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Anarchist Book Cafes and "Mutual Assistance"

ANARCHISTS / Mette, Thomas and Rasmus found their way into anarchism through the fight for the Youth House in Copenhagen more than a decade ago. They have since been active in book cafes, labor conflicts and resistance to racism. It is first and foremost about lived political experience.


Anarchic Book Fair this fall was such a huge outlet that they had to close for signups. Teen Vogue recently wrote "surprisingly good" articles anarchism and Emma Goldman. Ursula K. Le Guin's authorship has undergone a marked renaissance [see other article]. This summer, United Anarchist Book Cafes had the cafe cinema Vester Vov Vov do a single screening of the new documentary on Le Guin, but it became such a success that the film is still showing there at the time of writing.

"The iron oligarchy is not a moral criticism, it is an experience," says Rasmus Pinnerup. That's why he calls himself, among other things anarchist, and therefore anarchist groups rarely exist in the same form over decades.

For the same reason, it may also be a bit difficult for outsiders to orient themselves in the anarchist landscape of groups, cells, and collaborative alliances that emerge, perish, resurrect, mutate, divide, re-orient, and reorganize. "The basic principle of anarchism is about prefigurative organization," says Rasmus: "We organize in a way that points towards what we want to create." It doesn't make sense to build a party with hierarchical and locked power structures if one would like to run a social form based on the same structures.

"A hierarchical structure cannot lead to anything egalitarian." Rasmus Pinnerup joins Mette Morgenstären and Thomas Christtreu in the Bogcafeen Barrikaden in Copenhagen, which since 2008 has existed on Dortheavej 61 in what anyone still calls "the new Youth House", even though it is more than ten years since it opened – after several years of struggle: first for the preservation of the «old» Youth House on Hunting Road 69, and then for a new building, after Hunting Road 69 was leveled with the ground in one of the most brutal state power demonstrations in recent times.

I København have the two youth house – and not least their book cafes – for many years have been central gathering places for anarchists: "Book cafes are fly papers for anarchists."

The clearing of Hunting Road 69

Thomas, Mette and Rasmus have had very different paths into anarchism, but have in common that their path has gone through political experience rather than through political theory, and that the clearing and demolition of Hunting Road 69 – with all that belonged to it police violence, mass arrests, lawsuits and political failure – have a central location on their political map. They are also all three active in unions.

"I can call myself a libertarian socialist, communist, anarchist, even democratic socialist," according to Thomas.
Rasmus and Mette probably wouldn't exactly use the term democratic socialist – there's "a little too much Bernie over it" – but feel just like Thomas: The crucial thing is that others get a fairly true idea of ​​where one stands.

The word anarchist, there are many who associate with "throwing bombs and burning things off", and it can also, under certain circumstances, be a relevant strategy to get rid of a few things – things, not people – it's just not what anarchism is primarily about.

"There is a lot of wild optimism in anarchism."

Calling himself anarchist, says Rasmus, "is both a strong and a weak statement" because it has such a broad spectrum and because there are so many (erroneous) notions of what it really means. "But attention always awakens."

For Mette, calling it anarchist is relatively new. This is something that, after many years of political experience, she finds best suited to her practice.

“The people I love the most are anarchists. To me, the word anarchism is first and foremost a description of how we do things. That we are equal, ”says Mette. Before coming to Copenhagen – what she did when the 69 hunting road was cleared around 2007 – she had her primary political experience from local associations in a smaller provincial community.

"For me, the important thing is how we can be activists and find better ways to be friends."

Rasmus has a murky past in Radical Youth, and Thomas in the Socialist People's Party. Strange to think about now. Now that all three can agree that anarchism is "the form of socialism in which the dismantling of the state – addressing the need for a state – is central."

«I was actually leaning against the Social Democracy before the fight for Hungary started. I perceived Denmark as a relatively well-functioning social democratic state, but its total malfunction showed during the clearing, "Thomas says, and Rasmus complements:" The state's neutrality is a political fiction, and during the clearing many shattered their illusions about the rule of law. "

MODERN TIMES brings with it a number of portraits of the anarchists of our time.
MODERN TIMES brings with it a number of portraits of the anarchists of our time. What does insisting on individual freedom and international solidarity mean? Or a fight against excessive military power, capital power and state power?
See earlier from Berlin (August) and Tel Aviv (September).

Anarchist of distress

Mette has been one of the driving forces in the recently held Anarchist Book Fair in Copenhagen. On a daily basis, she is one of the stable activists in the Bog Café Barricade, which in 2018 entered into collaboration with Bogcafeen Halmtorvet in the United Anarchist Bog Café (FAB).

Exact cooperation – also formulated as "mutual assistance" – is one of the main principles of anarchism: "Anarchism is about practicing in daily practice. To practice creating something similar to the society we want. Anarchism is a process that is not a definitive end goal, ”says Mette.

"Hard-handed repression can pave the ground for anarchism."

"It is about trust and respect, that we are all responsible. It's wildly difficult, but when it works, it's an intense feeling. During the clearing and what followed, our community worked and it was so intense. We worked around the clock, and the solidarity that people showed each other was totally unlike the community I knew. ”

The three agree that it is easier to organize in a classic party where the structures are fixed, but also agree that it is worth going the hard way, where the structures are always negotiable where there is no distinction between process and goals.

"I wish there was an easier way to create another community," Thomas says. "I just don't believe it. You could say I'm an anarchist a bit distressed, it's not convenient. "

Anarchists are also typically met with coarser repression than others. "Political persecution is a basic condition of anarchists," Thomas says. "There is a kind of political consensus that we do not have to respect our rights because we have been out about it ourselves. We always meet the state from its worst sides. ”

"State neutrality is a political fiction."

After 2009, the movement crashed. People were driven down after the first fight for the Youth House, then the climate summit in Copenhagen, at the same time as two major actions: church asylum – where a large group of expelled Iraqis had sought refuge in Brorson's church in Nørrebro – and also close the camp, where activists outside Sandholm camp north of Copenhagen in collaboration with asylum seekers inside the camp made a big campaign against the asylum system.

«The worst period was definitely 2010-2012, where there was no power whatsoever. Many were imprisoned, had been through lengthy lawsuits, were traumatized. "But since then it has been steadily moving forward, and" now it is no longer a struggle for survival, "Rasmus says.

In 2017, an anarchist Grand Meeting was held in Copenhagen, which was "perhaps the largest gathering for anarchists since Anarchist Federation in Denmark in the 1970s". “Hard-handed repression can pave the ground for anarchism, and it can strike us temporarily. But now we are definitely in a boom, ”he says.

Experience-based optimism

Within the past year there has also been a gathering around, among other things, the movements Luk Ellebæk (an asylum camp) and Almen Resistance (defense of social housing). In addition, the opposition to Rasmus Paludan and his party Stram Kurs, which culminated, among others, 1. May, when Paludan would speak in the Common Park and was met by hundreds of counter-protesters – who in turn were met by massive police calls.

«After 1. May there were around 100 people who met with ABC – they were not anarchists, everyone, but they needed to work on their experience with police violence and to get counseling », says Thomas, who is active in the Danish department by Anarchist Black Cross.

ABC is a legal aid group based on the principle of mutual assistance. "Mutual help is building each other, as people and activists, because it is hard to be against the social structures," Thomas says.

"We're not dogmatic about who we work with, the important thing is the way we do it," says Mette. "In anarchic contexts, I have found a place and a voice – as a woman in this society, I have so often experienced being talked about. But in anarchist practice, I have learned to see myself as someone who can be actively fighting. ”

"There is a lot of wild optimism in anarchism," Thomas says. “The right wing calls us naive, and yes, totally! But that optimism is based on experience. When people get the opportunity to be nice, they are. "

Mette and Rasmus nod. “You can create structures that bring out the worst in people, and you can do the opposite. Build trust-based structures. ”

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Nina Trige Andersen
Trige Andersen is a freelance journalist and historian.

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