Controversy - WSM 10 years goals motion & argument from 2008

The text which follows is the '10 year goals' I proposed to the Workers Solidarity Movement in 2008 and which were adopted by WSM national conference. They were opposed by a minority at the time and some of the controversy around them returned with the publication of ex WSM member James O'Briens 'The WSM and anarchism: A political analysis' earlier in the year.  In the meantime however that section of the perspectives paper has been overwritten with new material (I think in 2011) which meant the original text was no longer available on the internet except through the way back archive.*

Below I present the text as agreed at conference and the argument I put forward at the time on the WSM internal discussion forums.  I present these in part because, as with other areas of his account, James gets some of the facts confused.  In what I would presume to be an honest mistake he confuses the passing of this '10 Year Goals' motion by conference in October 2008 with a discussion document I had written some years previously under the provocative title of a 'Five Year Plan'.  The result of that confusion and the lack of availability of the text passed is that the admittedly very ambitious goals to be achieved by 2018 in the 10 Year Goals motion become ludicrous targets for 2010.  As can be seen from the argument I presented in 2008 in advance of this motion being passed I had already replied to the obvious objections James's presents in his 2012 text.

Some background which is sort of hinted at in the start of the argument I made on the internal at the time.  The WSM had grown rapidly from 2000 to 2006, it had doubled in size and then doubled again in that period probably peaking in 2006 with almost 70 members on paper.  I migrated to North America in mid 2007 and had spent most of the year before that preparing for that moved which meant I was more focused on trying to create a new organisation where I was moving to (Ontario) than with the health of the WSM. In the end I was only to spend a year in North America where I helped found Common Cause and through a 44 city speaking tour had minor involvement in the founding or public emergence of a number of other organisations, all of which took the WSM as a partial model.

The early 2000's had been a very busy period in Ireland but the period from late 2004 to 2008 was going to turn out to be one of a low level of struggle.  The WSM stagnated in the later half of this period and started to lose both members and a sense of collective direction.  Probably as a consequence of this an unhealthy internal dynamic of cantankerous discussion emerged particularly in Dublin.  I ended up returning to Ireland in June 2008 and after witnessing this first hand decided that the major issue was not knowing where to go next in a period of relative quiet.  The 10 year goals proposed below were intended as a solution to these problems as well as an answer to a long running debate as to whether or not we would see a revolution 'in our lifetime'.

As it turned out that 10 year goal needed in fact to be a 13 month goal as, at least in terms of Ireland, the peak moment of resistance to the crisis that was gathering pace as we debated this document was found just over a year later in the public sector strike of Nov 24.  Needless to say we had nothing like the numbers or networks that I suggest below were the minimum necessary in order to have sufficient impact on mass struggle.

Motion submitted to WSM internal 15 oct 2008

4.23 10 year goals

a The WSM sets itself the following 10 year goals to be completed by the end of 2018.

Establish 80 branches of the WSM with at least one in every town.
Have a website that recieves 500,000 unique visitors per week.

Have weekly newspapers with a circulation of 100,000.

Help establish libertarian networks in every industry
Help establish libertarian neighboorhood centres in every city with multiple such centres in Dublin, Cork and Belfast and to encourage a networking of such centres.

b By 'libertarian networks' in industry we understand a network of workers in an industry that share a general libertarian politics and which will seek to

- Encourage the spread of organising skills among libertarians in the workplace

- Argue for democratic reforms and militancy in any unions that exist in that sector

- Produce a newsletter, website or both that reports on struggles, settlements and builds links

- Hold periodic conferences on issues within their sector

Such networks should be involved in broader rank and file movements where the conditions exist to build them

c By establish libertarian neighboorhood centres we understand physical (ideally 'shop front') locations that have a distinct libertarian ethos. They should

- Not be dependent on state funding

- Based around a written libertarian statement of principles
- Able to provide education, organising skills and advice to the communities in the neighboorhood where they are based
- Produce a local newsletter
- Work in broad local campaigns

i.d As the number of WSM branches increase in a city each branch should increasingly be based around a particular groups of neighboorhoods or a workplace.

ii.a We recognise these goals are extremly ambitious and a significant new departure in the ambition of the WSM. Setting the goals is that start of a process in which we will need to educate ourelves, research experiences elsewhere, formulate collective plans and experiment with implemention. This process will involve a considerable input of time and money by the organization as a whole.
ii.b It is probable that the first experiments will take place in the areas where we have the greatest concentration of members, in terms of neightboorhood in western Dublin 7 and in terms of industry in education.
ii.c A 10 year goal will be filled in multiple shorter steps. As an initial goal we would expect

- To see the first publicationse of a libertarian industry network by the sping of 2009
- The first libertarian neighboor centre come into existence by the end of 2010
- A monthly paper by the end of 2010
[Oct 2008]

Retrieved from

Argument for motion republished from internal WSM forums - Tue, 2008-10-21

Some explanation of this motion

It's my opinion that the WSM is in a significant crisis brought about by our growth. The strategy focused on propaganda and activism that made sense as a tiny organisation only just in double digits made little sense to an organization of even a few dozen. It means that most members had little political activity on a regular basis outside the WSM and that for most members WSM activity amounted to paper distribution and going to branch meetings.

In theory members should also be involved in their workplaces and neighborhoods but the organisation has left this completely up to individuals. Outside of those who were involved in the IWU there has been no real attempt at the development and implementation of a collective strategy in either area since the collapse of the bin tax campaign at the end of 2003.

We haven't dealt with the lack of direction and its consequences very well. There has been a strong tendency to fall back on seeking to blame problems on individual behaviour rather than the lack of collective direction. So in terms of what has directly been said to me or overheard problems tend to be caused because X is too much of a hippie, Y is too orthodox and inflexible, Z is too lazy to turn up to meetings, W is too much of a stoner to remember to do stuff, U is too disorganised to turn up on time, L is too insensitive etc. All of these indeed may be true but they are also just generally reflective of the range of human experience and thus problems that will always be with us even if they can be worked on.

In this context it is not surprizing that many members are dropping out of activity for long periods on either formal or informal 'leave', we are losing some members and others are very obviously not enthusiastic about either attending branch meetings or doing paper distributions. One way of dealing with this would be through setting targets, and we've done a little of this, but while that may lead to short term boosts in distribution in the longer term it will just result in people leaving.

The problem is that at our current size and type of activity the bulk of our members work at any point in time will consist of stuff that will only serve to make more members or perhaps help create a general interest in anarchism. Which is not far short of existing in order to exist and growing in order to grow.

Alongside this we have tended to treat the area we identify as core, the workplace, as an area in which members will either magically acquire needed skills or where we can trust the unions to train them. And this without any significant direction or even encouragement from the organization. The same can be said of neighborhood organization but at least here we have the excuse that we don't claim this is central to our politics.

Our 'solutions' to this have tended to be in two forms.
1. A concentration on better activism. This is very understandable; most of our recruitment has either been out of activism or on the basis of activism. I'm thinking in particular of the 2002/3 anti-war movement and Mayday 2004 but also of the ongoing struggle in Rossport. The Nice and Lisbon campaigns can be considered in the same vein.
By activism I basically mean organising that concentrates on organising and winning tactical arguments with a set of individuals who are concerned about an aspect of capitalism and recruiting more people to that pool of concerned activists. Activism certainly has its uses and shouldn't be rejected but it is also limited both in terms of what it can achieve, the basis it can achieve things on and its frequent isolation from the general population.
2. A focus on better and more propaganda. That is better distribution mechanisms, a greater reach, more coherent argument, more attractive design, a better web site, better distribution of articles online, new techniques etc.

We are actually extremely good at both 1. and 2. Members have developed real skills and even without taking our relatively small numbers into account we are way up the scale for both of these types of activity across the Anglo (English speaking) world.

This though is also our comfort zone so when we identify a problem we tend to return first to this comfort zone and ask how we can further improve what we are doing quite well in these areas. I'm not arguing so much that this is wrong, the organization would have considerable value if all it ever did was carry out the work we have done in either area.

But we aim to be more that a publishing house or an organiser of activists. And this means we have to get out of that comfort zone and start looking at a collective way of working in the areas where our skills are much weaker.

It is also true that in terms of those two areas we really don't need more members except as a distribution mechanism. If we dropped all pretense at other activity then 50 of us on this island would be enough to produce very good regular anarchist news and analysis or to intervene in and push activism in a libertarian direction. To a large extent in Dublin and I suspect Cork we have done this.

However if we are to be an organization capable of playing a significant role in helping to organise the working class as a whole in a libertarian manner our present numbers are almost laughable in contrast to the scale of that task. Of curse the expected objection to this statement is that right now we don't live in revolutionary times so it makes no sense to talk in such terms, we can just wait for the times to changes. To do otherwise would just be to imagine that we could alter objective circumstances regardless of the conditions we find ourselves in.

My argument (and its one I've made before) is that while this is true there is a level of organization we can imagine in non-revolutionary times which is way, way beyond where we are now but also way short of any pretense that it is possible for the majority or even a sizeable minority of the working class to join revolutionary organisations prior to a revolutionary period. The shorthand I've used for this (and I used it at all the 30+ private meetings I did in North America) is that we can set ourselves the target of organising 1 in 1,000.

That is that right now it is probably the case that at least 1 in 1000 of the population of this island is pissed off enough that the idea anarchism as an alternative would make sense. It is thus not crazy to imagine that even in non-revolutionary times that percentage of the population could be convinced to join anarchist organisation(s). Let me qualify this by saying convincing people to take this step will not be the outcome of a well worded leaflet but rather of them being exposed not only to clear explanations of the ideas but also of witnessing some of this in reality.

The motion
We have struggled with this debate over a number of years, at least as far back as my original 'five year plan' discussion document. We should be clear that we never made any real decisions in relation to that document beyond that to break up into branches. I say this because there is a current that thinks we tried neighborhood organisations but failed, I don't think this is at all true and am hard pressed to think of more than one or two examples of anything that might be seen as neighborhood organising.

The strategy meeting we had a month or more back I think showed the major problem and the reason why we have had found it hard to go forward. The questions here are so complex that it is quite hard to keep the complete scope of changes they would involve in your head simultaneously. But on the other hand its also very hard to make any decisions without doing so as any significant decision in one area would require the sort of commitment of resources that would have to have an impact on what was available for other areas.

The one thing that I took out of the conference was something Gxxxx said about how it was perhaps easier to think of what we wanted to see in the longer term and then look at what we would need to do now to get there. So this motion takes this approach. The important part would really be the collective agreement of the long-term ten-year goals. If we agree these (or amended versions of them) it means all of us understand what out activity now is meant to be building towards. This gives us something to measure arguments about effectiveness, resource use etc against. It gives us a simple 'big picture' that can be kept in the head to check proposals against.

The short term targets are far less important in that context and are perhaps not more than illustrations or placeholders in the period where we can educate ourselves, engage in discussion and set what might be more realistic targets. They exist in the motion to make the point that getting to the 10 year goal means taking the first step tomorrow and not in 9 years time.

The goals

Establish 80 branches of the WSM with at least one in every town.
This is intended to be a bit frightening precisely because in some ways it is the most straight forward of the goals. Achieving it would mean the organisation would need to double in size every 30 months. Over the next 30 months this would mean that each branch would need, on average, to recruit one new member every 2 and 1/2 months. We've had periods of growth far in excess of that rate in the recent past and when looked at in these terms this growth rate looks quite realistic.

(For those interested in the detail of this calculation it's based on the obvious reality that the more members we have the more we can recruit. In that context a growth plan is best looked at as a process of doubling and then doubling again. So 5 branches become 10, 10 become 20, 20 become 40 and 40 become 80 at intervals, in this case, of 30 months. The rates are an average, obviously in real life circumstances mean that periods of much faster growth are followed by periods of much slower growth).

Have a website that receives 500,000 unique visitors per week.
Have weekly newspapers with a circulation of 100,000.

Both of these are quite realistic if the branch goal is met, the second would be impossible without that sort of growth (the first less so). This is why I start with the branch growth goal as this is the one that makes the others possible and in doing so gives a reason for recruitment that is not growth in order to grow.

Help establish libertarian networks in every industry
This is actually quite undefined (how big is a 'network', what qualifies as an 'industry') We will need to define this in more depth but apart from discussion I think this would require experience of seeing what works. In terms of 'Education' we would seem to me to already have the minimum number of people in terms of WSM members who work in education alone to make a start and we can immediately approach a good number of additional people. But even this is opinion is something that will need to be argued out in the aftermath of passing the proposal.

Note that the definition at 1b is meant to make clear these are not 'alternative unions' nor even 'rank and file movements' or seeking to become such movements. In both cases I think it would be a mistake to separate the minority of libertarian workers off from the rest of the workers in an industry.

Help establish libertarian neighborhood centers in every city with multiple such centers in Dublin, Cork and Belfast and to encourage a networking of such centers.

This is the greatest 'shot in the dark' of the goals as we have no developed community strategy whatsoever. With the workplace we have a very long (and perhaps a little outdated in parts) paper on the unions. Despite the face we have had a much greater level of involvement in community struggles we have never tried to develop either a community or neighborhood strategy paper apart from specific struggles.

I'd initially had the intention of trying to draft one for conference before deciding instead that the approach of first setting a high level goal and then working out how we would achieve that would make more sense.

A couple of things to note here.
1. I use the term neighborhood rather than community deliberately and these two terms are not interchangeable. A neighborhood centre would be one that would focus on the struggles of particular 'communities' in its area - those struggles that fit best with its libertarian principles.
2. The 'idea' comes from my experiences of my US speaking tour where a number of the venues were radical neighborhood centers that had been set up by revolutionaries and which retained a radical focus in part through focusing on particular struggles rather than trying to be a centre for all the 'community'. This created a long-term base which could accumulate experience, contacts and skills and could be built out from. I'd also come across similar centers in Spain during the 2nd encuentro and in fact they are very much part of the tradition of anarchism.
3. I don't use the term 'social centre' or the related term 'infoshop' as these tend to be different sort of spaces based on creating a space for radical or counter cultural communities. This distinction is not an absolute one but just as its useful to distinguish between community and neighborhood its useful to have a distinct term for such spaces to separate us from that strong tendency to become quite inward focused.

I'd emphasis that passing this motion is initially committing us to a process of working out what it would mean to build towards some of those goals. It would initially be quite a slow process.

About 30 minutes after publishing this blog I discovered that I had published the original motion text in a blog post on the Oct 2008 WSM National conference.


Why we need a 5 year

Why we need a 5 year plan

What may also be of some interest is this note I managed to find on the WSM internal which I obviously posted after I had first raised the concept of a '5 year plan' (and plan rather than goal was the term I used internally then, no doubt somewhat tounge in cheek) .  

Wed, 2005-08-17   - The need for a 5 year plan

I was talking with F. last weekend and he said something along the lines of that it appeared that at the last discussion people were quite uncomfortable with discussion five years in the future and kept trying to return the discussion to short term stuff. This was pretty much the impression I had as well - in that discussion it kept shifting back to 'what will we do in the Autumn' or 'we should a public meeting'.

So I'd like to take a couple of minutes to explain why I think we need to come up with a five year plan before we move onto such discussions. And to appeal that people try and keep the discussion on topic.

For the last two years we have seldom looked more than six months into the future. For a period this was simply due to the pressures of frantic activity but we really haven't had that excuse for the last 9 months. This is odd because although the idea of a five year plan might be new we have managed to plan a couple of years ahead before - notably in relation to the Water Tax and Bin Tax.

Both these campaigns are excellent examples of why you need to plan and prepare for events that may only become really significant a couple of years from now. If the ground work of building local groups and non-payment had not been done than the dozens of blockades that happened at the height of the campaign would not have happened. And if anything it is clear that there was not enough real advance organisation - that the weakness was too little rather than too much planning.

If this is true of a campaign is it not even more true of an tiny organisation of a small island in the Atlantic that talks of global revolution? We are a long way from that goal - how can we ever expect to advance unless we look well into the future.

The big danger for any organisation of activists is that we will concentrate so much on the day to day work of involvement in campaigns or producing the paper that we'll lose sight of why we do these things. They can become routines that we do because we do - goals in themselves rather than means to an end.

You do become aware of this - people do step back and wonder what exactly is the point of gettting the bus to some bit of town to push papers through peoples letterboxes for a couple of hours. This is a very legtimate question and one that will not be answered by appeals for more commitment. It can be answered in part - and we have tended to do this - by modifying the strategy a little so that it feels new. Switching to distributions at stall for instance.

We need a five year plan because we need a collectively agreed document that we can then judge all our political work against. Pushing papers through doors makes a lot more sense if it is part of a collective plan to build a branch in an area, a plan that also includes local meetings and activity. And if that is the first step in a wider collective plan to establish a number of such branches then it makes more sense still. What's more you also have some sort of measure that means at the end of a year or two we can collectively step back and ask 'well did that actually work - was it worthwhile?'

I understand that there are parts of my proposals that may make people feel uncomfortable. Some may be too ambitions - others may sound too trot like. OK but lets not avoid this by talking about printing another 1,000 copies of the paper next September. Lets deal with it by moving to agree achievable goals or dealing with the problems in the language or concept that seem trot like. Lets move towards collectively agreeing where we would like the Dublin WSM to find itself at the end of 2011.


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