SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER – REALLY?

Diarmuid Breatnach

Again and again we come across activists, journalists, musicians and other artists who are lauded for “speaking truth to power”. They are often praised for that, even idolised. “Speaking truth to power” seems to be brave thing to do. And an important thing. But is it really?

First of all, let us think of who are those usually thought of as “Power”: governments, big companies, military dictators, church leaders, powerful individuals in the media or in the arts …..

Why is it considered a good thing to speak truth to them? It may well be brave to do so and often is. People who spoke the truth in certain situations throughout history and currently have had their careers destroyed, been the subject of all kinds of horrible allegations, been marginalised, lost their families and friends, been framed on charges, jailed as a result or just automatically, tortured, killed and “disappeared”. Yes, we could hardly deny the courage of many of those who chose to take that step. But whether it’s an important thing to do is another thing completely.

What? A courageous act against power not important? What can I be suggesting!

Let’s look at those in power again, taking for examples a government, a military dictatorship and the CEO of a powerful company. In our example, we set out to “speak truth” to them.

For the government, we send them an email, or a letter because there are too many Ministers and Secretaries to address verbally – unless of course we are in some kind of privileged position. They in turn ignore us or send us a dismissive reply (possibly tailored to be quoted) or they have us subjected to surveillance, just in case we should turn out to be a real problem in future. And any government in the world is capable of putting citizens under surveillance.

(Cartoon strip source: Internet)

We send the military dictator a letter and he has us arrested, detained for torture and questioning. Or we accost him when he is somewhere in public …. and his security guards shoot us dead. Or arrest us for torture and questioning.

With regard to the CEO, we send him an email. He ignores it but may have us put under surveillance – just in case. And he’ll have our employment and tax records, families and friends checked out too. Like governments, the CEOs of big companies can easily put people under surveillance and run background checks on them. And CEOs likely last longer in the power position than most governments. Or he might reply dismissively. Or he might have his legal services people threaten us with legal action which, as well as shutting us up, would cost us a lot of money we don’t have, probably bankrupting us.

This is the illusion of liberals and social-democrats but the reality is very different.
(Image sourced: Internet)

(image source: Internet)

In the military dictator’s case, we are out of the picture. In the case of the other two, nothing further may happen if we shut up now. But if not, well …. there’s that list of bad outcomes I listed above. Brave? Certainly – but to what effect? Have we changed anything?

Some people think we can change the essence of the way those in Power think by Speaking the Truth to them. If only we can say it powerfully enough. Nonsense. Those in the Power have already chosen who they want to be, what side they are on and understood the basic dynamics or been taught them along the way. Many choices made have confirmed them in their roles and ideology.  Furthermore they know that to break ranks with their own is a dangerous thing to do which can result in bad outcomes for them too and also expose them to painful and even fatal thrusts from their competitors or rivals. Remember the 1983 film Trading Places? Remember how the main hero falls at first, is shunned, loses his privileges, friends and associates? Unlike the film’s ending, there is no coming back from there.

If those CEOs and company owners ever took a progressive step it was because they were shown it would increase their profitability or at very least were shown it wouldn’t hurt it ….. or they were forced to do so by people’s resistance. Not ever by having “Truth Spoken” to them. Unless it was the truth of resistance (and we’ll come back to that).

I don’t see the point of Speaking Truth to Power … except in very exceptional situations. For example, if we are being sentenced in court, even if the public gallery has been cleared or packed with cops (which has happened even in this state on occasion), we might wish to raise a clenched fist and yell “Death to Fascism!” before the guards jump on us and bundle us to the cells, giving us a few punches on the way.

Or being tortured, if we are capable of it (and while we are still capable) we might want to shout something similar or just plain “Fuck you!” Or in front of a firing squad, to shout “Long live the revolution!” before the order comes to “Fire!”

Will it do any good, make any difference? Without an audience apart from those in Power, almost certainly not. It might affect some soldiers or police in the firing squad or some jailers but such results are usually negligible. But in doing so, we assert our humanity, our spirit against them and it is for ourselves alone, at that moment, that we Speak Truth to Power. Otherwise, there is no point, none at all.

I don’t want to Speak Truth to Power and what’s more, question why anyone else would. Is he or she suffering from some kind of liberal illusion that such words make a difference, can convert or subvert Power? Or from an inflated ego that convinces him or her that they have the gift, the eloquence, the importance to make Power change? Or that somehow, by force of their excellent will, they can overcome history and change reality?

Or even worse, are they signaling to the Power that they are articulate, eloquent even with “alternative” credentials and that they are worth recruiting by the Power?

The Naked Emperor. In Hans Christian Andersen’s subversive tale, an undoctrinated child remarks that, contrary to royal propaganda, the Emperor is naked and the people can then admit this to themselves. The child spoke Truth — but to the People.
(image source: Internet)

Speaking truth among the people. (Cartoon source: Internet)

I repeat: I don’t want to Speak Truth to Power. I want to Speak Truth alright … but to the PowerLESS! I want to expose the Powerful to the people. I want to show them the long list of the crimes of the Power and that it is unreformable. But I don’t want to just read the people a horror story; I want to show them how I think the monster can be killed. I want to show the people that THEY CAN DO IT! The people can grasp power with which to overthrow the Power. I want to show the people what their forebears have done in rebellions, uprisings, revolution, creation of resistance organisations, art, discovery of science, production ….. I want to share what I think with them, argue with them, encourage them, criticise them. And the only time I want to Speak Truth to Power is when they, the People, are listening, or reading what I am saying. Because then, it’s not to Power, in reality, that I’ll be Speaking Truth; the important audience is not Power at all.

So, Speaking Truth to the People is the thing to do. And will those who do so be safe from painful outcomes, that list given earlier? Having careers destroyed, being the subject of all kinds of horrible allegations, being marginalised, losing families and friends, being framed on charges, jailed as a result or just automatically, tortured, killed and “disappeared”? Alas, no, each of those is a distinct possibility: all have happened even to the people of our small island and nearly all of them fairly recently. Some very recently and even ongoing.

There is no safe way to Speak Truth. But at least this way, there is a chance that Speaking Truth will have some effect, will make a difference. It might even make a big difference. We hope so.

And the final Truth is that words, for all their power on people’s minds, don’t change the real world. People do that, through action.

End

(image source: Internet)

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APPROPRIATE MEMORIAL FOR MAGDALENE LAUNDRIES VICTIMS: CAMPAIGN WINS IMPORTANT BATTLE IN DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL

Diarmuid Breatnach

Dublin City Councillors at their meeting on Thursday (13th September) voted by huge majority not to sell the former Magdalene Laundry building in Seán McDermott Street in the city centre. Deputy City Manager Brendan Kenny had earlier announced the possibility of the Council selling the building at an expected price of €14.5 million to a Japanese company that planned and hotel and supermarket on the site.

A campaign group called Separate Church & State had lobbied for the building to become a memorial to the suffering of the inmates of the Magdalene Laundries. The group called people to support an event outside City Hall to coincide with a motion being put forward to prevent the sale of the building.  A range of people attended, seeming mostly Left social and political activists independent of any party and a sprinkling of People Before Profit activists.

The motion was propose by Gary Gannon, a Councilor of a very small political party (with only one member on the Council), the Social Democrats. However the motion was supported by the overwhelming majority of a Independent councillors (i.e of no party) and those belonging to a number of other parties and was passed with 37 voting in favour, eight against and two abstentions.

Campaigners and supporters in front of Dublin City Hall from across the street
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The successful motion called on the Council not to sell the building and land and that instead those who suffered abuse there should be commemorated with a memorial. Other than preventing the sale, exactly how the memorialising might be put into effect remains to be outlined and agreed. There is talk of the State taking it over but whether by donation of the Council or sale has not been clarified. There are very few memorials to the Magdalene Laundry victims and all but one of them are small

The Sean McDermott building appears to have been the last of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland and was closed in 1996. It is also the last of those buildings in the possession of Dublin City Council.

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The significance of the victory is greater than that of elected representatives versus unelected City Managers, the former being more responsive to public pressure than to the demands of high-ranking officials who seem happy to hand over much of the city centre to property speculators, shopping centres, hotels and large student accommodation complexes.

The terms in which the issue was raised are an attack on the legacy of the Catholic Church’s grip on secular society and its relationship with the State.  The campaigners clearly see the Council vote as a victory, though a moral one, against that legacy.  And they are planning to press ahead with the offensive in the terms indicated by the title of their campaign, indicating further targets such as the national health and education services, along with legislation to follow on the national referendum’s rejection of Amendment 8 of the Constitution outlawing abortion.

The Magdalene Laundries – some brief background

       The Magdalene Laundries were a major institution of the Irish Catholic Church from the 18th to the late 20th Century. There were some Protestant parallels too in the Six Counties (“Northern Ireland”) run by the Anglican and Presbyterian churches but the vast majority of the Irish population were of the Catholic faith. The Laundries took in and accommodated women who were considered “fallen women” which at first meant sex workers but later included unmarried women who had a child or children or even women whose behaviour was considered immoral or flirtatious (or even whose beauty attracted male attention) and they were put to work in the laundries for no pay. Ostensibly at first a charitable initiative, their title drew on the New Testament story of Mary Magdalene who, from being a “morally loose” woman, after meeting him became one of the most ardent supporters of Testament’s Jesus.

But if the name was associated with the alleged mercy and lack of judgementalism of the Christ, it also implied moral sin and judgement. In the extremely conservative Catholic Church that it became after the Great Hunger, the main element was likely to be punishment and, when allied to an also socially reactionary political class, the Laundries became an institution of social control of the Catholic Church in Ireland and of the new Irish State.

The Magdalene laundries soon became known to their inmates as places of hard work and ill-treatment, mostly of a psychological nature but also physical. If women left them without permission, they were pursued by the police and brought back. Continuous escapes could lead to jail sentences.

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

During their time in operation an estimated 30,000 Irish women were kept in these institutions in Ireland, approximately 11,000 after the State was created in 1922.

The horrors of these “charitable institutions” began to be revealed to the public during the last decade of the 20th Century, notably in 1993 after a mass grave of 155 corpses was uncovered in the north Dublin convent grounds which housed one of the laundries and the last Laundry was finally closed down in 1996. The Church never accepted any financial responsibility for reparations.

The Irish State set aside a sum of up to €58 million (about half of which has been paid out – see Links) but the religious institutes concerned, the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd and Sisters of Charity refused demands from the Irish Government, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee against Torture, along with other groups in Irish society, to contribute to the compensation fund for the the surviving victims, an estimated 600 of whom were still alive in March 2014 (see Wikipedia in Links).

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Irish State apologised publicly and emotionally in the Dáil (Parliament) in February 2013 but the State never accepted any legal responsibility, its representatives saying that they did not control the Church. When they were reminded that the victims had washed not only clothes and vestments of priests and nuns but had also done laundry service for such state institutions as Aer Lingus, the Irish Army, the Gárdai, the State’s representatives declared that the Laundries were like any other contractor in that regard and that the State could could not accept responsibility for how contractors treated their “employees”. But it is known that State courts sent a number of women to the Magdalene Laundries. And it was the State that allowed the Catholic Church to dominate social care, health care and education, areas which are usually considered the responsibility of the State.

The general story of the Laundries is fairly well-known in Ireland now through media coverage and the testimonies of victims and even abroad in some countries through the 1992 Peter Mullan film Magdalene Sisters (see Links) and a number of documentaries for TV. Mary Coughlan sang a fierce attack on them too the same year as the film, composed by J.Mulhern (see Links for a Youtube video).

View of the protesters outside the meeting (some were inside) looking eastward.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

There are very few monuments to the suffering of the victims of the Magdalene Laundries and they are all of a small size except the statue in Ennis which aroused some local controversy.

The monument at Forster Street, Ennis, Co. Clare, dedicated to the Magdalen women and a subject of some controversy.
(Photo: Mike Shaughnessy)

Despite the duration of their existence and numbers involved and the international coverage, the Pope claimed when tackled by some survivors on his recent visit to Dublin that he had no knowledge of the existence of the institutions.

 

Sale of Council buildings and land – the legal position and some background

Due to a legislative change some years ago, Dublin Council Executives such as the City Manager and Senior Planning Officer can make major decisions without consulting elected Councillors and even against their expressed wishes. In this way, for example, the planning permission for the Shopping Centre Plan over the Moore Street Battleground and Market quarter was firstly agreed and secondly, even after the High Court judgement that it is a national monument, was renewed in 2016 by the Chief Planning officer of the time, Jim Keogan.

Many feel and have felt since such decisions that this is an unhealthy state of affairs, with no democratic controls and leaving key officials open to suspicion of bribery from developers influencing their decisions.

Fortunately however when it comes to the disposal of Council assets, the Councillors must agree by majority. This prevented the “land swap” proposed in 2014 by Joe O’Reilly of buildings in Moore Street, which if successful would have enabled his company to demolish half the 1916 Terrace: responding to campaigners and interested elected Councillors, the Council voted the proposal down against senior officials’ recommendations in November of that year.

Links:

Separate Church & State campaign group: https://www.facebook.com/separatechurchandstate/

Short article on the Dublin Council lobby and vote in Look Left: https://www.lookleftonline.org/2018/09/dcc-votes-not-to-sell-off-ex-magdalene-laundry-site/

Closing of the Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/last-days-of-a-laundry-1.89388

Proposed sale of the Sean McDermott Street building: http://www.thejournal.ie/sean-mcdermott-magdalene-laundry-3941031-Apr2018/

State compensation package: https://www.rte.ie/news/2013/0626/458868-magdalene-report/ and https://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/flanagan-257m-paid-out-to-682-magdalene-laundry-survivors-462711.html

The Magdalene Laundries on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalene_Laundries_in_Ireland

The Pope “had no knowledge”: https://www.buzz.ie/latest/pope-magdalene-laundries-297205

Film The Magdalene Sisters, Peter Mullan (1992): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magdalene_Sisters

Song Magdalene Laundry by Mulhern and sung by Mary Coughlan (Sentimental Killer album (1992)): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHWsLYtxzz0

 

(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)

Irish TV (RTÉ) cameraman filming the protest (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Section of protest (Photo: D.Breatnach)

FASCISTS MARCH DEMANDING SPANISH UNITY

Death threat, fascist salute and Franco’s version of the Spanish flag, all illegal and displayed with impunity at this demonstration against Catalan independence and many other fascist events. (Photo credit: EFE/ Enric Fontcuberta 4651#Agencia EFE)

Some 2,000 people (according to the Urban Police) demonstrated this Sunday in Barcelona to reject any negotiation with Catalan sovereignty and in support of the unity of Spain.

(Translation from Catalan newspaper report — see link below end translation — by D.Breatnach)

The protest, called by real estate entrepreneur and former Guardia Civil (spanish state police — Trans) member Juan Manuel Opazo with the support of the ultra-royalist party Vox, crossed the Avenida del Paralelo under the slogan “No [pacts] with either terrorists or separatists.” Sixty associations and movements such as the Catalan Civic Convivencia, the Catalan Association of Victims of Terrorism, Catalonian Employers or Somatemps supported the event.

At the top of Avenida Mistral the demonstration came in sight of an anti-fascist protest called by anti-fascist movements and booing booing was exchanged from both sides. The Mossos (Catalan Police) kept both groups apart.

The march ended on Avenida María Cristina, where the Parliament is situated. Many of there asked the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, to not negotiate “with separatists” and to convene elections.

Coaches from 30 cities throughout Spain, such as Alicante, Malaga, Bilbao or Valladolid, among others, brought supporters to the protest.

Photo: Unionist march supporters give the fascist salute and threaten shooting at the anti-fascists and carry Spanish fascist symbols.

 

COMMENT (D. Breatnach):

The comparatively small size of the march and the fact that it was only possible by bussing in supporters from other parts of the state may be taken as an indication of how small the support base is for this far-right variety of Spanish unionism.

The monster march for independence Diada (Catalan National Day) on Tuesday will provide a useful comparison: one million marchers are expected.

The list of organisations supporting the march gives the lie to their frequent representations as “concerned citizens” who are “opposed to terrorism” etc, particularly the Catalan chapter of the “Association of Victims of Terrorism”, an organisation which for years has been hounding Basque independentist organisations with the assistance of the Spanish courts. To outsiders it might seem like a legitimate organisation held together in solidarity against terrorism but it is well known to be an extremely right-wing organisation, composed of ex-military and Spanish police (and no doubt serving members too) and their relatives. Some of them were indeed victims of armed Basque actions but it has to be acknowledged that was in a war which the Spanish state first launched against the Basques themselves, not only during Franco’s time but for decades afterwards too.

The impunity of fascists breaking the laws against fascist symbols, gestures, slogans and against threats, which has often been remarked upon throughout the Spanish state, was once again demonstrated. On the other hand even rap words, a poster, video or a verbal argument with police officers coming from a left-wing or independentist perspective can and have resulted in prison sentences.

Spanish unionism has a number of types and the one displayed in the reported march is the most extreme – the type that led to the creation of the fascist Falange, a military uprising, massacres of surrendered prisoners and civilians, rapes and other tortures and Franco’s dictatorship. But this could not exist on its own. With the collusion of the leaderships of the social-democratic PSOE and the Communist Party of Spain – and their respective trade unions – after the death of Franco, torture and all kinds of undemocratic laws and court rulings continued with the addition of death squads to force a rejected monarchy on the people and the obligatory unity of the state in the Constitution now in force. All of this together is what now confronts the Catalan independentist movement. But it also confronts any Spanish democrat and should call them to mobilise against Spanish unionism which is inextricably bound up with fascist ideology.

Report translated from: http://www.elpuntavui.cat/politica/article/17-politica/1464111-unes-2-000-persones-marxen-a-barcelona-per-la-unitat-d-espanya.html

 

CATALAN NATIONAL RESISTANCE DAY IN DUBLIN

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

Section of the Diada celebration outside the GPO looking northwards (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Catalans made a good showing Sunday in Dublin to mark their national day, La Diada. The official date is actually the 11th but this was the closest weekend day to it, when people would not be at work. In Catalunya, of course, it will be celebrated on Tuesday.

The event was organised by the ANC (Catalan National Assembly) in Ireland and was supported by a number of other organisations, including representation from CDRs in Ireland (Committee for the Defence of the Republic), Casals Catala (Catalan cultural association) and the Irish Catalan solidarity organisation, With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin.  It took place outside the iconic General Post Office (HQ of the Irish rebels in 1916 and which still bears the marks of British bullets and artillery shell fragments) in O’Connell Street (Dublin’s main street).

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The two independentist flags, the Estelada and the Vermelha were both very much in evidence, along with a banner in Irish and English, streamers calling for “Libertat”, T-Shirts of various kinds displaying identification with the Catalan national movement and/or solidarity with political prisoners. In addition there was a Basque Antifa flag flown. The event was held in a friendly atmosphere with a number of supporters having brought their children and, whether by design or happenstance, there were no speakers. The Els Segadors (The Reapers), the Catalan national anthem was of course sung as were a couple of others and a number of tunes were played on the gralla (Catalan reed instrument with a loud sound).

Catalan woman with the “gralla” musical instrument
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Last year the Diada was celebrated in a number of Catalan cities and with up to a million participating through the streets of Barcelona in a demonstration for Catalan self-determination, in a lead-up to the Independence Referendum carried out on October 1st, in defiance of Spanish Government prohibition and which was savagely attacked by Spanish police. The ANC there, a grass-roots organisation, was the major organiser of the Diada, which is no doubt a major reason why its President, Jordi Sanchez i Picanyol, was arrested by the Spanish Government and, along with others, faces charges of “rebellion” and has been in jail without bail since October.

Subsequently the Catalan Government, an independentist coalition, declared the Catalan Republic and then immediately suspended it. The elections in December returned a majority once again for independence.

Catalans in Dublin have also promised to commemorate the Catalan referendum of October last year.

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Photo shows another view of section of the demonstration and a supporter flies the flag of the Basque Antifascist movement.
(Photo source: donated by Catalan supporter)

 

This year the Diada demonstration in Barcelona, convened under the slogan “Fem la República Catalana” (“Let’s Build the Catalan Republic”) is expected to attract at least a million participants and there will be demonstrations in other Catalan towns too and many other cultural events in addition to marches and rallies. Although the event is organised well and people participate peacefully, the Spanish Government is reputedly sending 6,000 Spanish police – a move which will inevitably be seen – at least by Catalans — as provocative or intimidatory. And indeed evoke memories of Catalans trying to vote in the Referendum last October being batoned by Spanish riot police, as well as dragged, kicked, punched and shot at with rubber bullets (banned in Catalonia).

As the Diada was part of the build-up in the Catalan national movement last year, so it will be this year, although there is currently no plan for another referendum (Catalan political leaders have offered to hold another one but the Spanish Government has replied that would only be permitted if it did not lead to independence but instead to some greater extension of autonomy). Nor is there a prospect of elections this year. Meanwhile, the jailed cultural and political activists await trial without bail, others are in exile and hundreds more face charges. And the the aspiration for independence remains unsatisfied.

 

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

ORIGINS OF THE DIADA

Dates to celebrate the nation, except when they are those of patron saints, are usually chosen to commemorate an important event in the history of the nation – and not always a happy one. The Diada is one of the latter, commemorating the fall of Barcelona in 1714 to the forces of the French Royal House, the Borbons, after a 14-month siege, with the subsequent removal of Catalan laws and national rights. In a struggle between different pretenders to the Spanish Crown, the Catalans had chosen the losing side. The Irish, having made a similar ill-starred choice twice when the British Parliament overthrew its King, first with Charles I (Stuart) and later with James II (also Stuart), may well sympathise.

Spanish dictator Primo de Rivera banned the commemoration and subsequently, with the inauguration of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931, the Catalans opted to side with it while gaining national autonomy from the Government. However the military uprising against that Republic became what is usually known as the Spanish Civil War and Catalans fought to resist Franco. When Catalonia fell and Franco’s dictatorship was installed, the Catalan language was banned as were any demonstrations of independent Catalan national feeling, which however did not totally prevent some gestures of defiance annually on that day. The Diada has now been celebrated publicly in Catalunya every year since 1976, the first September since the death of Franco.

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LINKS:

ANC: https://www.facebook.com/IrlandaPerLaIndependenciaDeCatalunya/

CDR: https://www.facebook.com/CDRDublin/

Casals Catala Irlanda: https://www.facebook.com/casalcatalairlanda/

With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin: https://www.facebook.com/WithCataloniaIreland/

Daily 10-news video of news from Catalonia: http://www.catalannews.com/

“Freedom!”
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

People holding bunting of “Si” flags, the answer the majority gave in the referendum to the question of whether they wished a Catalan Republic or not (Photo: D.Breatnach)

One of many Catalan independence caped crusaders outside the General Post Office. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

In the background: children social and climbing — but not social climbers!
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

View from the pedestrian central reservation (Photo: D.Breatnach)

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Passer-by (tourist) asking what the event is about. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

WAR, SPLIT AND PLANNING INSURRECTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

On the 5th August 1914 the Supreme Council of the IRB, one months after the British had declared war on Germany, decided in principle to instigate a rising for Irish independence.

On 5th August 1914, one month after the British had declared war, the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood decided in principle to lead a Rising. They envisaged, as many observers did too, that the War would not last long and arming and preparing for an insurrection would be difficult within that timeframe. The war continuing well beyond the at most expected period of a year, provided the IRB with the space to organise, plan, prepare – and also with an ally to arm them: Germany.

The split in the Irish Volunteers caused by Redmond’s speech at Woodenbridge, offering the Volunteers to British Imperialism for the war against German Imperialism and Turkey, left the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood in a position to take control of the remainder, those who declined to fight for Britain and determined instead to fight for Ireland’s independence.

Over a number of months Patrick Pearse became Director of Military Organisation, Bulmer Hobson Quartermaster General, Joseph Plunkett became Director of Military Operations, Éamonn Ceannt, Director of Communications, while Thomas MacDonagh became Director of Training.

The Gaelic scholar Eoin Mac Neill, titular head of the Irish Volunteers prior to and after the 1914 split. He would later be disgraced in the eyes of many for his public cancellation of the 1916 Rising which went ahead without him but much diminished in numbers. (Image sourced: Internet)

Bulmer Hobson in later years. By 1916 be had separated from the IRB he had helped reorganise and was even put under armed detention for a period by the IRB.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Patrick Pearse
(Image sourced: Internet)

The titular head of the Volunteers, the Gaelic scholar Eoin Mac Neil, and such founding figures as The O’Rahilly, while in prominent positions and refusing to follow Redmond, did not embody the same coherence and determination for insurrection as was embodied in the IRB.

That list above contains four of the later signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. Seán Mac Diarmada and Thomas Clarke are missing but, though central figures in the reorganisation of the IRB over preceding years, that is not surprising: the older Fenian, veteran of 15 years in British jail in conditions which, it is said, sent one third of his comrades insane and another third to early graves, preferred to work in the shadows. No doubt he had instructed his student and energetic organiser, Mac Diarmada, to do likewise in so far as possible. However, they too joined the expanded Military Council in late 1915.

Thomas Clarke, ex-Fenian prisoner and the real head of the IRB in Ireland. (Image sourced: Internet)

Seán Mac Diarmada, recruited into the IRB by Hobson but became a close supporter of Clarke’s. (Image sourced: Internet)

The fifth of the Proclamation Signatories missing is James Connolly, who in August 1914 was recovering and rebuilding the Irish Transport & General Workers union, months after the end of their exhausting 8-month struggle against the Dublin employers. But he was horrified by the imperialist war and the pitting of workers against one another, divided by the ruling classes of their respective locations, uniforms of different colours concealing their common interests. Connolly wanted a rising – not just for independence but also against the coming butchery of War. The reorganisation of the Irish Citizen Army, the worker’s defence militia, began to engage Connolly’s energies but he was only sworn into the IRB in January 1916, three months before the Rising.

James Connolly, photographed in 1900. (Image sourced: Internet)

So many different threads in Irish life – cultural, political, class and nation – had been coming together, to weave a tapestry that would be read in different ways over decades but would still have powerful images, colours and words to move women and men over a century later.

 

End.

AN OLD WAR WITH A LESSON FOR TODAY

Diarmuid Breatnach

August 9th is the anniversary of the last blows struck in the Battle of Annual, which took place in the Rif, in the Maghreb region of North Africa in 1921. The battle was a major defeat for the Spanish military and part of the Rif people’s resistance which was suppressed with genocidal weapons ferocity by the Spanish and French imperialists, including the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction by the Spanish.

Illustration of the death of a Spanish General Margalla in a much earlier colonialist venture into the Maghreb, 1893 (source of imageL

Many features of this struggle bear important lessons for us today wherever we are in the world but perhaps in particular to the Catalans struggling for independence. And although the struggle of the Rif people was apparently noted by Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara, who we are told learned guerrilla tactical lessons from it, it seems mostly forgotten and Wikipedia’s coverage (the Rif Wars) is modest.

THE BATTLE

In 1921 the Spanish State sent armed forces to extend their area of control beyond the coastal strip around Ceuta and Melilla and other bases in North Africa. They had penetrated 130 kilometres when they encountered light resistance of a skirmishing nature, which continued for five days.

At the end of that period, on August 22nd the Berbers attacked the Spanish Army’s encampment at Annual in force with 3,000 irregulars against Spain’s 5,000 soldiers. General Silvestre decided upon a withdrawal along the line of their earlier advance and that march began in order at 10am but soon turned into a rout, with Spanish soldiers killed by bullet or knife. The dead presumably included Silvestre, whose body was never found.

In the following days the Berbers overran more than 130 Spanish guard stations (containing up to 20 men), took a number of towns and reached the Spanish colony town of Melilla, which Abd el Krim did not attack for fear of other nations being drawn in to defend their resident nationals in the city, a decision he apparently regretted for the rest of his life. The Spanish evacuated fleeing colonists but soon reinforced some towns in particular Melilla, mainly with the Spanish Legion and Moroccan Regulares.

A somewhat menacing representation of the face of Abd el Krim in Time Magazine, 1925, during the life of the Rif Republic (image sourced: Wikipedia).

Analysis of the defeat tends to lay the blame on lack of military efficiency on the side of the Spanish without giving any credit to the tactics or leadership of the Berbers. If that were an accurate assessment one wonders why Guevara and Ho Chi Minh could be reputed to have learned lessons in guerrilla warfare from the conduct of the battle by the Berbers.

Wiki gives a Rifian casualty figure of 800 but reports that “final official figures for the Spanish death toll, both at Annual and during the subsequent rout which took Riffian forces to the outskirts of Melilla, were reported to the Cortes Generales (Spanish Parliament) as totaling 13,192 killed”; Wiki also says the Spanish may have lost up to 20,000.

As well as loss of men, the Spanish Army lost huge amounts of war material which were of course used against them later. Wiki: “11,000 rifles, 3,000 carbines, 1,000 muskets, 60 machine guns, 2,000 horses, 1,500 mules, 100 cannon, and a large quantity of ammunition.  Abd el Krim remarked later: “In just one night, Spain supplied us with all the equipment which we needed to carry on a big war.” Other sources give the amount of booty seized by Rif warriors as 20,000 rifles (German-made Mausers), 400 machine guns (Hotchkisses)) and 120–150 artillery pieces (Schneiders).”

Kaid Sarkash (Riffian leader) pictured in 1924 with another, both Berbers carrying captured rifles: Spanish Mauser & French Berthier Carbine.
(Photo sourced: Wikipedia)

The Spanish imperial-colonialists had lost all the territory they had gained in the region since 1909, lost some stature in the eyes of colonised people and lost face among its other imperialist and colonialist competitors, which might have mattered most to the Spanish authorities. Readers from the Spanish state can confirm or deny what Wiki states, that the defeat is seen there as the worst of the Spanish Army in modern times.

The victorious Berbers under Abd el Krim set up the Rif Republic in September 1921 and tried unsuccessfully for recognition from Britain and from France. There does not seem to be much written about the Republic or if there is, it is difficult to find.

Territory of the Rif Republic (outlined in red) next to “Spanish North Africa”
(image sourced: Wikipedia).

POLITICAL CRISIS AND CHANGE

In response to the Battle of Annual, PSOE delegate and prominent party member Indalecio Prieto declared in the Congress of Deputies: “We are at the most acute period of Spanish decadence. The campaign in Africa is a total, absolute failure of the Spanish Army, without extenuation.”  A War Ministry investigative commission (headed by a General!) although it detailed a number of military mistakes, due to political interference failed to lay the blame squarely on the Army.

The political crisis however led to a great fall of confidence in the Spanish feudal-type military caste ruling class and in the monarch, King Alfonso XIII which is credited with contributing significantly to the birth of the Second Republic (1931-1939 – the one that was overthrown by military uprising and led to the Franco dictatorship, from which the current State has evolved).

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

However, the loss of face for the Spanish imperial State also led to a thirst for revenge in sections of the Spanish ruling class and military. In 1923 Miguel Primo de Rivera1 led a military coup d’etat in Spain, blaming all problems on parliamentary democracy (such as existed) and was supported by the King, Alonso XIII. From the following year until 1927, Rivera took command of the campaign in the Rif and in 1925 the French, although competitors with the Spanish, joined the offensive.

Spain was an early user of chemical weapons against civilian populations and according to Wiki, “between 1921 and 1927, the Spanish army indiscriminately used phosgene, diphosgene, chloropicrin and mustard gas (known as Iperita2). Common targets were civilian populations, markets, and rivers.  In a telegram sent by the High Commissioner of Spanish Morocco Dámaso Berenguer on August 12, 1921 to the Spanish minister of War, Berenguer stated:

I have been obstinately resistant to the use of suffocating gases against these indigenous peoples but after what they have done, and of their treacherous and deceptive conduct, I have to use them with true joy.

The gases were produced illegally in Germany and sold to and bought illegally by Spain and later produced also illegally in Spain. The German chemist concerned, Hugo Stoltzenberg, was later granted Spanish citizenship but joined the Nazi Party during WWII and after the War continued his chemical weapons research in Hamburg. He sold his factory in 1969 and died in 1974.

The war was fought with ferocity on both sides but the Spanish and French had superior armament, aircraft and the Spanish at least dropped chemical weapons on civilian centres, killed domesticated animals and poisoned drinking water and fish. In two years most of the Berber resistance was crushed and in July 1927, Abd el Krim surrendered to the French, who exiled him. The French and Spanish abolished the short-lived Rif Republic, the first in North Africa.

An Association for the Defence of Victims of the Rif War considers that effects of the use of those chemicals have persisted and account for the high incidence of cancers in the population of the area.

There is a Catalan independentist sequel; according to Wiki: “On February 14, 2007, the Catalan party of the Republican Left (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya) passed a bill to the Spanish Congress of Deputies  requesting Spain to acknowledge the “systematic” use of chemical weapons against the population of the Rif mountains. The bill was rejected by 33 votes from the governing PSOE and the opposition right-wing PP who form the majority in the Spanish parliament.”

BACKGROUND – IMPERIALISTS DIVIDING PLUNDER

The Treaty of Fez 1912 was one in which Sultan Abdelhafid ceded Morocco to the French, who shared the spoils out thus: for recognising the treaty and land gained, Germany, which they added to their Cameroon colony but German also ceded to France and area which is now part of Chad. The Spanish got part of the Rif area including an iron mine and permission to build a railroad to it, which was the cause of riots and the start of the First Rif War. The Battle of Annual took place in what is called the Second Rif War and the joint French-Spanish offensive and use of chemical weapons in the Third Rif War.

But already in 1904 the UK, France and Italy in secret treaties had divided between them the Maghreb (that area covering almost the whole of North Africa and today including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania and Western Sahara) into spheres of influence.

TODAY

What remains of that “Spanish North Africa” is Ceuta and Mellila, which Morocco demands Spain decolonise and the Spanish State denies are colonies at all. In 1965 the UN asked the Spanish State to decolonise the territory and in 1966 that it hold a referendum, neither of which it did. From 1973 the Saharawi people fought very successfully under the Polisario Front against Spanish occupation and in 1975/76 the Spanish State abandoned Western Sahara without handing it over to the Saharawi people but by agreement with Morocco and Mauritania which then moved in, since when Morocco has fought the Saharawi people without the latter’s surrender. Mauritania withdrew its claim in 1979 but Morocco has claimed the entire territory and its natural resources (which are significant) and attacked Saharawi settlements and jailed and tortured activists. Other Saharawi people live as refugees in Algeria. The UN does consider that the Saharawi are entitled to self-determination and recognises the Polisario Front as the legitimate representatives of the people and has stated that Morocco should withdraw; the UN maintains a post there but does not monitor Moroccan state actions towards the Saharawi, much less police them.

The UN does not list Ceuta or Melilla as areas in need of decolonisation.

Flag of the Rif Republic design (source: Wikipedia)

Currency note of the Riffan Republic – note conversion rate into English or French currency but not Spanish!
(image source: Wikipedia)

LESSONS

The Rif War has a fair bit of overall coverage on Wikipedia but very little on the Berber leader Abd el Krim and even less on the Berber Republic. I look forward to finding more material about it for my education. I came across this whole struggle by accident and indeed, by strange coincidences, I have family and personal connection to Arab and Berber anti-colonial resistance in the region.

However, the lessons for us and in particular for the Catalans are these, I believe and, given what is at stake now and the enormous human cost paid to obtain those lessons, we should be prepared to study them:

  • The Spanish ruling class was a ferocious one in modern times even before the Franco regime. It showed its ferocity again during the Franco years, during the Transition and, when it felt it necessary, in years since – including under a social-democratic government. It has not at all changed.

  • Capitalists and imperialists will cede no territory unless it is absolutely unavoidable to do so or unless they gain some alternative territory elsewhere. This was true of Spanish North Africa – how much more so will it be true of what they consider as their territorial base and one of the most economically successful parts of that ‘base’!

  • The imperialists of the world, including long-established democracies, come to mutual arrangements which are often kept secret from their own populations.

  • Even competing imperialists will join with other imperialists or their atrocities will be ignored by competitors when they find it in their imperialist interests to do so. As the EU President has already shown, there is no help coming from the European capitalist and imperialist states for Catalan independence – not even a public condemnation of Spanish police violence.

  • Liberals and social-democrats who espouse anti-colonial feeling have a tendency to end up, however reluctantly, supporting their state’s repression of colonialised people’s resistance. This has been seen and will continue to be seen in the PSOE but may also come to be seen in sections of Podemos – with the latter, one can certainly not expect energetic defence of self-determination.

  • A serious defeat for the ruling class can destabilise it sufficiently for revolution or radical reform to take place and to succeed. In this way, should the people of Catalunya succeed in establishing and defending an independent republic there, it could be the spark that sets off detonations throughout the state and allows a genuinely democratic Spanish Republic to emerge. Which means that all genuine democrats in that state should support and strive for the victory of the Catalonian people, both for the rights of the Catalan people but also in their own self-interest.

  • The imperialists violate rights but also language: just as they claimed then and still claim that Ceuta and Melilla are not colonies, so they claim that Catalunya and southern Euskal Herria are not either.

APPENDIX

COINCIDENCES

My father, Deasún Breatnach (1921-2007) worked in Tangiers in journalism for a short period, probably 1947-1949 (he married in Madrid in ’47 and seems to have been back in Ireland in ’49 or at least soon after). Tangiers at that time was by treaty (another imperialist one!) under the joint control of the British, French and Spanish. Deasún told a story that an Arab acquaintance contacted him saying he had an important friend who wished to meet him. Deasún attended by arrangement and the man, who was a muslim religious and temporal leader, wished to get a story of Spanish Army atrocities against people in the Rif, including electric shock torture, out to the world. Deasún took down the report and protest letter in English as requested and sent one copy to a world leader (I forget now but possibly Churchill) and another to the United Nations and filed a story about it to the Irish Press. The Press did not print it because, according to the Editor, they had no corroboration. Deasún said that the Gibraltar Times (if that is the correct name) had run a story on it also but by the time they had this discussion it was about a year later.

Unrelatedly, about a decade ago I joined a small group of activists in a solidarity campaign, Western Sahara Action Ireland, which ran a FB page and took a number of street actions (on a number of occasions harassed and threatened by thugs sent from the Moroccan Embassy). We also set up a “Sahara tent” at an Electric Picnic festival which was visited by Michael D. Higgins. The Coordinator of the WSAI group left to take up work elsewhere and, as a number of us were also active in other struggles we were unable to keep the group going but the page is still maintained and can be accessed at (see Links).

LINKS

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Annual

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rif_Republic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_weapons_in_the_Rif_War

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rif_War

Western Sahara: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Sahara

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Fez

https://www.facebook.com/groups/256377861125569/

 

FOOTNOTES

1Whose son Manuel Primo Rivera was a prominent fascist in 1930s Spain.

2After Ypres, where the Germans used it in WWI for the first time.

OREGON USA: NO FREE SPEECH FOR FASCISTS!

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

Like fascists in many other parts of the world, those on the Oregon demonstration marched under the slogan of “free speech”.  NO FREE SPEECH FOR FASCISTS!

 

Police in Oakland, Oregon, went into riot police mode at a fascist march on Saturday (4th August 2018) which was opposed by anti-fascists. After maintaing a presence between the two forces for some time they eventually moved to break them up and employed ‘flash-bangs’ and other methods. The march without a permit by fascists was organised by the Patriot Prayer organisation led by Joey Gibson who is running for election to the US Senate and who declares that they are demonstrating for free speech.

Right-wing supporters of the Patriot Prayer group gather during a rally in Portland, Oregon, U.S. August 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart – RC1E0096DB40

Feelings in the town are already running high after a Patriot Prayer supporter was charged with stabbing a man who allegedly intervened to defend from harassment two women on a light-rail train last year, one of whom was wearing a hijab.

According to reports, Gibson declared to supporters that they were there “to teach a lesson to the country” minutes before they began to march. On June 30th, a previous Patriot Prayer event led to clashes with anti-fascist demonstrators, during which the Oakland police revoked the permit for the demonstration and declared a riot. Earlier on Saturday, in a response to Oakland Police reminding people of a city code banning carrying weapons in the public park, Gibson posted: We’ve always had guns at the rally. I cannot think of one rally when we didn’t have guns with us. Everywhere we go, we have guns.”

Anti-fascist opposition to Patriot Prayer march in Oregon USA. Note mixed attitudes of people wearing improvised riot gear and a placard apparently calling for peaceful opposition
(photo US Media).

Earlier, Portland Mayor Wheeler had expressed concern about the planned Patriot Prayer march, as had the Police Chief. Portland Police Bureau Chief Outlaw (yes, honestly) was appointed to post last year; an African-American woman, she started her career as a patrol officer and was appointed Deputy Chief to Oakland’s police department in 2013.

FASCISM AND FREE SPEECH ACROSS THE WORLD

In 2016 Tommy Robinson led a couple of hundred supporters in Birmingham, Britain to launch the anti-Muslim group Pegida UK, which he founded as part of a Europe-wide fascist initiative intending to launch Pegida in a city in every European state (they failed spectacularly in Dublin, see Rebel Breeze report in Links). Two years earlier, he had led the Islamophobic English Defence League which soon split and melted away.

(photo US Media).

Like Robinson, who was recently given a 13-month sentence for contempt of court in Britain and even more recently released on bail for retrial, the call of fascists when not in power or in position of strong dominance is always for “free speech”. Once dominance is achieved, the fascist call for “free speech” changes to slogans such as ending freedom of speech if it is considered “unpatriotic”, advocating “race-mixing” or “moral degeneracy” and, of course “communist propaganda”. When in power they enforce the elimination of what they consider undesirable free speech, including criticism of policies or leadership even from within their own ranks. When in a dominant position in a country, region or area, fascists enforce their control of “free speech” through terror attacks on their opposition or target communities, with or without collusion with the State, military or local police force. When fascists have state control, they limit free speech through laws, court and prison, in addition to extra-legal fascist attacks and assassination squads.1

Fascists seek to establish a safe “beach head” upon which to build and from which to extend. If successful, they attract more and more followers, while they intimidate their opposition and their targets. But in failure, as when driven off the street, their opposition and targets grow in confidence and the fascist organisations usually disintegrate in internal struggles between cliques and denunciations of their unsuccessful leaders.

That is the well-documented history of fascism which the fascists try to conceal while weak but in which they glorify when in power. Unfortunately, liberals, whose bodies exist in the real world but whose ideology lives in a world of make-believe, unknowingly collude with this trajectory. Again and again they insist that the fascists and racists which they abhor must be given freedom of speech and even accuse the anti-fascists of a kind of fascist authoritarianism.

When liberals do turn to wanting to control the freedom of fascists to organise, as some do at some stages, they always appeal to the State to carry out that task for them. Sometimes, according to its interests at the time, the State will oblige, with measures sometimes including a wholesale banning2 but will often simultaneously ban progressive resistance movements.  More often it will oblige liberals by fines or short prison sentences on fascists or by anti-racist or anti-”hate” legislation. And often, fascists attempt to turn these too to their advantage, projecting themselves as martyrs of “free speech”.

The only effective remedy is that anywhere and everywhere, fascists are denied free speech – not by the State (whose capitalist interests are anti-socialist and will often recognise the usefulness of fascists) but by the alliance of anti-fascist interests: ethnic minorities, LBGT groups, communists, women, trade unions. This thesis has emerged out of an ideological battle that has been largely won decades ago among the Left and Republican movement in Ireland but which the general Left at times fails to put into practice – had it been left to them, Pegida’s attempted Dublin launch would not have been quite the ignominious defeat it was.

In this context the stand of the “Resist Patriot Prayer” march must be applauded. Their Facebook event description included the following sentence: “We make no apologies for the use of force in keeping our communities safe from the scourge of right-wing violence.”


End.

LINKS

Oregon, Oakland events, report by PBSO News Hour: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/portland-police-city-officials-prepare-for-right-wing-rally-and-counter-protest

and Associated Press in ABC7 News: http://abc7.com/politics/heavy-police-presence-as-right-wing-rally-begins-in-portland/3883335/

Rebel Breeze report on failed Pegida launch in Dublin: https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/pegida-planned-launch-ends-in-sinking-survivors-take-to-lifeboats/).

Attempted coordination of Fascist movement from USA across Europe: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jul/29/tommy-robinson-far-right-resurgence-steve-bannon-us-support

 

FOOTNOTES

1 Fascist movements and states are often plagued by splits, attempted coups and conspiracies. In June 1934, the Nazi SS and Gestapo attacked their former allies, the Nazi SA (Brownshirts), wiping out the leadership and dispersing the organisation in the event often called “The Night of the Long Knives”. They also wiped out a number of conservative anti-nazis. The death-toll has been widely debated, some estimates placing it between 700 and 1,000.

2  As by the British state of the British Union of Fascists during WWII, while their leader Oswald Mosely was placed under house arrest in a comfortable country house and land (or by De Valera of the Blueshirt movement in 1930s Irish state). However, less than a decade earlier in 1936, at the Battle of Cable Street when anti-fascists defeated the Blackshirts’ attempted invasion of London’s East End, the primary force fighting the anti-fascist resistance was 7,000 foot police and all the mounted police in London.