Interview with Declan, Anarchist Federation, Stirling

This interview was published in Back2Front, issue #6

Back2Front: To kick things off, can you say something regarding the beginnings of the Anarchist (Communist) Federation?

Declan: The Anarchist Communist Federation emerged in the period directly after the Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985 and in the middle of the Wapping printworkers dispute. Originally, a couple of people who had been involved in anarchist organising in the 70s returned to the UK after a period in France, where they were involved in the anarchist movement there. They linked up with the Editor of Virus magazine, which was trying to define a distinct class struggle anarchism. They established the Libertarian Communist Discussion Group and that eventually became the forerunner of the AF.

B2F: What separates the AF from other federations such as Solfed and Class War? Why another federation?

D: Well, at the time militants involved felt that Class War was an important development, but whilst it had energised the anarchist scene, it lacked both political clarity and wide appeal. As for the Direct Action Movement, the forerunner of the Solidarity Federation, we couldn’t agree with their prioritising of building anarcho-syndicalist unions. We felt that there was a need for a coherent, specifically anarchist communist group in Britain.

B2F: Can you explain the AF’s (some would say controversial) position regarding trade unions? Where does the organisation sit regarding syndicalism?

D: Well, we have never considered it to be controversial. Put simply, we don’t think the trade unions can be used to transform society from a capitalist one to a libertarian communist one. That isn’t what they were created to do. We think working class people have tended to come into conflict with the bureaucracy of the trade unions whenever they have tried to advance their struggles. That’s a fact. And workers have, particularly when things become more like open class war, tended to build their own means of furthering their struggles and keeping control in their own hands. Things like independent strike committees, workers councils etc.

But, within the unions themselves there is class struggle, between the interests of the members and that of the official structure. That’s inevitable. We have never said “Leave the unions!” – what we have said is that workers need to control their own struggles – self-organisation and the more there is of that the more there will be conflict with the union structures, leadership etc.

As for syndicalist unions, we have always said that syndicalist unions or base of grassroots unions have a tendency to eventually get sucked unto the machinery of exploitation. But, where syndicalist type structures exist, they are often an attempt by militant workers to control their own struggles and it would be a mistake to dismiss this because of what these unions may one day become. There’s a tension there and we think it is possible to work in that tension. There are ongoing discussions in the AF about this, however.

B2F: Could you say something about AF’s international work?

D: The AF is part of IFA, the International of Anarchist Federations and we take membership very seriously. We are also involved in working with and supporting new initiatives around the globe. The growth of libertarian communist movements in places where it has never developed before is very exciting.

B2F: How would you describe the current state of the anarchist movement both here in the UK and elsewhere? Does the banking crisis and a downturn in the global economy offer new opportunities?

D: To answer the second question first. The state of both the left and the anarchist movement has meant that despite the loss of credibility for capitalism, the anti-capitalist hasn’t significantly benefited from it. The marginalised nature of much of what passes for anarchism has meant that in many parts of the world the movement has not had an ability to reach a mass audience.

Certainly, internationally, anarchist ideas, and by this I mean revolutionary, communist anarchist have spread. Groups have emerged, anarcho-syndicalist unions, journals, social centres etc. Excitingly, there have been the emergence of libertarian tendencies in the Middle East, parts of Africa and parts of the Far East where anarchism has had almost no historical presence. Things are looking better than they have since the 1920s, but that’s only because our movement was effectively eclipsed, on a world scale for 60 years.

But, out with perhaps France, Italy and Spain, the old heartlands of anarchism, there is still not what might be called a mass anarchist movement anywhere. Certainly, not in Britain or Ireland, despite the best efforts of many militants. We have to continue to establish the infrastructure for a movement, not a clique, not a sect.

B2F: Despite a rather embarrassing defeat at the polls, the far right have been making gains right across the country. Particularly worrying is the rise of the English Defence League. How should we best counter this new phenomenon?

D: Being less anti-fascist as pro-working and pro-libertarian communist. Anti-fascism covers a multitude of social democratic sins! Our anti-fascism should be seen as matter of exposing the anti-working class nature of nationalism, not defending the democratic nation state which gives rise to nationalism in the first place.

As for the EDL, they are an interesting phenomenon. I don’t think that they can do anything except morph into something else, possibly more explicitly ultra-nationalist. At the moment attacking them as Nazis is a bad move based on a faulty reasoning and certain amount of anti-working class prejudice.

B2F: The Tories have snuck back into power. Your comments?

D: The Tory-LibDem government will not renege in one specific election promise – to hammer the public services and intensify the assault on working-class living standards.

This will be resisted. The Labour affiliated trade unions will be freed up to speak left, call for days of action, token strikes etc. and will be joined by the likes of the PCS, RMT, etc. What us important is that resistance breaks out of the legal straight-jacket, becomes increasingly confident and increasingly under the control of the people at the sharp end.