Revolutionary Supermarket: A Five Year History of Self-Management in Sweden - Kurt Svensson

The following is my personal reflections over the first six years of the Stockholm's Anarchists space - the Revolutionary SuperMarket - more fondly known as RSM. In order to write the following article I have made use of, besides my somewhat hazy memory, material from Brand's archive, protocols from RSMs all-meetings and giro statements from RSMs account. This description is not complete and if I have forgotten something or someone it was not on purpose, only human...

From Black Flag #216 1999.

Submitted by Fozzie on August 8, 2020

What a long, strange trip it's been…
RSM-STHLMA Five Year History of Self-Management in Sweden

staking out a claim...

On a sunny day in the early autumn of 1992 about twenty individuals meet on the back patio of Kapsylen (a libertarian all-activity space) in Stockholm. This meeting was for the purpose of discussing the Stockholm anarcho-movements need of a collective space. The movement had not been able to squat and hold, in the European fashion of the time, a building and the continual wandering from second-hand space to second-hand space was not, in the long run, a viable alternative. The anarchist magazine Brand's editorial collective was exiled to a windowless basement space in the upper-class neighbourhood of Östermalm and the anarcha-feminist women's café was forced to continually confront the stupidity of male café patrons at, first Kafé 44 (the anarcho-punk café at Kapsylen) and then Kafé Kapten Haddock (a café with roots in the environmental movement). Assorted action groups, amongst them AFA, Anti-Fascist Action, ran around in the most unbelievable of spaces and AFIS, the Anarchist Federation in Stockholm, shared a young communist-owned space with the anti-racist group SOS Racism.

The first ideas concerning the collective space were extremely extravagant and it was here that the name, Revolutionary SuperMarket, RSM, first surfaced. The space was to be an anarcho-department store with everything from a café and boutiques with bio-dynamic food and recycled art and clothing to action group meetings and banner painting... However, it became apparent in a short amount of time that it was the latter type of activity that encompassed those dedicated individuals who were prepared to commit themselves to a long-term project.

This project consisted of many long and boring meetings, wandering up and down the streets of the traditional working class quarter of Södermalm looking for empty spaces for hire, the building of a collective economy through collections, membership dues and party-fixing and finally everything else that was necessary in order to insure the eventual opening of RSM. It was first during the summer of 1993 that we found the right space on a back street named Lundagatan. Before we moved in, the space had been used as a mosque and artist studios. With that in mind, it was no easy job to renovate the space to suit it's new purpose and a die-hard group of twenty-five individuals worked their fingers to the bone in order to get the space in order for the coming autumns activities - and the planned christening party. The christening party was a big success and approximately 350 people crowded into the sweaty and smoke filled spaces in order to take a look. RSM was now a reality.

do it yourself...

Since the autumn of 1993 many individuals have passed through the steel doors to RSM - and of those who were active when the space opened only 15% are still around today. Activity at the space has sometimes been extremely busy and sometimes extremely quiet. In the beginning, the activity at RSM was based upon the following groups; A-INFOS (S), Anti-Fascist Action-Stockholm, Brand and the Brand archive, a group of computer hackers, the newsletter INFOrm, the peoples kitchen, the lecture café Krutdurken (powder keg), the anarcha-feminist women's café group, a group of environmental activists and the Revolutionary Study Group. The array of groups has changed during the course of the years and the following have been, or still are, active; Anti-Sexist Action, The Asphalt Indians, the Chiapas solidarity group, animal rights activists, council-communists Folkmakt, Food Not Bombs-Stockholm, the anarcho-environmental café Monkey Wrench, the anti-fascist café MustAFA, the Stop Pornography Now! campaign, the anarcha-feminist women's café Antippa, different men's and women's affinity groups, Reclaim the Streets-Stockholm, Social-Ecological Action, the Syndicalist Youth Federation in Stockholm, Youth for Youths Liberation (first known as Kid Power) and the Zapata BBS. In addition there have been a number of temporary constellations.

With the reason that RSM is unlike similar spaces in the rest of Europe on one important point - it's not squatted - we have had a quite stable structure from the very beginning. This was necessary so that we could pay our - in comparison - high monthly rent. Regular all-meetings have been held ten times a year and we have made use of the principles of consensus when at all possible. Groups with an anarchistic ideological base have been able to join RSM after presenting themselves to an all-meeting. The involved groups have set their own rents according to their size, use of the space and economic situation. It is thought that groups, not individuals, shall be the basis of RSMs activities and it has actually worked for the most part, even if certain individuals have shown themselves to be indispensable. Concerning RSMs economy, we have up until now always made out, even if we have had our heads just above water on a number of occasions!

walk this way...

At a space of RSMs size, with it's anarchistic basis as well as with so many strong willed individuals, RSMs all-meetings have not always been without friction. The spaces', up until now, biggest crisis occurred in the autumn of 1995. The number of activists at RSM had increased dramatically without a complimentary increase in our income from group rents and because of this our economic stability began to wobble. Right in the middle of all of this it was time to extend our lease. The discussions right before, during and after this crisis were in the most part concerned with the internal, informal hierarchies which existed within RSM and how these were to be viewed in the context of other ongoing ideological discussions of Triple Oppression, unity of oppression and the right to define oppression theories. It was not unusual for these theories to be applied upon individual experiences of how RSM operated. For a moment it seemed as if the space was to collapse, but in the last minute people collected themselves in order to keep the space going. These theories and social experiences have been the topics of discussion at a number of specially arranged RSM all-meetings.

Most of our discussions at RSM have more often than not resulted in an increased political insight as well as in some sort of political or personal practice. An example of this is that the increased consciousness of animal rights and the horrors of the meat industry have had their affects upon RSM. Even if dairy products are still used and consumed at RSM it was a long time ago that someone served macaroni and sausage at a peoples kitchen! We have even taken a stand against the horrors of tobacco and drugs as well as alcohol's negative affect upon a political movement. Smokers are at the present exiled to a crowded stairwell, drugs are explicitly forbidden and during a long time nothing stronger than low-alcohol content beer was served at RSMs social activities. We have had a minor problem with thefts; some collective funds were pilfered and some unreplaceable items have disappeared from the Brand archive. Today these things are, unfortunately, under lock and key.

we've laughed...

Certain discussions have occurred over and over again at RSM during the course of the years, some of which have now taken on an almost comical character. One example is that after we had been at RSM for only a few weeks a former member of Brand's editorial collective moved a large printing press into the space, right in the middle of the entryway to be exact. And it has stood there ever since without being of any use to anyone. How many times has it not been said, "the printing press will be moved"? The fact of the matter is that it weighs several tons and now sensible person wants the monstrosity. Thanks Kĺks. There hasn't only been anarcho-activists at RSM. We've had a rat that lived there for several months. The rats' arrival caused a conflict between animal rights activists who wanted to save the rat by "catching it" in some clever and humane way and those who believed in honourable rattraps. During this time the rat occupied itself by eating up material in Brands archive and all the walls from there through the women's toilet and into the kitchen. It finally ate up a bunch of rat poison and the problem then disappeared!

Another reoccurring theme at RSMs all-meetings has been that of cleaning. It is not unusual that someone has come upon the genial idea of how we should fix the problem of dirt at RSM - "We divide the space into different cleaning areas - and them between the different groups at RSM - and the problem is solved!" We've done that now seven times in five years and the space is still not clinically sterile! In conjunction with cleaning we have even had numerous discussions about graffiti, the most of which appears on toilet walls. Groups which have had open public cafés have not liked the fact that there is graffiti of which "one country, one state, one proletariat" (which rhymes in Swedish) is an example. I tend to agree. The toilets have been repainted up until the next graffiti inspired activist with a permanent marker showed up. The war against this factual destruction of the space's walls and toilets is now ebbing to an end. However, there are rumours that the women's toilet is still covered with both slogans and dirty words! One of the more "artistic" graffiti masterpieces was a pair of ears on the wall besides the spaces' collective telephone. A picture of it made its way into he pages of a Sunday edition of the tabloid "Expressen". Since then we have decided that no journalists are allowed at RSM!

we've demonstrated...

RSM has been a vital part of the ideological schooling of Stockholm's, and even Sweden's, activists. Besides the production of Brand and INFOrm, a continual schedule of study circles have been held at RSM. Courses in basic anarchism, a lecture series on imperialism, a course in Revolutionary Societal Change, weekend courses in environmental questions and anti-fascism as well as different lecture cafés have all helped spread the message of libertarian socialism during the course of the years. Organisations such as SUF and groups such as AFA have held countrywide meetings at RSM and the Scandinavian Chiapas Solidarity Groups have meet here. Legendary Swedish activists such as Britta Gröndahl and Per "Frisco" Eriksson have held lectures. International guests from the Basque country, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Germany and the USA have all visited RSM. We have been the host of the final party of the Swedish Syndicalist union, SAC's, International Women's Conference in 1997 and we've given financial donations to the Danish magazine Direkte Aktion, the anarchist archive in Switzerland, C.I.R.A. and solidarity funds for the International Workers Aid to Bosnia and Liverpool's Women on the Waterfront. We've even collected money and clothing for our comrades who lived in the collective "Serieparaden" in Gothenburg after a crazy nazi burned down their apartment.

Action groups at RSM have been the spearhead for several countrywide and local campaigns. "Dennispaket" motorway resistance, resistance to the EU referendum, campaigns against the Swedish clothier H&Ms; sexist advertising, the campaign for a nazi-free Stockholm, campaigns against the fur industry, campaigns against the fascist Sweden Democrats in the 1994 elections and the campaign Stop Pornography Now! have all had their roots at RSM. In 1994 we organised the successful demonstration "Black and White Unite and Fight" which blazed a path right through the exclusive indoor shopping centre "Sture Gallerian" in central Stockholm! Since the Association of Comrades of the Spanish Revolution stopped organising manifestations in the memory of their fallen comrades at the foot of the statue La Mano every May Day, Stockholm's Anarchists, with RSM as a base, have made it a tradition to gather there early on the first of May. Partly because it's a lot of fun to demonstrate together to the SAC-syndicalist gathering in central Stockholm and partly to remind the current social democratic organisers of the manifestation what anti-fascism means in practice! Individuals from RSM have also stood for the bear's brunt of the work behind the large demonstrations in Stockholm against police brutality, rape and the dictatorship of the free market. We've even been on road trips to demonstrations all over Sweden as well as to Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Madrid and Oslo.

RSM has contributed to the Stockholm anarcho-movements social activities by organising parties on the Mayday and New Years Eve and we've even had a series of activist pubs, The Spider Web, for a short while. Not all of our parties have been as successful as the christening party and the police have used some of these occasions (as well as others) in order to harass us. However, activities such as the peoples kitchen have really helped build bridges over problems such as those that have existed between anarcho-punks and activists as well as our entire heterogeneous movement.

threats from afar...

During the course of the years, as the number of activists and groups at RSM have increased and as we've developed and initiated increasingly more successful political courses, so too has our need for safety consciousness increased. This has been the subject of several all-meetings and articles in both Brand and INFOrm. This widespread consciousness is apparent in amongst other things, the small number of activists from RSM who have been arrested because of their political activities. This safety consciousness is also seen in a more comical fashion - the statements from RSMs giro account. Where in the beginning activists spelled out their entire names and addresses on these payment slips it has now evolved to almost unintelligible cryptic messages of which group is paying their rent! It is also of no wonder that the police search RSMs mail, but that they are so clumsy that some letters have arrived opened and unreasonably late is laughable! We receive our important information in other ways!

The powers of law and order have been within RSMs walls on three separate occasions (twice in conjunction with wild parties and once in conjunction with the barricades that went up against a fascist demonstration on a central Stockholm street). However, it's my pleasure to be able to tell you that they have not yet been in all of RSMs nooks and crannies (such as those which are not indicated on the Department of Buildings blueprints - chew on that Special Branch!) Neither has the much talked of police observation apartment on the street above RSM been able to photograph all of RSMs activists who have used the side door to our building! Another threat from the right has been nazis. With regards to all the damage we have caused their different spaces in the Stockholm area they should be quite angry with us. However, they have never attacked RSM. It is so simple that since the original White Aryan Resistance (VAM) group was chased away from AFIS' space by 150 baton waving anarchists in 1992 the swine have never dared to come near one of our spaces - except once - and that was only to put up a miserable little sticker on the drain pipe besides the entrance to RSM! Not even when a confused young punk tried to sell "the keys to AFAs headquarters" on the Internet have the nazis done anything! We quite simply changed locks.

what the future holds...

It is soon time to once again extend RSMs lease. When SUF-Stockholm left RSM in the spring of 1998 in order to knit closer ties with the Local Federation of the SAC, RSMs future was widely discussed. Do we have enough enthusiasm to keep the space running for a few more years? Can we meet an eventual rent increase? Does our landlord want to keep us? All of these questions are important to handle, but I feel that the discussion has begun at the wrong end. Can we really afford not to keep RSM? To return to the movement of the early 1990's, without a collective space, would be devastating for everything that we've built during the last five years. The continuity that we have in Stockholm, because of RSM, is quite noticeable when you compare Stockholm's anarcho-movement with those of other Swedish cities such as Gothenburg and Malmö. In addition, the simple fact that we must struggle to pay rent every month for the space which we have has differentiated us from movements in Copenhagen and Oslo where spaces are "free". We have not taken anything for granted and have fought for that which we have.

RSM has now turned five years old and we should be proud of that fact, not over the space itself, but for everything that we have accomplished with RSM as an indispensable part of our struggle. Three cheers for RSM!