Workers’ Party oration marking the 101st anniversary of the 1916 Rising
The Easter Rising 1916 was a truly momentous event in the annals of modern Irish history and we rightly celebrate it today. Indeed, it can be said of it that not only did it raise the proud banner of resistance to imperialism in that week of courageous collective struggle, but it sent out too, a message that still resonates to this very day; it was designed to strike a blow against both the designs of capitalists on the world stage as well as against the local versions of the same, and sought to do so by establishing an independent Socialist Republic on the island of Ireland.
It also, in its own way, prefigured the great October Revolution of the following year, when the Soviet Union was born out of the revolutionary struggle of the Bolshevik led working people. A revolution which, despite the setbacks of recent times, still represents the greatest ever blow against the capitalist-imperialism of its day, and which remains as one which significance and importance still resonates today, and from which we can still derive enormous inspiration and guidance.
It may now be some 101 years since Connolly led workers in that epic battle for rights and liberty, but the global imperialism and its local lieutenants that Connolly rightly identified back then as the clear and indisputable enemy of the Irish working class still remain so. He was among the first to recognise the true nature of that imperialism – that it was, as Lenin rightly argued so persuasively, ‘the highest stage of capitalism’– that which represented substantially more than the mere procession of territory; it meant too the extraction of profits and monopoly capitalism on a gigantic scale. To quote Lenin:
it was ‘the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by a handful of the richest or most powerful nations—‘.
And so it remains so in ways and forms that even Connolly, for all his genius and foresight could never, ever have fully foreseen. Today we face a new, more sinister, more devious and sophisticated forms of imperialism; ones that comes strongly from the United States of America and, even closer to home, from the European Union as well. For make no mistake Comrades, just like the imperialism that drove the ambitions of the so-called Great Powers and their capitalist paymasters in 1914-18, the EU and the USA are every bit the most dynamic form of that in the current age. They stand as central players in the on-going struggle for imperial dominance and control in the new and emerging economies of the world as well as in the so-called peripheral economies of Europe itself. In that context it is still worth bearing in mind what Connolly said as far back as 1897:
‘If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain.’
That is now what confronts us today, Comrades, both internationally as well as at home. Indeed even as I speak there are proxy wars being fought throughout the globe on behalf of the new ‘Great Powers’, as they seek to extend their military dominance in ways designed to deliver clear and decisive advantages for the forces of capitalism in its search for global dominance – particularly by the USA as it seeks once again to flex its muscles in the more direct ways possible. And while the European Union, ostensibly at any rate, may lack any significant military force to advance or defend its overall profit grabbing designs and purposes it nonetheless seeks ever more subtle, more devious ways to advance the designs of its most powerful members within the wider European arena. As such, whether subtle or not, it represents today a sinister more sophisticated form of imperialism, one that seeks to conquer not through brute force, but instead with rules and regulations designed in Brussels and implemented and enforced by its faithful lackeys in Ireland – the Fine Gaelers, the Fianna Failers and, of course its ultimate faithful devotee in the south – the so-called Labour Party.
And let it be said in passing -who or what has contributed more to the gross betrayal of Connolly’s legacy than Labour? For decade after decade putting government office before principle and personal advancement above the rights of workers, its leadership has excelled in prostrating itself before the forces of the capitalist imperialism that emanated from Europe and the USA. By repeatedly doing so they have singularly abandoned socialism, betrayed the Irish working-class and selfishly, cynically walked away from Connolly’s great vision for Ireland. Quite rightly, Comrades, they have earned and deserve our contempt and derision.
Nor is it any different in Northern Ireland. There too the reactionary forces, now represented by the DUP and increasingly by Sinn Fein as well, continue to do their version of the ‘death dance’ for local democracy and together pose a serious obstacle to any form of class unity. Indeed their cynical political posturing serves no real purpose for anyone other than themselves. By placing petty, sectarian interests before the rights and needs of long oppressed working class communities they are dragging the people of the Northern Ireland dangerously close once again to the dark and deadly days of sectarian murders and assassination.
This represents the very antithesis of anything remotely resembling ‘progressive’ politics, let alone what Connolly stood for, and the sooner these parties are forced to end their deadly posturing the better it will be for all good decent and honourable people. Sectarian politics have never put any bread on the table of the ordinary person, and it never will. But it has filled the pockets of the rich and powerful interests who, per usual, always see it as a useful device it to keep workers distracted and divided. Sectarianism, in all of its manifestations is every bit as evil and dangerous today as it was in the past, and it must never be allowed to go unchallenged. Indeed, challenging and confronting it is as important today as it ever was in the past and we must continue to be the very vanguard of the struggle against its daily manifestations. Just as its proponents never rests, so too must we be ever relentless in our struggles to both confront and banish it from the streets and towns of the Northern Ireland! It is only through confronting that evil that we will also successfully raise class-consciousness as the most effective bulwark against its deeply divisive and deadly poison. Our overall strategy must be to smash the very template of sectarianism and to bring class politics to the fore of politics, where it belongs!
Ironically, one of the few vital areas of policy that the sectarian politicians and their cohorts in Northern Ireland actually agree upon is in their common, unrelenting hostility towards basic rights for women that can rightly be termed gender-based imperialism! Indeed, not only does this hostility to women form a basis for a strange unity among an otherwise most diverse range of neo-conservative political and reactionary religious groups in Northern Ireland, it is one that is shared by an equally reactionary set of right–wing groups in the Republic. Indeed, in both parts of the island extreme political conservatism remain unrelenting in its desire to control even the most intimate and personal parts of women’s’ lives. Having lost a major part of their historical battles over women’s political and employment rights, they now are ruthlessly and cynically fighting on the final frontier of personal liberty itself – control over women’s very bodies! In both parts of Ireland, many women are forced either to endure unwanted pregnancies – sometimes even dying as a consequence of not getting proper medical intervention because of a profound fear of contravening the law! – or are forced daily to travel to Britain seeking pregnancy terminations that in virtually all other parts of Europe are freely and openly available. These penal restrictions on women’s liberties must be ended and ended now! There can no longer be any toleration of this criminalisation of women. In that regard the Workers’ Party reiterates its full support for the Repeal the Eighth in the Republic and for the extension of full abortion rights to Northern Ireland. This is the minimum now necessary at this moment in time and must serve as part of the global resistance to the forces of ultra-conservatism wherever it raises its ugly head.
It is also important is to recognise, just as Connolly and Lenin did earlier, that the forces of imperialism never rest. They seek ever more markets to dominate and exploit; to find new sources of wealth to accumulate in private hands at the international level. This is also the case within Ireland where the policies and strategies of successive regimes have always at root been aimed at maximising the wealth creating opportunities for both local and trans-national capitalists. Forever extolling the virtues of an imaginary free market, the agents of capitalism have increasingly fixed their greedy gaze specifically upon the very valuable public sector and targeted all of its assets as prime for privatisation. Whether in public transport, or in terms of public goods like water, electricity and health, the forces of neo-liberalism work relentlessly and tirelessly to take control of these essential services, strip them of their most lucrative and profit making elements and then hand them over, lock stock and barrel, to the private sector for their profit and gain. This is now the essential motivating mantra for the ideologues of right-wing capital: Privatise! Privatise! Privatise!
This formed the essence of successive regimes in the Republic in relation to their attempts to prepare the public utility of water for privatisation. While they dressed their scheme up in the language of ‘efficiency’ and ‘quality’, there was no mistaking the true intent that lay behind their original motivation. Indeed, the infamous Troika that left the Republic to carry the colossal debts of the failed private banks and financiers back in 2010 were very clear in their ‘advice’. The primary reason they gave for recommending that the state divest itself of direct responsibility for providing water was, in essence, to sell it off to the private sector as a profit generating enterprise. That was the case then, and remains so still today. It always was an ideologically driven policy and had little or nothing to do with so-called efficiencies or effectiveness.
And what has been attempted in the Republic is still very likely to be attempted in Northern Ireland as well. There remains every need to be extra vigilant against this there too. Just as in the south, there is a growing and impatient desire amongst the capitalists in the north to carry out the same type of public spending cuts and running down of public utilities as a prelude to their eventual privatisation. If there is any doubt in some people’s minds about this, let’s remember at this point the commitment given by both Sinn Fein and the DUP in a previous agreement between them at Stormont to the slashing of some 20,000 public sector jobs in Northern Ireland as part of the new so-called investment programme for the future. Indeed, we got clear evidence of what this actually means in real time by the late Martin McGuinness who is on record for the following statement:
“I want the local economy to continue to rebalance from the public to the
He went on to say the following:
‘…we remain open for business, open for investment and committed to the reduced rate of corporation tax, which will drive economic growth….’
There is no clearer evidence than this of the commitment to the private at the expense of the public. And let’s be very clear about this, Comrades, this was not just the private views of Mr McGuinness back in December of last year, this represents the clear and undiluted ideological position of Sinn Fein as well. In this there is little to distinguish them from their erstwhile allies in Government, the DUP. Be in no doubt, this is an integral part of the neo-liberal agenda and it is one whose advocates, like Sinn Fein and the DUP, as well as Fine Gael, Fianna Fail etc, are working tirelessly on both sides of the border to ensure happens; that the interests of private capital remains paramount above all else. Their ideologically based strategy is a simple one; that the public sector be ruthlessly stripped of all of its profitable features and given to the private sector so that the rich can grow richer. This then is the brave new world designed for us by these dangerous ideologues and apologists for neo-liberalism.
For us, the Workers’ Party, we remain as ever, proudly committed to and seeking always to continue the struggle started by Connolly back in 1916. We will continue to offer leadership to the Irish people, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, in a new collective struggle against the most modern forms of that imperialism. That is why we exist and for no other reason. Our task then remains the historically determined one of continuing Connolly’s fight – not by seeking out ostensibly heroic forms of struggle – but by joining with working people in their daily struggles, being an essential part of their campaigns for basic rights and incomes. To defend and lead them against whatever fresh challenge capitalism presents. Whether it’s the cuts in public sector spending, the planned redundancies in the public sector in NI – as agreed by Sinn Fein and their DUP allies – or to fight against the ever lengthening list of patients waiting to be seen in hospitals right across both parts of this island; whatever the issue the Workers’ Party must always be in the vanguard of those struggles and fighting both with and on behalf of working class communities in all of their struggles.
Let us remember as well, Comrades, that some 50 years ago, almost to the day, on the 9th April, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was formally founded. As most of you here today know full well, NICRA was the brainchild of Cathal Goulding and the new leadership of the then Republican movement – including Billy McMillen – whose enormous foresight and energies back in 1966 set in motion the events that ensured it would come into being. It was designed both to confront and remove the sectarianism that drove the governmental process back then in the 1960’s and to create the conditions for the emergence of true class politics to replace the reactionary politics of tribalism. Unfortunately, as you also well know, that process was hijacked by the forces of reaction and turned into the vicious sectarian conflict that still resonates to this very day and against which we still have to struggle. We should also remember very clearly, that our initiation of and commitment civil rights back then was never ever intended simply as an end in itself, rather it was viewed correctly, as the beginning of a process to defeat all forces of reaction – whether Irish of British, and in the process also defeat capitalism! It still remains to be achieved and we must re-double our efforts to ensure that it is!
In carrying on that struggle, and by being an integral part of the daily routines of the class we seek to represent, we will truly be representing the essence of the work begun heroically by Connolly and his comrades in the Citizen Army during those momentous six days in April 1916, and seeking to make its dream a reality. Whatever the issue, whatever the terrain, the Workers’ Party must and will be to the fore!