Anarchists! Things are changing fast, and every day a new government announcement changes legislation. The cops have new powers to use indiscriminately, everyone is losing their jobs while our bosses are bailed out, people can’t pay rent and are being evicted while our government lines our landlord’s pockets – and even the advice we’re being given by the state is riddled with contradictions. We are told to sit tight in our homes, but for those of us still working, those of us without a home, or anyone in prison or detention, that’s an impossibility. In a context where “protest is illegal” and police are handed extraordinary powers, where every day worker’s lives are put at risk to protect their bosses’ profits, and where the role of labour in society, of our “essential work”, is being laid bare for all to see, it is clear that anarchist intervention in the crisis is vital. The question, however, remains: how do we protect our interests while we protect our health? What can we be doing right now?
Well, we’ve compiled something of a list to help you through the lockdown. We have some suggestions for some reading, some films to enjoy, and some practical action you can be taking in the era of Covid.
Right now you’ve probably got more time on your hands to read than you’ve had for years (unless you’re a health worker)! It’s definitely the time to catch up on all that reading you’ve been meaning to do – but adding a bit more anarchist theory and relevant history to your reading list never goes amiss!
There are a few topics that we think are pretty important to understand right now, so here’s a basic list:
Anarchy! by Errico Malatesta
If you’re new to anarchism, an introductory piece wouldn’t go astray! Malatesta is one of the greatest anarchist authors, and this classic piece isn’t one to be missed (and is well worth revisiting even if you aren’t new to the theory). [If you can’t get enough Malatesta, check out The Method of Freedom: an Errico Malatesta Reader!]
Marx’s Economics for Anarchists by Wayne Price.
As anarchists, we disagree with (most) Marxists on the State and the role of the vanguard party – but Marx’s economic analysis of capitalism is unsurpassed. It’s important for any anti-capitalist to have a coherent understanding of the system and why we’re against it. Wayne Price is a fantastic writer who lays complex ideas out in straight forward language. His pamphlet on Marx’s economics is a great place to start before you go try and make it past the first three chapters of Das Kapital, or suffer a minor stroke by the time you reach volume two. [Also published as ‘The Value of Radical Theory’ by AK Press].
Anarchists and the Trade Unions; Be Active! Be Involved! By Gregor Kerr of the Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland).
Capitalism is entering its most significant crisis since the Great Depression. Class struggle has returned with a vengeance; from the disappearance of millions of jobs, to the fight for PPE in the face of a global pandemic. Trade Unions are the frontline of mass working class resistance, and though they have been shrinking over decades, trade unions have never been more important. But trade union bureaucracy often lines up with the capitalists during a period of crisis – rank and file involvement is a must for anarchist organisation. Gregor Kerr takes up the question of how anarchists should relate to the trade unions.
A Feminist Movement to End Capitalism by Bree Busk.
With the Covid-19 lockdown there has been a significant spike in domestic violence. We cannot look to the state for solutions: a justice system that does not protect women cannot save women from violence in their homes, inadequate and underfunded support services cannot save the women that leave them. Working class women will also suffer disproportionate economic hardship during the pandemic. Workers in female-dominated industries such as hospitality and retail, where work is already insecure and poorly paid, have been hit hard by the crisis.The reproduction of the family and the burden of domestic labour, which continues to fall squarely on women’s shoulders, means that as schools close to contain the spread of the virus, women will be required to take on ever more demanding child care responsibilities. The economic inequality already experienced by working class women is being exacerbated by this crisis. This crisis will hurt us all, but it will adversely affect women more than men.
This article traces the development of one of the largest contemporary feminist movements in the world – the feminist movement in Chile – and we think that there are many lessons that can be learned and applied to the Australian context. There can be no adequate response to the Covid-19 and economic crisis without addressing its impact upon women.
Some isolation reading wouldn’t be complete without a bit of history, right? The Russian Revolution is one of the most significant political events in history, and the Marxists always bang on about it. For good reason. It’s pretty important to anarchists too, though we often tend to spend our time yammering about Spain. Check out this article (of a reasonable length!) by some anarchists from Melbourne laying out the basic anarchist interpretation of the Russian Revolution.
Isolation is boring, and there’s only so long you want to spend your mental energy on reading…much easier to watch a movie or documentary, right? So here’s a hot list of lefty documentaries and films related to anarchism and working class struggle.
Living Utopia [Documentary]
This gem is free on youtube. Living Utopia gives a historical account of the Spanish civil war and the development of the anarchist movement there. During the Spanish revolution millions of average workers and peasants took over industry and agriculture – many would argue it was the most developed working class revolution in history. The best part of this documentary is the interviews with participants who explain in their own language the radical experiments in collective organisation they lived through.
The Take – Naomi Klein. [Documentary]
This 2004 documentary is still vitally important. As a relatively contemporary film, it looks into the workers takeover of an auto plant in Argentina during massive economic crisis. The background is the take over of other workplaces and the implementation of broad swathes of workers control. Inspiring for labour activists everywhere and a reminder that the working class really can run the world.
Rocking the Foundations; A History of the Builders Labourers Federation [Documentary]
This classic Australian documentary covers this Builders Labourers Federation from 1940 until its de-registration in 1974. The BLF stands tall as a pivotal moment not only for unionism in Australia, but in the world. They developed the ‘Green Ban’, where workers in cooperation with the community, would refuse to build projects that harmed the environment. The ‘green bans’ were then extended to encompass projects that destroyed indigenous and public housing, sexist employers etc.
Pride [Feature Film]
This immensley popular film covers the unlikely alliance of a London based lesbian and gay activist group who set out to raise money for families struggling during the great British miners strike of 1984. At the time unlikely allies, the groups re-defined solidarity in the period.
This brand new podcast looks at radical working class history in Australia. There’s literally only one episode out so far, but episode two is very close and we’re expecting big things!
This lefty podcast out of Brisbane comes from a generally more ‘autonomist marxist’ perspective and keeps up with contemporary political issues affecting class struggle in Australia. Going back through the archives you can find interesting discussions on more than just the current crisis!
This is the podcast of Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation in the United States. There are some pretty cool episodes on topics ranging from Tenant Union organising, Nicaraguan history, to feminism and antifa.
If you don’t know about this podcast, you’re missing out. WCH has a brilliant archive of people’s history that they present in the forms of a blog, daily social media updates (“on this day in history…”, and a fantastic podcast.
Start a reading group!
Everyone learns best when they discuss ideas with other people. As the saying goes, you don’t know a topic until you can explain it to others. With all the readings and viewings we’ve listed, you could easily kick off an online reading group. The app Zoom is really popular for hosting online meetings at the moment, though Jitsi is the best encrypted alternative. It can be as simple as asking a few friends to participate, and then making a facebook event and sharing links to the readings. Remember people are looking for something to do right now!
Record a podcast or youtube video!
This is pretty straightforward really. If you have any hot takes on the current crisis or politics, you can find mediums to express them. Podcasts are really popular and a good way for people to pass the time, and youtube videos are always handy. We’ll leave the software recommendations to the professionals for this one.
Invite people to existing discussion groups
Not only can you start your own discussions and film your own projects, but there are already some out there for anarchists. There’s a zoom discussion group every Monday for the length of the lockdown, organised by us here at Anarchist Communism and the Class Struggle.
We originally intended to host a conference later in the year! But with lockdown that’s on hold. In the meantime you can tune in on Zoom to discuss what’s happening with other anarchists from Australia (and our occasional international guest!). You can find the event here, and our facebook here.
Rank and File Union Organising
The unions are the frontline of resistance to the capitalist crisis, and workplaces are where we continue to be exploited so capitalist can make what profits they can. Workers on the frontline face alarming shortages of PPE, unsanitary conditions and exposure to Corona Virus. There are more issues than ever to organise and make demands around. All anarchists should be members of their unions, and if their workplace is not organised, they should be looking to organise it! If you’re already in an organised workplace, you’re probably coming up against the union bureaucracy. We’ve seen rank and file fightback in the NTEU recently, and plenty of people in the construction industry are unhappy with the unions complicity in keeping them at work.
If your workplace is unionised or not, there are valuable resources found here such as this 101 guide to organising.
If you’re not a member of your union yet, you can find the appropriate one through the ACTU website. From there, the best thing to do is to find other rank and file activists who are willing to challenge the status quo. Not everyone is going to be an anarchist or a socialist, and it’s important to remember unions are mass organisations. That means identifying people who are willing to struggle is more of a practical task than an ideological one.
Clearly one of the first major issues to come out of the pandemic and subsequent recession is the issue of housing – millions of jobs have disappeared and people have lost their incomes – but the landlords still expect us to pay rent and the bank still expects us to pay our mortgage. Despite government proclamations of eviction amnesties and support for renters and homeowners, very little assistance is provided to those who need it. The New South Wales and Victorian state governments have announced measures that protect landlords, but do sweet fuck all to help tenants. Is it any wonder thousands of people say they will not pay rent in the coming months?
For reading on the history of rental strikes and tenant organising in Australia see;
Lock Out The Landlords! Anti-Eviction Resistance in Australia 1929-36.
For inspiration on building a fight back, check out the From Below Podcast episode “Organise Your Neighbours; Building the Los Angeles Tenant Union.” Also have a suss of the BRRN forum “Tenant Power In The TIme of Covid-19.” It’s worth remembering that you can’t just import models that work elsewhere, and any rental organising in Australia has to reflect the material conditions here.
Many anarchists like to talk about ‘mutual aid.’ But what on earth is that? Well, to be honest, it’s basically just being nice to each other. In a world that values profit over life, that seems like a radical act. In the past it’s been an idea that has a lot of political weight within the anarchist mileu. It’s employment today is quite different to the mutual aid societies of the early workers movement. At any rate, Teen Vogue covers the concept in the article “People are fighting CoronaVirus with Mutual Aid.”
How ‘mutual aid’ translates practically, is that we organise to assist one another with materials, practical help, etc without the state. This can be anything from dropping extra cans of food we don’t need to someone who’s hungry and in isolation, to helping build a shed, walking your neighbor’s dog, to teaching a free ballet class over zoom. People have a million different needs, but thankfully people also have millions of skills and resources.
However, we’re going to be somewhat dissident towards the broader anarchist tradition, and put forward a little critique of this concept. ‘Mutual aid’ often gets fetishised in the anarchist tradition as something that’s ‘outside’ or ‘beyond politics.’ That being nice to one another is somehow a revolutionary act. This is completely untrue.
Yes, it’s true that people naturally practice solidarity and assistance, but that does not mean they are building a new world in the shell of the old, or an alternative economy. Mutual aid could just as well be seen to help people stay on their feet so they can get back to the business of capitalist relations even sooner. For anarchists, the aim should be to push any project of social organisation as far as possible, to intervene with radical politics. Mutual aid networks are a space where anarchists can say “hey, look how capitalism has failed us. There are better ways we could do things!” We can also point out that the capitalist class owes us a living, and this includes making demands on the bosses and the state. Sometimes these demands are far more important than the few token things we can help each other with. Especially in a society where things are functioning relatively normally, and the state is actually covering many people’s needs. Consider that the mutual aid networks in Australia originally had a flurry of activity two only a few weeks ago when we experienced immediate lockdown and shortages of supply – but many have already stagnated. If anarchists are going to be involved in mutual aid networks, we think they should be aiming to politicise them as much as possible, and that it shouldn’t be a priority compared with some of the sites of struggle we need to address.
Either way, if you need the help of a mutual aid network, or think it’s a political priority for you, then here’s two main ones to get you started.
You may have seen in the media recently that there have been a few demonstrations – hard to do during ‘social distancing’ right, not if you’re in a car! The first group to attempt this strategy under the new lockdown laws was the 1st of May Movement and Maritime Union of Australia in Sydney, and since then the United Workers Union and Refugee Action Coalition have also held car convoy protests. The RAC convoy was cracked down on by the Victorian police, dishing out 43k in fines. This period is an important test for the future of our civil liberties.
In summary, take care of yourselves and one another, and onwards to anarchy!