The Free Association

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May 5 2011 13:06
The Free Association

I’ve started to take a look at some of the articles on the The Free Association site.

As Spikymike points out on the Death of a Paper Tiger thread:

Spikymike wrote:
I understand that a few of the old Leeds based Class War group who were instrumental in organising the critical Bradford national conference have spun off into a new direction.

http://freelyassociating.org/

Any thoughts, info, ideas?

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With Sober Senses
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May 5 2011 13:53

Hi All
The Free Association are pretty influenced ( it seems) by the post-operaismo, and through them Deleuze and Guattari. That won't probably win them any friends at libcom, but I think their work is always interesting and useful. They seem really good at engaging with moments of struggle they are involved in and write in an admirably humours and humble way. Top banana.
There is also some cross over with Turbulence, The Commoner, and the like.
cheers
Dave

Mark.
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May 5 2011 19:06

Interesting. Should some of these articles be put up on libcom?

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klas batalo
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May 5 2011 20:06

they also have a new book out on pm press i saw at a friends house the other day...

Harrison
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May 5 2011 21:47

they seem much more developed that cw, (rejecting the anti-intellectualism and swearing). some of the autonomia-related stuff i disagree with, but it seems like a massive step-forward. and it has a good name!

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May 7 2011 07:52

I’ve just read ‘The Return of the Tortoise’ on the Free Association site which looks at the Tute Bianche movement in Italy during the 1990s. It made me cringe!

They’ve also written a brief background to their organisation (‘Sometimes we appear to be tight-knit, acting and thinking in close concert with each other. At other times we’re more of a loose network, expanding and contracting as the need arises’.) called ‘(By Way Of An) Introduction.’

raw
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May 8 2011 22:16
yearzero wrote:
I’ve just read ‘The Return of the Tortoise’ on the Free Association site which looks at the Tute Bianche movement in Italy during the 1990s. It made me cringe!’

I just read the article - what made you cringe in particular? I thought it was a pretty spot on though uncritical analysis of that part of the movement in Italy.

Spikymike
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Jun 6 2011 16:32

Well I have just finnished reading their short book called 'Moments of Excess'.

Strangely this was only a few weeks after also finnishing John Holloways book 'Change the World Without Taking Power' ( needed some encouragement with that as the first few chapters were a bit tortuous).

The Free Association book read in both it's theoretical content and it's language much like a simplified version of Holloways material and seems to have many of the same strengths and weaknesses, except that being written around that affinity groups own personal experiences in a series of short chapters is franky easier to get a handle on. Might have made sense then to read 'Moments of Excess' first and then look at Holloway's book for a more detailed theoretical grounding.

Both are very much in the 'autonomist marxist' tradition which has much to commend it particularly in it's emphasis on the transforming role of class struggle and understanding of the capital-wage labour relationship as a continually reproduced social relationship rather than a fixed battle line between opposing external forces.

The two books descriptions of the continuing struggle of the dispossed to assert our humanity against the inhumanity of a system which seeks to reduce all relations to that of the commodity and the fetishism which obscures this process is something most of us can recognise.

At the same time there is a tendency to treat all such struggles from whatever source as somehow equally significant and part of the same common struggle when it is clear, that whilst in a very general sense they may all be responses to the effects of capitalism, that the origins, forms and potential of struggles by different classes and sectors of classes in different situations vary widely.

Thus the Zapatista struggle in Chiapas for all it's inspiration in some respects does not automatically transfer to the struggle of precarious workers in the west or textile workers in Bangladesh despite what is claimed.

'Moments of excess' whilst I think correctly seeing similarities in terms of the 'personal' experience of those involved in say the summit protests and those in the former polltax riots or in revolts such as May '68 in France etc cannot claim all of these as having the same social significance. The Summit protests were certainly significant in their international composition but were very much a movement of political activists as compared with broader social movements like May '68 or those of an earlier epoch (Spain '36, Germany 1918 etc). The FA do express some awareness of these differences and the limitations of the summit hoping strategy but it's hard not to think that there is still an element of self delusion in their interpretation based on their own participation/immersion in such events. They surely don't believe for instance that '....we've found ourselves involved in the creation of actual new worlds.' (my emphasis).

Also in the last chapter which looks ahead I detect a worrying missreading of the potential for a trade union/ climate action/ anti-globalisation link up producing anything positive.

As someone currently outside of any formal political group I thought some of their comments on 'organisation' made sense to me in the present situation and I think their self-reflective approach to writing this book could probably be taken up by more of us.

There is one basic theoretical error which however I think runs through the core of autonomist marxist thinking. That is the reduction of the motor force of capitalist change and crisis to the single cause of class struggle viewed either as a positive or negative force. Class struggle both individual and collective is a continuing and major force for change within and against capitalism, but short of struggle on a mass international scale, competition between sectors of organised capital will continue to be the other significant factor propelling change. Understanding the world requires an analysis that seeks to understand the interplay between these two factors.

Despite these criticisms I certainly think both books make a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of modern capitalist social relationships and our struggle both 'internal' and 'external' to supercede them (if that's the right way to express it?).

I'd be interested in what others think about the book ( I haven't read anything else on their Web site).

Spikymike
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Jul 5 2011 14:31

Some of these posts run out pretty quickly and I wondered if anyone else had given more thought to this since I last posted trying to link in also to the reviews of John Holloway's earlier book?

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Jul 5 2011 18:26

Never saw this post before but I'm quite surprised that people involved in Class War.

I've been to a couple of meetings, which in hindsight I realise had a lot of influence from this group. I don't know them that well personally but know faces of those involved.

At these meetings there seemed to be an identity crisis, as people were trying to figure out 'who are we' and to help us figure out how to relate to any struggles. It was quite frustrating as it seemed to be going nowhere. My initial thoughts were that it was too 'liberal' and reminded me of never ending meetings at climate camp that couldn't decided on anything.

Reading more into the site I sort of see the same thing, although the texts on there seem to make more sense to me as I can see more of the thought process involved.

They do seem more than a lot of other groups, really trying to honestly understand the situation we are in and figure out how 'activists' should interact with any struggles going on, but they only seem to be able to come up with vague conclusions.

qwertz
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Jul 11 2011 10:18

For those of you in or near Manchester, the Free Association will be launching their book and discussing their ideas on Thursday 21st July. All welcome!

http://freelyassociating.org/2011/07/manchester-launch-date/

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Jul 16 2011 12:10

I hear that this lot are involved in an effort to set up some sort of autonomist influenced new Communist Party - anyone got any more info?

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Jul 16 2011 13:01

That's a kind of funny spin on it. There is a discussion group/network around this lot on the question of political organisation/the party. I don't know much about it, but from what I can tell its a long way form setting up a new Communist Party. More like a discussion group on whether something like the AF is useful/could be useful/could be better while using the term 'party'.

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Jul 16 2011 19:20

Okay, thanks for the clarification, that's just what I had heard vaguely

Spikymike
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Jul 21 2011 15:20

See link above to tonights meeting in Manchester.

Dannny
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Jul 22 2011 14:13

Did you go to this Spikymike? Would be interested to hear how it went.

Spikymike
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Jul 27 2011 16:08

Pleasant meeting in the open air with about 25 men and women, mostly in the younger age group and mostly white. Included people associated with the journal 'SHIFT' and the group 'No Borders'.

The two speakers covered much the same ground as in their book and while those present seemed sympathetic there was very little critical discussion - though I didn't stay for the informal get together afterwards.

People in 'The Free Association' are not keen on libcom as a discussion vehicle so perhaps one reason why this thread has been a bit thin.

Haven't heard anything so far to change my view of their approach.

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Jul 27 2011 17:24
Spikymike wrote:

People in 'The Free Association' are not keen on libcom as a discussion vehicle so perhaps one reason why this thread has been a bit thin.

I wonder if that's because of the Class War beef?

Dannny
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Jul 28 2011 14:51

You can listen to it
here
There are no questions after the speeches on this recording. I think it's a bit hit and miss; I can relate to the way they talk about capitalism and so on and the question they want to address of 'what to do' as anti-capitalists, but where there might be grounds for a discussion and a convergence of ideas there seems to be a pointless framing of the debate in "new" terms that they've come up with - in fact, and it might be an unfair impression I've got from the recording as I wasn't there - it's a bit like they're letting you in on in-joke as opposed to adding something to the problem of what to do as anti-capitalists. Where it starts to get interesting is in the analysis of uk uncut, but that's at the end and without a further discussion it seems a bit thin.

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Jul 28 2011 15:41
Steven. wrote:
Spikymike wrote:

People in 'The Free Association' are not keen on libcom as a discussion vehicle so perhaps one reason why this thread has been a bit thin.

I wonder if that's because of the Class War beef?

Given that the FA parted company with CW more than 6 years before libcom started, that seems unlikely.

Android
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Jul 28 2011 16:22

I'm not so sure the negative coverage Class War explains why people are not prepared to contribute to threads, since the people involved in 'Shift' magazine were not involved in CW afaik. As well I have come across a tendency for people to dismiss libcom.org for having an unwelcoming culture etc. While I think there may have been a discussion to be had about the board culture a few years back, personally it never really bothered me in reading the threads although I only joined as a user relatively recently. I do not see how such a criticism could be made currently. To be honest, some of the opposition I've came across to libcom.org I just think is people annoyed that there politics might be questioned.

Spikymike
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Jul 28 2011 16:47

Jim's comment is right of course and the FA's dislike for libcom was not explained to me so we are left to guess!

As a regular user and supporter of libcom I do not find it too difficult to ignore whole threads or sections of threads which sometimes descend into name calling or are otherwise of no interest to me personally and the library additions are often particularly valuable, (though not always followed by much discussion).

I must say however that I do find the rather lazy questioning and 'off the top of my head' type contributions from some users irritating when a simple search of past threads or the library and backtracking on a current thread would answer a lot of questions and avoid misunderstandings. (I only admit to doing this myself very rarely). I suspect that kind of instantaneous, quickfire approach has something to do with the influence of modern technology and culture on the young but I'm not sure really?

raw
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Jul 28 2011 19:52
Steven. wrote:
Spikymike wrote:

People in 'The Free Association' are not keen on libcom as a discussion vehicle so perhaps one reason why this thread has been a bit thin.

I wonder if that's because of the Class War beef?

Libcom and the people that set it up have a lot to answer to still, even after all these years, and the immature and hostile attacks on the politics of those involved in anti-summit mobilisations. Maybe start there in understanding why the vast majority of UK based anarchists and autonomists give Libcom a miss.

Angelus Novus
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Jul 28 2011 20:27

It might just be the case that FA doesn't really consider themselves anarchist or libertarian or whatever? There seems to be some overlap between FA/Shift Magazine and the group felS and their journal Arranca in Berlin.

The latter reflects a milieu that is also receptive of Regulation School theory, Poulantzas, etc. in addition to all the post-structuralist/post-operaismo and "queer" stuff.

Much of this is pretty far removed from anarchist/libertarian kind of politics, in fact the latter would consider it fairly reformist, so I can understand if they don't really see themselves as inhabiting the same political spectrum as Libcom. Some years ago, Arranca published a debate between Thomas Seibert of "Interventionist Left" (sort of a countrywide network that felS belongs to) and John Holloway, where Seibert takes exception to Holloway's explicitly anti-state politics in favor of a position of "distance from the state".

Ray Davies
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Jul 29 2011 22:29

Damn, now look what you made me do. After five years lurking round this site, I've gone and registered just so I can chip in here.

I am (cough, cough) part of the Free Association. I had a chat with Spikymike (who I remember from way back) after our meeting in Manchester. But I think I must have given him the wrong impression. I don't "dislike" libcom. It's just that I'm not keen on any internet forums, whether they're about music, football, libertarian communism or typography.

Sorry if that's punctured any lingering mystique. It'd be much more exciting if I said I want nothing to do with Iibcom because I'm not an anarchist (almost certainly true) and not a libertarian (definitely not true). Or perhaps I could say it's because we have a beef with Class War (when actually I often want to leap to CW's defence when I see the stuff some people have posted here about them). Or because we're on the verge of setting up an autonomist influenced new Communist Party…

Seriously, though, what Spikymike said after our talk was that we might be conflating two very different sorts of experiences when we talk in the same breath about, say, summit counter-mobilisations and May ’68. The former is mostly made up of self-defined "political activists" (sorry, horrible shorthand) while the latter was a much more wide-ranging social movement. It's a fair point, and maybe we are confusing the two. But it might be just as dangerous to think of "activists" as somehow separate from the class. Social movements are also made up of "political activists" as well, so perhaps this is more a question of a shift in perspective rather than a category error.

Oops, I think I just killed a thread.

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Jul 30 2011 00:15

Ray Davies, does "Half Dome without the cables" mean anything to you?

If so, it was great seeing you a while back.

Angelus Novus
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Jul 30 2011 00:48

You're not the real Ray Davies!

P.S. Raincoats version of "Lola" is better than the original.

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Jul 31 2011 04:11
raw wrote:
Libcom and the people that set it up have a lot to answer to still, even after all these years, and the immature and hostile attacks on the politics of those involved in anti-summit mobilisations. Maybe start there in understanding why the vast majority of UK based anarchists and autonomists give Libcom a miss.

I consider myself a fairly active participant in libcom, and I've never once engaged in discussion online (and very rarely in the rest of my life) about summit protests. And I think I am far, far from unique in this respect. So apart from people who are personally bound up in debates about summit protests from a while back (and I'm not saying this is a bad thing, people who participated in them have every reason to spend time thinking about them) why should anyone be hostile to libcom because of some perceived trend against "summit hopping" that occurred a while back? To be honest, this seems like ultra leftist sectarianism to me, though my personal experience of the "ultra left" may be different to others'. But my basic point is that I don't think many active posters (and probably even less irregular or transitory posters) on libcom care much about summit protests one way or the other, so to make it an issue is to impose the particular politics of one group (the unfairly named "summit hoppers") on those of a place where lots of political trends which are ignorant about or ambivalent about or don't care about that group come to chat.

On the other hand, I think the fact that most libertarian socialists give libcom a miss is because they either haven't heard of it, aren't into using internet forums, have good on-line political discussion elsewhere or whatever. I'm pretty sure it's not because some people said some mean things about summit protests a while back.

(sorry if that all sounded rude, I don't mean to be, but often am. So, yeah, rudeness disclaimer here)

Caiman del Barrio
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Jul 31 2011 11:15
raw wrote:
Steven. wrote:
Spikymike wrote:

People in 'The Free Association' are not keen on libcom as a discussion vehicle so perhaps one reason why this thread has been a bit thin.

I wonder if that's because of the Class War beef?

Libcom and the people that set it up have a lot to answer to still, even after all these years, and the immature and hostile attacks on the politics of those involved in anti-summit mobilisations.

C'mon Raw, you always gave as good as you got, and - as if you need reminding - you were no angel either. I thought we'd all moved beyond this anyway? Seems counter-productive to drag it up again no?

Quote:
Maybe start there in understanding why the vast majority of UK based anarchists and autonomists give Libcom a miss.

I'm not quite sure what this proves. I imagine any such discussion of this statement would quickly descend into discussion over the definition of anarchists and "autonomists", and their relative worth.

Skraeling
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Aug 1 2011 03:09

Just a post to agree with Spikymike's criticism of post-operaismo and operaismo for that matter. I for one was one of those influenced strongly by operaismo - still am struggling with it really, I mean I find it so useful as a historical method to add to the bottom up history I try to write, and it has been really useful to me in critiquing and overturing capital centic views of history and celebrating working class activit. but i'd agree with Spikymike's reservations.(sorry I haven't read the Free Association's book, so my comments are more general).

Spikymike wrote:

At the same time there is a tendency to treat all such struggles from whatever source as somehow equally significant and part of the same common struggle when it is clear, that whilst in a very general sense they may all be responses to the effects of capitalism, that the origins, forms and potential of struggles by different classes and sectors of classes in different situations vary widely.

Thus the Zapatista struggle in Chiapas for all it's inspiration in some respects does not automatically transfer to the struggle of precarious workers in the west or textile workers in Bangladesh despite what is claimed.

I'd agree with you here - a problem with post-operaismo and also post-structuralism is precisely its relativism (in this case all forms of struggle are as good as each other). If there is one thing i've learnt from reading philosophy is that relativism does not necessarily lead to values like tolerance and equality. To base communism on relativism is building on sand.

In any case, there is a tension in operaismo and post-operaismo between relativism (all struggles are as good as each other) and privileging precarious workers, immaterial workers and the like, and underprivileges over workers, particularly those employed in blue collar workplaces (including transport). As Beverly Silver says, for export based countries, some relatively small groups in major export industries and allied transport industries (airports, wharves, drivers, railway workers) still occupy a strategic position cos they can disrupt an entire country, not just an individual company or industry eg. in Bangladesh garment workers are in a strategic position because the garment industry is Bangla's most impt export, in New Zealand dairy workers are in a strategic position because dairy is the major export of NZ. Same for miners in Australia. And so on.

This is not to overlook other workers, or downplay their very real potential, or to fetishise export workers. (i'm a lumpen myself and loathe the argument we have no real potential). Obviously struggle can start from anywhere, from lumpens or precariat or students etc and then possibly spread to other areas, as has happened with big revolts in the past.

Quote:
There is one basic theoretical error which however I think runs through the core of autonomist marxist thinking. That is the reduction of the motor force of capitalist change and crisis to the single cause of class struggle viewed either as a positive or negative force. Class struggle both individual and collective is a continuing and major force for change within and against capitalism, but short of struggle on a mass international scale, competition between sectors of organised capital will continue to be the other significant factor propelling change. Understanding the world requires an analysis that seeks to understand the interplay between these two factors.

I'd also agree with this. Linked to this is the inability of post-operaismo to theorise defeat and retreat in the wake of the ongoing and intensifying neoliberal offensive, and to see struggle everywhere when in fact the picture is more complex than that. eg. I read that article in Wildcat by Steven Colatrella about how there is a universal resurgence in class struggle at the moment. http://www.wildcat-www.de/en/wildcat/90/w90_in_our_hands_en.htm
It suffers from the same problem Spikymike has critiqued above - seeing struggle everywhere. That may be true at the mo in places like Greece, Spain, India and China, but not in other countries like New Zealand and possibly Australia. In NZ we got hit in the 1980s by the same severe neoliberal cuts people are experiencing today in places like Greece Ireland and the UK. That is, 'the NZ experiment out Thatchered Thatcher' - it was much more complete and severe than what happened in other countries like the UK and Ozziestralia.

So in this deep recession we have not been hit as hard as the UK etc with cuts - the cuts here have not been as severe because we've already had them way back. As a result, there has not been a resurgence in class struggle like what has happened in the UK - no major anti-cuts movement, hardly any strikes at all etc. The working class here is generally demoralised, shattered, exhausted from 30 odd years of attacks and lowering living standards and lowered expectations and the attempted imposition of a US style society. People are generally just struggling to get by day by day, and hence there is very little struggle. The way out most people take is to move to Australia, which is far wealthier, got less unemployment and far less neoliberal than NZ. Hell i hear you can get the same wage over in Aussie for doing warehouse work or pub work as you can get for skilled office work like research in NZ. (Tho i realise when the dairy boom ends here we will be in for far greater attacks, but i just can see a movement arising to stop them).

These days I think i am coming round to a more well-balanced analysis of class struggle like Mouvement Communiste - as I understand they were/are influenced by operaismo (as well as communism) but their stuff looks at the absences/limitations as much as the presence of class struggle. (rather than operaismo which just over optimistically sees presence everywhere, a bit like that funny cartoon in Aufheben of Harry Cleaver with his magical class struggle magnifying glass).

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Aug 1 2011 17:37

Thanks for your comments, Ray. It would be good if you did pop in every now and again to let us know what you lot are up to, as a fair few of us would be interested in any developments.

I'm going to respond to raw's comment but I'm going to start a new thread for that a bit later