Introduction | Presentations | Reflections
The Anarchist Organisation and Strategy Gathering in 1990 was formulated to discuss within the libertarian movement in Australia different methods of organisation and strategy. While the conference was not closed to the public attending, it was advertised primarily for anarchists to discuss and debate issues of organisation and strategy amoung themselves.
The three previous anarchist organised conferences had aimed for a wider audience and were open for anyone to attend. While these conferences were successful in attracting people to discuss issues and campaigns of relevance to anarchists, they could not adequately address debates between individuals and groups on different organisational strategies and directions within the anarchist movement.
The conference itself was attended by 50-60 people, predominantly from Melbourne and Sydney. There was still a lot of ill feeling and animosity deriving from the split in the Jura books collective (Sydney) in 1982. The resources of Jura Books were divided up based on a policy of an equal division, with one group staying under the name of Jura Books and another starting Redfern Black Rose Anarchist Bookshop. The arguments had raged for more than 6 months over collective organisation and structure, collective membership and directions for the collective.
Some of the tension at the Gathering was rationalised as between those with a 'class-analysis' and those with a 'power analysis', but this is a false dichotomy. Those who have a 'power analysis' generally acknowledge that a 'class analysis' is a very important subset, as was discussed over dinner on the Saturday evening. The strategies of Anarcho-Syndicalists and Anarchist Collectivists are not necessarily in opposition. Some collectivists also participate in anarcho-syndicalist organisation and vice versa.
More than ten years past this gathering, it is interesting to note that there are a diversity of autonomous collectives and affinity groups as exemplified in the Autonomus Web Of Liberation (AWOL) co-ordinating structure in Melbourne, which contributed to the s11 and recent May Day protests. Anarcho syndicalists are even more active in at least three seperate organisations, the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network primarily based in Sydney who put out Rebel Worker, the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation primarily based in Melbourne who put out Organize, and the I.W.W. who publish Direct Action.
The order of presentations were drawn out of a hat.
This workshop will look at the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation's workplace / community strategy in action. It will deal mainly with the Public Transport industry in Melbourne since May '86 publication of "Sparks" No. 1 up to the present and focus particularly on the ASF's involvement in the January 1990 lockout of tram workers and the campaign to save the Upfield train line.
Bringing the life and work of John Olday before people's attention is not an exercise in hero worship, though his activities were often heroic. He is a forgotten part of forgotten Anarchist history, but the past is only useful if we can lean from it. In this case, we can see many different strategies and attempts at organisation being used by the one person over a long period of time. Discussion could bring out many different points of view about the success or failure of these strategies. .... What follows is in two parts: the first was written by the German editor of Trafik magazine, the second part is Olday's own memoirs, at least the Australian section, written in the third person (himself as 'J')
I felt the Gathering was very successful in providing Anarchists from all backgrounds, individuals and groups a chance to meet and talk AND LISTEN. I got involved in organising the Gathering for this very reason. If we do not build tolerances, share ideas and support each other, we will waste our time and energy and remain a marginalised group with limited appeal.
Published: Anarchist Network Newsletter May 1990
The feedback on the Gathering was mainly positive. The main criticisms and concerns were about the behaviour and the processes in the Circle on Saturday. People were concerned about how the banking system for speakers worked, and also the difficulties with people sitting outside the circle. Because of side conversations, any criticisms, remarks or comments could not be responded to by the group.
From the Report from the Organising Group
Published: Anarchist Network Newsletter June 1990
A small surplus from the Gathering was distributed to the Libertarian Workers, who originally staked the cost of the Gathering, and to the Melbourne A House.
I didn't completely enjoy attending the Anarchist Easter conference in Collingwood, but then again, that was not the particular aim of the conference. The atmosphere was tense with participants appearing fairly serious and tending to be overly defensive - as if they were expecting to be criticised or attacked. It was however infinitely better than the disastrous Anarchist conference held in Easter of 1976, where we split over our ideological and lifestyle differences. No, the Australian Anarchist movement had grown up since then; (and grown older).
We listened carefully to each other and critically discussed the papers presented. St. Richard of the Fields presented the first paper which was to form the background of the Saturday discussion. Richard's position, in his paper "Anti-Mass Collectives", was that small groups of mutually supportive and committed Anarchists having a particular role and a goal was the best strategy for establishing an Anarchist movement. This is, of course, how Australian Anarchists (at least those who work in groups), operate. While conference participants acknowledged that this modus operandi was effective, people pointed out numerous problems with it, namely:
The other papers presented on Saturday were also very valuable for discussion. Susie Russell spoke on the involvement of the the A.S.F. In community and workplace struggles, with a detailed account of their support of the long and demanding tramway workers' dispute over the state government's attempts to eliminate tram conductors' jobs by introducing the new ticketing system of scratch tickets. She also talked about the work done by the A.S.F. in mobilising community opposition to the introduction of light rail to replace trams. The role of the Anarcho- Syndicalist transport workers' newspaper, "SPARKS" in informing workers of state government plots and suggesting ways of beating them was also discussed.
Bob James presented an historical paper on a fascinating Anarchist revolutionary, John Olday, who was active in the anti-fascist struggles in pre-war Nazi Gerrnany and later on, in Britain during the war, as an anti-militarist (but not pacificist) activist. There was discussion afterwards on how Olday adapted different strategies for the different situations (an important point!) and on whether or not John Olday was an Anarchist (which was not important and, I thought, irrelevant ... we had come to discuss organisation and strategy, not what Bakunin had for lunch!)
By late afternoon, it was clear from our discussion that the Anarchists were polarised into the group that believed in the relevance and importance of class struggle and in developing a movement to bring this about, and the group that rejected this notion in favour of a power-analysis that would promote a more personal revolution. I was becoming increasingly frustrated by now as many conference participants were doing a great deal of labelling of other participants, over-simplifying each other's positions and misrepresenting them ... e.g. that people who believed in one form of social change did not support other forms; that industrial activists were not also involved in feminism, anti- authoritarianism or environmentalism, etc. I was also irritated by the petty bickering of Anarchists in different groups and by the sloppy thinking. We are in the middle of a maior world-wide period of conservatism ... you just have to listen to the media buzz-words of "efficiency" (read "job-cuts"), productivity (wage-cuts), "responsible economic management" (rip-off the environment), "privatisation" (when a greedy government tries to sell off assets which belong to the people).
The simple truth was that we as Australian Anarchists have been pretty badly affected by being isolated in whatever job and suburb we belong and we too have been unable to escape the really selfish and consumerist consciousness that prevails. The result is that we Anarchists fail to appreciate each other or understand each other's position. Hence we are unable to successfully articulate (let alone agree on) a program of social change. What we seem to to be doing is merely reacting to changes that are coming from the Right. The environment movement is still effectively articulating anti-consumerist and ecological strategies ... why aren't we successfully doing similar things as a coherent and united group (the sum total being greater than its constituent parts)?
The only group to present an attempt at an overall strategy for change in the 1990's was the Libertarian Workers for a Self Managed Society. Theirs was the last paper for the Saturday afternoon. It covered a range of issues. Some it covered quite well, others badly. Its faults were that it over-generalised in parts and neglected important areas of Anarchist strategy eg how Anarchists can provide an actual alternative to the state and to Capitalism.
As you can see, there is plenty to discuss and, hopefully try to resolve. For if we continue to let others set the agenda, then we Anarchists will become quaint historical footnotes rather than the pathfinders of the 21st Century. The way is ahead but we have to get serious about where we are heading.
Published: Anarchist Network Newsletter June 1990
It's difficult not to be very abusive when faced with Red's writing. It's the same old clap-trap masquerading as 'reflective' thought, the same old suggestions that only others are sloppy thinkers, the same old list of what others 'should' do and why aren't they?
I can do no better than use Red's own words to illustrate:
It was not clear "from our discussion" that "the Anarchists were polarised into the group that " etc. It was clear from the lack of discussion before and during the Conference that many people claiming sympathy for anarchism had little idea of what was meant by "the relevance or importance of class struggle" and/or of "a power analysis that would promote a more personal revolution." This lack of understanding was the major reason (I believe) for the Conference and some understanding was obtained by the exchanges that did take place, especially at the Saturday evening discussion (not mentioned by Red) where polarisation was non existent. This degree of understanding happened in spite of an unwillingness by a number of the advocates of a 'class-based' anarchism to enter into dialogue at all. They came, they sniggered, and left. Contribution - Doubtful.
If Bakunin had eaten Jewish babies for lunch, and Anarchism involved being vegetarian, it would be 'important and relevant'. No, he didn't, and Anarchism is not vegetarian-based. But the debate over 'class analysis - power analysis' is for me entirely about what anarchism contributes and what it doesn't. Is Red suggesting that 'Anarchists' are 'anarchists' no matter what they do? Is he suggesting that if I call myself an 'Anarchist' no one has any freedom (note the word) to question my use of the label, no matter what I do? How is it that Red can say that other 'anarchists' are doing 'it' badly, but not reflect on his own performance? If someone is doing 'it' badly (sloppy thinking, labelling, etc, etc) what criteria is he using? How can he make criticism of someone's Anarchism and not (yet) see the point of discussion about whether John Olday was an anarchist or not? Or let me put it this way - How does he know he was at an Anarchist Conference?
(In case anyone feels these are silly questions, let me say here that they are very serious, and I look forward to responses from Red or anyone else.)
Bob James 06/06/1990
Published in Anarchist Network Newsletter July 1990