Monday, April 28, 2008

The following is a reprint from the A-Infos site of an interview with a New Zealand anarchist, "Omar", on the part of the Spanish anarchist site . It gives an interesting perspective on the development of modern anarchism in what is a small and far away country to those of us up here in the frozen north. It also shows glimmers of the gradual maturing of the movement in NZ, just like in the rest of the world.


Anarchism in New Zealand - Another Interview
The following interview was conducted via email between Spanish anarchist website and Omar, an Aotearoa Anarchist of New Zealand who is involved in Indymedia Aotearoa and the Auckland Anarchist Collective.----

ALB - We'd like to know at first, if there is something we could take as an "anarchist movement" in New Zealand. Which is its nature? I mean, is it a popular movement, class struggle, community, counter cultural... ?

Omar---- When we speak of an anarchist movement is New Zealand we are basically speaking of around 200-300 people based mainly in the major cities, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin and organised through a variety of collectives, organisations and social networks. The orientation of individuals within the anarchist movement is very diverse, with some people involved in primarily activist projects, like human rights, worker struggle, feminist, anti-racist, animal rights, anti-war, global justice, and environmental concerns. The other main trend are those others who are orientated more towards a counter-cultural outlook with an emphasis on the creation of local alternatives and community projects. Lots of people are involved in both types though.

ALB -Could you make a quick summary about the history of the anarchist movement in the recent decades?

Omar: Since 1999, the anti-globalisation movement has had a very important impact on anarchists in Aotearoa, as has the anti-war movement since 2001, the movement against genetic engineering, and the climate change movement now emerging. These are the main movements most anarchists have been involved in over the last ten years. During the 1990s, anarchists were heavily involved in activism against the neo-liberal reforms that changed the New Zealand economy and made life very difficult for the unemployed and the poor. Also they were involved in campaigns to stop logging of native forests which was a successful campaign. Another major campaign anarchists were involved in in the 1990s was in solidarity with the people of East Timor. In the 1980s anarchists were involved in the movement against sporting contacts with South Africa, and against nuclear-ship visits and testing of nuclear bombs in the Pacific, and against racism in New Zealand.

ALB- Are there in Aoteoroa "libertarian" social movements not explicitly anarchist? I mean, those movements that don't consider themselves as anarchist but share plenty of common elements with the anarchists. What can you tell about them?

Omar:There are lots of anti-authoritarian, anarchistic organisations that anarchists are involved in in Aotearoa. These include Indymedia, Food Not Bombs and Critical Mass. In Wellington there is lots of anti-war activity around the group Peace Action Wellington which many anarchists there are involved with. In Christchurch and throughout Aotearoa many anarchists are involved in the Save Happy Valley campaign against coal-mining in the South Island. I think these types of organisations and movements consume the majority of time of activist anarchists in Aotearoa.

ALB- To have a proper idea, in which cities, towns, areas,is the movement/scene more powerful?

Omar:Traditionally the stronghold of anarchism in Aotearoa has been Wellington, the capital city which has a well established anarchist community house, infoshop, anarchist press, and strong ties to the inner-city bohemian suburbs. This means Wellington has the most organised anarchist community. In Auckland there are less anarchists although it is a larger city, and there is no social centre or infoshop, although there was for some of 2007. In Christchurch there is a social centre and some fairly active collectives.

ALB- Are there different tendencies inside the movt. or is it more or less homogeneous?

Omar:The anarchist movement is quite homogenous and this means that people who are attracted to it are very particular. It is a mix of lifestylism and anti-authoritarian protest movementism that is quite common to most youth anarchist scenes. There are strong punk and hippy influences as well. Although there are a scattering of anarchosyndicalists, class struggle anarchists, most people are quite movement orientated and there is very little production of theory and analysis by anarchists in Aotearoa.

ALB- Which are the biggest or most important anarchist or libertarian organisations? Are there national federations, networks?

Omar:In my opinion the most important libertarian organisation is Aotearoa Indymedia, which has anarchists involved in five cities in Aotearoa. There was also an attempt to set-up an Aotearoa Anarchist Network, but that fell on its face. There is also the Anarcha-feminist Network which has collectives in three cities and is the most active of the national networks.

ALB- Are there any national anarchist gathering, national conference, bookfair and so on... ? which are the biggest events?

Omar:There was an anarchist conference in 2007 which attracted 60 participants but in my view was a failure, as it failed to achieve the objective we set it of establishing an anarchist network, and a 2005 conference which attracted around the same number and was mostly workshops. With the absence of cross-city organisation and networking there is little attempts to build anarchist movement through larger national events, which ends up reinforcing the isolation of collectives and individuals.

ALB- Is there any social movement in which the anarchist participate? Which degree of influence could they have?

Omar:Anarchists in recent years have had lots of participation in the anti-war, union, environmental movements and are very much at the forefront of many of these struggles, actively engaged in promoting direct action and direct democracy in the organisations of these movements. For example in the campaign to free some Iranian asylum-seekers held in jail, the Auckland anarchist collective was at the forefront of this struggle and did a civil disobedience action at the jail, as well as participating in the pickets. Anarchists also played a large role in the campaign for a living wage at fast food restaurants like McDonalds, especially through the anticapitalist youth group Radical Youth, which organised a high school strike.

ALB- In which campaigns are the anarchists actively involved?

Omar:At the moment the main work anarchists are doing is in solidarity with those activists including myself, Maori and anarchist who were arrested on October 15th 2007, and charged for having allegedly attended armed training camps and possessing rifles and molotov cocktails, in a mountainous remote area of New Zealand called the Ureweras, which is the traditional homeland of the Tuhoe tribe. Also campaigns anarchists are involved in are the Save Happy Valley campaign, anti-fur, battery farming and vivisection campaigns and others are involved in ongoing community projects to build peoples self-reliance and autonomy.

ALB- Which are the relationships with other political movements (ie communists, trots, greens, etc.)?

Omar:Anarchists have quite a close relationship with the Green Party and some are members. In Auckland anarchists work closely in broad political work with the two main Marxist-Leninist groups, and other smaller trot groups. Marxist-Leninists are mainly based in Auckland where they are relatively strong, where as in the rest of New Zealand they are quite weak.

ALB- What is the relationship of anarchists- with other countries, like Australia, Britain? Are there any anarchist people in other islands on the Pacific Ocean?

Omar:Anarchists mostly cultivate their own individual contacts with anarchists in different parts of the world. There is some co-ordination with anarchists in Australia, especially Melbourne, where anarchists from New Zealand often go to live or holiday. Throughout a year there are often anarchists/autonomist people from Europe and North America who come and live and stay and work in different collectives. My own collective in Auckland last year had an Italian, a Russian and a German involved as well as an anarchist from Melbourne and two anarchists from Tucson, Arizona. Sadly there are no anarchists as I am aware of on Pacific Islands but there are lots of anticapitalists especially in Tonga involved in the movement against the monarchy and in kanaky/new caledonia where there is a strong movement against French rule and the power of transnational mining corporations.

ALB- What is the relationship with the Maori people? Are there any "anarchist-Maori" collectives? Are there any convergence with them?

Omar:The relationship with Maori people is quite good, especially with the Tuhoe tribe as we both have been repressed by the state, shared the same cells, court-appearances and protests against this repression. There are also a number of Maori anarchists and projects which are both Maori and and anti-capitalist but no openly anarchist Maori collective. One example is Conscious Collaborations project which has worked to build recognition of Maori self-determination and supported Maori people victimised by the recent police repression.

ALB- Finally, which is the future for our movement in Aoteoroa?

Omar:Looming large on the horizon is the trial of us, 19 anarchists and Maori arrested on October 15th and afterwards, and we all face possibly long prison sentences if convicted. The trial will be sometime in 2009. My estimation of the movement is that lots of people are feeling quite tired and burnt out by constant activism especially under a state of tension, caused by the police. In 2005, Sam Buchanan, a veteran anarchist from Wellington, wrote an article called "Attack of the Headless Chickens" which was widely circulated because it struck a chord with many people who have been worn out with endless protesting for many good causes but little long-term strategy and planning on how to change the world and failure to develop anarchist organisation beyond campaigning groups or single issue projects. I think that if strong, cohesive and purposeful local collectives can be built which focus on issues that are important to everyday people, issues of the environment; human rights, worker rights, colonisation and the New Zealand government's ongoing collaboration with imperialist, militarists and repressive regimes in the United States, in China, and across the world, we may see an upturn for the anarchist movement in its ability in challenging the gross excesses of the powerful.
A Molly Addendum:
Here are some links to anarchism in New Zealand from Molly's links section:
Capitalism Bad;Trees Pretty (good site for links not yet on Molly's list but soon to be)


Asher said...

Hey Molly,

I wouldn't share your optimism about anarchism over this side of the world unfortunately - while it is true there has been a turn by a small number towards more of a social anarchist (ie - syndicalist, communist etc) bent, there has also been a turn towards post-left and the eco-anarchist theories, and the latter is certainly more common than the former, unfortunately.

Also, Omar's estimate of 200 - 300 anarchists is way over the top - active anarchists in Aotearoa / New Zealand would be closer to 100, maybe 150 at absolute most.

Still, I thought Omar's interview was a relatively good one.

In solidarity,
Asher (from Anarchia blog)

Anonymous said...

Interesting interview for someone who as far as I am aware has not visited many anarchists in the south island of New

Anonymous said...

While Omar comes across as knowledgeable in the interview, he is in fact a traitorous backstabber who has succeeded in betraying those who trusted him and is responsible for the closure of a space that was used by activists as a meeting place, home & venue. His version of anarchy is very different from my own.

Class War said...

The next time I hear a middle-class activist promote their views on working class struggle I swear I will violently throw up.

Working class struggle is not a "primarily activist project" where you turn up, pump your fist in the air, pose for a few photos with striking workers and go back to your parents' cushy house. It's a reality for many people including myself. Omar, you do not know what it's like and you should not speak for us.

Pretty much the most accurate part of the interview was that "here is very little production of theory and analysis". The movement suffers from an excess of middle class cut-and-paste philosophers and internet warriors. Omar himself said that he thinks his role in the movement should be that of an intellectual.

The union movement deserves more than a single mention in passing without any explanation of our role. Anarchists have played much more of a role organising workers than school students.

The vast majority of anarchists do not believe in parliamentary elections as a means. The couple of ex-anarchist Green Party members are not considered as such by most of the movement. There is also very little cooperation with Leninist and Trot groups.

There is a focus on typical protest actions or propaganda and virtually nothing on anarchists working in their communities. The unions, mutual aid and community projects have been barely mentioned. Indymedia, which is mentioned as the most important organisation, serves as little more as a noticeboard for upcoming events and a virtual parade-ground where professional activists look at themselves at actions.

The future of the movement is not tied up with the victims of the so-called "anti-terror" raids and certainly not with introspective cliques or protest movements.

It is with the people who are often much less prominent but who are doing tireless work for their communities. It is unfortunate this is the interview that represents our nation and movement to the rest of the world.

mollymew said...

This subject seems to evoke some rather strong feelings on all parts. As somebody sitting up here in the frozen north I am hardly qualified to address specifics about the situation in New Zealand. What I will say, however, is the following:
1)As anarchism spreads across the world it often begins as a countercultural (mostly "punk") movement in countries in which it doesn't have an historical base. Speaking of Canada here, and as an anarchist who predated the "punks", all that my generation did was keep the idea alive. It was a latter generation who truly made the idea popular.
NOW, adolescent subcultures are exactly THAT, with emphasis on the adjective "adolescent". Yet, no matter how much some might want to deny it, ALL biological organisms age (or "mature" in a more positive light). That applies to those organisms who style themselves "anarchist" as well. In years to come you can expect "graduates" of the lifestylist "scene" who will come to a more mature anarchism. THAT is the hope for the future. No doubt there are those who want to arrest this inevitable development and keep people in immaturity for their own purposes, financial, egotistical or otherwise. North America, especially the USA, is full of such dreck. But they have failed here, and I doubt they will succeed elsewhere where their ideology is part and parcel of the industrial waste that the USA exports. So, yes, I have a lot of hope. It may be misplaced. It is, after all, emotionally influenced, but it is still possible that a mature anarchism will emerge worldwide. Maybe I won't live to see its final triumph, but I've lived long enough to see its beginnings.
2) "How many anarchists?" is very much a matter of opinion and definition. From the "Omar" definition there are more "anarchists" here in Winnipeg, Manitoba (hardly a hotbed of anarchism in Canada)than there are in the whole country of New Zealand. From an Asher definition we maybe equal half of the number. Activists and "supporters" ! I don't exactly know how to do this head-count, but I can say that the 'supporters" are in the end more important than the activists because they are the channel to many other people who don't want to be "active" for various reasons. I leave the head-count with an agnostic perspective.
3)As to the second from last of the posters: In regards to "treason", one makes this accusation when there is sufficient proof!!! of deliberate!! treacherous actions. I've been around more than long enough to know just how much so-called radical movements are infiltrated by police agents, and it is pretty obvious that the first question one should ask about anybody who promotes play-acting at terrorism is "is he a cop?". The trouble is that he usually isn't. Stupidity and personality defects are infinitly more common than paid agents. Here in North america it continues to amaze me that the FBI bothers to spend money infiltrating radical groups when they have groups such as Green Anarchist, ELF and others who will happily do their work for free. It seems like a great and grevious waste of public money to me-ESPECIALLY as when the kindergarden terrorists are caught they rat out on each other at a rate NEVER seen before in human history in any case of radical opposition to a government.I guess it shows just how shallow their ideology is.
I seriously doubt that "Omar" is a police agent, and therefore actually "treacherous". It is that
too many anarchists entertain silly childish fantasies of short-circuiting history by play-acting at terrorism(fantasies that were hardly even close to reality according to what I have read) He might indeed be accused of "stupidity"-amongst other insults- but "treachery"; no I don't think so. As to whether somebody is an "asshole" in various ways, well that is another matter, and one that I am unable to comment on in this case.
4)Regarding the comments of 'Class War': I would generally agree with you, but I would express myself in more polite/politic ways. I also see the matter in terms of historical development rather than as a snapshot in time. No doubt you are frustrated with the development of anarchism in your country- at this time. Yet take the ideas that this is a work in progess, and that you can "honey" many of those who you presently disagree with over to your views. Save the attacks for those who benefit from the mistakes. I don't know if they exist in your country like they do in our neighbour to the south, but if they do, or if they develop in the future, they can be isolated and countered. The followers are NOT the same as the ideologues. The followers grow up. the ideologues do as well, but only in terms of gaining more knowledge about manipulation.
I emphasized THIS- our job is to win over the best people who presently have ideas that differ from ours. EVENTUALLY we hope to win over a majority. Winning over those who have opther ideas of anarchism other than "social anarchism" is very good practice for the more important task, and we shouldn't waste this opportunity out of an emotional reaction of disgust.