At [the 2009] conference an agreement was reached between Jura Books, the Melbourne Anarchist Club and Organise! to co-operate together to publish Sedition magazine. Based on the success of this project, an anarchist conference is being organised in Melbourne over the long weekend of 8-10 June to examine the possibility of founding an anarchist federation in Australia. – Towards federation FB group
I wont be in a position to attend the conference in May (I’m fleeing the country for a couple of months), but I would like to have attended. I mean that.
I want to see an effective Australia wide anarchist political organisation. But to be effective this organisation will require the participation of a number of vibrant anarchist groups, with shared politics, a common and reasonably well developed theoretical understanding of the situation we are in, and preparedness to commit to a common strategy based on that theoretical understanding.
These are not things that can be willed out of thin air.
Before such a national organisation can be forged, we need sizeable and active anarchist groups in Australia’s major cities, that communicate and cooperate, and that engage in the serious political discussion required to develop a common political understanding.
This hasn’t happened yet. Australian anarchism remains a small collection of unconnected grouplets with a theoretical understanding that is often as shallow as it is varied.
We need to ground our efforts in a realistic understanding of where we are at. Long before a federation, what anarchists in Australia first is a serious publication. From what I understand this was much the conclusion that was reached in 2009.
The problem for the proposed federation in 2013 is that Sedition was far from a success. There was one tepid edition with limited distribution, and then nothing.
I hope that the groups proposing a federation “right now”, will reconsider. Before we embark on a national project, we (anarchists in small groups) must first build our own capacity, so that common projects like Sedition become viable. In turn it is only when projects like Sedition have grown to involve something of an anarchist movement, will the concept of a political organisation of the anarchist movement (the anarchist federation) make any real sense.
- Melbourne needs reading groups. Initiatives like the Fantin Reading Group need to re-start, and they need to continue. The sad fact is that the people who could most benefit from understanding anarchism are anarchists. We need to study anarchism, and we need to study the present situation. Theory matters.
- Melbourne needs a publication. Even a terrible photocopied zine is better than no publication at all. Sydney has Mutiny, Melbourne has multiple zines and newsletters that exist in name only, apparently on permanent hiatus. Anyone serious about class struggle anarchism in Melbourne, and everyone at this conference, should consider on what basis cooperation could be achieved for some kind of quarterly.
- We need to bring some anarchism to the anarchist book fair. All groups that are serious about building anarchist in Australia should immediately get involved in organising the upcoming Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair. The bookfair is the only event on the Melbourne anarchist calendar with significant reach outside anarchist circles. Every group should get involved in the organising collective, every group should argue against the presence of reformist (and outright anti-anarchist) content, every group should publish for the bookfair, every group should be running workshops, and every group should have events that follow up from it.
If we’re not in a position to do the simple things, we’re not in the position to consider a anarchist federation that is anything more than an exercise on paper.
I want an anarchist federation, and I want it to be more than an empty website. To achieve this, rather than announcing a federation in June 2013, it might be more useful to agree on a program of action that will build the capacity of anarchist groups and build cooperation amongst them.
If you’re in the area, I’ll be in a small town 50 km North East of Brussels between 4 June and 30 July.
Background info: Hunger strike at the Broadmeadows gulag
So I just spent a weekend camped outside a detention centre.
On more than one occasion during the weekend a supporter asked if those of us outside had any message we wanted to pass on to the hunger strikers. I was lost for words. “Stay strong”, “We’re with you” and other such sentiments all seemed grossly inadequate.
The refugee movement is a shadow of it’s former self.
As one person put it to me over the weekend, the outrage of 2001, “How could this happen here?!” has been replaced with resignation, “oh well, this happens here”.
We must clearly, unequivocally and without hesitation support every act of resistance that comes from within the camps.
The most significant, effective and important resistance to Australia’s barbaric treatment of refugees has always come from refugees, within the detention centres.
Riots, hunger strikes, burning buildings, and sewn lips demand a response, not just from the state but also from anyone with an ounce of compassion. Resistance inside the detention centres is what spurs and demands a response from supporters outside, and in turn solidarity from the outside gives confidence for stronger and repeated acts of defiance inside.
If the refugee movement in Australia is to be rebuilt, active and visible support for resistance from within detention centres must be maintained.
Perhaps there is one thing I’d liked to have passed on to the hunger strikers, “Thank you”.
I have just spent the weekend at the vigil outside the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows. Twenty seven refugees face their eighth day without food. They’ve politely asked the Australian government to free them or kill them.
Statement from the hunger strikers at the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows, Melbourne:
MESSAGE FROM THE ASIO REJECTED REFUGEES AT MITA, MELBOURNE:
We are 30 people here – 25 Tamils, 2 Tamil Muslims, two Burmese and one Iranian. We have been here for three and four years. We cannot tolerate it any longer. We need to be released to save our lives.
At 2 a.m. today (Monday, April 8, 2013) we began a hunger strike together. All 30 of us plan to keep doing this until there is solution, one way or the other.
We will gather together in the grounds of the detention centre and stay there until we get a solution. If the Australian Government does not release us, we ask that they kill us mercifully.
We have painted banners as part of our protest. There is one that shows many people hanging. That is what we want to happen to us if we are not released.
People in here are jumping off the roof, they are going on hunger strikes, they are taking tablets, they are trying to hang themselves. It is a cruel and inhumane environment for everyone.
We plead with you, the Australian people, to help us. We are on the edge of life and don’t know how much longer we can stand it.
We ask Prime Minister Gillard, Immigration Minister O’Connor, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus Opposition leader Abbott and ASIO director David Irvine to stop this torture of all of us… of men, women and children, who have done nothing to warrant this cruel treatment that is destroying our minds.
We ask the authorities: You say we are a threat to this nation. So if we are such people why have they now put women and children and families in here with us? We are willing to be released into the community under strict orders if they think we are threats, which we aren’t. But whatever they want we will do.
But we can’t keep living like this. We are not in detention. We are in a cemetery. We don’t want to die. We left Sri Lanka because we fear to die. We came to Australia to live, not die. But death would be better than the life we have.
ASIO REJECTED REFUGEES.
Campaign Blog: MITA Hunger Strike
ABC Radio, Hunger striking Tamil refugee says he’s afraid to die
Jeff Sparrow at The Drum, Australia’s Guantanamo isn’t offshore: it’s in Melbourne
Ongoing, 6:30pm Nightly Vigils in solidarity with MITA hunger strike
April 16, 11:00am, Protest outside Brendan O’Conner’s Office (immigration minister)
April 28, 1:00pm, Protest at Broadmeadows Detention Centre (in solidarity with the National Convergence)
A few disjointed thoughts on Camp Anarchy 2013.
Melbourne’s second Camp Anarchy was held at Camp Eureka over the recent Labour Day weekend here in Victoria.
Reviewing a conference is easy, right? You pick a broad theme and evaluate what you observed in at the event in terms of that theme, bang it out to 750 words and hit publish. Right?!
That doesn’t work so well for Camp Anarchy. There remains no coherent anarchist political current in Australia. The Camp did contain a strand of firm class politics, but it was by no means in the majority. Perhaps the best thing that could be said for the politics of Camp Anarchy is that it brings the eclectic mess together and gives it a good old stir. Political coherence takes time, effort and a hell of a lot of debate.
In this sense, the worst sessions were the best. Take “Building for Revolution” for example. The economic analysis presented by the host, and the conclusions drawn from it, were utterly erroneous.
Apparently some cascading series of bank runs is imminent and we should all sell our houses, hide gold under our mattresses and invest in permaculture. The session host argued the role of anarchists was to show through things like permaculture and mutual credit that another life is possible, and thus when the collapse occurs the mass of society will join us.
How this is “building for revolution”, I do not know.
The sessions “Building for Revolution” and “Climate Action: Social Revolution not Lifestyle Change” probably facilitated the most obvious clash between lifestylist and class struggle ideas.
On the surface all present rejected the idea that either capitalism through the market or the state through “direct intervention” offered any kind of solution to the environmental crisis. That said, the individualist and lifestylist positions advanced by some contained an oddly capitalist logic. There were plenty who seemed to think it was both possible and somehow politically useful to withdraw from the market.
These are the kinds of ideas people are advancing and calling “anarchism”, and what we must be prepared to contend with if the politics of the broad anarchist tradition is ever to be reclaimed.
In that vein, another session that was both interesting and oddly mistaken was “Real Democracy Now!”. That anarchists reject what passes for democracy in Australia is a no-brainer. It was also good to see that no one (at least who attended this session) is seriously advancing a Stirnerite individualist conception of anarchism that utterly rejects democracy as “majority rule”.
There was, however, something oddly reformist about the project proposed by “Real Democracy Now!”.
The group of anarchist comrades who hosted the session intend to establish a group to argue for directly democratic measures in Australia. They were particularly enamoured with ideas of participatory budgeting and the model pioneered by America Speaks.
That our practice should be directly democratic is central to class struggle anarchism. Federalism, recallable delegates and assemblies are both the methods of our organisations and our vision for political organisation after capitalism. But to establish a project that argues for this method without explicit anti-capitalist politics risks reformism. To argue for public participation in governance as a goal in itself, without embedded economic and social demands, does nothing to undermine either the state or capitalism. Quite the contrary.
I shall watch what comes out of Real Democracy Now! with cautious interest.
I attended two other sessions. I co-hosted “Platformism” with other comrades from Anarchist Affinity. I would be interested to know what attendees thought of it.
Also hosted by an Anarchist Affinity comrade was “Anti-mining: The struggle of farmers and workers in Indonesia”:
Unfortunately few came to the session, in which the comrade discussed the development of a grassroots network of farming communities across Java resisting Australian mining development.
It was a stinking hot weekend.
Politics aside, the Rec Hut at Camp Eureka was the absolute highlight. It makes me want to head out and build something in bush timber!
There are a couple of other things outside the formal sessions worth commenting on.
Kids. It was absolutely brilliant to see a political event that makes a serious effort to both provide a space for children, and to make it possible for children and parents to participate in the political program.
This wouldn’t have been possible without a serious safer spaces policy. It was good to see that at least on that question, there was amply political agreement.
Update: I don’t want to under-emphasize the anti-capitalist politics that were present. I only attended a narrow segment of the camp, and I missed all of Monday. Check out the programme here.
I seriously regret missing Sunday morning’s session on the state of the Union movement, but I have had a chance to catch up with the comrades who ran that session.
I would love to hear more from people who attended “Watermelons are Weapons”, “Islamaphobia” the sessions with Marjorie Thorpe and Clare Land and the session on Latin America.
I’d also like to point out that that for all I disagreed with the politics of a number of sessions I attended, there was never any sense of unpleasantness. I don’t doubt the integrity and sincerity of those who’s politics I might describe as “utterly erroneous”, and I certainly appreciate that we could have a passionate political disagreement with warmth and good humour.
I look forward to Camp Anarchy 2014.
Go and read this post by Em BC at Blind Carbon Copy, Misogyny and the left – we need to start practicing what we preach.
A short extract:
Most attempts at dealing with sexism tend to be through group education around feminism. Focusing on theoretical education, rather than individual behaviour, is seen as addressing issues “politically”. This kind of education is an invaluable tool for fighting sexism. But when abusive behaviour is directed at female members of an organisation, refusing to address individual behaviour is effectively putting the “education” of male comrades above the ability of females to participate in activism.
The argument that these are personal issues still comes up way too often. There was an incident where someone launched a brutal physical attack at his ex’s partner. When the organisation involved was asked to do something about this, it was decided that this was a personal matter and not organisational “business”. Maybe there was little that could be done in the circumstances. But how can we say we claim to defend women’s rights if misogynist violence just isn’t our business? If we allow people who commit it to be in positions of responsibility?
Harassment is too often simply placed in the too hard basket. When I was subjected to a minor sexual assault by a male comrade, the group involved decided that nothing could be done because it was too difficult politically at the time. I do understand why those comrades involved felt this way. But the decision not to do anything had a much worse effect on me than the actual assault. To me the message that came across was that my safety and my bodily autonomy were secondary to organisational issues.
I’m highlighting this post for a couple of reasons.
Some f-cked sh-t has gone down in the British SWP. Suprise surprise, an anti-feminist Trot group has awful internal practice when it comes to accusations of sexual violence levied against a leading member of their hierarchy.
But any anarchist going around feeling smug at the moment must be living with their damned eyes closed.
Seriously, read Em’s article. There is some really basic sh-t that should happen.
When someone is violent or abusive towards women, they should be excluded from our groups, organisations and events. No need to quasi judicial processes or liberal rubbish about balancing rights, when someones behaviour threatens others, or prevents others from participating in safety, exclude them.
When a group with any degree of standing amongst anarchists expels someone for their behaviour, in the absence of evidence of manifest injustice, all other groups should respect and uphold that decision. For too long abusive and violent individuals have simply been able to hop from group to group, pleading victimisation to anyone who will listen.
Which brings me to the purpose of this post.
[150 words removed here]
Update 2013-2-7: I received a phone call from BD this morning. BD stated he will not be attending Camp Anarchy.
BD explained that he had only responded to the Facebook event in order to “stir people up” and agreed that this had probably not been the best course of action. He expressed that there was much he regretted in his behaviour to date.
It was my impression from the conversation that BD’s remarks were genuine, and that in fact he has absolutely no intention of attending Camp Anarchy. As such I have agreed to remove 150 words from post. This does not constitute a retraction of my original remarks, it is only my intention to support BD’s decision to in part address the primary concern I raised in this post.
Honestly, when I saw this on Slackbastard back in September, I thought it was a joke. A merger between Socialist Alternative and Revolutionary Socialist Party… What the f-ck?!
In the past I’d argued that Socialist Alternative are worth our engagement:
The society that existed in Russia after Stalin’s rise to power was not socialist. Nor are those in China, Cuba or Vietnam. Such regimes, which are merely a statised version of capitalism, are essentially no different from the West. Just as here, a small minority benefits from the labour of the majority. Whether that minority control is exercised through the state, private corporations, or a combination of the two, makes no difference to the fundamental dynamic of the system. – Socialist Alternative, General Principles
The contrast with Revolutionary Socialist Party seems clear:
According to the Victorian leaflet, the SA [Socialist Alliance - kb] believes that “the differences which do exist [among socialist groups] can be contained within a single organisation”. This ignores reality. For example, the Socialist Alternative (SAlt) group while formally opposed to US threats against Cuba, considers Cuba to be a capitalist state and advocates a mass armed uprising to overthrow the Cuban government. The SA has policy of solidarity with Cuba against US threats, but it hasn’t adopted a position on supporting Cuba’s socialist revolution. Perhaps, therefore, the SA could co-exist with SAlt in a united organisation in regard to its policy toward Cuba. But how could the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), which regards the Cuban Revolution as an inspiring example to the working people of the world of socialist politics in action, get along in the same party with socialists who advocate the overthrow of the Cuban government? –
Allen Myers in Direct Action, May 2010, ‘Why are their so many socialist groups‘
It’s two and half years later and they’re a merging. Socialist Alternative is stepping back from ‘state capitalism’. RSP members are selling Socialist Alternative magazine alongside their Direct Action. There’s a joint Christmas party.
And no one mention the war?
Members of both organisations have told me that in the present situation, the political differences don’t matter, it’s a shared tactical position that brings the two groups together. They both want to build cadre style Lenninist parties with disciplined Marxist politics, rather than broad electoral alliances.
Anarchists always love a bit of Trot-spotting, but the merger of RSP and SAlt is worth considering for other reasons.
We continue to exist on the far left. The challenge for anarchists in Australia today is to begin the task of advancing anarchist ideas to people looking for an anti-capitalist alternative. As we do this we have to contend with the ideas being put forward by other groups. At the moment, Socialist Alternative remains the dominant grouping in our small pond.
And history matters.
Vietnam and Cuba matter for precisely the reason RSP said they matter in 2010. If you think Cuba is an inspiring example to follow, then what the hell is socialism? Socialist Alternative state their goal is “socialism from below”, yet they are making ready to accommodate apologists for dictatorship.
Any growth in far left politics has to be welcome news to an anti-capitalist. But the merger of SAlt and RSP poses a challenge for anarchists. When the pace of class struggle heightens in Australia, and more people look for an anti-capitalist alternative, we must make sure that authoritarian ideas are not the only ideas on offer.
This appears to have come to light after ASIO agents interviewed Rebecca Harrison. According to the article:
Harrison says ASIO asked her whether there was any support among Australian anarchists for violence as a means to achieve political goals. They were also ”very curious” about connections between Australian anarchists and similar groups overseas.
But the ASIO officers had one specific case they wanted to talk about. They asked Harrison what she knew about Felicity Ann Ryder, another Melbourne activist who had attracted brief media attention in early July. They showed Harrison a couple of news articles about Ryder and asked what she thought about her activities.
(My previous coverage of Felicity Ann Ryders alleged involvement in vandalism in Mexico can be found here.)
Further in The Age article:
Fairfax Media has confirmed that ASIO has pursued a wide-ranging investigation in relation to Ryder, including ASIO officers carrying out inquiries in her home town of Rutherglen. ASIO liaises with its Mexican counterpart, the Centre for Research and National Security (Centro de Investigacion y Seguridad Nacional) and the Australian security agency’s inquiries have focused on identifying friends and associates whom Ryder might contact.
Significantly, however, the ASIO officers were also keen to inquire broadly about the Melbourne anarchist scene, asking who the main leaders and identities were, and what they thought about violent protest. After asking whether there would be any ”solidarity events” organised in support of Ryder, the ASIO officers said they would be ”very interested” to learn who organised or attended any such gatherings.
Security sources have told Fairfax Media that international connections between anarchist extremists, facilitated by the internet, are ”a matter of legitimate concern” and that ”radicalisation” through contact with overseas extremists is ”something that has to be monitored”.
Update 14 November,
13:00 23:00: (Updated) statement from Rebecca:
I decided to meet up with ASIO because people from Quit Coal asked me to do so. They had reason to believe that ASIO was investigating Quit Coal and people thought that meeting with ASIO was worth the risk so that we could get confirmation of this that we could then take to the media.
Turned out, they weren’t at all interested in Quit Coal. I’d apparently been ‘identified as someone active in the anarchist movement.’ They asked me a heap of questions. I replied with a lot of ‘I don’t know’s. Should go without saying that they didn’t get any information from me that could be used against anyone.
Afterwards, some people thought it would be worth talking to a journo from Fairfax so that other people could know what was going on and we could bring some attention to the way that people in Melbourne are currently being targeted for surveillance for nothing more than holding lefty/revolutionary political views.
As you can see, though, this didn’t work out as I had hoped. As usual, the mainstream media is happy to present anarchists as scary terrorists and little else.
I sincerely apologise for any harm/erosion of trust that has been caused by my actions. I’m completely open to admitting that I’ve messed this up. And I really hope that Felicity’s campaign for justice is not negatively impacted by the scrutiny this article has resulted in. In the end, all I can really do is try to think more about the strategical lessons of this and how I can do better in the future.
I think some of the things we should take from this are:
1. The dangers that come with engaging with the state and the mainstream media.
2. We should be aware that in the next couple of years there may be increased attention on anarchists and other lefty dissidents from the state and its various instruments of control.
3. We shouldn’t respond to this by stopping the good work that we are doing. I’m proud to be an anarchist and to take part in anarchist organising. Part of the purpose of these approaches by ASIO is no doubt to scare people into silence. I think we should respond by being even more organised and even more vocal.
4. We should think about ways we can show solidarity to anarchists who are facing state repression. My experience with ASIO was what made me want to help organise this rally.
I think a good response to ASIO’s bullshit would be a have an amazing solidarity rally to show them that they cannot intimidate people into silence.
I’ve previously argued amongst Anarchist comrades that there is little evidence that ASIO is paying any attention to Australian anarchism.
But then there was this from ASIO’s 2011 Annual Report to Parliament:
Australia’s Security Environment
There has been a persistent but small sub-culture of racist and nationalist extremists in Australia, forming groups, fragmenting, re-forming and often fighting amongst themselves. Over the past year, such extremists have been active in protesting against various Muslim interests.
A recent development is the emergence of an ‘anti-fascist’ movement, led by self-styled anarchists, which aims to confront those it identifies as fascists, including some of the nationalist and racist extremist groups also of interest to ASIO. Where such confrontations have occurred, the ‘anti-fascists’ have outnumbered the nationalist and racist extremists and police intervention has been required.
Slackbastard has more on the 2011 annual report.
And earlier this year The Age also revealed that ASIO, AFP and private contractors had been maintaining tabs on various environmentalist groups.
So what can we make of all this?
Despite the reference to Anarchists in the 2011 annual report, the reported interview with Rebecca points to an intelligence agency that is beginning inquiries rather than continuing surviellance of our community.
Phoning up the organiser of a campus anarchist group and asking “who are your leaders?!” is hardly the behavior of an organisation that already has assets (moles) in a community.
ASIO is a secret organisation but it’s still possible to make a broad assessment of the possibility that we as individuals are under survielance.
We know a bit about the history of ASIO. We know that by the late ’90s they were strapped for cash and resources, and supposedly failing in the most basic responsibilities of a spy agency. In 1997 the Australian government was famously caught unawares by the Sandline affair. The idea that ASIO was conducting any widespread surviellance of domestic dissent at that time seems absurd.
We know that ASIO dramatically expanded after 2001, and now have somewhere around 1760 staff. But we also know where the official paranoia was focused, and (unfortunately) Australian anarchists have next to no links to the muslim community.
All in all, I stand by the argument I have made in the past. At present it is highly unlikely that we as individual anarchists are being actively spied on.
The risk of us being subject to entrapment is similarily low.
We can observe how ASIO targetted disaffected youth in the muslim community. Infilitrate, incite, entrap. If someone comes to your reading group asking if there are any bombings going down, and hey, they know someone who can sell you C4… well, I suggest you show them the door.
The information that a spy agency is likely to have on us is that we have put in the public domain. Think newspaper reports, internet postings, websites, etc. But even that would require staff attention to process into any meaningful form.
This might be changing, thanks in part to events in Mexico.
ASIO liaises with its Mexican counterpart, the Centre for Research and National Security (Centro de Investigacion y Seguridad Nacional)
It seems probable that today’s ASIO interest in Australian anarchists is due to a request from CISN.
But there is a longer term concern.
All bureacracy seeks to expand its turf, resources and staffing, lest it be squeezed out of existence. The War on Terror is officially being wound down, and an ASIO without the War on Terror will have to seek out new threats to justify it’s budget.
Either way, it’s important to keep the threat of surviellance in perspective. The relevation that we might be watched can prompt us to become overly security concious.
I like this piece of advice from Gene Sharpe’s From Dictatorship to Democracy:
secrecy is not only rooted in fear but contributes to fear, which dampens the spirit of resistance and reduces the number of people who can participate in a given action. It also can contribute to suspicions and accusations, often unjustified, within the movement, concerning who is an informer or agent for the opponents. Secrecy may also affect the ability of a movement to remain nonviolent.
In contrast, openness regarding intentions and plans will not only have the opposite effects, but will contribute to an image that the resistance movement is in fact extremely powerful.
Update: statement on events from “some comrades in Sydney”, An open letter to anarchists (and others) in Melbourne (and other places) who feel under attention from the state; or, “Please Don’t Talk To The Cops”.