WSM Points of Unity Explained: 1 - Class Struggle and Leadership of Ideas


'1. Anarchism will be created by the class struggle between the vast majority of society (the working class) and the tiny minority that currently rule. A successful revolution will require that anarchist ideas become the leading ideas within the working class. This will not happen spontaneously. Our role is to make anarchist ideas the leading ideas or, as it is sometimes expressed, to become a ''leadership of ideas''.’

We're usually told that class society is a thing of the past. After all, aren't we all middle class now? But this isn't true, and there still very much exists a severe division between people based on property and work, a hierarchy which is a basic fact of the economic system known as capitalism.

In this society people are divided into the capitalist classes and the working classes - and to some extent a 'middle class' - regardless of how we personally choose to identify. Starkly, we live in a world of super yachts and starving children. As of 2017 the regime of private property has allowed 1% of the human population to own half of the global wealth and merely 8 billionaires own as much as the poorest 50% combined (or 3.7 billion people). Within every country on this planet people go to bed hungry, if they even have a bed, are consistently denied opportunities in life, and have effectively no say in the society they live in, while others live in ease and extravagance, free to choose their own course in life, and have disproportionate influence over what happens in our world.

This is largely because a tiny minority are in control of what are called the 'means of production', i.e. offices, shops, fields, warehouses, factories, apartment blocks, natural resources, and so on. The vast majority of us don't have the luxury of being able to live out of our bank accounts or returns on property - most of us have to rent ourselves as workers in order to buy back the things that we need. Otherwise we won't survive for very long. We are the working classes: the employees, the unemployed workers, the small farmers and street traders.

This is an irrational situation. Human beings have far more to gain by co-operating than competing in a vicious and endless economic cycle. The WSM fundamentally opposes that regime, in favour of a free society with no classes where property is held by all for the good of all: libertarian communism. The Earth belongs to everyone and no one. This does not mean we think that Society should own your toothbrush, or the Community should own your guitar. That is personal property, your possessions, which you own because you use them. That's a very different kind of property to a businessperson owning a factory where others make money for them, or a property developer renting out a whole estate of houses they don't live in.

People have proposed an abundance of radical and alternative futures in the last few hundred years. However most of them are and were very vague or unrealistic about how to make that really happen. In contrast to these more naive schemes, we draw on the lessons of history to find a feasible route towards freedom. For example, we recognise the harsh reality that the interests of these two classes can’t be reconciled. If the capitalists gain, we lose, and vice versa. Bigger profit margins mean smaller meals, smaller rooms, less leisure time, and more stress. That means rather than trying to exist side-by-side in the best possible truce between the capitalists and the masses, we need to transform our society so that the possibility of this hugely damaging social conflict ceases to exist entirely, so there are no capitalists at all. This push and pull between opposing social forces, our struggle for freedom in spite of a social order constantly shaking us down and holding us down, is called the 'class struggle'. We didn't start the class war, but we have to fight it.

Unfortunately, the working class can't rely on the goodwill of the capitalist class to make this happen. The capitalist class works hard every day to keep us in our place and extract more and more profit from our lives. This is not even because those at the top of the economic hierarchy are all individually awful people - they aren't - but because that is how to make money, and the market demands it. Indeed one of the great tragedies of capitalism is how ingenuity, creativity, and hard work, are transformed into destructive activity by anti-social incentives. Really, capitalism is not a matter of the vicious minority at the top and the virtuous majority at the bottom - it is a social machine which pits human against human whether they like it or not.

As the wealth creators of this world, and the overwhelming majority, the working class are positioned to take over the running of society. Capitalism will be dismantled and replaced with a system of democratic worker self-management. 'From each according to ability, to each according to need' will be our spirit. Enterprises will be owned and operated as by those who work there, with no bosses needed, and will be accountable to the community and the ecosystem. They will federate across large geographical areas to co-ordinate production and distribution. The good things in life will be for everyone. Consumption will happen according to need, rather than profit. Boring, unpleasant, or dangerous, work will be automated where possible and otherwise shared between people by agreement. Although a globally successful anarchist revolution is yet to be won, these ideas have been put into practice many times, most notably in the Spanish Revolution of 1936, and Rojava, Kurdistan provides a contemporary inspiration.

In getting to this future society, unlike authoritarian socialists the WSM refuses to take positions of power that lift us above the broad movement and give us control over it. Instead we rely on the strength of our ideas and the example we set to convince people. In short, we don’t make the revolution for the proletariat, we don’t direct the struggle 'in their interests', and we don’t govern them 'for their own good'. We simply exist as an organisation within our class and attempt to speed up its growth and emancipation. We do this by working within mass movements and spreading anarchist ideas through our publications and events. That is the role of the WSM.

The aim is not for every single working class person to identify as an anarchist, or to join our organisation – that is impractical. Of course it is important that we grow our organisation. But the primary aim is to make anarchist ideas and methods the most popular and respected within the working class, so that in the time of a revolutionary upheaval it is anarchist ideas and methods which will determine the form of the revolution and lead to a bright future.

See our Class & Exploitation position paper for a more detailed account of class.

This is one in a series of short articles explaining the WSM Points of Unity.
To listen to all these pieces together, click here.
To read all the WSM Points of Unity, click here.
To read about the next Point of Unity - Power Structures - click here.