“There are, however, some things that a revolutionary organisation can do that would be far less likely to happen without it. Anarchist communism is a living working class tradition, but there are times when that life hangs by a very thin thread. In periods of defeat and division, when the working class has few organisations of its own and there is very little struggle, something has to keep the lessons that have been learned alive. The revolutionary organisation is an important store of knowledge and skills. It is a kind of memory that keeps alive a vision of the working class as united and defiant, even when the class has been kicked in the head so many times it’s starting to forget its own name, let alone its past.”
– Introduction to Anarchist Communism (Anarchist Federation)
As well as involving myself with the Glasgow Anarchist Federation and the IWW, I am also part of the Spirit of Revolt collective (or SOR for short). Our primary task is to save the rich history of anarchist and directly democratic groups in Clydeside and turn it into a valuable living resource for people today. We take in collections by individuals or groups (and in some cases saved material from being put in the skip) and archive the papers, news-sheets, letters, banners, minutes, flyers, poetry, books and all types of propaganda and ephemera that make it up.
The collections each have a unique story and it is our job to try and preserve that story, whether this is the early development of anarchist thought in Glasgow at the dawn of the twentieth century, the story of a particular individual’s relationship with anarchism, the vibrant anarcha-feminist movement spaning from 1900 to present day (with the work of Lily Gair Wilkinson and the Black Widow Publishing collective being of particular note), or a more modern narrative such as the Free Hetherington student occupation. Along with the collections themselves we have also been conducting and transcribing interviews with donors (where available) to provide invaluable insight into the materials they had collected over the years.
Maintaining a Culture of Resistance
The main reason I have got involved in this project is to help provide insights that will make the collection more than a set of old papers sitting in storage at The Mitchell and turn it into one of the fist places anarchist and community organisers here in Glasgow and beyond go to when planning anything from a new community group through to taking worker control from the bosses. These materials could provide invaluable advice to present-day struggles and act as a place where we can store the lessons of today for the generations of the future.
This kind of work will take many many years, as we scan hundreds of thousands of pages, correctly catalogue and archive them, then present and tag them in a way that will make searching for a particular topic an easy task for anyone with an internet connection. To this end we have a rota of volunteers being shown the ropes and we are constantly refining the processes to get info out there and the ways people can interact with the collections.
Recently we held an exhibition in the Mitchell Library that highlighted the radical press history of the area. The next step is to create a “pop-up exhibition” that we can take out to schools and community centres to provide specific insight into the working class history of the area’s forbearer.
Further down the line we are hoping to network with other archival projects, highlighting places where our collections cross-over and connect, providing reciprocal aid and making all archives of use to the whole country and beyond!
A Room With A View
The collective has been fortunate in securing a deal with Glasgow City Archives to provide the collective with a room within the Mitchell to work from (which can be seen in this video). They also provide limited supplies and invaluable assistance in our work. They were quick in recognising the importance of our project and although there has been a learning curve on both sides of the agreement, our relationship is good.
This base off operations goes beyond what we thought would be available in the short term and has meant that have begun processing the material to a world-recognised standard. We are now placing our collections in the Mitchell’s public-access archives in a way in which will ensure they are preserved and accessible indefinitely.
Being housed within a world-renowned archive has has helped us secure collections from as far across the globe as New Zealand and from prominent names such as Stuart Christie. While ownership will remain part of the Mitchell library (to whom they were donated) we are also working to catalogue the Guy Aldred and Ethel MacDonald collections and we have been given permission to include these collections on our listings.
There’s Always a Catch…
In the past the collective had secured funding to pay a professional archivist to help with work through the BANM Trust, however that funding has ended. We are perusing several other large grants to make this help available to us again as the assistance of a professional archivist has been invaluable in ensuring the collections maintain world-accredited archival standards. We also have regular outgoing costs for the acid-free paper, archival boxes, brass clips, stationary, website maintenance and upkeep costs along with other sundries that are a constant drain. Finally the computers and equipment we are using are all hand-me-down’s and much of our practice is based on working around the constraints of the set-up we have to hand and hacking things to work together until we can get the kit we really need to make things flow.
To help with this we have formed a fund-raising working group who will be putting on events such as talks, panel discussions, gigs, bake sales, and anything else we reckon will help us raise the dosh we need to keep going. Any money that comes in through the donation button on this blog will be going directly to the SOR. If you don’t fancy PayPal taking a slice then any donations large or small, regular, irregular or one-off are accepted through our bank account:
Bank: Unity Trust Bank plc.
Account name: Spirit of Revolt.
Account number: 20290793
Sort code: 08-60-01
If you have any other questions or want to offer help the the SOR then feel free to contact the collective directly via: firstname.lastname@example.org