Socialist and capitalist agree on government failure

A socialist politician and a proponent of free markets came together on Saturday 17 April to agree on one thing; the failure of the government's economic policies. Joe Higgins, the Socialist MEP for Dublin, and Dr. Constantin Gurdgiev, a finance expert and lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, are situated at opposite sides of the political spectrum but both agreed that decision making at the highest level of government has been deeply flawed.

(Pictured: Constantin Gurdgiev speaking at Wynn's Hotel)

Gurdgiev and Higgins were speaking at a debate entitled 'Is there an alternative to the cuts?' which was attended by approximately 150 people and took place in Wynn's Hotel in Dublin city centre. It was held as part of the Socialism 2010 series of talks which took place on Friday evening and throughout Saturday.

Higgins and Gurdgiev jointly criticised the implementation of NAMA and the role of the media throughout the boom, and neither had kind words to say about the Irish political system. However, they disagreed fundamentally on how the crisis should be managed, particularly in relation to the public sector cuts.

In a speech filled with his trademark fiery rhetoric, Higgins attacked the political and economic culture that had built up over the previous decade and criticised the public sector cuts. "The policy of cuts will only exacerbate the economic crisis," said Higgins. "Workers did not cause this crisis and workers must not pay for it." He said Irish capitalism was trying to "crawl its way out of the abyss...on the backs of the working class". 

"We must break the power of markets...through democratic control of the banks," said Higgins. He also called on workers to link up internationally. Indeed, Higgins told Politico that negotiations with other groups on the left regarding the "possibility of a left slate in the next general election" were ongoing.

In an equally passionate speech, Gurdgiev criticised the state's management of the economy as a form of "crony capitalism". "The state obliges its own clients all the time," said Gurdgiev. "That is why we are in this crisis." However, he said the "golden circle" of clients includes "our hospital consultants and our failed regulators...who are public sector workers". "Crony capitalism goes deeply in the structure of this country," he said. "It is underpinned by social partnership, not the markets."

He said cuts to the public sector were absolutely necessary given the scale of Ireland's economic crisis. Gurdgiev was highly critical of the public sector as a whole and said "the scam called the National Pension Reserve Fund" was a "pot of gold for the public sector". 

(Pictured: Joe Higgins at Wynn's Hotel)

Gurdgiev said the market was not at fault for the crisis; it was the government's failure to allow Ireland's markets to function properly. He called Ireland's markets a "fixed clique of self interest". He said between "20 and 33 per cent" of Ireland's crisis was attributable to the global economic downturn, while the rest was "our own doing".

The audience were given the chance to respond to Higgins and Gurdgiev. One public sector worker said to Gurdgiev that further cuts to her €480 a week wage would make it difficult to survive, while another criticised Gurdgiev's focus on the economy over society. Several of the speakers from the floor were members of the Socialist Party and one quipped that Gurdgiev had "no friends here". However, Fiona O'Loughlin, who chaired the discussion, thanked Gurdgiev for agreeing to speak at the debate and praised him for his "honesty" in relation to his opinions.

While there were fundamental ideological difference between the two speakers, there was nonetheless a strong level of agreement regarding the failure of government and, indeed, parliamentary politics as a whole. After the discussion, Gurdgiev told Politico that Irish politics is facing "very serious challenges". "We don't have a big enough turnover of political elites," he said. "What is failing us is our electoral system which is based on very local and narrow interests. We have virtually no representation on national interests."

Higgins, meanwhile, said that change would not happen through parliamentary politics and what was needed was a banding together of workers internationally. "A new mass party of the left will be created, not by small groups uniting, but when...working people and the youth begin to move into political action," said Higgins. "It's on that basis that new mass forces will be created to challenge the dominance of the right."

Photos by Claire Duggan

Further information on Dr. Constantin Gurdgiev's views can be found on his blog here, Joe Higgins' website can be accessed here.