Speech by Seán Edwards: National Executive Committee, Communist Party of Ireland
It is very significant that this conference is taking place in Latin America, for this is a continent that has reawakened. A wave of popular struggle, for independence, for democratic rights, for social progress, has affected every country on the continent and has won many victories, shaking the dominance of the United States. The banner of socialism is raised once more. There has been no greater victory, of course, than that of the Cuban people, who determined to maintain and defend socialism through the most difficult times, and who continue to do so.
We are living in a very critical and dangerous time. There is a major offensive by the ruling class against the workers and all oppressed, using the opportunity provided by the economic and financial crisis, imposing “austerity” programmes—
• to increase its profit margins by reducing workers’ pay and conditions,
• to find guaranteed profits by privatising publicly owned services and industries,
• to limit democratic rights,
• to impose ever more oppressive conditions of trade, usually called “free trade” agreements, on poorer countries, forcing them to open up their economies to transnational corporations, and
• to threaten war, to wage war, or to create wars for other people to fight.
Of course none of this is new. We are this year plagued with the celebration of the inter-imperialist war of one hundred years ago, and the present crisis came to a head in 2008. The two dominant imperialist powers, the United States and the European Union, though they have not found a way out of their economic and financial crisis, strive to re-assert their dominance by every means, political, economic, and military. The EU is just as ruthless as the United States: look, for example, at the proposed free-trade agreement between the EU and Colombia. The EU pushed for even more onerous conditions than exist in the agreement with the United States.
The crisis has strengthened the war party in both the US and the EU, what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex. The closely linked arms and aviation industries are the strongest remaining manufacturing industries in the US, while arms production is explicitly singled out for promotion in the Lisbon Treaty, the latest treaty governing the EU. The arms manufacturers have an interest in wars, or at least tension and threats of war. I do not believe that the EU and the US really want a war with Russia, but NATO is conducting military exercises right up to its borders. Likewise the US is trying to provoke a conflict between China and its neighbours over some rocky islands in the South China Sea. A very dangerous game indeed.
The promotion of fascism is also a dangerous game; with racial and religious hatred it remains one of the weapons of imperialism.
Latin America has shown that it is possible to resist and defeat the fascism imposed by the imperialist power and its local allies. The people here have not only defended democratic rights but have expanded and developed them. The popular movements inspire us, on the western edge of Europe.
An example: we in Ireland have just now held a number of massive demonstrations against a tax on water, which is a preparation for privatisation, in accordance with the dictates of the European Union. In this we are inspired by the Bolivian people’s defence of the right to water, which led to immense social advance.
To put these demonstrations in context: the Irish working people have been subjected to a massive programme of “austerity” since the government took on the debts of the banks and imposed them on the Irish people—on the orders of the European Central Bank, as has now been officially acknowledged. Enduring six years of pay cuts, extra taxes, rent increases and deprivation, their anger grew, but only now has there been a massive mobilisation. The “right to water” campaign, under trade union leadership, has transformed Irish politics. Thank you, Bolivia.
The EU and the US, in spite of tensions between them, plan to cement their alliance in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, an economic and political NATO. The TTIP, if passed, would further erode national sovereignty and the right of the Irish parliament to make laws for Ireland (already most of our laws come from the EU) and give corporations the right to sue the state. It would both strengthen the EU relative to the member-states and weaken it relative to monopoly capital. It would be a further weakening of such democracy as we have.
This economic and military alliance has been asserting itself, most recently in Syria and Ukraine. They don’t scruple to make use of pro-Nazi organisations (which they have kept in reserve for decades) or Islamist jihadis, the very ones against whom they declared the “war on terror.”
The leading “democracies,” as they describe themselves, have deliberately revived fascism. They think they can use it and control it without consequences for themselves—they thought that before. The jihadis serve as covert allies or as official “enemy number 1,” sometimes both at the same time.
Their major allies in the Middle East, of course, are Saudi Arabia and Israel, hardly models of democracy.
Successive Irish governments have become progressively more subservient to imperialism, whether British, European, or American. Though still officially neutral, the state facilitates the transport of US troops and weapons through Shannon Airport. It submits its budget to Europe before it presents it to our own parliament. The principal aim of its economic policy is to attract foreign investment and to make the country safe for transnational corporations.
The present government is the most obedient and subservient since the foundation of the state. It reflects the class interest of the Irish bourgeoisie, now closely linked to foreign capital. Almost inevitably, the social-democratic Labour Party is a partner in this government, like social-democratic parties all over Europe. In Ireland the assault on working people is implemented by means of the debt; elsewhere, as the parties represented here can confirm, similar or different justifications are cited.
Our party has taken a number of initiatives to help build the forces that will bring about radical changes. We have identified two crucial areas. There are radical anti-imperialist forces that are scattered and divided and who do not share fully our understanding of imperialism but nevertheless are willing to work with us and discuss the nature of the imperialist domination of the Irish people—not only by British imperialism (the old enemy) but also by the EU and the US.
The other area that we have been attempting to develop is within the trade union movement. We are endeavouring to draw activists together with the aim of developing a political strategy that will take a clearer class approach to issues facing workers. We aim to counter the deeply reformist and class-collaborationist consciousness that has hampered any effective fight-back.
We are conscious of the necessity of uniting these areas of struggle. Our purpose is to build and strengthen a working-class anti-imperialist consciousness.
Today the working class and all oppressed people need a strong, united communist movement to assert leadership, not by declaration but by action. We must come forward with strategies that reflect the different levels of economic and social development, taking on board the rich historical traditions of our peoples. There is no one blueprint but rather a rich tapestry of experience in which we as communists must study and learn from one another. While we have a common struggle, we must fight it in different ways.
The betrayal by the social-democratic parties in Europe has left an empty space that certain opportunist “left” forces rush into. They are peddling illusions, as there is no possibility of a social-democratic programme being implemented under EU rules. Yet they accept the EU. Some see it as an easier road, but it is an easier road that leads nowhere.
A communist movement must be consistently and principally anti-imperialist, otherwise it is not communist. The unity we seek to build is a unity of anti-imperialist forces. We need to deepen our theory regarding imperialism and current developments within it. At present, crisis is building upon crisis, wars are now a permanent feature, and the planet faces an environmental catastrophe. Only a socialist future can guarantee any future at all.