Until recently most Australians contact with anarchism has been limited to seeing the occasional A in a circle in the back lanes of Australian cities. Since the Australian Anarchist Centenary celebrations in 1986 the Libertarian Workers for a Self-Managed Society have pursued a strategy of "talking anarchism off the walls and bringing it into people's living rooms." By using the strategies outlined in this paper we have been able to introduce anarchist ideas to hundreds of thousands of people who would normally not have any contact with anarchist ideas and activities.
Anarchism offers a real alternative to centralized socialism and representative democracy - the alternative of direct democracy.
The progression to a society without rulers - a society where the people affected by a decision are involved in making the decision will only arise when people recognise the validity of structures that ensure their participation. We live in a period of radical upheaval; in a society in constant crisis. The greater the instability the more the holders of power manipulate and control the balance of power.
Revolution will arise regardless of "revolutionary' forces. It will arise in response to repression and to governments that deny people access to decision making power. Revolution does not require a vanguard to lead it in armed struggle. Historically, spontaneous uprisings have been hijacked by those vanguards desiring to impose another form of centralizing government.
It is through the ongoing process of propaganda prior to and in times of mass spontaneous upheaval that anarchist ideas will be taken onboard. The Spanish revolution illustrated the real potential of decentralized structures. It required the momentum of a united popular struggle from a society who had a working understanding of anarchist political and social structures.
As the leadership of communist and capitalist societies become increasingly discredited it is vital to present people with anarchist ideas that illustrate the process of direct democracy.
An anarchist strategy for change requires an awareness and critique of personal power relationships within the range of human relationships. The ability of a person to be aware of themselves is important in helping to dismantle existing attitudes that block change.
The broad basis for developing a strategy for personal change is that anarchism is the establishment of a voluntary society in which people live as individuals with a responsibility to the maintenance of workable communities; in which we live co-operatively each contributing to decisions affecting the community as a whole.
The ability for individuals to accept and participate in this level of responsibility, without relying on the use of power, relies on the quality of our personal relationships and on interactions that are honest and equal.
Anarchists have often made the mistake of prescribing new rules regarding permissible human relationships. The potential for oppression exists in any type of relationship that arises out of growing up in hierarchical, patriarchal society.
A strategy for change requires constant analysis of two issues:
Independence should provide a person with the ability to maintain his/her own personal direction. It allows people to co-exist and to take responsibility for their actions and reflect on the consequences.
Local community as a basis of organisation, whether geographical or industrial has always been part of an anarchist decentralised strategy and philosophy. Is community a realistic organisational unit for radical change in modern capitalist society or is it a myth?
Massive changes in the individual mobility and changes in communication, linked with the all pervasive privitisation of life has meant that community as a functional self supporting and mutually enclosed unit(s) is greatly reduces or non existent. Changes in workplaces and practices and the increasingly transitional nature of living in modem societies means that people no longer need to be linked geographically to an area and community. Links are more likely work related, the traditional family having shrunk, or related to perceived lifestyle and non geo- graphic associations and affinities.
Poor communities' traditionally geographically defined are less defined today and are now subject to rapid destabilisation caused by rental fluctuations, gentrification, renewal development, and changes in workplaces and availability of employment. Traditional community centres such as 'village centres' meeting halls, churches, local shopping precincts, and sporting clubs are no longer relevant being perhaps replaced by the controlled atmosphere of large scale shopping malls and managed entertainment centres. Sporting venues and community teams provide some common ground but are largely being reduced to the level of professional entertainment where little direct involvement is encouraged or accessible. Even recent battles for the maintenance of local links in football have been largely managed by external forces and dealt with as a media event albeit 'community' originated.
The role of "grassroots" organisation to resist ill-conceived, inappropriate or exploitative development or redevelopment or planning on small communities reflect some community values and does provide building blocks for self managed organisation. These movements suffer the danger of being seized by vested financial interests and often surcome to a planned slow attrition. The ready lip service to "community consultation' by planners is in itself a pointed question as to the existence of community. Other areas of potential community development comes from existing common interest areas such as those formed around children, aging recreation and ethnic/social groupings. The increasing mobility of individuals means that traditional communities arising out of individuals meeting on common issues for common support, and providing mutual aid is largely redundant. Many people are fearful of community due to media induced fear. The reality that most crime is intra class and within local communities, and that many communities are reactionary and suffocating to the individual can be attested by many who have lived in small rural communities. This is balanced by many of the non defined links and mutual aid facilities offered by neighbours and workmates or the immediate co-operation disaster and common threat brings.
The geographic community as a basic unit of decentralised self management is of critical importance to the functioning of an anarchist society. Strategies must be developed to support forms of mutual support based on non hierarchical decision making and equal access to society's wealth. These strategies challenge the paranoia encouraged by privatization.
Anarchists need not be prisoners of yesterday's terminology. Whether anarchists like it or not, words like working class, left and right, socialism and communism have lost all meaning. These terms no longer mean anything and in many instances act as breaks to meaningful social change. Past usage has destroyed the meaning of these political terms. If anarchists wish to become relevant they must create a new language to describe their ideas.
Class analysis can be replaced by an analysis based on power. Terms like left and right can be replaced by an analysis based on the centralization and decentralization of power and wealth. Communism can be replaced by the term state capitalism. Unless anarchists are willing to change the terminology they are now using, they will find that people will think they are just another bunch of self- serving politicians who want power for themselves.
The collapse of state capitalism in Eastern Europe and the demise of Marxism as an ideology that satisfies human needs has given new life to the word anarchism. Since we have stopped describing ourselves as anarcho-communists and have embraced the word anarchism we have found a greater acceptance of our ideas among the general community.
One of the most significant events that has swept the globe over the past twenty years (especially in Western democratic societies) is the information revolution. The traditional reservoirs of information the community, church and family unit has been superseded by the mass media. Through television, radio, newspaper and the computer revolution the mass media has increased private isolation and has destroyed the need and desire for community.
People rely on the mass media not only for information but as the basis for conversation. It sets boundaries for what is practical, possible and desirable. Consciously and unconsciously the mass media sets the agenda on life's possibilities and plays the dominant role in people's day to day lives.
The old anarchist strategy of ignoring the mass media and creating alternatives media networks needs to be reassessed. Although its still important that anarchists continue to create their own media networks, its also important that anarchist activists begin to utilize the mass media so that they can extend the boundaries of community debate on what is possible, desirable and realistic.
The establishment of co-operative self-managed communities which allow individual autonomy, requires the organisation of egalitarian structures.
There are two approaches to effecting change as a lifestyle issue. Both of which, for many, exist simultaneously- An Anarchist lifestyle is not pre-packaged. One approach is the existence of micro-lifestyles in which people pool their emotional, social and material resources and attempt to organise change on a personal or small group level i.e.: communes/collectives/schools/squats.
Squatting provides a clear example of the effectiveness of this type of approach. Internally it serves to enable people to co-exist, to establish workable systems of generating equal decision-making structures. On the level of personal power it requires people to actively confront the day to day reality of incorporating the individuals need into the communities requirements. On a practical level it forces total self-reliance in the maintenance of a livable environment; there is no landlord/bank or housing commission to turn to. Externally it forces the recognition of society as a whole to the oppressive nature of private ownership and the inadequacy of the state to provide public housing. It involves the establishment of information sharing that engenders a concept of mass change, i.e.: that all people have a right to housing, and that existing housing can be used responsibly not just a mere redevelopment for a selected few.
The second approach is the establishment of anarchist groups in the wider community; the ability to create situations that have the potential for mass involvement. This requires the participation of individuals and small groups in the confrontation of bureaucratic, hierarchical structures within their place of work and in their local communities. This approach has the benefit of avoiding isolation from Joan Bloggs. It allows future strategies for change to arise from direct interaction with peoples' general dissatisfaction at being far removed from any concept of real democracy. Finally it encourages our active analysis and involvement in support of people who are traditionally denied a voice. The ongoing manipulation of the service provision to people with intellectual disabilities is one example of how essentially libertarian concepts can be so distorted by cost cutting motivations that people end up being denied care and become isolated in communities that do not have the structures to support them.
Anarchism recognizes the validity of a wide range of non-oppressive lifestyle options that contribute to the process of change towards an anarchist society.
Parliamentary rule (representative democracy) rests on the assumption that people have the opportunity to change their governments every few years. One of the greatest problems facing anarchists both in parliamentary "democracies" and in crumbling Marxist-Leninist states is the illusion that parliamentary "democracy" gives people real power. Today although radical changes have swept Eastern Europe, these changes seem to be centered around the desire to gain personal and economic freedom through the establishment of parliamentary structures.
In Australia most anarchists have ignored parliamentary elections. They have not involved themselves in activities .that attempt to raise a realistic alternative to parliamentary rule. Parliamentary elections are an integral component of most Australians lives - until the myth that parliamentary elections give people power is rejected by a large proportion of Australians, then anarchists will find it difficult to be taken seriously.
Access to the mainstream media plays a very important role in parliamentary elections. As parliamentary elections descend on an unsuspecting population, more and more time and space is devoted in the media to the 'orgy' of participatory democracy that people are about to face. As long as the mass media continues to paint participation in the parliamentary process as the only viable realistic alternative then it will be difficult for anarchists to put to people an alternative point of view based on direct democracy. Today, the growing disillusionment with parliamentary politics makes it possible for anarchists to utilize the mass media to put forward ideas that challenge, parliamentary rule. Anarchists should be putting more time and energy into activities and campaigns centered around Federal elections, that destroy the myth that parliamentary rule means democracy. They should be putting forward direct democracy as a realistic, possible alternative to parliamentary rule. As long as people participate in parliamentary elections because it gives them two minutes of illusory power - then anarchism will never become a challenge to mainstream ideology.
Australia is one of the few parliamentary democracies which has compulsory voting. When elections occur in Australia anarchists can conduct anti-electoral campaigns or they can stand candidates who urge people to vote informal to show their disgust with the society in which they live. Compulsory voting allows anarchists the luxury of standing as candidates who can:
By running candidates who urge people not to participate in elections anarchists can put their ideas forward to a greater number of people by utilising the mass media. The recent election campaign where the Anarchist Media Institute fielded a Senate candidate in the federal election gained widespread coverage in mainstream newspapers, radio and television and introduced Anarchism to tens of thousands of people who have had no exposure to Anarchist ideas.
In any revolutionary or popular uprising the attitude taken by the States armed forces will largely dictate the success or failure of the movement. A revolutionary movement no matter how widely supported, will not succeed without the support or non-intervention of a sizeable section of the armed forces. Protracted conflict with the armed forces will limit the quality and extent of possible charge.
The necessity of having armed forces is premised on hypothetical threats to national and group sovereignty. They are highly structured hierarchical organisations, in many ways the archetype of most modern business and administration organisation, largely ultra conservative and with philosophies wedded to the existing state world view. The armed forces are a convenient, highly profitable, and constantly renewable market for capital production. (The true cause of the arms race.) It also provides an efficient means of social control and training emphasising loyalty, unquestioning obedience to authority and is compulsory in the vast majority of the world's states.
Armed forces see their role as that of peace keepers, albeit often by pre-emptive strikes and violence by maintaining state sovereignty and security. Their existence as a non-productive economic unit is largely dependent on the sponsorship of the state.
Military leaders and upper level officers believe that they are an elite entrusted to maintain society's security; that trust is often seen as transcending even the existing mechanisms of the state. To this extent the armed forces becomes self-maintaining and isolates itself, builds and reinforces strong mythical histories and traditions which are often to the insider of greater importance, than existing society mores. The self-contained nature of the armed forces especially the unquestioning discipline isolates and reduces the potential for internal change or revolutionary support from them in times of social crisis. However the military is largely made up of relatively powerless soldiers and junior officers, often conscripts. Even in the so-called modern volunteer professional army most members are there because of financial needs, lack of work or a desire for social mobility. These people often have close links with society through family and friends. They are subject to often excessive unnecessary discipline, poor management, often working in boring and alienating tasks and occupations offering little advancement. They have little control over their existence, much like the vast majority in society. In a situation that brings them into conflict with main stream social movements they would be confused about their role. This section of the armed forces is subject to the same influences that bring about popular uprisings. When presented with alternatives and a common perception they can have a neutralising effect on their leaders and officers actions.
The armed forces would intensify internal propaganda and impose self isolation in a period of rapid social change. Troops would be moved far from their regular areas and different language/social groups would be used in conflict situations. Elite special professional forces (the modern mercenary) are the armed forces response to the inherent instability of conscripts in a situation of civil change. In the modern armed forces only a very few are front line soldiers, the vast majority support these troops. This weakness in support services offers the greatest possibility of neutralising the armed forces in periods of popular change.
The primary role of the state's armed forces is suppression of internal insurrection. The role of protecting national interests from external aggression has largely been superseded by internal diplomacy, the establishment of supra national power blocks and the end of the nation state with the growth of international capital.
The armed forces new role is "policing." In a changing world the interfacing of the armed forces with the civilian police highlights that the primary role of the armed forces is suppression of internal insurrection. The use of the army in an internal situation has always been seen as dangerously provocative by people. Blurring the interface between the military and the police is a solution being used by the state to gain greater popular acceptance of military intervention in social change. In times of relative cutbacks in military budgets, police budgets are increasing.
Police have immediate and established decentralized intelligence resources, are highly visible and are largely accepted in society. The strength of a police force in controlling social movements is also its weakness in that the police are not as tightly organised as the military and they are not as socially isolated. Most police see their jobs as social welfare and maintenance not armed maintenance of the state. Police are more subject to industrial problems and political and administrative incompetence. They are also subject to increasing social pressures between maintaining property rights and overcoming social need and inequality in society.
The new organisation of police on a loosely federated basis sharing intelligence systems and technology on an international basis indicates the new direction been taken by the state's armed forces. It also indicates that individual members are subject to the same pressures as people in society at large and are therefore as open to the possibilities of change as the general community.
Anarchism is an international movement recognising common humanity. Anarchists normally advocate internationalism to help breakdown national and racial barriers. Internationalism also helps to create a world-wide mutual aid movement.
The Libertarian Workers for a Self-Managed Society spend a great deal of energy on international contacts because it helps us understand the individual and unique characteristics of regional anarchist movements and solutions. This understanding of other anarchist movements and cultures helps us analyze our own society.
International anarchist contacts also helps our local credibility because it helps to show people that anarchism is a realistic, desirable world wide alternative.
The Anarchist Media Institute was formed in 1987 by the Libertarian Workers for a Self-Managed Society to act as an interface between ourselves and the mass media. Through the establishment of a twenty-four hour Anarchist information network, press releases and the establishment of Anarchist Associated Press (A.A.P) - an organisation that can put overseas anarchists in contact with the local media, we feel we can bring anarchist ideas to a large number of people who would never have had contact with anarchist ideas, individuals and organisations.
The mass media is not one homogeneous monolithic organisation, Anarchists should challenge people's bombardment by mainstream analysis by utilising individual reporters and programmes within the media networks. One of the main problems anarchists have in utilising the media is that we use rhetoric that means nothing to the great majority of people. We need to look at our use of language and articulate our desires and goals in terms that do not mystify people. e.g... The terms left and right are constantly used by Anarchists to describe themselves and the world around them. Today these terms are irrelevant, confusing and misleading. All social and political movements can be characterised by their attitude to power and wealth. Social and political movements either advocate centralization of power and wealth or decentralization of power and wealth. So when anarchists use the word left and right they add to people's confusion.
Obviously work with the main stream media does not take the place of work to form anarchist organisations. Unfortunately if there is no generalized understanding of what anarchists want, then there never will be a base for the development of anarchist organisations and anarchists will continue to be nothing more than a tiny fringe political movement.
An anarchist society is a voluntary non-hierarchical society based on the creation of political and social structures which are formed on the basis of equal decision making power and which allow all people equal access to society's wealth.
Libertarian Workers for a Self-Managed Society
P.O. Box 20 Parkville, 3052 Melbourne, Australia.
Telephone: (03) 822 7940.