Thinking about anarchism


Irish anarchists voted NO in the anti-abortion referendum. Not only members of the Workers Solidarity Movement, but most other Irish anarchists were out in the weeks beforehand putting up posters, delivering leaflets, raising funds, organising meetings and convincing their neighbours, friends and family to also vote NO.

Of course we don't accept the conclusions of the referendum as final. We still fight for a woman's right to control her fertility up to and including free, safe abortion on demand. Such things are democratic rights in themselves, something no majority should have a veto over.

But, I hear somebody say, don't anarchists have an objection to voting? Anarchists have no problem voting. We vote to elect shop stewards in our workplaces, we vote for a secretary in our local residents associations, we vote for suggestions we support in our organisations. The process of finding out how many and how few people want to do something is essential - unless we want to leave all the decisions that will effect us to a few leaders or bosses.

So why do we not take part in parliamentary elections? Anarchism is real democracy. Central to our politics is the idea that everyone effected by a decision should have their say in making that decision. Anarchists have always opposed participation in elections, which are about choosing rulers rather than ending the division into rulers and ruled.

Obviously it is better to live in a parliamentary democracy rather than a dictatorship. Even the most flawed democracies are forced to concede rights that dictatorships do not, such as some independence for trade unions, a limited right to organise, and a certain amount of free speech.

Anarchists will always be to the forefront in defending those basic democratic rights, they are good things to have and they give us some opportunity to organise and explain the anarchist vision of how society could be. But we do not confuse democratic values with choosing which gang of rulers will run our lives for the next four or five years.

The real purpose of parliament is not to ensure the country is run according to the wishes of all the people, cherishing all their views equally. Parliament instead provides a democratic facade beyond which the real business of managing capitalism goes on.

The parliamentary process involves most of the working class relying on a few representatives to enter parliament and do battle on their behalf. Their main involvement is voting every few years, and perhaps canvassing and supporting the party through paper sales or whatever.

Anarchists do not believe any real socialist/anarchist society can come about through the good actions of just a few individuals. From the beginnings of the anarchist movement over 130 years ago, we have argued that the liberation of the working class can only be achieved through the action of the working class. The process of bringing about an anarchist society will either be carried through by the mass of the workers or it will not happen.

This idea is obviously the complete opposite to the parliamentary idea. We do not seek a few leaders, good, bad or indifferent to sort out the mess that is capitalism. Indeed we argue constantly against any ideas that make it seem such elites are necessary.

Even the best intentioned individual who gets into a position of power finds a divergence of interests with those she/he represents. This is as much true of revolutionaries and union bosses as it is of TDs and ministers.

If you don't want to live in a society where a small number of bosses and politicians make all the major decisions that effect the rest of us, why would you take part in an election to choose those very same rulers? The anarchist alternative is about real democracy, those effected by a decision make that decision, locally, nationally, internationally. And the means we use must be consistent with our goals - that's why we won't be voting for any of them in May.

Alan MacSimóin

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This edition is No69 published in March 2002

Workers Solidarty 69 cover