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Last July the ‘anti-terrorist focus desk’ of the City of Westminster police issued a call for members of the public to report any sightings of anarchists immediately. “Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy,” they explained, though how that stance made them terrorists or enemies of society was not explained. The move drew such widespread criticism that the police withdrew it (though now it’s the Occupy movement which the Met is branding as terrorist). HOT decided to find out for itself, sending Nick Terdre out to cull the opinions of a couple of local anarchists, David Francis and Kevin Towner.

What did you think when you read of the police call for anarchists to be reported?
DF: There was a serious point and there was a funny point. The funny point was that it was an opportunity to highlight anarchism, but on the serious side was the fact that it wasn’t just badly worded, but that somebody felt that the climate had been achieved where they were able to make a statement like that without it being challenged. A point of view being a reportable offence regardless of any potential civil or other disorder is reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

We read in the papers that rioting is a state of anarchy, but is that the kind of anarchy that anarchy as a political philosophy is about?
KT: People start making statements on the basis of the assumption that that’s what anarchism is about, that it’s about violent disorder, destruction, chaos, so you have to start from that point, and show people that there’s something more fundamental behind it.
DF: Anarchism is a revolutionary ideology, it seeks to replace capitalism and the state, and it seeks to do that through revolutionary activity, so it’s not passive, not just a philosophical. But I guess the difference between anarchism and other revolutionary ideas is that we believe in mutual aid, and that actually mutual aid is what makes society work now. And in fact if society is only driven by the profit motive and the fear of coercion by the state and capital, nothing will ever get done. So although it’s a revolutionary philosophy, we believe that the new society is operating within the current one, it’s just that the state and capitalism actually don’t provide anything useful.

KT: There’s an irony there with Cameron and Clegg and the Big Society, because I maintain that what they’re proposing philosophically is not a million miles from what many anarchists and socialists would see as an idea of mutual cooperation, the idea of people not having to think about things from a financial point of view. The problem is, they’re not using it that way – they’re using it cynically to get things done on the cheap.
DF: Anarchism is part of the revolutionary tradition and part of a working class tradition. Anarchists identified themselves as being a separate strain in the 1860s, basically as a response to Karl Marx’s authoritarian belief that the state can play a role in revolution and this led to the split between the anarchists and the Marxists in the First International, The other area of difference was in the relationship between theory and practice. It’s not that theory is not important to Anarchists, but that theory and action go hand in hand, it does not need a special caste of revolutionary theoreticians, people can be their own theorisers.

NT: What about the anarchists who get involved in violence during big demonstrations, people like Class War?
DF: I see them very much as part of the anarchist tradition. I would say this, anarchists tend to obsess about violence and pacifism in equal measure, in a way that no other ideology does. When you say you’re an Anarchist people tend to ask, are you one of those violent anarchists, in a way that they don’t ask a democrat, or someone who believes in socialism, are you a violent socialist or a violent conservative. I’ve got no problem with people physically opposing the forces of the state because they will use force to defend capitalism and to oppress workers. Then again, like anyone else, I’m not too keen on violence.
KT: As Dave says, we get very wound up about it and in some ways I don’t think it actually matters. We’re trying to move towards a point where there is effectively an anarchist society, and while some people believe there needs to be violence to make that happen, there’ll be an equal number of people who don’t believe in that, and who believe in other ways.

NT: Is it the state or capitalism that is the problem with present-day society?
DF: The state predates capitalism. The state arises to defend class interests in a pre-capitalist society. And it is there to defend class structures, and capitalism is the form in which exploitation takes place within class society..

NT: What should we be aiming for in terms of political and economic systems?
KT: We talk about mutual aid, and that runs all the way down, so an anarchist society needs to be one which is run on those mutual lines. I would imagine that a truly anarchist society is one which is currency-free, with for example a form of bartering, and that leads back into my earlier point that some of these things already exist. People that use them don’t see them as an anarchist idea or even a socialist idea. I’m talking about things like local exchange trading systems, because a lot of them are used by the middle classes, yet they have so much potential for working people, particularly now that we can provide people with things through the community without that exchange taking place, through people’s supermarkets, people’s coops.

NT: So what would the political system be like? Presumably not like Parliament as we know it today?
DF: We tend not to focus on what political system would replace the current one, we tend to focus on the way we organise now, and that’s one way that anarchists differ from other revolutionary ideologies, in that we are prefigurative. We don’t believe there’s any point in drawing up a blueprint, because one, it won’t happen, and two, you’ll be trying to impose this blueprint, which means that you’re destroying the revolution by doing that.
Instead of drawing up a utopian arbitrary picture of what a future society might look like, we believe, and this is the reason we focus so much on the way we organise now, in the values of solidarity, mutual aid and non-hierarchical structures.
The assemblies in Spain and Greece, and in the north African countries as well, are really good examples, where the people, without ever having heard of the word anarchist, get together in that way and organise those assemblies, they have shared resources in quite a critical situation where resources are difficult to share and there’s been no-one walking around with anarchist plaques, saying this is how anarchists organise.

KT: And that almost begs the question, is anarchism a natural state? Is it something that would develop by itself if left unfettered by capitalism anyway? You get that whole argument that if the state fell apart tomorrow, everyone would just be fighting amongst each other – but that’s not anarchy, that’s chaos, nihilism. But what we see in the sort of societies Dave is talking about is that actually that wouldn’t happen, and in fact mutual aid would almost become a prerogative, a necessity.


Posted 10:51 Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012 In: Hastings People

1 Comment

  1. Hastings Online Times

    […] the interview by Nick Terdre related to anarchism, Terrorists or People with a Political Philosophy, published in HOT January 17. We are accustomed to the distortion and marginalisation of dissident voices by the media, but the […]

    Pingback by Hastings Online Times — Monday, Apr 2, 2012 @ 13:45

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