Anarchism And A New Ireland

From the 1916 Societies, an argument for anarchist strategy by Cormac Caulfied, an anarcho-socialist from Monaghan and a member of the Workers Solidarity Movement.

Anarchist socialism as a relevant and organised national tradition in Ireland is a fairly recent phenomenon, originating in the early 1980s with the organisation the Workers Solidarity Movement.

However anarchists share much history in Ireland – north and south – with other strands of Irish radicalism, through the individual efforts of isolated anarchists in campaigns such as ‘People’s Democracy’ or involvement in various community campaigns throughout Ireland over recent decades.

Anarchist theory and practice has much to offer any revolutionary grouping that seeks the material and moral betterment of those living on this island. It offers a grounded strategy which places a unified working class – irrespective of race, sexuality, gender or religion – central to uprooting imperialism and to building a new society based on liberty, equality, and solidarity in that process.

Anarchism, State, Class, Tactics

Our aims must be in line with how we organise and carry ourselves. If we wish to see a democratic, federalist and socialist republic, where the wealth producers of the nation are directly in control of their lives, then in the here and now that new society must be built in the ‘shell of the old’, through directly democratic movements. Connolly’s syndicalist vision of Ireland chimes well with the anarchist project.

Anarchists see the method of organising as linked to the society we strive for. If people are to have direct control over their lives then we must organise in a directly democratic manner. If we organise through a leadership based on power and privilege, in a hierarchical and centralised structure, then the political, economic and social organisations of the future will reflect in turn the same – with all of their corrupting influences entrenching a new ruling class over the people and contrary to the principles of freedom, equality and solidarity.

In the same vein, anarchists favour the intelligent use of direct action – that being people acting directly to achieve their goals, rather than asking or waiting for others to do it for them. Not only is this highly effective, it empowers people to greater confidence and militancy.

Anarchists also orientate towards mass engagement in struggle – to as wide a participation as possible in direct action. This could be a general strike or a direct strike against the state in whatever form is necessary, the key thing being that there is mass engagement in actions to further the interests of struggle, aimed towards toppling the state/capitalist system and establishing a new socialist society in its stead. For the anarchist, ‘socialism can be created only by the conscious action of the working classes’.

Anarchists argue against movements built on central leaderships, where the initiative and decision-making power is taken away from the base. In the place of centralised movements, they advance mass, directly democratic, participatory organisations that over time will become aware of their own power and be able in turn to challenge the hegemony of the state. The role of the anarchist political organisation is to create a ‘leadership’, or popularity, of ideas and methods, rather than an actual leadership of militants who direct the struggle.

This is not ‘starry-eyed idealism’ born of abstract democratic principles but is grounded in the reality leaderships cannot be trusted with power over the movement. Elitist and centralised leaderships will, and have, cast aside principle to gain a foothold in the structures they sought to destroy. History is littered with numerous examples here, from the state capitalist tyrannies of the USSR, China and Cuba, to anti-colonial parties which surrendered to neoliberalism, like the ANC, to modern social democratic parties like SYRIZA – all of whom show that the state route is not the way to proceed.

Rejecting the notion of ‘seizing state power’, whether through electoral or other means, is fundamental to anarchist methods. We see the state and capitalist system as unable to fulfill the needs of the working class, no matter how sincere be the revolutionary upon entering the arena of electoral politics. Their aims will eventually be whittled down to mere reforms – not the destruction of imperialism and capitalism as originally the case at the outset.

Anarchists do not define their radicalism through the use of arms, though they accept that gains won in the struggle must be defended through the people in arms. They argue that the politics and orientation of radical movements and organisations must come first.

Through their explicit orientation towards the world’s working class, as opposed to a combination of the domestic working and business classes (as often found in nationalism), anarchists know it is those who have the most to gain from a revolution who will be the ones to push it through. The ‘middle classes’ are ‘nervous peacemakers’, to quote renowned socialist republican Peadar O’Donnell, while the business class is obviously hostile to the reorganisation of society on the grounds of real equality.

Only by uprooting imperialism and fighting for socialism can the national question be solved. These fights must go hand in hand. Only a social revolution can satisfy the material needs of the working class. For people to risk themselves and be willing to go through a tumultuous period of revolutionary transformation there must be the promise of material and moral betterment at its end.

Anarchism, Freedom and Decentralised Democracy

‘The Irish people will only be free, when they own everything from the plough to the stars’ – James Connolly

Anarchists do not define freedom by the ability to vote in elections or to open a business (and therefore economically exploit your kin) but instead view true freedom as something material and accessible to working people. This is a positive form of freedom. Freedom to anarchists means that individuals and communities can govern themselves without outside interference, unless the principle of equality is violated. It’s not much use to be ‘free’ if you have no free time or money to do what you want. And so we should have roughly equal access to resources as housing, food, clothing, medicine and education. Society can help the individual to be more free by supporting each other’s development.

While no exact blueprint can be constructed of a future society, as many obstacles and problems are still to be faced and overcome, anarchists believe in the decentralised federalist principle. Some republicans have come to a similar position through the Saol and Éire Nua proposals. However anarchists go further, arguing that only through the complete destruction of centralised state power can freedom be secured.

All of society, from the workplace to the community, should be organised along directly democratic lines which federate outwards and upwards. From small collectives at the base, people will vote-in directly recallable delegates to convey the wishes of the base to higher geographical and economic levels. Through a process of consensus and majority voting, decisions will be made about community life, production and distribution. Localities will federate freely with others, in broad confederations tasked with administering the region, with final decision-making power remaining ultimately at the base.

Current models are the Zapatista territories in Chiapas, Mexico, where hundreds of thousands of people live under such a system. Elsewhere, in Rojava, Syria, millions live under a directly democratic federalist system. Historical examples include anarchist Spain in the 1930s, anarchist Ukraine in the 1910s/20s and the Paris Commune of 1871.

Right now our long term aims of a new society are aspirational. For the time being we seek to organise the working class in community campaigns along lines as described above, to hopefully embolden them to demand more from those who rule. This is a prerequisite for the type of militancy and action that must eventually come to pass if the evils of imperialist state capitalism are to be put an end.

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