The Melbourne Anarchist - ROADTRIP!!! Was on just under a – ROADTRIP!!! Ago. Okay, let me get this off my chest. At the Jura collective meeting a few months ago, there was mention of the Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair, and my first reaction was: ROADTRIP!!!
Clearly I'm a fan of ROADTRIPS!!! There's something about long, casual drives across vast stretches of land that appeal to me, and when three interesting, engaging people from the Sydney anarchist community are added to the mix, we have a recipe for awesomeness. And that's what Melbourne Anarchist ROADTRIP!!! Bookfair was – awesome.
The Bookfair was held on Saturday, 9th of August from 10am till about 6pm at Abbotsford Convent. According to the convent website, it was built on the land of the Wurundjeri people (respect to the original custodians) in the late 1900s. It went from being a nunnery/orphanage, to a university faculty, to a potential development site, to a site of community resistance. The end result of the resistance was the formation of Abbotsford Convent Foundation, in 2004. It owns and manages the complex as a community asset with a focus on arts, culture, and learning. How appropriate then, that The Bookfair found this home to house it's education in resistance.
Education is extremely important, especially when many people are ignorant of what anarchism actually is, and blindly propagate lamestream media myths. This was another reason why I looked forward to the road-trip. Although I'm not new to the 'lefty' scene, and have been involved in organising protests, I'm relatively new to anarchism as a politic and the Sydney anarchist community as a whole. So, the idea of road-tripping with people – a member from Jura, a member from Black Rose, and an unaffiliated active activist – who had greater understanding of it's principles and practices, felt to be a ripe educational opportunity.
Thanks to my comrades, on the drive to Melbourne I learnt about the platformist tendency within the anarchist movement, and at The Bookfair after party I learnt about Jura’s association with anarcho-syndicalism (not to mention the conflict between these two schools of thought/practice). Finally, through my own observations at The Bookfair I learnt that a broad, diverse, and passionate bunch of people wave the anarchist flag.
The people that I met impressed me with their enthusiasm and dedication. I met a couple of people part of an informal collective, whom had recently set up a community centre; a zine and card maker, from whom I bought a hilarious “dance dance revolution” card, with a dancing communist cat on it; a few people from the Melbourne Street Medic Collective doing great work to educate the activist scene on self-care and first aid; a bunch from Anarchist Affinity; a hard worker women from MADGE, whom I'd be in contact with in the past for the March Against Monsanto campaign; and a bunch of other dedicated, inspiring people.
On the Jura side of The Bookfair, the two member Jura contingent, plus an “honounary member”, were surprised to be joined by a long-time Jura member. The extra Jura member helped lighten load of holding down the fort, and puncture the bustling setting-up with a welcome reprieve. Not for long, however, as we went from a discriminate organisation of books, to broad brush strokes, to simply trying to keep them from falling off the table and loosely organised. All the while, the Black Rose member successful set up a table overflowing with zines.
Regardless of suicidal books, the table mostly worked, and people seemed to be able to find what they wanted; no doubt it could've been organised better. At the end of the day we did sell a decent number of books ranging from the queer section (Queering Anarchism); to the classic by Marshall, Demanding the Impossible. From the general Anarchism section like Proudhun, and the more recent Black Flame by Schmidt and Walt; from direct action anthologies, like the lovely Australia How To Influence People and Make Trouble, to books on Africian, Spanish, Doaist, and Asian Anarchism; from Anarcho-feminist classic Quiet Rumours, to books on ecology and veganism. Plus, we gave a bunch of Sedition away and signed up many more members to our email list!
There wasn't just book selling action at the table, but conversational as well. Amongst the intermittent talks, we had some about the eroding effect neoliberalism has on radical politics in universities; the lack of obvious anarchical politics in V for Vendetta; and the importance of militancy in a movement. Of course, we also heard many people lamenting the fact of so many good books to buy, yet a limited budget to buy them.
There were, however, more than just books, but talks and skill sharing workshops. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go to more than one talk. It was title First Nations Liberation, represented by Robbie Thorpe who gave an impassioned speech, reminding us all of the black and bloody history of Australia. This was followed by the gentle, yet intense Vivian Malo who shared a condensed version of her story of coming out of ignorant and powerless of the struggles of indigenous Australians, to empowerment and to fighting back. Lastly, a young women told of her soon-to-be crusade to Canada, to visit the First Nations people to learn of their struggle and victories. To support her travels she was raffling off some art, which Jura bought a couple of tickets.
Other talks included Anarchist Parenting, Rise of Fascism in Europe and Australia, Intersectional Feminism, Worker's Power and Radical Labour Struggles, Reclaiming Education From Neoliberalism, and much, much more. Even a basic What is Anarchism? talk. Hopefully, something for everyone.
After a long and tiring, yet interesting and engaging, day the entire Jura contingent made our way to the after party. Although we missed out on the bands that played, we engaged instead in lively discussions and making much merry. It was here that I got a chance to meet and talk to the Black Swan collective from Adelaide; discuss the Anarchist action in Melbourne via some members of Anarchist Affinity; and observe and intermittently engaged in an impassioned discussions with a cheerful member of MAC.
It was a fitting end to The Bookfair. The drive home was longer than the drive down, the busy few days in Melbourne had taken their toll, though it was well worth the trip. Not only did I get the opportunity to clarify my own understanding of Anarchism, but I got to feel an authentic sense of solidarity with my fellow anarchist in Melbourne and with those who ventured down to Melbourne with me. And my love for a good ROADTRIP!!! wasn't diminished at all. I hope to make my way down to the next Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair, with an even bigger contingent of Sydney Anarchists.
A big thanks goes out to the very generous and anonymous donor who helped to cover the cost of the hire car and petrol. Also, thanks to those that took the trip down with me, the Melbourne Anarchist crew for organising The Bookfair, and the Jura crew for helping me select books to take down.
This guest contribution to the Jura blog comes from Daisy, a local Blacktown High School student. For her year 12 Personal Interest Project (PIP), Daisy explored notions of freedom, human needs, authority, power and the relationship between freedom and happiness. Daisy has drawn on her own research, a survey, personal reflection and an interview with Jeremy Kay of the Jura Collective. Although we don't agree with all of Daisy's conclusions, Jura is happy to publish this work as we think it is an interesting and thoughtful consideration of the issues - and we congratulate Daisy on her hard work!
My Personal Interest Project (PIP) will be exploring individual freedom and how human needs, authority and power and conditioning work together within society and how these factors can influence, affect and shape an individual’s micro and macro world.
My focus question will be ‘Are people free?’
The aims of my project are:
- To determine whether freedom is attainable.
- To discover the perceptions of freedom across generations and to assess if they are different or similar.
- To assess how freedom is understood through evident restrictions.
To be free is commonly connoted to being happy, a desire that every human wants to feel. In the world freedom is a universal property that all people are in some way connected to, whether positively or negatively. It is a concept with numerous definitions and understandings.
I chose this topic to be able to grasp this seemingly amorphous concept and reflect on the importance it has on people’s lives, both now and in the past. I find it interesting how the vision of freedom can push people to do such extraordinary things that are out of their social norms, even to wage wars to try to obtain freedom. In contrast though, some individuals never break through boundaries and will never question that their life could be any different and instead remain stuck in an identity that they may hate. I want to know if freedom is an expression, an emotion, a physical state or an illusion of the mind and to understand how fear operates in this context and why it appears to be so easily injected into freedom.
My PIP will contribute to a better understanding of society and culture through the main course concepts of society, culture, persons, environment, time, power and authority, and also, technology, gender, responsibilities, identity, status, tradition, conflict, social construct and social theories. Society sets the status quo and social constructs that people need to mould into, to achieve self-actualisation in their specific environment and time. These social constructs typically can generate conformity and a fear of freedom, which in turn can disintegrate an individual’s unique self. Human motivation, need and behaviour theories explain what boundaries surround an individual on a micro level and restrict them from being free.
The methodologies used will include a survey, interview and a personal reflection. I chose the survey and interview to obtain a wide array of information including both quantitative and qualitative data. I will be surveying people from different generations as my cross-cultural component, which will show continuity and change.
The interview and personal reflection will highlight contrasting ideologies that are based upon systems evident in the Australian society. The reflection will be my own perception of growing up in Australia and the interview will involve the specialised understanding of Jeremy Kay, an Anarchist and member of the Jura Collective in Sydney.
It sounds obvious right? But like any belief you have to feel it for yourself or it’s not real. My parents understood this, as they were both raised Catholic and had to find their own way to something they could believe in. They realized that when it came to raising their own children they could do as generations before them have done and simply ram dictum down our throats or they could teach us to think for ourselves. They taught us to be strong in our own ideas, to respect other humans, respect and love nature, to have an interest in the world around us, to challenge authority and to never give up on what we believe in and what we want from life. They taught us to believe in equality for all, to have sympathy, and more importantly to have empathy. I learnt that woman can be as strong or stronger than men through positive example. One of the many political posters in our home read “Real women don’t have hot flushes, they have Power Surges!” And granted this might have been there more for my Mamma than for me, it still had its power! We also grew up hearing names like Noam Chomsky (who I assumed to be one of my Papa’s friends), Emma Goldman and Bakunin. I heard stories of my Mamma’s time working in a Women’s Refuge, funny, moving and sad stories. This might sound to you like they were teaching us to be anarchists but really they were just teaching us to be decent human beings.
It took me until I was 11 or 12 years old before I realised I didn’t know what the word ‘anarchism’ meant. I was at school one day and someone had made a joke about anarchists (I went to a very alternative school) maybe something about bomb throwing or chaos. Anyway I laughed dismissively and haughtily pronounced them to be an idiot for not knowing what anarchism really was. The next thing to happen, which is quite reasonable and even obvious, was that I was asked to explain myself. Well it certainly came as a shock to realize I had no words to explain myself. None. I got as far as “Anarchism is an idea...” before petering out and making some crap up to cover my ass.
When I got home I asked my Papa to please explain what anarchism meant. I hope I sounded as humble as I felt in that moment. Having grown up under the table of Jura Books meeting1, I had assumed I had imbibed the knowledge around me in real words. I think perhaps my Papa would have been quite proud of that moment as it showed that their parenting technique had worked; I had come seeking the knowledge myself.
Even so I still went through the same stages of thinking I have seen in others, the good and the bad until I learnt that you can’t force anarchism on the world. At age 13 I went ahead with blithe ignorance and the destructive habits of teenage-hood such as shopping at Westfield’s and rebelliously drinking the devil Coke while eating some form of fast food as I tried to be like everyone else. I never went so far as to buy MacDonald’s, which had always been out of the question under a strong campaign from my Mamma. In 2003 I wanted to go to the Anti-War rallies, so did my Mamma and we went together. At 15 I formed a plan to brainwash the entire world leaving only a select and trustworthy few to teach and ‘rule’ everyone else. I am now amused and slightly ashamed that I ever thought this, which was the reaction I got from my parents when I pronounced this plan to them. For my year 12 HSC Extension History project I wrote a paper asking the question ‘Why did Anarchism fail in the Spanish Revolution?’ concluding that it did not in fact fail but was betrayed by the Communists and killed by the Fascists. I thought I was very original, until I discovered several other projects on the same subject. However I did learn wonderful amounts of anarchist history and theory in the process. At 17 I became very pessimistic about humans and their capacity to care for others after spending too much time on the Blue Mountains trains during the day as I traveled to school for late starting classes and so retreated somewhat into books. At 18 I struggled with a severe sense of impending doom of the apocalyptic kind where I wondered how it would ever be possible to fix what we have broken and thought it would be better to just let us all die so Nature could start the slow process of rebuilding the world. I think this also coincided with AL Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’.
But all these processes helped me progress and form as a person. During my apocalyptic stage I chose my line of study and future work. I felt I needed to achieve something practical within three or four years so that when the Climate Crisis hit I would have something to offer in the rebuilding of society. So I chose to become a jeweller. I know this sounds counter intuitive at first as jewellery can be such a frivolous and commercial trade but I wanted to be an artist. Artists are the keepers of culture but I also wanted practical skills. I had visited an artisan blacksmith collective in Hobart and loved everything I saw, both the work they did and they way they ran their space as they shared recourses, workshops and working in the shop. I found a course that would teach me Jewellery and Object - meaning metal-smithing, cutlery making, and tool making, with ceramics and glass blowing as elective options. So that was everything rolled into one creative ball. And I haven’t looked back since even though I now know the crisis won’t hit all at once and like frogs in slowly heating water, we haven’t jumped out.
Honestly I still find it hard to put anarchism into words. For me it is feelings, it is a way of life, it is a all that is right in the world even if you don’t know it or name it. It is optimism and faith in humanity. I know now that the ‘technical’ words for this are ‘mutual aid’ and that equality, feminism and collectivism are the strong backbone of my beliefs but ‘isms’ don’t really cut it when anarchism is simply life to me. I feel the rage that every left-thinking person feels when I look at the world and our government, but I also feel hope because I think we can change and we can grow as individuals and a society. I learnt from my parents the art of critical thinking but more importantly they taught me to love life and to me that means anarchism.
AnarchismFeminismJura BooksJura History
Jeremy is interviewed by Daisy, a Blacktown high-school student.
"Hi Daisy, I've done my best to answer your questions properly, but briefly. It was very difficult! You've asked lots of interesting and challenging questions which we anarchists think deserve thorough consideration. In fact, that's exactly why we at Jura run a bookshop and library filled with thousands of books dealing with these questions and issues! I hope you will come in and check them out – you'll find much more thorough answers than the ones I've given below.
"Jura Books is an anarchist bookshop, library and organising space that has been going for 37 years. We hold regular events such as talks, film screenings, and gigs and we're located at 440 Parramatta Road, Petersham.
"I've been an anarchist for 16 years and a member of the Jura Collective for the last 9 years. I'm also involved in wider social movements, including workers, tenants and environmental movements and organisations."
1. Why are you an anarchist?
The world is in crisis. Many people just accept this crisis as a way of life. Here in Sydney, the rich live their luxurious lives with their boats and waterfront mansions over in Vaucluse, while in Blacktown (where my sister lives and you go to school) workers struggle to pay the bills, and people without jobs struggle to survive. Across Australia, Aborigines continue to suffer because of stolen land, stolen children and stolen wages. Women live in fear of male violence. A bit further away (but not much really) refugees are fleeing wars made by our government and then being locked up and tortured by that same government. Meanwhile climate change threatens the existence of all civilisations on the planet. Everyone has constant feelings of anxiety, fear and alienation – an understandable response to living within this stupid system of capitalism, patriarchy, government and corporate media.
Any person with their eyes open can see that this world needs big change. The question is: how do we make that change? How do we solve those massive problems?
I'm an anarchist because I believe the change we need can only be made by the people, from below. If you look at history, things have only changed for the better when people have organised and taken action in social movements. Workers won the weekend and the 8 hour day through being organised in unions. Women and Aborigines won many rights by forming movements like the Suffragettes and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. These struggles still have a long way to go to achieve true justice, but they show us what is possible.
Politicians, political parties and parliamentary politics don't make positive change. At best they are a distraction and at worst they are parasites on social movements. Some individual politicians are good people, but they either become corrupted by power or are prevented from making real change by the nature of the whole system. We don't need new leaders; we need to take the lead ourselves. The Australian Labor Party came out of the workers movement, but it is now a hopeless millstone around our necks, with policies almost indistinguishable from those of the Liberal Party: anti-worker and pro-business. I predict that the Greens will either be similarly corrupted by the dirty game of parliamentary politics, or be crushed by it. The Bolsheviks in Russia and the Communist Party in China appointed themselves the leaders of people's revolutions; they soon became oppressive governments that exploited and oppressed the people. I think it's clear that neither parliamentary parties, nor revolutionary parties are able to solve the world's problems. Voting once every few years, or blindly obeying 'revolutionary' leaders will never fix the mess we're in.
Instead, we need everyday people to get together, make real democracy, and take direct action. Anarchism is a guide to how that might happen.
2. What does ‘freedom’ mean for you?
For me, freedom means the ability to realise our potential – as individual human beings and as a society. It means being free from irrational constraints such as prison walls, artificial scarcity or ignorance. (By 'artificial scarcity' I mean an unnatural lack in things – for example food. There is more than enough food to feed everyone in our world, but our absurd economic system makes it scarce for some people.)
Freedom means having the capacity and the resources to make good decisions and live a good life. Those resources might include material things (food, shelter, health) and more abstract social things (such as education, friendship, respect).
So freedom, as I understand it, can only be realised together with other people. For me, every person's freedom is directly related to everyone else's freedom. I can never be truly free while there are other people in jail or starving. Equally, one person's freedom ends where another person's begins. A person who sees it as their 'freedom' to hurt or exploit another is wrong – they have mistaken freedom for privilege. The first person hasn't taking into account the second person's right to be free from harm and exploitation. The first person has claimed an unfair entitlement, not true freedom. This is why anarchists see freedom and equality as fundamentally connected. Both are necessary. Hence the famous quote by anarchist Mikhail Bakunin:
'Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice;
socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.'
There is no way of knowing how beautiful each of us could be or how wonderful our society could be if we were able to realise our potential free from irrational constraints and properly use all the resources that are currently wasted. For me, expanding our freedom is the path to that beautiful world.
3. What are you currently restricted by?
You and I are restricted by all sorts of things. Some of them are more illogical, unnecessary and dangerous than others. For example, the capitalist system forces most of us to work for more than 8 hours a day doing silly tasks like filling in forms, learning irrelevant information, or making plastic rubbish in a factory, so we can get enough money to pay bills. Some workers die on the job due to poor safety or too much pressure. Most of us have to pay rent or mortgage payments to a person or bank who owns our house but didn't build it. Many of us walk in fear at night that we'll be attacked or robbed by someone who is so desperate and poor or has such ignorant ideas that they're willing to hurt people just like them. These are all unnecessary and illogical restrictions on our freedom.
However these restrictions are also quite useful for some people – the rich and powerful – and the system as a whole. The work we do and the rent we pay makes a nice profit for our bosses and landlords. It makes their lives easier. The fear women feel, benefits and empowers men.
The artificial idea of private property allows some people to get rich just because they own something, while other people do the work. Anarchists see private property as an anathema to freedom. If things like land, houses, factories etc were commonly owned, we would be free to do useful work and pursue our own interests, instead of being restricted to working for the owners and bosses.
Of course you and I are also 'restricted' by other, more natural constraints. For example, the laws of physics. Gravity means we can't jump up and fly. The nature of our bodies mean that we will grow old and die. These 'restrictions' may be frustrating; philosophers will always ponder them, and scientists will work on interesting ways to defy them. But as an anarchist I'm not too worried about them. Instead I'm outraged and opposed to the aforementioned, unnecessary and destructive constraints which our social system creates and recreates. It would be absolutely possible for everyone on the planet to work only 6 hours a day, have enough food and shelter, and stop destroying the climate, if we had a rationally-organised, anarchist or libertarian socialist economic system.
4. What emotion would you connect to freedom and why?
Hope. An expansive feeling, optimistically open to possibilities and liberation.
5. Is it better to be happy or free? (In relation to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley)
Well, I don't see happiness and freedom as mutually exclusive, but rather connected. I think freedom for all is a necessary ingredient for real happiness. I think the sort of ghastly 'happiness' described in Brave New World is one based on brain-washing, drugs, and authoritarian hierarchy. Certainly there are some similarities with the way people in our society accept ignorance and obedience, and use alcohol and other drugs to cover-up their problems. But I wouldn't call that true happiness. Similarly, people who have the sort of 'freedom' which I've referred to already as 'privilege', and which exists separately to other people's lack of freedom, are often miserable. So what I'm saying is that we all need to be free, if we want to be a truly happy society.
While we're talking about dystopian fiction, I recommend George Orwell's 1984 if you haven't already read it. It captures other aspects that exist in our unfree society – the more violent, 'hard' power of the police and military for example. Orwell was sympathetic to anarchism and fought alongside the anarchists during the Spanish Revolution. He also wrote an excellent memoir of this time, Homage to Catalonia, which I also recommend to you.
6. Do you believe there are negative aspects of freedom?
As I said earlier, when someone uses the idea of 'freedom' to justify their privilege or violence that is indeed a problem. I don't think freedom means 'do what you want and stuff the consequences' – that's just selfishness. Many privileged groups in our society are guilty of using this corrupted, selfish notion of freedom. For example, when capitalists and bosses talk about the 'free' market, and 'freedom to enter into contracts' they really mean very unfair markets and very unfair contracts which can only exist because the State protects them with the threat of violence against anyone who disagrees. When a mining company comes along and asserts their 'freedom' to dig up coal seam gas, and pollute the water supply, they are ignoring the freedom of the community to live safe and healthy lives. Luckily, sometimes the community is able to stand up to that and assert their own freedom, solidarity and equality – as happened recently at the Bentley Blockade in Northern NSW.
7. Is conformity dangerous?
Of course there's nothing wrong with doing some things in the same way that other people do them (in fact it's quite sensible to learn from others), but the notion of 'conformity' tends to imply a mindless obedience to the crowd or to some authority figure. This is never a good idea. Some of the worst atrocities are perpetrated by ordinary people 'just following orders' or 'doing what everyone else was doing'.
The extreme version of the conformist way of thinking is fascism. The Nazis were fascist, as you probably know. Unfortunately, fascism still exists in our world today; in Australia, the Australia First Party is one group that is pretty openly fascist. They recently held an anti-immigrant, anti-refugee meeting in Doonside. We anarchists and other radicals were there to protest. Anarchists have always been strong opponents of fascism and nationalism (which usually go together). Fascism must always be opposed. Unfortunately, many mainstream Australian politicians have also used racist, nationalist and fascist ideas to mislead people.
We should always question authority, discuss things with a range of people, and think critically about 'common sense' and other socially accepted values. Sometimes we might accept that an authority is justified – for example a parent stopping their child running into the road, or a teacher explaining something they know more about to their students. We might decide that the current hipster fashion of skinny jeans, ironic tops, thick- rimmed glasses, reading classics and riding a bike is totally cool (and harmless). We might accept the commonly held belief that caring for other people is a noble activity. On the other hand, if someone commands us to hate and kill someone else because of their race or religion, we should reject that order, even if many of our friends are doing it! Authority and the crowd mentality should always be evaluated critically, and can be very dangerous indeed.
8. Where did your desire to rebel against social constructs or circumstantial destiny derive from? (E.g. The legal system and authorities in Australia)
Hmmm, this is a few questions in one. First of all I think the desire to rebel against the sort of arbitrary, irrational constraints that I've been talking about is a very natural human desire. It makes sense that people want to live good lives, without interference by others who would dominate, control and exploit us. On the other hand, the desire to conform has to be drummed into us from an early age through systems of discipline and punishment at home and at school that I'm sure you're familiar with.
As for social constructs, well I think they have to be critically evaluated in the same way as I talked about authority above. Some 'social constructs' are undeniably useful and I would have no wish to rebel against them (and most anarchists would agree with me) – for example language, and music, and useful inventions like the bicycle or solar power. Other social constructs are not useful, except to serve the rich and powerful. For example the atom bomb, private property and the construction of gender as a hierarchy where women are inferior and have to do more work than men. We should destroy those social constructs.
The legal system is a complex beast. In our society it generally serves the rich and powerful. It protects their 'freedom' to exploit us much better than it protects our right to be free of exploitation. However social movements have been able to force some changes on the legal system and win some rights – such as the right to be free from discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality, disability, age or religion. In some ways the legal system reflects broader social values, although it is usually decades or more behind people's real feelings. I think the legal system is a tool (perhaps you could compare it to a knife) which could be used for useful purposes, but is often abused in the hands of the powerful. In a better world I would still want some sort of system of justice, but it would be so different to today's legal system as to be almost unrecognisable. I would want it to be truly fair and to genuinely protect the rights and freedoms of all, especially the most vulnerable. (I talk a bit more about anarchist notions of justice in Question 10 below.)
I'm not sure exactly what you mean by circumstantial destiny, but I'll take it as the idea that our circumstances exert some sort of determining force on our lives. Well, it's quite a philosophical question, and I usually focus on everyday politics, but I'll do my best. Clearly there are some things that shape who we are and are beyond our control: where and when we're born, how wealthy our family is, the sort of education we have, our genetics, quantum physics etc. These things have an undeniable impact on our lives. But I do not think they are all-determining. I also don't believe in any mystical/magical forces of 'destiny' or 'fate'. I think most people would agree that we have some level of control over how we react to our circumstances and the choices we make about our lives. I believe that we have some agency. There is an interplay between agency and structure, and I feel that we have some room to move. We certainly can't control everything in our lives, but we can take small actions that may ultimately produce large effects. These actions can be multiplied if many people do them together. We can look for the cracks and slip through them, to open up unlikely possibilities. And to return to your question, and where the desire to rebel in this way might come from, well, I guess I would return to the idea of hope. I have hope that if we take action, if we resist the negative forces that try to control and limit us, if we slip through the cracks, we might be able to open up a new world on the other side.
9. How would hysteria and fear be resolved in a free society and other human needs such as safety and belonging?
Well, first of all, anarchists usually make the point that we don't have a blueprint for the future free society. We can't say how people in a free future will meet all the various human needs that exist (which may well be somewhat different to the needs which exist now). We argue that the people of that society should make their own decisions about the workings of their own society – not only is that an anarchist principle, but we're also sure they would be much better equipped to make these decisions than we are! However, we can suggest that in a free, anarchist society, decisions about how to meet human needs will be based on certain fundamental principles. Among others, these principles would include:
- recognition of both the value of the individual and the collective;
- recognition of minorities and vulnerable groups;
- solidarity and mutual aid (which basically mean looking out for each other and helping each other)
- direct democracy.
There are also anarchists who are trying to put some of these principles into practice today – even in our unfree society. So for example, (and here I'm going to approach the notions of fear and 'hysteria' that you raised as mental health issues) anarchists have set up co-counselling groups, and other forms of radical therapy organised by ourselves, for ourselves. These models break away from traditional, authoritarian models of mental health, and instead enact the principle of mutual aid in order to deal with human needs. See for example The Icarus Project.
In relation to safety and belonging, I hope you'll agree that the sort of freedom I've been describing (bound up as it is with mutual aid) would actually make us all feel a greater sense of safety and belonging than exists in our current authoritarian society. Like other human needs, I think the need for safety and belonging would be best met through mutual care, rather than for profit as often is the case in our capitalist society.
10. Would punishment exist in a free society if someone were interfering with another’s freedom? (E.g. murder or rape)
Again, anarchists support the principle that people should work out this sort of question for themselves in their own communities. In general, we hope that there would be dramatically less violence in an anarchist society. Once every person was properly cared for, sheltered, and educated, we believe there would be far fewer acts of violence between people.
In relation to rape, most anarchists would argue that rape is an act of violence that is a product of our authoritarian patriarchal society. We hope when society becomes properly equal and pro-feminist, women and men will respect each other and share power as equals, and far fewer men would commit rape than today.
However, that said, we recognise that this is a fairly utopian vision, and that in the here and now we need to deal with rape and other acts of violence. Our approach at Jura Books has been similar to that of other anarchist collectives. First of all we try to create a Safer Space. This means a space in which women and other oppressed people in particular, are empowered and do not have to fear violence. In order to do this we have regular discussions about what it means to be pro-feminist and be a safer space; we have a written policy; and we try to explain and promote this policy to people who use our space. We have a survivor-centred approach to dealing with cases of sexual violence. Unfortunately, there have been a few instances of rape within the anarchist community. (Since we live in a patriarchal society, unfortunately there is no community where women are completely safe.) We have tried to respond to these instances of violence and rape in a pro-feminist and survivor-centred way. This means that we do not interrogate or put the burden of proof on the rape survivor (as often happens in mainstream media and law courts). Instead we expect the rape perpetrator to show that he has recognised the act he committed, and has gone through a lengthy and extensive process of change (usually including getting counselling and making amends in some way). If he is not willing or able to show that he has fully changed, or if the survivor is not happy with his progress, then he is not welcome at Jura. To my knowledge, in the last five years, two men have been banned from anarchist spaces in Sydney, and have been publicly shamed, because of their actions. This is a form of punishment. We also support the right of the survivor to take her case to the police, although in general we do not think the police or the State offer good solutions to these problems.
As a rule, anarchists are opposed to prisons and the other forms of punishment common in our society. We believe that prisons are places of torture and extermination which disproportionately target poor people and Aborigines. If you look at the data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, you'll see that the majority of prisoners are locked up for relatively minor crimes relating to property or drugs, not violence. And Aborigines represent 3% of the total population in Australia, but more than 28% of Australia’s prison population are Aboriginal. This is unacceptable. Prisons are not places which help people. They are places where already disadvantaged people are further brutalised. Prisons are part of the problem, not the solution to the violence in our society.
11. Control can be used in other ways apart from politics, for example moral control. In a free society could jailed ways of thinking, in relation to stereotypes and gender roles be demolished or is it impossible to remove them because they are apart of human nature?
You're right that 'control' can refer to many things. One fundamental distinction I would make is between self-control based on your own choices and ethics, and control imposed from outside (usually by a violent, illogical authority like the State). I'm totally in favour of the former – where a person develops her or his own ethics and exerts self-control over herself or himself; it's a great part of being human that we have the capacity to do this.
I think we should base our beliefs on logic, reason and ethical principles which have been worked out, debated, tested and agreed upon with a wide range of other people in our community. I support people's freedom to work out their own beliefs, and to have different beliefs to other people – up to the point where those beliefs lead to oppression of others. So for example, I support a person's right to freely choose to believe in God, or a Goddess, or many gods for that matter, even though I don't believe in those things. However I do not support any person or Church who tries to impose these beliefs on other people, or oppress people who think differently.
I also don't support beliefs which are inherently oppressive to others, or 'jailed ways of thinking' as you put it nicely, such as racism, sexism, homophobia etc. I hope that in a better world, where everyone has enough to eat and is fully educated about history, science and all the rest of human knowledge, people would reach more logical, ethical views by themselves. I hope that people would realise that certain ideas are wrong and oppressive. Already, many educated people are rejecting stupid ideas such as gender stereotypes, or the belief that one religion or bible contains the absolute truth.
'Human nature' is another big topic. The short answer is that anarchists usually see 'human nature' as a broad and changeable thing – a suite of possibilities rather than one defined rule. As humans we clearly have the capacity to be kind or cruel, generous or stingy, cooperative or competitive. In certain contexts, our good qualities come out more easily – for example parents' love of their children. In other contexts, the bad parts of human nature come out – for example soldiers killing each other at war, or high school students competing ruthlessly with each other for a small number of university places. As anarchists we are working towards a society where the whole system will bring out people's capacity for mutual aid and support, instead of competition and violence.
12. Human instinct and human nature also have their own physical and mental limitations. Is absolute freedom an illusion?
I think I covered some of this in Question 3 above. Certainly there are physical and mental limits to what we can achieve as humans. However it's equally certain that we
haven't reached those limits yet. Most of the barriers to reaching our potential are imposed upon us by the authoritarian systems of capitalism, patriarchy, racism etc. Once we do away with those barriers, I feel sure that the freedom that we have will be extremely fulfilling and powerful, and that the natural barriers which exist will seem more like acceptable parts of life, or perhaps fun challenges, rather than unfair and oppressive restrictions.
13. According to Anarchy, humans are born free. Do you believe we possess free will or are all human actions determined by external causes (i.e. Determinism)?
See question 8.
14. How would social order be created in a free society?
You probably won't be surprised to hear that I believe that anarchism is highest form of social order. You might be more surprised to learn that the famous symbol of anarchy – the A with the circle around it, is used by anarchists to refer to Pierre Joseph Proudhon's aphorism: 'Anarchy is Order'. I think other forms of 'social order', for example those imposed from above like fascism, are pretty terrible. At best they are inefficient: like in a workplace where a boss gives orders which are usually either obvious or illogical. At worst, those systems of 'social order' are horrific and violent: the whole point of the army is to create a system in which a soldier will obey an order to kill another boy just like him, without even thinking about it (this point is made eloquently in Ursula LeGuin's anarchist sci-fi classic The Dispossessed, which is one of my favourite anarchist books).
A much better form of social order is one that is based on free agreements between free people or groups, for mutual benefit. That's what anarchism is about. There are some examples which might help to illustrate how this sort of anarchistic social order might work. One is the international postal system: it works by agreement and for mutual benefit – there is no-one in charge but everyone collaborates because it makes sense to do so. Another more everyday example is a dinner party at your house where your friends come round and share cooking and cleaning up and take turns talking and listening to each other. No-one needs to order your friends to behave; they work it out for themselves. A final example can be found in the many co-operatives that exist in the world. These are organisations where people choose to come together to get things done. They share the risks and the rewards equally and there isn't one boss in control. Workers co-operatives can produce things that their community really needs, rather than things which make a profit for the owner. There's an organic food co-operative in Enmore called Alfalfa House, where I sometimes volunteer. There's also the Earthworker Cooperative based in Victoria. They have a worker-owned factory in Morwell which manufactures high-quality solar hot water systems. All of these examples are very ordered, and also free. In fact I would argue that they are much more orderly, efficient and natural than the sort of inefficient, corrupt, hierarchical 'order' imposed by the State or the army. Wikipedia is another, newer form of organisation that has some anarchistic elements to how it works to create an ordered, useful information resource.
Workers controlAnarchismAnti-racismCapitalismEnviroFascismFeminismIndigenousLibertarian socialismMichael BakuninPierre-Joseph Proudhon
This article was originally written for Anarcho-Syndicalist Review. By Jay Kerr & Sid Parissi.
A collective of anarchists organised a significant political event in March 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Although initiated by the Jura Collective that operates a long running bookshop, events and organising centre, it quickly grew into an autonomous collective of various groups and individuals. Previous bookfairs had been held in Melbourne, a city some 900km to the south, but none had been held elsewhere in the country. This article is an account of the preparation for the event by Jay, one of the organising collective and impressions of the day by Sid, a member of the Jura Collective.
In the Conquest of Bread, Kropotkin discussed the notion that everything we enjoy in the present is because of the combined efforts of people in the past and people in the present; these words ring true in organising the first Sydney Anarchist Bookfair.
Over six months of preparation boiled down to a one day event that took place in March this year at Addison Road Community Centre, building on the work of anarchists around the world who have been organising anarchist bookfairs for decades and the encompassing the efforts of a dynamic anarchist movement in Sydney.
From the early days in London some thirty years ago, when the first Anarchist Bookfair was launched, the idea has spread across the globe. It was with that in mind that a few members of Jura Books got to thinking that Sydney, being the largest city in Australia, really should have its own.
A call out was made to anarchists across the city and before too long a collective was formed comprising of members from Jura and the Black Rose Social Centre in Newtown as well as independent, non-aligned anarchists. True to Australia’s composition as a ‘nation of immigrants’, several of the collective members were migrant workers from Europe; anarchists passing through or long term residents, working collectively alongside Australian born anarchists in establishing the parameters of this new addition to the tapestry of global anarchist bookfairs.
From the first collective meeting important decisions were made on the structure of the group, the desired limits in the size of the collective, and the inclusion of other groups. The collective aimed at being a nucleus, making consensus-based decisions with input and support from the wider anarchist community. Practicalities of the event were debated and discussed ranging from who should be invited to hold a stall or give a talk; should the collective define themes for the Bookfair talks or invite topic suggestions from potential speakers; should there be childcare and how should it be run, where is the best space to hold such an event? Some tough choices had to be made.
Acknowledging the past work of comrades around the globe, emails were sent to London and Dublin for their advice. A range of suggestions were given, practical advice that stood us in good stead, indicating the importance of setting deadlines, defining the parameters and highlighting some issues that have arisen for them over the years. Who knew that the decline in fist fights at the London Bookfair over the years corresponds directly with the decline of alcohol sales?
Organising an event of this size and trying to satisfy all requests and desires of anarchists and activists in the movement is a tough job. Stress hit hard at times and in the collective tensions became frayed, while at other times consensus decision making itself was put to the test as divisions on what and, more importantly, who the Bookfair should include brought differences over anarchist politics to the fore. Where no consensus was viable the default fell to the negative with no action taken, a situation that can (and did) hit proactive organising hard and raises issues for organising on a wider scale.
But, in general, the experience of organising the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair was positive as cool heads tended to prevail. Sydney’s anarchist community rallied to support the event with positive suggestions and contributions, promoting far and wide, from emails and online posts to flyering and poster distribution across the city; a vital part of the success of any event, especially an anarchist bookfair.
Our combined efforts were duly rewarded when between 500 and 700 people turned out to Addison Road Community Centre, browsing the stalls inside Gumbramorra Hall, and attending talks and discussions in the Latin American hut next door or over at Speakers Corner on the lawn. Anarchist Bookfairs promote anarchist ideas through attraction, offering a relaxed, non-partisan atmosphere for people to engage with others in discussing new ideas. The success of the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair, a collective effort built on the work of people from around the world, on the work of years past, offers hope for the future. Anarchist Bookfairs are worth spreading.
Impressions of the day.
Anarchists take over a former military base! Well, not quite but we did manage to fill out a large and smaller hall and a large grassed area of a former military base that had been handed over for community use. The place is now a busy community-use area and the site of a weekly market and two reuse/recycle outfits in addition to many of its other functions. Think of a mini Christiania, but not squatted. We had a great start to the day with an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ that was given by Aboriginal Elder Ray Jackson.
Wow, what a day! Everyone smiling, talking, laughing, discussing.... 30 different stalls in the big hall, anarchist, Wobbly, union, and the largest number from community groups who each paid $50 for a table – and everyone I talked to thought it was well worth it, in fact, excited about the opportunity. It was an opportunity to spread knowledge about their group, network with other groups and generally have an anti-authoritarian festival. So, Jura ran a number of tables, including ones for PM Press and AK Press, and general anarchist books. In addition, other stalls were organised by Black Rose, Melbourne anarchists, Wobblies from Sydney and Melbourne, anti-nuclear, vegan, leftist T-shirts for sale... and many more.
Besides the stalls there was vegan food and drink, and free apples and water available from the information centre, music from individual troubadours and also from the anarchist Riff Raff Marching Band, physical stuff like yoga and women’s self defence, a join-in singing group, an open ‘DIY’ area and a ‘tune-up-your-bike’ space. One of the organisers sorted out the child care, with a certified child care worker on site – They were dressed as pirates! Then there were the discussion meetings on a variety of topics. These included: Oppression of Australia’s Indigenous People, a discussion on a university strike, on Bakunin’s 200th Birthday, the Spanish Revolution, two on feminist and anarcha-feminist topics, environmental issues, and one by Michael Schmidt on ‘Global Fire: The lmpact of Revolutionary Anarchism’.
It was great to see such a variety of people attending, from babies to an anarchist elder Jack Granchoff in his ‘80s. Most were younger, in their 20’s and 30’s, with, at a guess, a good gender balance, and perhaps even more women than men. The young children running around having fun and the range of participants demonstrated that, in many ways, this was an evolving, maturing and culturally-richer anarchist and near-anarchist milieu than in the past. From a book-sales point of view, it was really encouraging to get so many books, pamphlets and other material out to people who don’t often get to the shop. So, yes, it was a bookfair, but it was much more than just that.
This writer didn’t get to the after party, but those who went said it was a blast. And everyone’s keen to build on this year’s strengths and lessons learned, and have another next year.