That might be alright for those who merely want to change their rulers. It holds no appeal for anarchists who want to abolish the division of people into bosses and workers, rulers and ruled.
There is a very real connection between the means you use and what you end up with. Thirty years ago a British libertarian organisation called Solidarity summed it up very well: Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification.
Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.
As well as working for a complete change in the way society is run, we all have to live in the here and now. We try to stop things getting worse (cutbacks, new charges, wage restraint, etc.) and we struggle for what improvements can be achieved.
Anarchists have been active in the growing movement against war. We have used our paper to explain why war is not in the interest of ordinary working people and have made suggestions for taking that movement forward.
Marching around Belfast, Cork or Dublin to show opposition to war is not going to stop it. This doesn't mean that public demonstrations have no role to play. They can draw attention to an issue, they can bring likeminded people together and break down the media induced feeling of being in a tiny minority.
But getting a few thousand names on a petition or even a few thousand people on the streets will not make the government change its mind about anything it considers important. Nor will 'witnessing' for justice or small stunts. There is little point in appealing to the 'decency' of politicians who have interests diametrically opposed to our own.
Ireland's contribution to the war for oil is allowing the use of Shannon airport for refueling US military airplanes on their way to the Gulf. Surely then, the key task for anti-war activists is to stop this. Ahearn, Harney and their pals won't tell George Bush that Shannon is closed to his war machines.
We can either rely on 'public opinion' (which is ignored when it suits our rulers - health cuts being a prime example) or we can take action ourselves. A few thousand people at Shannon Airport taking down the fence and sitting around the military planes, if repeated a few times, would probably be enough to see them off. If this happened Shannon wouldn't be exactly the most secure location for servicing troop carriers and bombers.
Of course the state could respond by mobilising every spare Garda they could find and maybe even some Irish soldiers - but that would be a big risk for them. It would lead to a lot more people taking sides, and the chance of a big demonstration breaking through a major force of cops would be very damaging to their authority.
The choice is between impotent protesting and fighting to win. Protests can be used to build a large confident movement or they can become just an end in themselves. A good example is the success of the campaign which won the abolition of the water charges. There were those who told us to trust the 'better' politicians, to vote differently, to leave it to them.
They were irrelevant to what happened. Socialists and anarchists went into their own neighbourhoods and built a mass movement based on non-payment. They didn't ask anyone to do anything for them - they did it themselves. And it worked. The government had to cave in and the tens of thousands who had resisted the legal threats and refused to pay got a small taste of their potential power when they get together.
Today a similar movement is being built against the bin tax. And it is growing fast because a lot of people know that we can win. There are no certain victories but the experience of the water charges shows that winning is possible.
If we really want to change the world (no small task!!!) we need two things: a huge number of people who understand the alternative that could be created, and the confidence that they can do it. We attach particular importance to struggles that can be victorious, and we insist that that mass participation and real democracy are essential. It is out of the confidence that you taste in victory that we can begin to inspire people to start to take control back over their own lives. We want people to be empowered into being individuals who dispense with the idea of being led anywhere, and who feel in control to decide and determine their own destinies. These victories as well as giving us gains now, they also prepare us for the bigger battles of the future.
We have no need for small groups of wanna-be leaders to do things for us. Everyone involved should have the opportunity to play a full part in making the decisions. Afterall, isn't socialism essentially about who makes decisions - the few or the many.
This edition is No74 published in Feb 2003