1.1 The Workers Solidarity Movement is a relatively young organisation, in existence since 1984. As has been pointed out elsewhere we have no native anarchist tradition to draw on nor do we have any base in the working class we can call our own.
1.2 This situation should not daunt us. All organisations, no matter what their aim is, start somewhere. Anarchists have time and time again, in many countries and in the most difficult of circumstances grappled with the problem of building and maintaining a mass working class influence. It isn't easy but it can be done.
1.3 More than anything else we have to be sure about what we are and what our politics are all about - in practice. Likewise we have to be sure in our minds about our role and about what practical next steps have to be taken in building the organisation we want.
1.4 It is important that we do not try to take short cuts of any type. If there is one thing we have plenty of, it is time. We should not fool ourselves into thinking otherwise. We have the time now to make mistakes and to learn from them, just as we also have the time to make small gains without burning ourselves out in the process.
1.5 We have to recognise that right now we are an organisation of only a handful. We have to face that, at this stage we are only a handful. Secondly we have to recognise that our tradition has no historical existence in Ireland, and this means that there are few others to rely on but ourselves. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we know that these times are very hard for building what we are building. Though we may be clear in our politics and make the best effort to further them, even the most moderate of successes will be few and far between for some time.
1.6 If we should conclude anything from this it is that over the next few years we will have to have low expectations (though not unrealistically low ones) while applying ourselves to what we are good at. We should concentrate on our anarchism, with internal education and discussion as well as availing of any public exposure that comes our way. We should beef up our propaganda arms - seeking to increase the frequency and circulation of Workers Solidarity, with more pamphlets and an extensive bookservice. Alongside this strong emphasis on our anarchist ideas we stress the participation of WSM members in everyday political work: trade union work, campaigns and issues that are not just fronts for the "revolutionary left". Areas where self-activity can be generated and small victories won by people themselves should be a priority - as should issues that bring us into contact with new people who may be interested in our ideas.
1.7 Anarchist ideas, as a fighting tradition of the worldwide working class, have a magnificent history. From Russia to China to South America to Mexico to North America and of course to Spain the influence has been huge.
1.8 But if history shows us the great influence of anarchism in the working class, it also shows us its decline and marginalisation in all but a few countries today. Why did this happen?
1.9 It is important to see that revolutionary ideas ebb and flow in their popularity; that truly revolutionary ideas like our own are tied in their fortunes to the fortunes of our class. The working class is only in existence as the class it is now, for a relatively short historical period. In that time it has pushed forward and been pushed back. These changes have sometimes been gradual but at other times they have been condensed into a few years of revolution and counter-revolution. Times that see a ripening of conditions for major world change come (say 1917 to 1922) but if they are lost (as they were) long and deep reaction follows (as in the 1920's and 30's). The normalisation of capitalist relations since World War II has inevitably pushed the working class forward again. The direct experience of workers and their conflict with ideas that constantly lead them into unnecessary defeat means that reformism of either the social democratic or Stalinist variety has come under attack. On the world stage even greater changes have occurred -the mass mobilisations that destroyed the Eastern European Stalinist regimes have all played their part in exposing the myth of Russian "socialism".
More recently we have seen new struggles break out against neo-liberal policies around the world. The forces drawn into these struggles are more open to revolutionary anarchist ideas than has been the case for many decades.
1.10 Such is part of the reason for anarchism's popularity, decline and marginalisation from the working class and now since the 1960's a renewed interest and re-emergence of our ideas around the world. Anarchist groups have appeared in countries where hitherto no tradition had existed. Organisations have been revamped. The growing anarchist "movement" is tremendously important. Though there are huge problems - the most important aspect we should recognise is the process that this re-emergence is part of.
1.11 The WSM stands as part of this new growth in anarchism. We are small and with hardly any working class base. So are many anarchist organisations the world over, but the conditions for this to be overcome are better now that they have been for a long time.
1.12 It is important that we have a proper appraisal of the past, of the ups and downs in anarchist history and recognise the close association between it and the ups and downs of the ideas of mass working class self-activity for social change. If we do so we can see the reason for anarchism's present marginalisation. Also we will not be too taken aback by our present small numbers. Then we have a good chance of not falling into the trap of pretending we are bigger and capable of more than we are right now. To fall into that trap would be to substitute wishful thinking for reality; to ignore the wider social and economic conditions that are real determinants of growth for revolutionary ideas and organisation. There is no place for such a tendency in the WSM. It is a recipe for sectism and irrelevance.
1.13 When the WSM was formed we understood that the period we were living through was one of "downturn". This has been proven correct, and it is clearly still the case. It is a period of low levels of confidence among workers, of low levels of activity in the class struggle. Where struggles break out they are more often than not of a defensive nature. It was important that we understood this. If we had not we could easily have disappeared into a "cul de sac" of looking for "alternatives" and imaginary " new areas of struggle". This in turn would have led to demoralisation. This is what did happen to those on the left who got caught up in republicanism "left turns", community politics and counter-cultural lifestylism. All these were attempts to substitute wishful thinking for reality.
1.14 It is important to realise what the overthrow of the Stalinist regimes has meant. Stalinism is dead as a serious political force within the working class movement. The so-called "existing socialism" of pre-1989 Eastern Europe is no longer seen as a model. The whole Bolshevik/Leninist tradition has been called into question by many of its former supporters. Because they believed Stalinism to be a form of socialism (even if a 'deformed' one), they saw in its defeat a sign that capitalism was triumphant, possibly invincible. Hence their support for 'market socialism' and denial of the possibility of revolutionary change. These disillusioned ex-Stalinists are disappearing or merging into 'modernised' social democracy.
The collapse of Stalinism, coming during a period of low levels of class struggle, has fueled the drive to declare socialism a 'failed idea'. This has had a major effect on those people who looked - in however general a way - towards Stalinism and social democracy, towards the state as a mechanism for bringing about social change. It has also disoriented much of the Trotskyist movement. All of this has contributed to the sense of defeatism which pervades much of the 'left'.
1.15 We have seen real defeats grow in number in the past few years. The redundancies in the previously secure state and semi-state sectors, the erosion of shopfloor organisation, the lowering of expectations to such a degree that CE schemes are regarded as a good thing, and so on. But this has not turned us into defeatists. We know that the possibility of revolutionary change will occur. It will not occur in the near future but the nature of capitalism makes it certain that the possibility will arise at some stage. Defeats will outnumber victories until workers assert themselves at grassroots level in the unions and in all areas of struggle. At the moment very few have the confidence to do this. All over the world the ruling class are on the offensive against the working class. They want increased control and lower wage costs. This translates into casualisation, part-time working, contracting out, cutting taxes on profits, reducing welfare entitlements. In short, they want a world where workers have few expectations, and work on the bosses terms or not at all. The partial upturn in the economy has given sections of the working class increased confidence to go on the offensive but this is still far from being a generalised movement. We must take whatever opportunities arise for rebuilding confidence but must also be careful not to substitute our wishes for the real situation confronting us on a daily basis.
Many of the gains of the past are under attack, from trade union organisation to social spending, from job security to workers' legal rights. Market forces are the dominant factor. We have to ask - how can this change and under what conditions will there be an "upturn" in the class struggle?
1.16 We cannot predict the future with any precision but we can learn a few lessons from the past.
* Even a minor pick up in the economy can revive confidence and see a rebuilding of rank & file organisation. The "mini-boom" does not have to be huge. The economic recovery here in the late 1960's after decades of recession and emigration, saw us leap to the top of the international strike league.
* Sometimes the bosses have to push beyond what workers will accept. So far the bosses have not been able to push wages (throughout the European economy as a whole) down to a level that can guarantee them a revival of massive profits. They are pushing us back slowly but when they push too hard they have often met with resistance. Despite the dominance of ideas which promote (or at least accept) the 'market forces' argument within both the working class and society generally, there has been resistance. The most dramatic was the Zapatista uprising in Mexico. At home we saw thousands of poorly paid and part-time workers in Dunnes Stores fight back against the rule of market forces in their workplaces. Wherever there is oppression there will be resistance. The bosses risk an explosion of anger as they push for more and more cuts in our standard of living.
* Sometimes it is a political crisis that sparks things off, e.g.. Spain in 1936. At home we saw the creation of unofficial shop stewards committees that were able to call for (limited) strike action in several towns when the union leaders condemned the 1981 H-block campaign.
While understanding the above, we must also understand that in order to sustain resistance and spread it; and move from the defensive to the offensive the working class needs a goal of its own. Only with a vision of a new society can we combat the 'logic' of authoritarianism and the market economy.
There is no room for major economic concession and reform in the modern capitalism of today. Recession and crisis leave the ruling class less room for manoeuvre than they had twenty years ago. Instead they are moving towards a division of the major industrial countries into three blocs (centred on the EU, NAFTA and a Japan/Australia axis). Trade rivalries between these will increase. As in the past, trade wars could become military wars as competing blocs fight for resources and markets. Internationally, the largest movements of rebellion against the 'logic' of capitalism has been expressed in reactionary forms: religious fundamentalism and the growth of the far right. All of this permits us to say that the long-term choice for humanity is between anarchism and barbarism
1.17 We don't know the exact conditions under which the tide will turn. But we are confident that it will turn. And when workers begin to move into action again there will be a lot of stored up anger to be brought out.
2.1 Having stated our assessment of the times we are living in, we also have to look at the condition of the WSM. We have done a lot that we can be very proud of but we have also made bad mistakes in the few years after our formation and it is these we had to identify. Though serious errors occurred we survived and gained a deeper and clearer understanding of our politics. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as we learn from them and are better prepared in the future.
2.2 We are encouraged by the destruction of Stalinism and the resultant increase in interest in anarchism. Having said this we must recognise our situation in Ireland today and accept that it is very hard to build what we are building in times like these. We were able to hold the WSM together with its libertarian socialist politics intact. Our level of activity must be compatible with the numbers we have and must ensure that the discussion of our ideas and tradition is not neglected.
2.3 In the 1984-1987 period we had presumed that anyone who joined the WSM had a clear understanding of anarchism, of its methods and its values. So we underestimated the importance of education about anarchism and concentrated almost exclusively on discussion of strategy and tactics. Branch meetings should always include a lead off and discussion on some relevant topic. We can never learn too much and it is important training in communicating ideas. It is left to branches to decide on how many meetings they wish to advertise to non-members.
2.4 We aim to build an organisation of workers and working class people around the ideas of anarchism. In doing this we realise that there is an intrinsic link between what we do now and whether we will achieve our anarchist goal. We have to be clear in our minds that our ideas will only grow in so much as they are based on the direct day to day needs and struggles of our class. Our orientation around this, especially in the next while, is crucial. it will show that we have learnt from the past and are forging an identity separate from the other organisations on the left.
2.5 It was a feature of the WSM in that early period that as the "downturn" got worse some people felt they had to do more and more. This was absolutely wrong. We should not feel that a tiny number of people have to be "here there and everywhere". We are not missionaries who have come to save the masses. Rather we recognise that workers will fight and it is through struggle that they become open to revolutionary ideas and not through abstract proselytising.
2.6 For the next while the organisation will have to rely on individuals to a great degree if it is to survive. This is not a good thing but it is our reality. We have to avoid burdening anyone to a level they can't cope with. We have to keep this in mind and guard against it - things have a habit of running away with themselves leaving the whole organisation over-committed. Also as libertarians we see the potential danger to individuals and to the organisation of building in a self-sacrificing and evangelical manner. We ask that no member do more than he/she feels capable of. The WSM should not be the be-all and end-all of members lives. If such ideas were to gain a foothold within the organisation it could be a recipe for authoritarianism.
2.7 At present we are primarily a propaganda organisation for libertarian socialist/anarchist ideas. Though it is our aim to change this by stepping up the involvement of the WSM (as an organisation) in the day-to-day struggles of our class, we recognise this will be a slow process. Furthermore we recognise that the period ahead will be hard for the organisation and not generally conducive to this process. We should expect growth in numbers and influence, but at the other side of this recession we may be only slightly larger.
2.8 The real test of how much we have learnt from recent events will be the extent to which the WSM puts into practice its claim to be "different from all the rest". Our policies are different, our methods are different.
2.9 i) In the last 15 years the outline of the left and left politics has altered substantially. Elsewhere we have analysed that this re-arrangement is being driven by a number of forces a) the collapse of Stalinism b) the prolonged attack by right-wing forces and market driven politics that began in earnest in the late 70s, and c) the collapse of social democracy as a movement as it achieved power in a host of countries in the 80s and 90s.
ii) The combined effect of all this has been a sharp reduction in the size of the left as well as a crisis of confidence within it as a movement. The 'left' now is quite different to that which existed in the late 70s and early 80s - in terms of size but also capability and confidence.
iii) Organisations such as our own - and the SP and the SWP - were disregarded in the past, yet increasingly we are all finding ourselves filling a real vacuum that exists. This situation has been evident for some time, and was clearly visible in some of more recent campaigns that have been fought - in the Water Charges and over Abortion Rights.
iv) We have noted elsewhere that there are limitations to what we ourselves can do in this situation - given our size and our meagre resources. Moreover, from our point at least, the central issue still revolves around working-class militancy and organisation, all of which remain very weak despite some promising signs.
v) The main organisation on the far left are now, ourselves, the SP and the SWP. While we are, numerically, the smallest, we are separated by a large chasm from the other two in terms of core politics. Over the next period of activity we must do everything we can to make these differences clear within the campaigns and work we do. Our opposition to Trotskyism (and what it stand for in terms of analysis and solutions), as well as our principled objection to both the SWP's and SP's electoralist strategy is something we should keep on the agenda.
vi) This should not be a recipe for sectarianism or not working with these organisations in practice. On the contrary, the real differences between anarchism and Leninism that are likely to emerge and become important in the future are far more likely to be based on day-to-day Îreal issuesÌ rather than issue of 'theory' - as was often in the case in the past.
vii) This is a test for us in as much as it is for them. But in order to emphasis our difference, and to make the choice sharper, we must make our libertarian character clearer in our publications and leaflets, as well as our practice. Issues where our differences are easily described - around standing for the Dail for example - are one thing, but we must also look to draw out our differences on other issues - for instance, the current campaigns on anti-racism is already revealing tensions. In practice, within the WSM, our libertarian politics needs to be sharper still in the next period. If we are able to do this we stand to win more in both the short and long term.
2.10 We have to constantly remind ourselves that at present we are tiny and have no real base in any section of the class. Then we can properly accept that we have been able to explain and gain respect for anarchist ideas among a small layer of trade union militants and other activists. We have demonstrated there is an audience for our ideas. Our work in campaigns and struggles have stood us in good stead. We have established a foundation upon which we can continue and build more support for anarchism.
2.11 We do want to recruit more members - but that is not an end in itself. New members have to be won on a clear understanding of anarchism and of the general orientation and strategy of the WSM. Because of our small size we cannot afford to recruit on the basis of a minimal agreement and then try to raise the person's level of political consciousness. At this stage we can only accept into membership those who are fairly clear about what the WSM stands for, the tradition it springs from and the way it sees social change being achieved.
2.12 We know that when we apply our ideas we will have to work alongside other forces that will have different and more reformist or right wing ideas. Some will be openly hostile to anarchism. It is by forming united fronts around specific issues that we will create an audience for our politics. On a day-to-day level we have to be capable of combining a "hardness" on politics with an ability to initiate action with people who don't share all our ideas. We have to be confident about our politics and be seen as good militants.
We understand that that the process of changing society society depends on mass debate, mass participation, mass politics. We will do what we can to encourage this by relating positively to such developments and by always emphasising the value of participatory rather than representative politics. It is only through involvement in such politics that people gain a sense of their own capabilities, that we break down the passivity and dependence that have allowed elites to take control of popular movements and channel them into yet another episode of changing rulers instead of changing social relations.
2.13 We know there is a need for concrete international links with other anarchist-communist organisations, and we seek to utilise the contacts we do have with other organisation within the ''platformist'' tradition. We should also take note of other class struggle anarchist groupings abroad with whom we certainly do have real differences but also share many things.
We recognise that syndicalism is the largest organised current in anarchism. We locate its major weakness in its failure to develop a systematic political opposition to authoritarian ideas in the broader working class movement, and to recognise the need for the working class to take complete power in a dual-power situation. And it is a very serious weakness - the defeat of the Spanish revolution was the greatest defeat ever suffered by our movement. However this must not blind us to the positive aspects of syndicalism. It is based on the needs and struggles of our class, and it organises in such a way as to break down the division between activists and passive followers, leaders and led.
We certainly see it as inadequate for the task of overthrowing capitalism. We also see it as part of the same movement as ourselves. Elsewhere the WSM has outlined its disagreements with the syndicalists. These relate to its strategy and tactics. As to the kind of society it wishes to create, its orientation to the organised working class, and its advocacy of direct action - we are in agreement. Accordingly, we wish to maintain and extend our dialogue with unions like the SAC and CGT, and with the affiliates of the IWA.
3.1 Over the last few years we have achieved the initial goals we set for ourselves. We have informed a small layer of activists about anarchism, and gained their respect. We have also given the WSM a more stable base as members learned more about anarchism and its history, gained more experience in struggles and began to put that knowledge into practice in an organised manner. Our next step is to move beyond the 'left' and make contact with new layers of people.
We have to recognise that there are big difficulties facing us. With the collapse of the Stalinist dictatorships, it was not only Stalinism that fell, for many the very idea of an alternative - any alternative - to the present system also fell. The 'old left' is collapsing. The decline of authoritarian 'socialism' is a good thing but in the short to medium term it will present us with a problem. In the past social democracy sand Stalinism threw up large movements from which the best militants moved on to anarchism.
Today the task of interesting people in the very idea of an alternative will fall to a much greater degree to people like ourselves. This is a problem because, with our present small numbers, there is a limit to how much we can achieve in any given period. We are confident that support for anarchism will grow but we are also aware of the reality we face at present.
3.2 We must do all we can to spread knowledge of and support for anarchism. This can never be downplayed in importance. Our small size stops currently us being an 'agitational' organisation (i.e. bringing a few ideas to many people as an introduction to our wider politics). We can, however, bring many ideas to a few people - and that is our primary task at this stage.
***Workers Solidarity will continue to be a paper whose primary purpose is to bring our politics to people who have have had little or no contact with the 'left'. As such it will continue to carry features on anarchism, in-depth analysis of strikes and campaigns, world anarchist news, "thinking about anarchism", etc.
Workers Solidarity is our public voice. Its brief is to explain anarchism, make it relevant to people's immediate concerns, make suggestions for taking struggles forward, let others know of examples of self-activity, analyse campaigns. It is very important, a vital part of our activity.
***Workers Solidarity should continue to be sold at union meetings, political meetings, protests and bookshops. Each member should also try to develop personal contacts who will buy Workers Solidarity regularly from them. These contacts can also be offered pamphlets, invited to public meetings and events, and encouraged to find out more about anarchism.
***Red & Black Revolution is our magazine of debate and discussion which takes up issues of interest to anarchist-cummunists and others wishing for a more detailed knowledge of our views. As well as providing explanations of our views and of events in Ireland and abroad, it will also serve as a forum for debate.
***The contents of Workers Solidarity and Red & Black Revolution should continue to be discussed from time to time at branch meetings. (as should the Internal Bulletin).
***We want to produce a wide range of pamphlets. These are important in widening the interest and appeal of our ideas. We should take up modern issues as well as uncovering aspects of our history.
***While branch meetings are ordinarily every week, in general we want to steer clear of the situation where branch meetings become the main political activity of members - they are the basic organisation of the WSM, not its reason for existence.
***At least half of our branch meetings should be open to sympathisers where it is felt these people are interested in our anarchist politics or in what we have to say about a particular issue. The main purpose of this meetings is to build up a new layer of sympathisers and potential members.
3.3 Before entering into any activity we must first work out, given our size and other commitments, what we can do. There will sometimes be campaigns with which we fully agree and would love to get involved in. However, given our size we would not be doing either the organisation or the particular campaign any good by over-stretching ourselves. We are under no obligation to get involved in everything progressive that is happening. We have only so much energy, so many members, so much time. Where we take on a project we should ensure that we can give it our full attention and available resources.
Members who attend campaign meetings on behalf of the organisation do so as delegates, reporting back and keeping a written record of who attended meetings, what was decided, political points/issues raised by other political groups, etc. As often as possible we will send two delegates to campaign meetings, one being 'permanent' and the other rotating. This will ensure that everyone can feel part of the campaign and not just a foot soldier for dishing out leaflets, doing stalls or whatever. Where a campaign is ongoing, a discussion on where it is at and the issues likely to come up over the next few weeks will be held at least once a month, preferably at the IB meeting to allow input from outside Dublin.
3.4 As it becomes possible to build branches it will be necessary for experienced members to give a lot of time in the initial months, attending their meetings, giving advice and educationals, helping them with practicalities of political activity. It would be unfair and irresponsible to leave a new branch to 'sink or swim'. None of this precludes people joining the WSM in areas where there is not already a member.
We must ensure that we stay well informed about local community based protests (especially where we have a member/candidate member/contact), and - where resources permit - have a presence where we agree with what is being fought for.
3.5 Where it is practical we should organise public meetings which are well prepared and well publicised. This means extensive postering, contacting sympathisers and other publicity; in addition to well prepared speeches and, where possible, follow-up activities.
3.6 In the workplaces the employers are on the offensive. They want to lower wage costs, increase the authority of management, and weaken grassroots trade union organisation in favour of the top bureaucrats like the leadership of ICTU and SIPTU.
Since 1987 the majority of trade unionists have been conned into supporting 'social partnership' deals through the PNR, PESP, PCW and now Partnership 2000. But we must not forget that one third of trade unionists have consistently rejected these agreements. While most of them have not done so because they have a principled opposition to such 'partnership', it is an indication that they know they are being ripped-off and want a return to a more aggressive style of trade unionism.
Anarchists must work to generate wider solidarity for workers in struggle, both through the official union structures and outside them. Whilst we must not turn our backs on the official structures such as branch committees, trades councils, etc., we also recognise that these bodies are becoming more distanced from the members on the job and are presently incapable of organising much in the way of solidarity action.
In these struggles it is particularly important that the WSM argument is heard, for grassroots democracy and direct action as opposed to the 'broad left' strategy of capturing positions over which there is no effective rank & file control.
The main tasks facing us right now are:
3.7 Youth have not been through as many demoralising experiences as their elders, they have energy & enthusiasm. A movement without youth is doomed to decay. As an organisation which would refuse to segregate youth into a 'junior' section, and which holds to revolutionary and anti-authoritarian ideas, we must seek ways of building up our profile among younger people.
3.8 We need to make growth a major priority. All sympathisers should be contacted before any demonstration we are attending, relevant campaign meeting or public meeting. Sympathisers will be on the agenda of every branch meeting.
3.9 'Our Perspectives' and progress on the implementation of the tasks we have set ourselves will be tabled for discussion at each national meeting.
Updated December 98