1976: year zero

1976 : year zero

In year zero I left school in Scotland and went to work on a small-holding in Gloucestershire. I helped look after the goats and geese, ducks and chickens while rebuilding a derelict cottage. Only one room was habitable so I stayed in caravan. The summer of 1976 was ferociously hot. The cottage was built up against a hill. My main job was to dig out a six foot wide by 15 foot deep cutting between the cottage wall and the hillside. The hot weather meant the red clay soil was dry, which made the digging easier, but it was full of large lumps of sandstone rock. These were used to build a retaining wall against the hill. The spoil was tipped at the front of the cottage. Even for a physically fit teenager it was hard work, but I enjoyed it. I imagined I was a Victorian navvy, making a railway cutting. There wasn’t a flushing toilet and there was no bath. I could get a bath nearby, but due to the drought had to syphon the bath water, red with clay dust, out of the window onto a vegetable patch. Cooking was done on a coal fired stove. The cottage was in the Forest of Dean. Under laws dating back to the middle ages, people born in the forest had the right to dig for coal. So when coal was needed, it came from one of these ‘free’ mines. The mine was tiny, just a long sloping tunnel (a drift mine) into the ground with an ancient electric motor to pull tiny trucks of coal up a narrow gauge railway up from the coal face. The coal was tipped into a heap and every so often a lorry would take it to a power station in Wales. I was given a pile of sacks and told to fill them up from the heap. Each sack held about a hundredweight (50.8 kilos) so twenty sacks made a ton of coal. So the next time I had a bath the water was black, not red.

In the middle of the summer of year zero I went to London for a few days. I went via Stonehenge, I had heard about a free festival there. It was advertised on Radio Caroline, a surviving offshore pirate station. The festival was long gone though . He heat at midday was intense, the stones shimmering and dancing I the hot air. The land was parched and dust dry, more like Egypt than Wiltshire. There were dead elm trees everywhere (Dutch elm disease) which made the countryside look like winter. In London I wandered around Notting Hill and Portobello Road. I ‘d been sending Hawkwind science fiction stories and had a reply from Nik Turner. I was hoping to find Hawkwind’s office but didn’t. I did find some old copies of Oz and Frendz and Forbidden Planet where I bought an International Times, which was still going. If there were punks about, I didn’t notice them.

Then one night I I saw flashes of light and thought it was a nuclear war. Then it rained, only a violent thunder storm. Went back to Scotland to Stirling to university and joined an anarchist group. Most of the group were older, post-grads. We sold Black Flag on the anarchist stall, but they were more green, selling a magazine of ‘radical technology’ called Undercurrents. There was a book as well, called Radical Technology which came out in in 1976. In these days of peak oil and climate change it seems very sensible stuff –

Industry can expect to be taxed according to energy units used. Since goods imported from far afield will bear the tax incurred through energy used in transporting them, local materials will be more attractive. Similarly, since finished products sent to distant markets will bear the tax incurred by transport , manufacturers will cater chiefly for local markets. [Rad Tech p.227]

1977: year one
But I didn’t carry on, instead, by late 1977 I was back in Gloucestershire and working in factory. It was down by Lydney docks on the Severn. I worked in the engineering department , in the drawing office between the machine shop and the assembly shop. My job was to keep huge lists of all the parts, right down to each nut and bolt, for a rubber glove making machine which we were building. It was huge great thing. As each section was erected it was checked and the parts numbered then put into containers and sent off to Malaysia. It took a year to construct then deconstruct. The photo below was taken in late 1978 as the last load was shipped.

You can see the engineering shop on the right. I am in the front row, kneeling down, third from the right. As you can see it was an all male crew, although most of the 1000 workers on the site were women who worked packing the rubber gloves we made. It was a family affair, with wives and daughters/ husbands and sons all employed by the J.Allen Rubber Company – which was part of the London Rubber Company group. It is a sad photo really. The whole factory site was shut in 1981/2 and a thousand people lost their jobs. But more about that later.

1979: year three.
After the rubber glove machine had been shipped, my job was over. Luckily I was offered a job in the engineering department at the main site/ headquarters in London. So on 2 Jan 1979 started work there. It was a huge sprawling place on the North Circular Road near the river Lee near Walthamstow / Chingford. There were four rubber glove machines, two household ( Marigold), two surgeons gloves plus two Durex condom making machines and the condom testing and packing lines. On top were a set of offices where all the managers worked. I worked down in the bowels in the engineering foremen’s office. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I got there, the Conservatives got elected. By 1980 their monetarist economic policies were devastating manufacturing industry. The claim was they had to attack inflation but Alan Budd (who was an advisor to the Thatcher government) said in a 1992 TV documentary [Pandora’s Box by Adam Curtis] –

The nightmare I sometimes have, about this whole experience, runs as follows. I was involved in making a number of proposals which were partly at least adopted by the government and put in play by the government. Now, my worry is . . . that there may have been people making the actual policy decisions . . . who never believed for a moment that this was the correct way to bring down inflation. They did, however, see that it would be a very, very good way to raise unemployment, and raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes — if you like, that what was engineered there in Marxist terms was a crisis of capitalism which re-created a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since. Now again, I would not say I believe that story, but when I really worry about all this I worry whether that indeed was really what was going on.

Quoted in New Statesman March 2010
The full episode of the documentary plus comment by Adam Curtis can be watched here
[Thanks to Nick Hydra. Documentary also in ten minutes sections on youtube.]

In 1979, this was still in the future. In the even more distant future there was global warming/ climate change. With the benefit of hindsight, I now regret not going along to the editorial meetings of Undercurrents magazine which were held in London and open to readers. I might have become greener sooner, joined the Ecology Party as it then was (now Green Party) and … done something useful? Instead I went to a Ceinfuegus Press readers meeting which was also a Persons Unknown support group meeting … which led to the Crass/ Poison Girls Bloody Revolutions / Persons Unknown single and the Wapping A Centre and – at another meeting towards the end of 1979- meeting up with the Kill Your Pet Puppy collective.

To be continued.

  1. Lion
    August 25, 2010 at 3:44 am

    Good post Hydra : Much to reflect on.

    Marx and Bakunin had a tempestuous relationship –According to Marx, Bakunin was “a man devoid of all theoretical knowledge” ( and was ) “in his element as an intriguer”, while Bakunin for his part believed that “… the instinct of liberty is lacking in him ( Marx); he remains from head to foot, an authoritarian.” Marx also wrote stinging criticisms of Anarchists Proudhon and Stirner too.

    Max Stirner hated the authoritarian nature of Communism too, writing, “Communism rightly revolts against the pressure that I experience from individual proprietors; but still more horrible is the might that it puts in the hands of the collectivity.”

    On your other points Hydra, I agree that some Anarchist theory is more given to attractive moralising rather than a fully thought out systems ,but I don’t think that’s entirely true — I think Kropotkin had a well thought out philosophy, and I do think Tolstoy’s ideas too, could have been, indeed, can be, practised — but perhaps only on a smaller scale than we are used to, and also, with communities who all strongly share the same ideals.

    Regarding larger scale communities and Anarchism now — Some have argued that that is why the Spanish Anarchists failed in the Civil War period : they refused to organise on larger scales because that would have involved hierarchies and bureaucracies and elections, all of which would have compromised their Anarchist commitments. That lack of organisation on a larger scale though, made them easy prey for the Fascists and Communists, who did of course, sweep the Anarchists away eventually.

    Chomsky is convinced that Anarchist theory is superior to the Communist tradition, because it eschews hierarchies, retains humanism and side steps vanguard-ism and the mediation of bureaucratic elites. Chomsky is a firm believer in Anarchism’s ‘workability’,but I have only heard Chomsky discuss Anarchism in relation to small communities. I haven’t heard Chomsky discuss Anarchism as a national system, in inter action with other states/national systems.

    As for me, I’d trust an Anarchist one hundred or more times than I would a Socialist of Communist. In my experience, a man who believes in Lenin and Trotsky is a man who believes in vanguards and elites and mediation and so on, and all the nonsense that eventually brings with it. I don’t trust them.

    And remember, as I think Guvna mentioned in an earlier post — lots of current and past Labour government members have their roots firmly in Marxist movements, which is no great advertisement for its sincerity /workability either.

  2. Lion
    August 26, 2010 at 6:54 am

    Alistair and Nick, what do you think of Slavoj Žižek ?

    I don’t know the first thing about him, but I am curious.

    Just listening to his ‘Democracy Now’ interview right now…. I am listening — but I am not sure I understand his popularity and appeal –he doesn’t seem to be saying much which is new or fresh at all; just repeating compiled gems from the left wing canon, from Lukacz, to Trotsky to Lenin, to ’68.

    But — I know so very little about him, and wouldn’t jump to conclusions.

  3. Lion
    August 26, 2010 at 7:11 am

    Oh dear, much of what he says in his interview with Amy Goodman regarding Iraq etc is very cliched, humdrum and banal…..

  4. Nick Hydra
    Nick Hydra
    August 26, 2010 at 6:19 pm


    Never heard of him…

    Most ‘theory’ leaves me cold to be honest.

  5. Graham Burnett
    Graham Burnett
    August 27, 2010 at 1:12 am

    Bakunin, bollocks, fun and farts
    Hit the right fantasy and come up the charts…

  6. AL Puppy
    AL Puppy • Post Author •
    August 27, 2010 at 8:19 am

    On Zizek “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”

    [Marx: Theses on Feuerbach, No.11, 1845]

  7. Lion
    August 27, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Heh heh heh, well if anyone needed evidence of utterly bankrupt the ‘new Marxist intellectuals’ really are, watch Zizek in full flow. The banality and bulls___t is shocking….


    Heh heh….Europe’s new Communist intellectuals eh?

  8. Nick Hydra
    Nick Hydra
    September 11, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Another quick quote from “Direct Action: An Ethnography” by David Graeber (AK Press 2009), “Marxist theories about labour value, forces of production, and the like are simply the most sophisticated working out of a much more common theme, a concern with creative powers and creative energies that has always been at the center of what came to be known as the Left – a political orientation that, after all, was dedicated to the proposition that since human beings create and recreate the world every day, there is no inherent reason why they should not be able to create one we actually like.”

    Compare this very clear and straightforward articulation of a complex set of ideologies, with this which is from the opening paragraph of “Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces” by Raul Zibechi. Bear in mind that the translator’s note said “I attempted to use a everyday language that will be familiar to engaged, English speaking readers…”

    Brace yourselves… “During moments of insurrection, mobilizations dissolve state and social movement institutions. Societies in movement, articulated from within quotidian patterns, open fissures in the mechanisms of domination, shred the fabric of social control, and disperse institutions.”

    Sorry, what?

  9. Graham Burnett
    Graham Burnett
    October 17, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    I picked up another John Seymour book in a charity shop in Basildon the other day, havn’t got it to hand so can’t give you the exact quote, but there was something in it about getting away to the countryside to escape all the ‘ignorant people’ who live in cities, which to me kind of speaks volumes about where he was coming from ideologically, and ceratinly isn’t the same place as me!

  10. AL Puppy
    AL Puppy • Post Author •
    October 18, 2010 at 12:08 am

    I have lived in a city and lived in the countryside and found a mixture of ignorance and intelligence in both. If anything, I would say you have to be a bit smarter to survive in the city than in the countryside. City life is more intense, so reactions need to be quicker.

  11. Kerr Ray Z. Fokker
    Kerr Ray Z. Fokker
    October 19, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Missed this thread.

    The seemingly unstoppable spread of estuary english into regions hitherto unknown has convinced me that the city (or rather Londinistan) is slowly subsuming the countryside. Maybe Jummy Pursey was right all along!

    AL is on the right track though. Cityfolks seem to process information faster.

    AL, did you hear that last surviving elms in sussex are being killed off by a new outbreak of disease?

  12. Observer
    October 29, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Slavoj Žižek shows how redundant middle class communists in Western Europe really are — Zizek, a hack from the old Iron curtain world, is doing little more than trying to re-sell and re-package oppressive Communist crap, dressed up in the garb and aura of ‘radicalism’ , all presented to the same audiences within the same milieu targeted by other frauds like Badiou. It really is redundant. Whatever one thinks of Anarchism ( personally, I favour it ) you got to hand it to Anarchists for rejecting DOP Communism outright and without reservation, from Bakunin to Stirner to Malatesta, onwards and up to modern day ‘Anarchists’ like Chomsky.

    If you ask anyone who actually lived through Stalinist and Leninist hell in places like Ukraine and Poland what they think of people like Badiou and Zizek, you’d get a far more accurate idea of what they are really about.

  13. gerard
    October 30, 2010 at 10:38 am

    “If you ask anyone who actually lived through Stalinist and Leninist hell in places like Ukraine and Poland what they think of people like Badiou and Zizek, you’d get a far more accurate idea of what they are really about.”

    I asked my wife & she’s never heard of them.

  14. Observer
    October 31, 2010 at 2:51 am

    Heh heh heh….probably a good thing she hasn’t heard of ’em Gerard. I wish I hadn’t heard of ’em too !

    And if you ever did want to know about ’em, here’s an example of the ‘profundity’ of Zizek.


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