Aileen O’Carroll on Anarchism in Ireland

Aileen O’Carroll is an organiser with the Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland.

These are clips taken from an interview recorded in Dublin in April 2011, for a documentary never finished by its original producers, which hoped to show anarchism in all its forms around the world today and in history. But, I think it succeeds even better at that task as a video catalogue for those interested enough to find the clips that piqued their curiousity.

To see the full catalogue of interviews click here.

Aileen O’Carroll on Anarchism in Ireland

When did you first hear about anarchism?

I first heard about anarchism when I was 17 or 18 and I went to college and I met people there who described themselves as anarchists. Before that I would have been in politics from two things really. One, from reading feminist literature that my mother had lying around. And two, from going to the Catholic Church which is very dominant in Ireland and there were an awful lot of things that the Catholic Church was doing that were very anti-woman and that made me quite angry. So, that’s where my political activism came from. So, I think when I met people who described themselves as anarchists it was more like, I’m that as well. The way of organizing, and the decentralizing, and the empowering of individuals was something that I already believed in, so it was a way of saying, yeah, that’s me as well.

What have been some of your activities as an anarchist?

When I started off I was involved in student politics. At that time there was a recession in Ireland and there were a lot of cutbacks that affected students. And then I became involved in campaigning for abortion rights in Ireland and I joined a small anarchist group of students and then I met other anarchists in Ireland, and I joined another anarchist group, the Workers Solidarity Movement and I’ve been involved in that ever since. And within that group we campaign on various issues at various different times. So, for a long period it was anti-clerical struggles, for aborition rights, for free contraception, for free divorce. Now, recently it’s moved on to economic issues with the cut backs, so the struggles have changed as the political landscape has changed.

What is anarchism?

To me anarchism is about two different types of equality: there’s economic equality where the wealth of the world is shared equally. And then there’s equality of power where there aren’t power differentials between people. And I think that’s one of the strengths about anarchism in that it’s always focusing on these two issues, economics and power.

Why are anarchists against singularly powerful leaders?

I think anarchists are against leaders because they believe in the leadership potential of every single person. They believe that…they have a great faith in people’s skills and abilities to take control of their own lives. I think .having a leadership model where you have one person who has to make decisions over a whole range of issues is very wasteful of human creativity, so, for me, anarchists are against leaders because they believe in the creative ability of people to take control and for example, they recognise that people may be experts in one area, they’re not experts in another area, so it makes no sense to just have one person you know running everything on behalf of other people.

What would an anarchist world look like?

People do ask, well my mother asks me, what an anarchist world looks like, and it’s a really hard question to answer, because anarchism isn’t really so much a vision of what a world will look like, but it’s more a vision of how people will make decisions in their lives and how they will create their lives. So, when I think about an anarchist world I think okay, it’s a world where we want to maximise people’s potential, so, for example, we want to ensure that our children have the best possible education, an education that really nurtures them. Now, I don’t know anything about education, I don’t teach young kids. So an anarchist world would be the, a world in which the parents and teachers get to create their own curriculum in a way that benefits the children that they’re teaching and is aiming at nurturing. The same in medicine. An anarchist world will be one in which the doctors and nurses have control over their workplaces and create a health system that actually meets people’s needs.

So it’s a world where the people who are actually doing the work, who know best what needs to be done, actually can make the decisions on what needs to be done. Which is very different from what we have here. Usually anyone who works in the workplace, you have managers who tell you what to do and who usually know less about what you’re doing than you are, and the decisions they’re making are not based on good public service or good care, because it’s good for people. Usually they’re based on because it’s cheaper or because it’s faster, or it’s going to make a profit. So an anarchist world is one where the principle underlying society is not how best we make a profit, it’s how best can we run society in our own interests.

Why do anarchists see the fight for social liberties like freedom of movement as being linked to the fight for economic liberties like everyone getting to own the fruits of their own labor?

Anarchists are interested in removing the power inequalities as much as the economic inequalities. So anarchists would campaign against gender inequality, racism, and all the other power differentials that exist in society as much as they would against economic inequality. So, it’s not a case of one being more important than another. And I, as an anarchist woman, you find these, sometimes people would pose questions, what’s more important? Class or gender? And that to me is a meaningless question because I’m both a woman and a member of the working class, so it doesn’t make sense. I can’t say I’m one more than another. So I think anarchists struggle hand in hand on a number of issues and I find it strange that people find it impossible or strange to do that.

What got you interested in Mujeres Libres?

One of the movements that really inspired me from history is the movement called Mujeres Libres organization in Spain during the Spanish Revolution. This was an organization of anarchist women who organized as anarchists, as trade unionists, but also independently as women. What’s amazing about them is that a lot of them were really young, they were 13 or 14, and they were doing amazing things. They were running hospitals, they would go around Spain talking to people, and were running magazines. Most of them, we don’t actually know their names. There is a thing where you look for the most famous people in history, but for me politics is about ordinary people taking control of their lives and usually often you don’t know the names of those people. So I think one of the most inspiring groups I’ve come across is the Mujeres Libres group.

How optimistic are you that we will achieve an anarchist world?

In the WSM we always ask new members ‘are you an optimist or are you a pessimist?’ Within our organization there’s definitely people who think they will see anarchism in their lifetime and people who think they won’t. I’ve always been on the optimist side. But of course now I’m getting older haha. The thing I would say, the great thing about human history is it’s totally unpredictable and you never know what’s going to happen. This year, who would have predicted what happened in Egypt? And what’s happening in the Arab world? And when I was in my teens, you had the Singing Revolution, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, both things are really inspiring, so I know change can happen, I know it happened really quickly, so that gives me hope. I don’t think there’s going to be a revolution tomorrow, but you never know. So I guess I’m still an optimist.

What can each of us do to bring about an anarchist world?

In order to bring about anarchism it’s vitally important that we’re organised. We can fight in our daily lives but without coming together, it’s never going to do more than just change things for ourselves in a local way. So, I think we have to be organised, the second thing is we have to be really ambitious, we have to try and strive to do more than we are at the moment, to try and look for new areas of struggle. There’s an awful lot to be done, but the key issue is to be organized.

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