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(en) Freedom 6318 21st Sep. 2002 - No new federation needed

From FreedomCopy@aol.com
Date Tue, 1 Oct 2002 00:43:08 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

On 10th August, Iain McKay argued in Freedom that
Britain needs a new kind of anarchist federation. As the
Anarchist Bookfair approaches, we continue our
discussion if this important subject.

Much anarchist activity does indeed seem to lack
direction. There are some hopeful signs. The Mayday
conferences have been positive events, leading to a
greater willingness to work together. The days when
Black Flag proudly boasted of its sectarianism,
thankfully, are long gone.
But these welcome changes haven't led, so far, to any
substantial progress in the anarchist movement. So
long as they're called without concrete goals in mind,
future conferences will probably be the same, while an
'Anarchist League' formed without specific aims would
achieve little.
In the 1990s, the Class Struggle Anarchist Network
(CSAN) tried to unite all class struggle anarchists in
Britain. There were several meetings, which
representatives from many groups attended, but I think
its achievements were limited to producing two leaflets.
The Northern Anarchist Network (from which the
CSAN grew) has been going for many years. How
much of a success has it been?
We need to find specific issues to work together on.
Prisoner support and anti-fascism are obvious areas.
We could look at holding joint events on Mayday
(though I wouldn't want this to mean other work was
dropped for six months of the year).
But Iain's mistaken if he thinks the existing national
organisations devote their energies to arguing with each
other. In the Anarchist Federation, we're very clear
about our politics. Our energies are devoted to
promoting them. At the same time, there's a joint email
list for the AF, Class War and Solfed (where we've
discussed Iain's article, amongst other things).
I know I'm biased, but there seems to be a simpler way
of building strong anarchist organisations in Britain.
Why don't more people join the existing ones? Iain
suggests we only disagree over 5% of what we think. If
that's true, nobody should have a problem joining the
federation closest to their politics.
Woking Anarchist Federation

Having experienced much of the back-biting and
arguing over the 5% we disagree over, I can only
applaud Iain's sentiments. I've been an anarchist for 22
years and I've always been bemused and disappointed
that we can't all stand on our vast common ground and
pull together.
The political right can do it, mainly because their
grassroots supporters are nothing more than
disenfranchised sheep. They're not really political at all
- mostly they're just angry racists. The left is divided
because of its "my party's better than yours" obsession,
its constant need to recruit and its un-wavering belief in
some form of hierarchy.
That leaves us, the anarchists. I've yet to meet an
anarchist bonehead. I've yet to experience unsavoury
recruiting tactics at any anarchist event. Anarchists in
my experience offer to share their ideas and thoughts,
not to sell them. They don't offer the chance of a ruck
as an incentive to get involved.
In Liverpool, where I live, the anarchists have always
been a close-knit group of various tendencies. We've
organised together in many struggles - picket line
disputes, the miners' and dockers' strikes, Mayday,
refugee support, anti-militarism and so on.
The only disappointment is that, when it comes to
environmental issues, it's always left to the few of us
with a green tinge to do the work. I think this is the
main blight amongst working class anarchists, and we
need to address it.
As Iain hints, we need to work together on all the
issues because they're all important. It's no use fighting
to free people if they've only got a poisoned cesspit to
live in once they're 'free'.
Paul Newton

We must have lost a lot of support over the years
through our lack of basic organisation. We've been
deterred from organising through what has been called
'the curse of the anarchist movement' - our
over-reliance on individualism. While respecting the
wishes of some comrades, whatever arrangements we
make we won't be able to please them all.
We've gained some fleeting support from the
anti-capitalists. But it's been like running a bath taps
full on and no plug. They've come to our meetings, full
of creative energy, but they're soon disappointed by our
lack of focus, clarity and action. How can we break the
vicious circle of limited action, caused by poor
organisation and confused visions?
An illustration of the difficulties, and of some possible
answers, comes from what happened to the Riotous
Assembly. This was the Manchester discussion forum
for activists and those interested in eco-action, which
began around 1998.
Most of the groundwork for its monthly meetings was
done by the local Earth First! group. A wide range of
libertarian activity followed. But the problem was that,
although we could get large attendances, there were too
few people willing to do the organisational chores -
advertising meetings well in advance, keeping in touch
with those who'd come for the first time, expressing
interest in specific issues.
Consequently, most new people didn't come back. Nor
were these visitors willing to sit through discussions
over the need for organisation. Any such work had to be
done 'behind the scenes' and too few would accept this
as a regular responsibility.
Instead some activists tried to use the Riotous
Assembly as a 'recruiting ground' for their own
factions. There were hoary arguments from and
between older anarchists, which did nothing to
encourage the active participation of newcomers. In
spite of a lack of ageism, nothing was done to ease the
generation gap between the (mainly young)
eco-warriors and the old hands.
The latter, myself included, felt frustrated at seeing
younger comrades repeating mistakes we'd made
decades earlier. They showed little interest, after major
actions, in seeing what we'd done right and wrong in
the past, or in discussing where we were all going now.
At the end of last year, this valuable resource closed
down, with nothing (at the time) to replace it.
The main lesson is that whatever the large and regular
meetings we'd like to have, planning needs to be done
by people who aren't already over-committed to other
projects. Previous attempts to build an anarchist
federation, even for very limited purposes, have failed
because the work fell on too few shoulders.
One prerequisite of success is that we're clear over
what these purposes are. An organisational framework
must show newcomers the clear connections between
our visions, conflicting thought they may be; and the
ways in which we make our presence felt.
The quest for this clarity could begin by drawing on
what Iain calls "a constructive programme, one that
offers a practical avenue for ideas". Hopefully, it would
consider the methods we use to be as important as our
long-term goals. In turn this would offer guidance on
who we can work with and where lines should be
Activists in the Northern Anarchist Network have put
together a brief statement on this subject, but I think
more's needed. We need to reach out to people who are
on our political periphery - all those who don't vote as a
conscious decision, for example.
Rather than setting up something new, perhaps we
need to make better use of the existing arrangements.
Many readers of Freedom don't see a friendly anarchist
face from one meeting to the next. This has contributed
to the impression that we're only capable of working
with a selected few.
Instead, we need to attract people who don't see
themselves as professional revolutionaries, but who
engage in the mundane tasks of everyday life, like
getting the kids to school and paying the rent. Our
alternative is to continue meeting in telephone boxes,
continuing to lack self-criticism.
Martin S. Gilbert
The next meeting of the Northern Anarchist Network
will be on Saturday 9th November a Bridge Mills 5, 22a
Beswick Street, Ancoats, Manchester, from 10.30am to

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