TWO SHOUTS FOR STRUGGLE AND SOLIDARITY — Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression responds to attacks from official leaders of the Basque Liberation Movement

The Basque Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression came into being in solidarity with Basque political prisoners and against their perception of the consequences for the political prisoners of the leadership turning the Basque movement into an almost exclusively electoral one.  Recently the Amnesty movement, mobilising in support of Patxi Ruiz, Basque political prisoner on hunger strike (Day 24 as this published), came under public attack on three different occasions by the “official” leadership of the movement.  The two responses of the Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression are reproduced below in the sequence in which they were issued.

Image used on Amnistia movement’s web page.

COMMENT BY AMNISTIA ETA ASKATASUNA ON STATEMENTS ISSUED BY EH BILDU AND SORTU IN RELATION TO PATXI RUIZ

(Translation from statement in Castillian, section headings, explanatory notes and images inserted by D.Breatnach)

[Explanatory note: EH Bildu and Sortu are political parties of the official leadership of the Abertzale Left, quite similar to Sinn Féin (P), with which they have friendly relations. Amnistia is a Basque organisation in disagreement with the line of those parties firstly on political prisoners and subsequently on the change of trajectory].

In relation to the communiqués published by EH Bildu and Sortu regarding the situation of the Basque political prisoner Patxi Ruiz, the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement wishes to express the following:

RESPECT FOR THE DECISIONS OF PATXI RUIZ

          According to EH Bildu, they are making the necessary arrangements so that the parliamentarian Bel Pozueta can visit Patxi Ruiz in the Murcia II prison. Sortu asks us to take responsibility to cover up its miseries (Trans?). Above all, and even more so in these hard times, we must respect Patxi’s wishes, who has made it clear that the political attitudes of EH Bildu and Sortu do not have his approval.

All the same, he recognises the right of everyone to report on his situation, but the pressure must be exercised in accordance with the political line that he supports. Patxi upholds confrontation with the enemy and we think that EH Bildu and Sortu are not taking advantage of the possibilities and position they possess to carry out such a confrontation.

Patxi Ruiz, Basque political prisoner, now 24 days on hunger strike, 12 of which were thirst strike too.
(Image sourced: Internet)

POPULAR PRESSURE

          There are a great many mobilisations and initiatives taking place in Euskal Herria (the Basque Country). On a number of occasions they are being carried out in breach of the prohibitions. We must also bear in mind that with the excuse of the pandemic those who trample us have suspended our political rights. Euskal Herria, however, knows how to react and respond to a situation as serious as that of Patxi, being the country in the world where the most mobilisations have been taking place since the lockdown began.

Without popular pressure, the media acting as dogs of the system would keep Patxi’s case hidden. It has become evident that without marking the matter prominently there is no way to put the issue on the table, and that all the institutional parties are more concerned with graffiti sprayed on a wall than about Patxi’s life.

For this reason, we must say that EH Bildu and Sortu have also immersed themselves in the campaign against those who are carrying out actions of popular pressure in support of Patxi, and that if Patxi has a minimal hope of remaining alive, it is from the same popular pressure that EH Bildu and Sortu are trying to stop. We find it contradictory that while they say they are working for Patxi, at the same time they are putting obstacles in the way of pressure initiatives in his support.

Patxi Ruiz Solidarity march in Irunea/ Pamplona 30th May 2020
(Source photo: Amnistia Garrasi)

POLICY OF INDIVIDUALLY-BASED EXITS FROM PRISON LEAVE REMAINING PRISONERS DEFENCELESS

          From 2014 until the present, the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement has maintained that the policy of individual exits ruptured the unity among prisoners and, consequently, left them defenseless in the face of prison abuses, and we took that position based on this logic:

When an inmate accepts the so-called “individualized treatment” of the prison to advance his grade, at the same time he is agreeing to stop reporting injustices against other comrades. Should the prisoner express solidarity with his or her comrade, the path of progression through the grades is endangered.

(Translator’s note: The Spanish prison system sets different grades for prisoners according to which they may be released early on parole or not. The application of the system has included requirements such as expressing regret for past actions, undertaking not to break laws in future, not acting as a body within the jails, etc. For decades the Abertzale leadership and ETA rejected these requirements but after 2014 their policy changed towards advocating individual application for progression through the prison system grades).

Our movement has proceeded with absolute respect regarding the internal dynamics of the prison, but making an objective analysis, we can now see that the reading made from the beginning by the Pro Amnesty Movement was correct. Only practice confirms or denies theory, and the case of Murcia II shows that Patxi has been left facing the prison administration with absolutely no protection.

One political prisoner from Murcia II alone has taken a public position of solidarity with Patxi Ruiz and while Patxi dies, the other political prisoners prioritise their progression through the grades. It is incomprehensible to us, regardless of the ideological differences that currently exist, that the rest of the prisoners have not set in motion any pressure initiatives.

It is not up to our movement to enter into personal evaluations, knowing that particular situations may be determining factors, but we must emphasize that what happens in Murcia II is a consequence of the path outlined by EH Bildu in its document called “Basque Way for Peace”. EH Bildu and Sortu’s political line has a direct effect on Patxi’s situation.

Map of prisons in the Spanish and French states through which political prisoners are dispersed as policy.
(Source: Internet)

ELECTORALISM

          In conclusion, it is not lost on us that all institutional parties are involved in an electoral campaign and that their political movements are made under this influence. The statements of EH Bildu and Sortu were published on the ninth and tenth day of Patxi’s hunger and thirst strike, when until now they have only mentioned Patxi in passing in order to criticize the direct action taken by people in his favour, and now to hold Patxi’s solidarity environment responsible for what may happen to him. It is not possible to sink lower. All their initiatives and declarations are purely for show and electoralist.

Institutional parties would have the people believe that only what professional politicians do is political, they would have the people believe that only what is done within the parameters set by the bourgeois system is political, disregarding the maturity of the working class.

From a revolutionary point of view, the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement does not understand the point of being in bourgeois institutions if it is not to break them from within. For this reason and bearing in mind that Patxi may collapse at any time, we call on the people to urgently make real politics, that is, that which can condition and reverse the operations of the murderers who oppress us. In defence of Patxi’s life, advance the popular struggle!

In the Basque Country, on May 20, 2020.

Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement.

https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/es/articulo/sobre-los-comunicados-publicados-por-eh-bildu-y-sortu-en-relacion-patxi-ruiz

Patxi Ruiz Solidarity march in Bilbo/ Bilbao 30th May 2020
(Source photo: Amnistia Garrasi)
(Source image: Internet)

IN RESPONSE TO THE EEPK ATTACK ON THE PRO-AMNESTY MOVEMENT

Posted on Sat, 05/30/2020 – 11:46

(translation from Castillian published version, insertion of sub-headings, footnotes and images by D.Breatnach).

Unfortunately, once again and contrary to what we would like, we are obliged to respond to an attack against our movement. On this occasion it has been the EPPK1 that, while applauding the institutional parties that are part of the system, has launched an attack against the popular movement in an attempt to damage what they do not control.

It does not go unnoticed that the day chosen to publish this attack is the Day of Mobilisations that we have called in support of Patxi Ruiz. In addition to being an electoral movement with its mind set on the elections, the EPPK note, written in one of the Sortu offices, aims to weaken today’s mobilisations. Despite referring to us, we interpret the fact that they do not mention the name of the Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression as a symptom of political weakness. It is our custom to say things more clearly than that. Nothing would call for such action but seeing that they stand to lose hegemony in the street, they act from their gut instead of their head.

We recall other similar attacks that, far from strengthening unity among prisoners, have served to divide the EPPK itself. For example, the false accusation leveled against our movement by prisoners who were being tried in the Paris Court in 2015, had the effect of causing four other prisoners with long sentences to separate themselves from the EPPK. All four publicly criticised it, and things like that should make those who plan these attacks reflect on the consequences that actions of this type have on those inside (including many of the EPPK).

Dealing with the content of today’s EPPK statement, the first thing we should highlight is its lack of rigor. They say that we have used Patxi’s dramatic situation to criticize Sortu, EH Bildu, Etxerat, EPPK and Sare. We must say that these groups are not the navel of the world and that we have put all our strength into Patxi. But in addition to that, we have not mentioned in any statement either the EPPK, or Etxerat or Sare.

We have mentioned EH Bildu and Sortu, always to respond to the accusations hurled by them against the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement. Like the EPPK now, the previous two have accused us of pushing Patxi Ruiz towards his death and, in the face of such petty statements as these, our position will always be firm. We will not accept attacks of this kind in the difficult situation we are experiencing, and less so from those who think only of the elections. We will not admit it from those who have not said anything about Patxi until after ten days, except when it was to criticise the actions in his support.

The position of the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement has been, from the outset, to prioritise Patxi’s life over anything else. For this, we have maintained direct contact with the group that acts as the family’s representative, with the lawyers and with a group of professionals who work in different fields of medicine and who advise us.

All the decisions that we have made in these hard times, including the political initiatives that we have promoted, have been made taking into account and following the advice of these three groups. We ask for respect and responsibility from Sortu and from all the organizations that move in its orbit, towards us, towards the aforementioned groups and above all towards Patxi, who is the one who makes the decision to continue with the hunger strike. Of course, we can assure that we will be supporting Patxi to make the decisions that he makes regarding this issue.

ATTITUDE OF THE PRISONERS IN MURCIA II

          We must state that our movement has at no time made assessments of the personal attitudes of any member of the EPPK. We have not doubted the concern that the rest of the prisoners of Murcia II may have about Patxi’s situation. The Pro Amnesty Movement makes political evaluations and far from treating prisoners as if they were “unfortunates”, it treats them like the political militants they are.

For this reason, on May 20 we said that the fact that they had not moved in support of Patxi was a consequence of the “Basque Road to Peace” proposal by EH Bildu and Sortu. Specifically, we explained that entering the game of grade progressions2 left prisoners defenceless in prison, because if they took action they would lose the possibility of advancing in grades. To this we added that we have been warning about the consequences of this path for six years and that the only thing that confirms or denies theories is practice. This case confirms that our theory is correct, above opinions and objectively.

As a last point, it seems really audacious to say that if Patxi was taken to the hospital, it was because the members of the EPPK requested it from the prison management. Patxi was hospitalised on the eleventh day of the hunger and thirst strike, following kidney failure and following a judge’s order.

MEDIATION OFFERED BY SORTU

          On the night of May 14th, Sortu contacted the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement through an intermediary. Sortu offered us to take advantage “under the table” of some contacts it has in Madrid to change Patxi’s situation. According to what we were told, the movement should give them the “green light” for this. They suggested that with the activism we promote, we could be pushing Patxi to continue with the hunger and thirst strike.

The group that looks after Patxi’s situation evaluated ​​the proposal, consulted with those around them and drew conclusions: the first is that Patxi does not want something like this and that his will must be respected. The second is that the only reason for asking for a “green light” can be is that in return we request to stop the street actions. The third is that those who made us the offer (we know how to distinguish them from the party bases), more than for Patxi’s life, are concerned about the consequences that his death can cause in the political situation.

The day after receiving the proposal, we replied that if they have a real option to avoid Patxi’s death, they would not need anyone’s “green light” to take the necessary approaches. Despite the fact that they asked us for confidentiality, on May 19th EH Bildu made public through an electoral note that it had offered us its means to help resolve Patxi’s situation and the next day Sortu, in a note in the same vein, accused us of pushing Patxi towards his death. By making this contact public and making serious accusations, they showed that their only intention was “to get rid of the body on top of them.” We know how to maintain discretion and appreciate the help offered when it is sincere, but we will not allow manipulations tailored to anyone’s partisan interests.

APPEAL TO EUSKAL HERRIA3

          In closing, we call on the Basque Country to continue supporting Patxi, to denounce the attacks against prisoners, and to continue pressing the fight for amnesty. Only the cessation of all kinds of oppression implicit in the political concept of amnesty will bring about a true peace based on justice. We are proud of the response given in Euskal Herria and of the internationalist support we have received.

In the Basque Country, on May 30, 2020.

Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement.

https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/es/articulo/ante-el-ataque-del-eppk-al-movimiento-pro-amnistia

Patxi Ruiz Solidarity picket in Derry 30th May 2020
(Source photo: Derry Anarchists)
Patxi Ruiz Solidarity picket in Dublin 30th May 2020 (Source photo: Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee)

FOOTNOTES

1Basque Political Prisoners’ Collective, part of the Abertzale Left movement following the political line of the official leadership. Currently the vast majority of the Basque political prisoners are following its general line although a number of male and female prisoners have broken ranks to take actions in solidarity with Patxi and a number of ex-prisoners have also in his support.

2The Spanish penal system applies one of a number of grades to prisoners, according to which the conditions of imprisonment and possibility of early release on parole are decided. Formerly the EEPK, in line with the official leadership of the Abertzale Left movement, the decision was to maintain an attitude of political opposition to the system and to take collective decisions. When the position of the leadership on the overall struggle changed, so too did the recommendations to the prisoners, which was now to respond to the prison system as individuals and progress through the grades in what would be considered ‘good behaviour’ by the authorities.

3 “The Land Where the People Speak Euskera” (Basque native language), the name for the entire Basque Country, north and south.

RESPONSE OF THE BASQUE AMNESTY MOVEMENT TO ATTACK BY THE EPPK

IN RESPONSE TO THE EPPK ATTACK ON THE PRO-AMNESTY MOVEMENT

Posted on Sat, 05/30/2020 – 11:46

(translated from Castillian published version by D.Breatnach 31/ 05/2020).

Amnistia demonstration (photo sourced: Internet).

Unfortunately, once again and contrary to what we would like, we are obliged to respond to an attack against our movement. On this occasion it has been the EPPK1 that, while applauding the institutional parties that are part of the system, has launched an attack against the popular movement in an attempt to damage what they do not control.

It does not go unnoticed that the day chosen to publish this attack is the Day of Mobilisations that we have called in support of Patxi Ruiz. In addition to being an electoral movement with its mind set on the elections, the EPPK note, written in one of the Sortu offices, aims to weaken today’s mobilisations. Despite referring to us, we interpret the fact that they do not mention the name of the Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression as a symptom of political weakness. It is our custom to say things more clearly than that. Nothing would call for such action but seeing that they stand to lose hegemony in the street, they act from their gut instead of their head.

We recall other similar attacks that, far from strengthening unity among prisoners, have served to divide the EPPK itself. For example, the false accusation leveled against our movement by prisoners who were being tried in the Paris Court in 2015, had the effect of causing four other prisoners with long sentences to separate themselves from the EPPK. All four publicly criticised it, and things like that should make those who plan these attacks reflect on the consequences that actions of this type have on those inside (including many of the EPPK).

Dealing with the content of today’s EPPK statement, the first thing we should highlight is its lack of rigor. They say that we have used Patxi’s dramatic situation to criticize Sortu, EH Bildu, Etxerat, EPPK and Sare. We must say that these groups are not the navel of the world and that we have put all our strength into Patxi. But in addition to that, we have not mentioned in any statement either the EPPK, or Etxerat or Sare.

We have mentioned EH Bildu and Sortu, always to respond to the accusations hurled by them against the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement. Like the EPPK now, the previous two have accused us of pushing Patxi Ruiz towards his death and, in the face of such petty statements as these, our position will always be firm. We will not accept attacks of this kind in the difficult situation we are experiencing, and less so from those who think only of the elections. We will not admit it from those who have not said anything about Patxi until after ten days, except when it was to criticise the actions in his support.

The position of the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement has been, from the outset, to prioritise Patxi’s life over anything else. For this, we have maintained direct contact with the group that acts as the family’s representative, with the lawyers and with a group of professionals who work in different fields of medicine and who advise us.

All the decisions that we have made in these hard times, including the political initiatives that we have promoted, have been made taking into account and following the advice of these three groups. We ask for respect and responsibility from Sortu and from all the organizations that move in its orbit, towards us, towards the aforementioned groups and above all towards Patxi, who is the one who makes the decision to continue with the hunger strike. Of course, we can assure that we will be supporting Patxi to make the decisions that he makes regarding this issue.

Image used on Amnistia movement’s web page.

ATTITUDE OF THE PRISONERS IN MURCIA II

          We must state that our movement has at no time made assessments of the personal attitudes of any member of the EPPK. We have not doubted the concern that the rest of the prisoners of Murcia II may have about Patxi’s situation. The Pro Amnesty Movement makes political evaluations and far from treating prisoners as if they were “unfortunates”, it treats them like the political militants they are.

For this reason, on May 20 we said that the fact that they had not moved in support of Patxi was a consequence of the “Basque Road to Peace” proposal by EH Bildu and Sortu. Specifically, we explained that entering the game of grade progressions2 left prisoners defenceless in prison, because if they took action they would lose the possibility of advancing in grades. To this we added that we have been warning about the consequences of this path for six years and that the only thing that confirms or denies theories is practice. This case confirms that our theory is correct, above opinions and objectively.

As a last point, it seems really audacios to say that if Patxi was taken to the hospital, it was because the members of the EPPK requested it from the prison management. Patxi was hospitalised on the eleventh day of the hunger and thirst strike, following kidney failure and following a judge’s order.

MEDIATION OFFERED BY SORTU

          On the night of May 14th, Sortu contacted the Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement through an intermediary. Sortu offered us to take advantage “under the table” of some contacts it has in Madrid to change Patxi’s situation. According to what we were told, the movement should give them the “green light” for this. They suggested that with the activism we promote, we could be pushing Patxi to continue with the hunger and thirst strike.

The group that looks after Patxi’s situation evaluated ​​the proposal, consulted with those around them and drew conclusions: the first is that Patxi does not want something like this and that his will must be respected. The second is that the only reason for asking for a “green light” can be is that in return we request to stop the street actions. The third is that those who made us the offer (we know how to distinguish them from the party bases), more than for Patxi’s life, are concerned about the consequences that his death can cause in the political situation.

The day after receiving the proposal, we replied that if they have a real option to avoid Patxi’s death, they would not need anyone’s “green light” to take the necessary approaches. Despite the fact that they asked us for confidentiality, on May 19th EH Bildu made public through an electoral note that it had offered us its means to help resolve Patxi’s situation and the next day Sortu, in a note in the same vein, accused us of pushing Patxi towards his death. By making this contact public and making serious accusations, they showed that their only intention was “to get rid of the body on top of them.” We know how to maintain discretion and appreciate the help offered when it is sincere, but we will not allow manipulations tailored to anyone’s partisan interests.

APPEAL TO EUSKAL HERRIA3

          In closing, we call on the Basque Country to continue supporting Patxi, to denounce the attacks against prisoners, and to continue pressing the fight for amnesty. Only the cessation of all kinds of oppression implicit in the political concept of amnesty will bring about a true peace based on justice. We are proud of the response given in Euskal Herria and of the internationalist support we have received.

Issued in the Basque Country, on May 30, 2020.

Pro Amnesty and Against Repression Movement.

https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/es/articulo/ante-el-ataque-del-eppk-al-movimiento-pro-amnistia

Patxi Ruiz Romero, Basque political prisoner, now on hunger strike.
(Image sourced: Internet)

 

FOOTNOTES

1Basque Political Prisoners’ Collective, part of the Abertzale Left movement following the political line of the official leadership. Currently the vast majority of the Basque political prisoners are following its general line although a number of male and female prisoners have broken ranks to take actions in solidarity with Patxi and a number of ex-prisoners have also published a statement in his support.

2The Spanish penal system applies one of a number of grades to prisoners, according to which the conditions of imprisonment and possibility of early release on parole are decided. Formerly the EEPK, in line with the official leadership of the Abertzale Left movement, the decision was to maintain an attitude of political opposition to the system and to take collective decisions. When the position of the leadership on the overall struggle changed, so too did the recommendations to the prisoners, which was now to respond to the prison system as individuals and progress through the grades in what would be considered ‘good behaviour’ by the authorities.

3 “The Land Where the People Speak Euskera” (Basque native language), the name for the entire Basque Country, north and south.

PUNCH AND JUDY SHOW IN THE SPANISH PARLIAMENT

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 3 mins.)

Minister of the Interior for the PSOE-Podemos coalition, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, ex-judge of the National Court.
(Photo source: Publico.es)

Newcomers to Spanish politics witnessing the recent sound and fury in the Spanish Parliament might conclude that there was a real battle going on between a reactionary Right and a progressive Left but they’d be right only about the existence of a reactionary Right. The same newcomers might then remark that well, the opponents of the reactionary Right must at least be liberals and they’d be wrong about that too.

          Parliamentary delegates from the reactionary Right – and that is to call them much less than the reality – were sharply criticising the Spanish coalition Government. The senior partner in the coalition is the Partido Socialista Obrero which, as has on occasion been commented, is neither “socialista” nor “obrero” and while its junior partner Podemos has left-wing credentials coming from the mainly Trotskyist (and Communist Party-managed) Izquierda Unida, it has to keep up an accommodation with the PSOE.

The parties of the Right in this case were the Partido Popular, which was created to represent erstwhile supporters of the deceased fascist dictator General Franco, along with Ciudadanos, which was founded by former supporters of the PP. The fascist Vox party comes from the same stable but with less democratic pretence.

The criticisms of the Spanish coalition Government on this occasion were mostly with regard to the sacking on Monday of the chief of the Guardia Civil in Madrid, Colonel Diego Perez de los Cobos. The Guardia Civil is a paramilitary police force, which is to say it is organised along military lines and has been the main instrument of State repression during Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975) and since. It was mainly they, for example that invaded Catalonia to beat up voters during the October 2017 Referendum on independence there and shot the banned rubber bullets at demonstrators and in fact the sacked officer led that operation.

The sacking occurred allegedly because on behalf of a Madrid magistrate, the Guardia Civil carried out an investigation of a number of political demonstrations in Madrid which it alleged had violated the pandemic restrictions and even contributed to the spread of virus, even though they had predated the Lockdown. The investigation, it is also being alleged, was in order to check whether the Health Minister’s actions regarding the pandemic had been appropriate or not.

In order to bolster their investigations, the Guardia Civil had claimed that the World Health Organisation had declared a pandemic in January whereas in fact it had only done so on March 11th (the Government ordered the lockdown on the 14th). The public events the Guardia Civil were investigating with a view to prosecution were mostly democratic or left-wing, including a march to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8th) and to denounce male violence against women (and the State’s two-level crime of rape) but also included a cavalcade organised by the fascist Vox party.

The Right generally is no friend of women’s rights but more to the point feels duty-bound to defend the Guardia Civil, acting as though they own it (which is not that far from the truth). However the PSOE has had no difficulty in sending the Guardia Civil to attack the Basques or Catalans in the past. And while in government in the 1980s, the PSOE’s Minister of the Interior along with some senior police and Guardia Civil officers were exposed running the GAL terrorist group against the Basques and had to spend some time in jail. The person widely suspected of having set the whole thing up, the Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, was not even questioned by the investigators, no doubt for fear of what might come to light.

That Fernando Grande-Marlaska is the Minister of the Interior under current attack in Parliament for allegedly being unfair to the Guardia Civil points out in full the irony of the situation. This is one of the Judges of the Spanish National Court most denounced by Basques for attacking their democratic rights and of at least turning a blind eye to their torture, while sentencing them to long terms in prison on the basis of their “confessions” and Guardia Civil “evidence”. Another of those ex-judges considered infamous by many Basques is also of the PSOE, Baltazar Garzon, beloved of many left and liberal people because he agreed to process an international crimes against humanity accusation against Pinochet and also ordered the exhumation of a mass grave of victims of fascists and military (Spain has more mass graves than any other territory except Cambodia). Neither of those two cases came to fruition, unlike the violation of the civil and human rights of thousands of Basques and the torture of hundreds under his watch.

PUNCH AND JUDY PUPPET SHOW

          In the Punch & Judy traditional dramas, Punch carries out a murder or two but, unlike some of the children watching it perhaps, we know that the puppet performance is not describing a real event. Of course, the Right in the Spanish state DID carry out murders – they have a list of 100,000-200,000 to their ‘credit’, most actually after the fighting of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. And an additional number to force through the Transition to nominal democracy and more afterwards by ‘unofficial’ GAL and official Guardia Civil operations, mostly against Basques.

Punch & Judy puppets
(Photo sourced: Internet)

The historic fact is that all left-wing organisations, even the social-democratic PSOE were banned during the Dictatorship. In order to stabilise the State and prevent its overthrow by the oppressed masses during the mid-1970s, it had to have the help of the Left. The Partido Comunista de España controlled a huge militant illegal trade union organisation, the Comisiones Obreras, while the PSOE controlled the smaller but substantial Unión General de Trabajadores (which it does still) – no setup would be safe unless they were brought on board. They were legalised and supported the new Constitution, even accepting the imposed monarchy and the “Pact of Amnesia”, under which all those guilty of tortures and murders under Franco walked free.

This is why there is some heat in the exchanges in the Spanish Parliament but no substance. The thinking of the Right goes something like this: “We had to legalise you and allow you into government but that doesn’t mean we have to even pretend to like you.” While the PSOE thinks: “You tortured and murdered our grandparents but we will share power with you and tolerate much of your antics. We all depend on one another. But sometimes you go too far and have to be restrained. For your own good as well as ours.”

And what does Podemos and Izquierda Unida think, while they share a government with the PSOE? And does any of this make any real difference to the situation of the mass of Spanish people or to those nations imprisoned within the state?

end.

Mariaon Rajoy, former Prime Minister and ex-leader of the right-wing PP, shakes hands with Sanchez of the PSOE in a pre-Pandemic Spanish Parliament.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

REFERENCES

https://www.publico.es/politica/caso-perez-cobos-guardia-civil-testimonios-manipulados-omitio-informacion-clave-informe-8-m.html

https://english.elpais.com/politics/2020-05-26/spanish-civil-guard-official-sacked-over-covid-19-report.html

IS THE BASQUE SLEEPING GIANT AWAKENING?

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 15 mins.)

The Basque pro-independence movement, the Abertzale Left, fought the Spanish State for over four decades. in 2012 its leadership renounced armed struggle without any reciprocal agreement with the Spanish State, declaring its faith in an imagined “Basque peace process”, sought alliances with social democratic and capitalist-nationalist parties and publicly apologised for its past actions of resistance. The movement sank into general inactivity except on the electoral front. But in recent weeks there have been signs of awakening, though under a different leadership – or is the giant merely muttering and twitching in its sleep?

Map of the Basque Country showing the provinces; the three to the north-east are inside the French state, while the other and larger four are in the Spanish state. (Image source: Internet)

THE GIANT

          How does the description “Giant” fit a resistance movement in a total population of less than three million people? A nation divided between the Spanish and French states? Part of the answer is precisely in those features, also in its history during the Spanish Civil / Anti-Fascist War and “French” Maquis and earlier. Also in its long struggle in defence of its native language Euskera, almost certainly the oldest in Europe and perhaps the first to reach it in neolithic times.

This is a movement that carried out general strikes against the Franco dictatorship, ensured that three of its provinces rejected the 1978 Constitution of the Spanish State which, in atmosphere of fear and murderous repression and with the collusion of the newly-legalised social-democratic (PSOE) and communist (CPE) political parties, was voted in by a majority in every other region of the Spanish State (population another 35 million people).

The serpent of wisdom and the axe of armed struggle, symbol of ETA.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Inspired by the examples of the Algerian independence struggle and socialist Cuba, the Abertzale Left movement rose from the defeat of the nation in the Spanish Civil/ Anti-Fascist War and the terrible repression under the fascist dictator General Franco and in 1959, formed the ETA (Land and Freedom) organisation. The youth wing of the conservative Basque Nationalist Party conceded the Left-inclination in order to join with them. Enduring arrests and torture of its supporters, it was not until 1968 that ETA took an armed action; halted at a police checkpoint and determined not to be arrested, Txabi Etxebarrieta shot a policeman dead and was in turn killed himself by pursuing police.

Mural honouring Txabi Etxebarrieta, first ETA martyr. (Image sourced: Internet)

The first planned armed action carried out was also that year when an ETA squad shot dead Meliton Manzanas, head of the political police in the Basque Country, a notorious torturer of prisoners and a Nazi sympathiser in the past.

A woman dressed in the Basque national colours dances the aurresku, ceremonial honour dance, in commemoration of ETA martyrs. Organising or participating in such an event could easily lead to torture and a prison sentence under the “anti-terrorism” laws of the Spanish State.
(Image sourced: Internet)

A number of other actions were taken by ETA over the years, some of them spectacular but, like many armed resistance groups, some also questionable in value or even in justification from a revolutionary point of view. But in December 1973 an ETA squad in Madrid assassinated Admiral Carrero Blanco, General Franco’s nominated successor, an action which many credited with hastening the progress of the Transition of the Spanish State to nominal democracy. General Franco died without a strong agreed political replacement almost exactly two years later, in December 1975 and the Transition process ran from then until 1978.

Admiral Carrero Blanco, Franco’s intended replacement, assassinated by ETA in Madrid in December 1973.
(Image sourced: Internet)

The struggle continued after the Transition, since the new Constitution declared any breakaway from the unity of the Spanish State a crime unless a majority in the Spanish Parliament voted in favour. The military and police repression in the Basque Country was huge. In the 1980s the social-democratic (PSOE) Spanish Government was exposed as heavily implicated in a number of terrorist groups operating against Basques through kidnapping, torture, gun and bomb attacks (see GAL) and eventually the Minister of the Interior and a number of high-ranking officers were given jail sentences.

In 1983 mass demonstrations and armed actions by ETA brought about the abandonment of the Spanish State’s nuclear reactor at the picturesque coastal spot at Lemoiz, followed by a new Spanish government declaring a moratorium on all building of nuclear reactors.

1975 mass demonstration against nuclear reactor being built by the Spanish State at Lemoiz.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Another aspect of the struggle was against compulsory military service, which the Spanish State only ended in 2002. People not only evaded it but also protested publicly against it.

Many people in the Spanish state opposed being part of NATO in the 1986 referendum but the Basque Country was highly represented in the vote against, around double the vote of those in favour and along with Catalonia being the only regions with a majority voting “no”.1

Photo taken of me by my guide on my camera above the abandoned nuclear site at scenic Lemoiz, possiblt 2016. Not many people can claim to have halted a nuclear reactor building program.

The ideology of the movement which found expression in ETA was national liberationist and socialist and this was reflected to a greater or lesser degree in all its parts, whether military or civilian. The Abertzale Left during the period organised itself into one political party after another after each in turn was banned by the Spanish State and forbidden to field candidates in elections.

Women industrial workers in Basque anti-fascist armaments factory, Spanish Civil/ Anti-Fascist War, 1936. (Image sourced: Internet)

But the movement had a huge social following too, in youth movements, punk and heavy metal bands, social-cultural centres, pirate radio stations and promoters of Euskera as a spoken language (all leaders of the Abertzale Left were required to be able to speak the language and all public meetings were addressed in Euskera and Spanish or even Euskera alone). There was even a popular Abertzale style of haircut and dress. The Abertzale Left also had a sizeable trade union, LAB which, along with ELA, a union founded by the Basque Nationalist party, recruited the majority of unionised Basque workers2. Feminist, LBGT, linguistic, eco-friendly, anti-animal cruelty sectors all contained many people broadly in support of the Abertzale Left or at least of its stated objectives.

The movement also had newspapers, radio stations and internet sites and many of these were closed down by the Spanish State, alleging that they were “collaborating with terrorism”. Currently the Spanish State is moving towards the closure of the movement’s social-cultural centres, the Herriko Tabernak (People’s Taverns). This arises from a judgement by the National Court in 2011, a judgement corresponding to an infamous statement by Baltazar Garcón, at the time a prominent Judge of that Court, that “Everything is ETA”. The closures are to be carried out now although ETA ceased armed activity permanently in 2012 and disbanded itself a little later.

Annual January prisoners’ solidarity march, Bilbao, 2016. (Image sourced: Internet)

Repression by the Spanish State has included executions and clandestine assassinations and led to relatively huge numbers of Basque political prisoners, not all by any means military fighters and conviction with “confessions” extracted through torture during the five-day incommunicado period ensured a problem-free conveyor belt for the Spanish State. That conveyor belt delivered its victims to jails dispersed all over the Spanish state, nearly every one hundreds of kilometres and sometimes over a thousand from the prisoners’ homes. The financial, physical and mental strains on friends and relatives, including elderly and children having to travel such distances to visit their loved ones are hard to imagine, often facing abuse or harassment on the way or at their destination, apart from serious accidents on motorways (including fatalities). Many pickets and demonstrations are held in the Basque Country throughout the year and each January a monster march clogs the streets of Bilbao.

The issue of the prisoners has always been a big one for the Abertzale Left and despite dispersal the prisoners built an organisation within the jails, responding to their situation in a disciplined manner.

SLEEPING

          During the first decade of this century it was clear that ETA was not doing well and the Abertzale Left in general was facing many more years of struggle against an unyielding state with repression everywhere and hundreds of political prisoners in jails.

The leadership was attracted to the much-advertised pacification/ peace processes of South Africa, Palestine and Ireland. By any estimation the Palestine process soon collapsed and its rejection by most of Palestinian society was clearly indicated first by the Intifada and secondly by the electoral gains of Hamas, pushing Al-Fatah into second place. To undiscerning eyes the Irish and South African3 processes seemed to be doing well and both the ANC and Sinn Féin lent strong support to the Abertzale Left’s imagined “peace process”. Despite that support and that of such prominent imperialist figures as Tony Blair and Kofi Annan, the Spanish ruling class was not interested in playing and eventually the Abertzale Left’s leadership was left with nowhere to go. However, they persisted in trying to build alliances with the majority Basque National Party and with smaller nationalist-social-democratic groups; they succeeded with the second sector but failed with the first and seem condemned to second-party status electorally in a Spanish colony, a nation divided by the French-Spanish border.

However, in their search for acceptance by the above-mentioned sectors, the Abertzale Left not only renounced armed struggle but apologised for past actions, ended street confrontations and called on the prisoners to negotiate their progress individually through prison system grades to eventual parole. Some of Abertzale Left public representatives even attended events commemorating Guardia Civil and Ertzaintza (Basque police) killed by ETA in the past.

EH Bildu Mayor of Errenteria participates in commemoration of a Guardia Civil killed by ETA.
(Image sourced: Internet)

When the struggle for independence broke out again recently in Catalonia with the 2017 Referendum and the Spanish State responded with a violent Guardia Civil invasion and jailing of politicians and social activists, the Abertzale Left leadership noticeably declined to open up a second front of struggle.

STIRRING

          There were early but sporadic signs that not all movement was happy with the Abertzale Left’s new path. Askapena, an organisation set up within the Abertzale Left to work on internationalist solidarity, which at one time could list affiliated groups in Ireland, Germany, Italy4, Paris, Brittany, Barcelona, Madrid, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and a number of Latin American countries, broke quietly with with the Abertzale Left over its change of policies5. Notably also, when four members of Askapena were accused of “assisting terrorism” in 2010, they refused to apologise for their work and fought the case, being eventually cleared of all charges in 2016.6

In addition, many Basques were critical of the process, feeling that even if they were prepared to go down the new road, it had been handled badly by the leadership.

A leading Marxist theoretician of the movement, Inaki Gil, resigned from the national leadership years ago, though not from the movement; however he may well be persona non-grata in it now due to a published interview in which he criticised the decision of the 47 on trial in September last year to apologise for past actions of the Basque liberation movement, even after 50,000 had marched through Bilbao streets in their support two days earlier.

When Arnaldo Otegi — generally seen as the architect of the new road for the Abertzale Left7 – was arrested with others in 2009 and, while on pre-trial detention began a hunger strike only to end it soon afterwards, it did not reflect well on him. While he beat a charge of “glorifying terrorism”, he was convicted in 2011 for allegedly reorganising Batasuna, banned political party of the Abertzale Left and sentenced to ten years, reduced on appeal to six and walked free in 2016. In the meantime a Free Otegi campaign (2015) attracted some notable foreign support (including Desmond Tutu) but was criticised in the Basque liberation movement for highlighting the case of one political prisoner above many others8 (including those who were serving much longer sentences).

Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the official Abertzale Left.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Some years ago a new Basque political prisoner solidarity organisation came into being, calling itself ATA (Amnistia Eta Askatasuna – Amnesty and Freedom9). They enjoyed a good showing at their first demonstration but came under public attack not only by the Abertzale Left leadership but by a number of ETA members on trial in France. They were accused of using the prisoners as a stalking horse when what they really wanted was to attack the new line of the movement’s leadership. Censorship and condemnation in the Abertzale Left’s daily newspaper GARA followed.

Amnistia Ta Askatasuna demonstration Bilbo 2016.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Although their public support waned for awhile, in 2018 a youth group of the Abertzale Left was expelled after they had publicly denounced their annual conference managers for refusing to put their position paper forward for discussion; this youth organisation now collaborates with ATA. Last year, a new Basque revolutionary group called Jarki was formed and drew a sizable crowd to their commemoration of the annual Gudari Eguna (Basque Soldier Day)10.

ATA demonstration Donosti/ San Sebastian, September 2019.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

However the issue of development remained in doubt and no-one could predict with confidence that the movement would be rebuilt along revolutionary lines under a new leadership.

WAKING

          The week before last, Basque political prisoner Patxi Ruiz embarked upon a hunger and thirst strike and although he abandoned the thirst component after 11 days he continues on the hunger strike. He took this action in protest against harassment and beatings by the prison administration and jailers and highlighted the fact that prisoners

Patxi Ruiz, Basque political prisoner, now on hunger strike.
(Image sourced: Internet)

were being refused virus-protection clothing or testing and that the jailers were not being tested either. He also wanted visits from his family to be permitted and prisoners allowed to attend funerals of family members (he had been refused permission to attend his father’s funeral). More recently he has demanded that prisoners be relocated to jails near their homes, a long-standing demand of the movement and which is entirely in accordance with model rules for prisons in the EU and the UN. Despite the official leadership of the Abertzale Left firstly ignoring the situation and then condemning his supporters, Ruiz’s struggle galvanised the mostly dormant Abertzale movement.

Patxi Ruiz solidarity march, Durango, Basque Country.
(Photo source: Amnistia Garrasi FB page)

Every day has seen small actions across the Basque Country, including protest pickets on bridges, beaches, town squares etc; solidarity fasts; slogans painted … Large solidarity marches have been held in Irunea/ Pamplona (Nafarroa province), Donosti/ San Sebastian (Guipuzkoa), Baiona (Bayonne), Bilbao and Durango (Bizkaia). ATA’s web page is full of developing news and the facebook page, which had fallen into silence, is active again.  Last Sunday in Pamplona/ Irunea, police attacked demonstrators with batons and fired rubber bullets at close quarters.Patxi Ruiz solidarity demonstration 24 May 2020 attacked by police with batons and rubber bullets

Patxi Ruiz solidarity march in Bayonne, northern Basque Country.
(Image source: Internet)

Some of the Basque prisoners who are part of the “official list” have begun taking solidarity action, refusing food or to leave their cells for periods in Almería, Brevia-Ávila, Castelló I, Córdoba, Huelva, Murcia (where Patxi is), Puerto III, Rennes, Sevilla II, Topas-Salamanca …. refusal to leave one’s cell also means forgoing family phone calls. Patxi had been expelled from the Abertzale prisoners’ collective in 2017 for speaking out against the new line of the official leadership which another four prisoners have repudiated also11.

Patxi Ruiz solidarity seaside picket, Plentzia, Basque Country.
(Image source: Amnestia Garrasi

However the mass of Basque political prisoners have so far remained quiet, “concentrating on moving through their grades while Patxi lies dying”, in a quotation from an ATA commentary which blamed this new lack of unity on the fragmentation engendered by the official leadership.

Patxi Ruiz solidarity seaside picket, Lekeito harbour Basque Country.
(Photo source: Amnistia Garrasi FB page)

A group of ex-prisoners has now also called for solidarity with Ruiz.

COULD NOT SINK LOWER”

          According to a public statement by ATA denouncing political parties Sortu and EH Bildu, the official Abertzale leadership made no comment until Patxi Ruiz was into his fifth day of hunger and thirst strike and then it was to mention him only in passing, while denouncing the spray-painting of political parties’ buildings by protesters and the burning of an ATM. On the 10th day the official leadership again released a statement, saying they were trying to organise one of their elected politicians to visit the prisoner but condemning the mobilisations across the Basque Country and accusing them of endangering Patxi Ruiz’s life. “They could not sink lower”, commented ATA, who also pointed out how late the official leadership had come to comment and that without the public-space protests, neither the media nor the official leadership would have taken any notice whatsoever.

What the future holds for Patxi Ruiz in the short-term is hard to predict, already weakened by ten days of thirst strike and now into his 16th day of hunger strike. What the near and medium-term future holds for the Basque movement is also an open question, depending to some extent on how ATA is able to capitalise on this upsurge and build an organisation or a network of coherence and unity, at least in action.

Patxi Ruiz solidarity march Bilbo 23 May 2020.
(Source image: Boltxe)

The official Abertzale leadership will do what they can to destroy any such movement but they have already yielded the streets, one of the main arenas of the movement in the past. Both groups are mutually exclusive and the advance of one in the wider Basque movement can only be at the expense of the other.

The Spanish State too will be watching developments and no doubt considering its own options of repression, although not so easily done as before, without even an ETA existence to justify their response to the public.

Meanwhile the Catalan independence struggle simmers on and if both should link up in mutual solidarity …..

end.

FOOTNOTES

2The main unions in the Spanish state, Unión General de Trabajadores and Comisiones Obreras were founded respectively by the PSOE and the CPE. Both are Spanish unionist and have the majority of unionised workers in every region of the Spanish state except the southern Basque Country and Galicia.

3While the people in South Africa have the vote and the ANC political party has done well out of the deal, going almost straight into Government, the mass of people struggle on low level income, high level violent crime, unemployment and badly-delivered services, while an ANC clique wallow in riches gained through corruption. Sinn Féin went first into the British colony’s government and now has the most elected parliamentary delegates from the February 2020 General Election in the Irish State; however over two decades after the Good Friday agreement the country is no nearer unification or nation-wide independence and is run by neo-liberal capitalist classes selling out the natural resources and services of the nation.

4Germany and Italy had a number of these; in Ireland the cities of Belfast, Dublin and Cork each had one.

5This organisation effectively ceased to exist due to the new line of the Abertzale Left. Although a number of foreign committee delegates did not disagree with the new line (some certainly did) nevertheless it began to fade away from then on.

6In marked contrast to the apology in September last year for previous actions of the movement by 47 members of a number of Abertzale Left organisations, including those against repression and in solidarity with prisoners, before they had even been tried by the court. This shameful action was taken two days after 50,000 had taken to the streets to support them and left deep hurt, bewilderment and shame throughout the movement. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/16/mass-trial-of-basque-activists-in-spain-ends-with-plea-deal

7He had come into the political leadership with Joseba Permach of the Abertzale Left in 1997 after 23 members of the Batasuna leadership were jailed for seven years by the Spanish State. He was elected General Secretary of the political party Sortu in 2013.

8The Abertzale Left had never previously endorsed any campaign focusing on individual prisoners except in the case of terminally and seriously-ill prisoners, of which at one time there were as many as 15 who, even under Spain’s own prison regulations, should have been paroled home or to hospital.

9Though now it gives the translation as “Amnesty and Against Repression”. An Amnistia organisation had existed earlier but dissolved or reformed after banning by the Spanish State and one of the accusations of the Abertzale Left is that dissidents misappropriated the name.

USEFUL LINKS & FURTHER INFORMATION:

AMNESTIA ETA ASKATASUNA

Webpage: https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/es (Spanish language version, also available in Euskera).

Facebook: https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/es (Spanish and Euskera languages, lots of photos and videos)

JARKI: No media link available.

LEADERS AND LEADERSHIP

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 10-15 minutes)

What makes leaders good or bad ones? How much power should a leader have? How should they conduct themselves? How do we know when they are no longer leading us well and what can we do about it? The following piece discusses these questions and seeks to answer them.

 

Most people think human beings need leaders and revolutionaries and insurgents in general are no exception. There are some political-social groups who state that they are autonomous and do not need leaders but it has been my experience even in some of those groups that they do indeed have leaders and that in general they act under that leadership. It seems to be a human trait for groups to accept leadership and to follow leaders and indeed all social animals we may observe have leaders. Nevertheless, the question of leadership historically has been fraught and that is as much the case for human society in its various stages as well as for revolutionary organisations.

Statue in the Louvre, Paris, of Spartacus, leader of the great slave uprising against Rome 73-71 BCE. He is here represented as a thinker.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

RESPONSES TO LEADERS – HEALTHY & UNHEALTHY

RESPECT

          If our leaders have proved their worth to our endeavours then of course we should respect them. We should not respect them because of their class or family background. It is what one does that makes one worthy of respect, not the social class in which one was raised. And if that class background gave certain advantages in education, in leisure time to study and learn, then those are advantages we value and seek for all, which is far from respecting someone merely because they were raised with those advantages.

As to family background, it seems to me that we are haunted with an old way of looking at human society. It might have seemed natural in ancient times to give the offspring of a valued leader special respect and even to choose the successor from among his/her offspring. It does seem to be the case that some talents and traits are inherited through genes and it is also true that such a family background can familiarise one with some principles of leadership. However, history has provided us with many examples of ineptitude, malice and even madness in leaders who have greatness in their family background. It has also provided us with examples of people who rose from obscurity and from a family background of no particular note to lead masses in historic deeds.

Since we speak of respect, we should talk now about what that means. Of course, when leaders seeks to lead us, to advocate some action or policy, we should listen for if we do not, how can we benefit from what they have to say to us? We listen with respect.

But respect is not the same as servility, nor blind acceptance. We should consider what we are being told and feel free to ask questions and to challenge what we may perceive as assumptions. Further, we should accept that others also have that right, even if we ourselves are convinced in the leaders’ words. Our leaders are not infallible and nor are we.

We said earlier that it is upon what we do that we earn respect and that is so for leaders too. Every judgement on what we do must inevitably be based to some extent on an action in the past, even if it as recent a past as earlier that week, the day before or an hour ago. But one’s past does not grant infallibility and one who took correct decisions in the past can all too easily take wrong ones today or tomorrow. History has also shown us many such examples. Therefore the expectation of any leaders or of their followers that we should accept what they say mainly on the basis of their having been correct in the past is completely unjustified — however emotionally satisfying it may be to some people — and we should resolutely reject the premise.

If we are entitled to question and even challenge leaders there also comes a time when that right should be put aside for awhile. At some point it is necessary to act and endless debate does not lead to action. Nor is the entitlement to question and challenge a justification for ceaseless exercise of that right and it is also the case that such practice will in time devalue future criticism and challenge, perhaps when they are valid and should be most needed. The point at which debate needs to come to an end and a decision made, by the accepted procedures of the group, is ruled by the necessities of the situation and not by simple declaration.

CONDUCT OF LEADERSHIP

          Firstly, led us observe that while it is an impossibility for everyone to lead simultaneously, everybody is capable of leadership at some time in some circumstance. Every time one of us suggests a course of action or expresses a criticism in a group, we are in effect offering leadership to others. The one who says “I think we should …” or “Why don’t we …..?” or “Maybe we could ….” are all offering leadership at that moment. Whether it would have been effective leadership or in any case is accepted or not is beside this point.

Spartacus statue in Sandinski, Bulgaria. Here his military leadership is emphasised.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

RESPONSIBILITY

          We all of us should take responsibility for our actions and their effect. In practice that means weighing up positive and negative aspects before action (should we have time to do so) and afterwards evaluating once again its negative and positive aspects. Should we be constantly hesitant or paralysed by fear of failure we cannot be effective in anything worthwhile, therefore it is necessary that we are prepared to risk making mistakes. Then we have a responsibility to learn from our mistakes which implies a responsibility to admit to them.

Leaders at any level must take responsibility not only for their own actions but for those of their followers also. The leader too must be prepared to make mistakes but should endeavour to ensure that they are not too serious, that the consequences are not too disastrous. This is a heavy responsibility which implies the need to think things through in advance and not to merely react or act mainly out of emotion. And yet, the leader must be prepared to be decisive when that is what the situation requires.

Too many individuals accept leaders as a means of abrogating their own responsibilities. All of us have responsibilities in any endeavour we join together: responsibility in sharing work, risk, and thought. If we leave consideration of the negative and positive aspects of a proposal to others, not only are we shirking our responsibilities but we are hardly justified in complaining later about the actions of our leaders.

SHARING LEADERSHIP

          Some leaders are seen to take on multiple responsibilities and many tasks. In capitalist endeavours this has been judged to be wasteful and ineffective in the long run, leading to inflexibility, slowness to react and “micro management”, among other faults. An insecure leader does not trust others and seeks to keep all tasks and initiatives under his/ her control. And yet, shit happens, as they say. Nothing can be completely controlled.

Louise Michel, life-long anarchist revolutionary and one of the leaders of the Paris Commune 1871 and other revolutionary initiatives later.
(Photo sourced: Wikipedia)

In revolutionary leadership this tendency to try to control everything by an individual or individuals has also been seen, with harmful consequences that include stifling initiative and learning among the group or organisation. Once this becomes established, the absence of the leader(s) mean the paralysis of the organisation and a similar effect occurs while waiting for them to make a decision. In addition, if they enemy subverts the leadership, the whole organisation and struggle becomes destroyed or at least greatly damaged.

Good leadership encourages the development of different areas by different individuals within the group and spreads participation in — and responsibility for — the decision-making. This model is often called collective leadership but within that itself there are different models too.

It would be very damaging if every individual were to act within an organisation according to how they might feel at different times and to represent the organisation externally without consulting the group. After matters are discussed and collective agreement has taken place, members of an organisation should not represent the organisation in a contrary way to what has been agreed. This is a difficult area with tensions between the right of expression of the individual and of responsibility to the organisation, one which I am unsure has ever been completely resolved.

Collective leadership is usually exercised through a committee or temporary working group and allows for different individuals taking a lead in different areas. One might note that person A regularly calls people to the overall task in hand and pushes for a monitoring of progress, while person B concentrates on developing a specific area, person C looks to the recording of decisions and person D to some external relations. There are of course formal positions in organisations and committees such as Chair, Secretary, Treasurer etc but even without formal elections one finds that successful groups develop areas of responsibility for separate individuals even without the existence of such elected offices. Furthermore, a particular responsibility may fluctuate between individuals at different times. A good argument exists for not entrenching anyone in specific roles over long periods of time. Rotation of roles and encouragement to take up new responsibilities can help broaden the experience and capabilities of members of the group or organisation and also prevent the growth of cliques and controlling leaderships.

Monument under continuing instruction to Crazy Horse, a chief of the Lakota Oglala, who with Sitting Bull led the struggle against the USA’s expansion and confiscation of his people’s traditional lands, including the great defeat of General Custer’s military invasion at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. He was murdered on 5th September 1877 in US Military custody. The statue is finished but the monument on land in Dakota includes the carving of the rock bluff seen in the distant background.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR

          Their are certain traits which may be observed repeated in unhealthy leadership and it is well to be aware of them, both for those who follow them and for people put in positions of leadership themselves. The following list does not include timidity, hesitation and prevarication, which are also bad traits of leadership.

The leaders

  • clearly enjoy issuing orders

  • direct others to do tasks they would not undertake themselves
  • monopolise speaking time

  • push for an end to debate without demonstrable necessity for the organisation

  • dismiss out of hand opinions opposed to theirs

  • expect agreement with whatever they say and resent question or challenge

  • regard question and challenge as treasonous, mutinous

  • hold grudges against those who have disagreed with them and seek to have them ignored, ostracised or demoted

  • seek or accept control over multiple areas of work

  • lie outright to their following

  • or do not tell their following the whole truth

  • call upon their past record in order to justify their actions or direction in the present

  • call upon their family background to justify their actions or decisions

  • surround themselves with a group who support them without question

  • accept flattery

  • flatter particular people (as distinct from commending when appropriate)

  • never commend any of their followers when deserved or choose only some to commend

  • criticise others unfairly or out of proportion to what is deserved

  • consider themselves entitled to special consideration above others in physical and emotional comforts

  • believe that rules that apply to the majority do not apply to them by virtue of their position or imagined personal superiority

Also, among the group or organisation, those who:

  • Always agree with the leaders or

  • Constantly disagree to no apparent concrete purpose

  • Constantly praise the leaders in private or in public

  • Praise a leader or leaders while ignoring or downplaying the contribution of others

  • Deny leaders have committed errors or wrongdoing in the face of evidence to the contrary

  • Make excuses for wrongdoing or errors of the leaders

  • Use the past record or family background of the leaders to justify actions in the present

  • or to imply that the leaders should be followed without weighing up their actions or what they advocate

  • criticise anyone who criticises the leadership rather than dealing with the point of that criticism
  • try to justify leaders having special consideration above others in terms of physical and emotional comfort

CONCLUSION

          The exploitation of working masses and their resistance to that has been going on since ancient slave societies and has led to outbreaks of revolt down through the centuries. The Paris Commune of 1871 was the first time that the working class succeeded in taking a city and holding it for a period, developing its own instruments of making decisions and carrying them out. At little over two months it was a short-lived experiment and fell to the bloody suppression of Prussian armed forces at the invitation of deposed royalty and dispossessed bourgeoisie.

It was not until 1917 that the working class was able once again to overthrow its oppressors and this time it did so not just in a city but in an entire state, also defeating invasions to overthrow its power. But where is that today? The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 but had been crumbling within from long before that and, some would say, the working class had lost control in the early years immediately following the Revolution.

The question of leadership and how to handle it by everyone is an important one in an organisation but, for revolutionaries, is essential. It is essential not only for the conduct of the struggle but perhaps even more so for managing society after a revolution. The seeds of that management in the future must be sown in the present.

End.

 

POSTSCRIPT

          I base the above on my personal experience of decades, my reflection upon them and on reading of history.  My personal experience has been mostly in unpaid social-political struggles in trade unionism, housing, political groups on a number of fronts, solidarity committees, community and education groups but also employed in few NGOs for a shorter period.  I have been either a follower or part of leaderships and have erred in both on occasions while on others acted correctly.  I hope that I have learned from them all — and certainly from my mistakes.

In order to concentrate thinking on the general principles I have refrained from giving particular examples of recent leadership, which might have tended to give rise to discussion about individual cases rather than the principles as a whole.

Piers Morgan Highlights The Utter Chaos Of The UK’s Covid-19 Response — AN SIONNACH FIONN (DB: entirely correct criticism from a personality I strongly dislike)

While the journalist and television presenter Piers Morgan has known no end of controversies and scandal in his long media career, of late garnering much criticism for his relationship with Donald Trump, future generations will probably judge him to have been on the right side of history in relation to the Covid-19 crisis in Britain. […]

via Piers Morgan Highlights The Utter Chaos Of The UK’s Covid-19 Response — AN SIONNACH FIONN

BACK TO WORK AND CONTAGION?

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time text: 10 mins)

According to news reports, the Government is considering a relaxation of restrictions and a return to work – but with people wearing masks1 and with monitoring of preventative measures. An obvious question is, if these measures are thought to be effective in future, why are they not being implemented now? And why not in the past? Will we be going back to work but also to contagion?

Conductor on Seattle trolley-bus, USA, masked against Spanish ‘Flu 1918.
(Image sourced: Internet)

PRESSURE TO LIFT RESTRICTIONS

          There is clearly some pressure to lift restrictions – many people want to be able to earn money and socialise as before. People want to go on holiday, get on with education and projects, visit relatives. Small businesses want to save themselves from bankruptcy or climb out of debt. And bankers and industrialists want to continue squeezing people for profits. The State too, in both its ‘national’2and municipal forms, wants to raise taxes to fund its essential services: power generation and supply, water purification and sewage treatment, health service, postal and electronic communications, public transport and road maintenance, fire-fighting, refuse collection and disposal …. To all of those pressures the Government seems to be bowing – but have they thought it through?

In Germany, which has lifted some restrictions, people have been obliged to wear masks in public but even so, the authorities are urging people to be cautious, that they “will have to live with the virus” for some time. In other words, “forget about going back to normal, probably for a long time”. Initial statistics show a rise in infection cases there after the lockdown easing.  In Britain, especially England, trade unions have attacked the “mixed messages” from the Prime Minister, Boris Johnston, about returning to work as “potentially lethal”.3

Germany experienced a rise in numbers infected after relaxation of lockdown.
(Image sourced: Internet)

So, about the pressure. Ordinary working people have bills, mortgages and rents to pay, small business people have the same and clearly a state needs to have money to fund essential services. Yes, and big companies and banks are pressurising too. And we all know how successful banks are at pressurising governments, don’t we?  Especially our governments.

Apart from banks and building societies, the Government could ease the pressure on ordinary working people and small business people by declaring a moratorium on mortgages and rents for the duration of loss of earnings due to the pandemic. Yes, it would need to take powers to do that but wouldn’t most people support them in doing so?

The building societies, banks and big businesses wouldn’t support it however, all of which are interconnected. Well, when the banks and building societies messed up – and not for any reason like a pandemic, either – our governments forced US, the ordinary working people, to bail THEM out. In fact we’re still paying for that out of our national reserves and in cuts in all kinds of provision. A little bit of “comes around” would do them no real harm.

As to the finances to run the essential services of the State and of local authorities: end the tax write-offs, holidays and low taxation rates etc. And change the line on “We don’t want Apple to pay us the money which even the neo-liberal capitalist EU says they owe us!”. Yes, we DO want it – and we NEED it, ALL of it and NOW!

Industrial workers masked against the Spanish ‘Flu pandemic in Britain 1918.
(Image sourced: Internet)

“FALSE CONFIDENCE”

          The German authorities, with a much more efficient and better-funded health service and financial reserves, have been warning its public about false confidence. Now and again we see some indications of that here in Ireland too.

OK, so a section of the public is not properly educated or just willfully ignorant – stupid even. But if when you introduce a lockdown to deal with a pandemic you talk about it being for an initial two weeks ….. what kind of message are you giving out? And if you tell most people not to bother with masks or gloves? And if in the early days of the pandemic told them firstly that public events would not need canceling4 and then that to attend outdoor events of up to 500 and indoor events up to 100 people5 was basically safe? If the responsible authorities never seemed to be taking it all that seriously until late in the day and even then have managed it quite lightly – are some people to be blamed for having false confidence?

Another cluster of infections has just come to light, ten meat processing plants accounting for 566 cases so far. Prof. Catherine Motherway, President of the Intensive Care Society was reported as cautioning that a lot more needs to be done before restrictions are eased. “We need to know that our health system can cope … find and isolate the cases and treat them.”6

New York street cleaner masked against Spanish ‘Flu infection, 1918.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

FACE-MASKS NOW – BUT NOT EARLIER

          According to reports, the Government will want us to wear face-masks when they relax the restrictions. But ….. weren’t they telling us from the start that there was no point? Wasn’t even the World Health Organisation playing down their usefulness?

Well, either they know they don’t work, in which case they just want us to feel safe enough to start the wheels of industry turning and the money flowing into the big accounts …. Or they know they do work, and they’ve been advising us wrongly all along.

That’s where my bet is and I’ve written about this already, weeks ago7. It’s bloody obvious that face masks must help prevent spread the virus and depending on the type and procedures employed, would also help protect the wearer to some degree. Quite a number of countries made wearing them in public obligatory. And now the Government will be doing that here too.

Good. But I just wonder how many people got sick – or even died – because the authorities discouraged them from wearing them earlier?

People wearing masks and “Wear a mask or go to jail” placard, 1918, during Spanish ‘Flu pandemic, probably USA.
(Image sourced: Internet)

The Government has yet to specify where the masks are going to come from and, little respect as I have for any person prominent in the Labour Party, Alan Kelly TD is obviously correct when he says that the Government should be organising the production of those masks NOW!8

OTHER MEASURES AND MONITORING

          Face-masks help you not to spread droplets on to other people – and you don’t know for sure whether you have the virus or not, because you can carry it for a few days before it starts to show. Good face-masks will help you not catch it from someone else too. But you really need gloves as well and a good procedure in removing the gloves and face-mask, combined with hand-washing. And of course, social distancing. To be honest, with all those being practiced, there should be no need for 2km distance from home limits on exercise or travel – or even for telling older people to stay indoors, vulnerable to depression and ill-health through lack of exercise and even to accidents in the home.

But, for effective measures, don’t they/ we need to know who is infected and who is not? And where the major infection points in society are to be found? Yes — and for that we need mass testing, which our Government has not been doing because of how the health service has been run down. Not even with sending test samples away (to Germany) for analysis!9

And then we need tracking, tracing where people think they may have got infected, who they may have infected in turn, testing them …. the proper pandemic scientific procedures. But our Government is hardly doing that either. We get the following estimates10 of infection sources based on people who tested positive: 34% close contact, 63% community contact, 3% travel abroad.11 But what do these categories actually mean?

OK, “travel abroad” is reasonably clear. “Close contact” might mean family, close friends, lovers, elderly relatives in nursing homes (more about them further on). But “community contact”, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the total? Would these be neighbours, workmates? You know what I suspect? Shops and supermarkets – customers and staff – are a big section. Why? Because most people visit them at least weekly and the precautions taken there have been all along — and are still – inadequate. But the authorities don’t do the tracking to find out. Or if they have, they’re not telling us.

Customers in a supermarket (none seem to be taking any precautions other than perhaps social distancing). (Photo source: Internet)

The fact that it was only last week that a high cluster of infection around meat-processing plants was revealed shows the need for testing, tracking and testing again and how little work on that level is being done. Ten sites with 566 people infected12 so far is not something that should be coming to light over two months after the first case was identified in Ireland.

Who will carry out the monitoring, ensuring best practice and compliance? I’d like to believe that whichever body the Government sets up will do a good job but unfortunately I doubt it. It was left up to the supermarkets and shops to monitor their own provisions and they did it late and inadequately13. The Government at first even left it up to the pubs whether to remain open or not! Now this body appointed by them, aware of the lack of enthusiasm of the Government to interfere with the business of making money, will be supervising and monitoring every factory, shop, depot and farm? Really?

In this small relatively low-industry state of the 26 Counties, the Health & Safety Agency recorded 22,500 non-fatal workplace accidents reported to it for the year 2017-2018, along with 48 fatalities. Remember that all generic studies maintain that most and possibly all accidents at work are avoidable and result from lack of awareness or of appropriate training, or of fatigue as well as from bad practices, bad supervision and badly-maintained equipment.

The understaffed HSA is not adequate to the task of monitoring even a representative sample of workplaces and relies a lot on accidents and breaches of regulations being reported to it; the trade unions in general are not up to the job either, especially with the low percentage of union membership of recent decades.14 So whichever agency is set up for monitoring good working practices during the pandemic, even if such adequate practices have been identified and published, is not likely to be up to the job either.

Masked Clerical Female Workers during Spanish ‘Flu pandemic 1918, probably USA.
(Image sourced: Internet)

But at the very least that agency should publish its general guidelines and insist each workplace publish the specific procedures in place along with the underlying rationale. Then at least employees and public can see what they are, complain if they are felt to be inadequate and report those that are not being practiced. And gloves and face-masks at least should be provided for all, with work practices adapted to allow for them.

THE DISPOSABLE PEOPLE

          As soon as the pandemic took hold in other countries, a high percentage of infected people were known to be healthcare workers – around 10% as an average. Even if you didn’t realise straight away that nursing homes were going to have a high rate of infection, as soon as you thought about healthcare workers you’d be quick getting to that point (and one step away from thinking about homeless hostels and direct provision centres etc too). Once you thought of the high vulnerability of those facilities, you’d make special provisions for them, wouldn’t you?

But no. No provision at all until a few weeks ago. No special issuing of guidelines for staff and visitors, insufficient PPE (protective equipment etc), low admission rates to ICUs for the infected ….. According to stats published at the weekend, 855 coronavirus-19 deaths have been associated with care homes and 740 of those were residents. And since the total deaths recorded within the state at that point were 1,429, well over half the deaths have taken place in care homes.

A shocking rate of attrition out of ineptitude for which the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team should be held responsible. Or …. was it even worse than that? These facilities contain, on the whole, people who are no longer economically active, people some might even consider a drain on society’s resources. And often low-paid migrant workers caring for them. Could it be that they were all just considered “disposable”?

end.

FOOTNOTES

2I use the term here to mean the whole of the State’s territory, well aware that a true national perspective would include not just the 26 Counties but also the Six County British colony.

9Remember how the smear tests samples for cervical cancer were also sent away for testing somewhere else?

11Yes and most intelligent people wonder why the Government allowed people to travel to an international rugby match in a country swamped with the virus and, even worse, not have them quarantined upon their return. And for heaven’s sake, why people can still leave and arrive at our air and marine ports and sit on planes next to one another with cabin crew having to bend close to attend to them during the flight, do a turnaround and bend close to another group of passengers on the flight back.

14And failed significantly even in ensuring protection of workers from infection during the pandemic so far.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/28/germans-urged-to-stay-home-amid-covid-19-infection-rate-fears?

https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-cases-in-germany-rise-after-lockdown-restrictions-end-2020-5?r=US&IR=T

Click to access hsa_stats_report_2019.pdf