A little excerpt from the comedy/horror movie Black Sheep, with some hilarious lines from a hippy animal rights character.
If you can’t see the embedded video, click here to watch it on YouTube.
Since I wrote What Is To Be Done? A proposal for an Aotearoa Anarchist-Communist Federation, there’s been some interesting questions raised by other anarchists which I thought I’d post my thoughts about here. Some of the discussion took place in the comments thread of the previous post, so if you haven’t already, it probably wouldn’t hurt to read that first. Some discussion also took place on LibCom. I’d also like to mention again the email list that has been started for those interested in discussion towards forming an Aotearoa Anarchist-Communist Federation – you can join it by going to http://lists.riseup.net/www/info/aacf.
For simplicities sake, I’m going to divide my thoughts into a few sections:
Federation or Anarcho-Syndicalist Union?
One question that has been raised is the question of where the time, energy and enthusiasm of anarchist-communists/class struggle anarchists is best spent. A suggestion that I’ve heard from a couple of people has been that we should be looking to form a union organised along anarcho-syndicalist lines, the thought being that a number of anarchists (especially in Auckland) have put a lot of time into working (both paid and volunteer) with trade unions (predominantly Unite, but also the AWU in Dunedin and others) over the last couple of years, and that if that effort had been put into an anarcho-syndicalist union instead, it may have been much better spent.
There’s two ways I could see this going, if it were to happen. The first is to start an explicitly anarcho-syndicalist union with matching aims & principles that members would agree too. Obviously, the potential membership of such a union would be pretty small – limited to anarcho-syndicalists and anarchists sympathetic to syndicalism. Given the obvious spread (both geographically and in terms of jobs) of those people across Aotearoa, the union would be fairly limited in terms of what it could do – it would be essentially an anarcho-syndicalist propaganda group. If this was to be the option chosen, it would essentially be limiting itself to a smaller membership than an anarchist-communist federation, and a smaller range of activity. Given this, I don’t see any point in doing it.
The more likely option, which (I think, and I may be wrong), is the one that those who suggest this have in mind, is the formation of a union that would not be explicitly anarcho-syndicalist in name, but rather one based on syndicalist ideas. In this model, anarcho-syndicalists would actively go out and attempt to organise work sites. In this, it would be likely to be fairly similar to what was attempted in Dunedin in the last ten years – first with the IWW, and then with the Autonomous Workers Union (AWU).
My main issue with this second model is that it would inevitably end up with much the same division that exist in the mainstream trade unions – that of the “organisers” and the “organised”. If successful, it could potentially use different tactics to those encouraged by trade unions (a greater likelihood of strikes, especially outside of those legally allowed, and sabotage) this would likely lead to crackdowns by the State and employers on the “organised”, while leaving the “organisers” relatively unscathed – there’s a big difference between people engaging in those tactics because they’ve come to the decision that, in a given situation, they’ll be the most effective, and people engaging in those tactics because “that’s the way the union works”. On the other hand, if these tactics aren’t used, the new union would amount to little more than Unite without the Maoist and Social-Democrat leadership. In this, it seems to be quite similar to what Socialist Worker are doing with their Solidarity Union. This, in my mind, is where any proposal for a new union based on this second model falls down – it fails to address one of the key problems with trade unions, that of the separation and hierarchical relationship between organisers and organised.
Anarchist-Communist or Synthesist?
Another question raised by some people has been whether it is desirable to form an explicitly anarchist-communist group, or whether an Aotearoa-wide anarchist federation (or network) is preferable, open to all anarchists. The primary (although by no means only) reason that I’ve heard for the preference of the latter is summed up well in this quote by Omar in the comments thread of the initial proposal – “Only anarchist communists will be involved, meaning smaller numbers than we could get involved in a looser anarchist network.“
There is no question that an explicitly anarchist-communist federation would be smaller than an all-encompassing anarchist federation – undoubtedly only a minority of self-proclaimed anarchists in Aotearoa would either describe themselves as anarchist-communists or agree with anarchist-communist aims and principles to a level that would mean they would be willing to join an explicitly anarchist-communist federation. In this case, however, I firmly believe that numbers aren’t everything.
If we are looking at seriously moving forward towards an anarchist society, rather than simply consolidating those anarchist projects currently existing, we need to start developing theory and practice oriented towards what we are for, as well as what we are against. A synthesist federation cannot do this, whereas an anarchist-communist federation can (and, by the same token, an eco-anarchist one could for the eco-anarchists in Aotearoa, etc etc). As I said in my original proposal, in synthesist groups, “our agreement is generally limited to what we are against and very broad and vague statements of what we are for, but getting any more specific in this will bring to light the differences between our schools of anarchism.“
Of course, being involved in an anarchist-communist federation doesn’t mean that we can’t work with other anarchist (and non-anarchist) groups and individuals where we are in agreement, in specific projects or campaigns, whether the federation as a whole decides it wants to be involved, or individuals from the federation decide they want to. So, just as today, we have (for example) a member of A Space Inside involved in Aotearoa Indymedia or members of The Freedom Shop Collective involved in the 128 Collective, so too could (and likely would) members of an Aotearoa Anarchist-Communist Federation be involved in other groups, in addition to the projects they work on within the Federation itself.
Federation or network?
I’ll start this section off with some definitions, because without knowing what we mean by these two terms, any discussion around them becomes pointless.
A network is a relatively open, comparatively informal method of organisation. Its main purpose would be to aid in communication between different centres, both immediate (eg – conferences or online discussion forums like the old anarchism.org.nz) and non-immediate (eg – via a magazine such as Aotearoa Anarchist). It could be made up of individuals or of explicitly anarchist groups from across Aotearoa (of which there are only 6, by my count – 2 in Auckland, 3 in Wellington and 1 in Christchurch), or of some mix of the two. One would likely become a part of the network simply by contributing to it (attending a conference, writing for a magazine).
A federation is less open, in that it has tighter, more formal, rules around joining (for example, this could be agreeing with a statement of aims and principles, contacting the Federation and contributing to it). It is also more formal in that it would commit itself to regular activities (for instance, annual conferences, a 6-monthly magazine, a pamphlet a year). Like a network, it would serve as a method of enhancing communication between its members in different centres (eg – via email lists, online discussion forums, regular conferences and publications) but it would also serve other purposes like producing propaganda with positions agreed upon by the Federation and acting as a Federation within other groups or in support of specific struggles.
Given the above definitions, I would take a Federation over a Network any day. A Network seems to me to be overkill for the purpose it would serve – if that is all we’re looking for, the status quo can fulfil that function perfectly well. Already, anarchists in Aotearoa have reasonably regular conferences (organised by anarchists in any given centre), a magazine (produced by the Wildcat Collective) and, if the interest was there, anarchism.org.nz could be restarted (a recent attempt to do this floundered due to a lack of interest). It is with a Federation that we could move forward in terms of organisation, of theoretical development and of coordinated activity.
The role of local groups
The last topic I will talk about is the role of local groups in a proposed Federation. Two questions have been raised regarding local groups in an anarchist-communist federation – whether membership will be open to individuals, groups or both, and whether the local groups need to come before the federation or not.
My answers to both of these questions are much the same. As one person put it in the discussion on LibCom, “It would take more effort to form a lasting local group than to form a national federation. By forming a functioning national fed you would be able to pool all the resources and skills of people around the country into one group.” From this national federation, in places where the numbers exist (initially, even at best, this could only be Wellington and Auckland) local groups could be formed, but the reality of the numbers of anarchist-communists and their geographical spread precludes any realistic chance of having local groups come first.
In this, I could see a place for something along the lines of how NEFAC works (see the original post for details) – both individual and collective members, with the aim to have solely collectives, but the recognition that at the present time it may not be possible, and, of course, all possible assistance from the Federation as a whole to those individual members attempting to form collectives.
If you’re a regular to this blog, you’ve probably noticed the new design in the last couple of days. I felt like it was time for a change, hope you all like this one as much as I do :)
I’ve also removed the link to my book – it’s still a work in progress, but I’m taking a break for a while, and fuck knows when I’ll get back to it. So for now, at least, the link is gone.
There’s a bunch of new links that I’ve added to the blogroll over the last wee while, so check ‘em out, I like most of them. I’ve also removed the location info (ANZ, AUS, USA etc) from the blogroll, coz it looked ugly.
Lastly, I’ve got a new policy with regards to comments. From now on, I’m going to delete posts by neo-nazis on sight, I’m sick of them posting shit. Please don’t reply to them, just ignore them and they’ll soon be deleted. They frequently post under my name – so if you see a post claiming to be by Asher, and it doesn’t have the little red & black 6 pointed star next to it (meaning I posted while logged in), then it isn’t really me.
The article below is one I have written for the reader for the upcoming anarchist conference in Auckland in September.
What is to be done?
A proposal for an Aotearoa Anarchist-Communist Federation
By Asher (title stolen from Lenin – after all the bastard did to anarchists, I figure he deserves it)
In this current period of low levels of social struggle, anarchism across Aotearoa is failing to make any serious headway. Worker’s struggle, while possibly beginning a resurgence over the past 18-24 months, is undoubtedly low. Meanwhile, students are pacified with interest free loans and the days of registry occupations seem long gone, and the struggle for Tino Rangatiratanga remains subsumed in the Maori Party and electoral politics.
Anarchists currently engage in a wide range of activity, from explicitly anarchist projects and groups (such as A Space Inside in Auckland and Wildcat and The Freedom Shop in Wellington) to more broad based projects (like the Save Happy Valley Coalition and Radical Youth). Generally, anarchists in each city work autonomously of the other centres, with a limited amount of interaction between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, mostly based on friendships. Anarchists in Dunedin and smaller centres nationwide are mostly on their own, with only the occasional conference/anarchist tea party or larger protest (like the 2004 anti-racist demo in Wellington) providing opportunities for larger scale communication and cooperation between the centres.
Generally, what little explicitly anarchist activity there is takes place in a synthesist fashion. Synthesist (or “big tent”) anarchist groups can involve people from across the anarchist tradition – from anarcho-syndicalists to post-leftists, from platformists to individualists. Because of this, the activity that takes place and the theory that is developed tends to work within the commonalities between all these wide-ranging facets of anarchist theory – generally confined to an opposition to capitalism and the state. This causes few problems, but what is missing from this is activity and the development of theory towards what we are aiming for – our agreement is generally limited to what we are against and very broad and vague statements of what we are for, but getting any more specific in this will bring to light the differences between our schools of anarchism.
Another issue in Aotearoa anarchism is the lack of intergenerational continuity. Anarchism has gone through several waves, with only a very small number of people staying involved across waves. One of the reasons for this is the activist/protest oriented nature of much of the anarchist activity currently engaged in. For many people, arrests are something that become less and less appealing and worthwhile, especially for anarchists with children or work commitments. At this point, many people drop out, even if their political beliefs have not changed. Additionally, while the number of children increases, it is still frequently a struggle for anarchists with children to remain actively involved. With much of the anarchist community being based on protests and friendship circles, those who find themselves unable to participate in these can easily find themselves left out entirely.
There is a way to move towards a solution to these issues – the lack of Aotearoa-wide anarchist co-ordination and communication, the lack of concrete action and development of theory towards what we are for and the lack of generational continuity. This is the formation of a non-synthesist specific national federation. In this, there are many current examples in other parts of the world that we can learn from, both in terms of their organisational structure and their action. The two examples I will discuss here are the Anarchist Federation (AF) in the UK, an anarchist-communist grouping (1) that is a member of the International of Anarchist Federations (2), and the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists (NEFAC) in the USA and Canada, a platformist federation (3). In using these two examples, I don’t mean to say that they are the best examples we could look at, but simply that, as both are English speaking (NEFAC, a bilingual group, also has a French speaking section) and have a decent internet presence, they are comparatively easy to find out about.
The AF is organised into local groups who operate autonomously – having local meetings, writing and distributing propaganda and being involved as a group in other campaigns where they see fit. Nationally, the AF gets together once every three months with 1 day meetings of local group delegates, and once a year for a 2 day national conference. In order to join the AF, you need to agree with the aims and principles (4), make a commitment to be active in your local group and pay dues (a small percentage of your income) to fund the Federation. Nationally coordinated AF activity includes putting out two publications – the monthly bulletin Resistance (5) and the more in depth twice yearly magazine Organise! (6). Additionally, some local groups produce their own regular news sheet. As individuals, AF members are also involved in a wide range of other projects, such as agitation in their workplace and anti-fascist organising with Antifa (7).
Like the AF, the basis of NEFAC is in its local groups (collectives), spread across the north-eastern part of North America. NEFAC also has individual members in areas where member collectives do not exist, but “individual membership can only be seen as a temporary measure. It is the individual’s duty to join or form new groups, and the individual will have all the help of the Federation to this end.” Members (whether individuals or collectives) are those who agree with the aims and principles (8) and position papers (9) and commits to fulfilling the member responsibilities (10). If these conditions are met, the person then becomes a trial member for 6 months, and can only become a full member by means of a vote at a NEFAC conference. As well as members, NEFAC also has supporters (both individuals and collectives), who agree with the aims and principles and wish to work with NEFAC but either do not wish to or cannot fulfil the member responsibilities at the time. There is at least 1 NEFAC conference a year, focussing either on “internal organisation and theoretical development” or on “our intervention in the struggle of our class and our plan of action”. NEFAC produces a number of publications in both English and French, including the English magazine Northeastern Anarchist (11), and is also involved with the online platformist news and theory website Anarkismo (12). Collectives and individual members are also involved in local anti-war organising, workplace agitation and a range of other activities.
The creation of an anarchist-communist federation would be an extremely positive step in the development of anarchist theory and practice in Aotearoa. National co-ordination and communication could come from annual Federation conferences, and electronically via a Federation email loop and regular video-conferencing between mandated delegates from each local group. With a strong anarchist-communist basis, the local groups could organise self-education sessions, in the form of talks by one of the members or reading groups, and they could co-ordinate on a theoretical Federation publication. A more regular newssheet could also be published and distributed more widely. The permanence of the Federation would hopefully lessen the dropout of anarchists as they get older and/or have children, providing plenty of options for activity that can fit with people’s lives, and a ready-made place for the sharing of knowledge and experience between older and younger anarchists.
The existence of a nationally coordinated Federation of local groups would also be an effective organising tool when events occur that anarchists would want to be involved in. Last years lockout of Progressive Enterprise workers in Auckland, Palmerston North and Christchurch is a good example of this. There were a number of anarchists who spent a good deal of time at the picket lines in Auckland with the locked-out workers, and organised and took part in solidarity actions around the city. In Wellington, anarchists helped raise thousands of dollars for the workers, travelled the 3 hours to Palmerston North to support the workers there and blocked scab trucks. Christchurch anarchists were involved in creating a support group for the workers which picketed, leafleted and fundraised. This extensive anarchist involvement however, was mostly done on an individual basis, and outside of individual conversations with workers on the picket lines, our politics remained hidden. If there had been an Aotearoa Anarchist-Communist Federation during the lockout, we could have mass-produced our own leaflets supporting the workers for use during leafleting and fundraising. We could have put out a special issue (or issues!) of our newssheet with details of the lockout, interviews with the workers and details on how people could get involved in supporting them and distributed it across the country via our local groups. We could’ve used our resources to organise public meetings with locked-out workers speaking to raise money for the workers who spent a month without pay.
So, assuming there are people reading this and nodding their head in agreement, how can we create an Aotearoa Anarchist-Communist Federation? If there are, for example, a handful of people in each of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and perhaps in other centres, then all that is required is for us all to link up in our centres into local collectives with a commitment to working together to work out the details of how the Federation would function. In this we have the examples above to learn from, and there are plenty of other examples only a website away. If you are interested, visit http://lists.riseup.net/www/info/aacf and subscribe to the list to be involved in the discussion.
“Though strong local groups and initiatives are the basis of an effective national organisation, co-ordination and sharing of ideas must happen on the widest level if we are ever to organise a revolution. In addition, this organisation must be permanent, in the sense that it continues to exist and be active regardless of what big events may be taking place or how active particular individuals are. We need an organisation that can continue to exist, regardless of whether some individuals drop out or become less active.”
Anarchist Federation (UK)
(1): Anarchist Federation – http://afed.org.uk/
(2): International of Anarchist Federations – http://www.iaf-ifa.org/
(3): North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists – http://www.nefac.net/
(4): Aims and principles of the AF – http://afed.org.uk/aims.html
(5): Resistance, AF monthly bulletin – http://afed.org.uk/res/
(6): Organise, AF magzine – http://afed.org.uk/org/
(7): Antifa – http://antifa.org.uk/
(8): Aims and principles of NEFAC – http://nefac.net/node/104
(9): Position papers of NEFAC – http://nefac.net/node/26
(10): NEFAC member responsibilities – http://nefac.net/node/106
(11): Northeastern Anarchist, NEFAC English magazine – http://nefac.net/node/110
(12): Anarkismo – http://www.anarkismo.net
Fiji: Public sector strikes grow amid death threats and intimidation
A week long strike by 1400 nurses in Fiji expanded on Thursday as 1000 teachers and 300 public works, water and sewerage workers also began strike action, demanding the reversal of a 5% pay cut and the changing of the retirement age from 60 to 55, and an additional 10% pay rise.
The pay cut and change in retirement age were announced shortly after the military government took power in a coup last December. Earlier this week the military and police detained union leader Taniela Tabu, during which time they made deaths threats against him and demanded he pass on death threats to two other union leaders upon his release on Wednesday night.
The teacher’s strike began with a 1000 person sit-in at the teachers union headquarters, with songs, speeches and kava. Meanwhile, Fijian police went to schools and hospitals in an attempt to intimidate strikers.
The Fijian government is still considering declaring the nurses strike illegal, in which case it would be able to fire all 1400 nurses for not attending work for 7 days.
The strikes are continuing indefinitely.