An introduction to the WSM


Meeting The WSM believes that the world can be made a much better place, and that millions of ordinary people like ourselves can take on that job. And that puts us into conflict with the bosses.

We are anti-capitalists because capitalism can never satisfy the needs of the majority. It is locked into a cycle of boom and slump. It is based on a division of society into bosses and workers, order-givers and order-takers. Its unwritten motto is ‘greed is good’.The world we live in is capable of feeding, housing, clothing and providing for the leisure and scientific needs of the world's population yet capitalism means that there can be a shortage of good public housing while building workers are unemployed. It means tax reliefs for the super-rich while public services like hospitals and schools suffer spending cuts.

At its most barbaric it means famine in less developed countries – not because of a shortage of food but rather a shortage of money to buy food. Oxfam don’t ask for donations of tins of baked beans – they ask for cash so they can buy food that is available for sale. And don’t mention the war in Iraq, and the one in the Congo, and Darfur, and Chechyna…

So there are plenty of reasons to be against capitalism. And, even better, there is an alternative.

Anarchism is about freedom, freedom from want and freedom to take control of our own lives. It’s about production to satisfy human needs and about people having control over the decisions that will affect them. It is about utilising the world's resources in a sustainable manner for benefit of all. It is about having complete personal freedom, where the only limit is that you don’t deny the freedom of others. It’s socialism and freedom as two sides of the same coin.

So how to we get from where we are to where we would like to be?

Well, capitalism cannot be gradually reformed away, it will take a revolution.

Basically, that’s a massive upheaval in society, which fundamentally alters the way that society operates or who that society is run by. It occurs when the majority want change that their rulers are unwilling or unable to grant.

History is full of revolutions. Capitalism overthrew feudalism through revolutions, particularly the French revolution of 1789. Revolutions in countries like Cuba, Nicaragua and Iran since the second world war have had major effects on a global scale.

Of course none of these were anarchist revolutions. They all resulted in the substitution of one ruling class for another. They failed to bring about classless societies. But that’s no surprise, other ideas were the dominant ones among those looking for change.

What was missing was an independent working class fighting for its own class interests. Instead, working class militancy was harnessed by radical nationalists in a fight to put local interests into power. In power these radical nationalists crushed the working class at home while seeking terms with imperialism abroad.

In all modern revolutionary situations workers have thrown up their own organs in the form of workers' councils. They may have gone under different names - revolutionary committees, soviets, etc. - but the essential form has remained the same whether it was in Russia in 1917, Spain in 1936, Hungary in 1956 or Portugal in 1974.

These, however, are normally suppressed or made subservient to the new state fairly rapidly. Normally there is some resistance to this but such resistance is brutally crushed. In Russia the Bolshevik state apparatus crushed the Soviets and factory committees, in Iran the radical nationalists around Ayatollah Khomeini performed the same function.

This could only happen because the majority of the workers accepted the legitimacy of the state. This is why anarchists emphasise the importance of smashing the state rather then trying to use its apparatus to introduce socialism. There is no more far-fetched or utopian idea than the idea of a benevolent minority introducing socialism through the state apparatus.

A successful revolution which introduces real socialism for the first time in history will involve a huge subjective factor. This is a large proportion of the working class holding anarchist politics. This does not mean the WSM must be the largest organisation or even that anarchist groups must be the largest faction.

It does mean that workers must see the introduction of socialism as something that is their task, and that the state – because it is an organ of minority rule - has only a counter-revolutionary role to play.

This will not just happen spontaneously. Some anarchists make the mistake of thinking politics will become irrelevant once workers seize the factories and office blocks. They think that the various authoritarian and reformist left theories will become instantly irrelevant. In actual fact this is the period when politics will become relevant as never before. It is a period where millions of workers will be looking for a political direction.

In the past revolutions have been led to disaster because the ideas that led the working class, the most popular ideas, were reformist or authoritarian. Anarchist organisations must be capable of debating and defeating such ideas as they arise.

Not being psychics we can not predict when the next opportunity for revolution will occur. It is likely that revolution will arrive on the agenda in Ireland due to the success of revolutions elsewhere. We do know such opportunities will arise, they are a product of the inability of capitalism to meet the needs of all the people.

Now is the time for us to develop and spread anarchist ideas. We need to build strong anarchist organisations. We need to get our ideas out to our friends, neighbours and work colleagues.

This is the purpose of the WSM. We are building an organisation capable of explaining anarchist ideas. We are developing these ideas while being involved in struggles where we live and work.

But it’s not enough to simply explain our ideas. Unless people feel they can do something to achieve them, they are meaningless, nice ideas but totally impractical. Capitalism is ordered in such a way that we have little direct experience of making the big decisions, of exercising control over our lives. And that gives most people a sense of powerlessness.

Anarchism is not about doing things for people. Its achievement requires a majority prepared to give it a go, a majority which is confident that it can take the driving seat and build a new type of society.

To help build this confidence we see struggles where people use direct action in pursuit of winnable goals as extremely important. Winning a pay rise through going on strike will do a lot more to boost confidence than trusting in almost endless conciliation and arbitration. Beating the water tax through mass non-payment would have a completely different political effect than if it were scraped next week by the Executive.

Encouraging self-activity and self-organisation is just as important as explaining the ideas.


I should say a little about what is called Platformism

It started with the anarchist movement's experiences during the Russian Revolution and the resulting civil war. One group of anarchist exiles (Dielo Trouda/Workers' Cause Group) came together in 1926 and published The Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists. They examined why the anarchist movement had failed to build on their successes before and during the revolution.

The Platform was an analysis of the disorganisation and ineffectiveness of the anarchist movement at the time, and was an attempt to push it in a better organized, class struggle direction. It was a short discussion document and the authors never claimed to have all the answers. But we have found the answers they did come up with still useful today. The four points they emphasised were:

Theoretical Unity - this means simply that if you don't agree with someone, don’t be in a political group with them! It doesn't mean that everyone has to agree all the time (they won't) but there does need to be a certain amount of ideological unity, a shared goal and strategies for getting there.

Tactical Unity - means that the members of an organization should struggle together as an organised force rather than as individuals. Once a strategy has been agreed, all members should work towards ensuring its success.

Collective Responsibility - This means that each member should take part in the collective decision-making process and respect the decisions that re agreed.

Federalism - All decisions are made by those effected by them - as opposed to centralism where decisions are made by a central committee on behalf of those effected by them.

Today there are organizations within this tradition in many countries including South Africa, Italy, Argentina, Canada, the USA, Chile, the Lebanon, Brazil, Greece, Turkey, Spain, and more.


What of the WSM? We are about 60 people, with branches in Belfast, Cork and three in Dublin, plus members in Ballina, Derry, Letterkenny and Limerick. It’s not much but it’s more than it was last year, and that was more than the year before. As we get bigger we become more visible, as we grow we can do more, we can make a difference. More importantly, we can make anarchism relevant where we are - in our trade unions and communities.

We are currently involved in campaigning work for a better health service, abortion rights, solidarity with trade unionists in Iran and unionizing migrant workers in Ireland. Members are also involved with broader libertarian socialist initiatives like the CAZ bookshop in Cork, the Revolutionary Anarcha-feminist Group and the Grassroots Gatherings.

By combining our efforts we are able to produce 1,000 copies of the northern Workers Solidarity and 10,000 of the southern one every two months. We also do 1,000 copies of our magazine Red & Black Revolution every six months.

This month, in the south, we are using the upcoming referendum on the Lisbon Treaty to promote the anarchist alternative. 50,000 leaflets are going through letterboxes and 2,000 posters on lampposts. …Maybe this is a good place for me to finish and let you ask questions and give your views.

Text of talk delivered by Alan MacSimoin at Belfast WSM first public meeting on 'Building the Anarchist Alternative' held on Saturday 24th May.

For more info on the meeting please click on this link