Comrades and friends
Our presence here today at the grave of Wolfe Tone is both an act of commemoration and a statement of our political intent.
We come here to honour the memory of Tone and the men and women of the Society of United Irishmen. We do so out of respect to those patriots who set down for all future generations the basic and fundamental principles of revolutionary Irish Republicanism: the Unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter under the banner of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity with the objective of establishing an Independent Irish Republic.
Tone and his followers represented the most advanced political thinking of their time. They drew their inspiration and beliefs from the example of the French Revolution. Their aim was to place the citizen at the centre of political and economic power in an independent country which, only if that were achieved, could be described as a Republic. They organised to achieve their goal and whilst they did not succeed then their example and teachings have remained and their validity and relevance in today’s world have stood the test of time. The assertion of the common good, the struggle against corruption and political elites which deny and subjugate the rights of the individual and citizens, these are still the core issues which define our political struggle even if, over time, the language has changed somewhat. It is about power, who controls it and in whose interests it is exercised; about democracy and how it is curtailed and undermined; about society and how it is organised and the values it adheres to. It is the conflict between the common good or the needs of the rich and powerful.
So it is with pride that The Workers’ Party takes this opportunity today to, not only honour the memory of Tone and his followers in the United Irishmen, but to declare where we stand in today’s world. We assert our commitment to, and belief in, the same universal values and philosophy that inspired the United Irish and subsequent generations of Irish Revolutionaries who carried on the struggle to establish an Irish Republic. Not a Republic in the fashion of Irish nationalists who have done little more than ally themselves with native and foreign capitalism – an arrangement which today is the cause of the misery and hardship which the great majority of Irish workers are forced to endure. No, we ally ourselves with Lalor and Davitt, Connolly and Mellowes, Frank Ryan and in our own recent history Goulding and MacGiolla. All those who seek more than mere democratic reform, but who set out to achieve real revolutionary change in society as the only means to put the citizen at the centre of political and economic life.
For us in The Workers’ Party, today is not just about the importance of remembering but also about taking stock. We must examine both the current political situation in our country and also the political forces at work nationally and internationally and how best we can chart a way forward for our Party and our class, the working class. We must do so in a cold and dispassionate way, resist the temptation to look back at the past and previous successes as if they can be recreated or the clock can be turned back. We need to calmly and logically analyse the political situation and to begin to develop the necessary policies, strategy and activities which flow from our socialist ideology and understanding of the world today.
We can certainly learn from the past both politically and organisationally, from Tone’s time, from the Fenians, from Connolly and from our own experiences. However it is essential that our analyses, our programme and policies are geared for today. We are clear in our own minds that it is only the socialist organisation of society that expresses the goal of the common good. We reject the spurious idea that capitalism can be managed in the interests of the many when we know its sole purpose is profit for the very few.
That much should be very clear from the recent past when Ireland in the mythical “Celtic Tiger” years was been held up as an example throughout the world as to how riches and wealth could be delivered to everyone by free enterprise - laissez faire economics. Accompanying this message for some decades now has been the malign view, widely promoted in society, that capitalism rules and that class struggle, like socialism, is dead. That message has been rammed home at every possible opportunity through the many and diverse sources of disinformation and propaganda available to capitalism in today’s modern world.
Capitalism has established almost total dominance of public discourse and debate, not only in the mass media but in the universities and schools, in the trade unions and in so-called Labour Parties. It has introduced to society values and beliefs which are the total antithesis of the common good: values of greed and individualism, the pursuit of crude materialism and selfishness. This has become the dominant value system. Not even the current crisis in capitalism which has seen capitalism itself being bailed out, - banks, financial institutions and the like being rescued whilst the working class around Europe are subject to austerity - not even that has as yet brought about the downfall of capitalism. For they have introduced something else, fear. Fear that if we do not accept the present economic policies that something else even more terrible will befall us - that the present system, bad as it may be, is preferable to what may happen if we do something different. Hence the banks are too big to be allowed to fail, the euro too essential to be replaced by something different, and the European Union too important not to succeed.
This was exactly the tactic used in the recent referendum on the Fiscal Treaty here in Ireland last month. Not once in the course of that referendum campaign did Fine Gael or the Labour Party advance any credible political or economic argument in favour of the treaty. In fact many credible economists and commentators presented many sound arguments which laid bare the folly of the treaty. Left wing parties, including The Workers’ Party, pointed out that adoption of the Treaty was an acceptance of further and permanent austerity measures which would not only subvert the democratic rights and independence of the Irish people but sentence even more of our young people to forced emigration, and increased poverty for those who remain. Yet all of that was trumped by the fear factor actively promoted not only by the government parties but by the media as well.
So too in the recent elections in Greece.
There too we have the spectacle of so called social democratic and left parties, PASOK and Democratic Left, joining a coalition government to carry out the wishes of the EU elite.
The Labour Party here in Ireland should reflect on its own participation in these acts of class betrayal. In Greece and Ireland, PASOK and Fianna Fail, once thought of as unshakeable parties, have come tumbling down.
Voters may have succumbed to fear in the recent referendum but make no mistake the next general election here will see significant change. In the last general election voters, however mistakenly, believed they were voting for change from Fianna Fáil. They believed they were voting for a different economic approach, one which would expand the economy, invest in infrastructure, health and education, and create badly needed jobs. Instead of Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way, the Labour leadership meekly accepted the Troika way.
The Workers’ Party has, on many occasions in the past, called for greater left co-operation in opposition to the dominance of right wing parties and ideology in this country. It is also badly needed to defend the working class who are subject to the most brutal austerity measures which are the cause of severe hardship and deprivation up and down the country.
Labour and the ICTU must decide.
They must decide if they are on the side of the working class or the ruling class.
They must decide if they favour state investment and protection of the valuable state companies in order to create jobs and develop the economy or if they are on the side of free market economics and privatisation.
Above all they must decide if they will stand shoulder to shoulder with the unemployed, those in mortgage distress, and those unable to get a home, those who are being asked to pay more punitive taxes like the household charge and water charges or do they stand with the rich tax evaders and big business who are making little or no contribution to our economic well being.
They must ask themselves: in what type of society and world do they want to live?
We in The Workers’ Party are clear as to where we stand and what we must do.
Workers’ Party members and branches must take up the fight to defend the interests of workers and their families. We must be to the forefront of all opposition to austerity measures whether it is the introduction of the household charge, water charges, house repossessions, closure of services in schools and hospitals and above all amongst organised workers in the trade union movement. Not only are jobs being lost but wages are cut, pensions slashed or abolished, terms and conditions in general are under attack.
It may now seem a fairly one-sided battle but we must resist and fight back.
The workers at Vita Cortex in Cork should be an example to us all that victory is possible. We should remember too the struggle of the workers at Lagan Brick. With Connolly’s formula and one which the Workers’ Party has put to good use in the past, “agitate, educate, organise” we can begin to prepare our battle lines. The forces of capitalism are clear as to what the battle is all about; our job is to organise our side, something I will return to in a moment.
We recognise also that we are not alone in this struggle. Capitalism today is truly global and we live in a much more interdependent world and in a world where communications, transport and travel are far more accessible than even imagined in Tone’s time. But Tone’s values and those of the United Irishmen were universal and truly Internationalist. And the struggle between capital and labour is also international.
Today the struggle for socialism and a better world extends well beyond Europe and the European Union. Nonetheless the present crisis has common features throughout Europe and we can immediately identify with and recognise the hardship working class people are forced to endure as a result of austerity. We would like in particular to extend our solidarity with the working class throughout Europe as they like us struggle against capitalism, in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France and Greece.
We would particularly salute the KKE in Greece who have shown huge courage and steadfastness in defending the interests of the working people of Greece. The KKE have resisted all forms of opportunism, expediency and populism in correctly holding to a class understanding of society and recognising that there can be no compromise in the struggle against capitalism.
The struggle for democratic, secular and anti-sectarian principles in Northern Ireland is needed now more ever than before.
The ending of terrorist violence has undoubtedly made Northern Ireland a better place than it was before and the importance of securing peace must never be underestimated. It was for many years a core demand of our Party. The creation of a locally devolved assembly was also a key part of our programme. However a long time has passed since peace has been secured and a reasonable period has elapsed in which to consolidate that peace.
It is now time to subject the political institutions in Northern Ireland to far more critical scrutiny and analysis. In particular, The Workers’ Party poses the question: Who represents the interests of the working class in Northern Ireland?
Sectarian division and segregation remain the hallmark of Northern Ireland society. This was most recently illustrated in the proposals for the former British Army base at Girdwood Barracks in North Belfast. Badly needed housing in the area is to be allocated on two different sites separated by what is called a community hub but which in reality is a euphemism for a Peace Wall. “Peace Walls” have actually increased since the ending of the violence and over 24 kms of such walls now exist in the city of Belfast.
Education remains segregated and in the DUP/Sinn Fein Executive there is no support to introduce Integrated Schooling.
In reality what we have is an institutionalised sectarian carve up between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
Tone’s dictum of the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter remains a long way off.
In addition, the local Assembly has offered no alternative to or resistance to the Tory/Lib Dem cutbacks from Westminster. Indeed they have adopted some of their own locally created cutbacks like those imposed recently on school transport workers in West Tyrone, by a Sinn Fein education Minister in a constituency with a Sinn Fein Westminster MP, 3 local SF MLAs, not to mention dozens of councillors.
What we have had has been a media-led love-in with the Assembly where critical comment and scrutiny has been officially discouraged and frowned upon. What we get instead is a series of photo opportunities and constant stage managed events designed to show on the surface things progressing well. We will have another next week when Martin McGuinness will meet the Queen as part of her diamond jubilee tour of the UK.
For us in The Workers’ Party we are not interested in the symbolism of this event or even scoring political points on this matter.
Of far greater concern to us is the plight of the unemployed, the homeless, the condition of our health and education services, the lack of state investment in creating jobs, opposition to the welfare cutbacks and above all the persistence of sectarianism in Northern Ireland.
These are the real issues and if the legacy of the Civil rights Movement is to be secured and the interests of the working class defended then it is this agenda, and no other, that we must follow.
The Workers’ Party in Northern Ireland must become the voice for the working class and grow and expand beyond our traditional organisational base. Already a start has begun in this process and the organisational basis for this is being laid.
Like everywhere else, nothing short of a total transformation of society will satisfy our Party. Class Politics, for so long suffocated in a sectarian quagmire, must now become centre stage if progress is to be made.
So therefore Comrades, as so often in history but so correctly, we ask the question what is to be done?
We must recognise that the forces of reaction and those who oppose change are, at this moment in time, in the ascendancy. We live in different times and circumstances than say even 30 years ago.
The values of capitalism are deeply rooted in society, and even apathy from the political process is a weapon in their armoury.
First we must recognise that at this point in time we are facing an unrelenting attack in the war of ideas. That is what it is - a war. A war between ideology and opportunism, between collectivism and individualism, between public and private, between socialist internationalism and imperialism, between republicanism and fundamentalism.
Marx was correct when he stated: “It is not the consciousness of man that determines his being but his social existence which determines his consciousness”.
Our struggle then is to heighten that consciousness to the point where Irish workers will see and understand that their interests can only be served in a democratic, secular, socialist republic.
We can do this through our agitations, our involvement with workers and communities in the frontline of resistance against austerity and right wing economics; through our magazines and in particular by growing and expanding the distribution and influence of Look Left. But above all no successful revolution will be possible without the existence of a determined, disciplined and class conscious Party of the working class. The odds against us are huge but so too are the opportunities.
Building the Party is our paramount task.
I will conclude with a quote from the German Communist Hans Heinz Holz which should both inspire us and give us direction as to what needs to be done.
Writing in his book The Downfall and Future of Socialism, at a time in the early 1990s when the European Socialist States were being dismantled around him, Holz declared that: “As long as class differences continue to exist there will be a struggle of the ruled against the rulers and this struggle will always have a need of an organized group of militants who are ready for action. The existence of a communist Party is necessitated by the class structure of bourgeois society. Even if it is small, it (the party) can carry out the conceptual preparation needed in advance and parallel to the spread of class consciousness.
Growing class consciousness, in turn, leads to organizational growth of the party that represents the class standpoint without compromise, no matter how long this process may take”.
Thank you Comrades
24 June 2012