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 idea of having to fight a war of repression simultaneously against two or more nations within the borders of its state must give the Spanish ruling class nightmares – it was only successful in doing so in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War with the assistance of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
So Spain’s rulers, blood-thirsty though they are, must have been happy to let off lightly the Basque pro-independence activists with a maximum of less than four years prison sentence. Not of course that three years in Spanish jail is a holiday, especially for political prisoners, who tend to get dispersed throughout the Spanish territory, hundreds or even a thousand kilometres from their friends and families – but it is way below the norm for activists accused of “assisting terrorism” in the Spanish state.
Most activities of the Basque pro-independence activists have been viewed by the Spanish State as “terrorism”, “assisting terrorism” or “exalting terrorism” at one time or another: producing a daily newspaper in the Basque language; running pro-independence radio stations or social media pages; managing pro-independence social centres; holding demonstrations and pickets; managing a prisoners’ solidarity campaign; organising an internationalist solidarity network1; commemorating martyrs; publicly welcoming political prisoners home after completion of their sentences; running pro-independence bars ….. etc, etc.
The Basque pro-independence activists before the Spanish National Court on 16th September had been accused in November 2013 of “assisting a terrorist organisation” but what they had done in actuality was to try to organise effective solidarity and legal representation for the Basque political prisoners who are part of the ‘official’ list2. Some of those charged are lawyers. All 47 of them in court on 16th September pleaded guilty and the judges handed down the sentences. It was clear that a deal had been agreed with the Public Prosecutor and Judge before they stepped into the Court. But not only with them – the virulent AVT (“Relatives of Victims of Terrorism”), most of them relatives of Spanish military or police, who were a party to the prosecution of the Basques3, stayed silent but afterwards stated they were happy with the outcome.
Reporting on the judgement, GARA, bilingual daily newspaper of the line of the official pro-independence movement’s4 leadership, seemed to see the settlement, despite the jail time, as some kind of victory and proclaimed that the proceedings had taken “not even five minutes” (perhaps the reporter meant per person, as the total was elsewhere reported as taking around 35 minutes).
“SUPPORTERS WERE TRICKED …. SHAMEFUL”
That is not how all Basque pro-independence activists see it, however. Discussing the case with one long-time activist she commented that “It was shameful. It was hard. I knew them, some of them especially. I had campaigned with them in the past and we had campaigned for them (after their arrest). To see them meekly plead guilty ….!” She might be expected to be critical as she is what some call a ‘dissident’, having parted company with the organisation with which she grew up and is now a member of Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (ATA — Amnesty and Freedom). That organisation that same day issued a statement in Basque and Spanish condemning the deal, stating that pleading guilty actually criminalised all the work done in solidarity with and to assist the prisoners on all fronts.
That the Basque ‘Autonomous’ Government moved within weeks to ban as criminal acts any public welcoming home of Basque political prisoners seems to bear out their analysis. And the Spanish State has announced that no electoral publicity in the forthcoming elections may use the words “political prisoners” or “exiles”.
Another life-time activist with whom I spoke, this one still loyal to the leadership, agreed that the deal and the act of pleading ‘guilty’ was “shameful”. She is not likely to be the only one; many remain within the organisation but are critical of the leadership’s twists and turns for some years now. Those who are critical but remain inside the organisation and are still active do so because they don’t like the alternative – either the fact of leaving the ‘family’ or of going to the ‘dissident’ group. But apathy grows among others – they may remain notionally within the organisation but attend less events than they used to.
A veteran and leading theoretician of the movement, Iñaki Gil de San Vicentes, in an interview with on-line newspaper Noticias Canarias, commented that the 50,000 who had demonstrated in solidarity with the accused a few days before the court case had been tricked, as the deal had been done “behind their backs”. This was “not permissable”, according to the veteran activist, who was not reported in GARA and might not be published there again.
GARA and the leadership of the Basque pro-independence movement may see the court deal as a good one or even part of the “Basque peace process” for which they have long been waiting (and some even claiming it was already in existence). Whatever the criticisms of the “Irish peace process” (sic) people may have – and there have been many – once the weapons had been decommissioned and they signed up to the Good Friday Agreement, at least most of the Republican prisoners left the jails, albeit under licence. The Basque armed resistance group ETA called a truce in 2012, decommissioned its weapons and finally disbanded itself in 2014, for which it seems to have won not the slightest of concessions – not for the prisoners nor for Basque pro-independence society. In 2017 a brawl in the town of Altsasu (Nafarroa/ Navarra) in a late-night bar between some Basque youth and off-duty Spanish police resulted in jail sentences for the accused youth and, even though the judges had rejected the Public Prosecutor’s bid to have the youth tried under anti-terror legislation, they were condemned to terms of between two and13 years (reduced this week on appeal to between 18 months and nine years).
NEUTRALISING ONE FRONT BEFORE MOVING ON TO ANOTHER
The Altsasu case generated outrage throughout the Basque Country but also came to the notice of the Catalan public when they were dealing with the effects of Spanish repression on their own independence movement during and after the October 2017 referendum there. Catalan people with a banner proclaiming their solidarity with the Altsasu youth marched in Basque demonstrations. And Basques have marched in Catalan pro-independence protests against Spanish State repression too. Though the numbers displaying solidarity in each case were comparatively small, the potential was there for a coming together of both movements and no doubt the Spanish ruling class, though not noted for its political sensitivity, became aware of the danger.
As commented earlier, the Spanish ruling class were no doubt wishing to avoid having to renew a war of repression against the Basques at the same time as their current war against the Catalan independence movement. Even worse things could happen to them while engaged in such a two-front war – such as elements in other nations, like Asturias and Galicia seizing the opportunity to mobilise. Or some outbreak of class resistance across the State’s territory.
In the recent Basque case, the Spanish State, while punishing the Basque activists, did so in a comparatively light manner and avoided that case being shouted in both Basque and Catalan nations as yet another example of Spanish State injustice and repression. But it required the cooperation of the accused activists – and no doubt the agreement of the official leadership of the Basque pro-independence movement, Arnaldo Otegi and company.
As I was writing these observations, the Spanish State arrested nine Catalan activists under “anti-terrorist” (sic) legislation and held them incommunicado in Madrid5. These activists allegedly from the CDRs (Comites de Defensa de la Republica, set up after the momentary declaration of the Catalan Republic by then President Puigdemont after the 2017 October referendum) are in addition to those 10 grass roots activists and elected politicians currently awaiting verdicts on charges of “rebellion, sedition” and “misuse of public funds”. In addition also to the various Catalan elected politicians in European exile and the 700 or so town mayors under investigation. The more recent Catalan arrested are not charged with anything they have done but with their alleged intentions.
Now that Basque problem has been tidied away ….
1 Leading activists of Askapena, which coordinated the activities of solidarity committees in a number of European countries (including Ireland) and Latin America, were accused as part of the sweep against Basque political prisoner solidarity campaigners. They did not plead guilty, fought their defence and were, eventually, found not guilty.
2 Which some have left, including six who did so publicly and are now part of a ‘dissident’ network.
3The Spanish legal system permits civil society groups to take out a prosecution or to join the State prosecutions with their separate prosecutors, a provision almost exclusively availed of by right-wing groups such as the AVT. When the family of Inigo Cabacas took a case under this provision against the Basque police who had killed their son with a rubber bullet, the Basque Government’s Prosecutor had cooperated with the defence counsel of the accused.
4The ‘official’ Basque pro-independence movement is comprised of the political party EH Bildu (formerly Batasuna, Herri Batasuna etc), the official political prisoners’ collective, the official organisation of relatives and friends of prisoners, the Gara newspaper, LAB trade union and smaller feminist and ecological organisations. It is also represented in some political coalitions and a number of broad fronts.
5Two of the nine arrested were released the following day and seven remained incommunicado. This nightmare journey to Madrid for political detainees has been well documented by many Basque political prisoners, including threats of death, torture and even rape (the latter for female prisoners), stress positions causing difficulty in breathing within the vehicle, blows etc. Spanish “anti-terrorism” (sic) legislation permits as standard up to five days without access to the detainees’ lawyer, doctor or family and despite EU Committee Against Torture criticism, the practice continues. “Confessions” tend to be extracted after two or three days, which the prisoners withdraw as soon as they are in court and out of the hands of the police, alleging water torture, forced stress positions, threats to self and family, sleep deprivation, etc. As a matter of course, the judges ignore the allegations without ordering even a cursory investigation and proceed as though the “confessions” were voluntary and factual.
The “Global Spain” initiative of the Spanish State to 215 Spanish embassies and its sub-title “Touch Democracy” was presented to a small audience at the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin on Monday while Catalan and Basque solidarity demonstrators picketed outside.
While some people, perhaps in the know, were directed straight to the auditorium, a number of others, not regular users of the Instituto’s services, were asked to wait in another area but when the start time had been exceeded by 20 minutes without sign of the event, they went to make enquiries again at Reception and learned where the event was being held, entering to find it had already started.
Mr. Ildefonso Castro,the Spanish State’s Ambassador to Ireland was speaking and shortly launched the event with a showing of a short video which, he said, would bring out the main questions in the initiative. In this video, Lucía Mendez, journalist for the right-wing Spanish daily El Mundo seemed to be interviewing Gabriela Ybarra about the novel she had written (The Dinner Guest). But actually later in the film Mendez began a speech about how good was the Spanish democracy while her interviewee was left with little to say. The author had said earlier that though her grandfather (a Mayor of Bilbao who had fought in Franco’s Army and supported the Dictator regime, not mentioned in the video), had been killed by the Basque armed group ETA in 1973, this was not discussed in her family. She felt that the memory of “terrorism” was disappearing and that children in school were not being taught about it, which is why she wrote her book.
In fact, Spanish media constantly refers in negative terms to ETA and a 2016 case of a brawl between Basque youth and off-duty Spanish policemen in a late-night bar, in which no-one was seriously hurt and no weapons used, was being treated in the media and by the State Prosecutors as a case of terrorism! Although the judge rejected the accusation of “terrorism”, in 2018 the youth receive a range of sentences between two and 13 years jail. An important part of the silence and lack of teaching children history is in fact about the almost four decades of Franco dictatorship and the conduct of the victors in the military-fascist uprising against the democratically-elected government of the Spanish Popular Front in 1936. And of the State assassinations and torture of captured ETA fighters and arrested Basque activists. And of the continued legal battles to uncover mass graves of Franco’s victims and try to identify the remains for the relatives.
Considering that ETA ceased its armed activities in 2012 and has since dissolved itself, the relevance and intention of the film seems to be to show an embattled Spanish “democracy”, fighting against Basque independentist “terrorism” in the past as it is now embattled with the Catalan independentists (seven activists of which it has also accused of “terrorism” a couple of weeks ago).
DISCUSSION BUT NO DEBATE
There was no discussion on the content of the film and, after its end, Víctor Andresco Peralta, Director of the Instituto Cervantes, cultural body of the Spanish Embassy, took to the stage and invited five people by name to take chairs laid out around a table. Launching into a chatty monologue full of jokey self-deprecatory comments (so many that they were actually self-promotional), he eventually asked his questions of his picked panel.
Questions included what were their earliest memories of consciousness of being Spanish, what reactions they had received about Spain from people in Ireland, or in other countries (positive and negative), what they valued about Spain, what they thought about the coup attempt in 1981 (lots of jokes about that), etc.
Referring to his father’s recent stay in hospital, Peralta asked for comparison of the Spanish health service with the Irish one (apparently the former is far better, which would not be difficult) and for other comparisons.
The discussion was skillfully managed by the showmaster to bring his group to paint a picture of a wonderful pluralist Spanish State, of freedom of expression, and of a democracy which had been able to defeat the coup attempt without much difficulty but even so, some discourse arose at times to shake the equilibrium, as when one referred to a relative telling him about the horrors of the Francoist suppression as they entered Barcelona and when another referred to the perception (mistaken, of course!) of many people outside Spain that the State was undemocratic and had violent police.
One of the panel, who appears to be an employee of the Spanish State, said she was proud of the defeat of ETA by the “Spanish democracy”. Another said she was proud of Spanish history and culture, without explaining further. She might have meant the foremost writer of Castillian-language literature, Cervantes himself, who was exiled from the Spanish kingdom because of his anti-feudal views. Or the Andalusian poet Federico Lorca, who was executed by Franco’s soldiers; or the Malagan artist in exile Picasso, who created the famous painting of the Nazi and Fascist aerial bombing of Gernika (most of the poets, writers and artists of the era were against the military-fascist coup and the four decades of dictatorship that followed). Or about the dramatist Alfonso Sastre, whose distaste for the Spanish State’s behaviour towards the Basques was such that he moved to the Basque Country.
Perhaps the woman was proud of the defeat of the learned and tolerant Moorish colony of Al Andalus and its replacement by the racist Spanish Christian Inquisition, along with the expulsion of Arabs and Jews? Or of the centuries-long suppression of the governments of the Basques, Galicians and Catalans, along with their languages? Or of the invasion, massacre, enslavement and plunder of the indigenous people of America, the Caribbean and the Philippines? Or the invasion and colonisation of the Rif in North Africa, when the French saved the Spanish colony after the Spanish army had been wiped out by lesser-armed (and often less numerous) Berber guerrillas.
Of course she might have been referring to the revolt of the Reapers in Catalonia or of the Comuneros in Castille; or of the resistance of Spanish, Catalans and Basques to the military-fascist coup and the four decades of dictatorship …. We don’t know because she did not say.
WHAT ABOUT THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION?
The event had been advertised as a debate but no debate took place. Nor was there a question-and-answer session, nor engagement with the audience except to send them witty asides from Peralta and to thank them at the end.
This was too much for at least one of the small audience, an Irishman who interrupted the concluding remarks of the Director by saying, in Castillian (Spanish) that it was a pity that the question of self-determination had not been discussed. The event was taking place in Ireland, he commented, where another state had denied the people the right to self-determination on grounds of that state’s constitution also. Denied permission to exercise their right, the Irish people had to fight for it and eventually won part-independence.
Peralta commented that the Spanish people were cognizant of Irish history and appreciated it.
The Irishman replied that in the Spanish state things were the complete opposite.
Peralta commented that unfortunately there was no time left for that debate, thanked participants and audience and brought the event to a close.
WHAT WAS THE POINT?
Outside the meeting up to dozen protesters had taken up positions on both sides of the street. On the Trinity College side a couple of protesters stood beside portraits of the Catalan grass-roots activists and politicians who are in jail awaiting sentence or in exile. On the Instituto side, a larger group of protesters held two banners and a Basque Antifa flag.
One of the Catalan supporters, an Irishwoman, addressed several of the panel participants as they exited. It emerged that they had not understood the nature of the event and that they thought it had to do with October 12th, which is a Spanish State celebration of its former empire and spreading of the Castillian language1(and for which one of the panel, who seems to work for the Instituto, is organising an event in Rathmines). They said they had not seen the “Global Spain” publicity (81 pages of propaganda justifying the actions of the Spanish State and attacking the principle of Catalan self-determination and the pro-independence movement!).
There was in truth not much point in attending the event unless one wanted receive a smooth-talking patter about an imaginary State occupying most of the Iberian Peninsula. For the protesters, it was important to give a response to the paint-over job. For the producers of the show, the importance was to try to distract an Irish audience from the reality of what is an unreconstructed fascist state with a thin veneer of democracy that is constantly peeling away.
1El Dia de la Hispanidad was formerly called “El Dia de la Raza Española” (Day of the Spanish Race). It is also the Spanish Armed Forces Day, obviously not inappropriately in context!
Most people within the Irish state will now be aware that that socialist Paul Murphy, TD (member of Irish parliament, the Dáil), has left the Socialist Party and, with some others, intends to set up a new socialist organisation called RISE. His statement on his Facebook page was covered by a host of the capitalist media with little comment by most while left-wing chat room the Cedar Lounge had more comment than I found time or interest in reading.
A common reaction on the street was one of bewilderment at the splitting actions of left-wing parties. Elements of that were to be found in the relevant piece by Miriam Lord (see References), who comments on Dáil politics and politicians in her Irish Times column (though her sharpest treatment was of Brendan Ogle, who had mocked Murphy’s action).
I am myself, if a little surprised, not shocked nor indeed very engaged with the matter and consider it generally of little import on the prospect of a revolution in Ireland.
It strikes me, with little personal knowledge of him but based on material in the public domain, that Paul Murphy is in general a principled socialist politician and furthermore an activist who has not shirked from putting himself physically in the resistance line in Rossport, on the seas to Gaza, in Turkey against its government and in Dublin on water and housing protests. Furthermore, in the short period he was an MEP or supporting Joe Higgins when the latter had the seat, Murphy has had questions asked about the treatment of Basque political prisoners which few other politicians are willing to touch, lest they be associated with the armed liberation organisation ETA (now defunct).
However, I see no prospect of even one step towards revolution in the general conduct of any of the socialist organisations of any size in Ireland, splits or no. Of course it is helpful to have awkward questions asked of the Government in the Dáil and to gain media coverage of issues that would likely remain unmentioned, or to have their critical comments reported where yours or mine would never see the light of day. And Murphy remains in that ambit in Dáil, along with the Solidarity-PBP group — and Independents for Change are there also (now sadly missing Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, who have gone to the EU).
But that is not necessarily revolutionary work.
A TASK FOR SERIOUS REVOLUTIONARIES
Without a conjunction of revolutionary Socialists with revolutionary Republicans, I can see no hope for revolution in Ireland and, without revolution, no hope of a solution to many of the ills in our society, whether in culture, economy, environment or government. In other words, in anything really. That conjunction was a project attempted in part by British socialists and some of the Fenians of the 1840s, later by Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army (1913-’16), later still by the Republican Congress (1934-’36). It remains the unfinished task for serious revolutionaries.
Neither the Socialist Party/ AAA/ Solidarity nor the Socialist Worker/ People Before Profit/ Solidarity formations have made any effort to take up that task (nor have the Republicans, lest my criticism be thought of one part of the equation only). Nor did the anarchist Worker’s Solidarity when it was an active force. The Communist Party of Ireland does not do so nor does the Workers’ Party. So great is the disdain of these formations for revolutionary Republicans that they refuse to even challenge the daily civil rights violations of the Gardaí and PSNI upon active Republicans, or their treatment in the non-jury special courts or jails on both sides of the Border. Indeed, in case they should somehow be accused of siding with these elements, they rarely even allude to the unfinished national liberations struggle of Ireland, nor to the colonial occupation of one-sixth of its territory, while instead fully prepared to support the just national liberation struggles of nations far away.
Interestingly therefore, from public comment, it appears that Murphy wanted more cooperation with “other elements on the Left” or “Left-leaning”, in which context was mentioned Sinn Féin, while the majority in the Socialist Party refused such a project. Some people will view this aspiration of Murphy’s as a laudable attempt to mould a fragmented Left into at least some kind of united action for Irish social and political progress. I do not.
I am not against a temporary alliance of revolutionaries with social democratic forces at certain points for certain objectives. But that does not include Irish political parties who are or have been part of Irish governments or, if possible even less, so a party that is part of the administration of a colonial occupying power. In the latter category I clearly place Sinn Féin and, in the former, the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.1 In addition, SF has clearly marked a path for itself to a future coalition partnership with a capitalist, pro-imperialist party or parties in Government.
It says something about the Irish socialists that an important question for them is whether or not to ally with a constitutional capitalist and colonial collaborationst party such as Sinn Féin, whereas the question of whether to ally with revolutionary Republicans is not even on the agenda for discussion.
1One might make a temporary exception of the Greens, which have been in Government but once for a short while, admittedly shamefully so but with an honourable resignation.
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.
When ETA, the armed Basque Left pro-Independence group) abandoned armed resistance and decommissioned its weapons, many wondered at the absence of public dissent among its ranks. A dissident trend did appear in the Basque pro-independence movement but it took longer than it had in Ireland; it is in existence now and growing.
In using the term “dissident”, a description not always accepted by those to whom it is applied, I mean those who disagree with the direction taken by the leadership of the organisation and who have therefore separated themselves from the organisation. It becomes a problematic term when it is implied that the “dissidents” have diverged from the original path – on the contrary, those who have left the organisation would say, it is the leadership which has left the path and it is those being called “dissidents” who remain on the “true path”.
In the Basque pro-independence movement, as in the Irish Republican movement, the “dissidents” are in a minority but that should not be taken to mean that those who have remained within the “official” movement are in complete agreement with the leadership nor happy with the state of affairs within the movement. Indeed, within the Izquierda Abertzale (Basque Left pro-Independence movement), many are very unhappy indeed. Some do not agree with alliances with social democrats or attempted with the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), others with complete disarmament, some with disarmament without concessions in return, yet others with particular decisions at various junctures (such as pleading guilty to “terrorism” when the work they had been doing was nothing of the sort, as happened recently in the mass trial of prisoner solidarity activists arrested back in 2013). Or with “apologising to the victims” as the Spanish State has been pressing on prisoners and detainees (the Spanish State of course apologises for nothing, neither the fascist-military uprising of Franco and company, nor the Dictatorship of almost four decades, nor executions, nor recent torture).
There were splits enough in the Irish Republican movement even soon after the Civil War but they also came thick and fast in the early 1970s, out of which grew the Provisionals (Sinn Féin and PIRA) and the IRSP and INLA, leaving Official Sinn Féin and OIRA as a rapidly-diminishing and eventually disintegrating remainder. Another split came about as a result of the electoral path of Provisional SF in 1986, out of which came Republican Sinn Féin. But it was the Good Friday Agreement and its effects which caused the most splits and desertions from the ranks of the Provisionals, leading to the creation of a number of organisations over time: éirigi, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, 1916 Societies, Saoradh and others.
POLITICAL PRISONERS, IRELAND & BASQUE COUNTRY
Most unfortunately, the number of Republican organisations led also to a number of political prisoner support groups and currently there are three main ones: Cabhair (RSF), Cogus (mainly 32 CSM) and Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association (mainly Saoradh).
In the Basque movement, the Izquierda Abertzale, although there were the abiding split has come over the issue of the Republican prisoners. The traditional line of the IA has always been that the prisoners, whether captured ETA volunteers or political activist victims of repression, are political prisoners. It follows that they should be released in any settlement of the Basque national question. But in the meantime, if prisoners, they should be kept in prisons near their homes so that they can be visited without too much difficulty by relatives and friends. That is not only a humane principle but is underwritten by EU and UN policy recommendations on the treatment of prisoners. The Spanish State, however, keeps its political prisoners dispersed throughout its territory, hundreds and even a thousand kilometres away from the family and friends of the prisoners (as does the French State). This is not only an additional punishment on the prisoners, one which was not a specified part of their sentence but also – and perhaps principally – on their relatives, children, partners and friends.
The organisation Amnistia (Gestoras pro Amnistia) was created in 1970 within the movement to agitate for a total amnesty for the prisoners. As is usual with the Spanish State, in 2002 it banned this organisation also as one “assisting terrorism”, threatened its activists with prison and the organisation ceased to exist publicly, their trial beginning in 2008. The State’s outlook was fully expressed in the infamous statement of the former judge and overseer of torture but so beloved of liberals, Baltazar Garzon: “Everything is ETA”.
The organisation of relatives of prisoners on the movement’s “official” list, Etxerat (Homeward) continued to exist and to organise visits, share information and agitate about the prisoners’ treatment but it is not a political organisation as such, which is difficult to combine with welfare work.
To carry out the specifically political work around the prisoners, the organisation Herrira (to the Homeland) was created some years ago. The Spanish State reacted in the usual manner and arrested a number of its activists – for “assisting terrorism”, of course. After that, it was noted that the official line had changed – while not specifically abandoning the call for amnesty, now only the call for and end to dispersalwasheard (along with of course the repatriation of seriously or terminally-ill political prisoners).
LEADERSHIP CHANGE IN LINE AND DISSIDENCE
The change in line, the dropping of the demand for amnesty, led to the creation of a new Amnestia, but with the addition of Ta Askatasuna (and Freedom), this time in the hands of “dissidents”. The “oficialistas”, the current leadership of the main body of the pro-independence movement, Otegi, EH Bildu etc, say this is pure opportunism on the part of the dissidents, who are expressing their disagreement with the abandonment of armed struggle and dissolution of ETA by seizing on the issue of amnesty for political prisoners. They could be right, of course, at least in part. But unlike the leadership of SF and PIRA, the Basque “oficialistas” got no deal whatsoever for their prisoners.
Recently, a significant part of their youth section Ernai left the “oficialistas” and maintains a working relationship with the new ATA. Their issue was that they had prepared a position paper for discussion at the annual congress and the “oficialistas” had refused to permit it to be discussed, since it was critical of current leadership positions.
Another group, Jarki, is revolutionary, socialist, for independence, internationalist and in defence of the language and has been organising.
Apart from those three trends, there also exist anti-authoritarian, ecological etc trends that owe no allegiance to the official leadership of the movement. These are national in the sense that they are spread across the Basque Country and also in that they speak and write in Euskera (Basque language); they are also for social justice, feminist, anti-racist and anti-sexuality discrimination.
It remains to be seen to what degree these various trends will coalesce and whether the “official” movement will continue to see defections from its ranks.