THE GREAT HUNGER – WAS IT GENOCIDE?

Diarmuid Breatnach

That was the subject of a debate between historians Tim Pat Coogan and Liam Kennedy on Wednesday 20th, organised by the 1916 Societies’ San Heuston branch and held in Club na Múinteoirí, Parnell Square, Dublin.

Coogan has a long track record as a journalist and historian of a nationalist/ Republican perspective: for nearly two decades Editor of the now-defunct nationalist daily Irish Press, broadcaster and author of many works including The IRA, Ireland Since the Rising and biographies of Michael Collins and Éamonn De Valera. Kennedy is Professor Emeritus of Economic and Social History at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is the author of a number of articles and of books, most of the latter collaborations, including (with L.A. Clarkson et al), Mapping the Great Irish Famine (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999). His most recent, on his own, is Unhappy the Land: The Most Oppressed People Ever, the Irish? (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2015).

"Irish Famine Memorial/ Leacht Cuimneacháin na nGael" in Philadelphia. USA (Photo from Internet)

“Irish Famine Memorial/ Leacht Cuimneacháin na nGael” in Philadelphia. USA
(Photo from Internet)

Given that the Great Hunger or Famine is a subject on which historians tend to take oppositional sides and with at least one prominent historian on the panel, I would have expected a very large turnout. Therefore when I arrived and looked at the seats in the large hall of Club na Múinteoirí, I was surprised to see that although there was a respectable number in attendance, some of the seats laid out were unoccupied.

I had got the start time wrong (yes, even though I had shared the poster for the event on my Facebook page!) and so missed some of Tim Pat Coogan’s presentation (but a friend told me Coogan had mistaken the subject and began to talk about the 1916 Rising until he came back on track). When I entered, Coogan was dealing with the Great Hunger’s death toll and referring to the “accelerated deaths” method of calculating population loss that took into account further likely births had early deaths of potential parents not occurred. By that method, Coogan estimated the deaths at two million, not counting those who died on the “coffin ships” or after arrival at their destination.

Tim Pat Coogan (Photo from Internet)

Tim Pat Coogan
(Photo from Internet)

Coogan said that New York State included study of the Great Hunger under “Holocaust Studies” which he thought entirely appropriate and concluded by stating that the Great Hunger was indeed genocide.

Liam Kennedy

Liam Kennedy

Liam Kennedy then took the floor and began with a personal anecdote of the unveiling of a stained glass window in Belfast, dedicated to the Famine, at which he had been invited to speak some years ago. It was a somewhat rambling story through which his audience sat quietly, awaiting his arrival at the question up for debate.

During his anecdote, Kennedy related that he had, in the course of his speech, referred to punishment shootings and exiling” (instructions to leave the country) carried out by both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, which had angered in particular his Republican audience, including Gerry Adams (which he described but did not name). So of course, in retelling, he was once again referring to it – in a debate about whether the Great Hunger was genocide or not. Kennedy related this in the alleged context of showing that the Hunger is a controversial subject – of course it is, so it hardly needs any other controversial subjects dragged into the discussion.

Kennedy went on to allude to “amnesia” around the subject of the Great Hunger, which he compared to a similar “amnesia” which he believed attached to the issue of the thousands of Irishmen who had “fought for the Empire (or he may have said “England”, or “the UK”) and for Ireland during WWI.” Yes, it seem to me that he was engaging in a certain amount of coat-trailing in front of his audience which, given the Dublin location and the 1916 Societies host, he must have assumed to have many Republicans in its midst.

Eventually he got the job for which he had been invited and began, helpfully, by quoting part of a definition of “Genocide”. I cannot recall which authority he quoted but a search reveals many definitions, most of which entail intent. One of the most recent authorities is Article 6 of the Rome Statute which provides that “ “genocide” means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group …” and goes on to describe a number of means of carrying that out.

It was clear that Kennedy was going to rely on denying the intention to cause, rather than to deny the effect of the catastrophe; this was entirely as I expected and it is the stock approach of genocide deniers and colonial apologists (not always the same thing). But in reality he had little to say on this subject, other than to point at the “laissez-faire” nature of the UK Government’s economic policy at the time and the weakness of the Whig party in power, managing a minority government. To be fair, it is extremely difficult to prove lack of intent but all the same I would have expected something better.

In its absence, Liam Kennedy went on to talk about culpability, which is not the same thing – one might be to blame for something which one didn’t, however, intend. And Kennedy spread the net of blame pretty wide, throwing it not only over the British Government but on the Irish middle class (could have done more), the Catholic and Protestant Churches (opposition to emigration and continued church-building), the Irish landlords (absentee or callous), the Young Irelanders (had no solutions), O’Connell’s 40 MPs at Westminster (didn’t raise much trouble at Westminster, although they were supporting the minority government).

Kennedy didn’t stint however on the severity of the Great Hunger nor on its huge impact on Ireland and on its diaspora. On that he said he agreed with Coogan, although his estimate of deaths was closer to 1.5 than two million. Any disaster in which one in seven died was an extremely severe one — it was the worst disaster in Irish history and one of the worst internationally, Kennedy stated. And it was most severe on the poor – and here Kennedy quoted a sentence of Karl Marx – and proportionally struck hardest at the Irish-speaking areas.

THE DEBATE OPENED TO THE FLOOR

When Kennedy finished, the Chairperson Kevin Keane summed up the main points elaborated by each speaker and the meetings was thrown open to questions and contributions from the floor. I wanted to get my comment in early, as I was scheduled to sing as soon as the questions and answers were over; since for a moment no-one stirred, my hand was the first up. Handed the roving microphone, I thanked both speakers and remarked that the question of intentionality did not relate only to the Government of the time but also to the ruling class of the time – the British capitalist class. An analysis of their opinions as expressed in correspondence and in their media of the time, for example editorials in the London Times, has indeed revealed the intention to get rid of the Irish cottier class and, to a degree, the Irish landlord class too. They wanted most Irish agricultural land turned to grazing and deliberately used the opportunity to do so.

Other contributors talked about food leaving Ireland while people starved, the low numbers of Irish permitted to vote; another countered the criticism of the Young Irelanders by pointing to the Rising they attempted in 18481. Yet another contributor pointed to comparisons with famine in other areas due to the potato blight such as the Highlands of Scotland, Belgium and the Netherlands – but did not express an opinion from those studies on the question being debated here. One contributor amusingly took Kennedy to task on standard academic grounds relating to questions on examination papers: “Read the question carefully, prepare your answers, ensure they are relevant …”

RESPONSES OF THE SPEAKERS

Returning to both speakers for the final responses, Kennedy admitted that the Government had wanted to get rid of the Irish cottier class but not by famine and disease. The “coffin ships” were only relevant to one year of the Great Hunger, he maintained and also that the Irish had, according to statistics, survived the journey in better health than for example the Germans, who had a much higher mortality rate during the journey and on arrival. On hearing that, I wondered whether he was taking into account the giant graveyard of Grosse Isle on the St. Lawrence, where “5,424 persons who fleeing from Pestilence and Famine in Ireland in the year 1847 found in America but a Grave.”2

Grosse Isle Memorial bilingual notice, Quebec (Photo from Internet)

Grosse Isle Memorial bilingual notice, Quebec — 5,424 Irish people got no further than this spot, where they died and were buried, in 1847

 

The island mass graveyard of Grosse Isle, Quebec, from a distance (Photo from Internet)

The island mass graveyard of Grosse Isle, Quebec, from a distance
(Photo from Internet)

Kennedy returned again to the question of the “laissez-faire” economic doctrine and maintained that the rulers of the UK at that time were convinced that government interference in economics was not only undesirable but would make things ultimately worse. He also stated that we should not judge the people of then by the knowledge and beliefs of today – another argument often put forward by bourgeois historians (and to which I was going to reply in a very short poem I had written on the subject).

Tim Pat Coogan had the final say in the debate and wandered somewhat while however displaying the breadth of his learning. With regard to the Catholic Church he related that the Papacy in Rome had dictated to the Irish Church that they should continue building churches during the Great Hunger and he went on to criticise Rome in terms that might come as a surprise to those familiar with Irish nationalists/ Republicans of Coogan’s generation. He accused the Papacy, through a certain Cardinal, of instructing the Bishops in the Church to cover up cases of abuse, by the Cardinal’s admonition that the Bishops were to act as fathers to the priests and not as policemen.3 Coogan also defended O’Connell who was already sick then, dying in 1847, and the Irish MPs, having to go to Westminster, where they were in a small minority, to put their case and to where letters from Ireland could take a week to arrive.

Returning to the subject under discussion, Coogan made the trenchant point that the Government runs the country and ultimately responsibility lies with it; if it does not, then there is in fact no responsibility for anything, he implied. It was a good point with regard to culpability and he went on to deal with intentionality. He drew attention to a London gentlemen’s club whose members were influential in forming Government economic opinion, and a discussion reported among two members that one million deaths would be required to bring Ireland to a healthy economic state while the other disagreed, saying that two million would be required. “The potato blight gave them the opportunity and they took it”, said Coogan. “It was genocide.”

IN CONCLUSION

Poster for the event (image from 1916 Societies)

Poster for the event
(image from 1916 Societies)

Some points which did not get a response in my opinion were the issues of “bad Irish landlords” and “chaotic land tenancy” and perhaps the others “to blame” apart, of course, from the British ruling class and their Government. Briefly, who was to blame for the absentee landlord situation in Ireland? Who stole the land for them and then protected them and their agents with soldiers and police? Who bought out the Irish Parliament in 1800, giving the political class even less reason to hang around in Ireland? This was the result of invasion, colonisation, planting, repression and bribery – the principal culprit all along was English colonialism.

Yes the peasantry (and landless tenantry’s) situation was chaotic and yes they depended too much on the potato crop. Whose fault was that? Who organised the land in that way (and refused security of tenancy, penalised tenants for improvements by raising the rents, etc)? Who stifled profitable Irish industry if it competed with English and taxed Irish production for the English Crown? Again, British colonialism.  Could the country’s economics have been differently organised, to support that population (and even larger) in reasonable comfort?  Of course it could — but at that point in history, it would have needed an independent national capitalist class to organise it, something Ireland did not have (and has not had since that section of it she had in 1798 was beaten by Crown forces).

In the last analysis, it does not matter how badly one group or another behaved during the failure of the potato crop – the British Government was the principal body with the power to act to avert catastrophe and the real power behind them, the British ruling class, were the ones with the interest in doing nothing to avert the disaster.

Finally, a thought worth considering: would the British ruling class have tolerated a disaster on this scale in Britain? Laissez-faire economics or not, I am pretty sure they would not.

The 1916 Societies and in particular their Sean Heuston branch have been putting on talks and debates on important Irish historical questions for some time, some of which I have been fortunate to attend. The Great Hunger debate was worth having and the contenders were well known with a track record in historical studies and public fame – the debate promised to be interesting. Despite this however, I found the event overall somewhat flat. Kennedy’s presentation manner was hesitant in speech and devoid of liveliness; Coogan wandered off the core subject too often. One cannot blame the 1916 Societies for that, however.

HISTORY AND “SKIBBEREEN”

I was called up to the stage to sing my song which had been announced earlier; by now there were about half the audience remaining. I explained that the song I was going to sing was called “Skibbereen”, published in Boston in 1880, not far from the time of the Great Hunger, and attributed to Patrick Carpenter, a poet and native of Skibereen. The song is in the form of a dialogue between a migrant father and his son but I sing it as though his dialogue is with his daughter. I also intended to omit a verse, one which has the man’s wife dying in shock during the eviction – I felt that women were much stronger than that.

“That’s revisionist!” interjected Tim Pat Coogan.
“That’s right,” I replied, “but progressive revisionism.”

It’s revisionist!” Coogan said again.

I felt like reminding him that I had not heckled him during his public speaking. Instead I said

All history is revisionist. The issue is what kind of revisionism.
“No it’s not – not good history!” Coogan replied.

Reading the short poem "History" (Tim Pat Coogan in background) (photo Denis Finegan)

Reading the short poem “History” (Tim Pat Coogan in background)
(photo Denis Finegan)

I turned from him and read a short poem.

ALL our history is important,

not just 1916,


teaching us what we are


and what we have been.


How we came to reach the now;


of those who fought

or those who bowed,


                                                                                  through bloody pages,

                                                                                 down through the ages;


                                                                                  it relives the struggle to be free


                                                                                 and whispers soft what we might yet be.

                                                                                 (Diarmuid Breatnach, January 2016)

DB Singing Skibereen

Singing “Skibbereen”. In the background, L-R: Liam Kennedy, Kevin Keane and Tim Pat Coogan. (photo Denis Finegan)

I then sang Skibbereen.

As I leaned over to hand back the microphone after finishing the song, Coogan told me his mother had loved that song. I took this as a peace overture and smiled, murmuring something about it being a good song to love. But no, I was mistaken: “And she liked that verse”, he added.

“Well, that was her opinion,” I replied, “and this is mine,” and left the stage.

Liam Kennedy was much more polite. Up in the bar, in passing, he thanked me for the song and added that he had heard the slogan “Revenge for Skibbereen” (also an alternate title for the song) alright but never the song. I expressed amazement at this, since the song is well known and even more so among people of his generation. Kennedy was born “in rural Tipperary” and, I believe, raised there too.  There must have been many a kitchen and pub where that song was sung in Tipperary, surely?

End.

1In a longer debate, I could have pointed out that James Connolly himself had criticised the Young Irelanders’ response the the Hunger but that his solution would not have pleased Kennedy either – Connolly wrote that the Young Irelanders should have led the people in breaking open the granaries, feeding the starving and preventing food from leaving the country.

2http://www.historyireland.com/18th-19th-century-history/grosse-ile-canadas-island-famine-memorial/
3Actually, a highly secret instruction, including requirement of vows of secrecy and threats of excommunication for whistle-blowers, had been circulated by the Papacy to bishops around the world as far back 1962 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/aug/17/religion.childprotection
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ALL OUR HISTORY — a short poem

Round Tower, Timahoe, Co. Laois

Round Tower, Timahoe, Co. Laois

Diarmuid Breatnach

ALL our history is important,

not just 1916,


teaching us what we are


and what we have been.


How we came to reach the now,


of those who fought

or those who bowed,


through bloody pages,

down through the ages;


it relives the struggle to be free


and whispers soft what we might yet be.

British Embassy Dublin petrol bombed 1972

British Embassy Dublin petrol bombed in rage at Bloody Sunday, Derry 1972

Some of the wonderful children's artistic impressions of the Rising on display at the launch

Some of the wonderful children’s artistic impressions of the Rising on display at the launch of “Our Rising”.

THE MOORE STREET TERRACE — A WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Diarmuid Breatnach

The terrace of houses in Moore Street, No.s 10–25, in the Irish capital of Dublin, much in the news of late, is of great importance to the world and should be recognised as such by Irish people and internationally. The terrace is of great importance in terms of being

  • an urban WWI battlefield

  • of opposition to imperialist war

  • of the struggle of the working class

  • of women’s struggle for equality 

  • of the struggle of the world’s people against colonialism and

  • a surviving centuries-old European street market.

In this article I intend to develop this argument and these points.

In the closing days of Easter Week, in the cancelled and hurriedly rescheduled Easter Rising in Dublin, after five days of fighting, siege and a number of days of artillery bombardment, the garrison of the General Post Office, the Headquarters of the Rising, evacuated their burning building and occupied a terrace of sixteen houses in Moore Street. They broke into No.10 and tunneled from house to house up to No.25, until the whole of the terrace and back yards had been occupied.

Meanwhile, a charge of a dozen Volunteers on the British Army barricade at the northern end of that street, at the junction with Parnell Street, had failed to reach its objective; machine-gun fire had injured some and killed others. The leader of that charge, mortally wounded in a side-street, wrote a note to his wife as he lay dying there (the words are reproduced on a plaque in the laneway named after him: O’Rahilly Parade).

That history, and of it as a market in childhood memory, is what engages many people — perhaps most – of those campaigning for the preservation of that terrace of houses and of the thousands who support their efforts. But there are aspects of international importance to that 1916 Rising not usually alluded to and which deserve to be noted, celebrated and commemorated.

A RISING AGAINST WORLD WAR

James Connolly, the revolutionary socialist or communist and trade union leader, had been calling for an uprising for years and his public exhortations intensified with the onset of WWI. A section of the Irish Republican Brotherhood was also anxious to engineer an uprising during that War — “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity” was a well-known saying among Irish nationalists. But for Connolly, the issue was much more than that – the dispute between some capitalists about which of them would control the Earth’s resources and markets was sending millions to die, workers fighting workers in battlefields in which the instigators of the slaughter would never set foot. While millions died, those big capitalists would continue to make great profits, supplying armies with weapons, transport and equipment, fuel, clothing, food …..

A declaration of war against war -- banner on the old Liberty Hall, HQ of the Irish Transport & General Workers' Union. A parade of a section of the Irish Citizen Army is drawn up in front of it. (Photo from Internet)

A declaration of war against war — banner on the old Liberty Hall, HQ of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union. A parade of a section of the Irish Citizen Army is drawn up in front of it. (Photo from Internet)

A few years earlier, an international socialist conference had threatened revolution on their capitalist masters should they dare to start a world war. Indeed, some revolutionary socialists saw war as an opportunity to instigate socialist revolution. Unfortunately they were outnumbered by social democrats who, despite their earlier militant words, when it came to the crunch, lined up the workers of each country behind their capitalist masters against their own class brothers in other countries.

There were few socialist parties and prominent socialists that took the opposite stand but one of those who did was James Connolly. Among the other things that characterised the 1916 Rising was that it was the first significant uprising of the 20th Century against World War. The next uprisings of that kind would be the 1917 Revolutions of February and October in Russia, with another in Germany in 1918.

IRISHWOMEN”

The Proclamation of the insurgents in 1916 addressed itself to “Irishmen and Irishwomen”. Although not one of the seven signatories was a woman, there were a number of them prominent in the command structures of the Rising and in the preparations also. And also of course in the lower ranks during the Rising itself.

Constance Markievicz (nee Gore-Booth) of the ICA was, despite her planter family and quasi-aristocratic background, third-in-command of the Stephens Green/ College of Surgeons area. Kathleen Lynne, also of the ICA was Chief Medical Officer for the Dublin insurrectionary forces and third in command in the Dublin Castle/City Hall garrison. It was at the premises of Cumann na mBan founder member Jenny Wyse-Power, No.21 Henry Street, that the 1916 Proclamation was signed in secret a week before the Rising.

Constance Markievicz, Irish Citizen Army, second-in-command of the Stephen's Green/ College of Surgeons garrison

Constance Markievicz, Irish Citizen Army, second-in-command of the Stephen’s Green/ College of Surgeons garrison

Kathleen Clarke was de facto a member of the IRB, work and powers delegated to her on the eve of the Rising by her husband, Tom Clarke, one of the architects of the Rising and first of the seven signatories. Elizabeth O’Farrell was one of the Cumann na mBan nurses accompanying the men in the GPO and one of three to proceed to occupy Moore Street; she carried the short truce communications to the British and back to the leaders on the Rising surrender day, accompanied Pearse to the surrender point in Parnell Street and then carried Pearse’s and Connolly’s surrender instructions to a number of garrisons in Dublin. And Winifred Carney, James Connolly’s secretary, was in the GPO and later Moore Street with her typewriter and a Webley revolver.

Winifred Carney was the first woman into the GPO, accompanying Connolly and carrying a typewriter and a Webley revolver

Winifred Carney was the first woman into the GPO, accompanying Connolly and carrying a typewriter and a Webley revolver

It is difficult for us today perhaps to realise how progressive it was for any general public document 16 years into the 20th Century to address itself specifically to “Irishwomen”. No country in the whole world had given all its women the right to vote by 1916 although the suffragette movement was in full flow throughout most of Europe and in the European colonies. While it is true that New Zealand gave European women the right to vote as far back as 1893, it was for European settlers only and also linked to a reform movement against the sale and consumption of alcohol. Elsewhere in the world outside the colonial Antipodes and the Scandinavian democracies, the extension of the franchise to women did not seem close in 1916. Nevertheless, in Canada, women got the vote in 1917 – but again, women of European descent only. In Britain, women did not receive full rights to vote until 1928. Yet in a large part of the United Kingdom, a cross-section of people making a bid for independent nationhood, were ostensibly recognising women as citizens with equal voting rights as early as 1916.

Given the preponderance of males in all organisations of all shades of Republican and Nationalist outlook, the inclusion of women in the address had to have been agreed by the men in the top leadership. No doubt women, through their agitation for full franchise as well as by their active participation in so many facets of the movement, helped to convince the men. Connolly is often credited with responsibility for this inclusion but there is no reason to believe others among the signatories would not have taken that position themselves (although Kathleen Clarke did allege that one of those would not). Patrick Pearse had previously supported the vote for women and a number of men in the leadership had female partners who were active on that issue, as for example was Grace Gifford, Joseph Plunkett’s fiancee. The 1916 Proclamation was the first insurrectionary proclamation of the 20th Century (and almost first ever) to specifically include women in its address on a basis of gender equality.

The participation of women in the Rising however had a much sharper illustration than their inclusion in the Proclamation – they were present in most of the fighting posts throughout the Rising, whether as members of Cumann na mBan or of the Irish Citizen Army – several were killed or injured, many were arrested and one was sentenced to death (though sentence was commuted later).

The participation of Cumann na mBan made the 1916 Rising the first uprising of the 20th Century (and probably prior to that) in which women participated in their own organisation, in their own uniform.

The participation of women in the Irish Citizen Army, where they shared equal status with men, made the 1916 Rising the first uprising of the 20th Century (and almost first ever) in which women participated in an armed and uniformed organisation, and in equal status with their male comrades.

HOPE AND ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE PEOPLE OF THE COLONIES

The British Empire in 1916 was huge – around 13 million square miles of territory in 1916, nearly a quarter of the world’s area. It was said that the “sun never set” upon the Empire because at any moment during 24 hours, some part of the Empire would be receiving light from the sun. Around 450 million people were under the Empire’s dominion.

Map of the British Empire in 1914 (of course the British ruling class had dominant influence over many other areas, for example over much of Latin America). (Image sourced from Internet)

Map of the British Empire in 1914 (of course the British ruling class had dominant influence over many other areas, for example over much of Latin America).
(Image sourced from Internet)

And of course, there had been resistance. Even after resistance had been beaten, there had been further uprisings – in fact, some areas such as that of the present-day Afghanistan were in almost constant rebellion. But rebellions were mostly localised and even when they took on a more sweeping character, such as the Mahdist War of 1881-’89 in the Sudan or the Boxer Uprising in northern China in 1900, they had been crushed by British military might.

The news of the Easter Rebellion in Dublin ran around all parts of the British colonial world, from the nearer to the most remote. And some of the news was carried by the Irish in the British armed forces. Tom Barry, later to be undefeated guerrilla leader in the War of Independence in West Cork, read about the Rising while serving in the British Army in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). The Connaught Rangers, hundreds of which were to mutiny in India in 1920, were also in Mesopotamia in 1916. These Irish units of the British Army and Irish men in British units serving outside the United Kingdom, served not just next to English, Welsh and Scottish soldiers but also next to soldiers drawn from colonial peoples; they were often serviced too by colonial people in auxiliary roles and mixed to a degree with the colonial populations among which they were stationed, in markets, eating houses, bars and sex-houses. Just four years later, during the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers, it is recorded that Irish rebels in British Army uniforms had communicated their mutiny and their reasons to the Indian traders.

The 1916 Rising took place in what had been considered, the previous century, the second city of the British Empire. Now past those ‘glory days’, Dublin was still a city of the Empire’s “home base”, the United Kingdom. And the Empire’s Army had been obliged to shell one of the UK’s own cities in order to suppress that Rising! To many a colonial subject contemplating resistance or even outright revolt, it must have seemed like a signaling bonfire, one that proclaimed that the end of the Empire was nigh and called the peoples under subjugation to revolt, to finish it off. And, indeed during the War of Independence, the Nehru and Ghandi families were to make contact with Irish Republicans and Ho Chi Minh is reported to have been inspired by the Irish struggle.

Nor was it only those colonial people in the British Empire who were inspired but those in the French, Dutch, Belgian, Portuguese and Spanish colonies too. Ho Chi Minh, as a Vietnamese, was under the French empire and led his people in armed resistance to the Japanese and French occupation in 1941. Over the three decades following the Easter Rising, anti-colonial struggles around the world intensified and pushed the former colonial powers into “de-colonisation” — i.e. imperialism and neo-colonialism.

WORKERS OF THE WORLD

The Irish Citizen Army had been founded in 1913 as a workers’ armed organisation to defend against the attacks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. The DMP carried no firearms then, though they were well able to kill and maim with their truncheons, a fact they demonstrated during the 1913 Lockout. But it was clear that Connolly at least knew that at some point the workers would come up against the full force of the State which, at that time, meant the British empire and the Colonial regime in Ireland. He called publicly for the ICA to train in and to carry firearms. The Royal Irish Constabulary, policing the rest of the colony outside Dublin, was indeed armed. And British Army units were stationed across the country, many of the garrisons in Dublin alone.

The ICA fell into a kind of disrepair after the workers’ defeat in the Lockout but was soon enough dusted off and reorganised. WWI began the same year the last striking workers of the Lockout, the Jacobs girls and women, marched back to work. It was certain that Connolly would try to stage a rising during the war and suspected that the Republicans, or “advanced nationalists” as they were called then, would do so too. As the war dragged on and the bodies heaped higher, Connolly grew increasingly impatient, contemptuous and even desperate, berating the “nationalists” for not rising and threatened to bring out the couple of hundred ICA on their own.

Irish Citizen Army on the roof of Liberty Hall during a flag-raising activity (Photo sourced from Internet)

Irish Citizen Army on the roof of Liberty Hall during a flag-raising activity
(Photo sourced from Internet)

But the Irish Republican Brotherhood had been planning to rise and in late January 1916, alarmed by Connolly’s threats, brought him into secret negotiations. When he emerged a few days later after what many thought had been his kidnapping, he had been sworn into the IRB and was part of the Military Council, planning the Rising for the Easter weekend. And that would mean that the ICA would also commit to the Rising.

On Easter Monday morning, around 220 men and women of the Irish Citizen Army marched out of Liberty Hall or mobilised elsewhere in Dublin. Two of the important fighting areas in Dublin were given over to their command, Dublin Castle and Stephens Green. ICA members fought elsewhere too, including the GPO. One account has them as the first to occupy the top of the GPO’s roof and another as hoisting the “Starry Plough” on top of William Martin Murphy’s Imperial Hotel in Clery’s building (the last flag of the Rising to remain flying). At least one was killed in the fighting evacuation of the GPO and a number took part in the occupation of the 1916 Terrace in Moore Street. The 1916 Rising was the first occasion of the 20th Century when a workers’ unit rose in their own units, in their own uniforms and under their own commanders.

SURVIVING STREET OF A CENTURIES-OLD MARKET QUARTER

Authorisation was granted for the development of a market in the Moore Street area by the Dublin and General Markets Act of 1831. But the Act mentioned the location as being around “Coles Lane market”, which means there was already a street market in the area. It is probable that street trading had been going on in that area for centuries before that. Moore Street was something of a modern street of its time in the area, laid down around 1763 (and, it is worth noting, before the Great Hunger and earlier than the city’s main street, O’Connell Street), mainly as a residential street with some businesses. In following decades Moore Street would become the main street of a whole market area which included the aforementioned Coles Lane along with many other streets, laneways, cul-de-sacs (“turnings”) and mews.

The streets and lanes of the old street market quarter now buried under the ILAC (Image cropped by Save Moor Street From Demolition from J Roques Map 1754, sourced on Internet)

The streets and lanes of the old street market quarter now buried under the ILAC (Image cropped by Save Moor Street From Demolition from J Roques Map 1754, sourced on Internet). In 1754 the street across the top was called “Great Britain Street” but by 1916 it had been renamed “Parnell Street”.

All of that was demolished and buried by the 1970s ILAC “development” of Irish Life ltd.(later joined by  Chartered Land, which dispossessed the households, shops, stalls and workers for a paltry compensation, to the benefit not only of the ILAC partners but also of Dunne’s Stores and Debenhams. All that remains of that street market quarter is Moore Street, with street traders struggling in difficult circumstances to make a living, harassed by Dublin City Council officials, along with small shops, granted short leases or expensive longer ones by Chartered Land or the ILAC – and under constant threat of demolition or of ILAC expansion.

CONCLUSION

Since the 1916 Rising has all those aspects of international importance listed above, clearly the Moore Street terrace also embodies them all, being the last fighting place of the Rising’s HQ garrison and containing around 300 men of the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Volunteers and three members of Cumann na mBan.

On the basis of those points alone, the site should be a recognised world heritage site. That the terrace and surrounding streets are, according to the National Museum of Ireland the most important historic site in modern Irish history’and ‘a surviving urban WWI battleground … beyond price’ (as stated by the Imperial War Museum) and they include the last street of a centuries-old European street market adds icing to the cake – a cake that should be made available for the world to share.

End.

Documents consulted include

  • various accounts of the 1916 Rising,

  • including biographies and Witness Statements of participants (latter now available on line),

  • along with Moore Street – the story of Dublin’s market district (2012) by Barry Kennerc and

  • Moore St: A Report (UCD 1974)

  • When I first wrote and published this article, though I knew about some Indian and Irish revolutionary connections, I was unaware of some very strong other connections about which I have just been made aware:  https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/the-moore-street…ld-heritage-site/ ‎E

RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ series, and its propaganda value

Source: RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ series, and its propaganda value

By Tom Stokes, from his Irish Republic blog

 

There are occasions in life when time that can never be retrieved is expended on something that is worthless. So far, three valuable hours of my life has been wasted on what RTE describes as a ‘commemorative drama’ to herald the beginning of the Centenary year of the 1916 revolution. Wasted, other than in terms of understanding the propaganda value to the political class even of badly constructed ‘historical’ costume drama – although describing ‘Rebellion’ as coherent drama is stretching it.

I quibbled after the first episode about the use of the term ‘Rebellion’ instead of the more accurate term ‘Revolution’, but it finally dawned on me with Episode 3 that what the writer, director and producers really mean is that this is about rebelliousness within the featured families, to which the 1916 Revolution is just a backdrop.

It would be a useful exercise after the series comes to an end to put a stopwatch to good use to work out the proportion of the five hours of screen-time that is devoted to an exceedingly poor and skewed telling of the story of the 1916 Revolution, and what proportion was used to tell the confusing, intertwined, and fairly inconsequential stories of domestic disagreement. There is of course a market for the latter, and for its setting in a sort of ‘upstairs-downstairs’ genre, but this series, more soap than serious drama, should not be its vehicle.

The 1916 Revolution – what was it really about, who made up the rank-and-file – essential to the creation of a revolution, what scale of operation was in play, what impediments to success existed? Nobody can be any the wiser by relying on this series.

The leaders – who were they, what were they like, what did they believe in, was there a plan, had they some endgame, some vision? Nobody can be any the wiser by relying on this series.

Where is Tom Clarke, or Seán MacDiarmada, or Joe Plunkett, three iconic signatories of the Proclamation, all present in the GPO – but not so far in this sorry series? No clue as to their characters, and precious little of James Connolly’s – relegated to a bit part, or of Patrick Pearse’s – other than his addiction to prayer, his deference to the clergy, his obsession with blood sacrifice, and a capacity for rhetorical exaggeration – as RTE would have us believe.

Where is the evidence of strong public support particularly in the impoverished inner city tenements, without which the revolution could not have lasted almost a week? We know it was there, we who have bothered to acquaint ourselves with the true narrative. Instead, that hoary old myth of widespread public disaffection with the revolution is hammered home at every opportunity.

Episode 3 begins with some bearded chap being put up against a wall and shot by firing squad. Who was he? We are none the wiser by the end of Episode 3. Why might it be important to know that he was Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, a journalist, an advanced-feminist, a pacifist who had played no part in the revolution itself? Because, perhaps, that it is true, and that he was murdered on the command of a crazed, out-of-control British army officer – an essential detail of the 1916 narrative – but not as the masses are supposed to know it since it would upset the entirely revisionist slant of this television disaster, a revisionism that is deliberately applied. And so it goes on.

Against fleeting scenes of chaos, created as we are led to believe by violent anti-democratic nutcases hell-bent on creating a Catholic state, we are encouraged to note the stabilising influence and the manners and the etiquette of both the Irish ‘Castle Catholics’ and their British masters in Dublin Castle. Fast-forward by 100 years and we see the same spurious choice being presented to the people by the political class – ‘stability’ or ‘chaos’, white or black, good or bad. No need to tease out what each side really stood for back then, or what each side stands for now.

There are those who ask ‘what matter – it is only TV drama?’. Propaganda is at its most effective when it is inserted subtly into the thought-processes of its target audience, and repeated through various forms from news and current affairs, commentary, and yes, entertainment. That works, as Joseph Goebbels knew all too well.

RTE claims an audience of 600,000 for its first episode of ‘Rebellion’. A large proportion of these will vote in the upcoming general election in which the main choice will be between, the political class tells us, stability or chaos. And that audience is also entering into the centenary year of the 1916 revolution with its competing interpretations, one of which champions the Redmondite parliamentarian Home Rule option over the other – the right of a people to self-determination and self-government, to be established through revolution where no other viable option was available. Presenting a partisan and therefore skewed version of the 1916 revolution primes at least a part of that audience to adopt a negative view of the legitimacy of that revolution and of its leaders, and that represents a highly political intervention in the popular history of 1916 on the part of the State broadcaster, RTE. It is not, presented in that way, just TV drama.

‘Rebellion’ looks like a cheap production, but cost as much as Ken Loach spent making The Wind That Shakes The Barley – an excellent production for the big screen, which grossed three times its production costs at the international box-office. Why wasn’t Loach asked to make this series? It is not as if he lacks experience. But then, he could be relied on to create a credible narrative around the main story of revolution and to consign the less consequential sub-plots to their rightful places. That would not suit the political class, including its RTE functionaries.

The 1916 revolution is an intriguing, exciting and rich human story, as rich in dramatic potential – characters, incidents and plot-lines – as was the highly successful and accurate 1913 Lockout TV drama ‘Strumpet City’, produced by RTE in 1980. ‘Rebellion’ on the other hand is dross. Some people, their names figuring prominently on the credits of each episode, opted for dross, and each received a considerable reward tor taking that option.

The foundational narrative of modern Ireland – in which the 1916 Revolution is the inciting incident – deserves to be treated with a modicum of respect. That is entirely absent in this spurious version.

There are times when we remark that ‘you couldn’t make it up’. The series writer did, with input from others.

And there are times when we remark that ‘it couldn’t get any worse’. Oh yes it can, and it will.

Of that I am certain.

Pearse, that Speech, and Me

by Hugo McGuinness

Three members of my family fought in the 1916 Rising and eleven “did their bit” in the War of Independence. So it‘s probably not that surprising that as a child, I grew up with stories, real, imagined, and embellished, of those ancestors and their times.

Of those three “1916 men” the one who most aroused my curiosity was my granny’s cousin, Desmond Ryan. “A bit of a consequence”, according to my great-aunt Polly, or “the son of the fellah who wrote the first Irish play that got him a medal from Yeats and Lady Gregory“ according to my uncle.

Desmond actually was “a bit of a consequence”; however his father, W.P. Ryan, while he did write a number of plays “i nGaeilge” didn’t quite write the first to be performed in Dublin and I’m not too sure about the medal either. W.P. was a journalist, editor, novelist, and socialist. His clash with Cardinal Logue, Archbishop of Armagh, while editor of The Irish Peasant, is chronicled in his “The Pope’s Green Island” and his novel “The Plough and the Cross”, both of which bear fruitful reading today. His 1913 book “The Labour Revolt and Larkinsim” together with his work as assistant editor of the London Daily Herald did much to explain and create sympathy among British socialists for the participants of Dublin’s Lockout in 1913.

Gardening St. Enda boys

St. Enda’s boys at work — part of the school curriculum was gardening

W.P.’s inability to toe the line with the bishops saw him return to London, leaving Desmond, “the Consequence”, in the tender care of Patrick Pearse at Saint Enda’s School as a boarder. As most of his Ryan siblings were either in Tipperary or had emigrated, Desmond found himself a temporary orphan save for my great grandparents who promptly “adopted” him and welcomed him into their home.

Willie Moynihan, my great grandfather, was a not very successful publican, and politically, if he had any politics, followed his brother Michael’s line in the Irish Parliamentary Party. Michael was a very successful publican and over a number of decades served as a representative for a number of wards for the IPP on Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) Borough Council. When the IPP took control of Dún Laoghaire, Michael being their veteran campaigner in the borough was given the honour of making the opening speech of that session in which he congratulated the Pope on his recent birthday. It caused a sensation at the time. Now while I realise this was far more politically loaded than it appears today, somehow it strikes me as petty compared with the many other problems Dún Laoghaire faced back then.

Despite his humble roots Michael Moynihan at that stage had a number of pubs, a big house on Haig Terrace, a mansion in Killiney, and was about to be made a Justice of the Peace despite a string of convictions for after-hours drinking and illegal gambling schools in his pubs. His gesture, despite the symbolism, always strikes me as just another example of the “re-branding process” which the IPP really stood for and intended to deliver with Home Rule. They might have cut the cake differently but basically it was to be business as usual – just a new name over the door and on the corporate notepaper.

Nobody ever told me how my great-grandparents reacted to having a socialist with a strong sense of Nationalism in their midst. However Desmond was a boy with a mission and felt it his duty to convert the family or at the very least his young cousins even if their parents were beyond redemption. His stories of St. Enda’s fired the children’s imagination, and I still smile as I remember my great-aunt Polly, throwing back her shoulders, raising herself beyond her full height, and summoning some of the worst traits of amateur dramatics, taking off Desmond, taking off Patrick Pearse, taking off Robert Emmet leading the 1803 Rebellion.

Desmond began leaving his copybooks from school in the house when he visited. These were filled with essays on Fionn Mac Cumhaill, the Red Branch Knights, Cú Chulainn, and other mythical heroes. The copious marginal notes and comments by Patrick Pearse drew my grandmother and her sister further into this world of Celtic heroics, standing in stark contrast to the stories of the famine during the previous century told by their parents. A generation later both my mother and uncle remember being equally moved by the same essays which were unfortunately lost during a house move in the 1940s.

Patrick Pearse, at the ceremony in Glasnevn to remember Ó Donnobháin Rossa, whose body had been sent from the USA

Patrick Pearse, at the 1st August 1915 interment in Glasnevin Cemetery of Diarmuid Ó Donnobháin Rosa, whose body had been sent from the USA for burial there.

As Desmond’s involvement with the revolution grew his visits to the house became less so there was some delight when he turned up in July 1915 with an invitation to go to the funeral of a Fenian from Cork called Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. Pearse, the fellah who wrote all those notes and comments in the margins of Desmond’s copy books was going to give a speech. Willie Moynihan didn’t approve of this fellah called Pearse but his wife relented understanding her children’s curiosity and she was fond of Desmond and didn’t want to let him down.

Desmond, not surprisingly, faded out of family stories after that, as Pearse’s exhortation to revolution was too much for a God-fearing, law abiding woman, like my great grandmother. He would go on to write biographies of Pearse, Connolly, Collins, and De Valera, as well as the first major account of 1916 by a participant. His pioneering journalism during the War of Independence did much to counteract the black propaganda of the State murder gangs who assassinated at will back then. However it was his invitation to a funeral which endured in family lore on a day that changed the family’s political axis forever.

Polly could “do” the speech, and recited it with all the subtlety of a Victorian melodrama well into her eighties. She would recall Pearse as “a bit of a fruitcake” or “sixpence short of a shilling”, but despite his questionable sanity would qualify this with “my God! But that fellah could talk!” Remarkably, with the emergence of the Pathé newsreel footage of the funeral in recent years (footnote to link?), she seemed to have taken all Pearse’s movements and gestures in, and even in old age could deliver it as if she had recently studied the film frame by frame. This delightful entertainment of my childhood had deeply affected her and despite occasionally lamenting how dull Dublin became once the British left, it had been a seminal moment at which she became and remained a republican right down to her bones.

On very rare occasions my granny would “do” the speech. But her version was different. She didn’t have her sister’s dramatic flair, but she too had been affected by Pearse that August day. With her a previously unseen veil of steel and determination seemed to come over her; probably that same steely veil that saw her defy her parents and join Cumann na mBan and which enabled her to carry cases of hand grenades and weapons across the city on numerous occasions. Her rendition suggested she had taken the words in and considered them rather than the exaggerated gestures of which her sister Polly was so fond. Significantly it was through this involvement that she met my grandfather, a member of H Company, 1st Battalion, the Dublin Brigade.

ODonovan Rossa Grave small

Ó Donnobháin Rosa’s grave, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin

As the decade of commemorations gathered momentum, last August saw the centenary of O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral. In many ways it started the countdown to the revolution of 1916-22. Earlier this year I found myself in Glasnevin Cemetery and wandering around came face to face with Rossa’s grave and all those childhood memories came flooding back. It’s difficult, even with all the photographs and the film footage, to really understand just how significant Pearse’s speech was.

Looking at the photographs I wonder just how many lives were changed that day. In its own small way my own family bears testimony to it. As historians and commentators continue to play “what if” in relation to events of that period I found myself doing the same at Rossa’s grave, making similar speculations with what potentially, for me anyway, might have been serious consequences. What if Desmond Ryan hadn’t fired my granny’s imagination so that she went to the funeral? What if she hadn’t been inspired by Pearse that day? Would she have joined Cumann na mBan? More importantly, without being in that circle would she have met my grandfather? The next question doesn’t bear thinking about, because, despite the occasional rocky road, I’ve rather enjoyed being alive, and without that chain of events unleashed by the combination of Rossa, Pearse and that Speech on that August day I might never have been born.

So on the 1st August 2015 I found myself in town at the O’Donovan Rossa Bridge to pay a personal tribute to Rossa, and Pearse, and that speech. In particular I was paying tribute to Desmond Ryan. Because somehow in that crazy way that small events ripple out to have more serious consequences I find myself thinking I owe them for my very existence.

End.

Crowd at erection of plaque to rename the "O'Donvan Ros

Crowd at erection of plaque to rename the former Richmond Bridge over the Liffey after O’Donnobháin Rosa on 2nd August 2015 (Christchurch is visible in the far background, after Dublin City Council’s offices building to the left).

 

Hugo McGuinness is a historian specialising in the period of history referred to above.

The Disunited and Fading Spanish “Left” — handing on the baton

Diarmuid Breatnach

(See also https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/spanish-elections-result-in-most-fragmented-parliament-since-1936/ and for southern Basque Country results https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/internal-dissension-over-prisoners-coincides-with-further-decline-in-the-abertzale-lefts-vote/)

Izquierda Unida (United Left) did badly in the Spanish state’s general elections of 20th December 2014 but their trend has been a downward one for years, apparently due to its increasing friendship with one of the main political parties, the social democratic PSOE. After a short recovery in votes due the current crisis of Spanish capitalism, the rise of Podemos kicked the IU down the stairs again. And it turns out that Podemos is not as far from the IU as we might have been led to think.

The IU (Izquierda Unida) is a coalition of Trotskyist and radical-Left groupings and parties along with the PCE, the old Moscow-style Communist Party, which takes the leadership position in internal elections. The IU and the PCE also have a strong presence and influence in the leadership of both main trade unions in the Spanish state, Comissiones Obreras (in Spanish the acronym is “CCOO”) and Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT). The latter is affiliated to the PSOE but a people of other political affiliations are active within it, including the IU. The CCOO, the largest union, was founded by the PCE but since the late 1980s the party no longer controls it. The laws on industrial representation in the Spanish state favour union organisation but also favour the dominance of the CCOO and UGT. Overall, these two unions have no recent record of great militancy and are seen by many in the Spanish state as part of the status quo.

IU sticker; slogan reads "The power of the people"

IU sticker; slogan reads “The power of the people”

Izquierda Unida was formed by the PCE in the mid-1980s at a time of the party’s waning influence in society and in the trade unions, when party leaders perceived the need to work with other left forces apart from the PSOE. For decades since, the IU has a history of internal dissension as well as one of general collusion with social democracy but may now be about to fade away. On the other hand, the political party that took a big bite out of its vote, Podemos, is not as far removed from the IU as its creators and leaders try to portray.

Historical background

In 1989 Julio Anguita, then General Secretary of the PCE, was elected General Coordinator of the IU which at that time had seven elected Deputies of the Spanish Parliament (el Congreso). The IU denounced without reservations the neoliberal economic politics of the PSOE in privatisation, “reforms” of labour legislation, etc. It stated that no unity of the Left with the PSOE was possible while it bowed before the economic and financial oligarchy and was rolling out the IFM’s program for Spain. Sounds familiar ….. almost recent, doesn’t it?

For unity of the Left, Anguita insisted on adherence to a Left program and developed an analysis of politics in the Spanish state in which he described both main parties, the PP and the PSOE, as being on the opposite bank of the river to the IU. The IU should therefore work to hegemonise the Left and displace the PSOE which they proceeded to attack not only for their policies but also for scandals of financial corruption which the Right was condemning.

Despite denunciations by the PSOE-friendly sections of the media that the IU was siding with the Right of the PP against the Left of the PSOE, in the elections of that same year of 1989, the IU’s share of parliamentary deputies climbed to 17. In 1993 they gained one more and in 1996 they reached 21, they highest they have ever done.

With the approach of the general elections of 2000, Anguita, due to stand for the IU again, suffered a heart attack but shortly before the elections his place was taken by Francisco Frutos (who had also replaced him as General Secretary of the PCE two years earlier). Under Frutos, Anguita’s path was abandoned and the IU entered into an electoral pact with the PSOE. The result? Electorally, a drop from their high of 21 to only eight parliamentary deputies; in public perception, the death of hopes of a Left coalition standing against the IMF.

Far from the results teaching the IU the value of militancy and drawing a line, they became even more timid and elected Gaspar Llamazares, also a PCE activist, who flirted with the PSOE inside and outside of the Cortes, claiming that the PSOE was “one of ours”, despite differences a “party of the Left” etc. The parliamentary downward slide continued with only three deputies from the 2004 elections and only one remaining – Llamazares himself – out of those in 2008.

2008 was also the year the economic crisis hit and the IU elected another PCE activist, Cayo Lara, as General Coordinator to manage the disastrous legacy of his predecessors Frutos and Llamazares.

Three years later, in 2011, the 15M movement put hundreds of thousands on to the streets shouting “They do not represent us”, tarring PP and PSOE with the same brush as bipartisan actors for an economic and financial oligarchy. Many of the slogans were also against the main trade unions, Comissiones Obreras and UGT. In the general elections of that year, the IU with Cayo Lara leading, climbed up again to 8 elected Deputies, against the 186 of the PP (absolute majority) and the 110 of a seriously-damaged PSOE.

Another three years later, in 2014, a split from the IU, the Izquierda Anticapitalista (Anti-Capitalist Left) and a group of Politics professors from the Universidad Complutense launch the Podemos movement. Some of these professors had advised governments of the 21st Century Latin American socialist trend and some were connected to the IU. Podemos identified the PP and PSOE as a political caste in the service of IFM and of the Troika in general, and of the markets. Podemos – like the Frente Cívico ‘Somos Mayoría’ (“Citizen’s Front ‘We Are the Majority’ ”) no longer speaks in terms of Left or Right but rather of parties, one of the Right and one supposedly of the Left governing for the oligarchy instead of for the majority of the population.

The new movement and Anguita (remember him, back at the start of this article?) express approval for each other’s political line. Podemos and its leader Pablo Iglesias, a young Politics professor who theorises about marxism on his television program La Tuerka and who in interviews and discussion programs on more general television lambasts the ‘caste’, proposes to the IU a joint platform for the European Parliamentary elections of 25th May. However, preparatory discussions fail to reach agreement and each goes ahead on its own. Podemos gets five MEPs and IU gets six and Podemos decides to become a political party.

Cayo Lara declares that he will not stand for the IU in the 2015 general elections. In his place a young Deputy, Alberto Garzón is elected, also an activist of the PCE and linked to 15M, who is in favour of constructing an alliance with Podemos. Garzón is also praised by Anguita and is regarded favourably by José Luis Centella, the Secretary-General of PCE; he is the only member of the coalition to present himself in the primaries for selection as IU candidate and his selection is assured. In the General Elections of December 2015, the IU went down once more to two seats but one of the elected was Garzón.

Alberto Garzón, head of a depleted United Left and one of only two successful IU candidates in the recent General Elections

Alberto Garzón, head of a depleted United Left and one of only two successful IU candidates in the recent General Elections

Although the crisis of the Spanish capitalist system has matured considerably since then, we have almost come full circle from what Anguita proposed in 1989: the Leftist opportunist approach of correctly drawing a line between the socialists and both capitalist parties, including the social-democratic one, combined with an incorrect ambition to supplant the latter within the system. It is a plan to “take over” the state through elections. However, the satchel in which the plan is carried seems to have been handed from IU to Podemos.

Tania Sanchez of IU and Pablo Iglesias of Podemos

Tania Sanchez of IU and Pablo Iglesias of Podemos

The plan is ultimately doomed to fail, either because enough votes will not be gained or because the coalition will split before that can be achieved. In the event that it does ever actually succeed, the result will be that the State will take over the Left Coalition rather than the other way around.

In the very unlikely event that the leadership of that coalition should be unprepared to accede to the demands of the bourgeoisie, the latter have their armed forces, police, civil service and supporting media to teach the members of the Leftist Coalition the necessary lessons which many revolutionary theorists have expounded over the 20th Century and even earlier and which the Leftists have probably read but decided to forget. Or decided that they know better.

End.

NB: I have drawn very heavily on the following article in composing this article: m.eldiario.es/norte/cantabria/primerapagina/Syriza-espanola_6_355974415.html

SPANISH ELECTIONS RESULT IN MOST FRAGMENTED PARLIAMENT SINCE 1936

Diarmuid Breatnach

(For discussion on the United Left results see also https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/the-disunited-and-fading-spanish-left-handing-on-the-baton/ and for discussion on results in the southern Basque Country https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/internal-dissension-over-prisoners-coincides-with-further-decline-in-the-abertzale-lefts-vote/)

The Spanish state’s General Election was held on 20th December, four years and one month since the previous one; although in some countries not such a long period, it was the longest between elections in the state since Franco’s dictatorship. A number of financial scandals affecting the ruling right-wing Partido Popular (PP) in recent years no doubt made their leaders reluctant to go to the polls but holding off longer might have resulted in even worse results.

On the other hand, their main parliamentary opposition, the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero Espaňol (PSOE) were also embroiled in some financial scandals during the same period, though not as many. (Please see summary of the main financial scandals in appendix).

Both political parties had something to fear in the growth of the new political party Podemos (“We Can”) but the PSOE much more than the PP, since the image projected by Podemos is generally one of the Left. As expected, Podemos took votes from the PSOE but unexpectedly came in as the third parliamentary party in strength overall.

Pablo Iglesias celebrating Podemos' results in elections

Pablo Iglesias celebrating Podemos’ results in elections

The PP’s vote was under strong threat from the new right-wing party Ciudadanos (Citizens), which pre-elections polls predicted moving into third place in number of seats but instead came in a fourth and well below Podemos. Nevertheless, it did take votes from the PP.

On a state-wide turnout of over 70% of the electorate, the election resulted in the most politically-fragmented parliament since 1936. Although the PP remains the party with the highest vote overall and therefore the most seats, it gained only 123 out of 350, which does not allow it to form a government. Even a coalition with Ciudadanos would give the PP insufficient seats to form a majority unless they could rely on abstention by the PSOE not voting against them, a tactic which would leave the PSOE vulnerable to further gains from Podemos or others in future. A PP-PSOE coalition does not seem possible, both parties having much to lose from such a coalition in the future, not to mention the state itself, which functions under an illusion of political choice between “left” and “right”.

On the other hand, the number of seats held by PSOE (at 90, the lowest ever in its history) is even less than those of the PP and it would need to go into coalition with others in order to form an alternative government. With Podemos? Possibly … but the numbers would still be insufficient and would require others to come on board. It could function, of course, with the PP abstaining from voting against them but that in turn would probably cause further defections from the PP to Ciudadanos or a split. A PSOE-Podemos alliance would also harm the new Podemos party in the future, as it has based much of its propaganda to date on attacking “political bipartisanship” in the running of the state by the “oligarchy”. And on the 29th the party chief, Iglesias, ruled out a coalition with either of the main parties.

United Left also suffers

The Izquierda Unida bloc was also devastated, presumably by Podemos, losing six seats on previous showing and remaining with two. (For the trajectory and electoral performance of the “United Left” — Izquierda Unida – please see separate article).

Background of the Spanish state

The present form of the Spanish state emerged from a fascist dictatorship, in turn the victor of a vicious civil war. The dictatorship of 36 years came to an end without a revolution or bringing to trial of state torturers, mass murderers and robbers. The new form of the state developed a constitution insisting on the unity of the state with the explicit threat of army violence against any nation within its borders seeking independence.

General Franco giving a fascist salute

A younger General Franco giving a fascist salute

It was as though a coach with fascist emblems and full of fascists went into a paint-spraying garage, coming out a few minutes later a different colour but with all the original passengers on board. Of course, a few new passengers got in too, like the previously repressed PSOE and the CPE (Partido Comunista de Espaňa). And they also helped with the painting.

Alone among the state’s population, the majority in three of the Basque provinces voted against the 1978 Constitution (many also abstained). The more democratic articles of the Constitution never found expression in practice, especially with regard to democracy and civil rights in the Basque and Catalan countries. In the 1980s the social-democratic PSOE government was embroiled in the scandal of the GAL assassination squads operating against the Abertzale Left movement in the Basque Country, resulting in the jailing of the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Spanish state, the most senior Police Chief and a number of highly-placed officials.

The Spanish state includes within its borders as already noted most of the Basque Country and the Catalan Countries, which have their own cultures and languages. Also with a significantly different culture are Asturias and Galicia, both of them considering themselves Celtic rather than Latin-Hispanic and and having their own languages. There are in fact small movements seeking independence or greater autonomy in all other regions of the state, including in the political centre itself, Castille.

The Spanish state has long been the most unstable in the core European Union. Collusion between fascists, alleged social democrats and alleged communists internally, along with the support of the USA and the tolerance of its European partners has kept it afloat. Nevertheless, it represents the part of the EU most vulnerable to revolution, with immediate impact should that happen on the French and Portuguese states and further ripples throughout the EU. However the revolutionary and potentially revolutionary forces are currently weak, divided and riddled with opportunism.

End

APPENDIX

Some major recent corruption scandals

(From Wikipedia)

The political landscape of Spain was shaken in early 2013 by the “Bárcenas affair”. On 18 January 2013, Spanish daily El Mundo revealed that former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas had, up until 2009, used a slush fund to pay out monthly amounts, ranging from 5,000 to 15,000 euros, to leading members of the party. On 31 January 2013, Spanish daily El País published what became known as “the Bárcenas’ papers”, facsimile excerpts from handwritten ledgers in Bárcenas’ hand. Among the recipients were incumbent party leader and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Secretary-General María Dolores de Cospedal.

The PP took the position that these payments were in accordance with law. Further, on 14 July 2013, El Mundo published excerpts from several SMS between Bárcenas and Rajoy from 2011 through 2013 in which Rajoy promised help to Bárcenas and gave him encouragement. The most recent of these messages was in March 2013, when publicity on the Bárcenas affair had already broken out. Under pressure from international media and opposition parties threatening him with a motion of censure, Rajoy spoke out to Congress in an extraordinary plenary session on 1 August.

Rajoy denied any criminal responsibility, which he attributed solely to Bárcenas, but recognized “errors” and “having trusted the wrong person”. This did not prevent the opposition bloc from demanding Rajoy’s resignation, but with the PP commanding an absolute majority in Parliament and with no judicial proof on Rajoy’s direct involvement in the scandal, chances for a successful motion of censure were slim.

At the same time, a corruption scandal affecting the Duke of Palma Iñaki Urdangarín, “the Nóos case”, resulted in the charging of his spouse Cristina de Borbón, Infanta of Spain and daughter of King Juan Carlos I, for tax fraud and money laundering in April 2013. She was summoned to court in February 2014, and in November 2014, the High Court of Palma de Mallorca upheld charges against her, paving the way for her to face trial, though only on tax fraud charges.

In June 2015, King Felipe VI officially deprived his sister of her dukedom, privately announcing his intention beforehand. These corruption allegations severely eroded the Spanish Royal Family’s popularity within Spain; according to an opinion poll by the CIS, between 1995 and 2013 the Spanish monarchy’s approval rating had dropped from 7.5 to 3.68 on a scale of 10 amongst Spaniards.

In late 2014, the sudden emergence of several episodes of corruption that had taken place over the course of the past years and decades was compared to the Italian Tangentopoli episode in the 1990s. As a result, this episode has been dubbed by some media as ‘the Spanish Tangentopoli’ or ‘Black October’.

  • Starting on July 2014, former Catalonia President Jordi Pujol had come under investigation after he acknowledged possessing a large, undeclared, familiar fortune, with several of his sons being already under investigation on alleged tax offense charges. By October 2014, most of his family had already come under investigation under alleged money laundering, fraud, public contract kickbacks and other tax offenses.

  • In early October a massive expenses scandal was unconvered involving former Caja Madrid senior executives and advisers. At least 86 bankers, politicians, officers and trade union leaders were accused of using undeclared “black” credit cards between 2003 and 2012, spending over 15 million euros in private expenditures. Involved was former Caja Madrid chairman between 1996 and 2009, Miguel Blesa, but also notable members from the PP, PSOE and IU parties, such as former Deputy PM, IMF Managing Director and Caja Madrid/Bankia chairman Rodrigo Rato, as well as members from Spain’s main trade unions UGT and CCOO.

  • In late October, Judge Pablo Ruz charged former PP Secretary-General and several-times Minister during José María Aznar’s tenure, Ángel Acebes, with a possible misappropriation of public funds as a result of the Barcenas affair. A few days later, Ruz’ inquiry on a Treasury investigation unveiled that the People’s Party could have spent as much as 1.7 million euros of undeclared money on works of its national headquarters in Madrid between 2006 and 2008. On 27 October, a large anti-corruption operation, Operation Punica, resulted in 51 people arrested because of their involvement in a major scandal of public work contract kickbacks, amounting at least 250 million euros. Among those arrested were notable municipal and regional figures from both PSOE and PP, as well as a large number of politicians, councilors, officials and businessmen in the Madrid community, Murcia, Castile and León and Valencia.

On 26 November, Judge Ruz summoned Health Minister Ana Mato to court after concluding she could have benefited from several corruption crimes allegedly committed by her former husband Jesús Sepúlveda, charged in the Gürtel case. As a result, Ana Mato resigned from her office that same day, defending that she had not been charged with any penal crime, but declaring that she did not want to bring further harm to her party. A Congress plenary in which Rajoy was to announce legal reforms against corruption had been scheduled for 27 November several weeks previously; the media concluded that Rajoy had forced Mato’s resignation in order to prevent a complicated political situation on that day.