Why join Independent Left?

Páirtí Neamhspleách na hEite Clé

Why should you join Independent Left?

The growing inequality between rich and poor passed a significant milestone in 2015. In that year, according to research by Oxfam, the wealthiest 1% of the planet’s population owned as much as the entire combined wealth of everyone else. By 2017, the disparity was reflected in another striking figure. The 62 most wealthy people in the world owned the same wealth as the combined wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population.

Such disparity is absolutely staggering and makes the era in which Karl Marx developed his ideas of socialism seem one of relative equality. The rich of his day were in the ha’penny place compared to our modern billionaires.

Still, there is a positive message that can be drawn from this startling figure: the wealth exists to eliminate poverty and material suffering wordwide. Suppose those billionaires had a mind to relinquish their $1.67 trillion, what could be done with it?

To provide clean water to the entire planet would cost an estimated $90bn

The UN estimates $30bn would be enough in any one year to end hunger on the planet. To make that gain sustainable via irrigation and other infrastructure, would take $267bn. Let’s do that for a start. Another basic need is clean water. The WHO estimate that $10bn a year would solve the problem that 40% of the world’s population lack sanitation. Again, let’s make that sustainable by a world-wide undertaking to build treatment plants for $90bn.

The anti-poverty NGO, The Borgen Project, have quoted the figure of $340bn to provide every child worldwide with free education. That’s another valuable project fully paid for by these 62 people.

It’s estimated that there are 150million people worldwide who are homeless. Calculating the cost of solving this issue is complicated by the fact that certain cities, Dublin included, have astronomical house prices compared to those more typical across the world. Given that modern technology allows for the actual cost in materials for a small house to be as little as $10,000 and assuming we had access to free (or state) land and labour, that’s $750bn needed for a two-person residence to provide a home for everyone currently without one.

In brief, the wealth of just 62 people could house, feed, educate and provide clean water to everyone in need. What a transformation that would be.

With the consequences of the COVID19 pandemic being a huge cost to governments everywhere, the question being asked is how to pay these debts. Some countries, like Egypt, began to increase taxes on workers even during the height of the outbreak. But as the figures above show, there’s a simple way to resolve the economic crisis: get the super-rich to pay for it.

How to effect change

The problem, of course, is that these billionaires are not going to hand over their money. Nor are the richest companies going to part with any more than they have to of their cash reserves (the top ten companies held over $7.7trillion in 2018). And again, the most powerful states are not going to give up their military spending ($1.7trillion in 2018). And this problem is not a question of personalities, it’s a question of structure.
For all we know some of the 62 billionaires might be decent human beings. This isn’t all that likely, because their life choices, goals and values have been profoundly shaped by their journey to the top. And typically, that journey has involved some ruthless choices. Still, it is possible to imagine one of these billionaires having an existential crisis. A sudden desire to make a real difference overwhelms him or her and hundreds of billions are spent in a helpful fashion.

Does this fix things?

Even if such a billionaire giveaway took place, soon afterwards, the same process that has piled up the wealth of a few would kick in and create the same shocking disparity between rich and poor. That process? In a word, capitalism.
All the important decisions made in the world today by those in authority are made by people who are driven to maximise profit for their organisation. Good corporate governance is all about this. When you get a seat on a board of a company, you sign up to put the interests of that company above all else. And while some people driving the system are out and out crooks, even the best, kindest, most humanitarian-minded are sitting at a table where the agenda is entirely about maximising the profits of the company and getting ahead of its rivals.
Like a society that has invented a god to whom human sacrifice is required and which steps up those sacrifices in times of crisis, we have evolved rules for commerce whose sum effect is catastrophic and cruel. Yet no individual person or company can break those rules and tremendous intellectual energy is spent explaining why there is no alternative.
Humanity is stuck on a train, whose direction is set by the rules of capitalism. It’s a train that is heading for disaster, most evidently through climate change, although war is an ever-present danger to us all as well.

Someone has to derail the train.

Independent and Left

Every day, there are acts of resistance against the logic of capitalism. Some are amazing and courageous. Some are simple yet profound. And while people from all walks of life are involved in saying ‘no’ to injustice, the deepest, most powerful challenges to capitalism always surge up from the working class. This is not because workers are the suffering the most (true, we’ve nothing to lose but our mortgages, but we are better off than the long-term unemployed or poor farmers in certain regions of the planet). It is for two reasons. One, workers have enormous economic power and two, ideas about solidarity and equality come quickly to communities of people who have to unite together to win.

Anger against the injustices of capitalism doesn’t necessarily make people socialist. It can fuel racism, bigotry of all forms and violent right-wing organisations. Inevitably, there are workers who are attracted to movements like those of the anti-immigration figures behind Brexit or the Trump-type politician. Broadly speaking, though, when we look to see who backed Repeal and the Same-Sex Marriage Referendum in Ireland it was working class communities. And very often an open, tolerant, comradely spirit comes dramatically to the fore when a major strike breaks out.

Dublin working class communities showed some of the largest votes for same sex marriage

Independent Left are therefore all about standing with those who resist capitalism, but especially the working class. That’s the ‘left’ bit. We are socialist. Historically, the left are rooted in working class organisations, something which is especially clear in Ireland thanks to the efforts of James Connolly and Jim Larkin and even Countess Markiewicz, who despite her privileged background, threw her heart and soul into campaigning for workers’ rights.

We are Independent because at the moment we don’t see another political party to join with. Obviously, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, the parties of the business class, are out. Labour and Sinn Fein are left of centre and certainly could be allies in particular situations. But they are trying to slow down the austerity train rather than derail it. And when they get into government it’s evident from the experience North and South that they abide by whatever the business class require of them. The Greens and the Social Democrats are even more committed to trying to make capitalism work. Solidarity and People Before Profit are the closest fit to us but have a hierarchical, carefully controlled internal life that is not fit for the purpose of socialist change.

Our belief is that socialist organisations should be open minded, unafraid of making mistakes, have policies defined by their members, and be fun too. It should be exciting and rewarding being part of a project to bring about a world of peace, equality and freedom.

So while of course we’ll work with any party or organisation that is campaigning on the same issues as us, we’ll keep our own identity. If this sounds appealing and if you’d like to help shape that identity, then we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch.

To contact Councillor John Lyons or Niamh McDonald please use the information on the contact page.

We hold weekly talks online, often with invited guests. If you’d like to find out more about these please email conor@independentleft.ie. And if you’d like an email alert whenever we publish a new feature, just use the form below.