15th International meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties
Contribution by the Workers’ Party of Ireland
Lisbon. November 2013
The deepening crisis of capitalism continues, as does capital’s offensive against the working class across the globe. Stricken by the inevitable crises caused by the inherent contradictions of the capitalist system, capital lashes out aggressively. It attacks the living conditions of the working class by cutting wages, attacking social protection; health; education; public employment and the provision of public services, eroding rights in the workplace won through decades of struggle, and slashing and burning public services, enhancing the opportunities for profit for the monopolies. Internationally, capital utilises the institutions at its service – such as the European Union and NATO – to intensify its exploitation of the world’s population and its resources, violating the democratic and sovereign rights of peoples, using every means at its disposal, from international finance to anti-democratic measures, increasing militarisation, military aggression, imperialist intervention and exploitation.
These actions have dealt a devastating blow to working people while serving to increase and expand the power of the capitalist class. Only socialism offers a permanent solution to the injustices and exploitation of the capitalist system. Building socialism requires a militant working class, conscious of its own interests and organised for the struggle in all its forms. Communists must strive to oppose the class power of the bourgeoisie in all its manifestations, to expose the true nature of capitalism and the crass opportunism of social democracy, and to foster class consciousness among the working class.
The greatest crisis of capitalism for almost a century has exposed the lies of those who told us that capitalism is the end of history; that no alternative is possible; that capitalism is the natural order of things. As communists, we are under no illusions about the nature of capitalism, its contradictions and the inevitability of crises. The promise of an end to economic boom and bust offered by the social democrats was only ever a fantasy, but one that exposed the true nature of social democracy. Capitalism cannot be anything other than it is - a system dependent on the exploitation of the many in the interests of the few. The social democrats, the careerists and opportunists stand in the way of developing genuine class consciousness; they serve the interests not of labour, but only of capital. Of course, one of the major tasks of the communist and workers’ parties in the present crisis is to defend public services, and to agitate for the provision and expansion of health, education and social care by the state. At the same time, however, we must ruthlessly expose the falsehood of social democratic illusions and lies, to wage a political struggle against their influence in the labour movement and among the people, and to stress always that while reforms have value, only the revolutionary transformation of society, that is, the building of socialism, can truly emancipate the working class.
Capital, operates on a truly global scale, and has at its disposal vast resources at a national and international level. As in the past, the primary aim of communists must be to confront the bourgeoisie of their own states, to effect political and social change in their own societies. At the same time, in a world where capital implements reactionary and anti-people policies across several countries, it is essential that we strengthen and deepen cooperation and coordination among communist and workers’ parties. This is made all the more urgent by the attempts to outlaw communism across much of Europe, attempts which are specifically designed to prevent young people from developing class consciousness, from learning about the achievements of the USSR and the socialist countries, and from embracing the creation of socialism as the answer to the problems of unemployment and emigration that are the consequences of capitalism. Nowhere is the need for increased cooperation clearer than in opposition to war and militarist adventures by the leading capitalist powers. Widespread opposition among the workers and popular strata of many countries to further military intervention in Syria has, at least for the present, frustrated the plans of those circles most eager to attack that state.
Capitalism relies upon violating the democratic rights of the people. It denies workers their rights, to decent working conditions, to a good standard of living, and to control their own destiny through the exercise of democratic control in all spheres of political and social life. Workers in the Republic of Ireland know this all too well. Since the onset of the current crisis, unemployment has rocketed, especially among young people. Welfare and wages have been slashed, state assets – including natural resources - sold off cheaply to speculators, and what is effectively unpaid labour introduced for the young if they wish to be able to claim the social security to which they are entitled. The investments and profits of banks and of a tiny number of speculators within Ireland and abroad have been protected at the cost of many tens of billions of euros added to the state debt, which the working class are required to pay for over the course of generations, in reduced wages, higher taxation, decimated public services, and lower living standards. The national bourgeoisie has worked in tandem with the troika to violate every democratic principle and the sovereignty of the people.
The government, made up of a coalition between the most right-wing party in the state and social democrats, has not only happily enforced these cuts, but it is also encouraging young people to emigrate, both through policies that impoverish young unemployed people and by encouraging them to apply for jobs in countries such as Canada. At the same time, supported by the capitalist media, they boast that they are about to exit the so-called bailout, that they are the success story of the austerity agenda; that economic sovereignty is about to be restored. The only people to have benefited from their policies have been the bourgeoisie at home and abroad. The case of the Republic of Ireland well illustrates capitalism’s multi-faceted approach to save itself, and to ensure profits continue to flow and exploitation continues to intensify. Living standards for workers have been attacked in every way possible, and the message that there is no alternative is reinforced by the government, bourgeois political commentators, and the media. The resources of the state have been used to crush protest against Shell as it endangers the environment and exploits the country’s natural resources with little taxation.
By enthusiastically adopting the Lisbon Strategy and EU 2020 the social democrats have abandoned the pretence of the so-called “Social Europe”. Capital has exploited the crisis to implement fundamental changes to labour laws and workers’ rights. Intensified market liberalisation together with the implementation of the “structural reform” advocated by capital and the subordination of the peoples’ interests and workers’ rights to the overriding priority of “competitiveness” as exemplified in the decisions of the European Court of Justice in Viking and Laval in 2007 and the Ruffert and Luxembourg cases in 2008 represents a further victory for the monopolies.
Only socialism can guarantee the democratic rights of the people to control their own economic and natural resources. Communists must ensure that they lead the struggle for the democratic rights of the people, whether it is in the workplace, in local or national government, or against the manifestations of imperialism, be they economic, political or military; defending and asserting the democratic rights and interests of the people against the class power of the bourgeoisie at home and abroad.
The international situation is characterised by the deepening structural crisis of capitalism which strains under the contradiction between the social character of production and its private appropriation. The interests of capital and labour are irreconcilable. The driving force of history is the struggle between classes and the conflict of their interests. The working class can only emancipate itself by transferring power to the workers and building a socialist society.
The English liberal, J.A. Hobson, in his work on “imperialism” had the merit of providing a material explanation for imperialism. Lenin, however, was clear and specific about the nature of imperialism, highlighting the changes in the structure of capitalism which underlined it. Lenin contended that imperialism “emerged as a development and direct continuation of the fundamental properties of capitalism in general. But capitalism became capitalist imperialism only at a definite, very high stage of its development”. Lenin identified a number of distinct features of imperialism. For Lenin, imperialism was capitalism at its highest stage. The era of imperialism is one of constant competition and as Lenin pointed out, agreements and alliances between states “no matter what form they may assume, whether of one imperialist coalition against another, or of a general alliance embracing all the imperialist powers, are inevitably nothing more than a “truce” in periods between wars.”
Kautsky, who failed to understand the nature of imperialism, concluded, incorrectly, that war did not arise from the character of capitalism itself and that inter-imperialist rivalry would diminish reducing the threat of war. The growth of opportunism led to a betrayal of the principles of proletarian internationalism and the adoption of social and national chauvinist positions. In reality, as long as we remain within a capitalist system war will continue to be a permanent feature of our existence. Peace and an end to war can only be realised in a society without exploiter and exploitation and without private ownership of the means of production.
Defeating capitalism’s multi-faceted offensive requires a multi-faceted response. It is not simply enough to oppose what the capitalists are doing, the cuts they are imposing on the people. It also means articulating the communist vision of what society can and should be like. This ideological struggle, this battle of ideas, is a crucial task for communists. The capitalist mantra that there is no alternative must be exposed for the lie it is; the social democratic and opportunist mantra that capitalism can be tamed, can be successfully reformed must also be exposed and refuted. This is an essential task of the communists at both a national and international level. We must produce clear, coherent, and rigorous analyses of the failings of the capitalist system and demonstrate how workers can develop the process of effecting revolutionary change from the different starting points in the different countries, but all the while operating with an awareness of the international situation.
Only the working class can lead the struggle for socialism, and the most effective political vehicle the working class can have is a strong party of the working class committed to communist principles. It is necessary, throughout any struggle in which we engage, to keep a clear focus on our ultimate goal, the building of socialism.
As Engels stated: “Revolution is the supreme act of politics; whoever wants it must also want the means, political action, which prepares for it, which trains workers for revolution and without which workers will always be duped by the Favres and the Pyats the day after the struggle. But the politics which are needed are working-class politics; the workers’ party must not be constituted as the tail of some bourgeois party.”
As we celebrate the anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, we remember an event of historic global significance which changed forever the power relations between exploiter and exploited and made real the vision of a new socialist society of equal nations and peoples. It created the basis for material and social advancement, for the transfer of power to the working people, the creators of wealth, and provided workers with the opportunity, through their labour and struggle, to build the social, political, economic and cultural conditions which offered the prospect of a free and fulfilled life.
The decisive factors in all social development are class relations. It is the role of the Communist and Workers’ parties to build the unity of the working class and the alliance with the popular strata; to develop political and programmatic initiatives which establish a clear class identity; to set out clearly the social and political transformative project on which we are engaged – the creation of a centrally planned economy, based on workers’ power in which the means of production is socialised in the interests of the workers and their allies.