Meeting in Sydney about the proposed anarchist federation. January 28, Black Rose Books.
Here’s the notes of what was talked about at the first Sydney meeting about the federation.
There were 19 people there, from Mutiny, Black Rose, Jura, Alarm Youth Anarchist Collective, Wollongong Autonomous Collective, and individuals from Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne & Brisbane.
As will be clear from the discussion, it wasn’t a decision-making space, just a chance to talk about some of the questions & ideas people have about the federation proposal. We hope that people will continue the conversation in the groups they work with.
– people from Newcastle have talked about it informally: think it’s an interesting idea, but haven’t had further discussion.
– Wollongong Autonomous Collective: haven’t met recently. One concern they have is that some people in the collective don’t identify specifically as anarchists.
– Jura: a few people from Jura were keen to come along & talk about what exactly an Anarchist Federation would mean. There used to be one & it kinda died off: it was just a couple of older people. It’s only worth revitalizing if it’s going to mean something, not just exist for the sake of it.
– Alarm: haven’t had a proper meeting for a little while. In informal discussion people are keen, except for one person who identifies more as a Marxist.
– Mutiny: are very enthusiastic, & wrote a response with a few suggestions to add to the proposal.
– It’s also about organsing our own plans for a convergence, not just a response to a big summit. There’s a bit of history of trying to do this with the World Social Forums: many anarchists became critical of these because of broad & reformist character. It’s good for us to try to organize on our own terms, not just respond.
– There are questions about how the convergence can be structured. What do people want to get out of this process?
– I think the basis of federation proposed is about shared politics, not anarchist identity. It’s also important to remember that the federation isn’t the movement.
– The ideas behind what we try to do aren’t as important as what we do. We should seek agreement on what we want to do not just on politics.
– I’m wondering about excluding certain groups: obviously groups like the National Anarchists, but also what about Marxist-Leninist groups, or groups with a lot of internal conflict that would bring that to the federation.
– There isn’t a mass movement of anarchists. There doesn’t seem to be much of a point in federating if we become a sect & just work among ourselves. Organising among anarchists is good but limited. In terms of more short term goals there are other groups we could & should work with, for example around issues of Indigenous health, anti-war. It’d be better for us to organize among progressives than among anarchists.
– A federation doesn’t have to be such an either/or situation: we don’t have to chose between that kind of everyday organizing & the federation. We want a federation so we can have communication amongst ourselves – that doesn’t take over other work.
– But that’s a limited goal.
– The question of identifying as anarchists is less important than our goals and processes, how we work. What we need more than anything is to support each other, to create a more tight-knit community to help when we’re in trouble, or just to get through the shit of everyday life.
– One of the points of contention that’s been raised on the blog is the question of collective or individual membership, & whether it would work practically to have individual members, or how isolated people would otherwise participate. Another is whether there’s a point for different strands of anarchism to come together.
We are small, & the numbers are stagnating. In my time there hasn’t been a federation. It’s important so that if when do work with reformist groups we can have more perspective when we go into those spaces – so we can feel we’re connected to a larger revolutionary movement & other groups. It’s not about closing up, becoming a sect: it gives us a when we do work with other groups. It’s also important that it doesn’t take up all the time of collectives.
– I’m concerned about how much of the organising for the federation would go on on the internet.
– One of the debates on the blog was about people from regional areas. It was suggested that individuals could join with an associate membership. Perhaps people from various regional areas could have a meeting together before the convergence.
– I like the idea of individuals and groups both being members. People way there are problems but don’t say what they are.
– Part of the proposal is a quarterly / half yearly get-together. This will involve travel issues for whoever, but it’s important to have face-to-face meetings. Travel would be less of an issue if these were delegate meetings.
– This raises something else from the proposal: the idea of dues. If we’re going to have a publication & if we’re hoping to subsidise travel to delegate meetings we need money. One way of doing this would be for groups/individuals to pay monthly dues. This would also be a way of committing to the federation.
– We should go on without working things out perfectly. An anarchist federation will exclude hierarchical left groups. It will be good if we can meet & respond to contemporary issues & talk about what anarchism is & how we organize.
– I can do some research on free sms services as another way of communicating for people who have phones but aren’t on the internet.
– If the federation happens we could send info through the post.
– We could also work out a system of city delegates who could contact each other & then contact other groups in their city, a kind of phone tree. [there was a diagrammatic representation of this produced]
– So is membership going to be a fee?
– That’s to be decided. We thought there should be some due so we’d have money for a publication etc, but any specifics need to be worked out at the convergence. Another idea was that, rather than paying regular monthly due, regional meetings could commit to putting on one big fundraiser a year.
– I’m working with direct action groups that may not call themselves specifically anarchist at the moment – how would they incorporate into something like this? Does anyone have any ideas?
– If it’s going to have a spokescouncil structure, groups could fit in, whther they were an affinity group or an anarchist group.
– The question of whether it’s even called an ‘anarchist’ federation is still open. Direct action groups could benefit from broader organization in the case of state crack-down. In a different way, I’d like to have more contact with the Syndicalist groups: it’s hard to organize as an individual in my workplace, I’d like those kind of contacts in the federation.
– Before APEC, there were lots of anarchists in town but there wasn’t any time for communication.
– Black Rose hasn’t really talked formally about this – but there are infoshops in a bunch of places, and if nothing else comes from the federation convergence, still that link up would be good.
– The question of having the federation formally aligned with The Other Campaign in Mexico. It’s mostly a gesture of solidarity & means that you agree with the politics of the campaign, & could maybe involve actions here.
– Everyone here’s from the Eastern seaboard. NZ is closer than WA. It isn’t being called the Australian Anarchist Federation. Have other people talked about other regions, other groups.
– I’ve talked a bit to the Black Dove collective from Perth.
– Would be good to involve people from NZ if we could, South Pacific if it’s possible.
– There’s been some talk of the Asian Anarchist Network, the wanted people from each country to be delegates.
– What do we want to talk about at Easter?
– It would be good to start with the question of what success would mean, for the convergence & for the federation.
– When anyone’s starting off on a big question, you just start with a basic structure & work things out from there – play it by ear. It’s more important that we define positively who we include instead of talking about who we exclude. If people are bastards we’ll sort it out then.
– from the questions about what success means, build foundation: without this, the purpose can be lost.
– Success of the convergence isn’t necessarily that we form a federation. I think the most important thing is that we get together and talk about politics here & now, not Russia in the 1920s or whatever. It would also be good for different groups to learn about each other. Maybe after that we do go our separate ways but keep in touch better, or maybe enough people have enough common politics to form a federation.
[tea & smoke break]
Talking about the convergence
– Perhaps start with reports from different collectives, a kind of spokescouncil structure.
– This structure will have to be open enough for individuals to participate too.
– It probably won’t work to go for 100% consensus: there’ll be lots of different people & not everyone will end up wanting to be a part of it. The issue of how we make decisions is a big question.
– Do we have to quantify it? Can we not just go by informal consensus? Thought he question of how this translates practically is a bit of a headache.
– For the FLARE pre-APEC convergence some people brought out other ways to organize & make decisions. But people weren’t prepapred for it & it was a bit clumsy.
– It’s important that if we are running in certain ways (for example, some modified spokescouncil with room for individuals) that we put out information early enough so that people are prepared for it. 4 days is a long time – 3 days is probabalt the extent to which people can deal with this kind of meeting. If it’s 3 days, then every moment has to be about leading to the federation, so there’ll be no room for people to put on a workshop about anything you want. But there should be some space in the program for people who want to talk about issues within the federation. For example, women might want to meet & talk about what the federation would do for anarcha-feminist politics. Or there could be a meet-up about syndicalist politics (some of the old-school syndicalists won’t want to go at all) – but people there could prepare something & why & how the federation could support workplace organizing.
– I’m not outright against formalising decision-making. We should make sure it’s talked about earlier, before convergence.
– One thing we’ve talked about is preparing a hard-copy reader a couple of weeks before the convergence, which would include any responses from collectives & stuff about the structure of the convergence & decision making & safer spaces ideas.
– It’s good for collectives to have ideas before hand. Consensus & informal decision making only tend to work in groups that already have levels of trust & history. It would be better to have consensus with a fall back to a percentage majority. Consensus is just a tactic. But it would be good to aim for it, because this would encourage dialogue, so we’d discuss conflicts & not just vote them out.
– The question of how we incorporate discussion around safer spaces – it should be early in the convergence. We should talk about reasons why people think it’s important to seek safer spaces & the issues involved & why it’s important that the federation seeks solidarity & we seek to look out for each other, & why some behaviour isn’t acceptable.
– It would be good for other anarchist collectives to put forward responses & their thoughts.
– It’s a really really big discussion: how do we define our common politics?
– As everyone involved or a separate group start to formulate ideas around safer spaces it’s good to think of ways to be approachable so that if there’s an issue people aren’t afraid to bring them up, & that it can lead to discussions not recriminations.
– Ideas about safer spaces for the days of the convergence have to be talked about before hand. Then there’s the more ongoing question of how the federation can put these ideas into practice, which has to be talked about at the federation. Common politics is going to be the biggest discussion – if we have some kind of spokes/delegate system we can assume each collective has some similar idea of their politics.
– Common politics discussion shouldn’t be one whole thing – do it point by point – eg a discussion on class, a discussion on non-violence/violence. We can work out our common politics or if even if we disagree we can still work together.
– I’m imagining a back-and-forward process – that we go through things point by point, then people go away to write up what was decided, then bring it back to the whole group for approval. And it’s good to have discussion & try to reach consensus, but to also remember that it’s ok if some groups don’t end up wanting to federate.
– [What I wrote here is fairly illegible. I think someone said something about the fact that it’s difficult to have a useful & meaningful common politics without excluding people, but that he didn’t see the common politics as lines in the sand.]
– It’s ok to say that not everyone will agree with whatever common poltics is expressed & not everyone will want to federate, even people who call themselves anarchists. Unity of common politics is important. It’s not about drawing lines about who we work with. For example, there probably isn’t any Indigenous organisation who would want to come to the convergence – but of course we’ll continue to work with such groups. As well as the politics, we also have to talk about the practical – how will the federation work.
– How much emphasis will be placed on text & writing things & on forming some charter. To focus too much on this to the exclusion of meeting & sharing and so on could be a problem.
– It could be better to talk about the function of the federation before it’s common politics. To talk about politics first could just open up a shit fight, whereas talking about what we’d do would help us know how everyone can work together & how they can’t.
– It could be a good idea to have grounded functionality & the question of what success would mean at the start, to avoid getting lost in too much theory. It will be important to have a conflict resolution /grievance crew, and to have the discussion about safer spaces right at the start – if we don’t make sure that everyone can participate then, then some people won’t participate.
– So far the convergence is being organised in a fairly ad hoc manner – meetings like this, travelling back & forth, setting up an email list.
– A phone link up could be good as well.
– Anarchist gatherings can end up really alienating & subcultural. Doing things together can be really helpful to break this down – but in the short time of the convergence I don’t know what we could do.
– There aren’t that many of us, so there’s not a lot that we can do as anarchists.
– [ various interjections of ‘speak for yourself mate’]
– [Then there was a little more discussion about practical organizing for the convergence, then some people went home & some people went to the pub.]