A Catalan solidarity demonstration of thousands in Madrid, in the big central square called Puerta Del Sol, shouted for “freedom for the political prisoners” and declared that Catalonia’s struggle was theirs too. A small crowd of Vox and smaller fascist groups tried to disrupt the rally but were repelled and the crowd turned towards them chanting: “Here are the antifascists!” (daring the fascists to come forward). Later, Spanish police charged the solidarity demonstrators and some running battles took place in the city’s streets.
There are two Spains – one of them is the Spain of an imperial and racist history, of expulsions, of plunder of colonies, of repression at home and abroad, the Inquisition, military-fascist uprising against an elected government, mass executions, rape and plunder, four decades of fascist dictatorship, followed by another four of a fake transition to democracy. That is the Spain that is in power now.
The other Spain is the one of popular resistance to exploitation of the Comuneros, the anti-feudal writing of Cervantes, the struggle against the military-fascist uprising supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the mounting resistance to the Dictatorship that forced the ruling class to change their style of management, on the face of it ….. That Spain had largely been beaten, jailed or shot in to silence, crushed by treason and division and hopelessness. But there were always embers, embers that burst into little flames from time to time, not only in the nations of the Basque Country, where a fire burned for two decades, or in Catalonia, or Galicia …. but also in places like Asturias in the north, Andalucia in the south and in Madrid itself, in the centre.
The struggle of Catalonia for independence and against fascist police and judicial repression, is waking that other Spain and calling her to the fight. Waking her latent anti-fascists, her democrats; waking those who are unemployed, in precarious jobs, fighting to hold on to their homes or being evicted; waking its youth who want a better future.
It is the opposite of what was wanted by the Falangists, Vox, Ciudadanos, the Partido Popular, the Monarchy – all of them heirs of the fascist dictator Franco – and the PSOE, which climbed aboard with them. These have railed against the Catalan independence movement in order to distract the people from their real problems and real enemies. In Andalucia, Vox and Ciudadanos joined forces to oust the corrupt PSOE government and to progress towards a fascist regional government. In Extremadura they moved towards the same objectives but fell out among themselves.
But recently both those regions have seen courageous people take to the streets, proudly declaring solidarity with Catalunya. And Madrid on Wednesday saw another part of that awakening. A Catalan solidarity demonstration of thousands in Madrid, in the big central square called Puerta Del Sol, shouted for “freedom for the political prisoners” and declared that Catalonia’s struggle was theirs too. And chanted that “Monarchy is filth!”
“The Spanish Government – and also other spokespersons of the parliamentary ambit – is calling for respect for the judgement (ie againts the Catalan activists – Trans.). The judgement is not respectable, neither in its genesis nor in its conclusions and therefore cannot be respected,” declared the conveners of the solidarity protest.
“That is why this evening we are holding this assembly for freedoms, for democracy and against repression,” declared one of the speakers at the event. “And for that reason we salute and send all our internationalist solidarity to all the people who these days are coming out in various parts of Catalonia, especially to those who have suffered repression, with blows, arrests or in addition once again, a person has lost an eye through the brutal and illegal use of rubber bullets.”
A young woman spoke “on behalf of the youth of Spain to the youth of Catalunya”, saying that their struggle was waking up that of the Spanish, against unemployment, precarious employment, against fascism and the Monarchy.
She said that the democratic parties and trade unions needed to decide whether they were on their side in that struggle or on the others. The young woman read out a long list of organisations supporting the Madrid demonstration and ended with the call, in which all joined in: “Catalunya, listen: Your struggle is our struggle!”
SOURCE (report on the Madrid demonstration and video):
Catalans have been preparing for a one-day general strike since Monday’s announcement of the Spanish National Court sentences against the nine Catalan independence activists, who between them received almost 100 years in jail. Today’s will be the fourth Catalan general strike since the Spanish police attacks on Catalans in October 2017. This strike, according to its main trade union organiser, is not only against repression but also demanding social, economic, political and legal reforms and promises to have massive participation. The trade union organising it is a relatively new one, Intersindical CSC, a class union, which has been growing rapidly.
TSUNAMI OF PROTESTS
On Monday the Spanish National Court announced the sentences on seven Catalan politicians and two leaders of grassroots organisations on charges of ‘sedition’ and ‘misuse’ of public funds. The ‘sedition’ charges relate to demanding Catalan independence from the Spanish State and the financial ‘misuse’ charge to allegedly funding the Referendum from Catalan Government funds. They were also charged with ‘rebellion’ but since that had already been ruled out of order in test extradition cases for Catalans in exile, the Court had no realistic choice other than to clear them of that charge. The Spanish State is now proceeding with extradition warrants against other Catalan activists known to be in exile in Europe.
In addition, two senior members of the Catalan police force are on trial, 700 town mayors are to be investigated for their role in the Referendum, along with schoolteachers for discussing with their pupils police damage to their school buildings (used as polling stations). Recently seven alleged activists of the Committees for the Defence of the Republic were arrested on “terrorism” charges and two remain incommunicado, long after the usual five days permitted in Spanish State legislation. And others have been arrested in protests against Spanish State repression.
The self-styled “Tsunami” of protests began immediately the sentences were made public. Thousands walked, drove or rode bicycles to the El Prat Airport for Barcelona and effectively closed it down until they lifted the blockade at 10pm. Many others took to the streets of their cities to protest, particularly in front of institutions of the Spanish State, which had mobilised nearly 1,000 police in preparation against them. These were reinforced by the Catalan police, the Mossos D’Escuadra, who were seen as relatively benign during the Referendum and immediately afterwards but are now reverting to their past image — some years ago nearly a dozen of Catalan protesters lost eyes from rubber bullet impacts at close range, which led to a successful popular Catalan campaign to have them banned – but that ban does not apply to Spanish police. Already one young man lost an eye on Monday night while another appears to have lost one testicle and 150 were treated by paramedics. The toll grows and includes two youth run down by police vehicles and more arrests. These figures are certain to grow in the days ahead.
Thousands are also walking along motorways to other towns in a protest procession, horns of cars, lorries and buses being sounded in solidarity, while different protests gather every night.
PARALYSIS OF POLITICIANS
This huge popular wave of resistance contrasts with the seeming paralysis of the pro-independence politicians, who are in three different political coalition parties: Junts X Cat (Together for Catalonia), Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left) and Candidatura de Unidad Popular (People’s Unity Candidacy). The three together form a narrow enough majority in the Catalan regional Parlament against the Spanish unionist delegates of the PP, Ciudadanos and the PSOE, as well as the ‘neutral’ “Communs”, a coalition around the Podemos party. Although the CUP delegates will defend any pro-independence motions etc in the Parlament, they are officially in opposition. JuntsXCat and ERC run the Government together on a slim majority but they disagreed on a number of important issues, including whether to give the minority Spanish PSOE Government qualified support without any concessions from the latter and also, about their resistance campaign being directed by ex-Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, in exile in Brussels, and the group he has collected there.
But their paralysis is more fundamental: despite the activity of some of them in popular movements before they became politicians, their focus has been on electoral strategies and campaigning, preparing legislation for the Parlament and running the Government. For a number of years now the power of the street has been growing and it is clearly in the ascendant now – and that is not where the politicians feel most comfortable. Not only that — but where else now has the Spanish State left any cards to play?
THE TRADE UNIONS
The main trade unions in the Spanish State are the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) and the Commisiones Obreras (CCOO). After Franco’s death, their legalisation and incorporation into the system was felt essential for the smooth operation of the ‘Transition” and for that reason, the major political party of each was legalised too – the social democratic PSOE and the Communist Party of Spain – so that they could control their unions. They did and they have, despite a history of republicanism and antifascism, and in 1978 ensured votes in favour of a the new monarchical and unionist Constitution while their members and others were being clubbed and shot – or blown up — in the street.
The big SEAT factory in Catalonia has majority representation in the CCOO and UGT trade unions and neither union officially supported the previous recent general strikes. However, there was leeway for ‘allowing’ an early leaving of work to attend strike day demonstrations and UGT has already this week officially condemned the Spanish State repression. How they will react later today remains to be seen.
Intersindical CSC is a ‘class union’ (i.e does not recruit personnel from the repressive arms of the State nor from management) and is in favour of the right to self-determination. Its history is recent but it organised the previous general strikes in conjunction with grass-roots independentist organisations (like the ANC and Omnium) and will do so again. The growth of Intersindical is a a source of worry for the UGT and CCOO in Catalonia.
Later today we can expect blockades of all major motorways and train lines passing through Catalonia, general closures of business, services and public transport of Catalonia’s cities and massive demonstrations in cities, not just Barcelona. What will happen at the docks, airport and the SEAT plant remains to be seen. There will almost certainly be confrontations between strike supporters and the police, both Spanish and Catalan. Whether that will escalate further cannot be forecast but is very possible.
Meanwhile, outside of Catalonia in the Spanish State, both Madrid and the Basque Country hosted massive shows of solidarity on the streets while other cities, for example Caceres in Extremadura and Granada in Andalucia (the two poorest regions of the Spanish state), have seen demonstrations on the streets in solidarity with Catalonia and against the repression of the Spanish State.
GENERAL STRIKES — COMMENT
General strikes, if successful in mobilisation, show the collective strength of the organised workers, ideally in conjunction with their communities (families, relatives, friends, local shops, churches, sport clubs etc).
While that is extremely important in the longer run, they are not always successful in the shorter run or, to be more precise, they often fail to achieve their stated objectives. The stated objectives of this strike cannot be achieved in the short run since they confront not only a capitalist but a neoliberal Spanish ruling class and, furthermore, one in which the majority are undefeated descendants of a fascist-military uprising, civil war and four decades of dictatorship.
The overcoming of these obstacles requires, arguably, a social and political revolution and Catalonia is not at that point yet. But it may be in time, especially if the Spanish State continues to pursue its path of repression (and it is sure to do so). One-day general strikes sometimes grow into longer and sometimes even indefinite ones. Such situations are almost pre-revolutionary situations, with workers’ committees having to organise vast forces and control, manage and defend large areas.
For a Catalonia to be successful in revolution or in secession from the Spanish State alone would require that the State faces challenges on a number of fronts, including internally, that severely restricts its ability to send sufficient repressive forces to Catalonia. Such an outcome would depend completely on mobilisations in other parts of the Spanish state, which is why Spanish State, media and fascist parties’ are practically racist in their hysterical condemnation of Catalan independentism and culture, trying to whip up anti-Catalan feeling to distract from the woeful economic, social and political mess to which most of the Spanish regions have been driven.
GENERAL STRIKE MANIFESTO OCTOBER 18, 2019 (English language translation)
For rights and freedoms, general strike!
A new Spanish government and a new disappointment. Whether led by the PP or the PSOE, the
social gains never reach the workers. Neoliberal austerity policies persist whoever resides in the Moncloa (Spanish Government), while authoritarian repression against the common classes and, especially, against the Catalan people become the tools to curb any struggle for better living conditions and justice for the majority. As in popular times, state “socialism” now also wraps itself in the Spanish flag and patriotism to cover the miseries of a ’78 regime which strangled the bulk of the population and which is showing more and more cracks.
During election campaign times, certain parties declare limited progressive proposals, which, if they are elected to govern, will be stored again in a drawer to be sold again to the designs of an Ibex 35 (Spanish Stock Market benchmark) that does not tolerate any kind of agreement with forces that question minimally the foundations of the Spanish monarchy: the unalterable privileges of the elites and an indissoluble and centralist state model. Therefore, despite all the changes that the PSOE promised before grasping power, they faded to pass again from opposition to status quo, in another turn of the eternal Spanish political carousel so that nothing changes.
Minimum measures such as derogations from the PP’s labor reform or of the gag law, the withdrawal of vetoes against the social laws of Parliament, the already agreed reception of refugees, the imposition of rent ceilings, the setting up of a tax on banks, the renewal of the regional financing model or the publication of the list of evaders that were covered by the Montoro tax amnesty, all of those became elusive despite previously having been defended vehemently by Pedro Sánchez.
The Catalan working classes know that rights and freedoms are not only begged through voting. We learned that a century ago, after the “Canadian strike” allowed us to achieve the greatest of the victories of that era, the 8-hour working day and retirement at age 65 (The 44-day strike 1919 originating at the principal electricity company in Barcelona, Riesgos y Fuerzas del Ebro, popularly known as La Canadenca because its major shareholder was the Canadian Commercial Bank of Toronto). But not only then – history has stubbornly shown that social advances have only been achieved through struggle. Peaceful, massive and nonviolent, with the general strike as one of the clearest tools of the workers.
And on October 18 we have a new date, a new call for a general strike that should be massive to make it clear that we will not remain unresponsive to the continuing attacks upon us. The disappointment of Sánchez’s brief mandate at the head of the Government, unable to repeal the most damaging measures of Mariano Rajoy’s period, should receive a blunt response in the street, the popular masses need to empower themselves and to declare that they will not allow themselves to be stepped on again, despite the growing criminalization of protest and growing repression against anyone who dares to raise their voice.
Intersindical CSC is clear that the Catalan Republic is an essential tool to overthrow the regime of ’78 and to move towards a horizon of well-being, equality and social justice but even with this horizon always present, the struggle for rights and freedoms of the popular classes cannot cease before any institution. We will remain on our feet, once again on this October 18, to demand all rights and freedoms:
– For a minimum Catalan salary and pensions of at least 1,200 euros to be increased depending on the Catalan Consumer Price Index.
– For the repeal of the labor reforms of 2010 and 2012 and the recovery of all lost labor rights.
– For a Labor Inspection with adequate resources to deal effectively with rights violations.
– For the end of labor inequalities and the wage gap suffered by women, starting with the recovery of the annulled articles of the equality law and which referred to the world of work.
– For a Social Rescue Plan that guarantees free and universal public services, food and housing for the entire population, the comprehensive application of a guaranteed income for the citizenship and a plan for the internalising of public services which are now outsourced.
– For the application of a climate emergency agreement that reduces to zero as quickly as possible the net emissions of greenhouse gases, starting with the reinstatement of the law against climate change which was partially annulled by the Constitutional Court.
– For the approval of the scheduling of payment, unanimously agreed by Parliament, and the setting of a maximum rent level.
– For the reception of refugees, the closure of the Refugee Secure Centres and the repeal of the immigration law, to make Catalonia a truly host country and without second-class citizenship.
– For the recovery of all social laws and taxes approved by Parliament and nullified or suspended by the Spanish courts.
The sight of more than a score of people standing in the rain at the top of Dublin’s Grafton Street drew a lot of attention. And it wasn’t just the dog masks that most of them were wearing. This wasn’t near enough to Hallowe’en, nor was it a carnivale, nor a masque as such: the message projected had nothing of the freedom and joy of carnivale, none of the sexual play and mystery of masque and was darker than the usual one of Hallowe’en. The grim message was on the banners, in the leaflets, in the slogans and the amplified speech.
“You bet – they die” was one of the slogans chanted, illustrating the grim reality of commercial greyhound racing. This slogan was developed for protests outside greyhound racing stadia, notably at Shelbourne Park, near the south Dublin docklands (and, incidentally, not far from the Aviva Rugby Stadium).
The reactions of passers-by seemed to vary between amusement, interest, support, surprise and even shock. People who tend to view animal welfareprotesters as cranks who are likely to be middle-class might be somewhat amused or dismissive and it is no doubt to counter this perceived image that the group organising this event is called “Ordinary People Against Greyhound Exploitation”. The support likely came from those who had watched the RTÉ documentary in June, while other reactions might have been from Irish people as yet unaware of the treatment of greyhounds by the industry or by visitors to Ireland who are not only ignorant of the issues but even of the existence of the industry itself.
One onlooker seemed to be demonstrating to his companion the pole lassoo dragging of a dog and then shooting it with a pistol, probably recounting a secretly-filmed incident featured in the RTÉ film. Popular opposition to the greyhound racing industry has been gathering since the screening of the exposure program by the “RTÉ Investigates” team of the Irish television company in the last week of June. The revelations were a shock to people who understood the dogs racing to be a harmless spectator sport with not even a live hare being pursued, a relatively cheap night out (providing the betting was not too heavy) or gambling based on a mixture of luck and previous form knowledge, or even just the communal sport of a few rural people who owned a few hunting dogs.
The industry breeds many dogs in order to ensure a constant supply of fast-running animals and flow of profits and, as a result, bitches are put to breed litter after litter. Pups showing any disabilities will be “culled” and, as the survivors grow, those not considered fast enough will face the same fate. Later, as age begins to take its toll, they will be killed also except for some that might get a few more years as stud or breeder. Campaigners claim that over 6,000 dogs are killed annually and some animal welfare organisations believe the figure may be as high as 10,000. It is the commercial drive that brings these results and the support of the betting public that sustains it – but not that alone, since the Irish State supports the industry with an annual grant of 16.8 million euro. This fact was also highlighted by campaigners in voice and leaflet, while pointing out other better uses for the funding, including relieving the homeless and housing crisis.
Few countries outside of Ireland an Britain have greyhound racing stadia but campaigners claim – and the RTÉ program revealed – that many Irish dogs are sent abroad in inhumane conditions, some at least of which will end up for human consumption.
The campaigners call for the greyhound racing stadia to be closed and, in Dublin particular, the Shelbourne Park stadium, outside of which are held regular demonstrations. They call also for sponsorship by commercial enterprises to cease, a call heeded by a number of companies fearful of a negative commercial impact upon their reputations. This drive was clearly successful when, audibly fearful of a negative impact on the tourism industry, Irish Minister for Tourism Shane Ross called for a suspension of State support in advertising which was followed by Bord Fáilte and Tourism Ireland’s1 removal of greyhound racing from their promotions for visitors to Ireland.
Tourism and Greyhound Racing
The tourist industry is of course vulnerable to the image of the country abroad, which is why campaigners for democratic rights often strive to alter precisely that image, in order to exert pressure on the ruling regimes. Tourists, as they concentrate on sun, sea and possibly Turkish or Iberian food, may be able to set aside images of Spanish police bashing Catalan voters or Turkish police jailing Kurdish campaigners. Ireland has little sun to sell and though plenty of sea, without the sun it can be too cold for most to bathe. What Ireland has for most tourists is an ambience of welcome, of traditional and folk culture and scenery – but the ill-treatment and slaughter of dogs in an Irish industry could quite possibly offset those positive points.
Ross might indeed have been, as he said he was, “shocked” by the revelations but it was clearly the financial rather than principled humanitarian objectives which forced his hand. Martin Ferris, Sinn Féin TD for Kerry, wasn’t motivated by humanitarian principles either when he confronted Ross in the Dáil (see Links below). Although his SF Dáil position is as Spokesperson for Marine and Fisheries, in his intervention he was clearly representing rural support for greyhound racing including, no doubt, commercial dog breeding and racing interests. He claimed the industry was being tarred with the brush of “the actions of a few individuals” and that he was speaking up for “the small boys and girls” (well done for getting that gender equality in, Ferris!) of the rural industry.
“A few individuals” may have been caught red-handed and exposed but the issues are clearly endemic to the industry, the governing board of which suppressed a critical report which it had itself commissioned. Ferris’ public support for that industry and criticism of the Minister’s actions in this case may win him some votes in some parts of Kerry but will hardly be a help to Sinn Féin, increasingly seeking to project itself in the Irish state as a social-democratic party leaning slightly to the Left.
And the employment figures which Ferris quoted arising from the greyhound racing industry might well be offset by possible negative impact on the Kerry tourism economy.
The dogs in the streets will be talking about what he said ….
1Bord Fáilte promotes tourism in throughout the Irish state, i.e the Twenty-Six Counties, while Tourism Ireland promotes the same but throughout “the island of Ireland”, i.e including the Six Counties. Tourism NI cooperates with the latter organisation, particularly with regard to tourism in the Six Counties and maintains an information office in Dublin city centre. The first two above are in receipt of funding from the Irish State while the third is funded by the British State.
SPEAKERS WARN OF RISING FASCISM, CALL FOR UNITY OF ANTI-FASCISTS
Flags of various kinds flew above a gathering in Monagear, Co. Wexford on Saturday 7th September, while a number of banners were visible among the crowd: Peter Daly Society, Connolly Association Manchester, Wexford Community Action, Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland, Friends of International Brigades Ireland, Éirigí, Connolly Column. Also in attendance was a group of young men and women dressed to represent the International Brigaders and the POUM1 milita, organised by the Cavan Volunteers group. The event had been organised by the Peter Daly Society with support from the Peadar O’Donnell Forum.
Monagear is a small village in the centre of Co. Wexford, a few kilometres north-east of Wexford town. Also known a Monageer, both words are, like most place-names in Ireland, from the original Irish language: Móin na gCaor, “the bogland of the berries” (probably of the Rowan or Mountain Ash, which in Irish is Crann Caorthainn). Not far from it are the historic place-names associated with the United Irishmen uprising of 17982 in that county, such as Boolavogue and Enniscorthy and indeed, a small commemoration garden in the village has memorial stones dedicated to that struggle and to others since.
At a signal, the gathering of people with flags and banners, led by a colour party flying the Irish Tricolour, the flag of the 2nd Spanish Republic, a red starry flag and the Irish workers’ Starry Plough, moved in procession down into the village area and assembled outside the raised platform containing the tasteful simple memorial to Peter Daly, International Brigader killed in the War Against Fascism in the territory of Spain (1936-1939).
Steve McCann, Chairman of the Peter Daly Society, with another man beside him, opened the ceremony from the memorial platform by briefly outlining the history of the Peter Daly commemorations and of the Society (founded in 2011) which he said had from the beginning welcomed the involvement and participation of Irish Republicans, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists and plain anti-fascists. After outlining the program of speeches and songs for the day, he called Gearóid Ó Machaill to give the first speech, on behalf of the Friends of the International Brigades, Ireland.
“THE IRISH ARE NOT IMMUNE TO FASCISM”
Ó Machaill opened his speech in Ulster Irish, thanking the organisers for giving him the opportunity to speak there at the cradle of Peter Daly, Irish Republican, socialist, anti-fascist. Continuing, he said that the conditions that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s are very similar to those of today. Speaking of the Republican Congress of 1936-1938, he said it had worked to overcome divisions in the working class and in the anti-imperialist movement. But it had fallen apart in disunity, unfortunately and in Ireland today, the anti-fascist forces are as divided too.
The Irish were not immune to fascism and had a strong fascist movement in the 1930s, supported for awhile by the State, X said. In the years since the defeat of fascism around most of the world, attempts to set up a fascist movement in Ireland had been smashed, said Ó Machaill but cautioned against complacency.
In some other parts of the world, workers betrayed by social democracy and hurt by capitalism, turned to hard right parties and outright fascists and it was entirely possible that such fascists would become popular while leading a campaign against bankers and even imperialism, pushing a line of “Irish for the Irish”.
“We cannot afford the divisions and need to unite ….. as Republicans and Socialists did in preventing the attempted launch of Pegida in 2016,|” said the speaker.
Steve McCann introduced the man beside him as Diarmuid Breatnach and called him to sing the first song of the selection for the ceremony and to say a few words about its content. Breatnach pointed out that migrants are often a prime target of fascists and the song he was to sing was about migrants and their treatment. On 28th January 1948,a DC-9 transporting Latino illegal migrants and “guest workers” crashed in the Los Diablos region of California and all 32 on board were killed. The radio news reported the crash but only gave the names of the crew members and the Immigration Department guard, saying the others killed were “deportees”. The names of the dead were known in their localities and were printed in local newspapers but were not deemed worthy of mention on the radio.
Wood Guthrie wrote a poem called “Deportee” about the tragedy which was put to music by Martin Hoffman, the song since called Deportees or Plane Wreck at Los Gatos. Breatnach then sang the song, the chorus of which says:
Goodbye to my friends,Farewell RosalitaAdios mis amigos, Jesús y Maria;You won't have a name When you ride the big airplane --All they will call you Will be “deportees”.
LESSON OF HISTORY – NOT LIBERALISM BUT ROBUST ACTION IS NEEDED
Mags Glennon was called to read a statement on behalf of Anti-Fascist Action. Moving on from the background to the fascist upsurge of the 1930s and the background of those who fought to defeat it, Glennon read: “Far-right parties have risen from minor subculture to government across Europe in recent years, showing the glaring need for principled and active opposition to fascist and far right forces. The most concerning aspect of this political resurgence is the support it has received from young people and large sections of the traditional working class, due to the abandonment of these people by social democrats, and other parties who claimed to ‘represent’ them. Well meaning liberalism has never defeated fascism. It never will.”
Reading from the statement, Glennon called for a “re-energising” of the struggle to defeat those “aiming to distract our communities and young people from fighting their real enemy. Where there are fascists we must oppose them.”
Glennon concluded by reading: “Appeals to the police, to parliament or to Google to censor fascists have no place in anti-fascist struggle. History has shown that robust action against fascists in Ireland has always sent them running back to the gutters to think again. Long may it continue. La lucha continua!”
“MUST ORGANISE IN WORKING-CLASS COMMUNITIES”
The MC, Steve McCann, introduced the anti-fascist and community activist as well as Independent Dublin City Councillor, Ciaran Perry. Speaking without notes, Perry outlined the historical necessity of defeating fascism politically and physically.
Echoing a previous speaker’s comments, Perry too called for unity of the antifascist forces against fascism but also against capitalism and imperialism. He said that working-class communities, betrayed by social democracy and distracted by identity politics, had become prey to the propaganda of fascists.
Fascism is a facet of capitalism”, Perry said “and therefore the enemy of the working class. The working class should be our natural constituency.”
Going on to suggest that if fascists build bases in working class communities it is because of the failure of the Left, he called on socialists and antifascists go into those communities and to build their bases there.
ESCAPE FROM DACHAU AND DEATH IN SPAIN
Breatnach stepped forward to sing a combination of two songs from the German side of the anti-fascist struggle. The German political prisoners in the concentration camps were forbidden to sing socialist songs and had written their own, one of which became famous around the world was The Peat Bog Soldiers, lyrics written by Johann Esser, a miner and Wolfgang Langhoff, an actor and melody composed by Rudi Guguel.
“Hans Beimler (1895-1936) was a WWI veteran, a Communist, a Deputy elected to the Reichstag in 1932,” said Breatnach. “In January 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany. The Communist Party was banned and in April 1933 Beimler was arrested and sent to Dachau extermination camp where, in May, he strangled his SA guard and, putting on the man’s uniform, escaped. He went to Spain where he was a Commissar with the International Brigades and was killed in the Battle of Madrid on 1st December 1936.”
He would sing two verses of the Peat Bog Soldiers, Breatnach explained, combined with the Hans Beimler song.
“THE NORM WAS FOR ALL CAPTURED INTERNATIONAL BRIGADERS TO BE EXECUTED”
The sun sinking towards the west shone over the heads of the attendance on to the raised bed of the memorial stone and its flagpoles and, except when covered by clouds, into the eyes of those on the platform. Outside the nearby pub some locals gathered and behind those gathered around the monument, others in attendance lined a low wall while nearby other local people, mostly youth, congregated for a time. Occasionally a passing car drove carefully along the street past the crowd. House martins darted above, a wasp occasionally bothered the speakers and the smokey-blue soft curves of the Silvermine Hills and Knockmealdown Mountains rose to the west.
The Chair of the event called Harry Owens to speak.
Harry ‘s speech traced the history of world events that had led up to the fascist coup and war in Spain. He also spoke about the kind of people the Brigadistas had been, quoting from their comrades, journalists and opponents. That Captain Frank Ryan had his life spared was unusual, he explained, as the tendency was for all anti-fascist officers to be executed and all International Brigaders of all ranks. Whilst the Spanish fascists wanted to execute them, the Italian soldiers tended to keep them alive in order to exchange them for Italian prisoners of the Republican side.
The death toll among officers and men in the International Brigades had been higher than the norm in warfare and the average in the Irish contingent higher still, Owens said. The food and armament supply conditions of the Republican side had been poor in many areas but almost to a man they had fought on until death, capture or demobilisation. It was their conviction, that they knew what they were fighting for and believed in it that accounted for that.
After Owens’ speech, Breatnach stepped forward to sing, without introduction, Viva la Quinze Brigada3(the song written by Christy Moore about the Irish who fought in the 15th International Brigade). The song mentions Peter Daly in the verse:
This song is a tribute to Frank Ryan,
Kit Conway and Dinny Coady too,
Peter Daly, Charlie Reagan and Hugh Bonner,
Though many died, I can but name a few.
Danny Doyle, Blazer Brown and Charlie Donnelly,
Liam Tumlinson, Jim Straney from the Falls,
Jack Nalty, Tommy Patton and Frank Conroy,
Jim Foley, Tony Fox and Dick O’Neill.
The words of Moore’s chorus rang out along the street:
“Viva la Quinze Brigada!
No Pasarán!” the pledge that made them fight;
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside,
Let us all remember them tonight.
…. and concluded with the cry “Viven!” (“They live!”)
WREATHS, THE INTERNATIONALE AND AMHRÁN NA BHFIANN
McCann called for those who wished to lay wreaths on behalf of organisations and the following came to lay floral tributes: John Kenny, activist of the Peter Daly Society; Mags Glennon for Anti-Fascist Action; Seán Doyle for Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland (who had provided the colour party); Connolly Association Manchester; and Gary O’Brien for Éirigí. Messages of support had been received from the CPI, IRSP and the Connolly Association Manchester.
McCann then called Breatnach forward to sing the Internationale, the international anthem of the working class, the lyrics of which Breatnach explained had been composed by Anarchist Eugene Pottier of the Paris Commune, in 1871, the first time the working class had seized a city. It had been written to the air of the Marsellaise but later put to its own melody by worker-composer Pierre de Gayter.
“It was written in French”, said Breatnach, “which is why I propose to sing the chorus once in French at the start but it has been translated into many languages. Youtube has a post with 95 translations ….. and there are at least three versions of it in English and people are welcome to sing along in any version they know,” Breatnach concluded before singing the French chorus, followed by two English verses and chorus.
The MC Steve directed attention to a bodhrán decorated with a dedication to Peter Daly by Barry O’Shea which was displayed by Erin McCann and which would be raffled as a fund-raising exercise at the reception inside the pub.
Steve McCAnn then called Marie Kenny Murphy and Marilyn Harris up on to the stage, where they played the Irish national anthem on flutes, with many people singing along in its Irish translation4:
Anocht a théim sa bhearna baoil,
Le gean ar Ghael chun báis no saol;
Le gunnaí scréach, faoi lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh, canaig’ Amhrán na bhFiann.
REFRESHMENTS, EXHIBITION, RAFFLE, SONG AND CONVERSATION
All the speakers had referenced the historical memory of the Anti-Fascist War on Spanish territory to the struggles of today and even of tomorrow and the selection of songs had been deliberately chosen to emphasise internationalism and workers’ solidarity from the past and needed today.
McCann thanked all the performers, speakers and participants and in particular welcomed the participation of the Connolly Association contingent from Manchester, encouraging them to attend again the following year. Inviting all to enter the local Monageer Tavern to view the Antifascist War memorabilia and to have some food, the MC brought the ceremony to an end.
Inside the local pub, the Monageer Tavern, food had been made available by the owners and the function hall was provided for the commemoration participants.
An interesting display of memorabilia of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War had been erected inside by the Cavan Volunteers history group. The walls of the function room on one side were also covered with permanent framed photographs and other images of Irish history, among which Joe Mooney, anti-fascist, community worker and activist of the East Wall History Group, spotted a photo of the Dublin docks with a docker well-known to his community in the foreground!
Music was provided by Tony Hughes with voice and guitar, singing a selection of songs including anti-racist and Irish Republican ballads, also Viva La Quinze Brigada.
When the raffle was held a search went on for the winning number ticket which eventually unearthed it in the possession of Helena Keane, seller of the tickets and who adamantly refused to take the prize. Another dip into the stubs brought Gearóid Ó Machaill’s ticket out, ensuring the decorated bodhrán would find a new home somewhere in the occupied Six Counties.
1The International Brigades were organised through the Comintern and Communist parties in various parts of the world but a number of International Volunteers came also through the mainly Trotskyist POUM, including Anarchists. One Irish volunteer went to join the Basque Gudaris and was killed fighting the fascists there.
2First Republican rising in Ireland, organised and led for the most part by Protestants, descendants of British colonists.
3Christy Moore called this “Viva la Quinta Brigada” (i.e the Fifth) but in later versions sang in English a line in the first verse calling it “the 15th International Brigade”. It appears that from different chronological perspectives one can call it either the Fifth or the Fifteenth but the mostly English-speaking brigade of the International Brigades is usually named the Fifteenth. Quinze is the Spanish word for “fifteen” and Viva la Quinze Brigada scans in the song while “decimoquinta Brigada” has too many syllables to fit.
4The Soldier’s Song was written originally in English by Peadar Kearney, an Irish Republican worker with socialist sympathies and put to music by worker-composer Patrick Heeny. It was translated to Irish by Liam Ó Rinn under the title Amhrán na bhFiann and published in 1923. Only the chorus became the anthem of the Irish State and that was not until later. The Irish-language version is the one most commonly sung at non-State occasions now.
(Reading time: 10 minutes)
(Translation by Diarmuid Breatnach of review in Castillian in 2016 of the book of that title and interview with one of the authors in El Confidencial). Para versión original en Castellano mirase al enlace al fin.
‘The boarding schools of fear’ (Ed. Now Books) came into our hands a few days ago. We devoured the 300-page book in just three afternoons. Each page that we turned was leaving us more exhausted, confused and horrified. How is it possible that even today there are no consequences following what happened then?
We talked about sexual abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, experimental operations, baby theft and slavery, among other things, that thousands of children experienced during the Franco regime only because they were classified as ‘children of sin’. These children were children of single mothers, they came from poor families or, what was even worse at the time, their parents were Republicans.
The State ‘hunted’ these children and interned them in centres, of which the vast majority were managed by religious orders by government grant. Judging from the research in the book, in what more than boarding schools looked like prisons and torture rooms for minors. In the text we read a dozen testimonies of victims that leave us nauseous: boys raped by priests, nuns who mistreated hundreds of girls until they tired of it, Salesians who employed all kinds of torture, children who died of beatings, minors who were sold as slaves for 100,000 pesetas (600 euros today), young people locked up in psychiatric hospitals who were subjected to injections the nature of which remainsunknown … A series of horrors that have never been recognized by the State (it was the entity in overall charge of the centres and had the judicial guardianship of minors), nor by the Church (according to the book, hundreds of Salesians, priests and nuns committed atrocities with children), much less by companies that benefited from the slave labour of these imprisoned children.
We have many doubts and we want to know more. We need someone to explain to us how even still this can be silenced. That is why we get in touch with Ricard Belis, one of the authors of the book, together with Montse Armengou, who offers us his view of the past, present and future of this situation. Ricard is an expert in Franco’s history, a subject to which he has dedicated decades of journalistic research. After chatting with him, we come to a valuable conclusion: the damage is already done, but to make known the history of these children and that those responsible for it be known publicly can heal the pain of many victims of the ‘boarding schools of fear’.
QUESTION: As soon as we begin the book we find a statement. You say that, contrary to what happens in other countries – from Argentina to South Africa through the Congo, Bosnia and other places – here in Spain there is no state agency responsible for investigating complaints that arise from people who, from one way or another, themselves suffered from the Franco dictatorship. Why is there no such body in Spain?
ANSWER: Everything is the result of the transition to democracy in Spain. It was done with a system that, although in the first years had its reason for being, decided not to look back at any time. In this way, one enters into a dynamic of many years of silence, which leaves all the victims of the regime forgotten and separated. That has done terrible damage to the victims themselves – for the fact of not being able to express their pain and having it remain inside them – and to Spanish society in general – because the fact of not knowing well what happened would be quite unthinkable in another democratic country.
Q: Do you think that at some point such a state agency could be created or do you consider it something utopian?
A: Well, I would like to see it … but I see it as impossible in near future. This book is the offspring of a documentary that was screened in Catalonia, where it was successful in terms of viewing figures, but nothing happened. There were signatures to a petition demanding that the Church ask for forgiveness, but nothing more. I think it is of greater importance that the Spanish State make these apologies, because it is ultimately responsible for the majority of these boarding schools, centres that were run by religious orders but by state concession. That task remains pending.
I will recount you an anecdote. We took this documentary to a very famous festival in France, in which reports from other countries were screened. After viewing our investigation, the French public did not understand how the Spanish State never apologised or accepted what happened to those interned. Then, by coincidence in the same room a Swiss documentary of a similar theme was projected (child abuse in Swiss boarding schools). The big difference is that this documentary began with the current Swiss Government asking for forgiveness for what previous governments had done.
TV3 DOCUMENTARY ON WHICH THE BOOK IS BASED
Q: In the absence of policies on historical memory, in a country denounced by different international organizations (UN, Amnesty International and the Council of Europe) and with a Partido Popular Government that fulfilled its electoral promise to close the office of Victims of the Civil War and Dictatorship, associations and the media are the only platforms to which those affected can go. Could this situation change with a new government? If, for example, a new political party like Podemos won the elections, do you think they would be willing to investigate all these cases and apply pressure for the creation of such an organization?
A: I am not optimistic for two reasons: first because there is no survey that predicts victory for Podemos, which, although it is one of the few parties presenting at state-level which contains this in its electoral program, it is hardly going to obtain an absolute majority to implement the policies they propose; and second, in this country we have had more years of left-wing than right-wing governments and both have been very shy and inactive on this issue, including the PSOE. It is true that Zapatero brought in a Law of Historical Memory, but it fell short and has hardly been applied. Anyway, I’m not very optimistic. I hope that some year something will happen, although at this rate I fear it will be when the victims are no longer alive.
Q: Why does the Spanish Government not pronounce on this? Is it afraid of the reaction of society?
A: I don’t know very well how to answer that question, because its inactivity is incomprehensible. Because it does not matter if a government is right-wing or left-wing, what cannot be consented to is that the victims of a dictatorship are forgotten and the pain they have suffered is not recognised. I give the example of Angela Merkel, who strongly condemns the crimes committed in the Nazi era.
P: The children of these boarding schools were mistreated both psychologically and physically. They burned their bums with a candle, were forced to eat their own vomit full of insects, were subjected to sexual abuse … Is this perhaps the worst episode that has happened in the history of Spain?
A: The theme of childhood is one of the toughest episodes. When abuse, violence and ill-treatment is employed against a child, it is very traumatic. And not only the pain left inside them but also in their families. It is difficult to rank the hardest moments in the history of this country.
One of the things that has impressed me most doing this research, beyond the abuse, violence and ill-treatmentis the fear and lack of affection felt by most children who lived in these boarding schools. Such was this lack of affection that many of those children came to confuse the first symptoms of sexual abuse as affection. I think it’s a terrible perversion. Some children who have never received a caress, accustomed to receiving beatings, when a priest arrives, touches them and that ends in sexual abuse … it has to mark them for a lifetime.
We always emphasise that this is not a historical investigation, but that it is current, because the damage that was done is still present. That the State does not recognize what happened only increases and magnifies the damage to the victims. The damage that the Dictatorship did is multiplied by the neglect of democracy.
Q: The Church played a great role in that drama. Do you think that with your research, like the one in this book, you will end up engendering a total rejection of the Church in the new generations?
A: I believe that the Church, on a global level, is beginning the process of acknowledging its guilt. The previous Pope, Benedict XVI, has already begun a firm policy against child abuse and sexual abuse, and in that sense it can be said that they are beginning to clean up their house. Late, yes, but we already know that the Church goes a little slower in everything. Here in Spain, there has not been any movement yet. The Church needs a modernization and many duties remain to be carried out, therefore it is normal for new generations to find it harder to believe in the Church.
We have testimonies of victims who ask that the Church apologize, because they are believers and for them it would be of great significance and even very restorative. Others, on the other hand, do not want to know anything about the religious orders, since they are never going to forgive them. In this regard, I think it would be good for the Church to ask for forgiveness, but I think it is more important for the Government to do so, because it is the one ultimately responsible. Although the Popular Party, which currently governs, has no responsibility for what happened, it is the heir of that State. It would be Mariano Rajoy who should ask for forgiveness, but not for anything on his own behalf but rather because he is the current President of Spain (since this was written Sanchez of the PSOE has been the President of the Spanish State – Trans.).
Q: If Mariano Rajoy recognized and apologized for what happened in those boarding schools, would it benefit him in any way with regard to public opinion?
A: In any case it would not hurt him. That a leader recognizes that the State did something wrong, but has no responsibility for it himself, is worthy of admiration. So I think it would mostly be to his benefit. I do not think that it would seem bad to any well-intentioned person that he apologized for the abuses that were committed at that time. Rajoy has no responsibility for it but he is the heir of that dictatorship.
Q: A lot of money was generated around the boarding schools. The Church received huge amounts from the State for the support of the little ones (and only a small part of it reached the minors, since they lived in subhuman conditions and were very hungry) and also pocketed millions of pesetas with the sale and labour exploitation of these children…
A: Yes, the Church took advantage of the situation and profited by it. The minors were a source of funding. The Church found a workforce to which they taught trades with the excuse of training, but the situation resulted in pure and hard exploitation. This situation reminds me of what happens in other countries, where thousands of children, such as from India or Asia, are exploited.
Q: In addition to the Church, large companies in our country also took advantage of the situation and hired this cheap workforce. In the book you mention El Corte Inglés – which at that time were the Almacenes Preciados (Precious Stores – Trans.) – and even Banco Popular and Caja Madrid. Did these companies know that they were hiring exploited children who lived as ‘prisoners’ in boarding schools?
A: I give you the example of El Corte Inglés (chain of shopping malls in the Spanish State – Trans.). They went to religious orders and paid the nuns for labour. They paid little, but they paid. They never hired a child directly. What happens is that, of course, we could say that they could suspect or intuit something with regard to the service being provided so cheaply. I could not tell you that these department stores are directly responsible, because they did not hire the children, although they have some social responsibility. They could imagine what was happening there.
Q: You spoke with those responsible for El Corte Inglés about the subject. And, although at the beginning of the conversations they were pleasant, they ended abruptly with a total refusal on their part to collaborate with your investigation. Do you think that if it was shown that these department stores made use of these children for their business, it would affect their reputation or sales?
A: I think it has been a long time. They are tactics that are currently being used by numerous countries abroad. And, in addition, it could not prove more than than that the Cortes Inglés had a contract with religious orders. The company did not have to know what was done with these children or if they were paid. They could intuit what was happening, but they did nothing illegal. It would be more of a moral issue.
Q: As for you, after gathering so many testimonies and talking to more than 200 victims of these abuses, do you feel that this investigation has taken its toll in some way?
A: We are not made of stone. When you talk to a person who has suffered these abuses you are making her return to one of the worst episodes of her life. Sometimes you leave the interviews affected. But on the other hand it is very comforting, because the victims feel relief through having the opportunity to tell their story to their fellow citizens. In addition, these investigations are doing what the State should do, in the sense of making it known and recognizing it, which is the start of repairing the damage caused.
You don’t care about history? Well, perhaps but history cares about you. Or rather, it affects you and the world you live in, explains how you got to where you are, your successes and failures – and where you might yet go.
Of course, what I said earlier was kind of a slick answer; history doesn’t really care about you …. or about me …. or anyone else. The wind moves the trees, fills the sails, cools us or brings rain or snow – it affects us, moves us and things around us …. but is not moved by us. That is a useful metaphor because often people think they can stop some things happening by wishing strongly that they would not. Liberals and social democrats, for example …. But the metaphor breaks down – unlike our relationship with the wind, we can move things.
The shape of a tree testifies to the forces that have come to bear upon it as it was growing and its bark rings tell us of years of plenty or scarcity. To say that you don’t care about history is like, in a way, saying you don’t care about your childhood. That period of your past life and the influences that came to bear upon it and how you reacted to them have made you, to an extent, who you are today. Certainly they have hugely affected you, as any psychologist will tell.
If you really don’t care about history, you should not care whether you experience pain or pleasure. Typically, humans like to repeat pleasure and to avoid pain. But how do we know in advance what will give us pleasure or instead cause us pain? Experience. And that too is a kind of history. Which may also teach us what pleasure may be reached through pain, as for example in certain kinds of exercise – or what pleasures may end in pain, as with addictions. And we don’t only have our own experience to go on but that of many others, in their stories and in the accounts of those who have studied them. Another kind of history.
To say that you don’t care about history is to say that you don’t care about cause and effect. You don’t care about science, in other words. Science, in the sense of observation of processes and in the sense of experiment, is a kind of history. If you do this to that, in this atmosphere at that temperature, this will be the result. How do we know? It has been observed or tested, time and time again and recorded. Very like history.
Perhaps history was not taught to you in the way most suited to you at the time. Or rather, perhaps it was not introduced to you as it would best have been. A required subject to study, to gain marks and to ignore forever afterwards is hardly likely to inspire. A list of dates, of kings and queens, of prime ministers, along with their desires, though they figure in it, is not really history. “Facts” without encouragement to challenge, to interpret, to ask and to search for why and how – these drive some minds away while others learn them – but only as dogma.
Kings, Queens, Generals and Leaders of insurgents helped make history – but they didn’t really make history, though we are told they did and often say it ourselves. No king built a castle or a city though we are often told that is what happened. People build castles and cities: they dig foundations and sewers or latrines, dig wells or canals, cut timber and stone, mine and forge metal, construct buildings, grow food, settle, take up livelihoods, raise children, study nature, perform arts, record in print or orally …. History was made by people, ordinary people mostly with a few extraordinary individuals; history was made by people like you and I.
Or perhaps you acknowledge all that but think ok, as an ordinary person, there is nothing you can consciously do to alter the course of things now? Yes, our masters would like you to think that. The reality is that you can make choices: to join that organisation or movement, participate in that action or demonstration …. or not. To vote for one person or party or another – or to abstain. To treat people in this or that way.
What will help you make those choices? Well, for a start, your experience. And experience is a personal history. I did that and this happened; I didn’t agree with that outcome so now I will do something else. But we also have the experiences of millions of others upon which to draw, across thousands of years. History.
You are not an isolated individual and your people, your nation or state, is not an isolated mass. The productive forces of emerging capitalism struggled with monarchy and feudalist systems and elites and produced republicanism. Republican ideas were promoted by English and French intellectuals, for example and found receptive minds among the capitalist sons and daughters of English colonists in Ireland, bringing about the bid for a democratic parliament of all the people in Ireland. When that attempt failed, the ideas impelled some to found the United Irishmen, which hundreds of thousands of others supported because they wished for freedom from the colonial power. Less than a decade after the failure of Grattan’s Parliament to admit representation by Catholic and Dissenter, the United Irish rose in revolutionary upsurge. That was in 1798 and they looked for support from republican France, which had its revolution less than a decade earlier, in 1789. The Irish and the French republicans were encouraged by the American Revolution, which had begun in 1765 and emerged victorious in 1783.
The republican revolutions were carried out by the ordinary mass of people but it was the capitalist class that they brought to power; today the working class struggle to overcome them and come into power themselves, for the first time a majority class taking power and holding up the possibility of the end of classes and therefore of class exploitation. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”, wrote Karly Marx and Frederick Engels in the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.
You are in history. You are a product of history. What you do now affects the historical outcome to some degree at least – to one degree or another you are making history. You might as well study its process and use its lessons to illuminate your way: the distilled and concentrated experiences of millions of human beings like you.
(Reading time: Introduction, one minute; Part One: 5 mins; Part Two 2 mins: Part Three: 3 mins; Part Four: 2 mins; Total: 13 mins.)
Although I often think about the big questions – and am generally guided by my philosophy on them, my mind and energy are usually too occupied with specific struggles to focus on them for long. Recently however I had the opportunity and the need to think about the war, the one we have yet to win.
But to which war am I referring? The Irish war of national liberation that has been flaring up for centuries, being lost each time before flaring up again? Or the class war, which has had a few sharp Irish episodes but has been, for the most part in Ireland, in abeyance? The answer is BOTH, though it may seem that my emphasis in the discussion, certainly in the early part, is on the national liberation war.
In order to imagine how we might win, it is helpful to examine past struggles and analyse what went wrong with them. Pessimists love to focus on those things I know – but in order to push us towards reformism or just surrender; my approach instead is from a revolutionary perspective.
Generally, Socialists analysing the class struggle don’t even ask themselves why we have not had a revolution yet. From week to week, month to month, they tend to focus on this or that particular trade union or social struggle but without going into the big picture. It seems as though they can’t even imagine a socialist uprising in Ireland, it’s just too far away to think about, apparently. But if one can’t even imagine such a revolution, how could one consider the necessary steps to get there?
Irish Republicans on the other hand are often thinking in terms of revolution, usually including armed struggle. However it seems to me that Irish Republicans don’t like analysing past failures of the movement but when they do, their verdicts tend to be that the leaders betrayed the struggle or that taking part in public elections corrupted the movement; or that infiltration, spies and informers was the problem. And some other reasons. The thing is, although all those things played a particular part, they are not the fundamental reason.
PART ONE: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE
(Reading time this section: less than 5 minutes)
The national liberation war that began in 1969 in the Six Counties and ended in 1998 (though some armed incidents continue from time to time) began as a civil rights struggle and changed into a war of communal defence and of national liberation. The military part of the struggle for the most part took place in the occupied Six Counties. The political element of the struggle was waged all over Ireland (and abroad) but in the main consisted of support for the struggle in the Six occupied Counties.
Fought in that way, the struggle was bound to lose. It could never win. How could anyone imagine that they could win a struggle fought against a world power in one-sixth of the country, where even the population there was divided against them? What could they have been thinking?
To my mind, there are only two possible sane replies to that question, which is that they believed: 1) that the British ruling class would get worn down by struggle and leave and/ or 2) that the Irish ruling class would intervene in some way to assist the struggle and make continued British occupation untenable.
1) ‘The British ruling class would get worn down and leave’: This theory must have depended on British repression being condemned abroad and being unpopular at home but had to rest fundamentally on the British having no great stake in continuing its possession of its colony there.
Anyone who thought that (and there were many who did and still many who do, not just Irish Republicans) made a fundamental error. Time and again the British ruling class has shown its determination to hang on to what might be considered its first colony, even as the ruling class’ composition changed from feudal-colonialist to capitalist-imperialist and as the world changed around it.
Even when the British ruling class, weakened by WW1 and facing an Irish guerrilla war which enjoyed the support of the vast majority of Irish people, with national liberation uprisings breaking out across its Empire and with its repression in Ireland increasingly unpopular at home, entered into negotiations with the Irish resistance, it held on to a foothold, the Six Counties.
Subsequently, it had that colony managed in a permanent state of emergency laws, with institutionalised sectarian discrimination at all official levels and outbreaks of pogroms in the street and workplace.
That became even more exposed during the civil rights struggle and the national liberation war that followed when the British State compromised whatever good international reputationremained to its Armed Forces, its judiciary, its legal establishment, its media and its very legal framework.
Even now, when many believe that the Good Friday Agreement means that a 50% plus-one-vote in favour in the Six Counties will be sufficient to end Partition, they do not realise that such a decision will have to also obtain a majority in the British Parliament and be endorsed by the British Monarch. They are also forgetting the broken promises that surrounded Partition in the first place.
When analysing what holding on to the Six Counties has cost the British State in terms of reputation, military and financial contributions, one can only rationally assume that continuing to hold on to that foothold is of great importance to the British State. One may speculate as to the reasons underlying that but the central fact cannot be denied.
2) ‘The Irish ruling class would intervene in some way to assist the struggle and make continued British occupation untenable’:
There was some basis for this belief in that a section of Fianna Fáil, a party that had emerged from a split in Sinn Féin in the 1930s and had become one of the mainstream parties in the Irish state, had retained some traditional commitment to seeking a united Ireland. However it was a thin enough basis on which to depend in a national liberation struggle since that section had no majority within the party itself, to say nothing of the foreign-dependent nature of the Irish native capitalist class, the Gombeens, as a whole.
The question came to a trial of strength in the Arms Crisis of 1970, in which at least two Fianna Fáil Government Ministers were involved in secretly buying arms for the defence of nationalist areas in the Six Counties (since the IRA had insufficient weapons at the time) from rampaging Loyalist mobs and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (including the part-time B-Specials). The Ministers alleged that they had acted in the full knowledge of the rest of the Government. By the time the whole affair was over, two Ministers had been sacked and another two resigned in protest.
If it had not been clear before that the Gombeens, the native Irish capitalist class was no patriotic capitalist class but rather a neo-colonial one, it should have been clear after that. But the armed struggle in the Six Counties intensified, especially after the massacres of unarmed civilians carried out by British Paratroopers the following year, 1971 in Belfast and again in Derry in 1972. And the war lasted until 1998.
If, as had been demonstrated to be the case that the British ruling class were determined to hold on to the Six Counties and the Irish ruling class was not going to seriously challenge that possession, did the Republican movement have any other option than to fight on a war that they could not possibly win?
I am clear that it did.
Clearly, in order to have a chance of success, the war had to be extended to the other five-fifths of the country, which is to say into the territory under the control of the Irish native capitalist class. This class had seized power after the War of Independence (1919-1921) and had beaten and suppressed its opposition duringand afterthe Civil War (1922-1923) and furthermore was supported by a powerful ally, the Irish Catholic Church. Since the founding of the first Irish Republican organisation, the United Irishmen of the late 1790s, the Catholic Church hierarchy had opposed Irish Republicanism; it had condemned four Irish priests who participated in the uprising of 1798, excommunicated the Fenians, had at first condemned the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence only to latch on to it at the end along with the Gombeen class.
The general Irish population likely would not have supported or sustained an armed struggle in the 1970s against the Gombeen class but that class could have been fought politically, through agitation and mobilisation, on many social, political and economic fronts. Without going into the specific details of each, these were:
against the huge wastage of Irish youth through emigration
to remedy the shortage of affordable housing (which in part contributed to the above)
to end unemployment (also contributing hugely to emigration)
to raise the level of wages and lower wage earners’ taxation
for the right to divorce
for equality for women in law
for the right to contraception devices and medication for men and women
against decriminalisation and for equal rights for gay and lesbians
to halt the decline of the Irish language, in particular of the rural Irish-speaking areas
to improve services for the rural areas
to oppose the open-door policy for foreign multinationals to exploit Irish natural and human resources
to secularise the education service
and the health service.
to remove the privileged status of the Catholic Church within the state.
The Republican movement in general, with some exceptions, declined to take on any of those struggles. They did not organise in the trade union movement, left the social struggles to others and most of all, declined to take on the Catholic Church on any issue except its opposition to the national liberation struggle. Even there, it was happy to publicly avail of the services of members of the Church clergy who supported them. Republicanism was, from its very beginning, as well as anti-monarchist, about separation of Church and State but it was difficult to see that in the Irish Republican movement, particularly after the War of Independence.
A full half of those fourteen points above (nos. 5,6, 7, 8, 12, 13 and 14) would have meant taking on the Church head-on and no doubt the hierarchy would have hindered the struggle over most of the others too, due to its strong links with the State and its ruling class.
Because of its tactical and no doubt ideological refusal to take up those struggles, the Republican movement could do little more in the 26-County state than to agitate for solidarity with the beleaguered nationalist population inside the British colony.
Though this could be effective for a time it could not become a mass movement, nor survive a long struggle, without any remedy being sought for the issues facing the population within the state.
The wonder is not that the majority leadership of the Republican Movement threw in the towel on the military struggle in 1998 but that they had waited so long to do it. Of course, they never admitted the true nature of what they were doing: abandoning the armed struggle and revolution in total and instead, using their negotiating position to advance themselves politically – not in the economic, social and political struggle envisioned above but rather in a political struggle to find themselves a place among the Gombeen political class in the Irish state and as accomplices in the governing of the colonial state.
PART 2: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION
(Reading time this section: 2 minutes)
A successful revolution in Ireland, as in most places, would require the involvement of a mass movement. That mass movement would be unlikely to be one that had national self-determination as its only aim – certainly not in the 26 Counties (the Irish state). Mass movements arise at times around different issues and exist as long as the issue does or instead until the movement gets worn down or broken up. Such movements arose around the Household Tax and, later, around the additional Water Charges.
Even though the objectives of such movements are often not revolutionary, the participation in them by revolutionaries is necessary if, in the future, there is to be a revolution. Revolutionary activists can make contacts and prove themselves by the way they participate whilst at the same time pointing out that a revolution is necessary in order to resolve all these issues completely and permanently. Such activists can also influence the movement (or sections of it) to act in more revolutionary ways, so that the movement can be guided by – and imbued with — revolutionary spirit.
Working people in struggles come up against concrete problems which need to be resolved in order to move forward. Prior to 1913 in Ireland, workers learned the need for unity in struggle which was emphasised by the employers’ attempts to break the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in August 1913. The attacks on them by the Dublin Metropolitan Police illustrated the need for organised defence and Larkin and Connolly called for the formation of what became the Irish Citizen Army, which later also fought prominently in the 1916 Rising.
Trade unions are the only mass organisations of the working class in Ireland and it is necessary for revolutionaries to be active within them. Currently, other than social democrats, it is mainly members of both trotskyist parties and independent activists who engage politically with the trade unions. Those members are mostly in clerical work and their political work tends to concentrate on employment demands around wages and working conditions. When they introduce politics it is generally to get some motion passed by their branch. Also at times, they will campaign to get a perceived left-wing candidate elected to some position within the trade union bureaucracy.
None of the above are without value but they remain disjointed in terms of program and often confined to just one trade union. Not only that, but often the Left party involved will engage in order to recruit some new members and in order also to retain their own members by providing them with activity. When broad front trade union groups are formed, they tend to become an arena where the dominant trotskyist parties compete for dominance.
If we are to have a successful revolution – and in particular a socialist one – participation in the struggles of workers in the trade union movement is absolutely necessary. But participation should be primarily among the rank and file of the trade union and also across trade unions, focused on providing solidarity to members of whichever union is in struggle – in addition to encouraging unorganised workers to organise and become active. The objective is not to help make one trade union or one section more militant but rather to create a militant workers‘ solidarity movement within the whole trade union movement. It is essential to have members in the ‘blue-collar’ work unions or departments as well as in the clerical unions or sections. And the cross-union organisation I advocated should be independent — the preserve of no political party.
Participation in such struggles provides an opportunity for revolutionaries to make contact with people who are activists but not yet revolutionaries and to give those people an opportunity to evaluate the revolutionaries in terms of their actual practice. Revolutionaries can support the people struggling for worthwhile reforms while at the same time pointing to their partial and temporary nature. Revolutionary activists can play an educational role in the mass movements while at the same time becoming educated themselves by the daily reality faced by the masses in this system.
PART 3: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT WHAT KIND?
(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)
It is, most people would think, a ‘no-brainer’ (i.e an obvious truth) that unity is necessary in the struggle to overthrow the current system. It might be thought surprising, therefore, that disunity is more the rule among those who aspire to revolution.
Generally, those who claim to be revolutionary socialists will not unite with Irish Republicans. In addition, those socialists of one party will often fail to unite with those of a different party. The same dynamic is to be seen among Irish Republicans also.
There have been many attempts to overcome this problem. In the 1930s the Republican Congress sought to unite Irish Republicans with revolutionary socialists. In the face of hostility within the mainstream Republican movement and also with divisions among the communist element in Ireland at the time, faced in addition with anti-communist hysteria whipped up by the Catholic Church, the experiment failed. The leadership of the Sinn Féin and the IRA of the later 1960s tried to combine socialism and republicanism within one party and military organisation, an attempt that crashed when it was discovered that the arms necessary to defend ‘nationalist’ community areas in the Six Counties, particularly in Belfast, were unavailable, leading to an acrimonious split in the movement. A subsequent attempt to combine the socialist and republican elements in another organisation survived a little longer but also failed for a number of reasons, some internal and also due to Irish State repression.
There have been some attempts to unite the non-republican Left itself also, which usually failed due in part to ideological differences but also to political sectarianism and personality clashes. Currently both trotskyist parties have an uneasy working relationship, the small grouping of Independents for Change exists also, the Communist Party is very small too and the anarchists are scattered and unable for years now, for the most part, to mount united action.
Attempts to unite the various parts of the Irish Republican movement have, in general, focused on creating a new organisation or absorbing activists unhappy with one organisation into another.
A frequent approach has been for some people to sit down and produce what they consider solid policy and a constitution, then to propose this format to others around which to unite. Even when accepting amendments from the elements they seek to recruit, these attempts too have largely failed.
It seems a rational approach: if we want unity, surely first we have to agree on what for, how, etc, etc before we can go into action? I believe, contrary though it may seem, that actually we should unite in action first. Uniting in action tends to break down barriers of mistrust that are built on hearsay or suspicions fostered by sectarian elements. Action also tends to clarify certain questions that until then are theoretical only. Of course, at some point, action will need to be guided by worked out policy but initially the action itself can be sufficient guide, especially since approaching the question the other way around has been so generally unproductive.
The question then arises: with whom to unite? In general, I would say that the answer is: with all with whom we can, in actual practice, unite: different types of revolutionary socialists (including anarchists), Irish Republicans, Left social democrats, human and civil rights activists.
There are some exceptions I think necessary to mention: fascists, racists, religious sectarians and parties that participate in Government. Fascists seek to impose an undemocratic regime completely hostile to the interests of working people and, far from our uniting with them, need to be defeated; racists and religious sectarians seek to divide the movement along lines of ethnicity or religious affiliation. Revolutionaries need to draw a clear line of distinction between the movements of resistance and those who participate in a native capitalist or colonial government, i.e the management organisations of the enemy.
Many issues lend themselves to united action but perhaps none more so, and none are more essential, than against repression.
PART FOUR: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION
(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)
All revolutionary movements – and many that are progressive but not revolutionary – face repression at some point in their existence. Not to recognise that fact and to have some kind of preparation for it, even if very basic, is indicative of a non-revolutionary attitude to the State. Nor have we any reason in Ireland to be complacent on this question.
The Irish State turned to military suppression in the first year of its existence as did also the colonial statelet. Detentions, torture, murders and official executions were carried out by Free State forces over a number of years, followed by censorship and arrests, all facilitated by emergency repressive legislation. In the Six Counties, in addition to similar even more repressive legislation, there were two sectarian militarised police forces and sectarian civilian organisations.
After a change of government, the Irish State introduced internment without trial during the Emergency (1939-1946), the Offences Against the State Act in 1939, Special Criminal (sic) Courts in 1972 and the Amendment to the OAS in that same year.
The Six County statelet had the Special Powers Act (1922) and brought in internment without trial in 1971 (the Ballymurphy Massacre that year and the Derry Massacre the following year, both by the Parachute Regiment, were of people protesting the introduction of internment). The statelet also introduced the Emergency Provisions Act and the no-jury Diplock Courts in 1973 and, though technically abolished in 2007, non-jury trials can and do take place up to today.
The British state targeted the Irish diaspora in Britain in 1974 with the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act and that same year and the following, framed and convicted nearly a score of innocent people of bombings in five different cases – had the death penalty not been previously abolished for murder, most of them would have been executed. It took the victims over 15 years to win their freedom, by which time one had died in jail. Brought in as a temporary measure, the PTA continued in force until 1989 but a general Terrorism Act was brought into British Law in 2000 and remains in force today.
State repression rarely targets the whole population and, particularly in a capitalist “democracy” focuses on particular groups which it fears or feels it can safely persecute. However, we should also recall Pastor Niemoller’s words about the creeping repression which even the German Nazi state instituted, going after first one group, then another, and another …. Among the list of groups targeted eventually by the Nazis were Jews, Roma, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, Social Democrats, Jehova’s Witnesses, Free Masons, Gays and Lesbians, Mentally Ill or challenged, physically challenged ….
It is in the interests of the vast majority of the population to oppose repression of different groups, whether those groups be based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship status or democratic politics. Not everyone recognises this of course but one might expect that political activists challenging the status quo would do so. Sadly, experience shows that they do not in practice (though they may acknowledge it intellectually).
With some periodic exceptions, socialist groups in Ireland do not support protests against repression of republicans. Furthermore, some republican groups will not support others when the latter are subjected to repression. Yet at any time, Republicans of any group can be and are regularly harassed in public or raided at home; their employers may be warned about them by the political police; they may be detained on special repressive legislation, denied bail, effectively interned; they can be easily convicted in the non-jury Special Criminal Courts or Diplock Courts; ex-prisoners released on licence in the Six Counties can be returned to jail without any charge or possibility of defence.
The Irish State’s non-jury Special Criminal Court is a tempting facility for putting away people whom the State finds annoying and it is widely thought it was considered for the trials of the Jobstown protesters. The result of the trial, where the jury clearly took a different view to the presiding judge, may well have justified the opinion of those in the State who considered sending the defendants to the SCC.
Unity against repression is a fundamental need of a healthy society and of movements that challenge the status quo. Practical unity in any kind of action also tends to break down barriers and assists general revolutionarybroad unity. Unity against repression is so basic a need that agreement with this or that individual is unnecessary, nor with this or that organisation in order to defend them against repression. Basic democratic rights were fought for by generations and have to be defended; in addition they give activists some room to act without being jailed. On this basis, all must unite in practice and political sectarianism has no place in that.
Without some basic unity in practice across the sector challenging the status quo, there can be no revolution. But more than that: we stand together against repression ….. or we go to jail separately.
Diarmuid Breatnach is a veteran independent revolutionary activist, currently particularly active in committees against repression, in some areas of internationalist solidarity and in defence of historical memory.