July 2016        

James Connolly commemoration

Speech by John Douglas (general secretary, Mandate), Arbour Hill, Dublin, 15 May 2016

On the 12th of May 1916 James Connolly was executed in the stonebreakers’ yard in Kilmainham Jail, Dublin.
     In his writing, Connolly sets out clearly his vision of a socialist republic—no narrow nationalist but a visionary socialist who understood the coercive nature of imperialism, not only in Ireland but globally.
     Connolly condemned the rape of nations, the enslavement of peoples, and the plunder of their natural resources.
     He knew that a socialist revolution was only possible by the defeat of imperialist power, hence he fully supported the struggle for Irish freedom in the same context as the struggle for the freedom of labour. The struggle was a socialist struggle against a global system of exploitation; Ireland was but one battle in a war, but if Ireland could be successful in creating a socialist republic he knew it would be a beacon for other nations to rise against the system.
     Unfortunately, his execution robbed us of one of our greatest socialist thinkers. Although his ideas were to live on in many, some of whom would go on to fight fascism in Spain, his execution robbed us of the revolution; instead what followed was a territorial rebellion.
     The socialist republic for which Connolly died was never to be. It was strangled soon after birth by a narrow nationalism and conservatism propagated by Capital and Rome. As Connolly predicted, hoisting the Green Flag over Dublin Castle itself was insufficient to achieve economic and social freedom.
     One hundred years on, the vision of Connolly is as far away today as it was then: our island is still unfree; and I am not referring to narrow territorial freedom but rather the freedom to organise our economy and our society. The Ireland of today is dictated to by foreign capital, the voice of global capital is louder and stronger than ever before, the imperialism of international finance capital dictates every facet of our economy and society. It renders our democratically elected governments powerless on the organisation of our society.
     Our governments are often unwilling but more times unable to make independent decisions in the best interests of their own citizens, as was and is still demonstrated in the recent economic crash which hit Europe.
     The people of Ireland were sacrificed at the altar of global capital. The financial system was rescued while the people were left to drown. Our constitution was ignored and our democracy violated.
     I listen now with dismay as our newly elected Government here in the Republic sends forth economic evangelists to the UK to sway the people to vote to stay in Europe, a Europe which in our crisis played such a detrimental and corrosive role against the Irish people; a Europe which has long given up any pretence of a social agenda, a Europe which decided that all financial institutions were too big to fail, regardless of the human cost, a Europe that has no soul, hollowed out by decades of neo-liberal policies.
     Whatever about the nature of the debate in the UK, and truthfully there are many aspects of the debate on both sides that are distasteful and many of the protagonists we as socialists hold in utter contempt and despise, but at least they are having a critical debate about the UK’s relationship with Europe, something our own Government and the mainstream media have refused to do, fearing letting the genie out of the bottle, I believe.
     Connolly would have analysed Europe and its actions in our recent past in Ireland and in Greece, Spain etc. and concluded that Europe is a capitalist construction intent on protecting capital at the expense of labour. He would have concluded that Europe is anti-working class and as such perpetuates poverty and inequality.
—Last night in Dublin alone 1,500 children slept in hostels and hotels for want of a home.
—Countless families on a daily basis fear eviction from their homes, in many cases their home loans sold to vulture funds.
—The Republic of Ireland is one of the most unequal countries in Europe; we are second only to the US in terms of the proportion of low-paid jobs in our economy.
—Where CEOs of large corporations believe it’s acceptable to slash low-paid workers’ wages while paying themselves millions in salary and bonuses.
—Where the owner of Clery’s store in Dublin—vulture developers—create and sell a company for £1 to a London liquidation firm and dump four hundred workers onto the streets, where the taxpayer picks up the bill for redundancy and wages due while they retain the valuable property.
—The rich and infamous and large corporations can steal a nation’s social wage, which is so much needed to build schools and hospitals by paying no tax via a web of international tax havens, while water protesters are jailed for protesting in their communities against our natural resources being plundered and privatised.
     Shame on you all, and all those who act as cheerleaders for this disgusting behaviour!
     But all is not lost. The vision of Connolly lives on. It was expressed during the water movement and the Right2Change movement in the Republic of Ireland, combining, as Connolly would have, communities, labour unions and progressive political parties to mobilise and fight back, to defend our natural resources, to give expression and a voice to those who have been shut out and marginalised.
     It was about much more than water: it was about citizens finding their voice, their power, and standing up against economic bullies, vulture funds, and big business. It empowered local communities, it was organic, it was and is a real social movement, and it shook the Irish political class to its very foundations.
     It was about universal health care, education, housing, equality, justice, and fairness. It was about Connolly’s vision for Ireland—a vision long lost in the minds of many. For the first time in decades people had a vision that a different economic, social and political construct was and is possible.
     We owe it to Connolly that his vision is not once again strangled by powerful self-interests groups.
     There is real hope for change. We must nurture and develop that hope into an organisation and a force. The last election was a beginning; let us march on.
     “Our demands most moderate are: we only want the earth.”

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