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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation, Organise! #79 - Anarchism in Practice Today

Date Mon, 03 Dec 2012 12:40:51 +0200


The following article was presented as the IFA contribution to one of the
Round Tables at the Saint-Imier gathering on 10th September entitled
âFaire lâanarchisme aujourdâhuiâ, translated as âAnarchism in practice
todayâ. It starts by expressing some of the common principles of anarchist
communism and then proceeds to look at its relationship to recent social
movements, using Occupy as the main example. It then asks some ques-
tions about how we can benefit from understanding across borders, re-
flecting the implicit internationalism of much of the Occupy ethos.
There have been various other texts coming out analysing Occupy. We
hope this will be a useful contribution.

Principles

Social anarchism or anarchist
communism as practiced by
member organisations of the
International of Anarchist Federa-
tions (IAF-IFA- ÐÐÐ) is based on
some key principles:

We are revolutionaries. Our ac-
tivity and propaganda is rooted in
the today, but always looks ahead
to revolution. Revolution involves
a total change in the way society
is organised and how individuals
relate to each other. In particu-
lar, capitalism and authoritarian
relationships must be replaced
with a society of free association
and an economics without owner-
ship or money where the worldâs
resources are shared according
to need (communism). We are
not in favour of reforms as an end
point of our activity.

We aim to help create mass
movements based on class strug-
gle. Anarchist organisations as
they exist in IFA aim to ferment
class struggle. While class rela-
tionships exist there should be no
peace between the bosses (ruling
class) and the majority working
class. Anarchist organisations aim
to build solidarity, confidence and
experience in the working class
to help create mass movements
across the world that are aiming
to make change happen. This also
means we do not want to cre-
ate relationships only between
activists. Even when anarchist
activists aim to influence others
by creating examples of meaning-
ful activity, we are always seeking
to organise actively and directly
with more people outside of our
organisations to widen the strug-
gle.

Non-hierarchical organisation.

Today, we aim to sustain organi-
sations where individuals work
collectively. The anarchist organi-
sation aims to work internally in
a non-hierarchical manner across
a wide geographical area. Com-
monly this means a federation of
local groups where the members
of each group operate as equals
without leaders, and the relation-
ship between groups is also one
of equals without leadership. To
make this happen we use the
structure of delegation of individ-
uals from groups so that decisions
can be made involving more than
one group, regionally, nationally,
and internationally. The national
group is partly one of conveni-
ence and is often based on lan-
guage. For this reason we have
in IFA, for example, the French-
speaking anarchist federation (La
FÃdÃration Anarchiste Franco-
phone, France and French-speak-
ing Belgium) and the german-
speaking anarchist federation
(FÃderation Deutschsprachiger
AnarchistInnen, Germany and
German-speaking Switzerland).

We aim to be transnational.
Direct Action.

Our activity is aimed at making a change
directly and taking full responsibility for
our participation as individuals
and groups. We do not aim to in-
fluence authorities to change laws
or to ask for reforms of the cur-
rent system. At the same time, we
want to build a mass movement,
so anarchist organisations can-
not do things on behalf of other
people. For example a movement
of the unemployed must be led
by the unemployed themselves.
Action by groups needs to be
mindful of the mass of the work-
ing class. Actions that are not
understood outside of a small ac-
tivist group may have little wider
effect and they can more easily
be misinterpreted by the media
or police, especially if they can be
labelled as criminal actions.

Some recent history

This section looks at historically
recent social movements that
have been influenced by anar-
chist practice. Following Stop
the City actions (London, 1980s),
the Carnival Against Capitalism
(J18, London, 1999) against the
Cologne G8 summit and the anti-
WTO protests (N30, Seattle, 1999)
were organised by people seeking
to highlight and oppose the ef-
fects of neoliberal trade policies.
Both these events involved an-
archists and direct action orien-
tated movements such as Reclaim
the Streets, and environmental
groups, all having experience
with direct action on the streets.
They also attracted labour or-
ganisations, religious groups and
artists. During N30 direct action
was taken by workers such as the
International Longshore Workers
Union who closed ports. These
kinds of protests have continued
over many years since 1999.
These events of the late 1990s
were significant because they
contested the right of richer na-
tion states and corporations to
decide how to run an economic
system. Some of these were fo-
cussed on reforms such as reduc-
tion of debt and poverty in the
âSouthâ (developing world) or to
reduce carbon emissions. Since
2008, responses to the global
economic crisis and local auster-
ity have included widely copied
movements such as those making
up the âArab Springâ, the Indig-
nados of Spain and the Occupy
movement, as well as groups
focussed on banking and tax such
as UK UnCut. Between these
periods we can also examine the
response to austerity in Argentina
in 2001 following an IMF loan
with emergence of âhorizontal-
ismâ. As before, some anarchistic
elements can be identified, or at
least elements that can also be
identified with anarchism exist in
these movements. As anarchists
in IFA we have been directly
involved in some of these move-
ments.

To encourage some discussion, let
us ask, to what extent can we find
the following attributes in recent
social movements and/or other
contemporary anarchist activi-
ties?

â Revolutionary (versus reform-
ist) agenda?

â Emphasis on class struggle?

â Prefiguration? Acting now in
a similar manner that we want
post-revolutionary society to be
like.

â Encouraging formation of mass
movements?

â Non-hierarchical/horizontal
organisational forms?

â Explicit decision-making pro-
cesses?

â Replicating (copying) examples
of good practice?

â Anti-political/popularist?

â Use of Direct Action?

We can use these attributes as a
way of describing and evaluating
the anarchistic nature of contem-
porary social movements.
We now try to explain âSee table
belowâ some of the reasoning for
the scores. The lower score for
revolutionary is due to the kinds
of political demands implied,
which were mostly reformist,
although unfairness and cor-
ruption of the capitalist system
was generally highlighted by
the camps. Class struggle is also
scored low because the idea of
the 99% versus 1% was not really
expressed in class terms, although
it does grasp the idea of âus and
themâ. The camps were seen as
moderately prefigurative because
they aimed to operate in a col-
lective manner with a sharing of
resources. Occupy did encourage
the formation of a mass move-
ment and this was evident in the
number of camps and level of
support. Also some camps did
outreach to the wider community
by organising public meetings.
Camps aimed be non-hierarchical
although hierarchies were evident
in the relationship between adults
and younger participants in the
camp, and some individuals did
dominate.

Decision-making was explicit
through regular camp meetings
and public assemblies where
campers and supporters were
able to be involved in the aims
of the camps. But important
camp decisions could be made by
smaller groups or even individu-
als. Little attempt was made to
create decision-making structures
between camps. The camps did
rely on replicating good practice
between camps, shared through
the internet and social media. On
the other hand, there was some
repetition and reinvention of
practice. The camps were explic-
itly anti-political which was often
positive but sometimes included
negative ideas such as conspiracy
theories. Finally the use of direct
action was evident in the forma-
tion of the camps, but mostly the
camps did not aim to extend di-
rect action outside of the camps,
and some resorted to legal means
to stop the camps being evicted.
Direct action was often used to
support the needs of the camps
such as obtaining fuel and food.

But some participants became
disillusioned when camps were
ânot doing anythingâ except oc-
cupying the space.

We can also note that the above
scoring may be seen as too posi-
tive. Some bad things did happen.
But we are concentrating on the
intention rather than the results.
We can use our experiences of
Occupy to refine our tactics in
other struggles.

The above is a picture of Occupy
in Britain. We can note that Occu-
py is not necessarily the more an-
archistic or important struggle in
Britain during 2012 but it serves
as a good example of a recent
social movement. Other examples
include the studentsâ movement,
the anti-cuts movement and the
anti-workfare movement.

An example: The Occupy movement in Britain, 2011-12
As a starting point for a group discussion of social movements we used a scoring system
for the different attributes. The following scores were agreed collectively by a small number of members of the Anarchist Federation discussing each attribute at their annual conference in July 2012, based on their experience of Occupy camps in 2011-2012.
This raises further questions for
IFA.

â Does this picture differ from
other similar movements e.g. the
Indignados movement in Spain?

â How much are political organi-
sations involved (parties, unions)
in addition to more anarchistic
organisations? Has the collapse of
traditional forms of leftist struggle
given rise to these new move-
ments? What is the level of influ-
ence of a working class base? For
example, the miners in Asturias
and Leon.

â What difference does police
repression make? The level of po-
lice repression in Britain was low
relative to Portugal, for example.
Also the recent political history
of the country makes a difference
e.g. fascist or social democratic?

â How much widening of struggle
has occurred? We know that in
France and Greece movements
held assemblies in working class
neighbourhoods.

â How sustainable are the differ-
ent movements across Europe
and the world? How long did
they/will they last?

â Could anarchist ideas have been
more effective in Occupy and
elsewhere?

Postscript â September 2012

The Round Table at which the
above presentation was made
did not achieve as much as was
hoped by IFA in terms of develop-
ing these ideas further because
the discussions tended to restate
principles and stop there. But
some of the more casual conver-
sations we had with non-British
anarchists were enlightening.
One thing that is evident is that
Occupy Wall Street was a very
different beast to those Occupy
Camps in Europe and even to oth-
er Occupy camps in the USA such
as the ones in Atlanta or Oakland.
A couple of books have come out
in 2012 including 'Occupy', a ed-
ited set of speeches and texts by
Noam Chomsky, and 'The Occupy
Handbook' which compiles the
views of activists, academics and
the (especially Democrat) estab-
lishment. Some of the demands
from US-based activists are quite
specific in terms of calling for
limiting corporate sponsorship
of political candidates and even
a demand to abolish 'corporate
personhood' which is enshrined
in the US constitution. A diverse
set of 'Hubs' has been created
as part of an Inter-Occupy initia-
tive, which is aimed at network-
ing after the main camps. At the
time of writing, this is being used
to promote a global pot-banging
protest GlobalNoise on 13th
October towards social and eco-
nomic justice. But looking down
the list of links, the website also
includes 'identity hubs' including
OccupyPolice for 'people with
police issues and police with
government issues'. This is hardly
a revolutionary approach! On the
other hand, in Atlanta, the local
movement has been success-
ful in preventing evictions due
to foreclosure (repossession of
houses due to mortgage arrears).
So reformist demands are not
dominating everywhere.

In Spain, the engagement of the
15-M movement with workers is
clear, some of this action taking
the form of direct confrontation
with the police, such as in Astu-
rias in the North of the country.
The idea of mass assemblies
has really taken hold in working
class communities. And in some
regions, like Andalucia in the
south, entire unfinished apart-
ment blocks are being occupied.
Families who have lost work and
had benefits denied or cut are
receiving food from looted su-
permarkets. Also it is 15-M that
initiated the GlobalNoise call out
in an attempt to strengthen local
resistance with a internationalist emphasis,
saying, âStrengthening the local networks
is very important. But at the same
time, we need strong global ac-
tions to reinforce our local work.
Often the problems generated
by our governments and false
democracies do not let us look
beyond our local presidents and
politicians, to see the full global
context of the issue we face. The
problems are global because the
scam is global, and to combat
these problems we need global
action.â

In Britain there has been little
in the way of political demands
(generally a good thing) but nei-
ther has Occupy sparked a mass
movement of direct action against
evictions or utility prices. The la-
bour movement in Britain mostly
ignored Occupy, preferring to
concentrate on traditional union
demands using tactics of negotia-
tion with minimal threat of indus-
trial action. In 2012 it is clear that
potential for grassroots action
through broader based anti-cuts
or 'save our services' campaigns
has dwindled and much of the
left have resorted to ballot box
politics by backing Labour candi-
dates and/or opposing Coalition
candidates through a 'Target Seat
Campaign'. In contrast to the left-
ist approach we can certainly take
away some good points from Oc-
cupy in Britain. While the Occupy
camps are mostly gone, the idea
of reclaiming public space and
contesting inequality is still very
much alive.



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