Sunday, September 13, 2009

Some thoughts on the history, strength, influence and potential of the Anarchist movement [1970-2005]

Anarchist ideas are the only effective and coherent ideas which point the way to ending oppression and injustice, and to creating a free society for the benefit of everyone. Yet despite the lessons of history and the cynicism of those trying to control and manipulate society for their own ends, people continue to flood into shitty political parties, polling booths, religious sects, drugs and escapism, the lottery etc etc.

This is a paradox that we seem to be able to do little about, at least in the short term, whatever we do - so let's not give ourselves a hard time... We can only do our best and hope that our time will come, and soon - before the whole fucking planet goes to pot.

So, what are the strengths and weaknesses of anarchist activities in recent times?

The anarchist movement includes formal and specific anarchist organisations, the diverse activities of dozens of local groups, and broader anarchist-influenced groups, networks and movements. Key questions we all have to face include:

· what can we do on a daily basis where we live and work
· how can we contribute effectively within various movements and struggles?
· how can anarchist ideas grow beyond ideological or cultural ghettos into having the influence and effect on our society they deserve?

There is, or should be, continuous interaction and overlap between the specific anarchist organisations/activity and the much larger, wider struggles and movements - with each influencing the other. Just as anarchists work for such movements to move in an anarchist/self-organisation/class-conscious/wider-issues/militant/direct-action direction, so we need to work to enable all anarchist groups to transform themselves into being much more accessible and relevant to the wider tens of thousands of dissidents and activists who can't relate to / avoid / are unaware / or are unimpressed with specific anarchist organisations - or who just get swept up into political parties or single-issue reformism as an end in itself, or just the only show in town.

There's been a very rich history of significant anarchist activity in recent decades. The following is a crude list of some of the most significant anarchist-influenced activities (which many anarchists and local anarchist groups supported or took part in). Some of the activities and movements, at least in part, consciously adopted many anarchist ideas - and in turn also helped influence and strengthen the anarchist movement.

Some current and recent Anarchist organisation and activity (in no particular order):

- the wide range of activities of local anarchist groups - including involvement in campaigns, local newsletters (eg. Hastings Poison Pen came out weekly for 5 years in the 1970s, the excellent papers produced in Bristol over decades etc etc), regular leafletting, interaction with grass-roots community groups and workplace struggles etc...
- local anarchist/radical bookshops and social centres
- 'national' anarchist organisations and papers
- the annual Anarchist Bookfairs (including regional ones)
- SchNews, Peace News, CounterInformation and other radical papers around which wider networks developed

Some anarchist-influenced 'grass-roots' struggles and movements (in no particular order):

- radical environmental movement, including 1970s anti-nuclear energy movement, Earth First!, anti-road-building struggles
- anti-militarist movements and campaigns (especially the anti-cruise blockades and camps in the early 1980s), including the influence of Peace News
- Reclaim The Streets...and anti-capitalist mobilisations (and the early 1980s Stop 'The City' actions)... Maydays... Critical Mass cyclerides
- squatting
- punk movement, and then the free raves/parties movement
- anti-fascist activities
- anti-corporation campaigns (eg. anti-McDonald's/McLibel)
- civil rights / defence campaigns
- freedom to protest struggles... the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group
- women's liberation movement
- Claimants Union movement (‘60s - 90s)... unwaged and unemployed groups (80s - early 90s)
- animal liberation movement
- local community action (libertarian-influenced grass roots groups and campaigns)
- workplace self-organisation of various kinds (eg rank and file building worker, couriers union etc)... community solidarity groups during strikes etc... Miners Strike and Dockers support work... Picket bulletin (Wapping)... the London Workers Group (1975 - 83), IWW
- coherent libertarian/radical cultural and lifestyle projects and movement (music, theatre, etc)
- conscious co-operative movement (mainly in housing, cafes) ...the Radical Routes network
- the Free Schools in the 1960s... libertarian education initiatives and children-centred activities since then... WEA and U3A?
- consciously alternative/radical media projects (eg radical
documentary groups), the indymedia network
- anti-poll tax movement
- right to roam, and 'land is ours' movements
- LETS schemes
- rural libertarian intiatives, including mutual aid.... back-to-the-land /
self-sufficiency / grow and make-your-own networks
- international solidarity campaigns, and 'no borders' groups
- prisoner support groups
- disability civil rights movements
- free self-organised and /or green festivals
- new traveller movements

Of course, each of these movements may have different, even contradictory tendencies and limitations, but they also have strengths and a great deal of potential. Most importantly, millions of people have taken part in such activities and we need to analyse and learn from their experiences to see how the anarchist movement can become the 'idea and movement of choice' for everyone who wants to oppose any aspect of our oppressive global system or create a better society. In my opinion the priority should be to build up strong community-based pro-working class local anti-authoritarian organisations in every town and borough, as well as help create strong grass-roots community groups in every neighbourhood.

At the end of the day, society seems to be dominated by its own internal forces. Sheer will power and doing the right thing often can only make small ripples in a massive pond. But forces shift, major movements can emerge, and real change can happen fast. Then revolution and social transformation become possible. But anarchist ideas will need to be prevalent to ensure a genuinely free and sensible society is created. Let’s all celebrate our activities and efforts, and our history, and continue to do our best.

Dave Morris
- involved with Haringey Solidarity Group

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