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Unghettoizing Anarchism

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tastybrain
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Nov 27 2007 08:20
Unghettoizing Anarchism

It seems to me that anarchism is in a sorry state these days, and that the main problem is to have any real effect, and to bring us any closer to a revolution, anarchism needs to be a popular movement, with large numbers of people and a real influence on the consciousnesses of the masses. It seems that anarchism has become a small, isolated sect on the margins of society, and that the internal culture has changed as well; from a pragmatic anarchism involved in the working class' day-to-day struggles to a more lifestyle oriented anarchism. Obviously I could be wrong about anarchism's influence in the past - I wasn't there - but that's the general impression I get.

I also get the impression from many members of the board share at least some of my views, so I thought it might be productive to discuss these questions: how can we move anarchism out of the activist ghetto and into the streets? Does the change have to do with a shift in the class composition of the anarchist movement (more middle/upper class college kids)? Obviously the lifestyelist bent much of the "anarchist" movement has taken can be extremely alienating to the average person, but isn't complex Marxist rhetoric just as incomprehensible? Is this simply a "period of low class struggle" in the history of anarchism and hopeless for organization, or can we actually do something about it?

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sam sanchez
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Nov 27 2007 12:21
Quote:
It seems that anarchism has become a small, isolated sect on the margins of society

"Become"? When was it ever anything else, at least in most countries?

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Steven.
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Nov 27 2007 12:36

Hey tb. A few thoughts from me...

Yes I think many people on here will sympathise with your sentiment, including myself. Although like other people in the libcom group I don't really view things that way any more, I mean I did maybe 3 years ago, when we had more involvement with "the anarchist movement." If you detach yourself from it then it ceases to be an issue really.

Quote:
It seems to me that anarchism is in a sorry state these days, and that the main problem is to have any real effect, and to bring us any closer to a revolution, anarchism needs to be a popular movement, with large numbers of people and a real influence on the consciousnesses of the masses.

That I agree with, though I don't like references to "the masses" which sound outdated and patronising. I'd say to large numbers of working people though, sure.

Quote:
It seems that anarchism has become a small, isolated sect on the margins of society, and that the internal culture has changed as well; from a pragmatic anarchism involved in the working class' day-to-day struggles to a more lifestyle oriented anarchism. Obviously I could be wrong about anarchism's influence in the past - I wasn't there - but that's the general impression I get.

Again, there's always been lots of shit in the anarchist movement - read some discussion from the French movement in the late 19th century and the same individualist/class struggle split existed then too. In the US and UK anarchism's influence is round about zero, but has been for 75 years at least.

Quote:
I also get the impression from many members of the board share at least some of my views, so I thought it might be productive to discuss these questions: how can we move anarchism out of the activist ghetto and into the streets? Does the change have to do with a shift in the class composition of the anarchist movement (more middle/upper class college kids)?

I don't think there's been much of a shift in composition, and as for makeup I think the shit politics are spread evenly across all social groups.

Quote:
Obviously the lifestyelist bent much of the "anarchist" movement has taken can be extremely alienating to the average person, but isn't complex Marxist rhetoric just as incomprehensible?

Well yes, but who speaks in complex marxist rhetoric?

Quote:
Is this simply a "period of low class struggle" in the history of anarchism and hopeless for organization, or can we actually do something about it?

It is a period of low class struggle, yes, but there are still some things we can do I think. In some ways I think you're looking at things the wrong way. I wouldn't worry about "anarchism." While lifestylists and primitivists are annoying, mass struggle would make them irrelevant. What is far more dangerous are those "serious anarchists" who would have workers line up behind the trade unions or nationalist movements.

I think if people stop messing around with anarchism's self-referential subculture, just go and live your life, and within it look at problems you share with those around you, and can apply collective, direct action - i.e. anarchist - solutions to.

Then I think it's important to share information and lessons from the struggles you're involved in, as well as other struggles elsewhere - that's what sites like libcom can be used for.

Mike Harman
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Nov 27 2007 12:51

Just to say I agree entirely with John's post. A lot of us have gone through a period of trying to 'reclaim' anarchism from the various nutters who've attached themselves to it. But it's not 'anarchism' that's important, it's the everyday (and not so everyday) struggles which matter. Historically some of these were associated with anarchism, or Marxism, many with neither.

john
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Nov 27 2007 13:06

I broadly agree with John. and catch - although you seem to underplay the role of ideology/propaganda (ironically considering the amount of time and effort that you put into this website).

whilst of course the aim is to apply anarchist principles in everyday life (rather than applying anarchist principles in anarchist ghettoes), there has to be someone promoting those principles so that they can permeate the ideas of those living 'everyday lives' - doesn't there?

Surely this is the role of the 'anarchist movement'? In which case, the internal, ghettoized nature of it does matter after all.

Carousel
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Nov 27 2007 13:16
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how can we move anarchism out of the activist ghetto and into the streets?

Such a transfer would require accumulation, which is anti-communist. That aside, it’s an equivalent problem to that faced by those involved in Electoral Marketing, so one may as well answer the question “Why don’t people vote Green?”

The Electoral Marketing problem is a restatement of the problem faced by large groups trying to take collective action to provide public goods. It has no communist solution other than impending economic collapse (which is flawed, as it happens, because awareness does not mean action).

john
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Nov 27 2007 13:21

hi 'Carousel' - with that reasoning, how would you ever put anthing into practice?

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MJ
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Nov 27 2007 13:44
John. wrote:
While lifestylists and primitivists are annoying, mass struggle would make them irrelevant. What is far more dangerous are those "serious anarchists" who would have workers line up behind the trade unions or nationalist movements.

I don't see why we would expect a mass upsurge of authentic working-class self-activity to be more easily diverted (especially by anarchists) into trade-unionism and nationalism than into individualist and anti-social solutions. Besides which, could you point to any anarchists who argue for engagement with organized labor now on the basis that when there is such a mass upsurge we'll be able to... build the unions more? Most pro union anarchists I talk to see trade unions as defensive formations during low points and would love to see them passed by. Your statement seems like a cheap shot. (I don't know any nationalist anarchists so I can't address that one.)

Carousel
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Nov 27 2007 13:58
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how would you ever put anthing into practice?

As a by-product of the provision of private goods. Anarcho-punk is a good example, although the limited appeal obviously constrains the size of the group. The ICC is another good example, where the private good of a social hobby is used to generate the public good of their theoretical insight. The outcomes a group can generate are determined by the character and size of the selective incentives it can offer its membership.

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Steven.
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Nov 27 2007 14:00
MJ wrote:
John. wrote:
While lifestylists and primitivists are annoying, mass struggle would make them irrelevant. What is far more dangerous are those "serious anarchists" who would have workers line up behind the trade unions or nationalist movements.

I don't see why we would expect a mass upsurge of authentic working-class self-activity to be more easily diverted (especially by anarchists) into trade-unionism and nationalism than into individualist and anti-social solutions.

Are you joking? Or are you really that ignorant of history?

What helped crush the Spanish revolution? Was it the CNT telling workers in May 1937 to put down their arms and return to work, or was it too many workers eating out of dumpsters? What about the Mexican anarcho-syndicalists who went to war against Zapata? All the anarchists who supported the mass slaughter of WWI? Millions of workers - including revolutionaries - have been lead to their deaths defending national states, or fighting for new ones. Huge strikes have been defeated due to the sectionalism and sabotage of unions.

What mass workers struggles have ever been affected by a couple of smelly punks with a zine?

Quote:
Besides which, could you point to any anarchists who argue for engagement with organized labor now on the basis that when there is such a mass upsurge we'll be able to... build the unions more? Most pro union anarchists I talk to see trade unions as defensive formations during low points and would love to see them passed by.

They're not effective defensive formations. All over the world workers are on the defensive and unions are sabotaging their struggles - mostly by their very nature rather than due to being evil. See for example the strike wave in france, broken up by the unions, and the public sector disputes here this year, broken up by the unions, and in some cases actively sabotaged, and defeated one by one.

Quote:
Your statement seems like a cheap shot. (I don't know any nationalist anarchists so I can't address that one.)

No it's not. Peter made that point on here a year or two back, I didn't realise its significance until much later.

As for nationalist anarchists, you know some - there are some in your organisation. Wayne Price argued for people to support Hezbollah, and on here other NEFAC people supported those who fought the IDF, and even mocked those who "ran away." The only sensible option would have been to "run away" - as 1 million workers did - then wait for Hezbollah to pay for their homes to be rebuilt. If an anarchist movement there had listened to Wayne or those people, a large proportion of it could've been wiped out by the better-armed IDF, all for nothing.

Mike Harman
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Nov 27 2007 14:01
Quote:
I broadly agree with John. and catch - although you seem to underplay the role of ideology/propaganda (ironically considering the amount of time and effort that you put into this website).

whilst of course the aim is to apply anarchist principles in everyday life (rather than applying anarchist principles in anarchist ghettoes), there has to be someone promoting those principles so that they can permeate the ideas of those living 'everyday lives' - doesn't there?

Hehe good point.

This is roughly how I look at things at the moment: Obviously if there's an actual dispute/strike or whatever looming in your immediate work/living situation then that should be the main priority, although that doesn't happen all the time, or very often, or at all even, depending on what your job is like. I think this site is potentially very useful for workers to discuss their direct participation in these everyday disputes and occasionally wider struggles. I say potentially because there's a very small number of discussions that deal with this at the moment, although it's increased a lot the past few months I think.

In conjunction with this is the role of circulating struggles - making them more widely known amongst workplaces in the same company or sector, and amongst 'pro-revolutionaries' and the wider working class in general. In terms of our activity on the site that's one of our primary focuses - /news, the cpe blog etc.. We do alright, could be much better.

As well as that, it's important to learn from past struggles - whether a couple of years ago or several decades. Having the archive of news articles, and the history section has helped me a lot with this personally- either casually reading or finding stuff to put up. Beyond that, there's drawing general trends and analysis from these, then analysis of analysis- I think that only really makes sense when it comes from the preceding stuff I outlined, although obviously it's fun to discuss theory in its own right sometimes, if you like that sort of thing. Again that's quite a big focus of the site and I think we do pretty well (although mainly in presenting other people's analysis, we don't write all that much ourselves).

Quote:
Surely this is the role of the 'anarchist movement'? In which case, the internal, ghettoized nature of it does matter after all.

Well a lot of people in the 'anarchist movement' have only a very cursory or nominal interest in what I described, same with the 'Marxist' movement. Much of it is more concerned with organisation or event building to promote particular brands of 'anarchism' or 'marxism' rather than responding to and reflecting on actual class movements. Although I'm happy to argue with people on here, I'd rather spend the time doing the above (and other stuff I'm sure I've forgotten), than worry about a specific group of people who happen to have attached themselves to something I have some historical affinity with. This counts for both 'anarchists' and 'marxists'.

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Steven.
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Nov 27 2007 14:04
john wrote:
I broadly agree with John. and catch - although you seem to underplay the role of ideology/propaganda (ironically considering the amount of time and effort that you put into this website).

whilst of course the aim is to apply anarchist principles in everyday life (rather than applying anarchist principles in anarchist ghettoes), there has to be someone promoting those principles so that they can permeate the ideas of those living 'everyday lives' - doesn't there?

No I agree with this, as obvious from my involvement here. I just didn't focus on that above. I think it's also worth collaborating with other people with similar ideas to propagate them, and to intervene in struggles. I'm not totally sure what form that should take yet.

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Surely this is the role of the 'anarchist movement'? In which case, the internal, ghettoized nature of it does matter after all.

Not really. Much of the anarchist movement is a waste of time. You don't have to have anything to do with it to propagate anarchist ideas.

john
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Nov 27 2007 14:09
Carousel wrote:
Quote:
how would you ever put anthing into practice?

As a by-product of the provision of private goods. Anarcho-punk is a good example, although the limited appeal obviously constrains the size of the group. The ICC is another good example, where the private good of a social hobby is used to generate the public good of their theoretical insight. The outcomes a group can generate are determined by the character and size of the selective incentives it can offer its membership.

I don't know, I always though Mancur Olson was full of shit - he denies that people will do anything unless there is an immediate and obvious reward - and then argues that all activity that challenges existing social systems is unable to provide an immediate and obvious reward. Ergo, all action that seeks to change social systems is doomed to failure. He was a cold war warrior and failed to see that there are actually a hell of a lot of people for whom their lives would be significantly improved if we have a changed social system - some people (Castoriadis included) refer to them as the working class.

john
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Nov 27 2007 14:15
John. wrote:
Much of the anarchist movement is a waste of time. You don't have to have anything to do with it to propagate anarchist ideas.

I suppose what I'm saying is that the propagation of anarchist ideas is the anarchist movement - of course there are differences within it, but if you're promoting anarchism, you're part of it - like it or not! And as such, you might as well try to make it (or at least your part of it) good, open, effective, etc. (which you are, in practice, doing anyway- obviously).

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MJ
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Nov 27 2007 14:18

OK so now the great masses of workers in Europe supported World War I because they were following the example of anarchists who supported it. roll eyes

Mike Harman
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Nov 27 2007 14:18
john wrote:
John. wrote:
Much of the anarchist movement is a waste of time. You don't have to have anything to do with it to propagate anarchist ideas.

I suppose what I'm saying is that the propagation of anarchist ideas is the anarchist movement - of course there are differences within it, but if you're promoting anarchism, you're part of it - like it or not! And as such, you might as well try to make it (or at least your part of it) good, open, effective, etc. (which you are, in practice, doing anyway- obviously).

I don't think there's any such thing as an 'anarchist movement', and there hasn't been for some time. There are scenes/mileus, but that's not the same thing. Hungary/Poland '56, Paris/Czechoslovakia '68, Italy '69, Portugal '74, Poland '80, the recent upsurges in France, Egypt, Bangladesh etc. etc. - where was the anarchist movement? (or the Marxists for that matter although they were a bit more visible on the wrong side of the barricades in some of these).

john
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Nov 27 2007 14:23
Mike Harman wrote:
I don't think there's any such thing as an 'anarchist movement', and there hasn't been for some time. There are scenes/mileus, but that's not the same thing.

isn't a scene/mileu just a small movement?

Mike Harman
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Nov 27 2007 14:30
john wrote:
Mike Harman wrote:
I don't think there's any such thing as an 'anarchist movement', and there hasn't been for some time. There are scenes/mileus, but that's not the same thing.

isn't a scene/mileu just a small movement?

Not if it doesn't move.

Anarcho
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Nov 27 2007 14:45

I would suggest the following:

1. Having practical libertarian solutions to the problems we face rather than saying "we need a revolution" (which is correct, but pointless as revolutions do not appear from nowhere).

2. Having sensible co-operation between individuals, groups and federations. That means, say, having one good magazine instead of 4, helping with current projects rather than creating a new one (like a new magazine to add to the pile), or contributing and selling Freedom and generally raising the anarchist presence.

The movement has got better in many ways in the last decade, but we still wasting a lot of energy and potential duplicating work and presenting abstract revolutionary rhetoric to getting involved in practice work.

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Steven.
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Nov 27 2007 15:29
MJ wrote:
OK so now the great masses of workers in Europe supported World War I because they were following the example of anarchists who supported it. roll eyes

Yes well done MJ. You say something really stupid, then when I respond you ignore all my points and instead make up a statement I didn't say, then disagree with it. You're a credit to NEFAC.

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Nov 27 2007 15:30
john wrote:
John. wrote:
Much of the anarchist movement is a waste of time. You don't have to have anything to do with it to propagate anarchist ideas.

I suppose what I'm saying is that the propagation of anarchist ideas is the anarchist movement - of course there are differences within it, but if you're promoting anarchism, you're part of it - like it or not! And as such, you might as well try to make it (or at least your part of it) good, open, effective, etc. (which you are, in practice, doing anyway- obviously).

Ok sure. But my point was it's not worth tastybrain worrying about the anarchist movement. The best way of dealing with most of it is to ignore it, and just get on with useful stuff.

hpwombat
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Nov 27 2007 17:17

How about directly targetting working neighborhoods with propaganda geared towards interests revolving around what is important to them? If workplace sabotage seems like a difficult task, perhaps experiment with the same neighborhood tactics, but around the workplace parameter? This could easily be something that any individual or group could do, perhaps adding a language of coherency and purpose to neighborhood or workplace disgruntlement? Its probably been done many times before, but maybe not? One thing I've found to be effective is to continually update workers on the history of being fucked by their particular workplace, how the business is spending its money and the boring/controlling aspects of work that just add to the gray feelings in society. I'm also rather hopeful with informal worker associations, many may try to change the system (gain pay increases and benefits), as recuperation is a normal part of our situation, but others might choose to demand more than benefits and see advantages in the strike as an expression of collective power in and of itself. Probably nothing original, but just some thoughts.

Carousel
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Nov 27 2007 17:39
Quote:
How about directly targetting working neighborhoods with propaganda geared towards interests revolving around what is important to them?

Does it "work" for the BNP? How about IWCA? Why haven't the later taken off? You know what I'm going to say. Besides, only about 12% of the population act by logical implication. The rest are driven by partisan concerns of one kind or another. One may as well figure out how to get Torridge to vote Labour.

hpwombat
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Nov 27 2007 18:05

Carousel, I am not British, I haven't got a clue what works or doesn't for a fascist party and a trade union nor do I know what you are going to say. Carousel, my interpretation of the language of revolt isn't simply based on "logical implication", its also a creative endeavor. If its geared simply towards problems with wages and job cuts, then what is implied is finding a way to overcome it, which usually means reform. If we want more than reform, making issue with other aspects of work that can't be reformed away, but we disagree with, can add more potential, I would think.

Dundee_United
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Nov 27 2007 18:07
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Besides, only about 12% of the population act by logical implication

Could you evidence that please.

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One may as well figure out how to get Torridge to vote Labour.

You know as well as anyone else that applying rational frameworks to sephalogy is not how these games work. I have no fecking idea where Torridge is, but I'm quite sure that the right strategy could win the constituency a very shiny red rosette. Wouldn't be based on rational argument though.

Dundee_United
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Nov 27 2007 18:20
Quote:
Quote:
isn't a scene/mileu just a small movement?

Not if it doesn't move.

A movement is not the same as an ideology or 'milieu' associated with such, but it's frankly anti-organisational to state that because there is no active anarchist movement in the UK that such a movement could not exist, or could not be fostered in the here and now.

In Glasgow the anarchist movement has been very marginal for twenty years, but during that period it played a very real organisational role in developing a claimants union that had six regional sections across the city, was pivotal in the anti-poil-tax struggles, helped to save a number of schools and community facilities from closure, was important in developing a number of tenants and residents groups, and in fighting for improved housing conditions. It has been very marginal in all of that period but it has still had some noticeable influence, and done a bit of good.

Latterly the anarchist movement in Glasgow has been active in trying to develop a citywide federation of residents associations, and has recently been the main organising influence on the Unity - union of Asylum Seekers. To suggest that an organised anarchist movement couldn't achieve a lot more, or that individuals should just act as lay preachers for certain tactics in their daily lives in a totally unco-ordinated manner amounts to an anti-organisational position. A serious and co-ordinated anarchist movement could achieve a considerable amount more than the current disarray and farting about does.

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Nov 27 2007 18:34
Quote:
Well a lot of people in the 'anarchist movement' have only a very cursory or nominal interest in what I described, same with the 'Marxist' movement. Much of it is more concerned with organisation or event building to promote particular brands of 'anarchism' or 'marxism' rather than responding to and reflecting on actual class movements. Although I'm happy to argue with people on here, I'd rather spend the time doing the above (and other stuff I'm sure I've forgotten), than worry about a specific group of people who happen to have attached themselves to something I have some historical affinity with. This counts for both 'anarchists' and 'marxists'.

i have no attachment to "anarchism" or to the rhetorical lingo of either "anarchism" or "Marxism." What's important is the mass movement, but it's my observation that the character of mass organizations tends to reflect the dominant ideas, especially among organizers or people who are committed. what i favor is development of organizations that are controlled by their members. But that's because i have certain ideas. So the spread of those ideas is also important. Also, organizing is not something people are suddently good at or know how to do spontaneously. So there are certain kinds of organizations or institutions that would be useful here. A publication that can argue, in the lingo of the community it is a part of, for an approach based on self-managed organizations, on complete independence of the employers and bureaucracies, etc. Also, it would be useful to have some sort of institute or organization for training, collective self-education, how to do empowering type of organizing, how to organize mass organizations so members control them, how to be effective in on the job organizing, etc.

why do i favor an approach to unionism or mass organization based on self-management? as prefigurative of liberation, as i conceive it. so the vision of where we want to go also has a role to play. how to propagate that?

MJ, it's simplistic to say "unions are defensive." It ignores the internally contradictory nature of unionism. Unionism has two souls, its insurgent, "from below" soul, rooted in workplace unionism, and then its bureaucratic, institutionalized soul, based on development of paid hierarchies and structures that take decision-making authority and knowledge off the shop floor and into the bureaucracy. this second kind of unionism can only preside over gains won in periods of insurency. but it can't create those gains. that's why it endlessly retreats in the face of a period employer aggression, as in the US since the late '70s.

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Nov 27 2007 18:58
Dundee_United wrote:
A movement is not the same as an ideology or 'milieu' associated with such, but it's frankly anti-organisational to state that because there is no active anarchist movement in the UK that such a movement could not exist, or could not be fostered in the here and now.

In Glasgow the anarchist movement has been very marginal for twenty years, but during that period it played a very real organisational role in developing a claimants union that had six regional sections across the city, was pivotal in the anti-poil-tax struggles, helped to save a number of schools and community facilities from closure, was important in developing a number of tenants and residents groups, and in fighting for improved housing conditions. It has been very marginal in all of that period but it has still had some noticeable influence, and done a bit of good.

Latterly the anarchist movement in Glasgow has been active in trying to develop a citywide federation of residents associations, and has recently been the main organising influence on the Unity - union of Asylum Seekers. To suggest that an organised anarchist movement couldn't achieve a lot more, or that individuals should just act as lay preachers for certain tactics in their daily lives in a totally unco-ordinated manner amounts to an anti-organisational position. A serious and co-ordinated anarchist movement could achieve a considerable amount more than the current disarray and farting about does.

Right on D_U. I'd also add Groundswell's anti-JSA/workfare activity. Edinburgh Claimants were very influential in that (national network) through the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh: http://www.edinburghclaimants.org/

Oh, if it could also be so for ID cards...

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madashell
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Nov 27 2007 19:15
Quote:
it's frankly anti-organisational to state that because there is no active anarchist movement in the UK that such a movement could not exist, or could not be fostered in the here and now.

1) Who said that?
2) Do you even know what "anti-organisational" means? Or is this like the time you called revol a voluntarist for, um, criticising Praxis' voluntarism?

Randy
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Nov 27 2007 19:21
John. wrote:
...What about ... All the anarchists who supported the mass slaughter of WWI? ...

I find this comment loaded with unintended irony, given the discussion on this thread around the consciously anarchist movement versus mass struggle. Yes, Kropotkin (and presumably others) favored taking sides in the capitalist power struggle/nationalist conflict that was known as The Great War (before The Even Greater War came along). But meanwhile, German workers refused to fight, brought the war to a premature end (from the capitalist's point of view), and damn near brought the revolution begun in Russia, home to the fatherland. (As i understand it, the German ruling class capitulated to its opponents in WWI to end the war, rather than see that happen).

Most anarchists and other libertarian communists i correspond with on such matters, see the mass struggles of the German workers as an exemplary example of "anarchism in practice", and think Kropotkin was simply wrong. (Though other anarchists, including Goldman and Berkman and I don't know who all else, did not join Kropotkin: quite the contrary, anti-militarist activity was as least as prominent in Red Emma's activities as dancing and advocating free love.)

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madashell
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Nov 27 2007 19:27

Anyway, the stuff you talk about here:

Dundee_United wrote:
In Glasgow the anarchist movement has been very marginal for twenty years, but during that period it played a very real organisational role in developing a claimants union that had six regional sections across the city, was pivotal in the anti-poil-tax struggles, helped to save a number of schools and community facilities from closure, was important in developing a number of tenants and residents groups, and in fighting for improved housing conditions. It has been very marginal in all of that period but it has still had some noticeable influence, and done a bit of good.

Latterly the anarchist movement in Glasgow has been active in trying to develop a citywide federation of residents associations, and has recently been the main organising influence on the Unity - union of Asylum Seekers. To suggest that an organised anarchist movement couldn't achieve a lot more, or that individuals should just act as lay preachers for certain tactics in their daily lives in a totally unco-ordinated manner amounts to an anti-organisational position. A serious and co-ordinated anarchist movement could achieve a considerable amount more than the current disarray and farting about does.

Is all well and good, but I think you're hugely overestimating the importance and influence of anarchists. It's true that by encouraging certain tendancies and struggling in certain ways, we can accelerate the development of a culture of resistance, it's not just going to happen because anarchists have tried really, super hard.