More of the same

“Buggins’s turn” is a disparaging term meaning appointment to positions by rotation rather than by merit. No Brownie points for identifying Leo “the-classified-file-sharer” Varadkar as the Dáil’s current Mr Buggins.

Even the chronically right-wing Fine Gael-supporting Sunday Independent was unable to get excited about him swapping chairs with Micheál Martin. Little surprise there, because, according to the same Sindo, the new taoiseach is “betting on delivering more of the same.”

“More of the same” means hardship for the many. Housing will remain in the profit-driven private sector. Health will remain dominated by private institutions. Energy provision will continue to be determined primarily by the needs of privately owned high-tech companies. Care for the elderly will stay in the hands of private enterprise.

Hardly a surprise, therefore, that so many hard-pressed working people are desperately seeking change.

The crucial question, though, is what type of change. Will it be like the desk-swapping between Fianna Fáil and the Blueshirts? Or will it be the badly needed transformation of a state system that is failing society?

The fundamental reason that the 26-County political entity is unable to care for all its citizens is not simply external issues, such as the cost of oil and gas, or domestic issues, such as an alleged shortage of building workers. While these factors certainly affect us detrimentally, it is capitalism, in all its manifestations, that is the root cause of our plight.

Giving priority to profit over social need ensures that human necessity takes a poor second place to greed and the accumulation of wealth. If confirmation were needed, we only have to look at our dysfunctional housing sector, with the plethora of vulture funds and landlords growing wealthy at the expense of working people.

The remedy lies not in ameliorating the symptoms of capitalism but replacing it with socialism. Raising the demand for socialism will hardly cause any surprise with our readership; the point, however, is not trite but a call to reflect on likely developments and to take measures to deal with them.

The coalition government is clearly committed to pursuing its decidedly neoliberal agenda. It is now endeavouring to mask the nastiness of its core agenda. We are affronted daily by a self-serving advertising campaign mentioning the state’s contribution to offsetting rising heating costs.

However, for reasons mentioned at the outset, it is unlikely that this type of gimmick will be enough to appease the entire electorate come the next election. Nevertheless, the current governing parties will have little option but to stand in support of their record over the past decade.

Their disingenuous dissembling will be challenged by the largest opposition party, Sinn Féin. Unfortunately, this challenge will be made from a frankly social-democratic standpoint. Any doubts about the party’s commitment to this policy will be dispelled by reading the party leader’s recent interview with the Journal web site.* McDonald said that her party “accept that business needs to have a sense of the direction of travel,” and that “she has had very interesting conversations with Irish businesses, multinationals, and the big corporations . . .”

Going on these pronouncements, we can expect that the party will offer a left-leaning yet reformist programme. Promises will be made to build more affordable houses while tolerating developers and, at best, regulating vulture funds. Extra finance will be made available for health, but Laya Healthcare and the VHI will not be closed. Bankers’ bonuses may be capped, but financial institutions will remain in private hands. The European Union will be commended for maintaining a single market in Ireland, but its insistence on maintaining a neoliberal free market will be observed. IBEC will complain but will live with it.

On the surface, this package will understandably appear attractive to many living in difficult circumstances. Without question it will offer some relief that is at present unavailable. Nevertheless it provides only a temporary expedient that fails to get to the root of the problem. In other words, it offers a policy of moderating the impact of capitalism rather than abolishing it.

In reality, a social-democratic programme does no more than temporarily moderate capitalism. Worse than that, it serves as an essential safety valve, protecting capitalism from its opponents—and, as a consequence, guarantees the maintenance of the existing iniquitous class system.

In the first instance, it is axiomatic that the next general election will return either a variant of the current regime or a social-democratic-leaning coalition. Whichever is the case, capitalism will remain intact, and the underlying problems faced by the working class will remain unresolved. Therein lies the challenge for serious socialists: how to change the agenda away from tinkering with the system and move towards transforming it.

It is important, therefore, not to fall into the trap of believing in the invulnerability or the permanence of the status quo. Capitalism is crisis-prone, and rarely more so than at present, and this on a global scale. The war in Ukraine is disrupting EU economies and leading Washington to divert resources towards Kiev that might otherwise be used to contain domestic unrest. Meanwhile the United States has resorted to the destabilising strategy of economic protectionism in an attempt to counter the growing power and influence of China.

It is inevitable that sooner or later this will cause an economic meltdown, leading to a deep recession, or worse. And, just as in 2010, Ireland, with its open free-market economy, will not be able to escape the contagion. At that stage working people will be raising questions and demanding answers that cannot and will not be provided by either neoliberals or social democrats.

It is imperative, therefore, not only that a clear alternative exists (as it does) but that it has been seen, explained, and promoted. Any such programme will require serious application, but that is nothing to fear and must be engaged with.

It is well past time for enduring the hardship resulting from alternating between a neoliberal Buggins and a social-democratic Buggins, time to rally around the venerable slogan, Break the connection with capitalism and forward to a workers’ republic.

*“All sectors will get ‘fair hearing’ on taxation if SF gets into power, McDonald insists,” The Journal, 24 December 2022 (