Rebel Breeze: Elise, go raibh maith agat for agreeing to this interview. With regard to recent events, you will recall that after nazis planned a rally in Charlottesville, ostensibly against “Islamicisation” and events ended in the deaths of two anti-fascists, a number of comments emerged in social media and from some politicians, criticising the anti-fascists for staging a counter-rally. Firstly, do you think these comments had any validity?
Elise Hendrick: In a word, no. It’s really hard to express in words the level of dismissal that that ‘criticism’ merits, because a verbal response already honours it too much. A look at the people making those ‘criticisms’ tends to show that they’re actually coming from political allies of those the antifascists were protesting.
RB: Can you give some examples of what you mean by this?
EH: One example is a video blogger by the name of Tim Pool, who tries to maintain an air of journalistic detachment in his condemnations of Antifa tactics, but who has turned out to be on very good terms with neo-Nazis, including those who organised the pogrom in Charlottesville (discussed various times on the anarchist/antifascist website It’s Going Down).
One really amusing case I happened across was a thread about Antifa on US left author Paul Street’s Facebook page, in which various people showed up to make utterly outlandish claims about who antifascists are and what they stand for. I hadn’t seen any of these names before, so I decided to check out their Facebook pages to see who I was dealing with. It turned out that one of them had at the top of his Facebook page a post praising his friend Garret Kirkland, who was the organiser of the shambolic white supremacist rally in Boston.
Even when a lot of these media ‘critics’ aren’t actually tied to fascist groups themselves, they often make arguments that either trivialise or justify fascist violence or seek to create a moral equivalency between fascists and those defending their communities from fascists. One of the most notorious (and irritating) examples of this is Lee Fang of The Intercept, who, despite claiming to be an ‘investigative journalist’, has shown no interest in fact-checking rumours spread by neo-Nazis as well as a remarkable lack of curiosity about who militant antifascists are, what they actually stand for, and what they have to say about the accusations against them. He outright refuses to acknowledge the reality of violence by fascist groups, and constantly seeks to reduce the political conflict between fascists and those opposing them to a bunch of equally reprehensible people who just like punching each other.
Fang and others like him would certainly recoil at being called fascist sympathisers, but their dishonest and ill-considered arguments do fascists a great favour.
RB: Given that you think people should indeed present themselves to oppose public events organised by fascists, what are your thoughts on the debate about whether the anti-fascist opposition should use physical force or instead should be peaceful?
EH: What I find interesting is that there are basically two separate discussions going on. On the one hand, there is a surprisingly well-thought-out and sophisticated discussion about the role of physical force alongside other means of resistance to fascist mobilisations, how best to go about it, how it should be organised, and how best to coordinate it with other forms of action. I’ve been struck, as someone who has long been extremely critical of the lack of a real tactical/strategic discourse on the left both in the US and in Britain at just how self-reflective and serious these discussions have been.
This debate gives me hope, because it’s people actually doing what we should have been doing all along: Working out what our objectives are, working out broadly what’s likely to help us get there, and then figuring out the details and reporting back on practical experience with implementing that strategy. On the other hand, you have people who will gatecrash these discussions to tell you there needs to be a debate on tactics. They never actually let us in on what they would like to contribute to this debate, except for a belief that everything would be better if the central committee of whatever newspaper cult (whether it’s the ISO or the SWP in the UK) they’re in were in total control of the resistance.
In that sense, you could say that what we have is a combination of a vibrant debate and a rapidly developing political consciousness combined with a power struggle being conducted by representatives of groups that have managed to keep a lid on left organising despite token numbers and few actual ideas. I can only hope the rank and file of these groups are beginning to realise that their ‘revolutionary vanguards’ are treading water here and haven’t got a clue what to do in this sort of situation. The difference between those ‘vanguards’ and the rest of us is that the rest of us are at least willing to admit that we’re just getting acclimatised. Self-appointed vanguards feel a need to pretend they know everything already, even when no one believes it.
As for my own thoughts about the approach to take, I think we’ve seen enough at this point, both in the current struggle within the US and going back over the entire history of fascism wherever it’s shown itself, to know that no antifascist strategy is complete without actually being willing to engage the fash in combat. Fascists are experts at using liberal tolerance against liberalism, and any space they’re not kicked out of is one where they will build strength until no one is able to occupy that space without their blessing.
We also can’t rely on the state, because the cops tend to sympathise more with fascists than with the left and those the fascists target. In the current situation in the US, the level of sympathy is particularly striking: the various police ‘unions’ overwhelmingly supported the campaign of Donald Trump and all it stands for. What’s more, the FBI’s counterintelligence section has issued an advisory (declassified with significant redactions) against FBI agents sharing any intelligence of any kind on the far right with local police departments because of the degree of far-right infiltration of the police. The advisory offered little in the way of detail, but FBI counterintelligence won’t be issuing that sort of blanket advisory unless the infiltration they’d uncovered was pervasive.
So what we’re facing is an armed, paramilitary movement of genocidal racists who have determined that it’s now or never. They’re never just protesting, no matter what their lawyers will tell the court. In their own internal discussion, they describe the current situation as a ‘war’, and not a metaphorical one. When people like that assemble in your town with their guns and truncheons and the blessing of the police, you don’t invite them to chat over tea and cakes. You make sure they have a long convalescence in which to regret their choice of venue.
RB: Not all our readers may know about the presence of armed fascists in Charlottesburg. Can you say a little about this and also about whether it could have been expected?
EH: It not only could have been expected, it was in fact expected by those who showed up to oppose them. White supremacists have been showing up armed to their own and other people’s protests for a few years now. The far-right ‘Oathkeeper’ paramilitary, one of the more professional white supremacist paramilitary forces in the US today, made a point of brandishing semiautomatic rifles at Black Lives Matter protests against racist killings by police. Since the current cycle of far-right mobilisations began, they and other paramilitaries routinely show up, heavily armed and in paramilitary uniforms, to provide security and intimidate the opposition. In the various fascist attempts to establish a presence in Berkeley, they’ve shown up with guns, knives, clubs, and other weapons. They also repeatedly attacked antifascists by driving cars directly at them. It bears noting that Charlottesville was not the first car attack by fascists in the US; it was the first successful car attack.
So some, if not all, of those who showed up to oppose the fascists in Charlottesville will have been expecting to face an armed racist mob. The level of violence displayed by the fascists, however, does seem to be significantly higher than in previous mobilisations of the past year. Where in other places, the violence has tended to be limited to a few punch-ups, the ‘Unite the Right’ mob in Charlottesville attempted to carry out a full-scale pogrom, brutally beating anyone in their path, especially people of colour. In addition to Heather Heyer, who was killed when a fascist drove his car into the counter-demo, Tyler Magill, a University of Virginia librarian and anti-racist organiser, was beaten so badly about the head and neck with a tiki torch that he spent several days in intensive care before dying of a stroke. This is why I’ve insisted on referring to the fascist mobilisation in Charlottesville as a pogrom, rather than as a mere ‘rally’.
Interesting note: The left video journalist collective Unicorn Riot managed to infiltrate the planning group for the Charlottesville pogrom on the chat platform Discord, and has released the text of the chat between the various organisers. One of the things discussed in advance of the day was the legality of attacking counterdemonstrators with cars. I’m not sure to what extent the antifascist contingent were made aware of the content of these discussions in advance of the day, but in any case, a substantial number of those who turned out to oppose the fash in Charlottesville were aware that they’d likely be facing an armed mob, even if the level of violence itself was surprising.
RB: Do you see any role at all for peaceful opposition? Canada, Boston and Barcelona all saw fascist rallies swamped by peaceful (apart from a few incidents) demonstrations in opposition.
EH: Certainly. This is an important question because there is this misconception I’ve seen in many places that militant antifascists – much like those republicans James Connolly once described as the ‘physical force men’ – think that the only tactic that should be applied is main force. There’s no one seriously advocating that force should be the only form that opposition to the far-right mobilisation should take, even though antifascists are frequently caricatured as believing this.
My view, and that of pretty much every militant antifascist I’ve ever read or discussed the matter with, is that we need all sorts of tactics deployed in order to deny fascists space in which to organise and to counteract them politically. The same people who acquaint fascists with the pavement one day will be protesting peacefully, organising their workplaces, helping out with Tropical Storm Harvey relief, or any number of other efforts the next.
The thing to remember about Boston was that everyone present had Charlottesville firmly in mind. The fascists there had seen the humiliating defeat they suffered (leading their leaders to whimper into the cameras about how scary it all is), and half of them ran away before their rally even got started. Those who remained were outnumbered by a factor of something like 100 to 1. In a situation like that, there’s not really much need to prove to fascists that they’re outclassed; only the utterly suicidal would try to start some shit under those circumstances, and your average fascist isn’t all that interested in becoming a hero of the cause.
There were, of course, militant antifascists present at the Boston rally, as there are at pretty much any antifascist event anywhere in the US. The fash were unharmed because no one saw any particular need to engage them directly.
This brings me to one of the things that have really impressed me about the antifascist mobilisation in the US. I have long been quite critical of the lack of any real tactical or strategic thinking on the left in the US and in Britain, where, for so long, the one-size-fits-all tactic has been the A-B march, and the only metric of success is how many people showed up. The tactical debate amongst militant antifascists has massively enriched – and to some extent, really started – the tactical debate on the left in the US.
If you look at sites like It’s Going Down, you can read reports from antifascist groups of their actions. They are almost invariably quite thoughtfully written, and tend to include a detailed analysis of what worked, and, even more importantly, what didn’t work and why. The tactical discourse amongst militant antifascists is one of the first times in recent history I’ve seen tactical decisions on the US left discussed openly and orientated around specified objectives, rather than simply saying – like many of those on the left who today are condemning direct resistance against fascism – ‘our march against the invasion of Iraq was a great success; pity the invasion still went forward’.
RB: Looking ahead, how do you see the fascists and the State responding to these setbacks for them? And what do you think the antifascist movement should be doing?
EH: The fascists seem to be fairly uncertain how to deal with the unexpected degree of resistance they’ve been facing. There’s been a fair bit of the usual internecine shit-slinging, and divisions have become more evident. We’ve seen one of the major white supremacist paramilitaries, the III% group, issue a stand-down order to their members telling them to cease providing security to neo-Nazi events. It’s too early to tell for certain what the rank-and-file reaction to that will be. Given that they were providing security for fascists in the first place, there was clearly a fair bit of support for doing so, so this might cause a split in the group. Indeed, a recent report of III% forces teaming up with neo-Nazis in Yellow Springs, Ohio, suggests that not everyone in the group intends to comply. Of course, the stand-down order might also be complied with, in which case the fash will have lost a significant portion of the firepower that makes facing them in the US more akin to a standoff with the UVF than the BNP.
It may also put pressure on the other major paramilitary group backing them, the Oathkeepers, to do the same. One thing that is definitely clear is that the fash are worried, and looking to adapt their tactics. One interesting bit of information that came out of the Unicorn Riot dump of the chat logs of the organisers of the ‘Unite the Right’ pogrom was the suggestion that people should wear ‘Make America Great Again’ caps in order to create the impression that antifascists were attacking common-and-garden Trump supporters rather than armed neo-Nazi cadres. That suggests an awareness that the only way to maintain any level of public sympathy with them is to ensure that a least some of their number appear to be ‘normies’, as they are called in fash parlance.
Meanwhile, it took only a fortnight after the Charlottesville pogrom for the media and the political class to go on the offensive against antifascism. The Washington Post published an article claiming that a ‘peaceful’ right-wing demonstrator was attacked by Antifa. What they left out was that this same ‘peaceful’ demonstrator can be seen on video pepper-spraying random people without provocation. In a particularly dishonest move, the WaPo selected an image of the altercation in which the fascist’s right hand, which held the pepper spray canister, could not be seen.
The Washington Post on 28th August doubled down on this by publishing an editorial by Marc Thiessen that explicitly states that antifascists are ‘the moral equivalent of neo-Nazis’, a view that not long ago could only have been published in a holocaust denial publication like the ‘journal’ of the Institute for Historical Review. Meanwhile, a possible direction state repression could take is exemplified by the suggestion by the Mayor of Berkeley, California, the site of a recent failed fascist rally and massive counter-protest that was brutally repressed by the police, that Antifa should be classified as a ‘gang’ under California’s draconian ‘gang’ laws.
Not unlike the standards for “proving” IRA membership prevailing in the 26-County Special Criminal Court, these laws allow pretty much anyone to be classified as a ‘gang member’ or a ‘gang associate’ based on the flimsiest of evidence. If you’re related to or friends with a ‘known gang member’, or are mentioned in a ‘gang document’ (i.e., a letter written by someone classified as a ‘gang member’) you automatically become a ‘gang associate’. You become a full ‘gang member’ based not on actually being a member of an actual gang, but on the number of boxes like this that are ticked.
Using this exponential guilt-by-association approach, prosecutors in California have issued injunctions against gangs that don’t even exist, making it an offence for communities to assemble and friends and family to stay in touch. This hasn’t happened yet, it’s important to note, but it’s certainly plausible. If the ‘gang’ and ‘terrorism’ laws are brought to bear against antifascists, it will be the hardest test the movement has faced thus far. Whilst any such designation would be open to legal challenge on the grounds that it seeks to outlaw political activity, I reckon the key will be to stand in solidarity with the communities already being attacked with these repressive laws.
If antifascists successfully avoid being subjected to these laws, and decide on that basis not to make common cause with those who are targeted with them, not only will that disconnect us from communities that are under attack by fascists and the state (whose target selection criteria are remarkably similar), but it would also mean that, if cosmetic amendments are made to the laws to make it easier to target antifascists, we would have denied our solidarity to those whose solidarity we may ultimately need.
I don’t see an easy answer to this one, and I’d probably be reluctant to be all that public about it even if I did in order to avoid the state catering for our response before we’ve even begun to prepare it. What’s clear is that a community defence movement based on direct action like the growing antifascist movement in the US will have powerful enemies. As for what antifascists should be doing going forward, I think the key will be not to rest on our laurels, keep improving our intelligence work, and build strong relationships with the communities under fascist attack (which are often also the communities antifascists are coming from). We should look at the current struggle against these relatively small and weak fascist groups as valuable experience for the much harder community defence work that also needs to be organised.
Also, we will need to do better at exposing what hides behind the euphemism ‘alt right’. One recent poll suggested that the overwhelming majority of respondents had no idea that the ‘alt right’ were a bunch of armed white supremacists and fascists. As such, educating the public on the views and activities of these groups will be essential.
Washington Post referred to (dated 28 Aug) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/28/black-clad-antifa-attack-right-wing-demonstrators-in-berkeley/
Translation by D. Breatnach of report by Nicolas Tomás in the on-line issue of El Nacional Cat.
Additional photos and videos on
(see also Gallery of photos by Sergi Alcazar)
(Translator’s note: These events were preceded by a number of apparently Muslim extremists driving a car into crowds in the Ramblas on Thursday, which left thirteen dead and 100 wounded, and also in Cambrils on Friday, killing one person and wounding six. A number of suspects were also killed by police).
A response quickly followed with the call for a counter-demonstration of community groups of Ciutat Vella (the old city) and anti-fascist organizations, under the slogan “no pasarán” (Translator: “They shall not pass!” — originally a famous slogan from the defence of Madrid during the anti-fascist resistance war of 1936-1939).
A very violent clash could have occurred, were it not for the relative proportions of those participating.
On the seaward side of the Boqueria plaza there were between two and three hundred antifascists, of all ages, national and ethnic backgrounds, who condemned the terrorism of Islamic State and the fascism of the extreme right. On the mountain side, no more than a score of people nostalgic for past fascist regimes and a boy of no more than twenty years arguing that under Franco one did not live so poorly.
With these proportions, very soon the fascists found themselves cornered by the antifascists, who limited themselves to shouting a number of slogans such as “Nazis no!”, “The streets will always be ours!”, “Let there be not even one!” or “Fascists get out of our neighborhoods!”
Among the Islamophobes and those nostalgic for previous fascist regimes, the most conciliatory of them said that the problem is that “The outsiders come, they place a bomb and do the savagery they did yesterday, because we fight among ourselves.” Others simply shouted “A Christian Spain and never Muslim!”, “No more mosques, please!” and “Spain forever!”.
Among the demonstrators were Manuel Canduela, leader of National Democracy and known face of the Spanish extreme right. Among the anti-fascist demonstrators, CUP elected members Mireia Boya and Mireia Vehí.
There were moments of tension and violence. For example, when a fascist attempted to assault a group of anti-fascists, the latter responded by throwing plastic bottles, lighters and even some eggs. The Mossos d’Esquadra (Translator note: Catalonia government police infamous for violence against Left and Catalan independist demonstrators) and the Urban Guard intervened to protect the right-wingers. The cops protecting fascists outnumbered the fascists they were protecting – by at least two to one.
Little by little, the handful of fascists left the place, escorted by the police, contemplating the failure of their call. In the end there was only one man left, around the age of forty, wearing a Spanish Army T-shirt, leather waistcoat, many tattoos and an aromatic small cigar (Trans: ? ”un aromatico purito”). “I am neither a Nazi nor racist: I am Spanish,” he argued.
A Muslim girl, in a bandana, opposed his arguments against “the Islamization of Europe”.
“I am against those who kill us,” he told her.
“As are we,” she replied.
(Translation to English by D.Breatnach from article by Daniel Ramirez in El Espanol on line on 14 May this year — link given at end of translation. Photos reproduced and article translation published by kind permission of El Espanol)
A hole in the ground, in the entrails of the city. Dry earth covered with mud. It had rained. The American girls and those dressed up run in search of a taxi when the Raimundo Fernández Villaverde street dies, just as they rise in the Nuevos Ministerios area. Noise from horns, ambulances, shouts. And in the middle of it all, the big hole.
It is surrounded by cranes and scrap metal. Also building workers and architects in yellow vests. In the centre, five or six metres deep, a door of cement and brick. It may not be interfered with. In the guts of the Artillery Workshop, recently demolished, the financial heart of Madrid has just discovered an air raid shelter, built in 1938. That’s the reason for the dug earth, the mud, the emptiness.
The demolition of this neomudéjar-style building to make room for a block of housing split the Madrid City Council of which Carmena is Mayor. Those who wanted to keep it lined up against the rest, but few knew what was hidden by the floor of the now defunct first concrete construction of the city, built in 1899 by the Ministry of War. It belonged to the state – in military use for decades – until 2014, when it was sold to a real estate cooperative for 111 million euros.
“It’s the first visit after its discovery”
Just beyond the open door, stairs. The cement benches that allayed the fear of death appear six metres down. Virgin earth for camera and notebook. “This is the first visit after its discovery,” says Isabel Baquedano, archaeologist of the General Directorate of Heritage of the Community of Madrid, which froze the work permit until the survival of the shelter had been ensured.
One last look at daylight. Baquedano brings to life the race to the basement. The hole in the earth was then an inner courtyard in the Artillery Workshop. On the floor, a door. Then another, like the one that we are now going through.
Hemingway said that, at the beginning of the war, the citizen would quickly see the enemy plane and the sirens would soon be screaming. Then they flew much higher and the deaths multiplied. A bomb was “that growing whistle, like a subway train that crashes against the cornice and bathes the room in plaster and broken glass.” The American, with lively irony, used to joke: “While you hear the glass tinkle as you fall you realize that, at last, you are back in Madrid.”
The stairs and walls are brick. “Like those of almost all shelters,” explains Baquedano. The archaeologist who acts as a guide for this visit outlines a universal, institutionalised architecture, fruit of necessity, constructed in a race against time. “The International Red Cross came to draw up a map of the air raid shelters in Madrid,” says Javier Rubio, a historian whose brother was hiding in Madrid at the time.
Small steps for the flashlight to illuminate. In 1938, a filthy, rusty cabling gave light to the whole refuge. There were also subterranean armchairs and red velvet, but this is not the case now.
The chroniclers wrote that seeing a drunk and desperate man who pushed and jumped over elderly people and children was not unusual. Here is a quick but military descent. It is believed that this basement only sheltered the military of the Artillery Workshop, when a few meters away, in the Glorieta de Cuatro Caminos, a hospital had a similar space.
The lightbulbs, intact, but empty. The shelter is a labyrinth of intersecting galleries. The photographer and Javier, one of the construction workers, leads the route with lanterns. The cement benches show some marks, made by the archaeological study commissioned by the Community, which confirmed the finding. They are almost at ground level. “Capacity is estimated for between 80 and 100 people,” says Baquedano.
In 1938, Madrid was the epic of a lost war. General Miaja, a Republican hero, defended the trenches exposed to gunfire. Gun in hand, he shouted for men who knew how to die. Strips of paper were stuck to shop windows to prevent the bombing’s vibration from shattering them.
“Everybody went scared to his hole. Life had fled streets and squares; not a light, nor a noise in the ghostly environment of the big city,” said journalist Manuel Chaves Nogales. “This little bourgeois liberal” – so he described himself – who predicted the birth of a dictatorship regardless of the colour of victory, saw in the bombings a sort of lottery in which Madridians participated unconcerned: “Insensate and heroic, Madrid learned to live with joyful resignation. “
Little is left of that daily fear in these difficult tunnels, sometimes too narrow, fresh, guardians of absolute silence, still oblivious of the shopping centres that have grown up around them.
Some spoke, others were silent. Close or open your eyes? Different ways of coping. The fearful Rafael Sánchez Mazas, in the words of those who dealt with him then, wrote a novel to the rhythm of the bombs. For evasion and for other reasons. Chapter by chapter, he read it to his Falange colleagues at the Chilean embassy, where Carlos Morla Lynch, the diplomat in charge, provided refuge for them.
In the famous photo, Sánchez Mazas in the middle, several refugees listen to that unfinished novel of the title Rosa Kruger. Here the benches, in a row, do not invite conversation. Only recollection, although it may be the lack of habit.
In line with what Chaves said, Agustín de Foxa, in his “De Corte a Checa”, reflected: “At five o’clock in the morning, the local people commented on the bombardment by eating churros and drinking glasses of anise.”
“To leave a trail, not to disappear at all”
At the doors of the shelter, or perhaps inside, in these benches unequivocal proof of the finding, the tears of farewells ran. “Like those insects that perform the nuptial flight before they die, the men who were being sent to the Sierra or those who awaited in agitation their execution were longing for female presence and love so as to leave a trail, so as not to disappear altogether.”
“Little is known of this shelter,” Baquedano continues on this path of short steps. Archaeologists found no traces beyond the benches. The soldiers who arrived after the war used the subway as a shooting gallery. That is the reason for the gouges that bullets have left in the brickwork.
Suddenly a noise. Loud, deafening. The conversation ends abruptly. The cameraman and the journalist look at Javier, who laughs. “Calm down, the cranes are moving the scrap and it will have fallen up above.” It is a noise to make one cower and which makes the legs tremble.
A cosmopolitan and naive noise, which has nothing to do with the thunder of the shell that haunted Arturo Barea. In his “Forging of a Rebel” he confessed to having nightmares about the impact. He imagined the mutilation of bodies, their rotting, the limbs torn off the sidewalk … When the sirens began to sound and the danger became true, Barea reported feeling “a deep relief”, a result of the return to reality, the only way out then from that spiral of madness.
“My mouth was filled with vomit”
“We would go down to the basement, sit there with other guests, all in pajamas or gowns, while the antiaircraft barked and the explosions shook the building, sometimes my mouth filled with vomit, but it was a comfort because everything was real, I was deeply asleep,” he wrote.
On leaving, the light, and a city that beats, has nothing to do with that Madrid that, in Foxa’s words, turned off the lanterns for fear of bombing, while the last trams passed on their routes with their tragic, blue-green painted lights.
At the fence, several curious people approach the hole. Office workers, clerks, consultants, lawyers … In 1938, Barea said, there were neighbors of distant neighborhoods who came to see up close what a bombing was. “They left happy and proud with pieces of shrapnel, still hot, as a souvenir.”
There were a few words and phrases with which I had difficulty since the apparent translation from dictionaries did not seem to make sense in the article and I converted them into what seemed to be the sense in the text and context.
The future of the archaelogical site by law requires protection from the owners of the site in which it is located. It may or may not be open to limited or full public access.
In the original article there was a lovely version of the Viva la Quinta Brigada song, about the 5th Brigade of the Republican forces (not Christy Moore’s wonderful song which, despite the original title is about the 15th International Brigade). I tried to embed it here but failed but you may find it on the original article link below.
Original article: http://www.elespanol.com/espana/20170513/215728433_0.html
The pamphlet was on sale for €5 a copy in the large function room of the historic Wynne’s Hotel where the well-attended launch was held. The pamphlet has articles by Richard McAleavey, Enda McGarry, Stewart Reddin, Brian Hanley, Aoife Frances, Sam McGrath, Fin Dwyer, and Goiuri Alberdi.
Enda McGarry was first to speak and in a clear voice, with only an occasional glance at his notes, began by giving the background to the Gernika bombing – the military rebellion against the elected government of the Popular Front and the military campaigns that followed. General Mola was in charge of the fascist forces’ “Northern Front” while battles were taking place elsewhere, including in the suburbs of Madrid.
McGarry outlined the waves of air attack on 26th April 1937, the dropping of incendiary bombs and the strafing of running men, women and children by fighter planes and gave details of some of the horror experienced in the town. The bombing was one of the first aerial bombings of civilian population centres and Gernika, of particular historic-cultural importance to Basques, was hit on a market day. It had no anti-aircraft defences, not surprisingly, since it contained no features of significant military interest.
Going on to describe the lies told by the fascist leaders, McGarry related how in turn the communists, anarchists and Basque nationalists had been blamed for burning the town. Subsequently, apologists had tried to excuse the action by claiming that the Renteria bridge had been the target, in order to cut off the Basque nationalists’ retreat or lines of reinforcement from the northern Basque Country (i.e within the French state).
The speaker pointed out that this line of argument is still being peddled by some, including a fairly recent historian. Demolishing this falsehood by analysing the planes that were used, Heinkels, a Dornier, Junkers 52 bombers, Italian SM 79s and Messershmidt 109, along with the bombs and armament, McGarry showed how this could not be consistent with a bombing run to destroy a bridge. At Burgos airfield sat a number of planes that would have been ideal for destroying the bridge – Stukas, the most advanced dive bomber in general production of the time. They did not use them because neither was the Bridge the target nor pin-point bombing required – what those planning the attack wished to do was to carpet-bomb the area with high-explosive and incendiaries, then machine-gun civilians fleeing the bombing.
Ultimately, the historian continued, of course Generals Franco, Mola and other fascist military leaders were responsible. However McGarry believed that the Spanish fascist leaders, needing to crush Basque resistance but keep the conservative Catholic Carlist troops (from Navarra) and other right-wing Basques on board, would have been unlikely to agree to the destruction of Gernika (a holy historic place to the Carlists as well as to the Basque Nationalists). Oberstleutnant Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen was the commanding officer of the Condor Legion, Nazi Germany’s “loan” of airforce to the Spanish fascist forces – he, along with others including commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, Herman Göring, wanted to use the Spanish conflict as a testing ground for warfare from the air and the tactic of terror-bombing a civilian population, which they later employed at Warsaw, Stalingrad and other cities.
The talk ended to strong applause and the chairperson of the meeting introduced Bernadette McAliskey, a long-time socialist and Irish Republican, campaigner for civil rights and in support of migrants.
The chairperson could also have alluded to her survival of an assassination attempt by Loyalist paramilitaries the “Ulster Freedom Fighters”, in which she was shot 14 times and her husband shot too, and that she had before that twice been elected a Member of the British Parliament. Of course McAliskey herself might have requested the omission of those details.
McAliskey began by praising the inclusiveness of the pamphlet, which has contributions from many different writers. She then moved on to expounding what kind of people are fascists, a term she believed too widely applied, and what kind of people fascism serves. In a rather long discourse, entirely without notes, the speaker went on to analyse what Republicanism is, rejecting a definition which said the basic unit of a Republic is the State, insisting instead along with Thomas Paine that the basic unit is the individual. Believing otherwise, she declared, makes one a nationalist rather than a Republican, á la Gerry Adams.
At times one could be forgiven for assuming that McAliskey thought she was addressing liberals, saying for example that “we don’t think enough about what goes on in other countries”, or “we don’t think about what is happening to certain groups”, such as migrants, Travellers – those considered “non-people”; or when she declared that she had no understanding of what was going on in Syria because neither her background nor experience could help her to understand it. McAliskey seemed unconscious that this is a line which was also commonly disseminated in Britain about the war in the Six Counties.
But then, McAliskey would switch without warning, as in her mischievous assertion that one should deal with liberals by throwing them in at the deep end: “they either learn to swim or they no longer give you any trouble.” Or when later, she pointed out that those in power never give up their weapons, and that one day we might present ourselves to our exploiters and insist that they step aside, as “there are more of us than there are of you”, to which they will reply: “Maybe so, but we have the weapons.”
When Bernadette McAliskey finished her talk, to sustained applause and cheers, the chairperson invited questions, of which there were three and a comment. The first question was whether McAliskey thought Gerry Adams was a psychopath, to which she discoursed on the question of insanity and on the number of lies that were told by politicians such as Gerry Adams. One of the big lies was that the IRA had forced the British to the negotiating table, which McAliskey emphatically denied was true, insisting that the reality was that the IRA went to the negotiating table because they could fight no longer, the rate of attrition was too great.
The next question, by a woman who announced that she had a USA background, in the context of her declaring that racism is about white supremacy, was about how to make the Irish aware of their role in this supremacy. Bernadette said it was an important question and that the process by which the oppressed can become the oppressors was one observed on a number of occasions in history.
This reporter thought that the questioner’s statement about the nature of racism being white supremacy might also have been questioned, a proposition disproved for example by the experience of the Armenians under the Turks, Jews and Slavs under Nazism, the Irish in Britain or at home under British rule, Irish Travellers in Irish society, etc.
The last question enquired what Bernadette would say to Basques, as some had said to the questioner, that the Irish were “lucky to have a peace process”, given that we were now approaching the second decade after the Good Friday Agreement. McAliskey replied that Ireland did not have a peace process but rather a pacification process, and that the ‘new dispensation’ divided up the Six Counties between political parties along sectarian lines, with cuts to services being imposed by those in power and substantial unemployment and unfair treatment of the “other minorities”: migrants, Travellers …. And that jails in the Six Counties today contain “about as many political prisoners as they did when the Good Friday Agreement was signed but the prisoners with less politics than had their fathers.”
1Neither term sitting well with probably most Catalans and Basques, who do not consider themselves Spanish, having a different cultural identity, most aspects of which were suppressed by the victors of the War, the General Franco dictatorship regime but had been suppressed by others before them too.
2Gernika’s historic importance to the Basques before the bombing was based on the fact that Basque nobles met there to discuss their administration of Basque lands and it was there that a Spanish King had stood, under the ancient Basque oak tree, Gernikako Arbola, the “Gernika Tree”, promising to respect their rights to rule within their territory.
Some people think that those few who do not want change are our rulers, the big capitalists — but they are mistaken. The capitalist class forced change to overthrow the feudal system, which was hampering their growth and the development of industry and commerce. And capitalists know that change is inevitable, so it is better to go with it than to try to stop it. That is why they set up courses such as those called “Change Management” — if change is inevitable, then manage it, the thinking goes. Manage it so that it comes out to capitalist advantage, naturally.
Change Management courses, particularly those dealing with personnel, emphasise managing change as smoothly as possible, making it non-traumatic. In that way, it is assumed, there will be less reaction against the change, less opposition.
But in fact, sometimes capitalism wants the exact opposite – it wants change to be as traumatic as possible. These are the situations described under the title “Shock Doctrine” by economic/ environmental activist and theorist Naomi Klein (2007). This has two mechanisms: in the first, the shocking change taking place disarms people from the psychological ability to organise resistance; in the second, the speed of the shock (or shocks) of the economic and political manoeuvres of the capitalists moves faster than the opposition can organise, achieving their goals before opposition can coordinate an effective resistance.
Klein has described how huge natural disasters such as earthquake (Haiti), tsunami (Thailand, Indonesia) and flood (New Orleans, USA) are used to force foreign or native private takeovers of sectors of the national economy while the people and the regime in power are reeling under the impact of the disaster.
Political and economic disasters are also used in this model, such as the military coup in Chile and the collapse of the USSR (in the case of Poland), the economic collapse in Bolivia, the invasion of Iraq, the financial collapse of the “Tiger economies” of SE Asia. Even a potentially beneficial change of great magnitude may be used, such as the collapse of white minority rule in South Africa, during which the black majority won formal equality and citizenship but lost control of most of the economy (and lost a lot more which I do not intend to discuss here).
There is in fact a military precursor to this which has been called, in the context of US military strategy, “Shock and Awe”. This doctrine was described by its authors, Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade (1996), as “attempting to impose this overwhelming level of Shock and Awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on … [to] seize control of the environment and paralyze or so overload an adversary’s perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy would be incapable of resistance at the tactical and strategic levels”.
Of course there were many elements of this in the Blitzkrieg of the Nazi German army in its invasions of other countries and even the medieval invasions by the Huns and of the Mongols. Cromwell employed elements of it in Ireland in his army’s massacres at Wexford and Drogheda.
Aside from needing change to overcome feudalism, managing change to its advantage and use of shock doctrine to facilitate changes it wants, the capitalist system itself promotes change as part of its system. Small capitalists combine and form conglomerates, in which big capitalists come to power and, in turn, eat up smaller capitalists in order to dominate their sphere of economic activity. We have seen the growth of supermarkets and the decline of small shops, the rise of chain stores killing independent clothes shops, chain cafes and eateries driving indpendent cafes and restaurants out of business.
Capitalists also promote inventions and discoveries so as to increase their wealth but also in order to stay in front of the competition – a capitalist concern that stays at its original level will be taken over or driven out of business by its competitors. Our grandparents hardly knew about the possibility of mobile phones and computers, let alone small hand-held audio-visual connections to the Internet; our children today play with visual electronic games, films and music before they learn to talk. To be sure, monopolies also suppress inventions but they can only do so to an extent as some capitalist somewhere will break the embargo or consensus (if the discovery can be used to make sufficient profits making the attempt worth the risk).
OK, but we want change too and, we think, what we want is not the capitalist kind of change we’ve been talking about until now, although innovations and discoveries should continue and in fact accelerate – but for the benefit of the people, not the capitalists. Technological advances and innovations that do not make big profits may nevertheless be very valuable to us for all kinds of reasons.
So, yes, we want change. But what kind of change? Change to what? Change how? There a vast panorama opens.
We want to eliminate homelessness; have an efficient universally affordable health service; not to have to struggle for a decent standard of living in food, housing and small luxuries; to enjoy universal and affordable access to education at all levels; not to harm the environment; to have the positive aspects of our cultural inheritance, including history, valued and promoted. We want equal rights and respect between people regardless of race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability … and freedom of choice.
In 1930s Germany, people wanted those things too, except that a lot of people were convinced that the contents of the last sentence above were harmful and not what they wanted. But there were many, many people who did want those contents too. The issue was in doubt for awhile.
In the 1928 elections the Nazi Party achieved just 12 seats (2.6% of the vote) in the Reichstag (German Parliament) and in three areas the Nazi Party failed to gain even 1% of the vote. In the Presidential elections of March 1929, the Nazi candidate Erich Ludendorff gained only 1.1% of votes cast, and was the only candidate to poll fewer than a million votes.
We know that elections are not everything – but still.
Five years later, the Nazis were in power — but even after the Communist Party was declared illegal their candidates polled a million votes.
The people definitely wanted change and the established ‘democratic’ parties were unable or unwilling to deliver it. The change the people ended up with was not probably what most had imagined and for some time it spelt disaster for Germany – and unbelievable suffering for large parts of the rest of the world … and also for millions of German citizens.
To look closer to home, people wanted change here too and from 1917 onwards they showed that electorally by voting for the newly-reorganised Sinn Féin party. From 1919 a significant section of the populace took to arms to pursue change and had the active or tacit support of a huge part of the population. But in 1921 the movement and the people split about what kind of change they wanted. A civil war followed with a heavy level of brutality against civilians and combatants, particularly by the State side, which won the contest — and we ended up with the State we now have.
It is well to be fairly clear about the change we want and what we do not want. There was no such general clarity in the ranks of those fighting for change from 1916 to 1921. It turned out that many who were fighting for change were fighting for different things.
Differences must have come up over the years of struggle and we know from some evidence that they did. We also must assume from the political nature of prominent people in the struggle that there were differences. Even within the IRB itself, only one of the organisations involved, there were differences that surfaced in attitude to the 1913 Lockout, the control of the Volunteers in 1914 and the Treaty of 1922.
Of course, we need maximum unity against the principal enemy. But that is unity in action only. If we put unity in thought, principles or political or social program first, as some organisations have and some others claim to do, we end up with small organisations unable to effectively counter the resistance of the ruling class to the change we want and, in the end, unable to overcome that resistance. On the other hand, if we sacrifice everything to unity against the enemy, we leave ourselves hostages to events in the future and to what kind of society will emerge from the struggle.
Somewhere between those two is where we need to be, preserving the freedom to discuss, explore and proclaim differences of opinion and social program, while avoiding unnecessary squabbles and maintaining unity in action. It is a difficult balance to strike but it needs to be done. In the midst of fighting the common enemy and striving for unity in action against it, we must fight for that freedom also inside the resistance movement, the freedom to discuss, explore and yes, also to criticise.
I missed the beginning of the conference and unfortunately the whole of Ciaran Crossey’s presentation, arriving near the start of Brian Hanley’s to a packed conference room.
Brian Hanley gave a comprehensive history of the main components of the development of fascism in Ireland in the 26 Counties until the collapse of its impetus at the end of the 1930s. Hanley’s talk built on his Pamphlet: Ireland’s shame: the Blueshirts, the Christian Front and the far right in Ireland, (Belfast, 2016) by adding a review of Ailtirí na hAiséirghe, the minor but energetic organisation formed in 1942 under the leadership of Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin, which aimed for an anti-semitic Catholic and corporatist state.
Hanley packed all that into 45 minutes with apparently occasional deviations from his notes, full of interesting observations. Locating the thrust towards fascism in the strongly Catholic and anti-communist atmosphere of the 1930s in Ireland (with elements of anti-semitism), it was surprising to hear excerpts from speeches and right-wing periodicals of the period referring to the Fianna Fáil Government as “communist” and “under orders from Moscow”. It was interesting too to hear brief accounts of pitched battles between fascists and Republicans around the country during the height of the Blueshirt era, how much of a social base and energy the latter gave to the Fine Gael party and to accounts of the Soldiers’ Song (the Irish National Anthem) being attended to with the fascist salute (which led to violence in one cinema at least). Another interesting if somewhat disappointing snippet was that the AT&G, a trade union with HQ in Britain, was the one that most prominently took a stand against Franco in the 1930s while many Irish union leaderships took the opposite side.
The Chair announced a short break immediately after Hanley’s contribution which sadly resulted in no questions on Hanley’s contribution when the conference reconvened with perhaps 80% of the earlier attendance.
The post-break session began with a talk by Mark Hayes, well-known in Britain in particular as a veteran anti-fascist activist and organiser.
Hayes began by seeking to establish a description of fascism and then went on to dissect and disprove a number of reasons given by commentators for its incidence – religion, psychology of the masses of certain countries, psychology of fascist leaders, the middle class — but concluded that fascism occurs when the ruling class of a country is ready to implement it and able to do so. During the 1930s and ’40s, the ruling classes of a number of European countries opted for fascism while others did not. Britain for example had leaders who admired fascism, including Churchill (and Hayes quoted some of the latter’s public statements) but could not tolerate a Europe under the control of one country, which explained, Hayes said, why Britain went to war with Hitler and Mussolini.
Some individuals apart, the profile of fascists and supporters was “depressingly normal”, Hayes maintained which demonstrates that a successful rise of fascism is potentially possible anywhere. There is no firewall between capitalist democracies and fascism and commentators who maintain that “it couldn’t happen here” or that its time has run out, as one prominent commentator claims, are sadly mistaken.
The growth of fascism is assisted by the capitalist State with increasing attacks on civil freedoms and on the rights of workers. Hayes saw this as being particularly initiated in Britain under the Prime Ministership of Margaret Thatcher and her Government, with attacks on the legal rights of trade unions and the use of massed ranks of police. He drew attention to the “prevent” strategy in Britain today as a state-introduced oppressive and repressive measure.
At the end of Hayes’ presentation the Chairperson Helen Keane opened up the floor to questions.
There were four contributions from the floor, only one of which was a question: it was about the content of the Prevent Strategy which Hayes’ had mentioned earlier. Hayes replied that managers of colleges in “the UK” now have a legal obligation to identify and report to the authorities anyone exhibiting “extremism” which is turning them into part of the police force, which was an aspect of fascist rule in society. “Extremism” is problematically identified as being in opposition to “British values” which are formulated as “moderation, fair play”, etc but those alleged values completely ignore the history of Britain’s colonial conquest and imperialism.
A contributor addressed the liberal dismay at the election of Trump, criticised the alleged feminist politics of Hilary Clinton with regard to the USA’s war policies and their effects on women elsewhere in the world; finally he expressed his belief in the necessity to stand by Russia and Syria.
Another contribution framed as a question but in reality more of a comment was made in relation to the history of the growth of state fascism in Britain, which the contributor ascribed to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, introduced by a Labour Government a year before Thatcher’s Conservative Party gained a majority. That year, 1974 was also the year of the killing by police of the first known anti-fascist martyr in modern times in Britain, Kevin Gately in Red Lion Square in London.
The contributor went on to express the view that although AFA had made a huge and the principal contribution to the defeat of modern fascism in Britain, the policy of “No Free Speech for Fascists” had been put forward by the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) in the very early 1970s1 before the formation of AFA2, a policy which no other political party on the Left would support at the time. That policy had been popularised through the action of the Afro-Asian Student Society, which had close links with the CPE (m-l) and which was influential in bringing about the “no platform for fascists” policy in the National Union of Students in Britain in 1974.
Hayes agreed that of course there had been earlier organisations and also stated that the actions of the Labour Government in Ireland had been fascist but felt that in Britain, Thatcher had brought about the definitive introduction of State fascism and that “in 30 minutes it’s not possible to cover every detail.”
The issue of the attitude towards “our only native ethnic minority”, the Irish Travellers, was raised by another contributor, attacking the endemic wrongs in the treatment of this group within the country and defending their need to be recognised as an ethnic minority.
The event ended with a reading by Máirín Ní Fháinnín of the translation into English of a short poem by Flor Cernuda, who after a period of post-war imprisonment in a concentration camp, worked for many years for the underground resistance against Franco’s regime. The poem’s title is Las Brigadas Internacionales.
The conference was full of interesting information and the speakers I heard were of good quality in presentation, in knowledge of history and in analysis. There was undoubtedly a lack of discussion, which was a pity. In addition I was surprised that the Dublin anti-fascists’ victory in denying Pegida their Irish launch was not mentioned – small-scale though the battle was, Dublin was as far as I’m aware the only city in a European state which Pegida had targeted to launch their party and had failed to do so, being driven out of the city centre by vigorous action.
11971 or ’72