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