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Building an effective anarchist movement

category antrim | worker & community struggles and protests | news report author Monday July 20, 2009 16:48author by Workers Solidarity Movement - Belfast branch Report this post to the editors

The Workers Solidarity Movement and Anarchist Communist Discussion Group in Belfast, organised a successful day of discussions and workshops last Saturday in the Belfast Unemployed Centre tackling issues such as fighting fascism and racism from a class perspective, anarchist organisation and our vision of a free, classless, post-capitalist society.

First talk delivered by WSM member Alan MacSimoin on the theme of the tasks facing anarchists in Ireland- the strengths and weaknesses of anarcho-syndicalism and the relevance of the platform, at a day of workshops and discussion hosted by the Belfast branch of the WSM.

audio recording of talk and discussion attached.

Related Link:

audio anarchy_1.mp3 22.85 Mb

author by Workers Solidarity Movementpublication date Mon Jul 20, 2009 17:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

question and answer session.

audio anarchy_2.mp3 19.17 Mb

author by Workers Solidarity Movementpublication date Mon Jul 20, 2009 17:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

What do anarchists want?

To put it briefly, we want to get rid of capitalism and replace it with a society organised to serve the needs of the many, we want to make real the old call of “from each according to ability, to each according to need”. This will be a socialism where everyone affected by a decision can take part in making that decision, and where the liberties of the individual are respected.

So how do we get there?

The WSM sees its role as explaining and building support for anarchism. We recognise that the society we want can only be built by a politically conscious movement of the working class, using its industrial power.

As we see it, a successful revolutionary transformation is dependent on two things:

Firstly, we need widespread revolutionary consciousness. By this we mean a rejection of both the exploitation and authoritarianism of capitalism, and a desire to reorganise society in a new and better way around our own needs and interests.

Crucial is the recognition that only the working class itself can make and secure the revolutionary transformation we want and that following from that only the democratic councils created in our workplaces and communities will represent any authority in the new society. These will be federated nationally and internationally to combine efficiency with direct democracy. No other centres of power will be tolerated.

And secondly, we need industrial organisation and solidarity to be sufficiently developed so that physical control over the means of production and distribution can be achieved and all remnants of minority rule abolished.

Our ideas about how to organise and what to do flow from this understanding.

Within the international anarchist movement there are two major currents: syndicalism and what has become known as ‘platformism’.

Syndicalism is a French word meaning "trade unionism", but is usually used to describe the idea of bringing together all workers into militant unions which have the explicit objective of ending capitalism and creating a socialist society. The early General Confederation of Workers in France, the CGT, was the first large union of this type. Today the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW, is a living example.

Some syndicalists said that industrial unions were in themselves sufficient to bring about socialism. Others, like the American Daniel De Leon and our own James Connolly, proposed having linked political parties that would be under the control of the union.

Anarchists developed an anti-authoritarian version, anarcho-syndicalism, of which the best historic example is the Spanish National Confederation of Workers, the CNT. Today anarcho-syndicalists have a few minor unions in Spain, France, Sweden and Italy, and smaller groups that want to create unions in many countries.

Their tactics differ, with some taking the view that a few hundred people can form a union and by power of example will eventually attract the support of the majority. Others create networks, both within and outside mainstream unions with the aim of growing large enough to break away and form new unions.

We are certainly not hostile to anarcho-syndicalists; they share the same goal as other anarchists. In countries with such unions anarchists who share the same basic politics as the WSM are involved in them as well as in the mainstream unions.

But we do make this point: because the syndicalist organisation is the union, it organises all workers regardless of their politics. A real union does not set a political test for potential members, it wants to organise as many workers as possible on the basis that workers have more in common with each other than they do with the boss.

Historically many workers have joined such unions, not because they were anarchists, but because the syndicalist union was the most militant and got the best results. Just because a union has revolutionary policies and a radical culture is no guarantee that everyone joining agrees with that, or even understands it. The more successful such a union is in day-to-day struggles the more it will grow. Our fellow workers who may normally vote for the DUP or Sinn Fein won’t adopt a completely new outlook on life just because they join an openly revolutionary union. Because of this reformist, conservative and overly cautious tendencies have always appeared.

Syndicalists are quite correct to emphasise the centrality of organising workers in the workplace. Critics who reject syndicalism on the grounds that it cannot organise those outside the workplace are wrong. Taking the example of Spain it is clear that they could and did organise throughout the entire working class as was evidenced by the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth, the 'Mujeras Libres' (Free Women), and the neighbourhood organisations.

Spain in 1936/7 represented the highest point in anarcho-syndicalist organisation and achievement. Unfortunately because they didn’t understand the centrality of what we might call ‘the battle of ideas’ they were unable to develop a programme for workers' power, to wage a political battle against other currents in the workers' movement (such as reformism and Stalinism). Indeed syndicalists seemed, and still do today, to ignore other ideas more often than combating them.

In Spain they got sucked into support for the anti-fascist but capitalist Popular Front government, which in turn led to their silence and complicity when the Republican state moved against the collectives and workers’ militias. A minority in the CNT, organised around the Friends of Durruti grouping, was expelled when they issued a proclamation calling for the workers to take total power (i.e. that they should refuse to share power with the bosses or the authoritarian parties).

The problem for syndicalists is that a union which organizes on the basis of your place in the workforce is not the same as a political organization which organizes on the basis of a fairly comprehensive political agreement, so where will the systematic explanation of anarchism and why other political ideas will not lead to the society we want come from?

So, what’s the alternative that the WSM proposes? In a word it can be called ‘platformism’ – possibly the most rubbish name ever for a political tendency.

It comes from a short document called the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists which was written in 1926 by a group of exiled Russian and Ukrainian anarchists, and which we think still has much to offer to today's debates around the question of organisation. And we are not alone in this, you can check out the website which brings together like-minded groups on all five continents.

The authors had participated in the Russian revolution and saw all their work, their hopes and dreams fail as an authoritarian Bolshevik state triumphed and destroyed real workers' power. They wrote the pamphlet in order to examine why the anarchist movement had failed to build on the success of the factory committees, where workers organising in their own workforces began to build a society based on both freedom and equality.

In the first paragraph they state
"It is very significant that, in spite of the strength and incontestably positive character of libertarian ideas, and in spite of the facing up to the social revolution, and finally the heroism and innumerable sacrifices borne by the anarchists in the struggle for anarchist communism, the anarchist movement remains weak despite everything, and has appeared, very often, in the history of working class struggles as a small event, an episode, and not an important factor."

This was strong stuff, a wake up call for the anarchist movement. It is a call that we still need to hear. Despite the virtual collapse of almost all other left wing tendencies, anarchism is still not in a position of strength. Even though many of the Leninist organisations have either evaporated into thin air, shrunk drastically in size or moved to social democracy, it is a sad fact, that were there a revolution tomorrow, they still would be in a better position to have their arguments heard and listened to than we would. This fact alone should give us pause for thought. We cannot be complacent, and rely on the hope that the obvious strength and rightness of our ideas will shine through and win the day.

The world we live in is the product of struggles between competing ideas of how society should be organized. If the anarchist voice is weak and quiet, it won't be heard, and other arguments, other perspectives will win the day.
It is not my intention to go through The Platform with a fine-tooth comb. It was never intended to provide all the answers. It has gaps, as do all new, practical steps of any importance. It is possible that certain important positions were missed, or that others were inadequately treated.

Instead I will look at some of the document's underlying principles, in particular the problems which they identify in anarchist organisations, which they describe as follows.

In all countries, the anarchist movement is advocated by several local organisations advocating contradictory theories and practices, leaving no perspectives for the future, nor of a continuity in militant work, and habitually disappearing hardly leaving the slightest trace behind them.

Their solution is the creation of a certain type of anarchist organisation. Firstly the members are in theoretical agreement with each other. Secondly they agree that if a certain type of work is prioritised, all should take part. Even today within the anarchist movement these are contentious ideas so it is worth exploring them in a little more detail.

The Platform's basic assumption is that there is a link between coherency and efficiency. Those who oppose the Platform argue that this link does not exist. To them efficiency has nothing to do with how coherent an organisation is; rather it is a function of size. This position argues that the Platform, in its search for theoretical agreement, excludes those not in absolute agreement, and thus will always be smaller than a looser organisation. As size is of more importance than theory, practically these organisations will not be as effective.

This debate takes us to the centre of one of the most important debates within anarchism. How does a revolutionary change of society occur? What can anarchists do to assist in the process of bringing such change about?

Capitalism is an organized economic system. Its authority is promoted by many voices, including the parliamentary political parties, the media and education system (to name but a few). A successful revolution depends on the rejection of those voices by the majority of people in society. Not only do we have to reject capitalism, but we also need to have a vision of an alternative society. What is needed is an understanding both that capitalism should be defeated and that it can be replaced. For an anarchist revolution there has to be the recognition that we alone have the power and the ability to create that new world.

The role of an anarchist organisation is to spread these ideas. Not only do we need to highlight the negative and injurious aspects of capitalism (which is obvious to many anyway), we also need to develop explanations of how the system operates. This is what is meant by theory, simply it is the answer to the question 'why are things as they are?'. And we need to do one more thing; we need to be able to put our theory into practice, our understanding of how things work will inform how we struggle.

Returning to the Platform, the key problem with anarchist organisations as they existed is that they were not only incapable of developing such an approach, but didn't even see it as necessary. Because there was no agreement on theoretical issues, they could not provide answers to the working class. They could agree that women's oppression was wrong, but not explain why women were oppressed. They could agree that World War One was going to lead to death and destruction, but not why it had occurred. Such agreement is important because without it cooperation on activity, agreement on what to do, is unlikely.

It is not enough to have a group of individuals meeting together, if they are not united in ideas or in action. This undermines the entire meaning of organisation, which is to maximise the strength of the individuals through co-operation with others. Where there is little agreement, there can be little co-operation. This absence of co-operation only becomes obvious when the group is forced to take a position on a particular issue, a particular event in the wider world.

At this point, two things happen. Either, the individuals within the group act on their own particular interpretation of events in isolation, which raises the question, what is the point of being in such an organisation? Alternatively the group can decide to ignore the event, thus preventing disagreement.

This has a number of unfortunate side effects for anarchist politics. Most seriously, it means that the anarchist interpretation of events still will not be heard. For no matter how large the organisation, if all within it are speaking with different voices, the resulting confusion will result an unclear and weak anarchist message. Such an organisation can produce a weekly paper, but each issue will argue a different point of view, as the authors writing for it change. Our ideas will not be convincing, because we ourselves are not convinced by them.

The second side effect is that our ideas will not develop and grow in depth and complexity because they will never be challenged by those within our own organisation. It is only by attempting to reach agreement, by exchanging competing conceptions of society, that we will be forced to consider all alternatives. Unchallenged our ideas will stagnate.

Without agreement on what should be done, the anarchist organisation remains no more than a collection of individuals. The members of that organisation don't see themselves as having any collective identity. Too often the lifetimes of such groups are the lifetimes of those most active individuals. There is no sense of building a body of work that will stretch into the future. Considering that in these times the revolution is a long-term prospect, such short term planning is a tragic waste of energy and effort.

Often the experience of anarchists is that they are energetic and committed activists, but fail to publicize the link between the work they do and the ideas they believe in. One example of this was the successful anti-Poll Tax Campaign in England, Scotland and Wales. Although many anarchists were extremely involved in the struggle against this tax, when victory finally came, anarchists didn't come out of it, as might be expected, in a strengthened position. We could say the same about the more recent anti-war movement. We need to ask ourselves why this is so.

It would seem to be because anarchists concentrated their efforts making arguments against the injustice of the day, and sidelined arguments in favour of anarchism. Furthermore, though many worked as individuals they couldn't give any sense that they were part of any bigger movement. They were seen as good heads, and that was all. In contrast, despite the WSM's extremely small size when a similar campaign - the Anti-Water Charges Campaign - ended, we had heightened the profile of anarchism in Ireland. We emphasised that our opposition to an unjust tax was linked to our opposition to an unjust society and our belief that a better society is possible. Our numbers began to grow, as did our influence. The same happened with our work in the anti-war movement.

Now we are still a small group, our membership is not yet into three figures. But we have moved from a half dozen people to a small organisation with five branches and a bi-monthly paper that prints 10,000 copies. Our annual anarchist bookfair in Dublin is now the largest indoor event on the left.

Anarchism is still a very minor influence in Irish politics, but we do believe that our approach is working. Of course the real test is can we make anarchism the dominant political idea in the working class, and we have barely started that journey.

Going back to the question of efficiency and size, organisations in the 'Platform' tradition agree that size is important and they all seek to grow so that they are in a position of importance in society. However, they emphasise that all the positive attributes of belonging to a larger organisation, the increased work that can be undertaken, the increased human potential that can be drawn on, are undermined if such an organisation is directionless. The key point is that it is not a case of choosing between size or coherency, rather we should aim for both.

author by Workers Solidarity Movement - Belfast branchpublication date Tue Jul 21, 2009 15:33author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The second workshop, during a successful day of discussions organised on Saturday, 18th July by the Belfast branch of the Workers Solidarity Movement and the Anarchist Communist Discussion Group.

Beyond the state and capitalism

Anarchists do not believe in blueprints but how do we envisage a future classless and stateless society based on anarchist communism. How would we organise public transport, distribute goods and services, and deal with crime in a post-revolutionary society? What do we mean by workers’ control of industry and services?

Chaired by Davy Carlin

Speaker: Gavin Gleason.

Audio of talk and discussion attached

audio future_1.mp3 18.32 Mb

Related Link:
author by Workers Solidarity Movementpublication date Tue Jul 21, 2009 15:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors


audio future_2.mp3 22.67 Mb

author by ceistpublication date Wed Jul 22, 2009 03:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

see where you say you want to build a concencus it's probably obvious but just to spell it out to me with in that you'd still advocate decisions are taken on a majority.... but the diference being that everyones involed in the vote on the decision. or am i wrong and you advocate a concensus is reached?

author by Robbiepublication date Wed Jul 22, 2009 04:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I listened with interest to Gavin Gleason's views on alternative ways of social organisation based on anarchist thinking. Things like federations and subsidiarity and community grassroots organisations and enterprises are fine, but are not a monopoly of anarchist thinkers. Ecologists, pacifists and Catholic theologians (!) have bandied about some of these ideas previously. A think tank like Feasta might also be sympathetic to some of these ideas.

The sound of this track wasn't the best quality, even though the speaker talked clearly and knew what he was about. So I'd just suggest that whoever put the tape recording up might also post a brief summary of the points the speaker made.

author by Workers Solidarity Movementpublication date Wed Jul 22, 2009 14:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Third talk and discussion

Chaired and introductory talk by Sean Matthews. Contributions from former chair of the Anti-Racist Network Davy Carlin and Paul on the topic of militant anit-fascism.

Edited text of talk

The recent attacks in South Belfast in which over a 100 Romanian families were forced to flee the North should serve as a wake up to everyone.

Racism is not a new phenomum in the North, nor is it confined to one section of the community or social class, or cannot be simply reduced to economic factors. The rise of the far right in countries such as Hungary and Italy and the breakthrough of the British National Party (BNP) in the recent EU elections have only compounded fears and anxiety.

However, most economists and historians would agree that it is inaccurate to compare that rise of the far-right at least in Britain anyway with 1930s. Social and economic conditions are not the quite the same, and a detraction from the real crisis we are witnessing which is a crisis in the left, who have a vested interest in playing up the threat of fascism. It uses it to reoxygenate itself. We are also witnessing pathetic attempts from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) alligned Unite Against Fascism to re-brand itself as inheriting the tradition of militant anit-fascism, even though in the past they have distanced and ostracied genuine groups such as Anti-Fascist Action and Red Action. In the North, fascist groups remain small numerically even in comparison to the left and historically whenever organisations such as the National Front did have a bit of a foothold they have achieved poor showing in local elections. Indeed the current Labour Government has appropriated many of their ideas from ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ to recently referring to the need of ‘local people’ getting access to local housing first’. It is the current adminstration which is curbing civil liberties, privatising public services and deporting migrant workers.

We should resist attempts by sections of the media and political parties to demonise an entire community for the actions of a few. The evidence is still unclear as to whether latest publicised attacks are the work of a specific organisation or the actions of a handful of individuals.

Statistics produced by the Observer newspaper revealed that between January 2005 and September 2006, 90% of all such incidents occurred in so-called loyalist areas in South Belfast and right across the North. South Belfast is the most ‘ethnically’ diverse areas in Belfast and if not the entire North. The area also is a very transit community with more available housing available compared to other parts of the city, especially in mainly ‘nationalist areas’ where there is a massive housing waiting list. The availability of housing is a magnet for migrants (not just from outside the country) but also a student population. It is also an area with a high level of social deprivation and some of the worst housing conditions in Western Europe are in the Village. Incidentally, not the fault of ‘immigrants’ but decades of underinvestment, parasitic property developers and slum landlords. Conditions created by the conflict has resulted naturally in many working-class communities being suspicious and fearful of those who are deemed ‘others’.

Loyalism and fascism

While there maybe common characteristics between the two, and that elements of loyalist organisations or those who would define themselves as loyalists are active in some of the racist attacks, it is too simplistic to merely equate loyalism with fascism.

Historically, these differences can be traced to the second war world and the struggle against fascism and Nazism. The flying of Israeli flags in some protestant working-class communities is also an anathema to your average fascist. In 2005, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) reportedly stood down its commander in the village after being involved in attacks.

However, the fact that the youth wing of the UDA, the Ulster Young Militants have added their name to threatening letters beside Combat 18 highlights this ambiguous relationship.

What is Fascism?

Fascism, Nazism and racism are words that are used interchangeably and wrongly attributed to everything from Israeli’s collective punishment against the Palestinians to the Stormont administration pre 1972. Fascism, on the other hand is a distinct political ideology, and thus why we need to understand our enemy and the ideas which underpin it and its violent manifestations if we are serious about combating it.

Traditionally fascist parties have used ethnic minorities as a scapegoat for the problems created by capitalism. For instance the BNP often point to migrant workers as being the cause for the degradation of the NHS or the reason for the lack of decent social housing. Similarly they blame migrant workers for “taking our jobs” instead of attacking the employers who routinely pay derisory wages and treat workers like disposable commodities. The reason fascist groups tend to attack ethnic minorities and immigrants in this way are because they want to divide the working class. By sowing the seeds of division, fragmentation and suspicion in working class communities they undermine notions of solidarity and cooperation thus strengthening the status quo and perpetuating existing inequalities in society.

Racism and xenophobia are not the primary goals of fascism but are rather part of their means for promoting the ascendancy of the nation state. Fascism originates from Italy and promotes the ideals of nationalism and patriotism in opposition to internationalism and class solidarity. Fascism’s glorification of the nation is really the veneration of the hierarchies that exist within the nation. Fascist’s promoted the interests of ruling elite above those of the majority and in the past have used all the apparatus of the state to ensure that those hierarchies in society are maintained and bolstered. In this context talk of supporting the “indigenous people” is used to garner the support of the white working and middle classes to undermine class unity between people of different race or nationality.

Fascism should be opposed because it aims to crush all autonomy and freedom in the name of creating a strong nation state; it curtails freedom of expression, supports rigid hierarchies and most importantly stands against the interests of every working class person regardless of their race or nationality. Fascism only amplifies the violence of the state such as the police, army and prisons.

Nick Griffin, a Cambridge graduate is trying to give the party a more moderate and ‘respectable’ image, exchanging the swastikas for the Armani suits. Its current programme based on previous election manifestos is not strictly ‘fascist’ but rather a law and order one, dressed in a left-wing package. The BNP prides itself on Le Pen’s National Front party successes through building a local base, exploiting local fears and anxiety. The recent breakthrough in the EU elections gives them a national profile.

What about freedom of assembly?

None of us have the power to stop fascists saying what they think, we cannot legislate against their words no matter how vile we consider them to be and neither would we want to be in a position to do so. However that doesn’t mean we should tolerate their presence in our communities or allow them a platform from which to organise. History has shown that when fascist groups come to power they use all the apparatus of the state to violently crush progressive working class groups and initiatives. If all Nick Griffin and his disciples were doing was talking amongst themselves about repatriating migrant workers, clamping down on those they saw as deviants and splitting communities along lines of race then there wouldn’t be a serious problem. The reality is the BNP are organising to gain seats of power and to implement their white nationalist policies. This attempt to gain power and influence must be challenged by all effective means. Lastly, we need to separate between challenging fascists and the need to challenge racist views and attitudes.

We need to advocate a twin approach of ideological and physical opposition in tackling racism and the far- right.
Firstly, we need to throw out of the window right away any illusions that political parties can solve our problems. Calling for tougher legislation is at best a distraction and at worst, counter-productive ending in being used to criminalise all opposition including genuine anti-fascists.

I could not of thought of a better propaganda coup for the BNP than the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight unleashing their secret weapon days before the last EU election- none of other than a photo-op with Prime Minister Gordon Brown who is head of the most unpopular Labour Government in history. This bankrupt strategy is similar with liberal pleas of ‘Vote for hope- not hate’ of ‘Vote anybody but the BNP’ which literally means voting for the same corrupt parties which are responsible for the same anti-working-class policies, which are driving people into the arms of the BNP in the first place. We need to reject this artificial concept of ‘multi-culturalism’ which results in communities being carved up on the basis of race and ethnicity, with each competing bloc of unelected quangos representing their ‘tribe’ squabbling for power and resources. This idea undermines class unity and plays into the hands of the BNP who present themselves as the voice of white working-class. We need diversity not division.

Physical and ideological opposition

A small part of our resources and energy has to geared towards disrupting such groups when necessary. As Hitler said himself in power

“Only one thing could have stopped our movement. If our adversaries had understood its principle, and from the first day had smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement. "

However, the cornerstone of our strategy is a political strategy and serious commitment to working-class communities. This means building a movement which serves the needs and desires of our class. It means working towards tackling them very class issues such as housing, immigration to workplace struggles which others seek to racialise. It means advancing anarchist ideas and methods of struggles through propaganda and involvement in the class struggle as equals.

WSM position paper- No Platform for fascists
Anti-fa interview:


audio racism1.mp3 18.31 Mb

author by Workers Solidarity Movementpublication date Wed Jul 22, 2009 15:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Discussion also attached

audio racism2.mp3 18.31 Mb

author by Workers Solidarity Movement - Belfast branchpublication date Wed Jul 22, 2009 15:10author address author phone Report this post to the editors

discussion attached

audio racism3.mp3 12.37 Mb

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