May Day: Why the red flag of socialism

By Cillian Gillespie

“Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.”

These were the rallying words of The Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx and his collaborator Friedrich Engels in 1848. It summed up their understanding that working class people regardless of their nationality, race or religion had a common enemy – the ruthless and exploitative system of capitalism that dominates our planet. This sentiment is as true today as it was in the mid-19th century.

Common misery,common struggle

Just look at the last seven years of capitalist crisis in Europe. In Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and in countries throughout the continent, the 99% – workers, unemployed, pensioners and young people have been the victims of a dictatorship of the 1% – the bondholders, banks and big business. It is they who created the crisis and it is we who have paid the price for it through successive austerity packages that have massively deepened inequality and have created hardship for the majority in society.

“In the national interest”

Within any capitalist country, society is divided between two major groupings, the capitalist class and the working class, who have irreconcilable and conflicting interests. Ireland is no different. There is no common “national interest” that unites us all regardless of class. The idea that there is has been used in the last number of years to promote austerity and the bailing out the banks to the tune of €64 billion.

But the super-rich in Ireland have benefitted from austerity as shown by the fact the fact their wealth has risen by the tens of billions while we have gotten a diet of cutbacks and extra taxes. Capitalist society is only run in the interest of one section of any nation, that being a tiny minority that accumulate vast profits and personal wealth at our expense.

One nation, one class divide

Working class people in Ireland have completely separate interests from this ruling class which has held economic and political power since the foundation of the state in 1922, despite having the same national identity. One example that illustrates that we have nothing in common with those who rule us is that of Charlie Haughey and the property developers and other vestige interests he represented.

For much of his political career Haughey sought to profess and emphasise his nationalist credentials in his rhetoric and by featuring the colours of the Irish flag on all his political material and posters. He cynically used this knowing that for many working class people the national flag is positively associated with the sacrifice that many made in the struggle against British colonialism.

However by being in the pay of various property developers he lived an obscenely extravagant and opulent lifestyle, light years removed from the working class people who were suffering from the cutbacks, unemployment and inflation his governments brought about. Incredibly in 1980 Haughey had the nerve to lecture us that “as a community we are living way beyond our means”. But most in this “community” did not get a large chunk of their £1,000,000 debt written off by AIB as he did days after becoming Taoiseach the previous year.

What flag do we need?

Given the imperialist role of the Troika in recent years and Ireland’s history of colonial domination some working class people see symbols of Irish identity such as the national flag as a protest against the status quo. They are justified in wanting an Ireland that is free from the domination of the unelected markets and the diktats of European Union.

But like any national flag the tricolour is a symbol for the people of the Irish nation as a whole, be they the major developers and bankers and “captains of industry” such as Margaret Heffernan and Denis O’Brien, or working class people protesting against water charges and austerity.

Solidarity, Struggle and Socialism

The solidarity shown by many on recent anti-water charge protests towards working people in Greece against the blackmail and threats of the Troika shows that there is an instinctive understanding that the battle working class people are involved in is an international one. In a world plagued by grotesque inequality, war and environmental destruction we must strive to unify with our brothers and sisters in Europe and further afield to fight to end the rule of big business and the super-rich internationally, whose ruthless drive for private profit is the cause of these evils.

An international working class movement fighting for socialist change will stand under the red flag, a flag that knows no borders or boundaries, but symbolises the common aspiration of working people across our globe for a world free from want and where each human being can develop to their full potential.