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Belfast: An Anarchist Alternative

category ireland / britain | anarchist movement | news report author Monday May 08, 2006 21:14author by 1st of May - WSM Report this post to the editors

WSM members took part in this years Mayday demonstration in Belfast (as well as those in Dublin and Cork). Below is the text of the leaflet we distributed in Belfast. You can download the PDF version from the link at the end of the file.

WSM banner on Belfat Mayday - picture by Ciarán Ó Brolcháin from
WSM banner on Belfat Mayday - picture by Ciarán Ó Brolcháin from

An Anarchist Alternative

Anarchist ideas link a criticism of capitalist society with a vision of a new way of organising human society. Essentially anarchism is a system of socialism which opposes capitalism as well as the state and hierarchy which impose and reinforce capitalism.

An anarchist society can’t be brought about by a small group of people. Even in Ireland a successful anarchist revolution would require tens of thousands of active anarchists. Anarchists living on every street and active in every workplace. One anarchist organisation active in Ireland is the Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM). This leaflet allows us to tell you a little about what we do and what we stand for.

We believe that an anarchist society can only be created as a result of the class struggle between the vast majority of society (the working class) and the tiny minority that currently rule. A successful revolution will require that anarchist ideas become the leading ideas within the working class. This will not happen spontaneously. Our role is to help popularise and promote these ideas.

A major focus of our activity is our work within the economic organizations of the working class, the trade unions. As members of the working class it is only natural that we should also be members of these mass organizations. Within the unions we fight for democratic structures so that they can be controlled by the rank and file.

We also see it as vital to work in struggles that happen outside the unions and the workplace. These include struggles against particular oppressions, imperialism and indeed the struggles of the working class for a decent place and environment in which to live. Our general approach to these, like our approach to the unions, is to involve ourselves with mass movements and within these movements, in order to promote anarchist methods of organisation involving direct democracy and direct action.

We reject the idea that society can be changed through ‘good people’ gaining control of the power structures. This means we reject both the electoral strategy of the social democratic and green parties and the ‘revolutionary’ strategy of the various left groups. We oppose imperialism but put forward anarchism as an alternative goal to nationalism. We actively oppose all manifestations of prejudice within the workers’ movement and society in general and we work alongside those struggling against racism, sexism, sectarianism and homophobia as a priority. We see the success of a revolution and the successful elimination of these oppressions after the revolution being determined by the building of such struggles in the pre-revolutionary period. The methods of struggle that we promote are a preparation for the running of society along anarchist and communist lines after the revolution.

The WSM has been helping to build an anarchist movement since the 1980’s. For most of this time we have been active in Dublin and Cork where we fought against ‘social partnership’ in the unions and have worked in many strike support groups. For our small numbers we played an important role in the fight for divorce and abortion rights in the republic. In both Dublin and Cork we fought against the imposition of bin tax on the working population and helped defeat the attempt to bring the water tax to Dublin. We also helped organize the major protests against the 2004 EU Summit in Dublin. Currently we are active in the anti-war struggle, in particular in opposition to the republic’s policy of allowing US war and torture planes to use Shannon and Baldonnel airports. Our members are taking part in the solidarity camp at Rossport where Shell are trying to force a potentially dangerous pipeline on the local inhabitants and jailed 5 of the locals for resisting this pipeline. We are also involved in struggles to organise insecure and in particular migrant workers.

As the WSM has grown in recent years we are expanding outside of Dublin and Cork. We are currently organizing a branch in Derry but we also want to make contact with people elsewhere interested in anarchism who may want to work with, or indeed join the WSM. If you’re interested contact us.
By Email:
By Post: PO Box 1528, Dublin 8

If you would like more information write to us for a membership pack or visit our web site at
On the web site you will find articles from our free paper Workers Solidarity and our magazine Red and Black Revolution as well as an archive of thousands of articles about anarchism and struggles in Ireland.

A PDF file of this leaflet can be download from - please make copies of it and distribute it locally. If you do let us know via our Contact Us form at

Cover of leaflet
Cover of leaflet

author by Kdog - NorthStar Anarchist Collectivepublication date Tue May 09, 2006 09:06Report this post to the editors

I am an amerikan, far removed from the realities of the struggle in Ireland, and I have nothing but the highest regard for the WSM, who I believe continue to make major contributions both theoretically and logistically to the international revolutionary anarchist movement. . . .

BUT, I think it is fair to ask how you can make a foray into the north of Ireland, and say NOTHING about the historic occupation of the north by the British Empire or the resistance to it.

I am in general agreement with what I understand the WSM's position to be regarding the occupation and imperialism in general (opposition to imperialism. but for anarchist not nationalist resisrtance to it). I was quite happy to see the WSM attempt to establish a more all-island presence. But comrades, this feels a bit opportunist to not say a word about the occupation in the flyer. Surely this must have been result of a discussion within the group.

Would it be out of order to ask for a brief on y'alls discussion? Cuz it don't feel right.

Again I would say that because many of us look to the WSM as a model and inspiration that this is an important question.

author by Andrew - WSM (personal capacity)publication date Tue May 09, 2006 19:17Report this post to the editors

The text itself is based on our minimum points of agreement found at (these are also almost identical to the Anarkismo statement in 'About Us' at ).

The text was rewritten some to make it less technical but at the layout stage there was a disagreement over the dropping of one reference to anti-imperialism. However as there wasn't time to resolve this the objector dropped it on the grounds that it was better to have a text with a minor flaw for distribution then nothing at all. Basically the whole thing was a bit of a last minute rush job by one branch - the specific issue of the use of language in propaganda for this sort of event has not yet been addressed at any formal level within the WSM.

All that aside we are now building a branch in Derry ( ) and for the last 20 years our members in the south have regularly engaged in political activitiy in the north both around the libertarian movement and workers, anti-imperialist and civil rights issues. In that time we must have distributed tthousands of pieces of litreature. We also leaflet republican events in the south ( ) and engage in debates with republicanism ( )

I don't find a political approach based on trying to get every important point into every bit of text useful. It tends to produce lots of repetitive and wordy articles that are too expensive to distribute free or brief leaflets that are simply collections of slogans saying nothing to those not already in agreement with you.

So while I think there is room for improvement with this text I actually don't think going into the occupation would have made any sense in this context (a leaflet for the Belfast mayday march). Putting forward a clear anarchist position that would distinguish us from the various republican splinters in a meaningful way to many of the march participants is not something that could be done in a page of text. For instance the formulation you use would almost certainly be read as support for the dissidents not on cease fire, really not the sort of misreading that would be useful in any context.

A second point is that building anarchism in the north will be through class politics rather than an identification with or support for one side or the other in the nationalist conflict. So while anarchism requires an anti-imperialist element that element is not the way to build anarchism in the north - that would leave us as a rather exotic fringe of left republicanism. We are not left republicans seeking to meld class struggle and nationalism, we are anarchists.

A final point, and the most political. The changes of the last decade have been very significant, as were the changes of the 3 decades before that. Apart from anything else for the first time there is a constitutional set up that says the presence or absence of the British state is up to the people of northern Ireland rather than the parliament in Westminister. Anarchists need to recognise these changes - its one of the reasons why last year we put a lot of effort into producing a new position paper on partition ( )

It is no longer the 60's, 70's. 80's or even 90's so the political positions of those times no longer fit so well today.

author by RepSoc - IRSMpublication date Wed May 10, 2006 06:04Report this post to the editors

Yes, the GFA enshrines the issue of 'consent' in the occupied six counties, and we have to recognise this change. However its only a change in tactics by Britain and nothing more. The Unionist veto means that sectarian privelage still runs rampant and is in some ways even worse. And I've never known of a vote on national liberation for an oppressed group ever being at the expense of the consent of the oppressing group!

It's also misleading to put forth the idea that the gfa reforms even change the nature of day to day administration over the north, as the six counties are under more direct rule from London than ever before.

Our north American comrade is correct that anything less than a principled stand against partition is to court irrelevance. A revolutionary movement of workers will not be built on bread and butter campaigns alone.

author by Andrew - WSM (personal capacity)publication date Wed May 10, 2006 18:27Report this post to the editors

Actually we are no fans of the Good Friday Agreement specifically because we see it as institutionialising sectarianism - you'll find a pretty complete list of articles we published on the 'peace process' at but most relevant here is probably the 1988 article Hobson's choice : The "Good Friday Agreement" & the Irish Left at

There is every reason to not take British imperialist policy at its word - and indeed it can shift depending both on its perceived needs and who is in power. But I personally believe that the shift in imperialist policy to saying it is up to the population of the north to decide its constitutional status is an enormous one that pretty much ends the argument for nationalist armed struggle on any but the more reactionary grounds.

In this context the usefulness of the phrase the 'unionist veto' really needs to be re-considered by republicans and the left. Historically this referred to the gurantee given prior to partition by British imperialism to Stormont that Stormont would have a veto over any proposed reunification of the island (it didn't allow Stormont to opt for reunification). Historically the left was correct to oppose this but today nearly 90 years have passed and we have to recognise two things

1. Things have changed as outlined above so now the population (rather than Stormont) can opt for reunification through referendum. This is a huge change from the decision being that of the British state with Stormont having a veto over only one of the possible alternatives.

2. Partition has created 'facts on the ground' just as historically this has happened elsewhere. Progressive republicans as far back as 1798 recognised that arguments about who historically owned or worked certain plots of land, who was a native and who was settler descended could only play into the hands of reaction. Today there is no one alive who was an adult when partition happened, even someone who is 100 today would have been only 16 at the time of partition.

In that context the time to base arguments against partition on the grounds that it was unfair or in imperialist interests or designed to divide and rule has ended. All these things are true but for the left and true republicans if you want to argue against partition today that argument has to be positive - that is ending it would result in real benefits for the working class or 'the people' respectively. In other words there should be no room for '4 green fields' nationalism in your rhetoric.

A positive argument has to convince at least a significant section of the protestant population unless your going to go with the 'out-breed' them strategy of the most reactionay elements of SF nationalism. Republicanism, never mind anarchism in the north today needs to primarly address protestants, something that many left republicans are coming to quietly recognise if they have yet to clearly outline. The recent IRSM statement on the protestant working class can only be read in that context.

Has the GFA changed the nature of day to day rule in the north. At the top level no, it only highlights the fact that the imperialists are the ones still in control as the Blair government can suspend and reconvene Stormont as it suits British policy. On another level it is daft to deny that there is no change around issues like policing (I wish we had the equivalent of the police ombudsmen down south for instance). The PSNI is clearly a less sectarian police force that the RUC. Which means no more than then PSNI is much closer to being willing to equally batter 'catholic' and 'protestant' workers and is accountable to an ombudsmen capable of pointing out when they fail to do so. Of course it is still sectarian, it is still largely composed of one time RUC members but lets not pretend nothing has changed.

This is not to say this issue is sorted, as an anarchist I think the concept of policing itself is flawed so that can be no solution anyway. But there have been reforms and these have had affects. And if you used the 1960's as the start date then the transformation across a range of issues has been massive - probably the victories of the late 60''s and early 70's being the most significant ones.

Likewise when Stormont was sitting I see it as pointless to deny that there was no significance in Martin McGuiness and David Trimble being part of the same cabinet. A suggestion in 1972 that there could be a cabinet which would include the then leader of Ulster unionism and one of the leadership of the IRA would have been unimaginable. For the left the real problem here is precisely the day to day 'bread and butter' decision that McGuiness was making. Indeed in terms of Stormont the various constitutional rows that were created were a distraction for the anti-worker policies that were being implemented. There are a couple of examples at

Finally I never wrote "A revolutionary movement of workers will .. be built on bread and butter campaigns alone" although presumably you find that an easier position to argue against which is why you created that misrepresentation. As above anti-imperialism remains important to anarchist politics anywhere.

But in the context of the north it is bloody obvious that always making this the main issue in your propaganda is not going to address the majority of the working class there in a positive way. Class poltics will not be built through a focus on anti-imperialism but on 'bread and butter issues'. Anti-imperialism is essential in terms of building a class unity that can survive the periodic constitutional crisis but as a focus it can only address what is probably a minority of the 'catholic working class', pre-ceasefire election results suggest most 'catholic workers' are also more concerned with bread and butter issues.

Anyway most of the above is a reflection of discussion within the WSM rather than WSM policy. As this is moving well away from the leaflet it might be useful to continue on the thread of our postion paper on partition which is at

Related Link:
author by Mike Hargis - IWWpublication date Sun May 14, 2006 01:29Report this post to the editors

A question, perhaps provocative but a question nontheless: to quote the leaflet:
"A successful revolution will require that anarchist ideas become the leading ideas within the working class. This will not happen spontaneously. Our role is to help popularise and promote these ideas. " My question: how is this any different from Lenin's dictum that, to paraphrase, left to itself the working class can only attain a trade union consciousness. That socialist ideas have be brought to the class from outside by revolutionaries?

author by nestor - fdca - personal capacitypublication date Mon May 15, 2006 16:14Report this post to the editors

Hi Mike, One of the most important differences is that anarchist communists are not "outside the class", but an integral part of it. Saverio Craparo explains it well in the FdCA document "Anarchist communists, a question of class":

"For Anarchist Communists, [...] the political organization of the Anarchist Communists, plays a role only within the proletarian movement. In other words, from within the daily struggles, it seeks to develop the class consciousness within the proletariat, to promote (as part of the proletariat's clash with the bourgeoisie) a revolutionary strategy which can allow consciousness of the historical needs to develop among the exploited, starting with their daily needs. In this case, the party does not make the revolution for the proletariat, it does not direct it in the proletariat's interest, it does not govern it for the good of the proletariat. It simply exists within the process of growth and emancipation of the proletariat, seeking to convince the rest of the proletariat that the ideas it promotes are a suitable way of reaching the goal."

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