This year, the annual commemorative speech at the grave of Karl Marx – in the centenary year of the 1916 Irish Rising, was given by Brian Campfield, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
This is his speech.
Comrades and Friends,
I bring you the warmest greetings from trade unionists and all progressive forces in Ireland, North and South, at a time when the assault on working people has not diminished.
In addition to the austerity being imposed on our people, we are faced with an intensification of the war by Capital on both the greatest number of our citizens and on what remains of our democracies.
The negotiations currently underway on the Canadian/ European Trade Agreement and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is the latest development designed to create an extended and more flexible environment for large private corporations to enhance and protect their profits.
This environment will impact detrimentally on all citizens and will create unprecedented threats to both workers and citizens through regulatory convergence which of itself will threaten our public services, jobs, food safety standards, health and safety and the limited employment protections that workers currently enjoy.
But just as important it means a further transfer of power away from elected governments to private business interests and the biggest beneficiaries of these agreements, if they are concluded, will be large corporations which are governed by the requirement of the maximisation of shareholder profit irrespective of the impact of workers and communities.
The imbalance of power is already stark. CETA and TTIP will entrench this unequal power relationship even deeper and undermine our already superficial democracy.
The decisions taken by these companies in pursuit of their profits have devastating consequences for workers, their families and whole communities.
Yet these negotiations are intended, not just to extend the opportunities for exploitation, but also to make it easier for these corporations to sue governments for making policy decisions in the interests of citizens if these decisions undermine the companies’ bottom line, their profits.
These developments represent the logical and inevitable outworking of the principles underpinning the European Union. It is unfortunate that the real nature of the EU has been obscured by the haze of the right wing, xenophobic and racist campaign for withdrawal.
Both in Britain and in Ireland we must intensify our efforts to expose the European Union as a vehicle for the advancement of the interests of capital.
Comrades and Friends, there are many in our movement, unfortunately a majority, who regard the EU as a bulwark, maybe a saviour, against national right wing anti worker governments but we need to convince them that there is a viable future beyond and outside the EU and overcome the fear and uncertainty that is felt within the organised working class.
We would do well, in this context, to revisit these words from the “Internationale”:
“No saviour from on high deliver
No faith has we in prince or peer
Our own right hand the chains must sever”
When James Connolly led his Citizens Army into the 1916 Rebellion he was taking a stand against Empire, he was taking a stand against War and he was taking a stand for a better life for workers and their families.
We must build the movement against austerity, against war and against the domination of our lives by corporations.
We must shift the centre of gravity of political and cultural life to the Left and build the broadest alliance of forces against the existing system and do so in a way which harnesses the allegiances of all working class people, not behind the populist reactionary right wing agenda, but for a real People’s Alternative.
That is why we must also hammer the point that the cause of the so called “migrant crisis” is essentially a consequence of the wars that the western imperialist powers have triggered over the last number of decades, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya and now in Syria and we mustn’t forget the despicable role played by the European Union in encouraging the crisis and war in the Ukraine.
Comrades and Friends, on this occasion, at the grave of Karl Marx, who hasn’t gone away and whose ideas are very much alive, let us rededicate ourselves to international solidarity, let us restate our opposition to War, let us reject the rule of the Corporations and highlight that the democracy worth fighting for is the one which gives control over all the major decisions that affect people’s lives to the people themselves, a socialist democracy.
In the words of James Connolly “We only want the earth”.
Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths said:
In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels wrote:
‘Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie’.
Have we settled matters with the capitalist class and its state power here in Britain, or in its constituent nations? Of course not.
Do we — the working class, the labour movement, the left — have the capacity and potential to do so?
There are those on the left who argue, 168 years later, that the struggle for a socialist society has to be fought at a continental level.
This presupposes that political power today is concentrated in the treaties and institutions of the European Union.
And it’s true that these treaties and institutions represent the common interests of monopoly capital across Europe: for the free movement of capital and commodities including labour power; limits on public sector borrowing and debt; severe restrictions on social enterprise and state aid for industry; and militarisation of the economy in partnership with NATO.
But ultimately the EU still rests upon the state-monopoly capitalism of each country, dominated by the strongest ones. In a crisis or conflict, the German, French and British states represent the predominant interests of the capitalist class in their own country.
The question is, therefore: does membership of the EU help or hinder the political class struggle for progress and revolutionary transformation?
Our long experience of class struggle in Britain, and the experience of the Communist Party here since 1920, has taught us that there are no short cuts to socialism.
Whether Britain stays in the EU or leaves, the need will remain for mass mobilisations and confrontations in the revolutionary struggle for state power.
Will it assist us to be inside a European Union where the capitalist class in Britain can call upon basic EU treaties and institutions to obstruct the road to socialism?
The EU institutionalises the international solidarity of otherwise rival capitalist powers, not the international solidarity of workers and their parties.
This is imperialist internationalism which, as Lenin reminded us when arguing against a United States of Europe, would be aimed at socialism at home, rival imperialisms abroad and oppressed peoples everywhere.
Why should we lock ourself into a cage designed by monopoly capital, for monopoly capital?
Ah, we are told, we need the solidarity of other workers in Europe, as they need ours. This is true — our interests lie in the internationalism of exploited and oppressed peoples worldwide.
But our prime responsibility is to settle affairs wth the capitalist class in Britain. In fact, putting an end to British imperialism is the most profoundly internationalist task we could perform.
And however much international solidarity we receive, it cannot be a substitute for our own strength and our own efforts.
It is an insult to the history of the labour movement in Britain to suggest that we are incapable of fighting for progress and socialism. We have won employment and trade union rights, equal pay laws, health and safety at work, a national minimum wage, a welfare state, progressive taxation, universal suffrage and extensive democratic liberties.
These weren’t given to us by a magnanimous ruling class or a bountiful European Union.
Nor does international working class solidarity requre us to be members of the EU.
When Marx drafted the rules of the International Working Men’s Association in 1864, he didn’t specify that solidarity between the workers of Europe and North America required the formation of international capitalist alliances.
Antonio Gramsci condemned those who waited for socialism to come ‘by a royal decree countersigned by two ministers’.
He did not believe that, instead, it would arrive in a European Directive countersigned by two European commissioners and the president of a European central bank.