Contribution by Eugene Mc Cartan general secretary, Communist Party of Ireland
There are a number of central questions facing the workers’ movement throughout our world.
Firstly, we need to deepen our knowledge of the continuing crisis of the system, which clearly is showing no signs of abating, and in fact the contradictions appear to be intensifying.
The second area in which we need to develop our understanding and to strengthen our common actions is in relation to the growing environmental catastrophe now facing our planet—a crisis that is having and will have a devastating impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people as well as thousands of species of plants and animals.
Thirdly, imperialism’s strategy is now one of a permanent state of war and military build-up, with permanent regional conflicts to sustain the industrial-military complex.
And fourthly, there is the importance of maintaining our unity, based upon mutual respect. There is more that unites us than divides us.
Many comrades will cover all the above, and more, but because of time restrictions I will concentrate on three of those areas.
Recently the Irish establishment proclaimed that the crisis is over, that the worst has passed, and the economy has “turned the corner.” Both the Irish ruling class and the European Union have declared that “austerity” has worked and that we are ready to leave the restructuring programme, or what they call the “Programme for Ireland,” on 15 December. They also falsely proclaim that the Republic will get its sovereignty back.
This has more to do with appearances than with reality. The European Union has to show to the people of Greece, Spain, Portugal and other EU member-states that if they take the austerity medicine without resistance, it works. In reality this is nothing more than rocking the train from side to side to pretend that it is moving forward.
Crisis and its impact of the irish working class
Since the crisis erupted, the Irish government has taken more than €20 billion out of the economy in five annual budgets. This has been achieved by massive cuts in public spending on social welfare, education, health, social provisions and pensions and with thousands of jobs lost in public services.
This strategy is hitting working-class women harder, as they have always made up the majority of low-paid workers and those dependent on social welfare. Simultaneously they have increased government charges, introduced new taxes, and increased working hours without pay. Workers in the public health service are now being forced to work two extra weeks for no wages.
A recent report by the hand-picked establishment figures who make up the National Fiscal Council stated that the government’s financial liabilities “have increased four-fold since 2007, reaching €208 billion (127 per cent of GDP) in 2012. Over this period, Ireland experienced the largest increase in indebtedness (relative to GDP) of any Euro Area country . . . [This] mainly consisted of sovereign bonds, Troika/bilateral loans and promissory notes.
“Debt in Ireland in 2012 amounted to €192 billion or 118 per cent of GDP. There has been a four-fold increase in government debt over the past five years, reflecting a series of large budget deficits and the cost of direct support provided to the banking sector. On this basis, Ireland had the fourth highest debt ratio in the Euro Area in 2012, whereas in 2007 Ireland had the second lowest ratio”—this for a population of just over four-and-a-half million.
The Irish people in the Republic experience the political and economic strategy of the European Union, while identical policies are imposed by British imperialism on the working people of the North of Ireland.
In the Republic, unemployment now stands at nearly 410,000, or 13 per cent. In the North of Ireland the rate is 7½ per cent. Increasing numbers of home-owners are unable to pay their mortgage and are now facing eviction and repossession.
The economic policies and priorities of the British state and their impact on the people of the North of Ireland are further exacerbating the deep underlying sectarian divisions and tensions. The growing poverty and social alienation among sections of the working class, particularly among youth, are being exploited by elements of the establishment parties and paramilitary groups.
The “Troika,” in alliance with the Irish ruling class, continue to turn the country into a zone of precarious employment, a low-wage economy. Workers’ rights and conditions are under sustained attack, while the government has rushed in legislation giving it the power to cut the wages of public-sector workers.
Key elements of the leadership of the trade union movement have been more than willing to co-operate and to actively discourage workers’ resistance to the continuing attacks. Some are members of the Labour Party, the junior party in the current government.
The result of recent budget cuts in social welfare for those under the age of twenty-five will drive tens of thousands of young people out of the country. Emigration from the Republic is now running at 50,000 per year, equivalent to nearly a thousand a week, or one person every ten minutes. Those remaining will have to work on schemes called “Job Bridge” for up to forty hours a week for less than the minimum wage or be forced into “internships.”
The national gas company, An Bord Gáis, is now up for privatisation. Stage 1 of privatisation is the services side of it; the state will still retain the production side, but the profits will be reaped by the servicing part. That’s what citizens will be financing: private profits for energy that is socially owned.
The political role of debt
The political role of debt Debt has become the principal means of pushing through the long-term strategic imperative of economic restructuring that is intended to restore lost inequalities and to impose new ones. The servicing of the debt is costing the Irish people nearly €9 billion per year—similar to the annual education budget. They are driving forward with the privatisation of public companies and the commercialisation of the remaining public services, allowing the economy to be further dominated by monopoly capitalism.
Since the eruption of the crisis our party has been arguing that austerity is working—that it is working as designed. Communists have been a lone voice in putting forward this argument, which challenges the illusion that bourgeois governments actually act in an objective or impartial way, that they are above class antagonisms.
Austerity in Ireland, as elsewhere, is not—as some on the left would claim—a bad policy option but rather is an economic necessity for the system itself. It is clearly designed to facilitate the transfer of wealth from working people, small businesses, working family farmers and the self-employed, upwards and outwards: upwards to the Irish ruling class, who are becoming richer, with wealth becoming more concentrated, while at the same time the massive flows of capital out of the country to service the socialised corporate debt are strengthening the dependence relationship and mechanisms of control over the Irish people’s potential to develop alternative, independent political and economic action.
What is clear to us is that the European Union and international finance capital do not want the debt repaid. Debt does two things: firstly, they do not want it repaid but to service it, resulting in guaranteed vast profits; secondly, they are using the debt, particularly that of the heavily indebted peripheral states, as one of the central means of exercising and strengthening their control and domination. Debt-dependence is the means of ensuring that austerity is permanent and irreversible.
At the recent EU summit the EU Commission has been given greater supervisory control over economies and the drive towards privatisation.
Repudiation of the debt: This debt is not the people’s debt but corporate debt imposed on the people by the external troika, with the active collaboration of the internal troika of establishment politicians, business leaders, and the state. No way forward other than repudiation The dominant economic and political interests within the EU, in co-operation with dependent national ruling classes, have, through the stability mechanism, securely fixed banking and sovereign debt together; and in all future financial crises the state—in fact the working class—will bear the burden.
They have also made it clear that large and small depositors will in the future carry the main burden. That is why our demand is for repudiation. The European Union is itself under growing strains, with the stability of the euro still very questionable. More and more working people are beginning to ask, Whose interests does the EU serve? This is reflected in the setting up by the EU of a new section to monitor social media in the member-states to try to actively combat this growing questioning of the EU’s legitimacy.
We need to keep reminding ourselves and other forces on the left that the EU is essentially an alliance of monopoly capitalist forces for preventing the re-emergence of socialism. Its structures and treaties are for blocking any path towards socialism. It cannot be reformed or transformed but must be challenged and defeated.
We believe that the question of the euro needs deeper study. Are the euro and the banking debt the strategic weaknesses of European monopoly capitalism? We need to examine this not only in relation to the heavily indebted EU countries but also as an instrument of inter-imperialist rivalry between the euro and the dollar.
The euro crisis and the current trade talks between the United States and the EU go some way towards explaining the current bugging and spying scandals. And can we build united working-class action and mobilisation around them?
Democracy under renewed attack: Democracy, its very substance and its class character and nature will increasingly become an important arena of ideological struggle with the imminent US-EU Free Trade Agreement, including the rights of individual corporations to sue any government as the monopolies push ahead to undermine democratic controls and accountability that might prevent them taking any action that could be considered as limiting their right to unfettered profit.
Environmental catastrophe faces all the people: Regarding the growing environmental crisis, this is something we cannot ignore. We need to study the whole relationship between global environmental destruction and modern state monopoly capitalism. It is capitalism that is creating the environmental crisis, with its need for growth. If capitalism is not growing it is in crisis.
In addition, a significant contributing factor is modern imperialist warfare and its contribution to the destruction and pollution of the environment, with their use of depleted uranium weaponry. Military production is the most anti-environmental of all industries, and wars, of course, are hundreds of times worse.
The workers’ movement has not successfully linked the ownership and nature of capitalist production and capitalist commodity fetishism in our political understanding and anti-monopoly strategies. We would argue that, because we have not fully taken into account the environmental crisis, the defence of the environment has been in the main championed by petit-bourgeois forces, with all their weaknesses and vacillations. They are unable to give any clear understanding of monopoly capitalism, the nature of the crisis and the reasons for it, as they continue to seek a solution within the confines of the capitalist system.
We need to seriously reconnect the workers’ movement with the defence of the environment, build it into our anti-monopoly strategy, turn it against imperialism. We have to raise the argument that we must either save the planet or save capitalism: we cannot save both.
Finally, we cannot give leadership if we are divided. There is no one way forward. Each people experiences the crisis differently. They will resist, but that resistance will be effective only if it reflects the specific conditions experienced by the people, deriving from the uneven development of capitalism. It is essential that we learn from each other’s experience and give solidarity—but not to replicate each other’s policies unquestioningly. Only on this basis can we build the maximum unity.
All our parties have to make a concrete analysis of the concrete material conditions that we experience. If we do not, we will fall into idealism, sectarianism, and opportunism. Flowing from this understanding, we have to devise strategies for building the resistance of the working class and its potential allies.
For example, in our understanding the Irish people are dominated by three sets of imperialist interests and relations, all of them interconnected. In the North of Ireland they are directly dominated by British imperialism, in the Republic by US imperialism, facilitated by the domination of American transnational capitalist investment, using this as a platform for access to the European Union. The EU imperialist bloc is the primary inter-class alliance that the Irish ruling class depends upon and are active collaborators with.
This requires us to seek to build alliances with other patriotic forces that share at least part of our anti-imperialist strategy.
We are in favour of a joint statement from these meetings, on the understanding that it must reflect the breadth and the rich and deep experience of parties struggling in different conditions, with a different balance of class forces, the nation’s history, and its traditions of struggle. It is a generalised view or understanding of our world, not specific to any particular country.
To achieve this we need tolerance and respect among us. Yes, we need to struggle against right-opportunism; but there are no guarantees except constant education, discussion and debate within our ranks.
The cornerstones of our movement that should shape the way we understand our world are class struggle, the class nature of the state power, and anti-imperialism. These must constantly shape and enrich our understanding of the struggle around us, and we should apply these three basic tests to every situation.
There is no inoculation against opportunism. It is a constant struggle, and each party has to deal with it in their specific conditions with political and ideological education. United action is the way to dispel illusions about the nature of the enemy we face.
This is not to dismiss or underestimate the ideological differences but rather to stress the importance of maintaining unity and maximising co-operation.
Surely our strategy must be aimed at uniting our friends and dividing our enemies—uniting all those who suffer under imperialism and the monopoly capitalist system.