Ireland, the European Union, and the Climate Crisis

BY SEÁN Ó MAOLTUILE

Decades before the establishment of the European Union, Lenin recognised that a "United States of Europe" would be "tantamount to an agreement on the partition of colonies" with "the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe [and] of jointly protecting colonial booty against Japan and America."[1] The EU has functioned as just such an imperialist coalition. The internationalism it preaches is exclusively in regard to Western Europe. Even within its borders the primary role of the European Union has been to limit the power of European states to act outside the bounds of its strict economic and political model. This ensures maximum profits and power for the monopoly capitalists in control of the EU, and maximum destitution for the countries in its peripheral orbit, such as Ireland, Greece, Bulgaria and Portugal.

With each passing year the EU courts enforce further resolutions allowing the claws of capital to dig deeper into society. Resources, services and infrastructure under state control are increasingly under pressure from the EU’s cardinal doctrine, the bogeyman that keeps German and Belgian bureaucrats getting up in the morning: interference with free competition.


Privatisation is ever the means of overcoming this obstruction to an unimpeded free market. Basic functions of a state, such as public investment, have been restricted to an unprecedented degree under the auspices of the neoliberal EU. The independence and sovereignty of states is thoroughly eroded. Forcing Ireland to take on 42% of the EU’s banking debt following the 2008 crash assured the European imperialists that the Irish working class would be straddled with crippling taxation and that the Irish state would have to operate along the lines they dictate.[2] Marx recognised that national debt is the means by which the modern state is sold to the capitalist class, determining which section of that class will be politically dominant. With even more striking relevance to the people of Ireland today, he went on to write, "The only part of the so-called national wealth that actually enters into the collective possessions of modern peoples is their national debt."[3] The European imperialists, encouraged by the Irish bourgeoisie, have seized Irish sovereignty by means of treaties and debt-trapping, replacing it with the politics of the neoliberal consensus. The most concerning consequence of the destructive EU model is Europe’s institutionalised inability to tackle the intensifying ecological crisis.

The consensus of the scientific community is that stopping, or even mitigating, ecological breakdown will take nothing short of revolutionising the global economy. Since becoming a mainstream political issue, the Irish state has only demonstrated its utter impotence in the face of this global threat. The country has barely dented its targets for carbon emission reduction.[4] Hemmed in by enormous debt and the politics of austerity, the urgent need for investment in reforestation and renewable technologies has been alluded to by the state but hardly tackled.

Transforming Ireland’s agricultural base away from big beef farming to sustainable, ecological agriculture should be prime among the tasks of any government that has the interests of the people and the planet in mind. Yet, among other factors, the big farmers have enough political and economic power to ensure this necessary transition does not take place. This kind of monopoly control of an industry has proven to make the implementation of new technologies or techniques (namely, those that may upset profits) a difficult and protracted, if not hopeless, process. Demonstrating the obstinacy of Ireland’s agricultural monopolists, whose authority is upheld by means of subsidies from their friends in Brussels, Ireland has the second lowest area of organically farmed land in the EU.[5]

The prayers of the EU bureaucrats to the gods of the free market have been answered and "out of the soil of free competition" monopoly has grown.[6] Granting capitalists the freedom to compete over land and resources always leads to the concentration of essentials in the hands of a few profiteers. Both in Ireland and throughout the capitalist world vast monoculture is the dominant character of agricultural production. The competitive anarchy inherent to capitalism encourages the maximisation of short-term profits through cultivation of a single "cash" crop, generally just one strain of a particular crop. In the long-run the soil is exhausted and degraded.[7] But a country’s agriculture must operate along these lines to be eligible for EU membership.

Ever in favour of bourgeois internationalism, the European Union’s dedication to free market principles is not limited to its jurisdictional boundaries. Monopoly capital reaches around the world for the best rate of return. With startling relevance James Connolly wrote, "To-day the competition of the trust-owned farms of the United States and the Argentine Republic is a more deadly enemy to the Irish agriculturist than the lingering remnants of landlordism."[8] As the EU signs trade deals with Bolsonaro for Brazilian beef increasingly frustrated Irish farmers are beginning to recognise the imperialist union does not represent their interests. With a smile the EU offers them subsidies and grants while simultaneously ensuring their destruction as a class by inviting annually 99,000 tonnes of cheap South American beef into the European market.[9] The immense environmental costs of this deal show the hypocrisy of their many climate summits and solemn declarations of intent. Monopoly capital’s hunger for new markets and cheap resources will always take precedence over ecological concerns, such as the preservation of the Amazon rainforest, consciously burned to make way for this beef production.

Daring not to break the capitalist laws of "free competition," the Irish state cannot subsidise and invest in new forms of agriculture which would allow farmers to make a living while ensuring the long-term sustainability of our land and our planet.


Without a transition toward socialism the small farmer will be ground under the wheel of capital, forced to maintain ecologically-harmful practices in order to stay afloat, holding off their inevitable ruin as long as possible.


As Marx advised, a "rational agriculture... needs either the hand of the small farmer living by his own labour or the control of associated producers."[10] On the opposite side of the Atlantic another small island has heeded his advice, taking a path antithetical to the agenda of the European Union. Cuba has been named the world’s most sustainable country and this is in large part due to its revolutionary agriculture. Having seized the land from the imperialists and their compradors, the Cuban people have been moving toward self-sufficiency, utilising small-scale production and organic urban agriculture to resolve the antagonistic contradiction between man and nature inherent to capitalist production. The revolutionary creativity and struggle of Cuba’s people, even under the crippling weight of a US blockade, serves as a beacon in our historic struggle to eradicate imperialism and maintain the planet for future generations.[11]

No ready-made answers or blueprint for the Irish struggle can be found in the struggles of other nations, but the living experience of the Cuban revolution can provide some indication of our goals and how we might go about achieving them. The immediate task of the Irish proletariat is to break the chains of European, British and US imperialism that hold it fast and embark on the path of socialist construction. Upon defeating the imperialists and their domestic running-dogs Ireland can transform its economy, developing a sustainable relationship with the earth and ensuring a healthy and lengthy life for our island, the planet and all its creatures.

ENDNOTES

[1] V. I. Lenin, On the Slogan for a United States of Europe, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/aug/23.htm.

[2] Communist Party of Ireland, Build Workers’ Power! Break the Connection with Imperialism!, http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/25comhdhail.html; Eugene McCartan, Debt, austerity and the European Union, Socialist Voice, https://socialistvoice.ie/2019/12/debt-austerity-and-the-european-union/.

[3] Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1, Chap. 31, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch31.htm.

[4] Kevin O’Sullivan, "Ireland has the third highest emissions of greenhouse gas in EU," The Irish Times, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/ireland-has-third-highest-emissions-of-greenhouse-gas-in-eu- 1.3998041. [5] Ibid.

[6] V.I. Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Chap. 10, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/index.htm.

[7] Fred Magdoff, "A Rational Agriculture Is Incompatible With Capitalism," Monthly Review, https://monthlyreview.org/2015/03/01/a-rational-agriculture-is-incompatible-with-capitalism/.

[8] James Connolly, Labour in Irish History, Chap. 16, https://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/1910/lih/index.htm.

[9] FS, "Europe is the Final Nail for Irish Farmers," Forward, https://cym.ie/2019/12/21/europe-is-the-final-nail-for-irish-farmers/; Kevin O’Sullivan, "What is the new South American beef deal that will affect Ireland?," The Irish Times, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/what-is-the-new-south-american-beef-deal-that-will-affect-ireland- 1.3942932?mode=amp.

[10] Fred Magdoff, "A Rational Agriculture Is Incompatible With Capitalism," Monthly Review, https://monthlyreview.org/2015/03/01/a-rational-agriculture-is-incompatible-with-capitalism/.

[11] Sinan Koont, "The Urban Agriculture of Havana," Monthly Review, https://monthlyreview.org/2009/01/01/the-urban-agriculture-of-havana/; Matt Trinder, "Cuba found to be the most sustainably developed country in the world new research finds," Morning Star, https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/w/cuba-found-to-be-the-most-sustainably-developed-country-in-the- world-new-research-findshttps://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/w/cuba-found-to-be-the-most-sustainably-d eveloped-country-in-the-world-new-research-finds.

SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING

Communist Party of Ireland, Build Workers’ Power! Break the Connection with Imperialism!,

http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/25comhdhail.html.

Connolly, James, Labour in Irish History, https://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/1910/ lih/index.htm

FS, Europe is the Final Nail for Irish Farmers, Forward, https://cym.ie/2019/12/21/europe-is- the-final-nail-for-irish-farmers/

Koont, Sinan, The Urban Agriculture of Havana, Monthly Review, https:// monthlyreview.org/2009/01/01/the-urban-agriculture-of-havana/

Lenin, V.I., Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, https://www.marxists.org/archive/ lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/index.htm

Lenin, V.I., On the Slogan for a United States of Europe, https://www.marxists.org/archive/ lenin/works/1915/aug/23.html

Magdoff, Fred, A Rational Agriculture Is Incompatible With Capitalism, Monthly Review, https://monthlyreview.org/2015/03/01/a-rational-agriculture-is-incompatible-with- capitalism/

Marx, Karl, Capital Vol. 1, Chap. 31, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ ch31.htm .

McCartan, Eugene, Debt, austerity and the European Union, Socialist Voice, https:// socialistvoice.ie/2019/12/debt-austerity-and-the-european-union/ .

O’Sullivan, Kevin, Ireland has the third highest emissions of greenhouse gas in EU, The Irish Times, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/ireland-has-third-highest- emissions-of-greenhouse- gas-in-eu-1.3998041 .

O’Sullivan, Kevin, What is the new South American beef deal that will affect Ireland?, The Irish Times, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/what-is-the-new-south-american- beef-deal-that-will-affe ct-ireland-1.3942932?mode=amp

Trinder, Matt, Cuba found to be the most sustainably developed country in the world new research finds, Morning Star, https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/w/cuba-found- to-be-the-most-sustainably-developed-count ry-in-the-world-new-research- finds