July 2013        

Ireland’s ruling class

“Another boundary within the capitalist class is based on the difference in the amount of capital owned: there are big, middle and petty bourgeoisies. The petty and to a certain extent the middle bourgeoisie are themselves oppressed by the big bourgeoisie, particularly as capitalism enters its imperialist stage and mammoth monopolies emerge as a result of the merging of industrial and banking capital; they step up the exploitation of the proletariat and also crush the petty and middle sections of the bourgeoisie.”—From A Dictionary of Scientific Communism (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1986.)
Not all members of the bourgeoisie are equal. There is a difference in power and influence between those who own a corner shop and those who own a chain of supermarkets, the distribution network, and an importing firm. Related to this, not all members of the bourgeoisie can be considered members of the ruling class.
      Sometimes the left talk about the “ruling class” as if there is a clear and common understanding of what and who these are, but it might be worth while examining this in a little more detail.
     The Swedish Marxist sociologist Göran Therborn, in Finding the Ruling Class: Defining the Class Character of State Power, describes the ruling class along the following lines:
When we say that a class holds state power we mean [that] what is done through the state positively acts upon the reproduction of the mode of production, of which the class in question is the dominant bearer . . . Taking and holding state power is a process of interventions in a given society effected by a separate institution which concentrates the supreme rule-making, rule-applying, rule-adjudicating, rule-enforcing and rule-defending functions of that society.
So, who fits the profile of rule-making, rule-enforcing and rule-defending with the ultimate aim of reproducing themselves as a class? In whose interests has the state acted during the crisis? Whose wealth and power has been defended and extended above all other classes?
     Transnational capital dominates the economy, yes; and the European Union imposes the will of dominant Franco-German monopolies and finance, yes. And British monopoly capital rules the North, yes. But none of these can be considered a direct ruling class, as none of them impose their authority directly on the people in the South. They influence, shape and distort Irish society through their economic power and political influence, but they do not run the Irish state.
     Instead, and preferably, they use a comprador-type class, whose interests are tied to theirs but not wholly subservient to them, to shape society to their needs.
     Traditionally, a comprador class is a management class, looking after the affairs of the imperial rulers. Ireland, however, is different now. This class in Ireland is not wholly subservient and in some areas is a global player in the international monopoly order.
     The class that does this through its political representatives and judiciary is a domestic ruling class, in the 26 Counties at least; and the only class in Ireland with sufficient economic power, domestically and internationally, is the Irish big bourgeoisie.
     The recent Irish Times “top 1,000 companies” is a good basis for identifying who this class is in terms of companies and their senior executives or owners. In food there is Kerry Group, DCC, Glanbia, Total Produce, Musgrave’s, and Greencore. In manufacturing there are Smurfit Kappa, Kingspan, and Dimplex. In construction there is CRH, in transport Ryanair, and in communications Independent News and Media.
     A domestic big bourgeois class has emerged in agri-food, in manufacturing, in construction, whose interests are international as well as national, who are both domestic and global players. However, alone they are not strong enough to rule the economy or to guarantee their growth and reproduction. So, they also require the active support of both European and American monopoly capital. Therefore they are the ruling class domestically but also a dependent class in relation to foreign monopoly capital: they are both a ruling class and a dependent class. This is the nature of a peripheral state whose development has never been free and independent.
     This big bourgeoisie will act to shape and mould the Irish economy and society to suit their needs. They will crush or subsume small business and both the petty and middle bourgeoisie to maintain their dominance and to relegate democracy and workers’ rights to merely a necessary evil where required.
     The journalist and lecturer Conor McCabe has been on a mission in recent times to reveal the responsibility of the Irish ruling class in shaping the state’s response to the crisis through the infamous guarantee schemes. He is right in suggesting that the Government, in particular the Labour Party, is opportunistically blaming Germany or the EU for the “bad” things, as if there is nothing they can do about it. And he is right to emphasise the fact that the state’s policy on finance capital and “austerity” has been to the benefit of the financial investments of the big bourgeoisie, their export orientation, and their foreign interests.
     However, it is also correct to acknowledge the dependence of the ruling class on its external sponsors. Without European, British and American “hard” and “soft” power in Ireland (political, economic, cultural and military) the response of the working class would have been much different and possibly decisive in shifting the crisis onto the shoulders of capital and transforming our country towards a new direction. But these powers do exist, and this is the Ireland and the ruling class we face.
     There is no doubt that policy throughout Europe is being co-ordinated and implemented by the European Central Bank, the EU Commission and the International Monetary Fund, to the benefit of large European states, in particular Germany, and of American capital. The similarity of approach and the many leaked Irish documents being discussed in Germany (before Ireland) are evidence of this. The point, however, is that the ruling class in Ireland, the big bourgeoisie, have a common interest with their class allies in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, etc.
     The Irish big bourgeoisie are monopolists but by themselves are not strong enough to rule over all other classes in Ireland; and, rather than an internal alliance with other classes forming, as happened earlier in the last century, they are now allied with and dependent on support from their international monopolist allies, placing Ireland firmly within the imperialist system but in a secondary or peripheral role.

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