The problem is capitalism, not just a harsh budget - WSM speech at the Dáil


As part of the budget protests at the Dail Dec 7 2010 Gregor Kerr gave the following speech for the WSM.  In it he argues that, while we must fight the budget, we need to look beyond that and clearly say that capitalism as a way of organising society is morally and politically bankrupt. 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.

It’s great to see such a big crowd here tonight. We are all here because we want to say clearly that what is happening inside those gates tonight is unfair, unjust and just plain wrong. The decision that will be taken to further impoverish ordinary people and further attack our public services in order to protect the interests of the wealthy elite must be opposed.

That’s why every one of us has turned up here - because we want to be part of the opposition movement. We want to do what we can to show that there IS an alternative, and that we are not going to roll over and accept these attacks quietly.

We have a clear message – They didn’t share the wealth. We’re not going to share the pain.

It should be clear that the political system that has brought about this cataclysmic financial crisis is not working – is not working for the vast majority of the population that is.

Because the political system – capitalism – is certainly working for the wealthy elite who hold and control political power. What we have seen over the past two years and what we have seen in the last couple of weeks since the ‘intervention’ of the International Monetary Fund and the European Central bank has not been an aberration or some sort of unusual occurrence. It is the naked face of capitalism as it is meant to be.

Capitalism has always been about the robbery of the many for the benefit of the few. Half of the world’s population – over three billion people –are forced to live on less than two euros a day. Yet global wealth values rose last year by 18.9% to $39 trillion.

In Ireland 1% of the population own 34% of the wealth. That’s not an aberration. Wordwide, 1% of the population own 40% of the wealth, according to U.N. figures. There is clearly no rational justification for such glaring wealth inequality.

Capitalism’s boom and slump cycles mess with the financial, physical and emotional well-being of the vast majority of the world’s population on an ongoing basis. It protects the wealth of a tiny elite, it rewards greed and avarice, it lauds as successes those who make for themselves more and more wealth rather than those who contribute to the greater good of society.

Capitalism, as a way of organising society, is morally and politically bankrupt. It’s long past time for us to get rid of it. This system cannot be regulated into improvement. Its rules cannot be tweaked into being ‘fairer’ or ‘more equal’ to any really meaningful extent.

Under capitalism 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. Yet these ‘financial markets’ are for the most part simply large gambling casinos where huge profits can be made by a tiny number of people and where, it has now transpired, when the gamble goes wrong the tab for the losses will be picked up by ordinary workers

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.

In that context we are faced with two questions
1. What sort of society do we want to replace the current system with?
2. How are we going to go about building that new society?

Anarchists seek to build a socialist society – a society based on freedom, equality and democracy. We want to build a society based on common ownership – whereby the resources of the world - factories, land, offices, transport firms, oil & gas fields – are owned in common by the entire population. This will mean everybody having the right to take part in decisions about how global resources will be used, and to share the benefits.

We want to build a society based on production for need rather than profit, production that would be carried on in an environmentally sustainable way. The vast natural and technical resources of the world should be held in common and controlled democratically. As a result the sole aim of production would be to meet human needs, and to do so in a manner which leaves our planet in good condition for future generations. The old slogan of "from each according to ability, to each according to needs" would be the driving force.

And we want to build a society based on direct democracy - a society where the only limit on the freedom of the individual is that they do not deny that same freedom to others, where everyone would have the right to participate in making the decisions that affect them, a society based on workers’ control of the workplace, neighbourhood control of the neighbourhood, a society efficiently organised on a national and international scale.

That’s our goal, that’s our dream. Right now we know we’re a long way from building that new society. But as more and more people reject the current system and look for something to replace it with, we hope you will join with us in the discussion, debate and – hopefully – organisation that will help to bring it about.

That new society – based on equality, freedom and democracy – has to first of all be imagined by each of us. We know what we’re against but can you imagine and articulate what you’d like to put in its place? And can you initiate a discussion with your friends, your workmates, your family as to what that alternative society might look like?

Because that’s the challenge. It can’t be voted into existence, it can’t be wished into existence. It has to first of all live in our imaginations, in our hearts. It has to be something we believe in. And it then has to be something that each one of us takes responsibility for trying to build.

If you want to build a society that gets rid of the divide between rulers and ruled, between bosses and workers, between the elite and the rest of us – then that needs your active involvement. If you leave it to others, you will end with a new set of rulers.

Our strength is our common bond, our solidarity. In the short term that solidarity needs to be built to resist the ongoing attacks on our living standards.

100,000 people marched through the streets of Dublin nine days ago to express their opposition to the government’s austerity programme. It’s not enough to express that opposition and then go home. That opposition must be built in every workplace and in every community.Whether economic decisions are being made by this government, by the one which replaces it, by the IMF or the European Central Bank they can only do what we let them.

Our biggest weapon if we want to bring about fundamental change is our ability to withdraw our labour. The wealthy elite in whose interest society is currently run do indeed have all the political power. But nothing would function for them without us. They need us to work in their businesses, they need us to keep the wheels of society running by providing a health service, education service etc.

And that’s where our power comes in. Imagine a situation where all of us together – public and private sector worker alike – stop working. Imagine the feeling of collective strength that would give us. Equally imagine the message that would deliver to our current rulers. A general strike organised across all workplaces would be a first step towards a re-construction of society in our interests rather than in the interest of a tiny greedy minority.

But if we want to bring that about we cannot rely on trade union leaders or politicians – no matter how well-intentioned – to do it for us. We have to do it for ourselves. And that means each one of us has to be willing to become a ‘leader’, an advocate for change and a focus of debate and discussion aimed at bringing about that change.

While we organise to resist the current set-up we need to imagine, as I’ve said , what we want to replace it with. We need to – to borrow a phrase – Dare to Dream.

Think big, we only have a world to win.