40 years ago: Sheffield Potlatch

IssueFebruary 2012

ImageNational gatherings of PN readers have taken place in many guises over the years - for much of the 1970s the regular events (sometimes every few months) were called “potlatches”. (“A potlatch is a gift-giving festival and primary economic system practiced by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada and United States” – Wikipedia.) Here, Dave Cunliffe, a poet and long-time friend of Peace News from Blackburn, reports on a winter meeting:

Friday night 9pm, tomatoes and cucumbers in the kitchen competing with Northern Ireland upstairs… Largely speculative, with a few new insights and little serious attempt to subject areas of theoretical conflict, or disputed fact, to in-depth analysis. If there is a constructive, essentially flexible, pacifist position on Northern Ireland, it wasn’t discovered or thought up in Sheffield.

Sleeping bags. A dog, cat and baby. Cheese and milk for lactos and flesh eaters; cornflakes and water for us cranky vegans. Brightly shining Saturday morning for Peace News Company meeting. Ecology group downstairs....

Why does the counterculture, in many ways supportive of our ideals and aspirations, ignore PN? Large sections of the alternative society grow increasingly dissatisfied with modish violent rhetoric, romantic conflict mythology and simplistic “kill the pig” philosophy. Prevailing underground press is largely consumer-orientated and politically sterile; insomuch as it reflects and promotes rigid authoritarian dogma, pseudo-puritanical infested doctrines and media elitism in contradistinction to its spontaneous creative content and the anarchic lifestyles of much of its readership.

General PN philosophy relates more meaningfully to this as yet actively uncommitted potential. Presentation and promotion are obviously two present barriers to their involvement. Other Potlatchers considered straight radical society a more fruitful area. Why not, of course, both?

...Is Women’s Lib, a political and protest impetus, as reformist and irrelevant as most of its publicly articulated demands would suggest? What makes Potlatch lady people too revolutionary for most existing Marxist-oriented groups? Seemingly because they recognised that female liberation is intertwined with the various other interdependent strands of a larger revolutionary tapestry.... Group relationships, extended families and communes offer some tentative solutions to problems of less predetermined job sharing... Transformation of falsely separated man and woman into individually distinct but irrevocably fused real creatures. Bisexuality; homosexuality and heterosexual exclusiveness. Grub time.

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