Béal Feirste, Samhain 2017
Working people have witnessed, not for the first time, a general crisis in the economy, not only here in Ireland but globally. The current economic crisis of the “Great Recession” has affected the mass of working people of the entire planet. Since 2008 and the bursting of the international banking bubble our people have witnessed mass emigration, high unemployment, increasing homelessness and house repossessions, attacks on working terms and conditions, further privatisation of public utilities and services, and a general increase in the level of poverty, while the gap between rich and poor has increasingly widened. The CPI will do all in its capacity to join with other forces in the defence of welfare provision in both parts of Ireland, including the defence of the National Health Service. We stand for an all-Ireland publicly funded health service, free at the point of use.
Imperialism is mired in an ever-deepening crisis. At the global, regional and national levels the system is now enmeshed, through its contradictions, in a number of interconnected crises—economic, political, environmental, cultural, and moral. Attempts to manage these crises in the interests of state-monopoly capitalism have intensified class conflict, posing four core questions for the communist and workers’ movement around the world: the nature of revolutionary transformation; the defence and deepening of democracy; the protection of a sustainable natural environment; and the promotion of peace.
The deepening crisis of the system continues to throw up difficult questions and challenges. The old question of “reform or revolution” has thrown up new challenges for the workers’ movement around the world. Communists are not opposed to reforms but to reformism, which tends to save or even to strengthen capitalism. The reforms that we seek are those that will lead to a transformation of our society and shift the balance of economic and political forces decisively in the interests of the working class and that will strategically open up and allow for the building of the necessary forces to advance to socialism.
The undermining of democracy, national sovereignty and human rights by means of the centralising of control and power in technocratic institutions, and the removal of economic decision-making from democratically accountable institutions, is not merely a strategy but a structural necessity for state-monopoly capitalism. The continued centralisation of power in such institutions as the European Union is also reflected in the transnational agreements TTIP and CETA. Even the limited forms of democracy experienced under capitalism have become a hindrance to the needs of state-monopoly capitalism. These assaults on the limited democracy experienced by the people, coupled with the constant attacks on workers’ rights and living standards, are provoking growing resistance globally as working people begin to question the mantra of “There is no alternative” (TINA) to capitalism. National governments have increasingly become gatekeepers of the interests of global monopoly capitalism.
We also face the challenge of analysing and understanding the deep structural changes necessitated by capitalism itself. The drive for market expansion is approaching the limits to its capacity for growth. Financialisation and monopolisation have proved unable to overcome stagnation. The constant drive to control production, markets and natural resources is already having a devastating impact on the lives of billions of people, as well as causing the destruction and elimination of thousands of species of plants and animals, irreparably damaging the bio-diversity of our planet, ultimately threatening human existence.
This multi-dimensional crisis is adversely affecting the lives of the overwhelming majority of the people of Ireland, north and south, and the lives of working people around the globe. There is a responsibility on all who are conscious of these problems and who seek alternatives to mobilise the broadest possible opposition and to build support for social and political programmes that challenge current regional, national, European and international anti-people politics.
We are also now experiencing imperialism’s strategy of a permanent state of war and military build-up, with permanent regional conflicts and the associated humanitarian disasters of mass migration, hunger, disease, and poverty. Monopolisation and the concentration of wealth go hand in hand and have intensified during the last decade of so-called austerity. Both nationally and globally, the gap between rich and poor has reached unprecedented levels.
How does the workers’ movement effectively mobilise and organise itself against the whole crisis of capitalism—local, national, and international? The CPI advances transformative strategies and policies that always seek to strengthen the hand of labour against capital. However, with the transformative policies contained within them, the party will endeavour to work with other progressive sections of society to build towards a revolutionary situation and to advance towards socialism, the only rational and democratic alternative to the devastating capitalist system. Without such forces and resistance to imperialism, socialism will never be realised. There is no “third way”: reformism and social democracy have served only to save or even strengthen capitalism.
We nevertheless need to work in the concrete circumstances that exist today. The CPI understands that all democracy consists in the proclamation and realisation of rights that under capitalism are realisable only to a very small degree and only relatively. But without the proclamation of these rights, without a struggle to introduce them now, immediately, without training the masses in the spirit of this struggle, socialism is impossible.
Imperialism in crisis
In the twentieth century, in the principal capitalist countries, the state was obliged to take a more active role in the management of the economy because of its chronic and worsening instability and stagnation, to the extent of becoming integrated with the major corporations and banks. This is state-monopoly capitalism. The role of the state has been most explicit whenever monopoly capitalism faces crisis—during wars, depressions, and economic crises—but it manifests its class nature at all times. Since the onset of the 2008 crisis we have witnessed a spectacular increase in state intervention to save banks and finance houses by the socialising of corporate banking debt.
The EU Commission and the governments of EU member-states are meeting almost non-stop to try to come forward with solutions that protect the interests of monopoly capitalism, and in particular finance capital. Their solution has been to both socialise debt and socialise risk while leaving finance capital free to profit from public resources and to speculate, knowing that the public purse will open when the next crisis engulfs the system.
Capitalism in the neo-liberal phase of imperialism continues to try to solve its problems at the expense of the working class, by intensifying exploitation and by a policy of austerity that has visited hardship upon our class daily. The real gains that were born out of struggle brought us welfare provision and trade union rights, all of which are now under sustained attack. The core provisions of the welfare state, involving health, education, housing, and social insurance, having been removed in varying degrees from the market, creating decommodified public social space, are now under sustained attack.
This is a general crisis of capitalism, in that it is a crisis of capitalism’s ability to reproduce itself. Its attempts to do so only bring to the fore its own contradictions at the political, economic, social and moral levels, as epitomised by the election of President Trump in the United States. Its exact features can differ during overt crisis periods, but what is clear is that the system itself is the root cause of the crisis.
The extensive relocation of production to the most oppressed countries, with the cheapest labour, and the associated extreme growth of the financial sector, was not merely a policy decision but rather a necessary response to the stagnation of the system and the failure of attempts to regulate it. While appearing to provide a solution, these measures ultimately created a new crisis, the crash of 2008.
Globally, under pressure from the imperialist states and the growing economic power of China, barriers to trade and investment have been dismantled, using the institutions of imperialism, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organisation, giving companies the freedom to seek out the lowest wages, costs, and taxes, obliging the most oppressed countries to engage in a race to the bottom, forcing down wages and conditions throughout the world. Global capital can take advantage of the huge numbers of unemployed and precariously employed workers in the oppressed countries. This has been compounded by the advance of industrialised agriculture, with the use of genetically modified crops and the patenting of agricultural products by transnational corporations, which has displaced millions of peasants from the land to make way for cash crops.
The increasing monopolisation by transnational corporations is driving intense competition between countries, between small businesses (such as suppliers and sub-contractors), and between workers—most acutely felt in the oppressed countries but increasingly spreading to the imperialist countries as well.
The response of the states to the crisis has been, through their central banks, to rally the stock exchanges by quantitative easing, meanwhile imposing “austerity” on the working people. This has built up the fortunes of the super-rich and intensified the exploitation of the working class, especially the super-exploitation of workers in the oppressed countries.
Yet they have found no solution. Capitalism still has the need to stimulate consumption, so it must ease credit to enable people to buy goods. This in turn encourages speculation, creating more debt, only intensifying the problems that led to the crash in the first place.
This economic hegemony depends on the neo-colonial alliance between imperialist powers and the ruling classes of the oppressed countries, which are too weak to rule on their own. Compliant and subservient governments play an essential role in the maintenance of imperialist control. Those who step out of line must be taught a lesson or removed. War and the threat of war remains an essential feature of the system.
Intervention is invariably accompanied by a vigorous media campaign demonstrating the crimes of the regime and the humanitarian motivation of the aggressors. If the result is the destruction of the country and the death of millions—as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Syria—this is never the fault of the invaders. Meanwhile the human-rights record of allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia is never called into question.
The imperialist powers will order a “regime change,” perhaps by a “colour revolution” brought about by providing money to opposition forces and a massive propaganda campaign, by a coup d’état, or, if necessary, by creating a war. They have no scruples in using the most backward forces, which they hope to control, even Nazis in Ukraine or Islamic jihadists, including the “Islamic State,” in the Middle East. They have of late developed a reluctance to commit their own ground forces, with increasing reliance on the use of bombers or drones.
North American and European imperialism is now on a permanent war footing, engaging in regional conflicts while at the same time developing its global network of military bases, missile systems, and global surveillance and mechanisms of control. This suits the “military-industrial complex,” as armament production, along with aviation, constitutes a major part of the economy, especially in the United States. The United States remains the dominant military power, continually asserting its hegemony; but the European Union has set itself the task (in the Treaty of Lisbon) of building up its arms industry and its military strength. In spite of their incipient rivalry they remain tied to one another in NATO and certainly share a common political and military outlook.
We have now witnessed the destabilisation of whole regions of the world, causing the death of millions and the displacement of many millions more, the exacerbation of sectarian conflicts, and the unleashing of reactionary forces, for example the “Islamic State,” which—in spite of the atrocities they commit, even against the population of the imperialist countries themselves—do not represent any threat to their power.
The “Project for a New American Century” proclaimed the aim of “full-spectrum dominance.” This has not been achieved: Russia and China, two powerful states, have been provoked into taking up a defensive position. Popular movements throughout Latin America have challenged the hegemony of the United States and its domestic allies in every country of the continent, winning many victories but now facing a co-ordinated counter-attack.
The Irish state has increasingly aligned itself with the aggressive policies of both the European Union and the United States. US military planes use Shannon Airport in the transporting of its soldiers and weapons to its war zones—and, perhaps, its prisoners on “extraordinary rendition” flights. Irish soldiers are involved in NATO’s Partnership for Peace, and a token number sent to Afghanistan. The Irish army buys weapons from the Zionist state of Israel. Irish neutrality, never officially abandoned, has become a fiction.
The peace movement in Ireland has a proud record: in support of nuclear disarmament, in opposition to the war in Vietnam and the invasion of Iraq. We need to construct a peace movement that will oppose imperialist wars consistently and challenge the subservience of the Irish government while contributing to a world peace movement that can challenge the constant wars and threats of war that endanger all the peoples of the globe.
The environmental crisis
The extraordinary increase in the levels of carbon dioxide and methane, now known as greenhouse gases, since the development of modern industry, with its use of fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—has led to an increase in global temperature unprecedented during the existence of the human race. Scientists regard the consequent changes as sufficient to mark a new historical epoch, which they have labelled the Anthropocene. It is the overwhelming scientific consensus that this can potentially make it impossible for the human race to survive.
The deepening environmental crisis cannot be tackled by capitalist methods. This makes the transition to socialism not merely desirable but absolutely necessary to prevent the destruction of the biological environment that is necessary for the reproduction of the human species.
Environmental catastrophe faces all the people of our planet. Global warming, as a result of increasing quantities of atmospheric carbon dioxide, is the most critical aspect of this threat. After much denial, it has finally been generally accepted and has been the subject of many international governmental conferences. None of these has produced the necessary action. They are not prepared to address the fundamental causes; to do so would challenge the system itself.
There is a clear relationship between global environmental destruction and modern state-monopoly capitalism. It is capitalism that is creating the environmental crisis, with its continuous need for growth, its short-term and selfish use of resources, and its unplanned and anarchic nature. If capitalism is not growing it is in crisis.
Capitalism long ago outlived any positive role it played in developing the means of production and contributing to human progress. It can now reproduce itself in the main only through destructive and damaging processes, such as the insane drive for the exploitation of natural resources in more remote and environmentally sensitive areas of the planet and in the ever-expanding military production and destruction.
The human race has now developed to the point where we have the productive capacity not only to feed, clothe and house everyone on the planet but also to deliver a sustainable, renewable-based economy. Only a transition to socialism can make this possible.
It is a class question, already evidenced by the responses to extreme weather and natural disasters: communities abandoned to fend for themselves in Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina; the tsunami in Asia used as an opportunity for market expansion, with fishing communities being relocated and replaced by hotels and holiday parks. It is also the poorer countries that have suffered from the climate changes that are already happening and that are most threatened in the immediate future.
The international conferences on climate have given the appearance that at last governments are taking the issue seriously. At the Paris conference many commitments were made that claim to be addressing the problem. Yet these commitments are certainly too little, and furthermore are unlikely to be implemented, especially as the United States has withdrawn from the agreement.
It is the monopoly ownership and control of production that makes a serious programme impossible to implement, and the anarchic nature of capitalist production and capitalist commodity fetishism that bears responsibility for the environmental catastrophe that we face.
In addition, a significant contributing factor is modern imperialist warfare and its contribution to the pollution and destruction of the environment, especially with its use of depleted uranium weaponry. Military production is the most anti-environmental of all industries, and wars, of course, are hundreds of times worse.
Modern industrialised agriculture, dominated by mega-corporations, has become a major consumer of energy and producer of greenhouse gases. It has displaced millions of peasants from their land. By its use of genetically modified crops and herbicides it is poisoning land and water resources and destroying the bio-diversity wherever it operates. It is poisoning its workers and possibly consumers as well.
Some environmentalists see the source of the deepening environmental crisis in the behaviour of individuals rather than being rooted in the very nature of capitalist society. While changing the habits of individuals can be significant, it removes the question of the environmental crisis from its connection with the nature of the system itself. This “green” argument, however well intentioned, has been used to justify the opening up of sections of the public economy, in such areas as domestic waste collection, water supply, and conservation, for privatisation and monopoly control.
There cannot be a “green” or environmentally responsible capitalism. By its very nature capitalism is anti-environment and anti-people; it will always place the pursuit of profit above everything else. The workers’ movement needs to seriously reconnect with the defence of the environment, build it into its anti-monopoly strategy, and turn it against imperialism. The growing environmental movements must be encouraged not only to see the class nature of the environmental question but to realise that a break from capitalism is the only route to a sustainable society. We have to raise the slogan that we must either save the planet or save capitalism: we cannot save both. The issue has the potential to mobilise millions in defence of the planet.
Who are the ruling class?
What we mean by the ruling class is the class that possesses the power to defend and reproduce the dominant mode of production. The dominant class uses state power to intervene in a society to effect change and protect its interests. It constitutes the supreme rule-making power, decides what rules apply, who can adjudicate on them, on whom these rules are enforced, and the means of imposing and defending these rules when necessary for it to secure the functioning of its society, wealth, and privilege.
Only one social class in Ireland fulfils this rule-making, rule-applying, rule-adjudicating, rule-enforcing and rule-defending role, and that is the Irish big bourgeoisie, which is politically and economically dependent on its subservient relationship with international monopoly capitalism. The Irish big bourgeoisie is a smaller economic power in Ireland than foreign capital; but this does not mean that the transnational corporations can be considered the ruling class of Ireland.
Transnational corporations influence the policy of the Irish state, but they do not run the state. They distort the economy, using it as an export platform and a tax haven. Transnational corporations are footloose and unstable and cannot be the basis for a sustainable economic development. Their goal is profit, making use of the proximity and access to the EU market, and their presence in Ireland is conditional on the influence they hold over the Irish ruling class and its state.
Their influence over the state comes mainly from their contribution to maintaining employment and their implicit threat to leave if optimal conditions are not maintained to suit their interests, and also from the fact that the Irish bourgeoisie is not strong enough by itself to maintain its rule, and therefore an alliance with external capital is necessary.
The European Union: Imperialist infrastructure
The nature of the European Union—not what it is thought to be or should be—is a central question in understanding the nature of the Irish state and the position of Ireland within the global system of monopoly capitalism. What is the class character of the European Union? Does it rule Ireland? How strongly does it influence the Irish state, compared with the transnational corporations, or British imperialism? These are not abstract questions but go to the heart of how we as a people liberate ourselves and who our allies can be in the struggles ahead: they have a direct influence over our struggle for a better Ireland for working people and our struggle for socialism.
The European Union is an international state-monopoly amalgamation. The growing size and strength of the major corporations required a larger economic and political space, breaking down trade and other barriers between states to facilitate the concentration of capital.
In response to the very real “threat” of socialism, and to prevent the advance of the left in Europe after the Second World War, integration was necessary in order to reconstruct Europe as a buffer for US hegemony and power. The subsequent treaties all consolidated the power of the central EU institutions relative to the constituent states, and have extended the power of business interests at the expense of the working class. The common EU currency was also set up, for political reasons, as a part of this process.
The European Union is essentially an alliance of monopoly-capitalist forces to further their class interests. Its structures and treaties are designed to block any path towards socialism, or even social democracy. It cannot therefore be reformed but must be challenged and defeated if we are to achieve meaningful democracy and build socialism.
As it has developed, the European Union has assumed more and more powers, removing large areas of economic, financial and social decision-making from the member-states and away from democratic accountability—even in its limited parliamentary form—thereby preventing the people from influencing or changing policies they oppose at the national level. It has strategically removed key decisions about economic and social policies from the member-state level, thereby limiting the potential effects of working-class struggle. Economic and social policy is defined and presented as a mere technical question, devoid of any class, political or economic interests.
The transfer by the Irish state of parts of its sovereign power to the European Union was a class decision, made by the Irish ruling class. This reflected its alliance with international monopoly capital, which secures its dominant class position in Ireland.
The EU integration process and the transfer of powers is a project to limit the sovereignty and political independence of member-states so as to curtail independent economic and political action. This involves the transfer of budgetary powers to the EU Commission, the acceptance of supervision by European finance capital through the institutions of the EU Central Bank, and expanding the anti-democratic, technocratic rule of the EU Commission, which institutes policies that are in the interests of European monopoly capital.
The strategy is to limit the potential of the struggles of working people to effect change at the national level. The Irish government will accept and impose the orders of the EU, willingly or otherwise.
This does not mean that monopoly capital in European states has merged to such a degree that its allegiance has been entirely transferred from its own state to an artificially created multinational superstate. It sees its interests and its power as best secured through co-operation at the European and the global level.
The integration process under way within the European Union has also revealed and accentuated the differences between the core and the peripheral countries, with their different levels of economic and social development. This is a special form of neo-colonialism, best reflected in the imposition of the massive debt on the peripheral states, including the Irish state, by the core EU countries, which dominate the bloc at the political and economic level. This facilitates massive transfers of wealth from the peripheral countries to the core countries.
British imperialism remains a centre of monopoly power in Ireland today. Though the antagonism between British imperialism and the Irish people is played down by the establishment, it remains a long-lasting and threatening antagonism. The struggle for an independent Irish state was born in defiance of the British ruling class but ended in a compromise with it. The Northern provincial state entity was directly a creation of British monopoly-capitalist interests in Ireland, and remains so today.
British policy over many centuries has been to stunt and disfigure the Irish economy, creating an uneven and dependent relationship. This has been reflected in an evolving role for Ireland within the empire, with massive transfers of capital, livestock, other food resources and in more recent centuries labour resources from Ireland to the imperial centre as well as cannon fodder for Britain’s many colonial wars of conquest. British imperialism will always be concerned about revolutionary and democratic change in Ireland and will act to throttle any progressive change. The British state still controls, dominates and supervises the internal political settlement to suit its own needs and interests.
The outcome of the British referendum on EU membership has created and will continue to create significant tension and contradictions within the European Union and within the relationship between Britain and Ireland. The CPI welcomes the decision of Britain to leave the EU. We believe it creates a new situation for all the people of Britain and Ireland and provides opportunities for developing a class struggle for a people’s exit, a struggle in which the class interests of the British and Irish working class can combine in mutual solidarity and strengthen working-class movements in both countries.
We campaign for the trade union and labour movement and democratic forces in both countries to return to their original anti-EU leadership role and to defeat the right-wing forces in the labour movement that have abandoned large sections of the working class.
We express our solidarity with working-class and democratic forces in Britain in their struggle to achieve a “people’s exit” from the EU. We recognise that the terms of the British exit may not meet the demands of the working class at this time, but an exit from the EU is a necessary step to facilitate the defence of wages, working conditions, and public services, make it possible to confront Tory policies directly, and advance the interests of the working class, without the encumbrance of the EU and its treaties.
We must develop a movement that defeats xenophobic groupings, which have dominated the debate on the EU so far. These groupings hope to promote a less regulated, low-wage economy that will compete with rivals in international capitalism on the back of a more deeply exploited people. The CPI will participate in the struggle for an alternative to this right-wing vision and fight for a people’s exit that provides for the protection and enhancement of workers’ rights and conditions.
The Irish ruling class and the EU offensive: Its impact in Ireland
A recent report by the National Fiscal Council stated that the Irish state’s financial liabilities have increased fourfold since 2007, reflecting a series of large budget deficits and the cost of direct support provided to the banking industry. Over this period Ireland experienced the largest increase in indebtedness (relative to GDP) of any country in the euro zone. This consists mainly of sovereign bonds, troika or bilateral loans, and promissory notes.
The Irish state took responsibility for more than 42 per cent of all debt within the European Union—a debt that was not incurred by the people. Ireland had the fourth-highest ratio of debt to GDP in the euro area in 2012, whereas in 2007 it had the second-lowest debt ratio in the EU—this for a population of just over 4½ million. By the end of 2013 the debt was €215.6 billion, or 123 per cent of GDP.
The people in the Republic labour under the joint political and economic strategy of the European Union and the Irish ruling class, while similar policies are imposed by the British state on the working people of the North of Ireland. The economic and political establishment has long since committed itself to paying this odious debt, as its dependence on the European elite and its strategic self-interest require it to do. It will continue to use the debt crisis as a stick with which to beat workers, to extract more profits, and to secure its position of power in society.
“Austerity” in Ireland, as elsewhere, is not—as some on the left would claim—a bad policy option but rather an economic necessity for the system itself. It is a class policy for serving the interests of the ruling class and its international partners. It is designed to facilitate the transfer of wealth from working people—upwards to the Irish ruling class, which is becoming richer, with wealth becoming more concentrated, and outwards to international creditors, with wealth flowing out of the country to service the socialised corporate debt. The debt is used as a mechanism of control over the people, restricting their capacity to develop and implement alternative, independent political and economic policies.
Austerity has been the pretext for attacks on trade union and workers’ rights and the weakening of social welfare. This ruling-class offensive on working conditions and welfare protection has had a special impact on the long-term unemployed. Attacks on working conditions with the introduction of limited-hour contracts make employment even more precarious, expanding the pool of working poor. This, together with forcing them into various spurious “employment measures” and schemes, is designed to ensure that they are available to accept lower wages and poorer terms and conditions, which in turn puts further pressure on workers, both north and south, to curtail their demands. Schemes such as Job Bridge and Workfare form a part of the means of disciplining and controlling workers’ aspirations used by both the British and the Irish government on behalf of employers.
International finance capital and its representatives in the European Union, EU Central Bank and International Monetary Fund—the so-called troika—do not want the debt repaid quickly: they want instead for it to be serviced, resulting in guaranteed vast profits for the banking sector. Secondly, they are using the debt, particularly that of the heavily indebted peripheral countries, as a means of exercising and strengthening their control and domination. Debt-dependence is the means of ensuring that austerity, the continuous attack on workers’ conditions and social security generally, is permanent and irreversible.
Through the EU “stability mechanism” the dominant economic and political interests, in co-operation with dependent national ruling classes, have securely fixed banking and sovereign debt together, thus ensuring that in all future financial crises the state—in fact the working people—will bear the burden. The EU Commission has been given greater supervisory control over economies and the drive towards privatisation, for example in the Programme for Ireland.
This debt is not the people’s debt but banking debt that was imposed on the people by the EU-ECB-IMF troika, with the active collaboration of politicians, business organisations, and the state. From the very beginning of this particular crisis, through its campaigning on the debt, the CPI has been attempting to expose the class nature of the European Union and that of the Irish states, north and south, to show that the Irish ruling class puts the interests of the European monopoly banks and finance houses before those of the Irish people. We continue to expose this abject dependence and subservient relationship. There is no progressive way forward other than the repudiation of this odious debt.
Opposition to the imposition of corporate debt on the peoples of the European Union gives us the possibility of uniting workers throughout the EU, which would present a significant challenge to finance capital. Opposition to the privatisation of public enterprises and the commercialisation of public services is another area where co-operation and unity can be achieved.
The European Union is itself under growing strains, with the stability of the euro still very questionable. More and more working people are beginning to ask, “Whose interests does the European Union serve?” This is the central democratic question for left and progressive-thinking people. The verdict expressed in the British referendum in support of withdrawal from the EU opens up significant opportunities, despite the reactionary character of the dominant forces supporting Brexit. This opposition to and questioning of the nature and role of the European Union can either develop in a progressive way, one that wins back and enhances national political and economic sovereignty, led by the working class and progressive forces of the member-states, or be captured by the chauvinist and fascist forces that can only act in the interests of monopoly capitalism. This very real question is being played out in countries throughout Europe today.
Ireland’s membership of the euro area is a central democratic question. The euro zone facilitated the export of capital, and then the peripheral countries were left to bear the consequences of the crash. The EU institutions use it as a means of controlling and subjugating the peripheral countries and of ensuring that monopoly interests dominate. National control of a currency is an essential tool for controlling capital, allowing for the possibility of giving priority to economic and social policies that favour the people.
The Republic’s past alignment with the pound sterling prevented it from asserting a more independent approach, as the value of the pound was always determined by the needs of the British state. Equally, the North of Ireland, from its foundation, has been unable to assert any independent economic action, as one of the essential elements of an independent economy, currency control, was also in the hands of the imperial state. For our country to be truly sovereign and free to develop in the interests of the people its own currency is needed, one that can be controlled in the interests of working people.
Democracy versus state-monopoly capitalism
In the past the capitalist class required a certain level of democracy for running its affairs. Under pressure from mass political struggle, universal suffrage was eventually achieved. In the current state-monopoly phase, representative democracy is increasingly an impediment to its class interests. The mass of the people, on the other hand, require the strengthening and deepening of democracy, giving people the opportunity to fully participate in political decision-making.
The current suite of “trade agreements,” including the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and their forerunner, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), are designed to entrench and expand the hegemony of North America and the EU. Unlike other trade agreements, which are concerned with tariffs, this suite of agreements is directed towards non-trade elements of government structure, including
- the opening up of new markets by means of the privatisation of services normally provided by governments;
- limiting the ability of national governments to regulate capitalist markets;
- strengthening the hands of transnational corporations by means of instruments such as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which will allow transnational corporations to sue governments for the loss of potential profits resulting from government action; this is a quasi-legal structure outside the normal judicial structure, to be adjudicated not by judges but by corporate lawyers;
- expanding the global reserve army of labour;
- facilitating global labour arbitrage, seeking the lowest wages in the most oppressed countries;
- isolating any threat to the hegemony of the United States and the EU, for example from the BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa); and
- the convergence of regulations and standards, which are to be lowered towards the level of the United States.
In the context of Ireland, these agreements emphasise the marginalising of people in the North. For them the negotiations and agreement on these “trade agreements” will be determined by the EU, with their ratification completed by London. Neither the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont nor the people of the North will have any say in the matter.
If ratified, these “trade agreements” will herald a massive attack on the wages and working conditions of workers. Regulations regarding working conditions, health and safety, the environment and finance will all be lowered. There will be a race to the bottom as states seek to facilitate the lowering of production costs and corporations seek to benefit from the reduction of regulatory authority, resulting in downward pressure on wages, pressure to increase productivity, and massive job losses—an estimate of more than 600,000 job losses within the EU from TTIP alone.
The “trade agreements” of CETA, TTIP and TISA are being negotiated not by national governments but by unelected EU bureaucrats. National governments have no part in the negotiations: their role is reduced to ratifying the agreements presented to them. Given the impact of these agreements on the working class and the environment, they illustrate how the balance of power has moved away from elected governments to unelected technocrats. The ratification of these agreements will take place within national parliaments without recourse to the people. The CPI demands that there be a referendum on these agreements. Given the impact on workers on both sides of the border, the campaign against these agreements should reflect an all-Ireland response.
We have observed the imperialist nature of the EU in its attitude towards its peripheral states. In Ireland we experienced the imposition of the lion’s share of European bankers’ debt upon the people—an illustration of our lack of sovereignty. We also witnessed the imposing of technocratic governments on Italy and Greece, and the crushing of the Greek people’s resistance through the banking system. The reality that representative democracy is being truncated to meet the needs of capital when it is in crisis is becoming more open and visible.
We have witnessed two political coups, in the current economic crisis, in Italy and Greece, with two governments being replaced by what is euphemistically called “technocratic” government. These assaults on the democratic will of the Greek and Italian people, in collusion with the ruling forces in both countries, are among the first public manifestations and a real expression of the EU corporatist state now under construction.
Democracy from the viewpoint of corporate boardrooms has become too slow and cumbersome, with the potential of class struggle at the national level to affect economic and political decision-making. Democracy may well remain in form but with little content or substance.
The Southern economy: Dependence, debt, marginalisation, poverty, unemployment, emigration, and permanent austerity
The austerity measures agreed with and imposed by the external troika of the EU, ECB and IMF, in co-operation with the internal troika of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil, have had a devastating effect on working people, with massive cuts in public spending of €3½ billion per year. The Central Statistics Office estimates that at the end of 2013 gross general government debt stood at €215.6 billion, or 123 per cent of GDP, which takes nearly €9 billion per year to service. This is wealth leaving the country that could be put to socially productive use, instead of going back to the very countries that flooded Ireland with capital during the “boom.”
The widening gap between rich and poor is shown by the fact that 33 per cent of households had a gross income of less than €27,000 a year, while 2 per cent had a gross income of more than €200,000. There have been cuts in children’s allowance and unemployment benefit; there are hospital closures, levies, and an increase in value-added tax. As in all the peripheral countries, there is a massive fire sale of public companies. Public services continue to be privatised, narrowing the space for public capital so as to create new investment opportunities, with guaranteed profits, for private and corporate capital.
In 2011 there were 189,000 active businesses, with 1.2 million people engaged in them—505,000 (42 per cent) in services, 320,400 (27 per cent) in distribution, 199,200 (17 per cent) in industry, and 84,000 (7 per cent) in construction. The most recent National Household Survey shows a labour force of 2,172,400, with 1,926,900 employed and 245,000 unemployed. There are also 1,423,200 people outside the labour force (students, carers, etc.). Of these, an unknown number are potential members of the labour force.
For most transnational corporations the official rate of corporation tax at 12½ per cent is irrelevant: the true figure is closer to nil. Transnational corporations offer the national government only employment and payroll taxes. The profits of the company are moved about between different jurisdictions; in many cases they never find a home. Transnational corporations auction themselves to governments, those with high unemployment desperate to reduce unemployment levels offering deals and light regulation to attract them.
In 2011 the CSO estimated the total gross valued added at €100.6 billion. Personnel costs amounted to €42.4 billion and gross operating surplus to €58.3 billion. The turnover per person employed in all branches of the economy averaged €278,000. In the same year Irish transnationals employed more than 246,000 people in foreign affiliates, which generated a turnover of almost €73 billion.
Foreign transnationals, on the other hand, generated a turnover of €176.9 billion and employed more than 250,000 people in Ireland. Foreign transnationals have greater influence than local small enterprises, as they generate more money and wealth. Broadly speaking, they are the engine of economic policy, and the system operates to appease them.
The Small Firms Association has approximately 8,000 members, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association about 9,000, and the most influential, the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (IBEC), representing big business, 7,500. These employers’ groups, together with the chambers of commerce, accountancy and taxation bodies, and lobbyists, operate to influence politicians at the local and the national level to ensure that all legislation is proofed as being pro-business. A prime example of this is the so-called corporation tax rate of 12½ per cent.
There were about 229,000 self-employed people in Ireland in 2014. Many of these, however, were self-employed only in name, having been placed in this category by unscrupulous companies wishing to avoid tax, wage and pension obligations, as seen in 2014 in the J. J. Rhattigan workers’ dispute. In 2011 small companies (with fewer than 250 employees) accounted for 99 per cent of active businesses and 69 per cent of all those employed; however, they accounted for only 46 per cent of gross value added.
There are approximately 192,600 “professionals,” but some of these are in fact paid employees, such as doctors working in hospitals and accountants working in accountancy practices. However, they tend to regard themselves as being more than employees, are not unionised, and in general subscribe to neo-liberal ideology; but experience shows that social elements that were once secure allies of the establishment, such as the “professional classes,” small businesses, and family farmers, are now finding their political influence closed off and their economic interests sacrificed as the ruling class, the bourgeoisie, has transferred its allegiance to international capital.
This is concrete evidence of the objective need for an alliance between these groups and the working class in their common struggle against state-monopoly capitalism and imperialism. Such an alliance has the potential to create serious contradictions within bourgeois parties. The CPI will support all struggles against privatisation and in defence of the public sector.
The big lie about “regaining our sovereignty” when the troika formally left is evidenced by the continuity of the policy of the foreign and internal troikas, which exists to justify further steps in exploitation, in the theft of wages and pensions, and in the attack on health, education and social welfare rights. Invoking a policy of “fiscal restraint” and “deficit control” worsens the already high tax burden on workers and the people and continues public disinvestment and the policy of privatisations.
More than a quarter of the Irish people, north and south, are condemned to poverty. There is an unsustainable level of unemployment, though official figures are masked by emigration and the more than 160,000 people occupied in traineeships, occupational schemes, and training. The economy is being turned into one of low wages, precarious employment, and zero-hour contracts, while a growing number of people are deprived of unemployment benefits or any other social welfare—the most visible and inhuman face of the drastic social situation.
What all this shows is the deep web and entanglement between political power and economic power and the network of interests and dependence that not only undermines democracy but exposes the relative impunity that has surrounded the power of corporate lobbyists, the peddling of political favour and influence, and the depth and spread of corruption.
The Northern economy: Dependence and marginalisation
Reflecting its position within the imperialist world order, British state-monopoly capitalism has shifted from being an economy based on manufacturing to one based on services and finance. The North of Ireland in the 1960s had an economy dominated by manufacturing industry, employing more than 180,000 workers, with engineering—including shipbuilding—textiles, clothing, and food and drink accounting for the largest share.
Textile factories expanded throughout the 1960s, with significant foreign investment, and many became specialised in the production of synthetic materials. However, the global shift of production of the textile industry from west to east, to take advantage of cheap labour, securing monopolised profits, saw factory closures from the 1990s, and this industry now employs only 1,400 people.
Even with a significant growth in population, manufacturing today employs just over 81,000 (September 2016), or just under 10 per cent of total employment. The decline of manufacturing industry by more than a third merely follows the trend of peripheral regions in Britain, whereas manufacturing employment in the Republic increased by more than a quarter during the same period.
Manufacturing output in the North fell from 21 per cent of total economic output in 1997 to a mere 14 per cent in 2015. Today the Northern economy is dominated by small businesses, with 99 per cent of businesses employing fewer than fifty people. While 43 per cent of total employment in Britain is accounted for by small businesses, the corresponding figure for the North of Ireland is 58 per cent. As regards ownership, 97 per cent are locally owned.
There are almost 118,000 small and medium-sized businesses (with fewer than 250 employees), providing employment for 385,000 people. Small businesses account for 99 per cent of all firms but for only 59 per cent of total employment, while 72 per cent are sole traders. The largest increases in the number of jobs were in financial and business services, as in the South.
The Nevin Economic Research Institute reports wages as having fallen by 13 per cent since 2009, while the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency reports that the North had “the fourth lowest full-time gross median weekly earnings in 2016” of the twelve “UK regions” they analyse. These figures again show that the North of Ireland is arguably the most peripheral region within the British state. The figures for wage performance alone show similar trends for debt-fuelled growth in consumption.
The size of the public sector, accounting for 31 per cent of all workers, is the result of Thatcherite post-industrialisation (similar to the formerly industrialised areas of Britain), compounded by the particular consequences of the North’s colonial position and the effect on society of the most recent decades-long armed conflict. All current economic and social policies are to favour private capital over the public good. The CPI opposes the reduction of corporation tax and supports the case against its reduction, convincingly articulated by the trade union movement.
The cornerstone of this policy is the move to have corporation tax devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive, so that it can lower it from 26 to 12½ per cent, as in the Republic. Unionists believe that the South has a competitive advantage over the North, while republicans see the harmonisation of tax on both sides of the border as a further weakening of the border and a step towards a united Ireland.
The Northern economy was previously based on linen and synthetic textiles as well as shipbuilding and engineering, with a large public sector. The North of Ireland has now been transformed into a place where manufacturing has been replaced with part-time, low-paid retail jobs, while the public sector has come under attack from previous and current London governments, resulting in an increasing trend of de facto privatisation by the casualisation of such sectors as health and social care.
With the implementation of the British state’s policy of “welfare reform,” it seems likely that the benefit for the North’s public finances from any reduction in corporation tax will be met by the demand for full “cost recovery,” and any reduction in corporation tax will have to be met by reductions in expenditure on public services, resulting in the probable loss of 20,000 jobs in the public sector.
Given the scale of the most recent round of cuts announced, the cost of cutting corporation tax could prove unsustainable. Any growth in receipts from corporation tax will have a direct negative influence on the block grant from the British state.
Since partition, all economic decisions have been determined by the needs and interests of the British state and capitalist interests. The British state imposed governmental institutions that it controlled, both directly and indirectly, using economic levers that it wielded over the local government, which lacked its own currency, had limited taxation powers, and had no say over trade agreements. The North of Ireland was and remains a peripheral economy within the British state, dependent upon that state. This was and is a colonial relationship.
Given the history of the North of Ireland, many economic and social reforms arose out of the internal needs and changes that were required in Britain and reflected the balance of forces, accommodating the demands made by the British labour movement, in particular as part of the social-democratic postwar settlement. These gains are being eroded as the ruling class exploits the opportunities found in the crisis of their system.
The Stormont House Agreement of December 2014 is the latest reflection of the strategic interests and the primacy of the British state, which does not provide for the development of progressive economic and social policy. Opportunity to effect changes in economic and social policy can be created only at the level of maximum democratic accountability by and for the people.
In Ireland, north and south, class struggle and the struggle against imperialist hegemony and control are inextricably linked. Greater democracy and accountability of elected representatives and institutions is still a central question. Securing greater fiscal power within the north-east region can provide for greater economic, social and political co-operation and opens up the possibility of united working-class action, which can also go towards easing sectarianism.
None of the neo-liberal economic models, or the mentality behind them, can offer anything to the people of the North, where the scale of social deprivation outstrips comparable regions that are subsidised by the British state.
The British state has used a number of options to secure its interests, in the first instance by establishing a sectarian regional government with limited powers. When those institutions proved incapable of holding the situation, it reverted to direct rule from London and now to a form of internal settlement. All have proved incapable of working in the interests of the people as a whole.
The Belfast Agreement of 1998 opened up a political space for dialogue and provided a platform for achieving equality and parity of esteem. In the economic and social areas the limitations are clear, including the inability to challenge the neo-liberal model being imposed, and the power of the British state remains intact. There is an urgent need to advance beyond this agreement lest it perpetuate the sectarian divisions that need to be overcome.
The Northern Ireland Executive, dominated by the DUP and Sinn Féin, has failed to come forward with any progressive economic or social policies but instead champions two of the principal tenets of British government policy in imposing public-private partnerships and the private finance initiative (PPP-PFI) and continuing the policy of privatisation. Both parties can argue that these were not their decisions: the lack of fiscal powers leaves them unaccountable.
The Communist Party of Ireland in current conditions continues to work to build a progressive alliance with a range of forces to advance the interests of the working class and further radical transformative reforms, with the aim of undermining unionist and imperialist ideological hegemony.
To promote international solidarity with anti-imperialist popular struggles and to learn from them in order to build a better understanding regarding our experience of both national and internationally historical events remains an essential part of the party’s work.
The CPI is willing to work with most if not all organisations on issues on which it has compatible policies or campaigns, for example on abortion law reform, opposition to “welfare reform,” and opposition to military involvement in the Middle East.
We are least likely to form alliances with the Unionists, but such issues as anti-racism involve alliances with all sorts of political individuals. The experience of the civil rights movement is central to our understanding of building such alliances.
Fifty years ago, in 1967, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was formed. This was the culmination of the pursuance of the struggle for democracy involving the organised labour movement, in which the CPI had as its foremost aim the right of individuals to participate with equality in public affairs. We recognised that the denial of democracy and the disunity of the working class were crucial. The labour movement and therefore the CPI, together with the Belfast Trades Council, the Connolly Association, and other progressive forces, played a prominent role in helping to build a movement to challenge that lack of democracy.
NICRA did not have the organisation and political strength to determine that the predictable actions and violent provocations from the state and its allies would not be responded to by adventurist politics and anti-state violence. The full potential of the united political programme and anti-sectarian working-class unity was not achieved.
The two main parties in the North that have been involved in regional government over the past ten years are the the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin.
The main unionist parties (DUP and Ulster Unionist Party) have not acknowledged the blatant discrimination that was practised under their governments. The British state bears the ultimate responsibility for this. The general ideological base of unionist politicians was and remains conservative, attached to the British Empire, imperialism, and the ideology that it represents.
In the early part of the twentieth century James Connolly pointed out that unionists had no interest in working-class rights. He wrote: “There was no one in the House [of Commons] to fight for the inclusion of Ireland in the Meals for Necessitous School Children Act,” and that “not a single Belfast loyalist MP voted for the Old Age Pensions Act.” Connolly attacked Belfast’s loyalist MPs for not using their powers to alleviate conditions for the workers and how instead they used the “saving of the Union” excuse to obtain votes from workers while preventing them from improving working and living conditions. This could be applied to the present-day politics of the unionists.
The DUP has now joined forces with the Conservative Party in Britain. In a £1 billion deal, the Conservatives have bribed the DUP for their ten votes to keep the Tories in power. By accepting the bribe the DUP have exposed their true colours yet again, and both parties have shown complete contempt for the working people of Northern Ireland and Britain. With the DUP in effect in government with the Tories, the so-called neutrality of the latter is in question, and the Belfast Agreement and the peace process are under threat.
Since 2007 Sinn Féin has shared power with the DUP. However, this power-sharing is always of a precarious nature, and the DUP have set down 86 (out of 115) petitions of concern over a five-year period to avoid legislation that it does not support. The DUP have opposed the Irish Language Act and have prevented the enactment of a Bill of Rights and the building of the Maze interpretative centre. In addition to this they refuse to support legislation that would allow women to have an abortion in Northern Ireland. In the Northern Ireland Assembly only the Green Party and People Before Profit support women’s right to free, legal and safe abortion.
While Sinn Féin is to be considered potentially progressive and is described as a “left party” by some, their recent policies have exposed a major difficulty in their understanding of the imperialist nature of the European Union. Sinn Féin’s stated objective—to build a broad coalition within civil society, including trade unions, women’s groups and community organisations to oppose austerity measures—leads straight to a direct confrontation with the EU institutions.
Britain has shifted its alliance away from unionism to developing its influence with the Irish state and the ruling elite. British imperialism’s primary ally in Ireland today is the Southern ruling class, which has shown itself to be much more stable and to share some of the British state’s positions and concerns within the European Union. This relationship is a significant factor in the instability of the Northern state. The Irish state also has a significant international network of influence that is of assistance to the British state. The ruling elements are linked to and dependent upon its connections to global capital.
Unionism has lost its traditional exclusive control over the political administration of the area, thereby losing exclusive control of the dispensing of largesse, jobs, government contracts etc. to its own support base. It has lost exclusive control of the local forces of repression that it controlled since the foundation of the Northern statelet. The instruments of repression can no longer be divided out exclusively to its political base; the use and role of Orangeism has subsequently been severely weakened.
This weakening of Orangeism is also replicated in employment policies. As the industrial base has shrunk, so also has its ability to deliver jobs to its political base. This has added to the alienation felt by many working-class unionists. Alienation, bitterness and a sense of loss felt by those communities have been expressed by the “flags protest.”
Challenging sectarianism is a necessary part of the struggle for a democratic advance. It especially stunts the working class in its daily struggles. It needs to be challenged consistently and continually, as every weakening of sectarianism is an advance. It is the major obstacle to any reasonable discussion of the interests of the Irish working class as a whole. Its final elimination is possible only in a wider democratic settlement through the democratic reintegration of the national territory, which would be a necessary step in freeing the Irish people from the legacy of dependence and the continuing subordination to imperialist interests.
All these arrangements have lacked the capacity to break the dependent and peripheral nature of the Northern economy and the denial of the people’s capacity to change or influence fundamental economic and social policy. There is simply no lasting democratic solution to the political conflict and the differences within the political arrangements that have prevailed for nearly a century.
The immediate challenge for the working-class movement is how to break the commitment of the Northern Ireland Executive to following the austerity policies and neo-liberal strategy of the British state. The Executive is the weakest link in the imperial economic strategy, and this is where unity can be built and where the parties that implement these policies can be confronted and defeated, opening up space for a discussion on a new way forward, one that can bring unity to the class and the country.
The potential to change or influence the economic and social policies of the British government remains very slight. Working people cannot change or influence the policies imposed by Brussels, and they cannot influence the policies of the Irish government. The working people are in essence triply marginalised.
Greater and more profound democracy is the only means whereby the potential challenge to this triple marginalisation can be maximised. The lack of democracy and accountability in the economic and social spheres is still the central weakness of British control. Any radical way forward for our country and people must actively engage with and involve the people of the North of Ireland in building the forces for securing a national transformative strategy, harnessing all our people’s talents and natural resources.
The winning of the referendum on withdrawing from the European Union creates an opportunity to mobilise the political forces capable of rearranging the fundamental political arrangements. In withdrawing from the European Union, the challenge is how to unite the labour and trade union movement to demand a people’s Brexit. This requires a frank and calm debate within the labour movement that moves away from the dangerous idea that legitimate and long-standing arguments in opposition to EU membership can be dismissed by simply labelling their proponents as supporters of narrow nationalism or racism. This simply deepens the gulf that is developing between many working-class people and the trade union movement.
Achieving unity around a coherent position that delivers a people’s Brexit must address such issues as
- the deep structural flaws of the Economic and Monetary Union, which have enabled Germany to consistently run a destructive current-account surplus and have transformed peripheral euro-zone countries into debtor colonies;
- trade deals such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, which has been ratified by the EU Parliament and in effect is TTIP by the back door;
- the drive towards institutionalised austerity through the Fiscal Compact Treaty, which commits governments to a general budget deficit not exceeding 3 per cent of GDP;
- the history of anti-worker judgements by the EU Court of Justice, including the Viking and Laval judgements, which have undermined labour rights and working conditions;
- the dismantling of public services under bail-out conditions and the irreversible “competitiveness”;
- the concentration of powers in the hands of unelected EU institutions and the subordination of national laws to EU treaties.
Not to do this is to miss an opportunity for shifting British, Irish and European politics to the left by showing that alternatives to the institutionalised neo-liberalism of the EU exist. Not to do so risks fuelling the rise of right-wing populism, racism, and neo-fascism.
A people’s Brexit must shift power towards the working class through including
- repeal of the post-1980 anti-trade-union legislation;
- a statutory right to strike;
- a return to sectoral collective bargaining;
- the defence of foreign workers, including the right to remain for EU citizens living in Britain;
- the setting up of a state investment bank;
- a sustainable UK-wide economic development plan;
- redevelopment of the public sector; and
- deprivatisation and renationalisation of key sectors: health and social care, education, housing, transport, energy, and communications.
When the Belfast Agreement was implemented in 1998, the CPI welcomed this as an alternative to direct rule, and recognised the possibilities it could bring regarding the cessation of paramilitary action in Northern Ireland and the potential of political struggle that helps to build the unity of the people and of the country. We have always held the view, however, that in the interests of real democracy we need to move forward and address the issues that go beyond the agreement. Now, twenty years after the implementation of the agreement, we think that a full discussion within the community is needed to do this.
The Stormont Executive has been through crisis after crisis, which provides little or no confidence in its ability to govern. The impasse of 2017 is part of this continuing situation. Issues of concern regarding the Belfast Agreement and the functioning of the Executive include:
- the erosion of Irish sovereignty through the amendment of the Republic’s constitution to recognise Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom’s sovereign territory;
- the encouragement of sectarian polarisation through MLAs having to designate themselves as “nationalist” or “unionist” when signing the register on the first day the Assembly meets after an election;
- the DUP’s use of its position within the Executive to continue expressing its consistent opposition to the Belfast Agreement;
- the misuse of petitions of concern to advance narrow political objectives rather than, as intended, to prevent majority abuse of power;
- corruption within the Executive, exemplified by the RHI and Red Sky scandals;
- the ever-closer relationship of the DUP with the Tory government over such issues as the right-wing terms of Brexit and covering up the role of the British army as a major legacy issue; and
- the absence of an emerging progressive politics capable of using what powers the Executive and the Assembly have to forge unity in a struggle to defend jobs, wages, and the public sector.
In these circumstances, democratic forces and people’s organisations, such as trade unions, community and women’s organisations, need to oppose the reintroduction of direct rule and to campaign for the full implementation and further development of the Belfast Agreement, including:
- the establishment of the Civic Forum, to provide a genuine platform for ensuring that the diverse voices of civil society are heard and to counteract the narrowness of the dominant sectarian politics; the “compact civic panel” proposed in the Fresh Start agreement (2015) is not fit for that purpose, and we therefore call on the civil society organisations to oppose this quango and demand a Civic Forum that is an independent representative of the diversity of civil society;
- the enactment of a Bill of Rights, which the DUP continues to oppose and which the Fresh Start agreement failed to progress because “there is not at present consensus on a Bill of Rights”;
- the removal of all undemocratic practices regarding arrest and remand and the use of internment;
- the enactment of Irish-language legislation;
- the payment of wages to SPADs (special political advisers) once they resign or leave a post;
- an end to the misuse of the petition of concern;
- the full transfer of fiscal power;
- the removal of all foreign intelligence agencies; and
- the repeal of anti-trade-union legislation in Northern Ireland.
The CPI is unwavering in its commitment to building a socialist united Ireland, while recognising the deep divisions within the country that continue to hold back progress. We recognise the limitations of the Belfast Agreement and the political developments that have followed it to date, including the recurring suspension of the institutions. At the present time no proposals are forthcoming to put in its place a different form of government. We do not think that direct rule is an answer. We are not as yet in a position to move to a united Ireland, as we have not built the confidence and the united movement that is required for this. Any united Ireland must be one that contains the best of both parts of Ireland regarding living, social and working conditions. We welcome discussion, action and proposals to this effect.
Building a force for change
All political forces are viable in terms of building a united movement that can firstly defend democratic and workers’ rights and in the long term lead the path to a unity of the people for a socialist united Ireland.
In the meantime we have to fight for short-term, everyday demands. The major issues relating to living and working conditions include:
- the retention of water as a public concern;
- a programme for dealing with homelessness and for providing state-funded public housing;
- a National Health Service for the whole of Ireland; this means a restructuring of the health service in the South and a defence of the NHS in the North;
- an enhanced public transport system that continues to co-operate, north and south;
- the abolition of undemocratic trade union laws and increased rights for workers; and
- an employment and economic programme that addresses the needs of the country, north and south.
On this, the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, and at a time when there is another realignment of capitalist forces causing tensions within imperialism, democracy remains the key. Sectarianism and capitalist ideology are the main obstacles to the unity of the working class and the labour movement.
Social democracy has now more clearly identified its politics as the defence of capitalism. It is all the more important that we work to unite our people in Northern Ireland and beyond on the basis of a programme against austerity, the destruction of the NHS, education cuts, and the destruction of public services and the welfare state.
The working class and forces for change
The crucial question is, How do we develop struggles that have the potential to weaken the enemies of working people and that unite working people and anti-imperialist forces? What demands contain the potential for moving forward and countering the attacks now taking place?
Working people in the South are faced with an increasingly unequal, unfair, more dependent and less sovereign country. A similar future faces the people in the North, who have no genuine, meaningful democratic control over their lives, being marginalised on three fronts: they have insignificant influence in London or Dublin, and none at all within the EU.
As a direct result of forty years of membership of the European Union, of European capitalist integration, successive governments have followed a path that has led the country into handing over the essential levers of national sovereignty. The winning of the trade union movement is vital to this strategy The scale of the problems requires a challenge to the logic of domination by monopoly capitalism and the building of an all-Ireland progressive alliance—involving socialists, republicans, trade unionists, feminists, community activists, and democrats in general—committed to a radical transformative economic and social strategy, based on a people’s politics, led by the working class. The strength of the working class lies with the Communist Party in organisation through trade unions, community groups, women’s organisations, and political organisations.
The winning of the trade union movement is vital to this radical transformative economic and social strategy. The ICTU is the largest civil-society organisation in Ireland. Forty-eight unions are affiliated, with a combined membership of 778,136 (of whom some 52 per cent are women), with 566,366 of these in the Republic and 211,800 in the North. There are also thirty-one trades councils.
Total union membership declined from 558,000 in 2007 to 476,000 in 2012. Union density (the proportion of all workers who are members of a union) has dramatically declined, from 63 per cent in 1986 to 30 per cent in 2013. This coincides with the adoption of “social partnership” in the Republic and the onslaught against trade unions in Britain. The decline is significant in almost every area except the public sector: in the private sector, union density is 21 per cent, while in the public sector it is 75 per cent.
Permanent employees are twice as likely to be members of a union as temporary or agency workers. Unionisation is lowest among new entrants to the labour force, with only 17 per cent of those under twenty-five being in a union, while 45 per cent of union members are over forty. This statistic alone tells a tale of where the unions are heading if a different approach is not taken.
The decline in union density over the last twenty years has been the most severe in the history of the Irish labour movement. But despite this decline, despite high unemployment and attacks from the right-wing media, unions still have industrial strength (as exemplified in the recent ESB pensions dispute) and mobilising potential (as shown in the Right2Water campaign). It is also important that we not lose sight of the fact that the economy may look different, but workers within it still need to be organised. We must be alive, therefore, to new opportunities in non-traditional areas for trade union organising and growth and should look at how these sectors may also offer an essential bridge between the trade union movement and the wider community.
For example, in the North the trade union movement has played a prominent role in providing opposition to “austerity” and is the driving force behind many of the progressive social, political and industrial battles that take place. May Day, particularly in Belfast, continues to be a very important occasion for bringing workers together in a show of unity and strength. Furthermore, the activity in and around it has expanded into educational and cultural events, offering new ways of engaging and organising. This, and the reintroduction of political education in some unions throughout the country, seems to be yielding results, with an increase in the level of class-consciousness among many previously demoralised and apathetic work-place representatives.
Similarly in the South, in contrast to those still wedded to the failed notion of “social partnership,” the main organisers of the Right2Water resistance have been trade unions. This captured the strength of community resistance and provided an umbrella for many communities and working people in actively resisting Irish Water and its bullies.
Trade unions gave structure, organisation and resources to the resistance to water charges and enabled the emergence of the Right2Water campaign as a serious force. It is union organisation that galvanised the protests and helped involve former union members who are either unemployed or retired. There is a consciousness within the trade union movement that it has strength, but it needs to grow in confidence and to build unity.
The net result of this activity is that unions involved in these campaigns are increasing their membership. Another positive example is that the Irish region of Unite has introduced an initiative called “Unite in the Community,” which offers membership to the unemployed, underemployed and low-paid at a nominal rate and agitates against austerity in the communities.
The CPI will use its influence to build the confidence within the trade union movement to assert its independent role and to recognise the collaborationist nature of the “partnership” arrangements that have so damaged the status of the movement in the minds of the people and facilitated employers’ objectives of worsening conditions and creating insecurity.
Turning the economic crisis into a political crisis
The uneven economic and social development of the different member-states of the European Union is clear. The EU is dominated, politically and economically, by the powerful states at its core. The economic crisis, and the debt crisis in particular, struck hardest at peripheral states. Far from helping, the EU institutions imposed harsh conditions, to the advantage of the core. The austerity programme is being imposed not only on the periphery but on working people throughout the entire EU. This is encountering increasing resistance in all countries.
If we accept that social revolution is a living phenomenon, what are the material conditions and the social forces that we have to understand, try to work with, and win over?
Certainly in Ireland the centuries of colonial domination, the continued partition of the country and the deep division within the working class require us to reflect on and understand that reality.
It is combining the social and the national question, showing that they are inseparable, that provides the framework for possible forward movement, showing that domination and control by the European Union can be broken only by the working class, as the Irish ruling class is itself a junior partner, subservient to the interests of imperialism and in the first instance to the European Union. We cannot copy history: we can only learn from it and apply the lessons.
On the basis of this understanding, it is our task to develop a strategy for the working class and its allies to create conditions for a transformation of society. Socialism is the only alternative to capitalism; but how we turn the economic crisis of the system into a political crisis of the system is the challenge that faces revolutionary forces.
Democracy: A central arena of struggle
Policies for developing struggle and resistance are a pressing issue facing not only the Irish people but working people everywhere. Capitalism’s increasing lack of democracy, and its efforts to narrow and corral the people’s options, is a strategic weakness. This challenges us to lead people from the limitations of bourgeois democracy, where workers and citizens have no real democratic control, to real participatory democracy, where there is full social control over politics, society, and the economy. Communists want to empower working people, to democratise all areas of life.
Democracy, which is centred on working people, is the fertile ground that we have to cultivate and develop. It requires the democratic control of capital, democratic control and ownership over the means of production.
The struggle for democracy and the defence of democracy can open up new avenues and alliances with new forces and potential allies. This is not to defend the democracy that growing numbers of people are alienated from, that produces the Tweedledum and Tweedledee political cartels, but exposing its limitations and its class nature. It is about constantly raising the questions of “Who runs society? For whom is it run?” and challenging the injustice of the current answers to these questions at every level of work and community participation.
National sovereignty is also a central question, one that has the potential to open up fissures in the enemy’s positions, to undermine and expose the fact that ruling-class forces have always and will always put their class interests and their relationship with imperialism before the interests of the people, most importantly those of working people. But this is a debate about sovereignty as economic ownership and political control—not the shallow “patriotism” of seeing the “hoisting of the Green Flag over Dublin Castle” as the endgame. It is not narrow nationalism, it is anti-imperialism and the internationalism of drawing inspiration from and showing solidarity with left movements around the world that have rejected the diktat of neo-liberalism.
A communist way forward
We need a new industrial development strategy that concentrates on overcoming the subordination of our economy to transnational corporations. Ireland needs a balance between foreign and indigenous investment. It needs to encourage both small-scale and large-scale indigenous companies, with an R&D anchor. Large-scale industries under democratic public ownership, with emphasis on public investment on a planned basis, can drive the economy, which can help develop and finance economic and social infrastructure.
All capitalist governments define development as economic growth, and use GDP (the total value of traded goods and services produced in the country) as the measuring tool. This method of measurement is limited, as it says nothing about whether growth is sustainable, whether it looks after today without thinking of future generations, or how national income is distributed between regions, between social classes, or between men and women.
It pays no heed to activities that harm the environment, or to the value of profits made in Ireland but transferred abroad, or to the more recent phenomenon of “source contracts,” which show up on our accounts without adding anything to Ireland. Any development strategy has to have not alone an ambition of economic growth but, just as importantly, measures for achieving social equality.
The development of a radical transformative strategy is for weakening the power of capital and strengthening the power and unity of labour. It is the use of state power that can
- bring an end to poverty, unemployment, inequality, homelessness, hunger, and emigration;
- dramatically increase investment in research and development;
- establish all-Ireland networks to facilitate the development of manufacturing industry; and
- use planning and integration to obtain optimum gains from exports from the Republic and from industrial enterprises in the North.
If we are to look at potential areas for development, therefore, the models would have to be on an all-Ireland scale. This alternative economic strategy would be based on economic control and political accountability. Among the features of such a strategy would be:
- public procurement, whereby any investment must be tailored to the maximum advantage of the greatest number of people, in recognition of the integral connection between economic dynamism and economic justice;
- a genuinely integrated all-Ireland transport system, with appropriate railway and road corridors, not only to facilitate economic progress but to ensure the provision of full and accessible services in such areas as health;
- all-Ireland environmental planning and regulation, and investment in the environment and environmentally responsible projects;
- the establishment of an all-Ireland National Development Bank;
- public ownership of all natural resources and their development by a National Development Corporation;
- breaking with the euro;
- pursuing economic and social policies regardless of what the European Union may or may not allow;
- withdrawal from the European Union, because it impinges on the rights and sovereignty of the Irish people to make their own decisions;
- repudiating the debt; and
- the social control of capital.
These are policies and demands that are diametrically opposed to those of monopoly capitalism and bring us into conflict with the Irish ruling class and its global sponsors. They are the necessary components of a radical alternative all-Ireland economic, political and social strategy.
As neo-liberalism’s assault on public services rips out the “spine” of society, this spine in relation to publicly funded health, housing and real social security needs to be restored by properly funded provision from which the profit motive has been removed.
Capitalism is incompatible with democracy. Capitalism insists that social control is undesirable, bad, and impossible; capitalism allows the pursuit of profit to be the only guide for economic and social development. In contrast, socialist economics is concerned with fulfilling the people’s needs through democratically planned and sustainable economic and social policies.
Deepening the ideological struggle
From the very beginning of this particular crisis, through its campaigning on the debt, the CPI has been attempting to expose the class nature of the European Union and of the Irish states, north and south, to show that the Irish ruling class puts the interests of the European monopoly banks and finance houses before those of the people. We continue to expose this abject dependence and subservient relationship.
In recent years new popular movements have arisen in several European countries, offering a solution to the crisis and an end to “austerity” that does not challenge the EU or their countries’ membership of it. Some of these movements, under more openly opportunist leadership, such as SYRIZA in Greece, have failed the people spectacularly; others continue to offer the illusion of a painless way out of the crisis.
In some countries, notably Britain, this movement has taken the form of an attempted popular renewal within the established social-democratic party, giving voice to the traditional values of that party as well as enlisting the support of tens of thousands of people who have felt for many years that they have no voice in the political process and no control over their own lives. This movement carries a potential for raising the consciousness and confidence of the working class. But even with a leadership that is honest and sincere, this also will fail if it does not challenge the nature of capitalism and instead offers the hope of a purely electoral solution to the crisis. The unprecedented outpouring of hatred from the ruling parties and their media, especially in Britain, shows that they fear these movements and their threat to capitalist power and capitalist ideology.
Anti-communism and the slogan of “There is no alternative” have been hugely successful in blocking any significant movement away from social-democratic illusions towards revolutionary alternatives. The very existence of these movements, however, has held out the idea that alternatives are possible. The revolutionary alternative is also possible.
Opposition to austerity programmes, through the imposition of corporate debt or otherwise, on the peoples of the European Union gives us the possibility of uniting workers throughout the EU. This is a struggle for the whole class throughout Europe and for bringing about unity, which could present a significant challenge to capital. Opposition to the privatisation of public enterprises and the commercialisation of public services is another area where co-operation and unity can be achieved.
Solidarity actions with workers engaged in resistance can also provide an opportunity to break the isolation that ruling-class forces have succeeded in building, leaving each national working class with the belief that it is on its own. We need to take every opportunity to show working-class solidarity and to learn tactics and strategies from each other’s struggles. This is a struggle for the whole of the class, throughout the EU, to bring working-class internationalism back into the consciousness of workers.
Building the people’s resistance
“Building the people’s resistance” was the theme and strategic call from the previous national congress of the CPI. This remains relevant today. We have witnessed the mass mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of people in opposition to water charges and to the privatisation of water resources, north and south.
The working class cannot advance by electoral forms of struggle alone, elections not being an end in themselves but rather one form of struggle. Central questions of supreme importance, such as national democracy, economic independence, and sovereignty, have not featured in election campaigns.
Campaigns such as that against water charges are opening up new areas of struggle, in the North as well as in the South, and show the potential for mobilising the people, building their confidence and strength. The challenge now is to build autonomous organisations of the people, independent of the control and management strategies of the state, to build serious organisations of people’s resistance.
The building of an all-Ireland anti-imperialist alliance with a common programme and working-class leadership is the only strategy capable of challenging the control of imperialism, a strategy for mobilising the people to fight to build a new type of national political and economic sovereignty, centred on the needs of working people—a risen, conscious people determined to fight for a future in which the needs of the people, of the planet and of peace come before greed for profits under imperialism.
Opening up the road to socialism
Many lessons are to be learnt from the building of socialism in the twentieth century and current efforts at building socialism in difficult conditions. Huge economic, political, social and cultural advances were made under extremely adverse conditions, suffering from civil wars and wars of aggression. These conditions had an impact on the construction of socialism in many ways. Imperialism was the dominant military, economic, political and cultural influence and power globally, as it is today.
Our movement’s history has to be assessed and faced up to, honestly and critically, as a necessary element in the fight against anti-communism. Now more than ever we must guard against left-sectarianism and dogmatism as much as against reformism, opportunism, and defeatism.
Socialism and the struggle for socialism in the twenty-first century will be shaped by the experience of the twentieth century but most importantly by the class and anti-imperialist struggles of the twenty-first century, by the balance of power and the strength of imperialism. Each generation of the working class needs to learn from the experience of previous generations and the struggles of the past. We can only build upon the experiences of the past if we learn history looking forward.
Policy on women
Over the years the Communist Party of Ireland has been to the forefront in pushing for social change for women. At our previous congresses we have adopted policies that recognise the need for the fight to defend the rights of women in keeping with the Marxist analysis of the role of the working class, and the special position of women within that class.
The Communist Party of Ireland reaffirms its commitment to the liberation of women from the double oppression of class exploitation and patriarchy. The persistence of misogyny and sexism remains destructive to our society; it damages the lives of men as well as women. The struggle to end female oppression is an intrinsic and essential part of the struggle for progressive change, and the elimination of this oppression is the responsibility of men and women.
All the problems highlighted in our previous policies continue to be ones that still need to be acted upon; this includes the issues of low pay, part-time work, zero-hour contracts, and other policies on the exploitation and oppression of women.
While more women are in employment than at any time in history, they are not benefiting from the gains that only permanent, secure employment that pays a living wage, with decent terms and conditions, can bring to their work and home life. As long as this type of casualisation of labour is legislated for and remains unchallenged it will continue to grow, and women will bear the brunt of its consequences.
The CPI calls on the labour movement to campaign to end all casual contracts, including short-hours contracts, exploitative agency contracts, zero-hour contracts, and bogus self-employment.
The exploitative nature of capitalism requires it to extract maximum profits from workers. The gender pay gap, and exploitation at the point of production, coupled with caring responsibilities and unpaid labour at home, must be understood as central pillars in the operation of capitalism, to the detriment of the entire working class.
There has been wide recognition that women are hit the hardest under the policies of the British, Irish and EEC poverty policies.
The Communist Party of Ireland welcomes the fact that women have been in the forefront of the Right2Water campaign. Since its inception by a group of unions to unite the three pillars of the struggle—unions, political parties, and the communities—women have taken the lead in the community section. Anger at the attack on the working class, in particular on working-class children, the elderly and the sick has driven the community women to question the role of the state.
Bolstered with political education, that anger has turned into a determined effort to confront the state and the EU wherever the communities see fit. Women who take part are the first to put themselves in the firing line of Gardaí and the courts and have suffered from imprisonment and physical abuse. This development by Irish working women under the R2W banner is to be welcomed and no doubt will be felt in the years of struggle ahead.
To be welcomed is the solidarity of women’s organisations and trade unions, which can work together on common issues on an all-Ireland basis. At the present time in Ireland the trade union movement and a number of women’s organisations have joined forces to work on campaigns such as reproductive rights and domestic and sexual violence.
The CPI calls for decriminalisation of abortion in line with international human rights standards, so that health professionals can provide such care without the threat of prosecution. The CPI supports a woman’s right to choose and free, legal abortions; we will continue to fight to have abortion made legal in Ireland. When and where the law is changed it should be clear and precise and not open to interpretation. Where this is not the case we will fight to have the law changed. The woman should have the right to decide what she wants to do in relation to continuing or terminating her pregnancies.
The CPI further supports the establishment of the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment. We view this as a significant step forward for women’s rights. We continue to support both the Abortion Rights Campaign and Alliance for Choice and all progressive campaigns in this struggle.
The CPI particularly welcomes the statement by the ICTU that “barriers to reproductive rights are barriers to full social, economic, political and workplace equality” and that “restrictive abortion practices and barriers to access to safe abortion to the full extent of the law are gender discriminatory, denying women and girls treatment only they need.”
We continue to support the work of the Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast in the recognition that there is an absence of facilities for women in Ireland, and we condemn the anti-choice groups who physically harass members of the public, staff and volunteers at the clinic.
There is clearly a class dimension to abortion, as women who can afford terminations do so, while those who cannot are forced to continue with crisis pregnancies. We recognise that other social measures should be in place, such as adequate state provision of sex, relationship and health education in schools, increased access to free contraception, nursery, creche and other child-care support.
We also recognise the role that the women’s movement, community and trade union movement have to play in that struggle. To this end we welcome the contribution that people within these movements have made in promoting the working-class politics and culture of International Women’s Day.
International Women’s Day has become a symbol of the worldwide struggle against the oppression of women. We must ensure that it remains at the forefront of workers’ struggle for the abolition of capitalist exploitation and all that goes with it.
The Communist Party of Ireland has been active on IWD for over seven decades. The CPI continues to be a part of this action, and since our last congress we welcomed comrades from Iraq, Israel, Cuba, South Africa, England and the USA who came to Ireland to be part of the IWD events. We continue to have contact with the Women’s International Democratic Federation and welcome their actions in promoting international solidarity.
International Women’s Day events have incorporated the fight-back against increased attacks on human rights, against the privatisation of water, the privatisation of social services, and attacks on jobs. Sections of the women’s movement have embraced the need to organise, and the attendance at IWD rallies in Belfast has increased.
However, we do recognise that International Women’s Day does not exist for thousands of women who experience dire poverty and hunger, the women who are HIV-positive, physically and sexually abused, those addicted to substances, those seeking refugee status and asylum-seekers. For the vast majority of women in the world the general concerns are about life’s essentials: food, water, fuel, and housing.
In contrast, we give recognition to Cuba which has developed one of the best health-care systems in the world, health care to provide the lowest level of transmission of HIV from mother to child.
The CPI is aware that there is the short-term struggle for immediate rights as well as the longer-term struggle for a complete change in the economic, political and social system. We realise that only in a socialist society will there be an economic base for eliminating poverty, but in the meantime we are committed to defending and extending women’s rights. While our ultimate aim is a socialist united Ireland, we believe that we must fight exploitation and assert issues of personal and sexual freedom on a daily basis.
Finally, during the centenary of the Easter Rising we marked this event by highlighting the class and gender nature of that struggle and ensured that James Connolly’s writings were applied to the present-day struggles. We marked this with the republication of Breaking the Chains: Selected Writings of James Connolly on Women.
The Communist Party of Ireland supports the right of all citizens to participate fully in society, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT citizens have faced historical discrimination for generations, and while the CPI welcomes progressive and social changes in the twenty-first century, the party recognises that there is still widespread discrimination across the island, both north and south.
This discrimination, which can be individual or institutional, takes place in the form of exclusion, harassment, and violence, and the CPI recognises that there is a cultural and political question to this issue, one that requires education and protection to end bullying and bigotry in schools and society in general
Schools and other educational establishments have a duty to help to stamp out homophobic and transphobic attitudes.
The CPI will work to change attitudes that create violence and will explore policy and educational actions that are needed.
The CPI welcomes the result of the 2015 marriage equality referendum in the Republic.
The CPI believes that access to civil marriage as administered by the state should be open to all consenting adults. However, we note with concern that the DUP have used the petition of concern to veto and block marriage equality in the North. This is an abuse of power, that anti-sectarian mechanisms are now being used to block equality legislation.
In areas of mental health, public safety, employment, housing, and the right to have a family, the CPI acknowledges that there is great inequality for LGBT citizens. We will educate ourselves on these issues and play our part in bringing about political and social change.
The issue of LGBT equality in the North has brought thousands of people onto the streets calling for change, and it has been this issue of LGBT equality that has so completely exposed the anti-democratic nature of the DUP.
The Communist Party calls for all LGBT groups to work together, to link into the working-class and labour movement, and to see their demand for equality as part of the broader class struggle for democracy and civil rights.
The CPI encourages LGBT groups to see the fight for equality as part of the larger struggle for democracy and socialism. For it is only a complete change in society that can give greater social equality.
As an internationalist party the CPI does not limit these calls to the citizens of the island of Ireland but to all peoples of the earth. All progressive parties and governments should commit themselves to these fundamental human rights.