The Anarchist Federation: Inside and Out

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Odessasteps
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Aug 12 2017 06:23
The Anarchist Federation: Inside and Out

The Anarchist Federation: Inside & Out

I was recently was expelled from the Anarchist Federation after being a member for 25 years. You may want to dwell on that word 'expelled'. How does an anarchist organisation expel an anarchist? And what for? Certainly not for the usual reasons of physical violence, sexual harassment or abuse. No. In my case it was for challenging those people in the Anarchist Federation who had come to regard it as a financial piggy-bank for their personal political projects. And for opposing the slow drift towards liberal-radical politics based on identity and single-issue campaigns at the expense of - dare an anarchist say it - the class struggle. But the expulsion is a window into the current political malaise at the Federation's heart, a marker for how far it has fallen away from anarchist thought and practice.

1. 'Accountability' - Broken On The Wheel
Some years ago the AF adopted the idea of 'safe spaces' (in fact ideological no go areas) and reinforced it with an 'accountability process' as an expedient way of controlling dissent. Cloaked in bourgeois respectability, the process is actually profoundly disempowering, oppressive and coercive. Its adoption was a necessary step by a few power-seeking people within the AF to send a powerful signal against dissent. Its operation - a simple process of mediation between two members for instance took more than two years - is Kafkaesque in its lazy oppressiveness. Its outcomes - once started it cannot be ended and all roads lead inexorably to expulsion - are profoundly unfair. But it allows members who don't want to engage with the issues it raises to quickly wall off and then terminate the problem, allowing members to go back to being what they have become - activists - and not have to be - as they should be - anarchists. This system of 'accountability' (and by the way, one member having a political grievance against another as in my case can be grounds for expulsion) puts the AF's members at the mercy of anyone who wants the organisation to operate in their image and according to their ideas and who punishes anyone who challenges them. And it relegates the AF membership to a by-standing role or even less, one in which it is 'morally' minded always to side with the accuser, who is - often - one of the structureless elites who control so many of our libertarian organisations.
As a sign of the moral and political disease rotting the AF from the inside, its members allow all kinds of accusations to be made, to pour forth year after year like the outflow of a particularly rancid sewer. Having become moral cowards - or perhaps to be fairer, naive, inexperienced, indifferent - its membership let the accountability process be forced on it as a bureaucratic easy way out. Rudolf Rocker said: “Political rulership always strives for uniformity and tends to subject every aspect of social life to its guardianship". The Anarchist Federation has those political rulers and yes, they now police political thought and expression and sit in judgement upon every one of its members.

2. Twin Tyrannies
"As long as the movement stays dedicated to a form of organisation which stresses small, inactive discussion groups among friends the worst problems of unstructuredness will not be felt. But this style of organisation [ ] is politically inefficacious, exclusive and discriminatory against those who are not or cannot be tied into these friendship networks." This is one description of the AF in its current condition. Here is another: "When a group has no specific task" - and it doesn't anymore - "the people in it turn their energies to controlling others in the group". Its ideological decay has allowed person-centric tripwires and red-lines under the names of 'freedom', 'autonomy' or 'democracy' to dominate. Cross anyone of them as an AF member and see what happens. In my case I challenged the political culture of the AF, it's cosy relationships and the permissions that the leaders within the AF grant to each other because they are friends with each other. Because progress - the revolutionary movement - had by then ceased to matter very much. Using the AF for friendship, for sociability and for what you could get out of it personally, emotionally and physically was all that mattered. What new thing, what new ideas has the AF developed or campaigns initiated? "As long as friendship groups are the main forms of organisational activity, elitism becomes institutionalised." And so it has.
But the AF also suffers from the tyranny of structure as well. And in doing so has become blind to its own hypocrisies. It extols the virtues of 'direct democracy' but allows for voting and mandated delegates. Its processes are a straitjacket that new and existing members must lace themselves into or be labelled troublemakers. In the AF today no-one dare go to a local group and publicly and openly vote against something important to its 'star' members. Its structures and operational processes are dysfunctional and are breeding disunity and a gradual decay in the Federations organisational cohesion. They are exploited by those who use the AF to fulfil their ego needs - for a stage to strut upon, a political CV to fashion, a role to play at - but create or build nothing. They are not used to develop a program, to build campaigns or a movement, to build co-operation around purposeful tasks except one: to build powerful places and create inviolate spaces that give them whatever it is they need. It is where these two tyrannies meet, of structure and structureless, that danger for the Federation lies. Where networks of friendship, common identity and the will to power take hold of and have corrupted its decision-making systems. Whatever was organic about its decision-making has been squeezed out. Now it is ritualistic, an exercise of power for its own sake. Proposals come from a narrow few people all the time with the result that the AF is frozen in its thinking, its internal life, its willingness to grow and develop rather than exist.

3. Decadence
Looked at from both inside and outside, the Federation has become politically inert, decayed. It exists simply to exist and because no-one in it has the courage to say 'enough is enough'; itself a symptom of political decadence. Consider Resistance! its agitational bulletin. A mind-numbingly dull recitation of other people's struggles. Or Organise! its flagship publication whose only article about working class lives in the last three editions had to do with Brexit; the rest far off in time (The Commons in Pre-Modern Thought) , place (Cuban Anarchism (twice)) and relevance (The Psycho-geography of Public Spaces). The Federation has has abandoned all contact with the working class in favour of writing things pleasing or interesting to the radical milieu. As an example, I was expelled at the request of AF Wales. One reason was that I had written a short - unpublished - article about the Army recruiting in working class areas, deliberately seeking damaged and purposeless young people. A few days after my expulsion, The Guardian featured this: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/09/british-army-is-targeting-working-class-young-people-report-shows. My article was too inflammatory, the truth too dangerous. Rather than actually engage in the class struggle, the AF seeks unity and survival above all things. What it does is maintain itself. But where does this purposeless sterility come from?

The AF's growing malaise has been disguised internally by adopting 'new' ideas (intersectionality for instance, an old idea re-popularised in 1989 but discovered by the AF only decades later. A whole range of liberal ideas have been adopted, inserted into the AF's 'doxology' and now become loyalty tests for its members and which have helped cement in place a rulership of which its ordinary members (sic) are barely aware. Of course such 'renewal' was necessary because the AF was slowly ceasing to be relevant, that powerful social forces were shaping both obedience and self-expression in radically different ways to ours it continued to do what it has always done but without effect. It joins other people's struggles - what else is there to do? - but adds little to them whether in ideas or - more importantly - in endurance or their impacts. It drifts along and finally people either drift away from it or seek other ways to act, losing themselves in single-issue politics, environmental campaigns or intersectionalist politics which has only resulted in a loss of internal unity and cohesion. The AF's politics has become personal, borrowed from other places and movements and not able to be challenged. It has become intolerant. And all of those things are symptoms of a decadence in which process has replaced the social-organic expression of ideas and energies.

4. Political Bankruptcy
The AF today is like a small grant-giving charity founded many years ago and still operating by rote but without any real purpose. Many years ago it received an endowment - of anarchist communist ideas - which it doles out in small amounts every year when it republishes a pamphlet or manages to secrete one more issue of Organise!. But the AF has ceased to want to increase that endowment with new ideas emerging from the class struggle. And so every year it has less to offer. And what it offers is less and less relevant. Everything in the AF now is geared to simply keeping going. Consider these words: "There are many structures and agreements that are really prisons; well-ordered, comfortable but still prisons." And this: "Oppose any who claim that accepting an idea confers on the proposer some kind of authority. And also this: "Some who wish to direct this process [struggle] to their own ends will try to incorporate, channel or defuse your actions and stifle your ideas. Others will use science or mysticism to impose formulas and plans that they understand on people and ideas that they do not." All of the above describe the Anarchist Federation today. Bureaucratic, formalistic, bereft of ideas, willing to accept a group of leaders because they have organisational power and its members do not, because they occupy all spaces within the Federation, allowing no space to other ideas. When it attempts educational work it is like being in school: there are things that members must learn and learn to repeat back but never to discuss, to explore, to refute or reject; that is not allowed. When I joined the AF, the basics - its Aims & Principles - were there to guide us and frame our discourse but how you interpreted and acted on them was left to each member. Now that is not permitted. There is one interpretation only, one way of acting only. Its members have become unfree: circumspect, guarded, largely unthinking, preferring to act and interact with people in other places, able to speak and act freely only when they are somewhere else. As a force for - or more particularly a place of - freedom, the Anarchist Federation has become morally and politically bankrupt, exhausted by the weight of its own futility and with no idea of what arenas it should be acting alongside the working class in or of how to agitate, mobilize or help organise oppressed and exploited people.

Battlescarred
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Aug 12 2017 08:16

First of all:
'with virtually no notice and in my absence' The motion to disassociate OS was brought initially for the Federal Delegate Meeting (FDM) in February, at that point he said he didn't have enough notice to formulate a full response to the allegations. He did post an interim one however. It was agreed by all concerned that he was correct that it had been too short in notice to actually disassociate, so that would have to be resubmitted in the June IB for the meeting in Bristol. It was submitted in a timely fashion for this IB, OS was notified (effectively reminded) and given the option to post a response to the IB, attend the FDM or submit a statement to the FDM.
Secondly
"As an example, I was expelled at the request of AF Wales". not true, a diisasociation process was already under way. OS had already been dissociated from Liverpool group of the AF who found it impossible to work with him. He then affilated to AF Wales who in their turn found it impossible to work with him. However, it was not A wales who called for OS's disassociation from the AF. There was an overwhelming vote to disassociate OS at the FDM.
OS was not disassociated for his political critique of the AF, as it is written here. He has never put any of this in the IB before. I am not sure if he raised these issues in the groups he has been involved with.

He was disassociated for his continual attack on the AFs support for anti-patriarchal struggles and for the fact that two groups have said they are unwilling to work with him. The first time it was proposed that OS be disassociated was not supported by the majority of the membership.. However, since then, any of our newer members have witnessed for themselves how OS behaves and this is what caused the huge majority in favour of disassociation. His behaviour at the meeting to organise the class struggle conference was out of order and most recently a group of all new members decided that his continued membership of their group was a liability. This is the second group that he has been disassociated from. People may also recall that he recently wrote a piece on nationalism that we discussed at length at an FDM, mostly to agree that it was not in keeping with our views on nationalism at all. This now stands as part of a long history of people who do not want to work with him as a result of the views he expresses and behaviour he exhibits.

He seems to think that this means we do not have freedom in the AF to express views. However, if someone continually undermines our basic aims and principles then it is a problem. People are free not to be in the AF if they don't agree with these principles. And in fact he has expressed his views, eg the long document on nationalism, many posts on the AF discussion forum and he wrote all of (I believe) the Welsh paper. And, people must not act in such a way as to bring the AF into disrepute. If so many people do not want to work with Os and his behaviour in public forums such as the class struggle anarchist conference suggest that he cannot be trusted to represent the AF in any way.

OS has always been critical of a 'clique' of leadership unless he himself is part of it! He used to refer to London as the centre and then that got transferred elsewhere. He has been particularly critical of the women in the AF who have brought anarcha-feminism to the fore after years of us being a largely male organisation. There will be a leadership of people who are actually doing things- this cannot be helped and is always a problem that must be guarded against. But anyone can become part of the group who does things in the AF- it is not a closed group! Recently, we have a very new member who has volunteered to be national secretary and one relatively new member is now membership secretary. People in Bristol are not part of the old guard yet they are the most active members both locally and nationally.

Sike
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Aug 12 2017 09:21
Odessasteps wrote:
But the AF also suffers from the tyranny of structure as well. And in doing so has become blind to its own hypocrisies. It extols the virtues of 'direct democracy' but allows for voting and mandated delegates.

Not sure how voting (on organizational matters) and the election of mandated delegates (immediately recallable) is incompatible with the concept of direct democracy? I am not familiar with the internal procedures of the AF but voting on organizational matters and the election of immediately recallable mandated delegates is standard fare for anarchist organizations.

ajjohnstone
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Aug 12 2017 10:36

Having read your observations and criticisms of AF, Odessa, i'm wondering why it required you to be expelled and why you hadn't resigned before.

I may have my disagreements with my own organiation but i believe that there exists a process of interaction whereupon i can express dissent internally and hopefully influence changes i wish to see come about (a forlorn hope some might say). Hence my continued membership. But you seem to discount that possibility in AF so why did you stay a member?

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Steven.
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Aug 12 2017 11:22

Sounds like sour grapes to me.

If the AF was so rubbish and had so many flaws, then presumably you should have either left it, or you should have circulated concrete proposals to improve the situation in the IB.

That said, I would be curious to see the articles you wrote on Wales and nationalism to see if they were really not in line with the politics of the AF. Could you post them up?

In terms of what you have said about Organise!, I don't really think that is a valid criticism because Organise! is a theoretical publication aimed at the radical milieu, not an agitational aimed at the working class in general (that is Resistance, which you seem to not like because it talks about struggles, which I don't really understand)

asn
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Aug 12 2017 12:58

The piece by odessasteps is quite interesting. The problems and dysfunctionality of the AF would need to be looked at in the context of its social base eg socially middle class and - eg workers with high levels of autonomy often connected with higher education institutions and students viewing the class struggle via a hierarchy of oppressions. (A similar situation with the Trot groups.) Whilst the historical legacy of mass Stalinism to the left of the Labour party and interwoven with the Left faction in the mid 20th Century has also to be taken into account. (People seeing anarchism via a left subcultural prism a sort of unconscious Stalinism/Trotskyism.) Whilst the low level of class struggle has to be considered and people looking for some pseudo church/family (and of course some pseudo father/sect guru) to become involved and having unwholesome fun manufacturing and maintaining micro bureaucracies - all that unwholesome fun "salivating" over "safe spaces policies." While out in the real world of "neo-liberal" capitalism - the class struggle rages.
With any "formal" so called anarchist organisation today in the UK and the Anglo World - you are going to have these problems for the above reasons. The way to go has to be to organise informally and selectively via networks - assisting militants in the day to day class struggle particularly in the shape of work place papers based on analysis and strategy. In contrast in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, when there did exist a significant anarchist workers movement in the Anglo World (not the university/student types) and before Stalinism/Trotskyism was invented - the above problems odessasteps refers to would never have arisen. It certainly can't remedied by just "constitutional"changes - the problems are much more complex and profound. see on www.rebelworker.org for further discussion of this type of analysis.

Spikymike
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Aug 12 2017 13:11

Odessasteps, launches a bit of a 'tirade' here against the AF but with little in the way of back up evidence. I am aware that not everyone in the AF agrees with the particular interpretation and application of 'Intersectionality' theory that has gained ground in AF sections over recent years but that is an area still presumably open to discussion. There seems to have been something of a decline in the membership and public activity of AF groups in the North West of England in recent years a result of both some political and personal differences amongst their members, quite apart from any differences in either of those areas with Odessasteps. There is also something here reminiscent of the concerns and criticism made some years ago by AF members who went on to form the short lived ' Collective Action' group as well and there maybe still some organisational problems with the AF worthy of their consideration, but this contribution (with it's criticism of both friendship circles and too much formal structure) doesn't seem to help much with that. Still the 'hurt' which Odessasteps seems to be expressing here after such a long term membership of the AF is perhaps understandable. I can only say that there is still life outside of the tiny groups in our political milieu. Perhaps make use of libcom to start with by publishing your articles here - then we can all criticise them!

Battlescarred
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Aug 12 2017 20:50

Asn , you are talking individualist bollox and you know it.You are pontificating about something about which you have no fiirst hand information, that is, you are talking out of your arse.

bastarx
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Aug 13 2017 12:15
Battlescarred wrote:
Asn , you are talking individualist bollox and you know it.You are pontificating about something about which you have no fiirst hand information, that is, you are talking out of your arse.

He's been spewing out the same contentless rant for at least 20 years that I know of and probably longer. Ignore him, everyone in Australia does.

asn
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Aug 13 2017 11:01

The Australian milieu is composed of the above sect and cult phenomena with similar aspects as Odesssasteps has touched upon certainly posing no threat to the capitalist set up - of course you can't get anywhere with most of the inhabitants due to historical legacies,cultural and sociological aspects I have touched on in terms of rational discussion - just a bit of idiotic abuse on occasion.
Battlescarred please turn the "abuse" volume down on your consule. I've had many decades of experience in creating and assisting militant networks associated with various workplace papers in various industries. working together with many on and off the job on this informal network basis and helped slow the tempo of the employer offensive (see archive section of www.rebelworker.org and back issues of RW on website). On the job due to its realities formal workers organisation definitely has its place and I have done plenty to assist it over the years. Acting with others as a sort of catalyst. (Mostly assisting militants who are members of many leftist/progressive groups (which of course provide pseudo churches for these people).
All this is about "exerting influence in industries and unions" and becoming a pole of attraction particularly with the workplace papers - your putting out the media its got deep roots on the job - superior to anything the union bosses or the Trot groups can do or probably don't do and a tremendous readership and influence on the job -so diverse militants are obliged to get involved and are drawn into your orbit. They have to - just as militants who are in various left groups despite "disagreeing" with you have to get involved - based on their workplace experience they see can your doing serious and essential work. We can get them cooperating together in constructive activity re the class struggle. This is the sort of thing which needs to be got going -"cultivated" and say if you can get ten or so of this thing going in the UK in various key sectors - there is a chance to turn the tide. To create the raised morale and big actions which would be interconnected with the emergence of transitional steps towards mass syndicalist unionism. All this would be reflected in your publications which such militants would edit - in terms of encouraging vigorous debate eg creative ways to approach the class struggle etc and encourage research avoiding left subcultural exotica eg identity politics etc like the plague. It is in this context that the dedication, self discipline, capacity for long range work and the handling of crises develops and others can learn and be inspired by it.
odessasteps has made hard hitting and valid criticisms - a revolutionary would take advantage of such criticism.

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Steven.
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Aug 13 2017 13:55

ASN, that excessively long post makes no substantive point other the new repeating the same post you have made again and again over the years, which seems to be primarily blowing your own horn and painting an inaccurate picture of your own "success". Please desist from these off topic comments

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Serge Forward
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Aug 13 2017 20:03

Aye. It's got nowt to do with owt. Just someone with their own personal bugbears who felt like sticking their oar in over a matter they know absolutely nothing about.

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jondwhite
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Aug 13 2017 21:32

I wasn't impressed with the posts by ASN either (plugging rebelworker) and I think spiky mike got it right when stating more evidence is required to judge odessasteps claims.

Battlescarred
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Aug 14 2017 09:30

Anarchist Federation Aims and Principles 3.
"3.
We believe that fighting systems of oppression that divide the working class, such as racism and sexism, is essential to class struggle. Anarchist communism cannot be achieved while these inequalities still exist. In order to be effective in our various struggles against oppression, both within society and within the working class, we at times need to organise independently as people who are oppressed according to gender, sexuality, ethnicity or ability. We do this as working class people, as cross-class movements hide real class differences and achieve little for us. Full emancipation cannot be achieved without the abolition of capitalism."
We've had this as an A&P from the beginning of the founding o our organisation. (Also note that in an organisation that can be seen as a precursor of the ACF/AF, The Anarchist Workers Association similar positoions were argued see Anarchist Worker , article by Eva Long,https://libcom.org/history/anarchist-worker-social-contract-must-go-under
OS specically argued against these positions at the Class Struggle Anarchist Conference meeting much to the horror of Bristol comrades present) This and many other reasons was why he was dissasociated

Spikymike
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Aug 16 2017 13:57

In my previous post here I mentioned some things which struck a chord with me in Odessasteps opening 'tirade', given my own critical 'outsider' support for the AF over the years, but .....It's certainly true as well that often claims of important political differences within small groups can sometimes be simply justifications for other personally motivated dysfunctional and disruptive behaviour that might be tolerated in a much larger organisation but which make smaller groups unable to function effectively, forcing a parting of the waves via resignations and/or expulsions. Unfortunately we 'revolutionaries' are not immune from such behaviour just because we share some 'revolutionary' objectives and are not always sufficiently self-aware to sift out the differences. I Suspect that Odessasteps effort here may be mixing some genuine ( and maybe important) political differences up with less rational personal irritations but who knows. Certainly some of their criticism of the AF seems harsh given the difficulties of any small group in our milieu struggling to survive and not always operating to the letter of it's own ideal let alone the ideals of any of us political loners! Our milieu as a whole however can usually tolerate a bigger spectrum of personal and political differences than the average small collective group.