Anarchism for the beginner!

Lesson 3: Colin Ward and an article by Ellie Mae O’Hagan

Anarchists have civil liberties too

The treatment of anarchists by the police and media echoes McCarthyism in its criminalisation of a valid political philosophy. What do Colin Ward, the late education officer for the Town and Country Planning Association, and a squatter in London have in common? The answer: they’re both anarchists. Or rather, the squatters have been dubbed anarchists by the media; Ward was an anarchist of his own volition.

It’s strange to think that a well-respected public figure such as Ward could be openly allied to anarchism, a tradition currently associated with ruining the royal wedding or vandalising shops on Oxford Street. But the truth is, anarchism isn’t simply a byword for criminal damage. It’s a broad-based political philosophy – one which accommodates people of significantly contrasting viewpoints. Thus, Ward could call himself an anarchist, yet spend most of his life championing tenant co-operatives and died never having smashed a single window.

The problem with the contemporary media narrative on protest is that, in its refusal to understand the nuances of anarchism, it is using the term as a euphemism for “dangerous”, “violent” or “bad”. So when the Telegraph reports that 100 masked anarchists were “thwarted” by pre-emptive arrests before the royal wedding, it encourages us to make a judgement on those arrested. They were anarchists, we think; ipso facto, they must have deserved it.

The dangers of this way of thinking hardly need explaining. There are flickers of McCarthyism in the way the state is currently dealing with those it perceives as threatening. Potential anarchists are intimidated and smeared, and denied liberty on the grounds of nebulous and almost Orwellian charges. Protester Charlie Veitch, for example, was arrested “on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance”, which is something we should apparently be relieved about – because, according to the Telegraph, he’s a “known anarchist”. Although we should be careful not to exaggerate the issue, I must admit I notice parallels between the police’s recent actions and senator Margaret Chase Smith’s condemnation of McCarthyism. She argued that the practice fundamentally inhibited “the right to criticise; the right to hold unpopular beliefs; the right to protest; the right of independent thought”.

There are other recent examples of suspected anarchists being the victims of McCarthyist policing, ostensibly in the name of national security. In 2009, French police raided the small village of Tarnac, including a farm consisting of goats, chickens and vegetables, believing it to be an “anarchist terrorist cell”. The alleged ringleader, Julien Coupat, was jailed for six months despite a judge’s ruling that he be released. This decision led other residents of Tarnac to accuse the French authorities of fabricating “an enemy within”, and in doing so, labelling all forms of leftwing demonstrations and activism as anarchist terrorism. Coupat and his friends, like the alleged anarchists that were arrested in squats last week, had attended several demonstrations opposing French and American government policy.

The raid of Tarnac is unsettlingly reminiscent of the recent police raid on Transition Heathrow; a grassroots community that describes its aim as the promotion of “green, living, working fellowships”. As with Tarnac, the 40 riot police that descended on to the site found nothing but vegetables, chickens and bees. Spokespeople at Transition Heathrow commented: “If all [the police] wanted was a tour round, they could have just taken off their uniforms and we would have given them a full tour. They might have even got a cup of tea.”

There are very few people in this country who have an issue with the police responding to crime. But the decision to criminalise a political philosophy veers dangerously close to the criminalisation of thought; and a society that uses those tactics can no longer be called civilised. If we truly value civil liberties, we should interrogate the pejorative use of the word “anarchist” because the alternative, it seems from recent events, is for the police to use it as a baton with which to beat us.

Lesson 2:

Hello gentle reader, greetings if you are new to this page and a hearty cheer if you are returning on the off chance that we have added to it! I had a wee little email about the image above “One Moment Please” and in our haste we should have given full acknowledgement to some wonderful people out darkest Norfolk who buy their own admission are

“a strange shadowy outfit with tentacles stretching into the deepest echelons of the movement”. These people produce a very beautiful little publication called “The Cunningham Amendment”. Its hand printed, none of this PC stuff, its a work of art, pithy, witty and welcome treat as it lands on the mat. Search for them on Mr Gates’s Electrical Apparatus and you won’t find them direct, there’s a few external reference but these folks are the Amish of the UK anarchist scene. Communication is by stamps, funding is by stamps and perhaps a few coins, it comes out three times a year and its real hoot, I met up with them at the Anarchist Bookfair last year and hope to do so again this October. If you want details of where to contact them its all “secret knowledge” but if you email Gill will give you the address where they are to be found.

“Its Now or Never” . A bit closer to Bedford is Norwich. In Norwich there’s a gang of people who again by their own admission need to be a bit more careful about what they say, their motif is show above with a bit of the head missing. This bunch of people produce a highly encouraging tome called “Now or Never” and a spiffing chap called Tug provided us with a complete set of back issues last year. Its spot on, at time rib achingly funny, politically incorrect, searching and like a drunken bull in a china shop when it sets its sights on say TV evangelists. As with the Cunningham Amendment, you either get it or you don’t. Unlike the Cunningham Amendment, Now or Never have a website where you can have a free peak at stuff, buy stuff including a CD of very loud shouty punk music and if you are smitten, you can take out a sub…see the contacts section. Now or Never are listed as one of our inspirations and when me and Gill can sort out our respective stance on Porn, we are looking at showing our support for the Now or Never campaign “Porn for Prisoners” which you can read about on their website. There’s are vast quantities of it being collected from the local recycling banks by the bin men, we don’t want to deprive them of this resource but we like what Now or Never are up to and when we can get off our arses we will be doing summit!

Right then, London’s been trashed. Manchester beloved city of one of the team had a bit of a kicking right, Liverpool where our stylish legal boffin Gill comes from escaped, but Brum copped it!

All down to anarchists right. Well not actually, its a term that’s been well and truly hijacked and misused over the years.

Basically if you hold a view that elected politicians will always sell you out, if you belive that if we stick to our guns as communities we can achieve more and if you belive that our potential in society is being restricted then my friend you are already some way to following in the anarchist tradition.

The word anarchy comes from the Greek anarchos, meaning “without ruler”. Anarchism is against any form of authority no matter at which level it may be found, it is not against organisation providing that organisation operates on behalf of and benefits the majority and is prepared to change to benefit all minorities. Anarchists are against the State because the State is the biggest authority in a society. They want people to decide over and take a full part in managing  their own lives and supporting those around them. Normally you hear that not all people are so good that they can control their own lives; therefore they need some administrative body, e.g. a government, to do this for them. To this the anarchist response is that if people are so bad that they have to be governed by others, then how can some people be so good that they can do this? However, anarchists are not against organisation as such; they are only against organisation based on authority, i.e. a hierarchical form of organisation where select individuals exert their power, their priorities and their will over others.

The capital powered structure that drives the modern world works for a tiny comfortable minority. An elite, quite often hidden and discrete, they spend billions on convincing the majority that this is the best way. An ongoing fear of losing what little we have whether its your car, your house or not being able to buy the latest plasma screen keeps us tied to a system. A system of dreams, that new car, a bigger house maybe with a garden, a holiday, we might if we are lucky get someway to realise our dreams but for most, particularly those at the bottom of the pile, the staff cooking burgers, working the night shift in the garage, the Borough Council bin men, all it might ever be is a dream.

Our view of anarchism, is very basic, collectively we are agitators, we articulate our views to whoever will listen, through the local media and lately through Bedford-Bypass. One of our number spent over 20 years as a Labour Party member, convinced that things could only get better, for Tony Blair things certainly did. And things certainly got better for the elite. The problem we are seeing now is the same as when Blair got in, not that the wrong leader was elected but that we the governed mass elected a leader in the first place, someone to do our thinking, that we passed on the right to manage our affairs to a pre-formed political ideology with a pre-formed programme hat didn’t include the majority.

We have a wonderful system of protest, if we march around London as we did in our hundreds of thousands last March (2011) against the cuts or against the Iraq War in 2003, rest asured you will be ignored. You might think the days of Peterloo ar long consigned to history but the turning point for many was the on street killing of Ian Tomlinson in 2009, an innocent man and a police cover up. Not the first time, maybe not the last.

This is the difficult, justifying on street protest in the light of the recent riots is taxing, no pun intended. People died. People were traumatised. The whole week was started by the death in a taxi of a man, shot by the police followed by a cover up and the usual fudging that follows such police actions. The events are still being analysed however this we would argue was not anarchism. It was Margaret Thatcher who said (in the 80s) that there was no such thing as society, it was up to the individual to look after there own interests.

That’s possibly what happened. In a society based on having the latest X Box, widescreen telly, trainers or whatever, the idea became overwhelmingly appealing. People attacked their own society, areas and neighbours. The footage of a motorcyclist being dragged off his bike (one incident amongst too many) was plain shocking. Contrast this to archive footage of the Battle of Cable Street from the 1930s when facists were fought hand to hand on the streets of East London and you might just gleam an idea of where we are coming from.

Anarchy is not a case of shelving responsibility, I belive it actually increases it, I am responsible for my own actions and I acknowledge that my actions need to be beneficial to the greater community. It means to be leaderless not to be feral but to take a wider role in managing affairs that at present are controlled by others. We might have democracy in being able to select who leads us, who governs us but we have no say in what exactly goes on. Governments invade countries whilst parts of the world starve, MPs fiddle their expenses, Chief Execs cock things up and leave as near milionaires with bonus and pensions greater than the full amount that many might earn in a lifetime.

There a few easily read books on the subject of anarchism, by that I mean if I can understand them and be inspired then anyone can. They will be listed shortly as Bedford-Bypass expands.


3 Responses to “Anarchism for the beginner!”

  1. george England September 8, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    cheers comrade

  2. Dean September 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    given you a plug in the oct issue of freedom. keep up the good work!

  3. E. R. June 28, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    How do anarchists plan for garbage collection?

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