Position statement: Privilege and Oppression
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Position Statement; Against Authority and the State

1. Scope

A position statement outlining Anarchist Affinity’s understanding on the state and related issues. This position statement draws significantly from a handful of articles by Mikhail Bakunin. We agree with Bakunin to the extent that we have quoted, but we are far from uncritical defenders of the entirety of Bakunin’s work, writings or political action!

In our opinion Bakunin’s utility lays in the fact that his writings synthesize arguments around authority and the state that anarchists were having with Marxists during the First International. It is these questions and criticisms made by anarchists of the period, rather Bakunin as an individual, that we find useful and worth defending.

This position statement reflects our understanding at the time it was adopted. It is our intention to develop, expand on, and refine this position.

2. The Idea of Authority

A critique of authority and authoritarian relations, practices and structures, are central to anarchist political practice.

Anarchists are irrevocably opposed to the “principle of authority”, “that is to say on the … idea that the masses, always incapable of governing themselves, must submit at all times to the benevolent yoke of a wisdom and a justice, which in one way or another, is imposed on them from above” (Bakunin, ‘Marxism, Freedom and the State“).

We seek to replace the “principal of authority” with decision making that is decentralized, directly democratic and participatory. For example, decisions about a strike should be made by the workers on strike with all able to speak and participate. In contrast, decisions about the management of a river system should be made by and involve all people who depend on that river system, which may require a structure of re-callable delegates, meeting, debating and reporting back to affected communities.

Anarchists oppose “the abdication of initiative and sovereignty of all into the hands of a few” (Malatesta, ‘Anarchy’).

The idea that a minority should command and the majority should obey (however that minority is appointed and however the need is rationalized), always threatens to recreate structures of power that can ultimately solidify into a new class structure.

Authoritarian socialist critics of anarchism routinely misrepresent this critique of authority. The UK based Socialist Workers Party argued (in an article regurgitated by the IST tradition and it’s various descendants ever since) that “anarchism is generally taken to mean a rejection of all authority” but that “not all authority is bad”.

As an example of the “good authority” that authoritarian socialists claim anarchists reject, Socialist Worker argued that: “A picket line is ‘authoritarian.’ It tries to impose the will of the striking workers on the boss, the police and on any workers who may be conned into scabbing on the strike”.

This argument advanced by authoritarian socialists misrepresents both anarchism and the anarchist critique of the “principle of authority”. The picket line is not a ruling minority demanding from on high that the masses submit. A picket line of workers on strike, making decisions democratically and seeking to extract concession from the ruling class, is the antithesis of authoritarianism.

By confusing authoritarianism with its antithesis, the authoritarian socialists preserve the ‘principle of authority’ for their own use. The authoritarian socialists defend the idea that in some certain circumstance “the masses … incapable of governing themselves, must submit … to the benevolent yoke” of the party.

3. The State

There is an inseparable relationship between the state and class domination. The maintenance and reproduction of any system of class rule requires political and economic power structures, legitimating ideology, and recourse to the threat and use of violence.

We agree with Bakunin when he wrote that “The State is nothing else but this domination and exploitation regularized and systematized”. There is no class rule without some form of state apparatus. The inverse is also true.

“The State has always been the patrimony of some privileged class or other; a priestly class, and aristocratic class, a bourgeois class, a finally a bureaucratic class, when, all the other classes having become exhausted, the State falls or rises, as you will, to the condition of a machine; but it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of the State that there should be some privileged class or other which is interested in its existence. And it is precisely the united interest of this privileged class which is called Patriotism.” (Bakunin, Marxism, Freedom and the State).

The existence of a state apparatus in turn produces a privileged minority interested in its maintenance at the expense of the mass of the ruled.

Marxist critiques of this position may argue that it is possible to conceive of a ‘workers state’. Their position is mistaken.

In any situation where the working class successfully overthrows capitalism, one of two situations will emerge. Either a ruling minority will be entrusted (or more accurately will take power and claim to be entrusted) to make decisions on behalf of the majority, and will then claim the power to enforce those decisions where necessary, or there is no ruling minority and everyone in the ‘workers state’ will share in the decision making process, with equal access to this decision making process for all.

In the first situation the working class as a whole does not in fact rule, in the second there is no state. In either situation, the term ‘workers state’ is a lie. When authoritarian socialists trot out the lie of the ‘workers state’ they are ultimately defending the idea of minority rule.

We agree with Bakunin when he wrote (in Statism and Anarchy):

“But, the Marxists say, this minority [the government of the “workers’ State”] will consist of workers. Yes indeed, but of ex-workers who…cease to be workers. And from the heights of the State they begin to look down upon the whole common world of the workers. From that time on they represent not the people but themselves”.

Irrespective of the purported ideology of this or that state, all states are the enemies of human solidarity, and thus of any conception of socialism worth fighting for.

4. Further Reading

Anarcho, Marxism and “Anarchism”: A reply to the SWP, http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/anarchism/writers/anarcho/swp.html

Andrew Flood, An Introduction to the Russian revolution from an anarchism perspective, http://www.wsm.ie/c/russian-revolution-anarchist-introduction

Errico Malatesta, Anarchy, https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/errico-malatesta-anarchy

Errico Malatesta, Reformism, http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/errico-malatesta-reformism

Mikhail Bakunin, Marxism, Freedom and the State, https://libcom.org/library/marxism-freedom-state-mikhail-bakunin

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Position statement: Privilege and Oppression

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Anarchist Affinity Position Statement – Privilege and Oppression

1. Scope and Purpose

This position statement is intended to sketch some initial points of agreement concerning our understanding of ideas about privilege, oppression and intersectionality. These points are neither complete nor final, and it is our intention to expand on and develop these points as our collective understanding develops.

2. Points of Agreement

2. 1 There are numerous interacting systems of oppression that are experienced in a variety of ways by different actors in our society. These intertwined oppressive systems include (but are not limited to) sexism, racism, queerphobia, anti-trans bigotry and ableism. We think fighting against these forms of oppression is just as important to the creation of an anarchist society as fighting capitalism and the state. Only by working to eliminate oppressive power relations within the working classes will we be able to create a revolutionary movement capable of genuinely transforming society. And only by organising against all oppressive and exploitative systems of power will we create a society worth fighting for – rather than one which simply installs a new elite in place of the old.

2.2 We reject the idea that any struggle against any form of oppression has to “wait”, for the revolution or anything else. All oppressive systems are unjust, and all people struggling against oppressive systems are right to do so. The idea that confronting manifestations of oppressive systems within the working class only divides and weakens working class struggle is mistaken. When we tolerate the manifestations of oppressive ideology and practice we are divided and weakened. Systems of oppression divide us now, attempts to ignore or paper over this reality do nothing change this situation. We must identify and confront sexism, racism, ableism, queerphobia and transphobia in order to erode the divisions that exist amongst all people who are variously oppressed by these systems and exploited by capitalism.

2.3 It is our position that both an anti-oppression analysis and an analysis of capitalism, class and the state are useful, and that these analyses are more useful when integrated. If we do not make the effort to understand the dynamics of different oppressive structures we will not be able to understand the complexity of capitalism and the state, and our resistance strategies will suffer as a result. Developing an analysis of capitalism and the state also strengthens and deepens our understanding of the functioning of other oppressive systems. We need to understand how transphobia, white supremacy, queerphobia and patriarchy are institutionalised through the economic and political structures of our societies if we are to successfully abolish them.

“These structured inequalities and hierarchies inform and support one another. For example, the labor of women in child-bearing and rearing provides new bodies for the larger social factory to allow capitalism to continue. White supremacy and racism allow capitalists control over a segment of the labor market that can serve as stocks of cheap labor. Compulsory heterosexuality allows the policing of the patriarchal family form, strengthening patriarchy and male dominance. And all structured forms of inequality add to the nihilistic belief that institutionalized hierarchy is inevitable and that liberatory movements are based on utopian dreams” – Deric Shannon and J. Rogue.

2.4 There are some important differences between capitalism and other systems of oppression and exploitation. Capitalism is a system of class rule founded upon control of the means of production (private property, such as land, factories, resources). The class rule of capitalism is buttressed by ideological and cultural structures but it is primarily a system of economic control and class exploitation. Other systems of oppression typically rely upon class hierarchy and exploitation as a key tool for maintaining the subordinate position of the oppressed group. For example, patriarchy and white supremacy could not be sustained without the exploitation of the labour of women and people of colour, which keeps them in an economically powerless position. However, economic control is less central to these forms of oppression. Instead, social institutions, such as the family and the gender binary, play a more central role in fostering these oppressive power relations.

The economic character of capitalism means that there are some key differences in how we abolish the power of the capitalist class, in comparison to struggles against white supremacy, anti-trans bigotry, queerphobia and patriarchy:

“[W]e aim to end capitalism through a revolution in which the working class seize the means of production from the ruling class, and create an anarchist communist society in which there is no ruling class. For the other struggles mentioned, this doesn’t quite work the same way – we can’t force men to give up their maleness, or white people to give up their whiteness, or send them all to the guillotine and reclaim their power and privilege as if it were a resource that they were hoarding. Instead we need to take apart and understand the systems that tend to concentrate power and resources in the hands of the culturally privileged and question the very concepts of gender, sexuality, race etc. that are used to build the identities that divide us” – the Anarchist Federation’s Women’s Caucus (UK).

2.5 Broadly speaking, all systems of oppression create two groups: a group in a position of relative privilege and a group that is subordinated and oppressed. The group in the position of privilege does receive a relative benefit from this situation, whether or not there appears to be some form of direct transfer of benefit from the oppressed to the privileged group. This occurs whether or not it is acknowledged. “The privileged group do not have to be active supporters of the system of oppression, or even aware of it” (AFED, 2012) in order to experience the relative benefits of their position in this structure.

It is important to understand this real sense in which people privileged by systems of oppression benefit or receive advantages due to their privileged status. It is also true that, in another sense, the vast majority of people stand to benefit from abolishing these systems of oppression along with capitalism and the state. Both of these senses of ‘benefit’ are important for an anarchist analysis of oppression. Those privileged by systems of oppression (white people, men, able bodied people etc) must realise that these systems of oppression are fundamentally destructive, and that a revolutionary transformation of society will be impossible while they hold sway with significant portions of the working class. Thus, there is a real sense in which it is in the interests of all oppressed and exploited people to challenge these systems of oppression. It is also important, however, to understand and acknowledge the relative advantages and benefits which lead those in privileged power positions to perceive it to be in their interests to maintain oppressive structures. While the benefits and advantages that privileged people receive (not being required to do as much reproductive labour, having a comparative advantage in capitalist job markets) do not outweigh the ultimate interest we all have in abolishing these forms of oppression, they do pose significant, weighty obstacles to the pursuit of an anarchist society. We are bound up in these systems, whether we like it or not.

2.6 We believe the concept of privilege is useful for pointing out how being in a dominant social position can make it easy to fail to pay attention to the struggles of others. Thinking about privilege helps us interrogate whose needs are seen as important, and whose are sidelined, in our political struggles.

“To talk about privilege reveals what is normal to those without the oppression, yet cannot be taken for granted by those with it. To talk about homophobia alone may reveal the existence of prejudices – stereotypes about how gay men and lesbian women behave, perhaps, or violence targeted against people for their sexuality. It’s unusual to find an anarchist who won’t condemn these things. To talk about straight privilege, however, shows the other side of the system, the invisible side: what behaviour is considered “typical” for straight people? There isn’t one – straight isn’t treated like a sexual category, it is treated like the absence of “gay”. You don’t have to worry about whether you come across as “too straight” when you’re going to a job interview, or whether your straight friends will think you’re denying your straightness if you don’t dress or talk straight enough, or whether your gay friends will be uncomfortable if you take them to a straight club, or if they’ll embarrass you by saying something ignorant about getting hit on by somebody of the opposite sex. This analysis goes beyond worries about discrimination or prejudice to the very heart of what we consider normal and neutral, what we consider different and other, what needs explaining, what’s taken as read – the prejudices in favour of being straight aren’t recognisable as prejudices, because they’re built into our very perceptions of what is the default way to be” – the Anarchist Federation’s Women’s Caucus (UK).

References/Further Reading

The following pieces were cited in this position statement.

AFED Women’s Caucus, 2012, “A Class Struggle Anarchist Analysis of Privilege Theory,” https://afed.org.uk/a-class-struggle-anarchist-analysis-of-privilege-theory-from-the-womens-caucus/

Abbey Volcano and J Rogue, 2008, “Insurrections at the Intersections,” https://libcom.org/library/insurrections-intersections-feminism-intersectionality-anarchism

Deric Shannon and J. Rogue, “Refusing to Wait: Anarchism and Intersectionality,” http://anarkismo.net/article/14923

Anarchist Affinity, 2013, Statement of Principles, http://www.anarchistaffinity.org/principles/

Social Anarchism, Individualism and Lifestyle Politics

Anarchist Affinity delivered a much shorter talk based on the below text. As you can see, it was written in the style of an address rather than an essay. The author is a member of Affinity, but some of the views reflect their own personal interpretations rather than the groups positions. If you want to find our collective positions, you can find them on the website.

Let’s start here;

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It’s the symbol associated with anarchism… We see it everywhere from actual anarchist propaganda, to graffiti, to printed on t-shirts at kmart. Most here probably know this, but it’s not an A in a circle, it’s actually an A in an O. It means, ‘Anarchy is Order’, which is one of those wonderful juxtaposing quotes Proudhon used. What he meant is that anarchism will be a highly sophisticated and highly organised social system. A social order based on the maximum of human freedom, federalism, socialism, equality and development, with power flowing from the bottom up, rather than the top down as in capitalism.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was the first person to ever use the label anarchist, back in the 1800’s France. It’s with him that the confusion between social and individualist anarchism immediately starts. See, he was certainly a type of socialist, he was totally against the exploitation of labour, and he developed an economic system called mutualism based on free contracts between producers, meaning both collectives of workers and small craftsmen would have equal freedom in the economy. This is a bit divorced from the anarchist communism that has become the main tendency since then, but it certainly laid many of foundations. He was anti-state and anti-authority, though sadly he never extended this to women. His ideas on economics and social reconstruction were so popular its said some people in the Paris Commune had little copies of ‘What is Property’ they used to carry around in their pocket (don’t quote me on this actually happening!), and his economic theories even had some influence on even Marx. Some people like to argue that he was more of a precursor to anarchism, there’s some truth in this – in that his politics where not totally coherent or developed to what is specifically anarchism today. But he did, and was the first, to use the label anarchist.

Just before and around the same time respectively to Proudhon, we had William Godwin and Max Stirner. Both libertarians certainly, both anti-state, but neither used the term anarchist, and this is important, because alot of individualists certainly like to base their ideas on Stirner. I’m not going to talk about Godwin, but i’d like to point out that Stirner really was more like an early existentialist, his radical ‘freedom’ was entirely about the ego and the mind, and was anti-everything. There wasn’t a trace of positive content in his ideas (besides affirmation of the ego, and this extremely undeveloped ‘Union of Egoists’), which were also pretty racist if you take the time to read The Ego and His Own. About the best thing he had to offer was a critique of state-socialism, and that’s not saying alot. Stirner was one of these intellectual anarchists, of bourgeois origins who dreamed up a radical notion of freedom without ever participating in the real struggles of his time.

After these three “Anarchism” definitely had a name and existed in the world as a political ideology.

Since the birth of Anarchism people have often found it quite hard to define a coherent theory of anarchism; Chomsky always uses that quote ‘Anarchism has a broad back, like paper is can endure anything.’ And Rudolph Rocker believed that anarchism was something of a tendency in human nature towards egalitarian non-hierarchical forms of social organisation. He also believed it was the inheritor of the best parts of both Liberalism and Socialism, the ‘descendants’ of the Enlightenment. Emile Armands Individualist manifesto entirely bases its definition of anarchism around freedom from any social constraint. While from people like Bakunin and Malatesta we see that anarchism is a very specific political philosophy based around class struggle, with the realisation of libertarian socialism as the goal. They use examples like the Paris Commune to point to future potentials, but recognise that anarchism is a modern political philosophy that started with Proudhon and the French workers movement. In modern attempts to look back at anarchism we see both these kinds of definitions in action. Authors like Peter Marshall in his ‘Demanding the Impossible’ takes the opposition to state as the only requirement to anarchism – and often Marxists who like to have a crack at anarchism use this weak definition too. Modern authors like Van Der Walt and Wayne Price will however often present more coherent and consistent understandings of anarchism.

So basically we kind of have two fields; Social anarchism and Individualist anarchism. Social anarchism sometimes gets referred to as organisational anarchism, and individualist anarchism kind of leads on to what often gets called lifestyle anarchism today. Within both fields we can find a whole range of ideas on both strategy and economics. Still we can somewhat represent where the ideas and who represents them sit.

chart of anarchists

Obviously we could add hundreds more authors into these fields, but it’s a basic illustration.

So, lets kind of compare the two and I think it will lead us to a better understanding of how anarchism manifests in the world today. I’d like to point out I realise here I am presenting these fields as something of strawmen. But this is not an academic essay, and there is only so much time.

As you can well imagine by its name, individualist anarchism starts, and ends, with the demand of maximum liberty for the individual. There are to be no fetters on the development of the so called natural qualities of the individual, and while they think everyone should be free, it really begins with personal struggle and ends with the individual. The only freedom you have is what you can take. Society is also as much a crushing source of authority as the state. There are to be no programmes set for what anarchism might look like, because everyone has different wants and needs. Rebellion is emphasised over revolution – revolution will either lead to a new state or to a new social tyranny. Despite rhetoric against capitalism, market economics are permissible provided there is no boss-worker relationship (although sometimes that’s ok too!.) It is this retreat into the self that actually shares a lot of parallels with new age spirituality, with existentialism and most importantly with neo-liberal capitalism. It’s this abstract opposition to ‘the state’ and ‘society’ that allows authors like Peter Marshall to give the nod towards people like Thatcher and Friedman as being somehow libertarian.

Individualism did not have much influence during the emerging the working class, nor did it do much to shape collective politics of rebellion. Individualists often expressed their ‘anarchism’ and ‘freedom’ through forms of dress, individual acts of insurrection, and living in small communities of other radicals only. While today we use the word ‘insurrection’ to mean something like when a community/class violently attacks a regime/authority, the connection between the term insurrection and anarchism actually comes from Stirner, who believed revolution was impossible, and that individual ‘insurrection’ was the only tactic that would keep authority at bay, however temporarily. It was during times of severe social repression, when little other avenue for struggle existed, that individualist anarchism did come to attention – usually with assassinations and bombings – this image of the anarchist bomb thrower still exists. Terrorism became, and to a large degree remains, the peak form of struggle for this tendency. I don’t want to say much on it, but I believe that the terrorist and guerilla war is a Leninist strategy, not an anarchist one, despite the flowery rhetoric.

This still happens today. Not long ago some group let off a bomb in Chile at a church, and a year or two ago some insurrectionists kneecapped the CEO of a Nuclear Power company. The targeting of the Nuclear CEO has obvious reasons – the church not so. They issued a massively irrelevant manifestos crapping on about religious feeding the people bullshit. Not exactly a material analysis of religion. The most famous example of this strategy today would be Conspiracy of Fire Cells in Greece. They’re a group known for robbing banks, having shoot outs with police, and bringing ‘left wing terrorism’ back to Europe. They’re all arrested now, and have been involved in struggles for prisoners’ rights and hunger strikes over the last few years.

If you’re interested in the terror question, and the rather bold statement that terrorism is a Leninist strategy, i’d highly suggest grabbing a copy of “You Can’t Blow Up A Social Relationship, – The Anarchist Case Against Terrorism” quite a famous essay written by an Australian libertarian socialist group.

So then, what’s social anarchism?

Taking freedom as the basis of anarchism, I want to start with a quote from Mikhail Bakunin, he says;

“The individual, their freedom and reason, are the products of society, and not vice versa; society is not the product of individuals comprising it; and the greater their freedom – and the more they are the product of society, the more do they receive from society, and the greater their debt to it.

Here we find a definition of freedom based entirely on social bonds – what Bakunin is saying is that we are all products of social development – it is through relationships and education we find the ideas, motivations and influences that will make us free. Without the development of all, without equality, we will never know real freedom. The more free the person beside you is, the more free you are. Social anarchism is therefore inherently committed to collective methods of organisation – be it through things as various as unions, affinity groups, syndicates, communes, or whatever. Social anarchism also collectivist in economics. We have had Proudhon, and the Spanish economist De Santillian. But ultimately social anarchists owe a great debt to Marx for their understanding of economics – it’s over questions of political organisation that we divide.

It’s this freedom through solidarity that found such fertile ground in the workers movement. Not only did the ‘intellectuals’ of social anarchism relate to mass struggles, their ideas were formed from participating in struggles and were often the articulation OF the ideas of the mass of anarchists and workers. The ideas of these social anarchists, particularly Bakunin, Kropotkin and Malatesta flourished in many parts of the world, namely Spain, Italy, Argentina, Manchuria (Korea) and China, and had profound influence on the mass anarchist organisations that were to develop. We often sell ourselves short as anarchists today, because much of our history is lost, and because our movement is so small and insular we often feel like a subculture. But when it comes to history, remember we are talking about a movement that affected the lives of millions of people. These were no small propaganda groups or insurrectional cells. These were mass organisations that had obvious anarchist politics. Maybe not all 2 million members of the CNT or the FORA were anarchist – but anarchism had an influence on their lives.

So in comparison, while social anarchism first found its roots in the federalist sections of the international, in the Paris commune, and in the emerging union movements, it is fair to say that Individualism came to prominence when anarchism lost its connection with the working class, and interestingly has largely been a phenomenon tied to the USA and Europe, and Russia. While also in places like Korea, South America, and parts of Africa where anarchism has had periods of significance, individualism has been for the most part irrelevant (feel free to correct me if you’ve come across individualist literature from these parts of the world!) Perhaps the tactic of insurrection by small groups and individuals had some grounding, [for example the “Bezmotivniks” in Ukraine, anarcho-communists – tied to groups like the Union of Poor Peasants or Nabat, or the “Pistoleros” in Spain, who used expropriations and assassinations] but its irrelevance seems to be the broader rule. This loss of social influence for anarchism in most countries has never been recovered. The withdrawl of self-styled anarchists from social movements for activities that don’t require long-term commitment, thinking, responsibility or coherence is a serious problem if we ever want anarchism to be a philosophy that can change the world again.

It’s pretty clear that the irrelevance of a coherent and social anarchist philosophy is also tied to the reactionary and conservative societies we live in. Despite efforts to break out of the leftist ghetto, much like our socialist mates, today we remain largely irrelevant. The anarchist principles of federalism, direct action, anti-parliament politics, and mutual aid are barely connected to a class struggle that is largely institutionalised. With no radical collective movement to use our tactics, we don’t feed back into the movements, we don’t test our ideas and fresh activists are few and far between. It’s a two way street. The end result of this isolation can often be liberalism dressed in radical clothing, and the dominance of ‘lifestyle anarchism’ is basically the black flag version of the socialist politics that believes in the revolutionary potential of Bernie Sanders , SYRIZA and Jeremy Corbyn.

Anarchists today are finding our way back to relevance in struggle; in a number of places around the world anarchist organisations and movements are beginning to flourish again. Greece, Ireland, Brazil are a few examples.

I found it illuminating that in this Workers Solidarity Movement talk about the growth of anarchism in Ireland, Andrew Flood says that as anarchists have regained their social relevance over the last two decades, they went from the stereotype of ‘punks and people dressed in black’ to ‘looking like your everyday person’, and that about that time the media began to have to acknowledge that anarchism was actually a factor in Irish political life.

I want to give a historical example of anarchism finding its feet in a concrete situation. It is an example of anarchism feeding into a movement, and developing as a result. Actually, it’s the world’s first example of specifically anarchist organisations doing just such – for all its many limits, there are many lessons to be learnt; I just finished reading Nestor Makhno’s account of the revolution in the Ukraine, and during some of the most intense periods of social upheaval he expresses extreme frustration with the revolutionaries in Russia. He points out that the combination of armchair intellectualism and obsession with aspects of theory – like the proletariat over the peasantry means that they’re entirely ignorant of the revolutionary and of the practical means these anarchists can take to expand the revolution. This isn’t just frustration with individualists either, this is with anarcho-syndicalists, communist and whatnot. He points out the inflexibility of anarchist theory at this time can’t deal with practical situations. For example when he was elected leader of his particular battalion he had to give orders right- and he recognises that most anarchists don’t believe in giving orders or leaders or whatever. And he expresses that he felt quite uncomfortable with the role he was given. But they were fighting a war. An actual revolution. Not having accountable roles or rules is crap, and I think this is a frustration because of the individualist influence. Just because anarchists didn’t believe they should ever be told what to do, doesn’t mean they can’t develop structures of collective responsibility. Libertarian self-discipline is very different to authoritarian discipline.

Anarchists have leaders of a type. This is something that modern anarchism really struggles to acknowledge. Just because we refuse to put a label on power doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exists. Let’s consider this quote from Bakunin;

“Nothing is more dangerous for a man’s private morality than the habit of command. Two sentiments inherent in power never fail to produce this demoralisation; they are: contempt for the masses and the overestimation of one’s own merits.”

So what makes anarchist ‘leadership’ special is that what we are actually wanting to achieve is to create structures that limit the concentration of power. Informality does not do this. This is a serious danger that exists in individualist and lifestyle anarchism. Rather we should look to have strict mandates given by the collective to their delegates, when assemblies are not practical. That’s why we try to rotate roles – to assure one person doesn’t end up with too much power, and to assure that everyone develops skills keeping the field more even if you will. Individualism doesn’t address this. Actually egoist individualism like Stirners ends up justifying power over other people – hardly an anti-authoritarian philosophy. If you ever get a chance I recommend reading ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness.’

As I said, this delegate-mandate-rotate structure is actually infinitely more anti-authoritarian than not having any kind of accountability. Bakunin talked about this, the CNT knew this, the anarchist army in the Ukraine knew this (though it wasn’t great at it.) But it’s quite lost these days. Obviously, how we structure this leadership isn’t the same as socialist groups – there are practical things that differentiate us here. At any rate – that is a topic for another time.

So I want to skip back to individualism, I want to explain why I believe often the result of individualist philosophies put into practice can be damaging to social movements, how they often become anti-social rather than anti-capitalist. I think this confusion that starts from the concept of imminent rebellion against authority, meaning that things that aren’t actually anti-authoritarian can end up with tacit anarchist support.

Groups like Crimethinc tend to border this line, advocating and fetishing sub-cultural practices as anti-capitalist in and of themselves with little conceptualisation of how they assist in the struggle against capital and the state, if at all. Squatting, sabotage, petty-crime, theft, arson, and assassinations all register in the arsenal of insurrectional-individualist tactics. Actually, I think this is the definitions of the vague term we throw around; ‘lifestylism.’ Precisely this fetishisation. A comrade has raised with me that it is perhaps not only that, but it’s the result of despair at the failures of long-term organising that leads to believing only immediate actions and ‘living politics’ can be revolutionary.

It’s not to say social anarchists don’t use tactics like insurrection, sabotage etc too. But what is to be considered is if the action is beneficial or negative, collectively empowering or just alienating and anti-social, rather than just assuming it is an acceptable tactic.

For example, tactics like sabotage have often been used during union campaigns, the IWW was historically famous for this. When used as an individual tactic, workers often risk alienation from others, punishment from the state, a waste of comrades resources who bail them out or organise legals. Individuals may get a small benefit from stealing, squatting, living on the dole as a ideological choice etc, but there are always consequences. So when sabotage is done collectively, it can be a powerful tool against the boss, especially so because everyone has each others backs, and the decision to take action has been made together. It’s the small sums of collective actions that become a movement.

Consider;

“Shoplifting, dumpster diving, quitting work are all put forward as revolutionary ways to live outside the system, but amount to nothing more than a parasitic way of life which depends on capitalism without providing any real challenge.”

Obviously with this quote we don’t want to conflate what it takes to ensure survival under capitalism, or to demonise people who are unemployed or anything ridiculous like that. Rather what’s being said is that if you have the option to make these choices, if you can always move back in with your folks or whatever, you’re not actually contributing to anti-capitalism – you’re just living out some kind of radical liberalism.

The rich, politicians, anyone in a position of power surely has plenty of time for people who become ‘non-participants’ in the system. They do not actually challenge power, they do not help organise collectively, they may create small concessions and ‘spaces’ of existing without the yoke of capitalist burden, but the ability of this to both spread and become empowering has to be considered. The truth is, you cannot, ever, completely drop out of capitalism or get away from the state. People in power are afraid of the Malcom X’s, the union organisers, the organisations that demand and fight for collective rights. Not hippie communes.

I’m not saying everyone who’s doing some kind of activism has to rush out and form a collective, join an organisation or start towing a political line – I’m not here to say ‘hey, you should join anarchist affinity because we have the best politics ever! (Though please contact us if you’re interested!) actually what’s more important as anarchists is that hopefully you go away with some ideas about organising yourself- what i’m saying that there are differences in ideas and hence organisational methods that have very real impacts on the effectiveness of our activism.

It’s been pointed out plenty of times that activists who have no ‘home team’ will often find they’ve put incredible amounts of energy into a single campaign, sometimes for years, but when it ends – those lessons are lost, there is nowhere to keep moving, there is no collective development of knowledge that comes from critical reflection on what you’ve been doing. Unlike individualists would believe everyone is an island, we are all socially formed, and it’s through society we find our freedom. Anyone who thinks they can come to the perfect answers alone, that they can live outside and beyond society is a joker. Here’s an anecdote; did you know it’s not common for anarchists in the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation to talk in first person? They’re so adamant that every individual’s personality is a product of collective development that to talk in third person shows humility and acknowledgement of each’s contribution to one another. I’m not suggesting that we stop talking in first person but I think that such humility is quite an inspirational revolutionary value.

I think many of us who are anarchists in Australia today are more like Emma Goldman than any past activists of any particular ‘field.’ Many of us identify with the goals of social anarchism (ie; collectivist economics) but have a left over ‘individualist’ resistance to organisations that require long term strategy and development. I think what individual libertarian/anarchist activists who aren’t in organisations do though is help the development of libertarian values. [Note; I use ‘Libertarian’ in the original sense, meaning it is the same as anarchist, not right wing economics] By participating in social struggles anarchists we hope to help build a culture that empowers from the bottom up. And developing an anarchist culture is really important. We want to have our own morals, different to those advocated by a capitalist and statist society – we want a world without patriarchy or racism, and conscious cultural reconstruction is important if we understand that there are forms of exploitation and repression that are reinforced by more than just capitalism.

The strength of actions by anarchists as individuals is more like a reproduction of ethics, rather than any programmatic revolutionary strategy. Because we recognize that there are two levers of power in society right – the state and the point of production, you could maybe say that the third is the social reproduction of capitalist relations – and that’s where community organising is important. We can’t and don’t just fetishise the workplace. We are not marxists and we don’t agree that society is limited strictly to the capitalist pyramid of dynamics (not that they all do! It’s hard to avoid strawmen in such a broad piece of writing.) Anarchists know power exists in all social relations, we have talked often about the centre and the periphery of power. And knowing that centralisation creates power we acknowledge that we can’t take the state – that’s completely against anarchist strategy and understanding of how society works – what we do want to do is build counter-power to where capital and oppression are created. We want everyone to have equal access to political, social and economic power.That’s absolutely key to overthrowing this society. And that’s not done by throwing a bomb into a bank, it’s done by organising workers and communities.

Many people today are drawn towards anarchism because it offers space to individuals who feel marginalised by predominant social constructions. When you identify as an anarchist its okay to be totally yourself. But we have to acknowledge the whole idea of the individual against society is absurd – anarchism IS the single most social political philosophy – we believe in a world of completely free and equal individuals – how can we be anti-social, unless you’re you think society and the state are the same?

What I think is useful from here is to talk a little about how there are differences in tactics, politics and strategy. Now this is pretty key and will lead us onto a bit of discussion about particular things anarchists today are into. To be honest, the useful terminology for this distinction was only just brought to my attention by another comrade.

Firstly; we have politics. This is the level at which we identify the philosophy we believe in – which is anarchism. So starting from the vision of building a world without states, capitalism or authority we have to decide on the appropriate strategies for making that happen.

So, strategy. Here’s where we do maybe the most reflection – what does our society look like? What kind of changes do we need? How could we start making them happen? Are we insurrectionists, are we syndicalist, are we into community organising, should we be concentrating on propaganda? There is alot to be figured out.

Finally; tactics. The tactics we employ are the specific details of the strategy we decide upon, as in, what particular actions we undertake to implement the strategy. For example if you did believe you needed an insurrection, you might form a cell that wants to annihilate capitalists and cops or something, (definitely not the Anarchist Affinity line!) I dont know. If you chose syndicalism you might look at what industries are most important to organise in right now, and if you want to start a specifically anarchist union or if you want to radicalise existing ones by building shop stewards networks and advocating wildcats. Within social anarchism there are a variety of ideas about strategies, these are just two, very different and broad examples.

The problem in Australia seems to be that our movement is so confused, so unsophisiticated that we don’t take the time to work our way through these considerations. We as the collective that is anarchism in Australia tend to fetishise one or the other, or completely muddle them up. Remember here i’m not just talking about individualists; most anarchist groups in Australia are completely guilty of this too. But at the same time, I think what we like to call ‘lifestyle’ can be traced back to the early individualism, where personal rebellion and individual, violent insurrection are considered as the total strategy against the state.

All the same, I want to look at a few places where we see the confusion at work. Firstly i’m going to talk about squatting if that’s alright.

So squatting is a tactic, yea? But if you believe that it’s inherently political, you’re going to get stuck repeating it over and over when it’s not the right strategy, or when you can’t do it, where are your politics? This kind of thing happens all the time. It’s a really big problem in the environmental movement. I’m not really involved in that anymore but it’s kinda where I started back in Newcastle, and I saw a fair bit of this confusion.

Squatting is not really a huge thing in Australia, though I do know a number of squatters and there are a few in Melbourne – it’s a much bigger thing in Europe. Many anarchists seem to consider squatting as a lifestyle choice (though there are some, i’m sure, who do it because they haven’t any other option – I know at least one person who fits this category.) There’s a difference between a choice and survival here. Living in a squat would appear to give people the space to exist outside typical property relations, maximising personal freedoms and somehow ‘propagate’ the idea that squatting is an option to the broader community. There is an element of truth in this, but it’s actually extremely limited.

Creating ‘liberty’ for oneself doesn’t necessarily mean it creates it for others, sometimes it can even limit the freedoms of others. Squatting isn’t necessarily one of those times, but it’s not as helpful a tactic as other options. There is a difference between punks who want to live in a squat cause its free and they can have parties, and a squat that’s used as an accessible social center that, for example, that helps house refugees. The first is fine; it doesn’t really matter to anyone except the landlord. But the second has collective and social power. I’d argue that as anarchists this is exactly our task. We don’t just want revolution for ourselves, we want it for everyone.

To turn a squat into a viable social center it seems obvious that it needs resources, organisation, community outreach, and importantly the backing of other social groups willing to defend it when eviction time comes. I believe this is a task for anarchist organisations. Lets look at WSM in Ireland for a second, they’re an anarchist group who doesn’t operate, control or dominate any squats. What they do however, is help initiate them, have activists involved in their on going upkeep and daily activity (one squat in Ireland that has a few WSM members used the workshops to build heaters to send to refugees in Calais), and defend them and their autonomy against repression from the state. They also organise forums and do the important task of political propaganda helping legitimate squatting as a strategy against capitalism. I use WSM as an example of this because they’re particularly successful – they have an anarchist publication reaches thousands of people monthly, and they have public attention for being at the forefront of several social movements. Imagine what such a powerful anarchist organisation can bring to the defence of autonomy?

On the other hand – it doesn’t take an anarchist organisation to make squatting a valid social project – im just pointing out what I think tasks of anarchist are.

EDIT: Since this was written the totally super awesome squat project in Bendigo St, Collingwood has popped up! This occupation was organised by the Homeless Persons Union of Victoria, and is drawing attention to the rate of homelessness in Melbourne compared to the enormous number of empty homes. This is a fantastic example of the social value of a squatting project.

Lets look at Social Log Bologna in Italy for a moment. This was a squat that is quite a large social center. The site itself used to be a postal facility. The people who set it up were autonomist marxists, and you know what – they didn’t just use it for themselves -now it’s entirely self-run by refugees! Thousands of people respond to calls to defend the center. Not just your usual leftist milieu either, it has enormous social outreach to the multicultural working classes. This wasn’t just a venue for gigs – Social Log actually demonstrated that when we get rid of fucking capitalism – there going to be so many creative things we can do with the economy to make sure everyone has everything they need. It was also the result of serious planning and looking at the specific things the working class of a particular area needed at a particular point in time.

ANOTHER EDIT; Unfortunately Social Log Bologna has been evicted after this article was written. There is a struggle to occupy another place.

So then I’d like to ask; “what is a squat compared to a rent strike?”

This I believe is where we begin to see real collective action forming. Rent strikes aren’t a thing here anymore, but Australia does have some history with them. Actually, I almost never hear people talk about them! If you don’t know what a rent strike is, it’s basically like this; the community in a particular area organises against inflated rents and evictions, you hold some mass meetings, do some propaganda and whatever, maybe you target on the basis of community, maybe you target a particular landlord, but you get to a point where collective power is established and people stop paying rent. When the cops turn up, you picket in defense of whoever they try and evict, maybe you go hassle the state department or the rental agents or something. Not really something we’re in a position to do now – but worthy of remembering this exists for when struggle around housing intensifies even more. If you want to look at historical examples, i’d suggest Scotland during the 30s‘ and Italy in the 70s’. There are some pretty good articles on libcom.org about the Italian rent strikes – which were significantly influenced by the autonomia movement. For those that don’t know, Autonomia was/is a branch of marxism that started to question the significance of the party, started including feminism and talking about ‘social reproduction’ and all that. It reproduced a lot of the problems of Leninism but has some very valuable lessons to draw from.

What makes rent strikes so much more powerful is that, unlike squatting, they’re a viable tactic to a huge portion of the population. Squatting is unavailable to so many people, for so many reasons. There are only so many places, its unsuitable for families, for people who need to keep stuff secure for work or whatever, for people with disabilities, for people who want to be guaranteed a hot shower. For those who require stability and security, things we all deserve, squatting is not a real option. Even for many of Australia’s homeless squatting wouldn’t be viable – what’s deserved is secure housing. Wouldn’t it be better if we could organise a mass renters and housing movement committed to direct action and direct democracy, with total autonomy from political parties and the upper classes? Social movements provide the space to lay the real foundations of a society built from the bottom up.

Let’s look really quickly at another places the anarchist movement finds itself sometimes fetishising tactics rather than politics. Sections of the anarchist left often have an idea that they can provide social services purely because it seems ideologically sound. Services that have often been won by the left are now provided by the state and far better than what we can do. Why would anyone want to go to a dodgy anarchist day care in a squat if there’s a nice clean one run by professionals and provided by the state?

I think a relevant example can be Food Not Bombs. I’m not here to have a go at people doing FNB. I’m just raising it as an example we can relate to! FNB is a sweet idea, you get the food that Woolies or Coles or whatever were going to throw away – cause you know, capitalism is extremely fucking wasteful. Or you take what you’ve grown at your co-op or whatever, and you turn it into a feed and put it on for free in a park or down a street in the city and give it out to whoever needs it. You produce some propaganda around it that points out that capitalism is fucked. Rad, this is actually a great idea. Practical things like this is the way we make our politics seen, the way we prove we can do things differently, the way we prove we have something to offer, and we have a way to talk to people that can be way less alienating than many of the irritating tactics the left use to start a conversation today.

But you know, taking into account the politics, strategy, tactic formula… is this the best thing to do in Australia? There are so many charities and even state institutions that feed the homeless. Sometimes you’re competing with mega churches and the state! In a society where *most* people have what they need to eat, then maybe resources are better put into something else? That’s where you go back to your politics, look at the concrete situation, start talking about a strategy to build anarchism and then figure out what tactics are going to be effective. If we were in say, Greece, where the soup-kitchen idea is really important, then fuck yes anarchist should be setting up Food Not Bombs or whatever name you wanna give it. That’s exactly our territory and the perfect place for demonstrating alternatives. There’s a Marx quote I like, “every real movement is worth a dozen programmes.” Anarchism is meant to be connected to the real needs of the people – actually anarchist organisation exists to support the real struggle, not to establish socialism by decrees. The principle of mutual aid comes from was the early workers movement, not Kropotkin. It wasn’t some ethic dreamed up by intellectuals. Early anarchist movements were dealing with the lack of social services, they were dealing with real social needs.

So what I’m saying is that now when we establish these mutual aid groups, filling these ‘holes’ in social needs isn’t a great idea if they have been filled by capitalism and the state, because until anarchism becomes a large and organised social force, we can’t really compete with capitalist or state facilities without wasting a large amount of our own time and resources.

So at the current state, I think we need to stop and reflect where anarchism needs to go. What are our politics? What strategies have we got to make anarchism relevant? Do they reflect how Australian society looks today? We can’t just take the CNT model from 36 Spain and make it happen here, we’re sure as fuck are not going to the hills to start a peasant Insurrectional Army.

To summarising a few points, let’s start with this contradiction between individual and social anarchism.

Anarchism is really the most completely social philosophy – we seek a world based on solidarity, mutual aid and co-operation. How these values could go hand in hand with anti-social elements is beyond me. We are anti-capitalist, because capitalism is toxic for a healthy social system, not because we’re angsty teenagers.

To consider how we want to see a future influenced by anarchism, we need only take a moment to look at the past. There have been times anarchism has been a fruitful social ideal, and during those times it’s only ever been the social and well-developed anarchist organisations and movements that have made an impact; the CNT/FAI in Spain, the Insurrectional Army of the Ukraine, the FORA in Argentina, FAU in Uraguay, and the KAF-M in Manchuria. There has never been a ‘Union of Egoists’, armed terror groups like Conspiracy of Fire haven’t started a revolution, assassinations by individualists have only brought down the states wrath on broader society. Individualist anarchism cannot dream to achieve what collective organisation can. Individualism is the result of bourgeoise and liberal tendencies, it is the dreams of intellectuals trying to mix itself with workers struggles. In contrast, social anarchism comes from the real social struggles of the lower classes.

We certainly believe in building the new society in the shell of the old, and this involves individual action and development, but its always connected to the realisation of a real communal society. Small organisations that fulfil imediate needs, like Co-operatives, affinity groups, etc, have been important parts of working class culture, and their general demise has come hand in hand with repression and co-option of working class movements. Models and examples help point the way, they demonstrate that another world is possible, but again these are models of communal action – we are not led to the revolution by the image if the anarchist bombthrower, by Stirners unlimited Ego, or by this terrible ‘temporary autonomous zone’ idea. We’re led by images of the Paris commune, the Russian Soviets, the Spanish syndicates, the Hungarian workers councils, even today glimmers of hope exist in the new communal structures in Chiapas, the grassroots councils of Syria and Rojava, not for the political forces that defend them, but the practical institutions of counter-power that are building a new social life.

The considered undertaking of practical activity, connecting it to a broader political programme, and the building of dedicated anarchist organisations will only strengthen our ability to make a difference and increase the scope of human freedom both in the here and now, and to lay the preperation for a revolutionary situation. I’d urge any who believe anarchism is achieved by autonomous, atomised and unorganised individuals to seriously reconsider how they believe revolution is possible, and if it is, what it will take to get there. But for anarchists in dedicated organisations, it is worth a reminder that actions undertaken by the working class will not come with a perfectly worked anarchist line or program, that developing ideas takes time, that the revolution is messy and slow, that patronising or dismissing peoples genuine individual needs and concerns is not a helpful attitude. But if we stick to our guns, to our morals of solidarity, co-operation, equality, and autonomy that we will sow the seeds of freedom today, so that tomorrow we may have truly free society. I don’t know about you, but I want to take this really seriously, I want to live to see anarchy. If we refuse to acknowledge the lessons of the past, if we don’t take on the lessons of the past we will just let the state continue to exist, either in its capitalist or socialist form.

Written by Tom.

The rent is too damn high!

Guest post by Chris, a participant in the Sydney Solidarity Network.

A few months ago, a Facebook event called “rental horror stories” popped up in Sydney. Within days, it had gone viral. Hundreds and hundreds of people almost overwhelmed the page with story after story of mould, flooding, broken appliances, broken walls, broken roofs, fungi growth, pest infestation, exorbitant rents and arbitrary evictions. The page even made it into a few articles in the mainstream media.

To put it mildly, housing in Australia is a nightmare. Last year, rents in Sydney increased at record levels to reach a median of $500 per week for a one-bedroom apartment. The country as a whole was declared to be in the midst of a “rental affordability crisis” which was leading to “social catastrophe.” In Melbourne, over 80,000 investor-owned properties were reported to be lying more or less permanently vacant and unused. In Sydney over 90,000 homes were similarly unoccupied. Meanwhile glowing articles get written about people such as Nathan Birch, who at age 30 already owns 170 houses (apparently it’s “about 170” but he’s “lost count” of the exact number).

So it seems strange that given how intolerable the situation is for so many people, there have been few, if any, largescale efforts by tenants to collectively do something about this.

In other English-speaking countries, tenant organising is undergoing a resurgence. Last year, for instance, 80 students at University College London won £100,000 in compensation for substandard and rat-infested accommodation after they refused to pay rent for seven months. In March this year, again in the UK, 130 students living at Goldsmiths University announced that they would not be paying rent until the price of college dorm rooms was cut by 30%. Tenants in Bristol have been organising to win repairs and prevent rent increases in the wider community, while there are a plethora of active tenants’ campaigns in the US where areas like Portland, San Francisco and Brooklyn are facing skyrocketing rents and gentrification.

There’s no reason we can’t do the same thing in Australia. While landlords are hard to target and it’s difficult to know what, if any, other properties they own, the real estate agencies they lease out properties through (and who also take a cut of the rent) are much more vulnerable to public pressure. When landlords won’t repair properties or threaten to evict tenants, the real estate agencies they work with could have protests staged outside them, pickets could be set up at property inspections to warn other potential renters of the risks of going through that agency, and real estate offices could be targeted with mass phone-ins to disrupt business. While there are databases in some states to keep records of people who break tenancy agreements, there are heavy restrictions on the sort of information that can be kept in these databases, and it’s not possible to use them to blacklist tenants for any kind of protest activity.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been involved in a group called the Sydney Solidarity Network, which has successfully taken on businesses who’ve paid below the minimum wage or cheated their employees out of entitlements. The methods we used were extremely simple: we stuck up bold, eye-catching posters asking passers-by if they’d been ripped off by their employer, got contacted by people who had been, then together with the affected worker we confronted the boss and demanded restitution, backed up by the threat of further protests if it wasn’t forthcoming – and in almost every case, we won our demands without needing to go any further. I never quite got over just how easy it was to make employers cave in, and it’s quite likely that many real estate agencies would give in to tenants’ demands if placed under similar pressure.

There are a lot of advantages to organising this way with other renters. For one thing, the housing crisis in Australia is widely felt and affects millions of people. On top of that, things like lower rents, repairs, and protection from eviction are inherently appealing, and will make life better in a real and tangible way. Finally, it’s not that had to get started: you could begin by getting organised with the people that you live with, then expand out to neighbouring houses and the rest of the suburb with postering, letterbox drops, door-knocking, and local public meetings. Eventually, a tenants’ group covering your suburb and a few adjacent ones could be set up to take action against landlords and real estate agencies.

The housing crisis in Australia doesn’t seem as if it’s about to go away any time soon. While Facebook events can be useful, and cramming ever more people into sharehouses can alleviate some of the pressure, more and more it seems like the only way to improve the situation is for tenants to organise together and fight to win.

Upcoming event – 23rd & 30th of April – Workplace Organising Skills 101

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RSVP: http://goo.gl/forms/IIFYBHsqK0

A two-day organiser training workshop, presented by two comrades from the anarcho-syndicalist union the FAU (Berlin section).

When: 11am-5pm on Saturday 23 April and Saturday 30 April. Persons wishing to participate need to be available for both dates.

Where: Activity Rooms 1 & 2, Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre (251 Faraday St, Carlton).

As many bosses increasingly emphasise flexibility, adaptability and competition between workers as the values founding the modern workplace environment, precarity and abuse of power has become rife. As workers, many of us can easily identify the issues big and small within our workplaces which negatively impact on our received wages, the amount of hours we are expected to spend in our workplaces, our health and safety concerns and our right to be treated with dignity, equality and respect whilst at work. If you are experiencing violations within any of these aspects of your work life (or others) they do not have to be tolerated! There are always steps that can be taken for workers to level the playing field once we are armed with the right skills!

Anarchist Affinity is hosting Organiser Training 101 to help you build these skills. Based on Australian, British (Solidarity Federation), and North American (Industrial Workers of the World) experiences, the Organiser Training is an intensive, hands-on, two day workshop where participants learn basic tools needed to successfully organise and operate their workplaces democratically. OT 101 takes participants through the early development of an organising campaign. Over the weekend you will learn what exactly it means to be organised, why we do it, and techniques to carry out your own campaign.

FAU Berlin Foreigner’s Section comrades Madelaine and Carmen will take you through role plays, group facilitated discussion, and interactive lectures.

Topics include: gathering contact information, approaching co-workers, and building an organising committee relevant to workers who participate in workplace organising.

The training is for free and open to everyone who wishes to participate. We warmly encourage people to attend who have had no prior union experience or organising/activist experience. You don’t have to be working in an industry that is traditionally union-based, as long you have co-workers (in whatever capacity) we can devise a strategy to get you started! In fact if you know other colleagues in your workplace who want to see some change, bring them too. We especially encourage attendance from workers who experience disproportionate exploitation, including people of colour, first nation people, women, LGBTI workers and workers with disability.

Basic snacks and refreshments will be provided on both days, there are a variety of places to get lunch near the training venue.

If you are going to attend please send an RSVP to the Anarchist Affinity before 9 APRIL with the following information:

Name:
Phone #:
Occupation (Industry):
Other notes (i.e. dietary requirements):

But seriously, RSVP because knowing who’s coming helps us plan.

Facebook event here.

Upcoming event – 31st of March – Taking On The State! Social Anarchism, Individualism And Lifestyle Politics

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Our first discussion meeting for the year will be on Social Anarchism, Individualism And Lifestyle Politics

When: 6:30pm, 31st of March
Where: Multipurpose Room 1, Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre (251 Faraday St, Carlton).

Anarchism is a political philosophy committed to freedom, equality and justice – seeing capitalism, the state and oppressive social relationships as the barriers to the realisation of these goals. With such a simple definition, you’d wonder why anarchism is such a broad church.

In this talk Anarchist Affinity will be looking at the historical development of the two ‘tendencies’ that are often brought together under the umbrella of anarchism: Social Anarchism and Individualism. What are they? What are lifestyle politics? We will talk about how these philosophies have shaped anarchism’s development, and how they manifest in approaches to anarchist politics and action today.

After the talk, a lively discussion and debate!

You can find facebook event page for the event here.

Position statement on anti-fascist political work

Position statement adopted 6 Sep 2015, modified 4 October 2015.

1. Purpose and Scope

1.1. This position statement is intended to sketch some initial points of agreement in order to facilitate Anarchist Affinity’s continued involvement in anti-fascist work in 2015. It is neither comprehensive nor complete, and we recognize that this position will have to be re-visited, reviewed and developed on as the situation and our understanding develops.

2. Basics

2.1. The Australian state is inherently racist; both the state and capitalism in Australia are rooted in racist premises and racist practice.

This commenced with invasion, and continued (and in many ways continues) with acts of dispossession and genocide perpetrated against this continent’s first peoples. It continued with the establishment of control and domination over the entire continent, and with the fostering of a ‘white Australia’ nationalist ideology.

Despite periods of modification, notably the brief period of official multiculturalism, the legitimating ideology of the Australian state has been an exclusionary one that pits a predominantly ‘white Australia’ against perceived internal and external threats. This racism permeates all levels of Australian society; popular racism interacts with the state and capitalism.

2.2. There has long been a small and often irrelevant fascist milieu operating on the fringes of Australian nationalism. The far-right, including fascist actors, seeks to break out from and reach an audience outside of the its milieu. The most significant break-out by the far right in recent political history was the short term success of the One Nation party in 1998.

2.3. The effect of the far-right achieving mainstream success in 1998 was to break the official multicultural consensus and to open the space for the Australian state to move further to the right, most notably on immigration and indigenous affairs.

2.4. In 2015 we have witnessed attempts by fascist actors to utilize the political opportunities opened by the Abbott government’s renewed attacks on the Muslim community. For the first time in several years fascist actors are reaching a wider political audience on the basis of anti-Muslim racism.

3. Position of Anarchist Affinity

3.1. Anarchist Affinity contends that the far-right must not be allowed to achieve wider political traction. A growing far-right represents a particular threat to all groups seen as outsider to the narrative of Australian nationalism.

3.2. Where there appears to be a genuine threat of far-right groups cohering and gaining traction among a significantly wider audience, Anarchist Affinity will seek to act in concert with other groups and actors who wish to counter the threat of the far-right and who understand this threat in similar terms to ourselves.

3.3. Anarchist Affinity seek to support self-organisation and self-defense by communities experiencing racism and colonisation. We seek to amplify the voices of people who experience racism (including anti-Muslim racism) and other communities attacked by the far-right.

3.4. Where possible Anarchist Affinity seeks to identify and organize cooperatively with the libertarian anti-state elements of any wider campaign against the far-right.

3.5. In anti-fascist work Anarchist Affinity rejects nationalism, appeals to “Real Australian” national identity, and appeals to the state. Anarchist Affinity opposes racism at all levels of Australian society.

3.6. In anti-fascist work Anarchist Affinity argues that the working class, which includes the diverse communities attacked by the far-right, can and should organise to defend itself. We seek to support, facilitate and engage in grass-roots resistance to attacks by the far-right.

3.7. The political minimum we will argue for in working with other actors on this issue:

3.7.1. Direct action to confront and disrupt the far-right is appropriate where there is a genuine prospect of far-right groupings gaining access to and cohering in an audience significantly wider than their own circles;

3.7.2. No appeals to the Australian state, legal system, or the police to ‘deal’ with the far-right;

3.7.3. Any critique of the far-right must also critique the racist practice of the Australian state, in particular in relation to both colonisation and the border regime.

3.8. On the basis of the above political minimum, Anarchist Affinity will continue to participate in the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, as well as the autonomous anti-facist network. This position will be periodically reconsidered.

Motion regarding Michael Schmidt

The following motion was adopted at Anarchist Affinity’s general meeting of 31 October 2015:

As a group we’ve read the recent series of articles by Alexander Ross and Joshua Stephens with substantial shock and concern.

Michael Schmidt is an author we have read, hosted in public events, and published in our magazine. The documents and information published by Ross and Stephens demonstrate that Schmidt has argued for and advanced deeply racist and white supremacist politics since at least 2006.

The explanations offered by Schmidt have been seriously unconvincing. The argument advanced by Schmidt that his racism on Stormfront and elsewhere was part of an undercover investigation (undertaken for eight years without result) stretches credulity. Even were this explanation accepted, the internal correspondence by Schmidt, that Ross and Stephens have published, demonstrates deeply unacceptable racism.

Whilst there have been reasonable objections to the manner in which the Schmidt material was announced and published; these are significantly less important than dealing with the problem that a prominent anarchist author, someone many in our tradition (including Anarchist Affinity) have drawn on, has concealed deeply racist views and practice for a number of years.

As a group, Anarchist Affinity has decided to cut ties with Michael Schmidt, and to remove works by Schmidt from our website.

The articles by Ross and Stephens are located here. The internal ZACF document by Michael Schmidt that Ross and Stephens refer to in their first article has been uploaded here.

Statement: Anarkismo Editorial Statement

Adopted at the Anarchist Affinity general meeting of 6 September 2015.

1. Anarchist Affinity endorses the Anarkismo editorial statement. The editorial statement is consistent with our politics, strategy and stated principles.

2. Anarchist Affinity endorses and supports the concrete goals of the Anarkismo project.

Appendix – Editoral statement

We identify ourselves as anarchists and with the “platformist”, anarchist-communist or especifista tradition of anarchism. We broadly identify with the theoretical base of this tradition and the organisational practice it argues for, but not necessarily everything else it has done or said, so it is a starting point for our politics and not an end point.

The core ideas of this tradition that we identify with are the need for anarchist political organisations that seek to develop:

Theoretical Unity
Tactical Unity
Collective Action and Discipline
Federalism

Anarchism will be created by the class struggle between the vast majority of society (the working class) and the tiny minority that currently rule. A successful revolution will require that anarchist ideas become the leading ideas within the working class. This will not happen spontaneously. Our role is to make anarchist ideas the leading ideas or, as it is sometimes expressed, to become a “leadership of ideas”.

A major focus of our activity is our work within the economic organizations of the working class (labour organizations, trade unions, syndicates) where this is a possibility. We therefore reject views that dismiss activity in the unions because as members of the working class it is only natural that we should also be members of these mass organizations. Within them we fight for the democratic structures typical of anarcho-syndicalist unions like the 1930’s CNT. However, the unions no matter how revolutionary cannot replace the need for anarchist political organisation(s).

We also see it as vital to work in struggles that happen outside the unions and the workplace. These include struggles against particular oppressions, imperialism and indeed the struggles of the working class for a decent place and environment in which to live. Our general approach to these, like our approach to the unions, is to involve ourselves with mass movements and within these movements, in order to promote anarchist methods of organisation involving direct democracy and direct action.

We actively oppose all manifestations of prejudice within the workers’ movement and society in general and we work alongside those struggling against racism, sexism, [religious] sectarianism and homophobia as a priority. We see the success of a revolution and the successful elimination of these oppressions after the revolution being determined by the building of such struggles in the pre-revolutionary period. The methods of struggle that we promote are a preparation for the running of society along anarchist and communist lines after the revolution.

We oppose imperialism but put forward anarchism as an alternative goal to nationalism. We defend grassroots anti-imperialist movements while arguing for an anarchist rather than nationalist strategy.

We recognise a need for anarchist organisations who agree with these principles to federate on an international basis. However, we believe the degree of federation possible and the amount of effort put into it must be determined by success at building national or regional organisations capable of making such international work a reality, rather than a matter of slogans.

Report: Strike at Woolworth’s liquor warehouse

A moment on the picket line, workers from another NUW organised warehouse come down to show support.

A moment on the picket line, workers from another NUW organised warehouse come down to show support.

Report from Anarchist Affinity members who were supporting the MLDC (Melbourne Liquor Distribution Centre) strike last week.

Workers at Woolworths MLDC launched unprotected (unlawful) strike action in the early hours of Monday morning last week. Workers were responding to broken promises by management; Woolworths management had announced the week before that all new hires at the Laverton site would be through a labour-hire agency despite promises to the contrary made in EBA negotiations less than a year earlier.

The MLDC strike was called for, planned and hastily executed by rank and file union militants at MLDC. The decision to strike occurred to the genuine surprise of NUW union organisers and officials (the NUW is the workers’ union), and this decision was taken by a workforce who had never previously been on strike together.

The MLDC sits at a critical juncture in Woolworth’s supply chain. The strike shut-down liquor and cigarette supplies to Woolworths, BWS and Dan Murphy’s stores across Victoria.

On day four of the strike, industrial action occurred at two other Woolworth’s distribution centres in Hume and Barnawatha. The Hume DC afternoon shift joined the strike and the Barnawatha DC imposed an overtime ban whilst planning to join the strike.

This strike action continued despite the threat of fines and dismissal. It continued in defiance of an order by the Fair Work Commission on Tuesday. When ordered back to work, strikers at MLDC burnt copies of the FWC order and announced they would not return to work until Woolworths agreed “no labour hire and no repercussions [for striking]”.

The power that these workers held in their hands was palpable.

A number of us in Anarchist Affinity are NUW members and delegates (in the market research industry); we headed down to MLDC and joined the picket as part of a larger community support contingent. It was with disgust that from here we watched NUW hierarchy sell the workers at MLDC short.

Why NUW leadership acted in this manner is a matter for debate, it could simply have been timidity in the face of potential fines, or perhaps a fear of an industrial situation escalating outside their control. What is clear is that by late Wednesday NUW leadership had decided to intervene and end the MLDC strike.

The process of undermining the strike began with a mass meeting on Thursday morning. NUW officials advised workers that a federal court injunction was coming that could not be defied. Workers were told that this injunction would result in fines of up to $10,000 and potentially jail time for the strikers. Union leaders claimed only way out was to authorise the leadership to negotiate a deal.

Over the course of Thursday the strike was demobilised on the outside as officials cut a deal with the company inside.

At the final mass meeting held at the picket on Thursday evening, union leadership presented the deal they had cut. They argued there was no alternative and called for workers to endorse it. The militants who had called the strike fought for a continuation, but ultimately lost in a vote split roughly 70-30.

The compromise that was accepted will (in broad terms) see labour-hire on the site during ‘peak periods’, subject to certain restrictions. The most important restriction is that labor-hire workers will be paid site rates and covered by the site EBA.

More concerningly, the union leadership agreed to a deal in which workers will face retribution for striking. All of the strikers will be subjected to ‘counseling’ and a six month written warning for unprotected action.

The union and the company also intend to appoint an ‘independent investigator’ to ‘make recommendations’ about three particular workers for unspecified actions during the strike. The names of these three workers have not been disclosed, but it seems likely that strike organisers will face further retribution.

The MLDC strike was nonetheless amazing. Workers without significant support from their union took militant industrial action for four days, defying one of Australia’s largest retailers and the misnamed Fair Work Commission. For a brief moment they held the profitability of one of Australia’s largest corporations to ransom.

The MLDC strike may have accepted a compromise that in the end conceded labour-hire and disciplinary action for striking workers, but it also showed what is possible. The strike was one small but potent demonstration of the power that still exists on a picket line, and what even a small group of militants can achieve when they organise.

Our solidarity, support and love go out to everyone we met on the picketlines at MLDC.