Thoughts on the Anarchist Federation Proposal [March 2008]

Thoughts on the Anarchist Federation Proposal
@ndy

In December last year, some anarchists from Sydney floated a proposal to form a regional anarchist federation in Oceania. In brief the proposal was made out of a desire to create links between anarchists in the region.

The following are some of my own thoughts in response.

To begin with, there are some obvious definitional issues. The first is “what is anarchism?’. [The] second is “what is a federation?”[.] And the third is to do with what is meant by ‘Oceania’.

As for the first question, the proposal contains a statement of ‘common politics’. These are contained in five points. Thus according to the proposal’s authors, anarchists:

’1. Seek to abolish capitalism and class society;
2. Support libertarian forms of organisation;
3. Oppose all forms of oppression;
4. Believe an anarchist society is possible, desirable (and necessary) and;
5. Oppose the state and support internationalist struggle.’

Or something like that. (The above is a summation.) The five points are elaborated upon at length in the proposal, and the following section is a response, both to these further reflections and the five points which are presented as forming the core of an anarchist politic…

[blah blah blah]

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2014 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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4 Responses to Thoughts on the Anarchist Federation Proposal [March 2008]

  1. ites says:

    I recently found an issue of In Ya Face from 10 years ago where people around the Barricade collective were discussing the same question. 10 years is a decade, and people in other parts of the world have resolved these questions and actually moved on to the practical work of involving themselves in and building the kinds of organisations being discussed. It seemed worth actually pointing that out.

    Maybe instead of attempting to debate what is not really that controversial and addressing practical questions instead (eg. what strategies is the anarcho org to employ, what is the nature of the relationship between organised anarchists and the working class, how do organised anarchists choose to relate to the working class, etc) we might actually get somewhere. Far be it for me to tell real anarchists what’s up though of course.

  2. @ndy says:

    1. I think those questions can, are and have been discussed by anarchists over the course of the last 10, 20, 30, 127 years: I imagine they will continue to be.

    2. These questions can be posed in the absence of a federation, which is a specific political project.

    3. For those interested, the history of discussion surrounding and attempts to initiate somesuch federation are worth examining. This includes the discussion in the final edition of IYF. Since then, a number of other texts have been produced, and various meetings held.

    4. The experience in other countries is suggestive but Australia is distinctive in the sense that only one, very short-lived federation has come into existence.

    5. The IAF currently has sections in:

    Argentina FLA
    Belarus ФАБ
    Britain AF
    Bulgaria ФАБ
    Czech & Slovak ČSAF
    France, Belgium and Switzerland FA
    Germany & Switzerland FdA
    Italy FAI
    Spain & Portugal FAI
    Slovenia FAO

    Each of these countries (with the possible exception of Belarus?) have a much richer history of anarchist movement than Australia — certainly a much richer history of revolutionary movement. I think the absence of deep(er) historical roots has much to do with the current situation of anarchist movement in Australia.

  3. ites says:

    As far as the questions you refer to, you would definitely hope so – especially given the lack of any specific reference to the politics of intersectionality, which to my mind are pivotal to the success or failure of the anarchist project. Of course we should oppose all forms of oppression, but we also need to understand how all forms of oppression are interlinked and contribute as a whole to the maintenance of political hierarchies and the various forms of social and economic privilege that they protect and perpetuate.

    The questions I was referring to revolved around the non-debate around the pros and cons of organisation per se. Perhaps in the course of the abovementioned debate we could adopt the understanding that anarchy is a collective project, requiring as it does mutual aid and solidarity for its success – not to mention the aforementioned intersectional analysis and a willingness to not only acknowledge one’s own privilege in the case of us white cis males, but also to recognise and be cognizant of the shortcomings of liberal identity politics, and to that end take stock of all forms of discrimination at once with a view to attacking the scourge at the root rather than the branches.

    I agree that anywhere else in the world has a much richer history of revolutionary movement and certainly a far higher success rate of solving organisation questions, if not internal disagreements / fallings out / shitfights as well (I’m sure the one feeds into the other, cf. tyranny of structurelessness). Since that is the case maybe there’s something to be said for addressing predominantly practical issues as I say and collecting organisational documents from other organisations (statutes especially) to examine how others have approached organisational issues and thereby to avoid having to reinvent the wheel.

  4. @ndy says:

    As far as the questions you refer to, you would definitely hope so – especially given the lack of any specific reference to the politics of intersectionality, which to my mind are pivotal to the success or failure of the anarchist project. Of course we should oppose all forms of oppression, but we also need to understand how all forms of oppression are interlinked and contribute as a whole to the maintenance of political hierarchies and the various forms of social and economic privilege that they protect and perpetuate.

    1.

    The questions you posed were “practical questions” — as opposed, presumably, to theoretical ones. The examples you gave were to do with strategy (‘what should anarchist organisations do in order to fulfill their aims?’) and understanding (‘what is the relationship between anarchist organisations and the working class?’). As I see it, the questions you posed are theoretical ones with practical implications. That is, the answer to these questions (and others like them) are based in theory (an abstract understanding of the world and the place of the anarchist organisation within it) and determine the practice of the organisations concerned by providing a theoretical framework for their practical elaborations/s.

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘the lack of any specific reference to intersectionality’: perhaps you mean to suggest that, to this point — that is, over the course of the last 127 years or so — in Australia there has been an absence of discussion regarding this concept in the context of specifically anarchist discussions around social change. I’m not sure if this is correct. To begin with, as I understand it, the term ‘intersectionality’ is of fairly recent coinage, and only began to be employed in the last few decades, first in the United States and then elsewhere in the English-speaking world. (A number of sources credit the critical race theorist and academic Kimberlé Crenshaw with doing so in an essay published in 1989. Patricia Hill Collins writes that her 1989 and 1991 articles “mark a juncture when the ideas of social movement politics became named and subsequently incorporated into the academy.”) In which case, its absence from Australian anarchist discourse since 1886 can be fairly easily explained. Be that as it may, understood broadly, on my reading anarchists have been concerned to address social structure in terms other than — that is, in addition to — the concept of class and class society for some time, whatever specific form this understanding has taken (and however flawed or partial). Secondly, as I suggested in reference to a comparative understanding of the history of anarchist movements in different territories, the situation of anarchism within Australia is marginal, and I think does much to explain the general paucity of written documents to which one might refer and a body of historical practice upon which such theory might be based. In any case, I certainly agree with you that an understanding of society and social oppression is crucial to any liberatory movement.

    2.

    The questions I was referring to revolved around the non-debate around the pros and cons of organisation per se. Perhaps in the course of the abovementioned debate we could adopt the understanding that anarchy is a collective project, requiring as it does mutual aid and solidarity for its success – not to mention the aforementioned intersectional analysis and a willingness to not only acknowledge one’s own privilege in the case of us white cis males, but also to recognise and be cognizant of the shortcomings of liberal identity politics, and to that end take stock of all forms of discrimination at once with a view to attacking the scourge at the root rather than the branches.

    I’m not sure I fully understand you. If what you’re saying is: a) creating an anarchist society is a collective project based upon; b) having an understanding of contemporary society which is not reducible to and in fact is opposed to ‘liberal identity politics’, then yes, of course. And yes, part of this entails having an understanding of the ways in which our perspectives are determined by our (racial/ised, gender/ed) situations — and an appreciation of the ‘practical’ implications this might have for our individual and collective practice.

    3.

    I agree that anywhere else in the world has a much richer history of revolutionary movement and certainly a far higher success rate of solving organisation questions, if not internal disagreements / fallings out / shitfights as well (I’m sure the one feeds into the other, cf. tyranny of structurelessness). Since that is the case maybe there’s something to be said for addressing predominantly practical issues as I say and collecting organisational documents from other organisations (statutes especially) to examine how others have approached organisational issues and thereby to avoid having to reinvent the wheel.

    Well I’m not sure it’s a case of reinventing the wheel so much as it is as putting the wheels that do exist into motion. This, as I see it, is part of what motivates discussions around federation. Further, I think the resolution of practical issues may be served by reference to statutes, but in other, important ways, are resolved practically:– that is, through practice. In this context, the crucial question is: what sustains practice over time? Or: if some form of permanent anarchist organisation is considered worthwhile, what are the things that make these organisations most likely to run in accord with their aims and principles?

    Two final points.

    First, I’m not sure how your comments relate to the question of federation. You seem to be suggesting that the creation of an anarchist federation is either inadvisable or unnecessary, and that what anarchists should be doing is something else, such as discussing the best strategy for an anarchist organisation to, say, exert political influence among the working class, or studying organisational statutes. In which case, I think it’s worth noting that: a) current discussions do revolve around questions of practical organisation, both within and between anarchist organisations and; b) the process of creating an anarchist federation does not preclude, and may even facilitate, broader discussions regarding the relationship of anarchism (and anarchist organisations) to the working class.

    Secondly, if the subject of anarchist federation is indeed being addressed, it would be worthwhile doing so in reference to things like the 2008 reader. The issues addressed therein by myself and various other anarchists from Melbourne and Sydney are, as far as I can tell, concerned with very practical, nuts and bolts issues, as well as broader, theoretical subjects.

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