We often hear stupid statements. I know I’ve made some myself. I suppose the only way to be absolutely sure of not making a stupid statement is to say nothing – not even thinking carefully before speaking is probably going to be enough protection for the length of one’s whole life. Besides, thinking carefully beforehand is not always appropriate. But we can — and should — avoid repeating the stupid statements of others and making them often.
It’s no surprise that a recent statement by a Government Minister got me thinking along these lines – politicians as a group are particularly prone to making stupid statements. By “stupid’ in this case I mean contradicting logic or common sense, although the intended effect may be carefully considered and cunning.
The Minister in question, Charlie Flanagan, was quoted in a number of newspaper reports as having said, in reference to a recent eviction case in Roscommon, that “violence is never justified”. Nothing unusual in that, you might think and that does show how inoculated we have become by stupid statements.
Charlie Flanagan is Minister for Justice of the Irish Government. As such, the courts, police and prison service come under his oversight. The police force of the Irish State contains, according to the appropriate Wikipedia entry, 10,459 Garda officers. All of these officers are, it is reasonable to assume, trained in the use of their batons, pepper-spray, handcuffs and physical restraint. Some – and it does seem to be more and more of them – are also carrying firearms. In other words, Charlie Flanagan oversees a force of nearly 10,460 people who are trained to use violence and on many occasions expected to use it – and yet he says that “violence is never justified.”
Yes, I know – he didn’t mean the Gardaí in general, or the prison officers who are also trained to use force, or the judiciary who send people to be incarcerated. He didn’t mean the thugs who were using violence to evict people either. Or the specific Gardaí who supervised the violence being used on the evicted and by their presence prevented defence or retaliation.
In system-politician-speak, “violence” is never what the State does and hardly ever what the capitalists do, it is invariably what the victims of the system do to protect themselves or in retaliation. And true to form, Flanagan was referring to the punishment meted out to those eviction gang thugs. So, a statement with cunning intent, to make one action, the violent eviction of people from their home an alright one, and another, the retaliation towards the thugs and repossession of the home, the only one that is “violent”. It makes perfect sense in the way that those who run the system see it and in the way, by perversion of the meaning of words, they want us to see it too.
But in strictly logical terms, what Flanagan said was nonsense. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of nonsense we hear repeated again and again.
And something like it, through constant repetition, becomes almost common sense. Look at the statement that “Violence never solved anything”: another stupid statement which gets a lot of airtime and mass media repetition with a lot of currency – particularly but not exclusively among the liberal sections of the middle class.
If someone other than a teacher decides to bully you in school and you decide to make it hard for him or her, by responding to violence with violence, in most cases the bully will leave you alone and probably go looking for an easier pick-upon. In that case violence has indeed solved something – at least for you. Of course, it is possible (though not usual) that the situation will escalate from there and the liberal middle class person will tell you that you should report it to the teachers, your parents, etc. What they are expecting is that pressure will be brought upon the bully either directly or indirectly by heavier forces than yours alone. And what lies behind those heavier forces? Ultimately? Violence. It may be the best way to go at times but ultimately it is not non-violent – it is relying for effectiveness on the capacity for violence of others.
Of course, it is possible that the bully may be dissuaded through logic and therapy but that is not often going to happen in our society for a number of reasons.
OK, so you grow up and somebody one night comes to beat you up and take your wallet or purse but you put up a good resistance and either stretch him out on the ground or he runs off. Seems to me that violence did solve that situation.
Taking a more macro look at situations of violence, most people would agree that nations have a right to self-determination. Yet that right has been obstructed and repressed many, many times in history. To take Europe alone, the current nation-states of Poland, Hungary, Czech, Slovakia, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, Norway and Finland have all been faced with violence and had to respond with violence in order to achieve their independence. Ireland had to do similarly and was partially successful, while a number of other nations remain suppressed despite upheavals and stirrings.
While it may be true that some of those conflicts had questionable results it does not refute the general rule that nations under domination of another state are ultimately controlled by violence and that violence has had to be used many times in response. Nor is the case refuted by territorial share-outs among powers, such as some of the treaties between big powers – the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI, for example, authorised the English and French to plunder the Ruhr Valley and was one of the German grievances that helped the Nazis to gain control and begin world expansion. Other treaties have regularly led to violence too, either in states or peoples trying to re-negotiate or negate them, or in suppression of those rebellious forces by the states benefiting from the treaties.
Let us suppose that we are subject to an invasion by a foreign state – that is not too difficult for the Irish to imagine and most European countries experienced it during WWII as did, earlier and later, most of the nations of Latin America, Africa and Asia. The invading force uses violence, of course and they use it more effectively than our defence forces do. Violence worked – in this case for the invading forces. It solved the issue for them – how to overcome our defence forces and occupy our territory for whatever reason they set out to do so.
If we want to resolve the issue to our advantage – to end the invasion and occupation – we would not be able to do so peacefully. That is not a choice the invader will permit us. Our resistance would sooner or later be met with violence by the occupier, whether wholesale in massacres, internment, bans, ’emergency’ laws, curfews etc — or by more selective violence, arrests of leaders and activists, torture, jailing or even executions. And often by a combination of the wholesale and the selective repression.
To rid ourselves of the invader we would have to employ violence too, violence in resistance. It would of course be necessary to combine it with many other tactics – sabotage (violence against things), insurgent propaganda, cartoons, graffiti, song, humour, sarcasm and irony, boycott, demonstrations, pickets, subversion of the enemy’s forces ….. but violence would have to be part of it. There is no nation that freed itself from the domination of a state which was at the time capable of violently suppressing it, without the insurgent nation having had to resort to revolutionary violence.
Returning for a moment to our middle-class liberals, let us imagine the home or business of one is subject to an attempted burglary or robbery. The victim will feel justified in the use of violence in defence of his or her property or home. He or she may choose not to employ that violence themselves – or be unable to — but in that case will certainly turn to the police to employ it on their behalves: “Use cunning to find them and violence to subdue them, bring them to trial by force and punish them by jail. And keep them there for a long time, using violence if necessary.” The middle-class liberal whose business has been robbed or home violated will in most cases not hesitate to, if not use those actual words, to fully imply them by calling for “justice”. However, commenting on the course of a worker’s strike or protest demonstration, he or she will undoubtedly lecture the perceived offenders that “Violence solves nothing.”
The violation of the civil rights of Osgur Breatnach (then a leading member of the IRSP) exposed in the program in the Finné series on TG4 (Irish language TV channel) shown recently and repeated a week later was set in the 1970s but the injustice did not end there.
Even after a High Court admission that he and McNally had been subjected to “oppression” and his conviction thereby overturned 17 months after his jailing, the court still maintained he had beaten himself up – a fiction it maintains to this day.
Of course to say otherwise would have been to admit the Gardaí special unit that came to be known as “The Heavy Gang” were vicious thugs who fabricated “confessions”. And that the judiciary of the Special Criminal Court had, despite the medical evidence and signs of beating on all, including the three who had “confessed” and the repudiation of those statements in court, colluded with the beatings, accepted the statements as true confessions and convicted three of the men for up to 12 years’ jail. And to admit that the Court of Appeal and High Court had been complicit in accepting as a “finding of fact” which could not be overturned that they had beaten one another up (and done it to himself, in the case of Breatnach).
All of which meant that the Heavy Gang got more encouragement for their ‘work’ so that some of them were able to turn up on the scene of other scandals, including that of the false confessions of Joanna Hayes and her family (about which Gardaí nothing has been done either).
Even today, not one of those Gardaí has been even charged and the complicit judiciary and State Prosecution carried on in their jobs and in some cases rose higher.
The injustice did not stop there, for when Nicky Kelly, who had been on the run, gave himself up, even though exactly the same evidence had been used to convict him, he was told he had run over the timeframe in which he could appeal and it took four years of campaigning to get him out too. And then only for “humanitarian reasons,” so the “guilty of armed robbery” verdict still stood for his reputation, potential relationships, job prospects etc.
Another eight years later he received a Presidential “Pardon” from Uachtarán Mary Robinson.
Then the State fought the financial compensation case, taking it to the extreme of bringing Gay Byrne to court over an interview he had given Osgur Breatnach. At this point some wiser heads decided to limit the damage, pay up but with the condition that the three did not go after the police or proceed with any case about the beatings.
A facet of British and Irish civil law of which many are probably unaware is this: If the respondent (i.e the one against which you are taking the case) offers you a sum and you refuse it, and you later win the case but are awarded less than what you were offered earlier, you have to pay all the costs of the defence! You can actually end up owing money!
But back to ongoing injustice. Since not a single one of the Heavy Gang was ever even charged or disciplined over this and other similar behaviour and some were even promoted; since not a single member of the legal profession or judiciary was even reprimanded for their part in it; no warning about where the boundaries are has been given to the Gardaí much less to the judiciary. Which means that it can all easily happen again.
The defendants in the Jobstown case were not beaten up to force them to ‘confess’ but when we hear Garda after Garda, including a senior one, affirm under oath in court that one of the defendants said something which all the video evidence proves he did not, at what conclusion can we arrive other than that they were all lying? But not one of them has been charged or even disciplined either.
Conversely, the State has no problem with dragging anti-fascists to court recently and this to answer charges such as “violent disorder” arising out alleged actions preventing the European fascist organisation Pegida from launching a branch in Dublin.
ARE THINGS TODAY IMPROVED?
The Heavy Gang is not operating as such today (or at least not yet) but in some respects things are actually worse than they were back in the 1970s ad ’80s. There was one Special Criminal Court then – now there are two! The Public Order Act was brought into force in 1994 to give Gardaí great powers to repress public protests and the scheduled offence of Violent Disorder was included in that Act: three unconnected individuals at the scene of a “disorder” can be convicted under the latter provision and sentenced up to ten years in jail or fined an unlimited amount (or both)!
Courts are imposing bail conditions preventing activists from continuing to be politically active, i.e from attending public meetings, rallies, demonstrations, pickets etc – for up to the two years it can take the case to come to trial.
And just as in the ‘bad old days’, the unsupported opinion of a Garda of Superintendent rank or over is sufficient to convict Republicans of “belonging to an illegal organisation” and visitors to the public gallery of the SCC have to give their names and addresses to the Gardaí before being admitted.
Special Branch officers still routinely and openly watch Republicans carrying out their peaceful political work and demand their names and addresses on pickets. But now not only is surveillance carried out on people’s electronic communication equipment, communication is also being blocked at times by special equipment of the Gardaí.
Sadly, as the struggle over social and political issues becomes more acute in this state, we will see more repression, as the State tries to force the whole of civil society into compliance, especially by concentrating that repression on society’s more politicised and active sectors. Already in Dublin we have seen masked bailiffs and masked police carrying out an eviction of a small token occupation group in an empty house and, a week later, armed police turning up to a dispute between a couple and their landlord.
Only by admission of wrongdoing followed by actions overturning the current impunity of the Gardaí and the judiciary can a worsening of the situation perhaps be averted. But there is no sign of that happening.
Summary: Fascism is mobilising across many parts of the world including the very Spanish state where it caused a war through a military-fascist coup and brought in four decades of a fascist dictatorship. The main point of commemorations of the anti-fascist resistance and of the International Brigades should be of raising the alarm and mobilising resistance anew. Why in some instances is this not happening?
What is the point of commemorations of the International Brigades? Or of the ‘Spanish Civil War’? Yes of course I believe these things should be commemorated but I still want to know what the point is.
I would think that most people would agree with two reasons:
To remind us never to let fascism take over again
To honour the memory of those who fought it, many who sacrificed their lives or their liberty or their health in the struggle against fascism.
I believe there is a third important reason though perhaps most people wouldn’t put it up there right away, though I doubt they’d disagree with it:
To learn from the successes and mistakes of the past.
How is it then that one can go to an event to celebrate the the Irish International Brigaders but at the same time not hear a mention once in a number of hours about the mobilisation of fascist forces in Europe? How is it one cannot hear even a passing reference to the fascist forces that are stridently mobilising within the very Spanish state, at this moment? How is it that there is no mention of the Irish State bringing antifascists before the courts now for allegedly taking part in actions against the intended launch of the fascist Pegida organisation in February 2012?
Sure, we can all forget some very important point in a speech, forget to name somebody who should get a mention, etc. But all throughout the evening? And no placards or posters to challenge the rising fascism of today? That cannot be just a slip. Were it amnesia, it would be bad enough but if a tacit or tactical agreement not to remind us that would be worse, much worse.
Bob Doyle, the last of the Irish Brigaders to die, who is often mentioned at such events, would not have had it that way. In his nineties, I heard him speak a couple of times and he was always clear that the main point is to stop the fascists today. Frank Ryan, who regularly gets references at commemorative events (often without anyone mentioning he was IRA before he went out, as were many of the other Irish Brigadistas), would have agreed with Doyle, I’m sure.
TODAY FASCISM IS RISING IN THE SPANISH STATE – but then, it never went away.
In the very territory where what is usually called the Spanish Civil War and less frequently the Spanish War Against Fascism (and other things)1 took place, Spanish fascists are openly organising, marching, threatening right now. A few weeks ago they were commemorating the dictator General Franco and Primo Rivera, founder of the Spanish fascist organisation, La Falange. Earlier in November they were provoking Catalans by having a rally in Barcelona. A little earlier still, they were provoking Basques by rallying in Altsasu, the town from which Basque youth got jail sentences of up to thirteen years arising out of a late-night pub brawl with off-duty Spanish policemen who provocatively went into an independentist bar and in which the most serious injury (if it was an actual result) was a damaged police ankle.2
All that would be bad enough if it were not that the Spanish State is actively tolerating them. Throwing fascist salutes, flying the Spanish fascist flag and shouting fascist slogans are all illegal under Spanish law; but the fascists brazenly do all these things and they do not get arrested!.
Of course, fascism was never defeated in the Spanish state. Fascism won there. We can shout “No Pasarán” (‘they shall not pass), the slogan for the defence of Madrid3 as much as we like but sadly, eventually sí pasaron (‘they did pass’), despite the enormous sacrifices of Castillians, Asturians, Andalucians, Basques, Asturians, Catalans and other peoples there, despite the bright internationalist spirit of the International Brigaders from well over 60 nations and states. And the victorious fascists tortured, shot, raped, humiliated, confiscated and stole food, valuables, businesses, imprisoned and half-starved the vanquished. And exported prisoners and jews to Nazi concentration camps.
Then the fascist regime consolidated their power, converting the schools to places of instruction in fascist and religious indoctrination, re-imposed a patriarchal ideology and ‘morality’ on girls and women, repressed languages other than Castillian, banned all trade unions except the fascist one, beat up and shot strikers and demonstrators, tortured independentist activists, shot some dead …. All of this went on for 40 years under General Franco.
During the first decade of that fascist reign of terror in the Spanish state, Fascism at first trampled over western and eastern Europe, North Africa, Asia …. until the tide began to turn, first in Eastern Europe and then in Asia and at last the fascist powers were defeated. Fascist leaders faced popular vengeance and Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals, executions and prison sentences. The societies they had sprung from were subjected to anti-fascist education. A great many of the guilty escaped but some were hunted down in following years.
During World War II on the other hand, Spanish fascism gave material and intelligence aid to the German and Italian fascist states and cooperated in hunts for the “French” (i.e Basque, Asturian, Catalan, Occitan and some Spanish anti-Nazi resistance, the maquis or maquisards4along the French-Spanish Border. It also sent back to the Nazis escaped prisoners, Jews and downed Allied airmen.
After the War, nothing happened to Spanish fascism (except that it sheltered hundreds of Nazi war-criminals, either permanently or on their way to South America, often with Vatican help). Fascism continued unimpeded in the Spanish state until ETA assassinated Carerro Blanco, Franco’s nominated successor and Franco himself died5 two years later.
Under internal pressure from Opus Dei and externally by European powers and especially by the USA, it was decided to modernise and rebrand the State6. The social democratic PSOE and its affiliated trade union the UGT were legalised under conditions and so were the Communist Party of Spain and its union, the Comisiones Obreras7. The conditions were that these would control their supporters (hence the trade unions) while the Transition was being carried through with repression; although republicans all, they would agree to the reimposition of a monarchy; that they – God forbid! — not go hunting fascists if they ever got into government; that they support the inviolability of the Spanish state union. The PSOE and the CPE agreed to the conditions and delivered, the latter even swallowing the fascist murder of five of its trade union lawyer members and serious injury to another four during the Transition and the PSOE swallowing the attack on the offices of the CGT.
The Transition took place in an atmosphere of hope and fear, repression against resistance: the new Spanish unionist and monarchical constitution was voted in, with regional autonomy to placate subjugated historical nations within the state; the new King, Juan Carlos de Borbón was installed. Ten years later, the Spanish State was admitted to the European Union8. That same year, the new Spanish Government under the PSOE was conducting fascist-police-military assassination squads against left-wing Basque independence activists9.
But all throughout those years and still, the fascists kept their plundered wealth. The fascist clergy, judges, civil servants, police, military and media all kept their positions and wealth. They just had to open up their ranks a little to let in the climbing social democrats and “communists”. Not one fascist was tried for any of the crimes carried out during the “Civil War” or during the Franco regime afterwards.
WHY THE FASCISTS ARE COMING BACK (but then, they never went away)
Two things are exercising the Spanish fascists at the moment. First among these is the long struggle of the Spanish State to hold on to its forced union of the nations and regions conquered by monarchs of the Royal Houses of Spain and by fascist dictators, then maintained by both the mainstream constitutional political parties, the PP an the PSOE.
As a combination of factors combined with State repression to halt and disintegrate the southern Basque march towards independence, Catalonia took up its own struggle10. The independence movement there, which has left, right and centre elements but at base is popular and democratic and with wide support, has been steadily advancing. At institutional level, the ‘autonomous’ Catalan Government is a coalition of pro-independence forces (but with a numerous, strong, right-wing and Spanish-unionist opposition) and the majority of town councils have pro-independence majorities and Town Mayors. At grassroots level, the cultural organisation Omnium and especially the ANC (National Catalan Assembly) have organised massive independence demonstrations, a referendum on independence (disrupted with violence by the Spanish police11) and a protest General Strike. Some of the movement’s social and political leaders are in jail (four on hunger strike as this is published) and about to go on trial for their activism.
The union of the Spanish state is an article of faith for the Spanish fascists and reflected in the Spanish fascist slogan of España, Una, Grande y Libre!12 The “Una” is the forced unity, the denial of independence to the Basques and Catalans (or any others who might consider going for it).
But it is not only an article of faith for the fascists in the Spanish state, it also the case with regard to the Spanish ruling class. Catalonia and the southern Basque Country are two of the best-performing economic areas in the Spanish state and together account for a substantial part of the State’s exports and revenues, apart from land mass and extent of coast. Furthermore, the successful exit of these two regions would undoubtedly encourage similar plans among others, such as Valencia and the Balearic islands (which are also Catalan-speaking) and the Celtic nations of Galicia and Asturias. Uprisings might be the result in impoverished Andalucia and Extremadura …. None of that is a scenario which the Spanish ruling class is inclined to even consider and it has its Constitution to depend on, with legal punishment for any secession without a majority vote in its Parliament and the ultimate guarantor in the Spanish Armed forces.
All this is bad enough but a substantial section of the Spanish Left is also against any secession from Spanish State territory. The PSOE of course (which also means the UGT), since it takes its turn as the government of the Spanish ruling class, is one opponent but also the Spanish Communist Party (and the Comisiones union), much of the Trotskyist-Communist alliance of Izquierda Unida (the inappropriately-named ‘United Left’) and the populist Podemos, to which it gave unclaimed birth. For those, the argument against secession is about “the unity of the working class”13. That the “unity of the working class” against Spanish unionism, capitalism, imperialism and fascism might be achievable by agreeing to the right of secession and supporting it, while building a united front against all that is reactionary in the state, does not seem to have occurred to them. Of course their issue might be in reality about control.
DIGGING UP THE PAST
The other issue exercising the fascists is the movement around the historical memory of the anti-fascist struggle and the effects of the 40 decades of Franco dictatorship.
Throughout the territory of the Spanish State, which currently includes the southern Basque and Catalan countries, there are graves of dead anti-fascists, usually unmarked and sometimes of many bodies together. The Catholic Church in most areas refused funeral services to the families of “los Rojos” (the Reds, i.e anyone who opposed the fascists) and the terror was such that often relatives were afraid for themselves and their children if they were too insistent with enquiries as to where their relative had been killed or buried. These burial sites are by roadsides, in quarries as well as in or near cemeteries and other places. Many of those were combatant and non-combatant prisoners who were executed, others fell in battle. Historical memory associations in different communities have been documenting the sites and trying to identify the occupants, an activity which fascists and some others consider as “causing divisions in society”.
In 2008 Judge Baltasar Garzón (since disbarred) ordered the opening up of 19 mass graves from that War14. Naive liberals and leftists (or perhaps those with very limited concerns) rushed to hail Garzón as a defender of democratic rights while ignoring his history as a judge presiding over repression of Basque independentists, including closure of newspapers and radio station, and prison sentences based on ‘confessions’ obtained through torture15. Despite Garzón’s repressive credentials there was an outcry from the Spanish right-wing and the exhumations were halted.
Also across the Spanish State’s territory there are plaques, monuments and street names dedicated to Franco and other fascist notables which in some areas have been the scene of protests. Most notable of all these sites is the mausoleum of General Franco and of Primo Rivera (founder of the fascist Falange), located within the Valle de los Caídos (‘Valley of the Fallen’). This monument, constructed in part by political prisoner labour,
“covers over 3,360 acres (13.6km2) of Mediterranean woodlands and granite boulders on the Sierra de Guadarrama hills, more than 3,000 feet (910m) above sea level and includes a basilica, a Benedictine abbey, a guest house, the Valley, and the Juanelos — four cylindrical monoliths dating from the 16th century. The most prominent feature of the monument is the towering 150-metre-high (500ft) cross erected over a granite outcrop 150 metres over the basilica esplanade and visible from over 20 miles (32km) away.” (Wikipedia).
The mausoleum, only 60 kilometres (just under 38 miles) from Madrid is the scene of many fascist ceremonies and demonstrations of adherence to the ideology of Franco and Rivera.
For all of these reasons, varying forces on the Spanish Left and other antifascists‘ spectrum have called for the removal of the cadavers of the two fascists to ordinary graves, the destruction of the mausoleums and the rededication of the whole area to the victims of fascism. When last in government, the PSOE committed itself to some of these objectives but did not carry them out. Now in government again, it has renewed that commitment which is another reason for Spanish fascist hysteria. The two main political parties of the constitutional Right (Partido Popular and Ciudadanos) combined with some smaller right-wing parties in abstaining from a recent Parliamentary motion “strongly condemning” the dictatorship and “any kind of exaltation” of the Franco regime. The motion was passed on 21st November 2918 with 97 votes of Spanish social democrats, Basque and Catalan independentists …. but there were 136 abstentions.
The Spanish Left has a serious difficulty in opposing fascism, committed as so much of the Left is to a central tenet of Spanish fascism, the current territorial integrity of the State. Also the Left in many other places besides the Spanish state is divided on how to respond to fascism in general; responses varying from replying with force by popular action to calling on the State to ban them, campaigning politically against them to generally ignoring their mobilisation.
Is it possible that some notion of preserving the ‘unity of the Left’ could be at the bottom of the silence about the growing fascism in the world and in particular within the Spanish state at some commemorative events?
THE WORTH OF COMMEMORATIONS
The Friends of the International Brigades and other associations of what is often described as “historical memory” have done very important work in recovering the history of resistance to fascism. Not only that but also in tying that history not just to the territory of the Spanish state where battles were fought by the International Brigades but to places where those Volunteers came from in Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. That work helps the people of those areas to locate themselves within the continuum of history and to emulate the ideals of those Volunteers should they choose to do so. The narratives of the sacrifice made and risk taken by the Volunteers counter the capitalist ethos of greed and of self-preservation above all else and suggest an alternative.
Such commemorations and monuments, if they are to survive and if they are to have real practical meaning, must also serve as calls to action, to mobilise to stop the rise of Fascism and to drive it back. And to support those who are fighting fascism, here, in the Spanish state and elsewhere. If we are to shout No pasarán! let us mean:Ésta vez no pasarán – y nunca jamás! (‘This time they shall not pass – and never again!)
1Although there people of fascist mentality everywhere in the Spanish state, they were outnumbered in most places by anti-fascists and without the logistical and manpower assistance of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, fascism could not have succeeded. Therefore many argue that it was not a civil war but instead a coup, a military uprising though supported by fascists both native and foreign. In the southern Basque Country and probably in Catalonia, some view it as a military invasion rather than a civil war. In Nafarroa (Navarra), because of the reactionary Carlist movement there, it did take on the character of a civil war and the Carlists murdered 3,000 leftists and republicans – when the Falange got there, there was no-one left for them to kill.
2A debate in the EU on a ban in all its membership against fascist symbols took place in December 2012 but has not yet resulted in a decision. A Catalan independentis MEP contributed to the discussion https://www.greens-efa.eu/en/article/press/eu-wide-ban-on-nazi-and-fascist-symbols-and-slogans/ with perhaps a rather tongue-in-cheek declaration that the Spanish Government had no interest in fascist symbolism; the truth is more complicated than that (see WHY THE FASCISTS ARE COMING BACK and DIGGING UP THE PAST sections).
3This slogan is said to have been coined for the crucial antifascist defence of Madrid by Dolores Ibarruri, known as “La Passionara” because of text she wrote in her youth and later her speeches too. She was a Basque and a member of the CPE. The slogan has been repeated many times since in different parts of the world but in Cable Street in 1936 it became a reality when an alliance of forces, chiefly Jewish and Irish community with some local Communist leadership, stopped 20,000-30,000 of Mosley’s “Blackshirts” and their escort of 7.000 police, along with all the mounted police in London, from marching through a predominantly immigrant Jewish quarter.
4“Maquis” is “dense scrub vegetation consisting of hardy evergreen shrubs and small trees, characteristic of Mediterranean coastal regions” (Internet description) which is where the ‘French’ rural anti-fascist or anti-Nazi Occupation resistance fighters camped and hid. “Maquisards” was the word describing those Resistance fighters in French but “the Maquis” was erroneously later applied to the fighters and their organisation.
6The Spanish State was not a member of the European Union and there was concern in many quarters about admitting an unreconstructed fascist dictatorship into membership. However, under USA patronage, it had joined NATO in 1982 and US air bases were being built across the territory. Opus Dei is a Catholic association mostly of people from professional and upper-middle classes and, in Spain, with right-wing views but with a technocratic approach rather than ideological which pitched them against the fascist Falange in the “democratisation” of the Spanish State.
7Both the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero de España) and the Unión General de Trabajadores had been illegal and persecuted under Franco, as had the more militant PCE (Partido Comunista de España) and the Commisiones Obreras trade union (in acronym in Castillian usually shown as CCOO). Those two trade unions are by far the most widespread in the Spanish state with the majority of members (except in the Basque Country and Galicia). The PSOE is one of the two mainstream political parties in the state, alternating with the right-wing Partido Popular.
8The Spanish State was admitted in 1986 but negotiations had been going on for some time.
9See GAL and BVE assassination squads operating in the Spanish and French states (1983-1987).
10Catalunya is an ‘autonomous’ region under the post-Franco Spanish Constitution, as are the two divisions of the southern Basque Country, Euskadi and Nafarroa (Navarre, Navarra). The Popular Front Government of the Spanish State had recognised the self-administering right of both Euskadi and Catalunya and they were important parts of the anti-fascist resistance; their autonomous status was revoked under the Franco dictatorship.
11On 1st October 2017, one of a number of Spanish police invasions of Catalunya last year.
13This argument has over the course of time been used by sections of social democrats, Communists, Trotskyist and Anarchists against liberation struggles in colonies and also in opposition to a boycott against South Africa or Palestine. The argument of class solidarity has been employed in a manner and in situations which have actually weakened the class struggle, bound the working class to their masters in common cause and also encouraged the growth of racism. As long ago as the mid-19th Century, Marx and Engels and others argued against this identification interest with the ruling class, encouraging the British workers in their own interest to support the Irish people in their liberation struggle against British colonialism.
Summary: Alarm is being expressed in a number of quarters, especially within the Spanish state’s territory, at the gains made by the hard right in the regional elections in the southern Spanish province of Andalucia. Held on 2nd December this year, a fairly new party, hard-right Vox won seats for the first time – 12 of them. Ciudadanos, another hard-right party which has been around longer, increased their share of the seats by twelve to 21. Should we be afraid? I think not …. we should certainly be alert – but for other reasons.
NB: This is not a deep analysis but rather a look at some of the circumstances in Andalusia in relation to those of the Spanish state as a whole and in the context of its history and current situation.
On 2nd December, elections were held in the Andalusian region, one of the 17 ‘autonomous communities’ of the Spanish state. At the time, the social-democratic PSOE controlled the regional government but only with the ‘confidence and supply’ support of the very right-wing party Ciudadanos; the latter withdrew their support and the PSOE called a snap election. The extremely right-wing (to use the most neutral description applicable) political party Vox for the first time had some electoral success and took 12 seats.
Vox is opposed to the right to choose abortion and also to equal same-sex marriage, proposing instead a different “civil union” for gay and lesbian couples. Like all the main Spanish political parties (and many smaller ones), Vox upholds the territorial integrity of the Spanish state but unlike most others opposes also the Statute of Autonomy which created regions with a degree of autonomy (which was part of the deal of ‘Transition’ from the Franco dictatorship, mainly to placate the nations within the state’s territory). The party is critical of multi-culturalism and immigration policies in general and regarding Islam in particular.
The election of those 12 Deputies has caused a wave of panic across many left-wing and democratic sectors across the Spanish state and one hears and reads comments that “this is the first time a party of the extreme right has gained seats in the Spanish state since the end of the Franco Dictatorship.” If that is true, it is so only in the perception of those commentators.
NOT ONLY FASCIST DEPUTIES HAVE BEEN ELECTED SINCE FRANCO BUT FASCIST GOVERNMENTS TOO
The fact is that fascism was never defeated in the Spanish state after the Popular Front Government was overthrown by Spanish military-fascist coup, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in 1938. For four subsequent decades, there was a fascist dictatorship. After that, there was a fake “Transition”1 in which political groupings directly related to the dictatorship formed political parties and the first two governments (September 1975-July 1976) were of unashamed fascist background followed by two of the UCD (July 1976-December 1982), also of fascist background but wearing the veneer of being ‘centre-right’. One of UCD’s most important movers and shakers was Manuel Fraga, the director of murderous State repression of all antifascist, anti-monarchical and independentist resistance during the “Transition”, his slogan being “The streets are mine”.
The next Government was of the social-democratic PSOE, which swept the board, assisted by a panic about the restoration of a fascist dictatorship, aroused by a somewhat farcical very minor attempt at a military coup, the supporters of which entered the Parliament while it was in session and took it over for a while before they surrendered when it was clear they were out on their own.
The PSOE and its associated trade union, the UGT, had been illegal under Franco. The attempt to rebrand the Spanish State as a “democracy” required a bipartisan social democratic party and also a restraining hand on the illegal trade unions (i.e all that were not fascist). But legalising the PSOE and the UGT would be insufficient if the Communist Party of Spain and its allied trade union, the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) were left out in the cold, where they would certainly cause a lot of trouble. Both parties were anti-monarchist — would they agree to to monarchy being foisted on the public after more than four decades without one? Could they guarantee not to go after any fascists for crimes of torture and murder? Would they support a unionist constitution? Would they control their unions? They could, would and did, even putting up with the murder of union lawyers (PCE/CCOO) and bombing of the UGT headquarters during the ‘Transition’.
The PSOE was in government from December 1982 to May 1986, during which time it ran assassination and terror squads (GAL 1983-1987) against the Basque left-wing pro-independence movement with the aid of high-ranking Spanish military and police officers directing Spanish and foreign fascist mercenaries.
A number of scandals including the one about GAL helped push the social democrats out of government and next in was a new party of the ‘centre-right’. Well, a new name anyway: Partido Popular — its founder was “The-streets-are-mine” Manuel Fraga, leading a split from the UCD. The PP has been consistently alternating in government of the Spanish State with the PSOE ever since: 1996-2004; 2011-2018.
The PSOE got into government of the state again in 2004-2011 and is in once more at the moment, in a minority government, having unseated the PP on a vote of no confidence on a corruption scandal.
THE 2018 ELECTIONS IN ANDALUCIA
The first thing to note perhaps is that the total turnout was under 57% which indicates a high level of disenchantment with the electoral and political system. The PSOE had been in government there for thirty-six years, i.e since the incorporation of the regional government in 1982. What had it delivered for the people in those years? One need only look at the region’s place in the Spanish state’s economic tables – second from bottom.
The election results gave the the PSOE a drop of 7.4% in votes on their last performance and they lost 14 seats. However, with 33 seats they remain the party with the most deputies in the regional Government, with a seven-seat majority over their nearest rival, the Partido Popular and its 26 seats.
The other social-democratic party, a coalition around Podemos, also took a drop: 5.57% in votes and lost three seats.
The combined or total loss of seats to parties of social-democracy was 17 and the sum of their loss of votes was 12.61%.
As it happens, the right-wing Partido Popular also dropped votes and seats, -5.99% and seven respectively.
Ciudadanos, a newer party than the PP but just as hard right, benefitted with 12 additional seats and 8.99% increase in their votes. And then Vox took the remaining 12 seats from a previous zero on only a 10.51 % increase in their percentage of votes (they had stood before but got no deputies elected).
Where did the other votes go? Apart from the 1.8% invalid votes (exactly the percentage drop of voters on the last turnout, curiously), they were spread between 22 other parties or platforms, of which no less than 15 were totally new in elections. Some of those are right-wing but most, going by their titles, seem to represent a band varying from soft to hard Left to Independentist or regional.
In conclusion, the election results show no sudden far-right advance in reality but a newish party of the far right, competing with other far-right parties, took 22 seats it had not had before, while the social democrats, though losing votes, remain in government for the moment.
Some commentators, including many on the Left, have sought to ascribe the rise in the support for Vox as a reaction to insecurity around the fear of the secession of Catalonia from the Spanish state. This is bit rich from often the very commentators who have tried to portray the popular Catalan movement for independence as an elitist movement, motivated by selfishness to keep their wealth and not share it with poor regions like Andalusia.
So we can all relax, we needn’t worry? No, we DO need to worry but not so much for the reason of these election results. We need to worry because of the fascist nature and history of the Spanish ruling class and its State; because fascist groups are on the rise in the Spanish territory; because the Left has real problems in countering fascism and because fascism is on the rise in Europe in general.
The fact is that most of the Spanish Left, from social-democracy to ‘revolutionary’ socialists, are also totally committed to Spanish territorial integrity. That, and their reluctance to mobilise the masses to take decisive firm action against fascist mobilisations and provocations, makes it very hard for the Left to build a mass and effective anti-fascist movement.
The southernmost part of the Spanish state is where to find Andalucia, sharing a land strip with the Rock of Gibraltar; it is the most populous and the second largest in area of the autonomous communities in the state and its capital is Sevilla (Seville). It is the only European region with coastline on both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Parts of the province record the highest temperatures of the state but other parts see quite high rainfall.
The earliest known paintings of humanity have been found in the Caves of Nerja, Málaga.2.The region has been under Phoenician, then Carthagenian control, later under the Visigoths, followed by the Romans and even by the Eastern Roman Empire. For three-and-a-half centuries Andalusia became a Moorish domain from which comes the name (Al Andalus) the region bears today. It was an area of great culture and learning and Christians and Jews were tolerated and protected. The Spanish Christian conquest employed divisions among the Moors, conquered Al Andalus and eventually forced all Muslims and Jews to convert to Christianity or suffer expulsion, allowed only to take the clothes on their backs.
Andalucia in the early-to-mid 20th Century was ruled by a landed aristocracy in a semi-feudal relationship with the mainly rural working population. The region got an early visit from Franco’s military invasion in 1936 and, although there was little armed resistance apart from Malaga and that ill-equipped, an estimated 55,000 were killed deliberately, in executions of thousands of workers and activists of the leftist parties during Franco’s repression.3
The region is characterised by a variety of climatic conditions and topography, inhabited by a great biodiversity of flora and fauna, although some of the latter are quite threatened, such as the Iberian Wolf, Iberian Lynx and the Ibex.
Agriculture and husbandry have traditionally been the main products, with olives, citrus fruits, stone fruits, nuts, alongside some other produce in lower percentages; there is also a depleted but active fishing industry. Andalucia is the single largest producer of olive oil with about 40% of the world market. “One-third of Andalucía’s agricultural land is planted with olive trees, and sales of Andalucian olive oil grew a staggering 56 per cent between 2011 and 2015, to a million tonnes, worth 2,000 million euros. Nearly 500 companies export their olive oil from Andalucía, with Britain the fifth-largest market at nearly 100 million euros.
“Another world-renowned product from Andalucía which is exported all over the world is jamón ibérico de bellota, gourmet air-cured ham made from Iberian acorn-fed pigs, nothing less than a religion for Andalucians, while sustainably-caught bluefin tuna caught off the coast is frozen and sent to Japan to be served as delectably tender sushi.
“In total, one-fifth of all Spanish food and drink exports originate in Andalucía, where the number one area is fruit and vegetables – and tomatoes are the top product”.4
What cause would people in that province have for dissatisfaction that right-wing parties could then exploit? Well, there are no shortage of reasons.
Andalucia is the second-poorest administrative region in the Spanish state. Although unemployment has taken nearly a 4% drop over the previous year, it still stands at an average of 24.4%. Averages conceal other realities and though average male unemployment is almost 3% lower, the female average share is higher than the average by 3.5%. As they age profile drops below twenty-five, the unemployment figures soar to almost 50%.
Table unemployment statistics in Andalucia
Unemployment rate (LFS)
Male unemployment rate (LFS)
Female unemployment rate (LFS)
Unemployment rate less than 25 years
Unemployment male less than 25 years
Unemployment rate female less than 25 years
Unemployed rate over 24 years
Male unemployment rate over 24 years
Female unemployment rate over 24 years
Unemployment rate less than 20 years
Male unemployment rate less than 20 years
Female unemployment rate less than 20 years
(Source: see link for “Unemployment statistics Andalucia)
The situation then in Andalusia may be characterised as one where about every fourth person is unemployed as is every second one under the age of twenty-five. Where paid employment is hard to find, wages are likely to be low, trade union victories harder to achieve and conditions therefore far from the optimum obtainable from the system.
“Between 2000–2006 economic growth per annum was 3.72%, one of the highest in the country. Still, according to the Spanish Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE), the GDP per capita of Andalusia (€17,401; 2006) remains the second lowest in Spain, with only Extremadura lagging behind.” (Wiki)
Traditionally a region known for agriculture and husbandry, these sectors are now the lowest contributors to GDP in Andalusia. Construction for the tourist industry siphoned off many workers but the collapse of the construction boom left most of those workers with nowhere to go, much of their old agricultural employment mechanised or replaced with migrant labour. Despite agriculture’s very low position in GDP, 45.74 percent of the Andalusian territory is cultivated. That does not mean that those areas are efficiently5 cultivated however and one of the activities for which one Andalusian trade union movement6 has become known is the occupation of agricultural land which is not being adequately or at all maintained, due to absentee owners or land held by banks but not in production.
“The large landowner past of Andalusia has not changed substantially although the banks and some companies now own much of what belonged to semi-feudal aristocrats. “The agrarian census of 1982 found that 50.9 percent of the country’s farmland was held in properties of 200 or more hectares, although farms of this size made up only 1.1 percent of the country’s 2.3 million farms. At the other end of the scale, the census showed that 61.8 percent of Spain’s farms had fewer than 5 hectares of land. These farms accounted for 5.2 percent of the country’s farmland.”7
In May of this year the trade union SAT (Andalusian Union of Workers) published a denunciation of a new Land Law proposed by the PSOE in which they also pointed to some structural problems and their impact on the working people of the region8.
“The most recent act of savagery is the new Land Law that they (PSOE) intend to approve, to finish hanging any dream of Agrarian Reform for our working people of Andalusia. Andalusia is not understood without the struggle for land, and this is more recent than it seems, much more real and topical than we would like.
“The concentration of land ownership is a problem that annihilates our people, currently in Andalusia, 2% of the owners have more than 50% of the arable land, and the worst is that this figure is increasing.
“If we go to Jaén, this figure is even more scandalous, because 4% have 66%, and much of it without giving a job, as is the case of Cortijo del Aguardentero, our Cerro Libertad, one of more than 150 farms, the majority underutilized by the BBVA9 in the Jaén de Piedras Lunares and Olivares de Miguel Hernández areas.
“These figures contrast with the alarming fact that in Andalusia every three days a worker dies, or that more than 60% of Andalusian employees earn less than € 1,000 per month. Also alarming are the number of marginalizations, risk of poverty and lack of school resources, all at more than 40%.
“There are laws that can put an end to all this, but there is no political will in a government that is more a plug-in factory than a socialist party, which only seeks to perpetuate itself in power, being supporters of corrupt banks, all at the cost of death of our land.
“There are alternatives:
1 ° Repeal of this Land Law proposal.
2 ° Implementation of Law 8/1984 of Agrarian Reform of the Statute of Autonomy of the Junta de Andalucía on farms that can be clearly improved.
3 ° The land has to fulfill a social function, for the human and sustainable development of Andalusia.
4th Comprehensive Agrarian Reform, which allows the Usufruct and Land work in Andalusia. Work in the labor force, in the sowing and harvesting, in the primary sector. We do not want property, which must be of a public entity, we want to work and live in peace.
5th Creation of productive, industrial and agro-sustainable Andalusian fabric, generating employment in the transformation and packaging of the product collected.
6 ° Domestic consumption and export of the sown, harvested and agro-transformed product, giving employment and work in the tertiary sector, services.
“This would suppose a Revolution of our earth, a valorization of what we were, of what we are and what we want to be: A FREE PEOPLE WITH FREE PEOPLE.
“This is possible, but political will is needed, and for that, and more importantly, we need the human will to mobilize, as we are defending with our sweat and our lives El Humoso in Marinaleda, Somonte in Córdoba and Cerro Libertad in Jaén10.
“Challenge to the Andalusian society to face with arguments and mobilization the nonsense and unreason of the government of the PSOE of the Junta de Andalucía.
“We announce mobilizations this summer for this, and we call for you to join.
“Andalusians and Andalusians, get up, ask for land and freedom.”
And then, on top of capitalist exploitation and mismanagement, there is corruption. “A recent probe revealed the extent to which PSOE officials exploited their power in the region of Andalusia, where the party has governed without interruption since the return to democracy. Two former regional presidents, Manuel Chaves and José Antonio Griñán, are currently on trial for their alleged part in a scam that included fraudulent early retirement packages, company subsidies and commissions handed out to the tune of €136 million”.11
A recent corruption table based on individual cases puts Andalucia way over all other regions and the PSOE in about 25% of the corruption cases by party (see References for the link to the report).
There was no huge swing to the hard right although considering how the social-democrats had abused the votes the people gave them, it would not have surprising if there had been (and there still might be).
Despite their appalling record, the PSOE got 33 seats, the party with the most in the regional Government. That is worth thinking about – despite the crap the working people of Andalusia have had to put up with from the PSOE, they still gave most of their votes to the social democrats. Since this cannot logically — on the performance of the party for the people – be as a result of great affection for thePSOE, it seems likely to indicate at least a dislike or fear of the right-wing parties.
What actually happened is that in a regional election in an impoverished region, on a low turnout and with many candidates; within a state where fascism was never overthrown, with huge legal and illegal repression, with the Partido Popular — a part of the Franco heritage — regularly in government and other right-wing parties snapping at its heels, where social democracy and the established communist party colluded most shamefully with fascism and an imposed monarchy, where the history of the Anti-Fascist War is not taught: a new version of the bedrock Right in Spanish politics won seats in a regional government which it had never won before.
That is what happened. But that is far from being the first time the hard Right won seats in the Spanish state – it has done so regularly in all elections outside parts of the Basque and Catalan countries and has regularly been in government.
Those on the Left who are now wailing about Vox’s success have been and are upholding the myth of Spanish democratic politics since the Transition. They are colluding in the decades of suppression of the Basque and Catalan national movements and the propaganda against them. And many of them have marched with the Right – including fascists – in demonstrations in support of permanent Spanish union, against ‘terrorism’, etc.
Those on the Right who are complaining about Vox are being disingenuous too: they marched with Vox and other fascists for a ‘stronger Spain’ and against the independence of the nations; they saw the fascist salutes and emblems and heard the fascist slogans (whether they joined in with those or not). They were happy to have Vox take out prosecutions against Catalan independence activists and politicians.
NEVERTHELESS, WE SHOULD BE WORRIED. Because generally throughout the Spanish state, the fascists are mobilising on the streets. The fascists are particularly worried by the independentist movements in Catalonia and in the southern Basque Country as well as by proposals to demolish the shrine to Franco and Riveras12 and to remove their remains to a common graveyard. The fascists have strong links with the Spanish police and armed forces and the latter have shown themselves particularly tolerant of the behaviour of fascists on the streets. And in preparation for the repression of the working class in economically austere times to come, fascists have been mobilising throughout Europe with state laws and procedures becoming more repressive. Migrants are being targeted both for extra exploitation and for attack by word and action. We need to do more than worry – we need to mobilise and find ways to unite in effective action.
1All the fascist police commanders, senior armed forces officers, judiciary, lawyers, clergy, senior civil service administrators and academics retained their positions. All the business men and media barons continued and kept whatever plunder they had managed to appropriate during the war and after.
3Executions: “ …. in the city of Cordoba 4,000;in the city of Granada 5,000;in the city of Seville 3,028;and in the city of Huelva 2,000 killed and 2,500 disappeared. The city of Málaga, occupied by the Nationalists in February 1937 following the Battle of Málaga experienced one of the harshest repressions following Francoist victory with an estimated total of 17,000 people summarily executed” (Wiki).
5To be confused with “intensively” which usually implies large-scale monoculture, chemical fertilizers and chemical sprays of fungicides, pesticides and insecticides, along with very advanced mechanisation.
6Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (SAT, ‘Andalusian Union of Workers).
12Valle de los Caídos, a park built in part by political prisoner labour, containing a mausoleum for Franco and Rivera’s remains, a site of frequent fascist demonstrations in homage to the memory of both men.
A mixed audience of anti-fascists were entertained on 23rd November by a range of artists from the Irish trad-folk scene and a Spanish band performing to commemorate on its 80th anniversary the return of the Irish survivors of the International Brigades to Ireland. The event, “The Return of the Connolly Column” was organised by the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland (FIBI) and the venue, the Workman’s Club on Wellington Quay of the Dublin City Centre, was packed.
The event began with Dougie Dalby introducing Harry Owens, a Spanish Civil War historian and founder member of the FIBI. Owens gave a speech, recalling how the social-democratic PSOE Government in the Spanish State in the 1980s had not wished to support the marking and conservation of graves of International Brigaders who had fallen in battle but had been convinced to do so by Edward Heath, British Prime Minister and by the leader of the Irish Labour Party at the time, Dick Spring. FIBI had become part of that commemoration effort in visiting some of the sites but also in erecting monuments and plaques in various parts of Ireland.
Colm Morgan from Co. Louth followed, with guitar and voice, with some of his own compositions, including one about Frank Ryan – excellent material in my opinion – to be followed by Mick Hanley (guitar and voice again) accompanied by Donal Lunny. Hanley and Lunny have history, of course, not least in that great band of the past, Moving Hearts; both belong to that honourable class of Irish musicians who have not been afraid to support progressive causes including some in their own country – and who have never performed for “any English King or Queen”.
Lunny accompanied various artists at different times during the evening, sometimes on keyboard and sometimes with guitar, as well as adding vocals once also. After his pairing with Hanley, he accompanied Tony Sweeney’s excellent lively accordion-playing which drew more than one whoop from the audience. All however quietened down for Justin McCarthy reading “The Tolerance of Crows” by Charlie Donnelly, Irish poet, member of Republican Congress and Field Commander of a unit of the International Brigades and who fell at the Battle of Jarama on 27th February 1937.
After the break excellent singer Muireann Ní Amhlaoibh sang (accompanied by Lunny) and her rendition of Sliabh Geal gCua na Féile, a song composed by an Irish emigrant working in a Welsh coalmine in the late 19th Century, was particularly beautiful. It is a lament for home and language by Pádraig Ó Míléadha, from the Déise (‘Deci’) area of Wateford.
John Faulkner, virtuoso composer and singer-songwriter, raised in London of Irish background and for many years a resident of Kinvara, Co. Galway (but almost Co.Clare) accompanied himself singing a number of songs, including Patrick Galvin’s great composition Where Oh Where Is Our James Connolly? He performed an anti-war song by Eric Bogle also, All the Fine Young Men, which he introduced saying that some wars need to be fought.
Andy Irvine took the stage second-to-last of the acts for the evening, another London import to Ireland for which Irish folk and traditional music is very grateful, a composer, singer-songwriter and player of a number of instruments, accompanied once again by Lunny, who shares a history with him in Moving Hearts and Planxty. Irvine performed a number of songs, including Woody Guthrie’s All You Fascists Bound to Lose which, though not very creative in lyrics has a chorus with which the audience joined enthusiastically.
Last on for the evening was Edinburgh-based Gallo Rojo1, anti-fascist musical collective, opening with a reading in the original Castillian of La Pasionara’s farewell speech to the International Brigaders at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona (see Links). It seemed to me that this would have worked better for an Irish audience with a simultaneous or interspersed reading in English but it received strong applause from the audience. This was followed by Ay Carmela!, then Lorca’s Anda Jaleo! I had to leave after that but I could hear the band starting on Bella Ciao, the song of Italian anti-fascist resistance of the 1940s but based on an older song of oppressed women agricultural workers.
It did occur to me at that point that among all the great material of the evening, I had heard no song to represent the International Brigaders of nations other than Ireland which is often the case at such events. More unusually, no reference I could recall was made to growing fascism in Europe and especially in the Spanish State (it never went away there), nor to antifascists facing trial arising out of mobilisation against the attempted Dublin launch of the fascist organisation Pegida in February 2012.
Immediately outside the concert hall, the bar area held a large number of people, perhaps as many as a quarter again of the audience inside. The performances inside were being conveyed by electronic speakers to them too but I am unsure how many were listening. There was a FIBI stall there too selling antifascist material.
Overall, the audience appeared to be mostly Irish with some foreign nationals and from a broad range of political backgrounds: Communist Party of Ireland, Sinn Féin, Anarchists and independent supporters and activists of mainly socialist and/or Republican ideology.
I am informed that FIBI are currently finalising the editing of a video of the concert and this will be available as soon as possible.
1. THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES
The International Brigades were raised through Communist parties around the world to assist in the defence of the republican Popular Front Government of the Spanish State against a military coup with Spanish fascist (and Basque Carlist) support, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Brigades consisted of volunteers from at least 65 nations2 and included Jews from a number. Early Irish volunteers enlisted chiefly in units of British and USA organisation but were present in groups from Australia and Canada too but later some made their way directly from Ireland; later too some of the Irish came to be known as the Connolly Column. The English-speaking units and some others were formed3 into the 15th International Brigade (originally the Fifth, but when added to the ten indigenous brigades of the Spanish Republic – Spanish, Catalan and Basque – became the Fifteenth). Not all foreign anti-fascist volunteers enlisted through the International Brigades, some joined Anarchist or Trotkyist militias4 and at least one, an Irishman, joined a Basque unit.
The Republican Government of the Spanish state disbanded the International Brigades on 23rd September 1938 in an unsuccessful bid to have the non-fascist European powers5 pressure their German and Italian fascist counterparts to withdraw their logistics, soldiers and airforce support from the Spanish military-fascist forces. By that time many of the “Brigadistas” were dead or captured as they had borne some of the heaviest prolonged fighting at Madrid (1936); Jarama, Brunete and Belchite (all 1937); Fuentes del Ebro and the Ebro itself (1938).
Their formal demobilisation parade with their auxiliary recruits (including women) was held in Barcelona on 28th October, where they received the famous oration from the Basque Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionara”, prominent anti-fascist and activist of the Communist Party of Spain (see Links). It is notable that she addressed her oration to “communists, socialists, republicans, anarchists” as not only communists fought and died in the ranks of the Brigadistas.
2. A DIFFERENT IRELAND
The Irish Brigadistas returning to Ireland found a society very different from that of today. Anti-communist hysteria was prevalent, whipped up in particular by the Catholic Church and supported in particular – but not exclusively – by Fine Gael (which formed in part from Blueshirts6). The Fianna Fáil Government was not fascist but was of the Irish capitalist class relying heavily on Catholic Church support and so contributed to anti-communism; all of the main media was anti-communist and finally the IRA, as well as having forbidden any of its Volunteers to fight for any other cause than Ireland’s, had expelled communists from the IRA in 1934. As with the time of repression of Republicans by the Free State, the USA seemed a good option for some of the Irish Brigadistas (some had enlisted there anyway) but there too, many antifascist war veterans found themselves subject to anti-communist hysteria and even later, when the USA was fighting fascist powers, labelled as “premature antifascists”!
Today here in Ireland the general attitude is one of respect or even pride in that part of our history, when Irish Volunteers went abroad to fight in defence of democracy and socialism against fascism7. The best-known song to date about the Irish Brigadistas is undoubtedly Viva La Quinze Brigada8 by Ireland’s best-known folk singer-songwriter, Christy Moore. Published accounts by Irish participants include The Connolly Column byMichael O’Riordan (1979) and Brigadista (2006) by Bob Doyle. Moore’s song is very popular in Ireland (and among the Irish diaspora in Britain) and a plaque listing some of the Irish martyrs is fixed to the wall by the entrance to the Theatre building of the major Irish trade union, SIPTU.
Michael O’Riordan survived the War and was prominent in the Communist Party of Ireland, dying in Dublin in 1983. Bob Doyle was the last surviving known Brigadista from Ireland; on 22nd January 2009 he died in England, where he had been living and had raised a family. On February 14th that year his ashes were carried by relatives and admirers in a march from the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin city centre to Liberty Hall, where a reception was held. An optimistic photographer with the byline of “anarchaeologist” reported the following day in Indymedia: “…. in a display of left unity and solidarity we will doubtless see more of on the streets of Dublin over the coming months ….. Groups attending the celebration included the main unions, Éirigí, the WSM, the IRSP and Dublin Sinn Féin. Banners were also carried by the International Brigades Memorial Trust and the Inistiogue George Brown Memorial Committee. Supporters of the Dublin branch of the Irish Basque Solidarity Campaign demonstrating outside the GPO dipped their flags as a mark of respect as the crowd passed by”. The DIBSC actually wheeled in behind the march as the tail end passed, though the reporter seems not to have noticed that.9
FRIENDS OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES IN IRELAND
“The aim of the concert was to honour the enduring legacy of the 15th International Brigade and its ongoing contribution in the war against fascism”, a spokesperson for FIBI said in a statement. “As such, it was both a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the disbandment of the Brigade and the subsequent return of the survivors to Ireland but it was also a celebration of their spirit in choosing to sacrifice everything for working-class principles.”
FIBI is an entirely voluntary organisation but does incur costs in erecting memorials, research, promotion etc. “This concert was designed to raise a modest amount to ensure the continuation of this work without having to resort to piecemeal fundraising over the next year or two. We are delighted to say we met our twin objectives of hosting a fitting occasion to coincide with the 80th anniversary of what became known as The Connolly Column and raising funds to help us continue with our efforts to ensure those who went are never forgotten.”
With its work of commemoration ceremonies and erection of plaques and monuments around the country, a work which not only reminds us of the Irish contribution in general but also links it to specific individuals from specific areas, the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland has been deepening the wider attitude of respect for the International Brigades and pride in the Irish volunteers which has been growing steadily.
Hopefully all of this will combine with and inform any action necessary to halt the rise of fascism throughout the world and of course to prevent it taking hold in Ireland.
3 The Balkan Dimitrov Battalion and the Franco-Belgian Sixth February Battallion.
4George Orwell, who wrote Homage to Catalonia, probably the most famous English-language account of the war by a participant, enlisted in the militia of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unifacción Marxista), a coalition of Trotskyis organisations (but whose alliance with the Right Opposition was renounced by Trotsky himself). The much larger anarcho-syndicalist trade union and movement Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), closely associated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), also had militias, of which the Durruti Collumn was the largest and is the best known today. Some foreigners also enlisted in those militias.
5These powers, such as France and the UK, were following an allegedly “non-interventionist” policy but effectively forming part of the blockade preventing the Republican Government from receiving aid. Later the governments of those two states in particular tried a policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy which was unsuccessful (except in encouraging further aggression) and they ended up going to war.
6Former IRA leader Eoin O’Duffy had, with Irish Catholic Church endorsement, recruited many more Irishmen to fight alongside the Spanish military-fascist forces but they acquired a reputation for ill-discipline and in one of their only two brief military engagement mistakenly fired on fascists; they went home in disgrace in late June 1937 (a year before the International Brigades were demobilised and the surviving, non-prisoner Irish were able to return home.
7Republicans and Communists had fought the fascist Blueshirts in Ireland too and the significant contribution of participants from the Irish diaspora to the famous antifascist victory of the Battle of Cable Street (and following guerrilla attacks on fascists at Hyde Park) in London has more recently been recognised (though not yet on the main relevant Wikipedia entry).
8Originally written as Viva La Quinta Brigada (i.e “the Fifth”); however that is the name of a song in Castillian contemporary with the War and later versions of Moore’s song include a line acclaiming “the Fifteenth International Brigade” which would be “la Decimiquinta” which has three syllables too many and so “Quinze”, i.e ‘Fifteen’.
9The DIBSC had already scheduled and advertised a picket to take place on the same day in Dublin’s main street, protesting against Spanish State repression of the Basque independence movement and treatment of prisoners. Upon learning of the planned march to honour Bob Doyle’s memory, I suggested holding our Basque solidarity event earlier, lowering the flags in respect when the march approached and then following it as the tail end passed us. I was unsure of what the reaction of Doyle’s relatives and supporters might be but as soon as those at the front saw what we were doing, a number of them raised clenched fists. It was an emotional moment for me, certainly.