James Connolly Commemoration, Arbour Hill, Dublin

Address by Gearóid Ó Machail
13 May 2018


Ba mhaith liom ar dtús buíochas a gabháil leis an Pháirtí as an chuireadh a labhairt libh inniu faoi mo laoch Séamus Ó Conghaile san áit speisialta seo ina bhfuil sé ina luí leis a chomrádaithe.
     At 07:15 hours on the 12th of May 1916, Marxist theorist, socialist author, industrial union organiser, Citizen Army founder, Commandant-General of the Dublin Division of the Republican Army and Vice-President of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, Comrade James Connolly, was summarily executed by a British firing squad, just across the river, in the yard of Kilmainham Gaol.
      Born 150 years ago, on the 5th of June 1868, in the crowded Irish immigrant slum of Cowgate, to parents John Connolly and Mary McGinn from Áth an Lobhair in the impoverished townland of Coillidh Chuanach, Co. Mhuineacháin, James Connolly was unquestionably our greatest ever socialist theorist and practitioner.
     The Cowgate into which Connolly was born harboured thousands of Irish families living in single-roomed dwellings. Little Ireland’s abysmal living conditions forced a ten-year-old Connolly into the adult world of factory work in order to support his family. Indeed, so precarious were the economic conditions faced by the Connollys that a fourteen-year-old James, like so many others of his class, was eventually forced to seek economic security in the ranks of the King’s Liverpool Regiment.
     James Connolly’s formative years, therefore, brought him face to face with the cruel realities of grinding poverty, labour exploitation, and life in the imperial British military. Ironically, it was in the British army that Connolly most likely developed his national and social consciousness, as his regiment was heavily infiltrated at that time by the Fenian movement.
     But it was in Scotland that Connolly began to develop his class-consciousness, under the tutelage of John Leslie and his own older brother, also named John. Connolly’s subsequent path to legendary international Marxist icon is both well documented and well known among all present here today. For those less cognisant of that legacy, the Connolly exhibition erected in the O’Riordan-Redmond Room at Connolly House is a wonderful resource, and it was a delight yesterday to witness so many people come in off the street and access information on our foremost and most unapologetic ambassador for a 32-county socialist republic.
     Yes, we come to Arbour Hill to eulogise the father of Irish Marxism; yes, we come here every year to extol his words and deeds; and yes, we proudly pay homage to his selfless sacrifice and martyrdom. But foremost in our motivation for being here today, and for the organisation of an entire week of James Connolly Festival events, is to give practical and contemporary expression to Comrade Connolly’s teachings and to evaluate how his words and deeds might be adapted to the political and economic conditions of the twenty-first Century.
     We have recently witnessed in the historic year of 2016 the way in which the 26-county state can accommodate the remembrance and commemoration of the Irish revolutionary martyrs of 1916. Not alone can the Irish bourgeoisie laud the historic contributions of our revolutionaries, they even feel safe and secure enough to patronise their memory with the nomenclature of state and public buildings. But what use to us is a Connolly Station, a Connolly Hospital or even a Connolly House when the great man’s teachings are at best ignored and at worst defiled and debased in a state where the noble ideals of socialism, workers’ democracy, economic planning, redistribution and political and economic sovereignty are drowned out in a contemporary clamour of consumerism, individualism, identity politics, and deference to the neo-liberal and imperialist ideology of the European Union and their US associates.
     While the first Dáil Éireann give democratic and tangible expression to the honourable ideals of James Connolly and his republican allies, the counter-revolutionaries of the new Free State bourgeoisie recognised the threat posed by the Democratic Programme’s egalitarian and socialist principles and moved quickly to first marginalise and then eradicate the more progressive economic and social ideologies stirred by the Irish Revolution. James Connolly’s Marxism has always made him and continues to this day to make him an uncomfortable figure among the leaders of the 1916 Rising—now deemed safe for beatification by the modern bourgeoisie.
     In 2018, Ireland is still partially occupied by the British imperial state, and we are still struggling to free our legislature from the admittedly declining influence of the Catholic Church. With our sovereignty and independence subjugated by the triple lock of EU, US and British imperialism, levels of economic inequality and income disparity in Ireland are now returning to Edwardian-era proportions. Buoyed by their temporary success in turning the last financial crisis and the weakness of organised labour’s response into a golden opportunity to roll back the modest gains made by the working class in the last sixty-odd years, the capitalist robber barons have now unleashed a full frontal assault through the adoption of neo-liberal economic prescriptions. Profiteering landlordism, rack-renting, evictions, epidemic homelessness, economic insecurity, food banks, child poverty and malnutrition have all returned to haunt modern urban and rural Ireland. Worse, these odious by-products of capitalism have been greeted in many quarters with a blithe acceptance and the usual obfuscation from the mainstream media. In almost a hundred years of existence the Irish state has failed to provide a universal health-care system or comprehensive, secular state education for our people, funded by general taxation and free at the point of delivery—two cornerstones of basic provision in any republic worthy of the name. It’s tempting to ask, “What would Connolly have to say?” or “What would Connolly do today?” But these, comrades, are the wrong questions!
     James Connolly clearly understood the futility of attempting to duplicate historical blueprints for revolutionary action or of replicating the political techniques of past eras, divorced, as they are, from their specific historical context. In the 102 years since Connolly’s execution, Irish society, the global economy, technological progress and the very structure of capitalist enterprise have all changed beyond recognition. The British Empire that executed Connolly has been superseded by a new imperium of globalised finance and unrestrained markets.
     Connolly, in a phrase that was equally applicable to himself, told us: “The greatness of Wolfe Tone lay in the fact that he imitated nobody.”
     Connolly’s task, as ours is today, was to apply and test his Marxist theory against the material conditions faced by the working class in his own lifetime.
     Our task in 2018, comrades, is to set about the formidable task of the “Reconquest of 21st-century Ireland.” It’s the same task faced by Connolly in a new set of historical conditions. The end goal is the same, however: we need to apply our Marxist analysis to achieve a programme and strategy for replacing capitalism—not a programme for alleviating the worst aspects of capitalism and imperialism but a programme that recognises that capitalism has unsolvable contradictions in-built in its DNA. Revolution, comrades, is a cultural, political and economic struggle for superior ideas.
     None of us are naïve about the difficulties we face in reorienting the struggles of the working class into a cohesive and ideologically driven challenge to the capitalist state. Those struggles are happening every day, all around us, and we as communists must be to the fore in the people’s struggles, both defensive and offensive. The role and the contribution of the Party in this period is vitally important, laying new groundwork for contact and communication with the working class and the popular masses.
     The strengthening of monopoly capital is bound to bring a further sharpening of the contradiction between capital and salaried labour and, thus, a sharpening of all social contradictions. These are contradictions that arise from the built-in reproductive cycle of capitalism: co-existing extreme opulence and mass poverty, surplus and want, economic growth and wage restraint, full employment and in-work poverty. These are not blips, mistakes, the product of corruption, or bad policy: they are as much a by-product of capitalism as the ecological destruction of our planet and obliteration of our natural resources.
     Working people need to understand the interconnected relations between the state, establishment political parties, and the powerful economic forces that control their lives. Workers need to understand who really runs the government and whose interests it serves. That’s why we need to reinvigorate our education programme—to grow and develop our young political cadre that they may be enabled and empowered to lead working people in their everyday struggles.
     We communists must educate and agitate within the trade unions, together with the workers, so that they become organisers of the class struggle in their work-place, particularly young people who work without any rights and with very low salaries. We must empower women, encourage them to join the Party, and support their struggle for full emancipation, beginning with full bodily autonomy and the right to appropriate health care.
     The feminist Connolly tells us: “None so fitted to break the chains as they who wear them, none so well equipped to decide what is a fetter. In its march towards freedom, the working class of Ireland must cheer on the efforts of those women who, feeling on their souls and bodies the fetters of the ages, have arisen to strike them off, and cheer all the louder if in its hatred of thraldom and passion for freedom the women’s army forges ahead of the militant army of Labour.”
     Historically, women have been subjected to discriminatory laws in relation to employment, wages, family planning, and now medical access to abortion. This is a legacy of the alliance of a reactionary state—a state created by the victory of counter-revolutionary forces—with the moral authority of the Catholic Church. Women, who played such an important role in the revolutionary decade from 1913 to 1922, had to be driven back, repressed, and controlled—just as the state had to drive the working class and revolutionary forces back so as to cement its victory.
     On the 25th of May we will have the opportunity to repeal one of the main pieces of discriminatory legislation within the legal and constitutional system of this state. Safe and legal access to abortion is an absolute necessity.
     While the right of access to safe and secure abortion is an issue for all women, it is also one that tells the story of a class-divided society. As women make up the majority of low-paid workers, it is working women who mainly experience precarious employment and zero-hour contracts. For them to gather the necessary funds both for travel and to have a termination in Britain, and also to secure the necessary time to do so, has an inordinately discriminatory effect on working-class women.
     In the six counties there is also a growing campaign for a change in the law governing abortion. There is a spirit of co-operation between the campaigns in both parts of the country. Repealing the 8th Amendment is about democracy for women, for medical equality, for giving women a choice in what they need to do, what is in their best interests.
     Vótáil Tá ar an chúigiú lá is fiche! Ní saoirse go saoirse na mban!
     Looking forward, our transformative strategy has to be an evolving thought process and a way of evaluating political crises and formulating demands and struggles. The transformative strategy has to be related to the specific and current nature of capitalism in our time. Fundamental to this strategy is identifying the weak points of capitalism here in Ireland and putting forward demands that bring about long-term change through the mobilising of working people and in so doing affecting the balance of power between labour and capital in a direction favourable to labour. We must harness the energy of resistance. We must combine, unite and give leadership to disparate and seemingly unrelated political, social, cultural and economic points of struggle. We are not reformers, we are revolutionaries who provide strategic leadership to nascent but instinctive urges among our people to resist the barbaric outworkings of capitalism.
      Examples of how our transformative strategy plays out in a crisis situation are the mobilisation on water charges, where we have argued for a constitutional referendum to secure the future of publicly financed, publicly owned and publicly provided water, and the housing emergency, where we are arguing for the state to build public housing, universally available to all and related to the means to pay. Housing provision in Ireland must be transformed into a system where every citizen has a right to a decent, secure home, available for rent from the state, as part of the social contract between citizen and state.
     These homes could be designed, built and fitted out by a state-owned building company and the local authorities, reducing costs by up to a half and ensuring that homes are built to a decent, safe standard. This would help bring to an end the precarious nature of employment in the building industry and the widespread use of bogus self-employment.
     State-led public house-building would break the monopoly of the private sector on the building of houses and end the artificial shortages in available properties, as the private sector manipulates the supply of available properties in order for prices and rents to rise and in turn, of course, their profits, which is their only reason for building homes.
     What is different about the Campaign for Public Housing and previous public-housing developments is that homes are to be made universally available to all who choose to avail of them, as a right, regardless of income.
     These examples of our transformative strategy may well bring the state into conflict with the EU. The EU has built a neo-liberal constitutional framework around the functioning of capitalism within its member-states. Our strategy will bring the state and working people into conflict with that framework. But that’s grand. Building socialism, by definition, will bring us into conflict with the EU. It’s unavoidable. Let’s expose the nature of the EU and allow working people to see it for what it is.
     We will continue to work with left republicans and trade unionists in the Peadar O’Donnell Forum to analyse and dissect the class nature of imperialism’s grip on Ireland. James Connolly was keenly aware of the nature of imperialism and stressed the importance of broad working-class unity in resisting its insidious threat to our democracy, independence, and sovereignty. Connolly developed a number of innovative theoretical positions regarding the relationship between Marxism and anti-imperialism, positions heretical to both conventional forms of Irish nationalism and the form of socialism espoused by the Second International prevalent during his life time. He was among the first to combine the politics of anti-imperialist nationalism with international Marxism in the colonial arena. His fundamental teaching is that the struggle for national liberation is not opposed to the struggle for socialism but an integral and necessary part of it.
     The Irish state and the political establishment are currently using crises developed by the long-term planning of hawkish elements within the military-industrial nexus of the US to advance their strategy of aligning this state with NATO and the military strategy of the EU. Clearly what is needed is to end this obsequious and collaborationist approach of the Irish political establishment to both the EU and NATO.
      Shannon Airport should be closed to the US war machine. All co-ordination and involvement in EU military strategies, including the battle groups and PESCO, should be ended. Irish soldiers should be withdrawn from NATO Headquarters in the Hague and from NATO military engagements around the world. And Irish military neutrality should be enshrined in the Constitution.
     Ar aghaidh linn le chéile, a chomrádaithe. Níl uainn ach an domhan. Tá an chumhacht againn le hathrú a dhéanamh!
     We are the many; they are the few. We only want the earth! Comrade James Connolly devoted his life to bringing an end to imperialism and giving our class hope of a better world. He sacrificed his very existence on this earth to give our class hope of a socialist future. It was a full life, James, and well lived, comrade!

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