Northern Anarchist Network

The Northern Anarchist Network (NAN) is a regional body of both unaffiliated and organised anarchists. It was founded 22 years ago in Manchester Town Hall (see the report from Freedom, which is reproduced below). Conferences usually take place biannually.

Its supporters joined many struggles including the anti-Jobseekers Allowance campaigns in the 1990s; the Manchester Social Forum; the Manchester electricians’campaign against the blacklist since 2003; the Tameside Care Workers strike; the Rochdale Save Spodden Valley Campaign; anti-war campaigns in Shropshire; housing, anti-casualisation & anti-racism struggles in Burnley, environmental campaigns in Hebden Bridge, Swinton and Longdendale. In Manchester, some of its participants are influential in the unions and on the local Trade Union Councils. It emphasises local action and responsibility.

The NAN is inclusive rather than exclusive in spirit and is, like the old Spanish FAI, based on affinity group participation. The NAN has energetically promoted the Spanish Civil War commemorative booklet produced by north west trade unionists, reviewed sympathetically in the current International Brigade Newsletter: with 3,000 copies having now been sold a 4th edition is now being considered. Northern Voices is a journal whose editorial board is most closely associated with the NAN and it has a readership of over 2,000, mostly selling in the North of England.

Report on the establishment of the NAN - from Freedom Vol.56 No.6, 25th March 1995

Northern Anarchist Network Re-established

The municipal magnificence of Manchester Town Hall provided the unlikely setting for the meeting 'to re-establish the Northern Anarchist Network' on 18th February.

Almost forty comrades gathered in the city to discuss the way forward for the movement in the region, from Merseyside. Bradford, York, Sheffield, the North East, Stoke, Rotherham and many towns in between.

The agenda had been left open and this may go some way to explaining the difficulties that were experienced during the morning session, for in truth there were several personal agendas running simultaneously as various groups and individuals attempted to gain the meeting's approval for what they saw as the way ahead. Some wanted to link the NAN with attempts to re-establish the Anarchist Federation of Britain, some wanted to form an organisation of class struggle anarchists, some wanted to clearly define the aims and principles of the Network whereas some were happy to leave these unspecified so as to allow the participation of the greatest number of people.

In fact this latter point proved, initially, to be a major block on progress. A number of comrades argued that it would be fruitless to form a network inclusive of anyone who simply declared themselves to be anarchists as this could include everyone from class war to anarcho-capitalists. What was needed was an organisation with a clearly defined set of principles which could provide a forum for all class struggle anarchists in the North. This idea was rejected by a majority in the meeting as being too narrow a position to adopt. It was felt that whilst it was true that there were people who used the term 'anarchist' to describe themselves whilst not generally assuming the stance taken by most within the movement, we should not and could not prescribe what was and was not anarchism. Added to this, it was highly unlikely that A-caps would want to be associated with the NAN.

It was argued total whilst there were, indeed, differences of opinion over the precise aims and methods we advocated, what we shared in common was our belief in freedom; that what we should be focusing on was not our differences but what united us. Anyone wishing to pursue a particular revolutionary method or take a particular ideological stance already had the opportunity to do so by associating with one of the existing groups. What was lacking was a network to draw all of these strands together in a non-sectarian way, giving rise to comradely discourse and action. Whilst the morning's contributions had been genuine and passionate, the meeting broke for dinner with a fair degree of pessimism as no clear way, forward could be seen.

Perhaps it was the lunchtime refreshments, perhaps it was the bargains picked up at the Kate Shipley Library stall at the bookfair across the road. Whatever the reason, the afternoon session got off to a much more productive start. In truth, the conversations that had taken place outside the restrictions of the committee table had sorted out one or two of the problems that had begun to clog the proceedings.

It was suggested that the network should not try to be too ambitious; perhaps the geographical area it was attempting to cover was too large. Much of the discussion that had taken place, quite spontaneously, during the dinner break was between comrades looking at how they could come together more productively in their own localities. This gave rise to the proposal that the network act as a point of contact and co-operation for smaller networks built along geographical and interest lines. This idea was debated with increasing enthusiasm, and expanded. It was felt that NAN could provide a forum for groups and individuals to become aware of each other's activities, to draw together people for conferences where issues could be debated, to give a focus for co-ordinated action and social events. It was felt that an important component in this would be a regular bulletin giving updates on activities and news, promoting future activities and providing reports from the different groups and networks,

These points were debated at length and it was decided that the Sheffield group, being well organised and having good facilities, accept responsibility for the production of the first bulletin, and also act as a secretariat for a period of time. It was suggested that this dual role could rotate through the various groups. The meeting closed on his positive note with a future meeting in Sheffield scheduled for early summer. At least two new networks are currently being established in Manchester and in Yorkshire.

This conference brought together anarchists from all across the northern region, some who have been around the movement for many years, some who were attending a meeting for the first time. It proved the opportunity to decide exactly what it was that we needed to further our aims, through consensus. And, in the best anarchist traditions, when our needs change so will the organisation. Hopefully everyone left feeling that something worthwhile had been achieved.

Nick W.