A Marxist response to the Right2Water “Policy Principles”

Trade unions in Right2Water have called for submissions on their document “Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government”, expected to be adopted by the full Right2Work organisation at a conference on 13 June. It is likely that this will form the minimal basis for calling for votes to candidates in the upcoming general election and perhaps a platform for community activist candidates standing under the Right2Water umbrella.

While it contains many abstractly supportable demands around the right not only to water, but to employment, housing, healthcare and education, the document is clearly designed to remain within the existing capitalist framework, as shown by the requests that submissions:

“Put forward principles that can create unity among all progressive organisations and individuals and building the widest possible coalition for change.

“Promote principles that will promote policies that are radical, popular and deliverable.”

Given the involvement of Sinn Féin in Right2Water these provisions are presumably intended to ensure that this capitalist party can be included in the “progressive organisations” that will be part of this proposed “widest possible coalition for change”.

Closer examination only confirms this impression. The section of the document entitled “Right2Jobs and Decent Work” includes the gem that:

“A full employment economy requires several layers: a socially responsible private sector; an expanding public sector including public enterprise; a growing cooperative sector, non-profit and labour-managed sector; and a growing public enterprise.”

A “socially responsible private sector” is included as part of principles that are supposed to be “deliverable”?

Whatever we might think about the personal “social responsibility” of individual capitalists, the dog-eat-dog competitive nature of a socio-economic system that is based on the expropriation of the fruits of labour in the form of profits puts such an aspiration in the realm of fantasy politics. The reality is that a “socially responsible” system is incompatible with the structures and internal logic of capitalism.

The “Right2Debt Justice” section places its trust in the imperialist dominated institutions of Europe and the United Nations:

“Debt justice requires a European Debt Conference to restructure sovereign debt throughout the Eurozone.

“End the Irish government’s inexplicable boycott of the UN Committee on Sovereign Debt Restructuring, and begin to work, led by partners in the Global South, to develop legal mechanisms to protect citizens from the impact of financial speculation and vulture funds.”

Institutions like the EU and UN enforce the rule of capital and it is absurd to see them as vehicles “to protect citizens from the impact of financial speculation and vulture funds.”

These examples advocating change within capitalism are in no way challenged by any reference to “class” or even “working people”. Instead we have “citizens” and “people”. This is no semantic distinction but a clear signal of a general approach which limits itself to cross-class based solutions within the framework of capitalism.

We may find ourselves participating alongside supporters of this approach in specific campaigns around some of the aspirational demands outlined in the document, as we do in the fight against Irish Water, but that is quite a different thing from how socialists should respond to an overall social programme that is based on the fantasy of creating a humane and socially responsible version of the capitalism that oppresses and exploits us on a daily basis.

For anyone identifying as a socialist or working-class militant there can be no thought of supporting this pro-capitalist document.

Of course it’s easy to simply criticise. Socialists within the struggle against the water charges need to be engaging in discussion and debate to thrash out an alternative set of policy principles. In my opinion, the following are key points that should be the basis of building an organisation that can really fight for the interests of the working class. I welcome any critical analysis from those who share that aim.

Guaranteed free access for all to basic needs such as:

  • Housing, water, power
  • Healthcare
  • Education

Opposition to all manifestations of sexism and racism

  • Free abortion on demand, equal pay for equal work, free quality childcare.
  • Full citizenship rights for all who live in Ireland.
  • No discrimination against Traveller communities, asylum seekers and all other immigrants.


  • Active solidarity with the workers’ movement and oppressed in other countries.
  • Opposition to all imperialist military interventions, e.g. British troops out of Northern Ireland, Irish troops out of all UN “peacekeeping” roles, imperialists out of the Middle East

Working class political independence

  • No political blocs with capitalist organisations – including Sinn Féin and the Greens.
  • Throw out the pro-capitalist trade union leaders and build fighting unions to defend workers interests

Workers’ democracy not bourgeois democracy

  • Working-class organisation in the trade unions and single issue campaigns on a delegated and recallable basis to be encouraged at every opportunity.
  • Any candidate seeking to represent the working class in elections or by holding office locally or in the Dáil must always seek to expose the illusion that it is possible to get fundamental social progress by a series of reforms in the capitalist parliament.
  • A political party formed on the basis of these principles, prepared to lead the working class to take power in our own name

Recognition of the class nature of state power

  • The capitalist repressive state apparatus is not a neutral instrument that can be made to work in the interests of the working class. Cops and screws out of the workers’ movement.
  • Building on existing defence against water meter installation, workers’ defence guards to defend our communities, our rights and our picket lines against state repression.
  • The capitalist state must be smashed and replaced with organs enforcing working class rule organically linked to the organisations of workers’ democracy.

Economic basis of a truly socially responsible system

  • Expropriation, without compensation, of the banks, multinationals and all the other big-business parasites to allow conscious planning for social need rather than production to serve the maximisation of profit.

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