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(en) Britain, SolFed*, DA #30 - Sustaining Anarchism

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 23 Nov 2004 09:36:24 +0100 (CET)

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In Britain, anarchist ideas first emerged in the 19th century,
although they remained diluted and unfocused until around the
turn of the century, when the first inklings of an anarchist
'movement' appeared, including specific anarchist
journals and papers such as 'Freedom' and the
'Voice of Labour'. However, the promise of these
beginnings have not yet been fulfilled, and anarchists have
struggled to build a sustained presence here.

Every so often, there is a flowering of anarchist ideas within
movements, that seem to dissipate when those issues change. For
long periods, there has been little or no anarchist activity to speak
of. Today, there is a small anarchist movement, with three
national anarchist federations, as well as several local groups.
Local and national publications are produced of varying content
and quality. Some campaigns have a marked anarchist input and
presence, yet the influence of anarchist ideas has yet to spread
beyond a small milieu of activists.

For the vast majority of people, anarchism is a very odd idea
advocated by strange people. The only time it really reaches the
public consciousness is in the run-up to Mayday, when the
newspapers are suddenly full of anarchist plots to disrupt London.

It has to be said that some people do seem to thrive on this
publicity, apparently welcoming the kind of outlaw image
anarchism has. They see themselves as voices in the (capitalist)
wilderness crying out the truth if only the people could hear.
Others are trying to shed this image and spread anarchist ideas
within the working class, so they are seen as an alternative set of
values that can be measured against the prevailing capitalist ones
(and distinct from Marxist ideology).

Only once has this happened in Britain. Ironically, it was within a
current that was not specifically anarchist. That time was just
before WW1, when the syndicalist movement was able to exert an
anti-parliamentary influence within working class politics. Many
workers accepted anarchist ideas as a legitimate way forward and
not as some utopian dream. Anarchists like Ted Leggat and John
Turner were able to command respect from their fellow workers
and not hide their politics.

The cause of the eventual collapse of the syndicalist movement is
the subject of debate. Anarcho-syndicalists generally would argue
that it needed to develop something more than its
anti-parliamentary approach and expand its ideas into community
and cultural organisation - and not limit itself to workplace

Today, some anarchists seem to have gone in completely the
opposite direction. Community politics is held up as the way
forward, while workplace organisation is seen as somehow tainted
and despised. Yet it is in the workplace where ordinary people
come face to face with the harsh reality of capitalism. Our safety is
compromised every day. Pay and conditions are under constant
attack. Meanwhile, other anarchist notions of how to fight back
against the twin oppressions of state and capitalism remain on the
periphery of resistance movements.

Only when anarchist ideas become accepted within the working
class at both community and workplace level can we hope to build
a movement and maintain its momentum. This does not mean
watering down these ideas to accommodate reactionary opinions,
or looking to short cuts by buying into the present power
structures. Rather, it is essential that we challenge racism, sexism
and homophobia, etc., not from a liberal middle class perspective,
but from the perspective of working class militants.

Anarchists need to lose their fear of organisation and, instead of
remaining isolated in small local groups, be actively inclusive and
open. The buzz words of the last decade have been 'act
locally think globally', but that does not preclude us from
organising in a meaningful way locally and in workplaces, and
federating horizontally to offer mutual support and solidarity to
each other and to the wider working class.

Direct Action is published by Solidarity Federation, the British
section of the International Workers' Association
* Solidarity Federation is of the anarcho-syndicalist spectrum

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