OPEN LETTER TO THE SOCIALIST COMRADES

solidarity woodcutDiarmuid Breatnach, Feabhra 2014


I have something I need to say to you again, socialist comrades in Dublin (though this may apply elsewhere also); I hope you can spare me the time to read. Comrades ….. shall I call you that? It was common, once, to call people that, if one was in the same struggle with them. You, communists, anarchists, revolutionary socialists, you are all in the same struggle as am I, for socialism. For the workers to rise up and take control. So on that level alone, I should call you “comrades”.

But more than that: I have marched in protest marches with you, stood on picket lines with you, attended meetings and conferences you organised; in years past in another land, I have shared blows of police truncheons and police cells with you and also joined you in giving out some of our own blows to fascists … yes, of course, “comrades” must surely be appropriate.

Solidarity!

But ….. isn’t there also a solidarity factor among comrades? That even though we may not be in the same party, or have the same ideas for socialist organisation of society, or even on the steps to take to reach socialism ….. are we not supposed to stand in solidarity with one another when we are physically attacked? Yes, of course! We say to the State, to the bourgeoisie, to fascists: “Touch him or her, and you touch us!” We repeat the motto or slogan: “United we stand, divided we fall!” We regularly chant “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!

And we say those things because of the lesson the workers learned when they combined into trade unions, that a large part of their strength lay in unity. Many, many times workers struck work because of the victimisation of one or a few of their number. “Touch him or her and you touch all of us!” Yes, it was a hard-learned lesson, but it was well learned. And we took that into our socialist creed too, didn’t we? Whether we were old-style communists, new-style marxist-leninists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarchists, trotskyists of various belief ….. even radical social-democrats ….. solidarity!

And we learned, didn’t we, just like the workers did, that this “unity” and “solidarity” weren’t idealistic wishful thinking but actual survival stuff! That otherwise we’d get picked off all over the place. We know that one of the main things that keeps us somewhat safe, gives us space to work, is the knowledge that if some of us get arrested and beaten up, some of you will be protesting outside the police station, outside the courts, and so on. And vice versa. “Touch her or him and you touch all of us.”

And when we took up struggles other than directly for socialism, for example against imperialism, against racism and fascism, against gender discrimination, against homophobia ….. we extended that net of solidarity, didn’t we? “You touch that anti-imperialist, that anti-fascist, that ethnic minority, that feminist, that gay or lesbian person …. and you touch all of us!”

 Solidarity?

Didn’t we? Didn’t you? Well, there’s a problem right there, you know. Because in theory you said that but did you live up to it? Certainly not with the anti-British imperialists. Here in Ireland, that means Irish Republicans. And you haven’t stood by them, have you? Certainly not since the Good Friday Agreement. You didn’t stand by many who were “railroaded” by the 26 County state, such as Michael McKevitt, who is serving 20 years on FBI informant and Garda “evidence”. You didn’t do it for Colin Duffy and Brian Shivers, who were railroaded by the Six-County state, spending two years and ten months in custody until their case came to trial in 2012 and then Duffy was found “not guilty” while on the same evidence, more or less, Shivers was sentenced for murder and possession of explosives. He had been diagnosed terminally ill with multiple sclerosis, by the way. Then Shivers too was found “not guilty” on appeal too after another year in jail (with the colonial judge criticising his being chosen even as a suspect) so he can now live out his last days with his family. But no thanks to the Irish socialist movement.

Certainly in Dublin, you did not stand, expect for a brief token appearance at one demonstration, with Marian Price, a sick woman of sixty years of age, two years in jail without recourse to the courts, some of it without even a charge. She is out now, her health broken, probably never going to be fit to stand trial anyway, but out. No thanks or not much thanks to you.

I haven’t seen you standing by Colin Duffy, back in jail again on another trumped-up charge (he has already been cleared in three separate murder trials), or by his two family members, who were also jailed for awhile. You didn’t stand by Martin Corey, just short of four years in jail without even a charge and only just recently released on ridiculously restrictive conditions. You didn’t stand with Stephen Murney, in jail on spurious charges but without bail for a year unless he agreed to wear an electronic tag, not go to any political protests and not to live where his partner and child live. He is out on bail at last now, under night curfew but able to live in his home without a tag, able to go to protests. But no thanks to the Irish socialist movement.

You didn’t support the Republican prisoners who are being subjected to humiliating and invasive strip-searching and who have been beaten up resisting it, who went on a long dirty protest campaign as a result. Nor have you stood with Republicans who week in, week out, were harassed by Special Branch in the 26 Counties and uniformed police in the Six, in an attempt to intimidate them, blandly violating their democratic rights to picket, march or hold meetings.

In fact there are so many people you have not stood by; in the Six Counties, the state there must be thinking by now that it can do pretty much what it likes before any of it is going to reach a wider public in the 26 Counties. And Republicans in the 26 Counties are getting used to the harassment. Dangerous that is, too, when political harassment and attempted intimidation are accepted as everyday, as normal …. Dangerous for a lot of people and not only Republicans.

Limits of solidarity?

You see why I’m hesitating about this “comrade” tag? Because it’s clear to me that for you, in practice, it has limits. And there seems to be rather a sizeable chunk that is off-limits for solidarity. Anti-imperialism seems to be off-limits, which is rather strange for comrades who would say that they are anti-imperialist, in a country that is subjected to imperialism, in which the biggest anti-establishment movement is anti-imperialist, which is to say Republican, and which contains the most people of working-class background.

So maybe it’s not “united we stand, divided we fall” for everyone? Maybe it’s “united we stand, so long as you’re not an Irish Republican”? Or maybe even “so long as you’re not doing ‘Republican things’”? Like getting arrested on a picket for a Republican prisoner? Or a demonstration against a visit from the British Queen? Maybe ‘Republican things’ would even include being arrested for standing up for Irish language rights? It would help to be sure where the dividing line was, where I cannot count on your solidarity and where I can.

But I’m pretty clear about the Republicans, don’t worry, it seems none of them are going to receive your solidarity unless they get arrested on a clear class issue, like a …. like a …. like a strike. But wait ….. what if they were waving an Irish tricolour or with a Republican placard when they got arrested on that strike solidarity picket? Hmmm ….. it can get difficult to draw that line.

You see, the thing is, comrades – yes, I know I was having doubts about using it, but I was kind of brought up to use the term, call it a convention – I know that if YOU were arrested, I would be outside the police station and the courthouse and the jail for YOU. But I’m not at all sure that you’d return the favour. Because as an anti-imperialist (the revolutionary socialist variety, not the Republican), I often find myself at protests and events organised by Republicans. And not being sure about whether you’d support me, perhaps I should not offer you my solidarity in the first place? You see where all this could lead, right? The total breakdown of solidarity. Instead of “you touch her or him and you touch all of us”, it becomes “just don’t touch me.” Of course, the answer from any repressive agency to that appeal will be “Why the hell not? Who’s going to stop us?”

And that’s not too bad for you guys for now …. the repression is non-existent or fairly low on your organisations and members at the moment. But do you think it will stay like that? If you do, it’s because you know something about a dramatic upturn in the economy no-one else has heard about, or you have no plans to try to do anything about the situation. Because should you get close, repression there will be. Then you will feel what the Republicans have been feeling a lot of the time already, or what some smaller marginalised groups got at particular times. The Republicans will probably survive it better than you – they have had it for so much longer and their support network is wider. But who will be there for you?

Looking back on what I’ve written above I see that it can be considered harsh and hurtful. It was  not my intention but I do want to jolt you. Am I or my words capable of doing that? I don’t know. Who am I, anyway? No famous figure of past struggles, no leader of a party or well-known independent politician, not a well-followed theorist nor Left academic. A man of many years of experience of struggle at one or other level, perhaps …. but we have seen many of those go wrong too, haven’t we? Too many! Well then, why should you listen to what I have to say? I will give you one reason and if that is not compelling enough, there is no other that will do. I am still a revolutionary. I want to see the end of capitalism and imperialism; I want to see a world of justice and equality and I expend a considerable amount of time, thought and effort in that direction.

 An unfortunate and unhelpful division of labour

Our historical development as a people in Ireland has led to a deep division in our revolutionary motion – it is almost as though some power decreed:
“Republicans, you will take on the question of British Imperialism and Colonialism; Socialists, you will take on the questions of domestic capitalism and US Imperialism. But never the twain shall meet!”

If we think this through it is obvious that this division serves only our masters. While the Socialist movement keeps itself from ‘contamination’ by Republicanism, it likewise keeps the Republican movement pure from ‘contamination’ by socialist ideas and even some ideas acceptable to social democracy. A number of efforts have been made over the years to bridge this gap organisationally but they have failed; not since the days of Connolly and the early Larkin have we even come close. And I am not proposing that now.

What I am asking you to do is to stand up against the repression of Republicans, activists and prisoners. Whether you do this initially out of enlightened self-interest, for human and civil rights or whatever other reason perhaps matters less at this stage than that you do it. Start with those who are being interned by other processes in Maghaberry. Attend the pickets of the broad Irish Anti-Internment Campaign – bring your own (non-party) placards and colour flags if you like. Take your place in marches about internment or against mistreatment of prisoners (no problem with party banners or placards there). Unite those important branches of our struggle in action. How about it, comrades?  Your presence will be welcome.

End.

revolutionary solidarity

PS: EXCELLENT SHORT VIDEO ON POLITICAL PRISONERS AND ‘DEMOCRACY’ received as I finished this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVa7dPOKLXM

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11 thoughts on “OPEN LETTER TO THE SOCIALIST COMRADES

  1. NEWS TODAY 24 February 2014: Stephen Murney Acquitted of All Charges! (statement from éirigí)

    “Stephen Murney, a political and community activist from Newry, has been acquitted of all charges today in Belfast’s High Court of Injustice. Stephen was interned for fourteen months in Maghaberry Jail on the basis of politically motivated charges, including the posting of photographs of political protests on Facebook.

    “We take the opportunity to acknowledge Stephen’s bravery and dignity in the face of British state oppression. We also wish him and his family the very best for the future and thank everyone who has added their voice to the campaign to have Stephen released. Maith thú Stephen!

    “Please like and share this great news with your friends!”

    DB: Free at last! But is this justice? Who is being made to pay for persecution of a political activist, including arrest on ridiculous charges, refusal of bail except on ridiculous conditions and jail for fourteen months?

    The state will let its victims out after it believes a suitably strong warning has been given to them and to other political activists. LET US ALL UNITE NOW AGAINST STATE REPRESSION!

    • I will ignore the fact that you intend that statement to provoke and attempt to have a rational discussion with you. Firstly, many progressive movements have committed wrong acts — whether they are war crimes or not is a matter for debate. Should socialists refuse to support every movement in every struggle which has committed some acts that cannot be justified? The list of struggles deserving support would be very short indeed!
      Secondly, that some INDIVIDUALS in a MOVEMENT may have committed unjustifiable acts does not mean that every member or even the majority of that movement deserves to be badly treated.
      Thirdly, it is the duty of socialists to support anti-imperial and anti-colonial struggles that have broadly democratic aims — which the Republican movement has (although they are not all my aims).
      Fourthly, if you don’t defend the democratic rights to be politically active against the state by groups just because you don’t agree with them, you are ultimately colluding in the future repression of your own group’s opposition to the state. That is the reason for the reference to Pastor Niemoller’s famous quotation which, if you have not already read, I suggest you do before contributing further
      Diarmuid

  2. If it was just of matter of “some INDIVIDUALS in a MOVEMENT” which committed “unjustifiable acts”, as you call them, then I could accept your argument. However it was the ‘MOVEMENT’, which committed the war crimes: the INDIVIDUALS were just the actors obeying orders. The terrorist and sectarian campaign of the Provisional IRA, whom you think Socialists should support, drove the Civil Rights Movement off the streets, alienated the progressive elements among Protestants and galvanised the worst elements of Orangism. While no prisoners, political or otherwise, deserve to be badly treated, I cannot bring myself to support a MOVEMENT which bombed and murdered and abducted and disappeared people, during their campaign of terror.

    • I think you are confusing the colonial RUC (and their B Specials) and British Army with the IRA in driving the civil rights movement off the street, with batons, CS gas and ultimately live rounds and rubber and plastic bullets. The IRA whether one likes them or not did not drive the civil rights movement off the street.

      In talking about a sectarian campaign, you are also confusing the RUC, British Army and the Loyalists with the IRA. The IRA committed a handful of sectarian attacks while the others I listed did so without end, in defence of a statelet that was itself sectarian to the core.

      It is sad that you excuse the behaviour of “the worst elements of Orangism” by blaming it on the IRA. Should you wish to look into the history you will find that the first victim of the 30 Years war was a Catholic barman shot by Loyalist paramilitaries before the IRA armed campaign and while the civil rights agitation was only just beginning. The first bombing was by the Loyalists who blew themselves up while attacking a public facility, also before the IRA armed campaign. The first British soldier killed was actually shot by the RUC as they shot up a “nationalist” estate — he was home on leave — during the civil rights campaign. This was also before the IRA armed campaign was activated. The Catholics burned out of their homes by Loyalist mobs with police involvement and in some cases British Army collusion was before the IRA armed campaign (in fact the lack of arms to defend their community was one of the issues that led to a split in the IRA and in Sinn Féin).

      Lastly, my article did not call for support for the movement but for support for the civil rights of political activists of the movement (and of others, such as Steven Bennet and Water Tax protesters) and the human rights of prisoners. If you don’t want to do that then don’t but please don’t excuse your toleration of civil and human rights abuses by such arguments.

  3. Your article seemed to me to be asking socialists to support the called dissident republicans, who are intent on undoing the considerable political achievements of Adams and Mc Guinness, after 30 years of bloody conflict. I see no reason why Socialists, should show solidarity with those in the republican movement who refuse to accept the peace agreement, as your article seemed to suggest.

    You accuse me of the toleration of ‘civil and human rights abuses by such arguments’. Which arguments of mine are you talking about? I have no problem supporting ‘the civil rights of political activists of the movement’ or indeed any political activists, even people I disagree with politically, but your article asked for support for people who were more than just political activists. There I would draw the line: if someone is engaged in a terror campaign of any sort within a democratic state, then I don’t see why socialists should show solidarity with them.

    • Donncha, first off please accept my apologies. I thought you were responding to a recent article of mine and not one that I published back in February 2014. The recent article was about the use of refusal of bail and bail conditions as a repressive political weapon against a number of water tax protestors and many ‘dissident’ Republicans.

      In the article to which you were responding, I called for solidarity with ‘dissident’ Republicans who were being jailed in some cases without even a charge and in others, refused bail on spurious grounds while on spurious charges, to be found “not guilty” months or years later or after being found guilty on questionable “evidence” to be released years later. I quoted specific cases for each category of abuse of civil rights.

      Then I also called for solidarity with Republican prisoners, whether in the above categories or other, who were being brutalised and subject to degrading treatment in the jails – solidarity on the basis of their human rights. In the article I also attacked the kind of solidarity that only goes to those with whose political line the socialists and anarchists are in agreement. I also pointed to the duty of socialists to support those fighting imperialism (and should have added also colonialism).

      The arguments you used to defend your toleration of State abuses of civil and human rights were that Republicans had committed war crimes and were sectarian and were responsible for the sectarian crimes of Loyalists. I refuted those arguments and now you move on to a different justification ground – that is, that ‘dissident’ Republicans are against the Good Friday Agreement. So to summarise, because you don’t agree with ‘dissident’ Republicans, the State can do what it wants with their civil rights, as far as you are concerned and, once in prison, whatever they like with their human rights.

      Now, answer me this, Donncha, in your view does anyone have a right to disagree with the Good Friday Agreement, to be against it? And if they have the right to that opinion, do they have a right to say so in public, to write so and to bring together those who are against it?

  4. You are making a lot of incorrect assumptions. I’ll make two points.
    (i) You state that I used arguments to defend the ‘toleration of State abuses of civil and human rights’. I didn’t. But I defend the right of a democratically elected state to protect its citizens against terrorist attacks, irrespective of whether the attackers as ISIS, ‘republicans’, loyalists or whatever and where there is sufficient evidence, to incarcerate those involved at whatever level. While in prison they should be accorded the same treatment as other prisoners and should not be subject to any abuse of their civil and human rights.

    2. In answer to your question ‘does anyone have a right to disagree with the Good Friday Agreement, to be against it’? Of course they do and have every right to express those views but they do not have the right to engage in a military campaign. That essentially is my problem with your call for solidarity with people who believe they have the right to derail the democratically accepted Good Friday Agreement by dragging Northern Ireland into another era of bombings, shootings, extortion, torture and whatever else the so called dissident republicans are engaged in. As a democratic socialist I have no intention of standing in solidarity with such misguided people. Let them campaign politically against the Good Friday agreement, without resort to the guns and the bombs.

  5. The point you are arguing against is not the main point I made. My main thrust was about standing in solidarity with those whose civil and human rights are being abused. When you do nothing about those abuses, you tolerate them. When you respond to an article calling for solidarity against those abuses by attacking the victims of those abuses, you are going further and colluding in those abuses. That is what you have done.

    The very point I have been making in that article has been that the people who have been arrested, refused bail and jailed awaiting trial, HAVE NOT BEEN PROVEN TO BE ENGAGED IN ANY MILITARY ACTIVITY and have in fact BEEN CAMPAIGNING POLITICALLY AGAINST IT.

    I did also call, in a very minor part of the article, for unity against those fighting imperialism (and should have said colonialism too) without specifying whether their resistance was by armed struggle or political campaigning. That is a different discussion which I think would be completely fruitless to have with you.

    • “That is a different discussion which I think would be completely fruitless to have with you.”

      Fágfaidh muid mar sin é. Níor mhaith liom go mbeadh tú ag cur do chuid ama amú nuair atá an dioscúrsa seo ‘fruitless’ mar a thugann tú air.

      • An chuid a cheapas a bheadh gan toradh sin an chuid mar gheall ar dhlúthpháirtíocht leo sin a bhfuil ag troid i gcoinne impiriúlachas agus cóilíneachas ach nach naontaíonn muid len a gclár nó a gcuid modhanna. Ach fág an díospóireacht más mian leat.

        By all means leave the discussion but the part which I said would be fruitless was not to do with the main point of the article nor with the main points of my discussion with you.

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