December 2013        

“Reform or revolution?”

This is the question presented by elements of the left, as if that’s it: that’s the sum total of what the so-called left can offer working people. We can either reform elements of capitalism but maintain its essential features, and this will solve the unemployment crisis, inequality, and a variety of other systemic but undesirable features of the system, or we can “call for” a revolution, and the workers, once freed from their union-bureaucrat oppressors, will down tools and seize state power—usually without questioning the role of the European Union. With a ten-point plan to accompany it, we’re all set to save humanity.
      Thankfully, this is not the only option for working people, and a real alternative is beginning slowly to emerge.
      From the outset of this crisis the CPI has led the radical, class-based analysis of the system, which has identified the response of the establishment as socialising corporate debt to stabilise the financial system—of which our tax-haven economy is a part and on which a section of the ruling class is so dependent—and transferring wealth from working people to the rich by means of “austerity.”
      This response has been co-ordinated by both the domestic and the foreign elite, through the means of the external troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund and the internal troika of Fine Gael, Labour Party, and Fianna Fáil.
      The CPI was the first to call for repudiating the debt, and the first to say that austerity is working: working for the ruling class, here and in Europe.
      These are strategic, class-based demands, not shallow leftist commentary. They are demands designed to expose the class nature of the system and to target its contradictions and weaknesses. This is where a real, meaningful alternative exists.
      This is not just to boast. The CPI hasn’t got all this worked out, nor has it got the resources to popularise this in the way it could be done: it is purely to point out what a real way forward for the left is, and how left unity can actually be built rather than just called for.
      Electoral opportunism and short-term ego-based politics have prevented the left from developing this strategy the way it needs to be. And, unfortunately, many of those same parties and forces are the ones that make the loudest calls for left unity.
      The real alternative for working people is the long, difficult but necessary task of creating the conditions in which socialism can be built. This involves a significant deepening of political education within trade unions and communities, recognising the hardship working-class families face and not irresponsibly leading them into battles that leave them hopelessly exposed and then abandoned.
      The demands we make and mobilise around must be on our agenda and not just defensive reactions. All defensive struggle is important. We must, through comprehensive analysis, identify the strategic weaknesses of the system and put forward popular demands that both educate and mobilise and that expose the class nature of the system, and target its weak points. These demands must expose the class nature of economic and political power, not merely advocate a reform or tweaking of capitalism.
      So, what are some of the strategic weaknesses in monopoly capitalism?
      The debt is one. Both finance and non-finance corporations have become increasingly involved in a complex web of debt and risk, as a means of financing expansion and monopolisation but also as a means of securing profits from price speculation. Debt-based products are also used as a means of hedging risk. States throughout the EU, with the backing of the ECB, have stepped in and bailed out these institutions by socialising their debt and transferring our wealth to their balance sheets, showing the true nature of state-monopoly capitalism and also the fundamental nature of the EU as a protectorate of European monopoly interests.
      So repudiating the debt and transferring it back to the fragile private sector is striking at the heart of fundamental structural weakness within the system. It is a demand for weakening capitalism, not bringing about a capitalist recovery.
      The environmental crisis is another strategic weakness. There is now no doubt that capitalism’s drive to achieve increasingly difficult profits is destroying our eco-system and threatening human existence. Profit-creation doesn’t just alienate labour: it also alienates the natural world. Our planet is used as a commodity for re-creating capital, and this drive for growth ignores the physical limitations of what the planet can provide and sustain. Capital’s attempts are increasingly desperate, as fracking and other highly irresponsible practices become normalised.
      Identifying the fundamental contradiction between capitalism and the environment, and connecting the environment in a real way to the struggle to protect public services and jobs, is essential. Ireland has the potential to develop renewable energy sources: this should be harnessed in a public and planned way as part of a campaign for energy self-sufficiency and job creation. Capital, released from our oil and gas if nationalised, can be used to make this transition.
      As an island nation, our seas present us with huge resources, but these too must be harnessed in a sustainable way. Sovereign control over our seas is necessary for making use of them in a planned way, to provide maximum use value for people but in a long-term and sustainable way.
      And thirdly, the system suffers from a chronic lack of democracy. Sovereign control over our political and economic system is vital. Democracy is meaningless without the ability of democratically elected and recallable citizens’ representatives to make decisions without external interference from EU regulations, treaties, or directives, with the ability to make decisions free from the threat of immediate and terrible war by the financial markets, the ability to tax capital and wealth as we choose, and the power to direct capital into investments that are useful and productive, rather than those that provide the highest return in the shortest possible time.
      This strategy will be less electorally popular in the short term than mindless sloganeering and promises that deceive working people while avoiding the difficult questions and analysis of the present-day capitalist system and the reality of monopoly capitalism, dominant politically through the European Union. Nonetheless it is the strategy that genuine socialists must pursue.
      Like-minded socialists and progressives from various parties, movements and unions must continue the positive work in 2014 of building this strategy and injecting these ideas into every debate and particularly into the trade union movement.

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