The role of prisoner support groups

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At the London Anarchist Bookfair this coming Saturday, 23 October, Brighton & Bristol ABC groups are both running stalls, and are also holding an open meeting titled ‘What is the role of the Anarchist Black Cross?’

It is from 1pm to 1.50pm in Room 325, 3rd floor of the Engineering building. Here’s the text for the meeting:

‘What is the role of the Anarchist Black Cross? Comrades are invited to consider what is the role of the ABC in the current UK context? What can be done to build a militant prisoner solidarity network? There will be brief introductions to the history of the ABC, and the changes to its role in the UK over the last 20 years. Then let the debate rage!’

A comrade from Brighton ABC has also had the following article published in Freedom newspaper, 9 October issue (page 4). We hope it’ll get the discussion going. Have a read…

What is the role of the ABC?

The Anarchist Black Cross has been around for over a century now and, like many other organisations, it role has changed over time. It started as the Anarchist or Political Red Cross sometime between 1900-05 to provide aid to comrades in Tsarist Russia and grew from there, changing its name to avoid confusion with the International Red Cross in post-Revolutionary Russia. It continued to send aid to anarchist prisoners in Russia but became an increasingly intermittent presence on the international scene during the
1930s, often under different names, as donations became scarcer and the remaining anarchists in the Russian prison system were finally killed in the Stalinist Terror.

The ABC name was resurrected in the late ’60s when Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer set up a group to provide support to anarchists in the prisons of Francoist Spain. From London, the ABC idea gradually spread across Europe and then the Atlantic, eventually forming an international network of often short-lived groups. Even before the end of the Franco regime, ABC groups had begun to widen their purview, supporting prisoners from the wider anarchist movement and other class struggle prisoners. And this involvement of ABC groups with other non-anarchist class struggle prisoners has often been criticised by some within the anarchist movement from our supposed role, but is in reality a natural development of our involvement in prisoner support in general.

Not every country is witness to a high level of active anarchist resistance against the State, the sort of thing that produces a steady stream of movement prisoners that demand our support. But, even where there are high numbers, those same prisoners inevitably develop ties with other class struggle prisoners by being involved in resistance against prison regimes alongside them. Unfortunately, many in the movement, often those with no experience of prison life, dismiss these prisoners as ‘social prisoners’, as though they are incapable of developing an active class-based political consciousness and are therefore not worthy of our support and solidarity.

It has been the experience of those rare long-term anarchist prisoners in this country, as well as those for example in the U.S. where there is a vast swathe of long-term non-anarchist prisoners, imprisoned for their political activities since the ’60s or who have become involve in radical and class-struggle based resistance whilst inside, that one finds comrades in struggle where one can. And the dictates of mutual aid and solidarity require one’s comrades outside prison to share those principles.

If we are to build an active anarchist presence in society, one of the first places we should be doing this is inside the prison walls. So if we cannot find it in our ideologically pure hearts to show some solidarity to those on the inside who continue to resist the State’s frontline weapon against non-conformity and dissent, even if they have come to that non-conformity and dissent late in life and do not necessarily call themselves anarchists, then we are not really worthy of the mutual aid and solidarity that we expect our comrades to show us.

For details of other London bookfair meetings click here.