Report on WSM public meeting in Belfast on anarchism, the future and text of talk


The WSM organised a successful public meeting on Saturday in Na Croisbhealai workers co-op on the topic of anarchists-who we are and what we are up to.  Leading up to the event leaflets and posters were distributed at the annual Mayday march and other meetings in the city. A similar meeting was held recently in Dublin which was attended by 80 plus people and the WSM aims to hold similar meetings across the country so feel free to get in touch.

 The first speaker was Alan MacSimoin from the Irish Anarchist History archives who provided a comprehensive analysis of the early origins of anarchism in Ireland, both North and South within the workers movement and touched upon the struggles anarchists are involved in today.  If you would like to find out further info on Belfast anarchism please check out  The next presentation was given by a WSM member in the North who provided a brief account of anarchist activity in Belfast and across the North.  The edited text of the talk can be read below.

There was a brief and constructive discussion and debate from the floor including an account of WSM activity in Derry such as the recent makeover of Free Derry corner in memory of John McGuffin who took part in the Civil Rights Movement and actively campaigned against state repression and internment in the North.

The WSM aims to increase its activity and presence in Northern Ireland/six counties now and in the future so if you are interested in getting involved or join get in touch with us.

Text of talk on anarchism & the WSM

 Despite vicious rumours flying around that Anarchists sit around in meetings all the time plotting the downfall of capitalism in dark rooms, this isn’t all true! Healthy conversation and passionate debate are a big part of our lives, which is why we organised today’s meeting but that’s only the half of it.

The Workers Solidarity Movement was founded in Dublin, Ireland in 1984 following discussions by a number of local anarchist groups on the need for a national anarchist organisation. At that time with unemployment and inequality on the rise, there seemed every reason to argue for anarchism and for a revolutionary change in Irish society. This has not changed and is more necessary more than ever.

Since then we have established branches and individual members across the island both North and South including Cork and more recently Galway.  The presence of the WSM in the North has ebbed and flowed depending on membership and influence, however we are always eager to expand our presence here and believe that we are the only anarchist organisation that has the essential organisation and commitment, strategy and vision to meet this need.

The role of the Anarchist organisation is to popularise and fight for the creation of a society based on the principles of anarchism, i.e.  collective management of society, participatory democracy-libertarian communism. We wish to win the most widespread understanding and influence for our anarchist ideas and methods in the class and in society, but these alone will not expedite a successful revolutionary transformation of society.  We do this via our own propaganda such as Workers Solidarity, Irish anarchist review which is also available here but most importantly by participating in the class struggle and mass campaigns such as the anti-household charges struggle in the south.

 A major focus of our activity is our work within the economic organisations of the working class (labour organisations, trade unions, syndicates) where this is a possibility. Within them we fight for the democratic structures typical of anarcho-syndicalist unions like the 1930's CNT. However, the unions no matter how revolutionary cannot replace the need for anarchist political organisation.

We prioritise involvement the Independent Workers Union, because unlike other unions it’s radical and firmly anti-partnership.  Although small, it’s the type of union out there that we identify with, with potential and the ability to change the dynamic of the labour movement.  Our members are however, also active in larger mainstream unions like Unite SIPTU, CWU and Impact etc.  Over the years we have always tried to support particular workplace struggles. Some examples from recent times would be the Waterford Crystal, Vita Cortex and La Senza disputes to the Visteon occupation in Belfast to the public sector strike of last year.   

We also see it as vital to work in struggles that happen outside the unions and the workplace. These include struggles against particular oppressions, imperialism and indeed the struggles of the working class for a decent place and environment in which to live. We support all struggles that can improve the conditions we live under. At every opportunity we seek to bring these struggles into the union and workplaces, we try to bring the potential strength of organised workers to bear in their link up the different struggles into an understanding of their common roots in capitalism, and to establish the legitimacy of political issues being taken up on the shopfloor. Our general approach to these is to involve ourselves with mass movements and within these movements, in order to promote anarchist methods of organisation involving direct democracy and direct action instead of relying on politicians or ‘professional activists’.

There’s no better example than Shell to Sea, a campaign that the WSM has actively been a part of since 2005.

 Just briefly, for those who may not know about it, tens of billions of euros worth of gas was discovered off the west coast of Ireland, and this is known as the Corrib Gas Field. The Fianna Fail government signed this gas over to Shell, Statoil and Vermillion for free.  People in Ireland will receive no stake in this or subsequent royalties. The way Shell are bringing the gas on-shore and refining it will cause serious damage to the environment and present small rural communities with considerable health and safety risks.

 It’s difficult to be up against a multinational like Shell, the State and their heavy handed law enforcers all at once, but this campaign has been a priority for the WSM since it embodies a grassroots manifestation of solidarity and active resistance against the greedy and powerful who usurp our safety, environment and desire for democratic control over our natural resources, purely to further neo-liberal expansion and exploitation.

Fighting for women’s rights such as the right to choose is another prime example of our activity outside the workplace as it is not only a class issue but helps to erode the power and influence of religious dogma over our society.  We will continue to fight so that one day women in Ireland will able to have full control over their bodies, from abortion to the day after pill, as one aspect of the ongoing fight for equality and liberation.

In the North, WSM members have taken part in protests against the ongoing internment of Marian Price and others and oppose ongoing abuse and torture of republican prisoners in Maghaberry even if we disagree with their politics and the armed struggle which is a hindrance to combatting sectarianism and the type of society we are fighting for. In 2008, we were the only group on the left that organised a small token protest against the RIR parade through Belfast city centre on the basis of not only opposition to imperialism on a non-sectarian footing but opposition to all forms of militarism and nationalism from all quarters.

We recognise the continuous detrimental effect on the lives of our class by the various variants of nationalism and imperialism, particularly over the last 30 years in terms of building class unity around common struggles. The shifting of the border North or South under any government(which is a smokescreen for ‘self-determination’ and continuation of the class system) is no alternative to global capitalism or the common concrete day to day concerns we face whether we live in the falls or shankill.

All sections of the working class have lost out as a result of these sectarian divisions. In the north the divisions in the working class make it more difficult but not impossible to unite against the bosses. In the north the divisions have historically meant that workers from a catholic background suffered state discrimination and were often the targets of loyalist and Orange attacks. In the south, the birth of mass socialist politics in the working class has been delayed for decades, Southern workers were subject to a theocratic state regime which not only denied abortion rights but also subjected the vulnerable, in particular children, to brutal regimes of 'discipline' based on physical and all too often sexual abuse.

A lasting libertarian movement can only be built on a basis that openly includes anti- imperialism and opposition to state repression and sectarianism among its policies. We see no form of nationalism as offering a definitive solution to either the working class in Ireland or the working class across the globe. In the final analysis nationalism argues for a common interest between workers and bosses of one 'nation' against the workers and bosses of another. As anarchists we stand for international working class solidarity against all bosses.

 We actively oppose all manifestations of prejudice within the workers' movement and society in general and we work alongside those struggling against racism, sexism, [religious] sectarianism and homophobia as a priority. We see the success of a revolution and the successful elimination of these oppressions after the revolution being determined by the building of such struggles in the pre-revolutionary period particularly the smashing of sectarianism here. The methods of struggle that we promote are a preparation for the running of society along anarchist and communist lines after the revolution, which is why we put a lot of emphasis building organisations based on direct democracy and power residing at the base that reflect the society we wish to create unlike the rest of the left.

Anarchism believes that a truly free and equal society can only be created by the active, mass participation of the working class taking control of its destiny and no organisation can be a substitute for this. When this happens we can forget about socialism. A minority is in the driving seat and it is only a matter of time before they develop from a grouping with their own interests into a new fully-fledged ruling class/bureaucracy and the rest is history. This is what has happened every time a minority has been trusted to rule a country after a revolutionary upheaval. The building of socialism will require mass understanding/confidence and mass participation. By their rigid hierarchical structure, by their ideas and by their activities, both social- democratic and Bolshevik types of organisations discourage this kind of understanding and prevent this kind of participation. The idea that socialism can somehow be achieved by an elite party (however revolutionary') acting 'on behalf of' the working class is both absurd and reactionary.

 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, context and influence - revolutionary committees, soviets, etc. - but the essential form has remained the same whether it was in Russia 1917, Spain 1936, or Hungary 1956 to Argentina in 2001 etc

 These councils act not just as the best means of mobilising the class against the bosses but also lay the basis for the administration of the new society and co-ordination and decision making in all spheres of life alongside popular community councils. Within them revolutionaries have to fight the ideas of authoritarian tendencies and continually argue that the new workers' democracy must not delegate away its power to any elite, or allow any minority to seize that power. There can be no mutual co-existence with the state as time and time again we have witnessed this new world in the shell of the old being co-opted and co-existed out of existence. As the old saying goes- ‘those who make a half revolution dig their own graves and it’s a lesson we need to learn.

So to sum up:

I hope I have provided a brief account of what type of struggles and activities the WSM are involved in and if you are interested in getting involved no matter how small get in touch with us

Obviously we are nowhere near this idyllic state of affairs. However, anarchists are not utopian dreamers. We recognise that it will be a long, hard struggle until our basic aims are achieved. Rather than sitting back and waiting for capitalism to collapse, or for the revolution to come which it won’t, we believe in organising in the here and now. On day to day basis anarchists are active participants in workplace and community struggles as well as the fight for gender equality, anti-racism to challenging police harassment, to pro-choice and many other campaigns for a better standard of living and more control over our lives.

Like most socialists we share a fundamental belief that capitalism is the problem. We believe that as a system it must be ended, that the wealth of society should be commonly owned and that its resources should be used to serve the needs of humanity as a whole and not those of a small greedy minority. But, just as importantly, we see this struggle against capitalism as also being a struggle for freedom. We believe that socialism and freedom must go together, that we cannot have one without the other.

To quote our comrades in Organise!- ‘We seek to secure for all workers a full and equal share of the wealth and social benefits created by the combined labour of our class. We aim for the abolition of all hierarchy, and work for the creation of a world–wide classless society: libertarian communism.  To replace capitalism, the state, wage slavery  with workers’ control of our industries and communities, ensuring production and distribution for need not profit.’

The Workers Solidarity Movement is a relatively young organisation, in existence since 1984. As has been pointed out elsewhere we have no native anarchist tradition to draw on nor do we have any influential base in the working class we can call our own, but this is gradually changing though our work within in campaigns and struggles.

While recognising these limitations especially in the North, given the legacy of conflict and sectarian division, which is as strong as ever. This situation should not daunt us. All organisations, no matter what their aim is, start somewhere. Anarchists have time and time again, in many countries and in the most difficult of circumstances grappled with the problem of building and maintaining a mass working class influence. It isn't easy but it can be done.

Anarchist ideas, as a fighting tradition of the world-wide working class, have a magnificent history. From Russia to China to South America to Mexico to North America and of course to Spain the influence has been huge involving millions of people, which serves not only as an inspiration but what is possible beyond the horrors of Stalinism and capitalism. 

The class struggles ebbs and flows and so does potential revolutionary situations- we only have to look at the Arab Spring and the global occupy movement to highlight our potential power we have, that we are far from reaching the end of history as some the apologists for neo-liberalism predicted after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

 Anarchism is then; an analyses of what's wrong with society, a strategy of how to change it, and a vision of a future based on solidarity, equality and freedom and we still have an enormous contribution to building this revolutionary project  because let’s face it the alternative is even crazier. Time to build the politics of living!