The Making Of An Anarchist In Portlaoise Prison (13)

Joe C concludes his article on his journey to anarchism resulting from his imprisonment in Portlaoise.

While in Portlaoise I didn't read half as many books on Anarchism as I did on Marxism, but the few I did read helped to shape my mind towards bringing me closer to anarchism.

Before reading anything by anarchists I thought Anarchism was an individualist philosophy where no one would be accountable to anyone. My understanding of what I thought what Anarchism is was from Lenin, Trotsky, Marx, Engels and other Marxists.

So when I first read writing by an anarchist I was surprised to read that there is a lot more to Anarchism than I’d previously thought. I first read an introduction to Anarchism (I think it was by Wayne Price). Contrary to what I had thought, anarchists do believe in organizing and having organizations and movements. Anarchists emphasise organizing in a non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian and democratic way.

This stuck out at me as I’d seen how other groups organize, which was a hierarchical way, tasks being fed down from above, people being given positions from above.

Republicans are like Leninists in how they organize. By this I mean they organize in the Leninist "vanguardist" way. Vanguardist Leninists set out wanting to lead people; they think the people aren't "class conscious" enough or don't understand economics, social structures, etc, enough. Leninists see themselves as being educated in all the different revolutionary theory and as being "class conscious" enough to wage struggle, and wage the struggle in the correct way. They believe they have the right answers on how to approach the struggle and what tactics to use (it's generally never up for discussion. And any talk to counter their view is shouted down.) The "vanguardist" movement or party sees itself as being the saviour of the people, they are the movement truly fit to lead the people to liberation.

Since they see themselves as having the right answers they also see themselves as the one true force to bring the people to liberation. The movement wants to be the people's voice and speak for them (because of this they actually take the people's voice from them).

Because of the structures of the groups and parties, there is a leadership, a top table. The people that sit on the leadership table are seen as being the most educated, experienced, and class conscious of the whole membership of the group or party. To be on this table you will have to be a part of the elite. This generally means having spent many years in the movement and/or having prestige. As a result, other members of the group or party assume these older members have far better knowledge on the struggle and how to approach it. In essence it is the leaders of the movement who become the voice of the movement. All this can lead to the leaders making decisions (whether big or small) for the movement without the input of the membership. This is the nature of elitist, authoritarian and vanguardist methods of organizing.

Although Communists and Republicans can differ greatly on ideology, their ways of organizing can be similar. For example, Gerry Adams’ rise to power within the Republican Movement can be described as being Stalinist. He understood the structure and the ways to organize within the movement. Through political maneuvers within the movement he climbed his way up the ladder. On his way up the ladder he brought his allies with him. Eventually, from years of power struggles within the movement with the other different power factions, Gerry Adams and his clique gained dominance of the leadership positions in the movement. And, because of this (whether one agrees or not), his power clique could bring the movement down the road they saw as what best suited the struggle for national liberation.

Later I read about Bakunin and his critique of Marxism and how Marx's theories on socialism and how to create it, if it ever came into fruition, would be a bureaucratic nightmare and how the Marxists would become the rulers. This sounded familiar to me from reading Trotsky's writings on the Soviet Union and Stalinism. Also Mao had similar arguments in writings about the Soviet Union under Khrushchev.

When I read Trotsky's and Mao’s critiques I felt there was a connection between what they were saying. Trotsky wrote about the party bureaucracy that hijacked the revolution. Trotsky's solution on how to get rid of this would be by creating actual soviets that were organised by the workers and by having a multi-party system instead of the one party dictatorship. What Mao wrote about was how the communist party in the USSR had turned into the ruling class exploiting the Russian workers and how the Chinese Communist Party was starting to do this too.

From reading Trotsky's and Mao’s critiques I still felt there were parts missing. When I read of Bakunin and what his critiques were of Marxism, which he wrote decades before the creation of the USSR, it got me thinking more about organizing and tactics used in struggles, and how these can determine what the outcome of the struggle might be.

The Marxists/Leninists want to take state power and transform the state into a workers’ state. What happened in reality was that Marxist/Leninists took state power in Russia and instead of giving power over to the people they placed themselves in charge of the state.

The party saw itself as the vanguard of the workers’ revolution. Because of this the party thought it would be better for the revolution if they took the power of the state and organized and ran it for the workers because the party saw itself as being way more conscious of the tasks needed to be carried out in order to create socialism in Russia than the workers.

And it would make decisions for the people on how best to reorganize society. The people didn't really have a say. The Marxists/Leninists being in charge of the state said what was ok and wasn't ok to say or do. Anyone who objected ran the risk of being jailed, put in a labor camp, or executed.

This reflects on how Marxists/Leninists organise in groups and parties for struggle. The people in leadership positions make decisions for the group or party. The groups and parties that organize in this way go into other organizations such as trade unions or community groups and try to take them over (in lots of cases they do). They use these tactics because they think the struggle needs to be centralized with them being the leaders of the struggle. Positions that are gained in trade unions or community groups by these groups are manipulated to try to push these groups in a direction they see as being best. And likewise they try to get their party members into as many positions as possible in these other organizations and groups in order that they can better influence the decision making with these groups and organizations.

From my reading and studying, what I got at this point was Republicanism was pointless without socialism. There would be no point at all in having a Republic as there would still be capitalism, exploitation and oppression. In order to get rid of this and have a truly free Ireland it would need to be a socialist society. And, likewise, Socialism without freedom is pointless. There is no point trying to build a socialist future if it's not the people building it themselves and the faith of society left in the hands of some “revolutionary party” or “revolutionary movement”.

Also what I got was that there needs to be a deeper look into tactics, ways of organizing and strategies; and that armed struggle was not the main tactic, there are many other forms of struggle.

I thought a lot about what Ireland would look like if one of the republican groups ever got into power. What I could imagine I didn't like. A question I asked myself a few times was how can you make a government accountable (no matter how revolutionary or well intentioned the government)?

When I was released, the water charges struggle was just beginning. I attended demonstrations and protests in Edenmore and Coolock. These were held in housing estates and outside Garda stations (after people got arrested). What I noticed at these events was that it was always the politically aligned members of groups that were doing the talking. They would stand in front of the crowds speaking, preaching to the people.

This brought me back to what I was reading about the Marxists wanting to lead the people and how the Anarchists wrote about how the people don't need party leaders: they can lead themselves.

The people speaking were from different groups and parties. There were Socialists and there were Republicans. What made these groups think they had the right answers? Why were they doing the speaking and why wasn't it the people at the demonstrations and protests doing the speaking instead? After all, the reason they are out on the streets affects them the most.

This got me thinking more about how groups and parties organize, and how the ones I was involved with in the past organised. I knew shady deals and decisions get made for "the greater good of the party" without the consent of the membership. It made me distrust leaderships. No one person or group of people can have the right answers all the time.

It properly clicked in my head that it's the people that have to organise themselves for their own struggles. How can a person, group or party look after your interests any better than you can yourself?

From this point I am an Anarchist, and what brought me to this point influenced me to be an Anarchist.


  1. Interesting read, enjoyed that even though I'm from the other political viewpoint.

    Hope Joe's life takes a turn for the better too.


  2. Is there anymore to this highly educational book?

  3. That's as much as we have on it Kevin