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(en) Freedom 6320 19th Oct. 2002 - The murky message of '97

From FreedomCopy@aol.com
Date Sat, 2 Nov 2002 08:58:27 -0500 (EST)


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It's five years since the Class War Federation tried to
encourage new developments in the anarchist movement
by winding itself up. In recent issues, Freedom contributors
have discussed the need for a new national federation of
anarchists. Now M.H., who was involved in Class War at
the time, asks what problems still remain for us and why.

Back in the summer of 1997, the majority of activists in the
Class War Federation, including me, produced what was
intended to be the last issue of Class War. It was also to be
the end of the Federation itself. The suicide note took the
form of "An open letter to the revolutionary movement",
published in issue 73 of the paper. Written "from the heart
and not as some piece of lefty theory", it wasn't aimed
solely at anarchists, but more generally at class struggle
libertarians with a commitment to non-hierarchic
organising. (I'll use the term 'anarchists' for the sake of
simplicity, with apologies to those comrades who aren't).
In a (sometimes harsh) critique of Class War's own
failings, the article called on other revolutionaries - groups
and individuals - to face up to their problems and to come
together to find ways forwards. There was an emphasis on
ditching sectarianism and general bitchiness, on
questioning our roles as 'activists' in relation to the wider
working class, and on taking a fresh look at what, why and
how we do things.
"Basically", the article said, "the paper and the Federation
have gone as far as they can in their present form, and it's
time for something new ... What we are about is looking
ahead to something bigger, better and altogether more
unpleasant for the ruling classes." So what happened? Did
we all kiss, make up and change the world?
Five years is a long time in politics. J18 was little more
than an idea back then, Mayday hadn't been reclaimed, the
term 'anti-capitalism' was virtually unheard of and 'summit
hopping' wasn't on the agenda. Few of us had email, fewer
still had a website. The Taliban was still funded by the
west, and who the hell was Osama bin Laden? Capitalism
and the 'New World Order' were in the ascendancy, and
some people still had illusions about the New Labour
project.

Bradford festivities
The major event resulting from Class War 73 was the
Bradford Mayday conference and festivities of 1998. This at
least brought together comrades from the main national
anarchist groupings, smaller local groups, elements from
the invigorating RTS and environmental scene, and a range
of individuals. They came for three days of relaxed but
challenging debate, discussion and fun too. But what
happened next?
That's where it all gets a bit murkier. Although it created
an atmosphere of respect, co-operation and collaboration
(which, it should be emphasised, had always existed to an
extent, particularly outside London), nothing concrete
resulted from Bradford. The organisers didn't organise
anything else together, and when it was all over they
largely went their own ways, ceasing to exist as a group (or
even as a network) and failing to fulfil what they'd hinted at
in issue 73.
The remnants of the Class War Federation continued in
much the same way as before, occasionally getting their
names and faces into the mainstream media when the
periodical anarchist hysteria kicked in. The other two
national groups, Solidarity Federation and the Anarchist
Federation, also continued much as before, promoting their
organisations and their politics (though the three of them
do now subscribe to a joint email discussion list). So was
that it? Didn't anything happen at all?
Yes and no is the answer. The concept of mutual respect
and working together did flourish, and it continues today
despite the cynicism of those few who see a conspiracy
every time someone else suggests anything positive, and
despite the group 'chauvinism' or 'patriotism' of those who
continue to believe that only they have the right answer.
The move towards clearer class struggle and anti-capitalist
politics by RTS, and even elements of the environmental
movement such as Earth First!, which adopted an
anti-capitalist position, can be linked to the sentiments
expressed in Class War 73.
The Mayday 2000 festival in London was clearly inspired
by Bradford, and a number of organisers figured in the
arrangements for both events. More significantly, the
organising collective for Mayday 2000 (and the conference
itself) brought together perhaps the widest representation
of the movement ever seen, from workerists to lifestylists,
from fluffies to spikeys. But people who worked in that and
subsequent Mayday collectives still suffer nightmares, the
inevitable result of the enormous political and class chasm
between participants and the inability of some to
understand the responsibilities inherent in collective
decision-making.
Perhaps it's a mistake to focus on concrete developments
in terms of changing organisational structures, as those
who hoped something 'bigger and better' would emerge
from issue 73 will remain disappointed. After Bradford (and
Mayday 2000 in London) no structure or strategy was set in
motion and no new direction was agreed. Once again, a
promising initiative linked to Class War went nowhere
because it wasn't properly thought through from the start.
But as issue 73 said, "at the moment we have more
questions to ask than answers to give". In addition, if issue
73 had offered a blueprint for the future it would probably
have been doomed from the start, seen just as Class War
Con, part two.

Now the good news
On the brighter side, in July 1997 who'd have thought that,
within four years, the likes of the IMF, World Bank and
similar organs of international capitalism would be
struggling to justify, not just their existence, but that of the
system they were created to perpetuate Ğ capitalism itself
(not that we can credit issue 73 with all that!).
We could see what's happened as a process that hasn't
meandered anywhere final, its destination undefined (so
far) beyond an understanding that the end means the end
of capitalist social relations.
It's a process that's interlinked with the warts-and-all
development of the wider anti-capitalist movement; with
the contradictions and confusion going on within the RTS
and environmental scenes; with the inability to resolve the
thorny question of middle class involvement in (and
funding of) anti-capitalist and anarchist politics, and the
continued group chauvinism of some groups.
It's interlinked with the continuing failure of activists to
escape from the ghetto and into the wider working class,
from protest politics into real local alternatives; with the
low level of political discussion and understanding among
those who claim to be anarchists; the increased pace of
environmental and economic crisis, and the increasingly
mad and sad world we live in.
All these problems and more were articulated in Class War
73, and it's depressing that they remain unresolved five
years later. Older readers, of course, may feel we've
debated the same problems for much longer still.
But there have been positives too. Anarchist ideas
permeate far more widely than the anarchist movement
itself does, usually with their origins unnoticed. Many
networks and groups unknowingly but spontaneously adopt
anarchist principles of non-hierarchical organisation.
Innovative ideas and actions continue to spring forth
whenever resistance occurs.
There's a growing understanding that different tactics suit
different situations, that violence is just one of many
options. New groups such as the Wombles try to find
solutions to past and present problems. The growth of the
Social Centres Network offers the prospect of permanent
bases from which to integrate with local communities, as
well as autonomously controlled and self-funded meeting
places for the movement.
Bulletin boards and email discussion lists provide an
opportunity to debate and discuss ideas, problems and
actions (though there's a danger that contributing to these
alone becomes a new form of activism and increases the
isolation of the individual). Websites offer the chance to
reach vast numbers of people cheaply and easily, spreading
the word on upcoming events and offering in-depth
analysis and provocative suggestions. For an example, visit
www. temporary.org.uk, the site of the Temporary
Anti-Capitalist Teams idea (TACT for short), with its
excellent discussion of the state of the anti-capitalist
movement.
But with international capitalism in severe crisis, we need
to ask again the question posed by issue 73 - "if our ideas
are so brilliant, why do we collectively amount to so little
and have so little influence?" As capitalism turns once
again to war in its time of crisis, the anarchist movement
once again seems to be failing on many counts.
It's failing to articulate and disseminate a clear rejection of,
and alternative to, capitalist war, national liberation
(Palestine), Islamic ideology (Khilafah - the Islamic state)
and popular fronts (the Stop the War Coalition). It's failing
to counter the reformist moralism of the left, and to offer
alternative structures of its own. It's failing to draw people
together, and failing to open anarchist ideas and groups up
to the wider class. (Perhaps the problem these days is that,
whatever class they're from, 'activists' constitute a separate
'political' class, and as often as not alienate others from the
ideas they try to represent). Anarchists fiddle, while
capitalism bombs?
What's to be done? Can we seize the day? Can we give a
little in order to gain a lot? Can we develop our mutual trust
and solidarity and drop the bullshit, bitchiness and
manipulation? Can we utilise and expand what resources
we've already got? Can we truly put our politics into
practice? The Anarchist Bookfair is as good a place to start
as any.
M.H.

The discussion of the need (or otherwise) for a new kind of
anarchist federation continues in forthcoming issues of
Freedom. Coming up: Paul Maguire on why it would be
pissing in the wind, Brian Bamford on why the Northern
Anarchist Network is an example to us all.
For the text of 'An open letter to the revolutionary
movement', visit www.classwaruk.org/archive

For history of Mayday 2000, see www.ourmayday. org.uk
or www.urban75.com
For more on the London Social Centres Network, see page
7.




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