Address

by Tommy McKearney

Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Movement
James Connolly Commemoration, Arbour Hill Cemetery, 12 May 2019


At 4 a.m. on the morning of the 12th of May 1916, as dawn was breaking over Dublin, James Connolly was propped against a wall in Kilmainham Gaol, after having first been declared “fit for punishment” by a British army doctor, and shot to death by a British army firing squad. One hundred and three years years later we celebrate his achievements and draw inspiration from his legacy.
     There are many among us who can clearly identify the ills within society but are too timorous or more calculating to highlight them. This, alas, has ever been the case.
     Too often there are those among us who recognising these problems and perhaps do indeed expose them but are reluctant to act upon their own analysis. Not a new phenomenon by any means.
     There are, unfortunately, also those eager to take action but who are bereft of any rational thought, never mind a concrete analysis, and invariably do more harm that good.
     And then, comrades, we consider the qualities of the hero we have gathered here today to celebrate. The greatness of James Connolly lay in the fact that he rose above all of these failings.
     He was an intellectual but never an elitist. He was a brilliant scholar from, and who remained among, the working class, a man with the ability to understand what was happening and to take the correct decision at the right time. Moreover, heroically, he always displayed a courageous willingness to act upon his analysis even when this involved personal sacrifice and ultimately the loss of his life, a life that continues to inspire us still.
     Connolly was a patriot, an Irish Republican, but above all he was a Marxist, a scientific socialist and an internationalist.
     The greatest tribute we pay him is not to mourn him or to lament for him or indeed to recount his feats—great though they were—but to apply his methodology and his teaching to our analysis of the present and from that to ensure that this acts as a guide, to enlighten and inspire our practice and action, committed throughout his political life to the concept of a concrete analysis of the concrete situation. We should use Connolly’s yardstick to review and analyse the currently prevailing mode of production and wealth generation.
     Capitalism is not just vicious, brutal, and unjust: it is now a threat to the survival of humanity. Marxists have long recognised that whenever a social system has outlived its useful and productive phase it must give way to a more progressive entity. Capitalism has clearly now reached this stage and phase, and, as a consequence, is perhaps more dangerously lethal than ever.
     Neo-liberalism is not an aberration in the capitalist order: on the contrary—and this is something we must point out to our reformist and social-democratic friends—it is capitalism’s default position. Do not be misled: the years of compromise with social democracy following World War II were actually the exception to the norm. The contemporary manifestation of capitalism has not only produced unprecedented and growing inequality and human misery but has failed to address the needs of a majority of people. Homelessness and hunger are found throughout even those countries considered to be among the wealthiest on this globe.
     40 million people receiving food stamps in the United States, the epicentre and paragon of free-market capitalism. Homelessness in the United Kingdom is increasing. The number of people sleeping rough has increased 165 per cent since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. We need hardly remind this gathering of this blighted state with its 10,000 homeless and a food bank in every town.
     And let us not forget that these so-called First World countries benefit enormously from the gross exploitation of poorer Third World countries where the predatory practices of capitalism cause further and deeper immiseration.
     All the while, human society is in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the earth’s natural life-support systems.
     The world’s leading scientists recently announced the results of the most thorough planetary health check ever undertaken. Robert Watson, the chair of the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, said: “The health of the ecosystems on which we and other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. We have lost time. We must act now.”
     The insane drive for continuous, never-ending growth in order to satisfy the greed by a privileged and powerful few for profit lies at the heart of this problem. Only in a planned, managed and people-centred economy will this lemming-like rush to extinction be stopped. There is an imperative that capitalism be definitively overthrown, because socialism alone can and will provide the communalisation of society to deliver us from disaster and in the not distant future.
     And against this frightening backdrop we have to remind ourselves of something of which Connolly was acutely aware: that a key component facilitating destructive and rapacious capitalism is imperialism.
     The matrix within which contemporary capitalism exists and operates is global imperialism. Disguised through the blatant falsehood of promoting democracy or bringing freedom to the oppressed, imperialism is in reality the brutal use of military power to protect and defend the elite practitioners of free-marketism, to ensure that the superpowers have uninterrupted access to the earth’s natural resources, and to undermine and attack those who challenge, either materially or by example, their superiority.
     When the imperialist United States conspires to undermine the democratically elected government of Venezuela, it does so not because it fears President Maduro but because it fears the example created by the Bolivarian Republic’s redistribution of wealth.
     Tariffs on Chinese exports are designed not to help hard-pressed workers in the US rust belt but are specifically designed to interrupt the economic development of a challenger to US hegemony.
     When hawks in Washington place sanctions on Iran they do not believe for a moment that Tehran plans to use nuclear weapons. They are conniving to ensure the survival and triumph of their colonial outposts in the barbaric kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the apartheid sate of Israeli.
     And, by the way, the reach of imperialism stretches beyond pure military might. The craven capitulation of RTE in sending a performer to participate in next week’s Eurovision Song contest is a small but powerful example of the Irish state’s collaboration in the global imperialist system. Imperialism is a complex system with a rigid pecking order and one in which the European Union plays a supporting global role and hence its leaders’ determination to create a European Union army.
     Nevertheless, let us return and and once again draw inspiration from James Connolly and never hesitate to contest the ground with the oppressor.
     In spite of its enormous wealth and frighteningly huge and destructive military capacity, imperialism and the free-market neo-liberal capitalist system that it maintains is unsure about its hold on the present and its ability to survive into the future. By definition, the masters of capitalism and the imperialist overlords are a tiny minority among the people of the earth. In the words of the poet Shelley, we are many, they are few.
     Social antagonisms have intensified in Western industrial countries as a consequence of a capitalism in crisis with a simultaneous declining rate of profit. Capitalism is compensating for this by putting pressure on wages, creating precarious employment, and causing the destruction of public infrastructure and services, all of which is inflicting punishment on the working class. It is quite obvious that there is growing discontent with the system that perpetrates such injustices on so many and that simultaneously working people are looking anxiously for a viable alternative to the current status quo.
     As is so often the case, capitalism resorts to a well-practised routine of promoting division and dissent among working people. It attempts to focus discontent on whatever hapless minority is conveniently available, and promotes the far-right gangs. However, comrades, make no mistake, this is not a natural tendency within the working class but it is instead an evil cultivated by sinister elements within the ruling class.
     After all, Nigel Farage is a wealthy stockbroker; the Allianz für Deutschland is led by well-off academics; Steve Bannon is establishing a college in Italy in order to teach his brand of poisonous politics, and doing so with financial support from reactionary clerics and wealthy business people; in Spain the Vox party, which is a direct successor to Franco’s Falange, is drawing its funding from the powerful and the wealthy.
     Let us, however, look calmly at what is happening. Capitalism is facing a crisis. The inevitable inequality and hardship produced by that system, with its detrimental impact on the well-being of the majority of humanity, is creating widespread antagonism and opposition. This is why we now see a nervous, crisis-ridden capitalism promoting the far right.
     While we must not ignore the threat or under-estimate the danger, we should also recognise that our enemy is in difficulty. We must continue to build our own strength, not only to counteract the right but to take definitive advantage from his predicament.
     We must not be pessimistic, because there is genuine ground for optimism. There is a growing movement internationally among the young to resist the destruction of the ecology. In France on May Day the Gilets Jaunes marched with left-wing trade unions is opposition to Macron’s assault on workers’ rights. We have seen in the recent past how here in Ireland a mass movement of the working class with solid support from progressive trade unionists resisted the imposition of water taxes. No, indeed, we need never surrender to despair.
     Yet while we analyse and examine the situation in Ireland against a global backdrop we must not lose sight of the fact that, just as James Connolly fought his greatest and most intense and glorious struggles in Ireland, we too must bear in mind that, pragmatically, our work and challenges are here on this island.
     We have a 26-county state in which there is, scandalously, a homelessness crisis, a discriminatory two-tier health system, widespread precarious employment. Care for the young and elderly is inadequate, and charitable organisations provide food for the needy. And, in spite of a crying need for state intervention, the governing coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil still persist with their implementation of a ruthless policy of privatisation.
     Housing, health, provision for the elderly and the young, hospital-building, broadband provision, motorway tolling—all handed over to the private sector so that wealthy individuals may become richer while delivering poor and flawed services where quality and scale of provision is guided by a bottom line. And that bottom line is, as always in the private sector, to ensure that the project is profitable for its management and shareholders, rather than beneficial for those in need of the service.
     Bear in mind that this is not a uniquely Irish phenomena. Those implementing these practices are doing so within the context of their benefiting by adhering to and their support for free-market capitalism enforced through global imperialism. This is a system were rules are ultimately set out by superpowers who exercise their influence over decision-making. We speak of Britain and the European Union backed by imperialism’s head office in Washington.
     What is perhaps uniquely Irish is the extent of self-congratulatory hypocrisy performed by the ruling class. Last week in this very cemetery in Arbour Hill, at a ceremony to commemorate the patriots buried here, the Taoiseach and members of his cabinet, leaders of the Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour parties assembled to pay tribute. During the ceremony the Roman Catholic Bishop of Ossory, Dermot Farrell, spoke the following words: “Announcing salvation through private enterprise does not sit easily with a republic that guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all citizens . . .”
     Whatever reservations we may have about Bishop Farrell or his church, it’s difficult to dissent from the sentiment and his questioning of private enterprise. What is remarkable, though, is the brass-neck effrontery of those who listened in smug, complacent silence, and doing so without the slightest commitment to changing the practice.
     By the way, could I just take this opportunity to congratulate our young comrades in the Connolly Youth Movement who did not allow many of the same charlatans to sit in smug complacency and deliver their toxic neo-liberal message recently in Cork.
     Let us emphasise, however, that, in spite these references to the 26-county state, we are not partitionist. We do not confine our efforts and activities to one jurisdiction on this island. There are two failed political entities on both sides of the border.
     Allow me to briefly illustrate the extent of the North’s failure as a viable society, never mind as a political entity.
     20,000 people are on the official homelessness list. Along with those sleeping rough on the streets, the Housing Executive also considers people living in temporary accommodation to be homeless. For example, this includes individuals staying in the houses of friends or family, in B&Bs, in hostels, and in unsuitable or overcrowded conditions. Undoubtedly this statistic allows Simon Coveney TD to empathise with Karen Bradley when they meet in Belfast.
     28 per cent of workers in Northern Ireland earn less than the real living wage.
     The six-county political entity has become an obsolete aberration. The British ruling class and its deep state no longer view Northern Ireland as a vital strategic asset, nor are they willing to make an exception for the place as they implement the Thatcherite economic transformation, or societal destruction, from the old forms of industrialisation towards London-centric financialisation.
     In the ruthless, unsentimental world of neo-liberal economics and superpower imperialism, the North has become surplus to requirements for the British ruling class. They now view the North as little more than an occasional embarrassment, to be transferred some day into the keeping of the Republic, on condition that the new state falls obediently into line with the dictates of finance-driven imperialism. James Connolly once wrote that partition would lead to a carnival of reaction. The removal of partition under capitalist conditions would simply maintain that unlovely carnival ad infinitum.
     Over a century ago Connolly raised the demand for a workers’ republic in Ireland. This remains the objective, if only because there is no other viable option for a sustainable future on this island or for the people of this country to play their part in progressing civilisation and humanity.
     We are entering a period when the constitutional future of this island is again under intense and meaningful discussion. There is a widespread expectation that partition is no longer sustainable into the foreseeable future. At the same time we are now hearing about a united Ireland as distinct from an independent sovereign republic.
     Let us be very clear. As socialist republicans we recognise the objective value of uniting this island politically, but we must remain clear that this is but one step along the road, and that the process must not be allowed to stop at that stage. Bear in mind what Connolly once said, that “ruling by fooling is a great British art, with great Irish fools to practise on.” It would be a travesty and a tragedy if we were to fall into the trap of settling again for what would in effect amount to dominion status—regardless of whether it would be governed from London, Brussels, or Washington.
     In this light, we do well to reflect on words spoken by Connolly when he said, “The Irish Republic must be made a word to conjure with—a rallying point for the disaffected, a haven for the oppressed, a point of departure for the socialist, enthusiastic in the cause of human freedom.”
     Socialism faces many obstacles and powerful enemies. Those with enormous wealth and the power that goes with it are never willing to surrender their position voluntarily. They have endeavoured to oppose socialism through their manipulation of the economies, their control over employment, to manipulate the media, or ultimately by their influence and control of the military and other organs of coercion.
     Yet in spite of this, one word that socialists never use or even accept is the word “defeat.” Setbacks, reversals, disappointments are there in plenty; yet socialists know that ultimately the future is with those who create the wealth, and that historical inevitability is more than just a cliché. The Irish working class remains as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland; and as we stand at the graveside of the man who first spoke those words we commit ourselves to continue always until victory.
     James Connolly once said, “We only want the earth,” and let us say today that we intend to have it.
     James Connolly, your bones may lie in Arbour Hill but your spirit is among us still, inspiring us still to finish the work you gallantly maintained throughout your lifetime and for which you give your life in the stonebreakers’ yard on that May morning 103 years ago.
     James Connolly, we salute you.

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