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Social centres and 'civil' anarchists

milldread | 28.07.2014 19:10 | Analysis | Free Spaces | Social Struggles | Birmingham | World

A response to an excellent collection of texts called 'Anarchy Civil or Subversive?' available as a zine via

Avoid the redundant corpses of the old anarchist organisations, activist groups and social centres. It is a trap to ensnare and profile the unwary and well-meaning. In the UK you will find few revolutionaries there. Develop your own revolutionary friendships, educate yourselves, train, strive for health, arm yourselves, research your targets and strike. Don’t waste your time with the lies of the amateur-professionals of the anti-establishment. Believe in yourselves, burn your past and live.
[Anarchist-nihilists against the activist establishment in Anarchy Civil or Subversive]

I enjoyed reading Anarchy – Civil or subversive? – it’s a collection of texts critiquing something that needs to be critiqued for sure (download it here). What the fuck is up with the UK anarchist movement? Where are social centres going nowadays? The one I’m involved with is full of fucking liberals. And even worse, manarchists somehow co-existing in an uneasy coalition with alleged feminists who like to denounce people for not using the right words but seem blind to the macho wankers sitting next to them. It’s very odd. I get the feeling that most people involved with this anarchist social centre aren’t actually that anarchist at all.

Young middle class students may well read queer theory for the first time and think they know everything about oppression, just like people fresh to veganism are irritatingly vocal about their new diet. Fanatics are always boring. But then this isn’t to say that queer theory is worthless or veganism is stupid. Far from it.

Anarchism is about mutual aid, solidarity and self-organisation. To use a terrible simile, it is a broad church. Now I may not have very much time for the pacifist crew giving each other massages and wondering why more people don’t read Peace News, but diversity of tactics goes both ways. If they tolerate me, I’ll tolerate them (as long as their head in the clouds hippy mentality doesn’t stop them adhering to crucial things like doing what they said they were going to do – when that happens, I’ll happily throw ‘em to the wolves).

I guess one inevitable problem is that the power vacuum created in any anarchist collective because we all allegedly want no power for no-one means that some pillock who actually wants to be a manager will step into the gap and start bossing people around. Guarding against that is one of the missions for “the social centre movement” today whatever the fuck that phrase means. I mean there are a few social centres of various stripes still open and even some in the pipeline like Manchester and Brum (maybe Sheffield but I think their commitment to doing a rented project without selling alcohol has finally run out, for obvious reasons). There are two email lists for the social centre network (one self-organised, one imposed by those uber-managerial types at Radical Routes), but both are dead…

And what of the anarchist movement more generally? This seems like a useless question, both because there isn’t a movement to speak of and because how could it be anything but shit even if it did exist? Camatte told us ages ago all groups are rackets. But still, there’s good people doing cool shit all over the place. We as anarchists could be helping them, rather than hanging out in subcultural ghettoes, both literal and metaphorical. Social centres could be embedded in these many struggles rather than lapsing into oblivion.

Things are definitely going wrong. “The movement” does seem to be retreating into irrelevance. There aren’t many of us. So it’s good to read anything that criticises the scene effectively. In contrast, I recently read John Molyneux’s Anarchism: A Marxist Criticism and it was utter wank, a tired, pathetic effort to persuade the unaffiliated into joining the Socialist Worker Party despite a good few decades’ worth of evidence stacked up to show how ineffective (and hierarchical) they are.

However, this is not to say I agree with the various texts in Anarchy – Civil or subversive 100%. Far from it (and where would be the fun if I did). There’s a terrible lack of humour about the ‘Fighters, do not despair or hesitate’ text which is quite reminiscent of the Green Apocalypse debacle. The repeated sideswipes at academics is understandable in the specific case of scumbag little Jonnie Drury (nope, lecturing cops on crowd control is never ok, if his ultraleft position can justify that then so much the worse for him) but in general, well radical academics win for me above posers in the scene, lairy dickheads talking revolution.

I’m an academic and I don’t see much better options available, despite getting worked into the ground at least I have time to write still. I do hate my university though! But the distinction between activist and academic gets blurrier the more you zoom in. I just read a great article (download it from my blog) in some obscure criminology journal which made the point that the police must have known that all the spies who have recently been revealed would at a certain stage be unmasked and thus it was totally part of their strategy all along to create the discord and turbulence which would inevitably follow exposure. I hadn’t thought of that before. We need academics connected to the movement providing longer term perspectives for development. Since we all agree the movement is in desperate need of direction. But yeah, fuck the cop collaborators.

On that note:

Some could more openly become the conformist liberals, academics, cooks, paramedics and drunks that was at the secret heart of the ‘movement’ all along
[Anarchist-nihilists in Anarchy Civil or Subversive]

This seems like a fairly obvious attack on people like Anarchist Teapot and Veggies. And indeed more generally people who are shock horror growing up and getting jobs. Yeah i agree that soup kitchens aren’t the answer, but they are a start. Earth First has indeed disappeared up its own arse, just like Climate Camp, but slower, but surely the interesting thing to do here is to interrogate WHY things go liberal, not write them off and sneer from the sidelines. I’m all for making alliances tactically, otherwise we’re stuck on an island. Is institutionalisation inevitably terminal? The state always learns from its mistakes, with more introspection and honesty about our failings, could we too?

Talking of islands, Abalahli baseMondjolo (AbM) are a movement of shack dwellers based in South Africa. They resist evictions and are organised horizontally. They never go out promoting themselves people come to them, because they can see the power they have through communal resistance. And yet they also have a religious element to them. Can I live with that? Course I fucken can. AbM have people getting shot on demos. I don’t care if some of them believe in Jesus. As long as they don’t make a problem out of me believing in nothing,then I’m happy to support them, their work puts our scene to shame.

And the point is that I saw a representative of AbM talk on his tour of UK social centres. Black Panthers talk at social centres. I’ve seen loads of interesting stuff in social centres (as well as the crap). They are nodes for information transfer. Social centres need to be critiqued and to be supported. Let’s not abandon them to liberals as they grow older. At least they exist.

Further, running through the whole zine was a strand I found quite uncomfortable was the individualist, fuckoff everyone else argument. That’s weird for me, because my anarchist beliefs revolve around autonomy but to the extent that I can do what i want as long as it allows other people to do what they want. That’s living with other people. The negotiation of how to do that is hard, but this extreme (nonradical) expression of doing exactly what you please and fuck everyone else, well that’s Sade for me. It’s egotistical and selfish. I don’t aspire to those qualities. It may claim to be radical but it’s not.

Also for me there’s a very real question here about infrastructure. It’s all very good doing actions, but people need a place to meet, socialise and form links. My local social cente, for all its faults, provides that function in some ways at least. A squat would be better but unfortunately the squat scene generally is dying. And anyway it’s full of pretentious arseholes who are just passing through and won’t be around in a year. Plus it’s hard to hold down a squatted social centre for more than a few months.

Yes yes bright flames burnt out fast and all that jazz, but I want infrastructure.

And these places need to be accessible – by which I don’t mean ramps for wheelchairs, essential though they are; I mean accessibility in terms of relevance for different social groups – migrants, working class drinkers, single mums, truant kids, professors, graphic designers (?), grannies, anyone who believes violence against property isn’t violence and who wants to create a fairer world for all.Open to anyone who sees the bullshit behind the triumphalism of the World Cup or the WW1 memorials.

I want a broad movement for freedom and against apathy, not some uber radical clique sniping out from their compound, whether that’s anarcho-nihilists or social centre managers. Or Marxists.

milldread riseup net

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