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Ireland / Britain - Anarchist Communist Event
Saturday February 11 2006
08:00 hrs

Marxism v. Anarchism

category ireland / britain | the left | anarchist communist event author Monday February 06, 2006 20:59author by Paul Murphy - Socialist Youth Report this post to the editors

Debate between Socialist Youth and Workers Solidarity Movement

On February 11, Socialist Youth is hosting a debate between SY and the Workers Solidarity Movement on Marxism v. Anarchism.
The debate will be around two topics:
1. How do we organise for change?
2. What's the alternative to capitalism?
All are welcome, the debate starts at 2pm on February 11 in the Earl of Kildare Hotel, which is on the corner of Kildare St. and Nassau St.

author by Wayne Price - NEFAC (North America)publication date Wed Feb 15, 2006 11:24author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I assume this took place. Will there be a report? I am sure many people would like to read a summary of the debate.

author by Cian - Socialist Youthpublication date Sat Feb 18, 2006 07:38author email ComradeCian at eircom dot netauthor address Limerickauthor phone 085-7077919Report this post to the editors

I doubt there will be a report. I have it recorded though so I may get to put it online at sometime but im having a problem at the moment.

There was a good turnout (30 to 40) and a good debate. I'm always going to say that I think SY came out of it looking better, but I do think so. Main points of discussion were elections, democratic centralism, russia, spain, what is a state and some others.


author by James - WSMpublication date Sat Feb 18, 2006 23:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The Socialist Party are the biggest of the tiny Marxist parties in Ireland. They are are the Irish section of the Committee for a Workers International, and are an ncarnation of Militant who used to be a faction within the Labour Party. They have one TD (Irish member of parliament) and 4 local councillors. Their website is at

Workers Solidarity Movement are the biggest of the minuscule anarchist groups in Ireland...
The event was organised by the youth section of the SP. So, as expected most of the audience consisted of young Trotskyists. The format was a conventional debate system where there were speakers on each of the topics from the Marxists and anarchists and then it opened up to the floor for about 45 minutes to an hour.

The event lasted over three hours so it was tiring at times, especially as two of us anarchists were doing most of the talking from the anarchist end and there were plenty of questions to field, points to counter from impressively enthusiastic young Spers.

In the report I'm probably missing a lot of points as the arguments were coming thick and fast in both meetings, so if omissions are spotted just add a comment.

The first session was on whether Marxist Party or a libertarian method was of more use in getting rid of capitalism. Both speakers said that it was the workers and not any particular group of revolutionaries who were capable of changing the world.

The anarchists started:
John mentioned the relevance of acting for ourselves in the here and now: it works, it gives you confidence, and it's good preparation for organising society after a revolution.

He also described how a libertarian organisation works, and gave an excellent account of the difference between having leaders (even elected ones) deciding policy on behalf of the rest of the members and the anarchist position of direct democracy where the issue is decided upon by the group. When there is a central leadership the mechanism of recall is rendered impractical given the time, resources that the leadership have with which they can maintain their position.

He also mentioned the difficulty a political party has in determining whether or not it has, in old Trotsky's phrase, the confidence of the class and here introduced a recurring theme: the Bolsheviki. He stated that although the party did at one time enjoy the support of the class, that when the class changed its mind, the party refused to accept this. What precisely is the method the party has that it uses to determine the wishes of the class? What will happen if the same pattern repeats itself?

The role of the anarchist organisation is to disseminate libertarian ideas and foster self-activity amongst workers rather that attempting to capture positions of leadership. Thus workers don't get usurped by
the class conscious militants.

Socialist Party's points (I'm running points made by different speakers together):

They do not see the organisational method they use for their party as the model for a socialist society but rather that it is a tool with which to take on the powerful capitalist apparatus.

The Party wishes to recruit the best militants in various walks of life: trade unionists, students, community activists etc.

There were mixed signals on the view of the SP on leadership. On the one hand they seemed to accept a lot of the anarchist view of the importance of ideas rather than personalities leading the membership. On the other hand, the centralised model of the party was justified on a number of grounds; efficiency (for a bigger organisation it becomes impossible for everybody to meet), gathering together the best militants.

It was stated from the floor that direct democracy was ok for a small organisation like the WSM but that it would be impossible be like that if we got bigger. The structure of the SP which has an annual conference electing a national committee which (I think) elects a smaller National Executive Committee was justified on the basis that the members of the NEC were the best people for the job.

It was asserted that the anarchist method of direct democracy is not in fact democratic. In practice there will always be somebody who is better at speaking, smarter or better looking. It is better to be up front and elect the leader and know who you have to keep to account.

They raised the importance of democratic centralism, i.e. in this case, the necessity of everybody abiding by agreed decisions, even ones emanating from the leadership. This was essential for efficiency and he challenged the WSM as to what their position would be if member wished to disregard the democratically agreed decision (e.g. whether to blockade a bin truck was the example)

Attaining leadership positions was vital in order to progress the socialist goal. Given the current levels of struggle, having a strong socialist leadership would are workers in unions to be radicalised. Also from the floor, the importance of leadership in a revolutionary situation was emphasised, and the example of Germany after the WWI was given (and perhaps Chile 1973?). How were the working class to know when to make an insurrection? These things don't just happen spontaneously.

One SP speaker mentioned that money would be necessary even in a socialist society.

The role of elections was also highlighted by the SP. They said they didn't see any revolution coming from parliament but that it was a useful platform which can be used to advance socialist ideas in current society. They pointed to their own TD, Joe Higgins, as evidence that participating in parliament doesn't necessarily mean that co-option happens.

More anarchists arguments were:
Strong leadership can be too strong and Germany 1919 was an example. Contrast with Spain 1936 where the workers had long experience of direct action and didn't need to wait for a decision to come from a centre in order to oppose Fracno.

Anarcho-syndicalist unions prove that it is possible to organise in a mass libertarian manner. No particular need for centralised committee making policy. WSM have delegate council whose members rotate every three months and are issued with strict mandates. So members get to decide at a branch level their views. If necessary, amendments go back to the local branch for ratification so all decisions are made at the grassroots level.

If mass libertarian organisation was impossible how was a communist society ever going to be possible?

The question of elections was also addressed.

On members breaking ranks: the way to avoid this is to have members sharing common values (theoretical unity). Since none of us is infallible generally we are willing to try out the majority's decision even if we disagree with it, so that we can see if it works. If not the tactic can be revisited. This is a previous reply from 2004 to exactly the same question (it's near the end of the comment):

On the question of money, I stated that some type of money may be useful to measure production and consumption. Basically I plagiarised Tom Wetzel's arguments as found elsewhere on anarkismo, which I find persuasive. That was my personal view though and not that of the WSM.

And after all of that there was second debate on how a revolutionary society would be organised. Some of the themes resurfaced.

A workers' state, the most democratic state ever, would be needed. It would still be a state as it was the organised use of violence to suppress a class. (I don't recall if they detailed how this state was to be organised – maybe Cian or Brian will clarify here?)

The SP emphasised the need for a state to organise the defence of the revolution.
Some level of coercian would be needed in case of breakaway factories. What if ball bearings were needed but the factory wanted to produce boots?

A state was necessary in modern globalised economy in order to manage production.

Anarchists messed up in Spain 1936. They went into government, thus showing a lack of clarity in a revolutionary situation.

The experience of the Bolsheviks is not how they see a future revolution happening. Material conditions have changed too much so that the measures the Bolsheviks had to do (in order to hang on for Germany to revolt) probably wouldn't be necessary again.

Anarchist distaste for “the state” is moralistic. The workers and neighbourhood councils that the WSM advocate are a state and the difference is just semantic.

I'll put up my text in a minute.
Some points made on the spot: in addition to being the organised use of violence a state is a vehicle for the control of a minority. (In retrospect I should have contrasted the concept of a state with that of a polity, but that's hindsight). Direct democracy and federalism Vs the centralised decision making for Workers' councils (this bit was done more thoroughly in part 1)

Parecon was mentioned as an alternative to having a state plan production in a globalised world.
Workers aren't going to be so silly to disregard the agreed decision to produce ball bearings if that is what is needed. If some people wish to pull out of a system completely they are free to do so (SP said “you'll starve them instead of shooting them!” -.

Yeah, anarchists should have done things differently in Spain, but at least anarchists realise their mistakes. Despite vague references to mistakes nobody specified what the Bolsheviks did that was dodgy. It was emphasised that the Russian Revolution was also a failure, not just Spain.

They are the main points. I've spent more effort remembering the SP arguments than the WSM ones as most people here will be familiar with these, but obviously bias may have caused me to omit some of their points.

author by Cianpublication date Sun Feb 19, 2006 02:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors


First I want to state that I dont agree witht he way a number of things are presented above.

Just on the question of a State, what the SP propose is a system of workers councils and community councils etc etc working together regionally and nationally to form a workers govenment. IN a revlutinary and ost revolutionary situation these would need to organise malitias/a red army. Thus this structure would be an apparatus by which the workers keep down the opposing classes (capitalists, reactionaries,, counter-revolutionaries). Thus it would constitute a state.

Flowwing from this, one of the interestting things and one of the things I m unhappy about how u portrayed it is the issue of anarchist arguments being pedantic. This is clear above as well. The marxistdefinition of a state is the apparatus used by one class to defend them from opposing classes and to hold down opposing classes. Thus the SPs view of a socialist society must have such a state which is controlled by the workers (and other revolutionary classes) in order to defend the revolution. The anarchists clarified that they add on one extra thing to this definition - a state by definition must be the apparatus of a MINORITY. So it all boiled down to just words. Apparently we weren't disagreing over what we actually wanted, just what the f*** to call it.

Anyway, I think debating ideas is best left to the debates, i have too much to do to get into year long debates on here....


author by Anarkismo Editorial Group - Anarkismopublication date Sun Feb 19, 2006 19:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The WSM text pasted here has been promoted to a story and is now at

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