25th National Congress of the Communist Party of Ireland,
Belfast, November 2017


Opening speech by Eugene McCartan, general secretary



Comrades,
     First of all I would like to thank all of you who have made the effort to take part in this, our 25th Congress. To those who have travelled long distances: well done, and thank you for coming. A big thank you to all the comrades in the branches of our party who took part in pre-congress discussions and debates.
     It has never been easy being an active communist in Ireland. A CPI membership card is a heavy load to carry and wins you few friends.
     It is testimony to your commitment to the cause of the Irish working class and to the international working-class struggle that you are here today.

Comrades,
     Ten day ago millions of working people across the world celebrated the centenary of the first successful anti-imperialist revolution, that took place in Russia in October 1917, opening up the path to socialist transformation. The Russian Revolution dealt a heavy blow to the forces of imperialism. Before October 1917 the world was dominated by global empires; imperialism had become the dominant economic, political, social and cultural system.
     Monopoly capitalism had spread across the globe, dominating all weaker existing economic systems. Commodity production smashed down historical barriers, reshaping the world, making it subservient to the strategic needs and interests of imperialism. Billions of humanity lived under colonial domination, exploitation, and oppression.
     After October 1917 the oppressed and exploited masses saw the possibility of a new horizon. The Russian Revolution inspired millions into renewed struggle for freedom, to fight for a future free from domination and exploitation, to fight for a new society, one of freedom and justice.
     Yes, we can talk of a world before October’s victory of the anti-imperialist revolution, a world of domination and oppression by imperialism, to a world post-October: the emergence of a new world power—working-class state power—laying the foundations for a new world and a new world balance of forces.
     The October Revolution created a significant change in the global balance of forces. We need also to understand the central role of women in the successful victory of the Russian Revolution, and how that also shifted the balance towards equalising the economic, political, social and cultural power relationship between men and women, not just in Russia but in many other countries—just as we are now witnessing the impact of the victory of the counter-revolution in the Soviet Union, which equally has changed the global balance of forces, but this time not in favour of the working class and the exploited masses but, temporarily, in favour of imperialism.
     The working class and peasants of Russia became the vanguard of the oppressed across the world. In the metropolitan capitalist states the ruling-class forces were pushed back, forced to give back to workers a greater share of the wealth created by the workers themselves. The threat of the example of working people taking full control and ownership and running the means of production without bosses or private owners shook the system deeply.
     We need to keep to the fore of our political strategy that this is our primary and ultimate goal: what we are fighting for is the control and ownership of the means of production, the means of sustaining life. Their state will concede to us health services, education and other public services to the extent of our capacity to win these concessions through our own organised strength, public services funded from wealth already created by workers but not owned by workers. They will never cede the central factor—of ownership of the means of production, the means to sustain life—to the working class.
     The state-monopoly capitalist system, imperialism, at both the national and the international level, continues to experience a deepening economic crisis. Since the near-total meltdown of the financial system in 2008–10 the political representatives of monopoly capitalism and their states have pumped billions of workers’ euros and dollars into propping up failing and collapsing finance capital.
     The debt burden globally placed upon the people continues to grow. Here in Ireland the working people in the 26 Counties have had a massive 42 per cent of European banking debt imposed upon them by the European Union, with the collusion of a weak and servile comprador Irish ruling class—a banking debt that is not the people’s debt but rather is a result of massive borrowing and speculation by Irish financial institutions, both nationally and globally.
     They borrowed short-term and loaned long-term to the “Golden Circle.” The Irish people have been placed in long-term debt servitude and decades of austerity. Irish workers were sacrificed in order to save the euro, to save the German and French banking systems.
     The Irish ruling class, through the use of state power, are forcing working people to pay almost as much in servicing this odious debt as what we get back from the state—of our own money—what the state spends on the health system. We witness the working out of this debt crisis and debt servitude in the deepening housing crisis impacting upon tens of thousands of our people on a daily basis: the homeless sheltering in doorways, people lying on trolleys in hospital corridors, and increasing numbers dying in those same hospital corridors.
     This is not confined to workers in the South but increasingly workers here in the Six Counties are experience a growing crisis in the NHS, but equally cuts in education, cuts to a whole range of social services that working people rely upon.
     The Irish state has reshaped and continues to reshape the economy to meet the needs of transnational capital, a strategy equally followed by the British state and imposed through the Belfast Executive upon the people in this part of our country. Both the Irish and British states are imposing and instituting a regime of precarious employment, zero-hour contracts, minimum working standards, with workers losing rights already won or unable to secure rights that they are entitled to.
     This is now coupled with precarious shelter, with spiralling rents, evictions and property prices reaching pre-crisis levels: a rich feeding-ground for global vulture capital funds. Life itself has become more difficult, with precarious conditions for the older generations. Growing numbers of workers now need two jobs just to make ends meet.
     While the growing crisis of the system has impacted on all workers, women in particular are unequally impacted by these harsh economic realities of contemporary monopoly capitalism.
     Today our world is more divided and more unequal than ever in human history. Billions of people live in dire poverty while a small clique live opulent life styles. Today 71 per cent of the world own 3 per cent of global wealth, while only 8 per cent of the global population own 85 per cent of global wealth. As the recent report by Oxfam on global inequality points out, just eight men own as much wealth as 3.6 billion of the poorest people on our planet, the majority of whom are women and children.
     Imperialism today is pushing our planet to the edge of an environmental abyss. We have developed the scientific and technological know-how to feed, clothe and give shelter to all of humanity; but because capitalism uses technology and science solely for the pursuit of massive profits, its benefits will never be employed in the interests and to the benefit of the people or the environment. The relations of production have now become a barrier and a fetter on the use of the fruits of the scientific and technological revolution to solve the systemic problems of the people.
     The institutions established under the Belfast Agreement continue to stumble from one crisis to the next, institutions which have contributed to the sharpening of sectarian divisions among the people. These division have allowed the British state to present itself as being a benign force, as a mediator between the local warring tribes. But we know from history and experience that imperialism is never neutral; imperialism is not nor can it ever be a benign force. Nor does it have permanent friends: rather experience has shown that it has only strategic interests, to be protected and advanced.
     So the British are not neutral. They have a strategic view in relation to the control over the future direction of all the people of Ireland, north and south. Their strategic interests are not confined to the Six Counties.
     Our people are caught in a triple lock of imperialist interests, those of the European Union, the United States, and Britain.
     In this context I think we can understand the ongoing phoney war of words between the European Union and Britain over Brexit. Elements of the British state and the EU are attempting to use the question of a “hard” or “soft” border in Ireland to create sufficient political pressure, leverage and momentum to ensure that Britain itself remains within the single market and the customs union.
     It will be the interests of the European Union and the British state that will decide where the British state and the EU connect. They are using the question of a “hard” or “soft” border in Ireland as the pretext to manoeuvre. The Irish establishment can pretend they are somehow players in this current chess game, as their economic and political interests are dependent upon their ongoing relationship with imperialism.
     Brexit was and is an important step in the current struggle against the European Union and the forces that are constructing this super-imperialist structure, a structure that is to protect and advance the interests of state-monopoly capitalism. Everything else is window-dressing, bright tinsel to fool the gullible.
     The peoples of Europe have been and are being subjected to a massive psychological war game, a war waged to ensure that no other country, state or people will follow the example of Britain. The ruling-class forces across the European Union have invested too much time and resources to allow their strategic project to unravel.
     We need, as a working-class party, to continue to present the case for withdrawal from the EU—in particular, as a first step, withdrawing from the euro—in class terms. For us, the demand for national sovereignty and national democracy is class-based, from anti-imperialist understanding, and not from some narrow nationalistic position.
     We understand that national sovereignty and democracy are the tools required for our class; they are the necessary tools required to take state power. Nothing is above class, but everything human is the product of class relations and is reflective of the interests of the dominant class.
     We can see how forces that once opposed the European Union and deeper integration in the EU have now succumbed to the siren call, into the swamp of bourgeois parliamentarianism. Their nationalist limitations lie exposed, as is their shallow understanding of imperialism and their anti-imperialism.
     We need to deepen our knowledge of the system, the economic and political relationship and dependence of the ruling forces in Ireland, in order to develop our strategic transformative approach, in how we move beyond or transcend the limitations imposed upon our people and in particular our class by the forces of imperialism and the current imposed “settlement.”
     Our goal remains a united Ireland, centred upon the needs and interests of the Irish working class. The partitionist settlement of nearly a century ago has not served the interests of the working class. Partition has nurtured and sustained sectarian divisions. The two political institutions established by partition, under pressure from the British, have failed our class.

Comrades,
     We assembled at our 24th Congress under the slogan “Build the people’s resistance, build the people’s alternative.” If we look around us today, how right our understanding was! We have witnessed—and, more importantly, we have been active fighters and mobilisers in—the campaign around water, which saw hundreds of thousands of working people take to the streets across the country under the banner of Right2Water. We have seen our class grow in confidence and in resistance, seeing working people, in particular women, standing up to and challenging the Garda, the repressive arm of the state.
     We have also seen a significant growth in political consciousness, which is reflected in the growth of the parliamentary left and the defeat of Irish labourism.
     What is Right2Change but the first tentative step to building a people’s alternative politics.

Comrades,
     
     Our revolutionary working-class party has made advances since our 24th Congress. As we look around we see new faces; young activists have joined our ranks, helping to shape and grow our party, young comrades who will contribute a new chapter in the history of our anti-imperialist party. At all levels, young comrades are coming forward to take responsibility.
     We have seen our influence grow among the more class-conscious workers’ and trade-union activists.
     When we raised the slogan that “austerity is working,” much of the left thought we were completely wrong. Yet at the recent Right2Change conference speakers spoke of how austerity worked as it was designed to do, that was to transfer wealth upwards to the ruling class and outwards to global finance capital. As we said in 2009–10, that was the reason for it.
     It is the same regarding the housing crisis. The state’s strategy is working: it is about the intensification of exploitation and making bloated profits for local landlords and global capital institutions.
     When we put forward the demand for the establishment of a state bank and to allow the private corporate banks to go to the wall, it was a demand to protect the people’s interests. What happened? The state and the Irish ruling class took ownership of the busted private banks. This was to protect their (the ruling class’s) interests, not those of the people.
     Our party here in the North of our country has played a key role in the resistance to water charges, have been to the fore in combating sectarianism and division. Where workers have been in struggle, our party has made every effort to develop solidarity and support.

Comrades,
     Having stood firm and taken a clear, principled, working-class position, growing numbers of people have come to see and appreciate the role of our party and of communists today in our country.
     We are stronger now than at our 24th Congress. We have more activists involved. We have continued to deepen our class-based anti-imperialist strategy.
     That is what makes our party different. We are unashamedly pro-working class, a working-class anti-imperialist party.
     I will finish now, as this is your congress: it is you who will decide how we move forward. It is you who will sustain and build this anti-imperialist working-class party, to struggle, to educate and mobilise to bring our class to state power.

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