European stage, and their famous falling out remains a source of worthwhile study: it spells out the difference between opposed political ideas, both revolutionary, and both a part of the vanished world that those predecessors of ours struggled and lived and died in.

There was a split into two rival, parallel Internationals, with Marx determined to keep it under his control and guidance, employing all his arsenal of libel, allegation, bullying and bureaucracy against real, potential or imagined rivals. Many would not join and obey him, and instead they formed an International that was longer lived, broader-based, and full to the brim with anarchists. It followed the spirit of international brotherhood that its members felt Marx's managerial dictatorship destroyed.

Now which of these two Internationals was the one that the groups of working men and women in your industrial city were part of? Which was their International? Was it the one full of anarchists or the one full of Marx? Were they rivals or were they combined, perhaps confused? Did the groups distinguish, discuss, debate and explicitly decide? Or was it just some distant continental nonsense that could be ignored. Are there traces of real antagonism between these different versions of the same goal?

I don't know, I haven't looked yet. But I think there will be some clues, and they will be in Bradford, Manchester, Sheffield, Middlesbrough. Some record will have survived, and some experts will have found out about this in their local context. And so this will be the aim of my next, much more regionally-traversible journey.

I think it will be March. Maybe a bit of February if I include Scotland. And I will be asking for your help, and staying over. I'll spend time in the archives, the local history section of the public library, and I might draw a blank. I've not done pre-research so I don't know yet if it's a fool's errand. But I'll find out something in the attempt, and I'd like to share it with you.

My idea is to tie the different findings together by presenting (& recording) them at suitable locations and events in the places that I go to. Not with a seated audience or anything, but as a small bit of 'extra', added to events that I think tie in. More details will follow.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Notes from Loughborough: Conference of the Anarchist Studies Network

There is an anarchist studies network. It is a fairly recent thing, which wasn't really around 10 years ago when I was doing my own 'academic' research into anarchism. But it attracted over 150 people to Loughborough University in the first week of September, and the kinds of things they talked about were mindboggling!

Some strands were a bit confusing to me: the anarchism & religion guys, for example, seem to take their subject entirely seriously, and as if religion is a valid domain for careful questioning. This takes a bit of a leap of faith for those of us with a limited understanding of why the big churches and religious orders haven't disappeared yet. Anarchism and disability, love, different national contexts, autonomism, artistic practice and postanarchism (bit of a dodgy label that, really: it relates to the meetingplaces of post-structuralist philosophy and postmodern shitmongering with anarchist ideas, as opposed to being 'post-' as in 'after-' anarchism in the way that 'post-'feminism is sometimes an 'after-'feminism reaction, or indeed the opposite to actual feminism).


I went to sessions, papers and workshops in as many of the strands as I could, my intention being to re-broaden my mind, to get a bit more up to date in the academic scene, and to seek to understand what people are finding interesting, and possible, to research. Here are some of my notes.

I drew pictures of a couple of sessions (painted, actually, with a really bad kids' paintbrush and a bottle of ink, my first attempt at that kind of drawing). One was of the really tight, really interesting 3-paper talk on Max Stirner: one of those sessions where you actually feel the insides of yourself learning, getting cleverer. The other was the goodbye plenary where, as in a quaker meeting, people were encouraged to be silent and open, and to speak if and only if they felt the urge. 

I also used this conference to launch the first introductory video'd presentation/performance of the anarchist pilgrimage project, and despite the relative lack of visuals (no audio- visual facilities in the room), I got some really positive responses and began dialogues with some new folk who may be interested in collaboration and touring. More on that when I edit the video (and that may take a while as I have other things I must prioritise first).

So all in all, a slightly unreal, very free and very eclectic and enquiring 3 days. I met & was looked after by some lovely people, missed a train but got away without having to pay extra, and opened my mind a bit to the kinds of enquiries that are not only permitted right now, but getting institutional, academic sanction. What a good country to be based in right now, and what a contrast to the fascistic turn that is taking place in Russia & Belarus. Where I hope to return next year. On a journey you are invited to share.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Video about the St.Imier Convergence

Having been to St.Imier for the 2012 anniversary, celebrating 140 years since some people stood up to authority and stood up for revolution, and sought to organise for solidarity and freedom. Me and another person from my home town, who I bumped into unexpectedly, will report back what we saw and heard and thought, so this video is to advertise it:

If you don't wanna watch 2 minutes of moving footage, here's the entire thing in stills!


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Besancon Zine, Text of the Poncey Intro

 I may or may not scan the zine I've stuck together about my trip to Besancon, Proudhon's hometown. It is mostly sketches and book extracts with a little bit of route explanation - very little navel-gazing. But I added this poncey introduction to it:

What's this Fanzine made out of?

Aside from these explanatory notes right here, everything in this fanzine travelled with me from Besancon: the compiling of these various pieces into a fanzine format allows me to collect these memories and traces together, and they are joined together by the journey they made with me.

- the map is what I used to locate myself between France and Switzerland & the 'Sunday 29 July' text are snippets from a printout of my blog entry, which I carried with me on my journey, alongside an explanation of the anarchist pilgrimage project, quickly translated into french by a work colleague of mine (this involved revealing my anarchist politics for the first time to everyone in the shared office). These were intended to ease introductions with european anarchists who were gathering in St.Imier - for why, you'll have to wait;
- the times new roman quotes are from my copy of George Woodcock's 'Proudhon' which I started reading as I reached the border on the way back from Switzerland (I'll also be making a similar zine from/about the St.Imier conference, to share at a report-back session in my hometown);
- the sketches were with a pen & pad bought in St.Imier, both now used up, and the locations were derived from that Woodcock book (which was surprisingly readable);
- the comments in 'this font' are my typed-up notes, scrawled at the time - a sample is included on the page with the fort picture;
- the photos were taken with the disposable camera that that those notes will later record me buying;
- the details of 4 Bisontin anarchist groups (in french) are taken from a flyer I had from St.Imier (on the train to which I also had the company of two some Bisontin anarchists - they got hassled by police at the border, telling them they'd better be pacifist or else! I meanwhile played the ignorant non-francophone tourist and wasn't even searched);
- my 60 euro train ticket to Paris is also stuck in the mix, and additional pictures are photocopied from an A4 magazine on Proudhon (in french) I bought at the bookfair in St.Imier, 'Itineraire',

and finally:
- the scrap of cartoon on the front cover, complete with its anarchist allusions to property and against election, came from one of the flyposted door-shutters in Besancon, just by the Librairie L'Autodidacte.

It is precisely that kind of trace, linking the present with the past, that gives me the thrills and sense of revelation on these journeys. To see a circled A in graffiti, or an anarchist sticker in a foreign town, is one thing, but you can never know the route, or the relevance behind it to the history you are pursuing: but to see one produced by a local group, in the very neighbourhood where the person you are tracking was born, is something else. And this one: it is stuck on someone else's unused property, it features pictures as well as words (my fanzine enthusiasm is closely linked with my visual-textual love, ie. comics!), it is layered upon other layers and layers of other flyposters, carrying through time in one place. The address is on the very street that the flyposter was pasted, and the square that was behind my back as I collected it will this month host the latest in a regular series of anarchist gatherings and open-air gigs: it's the centre of the local anarchist scene. The topics, also, those ideas carried forward from the past, are against playing the electoralist game, and of challenging the social normality of richmen's property ownership: two of the very issues that are what make Proudhon important, why historically we pinpoint him and rework, reprint his arguments (as I do in this zine, using Woodcock's helpful summary, over the last 3 pages). The use of the phrase 'anarchist', core arguments used by what was to become the anarchist movement, they are all there, in that fragment of paper and wallpaper paste, sun-faded ink and ideas and time.

These are the kind of themes that I wish to address in my presentation at the Loughborough Anarchist Studies Conference, 3 - 5 September 2012. And (for those who aren't there) it is for this event that I have printed this fanzine. I am beginning a series of art performances, with which I intend to share some of my experiences, thoughts and sketches form a much bigger journey I began 2 years back, following the routes of Bakunin And Kropotkin. If you're interested, or would like to join me next summer on a part of the concluding travels, see

Sunday, 29 July 2012

To Besançon, to meet Proudhon.

I have a train booked for Besançon, on the French side of the border from the Jura mountains. It is where Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who I have not spent much time with before, was born and began his political thought. My intention is to walk to the Swiss border, and from there to get somehow to the international anarchist conference in St.Imier. I am not yet sure this is feasible, but there is a good back-up in the train network back round and in through Basel. If I succeed in my little journey (time constraints mean there & back must all be done and past in 4 days), I shall blog it with the title being something like '_ miles, _ hours', the gaps being filled with however far and however long I travel. Watch this space!

For company, I will take a biography and written works of Proudhon. The extracts quoted below are all taken from the biographical sketch included in Iain McKay's Proudhon Reader, published by the anarchist publishing collective, AK Press.

Me and Proudhon have never been close. From my point of view, he's (a) a dusty old hero of the righteous cause, inaccessible, long-winded, long-past, and (b) just another of those comically-bearded dead chaps with a funny way of posing for photos.

Now he, being dead, and important, obviously doesn't care what I think of him, but the (a) and (b) above are part of the problem or the blockage or the weird alien-ness that I am trying to address with the anarchist pilgrimage. They are my problem, not his. It is hard to see the dead white bearded thinker before his time was past, his works recorded, his posterity sorted out and summarised and positioned against his opponents, the problems of his age, and the moving on of history. Same for Kropotin and Bakunin. And I am not really doing proper novel research that will compare against the grand tomes and traces that are left behind. 

I won't talk about his thoughts and ideas here, except as in regard to the sally I am going to make in August, to try and meet up with him. So, from Iain McKay's summary, let me list Proudhon's relationship with Besançon. As usual, this is more for my (Mike's) usage than yours (you the unknown stranger). It will help me not forget. Help keep me to my route. And as an aside to the Kropotkin-Bakunin pilgrimage, it will also help me to think through my relationship to these guys. Who are also dead. And also had famous beards.

"Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was born on 15th of January 1809 in the town of Besançon in Franche-Comté, a province in the east of France bordering the Jura region of Switzerland. Almost unique for his time, he was a major socialist thinker who was working class and he declared that his aim was to work “for the complete liberation of [his] brothers and comrades.” He lived in a period of massive social and economic change. The industrialisation of France was beginning (its full flowering came in the 1860s), he grew up surrounded by those who had taken part in the Revolution of 1789, experienced the July Revolution of 1830 and saw the birth of the French labour and socialist movements in the 1830s. All these influenced his ideas."

OK, so 'context', including the geographical as well as the historical context, as an influence and a part of his ideas. Before industrialisation - can we even imagine that context? I have so little relationship now to the items, the food and the furniture of my home, it is all taken care of by a globalised industrial non-human reality. Can I even imagine the worldview of those who saw this change coming, who responded to its threats and its possibilities, took its jobs, named it, and like Proudhon, tried to work out how to ethically and organisationally to respond and overcome it?

"After a brief period at the college in Besançon he was forced to leave school before completing his baccalaureate in order to support his family. In 1828 he became a working compositor; later he rose to be a corrector for the press. The following year he met utopian socialist Charles Fourier when supervising the printing of his Le Nouveau Monde Industriel et Sociétaire. Having several discussions with Fourier, he later recounted that for “six whole weeks” he was “the captive of this bizarre genius.” While rejecting Fourier’s utopian visions of perfect and regulated communities in favour of a “scientific socialism,” he had a lasting influence"

Fourier is a fascinating and irrelevant thinker. I still mean to get his categorisations of all the classes of 'cuckold' (for sale in the Baltic, weirdly), but I'd read it for entertainment, not education. 

For me - is the college still there? Where did he work? Which old buildings still stand? What are the public spaces of Besançon? The species of trees and the quality of the light? (getting a bit poncey there, I know, but you get what I mean!) And such a short biographical sketch is unclear - how often did he return to Besançon, what were his links there, his inspirations or sources of nourishment and concern?

"The turning point in Proudhon’s life came when, in 1838, he was awarded a scholarship to study in Paris by the Besançon Academy."

And that Parisian side of Proudhon's life (& his time in Lyons) I am not going to address right now. Suffice to say, he spoke out and made up a response to events - to war, industrialisation, the 1848 revolutions, the smug and cruel bourgeois veneer of democracy and the shame of a populist dictatorship (Louis Napoleon) taking over government - that stands him in great credit and taught the (not yet existing) anarchist movement how it could lay down a line of response and of thought which still, in its inner workings, is of relevance today.

His links to Besancon continued:

With his first famous work 'What is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government' considered for prosecution but turned down for the same reasons as below, Proudhon's  "Third Memoir (Warning to Proprietors) was published in 1842 and answered criticisms by a follower of Fourier. This work was seized by the Besançon public prosecutor and Proudhon was charged with
     “1, Attacking Property; 
      2, Troubling the public peace by exciting mistrust or hatred of the citizens against one or more persons; 
      3, Exciting hatred and mistrust of the King’s Government; 
      4, Outrage to the Catholic religion.”
Proclaiming his work too hard to follow and not wishing to imprison someone due to misunderstanding their ideas, the jury refused to convict Proudhon."

What a great list of things to be charged with - what an honour, to be charged with such things. And what a get-off: it's too long-winded and complex to be a threat!

"In April 1848 he stood as a candidate in the elections for the Constituent Assembly with his name appearing on the ballots in Paris, Lyon, Besançon, and Lille. He proclaimed in his election manifesto that he regarded “Property is theft!” as “the greatest truth of the century” and that “the negation of property is necessary for the abolition of misery, for the emancipation of the proletariat.” Unsuccessful, he was not deterred and ran in the complementary elections held on June 4th and was duly elected."

To check: elected where? Presumably in the working-class districts of Paris, where he had most support. And lest we fear that Proudhon, being elected, became a part of the ruling elite, he put out his papers (repressed) and spoke out, face to face against hecklers, in the Assembly itself, arguing for 'social liquidation' and identifying himself with the workers in opposition to and against the other members of the Assembly, which of course then censured him.

Later came his prosecution for sedition, three years' imprisonment, further journalism and writings that built on the lessons learnt (against electoralism, for example, and for free federation as a model of organisation), the 'bank of the people', dictatorship, and exile in Belgium. At his funeral, thousands of Parisian workers followed his casket to the Montparnasse cemetery.

And to finish with one occasion from Proudhon's life to remember: the kind of show of respect, kinship and honour that Marx, for example, would never get from the workers:

"When the 1848 Revolution broke out, he helped build barricades and set the type for the first republican proclamation. A group of workers, fresh from the barricades and still armed with muskets, visited Proudhon and asked that he resume his plan to publish a newspaper. He agreed and Le Répresentant du Peuple (The Representative of the People) was born, its masthead proclaiming “What is the producer? Nothing! What should he be? Everything!” This was the first of four newspapers Proudhon edited during the revolution, all with “People” in their name and all suppressed by the state."

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Introduction to performances of the Anarchist Pilgrimage

Beginning in September 2012, and continuing at sporadic, dispersed locations over the following year, I shall be performing feedback from the anarchist pilgrimage that I undertook in Summer 2010. This will be conducted as a connected series of short, live, multi-media presentations, each one focussing on a different leg of the journey, a different area of experience, and a different episode from Bakunin and Kropotkin's tumultous lives. 

In part, this can be seen as a show + tell of 'what I got up to on my holidays' - the pan-European routes taken by Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin in exile, in revolution and in exploration were, after all, the decisive factor that I then chose to try and follow for three months. But my own journey will also be intertwined with the historical narratives of Bakunin and Kropotkin's own journeys and, more questioningly, with our sense of an 'anarchist tradition': of a historical anarchist movement: the 'classical anarchism' that I, like many anarchists, prefer in general to denigrate and neglect. Anarchism has no leaders, no founders, no historical core and no lineage. This, it has been argued, is what makes its potential so strong, and its definition so inadequate. And it is why I chose to seek, by travelling, to reconnect with those two who are the most famous, the most notorious, the most reprinted and requoted myth-making characters of anarchism's identity. Their words had a context once, their struggles had to be embraced and their lives lived against the sound of a ticking clock, just like ours are. They were not born with their famous beards, they they too were once young and uncertain, and history then as now was unwritten.

Audience members will be invited to contribute visual and textual elements to each performance, the pace and progression of which will be grounded by the images, sketches, photographs and visual research that I brought back from my pilgrimage. Traces of anarchism found. Traces of distance travelled. And traces of thought remembered.

Each performance will be filmed, and the filming of the performance will be incorporated into the next performance, and so on for the next performance and onwards, until the whole thing is documented on film.

My own 'art' background really lies in zine-making and participatory papery encounters (collaborative comics, group story-making, mail art, typewriting with children, playful cut-ups and amendments of other people's printed matter). By branching out into live performance, I am challenging myself, first, to avoid habit and, also, I am confessing to the impossibility of focussing so much time, alone, on producing a giant printed document about my anarchist pilgrimage. The journey was undertaken because I realised a stage in my life was ending, and I needed to go, leave, come back. But I will not feel I have really returned until I can share, and talk, and think through this journey with other people. So the performances will be valuable for me on a personal level, too, and the reasons for this will emerge during the performances themselves.

The venues for the performance will be deliberately varied, as befits a project that can look like live art from one direction, and like anarchist historiography from the other. So anarchist conferences, live art festivals, seminar rooms, social centres and train carriages carefully reconstructed out of old cardboard will all provide the setting. The meaning of the piece will be coloured and filled out by these various contexts, and by the other talks, performances, meetings and events that go on alongside it. By enacting my feedback from the anarchist pilgrimage, I am keeping the journey alive, and this too is fitting, as anarchism is not a crystalline theory we can keep in a glass case, but something that always takes place now, in a hybrid setting, by people who could wear a dozen other labels, and amongst settings and events that colour any talk of 'freedom', of 'solidarity', or of any slogan and political dream.

Notes: this text is a work in progress, and will be amended, and in due course will be turned into a leaflet  (including a basic introduction to Bakunin and Kropotkin ). A list of venues will follow - feel free to suggest a suitable location!