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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation Organise! magazine Issue 78 Winter 2012

Date Thu, 26 Jul 2012 15:16:50 +0300

CONTENTS ---- Editorial: What's in the latest Organise!? Read it below ---- History: The Anarchist Federation - In Thought and Struggle. ---- Greece: Let’s go one step further -- Hungary: the far right menaces -- The Luddites bicentenary --- Statement of international solidarity with those in Cuba: You Are Not Alone ---- Southern Europe: Austerity- Agony and Antagonism ---- Special section on Turkey and Syria ---- Response to: Prostitution is Not Compatible with Anarchism ---- Culture: Steinlen and Delannoy - the anarchist illustrators -- Letters --- Editorial: What's in the latest Organise!? ---- This issue of Organise! has been put together very much with an eye on the Saint-Imier international gathering in August 2012. This assembly in Switzerland celebrates the 140th anniversary of the founding of the antiauthoritarian international in 1872, where the movement that was to become the class struggle anarchist movement was revitalised and found new direction after the horrors of the crushing of the Paris Commune and the travesty that the first international workers’ organisation - the First International - had become.

More importantly, Saint-Imier 2012 it is where those committed to building an anarchist-communist, or ‘social anarchist’ society, will also take stock and re-orientate itself in an international context. In addition, our own international – the International of Anarchist Federations – will be holding its Congress in Saint-Imier, parallel to the main event, and Organise! fans are most welcome at its open sessions. This issue therefore contains a perspective on the Anarchist Federation drafted by some of those who will be attending saint-Imier. The article will be the starting point for our intervention there, although you will find us on many panels and in meetings on everything from the arts to nationalism. And expect us to be very vocal in helping the movement work out what its future direction should be.

This issue has an international flavour, therefore. It comments on the situation in arenas of struggle affected by the ‘Long Arab Spring’, specifically Syria and Turkey, as well as in on parts of Europe which western anarchists could engage with more: Romania and Hungary, and on countries about which anarchists in the West have more established approaches: Cuba, Greece, Portugal and Spain. We also included a considered response to an unhelpful intervention made at the last London Anarchist Bookfair at our meeting on the struggle of sex-workers to self-organise. In addition, we offer another anniversary article, critically marking the significance of a very much misunderstood early industrial movement: Luddism.

First, some thoughts on where we find ourselves in the rapidly evolving struggle against austerity and for a free and equal society. Organise! editors recently received a little zine about the anarchist movement called The Scoundrel. It’s a cheeky title, like The Idler, and is just as useless for engendering meaningful change, also unashamedly advocating ‘doing nothing’. This is because ideology is an ‘infection’ and there is ‘not a lot’ that we can do about capitalism except wait. Presumably we are waiting for an insurrection which will happen spontaneously, without any groundwork? The Scoundrel doesn’t address that. But in the meantime, ‘Given my sincere pessimism about the possibilities of actively destroying capitalism’, the only thing for it is ‘Rather like the medical profession’s Hypocratic (sic.) Oath, we should do no harm’. We quote it to scoff at its anarchomiserabalism, obviously. But it might strike a chord. Who has not thought at some point in the last couple of years, “What’s the point trying to change anything. It doesn’t make any difference”? On one level, such despondency at the moment is understandable. It’s not as though the recession(s) and rising levels of poverty and inequality are making the working class flock to our banners. The most recent resurgence of anarchism was not a response to the current economic crisis but to a variety of more positive factors slightly longer ago, when it felt like there was enough anger and vision to fight war, neo-liberal ideology and environmental disaster successfully. Maybe the student protests were the last phase of that feeling of social power and potential. They were an affront to both inequality and passivity.

Now we are almost entirely on the defensive. We still have to fight those things, but seem further from being effective. The world has been plunged into a situation in which even in western Europe, people cannot feed their families. Households are plunged into fuel poverty and have to choose between food and heating. Food banks are opening all over. This would have been unthinkable a few years ago for people with British passports. It was destitute asylum seekers that used them. ‘Skipping’ for food was a lifestyle choice for activists making a point about surplus production and waste. Now people with jobs do it. We have no security in social housing and many more are homeless. Some people with jobs are paying in rent what people who own their houses pay as a mortgage; but the former have no chance of saving for a deposit and will be at the mercy of landlords for decades to come. How many people can say that they have job security? Recent university graduates are as likely to work via a job agency as to be embarking on a ‘career’. Migrants who came here legally to work are living on the streets, too poor to return home.

The result of such insecurity is that people are increasingly needing to rely on the state, and the state – we hardly need to say it – could but won’t support them. The state’s answer to the crisis is to ditch its responsibility to spend workers’ taxes supporting people who can’t support themselves economically. Now Atos &co. ensure that people with disabilities or mental health problems that mean they cannot do sustained paid work are being kicked off the sorts of benefits that once made their longterm situation manageable. They now join people in the other benefit categories, which in themselves are being diminished and withdrawn, with people are being forced to work for free for big companies. Taxation policies actively attack the lowest earners and pensioners, but the press laughs at it, treating it like a joke by referring to the ‘pasty tax’ and ‘granny tax’, when it is naked class warfare.

So what should we do, and is there any point doing it? The first wave of resistance to the new economic reality has passed. Occupy and Uncut spread the word effectively that there was a groundswell of awareness of and opposition to the excesses of capitalism. Also, that the ConDems lied, and lied again, and are still lying. These movements have probably done more to spread those two specific messages to the wider public than anarchists have. But there is nowhere to go from that critique of bad capitalism and bad politicians except into the political process at one level or another, because the logic of replacing them with fair capitalism and truthful politicians stays intact. But there are no such things! This is a logic that is hermetically sealed off from what is really wrong, and from what is possible as an alternative. Of course many people in Occupy and UnCut know this, but they didn’t say it when they had the world’s attention. And so another mode of resistance came and went without fundamentally changing anything, or carried on for the sake of carrying on, not knowing what else to do.

This realisation easily leads people – activists included - to be tired and despondent about their potential and to feel powerless. What can they do? Unlike the people of the Arab Spring, who have moved from being ruled by dictators towards representative democracy, we have that ‘democracy’ already. This is why people feel they cannot change things; because the system we have seems to be the only process open to us. Vast numbers of people don’t ‘not vote’ because they are anarchists, but because they know there is little point. After years of Labour – and the more generalised international collaboration of the parliamentary left with neo-liberalism - we are in a worse position that we were under the Tories. We really are! But this is exactly the point where we have to make an intervention, in ideas and action. We can provide an analysis that explains both why our dreams and aspirations will always be thwarted by the system, but that there is a way out.

The bottom line is, they can’t stop us if we all rise up. But we are still a long way from that happening, because exposing the system and offering a free and equal future is not enough. To potential revolutionaries, anarchism is a nice idea, but how could we get there? The material reality of people’s experience makes it seem insane to risk what little security you have on a Utopian dream.

So it is not just important to tell the truth about what is going on. It is necessary to show how Revolution is attainable; that is, step-by-step and through hard work. There are many stages, including set-backs. But a set-back doesn’t mean that all is lost. In fact set-backs are part of the process, because we learn by getting past them.

So, the process towards Revolution is not a case of all or nothing. That is to misunderstand it. It is not the case that if we spread the word enough and get enough people together with the right analysis, that there will be a sort of snowball effect and everyone will take to the streets. It isn’t so much a tipping point in class anger that we need, as a tipping point in class confidence.

But there is another essential ingredient needed to get to that point in the revolutionary process: Solidarity! If we admit that there will be setbacks on the way to a free and equal society, that is to admit that some people will suffer, and apparently more so than if they had settled for a quiet life. So it is essential to demonstrate that we are in this for and with other people, and with a conscious understanding of the significance of one struggle in relation to the rest. There is no ‘quiet life’ to be had anymore for most people. So we need to spread the doctrine of active Solidarity as an anarchist strategy, as well as that of anarchism as a goal.

Anarchists, more than any other revolutionary movement, have been at the forefront of solidarity historically, in the workplace, the community, and with prisoners. We have a lot to learn from historical examples, but here let’s note a more recent form that is not only exposing capitalism and class war and symbolically opposing them, as Occupy and UnCut have, but actively undermining them in a way that everyone, whatever their level of confidence, can take part in.

Solidarity networks are becoming slowly but surely more widespread. They are an exciting form of struggle because they bring together individuals enacting key tenets of anarchism; self-help and mutual aid, solidarity on a class basis, collective direct action, and de-centralised and highly flexible organisation. These networks form around key ideological principles and support individuals and group ‘cases’ where it is realistically possible to win the case through sustained solidarity and direct action. Very importantly, the ‘victim’s grievance becomes generalised and they switch from being victims to becoming owners of their own case, and then becoming experienced actors in resolving cases more generally. In this way, winning a case is not a matter of championing one person but demonstrating that a victory is a victory for all, that this strategy works and, it must be said, showing the class enemy what we are capable of and that we can force its submission.

In terms of who the ‘enemy’ is, it is worth noting that in the UK, it is often someone in the new economic sector that ‘brokers’ capitalism – for example job agencies (such as in the case of the Office Angels victory in 2011) and ‘letting agencies’ (as in the, already successful, case against illegal fees being charged in Scotland). Such campaigns also target specific bosses and landlords themselves, of course, and are effective where tenants would otherwise have to take landlords to court but not be able to afford to, and in cases that trades unions wouldn’t trouble themselves with. Such campaigns include Glasgow Solidarity Network and Nottingham Solidarity Network, as well as the inspirational Seattle Solidarity (SeaSol) in the U.S. They owe much to campaigns such as Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty and London Coalition Against Poverty, which likewise take up issues on a case-by-case basis where the state fails to protect the people it is supposed to serve and facilitates our exploitation instead. How successful they will be remains to be seen, and organisational structures within them need to be carefully considered and subject to on-going critique, to eliminate informal hierarchies and ensure individual accountability to the group. But reading about them and being involved in them feels like the western working class is trying something potentially very significant.

But anarchism is about personal and individual responsibility too. Campaigning at this micro-level is time consuming and tiring. Campaigners give up elements of their family and social life to show practical solidarity for people they hardly know. Anarchists see this as sowing the seeds of something bigger that can operate without us needing to be the ‘leadership of ideas’ anymore. So it is vital, if such initiatives are to continue to be successful, that the people whose cases are taken up remain part of the network, as an advertisement for it and to give active mutual aid in their turn: from Isolation, to Activism, to Anarchism! This is why anarchism is both a goal and a strategy for achieving it. It is not simply a philosophy or a utopian structuring of ideas.

But this is not to say that any and all action is effective. We need to evaluate what we do at each stage, because what we do will be opposed and mistakes are costly. The first stage is propaganda that helps explain what is going on. Is it effective in making our message and ideals clear and relevant? The next is gathering together in groups, campaigns and organisations, temporary or long-term, best structured to spreading these ideas and taking action. For one thing, this has to be in ways that can draw in exactly those people who have been reached by our propaganda and must not consist in the main of anarcho – dilettantes and tourists (who won’t put down roots ideologically or in terms of sustained work and accountability to other people where they live, work and struggle, but see anarchism as a fashionable pond to dip in and out of). For another thing, as well as attracting people, they have to know that we will stand by them. If we have good systems of solidarity in place, it becomes more realistic to try to persuade people that anarchism is attainable in the longer term.

If we do this, then the other side of the coin is that it is more damaging to discourage taking action than it is to fail in that action. We have to get it right and win next time, not retreat into a pointless rejection of purpose or conviction. Attempts to demobilise anarchists are worse than ‘doing nothing’. We are at a low ebb, it’s true, but the struggle can’t be read just in the here and now but in the context of what has been done and what could be done. Let’s re-group and re-vitalise at Saint-Imier, being inspired by the actions and achievements of comrades from other countries (often doing far more than us and in far worse situations), develop a newly-informed international perspective, and come home with new positivism: Unashamedly.

To read more, download the entire issue as a PDF http://www.afed.org.uk/org/org78.pdf

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