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(en) QUIET AMERICANS - what is the state of US and Canadian anarchism?

From "Mike (ACF)" <ncajsa@geocities.com>
Date Tue, 16 Feb 1999 15:41:44 -0500


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QUIET AMERICANS - what is the state of US and Canadian anarchism?
This is an Article from Organise! (for revolutionary anarchism), 
#50, Winter 1998-99. Organise! is the magazine of the 
Anarchist Communist Federation, an organisation based in Britain.
An HTML web version with associated links can be found on the ACF web
site, URL http://burn.ucsd.edu/~acf/org/issue50/quiet.html
Comments and Clarifications welcome.

---
Anarchist Communist Federation
ACF c/o 84 Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX, England UK
acf@burn.ucsd.edu
http://burn.ucsd.edu/~acf/
--------------------------------------------------------------------

QUIET AMERICANS - what is the state of US and Canadian anarchism?

In the last year American anarchists have had the dissolving of Love and
Rage, an upsurge in industrial action by workers, and continued state
repression of members of Black Autonomy. So, what is going on, and what
is the hope for anarchist organisation in America? In this article we
attempt a round up of some of the current anarchist organisations in the
United States and Canada, based both on contacts that the ACF has built
in the last few years, and from anarchist press and internet sources.

Love and Rage
-------------
Bringing anarchists together on a continent wide basis in North America
has always been an uphill struggle, never mind the formation of robust
organisations such as federations, but the late 1980s saw several
convergences, firstly at the "Haymarket International Anarchist
Gathering" in Chicago in 1986, followed by "Building the Movement
Anarchist Gathering" in 1987 in Minneapolis, the "Anarchist Survival
Gathering" in Toronto, Canada in 1988, and "Without Borders Anarchist
Gathering" in San Francisco in 1989. Out of the Minneapolis gathering
came an initiative known as the Mayday Network, involving several
anarchist groups and the trotskyist Revolutionary Socialist League, some
of who were embarking on a conversion to anarchism. At a subsequent
conference in Chicago in November 1989, Love and Rage newspaper was
launched, together with a new organisation with Statement of Principles,
which become the Love and Rage network in 1991. Opponents from the
beginning were wary of the involvement of the RSL, which in fact
dissolved itself on the same weekend that L&R was founded, but the
network was widely supported and groups not only in the US but also in
Canada, Mexico and South America identified themselves with the network.
L&R became the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation in 1993
in a attempt by some of the groups to tighten up the loose network,
resulting in the loss of some member groups. This point may be seen as
the start of a decline - some features of this being uncritical support
for the Zapatistas/ EZLN and a move away from anarchism as the key
ideology. On the other hand, being a loose federation, and never really
identifying itself as anarchist except in name, L&RRAF was pretty well
open to all comers from the beginning and was happy to embrace a wide
range of political views and religious beliefs. The situation came to a
head publicly in June this year with the press release announcement,

"After more than 8 years of hard work, the Love and Rage Revolutionary
Anarchist Federation voted to dissolve itself during a brief conference
at Hunter College in New York City on Saturday, May 23, 1998. some
participants in the conference spent the weekend laying the foundation
for a new provisional organisation, the Fire By Night Organizing
Committee. Members of another faction at the conference also announced
their intention to launch a journal and a new organization. Neither of
those projects has a name yet."

The press release went on to explain the dissolution in terms of
non-agreement on whether anarchism had all the answers to their
problems, on the theory of  "white-skin privilege" and about practical
work. It appears that the FBNOC (who sent out the above release) have
taken what they see as a general anti-authoritarian position, which is
accommodating of Maoism and Marxism in addition to anarchism. Maoism
especially is being taken up by non-Marxists in the USA, and is also
finding its way into prisoner support organisations like ABCF and
Jericho '98 (see below). Another faction is purported to be taking a
class-based anarchist position, and producing a discussion forum
document entitled Towards a fresh  revolutionary organisation but in
spite of attempts to contact them at their Detroit address we have been
unable to verify this. According to the FBNOC press release, this other
faction calls for "a federation of collectives united around firm
anarchist/anti-authoritarian politics and outlook, oriented to the
working classes and most oppressed, and active in building Anti-Racist
Action as an anti-authoritarian mass movement". FBNOC criticise their
sacrificing of practice and mass organising to ideological purity. It's
probably fair to say that for all its faults, most American anarchists
were sad to see the end of L&R. One point in its favour was its managing
to publish in both English and Spanish (though the Mexican Amor y Rabia
group) and so reach a wider readership (and we have also found some
on-line
literature in Italian).

National Initiative - NAC
------------------------
Around the time of the formation of L&RRAF, another national initiative
was launched. The Network of Anarchist Collectives was to be a "facility
for resource sharing, mutual aid, and communication" amongst anarchist
collectives in US and Canada. From the outset, there were disagreements
over whether the network should be restricted to "anarchist" collectives
and even over what a collective should be; an agitational group trying
to smash the state, or just a self-organised group of some kind? In
spite of these broad disagreements, a mission statement and member
policy were eventually formed, but then only three groups wanted to
join: the Chicago A-Zone, Critical Mass Media (Syracuse) and the Toledo
(Ohio) A-Zone.

NAC produced several issues of a magazine (Dis)Connection, and organised
a few gatherings. The network is no longer operating as such,
though  (Dis)Connection is soon to be restarted by some of the original
members.

One other recent loss was the Demanarchie group in Quebec, Canada in
March, which previously translated ACF pamphlets into French. Members of
the group have since met with other Quebec anarchists to discuss the
formation of a new organisation though we are waiting to hear the
outcome. (we are now pleased to hear they have resurfaced as a new
group, Emile Henry).

On a happier note, a New England anarchist-communist federation may be
in the making. Boston-based We Dare Be Free newspaper was launched in
the Spring 1998 and the authors are keen to promote class struggle
politics on the East Coast. They have also begun an International
Solidarity Campaign to support international anarchist struggles,
notably against the repression of Italian anarchists, and literature
distribution by Insurrection Mailorder. As well as covering news, the
editors of We Dare Be Free have reprinted texts by Bakunin and
Malatesta, which has also been the approach of a smaller local project
by the Anarchist Voice of Cambridge. These and other anarchists along
the East Coast (from Virginia up to Montreal, Canada) are attempting a
wider linkage "in the spirit of NAC" by means of the Atlantic Anarchist
Circle.

Active Resistance
-----------------
In 1996 a new series of gatherings was begun under the name Active
Resistance, "an anarchist gathering of organizers and activists to share
and discuss strategies and tactics to build and support radical left
movements against capitalism and the state". The first AR continental
conference was in Chicago in August 1996 which was attended by 750
people, the second in Toronto in August 1998. AR98 was hosted by Toronto
Anarchists with some help from regional contacts. The 7 day event, which
attracted 600-800 people, was mainly attended by "young punks/young
people [...] aspiring towards anarchism", though members of IWW and
members of the AAC and other networks were also present. Part of the
event  involved a conference (not unlike Bradford Mayday 98) with 4
schools/core groups; "Building Revolutionary Movements, Art and
Revolution, Community Organising, and Alternative Economics". The AR98
organisers are due to produce a "zine" to bring together views and
feedback about the event, but already one criticism has been that the
groups were unable to discuss things in much depth since so many were
coming across ideas for the first time. Informally however, links
between organised anarchists are said to have been strengthened. Another
view is that whilst events like AR98 are significant as gatherings, they
are not as important to many people as local and regional actions,
although the event as a whole has given people "energy, inspiration and
ideas". The next AR gathering is due to happen in Texas, early in 1999.

Another new initiative is calling itself the Heatwave
anarchist-communist federation, which is based in Forth Worth/Dallas.
Heatwave is calling for people to set up "Heatwave collectives" in other
parts of the US, but apart from an internet web-site, we do not know
much about them.

Prisoner Support
----------------
We have previously referred to the prisoner support organisations. One
in particular, Raze The Walls! deserves a special mention, as the ACF
has had good links with its members for quite some time. Unfortunately,
RTW! Network dissolved in October 1997 over a messy disagreement over
the support or otherwise of a prisoner, but the Georgia group maintained
the name RTW! and in conjunction with Florida based Orlando Anarchist
Black Cross-Support Group, they recently expanded their remit to general
issues by the launch of the magazine RTW! Quarterly at the end of 1997.
The first issue reprinted Working Class Times, seemingly unaware of the
rows carrying on in the UK between its authors and Class War (note,
 this is the old federation - CWF has been continued/relaunched by some
 of its ex-members) over the
issue of whether there is a ruling class or just a middle class, but the
second carried a consolidation of their own class based anarchist
position. The discussion of class politics in the US in prisoner support
circles must be seen in a positive light. However, even here the
question of Maoism has raised its ugly head, with a report by Orlando in
the April 1998 ABCF Update #19 about their meeting of the recently
bailed former  Black Panther Party leader Geronimo ji-jaga Pratt (who
advocates the setting up of  Black Militias) at the Jericho '98 prisoner
support march in Washington DC. The report said, "Geronimo also added
[...] that we should engage in ideological struggle based on the
guidelines set forward by the late Mao-Tse Tung. We are in total
agreement with this. The fact that Mao was not an anarchist means little
to nothing to us, his theories on combating liberalism have been tested
in practice and we feel it would be incorrect for us to not to integrate
this in our practice. We also think its incorrect for people to refuse
to learn from Mao because he wasn't an anarchist, while at the same time
learning from the wisdom of Political Prisoners/Prisoners Of War who by
and large are not anarchists". This statement is typical of the
ideological mishmash which we are hearing from the USA.

Black Autonomy
--------------
Black Autonomy Collective/Black Autonomy International is an anarchist
influenced organisation based in Seattle, and produce the paper Black
Autonomy edited by ex-BPP member Lorenzo Komboa Ervin. In their
statement "Anarchism + Black Revolution = New Black Automonous Politics"
printed in the Aug-Sept 1997 issue of the paper, the BAC attempted to
reconcile class-struggle anarchism with the "super-oppression" of people
of color, and a rejection of the "race nationalism" of black nationalism
whilst "sharing many basic ideas with them".  They continue, "So-called
"white" people are a super-contrived nationality designed to help the
capitalists keep the workers of color in their place and safeguard the
status quo. So rather than see the "white" industrial working class as a
potentially revolutionary class, instead we see it as an opportunistic,
collaborationist body which must be redefined and reorganized if it is
to constitute a reliable ally and have any ability of fighting in its
own interest." Like the Black Panthers before it, BA believe in the
turning of working class communities into dual power communes to enable
a protracted struggle with capitalism. Though they criticise
"euro-centric" anarchism, Black Autonomy, through Ervin, have attempted
to make links with anarchists internationally by a series of speaking
tours in Europe, and also in Australia where he was locked up and nearly
deported for remarks made on TV. Back in the States, BA continue to
involve themselves in promoting the "Copwatch" program, which patrols
and documents police racism, and aims to try and prevent killings (by
presence of cameras),  to obtain releases from arrest, and to aid court
cases. Most recently Ervin and 2 other BA members were arrested in May
1998 during a Copwatch protest in Chattanoga Tennessee, over 2 separate
killings of black men by cops within one week.  They blamed their
arrests on a sell-out by the "Nation of Islam, NAACP, Black preachers
and Operation PUSH, who made a secret deal with the cops and
politicians". The Chattanoga 3 now face 6 months prison or a $2000 fine,
but Ervin has only just escaped sentencing under the Tennessee "3
Strikes and you're out" statute which would have meant an automatic
prison sentence up to 5 years, highlighting the precariousness of his
and BA's position, and their continued need for international
solidarity.

The Wobblies
------------
So far we have not considered the labour movement organisations. The
largest of these, the Industrial Workers of the World, is currently
experiencing a boom in membership (now several hundreds), which is
indicative of a growth in industrial action by US workers in general
over the last few years.  Their monthly paper Industrial Worker reported
in its October 1998 issue on the IWW General Assembly which was attended
by 87 members, the largest meeting for many decades. General
Secretary-Treasurer Fred Chase reported a more than doubling of
membership since 1995 and an increase of one third in the last year
alone. The assembly identified organising strategy as a key issue,
especially as international sections are growing. The USA has seen some
large scale industrial actions over the last couple of years, including
a national strike of United Parcel Services workers, a plant shutdown at
General Motors, construction workers striking and fighting police in New
York City and a walkout/lockout at Detroit News and Free Press. Although
much of the action was supported and orchestrated by the Teamsters, some
of it has had a rank-and-file flavour, which has undoubtably given a
boost to organisations like the IWW, who have also taken the opportunity
to critique the business unions'.  Parallels between the US and UK are
also apparent especially over privatisation of transport and welfare,
and against casualisation. The IWW was extremely supportive of the
Liverpool Dockers and is benefiting from strengthened international
links as a result. Whilst the IWW is revolutionary syndicalist in a
general sense and deliberately avoids ties with specific ideological
groups, anarchism remains a strong current within it. It also has a
loose linkage with the US Earth First and some members of  IWW are
supporters of the Food Not Bombs organisation which distributes free
vegetarian food to the destitute. The more politically orientated
journal Libertarian Labor Review - "Anarchosyndicalist Ideas and
Discussion" presents an approach in favour of building the One Big Union
in the USA, and has recently reported on a debate within the IWW (first
printed in Australian magazine of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network, Rebel
Worker) about whether or not activities like Food Not Bombs are too
marginal and detract from the main task of building unions. Certainly
the FNB campaign is part of the wider movement' such as it exists, and
has supporters who do not have class struggle politics.

Workers Solidarity Alliance
---------------------------
The American section of the IWA is known as the Workers Solidarity
Alliance. Unlike the IWW, the WSA-IWA is not a union, but more like the
Solidarity Federation in Britain, it is a propaganda organisation
promoting anarcho-syndicalism, and supports workers struggles. Its most
recent continental initiative is the I-99 International Solidarity
Conference which will be taking place in San Francisco on 1-5 June 1999.
The conference will aim to bring together union activists under the
banner "The working class and employing class have nothing in common,
the working class should take over the economy, and the working class
must organise into unions to fight the capitalist class". Subjects for
discussion are the stopping of factionalisation, combating the World
Bank, connecting workers issues with those of the environment and
poverty, and exploration of alternative forms of organising and
cooperation. At its annual conference the IWW also endorsed the I-99
conference, which may strengthen links between the two organisations,
which already exist especially in San Francisco itself. The WSA-IWA has
also organised a US speaking tour for Sam Mbah, member of the Awareness
League in Nigeria and co-author of the book African Anarchism, published
in 1997. He will speak in several cities during November 1998 to "enrich
anarchism and anarchist principles with an African perspective, and help
to carve a place for Africa with the framework of the worldwide
anarchist movement". Interestingly, the debates which occurred within
the RSL shortly before their rejection of orthodox Trotskyism and
involvement in the early Love and Rage, are also credited (in African
Anarchism) with influencing the similar transformation in the Awareness
League, which was formerly a leftist coalition but is now part of the
IWA.

Libertarian Municipalists
-------------------------
Moving on to the libertarian municipalists, their 2nd
International/Interpolis Conference is due to take place in the state of
Vermont in August 27-29 1999. Hosted by the Institute of Social Ecology,
billed as "The Politics of Social Ecology: Libertarian Municipalism - an
anarchist agenda for the 21st Century", and with Murray Bookchin
expected to deliver the "keynote address", it aims to build on the
"theoretical framework" established at the first conference which took
place in Lisbon, Portugal in August 1998, attended by 125 people. Though
still academic in structure, delegates are asked to treat it as "a
working conference [...] with the expectation of building a movement
with others who share their commitment", the stated aim of this movement
being to build parallel institutional powers, via citizens assemblies,
either by participation in local elections or by extra-legal means. The
idea of social revolution would eventually be to take power in these
municipalities. This reformist approach has already been strongly
attacked by the IWA as being no more than replication of the bourgeois
state, typified by Bookchin's "ignoring of the meaning of workers'
struggle".

In addition to the above, there are the magazines such as the
anarcho-primitivist Fifth Estate, Anarchy, radical newspaper Slingshot,
and Profane Existance - "making punk a threat again" (note the latest
news is Profane Existance wound up in October 1998) . There are also
various council communist groupings who produce useful propaganda such
as Collective Action Notes, Red and Black Notes, and The Poor the Bad
and the Angry, and we have also had intermittent contact with Los
Angeles Workers Voice, who are sympathetic to the Communist Workers
Organisation in Britain.

Conclusions
-----------
What can we conclude about the American scene? The politics seem very
broad without much consensus, neither between groups nor within the
networks of collectives' that are the preferred organisational form at
present. The few coordinated continent-wide events are limited to the
aptly named "gatherings", rather than something which is able to be
taken forward organisationally. Some activists appear to see anarchism
as only one strand of their politics and seem happy to embrace what we
see as authoritarian ideas, but which they see only as a different type
of anti-authoritarianism. This is a resistance to "ideological purity"
amongst many American radicals, who as a result are more willing to
accept general leftist ideas. This is somewhat different to Britain,
where most activists still generally oppose any flavour of Marxism or
Maoism, though support of national liberation struggles is still
prevalent. On the other hand, local and regional activism is widely
supported, for example against globalisation and capitalist trade
agreements like MAI, something which may well find a resonance outside
of the US. Race is also clearly a major issue, and European class
struggle anarchists clearly need to understand how they are viewed by
groups such as Black Autonomy and by other anarchists who subscribe to
the theory of "white-skin  privilege". These are challenging ideas,
especially as BA is firmly in the class struggle mould, against
cross-class alliances and against separatism. The libertarian
municipalist agenda appears to be no more than a reformist strategy
based on smaller political units than the state, and seems unlikely to
strike any chord with the broader movement. The IWW, with a historical
tradition to live up to, is the most consistent of the organisations and
the only one capable of producing a regular paper, albeit without an
overt anarchist agenda. Many class struggle anarchists, whether in the
IWW or not, do refer to themselves as "wobbly" in recognition of the
importance of radical workplace politics. A few anarchists, mostly in
network organisations at present, seem interested in trying to work
towards a new continent-wide federation, possibly based on anarchist
communism, which is something the ACF would greatly welcome, though the
foundation for this does not look at all steady. The ACF has a
secretariat which is responsible for international contacts with
anarchist groups and individuals. We welcome exchange of publications
and ideas with anarchist organisations worldwide.

END

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