How would a revolutionary socialist have responded to Vincent Browne?

On last night’s “Tonight with Vincent Browne” programme (24 April – http://www.tv3.ie/3player/show/41/61969/1/Tonight-with-Vincent-Browne) Joe Higgins was asked a question about whether Richie Boucher, Chief Executive Office of Bank of Ireland, was perhaps actually worth his large renumeration:

“Joe, can I just put to you the case that it is in the public interest that somebody who is capable of rescuing the bank, albeit from a crisis that he played a large part in causing, but who has the capacity, who is deemed to have the capacity, to rescue the bank. And who has shown the capacity to persuade people to invest a huge amount of money in the bank that it is so much in the national interest for such a person to remain in situ, its a good idea to pay him even that exorbitant amount of money?”

When I heard this I immediately thought – “what a great opportunity to make the case for socialism” – but I was of course disappointed by Joe’s response.

Joe did go on to talk about nationalising the banks under democratic control of working people but he did so in a way that implicitly accepted the framework Vincent had presented to him.

I am talking here about the question of whether there is such a thing as “the national interest”.

In my opinion any revolutionary socialist worth their salt should have leapt at this opportunity to say something like:

“I’m sorry Vincent but I’ve got to pull you up on how you have framed that question to me. What we are seeing in Ireland today completely exposes the myth that there is anything like a “national interest”. The capitalist class, and its representatives like Richie Boucher, are actually enriching themselves during this economic crisis while the working class are being hammered in the name of austerity. Richie Boucher’s obscene pay level can only be properly understood if we approach it from this understanding of the separate, and conflicting, class interests at work in the current socioeconomic system. What this tells us is that it is not enough to discuss tinkering with the existing system but that we need a new socioeconomic system based on meeting the needs and wants of working people.

Backing this up with the figures from the Sunday Independent “Rich List” and reference to the record profits for US corporations, including many of the multinationals in Ireland, etc.

I do accept that Joe had earlier said that Joan Burton’s recent comment on austerity coming to an end must only refer to bankers while it clearly continued for working people but that was at best only an implicit critique of capitalism as a system while the “national interest” reference gave an opportunity to make that critique direct and explicit – an opportunity he did not take.

Now some may argue that this is just one interview and Joe was thinking on his feet and implicitly made the same point anyway. But I would ask readers of this post to think about whether they can remember Joe, or any other SP public figure, EVER taking such an opportunity on national television to directly attack the very basis of the existing system and bourgeois myths like “the national interest”.


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