Speech by Eugene McCartan general secretary, Communist Party of Ireland to the 54th Congress of Communist Party of Britain

November 2016


On behalf of the Communist Party of Ireland I would like to extend warmest solidarity greetings to the Communist Party of Britain, and in particular to the delegates attending this 54th Congress of your party.

It is always a pleasure to attend events organised by your party, a party with which we share a great deal of common interests and common understanding, since we confront a common enemy: British imperialism.


These are very challenging times for the workers’ movement, here in Britain, in Ireland, and globally. Our class continues to experience daily the continuing assault by monopoly capitalism on the gains of the working class, gains made from hard and bitter struggles and self-sacrifice. Working-class resistance has been, in general, slow to assert itself but now is growing in intensity throughout Europe. In this struggle, communists and the left have new lessons to learn.

Your congress comes at an important period as the British ruling class and the British state continue to grapple with the result of the referendum decision to leave the European Union. The consequences of “Brexit” have had and will have a profound impact of the lives of working people both within the British state and of course in Ireland, north and south.

And it is having a profound impact upon the European Union itself. The British, Irish and international media have been attempting to distort the motivations behind those who voted to leave as some sort of right-wing, racist rejection of the EU. But the world view that no level-headed, liberal thinking person could possibly support leaving the European Union is now being questioned throughout the EU.

“Brexit” was not and is not just a right-wing phenomenon. The spread of right-wing ideology throughout Europe is a direct result of the left having run away from anti-imperialism, leaving the way open for right-wing populism, as expressed by Trump, Le Pen, and Farage.

The decision of the people of Britain to leave the European Union is posing great difficulties for the EU and has caused panic also in the Irish ruling class. Their subservience to the three centres of power—in London, Brussels, and Washington—has them in a state of extreme confusion.

Sinn Féin, which previously opposed European integration, opportunistically campaigned in the North of Ireland on the “Remain” side, thereby allowing themselves to be co-opted into the strategies and mechanisms of control of the Irish establishment and the European Union. Left-reformist “critical engagement,” as now advocated by Sinn Féin, is welcomed inside the tent.

The parties of the Northern Ireland Executive, far from seeking more powers over the economy, prefer to hand authority back to the British state, so fearful are they of taking responsibility for the policies, dictated by the British government, which they are implementing. The unpopularity of these policies, which hit hard at the working class, has already damaged Sinn Féin’s political support.

In the Republic working people have been driven into a campaign of mass resistance by the imposition of a water tax that they see as a prelude to privatisation. The scale of the resistance from a number of trade unions and especially community groups forced the Government to back down on the collection of this unjust tax.

The Right to Water campaign has raised the demand and has campaigned for a referendum to enshrine the people’s ownership and control of our water in the constitution of the state, a demand that the CPI has been arguing and campaigning for from the very beginning of the struggle. So strong has this campaign been that the resolution was passed by Dáil Éireann without opposition and has now gone to the committee stage. A referendum on the ownership of water, if carried, would be a major obstacle to the plans of the Irish ruling class, the EU, and TTIP.

These important struggles must be used to develop working people’s understanding, especially in this centenary year of the 1916 Rising, that the fight against imperialism is not something belonging to the past but must be consciously at the heart of their daily struggles, that for advances to be made in the social struggles they cannot be separated from but are interconnected with breaking the triple lock of imperialist control—Britain, the EU, and the United States—over the destiny of the Irish people.

We have just witnessed in Ireland a scandal involving the giant Apple Corporation, which flushed its global profits through an Irish address to avoid paying taxes—this with the connivance and support of the Irish government. These profits were derived from the super-exploitation of the lowest-paid workers around the globe.

By looking at Apple, and at transnational corporations in general, we can discern the broader interconnecting trends that are shaping the economics of both the powerful core of imperialist states and the peripheral weaker states.

In the periphery we see the super-exploitation of low-waged workers and the capture of imperial rent by means of financial and structured incentives and tax-dodging, resulting in massive corporate profits. In the imperialist core we see declining wages, lower nominal taxes on capital, and lower corporate taxes, again resulting in massive corporate profits.

In both cases we see a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to transnational corporations and the shifting of the tax burden from corporations onto the shoulders of working people, resulting in the scaling back of socialised public services and their replacement with privatised, commodified services for profit.

This model of economic and social development is now coming under growing pressure by events beyond the control of the Irish ruling class, the possible impact of Brexit, the EU Commission’s push towards the harmonisation of corporation tax by 2021, and the election of Trump in the United States.

The dependent and peripheral nature of the Irish state within the power structure of the EU will increasingly be exposed if Britain withdraws during the next few years.

As the president of the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union, Frank Keoghan, speaking at his union’s annual conference last weekend, stated, “this is because it is the EU acting on the basis of qualified majority voting—in which Ireland has 0.6 per cent of the vote—that will decide Ireland’s future relations with both Britain and Northern Ireland—not our Government acting independently.”

The consequence of Brexit on all our people, north and south, may well be profound. Neither the people in the Six Counties nor the people in the Republic—a supposedly sovereign state—will have any real influence or say on events now unfolding.

The European integration project has hit a rock, as it has been unable to find a viable response to the economic and political crisis. It does not follow that either the populist right or the social reformists have any alternative solution.

It is the responsibility of the left, especially the Communist Parties, to produce policies capable of organising the resistance of the working people and moving on to radical change, opening the path to socialism.

“The old world is dying, and the new world is struggling to be born.”


2 thoughts on “Eugene McCartan on Britain and Ireland, the EU and imperialism

  1. Pingback: Red News | Protestation

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