(AA) ++ Northern Anarchist Network meeting UK 15/16 June

esperanto (lingvoj@lds.co.uk)
Fri, 5 Jul 1996 20:45:11 +0200

sample edition on request




Issues of theory, propaganda, organisation
and the Job Seekers Allowance dominated the
agenda of last month's Northern Anarchist
Network conference in Sheffield. Up to fifty
attended, with representatives from Leeds,
Sheffield, Rotherham, Huddersfield, Hebden
Bridge, Tyneside, Nottingham, Manchester
and district, the Solidarity Federation, the
Anarchist Communist Federation, Subversion
and the East Pennine Anarchists. Hull and
Liverpool were not represented.

A member of Manchester Subversion addressed
the conference on the topic of 'Beyond
Anarchism and Marxism'. He claimed that
both marxism and anarchism were nineteenth
century philosophies, and that their
idealisation of 'democracy' is a fundamental
flaw. While they have a dim view of parlia-
mentary democracy, there is an enthusiasm for
'workers democracy' or 'social democracy'.
Subversion argued that we should reject not
just capitalist democracy or socialist
democracy, but also 'workers democracy'.
Subversion argued that there are 57 varieties
of anarchism as well as of marxism, and
claimed that in general both accept certain
bottom-line ideas such as the following:
1. Anarchists mostly accept Marx's idea of
economic exploitation of the working class.
@th tr-aditi@ns tend t@reject-reformism.- -
3. Both approaches recognise the
revolutionary potential of the working class.
4. Both stands criticise elitism.
5. Both, in principle, oppose sexism, racism
and religion.
Subversion itself rejected parliament as a
means of change. Trade unions are dismissed
as an agent of social change, because they are
integrated into capitalism - the unions are
submerged in a sea of reformism.
At the conference this approach brought
Subversion into conflict with the syndicalist
Solidarity Federation, and some anarchists. A
spokesman for SF/@WA said: "Subversion lacks
an analysis of power, and hierarchies in society".
This syndicalist then suggested an ecological
account of how mankind is pillaging the world
for profit, which he admitted some would find
at odds with the commonly expected
syndicalist stand. But, he then added, there is
more to anarcho-syndicalism than the
shopfloor and the place of work.
Some of the Leeds anarchists complained
about this temptation to 'mix and match'
ideas. These objected most to Subversion's
'picking and mixing' in a fancy free way with
anarchism and marxism, "claiming to take
only the best of both sets of ideas". Can one
gather as one pleases from these nineteenth
century philosophies? Subversion and the
Anarchist Communists present seemed to
think one can.
Leeds anarchists insisted anarchism was a
distinct philosophy, and even that marxism
was in contradiction to it. Somebody from
Sheffield suggested: "All this Grand Theory
was becoming a bit of a hobby for some". A
lass from Leeds then said: "I'm not an
intellectual person, but what's important is
that we work together".
Others from the North West thought all this
theorising was a waste of time.

The Job Seekers Allowance and the struggles
against it featured next. All the groups reported
on their activities against the JSA. The
Manchester Solidarity Federation says it is
now involved in the campaign and intends to
leaflet and give advice to claimants in South
Manchester. Tameside is backing the central
Manchester campaign against the JSA pilot
scheme at the Cheetham Hill Job Centre.
Sheffield is leafletting their dole office, and
has just organised the recent Groundswell
In Newcastle, the Tyneside anarchists have
been active in an incident in which the
employment service are claiming a Job Centre
manager was kidnapped. Nottingham
anarchists are trying to leaflet every claimant
in town. They @re in contact with the staff
unions, b@lt the management of the Job Centre
are trying to put a gag on it. Leeds reported a
strong anarchist contingent in their campaign.
The chairperson raised the Groundswell policy
of 'Three Strikes and You're Out' against
those staff who are harassing claimants (see
leading article in Freedom, 8th June 1996).
She said that some saw this policy as
conflicting with our attempts to get solidarity
from the staff unions in the Job Centres in our
campaign against the implementation of the
Job Seekers Allowance.
A spokesperson from Tameside said: "Staff
who play fair with claimants have nothing to
fear from the 'Three Strikes and You're Out'
policy". Most counter staff will not be
involved in pushing claimants around, it was
argued. The representative then spelt out the
situation: "Claimant advisers or benefit
advisers who bully the jobless could face
claimant retaliation, which may result in some
form of humiliation under the 'Three Strikes
and You're Out' procedure".
The conference calls for full anarchist
support for the next Cheetham Hill picket in
Manchester on Wednesday 10th July at lpm.

A member of the East Pennine Anarchists
gave a talk on 'Imagination and Propaganda'.
It was an account of the value of novelty and
imagination over abstract theory and
repetition in action.
One could be forgiven for thinking this
performance was a disruption experiment
inflicted by an anarchist jester on some very
serious-minded 'class struggle anarchists'.
This act, in which balloons were released on
the conference floor, was in clear breach of all
normal rules and procedures at class struggle
conferences. How would the audience respond?
The fact is that no serious-minded person
wants to be regarded as unimaginative, so that
despite the disorderly behaviour of the East
Pennine Anarchist (is there any such group?)
all the class strugglers could do was to nod
sagely and make sense of what was going on.
Hence order was restored by analytically
comparing the speaker's 'disruption strategy'
to the art and practices of the Surrealists.
Of course it was all rather daring, and a bit
of bare-faced cheek, but it only goes to show
that everyone, even a room full of hardened
anarchists, will try to restore order by making
sense of the situation when confronted by an
unusual episode.


The last session of the first day posed the
question 'What is the Northern Anarchist
Network?' Questions of security, publicity
and membership arose. Freedom was
criticised for publishing the whereabouts of
the Sheffield conference, apparently contrary
to a decision of the previous conference in
Manchester in March. It is unclear to me whether
concern centred on danger to the building and
occupants, or the danger of infiltration. The
former might appear overstated, given the flag
fluttering proudly over the Red and Black
Centre. To resolve the latter concern, it was
agreed that the existence of NAN should
continue to be publicised with the box number
of the secretariat so that new potential
participants who make contact can be put in
touch with local groups.
Attention now turned to content, and this
morning' s roast, the Manchester group
Subversion, was reheated for a second serving.
Some of Leeds Anarchists expressed the view
that any group who did not call themselves
anarchists should play no part in NAN. However,
a motion of exclusion was not tabled. The
same arguments were then repeated several
times in contributions from both sides. Leeds:
we should be proud of the anarchist movement,
b@ cle@r w@zcc=A3 i@ nzea:ns @nd pr@claim it
Subversion: we should not be seduced by emotive
terms; actions speak louder than words;
anarchists have made lots of mistakes and
these need to be recognised in orderto progress.
Leeds: Subversion are guilty of writing, referring
to and defending articles abusive to anarchists.
Subversion: no matter who wrote what, take
away the emotive language and you are left
with concrete criticisms which must be
addressed; it is this issue of language, the
attachment to particular words, that stunts
revolutionary development.
Perhaps there were too few contributions
from 'bystanders'. A radio listener would have
wondered why the accused bothered to stay,
but to the observer it was clearer that the
prevailing attitude was one of tolerance.
Acrimony and histrionics are demagogic devices
and should not deter anarchists from being
reasonable and truthful. An anarchist by any
other name would smell as ... well, the same.
But the issue is not to be taken lightly. If
someone sees fit to stifle debate through the
technique of the louder voice, and censor written
documents by ripping them up, there would
appear to be a need to acquaint oneself with
the heresy, if only to be on one s guard against it.
So what do you stand for, 'Subversion'?
"WE believe that all left wing groups, whether
Stalinist or Trotskyist (or Maoist or Anarchist
or whatever they call themselves) are merely
radical capitalist organisations who, if they
ever came to power, would erect new state
capitalist dictatorships in the name of the very
working class they would proceed to crush".*
Thanks for that advice, but how are we to
avoid this grisly fate? "[The] task [of
revolutionaries] is to argue their case with the
rest of their fellow workers as equals".* This
sounds to me suspiciously like anarchism,
apart from, er ... the use of the word 'anarchist'.
We as anarchists will just have to get used to
people misconstruing 'our' word.
What NAN is, and more broadly speaking
what anarchism is, became more apparent on
the second day. A productive session on sharing
ideas was held. Newcastle Anarchists reported
how a Mayday occupation of a Job Centre and
a press release against the JSA had led them
to them being invited to talk about anarchism
for ten minutes on BBC Radio Newcastle. The
existence of community radio, pirate radio
and short-term licences to broadcast might be
exploited for propaganda. The anarchist Radio
Libertaire broadcasts in Paris. Another mass
medium to make more use of is the Internet-
Dublin anarchists have t@ee Web pag@
Generally the need to exploit the public
disillusionment with politicians, to name names,
and to link actions to specific symbolic
occasions were mentioned.
Next on the agenda was the forthcoming
general election, whose last date can be spring
1997 but it might be any time. Various
approaches to the problem were discussed
before it was agreed to involve NAN in an
anti-election campaign. It as decided to
approach the Anti-Election Alliance to
discuss the possibilities for a joint campaign.
A newcomer to anarchism would now have
received the best possible introduction to it, as
the forces of chaos set to clean up the yard
behind the Red and Black Centre. Work became
play and the odd crack about barricades was
The last event of this conference was a
thought-provoking talk on the Free Women of
the Spanish Revolution and their belated and
limited success in winning equality and
freedom from anarchist men. The discussion
following this was disappointingly superficial
and didn't lead to a greater understanding of
patriarchy, a subject which this conference
should have prioritised if decisions of the
previous conference are anything to go by.
Attendance at this talk was twenty, divided
equally between the sexes, which does not
reflect the participation of women in the move-
ment as a whole. The last two conferences
failed to deal with this and the next one ought to.
Finally, thanks are due to the organisers of a
very enjoyable event, Sheffield Anarchists,
who provided ample food and drink and
entertainment from the ' 1926 Committee' and
a Solidarity Federation duo in the plush
suIroundings of their Red and Black Centre,
incorporating kitchen, embr@vonic library and
creche, and a clean and tidy back yard. They
have a good relationship with their landlord
and local bourgeois have been heard to
comment 'Sheffield Anarchists, bless 'em!'

Reports by BB and JL