What sort of Ireland do we want?


The second Dublin anarchist bookfair saw a debate between the Workers Solidarity Movement, Eirigi and the Irish Socialist Network on the topic of 'What sort of Ireland do we want?'. These are the speakers notes from the WSM speaker for that discussionYou can listen to the speakers and the discussion that followed at What Sort of Ireland Do We Want? debate between WSM, ISN, eirigi

1 - Oisin for the WSM

What kind of Ireland do we want?

I found it difficult to prepare for this talk. So forgive me if it’s not very good. Hopefully, the discussion afterwards will probably be better.

Those of us on the revolutionary left have all experienced in facing the accusation: ‘you lefties are always against everything, you’re anti this and anti that, but what are you for?’ I’ve never found this a difficult question to answer, I am for a lot of things, I am for sexual equality, I am for production for need, I am for people having to work less in order to be able to spend more time with their families, with their friends, I am for friendship, family, companionship, loving relationship, I am for community and solidarity. I could sit here for 20 minutes easily describing all the things I am for. I could sit here and talk about all the hopes and dreams I have of a better Ireland. I could sit here and describe all the things that have inspired me to spend countless hours of the last 5 or 6 years of my life working for a revolution that seems so far away.

But, obviously that is not what I am here to do. And this is why I found this difficult to prepare: How do I describe all the hopes we have for an anarchist society without sounding like either a hippy, an idle dreamer, without sounding like a raving ultra left lunatic and more importantly without diminishing these hopes that have kept the workers revolutionary movement alive for the last 150+ years, without making them seem frivolous, without making them seem meaningless.

When people ask me “what are you for?” They often seem almost intimidated that I don’t think that anarchist politics are meaningless. Anarchism is an expression of my hopes and I talk about it as such. Anarchism is a revolutionary movement; it’s not a lifestyle or fashion choice.

Nowadays, we are bombarded with choice after choice after meaningless choice: Pepsi or coke, nike or addidas, deep pan or crispy base pizza, mars or snickers, the independent or the times. And this extends to politics, fianna fail or fine gael, labour or sinn fein, the pds or the greens? And they all offer us different things say that they are for this or that. I often get the feeling that when people tell me they are tired of hearing what I am against they want to hear what I am for they expect me to compete with politicians. They expect me to sell them my politics with a few promises, well I can tell you the WSM will not cut the lower rate of tax by 1%, we will not increase pensions to 300euro, nor will we quench your thirst, we are not the right way to start the morning and I can honestly tell you that food will not taste better when you put it all together with anarchism. We are not interest in people passively consuming our ideas. So if there is anyone who is here expecting a series of what we would change election promises I’m afraid I can’t offer you any.

Now don’t get me wrong I don’t mean to denigrate these choices of Pepsi or coke, nike or addidas, deep pan or crispy base pizza, mars or snickers, the independent or the time, the ability to make consumption choices is important. When we can’t choose what books to consume, that’s a big problem. And, to be fair, we have the power to make a number of significant decisions like who our friends or partners are. We have some degree of power over the decisions about whether to have kids, where to live, what career to pursue, but even the power to make these basic choices are areas of struggle. Regardless, all these decisions are purely personal. We get to make choice in today’s society but we do not have any choice about what kind of society we live in. We get to make personal decisions as individuals separate from society; we do not have the power to make collective decisions as members of society.

We do not get to make the decisions about what we produce, when we produce it or how we produce it or about when, where and how we distribute it. We do not get to make the decisions about how our natural resources are used nor do we get to make decisions about how our labour is used. We do not make get to make the decisions about how our neighbourhoods are developed: About whether or not the local children’s hospital is shut down as is happening in Crumlin, or about whether an incinerator is built there as is happening in Ringsend, or about whether a dangerous pipeline is built as is happening in Rossport. We do not get to make decisions about how we deal with anti-social behaviour; we do not have control over the police as has been made clearly evident a number of times most recently with regard to the death of Terence Wheelock. I could continue all day listing the aspects of our lives that we don’t have control over.

It’s clear that something has to change. It’s clear that we need to change something. It’s clear that society seems to be running out of control. Almost everyone seems to be in agreement with that we need to change society.

But, when you hear people say how we should change our society, what we should do. They are almost always talking about what the government, the bosses, the ‘great men and women’ of society should do and how we should support them or lobby them over that. But, when anarchists talk about what we need to do, we are talking about what the ordinary people of the world should do; all us together, what we should do. We aren’t asking anyone to do anything for us and we aren’t asking for support in doing anything for anyone. We don’t want to elect anyone or be elected by anyone. And we don’t want to fight on behalf of some fancy idea like ‘the Irish nation’. We want to fight on our own behalf, for our own interests so that we get to have control over our society, over our own lives.

Anarchism is about taking control over our lives. It is about being able to make the decisions that affect us. It is about having participatory direct democracy in our workplaces and in the places we live so that we can make the decisions that affect us. It is about taking on the powers-that-be in struggles that are democratic and empowering, where we are able to make the decisions. It’s about building a means of making collective decisions about our lives.

As we struggle collectively, we build a movement where we can make collective decisions. As anarchists, we want to keep on struggling against the-powers-that-be until we abolish them. We’ll keep on struggling until we live in an Ireland where we can make the decisions about what we produce, when we produce it and how we produce it and about when, where and how we distribute it, about how our natural resources our labour is used, about how our neighbourhoods are developed, about how we deal with anti-social behaviour. We want an Ireland where each and every one of us has the power to decide how we organise and structure our lives, individually and collectively. This is the kind of Ireland we want. Moreover, we are building for a revolution to bring it about in our everyday struggles to increase our collective power today.

Anarchists have always seen the initial framework of an anarchist society as being created today under statism and capitalism when working class people organise themselves to resist hierarchy.

As Emma Goldman said "Anarchism is not . . . a theory of the future to be realised by divine inspiration. It is a living force in the affairs of our life, constantly creating new conditions."

Anarchists have always seen the possibility of a new society as being linked with the need of working class people to resist the evils of capitalism and statism. In other words, as being the product of the class struggle and attempts by working class people to resist state and capitalist authority. Thus the struggle of working class people to protect and enhance their liberty under hierarchical society will be the basis for a society without hierarchy.

Anarchism draws upon the autonomous self-activity and spontaneity of working class people in struggle to inform both its political theory and its vision of a free society. The struggle against hierarchy, in other words, teaches us not only how to be anarchists but also gives us a glimpse of what an anarchist society would be like, what its initial framework could be and the experience of managing our own activities which is required for such a society to function successfully.

The process of resistance produces organisation on a wider and wider scale which, in turn, can become the framework of a free society as the needs of the struggle promote libertarian forms of organisation such as decision making from the bottom up, autonomy, federalism, delegates subject to instant recall and so on.

In struggle we create the means by which we can manage society. By having to organise and manage our struggles, we become accustomed to self-management and self-activity and create the possibility of a free society. Thus the framework of an anarchist society comes from the class struggle and the process of revolution itself. Anarchy is not a jump into the dark but rather a natural progression of the struggle for freedom in an unfree society. The contours of a free society will be shaped by the process of creating it and, therefore, will not be an artificial construction imposed on society. Rather, it will be created from below up by society itself as working class people start to break free of hierarchy. The class struggle thus transforms those involved as well as society and creates the organisational structure and people required for a libertarian society.

Now some of you might be thinking that’s all well and good in theory but is it true. Does class struggle actually throw up new forms of social organisation. And the answer is yes, it does.

Let’s take for example the 1953 East Germany Uprising. During this uprising against the Bolshevik government in East Germany a nationwide network of workers councils sprang up. But where did they come from.

The spark for the uprising was an attempt by the government to intensify production and lower wages. East Berlin workers immediate reaction was to down tools and walk off the job. This instinctive demonstration of militancy soon developed into a city wide strike.

The resistance soon spread; in virtually every town and city a general strike was proclaimed, all over East Germany workers formed factory and strike committees which quickly developed into workers councils.

Or take the limerick soviet in 1919. In April 1919 during a period of high levels of workers militancy (the ITGWU, claimed 3,000 members in Limerick City alone, and the local Trades Council had been publishing 'The Bottom Dog', a weekly working class paper for two years) the British army occupied the City area and declared martial law. This was in retaliation for a policeman's death during a failed IRA rescue.

The Trades Council called a general strike in protest to the Army occupation. For the next two weeks the Council ran the city. No shop opened without their permission. Food prices were regulated to stop profiteering. Only transport authorised by the Council was able to move through the city. The Council even issued its own money.

Or if we go further back to the first Petrograd soviet in1905 we can see it emerged out of class struggle. It emerged after a rich man named Georgy Nosar approached the anarchist Voline saying that he could provide strike relief funds for the striking workers, but did not know how do distribute them. So Voline and Nosar organised it so that workers from the various plants would delegate someone to go to a meeting to organise the distribution of the strike relief funds. It was these meetings and this system of delegates that became the 1st soviet.

Or more recently, take the famous Zanon factory recovery in Argentina in 2001.
It began with two or three people from the factory going on demonstrations for workers laid off in a nearby factory and organising with fellow workers in the factory through workers assemblies. As the assemblies became more established they started making demands. The first thing they won was a common lunch break for all the workers, this facilitated further organisation. By 2001 when all the workers in Zanon were laid off these assemblies were sufficiently established to enable the workers to take over the factory and run it themselves. When they did so they changed the name to FaSinPat for Fábrica Sin Patrones, "Factory Without Bosses". The factory has since contributed greatly to the surrounding community. For example, in 2005, the factory voted to build a community health clinic which the community had been demanding for two decades; the factory built it in three months. The factory has also been instrumental coordinating with 263 other self-managed companies in order to advance the movement for workers self-management.
Obviously there all of these new organizations I’ve mentioned. But they do show it is from struggle today that a better society will develop. And that from seemingly small struggles great things can develop. I remind you that the struggle in the FaSinPat factory began with two guys carrying a banner on workers demos and trying to organize with their workmates in assemblies.
The present state of affairs is based on the oppression, exploitation and alienation of the working class. This means that any tactics used in the pursuit of a free society must be based on resisting and destroying those evils. This is why anarchists stress tactics and organisations which increase the power, confidence, autonomy, initiative, participation and self-activity of oppressed people. this means supporting direct action, solidarity and self-managed organisations built and run from the bottom-up.

That is why we in the WSM are involved in workplace struggle, in Shell to Sea, in the Terence Wheelock campaign, in anti-War movement, in the pro-choice struggle. It’s why in the struggles against service charges we argued against electoralism and for collective direct action. When we struggle together we gain the power to make the decisions that affect us. It is only by fighting our own battles, relying on ourselves and our own abilities and power, in organisations we create and run ourselves, that we can gain the power, confidence and experience needed to change Ireland for the better and, hopefully, create a new and better Ireland in place of the current one.

You can listen to the speakers and the discussion that followed at http://www.wsm.ie/news_viewer/2062