This text is intended to be a contribution towards helping to build a new Anarchist organisation in the UK. Individuals and small groups of Anarchists from various cities have been cooperating for several months already under the name of the Anarchist Action Network and are organising several events aimed at reaching out to working class communities in which the Anarchist movement is not currently very strong.
Over the years much has been written about the problems that can occur in situations such as this, when a group of people who are in a minority – Anarchists – attempt to reach out to “the masses”.
Anarchist groups and organisations often run the risk of acting like “vanguards”: separating ourselves off from the rest of society and then reaching out to people as if we believe our ideas are better than theirs and that therefore they need us to educate them or follow our example.
If we allow ourselves to think like this too much then we fail to see reality as it really is. Oppressed people struggle against their oppression in a self-organised way whether Anarchists are around or not. This is something we should never forget, especially because it is where the real hope for an anarchist revolution lies, rather than in our own actions as a minority of people.
However, because Anarchists by definition reject all forms of hierarchy and have an uncompromising attitude towards the State, we can often play useful roles in the struggles of the oppressed in ways that people of other perspectives usually do not.
When people organise their own struggles without hierarchies and are directly fighting against the sources of their oppression, the struggles can get more and more intense, with lots of energy behind them, as individual people tend to feel empowered and inspired in these situations, especially if they struggling together with other people and there is a sense of real, practical solidarity going on.
But powerful people know this and so use a number of strategies for destroying this rebellious energy in individual people’s minds. Power tends to offer concessions and to encourage the oppressed to delegate representatives to negotiate on their behalf, then to try to corrupt these representatives and to go back on any promises of concessions as soon as the struggle has quietened down.
Anarchists, if we are genuinely part of a struggle in which this is going on, would usually be expected to argue against this, and to push for an uncompromising attitude with power and for non-hierarchical self organisation so that there can be no representatives for the powerful to corrupt.
We would do this simply because we are anarchists and that’s what we do. But we can only do it if we are genuinely part of the struggle, which means that if we start from a situation of being outside a struggle, we need to think deeply about how to merge with the struggles that we wish to be a part of.
People who are already in a struggle will often be grateful to anyone who comes along and helps out in a practical way without trying to take over the struggle or impose their own world-view.
The Anarchist Action Network should therefore aim to be an organisation of people with useful skills and resources to offer people who are engaged in struggles of various kinds, rather than an organisation of intellectuals or propagandists for a particular ideology.
This does not mean that we should not be an intellectual organisation. We should on the contrary be constantly analysing hierarchies in the struggles we are involved in, the success of failure of these struggles, and being self-critical about our own position in these struggles to make sure we are not acting like vanguards, and make sure the struggles actually win.
Anarchists do not only have to argue in meetings of other people that the struggle should not compromise with power. We also sometimes need to actually take action as a minority within a broader movement in order to counter-act the hierarchical or treacherous tendencies in the movement.
For example if some powerful individuals within a movement are trying to steer the movement towards accepting a compromise rather than pushing for more action, sometimes we need to just take action ourselves, to make sure than action happens. This may even involve organising actions in secret from other people in the movement against oppression so that no-one stops us.
This is basically what happened at the Millbank demonstration in 2011. A group of anarchists, who were probably not even students themselves, decided to take the action of attacking the Millbank building, correctly assuming that other people would join in.
This meant that the NUS, which was lead by the Labour Party and was trying to get students to accept compromise with the same government that was oppressing them, became irrelevant as an organisation in the struggle against fees.
The Millbank action sabotaged the NUS’s ability to control the student movement by reminding students that they could take action in more autonomous ways. Sure enough, in the week following the action thousands of students were organising their own autonomous demonstrations, occupations and actions, all around the country.
The wave of militant struggle was coordinated through the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, which was an autonomous organisation that developed from the reality of the struggle, rather than being an ideologically anarchist organisation, although anarchist activists played a role in creating it.
The Millbank experience demonstrates the kind of approach that anarchists can take when acting as a minority in a wider struggle.
Anarchists took actions themselves without waiting for anyone to give permission, but had a good enough analysis of the struggle to know what kind of action would resonate with the rest of the people in the struggle and help kick it up a notch.
Anarchists also were involved in helping to shape the autonomous decision making structures that were born out of the struggle in order to make sure they were as horizontal as possible,as well as taking part in the propaganda of the movement, but all without making too big a deal of the fact that they were anarchists.
This shows that instead of being a bunch of people promoting a particular ideology, we are at our best when we take action that helps to radicalise real struggles while being a minority but without acting in an authoritarian way ourselves – simply by living by the principles we believe in: in favour of direct action and against hierarchy.
The Anarchist Action Network should also avoid as much as possible the formation of any kind of hierarchy within itself. Whatever tasks need doing to keep the organisation actively engaging in real struggles should be done by people chosen to do those specific tasks and particular people should not be allowed to take on too many important tasks so that they become more important figures than others.
Any tasks that are not actually about moving the real struggles forward but are simply about preserving the Anarchist minority organisation itself should not be done at all – or at least kept to an absolute bare minimum- because otherwise we will be just another irrelevant political clique.
We should not be interested in anything except the increasing self-organisation and direct action of the oppressed masses for their own liberation. If anything we do goes against this or is irrelevant to it then it is not Anarchist just because we say it is, unless we change the definition of Anarchism to mean “whatever we say”.
We should also bear in mind that not all struggles are “visible” to us in the same way that trade union or community campaigns are. Not all struggles have organisations with names and leaflets and public meetings behind them. So we do not have to just wait for public meetings to be organised by other people so that we can come to them and argue against hierarchy from within them, we can be the ones to organise public meetings ourselves for struggles that do not currently have them but which are still real struggles.
One important example is the never-ceasing struggle between the police and the various marginalised populations of the country. People resist the police in many ways: through setting up lookouts to warn when they are coming so that people can run away; through security culture (‘gangsta no answer no unknown number”); through solidarity (not grassing each other up); and sometimes through massive riots.
As anarchists our rejection of the police is absolute, as we reject the whole State, and the only forms of “policing” that would be compatible with our beliefs would be those in which the “police” were directly elected by and accountable to the communities that they serve through community assemblies etc (though many anarchists would not even accept this).
In the direct action subculture that many Anarchists are a part of there are many people with lots of skills that are useful to direct confrontations with police such as Legal Observing, prisoner support, affinity group tactics, ‘dearresting’ skills and much more.
The Black Panther Party for Self Defence – perhaps the most important revolutionary organisation to emerge in the Western world in the last 50 years – in fact began with just two people with legal observing skills going out to marginalised communities as a physical presence on the street to confront police when they would harass people for no reason other than to intimidate and oppress them.
By directly helping people in marginalised African-American communities to avoid getting arrested, and by having the courage to get in the faces of their oppressors, the Black Panthers quickly gained the respect of disaffected working class people of all races and grew to become a national organisation in just 2 years despite intense state surveillance.
Given that the most significant working class uprising in recent years in the UK was a nation wide uprising sparked by the murder of a Black man by police, the experience of the Black Panthers is not something we should ignore when attempting to build a new national revolutionary organisation.
Despite the fact that some Anarchists claim that the Mark Duggan riots were a continuation of the student riots in which the anarchist movement unmistakably played an important role, the truth is that there was very little involvement or even support from the “official” Anarchist movement – in the form of federations, social centres and various informal hierarchies in different single-issue direct action campaigns.
This shows how Anarchist organisations can become irrelevant to the real struggles of oppressed people and become self-serving, pointless organisations, if they have the wrong attitude.
Unfortunately Anarchist ghettoes really do exist in which people just play out the motions of keeping their own groups going without successfully attracting new people, because they are not involved in real struggles and are only interested in keeping an anarchist minority together for it’s own sake.
There is no point in creating the Anarchist Action Network if it is going to become just another example of this. We need to get out of the anarchist ghetto and into the real ghetto, and to anywhere else that oppressed people are already in self-organised struggles against the State, Capitalism, and all other forms of oppression.
Comments or angry rants are welcome, so long as it helps move forward the struggle.
For the constant self-organised direct action of all oppressed people against the State, capitalism and all forms of hierarchy.
For Anarchy, now and always.