Reports on the 1998 Bradford Mayday conference

How some saw it a little after

Over the Mayday weekend of 1998 around 250 anarchists travelled to the small town of Bradford in England for a weekend of activity which included a conference.  As I understand it the planning for what was to become the J18 Day of Action against the city of London started at Bradford but in any case the spirit was certainly that of the anti-capitalist movement that was to emerge the following year.  These are two reports I wrote at the time and the original conference program.

A brief overview of the conference

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.

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


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

Written for the booklet produced after the conference


Original conference call out

 

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

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )

  


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