17th International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties
Ankara, November 2015
General Secretary, Communist Party of Ireland
We are moving into a period of change as well as a period of great danger to world peace. The US-EU imperialist bloc is deepening its permanent war strategy in its continuing struggle to maintain its global domination. They cynically use the Islamic terrorist groups operating both in the Middle East and in North Africa, just as they use fascist groups in Ukraine. The atrocities committed in their own territories are regarded as “blow-back,” a price worth paying. This is coupled with the real dangers posed to the planet by the destruction of the global environment by monopoly capitalism.
We can see this permanent war strategy being played out today in the Middle East, with its war against Syria and its support for despotic regimes, like the Zionist settler-colonial state of Israel, now slipping into fascism, and the neo-mediaevalist Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Their brutal wars against the people of Palestine and Yemen have the full support of their patrons.
Russia has been provoked into intervening in the Syrian crisis, an intervention that may shift the balance of forces within that country. The Russian intervention does not fit so easily into the neat box of inter-imperialist rivalry. We need to study developments in the very real concrete conditions. It is important that ISIS and the other forces of reaction promoted by US-EU imperialism are defeated in the region. This would be a strategic defeat for the imperialist powers.
The United States has not abandoned the megalomaniac project of “full-spectrum dominance.” With its partners, the EU and Japan, it is now attempting to encircle Russia and China. In fact this is its main strategic objective; the interference in Ukraine and the South China Sea can only be understood in this context.
The drive for global domination is accompanied by a continuing assault on working people. This is now facing a growing but largely confused and disjointed resistance. The “austerity” measures have met with a large protest movement; however, the majority of protesters are not yet ready to challenge the system itself and are open to opportunist forces promising an easy solution, a return to social democracy—a solution that is not available.
Nevertheless, we can see throughout Europe and in many developed capitalist countries the emergence of new social forces, albeit forces that come from a petit-bourgeois background and understanding, a movement of protest against austerity, with large numbers but without a clear strategy. Without an understanding of the nature of capitalism, this movement is open to manipulation and is headed for defeat, as the recent experience of SYRIZA in Greece has shown.
The weakening of ideological hegemony
It is clear that the ideological hegemony is weakening. Throughout the European Union more and more workers are taking the first step towards asking whose interests the EU serves. There are small shoots of questioning of the very legitimacy of the EU itself.
We need to continue to step up our ideological attacks against the EU and also to expose opportunism, to show that this talk of “reforming” the EU weakens and confuses workers, blunting the resistance of the workers’ movement throughout Europe. The struggle against TTIP can also be used to expose not only the nature of that treaty but also the forces behind it and the EU itself.
The possible emergence of political fractures gives us more scope for engaging in and intensifying the ideological struggle among this strata. While many are imbued with the bankrupt ideology of social democracy, and have been fed on decades of vicious anti-worker anti-communism, and while some of this resistance is ideologically and organisationally confused, we should distinguish between those who are genuinely confused by the crisis and those who are spreading confusion.
It is clear that these movements have not, and will not, spontaneously or automatically come to the same understanding as communists or the workers’ movement; our class has decades of experience in resistance to draw upon.
We may have come to different conclusions and solutions from that resistance, but we need to find the ways and the means, as well as the political courage and, most importantly, the confidence in our ideology, to engage with these forces. Without a good defence there is little chance of a successful counter-offensive.
Growing resistance in Ireland
After many years of imposed austerity—cuts in wages, pensions, health and education services—we are now experiencing in Ireland the emergence of mass resistance to the introduction of water charges, under the unifying banner of Right2Water. This is one of the most positive developments since the civil rights movement in the late 1960s, which shattered unionism—British imperialism’s main ally in the north of our country.
Water charges, along with other charges and levies, form part of the agreed “Programme for Ireland” imposed upon the Irish people by the external troika, in alliance with the internal troika of the main Irish establishment parties.
The people in the northern part of our country, still under British control, also experience some of the same brutal social and economic realities and policies of the British state as well as those flowing from the EU. The current attempt to impose “welfare reform” demanded by the British state lies at the heart of the present political crisis within the institutions established under the Belfast Agreement.
We characterise the situation facing the people in the North of Ireland as one in which they are triply marginalised: they have little if any influence on British government policy that so directly affects their lives; they certainly have no ability to effect change in or to oppose policies imposed by the EU; and they have little influence on the Irish government.
What is clear is that there is no lasting solution within the existing political institutions and continued British imperialist control.
In the south of Ireland what has now emerged is a mass movement of resistance against the imposition of water charges, which has had a significant impact politically. What began as a small resistance in one housing estate has grown into a national movement. This movement has had a significant impact on sections of the trade union movement, a movement demoralised and greatly weakened by decades of “social partnership” and class collaboration.
A number of trade unions came together and formally established Right2Water. Within this movement are three pillars: trade unions, communities, and political parties. Trade unions play a central role in sustaining the unity of the movement, and in keeping political opportunism in check. It has allowed for the reconnecting of community-based struggles with trade unions, and vice versa.
What lessons have Irish communists drawn from this mass struggle?
Firstly, it has reaffirmed that the active involvement of working people in direct, mobilising struggles is the only real basis on which political and class consciousness can be developed.
Secondly, it is essential that the trade union movement is centrally engaged and involved in the wider people’s struggles.
Thirdly, that mass struggle can force the government to retreat far more successfully than endless parliamentary procedural debates.
Fourthly, during the course of this struggle those trade unions have also developed politically. Recently four of the trade unions involved in Right2Water launched a political initiative, called Right2Change. We consider this an important development, even if we have concerns about some of the formulations and positions, an over-emphasis on elections, and a lack of understanding of the central necessity for mobilising the working class independently of the controlling institutions and mechanisms of the state. The electoral campaigns of the political parties involved could take the emphasis away from the issue of water charges and privatisation.
Our experience has also shown us that nothing emerges from decades of class collaboration that is fully formed and class-conscious. The name of Right2Change is itself also interesting, because it presents the possibility of change; it extends the hand of hope and solidarity. This runs counter to the other, demoralised sections of the labour movement and of itself is a challenge to the dominant ideology of “There is no alternative.”
As part of the wider debate and engagement with the forces within Right2Change, our party issued a discussion paper entitled “Democratic Programme for the 21st Century,” in recognition of the Democratic Programme of the Irish independence struggle. We presented a radical transformative strategy, a strategy that presents a different way forward for the Irish working class and working people. It is a strategy for challenging imperialism, for challenging the European Union and its mechanisms of control, such as the euro and the many treaty obligations.
Our strategy is one that is radical in content and that has the potential to challenge EU-US-British imperialism’s triple-lock grip on our people. We believe it presents positions that will appear to working people to be winnable and reasonable. It is a strategy for shifting the balance of forces away from capital to labour, for building the consciousness and unity of the class in the course of the struggle. That is the lesson we have learnt: to advance demands and strategies that are not so far ahead of where the people are but advanced enough to bring them forward and allow them to grow politically and ideologically and, most importantly, to grow in confidence about where they need to go.
While our ultimate goal is socialism, the stage or phase of struggle that we understand where our people are at today, given the concrete material conditions and balance of forces, is one that is centred around the reassertion of the struggle for national independence under the leadership of the working class—the only class that can bring that struggle to its final victory: in other words, linking the struggle for national freedom, for political and economic sovereignty with social emancipation, led by the Irish working class.
We also argue for a political and economic strategy that is on an all-Ireland basis. This is the only way to break the marginalisation experienced by our people and to weaken, undermine and challenge the continued imperialist control and interference in the affairs of the Irish people.
What we are campaigning and mobilising for is to present a vision of an alternative social and economic system and a way forward that can inspire hope and that is rooted in the people’s own experiences, to challenge the narrow and limited version of democracy on offer and to bring forms of democracy into all spheres of life: political, economic, social, and cultural.