Thinking about Anarchism

Social Revolution


Anarchists often talk of the 'Social Revolution' as the event which will destroy hierarchical and exploitative institutions, thus opening the way to living our lives according to our desires.

It'll be a time when freedom will be more than a word used in advertising campaigns, where justice shall be true, when economic equality shall exist, and where democracy will be direct -i.e. people who are affected by those decisions shall be the ones making them in the first place. Anarchists talk about the social revolution because we recognise that there will be a time when we will have to make a definitive break with what has gone before.

For the social revolution to succeed anarchist ideas need to win the battle for the hearts and minds of working people before the morning of the day itself dawns. These ideas, in a nutshell, are the principles of freedom and equality, and no repression. The revolution will be a moment when people, their confidence built up by smaller actions, finally seize power over society, and then construct a new society where no one ever gets into a position of power again.

Means to Ends

What comes after a revolution is very much dependent on how that change is carried out. People often refer to the means being justified by the ends, but really the means deter mine the end. Society will be changed by the majority of people destroying the state system and replacing it with directly democratic workers' and neighbourhood councils. While this can be difficult to envisage given the present widespread apathy, anarchists are confident that involvement in the struggle itself transforms people just as it transforms society. If, instead, we leave it up to a group of leaders to take control of a revolution, you can be sure that they will install themselves as the new elite even if they start off with the best of intentions. The road to hell is paved with such good intentions, Ceausescu's Romania was founded on them, and it ended up looking like hell by the time justice caught up with him.

There are two types of factors which, although linked, can be useful to consider separately: the objective and the subjective. The objective ones are the ones that we have little control over, like the weather, the economy, whether or not we go to war with another country, minor details like that. The subjective factors, such as the ideas we hold, like the idea that working people can collectively effect change, are the ones that we have some control over. At certain moments in time, the two have conspired to get people into a position where they push against the existing system with all their might until it ceases to function.

Spain in 1936 is such an example of one of those moments when large amounts of Industry and Agriculture were collectivised voluntarily, and where people tried to build a new way of life from the ashes of the old.

Defence Of the Revolution

Spain showed that the ruling class, facing their extinction as a class, will fight desperately to regain their power. This means, unfortunately, that armed defence of the revolution will probably be necessary. If we don't organise for its defence, we will be condemning not only ourselves to slavery, but also the generations that follow. For libertarians, the military aspect of the revolution must be no different than any other: it should be voluntary and organised democratically, with elected and recallable officers who receive the same privileges as everyone.

Workers' Councils

And the workers' militia must be under the control of the workers. In general, anarchists see Workers' and Neighbourhood Councils as the means by which the people will organise their daily life during and after the revolution. From producing goods and services to organising street cleaning and community protection, anarchists advocate direct administration of all [public] aspects of life. We envisage that these Councils will federate with each other, first locally, then nationally ,and then across the globe. Rather than electing professional leaders to decide our fate, it is essential that people have a say in making decisions that affect them. Having an equal say in how things are run will not only help prevent the re-emergence of a controlling elite, it will ensure more commitment to the new society. As will the inherent justice of anarchist-communism -where people give according to ability and receive according to need. But to get to the anarchist society, we have to pass through the gateway of social revolution: we have to rise up and get rid of the monster that's been created, where terrorists, war criminals, and gangsters in suits decide whether they are going to let people live or die. That can't be done for us. We have to do it ourselves.

by Dermot Sreenan and James O'Brien


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This edition is No87 published in July 2005

WS87