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 .
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
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.
|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.
Chile 1973 - Soldiers
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
▫ 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 
can never be forgotten.