RIGHT TO OVERTHROW THE SYSTEM

Diarmuid Breatnach

The whisper is that a new movement is to be created, called Right to Change and that it will publish an on-line mass left-wing newspaper, which will be the first mass left-wing paper in this country since 1913 and even then, that newspaper’s distribution was mostly confined to Dublin.

In fact, a movement based on the right to change already exists, taking in not only the right to water but to housing, to social provisions, to health, to education, to natural resources – the many things that have been removed or cut or are under threat in order to pay the bankers and speculators. One supposes that this new organisation is intended to build on that movement, coordinate it etc. And no doubt put up a slate of candidates at local government and at general elections.

It is Right to Water that has given rise to this idea and no doubt a number who were prominent in it will be likewise in the new organisation.

Right to Water was not a movement, rather a kind of coordinating organisation for national demonstrations, chiefly in Dublin, against the water charges and the expected privatisation of water. In that work it has been highly successful.

The demonstrations built on the actions and mobilisation of hundreds of community groups across the country, protesting locally, encouraging people not to register or pay the charges, blocking Sierra and others from installing water meters and so on.

Many people will think that building Right to Change is the logical next move and will be enthused by it. And why not? Sure wouldn’t it be great to have a large number of TDs standing up to the System, denouncing its plans and their actions? The kind of thing done today by a few Independent TDs and others representing parties with small representation in the Dáil. Well, it would be useful but would it really make a difference?

Recently a Dáil committee set up to review the water charges and so on published its recommendations. Only 13 of the committee’s 20 members agreed with all of the recommendations but all of the recommendations stand nevertheless. Of course some of the objectors were right-wingers but many were of the Left – the System will always have a majority in the sub-systems it sets up. And if a time should come when it cannot achieve that …. well, that’s when you’ll hear the tanks clanking down the street.

Ok, granted perhaps, but it can’t hurt, can it? To have more Left TDs harassing the Government? No, of course not. Not unless we expect too much of this new organisation. Not unless we come to depend on it. And scale down our own independent activities. Hand over power to them.

That wouldn’t happen, would it? Unfortunately it has been a historical trend for popular movements to do exactly that. And social democracy always betrays the mass upon which it has erected itself. The Liberals in the further past and our ‘own’ Fianna Fáil in more recent history often promised the workers many things to win their votes. And even helped the workers push some things through from time to time. But they never promised to abolish the System, never promised socialism.

Social democracy does promise to deliver a fair and just society. It is a promise that it has been making for well over a century but on which it never delivers. It’s not just about jobbery and corruption, of which there is plenty in the corridors of power and to which many social democrats gravitate; it’s more that the Councillors and TDs elected never had any intention of abolishing the System. And in fact, will come out to defend the System whenever it is in danger. When it comes down to it, the System is THEIR system.

From time to time one hears social democrats bewailing “the unacceptable face of capitalism”, as though there exists an “acceptable” face of that system. They may talk at times about the “evils” of capitalism but will bear in mind the “good things” of capitalism too, the benefits they draw or hope to draw from the System. So criticism must be “balanced”, one mustn’t “throw the baby out with bathwater” and so on.

“The law must be obeyed”, they agree, as though “the law” is something divorced from class and politics, some immutable thing that just somehow exists. And yet just about every major social and political advance — including the right to organise a trade union at work, the right to strike and the right to universal suffrage — was won by people breaking “the law”. “The law” and its enforcers are part of the System.

If (heaven forbid) the action of the System’s police should be criticised, then we will hear phrases like “the police have a hard job to do”, the action of the ‘bad’ police is “bringing the force into disrepute”, “there are a few bad apples”, “better training is needed”, a “change in management is necessary”, etc etc. Anything but admit that the police force in a capitalist country exists in order to serve that System.

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY BETRAYS

At the beginning of May 1926, with a coal miners’ strike as a catalyst, Britain was heading towards a real possibility of revolution. The social democratic Trades Union Congress called a General Strike. In many areas of the country and in cities, no transport moved unless it had authorisation from the local Trades Council (a committee of local trade union representatives) or it had armed police and soldier escort. In less than two weeks, the TUC, at the behest of the British Labour Party, called off the strike, leaving the miners to fight on alone to their defeat in less than eight months. “By the end of November, most miners were back at work. However, many remained unemployed for many years. Those still employed were forced to accept longer hours, lower wages and district wage agreements” (Wikipedia).

Banner of a Labour Party branch of Crewe (West England) with a Marxist revolutionary slogan at a General Strike rally. Yet the leadership of the Labour Party convinced the TUC to call off the General Strike. (Image source: Internet)

There had been more workers coming out at that time but also some of the union leaders were beginning to crack, as the struggle was shaping up to be a real showdown between the System and the workers. The TUC didn’t even set up a system to guarantee no retaliations by bosses against activist workers in non-mining unions and many lost their jobs.

The Chilean Salvador Allende is often seen as a hero, a radical social democrat who stood up against internal military fascism and external CIA-led destabilisation. Workers and peasants and some sections of the middle class got Allende elected President in 1970 but right wingers and officers in the military, working with the CIA, were conspiring against him. Everybody knew this and sections of the workers asked for Allende to arm them against the coup they knew was coming. Allende tried instead to compromise and find senior officers he could work with to use against the plotters. When the military carried out the coup, there was some armed resistance but most workers were unarmed. The coup left “3,000 dead or missing, tortured ten thousands of prisoners and drove an estimated 200,000 Chileans into exile” (Wikipedia). In addition, the children of many murdered left-wingers and union activists were given to childless right-wingers and military and police couples to raise as their own.

Social democracy always betrays or ends up hung by its own illusions. Unfortunately the workers end up hanging with it also.

Moments of terror during the 1973 military coup in Chile — some of those pictured may well have been tortured and/ or murdered soon afterwards. (Image source: Internet)

In 2010, in response to Government budget cuts of between 5% and 10% on public servants, along with a levy on pensions, along with a breakdown in the “partnership” system of business and state employers negotiating with trade unions, the social-democratic Irish Trades Union Congress called a major demonstration in Dublin.  Perhaps 70,000 marched down O’Connell Street and the ITUC was threatening a general strike.  Despite escalating strike action in a number of sectors and the growing unpopularity of the Government, the ITUC abandoned the idea of a strike and instead went in to do a deal with the Government, in which they actually agreed to pay cuts and the pension levy, in exchange for some guarantees around public sector jobs. The social democratic trade union leaders didn’t have the stomach (or backbone) to take on the Government, to test the level of support for resistance.

Section of the ICTU protest march in November 2010 — the ICTU threatened a General Strike within days but instead crawled into Croke Park Agreement.
(Image source: Internet)

Why all this talk about social democracy? Well, because Right to Water is essentially a social democratic alliance. It contains Sinn Féin, the biggest minority party in the Dáil, with 23 elected representatives, third in number of TDs. Right to Water is also supported by Unite, “Britain’s biggest union with 1.42 million members across every type of workplace” according to their website it is pretty big in Ireland too, which is a “region” for the union, with 100,000 members across the land. These are forces that, while opposing the water charge, did not support civil disobedience on water meter installation nor refusing to pay the charge (although a number of their members fought along with the rest). Refusing to register and pay were the most effective ways of resisting the water charges and it is the high level of civil disobedience behind the giant demonstrations that has made the ruling class think again and promoted divisions between FG and Labour on the one hand and Fianna Fáil on the other.

But these elements did not support that policy. They want to be not only law-abiding but be seen to be law-abiding. Seen by who? Well, by the ruling class of course. SF in particular is champing at the bit to get into a coalition government but needs to show the ruling class that it is a safe pair of hands, i.e that the System will remain intact if managed by them. As indeed they have done in joint managing the regime in the Six Counties.

Of course there are many occasions when social democrats and revolutionaries can cooperate – but never by ceding leadership to the social democrats nor by depending on them, always instead by relying on their own forces and striving to educate the masses that the system cannot be reformed but needs to be overthrown …. and that the ordinary people are perfectly capable of achieving that.

AN ON-LINE MASS LEFT-WING NEWSPAPER

What about the left-wing newspaper though? Now that might be something, true enough. A source of rebuttal to the lies we are constantly getting from the media and a source of information and news which media censorship ensures most of us don’t get to read, see or hear.

If it seeks to be a truly mass paper it will need to cover not only foreign and domestic news but also sport, with sections on history, culture, nature, gardening ….. Rudolfo Walsh, who founded and with others ran the important ANCLA news agency during the dictatorship and the earlier extremely popular CGTA weekly in Argentina, until he was assassinated by the police, has been credited with two important sources of the weekly’s success: his informants within the police and army and an excellent horse racing tipster!

Rudolfo Walsh, Argentinian writer and journalist of Irish descent, his image superimposed on another of the military dictatorship that murdered him.
(Image source: Internet)

It is a big undertaking and a very interesting one.

But will the new paper practice censorship? Will it confine its discourse to the social democratic or instead allow revolutionary voices in it? Will it allow criticism of trade union leaderships, including Unite’s? Will it cover the repression of Republicans on both sides of the Border but particularly in the Six Counties? One would certainly hope so. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – and of the newspaper, in the reading.

MOORE STREET MUSEUM — A FUTURE TOURIST’S ACCOUNT

A MOORE STREET HISTORY TOUR — A VISITOR’S EXPERIENCE IN THE FUTURE

Some decades into the future, I invite you to imagine a foreign-based tourist writing of her experience of the 1916 History and Cultural Quarter. Her name might be Isabela Etxebarria, from Argentina; she may be writing in her excellent English or perhaps her Castillian was translated.

This also formed part of my submission to the Minister’s Consultative Group on Moore Street which is soon to publish their recommendations.  A number of important, not to say crucial, campaigns were excluded from that group but were permitted to make submissions.  I contributed to two group contributions but this is piece is from my personal one, of which I have previously posted some sections:

https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/the-1916-history-of-moore-street/

https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/the-moore-street-market-a-possible-future/

https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/personal-recommendations-for-the-moore-street-quarter/

 

“Dublin is an amazing city for someone interested in culture, literature or history. By virtue of its long existence as a centre of population, and also as a result of its history of invasions, occupations and resistance, it has enormous historical interest. It has also contributed three writers to the Nobel Prize pantheon and arguably would have contributed another one or more, were it not for certain prejudices of their times. I had read something about the Rising in Dublin against the British Empire early in the 20th Century — right in the middle of the First World War — and was eager to learn more.

I was also aware that an Argentinian citizen, Eamon Bulfin, of the Irish diaspora to my country, had raised the Irish Republic flag on the GPO, had been condemned to death after the Rising and then deported to Buenos Aires where he had functioned as a foreign representative of the revolutionary Irish Republican government. His sister Catalina had married Seán McBride, a Nobel laureate and also winner of the Lenin Peace Prize, son of John McBride, one of the sixteen executed in 1916, and of Maude Gonne, a prominent Irish Republican activist.

“Irish Republic” flag, the design of the flag which was raised by Eamonn Bulfin on top of the GPO.
(Photo source: Internet)

On Friday, we went to experience one of the famous historical tours of inner city Dublin. There are various history tours, some of which lead to a building called the General Post Office but which all the locals refer to only as “the GPO”. Other tours then take the ‘GPO’ as their starting point and it is one of those that I joined – its title was ‘The 1916 Rising – Evacuation, Advance & Surrender’.

The tickets of those participating were checked (except for children’s tours, the regulations restrict to no more than thirty at a time including ten children,) and we were handed audio earphones, radio receivers and issued with our instructions – stay with the group, obey the instructions of the guide, etc.

Our group contained some young children and a few in their late teens, with their parents. About half or more of the group looked like tourists and some asked for the foreign-language options of receivers. There was one man in a wheelchair.

As instructed by the guide in a number of languages, we tested our receivers to find the volume settings appropriate for each individual. Then our guide motioned for us to listen to our earphones … and the narration began.

Depiction of 1916 Rising in art
(Sourced on Internet)

Gradually, we were pulled back across the decades until we were in that amazing Rising, taking place in what had once been considered the second city of the British Empire, rising up against that very same Empire, the largest the World had ever seen.

Eamon Bulfin, from Argentina, who raised the Irish Republic” flag on the GPO at the Henry St. corner (Photo sourced on Internet)

In our imagination, aided by a commentary, it was the fifth day of the Rising and many of the buildings in the city centre were ablaze. Through our earphones, against a backdrop of booming cannon and crashing shell, chattering machine guns, rifles’ crack and whining ricochet, we could hear the crackle of flames. Irish Volunteers’ voices reported that the glass in Clery’s building opposite had melted and was running across the street like water. The heavy ledgers the Volunteers had placed in the GPO windows to protect against bullets were smouldering. Other voices added that despite fire-fighting efforts the roof was on fire and the roof lead melting. We could almost smell the smoke. Then finally, on the following day, the order to evacuate given in an Edinburgh accent – James Connolly, the socialist commandant of the HQ of the Rising, the General Post Office.

The scene inside the GPO just prior to the evacuation through Henry Place as imagined by Walter Paget
(Sourced on Internet)

In the hubbub of people getting ready to evacuate some voices stood out: Elizabeth O’Farrell, giving instructions about the moving of the injured James Connolly; calls to evacuate by the side door and caution about crossing Henry Street, with machine-gun sniper fire coming from the east all the way down Talbot Street from the tower of the train station at Amiens Street and indeed, some bullets traveling from the west along the street too.

A man’s voice in our earphones says “It’s lucky we have oul’ Nelson there to shield us some of the way!” and we hear a few people laugh.

Then, The O’Rahilly’s voice, calling for volunteers to charge the barricade at the top of Moore Street and a chorus of voices answering, clamouring to be chosen.

Now we are out in a group and crossing Henry Street. The man in the wheelchair, having politely declined offers to push his chair, is propelling his wheels strongly along with his leather-covered hands. Brass ‘footsteps’ laid into the street draw attention to the GPO Garrison’s evacuation route. It is weird to see the pedestrian shoppers and sightseers of the Twenty-First Century as half our minds are back in the second decade of the Twentieth.

Across this short stretch to Henry Place we went, the crack of rifles and chatter of machine guns louder now in our earphones. And explosions of shells and of combustibles. The garrison scurried across this gap carrying the wounded Connolly on a bed frame and Winifred Carney, carrying her typewriter and Webley pistol, interposed her body between Connolly and a possible bullet from the train station tower.

The laneway here has murals and marking on the ground to mark the route of the evacuation. Immediately we stepped on the restored cobbles of the lane-way, the sounds of battle in our earphones receded somewhat.

No bullets can reach us here!” shouts a voice in our earphones.

No, but bejaysus them artillery shells can!” replies another.

Other shouts a little ahead warn us that gunfire is being directed down what is now Moore Lane from a British barricade on the junction with Parnell Street.

A sudden shouted warning about a building ahead of us, to our left, facing Moore Lane.

See the white house? The bastards are in there too,” shouts a strong voice which I am told is Cork-accented, a representation of the young Michael Collins’. “Let’s root them out. Who’s with me?”

Another chorus of voices, a flurry of Mauser and Parabellum fire, then only the steady chatter of the machine gun up at the British barricade and the sound of bullets striking walls.

The Cork sing-song voice again. “I can’t believe it — The place was empty, like!”

Aye, it was so many bullet’s hoppin’ off the walls made us think the firing was coming from inside,” a voice says, in the accents of Ulster.

The “white house” at the junction of Henry Place and Moore Street, on the GPO Garrison’s evacuation route on the way to Moore Street, photographed soon after the Rising. (Photo sourced at the Internet).

Then an unmistakably Dublin working class accent: “Would yez ever give us a hand with this!” followed by the creak and rattle of wheels on the cobblestones as the cart is dragged across the intersection. Now we can hear the machine gun bullets thudding into the cart.

Quick now, cross the gap!” comes the order and the dash across the gap begins. Nearly 300 men and women? Someone is bound to get hit and yes, they do and we hear that one of them died here.

Across the gap, nowadays mercifully free of enemy fire but still feeling vulnerable, we follow Pela, our guide, to the corner with Moore Street. In character, she peers carefully around as we hear machine-gun and rifle here too, but Mausers and Parabellum as well as Lee-Enfields.

Gor blimey!” exclaims a London accent from our earphones, reminding us that some of the Volunteers had been brought up in Britain. “O’Rahilly’s lads are getting a pastin’. None of ’em made it as far as the barricade!”

An Irish voice: “Into these houses then – no other way! We have to get into cover to plan our next move.” This is followed by the sound of a door being hit and then splintering as they break into No.10, the first house on the famous 1916 Terrace.

“Careful now,” Elizabeth Farrell’s voice, followed by a muted groan of pain as Connolly is maneouvred through the doorway and up the stairs.

Pela sends the man in the wheelchair up in the lift and leads us up the stairs. When the lift and the last of our group arrive we proceed across the restored upper floors from house to house, passing through holes in the walls, as the GPO Garrison did in 1916 – except that they had to break through the walls themselves, working in shifts and our ‘holes’ are more like jagged doorways.

No.10 was the field hospital and here, represented by dummies and holograms, are the cramped bodies of wounded Volunteers and the British soldier rescued by George Plunkett. The woman of the house is trying to prepare food for the fighters.

Through a few unshuttered windows, we can see the busy street market below us going about its business, apparently oblivious of our passage above them. But then, thousands of tour groups have gone through here over the decades. The weather being fine, the transparent roof covering the street is withdrawn and through the double glazing of the houses one can just barely hear the street traders calling out their wares and prices.

We pass through those hallowed rooms, listening to ghosts. Here and there a hologram appears and speaks, echoes of the past. Dummies dressed in the uniforms of the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna and Hibernian Rifles are on display here and there. Imitation Mausers and Parabellums and Martinis, each one carefully made and to the same weight as the original, are there. They are security-chained but we know people are free to pick them up and feel the weight, as a couple of children do, to imagine carrying and firing one. But not to be flash-photographed, which is not permitted here.

Working people’s bath in the early 1900s.
(Sourced on Internet)

Black cast-Iron kettle from the period
(Sourced on Internet)

Candleholder for lighting for the bedroom
(Sourced on Internet)

Replica Cumann na mBan medical kits are on display, open so one could inspect the contents. The houses also have period furniture, fireplaces, beds …. chamber pots …. kitchens with utensils … bedrooms …..

Mauser ‘Howth’ Rifle
(Sourced on Internet)

There are dummies dressed too in civilian clothes of the time typical of that area — women, men, children (even the dog fed by Tom Crimmins, the last Volunteer to leave Moore St.).

ICA Male Uniform
(Sourced on Internet)

Here are some Volunteers breaking through a wall; over there, exhausted Volunteers sleeping

Cumann na mBan uniform.
(Sourced on Internet)

We see magnified historical newspaper headlines, photos, badges and medals. A map of Dublin with fighting locations flashing on them, some of them going out as they fall, the dates appearing above them to show when that happened. But many were only surrendered on receipt of the order from Pearse or Connolly.

Snatches of poetry, of song come to us as we cross from room to room, from house to house, some of it nationalist, some traditional or folk, some even music hall from the era. And for our eyes, the holograms of the Proclamation, the portraits of the executed 16 and many others who fought and died or who survived, flags, the Tricolour, the Irish Republic, the green-and-gold Starry Plough, waving in the wind above Clery’s ….

Half-way along the terrace we come to the historical discussion between the leaders, creatively reconstructed on the basis of some witness statements. Pearse wishing to surrender to avoid further loss of civilian life (the names of the dead civilians in Moore Street, their ages and the manner of their dying appearing above him), Clarke arguing, a sob in his voice, Connolly saying maybe they should wait for Sean McLoughlin to get back (he is out preparing a diversion attack to allow a breakout) …. Then the arguments with some of the other Volunteers, Mac Diarmada having to use all his powers of persuasion.

Oh, such emotion in such short discussions! Then the decision, and Elizabeth O’Farrell volunteering to go with the white flag to open negotiations with the enemy …. even though civilian men and women have already been shot in died in that street, including one beneath a white flag.

Shortly afterwards, the faces of the dead civilians and Volunteers appear, then the sixteen executed come into view, suspended in the air in front and a little above us. We stand there while passages are read out from their trials, letters from their condemned cells, words to relatives …. Then the dates appear above them and we hear the fusillades as by one their faces blink out, until finally only Casement remains, the image of the gallows and then he too is gone. All is dark for a moment, then all sixteen faces appear again, over a background of the three flags of the Rising, with a list of the fallen rank-and-file, to a swelling chorus of The Soldiers’ Song, in English and in Irish.

Portrait of the 16 executed in 1916.
(Sourced on Internet)

At the end of the Terrace, we descend again, somewhat dazed and here view the O’Rahilly monument plaque and in our earphones hear the words of his final letter to his wife read out – he wrote it as he lay dying from a number of bullet wounds. I found my eyes moistening again as they had several times during the tour and some of the others were visibly crying – including other foreign tourists.

The end of our tour lay ahead, through the underground tunnel under Parnell Street to the Rotunda. There the Volunteers had been publicly launched and recruited in 1913 and there too, in 1916, the GPO/ Moore Street garrison had been kept prisoners without food and water or toilet, some for two days, while political colonial police came down to identify whomsoever they could from among the prisoners. Here Tom Clarke had been cruelly stripped by his captors, diagonally across the road from one of his two tobacconist shops, on the corner of Parnell and O’Connell Streets. Elizabeth Farrell had been kept prisoner in that shop too by the British, before being escorted to deliver the surrender order to a number of garrisons.

In between the shop and the Rotunda stands the Parnell Monument, as it did then, honouring “the uncrowned King of Ireland”, who had tried by mostly parliamentary means, two decades earlier, to bring about Home Rule for Ireland and had failed. British officers had been photographed in front of the monument with the “Irish Republic” flag held upside down – had they been entirely conscious of the irony?

British soldiers posing with captured Irish Republic Flag upside down in front of Parnell Monument, just near where prisoners were kept on Easter Saturday and Sunday. (Photo sourced on Internet).

Directly across the road from us stands a historic building too – the premises of the Irish Land League and where the Irish Ladies Land League had been formed and also raided by the police.

Now the recordings in our earphones ask us to remove our earphones and to hand them to our guide, also to listen for a moment after she has collected them. Having gathered the sets and put them away in her bag, Pela asks us all to give a moment’s thoughts to the men and women and children, particularly of the years each side of the centenary year of the Rising, 2016, who had campaigned to preserve this monument for future generations. Pela tells us that her own grandmother had been one of the activists.

Incredible though it may now seem, the whole terrace except for four houses had been about to be demolished to make way for a shopping centre, which would also have swallowed up the street market. It had taken a determined campaign and occupations of buildings with people prepared to face imprisonment to protect it for our generation and others to come. The State of those years had little interest in history and much in facilitating speculators.

Pela invited us to applaud the campaigners, which we did, enthusiastically. She then asked us to turn around and view the reconstructed building we had left. There was a plaque on the wall there “Dedicated to the memory of the men, women, girls and boys of the early 21st Century ……” In bronze bas-relief, the plaque’s image depicts 16 houses in a terrace with activists on the scaffolding erected by those who intended demolition, with a chain of people of all ages holding hands around the site and in one corner, a campaign table surrounded by people apparently signing a petition.

Once through the underpass and inside the Rotunda building, the tour officially over, we thanked our guide and made for the Republican Café. I found we couldn’t say much, as my mind was half back in 1916. My companion was quiet too as were some other from our tour but some of the children seemed unaffected, brightly debating what to choose from the menu in the Rotunda café, or what souvenir they fancied from those on display.

We took a program of events, including film showings, lectures, dramatic representations and music and poetry performances, in order to choose which to attend later. There’s also a Moore Street and Dublin Street Traders’ Museum in the Rotunda which we intend to visit, perhaps tomorrow, after some shopping in the existing ancient street market.

Some of our tour group, we could hear, including the indefatigable man in the wheelchair, were going on the short walk up to the Remembrance Garden and we heard mention also of the Writers’ Museum and the Hugh Lane Gallery adjacent to the Garden.

We’d had enough for one day, however – we were full. It was truly an unforgettable experience and I knew that for me and probably for my companion, it was something that would remain forever alive in our memories.”

WE WANT CHANGE?

 

Diarmuid Breatnach

Yes we do – or at least most of us do. There are a few who do not.

Some people think that those few who do not want change are our rulers, the big capitalists — but they are mistaken. The capitalist class forced change to overthrow the feudal system, which was hampering their growth and the development of industry and commerce. And capitalists know that change is inevitable, so it is better to go with it than to try to stop it. That is why they set up courses such as those called “Change Management” — if change is inevitable, then manage it, the thinking goes. Manage it so that it comes out to capitalist advantage, naturally.

(Source Internet, using "change management" as search words)

(Source Internet, using “change management” as search words)

Change Management courses, particularly those dealing with personnel, emphasise managing change as smoothly as possible, making it non-traumatic. In that way, it is assumed, there will be less reaction against the change, less opposition.

But in fact, sometimes capitalism wants the exact opposite – it wants change to be as traumatic as possible. These are the situations described under the title “Shock Doctrine” by economic/ environmental activist and theorist Naomi Klein (2007). This has two mechanisms: in the first, the shocking change taking place disarms people from the psychological ability to organise resistance; in the second, the speed of the shock (or shocks) of the economic and political manoeuvres of the capitalists moves faster than the opposition can organise, achieving their goals before opposition can coordinate an effective resistance.

Klein has described how huge natural disasters such as earthquake (Haiti), tsunami (Thailand, Indonesia) and flood (New Orleans, USA) are used to force foreign or native private takeovers of sectors of the national economy while the people and the regime in power are reeling under the impact of the disaster.

Political and economic disasters are also used in this model, such as the military coup in Chile and the collapse of the USSR (in the case of Poland), the economic collapse in Bolivia, the invasion of Iraq, the financial collapse of the “Tiger economies” of SE Asia. Even a potentially beneficial change of great magnitude may be used, such as the collapse of white minority rule in South Africa, during which the black majority won formal equality and citizenship but lost control of most of the economy (and lost a lot more which I do not intend to discuss here).

There is in fact a military precursor to this which has been called, in the context of US military strategy, “Shock and Awe”. This doctrine was described by its authors, Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade (1996), as “attempting to impose this overwhelming level of Shock and Awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on … [to] seize control of the environment and paralyze or so overload an adversary’s perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy would be incapable of resistance at the tactical and strategic levels”.

Of course there were many elements of this in the Blitzkrieg of the Nazi German army in its invasions of other countries and even the medieval invasions by the Huns and of the Mongols. Cromwell employed elements of it in Ireland in his army’s massacres at Wexford and Drogheda.

Aside from needing change to overcome feudalism, managing change to its advantage and use of shock doctrine to facilitate changes it wants, the capitalist system itself promotes change as part of its system. Small capitalists combine and form conglomerates, in which big capitalists come to power and, in turn, eat up smaller capitalists in order to dominate their sphere of economic activity. We have seen the growth of supermarkets and the decline of small shops, the rise of chain stores killing independent clothes shops, chain cafes and eateries driving indpendent cafes and restaurants out of business.

Capitalists also promote inventions and discoveries so as to increase their wealth but also in order to stay in front of the competition – a capitalist concern that stays at its original level will be taken over or driven out of business by its competitors. Our grandparents hardly knew about the possibility of mobile phones and computers, let alone small hand-held audio-visual connections to the Internet; our children today play with visual electronic games, films and music before they learn to talk. To be sure, monopolies also suppress inventions but they can only do so to an extent as some capitalist somewhere will break the embargo or consensus (if the discovery can be used to make sufficient profits making the attempt worth the risk).

OK, but we want change too and, we think, what we want is not the capitalist kind of change we’ve been talking about until now, although innovations and discoveries should continue and in fact accelerate – but for the benefit of the people, not the capitalists. Technological advances and innovations that do not make big profits may nevertheless be very valuable to us for all kinds of reasons.

So, yes, we want change. But what kind of change? Change to what? Change how? There a vast panorama opens.

We want to eliminate homelessness; have an efficient universally affordable health service; not to have to struggle for a decent standard of living in food, housing and small luxuries; to enjoy universal and affordable access to education at all levels; not to harm the environment; to have the positive aspects of our cultural inheritance, including history, valued and promoted. We want equal rights and respect between people regardless of race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability … and freedom of choice.

In 1930s Germany, people wanted those things too, except that a lot of people were convinced that the contents of the last sentence above were harmful and not what they wanted. But there were many, many people who did want those contents too. The issue was in doubt for awhile.

In the 1928 elections the Nazi Party achieved just 12 seats (2.6% of the vote) in the Reichstag (German Parliament) and in three areas the Nazi Party failed to gain even 1% of the vote. In the Presidential elections of March 1929, the Nazi candidate Erich Ludendorff gained only 1.1% of votes cast, and was the only candidate to poll fewer than a million votes.

We know that elections are not everything – but still.

Five years later, the Nazis were in power — but even after the Communist Party was declared illegal their candidates polled a million votes.

The people definitely wanted change and the established ‘democratic’ parties were unable or unwilling to deliver it. The change the people ended up with was not probably what most had imagined and for some time it spelt disaster for Germany – and unbelievable suffering for large parts of the rest of the world … and also for millions of German citizens.

To look closer to home, people wanted change here too and from 1917 onwards they showed that electorally by voting for the newly-reorganised Sinn Féin party. From 1919 a significant section of the populace took to arms to pursue change and had the active or tacit support of a huge part of the population. But in 1921 the movement and the people split about what kind of change they wanted. A civil war followed with a heavy level of brutality against civilians and combatants, particularly by the State side, which won the contest — and we ended up with the State we now have.

Bombardment of Republican-held Four Courts in Dublin by Free State forces from the bottom of Winetavern Street (with British artillery on loan) starts the Civil War on 28 June 1922 (Source Internet)

Bombardment of Republican-held Four Courts in Dublin by Free State forces from the bottom of Winetavern Street (with British artillery on loan) starts the Civil War on 28 June 1922 (Source image: Internet)

It is well to be fairly clear about the change we want and what we do not want. There was no such general clarity in the ranks of those fighting for change from 1916 to 1921. It turned out that many who were fighting for change were fighting for different things.

Differences must have come up over the years of struggle and we know from some evidence that they did. We also must assume from the political nature of prominent people in the struggle that there were differences. Even within the IRB itself, only one of the organisations involved, there were differences that surfaced in attitude to the 1913 Lockout, the control of the Volunteers in 1914 and the Treaty of 1922.

Of course, we need maximum unity against the principal enemy. But that is unity in action only. If we put unity in thought, principles or political or social program first, as some organisations have and some others claim to do, we end up with small organisations unable to effectively counter the resistance of the ruling class to the change we want and, in the end, unable to overcome that resistance. On the other hand, if we sacrifice everything to unity against the enemy, we leave ourselves hostages to events in the future and to what kind of society will emerge from the struggle.

Somewhere between those two is where we need to be, preserving the freedom to discuss, explore and proclaim differences of opinion and social program, while avoiding unnecessary squabbles and maintaining unity in action. It is a difficult balance to strike but it needs to be done. In the midst of fighting the common enemy and striving for unity in action against it, we must fight for that freedom also inside the resistance movement, the freedom to discuss, explore and yes, also to criticise.

End.

Joe Kelly — and a generation passing

A generation is passing. Actually they have been passing for some time, the generation of the fighting years of the late 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s and even the 1990s.

They campaigned variously for social housing; civil rights north and south; for human rights; against Church domination; against Unionist sectarianism; for free access to contraception; for right to divorce; for an end to censorship; for national self-determination; for Gaeltacht civil rights; for Irish language rights and Irish on TV; in support of political prisoners; the rights of women; for Irish Traveller rights; protection of heritage and environment; solidarity with many struggles around the world, including Cuba, Vietnam, Rhodesia, South Africa, Chile, the Black Panthers; against drug dealers; for freedom to choose lifestyle; decriminalisation of gay and lesbian life; for community projects in deprived areas including youthwork and, let’s not forget, organised, fought in and supported strikes.

 

That generation fought many battles, some of which they won and some which built bases for later battles and their story is told only in bits and pieces here and there. They organised, marched, sat in, occupied, wrote, made placards, painted slogans, put up posters and some fired guns; they were watched, raided, beaten, fined, jailed, calumnied, sacked, expelled, kept unemployed, derided from pulpit, press and judge’s bench, some were shot, and not just they but their families made to suffer too.

I am not referring to people of any specific age but of all those who were any age from young to old and active during those years. The causes of death have been many, from simple old age and life lived out to the death penalty.

But the death penalty was not in force in Ireland in the 1960s, you may think? Actually it was, it wasn’t abolished until 1990 in this state. But you’d be kind of correct as in practice no formal execution has been carried out by this state since 1954.

So, then what am I talking about? Maybe referring to the ‘United Kingdom’, since six counties of Ireland are included in that state? Yes, and no. The death sentence still exists in the UK only for “Arson in Her Majesty’s shipyards” but it was abolished in Britain for the crime of murder in 1965 and, in fact, no-one had been formally executed there from the year before. If the judicial death penalty had still been in force, the people in charge of that state might’ve been been spared the embarrassment of seeing nearly a score of Irish people they had wrongly convicted in 1974 walk free decades later as judges eventually had to find them ‘Not Guilty’.

A bit late for Giuseppe Conlon, against whom there had not even been a shred of doubtful evidence, but never mind. But had they all died in prison or been executed, people might not have worked so hard to see their convictions in court overturned – people among whom Joe Kelly, who died this week and who was cremated on Saturday, stands tall.

But the death penalty was not removed from the judges’ arsenal in that bastion of reaction, Six Counties state, until 1973, when the 30 Years’ War had entered its early years (somebody from the British state clearly had to sit down with the Unionist bigots and explain, although of course they sympathised with their loyal brethren, how bad it would be for Britain and the Queen if they started sentencing and executing IRA and INLA fighters).

There are more ways to skin a cat …. yes, and to kill too. The orange and SAS and MRF death squads killed more against whom there was not even a court conviction. And some of the Republicans killed one another too. And twelve died on hunger strike, one each in 1974 and in ’76 and ten in 1981. Actually, considering the brutality of force-feeding, it’s surprising there weren’t more deaths – Marian and Dolours Price were force-fed 167 times over 203 days in 1973 and it was the publicity around their case and the deaths of Gaughan and Stagg that ended the practice of force-feeding, ensuring that the Hunger Strikers of 1980 and ’81 at least did not have to endure that experience.

But there are more ways to kill …. Many of that generation of fighters died from ‘natural’ causes but died early – cancers, heart attacks, liver damage, despair ….. ah, yes, that brings to mind suicide, of which some also died. But despair also can drive you to drink, even more easily if it has been part of your experience of socialising and alcohol is one of the top killers in the world. And some died of drugs …. or drugs and alcohol …. or infections from unsafe drug injection …. But most who died early did so in summary from the wear and tear of struggle, of prison, of separation, of relationship breakdowns, of betrayal, despair.

Not all died, even those who are not among the fighters today. Some walked away from the struggle and though I can’t imagine being in their shoes, I do not begrudge them. So long as they didn’t betray any on their way out or make a living out of spitting on their former comrades and causes afterwards. But some, a very few, did exactly that and you can read what they have to say quite often in their articles or hear them quoted in the newspapers or on TV or radio.

Some found other ways to betray and did it in secret, feeding information to their handlers and some even diverting attention from themselves by accusing others, some innocent and some of a lesser grade of betrayal than that of the accusers. We know of some of them but may never learn about them all.

Joe Kelly

Poster displayed at memorial in Teacher's Club (photo accessed from a Facebook posting)

Poster displayed at memorial in Teacher’s Club (photo accessed from a Facebook posting)

A few have survived and are still around, fighting the struggle, whether in organisations or as independents. Joe Kelly was one in both categories, in a sense. I knew him but did not know him well and met him only in the last decade, after I had returned from decades living and working in London. I am given to understand that he had passed through a number of political organisations, including Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party. A strange CV, one might think, for a radical left-wing social and political activist. The last political group with which I had associated Joe was People Before Profit, on a local level, around Phibsboro. Joe invited me to attend a quiz they were running and I did so mainly to return a favour – he had attended, to contribute to the singing at my invitation, an evening of the Clé Club where I had been “Fear a’Tí” for that night. I was amazed to win a Blackberry at the quiz (sorry, Joe, I still haven’t gotten around to learning and using it!). Last I heard, he wasn’t with the PBP.

Somebody told me years back that he had been a central organiser of a solidarity event in Dublin for the Birmingham Six in which lights had been floated down the Liffey. Of course I was impressed – on a political/ human rights level but also for the poetic vision involved. I have found little about that event since and Joe, who I found a modest man, didn’t give me much in response to my pressing. A couple of searches on the Internet yielded me only a passing reference to the River Parade, of 1990, a year before the Birmingham Six were finally cleared in court and released. Likely I have not been asking the right people or looking in the right corners.

I met Joe by arrangement for a coffee a couple of times, while I tried to get him into something I was doing and he tried to get me into something he was working at – neither of us succeeding in our efforts to recruit the other. Since Joe was working for awhile in the community sector I also approached him to explore possibilities for me when, despite a long track record in the fields of working in homeless shelters and addiction as well as other community activism I was out of work, but he wasn’t able to help me.

And of course I bumped into him on demonstrations, as in those in solidarity with Palestine or against the Water Tax or against the Lisbon Treaty. For awhile we were active together in the Dublin branch of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Committee and I believe he left like me after witnessing some nasty in-fighting years ago, though we both often turned up to protest pickets and demonstrations and public meetings called by the organisation. We would also meet at events in solidarity with the Cuban people.

I heard him described at his funeral service, by someone who should know, as a Republican. Certainly Joe was very proud of his father and uncle who had both fought in the 1916 Rising, the first in the GPO and the second in Bolands’ Mill and proudly displayed his father’s medal at a public event in the Teachers’ Club in Dublin.

Joe Kelly displaying his father's 1916 service medal at a 1916 commemoration event (photo: D.Breatnach)

Joe Kelly displaying and talking about his father’s 1916 service medal at a 1916 commemoration event (photo: D.Breatnach)

However, he was among the number that I invited but failed to get to events over the last decade to highlight the plight of Irish Republicans being hounded by the State and imprisoned without trial. That did puzzle me, for I knew Joe to have a track record of fighting for human rights. And this was shown not only in his campaigning for the Birmingham Six.

Joe fought for the rights of divorce and choice of abortion, as well for the right to freedom from partner abuse, in particular through the movement for women’s refuges, what many people still refer to as “battered wives hostels”. He was active in the campaign for the right to gay marriage, so amazingly successful in Ireland. And Joe was also active in campaigns against racism towards migrants.

“Conas atú tú?” or “Dia dhuit”, Joe would invariably greet me whenever we met. I would not call him exactly fluent but he could understand and speak Irish. I suppose I assumed he had some affection for the language and was also paying me, a known native speaker, the courtesy of addressing me in Irish and speaking awhile in the language. At his funeral service, I learned it went further than that. I heard his grandchildren say that he frequently spoke to them in Irish and when they did not understand him, would translate what the words meant. Some people in the audience chuckled to hear this. I felt sad and somewhat angry too, that a question so important to our cultural identity, an aspect so threatened today, should be treated so apparently lightly by some and that the only words to be spoken at his funeral service in Irish were those in the final sentence spoken by his brother, Jim, in his eulogy: “Slán leat, Joe”. In the booklet produced for the occasion and freely available at Club na Múinteoirí, there was however one dedication in Irish (and I have since learned that one of the speeches at the Teacher’s Club was in Irish) and I note that both grandchildren who spoke bear Irish-language names.

Paying respects and memorial service

On Saturday, laid out in the lovely Room 2 in the Teacher’s Club (sin Club na Múinteoirí, Joe) in Dublin’s Parnell Square, a venue often used for social, cultural and political events, in a closed wicker basket coffin, Joe received his visitors. And they were MANY. Feminists, Palestine solidarity activists, Cuba solidarity activists, community activists, independent political activists and a sprinkling of activists in various parties all attended and many contributed their memories or words dedicated to him while he was laid out there.  (I took many photos here and some at Mount Jerome but somehow seem to have lost them all).joe-kelly-speaking-at-event

Attending first another funeral (of another singer) that morning in Howth, then travelling into Dublin to take part in the Moore Street Awareness weekly table, I had to miss some of that. I spelled a comrade while he attended to pay his respects, then attended later while he took over back at the table.

Room No. 2 was still packed but so was the whole bar lounge area. I had missed all the eulogies and reminiscences and even singing – “The Foggy Dew” I was told. Had anyone sung “The Parting Glass”, I asked. No, apparently not. So then to ask his sister if it would be alright to do it, then the MC, his long-time collaborator, comrade and friend, Brendan Young. It would be welcome, I was told. And Fergus Russell (also his second funeral that day) and I did three verses together, using a mic so it might carry through to the lounge and, though we took turns at fluffing a line, not too badly. It is a great song for such occasions and each verse was particularly appropriate to Joe.1

A little later, the Internationale was sung by all (copies of the words of a verse and the chorus distributed beforehand), the wicker coffin (I must have one of those when my time comes!) was lifted on to shoulders by family and friends and brought through the respectful lines while Joe’s daughter sang The Night They Brought Old Dixie Down.2

Then the hearse came out and led the cortege to Mount Jerome cemetery. I didn’t know the protocol regarding cycling in a funeral cortege but followed anyway, managing to get temporarily lost on the way and arriving just as the hearse arrived at the cemetery. Again, the chapel was packed.

The ceremony was non-religious and officiated by Therese Caherty, ex-partner and friend. In turn Therese herself, his brother, his bereaved current partner, relatives and his comrade and friend Brendan Young all gave their moving eulogies and often funny anecdotes. Brendan emphasised that for Joe, the process of the conduct of a struggle was as important as the end to be reached, which I knew to be true from our time together in the Dublin IPSC and I’d be in agreement with Joe on that.

There were, despite the many I did see during those events, some faces I did not see in the congregation or at the Club na Múinteoirí before the service or later, when many returned to the Club to free sandwiches and soup laid on by the management there. It was their loss.

I never saw him dance but am told he loved it and taught his grandchildren not only to sing but to dance too. I did know he’d learned to tango. He’s left this dance floor now and gone on to another and whateverone steps and two steps and the divil knows what new steps”they are dancing there, I’m sure Joe is learning them and probably teaching a few of his own.

Slán leat, Joe – árdaigh iad!

A chríoch.

FOOTNOTES

1  “Of all the money that e’er I had, I spent it in good company


And all the harm that e’er I’ve done, alas, it was to none but me


And all I’ve done for want of wit to memory now I can’t recall


So fill to me the parting glass, good night and joy be with you all

“If I had money enough to spend and leisure time to sit awhile


There is a fair maid in this town, that sorely has my heart beguiled


Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips I own, she has my heart enthralled


So fill to me the parting glass, good night and joy be with you all

“Of all the comrades that e’er I’ve had, they are sorry for my going away


And all the sweethearts that e’er I’ve had,

they would wish me one more day to stay


But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise and you should not


I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call good night and joy be with you all”

2  This song of nostalgia for the American Confederacy has a haunting melody but its ideology is often ignored by those who sing it.

3  Line from The Charladies’ Ball

UNITY – IS IT A GOOD THING?

Diarmuid Breatnach

One often hears it said that we need more unity, that “unity is strength” and on the other side the despairing wail (and sometimes facile sneer) that “the Left (or Republicans) are too disunited to do anything”. But rarely does one see the question analysed. Unity with whom? On what basis? For how long? Can unity actually contribute to weakness instead of strength?

I have five siblings and at times we quarreled among ourselves, especially the older ones. I remember my mother telling me about a father (or it might have been a mother), who asked his five sons (who presumably also quarreled) to bring him ten sticks as long as their hands and as thick as their thumbs. Of they went, probably quarreling about where would be the best place to get them, who should be in charge, what kind of wood etc……. But eventually, they arrived and produced the ten sticks.

The father handed one stick to each son and then asked them to snap it in two. Puzzled, each one tried and, of course, succeeded easily. Then the father picked up the remaining five sticks and tied them together in a bundle. He handed the bundle over to his youngest son and asked him to snap the bundle in two. The youngest son tried until sweat broke out on his brow but was unable to break them.

Hand the bundle over to your brother,” said the father, indicating the next youngest of the brothers. The son shamefacedly handed over the bundle. But he cheered up when he saw that brother couldn’t break it either. And so it went, the bundle passing up the line until it came to the eldest and though he sweated and strained, he also failed.

Do you see,” asked the father, “how easy it was to break any one of you on your own? And how impossible when you were all together?”

My mother had adapted an old European story attributed to a Greek slave called Aesop in the 4th or 5th century BCE but we didn’t know that then. As we grew older the story seemed to reflect a truism, one that had been incorporated into movements of resistance including defensive ones such as trade unions.1

The bundle of sticks motif on advertisement by union banner artists, with the motto "Unity Is Strength" (Source: Internet)

The bundle of sticks motif on advertisement by union banner artists, with the motto “Unity Is Strength” (Source: Internet)

But of course, we also saw movements and organisations grow and split. I witnessed a lot of such activity (and participated in some of it) while working in London and some of my siblings passed through Sinn Féin, Official Sinn Féin and the IRSP and another passed through Sinn Féin and Provisional Sinn Féin (as did my father before he left that and joined Republican Sinn Féin).

And always the wailing cry all around – if only we were all united! Unity is, apparently, an unproblematic necessity.  The call for unity seems so intuitive, so basic that one rarely gets to hear any of the harmful effects of unity. But is that because there are no harmful effects? On the contrary!

IRELAND AND CHINA

The nationalist Irish Volunteers organisation was formed in 1913, ostensibly in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers the previous year with a declared aim of preventing Home Rule (a kind of national autonomy similar to that of the Dominion territories then) which had been promised to the nationalists (broadly-speaking, the vast majority of the Irish population). The Irish Republican Brotherhood, the moving force behind the foundation of the Irish Volunteers, had plans to use it in insurrection against Britain.

The nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party, the preferred conservative, constitutionalist and even pro-Empire party of the Catholic Irish bourgeoisie, at first ignored the movement. But when it grew to 100,000 members amid enormous enthusiasm, the IPP became worried it might oppose them politically and John Redmond, the party leader, demanded an additional 25 places for nominees of theirs on the Volunteers’ 25-member executive, even though it already contained some supporters of theirs. The IRB, who despised Redmond as a collaborator with British rule, held a meeting among themselves and agreed to vote against accepting that pressure. Most of them did vote against but some changed their mind and, along with some non-IRB nationalists on the executive voted in favour, so that the Redmonites were admitted on to the organisation’s controlling body.

At that time, the IPP was the largest Irish nationalist party and no other party came even close in winning the votes of Catholic men eligible to vote. It is easy to see what the majority on the executive must’ve thought when they voted to accept them: “We’ll be stronger after this, more united; the Catholic Church and the Catholic media will be friendly towards us and encourage even more recruitment. Britain will have to give us Home Rule and we can have an argument later about what kind of politics we want for Ireland when we have our own Dáil” (Parliament). On the other hand, they might have thought that unity with Redmond and his IPP would be far better than being opposed by them.

IRB men Thomas Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada and others were furious – they foresaw a time in the future when Redmond and his IPP would use their positions, along with allies they had made on the Executive, to try to sabotage the project of Irish independence, upon which the IRB had set its mind and heart. Such an event came to pass after the outbreak of the First World War when John Redmond made his speech on 20th September 1914, on the occasion of reviewing a Volunteer troop at Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow, encouraging the Volunteers to enlist in the British Army.

That call, and the resistance to it from within the movement and its executive body, led to a split which reduced the Irish Volunteers from the 170,000 membership which it had reached to a force of 12,300, the majority siding with Redmond and many going on to the war slaughter on the Continent.

The IRB continued to organise in secret among the remaining Volunteers but a number of the Volunteers’ founding executive had always been non-IRB, such as Eoin Mac Neill and The O’Rahilly, and that continued to be the case. When they learned at the last moment that the IRB nucleus planned to proceed with an uprising on Easter Sunday 1916 and calling out the Volunteers to join, Eoin Mac Neill and The O’Rahilly2 did everything they could to halt it. They succeeded only in sabotaging it sufficiently that only about on third of the Volunteers mobilised, and they mostly in Dublin, on Easter Monday instead.

The above lines in these examples are not typed to suggest that thousands of Irish would not have gone to join the British Army in 1914 or even that the whole of the Irish Volunteers would have taken part in the Rising were it not for a) Redmond’s split and b) the cancellation by Mac Neill. I reproduce them only to show that unity can have harmful effects too.

After the 1916 Rising, the survivors of Cumann na mBan, Irish Volunteers, Fianna Éireann and some from the Irish Citizen Army reformed their military organisation which in time came to be called the Irish Republican Army and fought the War of Independence from 1919-1921 against the British. The IRA and the party that had grown around them, Sinn Féin, was also a coalition of people of different ideologies and, when the British offered a partial compromise of a partitioned Dominion status “independence”, the movement split again, out of which emerged the State and its vicious Civil War, with the execution of 83 Republicans by the new State and 124 known unofficial murders carried out by its security forces.

L-R: Chiang Kai Shek, Mao Zedong, photographed in 1945 during short-lived repetition of Chinese Nationalist-Communist alliance against Japanese invasion (photo: Jack Wilkes, Internet)

L-R: Chiang Kai Shek, Mao Zedong, photographed in 1945 during short-lived repetition of Chinese Nationalist-Communist alliance against Japanese invasion (photo: Jack Wilkes, Internet)

Let us go a bit further in geography though not so far in time to the unity between the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai Check, a national bourgeois party, against feudal warlords and the plunder of their country by foreign imperialists. The First United Front, also known as the KMT–CPC Alliance, was formed in 1923. Together, they formed the National Revolutionary Army and set out in 1926 on the Northern Expedition. The alliance fell apart due to factors and incidents we need not go into but the result was an anti-communist purge of Communists and the Shanghai massacre of 1927, in which between 300 and 400 were purged and 5,000 communist and trade union militants disappeared. It took the Communist Party two decades to recover their strength and begin to build their influence.

Again, recounting this history is not necessarily in order to prove that the Communists were wrong in their attempt at unity but merely to show the disastrous effect of the way in which events turned out for them and how vulnerable they were because of that unity at that time.  In the 1940s, on the other hand, another unity worked out better for the Communist-led patriotic forces, though Chiang Kai Shek had to be forced into that alliance.

THE PEOPLE, UNITED, CAN NEVER BE …”

In Chile in the early 1970s, a left-wing democratic anti-imperialist movement grew. It had many different components: nationalistic and/ or social democratic petit-bourgeoisie; revolutionary communists; revolutionary socialists of other types; masses of supporters of unclear ideology but focused on social justice and opportunity to make more of their lives and the lives of their children. Its party was the Popular Unity party and the leader of this coalition was Salvador Allende, essentially a social-democrat, who was elected President.

The United States ruling class, the major imperialist power in the area, not only seriously disliked many of the policies of the new Chilean regime but also feared that the ideas might catch on in other parts of the world or, even worse, that people outside Chile in Latin America would gain hope and confidence from what was going on in Chile and attempt the same in their own countries. The problem was that the Chilean people had voted by majority for the Allende option. Well, not so much of a problem for the USA – they had disposed of democratically-elected governments in the under-developed world before. Obviously a coup was what was needed – and the CIA began to work for one.

The CIA or even 50 CIAs cannot overthrow a government – to do so they need an army of some sort. It might be by US military invasion, as they did in Nicaragua in 1912, Haiti in 1915, or Dominican Republic in 1916. Or it might be that of a neighbouring region, as they did by supporting and instigating the invasion of Guatemala from Honduras in 1954 or of Iran by Iraq in 1980. The Iraq-Iran war lasted eight years but the Iranian government did not fall and Iraq was defeated. Or it might be a “rebel” army, such as the infamous Bay of Pigs US-funded invasion of Cuba in 1961 or the Contras, funded and trained by the USA, against the Sandinista Nicaraguan Government from 1979 to the early 1990s. Or it might be the army of the very State they want to subvert — and so it was in Chile in 1973.

Now, how was it that Allende didn’t see that coming? Was he stupid? Far from it – Allende knew the history of the USA in Latin America and he knew that the commanders of Chile’s Army, Navy, Air Force and Police, and most if not all of the higher ranks of the three services too, were right-wing in ideology, some downright fascist in outlook.

Allende’s options were to try and deal with the senior military ranks and hope they would remain loyal, or to dismiss them and appoint others more trustworthy, from lower ranks. But dismissing them might precipitate the very thing he was trying to avoid – a right-wing military coup. However, that threat could be met by arming the workers.

On the other hand, arming the workers might provoke the military and police.

Both options were risky. To a revolutionary, I would think, relying on the loyalty of the military was the riskiest while the second, much less so. But Allende was a social-democrat, not a revolutionary. He chose to hope that the military would not revolt and when the coup came, it was not just he who paid with his life but thousands of his followers and others on the Left. They didn’t have enough arms with which to resist for long and arrest, torture and death awaited them. The toll of the coup was over 3,000 dead or missing, thousands of prisoners tortured, and 200,000 Chileans forced into exile.

Poster bearing the alternative slogan, sourced on Internet. It was produced by the Ad Hoc Committee to Establish Solidarity With Resistance in Chile, on the occasion of the Speaking and Fund Raising Tour Across Canada by a Representative of the People's Front of Chile.

Poster bearing the alternative slogan, sourced on Internet.
It was produced by the Ad Hoc Committee to Establish Solidarity With Resistance in Chile, on the occasion of the Speaking and Fund Raising Tour Across Canada by a Representative of the People’s Front of Chile.

Before the coup, a slogan that had become popular in Allende’s Chile declared: “El pueblo, unido, jamás sera vencido”. It has been changed by socialists abroad to “The workers, united, will never be defeated”, as though saying “workers” instead of “people” made the slogan more revolutionary. But a large swathe of the people in Chile were united, and even more united were the workers — they had marched and voted for the Allende regime and were eagerly awaiting the benefits of a different regime. And still they were defeated – by a much smaller but much better armed and much more ruthless enemy.

A different slogan came into being after the coup (and perhaps it had been around earlier too but got drowned out by the other): “El pueblo, armado, jamás sera aplastado” (the armed people will never be crushed). People may argue that is simplistic and they may be right – but it contains a lot more truth and sophistication than the slogan it replaced.

IRELAND TODAY

We are constantly being urged today in Ireland towards “unity of the Left” and “unity of Irish Republicans” and, before we nod our heads in reflex action and shake them in despair, it would be worthwhile to look at this proposition a little more closely.

Firstly, what is the unity for? As a minimum it can only be, if we are to consider it a serious proposition, to strengthen our resistance and to defeat austerity measures and state repression.

Then, who are we to unite with? “The Left” means different things to different people and that too needs some exploring. For example, is the Labour Party to be included? Some would say “yes”, including many trade union leaders and activists.

Yet the Labour Party is part of a Government that is heaping austerity upon working people and of a State that is using its police, courts and jails to repress resistance. How can we unite with that? And if the Party is not the same as its members in the Government, why doesn’t the Party denounce and disown those Ministers? No, this cannot be – we cannot have unity with those who work with our enemies.

Others would include Sinn Féin in the list of groups with which we should join for “unity of the Left”. But in what way can Sinn Féin be seriously considered to be part of the Left? In the Six Counties, it is part of a Government of a colonial state and has imposed austerity on the working people there. It has also colluded in State repression of Republicans. SF is mounting no serious opposition to any austerity measure either side of the Border although it often makes the appropriate noises. It does not support the necessary and appropriate action of civil disobedience, never mind organise it. Its mantra is “Vote for us and we’ll see everything is made ok”. That is not a suitable partner in any “unity of the Left”.

Excluding Sinn Féin and the Labour Party removes the largest party and the most TDs from the proposed “united Left” and that is one reason some do not wish to exclude them. However it would be dangerously stupid to try to build unity with these and, even if temporarily successful in some imagined scenario of the future, both elements would desert and even betray us at a crucial moment when we would be preparing a campaign of serious disobedience, to say nothing of revolution.

PRINCIPLES AND TACTICS OF UNITY

Who does that leave? Well, tiny parties and even smaller groups of independent TDs and local authority Councillors, a wide variety of independent activists and a number of campaigns of varying size. Well, better small than rotten at the core, right? And there are millions of others out there yet for us to draw support from in future!

But having unity across that broad mass of individuals and organisations? How? Shall we draw up a constitution and get everyone to agree? They never will and we’ll waste valuable time on the project. Is it all hopeless then?

Not at all. What we need is agreement upon a few fundamentals – the bare necessities, as in Terry Gilkison’s song in the 1967 Disney film “Jungle Book”. Let’s imagine we have come together to discuss cultivating a field. We dropped the Labour Party from our work force because they had been sowing fields with weedkiller. We dropped Sinn Féin because they had sowed a part of the field with weedkiller and were arguing that we didn’t need to clear stones and weeds or dig in the rest of it.

That’s not to say that we won’t have any problems with any of those left but let’s see, eh?

So all the remainder agree that the field needs cultivating, that stones and weeds need removing and digging needs doing. There might be some who don’t (or won’t) agree on what crops to sow and when but at the moment we have the maximum unity, admittedly on paper, for the minimum tasks required.

It might be that on the first day some turn up at the appointed time, 8am and others straggle in at 9, 10, 11 …. OK, it’s early days yet. But those who didn’t turn up at all? They are on notice of dismissal. That is fair – we all agreed that this work needed doing and they are not contributing to it at all.

Now, it turns out that some got tired or bored at noon and left the job, while others worked on to 8pm. Some of those who worked until later are those who turned up later so, although not in the way we expected and agreed, they have put in their hours (and twice that of some who turned up at 8am and were gone by noon). We don’t expect people to work 12 hour shifts every day but we will set a minimum – a realistic one according to our numbers and our people.

Probably, when we started we set up a committee to administer and organise the work – organise tools, meals, accommodation, allocate work to different areas, organise delivery of fertilizer …. And later, decisions will need to be made about what seeds to sow and seasonal work priorities but we can make those at a democratic assembly. And assemblies can elect the members of the administration too – but as individuals, not as the slates of parties or coalitions.

As the year progresses, more will join the work and some will leave or be expelled – but the decision will be made on the basis of the minimum necessary work for the minimum task. If the project succeeds or is seen to be doing well, others will become interested and some of those will join. And they will see who works well and who does not, whom they feel they can trust and who not. And they will also learn to organise, propose solutions or questions, join in collective decision-making.

We may lose the small political parties along the way and some will wail at the loss. But what we have noticed about the parties up to now is that on the whole they put the Party first and the struggle (which also means the people) second. Of course not all ego-trippers, glory-hunters, niche-seekers and petty dictators are in political parties and we’ll have to deal with those individuals too, and their cliques. And not everyone in a party is a party hack. But the work decides (or it doesn’t and we learn from our mistakes) and the decisions are democratic, by popular vote of people involved in the work.

When the work required for the day or week is done or in quiet seasons we should run courses on agriculture. There will be different schools of agricultural thought – OK, fine, let each set up a school, or run workshops, print manuals, newsletters, run FB pages, etc, etc.

It seems to me that is a practical unity, one that can work. We can and I think need to tolerate differences of opinion. But anyone found spreading weedkiller on crop-ground – well, that needs dealing with very firmly. And those who don’t want to dig, remove stones, pull weeds? Their choice — but they won’t be in our workforce or eat from our field.

So, the principles developed in the example were:

  • The maximum unity on the minimum task

  • Unity in practice more than in words

  • Equal rights for all who contribute (and no special rights for anyone)

  • Freedom of speech and press (subject to the basic safeguards) for all who contribute

  • Open to all who join on the same basis

It seems to me that kind of unity will indeed be strength. Unity on other bases? Disaster, early or late.

FOOTNOTES

1In doing a snap piece of research for this article I note that the Nottinghamshire Miners’ Association had the fable represented on their banner – ironically or perhaps of necessity, considering the fractured history of the miners in that area. It was also on a Durham trade union banner, according to Wikipedia.

2The O’Rahilly, seeing the Rising going ahead despite his efforts, joined it and presented his car for use in a barricade. On the Friday of Easter Week, he was mortally wounded leading a charge against rifles and a machine-gun behind a British Army barricade at the Parnell Street end of Moore Street. He died in a nearby laneway which now bears the name O’Rahilly Parade and where there is a monument to him, including a copy of the words in his own script of his farewell letter to his wife.

MARXISM 2016 AND STATE REPRESSION OF IRISH REPUBLICANS


Diarmuid Breatnach

The Sunday November 6th meeting of Marxism 20161 on the theme “When Governments Lie” hosted as speakers four women campaigners and Eamon McCann, a male campaigner, addressing the packed downstairs hall of the Club na Múinteoirí. A number of cancellations of speakers had taken place, including Gareth Pierce who sent a message which was read out to the meeting.

hillsborough-speaker-when-gvts-lie-marxism-2016

Brid Smith of the SWP (centre photo) chairing the meeting When Governments Lie public meeting at Marxism 2016 weekend (Photo: I.O’Kelly)

On the podium, taking turns to speak, were Sheila Coleman of the Hilsborough Justice Campaign, Kate Nash of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, Joanne Donnelly of the Justice for the Craigavon Two Campaign, and Antoinette Keegan of the Justice for Stardust/ 48 Never Came Home Campaign (summary of these campaigns below).

After being introduced by Bríd Smith, chairing the event, Joe Black with guitar, accompanied wonderfully by a musician on bazouki (if I can get his name will insert it here), launched the evening with Black’s powerful song about Giuseppe Conlon, father of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four. The Guildford Four were wrongly convicted in 1975 of IRA bombings and served fourteen years before they were cleared. Giuseppe Conlon, who went to England to clear his son, was also jailed, as were his relatives the Maguire family. The Maguire1 Seven were cleared in 1991 but by that time Giuseppe had died in prison, an event that, along with his own imprisonment, devastated his son and affected him for his remaining years until he died in 2004 at the age of only sixty years.

All of the speakers emphasised that the State’s officials lied with regard to their respective cases and concealed evidence and most speakers also accused the media of complicity. In the cases of Bloody Sunday, the Craigavon Two and Hillsborough, the British state was placed in the dock by the speakers while the Stardust fire cover-up was laid at the feet of the Irish state.

Most of the speakers also warned people in similar circumstances to beware of establishment party politicians who try to flatter campaigners and decide which are the “reasonable” ones to deal with, always at the price of reducing the objectives being sought. The speakers for the Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough campaigns in particular warned against this element, Kate Nash singling out Sinn Féin as the party that acted that way with regard to Bloody Sunday (Kate Nash’s brother was killed that day and her father shot and injured) and how they tried to bring the campaign to an end with an apology from the then British Prime Minister, while no senior officer or government official was held to account and while one of the unarmed dead remained accused of carrying a nail bomb.

Brid Smith of the SWP (also SWP/AAA) addressing When Governments Lie public meeting at Marxism 2016 weekend (Photo D.Breatnach)

Sheila Coleman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign addressing When Governments Lie public meeting at Marxism 2016 weekend (Photo D.Breatnach)

Eamon McCann, who was on the march in Derry on Bloody Sunday 1972, finished the evening with one of the rants for which he is famous, going beyond his allocated time by a fair bit and despite the Chairperson’s frequent reminders. McCann located the similarities of the cases within the class system – most of those injustices represented were about repression of working class communities, or ignoring the damage done to them and the lies were told to protect the system and its supporters – big businessmen, politicians, the police, the Army.

The meeting ended to sustained applause but without any opportunity to ask questions or to make contributions, to the regret certainly of a number of Republicans and campaigners against what they consider to be ongoing internment without trial. All however seemed agreed that the talks had been interesting and educating in at least some aspect of the issues and events covered.

WHY SO LONG?

It is good that this meeting about State injustice and lies was held by an Irish socialist organisation. It is the duty of socialist organisations to point out the injustice of the State even when the victims are not socialists – or not socialists in the way that socialist organisations think they should be. Prominent socialists Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were not Fenians but they campaigned for the release of Fenian prisoners being held in English jails (where, by the way, it said that one third of them died and one third went insane).

It is said that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes and certainly, if we are to bring about a revolution and the society we want, we must learn from our failures. And in that spirit, I must ask: why has it taken so long for Irish socialist organisations, particularly in Dublin, to wake up to the repression being exercised against Irish Republicans?

Five years ago Marian Price, a former Republican prisoner released under licence as part of the Good Friday Agreement, had her licence revoked and was taken to Maghaberry jail, kept for months without charge or bail, eventually charged and kept in jail without bail, sick, until her mental and physical health was broken. In Dublin the socialist organisations sent a couple of representatives to one demonstration for her freedom and never attended a picket about her case afterwards.

After the Marian Price campaign ended with her release in 2013 on “compassionate (sic) grounds”, some of those involved in Dublin launched a campaign against “internment by other names”, a process by which ex-prisoners released on licence are returned to jail without even a trial in the no-jury courts of the Six Counties2 and other Republican political activists are harassed and arrested and refused bail on spurious charges which eventually collapse after the accused have been held for months or years in jail3.

I must ask again: why has it taken so long for Irish socialist organisations, particularly in Dublin where the major part of their organisation is located and most of their activities organised, to wake up to the repression being exercised against Irish Republicans?

Is it perhaps because the socialists feared to be painted with the nationalist brush? But did they not fear being daubed with complicity with imperialism instead? It is a strange kind of socialist organisation that can’t make common cause with Republicans against the tyranny of the colonial statelet and capitalist State! In that failure, it misses the opportunity to unite forces against its enemies’ state and also to disseminate its ideas among Republican activists. One might also remark that a failure of people who are prepared at times to unite with social democrats for reforms, to unite with Irish Republicans against a capitalist state is a strange indication of revolutionary socialism!

Or is it purely because they didn’t care – it wasn’t happening to them – that Irish socialist organisations haven’tt campaigned against State repression of Irish Republicans, or even protested in solidarity with them? If so, they will by the seed of their inactivity one day certainly reap a harvest of repression for themselves too. Solidarity against State attacks is not only a noble thing with a long tradition; it is a necessity for revolutionaries.

So now that this “Marxism” weekend is over, when its organisers are taking a deserved rest, or writing it up for the British and Irish version of their newspaper, or compiling their recruitment slips to see how many new members or at least mailing list contacts they have gained – will they do anything different?

Will we see the highlighting, from time to time, of the almost everyday harassment of Irish Republicans in the leaflets and newspaper of the SWP and PBP? Will their TDs in the Dáil raise these issues where they might get some bourgeois media coverage? Are we going to see PBP and SWP militants on the regular pickets organised by the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland anywhere and, in particular on those called by the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee?

We can hope, I suppose.

Diarmuid Breatnach

APPENDIX: THE CAMPAIGNS

Hillsborough Justice Campaign seeks vindication that the original disaster was due to crowd mismanagement by the South Yorkshire Police and that some of the subsequent deaths were also due to their mismanagement of some still-breathing victims and lack of coordination of the emergency services. The disaster took place at Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield, England, UK, on 15 April 1989, during the 1988–89 FA Cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. With 96 fatalities and 766 injured it is the worst disaster in British sporting history. Originally, the Liverpool football fans were blamed for the disaster but subsequently it became clear that the blame lay elsewhere.

Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign seeks a proper accounting of the deaths of 14 and injury of at least 14 after British troops opened fire on unarmed people demonstrating in Derry on 30th January 1972 against Internment. Originally, the British Army and Government claimed that they had shot “terrorists” in “returning fire” after being first fired on and a British enquiry backed them on this and claimed to have evidence that some of the dead had been handling weapons.

The campaign organises a march every year on the Sunday nearest to the date of the massacre https://www.facebook.com/BloodySundayMarch/?fref=ts.

Justice for the Craigavon Two Campaign https://www.facebook.com/JFTC2

Founded in 2012, a campaign to overturn the clearly unjust convictions in May 2012 of John Paul Wooton and Brendan McConville for the killing of a member of the British colonial police force, the PSNI, in March 2009.

The forensic evidence was contradictory and in a number of cases even pointed to the innocence of the accused, electronic surveillance equipment had been interfered with by the British Army; the State produced no witnesses to the incident and only one who placed one of the accused at the scene – this witness came forward a year after the arrests of the two, his account of his movements that evening were not supported by his wife; a close family relative called him a habitual liar and then this family member was arrested and subjected to intimidation by the colonial police after he had given a statement to the accused’s legal team..

(see also forthcoming fundraiser in Dublin https://www.facebook.com/events/705695282938993/)

Justice for Stardust/ 48 Never Came Home Campaign https://www.facebook.com/JusticefortheStardust48/?fref=ts

In the early hours of 14 February 48 young people died in a fire at a disco at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin and 214 were injured.

The campaign seeks to shift the blame from alleged “arsonists” to a fault in the premises wiring and other factors within the responsibility of the club’s management and owners, including blocked emergency exits. The allegation is that there has been a cover-up connived at by the Irish Government to exonerate businessmen friends, who to add insult to injury, received substantial financial compensation for the loss of the building. An ongoing controversy over inquiry findings and ignoring of important pieces of evidence have lent increasing credence to the version of the campaigners.

1This is organised annually in Dublin, Ireland by the Socialist Workers’ Party

2A prominent example in the past has been Martin Corey of Republican Sinn Féin; a current example is Tony Taylor

3For example Stephen Murney of the éirigí political party and the independent activist Colin Duffy and members of his family