Report on Ideas and Action 2001

Saturday March 31st 2001 saw the third Irish anarchist gathering to be held under the title of 'Ideas and Action', this time in the North Star Hotel, Dublin. In terms of numbers this was the most successful gathering to date with around 70 people attending at least one of the three sessions.

There was also a very good geographical spread. In talking to people in the break between meetings and in the bar afterwards I met people who had travelled from Cork, Belfast, Derry, Glaway, Limerick, the Burren and Donegal. Of everyone there some were people who have been activists for decades, many others have only recently become active.

The two bookstalls also appeared to be popular. The WSM book service stall sold at least 250 pounds worth of books over the day.

There were three meetings held over the day, each started with a short talk from a couple of speakers and there was then 40 minutes or so of discussion from the floor. We encourage a very open form of discussion (quite different to that found at most other left events) based on honest discussion of real issues rather then members of the WSM simply pushing a 'party line' from the platform and the floor. People who had not yet spoken in a session are called to speak ahead of people who wanted to speak for a second time.

View of meeting

I have tried to summarise the talks and discussion from memory. I'm sure however that everyone whose view I summarise would do so themselves in a different way and quite possibly I've misunderstood some of the points made. So please treat the summary as an approximate outline, not as a transcript!. [I have put up the speakers notes where they were available, please note that what they actually said may have been somewhat different]

The first session was What is the Alternative to Global Capitalism? I spoke for the WSM in this session and David O'Kelly spoke for FEASTA. He concentrated on the role of the banks and how they loan money they don't really have. I showed how some of the global trade of goods was crazy but how others, especially metals, was necessary. This meant that it was not possible to have purely local trade (which could also be exploitative). Thus it was necessary to look instead at how decisions about what to trade were made. The only rational system for making such decisions is anarchism

The discussion from the floor included

  • the relationship between the IMF and World Bank and the USA (which effectively controls both bodies)
  • the nature of money and in particular of bank loans
  • was it more productive to argue about long term goals or short term tactics with environmental activists
  • were the WSM wrong to say that that paedophile teachers should be kicked out of the schools

That last point may seems out of place and a little crazy. That's because for two of the sessions we were 'treated' to contributions from member of a US trotskyist group called the Sparticist League. Most Irish left groups ban these people from their meetings but we believe free discussion also means allowing contributions from those whom we have almost no agreement with. So the Sparts were tolerated while they defended paedophiles and told us that North Korea was some form of workers state! If this doesn't make much sense to you be assured that it didn't make much sense to us either.

That said it's important to have an atmosphere in which sensible discussion or real and important differences are possible. The next session under the title 'Where is racism coming from in Ireland and how can it be fought?' was dominated by such a discussion. WSM members work in the Anti-Racism Campaign. Along with Anti Fascist Action and Residents against Racism it has been distributing anti-racist leaflets door to door in many of the poorer working class areas of Dublin. At the meeting it was estimated that 70,000 leaflets have been distributed.

Platform at racism discussion

While all these organisations agree that the key to fighting racism is to demand extra resources for all working class people, immigrants and native the speakers highlighted two important differences.

Firstly was it right to describe the government parties and state forces as racist. The AFA speaker pointed out that the reality was that some of the politicians and parties (notably the PD's) favoured immigrants while others came out with racist statements. And that the Gardai (police) had not automatically sought to whip up racism whenever a crime was committed by someone from a minority group as might be expected.

Gregor Kerr for the WSM said that it was on the European level that state racism was seen, particularly through the implementation of Fortress Europe, which has already resulted in thousands of deaths of people trying to enter Europe.

These different points of view reflected two different emphases on what dangers the rise of racism in Ireland present. It's not surprising that Anti Fascist Action place the emphasis on the danger of the emergence of a fascist organisation. The WSM on the other hand has tended to place the emphasis on the danger of mainstream parties using the racist card as a way of distracting Irish workers from the real reasons why they have not been getting the benefits of the Celtic Tiger. And also because we recognise that the working class is global so we oppose all immigration controls.

This relates to the second area of disagreement on which most of the discussion concentrated, how to deal with the tiny but virulently anti-immigrant 'Immigration Control Platform'. AFA have argued for and at Ennis implemented a 'no platform' policy in relation to this group. This means denying them the ability to organise by physically disrupting their meetings etc. AFA made the not unreasonable claim that their actions in this regard have made it far more difficult for the ICP to organise in Dublin and elsewhere.

Gregor argued that free speech has to be protected except where there was evidence that the group concerned is fascist (and so represents a physical threat). The ICP may be obnoxious racists, and we should protest outside any meetings they hold, but no one is even claiming they are fascists.

The discussion concentrated on this second point with a wide range of views expressed from the floor. There was general agreement that fascists might seek to use the ICP as a front group for making contacts. But disagreement over whether this danger was sufficient to apply a 'no platform' policy. Comparisons were also drawn with the protests against David Irving and the actions of Youth Defence.

Building anarchism

The final session was How do we build anarchism in Ireland today? Iain McKay, one of the principle authors of the Anarchist FAQ, opened this session by showing why anarchism is essential for freedom. Joey from the Belfast local of the Syndicalist Solidarity Federation outlined the politics of the SSN and said they disagreed with the WSM on the question of whether or not it is possible to build a permanently revolutionary union. They would also advise workers in the fast food industry to build their own union if they were not keen on joining an existing union. Aileen O'Carroll for the WSM concentrated on the need for people to not simply consume anarchist ideas but to become active in building anarchism in Ireland.


Some of the points made in the discussion included

  • We should tie into the memory of traditional Irish communal agricultural practises
  • ILDA (a train drivers union, which fought and lost a long and bitter recognition dispute last summer) was well organised, had experienced members and had industrial muscle. Seeing as they were defeated it seemed irresponsible to advocate the formation of new unions by catering workers who lacked their strength.
  • It was important that anarchists joined a trade union if there was one in their workplace. Union involvement was one important way to talk 'real issues' to other people.
  • The anti-bin charges campaign also offered a good way for anarchists to get to know other people near them and start to build self managed struggles
  • Distributing Workers Solidarity offered a good way of promoting anarchism and we'd like more people to do this.


Most people seemed to come out of the gathering with a very positive impression of it and there was a real buzz in the pub afterwards. As always with these sort of gatherings a lot of the most important work happens in smaller conversations between people in the breaks between meetings and over a drink afterwards. I certainly had the impression that a lot of people gained from the gathering in this way and over the next while the new contacts people were making will result in more anarchist activity.

It's certainly true that all the WSM members felt that the hard work and expense of organising 'Ideas and Action' 2001 had turned out to be very worthwhile. Everyone felt the day had gone a lot better then what they had hoped for. We hope it results in many more people distributing Workers Solidarity and so helping to build anarchism in Ireland. We also hope that some of these people may become members in the next months so that next years meeting can be even bigger.

The program for Ideas and Action 2001

First published on WSM site April 2nd 2001

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


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