Thinking About Anarchism: Direct Action


The idea of direct action is sometimes misunderstood as meaning anything violent, anything from a brick through a window to a full-scale guerrilla war. Our political opponents go out of their way to spread confusion because they know that in a “battle of ideas” they would lose. That is why they portray anarchism as a ludicrous system of chaos and disorganiation.

When the phrase ‘direct action’ was first used at the end of the nineteenth century it meant no more than the opposite of trying to win change by trusting in ‘better’ politicians. In the context of modern trade unionism it means using industrial action – strikes, work to rules, occupations – rather than trusting in the supposedly impartial Labour Court, Rights Commissioners and mediators.

In the community it means tenants and residents associations organising non-payment of water and household taxes instead of trusting in the local politician to get rid of them. The point is that action is taken, not indirectly by representatives over whom we have little control, but directly by those who are affected. It is action intended to succeed, not just to gain publicity. It rejects the notion that ordinary people are stupid and powerless and so must leave all the important decisions to someone else. It recognises that most improvements for our class will not be handed down by the bosses; they have to be fought for. That is how we have gained nearly everything we have, from the eight hour day to the right to join a union.

Anarchists hold that genuine socialism cannot be created by the actions of any small minority or elite. If we are to create a socialism based on the grassroots democracy of workers and community councils a lot of people will have to be involved. A lot of people will have to believe that they can destroy the present system and build a better one.

Through engaging in direct action we learn by experience that there is no need to depend on some ‘expert’ or professional politician. We learn that we can manage our own struggles in our own interests. We learn the need to link up with others in the common cause. For example, if we want to win on the household tax, we have to involve more than just one area of the country. This is when the ideals of solidarity and mutual aid become real. There is no pre-condition for revolution more important than working class self-confidence. If this does not exist then the running of society will be taken over by whatever party is able to put across the image that they are the “professionals” and “experts”. 

When this happens we can forget about socialism. A minority is in the driving seat and it is only a matter of time before they develop from a grouping with their own interests into a new fully-fledged ruling class. This is what has happened every time a minority has been trusted to rule a country after a revolutionary upheaval. Only a confident working class can create the true democracy that will stop this happening. 

This article is from Workers Solidarity 125, Jan/Feb 2012