Poems and art from the London streets

Transmissions cover

Transmissions, Chris Bird, Write-London, 2023, £4.98

Transmissions is a short pamphlet made up of poems and drawings by FRFI supporter Chris Bird, chronicling a period in his life when he was homeless, addicted to heroin and battling with then undiagnosed mental illness.


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A superb exposé of war by other means

Sanctions as War

Sanctions as war: anti-imperialist perspectives on American geo-economic strategy, edited by Stuart Davis and Immanuel Ness, Brill Publishers 2022

Sanctions as war is a collection of articles written from various anti-imperialist perspectives about a specific form of imperialist war – one that portrays itself as not being war at all but a civilian-friendly, humanitarian alternative to it. This notion is demolished brilliantly by every one of these case studies, which clearly show that anyone who regards imperialist sanctions as the answer must have asked a really stupid question. The pick of the bunch is by Helen Yaffe, with whom readers of this paper will be familiar.


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The springtime of the peoples

Revolutionary Spring by Christopher Clark

Christopher Clark, Revolutionary Spring: Fighting for a New World 1848-1849

Allen Lane / Penguin Books £35.00

The 1848 revolutions were unique in European history. None of the 1789 French Revolution, the Paris Commune of 1871 or the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 ‘sparked a comparable transcontinental cascade’ (p1), in which revolutions broke out from Switzerland to Romania, with only Britain and Russia being unaffected. The author draws a parallel to the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2010-2011, similarly widespread and similarly a failure.


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Anne: the search for justice for Hillsborough

Liverpool fans unfurl a banner displaying the names of the deceased on the 20th anniversary of the disaster (photo: Linksfuss | CC BY-SA 3.0)

Anne – ITV mini-series by World Productions, broadcast 2-5 January 2022, written by Kevin Sampson, with Maxine Peake as Anne Williams 

Anne Williams’ son Kevin died at Hillsborough football stadium on 15 April 1989. In all, 97 Liverpool fans, who had travelled to Sheffield to watch the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest died as a result of the behaviour of the police on that day.[i] Anne herself died of cancer on 18 April 2013 after 24 years’ tireless campaigning to prove that the deaths at Hillsborough were not an accident but the result of police negligence. This four-part drama tells Anne and Kevin’s story, and by extension that of all those who perished at Hillsborough and all those who fought for the truth to be told.


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Film review: socialism, the only solution to the climate crisis

Havana streets in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, 2018 (photo: UN)

Cuba's Life Task: Combatting Climate Change, DaniFilms production; directed edited and produced by Daniesky Acosta. Co-directed by Hugo Rivalta. Co-produced by Helen Yaffe. 55 minutes. 2021.

This new documentary, Cuba’s Life Task: Combatting Climate Change gives a detailed insight into Cuba’s remarkable ‘Tarea Vida’ (‘Life Task’) project: a hundred-year plan drawn up by the socialist government in collaboration with the Cuban people with the aim of protecting its population from the ever-increasing threats of climate change. The documentary was filmed in Havana, Cuba in summer 2021, and was screened as part of the COP26 Coalition’s People’s Summit in Glasgow.


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Fighting the fascists in London's East End: review of Ridley Road

The 62 Group fight back against the National Socialist Movement in 1962

Ridley Road, Jo Bloom, 2014, Weidenfield & Nicolson.

Ridley Road, BBC 1, 2021. Executive producer: Nicola Shindler.

The recent BBC TV series Ridley Road is based on the novel of the same name: both are fictional accounts of the real events of 1962. Colin Jordan’s National Socialism Movement (NSM) was one of various British fascist groups set up in the post-war years, following the demise of Oswald Mos ley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF). Jordan’s group was built around the cult of Hitler with a nostalgia for beerhall demagoguery, parading and ‘sieg heiling’ which would be infantile were it not for the deadly thuggish aggression he launched against the Jewish community, notably in the East End of London. Opposition to the NSM determined that the fascists would not be allowed any space to appear on platforms or to distribute propaganda and would be met with disruption and force. This became urgent after the fire-bombing of a Jewish school in which one young man was killed and others badly burnt. The police were indifferent to the fascist attacks on the local community. The organisation at the centre of the fight-back was a Jewish group known as the 62 Group based in Ridley Road in Dalston Market, Hackney.


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Acts of political insurgency: understanding the legacy of Edward Said

Edward W Said as Critical Intellectual, Liam O Ruairc, Scholars Press, 2020

Since his death in 2003, the political and theoretical contributions of Palestinian intellectual Edward Said have preoccupied many academics and activists keen to understand his legacy. Spanning decades of critically engaged thought, allied to fighting for a Palestinian narrative on the world stage, the significance of Said’s work has eluded many who call themselves Marxists. But as Liam O Ruairc shows in this concise and well-organised introduction, the internationalist and confrontational spirit wielded by Said offers us vital tools to deepen our analysis of imperialism, and for understanding the crisis and opportunity presented by the present phase of Palestinian struggle.


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The revolutionary Fred Hampton

Judas and the Black Messiah, directed by Shaka King, 2021,
2 hours and 6 minutes

Fred Hampton was the young, fearless Deputy Chairman of the Black Panther Party (BPP) Chicago branch. As one of the original founders of the Illinois chapter, he was an integral part of the black liberation struggle in the late 1960s. Hampton understood that only a multicultural, revolutionary, and proletariat-led struggle could pose a real threat to the oppressive capitalist system. His admirable leadership and distinguished communication skills saw the birth of the Rainbow Coalition – an alliance made up of different minority groups in Chicago including the BPP; the Young Patriots, made of working-class whites who had migrated from the south; the Young Lords, made of Latino street gangs, and several other oppressed groups. Hampton realised the need to reach out to the wider marginalised population and create open dialogue on a democratic platform. This was an approach that the US black liberation struggle had rarely been seen before.


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Art Activism and the fight for revolutionary change 

Artwork from shelbyxstudios.com. Digital artwork shows people holding placards with protest messages under a smiling sun on a teal background.

Art X Activism, Shelby X Studios, £5 per month or £50 per year https://www.shelbyxstudios.com/zine

Art X Activism is an exciting new e-zine produced by Shelby X Studios.

Subscribers are welcomed with a blaze of colour and original artwork. Although readers access the magazine online the benefits of this model are its three-dimensional feel – with embedded links to short films, music and podcasts. This takes the reader on a journey through different art media to various destinations including campaigns, communities and a variety of art activism including poetry and music. 


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Changing structures of global labour power: book review

Borders, Migration and Class in an Age of Crisis: Producing Workers and Immigrants, Tom Vickers, Bristol University Press 2019 (available from Larkin Publications £17+pp)

For those who want to understand immigration in the context of global capitalism, this is an important and helpful book. Vickers situates the movement of people in the 21st century as the result of the spread of monopoly capitalism to every corner of the world, creating, as the title says, classes of workers and the status of migrant for millions. This is a continual process, at this moment in time which is, as the author shows, an age of crisis. The reader is introduced to questions of the division in the working class, both domestically and internationally, the emergence of increased precarity in labour conditions and the response of national governments and labour movements. All of this is within the context of a racialised commentary by the media and enforcement by the legal system.


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Steve McQueen and the making of history with Small Axe

Letitia Wright plays Altheia Jones in Mangrove by Steve McQueen

If you are the big tree,
we are the small axe
Bob Marley, 1973

Small Axe is the overall title of five films created and directed by Steve McQueen, based on the real-life experiences of London’s Caribbean community between 1969 and 1982. They were premiered on BBC One weekly from 15 November 2020 in the following order: Mangrove, centred on the trial of the Mangrove 9 at the Old Bailey in 1970 for incitement to riot following a protest march against police harassment. Lovers Rock, named for the soulful reggae that blasts out of the sound boxes of a blues house party that lasts throughout the night. Red, White & Blue, depicting the early part of the life of Leroy Logan, who joined the London police force in hope of helping to reform it and was later a founding member of the Black Police Association and its chair for 30 years. Alex Wheatle also traces the early life of a real person, after leaving institutional care and witnessing the Brixton uprising of 1981, years before he published Brixton Rock in 1999, the first of many successful young adult novels. The fifth film, Education follows a fictional school boy’s family based around the real-life facts behind the 1971 publication by Bernard Coard, How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System: The Scandal of the Black Child in Schools in Britain


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Climate of fear: British racism and the Windrush generation

The Windrush Betrayal

The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile Environment, Amelia Gentleman, Faber 2019, £18.99 hbk

The Guardian reporter Amelia Gentleman tells the story of how she investigated what was happening to unknown numbers of older, long-term British residents, mostly Jamaican-born, who were suddenly notified that they were illegal immigrants and would be deported if they did not voluntarily leave the country immediately. She describes her struggle to contact the Home Office, the wall of silence she met and the confusion and despair of individuals and their families.


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Naomi Klein: standing against socialism

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein: On fire Allen Lane 2019, 309pp £20.00 (hardback) and No is not enough, Penguin Books 2018, 273pp £9.99 (paperback)

Over the last two decades, Naomi Klein has built a global reputation for radical books such as No Logo (2000) and This changes everything (2014). She writes with a clarity and commitment which has influenced many, among them Greta Thunberg, who says ‘Naomi Klein’s work has always moved and guided me. She is the chronicler of our age of climate emergency.’ Klein does not just write books, however: she would regard herself as an activist, first in the anti-capitalist movement, and then in the movement against climate change. Both No Logo and This changes everything are examples of her compelling style of writing, the first addressing the brand competition behind which multinationals brutally exploit workers in underdeveloped countries both directly and through their supply chains of sweatshops, the second dealing with the role of fossil fuel and other extractive multinationals in driving eco-destruction and global warming.


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The BBC: ruling class propaganda unit

The BBC: Myth of a Public Service

The BBC: Myth of a Public Service

Tom Mills, Verso 2016. £15

The BBC is the largest news broad caster in the world, with an unparalleled reach to the public. It portrays itself as ‘impartial’ and ‘objective’, yet in reality operates as a weapon of soft imperialist power. Whether cheerleading for anti-China student protesters in Hong Kong, deliberately masking the brutality meted out by the right-wing coup government in Bolivia or parroting US propaganda on Venezuela, its role is to slant the news to suit the interests of the ruling class. Tom Mills’ nuanced history of the BBC gets behind its mask of impartiality. The picture he reveals is not as simple as direct collaboration between the government and the BBC, but ‘a much more complex, and perhaps more disconcerting, picture of the patterns of power’. Mills concludes that: ‘the BBC’s fabled impartiality was only ever an elite consensus’.


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A trip to planet Bastani

Fully automated luxury communism

Review: Fully Automated Luxury Communism: a manifesto

Aaron Bastani, Verso 2019, hbk 288pp, £16.99

Commenting in 1880 on a French grouping within the International Workingmen’s Association who called themselves ‘Marxists’, Marx is supposed to have remarked that ‘all I know is that I am not a Marxist’. Marx’s quip would equally apply to Aaron Bastani’s Fully Automated Luxury Communism, an anti-communist manifesto for the petit-bourgeois radical whose grip on reality has slipped so far that he wants to sidestep the laws not only of capitalism but of physics too, rather than try to seriously understand, or change, the world. It is a call to inaction, in defence of petit-bourgeois privilege.


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A handbook of petit bourgeois vacuity

This is not a drill: an Extinction Rebellion handbook by Extinction Rebellion


This is not a drill: an Extinction Rebellion handbook

Penguin 2019, pbk 186pp, £7.99

In History and Class Consciousness, Georg Lukacs addresses the position of the petit bourgeoisie under capitalism. Stating that ‘it cannot possibly remain wholly unaffected by the fact of class conflict between bourgeoisie and proletariat’, he adds, citing Marx’s 18th Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte:

‘But as a “transitional class in which the interests of two other classes become simultaneously blunted ...” it will imagine itself “to be above all class antagonisms”. Accordingly it will search for ways whereby it will “not indeed eliminate the two extremes of capital and wage labour, but will weaken their antagonism and transform it into harmony”. In all decisions crucial for society its actions will be irrelevant and it will be forced to fight for both sides in turn but always without consciousness.’


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Monopoly: ‘the death-knell of capitalism’

The Myth of Capitalism front cover

The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition

Jonathan Tepper with Denise Hearn

John Wiley & Sons (4 Dec. 2018), £14.99 (hardcover)

Tepper and Hearn have a thesis. Capitalism is defined by competition. The modern US economy, however, is dominated by monopolies. Therefore, US Americans live under ‘fake’ capitalism, a ‘grotesque deformed version of capitalism’ which is ‘as far away from the real thing as Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean are from real pirates’ (p.xv). Tepper and Hearn have clearly identified one of the central issues in understanding modern capitalism: monopoly. In doing so, they have collected a wealth of useful material. Socialists should read this book, which is written in a very readable and enjoyable style, and use the information in it, but reject the reactionary politics that underlie it.


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Constance Markievicz - a most outrageous rebel

Constance Markievicz - a most outrageous rebel

Markievicz – a most outrageous rebel – Lindie Naughton, Merrion Press 2016 and 2018

‘While Ireland is not free, I remain rebel, unconverted and unconvertible... I am pledged to the one thing – a free and independent Ireland... a state run by the Irish people for the people. That means a government that looks after the rights of the people before the rights of property ... My idea is the Workers’ Republic for which Connolly died’ – speech to the Dail [Irish Parliament], 3 January 1922.


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Going, going, gone… the great sell-off of Britain’s public land

The New Enclosure: the appropriation of public land in neoliberal Britain

Brett Christophers, Verso 2018, hbk 362pp, £20

Since Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, almost 10% of the entire land mass of Britain has been transferred from public to private ownership. It has been the biggest privatisation in British history, swallowing up hospitals, airbases, forests, playing fields, leisure centres and town halls, as well as entire council housing estates.


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Remembering Eva Tichauer

Eva Tichauer

In remembrance of Eva Tichauer, who died in December 2018, we publish below a letter from Colette Levy and republish a review from FRFI no. 158, December 2000/January 2001 of Eva's book, I was no. 20832 at Auschwitz.


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In Venezuela, democracy and living standards are under attack. But by whom?

Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Venezuela by Alison Bodine (Fire This Time)

Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Venezuela by Alison Bodine (Fire This Time)

178pp Battle of Ideas Press, 2018

US/CAN $10 or Europe €6.5

On 23 January 2019, a little-known Venezuelan MP, Juan Guaido, appointed himself as interim president of the country, in an attempt to replace the legitimate president Nicolas Maduro. Minutes later, the US government published a statement in support of Guaido. Soon after, a group of Latin American and European countries followed suit. The mainstream media corporations hailed him as a saviour for Venezuela. Britain, Germany, France and Spain declared that unless Venezuela held elections in eight days, they would recognise Guaido as president. What they all purposefully ignored, however, is that free and fair elections had taken place on 20 May 2018. Maduro won the most votes, and Juan Guaido’s party chose not to run. With this confusing sequence of events, it is necessary for us to understand Venezuela’s context, as reactionaries are hurriedly calling for a foreign 'humanitarian intervention', whatever that may be.


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The lies and distortions of the ‘liberal’ media: how The Guardian et al serve ruling class interests

Propaganda Blitz by David Edwards and David Cromwell

Review: Propaganda Blitz: How the corporate media distort reality by David Edwards and David Cromwell (Media Lens) 312pp Pluto Press 2018 £14.99

‘A generation ago, Venezuela’s capital was one of Latin America’s most thriving, glamorous cities; an oil-fuelled, tree-lined cauldron of culture that guidebooks hailed as a Mecca for foodies, night owls and art fans.’ Such was the opinion of Tom Phillips, The Guardian’s current Latin America correspondent on 18 December 2018. A generation is usually reckoned as 30 years. Just under 30 years ago, Caracas’s ‘foodies, night owls and art fans’, almost by definition privileged and wealthy, may have been further entertained by the violent suppression of the Caracazo in February 1989, when up to 2,000 people were massacred in Caracas as they protested against a devastating onslaught on their living conditions. The same political and social forces which lay behind the slaughter were behind the attempted coup against President Chavez in 2002, and, with the open support of US imperialism, are organising to overthrow President Maduro through a campaign of economic sabotage and political destabilisation. Gangs have targeted schools and hospitals, symbols of the achievement of the Bolivarian Revolution. But Phillips is not interested in this: he continually whitewashes the right-wing opposition as democrats, and uses them uncritically as sources. His articles on both Venezuela and Nicaragua are full of virulently reactionary nonsense, but because they appear in TheGuardian, they acquire an apparent intellectual cachet.


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Economic pipedreams for the politically timid

Economics for the Many

Economics for the Many

Edited John McDonnell

Verso 2018 229pp £12.99

Many books have already been published on Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the Labour Party leadership. Several of them have addressed what has been labelled Corbynomics, a set of economic ideas which, it is claimed, would rebalance the British economy to meet the needs of the many, rather than the few, to use an oft-repeated Corbynist mantra. Economics for the Many pulls together the opinions of 16 contributors, including no fewer than six professors, as well as sundry lecturers and research fellows and directors. Its significance is that it is edited by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, and that must give the ideas set out in the book some official status as far as the Labour leadership is concerned.


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Go and see Vamos Cuba! But don't buy a programme!

vamos cuba

Vamos Cuba! Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, Holborn, WC2A 2HT, London

24 October - 11 November 2017 Tickets from £15

Go and see Vamos Cuba! The dancing is enthralling, fluid, mind-blowing; the spectacle amazing, and the whole evening unmissable!

Choreographer Nilda Guerra has set the piece in Havana Airport, where a flight to Miami is delayed (we speculated that this is due to Trump reversing Obama’s relaxations on travel between the US and Cuba) and all sorts of dramas are played out between the delayed passengers and airport staff. We watch the soured relationship between the captain and a stewardess and the incipient love affair between the airport janitor and a stranded passenger, plus lots of other leit motif pieces (such as the vicar who is a pickpocket) – in fact everywhere you look there is a story and you could probably watch this performance every night and find something different you’d not noticed before.


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Shy Radicals – a manifesto for the quiet revolution

shyrad radicals

Shy Radicals: the antisystemic politics of the militant introvert by Hamja Ahsan, published by Bookworks, 2017, £9.95

Shy Radicals is a ‘what if?’ book. What if everyone who suffers from anxiety, depression or agoraphobia, all those with diagnoses of autism or Aspergers’ syndrome, and everyone who is simply shy or socially awkward and has ever suffered for it, banded together and employed methods of political struggle to turn themselves into a liberation movement?


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Review: Being Sebastian 

Contact Theatre, Manchester, 27 September 2017

In these times of capitalist commercialism, theatre is rarely accessible to working class and oppressed people. Even performances of plays written by socialists like Brecht or Oscar Wilde are co-opted by the market, pricing the poorest out of the action and forcing independent writers and performers to eke out a living in unfunded community locations. But every now and then the sugar-coated stylings of the West End are challenged in creative terms by realist visions exposing the horrors of the system. Being Sebastian, a solo play written and performed by the talented Mancunian Sean Cernow, is a display of the bitingly grim reality at the heart of the British prison regime.


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The true banner of capitalism: 'sterilise the weak, abuse the poor, exploit the dependent'

Throughout Scandinavia, in France, the USA, Switzerland and in many other leading Capitalist nations, a vicious policy of 'eugenesia' has been promoted over the last 50 years. Its stated aim – nurturing the strong and cleansing the weak ('racial improvement') – is to ensure the health necessary to capitalistically exploitable labour whilst ridding society of its 'useless', 'burdensome' population. Deliberate inhumanity. With the development of 'genetic engineering' and with science held under lock and key by profiteering industry, the abuses perpetrated by capitalism on women, the poor and the sick can only become more insidious.

Racial 'purification' and 'cleansing' has always been a tool of the most reactionary and vicious regimes, but as the revelations in August 1997 of the forced sterilisation of at least 73,000 thousand women throughout Scandinavia (60,000 in Sweden, 11,000 in Denmark, over 1,000 in Finland and over 1,000 in Norway) from 1935 to 1976 show, such ideas are endemic in modern 'democratic', bourgeois societies.


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One to miss

Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932

Royal Academy of Arts, 11 February – 17 April, £16

(Gallery guide £2.50)

Designated ‘a thrilling, chilling show’ by the Financial Times, the gallery guide to Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 correctly notes:

‘The freedom and euphoria of the Revolution produced some of the most remarkable talents in art, theatre, music literature and architecture.’

The next sentence, however, is a clue to the politics of the exhibition:


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Necessary trouble - The rising tide of organised resistance in the United States

Necessary Trouble Americans in Revolt Sarah Jaffe

Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt

Sarah Jaffe, Nation Books, New York, 2016, 352pp, ISBN 978-1-5685-8536-9 (hardcover) ISBN 978-1-5685-8537-6 (ebook)

Sarah Jaffe’s Necessary Trouble provides the fullest account yet of the social movements that have arisen in the US since the financial crash of 2008. The author travelled widely across the states to speak to a huge variety of people in revolt, including members of Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, OUR Walmart (Organisation United for Respect at Walmart), Fight for $15 (minimum wage) and the victims of environmental degradation, toxic energy corporations and extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy. She even spoke to members of the Tea Party.


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The George Jackson Brigade and organising behind bars – book review of Lumpen by Ed Mead

‘The first duty of a captured revolutionary is to escape; barring that, the second is to transform the prisons from instruments of repression into schools of liberation and revolution.’ (p205)

Lumpen is the autobiography of former US prisoner Ed Mead, who served 18 years for his part in a 1976 bank robbery committed by the George Jackson Brigade (GJB). GJB was an armed propaganda unit named after political prisoner George Jackson who was murdered by guards in San Quentin prison in 1971, which was active in Seattle in the mid-1970s. 

The book takes us through Ed’s life in extensive detail, with the first 100 pages dedicated to his growing up in California, Washington State, Alaska and elsewhere in the US, as his poor white family moved to find work.  His life was harsh and gritty but it was not this which politicised him as, despite some sympathy for the even poorer indigenous Alaskans, his horizons were limited to survival and the pursuit of accessible pleasures.  


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Review: Out of the Box

out of the box

Out of the Box by Leroy Smith, published 2016, ISBN 978-09955520-0-5

Short of assassinating the monarch, shooting a police officer is about the most risky crime to commit. Do so and every single law enforcement agent will be on your case. And the pursuit of such suspects will extend far beyond these shores. In 1993, Leroy Smith found out just how true this is. He shot and wounded two police officers in Brixton, south London and fled to the USA. Two years on he was arrested by a Swat Team in Connecticut and after a spell in Bridport Correctional Centre, a high security state jail, he was returned to England and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment.

Smith spent the whole of his prison sentence on Category A in the high security prison estate. Now free, he has written Out of the Box, a brutally honest story of the making of a criminal, in which he pulls no punches, nor makes excuses. He says that he is putting his story out in the hope that other underprivileged young black men will not follow the path he did.

Like many serving time in an unjust system, where black, ethnic minority and poor prisoners are massively over represented and where racism regularly displays its ugly face, Smith became politicised in prison. He educated himself by conversing with political prisoners, supplemented by ‘ten years of watching Newsnight every night, and lots of other news stations…as well as reading non-mainstream newspapers like Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!


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