An interview published in The wolves at the door, an irregular anarchist journal from Sydney, in June 2012.
“There can be nothing more normal than resisting oppression”
Disaccords is a relatively new anarchist blog that collates news from around Australia, S-E Asia and the Pacific. It reports on acts of resistance and cracks in the social peace that would often otherwise go unnoticed. Here we interview them via email.
1. What was the purpose of starting this blog in terms of the context of radical politics in Australia and the anarchist milieu here? Where did the inspiration for Disaccords come from and what do you see as its relationship to other similar blogs?
I guess most of us who live in Australia and are anarchists or whatever are pretty familiar with the feeling that not much happens here. We look to places far away: parts of Europe with strong anarchist cultures, or South/Central America with vibrant combatative social movements, even North America. But this is where we live, and so this is where we struggle.
The dominant liberal narrative in Australia is that everything is basically at peace. There might be a few examples of really overt inequality – say, the conditions Aboriginal people live in. And there might be occasional outbursts of public anger and disorder – say the G20 riots, or the Redfern or Macquarie Fields riots, (or even the Cronulla riot, though more on that later). But these are seen as just exceptions, they’re little islands. They function as a contrast that just show that everyone else is generally calm and happy. And therefore any discontent you feel with your life is your problem to deal with as an individual: there’s no underlying social unease that might connect your unhappiness to anyone else’s.
And this analysis is mirrored in the writings of activists and some so-called anarchists, who see a small minority of conscious activists, or anarchists (and maybe some other rebels) as the only people who aren’t just robotic conformist consumers/workers. I just don’t have much time for that. As an anarchist, I’m not interested in being part of some select gang of superheroes. I believe in the possibilities of contagion. I believe that our actions can resonate because I think all of us, not just those of us with some kind of political identity, both rebel and conform as we move through different situations and take different positions. Even if only in our dreams (there’s a reason Ned Kelly’s a hero).
So the point of the blog is to try to accumulate examples of these overt breaches in the assumption of calm: to pull together examples of the conflict that already exists, with the hope of deepening/broadening it.
Because the other side of the analysis that sees everyone as passive is that you end up thinking as if capital and state control are unbreachable and absolute.
In the article ‘Signals of disorder: sowing anarchy in the metropolis,’ AG Schwartz reversed-engineers the cop theory of ‘broken window syndrome’. The cop version, which is behind the idea of ‘zero tolerance policing’ is that small scale misbehaviour (fare evasion, graffiti) creates an environment that encourages more serious lawbreaking. Schwartz says, okay, we want to encourage more serious lawbreaking – we want to attack social control – and things like graffiti, posters, small-scale attacks are part of this, because they are contagious.
Schwartz writes that the creation of signals of disorder “interrupts the social peace, and creates the indisputable fact of people opposed to the present system and fighting against it. […] Signals of disorder are contagious. They attract people who also want to be able to touch and alter their world rather than just passing through it.”
Now, that article is about anarchists having a presence in public space in a particular neighbourhood/city. And that’s a very different thing from an accumulation of news on the internet. But we can think in similar ways about the general space of possibility.
Both explicitly anarchist attacks/actions and other minor rebellions are not just possible, they’re already present. The purpose of the blog is to circulate news of these events and to encourage us to think about how they’re connected.
I like the way Hidup Biasa, an Indonesian anarchist blog, puts it:
The world’s not well behaved and there can be nothing more normal than confronting the oppression …
… It’s not really a choice, it’s just life as usual, and that’s true wherever in the world we are …
… This blog tries to share a few of these everyday stories, from life as usual in Indonesia, in the hope they can be inspiration and information for other struggles on other islands …
In terms of inspiration, there was a blog a while back, Terror Nullius, which has since disappeared, which was doing a similar thing. I liked that and wanted to keep it going.
2. Why did you settle on a specifically regional focus for what is posted on Disaccords?
It would be weirdly nationalistic to set the Australian borders as the limit of what gets included, but impossible (and repeating work others are already doing) to try to do world news. The joint focus on Australia and Indonesia in particular just kind of grew: there are a few good anarchist blogs reporting on Indonesia, and a number of social struggles and anarchist actions and events that seemed worth paying attention to.
Like I said, I’m interested in stuff happening here. And part of that might involve rethinking, for us in Australia, what ‘here’ means. The context in Australia is very different from the context in Indonesia. But, you know, Athens and Barcelona and Oaxaca are also very different from Sydney or Melbourne, and we look there for inspiration and with sympathy, solidarity. I don’t think solidarity should have regional limits any more than it should have national limits, but geographic proximity does open up possibilities for direct solidarity that maybe we don’t have with struggles in other places. I know there’s been solidarity/communication developing between anarchists in Indonesia and Australia over the last few years – for example, the Kulon Progo solidarity group in Melbourne. I hope the blog can help encourage more of a feeling of connection.
I’m learning as I go about the situation in Indonesia. Internet translations only go so far. It would be amazing if anyone who knew Indonesian wanted to translate, especially the various anarchist communiques that are written. (Thanks to the person who did a translation last time there was a call out on the blog!)
3. How do you find the news and how do you then decide on what gets posted and what doesn’t? There are various examples of news you posted that weren’t necessarily anarchist: the communique from people who vandalised a chicken farm in Canberra, say, or a bikie setting a cop car on fire. What kinds of criteria do you use?
I set up a few google news alerts, so I get emails everyday. I also check indymedia.org.au, anarchistnews.org, hidupbiasa.blogspot.com. Through google translate, negasi-negasi.blogspot.com, kokemi.blogspot.com. Anarchy.org.au, the Jakarta Globe and Jakarta Post websites. Various other counter-information sites. Sometimes people email in links or articles/communiques (though I prefer it when people post things to Indymedia or Anarchist News first, and I can take things off there.)
That’s the how. The what is harder to explain. Though I don’t see political identity as fundamental, I’ll nearly always repost articles about actions/demonstrations claimed by anarchists. Beyond that, I’m interested in times when things get at least a little bit out of control.
I’m unlikely to post about a standard demonstration where people stand around making demands/expressing outrage and then obey police/get pushed around a bit by police. And the same for acts of civil disobedience that follow the script of getting arrested to prove the point that bad things happen. Though this also depends on what people are saying as well as how.
As for other stuff – vandalism, fighting with the cops, attacks on politicians’ offices – I’ll post that if it seems, from whatever brief news report, that the action was motivated somewhat by rebellion against authority, or a frustration with the system that we might relate to, and not by, say racism. Explosions of unrest aren’t always liberatory – it was only a few years ago we saw dozens of people in Cronulla fighting the police for their right to keep beating up those they judged to be Muslims. There was an article in some UK paper – Class War, I think – that described the Cronulla riots as working class youth fighting police for their space and being described in the media as racist, or something like that. I hope I don’t do anything that stupid (and that readers would correct me if I did).
To take your examples: in one case, some people broke into a battery hen farm and caused a lot of damage to some machinery. That’s not the kind of thing that happen often in Australia. While I’m sceptical of many aspects of the animal rights philosophy (and even more so of many aspects of the movement) I have no love for the egg industry. From my perspective, the fact that people were able to do that damage and get away is a good thing, and it’s an action it’s worth people knowing about beyond that particular scene. So, while the communique wasn’t particularly anarchist, I reposted it because it seemed disrespectful to ignore the ideas that those people took their risk in order to propagate.
The bikie thing is harder. Bikies are just capitalists who don’t want to outsource their violence to the state. A fight between bikies and the cops is just a fight between two armed gangs, with neither on the side of freedom. I assumed that everyone would share this analysis, but I guess maybe it gets lost, especially when the item got reposted an anarchist news site based elsewhere. But on the other hand, it just made me smile to hear that a cop car had been set on fire – and in inner-Sydney too. That image has a certain appeal.
And things like police getting bottles thrown at them trying to break up a party? Aside from the fact that I hate cops ruining parties? Just as one example, when police tasered and killed Roberto Curti, there were a lot of pretty loud voices saying that he just shouldn’t have run from police. That disobeying police orders (even if you’ve done nothing else wrong, and/or all your suspected of petty theft) means that police are entitled to do whatever they think they need to do to reassert their authority and get you to do what they say. Including subjecting you to electric shocks that might kill you. Disobeying police is meant to be unthinkable. So I feel it’s worth pointing out that it does happen, often.
I don’t want the blog to become any kind of arbiter of worthiness or significance or whatever. I should note here that I do think we have to be careful about glorifying the particular kinds of conflict that make the news. A lot of the everyday rebellions that happen don’t fit the media narrative – or only make the news when they go spectacularly wrong. Particular types of violence, for example, are newsworthy, but that doesn’t make them more important or strategic or real.
4. You don’t add anarchist commentary to news stories and there’s often no claim of anarchist politics behind the news. What do you see as the connection between what gets posted and the ideas and practice of anarchism?
I don’t add commentary because, when there’s nothing but a brief item from the commercial press, I don’t really have enough knowledge to comment. There isn’t generally enough information to assess any particular incident. Avoiding analysis is also part of keeping my voice out of it. I don’t want to hand down some Anarchist Truth. And I hope it’s clear from the note on the blog that, unless something is explicitly claimed by anarchists, I’m not trying to say that it was an anarchist act.
Also, incidents don’t necessarily mean much on their own: what I think is interesting is the accumulation. When I say I want us to think about how things are connected, it’s because I don’t know for sure.
Will I lose all credibility if I quote Crimethinc? I’m sure they stole it from somewhere else anyway. A few years ago I read something where they were reflecting on their early years of glorifying shoplifting etc, and one thing they said was that the purpose was never to encourage anarchists to take up shoplifting as a revolutionary strategy, but to encourage people who shoplifted to think about what they were already doing and how it connects beyond their own life.
As some old French guy wrote, “People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have corpses in their mouths.” (Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life, 1967)
5. You previously mentioned posting reports of actions “explicitly claimed by anarchists”. What are your thoughts on the strategy of action followed by communique as a way of organising and communicating more covert activities? This seems like a relatively new way of doing things for anarchists in Australia.
I don’t know how new it is, but I agree that there’s a new style. I think it takes time to develop a new language, a suitable language. And by language here I don’t just mean the words that people write, but the language of actions also. And to develop and use it in a way that isn’t entirely self-referential or about the creation of an identity.
Some comrades in Italy wrote a text recently called ‘A letter to the anarchist galaxy’, and one of the concerns they raised was the risk of ending up with a circular, self-contained world of anarchists doing actions and making claims on the internet as if this could be an end in itself. To quote a big chunk:
Because we also choose to attack. We also sabotage the machinery of capital and authority. We also choose to not accept a position of begging and are not putting off the necessary expropriation until tomorrow. But we do think that our activities are simply part of a wider social conflictuality, a conflictuality that doesn’t need claims and acronyms. […]
It seems that today more than a few comrades have chosen the easy solution of identity over the circulation of ideas and revolt, and have in this way reduced affinity relations to a joining something. Off course it is easier to pick up some ready-made product off the shelves of the militant market of opinions and consume it, rather than develop a proper struggle track that makes a rupture with it. Of course it is easier to give oneself the illusion of strength by using a shared acronym than to face the fact that the ‘strength’ of subversion is to be found to the degree and in the way it can attack the social body with liberating practices and ideas. Identity and ‘formation of a front’ might offer the sweet illusion of having meaning, especially in the spectacle of communication technology, but doesn’t clear every obstacle from the road. Even more, it shows all the symptoms of sickness of a not-so-anarchist conception of struggle and revolution, which believes in being able to pose an illusionary anarchist mastodon before the mastodon of power in a symmetrical way. The immediate consequence is the evermore narrowing of the horizon to a not-so-interesting introspection, some patting on the back here and there and the construction of a framework of exclusive self-reference.
So the question becomes one of strategy, of our own aims and desires in our own time and place. What’s the point of doing something and writing about it? Is the aim to get recognition? From the state? From other anarchists? Recognising each other and developing our affinities and abilities is important, but it’s only the very first step.
6. Why did you decide on Disaccords as the name?
It’s a reference to the Accords, the agreement made between the trade unions and the Labor Government in the 80s with the aim of ending industrial unrest. The unions agreed not to strike in return for the government setting moderate wage increases and some improved welfare. In one sense the name is about breaking from that compromise and settlement, but it’s also just a nod to history.
Most of the people reading this I’m sure would know about Australia’s violent colonial history and the history of Aboriginal resistance to genocide. It’s also worth remembering that this country was started as a literal prison society. And that there was a very militant labour movement, but also that this has a long relationship with racism/nationalism, and was channelled quite early on into the Labor Party and parliamentary democracy. That legacy really shapes what’s considered militant and also what’s considered possible here. We make our own history but we don’t get to choose the circumstances we make it in.
But there’s also other currents: the IWW was significant, before it got smashed at the outbreak of WWI. The first women’s refuge in the world was set up in the 70s in a squatted terrace in Sydney. Radical history shows us that there was no neat line marching us inevitably to the present – and so there’s no neat line we have to march into the future.