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



3 Responses to “Republican reformism with an abstract socialist veneer – letter to the CPI”

  1. 1 Alibaba
    January 9, 2016 at 20:49

    Well said.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: