One of the most striking features of the world today is the enormous levels of inequality. The richest 3 men own more than the 48 poorest countries. Ireland, in the middle of an economic boom, has the 2nd highest percentage of people living in absolute poverty in the Western world. This is a fundamental property of capitalism - the vast majority of property is owned by a tiny minority of the population, the ruling class. The majority of the people, the working class, are compelled to rent their labour to a boss who uses their labour to create profits for herself.
Capitalist companies are institutions which exist in order to maximise their profits. This means that they will attempt to create a situation where they can pay their workers as little wages as possible in return for as much work as possible. When the bosses talk about 'productivity', 'partnership' and 'flexibility', what they actually mean is, more work for less pay. For example the partnership 2000 agreement between the Trade Unions and the bosses fixed the maximum rate of pay increases at 2.5% per year. Profits in the Republic rose by 15% last year. Clearly this partnership effectively means that the bosses reap the vast majority of the benefits of the economic boom.
The exploitation of the workers does not stop there. It is the workers, not the bosses who pay the great majority of the tax to finance the state. In 1987 Irish PAYE workers contributed 80% of all income tax revenue, by 1997 this had risen to 87% meanwhi le other taxes which fall primarily on workers increased by over 40% between 1987 and 1996. This exhibits two important points, firstly that it is almost exclusively the working class which finances the state, the rich are largely concerned with extract ing as much wealth as possible without contributing anything.
Secondly that in times of low levels of struggle among the working class, as has been the case in the last decade, the boss class takes advantage by taking an even bigger share of the pie. This is the reality of the class war. Longer working hours, wors e conditions, low pay and mass redundancies are as much a part of the class war as are the symbols of working class fight back, such as strikes and demonstrations. In fact, since 1990 the cost to the bosses of the average employee has dropped by 18% mean while the average output per worker has increased by 47%. Little wonder then that in 1997 profits rose by 15%, well in excess of wages. Despite these booming profits the greed of the few is not satisfied. We constantly hear of the need for wage rest raint, while the ruling class ensures that the very idea of profit restraint is simply not on the agenda.
Furthermore the ruling class ensure that the bosses have to pay as little tax as possible. Corporate tax rates are as low as 10%. Capital gains tax was halved in the last budget to 20%. Even these feeble tax rates are too high for the rich. The recent revelations about AIB reveal how the bosses can often avoid paying any taxes at all with the tacit approval of the state. AIB evaded paying. When the revenue commisioners office discovered about the £100 million owed on AIB accounts what was their response? They accepted £14 million in return for hushing up the massive fraud - in essence they gave the green light to the theft of £86 million by the presumably rich account holders. Even the AIB internal auditor Anthony Spollen expressed surprise that the "central bank is turning a blind eye to a matter which is costing the Government a small fortune". It appears that he was subsequently bought off with a six figure pay out in return for remaining silent on the issue.
This type of large scale fraud by the rich is generally presented as being an example of 'corruption', the fault of a few bad apples who should be rooted out. however it is in fact an integral part of the Irish capitalist system as the AIB, NIB, Ansbacher and other scandals have shown. Many of the recent scandals about offshore banking, for instance, have involved practices that have been actually legal. In those cases where legal fraud is commited the response of the state reveals once again the growing gap between those who pay as they earn and those who pay as they like (or not at all). A poor bagsnatcher is infinitely more likely to be jailed than a rich thief who has stolen millions of pounds of public funds
Taking these realities into account it becomes easier to understand the anarchist view of the state. That it is an institution designed to protect the interests of the rich and powerful against the interests of the great majority of the people. It is nosurprise that rich fraudsters are rarely prosecuted. It is in fact merely the state performing its function to protect the interests of the ruling class. It is the state itself which is rotten rather than a few corrupt individuals within it. The state can't be reformed to serve the interests of the people. It exists to deny these very interests and thus will always, while it exists, be an impedement to the freedom of the working class.
In order to ensure the defence of their monopoly of ownership of property, the ruling class must also ensure that they enjoy a monopoly of political power. This is why they need to be able to exert control over the state. However one might ask, how coul d we arrive in this position? We live in a democracy and surely the people should quickly dispose of any ruling class which exploits them in such a way. To answer this objection it is neccassary to examine the evolution and form of the particular type of democracy which is current under capitalism.
When anarchists call for democracy we mean that people should have direct input and decision making power over every issue that directly affects them. This includes, democracy at the workplace, freedom from coercion based upon economic neccessity etc.... These means of direct democracy would pose a real threat to the interests of the ruling class as they bring the disenfranchised into the struggle for an improved society as participants and not merely observers. On the other hand parliamentary democracy is the method of choice of the bosses for a number of reasons.
Firstly the state is in essence a chain of command. The parliament is but a minor part of any government. And the government is but a minor part of a much wider body that includes the army, police and judiciary. All of which are authoritarian in terms o f ethos and practice. The real decision making power of parliament is further constrained by the demands of multinational corporations, which are totallitarian institutions. Taking this into account it is not difficult to understand why under a capitalist parliamentary system, all the important decisions are taken by the powerful leaders of these various bodies rather than by the mass of the people. Parliament itself has nominal powers, the real issues in society: the accumulation of wealth by the few , the massive exploitation of labour, the absolute power of the boss in the workplace, barely grace its doorstep.
The second major feature of parliamentary democracy which ensures that it cannot act in the interests of the working class is the unanswerable nature of the parliament and the executive. While politicians do stand at election time for various policies an d positions, and votes are cast on the basis of these, an elected politician is not legally bound in any way to follow these previously declared policies. It is actually impossible for any voter to vote for a particular policy, the best we can hope for is that whoever we support will decide to adopt some particular position. This feature of parliamentary democracy was deliberately retained by the ruling class during the period of reform during which suffrage was granted to the masses. Although people we re gradually 'granted' the right to vote for who should make up parliament, the crucial right of a direct input was withheld. It is through this notion that an elected parliament is able to arbitrarily discard 'the wishes' of the electorate.
This feature of parliamentary democracy is well known among Irish workers. How often have we seen governments elected on a particular program 'changing their minds' as soon as they are elected. Many people would probably see these problems as simply min or problems in the system which can be reformed. In fact they are central to the way in which capitalist democracy works. Parliamentary democracy was explicitly designed to ensure that the people would have no control over the decisions which concerned them. In the words of Walter Lipmann, the influential American democrat, the role of the public in democracy is not to 'pass judgement', but merely to place 'its forces at the disposal' of one or other of the so-called 'responsible men' who run society, in their own interests.
For all these reasons anarchists reject parliamentary democracy as a means of winning freedom for the working class. The parliament is but a small part of the authoritarian state, and authoritarian institutions, no matter how well intentioned, can never be used to bring about democratic objectives. Furthermore, unrecallable decision makers will never truly express the will of the great mass of the people. The parliamentary socialist movement which emerged in the early 20th century, played a key role in breaking large sections of the working class away from their own efforts at bringing about change. As a result a form of Democracy that is both tokenistic and insubstantial became the order of the day. The unashamed capitalism of modern social democrats exhibits that this was in fact a major achievment for the rich and priveleged.
Our rejection of capitalism is based upon these two basic points. The majority of property is in the hands of a tiny minority and this same class enjoy a virtual monopoly of power despite the apparently democratic system. Of course capitalism is a very complicated system, containing many inconsistences and contradictions yet these two points are glaringly true. It is obvious why we desire to do away with this system which depends on the exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few. Yet anarchism is by no means merely a negative reactive system which reacts against the injustices of capitalism. We have our own, very strongly held views for how society can be run in a way which empowers and liberates all members of society.