The following speech is from the General Secretary of the Connolly Youth Movement at the Communist Party summer school in Benburb
Comrades, old and new.
It is and has always been in the interest of every movement in history to reach out to the young people within their communities and politicize them. Our task here in Ireland is no different. As a member of the Connolly Youth Movement for four years, I have contributed to an on-going discussion on the strategies, tactics and approaches needed to politicize, organise and capture the imagination of young people. We made mistakes and we have tried again, from these mistakes and the collision of our ideas being put into practice in our conditions we have drawn conclusions and from those conclusions learnt more innovative and interesting methods of succeeding. This is one small element that I think has been refreshing for many people who join – not simply an admission of making errors, but our collective ownership and learning of these errors to the benefit of our organisation.
In the last 24 hours, we have touched upon a number of subjects at this school. All of them are relevant to the youth but I wish to narrow it down to concise points. I think that every generation of young activists sees themselves as the group that will “finally win” or achieve revolution – so let me live up to that exact stereotype and once more in the tradition of other revolutionaries behind me also make that assertion. Here is how I contend it.
Structural ideological, cultural and economic changes have taken place in Ireland. These changes – in accordance with the laws of capitalism and of human development have led the people of Ireland into a set of circumstances that are more favourably disposed towards the overthrow of capitalism than they ever were before.
Today, the ‘key’ Free State parties barely capture 50% of the popular vote.
Today, the Roman Catholic Church, while still there and in possession of assets and funds does not possess the moral or political authority to instruct its supposed nationwide flock a certain way.
Today, many young people are not simply ‘incubated’ to a political allegiance that may have been familial, many young people either don’t care or look elsewhere for answers.
Today, the supremacy of the internet provides for disenfranchised young people to explore other concepts, ideas and views that in the age before unlimited access they could not.
I would suggest that the cultural hegemony of conservative Christian values has been broken and while consumerism and the cult of the individual have played a role in replacing some of it, the road remains open as alienation begins to take its toll. Therefore there is no single ideology of the youth, there are a number of cultures and subcultures, there are a number of identities, there are a number of political views – all of the above are gaining various degrees of traction and this is predominantly done through social media. One over-arching theme that is playing a very unifying role is climate change and I will comment on this further.
Let us then examine how the political process and the parties that engage with it view the youth and how this, in turn, influences the culture and views of the youth.
1. The majority of political parties view the youth as their auxiliary wing. A group of people for them to draw upon to fill the gaps, conduct their canvassing and hire into donkey work positions. Young people realise this. Those with a revolutionary outlook avoid these parties like the plague – those with a careerist and opportunist outlook ingratiate themselves.
2. Student organisations in the form of Union of Students of Ireland and Students Unions rarely if ever lift a finger outside the comfort zone of social issues. However, it should be carefully noted that austerity has begun to pierce student communities with students feeling the burn. While their institutions are rather useless – thousands upon thousands of students can still potentially be mobilised on an issue by issue basis. We saw this with the referendums – if people feel obliged to vote, they will.
3. Migration has played a devastating role on the people of Ireland and it has come, without a doubt as a result and consequence of austerity. However, the menial low paid labour that still has to be performed is still being performed. By who? Mostly by migrants from less wealthy countries, low wage economies in and outside of the EU. Many of them have settled and their children are growing up here – you will all observe that none of the organised left-wing organisations, from trade unions to political parties have made any significant or overt effort in organising these 2nd generation Irish people.
4. The Trade Union movement abandoned young people and does little now as well. Fórsa and SIPTU are places where Labour Youth-Social Democratic types can get a job. There are opportunities however for young Communists in the CYM to involve themselves and generate activity to re-energise some trade union activity via the youth committees in some of the progressive trade unions.
5. Secondary school students and secondary schools are considered places that should not be approached. They are “outside of politics” or apolitical. This is of course – a lie. What we have seen in the last few months is the mass mobilisation of secondary school students is that they are in fact very political. They understand that the future of the planet is in danger and they express a willingness to do something about it. A few weeks ago, when members of the Cork branch of the CYM joined a climate change march, a loud cheer went up from the students: THE COMMUNISTS ARE HERE! Among the participants of the march we saw many people with anti-capitalist slogans, one young lad was walking with a USSR flag.
The above five points are general – there are many more subsidiary points and they can be explored at another time. In taking into consideration the mentioned points and the general development of Irish society, we in the Connolly Youth pose ourselves the basic question.
How do we bring the youth to Socialism?
In posing some of the questions above – it is my aim to provide some of the answers below to help stimulate the discussion but also to help inform our comrades in the Communist Party what exactly our thought process is, how we mobilise young people and how do we penetrate the cracks within capitalist society to build a revolutionary youth movement.
First of all, what does it mean to be a revolutionary in 2019? Does it mean being a vegan? Does it mean using a paper cup? Does it mean having the correct flag in your Twitter biography?
We have found that unlike our counterparts in the Trotskyist cults, the Workers Party or Sinn Fein, being honest has worked best. We are for the overthrow of capitalism. We are for the elimination of the bourgeoisie. We are for the establishment of a society where the hands of labour exercise total control of the means of production and exchange, we are for socialism.
Our honesty has worked wonders – it taps into the disenfranchisement young people feel but it also demonstrates to them that we show a degree of courage in expressing our political views. We are not here to trick them into our politics, we are here to demonstrate that our politics are correct and that they, the youth – have an integral role to play.
Secondly, we utilize all manner of propaganda that we can. Social media is the best form of propaganda. In the last 12 months, three events, above all others, have catapulted our organisation onto the national stage. The first one was the interruption of Coveney. The second one was a Morning Star article which drew in thousands of people from the English speaking communist world and placed the CYM on the map for the first time for many. The third one was the interruption of the Blueshirt meeting in Cork and the subsequent distribution of that interruption by all national media. This event reached emigre communities in America, Canada and Australia. After each event, we have experienced a wave of applications.
Thirdly, it is not just the big events that draw in members. It is the constant challenge we pose to ourselves and other young people. Through our multi-faceted political work, we pose the question to young people as to what sort of society they wish to live in and the answer we receive is clear: a better and different one to this. We strengthen the operative nature of our branches and our national executive committee so that they can handle, absorb and educate those who become familiar with our organisation via our bigger actions. In this way, we very much practice the idea of the patient biding of time between crises in capitalism before taking strategic interventions to the benefit of our class and the youth.
Fourthly, we are not sectarian. I know that taking a read of my social media might give you another suggestion – but it is my experience that being honestly critical of other political organisations may not have them liking us – but they respect the Connolly Youth and what we have to say. As a by product of this and despite us openly levelling critiques at other organisations, we are still able to work together. We consider left unity to be built on an issue by issue basis where we find agreement. For example in Belfast and Cork our members are participating in Tenant Unions with people from Trotskyist, Republican and other tendencies. They participate because they know we are correct in advocating for these mass, anti-capitalist organisations.
Fifthly, we make it clear on radio interviews or other statements that we are building an organisation that gives agency to its members. A lot of organisations fall into the trap of being run by a small group of paid officials sitting in one office. Observe the Socialist Party or Sinn Fein. Our intention is to broaden our influence, to educate the youth and to guide them into organisations that can empower them and give them agency over their future. Our constitution outlines democratic mechanisms of recall, of participation, of Congress and of election – we practice the socialism we desire to build.
Sixthly, we have begun a process of developing a counter-culture to the cult of the individual. At our most recent Congress, we passed a resolution that states our movement is responsible for the mental, emotional and physical well being of its membership, What this means in practice is that one cannot be a Communist nor a revolutionary while leading a lifestyle that is in contravention to their political world outlook. Much like you cannot be a feminist and contain hatred for women, you cannot be a Communist and be a crusty waster. This is not simply a form of self-help, it is also a form of discipline. It is also a fact that physical exercise assists a comrades mental health and as many of you know, we live in a mental health epidemic.
Seventhly, we never claim to possess all of the answers. We do however claim that self-education and the importance of education is the key to liberation. We are not clerics who speak from a pedestal like our ultra-left cultist counterparts, we are Communists who desire to see young people rise with us, not behind us. It is our view that this approach has also been refreshing for it provides the opportunity for even the most seasoned Connolly Youth member to be in an environment where they are in a perpetual learning process.
Eighthly, – we speak of revolution and then we focus on building revolution. One occupied building is not a revolution. One trade union is not a revolution. One tenant union is not a revolution.
However, one branch in each city carrying out one of the aforementioned tasks or all of them – is certainly a stepping stone to revolution. We aim to mitigate the ruthless consequences that capitalism lays on the youth and conjoin these short term interventions and actions with our long term objectives – this process is both dialectical and immediately helpful.
Finally. We educate and train. Through education and training, we spread the necessary skills among our members. We believe that in the circumstances where one officer, locally or nationally is removed, another should be ready to take their places. We desire to be a movement of organisers and mobilisers – that is our task, that is how we see the CYM building the revolution. Educating is empowerment, education is a form of liberation.
Optimistic, but realistic. Onwards to Socialism!