From Socialist Voice, August 2008

Where now stands the Lisbon Treaty?

The recent rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, coupled with the latest collapse of the World Trade Organisation talks, readily focuses the mind on the spiralling global economic downturn that is affecting ordinary workers and their families’ lives.
     The neo-liberal “crash and boom” economics—or, as Brian Cowen calls it, “cyclical economics”—is, as we on the left have always recognised, evidently unworkable.
     And so when opportunities arise that might allow the neo-liberal economic protagonists to restore global economic “confidence” fail, it should raise serious questions as to why.
     The European Union has failed to deliver on two of its major projects in the last decade: the Lisbon Treaty and the so-called “development round” of Doha, i.e. the recent WTO talks in Geneva.
     On both occasions of failure, people influence has been the central feature—more specifically pertinent to the Lisbon Treaty—which demonstrates the obvious disconnect between the majority ruling political elite and their constituents in Ireland. Despite clear warning signals, Ireland’s main political parties and many of their allies arrogantly—and on many occasions ignorantly—brushed aside the very real concerns that were evident during the referendum campaign. A clear lack of knowledge, accompanied by some incredibly serious public faux pas by leading fianna Fáil politicians when examined on the Lisbon Treaty and its contents, served only to further fuel these real concerns. And, as a last-ditch attempt to sway the electorate, the Taoiseach made the threat of financial doom and gloom—so often the fianna Fáil electoral carrot-and-stick tactic: “There’s money to be won and lost here, boys!”
     Incredibly, this also failed. But why?
     Similarly, the collapse of the world trade talks—an attempt to resurrect the planet’s free-falling market economy—could be construed as a macrocosm of what actually happened with the Lisbon Treaty referendum here in Ireland.
     Working people, and those who choose to properly represent them, are awakening to the real threat that neo-liberal laissez-faire economics presents. So-called treaty and trade agreements as presented, when closely examined and analysed, are obvious tools to fuel the hunger and greed for profiteering of huge transnational private-sector companies that in effect control governments by their influence on political and socio-economic policy formation.
     To satisfy this insatiable appetite for profit, under the same agreements—while lauded as the only way forward to the utopian “first World” status—the working class must forgo the hard-won measures of ordinary and basic protection regarding employment, health, education, etc.
     On both of these occasions workers generally felt threatened, in that what they might have or what they might aspire to as a result of their work would be eroded if they were to accept the terms and conditions as presented to them. It could be said that in the case of the world trade talks, India’s and China’s political representatives negotiated on the grounds that they had the right to ensure protection for their working class, the vast majority of whom in India—63 per cent—are in some shape or form connected to agriculture. Similarly it could be said that their motive was to protect their precarious capitalist base.
     It is also no coincidence that the country that caused the brinkmanship at this juncture and ultimately the failure of an agreement was the United States, which, since the demise of the Soviet bloc, has unlimited and unchecked global economic influence; hence the politically justifiable protectionist motives of the Indian and Chinese delegations, as compared with their American counterparts.
     The American economist Michael Parenti wrote in 2002: “The goal of conservative rulers around the world, led by those who occupy the seats of power in Washington, is the systematic rollback of democratic gains, public services, and common living standards around the world.” This rollback is materially manifest across the globe as successive countries—many of which were held up as potential beacons for social fairness and justice, such as Scandinavia—more and more adopt American-influenced economics.
     Parenti further stated that this process “accelerated the current economic collapse in many Third World countries,” which should serve as a timely reminder that the US-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund have subjected developing countries “to agree to merciless ‘structural adjustment programs,’ including reductions in social programs, cuts in wages, the elimination of import controls, the removal of restrictions on foreign investments, the privatization of state enterprises, and the elimination of domestic food production in favour of high profit export crops.”
     Sounds familiar? Try the world trade talks!
     The knock-on effect of such economic terms and subsequent pressures is direct foreign private investment that plunders the state’s utilities, resources, and riches, leaving the indigenous populace worse off than they were.
     It might be naïve and premature to believe that the detrimental effects of current European and American-inspired global economics is now being fully understood and thus opposed by the global working class, when on these two latest occasions the obvious attempts to remove the restrictive checks on unfettered free-market capitalism have been thwarted.
     But, that said, the same treaty and world trade talks revisit the long-standing historic capitalist debates of protectionism v. free trade; and the unaltered subject/victim of these debates remains the working class.
     Marx in 1848 rolled in behind the argument for free trade—not as a means of support but rather to expedite his predicted end of capitalism—when he said, “In general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favour of free trade.” He did so, however, at a time when universal suffrage was but a Chartist hope.
     The advent of universal suffrage and more “democratic” parliamentary representation in the 160 years since then have afforded people and their representatives opportunities to exercise real power when dealing with the real truths of the exploitative capitalist class. The demise and, hopefully, the end of the Lisbon Treaty is a tribute to this type of people power—nowhere more so than in Ireland.
     The demise and possibly the end of the WTO talks is, similarly, a tribute to those countries that seek, en bloc, to safeguard their interests against the colonial-style economic powers that are the developed capitalist “first World.”
     Fuwa Tetsuzo, chairperson of the Japanese Communist Party, stated on 27 August 2002 at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing: “In the present-day world, capitalism’s major issue is a choice between accepting the market economy as panacea or placing the market economy under social or democratic control. By and large, the tendency to view the market economy as almighty is clearly represented by the US Bush administration . . . This issue involves a number of global economic issues, such as environmental destruction, social disparity, and the economic independence of each country.”
     When faced with these market-economy effects, is it any wonder that the Irish electorate emphatically voted and will continue to vote No to the Lisbon Treaty?
     And similarly there are those parts of the world that, en bloc, can exercise the necessary muscle and clout to offset the relentless march of US market-economy policies and their destructive side-effects.
[CC]

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