The crisis of European monopoly capitalism

Posted: December 13, 2011 in Uncategorized


Speech of Eugene McCartan, general secretary, Communist Party of Ireland to the 13th International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties, Athens, December 2011

The crisis of capitalism, of imperialism, has thrown up serious questions for the workers’ movement around the world. The old questions of revolution versus reform have once again become a sharp issue within the workers’ movement. The crisis of the system, the deep contradictions, financialisation and stagnation have shut the door on a social-democratic solution at this time. The imperialist powers are resorting to wars and the heightening of aggression.

The crisis of European monopoly capitalism

The austerity measures being imposed by the external EU-ECB-IMF “troika,” in co-operation with the internal troika of Fine Gael, the Labour Party, and Fianna Fáil, are imposing massive cuts in public spending: €3.5 billion this year, €3.7 billion next year, a total of €20 billion between 2011 and 2015. There is a massive socialised corporate debt of €140 billion.
Mass unemployment has become a permanent feature of Irish society, reaching 14 per cent. If we add in those emigrating, unemployment would reach 20 per cent. Emigration is again being used as a major social safety value. Corporate profits are up, with wages, social welfare and pensions all on a downward spiral.
There have been cuts in children’s allowance and unemployment benefit; there are hospital closures, levies, and an increase in value-added tax. In Ireland and all the peripheral countries there is a massive fire-sale of public companies, and public services will be privatised, narrowing the space and role of public capital so as to create new investment opportunities, with guaranteed profits, for private, corporate capital.

Structural debt crisis and debt servicing as a means of extracting wealth from peripheral countries

The European banking system is in deep trouble, which began in the periphery and has now moved into the core countries. Each solution gives temporary relief, to be followed by a further deepening of the crisis and a further turning of the screw on the people. The crisis of the system is being used by national governments and monopoly capitalism to drive back the rights of workers and their families, to take back much of what we gained in the last half of the twentieth century in our wages and our terms and conditions.
The growing crisis of the euro and what they call the “sovereign” debt crisis has all the signs of being beyond their capacity to solve. They have now constructed a structured debt relationship between the core states and the heavily indebted peripheral countries, which will result in massive transfers of wealth from the periphery to the centre, an approach similar to the terms dictated to their former colonies.
German monopoly capitalism is attempting to extract maximum political advantage from the situation, demanding further rigid controls of the fiscal and budgetary governance of member-states by the EU institutions, including the EU Commission and the European Central Bank. Clearly they are attempting to close off any potential alternative economic and social strategy by the people.
European monopoly capitalism is using the crisis to further tighten its grip. If it succeeds in further eroding the ability of peoples and member-states to take independent decisions in relation to economic and social policies, with national budgets first having to be cleared through Brussels, this will in effect reduce elected governments to mere lobbyists, looking for concessions here and there, one set of lobbyists among more powerful lobby groups.
Three days ago the Irish Government delivered its budget; it had arrived back from Germany stamped with the seal of the EU and marked “non-negotiable.” Because that is what they have been told to do, and it is also in their own class interests. They loudly proclaim that the crisis in each country is different and that we must prevent “contagion,” yet they impose identical cures for what they claim to be different illnesses.
We have witnessed two virtual coups d’état, 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. The reality that bourgeois democracy will be truncated to meet the needs of capital when it is in crisis is becoming more open and visible. This is an important ideological strategic weakness of theirs.
In many ways it is the crisis of the system that is exposing the nature and the limitations of the system itself. In effect we build our strategies on the contradictions and mistakes of the system.
We are living in a period when many myths are weakening and are ceasing to have an influence on how the people see the world around them.
Myth 1: That the independent state is redundant in the era of globalisation. False! The first port of call when the situation moved into crisis was the resources of the state to bail it out, in Ireland to the tune of €140 billion—that is, nearly €40,000 per person.
Myth 2: That the EU is a union of equals. Since the crisis it has been a case of the weakest having to go to the wall.
Myth 3: That monopoly capitalism has overcome its contradictions of boom and slump.
Myth 4: That democracy and capitalism go hand in hand. Clearly not true. What we have in the EU is a form of corporate state, one becoming more reactionary as the crisis deepens.
Myth 5: That there is no alternative to capitalism or to the solutions being imposed to get it out of this crisis.
We clearly need a strategy for building and strengthening working-class solidarity throughout Europe, for finding unity on shared goals and demands.

The working class needs allies

Policies for developing struggle and resistance are clearly the pressing issue facing the communist and workers’ movement at this crucial moment in history. We have to take advantage of this and try to create greater ideological space in which we can present a people’s alternative way forward.
Capitalism’s lack of democracy and its efforts to corral and to narrow the people’s options is its Achilles heel. This challenges us to lead people from the straitjacket of bourgeois democracy, where workers and citizens have no real democratic control, to real democracy, where there is full social control over politics, society, and the economy.
We 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 is about the democratic control of capital, about democratic control over the means of production. From our viewpoint we see democracy and national sovereignty as central struggles. Others may see different priorities.


We believe that the question of democracy and the defence of democracy can open up new avenues of struggle and alliances with new forces and potential allies. This is not about defending bourgeois democracy but exposing its limitations and its class nature.
National sovereignty is also a central question, one that has the potential to open up fissures in the enemy positions, to undermine and expose the fact that ruling-class forces have always put and will always put their class interests and their relationship with imperialism before the interests of the people, most importantly those of working people.
Certainly, experience in Ireland shows that social forces 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, their economic interests sacrificed.
The trade union leadership also believed it had a stake in the system, flattered by the policies of “social partnership.” Now that social partnership has been abandoned by the state and the employers it is left high and dry and incapable of defending the working class. The labour movement has to relearn class struggle.
This is a struggle that may well be a long one. We are moving into a possible long phase of stagnation, of mass unemployment and growing mass poverty. It will require us to bring to bear the great experience of the communist movement of more than a century.

Deepening ideological struggle

How we exploit the divisions of our enemies and unite working people and anti-imperialist forces is the central question. What demands contain the potential for moving forward and countering the attacks under way?
Through our campaigning on the debt we have been attempting to expose the class nature of the European Union. The Irish ruling class puts the interests of the European monopoly banks and finance houses before those of the people. We want to expose this abject dependence and subservient relationship.

Areas of co-operation and unity in struggle in Europe

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.
Solidarity actions with workers engaged in resistance can also provide an opportunity to break the isolation or cordon sanitaire 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 develop a strategy for spreading “contagion.” This is a struggle for the whole of the class throughout the EU, to bring working-class internationalism back into the consciousness of workers.

Turning the economic crisis of the system into a political crisis of the system

Capitalism creates and functions on uneven development. That truism is no more clearly revealed than it is in relation to the present crisis, centred on the euro. The uneven economic and social development of the different member-states is clear, and the economic crisis manifests itself differently.
Just as monopoly capitalism attempts to impose similar solutions and policies, they affect the people in different ways. Resistance likewise is shaped by the traditions and the concrete conditions of each country: the relative economic and social development, the extent and size of the working class and its consciousness, the scale and the social and economic role of other social classes and their place in the productive process, the extent of penetration and domination of transnational capital over national economic development.
To quote Lenin, writing about the 1916 Rising in Ireland in reply to Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Radek, Trotsky, and other leftists, “envisaging a social revolution as a living phenomenon . . .
“Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is . . .
“The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible.”
(Lenin, “The Irish Rebellion of 1916.”)

Taking into account the concrete material conditions of each country

If we accept that “social revolution is a living phenomenon,” what are the material conditions and 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.
In Ireland, national consciousness is more developed than class consciousness; and neither is strong enough to resist or to explain what is happening or provide a way forward on its own. It is combining the social and national questions, 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 and subservient to the interests of imperialism, in the first instance to the EU.
We cannot copy history, we can only learn from it and apply the lessons.
Clearly, socialism is the only alternative to capitalism, but the question of how we turn the economic crisis of the system into a political crisis of the system is the challenge that faces revolutionary forces.

Strategies for reflecting the history of each people

Irish communists have called for the repudiation of the debt; it is not the people’s debt, and should not be paid. We have called for social control of capital, for democratic control over natural resources, for an alternative all-Ireland economic, political and social strategy. These are policies and demands that are diametrically opposed by monopoly capitalism and bring us into conflict with the Irish ruling class and the EU.
We believe that capitalism is incompatible with democracy: capitalism insists that social control is undesirable, bad, and impossible.

Opening up the road to socialism

Clearly there are many lessons to be learnt from the building of socialism in the twentieth century and current efforts at building socialism in difficult conditions, where imperialism is the dominant military, economic, political and cultural influence and power globally, as it was in the twentieth century.
Our 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 and the balance of power and the strength of imperialism.

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