If we were to bullet point everything that is wrong is this country we’d fill all 4 pages of this leaflet. From the denial of Bodily Autonomy to Direct Provision racism to the control of our media by one super rich villain we face a system of interconnected elements designed to ensure the rule of the most privileged 0.1% of the population who divide & control the rest of us. And when we look outside this island it only gets worse, we live in a world where oil companies are driving us into climate disaster on the one hand and where European politicians have imposed border controls that have killed over 15,000 people fleeing the war’s our governments created in the middle east.
A lot of people are resisting these policies and fighting for real change. Every now and again a victory is won in one area, although often riven with compromises and incomplete. Winning the Marriage Equality referendum was one such example, forcing the suspension of Water Charges another. But, particularly on the global level, it can feel like an impossible whack-a-mole game as for every victory that is won another 50 bad moles are popping up elsewhere.
Worse still these moles are all just off shoots of a interconnected system of exploitation that the Black feminist writer bell hooks has labelled “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” Thats a complex enough phrase to start with but in reality we’d have to throw in a load more words before we started to get to anything approaching a complete description of what we face, e.g. environmentally destructive, snobby, heteronormative, colonialist/ imperialist, sectarian (in the religious sense), ableist and so it goes on. A lot of these are specialist terms that need explanation because they are not things the state education system informs of us. An understanding of the impact of these should be part of what every school teaches but those who have power in society are hardly going to allow that sort of education for the mass of the population.
We need a movement that in seeking to map the interaction of the exploitations and oppressions that form our bonds also develops the sort of networked struggles that can create a society where the whack-a-mole game ends because all are liberated. The WSM is our contribution to building that movement. We draw on the rich tradition of anarchism as well as a host of other influences to build a movement that values grassroots action and learning over their top down competition for power. We think not only is a better world possible but it is growing right now in our hearts.
Politicians and the media tell us a very simple lie about how we can control the way the country is run. The lie is that if we vote for them at election time they will then do what we want. The reality is that they do what they want and if we work within their laws there is nothing we can do about that.
They tried to do this with the water tax, promising not to introduce them when running for election and then ignoring that once elected. But we stopped them, not we as in any particular group, but we as in the movements that emerged all over the country to blockade water meter installers and spread the message of mass non-payment. They tried hard to break that movement using threats, bribes and Garda repression, they are still trying, but they were still defeated. That shows us that our real power is not at the ballot box but in the streets, organising together.
But why have elections turned out to have so little impact? Even the last election, when a lot of independents and self described radical parties were elected, has translated into nothing in the Dail apart from the occasional TD giving the government a bollocking. We laugh with everyone else when the government fidget in the seats and look uncomfortable but the reality is that while this may be good entertainment it changes nothing.
This isn’t a flaw in the system but how its intended to work. The point is to give us a false sense of control at wide enough intervals so that at each election rather that recognising the system doesn’t work as we want it we instead blame the failure on the lot currently in power and vote instead for a new lot. The result is a political system where the parties in power regularly change hands without anything else changing very much at all. Every now and again a new party appears that initially appears to be less inclined to compromise but as happened with the Workers Party and the Green Party here and with Syriza in Greece they are quickly house trained to play the same game as everyone else.
The water charges movement has shown we can force change though massive and widespread organisation and that such organisation doesn’t even have to happen under a single banner. It’s not a question of getting behind a particular party. The realisation we need to make is that the same methods can be used to run the country and indeed the world.
Rather than trying to find the right leader or party who we can really trust we need to build assemblies in every community and workplace that take the running of these into the hands of the people living or working there. Alongside this we need to develop effective ways of co-ordinating these assemblies and of making decisions at the level of districts, cities, the island and indeed the planet.
The political movement we need to build is not a party that joins the game and gets into government at some future election but an entirely different system based on assemblies that replaces the old system of councils and parliaments all together. That is the only way we will create the world we want to live in. We have no interest in telling you to vote for us so we can get into power, we want to work with you in building that movement to end their systems of power.
The largest anarchist experiment in building a free society to date took place 80 years ago in Spain. At the time of the Civil War in 1936 as many as two million workers were members of the anarchist trade union, the CNT. For the first year of the civil war they started a profound revolution on the land and also in the cities, in particular Barcelona.
The English writer George Orwell arriving in Barcelona 6 months into that process described how
“The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. .. when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; .. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared.
. .. The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro, the loud-speakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night. And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest thing of all. In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no 'well-dressed' people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls or some variant of militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in this that I did not understand, in some ways I did not not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.”
Orwell was describing Barcelona where the major industries, including transport, had been taken over by the workers and ran through workplace assemblies and mandated, recallable delegates. There were some 3000 enterprises collectivised in this way with each one sending delegates to a council for each industry, e.g. Woodworking. This workers self management improved services, on the trams over the following year that number of passers carried increased from 183,543,516 to 233,557,506. Both electricity and water supply were also rapidly improved.
Elsewhere in the mostly agricultural province of Aragon 430,000 people lived and 70% of these took part in the formation of 400 collectives. This includes almost 150,000 people in 275 villages that had collectivised, each village having an assembly that sent mandated and recallable delegates to one of the 24 regional bodies.
Revolutionary Spain was defeated by fascism, a process that saw brutal repression in which tens of thousands were murdered. But it demonstrated that the power we have when we come together to protest can also be used to create an entirely new society, without politicians or bosses.
Find out more at http://www.wsm.ie/spanish-revolution
Perhaps the bravest experiment in building a free society is that happening right now in Rojava, the area of northern Syria with a large Kurdish population. There a network of thousands of community based assemblies and some 4,000 co-operatives in working to create a society build on principles of gender equality, environmentalism and direct democracy. There is a vicious civil war in Syria and whats called the ‘Rojava Revolution’ has had to defend itself against brutal attacks from ISIS on the one hand and the Turkish state on the other.
The militia unit’s that defend Rojava include the autonomous women’s YPJ while behind the front there is the Asayish, a police force of sorts that aims to give all citizens 6 weeks training as a route to eliminating the need for any distinct police force at all. There current training includes feminist theory and non-violent conflict resolution before they gain access to weapons.
The Rojava revolution is surrounded by enemies, the Turkish state, the Assad regime and ISIS. Much of the region is also undeveloped and the people are divided by religion and ethnic background. If such a transformative revolution can be attempted there is such seemingly impossible conditions how much easier should it be here?
More information http://www.wsm.ie/rojava
The largest and longest running surviving experiment in the sort of society we imagine is found in the state of Chiapas in South East Mexico. Here the indigenous population staged a rebellion in 1994 which after a period of conflict created five regions where most large landowners had fled. New communities were founded on the abandoned large estates and these and the existing communities built a system where community assemblies took over the running of the region, including all education and a lot of healthcare.
Most of the people are very poor, subsistence farmers who have almost no cash income and so almost everything they eat they have grown themselves. Despite this over the last 20 years they have not only survived but constructed their own education system and created co-operatives to aid with economic development through the pooling of the very limited resources they have.
As with the other examples while community assemblies deal with local issues they also have mandated and recallable delegates who meet delegates from the other communities in order to make regional decisions. And as in Rojava the empowerment of women is seen as central to the survival of the revolution because patriarchal structures of power are what sustain and reproduce other power structures in every home.
In the 1990s solidarity activists from Ireland maintained a permanent protection presence on one of the Zapatista communities on occupied land. Although we spent time in Chiapas we were also inspired by the call to ‘Be a Zapatista, wherever you are’. Faced with an Ireland today ran by the likes of Denis O’Brien, Michael O’Leary and their political servants that call remains as relevant as ever.
More information http://www.wsm.ie/zapatista
Many people have come to associate the left with political parties that desire nothing more than power. In the mild form demanding your vote at election time, in extreme forms the horrific abuses of the soviet union and ‘communist’ china. But even in the mild form encountered in Ireland this very often means aloof politicians who see the rest of us as foot soldiers to be controlled and ordered around.
Right back when the socialist movement was born there was an enormous argument between that sort of socialist and another sort, the anarchists. The anarchists argued that seeking power would corrupt the left and that the process would select the worst people amongst our ranks, those most inclined to seek power for themselves whatever the cost. An argument we maintained and which was proved correct throughout both the revolutions of the 20th century in Russia, China and elsewhere and the various left governments that were elected only to become indistinguishable from the rest.
Instead the anarchists argued that the working class, - pretty much anyone who lacks enough wealth to live on, has to organise ourselves through the sort of assemblies and councils we’ve described here. And that its not enough to fight capitalist exploitation but ignore as distractions the many other oppressions that form part of the mechanisms of the rule of the few. All manifestations of oppression have to be opposed in the here and now.
The WSM exists to promote this vision and help organise resistance and transformation today. If this makes sense to you we’d love to work with you, register your interest at www.wsm.ie/user/register
For more on anarchism see http://www.wsm.ie/basic-anarchism
This text was the draft I prepared for what became the WSM leaflet 'We March today to Demand Change - We have a world to Change'