Daniel Harvey reports on the activist gathering in Manchester
Some members of The Commune joined a gathering of about 300 activists, anarchists and anti-capitalists at Manchester Metropolitan University to discuss ways forward in the struggle against austerity and cuts. Understandably, there was much enthusiasm for making connections with allied groups from around the country, finding ways of offering practical assistance, as well as moral support.
A large part of the gathering was taken up with discussions about what people thought Network X should be in terms of its organisation and aims. The facilitators gave an initial political basis in the form of the People’s Global Action hallmarks’. These rejected all forms of discrimination based on patriarchy and racism, but seemed to forget about class and disability (both of which became points of contention later on) as well as capitalism, imperialism and ‘feudalism’.
Obviously, these principles had been recycled from the nineties and were meant then partly to refer to people in the Global South, but that didn’t seem to have much relevance to this setting. At the same time, in a move which was presumably intended to broaden the appeal of the gathering to those in the environmentalist movement, the hallmark was amended to “we embrace the full dignity of all human beings and life”, the cuteness of which was seen as amusing in its scope and irrelevance by some. However, it should be said that the organisers did an excellent job in arranging the gathering and on the whole it was organised well with clearly laid out sessions as well as food being prepared.
It is clearly very difficult to get the balance right in trying to lay out the boundaries of the libertarian left in this country, in a way which appeals broadly, or more importantly doesn’t put groups off who might otherwise want to join in. There was a friendly tension over what the aims of the network, and what ideological position should predominate. This was expressed in an argument (somewhat anticipated by the leaflet produced beforehand by a member of The Commune) between a practical focus on ‘actions’, occupations and protests and a more reflective focus including discussion of how best social transformation should be produced. For instance, one attendee on the first day stated that he was ‘sick of talking about politics’, claiming that they materialise naturally through action rather than discussion. However, one member of the London Commune group made the point that the actions people choose, for instance invasions of Topshop, are reflective of peoples’ beliefs about how social change happens in the first place. This latter point didn’t seem to sink in to the discussion very well, and the facilitator simply offered advice on how to get involved with the raids on Topshop.
The second day started off badly, with a long and winding discussion focused on process which at one point became bad tempered. One of the facilitators had to step down after trying to force a regular vote over the organisation of meetings later on in the day.
This spurred people from the Anarchist Federation, Solidarity Federation and The Commune to run a session before lunch which focused exclusively on the issue of class struggle, which turned out to be one of the most fruitful things to happen over the weekend. The discussion included about a quarter of the gathering, 63 people when counted, and covered a lot of significant issues relating to the political environment and the opportunities presenting themselves to us. It was stressed that we had to capitalise as much as possible on the situation at present, with one person arguing that we had only two years to make political capital out of the cuts. The class struggle group managed to amend and agree a new statement drafted by AFed comrades about the economic crisis, class, and non-hierarchical forms of organisation. It was agreed that there was a need to make a clear distinction between Network X and the union bureaucracy, whilst acknowledging that the struggle would be largely centered on this for the present. This managed to pass the consensus process at the main gathering, over a few objections from some who felt a network should not make statements which might exclude “non-class struggle anarchists.”
One genuinely practical development which came out of the class struggle discussion was an agreement to try to mobilise college students ahead of the walk-out and protests over the abolition of the EMA on Wednesday 26th January. There was quite wide support for this, with a lot of people congregating afterwards to share emails and think of ways to produce a bulletin to distribute outside colleges beforehand. Another success was creating local sections of Network X, which will hopefully grow and connect together a lot of the groups which seem to work independently at the moment. These could provide open, and more manageably sized, spaces to communicate with each other and coordinate activities.
The London Section of Network X met on the subsequent Tuesday evening at the London Action Resource Centre and managed to agree to fairly regular, fortnightly or monthly meetings. Also, to fulfill objectives agreed in Manchester, there will be a half day gathering on or around 26th March so that groups can work together preparing for the TUC demonstration. There were a lot of contributions and offers of practical solidarity toward the student bulletin, as well as leads on finding college students affected by the cuts.
It was rewarding to hear from others about their thoughts on Network X, as well as helpful criticism of The Commune’s role in it. Overall people were positive, one suggesting how significant it was that people wanted to meet like this. One thought that The Commune’s position, as laid out in the leaflet beforehand, whilst being very thought provoking, might have revealed a desire to shape other peopleefforts in a way that might be bossy, and another that the academic language made them uncomfortable. Criticism which we should certainly listen to and take on board for the future.