At the last two meetings of the national steering committee I registered my opposition to the pre-budget submission released by the ULA leadership on Friday (full text available here).
The statement starts with the bold claim that “The ULA proposes a socialist alternative to the budget proposals of the government and the other parties in the Dáil”, but in fact falls far short of a solution that would really meet the interests of working people. Instead it presents the fantasy of a sanitised version of capitalism where the vulnerable are protected and real social needs are met:
“We do not simply wish to balance the books. We wish to raise investment funds to finance a stimulus programme to create jobs, strategic investment and to protect the vulnerable in Irish society.”
“The only way to reverse the downward spiral is for the state to intervene by asserting control over the banks to dictate their lending and investment policies, and similarly through progressive wealth and corporate taxation, to marshal surplus wealth and resources in the economy and invest them rationally to create jobs and meet real social needs.”
Through the continual use of the terms “we” and “us” the submission presents a falsity that there is a collective “us” in Ireland that “our” economy could be made to work for. This ignores the reality that capitalism – based on the legalised theft that goes by the name of profit making – is inherently biased towards the interests of the capitalists rather than the workers. Capitalism cannot be made to work in our interests as a class and no workers’ organisation worthy of the name should be pretending that it can.
A “budget” is explicitly a set of policies for the bourgeois government to carry out within the financial structures of capitalism. That is nothing to do with the socialist project of a fundamental transformation of the socio-economic basis of society.
If, as they claim, the authors of this statement really want a “radically different approach” that “puts the needs of the working people before the interests of bondholders, bankers and big business” they would take the opportunity of public interest around the budget to advocate not a rearrangement of funds under capitalism, but a programme of action fighting for what we need as working people – this is the only “we” and “us” that a workers’ organisation should be concerned with. This means, of course, outlining a vision of a new socio-economic system designed to meet people’s wants and needs rather than the current continual drive for maximisation of profits no matter the cost to workers’ lives.
Begging for crumbs
The main income generating proposals in the statement are exceedingly meek with a modest 5% wealth tax on assets over €1million; introducing graduated tax bands for incomes in excess of €100,000 (50%), €150,000 (60%), €200,000 (70%); a new Financial Transaction Tax of 0.1% on share trading and 0.01% on derivatives; and increasing the nominal corporation tax rate to 15% with a minimum effective rate of 12.5%. This is no more than begging for a few more crumbs from the table of the rich and powerful while leaving them to gorge themselves on the fruits of our labour.
Strangely it takes a leaf out of Sinn Fein’s nationalist approach with an appeal to support Irish businesses, arguing that “small businesses should be able to avail of cheap credit and in the context of strong public investment could assist with economic growth”.
The statement argues for introducing “Full nationalisation with direct public control of the banks and finance institutions” and “Democratic public ownership and control of the banks” but the small print indicates that all this concretely means is “The state must assert full control over the banks”. This is nothing more than a joke. What we need is working class control of the economy.
Clearly something fundamental would need to change for that to occur as all the established political parties (including Sinn Fein and the Greens) are completely wedded to the existing capitalist socio-economic system. It is therefore necessary to outline a programme of workers’ struggle leading to workers’ power, backed up by a new state apparatus, able to enforce our will as a class on the financial parasites and fat cats.
The statement claims to show that “the resources do exist to provide an alternative to austerity, cut-backs and privatisation”, but it does no such thing. This pre-budget statement, like all other ULA material, does not pose any concrete programme for how capitalism will be replaced with a new economic and social system under the rule of the working class based on new organs of direct participatory democracy.
The submission does acknowledge that:
“The alternative we propose will not be implemented by the current parties in the Dáil or by the Irish state, which consistently defends the status quo. The working people of Ireland will have to challenge the vested interests of big business and the Irish establishment in order to bring even the modest proposals above into being. The ULA will play its part in that challenge – and advocate a Europe-wide and international movement of workers, women, the unemployed, young people and pensioners to challenge the failed doctrine of austerity and private profit.”
However, in the context of the statement as a whole, this boils down to “challenging” the existing policies of the capitalists to bring new parties into the Dáil which will then implement these “socialist” proposals.
If the working class in Ireland was truly in a position to control the central pillars of the economy then we would surely not be limiting our sights to merely trying to mitigate the worst excesses of this rotten system. A revolutionary alternative would be modelled on the actions of the Russian workers after the 1917 revolution when, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, the Bolsheviks expropriated, without compensation, all large capitalist enterprises, both foreign and domestic, while also imposing a monopoly on foreign trade. After we did this there would be little need to worry about penny ante taxing of the “financial transactions” carried out by the wealthy elites.
Any claim that the fundamental needs of working people, the poor and all the oppressed can be met without overturning capitalism is a reformist lie – and that includes this ULA pre-budget statement.