Direct action is about empowering people, it's about breaking from dependency on others to run our lives. Rather than pleading with our bosses or electing 'better' politicians to make decisions for us, it means ordinary people coming together to win change through our own efforts.
In work this can mean using work-to-rules, strikes and occupations to win improvements rather than trusting in the Labour Relations Commission or Labour Court. In our neighbourhoods it means organising mass non-payment of the bin tax rather than passively hoping our local councillors will eventually vote to abolish the double tax.
The point is that action is taken, not indirectly by 'mediators' or 'representatives' over whom we have little control, but directly by those effected. It is action intended to succeed, not just to gain publicity.
It is a rejection of the notion that ordinary people are powerless, and so must leave the important decisions to someone else. It holds that most improvements are not benevolently handed down by generous rulers and bosses, they have to be fought for. That is how we gained much of what we have today, from the 8 hour day to paid holidays.
As well as being the most effective way of hanging on to what we have and gaining a bit more, direct action is also a preparation for bigger things. Anarchism will not become a reality through the actions of any small minority or elite.
If we are to create a free socialist society based on the grassroots democracy of workplace and community councils, a lot of people will have be involved. A lot of people will have to believe that together they are capable of not only overthrowing the present system but of building and sustaining a much better one.
Through engaging in direct action we learn, through experience, that there is no need to leave things to 'experts' or professional politicians. We learn how to manage our own struggles, to build our own structures, we learn that we need to link up with others. Afterall, there is no point in getting your neighbours to boycott the bin tax if people in all the other areas are unaware of the campaign and continue paying.
Ideas of solidarity and mutual aid become real. There is no pre-condition for anarchism more important than working class self-confidence. If most people don't feel capable of running society themselves, this task will be taken up by whatever Party or group can con us into thinking that they are the 'professionals' and 'experts' we should place our confidence in.
When that happens we are on the road to changing our rulers but not the system we live under. There will still be a division of people into rulers and ruled. And rulers always look after their own interests, not those of society as whole. This has happened every single time a minority has been trusted to rule a country after a revolutionary upsurge.
This edition is No71 published in July 2002