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(en) US, report from mid-west anarchist federation meeting

From Mark Laskey <kronstadt@juno.com>
Date Wed, 13 Dec 2000 03:03:31 -0500 (EST)


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 Here is a report from the Mid-West Anarchist Federation conference that
 was written by a friend of mine who used to be involved with the Lucy
 Parsons Center (Redbook) here in Boston for about 15 years before moving
 to Kansas City, MO. He forwarded a copy to me, and I thought it may be of
 some interest to people in NEFAC.
 Solidarity,
MaRK, Sabate Anarchist Collective (NEFAC)
 ===================================================

 November 5, 2000, Sunday
 Here finally are a few remarks about the conference I attended in Chicago
 on Saturday, Sept. 23. I only managed to attend for one day, Saturday.
 The conference continued on the next day (minus at least a third of the
 people who were there on Saturday), so I have no idea what happened on
 Sunday, and therefore what the final outcome of the conference was. The
 conference was called and organized by several members of Chicago’s
 A-Zone infoshop and collective, with an eye to setting up some sort of
 Midwest Anarchist Federation.
 About twenty-five people attended, I would say, mostly from Chicago and
 nearby towns, but also from Detroit, and Madison (I think). I may have
 been the one coming from the furthest away (Kansas City). (I didn’t take
 notes so this report will be mostly general impressions; it will be
 somewhat weak on concrete details). I only knew one person there, Cindy
 Milstein, who is just by chance living in Chicago for several months. She
 normally lives in Vermont, and teaches at the Institute for Social
 Ecology there, and is also on the Board of the Institute for Anarchist
 Studies. I also knew about Mike Hargis, who is on the editorial board of
 the Anarcho Syndicalist Review. I knew about him through my friend Jon
 Bekken, also of ASR and the Lucy Parsons Center in Boston. As expected,
 those attending were predominantly young people in their twenties, with a
 few in their thirties and forties, and then me. Food Not Bombs provided
 us with lunch Saturday. The two long discussions, Saturday morning and
 afternoon, were well moderated. We used the device of going around the
 room and hearing from everyone in both sessions, but it was mostly a
 general discussion, since the group was small. If I had made it back on
 Sunday, some of the other people there might have become real for me, but
 as it was there was not time enough to establish new acquaintances.
  The question immediately emerged as to why we had
 assembled, and what we hoped to accomplish. There were no concrete
 proposals on the table. In retrospect, this was the biggest single oversight by
 the organizers of the meeting. To have had any chance of nailing down
 anything specific or concrete in a short weekend conference, some
 proposals would have to have been circulated in advance. I had with me a copy of
 the founding documents of the just established Northeast
 Federation of Anarcho Communists, but I had neglected to make copies,
 thinking that others would already have them or that I would be able to
 copy them there if necessary (both assumptions proved wrong). But I was
 able to describe the documents for them. There were two: a two-page
 statement of beliefs and principles, and a detailed constitution
 (organizational structure, operating procedures, etc.). Nefac had emerged out
 of a fairly long process among friends and acquaintances on the East
 Coast. It was immediately clear that we (i.e., this weekend
 gathering of strangers in Chicago) could not hope to duplicate that model.
  I floated the idea of establishing an anarchist
 "Circle" instead. Cindy Milstein was able to give details about such a
 structure, as she was acquainted with what had been the New England
 Anarchist Circle, which had been a much looser arrangement, and mostly used for
 sharing information and resources. After discussing these two approaches
 for awhile, my impression is that it was near unanimous that a
 looser "circle" type arrangement was about all we could hope for at that
 time, but that perhaps it would evolve into something more
 structured later on. But that idea ran into difficulty right away because a number
 of people did not want to put their names and addresses on a mailing
 list, so I think it was arranged for items to be sent to one address and
 distributed from there (but I don’t have the details on this; I don’t
 think it was really nailed down by the end of Saturday afternoon’s
 session, or if it was I missed it; we’ll need to contact them about this,
 and about what happened at the conference on Sunday).
  Except for the three people from A-zone and Mike and
 Fred from "Some Chicago Anarchists" and perhaps one or two other
 groups, I think most people at the meeting came as individuals, and not
 as representatives of organized groups. This is another difference between
 the Midwest and the Northeast. The Northeast has more established
 groups, which are therefore in a position to form an association on a regional
 basis. The Midwest has mostly individual anarchists living in scattered
 cities around the region. So perhaps some kind of individual
 ‘membership’ organization would be more appropriate to this region. It’s
 pretty clear that there is neither the energy nor resources to attempt the kind
 of complex constitutional structure that Nefac has put into
 place.
 What about a tiny newsletter (one-two pages) for anarchists in the
 region? I had thought of volunteering to do this. But is this really the
 way to go? Newsletters, even brief ones, take a lot of work. You have to
 collect the materials, scan or type them into the computer, get them made
 up into pages, get them printed out and photocopied, and then mailed.
 Even a small newsletter to a short mailing list would be a lot of work
 for one person. Is it really worth it? The internet is simply loaded with
 anarchist material. There are hundreds of web sites with resources and
 contacts listed. I realize that many activists don’t have access to the
 internet, but surely usually at least one person in a project or circle
 of friends does. Perhaps a web site, patterned after the indymedia sites,
 for midwest anarchists, would be the way to go. It could be set up so
 that anyone could post to it, and thus become a way to announce events,
 share resources, distribute materials, and so forth. Unfortunately (or
 fortunately) I cannot volunteer for this because I have never learned
 html or how to set up web sites.
 There were undercurrents at the meeting which I could not possibly
 unravel from one brief exposure. So the remarks that follow are extremely
 impressionistic, and may be wrong. It seemed however that the A-Zone
 group and ‘Some Chicago Anarchists’ can’t get along. Even though both
 sides constantly said that they ought to find ways to cooperate, this
 didn’t seem to be happening. At one point I asked them what seemed to be
 the trouble. They said it was a long story. Apparently there are a couple
 of severe personality conflicts, one person in particular coming across
 as dogmatic and sectarian. But beyond that, ‘Some Chicago Anarchists’ are
 apparently fairly strict anarcho-syndicalists, with a more fixed and
 established set of beliefs, while the a-zone people are rather more
 general and vague (inclusive, pluralistic) theoretically, and are mainly
 into street actions and organizing rallies. It was my impression that it
 was primarily the rigidity of the anarcho-syndicalists that prevented
 cooperation rather than any reluctance on the part of the a-zone crowd.
 But I may be wrong.
 When we each explained what we meant by anarchism, it did not seem to me
 that there were any insuperable splits. Mike Hargis insisted several
 times that labor had to be a central focus of organizing, but no one
 disagreed with this, and a couple of the a-zone people explicitly agreed
 that labor was key. In practice however, I think this may be a pretty
 serious split, with the a-zone militants primarily focusing on rallies
 and street actions and the syndicalists on workplace organizing. The
 a-zone activists were also more interested in community organizing I
 think than workplace organizing, even though they didn’t reject workplace
 organizing. I argued against a strict, sole focus on workplace
 organizing, saying that workplaces, neighborhoods, and households were
 all strategic sites for confronting ruling class power. There are other
 ways to confront the powers that be, as for example in single issue
 campaigns, and direct actions of various kinds, but these three sites
 have the advantage of actually being situated to take real power away
 from the rulers while simultaneously allowing us to build an anarchist
 society.
 I think a disagreement about ‘primitivism’ was mentioned once or twice
 but did not receive extended discussion. I could not see any reason off
 hand why an umbrella organization, with very broad anarchistic
 principles, wouldn’t work for this group. But is it needed? Would it be
 worth the effort? Perhaps if all the anarchists in the Chicago area could
 come up with a formula and mechanism for cooperation, then scattered
 individuals and groups throughout out the rest of the midwest could join.
  We anarchists face a dilemma when it comes to
 organizing among ourselves. The more time we spend on organizing ourselves the
 less time we have to try to actually establish anarchist social relations
 and defend them. We need to be better organized among ourselves in order
 to get the word out about anarchism. But organizing among ourselves is
 still one step removed from actually making a revolution. If this is all we
 ever do, the revolution will continue to be put off. On the other
 hand, we live in an intensely conservative country, and have just made
 it through thirty years of counterrevolution. Perhaps all we can do at
 present is continue with our anarchist propaganda. But wouldn’t it be
 better to actually be trying to set up neighborhood assemblies, household
 assemblies, and workplace assemblies, and thus start taking the
 first steps toward gutting capitalism and establishing a free society?
  Thanks to all those who helped organize the
 conference and for getting us started down the road toward greater cooperation.

 James




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