London Anarchist Federation held their first reading group looking at two chapters in volume 1 of ‘Anarchism, a documentary history of libertarian ideas’, edited by Robert Graham. We read chapters 8 ‘Anarchist Communism’ and 9 ‘Anarchy and anarchism’. A pdf of the texts can be found over at libcom: https://tinyurl.com/jcv5s7f. Below we present some of the talking points during the discussion, hastily jotted down as notes by one of our members.
Parts of the texts are strikingly modern (particularly Kropotkin) and seem readily applicable to situation the working class finds itself in today. Has anything really changed, then? The texts speak of the coming automation of labour and the need, therefore, to make sure workers are in control so this can be a post-scarcity utopia rather than a high unemployment, high exploitation dystopia (hello Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work 2016). Within this Cafiero acknowledges that many jobs could already be automated but it’s cheaper for capital to exploit labour, so we are condemned to drudgery (hello Bullshit Jobs, A Theory 2018). Although the texts on anarchist communism mainly focus on work and production, there is also an acknowledgement of the impossibility of valuing work and the need to consider mental health, social work and other functions of society which fall outside capitalism.
The texts are incredibly optimistic about the future (is this related to their form? i.e. speeches given at conferences), which is surprising given they were written at the height of the industrial revolution when seemingly capitalism was expanding without hinderance and ecological boundaries weren’t a consideration. Perhaps the authors were seeing the condition of the working class and predicting a breaking point? Looking back to the Paris Commune and seeing potential?
Education is a recurring theme within the texts as a requirement to increase worker power and break the spell of the dominant capitalist ideology. How do we define ‘good’ education, though? And what are we educating towards? The working class is educating itself, however it is doing so within the dominant ideology. Information is more readily available than ever before but most people would surmise that market economics was the only possible system, given its prevalence and dominance in academia. Perhaps we need to focus on teaching complexity, so people are better equipped when the media offers them simple solutions (e.g. it’s the migrants’ fault) to economic problems.
We need to understand the power of education and building a libertarian culture. The Spanish resistance to Franco did not happen overnight, there was decades of education and community building leading up to it. Opposition to nationalism and war seem to be key areas where education, and subsequent questioning of authority, could lead to positive outcomes for the working class and anarchist milieu. The Landauer text discusses that capitalism does not need to justify itself, it is simply there, it is tradition and there seems to be no possibility outside it (hello Capitalist Realism, 2009) and so as anarchists we are forced to provide detail of how a future society might work. We do this in an asymmetrical fashion: we don’t have access to the mainstream media so the marketplace of ideas doesn’t really exist. Ultimately, we do not want to just take over running this society, we want to create a new one.
One of the practical examples of education is ‘propaganda of the deed’ but meant as a reclamation of the original meaning of the phrase so less bomb throwing, more building self-organised networks of solidarity and mutual aid. These moments of mass worker organisation can ‘break new ground’, demonstrating our ideas and how they can work practically. Here we mentioned the situation in Greece where, for example, anarchists are providing health care in free clinics and providing for refugees. This has, however, come about due to the massive retreat of the state after the financial crisis so is partly from necessity rather than ideology. Is there some way for us to side-step this or do our living conditions have to get as bad as Greece before the working class will organise in this way? There are not only positive outcomes if this happens- spectre of fascism if the working class looks like rising up, or perhaps universal basic income would be used to mollify the public in a similar way to the post-war economic consensus? The financial crisis has changed public opinions and made some ideas fashionable again (c.f. Corbyn and re-nationalisation agenda) so this seems a possibility. Do good material conditions mean the working class has more time for education and organising? Is accelerationism, therefore, going in the wrong direction?
Conclusion: are modern academics just regurgitating these same ideas? It all seems so familiar (and depressing that 130 years later we have not escaped). Seemingly it all comes down to education, education, education so perhaps we should go there for our next text!
Phew, that was some speedy note taking. I’m sure I missed a lot of the discussion, but this covers a good deal of what we talked about.
We will be meeting again on the 3rd Tuesday of the month at Freedom Bookshop and next time will be looking at texts on anarchist education as this was one of the themes pulled form this months’ texts. Details will be announced asap on our blog, twitter and facebook.