The campaign against the Austerity Treaty concludes tomorrow (May 31st) when citizens of the 26-County state go to the polls to cast their vote. The treaty referendum is only one act in a much wider process being played out across Europe and the wider world at present. It could even be argued that the Treaty is irrelevant now given that events in France, Holland, Greece, Germany, Italy and Spain of late have in some ways overtaken it. Be that as it may, in the context of a capitalist system desperately attempting to find ways to save, consolidate and increase its rule, the referendum campaign in the Twenty-Six Counties has been important and instructive for a number of reasons. Chief amongst these is the fact that the process of debating around the treaty has exposed a fundamental and growing fault-line in Irish society.
Although the considered wisdom is that the Yes side will prevail, we believe that a No victory is quite possible. The fact of the matter is that regardless of whether or not the No side wins, or something in the region of say 30 or 40 percent of the electorate votes No, what is becoming ever more apparent is that a significant section of the 26-County population is becoming increasingly alienated from the political system.
The crisis in Irish and EU politics has never been greater.
Time and time again, éirígí members canvassing the working class areas where they are based and active have encountered a total rejection of the politics espoused by the Yes side. In the course of delivering some 40,000 leaflets what we have encountered on the doorsteps and at the various information stalls we have held outside shops, post offices and dole offices are people that have shown a keen understanding of what this treaty is really all about in essence – they have rightly seen the bullying for what it is and know full well that the Austerity Treaty is designed purely in order to further the interests of the wealthy and powerful in this state and in ‘Europe’.
And they are absolutely correct in their analysis. Make no mistake about it – the division between the Yes and No sides is essentially a division based upon class distinctions. Those of us who are active on the ground and conversant with the nature of economics and politics under capitalism have never been in any doubt that all of the major issues affecting this and every other country so greatly at present are class issues. This referendum is no exception. It is but one more manifestation of the class struggle at this stage of its development.
It is quite a blatant manifestation in fact. It is quite interesting that whereas the overwhelming majority of those espousing either a Yes or No position have essentially debated around the detail and legalities of the treaty, it is the ‘ordinary’ man and woman on the street that has pinpointed exactly what the point of all of this is.
The 30, 40 or 50+ percent, or whatever the exact number that do in fact eventually vote against the treaty, will in many, many instances have done so fully in the knowledge that there is no guarantee that the state will be funded in the future via means of either the ESM, IMF or EFSF mechanisms, as many from the ‘left campaign’ have intimated will definitely happen. Notwithstanding the fact that there may well be nothing left in the ESM pot after the Spanish and/or Italians have been bailed out, time and time again people on the ground have indicated that they are voting No regardless of whether or not the state will be funded by the ‘powers that be’. We know this to be the case because this is what people have articulated. There is an increasing realisation that the system is fundamentally flawed. There is an increasing awareness within the working class that their interests are not capable of being served by the current economic model. On some very basic level there is a recognition that they are being turned into cogs in a system where there is a business plan for every human life, as John Pilger once put it.
There is an additional almost instinctive, common sense understanding in working class areas that the ‘austerity’ that is being foisted on the peoples of Europe is itself a recipe for prolonging the crisis of capitalism; capital is on strike and will remain so until it finds things it can invest in that people will buy. It is however faced at this time with ever-increasing numbers of people with decreasing capacity to buy. There is a growing realisation that the goal of returning to ‘business as usual’ is made impossible by this contradiction. This situation is being further exacerbated by severe austerity policies.
The only way that capitalism under its own rules can pull back in any real way from the type of crisis it is in is for Keynesian-type stimulation of growth. Capitalism has however set its face against that type of response such is its highly irrational behaviour at this stage of its development. The fiscal structure being proposed for Europe in the Austerity Treaty reflects this with its ‘belt-tightening’ provisions of massive reductions in state spending and increased debt repayment. The fact that the EU itself estimates that the austerity measures being imposed right across Europe will see a reduction in state spending of somewhere in the region of between 166 and 200billion euro, shows exactly where the system is headed for.
The most recent edition of LEAP E/2020‘s highly-regarded Global European Anticipation Bulletin (GEAP) gives a good sense of the dynamics and overall extent of the worsening global crisis of capitalism. It states that:
“Whilst waiting for Euroland to equip itself, by the end of 2012, with a medium to long term common political, economic and social project, especially following the election of the new French president François Hollande, anticipated many months ago by LEAP/E2020, players will remain prisoners of the short-term reflexes related to the sudden Greek political tremors, the uncertainties over Euroland governance and to the risks in public debts.
“At the same time, in the United States, the disappearance of the illusion of a recovery combined with the renewal of concerns over the American financial sector’s state of health (of which J P Morgan has just illustrated the fragility) and the big comeback of the country’s debt problem is leading economic and financial players to contemplate an increasingly worrying future.
“In the United Kingdom, the country’s return to recession is combining with the failure to control deficits and the rise of working-class anger in the face of an austerity which has however only just begun.
“In Japan, economic sluggishness and the weakening of exports in a context of world recession have brought the spectrum of the country’s excessive debt back to the surface.
“In this context, according to LEAP/E2020, the second half of 2012 will be the preferred moment for the convergence of four explosive factors for the Western economies: banks, stock exchanges, pensions and debts.
“For economic, financial or political players as for simple households, this convergence will cause major risks to weigh on the state of their finances as well as on their aptitude to face the challenges to come.”
Capitalism is at an impasse. It has become an absolute fetter on social, economic and political development and welfare, as Marx predicted. It has outlived any functions it has served.
Notwithstanding the fact that éirígí is a member of the Campaign against the Austerity Treaty (CAAT) and the fact that we recognise the preeminent and overall quite positive role played on the No side by the broad left, we must make the point that much of the left argument (including that made by some members of the CAAT) with regard to ‘growth’ is flawed in a major way; it is couched for the most part within a discourse that is implicitly accepting of the current mode of economic production with its attendant definitions of what growth is and the conditions under which it occurs.
The prospects for a No victory would have been a lot greater had the left taken this opportunity to articulate decisively a different set of arguments about economic prosperity.
On a related note it appears that many people are aware also of the contradiction in the broad left position when it talks of the IMF and EU’s ESM and EFSF as potential future sources of funding when faced with ‘show me the money’ type-questions. Making the case for the availability and possible use of this money is essentially akin to making the case for accepting money from loan sharks. The left should be taking this opportunity to wholeheartedly make the case for a radical alternative that breaks completely with this system. We will not win people over to our side overnight but neither will the problem be gone tomorrow; this crisis is going to last and we are being presented by circumstances with a very real opportunity to speak directly to people about a fundamentally different, better type of society. We have the time to do this. We should not waste it. It is the battle of ideas we need to be winning and support for the radical alternative beyond capitalism that we need to be building, not becoming fixated on debates about percentages of capitalist growth or the legalese of how the Austerity Treaty is linked to the ESM.
RTÉ’s Prime Time debate of Tuesday, May 29th saw Joan Burton and Mary Lou MacDonald spend most of their time talking about these percentages and how much each cares for their country and are essentially in favour of maintaining this system within the rules of the game as currently constituted (including continued membership of the EU and euro group.) One should not of course in any way be surprised by the Labour-in-nothing-but-name Party’s acquiescence in this regard. They are firmly in the camp of the class-traitors that Connolly despised.
As it gravitates quite naturally to the centre the Sinn Féin movement now too is increasingly unwilling or incapable of uttering any real criticism of the European Union political apparatus to the extent that John Bruton of all people could today (May 30th) brand SF as ‘Europhiles’, however unlikely. Notwithstanding any individually progressive aspects of their response to what is currently transpiring economically in Ireland and Europe, Sinn Féin is blinkered and fundamentally compromised by their ultimate acceptance of the confines and limits of the capitalist system. The failure of a motion in support of raising the Corporation Tax rate at the most recent Sinn Féin Ard Fheis points to the trajectory SF are on as they court the middle class and seek to deny that they are a party of the ‘men and women of no property’ alone, as if that would be a bad thing. According to Pearse Doherty, “Sinn Féin can get very much stereotyped into one corner, that the party only supports those that are on social welfare or those in social housing....There’s no doubt that many people within the middle class vote Sinn Féin.” (“Many in middle class vote Sinn Féin”, Irish Times, May 14th).
The argument made by a section of the Yes side that the EU has been an unquestionably good thing for Ireland is of course a fundamentally flawed proposition. The estimated 200 billion euro lost to Ireland from EU fishing policy puts paid to the notion that any right thinking person should admit to “an incurable and uncritical Europhilia”, as was unashamedly articulated in the editorial of today’s Irish Times.
The point made about EU membership having contributed to a more progressive body of social policy in Ireland is correct to a point. However, as Rosa Luxembourg noted of liberal democracies, it is undeniably the case that there is a “hard core of social inequality and lack of liberty that lies hidden under the sweet shell of formal equality and freedom”.
In this regard there is a greater sense today amongst the general populace of the cost of this ‘progress’, coming as it does in the guise of the increased political control that capital is now accruing for itself under the auspices of the EU. The extent of the transformation in the situation that once transpired where the EU was supposedly based upon some form of partnership to the situation that pertains today where the EU has resorted to quite obvious bullying in its push for tighter centralised political control is quite remarkable. The contributions of Wolfgang Schäuble, Olli Rehn and Jean-Claude Trichet amongst others with regard to the need for deeper political union are indicative of this. Indeed Trichet has gone even further – he has recently spoken of his belief that a time is approaching when whole national economies will be faced with ‘receivership’. This was always where the EU would end up.
And, of course, the Fine Gaels and Fianna Fáils of this world go along with this betrayal of everything the word Republican means through their commitment to implementing the designs of the EU Empire project. The Irish minions of the EU know no shame as they day and daily tell us that we need supervision and regulation by the EU/IMF. They do this with the same neck as the tax-dodging head of the IMF does when she tells Greek workers that the terms of their Troika programme are ‘pay back’ for their profligacy and tax evasion.
It is of course the quite tasty scraps these lackeys get from the trough that makes them prepared to betray their country.
The fact that they are so zealous in their commitment to forcing through the diktats of the EU and capital makes the political class in Ireland evermore intimately linked with policies and a politics that is destroying this society.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the working class people of this state are to be commended for their increasing ability to recognise and withstand the bulling of the EU and our home-grown domestic agents of international capitalism.
The fact that people in whole areas right across this state are rejecting right-wing politicians and their ideas gives a real sense of hope for the future.
The worm is most definitely turning.
Vote NO on May 31st!
“If you strike at, imprison, or kill us, out of our prisons or graves we will still evoke a spirit that will thwart you, and perhaps, raise a force that will destroy you! We defy you! Do your worst!”
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