Occupy Belfast

Today The Pensive Quill features a talk by guest writer Sean Matthews. The talk was given on 15/11/11 at Belfast Occupy Camp Teach-Ins and it was on the topic of 'Reform vs Revolution - What type of Change do we want and how do we get there?

There’s a lot to be angry about. On the one hand mass unemployment, cut backs and pay cuts, we have death and destruction on a grand scale. On the other, the crushing bore¬dom and alienation of everyday life. All of these various horrors are tied together, different faces of a single system. It exploits and exaggerates every tiny little difference between us from sexism to racism, making us compete for scraps and hate each other as we fight while a tiny minority enjoys all the benefits. This system is global capitalism backed by the armed force of the state, a pattern of economic and political exploitation that reaches into every aspect of our lives. Class oppression is not simply a small cabal of the ultra-rich in Wall Street or Washington or London, it's in every workplace, every police station, every dole queue, every courtroom, every prison and every territory occupied by Western militaries, and can only be sensibly understood as such.

It is worth reminding ourselves what type of society we live in. We live in a class system where we the majority, the working class, are exploited by a minority, the ruling class. The ruling class are the people who own or control the places where we work. They make the decisions about what kinds of products the factories make or what kinds of services are provided, and they make the decisions about how this work is organised. All the rest of us are forced to work in these places in order to get the money that they need to live or rely on peanuts from the state. We, the working class, build and provide everything society needs to function. They, the ruling class, suck profit out of our work. We are the body of society; they are parasites sucking us dry.

We are all here at Occupy Belfast because we want to see change. What we want differs: some want new regulations on the financial sector and a so-called a return to ethical capitalism, others want to change taxes or the minimum wage, while others like myself believe in uprooting the root cause of all our problems. Regardless of which of these boxes you fit in, if you fit in any of them at all, we all want change. The question we need to ask ourselves is how do we channel this anger and disillusionment towards building an effective mass movement that will shake the foundations of this rotten status-quo, what tools do we use and what change do we really want? How can we transform this occupy movement to something that doesn’t just question politicians but replaces them?

For too long we have relied on empty promises from trade union officials and politicians every few years that they can’t or have no intention on delivering, from marching peacefully A-B in our millions to stop the war in Iraq, to signing petitions all to no avail, harmless and no threat to the powers at be. In the meantime we have political parties offering a blank cheque every four years. They say they are fighting for your rights and your interests, but when their only central aim is to build for their own interests and election campaigns. We need to start thinking outside the box imposed on us by the state as we will go nowhere!

For anarchists, direct action in concrete workplace and community struggles is the key to improving our lives in the here and now and building confidence.  This takes in a variety of areas including strike action, go-slows, mass civil-disobedience to general strike. Our ruling class never concede anything without some form of mass resistance. The mass non-payment campaign against Thatchers Poll Tax in the early 90s to struggle against water and bin charges here and in the south to a wave of general strikes and militant demonstrations across Europe such as Greece and recent Arab Spring demonstrates working class power of organisation.

More importantly, for anarchists direct action and self-management is an essential preparation for the free socialist society that we strive to create. In Organise! Pamphlet on Direct Action:

Through engaging in direct action, even when we made mistakes, we have the opportunity to learn from experience that there is no need to leave things to ‘experts’ or professional politicians. We should have learned by now that the parliamentary path offers us nothing but disempowerment, betrayal and broken promises, and results in a pervading sense of powerlessness. And yet we are far from powerless and throughout history we have shown this.
Direct action teaches us to control our own struggles while building a culture of resistance that links with other workers in struggles. Solidarity and mutual aid find real expression and as our confidence grows so too does our ability to change the world. It is needed now more than ever, and we also need a campaign which opposes all cuts and fees, which is controlled by its members & participants, which is ready & willing to promote direct action and is willing to fight. Such a campaign must be geared towards escalating the struggle to the point of a general strike against austerity – anything else is likely to fail, and we cannot afford to fail.(1)

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the global anarchist movement has awakened from its long slumber. In Ireland anarchist ideas and methods of organising are gaining a wider acceptance than ever before. However, many people still associate anarchism with violence, destruction, and chaos.(2) This concept of anarchism is reinforced by the corporate media, and those that have an interest in discrediting the anarchist movement. Needless to say this idea of anarchism bears no correlation with the society we are trying to create, or our struggle to achieve it.

Anarchism was born in the crucible of class struggle and wishes to replace the economic system in which a minority live off the labour of others, with a system in which the workers, mental and manual, own and control the wealth of society. This would allow people to decide what it is that they need. This democratically planned production would be orientated towards satisfying people's needs rather than the insatiable greed of a minority -libertarian communism.

However anarchists feel that this control over the economy cannot be exercised through a centralised government. We see freedom as at the very heart of socialism, and the fight to create it. History, rationality and our own experiences teach us that once given control, a ruling group becomes intoxicated with power and feel that they know what's best for the rest of us. Often they will use their new found power against their perceived enemies, even if they are the people they are supposed to represent. The bitter experiences of Russia, Spain and countless other betrayals throughout history teach us that capitalism and hierarchies cannot be abolished from above. Freedom is not granted by governments or elites; it is won through struggle by workers and other oppressed people.

Instead of appointing "good" bosses and leaders to run society for the rest of us, we want people to directly control all possible aspects of their life.(3) We believe that any interaction between individuals should be under the direct control of the participants which gives radical perspective to the current occupy movement.

The basic democratic structure of our envisaged society is worker and community councils. Here people could come together to discuss how they want the resources of society to be used. These councils would federate together on a national and international basis to plan production for the larger community. The local councils would appoint delegates to the national, regional or international councils. If a delegate overstepped their remit or went against the wishes of the council they would be stripped of their duties. In all cases the decision making power would rest with the community rather than the delegate. However, democracy will not simply decide the allocation of goods. In an anarchist society people would also control the manner in which production takes place and the conditions of their work.

Anarchism does not simply satisfy our basic wants; food, clothes, shelter etc. It offers us dignity, self respect and control over our own lives. It creates the conditions in which people can develop freely and realise their full potential.

Obviously we are nowhere near this idyllic state of affairs. However, anarchists are not utopian dreamers. We recognise that it will be a long, hard struggle until our basic aims are achieved. Rather than sitting back and waiting for capitalism to collapse, or for the revolution to come which it won’t, we believe in organising in the here and now. On a day to day basis anarchists are active participants in workplace and community struggles as well as the fight for gender equality, anti-racist, pro-choice and many other campaigns for a better standard of living and more control over our lives.

Anarchism is then: an analyses of what's wrong with society, a strategy of how to change it, and a vision of a future based on solidarity, equality and freedom.

1) http://organise-ireland.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-is-direct-action.html
3) http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=2006john_flood


  1. Sean,
    Realistically how can thing ever change, when people are more likely to blame their housing, job and economy problems on 'foreign nationals than the actual cause.
    Like whitecollar crime the real rip-offs take place at the top. But for some obscure reason people don't see that, instead the are overly preoccupied with their pennies going to some equally downtrodden person.

  2. Fionnuala,

    I dont think we should generalise, although Im not blind to the fact that there are perceptions and views out in the real world which you have brought up which need to be challenged on an individual and collective level. Not in terms of calling someone as a 'racist' but by actually building a vibrant movement that diminishes the value of such ideas.

    Personally, I think its only through struggles based on concrete campaigns that ideas such as sexism, homophobia and xenophobia are challenged.

    I also would not generalise because as we witnessed on out streets this week millions took to strike action against the cuts and attacks on our standards of living and not 'blaming foreign nationals'.

    Likewise millions across the world from Greece to Chile are taking to the streets on similar issues.

  3. Sean-

    " The crushing boredom and Alienation of evertday life "
    Could never understand why anyone could be bored-there is a big world out there with a big stack of books-plus there are 100s of different causes-there is a cause for everyone-

    " How can we transfer this occupy movement to something that doesn't just Question politicians but replaces them "
    1- become a political party and but all your brilliant ideas before the people [ its going to be hard to get your views onto the media-so a lot of work on the ground has to be done ]
    2-become a dictatorship- but that would involve a lot of fighting and killing to win and to stay won-

  4. Good man Mickeyboy you agree that the psf/dup pact is a dictatorship.good post Sean and interesting.without doubt the capitalist system which was never geared to benefit the working class is a failing cause,the global downturn in the fortunes of the capitalist class is a golden opportunity for workers worldwide to unite and create a new and fairer system which bebefits all the people not just the few.

  5. Headline in todays vatican times aka The Irish News...This isnt your fault.
    In a national address teapot Kenny told the nation "your not responsible for this crisis" what he didnt say was your still going to pay for it. was there ever a better time for the working class to boot the whole bunch of leeches,churchs included out of our lives...

  6. Sean,
    I think we have to start with the real world or else it becomes utopian.
    If ideas and ideals are not challenged at the core or grassroots then they become general as opposed to individual.
    Too be honest it all sounds like a step too far.

  7. Nuala as Mao said "the hardest part of any journey is the first step"

  8. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
    Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu
    Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC)

    or, every idea or thought (journey) begins in the mind.

  9. Fionnuala, I completely agree with ye and is what I was basicallu saying and last like everyone else I live in the real world.

    I also equally believe that we have to tackle to the root cause and to give the analogy of building a house- it has to be built of firm foundations from the grassroots or it will collapse.

    Likwise if any radical change will come about in society it has to be'based on the active mass participation of working class people and cannot be imposed from above- from any so-called 'enlightened' vanguard.

    'Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self -activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.- As we see it! document produced by the British Solidarity group in the 1970s.

  10. Ádh mór libhsa leis Occupy Béal Feirste, considering this update yesterday from a Dublin FB friend. ('The Revolution will not be...'?) "MY APOLOGIES to anyone that turned up at the Dáil for the #OCCUPY the DAIL. Due to 'misinformation', lack of communication, inco-ordination and not enough anger, this event has been deferred. Thanks for the messages of support, the friend requests and the friendship. I will try keep you up to date on further developments. BRING DOWN THIS GOVERNMENT!! - ROLL ON THE REVOLUTION!!"

  11. This is taken from a friend of mine form #occupyphilly

    Anarchism is a political theory that aims to create anarchy, which is "the absence of a master, of a sovereign." In other words, anarchism is a political theory that aims to create a society where individuals freely co-operate together as equals. As such, anarchism opposes all forms of hierarchical control—whether by government laws or by capitalist business practices—as harmful to the individual and their individuality, as well as unnecessary.

    The word "anarchy" is from the Greek prefix an (or a), meaning "not," "the want of," "the absence of," or "the lack of," plus archos, meaning "a ruler," "director," "chief," "person in charge," or "authority." Or, as Peter Kropotkin put it, Anarchy comes from the Greek words meaning "contrary to authority."

    While the Greek words anarchos and anarchia are often taken to mean "having no government" or "being without a government," as can be seen, the strict, original meaning of anarchism was not simply "no government." "An-archy" means "without a ruler," or more generally, "without authority."

    For this reason, rather than being purely anti-government or anti-state, anarchism is primarily a movement against hierarchy. Why? Because hierarchy is the organizational structure that embodies authority. Since the state is the "highest" form of hierarchy, anarchists are, by definition, anti-state; but this is not a sufficient definition of anarchism. This means that real anarchists are opposed to all forms of hierarchical organization or oppression, such as racism, sexism, classism, and environmental destruction.

    Anarchism, then, is simply the theoretical expression of our ability to freely organize ourselves, solve problems, and run society without bosses or politicians. But, it is no abstract philosophy—anarchist ideas are put into practice everyday. Wherever oppressed people stand up for their rights, take action to defend their freedom, practice solidarity and cooperation, fight against oppression, organize themselves without leaders and bosses, or simply enjoy their lives freely with mutual aid and respect for their environment, the spirit of anarchism lives.

    Thus anarchism is both positive and negative, both reactionary and pro-active. It analyses and critiques the problems of current society while at the same time offering a vision of a potential new society—a society that fulfils certain human needs which the current one denies. These needs, at their most basic, are liberty, equality and solidarity.

    In summary, anarchy does not mean chaos nor do anarchists seek to create chaos or disorder. Instead, we wish to create a society based upon individual freedom and voluntary co-operation. In other words, order from the bottom up, not disorder imposed from the top down by authorities. Such a society would be a true anarchy, a society without rulers, where each individual has the privilege and the duty to rule only their own selves.

    In regard to fionnchu - no one said the revolution was going to be easy or organised to your satisfaction :)

    Sean well said - We should attempt a Philly/Belfast hook up we're busy on phase 2 seeing as we where nicely evicted by the friendly forces of oppression that are the PPD.

    Solidarity always