As another year draws to an end and the next appears on the horizon, social and political activists will try to analyse the significance of what has passed and sketch the rough contours of what lies ahead. The truth is that, while 2013 will no doubt bring surprises, the main economic and political developments will trace their roots to what has been sown and society will reap accordingly. Unfortunately that means, not healthy new shoots signalling a significant renewal, but a continuation of the stunted features to which we have sadly become accustomed though not reconciled.
Austerity has wreaked huge damage on so many aspects of the lives of ordinary people. Yet the economic and political establishment ploughs on and on, repeating the same mantras in defiance of the facts. Repeating actions that always bring bad results, while hoping that doing so just one more time will bring better, is said to be madness.
It is not madness, however, that dictates the policy choices and actions of those in positions of political power. That is why they are backed up by the establishment of the European Union, by the financial institutions known collectively as ‘the markets’, by the organisations representing big business and by the billionaire proprietors and editors of the national press. These collectively constitute the ruling class and above all what this class seeks to protect is its own right to rule society in the interest of maintaining its dominant position and the profits and privileges that emanate from this control.
Concretely in the Irish context this has meant the bailout of the capitalist banking system in Europe and the shackling of our people to a crushing burden of others’ debts. Fine Gael is the natural representative of the capitalist establishment in this State. Historically it has played the role as the safe ‘super sub’ for its rival representative of the same establishment , Fianna Fail. Promising to be an alternative, it never is of course since both represent the interests of the same elite based on the same system. This period in government, however, will be like no other because, the extent of the crisis within Irish capitalism remorselessly exposes Fine Gael as the protector of the ruling elite at the expense of the majority. Just as remorselessly as Fianna Fail was stripped of all its populist postures.
Labour will fare even worse. Historically the summit of the ambition of Labour’s right wing was to prop up the Fine Gael pretence at being a real alternative government. In every coalition in which the Labour Party served it shelved the sometimes radical and Left policies in its manifestos for the ‘pragmatism’ that was never more than a cover for maintaining the status quo at the expense for working people and the poor. But on this occasion the depth of the crisis means that nothing can disguise the betrayal of those Labour claims to represent.
The year ahead will expose both government parties to a massive erosion of what little credibility remains. The issue of abortion will cause problems. Fine Gael may lose a few deputies from its parliamentary party. But this will not be the key issue in 2013 even though it will command much media attention. The views of the majority in society have moved way ahead of the political establishment in regard to the primacy of the life of a woman endangered by pregnancy or the injustice of forcing the continuation of a pregnancy by violence and rape. If the government legislates for the Supreme Court judgement in the X case the dominant feeling will be ‘about time’.
It is the intensifying fallout from the continuing crisis in Irish and European capitalism and the destructive austerity policy which will really mark out the coming year. The key question here is whether the patience of a sorely tried people will snap as the realisation dawns more clearly that austerity means, not a preface to a solution, but a long drawn out story of failure.
We had a foretaste in 2012 of what can develop apace in the New Year. There were protests at attacks on those in acute need of social support such as people with disabilities and carers. But the most widespread and sustained activity was in opposition to the new tax on people’s homes which has up to this resulted in half of single homeowners boycotting the registration process and payment. New powers are being given to the Revenue Commissioners, the draconian nature of which has not yet been recognised. The government believes that people will be cowed. The evidence is otherwise and if this is borne out in 2013, this will be the year in which the Irish people will cease being labelled in the European media as the most compliant pupils in the austerity class.