Delivered by Workers’ Party President, Michael Donnelly
Comrades, once again we gather here at Bodenstown at the grave of Theobald Wolfe Tone to celebrate his achievements and to commemorate his revolutionary vision back then in the 18th Century. But, above all else, to re-energise ourselves in our determination to take inspiration from and to continue and complete the great tasks that he and his comrades set for future generations to follow.
Tone was many things in his relatively short life: a barrister at law, a husband and father; but above all else he was a radical activist who protested at injustice and against the profound political and economic inequalities of his age. It was in essence out of this sense of protest that he came to recognise and acknowledge the truly revolutionary nature of republicanism as articulated and promulgated during the latter decades of the 18th c. He instantly recognised in it the fullest, most radical expression of his humanity and concern for people, especially those oppressed by their social, economic and political master. Influenced initially by the earlier revolutionary war of Independence in America but significantly more so by the truly revolutionary and radical programme of the French Revolution and its declaration of a peoples’ republic. This was a truly revolutionary event and still stands there in greatness and significance with the great October revolution of the Bolsheviks in 1917.
For Tone and his comrades, the same was needed for Ireland. To shake of the shackles of oppression became their objective; to organise and mobilise the men of no property became their principle means.
This was the truly revolutionary nature of the republican project; the liberation of the great majority of people from their economic and political servitude and to give them true liberty and freedom.
In doing this Tone and his comrades were not merely aping or re-canting a new dogma. They were in fact closely involved and immersed in the truly international character of republicanism. They both travelled to and frequently corresponded with the revolutionary figures in France and drew particular inspiration from their successful abolition of the oppressive institution of monarchy. In attempting to do the same in Ireland they were then acting in a truly internationalist manner and fashion. It was to be a major, revolutionary attempt to ‘out the old and bring in the new’.
In acknowledging that we must also recognise that they were not mere visionaries, dreamers of a new world. Far from it. Yes, Tone and his comrades did indeed have vision, but it was a vision that was deeply rooted in their present conditions. And far from being dreamers they were direct products of their age – the age of radical economic and social change. By the latter decades of the 18th century industrial capitalism had emerged and was laying down strong roots, particularly in the England of the time, but also in Ireland and with that came many unavoidable but critical changes in the social structure of the time. The old aristocratic dominance that had prevailed since the early middle ages was increasingly being challenged by the new capitalist, bourgeoisie class who, as they increased in both numbers and wealth were becoming increasingly and profoundly most unhappy with their lack of political power. It also was creating a new and potentially even more radical, revolutionary class; the working class or proletariat. This then was the age when the social, economic and political divisions of our contemporary society were actually being constructed and laid down.
This then was the social-economic context for Tone’s political actions and his total embracing of republicanism, back then the most revolutionary thought yet to hit the northern hemisphere. It was a world view that held all people to be equal in rights and privilege, and that none should be oppressed by others. If they were, then they had not only the right but a duty to rise-up and overthrow their oppressors.
We too in the Workers’ Party are products of our age, the age where that capitalism which was emerging in Tone’s time is now totally dominant in the Ireland, indeed much of the world of today and has captured all the commanding political and social elite positions of dominance and rule. And they use that dominance to ensure their continued, unfettered control over all the scarce economic an material resources, and to continuously enrich themselves at the expense of the many workers and their families – the many who toil to produce the wealth the rich consume.
And like Tone and the UI we were and are part of, and integral to, the emerging class consciousness of our age. A consciousness that those who produce the great wealth of the age receive little of it in return for their labours and that the owners of capital expropriate the rest for their pleasures and consumption. And just as Tone and his comrades drew inspiration and ideals from the radical new republicanism of their times, so we too took that republicanism and made it the backbone of a new, socialist critique of modern capitalist society. If the essence of the republican ideal was of a free and equal people, then, just as Tone and the UI recognised back in the 18th century, such a condition was not possible without the overthrow of the aristocratic and monarchical order, we recognised similarly that a free and equal people in modern Ireland could not happen, could not be achieved without the total overthrow of the new aristocrats, the aristocrats of capital.
If that is our task, our historically determined mission Comrades, then the question is: how exactly do we do that?
We do know that no change, revolutionary or otherwise happens spontaneously. Change is a consequence of two things: the existence of material conditions that permit it – even demand it! and the existence of those who are prepared to make sure that it happens. In essence, Comrades, as most of you already know, the true agent of revolutionary change, can only be a revolutionary party that is dedicated and committed to effecting that very change – particularly when the time is right and the conditions that demand it exist.
We are that revolutionary party, Comrades! Let us not forget that. Whatever trials and tribulations we have been forced to endure since the great betrayal of the 1990s we have not been crushed or defeated and we remain in existence and are still seeking that same revolutionary change that we sought way back in our successful era of the 70s and 80s.
But the time for simply looking back and admiring our past is over! We need now to look again at the future. We need to re-engage with enthusiasm and vigour in a highly organised, disciplined way to once again pose the greatest challenge to capitalism it has ever faced on the island of Ireland. This remains our task, our historically determined task. To engage with and lead the new ‘men (and women!) of no property’ in their on-going struggles against the tyranny of capital and exploitation.
To organise them, educate them, to ultimately mobilise them firstly in resistance and ultimately in storming the bastions of power and privilege to take full control of their lives and livelihoods. That, still, remains our great task, Comrades
We know well enough now, from long and hard experience what must be done. The hard bit, though, seems to be to actually do it! But that is what we must now do. We must re-engage in the building up of a strong, vibrant and disciplined revolutionary party, one that will be fit for purpose. One that is capable of not only organising resistance and protest, but that also fully develops its organisational skills and political vision to render it capable of leading the Irish W/C to ultimate victory in the tense and extensive class struggles of our time. Struggles over housing, health, pay and poverty.
Without such a party, Comrades, there cannot and never will be change – radical or otherwise. Successful revolutions are always those that are guided by first, a clear and unambiguous theory of action, and second, led by a vanguard of a highly organised and disciplined cadre of revolutionaries.
But only when the conditions are right. Our task is to prepare for that to happen. To ensure that there is a Vanguard Party in place to lead that revolution; to plan for it; to organise for it. To get out there and organise our class. Be involved with them in their daily routines and struggles. To mobilise them in campaigns of protest at their social and economic oppression. And more than ever to be their party, their representatives; to be the organisational expression of their desires and needs. To be integral to and inseparable from all that they are and do; and, ultimately, to be their agents for change – their Revolutionary Party.
Until and unless we do precisely that, Comrades, there will be no radical change to Irish society, let alone a revolutionary one.
If we are to truly be the party that derives its genes from the radical, revolutionaries of Tone and the United Irishmen, then we must take responsibility for our actions and our lack of same. We know that a revolutionary party is urgently required. And, alone amongst all other pretenders, we have the experience, the tradition, the organisational ability to once again be that Party; the party that will give a radical voice to working people; to work with them and organise them in achieving their needs. And, as I said earlier, without such organisation their needs and wants will ultimately go un-met, because as you well know, the whole socio-economic and political system is heavily weighted against them not only in theory but also in practical terms.
That, then, Comrades, is what confronts us at this moment in our history, indeed of the history of all great struggle against social, economic and political oppression not only here in Ireland but throughout the world. Wherever working people are, there is a need for a Revolutionary Party to guide and inspire, to mobilise and lead, ultimately to power itself.
So, as we leave here today, from the final resting place of the man who more than most inspired not just our generation but those that came before, we must look earnestly at the great tasks that face us. And when we do so do not to shirk from recognising the urgent need to re-new and re-invigorate our focus, our energies, and to be determined once again to step forward and be the urgently needed Vanguard of the coming revolution!