Celebrating the lives of Marx and Connolly

Over the weekend of the 12th and 13th of May the CPI and the Connolly Youth Movement celebrated the lives of two great thinkers and activists, Karl Marx and James Connolly.

On Saturday the 12th Dr Stephen Nolan gave this year’s James Connolly Memorial Lecture, under the title “The Continued Relevance of Karl Marx,” to a packed house. The lecture was to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Marx. (The full speech can be viewed at https://youtu.be/faCeeeXVkd0.) The meeting was chaired by Laura Duggan, who opened the proceedings with a quotation from Jean-Paul Sartre: “Marxism remains the philosophy of our times because we have not gone beyond the circumstances which created it.”

Stephen outlined the continued relevance in the present climate of “full-spectrum domination” by monopoly capitalism—economically, politically, and culturally. He outlined the role of the mass media and also drew attention to how elements of the left have contributed to the blotting out of any possible alternative to capitalism, in particular by social democracy.

He referred to the desert that is trade union education today, which has been reduced to the “skills agenda,” with the absence of Marx and his ideas and little or no talk of class or exploitation. He pointed out that Marx still provides the essential tool for understanding contemporary monopoly capitalism.

Stephen drew attention to the reconstitution of ruling-class power after the economic crisis of 2010. He went on to point out that Marxism is about understanding long-term historical change, drawing on the writings of Marx in relation to Ireland and the primitive accumulation of capital and the savage exploitation that capitalism entails.

On Sunday the 13th the annual James Connolly Commemoration took place in Arbour Hill Military Cemetery. The commemoration was chaired by Janelle McAteer, and the main oration was given by Gearóid Ó Machail on behalf of the CPI. Alex Homits, general secretary of the Connolly Youth Movement, spoke on behalf of the CYM.

Gearóid began by declaring: “At 07:15 hours on May 12, 1916, Marxist theorist, socialist author, industrial union organiser, Citizen Army founder, Commandant-General of the Dublin Division of the Republican Army and Vice-President of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, Comrade James Connolly was summarily executed by a British firing squad, just across the river, in the yard of Kilmainham Gaol.

     “Born 150 years ago, on the 5th of June 1868, in the crowded Irish immigrant slum of Cowgate . . . James Connolly was unquestionably our greatest ever socialist theorist and practitioner.“

Gearóid went on to emphasise the continued importance of Connolly to today’s struggle and the important lessons that this generation of activists can learn from him. “Connolly’s task, like ours today, was to apply and test his Marxist theory against the material conditions faced by the working class in his own lifetime.

     “Our task in 2018, comrades, is to set about the formidable task of the Reconquest of 21st-century Ireland. It’s the same task faced by Connolly in a new set of historical conditions. The end goal is the same, however: we need to apply our Marxist analysis to achieve a programme and strategy for replacing capitalism. Not a programme for alleviating the worst aspects of capitalism and imperialism but a programme that recognises that capitalism has unsolvable contradictions built in to its DNA. Revolution, comrades, is a cultural, political and economic struggle for superior ideas.

     “None of us are naïve about the difficulties we face in reorienting the struggles of the working class into a cohesive and ideologically driven challenge to the capitalist state. Those struggles are happening every day, all around us, and we as communists must be to the fore in the people’s struggles, both defensive and offensive. The role and the contribution of the party in this period is vitally important, laying new groundwork for contact and communication with the working class and the popular masses.

     “The strengthening of monopoly capital is bound to bring a further sharpening of the contradiction between capital and salaried labour and thus a sharpening of all social contradictions. These are contradictions that arise from the built-in reproductive cycle of capitalism, co-existing extreme opulence and mass poverty, surplus and want, economic growth and wage restraint, full employment and in-work poverty. These are not blips, mistakes, the product of corruption, or bad policy: they are as much a by-product of capitalism as the ecological destruction of our planet and obliteration of our natural resources.

     “Working people need to understand the interconnected relations between the state, establishment political parties, and the powerful economic forces that control their lives. Workers need to understand who really runs the Government and whose interests it serves. That’s why we need to reinvigorate our education programme: to grow and develop our young political cadre that they may be enabled and empowered to lead working people in their everyday struggles.”

Gearóid finished his oration by outlining the position of the CPI, of drawing lessons from the historical experiences and legacy of Connolly, by stating: “We will continue to work with left republicans and trade unionists in the Peadar O’Donnell Forum to analyse and dissect the class nature of imperialism’s grip on Ireland. James Connolly was keenly aware of the nature of imperialism and stressed the importance of broad working-class unity in resisting its insidious threat to our democracy, independence, and sovereignty.

     “Connolly developed a number of innovative theoretical positions regarding the relationship between Marxism and anti-imperialism—positions heretical to both conventional forms of Irish nationalism and the form of socialism espoused by the Second International, prevalent during his lifetime.

     “He was among the first to combine the politics of anti-imperialist nationalism with international Marxism in the colonial arena. His fundamental teaching is that the struggle for national liberation is not opposed to the struggle for socialism but an integral and necessary part of it.”

Alex Homits, speaking as a young person growing up in contemporary Ireland, spoke of and reflected the experiences of many of the younger generation when he said: “It is a curious thing to commemorate a man whose ideas are so written out of the Irish history curriculum that growing up here you would think he did not exist. Yet he did exist, and the impact on Irish history and the struggle for liberation is something we continue to evaluate and feel today. Connolly redirected the historical undercurrents of Irish republicanism and in life and death energised a conflict-ridden movement with firm, concrete leadership.

     “Connolly cut through the abstract notions of freedom, liberty, and independence. He determined sovereignty in the most concrete and immediate terms and articulated this in an earlier political programme for the Irish Socialist Republican Party, a document many of you are familiar with.

     “What underpinned this document and what Connolly understood: for us, the people of Ireland, to feel, express and guarantee our liberation we must also own the mechanisms that organise the functions of our society. To Connolly, and to us, this means that the banks, the ports, the canals, the factories and the overall control of production of all commodities that we use and require on a day-to-day basis.”

Alex went on to point out why Connolly is still relevant to young people. “Opponents and critics of Connolly will tell us that ‘times have changed,’ and we must accustom ourselves to that. North and south of the border, the workers of Ireland are being hammered by the exploiter classes. We’re called ‘generation rent’: unable to afford to live or work towards secure housing.

     “Hundreds of thousands of people simply pack their bags and leave, motivated not by some sort of innate desire to find adventure abroad but because the state and its parliamentary ‘social democrats’ have robbed young people of all opportunities. Emigration becomes the only available option to find life elsewhere; emigration becomes the only chance of a rich life of opportunities.

     “The historical role of emigration in Ireland and the mass displacement of the Irish people have always been used as a weapon to confiscate land; today it is used to alleviate the austerity policies that destroy rural and urban communities.

     “Austerity, a mechanism that transfers wealth from the workers to the ruling class, has also implicitly thrown young people into an almost inescapable abyss: no decently paid work, no housing, no access to proper health services, and no value for the education that we’re rigorously asked to pursue after school.”

The Connolly Memorial Lecture and the orations will be published in full shortly and will be available from www.connollybooks.org.