The Smoke-Dragon and how to Destroy it (Edward Carpenter) – Now published!

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) was one of the most progressive thinkers and activists of the late-19th, early 20th centuries. He was an early supporter of the Bristol Socialist Society and paid regular visits to the city. Now remembered and celebrated mostly for his support for libertarian socialism and gay politics, he also took up ‘green’ causes. Carpenter’s campaigns for smoke abatement have rarely been revisited. His serialised essay on the subject, ‘The Smoke-Dragon and How to Destroy it’, which first appeared in The Clarion in 1894, has never been republished until now.

Here ‘The Smoke-Dragon’ is accompanied by Stephen E. Hunt’s new essay on this unexplored area of Carpenter’s work. He finds that Carpenter can be credited with renewing the issue of smoke abatement in public debate during the late 19th century, and that the topic is of a piece with his broader thinking about social justice, class and health inequalities. Smoke pollution from burning coal was endemic in 19th century cities. Smog not only provided the ‘London particular’ for the evocative Victorian melodramas of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson but caused thousands of premature fatalities in real life. It was a mass killer that blighted the lives of entire urban communities in Carpenter’s own Sheffield and throughout centres of industry, right up to its tragic culmination in the notorious Great London Smog of 1952.

There have significant improvements in air quality due to reduced coal burning in the West since the Second World War. Nevertheless, in the present day the World Health Organisation still considers air pollution to be ‘the world’s largest single environmental health risk’. The increase in petrochemical smog caused by sources such as vehicle emissions ensures that outdoor air pollution continues to exact a catastrophic death toll in the world’s megacities. Even in Bristol, recently a so-called ‘Green Capital’, it is estimated that around 200 early deaths can be attributed to poor air quality each year.

Available from: http://www.brh.org.uk/site/pamphleteer/smoke-dragon-destroy/

Cover of Bristol Radical History Group pamphlet #38

Vegan Food before Veganism

I was delighted to happen upon a nicely-presented pamphlet called ‘The Victorian Vegan’ this weekend. It seems it was the product of many happy hours spent perusing the Vegetarian Society’s extensive archive of Victorian magazines dedicated to the vegetable diet. The result is an opportunity to time-travel on an excursion to the vegetarian eateries of Victorian Britain and Ireland.

Enthusiasm for what Percy Bysshe Shelley called the ‘vegetable system of diet’ was already well established during the Romantic era. There is a satirical chapter dedicated to the vegetable system’s advocates and detractors, for example, in Thomas Love Peacock’s Headlong Hall (1816). I was not surprised then that  Richard Cubesville cites the first vegetarian cookbook as Martha Brotherton’s Vegetable Cooking by a Lady, published as early as 1812. It was during the mid- and late Victorian era, however, that vegetarian diet was really able to establish itself as a culture, with the Vegetarian Society founded in 1847.

The pamphlet’s ‘special pull-out recipe section’, featuring authentic recipes from such publications as The Dietetic Reformer and The Vegetarian is wonderful. I am tempted to try out such dishes as the red kidney bean and macaroni soup, plain bird’s nest sago pudding ( no birds evicted) and chestnut cheese-cake (no diary included). These are surely an attractive alternative to the paleolithic diet for twenty-first century diners with historic tastes.

‘The Victorian Vegan’ is an appetiser for more lengthy academic studies such as Colin Spencer’s Vegetarianism: A History. While Spencer’s title takes us back to the beginnings of human history, it was not until as recently as 1944 that the term ‘vegan’ was coined. Produced in the best tradition of DIY publishing and unofficial history, ‘The Victorian Vegan’ (£2.50) is available from http://www.activedistribution.org/ or directly from the author at: Cubesville[@]hotmail.com

victorian-vegan-cover

Sally Seymour’s contribution to Radical Technology

Sally Seymour’s illustrations appear in two articles inthe 1976 collection Radical Technology which included ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Across the Hungry Gap’, written by her husband John Seymour (1914-2004). Born Sally Medworth in London in 1933, but brought up in Australia, she moved to England during the 1950s, where she met and married John in 1954. Sally was also establishing herself as an artist and potter at this time.

The inclusion of the work in Radical Technology was fortuitous and timely since 1976 was the year that the most famous and successful of the Seymours’ many books was published. The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency was to sell more than a million copies and captured the popularity of back-to-the-land sentiments during the mid-1970s. The huge publishing success can be attributed in part to the attractiveness of Sally Seymour’s many meticulously drawn and charming illustrations.

The designs, somewhat reminiscent in theme to the etchings of Robin Tanner or even Samuel Palmer, were in fact created by etching from scraperboard coated with china clay and black ink.

There were six illustrations by Sally Seymour on display at the Radical Technology Revisited Conference, held at the University of Bristol earlier this month. These were first published the earlier title Self-Sufficiency in 1973 and reproduced in Radical Technology. Their style is characteristic of those that appeared alongside John Seymour’s prose in many titles that promoted self-sufficiency and celebrated the countryside including The Fat of the Land (1961), The Countryside Explained (1977), I’m A Stranger Here Myself – the story of a Welsh farm (1978) and The Lore of the Land (1982). The recurring theme of was the Seymours’ experiments with the productive acreage of their smallholding, where they lived with their five children at Newport in Pembrokeshire.

The second eldest daughter, Anne Seymour, also a potter, continues to work on the same family smallholding with her husband David Sears in the present day. They run Carningli Press which promotes the creative output of the Seymour family. Following a stroke down her right-hand side in 2004 Sally relearned how to continue paint using her left hand.

To find  out more about the Seymour family, and see examples of Sally Seymour’s work, visit the Carningli Press website: http://carninglipress.co.uk/index.php

Radical Technology Revisted conference exhibition Sally Seymour art.jpg

Sally Seymour’s art formed part of the exhibition for the Radical Technology Revisited Conference at the University of Bristol 2-4 September 2016.

 

Street Farm in Undercurrents magazine

I have been revisiting issues of the classic 1970’s and 1980’s magazine Undercurrents, in preparation for an exhibition to feature at the forthcoming Radical Technology Revisited conference (University of Bristol Students’ Union, Bristol (2-4 September 2016).

Undercurrents featured Street Farm’s work several times and Undercurrents editor, Godfrey Boyle, was to interview Graham and Bruce for publication in the original Radical Technology published in 1976. The Street Farmers were, after all, among the most ambitious and practical exponents of radical technology. Radical Technology was an impressive compendium of writings that was a high-point in the theory and practical application of technological and social alternatives and it was fitting that they appeared within its pages.

Issue 4 of Undercurrents (Spring 1973) included a republication of ‘Ramifications and Propagations of Street Farm’. This document began as a fold-out sheet which explained the group’s philosophical principles, produced by Graham Caine and Bruce Haggart to hand to the steady number of visitors during the construction of Street Farmhouse. This was in part to save time and breath in endless explanations of the revolutionary purpose underpinning the strange construction, in the corner of some playing fields in Eltham, which was to be the first intentionally built ‘Ecological House’. ‘Ramifications’ drew in part on social ecologist Murray Bookchin’s ideas about liberatory technology.

Following ‘Ramifications’, on pages 43 to 46 is a photo feature of Street Farmhouse under construction. A four-page montage of images is captioned with various revolutionary slogans. There were physical boards sporting such slogans and green power symbols on the house, but it is believed that the local planning authorities demanded their removal on the grounds that their prominent display broke planning and advertising regulations! The black and white images show grafting street farmers with their tractors and the elements that were to contribute to efforts to make the ecological house as independent of the service grid as possible, such as a methane digester, solar heaters, rainwater harvesting and a greenhouse. These are overlaid with slogans such as the transplantation of the Rousseauist ‘Born to be free we live in chains yes there is something wrong’ to twentieth-century suburban London. From the nineteenth century, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s ‘Property is Theft’ was popular among 1970’s radicals. Street Farm were also influenced by Situationist notions of unitary urbanism in which social production is no longer segmented into binary spaces for work and non-work but is wrest away from the domination of employment to the kind of recreational tinkering around for pleasure that the Street Farmhouse project exemplifies. They announce, slightly cryptically: ‘Authentic urbanism will be signalled by the dislodging of those forces occupying certain zones’ In this respect they determined to ‘transmogrify’ the city, for the most part resisting the temptation to relocate to rural communes.

Lord Holford spoke of Graham and his ‘Ecological House’ with approval as a forward looking experiment in practical conservation in a Parliamentary debate. In retrospect this is ironic since the House of Lords is a very different kind of house whose sustainability was surely not part of Street Farm’s vision of a greener future. With slogan’s such as ‘Up Against the Hedge Mother Earth Fuckers’, I wonder if their lordships knew what they might be getting into?

The grainy images are not easy to read but if you go to Undercurrents Issue 4 on the digital archive you can expand the images online and see the photo feature for yourself on pages 43-46.

Undercurrents 4 featuring Street Farm photo feature 1973

 

‘Brexit’: Should media leaders call for their own resignations?

EU Thought for the Day 2

The second thing we have learned is that the British media is NOT a trusted source of information for understanding the context of what is going on.

There is no doubt in my mind that the extraordinary outcome of the vote of 23rd June 2016 can to a substantial degree be attributed to the media framing of the referendum debate.

We didn’t just imagine the bias

In terms of national newspapers the bias is clear. A detailed preliminary study of early news coverage by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, published a month before the EU referendum, already found a significant weighting for the Leave campaign and against the Remain campaign. Their full report, promised in September 2016 will make interesting reading. The Huffington Post reported findings presented by the Centre for Research in Communications and Culture (University of Loughborough) in the form of extensive analysis of media coverage a week before the referendum. This study produced evidence that ‘when weighted to circulation there was a huge gulf between the two camps: 18% of coverage was Remain, and 82% for Leave’. If this is the case, millions voted or abstained against the exhortations of the media elites. It is surely difficult to have a fair and effectively functioning democratic process with extreme oligarchical control of public information and discourse.

Tellingly, the Scottish media was significantly different in its approach to that south of the border.

The BBC: where was our trusted source?

In my opinion the BBC also failed as a trusted source. Not only does the BBC reflect public opinion, it is probably the most influential shaper of public opinion in the United Kingdom. The BBC of course was ostensibly neutral and objective. At least in as much as it may have allocated more or less equal amounts of airtime to the Tweedledums of the Leave Campaign and to the Tweedledees of the Remain Campaign. Yet, with countless hours of stay / go set pieces, the Beeb failed to set the over-arching context for what was going on, set the agenda in its selection of what its programmers considered the key issues to be and so skewed the nature of the debate.

This is my personal experience of the BBC coverage, mostly relating to radio news broadcasts and commentary. In the many hours of BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service (usually better than the former) and BBC 24-hour television news I listened to I heard no explanation of what the European Union is. I’ll wager that most people probably don’t know who their MEPs were / are when the debate got underway, and probably still didn’t know when they went to the polls on the fateful day of 23rd June. Perspectives from those actually directly elected to represent the European Union – Members of the European Parliament were almost entirely absent from the top ten most prominent commentators on the EU referendum. Indeed we scarcely heard any voices from within the other institutions of the European Union – the European Council, the European Commission, the Council of Ministers, or the European Court of Justice speaking in the capacity of EU representatives in the BBC news. More EU voices have been heard after the debate in the context of discussions about the trigger for Article 50 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the Europe Union and negotiations regarding the Single Market. Furthermore the most prominent speakers during the EU referendum debate were men rather than women. There was, of course, one MEP who gained plentiful air time; one Nigel Farage, former commodity broker and leader of the UK Independence Party, whose most prominent sympathiser within the European Parliament is Marine Le Pen of the Front Nationale.

 

 

How the EU Works a video guide accessed 29 June 2016

The BBC’s key online guidance on the European Union was not updated for the EU Referendum – website accessed 29 June 2016

BBC online EU guidance scandal

If we consider the absolute and total power that the European ‘Superstate’ is claimed to have over everyone’s lives, it is rather astonishing that proceedings in any of the European Union institutions or politicians representing them are largely absent from regular BBC news reporting (occasional ‘Politics Europe’ reports appear on the BBC Parliament TV station). The BBC did produce a brief overview – ‘What is the EU and how does it work?’ with slightly jocular little video about the EU but it mentions little  about the functions and nothing of the representative arrangements of the EU institutions (contrast with all the pomp and circumstance that it daily bestows upon the movements of the Royal Family). Following links from this webpage to the BBC ‘Inside Europe’ webpage [accessed 29 June 2016] reveals that the latest available news story was published on 7 July 2015 and links to other guides which, for the most part, were created more than two years ago. The oldest of these, the useful ‘EU Glossary’ or Jargon Buster dates from as long ago as 2010 – and it only runs from A-C – the other definitions are either missing or the researchers ran out of steam before producing them in the first place. Astonishingly the BBC’s main, detailed webpage providing the context and explanation of the European Union institutions is nearly two years out of date! This is How the EU works: a video guide [accessed 29 June 2016]. It was created 16 July 2014 and has not been updated, as evidenced by such statements as:

‘Their chairman is European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who took office in 2009 and will step down in December 2014’ and ‘The EEAS is led by Baroness Ashton from the UK, a Labour Party peer, who will step down in December 2014’.

The point of all this, is that the BBC, the United Kingdom’s leading broadcaster, apparently did not update, overhaul and check for accuracy the essential online contextual information necessary to inform what has widely been regarded as the most important national debate in the present century.  This seems to throw doubt on its diligence in meeting its famous Reithian mission to ‘Inform, Educate and Entertain’. Surely the BBC should have provided less reportage of antagonistic disputes between supposed opposites, and provided more regular information about the European Union alongside its analysis of the economic impact of the referendum outcomes.

It is significant in the context of the subsequent proposition that the public was ill-informed about the European Union and claims that thousands, or even millions, subsequently thought they might have voted differently.

Known unknowns

It also appears to me that the BBC has selected and foregrounded particular issues whilst neglecting others in recent months. It regularly led on stories about the so-called immigrant problem but has either not reported or provided little coverage of:

  • The major national upheavals in France and the rise of the Nuit Debout movement since March;
  • Coverage of RAF bombing raids in Syria seemed to cease after the Parliamentary decision to take action and bombing began the following day;
  • The most successful adversaries of ISIL in the Middle East, the Kurdish revolutionaries in the Syrian cantons of Rojava, with their extraordinary experiments in direct democracy / democratic confederalism, gender equality and ecological sustainability in the most desperate and unpromising circumstances, appear to have suffered from a de facto news black-out;
  • While immigration was the third most prominent issue during the period of the EU referendum – after the referendum itself and its economic impact – (according to the University of Loughborough research) the environment did not make it into the top ten issues discussed in the newspapers or on television news at all. From my own experience, I would expect this absence of environmental issues also to be case for radio news broadcasting.

But are there also many other unknown unknowns that we don’t know we don’t know?

What happened to the Beeb?

I conclude with some final thoughts about the BBC in particular. On balance, considering its output as a whole, the BBC is a cultural force for good which must be defended from those who would break-up the publically owned organisation because it is too successful for its commercial rivals. It may be that the BBC immigration agenda was influenced by the other mass media concentration upon the subject. It may be that more news stories about migration created more public interest and anxiety around the issue creating further appetite for news in a miserable vicious circle. It may be that the BBC’s approach and its routine sourcing of input into the debate right-wing think tanks such as Migration Watch, who frame migration as a causal problem rather than a symptom, gave the less nuanced right-wing press licence to foreground the extreme anti-migrant sentiment that seems to have become a defining motivation in the Brexit result.

There must be more scrutiny of the role of media as a whole in the EU referendum and in this great year of resignations; they may yet report some of their own.

‘Brexit’: The Ultra-Establishment Bites Back!

European Thought for the Day No 1. So here is the first thing that we HAVEN’T learned. That the victory of the Leave campaign signals the victory of ordinary people over the Establishment.

In my opinion the EU referendum was a contest that reflected an underlying tension within the global capitalist Establishment, between a social democratic model and a Neo-Liberal model. For all the simplistic binary opposites Stay / Go; In / Out; Leave / Remain, and however many times the BBC tried to get ‘with it’ by playing The Clash’s ‘Should I stay or should I go’ I have not been persuaded otherwise. To endorse so-called Brexit is turning out to be a de facto endorsement of the Neo-Liberal Establishment, effectively providing a mandate for whatever Brexit Conservative government rises whether led by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Theresa May or even the obese John Bull himself.

Lets make Britain great again.png

Big business elites support for so-called populism. Headline in yesterday’s Daily Star, owned by Richard Desmond, reputedly the 48th richest person in UK

Breakdown of the social democratic consensus

Since WWII there has been a largely social democratic consensus. This was a combination of:

A pragmatism and self-interest – in order to compete with the state capitalist power block of the Soviet Union and its satellites and in order to defuse revolutionary socialist demands for a society to be run for human need not private profit from the militancy before and after World War One to the Spanish Revolution, to the popular disaffection that threw out Winston Churchill’s after World War II and the ‘evenements’ in Paris and elsewhere in 1968 and growth of the counterculture in the late 1960s, early 1970s.

B a Whiggish assumption of social progress and liberal humane belief that if the economy kept growing then the ultra-rich could continue to reap huge profits whilst raising the standard of living for all.

At the same time the social-democratic model has been based on, first, direct Imperialism and then, after decolonisation, neo-imperialist trade relations due to the vast inequalities in global capital and power. It has experienced regular and defining crises, such as the oil crisis of 1973. Above all is it based on unsustainable economic growth on a finite planet.

Neo-Liberalism tears asunder

Since the 1970s a rival global capitalist model, usually termed Neo-Liberalism, has emerged, personified by right-wing politicians such as Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher, steeped in the thinking of free market ideologues such as Milton Friedman. Critics such as Naomi Klein have traced the first interventions of this programme to the US influenced intervention in the Chile in 1973 when the elected social democratic government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in a military coup, resulting in the deaths of thousands (the number of those that ‘disappeared’ has been impossible to quantify) and the installation of the Pinochet Dictatorship. This new model was consolidated by the collapse of state capitalist Soviet regime from 1989 to 1991 when Francis Fukuyama famously proclaimed the ‘End of History’ and the final victory of free market Liberal Democracy.

The Neo-Liberal programme has been broadly characterised by the implementation of policies to wipe away social protections and slash public spending, welfare programmes and environmental protection and to build up a powerful state apparatus to smash opposition to such so-called ‘reform and modernisation’ from troublesome communities such as the miners, travellers, anti-war activists and environmentalists. Notwithstanding occasional setbacks, such as the popular defeat of the Poll tax, this neo-Liberal juggernaut has enjoyed, in its own terms, much success. In this context the so-called Brexit is a significant step forward for Neo-Liberalism.

The European Union is a kind of muddling together of the two approaches. It was forged in the heyday of social democracy during the immediate post-War period and was deeply imbued with such values so with significant differences of opinion on particular policies and strategies existed a broad social democratic consensus as the European Union has evolved and enlarged to its current 28 member states (current until the exit of the UK is formalised). However the EU is a deeply contested space enshrined internal contradictions and the forces within it are now causing this consensus to break down. It has always been a powerful force for globalisation and dominated by national interests and existed as a Fortress Europe to violently exclude others from sharing in the vast capital it has ‘accrued’ (even if this capital has been generated off the backs of, and through the intellectual endeavours of, non-EU workers).

This muddling together of motivations and approaches accounts for the divisive interpretations of the value and direction of the European Union with big business supporting both sides and close friends with similar ideological approaches such as David Cameron and Michael Gove.

Euros latest. English and Welsh working and middle class score an own goal in Brexit.

As I write global markets are jumpy. This may precipitate an ongoing economic crisis, a second wind for the economic crisis of 2008 and will almost inevitably be followed by the unleashing of an intensified imposition of austerity measures. It is conceivable that some parts of the British economy will do well and economic growth will rise due to the attractions of a ‘business friendly’ economy. But the UK politicians on both sides of the EU referendum debate have already trumpeted the UK’s status as the world’s 5th largest economy – this has clearly not benefited most of the people who live in this area. Real wages have declined. The number of people that are homeless and living on the streets rapidly increased. And for the time in modern history a generation is leaving school that can expect to work more hours for less reward. In a particularly profound demographic indicator that all is not well there are even signals that increases in life expectancy are reversing.

Brexit is in effect a mandate for neo-Liberalism since if a new Conservative Brexit government consolidates its new found power I confidently predict:

  • The accelerating dismantlement and privatisation of the NHS – among leading Brexit supporters, John Redwood wanted to stop EU contributions in order to put more money into the ‘Health Service’ during the run up to the referendum, tellingly not the National Health Service. Nigel Farage has long been known to favour outright privatisation of the NHS
  • More restrictions on trade unions – I would speculate that the recent Trade Union legislation was moderated in part because David Cameron needed to make a temporary strategic ceasefire with representatives of the labour movement because many had common cause in the Remain campaign.
  • More zero hours contracts, and ‘flexible working’ a longer working week, further reduced pensions’ provision,
  • Cuts to welfare and public spending,
  • More expenditure on state forces, repression of public protest and increasing removal of civil liberties
  • The removal of environmental protection measures
  • The destruction of historic buildings and loss of green spaces in rural and urban districts alike for profitable private construction schemes

As I write there are already promises by the Conservative government’s Business Secretary, former City Banker, Sajid Javid to make Britain more ‘business friendly’.  ‘Business-friendly’ is Neo-Liberal Establishment code for low wages, reduction of taxes on big business, and the removal of such ‘red tape’ as health and safety and environmental protection measures.

The Ultra-Establishment ‘Anti-Establishment’ elites

Now here’s the crowning irony. This is the real stroke of genius this one. The greatest achievement of this Neo-Liberal ultra-Establishment has been to present itself as anti-establishment. This phenomenon has been accepted at face value and unchallenged by the BBC and most of liberal opinion. We have seen the rise of the so-called ‘anti-Establishment’ mavericks and rebels such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage in politics and Jeremy Clarkson in popular culture. This is exemplified above all by that multi-billionaire inheritor of wealth and property tycoon Donald Trump, who has consistently presented himself as an anti-Establishment man of the common people.

Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are not anti-Establishment or the advocates or defenders of the interests of ordinary people. Neither are they our friends.

West Country Alternative and Radical Press

 

There’s much to explore and celebrate in the tradition of the West Country’s alternative press. The radical papers of yesteryear are now yellowing and difficult to find, since they were ephemeral and low circulation. Let’s take a look at these often forgotten contributions to the Bristol region’s cultural life since the 1960s.

When I was a student in 1980’s Bath there was a Gestetner spirit duplicator that we staggered around between residences, like a freaky heavyweight pete residence concerned it w a small space, ok an extremely tiny space, sential part of the fabric . It needed to be fed on alcohol-based liquids to produce anything (like us sometimes), and could, at least theoretically, print ranting leaflets exhorting anti-Apartheid, solidarity with

Nicaragua, protests against McDonalds or whatever issue currently featured on the campaign frontline. Nothing more sharply replicates in my mind the transformation in information technology since than that we considered this machine was viable. Yet we owned the means of production and saw ourselves as reclaiming a modest (ok, tiny) space, from the control or ‘cultural hegemony’ of mainstream media dominance.

The revolution in people’s radical media began in the 1960s, when offset lithography brought the capacity for cheaper printing to local groups. During the underground press heyday, leading titles such as International Times, Oz and Frendz sometimes reported regional events, but were London-based. Student radicals dismissed the Bristol Post as ‘the fascist capitalist press’. The West Country, therefore, needed its own publications to give expression to, and nurture, its emerging counterculture. Bristol’s hippy paper was Seeds: Bristol Street Press, published 1970-1971. Despite its flower power covers Seeds dealt with combative issues including squatting in Clifton, industrial pollution in Avonmouth and public transport. It attacked the city’s democratic deficit, appealing to readers to put ‘people before cars’ and fight the policy of ‘murdering Totterdown’ (scene of an epic battle between locals and developers):‘Then you will see democracy in action (like hell!) democracy by the planners for the planners’.

Bristol Voice was the leading paper for grassroots campaigns and resistance in the 1970s and 1980s. It had a track record in holding local government to account. A flick through Bristol Voice’s pages brings back to life the city’s former public controversies. Such publications are a repository for the spirit of the times, capturing such intangible qualities as the powerplay and humour of Bristolian life.

The alternative press posed a refreshing and lively challenge to conventional media. Of countless local papers I shall, for the sake of comic effect, limit mention here to the outlandishly titled Scrump, Glastonbury Gurner, B.L.A.S.T. (Bristol Lesbians Are Supremely Talented) and Evening Post Mortem. Some may have been one-offs, now lost without trace; each was an experiment in production and communication. They provided outlets for contrarian voices absent from corporate media, now more tightly controlled than ever. Alternative publications relished the opportunities their financial independence and autonomy afforded to prioritise issues they felt mattered most to local citizens.

Independent community journalists saw their strength as the ability to draw upon local networks to engage and represent diverse perspectives that the top-down, business-sponsored mainstream failed to express, such as sympathy for striking workers and support for public services. Bristol Voice, for example, regarded its role as ‘reporting openly on the lives and struggles of people who can’t get fair hearing in our “free” press”’ In this respect George Firsoff’s Greenleaf, championed the cause of travellers, frequently vilified in commercial media. Many directly reported the concerns of the neighbourhoods they served, such as the 1960’s Clifton Free Press, 1970’s SPAM (St Pauls And Montpelier community newspaper) and 1990’s Planet Easton.

Supporters of alternative publications were expected to write, draw and photograph for themselves rather than passively consume the contents. This was the long-running anarchist magazine Bristle’s approach. Its collective eventually switched their energies to the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair, leaving activist news coverage to the Internet-based Bristol Indymedia. Indymedia enabled immediate reporting, making it possible to demolish the barriers between reporters and readers. Check out the listings web pages of Alternative Bristol for its successor.

Ian Bone launched The Bristolian with some comrades in 2001. Seeking to seize the agenda from the mainstream press, he advised: Council corruption, regeneration, property deals will get you started. Once up and running punters will give you stories’. Over the years The Bristolian’s chief successes and claim to be the ‘smiter of the high and mighty’ have come from its scoops and exposés of intrigues in local government and business. It remains a familiar radical newsletter throughout the city.

Such papers continue to be endlessly inventive and essential to the counterculture. The continuing production of zines (Bear Pit Zine and Shake are recent examples) shows that readers retain an appetite for print media and appreciate the luxury of the screen breaks they offer. The necessary task of loosening the establishment media hold over public information and debate now also falls to a resurgence present-day West Country publications such as Bristol Cable, The Bristolian and The Land.  

Pre-publication of article published in the Bristol Cable.

Bristol Cable logo 2015