It is thirty years since I sat and discussed anything with a Communist, even then they were becoming thin on the ground. The Left in Britain had splintered into so many factions that the old Communist Party was reduced to a rump that remained doggedly loyal to Moscow. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it would have been reasonable to have assumed that classical Communist parties either disappeared or reinvented themselves. It was fascinating to encounter two Irish Communists; a rare species.
The analysis they presented was a broad outline of how the current international economic crisis had developed, how capitalism had failed. There was probably not much with which most capitalists would have disagreed; human greed had been allowed to proceed unfettered, financial markets had been unregulated, a massive credit bubble had developed and had then burst. The parting of the company would have come over the solutions, wholesale state control did not seem attractive to anyone who remembers what it was like trying even to get a telephone installed in times past.
The interesting dimension was their desire to encourage questions, to stimulate debate within society; their vision of an active citizenship. Crises are traditionally opportunities for great change, yet the current crisis seems to be being presented to Irish people not as a time for change, but as a time not to change anything. Even David McWilliams, hardly a friend of the Left, expresses frustration at the complete absence of any fundamental change. Writing in today’s Irish Independent, he says:
This country needs to be fixed, not patched up. We don’t need tinkering about with the old model. We need to see through the present government strategy. It is not about renewal but is all about keeping its incompetent fingers on the levers of power until something turns up. In so doing, it is aided and abetted by the ECB, which will keep the Irish banks afloat because it is afraid of an embarrassment such as a default within the euro.
The only way it can achieve this is by allowing the banks to mortgage the next generation with more useless borrowing to keep land prices falsely underpinned using the new device called NAMA bonds.
That’s the game — and they dress it up as patriotism.
More fool us if we go along with it.
But why are we colluding with a system that is going to burden working people for decades to come? Why are we ensuring that future generations of young Irish people will pay for the reckless greed of the financial institutions?
Perhaps because no-one is offering a viable vision of a different future.
After the Second World War, Britain went through a social revolution. The National Health Service, a universal welfare system, a transformed educational system were introduced to popular acclaim, and became so well accepted that the Conservative governments of the 1950s made no attempt to roll back the changes. The vision of a new society was articulated in the 1942 report on social security by Liberal William Beveridge and the Conservative Rab Butler’s Education Act of 1944. The vision of a different Britain was shared among millions of servicemen by the educational corps and by broadcasts at home by the BBC. Attlee’s 1945 victory was the culmination of a great wave of desire that there would be no return to the 1930s.
Where is there a vision of a different Ireland? Certainly not amongst a government clinging on in the hope something happens to improve things, nor amongst an opposition who believe all they must do is sit tight and power will fall into their laps.
McWilliams may be right, maybe we are the fools who will just go along with whatever is done.