This Centennary Celebration could not have occurred until it was 'known' that the first formal anarchist organisation in Australia met for the first time on 1 May, 1886. In looking back to that event and contemplating the range of opinions about anarchism in this Anthology, I have become interested in the question of how Anarchism has changed, if it has, over the years. And when considering the attempts to mis-define Anarchism I have also been led to ask who decided what was 'Anarchism' and what wasn't. Who decides today? On what may seem like an unrelated topic, I also began contemplating how Anarchist groups dealt with the sort of divergence of opinion expressed in these writings, and how they deal with such conflicts of opinion today.
Both in the Melbourne Anarchist Club and in that group the MAC based itself on, the Boston Anarchist Society, conflicts of opinion were usually diffused by chairmen (always men) who recognised speakers rising in their seats to respond for a timed period to a paper delivered on a set topic. A Secretary, the only formal position, kept minutes. The usual 'rules' of genteel debate were followed, but by consent rather than by enforcement. A picture here emerges. which is very unlike that prevailing, in my experience, within Anarchist-groups today. More familiar, perhaps, is the manner in which the MAC split and collapsed over questions of ideology in late 1888-1889 when the accustomed procedures proved inadequate for resolution of the conflict or even restraint of emotions within 'reasonable' parameters.
In thinking about these things, I've been led to feel that there are strong connections between:
Further questions have been thrown up: How subject were anarchist strategies of that past time to social conditioning, and how relevant are they in todays changed conditions? How conditioned by straight society are 'our' attempts to express 'our' anarchism? Who gains and who loses by our attempts to deal with divergences of opinion? Are there any absolutes to Anarchist theory? I am not by the way necessarily adopting the MAC model or the Boston model as my conception of 1886 Anarchism.
It does seem to me that 'our' conception of anarchism needed to and has changed over 100 years, but I'd like to understand more about the 'hows' and the'whys'of this process? Have we improved the model or had changes forced upon us? for example. (Here I'm certainly not intending to compare and contrast arguments about the central core of anarchism opposition to the State, mutual aid, egoism, economic opportunity, or whatever - it will become clear I find all of these unsatisfactory in themselves and socially determined - a longer more explicit analysis will have to wait for another time).
Let's start with the fact that in the 1880's people who were poor, starved and often suicided rather than continue to live in misery. One Newcastle libertarian mother, Alice Winspear, hanged herself because she could not feed her children. She considered herself more help to them dead, since then they would be taken into a 'home' and given charity.
Consider then the courtroom cry of Vaillant in France, 1894:
Valliant is, here, also referring to the situation where no steady and regular welfare was available to safeguard the poor and thus, to defuse their anger. But today, if people are not going to be motivated any longer by poverty or the sharp ends of troopers' swords as in the 1880's -1890's, what are they going to be motivated by to even think about latent social alternatives?
Enzenberger's The Roots of Spanish Anarchism has a useful quote:
There are many changes in the detail of society between then and now, but how important are they? This quote points up what many people would nominate as the obvious difference - back then, a poorer life-style in material terms, but one enriched by a community sense, which builds into the urge for 'freedom' a strong feeling of duty. Since the 2nd World War, a more affluent life-style with very loose community ties and a strong individualism influencing the definition of 'freedom' . How aware, I wonder, of the charges in the way this word 'freedom' is viewed are today's anarchist discussions ? Thinking about the lack of involvement of older, European-born anarchists with the younger, Australian-born, say since 1940, and looking at the remarks made by members of each group about the other, it is very easy to have correlations like 'puritan-serious' come to mind in opposition to promiscuous- irresponsible'. How do we weigh the contending elements ?
I hope no-one will suggest that a satisfactory response is contained within the sterile, "Each person must do what feels good (comfortable/safe/ etc) to her or him". Personal liberation is one thing, but disregard for the consequences of one's actions is quite another.
The Max Harris piece (herein) in appealing for a creative freedom of the senses (including sexual liberation) continues a male sexism which is only now being adequately dealt with, 90 years after the following example ought to have shown anarchists the need for change: On the same page of, La Revolte as that declaration by Valliant appears there is an article headed 'Woman and Anarchy' written, I believe by the editor, Jean Grave. He points to a letter written by Vaillant's female companion, whose name he doesn't give, and in which she both implores Vaillant to ask for a pardon and says that on his execution she will shout 'Hurrah for Anarchy'. Grave draws the conclusion that women are inconsistent and contradictory. He 'sees' that women are unable to think rationally or logically and are thus constantly pulling back and undermining the attempts by men to further anarchism. Here is a clear indication of a need for a change in anarchist theory, or is this still only about anarchist practise, in this case male anarchist practise? There's a piece of Kropotkin's called 'Domestic Slavery', published in a Sydney newspaper in 1892. After arguing for the benefits of households sharing laundry, cooking, child-minding, etc, and the necessity for liberation to encompass all humanity he implies that male anarchists were not so far clearly recognising the need for women's liberation. With the benefit of hindsight one can now look at this piece more clearly and see that it is an extremely limited theory precisely because he nowhere says directly that men should share in the domestic tasks. One has to ask whether his theory was more clearly influenced by mainstream social priorities than by what we might call the abstract notions of anarchism itself. There were for example in Melbourne in the 1880's male anarchists who saw women as generally more politically aware than men, and likewise the Andrews 1892 piece in this Anthology shows a use of male and female pronouns which indicates chauvinism is not simply an inevitably absorbed element of one's social context.
The James Gleeson 1941 advocacy of surrealism also contains sexual chauvinism and what is now a jarring trust in the medical skill of (male) doctors and a disconcerting willigness to simply go along with their authority. Criticism of sexism of male anarchists has been a recurrent theme in the last 20 years or so in Australia, and rightly so. But if we confine ourselves to the struggle of wo.men for an equal voice, we will have missed the point, shown by the ease with which certain other changes in attitude have occurred - which is that the sexism was a result of something more fundamental. It isn't just a question of male practise, its a question of why males expressed that theory-practise conflict, yet continued on, either not seeing other possibilities or suppressing them.
On a different though related theme, one has to ask why did Anglo-Saxon radicals (US, UK, Australia, in particular), after all the 'fight' rhetoric and after all the provocation, simply 'roll over' when the test came in the 1880's-1890's ?
In that pivotal Haymarket Affair (1886-1887) is a tragic example of anarchists' imprisonment within their social context.
The Chicago trial has been called 'the grossest travesty of justice ever perpetrated in an American court', and of course, even before it occurred anarchists had no reason to expect anything else. But what strategy did 'the movement'-in Chicago adopt in the face of massive harassment and State violence ? They suspended all agitation, allegedly so as not to prejudice the fate of their comrades in jail. Albert Parsons, on the run from the police, though innocent, gave himself up into the arms of his enemies, to be by the side of his comrades, he said, and because he expected either truth and justice in the courtroom, or a valiant and honorable death on the gallows. This is all abysmal political strategy, based not on anarchist analysis, but on Boys Own heroics which, of course, was the prevailing mainstream view, and one which produced an overbearing emphasis on decorum, respectability and honor. The other strategic extreme, 'represented by Vaillant, Ravachol, etc, which wasindividualistic violence was not based on anarchic analysis either, but was a frustrated explosion of anger and despair. As a strategy it proved as impotent as Parson's.
Today, Anarchists express their desire for peaceful solutions much more clearly, but is the apparent shift a result of analysis or because of the victory of the conservatives who have imposed a debilitating blanket of decorum with which Anarchists have not yet come to grips for fear of being once-again stigmatised as violent ?
I similarly need to ask, since I think there is a way out of the dilemmas posed so far, whether anarchists who cling to 'class' formulations are retaining a grip on an absolute, or holding onto an outmoded concept. I hold no antagonism for 'class - analysis', I simply feel that it has served its purpose, and must be replaced with, or extended into, what I'm calling power-analysis. Such an extension is indicated by the evolution of the idea of revolution from an event to a process, and by the philosophies or empowerment which underpin the radical elements of feminism, environmentalism and so on. 'Classical' anarchism talked of 'power' as they did of 'freedom' leaving it un-analysed and/or questioned. This is no longer good enough. The idea I have is a simple one: In strategy and in long-term matters of theoretical principle to argue and to struggle for the maximum decentralisation of power (thus, among other things, seeing different relationships to the means of production as one way an already existing power imbalance manifests itself). Such a notion clearly implies analysing power and power relationships, in all their sources, potentials and shifts. Such an analysis would, for example, have very quickly exposed as fruitless and non-anarchist the strategies of male-chauvinism, of indiscriminate and arbitrary bombing and of sensuality for sensuality's sake, to take just 3. It would also have exposed as inadequate the rhetoric of 'freedom' and of an 'inevitable' mutual aid!
I don't intend to go any further with this here, except to say that in the notion of a power analysis lies the promise of a stronger, more coherent, and more practical anarchism which can enable us to escape, in particular, the elephant trap set up in the 1880's-1 890's. A great deal of important anarchist history has occurred this century but I believe the key to the dilemma faced by us today lies in an understanding of what happened in the decade 1886 - 1896. Further, I believe that up until 1940 or so (Australian) anarchists failed to even see the dilemma, and since 1940 have only partially succeeded in addressing themselves to it.
The dilemma we have is how to learn from the past without repeating the mistakes, in particular, how to oppose the status-quo effectively, without once again being stigmatised or deflected. If not defeated, the process of stigmatisation leads to our marginalisation and frustration.
Effective opposition clearly involves questioning how we contribute to our own defeat by going along with prevailing attitudes, or by insisting on divisive strategies that weaken us or prevent individuals from finding a trauma-free base within anarchist-culture. Effective opposition also clearly involves confronting head-on the power-imbalances around us and doing what is realistically required to redress those in our favor. This, I insist, is why a 'new' anarchism requires a power analysis.
Bob James, 1986.