What is 'self-organisation'?
Listen to anarchists for long enough, and you'll hear us praising the 'self-organisation' of various movements or groups and insisting that political activity needs to be more 'self-organised'. But what does this mean? Why is this important?
It can be an odd-sounding term, but basically 'self-organisation' is doing stuff without relying on or waiting for external leadership or a central authority. A 'self-organised' movement doesn't wait for parties, unions, or whatever leader, to give it orders. A 'self-organised' group isn't controlled from the top-down. Self-organisation – like a related idea, 'self-management' – is at the core of anarchism. It makes us more effective, and gives us an opportunity to practice real democracy.
In 2010 I was sentenced to 6 years for having possession of 20 grams of explosive powder. I was to serve 4 years and 8 months in Portlaoise prison. This is not an in-depth study into prison and jails, and it is not an academic piece. It is simply an experience. My experience of jail will be different than other people’s experience because no two people’s experience will ever be the same. The other person’s experience will always be different no matter how great or small.
My experience started with 3 days questioning in a Garda station in Mountjoy. After the questioning was over I was charged with having an explosive substance, having materials used to build explosives and membership of an illegal organization.
From the Garda station I was brought straight to the special criminal court which was in Green Street courthouse at the time. I was brought to the holding cell, which resembled something out of a cowboy film or a medievil film. There was no door on the cell, there was a gate made from bars. On the wall of the cell were messages written on the wall by people that have come through here, messages of support, people's names with numbers beside their name indicating how many years the person got, names of different republican groups, pictures of soldiers with guns, symbols such as the hammer and sickle.
One of the key foundation documents for the Workers Solidarity Movement is the ‘Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft)’ This text was written in Paris in 1926 by a group that included exiled Russian and Ukrainian anarchists and was very influenced by the lessons they drew from the Russian Revolution. Three of the authors -- Nestor Makhno, Ida Mett, Piotr Archinov -- were then and now very well known anarchists, the remaining two -- Valevsky and Linsky -- I know relatively little about.
In this article I intend to examine whether this text has any relevance to anarchist organising today, some 90 years after it was drafted. In addition, what can we say about its shortcomings? Finally, I will look at some of the confusion the WSM ran into when trying to follow it.
Anarchism can learn a lot from the feminist movement. In many respects it already has. Anarcha-feminists have developed analyses of patriarchy that link it to the state form. We have learned from the slogan that "the personal is political" (e.g. men who espouse equality between all genders should treat the women in their lives with dignity and respect). We have learned that no revolutionary project can be complete while men systematically dominate and exploit women; that socialism is a rather empty goal--even if it is "stateless"--if men's domination of women is left intact.
Ever wonder why the Gardaí show up in large numbers when you’re trying to stop water meters in your estate, but haven’t got the resources to come straight out when you think your neighbour’s house is being burgled? If so, you’re thinking about the state.
Misconceptions & Reality
The most common misconception about anarchism is that it is in favour of ‘chaos’ or some sort of world generally devoid of order and democratic institutions which would leave us at the mercy of predators within our society. Therefore it aims for the destruction of civilisation and democracy itself, which in this view are represented by the state – the guarantor of peace, freedom, and of course, roads.
Over the last couple of years the WSM has been going through a process of re-examining the way we relate to people interested in what we have to say. Alongside this we have recently begun to try and get a better understanding of what it is we do. Both these processes have some major implications in reaching an understanding of what the usefulness of a revolutionary organisation is in the modern era of broad and loose social networks.
Solidarity is a word that fills the songs, slogans and even names of movements in the anarchist, socialist and left tradition. Yet the meaning of the term is often assumed to be common knowledge that needs no further explanation or enquiry. In line with the theme of this issue of the Irish Anarchist Review this article aims to look a little deeper into the history and meaning of this term and how it should inform our activity today and the problems we face. Particularly in situations when equal empowerment between all the participants in the solidarity relation cannot be assumed as a starting point. Clearly solidarity, class and equality are all in some way intertwined, but the question is how, exactly?