Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Anarchist Fed.: Under the Pavement Politics

 by Chris Draper.

 LENIN urged the Communist Party to support the Labour Party 'like a rope supports a hanged man'; the 'Anarchist Federation' (AF) provides a similar facility for the British anarchist movement. AF’s conspiratorial politics are a destructive threat and an ethical affront to all fair-minded anarchists.

AF employs bans, censorship and violence to silence its critics as it pursues a 'semi-secretive' party-building strategy aimed at unifying and dominating the British anarchist movement. Fortunately AF has had limited success and its claimed membership only equals the number of libertarians that in 2013 signed a letter deploring AF violence.

The organisation’s title is the original deceit. Until 2001 AF was more accurately labelled ACF, the 'Anarchist Communist Federation', an organisation whose declared, 'emphasis was on building a Platformist style organisation in Britain'. The name change might have signalled a move towards undiluted anarchism but it didn’t, it was a cynical marketing ploy to ditch a tainted brand. 'It should be noted that the decision was not unanimous and some ACF members argued against the name change because of fears of dilution of our politics' but were reassured, 'this does not reflect a change in political direction'. 'We didn’t change our Aims and Principles!' (nb. text within quotes is taken directly from AF documents, unless otherwise indicated). 'With the name change we hope to create dialogue with those new to revolutionary ideas.'

AF hoped to conceal its continuing Platformist policies in order to attract, 'those new to revolutionary ideas' because, as members of the Direct Action Movement (DAM) observed at the time; 'The Platform was rejected by most of the anarchist movement and denounced as an attempt to Bolshevise anarchism'.   AF appeared to concur as they adjusted and extended their marketing, 'to attract those disillusioned by Leninism'.  The AF’s 'Platform' incorporates the 'Manifesto' of French Libertarian Communist George Fontenis, a proponent of the 'vanguard party' as well as the Council Communist politics of Anton Pannekoek despite admitting, 'the ideas of Anton Pannekoek are situated clearly within the Marxist tradition.  True Pannekoek was never an anarchist but the ideas he espoused hold much in common with and have greatly influenced the ideas of the Anarchist Federation of today.' 

ACF’s second, undeclared, aim in modifying its name was to establish market dominance. Neophytes would assume that this new “Anarchist Federation” embraced the whole spectrum of British anarchism, so why look elsewhere? In 2005 Dave (McLibel) Morris identified AF’s habit of airbrushing from history the work, and indeed the very existence, of anarchist activists outside AF. Responding to a typically jaundiced account published in AF’s journal, “Organise”, Morris wrote to AF to insist, 'there’s a very wide range of anarchist and anarchist-influenced activities which could and should also be acknowledged.'

The third aim in dropping the “C” was to give overseas anarchists the impression that ACF is an inclusive federation representative of the 2,000-3,000 or so anarchists in Britain (Morris’s estimate). This facilitated the organisation’s affiliation to the “International Anarchist Federation” (IAF) enabling the clique running AF to attend IAF meetings and misrepresent the views of the rest of us.

AF might have had legitimate claim to the label if those pushing the name change originated from the Anarchist rather than the Communist wing of the ACF but the founding members of the ACF in 1985 came from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Libertarian Communist Group respectively. The AF planned to establish a single, “specific, unified libertarian communist organisation…with a unified strategy and practice”. Anyone unsure whether this is Anarchy in Action or vanguardist party-building might refer to the organisations “Manifesto and Programme” (I kid you not). Inside AF’s party manifesto we learn their plan is to establish, 'semi-secretive…groups of dedicated revolutionaries'.

These self styled 'semi-secretive revolutionaries' hide their real names and operate either anonymously or behind aliases. Only the names of non-members appear in AF publications, otherwise all articles are unsigned. Their claimed logic is the threat they pose to the system would otherwise make them prime targets for the security services but if they really believe this confounds the State they are even more deluded than I think. Without names there is an obvious distancing from readers and others who come across the organisation. Hierarchies are hidden and accountability absent. The truth is that behind the scenes Nick Heath writes most the stuff and pulls most of the strings.

Ruth Kinna’s excellent “Introduction to Anarchism”, accurately identifies AF as “London-based” and “semi-secretive” but missed comrade Heath’s latest cunning plan for extending his party-building empire. Hints appeared in a 2011 edition of “Organise” where AF claim responsibility for “getting regional bookfairs off the ground in Sheffield, Manchester and Bristol”. Exploiting the well-established reputation of the London Bookfair for unsectarian promotion of all forms and interpretations of anarchism AF bankrolls local fairs to provide sectarian recruitment opportunities.

The recent Manchester Bookfair (November 2014) illustrates AF practice. Whilst a range of libertarians were allowed stalls (Vegans, Anarchist Voices, Cunningham Amendment etc) the “talks” (nb. not workshops or discussion groups) were dominated by AF and their stooges. Everyone attending the “Introduction to Anarchism” talk was handed a free 48-page booklet, not a general intro to the spectrum of anarchist ideas and organisations, such as Kinna’s book or Nicholas Walter’s pamphlet. It was an “Introduction to Anarchist Communism: The Anarchist Federation”. This isn’t anarchist consciousness-raising it’s “semi-secretive” party-building.

A member of the Northern Anarchist Network (NAN) known to be critical of AF politics was denied entry to the bookfair by a member of the venue’s (Pump House Museum) staff on the instructions of organisers “Veg” and “Dave Under the Pavement”. Staff had, apparently, been instructed to also refuse entry to another un-named anarchist. The organisers refuse to state openly the justification for these bans or their intended duration. It remains unproven whether “Veg” or Mister “Under the Pavement” are members of AF or, in Lenin’s (alleged) words, “useful idiots” but it is certain that AF is behind the ban.

At the 2012 London Bookfair an AF gang launched a premeditated violent attack on a lone anarchist tallholder that was witnessed by independent publisher, Ross Bradshaw of “Five Leaves” who reported the incident on his blog:
'Early in the day a small group from Manchester asked the one person at Northern Voices to leave. It was not clear to me at that moment why. It turned out that the magazine had some time ago written a rather unfavourable, and indeed rather unpleasant, obituary of the Manchester anarchist Bob Miller. Some time later in the morning a large group of people, from Manchester and elsewhere, returned to the stall, and when the stall holder refused to leave, wrecked it, stealing most of the material on display and covering the stall-holder and the stall (and one unrelated stall-holder behind NV) with salad cream. Though the stall-holder was uninjured, save for a bruised face when he fell and some irritation from the cream getting into his eyes, he was pretty shocked, as was anyone seeing the incident. I have no doubt that his original article was unwise and should not have been published – the best critique of it appears on NV’s own rather good blog.'

Another independent witness to the incident was a rather frail 78-year-old, Mr Ilyan Hugh Thomas of Carmarthen who happened to be passing just as the AF thugs struck. Mr Thomas kindly, and rather bravely, followed the gang back to their AF stall where he remonstrated with them and attempted to retrieve some of the literature stolen from Bamford’s stall. Despite his obvious age Mr Thomas was punched to the floor by the AF thugs.

A 'Burnley Declaration' deploring AF bans and violence was circulated and rapidly gained 150 signatures. AF characteristically failed to respond. In fact AF action immediately prior to and following the event served to further underline the organisation’s authoritarianism and contempt for the wider movement. (Incidentally I share Mr Bradshaw’s criticism of the obituary and note that NV itself published criticism of editor Bamford, a characteristically libertarian response so evidently absent from publications, organisations or events controlled by AF).

Cumbrian anarchist Martin Gilbert recalls that, on 'The day before the 2012 London Anarchist Bookfair I went to Freedom Bookshop. By chance I met Brian Bamford. After a short time Nick Heath (AF founding father) entered the shop emitting a string of verbal abuse against Brian. Freedom bookshop is visited by comrades from all over the world as well as people who are quite new to our ideas and actions. Nick’s outburst, whatever the cause could only give the worst of impressions.'

Despite this unrestrained public aggression when presented with an opportunity to politely state its case in clear rational terms so the rest of the movement could understand and judge for itself AF prove worse than unresponsive. Consider what happened when the “Burnley Declaration” was submitted to the anarchist newspaper Freedom in December 2012. Freedom’s editor emailed back:
'I am just letting you know that your statement will be appearing in the Jan issue of the paper. I am a bit behind at the moment, but would expect it to be ready to print in a week – ten days from now. I also wanted you to know that in the interests of fairness/not taking sides, I have contacted the Anarchist Federation and asked them whether they would like to write a response to your statement. If they choose to respond then that would also be included in the same issue.
Kind regards,
Matthew.'

AF responded alright but not in a nice way. Presented with an opportunity to either denounce the violence as the isolated acts of a rogue element or to justify their actions AF did neither. As veteran anarchist and member of the newspaper collective, Donald Rooum explains, Freedom 'got a nasty letter from Nick Heath saying if your letter was published, he would withdraw co-operation, including the offer of a book.' Although Donald explains he didn’t approve of AF’s conduct, along with the rest of the collective he gave in to AF threats. Freedom should have made a principled stand and gone ahead and published details of the attack and allowed the anarchist movement to judge the facts for itself but instead Freedom effectively colluded with AF. This was not Freedom’s finest hour but the rot had already set in. The paper was already on the verge of collapse having in recent years systematically driven away most of its regular writers and subscribers through its ever-increasing indulgence in crude, unthinking, confrontational AF-sponsored propaganda. The anarchist movement might have detected the writing was on the wall for FREEDOM as early as 2004 when AF boasted in their house magazine:
'FREEDOM NOW UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT! - MORE ANARCHIST COMMUNIST'!

After so cravenly caving in to Heath it was unsurprising that, the Freedom collective then bowed to his request to formally become an integral member of the editorial group. Heath had previously stated his wish to see the number of anarchist journals reduced to create a 'unified voice' and in 2014 Freedom ceased publication. Freedom continues to publish books and its most recent production is the one referred to above, by a certain Mr N Heath.

AF is not a federation of anarchists but a sectarian, vanguardist party. You are either with them or against them. Fellow travellers are tolerated, even encouraged, but anarchists who reject the revealed truths of the AF creed are fair game for anything from insults to physical attack with censorship, bans, and exclusions all part of the armoury. A disillusioned AF member revealed 'Federation members would routinely ridicule other anarchists' (nb. text in bold italics are the words of disenchanted or ex-AF members). Despite most chroniclers describing the 1960’s and 1970’s as a high watermark of anarchist influence AF characteristically denigrates, distorts and dismisses the constructive work of highly regarded anarchists like Colin Ward and Nicholas Walter; 'Of course, the humanist and pacifist elements that rejected class struggle continued to peddle their forms of radical liberalism within the pages of Freedom and Anarchy.'

'Lifestylist has become a derogatory smear for anyone who does not follow the neo-Platformist party line.'  'Sometimes people would just resort to crass stereotypes about squatters and hippies.'   Mutual respect for comrades pursuing alternative visions of anarchism is alien to AF whose vanguardism is formally denied although their 'leadership of ideas' is loudly and officially proclaimed. AF also modestly claims to embody the 'memory of the working class'.

In 2011, Comrade Heath declared:
'We have to be seen as a serious movement, not one viewed as ineffectual and passive, riddled with dilettantes and cranks.'

Almost a century earlier Henry Hyndman the autocratic founder of Britain’s first Marxist party denounced the iconoclastic libertarian influence of gay pioneer Edward Carpenter and his friends in chillingly similar terms:
'I do not want the movement to be a depository of old cranks, humanitarians, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists and anti-vaccinationists, arty-crafties and all the rest of them, we are scientific socialists and have no room for sentimentalists.'
Tolstoyan anarchist editor Charles W Daniel responded to such prejudice by renaming his own periodical The Crank and lest that title appeared too modern he later renamed it Ye Crank. As Henry George artfully observed, 'A crank is a little thing that makes revolutions.' Cranks are the very essence of anarchy and the intolerance of AF’s policy and practice the antithesis.

Not every Tom, Dick or Harriet is allowed to join this elite organisation. Although AF members conceal their own identities you can’t join unless you first email your name and address to party HQ. Then follows the vetting procedure; a member of the party faithful first visits your residence to assess whether you’re ideological sound and likely to be loyal. Then you have to sign over a sizeable, regular levy on your income to party funds. Any ideological deviation, unacceptable level of activism, disloyalty or non-payment and you’re out, expelled. 'I just tried to check my emails one day on the AF account and found out I had been deleted'.

Leaving voluntarily is akin to apostasy and much resented with one ex-AF member reporting:
'I wrote a resignation email to explain why I was leaving and share my critique of the organisation’s inactivity and informal hierarchy. The response I got was someone asking me not to post my melodramatic Shakespearian soliloquy on the list. Nice way to respond to someone who has worked in the organisation for five years.'

Fortunately the party building isn’t going too well. AF are a bit like the saloons in the old cowboy films, the frontage looks big and impressive but round the back it’s really just a ramshackle shed. 'I imagined the Anarchist Federation was a lot bigger than it turned out to be…it never seemed to grow in the few years I was associated with it.' The maximum membership claimed by AF is 150 and when 10 members attended their Scottish conference AF considered this a good result. The published list of branches appears quite extensive until you realise that AF considers 3 members constitute a branch and in terms of activism, “many branches barely exist”.

As self-proclaimed anarchists, AF won’t admit the reality of an informal but effective hierarchy but it doesn’t take recruits long to realise AF’s professed democratic structure is a fiction. AF is effectively controlled by an informal group; 'a small friendship clique of the longest serving members…these Elders seemed to have decided long ago to crush youthful initiatives… just like the Trotskyists they claimed to be so different from'.

Writing in 'Total Liberty' in 2007 Peter Good identified this approach:
'Following the collapse of global Marxism…anarchists sought meaning in class-struggle organisations.  Many of which are little different from stereotypical revolutionary groups…the spirit that created them soon gets subsumed under a need to arrive at a unified orthodoxy. In doing so the organisation loses contacts with the context of the everyday.  Before long a system of administration kicks-in and we are witness to all the paraphanalia of bureaucracy, subscriptions, membership, meetings, mail-outs, exclusions.'

A disenchanted AF member reports:
'I am not exaggerating when I say that the vast majority of the time spent at national conference went on discussing internal administrative problems.' A 'unified orthodoxy' is well established and an,
'overly defensive group-mentality exists in AF'. 'It would be better if the whole thing was abandoned and a new organisation formed.'

Good’s analysis shouldn’t be misconstrued as opposing all forms of organisation as he goes on to claim, “The affinity group is the fundamental unit of any Free Society”. Good’s critique does however demonstrate how the ideology of AF dovetails with its authoritarian practice. He goes on to explain, 'The great fallacy of revolutionary organisation is a belief that the root of oppression lies in defective institutions. In demanding a new set of institutions it fails to address the need to change individuals. History is replete with descriptions of how institutional practices of the former society get carried across through personalities of the revolutionaries.'

Or as Gustav Landauer put it:
'The state is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but it is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.'

Contrast this approach with AF’s:
'Once capitalism has been destroyed, we can set about the exciting task of fulfilling our individual potential and shaping this new community' (AF “Manifesto”, 5th edition, pg 15).

Attacks on comrades, 'semi-secrecy' and 'Under-the-Pavement' politics have no proper place in our movement and I publish this open letter as a challenge to all members of the Anarchist Federation to come out of the woodwork and debate your politics in public. I write as an individual but know from conversations with comrades that many share my perception of AF. I challenge AF to debate, 'Semi-secret Politics versus Open Anarchism' at the next Manchester Bookfair although I suspect AF will simply add my name to the banned list and continue operating under the pavement.

For Peace, Love & Anarchy,

Christopher Draper, Llandudno (December 2014)

10 comments:

Rob Ray said...

Jesus this has all gotten a bit tin foil hat Chris.

I can't be arsed to go through the details on everything, but specifically on the "Freedom under new management in 2004" bit, I was editor at that point and I've never been nor do I intend to become a member of the AF, instead being a member of Solfed. Similarly, no-one in Freedom was "intimidated" by Nick, we simply collectively agreed not to involve ourselves in sectarian bickering.

Your blood pressure might come down a bit if you tried the same thing.

No NANy state! said...

Turgid drivel by one of Brian's turdlings. How many bottles of bitter spanish red were downed whilst collaborating in its creation? All those long-winded trunk phone calls and old goat grumbling about salad cream and theft of NAN property!

Brian, few people read your vain offerings in your booklets and blog. Even fewer want to bother engaging in what you consider comradely dialogue. Your digital masturbation is just a sad reflection of a nasty piece of work with too much time on his hands. Twisted twaddle from a twit who has failed to contribute anything constructive to the anarchist cause.

Christopher Draper said...

Thank you Mister "Rob Ray" the condescending, personalised nature of your comment speaks volumes for the nature of the problem. I invite readers to judge for themselves the quality of detailed argument versus this sort of silly insult. Also your conspiratorial insistence on aliases indicates delusions of grandeur and an inability to communicate with ordinary people at a personal level.
Let's have more similar remarks to provide further examples of the poverty of argument relied on by the inarticulate authoritarians currently posing as class-war warriors.
Christopher Draper

bammy said...

'Always read your enemies!' That's what Thomas the Cynic said in the book 'SCHOOL FOR DICTATORS'. Here Nick Heath & the AF condemn themselves out of their own mouths!

Anonymous said...

This article makes me want to join AFed immediately. Thanks!

Albert Hall said...

Nice one NV! Just discovered your blog and as ex London AF I'd say you've nailed the buggers! Heath spends too long in the library and ain't got a clue about the working class. "Rob Ray" forgot to mention in real life he's Simon Sauders who works for that Commie rag, "The Morning Star". Let's hope he does for them what he did for Freedom! AF's a con-job, a few good comrades but more Trot than anarchist, with a party line on everything! I'll email you some juicy stuff tonight when I get home. Keep it up but mind your backs!

bammy said...

This post represents a good piece of historical research by Chris Draper into a 'semi-secretive' organisation that calls itself 'anarchist'. It throws into relief the use of certain mechanisms of power and about seizing control of small groups like Freedom Press. These are things that I was only vaguely aware of before I read it.

Jim Petty said...

This analysis and research by Chris is beautiful! It sums everything up so well!

Laurens Otter said...

I don't likethe use of Lenin's "rope supporting a hanged man" it sounds like an acceptance that the AF [anarchist federation] is more revolutionary & active than the rest of us. If they were, I wouldn't object. I would say they are more like an intestinal worm, draining the host of energy.

Former Freedom Editor said...

There is a rumour that Simon Saunders, a paid journalist on the Morning Star, one-time Freedom editor, and member of the Solidarity Fed., is planning to do an interview with Donald Rooum, a cartoonist and former editor of Freedom. Mr Saunders did a short interview with Colin Ward, another former Freedom editor who was described as 'one of the greatest anarchist thinkers of the past half century' shortly before he died in February 2010.