Demographics of the Anarchist Movement

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Mar 18 2009 19:23
Demographics of the Anarchist Movement

From my experiences of the anarchist movement in the UK it is very white and very male. While the UK is a very white country London certainly isnt and from my expeience there the anarchist movement is still very white, despite the fact that members of ethnic minorities are also predominantly working class. And of course women outnumber men,

The Enviromental movement and the stop the war movement doesnt seem to be this way so a lack of being politicised from these groups cannot be the reason.

As a movement which is automatically against racism and sexism I find this on the surface rather odd.

Is there sexism and racism in the anarchist movement (beyond a few individuals)?

I would like to know what people think are the reasons for this and what as anarchists/lib communists we can do to change it

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Mar 18 2009 19:20

i dont think we should get too hung up on it to be honest.

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Mar 18 2009 21:29

As your original post suggests, liberal politics are well supported, yet radical politics not nearly as much. Environmentalism and champagne socialists are a far cry from class struggle. I think a greater emphasis needs to be placed on clarifying and publicising anarchist thought for disaffected persons.

woundedhobo
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Mar 19 2009 01:12
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Is there sexism and racism in the anarchist movement (beyond a few individuals)?

I have heard people say there is evidence of racism in the fact that most white folks in Washington, DC have no black friends even though the city is more than half black. most everyone I knew was white there. But I don't think it is that clear. Due to racism, various ethnicities were segregated and they developed their own cultures, and further due to that racism black Americans are disproportionately lower class, whites are disproportionately middle or upper class. And class creates its own culture.
Needless to say, most people do not break out of the cultures that they grew up in, even if they are not terribly bigoted.

In Los Angeles,which may be as ethnically diverse as London, the anarchist/libertarian community might be about 50% nonwhite and so my friends and acquaintances were much more diverse there. Mexican-Americans and other Latinos are pretty much into everything that white Americans are into-mainstream and radical.Same for Asian, Arab and other minorities. I have met very few black anarchists but that might be due to the strong religious, traditional sentiments within black America, strong ties to the Democratic Party that really has embraced civil rights, more than current racist attitudes within the radical community.Also, many radicals want as little to do with this society as possible, so they drop out of school, avoid wage slavery like the plague, live on the cheap,whereas most lower class people are sick and tired of being poor and would love to get a nice career with benefits, wear nice clothes and drive nice cars...

A large book could be written on this.

no1
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Mar 18 2009 23:53

I think the answer is that it's not a movement.

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Mar 18 2009 23:54
weeler wrote:
Probably to do with the fact that the "movement" is overwhelmingly middle class. Hurr Durr.

that wouldnt explain the lack of women

woundedhobo
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Mar 19 2009 01:15

Good point about it not being a movement. Whenever there is a large organizing drive in the IWW that shows a lot of promise in the beginning the organization all of a sudden becomes very multiethnic. When the organizing drive is crushed it goes back to being an association of labor history nerds and other mostly white activist types.

akai
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Mar 19 2009 06:49

I think what WoundedHobo is saying makes a lot of sense. There's more to it though. There is an insular cliquishness in many movements or "non-movements" as it were. On this portal, this would be best exemplified by Libcommunity which usually serves to make inside jokes between a few people, which is not the same as building a "community". This can create further alienation instead of integration of readers. Yet there doesn't seem to be any concerted plan with how to deal with that. The same goes with much of the movement.

I can see clearly how this works in our local movement although I wouldn't want to suggest it's the same everywhere - I'm sure situations vary, There are about 8-9 anarchist collectives and only one (mine) is diverse in any way. In addition, one collective is involved in a tenant's NGO, so there is diversity there. The least diverse groups are the ones that rely more on "affinity" and "feeling good" together. They also tend to have a higher proportion of women, but they are not diverse because everybody in the group is more or less the same - same age, subculture or profile. There are 4-5 groups like this. Politically they tend to be very fuzzy. Some of them do basically nothing, except some informal closed meetings. Maybe they appear once in a while on a demo - otherwise you might not even know they exist. Diversity can be caused by many things, sometimes chance, sometimes the result of something you do, like honestly engaging in something which involves different people.

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Mar 19 2009 08:27
weeler wrote:
Probably to do with the fact that the "movement" is overwhelmingly middle class. Hurr Durr.

Im not sure if this is tongue in cheek but politically I would say most of anarchism I have come across in this country is middle class, thats different than talking about the participants social background. The fact is even working class activists can have shit politics, its not the reserve of the middle class.

The primary problem I see is that the 'movement' in London is essentially several overlapping cliques which its difficult to get along/involved in if your white, and the only ethnic minorities I know avoid these scenes like the plague. I tend to see most women doing practical stuff like LCAP while those who try to organise politically as anarchists tend to be exclusively white and male and this impacts on their millieu as well.

I think if you tackle its cliqueness, improve its orientation out of the activist ghetto then it will be repopulated with people from more diverse backgrounds. But the London scene is haunted with problems too numerous to see an easy path out. I think we all know ethnic minorities who are sympathetic but stuff that the scene organises is a far cry from where their at.

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Mar 19 2009 10:59
october_lost wrote:
I think if you tackle its cliqueness, improve its orientation out of the activist ghetto then it will be repopulated with people from more diverse backgrounds.

And how would you propose to go about that?

I meant to say before, I think Jambo is dead wrong, it's something that needs looking at seriously, if not sorting it outright.

fatbongo
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Mar 19 2009 13:47

Maybe people take a hard headed rational assessment of the potential benefits of getting involved in the anarchist movement and think "i can't be arsed". Most of the time, about 40% my brain agrees with them - rising to 99% after watching people compare the size of their nobs on libcom.

You could ask your local voluntary sector about practical advice on "promoting diversity" or "engaging hard to reach groups". It's often commonsense stuff like translate materials, make allowances for people with childcare responsibilities etc. But the key principle is that you may need to treat people differently in order to enable them to participate equally in your activities.

Another approach might be to find local black, womens groups etc and organise stuff with them in order to build up trust, personal connections etc. They would almost certainly not be anarchists and may be put off by that label so you'd have to think about how your anarchism was presented and enacted.

Finally, i think that patience and focus are important. If you were serious about this sort of thing you would need to get beyond the annual "where's the women/black people?" crisis which ends up with nothing happening (eg set up a working group, have a regular agenda item etc). Also, when you work with others remember that people are quite used to government agencies/ngos turning up with loads of great ideas and promises and then fucking off after five minutes because it's too hard.

woundedhobo
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Mar 19 2009 16:04

Above someone mentions that the anarchist community is about as white as the middle class. Here's something to chew on: Many working-class people have jobs where they can easily be replaced, so upper management can bark orders at them and get away with it. Similarly, the military is disproportionately made up of people from low income backgrounds, where they are taught to take orders.Meanwhile, middle-class people often have jobs where they are treated much more gently, maybe even asked for their input, because they are not so easily replaced. In graduate school they are taught to question what they read, and to think for themselves. All of the socialization translates into how parents interact with their children. I have heard sociologists say that because of this working-class parents are on average much more authoritarian than middle-class parents which often try to explain, compromise, and use bribery with their kids.So paradoxically an antiauthoritarian social movement might seem much more foreign to working class people.

Fletcher
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Mar 19 2009 16:29

What exactly are people referring to here when they talk about middle class? The sociological definitions of class are nonsense and most of those who would be classified as middle class under those definitions are, from a class struggle perspective, actually part of the working class, as is the vast majority of society. The type of wage labour that someone provides or indeed the wage/salary that they are paid is not what defines class.

Most of the left in both Ireland and Britain has always been made up of mostly white males. Some of this may be due to how groups organise and recruit members. I think anarchist groups also have the added problem that many people see our politics as some sort of macho leftism, whereby we are perceived as lefty boot boys.

Without a doubt there is racism and particularly sexism within the left and anarchism. You only have to look at some of the ladish drivel that is posted here at times to see that.

akai
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Mar 19 2009 17:13

I think a lot of interesting things are being said here.

First of all, about this:

Quote:
paradoxically an antiauthoritarian social movement might seem much more foreign to working class people.

I think it's an overgeneralization, but it does happen. Right now I'm fighting with bolshevik and anarchist vanguardists about this because they are leaders of the working class and even argue that workers don't care about democracy, etc...... that the whole activist thing is a burden for them, etc. and they need coordinators and leaders. I think this is obviously not true, although many people in general fall into this category.

To me the boundaries between "working class" and "middle class" are not always clear since all workers fall into the category of "working class". When people use 'middle class", some are referring to education, some material acquisition. The two are not always the same.

What I think is more of a divide is between those who, with families or not, are rather more dependent on their work and have to do it to get by and may place more importance on it and those who, either through privelege, high-piad job or choice of alternative lifestyle, can have a different relation to work. This then also reflects on the way time is spent in the movement, etc. So an anarchist group that is based on students, young kids from a subculture or freelance artist types can be an alienating thing just in terms of the time people meet. But also things that interest them.

In terms of engaging with other people, if you have a modicum of diversity in your group already, it's easier. If not you'd have to get involved with something, but not in the way as if you are recruiting people. We had this experience with the Vietnamese diaspora here. For years we had good contacts with some foreigners, but they were quite insular and we only knew one or two individuals. But some people saw that we were doing things and invited us to help their protest, which we did. These were first contacts. Then we have a Vietnamese guy in the union and by accident also had opportunity to recontact the first group. And little by little we know each other more. It doesn't mean that they become anarchists and join our group, but we know each other and there is more contact between communities. It's a litle start and a lot has to be done when there is an abmyssal level of integration in society for example with these people.

And FatBongo is absolutely right that you may have to be aware and help out people in order to help them integrate. It's really hard for foreigners but also sometimes for people with no political background if they don't understand the meeting - for example too many theoretical references or in-jokes which they don't understand.

Speaking of this, at least two other references were made here to Libcommunity. My idea is that it could serve much more to integrate people who use this service. For example, to help people who have similar interests contact each other, to get to know more about the things people here are doing, etc. etc. In other words, it could serve more as an international community building tool. Not that I am clear about how exactly this could be done, but I'm sure it should be done.

Ex-temp
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Mar 19 2009 18:47

Hi, and this is an interesting question. To get some sort of idea of where you're coming from do you mind if I ask if you are a man or a woman, and are you currently involved in the "anarchist movement" in some way at present?

D wrote:
From my experiences of the anarchist movement in the UK it is very white and very male. While the UK is a very white country London certainly isnt and from my expeience there the anarchist movement is still very white, despite the fact that members of ethnic minorities are also predominantly working class. And of course women outnumber men,

The Enviromental movement and the stop the war movement doesnt seem to be this way so a lack of being politicised from these groups cannot be the reason.

firstly, I don't think I agree with this. While participants in those movements may be quite diverse (lots of different people turn up for demonstrations, or give money to charities/causes), the activist core of these groups is often disproportionately white and male.

My union, UNISON, has an overwhelmingly female membership because of the areas in which it organises - mostly health and local government - and a significant number of ethnic minority members due to it organising relatively low paid workers. However, again amongst activists they are disproportionately more white and male.

Our culture sees the sphere of politics as being a predominantly male sphere, and so this affects the proportion of women in every aspect of politics.

Of course, while this is the case, our cultural also sees women as being "caring", and so a lot of single issue groups or campaigns around "caring" style issues, such as animal rights or the environment have high levels of female membership.

More combative or oppositional political movements generally have lower female participation, which reflects the way women are conditioned in our society. Men on the other hand are more encouraged to be "confrontational".

On the ethnicity front, I think the question is a little more complex, but I think some of it boils down to widespread cultural beliefs within certain groups which may make revolutionary communist ideas more alien - for example for people with some strong religious beliefs, or beliefs in submission, in a caste system, etc. Also of course socialist ideas have a deeper rooted history within European culture than elsewhere, going back 200 odd years.

Quote:
As a movement which is automatically against racism and sexism I find this on the surface rather odd.

Is there sexism and racism in the anarchist movement (beyond a few individuals)?

I don't think there is, significantly. Certainly, much much less than pretty much any other part of society.

In any case, even if it were sexist or racist that would not be something that would necessarily put off women or people from ethnic minorities. Many women and people from ethnic minorities hold extremely sexist and racist views, and thousands take part in various organisations and activities which logically would be contrary to their own interests.

As for what we can do to change it, well not very much I don't think, and nor do I think it is that big a worry. The easiest way to solve it would be for lots of white men to leave the movement!

But I think like other people have suggested, getting involved in more practical, day-to-day issues which affect working people attract a broader section of society.

Much of "left-wing" activity is quite abstract. Looking for example at most "anti-fascism" or antiracism, most of those organisations and activities are overwhelmingly white. But if you look at their activity, predominantly opposing the BNP, it becomes clear that again this is something which is quite abstract for most people from ethnic minorities who, while they mostly wouldn't like the BNP, actually aren't being caused problems by them. And so as a result mostly do not engage in activities based around opposing them.

Well, that's a few thoughts from me anyway. I probably want to change the wording of a few things here because I've written this in a hurry but I have to go so it will have to do for now!

Boris Badenov
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Mar 19 2009 21:40

this stuff about the "movement" is a load of shite. If it seems like it's all white hippie twats it's because A) a lot of the people who strongly self-identify with teh @narchizt "movement" are student activist poseurs (something that's already been pointed out) and B ) that's how anarchists are usually depicted by the mainstream media. We all know what the prevailing image of the working class that the bourgeois news makers are trying to cement is: real workers are respectable and forbearing, they love their "freedoms" and tighten the belt when times is rough; they most certainly aren't ANARCHISTS. Look at the news coverage of the events in Greece or France or whatever; the anarchists are always "self-styled", always punky-looking (white) students, always irrelevant (non-white rioters are just "the immigrant problem). This constitutes a big part of what anarchism means in the public eye. The division between what the original poster perceives as the "movement" and "the real working class" is a false one created by liberal ideologues. The truth is the interests of actual anarchists ARE the interests of the working class, which includes people of all races and both sexes.
As for why most people are more attracted to bullshit radical liberal politics than to anarchism/communism, that's a whole other discussion.

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Mar 19 2009 22:54
Vlad336 wrote:
this stuff about the "movement" is a load of shite. If it seems like it's all white hippie twats it's because A) a lot of the people who strongly self-identify with teh @narchizt "movement" are student activist poseurs (something that's already been pointed out) and B ) that's how anarchists are usually depicted by the mainstream media. We all know what the prevailing image of the working class that the bourgeois news makers are trying to cement is: real workers are respectable and forbearing, they love their "freedoms" and tighten the belt when times is rough; they most certainly aren't ANARCHISTS. Look at the news coverage of the events in Greece or France or whatever; the anarchists are always "self-styled", always punky-looking (white) students, always irrelevant (non-white rioters are just "the immigrant problem). This constitutes a big part of what anarchism means in the public eye. The division between what the original poster perceives as the "movement" and "the real working class" is a false one created by liberal ideologues. The truth is the interests of actual anarchists ARE the interests of the working class, which includes people of all races and both sexes.
As for why most people are more attracted to bullshit radical liberal politics than to anarchism/communism, that's a whole other discussion.

Maybe im reading you wrong but u seem to be saying that the idea that anarchism is predominantly white and male comes from the media and is not a reality?

I can only speak for London but from the stuff Ive gone to it seems very much a truth. And no one is denying that the interests of the working class are those of anarchist communism, when I said "the movement" I just meant groups/events that are explicably anarchist and people who explicably identify the same way

Boris Badenov
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Mar 20 2009 00:24
D wrote:
Maybe im reading you wrong but u seem to be saying that the idea that anarchism is predominantly white and male comes from the media and is not a reality?

What comes from the media is most people's notion of "anarchism," which partly explains why some people who have anarchist/communist politics don't call themselves "anarchists" and why some people who have no (meaningful) politics do call themselves that. So when you're comparing the reality on the ground against your notion of "anarchists," it helps to indicate who exactly you have in mind.

Quote:
I can only speak for London but from the stuff Ive gone to it seems very much a truth.

Well my experience with the local anarchist bookfair shows that it's not, and even if you take only white people the crowd is usually pretty diverse, ranging from old-time wobblies to punky-looking high school kids. So what does it mean to say that they're "white males" (as if that term had any actual meaning outside the realm of statistics)?

Quote:
And no one is denying that the interests of the working class are those of anarchist communism, when I said "the movement" I just meant groups/events that are explicably anarchist and people who explicably identify the same way

I think you could try and analyze a specific group or event in terms of gender/age/race/whatever, and it probably would be kind of interesting, and we could talk some more about it, but it doesn't work with a loosely defined "movement," IMO.

Caiman del Barrio
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Mar 20 2009 00:32

We do this every single time. White males are the most likely demographic to involve themselves in hobby/extra-cirricular/leisure activities. Including "political activism". That anarchism is predominantly white and male demonstrates the similarity between it and that.

Jerome
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Mar 20 2009 00:35

I think the main reason why the Anarchist movement has a majority of white males is because as a poster already said, it is mostly middle class. When I say middle class, I mean fairly well off, decently educated, can think for themselves, can speak the language well, born in the country, etc.

I believe that the reason that most of the anarchist movement is middle class is because Anarchism takes alot of thinking and debating. So for example, if you have a not very educated poor person, and you sit down with them and try to explain how capitalism creates a class struggle, they might not even know what capitalism is!

Basically, the less educated, which tend to be poor, the immigrants, the ones who don't like to read, and the ones who don't know history or don't read the news, have a hard time understanding the concepts of Anarchism and alot of Anarchists don't have enough patience to explain everything to them starting from the very basics.

The solution is to publicize Anarchism through any medium and eliminate the stereotypes of it being a subculture of violent, black-wearing punks.

Boris Badenov
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Mar 20 2009 00:57
Quote:
Basically, the less educated, which tend to be poor, the immigrants,

Immigrants don't tend to be less educated; that's just baseless stereotyping.

Quote:
When I say middle class, I mean fairly well off, decently educated, can think for themselves, can speak the language well, born in the country, etc.

Well by that definition, I'm definitely not middle class, but in any case I don't see how class determines whether you can "think for yourself" or not. For that matter, I don't really see the connection between "fairly educated" (by which I take it you mean higher-level education) and "thinking for yourself" either.

Quote:
I believe that the reason that most of the anarchist movement is middle class is because Anarchism takes alot of thinking and debating.

So? Working people are too stupid to think/debate?

Quote:
have a hard time understanding the concepts of Anarchism and alot of Anarchists don't have enough patience to explain everything to them starting from the very basics.

then they're not anarchists.
And what are these occult concepts of anarchism that are so hard to understand anyway? The reality of class and capital can be explained with 5th grade vocabulary in less than half an hour.

Quote:
The solution is to publicize Anarchism through any medium and eliminate the stereotypes of it being a subculture of violent, black-wearing punks.

Well that I agree with.

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Mar 20 2009 10:24

Jerome, what a load of bollocks. The beauty of anarchism is the simplicity of it all. It's common sense in praxis. What's worse, is your patronising patter, "these working class plebs, they've not really got the mental capacity for what we're on about", the sort of sociological nonsense that removed from reality stereotypical 'anarchists' hold.

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Mar 20 2009 10:16
Quote:
When I say middle class, I mean fairly well off, decently educated, can think for themselves, can speak the language well, born in the country, etc.

That seems like a pretty meaningless definition to be honest.

Most skilled working class jobs, at least in this country, require 'education' of some kind, and tend to result in those who get into the sector becoming 'fairly well off' in relation to the wider class (which often includes university graduates doing unskilled admin work). The way 'middle class' is being used in this thread, if we get rid of the connotation of pointy-headed university students, would include pretty much everyone with a trade - having skills in demand, being 'non-replaceable', etc.

Lets face it, 'middle class' is mostly a useless sociological term which is generally only used as an insult. It could be useful if we used it to refer to a tier of well-off management who are technically wage-workers but have the capacity to make meaningful decisions within workplaces, but it pretty much never is.

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Mar 20 2009 10:30

From my experience of the UK anarchist movement, which is admittedly over two decades out of date, the actual anarchist organisations were pretty working class.

I can give an example of the composition of the DAM-IWA branch that I was in in those days (South West London):

6 DHSS workers
2 Nurses
2 Postmen
2 Council workers
1 Bank Clerk
1 Student
1 Unemployed

There were five women, which makes one third, and two members of (non white) ethnic minorities.

Does it reflect that men are more likely to be involved in politics than women? Of course, but then that is reality, and I would be very surprised if anarchist political organisations showed a different tendency.

Django wrote:
Lets face it, 'middle class' is mostly a useless sociological term which is generally only used as an insult. It could be useful if we used it to refer to a tier of well-off management who are technically wage-workers but have the capacity to make meaningful decisions within workplaces, but it pretty much never is.

I absolutely agree with this.

Devrim

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Mar 20 2009 12:10

In one sense I agree that the sociological definition isn't particularly useful and I certianly wouldn't contemplate organising with it in mind, but I'm wary of abandoning 'middle class' altogether, as a large proportion of the anarchist 'movement' I've met do come from the 'cultural middle class'.
Certainly the only realm of social life I have EVER met people who went to private or boarding schools is in the anarchist movement - that can't just be explained away as random. It's not necessarily a criticism, but to pretend anarchism doesn't 'recruit massively from the sociological middle class' is a bit disingenuous.

princess mob
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Mar 20 2009 13:29
Quote:
Also of course socialist ideas have a deeper rooted history within European culture than elsewhere, going back 200 odd years.

& of course, that involves ignoring a whole bunch of movements in non-Europe. Which may or may not be socialist, depending on your definition - but as an explanation for the whiteness of anarchist whatever, this doesn't really make any sense.

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Mar 20 2009 14:20

When people us "middle class" as a term to describe "better off" workers it is absolutely ridiculous

by the same logic almost every worker in a 1st world country is middle class as they would live significantly better (materially) than a worker from a 3rd world country

If 3rd world workers started calling 1st world workers "middle class" people would instantly dismiss it

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Mar 20 2009 17:09
Choccy wrote:
In one sense I agree that the sociological definition isn't particularly useful and I certianly wouldn't contemplate organising with it in mind, but I'm wary of abandoning 'middle class' altogether, as a large proportion of the anarchist 'movement' I've met do come from the 'cultural middle class'.
Certainly the only realm of social life I have EVER met people who went to private or boarding schools is in the anarchist movement - that can't just be explained away as random. It's not necessarily a criticism, but to pretend anarchism doesn't 'recruit massively from the sociological middle class' is a bit disingenuous.

The same for me.

Devrim

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Mar 20 2009 18:39

Like serious, it's pretty much unheard of to go to private/boarding school here, and it wasn't until my 20s when I got into anarchism that I actually met any, many of whom are good people and solid anarchists.

Again this isn't a criticism per-se - I just think that there's no point pretending it isn't problematic. I remember, oooh, 4yrs ago on here, when discussions on here were about having cleaners/maids at home, a number of posters on here apparently had cleaners growing up, which kinda blows my mind and says a lot about the nature of anarchism in the UK that people didn't think it was weird to have a house-cleaner.

Bobby
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Mar 20 2009 18:34

I would completely agree with Choccy here. However, Belfast in many ways is quite unique to the rest..

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Choccy
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Mar 20 2009 18:40

So basically all the irish agree on this? wink
(inc Devrim, aren't you originally irish?)