The promissory notes and the working class

The response of the mass media to the deal on the promissory notes was one of considerable praise to a Government that had won a deal that “appears as good as could have been hoped for”.

The world of finance is notoriously complex so in simplifying the deal for a mass audience the media felt free to simply lie.  Thus the headline in the Irish Times said that the ‘Bank debt deal to cut borrowing by €20bn and ease next budget’.  The small print revealed it would only reduce the amount paid in the next decade and the debate after the deal has revealed that there is no certainty that the next two budgets will be any less severe than planned.  The Troika and others are demanding the original targets are adhered to and being a poster boy of austerity might demand it.  The uncertainty surrounding important aspects of the deal leaves open to doubt many of the claimed benefits.

But one thing is very clear: the bank debt was unsupportable despite the responsibility of all the parties for placing it on the shoulders of the Irish people and something had to be done to prevent a disorderly bankruptcy.  This would have been caused by inability to raise the financing required to run the State at remotely affordable interest rates.  The average maturity of the main sovereign debt of about €80bn is around six and a half years, which has to be renewed by borrowing this amount again to pay it off – ‘rolling over’ the debt.  Combined with a possible promissory note repayment of over €28bn averaging five years and continued deficits this looked close to impossible.

Not that anyone dared point out that the deal exposed the lie of the Government parties, of the previous administration, and of the current Governor of the Irish Central Bank that the deb was ‘manageable’.

Ignoring this also allowed the media to largely stay clear of why this deal was necessary in the first place.  The Irish State had decided it would protect the investors in two thoroughly rotten institutions, run recklessly by their owners, by promising them that the Irish working class would pay off their gambling bets.

The Irish State never asked workers whether they wanted to, or whether they thought it was a good idea, but conceived the original bank guarantee in the middle of the night, as a scheme concocted without even the presence of cabinet ministers who were supposed to make up the Government.  In effect it decided to pledge money it didn’t have to people we still did not know and get everyone else to pay for it, including generations not yet born.

As ever we are bombarded with propaganda that cuts must be made in wages and services; increases must be applied to taxes, charges and working hours and all because we need to be competitive.  Yet billions that could not possibly be afforded were pledged and paid that bankrupted the State.  This in turn necessitated a ‘bail-out’ by the EU and IMF, which is akin to a blood transfusion to a dying patient so that she can work to earn money to pay the vampire.

As the Croke Park deal is ripped up and more draconian conditions inserted – not ‘extended’ as claimed – on the back of demands for austerity, no austerity is to be inflicted on the capitalist gamblers.  While money can be wasted on dead banks money must be cut out of wages and services because ‘we’ can’t afford it.

This is the logic of the capitalist system but it is hidden not just by the mass media and politicians but by the opaque workings of the capitalist system itself, made more complicated by the complexity of the financial system.  This complexity is useful because when it is more difficult to understand and appreciate what is going on it is more difficult to fight against it.  Only vague ideas that you are being screwed do not help give you confidence to say stop!

That is the importance of understanding as much as possible what the promissory note deal involves.

When the State guaranteed the liabilities of the banks in September 2008 it claimed the problem was one of liquidity, that is the banks were basically sound but were in danger because they would not lend to each other.  There might also be a withdrawal of money by depositors.  This was the purest rubbish and the gamblers who had put their money into Anglo-Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide didn’t buy it.  They took their money and ran.  Deposits in these institutions, packaged together as the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), fell from €65.8bn at the end of 2007 to €1bn at the end of 2011 while the value of debt securities funding the IBRC fell from €30.85bn to €6.3bn during the same period.

So if the IBRC was bust where did the money come from to give to the depositors and holders of the IBRC debt?  The answer is that it came in the form of Exceptional Liquidity Assistance (ELA) from  the Central Bank of Ireland (CBI).   This ELA funding to the IBRC was zero in 2007 and €40.1bn at the end of 2011. ELA is money so the question is where did it come from, how did the CBI get it?

In many ways the CBI may be thought of as the Irish branch of the European Central Bank (ECB).  The ECB has strict rules about money creation (money printing) so the local branch in Ireland could not just print Euros (metaphorically speaking) although this is one of the things Central Banks can do.

Nevertheless the CBI was able to give money in the form of ELA to IBRC which then paid off its depositors and holders of debt securities.  Since this bank and building society were broke the state nationalised them making all their reckless speculation our reckless speculation and making their debts everyone else’s debts.  Because the State didn’t have the money either to pay back the speculators they issued IOUs to the Central Bank of Ireland in return for their money’ the ELA.

The result was that the CBI gave money to the State in the form of IBRC and the State gave the CBI promises to pay this money back with interest.  Although the two institutions that became the IBRC had issued loans which were due to be repaid many of these were worthless so only through the state intervening could the capitalist investors in these institutions get their money back.

The promissory note IOUs were the promise by the State that through tax increases, wage cuts and public service cuts the working class would ensure they got their money.  This is what prevented the ELA being simply money printing and thus prevent the CBI holding worthless pieces of paper.

So the cuts to wages and public services that are justified by the claims that we need to be competitive are partly in order to pay the debts of a very uncompetitive bank.  So uncompetitive it is now dead, having been in a zombie-like state for the last few years.  When the State pays part of the promissory note IOU to the CBI the Irish Central Bank has ‘taken the money out of circulation’, again to ensure the problem is not solved by printing money.  In other words the money workers paid through austerity is simply burnt (again metaphorically speaking).

What could be more uncompetitive than maintaining dead banks on life support through burning money by putting real people on the dole and cutting services such as education?  The promissory note episode is one object lesson in the irrationality of the capitalist system.

This course of action could not have been taken by the Irish Central Bank and the Irish State without the approval of the European Central Bank and the European Union and its Commission.  For them the over-riding concern has been the protection of the European banking system just as the main objective of the Irish State has been the protection of the Irish banks.  Nationalist complaints that the Irish have made sacrifices for everyone else, much trumpeted by trade union leaders, has to ignore this.

If Irish workers have paid more so far it is because the Irish banks have been weaker and more rotten and Ireland remains a subordinated country which is dependent on foreign money for its speculative bubbles.

If the Irish State’s attempt to save the banking system required the ultimate liquidation of the IBRC this is because there was, in the end, little left to save after all the depositors and holders of its debt securities had been paid.  Again only the workers, in this case of the two institutions, are threatened with picking up the bill through redundancy.

For the Irish State this promissory note device to ensure that it did its best for European banks (and its own) had some advantages and disadvantages.  Of course inability to actually afford it is one big disadvantage but if it can get workers to accept austerity then this is not such an insurmountable obstacle.

The ECB does not want to lend money to institutions that cannot pay it back and since IBRC was bust its actions in approving the lending by its local branch raised some controversy.  If for example it lent to a bank that went bust and which didn’t pay back the money lent this money would then have entered the economy (through those people the bank did pay back, its employees or new loans) and this would amount to money creation/printing.  This can create inflation and low inflation is the primary objective of the ECB.  A strong currency allows a state, or in this case the Eurozone, to command greater resources on the world stage and is thus integral to the project of a strong EU imperialism.

The ECB thus regularly monitors (every few weeks) its ELA so their approval or otherwise was always hanging over the Irish State, although even without this it remains under close and regular scrutiny.

An advantage of the promissory note arrangement that will be lost at some stage with the new deal is that because the State owes the money to the Irish Central Bank profits by the ICB on the loans can be returned to the Irish State.  Given the high interest rate of over 8 per cent this is important.

Because a lot of the ELA created by the Irish Central Bank has ultimately been paid by IBRC to banks and institutions in other EU states the ECB has had to lend money to the ICB so that the reserves of the Irish Central Bank do not decline dramatically.  The ECB charges the ICB for this money but at a low interest rate so that the difference between this low interest rate charged to the ICB and the higher interest rate charged by the ICB to IBRC is a profit which can go to the Irish State.

What this means in terms of the current benefits of the new deal is that the move to a lower interest rate on the Government bonds that replace the promissory notes is not a gain since the effective rate of interest actually paid on the notes is the rate charged by the ECB to the Irish Central Bank and not that charged on the promissory notes.  As explained the profit generated by the latter is taken by the Irish Central Bank and returned to the State.

In the next post I will look at the new deal to replace the promissory notes.

The transitional programme and political consciousness Part II


In my first post on Trotsky’s transitional programme I argued that the political consciousness of the working class is critical to the success of the socialist project and crucial to take into account in the development of a political programme. I also noted that the transitional programme was one way of approaching this problem but did not in itself provide a simple solution. It did however provide ways of thinking about one by, for example, raising demands for workers’ control as an illustration of a programme based on workers self-emancipation.

The problem arises most clearly, as I said, when the political consciousness of workers is too low for them to effectively rise to the challenges posed by objective conditions. This could be the fight for an alternative to austerity in the south of Ireland or against sectarianism and the state that supports it in the north. How then should a programme be conceived and presented in such circumstances?

Trotsky presents guidance but it is not immediately apparent that the various elements of it are all consistent and provide clear answers. Trotsky argued that Marxists must tell workers the truth –

“To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one’s program on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action arrives — these are the rules of the Fourth International.”

Socialists must avoid abstractions, which in words such as ‘peace’ or the ‘national interest’ are weapons of the capitalist class. Socialists on the other hand must be concrete in what they propose because a programme is a call to action not, as it often appears, purely propaganda for education purposes. Where it is the latter there is no reason not to speak Marxism clearly instead of debased social democracy.

Unfortunately too often the small groups of the left are known for their dishonesty, most obvious when they inflate their own numbers and achievements. This in itself is unimportant except that it is held up as evidence for particular perspectives that are often divorced from reality.

Trotsky understands that, in a programme predicated on what it is the working class itself does, the demands of the programme must be based on the truth, on reality and be practical or the working class will have no means to put them into action.

“Using these considerations as its point of departure, the Fourth International supports every, even if insufficient, demand, if it can draw the masses to a certain extent into active politics, awaken their criticism and strengthen their control over the machinations of the bourgeoisie.”

So we are to support limited demands if these are able to bring workers into active political activity while it is still necessary to state the truth that much more radical action may be required to achieve given objectives.

Trotsky however has been criticised because he didn’t actually understand the role of workers’ consciousness in framing a political programme. Trotsky is quoted:

“We know that the subjective conditions – the consciousness of the masses, the growth of the revolutionary party – are not a fundamental factor. It depends on the objective situation; in the last instance the subjective element itself depends on the objective conditions, but this dependence is not a simple process.”

And further:

“What are the tasks? The strategic tasks consist of helping the masses, of adapting their mentality politically and psychologically to the objective situation, of overcoming the prejudicial tradition of the American workers, and of adapting it (their mentality) to the objective situation of the social crisis of the whole system.”

“I say here what I said about the whole programme of transitional demands – the problem is not the mood of the masses but the objective situation, and our job is to confront the backward material of the masses with the tasks which are determined by objective facts and not by psychology.”

The question is then posed to Trotsky:

‘Question: Isn’t the ideology of the workers a part of the objective factors? Trotsky: For us as a small minority this whole thing is objective, including the mood of the workers. But we must analyse and classify those elements of the objective situation which can be changed by our paper and those which cannot be changed. That is why we say that the programme is adapted to the fundamental, stable elements of the objective situation, and the task is to adapt the mentality of the masses to those objective factors.’

We should remember that for Trotsky the transitional programme was itself said to incorporate the requirements of a transitional epoch – “During a transitional epoch, the workers’ movement does not have a systematic and well-balanced, but a feverish and explosive character. Slogans as well as organisational forms should be subordinated to this feature of the movement,”

The organisations on the left repeatedly argue that workers’ consciousness can change quickly, and so it can, but this is mostly simply a way of avoiding the reality of the distance that workers must travel, the time required to do so and the experiences that must be gone through. This also plays a role in the debasement of the socialist programme, prompting attempts to make it look more ‘realistic’ and even ‘common sense’ by constructing a socialism based on widespread illusions in the capitalist state. How much more realistic, upon such illusions, do calls for nationalisation appear than the call for workers’ cooperatives or other measures of control?

So if we can try to summarise Trotsky’s approach, it is one that starts from trying to change the consciousness of the working class, through its more militant elements, in order to change objective conditions which alone set the tasks of the working class.

In the ‘transitional epoch’ that Trotsky described “the workers’ movement does not have a systematic and well-balanced, but a feverish and explosive character” and might therefore have been expected to be more open to the changes in organisation, action and consciousness that were required.

As I said in the first post the workers movement today in European countries cannot be said to have this character. The organisation and consciousness of workers today must therefore be considered much more an objective factor than when the transitional programme was written. This reflects the long history of capitalist boom conditions after the Second World War and the defeats inflicted on the workers movement in the most advanced countries plus the general discrediting of socialism consequent on Stalinism and its collapse.

To a much greater extent therefore the tasks of the programme is to confront workers with the objective circumstances which include the limitations of their own consciousness. Since for Marxists consciousness must reflect reality, changing consciousness means changing the conditions of workers themselves, including their own organisations and their workplace experiences. This is the task of workers themselves.

The Marxist programme must therefore place to the fore the working class changing its own circumstances so that objectively it increases its political and social activity. That this does not immediately raise the question of revolution does not matter since this cannot be raised concretely and practically any other way and certainly not by programmatic demands issued by small groups.

It must be realised that a revolutionary programme is not defined by adherence or commitment to the call for revolution now or in the future (in the sense of smashing the capitalist state and creating a new workers’ state). In the first case this is revolutionary phraseology only and in the second is merely a promise, and promises are regularly broken. Revolutionary politics exist in today’s period of retreat as they also more clearly do in periods of offensive and they do so whether an actual revolutions is more or less probable.

Revolutionary politics means the self-activity and independence of the working class themselves and an acceptance that just as workers must achieve their own emancipation they must also learn their own lessons and do so through their own mistakes. Marxists can lessen and shorten this process but not abolish it. To counterpose real expressions of working class action that may be politically weak and to abstain from it in favour of hypothetically more advanced courses of development is a sectarian mistake. This is not such a common mistake on the left today since it usually makes the opposite one but it is sometimes reflected in demands for acceptance of programmatic positions that in themselves do not answer any real tasks more or less immediately posed.

The more common mistake is to substitute action by others for action by the working class and in a whole series of posts I have given examples of this being done. To return to the beginning of the first post – Trotsky’s transitional programme gives no support to those who believe state ownership is part of the working class programme. It is rather the predominant means by which the left supports actions by others for what can only be achieved by the working class.

In the next post I will look at what Trotsky had to say on this.

The reality of the Good State

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Some readers of this blog might think that I’m labouring the question of nationalisation and state ownership and its identification with socialism. While I believe it is a question of fundamental political importance its practical significance has been vividly illustrated in the last few days.


In Britain the report from the fifth investigation into Stafford hospital has been delivered, prompting David Cameron to say that he was”truly sorry” for what had happened, which was “not just wrong, it was truly dreadful.” Previous investigations had already established in harrowing detail the abuse and neglect that took place from 2005 to 2008.

Between 400 and 1,200 more deaths took place than would have been expected between these years, although it is stated that it is impossible to say whether all of these patients would have survived had they received better treatment. Receptionists were left to decide which patients to treat, inexperienced doctors were put in charge of critically ill patients and nurses were not trained how to use vital equipment.

The National Health Service, so beloved of the British nation that it featured in the opening ceremony of the Olympics, has been damned from top to bottom.

Trust management ignored patients’ complaints while local GPs and MPs also failed to speak up, the inquiry said.

The local primary care trust and regional health authority were too quick to trust the hospital’s management and national regulators were not challenging enough.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing was highlighted for not doing enough to support its members who were trying to raise concerns.

The Department of Health was also criticised for being too “remote” and embarking on “counterproductive” reorganisations.

The findings of the report cannot be regarded as an aberration as it follows repeated damning judgments of care provided in Britain, especially care of the elderly, and news that five other hospitals are to be investigated following Stafford.

Yet the NHS is the crown jewels of the social democratic state.

The inquiry’s head said that patients “were failed by a system which ignored the warning signs and put corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and their safety.”

Many on the left speak and act as if the only problem with the health service is a lack of cash but this is much less than the full story and money will not deal with what has been referred to as the cultural changes that are required.

Working class people in Britain and Ireland are all too aware of the shortcomings of the health services. While those in Ireland may wish for their own NHS those in the UK know its limitations and going to hospital is more and more regarded as something you really don’t want to do unless you have to.

Those with elderly relatives in care are all too aware of the possibility of mistreatment.

Only yesterday Channel 4 news reported on the death of an elderly person left with no domiciliary care for 9 days when the service she was receiving was closed by immigration police, who had raided the office of the private organisation providing the care. When the care provided by this organisation stopped the council never picked up on the elderly woman who had no relatives. She went without her medication and died hungry, thirsty and alone.

Two days ago the illegal charging by the Irish State of people in long-term care again became news. As early as 1976 the State, through the Department of Health, knew its charges were illegal. In 2005 the Government attempted to make them legal retrospectively although this was stopped by the Supreme Court.

The Government knew exactly what it was doing. The Minister of Health Mary Harney said that “more than 300,000 people were charged illegally during 28 years. This was entirely wrong. They were old, they were poor, they suffered from mental illness, they had intellectual disabilities, they were physically disabled. As vulnerable people, they were especially entitled to the protection of the law and to legal clarity about their situation.”

And yesterday the report on the Magdalene Laundries was released, which revealed some of the State’s role in the incarceration of thousands of women in institutions run by Catholic religious orders, compelled to work for nothing and stigmatised as ‘fallen women.’ “A very Irish form of slavery” as the Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald put it. Over one quarter of the women were put there by the State. The last laundry only closed in 1996.

The State again attempted to cover up and lie over its role.

In 2009 the Minister of Education Batt O’Keefe said that “the Magdalene laundries were privately owned and operated establishments which did not come within the responsibility of the State. The State did not refer individuals to the Magdalene laundries nor was it complicit in referring individuals to them.” Not true.

In 2011 Sean Aylward, secretary general of the Department of Justice, speaking in Geneva at the UN Committee Against Torture said “the vast majority of women who went to these institutions went there voluntarily or, if they were minors, with the consent of their parents or guardians.” He knew this because he had met some of these women.

Yet not one of the five women he had met had entered the laundries voluntarily or with the consent of their parents or guardians. Over eighty three per cent who entered the laundries were put there.

What all these examples demonstrate is that the capitalist state cannot be relied upon to provide services that working people, especially the most vulnerable, require. Some, like the Magdalene laundries, are now easy to denounce but none are models of socialism. Far from uncritically defending these services socialists must educate and agitate for a workers’ alternative to how they are currently organised and managed. The very last thing we want to do is proclaim these services as exemplars of socialism and the state that runs them as the font of this socialism.

The transitional programme and political consciousness

Trotsky-1931In a series of posts I have shown that capitalist state ownership and its identification with socialism has no support in the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin. It nevertheless recurs again and again and has done so for years in the political programmes of organisations claiming to derive their politics from these figures. Most of these organisations also claim to be inheritors of the ideas of Leon Trotsky and consider their political programme to embody the approach of the transitional programme formulated by Trotsky in 1938. It remains therefore to look at the transitional programme to see what support it gives to today’s organisations which consider themselves to be continuing the fight for this programme.

The transitional programme was itself said to incorporate the requirements of a transitional epoch – “During a transitional epoch, the workers’ movement does not have a systematic and well-balanced, but a feverish and explosive character. Slogans as well as organisational forms should be subordinated to this feature of the movement.” (Trotsky) It cannot be said today that the workers movements of Ireland, Europe or the historically advanced capitalist countries have a feverish or explosive character. The point is therefore not to quote Trotsky in order to impose a specific formula on today but to demonstrate a general approach to Marxist politics and in so doing dismiss what are mistakes in formulating a working class programme.

The purpose of the transitional programme is to bridge the gap between workers and socialism through approaching workers at whatever level of political consciousness they are at and through progressive struggle and education direct them towards the goal of socialist revolution. It starts with existing objective conditions and through step by step struggle projects forward to the conquest of political power by the working class. It is designed to overcome the division of political programme into support for socialism as the maximum objective and the fight for a minimum programme made up of immediate demands that involve only reform of the capitalist system.

For Marxists the truth is concrete, not a formula, a schema, theory or principle and the truth lies in the whole, not any individual part or series of parts. The Marxist programme is therefore one that is true to the interests of the working class when taken in its entirety and when it becomes a guide to action. The role and purpose of the transitional programme is not therefore without its own problems; it does not of itself provide solutions to the difficulties in fighting for the interests of the working class or achieving the working class conquest of political power and it does not guarantee falling into failure to really fight for revolutionary change, on the one hand, or declarations of revolutionary virtue with limited purchase on reality on the other.

It provides no ready-made answer when objective conditions clash with working class political consciousness, when the threat to the working class is either not understood by it or it does not have the means to respond. When the Irish working class faces years of austerity, but has no conception of an alternative and so votes or accepts this austerity, the transitional programme waves no magic wand. When relatively large numbers of working class people are prepared to support or engage in very militant forms of struggle but have no or very little conception of socialism, as many republican workers did in the north of Ireland during the late 1960s and 1970s for example, the method of the transitional programme offers no off-the-shelf remedy.

What it does do is demonstrate through very practical examples how these problems may be faced and the method used to conceive the way forward – practical political demands which socialists and militant workers can fight for that can achieve their objectives. The class struggle itself will decide whether success is achieved.

This can be illustrated by a criticism I have seen made of the Irish United Left Alliance programme. This Alliance has now fallen apart but there is no reason to believe that the errors of its political programme so criticised in this blog have been understood. The electoral platform of the ULA has been criticised for not using the word socialism but this would not be a problem if it was only the word that was missing and the content it is shorthand for, working class power, was maintained.

The method of the transitional programme is based solidly on the Marxist view that the emancipation of the working class must be the task of the working class itself. The demands of the programme are all ones that the working class must fight for, impose and achieve. To bring us back to the point: nationalisation is something the working class hands to the capitalist state, the defender of capitalism, to carry out.

In terms of the examples above; the fight against austerity must place the tasks of the workers themselves to the fore, fighting the mechanisms of austerity in cuts and tax rises and putting forward alternatives that are creations of the working class itself such as democratic trade unions and workers cooperatives etc. In the North the need for defence of sections of workers attacked because of their religion must be a political task first, not a military one, and must be carried out democratically by workers themselves, not by a secret military group. It must be done under a political banner committed to democratic and class identification not sectarian and communal affiliation. Of course, as we have said, to fight is not necessarily to win but to fight under the wrong political banner and demands is already to fail.

The principle that it is working class activity and action which is key through the mechanism of workers control is also revealed in the approach to demands which on the face of it are not specifically socialist and are limited to reforms or purely democratic changes within the existing capitalist framework. In these cases such demands must be fought for through working class methods of struggle in order that the workers themselves go through the experience of fighting and learn from the experience.

Inevitably when this occurs workers quickly teach the socialists but no lesson is learnt automatically or spontaneously. The struggle in the North of Ireland is proof that even the most militant struggle does not generate socialist consciousness and that this must be fought for just as much as the particular object of struggle itself and if they cannot be linked the struggle for socialism is not on the agenda anyway.

On the other hand the fixation with electoralism evidenced by the ULA is not a lapse but sits comfortably within a political programme which calls on the capitalist state to create equality and democratic ownership. Since the illusion exists that election to governmental office allows one to utilise the state to direct capitalist society, instead of the other way round, what makes more sense that seeking election? In this scenario working class action supports the actions of the elected instead of the elected acting merely as the megaphone of the working class movement.

When I first became involved in Marxist politics in Glasgow in the middle of the 1970s the organisation I joined, the International Marxist Group, was critical of what it saw as the syndicalism of the (British) Socialist Workers Party because the SWP refused to stand in elections. Electoral intervention led to revolutionary politics being diluted and betrayed in the pursuit of votes said the SWP. Less than five years later the same argument was being advanced by Peoples Democracy against Provisional republicans who claimed that standing in elections was to play the British game, legitimising its rule and distracting from the cutting edge of the armed struggle. For both the IMG and PD the Russian Marxists at the beginning of the century were proof that entering electoral contests did not necessitate abandoning revolutionary politics.

While this might be true in principle the subsequent course of both the SWP and republicans has conclusively demonstrated that the IMG and PD (and myself) were wrong in practice. Over on the Irish Left Review a statement is quoted from Ann Foley, the ULA candidate for Cork North West and the SWP’s People before Profit electoral organisation that starkly exhibits this: “I feel the ULA has very common sense policies. When people think of socialists, they think of communism, which is not the case. There is nothing dramatic or revolutionary about our policies.”

This is not the place to explain how this collapse of these organisations’ programmes came about but it is obvious that this has happened. As explained above, even the most militant struggle may not of itself generate socialist consciousness but electoralism has its own ways of causing political degeneration.

In any case the struggle for capitalist state ownership does not challenge capitalist ideology, does not challenge the natural order of capitalist society, does not challenge the widespread illusion that the state (at least potentially) is a neutral arbiter of interests or is the embodiment and representative of a common, national interest. When the actions of the state feature so heavily in even the programme of self-declared Marxists, and for decade upon decade, can there be any wonder there is so little evidence of socialist political consciousness among the Irish working class?

For Marxists this is key because if emancipation can only follow the actions of workers themselves then the ideas these workers act upon are obviously critical. In so far as socialists can affect this consciousness then the manifestos, budget statements, press statements, speeches on the floor of the Dail carried by TV and radio, door canvassing, interventions in workers’ meetings and leaflets at demonstrations are the means by which socialist education can be achieved. How many of these stray beyond Keynesian, that is capitalist, ideas? By comparison the theoretical articles in the left press are simply salves to a guilty conscience that is not even conscious of its guilt.

Consciousness is key because socialism is another name for working class rule and no ruling class rules without being aware of it, which explains the much higher level of class consciousness among capitalists than workers. Workers cannot rule unless they purposefully chose to do so because power will not simply be handed to them. They will have to fight for it which means they will have to want it. Perhaps this is obvious but it has consequences for how socialists must see socialism coming about.

The task of ruling society by the class that makes up the vast majority of society is an enormous and unprecedented undertaking. The scope and depth of political and social awareness to make such a prospect a real possibility does not at the moment exist anywhere. It must come through struggle involving greater and greater parts of the working class, through a process of political and social education that prepares the working class both ideologically and practically for accomplishing it. The transitional programme is meant to encapsulate how this momentous task is achieved.

Unfortunately the transitional programme is looked upon in relatively restricted terms, as a result of the particular historical period in which, and for which, it was written. It is most obviously relevant to a revolutionary situation where the capitalist system is in crisis and the rule of the capitalist class is similarly struck. By their nature such situations are temporary and often fleeting.

To believe today that such crises can move the working class from its current position of subservience, where it does not even control and mostly does not even participate in the organisations which are supposedly its own, such as trade unions, to being politically conscious and organised enough to take political and economic power, is to believe in revolutionary crisis as a sort of magic wand out of which the organisation and education of decades can be squeezed into a few years, at most, of crisis.

The creation of socialist political consciousness among the vast majority of the working class is not the task of a few months or years but of decades. This is also true of the maturation of the objective conditions upon which such consciousness can only be created. This involves a qualitative increase in the social and political participation of the working class as a class in political and economic life, through real participation in trade unions, political parties, community organisations, workers’ cooperatives and other aspects of economic life.

It sometimes appears as if supporters of the transitional programme believe that a series of smart demands allied to struggle can somehow lead workers from rather backward political consciousness, almost by the nose, to one day deciding they would like to rule society. Or worse, finding by sudden surprise that they must smash the capitalist state to get what they want or that having done so waking up one morning to find themselves in charge of society almost by default. It is almost as if the working class will take conscious control of society by a process of mostly unconscious action, at least until the last minute.

While it cannot be expected that even the greatest struggle must start with full consciousness of the socialist objective it cannot be expected that the beginnings of a revolutionary struggle will start without widespread allegiance by major sections of the working class to the ideas of socialism as an objective and deep and widespread experience of self-organisation as a result of commitment to such ideals. In other words there exists a more or less long struggle to win the working class to the ideas of socialism and the need for practical experiences of organisation that comes from militant workplace organisation and inroads into capitalist property.

For those who believe only a Marxist Party needs to be conscious of such tasks and long term objective there might not appear any problem.  But if socialism is working class rule then the vast majority of workers must believe in their capacity to rule society and seek it as the solution to the critical problems which capitalist society has presented to them in periods of revolutionary crisis.

In the next post I will look at claims that Trotsky did not understand this objective requirement.