Some thoughts on the proposal for a regional anarchist federation in Oceania

    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 closer links between anarchists in the region.

    The following are some of my own thoughts in response.

    Note that a gathering of anarchists interested in discussing the proposal will take place over Easter (Friday March 21–Monday March 24) @ the International Workers’ Club in Northcote, Melbourne. For more details, read the blog.

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’.

Anarchism

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 some 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.

So, in respect of 1): Capitalism is a form of class society — but not the only one, obviously. In which case, it may be simpler to state that anarchists seek to abolish class society. On the other hand, to my mind, the most obvious and first principle of an anarchist politic is opposition to hierarchy; that is, anarchists wish to create anarchy, a society without rulers. In which case 4) would assume the highest priority. That is, in terms of arriving at a definition of ‘anarchism’, anarchists are those who maintain an anarchist society is both possible and desirable (the question of whether or not it is ‘necessary’ is a question of secondary importance in my opinion). From this commitment also flows the other points: opposition to capitalism and all forms of domination and exploitation, whether their bases are economic, racial or sexual. Beyond this, I think it would be worthwhile committing the federation to an explicitly revolutionary political framework.

Federation

The roots of anarchist federalism lie in the late nineteenth century, in particular debates within the IWMA (The First International, 1864). Those debates are relevant only insofar as they concerned, in part, the question of the relationship between an organisation and its parts; in this case, the International and its (largely) national branches. One of the central features of this debate was the question of state power and the relationship of workers’ movements towards its conquest. For the anarchists — sometimes also referred to as the autonomists — the ‘economic’ struggle always took precedence over the ‘political’ one. In the end, the differences between the (broadly) Marxist position and that of the (broadly) anarchist position proved too great to be reconciled within the one organisation, and the International dissolved (1872).

In essence, the theory and practice of federation developed in opposition to the theory and practice of political centralisation. That is, federation developed as a means by which such conflicts, in the absence of a central authority, could be best resolved — or perhaps left unresolved — while minimising the effects upon the pursuit of common interests. Instead, decisions made by a federation require the agreement of each of its member parts. By one definition, then, federalism means “free agreement of individuals and organizations upon collective endeavour geared towards a common objective”. In Australia, the last attempt to create such a structure was the Federation of Australian Anarchists, or FAA, established in January 1975.

The FAA lasted several years before collapsing. The reasons for this are many, but it’s notable that the structure of the FAA allowed membership by both groups and individuals (see below).

Process

There are a number of arguments in favour of allowing both existing groups of anarchists and unaffiliated individuals to participate in and to form part of an anarchist ‘federation’. The first and most obvious is that, of the hundreds if not thousands of people who describe themselves as being anarchist (or highly sympathetic to anarchism), the majority are not members of any anarchist group. In which case, excluding individuals from joining and participating in a federation (if not a discussion concerning its merits), is to effectively exclude the majority of (self-described) anarchists from the organisation. To the extent that the purpose of the federation is to overcome the political, social and even geographical isolation of anarchists, this is obviously a problem.

One reason why the inclusion of individuals (as individuals) within the federation is problematic proceeds from an understanding of the distinctive nature of a federation. In general usage, a federation is composed of groups which nominate delegates — authorised representatives of the group’s collectively-determined position(s). Delegates meet with delegates from other groups, and do so with a mandate. That is, with a clearly-defined purpose in meeting and in order to address specific questions. Further, whatever agreements are reached by delegates are not confirmed until such time as groups then proceed to ratify those decisions. That is, delegate agreements require ratification by the groups which comprise the federation. This process is intended to limit the potential for the abuse of authority granted to delegates, and to ensure that ultimate decision-making authority rests with the groups which form the federation’s organisational basis.

In the context of a federation comprised of groups and individuals, such a process is obviously unworkable. Rather, either individuals assume the same authority as groups, or decisions made by the federation as a whole are made as a result of the deliberations of each of the individuals which comprise its membership. In which case, the federation more closely resembles a political party than it does a federation of groups in the anarchist sense of the term.

As it stands, the following groups have expressed some interest in and might possibly comprise the groups from which a federation is drawn: Alarm Youth Anarchist Collective, Black Rose, Jura, Mutiny, Wollongong Autonomous Collective (NSW); Anarchist Direct Action, Barricade, Melbourne Anarchist Club (Victoria). To the best of my knowledge, there are no functioning anarchist groups in the ACT, Northern Territory, South Australia or Tasmania. In Queensland, Bastard, Beating Hearts and/or Black & Green infoshop exist as functioning collective(s), and may (or may not) be interested in the federation, but have yet to formally express any; in Western Australia, the Black Dove collective appears to have dissolved, and I’m unaware of any other functioning groups. (As an aside, the sites of both the Brisbane and Perth Social Forums have lapsed, while those for Melbourne and Sydney remain.) On a geographical basis then, and assuming the federation is a federation of groups, a more appropriate title for it might be the East Coast Anarchist Federation.

The situation in Aotearoa is a little different

Accountability

Questions of political accountability are often thorny ones. To whom should one account for one’s actions in any case?

In my experience, but also that of many others, ‘anarchism’ attracts more than its fair share of cranks. That is, individuals for whom ‘anarchism’ functions as a kind of shelter or substitute for therapeutic treatment. This is not a new phenomenon, and its occurrence is closely-related both to the political marginality of anarchism to contemporary Australian politics and social life, and also its strong associations with various (largely antiquated) cultural avant-gardes (eg, punk). In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell famously (and humorously) wrote:

One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England…

We have reached a stage when the very word ‘Socialism’ calls up, on the one hand, a picture of aeroplanes, tractors, and huge glittering factories of glass and concrete; on the other, a picture of vegetarians with wilting beards, of Bolshevik commissars (half gangster, half gramophone), of earnest ladies in sandals, shock-headed Marxists chewing polysyllables, escaped Quakers, birth-control fanatics, and Labour Party backstairs-crawlers…

If only the sandals and the pistachio-coloured shirts could be put in a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian, teetotaller, and creeping Jesus sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly!

Before I’m accused of opposition to drinking fruit juice, nudism, wearing sandals, sex, Quakers, pacifism, feminism or even quackery, I’ll make two points: first, some of my best friends are fruit juice-drinking, naked, sandal-wearing, sex-addicted, pacifistic, feministic Quakers, and I love them all dearly. Secondly, my point is that if anarchists wish to have their ideas examined more seriously by a broader range of people, then the inessential aspects of contemporary anarchist practice — so-called ‘lifestylism’ — should not be allowed to prevent this discussion taking place. In other words, the idea that a commitment to certain fashions or lifestyles is an essential requirement for effective anarchist politics needs to be addressed, and shown, in both theory and practice, to be incorrect. In this context, I’d suggest that one of the ways of doing so is to take the idea that anarchism is or rather can be a genuinely popular movement more seriously. (As an aside, I think at least some of Orwell’s apparent hostility to various forms of social deviance may be related to his being an Old Etonian; but that’s another story.)

In any case, the question of accountability is also a useful one in terms of the requirement to have some idea of goals, and also political — meaning organisational — structure. That is, accountability has at least two dimensions: one may be described in terms of an individual’s relationship to the collective of which she is a member (the micro-political); another is the relationship between the individual, group or project, and the broader movement, one composed of elements with similar if not identical political and organisational perspectives (the macro-political). In the first case, I think it’s possible to establish (more) formal arrangements; in the second, accountability — and the extension of solidarity to others — is a more flexible concept.

Why “anarchist”?

Based on my reading of the online discussions that’ve taken place, including those based on meetings in Sydney and Brisbane, one other concern is the naming of the federation, and the question of political prescription. In other words, whether or not a project of this kind should be explicitly anarchist, and whether or not it should be a requirement of those wishing to participate that they identify themselves and/or the groups to which they belong as anarchist.

My feeling is that the politics of the federation should be designated as being anarchist, and so too the groups of which it is composed. In explaining why I think this, I think it also useful to consider some common objections.

First, such a demand is exclusionary. More than this, it excludes those who share the same politics (at least insofar as these are expressed in some form of minimum definition, whatever its precise contents) but who, for whatever reason, choose either to assign some other label to their political perspective or who eschew, or who claim to eschew, labels altogether. To my mind, this is a problem, but one of most relevance to those committed to such a political perspective, but who at the same time refuse its (otherwise) obvious debt to anarchism.

To put it another way: anyone can assign any meaning they like to the term ‘anarchism’, and many use it in a manner far removed from its actual meaning as employed by self-defined anarchists and anarchist movements, both contemporary and historical. The political purpose of proclaiming anarchism to be composed of x, y and z, in the case of an anarchist federation, is to claim a certain political heritage, in a manner not unlike that which other ‘anarchists’ have been doing for several centuries, and irrespective of its bourgeois distortions (including Marxist-derived impositions). And for those who identify as Marxist, there’s no shortage of groups which they may consider joining.

    Incidentally by way of example of a group assuming an ‘anarchist’ identity, it’s possible to cite the “national anarchists”. Assuming the agreement of such individuals with the draft expression of common politics, it would be unfair to exclude them on the basis of their presumed racism (an accusation which is of course denied by them).

But leaving aside such matters, I think the purpose of having an anarchist federation speaks to a real need on the part of those who already consider themselves as belonging to this historical tradition and who feel a greater affinity to this political philosophy than they do others. As such, and in keeping with the notion of political autonomy, it makes sense, to me at least, for those of us who feel similarly inclined to seek ways and means of working more closely together, and thereby making our politics more effective.

Conclusion

Regarding the relationship between those who consider themselves anarchist and those who do not, I think it’s worth reiterating the fact that, if some kind of anarchist federation does emerge, this by no means precludes the emergence or establishment of other forms of political cooperation, whether these remain purely an ‘anarchist’ affair or comprise a range of different groups, individuals or projects. In other words, I think it would be mistaken to seek a consensus from all those who have an opinion on these and other questions regarding what is to be done. Rather, I think the gathering in Melbourne should be viewed in the same manner as a spokescouncil might: that is, as a forum in which different possibilities for action are presented, and those who feel drawn towards one form of action or another be free to pursue this course.

By way of further conclusion

I wanted to join the Spartacist League. True, we used to laugh at them; in fact everyone laughed at them, but in their isolation lay their appeal. The Spartacist League was this bad-tempered Trotskyist group that had probably no more than twenty — no, make that thirty — members throughout the country mainly based on campuses like LaTrobe and Sydney. We occasionally had run-ins with them, although they tended to keep their distance because they imagined that we were out to kidnap them individually and dump the bodies in shallow graves off Rye backbeach. We wouldn’t have done; there were plenty of leftist groups clamouring for that opportunity.

Since the early 1970s, the Australian left had been more gauche than sinister, despite what groups like People Against Communism said. That was the appeal of the far-right, I guess: groups like the League and the Nazis were either nutty or offensive, both of which amused me no end; or it spoke such unambiguous commonsense (like the British NF or the Alliance) that you couldn’t help but identify with it. Well, at least I couldn’t. Most of the left, on the other hand, was dull and earnest and out of touch. You just had to read the left’s papers or, even better, look at the miserable faces of the people selling them. How they ever recruited was beyond me. I certainly didn’t fancy spending my Saturday afternoons in draughty meeting rooms discussing Marx’s Theory of Surplus Value. If I’d wanted to learn that sort of thing I’d have paid attention in fourth form economics classes.

That was the beauty of the Spartacist League. They had this paper, Australasian Spartacist, and virtually every issue had at least one page devoted to sectarianism. Yes, they were Marxists, and yes, they also ran pages of boring leftist tripe that they no doubt thought had some appeal to the working masses — the very same working masses who would never buy their paper, week after week after week — but they specialised in airing the dirty laundry of all the other rival left groups around: the Maoists, the Eurocommunists of the CPA, the Send In the Tanks Stalinists of the Socialist Party, and all the other cheek-by-jowl rivals to the title of Trotsky’s heirs — the Socialist Workers’ Party, the Socialist Labour League, the Communist League (were they still going?), the International Socialists, etc. etc. No wonder they were generally considered to be police agents.

And they had a great writing style — snotty and sneering and puffed-up. It was pretty much like ours, actually. If you could hear what you read, they’d be saying it from the corners of their mouths, then laughing at you. They insulted other leftitsts worse than we insulted other leftists. They insulted other leftists worse than they insulted us. That was no doubt why they kept getting bashed by other Trotskyists. Technically, though, we were the Great Satan, because we were Fascists with a capital F, and the other left groups were part of the workers’ movement.

The politics would have taken a bit of getting used to, but that certainly wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility. I envied them. They knew what they believed. They knew who they hated, and why, and it was all footnoted and there was never any room for error and they could pick up deviationism from the most innocuous slip of the tongue and they were as hard on their own people as they were on everyone else and by Christ they were hard on everyone else. No one was good enough for them.

The line was laid down, probably in the US, and you’d know pretty much from the start what you could like and dislike and it would all be explained and there’d be references and cross-references in all the back issues of Australasian Spartacist so no one could just make it up as they went along…

~ David Greason, I was a teenage fascist (1994)

See also : Brian Martin, Activists and “difficult people”, Social Anarchism, Number 30, 2001, pp. 27-47. In the meantime, keep on keep on keep on dancin’ all through the night… ¡HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE!

    ORGANISATIONAL PLATFORM

    Membership

    The Federation consists of those groups and individuals in Australia who:

    1. are opposed to both capitalism and state socialism,
    2. accept the possibility and desirability of libertarian socialism, ie a co-operative and egalitarian social economy without the State,
    3. reject the view that the State – ie police, army, parliament and bureaucracy – is the decisive instrument for the achievement of a libertarian social order, and
    4. accept the necessity of co-operation, planning and organisation for the achievement of anarchist aims.

    Aims

    1. to struggle against statist, sexist, ageist, and authoritarian conceptions in all spheres of social life,
    2. to prepare the theoretical, ideological-cultural, moral, and material-organisational prerequisites for effective and permanent popular self-government in future crises,
    3. to propagate the general idea of libertarian socialism,
    4. to initiate, assist and participate in practical struggles for partial objectives on the basis of their relationship to libertarian socialist aims and objectives,
    5. to foster the development of the world anarchist movement both through building a strong Australian section and through mutual aid and discussion with other national sections.

    Structure

    1. Affinity Groups

    The basic units of the organisation are cells or affinity groups composed of either:

    1. persons engaged in a common occupation, working in a common institution or having a common status, eg, shop stewards groups, student and teacher groups, women’s groups, etc
    2. persons engaged in common specialised work for the movement or having common interests, eg publishing groups, research groups, prisoners aid groups, etc.
    3. persons living or working in a common locality.

    2. Regional Associations

    The cells or affinity groups in a given geographical region should form a regional association for purposes of mutual aid and discussion and for organising general propaganda. In areas where there are not functionally differentiated groups, regional associations should be formed in order to bring anarchists and sympathisers together and in this and other ways facilitate the emergence of affinity groups.

    3. National Sub-Sections

    Affinity groups may also unite nationally, or regionally on the basis of common occupation, interest, status or program, to form sub-sections of the federation.

    4. Corresponding Members

    Each group – affinity, regional or national – should designate a member for correspondence with the rest of the movement. If the names and addresses of such corresponding members cannot be published openly they should still be held by the group producing the internal bulletin and also the corresponding member of each regional association or national sub-section within the federation should keep the names and addresses of the corresponding members of its component cells or affinity groups.

    5. Individual Members

    Although it is desirable that members belong to an affinity group, (or several), they may be attached directly to either a regional association, a national sub-section or the federation itself in the absence of suitable local groups.

    6. Any individual member or component group can contact any component group of the Federation either directly or if necessary through the medium of the internal bulletin or system of corresponding members.

    7. Any individual member or component group may place articles or statements in the internal bulletin, or – in case of space limitations – have articles or statements distributed together with the internal bulletin.

    8. Any component group may call a conference of all federation members, of all anarchists in a particular region, or of all anarchists active in a particular type of affinity group, and have the conference advertised through the internal bulletin or invitations issued through the system of corresponding members.

    9. Any affinity group may hold meetings with other affinity groups, or between its delegate and the delegates of other affinity groups and have the invitations issued through the system of corresponding members.

    Conferences and Meetings

    1. No decision can be made or statements, issued in the name of the federation. All statements and decisions are made in the name of the conference of individuals or meeting of group delegates making them.

    2. National and regional anarchist conferences are open to all members and decisions have only the force of recommendations, being not binding on members or component groups.

    3. Meetings between revocable delegates with a mandate from their affinity group may make decisions binding on the groups they represent on the specific matters for which they have a mandate.

    Federation of Australian Anarchists Bulletin, No.3, Jan-Feb, 1975; also Rabelais, Vol.9, No.1.

This is a worthwhile document, but flawed. As I see it, what is being envisioned in the recent proposal is the creation of a means by which to facilitate communication and cooperation between existing anarchist groups. The FAA, on the other hand… is another matter, one which is probably not worth my while discussing at any greater length at this point in time.

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 2020 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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30 Responses to Some thoughts on the proposal for a regional anarchist federation in Oceania

  1. Jcard says:

    There is no such thing as libertarian socialism. Socialism is a morally bankrupt form of economics in which individuals are forbidden to participate in voluntary trade with one another. Don’t try to mask your message under libertarian ideas.

    http://www.jcardsworld.blogspot.com/

  2. Dr. Cam says:

    I’m not sure anybody told the 1975 Federation of Australian Anarchists about that.

    @ndy, you gotta check out this guy’s blog – it’s scarily hilarious.

  3. @ndy says:

    Cam, if you want to change from a free (semi) capitalist society to a communist hell then Obama is your man. I almost broke my hand punching the wall, so be it. It isn’t even the money, its the princible.

  4. Ultimate Hater says:

    Why are Americans so stupid?

  5. PF says:

    He he, this guy is a crack up; a great example of the princibles of right-wing anarchism mutating into a Lockean social Darwinism. Remove all social safety nets and let the poor survive on the scraps of food from the tables of the rich, that’s the way to encourage hard work and innovation, and without that prompting the poor will just continue to bludge. And this bloke has the audacity to title one of his posts ‘THE DUMBEST MAN ALIVE’ (he was not referring to himself).

    He goes on to demonstrate the superiority of the free market in rewarding intelligence and diligence by devoting a blog to his own stellar poker career. I almost shit myself laughing.

    Thanks Jcard, I’ll be visiting your site the next time I feel inadequate. By the way, I notice you have only mentioned Ron Paul once in your entire blog. Is he too much of a socialist as well?

    PF

  6. @ndy says:

    COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY OFF THE TOPIC but…

    The Harris Poll® #11, February 26, 2003
    The Religious and Other Beliefs of Americans 2003

    Many people believe in miracles (89%), the devil (68%), hell (69%), ghosts (51%), astrology (31%) and reincarnation (27%)

    _____________________________________

    by Humphrey Taylor

    That very large majorities of the American public, and almost all (but not all) Christians believe in God, the survival of the soul after death, miracles, heaven, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Virgin birth will come as no great surprise. What may be more surprising is that half of all adults believe in ghosts, almost a third believe in astrology, and more than a quarter believe in reincarnation – that they were themselves reincarnated from other people. Majorities of about two-thirds of all adults believe in hell and the devil, but hardly anybody expects that they will go to hell themselves.

    These are some of the findings of a Harris Poll of 2,201 U.S. adults surveyed online between January 21 and 27, 2003, using the same methods used by Harris Interactive® to forecast the 2000 elections with great accuracy.

    The survey also found that women are more likely than men to hold both Christian and non-Christian beliefs. African-Americans are more likely than whites and Hispanics to hold Christian beliefs, as are Republicans. The level of belief is generally highest among people without a college education and lowest among those with postgraduate degrees.

    * The 90% of adults who believe in God include 93% of women, 96% of African-Americans and 93% of Republicans but only 86% of men, 85% of those with postgraduate degrees, and 87% of political independents.
    * The 84% of those who believe in the survival of the soul after death include 89% of women but only 78% of men, 86% of those without a college degree but only 78% of those with postgraduate degrees.
    * The 84% of the public who believe in miracles falls to 72% among those with postgraduate degrees, and rises to 90% among women and 90% among African-Americans.
    * The 82% who believe in heaven includes 89% of women but only 75% of men and falls to 71% among people aged 25 to 29 and those with postgraduate degrees.

    On almost all the beliefs that are central to Christianity, there is a general pattern with:

    * Higher levels of belief among women than among men.
    * Lower level of belief among people aged 25 to 29.
    * Higher levels of belief among people with no college education and lower levels of belief among those with postgraduate education.
    * Higher levels of belief among African-Americans than among whites and Hispanics.

    Other interesting findings include:

    * 68% of the public believes in the devil, and 69% believe in hell.
    * 51% of the public, including 58% of women, and 65% of those aged 25 to 29 but only 27% of those aged 65 and over believe in ghosts.
    * 31% of the public believes in astrology including 36% of women and 43% of those aged 25 to 29 but only 17% of people aged 65 and over, and 25% of men.
    * 27% believe in reincarnation, that they were once another person. This includes 40% of people aged 25 to 29 but only 14% of people aged 65 and over.

    FEDERATION anyone?

    …anyone?

  7. grumpy cat says:

    Hi All

    @ndy I was already to write a fiery response but your new conclusion is really excellent. However I still have a problem with the line:

    And for those who identify as Marxist, there’s no shortage of groups which they may consider joining.

    Now let me know if I am wrong here but I am assuming that was in part written in reference to either me or people ‘like’ me. If that is the case you know very well that I have very little in common with those groups (on a whole) and also you know very well the cross-pollination between ultra-left communists, libertarian Marxists of various strains and anarchists. Why muddy the waters?

    rebel love
    Dave

  8. @ndy says:

    But Dave, everyone enjoys stomping in the mud don’t they?

    Inre Marxist groups and the opportunities afforded to join them: this is so. Existant Marxist groups which espouse a non-Leninist perspective are noticeable for their absence. On the other hand, there do appear to have been some efforts in this direction, mostly emanating from within the student mileu. Examples include Love & Rage, Red and Black, SPECTRE (?) and so on (interestingly, most appear to be based in NSW; I also believe that the Wollongong Autonomous Collective is not anarchist). Other projects have comprised such elements, but have been otherwise fairly specific in terms of their orientation (especially in the form of various media projects and solidarity campaigns).

    But anyway, I’m certainly not trying to muddy the waters. What I mean is: a proposal was made by some anarchists in Sydney to form an anarchist federation. An anarchist group in Melbourne agreed to provide the physical space within which to have a face-to-face discussion of the proposal, and anarchist networks in Sydney and Melbourne are making the organisational arrangements. A callout has been issued to anarchists from across the region to respond to the proposal, and a number of anarchists (and others) have subsequently done so (including, obviously, myself).

    As it stands, as a result, over Easter, I think there will be a number of anarchists coming to Melbourne to discuss the proposal to form an anarchist federation. Some anarchists will be in favour of such a federation, and some anarchists will not. I also expect there will be discussion regarding the potential purpose, structure and membership of such a federation.

    In addition, there will be others, who are not anarchists, who will attend the convergence. I expect their purposes in attending will be varied. By definition, it will not be to participate in the formation of an anarchist federation, regardless of their opinion on the substance of the proposal: good, bad, or indifferent; boring or exciting. Within the broader debate concerning organisational and political questions, I imagine that there will be scope to engage with some of the issues raised by non-anarchists regarding these questions.

    When I write “I think the gathering in Melbourne should be viewed in the same manner as a spokescouncil might: that is, as a forum in which different possibilities for action are presented, and those who feel drawn towards one form of action or another be free to pursue this course”, I do not mean to argue that the main purpose of the gathering is anything other than for anarchists to discuss the proposal to form an anarchist federation. What I mean is, beyond this question, I think it will be possible for all those in attendance, anarchist or not, to discuss issues unrelated to this, provided doing so does not prove disruptive to the main purpose of the gathering.

    A final note: I’m not personally involved in the organisation of the event, so I think it would be best to address any specific concerns regarding the planned content of the Easter weekend events to those who are, whether based in Sydney or Melbourne.

    Pies in ’08,

    @ndy.

  9. grumpy cat says:

    Hi All

    The original proposal did read:

    If we are to move towards such organisation there is much to be discussed with groups & individuals of various tendencies and experiences. People who agree broadly with the politics expressed in the federation proposal, whether or not they identify as anarchists, are most welcome to join the convergence.

    It was always addressed to a wider group than just “anarchists” and makes no dichotomy between levels of participation.

    rebel love
    Dave

  10. grumpy cat says:

    hi @ndy my internet connection is too slow to watch the video but I assume from the titled you are suggesting that I am just whinging.
    bit crap that
    Dave

  11. @ndy says:

    No not really — sorry if I offended. I just got sent the link to that video and thought it was funny. But I’m not sure how I can make any clearer what I think, which is that: while non-anarchists are welcome to attend, the principal framework for discussion is the proposal to form an anarchist federation; further details are the responsibility of the organisers, of which I’m not one. To put it bluntly, as far as I’m aware, you’re welcome to attend and to contribute.

    For what it’s worth — and I assume you’ve already read this — here’s a suggested outline of proceedings, dated February 15, 2008.

    WHAT : A Regional Anarchist Convergence: Towards a Federation
    WHEN : Easter Weekend Friday March 21 – Sunday 24, 2008
    WHERE : Northcote, Melbourne

    Accessibility note: the space is all on one level and is quite accessible.

    This is an open invitation to all anarchists and anti-authoritarian revolutionaries, to stake a claim on the present as our revolutionary moment — in the face of the thousands of repressions by the state and capitalism.

    Over the last five years there have been a number of large convergences about anarchism/autonomism, generally connected to major summit protests. While these moments were important, there has been a lack of space for more thorough & detailed discussions of what our politics mean here & now, & for questions about the development of substantial anarchist, revolutionary & liberatory groups throughout society at large. This is an opportunity to [have such discussions].

    An anarchist federation has been proposed…

    Some things that could be achieved [by] a new organisation include, but are not limited to:
    • improved solidarity work when individuals and collectives face state repression;
    • better support for anarchist spaces that already exist & the production of a regular regional publication;
    • the development of greater momentum & support when collectives around the region are organising around similar issues.

    If we are to move towards such [an] organisation there is much to be discussed with groups & individuals of various tendencies and experiences. People who agree broadly with the politics expressed in the federation proposal, whether or not they identify as anarchists, are most welcome to join the convergence.

    Revolutionary federations have a long history, including in this region, with varying success. So we ask, what is the right way to do it? And is now the right time?

    To try and avoid another talkfest that ends in disarray, the conference will be structured around the hope of starting a federation. But we understand that not everyone who comes might end up wanting to join a federation – or, that we may not even form a federation at all. Still, we hope that coming together to discuss our tactics & ideas & improve our communication will in itself be a success.

    Involvement

    We strongly encourage people to talk about their thoughts in collectives and affinity groups beforehand, and to form proposals that can be discussed through spokescouncil structures. If people are unable to come to the convergence, we encourage you to send written responses & suggestions.

    If you are interested in helping organise the convergence please get in touch with us (see our e-mail below). We want to make the process as decentralised and horizontal as possible, & hope that practical tasks could be divided among different groups, so please let us know if you can help with anything in particular.

    There is also an e-list for organising practical aspects of the convergence. E-mail us for details.

    [email protected]

    As an aside, here’s a list of what I believe to have been the major anarchist(ic) convergences of the last few years.

    2001 : No Gods, No Masters, April 27–30, Melbourne | Media Circus* & Red & Black Forum, July 12–15 & 28–29, Melbourne & Sydney | Liberty, Autonomy, Solidarity, August 25–26, Wollongong
    2002 : From Resurgence to Insurgence, April 27–28, Sydney
    2003 : Anarchy For Life, May 2–4, Brisbane | Belladonna DIY Fest, November 27–29, Wollongong
    2004 : Anarcon ’04, January 23–27, Perth | State of Emergency, May 21–24, Melbourne | Belladonna DIY Fest, December 3–5, Wollongong
    2005 : Queeruption7, February 16–23, Sydney | Anarcon ’05, February 26–27, Melbourne | Subplot (Sydney Social Forum), August 27–30, Sydney | Belladonna DIY Fest, November 9–11, Wollongong
    2006 : A Space Outside, November 13–15, Melbourne | Live and Let DIY, December 1–3, Brisbane
    2007 : Camp Betty, June 7–11, Melbourne | F.L.A.R.E. in the Void, September 4–9, Sydney
    2008 : Live and Let DIY, February 1–3, Brisbane

  12. grumpy cat says:

    Hey @ndy, sorry for being overly sensitive
    cheers
    dave

  13. vents says:

    See you all at Queeruption8

  14. @ndy says:

    vents,

    Don’t pretend you didn’t realise Queeruption8 was in Barcelona — three years ago. Or that Queeruption9 (Tel Aviv, 2006) and Queeruption10 (Vancouver, 2007) have all already done come and gone.

  15. vents says:

    andy you are starting to scare me, it’s the homophobia you see

  16. Lumpen says:

    Holy crap, Media Circus and NGNM was seven years ago!

  17. Mar Bucknell says:

    I don’t know where anyone got the idea that the Black Dove Collective has dissolved. We have been without a physical centre since May last year, but we still meet regularly, and have actually doubled our membership in the last year. We now have thirty members.

    We don’t allow random posts from anarchists or anyone else on our public email loop. When we tried leaving it open for a while it got clogged with random trot shit and more supposedly anarchist posts in a week than one person could read in a lifetime.

    But also, Black Dove is not specifically an anarchist organisation. It is an activist organisation. Its principles and practices are based on anti-hierarchical organisation and consensus decision-making, so obviously, most of us are anarchists. But there are many members who do not identify with the histories of the anarchist movements, including independent socialists, environmental activists and peace activists, who have been and remain active members of Black Dove.

    It remains true that there is no organised anarchist group in WA, but there are loads of anarchos doing stuff, and all those people have access to the anarchist resources that have been built up over 30 years.

  18. @ndy says:

    Mar,

    My fault. Sounds neat — cheers.

  19. liz says:

    Hey @ndy,

    speaking of not quite dead, I think your “Trot Guide” link to the Solidarity website might need updating. It seems to be
    http://www.solidarity.net.au
    There is not actually anything on it yet other than the little red fist – but it promises to be coming soon…
    I’m sure you won’t be holding your breath

  20. @ndy says:

    Sweet.

    Solidarity on the interwebs is dead!

    Long live Solidarity on the interwebs!

    *big breath*

  21. az says:

    @ndy, i’m sorta disappointed. i too am thinking of attending the convergence this weekend, but i’m not an anarchist, and don’t intend to be one. but i’d like to network with people who have similar political goals, and i’ve worked with lots of anarcho folks before quite happily.

    that said, i find it disturbing that you’re recuperating a bunch of events over the last 7 or 8 years into the gamut of ‘australian anarchism’. media circus was not anarchist, or even anarchistic: the people who organised it (i was one) had varying political beliefs, but as far as i am aware none of us identified as anarchists, then or now. it was important to us not to prescribe an identity or a politics — for ourselves or those who attended. state of emergency and camp betty (as well as queeruption) come from a DIY ethic, but the political goals espoused by the people who organised those events were neither advertised as anarchist nor, i reckon, perceived as anarchist. that was their beauty.

    identity politics gets in the way of good conversation, fun and revolution. and it ends with people wanting to claim history for one, or another, or another, label — more or less violently.

  22. s0metim3s says:

    Not that I’m there, but anyway – can I nudge people toward something other than the brand-anarcho, maybe?

  23. @ndy says:

    az,

    my apologies. i didn’t mean for my listing of these events to be read simply as evidence of the fecundity of australian anarchism, or for them all to be subsumed under this banner. rather, the list i produced is of major anarchist(ic) convergences. thus i’m happy to acknowledge that neither media circus nor state of emergency were ‘anarchist’ events as such, even if anarchists participated. (with regards queeruption, i think the anarchist(ic) elements are more obviously present. for example, the program proclaims on its front page that queeruption concerns ‘sex and anarchy in the antipodes’.)

    for what it’s worth, my memory of media circus is now largely confined to a vague recollection of the panel with gavin, naomi and tony — i do recollect it raising issues very germane to anarchist concerns over authority and territory; so too, a number of other workshops and presentations concerned with the development of independent media frameworks, most of which, then as now, include anarchists among its practitioners.

    with regards yr attendance @ the convergence, again, my apologies, and a few words of clarification. afaik, the convergence is open to self-identified anarchists as well as others who are interested in such questions as the convergence is intended to discuss, irrespective of their self-identification as anarchists. so: i apologise if what i’ve written conveys the wrong impression. that said, i should also add that i’m not involved in organising the event, so all such questions should be directed to those who are. the post above is simply my opinion.

    on the question of identity and politics… i’m not sure i agree. or: i think that there are more or less accurate and productive ways of framing identity and identity politics, and it appears to me that our (my / your) ability to do so is constrained in ways that are sometimes oppressive and sometimes liberating. which is, of course, to speak at a very abstract, and perhaps not terribly helpful, level. perhaps another way of putting the same point is that i think a critique of identity is potentially subversive in ways that aren’t necessarily all that helpful, and which can be applied not only to the usual suspects but as a means of eliminating or severely truncating notions of self… which, in a way, i think concerns the sorts of questions raised by and discussed within anarchist circles concerned with post-structuralism (and vice versa).

    anyways, i digress, but i think paul nursey-bray’s essay on ‘anarchism and post-structuralism’ is neat, esp insofar as it picks up on attempts to somehow make the two compatible without comprising either. an extract:

    There have been a number of attempts in recent years to achieve a meld of anarchism and poststructuralism. These attempts have been based on perceived similarities between the two bodies of theory, particularly with respect to the iconoclastic approach of anarchism to the state, authority and accepted norms, and its proposal, as an alternative to centralised power, of diffused networks of local empowerment. Such attempts have received added impetus from a desire to render anarchism more relevant to the current age. The traditional anarchism of nineteenth century origin is held to be an anachronism in the contemporary world, a hoary, theoretical remnant from the days when dreams of reason, revolution and progress could still be entertained and applauded. As Lewis Call comments:

    “It is becoming increasingly evident that anarchist politics cannot afford to remain within the modern world. The politics of Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin — vibrant and meaningful, perhaps, to their nineteenth century audiences — have become dangerously inaccessible to late twentieth century readers”.

    Thus, the argument runs, in a postmodern society, where ‘metanarratives’ such as anarchism are, as Jean-François Lyotard insisted, to be regarded with ‘incredulity’, anarchism has no purpose or immediacy unless it can be reworked to make it appropriate to the age. The tools for this job are to be found it seems, somewhat paradoxically in the very theories, of poststructuralism and postmodernism, that its critics have claimed reveal its deficiencies and irrelevance.

    The shape of the argument is very similar to that pursued by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in their Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Position, where they argue for a reworking of Marxism in the light of poststructuralism. The post-Marxist debate that this engendered was fast and furious. The parallel attempt at reformulation in anarchist theory has occurred later, and has occasioned nothing like the clamour. But it is worth noting in this context that the term ‘post-anarchism’ has been used.

    The present paper will survey a number of approaches taken to anarchism from a poststructuralist standpoint, and develop a critique of the various arguments presented. While there will not be as vehement a reaction to post-anarchism as that of Norman Geras or Ellen Meiksins Wood to post-Marxism, nevertheless it will be contended that, just as Geras and Meiksins Wood argued that a poststructuralist Marxism was simply not Marxism, so a poststructuralist anarchism has lost those essential characteristics that go to make up a distinctly anarchist view of the individual and society. Indeed, it ends not so much as a political theory as an extension of the poststructuralist critique. At the same time the historical or traditional form of anarchism will not be defended without reservation. The call for contemporary relevance has some force, and poststructuralist scepticism towards the legacy of the Enlightenment can be instructive in the framing of approaches that may address the issue.

    It is necessary to begin with some definitional discussion, since both of our terms, anarchism and poststructuralism, can raise questions of interpretation, particularly in the way the latter term has been utilised by the proponents of poststructuralist anarchism.

    It is, one hopes, unnecessary to distinguish anarchism from anarchy, but perhaps it should be emphasised that anarchism is very much about order, but an order, both personal and social that is to be achieved without authority. Nor, one hopes, will anarchism and violence be seen as indissolubly linked. Anarchist supporters of violent revolution, like Michael Bakunin, were by no means unique. The necessity of violent revolution as a catalyst for social change was a commonplace among radical thinkers and activists of the nineteenth century. It is unfortunately true that anarchism gave rise to the first modern terrorists, with the movement of le propaganda par le fait in the 1880s. Indeed, the figure of the caped, moustachioed anarchist with the smoking bomb has cast a long shadow over the public perception of anarchism that still persists today. But it should also be remembered that both Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Ghandi, perhaps the two most influential theorists of pacifism, were also anarchists.

    Anarchism is essentially about individual autonomy and community, a notion that implies if not complete, then a large measure of, equality. All anarchists are in agreement that true autonomy cannot be realised in the presence of centralised political power, that is the state. Where they differ is over how the community should be constructed. William Godwin believed in free production and distribution on an individual basis; the communist anarchists like Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta and Emma Goldman in something akin to the Marxist vision but without the proletarian state, where the rule would be, “From each according to their ability; to each according to their need”, although, as with Marx, they are a little hazy about how it would work in practice; Proudhon and his anarcho-syndicalist descendants believed in worker ownership and return to labour and so on. There are a considerable number of variants.

    It is vital that the two key elements of anarchism, autonomy and community do not become separated. Often they are treated as if they are independent variables. But this is not the case. Anarchism is not about autonomy and community, but autonomy in community. It is the idea of community, of living with other human beings in a voluntary social order, that is vital both to the central concern of anarchism for equality, and to the notion of constructing one’s freedom in a cooperative interchange with others. Sometimes, as with liberalism, autonomy becomes the main focus. The result can be a variant, not of anarchism as portrayed here, but of its right-wing cousin, libertarianism. It is worth noting that libertarianism has produced a claimed form of anarchism in the so-called anarcho-capitalism of Murray Rothbard, a type of free market model, based on competitive individualism in the absence of the state and political authority…

  24. juancastro says:

    @ndy you might be interested to know that my honours supervisor is going to be a post-structuralist anarchist… Fun times ahead!

  25. juancastro says:

    Shit, I wanted to ask you: do you have a link to that essay? I want to know more about what I’m dealing with 😉

  26. @ndy says:

    Paul Nursey-Bray, Anarchism and Poststructuralism, 2003.

    (RIP)

    …Anarchism Reconsidered

    It would seem then that no satisfactory union of anarchism and poststructuralism is possible. An attempt to embrace the ideas of poststructuralism in any broad or general way must inevitably undermine those very concepts that lie at the heart of an anarchist view of the world, and, arguably, give it its appeal. Without humanism, without a human subject whose autonomy is vital, and without any notion of a community of interacting, equal social beings, anarchism ceases to be anarchism. The parallels that can be drawn between the two bodies of thought, in terms of power, the approach to the state and the like, are suggestive and interesting but nothing more. They do not make Foucault an anarchist, any more than they do any other poststructuralist thinker. Poststructuralism, as its own proponents concede, is not designed to be a basis for normative theory.

    Is there nothing to be gained from this interchange? To answer in the negative would be foolhardy. It would be to suggest that anarchism can march into the twenty-first century without any recognition of the theoretical and practical crises that assail radical theory. The end of communism, while the end of a system that Western Marxists and anarchists alike reviled, nonetheless was a watershed. It represented an emphatic punctuation mark to the nineteenth century search for an alternative, ideal society, and accentuated the doubts about the utility and direction of radical theory. Lyotard’s incredulity towards meta-narratives expressed the tenor of these doubts.

    One does not have to accept tout court the poststructuralist critique, but it is hard to avoid the notion that many of the cherished notions of modernity, an unqualified belief in reason and progress above all, are ripe for review. It is also clear that the concerns of the allied tradition of postmodernism in terms of superficiality, plurality, simulation, hyperreality certainly bracket phenomena in the culture around us. These may well be the outward manifestations of what Fredric Jameson optimistically calls ‘late’ capitalism, but it does not remove their ability to perplex, confuse and mislead. As Jameson argues, in seeking to chart a path for contemporary Marxism, we need to develop new ways of mapping our social existence, what he calls ‘cognitive mapping’. It would be foolish for anarchism to pay no heed to these developments, and to believe that it can continue with the traditional approaches inherited from the nineteenth century without some effort at review and reconsideration.

    To retain the essentials of anarchism, the human subject, autonomy and community, we must retain the links with the Enlightenment, that is the modern, project. But the critique of poststructuralism can be used to good effect as a kind of sceptical review of the state of play, a form of healthy questioning. In a paradoxical way it could be seen as a continuation of the attack by the philosophes on the orthodoxies of their day. Because it must be admitted that Enlightenment thinking had become a species of orthodoxy. In the form that such thinking was present in the great radical traditions of Marxism, socialism and anarchism there was a kind of rationalist hubris, bound up with a teological view of an ideal society. This was most evident in the Marxist tradition, but was also clearly associated with the anarchist tradition. In both there was an addiction to an end-state vision of society. In this they were both incorporating and expressing the Enlightenment vision of linear progress, epoch by epoch, to the ultimate goal. It was the vision of Turgot, the vision of Condorcet. It was a grand meta-narrative.

    Arguably anarchism, in its practical applications, remains handicapped by this heritage of the end-state vision of an ideal society. If we believe that anarchism can only have any relevance if it can be seen to work as a whole, within a fully completed, rational model of human cooperation without authority, then we remained trapped in an utopian dead end. The answer is for anarchism to abandon the orthodoxy of an end-state vision, and focus instead on a pragmatic application of anarchist principles. In this light, anarchism is not necessarily a prescription for an alternative society, but a body of principles that can address the practical issues of how we live in the world as it is. Like liberalism or democratic theory it would be applicable in a variety of conditions and to a variety of degrees. Above all, it would seek to make relevant the delicate balance between liberty and equality that is uniquely anarchist.

    Paul Nursey-Bray, Durban 2003.

  27. juancastro says:

    Wow, that last paragraph sounds suspiciously fucking reformist, but I don’t know the credentials of this guy to work out if he means something else…

    do you agree with that conclusion @ndy?

  28. @ndy says:

    I’m not sure if I agree that Nursey-Bray — who died in 2005 — espouses a kind of ‘reformist’ anarchism. It could be read that way, or it could be read as an insistence on the relevance of anarchism understood as a being less about the construction of an ideal society and more as a guide to negotiating life as it occurs in the here-and-now. I can recall having similar misgivings about a friend’s paper on the concept of autonomy. That is, what remains of anarchism if the political impulse to radically re-construct society — by way of some notion of ‘social revolution’ — is abandoned? I think a similar question is provoked by the work of Simon Critchley and a number of other, contemporary thinkers.

  29. juancastro says:

    Shit, I meant his conclusion, not mine 🙂

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