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Wednesday, January 28 2015 @ 06:07 AM CST

Britain: More on the Anarchist Conference 09

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Why have we organised this conference, why now, why in this way? Because in the scheme of things, ideas that would seek to fundamentally change the way the world is organised, politically and economically, that would end Capitalist social relations, and instigate a change based upon the self activity and direct action of the working class, a Revolution, are marginal, in fact most people, most workers are barely aware of such ideas.

Britain: More on the Anarchist Conference 09

Here was the opening presentation by one of the organisers: A World turned upside down.

Welcome to the Anarchist movement conference.

Something similar happened up in Bradford about twelve years ago, with limited success, depending on your point of view. Some of us decided to do something along those lines again for similar reasons. We called it an Anarchist conference, although we recognise that there are other people who do not use that label, who are also moving in a similar direction, that ultimately its not the label that's important its what you say and do.

Why have we organised this conference, why now, why in this way? Because in the scheme of things, ideas that would seek to fundamentally change the way the world is organised, politically and economically, that would end Capitalist social relations, and instigate a change based upon the self activity and direct action of the working class, a Revolution, are marginal, in fact most people, most workers are barely aware of such ideas.

We believe that such ideas are important, that they have enormous potential, a potential that is not being realised. We, that is Anarchists, or however you wish to describe yourselves, are small, marginalised and fragmented, we believe that it shouldn't be this way, that it doesn't have to be this way. Therefore, we would have you ask this question, if our ideas are so brilliant, then why are we in this position, and what can we do about it ?

This is not to say that all sorts of people do not do some amazing things in their resistance to the way things are, but just that things could be so much better than they are at the moment.

We want to discuss these problems and possibilities in the most honest and open way we possibly can, to step back, for one moment, and reflect upon the things we have been saying and doing.

Consider it to be an experiment, a shock to the Anarchist body politic, thinking laterally, thinking outside the box whatever we find that to mean.

We would ask that you enter this with an open mind, that you do not have any assumptions about anybody else, that you do not come to it with a line, or an agenda, or thinking that you already know the answers. We ask that in the time come to this, you try to forget what you already know, and that you listen and learn as much from others, as well as expressing your own point of view.

The political situation has changed immeasurably, now that the Thatcheright chickens have come home to roost, Capitalism is in deep shit, and is more vulnerable now than it has been for a long time, who is to say what the political situation will be like in six months let alone six years.

Are we happy with the level of organisation we have now, are we happy to continue the way we are, is it up to the challenges that lay ahead ?

Or can we make some radical changes in the way we do things, in what is in effect a collective effort. Can we make a real Anarchist movement, can we increase the levels of co-operation between us exponentially.

There have been attempts to move in this direction for some while, and what we are talking about here is not some one of thing its a process.

The working class are not about to make a revolution, but that doesn't mean we have to wait for them, we can have our own revolution here and now, because if we are expecting a united working class, then the least we can do is something similar amongst ourselves, and that the world we wish to create, should be reflected in the ways we try and create it here and now. That also means that we are asking for a qualitative change in our own personal relations, therefore we would ask that any past disputes, enmity, or bad feelings, be left at the door, because there has been way way too much of it. It would be nice if for a time there was an amnesty on all past recriminations.

We have organised it in small groups, in which everybody talks about the same things, the groups will be organised in such a way that people don't necessarily know each other. We hope that in small groups more people will more likely to speak, and that the discussion will be more complete and intense, and that after the small groups everybody will bring together the ideas they have discussed in a mass assembly.

We cannot insure what the dynamics of this conference will be beforehand, we have organised the conference, and we have organised it in the way we have, whether its worth doing, whether its a success or a failure or somewhere in between, is now down to you the people who participate in it,

Comrades, for a revolution in the Anarchist movement - it is within your power.


Two Days @ Conference 09: One Group's Discussion

The following notes are an attempt to capture the spirit of the discussion of one of the groups at the Anarchist Conference 09. The format of the conference was novel and worked very well - everyone who joined was taken away from their "normal" affinity group and placed in a discussion group with a selection of other people who weren't in the same organization, so that each group became to some extent a cross-section of the anarchist movement in the UK.

Each paragraph below represents a different person speaking, so the perspective shifts quite a bit, but it is interesting to observe how strangely coherent the whole discussion proved to be.

Movement (or why we aren't one)

Many people may not call themselves anarchists (including some in the room), and people quite often miss what they have in common. There is some disagreement over whether we should, at this conference, attempt to put out some kind of collective, unified statement (or not). Some people feel that too much focus on differences gets us bogged down, as a movement, in trivial debates about who has the correct analysis; others feel that it is very important to acknowledge the differences in analysis that people have because those analyses are going to inform how they act.

This is a time when regular people are most disillusioned with mainstream politics in living memory, but it's quite possible that popular opinion will simply bounce away from Labour back to the Conservatives, back and forth forever. We have a lot of opportunities as a result of the economic crisis, the self-destruction of the Marxist-Leninist groups in the UK, the bad press the police have recently gotten, etc. A lot of people find anarchism interesting and engaging because it's such a breath of fresh air to them (unlike political parties, etc). The anarchist movement needs to be approachable and not replicate what sucks about "normal" politics.

It may be the case that we don't need to make a black and white choice between coming out of the conference as "we are one movement, united" or "we all do our own thing." How can we work together most effectively, and learn from each other? For example, it may be the case that the more economically-focused groups don't have the vibrancy, immediacy and passion of the direct action movement, whereas the direct action movement doesn't have (perhaps) the coherent approach or strategic conception of the more "political" groups.

Anarchists have a lot of problems presenting themselves, due to constant media demonization. This scares off a lot of people, potentially, who might be interested in getting involved in our movement(s). Two images of the anarchist movement are people smashing up McDonalds and a bunch of "old farts" sitting around in incredibly dull consensus meetings discussing historical points.

The British anarchist movement has always been a movement of immigrants, and has never had the same roots in the non-immigrant working class that it does in France or Spain. As a result, the imagery of anarchists is either ninjas in masks or Spanish revolutionaries; we need to change perceptions and present ourselves a bit differently.

Some people are less interested in trying "build a movement" than in trying to work out "alternatives for a different society," and that this is more important than labels (anarchist etc).

We need to be addressing questions like "why should I become an anarchist?", as opposed to "why would I join the BNP?" as the crisis continues - and we shouldn't think that people are going to become racists just because their MPs are skimming off the top. The kind of inspiring direct actions, coupled with political analysis, that we have, can make a very appealing combination.

What's the use of all our activity? Did the anti-G20 mobilizations really manage to change anything? At our best, we demonstrate that we have alternatives to business as usual that show our politics can really work (e.g. the activity of the London Coalition Against Poverty).

There is a question about whether we need to be presenting utopian visions to people, working it all out, and then presenting that vision to people.

We have something of a perfect situation at the moment, with people pissed off about politicians, the police, and the economy at the same time, with factory occupations happening for the first time in many years, homes being repossessed, etc. Converting this into action is hard, though. For example with the Visteon factory occupation, there was a reluctance on the part of anarchists to push the politics hard enough to overcome the hard-sell propaganda of the Socialist Party. As a result, many of the workers in the factory occupation came out of their experience thinking that the SP would be their political vehicle.

People are attracted by militancy. At the same time, there is a tension between being scary-looking masked people and the needs of recruitment, being approachable; a tension between unity, diversity, militancy and providing a point of access.

One of the positive things which have come out of the Visteon occupation was a remark made by one of the workers - "I'm so glad I'm out of the factory, this is the most profound event of my life. I won't have anybody shouting at me anymore, and it's really made me think of the alternatives." A failure of the solidarity work was that we didn't really manage to pick up on and expand on some of the remarks like this made by workers on the picket line. Due to changes in capitalist production, this was the last engineering factory in the Lee Valley; there are no longer any more factories like this, which means we need to approach questions of work, and organizing, in a different way in the future. Some of the remarks made by the Visteon workers were quite perceptive in this regard but we didn't manage to make anything out of them.

The economic crisis is a time of great fear for a lot of people but also very exciting. How we respond to it may challenge the way we work as we haven't been faced with this sort of thing recently. The ideas are what's important, whether we present them as specifically anarchist ideas is less important.

Some themes:

* How can the existing movement be more effective? Infrastructure, communications?
* How can we get out of the ghetto?
* How does the crisis change the way we should be approaching things?


The anarchist movement lacks credibility. We need to be taking small things, sticking to them, and doing them well. We can't deal with the state and hierarchy all in one shot, we need to have a solid understanding of what's going on, pick something to work on, and do it well.

We've got an economic crisis, massive disaffection, and people coming into the workforce and there's no work for them. This is where we could be making huge gains by saying "look, we can help you out in this situation," capitalizing on the skills people have, supporting them, etc.

Someone is uncomfortable with the notion of anarchists latching onto struggles and trying recruit, whereas the identity politics/network model has a passion and effectiveness which can't be matched by the SWP-style approach.

The anarchist movement is extremely inaccessible, it's difficult to even figure out how to get involved.

We don't need a movement against bus prices, we need a movement against capitalism. It needs to be a sustained, highly organized movement which can actually take over the running of our entire society, industrial system, etc. The first thing we need to be able to do is start to organize this (however that happens). London Indy is trying to act as an on-ramp for this, so at least there is for example a list of contacts available for London.

Smash Edo - on Mayday - there were a lot of anarchists and people from the community but no propaganda being given to locals and after the intervention by anarchists locals were baffled or scared.

The terrain of struggle seems agreed on economic crisis is making everything clearer- need to have credibility, be in communities and workplaces, address things that matter. The Reading group started out as a fairly abstracted "activist" group and gradually shifted into a community project - they started a community garden and the council tried to shut them down, which allowed them to start a neighbourhood struggle and gain traction in the community. Now they have good relations with local people, have won the community garden struggle, and are moving on to other things. The important thing is to provide hope and confidence to regular people that they can fight struggles and win. The trade union model of going to the rank and file, finding out what they're angry about, finding sensible issues that it's possible to actually win on, fighting the issue and winning, and continuing on, is a good one for anarchists (despite coming from the extremely flawed trade union organizations).

It's important to tell people "we don't want to tell you what to do, so we won't do it", rather than just saying nothing (because people then think that you just have no clue what to do about stuff). There need to be places where people can say "here are the problems I've got, here are the problems you've got, how can we work this out together?".

There is a danger that as anarchists when doing work organizing on everyday issues that the anarchists simply replace existing capitalist services and take over their functions - with "direct action casework" as practised by the London Coalition Against Poverty, for example, or with union work, we need to watch that we don't just take over the role of union stewards or social workers and get co-opted.

3 minutes on the economic crisis is something that everybody should be able to do.

Militant anarchist leadership is an issue that people seem to be dancing around. If anarchism aims to transform all of society, and we need most people to get on board with anarchism, at least as a set of ideas for running a social and economic system, then it's self-defeating if we can't confidently say "we should do things in a different way and here's why". Fundamentally there are 2 situations - "I'm an anarchist, we are all affected by this situation, let's do X", or "you have this problem, I am an anarchist who's just showed up out of the blue, I'll help you out".

There is a fine line between political organizing and providing a service - many of our organizations have this (London Coalition Against Poverty, Indymedia). There is a union activist who has managed to build an incredibly participatory union branch despite severe opposition from both his bosses and the union hierarchy. That kind of leadership is what we need, and we need to clarify in the anarchist movement where there are examples of good leadership and bad leadership. A strange mix of saying yes and no is the best way to go, sometimes it's good to help people out, some times it's good to say "no, I won't do that for you, you are capable of doing that for yourself."

Tactically, direct action is used for all sorts of things, and many people are familiar with these tactics (including right-wing groups). In Bristol there was a successful direct action campaign against drug dealing, while questioning the police tactics at the same time. Building up with victories and saying to people, "with these ideas and these tactics, you can solve your immediate problem, but then we can move on to use these ideas and tactics to change the wider society." To get people thinking that what they need isn't more consumer electronics, but the trust and support of their neighbours, is very powerful - rent strikes, refusal to pay council tax, and many other things become possible. At a partially squatted housing estate in Bristol, the "normal" tenants were meeting in the residents association and complaining about how the squatters weren't paying rent, so the squatters went to the residents meeting and said that the residents shouldn't pay rent either.

There are ways to address the "parachute in" problem, but one thing that helps a lot is to be consistent and genuine - of course people are going to be suspicious of you at first, but if you keep showing up and helping out people will come to trust you.

Some good sources on the web, relating to the crisis, are Hobgoblin, Principia Dialectica, Krisis (German but English language), Exit (German but English language).

People need to have face to face relations - and people do pay more attention to printed media than to stuff on the interweb.

Has the crisis changed anything fundamental?

One thing that has changed is peoples' perceptions of the economy; no matter what the truth of the matter is as far as whether this is the last crisis of capitalism or whatever, the fact that people are way more sceptical of all the economic pundits and more willing to listen to alternative economic analyses represents a big opportunity for us.

Some Perspectives on the Economic Crisis

A perspective: the economic crisis doesn't change the fundamentals of what we need to deal with. It's not the end of capitalism, it's one of a periodical set of readjustments which capitalism goes through. Up until now, financial speculation has been profitable and has also managed to alleviate working class discontent (through access to debt, encouraging bourgeois values as more people become homeowners). Confidence in the housing market collapsed, causing a huge amount of increase in national debt (due to the bailouts) which is going to have to be paid for by working class people at a future time. This is not going to be something that changes the fundamental social relationships in our society, because the relationship between people, the state, and capital will remain fundamentally the same. A lot of the rhetoric around greedy bankers etc is mistaken from an anti-capitalist perspective: we don't need new bankers, we need a new social system.

Another perspective: the crisis we're currently experiencing began in 1973, when capitalism began to really restructure itself in a way that's similar to now. The whole economic landscape has changed as a result of this process, which means that the terrain of struggle is also different. A big mistake that the traditional Left has made is to keep using the same tools as were used in the 1960s to describe the social terrain and the conflicts we face - the old-style class struggle is no more.

Another: agrees with the 1973 analysis. There is no experience in the room of being involved in working-class industry (except one old guy who gave his analysis above). There is no huge class of people in the UK that has the solidarity that people had historically (due to factory organization), but people are still getting shafted with low wages, lack of job security, etc. We need to connect these people in a way that is empowering, and takes into account this new landscape, empowering them to survive in a way that they're not playing a game which is stacked against them.

Another: Deepening crisis does two or three things for us. In a really simplistic way, it's changed absolutely nothing, because the issues are the same as they were three or four years ago. What it has done is made all of the old problems much more serious and widespread - now there are thousands of repossessions, as opposed to dozens. This is a seriously bad situation for many people, but it offers us a lot of opportunities, and gives us immediate things to tackle in terms of organizing. If you aren't rich, chances are you are affected by the economic crisis. In a way, this is good, it makes everything we're talking about a bit more real - it's making us get a lot more serious in the way we deal with things. It's the biggest crisis since the Great Depression, and capital flows were momentarily frozen. However in general the only reason it's "a crisis" is that it's an opportunity *for us* - factory occupations, for example. The state is currently militarizing to deal with mass migrations, civil unrest, and border controls. As anti-authoritarians we need to be aware that we are in something of a race against time here. Whereas we have previously seen a neo-liberal free-market ideology triumphant, we are now going to be facing a more naked exercise of state and corporate power.

Another: The environmental crisis goes along with the economic crisis, and means more unrest as people start worrying about resources. There is a new landscape, issues of nationalism are going to come up in relation to migration, and will tie in with both the climate crisis and economic criris. The fact of occupations instead of pickets has been very inspiring. A basic problem is that we've used up a lot of the world's natural resources, and this is going to cause a lot of complex problems as the economic crisis puts pressure on people and they potentially turn to racist/fascist BNP style answers.

Another: In terms of how we intervene, work in the UK is all about casualization. There is an entire generation that won't leave home until 26-27, because they've never had a permanent job, never encountered a union, and have no productive apparatus to stop (you can occupy a factory, but can you occupy your local pub? They just stop sending you beer). The reaction of capitalism in Greece and South Korea has been a program of casualization to make capitalism profitable again - it is likely we're going to see this response here. This makes it really difficult to do things in the workplace, because it's extremely difficult to fight against this sort of things with traditional union organizing tactics (it takes an extremely high level of commitment to live on poverty wages to fight a union struggle and then not even win it).

Another: Nationalism is going to be a major reaction as the crisis continues. There will be big problems to do with immigrants vs. nationalism in the next few years.

What can we do about the economic crisis?

Another: First job was night job in a warehouse, and there was no way to organize people, they were just too casualized. Second job was to be brought in as a strikebreaker as a temp worker (didn't do it obviously). Third job was a permanent job where it becomes possible to do some good things in the workplace. There is almost no way to organize temp workers, it's nearly impossible to do. We should be concentrating on the remaining "traditional" workplaces, and then trying to build out from there. The IWW recognizes that there have been migrant workers for as long as capitalism has existed. He works in a big company where it would be necessary to unionise 50% of the company rather than 50% + 1 of the local workplace (which would be possible to do by itself, but there's no chance on the company level). So he's trying to do union organizing. "Normal" people in his workplace are actually pushing him to get a move on with unionisation, but he's trying to figure out how to actually win it. The social nature (pub nights) of his workplace is a big advantage when doing organizing. The crisis, however, makes things simultaneously difficult (people are scared) and easier (people are angry).

Simply making people aware of their rights at work can be a good thing to do, regardless of the crisis, in order to help people want to fight for themselves and their own rights.

Would it be a good idea to collectively organize a locality as a union? Then if there was a company within the community which was operating in an anti-social way, a bad boss, there would be some way for the community to respond together.

We need to spread the net a lot wider. The old trade union model was that if you were a steel worker you could join the steel workers union. We can't really do that any more, we need to move to a wider model of solidarity (which is more difficult to do but potentially stronger as we don't have different unions for different trades). There are some things to think about here: the thing which brings people into working-class organizations is not that they have bad conditions, it's that there's something happening which could actually win something. There are problems though sustaining a fighting organization like this in periods of low struggle (a trade union has a bureaucracy which exists all the time, whereas a more fluid and struggle-oriented organization is more difficult to sustain).

The IWW in Reading has successfully been building links with more traditional unions, and those relationships are starting to be helpful. It's possible that this is going to turn into a revival of a Trades Union Council in the locality, which hasn't existed for 20 years.

The use of informal networks is important. These kinds of networks existed even in the days of old-style craft unions, especially when workers had to organize across supply chains. It's annoying that traditional unions always take a sort of "parachute" approach to organizing immigrant and casual labour; no union activity is successful if it doesn't do things on the informal side of things as well as the formal side.

Migration and the Crisis

The far right is organizing in a serious way. The fact that scarcity and access to resources is becoming a major issue because of the crisis means that working class people are going to face even greater competition for access to perceived resources ("there is enough housing for everybody, we just can't have it"). So we are seeing stuff like British Jobs for British Workers strikes, which started off with a really nationalist message. The BNP was actively attempting to organize during these strikes and were physically removed in some situations. The Socialist Party was managing to intervene in a positive way in the strikes, getting in touch with Italian unions to try and internationalize things (this had some effect on things). Many people who come to the UK do so not because they love Britain, but because they are effectively forced to do so by crappy economic conditions at home, or various other bad situations. There are other groups such as "No to the EU, yes to democracy" which are trying to formulate a common-sense working-class position on the EU, migration without pandering to the BNP. Noborders is in many ways too simplistic a response (both organizationally and in its rhetoric) to this situation.

People are not being fair to Noborders. They are a direct action group which campaigns on the worst areas of immigration policy. They are not and have never claimed to be the anarchist position on immigration, that is the job of the whole anarchist movement. Our position has to be that free movement across borders is the ideal scenario, but that this can't happen under capitalism. We shouldn't get sucked into an immigration-good, immigration-bad debate, we should fundamentally reject the whole debate. The "No to EU" organization is fundamentally an old-Left attempt to say "we are the British working class", and as soon as we start pandering to this sort of thing we are getting involved in a nationalist debate - we need to be absolutely principled on this issue.

As far as the RMT organizing cleaners - people were deported after the cleaners struck, because they had become an inconvenience. It's a real problem when capital lets undocumented workers through so that they can be effectively exploited, but retains the right to deport them whenever they make trouble.

The "No to EU" campaign is a drift (in the long term) towards some kind of Popular Front - we need to reject this and take a principled position. The fundamental problem is not immigration, it's distribution.

Immigration is mostly a problem or immigrants, who have often been forced out of their own homes, etc.

In Bradford, the BNP are not talking about immigrants or migration, they went into completely neglected communities, helped people out, talked to the local Brownie troop, and did very well as a result. Nobody else is listening to these people or addressing their concerns.

The things that are done in terms of detention without trial is a laboratory for repression - migrants were the first to get their benefits cut, etc. In a situation like this, Noborders is just a practical means of self-defence for people.

Huge numbers of working-class people are prejudiced. Fascists should be no-platformed but we can't do this with every working-class person who has crap opinions (we need to engage with them, not yell stupid slogans at them).

The work we need to be doing around the BNP is not just around the BNP themselves, it's also around all of the other political parties who are hyping the BNP threat as a way of scaring people into voting for them.

The biggest danger is the mainstream media and the surface culture of ordinary people, whose prejudices get whipped up very skilfully. The younger people in any movement has got to deal with the cultural issues of capitalism utilizing these immigrant resources in order to extract the greatest amount of surplus value.

There is a kind of tacit acceptance that we can have a lot of immigration and the immigrants will do the crap jobs, and that this is OK - we can just have a group of second-class people living alongside us. There may be opportunities to do something and address this problem.

Ecology and the Crisis

Is it smart to talk about a no-growth economy when many people will think that this means they'll never have a job again? Is it good to oppose infrastructure projects (roads etc) which are designed as Keynesian measures to stimulate the economy?

The no-growth rhetoric coming out of France, for example, is sometimes overplayed when it's used in Britain - the French anarchists have a concept of a just transition, paid for at the expense of the bosses, not at the expense of the workers, as the economy is transitioned towards low or no-growth economy. Even in the French model, there are big questions about how this rhetoric could actually be implemented - the growth and increasing power of green capitalism within the environmental movement means that tensions are likely to surface more and more often within the environmental movement.

The perception that people do green stuff because they are against people is mistaken - when opposing roads for example, activists are told that they prefer insects and animals to people. The right response is no insects, no habitat, no food, no people. So there is no contradiction, it's the same struggle.

We can't afford to be blase about working peoples' struggle to survive in modern Britain - if the environmental movement appears to threaten jobs, it will lose all the support it's built up in the past 20 years. It can easily be used as a means of economic restructuring. A key reason we've got to be involved in unions, workplace struggles, is so that environmentalists can be on the inside next to the workers. For example, after watching The Take, the Visteon workers got inspired to discuss environmentally-friendly ways of re-purposing the productive output of their factory. It's very interesting that they wanted to move to environmentally friendly output and is a mark of how much influence the environmental movement has had. The other thing is that the radical spirit of land struggles in Asia and South America should be imported to Britain. We can take action as a community rather than waiting for the state to do if for us.

The food thing seems really basic but it's a way for people to actively do something for themselves in a way that can benefit the community. We can say, "look, Kropotkin had these ideas a century ago, these are our ideas", and make some headway.

Militant squatting is going to make a comeback because it's a common-sense response to the crisis. If there are thousands of homeless people and hundreds of empty premises it just becomes common sense to squat if the current economic system can't provide homes for people.

Part of the appeal that anarchism can have is vibrancy and creativity - where other people see constraints, we don't need to. Other people see locked doors and empty houses, we see potential squats. If we can mobilize to support people we can also fight eviction and repossession attempts as well.

Can house re-possessions be turned into a way of seizing properties as common land? It's actually possible to help people fairly easily (with enough organization) - bailiffs are not nice people, but when we're dealing with them, we're not dealing with the state, which gives us a lot more leeway. This sort of stuff is currently happening in Haringey, and the Anarchist Federation is also looking to cooperate with other people/groups on issues of personal debt. Other groups (Leeds Crisis) are also working on these issues, and talking about campaigns to withhold paying fuel price increases.

Militant group haggling is another tactic - show up with 500 people and say "we're going to have X at Y price" to a store.

One thing to bear in mind is that we want to pick fights we can genuinely win, not fights which make us look stupid and cost people their jobs/houses. LCAP does stuff where they try and buy time for complainants, stretching the legal systems of local authorities (who don't have unlimited resources) to the breaking point. This can sometimes result in victories again evictions and repossessions.

Community buyouts are maybe becoming possible as a result of the real estate crash. Is it possible to bring down the price of desirable (for us) real estate through squatting and direct action? Can we use the crisis at least end up with more secure access to social centres, etc?

Social centres are not actually accessible to the whole community, they are often elitist and populated by people with their thumbs up their asses. Anyone not connected with the anarchist or left scene is basically not welcome. Why is there such a massive gulf between the theoretically open social centres and the communities they're actually situated in?

This is a really crucial issue, when we put so much effort into something like a social centre then it's a disaster when it doesn't connect properly with its local area. Ramparts has got it all wrong, it's very isolated from its local community - the Sumac Centre is doing a better job, it connects much better with the surrounding neighbourhood. There is always a tension between people who want to do stuff for themselves ("this is an art space/punk space/music space/spot to get drunk") and people who want to have a social centre which integrates into the neighbourhood and provides services for others ("you can come here and start a dance class/discussion group/skateboarding competition/whatever").

New social centres can now start fresh and try and learn the lessons from other social centres.

It's a slippery slope when we talk about providing services for the abstract community - it's a shit job to be working unpaid in a cafe all day because you want to be providing "services to the community". Having a bunch of punk gigs is fine if people want to do that.

The first day of discussion ended with a lot of talk about pirates, with general agreement that pirates are probably the coolest organizational form in all of world history.


Resources, Ideas for Organizing, Strategic and Tactical, Should this happen next year?

Coming from outside of London and staying with people who are in other groups, it's interesting to see what resources different groups have - printing facilities, layout skills, cheap t-shirts, design skills, computer skills, etc. The idea of an anarchist directory so people can find the resources they need is an excellent one. Even if we don't agree politically all the time we can at least help each other out with our resources and skills.

Could there be a website which allowed us to have a directory to share these skills?

This would be a really big project, would take a lot of time to do. It might be better to ask http://libcom.org to take on this role rather than look at doing a separate project.

There is a real barrier to getting involved in the anarchist movement if you happen to live in an area without a group, a skill share directory could be a way of getting individuals involved and allowing them to offer their skills to the movement.

People keep mentioning that anarchist websites (including the directory) should be accessible. For the directory this may be a bit of a red herring insofar as the directory is concerned.

There has been discussion in London of the movement setting up a tactical rapid-response unit which can handle things like strike support, occupation support, as a network so that things can get done on a less ad-hoc basis. For example, Haringey Solidarity Group was very useful for the Visteon workers because they were able to offer concrete support to help the workers with practical problems.

A few years ago, a lot more people were interested in organizing as workers (unionized or non-unionized), and a resurgence of this sort of activity is happening during the crisis - a more organized approach to gathering and spreading skills which would support this sort of activity would be very helpful. In a support situation like Visteon, for example, the occupiers need answers to questions like "how can we set up a bank account to do fundraising? who's got stuff to make tea inside the occupation? what unions will actually give us any support? what lawyers can we use? how can we get ourselves represented in the media or make our own?"

During the Sheffield university occupation, the anarchist group basically vetoed the SWP's offer of their lawyer for legal support, and took over legal questions themselves. This worked in the short term but actually having lawyers ourselves (to compete with the SWP's two paid lawyers on staff) is desirable.

There are many groups doing a lot of this work but people don't know what other people are doing, so there's a lot of wasted energy.

There is no need to look at support work as simply a "parachute" approach, there is lots of work that can be done in normal workplaces. Also, a better network of (for example) legal resources would really help.

There is a just-starting national anti-militarist organization in the UK which seems to be on the right track (they've had 2 conferences so far). So, some issues are being covered. But there is a real lack of, for example, workplace organizing with a green focus (the only group really working on this aspect of worker organizing is the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, a Trotskyist group). There are quite a few issues where we're not doing very well and issues are being left uncontested to authoritarians or capitalists (green issues being especially notable here).

There is no point in having strike support work without some way of rapidly responding to what's going on - if a strike breaks out tomorrow and we support it in a month there's not much point.

One idea could be to organize more specialized conferences on specific themes (anarchists in trade unions for example) and get people together to deal with more specific things. For next year, this could be a good way to build on the outcomes of the '09 conference - we don't need to get lots of different anarchists together again just to have general chats, we could look at it as a way to have people who are working on similar things to get together and build a direction and coordination for their specific areas of concern (green issues, industrial organization etc). This year has been great but we don't need to repeat it exactly next year - we need to focus on building capabilities.

A more mature approach to the mainstream media is necessary - we had a situation during the G20 where Chris Knight was effectively the leader of our movement for two weeks because no one else put themselves forward and actually took on the responsibility of talking to the mainstream media in an intelligent way; so when CK told the news media "we're going to the Bank", we ended up going to the Bank by default. This is an absolutely disastrous situation.

There has been a major shift in the kind of organizing that is effective in the past year as the crisis has started to bite regular people. For example the shift from community gardens to economic organizing has been noticeable.

Leeds Crisis is a great example of people from lots of different works starting to work together under the pressure of the economic crisis.

For next year, it'd be a big help if all groups had a break at the same time, to give people a chance to socialize and network a lot more (this year the lack of coordinated breaks means most groups weren't able to talk to each other much).

It would be good to see some short articles come out of the conference so that it's possible to get an overview of what people discussed. If it doesn't happen this year it should really be encouraged next year.

Previous attempts to have broad UK-wide anti-authoritarian radical networks (e.g. Dissent) have foundered because they just didn't have enough direction or agreement to sustain themselves. There's probably no point in trying to found the One Unified Network again, but it should be possible to set up smaller and more practically-oriented networks of people working on similar issues.


The day ended with us all getting ready to present our ideas at the plenary. Overall people seemed very happy with the way the conference worked out for our group. I would do organizing with any of the people in my group, anytime - they were intelligent, engaging, and genuinely good people to hang out with.

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Britain: More on the Anarchist Conference 09 | 0 comments | Create New Account
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