Critique of the UK Anarchist Federation

So I used to be a member of the Anarchist Federation in the UK, as well as part of various informal affinity groups and lots of attempts at things in between, networks and forums and what have you. I have also traveled around a fair bit to other cities and countries in Europe and Latin America to learn about how the anarchist movements in those places worked. I am not claiming to be any kind of expert as a result of these experiences. I am still only 25 years old at the time of writing this. But I do feel like I have learned at least a few things worth sharing.

In writing specifically about the Anarchist Federation in the UK I am not trying to piss anyone off. However, I am not going to pretend I don’t have some feelings of bitterness towards the organisation. Maybe if I ran into certain people I might come across as a bit cold towards them, but that’s pretty much the extent of my spitefulness.

I joined the Anarchist Federation because I felt like the Anarchist scene in my town was too disorganised. If you accept the numbers and terminology I was using in “Fibonacci insurrectionism” then it was an informal network but with enough people to have at least a federation, perhaps something more.

There were various collectives campaigning about different things or running different projects, and god knows how many affinity groups and random individuals drifting around with no clear sense of purpose as far as I could see.

I imagined that the Anarchist Federation was a lot bigger than it actually turned out to be when I joined. It had over a hundred people, but not much more than that and it never seemed to grow in the few years I was associated with it. The structure of the organisation was very far from the hypothetical “ten groups of ten” model I talked about in “Fibonacci insurrectionism”.

You could be considered a Branch of the federation if you only had three people. That’s ridiculous. What can you do with three people, really? I would have put it at a minimum of 8, a maximum of 15, so that when you get up to 16 you split into two. Like I said, 15 is pretty much the maximum for a consensus meeting.

As a result of this some Branches had a lot more people than others, and so some were a lot more effective than others. Many Branches barely existed. Mine was one of them. I’d be at delegate meetings hearing people from other cities talk about what their group had discussed and voted on and proposed and whatever, and I could just talk for myself pretty much. And I wasn’t the only one. There always seemed to be people around about which it was hard to say whether they were speaking as a delegate or just an individual.

It was all very confusing. You had to give a certain amount of personal information to join as well as money. That right there is gonna put a lot of people off. All the groups I knew about organised fundraisers for themselves, usually gigs. Gigs are great for fundraising because they are also social events which can be made into awareness raising things, with the right speeches, lyrics, decorations and literature around the place. But the Anarchist Federation insisted on cash from each of its members, according to how much they earned.

It was a constant topic of conversation, taking up hours of time on internet discussion forums and at conferences themselves. I am not exaggerating when I say that the vast majority of the time spent at national conferences went on discussing internal administrative problems on the federation and that absolutely no time at all went into discussing direct action, except as a theoretical concept.

Someone who had been in the federation a long time even told me that it was debatable whether or not revolutionaries should take direct action. An Anarchist said that. It was unbelievable.

The theory seemed to be that if you did anything then it made you a vanguardist. The word “vanguard” is thrown around a lot in anarchist circles so perhaps I should discuss it a bit. Lenin called for a “Vanguard party” and what he meant by that was a hierarchical organisation bent on seizing political power for itself. So anarchists are against the Leninist idea of vanguard parties. Sure.

But “vanguard” just means “in front” rather than “at the back”. Lenin meant that the Vanguard party should go in front and take power, so that when the rest of the people caught up they could all be given the power that the vanguard took. Obviously, that’s ridiculous, power corrupts, etc.

But when you are not talking about taking power but simply taking action, then to throw around the word vanguard like it’s a bad thing is fucking stupid. Someone has to make the first move. And that person is most likely to be someone who has built up a while revolutionary theory on the idea of making a move, i.e. an Anarchist.

By making the first move you could be said to be “leading the way” and people are always going to tell you “oh but anarchists aren’t supposed to have leaders” in an annoying voice but the thing is, we are not against leaders, we are against rulers. Bosses, governments, people with coercive power. Not just someone who has a suggestion about what fucking direction we should take.

The Anarchist Federation’s literature makes clear that they are not against leaders, saying that they actually want to be a kind of intellectual leadership of the working class. At least, some people seem to be big fans of texts that call for an organisation to be this “leader of ideas”.

Well, I would much rather have a practical leader who knows how to do lots of things than an intellectual leader who just knows lots of long words, and I don’t think I am alone here. By following someone who knows how to do things you will learn how to do them yourself, as long as you pay attention. By following an intellectual leader you will learn how to be a self-righteous, smug little freak.

The Anarchist Federation also said it wanted to be the “memory of the working class” but all they seem to remember is defeat. I read pretty much all their literature and didn’t get much of an idea about what the fuck I was supposed to do from any of it. I learnt that lots of people had died in struggle a long time ago.

A major feeling I got from a lot of people was that I needed to quickly learn loads of anarchist history and read all the old classic anarchist writers. I don’t regret any of that, because some of it is amazing literature, but really, it wasn’t what I signed up for.

I was already an anarchist when I joined, or I wouldn’t have joined. I was trying to figure out how to be a more effective revolutionary activist, but all the “action” done under the Anarchist Federation banner was organising some public talks, sometimes turning up to other peoples demos or picket lines and giving out newsletters.

In itself that wouldn’t have been a problem. After all a formal organisation with a structure so easily open to police agents shouldn’t be claiming illegal actions under its own name. But the federation seemed to actively distance itself from informal networks of affinity groups rather than aiming for the kind of “movement” I describe in “Fibonacci insurrectionism”. In turn, most activists I knew saw no reason to get involved with the federation, or what the point of it was. Sometimes people asked me if they thought the Anarchist Federation would have funded various things, like materials for actions, but I knew it would have been pointless even to ask. Activists naturally presumed that the point of an organisation like that would be to fund or at least support people taking action, but the organisation didn’t seem interested in that at all.

Federation members would routinely ridicule other anarchists, and especially insurrectionists, despite it saying nowhere in any of their literature that they were against insurrectionism. In doing so they were playing their part in perpetuating and exacerbating precisely the same divide that I am trying to reconcile, that between insurrectionism and platformism. Sometimes people would just resort to crass stereotypes about squatters and hippies, which I took offense to as a fairly hippyish squatter. I’m writing a insurrectionist zine about spirals, for fucks sake.

But I was genuinely loyal to the organisation despite all this bullshit, always trying to speak up for it amongst my friends in insurrectionist circles, always trying to advocate it’s positions. But for me, doing so was a matter of action. I tried to find ways of taking action that fitted in with the federation’s decisions.

Federation says we need to make sure the Left don’t take over the anticuts movement? I try and help organise and advertise alternative anticuts organisations not based on hierarchical structures that Leftists can easily take over, and to promote them whilst disrupting Leftist demonstrations with more radical tactics than just walking around listening to reformist bullshit, like occupying buildings and trying to do symbolic actions against banks and other capitalist institutions which caused the crisis.

Of course these tactics did not always work, and I could have benefited from hearing what other actions groups had tried in other parts of the country in order to figure out what tactics worked and what didn’t. But when I read the reports groups made about themselves they seemed to all be about holding meetings and giving out literature on the street. I mean, I did that as well. But it’s not action. It’s propaganda at best.

So the only way I could take action to advance the anarchist federations aims as I understood them was with non-members, through informal structures. When they found this out they kicked me out of the federation behind my back. They actually had a vote at a conference, which I was not told about in advance, or even after. I just tried to check my emails one day on the Anarchist Federation account and I found out I had been deleted.

That’s why I mentioned I was a little bitter. But I think the points I am making here are still quite valid. They kicked me out for advocating structurelessness or words to that effect. I hope that “Fibonacci insurrectionism” at least proves that I do not advocate structurelessness. I just recognise the chaotic nature of the universe and say that structure and informality should compliment each other rather than be seen as two opposing things.

There is room for order in a chaotic universe, but there is no room for chaos in an ordered one, nor in the Anarchist Federation, so it seems. I wish I could be constructive and suggest ways the Anarchist Federation could be reformed so that is more like the kind of organisation I talk about at the end of “Fibonacci Insurrectionism”, which uses its formal structures as part of a wider, informal, movement, which it is connected to other parts of in semi-formal ways. Also, one which is pro- action and which exists only to analyse action, take action and help others take action.

But really, from what I have experienced of the internal culture of the Anarchist Federation, I think it would be incredibly hard to change it in a more insurrectionary direction. It has become a stagnated and irrelevant organisation with an informal hierarchy that is probably more likely to simply become formalised rather than be effectively challenged. Around the time I left they were talking about a “Secretariat” made up of all the elected officials in the organisation, mostly a small friendship clique of the longest serving members as far as I could make out. These “Elders” seemed to have decided long ago to crush youthful initiative and to prioritise the struggles of unionised workers (a relatively privileged section of British society) above most other concerns, just like the Trotskyists they claimed to be so different from.

So, I say to anyone would like to be part of the kind of structures I have described in Fibonacci Insurrectionism, we need to start from scratch. I don’t care what it gets called, but we need an Insurrectionist Anarchist federation in the UK, one with a decent amount of real groups of a decent size and a simple delegate system, with no membership fees or personal details needing to be handed over just to participate.  We need about a hundred people who know what they are talking about when it comes to both direct action and propaganda, who have enough patience to sit through a meeting and participate in a delegate structure, and who are also connected to various other militant affinity groups, collectives and revolutionaries through different informal means. People who see the point of an organisation is to do whatever it takes to help the insurrectionary movement to grow, not to close yourself off into a private club of theoreticians and cynical trades unionists. People who want to stop pissing around and get on with it for fucks sake.

Do a hundred such people exist?  Are you one of them? Get in touch.


  1. Hey man, totally agree with the above. For what it’s worth I vigorously argued against you being kicked at both local and national meetings and left shortly after myself, partly due to that. I haven’t regretted leaving for a second. When I did quit, I wrote a resignation email to explain why I was leaving and share my critique of the organisations’ inactivity and informal hierarchy (as you rightly outline above). The response I got was someone asking me not to post my ‘melodramatic Shakespearean soliloquy’ on the list. Nice way to respond to someone who has worked in the org for five years!

    Anyway, time for new organisations an fresh thinking and action! Hope to see you soon bro.

    Brighton AF member no.2 : ) (T)


    1. Cheers man. Unsurprisingly noone from the AF has gotten in touch with me about any of it. I know how they feel though. Malcolm X said that if someone had told him what he was saying about Elijah Mohammed while he was still in the nation of islam, he would have killed them. I wouldnt have killed to defend the AF but i would have at least tutted meaningfully at anyone saying what i am now saying about them

      hope all is good with you


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s