Sunday, 21 April 2013

Steps to anarchist revolution


Hi, this video is to offer ideas to anyone interested in working towards a social anarchist revolution - particularly in the UK.  I’ll be taking ideas from the Spanish and other anarchist-type revolutions, as well as contemporary social movements and revolutionary thinkers since the 1800s. As such, most of the ideas are fairly well known already, but I will attempt to present them in a short and simple video, relevant to people living in the UK today.

So let’s start by defining a social anarchist revolution.

The minimal goal, as I understand it, is a community of people refusing to recognise state sovereignty over them and refusing to recognise pre-existing capitalist property laws over workplaces.
Instead, after an anarchist revolution, communities will be managed via networks of community organisations in which all can participate equally, working in combination with democratic workplace organisations. That is, social matters that are currently managed by hierarchical, inter-linked government and capitalist institutions driven for profit and power, will become managed via non-hierarchical organisations, driven only by satisfying human needs and wants.

This type of social set up can also be referred to with a number of other names such as libertarian socialism, or direct democracy.

Now, if we see democratic, self-managed networks of community and worker organisations as the basis of any revolution, the central task for revolutionaries is building these organisations and preparing them for running society. Note that the methods I propose here for building these organisations will simultaneously weaken and reduce dependence upon current systems of power, making it possible for them to be finally discarded.      

It is important to acknowledge that we already have organisations designed for helping communities and workplaces democratically manage themselves.  With regards to community organising, there are two organisations I will mention here. The first is the International Organisation for a Participatory Society (also known as IOPS). The second is the Anarchist Federation (or AFED). Both are non-hierarchical international organisations with local chapters in towns throughout the UK, which aim to move away from state-capitalism and bring about democratic self-management.  

The main revolutionary workplace organisations are firstly, the Solidarity Federation, part of the International Workers Association and secondly, the Industrial Workers of the World union. Both aim to introduce widespread worker control over all workplaces.  

I would argue anyone interested in revolution should, as a starting point, join one of the organisations, as the most important revolutionary projects require many people working together. Personally, I believe the easiest organisation to join as a starting point is IOPS. It has a user-friendly website and is free to join at the moment. However, there are benefits to joining any of the others, or even all 4 of the organisations.  
Once joined up, I would that there are four types of projects which should be central to anarchists when working in these organisations, as they concretely prepare, or fund, the institutions of a future society. These activities are 1) building worker co-operatives 2) building democratic credit unions 3) promoting trade union rights and larger trade unions, and 4) promoting participatory budgeting. Let’s look at each of these projects in turn.

There are many types of co-ops but key components of a co-op compatible with social anarchist ideas is that it is non-hierarchical and that workers have an equal say on management decisions. This is how anarchists want to see work organised in the future and we can begin this today within today’s society.
A corollary of this is that anarchist organisations should seek to build democratic credit unions, which aim to finance local cooperatives. Transferring enough savings to these credit unions would have the added benefit of protecting communities against future financial crises. Events in recent years have shown that this is an ever present threat, but the threat could become larger if investors panic in response to increased trade union activities and participatory budgeting - matters we’ll now turn to.  

By promoting trade union rights, anarchists can help give workers at the bottom more power over the companies they work for, particularly if these workers are part of the SolFed or IWW unions. This would begin moving current workplaces more in the direction of worker self-management which anarchists would like to see in the future.  Apart from using this power to benefit themselves in the short term, through better wages, hours and benefits (perhaps including skills training and education), workers could begin to effect wider company policy in numerous ways that promote social interests over profit. For example, they could push for strong company environmental policies.

In terms of directly promoting anarchist institutions, trade unions could push for company contracts to be given as far as possible to worker co-operatives. Additionally, where suitable, they could insist that their company banks with democratic credit unions. Workers could also use the threat of strike action to support demands to the government to allocate increased resources to community participatory budgeting, something we will now discuss.

Participatory budgeting is whereby local communities meet to discuss and decide how local government money is spent. This is close to how anarchists aim for communities to be managed in the future, instead of being overseen by a hierarchical government.  Participatory budgeting has been tried very successfully in Brazil and Venezuela. For example, In Porto Allegre, the World Bank has found that the system has helped improve health, education and water services. It has also been tested to a small degree in other countries in the world, including many towns in the UK. The task for anarchists should be to push for it to become more widespread, with more recourses dedicated to it.

Apart from being useful in itself to the anarchist cause, through participatory budgeting, communities can support the formation of new non-hierarchical workplaces. For example, if the community agrees to open a new library, the library could be managed in a non-hierarchical way by staff.

Extending participatory budgeting to as many areas of government spending as possible could have multiple positive short and long term effects. For example, communities could invest in public transport and bicycle paths, which could have important long term benefits on the environment.   Networks of communities controlling NHS spending could also prevent the government forcing through NHS privatisation. Such victories could also attract increased public support for anarchist ideas.
It may also be tactically useful for the revolution if local police spending can be brought under the participatory budgeting process, as communities may be able to prevent the police being used by the government to attack the people.

As a part of demanding increased local community control over government budgets, anarchists could draw attention to central government programs that should be immediately cut. For example, anarchists could oppose government subsidies to arms companies that export military equipment to oppressive foreign regimes.

In this way anarchists could build support from networks such as Campaign against the Arms Trade which are also concerned with this type of issue.

In order to further increase funding for community led programs, anarchist and community organisations may also want to push for new measures to prevent corporations and the wealthy evade tax. This year, evasion will cost the UK around £90bn per year – around the same figure as the deficit – which the middle and lower classes are being held responsible for. [1]   

Anarchists could also push a higher tax rate for the richest, particularly the richest 0.1% whose wealth has exploded in recent years without any perceivable economic or social benefits to the country as a whole. In fact, the social consequences of increased inequality have almost undoubtedly been negative. For example, in their ground-breaking study, the Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett document how economic inequality is linked to widespread social problems for at least the bottom 90% of earners in countries such as the US and UK.  Thus Sweden has far better social indicators than the US and UK, despite having far lower GDP per capita and median incomes. Higher taxes for the rich could help address this problem. 

Furthermore, by pushing for tax reforms, anarchists would be helping link anti-cuts activists with participatory budgeting activists, and could help build support for further change.   

With increased tax funds from the very wealthiest, communities could fund a range of new, not-for profit, co-operatively managed services for the public, including better schools, youth clubs, better services for the disabled and public transport, or whatever else communities decide on. All of this would help improve the living standards of communities. This process could also be useful in addressing under and unemployment, creating empowering jobs in all communities throughout the country.  Again, all of these short term benefits could help build broad support for anarchist ideals of collective, democratic action.

Most of the measures discussed here have been aimed at building the foundations of a future society. However, note that almost all these steps also work to weaken current systems of power. For example, through participatory budgeting, central government power is weakened. Through trade union action, the power of corporate directors is weakened. 

Those in powerful positions will inevitably attempt to resist such changes using either economic power or state violence. For example, financial investors may move their money overseas in reaction to tax increases or they may disinvest from companies with strong trade unions. In terms of political retaliation there may be a violent clampdown by the government, just as there was a violent clampdown on unions in the 1980s.
Here, further pro-revolutionary action could be the most beneficial course of action for communities and workers. For example, as mentioned earlier, savers could survive a banking crisis by saving with credit unions. Such credit unions could also keep credit flowing to communities. If an economic crisis occurs in which factories or shops begin closing down, organised workers may be able to react by taking over these workplaces themselves – as happened widely in the 2001 Argentina economic crisis.  Additionally, earlier this year, closed down HMV stores were occupied by ex-workers in Ireland, as a protest against unpaid wages. This was only one step away from the workers deciding to re-open the stores under self-management. This is something that well-organised communities and trade union networks could achieve in the future.

Alternatively, in the case of violent suppression by the government, the best way to resist may be even more public protest as happened in Argentina in 2001. There, after the government announced a state of siege on the population in response to economic protests this spurred a far larger uprising, forcing 5 Presidents out in 3 weeks. The chant in Argentina was, “all of them must go”, but without a national network of self-management in place, they accepted provisional government. A similar process can be seen in Egypt recently. However, if a similar event happens in the UK and worker and community organisations are prepared throughout the country, with economic and self-defence strategies ready, they may be able to agree to begin self-managing the country.  

Thanks for listening. Comments and questions on these ideas are welcome. See you soon.