Thinking about Anarchism: Organising & Agitating


Educate, agitate, organise. The phrase has been around for years but the ideas it encapsulates are still radical. We live in a world where we are encouraged to be passive. We are all consumers. We watch, we read, we observe, and some of us wait, hope and dream. These words go against the grain. You can't build a revolution by watching from a distance. There comes a point where many decide that they are tired of sitting on the sidelines.

This is a big step, we decide we want to change our dreams into reality. We want to be part of the process, participants in the struggle. Revolution changes from being a 'nice idea' to being a concrete activity. This is the point where we start thinking about what revolution means. No longer do we wait for things to get better, instead we start creating the conditions we want. There are a number of alternative ways we can go. Some throw themselves into activism, committing themselves to various campaigns. Some become demoralised and revert to being observers (and often bitter observers).

An additional option is to join a revolutionary organisation. There is no blue-print available to revolutionaries, letting us know the steps we have to follow to achieve our aim. There are many ways in which a revolution may come about, but this is not to say that we can say nothing now about the process of creating revolution. Without revolutionary organisations, much of the work we do, as activists, can only be for the short term.

'Don't mourn, Organise', Joe Hill said before he was executed by the US state. It's nothing more than common sense to say that two heads are better than one. The more people working together, the more that can be achieved. But organisation is more than the coming together of kindred spirits. As well as co-operation, organisations provide a framework, a strategy, a way of linking all the work we do, of maximising its effect.

Capitalism is a pretty big system, we must also organise on a big scale. With organisation we can cut it down to a more manageable size. After all what is revolution but the culmination of many successful struggles. No revolution happens overnight. Sixty years passed between the first anarchist ideas arriving in Spain and the Spanish Revolution. Successful revolutions do not occur spontaneously.

Without revolutionary organisations that have built on and expanded on the skills and information gained in struggle, there would be no successful revolution. In Spain anarchists organised together. Together they learned from their experiences on the ground and used their knowledge to help others win the campaigns they were involved in. Before the revolution of 1936, there was the Barcelona Rent strike of 1931. Nothing is inevitable, it could have been otherwise. Early victories could have been forgotten, instead they led to later ones. Why? Because anarchist organisations were there to link these struggles.

Being in an anarchist organisation means more than having friends to help you out in your day to day work. It means being part of creating history, of knowing that the work leafleting today, is laying the foundations for a future society. Organisations help build links between different campaigns, between different areas and communities. One campaign won't topple the system, but a network of struggles, supporting and encouraging each other, can spread and grow to be a formidable opponent. It is the role of an anarchist organisation to weave all the threads of opposition together.

The WSM is a small anarchist organisation. There is much we cannot yet do. But there is much we can do. We do have an influence, and we can use that influence to help build towards a revolution based on freedom and equality. We can help people win. We've written much about the Federation of Dublin Anti-Water Charges Campaigns. Along with other groups and individuals we worked very hard in this campaign. We believe that people have power to change the world, and until they use this power we'll be stuck with the present system.

Most don't buy into the system, yet unfortunately they don't change it. People will only take risks, stand up and fight if they believe there is a good chance they will succeed. This sort of self confidence doesn't grow on trees, it grows out of winning. The water charges was such a victory. Some people in Dublin now know, that even if the state threatens them with the courts and jail, even if they're condemned in the press and in the Dail, they will not be defeated, if they stand together.

It is of such things that revolutions are made, but it's important to remember that initially the imposition of the charges was unopposed. Things could have turned out very differently. The water charges could have been just one more tax, unquestionably accepted. Initially only a handful of people were involved, meeting in small rooms, leafleting huge housing estates. But because those people were willing to give their time and commitment a massive campaign was eventually built and happily victory was ours.

It doesn't take many people to make a difference. You don't have to be a superman or woman, a genius or a supreme leader to change society. There are many many examples of how a few people, organised together can have a large effect. Our strength comes in our numbers and everybody makes a difference, in the short term, and in the long term. We all have to start somewhere. Take the next step, organise, agitate, and educate.

by Aileen O'Carroll

From Workers Solidarity #53 1998