“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

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