18th International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties
Hanoi, October 2016
National Executive Committee, Communist Party of Ireland
This year marks a notable anniversary in the history of our people’s struggle against imperialism: the Centenary of the 1916 Rising in Dublin. In the middle of the first Imperialist World War the Rising, at the heart of what was at that time the greatest empire the world had seen, sent shock waves throughout the empire “on which the sun never set” (or, as the more cynical have said, “on which the blood never dried”). A year later the Bolshevik Revolution broke the chain of imperialism at its weakest link and marked the onset of the general crisis of capitalism.
The world has changed greatly in that past century: we witnessed the victory of the first socialist revolution, the rise and subsequent defeat of fascism and Japanese militarism, the development of the national liberation movement, and the victory of socialist revolutions in Europe, Asia, and America. The defeat of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has been a huge and bitter defeat for us. According to the apologists for capitalism, this represented the “end of history”: capitalism had triumphed, and the troubling Spectre of Communism was no more.
Yet within a few short years the crisis of 2007–8 hit and shook capitalism to its core, shattering illusions of endless, crisis-free, growth and development.
Now in 2016 the crisis of the system continues to deepen, and the various “solutions” imposed by monopoly capitalism serve only to intensify the crisis. Each alleged solution creates new problems. Quantitative easing was to have been the solution to the banking crisis, but, as recent developments around Deutsche Bank and the Italian banks have shown, quantitative easing has boosted share prices but has not addressed the economic problems.
The recent EU summit in Bratislava sent a clear signal that working people need to be aware of. The European Council president, Donald Tusk, stated that “all of Europe expects that the EU will again be a guarantee of stability, security and protection—protection in the widest meaning, including social and economic protection.” This is clearly coded language for further and deeper integration and consolidation of power at the centre. Shaken by the vote of the British people in favour of leaving the EU, the response of the major powers, Germany and France, is to accelerate centralisation, further enhancing their power and influence.
They want to tighten fiscal and budgetary control, which can only mean further undermining any notions of democracy and sovereignty at the national level, taking further powers from individual states and weakening the ability of working people to affect “their” government’s policy. This will be felt even more profoundly in the heavily indebted countries at the periphery of Europe, of which Ireland is one.
This theme echoes that of a “resilient Europe” put forward in the new global strategy by the EU’s chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini. Europe needs to pro-actively prepare itself for future shocks and threats rather than just reactively respond when they happen. This means a continuation of the “European project”—a greater concentration of powers in the centre. This trend is already evident, as shown by supervision of fiscal policy to ensure that national governments comply with the rules and dictates of the EU, by the co-ordination of policing with Europol, and by the EU military units. The centralisers want to advance this process towards an EU fiscal policy, an EU police force, and an EU army.
In fact they are quite open about their aims: Mogherini said last month that “defence is one of the great building blocks to relaunch the process of European integration. Europe was built up in waves: the single market came first, then the currency and the freedom of movement. It is now time to lay the foundations of a common defence.” They seek to ensure that every step in this direction is difficult if not impossible to reverse.
Yet there are those on the so-called left, the raggle-taggle army of failed social democracy, who believe that the EU can be reformed, that somehow the mirage of a “Social Europe” can still materialise. And this while the EU is increasingly militarised and interfering openly for example in Ukraine, and whilst the decrepit old imperialist powers of Britain and France try to reassert themselves in Libya and Syria. These social democrats, of the left and right variety, are still in denial that the EU is anything other than an aggressive, reactionary superstate in the making, the reforming of which into a “better, fairer capitalism” would go against the very nature of the beast. As ever, they provide succour to, and a fig leaf, for imperialism and capitalism.
The assault on the working class, and the drive to privatise state enterprises, natural resources and social services in the interests of monopoly capital, have been conducted by national governments in tandem with the EU institutions. The Irish government and the Irish bourgeoisie, North and South, and the Stormont administration in the North of Ireland are willing partners in this process, happy to ally themselves with the imperialist powers, the USA and the EU.
The decision of the people of Britain to leave the European Union is posing great difficulties for the EU and has caused panic in the Irish ruling class. Their subservience to the three centres of power, in London, Brussels, and Washington, has them in a state of extreme confusion. Also the Sinn Féin party, which previously opposed European integration, opportunistically campaigned in the North of Ireland on the “Remain” side, thereby allowing themselves to be co-opted into the strategies of the Irish establishment and the European Union.
Working-class resistance has been, in general, slow to assert itself but now is growing in intensity throughout Europe. In this context it must be recognised that the Greek working class led the way, putting up a heroic resistance at an earlier stage of this assault. It is the task of the Communist Parties to give ideological clarity and direction to this new militancy.
The Irish working class too is now beginning to rediscover its fighting traditions after years of kowtowing to their class enemies through the process of “Social Partnership”—in fact class collaboration. Bus and tram workers have recently won important victories after strike action to restore pay levels and undo pay cuts imposed over the past number of years. Teachers and the police have served notice of industrial action over the next few weeks. It is unprecedented to see the Garda Síochána, the national police force, taking strike action.
Working people have been driven into a campaign of mass resistance by the imposition of a water tax which they see as a prelude to privatisation. The scale of the resistance from trade unions and especially community groups forced the Government to back down on the collection of this unjust tax. The demand is now for a referendum to enshrine the people's ownership and control of our water in the Constitution of the State. This, if carried, would be a major obstacle to the plans of the Irish ruling class, the EU, and TTIP.
These important struggles must be used to help working people understand, especially in this Centenary year of the 1916 Rising, that the fight against imperialism is not something belonging to the past but must be consciously at the heart of their daily struggles.
We have just witnessed in Ireland a scandal involving the giant Apple Corporation, who flushed its global profits through an Irish address to avoid paying taxes; this with the connivance and support of the Irish government. These profits were derived from the super-exploitation of the lowest-paid workers across the globe.
By looking at Apple and at transnational corporations (TNCs) in general we can discern the broader interconnecting trends that are shaping the economics of both the powerful core of imperialist states and the peripheral weaker states. In the periphery we see the super-exploitation of low-waged workers and the capture of imperial rent by means of financial and structured incentives, and tax-dodging, resulting in massive corporate profits.
In the imperialist core we see declining wages, lower nominal taxes on capital, and lower corporate taxes, again resulting in massive corporate profits.
In both cases we see a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to TNCs and the shifting of the tax burden from TNCs onto the shoulders of working people, resulting in the scaling back of socialised public services and their replacement with privatised, commodified services for profit.
According to a recent report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), there has been a global decline in wage share from 64 per cent in 1980 to 54 per cent in 2008, signifying a huge transfer of money from workers, communities and society at large to the owners of capital, this amounting to the staggering figure of $7 trillion in 2013.
The report also shows that the assets held by foreign affiliates of transnational corporations rose from $3.9 trillion in 1990 to $102 trillion in 2014. Global sales by foreign affiliates of transnationals rose from $4.7 trillion in 1990 to $36.4 trillion in 2014. In 2013 UNCTAD estimated that 80 per cent of global trade took place between and within transnational corporations, i.e. affiliate companies conducting business with one another within a corporate conglomerate. This is one of the means that TNCs use to dodge tax.
Since the 1970s we have witnessed a new international division of labour, seeing corporations move production from high-wage to low-wage economies in order to lower production costs and increase profits. These developments are part of a global neo-liberal programme of accelerated policies, with capitalist states around the world pursuing strategies of deregulation, liberalisation, and privatisation.
The secret negotiations by the EU with Canada and the United States on CETA and TTIP will, if ratified, further increase the dependence of individual states on both the EU and TNCs, with the power of national governments to conduct trade deals and to enact legislation being severely curtailed. Under the terms of these proposed treaties, TNCs will be able to sue states through private courts, administered by corporate lawyers. The threat of these courts will curtail any action by governments to improve the lot of their people, including minimum wages, health and safety, the environment, and financial regulation. Indeed the pursuit of profit will formally and legally take precedence over any consideration of the well-being of the people.
The three interlinked characteristics that define this period of capitalism—neo- liberalism, financialisation, and global labour arbitrage—are shaping the 21st-century form of imperialism. Imperialist hegemony is entrenched in the core capitalist economies, while it is extending into regions where it has previously not been as strong. Trade agreements such as NAFTA, CETA, TTP, TTIP and TISA have been designed to copperfasten that hegemony and to further centralise economic and political control in the imperialist core and away from peripheral states.
The worst excesses of monopoly capitalism are played out in the global periphery. High levels of unemployment, greater precariousness in employment, wage reductions, higher and more taxes, the loss of public services, increasing inequality and massive transfers of wealth from workers to the capitalist class are the main features.
Capitalism is by its nature polarising and imperialist. Uneven development is one of the laws of capitalism. Many peripheral economies have become partially industrialised, but these economies are subordinated to the interests of the core imperialist economies. The methods of production, componentisation of production, contract production and monopolistic control over distribution and retail networks, in tandem with the huge burdens of increasing national and personal debt, militate against the ability of the peripheral economies to emerge from the shadow of the imperialist centre and become fully capitalist economies in their own right.
Imperialism itself has become centralised. Although dominated by the United States, the imperialist core of North America, Europe and Japan are no longer in serious dispute with each other. They have developed global management tools, such as the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, NATO, the IMF, the OECD, and G8, as a means of ensuring continued imperialist hegemony and managing inter-imperialist rivalry, thereby preventing the possibility of most peripheral economies breaking out of the imperialist orbit. Even China, with its massive economy, is vulnerable and is under attack through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
How are we to challenge this capitalist onslaught? It is necessary to go beyond reacting to each cut and each outrage: we must go beyond defensive reactions, which leaves the initiative with the capitalist class. Our struggles must be framed within a purposeful strategy of breaking with capitalism.
Despite the claims of bourgeois sociologists that there is no longer a working class, the working class in fact is growing and now is also globalised. More nations are proletarianised, more women have joined the work force; the proletariat more closely resembles the face of humanity than ever before. The challenge facing the Communist movement is to unite the struggles of the working people and all anti-imperialist forces on a global scale and organise them for the defeat of capital and for socialism.