Speech by Eugene McCartan, general secretary, CPI, at the Spanish Anti-Fascist War commemoration, Slieve Foye, Co. Louth, organised by Friends of the International Brigades
Once again we gather here on Slieve Foye to pay our respects and to honour the sacrifice of seven local volunteers from this region of Cos. Louth, Armagh, and Down, seven individuals who left their homeland as Irish republicans and communists, prepared to sacrifice themselves in the fight against fascism in Spain.
We have come to honour Brigader Andrew Delaney, Brigader Albert (Bert) McElroy, Brigader Francis Duffy O’Brien, Brigader Alexander Madero, Brigader John R. McAleenan, Brigader Charlie Donnelly, Brigader Archibald Lester Doran.
The commonality that these men shared with the other brigadistas from Ireland and many others from around the world was that they were dedicated anti-imperialists. Most of these Irish volunteers had fought imperialism at home and had resisted and struggled for the Workers’ Republic.
They remained loyal to the objectives and goals of James Connolly and Liam Mellows. They followed in the great revolutionary path laid down by Tone, McCracken, Thomas Russell, James Fintan Lalor, the revolutionary Fenians, and the Citizen Army.
These were men of high principle, loyal to their conviction of a free, independent, sovereign Ireland, and, as true internationalists, they endeavoured to act in solidarity with the oppressed of the world through struggling against colonialist and imperialist domination wherever it reared its head.
They were not romantic, idealistic revolutionaries seeking glory through death but men who sought to change the world by their word and through their deeds. They went voluntarily to fight fascism in Spain—not the easy or popular position. They faced opposition from the church, slander in the press, and confusion among those who should have been allies.
Many who went to fight laid down their lives for their noble cause; but life was not easy for those lucky enough to dodge the fascist bullets. Some, knowing what awaited them in Ireland, never returned, and those who did experienced blacklisting, marginalisation, and isolation.
Only now, through the trojan work of FIBI, have many families come to know their own histories and learn of these and other Irish heroes who fought and died in Spain, which had been papered over and almost forgotten.
But it is not enough for us just to remember those who have come before, to honour them: our duty is to parse the uncomfortable truths and stand with and in defence of our class, even when it feels all are against us. The imperial powers of Europe abandoned Spain to fascism, as it served their own needs; and they are doing the same now, on a much grander scale.
We witness their role in attempting to snuff out the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, to deny the peoples of Latin America the power to control and determine their own destiny. They continue to marginalise and isolate the revolutionary government of Cuba. They sell weapons to despotic regimes that are slaughtering tens of thousands of people in Yemen. They weep crocodile tears about the barbarism inflicted upon the heroic Palestinian people while quietly backing the Zionist state of Israel.
The British, French and other European imperialist powers are as duplicitous now as they were in the 1930s. Some in Ireland have fallen for the ruse that imperialist powers can be friendly or neutral, while experience has taught us that imperialism has only interests.
The success of the far right throughout Europe and the EU is not rooted merely in their use of rhetoric: they address the hard realities in the lives of many people in Europe today. They espouse straightforward, if ultimately unworkable, solutions to real, concrete problems—real and concrete problems that the EU will not and cannot address. Instead it answers with liberal lies.
Fascism is the reserve army of capitalism, which continues to be mobilised in shadows across Europe, ever ready to step forward to save the capitalist system.
The EU claims it has prevented war, and that it has open borders, while hundreds die in the Mediterranean fleeing bombs, bullets and war that are a direct result of the intervention and policies of the EU powers.
They claim that EU membership is of benefit to all; but within a few years of the first major EU enlargement of 2004 millions of pounds had moved to the richer western countries from the former eastern bloc. After the financial crash of 2008, which caused stagnation of wages and ushered in austerity measures, the debt of these same richer countries was forced onto those on the periphery through EU banking mechanisms and the IMF. Ireland has the highest debt per capita of any country in the euro zone: €42,800 per head. They forced upon us, in collaboration with the Irish ruling elite, 42 per cent of all EU banking debt.
The truth is that the EU, a capitalist and imperialist machine, rules through its capitalists, landlords and financiers in order to serve them alone; and a refusal to address and reckon with this reality pushes a disillusioned and fraught working class into an embrace with fascism.
The right present themselves as the defenders of national democracy, while the liberal left calls for more EU as they decline in influence. We must seize the narrative from both the fascists and the compromising liberal left.
The British border in Ireland is one of the core means of preventing a united working class and the building of a united resistance. The British backstop—for that it what it is—will stay or go if the British, German and French decide what suits them best. The democratic aspirations of the Irish people mean little or nothing.
Imperialism is in crisis, and the cracks are showing. Its fraud is being exposed through war, both trade and military, around our planet. They make billions while millions of our fellow-citizens live in abject poverty. They destroy our planet for ever-greater profits, at the cost of our future.
Now is the time for us to arm ourselves with knowledge and the means to disseminate it so as to be able to give leadership and direction to our class, to all our people. We must take inspiration from our past heroes and challenge fascism but also, as they did, root it in challenging imperialism, colonialism, and the capitalist system itself.
As we stand here this afternoon to honour these men and others of the Connolly Column we must take courage and inspiration from them. Their steadfastness and firmness of belief should steady us in our present battles. We must not buckle under or descend into opportunism as Brexit and other critical fractures appear in the enemy ranks but use them as weapons against them.
There can be no perfect Europe in which Ireland’s or another country’s workers are denied the means to govern themselves and decide their own destiny.