Reports on Bradford MayDay '98


A brief overview of the conference

written for A-Infos by Andrew Flood
5/May/98

The May Day weekend saw hundreds of anarchists from all over Britain (and beyond) travel to the small town of Bradford in Yorkshire, Northern England. A local anarchist social centre, the 1in12 Club had organised (for the second year running) a weekend of activities under the title of 'Reclaim Mayday'.

Alongside and as part of the weekends events a conference 'MayDay '98' had been called by a number of groups and individuals including those members of Class War who had decided to wind up the organisation.They had published a final issue of Class War explaining why they took this decision.

Events organised by the 1in12 Club included a May Day march and rally in the centre of Bradford which included live music. A play about the life of Durruti ran throughout the weekend as did a number of punk and folk gigs at the club itself On the Saturday night 'Fundamental' played a major gig at the nearby college, also as part of the weekend. The 1in12 Club which is located in a four story mill in Bradford City Centre was packed day and night.

Apart from the social events political meeting were happening in the evening and the MayDay98 conference during the day. Some 250 people paid registration into the conference and spent the morning and afternoons discussing the future of the revolutionary movement in groups of twenty or so. The aim of these discussions was not to debate out position papers and reach conclusions but rather to provide a space for people to exchange opinions and experiences.

The final afternoon of the conference saw a report back from each of these groups. From this it became apparent that these sessions had been very successful, more so then many had anticipated and almost every groups said a similar event should be organised in the near future. It was felt that although the differences remained that had existed before the conference the format of the meetings had broken down many barriers and allowed an honest and sincere exchange between groups and people that previously had problems talking to each other.

Immediately after this session there were some 10 focus groups where people who wanted to organise practical future activity went to. I however had to return home before hearing of the outcome of any of these.

Form a personal point of view it was clear that the conference had given a number of quite demoralised older activists a considerable uplift. The British anarchist movement despite the fact that there are many very committed, and experienced activists with good community and work place contacts is very un-organised and prone to sectarianism. There is little doubt that the conference will have helped to tackle the psychology of this sectarianism. Those groups who choose to boycott it lost a great opportunity to learn how to relate to people with whom they disagree on relativly minor issues.

However it still leaves out-standing the central question of anarchist organisation. This is not a failing of the event as it was never designed to answer this question (and indeed emphasised in advance this was not what it was about). Nevertheless it needs to be said that it is the responsibility of those who attended to initiate organisation(s) that are capable of arguing for anarchism and helping the wider class to organise in a libertarian fashion. This perhaps is the next step

see below for the call to the conference.

---About the author: I am an anarchist from Ireland who travelled to Bradford for the weekend. I'm fairly familiar with the British anarchist movement from attending conferences and events there over the last decade. I also attended the first and second intercontinental encounters in Chiapas and Spain. Although I am a member of the Workers Solidarity Movement this is purely a personal account of the weekend.


Back to Bradford

Introduction

I'm an Irish anarchist, a member of the Workers Solidarity Movement. These are some of the thoughts that have been mulling around in my mind since the Bradford conference. I am very aware that it is so much easier to criticise than to offer solutions, so bearing this in mind I would like to throw out five things (not solutions unfortunately) that came to mind in Bradford. I should emphasise, that as an Irish anarchist, my experience of the situation in England, Scotland and Wales is extremely limited. Sometimes outsiders can see things that those in the thick of things miss, sometimes outsiders get things completely wrong. Who knows? My hope is that this will contribute to the debate that is beginning at the moment.

The beginning is a very good place to start. The group I was in at Bradford began with the question, are we marglinised. The discussion revealed that yes, politically our ideas were in the minority, but that the marglinisation we felt as individuals was no different from the marglinisation that was experienced by most of society. As anarchists we feel like outsiders because so few others understand or agree with our world view, yet we should also be aware that this feeling of exclusion, of loneliness, is felt by the majority of people in today's society, no matter what their political persuasion, gender, race, whether urban or rural. To live at the end of the twentieth century is to live on the periphery. For me this discussion highlighted that any discussion of the state of the anarchist movement in the UK, must start from an awareness that as anarchists we are not separate from the society we want to change, we don't look on from the outside. Being part of today's society, we are vulnerable to the changes of mood, of political and social climate that affect society in general. The bottom line is that if we are looking for the reasons for weak state of the anarchist movement in the UK at the moment, not all the answer's will be found by looking at anarchism. In many ways the movement seems to have reflected changes that have occurred elsewhere in the world.

For example, in my group many people, with great honesty, expressed their sense of demoralisation, of depression and a growing cynicism of politics. These are views I have heard many times before, from both people who were politically activ, and relatively apolitical. Although, theoretically, it was predicted that the fall of the Berlin wall and the changes that followed, would deal a body blow to political idealism, the practical effect of living through such times were never really expressed. The idea that progress is possible has been severely undermined. The idea that it is possible to create an alternative future has been severely undermined. The idea that people have power and a creative ability to decide their own destinies has been severely undermined. In a sense, that this was going to happen, was obvious and was predicted, however perhaps words can never guard against the bitter experience of living in a time that is characterised by defeat and retreat. What I want to emphasis is that, it isn't all that surprising that activists feel demoralised. Indeed it would be surprising if it was otherwise. Only an extremely strong, cohesive and coherent anarchist movement, of the like that has never existed in the English speaking world, could have buffered the movement against the dwindling of hope that has occurred in the world at large. That movement didn't exist, and here we are now. What to do?

Our starting point should be to recognise that we are part of society, and as such it is important to understand how far that affects our political ideas and work. The anarchist movement needs to become more self aware. We need to ask ourselves, what are we doing and why? Are we like bits of wood in a river, tossed this way and that or are can be we more like salmon, consciously swimming against the tide towards our goal. The following sections identify some of the questions I think we should be asking ourselves.

An Anarchist Movement

At the Bradford conference, I felt that there was little sense among the participants, that an anarchist movement existed at the moment, or, indeed any understanding of the importance of creating such a movement. There seemed to be confusion as to what an anarchist movement was, with some people equating it with the creation of one all encompassing organisation. To explain, an anarchist movement isn't an organisation or a structure, rather it is a sense of solidarity and comradeship that exists between different organisations and individuals. It is an understanding that though we have our differences, we are working towards a common goal, and as such we will work in tandem, when possible. It is the idea that when we co-ordinate our activities, it is not simply because it is a more effective way of attaining our goal (for example strike support) but also, and equally important, because in doing so, we are building an anarchist movement. It is the realisation that we should exchange ideas, organisation with organisation, and in this way use our diversity of experiences to create a stronger anarchism that benefits us all.

This understanding of an anarchist movement doesn't seem to exist at the moment. From what I can work out, in England and Scotland, a variety of local networks exist, and cooperate on the basis of activity. The impression I got, was that these local area-based supports co-ordinated activity but didn't see that they had any role in creating an anarchist movement, they worked together to achieve specific aims, but not to build anarchism. However, as I said, I'm looking in from the outside, and I would be very interested in hearing how those involvled in such networks define their goals.

Time

An Anarchist movement is an ideal, an entity, that exists across time and space. In contrast, Anarchism in the UK seems to exist solely in the here and now. There was no sense of being part of an Anarchist heritage that stretched into the past or of creating an anarchist tradition that would be carried forward into the future.

Such a tradition would buttress the movement against the ups and downs of political optimism and opportunity that we experience It would give the gives the work we all do, in our own areas, a larger purpose. When I spend a rainy Thursday evening writing an article such as this, part of my motivation comes from the fact that I see myself as adding to the work done of thousands of others. If Louise Michel could take the time in 1871, if Emma Goldman could take the time in the 1920's, if the women of Mujeros Libres could do so in Spain in 1930's, I can certainly do so now. There are very few anarchists in Ireland, and so I take my support and inspiration from those anarchist women who took the time in the past. To reject your heritage, to cut yourself off from those who struggled before you is to deny yourself a sense of place in history and a source of motivation, inspiration and support. As marglinised people, can we afford to do this?

Furthermore, I get the impression that tradition is equated with history, so that an anarchist tradition is seen as nothing more than dead, dusty and redundant knowledge. Yet, at the core of anarchist ideas is the idea of creation. People have the ability to create a new society, to create new ways of organising our lives, to create new ways of struggle. An anarchist conception of tradition, for me, is bound up with this idea of creation. Tradition is something that must be made, that evolves, that changes. When anarchists are active, they create and recreate their tradition. Tradition is never static and bound in books. What an anarchist tradition gives us, is the idea that we are adding to a body of knowledge and experience that will continue to be drawn on and used in the future. It gives our anarchism a life that is greater that each individual that makes it up.

At Bradford, a common experience seemed to be, of small groups existing for short periods of time in certain areas, only to die when those involved relocated. This is a very difficult problem to solve. In Ireland we faced similar difficulties, as generations of young activists emigrated. There are no easy solutions, but the creation of an anarchist movement, that is bigger than any one individual or location, would at least ensure, that where an individual is forced to drop out, the work they have done will remain part of the greater movement.

Space

Another thing I noticed in Bradford was the isolation of the anarchists I met there. There seemed to be little awareness that an anarchist movement existed beyond the shores of England, Scotland and Wales, and within the island anarchists seemed only to communicate with others on an extremely local level. A national Anarchist movement can in some way mimise the problems of relocation mentioned above. In order to create such a momement we need to be able to extend beyond local areas (more of this latter). Secondly, an Anarchist movement should draw on the experiences of other anarchists. It should seek to find out what is happening in other countries. I travel to anarchist conferences as often as possible because I find them both a source of inspiration and of information. It is remarkable, how many of the problems we face in Ireland are similar to those faced in England, Italy, France etc. In order to overcome the isolation felt, anarchism in the UK, needs to change the way it sees itself. Rather than picturing oneself as a member of a small group of activists located in a particular part of the island, each anarchist needs to see him or herself as part of a greater, world wide movement. By broaden its horizons, the British anarchist movement can start availing of the resources and experiences of anarchists abroad. Of course, this won't solve all problems, and language barriers and financial constraints will always limit how much communication is possible.

Confidence

In order to succeed, anarchists must be able to speak with confidence. In order to communicate our ideas, we must have confidence in our ability to say, 'this is how things are'. Again, I felt this seemed to be missing from Bradford. Perhaps this is because in the past confidence was equated with dogmatism, division and sectarianism. Certainly we need to address how differences within the movement are dealt with, and as far as I can remember, one of the closing statements emphasised that we should respect other peoples opinions. However, we should also be careful, that fear of disagreement, doesn' t lead to a watering down of opinion, or the avoidance of taking a position. As I said, we consciously or unconsciously reflect the society we belong to, and one of the developments of modern day thought, is that all opinions and ideas are equally valid and true. While this sounds egalitarian on the surface, it is also a recipe for stagnation, for if an idea is accepted as given, it will never be explored in greater depth. Truth emerges from the clash of ideas. If we speak with strength, we are convincing. If we are challenged with equal strength by our comrades, we are forced to re-evaluate and modify. Out of this process, of debate and discussion, of give and take, the theory and practice that we need to build an anarchist society will emerge (isn't this process the essence of anarchism in action?). Again perhaps one of the greatest problems that Anarchists in Britain face is how to undergo this process without leading to sectarian division. Perhaps the answer lies in realising that there is a difference between division and sectarianism, while the former can be a positive response to disagreement, the latter never can be.

Theory

Related to this is the question of theory. At Bradford, some raised the old call, 'we need new theory'. I agree with them, but would like to make a few points. It is worth considering what we mean by theory and how it is created. If you see in theory, the anarchist holy grail, you are bound to be disappointed. No theory exists or can exists that will solve all our problems. It is futile to wait for a theory to appear that will lead us all to liberation. What is theory? Theory is an understanding of how the world is organised. It is an understanding of why we do, what we do. Where does it come from? If comes from our experiences, our struggles, our campaign work. Theory is what we create in small rooms when we discuss why Tony Blair is introducing the JSA? is it stoppable? and if it is what are the best tactics we should be using? Theory informs our practice (tells us what to do) and comes out of our practice (what we do informs our theory). As such, it should be obvious that theory doesn't grow overnight, it develops over time. And no theory is ever finished, it is always open to re-evaluation, re-discussion as times change (or don't change). So yes, anarchists need theory, but this is not something that we can divorce from activity, or indeed wait for. Instead we need to ensure that the we constantly analysis the work that we do, that we examine our activity, that we question the society we live in. We need to write this stuff down, exchange it with others, invite criticisms, force ourselves to come to positions. This is the process that both developes our understanding of the world and developes our confidence in explaining our ideas to others.

Organisation

Finally, a word about organisation. When I went to Bradford, I was convinced that a major weakness of the British anarchist movement is its extreme aversion to organisation. I still believe that without the development of strong organisations, anarchism in England, Scotland and Wales will always be weak and susceptible to the ebb and flow of the political climate. It seems that the issue of organisation has never been discussed in depth. It is true that many national organisations have failed in the past, and many problems have arisen from the way national organisations have operated. However, rather than seeking to identify those problems or to look for new solutions, many anarchists, with a simplistic and superficial analysis, throw the baby out with the bathwater, and reject any form of national structure. It is simply not good enough to reject national organisation with the aphorism 'they don't work'. If they don't, why don't they? How can they be made to work? The following words were written by Russian anarchists in 1926. I re-read them recently, after returning from Bradford, and was struck by how true they still rang today.

"It is very significant that, in spite of the strength and incontestably positive character of libertarian ideas, and in spite of the forthrightness and integrity of anarchist positions in the facing up to the social revolution, and finally in the heroism and innumerable sacrifices borne by the anarchists in the struggle for libertarian communism, the anarchist movement remains weak despite everything, and has appeared, very often, in the history of working class struggles as a small event, and episode and not as an important factor.

This contradiction between the positive and incontestable substance of libertarian ideas, and the miserable state in which the anarchist movement vegetates, has its explanation in a number of causes, of which the most important, the principal, is the absence of organisational principle and practices in the anarchist movement."

Following the conference, I realised that lack of organisation was not the only problem facing British anarchists. Given this however, sooner or latter the movement will have to debate how best to organise itself. When it does, I urge you to read the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communits (from which quote above is taken). It is no holy grail, but it is, in my opinion, a good starting point, on the road to building a strong anarchist movement.

Summary

If I was asked to describe a single word that describes the state of anarchism in the UK, it would be fragmented. And if I was asked to describe the single problem facing anarchists in the UK it would be this fragmentation. Again it's interesting to remember that in many ways our movement is made in the image of the society we live in. We have a fragmented movement, for a fragmented world. In the course of this (long) discussion I highlighted four issues that need to be taken on board, in order to rebuild anarchism;

  1. The Anarchist Movement. The questions we need to address are, what do we mean by an Anarchist movement? Why is it useful? How do we go about creating one?
  2. Confidence. How do we develop an ability to convey our ideas with confidence
  3. Theory. What is it? How do we get it? What areas should we be looking at?
  4. Organisation. How?

To conclude, I would like to say that I very much enjoyed the Bradford conference. I found it very inspirational. It was wonderful to be able to meet so many fellow travellers, to be able to talk politics with so many others. I was impressed with the dedication of many of those I met. Many of those at the conference had a long term commitment to anarchism and had developed a wealth of experience. Its a good place to start, I wish you the best of luck.

Aileen O'Carroll

(any comments to aocarrol@tcd.ie)


Report from Mayday98

Report from Mayday98, by Mike (Anarchist Communist Federation, Nottingham), who was also a facilitator in Group 2 during the conference.

In previous issues of Organise! we have reported on the aftermath of the dissolving of Class War Federation, and possible initiatives for growth of anarchist organisation since then. We now report on the exciting MayDay98 "Struggles for social change - New ideas, new approaches" conference which took place in Bradford on 2-4 May alongside the 1in12 Club's second Reclaim Mayday weekend.

In the run up to the Mayday weekend, regular meetings had taken place to organise the event which were attended by a mix of individuals, some from anarchist organisations (ACF and Solidarity Federation), some anarchists around Anti-Fascist Action, but mostly non-aligned anarchists and libertarian communists, including ex-CWF.

Out of these meetings emerged the conference content and structure, which comprised group discussion of four broad themes: "Land, Ecology and the Environment", "All Worked Up", "Dream Time" and "Away from the Margins".

The intention of the conference was to bring revolutionaries in Britain together without political baggage, so as to foster a cross-fertilisation of ideas of people from different backgrounds who had little contact with each other. In the end, around 250 people registered to attend over the 3 days from the Saturday to Monday.

A handful of these came from the authoritarian left like International Communist Current and the Green Party, right through to right-wing 'libertarian', but most were anarchists and the non-authoritarian left. 10 ACF members were present during the weekend as both attendees and organisers.

Participants were divided into groups of 15-20. After each day of themed discussion, each group wrote a summary for feedback to the other groups. On the last day, groups discussed practical issues arising from the weekend before coming together for a closing session, which then split up again into 'focus groups' which enabled people to look at how things might go forward practically.

So how did it go? The overall impression is one of great success, especially as so many people were brought together, which is a significant thing in itself as it confirms we are not content with the status quo. There was remarkably little sectarianism.

On the first day an opening speech had expressed the need to respect differing views, and this did go a long way to make people feel comfortable with each other in groups where people didn't know each other.

Unfortunately it was clear after the first day that this had got a bit far and many groups reported too much agreement and that discussions hadn't really gone deep enough to find differences in opinion.

In fact, some groups remedied that the next day by deliberately focusing on controversial points! Most participants had a class struggle position, which was surprising, including large numbers with environmental bias, like Earth First!

Most were critical of existing or past organisations, and although the majority who registered said they were in an organisation of some kind, these were mainly activist or campaign groups. Most interestingly from the ACF's point of view, few expressed the need for specific or permanent 'ideological' organisations.

Though it is not possible to summarise all of the debates here, some interesting issues raised were on the nature of globalisation and whether ecological problems are due to over-consumption or over-production.

The consumption argument blames the arrogant 'West' and is thus quite moralistic and doesn't use a class analysis, whereas the production argument puts the blame on the capitalists or state bureaucrats, but lets individuals who benefit from exploitation of the 'Third World' off the hook.

Traditionally the former has been favoured by some environmentalists and the latter by the political left (the Revolutionary Communist Group being a notable exception, with their view that a 'labour aristocracy' in the West precludes meaningful solidarity with workers in the 'Third World'), but it appears that more environmentalists are now coming over to a global anti-capitalist position.

In "Dream Time" the nature of revolution was also discussed. There was some disagreement over the personal and political - 'too personal' being seen by some as lifestylist and not changing anything fundamental, 'too political' being seen by others as not doing enough to experiment with alternative ways of living which may be (or become) a threat to capitalist ideology.

The 'culture of resistance' we are fond of talking about in the ACF may be defined somewhere in between, as preparation for revolution. Unfortunately, some will take this to mean that 'The Revolution' is something we can live right now, rather than the single event where we take on the power of the state and capitalist forces.

"Away from the Margins" mostly looked at how 'the movement' marginalises itself from the mainstream. Depending on your viewpoint, this is either a good or a bad thing. Many people want to be seen as different but at the same time want revolutionary politics to be attractive to 'ordinary people' and minorities.

Unfortunately being open about your politics can lead to open to victimisation especially in work, which is why many people keep their heads down and won't get involved in the first place, whereas the unemployed activist apparently has less to lose.

This is still an unresolved problem, but may come together as the nature of work and dole changes. Most groups talked more about the movement rather than marginalisation of groups outside of it.

This inward-looking approach was recognised by some as part of the problem why the movement is so small - not exactly a new idea, but still one that needs to be addressed, especially as we want more than just a re-alignment of existing groups, and want the revolutionary movement to expand and be more inclusive.

The biggest eye-opener came from the environmental groups which the Class War "Open Letter" previously labelled as part of the 'unofficial anarchist movement'. This turned out to be quite incisive as many of them were at pains to explain how they had taken on class struggle or at least 'revolutionary' positions and that not everyone was a 'primitivist', but that this wasn't really recognised by the 'official' groups.

On the other hand, the conference was deliberately not promoted as an 'anarchist' event, but it was noticeable that many participants wrongly made the assumption that most people there would identify themselves as such. Some felt disappointed that more SolFed members hadn't been at the conference, though many of them were at Bradford involved in other Reclaim Mayday events.

This led to an unhelpful boycott rumour, which whilst unfounded, should at least make them think they should have engaged better. This was a very important event for the revolutionary movement which should have been taken seriously by all the existing organisations.

A repeat event is planned for next year. In the meantime increased dialogue between individuals and groups with environmental concerns and the mainstream organisations and non-aligned individuals seems likely, probably at a local level. Nationally, this is already happening at events like the Birmingham G8 and Cardiff Euro-summit actions.

This is positive step, and could result in a growth of revolutionary ideas in what are seen by many as 'protest' campaigns. However, this still does not address the continued problem of (lack of) workplace intervention by anarchists, especially now the Liverpool Docks and Magnet disputes have been settled.

It is probably true to say that nothing new came out of the conference in this respect, which may have something to do with an understandable reluctance to discuss competing workplace strategies in any depth at the conference. Over the last year, concentration on community struggles has been one of our strengths as it is clear that the rest of the left is unable to go beyond trade-unionism and workerism.

But, it is also the case that the New Deal will attack wages and conditions as unemployed people are forced into compulsory work, and that consolidation of Europe will have a huge impact on the workplace.

In spite of great efforts in Groundswell and other groups opposing the New Deal, we are still not encouraging the mass of the unemployed to get involved in political activity, let alone workers who will be also affected by it. It will be interesting to see whether this situation has changed in a years time.

More information about MayDay98 will be available soon in the form of a pamphlet which should include details of the themed discussions which we don't have space to go into here, and the third issue of Smash Hits magazine intends to carry the debate forwards.

For more info write to: London Mayday Group, Box BM 5538, London, WC1N 3XX. Copies of Smash Hits "A Discussion Bulletin for Revolutionary Ideas" are available from the same address (send one pound). Deadline for next issue is July 31st, articles on disc preferred.

This report will also appear in the next issue (no.49) of the ACF's magazine, Organise! available from:

ACF c/o 84b Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX, England

E-mail: acf@burn.ucsd.edu, Web: http://burn.ucsd.edu/~acf/


The view from Ireland

For anarchists in Ireland, Britain is the most accessible country with an anarchist movement, both in terms of travel and language. Anarchism in Ireland was pretty much non-existent until the start of the 1970's and still only involves a handful of people on an organised basis. This is one of the reasons why over the last ten years I've travelled to Britain on over 20 occasions specifically to attend anarchist events. Please forgive in advance the fact that my comments below are quite critical of the state of British anarchism. I hope this perspective, from outside your movement, offers a constructive view.

The Bradford conference was overall a very positive event. It was a welcome departure for the 'know it all' sectarianism that I have come to associate with national organisation in Britain. By this I mean a tendency to at best ignore and all too often insult any anarchist analysis that disagrees with the line or activity of your particular national organisation. Bradford was a very serious attempt at teasing out the problems of the movement by some 250 people, there has been nothing comparable in the last decade involving so many people in Britain. (The only other attempt, the London 'Anarchy in the UK' meeting in the early 90's might have has a similar aim but lacked the organisational commitment to construct a meaningful discussion).

So as a first step Bradford was great. However it can only be seen as a first step. I've taken part in Anarchist and libertarian events outside of Britain and Ireland also in this period, (in France, Italy, Spain and Mexico). I also happen to have excellent access to the internet and so have followed from a distance events in many other countries. It has to be said that in comparison the anarchist movement in Britain is remarkably unorganised, divided and demoralised. In most other countries the number of people organised in the anarchist movement has soared over the last decade, 300% increases being typical. In Britain the numbers in formal organisation have at best stagnated and may well have decreased.

For the older activists, Bradford was, at least in part, a therapy session for those who have been partly burnt out and demoralised by this failure to grow. Several people I talked to after the first day complained about the first sessions being dominated by 25 - 35 years olds whose main and repeated contribution was 'we tried that and it didn't work'. The therapy aspect obviously worked though as everyone agreed that by the second day, once this had been gotten off peoples chests, enthusiasm set in. Certainly at the closing session the one message that did appear to come out again and again was that people had found an unexpected energy at the conference.

The unfortunate thing is that such positive feelings do not amount to all that much in the aftermath of such events and so its all too easy to dismiss them as irrelevant. The gains of Bradford were not after all tangible things like new ideas or radically new methods. Once the euphoria of the closing sessions fades some people are bound to feel disappointed with this.

Conferences like the Bradford one have an important role in bringing people active in the movement together in an atmosphere where they can discuss there differences in a constructive fashion. However they are not 'the answer' to the problem of organisation. There is a desperate need for British anarchists to take the idea of transforming society seriously and break out of the localism and stagnation that has held back the movement in the last decade. I'll leave the question as to whether this is best done by transforming the existing national organisations or creating new ones as an exercise for the reader!

Andrew Flood


 

MayDay 98

1 - 4 May 1998 Bradford

struggles for social change, new ideas, new approaches

Don't believe the hype: capitalism has not gone away. We might live in an increasingly fragmented world, but everywhere it is the same social system trying to subject us to its laws of money, profit and power. And everywhere, from South Korea to South Yorkshire, people are pissed off - fighting back and struggling to regain control of their lives.

With these huge social battles looming on the horizon, the old softly-softly approach of reformism is dead in the water - the reality of the Blair government offers daily proof. Meanwhile for the orthodox Left it's business as usual - paper-sales, recruitment drives and one dead-end campaign after another. As the revolutionary movement marches in ever-decreasing circles, it's about time we stopped and asked ourselves one basic question: if our ideas are so great, why is our number so small?

Mayday 98 is a four day conference open to anyone and everyone who is serious about changing this world. The aim is to bring people together to share ideas and experiences. It will be totally different from anything you've been to before. The potential now exists for something to emerge that will go way beyond the crap that traditionally passes for politics and start to seriously threaten the social order. A new sort of movement unfettered by the past and ready for the battles of the 21st century.

We think it's time to move on and try new approaches - we need to get away from the sterile old debates that have paralysed us for years. That's why MayDay 98 will be organised around four major themes - Land, Ecology and the Environment; All Worked Up; Dream Time; Away from the Margins. People will be breaking into smaller, diverse groups with each group discussing each of the themes throughout the weekend. We're not saying that these themes are the only things that matter, but they should help us to approach many of the old problems from a different angle. A fifth theme - Practicalities - will dominate events on the Monday morning and will allow us to start putting ideas into practice. The idea of themes has been lifted from the 'encuentros' - the international meetings of 3-4,000 revolutionaries in Mexico in July/August 1996 and Spain in July/August 1997. We'd like to think that MayDay 98 will be held in the same spirit of genuine co-operation and open debate, and that it can play a part in a parallel re-alignment of the revolutionary movement here in the UK.

MayDay 98 is all about encouraging new, non-sectarian ways of working and thinking. Like thousands of others we're tired of the obsessive bickering and point-scoring that has made the Left into a running joke. If our movement is to grow and succeed, it needs to encourage diversity, not stifle it. MayDay 98 will only be a success if we are open and honest with each other and brave enough to confront new ideas. We all have things to learn, we all have knowledge to pass on.

All individuals - anarchist, communist, eco-warrior or whatever you choose to call yourself - are welcome at MayDay 98, but party lines, rigid political positions and hidden agendas are not. At least one of the discussion groups will be women-only, if women demand it. While MayDay 98 will be open and dynamic, it will not be a free-for- all: there will be no room for back-biting, finger-wagging and all the other baggage usually associated with 'politics'. The test of our strength is our ability to respect different approaches and different emphases without falling back into hippy-dippy liberal bullshit. We don't pretend that MayDay 98 will have all the answers: in any case the aim is not to reach some party line or throw up a ready-made political programme. It would be brilliant if other political projects spring out of MayDay 98, but for now our priority is to increase communication, understanding and mutual support among those actively involve d in struggles. Anything else is a bonus.

Land, ecology and the environment
ownership and exploitation; anti-roads; destruction; from single issues to broader demands; British beef; housing; animal rights; mass trespass; Reclaim the Streets; squatting.

All worked up
out of work; Liverpool dockers; flexploitation; home work; struggles and resistance; international economy in crisis; Project work; the changing face of capitalism; workfare; no more welfare; shit work; unpaid work; house work.

Dream Time
selling the dream; putting practice into theory; organisations and movements; what do we want (when do we want it?); putting theory into practice; from insurrection to revolution; post-revolutionary society.

Away from the margins
resistance and empowerment; isolation; individualism; ghetto politics; building a culture of resistance; a woman's place; underclass; immigration; divide and rule; race; self-organisation; common sense in a mad world.

 

Timetable

Friday 1 May
All day Welcome and registration at the 1 in 12 Club
1.00 MayDay parade followed by MayDay gathering in Centenary Square

Saturday 2 May
10.00 Registration at the conference venue
11.00 Opening session
12.00-4.00 Themed discussion in groups

Sunday 3 May
10.00-4.00 Themed discussion in groups

Monday 4 May
10.00-1.00 Themed discussion in groups, focusing on practicalities
2.00-5.00 Reports back and closing session

 

MayDay'98 has been organised to coincide with the annual Reclaiming MayDay events being organised throughout Bradford by the 1 in 12 Club. The conference itself will take up less than six hours a day but we expect the debates and chats to continue into the small hours in the pubs, clubs and social centres of the city. If groups or individuals want to put on their own meetings or workshops in the evenings, they are more than welcome; they should get in touch with the MayDay Collective, c/o 1 in 12 Club who will help them sort out venues.

Reclaim MayDay kicks off with a MayDay parade which assembles at Infirmary Fields, Westgate, at 1pm on Friday 1 May. Other events already organised include a Libertarian Film Festival at the Pictureville cinema; a play entitled 'The Durruti Story'; an anarchist bookfair; a football tournament; gigs; and numerous socials and meetings. A separate programme will be produced by the 1 in 12 Club closer to the time, or you can check out their website.

MayDay 98 is being hosted by Bradford's 1 in 12 Club, although the actual conference will take place elsewhere in the city centre. The venue has good facilities for disabled people. The cost of the three day conference will be £15 (waged); £10 (low-waged); £5 (unwaged). This does not include food, but Bradford has stacks of cheap and tasty eat ing places. We are hoping to provide a limited amount of basic 'crash' accommodation, but we expect that most people coming to MayDay 98 will make their own arrangements. We are compiling a list of cheap bed & breakfasts, hostels, campsites etc., which will be sent out with other written material, so please register now. There will be a creche staffed by qualified child-care workers - we need to know in advance if you need this facility.

Questions etc should be emailed to daymay@geocities.com