At around the same time as Schnews was setting up its soon to be famous freesheet in 1994, before the advent of modern social media, a group of anarchist organisations across the world (including Freedom Press), took steps towards creating an anarchist newswire — a-infos. Andrew Flood looks back at the project, which still runs today and provides a hugely under-appreciated resource for researchers.
In 1994 Class War organised an international anarchist gathering in London under the heading of “10 days the shook the world”. It provided a location that brought together a number of people who had been working on the promotion of anarchist ideas online and set off a string of collaborations that would last in some cases to the present day.
Somewhat earlier in 1990 another international anarchist meeting in the Netherlands had seen the establishment of a physical printed international anarchist news sheet as part of a new “A-Infos network”, designed to facilitate anarchist communications between countries. It involved anarchists from Canada, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Spain and Uruguay. Part of this work was each group producing a bulletin in the language of the country it was in, in 1995 there were 11 groups doing this.
In 1995 an electronic version was launched where individual news items were transmitted via email and archived on a website — this involved people, including myself, who had met at the London event the previous year. Initially this was a single general multi-lingual email list but it soon because possible to subscribe to single language lists and to a digest version. Essentially this is still the distribution structure of a-infos over 20 years later in 2018, indeed when you visit the webpage it still has something of the flavour of a page from the 1990s in terms of design. A-infos’ form and organisation has probably remained consistent since the round of changes that followed the 1997 Zapatista encuentro in Spain which also saw the launch of People’s Global Action.
An important aspect of a-infos in comparison with some of the other anarchist websites of the time was that it took anarchist practice seriously and a lot of effort was put into creating a collective system of direct democracy, through which decisions were made. Likewise those involved in running the collective were also involved in anarchist organisations and struggles offline. Indeed Ilan Shalif, who I believe is the longest-running of those members, continues to receive a regular dose of tear gas from the Israeli military at weekly protests in Palestine against the building of the apartheid wall.
To put it mildly rather a lot happened in terms of internet development after those years, but a-infos struck to its original format and publishing methods as countless other projects were founded, bloomed and in many cases ceased to exist. As such one major point of value it provides today is an archive that probably includes any significant bit of anarchist news from the last 23 years, often translated into multiple languages. That is one hell of a resource for anyone willing to put serious time into tracking the history and development of anarchism in that period.
Left organisational methods date from a period before “many to many” communications facilitated by the internet had come into being. From before the period when video and audio distribution became something that anyone could do at very little cost. From before the period where one to many communications required a lot of money and often time to reach any substantial number of people. From before the period when researching a daily obscure piece of history about a land far away could be instantaneous. From before the period when many people could watch events unfold at a location across the planet in real time, and see and hear ordinary participants in those events. From before the period where money could rapidly be raised from people you have no previous contact with at all. This list could be longer but the point should be clear, the communications revolution that is the internet is, if anything, more profound than the printing press and as such is remaking organisation and rebellion.
This isn’t simply a question of using new communication technology. It’s also a question of understanding how that technology has already remade social relations to the extent that the society of 2018 is radically different from the society of 1990. So different that a lot of the old methods simply don’t work very well anymore as they required different sorts of people for them to work. There is an extent to which the archaic form a-infos retained from the mid 1990s isn’t that much of a disadvantage in 2018, as the pace of change over rate years since has been so rapid that each new innovation has only remained current for a couple of years before it is replaced by the next.
During the summit protest period of the early 2000s a few of us had a somewhat serious conversation over drinks at a counter-summit event trying to work out if at that point we could provide live video news from the front line of protests. It was technically possible but would have required about €50,000 worth of extra equipment and satellite hire. Today almost everyone has all the needed equipment in their pocket.
The pace of innovation has slowed down in recent times, each year’s new phones or computers are now pretty similar to the previous year’s. So it would be an interesting project to consider what a-infos might look like if it were to be built in the light of all the important developments in the years since, from social media through to everyone having a pretty good video camera on their phone and the ability to live stream. There would certainly be considerable value in a “one stop shop” anarchist news service that provided not just written reports but also audio and video, originating in multiple regions and languages around the globe. This is something we very much need going forward, climate change has added a comparatively short countdown to the old “Socialism or Barbarism” slogan.
A-infos today remains a useful way of getting a direct email every day (or even per item) that will probably contain any significant anarchist news from the previous few days and which isn’t reliant on a Facebook algorithm deciding this is something you might be interested in.
You’ll find the list of subscription options at http://www.ainfos.ca/options.html
Andrew Flood (follow Andrew on Twitter)
This article first appeared at Anarchist Writers