WSM Points of Unity Explained: 2 - Power Structures


'2. We reject the idea that society can be changed through 'good people' gaining control of the power structures. This means we reject both the electoral strategy of the social democratic and green parties and the 'revolutionary' strategy of the various left groups.'

The WSM is working towards a free, equal, democratic society. We believe the only way to achieve this is by people taking their destinies into their own hands, forming grassroots mass movements, and creating new truly democratic institutions.

However, the standard political approach taken across the globe is to gain power over already existing institutions and try to use them to change society from above. In Ireland this is seen either in various social democratic, socialist, or republican, parties running for election to Stormont, the Dáil, county councils, and so on, or in some republican groups seeking to stage a coup and take control of the state by force. We reject this strategy simply because it doesn't work. The totalitarian disasters of the USSR and Communist China show the danger of trying to force socialism from above, while the surrender of social democratic, green, and anti-colonial parties to capitalism worldwide demonstrates the weakness of the parliamentary route – regrettably confirming arguments anarchists have been making since the 19th century.

The reasons are simple. The use of an institution can only be as good as the institution itself. You can't make a good meal from rotten ingredients. Under capitalism, the state is trapped by the dictatorship of the market. Further still, whether under capitalism or not, the state is an institution fundamentally about taking power away from people at large and giving that power to whoever the ruling elite is, whether feudalists, capitalists, or even socialists. Lastly, our social problems are built into the very fabric of this society. You cannot simply legislate them away. That work has to be done 'on the ground', so to speak, to get to the root of the problem. That is the essential difference between 'radical' politics and reformist politics.

It doesn't matter how good the people are, seizing power over rotten institutions doesn't work. Having leftist politicians, generals, judges, police commissioners, and union bosses, won't address the root problems of our society anymore than nicer CEOs will. And moreover, we would do well to remember the wise old saying that 'power corrupts'.

The WSM has the common sense attitude of 'begin as you wish to continue'. If we all want a society of free equals where everyone participates, it makes no sense to start by handing control and leadership over to a small group of people. This way of doing things infects our organising in the present, creating a culture of hero worship, the expectation that 'Someone Else will do it', and politics watered-down for election time.

This is why the WSM will never run in such elections or aim to seize state power for ourselves but will instead work at the grassroots of unions, community, and activist groups, and take direct action. We say imagine if all the energy put into grabbing existing institutions, in electioneering, was put into building the independent power of the masses to make fundamental social changes.

We see the way forward in creating new institutions which are actually democratic. The principles are widespread and frequent participation, that people have a say roughly in proportion to how much a decision affects their lives, and that decision-making is from the ‘bottom-up’. Instead of ‘representatives’ there are delegates who are mandated and recallable - basically they have to do as we say rather than calling the shots themselves. So, we take inspiration from societies which have had success in implementing this real democracy, such as the Paris Commune of 1871, the workers’ councils and peasant communes of early revolutionary Russia and Ukraine, similarly for revolutionary Spain in the 1930’s, the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico today, and more recently in the TEV-DEM system of Rojava, Kurdistan, which is arguably the greatest ever experiment in democracy on planet Earth. A more modest example at home is the community democracy practised during the struggle against the water charges in the mid-to-late 2010s.

For a detailed analysis of the current political system and its lack of democracy, read our 'Parliament or Democracy?' pamphlet.
More on elections and direct democracy.

This is one in a series of short articles explaining the WSM Points of Unity.
To listen to all these pieces together, click here.
To read all the WSM Points of Unity, click here.
To read about the next Point of Unity - Platformism (1) - click here.