Thinking about anarchism

Corruption in politics

One of the issues raised by the recently published Flood report is the level of influence the wealthy have in a representative democracy. The word 'democracy' is now such a holy word that any organization which can convince people of its democratic credentials is perceived as legitimate.

Just about every state in the world claims to be a democracy irrespective of actual fact; cast your mind back to the old German Democratic Republic. So it is with the Irish State. Its democratic credentials stem from its five yearly elections for parliament. However, there's nary a hint of democracy in the workplace, in the community, or in the security apparatus, to name three of the more glaring omissions.

As anarchists we propose that it would be better to live in a society organised on a directly democratic basis. Briefly, this where all decisions are taken by those who are affected by them (e.g. by the workers of each workplace), and if it is necessary to delegate then the delegates must follow their mandate and be replaceable by a vote.

One of the difficulties we have in persuading people of the advantages of direct democracy, even interesting them in the issue, is their commitment to the view that the Irish State is in fact a proper democracy. If we already live in a democratic society then there's little point in struggling to establish a .. ehh ... democratic society. Their cup is already full. Thinking about the Flood Report is one way to knock the cup over.

In it are detailed the corrupt payments that one Ray Burke, former Fianna Fail minister and sometime planning consultant, received from assorted Irish businessmen. In return he used his public offices to further the interest of his paymasters. This is unsurprising, wealthy capitalists don't part with large sums of money for nothing.

Where the corruption is harder to detect is in the legal contributions made to political parties. They're not giving money for nothing now either, but as specific favours are not overtly sought it can appear as if the donation is an unconditional one.

Rather than exchange money for explicit favours which, after all, is too blatant even for this docile population, business and politicians have evolved an altogether safer system. Business' payback comes in the maintenance of a social order which is favourable to private enterprise. No political party in receipt of thousands of pounds from Denis O'Brien, Michael Smurfit et al is going to increase corporation tax to 70%. The beauty of this system is that it's entirely legal, indeed applauded, when in fact it amounts to legalised bribery.

The Flood Report will, by itself, change nothing, except, perhaps, to induce more caution to the thicker element of the ruling class, but it does provide one useful service:* it makes it clear that the wealthy have a dominant influence in affairs of state.

Anarchists claim that this must always be so. A State is a product of a class society, i.e. one where there is a ruling class and a working class. A state structure at its core consists of a hierarchical line of command, encompassing at a minimum a civil service, police, judiciary, and which seeks to direct and regulate the behaviour of the rest of society. In every society where a State exists there is a dominant class which uses the State apparatus to preserve its privileged position. The State through its laws legitimises the exploitation of working people (e.g. restricting strikes, permitting profiteering) and through its security apparatus resists attempts to alter it fundamentally (e.g. injuncting pickets, arresting strikers).

The point anarchists derive is that the more even the distribution of wealth then the healthier the democracy. It follows that the abolition of wealth differences is a requirement for a complete democracy. The rationale is that while different classes exist - the bosses and workers - these classes will have divergent interests; the rich to maintain their wealth and power and the rest who want to get some of that riches. Without the incentive to maximise profit and hence put one over on others we can combine to take decisions in a disinterested and unselfish fashion. The anarchist goal is to abolish the division of society into classes. Sharing the wealth of society equally is central to towards achieving this.

James O'Brian

* Apart from keeping the lawyers above the breadline; the minimum a barrister at the Flood Tribunal earns is 1500 euro per day.

See also

Corruption in Irish politics
A look at the known and unknown corruption scandals of politics in Ireland

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This edition is No73 published in November 2002

WS 73 front cover