THE “IRISH SHEEPLE”

Diarmuid Breatnach

When the Irish financial bubble, expanded far beyond capacity, finally burst and the private banks that had caused the crisis were bailed out with public money, the Irish people did not immediately rise up. The big trade unions made some noises, called hundreds of thousands to march, then collapsed. The smaller unions, for the most part, caved in afterwards.

It was not long before the Irish people began to be jeered and insulted – and for the most part, by some people who were themselves Irish. They seemed unaware of a thousand years of militant resistance to foreign occupation and many workers’ battles over decades. The frustration, if that was the cause of their insults (not to say contempt), was understandable. Less so, I pointed out at the time, was their dismissal of the only force that could possibly save us – the Irish people.

“The people?” they jeered. “You mean the SHEEPLE!”

They pointed to massive demonstrations and riots in Greece and in France and to none in Ireland. I commented that all their insults could possibly achieve would be to discourage the Irish people further. The limitations under which the Irish people laboured needed to be understood. There was no large revolutionary party in Ireland to provide leadership. There was not even a militant radical social-democratic party or reformist Communist Party. There were no militant trade unions to provide organisation.  These things existed in Greece and in France.

Our trade unions had twenty years of “social partnership” – i.e they had during that time negotiated agreements nearly always without industrial action in joint committees where the unions, the employers and the State each had representatives. Their fighting muscle had atrophied to the extent it no longer existed. Notwithstanding all their faults, the Greek and French unions had not similarly wasted away their muscle. Our trade union leaderships had settled for a comfortable life, highly paid, building up their memberships and safeguarding their officers and structures, or trying to, neglecting the purpose for which those unions had been created. They were captains of ships in dry dock, shining and varnished, but riddled with worm holes and sails safely furled – they would never take to sea and be tested in any storm.

As time went by, we saw no significant reforms in the French situation as austerity bit there. There was much excitement in Left social-democratic and Trotskyist quarters as the Greeks elected a social-democratic party with a radical program of resistance to austerity measures. The Greeks had been driven to a much worse economic situation than had the Irish – during the winter, many schools had to close as heating could not be supplied. But then the radical Greek party and new Government collapsed under pressure from the EU’s financial commissars.

The people in the Spanish state were marching in their hundreds of thousands under a new party that was not really a party, they said. But it turned out if one did some digging, that it was not such a new party/ non-party after all, as its leadership came from the old reformist Communist Party-Trotskyist alliance, Izquierda Unida. But still …. huge marches and then huge electoral gains (for what was now without question a political party – Podemos).

But the Spanish ruling class, although unable to receive a governing mandate for a single political party, carried on with its austerity program. Evictions continued as did a great many suicides of those evicted or about to be evicted.

IRELAND (THE 26 COUNTIES)

Meanwhile, what about the “Irish Sheeple”? What were they doing?

They too began to march, in small numbers at first, then larger until they choked the capital city’s centre. The media under-reported them, lied about numbers, stopped doing aerial photos that would show the full extent of the masses in protest.

First in line of the resistance movement was the Household Charge. The campaign slogan proposed by independent protesters and small parties and political organisations was “Don’t register, don’t pay.” Despite that tactic, the most effective to defeat the Charge, not being supported by the alternative party with the highest number of elected representatives in the Dáil (Irish Parliament), i.e Sinn Féin and despite no trade union mobilising against it, the ruling class had to concede defeat. But they changed the tax to the Household Charge and made it collectable from people’s salaries at source, changing the law in order to do so.

A section of a Water Charge protest march on the south quays of the Liffey while another section marches on the north quays in August 2015 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Water Charge was next. The people already paid for water supply maintenance through ordinary taxation and, it later emerged, through the diversion of Motor Tax to pay for the water! Nevertheless, a new charge was levied and again, the campaigners asked the people: “Don’t register, don’t pay!” Again, this tactic was not supported by the same alternative political party or the unions, although they all declared that they were, of course, against the Water Charge.

Despite police harassment, violence and arrests, people in local areas began to block the work-gangs installing the water meters. Some arrested activists refused to obey a court injunction intended to paralyse their activities and were sent to jail. A large protest demonstration marched to their jail and they were released. Many trials collapsed and activists, though hampered by many court attendances, walked free. Some others paid their fines and continued their resistance.

March against the Water Charge finishing for rally at Dublin’s Stephens Green in September 2016 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Police attacks on water charge and anti-austerity protesters multiplied and pickets, particularly of women, protested outside Garda stations.

Hundreds of people began to march, then thousands. As the numbers grew, the reformists of political party and trade union climbed on board and the numbers continued to rise to hundreds of thousands. The media were exposed as they grossly underplayed the numbers.

MOORE STREET

Meanwhile, another struggle had been shaping up, between heritage conservationists campaigning to save a valuable piece of the City Centre of huge historical importance from property speculators. Firstly the State was obliged to declare four houses in Moore Street as of historical preservation status (while however the Planning Department of the local authority gave planning permission for a huge “shopping mall” of a number of acres around those houses). Subsequently campaigners prevented the Planning Department from carrying out a land-swap of Council land to facilitate the Speculator.

Then the State had to buy four houses in the historic terrace; at the same time their plans to demolish three other houses in the same terrace were prevented by their occupation by protesters for five days and a subsequent blockade of demolition workers of almost six weeks.

The blockade ended when a case taken by a concerned individual to the High Court resulted in a judgement that the whole quarter is a historical 1916 monument (against which judgement the Minister of Heritage is currently appealing, scheduled for hearing December 2017).

Moore St. historical conservation campaigners in the street itself celebrate High Court judgement shortly after receiving the news on March 18th 2016 after which they ceased the blockade.
(Photo: J.Betson)

During the 1916 State commemorations, the Minister of Heritage’s hypocritical laying of a wreath in Moore Street was met with vociferous denunciation by campaigners on the spot, without any of the protesters being arrested.

JOBSTOWN

Two years before that Moore Street event, a mass protest for had prevented two hours the Minister for Social Protection’s car from leaving a working class area where she had gone to attend a ceremony.

Some supporters of those charged for protesting in Jobstown in show of solidarity outside the Court where they were being tried in March this year.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

“Enough!” cried the ruling class and they argued about what to do, their more revanchist section winning the argument. They were going for maximum legal attack, to teach those protesters a lesson and frighten all others in future.

The offensive against the resistance was planned. Early morning raids, to increase disruption and fear. Mass arrests, including of a juvenile. This latter might have looked like a mistake, as it was obvious he’d attract sympathy — but actually it was cleverly thought out. They put his trial on first – in the Juvenile Court where the judge can get away with more, where access to media was restricted to one representative each of print and audio media and where no members of the public were permitted entry. And they found him guilty, of course they did. They avoided much of sympathy outcry by giving the youth a non-custodial sentence but – and this was the crucial thing – they had found him guilty of “false imprisonment”. They now had a precedent for the eighteen or so awaiting trial in the adult court.

The media mostly colluded, of course in their news coverage of events, trial and in comment.

The trial process began with an attempt to eliminate from the jury those who disagreed with the Water Charge (i.e most ordinary people) and people from the area where the incident had taken place. Then the Minister herself, in the witness box for four days, regularly failing to answer the questions of the Defence lawyers but using the opportunity instead to attack the defendants, without attempt by the Judge to direct her to answer the question and confine herself to doing so. After all, it’s the Prosecution lawyers’ job to draw out the unfavourable comments.

That was followed by two similar days with the Minister’s secretary, who had been in the car with her at Jobstown.

Then police officers, lying through their teeth. This is of course a regular occurrence in the courts but unfortunately for them, they were contradicted by video and audio recording. Somehow, not only one but several Gardaí heard one of the defendants say something which the recording showed he had not.

Finally, all were found not guilty. The next group were to be tried similarly on charges of false imprisonment but also with use of violence. But how could the State find them guilty of kidnapping on the same evidence that a jury had rejected in the case of the first group? Would even the violence charges stick? The ruling class took a decision to cut their losses, avoid a possible second defeat and decided to drop the charges against them too and against another group scheduled for later still.

POLICE CORRUPTION AND COVER-UPS

Meanwhile, independently of all but perhaps distantly affected by the people’s resistance and the anger at the behaviour of the police, two whistle-blowers emerged from among the Gardaí to accuse them of allowing powerful people to escape drunk-driving charges. Then it emerged that people charged with driving offences had been automatically convicted without the option to defend themselves in court. That was followed by revelations that the Gardaí had claimed to have stopped hundreds of drivers for drink-driving tests which they had not in fact done – and the false numbers grew to thousands. And then Gardaí senior officers tried to discredit one of the whistle-blowers by implying he was a paedophile and even enlisting the involvement of a child-protection agency.

Before the conclusion of the Jobstown trials, general elections had been held. The ruling class in the Irish State has not managed to have an overall majority for a single one of its political parties since 1981 — and this election was no exception. However, one of the parties of the ruling class (its favourite actually, since shortly after the creation of the State) now felt the pressure of the people and made non-implementation of the Water Charge a condition of not bringing the minority Government down, to which the parties in governing coalition were obliged to agree.

THREE FORCED TO RESIGN: Alan Shatter, then Minister for Justice, congratulating Nóirín O’Sullivan on her appointment as Deputy Garda Commissioner while Commissioner Martin Callinan looks on. As a result of exposure of alleged attempts to silence Garda whistleblowers and alleged covering up Garda corruption and misdeeds, Shatter and Callinan had to resign in 2014 and O’Sullivan recently. (PIC: MAXWELLS NO REPRO FEE)

As a result of all this (and a number of other less-highly publicised corruption and wrongdoing by Gardaí cases), eventually Allan Shatter, Minister for Justice and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, the highest-ranking officer in the Gardaí had to resign. Less than three years later, the new Commissioner, similarly implicated but now also in a scandal regarding officers’ financial corruption, had to resign as well.

 

SHEEPLE?

In this period, during which Irish people had been compared to sheep, cursed and denounced by some from the “Left” and compared unfavourably with protesters in Greece, France and Spain (despite the people of those three states having failed to succeed to any significant degree), the Irish people have

  • Totally defeated the Household Tax and obliged the ruling class to change the law and substitute another Tax collectable from income

  • Paralysed the Water Tax (Charge)

  • Exposed the mass media

  • Halted the Government and Dublin City Council’s Planning Department plans to give a historical memory area in the City Centre, prime “development” land, to speculators

  • Prevented the Government demolition of historic buildings in that area by campaigning, occupation of buildings and a blockade, without a single protester being arrested

  • Helped obtain a historic judgement from the High Court that the whole quarter is a historical 1916 Monument

  • Vociferously denounced the Minister of Heritage while she was laying a 1916 wreath at Easter in Moore Street, without a single protester being arrested or prevented from the denunciation

  • Held up the Minister of Social Protection’s car in mass protest for two hours

  • Exposed the police in violence and in corruption

  • Defeated plans to deal a major blow to the right to protest by conviction on kidnapping charges

  • Caused the resignation of a Minister of Justice and two Garda Commissioners inside a period of three years

And all this was achieved by the Irish people without the organisation or leadership of a mass revolutionary or radical political party or a mass militant trade union.

THREE CHEERS FOR THE IRISH SHEEPLE!

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DRUMMING UP THE PAST

Diarmuid Breatnach

I got a phone call today – my drum has been found.  I was astonished.

Three or four years ago, my drum went into hiding. No, I don’t mean “I went into hiding in my drum” – I’m not talking Cockney rhyming slang or Romany. I mean a real drum, a music-rhythm drum. It’s a dholak — looks like a smallish bongo in shape but both ends are played and it is South Asian in origin. It was bought for me many years ago from a London charity shop.

Why did my dholak go into hiding? I am not sure. Drums are sensitive; sensitive to vibrations. Yes of course, they are about vibration, that’s how they are made to produce sound. But more than that – they also pick up vibration. The skin or membrane, stretched tight, can pick up vibrations of machines, wind or even speech, which resonate inside the hollow instrument. Perhaps I was giving off bad vibrations. Or more likely not supplying enough vibrations at all.

Dholak
A dholak, very similar to mine. (Photo source: Internet)

It is true that I had stopped playing her and taking her to music session. I knew I wasn’t a great player but I thought I was OK – most of the time. Percussion gave me something to do at a session, to be part of it when I wasn’t singing. Then something happened that shattered the veneer of confidence. And there was a session I used to go to where I played it but I stopped going there; I can’t even remember why now.

The percussion illness began years ago in London. It was an infection that spread from my tapping feet to my tapping fingers and to rapping on wooden tables; there were nights I got carried away and came home with sore and skinned knuckles.

The infection spread and I took to playing the violin cases of tolerant musicians at London sessions. Or occasionally an accordion case. And then the dholak arrived. I played her indoors for months before I dared bring her to a session.

Musicians’ eyes widened when they saw me bring out a drum more than two feet high from a sports bag. They were apprehensive, for sure. Musicians playing Irish music (not all of them are Irish) have learned – or been taught – to be wary of percussionists. Percussion usually descends on an Irish session in the shape of a bodhrán (from the Irish, literally “a deafener”) and though the instrument can be played very well and sensitively, too often it is not. When played badly it is out of time with the music or a monotonous boom-boom-boom trying to kill the music … and nearly always too loudly.

There is a joke about the banjo which can be even more easily applied to the bodhrán: “You can tell from a fair distance when a man with banjo is approaching – but there is f.a. you can do about it.”

Even the bodhrán has a dubious history in traditional Irish music and it was really a classically-trained Irish musician, the great Seán Ó Riada, who gained the instrument popularity by working it into his suites — his compositions and arrangements. Norman observers in the 12th Century, describing Irish music, mentioned only a kind of drum, some kind of whistle (flute) and the harp (of which there were two, the small and the large). Not even the uileann pipes were mentioned! Over the years, the wooden whistle came in or was developed domestically (replaced for a while by the metal one, mass-produced in Manchester!), also the concert flute from Europe, the violin from Austria-Hungary perhaps, the accordion from Germany and Italy, the banjo from African slaves and their descendants in the USA, the mandolin from Italy, the bouzouki introduced from Greece in the 1960s, the guitar originally from Iberia but probably through English and US folk music, also in the 1960s.

The uileann pipes, despite the Norman observers, have been around for a while too but difficult to say when exactly it came in, some sources say not till the 1700s – certainly later than the marching war pipe depicted in Elizabethan-period drawings and woodcuts.

St Michans Irish Music Instruments carving
Instruments in Irish traditional music — a panel carving in St. Michan’s Church, Dublin. (Photo source: Internet)

In Irish music, it is normally the guitarist who plays rhythm and many musicians think that with a guitarist, you don’t need a percussionist. If indeed you ever do – Séamus Ennis, once asked what was the best way to play the bodhrán, famously (or infamously) replied: “With a penknife”.

Whatever else could be said about my playing of the dholak, good or bad, at least I never played it too loudly.

Traditional Irish music sessions in London, at least in those years, tended to be more tolerant and inclusive than I experienced in Ireland on visits home or since. So they let me get on with it and we got on ok – me, the dholak and the musicians. And the ‘audience’ seemed ok with us all too.

When I came home to Dublin, to work and to live, after decades in London, she came with me. There was a session in Rathmines I attended regularly and I took the drum there, played it some to accompany the trad music instruments and sang a few songs. At that particular session one heard a variety of types of song and could sometimes see dancing: set-dancing, freestyle sean-nós and there was an elderly couple who did what I took to be a schottische. There was a bodhrán player or two there most times and when they were, I mostly laid off the dholak until they took a break, went to the toilet or out for a smoke.

Usually, the session would start around 9.30pm and go on till 1.00am or even later. Many a time on my way home from that session, a song or a tune would be running through my head, non-stop. Sometimes I even composed a tune, or thought I did — but had forgotten it by next day.

Walking the 4.5 km.s after a session to catch the night bus from D’Olier Street (and a half-hour wait if I missed one) grew tiresome, which might have been the reason I stopped going. Maybe my bike wasn’t working at that time. The truth is, I don’t know why but I did stop going. There was a Sunday session I was going to for a while but I dropped out of that too, for other reasons. The result was that I stopped playing the dholak, even at home.

Maybe she missed the tapping of my fingers on her skin. Perhaps she missed the vibrations of Irish traditional music. And grew to resent the silence. Maybe she planned to leave me.

If so, the occasion came when a large group of Basque musicians were visiting Dublin and I had organised a musical pub-crawl for them (kantu-poteo), as well as a concert for them to perform. I brought the dholak in case there should be an informal session at the end of the evening but there wasn’t and, in amongst all the leave-taking and so on, I forgot about her.

A few days later I looked for the dholak at home and realised I must have left it behind. To the management of the hall I went rushing — but it could not be found. So, someone had stolen her. Or she had gone off with someone she thought would appreciate her more than I had.

I was upset – of course I was – but there was nothing to be done about it. Of course, if I ever should see someone with her, while on my travels ….!

The years went by and I reconciled myself to my loss. I had already mostly stopped going to traditional sessions and was concentrating on singing. For a while I was singing at a different gathering as often as twice a week. Then that too tailed off. Some sessions were a distance away around Dublin bay and finished after public transport did. One was on a Sunday and I was often tired. But the truth is, although I always enjoyed a singing session, I was losing some of the drive, the urge that had me attending regularly.

And then, this morning, from the manager of the hall where I had lost the dholak about four years ago, I got a phone call. She had been found!

Overjoyed as I am, I can’t help wondering what it means, that she turns up now. Of course, it could mean nothing. Just a lucky happenstance that it turned up, was found among stuff stored away, probably by someone searching for something else or having a clear-out.

The cops and private detectives with starring roles in the novels I sometimes read don’t believe in coincidence and happenstance. Much as I hate to take part of my world view from cops, nor do I.

It means something. But what?

end

Information on Irish musical instruments:

https://www.musicalpubcrawl.com/instruments/

CATALONIA V. SPAIN – THE BREAKUP OF AN EU STATE?

Diarmuid Breatnach

Another spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of an EU state’s fragmentation and the possible disintegration of the EU itself. It may begin with the breakup of a European state but could ultimately affect most of southern, south-eastern and south-western Europe.

Huge Barcelona Independence Demonstration Diada 11 Sep2017
Huge pro-Catalan Independence demonstration fills the streets of Barcelona on Catalunya’s national day. (Photo source: Guardian, on line).

A street demonstration in Barcelona on Catalunya’s national day filled the streets with an incredible number (over one million according even to the police) and awash with the “Estelades”, the Catalan revolutionary flag of the Senyera estelada from the 1930s with the blue triangle enclosing a white star, in homage to Cuba and Puerto Rico (see video link below). From above, apart from the flags, the demonstration appeared lime-green as participants wore T-shirts of that colour with the (“yes”) for independence printed on them.

The demonstrators formed a huge “X” in the city to signify a “yes” vote for independence and somewhere near the middle, three human towers put their topmost members displaying a clenched fist in the universal sign of resistance to oppression.

The political crisis surrounding the current bid for a referendum on independence for Catalunya (their nation in Catalan) serious consequences for the Spanish state but as the crisis matures may also deeply affect two other European states: France and Italy.

As the Parlement of Catalunya has now declared by majority that it will defy the Spanish State and hold a referendum on independence from the Spanish state on October 1st, the Spanish ruling class grows increasingly desperate and

  • Had its Constitutional Court declare the referendum unconstitutional and illegal,
  • Has the paramilitary police force, the Guardia Civil, searching for ballot boxes with the intention of confiscating them,
  • Summoned 700 town Mayors to answer to charges of facilitating an illegal referendum by allowing their council buildings to be used as polling stations
  • Threatened to charge Parlament pro-independendists with disobedience and abuse of power
  • Closed down the official Catalan referendum website

It also demanded weekly accounts on expenditure from the Parlament to try and ensure it was not funding the referendum.

Alto Catalan Ballot Box
ALTO! HALT! (Cartoon by DB)

In response, the leader of the Parlement says the Spanish can arrest him if they want but he is going ahead with the referendum. Many among the 700 town Mayors of Catalunya have said they will not attend court while others have said they will as they believe they have done nothing wrong. Many organisations and institutions have offered their premises as polling stations if necessary. Hundreds of Catalans have volunteered to help organise the referendum and to staff the polling stations.

To many observers, it will seem that the actions of the Spanish state are hysterical and excessive. On the other hand, to those who understand the history and nature of the Spanish state, it is hard to see how the Spanish ruling class can concede Catalan independence. That is on ideological and political grounds alone; and if those grounds were not enough, there are also the financial, economic and territorial ones.

 

“SPAIN: UNITARY, GREAT AND FREE”

The fascist Spanish slogan: “Espaňa – Una, Grande y Libre”, the claim that their state is unitary as well as “Great and Free”, explains in part the problem for the Spanish ruling class in a Catalonian secession. The creation of the Spanish kingdom was based on alliances for war against the Moorish Iberian kingdom of El Andalus, that religiously-tolerant kingdom of great learning and culture and it brought all other Iberian kingdoms under its rule. Subsequently, the Spanish Kingdom forced Christianity on the Jews or expelled them (creating the Sephardic Jewish refugees) as they did also not only to the defeated Moors of El Andalus but also to those other Arabs who had fought as allies of the Christian Royals. In later years the Spanish Empire lost conquered territory abroad but never gave any up on the Iberian Peninsula since the breakaway of the Kingdom of Portugal in 1143.

Unlike most of Europe, there was no successful revolution against the feudal system in the Spanish state, which retarded its economic and political development. However, the revenue from the kingdom’s exploitation of its vast territories in America kept the State powerful (while also acting as a negative counterbalance against the development of its industry).

 

SPANISH CIVIL WAR AND INVASION

Modernising and liberalising movements did struggle for change within the State but the First Spanish Republic only lasted under two years (11 February to 29 December 1874). The Second Republic (1931-1939) went through a right-wing repressive phase but then turned to a liberal-socialist phase, at which point the Army mutinied under the leadership of the Four Generals, of which Franco became the best-known.

The Second Republic conceded autonomy to Catalunya and Galicia and later, perhaps reluctantly, to the southern Basque Country (excluding Nafarroa/ Navarra, where the reactionary Christian-monarchist Carlists seized control and sided with the military insurgency). Aided by German Nazi and Italian fascist air transport, war material and troops, as well as by the complicity of Britain and France, the military defeated the Second Spanish Republic after a fierce struggle and a Christian-fascist dictatorship under General Franco took over the country.1

Esteladas in Demonstration
The Esteladas flying in a Catalan demonstration for Independence. (Photo source: Internet)

All claims to separate nationhoods were suppressed, all the nations being considered merely “regions” of the Spanish state, with picturesque traditional costumes and feasts. Castillian (Spanish) was to be the only language permitted in use, with particular repression inflicted on those of the strongest and most widely-used tongues, Catalan and Euskera (Basque).

adolf-hitler-franco-reviewing-troops-in-hendaye-northern-basque-country.jpg
Adolf Hitler and General Franco reviewing German occupation troops in Hendaye, Northern Basque Country, 1942 (Photo source: Internet)

Armed resistance of a guerrilla-type continued for awhile after the end of the Civil War/ Anti-Fascist War, and in the 1960s the Basque left-nationalist group ETA commenced armed struggle after nearly a decade of persecution by the Spanish State. For a while too there was an armed group in Catalunya.

After the death of Franco in 1975, the Spanish ruling class, under internal pressure from the Christian technocrat movement Opus Dei and external pressure from the USA, attempted a modernising and liberalising change of regime which is now widely referred to as the “transition to democracy” (sic) or just plainly as La Transición.

As part of this process, the Monarchy was re-imposed on the people when Juan Carlos de Borbón, who had been groomed by Franco, was declared King of Spain in 1975 and also named as Franco’s successor. No vote was held on the reimposition of a King on the Spanish state which had been without a reigning monarch for 34 years. A Constitution was drawn up which included the Spanish state being a constitutional monarchy and with much talk of democracy and changes, including regional autonomy, the Constitution gained 88% votes in favour. Among the 22% negative votes were the majority of the southern Basque Country.

Hitler & Juan Carlos
General Franco in his declining years with his protege, Juan Carlos, later crowned King of Spain. (Photo source: Internet)

After Juan Carlos’ abdication in June 2014, Juan Carlos’ son Felipe VI was declared King, a majority of the representatives in the Cortes (Spanish Parliament) voting to approve — which included not only the hard right-wing Partido Popular (PP) but also the helpful abstention of the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero (PSOE).

 

THAT WAS THEN – BUT NOW?

After Franco’s death, Catalunya was created an “autonomous region” and was ruled by a right-wing majority in the Parlament2; nevertheless struggles with the Spanish State have broken out from time to time, in particular about the use of the Catalan language and the primacy which Catalans, both right and left-wing, wish it have in Catalunya.

Another bone of contention has been the disparity between the tax revenue the Spanish state gains from Catalunya, on the one hand, and the funding the Spanish state gives to the autonomous region.

Some years ago the Parlement declared their intention of holding a referendum on independence but the Government and the Spanish National Court declared that this would be illegal, going against the Constitution (the same thing happened in the Basque Country). In addition, an Army General declared that the Constitution could be enforced with tanks, if necessary. The Spanish Government, although distancing itself from the General’s comments, did not have him disciplined.

Every year since then has seen large national demonstrations for Catalan independence, including a huge human chain in 2003.

The historic ideological and political grounds, as noted earlier in passing, are not the only ones which make the surrender of Catalonia unthinkable for the Spanish ruling class. In terms of population (2016 figures), Catalunya’s 7,522,596 is 2nd in size for a region within the State and 16% of the State’s total. Catalunya’s land area of 32,108 km (12,397sq.mi) is 6.5% of the Spanish State’s Iberian land mass. But even worse, from the Spanish ruling class’ perspective, is that 23% of the state’s industry is in Catalunya, and in 2013 the region’s product was 203.62 billion euros (¢228 billion), according to the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia — about 20 percent of the Spanish state’s 2013 GDP of 1.04 trillion euros (¢1.17 trillion) and 25% of its exports.

And should the regions of the wider Paisos Catalans (“Catalan Countries), i.e Valencia, Balearic Islands, Rosello and Andorra, join Catalunya in independence, the Spanish state stands to lose 13% of its land mass and a huge part of its coastline and islands, along with 28% of its population.

 

THE SIGNS BLOWING IN THE WIND

It is not today or yesterday that this crisis began maturing – it’s been coming for a long time. The Spanish ruling class, for the most part, knows only one way to respond to pressure – and that’s to push back. If they can. And since they run the State ….

The much vaunted Transición after Franco was merely a change of clothes for the State and the ruling class. They hated the change but felt forced into it. First they had to legalise the hated social-democratic party, the PSOE and its trade unions, the Comisiones Obreras. Then they had to legalise the Partido Communista and their union, the UGT (over some objections, including that of the PSOE). But if those elements continued to oppose them, they couldn’t carry through their conjuring trick of becoming a “democracy”. So they ruling class legalised them and they were not let down by their new partners: collusion and collaboration was the order of the day, by both parties and their associated trade unions, right up to the present.

Then they had to gain the complicity of the local capitalist and middle classes of the imprisoned nations and in particular of the Basques and the Catalans. Regional autonomy was the obvious answer (and they took the precaution of splitting the southern Basque Country into two autonomous regions, under different political control) and, with the former opposition leaders of the PSOE and PCE batting for them, they passed the new Constitution with a majority (everywhere but in the Basque Country).

But enough! What is the matter with those Basques and Catalans? Will they never be happy to just be part of the “united, Christian and free” State? Apparently not. So no more concessions. Time to squeeze now, as their fathers mothers and grandfathers had done before them!

Last year they Spanish state tried to push the primacy of the Spanish language on to the Catalan education curriculum. Much of the Catalan political class and the teaching professions resisted – they already included Spanish as an official language along with Catalan (and Occitan and Catalan sign-language); what is it with those espaňolistas?

In 2015 the Catalans put together a right-left nationalist coalition for the elections, asking the electorate to vote on the issue of independence and, despite the opposition of the new Spanish populist party Podemos and the Izquierda Unida3, took 48% of the vote. In the Spanish State as a whole, the election results gave no party an overall majority and in fact resulted in the most fragmented results since 1977 during the Transición.

The 2016 elections made the PP the winners but without an overall majority (and later subject to corruption charges), saw a fall in the vote of the Podemos-Izquierda Unida vote and a crisis within the PSOE, which took the lowest vote of its existence. And the IMF demanded further austerity measures in the economy.

But Catalonia was simmering. After the 2015 elections, the financial services company JP Morgan predicted, in a research note following the vote, that the “conflict between Catalonia and the central government will not lose intensity. … In our view, a material offer to reframe the role of Catalonia within the national state … is needed to soften the rising radicalism in the pro-secession camp and restore the premises for a more constructive approach.”(see link below).

The ruling class in the Spanish state does not do “reframing” or “softening” very well. Unreformed and slightly-altered fascists who have corrupted their possible moderate partners4, they feel more at ease with the iron fist than the velvet glove.

Its threats and other measures cannot be carried out in time to prevent the referendum going ahead on October first. The town Mayors cannot be put on trial in time, much less convicted. The referendum site the State closed down has now shifted to a server outside the control of the Government. The Guardia Civil can disrupt the voting and seize ballot boxes but that will escalate the crisis even further, not to mention present a terrible picture of Spanish “democracy” to the world. The ballot box, after all, is the Holy Grail of the bourgeois democratic system.

 

BREAKUP OF THE SPANISH STATE?

The Spanish state has long been the one in Europe most vulnerable to fragmentation. It includes regions which are actually distinct nations, of which Catalunya is only one, with their separate cultures and languages.

Spanish State Regions Map
Regions/ nations of the Spanish state (image source: Internet). Note the northern band of possible independist nations from Galicia in the west to Catalonia in the east. Note also the Paisos Catalans regions taking up most of the western coast of the Peninsula from North to South. (Image source: Internet)

Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, has four provinces within the State’s borders and the native language is not even close to Castillian (Spanish) – in fact, unlike most others in Europe, it does not even belong to the Indo-European group of languages. A long struggle for independence has been taking place there too, with hundreds of political prisoners as a result serving time in jails across the the State. We can be sure that the Basques are watching developments in Catalunya with bated breath. The combined population of the two Basque autonomous regions exceed 2.83 million.

The nearly 1.5 million people of the Asturies region (Asturias in Castillian) consider themselves Celts and although their native vernacular is a Latin-based language, it is different from Castillian Spanish. More significant perhaps than the linguistic and musical difference with the “Spanish” is the history of resistance: their mining communities rose up against employers and the Spanish State during the early days of the Second Spanish Republic, the then Government of which sent General Franco to repress them (including shaving the hair of women supporters of the strike). In the Spanish Civil War the Asturians fought against the military-fascist uprising, rose up again in resistance against the victorious Franco regime and in very recent times fought against the closure of mines and miners’ unemployment.

Galicia is also a region of Celtic ancestry within the State with a well-developed traditional culture of music and dance and also has its own language, Gallego (56% speaking it as their first language) as well of course as Castillian. There is a movement for independence in Galicia which, although not major, is significant nevertheless and has its own trade union. The population is over 2,718,000.

Other regions with distinct languages and movements for independence from the Spanish state to one degree or another include Cantabria, Leon, Cadiz, Murcia, Andalucía and even Aragon and Castille, the two medieval kingdoms that led the defeat of the Moorish kingdom of El Andalus and went on to form the heart of the Kingdom of Spain. In addition, many of these regions or nations are contiguous to one another.

 

POSSIBLE EFFECTS ON EUROPE OUTSIDE THE SPANISH STATE

A rash of state break-ups followed the fall of the Soviet Union and it is not impossible that Catalonian independence could have a similar effect.

France:

A part of the Catalan nation is inside French territory, although it holds only 1% of the population of the French state. More seriously for the French state are the other nationalities which might also take into their heads to secede.

The three Basque provinces, for example, are connected by culture, ethnicity and to an extent ideology with the other four Basque provinces on the southern side of the Spanish border. Biarritz and Bayonne are the main towns and the total area of the three provinces is 2,869 km², with a low-density population of 295,970.

Brittany, with 4.23% of the total territory of the French state (excluding its colonies), is a Celtic nation within the state, with a national language of Breton (related to Welsh). The population of the nation is 4,550,400. Brest, Saint-Nazaire, Nant

The Langue D’Oc area has a population of 3,650,000 people (as of 1999 census), 52% of these in the Languedoc-Roussillon région, 35% in the Mid-Pyrénées région, 8% in the Rhone-Alpes région, and 5% in theAuvergne région. Although this area is no longer administered as a province, it has a historical and cultural (including linguistic) identity, with Toulouse widely recognised as its capital.

Then there is Corsica, speaking Corse and never entirely reconciled to being a part of France. The Mediterranean island is not strong economically nor large in population (330,000) but it does occupy a position of strategic importance between France and Italy and near both the larger islands of the Italian state.

What makes the scenario of a wide range of independence-seeking of nations within the French state more painful to contemplate for that State is that many of those nations are contiguous to one another, forming a wide swathe from east to west across the southern bart of the present state and taking in much of its seaboard on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It also potentially wipes out its border with the Spanish state, forcing all land traffic to pass through a number of other states before reaching either Spain or France.

Italy:

What we know today as Italy was a mass of provinces and city states that were united finally only in 1871 (some date it to 1918), after a period of many uprisings and wars. Already in Italy today there is a huge difference between the industrial north and the agricultural south with its unemployment and poverty, a difference so great that some have described the regions as two different countries.

And there is Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, whose people have long thought of themselves as different to the rest of Italy and in particular the north. The population of Sicily is 5,048,553 (8.3% of the total of the Italian state), the majority of them speaking Siciliano, a separate language to Italian. Sicily also has a huge diaspora.

The second-largest Mediterranean island is Sardinia, where languages different to Italian are spoken and whose people have always considered themselves distinct from Italy. The population there is 1,650,003. a relatively low figure out of a total for the State of 60.5 million; nevertheless this island too is of strategic importance.

The United Kingdom cannot be left out of consideration either. Scotland already has its own Parliament and a somewhat different legal system to that of England & Wales but that has not totally satisfied Scottish nationalist aspirations. Other Celtic nations within the UK include Wales and Cornwall and of course the 6-County colony in Ireland, the scene of a 30-year war against British rule less than two decades ago.

Of course, the effects will not be felt only on European multi-nation states. An ongoing conflict with Catalunya, with the addition of perhaps other national struggles within the state, allied to internal struggles against evictions and austerity, in an atmosphere of financial scandals, could bring the state down. The Spanish State is an important NATO ally in terms of bases and strategic location. Even if it did not collapse, the instability arising out of a state of siege in two significant areas of the statewould be great and ripples – or perhaps giant waves — would reach throughout Europe.

 

WILL IT COME TO THAT?

No-one can answer that question for sure. The Spanish state is determined to prevent Catalonian independence and the majority Catalan political class have already gone beyond where many expected them to in resistance. They have stated that if the necessary majority votes “Sí” to independence, that they will move immediately to give effect to that decision. In addition, the political class for independence is acting with huge popular support and there are signs of independent popular mobilisation – the last time that happened on a major scale in Catalunya was during the 2nd Spanish Republic when there was popular socialist and anarchist workers’ uprising.

Cartoon by DB

If the people push the issue against Spanish intransigence, it is hard to see how it can end in any way but in armed conflict – street resistance against Spanish repression with tanks, soldiers and the paramilitary Guardia Civil. The Mossos d’Escuadra, the 16,800-plus repressive police under the Catalan autonomous region’s council, the Generalitat, might split. Urban and rural municipal Catalunyan police are likely to retire from the conflict or to side with the Catalan resistance.

The population of the rest of the Spanish state might then stand back and watch …. or uprisings could break out in other areas, including left-wing working class areas of Madrid suffering austerity and where the Spanish ruling parties are seen as corrupt and in league with the bankers against the people.

Could the rulers of the EU afford to stand back in such a scenario? Would their own populations allow them a free hand to intervene, or not?

We live in interesting times that might, contrary to the Chinese curse, have very beneficial outcomes.

 

end

 

 

SOURCES:

JP Morgan advice: https://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/05/catalonia-is-critical-contributor-to-spains-economy.html

Catalan economy and Spanish state debt: https://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/05/catalonia-is-critical-contributor-to-spains-economy.html

Video of giant Catalan demonstration in Barcelona by Le Figaro newspaper http://video.lefigaro.fr/figaro/video/mobilisation-massive-des-separatistes-catalans-a-barcelone/5572122761001/

Catalan referendum websiteref1oct.eu and ref1oct.cat

Private communication with Catalans

Also Wikipedia pages on the Basque Country and various regions/ nations of the Spanish, French and Italian states.

 

FOOTNOTES

1  Many Basques and Catalans will say that what they suffered was not a “civil war” but a Spanish fascist invasion.

2  Name of their regional parliament in Catalan.

3  A Communist Party-Trotskyist alliance, often fragmenting and shifting; it is generally despised by the rest of the Left within the State and by the pro-independence parties, the latter because the IU is always against national independence, calling instead for “the unity of the Spanish working class.”

4  It was the social-democratic PSOE government that ran the GAL assassination squads against the Basque pro-independence movement, carrying out operations of both sides of the French border. Carrillo, leader of the Communist Party who took it through the Transición, was expelled from his party after his collusion with Spanish fascists and coup plotters was exposed.

Nóirín Gone O’Sullivan

Begone! She has gone,

That Garda Commissioner wan,

That Nóirín not-so-bán,

That Nóirín O’Sullivan (1).

(Photo source: Internet)

She’s gone, that Nóirín,

Decamped, fled the scene;

Wants to put it all past her,

The two-year job complete disaster.

 

Ducking and diving in the dance,

Six years, second-in-command

She was there at the right hand

Of Garda Commissioner Callinan.

But yet she claimed ignorance

Tried to stand a safe distance

From corruption and paedophile smear

Of a man who spoke out without fear.

 

Tried to sail on through the storm,

Claimed interference with police reform

But now she has finally gone:

Ex-Commissioner O’Sullivan.

 

(Photo source: Internet)

There has been too much exposure,

The State now is seeking closure,

Politicians and media must collude

The concerned public to delude.

Let the hue and cry die right down,

To yet another pass the crown,

Hope the people will not recall;

And that memory in time will pall.

But

This Force is rotten to the core,

So to remain for ever more,

To protect the rule of a rotten few

For which it was shaped in ’22.

DB 11/09/2017

 

FOOTNOTES

(A few days ago Nóirín O’Sullivan, Gárda Commissioner — the most senior position in the police force of the Irish state, gave six hours’ notice of resignation from her post.  She took over from Martin Callinan, who had also resigned his post in the midst of controversy over widespread false reporting of drink-driving stop-and-test by Gardaí; also the attempt to silence, discredit and smear as a paedophile Garda McCabe who exposed the frauds.  Another Garda officer who whistleblew was also hounded.  Subsequently, the scandal of the holding of bank accounts in individual officer’s names in which government police funds were being kept also erupted.)

Highlighting internment of Republican activists today — protest held in historic Dublin area

Reprinted with permission from Dublin Committee, Anti-Internment Committee, Ireland (posted on their FB page 9th September 2017.

DUBLIN COMMITTEE HOLDS PICKET TO HIGHLIGHT ONGOING INTERNMENT OF REPUBLICAN ACTIVISTS 9th September 2017.

On a Saturday afternoon alternating between showers and sunshine, the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee held their awareness-raising picket at the busy junction of Thomas Street and Meath Street.

AIGI Banner 3 people
Some of the picketers with banner

They erected banners at the junction and distributed leaflets, including some about the Craigavon Two.

Tourists(on their way to and from the Guinness brewery museum) and local people passing took leaflets with interest and good humour.

Dublin Commitee AIGI activist distributing leaflets in Meath Street to passers-by. (Photo source: AIGI)

Less welcome was the Special Branch Garda (police force of the Irish state) who wanted the picketers to give him their names and addresses. Several refused to do so. The Garda went away to his car, drove back heading west, halting in the middle of the road in order to photograph the picketers and blocking the traffic coming out of Meath Street as he did so. (There was no need, Garda, we’re posting our photographs on here  ).

SB Asking DB name & address
Left of photo: Special Branch (plainclothes political police) asking a protester his name and address. (Photo source: AIGI)

The Garda then carried out an illegal and somewhat dangerous U-turn, briefly turning on his blue light and drove eastwards at speed.

The Committee refuses to be intimidated, holding regular peaceful pickets in different parts of Dublin and will be holding another one soon.

AIGI Banner
(Photo source: AIGI)

A HISTORIC AREA

The Thomas Street area, bordering on the Liberties, has a long history and is represented “in song and story”. The United Irishmen at the end of the 18th Century enjoyed much support here.

Not ten minutes walk away eastward from where the picket took place today is Taylor’s Hall, the site of the “Back Lane Parliament” and down by the Liffey, in Bridge Street, is the site of Oliver Bond’s house, where most of the Leinster Executive of the United Irish were arrested in 1798.

In hiding, Edward Fitzgerald, one of the main leaders of the United Irishmen, was moved between houses in the area, one of them being No.158 Thomas Street, where on 19th May he was located by Major Sirr through paid informers. Fitzgerald was ill but grabbed a knife and jumped out of bed, wounding Captain Ryan and Major Swan, the latter mortally. Major Sirr (who, according to folklore, was wearing a steel vest) then came in with more soldiers and shot Fitzgerald in the shoulder which facilitated his overpowering and arrest. Fitzgerald died of his wound some weeks later (4th June 1798).

A little to the east along Thomas Street is where most of the fighting in the brief and aborted Emmet uprising took place in 1803. Lord Kilawarden was heading into town for his safety but ran into the insurgency, was dragged from his coach and piked. He was found later it is believed in Vicar Street, still alive but died soon afterwards.

Further west along the street is St. Catherine’s Church, outside which the scaffold was erected in 1803 and Robert Emmet was hung in public, his head being then struck off. It is said in Dublin folklore that his relations attended the execution and shed not one tear in public, determined not to give the Crown and its followers the satisfaction of witnessing their grief.

Banners Hoarding
(Photo source: AIGI)
Obedience of citizens
Spotted by the picketers as they were leaving: Dublin City Council motto with appropriate comment by some passing citizen. (Photo source: AIGI)

Rohingya Solidarity Protest in Dublin

Diarmuid Breatnach

I came upon this demonstration on Sunday by chance, shortly before it ended; a protest composed almost entirely of people of south Asian appearance.

Line Spire Rohingya protesters
Rohingya solidarity demonstration on central reservation O’Connell Street, Dublin, Friday 8th September. (Photo D.Breatnach)

The Royhinga people are in crisis in Burma, abused by the State army, which is using the excuse of rooting out insurgents. About one thousand have been killed by the Burmese Army, according to a UN Special Rapporteur and according to Al Jazeera 164,000 have crossed the border to escape. Villages have been burned and there are also allegations of rape and of ethnic cleansing.

The Army’s recruits are of mainly Buddhist background, while the Rohingya people are mostly Muslim. The state refuses to grant them citizenship, considering them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Reactionary opinion, for example among some extremist Buddhist monks, considers Burma to be a Buddhist country and other religions not welcome. The Army accuses the Royhingians of burning their own villages.

The State Cunsellor (position equivalent to Prime Minister or Head of Government), Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, in a recent statement talked about the attack two weeks after the crisis began. In this statement she avoided taking responsibility for the events, talking about “an iceberg of misinformation” and a problem that has years of heritage “even pre-colonial.” She has not gone there herself.

Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsillor (Head of government) of Burma and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
(Photo source: Internet)

Aung San Suu Kyi was generally supported by the West and lauded as a human rights campaigner through years of struggle against the previous regime. As a result she was awarded the Nobel Peace Priize in 1991.

Now, it seems the West is critical of the State Counsellor’s response to the crisis in the UN and in the media.

DUBLIN PROTEST TODAY

Both women and men were active in the protest today, ages mainly from late teens to young adulthood. There were some children too, cheerful and assertive. Some of the protesters apparently had come up from Carlow.

Rohingya solidarity demonstrators serving food (Photo: D.Breatnach)

At the conclusion of the protest, they served food outside the GPO to all.

This website was recommended by the organisers of the protest:http://www.thestateless.com/

 

(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Crowd shot near speaker addressing the rally; the General Post Office building to the right in Dublin’s main street, O’Connell Street. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Fascism USA and Resistance — interview with Elise Hendrick

Elise Hendrick is originally from the USA and a much-travelled activist, commentator and speaker of a number of languages. Rebel Breeze interviewed her to ascertain her reflections on recent nazi upsurges and the response to them, in particular on the North American continent.

Torchlit Circle Unite the Right Charlottesville
Torch-bearing Nazis in “Unite the Right” rally, Charlottesville, just before they attacked the anti-fascist counter-demonstrators (Photo source: Internet)

Rebel Breeze: Elise, go raibh maith agat for agreeing to this interview. With regard to recent events, you will recall that after nazis planned a rally in Charlottesville, ostensibly against “Islamicisation” and events ended in the deaths of two anti-fascists, a number of comments emerged in social media and from some politicians, criticising the anti-fascists for staging a counter-rally. Firstly, do you think these comments had any validity?

Elise Hendrick: In a word, no. It’s really hard to express in words the level of dismissal that that ‘criticism’ merits, because a verbal response already honours it too much. A look at the people making those ‘criticisms’ tends to show that they’re actually coming from political allies of those the antifascists were protesting.

RB: Can you give some examples of what you mean by this?

EH: One example is a video blogger by the name of Tim Pool, who tries to maintain an air of journalistic detachment in his condemnations of Antifa tactics, but who has turned out to be on very good terms with neo-Nazis, including those who organised the pogrom in Charlottesville (discussed various times on the anarchist/antifascist website It’s Going Down).

USA Masked Antifascists
USA Antifascists masked to prevent identification by fascists or police. (Photo source: Internet).

One really amusing case I happened across was a thread about Antifa on US left author Paul Street’s Facebook page, in which various people showed up to make utterly outlandish claims about who antifascists are and what they stand for. I hadn’t seen any of these names before, so I decided to check out their Facebook pages to see who I was dealing with. It turned out that one of them had at the top of his Facebook page a post praising his friend Garret Kirkland, who was the organiser of the shambolic white supremacist rally in Boston.

Even when a lot of these media ‘critics’ aren’t actually tied to fascist groups themselves, they often make arguments that either trivialise or justify fascist violence or seek to create a moral equivalency between fascists and those defending their communities from fascists. One of the most notorious (and irritating) examples of this is Lee Fang of The Intercept, who, despite claiming to be an ‘investigative journalist’, has shown no interest in fact-checking rumours spread by neo-Nazis as well as a remarkable lack of curiosity about who militant antifascists are, what they actually stand for, and what they have to say about the accusations against them. He outright refuses to acknowledge the reality of violence by fascist groups, and constantly seeks to reduce the political conflict between fascists and those opposing them to a bunch of equally reprehensible people who just like punching each other.

Fang and others like him would certainly recoil at being called fascist sympathisers, but their dishonest and ill-considered arguments do fascists a great favour.

RB: Given that you think people should indeed present themselves to oppose public events organised by fascists, what are your thoughts on the debate about whether the anti-fascist opposition should use physical force or instead should be peaceful?

EH: What I find interesting is that there are basically two separate discussions going on. On the one hand, there is a surprisingly well-thought-out and sophisticated discussion about the role of physical force alongside other means of resistance to fascist mobilisations, how best to go about it, how it should be organised, and how best to coordinate it with other forms of action. I’ve been struck, as someone who has long been extremely critical of the lack of a real tactical/strategic discourse on the left both in the US and in Britain at just how self-reflective and serious these discussions have been.

White Supremacists Armed Charlottesville
White supremacists, armed, in Charlottesville (Photo source: Internet).

This debate gives me hope, because it’s people actually doing what we should have been doing all along: Working out what our objectives are, working out broadly what’s likely to help us get there, and then figuring out the details and reporting back on practical experience with implementing that strategy. On the other hand, you have people who will gatecrash these discussions to tell you there needs to be a debate on tactics. They never actually let us in on what they would like to contribute to this debate, except for a belief that everything would be better if the central committee of whatever newspaper cult (whether it’s the ISO or the SWP in the UK) they’re in were in total control of the resistance.

In that sense, you could say that what we have is a combination of a vibrant debate and a rapidly developing political consciousness combined with a power struggle being conducted by representatives of groups that have managed to keep a lid on left organising despite token numbers and few actual ideas. I can only hope the rank and file of these groups are beginning to realise that their ‘revolutionary vanguards’ are treading water here and haven’t got a clue what to do in this sort of situation. The difference between those ‘vanguards’ and the rest of us is that the rest of us are at least willing to admit that we’re just getting acclimatised. Self-appointed vanguards feel a need to pretend they know everything already, even when no one believes it.

Redneck Revolt members banner
Members of Redneck Revolt — a left-wing paramlilitary group that sometimes escorts antifascists and anti-racists (Photo source: Internet).

As for my own thoughts about the approach to take, I think we’ve seen enough at this point, both in the current struggle within the US and going back over the entire history of fascism wherever it’s shown itself, to know that no antifascist strategy is complete without actually being willing to engage the fash in combat. Fascists are experts at using liberal tolerance against liberalism, and any space they’re not kicked out of is one where they will build strength until no one is able to occupy that space without their blessing.

We also can’t rely on the state, because the cops tend to sympathise more with fascists than with the left and those the fascists target. In the current situation in the US, the level of sympathy is particularly striking: the various police ‘unions’ overwhelmingly supported the campaign of Donald Trump and all it stands for. What’s more, the FBI’s counterintelligence section has issued an advisory (declassified with significant redactions) against FBI agents sharing any intelligence of any kind on the far right with local police departments because of the degree of far-right infiltration of the police. The advisory offered little in the way of detail, but FBI counterintelligence won’t be issuing that sort of blanket advisory unless the infiltration they’d uncovered was pervasive.

So what we’re facing is an armed, paramilitary movement of genocidal racists who have determined that it’s now or never. They’re never just protesting, no matter what their lawyers will tell the court. In their own internal discussion, they describe the current situation as a ‘war’, and not a metaphorical one. When people like that assemble in your town with their guns and truncheons and the blessing of the police, you don’t invite them to chat over tea and cakes. You make sure they have a long convalescence in which to regret their choice of venue.

RB: Not all our readers may know about the presence of armed fascists in Charlottesburg. Can you say a little about this and also about whether it could have been expected?

EH: It not only could have been expected, it was in fact expected by those who showed up to oppose them. White supremacists have been showing up armed to their own and other people’s protests for a few years now. The far-right ‘Oathkeeper’ paramilitary, one of the more professional white supremacist paramilitary forces in the US today, made a point of brandishing semiautomatic rifles at Black Lives Matter protests against racist killings by police. Since the current cycle of far-right mobilisations began, they and other paramilitaries routinely show up, heavily armed and in paramilitary uniforms, to provide security and intimidate the opposition. In the various fascist attempts to establish a presence in Berkeley, they’ve shown up with guns, knives, clubs, and other weapons. They also repeatedly attacked antifascists by driving cars directly at them. It bears noting that Charlottesville was not the first car attack by fascists in the US; it was the first successful car attack.

So some, if not all, of those who showed up to oppose the fascists in Charlottesville will have been expecting to face an armed racist mob. The level of violence displayed by the fascists, however, does seem to be significantly higher than in previous mobilisations of the past year. Where in other places, the violence has tended to be limited to a few punch-ups, the ‘Unite the Right’ mob in Charlottesville attempted to carry out a full-scale pogrom, brutally beating anyone in their path, especially people of colour. In addition to Heather Heyer, who was killed when a fascist drove his car into the counter-demo, Tyler Magill, a University of Virginia librarian and anti-racist organiser, was beaten so badly about the head and neck with a tiki torch that he spent several days in intensive care before dying of a stroke. This is why I’ve insisted on referring to the fascist mobilisation in Charlottesville as a pogrom, rather than as a mere ‘rally’.

Interesting note: The left video journalist collective Unicorn Riot managed to infiltrate the planning group for the Charlottesville pogrom on the chat platform Discord, and has released the text of the chat between the various organisers. One of the things discussed in advance of the day was the legality of attacking counterdemonstrators with cars. I’m not sure to what extent the antifascist contingent were made aware of the content of these discussions in advance of the day, but in any case, a substantial number of those who turned out to oppose the fash in Charlottesville were aware that they’d likely be facing an armed mob, even if the level of violence itself was surprising.

RB: Do you see any role at all for peaceful opposition? Canada, Boston and Barcelona all saw fascist rallies swamped by peaceful (apart from a few incidents) demonstrations in opposition.

EH: Certainly. This is an important question because there is this misconception I’ve seen in many places that militant antifascists – much like those republicans James Connolly once described as the ‘physical force men’ – think that the only tactic that should be applied is main force. There’s no one seriously advocating that force should be the only form that opposition to the far-right mobilisation should take, even though antifascists are frequently caricatured as believing this.

My view, and that of pretty much every militant antifascist I’ve ever read or discussed the matter with, is that we need all sorts of tactics deployed in order to deny fascists space in which to organise and to counteract them politically. The same people who acquaint fascists with the pavement one day will be protesting peacefully, organising their workplaces, helping out with Tropical Storm Harvey relief, or any number of other efforts the next.

The thing to remember about Boston was that everyone present had Charlottesville firmly in mind. The fascists there had seen the humiliating defeat they suffered (leading their leaders to whimper into the cameras about how scary it all is), and half of them ran away before their rally even got started. Those who remained were outnumbered by a factor of something like 100 to 1. In a situation like that, there’s not really much need to prove to fascists that they’re outclassed; only the utterly suicidal would try to start some shit under those circumstances, and your average fascist isn’t all that interested in becoming a hero of the cause.

There were, of course, militant antifascists present at the Boston rally, as there are at pretty much any antifascist event anywhere in the US. The fash were unharmed because no one saw any particular need to engage them directly.

This brings me to one of the things that have really impressed me about the antifascist mobilisation in the US. I have long been quite critical of the lack of any real tactical or strategic thinking on the left in the US and in Britain, where, for so long, the one-size-fits-all tactic has been the A-B march, and the only metric of success is how many people showed up. The tactical debate amongst militant antifascists has massively enriched – and to some extent, really started – the tactical debate on the left in the US.

If you look at sites like It’s Going Down, you can read reports from antifascist groups of their actions. They are almost invariably quite thoughtfully written, and tend to include a detailed analysis of what worked, and, even more importantly, what didn’t work and why. The tactical discourse amongst militant antifascists is one of the first times in recent history I’ve seen tactical decisions on the US left discussed openly and orientated around specified objectives, rather than simply saying – like many of those on the left who today are condemning direct resistance against fascism – ‘our march against the invasion of Iraq was a great success; pity the invasion still went forward’.

RB: Looking ahead, how do you see the fascists and the State responding to these setbacks for them? And what do you think the antifascist movement should be doing?

EH: The fascists seem to be fairly uncertain how to deal with the unexpected degree of resistance they’ve been facing. There’s been a fair bit of the usual internecine shit-slinging, and divisions have become more evident. We’ve seen one of the major white supremacist paramilitaries, the III% group, issue a stand-down order to their members telling them to cease providing security to neo-Nazi events. It’s too early to tell for certain what the rank-and-file reaction to that will be. Given that they were providing security for fascists in the first place, there was clearly a fair bit of support for doing so, so this might cause a split in the group. Indeed, a recent report of III% forces teaming up with neo-Nazis in Yellow Springs, Ohio, suggests that not everyone in the group intends to comply. Of course, the stand-down order might also be complied with, in which case the fash will have lost a significant portion of the firepower that makes facing them in the US more akin to a standoff with the UVF than the BNP.

Richard Spenser crying
Richard Spencer, one of the organisers of the Unite the Right rally, crying after confrontation with anti-fascists (Photo source: Internet).

It may also put pressure on the other major paramilitary group backing them, the Oathkeepers, to do the same. One thing that is definitely clear is that the fash are worried, and looking to adapt their tactics. One interesting bit of information that came out of the Unicorn Riot dump of the chat logs of the organisers of the ‘Unite the Right’ pogrom was the suggestion that people should wear ‘Make America Great Again’ caps in order to create the impression that antifascists were attacking common-and-garden Trump supporters rather than armed neo-Nazi cadres. That suggests an awareness that the only way to maintain any level of public sympathy with them is to ensure that a least some of their number appear to be ‘normies’, as they are called in fash parlance.

Meanwhile, it took only a fortnight after the Charlottesville pogrom for the media and the political class to go on the offensive against antifascism. The Washington Post published an article claiming that a ‘peaceful’ right-wing demonstrator was attacked by Antifa. What they left out was that this same ‘peaceful’ demonstrator can be seen on video pepper-spraying random people without provocation. In a particularly dishonest move, the WaPo selected an image of the altercation in which the fascist’s right hand, which held the pepper spray canister, could not be seen.

The Washington Post on 28th August doubled down on this by publishing an editorial by Marc Thiessen that explicitly states that antifascists are ‘the moral equivalent of neo-Nazis’, a view that not long ago could only have been published in a holocaust denial publication like the ‘journal’ of the Institute for Historical Review. Meanwhile, a possible direction state repression could take is exemplified by the suggestion by the Mayor of Berkeley, California, the site of a recent failed fascist rally and massive counter-protest that was brutally repressed by the police, that Antifa should be classified as a ‘gang’ under California’s draconian ‘gang’ laws.

Not unlike the standards for “proving” IRA membership prevailing in the 26-County Special Criminal Court, these laws allow pretty much anyone to be classified as a ‘gang member’ or a ‘gang associate’ based on the flimsiest of evidence. If you’re related to or friends with a ‘known gang member’, or are mentioned in a ‘gang document’ (i.e., a letter written by someone classified as a ‘gang member’) you automatically become a ‘gang associate’. You become a full ‘gang member’ based not on actually being a member of an actual gang, but on the number of boxes like this that are ticked.

Using this exponential guilt-by-association approach, prosecutors in California have issued injunctions against gangs that don’t even exist, making it an offence for communities to assemble and friends and family to stay in touch. This hasn’t happened yet, it’s important to note, but it’s certainly plausible. If the ‘gang’ and ‘terrorism’ laws are brought to bear against antifascists, it will be the hardest test the movement has faced thus far. Whilst any such designation would be open to legal challenge on the grounds that it seeks to outlaw political activity, I reckon the key will be to stand in solidarity with the communities already being attacked with these repressive laws.

If antifascists successfully avoid being subjected to these laws, and decide on that basis not to make common cause with those who are targeted with them, not only will that disconnect us from communities that are under attack by fascists and the state (whose target selection criteria are remarkably similar), but it would also mean that, if cosmetic amendments are made to the laws to make it easier to target antifascists, we would have denied our solidarity to those whose solidarity we may ultimately need.

I don’t see an easy answer to this one, and I’d probably be reluctant to be all that public about it even if I did in order to avoid the state catering for our response before we’ve even begun to prepare it. What’s clear is that a community defence movement based on direct action like the growing antifascist movement in the US will have powerful enemies. As for what antifascists should be doing going forward, I think the key will be not to rest on our laurels, keep improving our intelligence work, and build strong relationships with the communities under fascist attack (which are often also the communities antifascists are coming from). We should look at the current struggle against these relatively small and weak fascist groups as valuable experience for the much harder community defence work that also needs to be organised.

Also, we will need to do better at exposing what hides behind the euphemism ‘alt right’. One recent poll suggested that the overwhelming majority of respondents had no idea that the ‘alt right’ were a bunch of armed white supremacists and fascists. As such, educating the public on the views and activities of these groups will be essential.

Links:

Washington Post referred to (dated 28 Aug) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/28/black-clad-antifa-attack-right-wing-demonstrators-in-berkeley/

Anarchist News and Analysis site referred to: https://itsgoingdown.org