Anarchism in Australia - Leigh Kendall

A survey of current debates in the Australian anarchist movement by Leigh Kendall, first published by Melbourne anarcho-syndicalists in April 1986.


This pamphlet was originally published as 'Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism in Australia Today' in April 1986. Although it was written and published by members of the Melbourne group of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation, it was not an official ASF publication. In the same year, it was reprinted in serial form by Black Flag magazine in London and as a pamphlet by the Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland. It was also translated into Spanish and appeared in CNT magazine. This second edition has been updated to take into account the last ten years.


This pamphlet is intended as a means of stimulating some much needed debate in the Australian anarchist movement with regards to the questions ‘What is Anarchism?’ and ‘What is Anarcho-syndicalism?’ It is also seen as a means of dispelling certain misconceptions about anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism which are currying favour in the broader anarchist movement. This debate is vital to the development of anarchism in Australia. It is not attempting to draw lines or write people off, this is a debate of ideas. What is sought here is the basis for taking action together to bring about what we want, an anarchist society.
During the course of discussion from which this pamphlet grew, it appears that the pressing issues confronting us are the following: Power and class analysis; non-violence and direct action; organisation and the individual; internal and external confrontation and education, organisation and action. Further, it seems there is widespread misunderstanding about anarcho-syndicalism in Australia. Briefly, that anarcho-syndicalism is irrelevant, that it ignores or has ignored questions relating to gender politics and ecology, and that anarcho-syndicalist organisation is only a shade away from some sort of leftist vanguard party. Others believe that anarcho-syndicalism is concerned only with the workplace and that class issues are the only issues of any relevancy. These misconceptions are not just confined to the broader anarchist movement. There are currents in the anarcho-syndicalist movement who labour under such confusions.
Because of this, a definition of anarcho-syndicalism in the context of anarchism is needed. Anarcho-syndicalism is an anarchist strategy for bringing anarchist ideas, organisation and social relations to the workplace and the community through the formation of industrial associations and local community groups on the basis of federation and equal decision-making. It is hoped that this pamphlet brings into focus more clearly the nature of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism.


Many anarchists assert that anarchism is essentially pacifist that ‘to reject pacifism is to be involved with violence, and violence is the tool of the state’. This idea is particularly popular amongst anarchists involved in the struggle to defend the environment. According to the dictionary definition, one is a pacifist if one believes it is desirable and possible to settle disputes by peaceful means. However, this is contingent upon both parties agreeing to do so! Unless we can imagine some mass laying down of arms, a defection from the ranks of power (history convinces us this is highly unlikely) how do we achieve the desired anarchist society?
The view of pacifism as a strict moral rejection of violence is the prerogative of those in a relatively passive (peaceful?) country, where the violence of the state is not experienced by most people. This type of moralist pacifism can also be seen as fear of strong emotions such as anger, passion and the desire to resist the violence of others. These moral justifications of pacifism are not so easy for those who are the victims of the arbitrary violence of the police, the state and the factory owners, workers in industrial accidents, squatters harassed and beaten by the police, the harassment and arrest of workers on picket lines and indigenous Australians who have experienced the attempted genocide of their people.
Non-violent resistance is a tactic of direct action and has, as Gandhi stated, more to do with war than with peace. Implicit in non-violent direct action is the threat of escalation. Thus, if the general strike, the closing of the shops, civil disobedience and sabotage do not work, and if the army threatens or commits violence, do we all go home, back to work, to school, to prison, and wait until we can fulfil our desires peacefully?
Rather than use violence, a word used by the state and the media to discredit our actions, these activities are better described as resistance, direct action, and self-defence. Anarchists have always taken and maintained the right to defend themselves against attacks.


One characteristic of the anarchist ‘movement’ in Australia is tendencies toward an individualist view of anarchism and individualist behaviour. This seems to take two main forms.
First is the view that ‘anarchy means doing whatever you like’, or it means the individual liberty to be spontaneously self-expressive. This is running the risk of two things, being individually irresponsible (violating another’s rights) and imagining that anarchy is what you make it. Anarchy entails equal rights and equal responsibilities and not the individual liberty to act arbitrarily. Anarchy is a form of social organization which implies that individuals govern themselves, that is, that they accept within themselves their personal and social rights and responsibilities. In this sense it does not mean total freedom, but an individual and collective awareness of what freedoms are possible. To take a belief in individual liberty to its logical conclusion is to say that everyone has the right to do as they wish. This is the justification right-wing libertarians (sometimes known as ‘pan-anarchists’) use for a laissez-faire economy and minimal government interference in people’s lives. This is not anarchy as anarcho-syndicalists understand it. Anarchy is not what you or I individually make it, but what we collectively make it. Thus decisions are made through discussion, negotiation, and mutual agreement. This is not to say that anarchy is a set of rules nor is it to say that anarchy implies collective regimentation. It implies an awareness of self and others. An awareness of who makes the mess, and who does the cleaning up.
The second position seems to be from people who may have an understanding of anarchist history and theory, but are reluctant to work with others. This seems, in part, to come from a desire to keep their ideas ‘pure’ and ‘unsullied’. Therefore a reluctance to work in groups in case this means the confrontations, and at times compromises, of group processes and practices challenging their positions, or putting their ideas or their bodies on the line. Because these people tend to work in only ones or twos, it limits the type of action they can take. For example, producing newspapers and journals. Behind this type of individualist anarchism are assumptions similar to the ‘doing what you want’ individualists, that if enough people ‘change their heads’ then society will change. These assumptions do not take into account the real interests that are threatened by anarchism or provide a mechanism by which these changes occur. That mechanism is struggle. People change through the struggle to change society.
Anarchism is a form of socialism that has the same roots in the early labour movement and utopian socialist thought as do state socialism and communism, trade unionism, social democracy, and revolutionary syndicalism. What has been important has been the similarities (class analysis and the struggle of working people) and the differences (power analysis and the rejection of the state). Anarchism is not a brand of individual belief or a mere set of ideas. It has been sustained and developed by the thinking and action (praxis) of groups and federations of anarchists.


Many anarchists now believe that class analysis is no longer relevant and a pure power analysis is sufficient to explain the forms of exploitation and domination we experience today. Power analysis suggests that it is domination that is the main basis and form of oppression in this society. It’s proponents suggest that it is somehow beyond class analysis. Anarcho-syndicalists believe that class analysis has a place for anarchists because class and power are inextricably linked. Class analysis does not ignore power. It is clear that power, in all its forms, serves the interests of those who benefit most from society as it is.
This benefit can be direct or indirect. The sexist organization of domestic work in the family, for example, benefits men directly, but also benefits class society through the division of men and women, developments of concepts of domination and passivity and through the reproduction of capitalist society. It provides the material base for keeping the worker in the workplace as well as for the rearing and acculturation of children and commodity consumption.
The problem of class analysis is not that it is irrelevant, but that in some anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist writing, it hasn’t been updated from its original nineteenth century formulations. Anarcho-syndicalists acknowledge the contribution by some feminist (especially some socialist-feminist), situationist, anti-racist, ecological, and modern socialist thought to developing the analysis of power and class. The developments made showing the importance of the relationships between gender, sexuality, culture, technology, and power are invaluable.
But a pure power analysis has many limitations. It seems to suggest a generalised and disembodied domination that we must struggle against in our individual lives, but seems to play down the social basis of this power or the social struggle against it. It is not true that class analysis is essentially Marxist and therefore un-anarchist. Peasants and workers knew they were peasants and workers long before Marx walked into the British Museum. This is because we experience class (exploitation, powerlessness, prejudice) in our everyday lives.
Some people suggest that western societies are now ‘post-industrial’ societies and that class analysis is therefore no longer relevant. That is, that the ‘working class’ (the traditional industrial proletariat) have sold out to materialism and that workers have all become middle class. There is some truth in this, yet it cannot be universally applied. Some sections of the industrial workforce are very conservative, yet some others are quite militant despite substantial material benefits from the system (eg. the Builders Labourers, Tramways and Railways workers, nurses, airline pilots). Unemployment has led to the intensification of the exploitation of some workers, especially young people, recently arrived migrants, women and part-time workers, illegal immigrants and others in the cash economy. This in turn has led to pressures to reduce incomes and worsen working conditions for the industrial workforce and we are yet to see the effects of these developments. The passivity of recent years may be more apparent than real.
While ‘post-industrial’ critics of class analysis point out the increasing importance of a small number of technical, scientific, and managerial workers, another of the effects of this process is the de-skilling of many areas of employment. There are significant numbers of workers who find that their position (income, industrial bargaining power and sense of trade identity) is under threat. This creates the potential for a new, large ‘proletarianised’ section of the workforce with much less commitment to supporting the existing system. For example, the growth in the number of ‘outworkers’ such as migrant women in the textile industry who work long hours in their flats for low piece rates with nor guarantees of regular income, holiday pay or sick leave, workers compensation, industrial health and safety protections, maternity leave, etc. The burgeoning tourism and hospitality industry is another example of where ‘hyper exploitation’ through casual employment of young people, students, women and migrants shows that economic exploitation is not a thing of the past in Western economies.
Many workers have been ‘de-skilled’. Railway station staff, for example, who ran all the activities at the station now find parcels and goods, ticketing, rosters, etc. have all been centralised and computerised and they have become passive train watchers and ticket checkers. This makes them much more vulnerable to sacking or ‘redeployment’ on the bosses terms! As capitalism develops new forms of exploitation develop. The desire for the latest consumer gadget keeps the worker going to work allowing the continuing extraction of profit despite most basic material needs having being met for workers in Western countries. Recent times have seen great strides in the creation of new ‘needs’, VCRs, computer games, compact disc players and other products are examples of the commercialisation of leisure time.
Some of the coming of ‘post-industrialism’ in the west has to do with the shifting of western industries ‘off-shore’ to countries where, owing to poverty, workers are less organized. Industrial based class society hasn’t disappeared, indeed for many people in the world it is becoming the new form of exploitation. The class nature of these societies is very clear, especially in free-trade zones and under a range of authoritarian governments. Class relations may appear to becoming outmoded for some people in the west, but with an international perspective they are a common form of exploitation and oppression.
We acknowledge that it is not easy any more to determine strictly who profits and who doesn’t from systemic exploitation. Who is an order giver and who is an order taker? Many people are both beneficiaries and victims of this system, they both control and are controlled. This is not necessarily an argument against class analysis. An analysis of class explains some of the particular nature of power relations in this society. Class analysis allows us to choose a strategy, helping anticipate the likely development so capitalism and the state and have a chance to counter them.
Not all power relations in a capitalist society can be understood in terms of simple economic exploitation, but the whole nature of the current capitalist society allows us to understand the links between, for example; opposition to Aboriginal land rights and mining and grazing interests; the position of women in the home and marriage and their exploitation as factory ‘hands’ and outworkers; between advertising, mass media culture and the consumerist ethic; between industrialism and progress as ideologies and protection of the environment. It is still possible to determine who benefits the most, materially-economically, power-politically, emotionally-psychologically, from society and the world as it is. There are some people in whose interest it is to change it. A pure power analysis, on an individual basis, implies` that it is in everybody’s interest to change society. If this is the case why hasn’t society changed? What power analysis fails to do is to provide an explanation of how change comes about, or a strategy for achieving change. It doesn’t go beyond people rejecting power in their own lives and joining with others who share the same particular oppression. If this was effective then the movement politics of the last twenty years would’ve brought about more revolutionary changes that it has. The fact is that movement politics has not been a revolutionary force and has been used to propel some people to positions of greater power or profit making within the existing system.
Class analysis, on the other hand, implies an allegiance to others in the same class, and the existence of an opposing class. It explains the real opposition and retaliation when class interests are challenged by revolutionaries. The ability to identify who we are struggling with and who we are fighting against has important implications in the struggle against Capital and the State.


Groups involved in ‘movement politics’, be they third world solidarity, peace, women’s, animal rights, environmental, tend to have a number of characteristics in common. Firstly, links between them are rare, small scale or incidental. This reduces possibilities for development of co-ordinated responses to the state and capitalism. The focus of single issue or area of concern reduces the possibility of developing a coherent analysis of the causes of these social, political and environmental problems. The anti-conscription campaigns during the Vietnam war, for example, presented opportunities for consciousness raising about ‘the system’, but most of these analyses were imported to the movement from Marxist-Leninist, Maoist or libertarian politics. When conscription, then later the war itself, ceased so did most of the activity of the movement. In Australia this also coincided with the first Labor Party government in 23 years, which brings us the next point.
The politics of movement groups are usually reformist. Movement politics attempts to attract everyone possible around the ‘lowest common denominator’ of the single issue. In the process the critique and the action tend to become watered down. The orientation is toward changing the policies of the allegedly reformist political parties, such as the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Democrats and the Greens. When facing the realities of being ‘in office’ the politicians water down the policies even further or wash their hands of them altogether. This is simply because the real power resides in the corporations, bureaucracies, legal system and the media. Reforms gone the movement is back to square one! In addition, the internal processes of movement politics groups are often at best ‘woolly’, covering up implicit hierarchies, cliques and personality politics and at worst explicitly dictatorial, Greenpeace for example. Lacking any real critique of process members become involved in a mish-mash of leaders and spokespeople, bureaucrats, political party hacks controlling information, making policy pronouncements, setting agendas and caucusing like mad! The rank-and-file activists are left out of any real decision making while the shit-work in the office and the streets and being used as demo fodder. If government funding is involved, power and information tends to shift to the paid workers, often leading to crisis or collapse in groups when the finding is cut as the volunteers are long gone. Many politicians, their advisers, welfare and union bureaucrats began their careers in movement politics. Meanwhile funding ‘guidelines’ and ‘policies’ continually restrict and direct the movement group until it becomes a de facto agency of the state.
Some movement politics groups, especially in the women's and recently the environment movement, have tried to develop more genuinely collective processes. Some have succeeded. Many have failed, victims of a lack of analysis of the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’ which allows hidden agendas, dominant personalities and informal cliques to form. There are lots of people we have found who will tell us they ‘tried collectives and they just don’t work’. Movement politics are probably responsible for the disillusionment of tens of thousands of genuine, concerned rank and file activists.
Finally, because of the reformist, one-in-all-in characteristics of movement politics much of their action is directed toward symbolic actions. The march to parliament house, the sit down for 20 minutes at the gate to the military base are the type of tactics that are common. The aim is to make a symbolic point through the spectacle-hungry media in an attempt to influence public opinion and through it the politicians. As such they are reformist actions and often unproductive at all as they do not challenge the real interests of the capitalists, the military or the state. These types of actions are very different to real direct action, the sit-in strike that stops scabs being used, the mass-picket or blockade where there is a commitment to stay put regardless. Of course there are a handful of movement politics groups that do have a broader analysis, that aren’t compromised by government funding, that are genuinely democratic and that take empowering direct action, but these are not characteristic of movement politics groups in general.


Some anarchists now see anarcho-syndicalism as obsolete and workerist. This has much more to do with their own perceptions of society and of anarcho-syndicalism than has to do with the real nature of anarcho-syndicalism.
Industry is still a dominant force in western societies and is becoming increasingly important in third world societies. The workplace is a vital site for struggle against exploitation, as well as for the preservation and improvement of the working and living conditions of workers. It is also vital for the setting up of the structures that can create revolutionary change through taking over, self-managing and transforming production for real social needs. With the increased complexity of modern societies and the huge increase in the role of the state in economic an social life (eg: subsidisation of business, ‘welfare’, environmental ‘controls’, public housing and transportation, etc.) it is increasingly difficult to separate purely industrial struggles from broader community struggles. Many anarcho-syndicalists see much value in addressing the relationship between these sorts of struggles. This is discussed in greater depth later in this pamphlet.
Anarcho-syndicalist groups and union have always included un-waged workers, unemployed people, houseworkers, pensioners, prisoners and others. Anarcho-syndicalists recognise that these people have to, or have had to, labour to live. They are part of the reserve labour force to be used when economies are expanding and to be used against already employed workers where economies are contracting (strike-breaking, attempts to reduce conditions and wages, etc). Anarcho-syndicalists seek to break down the artificial distinctions between ‘worker’ and ‘non-workers’ created by the state to divide the revolutionary movement.
In Spain in the 1930Õs unemployed members of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT were among the most militant and active. In Spain, too, many anarcho-syndicalists were also involved as anarchists in the broader libertarian movement that involved the affinity groups of the FAI, rationalist schools, women's organisations and much more, as well as anarcho-syndicalist cultural activities and centres (‘Ateneos’). Many members of the CNT rejected state and church involvement in their personal lives, preferring to live in a committed relationship with their ‘companera’ or ‘companero’ in the villages of 1930Õs Catholic Spain! At the 1936 Congress of the CNT, a broad sweep of issues form the collectivisation of heavy industry to the community responsibility for the care of children were discussed with regard to the coming revolutionary society.
Many anarcho-syndicalists today recognise this as an important part of anarcho-syndicalist history, and believe it proves that anarcho-syndicalism is neither obsolete or workerist. The bullshit pushed by the newspaper editors that workers (especially when they are on strike!) are somehow outside and against ‘the public’ should be emphatically rejected. With 40% of the people in this country in the paid labour force (and with many more people relying on their income) the workers are the public are the workers.


Are these positions, outlined above, doing anything for anarchism in Australia? The lack of organisation, and its attendant sporadic activity, is a result of action and confrontation with what oppresses us. This leads anarchists to turn in on themselves creating divisions and mutual suspicion. Groups stagnate and then disappear through attrition by ‘burn-out’ and cynicism, and an ‘everything’s fucked’ attitude. These positions also tend away from a sense of external struggle to a sense of internal struggle as a primary objective. When social struggle is not on an equal footing with personal struggle, struggle becomes unbalanced. They should work hand in hand. Social struggle and personal struggle together help us to understand how to take control of all life’s processes.


Class analysis shows us in who’s interests it is that society is maintained and in whoÕs interest it is to change society. The question of the nature of the economic system we live under is recognised not just by the traditional workforce, usually said to be the ‘constituency’ of anarcho-syndicalism. Women recognise the importance of their economic position in calling for economic equality. Environmentalists recognise the direct relationship between industry and ecological destruction.
Anarcho-syndicalists believe that class analysis allows us to go beyond the linking of exploitation and individual oppression to a single source, as in movement politics, and look at the social and economic bases, and therefore what can be done. Given the changes in the nature of work in Australia, a decreasing organised workforce, increasing unemployment and a growing cash economy, automation and computerisation, it is now more important that those workers who remain in the organised workforce recognise their real allegiances. It is also important that those in the new, de-skilled workforce and the cash economy, who are exposed to lower wages longer hours, more unsafe conditions with no job security, organise to protect their interests.
Anarcho-syndicalists have historically supported industrial unionism because of the failures of trades and labour based unions, as well as the possibilities they offer for controlling and transforming production. The original trades unions emphasised the differences between workers on the basis of their trades skills, even in the same industry, tilers, plumbers, plasterers, painters and carpenters all in their own unions. They looked down on the unskilled labourers. Later the labourers organised themselves forming labour unions. The bosses have always exploited these differences, attacking one union while trying to buy off others with ‘differentials’ between different types of workers. Despite attempts to counter these divisions in combined union shop committees (in workplaces) and Trades and Labour Councils (locally), but mostly these divisions have limited the growth of the consciousness of workers of their common interests. They have undermined the practical solidarity between workers against the company.
Unions based on all the workers in one industry, industrial unions, create the possibility of fighting the bosses hard, when the factory is not producing, the stockpile can’t be moved, the invoices aren’t sent out, the cheques aren’t cashed, and the managing-director’s directives aren’t typed then management is more likely to talk than when one group is on strike and the rest are still on the job! Industrial unionism also creates the possibility of workers taking over and running industries in a revolutionary situation. All the expertise is there and the workers are used to working together in the one union. The aim is not, as may anarchist critics of anarcho-syndicalism would suggest, to merely take over the industry and run it as before. ‘The Workers Atomic Energy Plant’? ‘The Collectivised Useless Plastic Crap Factory’? Not bloody likely! But who better to transform an industry than the workers who know it and who turn out to also be members of their local community that is determining what its real needs are!
It seems that some of the rejection by anarchists of involvement in industrial struggles involves fear of involvement with people who may not share the anti-sexist, anti-racist, and environmental positions on the ‘non-industrial left’ This seems to arise from a fear of confronting these issues and experiences with such people. Anarcho-syndicalists believe people can and do change through struggle. But this involves confrontation, first in our own organisations and then in the wider society.
Class analysis is linked to the question of organisation. Anarchists in Australia are avoiding the questions of how we stop capitalism (and state capitalism) and how we will organise the meeting of needs into the period of revolutionary change. Anarcho-syndicalists believe that is important that we are involved in the labour force. Workers are the people who still create most of what we need, despite sophisticated machines, which are only an accumulation of our labour after all. They also produce a lot of what we don’t need. In the present it is workers who, to earn a living, are put in a position where they must put chemicals in food and build freeways. But workers in these industries have the potential power to change that. They have a vital contribution to make to the transformation of society by taking control of their workplace.
Given the work economic organisation, not to have a class analysis in a country like Australia , where class consciousness might appear to be waning, is to betray those workers in places (some not 2000 kilometres from here) where 19th century working conditions (12 hour day, child labour, frequent, crippling, uncompensated injuries, workers sleeping under their machines, are daily reality. A modern class analysis recognises that ideology and culture (the ideas a society has of itself and the way people live in that society) are material forces in the reproduction of that society. The concepts embodied in language and experience of domination and exploitation are intimately part of, and have developed out of, the long history of class societies. As anarchists we believe we must create the concepts and culture of opposition in our daily lives capable of contesting the structures and the people that exploit and oppress us.
Anarcho-syndicalists have always recognised the importance of understanding power relations. For example, Rudolph Rocker, one of the early theoreticians of anarcho-syndicalism and an activist involved in the founding of the International Workers Association, is also the author of a major study of culture and power, Nationalism and Culture. Anarcho-syndicalists are still keenly aware of the use of power by the state and the effects of domination and passivity in all aspects of our lives. The last half of the 20th century has seen the expansion of the commodification of culture. Artists, musicians and film-makers are now occupying positions of economic and cultural power. More recently, sports stars have undergone this change in status with the old arguments about amateurism dispearing under the weight of the onslaught of pay-TV. Rupert Murdoch’s recent victory in the High Court to establish ‘Super League’ represents the triumph of Capital over culture. Nevertheless, the failure of the forced merger of Australian football clubs Hawthorn and Melbourne show the threat that culture poses to the ideology of Capital that sees sport as only a ‘business’.


Oppression is international. Governments co-operate tacitly or otherwise to isolate any mutual threat. The ‘Non-Intervention Agreement’ between the governments of Britain, France, Germany and Italy during the Spanish Civil War is a good example. ‘Democratic’ Britain and France recognised the what was happening in Spain was a revolution, not just a civil war. To protect their commercial interests in Spain and to protect against the influence a successful social revolution in Europe might have on their own workers, they signed a pact with the fascists in Italy and Germany. This allowed them to refuse to support the Spanish people while ignoring the massive amount of troops and arms Hitler and Mussolini’s governments were directing toward supporting the fascist, Generalissimo Franco.
Capital is organised internationally, eg: General Motors ‘World Car Concept’ where components are produced in third world countries where labour is cheap, shipped elsewhere for assembly, then shipped for sale in affluent Western countries. The threat of taking factories and businesses ‘off-shore’ is used as a big stick to threaten workers in western industrialised countries to accept cuts in pay and conditions. In Australia and elsewhere, workers are constantly exhorted to change their ‘workplace culture’ in order to compete with workers in countries where low pay and bad conditions are maintain by military dictatorships. Since the end of the Second World War, the organisation of capital has transcended the nation state to the economic trading bloc. In 1949, France and West Germany entered into an agreement called the European Coal and Steel Union. Later, this agreement was expanded into the European Economic Community (EEC) now known as the European Union (EU). When Britain applied to join the European Union in the early 1960’s, it meant an end to the preferential trade and tariffs policy that Australian primary producers enjoyed. When the United States responded to the EU trading bloc by initiated and established the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Australian capital found itself out in the cold. It was the Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke who initiated and pushed hard for the establishment of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation agreement (APEC).
We have already seen many examples of strikes being undermined by multinational companies shifting production elsewhere in the world, getting raw materials from alternative suppliers overseas, etc. In 1984 Britain imported coal from Poland, where workers lived under martial law, in an attempt to starve out the British miners. States, while apparently supporting nationalist ideology, and rivalry between nations in sport, trade, diplomacy and war, in fact act together in highly co-ordinated ways in areas of vital interest. The Australian government has given up much of its so-called sovereignty to allow U.S. bases to operate here, completely outside its control. The police and security forces of many counties have a high degree of co-operation, sharing information about political activists, techniques of surveillance, torture, destabalisation, disinformation and other forms of political control. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO, Australia’s internal security police) were set up by Britain’s MI5 (although the man in question may have been a KGB double-agent!) and the CIA has trained the Victoria Police in ‘crowd control’ tactics!
In order to to combat State and Capital in one country must combat State and Capital everywhere. Therefore we must organise internationally wherever possible and our perspectives must be international. Anarcho-syndicalists are concerned to raise the standard of pay and conditions to the highest level possible for all workers. That the State is developing another level above the national to the economic trading bloc or ‘superstate’ precludes the possibility of anarchy in one country in isolation.


Anarcho-syndicalists see the workplace and the community intimately intertwined, and organises on the bases of local groups and industrial associations. This is a logical consequence of our dual aim, to struggle for better conditions within existing structures and to build now the structures necessary for the establishment of an anarchist society. Anarcho-syndicalists clearly see the need to have workplace activity supported in the community, and community activity supported in the workplace. Either without the other is ineffective. For example, how can environmental issues be promoted successfully in the community without the assistance of the workers in the industries that are environmentally destructive.
During the 1970Õs, community groups that organised to fight the development of parks working-class residential areas into shopping centres and office blocks had little success until the support of the workers involved had been won. The ‘green bans’ movement initiated by the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) saved many parks, buildings and other sites of value to the community from the developer’s juggernaut. In the 80’s and 90’s, Melbourne ASF Groups formed groups to support workers engaged in industrial disputes. These ‘support groups’ actively engaged in a number of disputes in the health, building and public transport industries. During the 1990 Tramways dispute, the ASF support groups operated from within the depots occupied by the trammies and further broke down the false division between the workers and the community. The support groups are a good example of anarcho-syndicalist practice and its attendant lessons contributing to the development of anarcho-syndicalist theory.
There was interesting example of this attempted co-operation between the community and the workplace during the Roxbury Downs uranium mine protest. Workers didn’t mind having the road blocked on the way to work, and were pleased to be paid for standing around talking, but they did mind if the road was blocked on the way home. Stealing the bosses time is fine, but stealing the workers time?
In the future anarchist society the emphasis will be on the production of socially useful commodities. Workplace and community co-operation is an essential element in this possibility/vision.


In our attempts to achieve worldwide social revolution there will be violent resistance to our desires. Thus we must face the fact of violence, and retain the option of retaliation, of self defence, of resistance. To think otherwise is to not accept the ramifications of our desire for a different society, which means contesting the power of those who control society now. Of course it is easier to believe that if we all just change our minds.....
This does not mean that we desire or glorify violence. It simply means that we resist violence, and continue our activities in the face of violence. our actions then become a question of tactics, when it this action most useful, what is the best way to intervene or respond to a situation?
A belief in pacificism and non-violence is in fact a desire to avoid confrontation (by labelling it violence and rejecting the use of physical force) and a failure to come to terms with fear. Torture in South America for example affects political process in Australia just as much as the jailing of Tim Anderson did. Direct action put your body on the line. To not be afraid of that is suspicious, and to not talk about it is evasion. Non-violence and pacifism are not the same, and non-violence has little to do with being passive, submissive or cowardly. However the equating of violence destruction of property, civil disobedience and non-cooperation is simply to avoid one’s own fear. It is a question of practice. There are many who want a different society, one that is anarchist. But to concentrate on all the ‘nice’ aspects of this future society (co-operation, mutual aid, ecological awareness, a living community) can blind us to the realities of struggle here and now.


Most of our experiences of organisations in this society are negative ones, school, work, sporting clubs, political groups, movements, even ‘anarchist collectives’. Hence organisation is easily equated with regimentation and loss of identity. There is in a rejection of organisation a fear of losing individual freedom and identity, the fear of being submerged and dominated, which in turn stems from an underlying lack of trust in our own personal strength.
This society alienates ourselves from ourselves. A fear of others is what drives the individualistic and competitive elements of our culture. We are all encouraged to believe that co-operation and mutual activity is only possible within the confines of a hierarchy. Anything else has no chance of success because, after all, ‘people can’t be trusted’.
Co-operation with others through federation, assemblies and delegation implies a trust in ourselves and others, while providing the mechanisms whereby this trust can be realised. Everything about our culture attempts to destroy both of these, trust in ourselves and our own strength and trust in others (and ultimately trust in others to consider our equal voice and equal rights).


Briefly, federation is a form of organisation that allows large numbers of people to organise on the basis of equal decision making and genuine participation. This is the preferred form of anarchist, and therefore anarcho-syndicalist, organisation.
In a federation power remains at the base, in the assemblies. The assembly is the place where discussion occurs and agreements are made in a face to face situation, with all those involved being able to raise issues, have their voices heard and take an equal part in the decision making process. The decisions of the assembly are carried through or taken to other groups by a delegate. The delegate is given a specific responsibility by the assembly. They are not an executive or a representative. They cannot make decisions on the assembly’s behalf, instead they carry out the tasks delegated and report back to the assembly. When a delegate is sent to a meeting of delegate from other assemblies, she or he presents the position or positions (often decided from a previously circulated agenda) and any relevant information.
The delegates discuss the information and positions from the assemblies, then come up with a synthesis of the positions of the assemblies, or a number of potions. These decisions and information from the other delegates then is brought back to the assemblies by the delegates for further discussion and ratification of decisions. Thus information and decisions pass both ways between the different constituents of the federation from local assemblies, through regional meetings of delegates to continental and international congresses, and back.
Collective action achieves more than individual action. Organised activity implies a threat to power in society. Individuals and small, isolated groups need never face the ramifications of their beliefs precisely because they never become a threat. Ultra-leftist violence is often the result of being small, ineffectual and isolated with no community support. Genuine anarchist organisations are the place where empowerment and equality are possible, where divisions can be transcended, where attitudes and practices such as sexism and racism are confronted and surmounted. If anarchist organisations are not confronting these, then they aren’t anarchist. Anarcho-syndicalists consider that we cannot organise the future society without organisation, assemblies, delegation, federation, where equal decision making is possible. This organisation will have to, and can, cope, for example, with the concentration of large numbers of people in cities. The prospect of a world of small communities of like-minded people does not come to terms with this actuality. Anarcho-syndicalists believe that people begin to exercise their full potential in a human community based on equal power, participation and federation.


What anarcho-syndicalists are seeking is a basis for taking action with other anarchists to bring about what we want, an anarchist society. Anarchism is a body of ideas, a theory of a possible social organisation. Anarcho-syndicalism provides a method for achieving anarchy, and a way in which it is possible to practice anarchy along the way, in the present. Through organisation, federation, assemblies, and delegation we can practice anarchist decision making and collective action. This what we want and this is why we are anarcho-syndicalists.

(appeared in the first edition as an appendix)

1. Anarchism was built up and invented by the working class to meet with specific problem in working class organization and to point the way to a society free from oppression. It differed from Marxism or authoritarian socialism in that it saw that copying bourgeois forms of organization or government was a mistaken tactic; also that government could form a new tyranny. It was not generally realized at the time that there could be two forms of aspirants to tyranny – capitalists and bureaucrats could take over a new government, but prior to that the middle classes were also divided in their attitude to socialism. The middle class as defined by Marx - the profit making class - had a corollary in the mandarin class aiming at power and its class tyranny, and just as the middle class profit makers were originally divided in two (Liberal /progressives; and the Tory landlord elements gradually incorporated into the capitalist class) so the mandarins were divided between those who were successful and passed examinations to go on to power, and those who were not, and looked to the working class to provide them with support. The whole of the Marxist "intellectuals" represent this type of 'failed mandarins', who on the whole disdained anarchism as utopian, and wished to show the working class how to do it. (Typical is the Red Army trained German Marxist leadership, which failed dismally even to formally resist Hitler, and went to Spain to show the 'ignorant Spaniards' how to fight!)

2. Since World War Two there has been disillusionment with the old left and some of the new left – equally failed mandarins - have seen that there is an alternative to Marxism. For them to take over the anarchist movement would be a disaster. In the main they regard themselves as the 'unofficial anarchists' though also proclaiming themselves part of the anarchist movement even if denying it and degrading it (e.g. George Woodcock). Such 'failed mandarins' are generally more honest than their Marxist counterparts who glorify the workers while pushing out of their own movement, and taking over their history, anxious to use them but not allow them to lead. The "anarchist" type denies the working class has anything to do with its own movement, takes over the history and rewrites it as something entirely different. A very early type was Dr. Eltzbacher, actually a judge, who rewrote the theory of anarchism according to what he thought were the various 'schools of anarchism' something which neatly fits in with this type of 'unofficial anarchism’.

3. Prior to World War Two it was almost unknown and certainly bizarre to have non-workers in the movement (unless like Kropotkin they had abandoned their class status) though there was always, it is true, the tendency for "intellectuals" - but actually failed mandarins, sometimes genuine ones - to try to write themselves into the movement. During World War Two, the phenomenon of pacifism grew rapidly. In most countries pacifism had to be revolutionary. It remains in some countries a major step if one refuses to join the army, one's whole life is changed to rebellion. In Great Britain, owing to the liberal non-conformist tradition, conscientious objection was widespread in World War One and it won the battle for recognition. So that by World War Two it entered into a dialogue with the State and formed part of the establishment. Nothing prevented or prevents Establishment figures being pacifists. Pacifism is advocated in peacetime by judges and journalists, but even in wartime by many leading figures, who thus made pacifism into a collaborationist doctrine. The anarchist movement attracted those people who, from bourgeois or mandarin circles, did not want to join the army, but felt the nationalist urge to do so - it provided them with a moral excuse. It did not make them into anarchists or revolutionaries, they remained liberals, and one can see the liberal influence in all of 'unofficial anarchism'. A similar thing happened with so-called individualist anarchism. In America originally, later exported, some individualists from bourgeois or mandarin circles saw that the profession of anarchist ideas was the perfect moral excuse for avoiding taxation. Here one sees the conservative influence in a different sort of 'unofficial anarchism'.

4. One must distinguish between (a) Anglo-Saxon pacifism, which is pure militant liberalism and has its own offshoots. (Liberalism seeks freedom within capitalism; anarchism implies there can be no freedom within the State). Liberalism without its political. connotations, though sometimes with, seeks to establish 'rights' (to an authoritarian or even a liberal, rights are GIVEN; to a libertarian they are TAKEN – hence liberals can talk of rights of animals or foetuses but not libertarians - though it's true they do so by a sheer misunderstanding of words). Libertarians do not necessarily oppose reforms, but Liberals live by them. (b) Gandhi-type pacifism - which as Gandhi himself said has more in common with war than Western pacifism. It is elitist, as it implies an elite who can take non?violent resistance and be clubbed to death... the surviving elite takes power, and Gandhi indeed always had it. It requires much more of an elite even than Marxist-Leninism, and an elite which takes power is by definition elitist. (c) The pacifism that consists of struggling against militarism and imperialism, which is not necessarily liberal nor elitist. But where there is no conscription this does not exist.

5. Ecology is of course a vital issue today. Many people want to jump on the bandwagon, e.g. the Green Anarchists here (in Britain). Anarcho-syndicalists are for ecology. The argument by many 'Greens' that anarcho-syndicalism is against ecology, because it does not take up one issue that is trendy against all others, is false. We in the Anarchist Black Cross do not say that anyone who doesn't support it must be in favour of anarchists being imprisoned!

6. It is false to say there is a distinction between one form of genuine anarchism and another. The anarcho-syndicalist movements of the world are all anarchist communist, the suggestion that collectivism was not communism has vanished nowadays (since collectives take communistic forms , and the question of works management and participation has resolved itself in international experience). Anarcho-syndicalist movements such as the CNT or the IWW in its heyday were patently individualistic, a darn sight more so than say Benjamin Tucker who was nothing if not a conformist! However, there is a distinction between genuine anarchism and the pale pink variants of it. This Freedom Press type anarchism has distinctions between Individualists and Communists which it seriously debates; and the Alternative Bookshop for its part has its distinctions between Agorism, anarcho-capitalism (!) and ministatism. If you lump all this together and call it the anarchist movement it is a pretty mixed bag and everyone quarrels with each other - something the academics love to say. If you take away what I have for convenience sake called the "genuine anarchists' then it is fairly homogeneous.

7. The 'sanitized' anarchism of the Freedom Press type attracts more people, because it asks nothing of them but to sustain a paper managed by others. It is of tremendous damage to the growth of anarchism because it encourages people to talk of their 'brand' as ‘nonviolent anarchism' thus strengthening the bourgeois myth that anarchism is of necessity violent. Because one does not accept the non-resistant brand of 'non-violence' does not make one (in normal speech) "violent" 95 per cent of people are not Gandhians, nor are they mad axemen. Yes they defend themselves if they can, many of them unfortunately even defend their oppressors if they can, but that still does not make them 'violent' in the normal sense of the word. It is a regular feature when anarchists are on trial for counsel or judges not to bring in the facts that they are not pacifists to imply that they are thereby 'violent'. It is part of the propaganda against anarchism. Also, this total commitment to non-violence breeds its own reaction, in that we see many young people learning about anarchism only from its liberal caricature, who reject 'non-violence' because it is ineffectual and think the alternative is the glorification of violence, e.g. the animal rights people go from extreme pacifism to talking about poisoning food etc. One London doctor, owning a fortune, proclaimed herself an 'anarchist pacifist'. Asked for support for the Spanish resistance, she declined, claiming it was terrorist. Instead she gave a fortune, including a large amount that didn't belong to her, to the IRA. Not terrorist because it was nationalist!

8. Many projects sound 'anarchistic' and the trouble is that anarchism can't progress because it gets put by the public to whom it normally appeals into a 'left ghetto'. The workers in the main hate the left which has been totally taken over by the failed mandarins, whose special interests may sound anarchistic but are basically power seeking. 'Gay Liberation' for instance - in the 20's and 30's the Communist Party attracted those who could not become successful mandarins because of sex discrimination, but remained in the 'closet' - now they are able to advance and come out of the 'closet' but need to assert power. This type of homosexual politicization is totally alien to working class homosexuals, but is part and parcel of modern socialist politics. The support for nationalist movements to which students everywhere are devoted is another aspect of power seeking. It is the swiftest way of gaining power.

I conclude there is a total distinction between the anarchism traditionally known, and that which has grown up in recent, critical of it always, yet seeking always to steal its history and clothing. It is unfortunate that no clearcut distinction has been made (such as the words Individualism and Communism, which are not applicable). For this reason I prefer myself to use the word Anarcho-syndicalism, which seem to be the one word they do not usually appropriate (or if they do, like Woodcock and Sansom, afterwards reject, as being too redolent of working class association).

There is however another distinction. Quietists are those who are against action of any kind which can lead them into challenging the present order. They may he pacifists but not necessarily, and pacifists (e.g. the Greenham Common women) need not be quietists. Quietism, in which the Freedom Press tendency specializes, is the main characteristic of those who are not militant liberals but merely use the anarchist philosophy as a handy armchair to flop on. They are far from intellectual but revel in calling themelves intellectuals. Quietism leads on to cynicism and one can say that this cynicism, which includes scorn for working class aspirations, is inimical to anarchism. To me, an anarchist is someone who believes in anarchism, believes it is possible, and takes action to bring it about. This definition excludes the quietists and the liberals, whatever their insistence that they are anarchists too, on one, two, or even all three counts.

Against this they postulate that 'anyone is an anarchist who call themselves an anarchist'. On this basis the word becomes utterly meaningless, and one may as well extend it, as the bourgeois press and Marxists do, to be anyone is an anarchist who are referred to as anarchists by the media and the Marxists! The Marxists love to denounce the anarchists on the basis not only of what some people calling themselves anarchists might have done or said, but on what anyone, whether calling themselves so or not but whom they consider anarchists, have done or said; while insisting they only be judged on paid up members of their own particular sect.

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Jan 25 2013 00:37


  • To me, an anarchist is someone who believes in anarchism, believes it is possible, and takes action to bring it about. This definition excludes the quietists and the liberals, whatever their insistence that they are anarchists too, on one, two, or even all three counts.

    Albert Meltzer

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