From Socialist Voice, June 2006

Ninetieth anniversary meetings a great success

As part of the celebration of the ninetieth anniversary of the 1916 Rising, this year the James Connolly Education Trust held a series of public meetings on the theme of this historic event.
    The series began with a talk by Manus O’Riordan, head of research with SIPTU, on “Connolly, the World War, and 1916.” The talk outlined the origins of the First World War, Connolly’s reaction to it and his understanding of the forces involved.
    The second talk was by Mícheál Mac Aonghusa under the title “A comradeship of principle: Connolly and Pearse.” This very interesting talk drew out the hidden and indeed deliberately obscured progressive ideas of Patrick Pearse. Mícheál drew attention to the radical and progressive positions adopted by Pearse on a whole range of issues, including the 1913 Lock-Out, teaching methods, the role of language, and poverty and social justice.
    The third talk in the series was given by Dr Ann Matthews on “Vanguard of the rebellion: The Irish Citizen Army, 1916.” She explored the development of the Citizen Army and its role in the Rising, drawing upon her years of research. The talk was particularly interesting in showing that the Citizen Army made up the bulk of those who took part in the Rising, and also showing the class tensions between some elements of the Irish Volunteers and the Citizen Army. Ann also revealed the attitude of both the national and the local press in describing the Rising as “communistic.”
    The series culminated in the “Ripples of Freedom” weekend of events on 12–14 May. On Friday 12 May, the exact anniversary of Connolly’s execution by British imperialist forces, the first James Connolly Memorial Lecture was given by the general secretary of the CPI, Eugene McCartan. He spoke about the influences that shaped the young Connolly during his early years in Edinburgh, the emergence of socialist parties and the burgeoning trade union movement, and the influences and experiences of the Irish community that Connolly grew up in. Connolly would have come into contact with the ideas of Karl Marx, the Communist Manifesto, Capital, and other important works by Marx and Engels. In addition, his uncle had been a Fenian, and he was no doubt aware that the International Working Men’s Association—the First International—led by Marx and Engels, was active in the campaign to free Fenian prisoners. The talk outlined the development of Connolly’s ideas from when he arrived in 1896 to begin his political career as a full-time working-class revolutionary, when he already had a developed understanding of the relationship between the struggles for national freedom and social justice.
    On Saturday 13 May the morning session was launched by the former Green Party MEP Patricia McKenna and Paul O’Connell, speaking on the theme “Socialism or barbarism: Can the world afford capitalism any more?” Both speakers pointed out the urgent need for action to be taken to prevent the destruction of the global eco-system by the untrammelled greed of transnational corporations. Paul showed how capitalism as a system is addicted to carbons, and that the growing scarcity of resources will have a major impact on consumerist capitalism.
    The second session explored the relationship between imperialism and war. Seán Edwards of the CPI and Frank Keoghan of the People’s Movement explored the present aggressive trends within imperialism and the threat this poses to people across the globe. Frank drew attention to the growing militarisation of the European Union and its new “battlefield groups.” Seán appealed for greater solidarity from progressive forces in Ireland with all those struggling for social justice and national freedom.
    In the afternoon, guest speakers from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of Britain, together with the Cuban ambassador to Ireland, spoke at a forum on the theme “The working class in the struggle for national liberation.” This led to a stimulating debate and showed the wide range of experience that the communist movement around the world has in this crucial contemporary political struggle. The representative from India, Avtar Sadiq, arrived in Ireland buoyed by the left’s stunning electoral victories in state elections in India a couple of days before. He spoke about the influence of the Irish freedom struggle on India’s struggle against a common enemy, British imperialism. He also described the role now being played by Indian communists in the struggle to defend India’s independence and its tactical critical support for the current Congress government.
    The Cuban ambassador to Ireland, Noel Carrillo Alfonso, outlined Cuba’s position and its evaluation of the progressive changes now taking place throughout Latin America and the recent agreement signed by Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia for closer economic and political co-operation.
    David Granville from Britain outlined the historical role (or lack of it) played by the British labour movement in the Irish freedom struggle. He pointed out that two of the most important workers’ leaders, John MacLean and Willie Gallacher, were in prison at the time of the 1916 Rising, having been charged with sedition. Gallacher came to Ireland during the Treaty negotiations and warned that a sell-out was taking place and proposed that the Irish delegation to the talks in London should be arrested as soon as they set foot on Irish soil. These opinions were dismissed because Gallacher was a communist.
    On Sunday an international commemoration took place at Arbour Hill Military Cemetery, where wreaths were laid by the international guests on the graves of the leaders of the 1916 Rising. Bill Ennis laid a wreath of red roses on James Connolly’s grave on behalf of the CPI, and the general secretary, Eugene McCartan, gave a short oration over the graves. The general secretary of the Connolly Youth Movement, Gareth Murphy, also laid flowers and spoke.
    The weekend of events finished on Sunday evening with a concert in the theatre of Liberty Hall, head office of SIPTU and formerly the headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army.
    The James Connolly Education Trust is now planning its autumn series, which will be launched with a talk on the theme “The anti-colonialism of Roger Casement and anti-imperialism today.”

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