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(en) Aotearoa-New Zealand Imminent Rebellion #2 Anarchism is About Struggle

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 1 Feb 2004 13:03:39 +0100 (CET)

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I HAVE been asked to write something on the
future of the anarchism in this country. I must
admit to being highly cynical and depressed
about the state of anarchism in Aotearoa. The
Anarchist movement remains a small and
largely irrelevant movement.
It seems to me that the current movement
is repeating the same mistakes we
made in the 1990s when I first got
involved in anarchism in Wellington
and Christchurch.
Today's anarchist movement
seems to be mostly an inward looking
counterculture alternative lifestyle
movement. For most of the
movement, there is no sense of being
part of a long tradition of resistance
and struggle going back a hundred
years. Anarchists were active in all
the major struggles in New Zealand
last century, from 1913, the
unemployed movement in the 1930s,
the 1951 lockout, the anti Vietnam
war movement, etc.
The current anarchist movement
in this country started in the 1990s,
with most of the main activists
coming from a background in punk
or the McGillicuddy1 movement.
These anarchists were active in the
unemployed rights movement of the early
1990s, and the protests against the 1991 Iraq
war. We were very keen, convinced we were
right and that we didn't need to learn anything
from older folks, especially if they weren't
The 1990s anarchist scene in Christchurch
fizzled and died, as most people gave up on
radical politics, left town or went mad. In the
north island, it wasn't quite so bad but, after a
few years, a lot of the active people either left
politics altogether or went into the green party
(two current Green MPs and half a dozen of
their current parliamentary staff came through
the 1990s anarcho/McGillicuddy scene). Most
were just passing through looking for a good
time before they had to think about jobs, kids,
careers etc. Some realised they weren't getting
anywhere and left anarchism for the green
party, "single issue" campaign groups, went
mad, or they became old and grumpy like me.
So what went wrong and led to most of the
active people giving up on anarchism?
Obviously in any political movement there is a
high rate of burnout and eventually a lot of
people will move on to other things after a
while. But I think there were a few factors that
made the anarchist movement even more prone
to losing people than usual.
The Christchurch anarchist scene thought
the established left groups at the time were a
bunch of boring old farts who couldn't possibly
have anything interesting to say to us. While
we occasionally went to a few of their demos
and other events, we certainly didn't offer them
any help or take part in the organising. Instead
we organised our own anti McDonalds demos
which were advertised by word of mouth to our
anarchist freinds. Not surprisingly we didn't
get many new people to these small events.
Years later, when some of us actually talked to
these boring old farts we discovered that a lot
of them knew more about anarchism and radical
politics than we did and were very dedicated
and experienced activists (quite a few were still
boring old farts though!). In Wellington it
wasn't quite so bad as some of the central
people in the Committee for the Establishment
of Civilisation (CEC) were heavily involved
in the peace movement, but there was still a
lot of sectarianism towards the rest of the left.
Most of the anarchist movement was based
on the punk/hippy subculture. While there was
usually no deliberate attempt to exclude
`normal' people, anyone who had kids, a job, a
normal haircut, or listened to Dire Straits, did
not feel welcome in our circles. We met mostly
in grotty flats, listened to punk music and
looked down on anyone who was
`straight'. Anyone dressed in normal
clothes who stayed on in spite of all
this was then suspected of being an
undercover cop!
We were not interested in
anarchist theory and we didn't
consider ourselves to be part of the left.
We thought we were "neither left nor
right, but out in front" (a slogan
currently being used by the green
party). A few individuals did develop
an interest in anarchist theory or history
but it was never something that was
considered important for the whole
movement.As a result, anarchist groups
were incapable of having informed
discussions about politics, which seems
pretty silly when you think about it.
In short, the basic problem was that the
anarchist scene was based mostly on a
youth subculture social scene, not
politics. It was far easier for a teenage punk or
hippy to get involved in our scene than for older
political activists to meet us. Anarchists saw
themselves as separate from the rest of the
radical political movement. If we want
anarchism to move forward and have an
influence on society, we have to get out of the
Anarchism didn't come out of nowhere, it
was born out of class struggle. It came about
from the ideas and actions of millions of people
fighting for a better world. If the anarchist
movement is to remain relevant, it has to be
based in, and part of, a mass movement.
Last year tens of thousands of people took
to the streets to oppose US Imperialism and
war. The anti war movement was the first
experience of radical politics for most of those
people. Yet anarchist ideas had a very low
profile. The Anarchist Roundtable in
Christchurch was the only organised anarchist
group to make an effort to take part in the anti
war movement. The Anti GE movement is
another example of a movement with mass
support, but with almost no visible anarchist
involvement. There are various individual
anarchists who are heavily involved in these
and other campaigns, but my point is these
people are involved as individuals and so have
very little influence on the direction of the
campaign, and most of the people who call
themselves anarchists are not involved at all.
When I received the advertising posters and
leaflets for the recent "Anarchist tea Party"
gathering in Wanganui, I was disappointed to
see no mention of the current war in Iraq, the
anti GE movement, the foreshore/sea bed issue,
and other current political issues.
We have to set up
anarchist groups that
meet regularly, discuss
politics and take part in
local grassroots political
Instead there were workshops on tree
climbing, herbal contraception, living outside
capitalism (on the moon maybe?) and non
monogamous relationships. While I am sure
some of this might have been fun and even
interesting, it is not going to change the world.
And that is what anarchism is about - Changing
The World.
The poster for the event had a well known
quote from anthropologist (and certainly not
an anarchist) Margaret Mead - "Never doubt
that a small group of thoughtful, committed
citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the
only thing that ever has". It's a nice slogan,
but it is simply not true.
If we are talking about really changing the
world, by getting rid of capitalism (and I hope
we are), it will not be a small group of citizens,
it will be through the efforts of the international
working class. This is an important point.
Anarchists, by ourselves, will never change the
world. The ONLY way to get rid of capitalism
is through the actions of millions and millions
of working people.
The job of anarchists is to take part in mass
movements and struggles, alongside ordinary
people. In those movements we will come up
against both reformists and authoritarian
tendencies, and we will have to argue with
them and hopefully convince people that
anarchist ideas are useful ideas for achieving
a better society.
Inward looking lifestyle politics will not
change the world. It might be fun, but it is a
total waste of time. Out there in the real world,
our enemy, the ruling class, is busy planning
wars, destroying the planet, and exploiting us
all. The good news is that people are resisting.
Right now, there are thousands of people
around the country, interested in how we can
change the world and get rid of this sick
capitalist system that is giving us wars,
genetically modified "food", racism,
environmental destruction, low wages and
generally making life miserable. These people
can be found at anti war meetings, in local anti
GE groups, and other political events. The
Greens are there too, and the marxists, and the
liberals, but the anarchists aren't there, or we
are there in very small numbers and are not
saying much.
If we want to change the world we need to
be in the thick of the fight, part of the mass
movement and proving that our ideas are
relevant and useful to the struggle. It's not
enough to organise one or two events a year.
We have to set up anarchist groups that meet
regularly, discuss politics and take part in local
grassroots political campaigns. Only then will
anarchist ideas be taken seriously by people
fighting for a better world.
A good example is the Anarchist Round
Table in Christchurch. ART has regular
meetings, a written set of aims and principles
and takes part in protests and other stuff in
Christchurch. This may not sound like much
but unfortunately its pretty rare in the anarchist
movement here for any sort of collective to last
more than a few months. If we can't even get
ongoing local groups established in the main
centres, we are going to have a hard time
convincing the rest of the world that we can
organise without governments and capitalism!
The fact is we are not getting anywhere, and
we need to drastically rethink what we are
doing. After all, going round and round in
circles without getting anywhere does not make
you a revolutionary.
Footnote: 1. Clan McGillicuddy was started
by some Hamilton hippies in the 1970s. It's
main activity was doing weird street theatre
and engaging in pacifist battles (hitting each
other with rolled up newspapers and
flourbombs). Its political branch, the
McGillicuddy Serious Party, ran candidates in
general elections to poke fun at the political
system. It abolished itself in 2000. Ironically,
many of its members now work for the green

- Mister Grumpy (Mister Grumpy is a long-
haired vegan hippy who lives in Wellington)

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