Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Solidarity, Engagement & the Revolutionary Organisation

Over the last couple of years the WSM has been going through a process of re-examining the way we relate to people interested in what we have to say. Alongside this we have recently begun to try and get a better understanding of what it is we do. Both these processes have some major implications in reaching an understanding of what the usefulness of a revolutionary organisation is in the modern era of broad and loose social networks.

What does WSM do?
Part of what the WSM does is easy to see and understand. We publish a newspaper Workers Solidarity, a magazine Irish Anarchist Review and maintain a website at WSM.IE. These are all very visible. We organise the annual Dublin Anarchist Bookfair and periodically hold meetings & speaking tours in our own name. Again very easy to see and understand. However most of our activity is much less visible and at times this means that people presume what has already been listed is actually the limits of our activity.

We are dual organisationalists - a specialist term that indicates those groups within anarchism that implement the bulk of their campaign, community & union activity through broad mass organisations rather than setting up their own unions, front groups etc. Unlike some on the left we don't attempt to make our presence very visible in such struggles by demanding speakers on every campaign platform or turning up with hundreds of branded placards for every demonstration. That's because we recognise that this sort of behaviour is generally counter productive for winning on that particular issue and we don't put the interests of our organisation ahead of the interests of the struggles we are involved in.

One major negative side effect of this though is that it makes our involvement in struggles hard to see unless you know who our members are. To an extent you can construct a picture of what we are probably involved in through carefully following our press, Facebook and Twitter output. Although even this won't give a complete picture as it’s dependent on the members involved writing up experiences and advertising events, something that often won't happen.
What might perhaps be surprising is that even internally we don't have a very accurate picture of the range of our activity beyond some broad generalisations.

This is because most of our campaign activity is generated from members’ individual initiatives and informal linkages between members working in the same area. We maintain coherency not because we have a centre directing our activity (most of the left has a layer of 'full timers' who fill this role) but because we operate off a common collectively agreed set of political position papers. This means that in almost all cases the answer to 'what should be done' is fairly obvious, at least in a broad sense.

At times we do focus in on particular issues and operate in a more coordinated fashion where this is needed. Most frequently this will tend to be in mass struggles where the manipulations of left parties mean that there is a requirement to micro-manage a collective response, to avoid being blind-sided. The Campaign against the Household Tax (CAHWT) was one recent example. But as an all-volunteer organisation that seeks to work on a wide range of issues, including struggles against racism and sexism (what today is called an intersectional practice) we simply don't have the time resources for detailed coordination on every one of those issues. Many things inevitably happen on a looser, ad hoc basis.

At the start of the summer we held a WSM members discussion weekend in Cashel and as part of that attempted to map out what the activity of our members over the previous year had been. We are not a large organisation, we had around 34 members nationally at the time of the Cashel meeting, but all the same even internally it turned out that no one had anything approaching a full picture of our broad range of activity. We knew the most about activities that were regularly reported on by members, either publicly or through internal reports. But we might collectively know nothing about similar levels of work that were being conducted elsewhere, but not being reported on.

The method used was simple. Every member was asked to write down those external organisations they have been involved in at the level of attending organising meetings over the previous year. One piece of paper was used for each member’s involvement in each organisation. Then in Cashel we physically laid the pieces of paper out, the size of any stack for an organisation representing the amount of collective effort that had gone in. The stacks were moved around into natural groups, for instance the unions were grouped together as were the anti-racist groups. The resulting patterns were used for discussions about engagement that are beyond the scope of this article.

After Cashel I used photographs of the resulting maps to create the Cloud diagram seen here. As you can see it’s pretty complex with very many organisations represented, so to reduce the complexity I had to remove the information about the number of members involved in particular organisations. I also removed a lot of individual social networking initiatives, things like Facebook pages and profiles. The diagram is incomplete as not every member was able to attend the Cashel meeting and not everybody who didn't make it responded to a request to supply the information afterwards. But it is a first approximation of an answer to the 'What does the WSM do' question that we opened this section with.

Article continues here:  Solidarity, Engagement & the Revolutionary Organisation