big flame (1970 – 1984)

The Commune has been described by some observers as promoting some similar political ideas to a ‘libertarian marxist’ group called Big Flame which existed between 1970 and 1984.  While we have no particular connection to the group, some of its material, recently made available online, makes for interesting reading.

The group, which probably counted around 160 members at its peak, was named after a television play directed by Ken Loach, about a fictional dockers’ strike and occupation on Merseyside.

Big Flame politics were characterised by:

  • the recognition that they were not the leadership of the working class, nor the embryo of that leadership, and an emphasis on the importance of organisations of mass class power – such as factory commitees or workers’ councils.
  • an interest and connection with the Italian hard left, and its ideas about ‘autonomy’, understood variously as (i) the autonomy of the working class from capital – i.e. the idea that working class struggle shapes and determines the form of capital through the defensive ‘fixes’ it prompts.  (ii) the autonomy of working class struggle from any given organisation (e.g. trade unions, political parties), and a consequent emphasis on self-organisation for struggle.  (iii) the autonomy of various sections of the class from the class as a whole (e.g. women, black workers), and the legitimacy of the independent action of those sections;
  • in stark contrast to the Italian hard left, however, a serious interest and engagement with feminism, and women’s autonomous organisation
  • an emphasis, in the early days at least, on ‘mass work’ organised through ‘base groups’. That is, groups of Big Flame members who took a particular factory or estate (for example) as a focus for their area of work, and produced custom communist material (such as double sided A4 bulletins) for that situation.  Big Flame members would work to encourage and strengthen struggles, and seek to build a section of the group run entirely by the workers at the factory, or the residents on the estate.  A record of the work of one such base group, run entirely by women, on a Merseyside estate fighting a rent strike was published as We Won’t Pay: Women’s Struggle on Tower Hill.  (The same rent strike was the subject of a fascinating early documentary by Nick Broomfield.)

Readers interested in learning more about Big Flame should look at the blog set up by former members of the group.