April 2015        

Austerity: The challenges of organising

Paper presented by a representative of the CPI to a meeting with republican activists in Dublin, Saturday 14 March 2015

Comrades and friends,
     It is quite clear that we find ourselves at a real pivotal point in the history of this small nation. Just as in previous times, whole generations of men and women find themselves in a struggle for a place in our society, a place where one should not live in fear of ever-increasing poverty, hunger, homelessness, unemployment, precarious work, violence, and the spectre of war on our very doorstep. Sadly, these truths have shaped the men and women who went before us and will continue to shape us as we press forward into this century.
     Ireland in 2015, both north and south, has seen the continuation of austerity policies by both governments, policies that have without question benefited those at the top of our society—policies of regressive taxation, social welfare for the wealthy and multinational corporations, protection by the state from the prosecution of those individuals who all but bankrupted this country. It cannot be a design flaw, that it just so happens that those most adversely effected by austerity are the poorest in society, while those that benefit most are the wealthiest in society; and this is true right across Europe. That is why the CPI maintains the position that austerity is working as it was designed to do: to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor and working masses.
     We can only conclude that austerity and the current strategy by global monopoly capital is to drive workers back to “ground zero” as regards their rights, social provision, public pensions, public health, and public education.
     But to challenge austerity there needs to be a deep understanding of the source of austerity, that is, the unjust, odious private bank debt heaped on our nation and paid for by the impoverishment of our people and the deporting of our children.
     Debt has been the weapon for attacking the working people. It disciplines them into servitude; it lays the biggest stress on families; and it helps remove the militant spirit that lies at the heart of every worker. Again, for certain there is a generalised attack on workers across Europe, on their rights, working conditions, and wages. Precarious employment is the new model for businesses to follow, along with this relatively new “internship” culture that has swept right across the employment sector.
     So, as a group—as a class—how do we challenge the status quo?
     I think one place we can look for a direct example is Greece and the developments of the new SYRIZA government. It matters little whether one thought that SYRIZA would inevitably have surrendered to the demands of the European Union or had hoped they would stand up and challenge it and defend the Greek people and blaze an alternative direction from within the EU and oppose the IMF.
     Those who are anxious to advance the people’s interests need to reflect more seriously about what these past few months have demonstrated. One of the lessons must be that the treaties governing the European Union have in effect not only outlawed a radical people-centred solution but have effectually outlawed even tame Keynesian policies, and that the controlling forces are determined to solve the crisis of capitalism at the expense of the working people.
     A second thing is clear: that people can vote at the national level for whoever they like, but this is not decisive, as the European Union will impose TINA (“There is no alternative”) and the economic and political straitjacket of what is in the interests of capitalism.
     The debt is still the weapon of choice to be used against the people; democracy has been trumped by the overriding needs of the European monopolies and the big finance houses and banks.
     Those in Ireland who still labour under the illusion that the European Union can be transformed into something that it is not need to look long and hard at the events of the last few weeks. The blocking minority that is built in to the EU decision-making process means that the big powers—those with real economic power and therefore real political power—can block anything that is not in the interests of the monopolies and finance houses.
     The Irish government, once again demonstrating its abject servility towards the imperialist powers, did nothing to support the Greek people apart from expressing a vacuous sympathy, and voted to defend the interests of the ruling class.
     Those who continue to peddle the illusion, whether here in Ireland, in Greece or in Spain, that they can solve the people’s problems within the confines of the European Union and controlling mechanisms such as the euro are only leading our people down a blind alley. There are simply no solutions to be found to debt or austerity within the European Union.
     The struggles of the Greek people have exposed the true class nature of the European Union and its institutions. But they have also shown that it can be resisted—a lesson that needs to be learnt by working people throughout Europe.
     The title of this talk is “Austerity: The challenges of organising.” What we really need to begin to question and seriously think about is who or what do we challenge. We need to know our enemy, or enemies. Once established, then a more meaningful and lasting process of organising against austerity can be sustained and built upon.
     If any serious political discussion is to be had then it needs to deal with three central issues:
     Class: politics and economics are about class, as class divisions maintain wealth divisions.
     The state: The class nature of state power for creating, enforcing and reproducing the dominant mode of production, materially and ideologically.
     Imperialism: The triple imperialist domination of the Irish people: by Britain in the north, the EU through all the treaties and the currency, and the United States with our political and economic relationships and the dominant role of transnational capital based here in Ireland, the majority being from the USA.
     This is the state of play in Ireland today. Sovereignty and democracy as we know them have been replaced by a tripartite imperialist system, where Ireland lies subservient to international capitalism and the laws of the market. This is quite a unique position and all the more challenging.
     So what we really need to ask ourselves, based on what I’ve just said, is that if this government was to collapse in the morning and another take its place, without a fundamental and mass opposition to the EU and the euro, to Britain and the US, as the main political entities of capitalism, there would be no change. Greece is the perfect example of this. Nothing drastic would change, because the state, and its class of industrialists, financiers, oligarchs, monarchs, land-owners and all their collaborators, would still be organised in the old way.
     Ireland’s industries, agriculture and services would still be in the service of the EU, British and US imperialist regimes. The multinational corporations, partition and various legal treaties would still bind us to international monopoly capitalism and its unending war on workers. We would still be bound to pay back an unjust and odious debt. The Troika would still oversee our national budgets, and the ECB would still gear the euro to suit mainly Germany’s needs, to the detriment of the Irish economy.
     All this means that our democracy, sovereignty and independence would still be the hollowed-out shells that they are. If we are to take seriously the task of organising against austerity, then our only hope is to challenge the very system of capitalism that creates and reproduces crisis after crisis, and its imperialist centres that condemn us. The challenge of organising against austerity is linked to the task of building a class-conscious revolutionary party of working people that will challenge and take on the imperialists and their collaborators here at home—a party that will not capitulate to the threats of EU, US and British capitalist demands, as so many have done to date, and a party guided by the principles of Marx, Engels, and the greatest Irish Marxist and revolutionary leader, James Connolly.
     We are constantly told and led to believe in the ideology that there is no alternative. We say there is an alternative, that there has been and can be a planned economic and social system developed by the conscious efforts of working people that benefits the majority of the population in all areas of human life and development. For us, as communists, that alternative is socialism.

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