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Connolly Sunday, 2010
Oration by Deirdre Uí Bhrógáin, National Executive Committee, CPI
16 May 2010
The Communist Party has been honouring James Connolly here at Arbour Hill consistently through all the ups and downs of the struggle against capitalism. It is not just a traditional ritual but an acknowledgement of the continuing relevance of our most outstanding thinker and writer against the inequalities of the capitalist system, and one of the first to analyse its imperialist nature.
Imperialism, as described by Connolly, has developed to a new stage because of developments in transport, communications and technological revolutions into its present globalised form, and we are feeling the brunt of it here in Ireland under our particular form of imperialist oppression: the European Union. James Connolly was not just a writer but a brilliant political strategist and activist. And it is that combination that is needed for change.
The Communist Party brought out a booklet earlier in the year, An Economy for the Common Good, which gives our first response to the present situation, and it is well worth reading for anyone who hasn’t already done so. In it we concentrated on explaining the economic reasons for the imperialist stage that capitalism has reached, and the alliances and contradictions within and between the different economic power blocs. But one thing is clear: and that is that capitalism has suffered a major blow, which shows that it is inherently incapable of providing for the world’s population and sustaining a healthy planet.
That does not mean that it is a spent force, but on the contrary it will become an even more vicious defender of the elite few in the world. The only force capable of stopping this destruction is politically aware people who are willing to organise and fight against it.
The manner in which the planet’s resources have been exploited and misused has led to a looming shortage of water, fuel, and food, and the diversity of plant and animal life is decreasing. The grabbing of land and resources by powerful transnational companies is accelerating around the world, while people are starving.
The present world economic crisis, as we constantly emphasise, was not caused by a minority of greedy bankers or lack of regulation but by the need for capitalism to find a new outlet for its concentrated capital and new sources of profits. Wealth is increasingly concentrated in the top 10 per cent of the population of the world, who own 85 per cent of wealth. And 70 per cent of world trade is controlled by just five hundred of the largest corporations. Profits in industrial production in the older capitalist countries were falling, because of monopolisation, and the monopolies had squeezed so much money from the people that they had falling markets. Capitalism must expand, and so it’s caught between profitability and overproduction, leading to these periodic crises.
Following the Second World War, in order to combat socialism in Europe, social democracy was patched up as a compromise, and capitalism had to allow some of the demands of workers who were organised and saw socialism as the answer. The formation of the EEC (now the European Union) was to strengthen weakened countries, to trade aggressively and more effectively with the rest of the world, and to compete with American transnational supremacy. Rights won by workers’ resistance were attacked by the creation of the single European market, with its free movement of goods, services, labour, and capital.
Free movement it was not. With their simultaneous membership of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, G8 and G20 and their multilateral trade agreements, they are keeping up their imperialist legacy of ruthlessly exploiting the south Mediterranean, African, Asian, Pacific and Caribbean countries by the extraction of natural resources and massive land purchases and creating the conditions for transnational corporations’ unscrupulous operations and the use of their former colonies as tax havens. The Africa-Europe Partnership and the Cotonou Agreement between the European Union and seventy-eight African, Pacific and Caribbean countries, with its economic partnership arrangements and the European External Action Service, are all just a cover for further exploitation of those regions. A clause in the revised Cotonou Agreement signed in March gives the European Union the legal right to interfere militarily in what they call “anti-terrorist, resolving conflict, and fighting mercenaries” actions in those countries, and the United Nations is completely sidelined.
The European Union insists on the free entry of goods to external markets, while restrictive trade agreements severely limit imports from them of further processed goods and so destroy local industry and employment. They are plundering the seas, particularly in west Africa, as they have already emptied the North Atlantic and most of the Pacific, while the local populations are losing their livelihoods.
In the developing world, which holds 90 per cent of all biological resources and where the livelihood of 75 per cent of the people depends on agriculture, transnational companies hold 97 per cent of global patents, and six corporations now own 70 per cent of patents on staple food crops, allowing them to set the market price for them and to block competition for twenty years.
The Irish Government and the main political parties have joined with the elite abroad in this exploitation, and have been destroying our society and the well-being of the majority of the people to enhance themselves, their families and their friends, just as Connolly described the class in power in 1915: “Yes, friends, governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class.”
The trade unions and their affiliated parties, particularly in Ireland, took a short-term share while weakening their real strength and bargaining power. Trade union power and density is declining throughout Europe, as unions are not getting young members and work is casualised. Consequently, unions are caught in the extremely narrow framework of supporting the ideology of competitiveness, export market economies, and wage comparisons. They are dancing to the tune of the very people who caused the crisis: the market. The IMF was so discredited that it was shunned by most countries, but the latest crash gave it new life, and the European Central Bank and the newly created EU monetary fund represent the complete subordination of parliaments to capital.
Germany, which has the strongest nationally controlled companies and wealth, is demanding, through the EU Commission, that it must approve the national budgets and the spending of all member-states. That is exactly what opponents of the Lisbon Treaty predicted; and yet the Labour Party, the ICTU and leaders of the largest unions persist in defending the European Union, despite all the evidence.
But how long can it be held together? The unemployment rate in the European Union is 10 per cent—that is, 21½ million people—while 80 million, or 16 per cent, are living below the poverty line and face serious obstacles in obtaining access to employment, education, housing, and social and financial services.
At home, everyone is stunned by the idea of half a million unemployed in such a small population that also has increasing emigration and at the cuts in wages and the government levies, as well as the dismantling of public services, particularly health and social welfare. High levels of debt and house repossessions are discussed every day of the week, not to mention our 350,000 empty houses, and our ghost towns, while 50,000 people are on housing lists.
The EU’s mission is to destroy the conditions of working people, to lower wages and pensions, to lengthen the working day, impose draconian working conditions, and increase the retirement age. The Competition Act is the most effective tool for limiting opposition to EU privatisation policies, and we must expose it at every turn.
The European Union is not poor: it is the second-richest region in the world, only 4 per cent behind the United States. It is the biggest exporter and the second-biggest importer in the world. The “global competitiveness rankings” produced by the World Economic Forum found that six of the world’s ten most competitive countries in 2007–08 were EU member-states, with 21 out of the 27 countries featuring in the top fifty, and it has the most companies in the Forbes top 500 companies.
The European Union is the administrator of the wealthy transnationals and the financial lobbyists. The obnoxious Peter Sutherland is the most aggressive capitalist bully and a prime example of a lobbyist on such a multiple scale that it would fill a book just to list the companies.
At a time when output in the industrial world has been growing significantly, labour’s share in national income has been decreasing. This is because of outsourcing to low-wage economies. And working people are the creators of this wealth—the most compelling argument, which trade union leaders rarely point out.
But there are contradictions between different states that have different resources and histories, and this is where progress can be made. There are strong indications that the euro zone may disintegrate in the near future, despite deals to prop it up. Strong working-class opposition still lives on, despite all the propaganda, manipulation, and strategic funding. The Greek working people are fighting a heroic battle, and facing the full power of the European Union, which will do everything in its power to destroy them. Our party, along with other communist and workers’ parties in Europe, supports their struggle. Irish trade union leaders should take a leaf from their book, instead of falling for the idea that there is no alternative, which is pumped out by the combined Government and mass media propaganda. The unions’ failure to raise the consciousness of their members contributed to the spectacle of union members in the failed Quinn Group defending the Quinn family instead of calling for the nationalisation of the business.
The European Union allocates massive funds for PR campaigns, and Pat Cox is so sure of his position, and that of the EU, that he can say in an RTE interview, without being challenged, that the Greek government made the mistake of not “managing” the media the way the Irish did.
Our party is small, because of, among other things, the defeat of socialism in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, which had a devastating effect on the left. But a new opposition is emerging, and capitalism is being questioned as never before. The elite were not slow to see this disenchantment, and they are now trying to subvert what has come to be called “civil society.” The European Union demands that trade agreements and aid that was supposed to be reparation for past colonial exploitation should be linked to setting up tame civil-society networks, together with privatisation schemes to subvert outright opposition. This is a very sophisticated strategy—unlike their war policy, which can be directly campaigned against. They are subverting the palpable discontent of the people and unscrupulously setting up bogus groups while blocking genuine ones. And in case all this fails, they have increasingly strong repressive laws to contain protest.
We must decide how best we use our small numbers and concentrate on what we do best. If we succeed in getting across the message that there is an alternative, and concentrate on exposing the true nature of the European Union, that would be a good start. We must take back the debate from the purely economic and insist on the political dimension, with a reintroduction into the debate of the social consequences of rescuing the banks with limitless guarantees.
These are ethical issues, and we must not think that experts are the only ones who have the right to talk about the social organisation of society. We are right to say that there is always money to protect the wealthy and the EU institutions that guard them but never anything for the people. This is a private debt, and not sovereign debt, as they so like to tell us, and the price we would pay for higher-interest borrowing would not nearly match what we are giving the banks and the European Union to keep them going.
Following the path of foreign direct investment and depending on transnationals and the present tax policies can only lead to more unemployment and the race to the bottom, which we cannot win. The public debate rarely mentions the right of stock-market traders to destabilise national currencies or questions the ownership of credit-rating agencies or their right to dictate national policy. Opposition is bogged down in debates about public and private workers’ wages and conditions and has moved completely away from analysing private wealth in detail and the waste of resources that goes into protecting it—from unnecessary rapid obsolescence and advertising to military spending and war. We must not conduct the debate on their terms.
We need to be free of the yoke of the EU limiting our right to make independent decisions and look for alternative trading agreements with emerging progressive countries. Ireland has the skills and the resources. We are internationalists, and we unite with working people in all countries and support their struggles. Emerging movements in Latin America and the Caribbean show great promise for a better world, and the Bank of the South and the ALBA agreement in Latin America show an alternative way. Cuba’s resilience and its steady advancement are a constant reminder to the United States, despite everything they do to destroy it, that there are alternatives.
All over the world, working people are resisting, and a look at the Labour Start and Labour Watch web sites shows that there are strikes going on every day all over the world, and peasants and urban small traders are resisting dispossession. What is called “ethnic strife” in Africa is frequently local opposition to imperialist interference and incitement. Our hope is that working people in all these countries increasingly strengthen their political opposition, sooner rather than later, just as we are working with our comrades in Europe against the right-wing governments in power.
There are healthy signs of opposition beginning to emerge in many areas, which need to be co-ordinated. We need most of all an effective continuous analysis that is accessible in a variety of forms. People are angry and are looking for direction against capitalism’s ruthless oppression of nine-tenths of the world’s population. The Marxist analysis of capitalism and imperialism has never been clearer. James Connolly lit the way for the Irish communist movement and continues to inspire us to strengthen our determination to find new and more effective ways to defeat imperialism.
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