From Socialist Voice, June 2007

Michael O’Riordan Tribute

On Sunday 20 May a commemoration event was held in Connolly House, Dublin, to honour the late Michael O’Riordan, former general secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland. The following is the text of the tribute by Seán Edwards.

I have known Mick literally all my life, as he and my parents, Frank and Bobbie Edwards, were very close. Frank and he were alike in character, though very different in manner. They had come through the same political school, from the IRA and the labour movement, reading about socialism, to the Republican Congress and then the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. They both saw support for the Spanish Republic as an expression of their Irish republicanism, and their communism as a natural development from both.
     When I joined the Irish Workers’ League I soon found it was known as “Mick O’Riordan’s party,” not because of any personality cult of Mick but because he was the only one of us who was well known, and because of the huge respect in which he was held, far beyond our ranks. Even after the reunification of the Communist Party it continued to be so called in the South. If people regarded him as a model of a communist, well, I have no quarrel with that.
     Mick never compromised in his internationalism, in his support for people struggling against colonial and neo-colonial oppression, from Kenya or Malaya in the fifties to Venezuela in 2002. He proudly stated that our party was always first off the mark in solidarity, with Viet Nam, with Cuba, and with South Africa. Solidarity with people building socialism in the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries was for him a part of the same internationalism. Is it not clear now that “actually existing socialism,” for all its faults and distortions, was something worth defending? Some comrades and friends may feel that Mick and the party interpreted this obligation of solidarity too rigidly. Maybe so, but basically it was correct, and we should never apologise for it.
     Mick took from Connolly the idea of the unity of the struggle of the working class and the national struggle and extended it internationally to the struggle against imperialism, whether in its old form of colonial rule or in the modern form of the global domination by transnational corporations. He resolutely opposed the European Common Market from the beginning, now the European Union, precisely because it is an imperialist entity, which is just as determined as the United States to enforce the exploitation of the world by monopoly capitalism. The imperative task of today, and part of Mick’s legacy to us, is to participate in the world anti-imperialist struggle and in particular to fight against the increasing co-option of the Irish state into the imperialist camp, politically and now militarily.
     It seems to some that the road Mick chose was an unnecessarily hard one, that he was too hard-line, that one might gain more by compromising with the capitalist system and seeking small gains, not sticking your neck out by proclaiming your support for the Soviet Union then or for Cuba now. Mick would have regarded these “moderate” positions as leading, sooner or later, into the imperialist camp, or at the very least giving comfort to our enemies. He saw the road he chose, the road of socialism, the road of revolution, the road of anti-imperialist solidarity, as the only road for humanity.
     His own personal comfort was not a consideration when he chose it, though he was no ascetic. Mankind faces the choice, now as in Rosa Luxemburg’s time, of “socialism or barbarism,” a barbarism now capable of destroying the planet.
     I have just been to the banks of the Ebro with Mick’s family, bringing his ashes to cast them into that mighty river. I was very glad that I allowed Manus to nag me into going. Touring the battlefield where such awful slaughter took place, I remembered Ostrovsky’s novel of the Russian Civil War, How the Steel Was Tempered, and thought that Mick O’Riordan’s character was forged there. Though, as my father said, nobody can come through such an awful experience unharmed, it is also from there that he got his determination, his loyalty, and his stubbornness.
     He faced bitter defeat at the Ebro, and again when the Red Flag came down from the Kremlin. In the name of the Communist Party he raised the Red Flag over these premises and proclaimed, “Our flag stays red.” Our flag does stay red, and will stay red.
     I don’t wish to portray Mick as the “great leader.” Though he was extraordinary, he was also an ordinary man, with ordinary faults and virtues. That is how we should remember him.

Home page  >  Publications  >  Socialist Voice  >  June 2007  >  Michael O’Riordan Tribute
Baile  >  Foilseacháin  >  Socialist Voice  >  Meitheamh 2007  >  Michael O’Riordan Tribute