Introduction: Why an Everyday manifesto?

Introduction: Why an Everyday manifesto?

We outline why we believe that political parties and governments cannot be used to improve our lives, and why we think that the only way meaningful change can occur is if we as ordinary people get together at the grassroots and make them happen.

In practical terms this means that instead of appealing to our leaders for change, or forming political parties to take state power, we make the changes we want – ourselves – and from the bottom up.

We call this direct action, and we think that this is the best way for us to win better, more fulfilling existences. Direct action is a oft-misused term – in our Glossary it is defined as “action taken directly by people themselves to make changes they want in the world, without appealing to the government, political parties or bosses. Most mass direct action is in the form of strikes, non-payment of unjust taxes, and blockades.”

Direct action has won countless gains for working people the world over. We used to have to work 14-hour days, seven days a week until workers came together and organised in trade unions and other associations, faced up to savage repression and successfully won the much better (but still totally inadequate) conditions and wages we have today.

Mass direct action in this country only a little over ten years ago defeated Maggie Thatcher’s Poll Tax, while electoral efforts were fruitless [1].

While electoral ("political") activity ensures that we all become accustomed to following leaders and letting them act on our behalf, we support direct action as the best available means for preparing ourselves to manage their own personal and collective interests.

Libertarian communists therefore argue that we need to reclaim the power which has been concentrated into the hands of the state. That is why we stress direct action. Through direct action, the people dominate their own struggles, it is we who conduct it, organise it, manage it. We do not hand over to others the task of self-liberation. That way, we become accustomed to managing our own affairs, creating alternative, libertarian, forms of social organisation which can become a force to resist the state, win reforms and, ultimately, become the framework of a free society. Such organisations often appear in times of struggle as community assemblies, factory committees, workers' councils, and so on. These organs of direct-democracy have been the most important element of revolutions over the past 250 years, although they were often usurped into representative institutions or crushed militarily.

Community Assembly in Argentina
The embryo of a new society - community assembly in the Argentine uprising of 2001. One third of the population participated in the assemblies.

We are in favour of collective, mass action. There is nothing more isolated, atomised and individualistic than voting in elections. It is the act of one person in a box by themselves, the total opposite of collective struggle. The individual is alone before, during and after the act of voting. Indeed, unlike direct action, which, by its very nature, throws up new forms of organisation in order to manage and co-ordinate the struggle, voting creates no alternative organs of workers’ self-management; nor can it, as it is not based on nor does it create collective action or organisation. It simply empowers an individual (the elected representative) to act on behalf of a collection of other individuals (the voters). This will hinder collective organisation and action as the voters expect their representative to act and fight for them - as if they did not, they would not vote for them in the first place!

In other words, the idea that socialists standing for elections somehow prepares working class people for a new world is simply wrong. Utilising the state, standing in elections, only prepares people for following leaders - it does not encourage the self-activity, self-organisation, direct action and mass struggle required to build a better society. Moreover, use of elections has a corrupting effect on those who use it. The history of radicals using elections has been a long one of betrayal and the transformation of revolutionary parties into reformist ones. Thus using the existing state ensures that the division at the heart of existing society (namely a few who govern and the many who obey) is reproduced in the movements trying to abolish it. It boils down to handing effective leadership to special people, to "leaders," just when the situation requires working people to solve their own problems and take matters into their own hands. Only the struggle for freedom can be the school for freedom, and by placing power into the hands of leaders, utilising the existing state ensures that socialism is postponed rather than prepared for.

On a more practical level, electoral activity is stacked towards the rich and powerful. To even register on the public radar requires multi-million pound advertising, and coverage in the corporate media. Trying to get an independent candidate elected into office is massively time-consuming and expensive – time which could be used building up a working class counter-power, in the forum of organisations based on solidarity between people, where we can stick together and force the state to give in to our demands.

Governments only grant demands to the people when their very power is threatened – for example the introduction of social housing following the mass workers’ and ex-soldiers’ squatting movement after World War 2, or nationalisation of the coal industry following massive strikes. In Latin America today, left-wing governments in countries such as Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil are granting large-scale land and social reform. This is not due to their benevolence, however – it is due to the massive social movements which have been using direct action for years to make the changes themselves. Landless and homeless movements have been occupying land and buildings, workers have taken over bankrupt factories, and communities have blockaded roads to stop privatisation and sell-offs of natural resources. If the governments had not granted these reforms, they would have been overthrown! In fact, many governments only ratify changes which workers have already made, such as in Argentina legalising already-occupied factories and in the Spanish and Russian revolutions giving official sanction to land collectivisations already undertaken.

Right-wing terror - the Chilean coup 1973

Chile 1973 - Soldiers round up dissident workers in the National Stadium following the coup against the democratically-elected left-wing government.

In many countries the two-party system making it almost impossible for progressive parties to get elected, since if you vote for the most radical you will split the progressive vote and maybe let the conservative or reactionary government in. In the rare instances where radical parties who claim to want to make improvements for the majority (for example by taxing or taking into public ownership large corporations, or introducing strict environmental or workers’ rights laws) become large, one of the following always happens:

▫ They sell out their principles in order to receive backing from corporations or the mass media - also owned by huge corporations – which is necessary in most countries to even get elected. Good examples of this would be New Labour, and Green Parties in power in Germany and Belgium.

▫They get in power, try to implement progressive policies and find themselves at the mercy of larger economic forces. For example if one country introduces a good minimum wage, or high taxes corporate profits there will be capital flight – businesses will just shift overseas. This was demonstrated very strongly by the capital flight during the 1974-79 Labour government which tried to carry out a pro-worker program [2].

▫ They get in power, try to implement progressive policies and are overthrown by force by domestic or foreign forces backed by business interests. The CIA-backed coup against the left-wing Chilean President Allende in 1973 (see picture above) being a case in point; another example almost occurred in Italy after World War 2, where the right-wing secret army, Gladio was to launch a coup if the Communist Party entered government.

We want a world where we are all in control our own lives, our own communities, and our own destinies, and where we are free to live out our dreams and desires. We recognise that many people who are members of political parties share our goals, but we sincerely believe that electoral activity is a massively costly (in both time and money) exercise which ultimately is counter-productive.

Politics is a game set up by the rich and powerful, without a level playing field, and as ordinary people we are best off using our energy to organise ourselves and build solidarity amongst all workers to fight for our own interests. Of course we welcome all progressive government reforms, but none our ever handed down – we must fight for them, all the while continuing to build the new world within the shell of the old.

For libertarian communists, while we would like to live in a classless, stateless, free society whether we get there or not in our lifetimes does not matter. We believe that our ideas and tactics are the best for winning better lives for ourselves in the here and now as well. Apart from direct action and solidarity being the most effective methods of winning improvements to our communities, our environment and our work, they are even beneficial to the individual participant’s mental health, and the bonds which are formed between people in such activity [3] can never be forgotten.

1 - For more information on Militant's electoral opposition to the Poll Tax see here
2 - More information here
3 – Sussex University Study, 2002. Press release here