UNITY – IS IT A GOOD THING?

Diarmuid Breatnach

One often hears it said that we need more unity, that “unity is strength” and on the other side the despairing wail (and sometimes facile sneer) that “the Left (or Republicans) are too disunited to do anything”. But rarely does one see the question analysed. Unity with whom? On what basis? For how long? Can unity actually contribute to weakness instead of strength?

I have five siblings and at times we quarreled among ourselves, especially the older ones. I remember my mother telling me about a father (or it might have been a mother), who asked his five sons (who presumably also quarreled) to bring him ten sticks as long as their hands and as thick as their thumbs. Of they went, probably quarreling about where would be the best place to get them, who should be in charge, what kind of wood etc……. But eventually, they arrived and produced the ten sticks.

The father handed one stick to each son and then asked them to snap it in two. Puzzled, each one tried and, of course, succeeded easily. Then the father picked up the remaining five sticks and tied them together in a bundle. He handed the bundle over to his youngest son and asked him to snap the bundle in two. The youngest son tried until sweat broke out on his brow but was unable to break them.

Hand the bundle over to your brother,” said the father, indicating the next youngest of the brothers. The son shamefacedly handed over the bundle. But he cheered up when he saw that brother couldn’t break it either. And so it went, the bundle passing up the line until it came to the eldest and though he sweated and strained, he also failed.

Do you see,” asked the father, “how easy it was to break any one of you on your own? And how impossible when you were all together?”

My mother had adapted an old European story attributed to a Greek slave called Aesop in the 4th or 5th century BCE but we didn’t know that then. As we grew older the story seemed to reflect a truism, one that had been incorporated into movements of resistance including defensive ones such as trade unions.1

The bundle of sticks motif on advertisement by union banner artists, with the motto “Unity Is Strength” (Source: Internet)

But of course, we also saw movements and organisations grow and split. I witnessed a lot of such activity (and participated in some of it) while working in London and some of my siblings passed through Sinn Féin, Official Sinn Féin and the IRSP and another passed through Sinn Féin and Provisional Sinn Féin (as did my father before he left that and joined Republican Sinn Féin).

And always the wailing cry all around – if only we were all united! The call for unity seems so intuitive, so basic that one rarely gets to hear any of the harmful effects of unity. But is that because there are no harmful effects? On the contrary!

IRELAND AND CHINA

The nationalist Irish Volunteers organisation was formed in 1913, ostensibly in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers the previous year with a declared aim of preventing Home Rule (a kind of national autonomy similar to that of the Dominion territories then) which had been promised to the nationalists (broadly-speaking, the vast majority of the Irish population). The Irish Republican Brotherhood, the moving force behind the foundation of the Irish Volunteers, had plans to use it in insurrection against Britain.

The nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party, the preferred conservative, constitutionalist and even pro-Empire party of the Catholic Irish bourgeoisie, at first ignored the movement. But when it grew to 100,000 members amid enormous enthusiasm, the IPP became worried it might oppose them politically and John Redmond, the party leader, demanded an additional 25 places for nominees of theirs on the Volunteers’ 25-member executive, even though it already contained some supporters of theirs. The IRB, who despised Redmond as a collaborator with British rule, held a meeting among themselves and agreed to vote against accepting that pressure. Most of them did vote against but some changed their mind and, along with some non-IRB nationalists on the executive voted in favour, so that the Redmonites were admitted on to the organisation’s controlling body.

At that time, the IPP was the largest Irish nationalist party and no other party came even close in winning the votes of Catholic men eligible to vote. It is easy to see what the majority on the executive must’ve thought when they voted to accept them: “We’ll be stronger after this, more united; the Catholic Church and the Catholic media will be friendly towards us and encourage even more recruitment. Britain will have to give us Home Rule and we can have an argument later about what kind of politics we want for Ireland when we have our own Dáil” (Parliament). On the other hand, they might have thought that unity with Redmond and his IPP would be far better than being opposed by them.

IRB men Thomas Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada and others were furious – they foresaw a time in the future when Redmond and his IPP would use their positions, along with allies they had made on the Executive, to try to sabotage the project of Irish independence, upon which the IRB had set its mind and heart. Such an event came to pass after the outbreak of the First World War when John Redmond made his speech on 20th September 1914, on the occasion of reviewing a Volunteer troop at Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow, encouraging the Volunteers to enlist in the British Army.

That call, and the resistance to it from within the movement and its executive body, led to a split which reduced the Irish Volunteers from the 170,000 membership which it had reached to a force of 12,300, the majority siding with Redmond and many going on to the war slaughter on the Continent.

The IRB continued to organise in secret among the remaining Volunteers but a number of the Volunteers’ founding executive had always been non-IRB, such as Eoin Mac Neill and The O’Rahilly, and that continued to be the case. When they learned at the last moment that the IRB nucleus planned to proceed with an uprising on Easter Sunday 1916 and calling out the Volunteers to join, Eoin Mac Neill and The O’Rahilly2 did everything they could to halt it. They succeeded only in sabotaging it sufficiently that only about on third of the Volunteers mobilised, and they mostly in Dublin, on Easter Monday instead.

The above lines in these examples are not typed to suggest that thousands of Irish would not have gone to join the British Army in 1914 or even that the whole of the Irish Volunteers would have taken part in the Rising were it not for a) Redmond’s split and b) the cancellation by Mac Neill. I reproduce them only to show that unity can have harmful effects too.

After the 1916 Rising, the survivors of Cumann na mBan, Irish Volunteers, Fianna Éireann and some from the Irish Citizen Army reformed their military organisation which in time came to be called the Irish Republican Army and fought the War of Independence from 1919-1921 against the British. The IRA and the party that had grown around them, Sinn Féin, was also a coalition of people of different ideologies and, when the British offered a partial compromise of a partitioned Dominion status “independence”, the movement split again, out of which emerged the State and its vicious Civil War, with the execution of 83 Republicans by the new State and many unofficial murders carried out by its security forces.

L-R: Chiang Kai Shek, Mao Zedong, photographed in 1945 during short-lived repetition of Chinese Nationalist-Communist alliance against Japanese invasion (photo: Jack Wilkes, Internet)

Let us go a bit further in geography though not so far in time to the unity between the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai Check, a national bourgeois party, against feudal warlords and the plunder of their country by foreign imperialists. The First United Front, also known as the KMT–CPC Alliance, was formed in 1923. Together, they formed the National Revolutionary Army and set out in 1926 on the Northern Expedition. The alliance fell apart due to factors and incidents we need not go into but the result was an anti-communist purge of Communists and the Shanghai massacre of 1927, in which between 300 and 400 were purged and 5,000 communist and trade union militants disappeared. It took the Communist Party two decades to recover their strength and begin to build their influence.

Again, recounting this history is not necessarily in order to prove that the Communists were wrong in their attempt at unity but merely to show the disastrous effect of the way in which events turned out for them and how vulnerable they were because of that unity at that time. In the 1940s, on the other hand, another unity worked out better for the Communist-led patriotic forces, though Chiang Kai Shek had to be forced into that alliance.

THE PEOPLE, UNITED, CAN NEVER BE …”

In Chile in the early 1970s, a left-wing democratic anti-imperialist movement grew. It had many different components: nationalistic and/ or social democratic petit-bourgeoisie; revolutionary communists; revolutionary socialists of other types; masses of supporters of unclear ideology but focused on social justice and opportunity to make more of their lives and the lives of their children. Its party was the Popular Unity party and the leader of this coalition was Salvador Allende, essentially a social-democrat, who was elected President.

The United States ruling class, the major imperialist power in the area, not only seriously disliked many of the policies of the new Chilean regime but also feared that the ideas might catch on in other parts of the world or, even worse, that people outside Chile in Latin America would gain hope and confidence from what was going on in Chile and attempt the same in their own countries. The problem was that the Chilean people had voted by majority for the Allende option. Well, not so much of a problem for the USA – they had disposed of democratically-elected governments in the under-developed world before. Obviously a coup was what was needed – and the CIA began to work for one.

The CIA or even 50 CIAs cannot overthrow a government – to do so they need an army of some sort. It might be by US military invasion, as they did in Nicaragua in 1912, Haiti in 1915, or Dominican Republic in 1916. Or it might be by invasion of a neighbouring region, as they did by supporting and instigating the invasion of Guatemala from Honduras in 1954 or of Iran by Iraq in 1980. The Iraq-Iran war lasted eight years but the Iranian government did not fall and Iraq was defeated. Or it might be by a “rebel” army, such as the infamous Bay of Pigs US-funded invasion of Cuba in 1961 or the Contras, funded and trained by the USA, against the Sandinista Nicaraguan Government from 1979 to the early 1990s. Or it might be the army of the very State they want to subvert — and so it was in Chile in 1973.

Now, how was it that Allende didn’t see that coming? Was he stupid? Far from it – Allende knew the history of the USA in Latin America and he knew that the commanders of Chile’s Army, Navy, Air Force and Police, and most if not all of the higher ranks of the three services too, were right-wing in ideology, some downright fascist in outlook.

Allende’s options were to try and deal with the senior military ranks and hope they would remain loyal, or to dismiss them and appoint others more trustworthy, from lower ranks. But dismissing them might precipitate the very thing he was trying to avoid – a right-wing military coup. However, that threat could be met by arming the workers.

On the other hand, arming the workers might provoke the military and police.

Both options were risky. To a revolutionary, I would think, relying on the loyalty of the military was the riskiest while the second, much less so. But Allende was a social-democrat, not a revolutionary. He chose to hope that the military would not revolt and when the coup came, it was not just he who paid with his life but thousands of his followers and others on the Left. They didn’t have enough arms with which to resist for long and arrest, torture and death awaited them. The toll of the coup was over 3,000 dead or missing, thousands of prisoners tortured, and 200,000 Chileans forced into exile.

Poster bearing the alternative slogan, sourced on Internet.
It was produced by the Ad Hoc Committee to Establish Solidarity With Resistance in Chile, on the occasion of the Speaking and Fund Raising Tour Across Canada by a Representative of the People’s Front of Chile.

Before the coup, a slogan that had become popular in Allende’s Chile declared: “El pueblo, unido, jamás sera vencido”. It has been changed by socialists abroad to “The workers, united, will never be defeated”, as though saying “workers” instead of “people” made the slogan more revolutionary. But a large swathe of the people in Chile were united, and even more united were the workers — they had marched and voted for the Allende option and were eagerly awaiting the benefits of a different regime. And still they were defeated – by a much smaller but much better armed and much more ruthless enemy.

A different slogan came into being after the coup (and perhaps it had been around earlier too but got drowned out by the other): “El pueblo, armado, jamás sera aplastado” (the armed people will never be crushed). People may argue that is simplistic and they may be right – but it contains a lot more truth and sophistication than the slogan it replaced.

IRELAND TODAY

We are constantly being urged today in Ireland towards “unity of the Left” and “unity of Irish Republicans” and, before we nod our heads in reflex action and shake them in despair, it would be worthwhile to look at this proposition a little more closely.

Firstly, what is the unity for? As a minimum it can only be, if we are to consider it a serious proposition, to strengthen our resistance and to defeat austerity measures and state repression.

Then, who are we to unite with? “The Left” means different things to different people and that too needs some exploring. For example, is the Labour Party to be included? Some would say “yes”, including many trade union leaders and activists.

Yet the Labour Party is part of a Government that is heaping austerity upon working people and of a State that is using its police, courts and jails to repress resistance. How can we unite with that? And if the Party is not the same as its members in the Government, why doesn’t the Party denounce and disown those Ministers? No, this cannot be – we cannot have unity with those who work with our enemies.

Others would include Sinn Féin in the list of groups with which we should join for “unity of the Left”. But in what way can Sinn Féin be seriously considered to be part of the Left? In the Six Counties, it is part of a Government of a colonial state and has imposed austerity on the working people there. It has also colluded in State repression of Republicans. SF is mounting no serious opposition to any austerity measure either side of the Border although it often makes the appropriate noises. It does not support the necessary and appropriate action of civil disobedience, never mind organise it. Its mantra is “Vote for us and we’ll see everything is made ok”. That is not a suitable partner in any “unity of the Left”.

Excluding Sinn Féin and the Labour Party removes the largest party and the most TDs from the proposed “united Left” and that is one reason some do not wish to exclude them. However it would be dangerously stupid to try to build unity with these and, even if temporarily successful in some imagined scenario of the future, both elements would desert and even betray us at a crucial moment when we would be preparing a campaign of serious disobedience, to say nothing of revolution.

PRINCIPLES AND TACTICS OF UNITY

Who does that leave? Well, tiny parties and even smaller groups of independent TDs and local authority Councillors, a wide variety of independent activists and a number of campaigns of varying size. Well, better small than rotten at the core, right? And there are millions of others out there yet for us to draw support from in future!

But having unity across that broad mass of individuals and organisations? How? Shall we draw up a constitution and get everyone to agree? They never will and we’ll waste valuable time on the project. Is it all hopeless then?

Not at all. What we need is agreement upon a few fundamentals – the bare necessities, as in the title of Terry Gilkison’s lyrics in the 1967 Disney film “Jungle Book”. Let’s imagine we have come together to discuss cultivating a field. We dropped the Labour Party from our work force because they had been sowing fields with weedkiller. We dropped Sinn Féin because they had sowed a part of the field with weedkiller and were arguing that we didn’t need to clear stones and weeds or dig in the rest of it.

That’s not to say that we won’t have any problems with any of those left but let’s see, eh?

So all the remainder agree that the field needs cultivating, that stones and weeds need removing and digging needs doing. There might be some who don’t (or won’t) agree on what crops to sow and when but at the moment we have the maximum unity, admittedly on paper, for the minimum tasks required.

It might be that on the first day some turn up at the appointed time, 8am and others straggle in at 9, 10, 11 …. OK, it’s early days yet. But those who didn’t turn up at all? They are on notice of dismissal. That is fair – we all agreed that this work needed doing and they are not contributing to it at all.

Now, it turns out that some got tired or bored at noon and left the job, while others worked on to 8pm. Some of those who worked until later are those who turned up later so, although not in the way we expected and agreed, they have put in their hours (and twice that of some who turned up at 8am and were gone by noon). We don’t expect people to work 12 hour shifts every day but we will set a minimum – a realistic one according to our numbers and our people.

Probably, when we started we set up a committee to administer and organise the work – organise tools, meals, accommodation, allocate work to different areas, organise delivery of fertilizer …. And later, decisions will need to be made about what seeds to sow and seasonal work priorities but we can make those at a democratic assembly. And assemblies can elect the members of the administration too – but as individuals, not as the slates of parties or coalitions.

As the year progresses, more will join the work and some will leave or be expelled – but the decision will be made on the basis of the minimum necessary work for the minimum task. If the project succeeds or is seen to be doing well, others will become interested and some of those will join. And they will see who works well and who does not, whom they feel they can trust and who not. And they will also learn to organise, propose solutions or questions, join in collective decision-making.

We may lose the small political parties along the way and some will wail at the loss. But what we have noticed about the parties up to now is that on the whole they put the Party first and the struggle (which also means the people) second. Of course not all ego-trippers, glory-hunters, niche-seekers and petty dictators are in political parties and we’ll have to deal with those individuals too, and their cliques. And not everyone in a party is a party hack. But the work decides (or it doesn’t and we learn from our mistakes) and the decisions are democratic, by popular vote of people involved in the work.

When the work required for the day or week is done or in quiet seasons we should run courses on agriculture. There will be different schools of agricultural thought – OK, fine, let each set up a school, or run workshops, print manuals, newsletters, run FB pages, etc, etc.

It seems to me that is a practical unity, one that can work. We can and I think need to tolerate differences of opinion. But anyone found spreading weedkiller on crop-ground – well, that needs dealing with very firmly. And those who don’t want to dig, remove stones, pull weeds? Their choice — but they won’t be in our workforce or eat from our field.

So, the principles developed in the example were:

  • The maximum unity on the minimum task

  • Unity in practice more than in words

  • Equal rights for all who contribute (and no special rights for anyone)

  • Freedom of speech and press (subject to the basic safeguards) for all who contribute

  • Open to all who join on the same basis

  • Democratic decision-making

It seems to me that kind of unity will indeed be strength. Unity on other bases? Disaster waiting to happen, early or late.

FOOTNOTES

1 In doing a snap piece of research for this article I note that the Nottinghamshire Miners’ Association had the fable represented on their banner – ironically or perhaps of necessity, considering the fractured history of the miners in that area. It was also on a Durham trade union banner, according to Wikipedia.

2 The O’Rahilly, seeing the Rising going ahead despite his efforts, joined it and presented his car for use in a barricade. On the Friday of Easter Week, he was mortally wounded leading a charge against rifles and a machine-gun behind a British Army barricade at the Parnell Street end of Moore Street. He died in a nearby laneway which now bears the name O’Rahilly Parade and where there is a monument to him, including a copy  of his farewell letter to his wife in his own words script.

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MARXISM 2016 AND STATE REPRESSION OF IRISH REPUBLICANS


Diarmuid Breatnach

The Sunday November 6th meeting of Marxism 20161 on the theme “When Governments Lie” hosted as speakers four women campaigners and Eamon McCann, a male campaigner, addressing the packed downstairs hall of the Club na Múinteoirí. A number of cancellations of speakers had taken place, including Gareth Pierce who sent a message which was read out to the meeting.

hillsborough-speaker-when-gvts-lie-marxism-2016

Brid Smith of the SWP (centre photo) chairing the meeting When Governments Lie public meeting at Marxism 2016 weekend (Photo: I.O’Kelly)

On the podium, taking turns to speak, were Sheila Coleman of the Hilsborough Justice Campaign, Kate Nash of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, Joanne Donnelly of the Justice for the Craigavon Two Campaign, and Antoinette Keegan of the Justice for Stardust/ 48 Never Came Home Campaign (summary of these campaigns below).

After being introduced by Bríd Smith, chairing the event, Joe Black with guitar, accompanied wonderfully by a musician on bazouki (if I can get his name will insert it here), launched the evening with Black’s powerful song about Giuseppe Conlon, father of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four. The Guildford Four were wrongly convicted in 1975 of IRA bombings and served fourteen years before they were cleared. Giuseppe Conlon, who went to England to clear his son, was also jailed, as were his relatives the Maguire family. The Maguire1 Seven were cleared in 1991 but by that time Giuseppe had died in prison, an event that, along with his own imprisonment, devastated his son and affected him for his remaining years until he died in 2004 at the age of only sixty years.

All of the speakers emphasised that the State’s officials lied with regard to their respective cases and concealed evidence and most speakers also accused the media of complicity. In the cases of Bloody Sunday, the Craigavon Two and Hillsborough, the British state was placed in the dock by the speakers while the Stardust fire cover-up was laid at the feet of the Irish state.

Most of the speakers also warned people in similar circumstances to beware of establishment party politicians who try to flatter campaigners and decide which are the “reasonable” ones to deal with, always at the price of reducing the objectives being sought. The speakers for the Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough campaigns in particular warned against this element, Kate Nash singling out Sinn Féin as the party that acted that way with regard to Bloody Sunday (Kate Nash’s brother was killed that day and her father shot and injured) and how they tried to bring the campaign to an end with an apology from the then British Prime Minister, while no senior officer or government official was held to account and while one of the unarmed dead remained accused of carrying a nail bomb.

Brid Smith of the SWP (also SWP/AAA) addressing When Governments Lie public meeting at Marxism 2016 weekend (Photo D.Breatnach)

Sheila Coleman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign addressing When Governments Lie public meeting at Marxism 2016 weekend (Photo D.Breatnach)

Eamon McCann, who was on the march in Derry on Bloody Sunday 1972, finished the evening with one of the rants for which he is famous, going beyond his allocated time by a fair bit and despite the Chairperson’s frequent reminders. McCann located the similarities of the cases within the class system – most of those injustices represented were about repression of working class communities, or ignoring the damage done to them and the lies were told to protect the system and its supporters – big businessmen, politicians, the police, the Army.

The meeting ended to sustained applause but without any opportunity to ask questions or to make contributions, to the regret certainly of a number of Republicans and campaigners against what they consider to be ongoing internment without trial. All however seemed agreed that the talks had been interesting and educating in at least some aspect of the issues and events covered.

WHY SO LONG?

It is good that this meeting about State injustice and lies was held by an Irish socialist organisation. It is the duty of socialist organisations to point out the injustice of the State even when the victims are not socialists – or not socialists in the way that socialist organisations think they should be. Prominent socialists Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were not Fenians but they campaigned for the release of Fenian prisoners being held in English jails (where, by the way, it said that one third of them died and one third went insane).

It is said that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes and certainly, if we are to bring about a revolution and the society we want, we must learn from our failures. And in that spirit, I must ask: why has it taken so long for Irish socialist organisations, particularly in Dublin, to wake up to the repression being exercised against Irish Republicans?

Five years ago Marian Price, a former Republican prisoner released under licence as part of the Good Friday Agreement, had her licence revoked and was taken to Maghaberry jail, kept for months without charge or bail, eventually charged and kept in jail without bail, sick, until her mental and physical health was broken. In Dublin the socialist organisations sent a couple of representatives to one demonstration for her freedom and never attended a picket about her case afterwards.

After the Marian Price campaign ended with her release in 2013 on “compassionate (sic) grounds”, some of those involved in Dublin launched a campaign against “internment by other names”, a process by which ex-prisoners released on licence are returned to jail without even a trial in the no-jury courts of the Six Counties2 and other Republican political activists are harassed and arrested and refused bail on spurious charges which eventually collapse after the accused have been held for months or years in jail3.

I must ask again: why has it taken so long for Irish socialist organisations, particularly in Dublin where the major part of their organisation is located and most of their activities organised, to wake up to the repression being exercised against Irish Republicans?

Is it perhaps because the socialists feared to be painted with the nationalist brush? But did they not fear being daubed with complicity with imperialism instead? It is a strange kind of socialist organisation that can’t make common cause with Republicans against the tyranny of the colonial statelet and capitalist State! In that failure, it misses the opportunity to unite forces against its enemies’ state and also to disseminate its ideas among Republican activists. One might also remark that a failure of people who are prepared at times to unite with social democrats for reforms, to unite with Irish Republicans against a capitalist state is a strange indication of revolutionary socialism!

Or is it purely because they didn’t care – it wasn’t happening to them – that Irish socialist organisations haven’tt campaigned against State repression of Irish Republicans, or even protested in solidarity with them? If so, they will by the seed of their inactivity one day certainly reap a harvest of repression for themselves too. Solidarity against State attacks is not only a noble thing with a long tradition; it is a necessity for revolutionaries.

So now that this “Marxism” weekend is over, when its organisers are taking a deserved rest, or writing it up for the British and Irish version of their newspaper, or compiling their recruitment slips to see how many new members or at least mailing list contacts they have gained – will they do anything different?

Will we see the highlighting, from time to time, of the almost everyday harassment of Irish Republicans in the leaflets and newspaper of the SWP and PBP? Will their TDs in the Dáil raise these issues where they might get some bourgeois media coverage? Are we going to see PBP and SWP militants on the regular pickets organised by the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland anywhere and, in particular on those called by the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee?

We can hope, I suppose.

Diarmuid Breatnach

APPENDIX: THE CAMPAIGNS

Hillsborough Justice Campaign seeks vindication that the original disaster was due to crowd mismanagement by the South Yorkshire Police and that some of the subsequent deaths were also due to their mismanagement of some still-breathing victims and lack of coordination of the emergency services. The disaster took place at Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield, England, UK, on 15 April 1989, during the 1988–89 FA Cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. With 96 fatalities and 766 injured it is the worst disaster in British sporting history. Originally, the Liverpool football fans were blamed for the disaster but subsequently it became clear that the blame lay elsewhere.

Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign seeks a proper accounting of the deaths of 14 and injury of at least 14 after British troops opened fire on unarmed people demonstrating in Derry on 30th January 1972 against Internment. Originally, the British Army and Government claimed that they had shot “terrorists” in “returning fire” after being first fired on and a British enquiry backed them on this and claimed to have evidence that some of the dead had been handling weapons.

The campaign organises a march every year on the Sunday nearest to the date of the massacre https://www.facebook.com/BloodySundayMarch/?fref=ts.

Justice for the Craigavon Two Campaign https://www.facebook.com/JFTC2

Founded in 2012, a campaign to overturn the clearly unjust convictions in May 2012 of John Paul Wooton and Brendan McConville for the killing of a member of the British colonial police force, the PSNI, in March 2009.

The forensic evidence was contradictory and in a number of cases even pointed to the innocence of the accused, electronic surveillance equipment had been interfered with by the British Army; the State produced no witnesses to the incident and only one who placed one of the accused at the scene – this witness came forward a year after the arrests of the two, his account of his movements that evening were not supported by his wife; a close family relative called him a habitual liar and then this family member was arrested and subjected to intimidation by the colonial police after he had given a statement to the accused’s legal team..

(see also forthcoming fundraiser in Dublin https://www.facebook.com/events/705695282938993/)

Justice for Stardust/ 48 Never Came Home Campaign https://www.facebook.com/JusticefortheStardust48/?fref=ts

In the early hours of 14 February 48 young people died in a fire at a disco at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin and 214 were injured.

The campaign seeks to shift the blame from alleged “arsonists” to a fault in the premises wiring and other factors within the responsibility of the club’s management and owners, including blocked emergency exits. The allegation is that there has been a cover-up connived at by the Irish Government to exonerate businessmen friends, who to add insult to injury, received substantial financial compensation for the loss of the building. An ongoing controversy over inquiry findings and ignoring of important pieces of evidence have lent increasing credence to the version of the campaigners.

1This is organised annually in Dublin, Ireland by the Socialist Workers’ Party

2A prominent example in the past has been Martin Corey of Republican Sinn Féin; a current example is Tony Taylor

3For example Stephen Murney of the éirigí political party and the independent activist Colin Duffy and members of his family

15 YEARS PRISON THREATENED FOR BASQUE YOUTHS IN BAR ALTERCATION PROVOKED BY SPANISH POLICE

BREAKING NEWS …………… BREAKING NEWS …………… BREAKING NEWS ……………

FIFTEEN YEARS PRISON THREATENED FOR BASQUE YOUTHS IN BAR ALTERCATION PROVOKED BY SPANISH POLICE – SIX ALREADY IN JAIL

 

Monday 15 November 2016

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

Six Basque youths are in jail without bail tonight and altogether twelve face fifteen years in prison, in a case arising out of an altercation in a bar in the southern Basque Country (i.e under Spanish occupation) involving two officers of the Guardia Civil (Spanish militarised police force) in Altsasu in the province of Nafarroa (Navarra).

Protest demonstration in Altsasu tonight. The slogan says: "FREE THE DETAINED!" (Source: Basque contacts)

Protest demonstration in Altsasu tonight. The slogan says: “FREE THE DETAINED!”
(Source: Basque contacts)

Altsasu is known as a town with a particularly strong history of Basque resistance and a continuing sympathy among the population. The town also has, by no means accidentally, one of the strongest barracks of the Guardia Civil.

On the night of 15th October, the two male Guardia Civil officers, off duty and with their female partners, went into Taberna Koxka, a well-known bar and night spot frequented by the Abertzale (pro-Basque Independence) Left, where they behaved provocatively. Inevitably the policemen were challenged by some of the patrons of the bar and a scuffle broke out.

No injuries were sustained by the police although one of them claimed an injury to his ankle, a story that fell flat when it was revealed that he was already on sick leave at the time of the incident due to an injury to his ankle. In addition, the Guardia Civil report itself, though claiming the officers’ behaviour was non-provocative and peaceful, did not claim police injuries and the province’s “autonomous” police force (but very hostile to the Abertzale Left), the Policía Foral, also denied there had been any injuries.

The pro-Spanish media not only spread police lies but added to them, one surreal story alleging that the quietly relaxing police officers and their partners had been attacked by 50 Abertzale Left youth throwing martial arts punches and kicks. Tragically, such lies will find a ready audience in much of the Spanish state outside the Basque and Catalan countries.

At first the police classified the incident as a “hate crime” but the State Prosecution upgraded its classification to “terrorism”.

The eight youths were detained in police raids this morning and taken to the National Court in Madrid although, upon learning that they had been named by the Guardia Civil in a list of 12 people involved, they had already voluntarily presented themselves to testify before a judge in Irunea who, however, could not be found. Despite that earlier voluntary attendance, arisk of fleeing” was given as the primary reason for refusing them bail. Two others were released under stringent reporting to police conditions and two others, who also presented themselves voluntarily to be tried with the others, were told to return to court tomorrow.

Guardia Civil provocatively driving through an Abertzale Left demonstration. The people in costume are Zapantzarak, traditional performers particularly in Spring festivals but often participating in Abertzale Left events also. (Source: Basque contacts).

Guardia Civil provocatively driving through an Abertzale Left demonstration.
The people in costume are Zapantzarak, traditional performers particularly in Spring festivals but often participating in Abertzale Left events also.
(Source: Basque contacts).

“Terrorism”

The Prosecution has asked for the Basque youths to be tried under Article 573 of the new Penal Code, set aside for crimes of “terrorism”, the definition of which even the UN has declared to be “excessively imprecise and broad” and which “may criminalise behaviour which is not terrorist.” Conviction under Article 573 can carry a sentence of 15 years in jail.

Tonight in Altsasu, Basque youth took to the streets in peaceful but militant protest demonstration (see photo).

This incident is not without a context: in recent months the town has seen hundreds of Guardia Civil driving through the town at various times and a demonstration organised by Abertzale Left on 22nd October was penetrated by Guardia Civil vehicles (see photo). The strongest anti-repression organisation in the Basque Country, “Ospa Mugimendua”, has an active following in the town.

Guardia Civil has his photo taken mocking an event organised by the anti-repression organisation Ospa Mugimendua. (Source: Basque contacts).

Guardia Civil has his photo taken mocking an event organised by the anti-repression organisation Ospa Mugimendua.
(Source: Basque contacts).

The Guardia Civil, although established in the Spanish state in 1844, is a militarised police force (type of carabinieri) associated in the minds of most Basques, Catalans and progressive Spaniards with the Spanish Civil War and with General Franco, whom the force enthusiastically supported. The force has a long history of violent repression, torture, murder and even rape. After the “reform” of the State with the death of Franco, the force was neither abolished nor reformed. The Guardia Civil is also much loved by the Spanish Right and the “Association of Victims of Terrorism” (sic), which regularly demands increased repression against Basques and Basque political prisoners, is mostly composed of relatives of the Guardia.

end

(Sources: Naiz and contacts in Euskal Herria)

“They Shall Not Pass — 80 years of fighting fascism” AFA Dublin conference

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 12th AN ANTI-FASCIST ACTION CONFERENCE WAS HELD IN DUBLIN CITY CENTRE, TITLED “THEY SHALL NOT PASS – 80 YEARS OF FIGHTING FASCISM”

The speakers were Dr.Brian Hanley, Dr.Mark Hayes and Ciaran Crossey, with the event chaired by Helen Keane.

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Poster for the event which used as its main image a section of the Battle of Cable Street mural.

I missed the beginning of the conference and unfortunately the whole of Ciaran Crossey’s presentation, arriving near the start of Brian Hanley’s to a packed conference room.

Brian Hanley gave a comprehensive history of the main components of the development of fascism in Ireland in the 26 Counties until the collapse of its impetus at the end of the 1930s. Hanley’s talk built on his Pamphlet: Ireland’s shame: the Blueshirts, the Christian Front and the far right in Ireland, (Belfast, 2016) by adding a review of Ailtirí na hAiséirghe, the minor but energetic organisation formed in 1942 under the leadership of Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin, which aimed for an anti-semitic Catholic and corporatist state.

Hanley packed all that into 45 minutes with apparently occasional deviations from his notes, full of interesting observations. Locating the thrust towards fascism in the strongly Catholic and anti-communist atmosphere of the 1930s in Ireland (with elements of anti-semitism), it was surprising to hear excerpts from speeches and right-wing periodicals of the period referring to the Fianna Fáil Government as “communist” and “under orders from Moscow”. It was interesting too to hear brief accounts of pitched battles between fascists and Republicans around the country during the height of the Blueshirt era, how much of a social base and energy the latter gave to the Fine Gael party and to accounts of the Soldiers’ Song (the Irish National Anthem) being attended to with the fascist salute (which led to violence in one cinema at least).  Another interesting if somewhat disappointing snippet was that the AT&G, a trade union with HQ in Britain, was the one that most prominently took a stand against Franco in the 1930s while many Irish union leaderships took the opposite side.

The Chair announced a short break immediately after Hanley’s contribution which sadly resulted in no questions on Hanley’s contribution when the conference reconvened with perhaps 80% of the earlier attendance.

The post-break session began with a talk by Mark Hayes, well-known in Britain in particular as a veteran anti-fascist activist and organiser.

Hayes began by seeking to establish a description of fascism and then went on to dissect and disprove a number of reasons given by commentators for its incidence – religion, psychology of the masses of certain countries, psychology of fascist leaders, the middle class — but concluded that fascism occurs when the ruling class of a country is ready to implement it and able to do so. During the 1930s and ’40s, the ruling classes of a number of European countries opted for fascism while others did not. Britain for example had leaders who admired fascism, including Churchill (and Hayes quoted some of the latter’s public statements) but could not tolerate a Europe under the control of one country, which explained, Hayes said, why Britain went to war with Hitler and Mussolini.

Some individuals apart, the profile of fascists and supporters was “depressingly normal”, Hayes maintained which demonstrates that a successful rise of fascism is potentially possible anywhere. There is no firewall between capitalist democracies and fascism and commentators who maintain that “it couldn’t happen here” or that its time has run out, as one prominent commentator claims, are sadly mistaken.

The growth of fascism is assisted by the capitalist State with increasing attacks on civil freedoms and on the rights of workers.  Hayes saw this as being particularly initiated in Britain under the Prime Ministership of Margaret Thatcher and her Government, with attacks on the legal rights of trade unions and the use of massed ranks of police. He drew attention to the “prevent” strategy in Britain today as a state-introduced oppressive and repressive measure.

Mark Hayes during his presentation. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Mark Hayes during his presentation.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Questions & Contributions

At the end of Hayes’ presentation the Chairperson Helen Keane opened up the floor to questions.

There were four contributions from the floor, only one of which was a question: it was about the content of the Prevent Strategy which Hayes’ had mentioned earlier. Hayes replied that managers of colleges in “the UK” now have a legal obligation to identify and report to the authorities anyone exhibiting “extremism” which is turning them into part of the police force, which was an aspect of fascist rule in society. “Extremism” is problematically identified as being in opposition to “British values” which are formulated as “moderation, fair play”, etc but those alleged values completely ignore the history of Britain’s colonial conquest and imperialism.

A contributor addressed the liberal dismay at the election of Trump, criticised the alleged feminist politics of Hilary Clinton with regard to the USA’s war policies and their effects on women elsewhere in the world; finally he expressed his belief in the necessity to stand by Russia and Syria.

Another contribution framed as a question but in reality more of a comment was made in relation to the history of the growth of state fascism in Britain, which the contributor ascribed to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, introduced by a Labour Government a year before Thatcher’s Conservative Party gained a majority. That year, 1974 was also the year of the killing by police of the first known anti-fascist martyr in modern times in Britain, Kevin Gately in Red Lion Square in London.

The contributor went on to express the view that although AFA had made a huge and the principal contribution to the defeat of modern fascism in Britain, the policy of “No Free Speech for Fascists” had been put forward by the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) in the very early 1970s1 before the formation of AFA2, a policy which no other political party on the Left would support at the time. That policy had been popularised through the action of the Afro-Asian Student Society, which had close links with the CPE (m-l) and which was influential in bringing about the “no platform for fascists” policy in the National Union of Students in Britain in 1974.

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A section of the attendance after the break in the conference. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Hayes agreed that of course there had been earlier organisations and also stated that the actions of the Labour Government in Ireland had been fascist but felt that in Britain, Thatcher had brought about the definitive introduction of State fascism and that “in 30 minutes it’s not possible to cover every detail.”

The issue of the attitude towards “our only native ethnic minority”, the Irish Travellers, was raised by another contributor, attacking the endemic wrongs in the treatment of this group within the country and defending their need to be recognised as an ethnic minority.

The event ended with a reading by Máirín Ní Fháinnín of the translation into English of a short poem by Flor Cernuda, who after a period of post-war imprisonment in a concentration camp, worked for many years for the underground resistance against Franco’s regime.  The poem’s title is Las Brigadas Internacionales.

CONCLUSION

The conference was full of interesting information and the speakers I heard were of good quality in presentation, in knowledge of history and in analysis. There was undoubtedly a lack of discussion, which was a pity. In addition I was surprised that the Dublin anti-fascists’ victory in denying Pegida their Irish launch was not mentioned – small-scale though the battle was, Dublin was as far as I’m aware the only city in a European state which Pegida had targeted to launch their party and had failed to do so, being driven out of the city centre by vigorous action.

Máirín Ní Fháinnín reading Flor Cernuda's poem. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Máirín Ní Fháinnín reading Flor Cernuda’s poem.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Footnotes

11971 or ’72

21985

DEFENDING DUBLIN FROM JAPANESE INVASION

Manager of Dublin City Council Road Management Department

Dear Sir/ Madam,

Please allow me to extend my heartfelt thanks for your work on the city roads and more than that, the ingenuity displayed by your staff. Dublin and to an extent the whole of Ireland is being kept safe, thanks to the work of your Department, from Japanese Army invasion. Or any other cycle-born troops.

I must admit I was not expecting to find that people working for the local authority had studied the Imperial Japanese Army assault on Singapore in 1942 and who had learned from it. If only there were more like your staff in the rest of Ireland! But no, complacency rules. “Ah, sure it’ll do” is the order of the day.

Few people now seem to recall the complacency with which Lieut. General Arthur Percival faced the Imperial Japanese threat to Singapore in 1942. Almost an island, Singapore had massive artillery pointed out to sea, ready to pound the Japanese invasion fleet. No artillery of any size was pointing towards the mainland. The jungle there was impassable to an army of any size, apparently.

Unfortunately someone neglected to tell the Imperial Japanese Army that. They sent their soldiers on bicycles down jungle trails, moving thousands of troops into position in days. Then they stormed across the Causeway and attacked Singapore.

Lieut. General Arthur Percival surrendered an estimated 85,000 soldiers, most of whom had never fired a shot in Singapore. The Japanese had nothing but contempt for these soldiers and officers who had been surrendered by Percival, not only that, but had done so for the most part without putting up any kind of resistance at all. That was part of the reason they treated the prisoners so badly.

British soldiers surrendering to Japanese Army at the Surrender of Singapore 1942.

British soldiers surrendering to Japanese Army at the Surrender of Singapore 1942. (Sourced on Internet)

Had the British command in the region not been so complacent, they would not only have turned some of Percival’s big guns around to fire on the mainland but would have sent sappers – British and Commonwealth Armies’ engineers — out into the jungle to dig bicycle traps. Like your engineers have installed on Dublin city streets, roads and laneways.

How Lieut. General Arthur Percival could have used your engineers, if only he had realised the danger in time! But your engineers have used ingenuity above and beyond anything that British sappers might have thought up. A simple hole in the road after all is visible, even at night in dim Dublin street lighting — and may be avoided. But your engineers are more skilled than that – they consider: “OK, so the invading cyclist will see this hole and swerve to avoid it. He’ll swerve on the inside, so he doesn’t get hit by a passing vehicle. So we’ll place another hole, a little further on, on the inside.”

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Excellent bicycle trap designed by Dublin City engineers, one of many in a whole defence network

Now, a rather pedestrian (if you’ll forgive the pun) engineer, might very well leave it at that. But no – your engineers ask themselves: “But after a number of disasters, jarring bumps, split tires and crashes, won’t the invading cyclists automatically swerve to the outside when they spot a hole ahead?” And so naturally, just to vary the rule, the engineers put another hole on the outside of the first from time to time.

Your engineers go yet further. “Wouldn’t it be better if they couldn’t see the hole at all?” they ask one another. After all, this is a common feature of traps – almost obligatory, one might think — so no great credit to your engineers in thinking of that. No, their genius is in how they carry out the disguising.

Normally, on a jungle path or trail, a pit (or a land-mine) would be covered over with loose earth and dead leaves to disguise it. But on a tarmacadamed road such is not possible (and even if it were, might claim the lives of innocent pedestrians or even motorists, for example trying to pass other traffic on the inside). This is where the true genius of your engineers is displayed.

Firstly, they place the holes in dark places – e.g where street lamps are not functioning, or under shade of trees. Sometimes instead of a hole, they construct a sharp dip in the tar macadam. And aware that cyclists often look ahead, see darker patches in the shade and swerve to avoid them, thinking “Aha! The sappers have placed a hole in the shade!” (sorry, I don’t know how to say that in Japanese) – yes, imagining that, your sappers darken a small area of road a little before a real dip! The cyclist sees the darker spot, thinks “Aha!” etc, swerves to avoid and, a moment later, hits the real dip. Masterly!

Of course, holes and dips are not the only useful anti-cycling device – ridges function quite well at times and can take unawares a cyclist who has been on the lookout for holes. Another clever ruse is the one of making the ridge small, therefore not too destructive to ride over, but placing a number of ridges beyond it, so that the cyclist experiences a shuddering sensation going over one ridge after another. He might even be induced to swerve here, when a passing vehicle may obligingly side-swipe him.

Then there is the principle of distraction. I don’t know what Percival’s engineers might have done, perhaps placed pictures of disrobing geishas near a pit but your engineers are more prosaic. Besides, exposure to many pictures of disrobing geishas might dull the effect over a period, or even become unfortunately forever associated in the minds of Japanese soldiers with pits and horrible crashes. No, your engineers think to themselves: “At what locations are the eyes of all cyclists likely to be diverted from the road surface straight ahead?” And they hit upon the answer, of course (perhaps they even had some cyclist double-agents working for them?).

Cyclists take their eyes off the surface of the road ahead when approaching traffic lights, or intersections, or crossing intersections or just having crossed one. They want to be sure that they obey the traffic lights and even more than that, that they don’t get hit by a vehicle coming from another direction, or side-swiped by one as they swerve out to avoid a parked vehicle just after having safely got across another intersection. So holes, dips and wheel seizing cracks are placed in shortly before traffic lights, in the middle of intersections or just on the other side!

There is also an economic benefit to all this necessary work of cyclist-trapping, and it is in the saving of the Motor Tax allocated to the local authority. The money saved by not filling in these holes goes to pay the Water Charge – a worthy recipient and appropriate diversion of revenue, if ever there was one!

There is even, dare I say it, a greening side-benefit, for inside those holes, little plants, grasses and even shrubs can take hold, bringing more green to our sometimes too grey city.

In days to come I hope that the work of your engineers, ably led and directed by yourselves, of course, may become properly recognised. Some recognition is surely due to men (and women?) who toil in anonymity to save us from a bicycle-mounted troop invasion. Besides which we don’t want to have to learn Japanese, being already fluent in another conqueror’s language – we have enough difficulty ordering food by numbers in Chinese restaurants. And if were taught Japanese in school, we wouldn’t want to have to actually speak it (as can be seen from the case of our National Language).

For appropriate recognition of the work of your Department, a public monument could be considered – perhaps one constructed from crushed bicycles. And plaques – perhaps set into roads at appropriate places or on signs as one approaches traffic lights and junctions. One can only hope. Keep up the good work!

Yours etc.