Issue of the London-based anarchist magazine Black Flag from 2005.
Black Flag 225 (2005)
Another year, another Black Flag, After a well-attended meeting at the Anarchist Bookfair last year Black Flag has finally recruited some new blood into the collective. More is needed, but at least we haven't folded, which was looking pretty likely at the time. We hope now that we can move towards more frequent offerings than the annual scramble for the bookfair.
This issue concentrates on the 'State of our Movement'. Where have we been, where are we now and how can we move forward. Tensions between the need to organise and base our political activity in our local communities and in our workplaces and the need to organise and show our face nationally and globally are touched upon. Indeed the G8 protests in Gleneagles caused furious debate on our editorial list and the next issue will look at the politics of this and the other high probe international summit protests.
As part of the examination of the state of our movement, Nick Heath's article on page 12 touches on the need. to rethink the anarchist media in this country. He questions whether the British Anarchist Movement needs three glossies. We'd like to know what you think. How can we make sure that we aren't putting effort into duplication and irrelevance.
Two events have eclipsed the G8 protests just as we go to press. The awarding of the Olympic Games to London and the London Bombings and ongoing terror alerts. The Olympic bid was a blow but hardly surprising. Olympic Committee President - and Nazi Sympathizer - Avery Brundage once said famously, "The cardinal rule of the Olympics is no politics," which is like saying the cardinal rule of boxing is no punching. The French government has been a thorn in the side of the US's imperial objectives and France are paying the price whilst the US's favourite poodle gets the gold.
But this is not only a question of French humiliation on an international stage, This is about the kind of National Security apparatus that the Olympics require in the post 9/11 world, and which country would have been more likely accommodate what amounts to temporarily martial law. In the wake of the bombings in London on 7th July, the state's adoption of detention without trial and the 'new' 'shoot to kill' policy horrifyingly played out on a London tube train on 22nd July, London is certainly game. Repression of local dissent and the poor has been a feature of every Olympics, from Hitler's cleansing of Berlin in 1936 to the 1968 slaughter of hundreds of students in Mexico City, to the thousands of African-American homeless men illegally jailed in Atlanta.
We have our work cut out for us…
- London Bombings
- G8 demonstrations
- Legal Support Group statement on G8
- Summit Protests - a dissenting view
- Anti-Fascist Action: An Anarchist Perspective
- Looking Back and Forward -looking back at the modern anarchist movement and possible ways forward
- On Means And Ends
- Propaganda and Getting Heard - tactics for using the media
- Back At Square One - The Working Class Movement in Britain
- On The Road (Block) To Freedom - Iraq
- Fortress Europe - A conquering Navy - the political consequences of an European Economic Block
- The IWW Centennial - One Shipyard Worker's Perspective
- The State Of The Movement
- You Are Here But Why? (Review of London Mapping Festival)
- Centre of Attention - a review of the 1st anniversary of a London Social Centre
- Louise Michel - If You Are Not Cowards Then Kill Me
- Rudolf Rocker - Anarcho-Syndicalism - Theory and Practice
G8 Gleneagles: 7 Days At The World’s Most Secure Golf Course
Black Flag article on protests against the G8 summit at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2005.
The G8 was like the United Nations of policing thousands of cops from every British force. And like UN peacekeepers, this was an imposed force that everyone, locals and protesters alike, could have done without. The G8 Legal Support Group provides a vivid picture of the repression we faced in the statement to follow, but more important is the way in which the policing was undermined by determined protesters using flair and imagination.
After the pointlessness of Saturday's white ring round Edinburgh, much of the Make Poverty History crowd left town (or else retreated to celebrity lobbying), clearing the field for those of us who recognise that poverty and capitalism are intrinsically linked and fair trade is an oxymoron.
Monday's action was aimed at the precarious nature of work in the new millennium whilst satirising the left's demands for full employment, but appeared more as a training exercise for both sides. The forces of the state played with their new riot gear and newly assumed draconian powers and the Insurgent Rebel Clown Army played with the forces of the state - their camp marching behind paramilitary ranks of riot cops was a particular joy to behold.
The protest on the following day had already succeeded - Dungavel Detention Centre had been cleared for the week for fear of mass breakout. Not only was this a symbolic victory; such dispersals of jailed asylum seekers are important for the circulation of information within the detention camp system.
Wednesday was always going to be the big day, the opening day of the summit and the arrival of the world's leaders. The direct action camp planned to blockade all roads leading to Gleneagles (and there aren't that many), whilst the left would march on the summit. All the acceptance of different tactics couldn't disguise the contradiction - the left would have to cross the blockades to reach the start of their march. In the end however it worked out better than could be expected.
Although some groups were rounded up before their blockades could begin, all roads were blocked at least for some of the morning. A variety of tactics were used, from the kids’ blockade, to locking on in and under cars to good old fashioned barricades. This may or may not have delayed the start of the summit (there are contradictory reports from a body with scant regard for the truth), but a number of support vehicles were certainly caught up in the traffic chaos that affected the whole of southern Scotland.
The left meanwhile reached Auchterarder, the starting point of the march, as did many clowns, samba bands, black clad anarchos and a sound system. The state had banned the march, but the left was in belligerent mood, threatening to march on the US Consulate instead, Since in central Edinburgh a demonstration was already underway by those prevented from reaching Auchterarder, threatening a repeat of Monday, the state backed down. The high point of the march was the promise that we could pass by the security fence. In reality however this was a fake fence, set a few hundred yards in front of the real one, the void filled with riot cops and horses. It was therefore a surprise to discover that round the next bend the actual fence was just a short run across a barley field. The entry was hesitant at first, but soon about 500 protesters had ignored the demands of the stewards and headed towards the fence. The state, caught off guard, had to fly riot cops in by Chinook military helicopter, but this was too late to prevent the fence from being breached.
The disgusting bombing in London cut across the protests as it did across every other aspect of daily life. Immediate thoughts were for family and friends in London, and the desire for confrontation evaporated. Unfortunately this was clearly a one sided feeling, as the cops broke up small protests as people attempted to express their feelings about the bombings and the complicity of the Labour Government.
The final day saw a small solidarity picket at Edinburgh prison, where male prisoners were being held. Disturbingly, the picket planned for the woman's prison didn't happen. In Glasgow meanwhile there was Boogie on the Bridge, a street party against climate change and the extension of the M74.The changed mood was best summed up by the banner that read "Dance for your sorrow, your anger and your joy". Local support was much in evidence, but unfortunately locals were not at the front when we left the bridge en masse, a fact that contributed to us being penned in on an industrial estate. After hot and frustrating negotiations with the cops, the demonstration proceeded under heavy guard to the Cre8 Community Garden, where permanent opposition to the motorway extension is based.
Given the current climate and the increasing threat to meaningful protest in the UK, that plenty of protests happened was in itself no mean feat and no one can have failed to have grasped the sheer scale of opposition to both the policies and the rationale of the G8. In summary, despite the enormous resources at its disposal, the state did not have it all its own way at Gleneagles.
G8 Legal Support Group's initial statement on the policing of the G8 protests in Scotland, July 2005
From Black Flag #205 (2005)
During the protests against the G8 over 700 people were detained or arrested by the police, often overnight, and around 366 people have been arrested and charged. The courts have imposed draconian bail conditions, which not only prevented those arrested from continuing their protests against the G8 summit, but forced those not resident in Scotland to leave at an impossible speed, making the conditions impossible to comply with. As a direct result of this tactic, sonic people were rearrested for breach of bail. People unable to give an address in the UK have been remanded in prison, even though in all the cases we are aware of, none faces serious enough charges to result hi a prison sentence even if convicted. Amongst those remanded in custody was one person aged 16 and a woman with a child.
We have also received worrying reports of people being held for over 4 hours in Reliance security vans against regulations, and not being given sufficient food or water while in custody. For example, one person reported that they were held in Sterling police station for 10 hours and that they were verbally abused, the lights were switched on and off and no calls were made to solicitors or friends on his behalf. He was subsequently released without arrest or charge.
The police made widespread use and abuse of powers under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994. This section is supposed to be used to search for weapons. However, it has been used as a blanket authority to stop and search in a manner designed simply to intimidate protesters. For example, everyone attending the protest at Dungavel Detention Centre was subject to a bag search. At the Hori-zone ecovillage in Stirling, the police at times searched everyone who came and went. At least two people have been charged with failing to submit to a search.
The police routinely demanded people's names and addresses, without a clear legal right to such information and in a manner that seemed calculated to deter people from protesting. At times they also demanded to see identification, despite the fact that there is no requirement to carry or produce identification in the UK. At least one person was arrested and faces trial for simply not giving their name and address.
Huge numbers of people were photographed and/or filmed just for participating in protests or because they were staying at a campsite, again a form of policing designed to intimidate.
The police also often placed protesters in cordons, the legality of which is still uncertain, detaining people for many hours. At the Hori-zone ecovillage in Stirling for long periods of time the police refused to let anyone leave. Legal Observers from the G8 Legal Support Group were also detained, preventing us from monitoring some of the protests. No legal justification was provided for this abuse of power. The police also banned protests. They cancelled the G8 Alternatives demo at Gleneagles "for reasons of public safety” and this led to coaches of protesters being held on a roundabout eleven miles away from Auchterarder for an hour. Eventually the protest was allowed to go ahead. On this and other days many protesters were arrested whilst travelling to protests and held for alleged conspiracy. At Waverley train station in Edinburgh people were prevented from holding a spontaneous protest against the ongoing 'war on terror'.
A number of protesters were injured by the police hitting out with batons. Most suffered head injuries. Many of the police on duty routinely covered up their identification numbers, making it impossible to identify them.
The public were prevented from attending some sheriffs' courts, meaning that people had to face the court without support from friends. Apparently, the reason was that there may be protests at Court, although there had been no actual protests, just groups of concerned friends. This flies in the face of the long-established legal right to an open hearing in court.
Finally, we note that this was one of the largest policing operation ever seen in the UK. The state was clearly prepared to devote unlimited resources to it, all with the sole aim of preventing the leaders of the G8 of being aware of the popular discontent with their policies and the effect of those policies on the vast majority of the world's population.
The cumulative effect of these police measures was an unprecedented erosion of civil and human rights and a further attack on the right of people to publicly demonstrate. The police appeared to police the protests against the G8 on the basis that they were not at all times bound to comply with the law of the land and sought to prevent challenge to their actions by seeking to conceal their identity by covering up ID and failing (even when asked specifically) to give legitimate reasons and legal powers to justify their actions. For these reasons we unreservedly condemn the policing of the protests at the G8 summit in Scotland in July 2005.
The Summit Protests: a dissenting view - Political Matti
An article challening the tactics of set piece protests against summit meetings of heads of state.
From Black Flag #205 (2005). Writen by Political Matti and originally published in Working Class Resistance #10, magazine of Organise! Ireland.
Well, there it was then. After almost ONO years of planning and approximately £200,000 spent by the 'anti-authoritarian' movement, the protests at the G8 summit came and went in the space of a week. 700,000 attended the Make Poverty History march, 5,000 took part in marches on Gleneagles and hundreds took part in blockades. But was it all worth it?
One thing that everyone accepts is that summit protests are symbolic. No matter how well they go, they are always symbolic and this is for one simple reason: the summits themselves are symbolic. The summits are just pomp and ceremony for the world leaders to show off their democratic and diplomatic credentials. Even if you did manage to shut down the meetings, the decisions will get made anyway. They'll just do it another day, So all the rhetoric of activists calling to "Shut Down the G8!" is, to put it bluntly, absolute nonsense not to mention dishonest. Add to this the amount of well-intentioned activists who have been arrested and those who'll get sent down, all for a symbolic protest.
As its accepted that the protests themselves were symbolic, we come to the main argument in favour of summit protests: that some of those who hear about 'anarchism' on these protests will eventually come around to a more coherent, working class based analysis. This can't be denied. Many libertarian communists got involved in politics after watching past summit protests on TV. I certainly did.
But does this justify almost two years of organising meetings and the £200,000 spent? No, of course not. The reason that those of us who did get involved in radical politics through summit protests did so was because there was no ether point of entry into radical politics. Simply because some of us got involved through that kind of protest, doesn't mean that new people necessarily should if we can develop more effective political alternatives on their doorstep. Perhaps, instead of getting people involved in solid class politics by first sucking them in through dead-end activism, we should just try and create better entry points for solid class politics!
The fact is that summit protests are yet more disconnecting of politics from the lives of working class people. Our politics are only relevant if we ground them solidly in our everyday lives and orientate ourselves towards our workmates and neighbours to solve the problems faced by our class. Through collective struggle to improve our daily conditions, we (as a class) grow in strength and confidence and it is here, in the daily struggles of normal working class people, that libertarian communism is found. This isn't to say we reject a global analysis in favour of some kind of 'localism'. It just means that while we have a global political analysis, we realise that the only way we can fight all the problems of capitalism is by fighting it where it effects us: in our workplaces and our communities, As the old cliché goes, "think globally, act locally".
One thing we can't forget when we are engaging with people is that libertarian communism is not simply an ideology, it is a living, breathing tendency within the working class that needs to be encouraged. We are not trying to recruit people to some rigid ideology; we are trying to promote a fighting spirit within our class. Arid we can't do this through a series of annual symbolic protests with no real substance to them. We can only do it through day-to-day organising where we live and work because it's only through collective workplace and community action that we can encourage that spirit. Things like the Turkish Workers' Action Group1 fighting for better conditions in the Republic of Ireland or the Communities Against the Water Tax network2 are where we can fight capitalism directly and where we can build a strong, independent working class movement fighting for its own desires and not those dictated by trade union bureaucrats or slimy politicians.
Whenever we take part in any form of political action we must always ask: “How will this contribute to encouraging the militant tendencies within the working class?" So, how do summit protests contribute to increasing the sense of solidarity, strength and confidence within working class communities? The simple answer is; they don't. Their effect is at best, insignificant and at worst damaging as it associates radical working class politics with protests taking place outside the daily struggles of our class, reinforcing the ever-growing walls of the activist ghetto.
The British libertarian socialist group, Solidarity, had it right when they described meaningful and harmful action in their pamphlet 'As We See It':
"Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf"
The protests may indicate that a significant number of people are opposed to the policies of the G8, but it in no way demonstrates any alternatives. The protests were little more than a very expensive, human petition. Capitalism is not about powerful men sitting round tables running the world. Capitalism is not something we can gather together from all corners of the globe to protest against. Capitalism is a social relationship played out in our daily lives arid that is where it must be fought.
Anti-Fascist Action: an Anarchist perspective
An overview of Anti-Fascist Action and the shifts in focus that led to its demise, by an ex-Liverpool AFA member. Written for Black Flag magazine in 2005.
Militant physical force anti-fascism has a long tradition in Britain, going bank to the 1930's and the 'Battle of Cable Street' in London's East End. From the mid-1980's to the turn of the century, militant anti-fascism found its most authentic expression through the organisation Anti-Fascist Action. AFA was never an 'anarchist' organisation. However, the agreement of anarchists with AFA's twin aims of `ideological and physical opposition to fascism', and the anarchist emphasis on direct action rather than electoralism, meant that, within AFA, much of the cutting edge on the streets was provided by anarchist activists.
The following is a brief summary and analysis of those years, and the aftermath.
With the 2004 publication of a book —"No Retreat" by two former members of Manchester Anti-Fascist Action1 and the launch of a new physical force anti-fascist organisation — Antifa2 , — now seems as good a time as any to go over some old ground as to what Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) was, what it did, and why it eventually fell apart, from an anarchist perspective. This isn't a 'kiss and tell', so names will be avoided and specifics kept out where possible. It is also the perspective of an ex-AFA member active in Liverpool and the Northern Network, so it will mostly take a Northern angle3 .
AFA was originally set up in 1985 as a broad front anti-fascist organisation. The main fascist organisation at this time was the British National Party (BNP). Various contenders for the title of the 'real' National Front also existed, following the demise of the original NF after Thatcher took power in 1979. Taking Liverpool as an example, the few attempts by the BNP or NF to hold public marches or meetings in the city centre during the 1980's had been smashed into the ground by a large turn out from locals —notably from the Liverpool black community4 . The last attempt by fascists (NF) to march through Liverpool city centre was in 1986 — also an early AFA national mobilisation.
This failure of big events, however, didn't stop the BNP selling papers openly in the town centre on a regular basis, unopposed. Nor did it stop them starting a campaign of violence against Left wing targets — in particular against the bookshop 'News From Nowhere', run by a feminist collective. After a few almost-successful attempts to burn the bookshop down, the windows being smashed in on Saturday daytime attacks — probably after a paper sale — and fascists generally strutting into the bookshop to intimidate staff and customers as and when they pleased, it was obvious something had to be done.
Other fascist attacks at the time included smashing the windows of the Wirral Trades Council (over the water from Liverpool). BNP local activity like this was typical in any area in Britain where they were left unchallenged.
AFA was launched in Liverpool in 1986. At that time, Militant was still the strongest working class group on the Left (though in the process of being kicked out of the Labour Party). Neither they nor the Socialist Workers Party were interested in being organisationally part of AFA. The SWP, in fact, sometimes sold papers in Liverpool city centre at the same time as the BNP — though, to be fair, if a fascist march was likely, both the SWP and Militant would have a turn out.
From an early stage the main organisers of Liverpool AFA were associated with the local anarchist scene. This became more explicit with the relaunch of Liverpool Anarchist Group in 1987. Liverpool AFA was mostly anarchist — but it was never an anarchist front or a recruiting tool, except by way of natural influence. Anyone who agreed with the 'physical and ideological opposition to fascism' could be involved, and many did.
Links were made with Trade Unions to raise money for specific events. Links were also made with Jewish and other anti-racist groups, and meetings were held to attract wider participation. In later years this non-sectarianism also meant a working relationship with some of the new Anti-Nazi League activists. Anti-fascists at the two universities also set up AFA groups at this time — a process repeated several times as students came and went.
BNP driven underground
Within a year or so, the Liverpool BNP went from boasting about how the 'reds' were always beaten when they tried to force the BNP off the streets (according to confiscated copies of the 'British Nationalist'), to the effective collapse of the group. Years later, the BNP admitted in the Liverpool Echo that "they were driven underground by left wing extremists in the mid-80s" [Oct 1993]. This kind of effective shut-down of BNP groups — by any means necessary — was typical of AFA in this period.
Collapse and relaunch of AFA as a national force
Nationally, meanwhile, the original AFA had collapsed due to incompatible political differences. Local and Regional groups (like the Northern Network) however continued, and national call-outs still occurred using existing contacts. AFA was re-launched in London in 1989, and in 1992 a national meeting was held in London to sort out a new national structure.
The re-launch of AFA was as a militant 'united front' — i.e. an alliance of different political tendencies — orientated towards the working class, to reclaim working class areas then claimed by fascists as their own. The class perspective was agreed because, first, fascists don't just play the race card — they address genuine fears of the white working class (unemployment, bad housing etc.) and their success is often based on disillusionment with so-called 'socialist' councils. This propaganda needed a class-based answer.
Second, it wasn't enough to 'defend democracy' — if AFA didn't say the system needed to be smashed, that would leave fascism as the 'radical' alternative.
Third, the working class is the object of fascist attack once in power — only the working class can oppose it. AFA, it was agreed, wasn't interested in 'allies' that were part of the problem such as corrupt councillors. Links, it was agreed, would continue to be made with black and Asian communities under attack, but AFA propaganda should be mainly aimed at the communities where fascists themselves aimed to recruit5 .
Organisationally, it was agreed that AFA would be a decentralised federation based on a regional structure — building from the existing regions of London AFA and the Northern Network. The only national structure was to be a national coordinating committee of 2 delegates per region, to meet as and when needed, with no powers to make policy (or certainly to impose policy — some minor national decisions did have to be made over these years, but these were non-controversial).
London AFA at that time was mostly run by the Marxist Red Action — in alliance with elements of the anarcho-syndicalist Direct Action Movement (DAM) 6 , 7 , and the Trotskyist Workers Power. There were also non-aligned independents — anarchists and other socialists — involved.
The Northern Network
The Northern Network (originally the Northern Anti-Fascist Network) was a looser federation of Northern AFA groups — Bolton, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, South Yorks, Tyne and Wear, Preston, and others. Tyne and Wear were actually a Council-funded body set up before AFA. Of the rest, Manchester were run mainly by Red Action (the strongest Red Action branch outside of London as far as I can tell); a few groups — like York — would probably be best described as "non-aligned" independents.
The rest were mainly organised by anarchists —sometimes in the DAM, sometimes not. Lots of anarchist activists at the time weren't in any national organisation — or were involved mainly in other areas. This reflected the way the anarchist movement had grown since the early 1980's — some became anarchists through the Left or Trade Unions, others through anti-militarism, others through animal rights.
In the North things tended not to be as sectarian as in London. Apart from the regional groups of the DAM and Class War, there was also the general Northern Anarchist Network. There were often overlaps between different anarchist and activist scenes — people would join a call-out, but didn't necessarily prioritise anti-fascism. Even the DAM didn't officially prioritise anti-fascism — many or most of the DAM were trade union activists or shop stewards —though some groups definitely prioritised the anti-fascist fight more than others. In Liverpool, again, anti-fascism was only one area — in 1988-1990, anarchists were far more active against the Poll Tax, and in 1995-1997 more active in support of 500 locked-out Liverpool Dockers. For Liverpool anarchists, anti-fascism was never seen as an end in itself only as part of the wider struggle.
A good indicator as to whether a movement is alive or in trouble is to ask - is there a wider periphery, or is it just the activists? AFA at its height was definitely far more than the activist core, and far more than just street fighters. AFA activism involved public speaking, magazine and pamphlet production, organising fund-raisers (gigs, carnivals), etc. A lot of people put time and effort into AFA-related activities who agreed with the aims, but weren't particularly involved organisationally — or go to meetings.
It should also be noted that at this time there was a working — and productive — relationship between the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight and AFA, partly because AFA was the only game in town. This included, in Liverpool, a Searchlight member from Manchester speaking at a Liverpool AFA re-launch meeting in 1992.
Countering fascist mobilisations
At a Regional and National level, AFA actions were mainly based around countering known — or intelligence-indicated — fascist mobilisations. Remembrance Sunday in London was the first national focus point in - 1986 the National Front having made a point of marching to the Cenotaph on the day, then attacking Left wing targets — notably the Anti-Apartheid picket outside the South African Embassy. These militant AFA mobilisations had the desired effect — the fascists were stopped.
In the North, meanwhile, the Northern Network mobilised against the BNP's Remembrance Sunday meetings at Clifford's Tower, York. The BNP chose Clifford's Tower as it was the site where many of York's Jewish community were burned to death in the middle ages. Some of these early AFA mobilisations to York were relatively open, and quite large. In 1988, for instance, Liverpool AFA took a full coach and minibus - over 80 people - to the event, though on that occasion we were stopped on the outskirts of York and escorted all the way back to Liverpool by the police (the same happened to a coach from Newcastle). Echoes of police tactics. in the Miner's Strike of '984-85... Later mobilisations tended to use just minibuses. Again, after a few years, AFA tactics were successful.
Tactics on the streets
Remembrance Sunday was only one day - many other AFA mobilisations occurred, in many parts of the country, over these years. This was especially so as new AFA groups were formed and new AFA Regions were organised (established Regions providing backup to new areas, such as the Midlands, when requested) 8 .
Tactics evolved and were constantly under review. A typical 'event' in the North would involve a call-out after intelligence indicated fascist activity – e.g. a BNP election leafleting would be taking place (mobilisations weren't just about marches). AFA would meet, send out scouts, and act according to intelligence gathered on the day. Sometimes AFA leafleting of estates was not just to counter fascist propaganda, but also to provide a legal excuse for being there.
As time went on, in the Northern Network (London AFA operated very differently), each local group elected a delegate during mobilisations. Delegates from each group got together on the day and coordinated events. Usually, but not always, the unofficial ‘chief steward' was the one in whose backyard the Nazi mobilisation had occurred. Near Manchester this was likely to be someone from Manchester AFA/Red Action, but even close to Manchester this wasn't always the case - for instance, an anarchist from nowhere near Manchester was the chief steward at a mobilisation at Colne, Lancs9 .
Coordination, anyway, was more based on informal working relationships and trust rather than any official positions, and once the fascists were located, what happened next had more to do with personal initiative and 'bottle' than a 'commander'.
National AFA mobilisations
The main national public AFA events over these years are reasonably well known (or used to be), but are worth outlining: In London, Blood and Honour - the Nazi music front - was beaten off the streets in 1989 when they tried to organise publicly. In 1991 an AFA Unity Carnival in London - attended by 10,000 in September - was followed on Remembrance Sunday by a 4,000 strong confrontational National Demonstration Against Racist Attacks' through the East End. From reacting to the fascists, AFA was seizing the initiative. This was the biggest anti-fascist demo in years - AFA seemed on the verge of some kind of breakthrough.
Instead, seeing the way the wind was blowing, within months the SWP had relaunched the Anti-Nazi League (a very different animal to the original ANL of the 1970's10 ). Militant launched Youth Against Racism in Europe, and Black Nationalists in the Labour Party launched the Anti-Racist Alliance11 . The end result of this was that, while these new organisations brought in new faces, anti-fascist unity had suddenly become a competitive marketplace, with organisations which were better funded, and better-connected in terms of media publicity than AFA. AFA did continue to help organise and provide stewards for specific broader anti-racist marches - such as the 1992 'National Demonstration Against Racist Murders'12 - but there were no more AFA marches. By 1993, in big national anti-fascist marches, like the marches to the BNP headquarters in Welling, organised by all the 'big names' - the biggest of 40,000 in September 1993 - AFA activists either organised separately to track down any BNP groups (like London) or joined the march (like Liverpool).
AFA carnivals did still continue. A rained-on Unity Carnival in London in September 1992 provided a useful recruiting ground for the 'Battle of Waterloo' a week later - when Blood and Honour were smashed off the streets again, by over 1,000 anti-fascists organised around AFA. The last big AFA carnival was in Newcastle in June 1993, with 10,000 taking part. In London, in January 1994, an AFA national mobilisation humiliated another attempt by neo-Nazis to go public - this time with Combat 1813 .
Other areas AFA was involved in included Cable Street Beat - inspired by the Rock Against Racism of the original (1970's) ANL, to promote anti-fascism through music. Freedom of Movement was set up later - based in Manchester - to further this idea in the clubbing scene.
Other AFA campaigns were launched to promote anti-fascism at football grounds - starting with Leeds, and later Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, etc. A national AFA magazine - 'Fighting Talk' - was produced, and the AFA profile was also raised by a BBC ‘Open Space' programme fronted by Menzie from the Angelic Upstarts band.
The United Front crumbles
The 'united front' - where activists worked together and no-one took the piss - started to break down as the 1990's progressed.
The relationship with Searchlight started to turn sour. Anarchists had never trusted Searchlight since at least the early 1980's - when articles in anarchist papers examined Searchlight's then editor Gerry Gable's links with Special Branch (alleging a 'something for something' relationship – i.e. Searchlight would give details to the State, and not just about fascists...) 14 . In 1993 Searchlight ran a smear campaign against anarchists - in particular against specific DAM and Class War members - alleging they were really fascists. This probably wasn't a coincidence now there were alternatives to AFA to back… From the mid-1990's Red Action - who had previously had a very close relationship with Searchlight - began more and more to take the line that association with Searchlight was becoming a liability - with Searchlight increasingly providing misinformation and trying to manipulate AFA for its own agenda15 .
Relationships between Red Action and anarchists also began to break down. In London, State interest in Red Action at this time seemed more than just paranoia, and anarchists were obviously being kept out of the loop. Workers Power left for the ANL, many independents left, and, increasingly, London AFA was moving from an alliance run mainly by Red Action, to one consisting more or less exclusively of Red Action.
In Glasgow - around late 1992 - relationships between anarchists and Glasgow Red Action deteriorated to the extent that anarchists felt compelled to organise a separate meeting. At least two anarchists leaving the meeting were physically attacked by Red Action members. One of the organisers of the meeting - a committed anti-fascist of long standing - was later falsely smeared as a police grass in Red Action's paper 'Red Action'16 .
Red Action and the IWCA
The main contribution to the united front breaking down, however, became the pushing of a new Red Action strategy - the Independent Working Class Association - around 1995. The IWCA didn't come from nowhere. A turning point, as far as London Red Action goes, was the election of a BNP councillor - Derek Beackon - in the Isle of Dogs, London, in 1993.
As was said at the time, London AFA felt they had nothing to offer people apart from 'don't vote BNP', which in the circumstances, Red Action felt, could only have meant vote Labour or Liberal Democrat - the very people who'd helped create the housing problems in the Isle of Dogs in the first place. Red Action had always been a strong supporter of the Irish Republican movement - and the move of Republicans from the armed struggle towards community organising, and the electoral success of Sinn Fein. may well have also played a role in the rethinking of Red Action's strategy.
When Red Action started pushing forward the idea of the IWCA, articles were written, circulars sent out, and a meeting held in the North in late 1995 where London Red Action put forward their case. The argument was basically ‘if not us, who?' was to fill the political vacuum created on the left by Labour abandoning the working class on the one hand, and AFA's success in beating the fascists on the right. The BNP were moving from the 'battle of the streets' (which they'd lost) to a EuroNationalist/community activist17 strategy. AFA, it was stated, would have to adapt. This wasn't billed as a decision-making meeting. No vote was taken, but from then on Red Action argued that there was a 'mandate' - that there was a `consensus' in AFA to officially back the IWCA - despite the Northern Network voting against official backing (a warning to anarchists who worship 100% consensus and never voting…)18 . This position was backed by London's control of Fighting Talk 19 .
Electoral politics take over
As was said at the time, many AFA activists already had wider political commitments - and Red Action's analysis wasn't unique on the need to ‘fill the vacuum'. In Liverpool, Labour Party purges against Militant led to the Broad Left (of which Militant was a part) standing candidates as 'Real Labour' from 1991, and, again in Liverpool, the Independent Labour Party (this time without Militant) was launched in199220 . Scottish Militant Labour was launched in 1991, with Militant Labour following in 1993, standing candidates against Labour, and leading to the launch of the Scottish Socialist Party, and the Socialist Party in England in 1998.
As Red Action pushed the IWCA in 1996, Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party was launched21 . As was stated then, why should a united front organisation like AFA prioritise any particular working class party in an election? After all, AFA was open for SLP and other party supporters to join - and many AFA activists were against electoralism as a strategy anyway.
The IWCA down-playing of the workplace as an area of struggle also came at the time when 500 Liverpool Dockers had been locked out and solidarity actions were occurring all over the world (most notably among USA Longshoremen and in Australia) during a struggle lasting over 2 years (Sept 1995 – Jan 1998). Possibly a major difference with the Red Action push to form the IWCA was that it initially aimed, not just at various left groupings (prominent at the original IWCA founding meeting in 199522 ) but mainly at those in AFA - often those sick of the left, party politics in general, and often anarchists. AFA was being pushed as the launchpad for, and backbone of, the IWCA.
AFA had worked because it was a 'real' organisation involved in 'real' actions that made a difference. Increasingly, AFA activists I knew were hostile to Red Action's attempts to 'realign' AFA. One ex-Marxist in Liverpool AFA, for instance, felt it was the same old party-political bullshit they'd left behind. There was, eventually, a compromise of sorts - but the whole process left a bad taste23 . The IWCA was being pushed as a way to stop AFA stagnating as the BNP abandoned the battle for the streets. In reality, the struggle for the party-political line alienated much of the AFA core and periphery - in undermining the united front it became a factor in the decline it was stated to prevent24 .
I stopped being active in AFA around the end of 1996. I don't believe in sniping from the side-lines at events I wasn't involved in, but here's an honest opinion on the last years25 . First, some anti-fascist mobilisations did still occur – e.g. against the NF in Dover in 1997 and 1998. Internally, a new (or what Red Action called a 'newly inaugurated') AFA National Coordinating Committee was set up in 1997. From the way this was used it is clear that this Committee actually had powers - a far cry from the old national committee. In itself, I think, this is an indication of how few anarchists were still involved organisationally by now, and how far the Northern Network had declined.
In 1997 an AFA statement officially banned members from associating with Searchlight - and, in 1998, Leeds and Huddersfield AFA were expelled by the new Committee, officially for ignoring this policy26 , 27 . Expulsions didn't stop the decline. There were some local relaunches – e.g. Liverpool in 2000. But by 2001 AFA as a national organisation hardly existed.
Red Action's analysis, back in 1995, was that, unless AFA adapted to the new BNP strategy, AFA would 'atrophy' and wither. AFA was geared for confrontation. Without confrontation AFA - as it then was - would have no reason to exist. It is true that organisations created for a single purpose - anti-poll tax unions, strike support groups etc - do usually cease to exist once the struggle is gone, despite efforts by some activists to keep things going and to generalise the struggles. So, this Red Action analysis was either far-sighted or a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I think some of the decline in AFA nationally has to be down to the IWCA. Apart from the refusal of many AFA activists to be bounced into a strategy they disagreed with, the redirection of energy of an important section of AFA into a new organisation, would, of itself, have meant less time for keeping AFA going. But there were definitely other factors. If a tactic is repeated too often, the police eventually cotton on. This happened with the 'Stop the City' demos in the early 1980's and the ‘J18'-style demos in the 2000's28 .
There's a case to be made that AFA's means of operation - in some parts of the country at least - became too predictable, and so ineffective (as was recorded in 'Red Action' and 'Fighting Talk' at the time). The broader community and trade union side of AFA also tended to die away as the anti-fascist marketplace emerged (ANL, FYE, ARA etc) - and a semi-clandestine strategy alone has to be constantly innovative or eventually fail.
The break with Searchlight, I think, also played a role. Without good intelligence militant anti-fascism is blind. A lot of intelligence gathering is just hard boring work, and can be done by any local activists with the will. Only Searchlight though has used infiltration of fascist groups to any great extent - and this was more than useful in the North at least.
Finally, there's the issue of the AFA periphery. The IWCA aside, the far fewer regional and national mobilisations in the late 1990's, and the much lower AFA national public profile, in themselves, would have led to the shrinkage of the pool from which new AFA activists could emerge - especially in an organising role. At some point this had to have an effect. Street fighting has a shelf life due to age. Arrests, injuries, and increasing family commitments mean that without constant new blood any militant organisation will enter decline, if only from attrition. This situation wasn't just true of AFA, but was a general trend within the anarchist movement that had grown up since the early 1980's. A smaller pool, with fewer mobilisations, and important sections of AFA now prioritising the IWCA, meant that AFA decline was gradual rather than sudden.
The IWCA today
So what about the IWCA today? Times have moved on. There are two types of questions that spring to mind:
1. Is the IWCA an effective strategy for building a working class movement?
2. Did the IWCA effectively replace AFA, and how is the IWCA as an anti-fascist strategy?
The first question is really beyond the scope of this article. Briefly, however, the IWCA has shown that, in some areas at least, small groups of activists can gain a base, from more or less nothing, that can be turned into sizeable votes at election time The concentration on immediate working class issues is also something that community activists could learn from. The web site has some good ideas29 , 30 .
What about the second issue? Is the IWCA a natural progression from AFA? The AFA public contact list had over 30 groups spread across Britain in 1996. The strongest Red Action groups used to be London, Manchester, and Glasgow. The IWCA made a strong showing in North London (Islington) and Glasgow (Strathbungo) council by-elections in 2003. Oxford is where the IWCA has had most success so far - with 3 councillors.
The IWCA web sites, in late 2004, showed groups based almost entirely in the South - which does raise the question: what happened to the original IWCA opening campaigns in Manchester and Birmingham back in the mid-'90's? Why doesn't the IWCA have a noticable presence in Manchester? As far as I can tell, the IWCA has some overlap with ex-AFA (mostly Red Action. but also some anarchists or ex-anarchists), but to say the IWCA is a natural progression of AFA as a whole isn't true. Some AFA groups and individuals moved towards IWCA activism, many didn’t31 .
Is the IWCA an effective anti-fascist strategy? As stated, in some areas the IWCA has gained a foothold. None of these, however, are areas where the BNP is a direct contender – e.g. Burnley or Goresbrook (London) - so council elections where the IWCA and the BNP go head-to-head are presumably in the future.
The issue of why militant anti-fascists should prioritise one working class political party (or strategy) over another, however, hasn't gone away. In Coventry, for instance, the Socialist Party has 2 councillors (down from 3). In Scotland the Scottish Socialist Party is a contender - like them or loath them - and in Strathbungo the IWCA and SSP both stood candidates. Even now, if anti-fascists want to support a working class anti-fascist election candidate, the IWCA isn't necessarily the only choice.
Where now for anti-fascist activism?
The IWCA may be many things, but it's not a physical force militant anti-fascist organisation. Is there a need for militant physical force anti-fascism still? More importantly, can this strategy work now? Things are very different now — when AFA started out, CCTV centralised street networks didn't exist and mobile phones were like walkie-talkies. What used to lead to charges of 'breach of the peace' is now more likely to be 'violent disorder' or worse (if the Terrorism Act 2000 etc is anything to go by). Where does this leave anti-fascists who want to make a difference, now?
As a 2004 TV expose showed32 , the BNP hardcore is still Nazi —though well-hidden behind suits and smiles at present, and growing with the constant media barrage — and manna from heaven for the BNP — against asylum seekers and Muslims. The enforcing of 'No Platform for Fascists' seems to have gone by the board with almost regular BNP interviews in the national media.
A fairly recent (October 2003) pamphlet has this to say:
"I also believe that the demise and then the winding up of Anti-Fascist Action, and the inability so far of militants to develop a similar organisation has been a big boost in the growth in the BNP. AFA was able to physically defeat the BNP in the 1990's... but when the BNP turned away from street confrontations towards electoral politics AFA largely wound down its activities. Instead of harassing the BNP on the doorsteps, and on the streets as they canvassed AFA allowed the BNP to operate freely and the BNP have used the freedom to develop a highly professional electoral strategy” 33 .
AFA used to say — "fascism didn't begin with the concentration camps — that's where it ended”. We know were fascism leads, so that leaves no room for complacency. AFA's active policy used to be for “physical and ideological opposition" to fascism. Things are very different today, but either the BNP are fascists or they're not. The need to provide a working class alternative to Labour and fascism should be the priority. But if the BNP are fascists — and they are — the case for militant confrontation certainly hasn't gone away.
An ex-Liverpool AFA member. Feb 2005.
- 1No Retreat-The secret war between Britain's Anti-Fascists and the Far Right. Dave Hann & Steve Tilzey,. Milo Books.
- 3This article has been run past other ex-AFA members to cross-check the facts and provide feedback.
- 4e.g. attempted fascist meetings in the Adelphi Hotel and St. George's Hotel.
- 5Info taken from the Liverpool AFA minutes of the national meeting - far more detailed than the official minutes.
- 6DAM abolished itself and launched the Solidarity Federation in 1994 - the aim being to build a class organisation based on anarcho-syndicalist principles -based on industrial and community networks - rather than being just a political grouping of anarcho-syndicalists (see www.solfed.org.uk). Not all DAM members - including some of the most active anti-fascists - joined the new organisation.
- 7For a brief overview of some of the events in London AFA during these years see the pamphlet 'Bash the Fash - Anti-Fascist Recollections 1984-93’. K. Bullstreet. Published by Kate Sharpley Library. BM Hurricane London, WC1N 3XX.
NOTE. Every would-be militant would do well to read the section 'Appendix 4: Survival Rules'.
- 8Scotland existed as is Region from '93.In '94 the Midlands Region was launched and moves were begun to launch a Southern Region. The AFA public contact list in 1996 (as shown in Fighting Talk) had 12 groups listed In the North, 12 in the South (including London), 4 in the Midlands, 3 in Scotland, and 1 in Wales. Some groups were not in the list - eg Doncaster, Chesterfield, and Mansfield. Groups varied in terms of numbers and resources, and were often contacts for a much wider area but this still gives a rough idea about where AFA's strength lay at this time.
- 9This isn't a review of 'No Retreat'. However. some points are in order. The book covers some of the mobilisations that happened in the North West - but several mobilisations are missed out (e.g. York 1988, Rochdale and Dewsbury 1989, and Wigan 1990). This is an autobiographical account, so this would probably be expected. There are also factual inaccuracies as who did what - the issue of who was the 'chief steward’ being one of them. This isn't necessarily bad memory or worse. Adrenaline leads to tunnel vision, where you think. you're at the front of the queue, or leading people from the front, but it ain't necessarily so... I could make more serious criticisms of the book, but I'll stop here.
- 10For a comparison of the old and new ANL, see The Anti-Nazi League A Critical Examination 1977-81/2 and 1992-95". Originally published by the Colin Roach Centre in 1996, it can be read at https://web.archive.org/web/20050309002427fw_/http://www.red-star-research.org.uk/rpm/rpm.html
- 11'Black Nationalist' meaning that racism could only be fought under Black leadership. Where this left Asian, Chinese. and Irish members wasn't mentioned...
- 12November 1992. Eltham. London, The march was held under the banner of the ‘Rohit Duggal Family Campaign. 16 year old Rohit Duggal was murdered in July 1992 in a racist attack.
- 13Some people called this 'Waterloo 2' - though it wasn't anywhere near as public. Combat 18 was the short-lived organisation of Nazi 'hard men' which eventually disintegrated.
- 14Various articles in anarchist papers and magazines. Also New Statesman, 15.02.1980.
- 15See articles on the Red Action web site www.redaction.org [NB now at http://www.redactionarchive.org/]. Also various 'Fighting Talks', Whatever the reasons, it’s clear there was a breakdown in the Searchlight-Red Action relationship.
- 16Information re-confirmed recently  by a then member of Glasgow DAM, and by a contact in Liverpool. Looking back, the Glasgow Red Action attack on anarchists wasn't really dealt with properly - either within AFA or the wider anarchist movement. As It was, the incident caused a lot of bad blood nationally, but AFA held together
- 17”EuroNationalist" meaning a strategy similar to Le Pen's National Front in France - rather than a 'march and grow' stormtrooper traditional Nazi approach.
- 18Liverpool AFA sent out a statement nationally - soon after London Red Action's meeting, arguing against AFA becoming the physical wing or part or any political party or organisation, This statement was provisionally adopted at the next Northern Network meeting, pending further debate.
- 19Fighting Talk (Nov '95) stated that the Northern Network supported the IWCA, and printed an IWCA recruitment article. This was never updated. AFA groups were sent IWCA leaflets with 'AFA' on as sponsors. The way things happened could. perhaps, have been due to a genuine misunderstanding of how the Northern Network operated. It came across as railroading - to put it mildly. It could certainly have been handled better.
- 20There's some background information on this in "The Labour Party, Marxism and Liverpool" https://web.archive.org/web/20040614221354/http://www.prome.snu.ac.kr/~skkim/data/article/files/liverpool.html
- 21The various parties' own reasons for setting up can be found on their web sites.
- 22The IWCA was originally promoted as a kind of 'united front' of different political groups - when people could join "without demanding that they abandon their distinctive positions" (IWCA leaflet attacking the SLP, 1996). Not having to abandon your politics wasn't strictly true, as the IWCA was always up front about standing in elections. This was always going to be a problem for many anarchists in AFA.
- 23Months later (in what may or may not have been a concession) London Red Action stated that IWCA material would no longer have initial sponsors' names on – i.e. they wouldn't have ‘AFA' on. Later Fighting Talks were also less blatant about the IWCA. At a Northern Network meeting (possibly mid-1996) a London Red Action member argued that London should be given a chance, to put their strategy into action. While clear there wasn’t a split as such, it's also very clear that the Northern Network didn't vote to support the IWCA.
- 24This is bound to be a point of contention. I believe it's accurate for the Northern Region at least. Little information came directly from AFA groups in other Regions in this period.
- 25See. various articles on the Web - A-lnfos. Anti-Fa infos, Red Action web sites. Also personal contacts used. So I believe it's accurate. I've left out the forming of international links - including the international anti-Fascist conference in London in 1997 — as I don't think this had much effect on AFA's development in Britain.
- 26The official public statement on the expulsions was in Fighting Talk No 19 April 1999 (also at http://www.ainfos.ca/98/may/ainfos00300.html). Red Action's official explanations are at their web site - www,redaction.org [NB - now at http://www.redactionarchive.org/]. Red Action has a lot of good points, but also a lot of inaccuracies, i.e it’s not true that only AFA groups with links to ‘Searchlight' were opposed to AFA officially backing the IWCA back in 1995/6 - the opposition was a lot wider. No-one had a problem with Red Action being involved with the IWCA, many people had a problem with an official AFA-IWCA link.
- 27An ex-Leeds AFA member recently gave me-a very different version of events leading to the expulsions. But due to lack of full information I won't elaborate here.
- 28"Stop the City' were attempts by the, then massive. anti-militarist movement to occupy and close down the City of London,"J18” etc were similar-style demos by the emerging anti-capitalist movement.
- 29IWCA web site is at www.iwca.info
- 30This isn't an article about whether Anarchists should support the IWCA. However, some points are words making. First, voting in local elections (and concentrating on the community rather than industry) has been advocated by some people from an anarchist tradition for same time. In particular Murray Bookchin, in the US, has been promoting Libertarian Municipalism as a way forward since the 1980's. Second, Liverpool Council under Militant in the early 1980's - the fight against Tory rate-capping, the surcharge and expulsion of 47 councillors etc - showed some of the potential and the limits of what radical councillors can do. Third, current enthusiasm for the IWCA in some quarters is very similar to the enthusiasm shown by some Scottish anarchists in the early 1990's - when Scottish Militant Labour arose from the anti-poll tax successes of Militant in Pollokshields. and elsewhere. Quite an interesting article, from Scottish Anarchist no 2 which covers the emergence of Militant Labour in Scotland is at www.spunk.org/texts/pubs/sa/2/sp001218.txt
- 31If the Northern Network (or its majority) had 'really' agreed to back the IWCA in 1995 - as has been argued - I think there would be more proof on the ground by now. This isn't to say that the IWCA won't get a base up North - just that this will have to happen under its own steam, rather than as part of an AFA legacy. At the time of writing the one published IWCA contact up North is the Vauxhall IWCA in Liverpool.
- 32Secret Agent’, BBC July 2004 - an undercover investigation into Bradford BNP.
- 33"The Rise of the BNP and how to Counter it" Revolutions Per Minute number 11. Written by Mark Metcalf. Available at Freedom books, or www.red-star-research.org.uk, or read it at https://web.archive.org/web/20050309002427fw_/http://www.red-star-research.org.uk/rpm/rpm.html This is a very short pamphlet with a lot of common sense.
Probably worth mentioning that this was published as a pamphlet by Kate Sharpley Library in 2007 and is still available from them:
There is a different perspective on the above in Beating The Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action by Sean Birchall, published by Freedom Press in 2010:
Fortress Europe: A Conquering Navy - The EU as a significant international player - Dan Jakopovich
Article from Black Flag #225 (2005).
While rightly acknowledging segregationist tendencies within the EU and the fact that it is playing second (if second…) fiddle to the US, many underestimate its immense power and international significance.
As "the most fully elaborated and authoritative multilateral institution in modern history"1 . the European Union is "the world's largest trader of goods, accounting for 19.1% of global merchandise exports and imports. The European Union is also the world's largest trader of commercial services, with 24.3% of world trade in services".(circa €300 billion) 2 . Together with the US and Japan, it is “home to eighty-seven of the world's top one hundred transnational firms" and they "account for 88 percent of their foreign assets". These three are also "responsible for most of the foreign direct investment that goes on in the world." 3 This Triad, led by the US, is still the principal collective imperialistic alignment in the present world system.
With the creation of a customs union in 1968 a common external tariff as a part of a common commercial policy (focused on relations with non-member countries) has also been established. Issues of external trade have long been the central sphere of European Commissions global influence (since it is a party during trade negotiations, subordinate to the Council of Ministers which sets guidelines). Member states have largely handed over their decision-making power (especially regarding agriculture and fisheries) to the European Union itself. 4
The most important elements of EU's trade policy include the Common Customs Tariff, rules governing imports from outside the EU, as well as EU's prerogatives with regards to investigating complaints made by member states concerning alleged unfair trading practices of a particular Third Country (that country can file a complaint to the WTO in case of an unfavourable decision by the EU).
The export of vital resources (notably petrol and natural gas) is also subject to international agreement5 . All EU policies have to be integrated in the international regulatory system governed by the World Trade Organization (WTO), previously GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs).
"The GATT/WTO philosophy is 'free trade good, protection bad'. As this is also the driving philosophy behind the EEC/EC/EU integrationist project, one would expect the Community/Union to be amongst the GATT/WTO's best pupils. This has not, in fact, always been the case, as the temptation for the Union Is to pursue the alternative - the creation of a self-sufficient market behind impenetrable external borders.'"6
The EU's protectionist mechanisms include not only tight migration controls, manipulations around the issue of immigrants, and enormous agricultural subsidies, but also delinking their food prices from those of the world market (which is forbidden to the Third World Countries by the EU) 7 . The Common Agricultural Policy of the EU stands as a "silent testimony" to its glaring hypocrisy.
If we could, for instance, disregard the fact that in six of the eight years from 1990 to 1997 underdeveloped countries paid out more in debt service than they received in loans (the total transfer of money from the poor South to the rich North in this period is $77 billion!) 8 , the development policy of the EU, particularly the trade-related technical assistance to which it has devoted over €700 million between 1996 and 20009 , might seem less tragicomic. However, it should still be acknowledged that "the EU and its member states account for more than 50 per cent of both international development aid and humanitarian aid…"10 .
The establishment of the European monetary union enhanced collective decision-making and concerted action, also decreasing the dependency on US manipulations with the dollar11 . Some have even interpreted the war in Iraq primarily as a US reaction to Iraq starting to trade oil in euros in 2000, which could have easily provoked a domino-effect, with other major oil producers such as Venezuela and Russia also switching to the euro12 , What seems clear is the existence of a ruling elite interested in the idea of a federalist Europe as an independent force. 13
The 1992 treaty of Maastricht opened the door for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The violent break-up of Yugoslavia and a lack of coherent response by the EU indicated the weaknesses that could ultimately hinder the entire project of creating a stable European oasis of security and guaranteed profits (admittedly, EU members were more active in peacekeeping duties afterwards). The new threats from nuclear proliferation and "non-state actors" (international mafia and terrorists), together with US unilateralism, interestingly combined in the Kosovo crisis, provided a climate conducive to stepping up the level of approach.
The Amsterdam Treaty14 provided for the appointment of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (the first appointee, Javier Solana, was a former NATO general secretary who had presided over the bombing of Yugoslavia). Among other things, the Treaty empowers the EU "to carry out humanitarian aid and peacekeeping tasks (known as Petersberg tasks), to devise common strategies, general foreign policy guidelines, joint actions and common positions." 15 It also opened the possibility for the development of a common defence policy and joint armed forces16 . Despite the "Berlin Plus" rhetorics of cooperation17 , these developments are seen as a direct threat by NATO and the US18 . An enlightening analysis of the draft for the EU constitution19 recognises an intensified commitment to “collective security", increases in arms, "pre-eruptive action" (like the new US National Security Strategy) and neo-liberal and neo-imperialist policies. It might well be true that the European project is "mired in liberal quicksand"20 , but the "realist”, Machiavellian stance of the major European powers should not go unnoticed either.
Yet, despite everything, common ruling class interests (real and perceived) — factors such as the huge amount of commerce between the world's two biggest trading entities (the United States is the EU's biggest trading partner, accounting for nearly 22% of the EU's total trade) 21 , the Asian challenge and general global insecurity coupled with US control over the main resources, its military and financial dominance - present a risk which keeps the EU under the watchful eye of its Big Brother. But the little brother is not so little any more22 .
- 1Robert O. Keohane, Sovreignty in International Society in David Held & Anthony McGrew (ed.). The Global Transformations Reader, Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishing Ltd, UK, 2004, p.153.
- 2EUROPA website/trade/trade issues - www.europa.eu.int/comm/trade/gentools/faqs_en.htm
- 3David P. Calleo, Rethinking Europe’s Future, Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford, 2001, p. 225.
- 4Steven P. McGiffen. The European Union — a Critical Guide, Pluto Press, London, 2001, p.81.
- 5ibid. pp. 83-5.
- 6ibid. pp. 86.
- 7Samir Arnim, Capitalism in the Age of Globalization, Zed Books, London & New York, p.30.
- 8The total transfer of money from the poor south to the rich North in this period is $77 billion! - World Development Report 1998/9, World Bank in Wayne Ellwood, The No-Nonsense Guide to Globalization, New Internationalist Publications in association with Verso, Oxford & London, 2001, p, 47.
- 9EUROPA website/trade/trade issues -www.europa.eu.int/comm/trade/gentools/faqs_en.htm
- 10Steven P. McGiffen, op cit., pp.49.
- 11David P. Calleo, op cit., pp.330-1
- 12Geoffrey Heard, Eco-Economy: Economic Perspective On The War, Scoop, 21 March 2003. www.scoop.nz/mason/stories/HL0303/S00182.htm
- 13See the website of The European Round Table of Industrialists (www.ert.be). It is a semi-covert pressure group which consists 45 ClOs (general directors) of the biggest European corporations, and basically advocates for a unified and competitive market. Its offices are right next to the European Commission in Brussels (by pure accident, of course). Every six months it also moves its offices right next to the current Presidency (again, a perplexing coincidence).
- 14See the official website – www.europa.eu.int/abc/obj/amst/en .
- 15Steven P. McGiffen, op cit.,p.9.
- 16Ibid., p. 49.
- 17See www.nato.int/issues/nato-eu
- 18"Strobe Talbot, former deputy Secretary of State, said the last thing Washington wanted to see was a European defense identity "'which begins with NATO, and then away from NATO." The risk, he told a seminar at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is of an EU defense structure that first "duplicates the alliance and then competes with the alliance”. Mr Talbot's words also touch America’s basic ambivalence about greater European unity: that it is fine so long it does not threaten US global pre-eminence.” (Robert Cornwell, Europe warned not to weaken NATO, The Independent, October 8. 1999 in Istvan Mezaros, Socialism or Barbarism, Monthly Review Press, New York 2001. p. 55
- 19Tobias Pfluger. A military constitution for the European Union? (www.wri-irg.org/news/2003/eumil.en.htm
- 20Samir Amin, U.S. Imperialism, Europe. and the Middle East, Monthly Review, November 2004. - www.monthlyreview.org/1104amin.htm
- 21EUROPA website, op cit.
- 22 On the topic of US-EU relations, especially with regards to the war in Iraq, see my article Germany & US: Discordant Harmony, ZNet, March 21, 2005.
The UK anarchist movement - Looking back and forward
Nick Heath reflects on his experiences in the UK anarchist movement since the 1960s, and the lessons on organisation and politics he finds valid for anarchists today.
Organisational responsibility and discipline should not be controversial. They are the travelling companions of the practice of social anarchism.
- Nestor Makhno
I have been involved in the anarchist movement since the mid-1960s. I came into a movement that appeared to be active and on the up. This vitality seemed to be accentuated by the forthcoming events of May 68. British anarchism seemed to be coming into its own, in a way not seen since before the First World War.
As I write, I have before me a photocopy of the inside front page of Freedom from 26th October 1968, the day before a large contingent of anarchists, numbering several hundreds had marched under the folds of black and red and black banners on the massive demonstration against the Vietnam War. Under the heading Anarchist Federation of Britain there is a list of almost 60 groups or grouplets, with federations in Wales, Scotland, Essex and East Herts, the North-west, Sussex, East London, as well as a number of student groups.
Alas, the view that is given by all of this was a false one. A slightly more than cursory look at the Anarchist Federation of Britain reveals that it was a house of straw, soon to be blown to the ground by the Big Bad Wolf of unfolding political events. Albert Meltzer comments: “The looseness of structure of the Anarchist Federation in the late sixties- having been revived in the early sixties-led to its disintegration into unrepresentative conferences, at which anyone could attend”. (The Anarchists in London 1935-1955)
Stuart Christie in his Edward Heath Made Me Angry remarks that the AFB “wasn’t really a federation at all, more an ad hoc body convened for a particular purpose then disbanded again”.
This was indeed the reality of the AFB and its conferences, several of which I attended. The anarchist movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, if one can judge from the pages of the Freedom of the time, appeared to be more cohesive and theoretically united than was later the case. A small number of people were involved, and these were mostly based in London. If this small movement sometimes appeared uninviting, exclusive and secretive, this may just as much be explained as due to the repression of the post-war years (the trial of the War Commentary editors) as by isolation of the movement itself.
The events of Hungary 1956 were to have an effect in the drift of intellectuals and others out of the Communist Party and the gradual establishment of the New Left. The movement against the Bomb, expressed in the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament and the Direct Action Committee which later transformed into the Committee of 100, attracted both a number of these ex-CP militants and increasing layers of disaffected young people. This marked a break with the preceding period of “apathy” used by the old Left to explain lack of movement within the working class. The Gaitskellite leadership of the Labour Party had justified their politics with the outmodedness of the class struggle and the apparent embourgeoisement of the working class. The Tory leader Macmillan’s remarks that the British people had “never had its so good” epitomised this period of relative class peace and stability. A revolt, often inchoate and unarticulated, among young people against this complacency meant some were attracted to this new movement.
Involvement in action and debate and a wide variety of political views, many never before encountered by these new activists meant at the broadest level, numbers of them providing the base for local Labour Parties to campaign for the victory of Harold Wilson as leader of the Labour Party and ultimately as Prime Minister in 1964. The direct action tactics of the C100 influenced others so that the threat of The Bomb was replaced by a realisation that the problem lay in the nature of the State and of capitalism. Many were still trapped in single-issue politics, and were still enamoured of the concept of non-violence, elevated to an abstract concept rather than a sometimes useful tactic.
It was the interaction between the two different groups which eventually provided both the core for the forthcoming increasing radicalisation and the base of the new groups of the extreme Left that were born or strengthened around this time. The C100 had proved to be a school of radicalisation, whilst some of the broader layers, who had gone into the Labour Party or the Young Communist League (youth wing of the Communist Party) had become progressively disillusioned with these groupings.
The small anarchist movement had not ignored this new peace movement. In fact many working class anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists had earlier or later recognised the importance in directing activity in that direction. This included people like Ken Hawkes, Tom Brown, Bill Christopher, Pete Turner and others. The Syndicalist Workers Federation in which many of these activists were involved benefited from the burgeoning peace movement so much that it was to increase from a small core of activists to an organisation of 500 for a short time. But all of this was at a price. The anarchist revival which led to the listing in Freedom I talked about above was in part due to a first wave of activists who had broken with the orthodoxy of the Labour and Communist Parties and consensus politics, through Suez, Hungary and the experience of Gaitskellism, and via the C100 had entered the anarchist movement. The second wave was the far larger number of young people whose first political experience was CND/C100 and for whom the initial enthusiasm for the election victory of Wilson had quickly been replaced by bitter disappointment. This disappointment was expressed in a rejection of orthodox politics, but it was often couched in extreme moralistic positions. (I was one of the latter).
This sudden growth of the anarchist movement resulted in a transformation. The small numbers of experienced anarchists were overwhelmed by many who had little understanding of social anarchism and proceeded to describe their own brand of radicalised liberalism as anarchism.
This radicalised liberalism was expressed not just in terms of a vague humanism, rejecting the concepts of class struggle that were seen as identical with the moribund politics of the Communist Party, but in a fear of organisation and of consensus.
The first conference of the Anarchist Federation of Britain had been held in 1963 in Bristol. A secretariat was set up at this congress to establish some sort of continuity, but over the years this was criticised and abandoned.
Each conference of the AFB attracted all and sundry. On one hand anarcho-syndicalists and anarchist-communists, on the other individualists, radicalised liberals and pacifists and prophets of the counter-culture. These conferences were glorified talking shops where few decisions were ever agreed on, and even fewer carried out. There was no structure as such. Positions became shared by default. They were not usually discussed at the conferences, adopted or agreed upon, as there was no recognised way for doing such a thing. These gatherings were large and attracted representatives from many local groups like for instance the Harlow Anarchist Group, the Manchester Anarchists and the Brighton Anarchists, who were very active.
It was no surprise that many who had been initially attracted to anarchism were deterred by its chronic disorganisation and lack of effectiveness. Some of these turned to groups like International Socialism (precursor of the Socialist Workers Party) and the International Marxist Group. Digger Walsh, active in the Black Flag group of the period, was to be quoted in a national paper as lamenting the fact that 800 militants had gone over to the Trotskyists.
“Disjointed local activity; often moving from one ‘issue’ to another; unable even to create a small scale programme of work over a period, characterise our ‘practice’. In the event of a degree of small scale organising e.g. squatters (1946 and 1968); the campaign to turn Morriston Fire Station into a Youth Centre (1970) etc; the lack of theory and its consequence is exposed par excellence." (Towards a history and critique of the anarchist movement in recent times. K. Nathan. R. Atkins, C. Williams ORA pamphlet no1. 1971)
In the face of this impasse, a number of developments occurred in the AFB. One of these was the Anarchist Syndicalist Alliance, as the title says an alliance of anarchists and syndicalists who attempted to relate to the industrial unrest and to the huge demonstration that had taken place in 1971 against the Industrial Relations Bill. It attempted to orientate towards industrial activity, although a lack of perspective meant that it started reporting on counter-cultural activity in its paper Black and Red Outlook. A lack of structure also meant it repeated many of the errors of the AFB. Another group that emerged within the AFB was the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists originally conceived as a ginger group within the AFB. It argued for formal membership organisation and structure. I remember being involved in writing a leaflet produced by Brighton Anarchists for an AFB conference at the Toynbee Hall in the East End of London that argued against such ideas and putting forward the counter-argument that an organisation would emerge but as the result of ‘natural organic growth’ of local groups starting up and eventually federating.
The increasing frustration with the swamp of pacifism, liberalism and vague humanism meant that both groups estranged themselves from the AFB, which was now spiralling into terminal decline. The ASA ran out of steam pretty quickly, whilst the ORA seemed to be full of dynamism and drive and was able to produce a monthly paper that both reported on struggles in industry, among the unemployed and the squatting movement, but made a good attempt at anarchist and working class history as well as theory. The ORA had started moving away from the swamp as a result of the dockers and miners struggles and the influences of French libertarian communists.
In the pamphlet I quoted above you can read that: “The IS would not have attained their size and influence such as it is if a decent libertarian organisation had existed. It is an unholy mixture of libertarian and Leninist groups. The attempt by Cliffe (sic) to compete with IMG by out-trotting Mandel will make this alliance increasingly unstable. BUT do we have any capacity to attract these comrades? In fact, the flow has been the other way. Good comrades (for the most part industrial militants rather than students) have been lost without anyone attempting to understand why.” This was true and remains true today. A lack of effective organisation, in spite of the decline of Leninism, means we will be at a standstill until we rectify this problem.
All serious anarchist militants were concerned about the rapid growth of IS, IMG and the Socialist Labour League with no corresponding growth in the anarchist movement. Ultimately, though, the founders of the ORA were looking for too quick a fix. They thought that just by creating a revolutionary anarchist organisation the problems of the anarchist movement would be solved. They did not take into account dogged and determined work over a number of years. So, with the miners strike, the 3-day week and the fall of the Heath government, they concluded that a revolutionary crisis was about to happen and that the anarchist movement, still stalled by chronic disorganisation as it was, was inadequate. They decamped to various Leninist organisations, chiefly to the SLL which had always been parroting on about an impending revolutionary crisis (in much the way Trotskyists had done at the end of World War II).
Their analyses had been right in many instances. One of the shortcomings that they had highlighted was the lack of industrial activity. As Brian Bamford, whom I do not often agree with, has pointed out: “ At the time of disputes at Roberts-Arundel in Stockport, Pilkington’s Glassworks in St Helens, the strikes and stay-in occupations at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and in engineering, the miners struggles in the 1970s, the anarchist influence was tiny” (Freedom 6 August 1994)
What was left of the ORA painfully reconstituted itself as the Anarchist Workers Association and soldiered on into the beginning of the 80s when it transformed itself into the Libertarian Communist Group and eventually went into the leftist organisation Big Flame. This tradition-ORA/AWA/LCG- was distinguished by its steady adherence to class struggle and its critique of the anti-organisational and liberal humanist strands in the ‘movement’. Set against these plus points were its leftism, which meant it tailended the leftist organisations, got itself involved in the Socialist Unity electoral alliance alongside IMG and Big Flame, and eventually dissolved itself into an organisation that had been previously described in the pages of its paper as schizoid libertarian Leninist.
Alongside these developments in the early 70s were moves in other directions. Notable among these were the Angry Brigade actions .The general illusion that there was a mass movement capable of carrying out a revolution, common in many quarters, led these libertarians, active in claimants and squatters struggles, to engage in a number of attacks on property, including the homes of Ministers and capitalists seen as instrumental in bringing down repression on the working class. The Angry Brigade activities were meant as supplementary to the actions of the mass movement. However they had failed to understand the nature of this movement and had overestimated its revolutionary capabilities.
The Black Flag group itself had many cogent criticisms of the failings of the AFB. However, promised and much heralded creations by this group failed to materialise. In fact, the Black Flag group aligned themselves with the Angry Brigade through uncritical cheerleading in the pages of its journal.
Of course, the humanist and pacifist elements that rejected class struggle continued to peddle their forms of radical liberalism within the pages of Freedom and Anarchy.
“Like federalism itself, of which it is one of its principal elements, collective responsibility exercises itself in two ways- upwards and downwards. It makes an obligation of the individual to explain their acts to the collective, and for the latter to explain their acts before the individual…collective responsibility consecrates and clarifies individual responsibility” (my translation) Pierre Besnard, entry on Responsibility in the Encyclopedie Anarchiste 1933.
The beginning of the1980s saw another upsurge in anarchism. A number of young people began to refer themselves as anarchists. This had its origins in the birth of the punk movement in the late 70s and the influence of the Crass group. The politics pushed by Crass in its music were a mixture of the aggressive stances of then punk movement coupled with a pacifist ethos that referred back to both the hippy movement and the pacifist elements within the anarchist ‘movement’.
Small groups began to spring up and these were increasingly to be seen at the demonstrations called by CND, itself going through a revival as a result of the political climate of the Thatcher-Reagan years. Some of the demonstrations mounted by CND were very large, something not seen since the previous period of radicalisation.
This new wave was very much defined by lifestyle and ultimately a form of elitism that frowned upon the mass of the working class for its failure to act.
At the same time, the small number of existing class struggle anarchists failed to engage and to offer an alternative and to argue class struggle politics to these new activists.
The high point of this particular wave were the Stop the City demonstrations in 1983-4 which involved an alliance of anarchists, pacifists, ecological and anti-nuclear activists. These actions were exciting and inventive. They challenged the apathy and inertia of the period and the routinism of the Left. However, they made little effort to reach out beyond the ghetto of activism.
Some anarchists were beginning to question this and to argue that we had to go beyond the Stop Business As Usual and to argue our ideas in the workplace and community.
The Great Miners Strike of 1984-5 was a challenge for this movement as was the Wapping dispute that followed shortly after. Some refused to be involved. As one said “Suddenly all our aims and dreams are thrown aside in the euphoria of class struggle…playing the capitalist money game”(The Beano, June 1986).
Others discovered the class struggle roots of anarchism and reinforced the small class struggle anarchist movement.
To its credit Black Flag magazine galvanised itself during both the miners strike and during Wapping. For a while it took on a fortnightly frequency. It gave its pages over to extensive reporting of the struggles, moving away from its standard presentation of prisoners struggles, investigative journalism and “armed struggle”. In this way it performed a very useful function. But once again it failed to move on from there, failed to offer a credible anarchist alternative and held its fire on the Scargill leadership of the miners strike.
Despite the defeat of these struggles, class struggle anarchism was reinforced. The Direct Action Movement (successor to the SWF) welcomed many new members to the extent that it became the biggest anarchist organisation with a membership of 150. But again as with the SWF in the 60s, it had problems with activists from a radicalised liberal background. As a strategy, it advanced the classic syndicalist tactic of building revolutionary unions in the here and now and failed to get a grip with the reality of the workplace. Class War, which had emerged as a group around the paper of the same name in the mid 80s, transformed itself into the Class War Federation in 1986. The latter group was made up of activists who rejected the pacifism, lifestylism and hippyism that were dominant tendencies within British anarchism. In this it represented a healthy kick up the arse of that movement. Again, like the Stop the War actions, it rejected apathy and routinism. It groped towards organisational solutions in its development of a Federation. But it was trapped in a populism that was sometimes crass, and in a search for stunts that would bring it to the attention of the media. In its search for such publicity, it went so far as to immerse itself in populist electoralism with its involvement in the Kensington by-election. These contradictions were eventually to lead to the break-up of the old CWF, with some offering a sometimes trenchant critique of their own politics up to that time. However, no organisational alternative was offered beyond a conference in Bradford that attempted to reach out to other anarchists and to offer a non-sectarian approach at unity of those seriously interested in advancing the movement. Alas, these moves were stillborn and many of those who had offered critiques of the old ways of operating dropped out of activity altogether. A rump remained that has carried on maintaining Class War as both a grouping and a paper in the same old way.
Other groups that emerged in the aftermath of the Miners Strike were the Anarchist Communist Federation and the Anarchist Workers Group. The former had its roots in Virus magazine that had begun appearing during the course of the Miners Strike and in the AWA/LCG of the 70s. It offered organisational measures, was as its name suggests openly anarchist communist and orientated to the class struggle. At first, it adopted Platformist positions but over the years moved further and further away from a dogmatic Platformism, to the extent that it now talks of the Platform as one of several reference points for its politics. It from the first made a number of appeals for united actions with other class struggle anarchist groups, appeals that in the main fell on deaf ears. It has failed to construct an organisation beyond a skeletal federation of small groups and individuals.
The Anarchist Workers Group emerged from the DAM in 1988,and pulled in a few people who had left CW and the ACF. It repeated the mistakes of the ORA/AWA in its leftism (including its support for national liberation struggles) and its rankandfilism, which had been another characteristic of that organisation. It was far more condescending than the ORA/AWA in the way that it related to the movement, and had far less longevity and level of activity. Again, as with other organisations, it attracted a number of activists, some of them ex-SWP, who had no real understanding of anarchism and failed to go beyond leftism. It had criticised other anarchist organisations for failing to educate their new members and thus developing a two-tier system of experienced militants and raw new members. This it failed to do itself. It thought that it alone could offer a solution to the problems of the movement. Like the ORA it imploded. This time there were none left to carry on, all its members dispersing into Trotskyist groups (mainly the RCP but also Workers Power and SWP) or disappearing into inactivity. One of the grossest mistakes it made, in direct consequence of its leftist support for national liberation, was its support for the Saddam regime against the Americans in the first Gulf War on spurious “anti-imperialist” grounds.
Parallel to the developments within the anarchist movement had been the emergence of the libertarian socialist organisation Solidarity, which had been created by ex-members of the Socialist Labour League in 1960.Solidarity had also become involved in the anti-bomb movement via the Industrial Sub-Committee of C100.Like the best anarchists, Solidarity had refused to endorse “non-violence" and had to use the words of an erstwhile member, John Sullivan, participated in the peace movement, “ because it was the only place where methods of direct action were being carried out”. Solidarity was a theoretical engine room for the entire libertarian movement. Its quite natural fears of developing as an organisation after the experiences of the SLL, meant that it was ham-strung in offering organisational alternatives to the IS, of which it had many very trenchant criticisms.
Looking back, it would have been useful if closer ties could have been developed between Solidarity and the different elements of class struggle anarchism. I don’t mean that this necessarily meant a united organisation, but that closer ties and joint activity could have been intensified (I don’t in the least think that joint work between libertarians never took place, as cooperation was at least attempted in East London for example via the East London Libertarian Federation and led on to the1968-69 squatting campaign, in which libertarians jointly worked together) But mutual suspicion, the magnifying of ideological differences and the failure to recognise shared viewpoints had their role to play in the failure of the libertarian movement of the period to construct a credible alternative to Leninism.
Alongside the development of national organisations were various attempts at local and regional coordination. The libertarian upsurge of the 80s led not just to the growth of organisations but the development of a number of local groups. Some of these groups were a microcosm of the old AFB- class-struggle anarchists jostling pacifists, individualists and lifestylers. A development occurred in these groups –partly in response to ideas generated by class struggle anarchist organisations- which resulted in the forming of specifically class struggle anarchist groups. These groups were to a lesser or greater extent limited by a parish-pump anarchism which made them leery of national organisation to which they counterposed local and at best regional organisation.
None of the attempts by local groups to construct regional federations- as with the Northern Anarchist Network of the 80s, the Class Struggle Anarchist Network, the Scottish Libertarian Federation, the Midlands Anarchist Network- were to be long- lasting as was any effort- where it was even attempted- to federate the local groups on a national basis. The local groups were often also crippled by a suspicion of theory, an activist mindset which meant moving from the issue of one day to the issue of the next- all of this alongside an unwillingness to look at coherent organisational solutions.
Today we have a movement where a number of organisations exist more as chapels than anything else. The original intention of galvanising and organising the movement has ended in these organisations becoming not just isolated from each other but from what passes for a movement. The crisis of Leninism has deepened; but what should have been a golden opportunity for British anarchism has not been effectively capitalised upon. Where before local groups had more or less withered away, a number of local groups have emerged. Will these repeat the mistakes of their predecessors and remain trapped in localism, to be ephemeral creations to be remembered by few?
Looking back after almost 40 years of anarchist activism, it would be excusable to feel dejected. The same mistakes have often been repeated decade after decade. Indeed, the lack of continuity in the movement ensures that these same mistakes ARE committed again. New forms of confusionist thought have emerged within the anarchist movement, in particular primitivism and insurrectionism, both in many ways new forms of the old individualist scourge. (In fact these currents seem to be converging, as with the recent Wildfire bulletin)
But on the positive side, class struggle anarchism appears to have strengthened itself within the British movement to a certain extent. Some new local anarchist groups have emerged and there seems to be a tentative but growing need to cooperate and coordinate activity.
We have to drop the outlook of the chapel. The national organisations should all be looking for ways in which they can cooperate. Whilst recognising their differences, they should be looking for ways in which they can cooperate and make the movement as a whole more effective. We should seriously be looking at ways of coordinating the activities of the local groups and the national organisations. We should be arguing strongly against localism and for the construction of national organisations and networks. The vitally important work of constructing strong and active local groups should not in the least rule out the crying need to construct national organisation.
We need to have propaganda that addresses not only the Great Questions of the day like war, racism and exploitation, but issues like housing, transport and gentrification. Anarchism has to be become a visible movement, with mass stickering and flyposting, and mass propaganda distributed on estates and in neighbourhoods. Whilst demonstrations have become extremely ritualised, we must not shirk our responsibilities in making sure there is a strong and visible presence on such events, especially if they are large scale, with bookstalls, mass distribution of literature, and united anarchist contingents.
In the period just before the Second World War, the Glasgow Anarchist Communist Federation ceased publication of its journal Solidarity in order to support Spain and the World ( precursor of War Commentary , which became Freedom).In London , the veteran Russian anarchist Leah Feldman was the chief initiator for dropping many superfluous papers to support Spain and the World. Should we not now be thinking along the same lines? Is there really room for 3 glossy magazines? Could resources be pooled? Could this lead on to a new vibrancy within British anarchism?
We have to start thinking outside of the boxes of our little groupings, and we have to start thinking big. We must start growing and growing up. The opportunities are there. We have to attract both those disillusioned by Leninism and the newly radicalised youth who are emerging as a result of anti-war activity and a revulsion at the Labour government. We have to draw back into the movement those discouraged in the past by the ineffectiveness of our movement, who have retreated into private life. We have to be seen as a serious movement, not one viewed as ineffectual and passive, riddled with dilettantes and cranks.
Every serious anarchist should now be thinking and acting upon ways to maximise our effectiveness and clout. We should be thinking of greater cooperation and the development of forums where we can start to discuss these concerns.
Article originally called "Looking back and forward" and written in 2006 for an issue of Black Flag.
i wanna join. help me! please!
I am an ex YCL member who left following the Soviet suppression of Hungary and Czecholovakia. I suspect that my views are now far closer to those of the anarchist than to any other organisation (or disorganisation).
I believe myself capable of promoting unity in diversity as the most important focus for every human being. Please advise me if there is a body of opinion within the anarchist fraternity thay might be interested in discussing an ethical and objective evidence based ideology that I belive would be attractive to any self determined anarchist.
I have developed this model through applying it to many aspects of life, all of which have been extremely down to earth. Applications include the application of anarchy to the specification and implementation of ISO (International Standards Organisation) Quality Systems, to my attainment of an MSc degree from Cranfield University (thesis was entitled Specified Requirements for Total Quality Management) and to the Life Mastery Training programme that I provide for free to others, and which demonstrates that anarchy is a most valuable asset, provided only that its relationship to order is also fully understood.