Perspectives of the WSM


Collectively agreed perspectives of the WSM as set by National Conference. Updated Feb 2013. 


Our Perspectives


1.1 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 base in the working class we can call our own.

1.2 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.

1.3 More than anything else we have to be sure about what we are and what our politics are all about - in practice. Likewise we have to be sure in our minds about our role and about what practical next steps have to be taken in building the organisation we want. An important step in this will be the creation of a series of Sectoral Analysis & Orientation papers, which will provide a stronger connection between our analysis of the world and the direction of our political activity.

1.4 It is important that we do not try to take short cuts of any type. If there is one thing we have plenty of, it is time. We should not fool ourselves into thinking otherwise. We have the time now to make mistakes and to learn from them, just as we also have the time to make small gains without burning ourselves out in the process.

1.5 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.

1.6 But if history shows us the great influence of anarchism in the working class, it also shows us its decline and marginalisation in all but a few countries today. Why did this happen?

1.7 It is important to see that revolutionary ideas ebb and flow in their popularity; that truly revolutionary ideas like our own are tied in their fortunes to the fortunes of our class. The working class is only in existence as the class it is now, for a relatively short historical period. In that time it has pushed forward and been pushed back. These changes have sometimes been gradual but at other times they have been condensed into a few years of revolution and counter-revolution. Times that see a ripening of conditions for major world change come (say 1917 to 1922) but if they are lost (as they were) long and deep reaction follows (as in the 1920's and 30's). The normalisation of capitalist relations since World War II has inevitably pushed the working class forward again. The direct experience of workers and their conflict with ideas that constantly lead them into unnecessary defeat means that reformism of either the social democratic or Stalinist variety has come under attack. On the world stage even greater changes have occurred -the mass mobilisations that destroyed the Eastern European Stalinist regimes have all played their part in exposing the myth of Russian "socialism".

More recently we have seen new struggles break out against neo-liberal policies around the world. The forces drawn into these struggles are more open to revolutionary anarchist ideas than has been the case for many decades.

1.8 Such is part of the reason for anarchism's popularity, decline and marginalisation from the working class and now since the 1960's a renewed interest and re-emergence of our ideas around the world. Anarchist groups have appeared in countries where hitherto no tradition had existed. Organisations have been revamped. The growing anarchist "movement" is tremendously important. Though there are huge problems - the most important aspect we should recognise is the process that this re-emergence is part of.

1.9 The WSM is a small organisation. So are many anarchist organisations the world over, but the conditions for this to be overcome are better now that they have been for a long time.

1.10 It is important that we have a proper appraisal of the past, of the ups and downs in anarchist history and recognise the close association between it and the ups and downs of the ideas of mass working class self-activity for social change. If we do so we can see the reason for anarchism's present marginalisation. Also we will not be too taken aback by our present small numbers. Then we have a good chance of not falling into the trap of pretending we are bigger and capable of more than we are right now. To fall into that trap would be to substitute wishful thinking for reality; to ignore the wider social and economic conditions that are real determinants of growth for revolutionary ideas and organisation. There is no place for such a tendency in the WSM. It is a recipe for sectism and irrelevance.

1.11 When the WSM was formed we understood that the period we were living through was one of a low level of struggle. It was a period of low levels of confidence among workers, of low levels of activity in the class struggle. Where struggles break out they are more often than not of a defensive nature. It was important that we understood this. If we had not we could easily have disappeared into a "cul-de-sac" of looking for "alternatives" and imaginary "new areas of struggle". This in turn would have led to demoralisation. This is what did happen to those on the left who got caught up in republicanism "left turns", community politics and counter-cultural lifestylism. All these were attempts to substitute wishful thinking for reality.

1.12 The overthrowal of the Eastern European regimes meant the death of the orthodox Communist Parties as a serious political force within the working class movement. The so-called "existing socialism" of pre-1989 Eastern Europe is no longer seen as a model. The whole Bolshevik/Leninist tradition has been called into question by many of its former supporters. Because they believed the Eastern European regimes to be a form of socialism (even if a 'deformed' one), they saw in its defeat a sign that capitalism was triumphant, possibly invincible. Hence many disillusioned Leninists disappeared or merged into 'modernised' social democracy. They came to support 'market socialism' and deny the possibility of revolutionary change.

The collapse of the Eastern European regimes, coming during a period of low levels of class struggle, fuelled the drive to declare socialism a 'failed idea'. This has had a major effect on those people who looked - in however general a way - towards Eastern Europe and social democracy, towards the state as a mechanism for bringing about social change. It has also disoriented much of the Trotskyist movement. All of this contributed to the sense of defeatism which pervaded much of the 'left' in the 1990's

1.13 The 1990's was a decade of real defeats. The redundancies in the previously secure state and semi-state sectors, the erosion of shop-floor organisation, the lowering of expectations to such a degree that CE schemes were regarded as a good thing, and so on. But this does not turn us into defeatists. We know that the possibility of revolutionary change will occur. It will probably not occur in the near future but the nature of capitalism makes it certain that the possibility will rise at some stage.

1.14 The end of the 1990's saw the growth of a new radicalism around the issue of globalisation. Anarchists played a significant part in building this movement and in giving it an anti-capitalist pole. Key to this was a move from protest about the policies of the World Bank etc, to action against the conferences of these institutions whether of a 'non-violent' form as with the blockade of the WTO in Seattle or the more confrontational black bloc tactics of Quebec and Prague.

This meant the rapid growth in numbers of activists who described themselves as anarchists or as being close to anarchism. Because these activists were overwhelmingly young people and because of the nature of the summit protests they had no strong connection with local struggles, either on the community or workplace level. In many English speaking countries the existing anarchist movement played little or no organisational role in the development of this movement which meant that there was little or no growth in the size of the existing organisations. In some cases new organisations were formed but for the most part this movement did not develop beyond loose networks that were active around the summit protests.

1.15 We cannot predict the future with any precision but we can learn a few lessons from the past.

* Even a minor pick up in the economy can revive confidence and see a rebuilding of rank & file organisation. The "mini-boom" does not have to be huge. The economic recovery here in the late 1960's after decades of recession and emigration, saw us leap to the top of the international strike league.

* Sometimes the bosses have to push beyond what workers will accept. So far the bosses have not been able to push wages (throughout the European economy as a whole) down to a level that can guarantee them a revival of massive profits. They are pushing us back slowly but when they push too hard they have often met with resistance. Despite the dominance of ideas which promote (or at least accept) the 'market forces' argument within both the working class and society generally, there has been resistance. The most dramatic was the Zapatista uprising in Mexico. At home we saw thousands of poorly paid and part-time workers in Dunnes Stores fight back against the rule of market forces in their workplaces. Wherever there is oppression there will be resistance. The bosses risk an explosion of anger as they push for more and more cuts in our standard of living.

* Sometimes it is a political crisis that sparks things off, e.g.. Spain in 1936. At home we saw the creation of unofficial shop stewards committees that were able to call for (limited) strike action in several towns when the union leaders condemned the 1981 H-block campaign.

While understanding the above, we must also understand that in order to sustain resistance and spread it; and move from the defensive to the offensive the working class needs a goal of its own. Only with a vision of a new society can we combat the 'logic' of authoritarianism and the market economy.

There is no room for major economic concession and reform in the modern capitalism of today. Recession and crisis leave the ruling class less room for manoeuvre than they had twenty years ago. Instead they are moving towards a division of the major industrial countries into three blocs (centred on the EU, NAFTA and a Japan/Australia axis). Trade rivalries between these will increase. As in the past, trade wars could become military wars as competing blocs fight for resources and markets. Internationally, the largest movements of rebellion against the 'logic' of capitalism have been expressed in reactionary forms: religious fundamentalism and the growth of the far right. All of this permits us to say that the long-term choice for humanity is between anarchism and barbarism

1.16 We don't know the exact conditions under which the tide will turn. But we are confident that it will turn. And when workers begin to move into action again there will be a lot of stored up anger to be brought out.

2 WSM Organisation

2.1 Having stated our assessment of the times we are living in, we also have to look at the condition of the WSM. We have done a lot that we can be very proud of but we have also made bad mistakes in the few years after our formation and it is these we had to identify. Though serious errors occurred we survived and gained a deeper and clearer understanding of our politics. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as we learn from them and are better prepared in the future.

2.2 We were encouraged by the destruction of the Eastern European regimes and the resultant increase in interest in anarchism. However we accepted that our situation in Ireland made it is very hard to build in the 1990's. We were able to hold the WSM together with its libertarian socialist politics intact. Our level of activity must be compatible with the numbers we have and must ensure that the discussion of our ideas and tradition is not neglected.

2.3 In the 1984-1987 period we had presumed that anyone who joined the WSM had a clear understanding of anarchism, of its methods and its values. So we underestimated the importance of education about anarchism and concentrated almost exclusively on discussion of strategy and tactics. Branch meetings should always include a lead off and discussion on some relevant topic. We can never learn too much and it is important training in communicating ideas. It is left to branches to decide on how many meetings they wish to advertise to non-members.

2.4 We aim to build an organisation of workers and working class people around the ideas of anarchism. In doing this we realise that there is an intrinsic link between what we do now and whether we will achieve our anarchist goal. We have to be clear in our minds that our ideas will only grow in so much as they are based on the direct day to day needs and struggles of our class. Our orientation around this, especially in the next while, is crucial. It will show that we have learnt from the past and are forging an identity separate from the other organisations on the left.

2.5 i) Over the last couple of decades, the outline of the left and left politics has altered substantially. Elsewhere we have analysed that this re-arrangement is being driven by a number of forces a) the collapse of Stalinism b) the prolonged attack by right-wing forces and market driven politics that began in earnest in the late 70s, and c) the collapse of social democracy as a movement as it achieved power in a host of countries in the 80s and 90s.

ii) The combined effect of all this was a sharp reduction in the size of the left as well as a crisis of confidence within it as a movement. The 'left' now is quite different to that which existed in the late 70s and early 80s - in terms of size but also capability and confidence.

iii) Organisations such as our own - and the SP and the SWP - that had been disregarded in the past, increasingly found themselves filling a real vacuum that exists. This was clearly visible in some of campaigns fought in the 1990's particularly in the Water Charges and over Abortion Rights.

2.6 We do want to recruit more members - but that is not an end in itself. New members have to be won on a clear understanding of anarchism and of the general orientation and strategy of the WSM.

2.7 We know that when we apply our ideas we will have to work alongside other forces that will have different and more reformist or right wing ideas. Some will be openly hostile to anarchism. It is by forming united fronts around specific issues that we will create an audience for our politics. On a day-to-day level we have to be capable of combining a "hardness" on politics with an ability to initiate action with people who don't share all our ideas. We have to be confident about our politics and be seen as good militants.

We understand that that the process of changing society depends on mass debate, mass participation, mass politics. We will do what we can to encourage this by relating positively to such developments and by always emphasising the value of participatory rather than representative politics. It is only through involvement in such politics that people gain a sense of their own capabilities, that we break down the passivity and dependence that have allowed elites to take control of popular movements and channel them into yet another episode of changing rulers instead of changing social relations.

WSM members are active within the mass organisations of our class (i.e. those organisations which people join because of their economic situation, particularly the trade unions). While we understand that sometimes there may be no alternative to forming breakaway minority organisations, and we always uphold the right of people to freely associate as they see best, we do not advocate the formation of 'revolutionary' alternatives to the existing mass organisations. Instead we bring our politics into the bodies where people are already organised.

The mass organisations will not become revolutionary (or lead to the formation of widespread new forms of revolutionary organisation) until we begin moving into a revolutionary situation. In a general way, the ideas dominant in the mass organisations reflect the current level of class consciousness and confidence. Our task is to bring anarchist ideas to our work colleagues and neighbours, not to separate from their organisations.

2.8 We know there is a need for concrete international links with other anarchist-communist organisations, and we seek to utilise the contacts we do have with other organisation within the ''platformist'' tradition. We should also take note of other class struggle anarchist groupings abroad with whom we certainly do have real differences but also share many things.

We recognise that syndicalism is the largest organised current in anarchism. We locate its major weakness in its failure to develop a systematic political opposition to authoritarian ideas in the broader working class movement, and to recognise the need for the working class to take complete power in a dual-power situation. And it is a very serious weakness - the defeat of the Spanish revolution was the greatest defeat ever suffered by our movement. However this must not blind us to the positive aspects of syndicalism. It is based on the needs and struggles of our class, and it organises in such a way as to break down the division between activists and passive followers, leaders and led.

We certainly see it as inadequate for the task of overthrowing capitalism. We also see it as part of the same movement as ourselves. Elsewhere the WSM has outlined its disagreements with the syndicalists. These relate to its strategy and tactics. As to the kind of society it wishes to create, its orientation to the organised working class, and its advocacy of direct action - we are in agreement. Accordingly, we wish to maintain and extend our dialogue with unions like the SAC and CGT, and with the affiliates of the IWA.

3 WSM Activity

3.1 Where the WSM affiliates to - or agrees to participate in - other national organisations, Delegate Council will appoint a Convenor to co-ordinate the activity of WSM members.

Their role is to
(a) ensure that agreed WSM policy is understood and is being implemented by our members
(b) call meetings where necessary
(c) make a report to Delegate Council (detailing the strengths and weaknesses of the campaign / organisation, its political composition, the political debates taking place within it, its major activities, the activity of WSM members)

3.2 As it becomes possible to build branches it will be necessary for experienced members to give a lot of time in the initial months, attending their meetings, giving advice and educationals, helping them with practicalities of political activity. It would be unfair and irresponsible to leave a new branch to 'sink or swim'. None of this precludes people joining the WSM in areas where there is not already a member.

We must ensure that we stay well informed about local community based protests (especially where we have a member/candidate member/contact), and - where resources permit - have a presence where we agree with what is being fought for.

3.3 Where it is practical we should organise public meetings which are well prepared and well publicised. This means extensive postering, contacting sympathisers and other publicity; in addition to well prepared speeches and, where possible, follow-up activities.

3.4 Youth have not been through as many demoralising experiences as their elders, they have energy & enthusiasm. A movement without youth is doomed to decay. As an organisation which would refuse to segregate youth into a 'junior' section, and which holds to revolutionary and anti-authoritarian ideas, we must seek ways of building up our profile among younger people.

3.5 We need to make growth a major priority. All sympathisers should be contacted before any demonstration we are attending, relevant campaign meeting or public meeting. Asking sympathisers to join the WSM will be discussed at least once a month at branch meetings.

3.6 'Our Perspectives' and progress on the implementation of the tasks we have set ourselves will be tabled for discussion at each national meeting.

4. Short term perspectives

S1. The main priority for the WSM in 2013 will be completion of our internal reorganisation, restoration of a culture of systematic attendance at meetings & implementation of agreed policy and the development and implementation of our engagement process, including training modules for new members, in full.
S2. Current commitments to external work will be maintained but will take a secondary priority.
S3. Any members unable to commit to this process, for instance because they are unable to regularly attend branch meetings, should become supporters. All supporters, including those who used to be members, will have their access to the internal site restricted to the supporters section.
S4. Each of the publication groups & the engagement group will meet within ten days of this motion being passed, ¸post a report on the current implementation status of policy in their area and the timetable they intend to insure full completion of this (by the June meeting) and post this to the internal within 14 days of the end of conference.
S5. Internal secretary will be responsible for collating these reports and identifying other areas of internal reorganisation that need completion and reporting on progress on the implementation of this motion in writing to each Delegate Council agenda.

S6.  Bookfair:
Our annual bookfair is a major event for much of the left, but mostly in Dublin.
All active local WSM branches outside of Dublin should promote the bookfair as a national and international gathering and aim to organise group transport from their areas to and from the event.This transport should be partially subsidised by the organisation so as to ensure that it is an inexpensive trip for anyone looking to attend. Part of this subsidy should come from the organisation nationally and be classified as a bookfair expense.

Ammended Feb 2013