Letter from John Connor

BCM 1715, London
27th July 1998.


Dear all,

I am intervening in the Black/Hogshire dispute because what was once about the relatively trivial matter of challenging Bob Black’s personal behaviour is now being used as a stick to beat anarcho-primitivism as a whole with. There have, for example, been calls in Montreal to ban Anarchy from a local bookshop just because it published a letter from Bob Black. Despite accusations of partisanship levelled at the zine, this letter wasn’t even about the dispute. In fact, Anarchy has freely published many letters attacking Black, its editor has condemned him for grassing, and has so far failed to publish Black’s side at all despite his demanding Anarchy do so!

I condemn grassing not so much on moral or ideological grounds as on practical ones. If the authorities consider you their enemy they won’t intervene to assist you when you ask because they want you to have a hard time — their proxies are probably responsible for it. By seeking their aid, you’re just giving them information that can be turned against you and wasting effort better put into developing your own means of defence. That the cops did act on Black’s information just goes to show how devoid of political significance the originating incident was. He was hardly informing as a matter of political strategy to negate political opponents as, for example, the CPGB used to systematically against other Leftists here in UK. I condemn Black’s grassing as I condemn all grassing, but not absolutely, as his more hysterical or ill-intentioned critics have. Clearly Black’s actions weren’t politically motivated, let alone systematic, and it’d be risibly paranoid to present him as either suborned by the State as a result of this incident or as some long-time infiltrator into the movement bent on disrupting it, as some have.

Whilst I am prepared to condemn all grassing, many of Black’s critics are prepared to condemn only his. As conceded by his supporters in Loompanics’ Autumn ’96 supplement Way Beneath the Underground and in the Seattle Weekly, Jim Hogshire not only went to the cops, but went to them first. Yet Hogshire’s supporters present the dispute as a Manichean struggle between ‘Saint Jim’ and an ‘evil’ Bob Black responsible for his petty martyrdom. As an incidental and not excusing Bob Black’s behaviour I’ll note that Hogshire’s druggy activities were so blatant that Seattle narcs would’ve soon busted him anyway without Black’s assistance. However, the main issue here is flagrant partiality, the failure to condemn Hogshire as a grass too.

Amongst the naive and moralistic, their excuse may be simple ignorance. Hogshire and his more cynical supporters have been busy threatening and censoring those putting out any version of the dispute other than their own. There are also sections of the movement more stimulated by sensationalist rumour than established fact, those inadequates that find condemnation so bracing they won’t listen to anything that deflates their simplistic black ‘n’ white world-view. They, of course, are always on the side of the angels (whoever they may be) but their embarrassing, shrill declarations always stink of either a worthless, untested virtue or hidden hypocrisy.

As to the others that lack even these sorry excuses, we have to return to the original incident to see what’s really going on. No doubt Black was as bad a guest as Hogshire was a host — he, at least, has stuck to one account of the incident, whilst Hogshire has told half a dozen — but when he rang Loompanics’ Mike Hoy, the latter chose to side with Hogshire against Black and it was this that decided him to call in the cops in lieu of having someone powerful within the movement fight his battle for him. Had Hoy remained neutral or been more open to the arguments of both disputants, this dispute would not have assumed the political significance it now has. Instead, he threw the full weight of his publishing house behind Hogshire and drew in other publishers too, most notably Adam Parfry at Feral House, to sign a statement based on Hogshire’s version that later turned out to be complete BS and to back a Hogshire Defence Fund that ‘Saint Jim’ later compromised by breaching bail. I don’t know Hoy personally, and so don’t know why he did this or why he didn’t back down when things started souring. His misjudgements wouldn’t matter if the movement as a whole was capable of dealing with them maturely. Instead, as in the Processed World dispute, the majority sided against Black for other than conscienscious reasons. During that, most in the Bay area backed PW un/principally because they did cheap typesetting. Similarly, as the publishers are king in the US anarcho-scene, most hadn’t the guts to cross those making a blatantly stupid stand for grass Jim Hogshire. Some may say ‘easy for you to say, on the other side of the Atlantic.’ That I say it from here shows a weakness of the Amerikan movement, their failure to properly address a profound political problem. To it, I recommend the same solution to this problem of monopolistic, profiteering, politically-manipulative publishers in the US as I did to the same problem in UK concerning AK Press: break their power by breaking their monopoly — self-publish or at least go to anyone but them to publish or purchase anarcho-literature until diversity and proper balance is restored to the movement.

Unsurprisingly, Bob Black’s long-standing enemies are seeking to exploit the groundswell against him. Seth Friedman has been blatantly partisan, mainly because Black pointed out Factsheet 5’s reviewing practices have the same sort of monopolistic effects as with the publishers, and are also highly destructive of the smaller self-publishers Factsheet 5 supposedly exists for. Similarly, we find anarcho-conservative Fred Woodworth railing against “FBI agent” Black and excluding his stuff from his New York bookstore when the only ‘disruption’ Woodworth really cares about: is the thorough trashing his Steam Age anarchism has suffered as a result of Black’s ridicule. As well as having his existing publications withdrawn from sale by Loompanics and Feral House in a blatant act of censorship which did little to redress matters regarding Hogshire and should have been alien to anyone in a profession key to upholding free speech, Black found no established publisher would touch Anarchy After Leftism because of the hysteria around the Hogshire dispute. He had to go to CAL Press — newly established precisely because of concerns over movement publishing monopolies — only to find most bookshops refused to stock it and most zines refused to review it. To me, the campaign against Anarchy After Leftism looks more like the established publishers manipulating the movement’s hysterical, condemnatory mood to strangle an upstart newcomer in infancy than anything principled and political. If this is not so, why do the likes of Woodworth not address the points raised in Black’s book rather than making ad hominem attacks on its author? It is too convenient for some to confute the man’s behaviour with his anti/ideology. Anarchy After Leftism is an important, strategic intervention in terms of blowing away the last of the sort of politics the likes of Woodworth advocates, and even Murray Bookchin — against whom it’s largely directed — has not been able to deal with it honestly. The attempt to ban Anarchy from Montreal bookshops just makes this anarcho-conservative hidden agenda explicit. That they have to resort to these diversionary tactics just goes to show they have nothing effective to say in response to the anarcho-primitivist critique, that their ideology is bankrupt.

To condemn grassing and state collaboration is commendable. To use complaints of grassing to front up a back-room campaign of State-like censorship, smears and intimidation in defence of business interests or an ideology whose revolutionary potential is now exhausted-and so is therefore a defence of the State at one remove — is more contemptible than the grassing originally complained of. If we condemn Bob Black over the Hogshire dispute, we must condemn his critics the more so.

Yours, for the destruction of Civilisation,

Editor, GA