Anarchist Reading group #1

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.

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Anarchy at the AU

The antiuniversity now festival has some amazing events this year. The full programme is available at http://www.antiuniversity.org/ but here is our rundown of anarchist events at the AU!

Radical Ecology

The Anarchist Federation will present ideas from their new pamphlet on an anti-capitalist view of environmental issues, including both the root causes (spoiler alert: it’s capitalism) and the false solutions offered up as ways out of the crisis. We will have an introductory talk followed by a participatory discussion. http://programme.antiuniversity.org/id/radical-ecology

Decoding Chomsky: Making Sense of the Politics and Science of the World’s Best-Known Intellectual

http://programme.antiuniversity.org/id/decoding-chomsky:-making-sense-of-the-politics-and-science-of-the-world’s-best-known-intellectual

No Gods, No Masters

Religious belief is still very strong in the world today, despite predictions that it would disappear with science and the development of a secular society. For many people, this is not a problem- we should be tolerant of the beliefs of others. After all, these beliefs are about things that we can’t prove or disprove and don’t really affect what happens in our society. Anarchists believe differently. Just as we reject other ‘masters’ such as the bosses or the State, so we reject any belief that looks towards an external authority for what to believe and how to live. In addition, these beliefs very much do affect society, eg views on abortion, homosexuality, gender and race. Throughout history people have used religion as a justification to oppress others, often with extreme violence, eg the slave trade, the Crusades and ISIS today. But how do we argue against religious beliefs? It is especially a problem when these beliefs are held by persecuted minorities and people who we are working with in unions and community campaigns. This discussion meeting will consider what anarchists reject religion and then open up the discussion about what strategies we can adopt for challenging religion in our society. http://programme.antiuniversity.org/id/no-gods-no-masters

Whatever Happened to the Revolution?

Most of our time is spent having to resist attacks on all fronts- bosses, the government, and all the general injustices of society. But many of us hold in our hearts a hope for a completely different society. Isn’t it time we put Revolution back at the top of the agenda? What do we need to do to make it a reality rather than just a vague hope at the back of our minds? Anarchist communists believe firmly in the possibility of working class revolution. This talk/discussion will first present anarchist communist ideas on revolution before opening up to general discussion about revolution today. Some of the questions to discuss are: What do we mean by revolution? What steps can we take now? What are the obstacles? http://programme.antiuniversity.org/id/whatever-happened-to-the-revolution

Anarchism and Class: Is it still Relevant?

The division of society into two main classes, the ruling class and the working class, has always been fundamental to an anarchist analysis of capitalism. However, this basic division is now considered to be too simplistic and many now argue that there are other divisions in society that are more relevant. This meeting will consider what class struggle anarchists mean by class and why we think it is still a fundamental concept in understanding how society works and for building a movement for a revolution. It will also consider how the concept needs to be up-dated to fit with global capitalism today and not be used to mask other crucial societal divisions such as gender and race. http://programme.antiuniversity.org/id/anarchism-and-class:-is-it-still-relevant

Anarchism for Beginners

Anarchism is often represented in the media as meaning chaos and disorder. But nothing could be further from the truth. This meeting, presented by a long-term active anarchist, will explain in simple terms what anarchism is, its different forms, what it wants to achieve, and how it might deal with difficult issues for a future society such as police and prisons. There will be plenty of time for questions and discussion. http://programme.antiuniversity.org/id/anarchism-for-beginniers

Anarchist Fitzrovia: Walking Tour

Visit all the hot spots of anarchist Fitzrovia. See where Frank Kitz, a leading light in the Socialist League, met with others and downed a pint or two in the process. Visit the sites of Louise Michel’s Free School, the German anarchist Autonomie Club, Lilyan Evelyn’s anarchist Ferrer School, the haunts of the celebrated Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta, the soup kitchen set up by refugees from the Paris Commune. Goggle at the building that housed the (in)famous Malatesta Club of the 1950s. See where anarchist sympathiser and artist Augustus John drank. Stand outside The grocer shop of Albert Richard, hero of the Paris Commune, who sold only red beans and rejected reactionary white beans. Linger at the newsagents run by Armand Lapie, scene of doctrinal disputes. Pause at the spot where the colourful anarchist Xo d’Axa played his barrel organ. All this and much more. http://programme.antiuniversity.org/id/anarchist-fitzrovia:-walking-tour

 

 

Monthly reading group

The London anarchist federation are kicking off a monthly reading group in the downstairs shop space of Freedom Bookshop. We will be reading and discussing an anarchist book, chapter or pamphlet each month.

For the first one we’re starting with some classics and will be reading two chapters from volume 1 of ‘Anarchism, a documentary history of libertarian ideas’, edited by Robert Graham. We will be discussing chapters 8 ‘Anarchist Communism’ and 9 ‘Anarchy and anarchism’. A pdf of the texts can be found over at Libcom: https://tinyurl.com/jcv5s7f

The chapters include the follow essays/extracts:

Carlo Cafiero: Anarchy and Communism (1880)
Kropotkin: The Conquest of Bread (1892)
Kropotkin: Fields, Factories and Workshops (1898)
Luigi Galleani: The End of Anarchism (1907)
Jose Llunas Pujols: What is Anarchy (1882)
Charlotte Wilson: Anarchism (1886)
Elisee Reclus: Anarchy (1894)
Jean Grave: Moribund Society and Anarchy (1893)
Gustav Landauer: Anarchism in Germany (1895)
Kropotkin: On Anarchism (1896)
E. Armand: Mini-Manual of the Anarchist Individualist (1911)

After this trip to the 19th Century we intend to look at some more modern texts in future months although book choice will be agreed by those attending. Suggestions so far include:

Barbara J. Fields and Karen Elise Fields, Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life
François Martin and Gilles Dauvé, The Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement
Silvia Federici, Caliban And The Witch
C.L.R.James, A History of Pan-African Revolt
Adolph Reed Jr, Class notes
Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet

Hopefully something there will pique your interest. Attending every month is not a requirement- just come along when we’re discussing a text you like!

Event: May Day social 5th May, 6pm at Decentre

Seen enough Stalin banners for one May Day? Tired of explaining the Haymarket affair to Maoists?

Come to Decentre for a friendly social for anyone on the non-authoritarian left. There will be drinks! There will be crisps!*

Facebook event here, invite yo’ friends! https://www.facebook.com/events/1552914385016333/


*crisps subject to availability.

New beginning for London AF

Thanks to everyone who came yesterday for sharing your ideas. We had a group of about 16 people come down for a very interesting discussion on the future direction of the AF.

We have decided that the first projects we want to work on are producing plain language, approachable propaganda including pamphlets, videos, cartoons and podcasts. We want to explain anarchist theory and anarchist perspectives on modern problems to people who don’t have a PhD in philosophy and get outside ‘the bubble’.

One of the other interesting things that came out of the meeting was that nearly everyone was there because they felt isolated and/or didn’t know any other anarchists. We want to develop a community of people who share similar ideas and hopefully can become friends. So, we will also be holding socials and trying to spend time together as a group.

Meetings: In the future meetings will be fun(ish). We will try to having working meetings where, after a bit of discussion, we will be working on projects together as a group. If a particular member doesn’t have the skills for that project or wants a break they can cook for the group or serenade us with guitar (hi, Drew). Hopefully this mean we will get stuff done, enjoy our meetings and enjoy each other’s company. Meetings will be held approximately every two weeks, alternating between Sat afternoons and a weeknight evening to fit with shiftwork. Venues will likely be Common House, May Day Rooms and Freedom.

We have an email list going- message the AF London page or aflondon@riseup.net if you would like to be added- and will have a Slack (or similar) group for organising projects.

Next meeting: 20th Jan venue TBC. Bring examples of designs/books/pamphlets/videos you think are good and outlines of projects you want to work on and the resources you need (e.g. I want to make a podcast, I need people to help write, some recording facilities and someone who knows how to edit).

Event: Meeting on future of London AF group

The London Anarchist Federation is in a period of flux as in the last six months some long standing members have moved out of the city and most recently three members resigned from the national organisation. As such we’re putting a call out to any anarchists who want to organise in London. As we’re building the group up this is a great time to help shape the future direction, bring new ideas and projects and get involved with other anarchists.


We’re holding a meeting at the Common House on 6th Jan 12:30 -3.30 to discuss what we want to do- all welcome!

Things we’ve done in the past:

Host public meetings- these have been on everything from current affairs to history and anarchist theory. They were a mixed success. The ones we promoted well had 50 people come, the ones we didn’t promote only had 5!

Publish Rebel City- this is an anarchist newspaper in London with 4,000 circulation and published every three months. We publish this with a collective of other anarchists and hope to continue. Help needed writing, editing, formatting and distributing.

Help with national publications- the national anarchist federation publish a magazine, Organise, and a newspaper, Resistance, which we’ve helped write, edit and distribute.

Campaigns: radical assembly, radical housing network, antifascism, housing and workplace struggles…

What we could do in the future: any project you want help from other anarchists to pull off! Could be putting on gigs, inviting high profile speakers to London, helping with the antiuniversity or keeping the bookfair going. Bring some ideas!

Aims and principles of the organisation are here: http://www.afed.org.uk/about/

It has come to this: we have trademarked the word Anarchist™

Although normally not down with copyright law, the Anarchist™ Federation feels we have to take drastic measures and has taken the unprecedented step of trademarking the term Anarchist™. In recent months we have been asked by many people ‘Why are so many Anarchists™ joining Labour?’ or been told ‘So and so is an Anarchist™ and they’re in Labour now’. To be clear: there are no anarchists in the Labour party. There are, however, some former Anarchists™ in the Labour party who are now social democrats.

Let us be sure on this: if you agree with the statement ‘The Labour party is the only way to affect meaningful change’, you are a social democrat.

Fair dinkum. Just deal with that label if that’s what you think. We can see why you went there- the revolution may not happen in our lifetimes, Labour could win the next election, Corbyn might (might) not lurch to the centre, you get to go on tv and host politico-celebrities at your talks, the glitz, the glamour… it has seduced many before you and I’m sure many after you. But please, do not use our brand name (Anarchism™) to identify yourself as one of the ‘cool’ or ‘edgy’ members of the Labour party. The last time Labour tried to be cool it did not end well. You don’t even need to do do that anymore- Jezza is into jam, allotments and knitwear.

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So please cease and desist from abusing our good name before we are forced to make more sassy memes about Tony.

Regards,

The Anarchist™ Federation