Today, Thursday, 26 September 2013, libcom.org turns 10. In this blog post we look back at the evolution of the site over the last decade, pick out some highlights and look to the future.
libcom.org, originally named enrager.net, was officially launched on 26 September 2003 as an "anti-authoritarian resource and community".
Since then, we believe it has grown to be the world's most popular English-language anarchist/libertarian socialist website,1 with over 15,000 texts, over 6000 contributing users and which has been viewed over 15 million times by over 10 million unique visitors.2
Initially it was a newswire, forum and set of theoretical articles and listings of UK libertarian groups intended to "bring together Britain based anti-authoritarians and anarchists… allowing [them] to communicate and develop links".
We changed it for various reasons but mainly because no one could pronounce it right. It was supposed to be in a sexy French accent: imagine it whispered in your ear by Audrey Tatou or Thierry Henry, wearing a scarf on a cobbled street, with flipped vintage cars barricading it. Instead, pronounced "en-rage-err", it's more like Rik refusing to clean his People's Poetry off the bedroom wall…, and "enrager" has a very obvious angry vibe. We wanted to move away from the typical feel of anarchist media which matches a lot of negative stereotypes, using angry, violent, macho imagery and terminology to a more neutral feel.
And finally someone browsing a website called "enrager" which is obviously a site for political radicals, or possibly just angry anti-social people, from work isn't great. I know I got quizzed about it in a previous job. Something called libcom could easily be some new media, communications or PR website you have a good reason to be spending all day on!
Actually, at the time most of us identified more with term "libertarian socialism" than "communism" but we thought "libsoc" sounded too much like "Ingsoc" from 1984.
When the site was founded, most of us in the libcom group were in our late teens, with a couple in our early 20s, and we were mostly school or university students, with a couple of temp workers.
Most of us had been through the experience of being part of the Anarchist Youth Network (AYN), and while that was fizzling out we thought that our website could help unite the UK anarchist movement. To this end, enrager.net and the AYN co-organised "libertarian blocs" on big demonstrations to try to have a visible presence for libertarian and direct action-oriented activists.
Over time we came to realise that a united anarchist movement was something which was neither possible nor desirable, so we dropped that aim.3
10 years on, Jacques Roux left the admin collective, Joseph Kay, Juan Conatz and Mike Harman joined, and we are now all in our late 20s/early 30s working or trying to avoid work in a variety of places from warehouses, hospitals, universities, charities, councils, schools and in IT.
The biggest single change to libcom.org since its foundation was the creation of the library in 2005. Originally we just hosted a small number of introductory theoretical and historical texts. However we were contacted by the owner of endpage.com, an online libertarian communist archive of about 2000 texts, saying he would no longer be able to maintain it and asking if we wanted to take them on.
We agreed, and several of our users gave us huge amounts of help in the big job of moving all the texts over. While moving them over, we read a lot of these texts which included a lot by council communist and left communists texts, like Anton Pannekoek and the Situationist International. So as well as hosting them they had an influence on us, pushing us in a more "communist" direction from our more anarchist roots.
From there the library mushroomed, with thousands more texts being added by hundreds of our users, including many hundreds of original texts written exclusively for us. We have also either absorbed or duplicated several other online archives. We believe our library is the world's biggest online archive of libertarian communist/anarchist writings and the biggest online resource of working class history in English. The British Library also began backing up libcom in its online archive, ensuring its availability in perpetuity.
Around 2003-4, the AYN was deeply divided along red/green lines: between us class struggle anarchists and primitivists, who are opposed to technology. This debate in the AYN and the anarchist movement as a whole played itself out on enrager for some time, and indeed almost defined the forums for a couple of years.
The big gulfs in opinion, the resulting arguments combined with messageboard culture and a large number of angry young men (the forum posters have always been disproportionately male) created an aggressive, pointscoring and counter-productive atmosphere on the forums. This lasted through subsequent sets of debates, such as arguments with platformists on nationalism, which became frequent after the primitivists left around 2006-7, and then led to the platformists largely leaving. Class War also all left around 2006 during a series of arguments on topics as diverse as the smoking ban, the French hijab ban The former their members opposed, and the latter they supported, contrary to almost all other libcom posters and the libcom group. And the last of them finally left after criticism on the forums of their burning of an effigy of Mohammed which many criticised as a "racist caricature".
After that, libcom admins made several attempts to tighten up posting guidelines and improve the forum culture, with varying levels of success. In 2011, a libcom user started a discussion on the macho posting culture, and as a result of that feedback we introduced new stricter posting guidelines, and mass-locked and unpublished many old threads which breached the new guidelines. We also have tried to prioritise discussion below articles and blogs rather than in forums as this seems to result in a higher level of discussion. We know we still have a long way to go, but user feedback since then has been that things are slowly improving.
In addition, forum usage has declined steeply as more and more discussion now takes place on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. This has both positive and negative aspects. Positive in that aggressive debate has plummeted, but negative in that most of these discussions now take place in private between individuals who already know each other, and so cannot be read by a wider audience. Discussions on libcom.org between just a few individuals were still often read by hundreds or thousands of readers, and in the past we frequently heard of radical groups holding reading groups and discussion meetings based on debates in our forums.
However, this trend is irreversible and so presents new challenges for us for the future.
When we launched the site we saw the newswire as a moderated alternative to Indymedia's open publishing, initially covering many of the same things. With the relaunch as libcom.org we decided to focus on reporting on struggles and stopped covering activist events.
The highlight was our user-generated coverage of the struggle against the CPE employment law in France, which was the most comprehensive coverage in English, and which was featured in the Guardian, Washington Post and on the BBC.
In recent years our reporting has dipped but this has enabled us to prioritise more thoughtful comment and analysis from a libertarian communist perspective. If any users want to volunteer to take on reporting more news for us that would be great.
One area we have tried to expand upon recently, since late 2011 in particular, is our blog section. Quite a few people have started excellent libcom blogs, and we are keen to expand our network of bloggers.
Here are some of libcom.org's best bits from the past 10 years, as chosen by our admins and users:
- Our introductory guides, clearly explaining key libertarian communist ideas, and the related reading guides.
- Our user-generated coverage of the struggle against the CPE employment law in France.
- The hundreds of exclusive biographies and historical articles which have been written for us by Nick Heath.
- Red Marriott's excellent coverage of the struggles of Bangladeshi textile workers and the Maoists in Nepal.
- Our coverage of the 2008 unrest in Greece, much of which was written by taxikipali, one of our users.
- Our archive of materials by the UK libertarian socialist group, Solidarity.
- Some of our tag archives like workplace activity, with people's accounts of organising at work, publications, with our archives of radical publications, sabotage, about resistance to work, work life, with everyday tales of toil and mutinies, with histories of troops refusing to fight.
- Our debates about parecon, between Joseph Kay and PPS and between Steven Johns and Michael Albert.
- The translations by Alias Recluse.
- The introductory history articles by Sam Lowry.
- An online version of Jeremy Brecher's excellent book, Strike!.
- Some excellent and lengthy discussions in the forums, including Venting our despair and supporting each other, the Wisconsin collective bargaining protests discussion and the Occupy Wall Street discussion on the serious side. And on the less serious side Revolution starts 06/02/2010!, about one man's attempt to kickstart the revolution early and the adventures of earnest but confused posters crack fix propaganda, the outlaw, shaggy 2 dopes, to name but a few…
- The amusing writings of Wayne Foster, including his autobiographical The makings of an anarchist, the dystopian epic The adventures of username 2045 A.D. and the spoof activist event Beyond the future.
- The FULL COMMUNISM meme.
Let us know your favourite bits in this thread.
Looking to the future, there is lots more we still want to accomplish. And to do that, we need your help. Almost all of our content is generated by our users. So we always need people to contribute.
We are really keen to expand our pool of bloggers. So if you have been thinking of doing some writing, why not request a libcom blog and start writing with us?
We also want to keep expanding the library. So if you have some time online, there are plenty of easy ways you can help us out. And if you're not sure how you could, just say in the comments below.
If you haven't got any spare time, you can always give us a small or regular donation. All our costs are paid for by the admin group membership dues and by donations from users. So getting donations means we can concentrate on growing and improving the site, rather than fundraising.
If you have any pamphlets, books, journals or publications which would be of interest to libcom readers and which aren't currently online, you can now give them to us to digitise and put on the website. Just drop them in or post them to libcom.org, c/o Freedom, 84b Whitechapel High St, London, E1 7QX.
Similarly, if you can help us with our digitisation project please get in touch with us either by e-mail, private message or in the comments below. We have a big backlog of stuff we want to put online and need all the help we can get with it.
Behind the scenes, we are currently working on a server upgrade which should make the site much faster and reduce or eliminate the occasional downtime we have had recently, and for which we apologise.
If you have tech skills, particularly with Drupal, please make yourself be known, as we could do with your help!
If you are interested in getting involved in the admin collective, let us know as well.
Also, anyone can help us get more readers by tweeting, Liking or sharing our articles with others online.
We will be hosting celebratory birthday drinks at a pub in central London next Wednesday 2 October from 6 PM so please feel free to come have a drink with us! More info here in the forums.
Finally, we would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has contributed to libcom.org so far, who are unfortunately too numerous to name - but hopefully you know who you are. Everyone who has written a blog, posted articles to the library, corrected typos, added PDF or mobi files, made us graphics, given us donations - you have helped make libcom.org what it is today and hopefully you will be able to help us keep getting bigger and better for the next 10 years!
The libcom group
- 1. Based on traffic estimates by Alexa and quantcast and on social media followers.
- 2. Visit numbers are estimates based on exact figures for the past five years, and assuming linear growth in the previous five years due to consistent data not being available. This is most likely a significant underestimate as actual site traffic in 2006 and 2008 was extremely high.
- 3. Although the libertarian blocs were superseded by "radical workers blocs" which continue to be organised today.