I am sorry to have to tell you this, but anarchists are not what they used to be. I reluctantly came to that conclusion the other day while reflecting on a quandary facing the Melbourne Anarchist Club. Years ago, the club bought a shop in Northcote, when the suburb was the home of normal people with normal jobs who followed football, drank in the local pub and voted Labor. Now, with the onward march of gentrification, goats’ cheese and the Greens, not to mention the pernicious influence of kale salad, Northcote has become decidedly trendy and, consequently, the target of developers who are throwing up blocks of boutique flats to accommodate the hordes of Pilates masters, Islamic human rights advocates, ABC celebrities, relationship counsellors and Reiki healers who want to live in such vibrant surroundings. One of the results of this trend is that the anarchists’ humble meeting room and bookshop are now ignominiously sandwiched between two such buildings, a Goliath, if you like, on either side of their David. The club is now faced with the dilemma of whether to keep up the good fight against the running dogs of capitalism and their developer and investor handmaidens, or become free market buccaneers and sell out to the highest bidder who wants to build a new tower of Babel on their land. Regrettably, the club seems to be tending towards the latter option. That seems to be the way that anarchism has gone: firebrands yesterday, landowners today, developers tomorrow. I suspected as much when I saw on their website that people were being encouraged to join the organisation and ‘to get involved in MAC projects and events’, but only after agreeing to the club’s aims and principles. One might ask what hope there is for an anarchist club which has principles and members, urges people to ‘get involved’ and apparently does things instead of undoing them, which decent anarchists should be doing. In the past, any self-respecting anarchist club would have put the adjoining apartment blocks under siege, manned the barricades and started work on a new batch of Molotov cocktails. Today’s anarchists seem more interested in joining the lickspittles of capitalism than denouncing them. So, I’m not surprised their next step will be real estate speculation. This disturbing slide into property-owning conservatism has sadly been borne out by my own research, as I find that the club has an annual general meeting, a domain name and even that hideous and cringe-making symbol of decadent society, a Facebook page!
It was not always so. The weak and compromising attitude of today’s anarchists stands in sharp contrast, for example, to the single-minded and uncompromising devotion to high principle that was shown in the halcyon days of the 1960s by the Melbourne University Apathy Society. As its name implies, this distinguished organisation did not stand for much at all, and no one could accuse it of compromising its principles or even sticking to them, as it had none. In fact, such was the air of indifference that surrounded the organisation that I was never quite sure whether I was a member or not, as it was impossible to join and had no application form, subscription or records. But it probably did not matter, as I would not want to be a member of any club that showed no interest in whether it had any members. It certainly never lowered itself to invite people to join and, unlike the Melbourne Anarchist Club, would rather have died on the spot than urge anyone to ‘get involved’ in anything at all, except perhaps putting the organisation into liquidation and even that would have taken more effort than the members would have been prepared to invest in such a pointless activity, even if the club had any assets, which it did not. So far as I recall, the only occasion on which the club actually did anything was to expel a member for attending a meeting. Even that pre-emptive strike is shrouded in mystery, as none of the members received a notice of the meeting, there being no list of members, and no votes were cast for or against the offending resolution.
So the weak, downward slide into compromise by the real estate speculators who make up today’s so-called Melbourne Anarchist Club stands in sharp contrast to the uncompromising indifference of the Melbourne University Apathy Society; a zeitgeist of the steady decay of civilisation, if you ask me.
But I decided to make a trip to the club to see if things were really as bad as I feared. Sadly, they are worse. You probably will not believe this, but the club actually has regular opening hours! And a notice board! With notices! And the final straw that convinced me today’s anarchists are only luke-warm time servers is that they were all so charming and friendly. I was greeted like a long lost comrade. You would think any self-respecting club of anarchists would be filled with revolutionary firebrands who would look like revolutionaries and scowl or even look mystical like Che Guevara about to go before a firing squad. Not this lot. The chubby member who greeted me could scarcely stop laughing and his most terrifying call to arms was ‘have a beer, mate’. A supporter dropped by with a stereotypical and judgmental Christmas cake (which I was appalled to see was accepted), the beer flowed and my visit could easily have turned into a party. Finally, you would think they could at least have a vicious dog to guard the place, but the only danger you could face from the pooch on duty was to be licked to death. My visit had confirmed my worst fears. Anarchists are nice and, as a sad consequence, anarchy is dead. But, fortunately, the memory of uncompromising and resolute apathy lives on.
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