Organised choas: The tabloids loathe them, but anarchists are too busy arguing with each other to riot, says Stewart Home

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The Independent Culture
Anarchism is often associated with chaos, which is one reason it makes headlines whenever there's a riot on the British mainland. However, the Anarchy in the UK festival in London this week demonstrates that the vast majority of anarchists have little interest in throwing bricks and bottles at the police.

While anarchism as a political doctrine has never exerted much influence outside Spain and the Ukraine, the impact of anarchist ideas on the arts has been enormous. Bohemianism is a quintessentially anarchist pursuit and it is this, principally in its subcultural guises, that forms the focus for the 10-day festival, which began on Friday.

The event is the brainchild of Ian Bone, a founder member of the Class War newspaper and Class War Federation. His past activities do little to inspire trust among old hands at anarchist politics. At one point, he left the federation to set up the rival Class War Organisation, which collapsed after publishing just one issue of its national newspaper. Among revolutionary anarchists, Anarchy in the UK is derisively referred to as the Bone Show.

While the festival will thrill all rebellious punk squatters, the major British anarchist groups are refusing to participate in what they perceive as a desperate attempt to revive the careers of some second-rate rock bands.

An obsession with autonomy, or freedom, is what characterises all anarchist thought. Naturally, this leads to sectarianism. One of the major divisions within anarchist thinking is between collectivist and individualist ideologies. While anarcho-individualists have never attempted to build mass political organisations, their collectivist brethren find that although there is a great deal of support for anarchist ideas, very few people are willing to become paid-up members of the movement. Indeed, no British anarchist group has more than one hundred active members.

In this context, it seems absurd to claim, as the tabloid press has done, that the Class War Federation is responsible for the rioting during recent demonstrations against the Criminal Justice Bill. Class War is in no position to organise riots; almost all its time and energy is put into producing and selling its newspaper. Most of the Class War groups around the country consist of one or two people with a post-box address and a can of spray paint. While some people participating in riots may have become sympathetic to anarchist ideas after experiencing unemployment and heavy-handed policing, very few are members of any political organisation.

The most active strand of British anarchism throughout the Eighties was that of pacifism and non-violence. Many anarchists, who are happy to glue shut the locks of butchers' shops and participate in animal rights campaigns, would never dream of taking part in a riot. Likewise, anarcho-individualists and anarcho-capitalists are generally contemptuous of demonstrations and acts of public disorder.

Many of the younger and more committed class-struggle anarchists, who do view rioting as a viable political tactic, quickly leave the movement. They often find themselves unable to resist the lure of left-communist splinter groups. In attacking democracy as a bourgeois distraction, organisations such as the International Communist Current provide a much more coherent ideology than the anarchist movement.

One of the attractions of anarchism is that it can be practised without a great deal of commitment. Bohemian types may voice support for Class War, but they are unlikely to join a group which demands they stand on street corners selling political literature and attend boring meetings. Likewise, squatters may find the doctrine of anarcho-syndicalism appealing, without actually wanting to go into an industrial workplace to participate in rank and file activism.

Class War began as a witty attack on both the left and anarcho-pacifism.

Today it is a poor man's Socialist Workers Party, obsessed, like all revolutionary splinter groups, with selling the paper and building the party. In a mirror image of this process, Ian Bone has reverted to the type of anarchism that was once reviled in the pages of Class War. CND, pacifists and scruffy punks used to be the target of Bone's invective, now he is actively promoting their interests with the festival.

ANARCHY IN THE EC Pdi, 35, an anarchist from Marseilles: 'In Britain anarchy is nothing more than a fashion. People in the Czech republic and in France are really angry about the police - here people just drink and say 'up yours' and think that's anarchy. This festival is not 10 days that shook the world, it is just a good trip.'

Pdi sells records, books and 'maybe some drugs' on the black market because he doesn't believe in 'the system'.

Maria, 18 from Madrid: 'The anarchist movement here is our reference point.

Here, there is a tradition of people expressing themselves - the way they dress, how they live.'

At home Maria is involved with a campaign against national service called Insubmission.

Niels, 21 from Berlin: 'I am part of an anti-fascist gay and lesbian group from Berlin and came over to make contacts. People here are very sympathetic. They don't believe in heirarchy and the state. My point is not believing in patriarchy, though there are the same macho men here as in Germany. I think anarchists here are less dogmatic than in Germany, but I don't really know - I've only been here two days. I don't think the police here are nicer, despite the fact they don't carry guns.

Niels Boorman came to Britain especially for the festival For full details about the festival phone the 121 Centre on 071-274 6655.

These are the main anarchist organisations in Britain.


Aims: To increase the militancy of working class people's attempts to solve their own problems - through propaganda, active participation, and debate as equals.

What they say about themselves: 'Violence is a necessary part of the class war - but as mass class violence, out in the open. Not elitist terrorist actions.' What they really do: Recruit people who can't take the rigorous discipline of the SWP.

SOLIDARITY FEDERATION (until recently the Direct Action Movement), PO Box 384, Preston, Lancs PR1 5PQ.

Aims: To promote workers' self-management and revolutionary unions as the way to overthrow capitalism and establish a libertarian communist society.

What they say about themselves: 'Our aim is the creation of a free and classless society.'

What they really do: Seek to recruit trade unionists, and according to sectarian myth, they become sexually aroused when watching Come Dancing.

ANARCHIST COMMUNIST FEDERATION, 84b Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX.

Aims: Put the class into class politics.

What they say about themselves: 'We reject sectarianism and work for a united revolutionary anarchist movement.'

What they really do: Fail to work co-operatively with any other anarchist group.

GREEN ANARCHIST NETWORK, Box ZZ, 111 Magdalen Road, Oxford, OX4 1RQ.

Aims: Autonomous self-sufficient villages, bringing regression of without technology, no industry, no pollution, no hunger, or no bombs.

What they say about themselves: 'We must build a culture of resistance from festivals, gigs, fanzines, for a future alternative society.'

What they really do: Circulate texts denouncing their founder and ideological architect Richard Hunt, who has caused them deep embarrassment by defending former National Front leader Patrick Harrington from accusations of fascism.

LIBERTARIAN ALLIANCE, 1 Russell Chambers, The Piazza, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8AA.

Aims: Life, liberty and property.

What they say about themselves: 'The Libertarian Alliance exists to promote the broad range of libertarian, classical liberal and free market ideas.'

What they really do: Provide bored right-wing students with a sense of getting involved in something dangerous, most obviously because they favour the decriminalisation of hard drugs.

ANIMAL LIBERATION FRONT, no public address.

Aims: End the exploitation of animals.

What they say about themselves: 'A lot of people would like to get involved in the ALF but are afraid to do so. Don't be: it is essential that you do for the sake of the people those who have been and will go to prison but also obviously for the animals.'

What they really do: Dress up in ski-masks and take snap shots of each other holding rabbits and other furry animals.

LONDON PSYCHOGEOGRAPHICAL ASSOCIATION, Box 15, 138 Kingsland High Street, London E8 2NS.

Aims: To smash the occult establishment, end masonic mind control, and expose the involvement of the royal family in acts of ritual king slaughter.

What they say about themselves: 'After thirty-five years of non-existence, the London Psychogeographical Association is well and truly back. The revival of the LPA corresponds to the increasing decay in British culture, and indeed of the British ruling elite. It has been, in fact, an historical inevitability.'

What they really do: Teach collaboration and shifting alliances by organising games of three sided football on triangular pitches with three goals, keeping a careful tally of the goals each team concedes.

Stewart Home is the author of 'The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War' (AK Press).

(Photograph omitted)