Recruitment fear and loathing in Dublin

Flags on Mayday

Anarchists in general hate trying to recruit people to their organizations.  This probably arises from bad experiences with groups like the SWP who used to badger people who turn up at campaign meetings to 'join the anti-capitalists'.  But obviously it's more than a little counter-productive if we allow that behaviour to scare us off completely.

A decade or so back at a moment of crisis in the WSM one issue among a few was our then very slow rate of growth.  We wondered why very few of the people we worked with had ever taken the step of joining.  So I decided to ask some of these people.  From this we discovered that because we were too 'shy' to pursue people many of them had jumped to the (wrong) conclusion that we had judged them as unsuitable for membership.  On reflection we realised that the people who had joined had nearly all not only taken the initiative in asking but in more than one case had to do so repeatedly. 

We also discovered that what we thought was a transparent and simple membership process looked like a huge mountain from the outside.  At the time we had a reading list of pamphlets and books that we expected applicant members to have read.  You can still read this list online but we no longer use it.  It turned out that on seeing this list more than one person had concluded there must be some sort of written exam involved in membership where we would test their knowledge from that reading.  This seemed like a crazy idea to us but then you realise that this is what reading lists often mean, it's really not that unreasonable a conclusion.

Anyway we decided that we needed to make some changes.  The first of these was to strip the applicant membership requirement down to agreeing with a short set of bullet point and to fulfill certain membership duties.  We then spent a little time getting this process down in a written form and making sure it was easy to find by putting that text at the Join the WSM link on the front page of the WSM web site.

Secondly we realised we had to get into the pattern of asking people to join rather than waiting for them to ask us.  But as I say in the opening paragraph while this is easy to say most anarchists would rather charge a phalynx of riot police single handed then try and 'recruit' someone.  I guess its a similar fear to making a move on someone you fancy, if it goes badly you fear it will destroy the existing friendship you have and perhaps you'd also have been better waiting till later.  It's probably no coincidence that a lot of recruitment talk tended to happen at parties after a good deal of drink had been taken!

One solution we implemented to this was from time to time to have a formal recruitment process.  That is where a branch will identify people they have been working with and allocate members to hand them a letter asking them to come to a meeting about joining.  We haven't done these anything like as frequently like we should and we've also had the problem of individual members bottling out of asking people but otherwise these have been quite successful in getting batches of people to take the step of joining.

All of which is an introduction to the text below which I drafted for the 1st of May branch which is going through that process. It focuses on the huge changes that are happening in Ireland as a result of the economic crash and how these are changing everyday conversations about capitalism and the nature of class society.

If your in Dublin and reckon you should have got a copy of this give us a shout, either someone bottled out or you fell through the cracks.  Or we were just worried that you weren't interested and maybe need some encouragement!

For almost twenty years those of us who argued for an alternative to capitalism were told There Is No Alternative (TINA). We were presented with two arguments, firstly that capitalism was resulting in increased prosperity across the world and over time there would be a trickle down of that prosperity so that even the poorest would benefit. And secondly that socialism meant dictatorship and inefficiency so whatever our ideals it was no real alternative.

Many of us never accepted that logic but particularly in Ireland it had an appeal to the mass of the population. Most of the TINA period co-incided with the Celtic Tiger, a boom that saw real improvements in living standards for almost everyone and the promise of significant wealth for a minority which many imagined they could enter.

Things changed in 2008. Capitalism went into and remains in crisis. Unemployment is rising, people are being put on three day weeks, and public services including health and education are under threat. Tens of thousands have already taken part in protests in the closing months of 2008. Even mainstream commentators are saying that capitalism no longer appears to be working.

Recessions are not new and the experience of the left is that the initial wave of protests and strikes can end quite quickly. Unemployment and fear of unemployment demoralise's people and instead of fighting it can lead them to search for scapegoats and strong leaders.

The WSM has always seen a significant part of its role not only in fighting alongside others in struggle but also in arguing for the anarchist alternative. The idea that capitalism promises constantly improving living conditions may have collapse but may people still believe that as flawed, as capitalism is there is no alternative to it.

We want to take this moment to ask you to consider joining the WSM. Our ability to argue for the alternative, our ability to make arguments to the mass struggles that are emerging is severely limited by our small membership. So whether we've asked you before and you've said 'not yet' or whether this is your first time we would ask you to consider adding your weight and experience to this small number.

We don't care if you have been active 20 years or are just taking the first steps; all we ask is that you agree with the political content of our 'Join the WSM' document ( )and are willing to commit to the membership requirements in it. We've never been good at recruitment (as some people who may have tried to join in the past by email will know) but right now we are in a time where it matters.

If your interested you can email us at wsm_ireland AT for more details.

in solidarity
1st of May branch, WSM


WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


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