Organise to tear down the capitalist system


It is important that as many voices as possible are raised to say No to bank bailouts, No to the bailouts of wealthy property developers and No to the attacks on our living standards and cuts in public services. Above all we need to be saying No to the notion that we should all be sharing the economic pain. This is the text of Gregor Kerr's speech to the 400 or so people who took part in the Euopean week of protests against bank bailouts in Dublin, June 2010. It includes 23 photos of the protests.


I’d like to start by thanking everyone for turning out on today’s protest. It is important that as often as possible and as loudly as possible as many of us as possible keep saying loudly and clearly that what is currently happening in political and economic terms in Ireland, Europe and across the world is unfair, unjust and just plain wrong.

It is important that as many voices as possible are raised to say No to bank bailouts, No to the bailouts of wealthy property developers and No to the attacks on our living standards and cuts in public services. Above all we need to be saying No to the notion that we should all be sharing the economic pain. Our voices should shout out together that They didn’t share the wealth so we’re not going to share the pain.

This financial crisis was not caused by a failure of regulation, it was not caused by a failure of political leadership. It won’t be solved by greater or better regulation and it won’t be solved by electing new or different political leaders.

Fianna Fail politicians are fond of saying We Are Where We Are in response to questions about the cause of the economic crisis. This response is an attempt to avoid analysis of the causes of the crisis, they don’t want to answer any hard questions about what policies and decisions led us to where we are. But our voices need to be raised loudly saying We Are Where We Are not so much because of the specific policies of the current or previous government - although they no doubt contributed handsomely to the suddenness and severity of the crash.

But more importantly We Are Where We Are because of the economic and political system called capitalism under which our country and our world is governed. It’s a political and economic system that rewards greed and avarice, that lauds as successes those who make for themselves more and more wealth rather than those who contribute to the greater good of society. In Irish terms it’s a system that in the years of the Celtic Tiger hailed Seanie Fitz, Michael Fingleton, Liam Carroll, Sean Dunne and the coterie of bankers and developers whose actions have brought the economy to its knees as heroes. It’s a system in which in Irish terms 1% of the population own 34% of the wealth and in global terms it’s a system in which half of the world’s population – over three billion people – live on less than 2 Euros a day.

Capitalism is a system which is based on the concept of a minority having control over the majority, of the boss having control over the worker. It is driven by the lust for power rather than a desire to satisfy human needs. It cannot guarantee economic security because the ‘boom and bust cycle’ is integral to it.

But when the boom comes one section of the population – the wealthy - gains disproportionately. In Ireland’s Celtic tiger, for example, there was a huge transfer of wealth from ordinary people to the very wealthy. But when the bust comes along it is only one section of the population that has to take the pain – and that’s certainly not the wealthy. Last year, for example, the number of Ireland’s High Net Worth Individuals – those with what’s referred to as ‘investable assets’ of more than $1million – rose by over 10% to 18,100. And the number of ‘ultra High Net Worth Individuals’ – those with ‘investable assets’ of more than $30million rose to 181. Clearly it’s not a recession for everyone.

And worldwide it’s worth noting that total global wealth values rose last year by 18.9% to $39trillion. So a recession clearly doesn’t mean that there’s less money in the world, just that there’s less to go around for ordinary workers because the wealthy have sucked more and more of it into their greedy paws. And when the executives in Anglo Irish Bank tell us that €22billion has disappeared into a black hole and will never be seen again, the question that needs to be answered is Whose bank account is at the bottom of that black hole? The money hasn’t disappeared, it’s been stolen from workers’ pay packets and from the budgets for public services and given to some of the ‘High Net Worth Individuals’

This is not a system that can be regulated into improvement. It’s not a system whose rules can be tweaked into being ‘fairer’ or ‘more equal’ to any really meaningful extent. Economic decisions are not made by regulators or politicians. The real political and economic decisions are made by the ‘financial markets’ whose supposed wisdom is parroted unquestioningly by so-called independent commentators and economists – How many times have you heard RTE’s economics correspondents repeat the term “We have to see how the markets react..”

But the ‘financial markets’ is shorthand for speculators and gamblers – people who don’t contribute anything to society but through their speculation and gambling attack the living standards of ordinary working class people. Right across Europe and further afield at the moment ‘The markets’ are demanding a slashing of public spending and a dismantling of workers’ rights and conditions. And because economic orthodoxy has accepted that ‘the markets’ cannot be challenged, these profiteers (described as a ‘wolf pack’ by the Swedish finance minister) are being appeased by government policies in every EU country.

So it’s not enough to be talking about sacking the current government and replacing them with a new one. We can kick out Brian Cowen and replace him with Enda Kenny or Eamon Gilmore or even Joe Higgins. But even if they wanted to do so, no politician is going to be allowed to exert any real control over ‘the markets’.

If we want to ensure that this financial crisis and the economic misery it has visited on millions of working class people across the world is the last, then we need to begin to organise not to change the administrators of capitalism but to tear down that capitalist system and replace it with a system which places the needs of the many above the greed of the few.

And the challenge for each of us who have turned up here today and by our presence here have shown that we see and believe that a new way of running society is needed is to become the organisers in our workplaces, in our communities, in our trade unions and everywhere we go to oppose the attacks on our class and to organise to sweep away the system and replace it with one based on justice, fairness and equality.

The challenge for each of us is to begin to imagine a new society. It’s relatively easy for us all to agree that we are opposed to the way things are. It’s easy to declare that we don’t accept the analysis that There Is No Alternative. But the harder challenge for us is to begin to imagine and articulate what an alternative society would look like and to begin to work towards building that society.

We cannot leave it to others. If we do so, a new ruling elite will emerge. Instead we need to get together and begin a discussion and an imagining of a society which would have social justice, equality and real democracy at its core.

That’s our challenge – let’s begin a conversation about the type of society we want to replace the current mess with. Let’s imagine a society which puts the needs of the many above the greed of the few and which values equality, justice and democracy. And let’s start the process of building that new society.

WORDS:Gregor Kerr IMAGES:Andrew Flood