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(en) Britain, Organise* #64 - what is it that anarchists want?

Date Tue, 05 Jul 2005 07:48:15 +0300


Someone said to me in the midst of an altercation
over what anarchism "represented": "what really
bothers me about anarchism is that anyone can "be
one" and say or do "anything they like".
If you look at the history of anarchism and
how and why it came to be in the 19th
Centur y and then compare that with the
activities of anarchists around the world
today, you can begin to see that there is
some truth in this statement. This article
tries to look at where the anarchist
movement is going and whether we're going
in the right direction.
If we look at the achievements of the
anarchist movement in the second half of
the twentieth century we can see that our
successes have been insignificant compared
to those of the first. The Spanish revolution
was a vindication of anarchist principles.
The Aragon and Catalan collectives worked,
and they worked well. Workplaces, services
and factories were collectivized with workers
controlling the organisation of them.
According to Eddie Conlon's pamphlet
production increased to such an extent that
"In June 1937 a plenum of Regional
Federations of Peasants was held. Its aim
was the formation of a national federation
"for the co-ordination and extension of the
collectivist movement and also to ensure an
equitable distribution of the produce of the
land, not only between the collectives but for
the whole country""; this was a huge
success and although ultimately the
revolution was lost our theory won it's battle
against those who held it up as nothing
more than an utopian idea.
After the collapse of the Aragon front, the
defeat of the Anti-Fascist militias and the
rise of Franco, anarchism has had little
international acclaim to speak of with awe.
Skeptics of anarchism could see this as a
theoretical problem; that anarchism is
simply not strong enough to withstand the
new demands and pressures of a globalised
world. In part it may be true. But the reason
for this isn't because we lack theoretical
conviction, but that we appear to be more
divided than we actually are.
In terms of class struggle what have we
achieved since Spain? Hungary 1956 when
anarchist principles were adopted to
struggle against the Soviet Union or the
Kwangju uprising in South Korea where
students fought violently with over twenty
thousand riot police and soldiers who raped
and murdered hundreds of people. Paris,
May 1968 was one instance, an exciting and
inspiring instance of tension between
students, the working class and the
institutions of the state. From 40 students
who went on strike to demand an end to the
police spies frequenting their faculty to ten
million striking workers who fought back;
armed with libertarian principles and
common interests they demanded and won,
through defiance and conflict, huge
concessions. It was the largest class
upheaval in an industrial country ever.
Compared even to the Miners Strike 1984-
85 or Argentina 2002-5, the Paris Uprising
remains a shining example of working class
resistance.
All this however, ended in a return to
reformism. The workers went back to work
and the students went back to their
universities. A revolutionary spark had been
lost, this time through a combination of
acceptance and betrayal rather than military
defeat. Much like the Miners Strike,
Argentina, Hungary and Kwangju,
concessions were won, revolution was
avoided. Groups of activists have continued
propagandizing and organizing the fight for
liberation, but the general consensus among
the workers has and is simply: "Let's get on
with it."
Since all this, the Anti-capitalist movement,
a decidedly libertarian movement, has
emerged as one of the largest organizations
of people to resist the spread of neo-
liberalism. Anarchists, enviromentalists,
NGO's, human rights groups and
some Marxists form the base of
this decentralized group, which
takes its guidance from the
`Peoples Global Actions'. Any
group which takes these
principles as its core and which
advocates resistance to global
capital is in effect apart of the
anti-capitalist movement. This
amalgamation of die-hard
revolutionaries and teacup
liberals has unfortunately
created an incoherence, which
could lead those on the outside
to ask: "What are they about?"
The different groups that have
emerged champion many
different causes. Labour rights,
enviromentalism; campaigns for indigenous
people, migration, feminism, biodiversity
and genetic engineering, all of which are
acceptable causes in themselves. But what
does the movement need in order to get
where it is going? Indeed, where is it going
in the first place?
The Seattle demonstrations against the
ministerial meeting of the World Trade
Organisation, an organisation responsible
for pushing the free trade agenda, were
brought to an end by mass action by the
state. The police were brought in, in their
thousands to attack and dislodge what,
thanks to the perseverance of the
insurrectionar y anarchists involved, became
a huge movement of defiance. The
subsequent riots put militant politics back
on the table, not just for the activists
involved, but also for the people who,
without agitation came out of their houses
to confront the police when tear gas was
thrown into their communities. A step in the
right direction!
After Seattle the revolutionaries and the
reformers went their separate ways to fight
their separate battles. The Seattle `moment'
dispersed back to its roots, affinity groups
and individual campaigns, only finding some
cohesion at events like Genoa, where
thousands of people came together to resist
the G8. The ideological and tactical
differences , however, creates what? On the
one side we have Black Bloc and
insurrectionar y, revolutionary anarchists
who see these events as an opportunity to
create resistance and confrontation. On the
other side the reformists and pacifists who
see it as an opportunity to apply "pressure".
To form a base where the world and its
leaders can see how angry people are. On
one side we have the belief in fighting and
on the other the belief in lobbying. What is
to be expected of this unlikely alliance?
When Bakunin sat on the First International
and endured Karl Marx's endless diatribes
about his overpowering role as General-
Secretary and his love affair with the state,
a programme for anarchist working class
liberation began to take some form. It was
a new time in working class struggle,
especially in 19th century Europe, which
was plagued with reaction and oppression.
This new working class revolutionary
movement had a logical base. The enemy
of the workers had a face, it could be seen
and its effects could be explained. It wasn't
just them and us, there were reasons and it
created the means for an alternative.
One has to admit that Marx is unarguably
the father of anti-capitalism. With his
analysis of capitalism, its historical
development and its philosophical and
psychological effects on humanity it is hard
to ignore him; his concept and ideas on
capitalism were the beginning of a new
understanding of the world. When
anarchism was put into theoretical form it
did so from this specific basis. Bakunin
himself passed comment, no doubt through
gritted teeth: "Karl Marx is a man of
immense statistical and economic
knowledge. His work on Capital...is in the
highest degree a scientific or realist work: in
the sense that it absolutely excludes any
other logic than that of the facts."
One of the problems now facing us in the
present day anarchist movement is the split
in to varying derivative philosophies and
perspectives. Many anarchists see the
abandonment of Marx's materialist
approach as a pre-condition of individual
freedom; but what kind of freedom do they
mean? With all the fancy names and social
and theoretical nuances, the working class
are still exploited, we still work long hours
for little pay and we still have no control
over our lives. Class struggle anarchists
believe the creation of an anarchist society
can only come about through the self-
struggle of the working class. With
lifestyleism, the belief that anarchism can
be achieved through individual pursuit, we
have an almost religious opting out of
capitalist society in return for a life of
communal living, enviromentalism and
most often militant veganism.
One underlying principle of anarchist
thought is direct action, it is the means in
which we see the creation of an anarchist
society. Rob Sparrow calls it "...the
distinctive contribution of anarchists in the
realm of political method." In each variant
of anarchism this principle upholds itself.
From primitivism, individualism and
insurrectionism, the concept of direct action,
creating through doing, is paramount. Rob
Sparrow says further: "Direct action
repudiates such acceptance of
the existing order and suggests
that we have both the right and
the power to change the world.
It demonstrates this by doing it"
Direct action has been a tactic
associated with the anarchist
movement since the First
International. Mikhail Bakunin
was famous for his passionate
involvement in revolutionary
and insurrectionary movements.
One historian notes that while
on a train ride through Italy he
saw a small village in revolt. He
called the train to stop, jumped
out and agitated the peasants
and workers to storm the villa of
the Mayor. Malatesta, another
First International regular was also prone to
throwing himself into acts of direct action,
fighting with the Egyptians against the
British colonialists.
Right into the 20th century the attentant,
the act of bringing "justice" directly to those
who were responsible for the exploitation
and oppression of the workers, was a
common thing. The most notable was
Alexander Berkman's assassination attempt
on Henry Frick, which landed him in prison
for thirteen years. Emma Goldman was
implicated in the assassination attempt of
President McKinley, although later released
without charge. She also served two years
in prison for distributing contraceptives.
Another example of a famous historical
direct action was the tragic story of Marinus
Van Der Lubbe who burnt down the German
Reichstag in retaliation to the rise of the
Nazi's.
Anarchists through out history have never
shied away from confronting the institutions
of the state. In the 1970's the squatters
movement directly resisted the capitalist
classes greed plans. There were mass
takeovers of luxury flats and empty hotels in
London to protest against housing policies.
This led to organised workers going on strike
in support of the occupations. The road
protest camps were another example of
libertarian direct action, where people
resisted the creation of motorways and the
destruction of the environment.
But such campaigns and movements are
hampered by their individualist origins and
methods. Yes, lifestyle anarchists and
individualists have built up a partially
successful model of co-operation and
solidarity. They have created a network of
individual direct actions. Radical Routes
and other housing co-operative networks
allow people to take control of their
and create a new way of living. In some
instances they have been remarkably
successful. The Sumac centre in Nottingham
has created an extremely valuable resource
that is used broadly by the community. The
café, social clubs, children's events and
workshops are so popular that it continues
to expand and combined with the
campaigns for social issues it makes the
Sumac centre a prime example of
individualist community direct at work,
building a sense of political and alternative
under standing,
Another example is the social centre in
Leeds, which recently opened where you can
buy vegan food, use it for a political or social
space or use the internet, read a book and
generally relax. The atmosphere is great,
the people appear quite cliquey when you
first meet them, but they are all good
people. The social centre is another
example of libertarian inspired individuals
building something for themselves. It's
direct action at work. "Anyone can do it" is
the motto and a motto which is
inspirational; but who does this ultimately
extend to? Co-operation and solidarity of
this nature, although desirable usually
extends to the inner circle and not the
working class at large. Although workers co-
operatives can and have been set up, how
realistic is this as an overall goal? Can such
initiatives, small as they are, provide the
means to demolish capitalism?
The working class still have sub-standard
housing, they are still forced into mind-
numbing jobs which exploit and are
betrayed daily by the politicians and
businessmen that rule over them. Hyper
capitalism has sent people into a consumer
frenzy and the weekend seems to be the
only escape. Drug taking and alcohol
consumption is at an all time high, millions
of hours are being lost through people being
ill, stress rates are going up and all the
while there is the latest this and that to buy.
The stress of modern day living and the
ef fects that capitalism has on people are as
much the same, if in different form, than a
hundred years ago. The community is being
lost by the scare-mongering about
immigration, the rise of the far right and the
depression and alienation created from
having nothing but the small possessions
you lock in your house, away from the rest of
the world. In recent statistics it was
reported that more than 3m people in the
UK alone were reported as depressed, with
many cases relating to financial worries.
Working class communities are run down,
worn out and full of nothing. Anti-social
behaviour has become so bad nowadays
that the government has had to introduce
Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, which
ef fectively punishes children for being
bored. Young people need activity and
stimulation. The tiredness, wariness and
disenfranchisement of parents and families
at large means young people are not getting
the attention they need to grow. Instead of
dealing with the real reasons for anti-social
behaviour and investing money into building
social centres and youth clubs for young
people the government is waging wars and
giving subsidies to the rich. In one working
class community I know, well a ghetto if
we're honest, there is one school to educate
hundreds of children. Every time it rains
however, the roof leaks onto the kids below
it or collapses altogether. The school has no
money to rebuild it, and the council claim
they don't either. What is to be done?
The G8 summit is on its way to Scotland.
The richest and most powerful leaders of
capitalism in the world will meet at
Gleneagles to discuss how to protect
themselves and free trade from the
apparent ever-increasing global risk of
terrorism and social upheaval. The agenda
at the G8 this year is simply about cutting
crime. Terrorist crime, organised crime,
immigration crime, document forgery and
narcotics crime. But not war crimes, or
human rights abuses or the murder of trade
unionists or the destruction of the
environment and mass poisonings of
helpless people. Leaders who have human
rights records, war crimes records and who
have lied, cheated and betrayed us, while at
the same time destroying the planet we live
in will meet and shake each others hand,
congratulating each other no doubt on a job
well done.
-------------------------------------------------------
"Creating modes of direct action is crucial to
our chance of liberation, no matter how
confrontational.
-------------------------------------------------------
The G8 symbolises the elite of capitalism.
They are the harbingers of neo-liberalism
and the protectors of the multi-national
corporations that exploit the vulnerable and
profit from suffering, misery and alienation.
Resistance to it is vastly important. Genoa
was a sign that people were sick of the lies
and hatred caused by their agenda. Tony
Blair dubbed the anti-globalisation
movement, "The G8 circus" in an attempt to
belittle the only truly democratic and
participator y movement challenging the
neo-liberal consensus he supports.
The atmosphere of defiance at Genoa is
almost exclusively attributed to the Black
Bloc and the insurrectionary anarchists who
trained, prepared and organised themselves
to irritate, unhinge and provoke the
authorities. This idea and tactic is an
impor tant one. Coming out in force and
unflinchingly challenging and confronting
the agents of the state is a valuable tool for
fighting the state and capitalism. Wolfi
Landstreicher tells how "...anarchists must
attack, for waiting is defeat; what is needed
is open mutiny and the spreading of
subversion among the exploited and
excluded." Mutiny and subversion was
precisely what the authorities got. Although
some groups like the post modern
communists `Ya Basta' and Pink Block
wanted to use non-violent means to get
inside the Red Zone, Black Block proposed
violent resistance. From one personal story
of someone involved it is inspiring to see
how large, committed and organised they
were: "I formed up with the infamous black
bloc. The black bloc of autonomists and
anarchists proposed to mask up, pad up and
take the police on directly. Our black bloc
set off about 2000 strong and succeeded in
meeting up with about another 4000
activists from Cobos."
Critics within the anti-capitalist movement
saw this as a prime example of the
"bankruptcy" of anarchism. Marxists and
reformists alike were disappointed at the
"violent tactics" employed by the anarchists,
and saw them as counter-productive and
alienating for the actual anti-globalisation
cause. This patronising attitude is all-too
common; , the stuffy closet reformists
disguised as Marxists will always try and
make those who resist authority look
unreasonable because it serves their
authoritarian purpose. Regardless of any
mistakes, the black bloc managed to create
tension and aggravated the police to the
desired effect. Tragically one anarchist,
Carlos Guiliani, was murdered after being
shot by a soldier.
The organisation for Genoa was, for all
intents and purposes, relatively secret. The
Black Bloc and the white suited `Tutte
Blanches' kept their activities to themselves
before the actual event. But this time the
organisation has been far reaching and on a
massive scale. The Dissent Network, which
was created in 2003 out of those involved in
ecological direct action, the anti-war
movement and the anti-capitalist movement
have done masses of work. It has adopted
the `People's Global Action' principles and
has set to work creating what it calls a
`Network of Dissent' to the July G8 meeting.
The Dissent Network is a decentralised
organisation of affinity groups who have
gone full steam ahead to work out logistics
and training. Throughout the last year
workshops have been organised for activists
to teach activists. Research, information and
fundraising have been passed to the
different working groups who organise
themselves. . It appears to have been a
massive operation with people from all over
the country and the world participating in
co-operation.
The Dissent Network has adopted , "a
confrontational attitude, since we do not
think that lobbying can have a major impact
in such biased and undemocratic
organisations." Good step. Dissent
Network, compared to the Socialist Worker
Party front groups like `the G8 Alternative,'
is by far the biggest and most organised
group and will pose a real threat to the G8.
It will no doubt manage to shut it down and
create defiance with the authorities on the
scale of Genoa and maybe even Seattle. The
ef fects of such confrontations will once
again put militant politics back on the table,
how long and to what effect will be the
biggest test of it's existence.
On the left, the Dissent Network is criticised
by the elitist of the materialist realm. These
stodgy old Marxists, authoritarian or
otherwise, who see these activities as a
waste of time by "youngsters" with nothing
better to do, can patronise all the want. This
attitude, that `naivety makes the
impressionable youth grow angrier', comes
about because of the symbolic nature of the
G8 resistance and largely because the
working class are not involved. Fine, but the
objective of the Dissent Network is not to
liberate the working class, it is to resist the
G8.
The Dissent Network is most likely made up
of young people, mainly individuals with no
affinity to a libertarian organisation with
wider class perspectives, but that does not
suddenly make it irrelevant. Resisting the
G8 is an important part of being an anti-
capitalist and extending leftwards, as an
anarchist. Creating modes of direct action
is crucial to our chance of liberation, no
matter how confrontational. Emma
Goldman points out quite poetically
"Anarchism therefore stands for direct
action, the open defiance of, and resistance
to, all laws and restrictions, economic,
social, and moral" and we should agree with
her.
So if we agree that the G8 is important in
terms of creating resistance and that it is
merely symbolic, does that mean the
Dissent Network goes without criticism?
No. The Dissent Network has done well. We
can admit that, but maybe it has done too
well? There is a difference between
believing the G8 demonstrations to be
symbolic and believing that the main
contention of the anarchist movement or
anarchists in general should be towards this
symbolism.
The Dissent Network has spent vast
amounts of time, effort and money on
building this network, for a symbol. How can
this be justified? Individualism? The working
class are undergoing continual
bombardment from the state and capitalism
and instead of building a dissent network to
resist the day-to-day fights of working class
people, the Dissent Network has spent
thousands of pounds, man power and
resources aimed at pissing of the police.
Was all of it really necessary?
As a class struggle anarchist the picture for
me is clear. The G8 summit, no matter how
much we fight, how many police we manage
to get past, aggravate, confront, inflate and
resist the demonstration and inescapable
riots that no doubt will ensue are without
argument pure symbolism. Regardless of
the ability of those involves in the
organisation of the Dissent Network, any
one who believes that it can be an actual
force for change are deluding themselves.
They have done well in doing what they are
doing, and the days of action will invariably
be something to remember; but then what?
Going back to the Landstreicher
quote,"...what is needed is open mutiny and
the spreading of subversion among the
exploited and excluded" The exploited and
excluded are not involved in the Dissent
Network to any significant degree. The
majority of those involved are lifestyle
anarchists who have opted out of society in
order to be anarchists. Their way of life is
already defined and while they indulge
themselves in organising what is nothing
more than a gesture, the working class have
to deal with state repression without the
means to fight back. Once the riots have
died down and the media have got bored of
the story the G8 leaders will still be in
control and the exploited and excluded will
be no better off.
--------------------------------------------------
"...no matter how many police we manage to get
past, aggravate, confront and the inescapable
riots, [these actions] are pure
-------------------------------------------------
At the moment the anti-capitalist
movement, the Dissent Network included, is
a theoretically unorganised mess. This is
where the statement "anarchists... anyone
can "be one" and say or do "anything they
like"" find's its truth. Anyone can get
involved with the anti-capitalist movement
and can say and do what ever they like. This
may live up to some ideal dream of non-
partisan politics but the reality of it is
confusion and inconsistency. The anti-
capitalist movement has no unifying
direction or purpose other than being broad
based and anti-capitalist. If it is to go
somewhere this agenda has to become
specific and clear. The destruction of
capitalism and the state can only come
about through the propagation of a
revolutionar y ideal, in context with what
society is. Class analysis has undergone
many tests, but has never failed in providing
a clear answer to society's problems.
What will come after the G8? There is
nothing in the Dissent literature that
suggests anything. The individuals involved
will continue with what and go where? The
lifestyleism of the twenty first century will no
doubt continue to thrive, pursuing the
chimera of an alternative means of living.
Class struggle anarchists will have to pick
up the pieces and continue attempting to
build a wider resistance to capitalism; wider
than the G8.
If that's to happen though we need a
dialogue. The lifestylists need to get a
perspective on material analysis and the
class struggleists need to get out of the
habit of being so righteously patronising.
We need to work together. The huge amount
of finances, time and resources gone in to
building the Dissent Network were, in my
opinion, a waste of time. Having said that,
what we do have now is a model that can
and should be replicated. Working class
communities are in dire need for assistance.
Dissent and the anti-capitalist movement is
made up in part by lifestylists who want to
challenge capitalism and the state by
creating a practical alternative. We can do
this. But instead of building a forum of
debate and organisation for resisting the G8
and the WTO, what is necessary is to
combine that idea with a class perspective.
Building a forum for debate within working
class communities and organising practical
alternatives for all of us that will resist
capitalism and the state on a local, more
humble level.
The time and resources, money and effort
that went into building the G8 would have
been better directed to those communities
where young people are tearing each other
apart because of boredom, and school roofs
are falling in because they can't afford to
repair them. Providing community spaces
for working class people to combat illiteracy
or helping families resist the debt collectors
and the racists. . Going from symbolic
messages, which I admit are valid, to
practical involvement in communities are
where the anti-capitalist movement should
be going. Its focus should switch to things it
can do, right now. How do we justify
anything else? Those revolutionary and
individualist anarchists who are involved in
the anti-capitalist movement need to do
what they have done to build resistance to
the G8. Opt out of an unlikely alliance with
reformists, disguised or not, and build a
network which resists capitalism and the
state on a day-to-day basis. The Dissent
Network has proved it has the energy, ideas,
talent and knowledge to do just that. They
can build networks of resistance within and
not outside of local communities..
It is not just us, as anarchists, who want an
anarchist society, it is every single working
class and unemployed person who is tired of
being treated like a slave or like shit, tired of
losing out on dreams, tired of having
nothing and paying out everything to a
system they hate. For every person who
wants a better world, for those people
embattled in a day-to-day struggle against
drudgery, frustration and insanity; for all of
us a network of resistance is everything.
Dissent must develop towards where it
really matters. To achieve liberation against
the G8, the working class, the unemployed,
the struggling and the tired need to be
inspired. They need to realise that change is
possible, that confidence in our abilities to
fight back is what's required for us to
change our world.
After the dust has settled over Gleneagles
and we have come back with stories to tell
of confrontation and defiance, we have to
remember what we are doing. Why we were
there in the first place and what can come
next. In order to effect any real, significant
change, the anarchist and anti-capitalist
movement has to become pro-active where
it matters. If we can resist the G8, we can
resist our bosses too. If we can beat the
police, we can beat the degradation of our
communities. If we can remember to fight,
we can remember what life should be like,
and ultimately what anarchists want.

===========================================
* Organise is the magazine of the Anarchist Federation.
It is published twice times a year to promote discussion
and the development of anarchist communist theory.

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