British anarchisms and the miners' strike.

Author:Franks, Benjamin


If that much disputed of terms, 'ideology', is defined in terms of the analyses of power, programmes for change and identification of agents capable of transforming social relations, as Marc Stears suggests (Stears, 1998: 293), and these correspond to distinctive institutions and organisational practices, then it is essential to talk of 'anarchisms' rather than 'anarchism'. As this paper demonstrates, although there are a number of shared characteristics between individualist (or lifestyle) anarchism on the one side and social (class struggle) anarchism on the other, the differences between them become pronounced in response to critical events, such as the miners' strike 1984-5. While anarchisms that prioritised liberation from class domination were the dominant forms of libertarianism in Britain at the end of the nineteenth and the start of the twentieth century, by the early 1980s, versions of anarchism based on liberal concepts of agency had come to the fore in Anglo-American circles.

This paper demonstrates how social anarchism developed practices that enabled it to regain prominence in the wider libertarian milieu, partly as a result of the use of its methods in support of the miners' strike. Latterly, however, this division between liberal and class struggle anarchism has weakened, as those formerly categorised as lifestyle anarchists have begun to contest capitalist social relations, while class struggle libertarians have become aware of the class nature of many of the forms of action formerly dismissed as 'liberal'. This paper is based on contemporary textual accounts of the conflict in the coalfields; and, as such, it tends to concentrate on the national organisations and journals, whose archives are publicly available. (1) One result of this is that certain texts are undated, and thus an estimated publication date has been used (indicated by an italicised 'e'). I would also like to thank my friends, colleagues and comrades, who have assisted with anecdotes from this period and helped to inform the direction of the argument. (2)

Divisions in anarchisms

A distinctive set of groups, ideas and practices identifies class struggle (or social) anarchisms. They share a professed commitment to four criteria: a complete rejection of capitalism and the market economy, which demarcates anarchism from reformist politics; an egalitarian concern for the interests and freedoms of others as part of the creation of non-hierarchical social relations; and a rejection of State power and other quasi-State mediating forces. The final criterion is that the means of social transformation must prefigure the desired ends. These four criteria, especially the last, are relevant to the designation of the agent of change to which a consistent anarchism should appeal (Quail, 1978: x; Franks, 2003: 18-20). These four principles recognise that capitalism is a hierarchical power structure, and also that the oppressed themselves, rather than a mediating agency, have primacy in overthrowing their oppression. Thus they conform to the formula proposed for the First International by Marx, and reaffirmed by libertarian socialists like Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Situationist International, that 'the emancipation of the proletariat will be the work of the proletariat itself' (Marx, 1992: 82; Socialisme ou Barbarie, 2004; Gray, 1974: 10).

Individualist anarchism, by contrast, appeals to the rational, self-interested and abstract subject derived from liberalism. For individualists, it is the abstract, rational subject, as identified in Kantian liberal political philosophy, that is the ultimate source of authority. Individualism, as a result, fails to take into account the hierarchical power relations embodied in contracts made between those with existing power (say, ownership of capital) and those who require paid employment in order to survive. (3) As Frank H. Brooks notes of American individualist anarchism, this egoism leads to the elitist implication that concentration on the individual's own self-emancipation leaves the unenlightened to remain exploited (Brooks, 1996: 85), and thus there is little that differentiates this form of anarchism from minimal state capitalism. (4)

Murray Bookchin argued that there is an 'unbridgeable chasm' between social or class struggle anarchists on the one hand and individualists (or those who Bookchin referred to as 'lifestyle' anarchists) on the other. His schema creates two separate anarchist camps. In the first are the individualists who, as in Brooks's account, privilege personal liberation such as 'psychotherapeutic, New Age, self-orientated lifestyles' (Bookchin, 1995: 10). Bookchin, more problematically, also associates 'post-modernism' with lifestyle, individualist anarchism (ibid: 19). On the other side, in Bookchin's model, are the social anarchists who emphasise organised 'opposition to the existing social order' and the struggle against capitalist class relations, often related to formal workplace organisation (ibid: 6, 59).

Among the most famous adherents to the individualism that Bookchin criticises are Max Stimer (1993) and Benjamin Tucker, (5) and more recently, Robert Wolff (1976) and L. Susan Brown (2003). It should be noted that Brown, who is one of the main targets of Bookchin's polemic, claims a distinction for her 'existential individualism', which she considers to be compatible with anarchist communism (Brown, 2003: 11-12, 125-8). But Brown's essentialism is not only epistemologically suspect: it also raises the criticism, derived from Rosi Braidotti, that such claims to neutral, decontextualised equalities ignore, and therefore acquiesce to, gender, race and class oppressions (Braidotti, 1993: 49-52.).

There is much to criticise in Bookchin's account of this division, (6) and the latter part of this paper will explore some of the ways in which groupings that Bookchin associates with lifestyle anarchism are often consistent with a coherent anarchism that foregrounds economic oppression. New social movements, like the environmental, anti-nuclear and women's movements, often eschewed identifying themselves with the discourse of the Left because it attempted to reduce their struggles to epiphenomena of the battle between employer and employee. However, the works of Harry Cleaver (1979), Maria Dalla Costa (1975), Michael Hardt and Toni Negri (2001) and John Holloway (2002) have attempted to reinsert the concerns raised by these movements into a more heterodox class analysis. Bookchin's division provides a useful heuristic device as a guide to the debates and separations within anarchism, as it rightly recognises the importance of the identity of the agent who brings change (Bookchin, 1995: 12-19).

Anarchist histories

From Michael Bakunin's involvement in the First International in the late-1860s, through Rudolf Rocket's efforts to organise immigrant workers in East London into revolutionary unions at the turn of the twentieth century, to the revolutionary anti-State syndicalists of the current era, (7) anarchism (8) has been a part of workers' movements. As such, anarchism has developed critiques of capitalism that support class analyses. (9) Rocket's book Anarcho-syndicalism, for instance, demonstrates a commitment to the primacy of the industrial worker, the product of the new technology of capitalism, as the agent capable of bringing about libertarian social change (Rocker, 1991e: 54).

Rocker's vision is of the subjugated themselves negating the forces of domination, and thus being the primary agents in the act of liberation. This is one of the key elements of anarchism. In Marxist terms, the class becomes for itself through conscious efforts to subvert and overcome the dictates of capital (Cleaver, 1979; Class War, 1984ea: 2). In this respect, Rocker quotes his predecessor Bakunin, who identifies the overthrow of capitalism by the oppressed classes as fundamental to anarchism (Rocker, 1991e: 45). Nonsyndicalists like Errico Malatesta and Peter Kropotkin, who had been misrepresented as a pacific, saint-like idealist opposed to class-based revolutionary change (Woodcock, 1975: 171-2), were advocates of workplace organisation and supported the struggle of living labour over capital (Malatesta, 1984:113-6; Kropotkin, 1997e [1908]: 26-7).

Even in the nineteenth century, there was a significant division between class struggle (social) anarchisms and the alternative, individualist version of libertarianism. In the UK context, this latter branch of anarchism was associated with Henry Seymour, a 'disciple' of Tucker (Woodcock, 1975: 419). Seymour, who has the disputed claim to have edited the first anarchist newspaper in Britain, The Anarchist (1885), briefly collaborated with Kropotkin, but such was the difference between individualism and mainstream socialist versions that the partnership lasted for just one issue. Kropotkin departed to set up his own anti-capitalist anarchist paper--Freedom.

Kropotkin's Freedom supported Rocker's group, and by 1907 was producing its own syndicalist journal, The Voice of Labour, edited by the shop steward John Turner, a former colleague of William Morris (Solidarity Federation, 2001: 17; Baird & Baird et al., 1994: 20). At the same time, there was a considerable increase in agitation in British industry that took a syndicalist direction.

This intensified militancy did not originate from anarchist-syndicalists, but did confirm the relevance of such tactics (Dangerfield, 1997: 191; White, 1990: 104-5). The extent of syndicalist thinking in the more mainstream workers' movement was demonstrated by the document produced by members of the unofficial rank-and-file committee of the Miners' Federation of Britain (a forerunner of the National Union of Mineworkers). This plan, The Miners' Next Step, was a lucid proposal of federal organisation in order to wage effective class warfare (United Reform Committee, 1994e [1912]: 19). Even...

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