On the Need for an Anarchist Federation

from It's Going Down

The follow text argues that the push by the fascist far-Right will continue in the current time period and to combat its rise, the anarchist movement must form a federation of different groups in order to better organize. 

The events of the 6th demonstrate that we are living through the decline of the American Empire. Issues already latent in the capitalist system have only been exacerbated last year with millions being subjected to death, poverty, and police suppression. Last year also saw the rise of a more organized fascist movement in the Qanon and Proud Boy groups. It’s fair to call the Storming of the Capitol a fascist coup although not an intelligent one. The far right had not only mass mobilization but also internal support from police officers that let them in but despite this all they managed to do was smash windows and kill their own. Even in this failure we should seriously prepare for the prospect of more pronounced fascism in the united states. The United States is already an empire directed at killing indigenous, Latinx and black communities, committing genocide for decades. Now however the last remnants of capitalism with a human face are being thrown off and now more than ever is there a need for a more organized Federation of Anarchists.

Historical Background and Parallels

This analyses is largely a historical one, because to understand the position we are in we must understand the fall of similar liberal democracies. One such democracy that contains a lot of parallels to the US is Weimar Germany. The Weimar Republic was (for the time) a “progressive republic” that was plagued from internal issues derived from capitalism and the rise of fascism. From 1918 to 1919 there would be attempts by Socialists to overthrow the Social Democratic government and each time the government used right-wing militias to massacre the Left. After this period there would never be another serious revolution against the government as by this point the left-wing was heavily weakened. The reasons for this failure are complicated, but a lot of it was because the socialist Left was divided by sectarianism and had absolute faith in the State as a vehicle for revolution.

A few years later there was the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. This was when the newly established Nazi Party attempted a coup starting in Bavaria. It failed spectacularly and the entire Nazi leadership was arrested however, this was a false victory for Weimar. Hitler and the Nazis learned from the event, created different tactics, and used it for propaganda. The 16 Nazis who died during the coup were immortalized as martyrs and the various trials (which were greatly publicized by the media) gave the Nazis a platform to espouse their propaganda. Hitler also used his time in prison to pen Mein Kampf. Ten years later and the Nazi party would be an organized force that used street violence and electoralism to take over Germany in 1933.

This is a serious over simplification and I bring this up not to just yell “Nazism” but to explain that the storming of the Capitol will most likely embolden the fascist currents. This was not the last gasp of a weakened movement but a sign of things to come. During the “American Spring” the far-Right was testing the waters with its attack on protesters testing their ability to kill with impunity. The various militias that assaulted the Michigan Capitol and other anti-mask protests could be considered the test run. Now the fascists know they have organized power, enough power that they can occupy the center of US power. While this attempt failed and the liberal establishment is currently in a moment of relative celebration as Trump and his followers are removed from social media I think we all know that this is not over. The real threat of fascism is not stamped out, Qanon and Trump followers aren’t de-radicalized in any form and as long as the contradictions of capitalism remain, fascism has no reason to stop growing.

To add another bit of historical context, the Spanish Civil War started after the election of the liberals. The Spanish fascist movement was defeated electorally and responded to this loss of power with a coup. We may indeed see a more sophisticated coup attempt within the next few months. There may also be a complete fascist takeover electorally in 2031. It doesn’t matter exactly when there will be a coup, what matters is how organized anarchists, abolitionists, and anti-fascists will be when the far-right mobilizes. Now more than ever we need a nation wide, and international Anarchist Union.

The Current View of the Movement

For the most part we have carved out a strong local movement in various parts of the country, but I’d argue that we have become a little too local. This comes from a Southern Californian perspective but from my time organizing it seems that the communication and cooperation between affinity groups is sparse and sporadic. There might be cooperation on projects across localities and personal relationships among anarchists but nothing formalized. To my knowledge there hasn’t been a nation wide coordination of anarchists since the Food Not Bombs International in San Francisco in 1995. In my own personal work in two different affinity groups there have been sparse attempts to try and craft a wider network across local lines. The adage is “think globally and act locally” but in the current age locally might have to expand its definition. At some level anti-fascists often organize locally, but if we do not have a united movement across all localities we may stamp out fascism in our own community, only to have it fester elsewhere. To be a hydra against the State, regrowing the struggle with each subsequent attack and defeat, there must be a connecting body of struggle.

To use a less pretentious metaphor, the anarchist struggle is similar to an organism divided into many cells. An affinity group is one cell of the movement. An affinity group that is isolated from the groups around it would be a lone cell. It may do good work in its own right and may replicate itself over time but alone and divided from the rest of the cells it is weak. I have no doubt that numerous affinity projects were started in every county in every state but faded quickly because they developed in hostile environments, isolated from other affinity groups. I should know because I live and have tried to organize in a rural area that does not have the same benefits of a strong anarchist tradition. Organizing in such conditions is difficult without support and no doubt many anarchists like me await quietly in their localities or move when faced with such conditions. If we are to create a society wide revolution we must first organizing a society wide anarchist movement.

To inject even more history into this article, there is a tendency to romanticize the Spanish Revolution and the CNT-FAI [Spanish anarchist trade union and federation of anarchist affinity groups]. We often talk about the social revolution in Barcelona and the collectivization of workplaces and communities that took place across Spain. What we often forget however, is that this was only possible after years and decades of organizing a nation wide movement. The Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo was a national organization for a reason and similarly, the Federacion Anarquista Iberica included not just Spain but also Portugal in its organizing. The revolution was not a spontaneous outpouring but the work of anarchists who made connections and links across various parts of the peninsula. One does not need to look at just Spain but also to ideologically adjacent movements in Rojava and Chiapas. The EZLN did not just materialize into existence but was the work of regional cooperation and solidarity that sparked a movement not just in Mexico but all across the world. The Kurdish struggle dates back far before Rojava was Rojava to the independence movements of the 1980s. What we see now is merely the fruits of a decades long project of regional confederations and organization.

Why We Should Form a Federation

What we need now, and what I call for is start of that process. Anarchists and abolitionists of the so-called United States must organize ourselves in a national federation of anarchists to better combat the rise of fascism and to better organize ourselves in the international anarchist struggle. Such an organization would strive to connect the various nodes and pockets of resistance into a continuous network of revolt. It would have to reflect the diversity of the struggle and seek to incorporate “worlds within worlds.” It would be a federation incorporating the different anarchist tendencies and should also be lead and informed by Indigenous and Black abolitionist and anti-colonial thought and practice. Fascism in the so-called US is centered entirely on colonialism and white supremacy and if the revolution is to be a total change in the social order it must contain decolonization, Black liberation, and abolition in its aim.

The guiding principle should be the autonomy of the various collectives and groups. Groups would only ratify decisions that they agree with and still retain their local autonomy. Another element that would be in this federation is the use of delegates that represent affinity groups but have no executive power and can be subject to recall at any time. Security will also be important. The FAI’s membership is secret and that is one of the reasons why they have survived a century of repression. If meeting in conferences is too much of a risk, the federation could merely be a communication network that can help to organize nation wide actions. Regardless of the security measures or rules the idea should that affinity groups can easily link with other affinity groups to achieve a common struggle.

The ground work for such an organization has largely already been built. Many of us already have connections that transcended state and national boundaries. The next step is to better formalize these connections. Organizations such as the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement and Black Rose Anarchist Federation already have chapters across the country. The next step is to build stronger ties among these groups and the thousands of local collectives that aren’t associated with large groups. There are numerous Youth Liberation Front collectives across the US which shows that the youth of this country are already a step forward in forming nationwide networks of solidarity. All we would have to do is to try and connect the pieces in a way that creates a coherent organization of anarchists and abolitionists that is both effective while respecting the particularities and autonomy of organizations.

We would only weaken ourselves by remaining isolated in our communities with little communication with those around us. The thing that separates the case of Weimar from Spain, Chiapas, and Rojava is the presence of a connected struggle that could communicate across society for the mobilization of defense. If we wish to make a society wide revolution we need to have solidarity and cooperation across all of society.

There are 13 Comments

every time a dog barks: "we must formally organize!"

the only fai that matters is informal. the informal organization has no name and does not aim to grow numerically. there are no fixed structures apart from autonomous affinity groups.

all these dreams of patreon dollars from a formally organized anarcho-herd marching and chanting from parade to parade... lost in time, like tears in rain

> need an Anarchist Federation?

I'm surprised that this piece never mentioned the Love & Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation that existed in North America in the 1980's & '90's. That is an important thing to keep in mind, especially in light of all of this anarchist history talk.

"An affinity group that is isolated from the groups around it would be a lone cell. It may do good work in its own right and may replicate itself over time but alone and divided from the rest of the cells it is weak. I have no doubt that numerous affinity projects were started in every county in every state but faded quickly because they developed in hostile environments, isolated from other affinity groups."

An affinity group is not a lego building block or a voltron leg. By design, it's meant to be isolated and to disband immediately once the specific task it intended was carried out. The members are meant to take the secret to their graves, no one needs to know. There's no mission creep, it's not a gang, a club, an organization, nor an institution.

"Anarchists and abolitionists of the so-called United States must organize ourselves in a national federation of anarchists to better combat the rise of fascism and to better organize ourselves in the international anarchist struggle."

Why should an anarchist federation be comprised of abolitionists? Can't they make their own federation? Why should an anarchist federation's main goal be to act as an anti-fascist front? Why do these anarchists want to take up the tasks of all other fringe leftist groups, leaving the task of anarchy to whom? Anarchist Federation adopts all causes across all of society in a wide umbrella front, leaving anarchy orphan.

infinite tower of voltron legs!

uhm yeah but seriously tho, I'm a personal believer and practicer of my owntake on the insurrectionary models. I do affinity groups almost exclusively and through our groups, we interact with the broader milieus in a quietly hostile way because we don't trust them at all. Seems the only sensible stance to take if you know the history.

All that said, I would still encourage anarchist projects that tried to expand beyond small affinity groups, in the same careful way. Being aware of the past doesn't have to mean immediately turning on and being hypercritical of everything that is more ambitious. I'd even rather see large scale anarchist organizing fail over and over again rather than be surrounded by the post left peanut gallery, forever rationalizing why they don't actually ever accomplish much or build anything beyond media projects.

That's long since become boring too imo

Also can't federalists create their own Federalist Federation and quit bothering anarchists with it?

Power to the Federation!

It's adorable how each generation of American anarchists thinks they're the ones who will finally get it right and create a formal national (or continental) federation that will last -- and not just on paper -- for more than five years. This time there's an external threat of the meteoric rise in the visibility and homicidal capacity of right wingers and neo-fascists. As alarming as their absurd assault on the capitol building might have been, some of us actually believe that moment signified the turning point of the maddog right; from now on, the fractures that were always present will continue to fester and result in them splintering into ineffectiveness, just as they were before their champion took office four years ago. But even if the clear-headed analysts are wrong, stoking fears is probably not the best way to achieve total anarchist triumph. If y'all are so hot to go after the creeps, why not try for a central clearinghouse to keep tabs on the fash? If others are intent on riding the abolitionist train, then why not try a central clearinghouse to monitor prisoner organizing and getting some good lawyers on your team?

But deciding that all anarchists need to be totally on board with these anarchist-positive and anarchist-adjacent projects is already going the alienate those anarchists who aren't interested in them to the point where they won't be willing to sacrifice their own projects for the sake of some ethereal unity.

Y'all need to get better at learning the lessons of past failures

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There will always be anarchists who want to see an anarchist federation, and other anarchists who critique this. This has been the case for over 100 years now.

A federation gives the people who participate in it the illusion of connection with each other -- but, as a federation, anyone is free to bail on their commitment to the supposed common effort at any time, and for any reason.

Tho what it means to be "bailing out" of an anarchist federation for most people who got a paper-thin analysis? It means (pun intended) being fed up with "anarchism", as the political stance or perspective will be amalgamated with this aberrant imaginary community. So basically this whole @Fed shit that just won't die is one of the most anti-anarchist tendencies around.

Thankfully the @feds I've known never got any bigger than trotskyists, or maybe they challenged maoists volume-wise in some areas, but weren't they really also closet social democrats?

all one need do is look at every single attempt at such a combining, constraining model. every nation-state on earth has at least 2 major perspectives that vie for power, as epitomized by the united states. would life for most individuals be better (from each of their own perspectives) if the u.s. was actually split into several different "states" - the lefty state, the righty state, the all-black state, the all-white state, the (non)state of individuals who simply live their lives in voluntary association with whoever they choose, whenever they choose.... ??? or does it serve people better to have a single, overarching control structure that continuously struggles to have everyone just get along?

affinity groups at larger scale accomplish anything a static federation could. or so it seems.

No, this would not be worth a shit. We need a social revolution that will sweep away this social order, and do this on a global scale.

"live their lives in voluntary association with whoever they choose..."

This is hogwash -- people don't "choose" to be exploited and dispossessed, this is forced on them.

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