This interview is from the “The Global Influence of Platformism Today” series in The Northeastern Anarchist #6 (Winter/Spring 2003).
NEFAC: Could you give a brief history of the Anarchist Federation? When did the group form? What was the political background of the founding members?
AF: The Anarchist Federation, or rather its precursor the Anarchist Communist Federation, formed in 1985, shortly after the last great miners’ strike. It coalesced around the Libertarian Communist Discussion Group, which distributed stocks of the “The Organisational Platform of Libertarian Communists”, left over from the days of the Anarchist Workers Association (AWA) and Libertarian Communist Group (LCG). The emphasis was on building a platformist style organisation in Britain, and in building an organisation built on class struggle and anarchist communism. We rejected anarcho-syndicalism, and felt that Class War was too much into the stunt-politics built around a few strong personalities and too little theory and too much post-punk posing. Two of us had been active in French libertarian politics previous to the founding of the organisation. One was a veteran of the movement since 1966, who had been active in the Anarchist Federation of Britain, the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists and its avatars, the AWA and LCG. Two of us initially had a brief history with leftist groups (primarily the Socialist Workers Party), and moved to libertarian politics as a result of our experiences. The AF emerged out of a merger of the Libertarian Communist Discussion Group, and the magazine `Virus’. `Virus’ then became our mouthpiece [later changing its name to `Organise!’], so we were then able to gather other militants around us and set up the ACF.
NEFAC: From the early development of the AF, there seems to have been a strong platformist influence in how you viewed questions of revolutionary organisation, however this seems less pronounced in more recent literature produced by the federation. Do you consider the AF to be an explicitly `platformist’ organisation? How influential would you say `platformism’ has been to the federation’s political development?
AF: No, the AF is not an explicitly “platformist” organisation. It is informed by its politics fairly significantly, and it acknowledges the main points of the Platform (tactical and theoretical unity, federalism, and collective responsibility). But, a lot has happened since 1926 – the critiques of capitalist society coming from the women’s movement, the lessons to be learnt from the the theory and practice of council communism, of Socialisme ou Barbarie and its British counterpart Solidarity, the whole post 1926 experiences of French and Spanish anarchism – FCL, ORA, OCL (first and second), UTCL, etc., and the failures of Spanish anarcho-syndicalism, the Friends of Durruti, the experience of British libertarian organisations (pre-war with the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, post-war with the ORA, AWA, LCG etc.) and we cannot run on the spot. We have to address capitalism as it is now and the relevant ways we can organise to fight it. But yes, the Platform is a significant and important document and any revolutionary anarchist organisation that is at all serious has to take account of it, without being obsessed by it.
NEFAC: The AF currently has active groups in England, Wales, Scotland, and now Ireland. How do these groups relate to each other? What level of co-ordination is there between localities? How much autonomy does each group have within your federated structure?
AF: Each group organises on a regional basis within the framework of the AF. There is a healthy discussion via our Internet List, our internal Bulletin, our Delegate Meetings and Conferences. There’s been an `Anarchist Dayschool’ in Scotland, and one coming up in Ireland. There is autonomy for each section within the federalist structure and any area or group can obviously bring out its own publications and pamphlets (as indeed they do).
We thought the comments by a member of the Irish WSM regarding the AF’s internal organisation in the last `Northeastern Anarchist’ [«An Irish Anarchist In the Northeast: Reflections on the North American Anarchist Movement» by Chekov Feeney] were pretty crass and showed a distinct ignorance of the way we function.
The AF structure is not at all like the NEFAC structure, where a number of collectives affiliate to the NEFAC federation. And to say that collectives and individuals affiliated to the NEFAC structure on a semi-member basis is like the AF structure is totally erroneous, because that doesn’t happen. Each member has to agree with our ideas and is met by AF members before they join.
Of course, an organisation [WSM] with two branches that function in cities with populations of 150,000 (Cork) and 1.2 million (Dublin) can act in an apparently more cohesive way, especially when the Leninist movement in that country is not significantly larger than the anarchist movement. But we are faced with organising in many cities and are faced with a Leninist movement to be numbered in the thousands, who have certain hegemony over political mobilisations. We have become the largest anarchist organisation in Britain, and anyone can see who looks in depth that there is a cohesion and coherence to our politics and activities.
NEFAC: How do you view the current state of the anarchist movement (and broader `anti-capitalist’ milieu) in Britain and Ireland? How much impact or influence would you say the AF has had within the larger movement?
AF: The movement in Britain and Ireland is still immensely weak, still struggling to get out of the anarchist ghetto. There is still a strong anti-theoretical bias, and still an obsession with spectacular stunts in some quarters. Similarly, there is still a distinct anti-organisational prejudice among many, with some extolling the virtues of local organisation (as if local organisation and strong organisation on a territory were mutually exclusive!). There is still much work to be done, to reach say, the strength and implantation that anarchists have in France.
NEFAC: What is your political relationship to other class struggle anarchist organisations in Britain (Class War, Solidarity Federation) and Ireland (Workers Solidarity Movement, Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation)?
AF: Sure we work with other class struggle anarchists where and when we can, for instance AF-Ireland has recently produced a joint bulletin with the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation. But it’s fair to say that apart from punctual collaborations (benefits, etc.) there’s been not much collaboration even at the level of organizing united blocs on demos. We’ve done our best in the past to make this come about, but there’s only so much you can do if there is reluctance for this to happen.
NEFAC: There seems to be a strong council communist influence in some areas of the AF’s politics, specifically around your critical position on trade unions and anarcho-syndicalism. What strategies of workplace resistance and self-organisation does the AF promote in place of traditional union strategies?
AF: Well, you printed our strategy on workplaces in the last issue of your magazine [«Workplace Resistance Groups»; NEA#5]. So let that speak for itself. Our position we feel to be correct and born out by experience (look at the recent maneuvers by the Fire Brigades Union to dampen down the firefighters struggle as a concrete example). We don’t call on workers to leave the unions en bloc, but neither do we counsel anarchist militants taking positions in the unions. We found the recent articles in ‘Northeastern Anarchist’ on taking positions as organisers within the unions to be pretty appalling. You’ll end up being totally taken over by the unions. Look what happened to Rose Pesotta and plenty of other anarchists who adopted this line in the past. They ended up keeping their anarchism quiet, supporting the war effort in World War II, and generally operating as a non-parliamentarian type of social democrat if you will. You have to offer specific anarchist communist politics in the struggle, not do the work of the unions for them. What matters is the autonomous organisation of the working class, and to think this can be done via the unions is an error.
NEFAC: What are some campaigns or struggles where the AF has made successful interventions? Current activity?
AF: Well we did a lot of work around the Poll Tax struggle at the time. We produced two pamphlets and a number of leaflets and stickers addressing that struggle. The Trotskyist organisation Militant had a grip on many areas of the struggle, but we feel we had some influence. Of course bringing out `Resistance’ on a monthly basis with an ever-increasing distribution and circulation allows us to influence people who have never come across anarchist ideas before, and there is a steady increase in requests for more information about us and revolutionary anarchist ideas in general as a result of this. We are doing a lot of anti-war work at the moment, and no doubt will do even more in the future.
NEFAC: The AF certainly played an active role in the formation and early development of NEFAC. What sort of international relations do you maintain with other anarchist groups around the world?
AF: We take international work extremely seriously and have a number of international secretaries in contact with many groups and organisations around the world. We joined the International of Anarchist Federations (IAF/IFA), and have attended all their congresses and international meetings
NEFAC: Finally, I can’t help but ask why you decided to change the name of the federation (from Anarchist Communist Federation)?
AF: The name change did not mean we gave up our anarchist communist politics. We didn’t change our Aims and Principles! Anyone who reads our publications will soon realise we put over an explicit anarchist communist viewpoint. It’s not so much what you call yourselves as a group or organisation, but what you do or say. We remain libertarian communists. The old name was a mouthful and you were mistaken for a weird amalgam of Stalinists and libertarians by those who didn’t know any better and we wasted a lot of time explaining what we were about. We haven’t degenerated into some vague libertarian position. It soon becomes apparent to those who come into contact with our ideas what we are about and we would say that we have introduced many to the ideas of anarchist communism for the first time.