WHAT DO WE NEED?
Friday October 19, 2012 18:37 by Diarmuid Breatnach - Personal Capacity
Faced with bank bailouts, cuts, unemployment, emigration -- why don't we have mass demonstrations, strikes, riots and insurrection?
We don't have them, not because of any flaw in the Irish character or because the people are supine, or have a high tolerance of distress. We don't have them because revolutionary socialists have not provided the necessary requirements.
Those of us who are socialists, who recognise that a revolution is necessary to achieve what we want, naturally wish to see that revolution come about. But do we think through what we would need to bring about that revolution? And then having listed what is needed, set about bringing them into being?
A revolution requires objective conditions. One of these is the development and sharpening of contradictions between the class in power and at least one other class of significance. In Ireland we have sharp contradictions between the capitalists and not only the working class but the whole ordinary mass of people and even with smaller capitalists.
The domestic capitalists have significantly under-developed the productive forces and natural resources of Ireland; they operated instead as small-time capitalists and speculators and as middle-men for foreign monopoly capitalists. Whatever natural resources were discovered or half-developed they sold off to foreign monopoly capitalists. They organised the education of the population and sent most of every generation off to work in other capitalist economies every year until the Celtic Tiger boom of the 1990s. Having given us an artificial economic boom economy of two decades, resulting in net immigration and a rise in the population for the first time since 1845, and having raised expectations, they plunged us quickly afterwards into unemployment, extended working lives, cuts in social expenditure and emigration.
The native capitalists are incapable of standing up to the pressures of foreign capital and instead concern themselves with ensuring that they take as much of the cream as they can, while they squeeze the mass of people as required by foreign capital and for their own interests. The contradictions between the native capitalists and the mass of people in Ireland are sharp. Trust or confidence in the capitalist class and their politicians has rarely been so low.
Furthermore, this lack of faith or confidence comes at a time when the influence of their major social control mechanism of the past, the Catholic Church, has fallen to its lowest ever, as a result of modernising influences coinciding with major scandals.
The contradiction between the native capitalists and the mass of people is sharp because the direction taken by the capitalists in order to satisfy their own needs, i.e. to maximise their profits and those of the foreign investors, prevents the mass of people from having affordable housing, reasonable income, affordable education, their young growing up near the parents, leisure they have come to expect .... Furthermore, the mass of people see that the reason they cannot have these things is merely in order to fill the pockets of others.
Furthermore, not just the poor and vulnerable sections, not just the working class, but all classes below the Irish capitalists suffer. It is not just the children of the working class who will have to emigrate but those of the middle classes as well -- as indeed they had to do in the past, until a few decades ago. Working class people may not be able to send their children to university while many middle-class people will, but the latter will have to pay for the privilege. Workers will become unemployed or have to work for lower remuneration but small business people will face bankruptcy and drop down the economic and social ladder. This situation creates a possiblity of class alliances against the capitalists on the one hand and on the other reduces the possibilities of other classes being deployed by the capitalists against the people’s resistance.
Nor is there any way in which the capitalists can ameliorate those contradictions without acting against their nature. With every passing week, they demonstrate their inability to do so as their politicians break recent election promises and callously turn the wheel to squeeze the people harder and harder. And there is every indication that the situation is going to get worse for the mass of people, thereby sharpening the contradictions even further.
Since we have these objective conditions and, to an extent, even subjective conditions with regard to the disgust or at least distrust with which most people view the bankers, politicians nd the Church, why is that we are not in the middle of a revolutionary situation right now? Why is that we are not even in a situation of strikes, mass demonstrations and riots?
One answer often given is that Irish people are not prone to these things. A cursory look at our history is enough to answer that ridiculous claim. Another answer is that the people have a high tolerance level, or have lost their courage ...
However, if we look at what people require in order to have a revolution or to sustain resistance, the reason for the lack of even sustained mass resistance (with the notable exception of the resistance to the Household Charge) becomes evident.
In order to build up resistance on a mass scale and sustain it, people need organisations in which to mobilise and leadership which is prepared to lead the people in the actions required by the situations they face. In world history, including our very own, those organisations have been mass associations, social movements, trade unions, mass campaigns .... Resolute and effective revolutionary leaderships in history have existed in revolutionary political parties, mass campaigns, secret societies, soviet committees ...
In order to prepare the people for effective resistance, to combat the propaganda of the bourgeoisie, to bind them together in solidarity, to educate them, the movements of resistance need their own mass media, revolutionary newpaper or papers, bulletins ....
For the working class to become conscious of itself as a class, of its history, conscious of its latent power, learning from the successes and failures of the past, confident, it will need, just as the bourgeoisie has, education and training. It needs revolutionary study classes, lectures, reading and discussion groups, debating societies ....
Without for the moment even considering the actual mechanisms of insurrection, it is clear that we, as revolutionry socialists, have none of the requisites for nearing that situation. We do not have mass community organisations or campaigns, we do not have militant trade unions nor even strong grass-roots organisations within them, we do not have even a weekly mass newspaper, nor do we have a workers’ revolutionary education programme.
Nor do we have an effective revolutionary leadership, which is evidenced by the lack of the above – for if we had, they would surely have organised all the above or at least be deep in the work of providing it.
There are of course individuals within and outside of organisations who are concerned about these absences but they are too few or too divided or too swamped with other concerns to make effective inroads into this preparatory work.
And a comparitively small number of political activists have succeeded in tapping and leading the will to resist in a significant section of the people. Significantly, the action required of most campaign participants was individual and negative, which is to say each individual household had to decide whether to answer to the call and, in order to resist, they had to refuse to register and refuse to pay. This campaign success was possible to this point because it did not in the main require concerted, organised action in order to be effective. Effective mass resistance across society and insurrection will require much more, the kinds of things listed earlier and which we do not have.
What we do have is our own great history of mass struggles of resistance, of workers’ resistance, of our successes and failures. We also have the history of the struggling people of the world. And we have the objective contradiction between the native capitalists and foreign monopolies on the one hand and the mass of people on the other, exacerbated still further in one part of the island by a colonial occupation.
If we agree that the items listed earlier are what are required, what excuse do we have for not organising together to provide them?