DISSIDENCE IN THE BASQUE PRO-INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 minutes)

When ETA, the armed Basque Left pro-Independence group) abandoned armed resistance and decommissioned its weapons, many wondered at the absence of public dissent among its ranks. A dissident trend did appear in the Basque pro-independence movement but it took longer than it had in Ireland; it is in existence now and growing.

 

In using the term “dissident”, a description not always accepted by those to whom it is applied, I mean those who disagree with the direction taken by the leadership of the organisation and who have therefore separated themselves from the organisation. It becomes a problematic term when it is implied that the “dissidents” have diverged from the original path – on the contrary, those who have left the organisation would say, it is the leadership which has left the path and it is those being called “dissidents” who remain on the “true path”.

ATA demonstration in Donosti/ San Sebastian, 8th September 2019.
(Photo source: Amnistia Garrasia FB page)

 

In the Basque pro-independence movement, as in the Irish Republican movement, the “dissidents” are in a minority but that should not be taken to mean that those who have remained within the “official” movement are in complete agreement with the leadership nor happy with the state of affairs within the movement. Indeed, within the Izquierda Abertzale (Basque Left pro-Independence movement), many are very unhappy indeed. Some do not agree with alliances with social democrats or attempted with the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), others with complete disarmament, some with disarmament without concessions in return, yet others with particular decisions at various junctures (such as pleading guilty to “terrorism” when the work they had been doing was nothing of the sort, as happened recently in the mass trial of prisoner solidarity activists arrested back in 2013). Or with “apologising to the victims” as the Spanish State has been pressing on prisoners and detainees (the Spanish State of course apologises for nothing, neither the fascist-military uprising of Franco and company, nor the Dictatorship of almost four decades, nor executions, nor recent torture).

There were splits enough in the Irish Republican movement even soon after the Civil War but they also came thick and fast in the early 1970s, out of which grew the Provisionals (Sinn Féin and PIRA) and the IRSP and INLA, leaving Official Sinn Féin and OIRA as a rapidly-diminishing and eventually disintegrating remainder. Another split came about as a result of the electoral path of Provisional SF in 1986, out of which came Republican Sinn Féin. But it was the Good Friday Agreement and its effects which caused the most splits and desertions from the ranks of the Provisionals, leading to the creation of a number of organisations over time: éirigi, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, 1916 Societies, Saoradh and others.

POLITICAL PRISONERS, IRELAND & BASQUE COUNTRY

Most unfortunately, the number of Republican organisations led also to a number of political prisoner support groups and currently there are three main ones: Cabhair (RSF), Cogus (mainly 32 CSM) and Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association (mainly Saoradh).

In the Basque movement, the Izquierda Abertzale, although there were the abiding split has come over the issue of the Republican prisoners. The traditional line of the IA has always been that the prisoners, whether captured ETA volunteers or political activist victims of repression, are political prisoners. It follows that they should be released in any settlement of the Basque national question. But in the meantime, if prisoners, they should be kept in prisons near their homes so that they can be visited without too much difficulty by relatives and friends. That is not only a humane principle but is underwritten by EU and UN policy recommendations on the treatment of prisoners. The Spanish State, however, keeps its political prisoners dispersed throughout its territory, hundreds and even a thousand kilometres away from the family and friends of the prisoners (as does the French State). This is not only an additional punishment on the prisoners, one which was not a specified part of their sentence but also – and perhaps principally – on their relatives, children, partners and friends.

The organisation Amnistia (Gestoras pro Amnistia) was created in 1970 within the movement to agitate for a total amnesty for the prisoners. As is usual with the Spanish State, in 2002 it banned this organisation also as one “assisting terrorism”, threatened its activists with prison and the organisation ceased to exist publicly, their trial beginning in 2008. The State’s outlook was fully expressed in the infamous statement of the former judge and overseer of torture but so beloved of liberals, Baltazar Garzon: “Everything is ETA”.

The organisation of relatives of prisoners on the movement’s “official” list, Etxerat (Homeward) continued to exist and to organise visits, share information and agitate about the prisoners’ treatment but it is not a political organisation as such, which is difficult to combine with welfare work.

To carry out the specifically political work around the prisoners, the organisation Herrira (to the Homeland) was created some years ago. The Spanish State reacted in the usual manner and arrested a number of its activists – for “assisting terrorism”, of course. After that, it was noted that the official line had changed – while not specifically abandoning the call for amnesty, now only the call for and end to dispersal was heard (along with of course the repatriation of seriously or terminally-ill political prisoners).

View from the rear of ATA demonstration in Donosti/ San Sebastian, 8th September 2019.
(Photo source: Amnistia Garrasia FB page)

LEADERSHIP CHANGE IN LINE AND DISSIDENCE

The change in line, the dropping of the demand for amnesty, led to the creation of a new Amnestia, but with the addition of Ta Askatasuna (and Freedom), this time in the hands of “dissidents”. The “oficialistas”, the current leadership of the main body of the pro-independence movement, Otegi, EH Bildu etc, say this is pure opportunism on the part of the dissidents, who are expressing their disagreement with the abandonment of armed struggle and dissolution of ETA by seizing on the issue of amnesty for political prisoners. They could be right, of course, at least in part. But unlike the leadership of SF and PIRA, the Basque “oficialistas” got no deal whatsoever for their prisoners.

Recently, a significant part of their youth section Ernai left the “oficialistas” and maintains a working relationship with the new ATA. Their issue was that they had prepared a position paper for discussion at the annual congress and the “oficialistas” had refused to permit it to be discussed, since it was critical of current leadership positions.

Another group, Jarki, is revolutionary, socialist, for independence, internationalist and in defence of the language and has been organising.

Apart from those three trends, there also exist anti-authoritarian, ecological etc trends that owe no allegiance to the official leadership of the movement. These are national in the sense that they are spread across the Basque Country and also in that they speak and write in Euskera (Basque language); they are also for social justice, feminist, anti-racist and anti-sexuality discrimination.

It remains to be seen to what degree these various trends will coalesce and whether the “official” movement will continue to see defections from its ranks.

End.

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BRIGADISTA PETER DALY COMMEMORATED IN HIS HOME TOWNLAND

(Reading time: 20 mins)

Clive Sulish

SPEAKERS WARN OF RISING FASCISM, CALL FOR UNITY OF ANTI-FASCISTS

          Flags of various kinds flew above a gathering in Monagear, Co. Wexford on Saturday 7th September, while a number of banners were visible among the crowd: Peter Daly Society, Connolly Association Manchester, Wexford Community Action, Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland, Friends of International Brigades Ireland, Éirigí, Connolly Column. Also in attendance was a group of young men and women dressed to represent the International Brigaders and the POUM1 milita, organised by the Cavan Volunteers group. The event had been organised by the Peter Daly Society with support from the Peadar O’Donnell Forum.

Monagear Commemoration from behind wall
Long view of Peter Daly commemoration seen from the back (Photo source: Peter Daly Society)
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A reminder of even older struggles — banner inside the Monageer Tavern. (Photo source: D.Breatnach)

Monagear is a small village in the centre of Co. Wexford, a few kilometres north-east of Wexford town. Also known a Monageer, both words are, like most place-names in Ireland, from the original Irish language: Móin na gCaor, “the bogland of the berries” (probably of the Rowan or Mountain Ash, which in Irish is Crann Caorthainn). Not far from it are the historic place-names associated with the United Irishmen uprising of 17982 in that county, such as Boolavogue and Enniscorthy and indeed, a small commemoration garden in the village has memorial stones dedicated to that struggle and to others since.

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View in a cloud-darkened moment over the crowd, past the new houses in the village and to the hills and mountains in the distance. (Photo source: D.Breatnach)

At a signal, the gathering of people with flags and banners, led by a colour party flying the Irish Tricolour, the flag of the 2nd Spanish Republic, a red starry flag and the Irish workers’ Starry Plough, moved in procession down into the village area and assembled outside the raised platform containing the tasteful simple memorial to Peter Daly, International Brigader killed in the War Against Fascism in the territory of Spain (1936-1939).

Steve McCann, Chairman of the Peter Daly Society, with another man beside him, opened the ceremony from the memorial platform by briefly outlining the history of the Peter Daly commemorations and of the Society (founded in 2011) which he said had from the beginning welcomed the involvement and participation of Irish Republicans, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists and plain anti-fascists. After outlining the program of speeches and songs for the day, he called Gearóid Ó Machaill to give the first speech, on behalf of the Friends of the International Brigades, Ireland.

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Steve McCann addressing crowd with colour party and reenactment group visible below (Photo source: D.Breatnach)

“THE IRISH ARE NOT IMMUNE TO FASCISM”

          Ó Machaill opened his speech in Ulster Irish, thanking the organisers for giving him the opportunity to speak there at the cradle of Peter Daly, Irish Republican, socialist, anti-fascist. Continuing, he said that the conditions that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s are very similar to those of today. Speaking of the Republican Congress of 1936-1938, he said it had worked to overcome divisions in the working class and in the anti-imperialist movement. But it had fallen apart in disunity, unfortunately and in Ireland today, the anti-fascist forces are as divided too.

The Irish were not immune to fascism and had a strong fascist movement in the 1930s, supported for awhile by the State, X said. In the years since the defeat of fascism around most of the world, attempts to set up a fascist movement in Ireland had been smashed, said Ó Machaill but cautioned against complacency.

In some other parts of the world, workers betrayed by social democracy and hurt by capitalism, turned to hard right parties and outright fascists and it was entirely possible that such fascists would become popular while leading a campaign against bankers and even imperialism, pushing a line of “Irish for the Irish”.

“We cannot afford the divisions and need to unite ….. as Republicans and Socialists did in preventing the attempted launch of Pegida in 2016,|” said the speaker.

Colour Party & side view Militia GOM
Colour Party facing photographer, POUM and Brigader reenacters to the left. (Photo source: G. Ó Machaill)

MIGRANT DEPORTEES

          Steve McCann introduced the man beside him as Diarmuid Breatnach and called him to sing the first song of the selection for the ceremony and to say a few words about its content. Breatnach pointed out that migrants are often a prime target of fascists and the song he was to sing was about migrants and their treatment. On 28th January 1948, a DC-9 transporting Latino illegal migrants and “guest workers” crashed in the Los Diablos region of California and all 32 on board were killed. The radio news reported the crash but only gave the names of the crew members and the Immigration Department guard, saying the others killed were “deportees”. The names of the dead were known in their localities and were printed in local newspapers but were not deemed worthy of mention on the radio.

DB Reading Intro Song Platform Peter Daly Monageer Sep 2019
Diarmuid Breatnach reading introduction before singing a song. Steve McCann is standing to the left of the photo on the stage. (Photo source: Ado Perry)

Wood Guthrie wrote a poem called “Deportee” about the tragedy which was put to music by Martin Hoffman, the song since called Deportees or Plane Wreck at Los Gatos. Breatnach then sang the song, the chorus of which says:

Goodbye to my friends,

Farewell Rosalita

Adios mis amigos, 

Jesús y Maria;

You won't have a name 

When you ride the big airplane --

All they will call you 

Will be “deportees”.

LESSON OF HISTORY – NOT LIBERALISM BUT ROBUST ACTION IS NEEDED

          Mags Glennon was called to read a statement on behalf of Anti-Fascist Action. Moving on from the background to the fascist upsurge of the 1930s and the background of those who fought to defeat it, Glennon read: Far-right parties have risen from minor subculture to government across Europe in recent years, showing the glaring need for principled and active opposition to fascist and far right forces. The most concerning aspect of this political resurgence is the support it has received from young people and large sections of the traditional working class, due to the abandonment of these people by social democrats, and other parties who claimed to ‘represent’ them. Well meaning liberalism has never defeated fascism. It never will.”

Reading from the statement, Glennon called for a “re-energising” of the struggle to defeat those “aiming to distract our communities and young people from fighting their real enemy. Where there are fascists we must oppose them.”

Glennon concluded by reading: “Appeals to the police, to parliament or to Google to censor fascists have no place in anti-fascist struggle. History has shown that robust action against fascists in Ireland has always sent them running back to the gutters to think again. Long may it continue. La lucha continua!

Militia GOM
POUM militia and International Brigader reenacters seen from behind, centre photo. (Photo source: G. Ó Machaill)

“MUST ORGANISE IN WORKING-CLASS COMMUNITIES”

          The MC, Steve McCann, introduced the anti-fascist and community activist as well as Independent Dublin City Councillor, Ciaran Perry. Speaking without notes, Perry outlined the historical necessity of defeating fascism politically and physically.

Echoing a previous speaker’s comments, Perry too called for unity of the antifascist forces against fascism but also against capitalism and imperialism. He said that working-class communities, betrayed by social democracy and distracted by identity politics, had become prey to the propaganda of fascists.

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Ciaran Perry speaking

Fascism is a facet of capitalism”, Perry said “and therefore the enemy of the working class.  The working class should be our natural constituency.”

Going on to suggest that if fascists build bases in working class communities it is because of the failure of the Left, he called on socialists and antifascists go into those communities and to build their bases there.

ESCAPE FROM DACHAU AND DEATH IN SPAIN

          Breatnach stepped forward to sing a combination of two songs from the German side of the anti-fascist struggle. The German political prisoners in the concentration camps were forbidden to sing socialist songs and had written their own, one of which became famous around the world was The Peat Bog Soldiers, lyrics written by Johann Esser, a miner and Wolfgang Langhoff, an actor and melody composed by Rudi Guguel.

“Hans Beimler (1895-1936) was a WWI veteran, a Communist, a Deputy elected to the Reichstag in 1932,” said Breatnach. “In January 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany. The Communist Party was banned and in April 1933 Beimler was arrested and sent to Dachau extermination camp where, in May, he strangled his SA guard and, putting on the man’s uniform, escaped. He went to Spain where he was a Commissar with the International Brigades and was killed in the Battle of Madrid on 1st December 1936.”

He would sing two verses of the Peat Bog Soldiers, Breatnach explained, combined with the Hans Beimler song.

Hans Beimler Photo Spain maybe
Photo of Hans Beimler, WWI veteran, Communist, escapee from Dachau, International Brigader, killed in the Battle of Madrid 1936.                      (Photo source: Internet)

“THE NORM WAS FOR ALL CAPTURED INTERNATIONAL BRIGADERS TO BE EXECUTED”

          The sun sinking towards the west shone over the heads of the attendance on to the raised bed of the memorial stone and its flagpoles and, except when covered by clouds, into the eyes of those on the platform. Outside the nearby pub some locals gathered and behind those gathered around the monument, others in attendance lined a low wall while nearby other local people, mostly youth, congregated for a time. Occasionally a passing car drove carefully along the street past the crowd. House martins darted above, a wasp occasionally bothered the speakers and the smokey-blue soft curves of the Silvermine Hills and Knockmealdown Mountains rose to the west.

Harry Owens Speaking
Harry Owens speaking from the platform (Monagheer Tavern to the right of photo)

The Chair of the event called Harry Owens to speak.

Harry ‘s speech traced the history of world events that had led up to the fascist coup and war in Spain. He also spoke about the kind of people the Brigadistas had been, quoting from their comrades, journalists and opponents. That Captain Frank Ryan had his life spared was unusual, he explained, as the tendency was for all anti-fascist officers to be executed and all International Brigaders of all ranks. Whilst the Spanish fascists wanted to execute them, the Italian soldiers tended to keep them alive in order to exchange them for Italian prisoners of the Republican side.

The death toll among officers and men in the International Brigades had been higher than the norm in warfare and the average in the Irish contingent higher still, Owens said. The food and armament supply conditions of the Republican side had been poor in many areas but almost to a man they had fought on until death, capture or demobilisation. It was their conviction, that they knew what they were fighting for and believed in it that accounted for that.

After Owens’ speech, Breatnach stepped forward to sing, without introduction, Viva la Quinze Brigada3 (the song written by Christy Moore about the Irish who fought in the 15th International Brigade). The song mentions Peter Daly in the verse:

This song is a tribute to Frank Ryan,

Kit Conway and Dinny Coady too,

Peter Daly, Charlie Reagan and Hugh Bonner,

Though many died, I can but name a few.

Danny Doyle, Blazer Brown and Charlie Donnelly,

Liam Tumlinson, Jim Straney from the Falls,

Jack Nalty, Tommy Patton and Frank Conroy,
Jim Foley, Tony Fox and Dick O’Neill.

The words of Moore’s chorus rang out along the street:

Viva la Quinze Brigada!

No Pasarán!” the pledge that made them fight;

Adelante” is the cry around the hillside,

Let us all remember them tonight.

…. and concluded with the cry “Viven!” (“They live!”)

WREATHS, THE INTERNATIONALE AND AMHRÁN NA BHFIANN

          McCann called for those who wished to lay wreaths on behalf of organisations and the following came to lay floral tributes: John Kenny, activist of the Peter Daly Society; Mags Glennon for Anti-Fascist Action; Seán Doyle for Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland (who had provided the colour party); Connolly Association Manchester; and Gary O’Brien for Éirigí. Messages of support had been received from the CPI, IRSP and the Connolly Association Manchester.

Closeup Peter Daly Monument & Wreaths
Closeup of Peter Daily memorial with floral tributes laid. (Photo source: Peter Daly Society)

McCann then called Breatnach forward to sing the Internationale, the international anthem of the working class, the lyrics of which Breatnach explained had been composed by Anarchist Eugene Pottier of the Paris Commune, in 1871, the first time the working class had seized a city. It had been written to the air of the Marsellaise but later put to its own melody by worker-composer Pierre de Gayter.

“It was written in French”, said Breatnach, “which is why I propose to sing the chorus once in French at the start but it has been translated into many languages. Youtube has a post with 95 translations ….. and there are at least three versions of it in English and people are welcome to sing along in any version they know,” Breatnach concluded before singing the French chorus, followed by two English verses and chorus.

The MC Steve directed attention to a bodhrán decorated with a dedication to Peter Daly by Barry O’Shea which was displayed by Erin McCann and which would be raffled as a fund-raising exercise at the reception inside the pub.

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Ciara McCann with the bodhrán decorated by Barry O’Shea (Photo source: D.Breatnach)

Steve McCAnn then called Marie Kenny Murphy and Marilyn Harris up on to the stage, where they played the Irish national anthem on flutes, with many people singing along in its Irish translation4:

Anocht a théim sa bhearna baoil,

Le gean ar Ghael chun báis no saol;

Le gunnaí scréach, faoi lámhach na bpiléar,

Seo libh, canaig’ Amhrán na bhFiann.

 

 

 

 

Part Crowd Close GOM
Section of crowd around monument (Photo source: G. O Machaill)

REFRESHMENTS, EXHIBITION, RAFFLE, SONG AND CONVERSATION

          All the speakers had referenced the historical memory of the Anti-Fascist War on Spanish territory to the struggles of today and even of tomorrow and the selection of songs had been deliberately chosen to emphasise internationalism and workers’ solidarity from the past and needed today.

McCann thanked all the performers, speakers and participants and in particular welcomed the participation of the Connolly Association contingent from Manchester, encouraging them to attend again the following year. Inviting all to enter the local Monageer Tavern to view the Antifascist War memorabilia and to have some food, the MC brought the ceremony to an end.

Inside the local pub, the Monageer Tavern, food had been made available by the owners and the function hall was provided for the commemoration participants.

An interesting display of memorabilia of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War had been erected inside by the Cavan Volunteers history group. The walls of the function room on one side were also covered with permanent framed photographs and other images of Irish history, among which Joe Mooney, anti-fascist, community worker and activist of the East Wall History Group, spotted a photo of the Dublin docks with a docker well-known to his community in the foreground!

Music was provided by Tony Hughes with voice and guitar, singing a selection of songs including anti-racist and Irish Republican ballads, also Viva La Quinze Brigada.

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Tony Hughes playing and singing at the event inside the Monageer Tavern                                       (Photo source: D.Breatnach)
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Spanish Anti-Fascist War memorabilia organised by the Cavan Volunteer history and re-enactment group (Photo source: D.Breatmach)

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When the raffle was held a search went on for the winning number ticket which eventually unearthed it in the possession of Helena Keane, seller of the tickets and who adamantly refused to take the prize. Another dip into the stubs brought Gearóid Ó Machaill’s ticket out, ensuring the decorated bodhrán would find a new home somewhere in the occupied Six Counties.

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Section of the function room wall in the Monageer Tavern. (Photo source: D.Breatnach)
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Another section of the function room wall. (Photo source: D.Breatnach)
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(Photo source: Ado Perry)

FOOTNOTES

1The International Brigades were organised through the Comintern and Communist parties in various parts of the world but a number of International Volunteers came also through the mainly Trotskyist POUM, including Anarchists. One Irish volunteer went to join the Basque Gudaris and was killed fighting the fascists there.

2First Republican rising in Ireland, organised and led for the most part by Protestants, descendants of British colonists.

3Christy Moore called this “Viva la Quinta Brigada” (i.e the Fifth) but in later versions sang in English a line in the first verse calling it “the 15th International Brigade”. It appears that from different chronological perspectives one can call it either the Fifth or the Fifteenth but the mostly English-speaking brigade of the International Brigades is usually named the Fifteenth. Quinze is the Spanish word for “fifteen” and Viva la Quinze Brigada scans in the song while “decimoquinta Brigada” has too many syllables to fit.

4The Soldier’s Song was written originally in English by Peadar Kearney, an Irish Republican worker with socialist sympathies and put to music by worker-composer Patrick Heeny. It was translated to Irish by Liam Ó Rinn under the title Amhrán na bhFiann and published in 1923. Only the chorus became the anthem of the Irish State and that was not until later. The Irish-language version is the one most commonly sung at non-State occasions now.

LINKS FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:

Organisers
Peter Daly Association: https://www.facebook.com/PeterDalyCommemoration/

with help from the Peadar O’Donnel Forum: https://www.facebook.com/Peadar-ODonnell-Socialist-Republican-Forum-1538296709833402/

Colour Party by Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland: https://www.facebook.com/AIAIreland2/

Memorabilia and kitting out of POUM militia and International Brigade reenacters by Cavan Volunteers group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/242987949412133/

End .

HOW TO WIN THE WAR – GETTING INTO POSITION

(Reading time: Introduction, one minute; Part One: 5 mins; Part Two 2 mins: Part Three: 3 mins; Part Four: 2 mins; Total: 13 mins.)

Diarmuid Breatnach

INTRODUCTION:

Although I often think about the big questions – and am generally guided by my philosophy on them, my mind and energy are usually too occupied with specific struggles to focus on them for long. Recently however I had the opportunity and the need to think about the war, the one we have yet to win.

Storming Bastille Painting Jean-Pierre Houel
The Storming of the Bastille (translation), French Revolution, 1789 by Jean-Pierre Houel. (Image sourced: Internet)

But to which war am I referring? The Irish war of national liberation that has been flaring up for centuries, being lost each time before flaring up again? Or the class war, which has had a few sharp Irish episodes but has been, for the most part in Ireland, in abeyance? The answer is BOTH, though it may seem that my emphasis in the discussion, certainly in the early part, is on the national liberation war.

In order to imagine how we might win, it is helpful to examine past struggles and analyse what went wrong with them. Pessimists love to focus on those things I know – but in order to push us towards reformism or just surrender; my approach instead is from a revolutionary perspective.

Generally, Socialists analysing the class struggle don’t even ask themselves why we have not had a revolution yet. From week to week, month to month, they tend to focus on this or that particular trade union or social struggle but without going into the big picture. It seems as though they can’t even imagine a socialist uprising in Ireland, it’s just too far away to think about, apparently. But if one can’t even imagine such a revolution, how could one consider the necessary steps to get there?

Communards Paris Barricade 1871
Communards at barricade, Paris Commune 1871. (Image source: Internet)

Irish Republicans on the other hand are often thinking in terms of revolution, usually including armed struggle. However it seems to me that Irish Republicans don’t like analysing past failures of the movement but when they do, their verdicts tend to be that the leaders betrayed the struggle or that taking part in public elections corrupted the movement; or that infiltration, spies and informers was the problem. And some other reasons. The thing is, although all those things played a particular part, they are not the fundamental reason.

Defeat Rebels Vinegar Hill Drawing George Cruikshank
“Defeat of the Rebels at Vinegar Hill” by George Cruikshanks, i.e United Irishmen last major position in Wexford overrun, 1798.

PART ONE: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE

(Reading time this section: less than 5 minutes)

Free Derry Corner Gas Mask Images
Derry Monument and Mural of the Civil Rights struggle which preceded the armed struggle in the Six Counties. (Image sourced: Internet)

          The national liberation war that began in 1969 in the Six Counties and ended in 1998 (though some armed incidents continue from time to time) began as a civil rights struggle and changed into a war of communal defence and of national liberation. The military part of the struggle for the most part took place in the occupied Six Counties. The political element of the struggle was waged all over Ireland (and abroad) but in the main consisted of support for the struggle in the Six occupied Counties.

Fought in that way, the struggle was bound to lose. It could never win. How could anyone imagine that they could win a struggle fought against a world power in one-sixth of the country, where even the population there was divided against them? What could they have been thinking?

To my mind, there are only two possible sane replies to that question, which is that they believed: 1) that the British ruling class would get worn down by struggle and leave and/ or 2) that the Irish ruling class would intervene in some way to assist the struggle and make continued British occupation untenable.

1) ‘The British ruling class would get worn down and leave’: This theory must have depended on British repression being condemned abroad and being unpopular at home but had to rest fundamentally on the British having no great stake in continuing its possession of its colony there.

Anyone who thought that (and there were many who did and still many who do, not just Irish Republicans) made a fundamental error. Time and again the British ruling class has shown its determination to hang on to what might be considered its first colony, even as the ruling class’ composition changed from feudal-colonialist to capitalist-imperialist and as the world changed around it.

Collusion State Murder Mural
Mural in nationalist area in the Six Counties (Image sourced: Internet)

Even when the British ruling class, weakened by WW1 and facing an Irish guerrilla war which enjoyed the support of the vast majority of Irish people, with national liberation uprisings breaking out across its Empire and with its repression in Ireland increasingly unpopular at home, entered into negotiations with the Irish resistance, it held on to a foothold, the Six Counties.

Subsequently, it had that colony managed in a permanent state of emergency laws, with institutionalised sectarian discrimination at all official levels and outbreaks of pogroms in the street and workplace.

That became even more exposed during the civil rights struggle and the national liberation war that followed when the British State compromised whatever good international reputation remained to its Armed Forces, its judiciary, its legal establishment, its media and its very legal framework.

Even now, when many believe that the Good Friday Agreement means that a 50% plus-one-vote in favour in the Six Counties will be sufficient to end Partition, they do not realise that such a decision will have to also obtain a majority in the British Parliament and be endorsed by the British Monarch. They are also forgetting the broken promises that surrounded Partition in the first place.

British Soldiers Helmeted Belfast 1969
British Army in Belfast 1969 (bayonets and guns pointed towards nationalist area). (Image sourced: Internet)

When analysing what holding on to the Six Counties has cost the British State in terms of reputation, military and financial contributions, one can only rationally assume that continuing to hold on to that foothold is of great importance to the British State. One may speculate as to the reasons underlying that but the central fact cannot be denied.

2) ‘The Irish ruling class would intervene in some way to assist the struggle and make continued British occupation untenable’:

There was some basis for this belief in that a section of Fianna Fáil, a party that had emerged from a split in Sinn Féin in the 1930s and had become one of the mainstream parties in the Irish state, had retained some traditional commitment to seeking a united Ireland. However it was a thin enough basis on which to depend in a national liberation struggle since that section had no majority within the party itself, to say nothing of the foreign-dependent nature of the Irish native capitalist class, the Gombeens, as a whole.

The question came to a trial of strength in the Arms Crisis of 1970, in which at least two Fianna Fáil Government Ministers were involved in secretly buying arms for the defence of nationalist areas in the Six Counties (since the IRA had insufficient weapons at the time) from rampaging Loyalist mobs and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (including the part-time B-Specials). The Ministers alleged that they had acted in the full knowledge of the rest of the Government. By the time the whole affair was over, two Ministers had been sacked and another two resigned in protest.

If it had not been clear before that the Gombeens, the native Irish capitalist class was no patriotic capitalist class but rather a neo-colonial one, it should have been clear after that. But the armed struggle in the Six Counties intensified, especially after the massacres of unarmed civilians carried out by British Paratroopers the following year, 1971 in Belfast and again in Derry in 1972. And the war lasted until 1998.

If, as had been demonstrated to be the case that the British ruling class were determined to hold on to the Six Counties and the Irish ruling class was not going to seriously challenge that possession, did the Republican movement have any other option than to fight on a war that they could not possibly win?

I am clear that it did.

Clearly, in order to have a chance of success, the war had to be extended to the other five-fifths of the country, which is to say into the territory under the control of the Irish native capitalist class. This class had seized power after the War of Independence (1919-1921) and had beaten and suppressed its opposition during and after the Civil War (1922-1923) and furthermore was supported by a powerful ally, the Irish Catholic Church. Since the founding of the first Irish Republican organisation, the United Irishmen of the late 1790s, the Catholic Church hierarchy had opposed Irish Republicanism; it had condemned four Irish priests who participated in the uprising of 1798, excommunicated the Fenians, had at first condemned the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence only to latch on to it at the end along with the Gombeen class.

The general Irish population likely would not have supported or sustained an armed struggle in the 1970s against the Gombeen class but that class could have been fought politically, through agitation and mobilisation, on many social, political and economic fronts. Without going into the specific details of each, these were:

  1. against the huge wastage of Irish youth through emigration

  2. to remedy the shortage of affordable housing (which in part contributed to the above)

  3. to end unemployment (also contributing hugely to emigration)

  4. to raise the level of wages and lower wage earners’ taxation

  5. for the right to divorce

  6. for equality for women in law

  7. for the right to contraception devices and medication for men and women

  8. against decriminalisation and for equal rights for gay and lesbians

  9. to halt the decline of the Irish language, in particular of the rural Irish-speaking areas

  10. to improve services for the rural areas

  11. to oppose the open-door policy for foreign multinationals to exploit Irish natural and human resources

  12. to secularise the education service

  13. and the health service.

  14. to remove the privileged status of the Catholic Church within the state.

Irish Womens Liberation Connolly Station
Irish women photographed at Connolly Station 1971, about to board train to Belfast to purchase contraceptives to bring back to the Irish state, illegal at the time. There was no right to abortion either or divorce and a husband’s signed permission was necessary to take out a hire purchase agreement. (Image sourced: Internet)

The Republican movement in general, with some exceptions, declined to take on any of those struggles. They did not organise in the trade union movement, left the social struggles to others and most of all, declined to take on the Catholic Church on any issue except its opposition to the national liberation struggle. Even there, it was happy to publicly avail of the services of members of the Church clergy who supported them. Republicanism was, from its very beginning, as well as anti-monarchist, about separation of Church and State but it was difficult to see that in the Irish Republican movement, particularly after the War of Independence.

A full half of those fourteen points above (nos. 5,6, 7, 8, 12, 13 and 14) would have meant taking on the Church head-on and no doubt the hierarchy would have hindered the struggle over most of the others too, due to its strong links with the State and its ruling class.

Because of its tactical and no doubt ideological refusal to take up those struggles, the Republican movement could do little more in the 26-County state than to agitate for solidarity with the beleaguered nationalist population inside the British colony.

Though this could be effective for a time it could not become a mass movement, nor survive a long struggle, without any remedy being sought for the issues facing the population within the state.

The wonder is not that the majority leadership of the Republican Movement threw in the towel on the military struggle in 1998 but that they had waited so long to do it. Of course, they never admitted the true nature of what they were doing: abandoning the armed struggle and revolution in total and instead, using their negotiating position to advance themselves politically – not in the economic, social and political struggle envisioned above but rather in a political struggle to find themselves a place among the Gombeen political class in the Irish state and as accomplices in the governing of the colonial state.

PART 2: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION

(Reading time this section: 2 minutes)

          A successful revolution in Ireland, as in most places, would require the involvement of a mass movement. That mass movement would be unlikely to be one that had national self-determination as its only aim – certainly not in the 26 Counties (the Irish state). Mass movements arise at times around different issues and exist as long as the issue does or instead until the movement gets worn down or broken up. Such movements arose around the Household Tax and, later, around the additional Water Charges.

Water Protest Long View 29 Aug 2015
Section of protest against water charges, O’Connell Street, Dublin, 29 Aug. 2015 (Image source: Internet)

Even though the objectives of such movements are often not revolutionary, the participation in them by revolutionaries is necessary if, in the future, there is to be a revolution. Revolutionary activists can make contacts and prove themselves by the way they participate whilst at the same time pointing out that a revolution is necessary in order to resolve all these issues completely and permanently. Such activists can also influence the movement (or sections of it) to act in more revolutionary ways, so that the movement can be guided by – and imbued with — revolutionary spirit.

Working people in struggles come up against concrete problems which need to be resolved in order to move forward. Prior to 1913 in Ireland, workers learned the need for unity in struggle which was emphasised by the employers’ attempts to break the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in August 1913. The attacks on them by the Dublin Metropolitan Police illustrated the need for organised defence and Larkin and Connolly called for the formation of what became the Irish Citizen Army, which later also fought prominently in the 1916 Rising.

Packed Workers Liberty Hall 1913
Members and supporters of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union cheering outside the union’s HQ, Liberty Hall, August 1913. Later the union formed the ICA to defend themselves from the DMP; the ICA took a prominent part in the 1916 Rising. (Image source: Internet)

Trade unions are the only mass organisations of the working class in Ireland and it is necessary for revolutionaries to be active within them. Currently, other than social democrats, it is mainly members of both trotskyist parties and independent activists who engage politically with the trade unions. Those members are mostly in clerical work and their political work tends to concentrate on employment demands around wages and working conditions. When they introduce politics it is generally to get some motion passed by their branch. Also at times, they will campaign to get a perceived left-wing candidate elected to some position within the trade union bureaucracy.

None of the above are without value but they remain disjointed in terms of program and often confined to just one trade union. Not only that, but often the Left party involved will engage in order to recruit some new members and in order also to retain their own members by providing them with activity. When broad front trade union groups are formed, they tend to become an arena where the dominant trotskyist parties compete for dominance.

If we are to have a successful revolution – and in particular a socialist one – participation in the struggles of workers in the trade union movement is absolutely necessary. But participation should be primarily among the rank and file of the trade union and also across trade unions, focused on providing solidarity to members of whichever union is in struggle – in addition to encouraging unorganised workers to organise and become active. The objective is not to help make one trade union or one section more militant but rather to create a militant workers solidarity movement within the whole trade union movement. It is essential to have members in the ‘blue-collar’ work unions or departments as well as in the clerical unions or sections. And the cross-union organisation I advocated should be independent — the preserve of no political party.

Participation in such struggles provides an opportunity for revolutionaries to make contact with people who are activists but not yet revolutionaries and to give those people an opportunity to evaluate the revolutionaries in terms of their actual practice. Revolutionaries can support the people struggling for worthwhile reforms while at the same time pointing to their partial and temporary nature. Revolutionary activists can play an educational role in the mass movements while at the same time becoming educated themselves by the daily reality faced by the masses in this system.

PART 3: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT WHAT KIND?

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

          It is, most people would think, a ‘no-brainer’ (i.e an obvious truth) that unity is necessary in the struggle to overthrow the current system. It might be thought surprising, therefore, that disunity is more the rule among those who aspire to revolution.

Generally, those who claim to be revolutionary socialists will not unite with Irish Republicans. In addition, those socialists of one party will often fail to unite with those of a different party. The same dynamic is to be seen among Irish Republicans also.

There have been many attempts to overcome this problem. In the 1930s the Republican Congress sought to unite Irish Republicans with revolutionary socialists. In the face of hostility within the mainstream Republican movement and also with divisions among the communist element in Ireland at the time, faced in addition with anti-communist hysteria whipped up by the Catholic Church, the experiment failed. The leadership of the Sinn Féin and the IRA of the later 1960s tried to combine socialism and republicanism within one party and military organisation, an attempt that crashed when it was discovered that the arms necessary to defend ‘nationalist’ community areas in the Six Counties, particularly in Belfast, were unavailable, leading to an acrimonious split in the movement. A subsequent attempt to combine the socialist and republican elements in another organisation survived a little longer but also failed for a number of reasons, some internal and also due to Irish State repression.

Shankhill Rd Republican Congress WT Commemoration 1934
Socialist Republicans, members of Republican Congress from Shankhill Road, marching to annual Wolfe Tone commemoration, Bodenstown 1934. They were attacked by conservative Republicans. (Photo source: Internet)

There have been some attempts to unite the non-republican Left itself also, which usually failed due in part to ideological differences but also to political sectarianism and personality clashes. Currently both trotskyist parties have an uneasy working relationship, the small grouping of Independents for Change exists also, the Communist Party is very small too and the anarchists are scattered and unable for years now, for the most part, to mount united action.

Attempts to unite the various parts of the Irish Republican movement have, in general, focused on creating a new organisation or absorbing activists unhappy with one organisation into another.

A frequent approach has been for some people to sit down and produce what they consider solid policy and a constitution, then to propose this format to others around which to unite. Even when accepting amendments from the elements they seek to recruit, these attempts too have largely failed.

It seems a rational approach: if we want unity, surely first we have to agree on what for, how, etc, etc before we can go into action? I believe, contrary though it may seem, that actually we should unite in action first. Uniting in action tends to break down barriers of mistrust that are built on hearsay or suspicions fostered by sectarian elements. Action also tends to clarify certain questions that until then are theoretical only. Of course, at some point, action will need to be guided by worked out policy but initially the action itself can be sufficient guide, especially since approaching the question the other way around has been so generally unproductive.

Unity Is Strength Image copy

The question then arises: with whom to unite? In general, I would say that the answer is: with all with whom we can, in actual practice, unite: different types of revolutionary socialists (including anarchists), Irish Republicans, Left social democrats, human and civil rights activists.

There are some exceptions I think necessary to mention: fascists, racists, religious sectarians and parties that participate in Government. Fascists seek to impose an undemocratic regime completely hostile to the interests of working people and, far from our uniting with them, need to be defeated; racists and religious sectarians seek to divide the movement along lines of ethnicity or religious affiliation. Revolutionaries need to draw a clear line of distinction between the movements of resistance and those who participate in a native capitalist or colonial government, i.e the management organisations of the enemy.

Many issues lend themselves to united action but perhaps none more so, and none are more essential, than against repression.

PART FOUR: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

          All revolutionary movements – and many that are progressive but not revolutionary – face repression at some point in their existence. Not to recognise that fact and to have some kind of preparation for it, even if very basic, is indicative of a non-revolutionary attitude to the State. Nor have we any reason in Ireland to be complacent on this question.

The Irish State turned to military suppression in the first year of its existence as did also the colonial statelet. Detentions, torture, murders and official executions were carried out by Free State forces over a number of years, followed by censorship and arrests, all facilitated by emergency repressive legislation. In the Six Counties, in addition to similar even more repressive legislation, there were two sectarian militarised police forces and sectarian civilian organisations.

After a change of government, the Irish State introduced internment without trial during the Emergency (1939-1946), the Offences Against the State Act in 1939, Special Criminal (sic) Courts in 1972 and the Amendment to the OAS in that same year.

Bloody Sunday march Derry 2014
Poster for 2014 Commemoration of Bloody Sunday massacre, Derry 1972. The poster calls for unity. (Image source: Internet)

The Six County statelet had the Special Powers Act (1922) and brought in internment without trial in 1971 (the Ballymurphy Massacre that year and the Derry Massacre the following year, both by the Parachute Regiment, were of people protesting the introduction of internment). The statelet also introduced the Emergency Provisions Act and the no-jury Diplock Courts in 1973 and, though technically abolished in 2007, non-jury trials can and do take place up to today.

The British state targeted the Irish diaspora in Britain in 1974 with the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act and that same year and the following, framed and convicted nearly a score of innocent people of bombings in five different cases – had the death penalty not been previously abolished for murder, most of them would have been executed. It took the victims over 15 years to win their freedom, by which time one had died in jail. Brought in as a temporary measure, the PTA continued in force until 1989 but a general Terrorism Act was brought into British Law in 2000 and remains in force today.

Birmingham Six Photos Bruises
Photos of the Birmingham Six, Irishmen resident in England, showing bruises from police beatings after their arrest in 1974; they were also beaten by jailers. Also arrested, brutalised, framed and convicted were the Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and Giuseppe Conlon and Judith Ward. (Photo source: Internet)

State repression rarely targets the whole population and, particularly in a capitalist “democracy” focuses on particular groups which it fears or feels it can safely persecute. However, we should also recall Pastor Niemoller’s words about the creeping repression which even the German Nazi state instituted, going after first one group, then another, and another …. Among the list of groups targeted eventually by the Nazis were Jews, Roma, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, Social Democrats, Jehova’s Witnesses, Free Masons, Gays and Lesbians, Mentally Ill or challenged, physically challenged ….

It is in the interests of the vast majority of the population to oppose repression of different groups, whether those groups be based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship status or democratic politics. Not everyone recognises this of course but one might expect that political activists challenging the status quo would do so. Sadly, experience shows that they do not in practice (though they may acknowledge it intellectually).

Lineup Clenched Fists & Banner
Anti-Internment and political prisoner solidarity picket September 2016 at Kilmainham Jail, Dublin (a former place of detention and execution for political prisoners under both the British occupation and the Irish State, now a museum). (Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

With some periodic exceptions, socialist groups in Ireland do not support protests against repression of republicans. Furthermore, some republican groups will not support others when the latter are subjected to repression. Yet at any time, Republicans of any group can be and are regularly harassed in public or raided at home; their employers may be warned about them by the political police; they may be detained on special repressive legislation, denied bail, effectively interned; they can be easily convicted in the non-jury Special Criminal Courts or Diplock Courts; ex-prisoners released on licence in the Six Counties can be returned to jail without any charge or possibility of defence.

The Irish State’s non-jury Special Criminal Court is a tempting facility for putting away people whom the State finds annoying and it is widely thought it was considered for the trials of the Jobstown protesters. The result of the trial, where the jury clearly took a different view to the presiding judge, may well have justified the opinion of those in the State who considered sending the defendants to the SCC.

solidarity woodcut

Unity against repression is a fundamental need of a healthy society and of movements that challenge the status quo. Practical unity in any kind of action also tends to break down barriers and assists general revolutionary broad unity. Unity against repression is so basic a need that agreement with this or that individual is unnecessary, nor with this or that organisation in order to defend them against repression. Basic democratic rights were fought for by generations and have to be defended; in addition they give activists some room to act without being jailed. On this basis, all must unite in practice and political sectarianism has no place in that.

Without some basic unity in practice across the sector challenging the status quo, there can be no revolution. But more than that: we stand together against repression ….. or we go to jail separately.

End.

Diarmuid Breatnach is a veteran independent revolutionary activist, currently particularly active in committees against repression, in some areas of internationalist solidarity and in defence of historical memory.

MUCH ADO ABOUT BREXIT

Diarmuid Breatnach

Apparently Brexit is a big issue.

          Well, I can see that it would be for Britain, to leave the European Union, the European Economic Community, the Common Market …… It will impact in particular on trade and they’ll have to leave the euro currency ….. no, wait, they never joined that anyway, kept their own currency throughout. In fact, British ruling circles were never that keen to join a “community” that they were not in charge of and, even worse, that Germany was.

And I can see that the Brexit drama has has had quite an unsettling effect on the leadership of the Conservative Party (sorry, Conservative and Unionist parties), with one Prime Minister getting sacrificed so an apparently worse one can step into the vacancy.

I can also see that it has rocked the shaky Union, with the majority of Scotland and the Six Counties voting to stay in the EU and (unproven) concerns among many in Britain that the vote in favour of leaving was dominated by right-wing, jingoistic and even racist elements.Six County Brexit Voting Results

But why is it a problem for the population of Ireland, as we keep being told it is – or will be?

Well, apparently we might get a “hard Border” around the British colony of one-sixth of our nation. There might be customs and military controls, checkpoints, watch towers ….. And this will all undermine the Good Friday Agreement. Apparently.

Why would it? Apparently the illusion of normality around the armed occupation of our country will disappear, once we have to go through checkpoints and pay tax on shopping from one side of the Border or the other. Once that illusion is swept away, those “dissident” Republicans will take arms and launch another war of resistance, or campaign of terrorism, according to how you feel about it.

Really? Border checkpoints will do that? Amazing!

Customs Checkpoint Six Counties

So, was that what started the last three decades or so of armed conflict in what some geography-challenged people call “Northern Ireland”? Well, no, not really. Firstly, it was that fifty years earlier, those six counties (hence the title of “The Six Counties”) had been hijacked when the rest of the nation was being given a measure of independence, then had been put under a police state run by sectarian religious bigots. Yes I know it’s not nice to say that but when you go into a hardware shop to buy a spade, you don’t ask for “a spoon”.

And then those people who were at the receiving end of that bigotry and police state treatment felt a wind of change blowing around the world and had the temerity to demand an end to sectarianism in the allocation of work, housing and voting rights, along with wanting ordinary civil rights that were available in the rest of the UK but not for the people in the Six Counties, despite the colony being, we were told, “as British as Finchley”.

Naturally the police and the sectarian bigots set upon those marchers with batons, rocks and toxic tear gas – and even live rounds – but still couldn’t get them to give up their outrageous demands. The poor cops were getting worn down so, naturally again, the colonial power sent in the troops, with guns and fixed bayonets. And so the war started.

It wasn’t the checkpoints that led to war, honestly. It was other things completely.

Of course, it is possible that something different from before might trigger another war. That’s the thing about occupation forces and indigenous populations – the relationship usually begins with violence, has a number of recurrent bouts of violence …. and is ended by violence.

PSNI Searching Republican Newry
British colonial police force, the PSNI, harassing an Irish Republican in Newry. If armed struggle breaks out anew, it is more likely to be about regular incidents such as these rather than the customs checkpoints of a “hard Border”!

So, the Good Friday Agreement – a great achievement, right. Er … why? Oh, it brought peace. Actually no, it didn’t. It brought a pause in the armed resistance struggle is what it did. And that’s only something like peace if it holds. I don’t think it will, nor do I think border controls are what will undermine it. And even if it stayed as it is, it would be pacification, not peace.

The Good Friday Agreement amounts to this, in crude essence:

Colonising power: We can kill you and you can kill ours – but you can’t send ours to prison for decades and make their families suffer. We can’t beat you but we can outlast you and outhurt you.

Republican organisation: We will resist.

CP: Yes, you have been. But you are not going to win. Why not do a deal?

RO: What deal is on offer?

CP: Peace process.

RO: What does it involve?

CP: 1. We get to keep the colony. 2. You stop fighting. 3. You destroy your weapons.

RO: What do we get out of it?

CP: 1. You get your prisoners out (but under licence of good behaviour). 2. You get to build a political career, if you want it. 3. And if you do, one day you could help us manage this colony.

RO: Hmmm. OK, we’ll take it.

In all the discussion about the Brexit question, particularly by mass media pundits and establishment politicians (and wannabe establishment politicians like SF’s), when do we hear it being said that the Six Counties is a colony occupied by force?

This isn’t another country with which we happen to have a border, such as between Germany and the French state, for example, or between the French and Spanish states.  They aren’t people of another nation on the other side of that Border — they are Irish.  It is a part of our country and for nearly eight centuries the British invaders and colonisers saw it as one country too  — until they had to pull out and decided it was important to keep a foothold in it.

So, coming back to the question of the people in Ireland, why should we be too concerned, one way or another with regard to Brexit? Apart from people in the Border areas who need to travel regularly across it and are going to be greatly inconvenienced by it, I don’t think we should.

Maybe we can find some real problems for us to deal with instead. Apart from the colonial status of those Six Counties, along with its continuing dominant sectarianism and bigotry, which is not even mentioned in the dominant discourse, we have a continuing bank bailout debt, a massive social housing deficit, a crumbling health service, public services and natural resources being plundered and a corrupt police force …..

End.

 

PART FOUR: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

Diarmuid Breatnach

Part of series HOW TO WIN THE WAR — GETTING INTO POSITION.

See also: INTRODUCTION:

PART ONE: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE

PART TWO: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION

PART THREE: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT HOW AND WHAT KIND? WITH WHOM?

All revolutionary movements – and many that are progressive but not revolutionary – face repression at some point in their existence. Not to recognise that fact and to have some kind of preparation for it, even if very basic, is indicative of a non-revolutionary attitude to the State. Nor have we any reason in Ireland to be complacent on this question.

The Irish State turned to military suppression in the first year of its existence as did also the colonial statelet. Detentions, torture, murders and official executions were carried out by Free State forces over a number of years, followed by censorship and arrests, all facilitated by emergency repressive legislation. In the Six Counties, in addition to similar even more repressive legislation, there were two sectarian militarised police forces and sectarian civilian organisations.

After a change of government, the Irish State introduced internment without trial during the Emergency (1939-1946), the Offences Against the State Act in 1939, Special Criminal (sic) Courts in 1972 and the Amendment to the OAS in that same year.

Bloody Sunday march Derry 2014
Poster for 2014 Commemoration of Bloody Sunday massacre, Derry 1972. The poster calls for unity. (Image source: Internet)

The Six County statelet had the Special Powers Act (1922) and brought in internment without trial in 1971 (the Ballymurphy Massacre that year and the Derry Massacre the following year, both by the Parachute Regiment, were of people protesting the introduction of internment). The statelet also introduced the Emergency Provisions Act and the no-jury Diplock Courts in 1973 and, though technically abolished in 2007, non-jury trials can and do take place up to today.

The British state targeted the Irish diaspora in Britain in 1974 with the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act and that same year and the following, framed and convicted nearly a score of innocent people of bombings in five different cases – had the death penalty not been previously abolished for murder, most of them would have been executed. Brought in as a temporary measure, the PTA continued in force until 1989 but a general Terrorism Act was brought into British Law in 2000 and remains in force today.

Birmingham Six Photos Bruises
Photos of the Birmingham Six, Irishmen resident in England, showing bruises from police beatings after their arrest in 1974; they were also beaten by jailers. Also arrested, brutalised, framed and convicted were the Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and Giuseppe Conlon and Judith Ward. (Photo source: Internet)

State repression rarely targets the whole population and, particularly in a capitalist “democracy” focuses on particular groups which it fears or feels it can safely persecute. However, we should also recall Pastor Niemoller’s words about the creeping repression which even the German Nazi state instituted, going after first one group, then another, and another …. Among the list of groups targeted eventually by the Nazis were Jews, Roma, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, Social Democrats, Jehova’s Witnesses, Free Masons, Gays and Lesbians, Mentally ill or challenged, physically challenged ….

It is in the interests of the vast majority of the population to oppose repression of different groups, whether those groups be based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship status or democratic politics. Not everyone recognises this of course but one might expect that political activists challenging the status quo would do so.  Sadly, experience shows that they do not in practice (though they may acknowledge it intellectually).

With some periodic exceptions, socialist groups in Ireland do not support protests against repression of republicans. Furthermore, some republican groups will not support others when the latter are subjected to repression. Yet at any time, Republicans of any group can be and are regularly harassed in public or raided at home; their employers may be warned about them by the political police; they may be detained on special repressive legislation, denied bail, effectively interned; they can be easily convicted in the non-jury Special Criminal Courts or Diplock Courts; ex-prisoners released on licence in the Six Counties can be returned to jail without any charge or possibility of defence.

The Irish State’s non-jury Special Criminal Court is a tempting facility for putting away people which the State finds annoying and it is widely thought it was considered for the trials of the Jobstown protesters. The result of the trial, where the jury clearly took a different view to the presiding judge, may well have justified the opinion of those in the State who considered sending the defendants to the SCC.

Lineup Clenched Fists & Banner
Anti-Internment and political prisoner solidarity picket September 2016 at Kilmainham Jail, Dublin (a former place of detention and execution for political prisoners under both the British occupation and the Irish State, now a museum (Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

Unity against repression is a fundamental need of a healthy society and of movements that challenge the status quo. Practical unity in any kind of action also tends to break down barriers and assists general revolutionary broad unity. Unity against repression is so basic a need that agreement with this or that individual is unnecessary, nor with this or that organisation in order to defend them against repression. Basic democratic rights were fought for by generations and have to be defended; in addition they give activists some room to act without being jailed. On this basis, all must unite in practice and political sectarianism has no place in that.

Without some basic unity in practice across the sector challenging the status quo, there can be no revolution. But more than that: we stand together against repression ….. or we go to jail separately.

solidarity woodcut

End.

Diarmuid Breatnach is a veteran independent revolutionary activist, currently particularly active in committees against repression, in some areas of internationalist solidarity and in defence of historical memory.

PART 3: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT WHAT KIND?

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Part of series “HOW TO WIN THE WAR  — GETTING INTO POSITION”.  See also INTRODUCTION; PART 1: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE;                      PART 2: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION; PART 4: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION)

It is, most people would think, a ‘no-brainer’ (i.e an obvious truth) that unity is necessary in the struggle to overthrow the current system. It might be thought surprising, therefore, that disunity is more the rule among those who aspire to revolution.

Generally, those who claim to be revolutionary socialists will not unite with Irish Republicans. In addition, those socialists of one party will often fail to unite with those of a different party. The same dynamic is to be seen among Irish Republicans also.

There have been many attempts to overcome this problem. In the 1930s the Republican Congress sought to unite Irish Republicans with revolutionary socialists. In the face of hostility within the mainstream Republican movement and also with divisions among the communist element in Ireland at the time, faced in addition with anti-communist hysteria whipped up by the Catholic Church, the experiment failed. The leadership of the Sinn Féin and the IRA of the later 1960s tried to combine socialism and republicanism within one party and military organisation, an attempt that crashed when it was discovered that the arms necessary to defend ‘nationalist’ community areas in the Six Counties, particularly in Belfast, were unavailable, leading to an acrimonious split in the movement. A subsequent attempt to combine the socialist and republican elements in another organisation survived a little longer but also failed for a number of reasons, some internal and also due to Irish State repression.

Shankhill Rd Republican Congress WT Commemoration 1934
Socialist Republicans, members of Republican Congress from Shankhill Road, marching to annual Wolfe Tone commemoration, Bodenstown 1934. They were attacked by conservative Republicans. (Photo source: Internet)

There have been some attempts to unite the non-republican Left itself also, which usually failed due in part to ideological differences but also to political sectarianism and personality clashes. Currently both trotskyist parties have an uneasy working relationship, the small grouping of Independents for Change exists also, the Communist Party is very small too and the anarchists are scattered and unable for years now, for the most part, to mount united action.

Attempts to unite the various parts of the Irish Republican movement have, in general, focused on creating a new organisation or absorbing activists unhappy with one organisation into another.

A frequent approach has been for some people to sit down and produce what they consider solid policy and a constitution, then to propose this format to others around which to unite. Even when accepting amendments from the elements they seek to recruit, these attempts too have largely failed.

It seems a rational approach: if we want unity, surely first we have to agree on what for, how, etc, etc before we can go into action? I believe, contrary though it may seem, that actually we should unite in action first. Uniting in action tends to break down barriers of mistrust that are built on hearsay or suspicions fostered by sectarian elements. Action also tends to clarify certain questions that until then are theoretical only. Of course, at some point, action will need to be guided by worked out policy but initially the action itself can be sufficient guide, especially since approaching the question the other way around has been so generally unproductive.

The question then arises: with whom to unite? In general, I would say that the answer is: with all with whom we can, in actual practice, unite: different types of revolutionary socialists (including anarchists), Irish Republicans, Left social democrats, human and civil rights activists.

Unity Is Strength Image copy

There are some exceptions I think necessary to mention: fascists, racists, religious sectarians and parties that participate in Government. Fascists seek to impose an undemocratic regime completely hostile to the interests of working people and, far from our uniting with them, need to be defeated; racists and religious sectarians seek to divide the movement along lines of ethnicity or religious affiliation. Revolutionaries need to draw a clear line of distinction between the movements of resistance and those who participate in a native capitalist or colonial government, i.e the management organisations of the enemy.

Many issues lend themselves to united action but perhaps none more so, and none are more essential, than against repression.

Diarmuid Breatnach is a veteran independent revolutionary activist, currently particularly active in committees against repression, in some areas of internationalist solidarity and in defence of historical memory.

PART 2: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time this section: 2 minutes)

(Part of series “HOW TO WIN THE WAR  — GETTING INTO POSITION”.  See also INTRODUCTION; PART 1: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE;                      PART 3: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT HOW AND WHAT KIND? WITH WHOM? PART 4: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION

A successful revolution in Ireland, as in most places, would require the involvement of a mass movement. That mass movement would be unlikely to be one that had national self-determination as its only aim – certainly not in the 26 Counties (the Irish state). Mass movements arise at times around different issues and exist as long as the issue does or instead until the movement gets worn down or broken up. Such movements arose around the Household Tax and, later, around the additional Water Charges.

Water Protest Long View 29 Aug 2015
Section of protest against water charges, O’Connell Street, Dublin, 29 Aug. 2015 (Image source: Internet)

Even though the objectives of such movements are often not revolutionary, the participation in them by revolutionaries is necessary if, in the future, there is to be a revolution. Revolutionary activists can make contacts and prove themselves by the way they participate and also regularly point out that a revolution is necessary in order to resolve all these issues completely and permanently. Such activists can also influence the movement (or sections of it) to act in more revolutionary ways, so that the movement can be guided by – and imbued with — revolutionary spirit.

Working people in struggles come up against concrete problems which need to be resolved in order to move forward. Prior to 1913 in Ireland, workers learned the need for unity in struggle which was emphasised by the employers’ attempts to break the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in August 1913. The attacks on them by the Dublin Metropolitan Police illustrated the need for organised defence and Larkin and Connolly called for the formation of what became the Irish Citizen Army, which later also fought prominently in the 1916 Rising.

Packed Workers Liberty Hall 1913
Members and supporters of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union cheering outside the union’s HQ, Liberty Hall, August 1913. Later the union formed the ICA to defend themselves from the DMP; the ICA took a prominent part in the 1916 Rising. (Image source: Internet)

Trade unions are the only mass organisations of the working class in Ireland and it is necessary for revolutionaries to be active within them. Currently, other than social democrats, it is mainly members of both trotskyist parties and independent activists who engage politically with the trade unions. Those members are mostly in clerical work and their political work tends to concentrate on employment demands around wages and working conditions. When they introduce politics it is generally to get some motion passed by their branch. Also at times, they will campaign to get a perceived left-wing candidate elected to some position within the trade union bureaucracy.

None of the above are without value but they remain disjointed in terms of program and often confined to just one trade union. Not only that, but often the Left party involved will engage in order to recruit some new members and in order also to retain their own members by providing them with activity. When broad front trade union groups are formed, they tend to become an arena where the dominant trotskyist parties compete for dominance.

If we are to have a successful revolution – and in particular a socialist one – participation in the struggles of workers in the trade union movement is absolutely necessary. But participation should be primarily among the rank and file of the trade union and also across trade unions, focused on providing solidarity to members of whichever unions are in struggle – in addition to encouraging unorganised workers to organise and become active. The objective is not to help make one trade union or one section more militant but rather to create a militant workers solidarity movement within the whole trade union movement. It is essential to have members in the ‘blue-collar’ work unions or departments as well as in the clerical unions or sections. And the cross-union organisation I advocated should be independent — the preserve of no political party.

Participation in such struggles provides an opportunity for revolutionaries to make contact with people who are activists but not yet revolutionaries and to give those people an opportunity to evaluate the revolutionaries in terms of their actual practice. Revolutionaries can support the people struggling for worthwhile reforms while at the same time pointing to their partial and temporary nature. Revolutionary activists can play an educational role in the mass movements while at the same time becoming educated themselves by the daily reality faced by the masses in this system.