Towards a federation? Proposed Anarchist Federation in Australia

Melbourne Anarchist Club, 62 St Georges Road, Northcote.

MAC – have called for federation.

Towards Federation conference!

The Melbourne Anarchist Club is calling on anarchist groups down under to Federate. The proposed federation comes complete with constitution. It follows on from a 2009 conference with the same aim:

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.

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Whether now is the time for a federation or not, it is always time to get together and discuss how to take anarchism in Australia forward. I can’t really comment about Sydney or Brisbane, but I have a few ideas for Anarchist groups in Melbourne that I would like to have taken to Towards Federation.

  • 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.

4 Comments

  1. Your argument that a set of conditions must be met before an anarchist federation can be possible is old and tired and IMHO acts as an excuse to continue the status quo; “small collection of unconnected grouplets with a theoretical understanding that is often as shallow as it is varied”. You don’t say how will this change in the absence of an anarchist federation in Australia.

    You make an argument that “Long before a federation, what anarchists in Australia (need) first is a serious publication”. This implies that serious publication is a prerequisite to federation but you don’t explain why. It also implies that a serious publication and federation are mutually exclusive.

    I think you’re argument against anarchist federation boils down to the notion that only theory begets praxis. I contend theory informs praxis and praxis informs theory.

    Indeed, you ignore entirely the question of anarchist organisation that even an anarchist reading group would require, that would distinguish it from a university tutorial on the same topic. It is one thing to claim to be an anarchist group but another to connect with other anarchist groups in a way that would make their practice of anarchism discernible. I’d be interested to know of any other method other than federation that “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”

    You make three suggestions for those in Melbourne which I shall endeavour to put at the open forum at the Towards Federation Anarchist Conference.

    I’d like to comment on your suggestion that “(we) need to bring some anarchism to the anarchist book fair”. This implies that the ‘anarchist’ bookfair is not anarchist (otherwise we wouldn’t need to bring anarchism to it). Then you claim “(the) bookfair is the only event on the Melbourne anarchist calendar with significant reach outside anarchist circles”. This completely ignores the Melbourne Anarchist Club with operates an infoshop with the largest anarchist library in Melbourne and makes available a wide variety of anarchist texts, regularly holds public events on a variety of topics and facillitates a number of different learning activities from database creation to wing chun kung fu. The infoshop is open one day a week 50 weeks of the (calender) year. What about that for significant outreach?

    Things like the MABF and CA will always be popular because absolutely nothing is required of you other than to roll up and consume whatever is on offer, then it is off home not to be seen or heard of until next year. To agree that the bookfair that features the participation of of Marxist-Leninist groups and commercial ventures is anarchist is to completely strip anarchism of any meaning that makes sense and only serves to validate such notions as Anarcho-Capitalism and National Anarchists.

    And yet you advocate “devolop(ing) a theoretical understanding” of anarchism. Taken together is this not a contradiction?

    The collective that organises the bookfair is closed and self-appointed and not a result of the organic process you advocate above. It was not even as result of co-operation between anarchist groups in Melbourne. (The MAC was not even invited to the first one)

    The model of federative organisation being proposed at Towards Federation Anarchist Conference is done so on the basis that it will be provisional. A decision to establish the federation as an on-going concern will be taken subsequently taking into account actual experience. If this is a problem for anarchists, I suggest that the first step to solving the problem would be an accurate description of it.

    The open forum on Saturday 8th June will examine all ideas about anarchist federation both pro and con. I’ve yet to hear a substantive evidence-based argument against the idea of anarchists organising in a way that resembles anarchism as anarchists would practice it but I’ve heard plenty of excuses. Nevertheless, I remain all ears.

    Reply
  2. (Note: I wrote this before I read Lugius’ comment. Unsurprisingly, I cover some of the same ground.)

    A point of agreement (not unique to Kieran or myself) is on the desire for clarity around anarchism, its history and the contemporary purpose. It is good to hear that others are also dissatisfied with the picture of anarchism presented at the Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair. This is the apparent consensus of those in the organised anarchist milieu.

    How necessary it is to intervene in the Melbourne Anarchist Book Fair is debatable. I would not discount that the success stems from an easy-going approach. However, I suspect if it was called The Freaky Books and Weirdo Politics Fair, it would attract similar numbers without affecting the content, and that is my concern as an anarchist (who is also interested in books!).

    Fantin Reading Group is restarting again soon.

    I agree that Sedition, as a publication, was unsuccessful. It did not provide the reader with any clarity on the topic of anarchism in Australia. What was great about it was the connections between groups. The quoted paragraph was meant to convey that there were enough anarchist groups in existence that could act together, and that bode well.

    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.

    This is precisely what is being put, hence TOWARD Federation. MAC has moved a motion to federate in order to prompt the required discussion on the necessary conditions and has been very upfront about this. The bold hope is that we might propose a first congress in around 12-24 months (see http://libcom.org/forums/oceania/final-programme-towards-federation-anarchist-conference-june-2013-13052013) to put the question of a permanent federation.

    By giving groups the opportunity to argue all sides and conditions around a concrete proposal, we can illuminate our position and the task at hand. I therefore put it to you that your post (and position) is based on a number of errors, primarily that MAC and others are pinning hopes on a paper tiger.

    The purpose of the Toward Federation conference is to establish what capacity (if any) there is for cooperation amongst extant groups. If there is enough commonality, it is argued, it makes sense to work with each other to achieve those goals. A federative structure would be essential. This raises question of how we might go about establishing common goals and working toward them. This will not be answered through furrowed brows and stroking our socialist beards, but through practice and activity.

    MAC has argued that if “vibrant anarchist groups” with “common political understanding” is seen as desirable then, far from being “willed out of thin air”, it will be achieved through conscious action.

    If it is argued that, counterposed to this, a publication is needed, then some evidence needs to be introduced. In other words, says who? Personally speaking, I don’t think those with a capacity and desire to write lack for platforms, but they do lack the credibility that support from a larger organisation would provide. In any case, I’m confident that a motivated group could exercise better editorial restraint than we managed in Sedition, and they do not require a federation to pursue this. I see no strong case that they are inevitably counterposed.

    It seems more urgent, in the immediate term, to establish conditions for meeting in a free and unfettered exchange of ideas. The precondition is some basic agreement on definitions (such as ‘anarchism’), purpose and conduct. This is one of the aims of the conference.

    What I find perplexing about those arguing it is “too soon” is this assessment is devoid of practical content, and concerns groups having the gall to cooperate with each other (I’m thinking of discussion on the unfortunately-binned thread on this topic on Libcom).

    For example, MAC has been in correspondence with a small, newly-established anarchist group in Brisbane (BAG). Consistent with anarchist practice, MAC and BAG have agreed to work together for mutual and material support. Previous to this, MAC had a similar relationship with Organise! in Adelaide. On occasion, MAC has worked cooperatively with Jura in Sydney, and so on. In keeping with this, MAC would like to expand these relations with other autonomous anarchist groups, to do this on a permanent basis and share our resources and energy where practicable. I look to examples like the IAF/IFA.

    When, exactly, is it too soon or too late to do this? No new theory is necessary for anarchist groups to meet. No permission is required to call this a free federation of anarchist groups. We do not need to wait for anyone to catch up if they are unsure if the timing is right.

    The proposed activities of such a federation groups may not be spectacular – we’re talking about some nice stickers, joint campaigns/online presence and, in my fantasies, an annual congress of anarchist groups and biannual meetings of groups in each capital.

    It seems more likely that a coherent analysis and vision will occur from this type of organisation rather than preceding it.

    Reply
  3. The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group is following a different strategy from the one Kieran sets out. Our politics are very similar to those of Anarchist Affinity – we were shown a draft Statement of Shared Positions and there was little in there with from we would dissent. Our approach to the Federation, however, has been to “suck it and see”.

    When we began the process, we were pretty convinced that nothing constructive would come out of it, but we were determined not let it fail through non-participation. Instead, we decided to enter the federation process and argue for our position.

    What we have found is that there is quite a fair amount of common ground between MAC & MACG. In particular, they seem to agree with the necessity for Theoretical Unity at the level of the Federation and Tactical Unity at the level of the affiliate groups (although they don’t use those terms). I now think that a Federation in which the MACG participates is quite possible, but I still think it less likely than not. We will continue the discussion, with the aim of winning other Anarchist groups in Australia to the Anarchist Communist position and to our particular interpretation of it. Given what has happened so far, I definitely think that the Anarchist Federation Australia will be formed. I can now see three possibilities:

    1. There will be a federation organised along Anarchist Communist lines, containing MAC, MACG & possibly others.

    2. There will be a federation organised along lines compatible with Anarchist Communism, containing MAC, BAG and possibly some others, but not the MACG.

    3. There will be a loose, synthesist federation, containing MAC, BAG, the Lib Workers and probably others. MACG would not join.

    The difference between 1 & 2 is that, while it is one thing to agree on the necessity of Theoretical Unity, it is another thing altogether to achieve enough of it to enable the organisation to engage in ongoing practical activity. The MACG is currently discussing what would be the minimum amount of Theoretical Unity which is compatible with a useful federation.

    The MAC is at the centre of the Towards Federation process and, given its current orientation, I can see no federation happening without them. It therefore depends entirely on which way they decide to jump. The next step would be discussing a Statement of Shared Positions and seeing how much agreement there can be amongst which groups. Arguably, a vital element in the process will be Sydney. It is as yet uncertain whether Jura will pursue the Towards Federation process further (they had an observer at the Conference), but it is also possible that a new group will form to join the process if Jura declines to.

    As I said, I think it’s less than even money that the process will lead to an AFA that the MACG will be able to join, but that’s a good deal better than it appeared before the Towards Federation Anarchist Conference last week.

    Reply
    • Brendan Libertad aka MC Bren aka skanarchist aka Fuck TrotsJune 30, 2013 at 3:41 am

      A few points to add to the discussion. The MAC has pointed out it takes issue with the label of “anarchist-communist” as an adjective to define both groups and activities. It gives credence to the notion that anarchism isn’t inherently communistic, and this, in turn, suggests that neo-neo-liberal ideas such as anarcho-capitalist are somehow valid. Indeed, anyone who has studied anarchist ideas in any detail would take serious issue with that notion. How, exactly, the state could be removed from capitalism and the small propertarian sect that continues to propagate such rubbish be allowed to exploit with complete freedom is a question for another day. Obviously, the MAC is well aware of the historic disputes relating to collectivist or communist methods of economic organisation, though our argument is that those questions aren’t immediately pressing or require definitive conclusions today – nor should they prevent any relationships between anarchist groups in Australia at the moment.
      However, I think this goes to the heart of the questions we seek to answer. If you understand anarchism to be necessarily federative in nature – that free agreement between groups requires that they facilitate ongoing relationships, and that any future economic organisation would be founded on a social and political infrastructure involving workers councils and trade unions to coordinate production, and municipal communes federated on local, regional, national, and international lines to organise distribution and beyond, then anarchism – without adjectives – is sufficient to describe our ideology and inherent opposition to state, capital, gender, etc., forms of coercion and oppression.

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