Statement by the Communist Party of Ireland
March 15, 2020
Covid-19 hastens the deepening structural crisis of the capitalist system
The CPI expresses its solidarity with all those affected, and who will be affected, by this growing health crisis, and to the health staff and emergency services in the front line. The health services throughout the country, from Belfast to Cork, are wholly inadequate, having experienced more than a decade of harsh cuts, bed closures, lack of investment, staff shortages, and the priority of private corporate medicine over a decent, well-funded public health service.
The Covid-19 health crisis exposes once again the immediate need for one all-Ireland public health service. The virus is not subject to partition and knows no borders. In times like these the need to act on an all-Ireland basis is clearly revealed. It also exposes the conflicting interests of policy-makers in London and the policy-takers in Belfast, who have little or no say in how they should react to the pandemic, to ensure the health and safety of all citizens living in the North and the close ties with those living in the South. We call on the Northern Assembly to disregard the British government’s strategy of “herd immunity,” as the extent of re-infection in Japan shows it to be incorrect, and to co-ordinate their efforts on an all-Ireland basis. The Tory government will make use of this crisis as an opportunity to rid themselves of what they regard as costly, unproductive citizens, namely the old and vulnerable. The health and safety of the Irish people, north or south, cannot be left to this barbaric logic, and we as a people need to act in solidarity and kindness to those most at risk.
We, as a nation, have difficult choices to make over the coming weeks. We either step up our efforts and implement aggressive social distancing and tracking to try to slow the rate of infections and therefore the death rate, though at significant economic cost, or we follow the British lead and accept attrition of the old and the vulnerable but stabilise the economy more quickly. The question becomes one of people or profit. We cannot allow the interests of those who profit dictate our fate. The CPI urges all its members, supporters, followers and readers to demand that each one of us implement aggressive social distancing. We must protect those are most vulnerable. medically and economically, and demand that the Government implement a nationwide mortgage and rent holiday; that it direct funds through social welfare to those affected by loss of jobs or loss of earnings; that it guarantee essential free food supplies to those most in need. This is the only effective way that citizens will be able to materially withstand the huge strains on their household and livelihood in the coming months. Many needless deaths will occur without drastic public health action and immediate intervention, which is why we must step up our collective effort to implement aggressive social distancing.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 15 per cent of cases will result in “severe infection, requiring oxygen,” while 5 per cent are “critical infections.” Given the most recent projections—conservative when we consider the comparable projection in Britain of an infection rate of 80 per cent, compared with the HSE’s prediction of 40 per cent—we are left with a stark figure of 335,600 people in Ireland as a whole possibly needing critical care. The health services in each part of our partitioned country are incapable of meeting the present demand, much less an increase this severe. A worrying trend that we are witnessing is the increase in the death rate where the virus has not been contained, because of ineffective action and a shortage of intensive-care beds, which further affects patients, unrelated to the virus. Even if cases were, optimistically, evenly spread out over a period of eighteen 18 months we would still require the capacity to treat more than 18,000 critical-care cases a month—far beyond our existing capacity.
The reality, however, is that those who will be infected will be clustered within the next two to three months, in effect leaving the health service unable to deal with the numbers that need intensive care. We could see as many as 40,000 deaths over the next five months, according to some of the modelling that has been done. This may that mean those in the front line will have to make the individual decision on who should or should not be saved; and the “austerity” budgets over the past ten years have forced their hand to make more of those decisions than necessary. We urge all progressive people and organisations to demand the immediate nationalisation of all private hospitals in order to increase our intensive-care capacity, which will be needed to care for the victims of Covid-19. A failure to do so will result in needless deaths that, under a two-tier, private and public health system, will inevitably happen. The health and safety of the Irish people cannot be left to the logic of the market.
The pandemic sweeping the nation has led to developments in the talks taking place on the formation of a new Government, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael now looking like being the two major components of it. What this past election lays bare is the absolute inability of elections and electoralism, on their own, to bring about a real, meaningful and lasting transformation of our country. There is a growing class-consciousness among a significant section of workers and young people, as reflected in the recent election results. This was shown in a welcome growth in the first-preference vote going to the left, and also the transfers between left parties and individuals—a reflection of this deepening awareness of the need for real change.
What cannot be hidden in this optimism, however, is the fact that the parties now represented in Dáil Éireann, including Sinn Féin and the other parties that regard themselves as left-wing, all have economic and social policies that comply with the economic straitjacket of the EU’s fiscal rules, ensuring that there can be little or no change of direction. This will be further consolidated when the EU budget proposals for 2021–27 are adopted, a budget strategy determined by the interests of the dominant core states and their ruling class. These budget proposals are detrimental to the needs and interests of the working class in Ireland and expose the shallowness of social democracy and of the EU’s “cohesion and solidarity” mantra, which has also been adopted by right-wing elements. The forces that benefited from this electoral surge did not create these developments but rather were the beneficiaries of them. The changes are the result of a decade-long resistance within a range of social and economic battles. This increased awareness has grown out of people’s own resistance, political struggles and informed education on these issues.
Nevertheless the election results can provide an important platform on which to build renewed resistance and struggles, to further build our people’s understanding of the class nature of the capitalist system and their understanding of whose interests past, present and future government policies serve. Only a mass, conscious mobilisation of working people can bring about real and meaningful change to their lives. The advances that working people have achieved throughout the existence of the Irish state show this. Workers should be skeptical about what changes can be brought about within the existing institutional frameworks, north and south. The CPI affirms that working people need to push forward and not allow the political forces ranged against them to consolidate and regroup. While we recognise that the political parties of the ruling class remain a strong bloc within the Dáil, they are nevertheless declining in influence, as their strategy of making the people pay is leading to further resistance and rejection. The recent TASC report exposed the scale of these sustained attacks on workers, with the growth in low pay throughout the 26-County economy. One in every four workers is struggling to live on low wages. The Irish state has the third-highest level of low pay in the EU, at 23 per cent. At least 23 per cent of all employees in the wholesale and retail industries and nearly 40 per cent of all employees in the tourism and catering sectors are low-paid workers, with a persistently high number of unemployed households. An increasing number of workers are employed in precarious jobs, with no security of employment, not even so much as a week’s work.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive is in near-bankruptcy. 92 per cent of NIHE tenants are on universal credits and are in rent arrears. The impact of the benefit cap, for example, in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area will result in 1,500 families with children suffering cuts in income of up to £47 per week. This will be replicated throughout the six northern counties, which will result in ever-growing poverty and inequality, making it even more a dependency of British imperialism. What is becoming ever clearer is that the institutions established by the partitioning of our country are among the main obstacles blocking the potential for radical, people-centred change, so desperately required throughout our country. The six-county political entity is simply not viable, economically or politically.
The only lasting solution to both this domination and dependence is a national democratic solution, that of national reunification. The growing inequality throughout Ireland will be further exacerbated, with clear signs of a new and deeper phase in the structural crisis of the capitalist system that is now developing within the global economy. This is not something that comes as a sudden shock: signs of a significant global recession have been in the air for at least a year. Forecasts for growth in the global system of imperialist monopoly capitalism have been revised downwards to less than 2.9 per cent, the lowest since 2009. There are growing signs of recession in the core capitalist economies, including Germany and the United States. We are witnessing a continued decrease in global trade and manufacturing conditions. Capital’s confidence within the core has been on a downward trend for the past year, while working people are experiencing a growth in extreme social inequality, growing levels of indebtedness (higher than pre-2008 crisis levels), and an increasing tendency towards working poverty and precarious employment—to the extent that some 44 per cent of employees in Ireland are now in this category. The current pandemic will present an opportunity by the ruling ideological forces to present the deepening economic crisis as a consequence only of the spread of Covid-19. They will use it to confuse and hoodwink workers about the real nature of this growing economic crisis, which has its roots in the very logic of the capitalist mode of production. Signs of economic malaise long preceded the most recent collapse in global stock markets. Low and even negative government bond yields, anaemic growth, warning signs about unsustainable corporate debt and stalled growth in capital investment have all been signs pointing towards a coming recession over the past year. Like all past crises, the ruling forces will attempt to use this crisis to engage in new attacks on workers, globally and here at home. Workers need to be alert to the fact, and learn from past lived experience, that crisis presents an opportunity by the ruling class to attack workers and advance the interests of capital.
The CPI restates that there is no new phase of capitalism (neo-liberalism): rather what has been and is taking place is a deepening of the structural crisis of the system itself. The solutions that the ruling class impose in the vain hope of overcoming its inherent structural contradictions simply lay the foundations for the next crisis, propelling the system forward to ever more destructive forms. The ruling class are driven to intensify the exploitation of both labour (workers) and the natural world, to intensify violence, wars, oppression, and environmental destruction. They desire to ruin the earth and to break the growing resistance of workers around the world; yet we see, from Chile to France and India, that there is a growing awakening among workers to the nature of their oppression and the real nature and role of austerity policies. The goal of austerity was and is to enrich those whose income is largely dependent on the ownership of private property, such as CEOs and the owners of corporations, at the expense and exploitation of the majority, who do the actual work or are forced or struggle to seek work. The evolving economic crisis can only further exacerbate the deep inequalities experienced by the working class and reinforce the dependence and domination by imperialism.
If we are to end this dependence, inequality, homelessness, poverty, precarious employment, precarious shelter and inadequate health services we must seek a radical departure from this exploitative and oppressive system. Progressive forces and movements must unite to form a broad, class-conscious, anti-imperialist movement if there is any hope of bringing about this change. Political parties on their own won’t do it. Trade unions on their own can’t do it. Social and cultural movements on their own can’t sustain it. Only by united action will we have any hope of changing the material conditions of our people. Fundamentally, what is needed is a democratic all-Ireland economic strategy for the people.
• An all-Ireland economic strategy in which investment is democratically accountable to and prioritised by the people.
• An all-Ireland state investment bank to control and target capital investment in environmentally sustainable job creation, with universal public housing, health services, and infrastructure.
• A Bill of Rights for Workers and the repeal of all anti-worker laws, north and south.
• An economic and social strategy for challenging and breaking the malaise and the stifling grip of the euro and the EU.
What the Covid-19 pandemic has clearly shown is that under a socialist system crisis can be contained, controlled and avoided when the people of a country have the ability to employ all the resources available to them, for the benefit of all the people. It has also shown how barbaric a system can be that is based on private ownership and the necessity to seek profits.