Cork anti-water charges protest 23 January 2016




Republican reformism with an abstract socialist veneer – letter to the CPI

The following letter was sent to the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) on 3rd January as part of an exchange of emails on the nature of Right2Change (R2C) and Sinn Féin. Eugene McC did not answer my initial question on whether their support to R2C also involved electoral support to Sinn Féin but instead referred me to their recent major programmatic statement “A Democratic Programme for the Twenty-First Century” as evidence that they are far more revolutionary than their choice of bloc partners would indicate. My critique of that document is reproduced below.

Dear Eugene,
Thank you for your reply. I am a supporter of the International Bolshevik Tendency and earlier this year I attended a series of political discussions in Cork organised by the Connolly Youth Movement (CYM), the youth section of the CPI. These discussions led to the exchange on Facebook with a CYM comrade who warned that Right2Change is the “Irish Syriza” and to my query to you on whether your endorsement of Right2Change includes electoral support to Sinn Féin, a capitalist party
It is interesting that you refer me to “A Democratic Programme for the Twenty-First Century”. My impression from the discussions with the CYM was that the CPI is as much a reformist republican organisation as  any kind of Marxist one. In order to test this impression, I had already begun to look at the “Democratic Programme” and I welcome the opportunity to comment on it.
The document provides an accurate description of the capitalist system and expresses clear yet  abstract aspirations for  something better:
The capitalist economic system that we live under is prone to cycles of boom and bust and is based on exploitation of working people. It is a society in which the wealth created by working people is owned and controlled by a small minority. It is incapable of bringing about a civilised society: it is built on and sustained by inequality.
Economic power, and therefore political power, is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. All aspects of our lives are controlled by their institutions, their state, their laws. Working people need to change the substance, content and objectives of democracy to reflect our interests.
The capitalist economic system prevents the development of a truly just and democratic society…
…the capitalist economic system and its institutions cannot be reformed, and we are firmly of the belief that only socialism can truly bring about the necessary economic, social and political changes that are really in the interests of working people and our country.
Not alone must the cuts of the austerity years be undone, including budgetary cuts to health and education, restoring public-sector pay and pensions, restoring child benefit payments and unemployment welfare, but much deeper economic and social change is also needed. Workers, who produce all the wealth in society, must have control over how it is distributed. They should decide the economic and social priorities in a truly democratic society, a new Ireland.
Do we therefore see a programme laying out a path for ending capitalism and replacing it with institutions of working class rule that made up a completely new kind of state power  which serves the interests of, and is democratically controlled by, working people?
Unfortunately, if not surprisingly given the CPI’s Stalinist past, “A Democratic Programme for the Twenty-First Century” falls well short of presenting anything of the sort.
What is offered instead is an explicitly two-stage approach made up on the one hand of concrete proposals for a reform of capitalism and, on the other, “socialism” postponed to some abstract future and, crucially, no path for getting to that socialist future.
Our immediate task is geared towards a form of national revolution to achieve democracy, sovereignty, and independence, comparable to the original Democratic Programme of the first Dáil Éireann.
We see the implementation of this Democratic Programme as laying the basis for radical social change and for an advance towards socialism, by highlighting the contradictions inherent in the system.
So what are some of the key elements of the “Democratic Programme”?
Active reconsideration of our continued participation in the euro zone, which is clearly tied to continuing austerity, the repudiation of the debt and the implementation of more comprehensive policies to reduce dependence on international finance capital are fundamental to achieving real change and are the only basis on which a sovereign, democratic republic can be built. This question cannot be ignored.
Why only “reduce” dependence on international finance capital? It is a fairly basic Marxist proposition that there can be no “real change” for working people while there is ANY dependence on finance capital (either international or domestic)?
With regard to taxation it is argued: “In the interim period before the complete social ownership of capital there is a need for a major overhaul of the taxation system.” This statement is followed by the usual kind of proposals raised by reformist socialists the world over – increases in tax rates for corporations and the rich along with a financial transaction tax, so in-vogue with reformists and liberals at the moment.
How about the issue of political power?
Voting every few years to elect an institution with limited power does not meet the needs of working people. People like Connolly and Pearse had a more substantial vision of democracy and participation by the Irish people than the one imposed on us, which continues to fail to meet the people’s needs and aspirations.
A real people’s democracy should be based on the full democratic control by the people over all decisions affecting their lives. While we work towards full democracy, there are many interim measures that should be implemented. All local and national budgets should be published as draft budgets and subject to an extensive citizens’ debate process every year; and all elected representatives should be recallable by petition or referendum.
Here we come to the contradiction at the very heart of the CPI’s stagist reformism.
There is NOTHING in the “Democratic Programme” that explains HOW the working class will “work towards full democracy”. The only possible conclusion is that this is something that can wait until after their new democratic and socially just form of capitalism has been around for a while. Perhaps it will just require a new round of reforms to have the capitalists quietly and peacefully exit the scene?
The reality is that it will be necessary to start building working class organisations separate from, and in opposition to, the structures of capitalist democracy and its repressive state apparatus even just to achieve  the kind of reforms of capitalism outlined in the “Democratic Programme” – let alone providing a framework for ending socio-economic control of our society by the capitalist parasites.
Reformists sometimes characterise those who recognise this Marxist reality as screaming for workers’ militia and soviets at every opportunity thereby making themselves irrelevant in the current climate of a low level of class consciousness. Marxists often make use of existing structuresand fight for specific reforms of capitalism in favour of the working class, but this must not be at the expense of buying into the lies told by the bourgeoisie about the “common sense” of the legal and parliamentary limits on how social change can come about. Despite what the reformists say it is quite possible to participate in immediate campaigns while at the same time encouraging working class self-organisation and working to decisively overturn the structures of oppression.
For instance in the anti-water charges movement this means unambiguously calling for non-payment of the charges and encouraging working-class communities to organise the physical obstruction of meter installations. These community groups should be encouraged to make regional and national links, as had begun to happen in the earlier anti-household tax campaign, to help the best of the working-class militants grasp through their practical political activity some valuable lessons pointing in the direction of the workers’ councils we will need to achieve our strategic goals as a class.
Central to such a Marxist approach is encouraging the development among militant workers of a consciousness that the real role of the capitalist state is as an agency of class rule rather than the bourgeois “common sense” idea that the state is somehow class neutral. Reformists within the workers’ movement use this “common sense” lie to politically disorientate our class – this is a core component of the political struggle between reformism and revolutionary Marxism the world over.
How does the CPI fare in this regard?
Regressive parts of the Industrial Relations Act (1990) should be repealed to allow workers to participate in and support solidarity strikes and secondary picketing. The imposition of the British anti-union laws has also hindered workers in the North of Ireland from defending and advancing their interests. All these anti-worker laws must be challenged and defeated.
All well and good but does this message include inculcating the militant sections of the workers’ movement with the understanding that to challenge and defeat the anti-worker laws it will be necessary to break those laws, and that this will lead to confrontations with the capitalists’ private security goons and the state’s thugs in the Gardai in defending the kind of “illegal” picket lines and factory occupations that are an inevitable part of serious class struggle? Or does the silence on this issue only divert any such militancy into the safety valve of parliamentary politics?
There is also a bizarre reference to “Irish neutrality, which has reflected credit on and earned respect internationally for this country over many years, must be enhanced, protected and guaranteed by a constitutional amendment.” Surely the writers of this document are aware of the Irish states active participation in a good number of imperialist “peacekeeping” missions around the world (see http://www.military.ie/overseas/current-missions/ for the current list) – not to mention the active collusion with the US imperialist’s military machine through their use of Shannon airport.
Any Marxist approach to the Irish military should not start from endorsing the fantasy of its supposed “neutrality” but rather from a call for the withdrawal of all Irish troops participating in these imperialist military campaigns and the ending of US military flights through Shannon.
The CPI’s political confusion is shown more explicitly when they go on to discuss the nature of the republic they seek to have established on this island:
A sovereign democratic republic is needed for the twenty-first century, to provide a decent and fulfilling life for all citizens in Ireland. The essential parts of this programme all point towards the building of a new republic and a new state, a democratic society where women and men are equal, with equal opportunity to fulfil their aspirations, that can overcome the effects of the long history of the oppression of women, a democratic society that is non-sexist, non-racist, and secular. A new constitution is needed to guarantee this and to make these changes lasting, to embed them in the very structures of a new democratic, sovereign republic.
The list of non-oppressive elements of this “sovereign democratic republic” would require that it is part of a future socialist society rather than the CPI’s immediate programme of a reformed version of capitalism, which could never achieve this level of equality.
The CPI’s approach is not Marxist but implicitly nationalist. Given Ireland’s place in the world capitalist economy as a dependent capitalist country dominated by British/US imperialism it is unrealistic to think that the socialist transformation of Irish society could occur outside the context of a wider revolutionary movement challenging the rule of capital across Europe. Internationalism is not some nice add-on for reasons of abstract socialist morality – it stands at the very core of Marxism and is a concretely necessary part of a revolutionary approach to the proletarian transformation of society.
In the initial statement that launched my blog (https://revolutionaryprogramme.wordpress.com/for-a-revolutionary-socialist-programme/) I included the call for “For an Irish Workers’ Republic within a Socialist Federation of Europe”. From a Marxist point of view this slogan is clearly superior to the CPI’s nationalism and dodging of the class line.
In your email you say “We do not see the principles issued by Right2Change in contradiction to what we have called for in our democratic programme document. Our goes a lot further.  I think the left needs to understand their is a difference between a political/election manifesto of an individual party or grouping and a political strategy for our class.” Although your document does attempt to go “further”, I would agree that the essence of both is the same – reformist programmes. Right2Change also includes the component of cross-class collaboration with its support to Sinn Féin, a capitalist party despite its (tenuous) claims to “anti-austerity”. You say that Right2Change is not a front for Sinn Fein, but avoid my question as to whether your support to Right2Change extends to electoral support to Sinn Fein. If it does, this further blatantly contradicts your claim to be some sort of communist organisation.
Comradely greetings
Alan Gibson



Right2Water/Right2Change’s timid reformism implicitly accepts the capitalist framework

Dave Gibney, one of the central leaders of Right2Water/Right2Change, has just published an article “Irish Water: Killing off conservation and the real agenda behind water charges
The article points out much of the reality of the capitalist agenda behind the creation of Irish Water but in my opinion is far too timid in its response:
“Without a referendum, there will be nothing a future government can do to prevent this.”
That all depends on what the referendum says and also fails to recognise that referendums can be overturned.
The only real way to prevent a future government privatising the water supply and infrastructure is to change the class nature of government and society as a whole – to one where there is no private ownership of the social infrastructure and means of production.
“That’s why water will continue to be the single most important issue for the upcoming general election. This one policy exposes the priorities for political parties and politicians.
“It’s our job to hold them accountable…”
That may well be what Right2Water/Right2Change see their “job” as – merely trying to hold the capitalist class and their government to “account” while the capitalist system’s legalisation of daily theft from working people in the form of “profits” continues unabated.
The kind of social and economic catastrophe for working people that will result if the agenda behind Irish Water is not defeated is not some aberration of bad political priorities but an integral part of the very nature of capitalism.
The real truth that Right2Water/Right2Change dare not say is that the only way to defend the right of future generations of working people to a free clean drinkable water supply is by overthrowing the rotten capitalist system and replacing it with the rule of the working class where our human needs and wants, not the insane scramble for profits, are at the heart of decisions like these.

Support Brian and Bairbre – Cork City anti-water meter protesters

Brian Gould and Bairbre Flood will be in court on 4 January. Like Karen, Vincent and myself from Cobh, they are charged with obstructing the installation of water meters.

I urge all anti-water charges campaigners able to do so to attend this protest.



Report from initial court appearance of Cobh 3

Just under 100 people from Cobh, Cork city and other towns in East Cork were present to support us at our first court hearing on Thursday. This impressive turn-out was both heartening for the three of us facing charges and a strong indication of the depth of opposition to the water charges and metering that continues to exist in working class communities across Ireland.
The court appearance ended with the approvals for legal aid for Karen and Vincent (as someone in full-time employment I did not apply) and for our solicitor to be provided with the statements and evidence forming the basis of the state’s case. The case was adjourned until 28 January next year.
The main Cork newspaper reported the day’s events and various of those present were on Cork radio stations.
An independent reporter has made a number of interviews from the day – starting  and ending with myself – available on the internet.

Press statement on “Cobh 3”

Cobh anti-water charges activists charged over peaceful protest. Court hearing in Midleton this week

The Director of Public Prosecutions has brought formal charges against the three Cobh anti-water charges activists arrested for their peaceful protest against water meter installations in the town on 30th October last year (2014).
The three are charged with obstructing the exercise of a water services authority, to wit, Uisce Éireann, of powers vested in it by virtue of the Water Services Act, 2007. Contrary to Section 12(1)(a) of the Water Services Act 2007 and Section 8(4) of the Water Services Act 2007. Their first court appearance is at 10:30am on Thursday, 17th December at Midleton court house.
The three Cobh residents concerned are Karen Doyle, Vincent Cunningham and Alan Gibson.
Karen Doyle said “This is another example of political policing as the government seeks to ride rough-shod over the wishes of a majority of the Irish people who are refusing to pay the water bills. We will not be silenced by this intimidation and will continue our protests and opposition to these hated charges.”
Alan Gibson said “Given the wide-spread opposition to meter installations among the Cobh community last year – which led to Irish Water having to leave our town with most meters uninstalled – we expect to be well supported in Midleton on Thursday and at any future court dates.”
Vincent Cunningham said “This is an outrageous victimisation of working people merely exercising our constitutional right to protest. We are confident the charges will be defeated.”

For further information ring Karen on 087-2685083 or Alan on 083-1175217


In court next week for protesting against water meter installations

I and two other anti-water charges activists from Cobh, Karen D and Vincent C, have received a summons to appear at Midleton courthouse on Thursday 17 December in relation to our arrest on 30 October last year at a protest against the installation of water meters in Cobh. The formal charge is that we: “did obstruct the exercise of a water services authority, to wit, Uisce Eireann, of powers vested in it by virtue of the Water Services Act, 2007. Contrary to Section 12(1)(a) of the Water Services Act 2007 and Section 8(4) of the Water Services Act 2007.”

We will be exploring all possible legal avenues, but it is important to recognise that this is primarily a political issue that touches the very core of how our society is run.

These charges are only one example of increasing state repression against the anti-water charges movement as the government tries to deal with the fact that over half of water bills have still not been paid. Others are the very serious charges against the Jobstown protesters, along with continued arrests of activists in communities all over the country, and the setting up of special garda units focusing on the protests against meter installations.

Cobh is being targeted because we were particularly successful in resisting attempts to install water meters in the town. These court proceedings could be a precursor to Irish Water attempting to return to Cobh and are intended to scare the community away from offering any resistance. On the contrary, our arrests last year helped to deepen the level of organised opposition to meter installations in Cobh and I am confident that these court cases, and even any convictions, will have the same effect.

The government know that their propaganda offensive is not working and now must resort to the iron fist that lies behind the rule of capital. This is a sign of political weakness. They fear that the beginnings of working class self-organisation we have seen in the anti-water charges movement, particularly in communities organising against meter installations, may become generalised as a way of responding to the continuing attacks on working people that used to be called “austerity” but are now happening in the name of “recovery”.

Even more they fear that some of those activists will draw the political conclusion that capitalism as a system is the problem and will start to discuss, debate and organise towards the creation of a political party that bases itself not on the shell-game of parliamentary politics but on strengthening and deepening, in both word and deed, those green shoots of working class organisation. This is what we need – a revolutionary Marxist party committed to the overthrow of the long-rotten capitalist system.




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