Reform vrs Revolution- What change do we want and how do we get there?


There’s a lot to be angry about. On the one hand mass unemployment, cut backs and pay cuts, we have death and destruction on a grand scale. On the other, the crushing bore­dom and alienation of everyday life. All of these various horrors are tied together, different faces of a single system. It exploits and exaggerates every tiny little difference between us from sexism to racism and nationalism, making us compete for scraps and hate each other as we fight while a tiny minority enjoy all the benefits. This system is global capitalism backed by the armed force of the state, a pattern of economic and political exploitation that reaches into every aspect of our lives. Class oppression is not simply a small cabal of the ultra-rich in Wall Street or Washington or London it's in every workplace, every police station, every dole queue, every courtroom, every prison and every territory occupied by Western militaries, and can only be sensibly understood as such.

It is worth reminding ourselves what type of society we live in- We live in a class system where we the majority, the working class, are exploited by a minority, the ruling class. The ruling class are the people who own or control the places where we work. They make the decisions about what kinds of products the factories make or what kinds of services are provided, and they make the decisions about how this work is organised. All the rest of us our forced to work in these places in order to get the money that they need to live or rely on peanuts from the state. We, the working class, build and provide everything society needs to function. They, the ruling class, suck profit out of our work. We are the body of society; they are parasites sucking us dry.

 We are all here at Occupy Belfast because we want to see change. What we want differs: some want new regulations on the financial sector and so-called a return to ethical capitalism, others want to change taxes or the minimum wage, while others like myself believes in uprooting the root cause of all our problems. Regardless of which of these boxes you fit in, if you fit in any of them at all, we all want change. The question we need to ask ourselves is how do we channel this anger and disillusionment towards building an effective mass movement that will shake the foundations of this rotton status-quo, what tools do we use and what change do we really want? How can transform this occupy movement to something that doesn’t just question politicians but replaces them?  How can we make the greatest impact at the coalface in our communities and workplaces’?

 For too long we have relied on empty promises from trade union officials and politicians every few years that cant or have no intention on delivering, from marching peacefully A-B in our millions to stop the war in Iraq to signing petitions all to no avail, harmless and no threat to the powers at be. In the meantime we have political parties offering a blank cheque every four years. They say they are fighting for your rights and your interests, but when their only central aim is to build for their own interests and election campaigns. We need to start thinking outside the box imposed on us by the state as we will go knowhere!

 For anarchists, direct action in concrete workplace and community struggles is the key to improving our lives in the here and now and building confidence.  This takes in a variety of areas including strike action, go-slows, mass civil-disobediance to general strike. Our ruling class never concede anything without some form of mass resistance. The mass non-payment campaign against Thatchers Poll Tax in the early 90s to struggle against water and bin charges here and in the south to a wave of general strikes and militant demonstrations across Europe such as Greece and recent Arab Spring demonstrates working class power of organisation.

 More importantly for anarchists direct action and self-management is an essential preparation for the free socialist society that we strive to create. In Organise! Pamphlet on Direct Action it states, ‘Through engaging in direct action, even when we made mistakes, we have the opportunity to learn from experience that there is no need to leave things to ‘experts’ or professional politicians. We should have learnt by now that the parliamentary path offers us nothing but disempowerment, betrayal and broken promises, and results in a pervading sense of powerlessness. And yet we are far from powerless and throughout history we have shown this.

Direct action teaches us to control our own struggles while building a culture of resistance that links with other workers in struggles. Solidarity and mutual aid find real expression and as our confidence grows so too does our ability to change the world. It is needed now more than ever, and we also need a campaign which opposes all cuts and fees, which is controlled by its members & participants, which is ready & willing to promote direct action and is willing to fight. Such a campaign of must be geared towards escalating the struggle to the point of a general strike against austerity – anything else is likely to fail, and we cannot afford to fail.’

 Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the global anarchist movement has awakened from its long slumber. In Ireland anarchist ideas and methods of organising, are gaining a wider acceptance than ever before. However, many people still associate anarchism with violence, destruction, and chaos. This concept of anarchism is reinforced by the corporate media, and those that have an interest in discrediting the anarchist movement. Needless to say this idea of anarchism bears no correlation with the society we are trying to create, or our struggle to achieve it.

Anarchism was born in the crucible of class struggle and wish to replace the economic system in which a minority live off the labour of others, with a system in which the workers, mental and manual, own, and control the wealth of society. This would allow people to decide what it is that they need. This democratically planned production would be orientated towards satisfying people's needs rather than the insatiable greed of a minority-libertarian communism.

However anarchists feel that this control over the economy cannot be exercised through a centralised government. We see freedom as at the very heart of socialism, and the fight to create it. History, rationality and our own experiences teach us that once given control, a ruling group becomes intoxicated with power and feel that they know what's best for the rest of us. Often they will use their new found power against their perceived enemies, even if they are the people they are supposed to represent. The bitter experiences of Russia, Spain and countless other betrayals throughout history teach us that capitalism and hierarchies cannot be abolished from above. Freedom is not granted by governments or elites; it is won through struggle by workers and other oppressed people.

Instead of appointing "good" bosses and leaders to run society for the rest of us, we want people to directly control all possible aspects of their life. We believe that any interaction between individuals should be under the direct control of the participants which gives radical perspective to the current occupy movement.

The basic democratic structure of our envisaged society is worker and community councils. Here people could come together to discuss how they want the resources of society to be used. These councils would federate together on a national and international basis to plan production for the larger community. The local councils would appoint delegates to the national, regional or international councils. If a delegate overstepped their remit or went against the wishes of the council they would be stripped of their duties. In all cases the decision making power would rest with the community rather than the delegate. However, democracy will not simply decide the allocation of goods. In an anarchist society people would also control the manner in which production takes place and the conditions of their work.

Anarchism does not simply satisfy our basic wants; food, clothes, shelter ect. It offers us dignity, self respect and control over our own lives. It creates the conditions in which people can develop freely and realise their full potential.

Obviously we are nowhere near this idyllic state of affairs. However, anarchists are not utopian dreamers. We recognise that it will be along, hard struggle until our basic aims are achieved. Rather than sitting back and waiting for capitalism to collapse, or for the revolution to come which it wont, we believe in organising in the here and now. On a day to day basis anarchists are active participants in workplace and community struggles as well as the fight for gender equality, anti-racist,
pro-choice and many other campaigns for a better standard of living and more control over our lives.

Anarchism is then; an analyses of what's wrong with society, a strategy of how to change it, and a vision of a future based on solidarity, equality and freedom.

Text of talk on the topic of 'Reform vrs Revolution- What type of change do we want and how do we get there?' delivered at Belfast Occupy Camp Teach Ins on Monday 14th November.