Some notes on the chronology and history of ARM and WSF, 1993-1997

The following material is summarised from a report presented at the 4-5 October 1997 congress of the WSF (SAASHA note).

The Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) emerged in 1993, and consisted of people who defined themselves as “anarchists,” some from the mainly white counter-culture/ punk scene, others from the mainly black radical student movement. It was fairly informal at this time, had structural problems and not much of a strategy. In late 1994, it was divided into two main parts, one wanting to dissolve ARM into a “counter-cultural network” and another that wanted an ARM to have clear anarchist politics and a focus on the black working class and trade unions.

In December, there was a split, the “class struggle” side keeping the name ARM and starting a series of reading groups to develop theory and tactics (the other side proceeded to set up a separate “counter-cultural network”). In April 1995, ARM renamed itself “Workers Solidarity Federation” because it was felt that given the lack of an anarchist tradition is South Africa, the name “anarchist” was too easily misinterpreted, and politically hampering, and did not say much about working class, anti-capitalist politics.

While starting to publish “Workers Solidarity,” WSF continued the reading groups , and these were used for developing Position Papers. Meanwhile ARM/ WSF  was involved in struggles alongside black nationalists and various Marxists, also trade unionists. Around the end of 1995 the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists had also been endorsed. 1996 saw more work in struggles, substantial growth, and the reading groups wrapped up. The Position Papers were adopted at the end of the year, with a logo, and the group started to also call itself “anarcho-syndicalist” to affirm the historic connection between anarchism and syndicalism, and to avoid some of the negative connotations of the word “anarchist” in the local context (it remained Platformist, but did not see a contradiction between this and promoting anarcho-syndicalism, as the Position Papers make clear).

Reading kits are being uploaded here, as time permits and where copies are available.

By its October 1997 congress, WSF claimed 35 members, “mainly Black students, but also including some workers,” mostly in Gauteng, and was rebuilding in Durban where a “nominal branch” had existed in 1996 but “collapsed.” A copy of the 1997 conference programme can be found here.