The immediate tasks of communists and the struggle for socialism
National Executive Committee, Communist Party of Ireland
19 May 2012
Meeting in the context of the ever-deepening crisis of monopoly capitalism, we have an opportunity to assess each other’s experience and to share our assessment of the nature of the crisis, how it affects our different countries, and, most importantly, how we are resisting the onslaught on working people which is the ruling class strategy.
The EU, sold to us as a free association of states, has repeatedly demonstrated its imperialist character. It is dominated by the old imperial powers, France, Britain, and Germany, and also by the USA. Whatever tensions exist between them, they share a common nature and, in general, implement a common strategy.
The dominant issue is the struggle against US and European imperialism, which is seeking a solution to the crisis by attacking the working people and the poor countries, hoping to restore their profit margins by further impoverishing the poor. The “shock doctrine,” previously imposed on the former colonies and the former socialist countries, is now applied within the EU itself.
As our party operates in two states, we are conscious of the different political and economic circumstances in which we work. Nevertheless, the convergence between the policies imposed by the British government on the North and those implemented by the Irish government in the Republic, in obedience to the Troika, is obvious.
Both governments see the solution to their problems in austerity measures, with working people bearing the cost. Within the UK, Northern Ireland has been hit harder than any other region. Although the British government has not signed the treaties and is not in the euro zone, the general principles of its strategy are the same.
In our country, though our party has understood the class nature and the imperialist character of the European Union from the beginning, many illusions persist, even among those who have opposed the succession of treaties that define the rules under which it operates.
On the one hand, opponents of British imperialist rule often see the EU as something different, as a potential counterweight to British influence. On the other hand, with the influence of economism in the labour movement, those who do not recognise the class character of the state certainly do not understand who is running the EU. They see the behaviour of the agencies of the EU simply as a matter of policy.
Even opponents of the Austerity Treaty, who are campaigning vigorously against it, accept the possibility of a “Social Europe,” if only we could oblige the EU to implement it. Some of them even propagate the idea of a socialist Europe. To my mind, a socialist Europe cannot be achieved without dismantling the European Union first.
We also hear the slogan that “austerity is not working,” as if it was some sort of wrong medicine for a disease. Rather it is the strategy of the ruling-class forces to place the burden of the crisis on the back of workers. Austerity is their weapon of choice and necessity.
The Irish Labour Party, which is promoting the treaty, uses the mirage of a “social Europe” in the hope that the unappetising dish can be made more palatable with a little Hollandaise sauce.
We are fortunate that the Irish constitution obliges the government to submit the Austerity Treaty to a referendum, and our energy is naturally at the moment focused on this.
This treaty, along with the ESM Treaty, seeks to make permanent and unchangeable the current policies of the EU, which have already caused so much hardship to working people across the continent, not only in the PIIGS, where the crisis is most acute at this moment.
If the Irish people reject the treaty it will help the peoples of Europe to defeat it; there is no country in Europe where the people are in favour.
The crisis in Ireland is a part of the worldwide crisis of capitalism, though it has specific characteristics of its own. For instance, German, French and British banks lent enormous quantities of money to Irish banks, which fuelled a massive and unsustainable building boom not only in Ireland but also for speculation abroad. Irish banks were the fifth-largest investor in Spain and Portugal and the seventh-largest investor in Italy.
The Irish banks collapsed under the strain when the bubble burst; and the Irish state, acting under pressure from the EU, took over all the banks’ debts, thereby collapsing the economy. The banks they saved were not the Irish banks but the major European banks that created the problem in the first place.
Acting under orders from the Troika, our internal troika of three political parties is intent on making working people pay for the crisis. The Irish bourgeoisie and its political representatives can see no other role for themselves than acting as gatekeepers and bailiffs for the imperialist powers. This was historically the ambition of the advocates of “home rule” one hundred years ago; there is a different empire now, but their character has not changed.
Our government, which shamelessly proclaims the creation of jobs as its aim, presides over ever-increasing unemployment and emigration. By cutting back on public services it is directly creating unemployment. One thousand people leave every week. Thousands more have been forced into “internships”—in other words, working for nothing.
Many thousands of workers have lost their jobs, and many self-employed and small business owners have gone under and are no better off. All the public money poured into the Irish banks has not been used to promote economic growth or new investment but rather to stabilise the banks, allowing them to hoard capital and to pay off their international debts. So billions in public money has left the country to pay foreign bank debts.
New taxes are designed to levy the same amount on rich and poor equally. The household tax, in particular, has provoked considerable resistance; people are refusing to register for it or to pay it. The government refuses to increase taxes on high-income earners, or to tax the property of the rich appropriately to their wealth. The social-democratic Labour Party, the junior party in government, acts as the obedient servant of the bourgeoisie.
Not alone is the working class experiencing an intense and sustained attack upon its living standards, wages, terms and conditions but it is coming under a sustained ideological terror from ruling-class forces. Fear is the main weapon used to disarm and to prevent workers engaging in resistance or showing solidarity with other workers.
In their campaign for a Yes vote, and in all their propaganda, the internal troika parties constantly reiterate the uniqueness of the Irish situation. “Ireland is not Greece,” they proclaim. The suffering of the Greek people is held up not in an appeal for solidarity but as a horrible example of what happens to a naughty, disobedient country.
We believe differently: that the attack on the Greek working class is from the same source as the attack on the Irish working class, and the institutions of the EU are the instruments being used. Of course Belgian, German, French and British workers have not escaped.
The development of the crisis in Ireland demonstrates the common characteristics of our countries’ experience as much as the differences. The tactics of the ruling class and of the dominant states in the EU are driven by the same strategy. The social-democratic parties are the agents of capitalism within the working class; when pushed they will implement the same policies.
The imperialist ruling classes are, in spite of their continuing rivalry, acting together more than ever, and very consciously waging the class war. The working class—weakened in our case, for example, by decades of “social partnership,” by the defeat of socialism, and by the betrayal by the social-democratic parties, has been unprepared for the systematic attack being mounted against it. In the defence of the working people the Portuguese and Greek communists have shown what a difference a strong and determined communist party can make.
Our immediate task is to build the people’s resistance to this onslaught, in mutual solidarity and mutual respect, understanding the different conditions in which we work.
Within the EU we must continue to expose the class character and the imperialist nature of its institutions, which determine its actions both worldwide and internally.
As this gathering shows, we need a greater sharing of our experience in struggle through our papers and electronic media. We should explore the possibility of more united days of action by communists across the European Union and wider Europe.