Liam Mellows Oration 2017

The following is the text of an inspiring oration delivered by Daithí Marcus, an Irish Socialist Republican from Scotland, at the annual Vol. Liam Mellows Commemoration in Castletown, Co. Wexford, 9/12/ 2017:

A chairde agus a chomrádaithe,

Firstly, a thank you to the organising committee for the invitation to speak here today on the 95th anniversary of the execution of Liam Mellows, Joe McKelvey, Rory O’ Connor and Richard Barrett.

As a Socialist- Republican from Scotland it is a great honour to be asked to speak at the graveside of Liam Mellows, a giant of Socialist Republicanism and someone who had his own close ties to Scotland.

Overview of Mellows Revolutionary Life

Liam Mellows is remembered not just as a great Republican, but also as a major figure of the Socialist Republican tradition. Mellows was one of those who set up the Fianna Eireann organisation, and was later involved in the Irish Volunteers and the IRB. In 1916, he attempt to developed the Rising in Galway. He was then forced to escape to the USA, where he carried on propaganda and organisational work. While in America, he was elected TD for Galway in 1918, and re-elected later in 1921. In 1919-1920, he organised De Valera’s tour of the USA. He then returned to Ireland, and became a member of the GHQ staff of the IRA, where he was Director of Purchases.

When the Treaty was signed, he took a clear stand for the Republic and against the Free State. In March 1922, he was among the leaders of the section of the IRA which occupied the Four Courts. He was captured by the Free State on the fall of the Four Courts in July 1922 and was imprisoned in Mountjoy.

It was there that he wrote a series of three letters (which were later called “Notes from Mountjoy”- the first letter is dated 25th August, the second 29th August and the third letter 9th September 1922) about the current crisis of Republicanism. During the treaty debate in the Dail, Mellows had declared that “the reason for many young soldiers going wrong is that they never had a proper grasp of the fundamentals.”

Mellows engaged in a process of reflection about those fundamentals. From these letters, he emerges as the most progressive and far sighted Socialist Republican thinker of that period.

Liam Mellows and his three young comrades- Joe McKelvey, Richard Barrett and Rory O’Connor- were executed on December 8th 1922 without any trial and without any charge being laid against them.
In the eyes of the counter- revolutionary Free State government, the only crime was the four men’s adherence to the political objectives which had been succinctly set out in the 1916 Proclamation and expanded upon in the Democratic Programme of the Republic of 1919.
Those documents laid out a political agenda based upon national self- determination, social and economic justice and democracy; of cherishing all the children of the nation equally, of claiming the wealth of Ireland for the people of Ireland; of securing the greatest measures of political, social and economic freedom for the mass of the population.

Those revolutionary objectives were later ditched by an anti- Republican political elite in favour of a Treaty that saw the creation of two partitionist states within the British empire whereby control of the means of production and wealth generation would still remain in the hands of a small, but very wealthy minority.
The men we honour today recognised that fact. They completely opposed the Treaty with its two state political solution to reinforce an all- Ireland economic status quo.

Those who led resistance against the Treaty and partition were well aware that the forms of government proposed would in no way be revolutionary and would, in fact perpetuate the very same political, social and economic injustice which they had long sought to remove.
Mellows and other senior figures like Peadar O’Donnell represented and continued to articulate, a radical political path.

As Liam Mellows stated- “it is a fallacy to believe that a Republic of any kind can be won through the shackled Free State. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The Free state is British created and serves British Imperialist interests. It is the buffer erected between British Capitalism and the Irish Republic.”

As Connolly had forecast as far back as 1897, the removal of the English Army and the hoisting of the green flag would not, and could not, lead to freedom.

Without the establishment of a socialist republic, Connolly said, the Irish working class would still be ruled by capitalists, by landlords, by financiers’, by a whole array of commercial and individualist institutions.

Events during every decade in Ireland since Connolly’s time, and since the executions of 1922, demonstrate that Connolly’s and Mellows analysis still remains valid today.

The Democratic Programme of 1919, which Liam Mellows and his comrades remained loyal to, asserted that the first duty of the Republic was “to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training.”

The democratic programme also stated that the sovereignty of the nation “extends not only to all men and women of the nation, but to all its material possessions, the nation’s soil and its resources, all the wealth and wealth- producing processes within the nation, and we reaffirm that all rights to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare”.

It declared “the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the nation’s labour”.

The Democratic programme promised a social welfare agenda to ensure that the aged and infirm would “no longer be regarded as a burden but rather entitled to the nation’s gratitude and consideration”. The Republic also had a duty to “safeguard the health of the people”.

It pledged to build Ireland’s economy create industries that would be developed “on the most beneficial, progressive, co-operative industrial lines”.

The political importance of, and the revolutionary intent within, that Democratic programme was a theme that Mellows would return to time and again during the lead up to the Treaty and the counter-revolution.

In words that also ought to redden the faces of those within so-called mainstream Republican parties, Mellows also stated, “It would be folly to destroy English tyranny in order to erect a domestic tyranny that would need another revolution to free the people. The Irish Republic stands therefore for the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland. It means that the means and process of production must not be used for the profit or aggrandisement of any group or class”.
Mellows continually re-iterated Connolly’s basic premise- “If the Irish people do not control Irish industries, transport, money and the soil of the country, then foreign or domestic capitalists will. And whoever controls the wealth of a country and the processes, by which wealth is attained, controls also its government.”

If one needs any proof of the veracity of those prophetical views, one has only to look around them at their families, their neighbours and their communities.

This country is a prime example of what happens when capitalism and imperialism are permitted to run rampant and unrestrained.

Why Mellows is relevant today to Irish Socialist Republicans?

I suppose the question for myself and other young Socialist Republicans is why is Mellows, Connolly, Costello or MacLean relevant today? The answer is clear and simple- while many things change in our society the fundamentals of Imperialism and Capitalism remain the same, and the inspiration and answer of how to challenge and defeat imperialism and capitalism also remain very similar.

The answers for us that can be found in the way any of those mentioned above organised, educated and agitated for a socialist- Republic. The lessons from their lives and deaths ring true in 2017 as they did in 1913, 16, 19 or 22.

While in Connolly’s time the gas and water socialists argued against honesty with the unionist working class in the national liberation position, while in Costello’s time the ring road socialists argued the same. In 2017 we still have those purporting to be Revolutionary Socialists or Revolutionary Republicans arguing either for a Labour can wait policy or the Republic can wait. And the dishonesty in their positions continues. Connolly was clear, Mellows clear and Costello clearer still. Any attempt at overthrowing the capitalist elite of this country that does not deal with the British Occupation of 6 counties will end in failure, likewise any attempt at overthrowing the British occupation of the 6 counties that does not deal with the capitalist elite will end in failure.
As Mellow stated: “The Irish Republic is the people’s republic”.

Similarly as Mellows states: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” in relation to the Free State Parliament of the day. Yet we still see so many individuals who want to effect change attempting to do just that- this is just as applicable to Leinster House as to the EU parliament, the Scottish Parliament or indeed any other Capitalist institutions. Principled activists are consumed into arguing and directing their energy for mere scraps from the table in an institution ideologically and practically rigged against them. All the while resistance at street level is diminished and attacks on the working class grow stronger year after year.

The past 7 years have exemplified this- while debate after debate has taken place in these institutions- with principled activists at times leading and winning the debate on the day. The theft of our natural resources has continued the systematic attacks on the most vulnerable those on social security, the young, the disabled have continued. The practical attacks have continued unabated, the gulf between the have and have nots is greater than ever and the global financiers are laughing all the way to the bank, while the working class walk in hunger to a foodbank- the debates have been meaningless in effecting change. The street activism has not.

Additionally- the complicity of the Free State in Global Imperialism has continued and increased again with the recent vote to join European Union’s Permanent Structured Co- Operation Agreement. The continued use of Shannon Airport by the US military further shows this complicity. Mellows, like Connolly called it correctly on the imperialism of his day.
We must continue to highlight and challenge imperialism in 2017 and call out those who continue to support Global Imperialism in all its forms. Whether this be Palestine, Libya or for us in Scotland challenging Britain’s imperialism in Ireland and challenging those who decry imperialism across the world but have eyes that cannot see Britain’s military occupation of Ireland.

Mellows was explicit in placing the capitalism and imperialism as two sides of the one coin. He stated;
“In our efforts now to win back public support to the Republic we are forced to recognise- whether we like it or not- that the commercial interest so called money and gombeen men are on the side of the Treaty, because that Treaty means Imperialism and England. We are back to Tone- and it is just as well relying on that great body, “the men of now property”. The “stake in the country people were never with the Republic. We should recognise that definitely now and base our appeals upon the understanding and needs of those who have always borne Ireland’s fight”. (25 August 1922).

Mellows analysis on imperialism, capitalism and Parliametaryism rings are true today in this corrupt statelet as it did in his day- the greatest evidence of his continued relevance can be found in his work on a new revolutionary socialist programme for the IRA. This was written so the IRA could begin to enact the terms of the democratic programme as a coherent programme to win the people to support the socialist republic. When you look across what passes as a political spectrum, I can see little radical or bold programme like those developed by Mellows in 1922.

Mellows programme was:

  • 1. The ownership and control of all heavy industries by the nation for the benefit of all the people.
  • 2. Complete ownership of the transport system, railways, canals, shipping etc. by the people.
  • 3. National ownership of all banks.
  • 4. Confiscation of the large ranches without compensation to the landed aristocracy and the distribution of the land amongst the landless farmers and agricultural labourers. The election of joint council’s representative of these two classes to distribute and manage the land. The abolition of all forms of tenure and indebtedness, either to private owners or to the state. The cancellation of all debts and mortgages.
  • 5. The establishment of an all-round shorter working day.
  • 6. Control of workshop conditions to be vested in a joint council representing the workers trade union concerned and the national government.
  • 7. The municipalisation of all public service’s; trams, light, heat, water etc. and free use by the workers of these utilities.
  • 8. The compulsory rationing of all available household accommodation and the abolition of all rents.
  • 9. Full maintenance for the unemployed at full trade union rates until useful work at trade union rates can be provided.
  • 10. The universal arming of all works in town and country to defend their rights.

When you look around the state of the 26 counties, occupied 6 counties or Scotland or further afield and take any of the subject matter of the above 10 topics- it is clear to see a program like the above is still needed desperately ad this is Mellows relevance in 2017.


However, to see the aims of Mellows and his brave comrades realised we need a way forward.

While current conditions that face Irish Socialist Republicanism and Scottish Socialist Republicanism are bleaker now than they have been in previous decades, we must move forward with a clear and coherent strategy. This must be based on a principled and honest position.

We have witnessed within Irish Republicanism strategic near defeat in the last 20 years what a lack of principles, dishonesty and compromise achieved, in 2014 in the Scottish independence referendum we witnessed what the lack of a tangible socialist vision for the working people achieved. It is remarkable then that there are those who are still who advocate an inconsistent and unprincipled approach to the major issues facing Ireland and Scotland. It is wholly inconsistent to be against British imperialism and not EU imperialism, against the British govt theft of natural resources but not against EU facilitated theft of natural resources.

We must have consistency in our position and we must have honesty in our position.

But we also must be clear where the current position of our struggle is- I’m fond of using this maxim in relation to our communities and the current capacity to resist attacks upon them. If a community would struggle to organise an effective campaign against a local community resource being closed and resources stripped out of their community such as a library, leisure centre or community centre- then its ability to defend other integral existing rights, never mind clawing back those lost is questionable. This for me in where our current struggle has to be based, in communities building the capacity to resist.

Whether this be resisting closures and stripping of community asset, the building of community resources or resisting unwanted decisions such as planning applications. But I am preaching to the converted and equally there is thousands of others who are involved in community work across the 32 counties and beyond who are involved in this coalface of struggle as neo- liberalism ramps up further.

Equally there are thousands of organisations out there who battle daily in communities against individualism and for collectivism, from youth centres to credit unions, to foodbanks to housing co- operatives. This all needs built on and a way to link these together, but there are also fundamentals on models of this organising that need changed.

Honestly, purpose and reliance. The value of a credit union is diminished if the saver is only using it for the best deal at the time and will move back to a global bank at the drop of a hat, the value of a trade union membership is rendered useless if the membership has been sold on the commercial benefits of joining like cheaper insurance and the value and purpose of community garden is diminished when the reliance is on a corporate sponsor who’s very purpose is the opposite of the project and can pull funding at a whim.

Similarly, in Scotland we have recently seen the folly of charity organisations with very worthwhile aims who are funded by the state then dancing to the states tune when needed. Look no further in this for evidence than the recent submissions to the justice committee in the Scottish parliament in support of criminalising political expression at football matches for organisations lying wholesale to continue funding and gain favour from the Scottish government, I’m sure there are numerous instances of this in the Free State as well.

We need to be honest with communities in the purpose on these actions, and build self- reliance which is not an easy task but an essential one. If we do this we will be building resistance in our communities which can then be interlinked, centres of resistance that dual power and alternative structures can be credibly built upon.

A chairde I have spoken a lot about what we must do and the challenge that we face, the reality also is that blows have been struck in recent years against the forces of the elites in this state- the water tax campaign and the mass politicisation that followed this was a blow against the forces of the elites, as was the occupation of Moore Street, as was the occupation of Apollo House. All of these events inspired confidence in our class and in activist’s ability to organise, in small victory’s in communities we can also inspire confidence in ourselves, in our class and gain confidence in our organisations. This shifts the dependency of the people, further empowering working class communities. This must be one of the focal points of our struggle and strategy moving forward.

Comrades, by now I have already kept you too long standing in the cold, talking about the past, so before we leave I want to say a few further words.
As we stand at the graves of those executed by a subservient Free State Government in 1922, it would not be appropriate to omit mentioning their current day treatment of Republicans.

The shameful coming extradition of Republican Political Prisoner DD McLaughlin to the hellhole of Maghaberry Jail is a disgrace and the “Special Criminal Political Courts” decision to do this in light of the overwhelming evidence demonstrating the human rights abuses he will face shows up the Free State for the British lackeys we know them to be. For a statelet that preaches about human rights around the world when it comes to Irish Republicans they are proving once again that these rights do not apply.

Similarly, it would be wrong to stand here at the grave of someone who clearly understood internationalism and nor mention recent events in Palestine. Jerusalem always has been and will always will be the capital of Palestine; we salute the Palestinian resistance and salute the PFLP on their 50th anniversary.

As we move into 2018 we move towards an important date for Socialist Republicans in Ireland and Scotland, June 5th 2018 marks the 150 years from the birth of James Connolly in 1868. In the last year the focus was rightfully on Connolly’s execution, let this coming year be on his life and activism in Edinburgh, America and Ireland. There are many plans afoot across Ireland and Scotland. It is great occasion to interlink the struggles in Ireland and Scotland through the greatest historical link we have between these, let us use it.

I’ll leave with a quote of the great Scottish Socialist Republican John MacLean
As mother Mary Jones said “Remember the dead but fight like hell for the living”.

We owe it to the memories of giants like Mellows, Connolly and Costello and most importantly we owe it to the working classes of the Ireland, Scotland and the world suffering under global capitalism and imperialism.

For a Scottish workers republic and for an 32 county Irish workers republic.

Beirigí Bua agus Tiocfaidh Ár Lá!


C. Kistler

Also editor of Nouvelle Turquie.