Evaluating Sedition: the sorry state of Anarchist theoretical development in Australia

Originally posted at Anarchist Perspective.

In issue 64 of Mutiny, pseudonymous reviewer ‘Princess Mob’ offered extensive criticism of the new joint publication of Australian anarchist groups, Sedition.

I have already responded to one piece in the new publication here, but I feel that in light of Princess Mob’s review, it is worth responding to Sedition issue 1 is a whole.

The Need for “Sedition”

Sedition is billed as “A Journal of Australian Anarchist Thought”.

In order to develop an Anarchist movement in Australia, Anarchism requires two types of publication for two very different tasks. The first of these tasks is the development of Anarchist theory in the Australian context. A movement requires a theoretical base that understands and offers insights about the situation in which it seeks to operate.

In observing the publications of Anarchist groups in Australia, I argue there are broadly three different approaches to undertaking this task; their merit varies greatly and all are deficient.

The first involves a study of the anarchist tradition of Europe in the 19th century. A worthwhile approach, but only a beginning. At present, our publications show little evidence that anarchists in Australia are taking the ideas of this anarchist tradition and testing them in the Australian context.

The second approach seems to involve observing living Anarchist traditions in other parts of the globe, and trying to import them to Australia. This is a flawed approach, there are no short cuts to undertaking the work of developing Anarchism in the Australian context. A wholly imported tradition, developed in a different context, will not offer meaningful explanation or insight into the Australian situation. This is not to say that an Australian anarchist tradition cannot learn from studying other contexts, but the hard work of testing and developing ideas against the situation in Australia still has to be undertaken.

The third approach is disastrously common. The third approach is to deny there is any need to develop anarchist theory in the Australian context at all. In fact, many deny the need for Anarchist theoretical work full stop. People advancing this approach might argue that Anarchism can mean whatever the beholder wants it to mean, that there is no “right” anarchist approach, and therefore there is no point in seeking to develop it.

This approach is a block to developing any anarchist movement at all. Anarchism in Australia will only be advanced if it is able to offer would be anarchists a set of understandings and insights that ring true, that explain what is happening in the Australian situation, and that offer a way forward in the struggle against capitalism, privilege and domination in all their forms.

I would argue that at present there is no where near enough progress on the development of Anarchism in the Australian context.

A common project to understand anarchism more broadly, to test Anarchist understandings in the Australian context, and to further develop Anarchist ideas in our situation is essential. This common project cannot be confined to one city, or one small group. To bear the greatest fruit this project of understanding, relating and developing theoretical understanding must draw in Anarchists from across Australia geographically and socially.

Anarchism in Australia needs a journal. Initially the audience would be anarchists in Australia. As the level of anarchist thought develops, the scope of the publication can expand, to sharing that body of thought with would be anarchists.

The second task is qualitatively different, and it requires an entirely different type of publication.

Once we begin developing a coherent Anarchist understanding within the Australian situation, the task becomes relating this understanding to concrete events in Australian society.

This second type of publication is aimed at non-anarchists, it’s purpose is to convince non-anarchists of the merits of an anarchist understanding, by showing them that understanding in practice.

This calls for a magazine or newspaper.

At present, no publication by Australian anarchists fulfils either role. Without a developed set of understandings about the Australian situation, Australian anarchist publications have been unable to offer concrete understandings of current events.

The author ‘Princess Mob’ states it is “hard to work out who the intended audience” of Sedition 1 is. This is because the journal contains a mix of articles that “vary from the unfunny in-joke” to “a very introductory article on the Zapatistas”, and that all of these articles are brief, lack depth, and do not engage in sufficient critique.

In that sense, ‘Princess Mob’ and Sedition issue 1 have summed up the malady that is the level of anarchist theoretical understanding and development in Australia.

“A Journal of Australian Anarchist Thought” is desperately needed, as part of a project by Anarchists in Australia to expand their level of theoretical education, and begin the tasks of relating and developing Anarchist understandings in the Australian context.

More Specific Responses

‘Princess Mob’ make a few remarks about the writing style on display in Sedition. It “lacks spark and passion”, it’s “oddly formal, big word, jargon heavy writing” and it lacks precision.

Sedition’s Editorial Collective could take a more involved role, encouraging authors to better develop and express their thoughts, rather than simply compile what has been submitted. An anarchist theoretical journal cannot simply be a grab bag, compiling whatever dross individuals deigned to submit.

‘Princess Mob’ states that “An editorial collective with a defined political commonality could explore political ideas in more depth”. If Sedition is intended as a journal for developing Anarchism in the Australian context, then this doesn’t have to be the case. A journal of anarchist thought should be a forum for disagreement about ideas, but the editorial collective do need to have a vision to make it such.

‘Princess Mob states that:

Brendan Libertad’s article on the philosophical origins of anarchism is a partisan argument disguised as neutral history.

Anarchists, of all people, understand that history is not neutral!

Anarchists in Australia need to have an argument about Anarchism’s philosophical origins. It affects our practice if we believe that anarchism is something innate in all people through out time, rather than a relatively modern response born of the industrial era.

A realistic assessment of what anarchism is and where it comes from, is a necessary basis for embarking on the further work of developing that theory in the Australian context.

In that respect, Brendan’s article was probably the most substantive in issue one of Sedition.

I have already responded to Jeremy’s article, ‘Organising in Australia’, at some length.

Gab’s ‘Casualisation & Flexible Work: How far can the Bosses Push Before We Snap’ offers a brief description of an issue that Anarchists should engage with, but doesn’t undertake the task of looking at it in terms of Anarchist theory.

The arguments about media engagement that Nick A summarises would, one hopes, be non-issues if Anarchists in Australia had a better understanding of who they were and what they’re on about. Anarchist practice must flow from a solid anarchist understanding of the situation we are operating in, and debates about “complicity, traitors and compromise” show that this understanding is presently lacking.

‘Princess Mob’ describes Ash’s piece on Occupy Sydney as “politically confused”, an understatement.

Ash writes:

And what are we asking for? Just that the authorities tolerate a hundred or so citizens occupying a few dozen square metres of their own city.

The tactical purpose of an occupation is, if anything, to create a situation that cannot be ignored, that has to be responded to.

Ash writes as if surprised by the hostility of city authorities and the brutality of the Police!

The piece on animal liberation again highlights the confused ideas that exist about the nature of anarchism, fortunately someone (one of the editors I presume) has taken the time to rebut this nonsense.

‘Princess Mob’ describes the article on Zapatismo as “introductory” and the piece on Intersectionality as “far to brief” . In a sense that could describe Sedition issue 1 as a whole.

Sedition issue 1 provides an interesting baseline. It’s content may indicate the shallow depth of current anarchist theory in Australia, but it’s existence shows that at least some Australian anarchists are beginning the work of developing Anarchism in the Australian context.

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