Review of A.R.G’s first meeting.

22 Jun

(note: though not intending to upset anyone, this is not claiming to be trying to please. it is just my impression of our first meeting. disagree and fire at will.)

A.R.G. Week One

Conceived on Twitter, the birth of A.R.G. took about a week.  Attendance: thirty. They were from a range of backgrounds (read: not all UCL students) but all involved in activism. Some collective identity was established and postnatal reflection generally brought about optimism. A.R.G. started with an awkward discussion about how it should start, eventually it began with one person introducing each of the three texts.

Firstly a man called David introduced a text called “Fragments of An Anarchist Anthropology” written in 2004 by a man called Mr. D. Graeber. We were only looking at the first thirteen pages. It attempted to define some core principles about anarchism and Marxism. It contains two ‘mini-manifestos’ called ‘Against policy’ and ‘Against Anti-utopianism’. David had trouble reconciling anarchism with the academy, and spends much of his time exploring the link. Out of this exploration came a good, clumsy explanation as to why Marxism and the academy have such close links: Marxism is revolutionary theory, anarchism is revolutionary practice. In fact, it is difficult to say even if there is such thing as anarchist theory. Anarchism by in large requires less mutual analysis than Marxist thought. Anyway, as we were pressed for time there was not an awful lot of discussion of the obvious controversial aspects of the text. However, there was a comment by a lady that none of these differences between Marxism and Anarchism were mutually exclusive.

Then a man called Rob introduced a text called “Communiqué from an Absent Future” that came out of the recent Californian occupation movement. This text apparently came out of the very zenith of a movement just before it imploded. They started having large assemblies and that fucked everything up, or something. Anyway, Rob liked the general cynicism in the text and its attitude that we are all complicit in this state of affairs. It was an attack on the university system itself, which in America is especially hierarchical. In such an unequal system they felt it was impossible to separate form and content. A paragraph of particular acclaim claimed the most radical demands to make were no demands.

A boy called Heathcote introduced a text called “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” by a woman called Jo Freeman written in the 1970s. The introduction says it was written at a time when the US women’s liberation movement sought to move from criticising society to changing it. Freeman writes in a very non-nonsense, typological way: “There is no such thing as a ‘structureless’ group”, “To strive for a ‘structureless’ group is as useful and as deceptive as to aim at an ‘objective’ news story, ‘value-free’ social science or a ‘free’ economy”, “A structured group always has a formal structure, and may also have an informal one. An unstructured group always has an informal, or covert, structure. It is this informal structure particularly in unstructured groups, which forms the basis for elites.” And so on and so forth. Extremely readable, laughably relevant and biblically useful.

A Welsh called Jon introduced the second of two posts by London’s ‘Escalate Collective’. This text was written in the aftermath of the March 26th protest in London as a response to the media representation that the only ‘legitimate’ protest is one that is not antagonistic. Protest must be pre-approved in order to be ‘listened to’. Any class rhetoric is ‘outdated’. ‘Anarchist’ became simply the negation of shopping. Dissent becomes a commodity in itself. They highlighted Ed Miliband’s revisionist view of history. His extraordinary claim that the suffragettes, civil rights movement and anti-Apartheid struggles were all ‘peaceful’ – then, they draw an “eerie commonality” between the movements Ed references: “they all ended in registering the vote for women and black citizens, while underlying structural inequality perdured. Hypnotised by the mantras of New Labour politicians, who would even recall that the anti-Apartheid and Civil Rights movements were about black resistance? Or that the Suffragettes fought for women?” We must not let the struggle become sanitised in the solution!

The rest of the meeting took two halves, one far more enjoyable than the other: In the first everyone moved around the circle and explained why they were here, what they enjoyed about the texts, what they might like to study in future and any comments like this that occupied them (in the second we talked about process). Niwde drew a connection between Escalate Collective and the “institutional racism’ of UCL – just because an institution does not shout loud about how much they hate blacks, if they racialise their cuts (if, for example, 90% of the people they cut happen to be from an ethnic minority) that’s racism! Edwin spoke of how insidious this racism is. How it seeds itself into a system. He illustrated this by quoting one UCL student who said: “That’s not institutional racism. That’s life.”

Bor damned crap academic discourses, and hoped he’d learn a new one here. Anor damned ‘single issue’ politics, preferring to talk about life as political rather than sanitised middle of the road crap. Hannah sang Marx’s praises and wanted to reconcile Divad’s dichotomy between Marxism and anarchism. Oos Naut mocked the SWP’s use of “Tyranny of Structurelessness” to damn anarchist organising. Clearly Freeman recommends a radically different form of organising to theirs (I.E. since when did the SWP “distribute of authority among as many people as is reasonably possible” or “Rotate their tasks among individuals”). A few people in the group wanted to study more ‘classical Marxism’, however the general mood hungered for far more for contemporary texts. Noraa said “I love Marx, but I want to look at how things have changed since 2008. Greece! Historically, this was not meant to happen! It’s crazy! More contemporary stuff please!” People enjoyed the novel idea of reading the ancient Greeks next to our contemporary Greeks. No one seemed too upset by this ‘fetishisation of the Greek’…

Leirbag wanted to explore Chomsky’s ideas on “interpreting structures of power” – in order to fuck them up! He was also worried, somewhat precociously, about starting an age of Stalinist terror. Lraep found the idea that the reading group was a “critical mass of anarchists” a bit problematic, but was generally approving of the group. Bokaj disagreed with some of Escalate, but it titillated him and he thought it was amazing. He then mused on how powerful disobedience was. Divad was also keen on a contemporary focus because of how dizzyingly things are changing. Luap, along with many others, was keen on the group being used to make sense of the many political actions so many of the group spend their lives doing. Ttam liked this idea of refining our collective politics. He wanted to learn from the Italians in the 1970s and felt that today there were many “open doors for autonomist politics”.

In future weeks there was a desire to learn some basic principles such as “What is direct action/autonomy/Lady Gaga and Zizek’s relationship?” There was also a discussion about the idea of ‘guest speakers’ and events. Some had opposition to the hierarchical idea of having some smarthead come in to teach us. Others felt that we had a lot to learn from smartheads. It seemed decided that there were actually enough free talks and stuff in London so we don’t need to emulate that structure. That does not mean that if interesting people are coming through London they should not stop by and join in our reading group. We could even study their texts and then discuss it as a group. Etep wanted to organise some film screenings. Particularly one whereby we could write a critique of Adam Curtis’ weird new series. The idea of collective action and collevtive writing  and collevtive stuff was generally lauded. Esor liked the idea of videos and big groups, not presentations and divisions. Mas on the other hand was keen on the idea of breaking into little groups, or some members of the group introducing the idea. Needless to say, eventually this large group of sweaty left wingers found themselves trapped in a cage of process discussions. Afterwards some said that it was more important than any process was that we discuss the texts. Dicuss the texts more! The mood was excited and nervous. Will A.R.G. prove to be a wonderful cultural melee? Or a damp after school club for weirdoes? (Or in the paradigms of Adam Curtis…) Are we cockroaches? Or are we ants?

There was some talk on the idea of A.R.Gs being set up in other places. Should they be connected in some way? Should there be any attempt at outreach? How will the blog be used? Should we make posters? The balance between planning and fluidity must be met! A.R.G! DESTORYING CAPITAL IN A OVERHEATED GEOGRAPHY PHD CLASS NEAR YOU!

2 Responses to “Review of A.R.G’s first meeting.”

  1. Pierre-Joseph June 23, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    Difficult to say if there is such a thing as anarchist theory? Was it not Proudhon’s book What is Property? that convinced the young Karl Marx that private property should be abolished?

    It’s amazing how often the title of the tract ‘the tyranny of structurelessness’ is thrown into a debate to damn Anarchism. It just makes it clear that the person has neither read the text nor understands Anarchism yet parrots what their superior comrades tell them. Just some of the many, many requirements for being a member of the SWP. Why don’t you go back to fighting each other and leave the adults to get on with it, are you not due a split?

    Anarchy is order.

    • heathcoteruthven June 23, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

      Just in the sense that anarchism tends to deal with more with practice than theory and that getting super hung up on “high” theory tends to be something that Marxists do more often. Here’s a relevant quote from the Graeber text:

      “Anarchists have never been much interested in the kinds of broad strategic or philosophical questions that have historically preoccupied Marxists—questions like: Are the peasants a potentially revolutionary class? (Anarchists consider this something for the peasants to decide.)What is the nature of the commodity form? Rather, they tend to argue with each other about what is the truly democratic way to go about a meeting, at what point organization stops being empowering and starts squelching individual freedom. Or, alternately, about the ethics of opposing power: What is direct action? Is it necessary (or right) to publicly condemn someone who assassinates a head of state? Or can assassination, especially if it prevents something terrible, like a war, be a moral act? When is it okay to break a window? To sum up then: 1. Marxism has tended to be a theoretical or analytical discourse about revolutionary strategy. 2. Anarchism has tended to be an ethical discourse about revolutionary practice. ”

      Saying all that. Big up Marx! He’s amazing! ❤

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