Interview With Roundhouse Collective Of NEFAC

Interview with Roundhouse Collective of NEFAC

by Penny Howard and Josh Brown

NEFAC is the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists. It is a federation of collectives in the north-eastern US, Quebec, and Toronto. The Roundhouse Collective is a member of NEFAC in Baltimore, Maryland. This interview was conducted with Roundhouse members Flint, Jim, and Andrew, as well as Roundhouse supporters Jason and Matt. NEFAC’s website is: http://flag.blackened.net/nefac

What is 'anarcho-communism'?

Andrew: Anarcho-communism is anti-authoritarian and anti-hierarchial communism. We oppose a party structure, and do not believe in electoral politics. We support direct democracy.

Flint: Anarcho-communism means political and economic freedom, opposition to capital and any state, and freedom of association instead of a "party" monopoly. We do not support a "vanguard" party which would evolve into a state. Our general principles are mutual aid, solidarity, voluntary association, and from each according to their ability, to each according to their need. We believe the USSR was state capitalist, not communist.

Matt: Anarcho-communism is based on the principle of people organizing themselves, and the leadership of ideas and not a party. We assist people with their own ideas, and develop them from below using direct democracy. We do not support an enlightened group of people leading the masses, but workers and the community self-organized.

Matt - Authors we like are Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Nestor Makhno, Kropotkin, Murray Bookchin, contemporary writers Andrew Flood and Colin Ward, and Freedom Press.

Matt - We are in the tradition of the council communists, the situationists, the left-wing communists described as "infantile" by Lenin, the Korean Anarchist Federation, the insurgent army of Ukraine from 1918-1921, the CNT-FAI and the Friends of Durutti of the Spanish Civil War. We have a relationship with the contemporary organizations Workers Solidarity Movement of Ireland and the Anarchist Federation of the UK.

Jim: Anarcho-communism relies on the free association of workers, and direct democracy in the workplace.

Andrew: We are down with the "wobs" (members of the Industrial Workers of the World). The IWW is a labor organization which includes a lot of anarcho-syndicalists, and we are an anarcho-communist political organization. Most anarcho-syndicalists are also anarcho-communists.

When and why was NEFAC established?

Flint: There was a call to form a regional federation in the 'We Dare Be Free' newspaper of the Sabate collective (Boston) after the Seattle protests in November 1999. Collectives in Quebec and West Virgina also participated in founding NEFAC.

Flint: NEFAC was formed because there was no strong anarchist organization in North America after Love and Rage disintegrated in 1997. Many people had a strong desire to form an organization that could make decisions and do things together.

Flint: Within the anarchist tradition, there are basically two different ways of organizing: synthesism and platformism. In synthesism, everyone is in one organization with very broad politics, sometimes expressed as "everyone who circles their ‘A’s can join."

Andrew: One example is the Atlantic Anarchist Circle which formed after the 1996 Chicago Active Resistance conference. It was frustrating, because there was no organization or decision-making process so they could not even issue a call to action.

Flint: The call to form the 'Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc' for A16 was issued by some of the collectives and individuals that formed NEFAC - a stage of development we call "proto-NEFAC". It ended up being one of the largest North American black blocs. We were political and well organized, and were able to issue a clear statement. We were also able to work with the Mobilization for Global Justice in a principled way. We did disagree with them over the need for a diversity of tactics, including self-defense and property destruction, and over the need to abolish capitalism, and not simply reform it and its institutions (like the IMF and World Bank).

Andrew: We really pushed the anti-capitalist thing. People like Naiomi Klein won’t even say it, they just call it "the movement."

Flint: Within the anti-capitalist movement we were also very critical of the AFL-CIO over the issues of immigration and borders.

Flint: In platformism, there is a belief that any organization should have ideological unity (such as aims and principles), tactical unity, and collective responsibility. You need to agree on things like: are you for organizing the working class, or destroying it through a return to primitivism?

Matt: NEFAC is carrying on the platformist tradition, but extending it into the 21st century. The first expression of this tradition was the document 'The Organizing Platform of Libertarian Communists', written in 1921 in Paris by exiles from Russia, in conjunction with French anarchists. Its main argument was that anarchists need organization.

Flint: We don’t think NEFAC has a monopoly on the struggle. We’re one group, and we encourage others to form. Right now, our tactical unity is based on concentrating on a few issues: workers’ struggles, anti-poverty work, and housing and anti-gentrification. We chose these three foci after a long debate at our February 2002 conference because we think they have the potential to cause ruptures in the system over the long term.

Andrew: There are lots of other things that we support, we’re just not focused on them right now. It’s a function of where we are at regionally. Unlike Leninists, we don’t think we have all the answers, we just use analysis, discussion, and debate to figure things out.

Flint: We believe in leadership by ideas, not by authority. But we don’t think our ideas should be taken by others without criticism.

Andrew: People come to us and ask us what they should do, and we tell them just to do their thing. We are neither a vanguardist organization, nor are we trying to build a mass organization. We are in favor of local, grassroots actions.

Jim: We look at ourselves as a small cohesive group within the mass movement.

Flint: We don’t want everyone in Baltimore to join NEFAC, or we would have too many contradictory ideas and we would lose our ideological unity. We want to participate in mass struggles and agitate for our ideas, but we don’t want to lead or control these struggles. We don’t think the revolution will come from us. When the revolution comes, most people that are politically active now will be passed on the left by people taking control of their own lives. We have things to say but we would also like to listen. We want to be a part of the struggle as fellow workers and community members, and to help provide some historical memory of struggle.

Matt: We need to be sensitive to who is in the community, and who we are and what our background is.

How is NEFAC organized?

Andrew: It is a federation of affinity groups. The affinity group structure comes from the anarchist tradition, and its probably the most influential contribution that anarchism have made to the anti-capitalist movement. It was a structure used by the FAI in the Spanish Civil War in response to repression.

Andrew: NEFAC’s affinity groups have autonomy, but they are coordinated. Each affinity group in NEFAC can makes its decisions however it wants to, as long as the process is directly democratic. Some groups use consensus, others do not. A lot of Starhawk’s writing on affinity groups are actually very valuable.

Flint: There are twice annual conferences, with every member in attendance having a vote. Between conferences, the Federal Council is the decision-making body, and it has one delegate from each collective with one vote. Proposals are discussed with the collective, and the delegates are mandated and immediately recallable.

NEFAC has a constitution (available at http://flag.blackened.net/nefac), and ideological unity, so most decisions are by consensus. It is rare that a decision is controversial, except for bureaucratic decisions (such as the setting of dues). At the February 2002 conference, there were strong ideological arguments over what the three areas of focus should be.

Now there is discussion over the reform of conferences to have one vote per group rather than one per person to make it more democratic. We would aim to have proposals drafted and circulated well before the conferences, so affinity groups could discuss them and be well-represented.

Andrew: Considering our geography and our bilinguality, we do a pretty damn good job of keeping our shit together.

Flint: Being bi-national and bilingual has been very important for our theoretical development, and for us keeping our shit together. Especially after 9/11, having the broader perspective was very important. We have learned a lot from each other.

What is the Roundhouse Collective and how is it related to NEFAC?

Andrew: The Roundhouse Collective was formed by people from Baltimore who attended the second conference during the formation of NEFAC (held in Morgantown, West Virginia). The first conference was in Boston, where the proposal to form NEFAC was presented. At the Morgantown conference, the aims and principals of the organization were finalized. So an interest in being part of NEFAC really sparked the formation of the Roundhouse Collective.

Flint: The Roundhouse Collective name comes from the 1877 strike of the B&O railroad workers that started in West Virginia and spread to Baltimore. It was spontaneous and autonomous, and when the militia came out in Baltimore, many other striking unionists joined the B&O workers to fight them. It is one of the largest spontaneous uprisings of labor in US history.

Flint: The Roundhouse Collective is focused on labor issues. Other affinity groups are focused on other issues. The Sabate collective (Boston) produces the journal 'Northeast Anarchist', and is focused on housing issues. The Sofia Perovskaya collective (Boston) is largely students and professors at Northeastern University. The Barricada collective (Boston) produces the monthly magazine 'Barricada', and focuses on anti-fascist work. The Boston Local Union (an assembly of all the NEFAC groups in Boston) are prioritizing housing struggles with the Angry Tennants Union.

Flint: The Bete Noir collective (Montreal) is largely focused on the unemployed and on housing struggles. The Facing Reality collective (Montreal) is based mostly at Concordia University, and does a lot of Palestinian solidarity work. The RASH (Montreal - Red And Anarchist Skinheads) focus on anti-fascist work. The Emile Henry Group (Quebec City) is involved with the neighbourhood popular commiittees and social housing struggles. The Common Weal Collective (New York) is involved in community organizing on Staten Island. Freyheyt (Toronto) publishes "Ye Drunken Sailor" and is involved with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and labor struggles.

Flint: Some of the newer groups like the Open City Collective (New York), and the De’Cleyre Collective (Philadelphia) and still developing their collective ideas and practices. We organize where we are, and the individual groups have tactical autonomy and flexibility.

How has NEFAC evolved since it was established?

Flint: If you look at the journal 'Northeast Anarchist', you can see how we have evolved. At first, we were very focused on providing an anti-capitalist message in the movement against neo-liberalism. We were involved in increasing the militancy and diversity of tactics in the movement through the Black Bloc. We were coming out of a lot of isolation. Since NEFAC was organized, we have been able to take a better look at our theory instead of engaging in the reactive politics of going from one protest to the next.

Andrew: We are more on the ground, we have more local involvement in local struggles.

Flint: We were at the epicenter of all the anti-neoliberal stuff - Seattle, A16, and Quebec City. But now we are trying to focus more on local issues. We were very involved in the solidarity work with the Up-to-date laundry workers strike in Baltimore (summer of 2001), where workers organized a union with UNITE. We got more value out of that struggle than out of those mass protests.

Andrew: We were very involved with A16, and with organizing for September 29 in DC. If those goddamn terrorists hadn’t crashed those planes, we would have had one million people out in DC on September 29.

Flint: We did a lot to push anti-capitalism in the anti-globalization movement, but now we want to focus on struggles we can win.

Andrew: In the face of Islamic fascism on 9/11, we turned our focus to what is local.

Matt: Its just good tactics, fighting battles you can win. It is going to be a long struggle to end capitalism, but we have to fight to win.

Flint: We are not abandoning mass anti-capitalist mobilization, but when they happen we’d like to see them focus on the local issues of the area/city that’s hosting the meeting. We have local struggles we can concentrate on. In Montreal, they didn’t want to abandon their squat right now to go to the G-8 meeting in Alberta. In Toronto, OCAP is organizing an event in solidarity with immigrants called 'Take the Capital'.

Flint: September 29 in DC would have had fantastic local links - it coincided with the date that all HERE hotel contracts expired. Unfortunately, the anti-WEF protests in New York had no local links. What did we actually accomplish there? It was good to be there to show the movement still exists and people weren’t afraid to get out on the streets post 9/11, but that’s about it. We need to have a global perspective, but we need to fight to win.

Flint: We are also not prioritizing anti-war work. It is not a battle we can win. Morally, we can go out there, but a revolution will not come through the anti-war movement, it will come through the labor movement.

Andrew: The war in Afghanistan is the same war that’s being waged here in Baltimore.

Matt: And we are targets in the war. Think globally act locally has to mean more than a bumper sticker on some soccer moms Volvo.

Matt: Other changes that have happened are that the magazine is better, NEFAC is larger, there are more older people involved, and more women. Most of us have jobs, and some of us are union organizers. If you want to have conversations with people and have them listen to you, they’ve got to be able to relate to you.

What are some of the campaigns you have recently been involved in?

We were involved with the solidarity work with the Up-to-Date laundry workers UNITE strike. In A16, in the inauguration protests, in the anti-WEF protests, in anti-fascist work. Two of our members are labor organizers. We have made a decision that all members will work a shift at Black Planet Books, a local radical bookstore. On April 20 we went to York, PA to confront the fascists there.

We wish we didn’t have to, but we are now prioritizing anti-fascist work since the May 11 fascist National Alliance demonstration at the Israeli Embassy in DC.

Matt: Everyone on the left needs to get involved in anti-fascist work. They are a major threat and major competition - just look at Europe. The situation with fascists is very serious and needs to be dealt with as soon as possible because it will continue to grow and detract from what the left can do or accomplish.

Matt: Fascism is its own creation, and we need to address it separately from capitalism, and offer a coherent alternative. On May 11, they out-organized us, and we were pitiful. The mid-Atlantic is now a focus for the Hammerskins and the National Alliance. We need to counter them locally and run them out of town.

Jason: Fascists mainly recruit from the working class, and promote hate and nationalism as the cause and solution to the oppression of capitalism.

What role do you think NEFAC plays within the anarchist movement?

Flint: We believe that as an organization, we are greater than the sum of our parts. We really push for organized and disciplined revolutionary anarchism. By discipline, we mean self-discipline and personal responsibility. We argue that people need to participate in the popular broad-based movements of their class.

Tell us about your publications, and how they are produced and distributed.

'Northeastern Anarchist' is produced quarterly, and is more theoretical. 'Barricada' is produced every month, and is more focused on news. 'Ruptures' is the French language theoretical publication.

One collective takes responsibility for producing the magazine, but they are mandated by the federation as a whole. They have autonomy, but if we don’t like what they are doing, we can move the production. The contents are discussed over email. Each collective contributes, and the publications are distributed in bookstores and by the collectives.

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