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(en) Australia, Melbourne, ANARCHISM - SCENE OR MOVEMENT?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 17 Mar 2005 17:32:08 +0100 (CET)

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The recently established Melbourne Anarchist Communist group presented
the following text at this years Anarcon in Melbourne last week:
>> Do we need an Anarchist movement, or is an Anarchist "scene", a loose
social network of people socialising and working on the odd project, enough?
The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group thinks we need a movement.
In this presentation, a number of criticisms will be made of the
state of the Anarchist movement. We'd like to emphasise here that
there probably isn't any group guilty of every problem we criticise
and some will be innocent of most. We've seen, however, too many of
them in various parts of Australia to ignore.

Our point is that the faults are too wide-spread and the strengths
are too thin on the ground. Collectively, we need to lift our game.

There are many Anarchists in Melbourne and elsewhere who are
strongly committed to living what they feel is an Anarchist lifestyle.
They try to construct their personal relationships along Anarchist
lines and live in environmentally responsible ways. There is room
for debate on the choices people make in this area, and I would take
issue with some choices of some of those people, but the relevant
point is they're making a genuine effort. While this is
commendable, however, living an Anarchist lifestyle is not enough.

It's not enough, because society is more than just the sum of
the lifestyles of the individuals who live in it. The personal is
political, but other things are political as well. There is a capitalist
class which controls the basic structures of society, which exercises
what some may call "the dictatorship of the
bourgeoisie". This class systematically constrains the choices
which confront people, so that "doing the right thing"
becomes difficult and sometimes runs counter to our individual

A minor but effective example is the fact that many popular grocery
items, which are unobjectionable in themselves, are only available
in environmentally destructive packaging. We are then faced with
the choice of self-denial or encouraging some corporation to
continue trashing the environment. Marx said, "Men make
their own history, but they do not do so in conditions of their own
choosing". The Anarchist response would be to agree with
him, but add that the observation applies to women & children as

Because of this, we need to recognise that hanging about with
Anarchist friends is fine, but by itself it won't change the
world. Without a social movement to challenge and eventually
overthrow capitalism and its institutions of power (principally but
not solely the State), most people attempting to live an Anarchist
lifestyle will find that their principles are eventually watered down &
abandoned in the face of the constrained choices they are forced to
make every day. We need to be aware that the only force which can
successfully challenge the capitalists is the working class of the
world and that this can only happen through a revolution. The
MACG is quite clear on this point and we're prepared to
defend our view if anyone would like to debate the issue.

The Anarchist movement as a whole is at the moment pretty
inward-looking, concentrating mainly on interactions between
Anarchists. The exception to this is the number of practical projects
being engaged in, but in most of these projects the politics are
buried by the day-to-day activities and people outside don't
get to see and understand why this or that bunch of Anarchists has
chosen to do what they're doing.

Another aspect of how the movement is inward-looking is that
many people feel excluded by a perceived dress code &/or dietary
rules. Note that this operates even if there is no conscious intention
to do this. A group of people operating informally can exclude
people quite effectively just by having an impenetrable web of
relationships that are invisible to outsiders. Informal exclusion is
especially powerful if the "in crowd" have a distinctive
form of dress (e.g. black, with varying amounts of metal) or are
zealous vegans.

A somewhat more serious problem is that of the armchair
revolutionaries. These people have infested the Anarchist
movement for decades - ever since it re-emerged in Australia in the
late 60s, in fact. These are the people who have a correct critique of
Leninism, but use it as a smokescreen for not doing anything to
demonstrate that they have a superior alternative. They may engage
in some desultory activities, usually without being competent &
reliable at them, but don't do anything substantial because it
would mean dealing with the DSP/ISO/SocAlt/whoever.

Now that we've bagged the existing Anarchist movement
pretty thoroughly, we're probably obliged to say what we
think should be happening. Some of this is implied by the criticisms
we made already, but it's good to spell it out anyway, since
not everybody would have the same solution to a given problem.

First of all, we need conscious non-hierarchical organisation. Loose
networks of individuals are not enough. Anarchist organisations
need defined membership and clear non-authoritarian structures.
We need to make deliberate decisions about what we do & how we
do it. We need to be clear about how this relates to Anarchist theory
and the strategies we have. The movement needs two types of

The first sort of organisation is the small group to propagate
Anarchist ideas. Our group is an example. While we're
certainly keen to have a few more members, we don't want to
get too big. Once we get up to double figures, we think it's
best to split into two. We want to see Anarchist groups multiply
rather than simply grow.

If you're looking for a model of the group we've got in
mind, the affinity groups which comprised the Iberian Anarchist
Federation in the 1930s are probably a good place to start, with one
important difference - they will not join in a federation with
like-minded groups. While an individual group should have
common political positions and attempt to evolve a common
platform, it would be a fatal mistake to extend this process beyond
the group and into a federation. To take this step, as the
Platformists propose, or even to aim seriously at it, would be to turn
the federation into an Anarchist Party, with all the vices of political
parties that Anarchists have castigated for over a century.

Instead of forming an Anarchist Federation based on political
agreement, the small groups propagating Anarchist ideas should
communicate as a network. Depending on their interests and
activities, some would come together in temporary federations for
limited purposes. In any case, the groups need to be clear about
who is a member and who isn't and how people get to cross
the boundary in either direction. They also need to be confident that
their internal processes are consistent with their politics. Our group
uses consensus decision-making, for example, and has adopted a
statement that tells us what we mean by the term.

The second sort of organisation the movement needs is an
Anarcho-Syndicalist union federation. Because we already have a
union movement in Australia and because this movement is based
on the English-speaking model of organising all workers regardless
of their views, rather than the Mediterranean/Latin American model
of organising workers according to their political affiliation, it is
neither practical nor desirable to set this federation up as a rival to
the ACTU. Instead, like the Australian IWW of 1907-17, the
Anarcho-Syndicalist federation will emerge as a grass-roots
insurgency in the official union movement.

While forming as an insurgency inside the official unions would
make it organisationally more tenuous, it would also present a
stronger challenge to the entire Laborite union bureaucracy. The
federation would be open to the possibility of transforming an
established union (as the NSW BLF was partially transformed in
the early 70s), but recognise that this is unlikely to transpire.
Rather, at some stage there would be a confrontation between the
bureaucracy and the rank & file movement, resulting in a
declaration of independence which casts out as much of the
bureaucracy as possible at that moment.

Vital as an Anarcho-Syndicalist federation is, however, the rest of
this presentation will discuss small propaganda groups. We
don't have a substantial Anarcho-Syndicalist federation yet
and discussion about how to go about creating one is too big a topic
to cram into this workshop. Please keep in mind, therefore, that the
propaganda groups under discussion are envisaged to be only half
the movement.

The Anarchist movement needs to do a lot more work in the area of
public outreach. For decades, we've been very bad at making
public propaganda for Anarchism and even worse at getting it out
into the broader community, where people who don't already
know about us live & work. Each small propaganda group should
take up systematic work according to the strategy it thinks most
appropriate for itself.

The movement as a whole, however, requires a network of regular
stalls in working class communities and regular publications written
& produced accessibly (e.g. good proof-reading and no "in
crowd" references) and distributed widely. It also needs active
& visible participation in working class struggles in a way which:

(a) Promotes the success of the struggle;
(b) Promotes awareness of Anarchist politics; and
(c) Makes the connection between Anarchism and successful

This requires producing leaflets on particular topics during working
class struggles and assembling Anarchist contingents in rallies. We
need to be able to put forward Anarchist ideas about the way
forward in the struggle. We are perfectly aware that Leninist groups
do these sorts of things as well, but it is quite possible to do them in
a genuine, constructive and non-authoritarian fashion rather than
the manipulative and authoritarian way in which Leninists often

Another general failing of the movement that needs addressing is
the poor general level of education and debate. Because we
don't have a mechanism for orienting people who are new to
Anarchism, we find that the movement continually has to re-invent
the wheel, with people and groups repeating the same mistakes of
earlier ones. Worse, we find that there are plenty of people calling
themselves Anarchists who put forward some deeply reactionary
ideas in the name of Anarchism because they don't know any

These problems need fixing. We don't have the Party school
to hand down the "correct line" to new Anarchists, and
we don't want one either, but we do need to ensure that
people new to the movement become sufficiently familiar with our
history & principles fairly quickly. This doesn't mean that
people can't put forward their own interpretation of
Anarchism but, if people are going to depart from the consensus of
the movement, they at least have to know that they're doing
it - and others have to know that as well.

Related to this is the fact that the ideas of the Leninists are seldom
publicly challenged from the Left. This means that well-meaning
but naive people continue to join Leninist groups because they
genuinely want to make a revolution to abolish capitalism. Further,
when people become disillusioned with Leninism, they often
conclude that they have no choice but to become reconciled to
capitalism. They drop out of the Left altogether because they either
know nothing about Anarchism, or the little they know from
observing Anarchists in action doesn't impress them.

What would be the mechanisms for turning this around? A series of
good introductory pamphlets, made widely available, would help,
but the ones presently existing are either poor quality or drastically
out of date - and hard to get hold of to boot. Also useful would be a
regular "Introduction to Anarchism" public lecture.
Various groups in the movement could take turns supplying a
speaker putting forward their view, in a non-sectarian way, of
"Anarchy for Beginners". The most necessary thing,
however, is for the movement to get used to debating its views
publicly. By putting forward ideas in a way which forces them to be
persuasive and comprehensible, the movement will educate its
members in the process of making Anarchism more visible to the

Improving the movement's public outreach thus requires
individual Anarchist groups to become more visible. They need to
work out what they think about things, put them on paper and get
active in ways that would enable their voices to be heard. Instead of
hoping that people will develop Anarchist ideas spontaneously, or
work it out for themselves upon seeing the example of a project
organised along Anarchist lines, we need to go out and make our
arguments in public, explaining our examples in our own words
and drawing out the implications of them.

As we said at the start, we think that we need an Anarchist
movement, not a scene. Just hanging about with a bunch of
Anarchist mates isn't good enough. To make the movement
what it could be, we need to take our ideas seriously and put them
into practice in our own organisations. It's only in this way
that we can both test our ideas against reality and build a movement
which can actually change the world. And, if people want to get on
board, we're happy to talk to them about how.

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