For nigh on seventeen years I was being educated – one way or another. Thence, in one way and another, for half a century I have been seen as an educator – a teacher, lecturer and youth worker, amongst other roles. Thus, it was to my acute embarrassment that I tripped over by accident, the existence of Francisco Ferrer. I had neither heard of him nor his notion of the Modern School. Such ignorance!
On the 10th of January 1859, Catalan educator and anarchist, Francesco Ferrer i Guàrdia was born. He is best known for his development of the idea of the Modern School: radical, secular education particularly for working-class children, which remains influential around the world today.
Born the 13th of 14 children, Ferrer’s formal education ended at the age of 13 when he began work, later working on the railways before becoming a Spanish teacher in France. At the age of 24 Ferrer became a Freemason, at a time when Masonic lodges were important organising spaces for secular radicals and anarchists.
In 1901 a wealthy student of Ferrer died and left him a property in Paris in her will, which Ferrer was able to sell to set up his first Modern School in Barcelona. The school opened in September 1901 with 18 boys and 12 girls, and Ferrer set about propagating its methodology elsewhere.
In 1909, a strike broke out in Barcelona in protest at the Spanish government sending poor and working-class conscript soldiers to suppress an uprising against Spanish colonialism in Morocco. The events culminated in the Tragic Week, when civil guards violently crushed the strike. A major force behind the stoppage was the revolutionary group Solidaridad Obrera (Workers’ Solidarity), which Ferrer had covertly funded. Despite Ferrer having minimal input into the strike itself, he was accused by the state of masterminding it, and was quickly sentenced to death by a kangaroo court and executed.
The above Ferrer Reader, edited by Mark Bray and Robert H. Haworth, looks to be a fascinating insight into his life and work and can be found at https://shop.workingclasshistory.com/…/anarchist.. I’m duty-bound to repair my ignorance and report back sometime in the future.
On October 13, 1909, Francisco Ferrer, the notorious Catalan anarchist educator and founder of the Modern School, was executed by firing squad. The Spanish government accused him of masterminding the Tragic Week rebellion, while the transnational movement that emerged in his defence argued that he was simply the founder of the groundbreaking Modern School of Barcelona. Was Ferrer a ferocious revolutionary, an ardently nonviolent pedagogue, or something else entirely?
Anarchist Education and the Modern School is the first historical reader to gather together Ferrer’s writings on rationalist education, revolutionary violence, and the general strike (most translated into English for the first time) and put them into conversation with the letters, speeches, and articles of his comrades, collaborators, and critics to show that the truth about the founder of the Modern School was far more complex than most of his friends or enemies realized. Francisco Ferrer navigated a tempestuous world of anarchist assassins, radical republican conspirators, anticlerical rioters, and freethinking educators to establish the legendary Escuela Moderna and the Modern School movement that his martyrdom propelled around the globe.
“A thorough and balanced collection of the writings of the doyen of myriad horizontal educational projects in Spain and more still across the world. Equally welcome are the well-researched introduction and the afterword that underline both the multiplicity of anarchist perspectives on education and social transformation and the complexity of Ferrer’s thinking.” —Chris Ealham, author of Living Anarchism: Jose Peirats and the Spanish Anarcho-Syndicalist Movement
“This volume brings together for the first time a comprehensive collection of Ferrer’s own writings, documenting the daily life and aims of the Escuela Moderna, alongside reflections, often critical, by contemporary anarchists and other radical thinkers. Together with the editors’ thoughtful Introduction, the result is a fascinating collection—essential reading for anyone keen to go beyond the image of Ferrer the martyr of libertarian education and to understand the perennial moral and political questions at the heart of any project of education for freedom.” —Judith Suissa, author of Anarchism and Education: A Philosophical Perspective
Given I’ve been in the political doldrums in recent weeks, the call above is a message to myself, drawing inspiration from the intransigent anarchist, Albert Meltzer, born on January 7th, 1920. I suspect Albert would have been less than impressed with my present tentative and fragile state of mind. I could do with being more bloody-minded. In a future post, I will argue that the COVID years witnessed an intensification of the Class War, a conscious attack on the personal and political autonomy of working people by a ruling class intent on retaining its power at all costs.
Albert Meltzer – Anarchist, born January 7th 1920.
“Albert Meltzer never did give up. A teenage boxer and the “oldest hooligan in town”, Albert was a class struggle anarchist from 1935 onwards. When we met him in October 1994 he was still defending anarchism from anything which would dilute the politics and the sting. As far as Albert was concerned you couldn’t be an anarchist Christian, an anarchist capitalist or an anarchist spiritualist. Albert believed that anarchism was about fighting privilege. Anybody who didn’t want to overturn the class structure couldn’t call themselves an anarchist in Albert’s hearing. A working-class boy, brought up in the East End of London, Albert loved books and boxing. By 15 he was already calling himself an anarchist. His first claim to fame was when he stood up at a public meeting and defended boxing against Emma Goldman, prompting her to say of him: “A young Hooligan. A rascal who knows nothing of anarchism or syndicalism.” Even when he was three-quarters of a century old, Albert was still calling himself a hooligan, and still arguing his case.” Alice Nutter, Chumbawamba.
Barcelona 19th July 1936. A glimpse into the elsewhere. Edited by Albert Meltzer:
A glimpse into the elsewhere of an upturning so great that it is unimaginable, where certainties are swept away in an instant and life itself takes on a fragile intensity. These accounts contain a grain of everything it is possible to foresee of the ultimate fight for freedom and other aspects that could never have been dreamt of in our worst nightmares. They inform, and inspire but also warn: we need to recognise the enemies of freedom and self-organisation in the paths we tread, blinded by our iconography of the enemy which is also standing right next to us and calls us comrades, albeit hissed through clenched teeth. With love in our hearts: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/…/albert-meltzer…
The ruling class, the elite, the powerful [call them, what you will] wish to render us perpetually anxious. In the last few years energised by the ‘pandemic’, their propaganda has sought to leave us in a suspended state of fear. The next existential crisis, the latest emergency is always imminent, staring us in our oft-masked faces or lying suspiciously in wait just around the next corner. We are witnessing disaster capitalism in full flight from the consequence of its wilful, almost mindless exploitation of humanity and the earth.
Aided by their behavioural lackeys and the supine mainstream media, they use the time-honoured and still profoundly effective tactic of ‘divide and rule’. To this end, politicians, bureaucrats, psychologists and journalists [or rather stenographers] lie and deceive. In particular the unvaccinated were identified, chastised and depicted as a death-inducing threat to young and old, whilst children were told they could kill their grandparents. Medical practitioners, great and small, questioning the absurdity of governments’ claim to be following the Science had their reputations and prospects trashed.
As for ourselves how do we explain our embrace of or our resistance to this calculated conspiracy of contempt? On what I suppose is my side of the fence many took to Mattias Desmet’s theory of mass formation psychosis, in which a majority of society is said to have been captured and mesmerised by the dominant narrative. I am not so taken. Such a generalised view of human practice offends my decades-long, faltering attempt to comprehend the unique, yet always social individual. For my part I prefer to call on the idea of ‘uneven consciousness’ to express the differing degrees of consistency and contradiction in our thought and practice. I am loathe to accept that people are hypnotised into compliance with authoritarianism. I am loathe to see those, who have disobeyed the orders from above, as enlightenment incarnate. In the main, we are neither sinners nor saints.
Tellingly none of the draconian restrictions upon our existence suffered during the ‘pandemic’ were even subject to the illusions of representative democracy. Parliaments were utterly ignored. The demos was conspicuous by its absence. For now, the constraints have been largely lifted but continue to be available as the powerful see fit.
It seems to me, to borrow Malcolm Ball’s favourite opening caveat, that the dehumanising grip of technocratic authoritarianism can only be loosened by the emergence of diverse forms of direct democracy at local regional, national and international levels. To imagine such a revolutionary development demands humility on all fronts. It will demand being in critical dialogue across ideologies and faiths, which have seen themselves as in opposition to one another. It will require listening to one another, setting aside prejudices, refusing to jump to immediate judgements. It will necessitate cooperating in the service of a shared sense of purpose despite significant disagreements. For what it’s worth, back in the 1980s I was mortified by the refusal of feminists, whom I knew well, to support the 84/85 Strike on the grounds of the miners’ sexism. Yet, across ensuing years we worked together across a range of political issues. Today, given the emphasis on identity politics. is it possible to envisage relating to someone, who joins the public service picket lines, is involved in ‘Kick Racism Out ‘ yet continues to believe that biological sex matters? Is this person to be excluded from the oppositional alliances we need to create? We need beware the imposition within our own ranks of correct lines, which cannot be criticised, lest excommunication follows.
Who you are is what you do
The politics of identity which led individuals to use an innate aspect (their gender, colour etc) as ipso facto a right from which to judge others, could itself become a way of setting up a hierarchy of oppressions. Siva criticised all forms of identity politics which did not reach out to try to transform society, for, not just the self, but for all. The transformation of the individual would take place in the process of a larger collective struggle but a politics based in the self would not open out in that way. Identity would not be confirmed in isolation. ‘Who you are is what you do’ [A. Sivanandan writing in the 1980s]
To paraphrase something I wrote long before I came across the idea of intersectionality. ‘My point is no more and no less than that the political struggle for individual and social autonomy, against technocratic authoritarian capitalism, must have a rounded and interrelated understanding of the oppressive and exploitative relations of class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and faith. None of them makes emancipatory sense without constant reference to each other’.
Time to take a breath I set off scribbling without knowing where I was going. Obviously, this erratic ensemble of assertions begs more questions than it answers. If only for my own sanity I’ll pursue these in future posts in 2023. We will see.
A Day in the Life of…….
Of course these perhaps pretentious and pompous pronouncements are the backdrop to ordinary folk getting on with their ordinary, sometimes weary, sometimes invigorating lives. On the ground, my somewhat pessimistic outlook is countered by people simply getting on with things. As for ourselves on the morning of New Year’s Eve, I walked our Glyka, disobeying my music teacher’s instructions not to warble a particular song because in doing so I compounded my mistaken entry – the piece being John Ireland’s setting of ‘Sally Gardens’. If this sounds stuffy I also tried ‘Georgia on my mind’.
After carefully cooked bowls of porridge dripping with honey poured over our very own oranges, managed expertly with cats on her knee, Marilyn fled the house, cash in hand, eager to exchange greetings in our local shops, where everyone knows everyone. Essentials purchased, word had it that some new horses and donkeys had appeared in a nearby village so Marilyn went off in search. To her joy she found them. To her frustration she couldn’t get near enough to inhale their seductive smell. Next time?
In the afternoon we joined hands, electric saw and axe at the ready, in cutting and chopping wood for our two stoves, our primary source of heating – a fall from environmental grace to be rectified, cost allowing, who knows when? After which Marilyn started a new water-colour and I amused as ever the blokes seated outside the village kafeneio by my ageing effort to race walk. To be fair their generous shouts of ‘Bravo’ spurred me on. As dusk fell I accompanied a sciatica-stricken friend’s dogs, Filos and Toula on their evening traipse. I’ve grown to love dogs and there’s something about the three of us having a roadside piss together that cheers me up no end.
Back home preparations for the evening were in full swing. As is only proper Marilyn was making a Hot-Pot with a suet crust, decorated with homemade red cabbage. It was beltin’. There being no real ale available it was washed down with a mix of sparkling plonk and the local village red. Thus fortified we watched an old black and white Agatha Christie film with Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich, compellingly all dialogue and no action. Not a car chase in sight. Fortunately, perchance the alcohol, we’d both forgotten the last-minute twist in the courtroom drama wherein Marlene executes her faithless lover. He had it coming. Thence to the highlight of any New Year’s Eve, at least in Germany, the comedy sketch, ‘Dinner for One’, featuring the wonderful Freddie Frinton as the drunken butler, a role he had honed on stage in Britain’s music halls. Evidently, first shown in 1962 on German television, it has acquired cult status in the country.
By this time midnight was still two hours away and the writing was on the wall. Not for the first time, we wouldn’t be welcoming in the New Year. After all nobody was likely to turn up as the first foot through the door with a piece of coal in hand. Hence Marilyn, head buried in her latest book, was in bed by 10ish with a cup of hot chocolate and the ever-faithful, Glyka. She was fast asleep by 11. Basking in the glow of the dying embers I watched a bit of football before putting on some soothing Satie. I was so soothed I fell asleep and wasn’t disturbed even by the rattle of gunfire and blast of explosions echoing across our valley. I crept to bed in the New Year to dream of revolution and the overthrow of capitalism. It’s getting to be something of a tradition.
Time’s running out for me but the fight continues on the streets of Iran, in the fields of Holland and India, on picket lines across the globe and in a plethora of places out of sight, out of mind as far as our ‘betters and experts’ are concerned.
Here’s to a New Year, in which we stop bickering amongst ourselves and renew our shared sense of solidarity in the face of a would-be tyranny, within which our existence will be increasingly policed ‘for our own good’.