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Confessions of a communard: Cultivating comrade connections

Confessions of a communard: Cultivating comrade connections

When you’re engaged with community activism at a local level, it can sometimes become a little too easy to forget that the wider anarchist movement is also a community that needs constant cultivation. If we are to build reliant mutual aid networks, we need to constantly cultivate and maintain relationships with other groups who are working towards the same — or related — ends. In order to satisfy the communistic goal of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’, we should make connections with groups and initiatives who have different skills to our own, as well as deepen connections with those who we are more closely related to, so that we create a deep and diverse skill set. Ultimately, we need to create a network that is able to provide the skills, resources, and services that are essential for a healthy, happy, fruitful, and fulfilling life.

With this in mind, A Commune in the North (ACitN) members recently made time to attend some important weekend-long events ahead of our own Quarterly Weekend Gathering on the 9th and 10th of March.

Our first outing was to the AGM and Winter Gathering of the Landworkers Alliance (LWA), held just down the road from us at the former Earth Centre site in the Doncaster town of Conisbrough. LWA is a 2,600 strong member-led union of farmers, foresters, smallholders, crofters and community gardeners, which represents the UK wing of the 200 million strong global peasants movement, La Via Campesina.

Food and ecology are at the heart of the vision that ACitN is trying to manifest in Doncaster. Building upon our work at Bentley Urban Farm (BUF), we hope to grow a high percentage of the food needed to feed a commune of up to 200 people, although, as we shall see, we’re not aiming for full self-sufficiency. The membership of the LWA offers a collective wealth of knowledge in environmentally and socially positive food growing.

Over the last ten years, the LWA has campaigned for land rights, social and racial justice, resilient local food systems and the normalisation of agroecology (ecologically positive food farming techniques). Working closely with groups like Land In Our Name (LION), a people of colour initiative attempting to access land through repatriations, and Out On The Land (OOTL), an LWA alliance of LGBTQIA+ folx who have come together to build solidarity and raise the voices of queer and trans landworkers, the LWA can be seen as a much-needed counterweight to the largely undemocratic and right-wing-leaning National Farmers Union (NFU). Unlike the NFU, the LWA membership comprises a majority of young, non-cis male members, giving both their organisation and their AGM a more vibrant, creative and radical feel. Especially when the 200 or so people attending the AGM sang And When I Rise in harmony together in the cool February morning air. ACitN founder Cath and I were honoured to give a short talk about land in Doncaster as part of the opening ceremonies.

During their own AGM at the end of 2023, La Via Campesina committed to political education as the key focus of their work for the next four years. The LWA has acknowledged this decision, and although they are not explicitly anarchist, it means that a vital space will be created for education about land rights and discussions around the kind of radical agrarian changes we urgently need in the UK. Any anarchist involved with food growing in the Isles should definitely consider membership of the LWA.

Such is the state of our planet that in order to care for the land, we must first defend it. So our next outing was to the 2024 Earth First! Winter Moot, which took place in Nottingham’s Sumac Centre. ACitN has a strong commitment to ecological and political education and activism, so many of our members regularly attend the EF! Moots to keep abreast of what’s happening and to touch base with comrades from around the country.

As always, the EF! Moot was informative, inspirational and fun. Some ACitN members were active ecological campaigners during the development of EF! UK throughout the 1990s, and we were cheekily encouraged to sit in the ‘old folx tent’ and tell people what it was like in our day. This was taken in good faith, especially as one of the biggest problems with Extinction Rebellion (XR) was that it failed to recognise the proud and informative history of ecological resistance, both here and abroad. As an older person myself, I felt reinvigorated by the passion and intelligence of a new generation of activists who, in so many ways, have a much harder job on their hands… although many of the enemies remain painfully familiar.

One particular Leviathan that has outstayed its planet-killing welcome is Drax, the dirtiest power station in Europe. It has somehow rebranded itself as ‘green’ so that it can milk £1.66million a day in subsidies from the UK government. At workshops run by Biofuelwatch and Reclaim the Power (RtP), we learned about Drax’s complicity in environmental racismold-growth forest destruction and ecocidal greenhouse gas emissions, along with plans for a mass action camp from the 8th to the 13th of August. As RtP says, all are welcome.

In between workshops, discussions, and meetings, some 170 activists were fed by the legendary Veggies Catering Campaign, the vegan nosh providers that anyone active in animal and/or earth liberation over the last few decades will already know and love. This was not only a good turnout for Earth First!, but it was a vote of confidence for a community which was devastated by the spy cops scandal when Mark Kennedy, a Metropolitan Police Officer attached to the now notorious National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), not only infiltrated groups in Nottingham but used his position to form long-term sexual relationships which were known about by his Met bosses. The Met has since admitted that the spy-cop relationships were “abusive, deceitful, manipulative and wrong”, with Kennedy having “grossly debased, degraded and humiliated” at least one of his victims. ACAB indeed!

As mentioned, ACitN does not seek to be fully self-sufficient. We have no desire to cut ourselves off from the wider world. In fact, the opposite is true; our project exists to change the world. We want to create a solidarity economy that provides for both the commune and the wider working class community where we make our home. This will involve the creation of multiple worker-led cooperative businesses which provide for essential needs in ethical and ecological ways. Some of these co-ops will focus on production, while others will support existing producers in the area, further strengthening the local solidarity economy.

So last, but definitely not least, we made our way to the first of this year’s Quarterly Radical Routes Gatherings. Radical Routes (RR) is a member-led network of radical housing and workers’ cooperatives that facilitates mutual aid between co-ops and encourages radical social change through education and the facilitation of cooperative-based solidarity economics. As they say in their aims and principles:

We want to see a world based on equality and co-operation, where people give according to their ability and receive according to their needs, where work is fulfilling and useful, and creativity is encouraged, where decision making is open to everyone with no hierarchies, where the environment is valued and respected in its own right rather than exploited.”

RR’s quarterly gatherings are places where decisions are made regarding the running of the organisation, on loans to members, and on prospective new member co-ops. It is also where new and prospective members are educated about how RR works. As a worker’s co-op who is also in the process of setting up a housing co-op, ACitN is an Associate Member who hopes to join as a full member later in the year. The range of workshops was impressive, everything from an introduction to consensus decision making to finance for cooperatives. But one that I found particularly interesting was a free-form discussion about the links between squatting and housing co-ops, which turned into a debate on how RR member co-ops can support squatters by providing shower and laundry facilities and a safe place to crash to recuperate after evictions.

Outreach events like these should be a part of every anarchist’s and community activist’s calendar. It reinforces the belief that change is not only possible but that there are people actively building positive change all around the country and in all areas of human endeavour. It is incredible not only how many familiar faces you see but how quickly new faces become familiar when you take the time to connect. Not only will you build solidarity, support and mutual aid, but you will also have a very fulfilling and enjoyable time while you are doing it.

If you fancy reaching out to other groups and are looking for a place to start, ACitN’s own gatherings might be a good place to start. Visit our website.

~ Warren Draper

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