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(en) NEA#10: We Learn As We Walk: Looking Back on Five Years of NEFAC

From Northeastern Anarchist <northeastern_anarchist@yahoo.com>
Date Tue, 26 Apr 2005 12:09:18 +0200 (CEST)

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The late 1990s was a depressing time for anarchists in North America. Long time
activists were leaving a declining movement en masse, while projects were
disbanding or taking a hiatus. Anarchists of the 1990s had struggled hard to develop
a working praxis, while simultaneously trying to predict what "the next big
thing" would be in terms of social struggle. Some talked of ecology, while
others built up infoshops and other counter-institutions. Many focussed on
radical/anarchist single-issue activism (ARA, Earth First, Food Not Bombs,
Copwatch, ABC, etc.) and many more attempted to popularize anarchist ideas
within various counter-cultures. However, an important minority attempted
to build explicitly anarchist organizations and networks.

In 1998, the organization that everyone loved to hate
(or emulate), the Love & Rage Revolutionary Anarchist
Federation, dissolved. At the same time many of the
projects that largely defined themselves as being in
opposition to this organization were also experiencing
serious problems. It seemed that more then a decade of
anarchist activism was evaporating in North America.
By that time it was clear that the anarchist movement
of the 1990s had largely failed. In fact, when 'the
next big thing' did finally erupt in the streets of
Seattle in 1999, not only did it take almost everyone
by surprise, but there were very few serious
anarchists left to comment on it. Seattle was a
terrific boost for the anarchist movement. From a
truly marginal politico-cultural scene, anarchism was
immediately thrust to the forefront of this new mass
movement based around the struggle against
globalization. It was precisely around this time that
NEFAC was formed.

Inspiration Through Frustration

Our general frustration with the North American
anarchist movement ran fairly deep. Most
significantly, we felt the movement lacked solid
politics and coordination. On the whole, anarchist
politics were rather crude and offered little in the
way of serious analysis or theoretical depth. More
often than not, people were either isolated in mass,
reformist organizations or grouped in marginalized
radical projects. In both cases we felt anarchists
were largely disconnected from the movements of
oppressed peoples and lacked the leverage to affect
social change. This disconnect also meant that the
fate of anarchism was intimately linked with the fate
of a subculture (punk rock, hippy dropout culture,
etc.) to the point where the anarchist movement was
becoming a by-product of these subcultures and
completely alien from working class life. While many
of the founding NEFAC members did indeed come from
punk or skinhead backgrounds, we felt there was more
to our politics than a DIY ethic or alternative
lifestyle. We felt that anarchism was first and
foremost a political philosophy and that it must be
open to all people, not just marginalized subcultures.
We also saw anarchism as a fighting ideology that must
be rooted in the everyday struggles of the working

Discussion of forming a new anarchist organization had
started just prior to Seattle (not long after Love &
Rage disbanded). At the time it was the idea of a
small handful of anarchists scattered across the
Northeast. The fact that the connection between two
small collectives in Quebec City and Boston was made
through an article on North American anarchistm in a
British anarchist magazine (Organise!) speaks volumes
about our level of alienation and isolation at the
time! No wonder we felt isolated and alienated. The
official narrative of the anarchist movement was
practically in the sole possession of
anti-organizationalists. To them the idea of forming
an explicitly anarchist organization had been tried
and it was a failure. End of story.

We had a different perspective. Some of us had the
chance to travel to Europe and see the benefits of
anarchist organization. Most of us were avid readers
of the European anarchist press, which seemed much
more advanced than it's North American counterpart. In
many European countries the movement is larger,
stronger, and much more deeply rooted in social
movements and class struggles. Frustrated with the
North American anarchist movement of the time, we took
direction and inspiration from our European comrades.
We studied the histories and politics of these
anarchist organizations and started discussing how we
could best apply these models to the North American

Our experiences and frustrations with the North
American anarchist movement led many of us to
"platformist" conclusions. While we definitely had
sympathy toward anarcho-syndicalism (the other large
and coherent class struggle anarchist tradition), we
felt the syndicalist organizations were going nowhere.
Because of the way the labor movement has become
institutionalized here -- with the closed shop and the
absence of minority unionism and pluralism -- there
was no room to realistically build such a movement in
North America.


NEFAC was founded during a conference held in Boston
in April 2000. Our idea was to build an organization
that would unite revolutionaries around a common
tradition, and from here build a collective theory and
practice. We wanted to take root in working class
struggles and social movements in order to test our
ideas and eventually kickstart a popular anarchism
that would regain the past influence and strength of
our movement at it’s height. As a first step, we set
about creating the framework for the organization.

We discussed and adopted our 'Aims & Principles', our
constitution, and our minimal strategic orientation.
Our 'aims & principles' statement was directly
inspired by a similar point-by-point political
statement of the Anarchist Federation (UK). Our
constitution was inspired by similar documents
produced by the French libertarian movement since the
1970s. The ironic thing about our constitution is that
it was modeled on an organization that had hundreds of
members in dozens of groups when we, in comparison,
could only count on two real groups and a dozen
isolated individuals. It was more of a theoretical
statement of how we believed a revolutionary
organization should be organized then a practical
document that reflected our real development at the
time. Our strategic orientation was minimal and was
summarized in this cliched statement:

"NEFAC is an organization of revolutionary activists
from different resistance movements who identify with
the communist tradition in anarchism. The activity of
the Federation is organized around theoretical
development, anarchist propaganda, and intervention in
the struggle of our class, be it autonomously or by
way of direct involvement in social movements".

During this first period, our federal 'intervention'
was done in the anti-globalization movement. Despite
some successes, notably in Washington and Quebec City,
the limits of this type of intervention quickly
appeared to us (and many other segments of the
anti-capitalist movement). It is from a criticism of
'summit hopping' and the desire that our practices
take root in everyday class struggles that we
collectively decided to develop a new direction. In
order to regain the past influence of anarchism within
working class social movements we needed to leave
'activism' behind and begin to think in terms of a
long-term strategy (as opposed to continually
focussing on planning for the next militant bloc each
time some large capitalist summit was taking place).

Read More:

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