June 2013        

Reform or transform?

Part 2

■ Part 1 of this article, in last month’s Socialist Voice, looked at the many “alternative” plans being presented that are essentially based on the desire for and need for a return to capitalist growth. Part 2 looks at what a real alternative to capitalism looks like, and how a transformative set of demands might be constructed.

The hundreds of billions that exist in the system today, held by a tiny fraction of the world’s population, is not a result of a dynamic and innovative system, as the media present capitalism, but in fact a result of asset inflation, reduced taxation of the wealthy, allowing for increased after-tax profits, increased corporate welfare, the socialisation of debt, the use of cheap labour, and the displacement of jobs by technology. The frailty and superficiality of the system today are exposed for all to see.
     The fundamental weakness of the “alternative” plans is that they are not actually alternatives. They are wedded to the idea that returning the system to growth, i.e. to profitability, will satisfy the needs of working people.
     But what returns the system to profitability but the increased exploitation of labour? That is what creates profit. Surely trade unions are not for the increased exploitation of labour?
     These so-called alternatives do not seek to replace capitalism. They suggest that a nicer, more regulated capitalism will solve the problems of capitalism and consequently solve our problems. But they fail to deal with the realities of the system today. They fail to move beyond Keynesian arguments about jobs and their multiplying effect, despite the changed world we live in.
     It is worth remembering that Keynesian policies did not lift the world out of the crisis in the 1930s: an arms build-up and ultimately the greatest global destruction of life and property did. Equally, Keynesian economics did not bring unending growth: it failed to stop the systemic trend towards stagnation that is a dominating characteristic of capitalism in its monopoly stage.
     Today’s capitalism is highly monopolised, internationalised, and financialised. What this means is that fewer and fewer global entities control the production of goods and services, that these companies are heavily reliant on financial investors and financial products, and that these companies can move production to cheaper areas to produce profit through increased exploitation of labour, moving production further away from their actual market, so exacerbating the crisis of over-production.
     This reality creates problems for those seeking to have a nice, well-paying, stable capitalist economy for all. The right are arguably correct when they say that Ireland is not competitive—because who are we in competition with? China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Poland, Bangladesh, etc. In manufacturing, in IT services and in the production of food these are actual global competitors in a capitalist sense. And if we are to concentrate solely on the provision of financial services, we will constantly be subject to the global whims of speculators, with little control and our hands tied from a race to the bottom in corporate taxation—and our competitors will be Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
     The system is truly global, and to pretend that we can create a highly paid, equitable society within the structures of capitalism is ludicrous. It denies the very basic feature of the system—the exploitation of labour by capital—and when capital is struggling to re-create itself, there is only one way that exploitation is going.
     That is why we must cease trying to reform the system but instead try to transform it, transform it to socialism—a system where our needs are first, where the re-creation of labour and the environmental conditions necessary for this are the pre-eminent aim, not the re-creation of capital; where we are not blackmailed by mysterious markets and the confidence of speculators; one where we own production and consequently the wealth we create.
     To deal with the root cause of the crisis, with the misery of the vast majority of people on this planet and with the environmental catastrophe we are heading for we need to present a challenge to the system itself and to mobilise around demands that transform rather than reform the system. This requires a politically conscious mobilisation, militant defensive actions, and a vision for a society for working people: socialism.
     Socialism will be achieved only when people stop demanding a nicer capitalism and begin the difficult but necessary struggle to build people’s consciousness and their understanding of the nature of the system and then open up the road to socialism. The demands we make today must challenge the system itself, must expose the contradictions of the system, and must highlight the exploitative and undemocratic nature of the system to working people.
     These are the demands that people committed to building socialism must make; and surely the trade union movement must play a central role in this, or else it will consign itself to the dustbin of history.
     Rather than putting forward another ten-point plan, I wish to put forward a few demands that could be considered strategic, in the sense that they challenge the very basis of the system by exposing its contradictions and thereby make the cry for socialism realistic, and that also begin to remove Ireland from the global capitalist race to the bottom and to find our own independence.
     Connolly was right when he suggested that the failure to build socialism would leave an independent Ireland still controlled by British finance capital. This was evident in the first half of the last century. This dependence or subjection was then transferred from more or less solely British domination to a combination of British, American and Franco-German. Ireland remained insufficiently financially independent to really be a sovereign state.
     So, an essential component of any transformative alternative must be the simultaneous creation and use of our own indigenous capital and resources, and withdrawal from dependence on international finance capital. What demands would support this?
     1. Repudiation of the socialised corporate debt.
     2. The establishment of a state bank.
     3. Establishing controls on capital.
     4. Abandoning the euro.
     5. Increasing the tax on capital, business, and wealth.
     6. The planning of economic development and reduction of the role of the market as a determining force.
     7. The nationalisation of oil, gas, and our seas.
     8. The development of renewable energy sources and reducing dependence on non-renewable energy.
     These demands challenge the very basis of the system’s domination of Ireland and present an opportunity for the country to achieve a degree of sovereignty to develop according to our own needs that we have never had. In that sense they are not for reforming capitalism but for transforming the social and political system in Ireland towards socialism.

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