Meeting of European Communist and Workers’ Parties

Brussels, 4–6 December 2015


Seán Edwards
National Executive Committee, Communist Party of Ireland


Comrades,
     Our thanks to our comrades of the Communist Party of Greece for convening this meeting of European communist parties. All of us are confronting the European Union, and we need to understand it. We need to listen to each other and learn from each other. Let us discuss our differences, but with an eye to building unity where we can. There are issues of immediate and pressing importance on which we can agree, on which we can organise united action.
     We are still dealing with the economic crash of 2008, even though the Irish government has announced a recovery. The “austerity” attacks on working people in the North and the South of Ireland are remarkably similar, in spite of the differences between the economic circumstances of the Irish and British states. In fact this assault on working people is happening all over Europe, and it is largely being driven by the institutions of the EU. Of course the Irish capitalist class is a willing partner in this enterprise.
     Unfortunately, we must admit that the “austerity” programme has been successful so far. When the CPI said “Austerity is working” we challenged the official line that it was designed to promote an economic recovery, and the general left view that “Austerity is not working.”
     One of the reasons for this has been the total unpreparedness of the trade unions and left forces. Decades of class collaboration (called “social partnership” in Ireland) have sapped the strength of the trade unions, even their willingness to join in the battle. Workers have faced pay cuts, worsening of working conditions (usually in the name of “productivity”), increasing insecurity, and loss of jobs. There has been a massive increase in the number of workers in precarious employment and short-time work. This is a sector long neglected by the unions, which concentrate on organising workers in secure, permanent jobs—no longer a majority in the work force. This has a particular relevance for the many immigrant workers in Ireland, who are over-represented in precarious employment. It also means that the responsibility of solidarity with these workers is not fulfilled.
     The policy of the Irish government, as dictated by the EU and willingly accepted, finally encountered working-class resistance on the issue of the imposition of charges for water, as a prelude to privatisation. There is now a massive campaign against the charges and for an amendment to the Constitution of Ireland to maintain public ownership and control of water resources.
     This campaign has vitalised working-class communities throughout the country. A number of trade unions have joined in the campaign, bringing a level of organisation and continuity. These unions, by their participation, have countered the general disillusionment in trade unionism in these working-class communities. These are the same unions that have taken up the struggle of precariously employed workers and have shown a greater militancy in general. I think comrades here will agree that none of these issues are peculiar to Ireland, except in matters of detail.
     The European Union, since its foundation, has concentrated on building a supranational mega-state, constantly taking to itself the powers of national governments—powers willingly ceded by the ruling classes. It has been, and remains, intensely anti-democratic in its practice; as it erodes national sovereignty it also erodes democracy.
     The Communist Party of Ireland has always believed, following the ideas and analysis of James Connolly and the general experience of our party of more than ninety years, that the struggle for national independence and the struggle of the working class are inextricably linked. Consequently, our opposition to the European Union has always been based on that principle.
     The traditional left parties in Europe have not been effective in defending national sovereignty. This leaves a clear field for right-wing nationalism and chauvinism to come forward with simplistic solutions. These reactionary forces seek to divert the anger of working people onto migrant workers and refugees, rather than blaming the assault on their rights coming from the necessity for monopoly capitalism to drive workers back, and the EU institutions facilitating these assaults.
     The economic crisis and the continuing drive for centralisation of power in the EU institutions has generated great popular resentment, mainly to the benefit of the right. This also exposes a failure of the left.
     As the EU has developed, the domination of Germany, France and Britain has become more obvious—in spite of their occasional differences—with eastern Europe, the Mediterranean states and Ireland having a subordinate status, one accepted by their ruling elite. This is an imperialist domination, a form of neo-colonialism. The national issues in these countries cannot continue to be ignored by the left working-class forces.
     The militarisation of the EU and the formulation of a common foreign policy are written in to the treaties, especially the Lisbon Treaty. It is clear that the EU is inextricably involved with NATO: even non-NATO countries, such as Ireland, are drawn into its operations through Partnership for Peace and otherwise. Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland is a major transit base for the US army. Ireland’s official neutrality has become a fiction.
     The foreign policy of the EU, where it is agreed, is determined by Germany, Britain, and France; the rest are followers. The EU, along with the United States, had no problem mobilising neo-fascist organisations in Ukraine for the sake of its imperialist expansion. Neither does it scruple to use the Islamist terrorists of Da‘ish and Al Qa‘ida in its assaults on Syria. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the atrocities committed by these terrorists, from New York to Paris, are accepted as “blowback,” a price worth paying, rather than an unfortunate consequence of “mistakes.”
     The proxy war on Syria ranks as one of the major crimes of modern imperialism. If successful it will result in the destruction not only of the Syrian government but of Syria itself—just like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Somalia. The EU-US alliance, notwithstanding its “humanitarian” and “democratic” pretensions, is lined up with the neo-mediaevalist theocracies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states as well as the apartheid state of Israel.
     The logistic centre of its operations is in Turkey, which has facilitated the flow of Islamist volunteers and arms to the allegedly “moderate” rebels, which inevitably end up with Da‘ish or Al Nusra. The Turkish state joined in the US phony war on the Islamic State and used the opportunity to attack the PKK. When suicide bombers killed more than a hundred people at a peace rally in Ankara, the Turkish state was unperturbed. Its assault on the Kurdish population continues. After the shooting down of the Russian plane it was revealed that the “rebels” in Syria include a contingent of Turkish fascists, the “Grey Wolves.” In spite of its criminal characteristics, the Turkish government is now the darling of the EU.
     The war in Syria, like the other wars, is part of the US plan for world domination, in which the EU is a partner—a plan that involves a permanent state of war. The peace movement, which mobilised millions against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and against the Viet Nam war before that, has not been effective at all. The nature of the Syrian or the Russian government can no longer be accepted as an excuse for inaction: it is time for all who want to achieve peace to oppose this proxy war.
     The consolidation of the EU-US partnership in the economic sphere is under way in the negotiations on the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This is not just a trade agreement but is a further consolidation of the power of transnational corporations, giving them a veto over any government regulations that stand in the way of profit-making. This treaty, if passed, will have disastrous consequences for the working people of Europe.
     Already a significant resistance is developing. This resistance requires maximum unity if it is to succeed. This includes co-operation with many of those who are not hostile to the EU as such but are prepared to oppose its policies, TTIP in particular. The defeat of the TTIP project, and its related Canadian treaty, would constitute a major setback, equivalent to the defeat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
     Comrades, I see this meeting as an opportunity to concentrate on the tasks facing us, which are formidable and need a clear analysis on our part. The working class has suffered terrible defeats; now we must find an effective defence. We are approaching our Battle of Stalingrad, which we must win, and go on the offensive.

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