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(en) NEA: Platformism Without Illusions (Ireland)

From Northeastern Anarchist <northeastern_anarchist@yahoo.com>
Date Wed, 23 Apr 2003 21:54:51 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

NEFAC interviews the Workers Solidarity Movement

It is appropriate that we begin our series of
interviews with platformist-influenced groups from
around the world with the Workers Solidarity Movement.
Through years of anarchist organizing in Ireland and a
consistent internet presense, the WSM is largely
responsible for the resurgence of interest in
platformism among English-speaking anarchists. They
happen to be one of the groups which NEFAC maintains
the closest ties with internationally, and have been
very influential to the overall political development
of our federation.

Below is an interview with Alan Mac Simoin, Deirdre
Hogan, Gregor Kerr, Andrew Flood and Conor McLoughlin,
all members of the WSM’s Dublin group.

- interview by MaRK, Class Against Class


NEFAC: What is the history of the WSM? When did you
form, and under what circumstances? Did the original
founding members come out of other existing anarchist,
socialist or left-republican tendencies active in

WSM: Up to the 1970s there was no real anarchist
history in Ireland. In the mid '70s small anarchist
groups were formed in Belfast, Dublin, Dundalk, Cork
and Limerick. These groups mainly consisted of people
who had returned from living abroad. Most of these
groups, while calling themselves anarchist, had no
real concept of working together as a group and most
only existed for months rather than years. The
exception to this was the Belfast group, which founded
Just Books (a political bookstore which lasted over a
dozen years). The Dublin group which existed at this
time fell apart due to having no real group coherence.

Over the subsequent years, various attempts were made
to try to pull something together again. In 1982,
people from Dublin, Cork and Ballymena started
discussion around the area of defining what they meant
by anarchism and how to relate to the 'national
question' and to the trade unions.

Out of this series of discussions was born the Workers
Solidarity Movement. The founding members did not
come, as a group, from any existing political or
anarchist tradition. This was the first conscious
attempt to establish an anarchist organization in
Ireland which would have agreed principles and a
long-term perspective, and began with just five

One problem which emerged in the early years was that
much more debate/discussion took place about tactics
than about goals. Thus, by 1987 the Cork branch had
quadrupled. But it turned out that many of these
people had joined with no great understanding of what
anarchism was. This led to the Cork branch becoming a
collection of 'activists' rather than convinced
anarchists, and in the end most Cork members left,
with a few of them turning to Bolshevism.

>From this episode, WSM realized the need for having a
clear recruitment policy and the need for people to
have a good deal of political agreement before joining
the organization.

NEFAC: How did members of your organization first
become interested in platformist ideas and methods of
organization? What led to this theoretical

WSM: From 1968-69 onwards there was much analysis of
the failures of the anarchist movement, particularly
in France and Italy, where we began to capitalize on
the years of political turmoil of the late sixties.
Many anarchists began to see the need for some degree
of political organization. This thinking transferred
to Britain, where a significant number of anarchists
started to move towards platformist politics.

But it seems that many of the people involved were so
burnt out or disillusioned by their bad experiences
that they were really looking for something outside of
anarchism altogether, and some of them ended up in
Leninist organizations. That experience does not
appear to have been replicated in any other country.

Our interest in platformism has become known
worldwide. A lot of this is due to the development of
the internet and our use of it. And because the WSM is
now 17 years old and quite clearly still anarchist,
this dispels the myth that platformism is about
getting out of anarchism, or moving towards Leninism.

NEFAC: How would you say platformism informs the
practical activity of the WSM?

WSM: On a day-to-day level platformism allows the WSM
to put forward a coherent, consistent set of political
beliefs, and allows us to tie our involvement in
particular campaigns – against war, against unjust
local service charges, for abortion rights, against
‘social partnership’, etc. – to our anarchist
politics. By this we mean that we emphasize that our
opposition to the bin charges (increased taxes on
garbage pick-up), for example, is linked to our
opposition to an unjust society and to our belief that
a better society is possible. We never hide our
anarchist politics.

It also means that we continually debate and discuss
politics – both the theory and the practice – as we
strive for theoretical and tactical unity. By
theoretical unity we mean that members agree on a
certain number of basics. There wouldn’t be much point
in having an organization in which half the members
believe that trade union struggles are crucially
important, and the other half think that they are a
waste of time. It might make a good debating club, but
the organization would be totally hamstrung in trying
to make effective political intervention in day-to-day
working class struggles. Neither would the
organization be very effective if half the
organization think that trade union struggle is
important and the other half agrees that if they say
so it must be, but never actually bothers to
discuss/debate the issue. Thus internal education is
an integral part of our organization – both in terms
of political theory and in terms of practice (i.e. the
particular tactics which may or may not be successful
in any given campaign).

This process is only useful however if it leads to
action. When we discuss issues/campaigns, if we decide
to prioritize a particular thing (e.g. anti-war work),
we do so as an organization, rather than as
individuals. Once a particular issue is prioritized,
all the members agree to commit themselves to it for
the duration of the campaign, where possible, and the
tactics and potential of the campaign are discussed
regularly at our meetings.

This leads to collective responsibility, meaning that
each member will support the decisions made by the
organization. Without this type of
commitment/agreement, decisions made might look very
good on paper but would be totally useless in
practice. There wouldn’t be much point in our
discussing at length how to intervene in the anti-war
movement, for example, and then not bothering to
actually as individuals attempt to do our best to
carry out the decisions made. This does not of course
negate the right of members who disagree with the
majority view to express their own views. In doing so,
however, they must make it clear that they are not
speaking on behalf of the organization. Where a group
of people in the organization disagree with the
majority view, they have the right to organize and
distribute information so that their arguments can be
heard within the organization as a whole.

Part of our anarchism is the belief that debate and
disagreement, freedom and openness strengthen both the
individual and the group. This of course distinguishes
us completely from Leninism – a form of political
organization which does the complete opposite (i.e.
which discourages and opposes internal debate and
disagreement and in which the 'line' is handed down
from the central committee).

Our form of political organization makes no attempt to
impose a monopoly over members' political lives, but
recognizes that, as individuals, members may be
involved in any campaign in which they have an
interest (unless of course it is something which
conflicts with basic anarchist principles) but we
recognize that having a group of people/an
organization which is agreed on a number of basics
increases the strength and effectiveness many times
over. At all times, of course, political struggle has
to be viewed through the eyes of the class struggle
(i.e. our fight is not against the State as an
abstract institution but against the State as the
executive arm of the ruling class).

NEFAC: A point of debate among platformist-influenced
groups is centered around the relationship between
anarchist organizations and trade unions. What is the
WSM's relationship to the trade union movement in
Ireland? How would you answer to the criticisms (made
by some revolutionary anarchists and ultra-left
Marxists) of trade unions being inherently

WSM: We would, of course, agree that trade unions are
"inherently non-revolutionary". If we only
participated in things that were revolutionary we
could quickly find ourselves sitting on our butts
doing nothing. Trade unions in general are not
designed to be revolutionary, anarcho-syndicalist ones
may be but even here there are huge practical
difficulties [see next question].

Certainly in Ireland – the major unions are designed
purely to fight on bread and butter issues. To even
describe them as ‘reformist’ would be to imply that
they have a goal to change society. They don’t, they
are simply trade unions – no more. There is a
"political levy" which goes straight to the Irish
Labour Party, which, in this country, could possibly
be termed "a party of the middle class" (in the
sociological sense of the word anyhow).

We do advocate that members join trade unions and
participate in them. This is not at all because they
are revolutionary organizations or even that they have
any such potential.

At the most basic level joining a union implies that
workers have different interests from the boss. The
reason that unions survive is that workers recognize,
rightly, their need to band together to defend
themselves. For most that’s as far as it goes – unions
are organs of self-defense for workers under
capitalism. But it’s a very important step to see this
basic class interest.

Secondly, of course, the most organized and militant
workers will, usually, gravitate towards unions. As
class struggle anarchists we should be there with
them. Union membership is high in Ireland though it is
also declining quite fast.

In 1980, union membership as a proportion of those in
work was 61.9%, since then it has declined to 44.5% in
1999. Though union membership has risen, it is rising
much slower than the rate of new people coming in to
work and a huge proportion of the private sector
especially the tech sector is un-unionized.

As stated, unions are little more than organizations
to defend and improve people’s lot under capitalism.
In Ireland over the past few years this role has been
further limited by social partnership and a lack of

Social partnership is a system which dictates wages
and working conditions along with other vague
aspirations which are combined into a national plan
between unions, bosses, government, farmers and the
"poverty industry". In practice this has frozen shop
floor organization and increased the power of the
bureaucrats. People now see very little point in going
to union meetings when everything has already been
agreed nationally with the bosses. Further the union
heads have swallowed draconian restrictions on the
right to strike and picket under the industrial
relations and public order acts. These have now been
used very effectively against strikes, most recently
in Dublin airport where eight activists have recently
been fined for breaking an injunction to picket in the
City Jet Strike.

The lack of democracy in some of the large unions is
striking, which only has biennial conferences and
where the membership is miles removed from the highly
paid full time bureaucracy. The WSM (with some non
party individuals) is probably the only group, which
has tried to raise lack of democracy in union
structures/rule books as an issue in itself. It seems
to be a fairly low priority for the Leninists.

In practice we encourage members to join unions where
possible. We have several members in private sector
un-unionized employment. Here the best tactic seems to
be to lie low – but to try to organize people
collectively even to pursue small issues. Companies in
this sector always operate on the basis of individual
contracts – so breaking this down is a step. To
actually go from this to trying to unionize would
probably be only possible on the basis of some real
victory for the collective non-union efforts.

We have active membership in the SIPTU education
branch and the INTO (primary teachers union) – our
members there have had some success in industrial
actions – noticeably in Trinity College in a recent
successful SIPTU fight for pensions for part time
cleaners (this was supported by most college workers
including many non unionized ones). With very little
on the ground activism it is possible to have a real
impact with a couple of members, but some of this
impact is due to low activity with the left taking up
the slack.

Our long term hope is to create active rank and file
groups cutting across unions, sectoral barriers and on
union employment. At this point that goal looks quite

NEFAC: What is WSM’s position on anarcho-syndicalism?
Do you see independent revolutionary anarchist unions
outside of existing mass-based trade unions as a
viable strategy at this stage of class struggle in

WSM: In general we think the ideal form of union
organization is syndicalist. This form of union
organization would be a vast improvement on the unions
in place at the moment. We are not an
anarcho-syndicalist organization though, and do not
see our goal as setting up anarcho-syndicalist unions
to overthrow capitalism.

In our view syndicalism (at least historically) has
failed to address the issue of political power. We
believe that to make a revolution it isn’t sufficient
that workers just seize their workplaces and the land.
They must be organized right across communities and
workplaces to smash state power and replace it with
workers’ councils. This requires revolutionary
anarcho-communist organizations dedicated to this
goal. The workers from day one must abolish all power

Syndicalism doesn’t create the revolutionary
organization required to do this. It creates trade
unions. As stated these are miles better than other
unions but still unions by design. It organizes ALL
workers regardless of politics (recently some
anarcho-syndicalists have decided to organize ALL
workers EXCEPT for Leninists and Trotskyists in their
industrial networks – this is surely even MORE of a
recipe for disaster!).

Many workers will (rightly) join these unions because
they use the most radical tactics and get the best
results. They won’t join them because they are
revolutionary anarchists or anywhere close. For this
reason syndicalism has been dogged with reformist
currents. Spain in 1937 was the high point of
syndicalist organization. Because the CNT would not
address the issue of political power they managed a
situation of dual power – workers controlled factories
and fields but the government was left. In the end the
ruling class managed to get it back together and used
the state to smash workers power. Some of the CNT
higher ups even joined the government and these were
from the "radical" FAI anarchist wing of the union
designed to keep it politically anarchist!

In practice we recognize that syndicalist unions are
miles ahead of others, and – on the positive side –
members of anarcho-syndicalist unions are likely to be
exposed to anarchist ideas. We would seek to join but
maintain our anarcho-communist organization alongside
them, as we would do in any union.

In the last couple of years in Ireland there was an
attempt to set up a left split from the ATGWU in
Ireland. This is the Independent Workers Union. Though
they still aimed to have full time officials (or at
least a full time leader!), it did embrace some
syndicalist ideas and it did appear to be a hopeful
development. It since appears that two left wing
bureaucrats who were kicked out of the ATGWU were
really using them as pawns in an internal struggle. As
the new ATGWU leadership will probably reinstate these
it is hard to know what will now happen. The IWU has a
fair sized paper membership in Cork – but, as far as I
know, most kept ATGWU union cards as well. They
managed to get a negotiating license held by another
small butchers’ union. Whether this would have stood
up is unclear as the Irish government makes it very
difficult to get negotiating rights. We await

There is an added practical difficulty with attempting
to establish an anarcho-syndicalist union here. Unlike
in the US where any group of workers can – in theory
at least - set up their own union, here the process of
establishing a union is fraught with legal minefields
including the need to be issued with a negotiating
license by the State.

Meanwhile we have and seek good relationships and
practical solidarity with a huge number of anarchist
and anarcho-syndicalist organizations world wide. We
take no side on the numerous disputes that have
emerged within the IWA and other groups over the past
few years.

NEFAC: Outside of trade union activity, a lot of WSM’s
activity is based around community organizing (water
taxes, bin charges etc). What have you brought to
these struggles? How effective has your organizing
been in these areas?

WSM: Firstly two general points. There are a huge
number of community, church, women’s and voluntary
groups in Ireland. By their very nature community
groups tend to be organised around the members of a
community. This means that groups cannot just
parachute in and start arguing their politics from on
high. Generally, the only way to be really involved in
a community group is to be active within that
community! Sorry to state the obvious, but it’s a
point that is often NOT appreciated by Leninist and
reformist groups.

Secondly, many community groups in Ireland have also
been co-opted into the whole idea of "partnership".
Once community groups begin to have full time paid
staff and become dependent on government or European
Union funding, they lose site of their initial (often
radical) aims and democratic structure. Many so-called
community groups are now just part of a well paid
network which might be best described as the "poverty
industry". Although some may be very well-meaning,
they are not functioning community groups answerable
to local people. Only real struggle on local issues
tends to draw together and revitalize tenants’ and
community groups. The bin charges and water charges
campaigns have to some small extent done this in a few
parts of Dublin.

Our experience with the Dublin Federation of campaigns
that beat the water charges was a good one. This
federation was, at least in theory, based on
representatives from local groups throughout Dublin.
It mobilized very large demonstrations, fought court
cases and maintained high non-payment in the three
council areas that make up the greater Dublin area.
Water charges were abolished.

The lesson we drew from this was that local
organizing, involving and empowering people and giving
them a say in the campaign is the way to go! The
lesson drawn by the reformist/Leninist members of the
Socialist Party was that the election of one of their
members was the main factor. In fact, he was elected
AFTER the charge was beaten and his election was
linked to the massive mobilization that beat the
charges. The successful grassroots campaign beat the
charges AND built an electoral base.

The Trotskyists put the cart before the horse and
decided that electing a TD (Irish member of
parliament) was the crucial factor. Now the Socialist
Workers Party has joined the Socialist Party in
attempting to build electoral machines. Of course we
argued long and hard against this in the campaign and
gained respect for our ideas from many people who
would have considered anarchism as a loony bin
philosophy. Unfortunately, the electoral road seems
quick and easy and the long-term disempowerment isn’t
always readily viewable.

The water charges campaign worked as a federation. It
was a VERY imperfect federation – dominated by the
Socialist Party and with many local groups that were
just paper tigers. But it did contain several highly
active ones.

So far the campaigns against bin charges have been
almost completely top down. For example, in Dun
Laoghaire the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers
Party have informally split the area. Neither side has
any interest in building local groups and leaflets are
centrally planned and designed and then handed to
people to be given out. In the city center area, with
WSM participation, there are a couple of active local
groups where we have members living but, again, the
campaign in general works top down. We have also found
(in fairness) that in the absence of any major council
threat building local groups is not that easy. There
just isn’t any reason to get involved and people
expect the campaign to function as a sort of insurance
service for which they pay a few euros.

Long term, though, the main problem in Dublin is the
domination of the two Leninist groups who look only to
recruiting members/voters. This is worrying not only
because it is not the way to involve or empower
anyone, but also because it means a hollow campaign
with no in depth membership beyond Trot full timers.
If the council go on the offensive we may pay the

NEFAC: The WSM has been very active around abortion
rights in Ireland (campaigning heavily against the
recent anti-choice referendum, supporting the Women on
Waves project, etc). In what ways have you tied this
activity into more traditional class struggle

WSM: Due to the high cost involved in travelling to
England for an abortion, it is working class women who
are most effected by the lack of access to abortion in
Ireland. Both in our own propaganda and within
broadbased pro-choice groups we have always argued
that, because of this, the lack of abortion rights in
Ireland is a class issue. Within broadbased pro-choice
campaign groups we have also pushed for grassroots
activism such as door to door leafleting, as opposed
to political lobbying and media stunts.

NEFAC: Although the WSM is the oldest formal anarchist
organization still active in Ireland, new groups such
as the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation (ASF) and
Anarchist Federation Ireland (AFI) have recently
formed. What is your relationship to these

WSM: Unlike Leninists, we don't see other anarchist
groups as 'rivals'. Our basic approach is to work hard
to keep good relations going between the anarchist
groups in Ireland despite the political differences
that exist.

In recent times we have co-operated very successfully
with both the ASF and the AFI - as well as with other
anarchists and libertarians - in campaigning against
the Nice Treaty (i.e. the latest phase of the European
Union project). We are also currently working very
closely with them in building support for direct
action against Irish involvement in the U.S. war
against Iraq.

Some of the people in the ASF were in Organise! before
so we have had a relationship with them for over a
decade which has included organizing joint lecture
tours, summer schools and providing speakers for each
other's meetings. At times in the past we have had
joint internal discussions which have included looking
at possible grounds for unity.

The AFI formed more recently. Our political
differences with them would be wider on day to day
issues, particularly on the question of involvement in
mass organizations of the working class, e.g.Trade
Unions. This has not however stopped us from working
with AFI members in a number of campaigns to date.

Apart from these organizations we put a fair bit of
effort into promoting and maintaining good relations
within the wider anarchist movement which includes
many individuals who are not members of any anarchist
group. This has included initiating with others a
series of island wide 'Grassroots Gatherings' which
happen every 4 to 6 months in a different city. Last
summer it included two anarchist summer camps which
were really social rather than political gatherings.
It also included starting the mailing list Irish
Anarchism which is now moderated by members of both
the WSM and AFI.

NEFAC: What sort of international relationships do you
have with other platformist anarchist organizations?
What prospects do you see for the development of
platformism within the international anarchist

WSM: We should start by pointing out that as a very
small organization our general approach has been that
we do not have the resources to sustain any sort of
real membership of a formal international
organization. And we think 'pretend' internationals
whose sole role is to inflate the self-importance of
local groups do more harm than good.

So our formal relationships are very weak. We exchange
publications with around 35 other organizations
internationally. We are asked to do more exchanges but
for financial reasons restrict ourselves to
organizations that are either 'platformist' or strike
us as particularly important.

More recently we decided to join International
Libertarian Solidarity. This however is a network
intended to facilitate solidarity between different
libertarian groups rather than an international of
national sections.

On a less formal level we have contact with a number
of organizations, including NEFAC, which are possible
only because of access to the internet, sharing a
common language and the travel of individual
militants. Until the time when several really large
platformist organizations exist that have the
resources to fund translation, travel and
international conferences then much of our
international work will depend on such informal

We have made one effort to formalize this a little bit
through the setting up of an email list called
'Anarchist Platform'. This list is intended to allow
militants of the different organizations (and those
for whom there is no local organization) to
communicate news and ideas.

Workers Solidarity Movement PO Box 1528, Dublin 8,
IRELAND wsm_ireland@yahoo.com



This interview is from the "Platformism Without
Illusions" series in The Northeastern Anarchist #6
(Winter/Spring 2003). Further interviews include
platformist-influenced anarchist groups from the
United Kingdom, France, Italy, Czech Republic, South
Africa, Brazil, and Chile.

The Northeastern Anarchist is the English-language
theoretical magazine of the Northeastern Federation of
Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC), covering class struggle
anarchist theory, history, strategy, debate and
analysis in an effort to further develop
anarcho-communist ideas and practice.


Current issue is $5ppd ($6 international) per copy,
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