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Organising as the AF; our politics and what the group actually does

Political organising and engaging in struggles can be quite problematic and needs from the outset to be pragmatic. As anarchists and communists, in contrary to the leftist model of organising, we tend to join struggles as equals. So doing a talk on something that could be construed as a marketing pitch for the AF, put me off a little and possibly others as well. Instead, I wanted to give an introduction to the basic underlining principles of anarchist communism and how I think it compels us to organise. In the course of that the role the AF undertakes, or sees that it undertakes, or at least should undertake would hopefully be apparent. I appreciate that some may not be new to anarchism, but the hope is to underline what we believe and where this logically takes. One comrade of mine in an anarchist introduction at the Anarchist Bookfair some years ago, tried to present anarchism as a critique of power relations. I want to take it further than that and say that anarchism, and by which we mean anarchist communism, is an attempt at a revolutionary project for the realisation of a genuinely free society; free of the inequities of the market and the oppression of the state. It’s a body of ideas which we feel has something to offer and whose time may not yet have come. It holds within it important lessons from the past and ideas to take forward, without the same colossal setbacks endured by various strands of Marxism. In the founding statement of the Anarchist Communist paper Freedom in 1886, it stated; Anarchists work towards a society of mutual aid and voluntary co-operation. We reject all government and economic repression. For sometime this was falsely attributed to Kropotkin and not Charlotte Wilson, but all the same, it’s a good place to start from. It’s unrepentantly beckoning a future communist society. The assertion of the future society, or attempting to ‘build the new world in the shell of the old” is a means and an end as we see it. In contrast to oppression, injustice, inequality and hierarchy, as anarchists, we struggle and invoke the potential of the new society. The premise being, our politics and struggles are intimately intertwined into the relations we’re developing with each other, or as German anarchist Gustav Landauer put it “The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another”. When trying to isolate or pin-down the conception of anarchism we find some difficulty. There is no all encompassing manifesto or one founding father giving us our stone tablets that we have carried on unhindered. Its body of ideas are scattered across a number of theorists, organisations, a number of texts and historically encapsulated in events as diverse as the Spanish Civil War to the Paris Commune, and not just European events or events back in antiquity, we can see something of anarchy in the Arab Spring and more recently the resistance to racist police brutality and protests in immigration detention centres. When we look at anarchism these core principles are at work; • Means to an end philosophy; i.e. it is prefigurative, attempting to address matters in the here and now • Utilising direct action without third party mediators • Based on self-management through voluntary association • And the important bedfellows of egalitarianism and solidarity When we come to embrace even a fraction of these ideas, we clearly become antagonistic to a society based on the rule of property and market forces, the political supremacy of the state etc. These ideas compel us into confronting basic everyday struggles like those forced on many of us at the moment in London, such as; • housing – rising rents and the attack on social housing, unhindered building of new homes for the wealthy, pushing ordinary people out of the city • attacks on social security and welfare in its many guises • the increasing racist and parochial character of politics whether its immigration controls or the rise in the confidence of the far-right The struggles and potential success of our class requires a greater level of organisation than is currently apparent from the libertarian milieu. After being involved in anarchist politics for a number of years, anarchism, particularly in the capital remains as static and unable to meet important barometers of winning the decisive battle of ideas as ever. We need to insert our ideas into new arenas and put forward a movement building strategy. These are important questions we need to address, collectively, which I feel even the most well intentioned affinity group or local collective will struggle with; How do we present our ideas and the history of the struggles of workers, to the class? How do we co-ordinate radical militants? How potentially do we envisage winning campaigns from inception to fruition? How potentially do we envisage workers running their own workplaces? We have to ask ourselves deep probing questions, such as why do turgid leftist groups still dominate the campuses? How is it that Leninist groups still dominate some campaigns in our absence? How do we respond to this? Why does the old left still dominate certain sections of the trade unions? In an article no so long ago, Marxist David Harvey noted “I wouldn't want my anarchist friends to be in charge of a nuclear power station” Well, I believe he got it wrong. Anarchist organising with its eschewing of the dead-weight of centralism, hierarchy in favour of self-management and autonomy complements the logical requirements of vital services like aviation and nuclear safety. Very real crises posed today like the spread of contagious diseases and international conflict require responses that go way beyond the restricted framework of the nation state and parochialism. As anarchists our response to this has to be greater and greater organisational capacity as a movement. There are spaces all over that we should be contesting, be it the power of the state, the market or the left. The AF organisationally is very modest, but we struggle for, along with others, for a stronger dynamic and militant anarchist movement grappling with some of these questions. To echo Bakunin, our role is very reminiscent of that of a midwife; to highlight dangers to our liberty, while getting involved in the day to day fights, be it housing or work-place issues, anti-fascism and anti-racism while helping the spread anarchist ideas. This is why, contrary to the mass media perception, anarchism has to imply order, it’s the logical consequence of what we believe in; "organisation, far from creating authority, is the only cure for it and the only means whereby each one of us will get used to taking an active and conscious part in the collective work, and cease being passive instruments in the hands of leaders." – Errico Malatesta As anarchists we need to meet this challenge and we need organisationally to be dynamic and multi-faceted in our approach to the struggles ahead of us. How does the AF attempt to undertake this? • Grounded on a set of aims and principles which are explicitly asserting social/class struggle anarchism to bring together militants who share ideas in common. • It’s based on local and autonomous self-organisation and has a structure that supports networking by oppressed groups • Part of an international – International of Anarchist Federation (IAF) which helps us initiate activity internationally with our comrades facing similar issues. To that end; the AF regularly puts a lot of work into • Education, particularly propaganda and introductory ideas around anarchism • Due to its resources its able to throw support behind important initiatives, such as the recent AFEM conference, where it was a principle supporter • We support our members in community and workplace disputes • Political engagement with wider campaigns

Posted By

JoeMaguire
Jun 4 2015 22:21

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Chilli Sauce
Jun 5 2015 01:16
This is good. Really well written. That said, I feel like it's a bit heavy on the politics - be good have a bit more on the practical side of things.
JoeMaguire
Jun 5 2015 08:28
The meeting in question went down very well, so I was pretty buoyed about it prompting a bit of a debate. I think what I'm trying to get at, is that there is a lot of organisational background stuff, particularly with the national organisation, that people don't see, that is constantly coming together. And I get frustrated between the chasm of what anarchism is (in terms of the plethora of groups and campaigns) and can be, if it looks to deeper organisational questions and thinks about its wider engagement. Obviously these ongoing thoughts and developments. There really needs to be some wake up calls though, because there have been campaigns we have let slip by, and numerically, in some areas we could have superior numbers, but it's hard to tell by the patterns we work by. I think national organisations are a must, and that's not a call for everyone to join the pre-existing groups per se, it's just far too many individuals and atomised groups exist for my liking. And in practice these groups and individuals are reinventing the wheel each time when they look at propaganda, organising solidarity work, social media etc. Re: practical side of things, I could easily go back and add a paragraph or two about what the London group does in terms of regular activity.
Infrared.
Jun 5 2015 15:11
I thought this was an interesting article, and I agree with you about the David Harvey quote being mistaken - self-managing structures could take care of a nuclear power station. I have some friendly criticism of your comment (not so much the article) that I hope might be useful: JoeMaguire wrote:
I think national organisations are a must, and that's not a call for everyone to join the pre-existing groups per se, it's just far too many individuals and atomised groups exist for my liking. And in practice these groups and individuals are reinventing the wheel each time when they look at propaganda, organising solidarity work, social media etc.
While I have a lot of respect for the AF - in particular it is the closest existing group to my own view of the workplace, the dual pronged strategy of workplace resistance groups and rank and file participation in unions and syndicalist unions where possible - I think there are still problems inherent to the micro-sect model that the national organisations unfortunately fall into. Things that the national organisations do are enormously important - providing national coordination for militants, providing free sheets that can be handed out, maintaining a public facing front for anarchism in the UK, providing solidarity work where necessary and providing internal education. But they still fall into the trap of the micro-sect by building organisational walls that separate them from the rest of the class, and permit them to grow solely by accretion and not through the development of a mass of workers through progressive political stages that would allow the formation of a mass revolutionary movement. Draper wrote:
There has never been a single case of a sect which developed into, or gave rise to, a genuine socialist movement – by the only process that sects know, the process of accretion. The sect mentality typically sees the road ahead as one in which the sect (one’s own sect) will grow and grow, because it has the Correct Political Program, until it becomes a large sect, then a still larger sect, eventually a small mass party, then larger, etc., until it becomes large and massy enough to impose itself as the party of the working class in fact. But in two hundred years of socialist history, this has never actually happened, in spite of innumerable attempts.
https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1973/xx/microsect.htm I understand your frustration about there existing too many individuals and atomised groups, but I personally think a plethora of political centres crystallising circles of militants around them, working on their own projects, is more likely to lead to a mass movement than founding a small organisation that will seek to grow and grow. Libcom.org and other political websites are in this way political centres that have amassed a significant amount of fellow travellers upon which they exert influence and within which they create political education and dialog, without the need to adopt the sect model. I wouldn't call for the AF or the other national political organisations to disband, I just hoped to show my disagreement with the idea that micro-sects will provide the way forward to the development of a mass revolutionary movement. That said, the AF's anarchism is far superior to most of what passes for anarchism generally, and it forms a great deal of the organisational backbone for anarchists in the UK, and members participation in the IWW is particularly valuable.
JoeMaguire
Jun 6 2015 12:11
Infrared. wrote:
I understand your frustration about there existing too many individuals and atomised groups, but I personally think a plethora of political centres crystallising circles of militants around them, working on their own projects, is more likely to lead to a mass movement than founding a small organisation that will seek to grow and grow.
Hi Infrared, there is no need to be cautious with what you say, because I think I agree on some level. This is why I talked about engaging as equals, and I laboured this point; Quote:
The AF organisationally is very modest, but we struggle for, along with others, for a stronger dynamic and militant anarchist movement grappling with some of these questions. To echo Bakunin, our role is very reminiscent of that of a midwife; to highlight dangers to our liberty, while getting involved in the day to day fights, be it housing or work-place issues, anti-fascism and anti-racism while helping the spread anarchist ideas.
I think even under very good circumstances the AF will still be a relatively small organisation in relation to the movement or the size of ongoing struggles. Its real test of strength is going to be ultimately in what it has to offer in struggles and its influence beyond its number. It’s easy when you're in an organisation to substitute the organisation for contributing towards wider social struggles, but it should always be the other way round, which is why I think its good AF nationally supported AFEM and does whatever it can with international solidarity. Its also trying the solidarity network thing with limited success and that can be labour intensive. You can tell a group is on to something when it does decent work and that doesn’t translate into needless self-promotion etc. The problem still remains for me, there are nominally a lot of anarchists with very similar politics, who remain outside any formalised political collective, and if indeed anarchism is organisation, organisation and organisation questions need to be asked about this. A plethora of groups is not necessarily a bad thing - but let’s get organised.
spaceman spiff
Jun 6 2015 14:10
Regarding the issue of nuclear power plants, there was a fantastic article published on Libcom a few years ago that rebuts this very point. It can be read here. I'd also like to echo the call for a discussion of the more practical quotidian actions of the AF. There is an infinite amount of resources that talk about anarchist ideology, but the day-to-day activities of many of these anarchist groups remains a mystery, at least to me. Regarding national vs. atomized groups, perhaps the best strategy is to coordinate nation-wide conferences and nurture communication links and platforms between groups. Each can then pursue their own projects within the context of a broader strategy, and quickly come together and coordinate for larger events. To what extent this already exists, I have no idea.
Infrared.
Jun 6 2015 14:57
Good to see AF members are receptive to criticism. Supporting the AFEM conference was one of the best things that the national organisations were able to do. I agree with the question of getting organised, but i'd say an important question is the how of organisation - the formation of political centres based on concrete or theoretical projects, amassing a circle of co-thinkers or co-actors around them seems to me a better strategy than the formation of specific political groups. These can be politically specific centres, but they avoid the problem of building organisational walls that distinguish the 'in-group' and 'out-group' of people that creates all sorts of problems of the type that can be read about in the Hal Draper link I put in my last post. So the alternative model to the micro-sect could be anything from a circle of readers and writers for a local class struggle newspaper, an international website, a Solidarity Network, a workplace resistance group, or anything else that is politically distinct from the mass organisations of struggle, but not a specific political group. I think this can tie quite neatly into Scott Napalos's idea of the refoundation of politics on the intermediate level, seeing this as the road by which to create a marked political tendency within the working class that is essentially a socialistic prototype from which a mass revolutionary movement can progressively arise. I think it is interesting that you mention: JoeMaguire wrote:
I think even under very good circumstances the AF will still be a relatively small organisation in relation to the movement or the size of ongoing struggles. Its real test of strength is going to be ultimately in what it has to offer in struggles and its influence beyond its number
This ties into the idea of the intermediate level, and i'd agree with this.
JoeMaguire
Jun 21 2015 23:04
I wanted to read the document quoted by Infrared before coming back on some organisational questions. noclass wrote:
JoeMaguire, Just by my experience and by my knowledge, may be limited, I think, a communist (anti capitalist) organization must be a labor organization. A communist organization without anarchism, is not a true communist organization, it is a reformist organization.
My reading of what your eluding to is about the disconnect from a radical milieu and the experiences of ordinary workers, not too dissimilar to sages who have a fear of testing their theories. (Also reminds me of martial arts where the terms ‘dead’ and ‘live’ are used to indicate the split between those who do and don’t use sparring.) I’m inclined to agree about the need to have a tight association with working class organisations and their everyday activity. But at the same time, I don’t think unions have the answer. I’m in favour of the three pronged approach of both AF and SF and in favour of anarcho-syndicalism as a vehicle but whether A-S achieves its aims and stays on course, is a matter of the struggles it undertakes, but avoiding that line of activity no further inoculates you from reformism, it potentially exposes you more to political abstractions and irrelevance. Infrared. wrote:
I agree with the question of getting organised, but i'd say an important question is the how of organisation - the formation of political centres based on concrete or theoretical projects, amassing a circle of co-thinkers or co-actors around them seems to me a better strategy than the formation of specific political groups. These can be politically specific centres, but they avoid the problem of building organisational walls that distinguish the 'in-group' and 'out-group' of people that creates all sorts of problems of the type that can be read about in the Hal Draper link I put in my last post. So the alternative model to the micro-sect could be anything from a circle of readers and writers for a local class struggle newspaper, an international website, a Solidarity Network, a workplace resistance group, or anything else that is politically distinct from the mass organisations of struggle, but not a specific political group.
I’ve never been in a political anarchist communist organisation until about six months ago. Prior to that I was intermittently active in Solfed. I’m mulling over organisational questions, but I sometimes think the group occupies several spaces and doesn’t do a great job of explaining, particularly to other radicals, what role it actually performs in practice. I’m trying to see where some of the contradictions lead me on certain tactical and organisational points. Infrared. wrote:
I think this can tie quite neatly into Scott Napalos's idea of the refoundation of politics on the intermediate level, seeing this as the road by which to create a marked political tendency within the working class that is essentially a socialistic prototype from which a mass revolutionary movement can progressively arise.
First time I’ve read this and will take it away and discuss it with others. It’s possible we already undertake aspects of this, but as one of the few anarchist organisations, within London, never mind nationally, there are different approaches even beyond the aims and principles, primarily because the organisation is “an organisation of revolutionary class struggle anarchists” and doesn’t adhere to platformism, but is simply influenced by certain aspects of it. So there are members within AF that are heavily influenced by activism because we’re the organisation mostly likely to have a relationship with that kind of milieu. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it does produce a lot of laudable activity from time to time, like the high-profile squatting in central London that’s doing a good job of highlights empty properties around the capital. So in London AF we have a commitment to housing struggles. To this end we setup this group in conjunction with others in the east London area. It produces a regular bulletin (which doesn’t always appear on the webpage) the group feeds into / supports a number of campaigns, not least E15 Focus Mums and the Radical Housing Network. We also produce a London wide radical sheet called 'Rebel City'. Which tries to cover the various housing disputes, offering an analysis etc. We will have to see if these can be hosted by Libcom. Nationally, the group has taken to undertaken some Solnet activity with mixed results given how time intensive the activity can be. If we look specifically on political activism, I’ve already mentioned feminist activity, there was national anti-election activity recently, and if you want to go back further (because its late and my memory is being poo) there was a big national campaign against ID cards, which I thought worked really well.
JoeMaguire
Jun 22 2015 20:14
I agree with the need to have a structural and organic link to workers and their struggles, but there is lots of caveats in there as well. Its long intensive work and you need to avoid the reformist 'safe channels'. There have been a few activists recently who have been absorbed by the union bureaucracy. This thankfully covers why this is a mess. I'm also slightly less critical of the activist scene than I was say 18 months ago and probably than a bulk of people on here. Its feeding quite nicely into things at the minute especially around the occupation of housing estates and there has been a bit of a coalescing of different tendencies which as buoyed a few people.
Infrared.
Jun 23 2015 00:38
Haven't got much more to contribute, but i'm glad that you found the texts I linked to interesting. An important task is working out how to develop some massification of working class politics, and to me the intermediate level, located between specific political actors and mass organisations, holds promise. I'd say Action East End could be thought of as an intermediate level grouping. Although if you look at something like Haringey Solidarity Group, they have intermediate level principles (ie. an article criticising capitalism in their newsletter), while also occupying a 'mass' role, which I guess shows the limits of analysing political activity in terms of levels (to be fair Scott does mention this in his article). I'd have nothing against a 'mass' organisation publishing anti-capitalist articles, in fact I think it is a positive thing.