I would like to thank the Communist Party of Britain for giving me this opportunity to address you on behalf of the Communist Party of Ireland. I would like to start by extending the best wishes and revolutionary greetings of the Communist Party of Ireland to the 57th Congress of the Communist Party of Britain.
There has been a long relationship between the people of Ireland and the peoples of Britain, going back before Ireland became an English colony. From the early modern period, the most advanced section of the progressive and democratic forces in England and Britain stood in opposition to the Irish policies of their ruling class and supported the right of the Irish people to determine their own future. Their position can be encapsulated in the words attributed to the Leveller William Walwyn, who, in his opposition to Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland,
“the cause of the Irish natives in seeking their just freedoms, was the very same with our cause here in endevouring our own rescue from the power of oppressors”.
Since the foundation of your Communist Party, British communists have upheld that democratic tradition. One of the earliest campaigns of the Communist Party of Great Britain was solidarity with the Irish Republic during the war of independence. Throughout the century of your existence, you have continued to show solidarity with Ireland, and with all those oppressed by British imperialism, giving practical expression to one of the fundamental tenets of our movement, proletarian internationalism.
Your Congress takes place as US Imperialism is stepping up its efforts to re-assert its domination as its hegemony, which has been the dominant feature of global politics for the past three decades, is increasingly challenged. The main challenge comes from the rise of the Peoples’ Republic of China, but it also faces competition from the BRICS. Time will tell how the growth of the BRICS will develop; however, the Communist Party of Ireland believes that the growth of BRICS could increase the contradictions between the imperialist powers creating space for revolutionary advance.
The re-emergence of the demand for national sovereignty and independence as more and more countries strive to reject the neo-colonial structures imposed on them, is also a challenge to imperialism.
War or the threat of war is inherent within Imperialism. The United States maintains more than eight hundred military bases around the world, increasingly the focus of which is being directed eastwards to encircle China.The United States and its NATO allies in Europe have promoted NATO’s eastward expansion, in order to contain Russia’s strategic space, which has led to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
The NATO proxy war may have masked inter-imperialist rivalry; however, US imperialism has used the war to enforce its dominance over the EU and its member states who it sees as rivals as well as allies. The longer the war continues the greater the risk of it spreading and becoming a global nuclear war. Both our parties have continued to call for a ceasefire and peace talks.
As we meet the Israeli state continues its war of extermination against the Palestinian people. The root cause of the violence is the Israeli colonisation and occupation of Palestine. Ignoring the rights of the Palestinians, the US, UK and EU continue to support the Israeli genocide. The official media in the Imperialist centres ignores the plight of the Palestinians, yet the peoples of the world have rallied to their cause. Due to the continuing solidarity with Palestine shown by the Irish people, the Irish minister for Foreign Affairs has been forced to break with EU consensus and utter the dreaded C word as he called for a humanitarian ceasefire. Even the Taoiseach has been forced to describe Israel’s assault on Gaza as being motivated by a desire for revenge.
The crisis of capitalism continues to force millions of people, in both the advanced capitalist economies and in the global south, to face a precarious future as they struggle to provide themselves and their families with the basic requirements of life, in a world that has never seen such an abundance of wealth.War and famine are forcing millions to leave their homes in the global south and risk their lives as they seek refuge in Europe and North America. Governments have enacted laws making it more difficult for working people to organise as they struggle to provide the basics of life. However, as the on-going strike movement in Britain has shown, the working class will continue to fight against the system that exploits them.
In Ireland the effects of the crisis in capitalism can be seen in an increase in homelessness, inflation, longer waiting lists for medical treatment and over-crowded schools. The dominant ideology peddles the myth that the people’s needs for housing, health services, education and many other public services can best be met by private companies and corporations, that the “the market” is best placed to provide effective services, and that supply and demand should be used for allocating and determining price, quality, and availability of these basic human needs.
The current coalition government, like previous governments in the Republic and the Six Counties, no matter the combination of political parties that make them up, is committed to financial deregulation and financialisation. The most recent housing strategies “Housing for All” (26C) and “Housing Supply Strategy” (6C) both effectively reinforce and give priority to the private provision of shelter. It a strategy to ensure that both private and corporate landlords’ interests are not challenged but can only grow.
The same commodification strategy has been applied to the provision of health services. The systematic and deliberate under-financing of the public health services over many decades, resulting in the closure of wards and hospitals, the reduction in bed capacity, and longer waiting lists and operation lists, has had a devastating effect on the health of working people.
The Stormont Assembly doesn’t meet but when it did it didn’t challenge the economic policies of successive British governments. Rather than being a vehicle for democratic advance in the 6 counties, it is in fact an institutionalisation of sectarianism, where Nationalist is pitted against Unionist in the futile pursuit of gaining dominance over each other within a set of institutions designed and incorporated to deny any real control of their respective lives. It cements rather than weakens the sectarian division and makes the achievement of working-class unity more difficult.
The Communist Party of Ireland supported Brexit because we recognised that it reflected a split within the British ruling class and it would lead to contradictions between the imperialist powers, which could be used to advance the struggle for Irish national liberation and socialism. Brexit caused, and continues to cause, difficulties for the Irish Ruling class. It has exposed the lack of democracy within the EU because the negotiations over the protocol were conducted with no input from Irish elected representatives. It has also weakened unionism, the most pro- imperialist ideological current in Ireland.
Unfortunalely, Brexit also exposed political differences within the Communist Party of Ireland. Maintaining a united party, in a country partitioned by British imperialism has been difficult at times. During the 2nd World War, the 26 counties remained neutral, and it became impossible to maintain organisational unity in the party. The party in the 6 counties became the Communist Party of Northern Ireland, and in the south the party structure disintegrated but it eventually re-organised as the Irish Workers’ Party, not to be confused with the present Workers’ Party in Ireland. In 1970 there was a unity Congress and organisational unity was re-established, with a National Executive Committee and two area committees, one in the 26 and one in the 6 counties. However there existed a tension between a number of comrades in the North who believed that democratic and social advance would come as a result of being part of the British state and the majority who, in the tradition of James Connolly, believe that in order to achieve socialism in Ireland we will have to break free from British imperialism as a united, independent republic.
While the nature of the division was political, it manifested itself as an organisational one. As Brexit moved the issue of Irish re-unification from the margins, the Party NEC sought to initiate all- Ireland campaigns on issues which would unite workers North and South and across the sectarian divide in the 6 counties. Unfortunately, a number of comrades on the NEC opposed all north/south joint actions. They began to frustrate NEC meetings, which effected the ability of the party to respond to political developments. During Covid, they suggested that the NEC not meet, and the area committees run their respective areas, in effect re-creating the position which had existed prior to the 1970 Unity Congress. The Northern Area Committee began to attack decisions made by the NEC. When the NEC sought to hold aggregate meetings of party members based in the 6 counties via zoom, the then Northern Area secretary refused to give contact details to the General Secretary because, he claimed, that to do so would breach data protection legislation. The Northern Area Committee organised meetings to which party members who they knew did not support their line were not invited. When the NEC eventually organised a Zoom meeting between the NEC and the membership in the North, a leading member, not realising that she was unmuted was overheard asking if the Area Secretary had informed members not to attend.
The Area Committee then sent a letter to the NEC, signed by the Area Secretary and Chair and a number of members of the NEC stating that they would not accept any decisions made by the NEC unless the Northern Area Committee endorsed them.The NEC informed that that this was factional behaviour and told them to withdraw the letter but they refused. No Communist Party could accept that, so the NEC suspended the Northern Area Committee. They did not suspend the Northern Area or the membership.
A leading member of the faction stated at an NEC meeting that he supported the Area Committee and did not accept the authority of the NEC. He was expelled from the party as a result. Other members of the faction refused to attend NEC meetings in an attempt to undermine its ability to function. They were removed from the NEC. The NEC did not take these decisions lightly but they had to act to protect the party.
Shortly afterwards re-registration forms were sent to all party members as happens every year. The procedure is that they were to be returned to Dublin. The former Northern Area Secretary sent an email to all members telling them not to re-register with Dublin but to send the forms to him. The NEC contacted those members for whom it had contact details re-emphasising that failure to re-register with Dublin would mean that they would no longer be considered party members and unfortunately a number based in Belfast did not re-register.
The political differences between us were expressed quite clearly in both a letter and an article in the Morning Star, by two leading members of the faction. They argued against a referendum on re-unification and stated that if such a referendum took place, a vote in favour of unity would not be valid unless a majority of the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist community were in favour. In effect they support a unionist veto which puts them in the same camp as the Tory party, the loyalists and the British far-right. Rather than opposing sectarianism, their call for a weighted majority in fact re-inforces it.
While it was a blow, the party has survived, taken stock and continues to grow, both in the North and the South. We are more united ideologically and we continue to organise on both sides of the border.
We wish you every success this weekend as you chart a strategy for the British working class. When one looks at the world created by capitalism and imperialism one is more and more convinced of the truth of the words of Rosa Luxemburg that the future is either Socialism or Barbarism. There is no alternative, social democracy has failed, and ethical capitalism is an oxymoron. Only socialism can save humanity and the planet. Only a party, whose policies, strategy and tactics are grounded in marxism-leninism can lead the working class out of the morass of capitalist exploitation to the sunny uplands of socialism.
Long live the Party of the British Working Class, The Communist Party of Britain.
Long live the Communist Party of Ireland.
Long Live Proletarian Internationalism.