“LET BRITISH STATE CRIMES BE BYGONES”

Diarmuid Breatnach

We Irish are said to have long memories and to be unforgiving. The English, it has been said, can’t remember their history while we Irish can’t forget it.

Look around the former and current Empire and I think you’ll find it’s not just the Irish who remember and won’t let the English forget: the Scots, the Welsh, Australian Aborigines, Sub-Saharan Africans, West Africans like Kenya and Nigeria, the Tasmanians (ok, all wiped out but others remember for them), Jews and Palestinians, Arabs, French-Canadians, Indians, Bengalis and Pakistanis, Afghans, Iraqis, Kurds, Egyptians, Greeks, Cypriots, First People and American Indians (before the ‘settler regime’ took over), South African indigenous people, Afrikaners (who — whatever their own sins — saw at least a third of their women and children die in British concentration camps), ‘English’ Caribbean (slave) Islands like Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong, other parts of China in the Opium War …..

Royal Marine Commando holds up heads removed from the bodies of alleged communist resistance in Malaya

Artist’s impression of 1841 Massacre of Australian Aborigines at Myall Creek (Image source: Internet)

Photo presumably before British troops opened fire at the Jallian Wala Bagh (Amritsar) Massacre, India 1919.
(Image source: Internet)

‘Very well, yes’ the British ruling class and their ‘educators’ and pundits admit when pushed hard enough – ‘there’s a lot of forgetting to be done, so best get on with it. After all, that’s all in the distant past.’

There’s a problem though with forgetting ill deeds of the distant past – it eases the doing of new ill-deeds and makes their denying easier: “We British are a civilised people and our soldiers wouldn’t do things like that, nor would our leaders let them.” History teaches us that they would, again and again and not only would their leaders let them, they’d order them to and then lie and cover up, occasionally offering up one or two minor actors as a sacrifice if public opinion persists clamorously (and even then not too many in case the lower ranks should rebel and spill the bloody beans).

There’s another problem with forgetting about ill-deeds of the past: it’s not all so distant and some of it is still going on. Part of Ireland is still occupied by the British, i.e it is a colonial possession. And the iniquities of its rule there led a substantial part of the population to rebel at the end of the 1960s, which the British and their colonial administration moved to repress, which in turn led to a war of nearly thirty years. One could (although it is rarely done) call it a colonial war. And that war caused the deaths of many: Irish guerrillas, British soldiers, armed colonial police, colonial paramilitaries, republican political activists, defence lawyers and uninvolved civilians. The toll included over sixty children.

And repression of Republican activists continues today on the streets in the Six Counties (‘Northern Ireland’ for the geographically ignorant) and with over 30 Republican political prisoners in jails of the colony.

Mr. James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for ‘Northern Ireland’ (a post that would perhaps in the past have been “British Governor for …..”), who took the post last July, wants some more public forgetting. And, as is common with colonial advocates of forgetting, he is not only “economical with the truth” (a phrase famed after use by a British politician trying to prevent some other truths entering the public arena)1 but goes for outright lies.

James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (sic).
(Image source: Internet)

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Brokenshire was complaining about cases being pursued against British soldiers and colonial police who were stationed in the Six Counties. He said: “It is also clear the current focus is disproportionately on those who worked for the state – former members of the Armed Forces and the RUC.”

In addition, Mr. Brokenshire praised the “vast majority” of police and the armed forces who served “with great courage, professionalism and distinction”. He added: “We are in danger of seeing the past rewritten.”

No, Mr. Brokenshire, it is you and yours who are trying to see to the rewriting of the past but there is little danger that it will happen in the heads and hearts of your system’s victims, nor in those of many other victims and their descendants further afield — despite your historians, pundits, politicians, media and your domestic tools and allies.

Families of Ballymurphy Massacre victims reacted angrily and refuted some of Brokenshire’s lies: “25,000 people have been through the courts and there are only three soldiers among them. Of these three soldiers, they were given lenient sentences, released early and brought back into the army to finish off their service. …. the statistics show that pro-State forces and their agents are responsible for 41% of deaths not the 10% they keep putting out there ….”

Group of Ballymurphy Massacre campaigners.
(Image source: Internet)

As proof of the disproportionately heavy burden of the investigations of 3,500 violent deaths falling upon British military services and colonial police, BBC News on line informed readers that London law firm Devonshire said it was representing between 10 and 15 former soldiers facing prosecution for a number of killings, including those on Bloody Sunday.

Presumably we are supposed to gasp in shock: “As many as fifteen!!” However, just to really shock us, the firm said there could be as many as 1,000 cases. It seems they may know more than Mr. Brokenshire, who claims the killings were mostly done by Republicans.

Barra McGrory QC, the director of public prosecutions for NI, recently told the BBC a number of cases had been coming to court due to inquests and referrals from the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.

He said: “We have taken decisions in three army cases recently, one was not to prosecute and in the other two prosecutions have been initiated.”

TARGETING AND KILLING UNARMED CIVILIANS

The Bloody Sunday killings by the British Army occurred in 1972 – cold-blooded executions of fourteen unarmed civilians on a protest demonstration. Around twenty were also injured, some by gunshot wound. In the colonial tradition of lies following murder, the first official British enquiry found that the dead were armed guerrillas and the soldiers only returning fire.

Lord Justice John Widgery — despite abundant eyewitness accounts to the contrary, his Tribunal in April 1972 found the unarmed victims had been IRA and that the soldiers had only fired in self-defence. “Nothing washes whiter than Widgery white” was a common piece of Irish graffiti at the time.
(Image source: Internet)

The City Coroner, Hubert O’Neill, a retired British officer however found it to have been “sheer, unadulterated murder” in 1973. The British establishment nevertheless continued with their lies and found a way to deal with unwelcome coroners’ courts – they changed the law to prevent them apportioning blame and suspended many of the cases indefinitely.2

The Saville enquiry (1998-2004)3 found that all but one of the victims was unarmed and the remaining dead man was recently cleared too. Saville’s findings included that two identified British soldiers had lied under oath (as many as that!) and, without explicitly blaming him, threw a cloud of doubt over the local leader of the Paras, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford, accusing him of “deliberately disobeying” his superior officer, a Brigadier.4 No explanation was given as to how, if that were the case, he came to receive the Order of the British Empire decoration later that year “in recognition of distinguished service in Northern Ireland during the period 1st February 1972 to 30th April 1972” (i.e excluding the Bloody Sunday date by two days, true but for an officer who that same year had allegedly deliberately disobeyed a senior officer and caused the deaths of 14 civilians …..!).

Col. Derek Wilford OBE, photographed in Belgium where he now lives upon the publication of the Saville Report in 2010.
(Photo: Daily Mail)

APOLOGIES, LIMITED BLAME AND NO CHARGES

Wilford’s senior officers all escaped blame, despite their decision to deploy the Parachute Regiment in Derry that day and their part in the coverup, including the wholesale hiding and destruction of evidence.5

When the Saville Enquiry Report was finally published in 2010 (six years after the conclusion of the Inquiry), then Prime Minister of Britain David Cameron apologised to the families of the victims but to date none of the soldiers who shot unarmed civilians has been charged with murder. Even worse, no British Army officer has been even charged with ordering murder and covering it up. Worst of all, no British Government Minister or official has been held responsible for the murders nor was the Widgery Tribunal, which first exonerated the Army and blamed the victims, condemned for a lying cover-up in the face of a mountain of evidence from civilian witnesses and a number of journalists. No media outlet has been charged with nor voluntarily admitted collusion in the cover up.

Mayor General Robert Ford (left of photo). He ordered the Paras into Derry despite their having killed eleven civilians 5 months earlier — but the Saville Inquiry exonerated him.
(Image source: Internet)

Major General Robert Ford, in charge of land forces of the British Army at the time and in overall charge of their allocations in Derry that day, escaped any blame from the Saville Enquiry. Yet the allocation of the 1st Parachute Regiment to a Derry march against Internment had been his decision – only five months after they had shot and killed another eleven civilians over three days in another part of the Six Counties – the Ballymurphy suburb of Belfast.

The killings then too were of unarmed civilians protesting against internment (“Operation Demetrius”). As they would five months later, the soldiers, their commanding officers and politicians claimed they were “returning fire” from the IRA. A number of their victims had multiple wounds (one was shot fourteen times) and one received a second shot after being brought inside the Paras’ barracks, according to the victim before he died. As at Derry five months later, a number were shot while going to the aid of victims (including a priest, which makes the action of Fr. Daly — later Bishop — on Bloody Sunday in Derry even more heroic). One victim died of a heart attack after a soldier put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger – the gun had no round in the chamber but the victim didn’t know that. The inquests of the victims have still to be held, nearly half a century later.

Yes, one sees why Mr. Brokenshire wishes to have all this information buried with the victims, not to speak of other information that might yet emerge. And yet the 14 dead of Bloody Sunday in Derry and the 11 of the Ballymurphy Massacre are only some of the unarmed victims of the British Army and the RUC, not to mention the Loyalist death squads run by British occupation forces’ Intelligence units. There are the children and adults killed or maimed for life by plastic bullets fired at short range, sometimes without even being in the area of a disturbance; the children and adults killed by British or colonial forces’ gunfire; the captured Republican fighters executed on the ground or given no chance to surrender when ambushed; the joy-riding youths shot to death. Yes, Mr. Brokenshire has good reason to see all this swept under the carpet and one can understand why a number of British service personnel (supported by those in some foreign forces) would demonstrate in protest at their “persecution” as they did on April 14th in Belfast.

The investigations to which Mr. Brokenshire objects, by the way, are being conducted, not by any impartial organisation but by the Legacy branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. For the unaware, the PSNI is also a colonial police force, the progeny of the disbanded Royal Ulster Constabulary, containing many of that force and like its predecessor, sectarian and repressive of Republican activists. The RUC also contained the B-Specials, a kind of part-time official armed Loyalist militia, implicated in many killings and largely absorbed into the Ulster Regiment of the British Army. Officers of the full-time RUC are also implicated in many killings.6

A TIME TO FORGET

A criminal who has paid restitution and repented is entitled to get on with his or her life without being confronted with their crimes of the past. This is not what we have here – this is a criminal gang wanting us to forget while it carries on robbing, threatening, killing and destroying human lives.

Come the day when British Imperialism is dead, no longer even twitching, no pulse and no brainwaves, well then it might be time to forget. But maybe not – there might still be other imperialist and colonial powers around and as they learn from one another, so should their victims and resisters share their memories and experiences.

On that glorious day when such systems no longer trouble humanity, then, at last we can forget? I don’t think so, not even then. For what history teaches us about imperialism and colonialism and capitalism, it is teaching us about humanity, its economics and philosophies. As long as we exist, it will never be time to forget those lessons.

A chríoch.

FOOTNOTES

1Said by Sir Richard Armstrong in 1986 in the trial, the failed British attempt to prevent the publication in Australia of the “Spycatcher” memoirs of MI5 former Assistant Director Peter Wright and co-author Paul Greengrass. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spycatcher. However, the phrase was originally documented from the 18th Century liberal-conservative philosopher and orator Edmund Burke.

2Which is why some recent inquests on people killed by British and colonial forces are giving rise to criminal investigations so long after the actual deaths.

3Which many believe to be part of the Good Friday Agreement deal or at least given as a ‘sweetener’

4No investigation was apparently carried out into whether Wilford had been ever charged by the Army with “deliberately disobeying” a senior officer in an event which led to unarmed civilian deaths. In fact, Wilford had been awarded military decoration shortly afterwards. It seems that Wilford out of loyalty to the Paratroop Regiment and perhaps some other considerations, agreed to “carry the can” during the Enquiry. Wilford was always outspoken in defence of the soldiers under his command but later claimed that the Army had distanced itself from him, so that when he retired he was only one rank higher than that which he held at the time. He retired on full pension of that rank, however.

5“Over 1,000 army photographs and original army helicopter video footage were never made available (to the Enquiry — DB). Additionally, guns used on the day by the soldiers that could have been evidence in the inquiry were lost by the MoD. The MoD claimed that all the guns had been destroyed, but some were subsequently recovered in various locations (such as Sierra Leone and Beirut) despite the obstruction.” (Wikipedia)

6Although here the statistics are skewed by the few tried being made to resign just prior to being charged (presumably in exchange for gentler treatment by the courts or threat of worse) so that they did not appear as serving RUC officers when convicted.

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.

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

MASS CROPPIES’ BURIAL GROUND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC ONCE AGAIN

Clive Sulish

Croppies’* Acre, a piece of parkland believed to the site of a mass grave of United Irishmen insurgents and non-combatant victims, situated between the Liffey’s Wolfe Tone Quay and the Collins Barracks complex of the Irish National Museum, was some weeks ago reopened to the public for the first time in four years. Few if any of the campaigners for its saving or its reopening were invited to the event or given credit in the short newspaper report about the occasion.

This report seeks to correct that omission, to give a brief account of efforts made over the years and to comment on the care of the park today.

(* “Croppy” was a name given to supporters of the United Irishmen, apparently because of the males wearing their hair cut short and close to the scalp, in the style of the revolutionary French of the time.  “Crapaí” and “Cnapaí” were the versions of the word in the Irish language).

The Pedestrian Gate on Wolfe Tone Quay, Liffey side, open to the public again after four years (Photo C. Sulish)

The Pedestrian Gate on Wolfe Tone Quay, Liffey side, open to the public again after four years (Photo C. Sulish)

HISTORY OF THE SITE AND OF THE CAMPAIGNS AROUND IT

In 2012, after the site had been closed for some time allegedly due to health and safety concerns for visitors due to drug-injecting paraphernalia left there by people using the site at night-time, Pádraig Drummond and Diarmuid Breatnach set up the Croppies Acre Rejuvenation project with a Facebook page to promote the importance of the site and to gather forces to pressure the authorities into reopening the site and maintaining it properly.

Prior to this, a number of visits had been made by Irish Republicans (the 1916 Societies on some occasions, independent Republicans on others) to the closed site to collect and dispose safely of drug-injecting paraphernalia and other waste and it was felt that a public campaign was needed.

Memorial stone about halfway along the the Liffeyside of the park. In the distance, the heaped earth of works in October last year which had caused concern (Photo: D. Breatnach)

Memorial stone about halfway along the the Liffeyside of the park. In the distance, the heaped earth and earth-moving machine in October last year which had caused concern (Photo: D. Breatnach)

As part of the campaign a letter to the media was composed by Drummond and Breatnach in consultation with the National Graves Association (a voluntary independent organisation that marks and maintains the graves of those who fought for Irish freedom and which also erects plaques to commemorate people and events). Although none of the main media published the letter it is reproduced here not only as a document of the history of campaigning for the site in its own right but also because it summarises well what had gone before.

Croppies Acre is remembered in Dublin folklore as the site of a mass grave in which the bodies of dead insurgents were thrown in 1798. Among those lying in Croppies’ Acre are reputedly the bones of Bartholomew Teeling and Matthew Tone (brother of Wolfe Tone — CS), both hanged at the Provost Prison on Arbour Hill after the Battle of Ballinamuck on 8 September 1798.

 

In 1898, the centenary of the United Irish uprisings, 100,000 marched to the site and placed a plaque there. As many people will be aware, the centenary commemoration of the United Irish played a significant part in the creation of a national pro-independence culture which fed into the Easter 1916 Rising, less than twenty years later, and which in turn fed into the War of Independence 1919-’21 and the creation of an Irish state.

Memorial stone placed during 1798 centenary commemoration which was attended by 100,000 (Photo: D. Breatnach)

Memorial stone placed during 1798 centenary commemoration which was attended by 100,000 (Photo: D. Breatnach)

Although a 1798 rising commemoration plaque was laid at the site by “soldiers of the Eastern Command” of the Irish Army in 1985, soldiers were sometimes to be seen playing football on the field until the mid-1990s, while Collins Barracks was still in use by the Irish Army. This practice ceased after a number of complaints from members of the public who felt the practice was not respectful to the dead insurgents. The Irish Army vacated Collins Barracks in 1996 or thereabouts and the National Museum moved into the buildings in 1997.

In 1997 a proposal to turn the graves of the Patriot Dead into a car and bus park was all the more stunning as the bi-centenary of the United Irishmen’s Rising of 1798 was imminent and groups everywhere were renovating monuments and graves, organising seminars and lectures and planning pike marches.

The then secretary of the National Graves Association, Tess Kearney (since deceased — SC), was in poor health, but decided that such an occasion required action regardless of her personal circumstances. Tess turned in a magnificent effort for the television cameras and organised a campaign to “Save the Croppies Acre”. Within days, various interested parties came together and, under the leadership of the NGA, the plan to build a coach park on the site was defeated and the Croppie’s Acre site was developed two years ago (i.e in 2010 — CS) as a national monument with an expenditure of some €35,000. The field layout is simple with `(some individual) flagstones throughout the site presumably symbolising the bodies lying below and a small open circular stone structure on which are reproduced parts of the text and facsimile typeface of the Droites del Homme (Rights of Man) document from the French Revolution (1789). Also featured is the text of Seamus Heaney’s poem “Croppies” and the motif of the barley seed head is reproduced on the stone in reference to the poem and Irish folk memory.

The enclosure monument, with National Museum, Collins Barracks in the background. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The enclosure monument in Croppies’ Acre, with National Museum, Collins Barracks in the background.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Drummond/ Breatnach letter, signed by a number of historians, history tour guides, authors and history enthusiasts, also noted that:

The Office of Public Works has closed the site because it considers it unsafe to permit public access due to some night-time activities there. Recently some of us went to inspect the site and were shocked at the condition into which it has sunk. Used syringes, discarded needles, bottles, cans and other rubbish were found at a number of locations but especially inside the stone structure.

Rubbish bags were filled and disposed of, with the hazardous waste disposed of in bio hazard containers that were then handed into the local authorities. A return visit found almost as much rubbish as had been disposed of previously. A third visit found even more. This is not acceptable and must change.

The letter concluded by stating that
“It may be that some will say that the expense, even though relatively small, of looking after a national monument, cannot be justified in the current climate of austerity. To those we would say that possibly, had we valued sufficiently our independence and the sacrifices made for it in the past, we would not have allowed foreign finance speculators to bring us to sad straits in which we find ourselves now. The image of our past locked away while we are plundered as a nation in the present is a stark contrast.

However about that, the Office of Public Works must take the appropriate action to look after this site properly and offer safe access to the park during the hours of daylight seven days a week. At night, the site needs to be well-lit and protected. Mr. Brian Hayes, TD, Minister of State responsible for the OPW since 2011, must take urgent action.”

At the time, the OPW probably seemed a much safer bet as custodians than Dublin City Council, especially with the Council’s Planning Department having granted property speculators planning permission to construct a giant shopping centre over the Moore Street battleground and market. However, it was eventually Dublin City Council that took responsibility for the maintenance and reopening of the site to the public.

But throughout the years after the setting up of that campaign, from 2012 to 2014, nothing seemed to be happening to put matters right. Groups of Republican volunteers paid visits from time to time to clean up the site, collecting horrifying amounts of used hypodermic needles and other paraphernalia and waste but the authorities appeared unmoved.

Twice in February 2014, questions were asked in the Dáil, the Irish Parliament, of Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brian Hayes. Pádraig Drummond had written to TDs (elected representatives) Clary Daly and Maureen O’Sullivan, who received replies to their questions, the former written and the latter an oral reply. Daly’s reply from Minister of State Hayes was that The Office of Public Works and Dublin City Council have agreed in principle that the management and maintenance of the Croppies Acre Memorial Park will be undertaken by the Council. OPW and Dublin City Council are reviewing the Council’s proposals regarding improved access to the park prior to formalising a licence arrangement, following which the park is expected to re-open to the public.”

The oral reply was much longer but the nub of it was the same.

We weren’t getting people signing up to form a campaigning group and we were running out of energy”, said one of the campaigners about those years.

In September 2015, soon after DCC staff were seen to have been cleaning up the site and cutting the grass, concerned Republicans visited the site and posted photos on the campaign FB page of drug paraphernalia and mess which had quickly accumulated again on the site.

In October of that year, Dublin City Council staff began work inside the park with earth removers. In the absence of any notice of what was intended and no public consultation, protesters including Éirigí mobilised and halted work. Dublin City Council gave a written guarantee (see photo) that the work was only to create or upgrade a circular pathway. The protests ceased but an eye was kept on proceedings.

However photographs taken during a visit by other concerned people that same month showed drug paraphernalia again accumulating at the site.

View from the west pedestrian gate to the east since the Acre opened (Photo: C. Sulish)

View from the west pedestrian gate to the east since the Acre opened (Photo: C. Sulish)

The letter guarantee which led to calling off the protests in October 2014

The letter guarantee which led to calling off the protests in October 2014

THE SITE REOPENS TO THE PUBLIC

By June this year, the site had been cleaned up, planted, a path put through part of it and finally reopened to the public, four years after the campaign to reopen it had begun. The Daily Herald reported on the opening ceremony (see link for their report below) on the 15th, presided over by Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhálaigh in one of her last acts before her year as Mayor was up.

The Herald report alluded to the years of closure and “problems with drug users” but not once did it mention the National Graves Association, the Republican groups that repeatedly visited the site and those that mobilised to protect it in October last year, or the campaign set up in 2012 and the letter to the media of that year and TDs questions in the Dáil

A sleeping bag, perhaps, against the wall within the monument park weeks after reopening. (Photo: C.Sulish)

A sleeping bag, perhaps, against the wall within the monument park weeks after reopening.
(Photo: C.Sulish)

The report did mention Councillor Mannix Flynn who, it said, had been campaigning over the years for the site’s reopening. “Councillor Mannix Flynn, for all I know, may have been campaigning hard for the site’s reopening,” said Diarmuid Breatnach. “I can’t say he has and I can’t say he hasn’t. But I can say that not once in those years of agitation, campaigning and trying to raise the profile of the issue, did we ever hear from or about him in connection with Croppies’ Acre.”

This month, I visited the site again and found it open and being used by the public, reasonably clean and with some attractive plantings of flowers and grasses. But inside the circular monument, there was a small pile of excreta in one spot and, on the way out, I noted what seemed to be a sleeping bag against the eastern wall. The site will need continual watching.

End.

White Purple Flowers Grass close

(Photo: C. Sulish)

White Purple Grass

(Photo: C. Sulish)

Grass Blue Flowers Close

View southwards across the park (Photo: C. Sulish)

The Tricolour in this case would have been better replaced by the green flag of the United Irish with the harp in gold.

The Tricolour in this case would have been better replaced by the green flag of the United Irish with the harp in gold. (Photo: C. Sulish)

APPENDIX

LINKS TO QUOTED AND RELATED MATERIAL

Letter sent to mass media in 2012, after DCC had locked up the site:
http://www.politics.ie/…/221010-croppies-acre-rejuvenation.…

Daily Herald report on the reopening of Croppies’ Acre

http://www.herald.ie/news/drughit-city-park-is-reopened-after-120k-cleanup-34801856.html

Article about Bartholomew Teeling and Matthew Tone https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/captain-bartholomew-teeling-united-irishmen-hero-believed-to-be-buried-in-croppies-acre/

RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ series, and its propaganda value

Source: RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ series, and its propaganda value

By Tom Stokes, from his Irish Republic blog

 

There are occasions in life when time that can never be retrieved is expended on something that is worthless. So far, three valuable hours of my life has been wasted on what RTE describes as a ‘commemorative drama’ to herald the beginning of the Centenary year of the 1916 revolution. Wasted, other than in terms of understanding the propaganda value to the political class even of badly constructed ‘historical’ costume drama – although describing ‘Rebellion’ as coherent drama is stretching it.

I quibbled after the first episode about the use of the term ‘Rebellion’ instead of the more accurate term ‘Revolution’, but it finally dawned on me with Episode 3 that what the writer, director and producers really mean is that this is about rebelliousness within the featured families, to which the 1916 Revolution is just a backdrop.

It would be a useful exercise after the series comes to an end to put a stopwatch to good use to work out the proportion of the five hours of screen-time that is devoted to an exceedingly poor and skewed telling of the story of the 1916 Revolution, and what proportion was used to tell the confusing, intertwined, and fairly inconsequential stories of domestic disagreement. There is of course a market for the latter, and for its setting in a sort of ‘upstairs-downstairs’ genre, but this series, more soap than serious drama, should not be its vehicle.

The 1916 Revolution – what was it really about, who made up the rank-and-file – essential to the creation of a revolution, what scale of operation was in play, what impediments to success existed? Nobody can be any the wiser by relying on this series.

The leaders – who were they, what were they like, what did they believe in, was there a plan, had they some endgame, some vision? Nobody can be any the wiser by relying on this series.

Where is Tom Clarke, or Seán MacDiarmada, or Joe Plunkett, three iconic signatories of the Proclamation, all present in the GPO – but not so far in this sorry series? No clue as to their characters, and precious little of James Connolly’s – relegated to a bit part, or of Patrick Pearse’s – other than his addiction to prayer, his deference to the clergy, his obsession with blood sacrifice, and a capacity for rhetorical exaggeration – as RTE would have us believe.

Where is the evidence of strong public support particularly in the impoverished inner city tenements, without which the revolution could not have lasted almost a week? We know it was there, we who have bothered to acquaint ourselves with the true narrative. Instead, that hoary old myth of widespread public disaffection with the revolution is hammered home at every opportunity.

Episode 3 begins with some bearded chap being put up against a wall and shot by firing squad. Who was he? We are none the wiser by the end of Episode 3. Why might it be important to know that he was Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, a journalist, an advanced-feminist, a pacifist who had played no part in the revolution itself? Because, perhaps, that it is true, and that he was murdered on the command of a crazed, out-of-control British army officer – an essential detail of the 1916 narrative – but not as the masses are supposed to know it since it would upset the entirely revisionist slant of this television disaster, a revisionism that is deliberately applied. And so it goes on.

Against fleeting scenes of chaos, created as we are led to believe by violent anti-democratic nutcases hell-bent on creating a Catholic state, we are encouraged to note the stabilising influence and the manners and the etiquette of both the Irish ‘Castle Catholics’ and their British masters in Dublin Castle. Fast-forward by 100 years and we see the same spurious choice being presented to the people by the political class – ‘stability’ or ‘chaos’, white or black, good or bad. No need to tease out what each side really stood for back then, or what each side stands for now.

There are those who ask ‘what matter – it is only TV drama?’. Propaganda is at its most effective when it is inserted subtly into the thought-processes of its target audience, and repeated through various forms from news and current affairs, commentary, and yes, entertainment. That works, as Joseph Goebbels knew all too well.

RTE claims an audience of 600,000 for its first episode of ‘Rebellion’. A large proportion of these will vote in the upcoming general election in which the main choice will be between, the political class tells us, stability or chaos. And that audience is also entering into the centenary year of the 1916 revolution with its competing interpretations, one of which champions the Redmondite parliamentarian Home Rule option over the other – the right of a people to self-determination and self-government, to be established through revolution where no other viable option was available. Presenting a partisan and therefore skewed version of the 1916 revolution primes at least a part of that audience to adopt a negative view of the legitimacy of that revolution and of its leaders, and that represents a highly political intervention in the popular history of 1916 on the part of the State broadcaster, RTE. It is not, presented in that way, just TV drama.

‘Rebellion’ looks like a cheap production, but cost as much as Ken Loach spent making The Wind That Shakes The Barley – an excellent production for the big screen, which grossed three times its production costs at the international box-office. Why wasn’t Loach asked to make this series? It is not as if he lacks experience. But then, he could be relied on to create a credible narrative around the main story of revolution and to consign the less consequential sub-plots to their rightful places. That would not suit the political class, including its RTE functionaries.

The 1916 revolution is an intriguing, exciting and rich human story, as rich in dramatic potential – characters, incidents and plot-lines – as was the highly successful and accurate 1913 Lockout TV drama ‘Strumpet City’, produced by RTE in 1980. ‘Rebellion’ on the other hand is dross. Some people, their names figuring prominently on the credits of each episode, opted for dross, and each received a considerable reward tor taking that option.

The foundational narrative of modern Ireland – in which the 1916 Revolution is the inciting incident – deserves to be treated with a modicum of respect. That is entirely absent in this spurious version.

There are times when we remark that ‘you couldn’t make it up’. The series writer did, with input from others.

And there are times when we remark that ‘it couldn’t get any worse’. Oh yes it can, and it will.

Of that I am certain.

INTERNAL DISSENSION OVER PRISONERS COINCIDES WITH FURTHER DECLINE IN THE ABERTZALE LEFT’S VOTE

Diarmuid Breatnach

(For comment on the election results elsewhere in the Spanish state see  https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/spanish-elections-result-in-most-fragmented-parliament-since-1936/  and https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/the-disunited-and-fading-spanish-left-handing-on-the-baton/)

As the votes in the General Election in the Spanish state result in huge gains for the Podemos party and the most fragmented Parliament since before the Spanish Civil War, the Abertzale Left’s party in the elections also loses massively to the newcomer. This occurs in the context of wide discontent within the Abertzale Left, especially among the youth, with a potential split emerging around the issue of political prisoners.

The Spanish state includes within its borders most of the Basque Country and the Catalan Countries, which have their distinct cultures and languages. Also with a significantly different culture are Asturias and Galicia, both of them considering themselves Celtic rather than Latin-Hispanic and also having their own languages. There are in fact small movements seeking independence or greater autonomy in all other regions of the state, including in the political centre itself, Castille.

Four of the Basque Country’s seven provinces are currently inside the Spanish state and they were included in the Spanish state’s General Election on 20th December. A number of financial scandals affecting the ruling Spanish right-wing Partido Popular in recent years no doubt made their leaders reluctant to go to the polls but holding off longer might have resulted in even worse outcomes.

On the other hand, the PP’s main parliamentary opposition, the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero Espaňol (PSOE) were also embroiled in some financial scandals during the same period, though not as many.

In the event, both main parties achieved disastrous results and neither can form a majority government. The new party of the social-democratic Left, Podemos (“We Can”), which did not even exist two years ago, has leapt into third place and a new party of the Right, Ciudadanos (“Citizens”), is in a poor fourth place. No two of the aforementioned parties can form a coalition government except in the case of a PP-PSOE coalition; however that would cause massive problems for each party and also dispel the political myth of a democratic choice between “Left and Right” in the Spanish state.

The Spanish state has long been the most unstable in the core European Union. Collusion between fascists, alleged social democrats and alleged communists internally, along with the support of the USA and the tolerance of its European partners has kept it afloat. Nevertheless, it represents the part of the EU most vulnerable to revolution, with immediate impact should that happen on the French and Portuguese states and further ripples throughout the EU. However the revolutionary and potentially revolutionary forces are weak, divided and riddled with opportunism. (see separate article focussing on the elections and the Spanish state in )

Despite the weaknesses in the Spanish state, the Basque Abertzale Left has made little headway against it and has been slipping electorally badly this year.

Election Results in the Basque Country

EH Bildu Act in Nafarroa

EH Bildu, party of the Abertzale Left in coalition with social-democratic Basque parties, presenting their program in Nafarroa in 2012 and seeking broader alliances

EH Bildu (“Basque Country Unite”), the social-democratic coalition party under the direction of the Basque Abertzale (Patriotic) Left, came out of the Spanish state-wide elections badly (as it did in the regional elections earlier this year in the Basque Country also, with the exception of in Nafarroa). With a drop of nearly two-thirds of its previous percentage of the vote, it lost five seats and now has only two in the Spanish Parliament (the Cortes). The christian-democrat PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), traditionally the dominant in the three southern provinces of Euskadi (i.e. excluding Nafarroa, the fourth), also took a drop in its percentage but a much smaller one and despite that, increased its numbers of seats from five to six. The Basque nationalist coalition in Nafarroa, Geroa Bai (“Yes to the Future”), lost its only seat.

The winner that swept up the ‘missing’ votes in the Basque Country was Podemos, a party that did not even exist until last year. Although gaining one seat less than the PNV in the “Euskadi” or CAV (three provinces region), Podemos actually won more votes and its share was 25.97%, against the PNV’s 24.75%. Shockingly, at 15.72%, EH Bildu has now been reduced to fourth place after the other two and the PSOE, with only the PP worse off but with the same amount of seats. Even in Gipuzkoa, the province most loyal to the Abertzale Left, their share fell to 20.89% and their coalition party EH Bildu lost two seats. In the same province Podemos topped the poll in votes and gained two seats. In the fourth province, Nafarroa, EH Bildu lost their only seat and took a 9.90% share against UPN-PP’s 28.93%, Podemos’s 22.9%, and PSOE’s 15.53%.

(www.eitb.eus/es/elecciones/elecciones-generales/resultados and http://www.eitb.eus/eu/hauteskundeak/hauteskunde-orokorrak/emaitzak/kongresua/nafarroa/ hover cursor over the pie-chart sections for more info).

Podemos Pablo Iglesias Spanish Election Results Dec2015

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias after results of Spanish Election results December 2015

It seems clear that in the Basque Country, Podemos took votes both from the PSOE and from the Abertzale Left’s coalition party, EH Bildu and even some from the PNV. For the PSOE, a party in Government in the past and implicated in the GAL murders, also involved in a number of recent financial scandals across the state, to lose votes in the Basque Country to a radical-left coalition, would have come as no surprise to most people. It is a different matter altogether for EH Bildu, with a strongly patriotic Left following, never tainted with a financial scandal and never yet in Government, to lose votes to a newcomer like Podemos — and that needs some explanation.

The fact is that the AL leadership flirted with Podemos – even proposing a joint electoral platform — and thereby sent the message that voting for them would not be such a bad thing. But there were sufficient reasons for the AL to have done otherwise, even without the objective of safeguarding their own vote. It has been clear for some time that the leadership of Podemos is hostile to aspirations towards independence of nations within the State. Their leader recently criticised the decision of a Catalan pro-independence coalition to use the regional elections as a quasi-referendum on Catalunya’s independence. Also one of their ideologues, in the midst of an intervention in discussions within Colombia, likened ETA to Columbia’s fascist assassination squads (who murder trade unionists, human rights workers, socialists, even street children). In addition, Podemos has never come out against the repression in the Basque Country.

There were enough reasons for the AL leadership to draw a deep line between themselves and Podemos. But they did the opposite. This contrasts with the left-republican Catalan nationalists (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya-Catalunya Sí) who engaged in a public battle with Podemos’ leadership. Incidentally, they increased their share of the vote by 1.33% and their representation from three seats to nine.

Another vulnerability of the AL movement to a party like Podemos is precisely the road of conciliation with and concession to the Spanish state taken by the AL over the recent five years and longer. If that road is seen to be OK then, some might say, why not vote for a radical reformist left party and one which, crucially, has a large following throughout the State? Such thinking combines a perception that revolution is not possible, implicit in the approach of the AL leadership, with a view that a solution can only be found outside the Basque Country, which although contrary to most of AL’s propaganda, does seem in part to be the case, based on population statistics alone (see discussion on this further on).

This view was seemingly endorsed by the post-election statement of Barrena, spokesperson for the Abertzale Left’s party Sortu, who characterised the vote for Podemos as “the right to decide” and held out his hand for electoral coalitions with them in the future. The irony — that precisely Podemos does not support “the right to decide” of nations within the Spanish state – was apparently lost on Barrena.

Around September there were whispers of the intention to hold a review of their trajectory within the Abertzale Left. This seemed an acceptance that their chosen path had, if not failed completely, then certainly fallen far short of their own expectations. I wondered how they would contain severe criticisms within such a review, a much more difficult process now than some years ago, when confusion combined with illusions and the soothing words of long-standing leaders. 

Further confirmation of this review has since come out: called ABIAN (“Launch”), it’s a debate being organised by Sortu (“Create”), a social-democratic party of the AL. A recent article in a Gipuzkoa news media stated clearly that the review was a response to criticisms of Sortu, “for the first time within the Abertzale Left” (i.e. not only outside of it). The article went on to list a number of organisations within the AL who had published criticisms, including “Boltxe” and the revived “Eusko Ekintza” (http://m.noticiasdegipuzkoa.com/2015/09/01/politica/las-duras-criticas-internas-empujan-a-sortu-a-revisar-su-estrategia-politica-y-organizativa).  This contradicts Barrena’s public statement in September that those who criticise the current path of the Abertzale Left and their policy on the prisoners could no longer be counted as within the movement.

Given the electoral showing of the AL’s coalition party EH Bildu and other issues, such a review may be a way of “managing” the dissent but must also hold much danger for the leadership’s line, despite the party positions of the Otegi/ Permach/ Barrena leadership seeming reasonably secure at the moment (Otegi is due for release very soon).

Aside from all this and going back for a moment to Podemos, it does seem unlikely that this party has a long-term future but its development will be interesting to observe.

The political prisoners – a fracture point for the movement?

Bilbao 11 Eanair 2014

Annual Basque political prisoner demonstration January 2014 in Bilbao

Whereas the Provisional Republican movement suffered a number of small splits and some defections as a result of its embarkation on the pacification road, it is a fact that they had something pretty significant to deliver – the release of political prisoners affiliated to them. Nearly every single one walked out of jail and their release was not only a result to “sell” the GFA to the movement but some of the prisoners themselves were used as advocates of the process. Although it is true the prisoners were only released “on licence” and a that number were sent back to jail without a trial again later, including new prisoners, that only happened to “dissidents”. For the moment that could be seen as helping the continuation of the Good Friday Agreement and hampering the mobilisation of Republican opposition to Sinn Féin and their chosen path.

The Abertzale Left has had no such gain and a split in the movement seems to be forming precisely around that issue.

There are 410 Basque political prisoners officially recognised by the Abertzale Left (there are some dissidents too outside that, apparently) and they, like their counterparts in the Irish Republican movement, have always been an important element in the struggle. Political prisoners are dispersed all over the Spanish state and the Basques are by far the most numerous component of these. Some are also serving very long sentences, as are their comrades who are jailed by the French and also dispersed throughout their state.

Around a dozen are suffering with very serious illnesses and the Spanish prison administration has admitted that it does not have appropriate treatment facilities for a number of them. However, mostly there they remain and a number have died in captivity in recent years. Twelve people have also died in automobile crashes on the long journeys to visit prisoners dispersed to hundreds or even a thousand kilometres from their homes and an average of one serious traffic accident a month for visitors was recorded last year.

Dispersal is a serious issue and for many years has been one of those upon which the movement concentrated, in particular Etxerat, the prisoners’ relatives’ and friends’ group, and the short-lived Herrira, a prisoners’ political campaigning group banned by the Spanish state and their leading organisers arrested. But that demand also stood alongside the demand for amnesty, the freeing of the prisoners as part of a political settlement.

Sare Table Azkarraga & Asun Landa

Joseba Azkarraga, spokesperson for Sare and lawyer Asun Landa, at a press conference

More recently, however, the Abertzale Left’s leadership has been placing the emphasis on combating the dispersal and, according to some of their critics within the movement, abandoning the demand for amnesty. Perhaps the leadership felt that dispersal was an issue they had the capacity to change (though it is difficult to see how), whereas without an armed struggle to use as a bargaining chip, a prisoners’ amnesty may have seemed out of reach.

Meanwhile, last year, Sare (“Network”) was created by the AL leadership to pick up the threads dropped by Herrira but little has been heard or seen of it. The organisation’s spokesperson is Joseba Azkarraga, who has a somewhat radically fragmented track record. During the 1960s and 1970s a member of ETA (a fact missing from his Wikipedia entry in Spanish), he left them and joined the christian democrat PNV (Basque Nationalist Party). Azkarra was elected to be member of the Alava province local government for the PNV in 1979, a role he fulfilled later for Bizkaia province 1982-1986 and in the latter year also for the province of Guipuzkoa — representing the PNV throughout.

In 1987 he was part of a split from the PNV that led to the formation of Eusko Alkartasuna (EA), for which party he was elected a member of local government for Bizkaia in 1989. He was a member of EA’s National Executive 1987-1993 and 1999-March 2009, in between which periods he had withdrawn to concentrate on his business in the banking sector. From September 2001 to May 2009, he had the responsibility of Councillor for Justice, Employment and Social Security for the Basque Government. He has been quoted as saying that the more prosecutions of Abertzale Left activists the better – this from a man with a law degree in a State where prosecutions of Basques are more often than not ensured by “confessions” extracted by torture and where the standard of “evidence” required to convict is derisory.

Grumbling, particularly among younger activists about the emphasis on the institutions and the “abandonment of the street”, has been growing over the years. “Our movement’s spokespersons no longer speak of ‘freedom’ and ‘socialism’ but use more ambiguous words like ‘right to decide’ and social justice’ ” is a growing complaint.

Recently an organisation called Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (“Amnesty and Freedom”) was launched to campaign not only against dispersal but for amnesty for the prisoners too. The movement also goes by the name of Amnistiaren Aldeko Mugimendua (“Amnesty Movement”). In August of this year ATA/AAM held a small but significant demonstration in Bilbao associated with the annual alternative festival there which is strongly patronised by youth. At the end of November they held another in the same city, this time attended by an estimated 9,000.

Amnistia demo Bilbo Nov2015jpeg

New solidarity campaign for for political prisoners raising demand of amnesty takes to the streets Bilbao 28 November 2015

In a Basque alternative radio station interview in August, some of ATA/AAM’s spokespersons complained of attempts to malign and isolate them but said they were overcoming these tactics and gaining support. The AL’s bilingual daily newspaper, GARA, did not publicise their demonstration in advance and their estimate of the attendance afterwards was about half of the real figure. The report also neglected to mention the messages of support from a number of political prisoners to the rally.

In December, the six alleged ETA prisoners awaiting trial in Paris on charges involving kidnapping, car and weapons theft and, for two of them, murder of a police officer, made a press statement denouncing the ATA/AAM group and claiming that they were using the prisoners as a Trojan horse in order to attack the whole recent direction of the Abertzale Left. They also accused them of trying to get Basque prisoners to leave the prisoners’ collective, the EEPK. No evidence was produced of this and the ATA/AAM were not asked to comment.  GARA published the Paris statement under a headline containing the allegations without even putting them in quotation marks. It is rumoured that GARA lost many subscribers after that reporting.

It seems likely that this controversy will sharpen over the coming months with people, including prisoners, being obliged to take sides and it may be that it will be characterised by a similar bitterness to that which exists in the Republican movement in Ireland. But unlike the case of Ireland, the numbers of Basque prisoners in the jails remains very high. In addition, the Spanish state continues to jail people who are clearly political activists which adds to the political prisoner population. Without a change in that situation, the likelihood of very serious contention within the movement is high and on a much larger scale than has been the case in Ireland.

The recent dismal electoral showing of EH Bildu can only increase unhappiness within the movement and lead to judgements critical of the AL leadership and, inevitably, to one degree or another, of the path they openly set out upon a little over five years ago.

Background – the origins and trajectory of the Abertzale Left

Born during the Franco dictatorship, the Abertzale Left (Basque: Ezker Abertzalea; Spanish: Izquierda Abertzale) is a broad alliance of patriotic and Left elements with many aspects situated on the social, cultural-linguistic, trade union, media and of course political fronts. The movement was subject to heavy repression from the outset and after nearly a decade a section responded by taking up arms. The Basque Nationalists had done that against Franco in the Civil War – however, the Abertzale Left was doing so in a country occupied by the victors of that war.ETA Symbol image

Not many outside the Basque Country realise that ETA (“Basque Country and Freedom”) is more than “the armed wing of the Basque patriotic movement” — it is the origin of the Abertzale Left, operating solely politically and culturally (albeit clandestinely) for nine years, its activists spied upon, arrested, tortured, jailed. Eventually ETA took up the gun.

It was one of the main ideologues and organisers of ETA, José Miguel Beñaran Ordeñana (alias “Argala”, 1949 – murdered by GAL 21st December 1978) who pushed for the legal and semi-legal aspects of the work to form themselves into separate organisations from ETA while the parent organisation kept a relationship with them.

Although the old Basque Nationalist Party was legalised under the new form of the state after the death of Franco, repression of the Abertzale Left continued. Nevertheless the movement continued to grow, in particular its many non-military aspects, although they too were and are subjected to heavy repression.

Despite the adaptability of the movement and its significantly wide base (between 12%-20% on past electoral showings, despite banning and disqualifications of electoral platforms), it was difficult to see the validity of its strategy of combining armed struggle and popular political movement within the Basque Country, with regard to its long-term objectives of national independence and socialism.

The ruling classes of both the Spanish and French states have a long imperial history along with a strong traditional insistence on the unity of their “home” states, on which they have never shown a willingness to compromise. That is reflected not only within their main right-wing parties but also within the main social-democratic parties and the remains of the old Moscow-orientated Communist parties. In the Spanish state the situation is even more problematic, since the Basque Country and Catalunya are two of the most economically successful within the state, outperforming nearly every other region by a significant margin. Why would the Spanish ruling class wish to give those regions up?

The total Basque population is only around 3.5 million, some of which is within the borders of the French state. The Spanish state has a population of around 45 million outside the Basque Country and even with the subtraction of that of Catalunya (7.5 + million) and the Balearic Islands (just over one million), that still leaves a population of 36.5 million from which to draw soldiers and police.

According to Wikipedia, “the Spanish armed forces are a professional force with a strength in 2012 of 123,300 active personnel and 16,400 reserve personnel. The country also has the 80,000 strong Guardia Civil which falls under the control of the Ministry of Defence in times of a national emergency. The Spanish defence budget is 5.71 billion euros (7.2 Billion USD) a 1% increase for 2015.” The Wikipedia paragraph ends with the ominous sentence that “The increase comes due to security concerns in the country.”

Those figures of course do not include the other police forces, such as the National (Cuerpo de Policía Nacional or “los Grises”)), with a strength of nearly 88,000. This armed force, along with the Guardia Civíl (“los Verdes”), has been traditionally repressive of the Abertzale Left, a task now mostly left to their respective forces in the Basque Country, the Ertzaintza and Policía Forál, forces which, like their counterparts in Catalunya, the Mossos d’Escuadra, have been viciously engaged in repression of the patriotic movements. Then of course there are the municipal police forces inside the Basque Country and elsewhere which can be mobilised as backups to military operations.

Add to that the fact that Nafarroa (the fourth southern Basque province) contains significant Spanish unionist and right-wing elements (it has voted a PP majority for decades) and that much of the Basque Nationalist Party’s following is hostile to the Abertzale Left and it is difficult to see how the AL ever expected to win a straight contest of strength with either state.

Perhaps, like the Irish Republican Movement, with which it has traditionally had fraternal relations, the Abertzale Left thought to make itself such a nuisance to the power occupying it that the latter would get fed up and leave them to it. In both cases but even more obviously so in the case of the Basques, that would have been a serious misreading of the situation and an underestimation of the importance to the power in question of remaining in possession.

It seems clear that the only scenario in which the Basque Country could set up a truly independent state would be one in which the Spanish state at the very least (and probably the French one too) would be unable to send repressive forces in to deal with such an attempt. And what would be the nature of such a scenario? Why, nothing less than that the ruling class of the Spanish state (probably of the French state also) were facing a revolutionary situation across the rest of its territory. Not only would such a situation tie down much of its armed forces but it would have the potential for soldiers refusing to fire on workers, mutinies and defections to revolutionary forces.

Working from such an analysis, activists of the Abertzale Left, as well as organising their movement within the Basque Country, would have been busily building relationships with the revolutionary movements and organisations across the Spanish state. But apart from the electoral alliance for the European Parliamentary elections of 2009 (the creation of the Iniciativa Internacionalista platform, which was the victim of massive electoral fraud by the State), the Abertzale Left has never seriously set about such a project. On the other hand, the formerly-Moscow orientated communist party and left-social democrats across the state, as noted earlier, have also kept at a distance from the Abertzale Left and from their aims. The left coalition of mostly Trotskists, Communists and radical social democrats of Izquierda Unida has done likewise.

There are however small formations of revolutionary communists, anarchists and left-independentists, along with anti-centralist movements with revolutionary potential, as well as a number of anti-unionist and independent trade unions throughout the state. To be sure, the immediate prospects are not glowing – but what other option is there? And how else can one be placed to take advantage of a revolutionary upsurge across the state should one occur?

A significant deviation from the original route

During the 1980s, during an ETA truce, there were peace talks held between ETA and the Spanish Government which came to nothing. Similar overtures during the early 1990s had similar results.

It appears that at some point in the late 1990s, perhaps attracted by the development and apparent gains of the Irish pacification process, the leadership of the Abertzale Left began to look for a different way out of their difficulty. Arnaldo Otegi is widely seen as the architect of this trajectory.

Part of this new approach involved seeking alliances with the PNV and with social-democratic parties within the Basque Country. The PNV is the party of the Basque nationalist bourgeoisie, no longer prepared to fight the Spanish ruling class as it was in 1936. It has its capitalist interests and has a record of jobbery and corruption including its involvement in the TAV, the High-Speed Rail project. It even asked the Spanish state to make militant opposition to this project a terrorist offence. The PNV manages its police allocation, the Ertzaintza, a vicious force active against the Abertzale Left and against striking workers and responsible for the serious injury and death of several. The PNV also manages the Basque TV station EITB and therefore controls both the arms of repression and of propaganda. Although the AL criticises the PNV from time to time this is mostly for the lack of support for a broad front against the Spanish state – AL spokespersons rarely attack it for its capitalist exploitation or jobbery.

Otegi was apparently active with ETA in the French state for around ten years and served three years in a Spanish jail for an ETA kidnapping in 1987, after which he involved himself in political activism. Ten years later the jailing for seven years of senior members of Herri Batasuna left a vacuum in the leadership of the organisation which Otegi filled along with Joseba Permach (sentenced to three years jail in August 2014 – but halved on appeal — in the “social centres trial” which confiscated the assets of the centres) and Pernando Barrena.

Otegi Speaking platform 2011

Arnaldo Otegi, leading figure in the Abertzale Left and seen as architect of recent path of the movement, addressing a rally some years ago.

Permach & Barrena clenched fist

Joseba Permach and Pernando Barrena giving the clenched fist salute at a political rally some years ago. Both have been close colleagues of Otegi’s in the Abertzale Left’s leadership and shift in strategy some years ago

Otegi led a number of initiatives for the Abertzale Left to embark on a different path, which combined ETA ceasefires, talks with other parties, and militant rhetoric. The latter landed him with a 15-month sentence of which he eventually served one year. Subsequently he has been arrested a number of times, convicted twice and exonerated twice. In 2011 he was charged with trying to rebuild Batasuna, the AL party banned by the Spanish state and was sentenced to ten years; this was reduced on appeal to 6.5 years so that he is due out soon. In 2013 he was elected General Secretary of the AL social-democratic political party Sortu.

Despite the relatively short prison sentence (compared to many other Basque prisoners) and the fact that he appears to be in good health, a campaign was started for Otegi’s release and a petition circulated around and outside the movement. This broke a long-standing rule in the movement that there would be no campaigning for individual Basque political prisoners, from which an exception was previously made only in the cases of seriously-ill prisoners. Nevertheless the campaign petition and Facebook page has been circulated through the movement without any official condemnation — or even distancing from — by the AL leadership. However the campaign has attracted some muted criticism across the movement.

The AL leadership proposed a “peace process” but the problem was that, unlike the case with the British, the Spanish ruling class had no interest in developing anything like that. Their aim was to crush the movement with an iron glove, not to “choke it with butter” as their British counterparts had done.

So the Abertzale Left took the road of unilateral ceasefire. This seemed to many of their friends a doomed tactic since it left the Basques with nothing to bargain. In September 2010, ETA announced a ceasefire, saying it wished to use “peaceful, democratic means” to realise the aspirations of the Basque people. The Spanish state’s reaction was not encouraging but nevertheless on 20th October the following year, the organisation announced a “cessation of armed activity”. This followed the conclusion of the “International Peace Conference” held in Donostia/San Sebastián.

The composition of the conference was clear indication of the AL leadership’s projected route and in particular the type of allies it sought internationally: former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former Taoiseach of Ireland Bertie Ahern, former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Interior Minister of France Pierre Joxe, President of Sinn Féin Gerry Adams and British diplomat Jonathan Powell, who had served as the first Downing Street Chief of Staff. To summarise, a collection of servants and executives of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism and even executives of repression and one exposed in a financial corruption scandal.

The declaration at the conclusion of the conference was also supported by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, former US President Jimmy Carter and the former US Senator and former US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George J. Mitchell. In other words, former leaders of US and British Imperialism and one of their agents.

Despite the abandonment of armed struggle by the Abertzale Left leadership, the meeting did not include Spanish or French government representatives and the ruling classes of both states remained unreceptive to the overtures of the AL leadership. Not only that, but the Spanish state continues to arrest the movement’s activists, to torture and to jail them. No amount of criticism by committees for the prevention of torture working for the UN or for the EU, nor condemnation by Amnesty International and many human rights associations within the Spanish state, have had any visible impact on the operations of the Spanish state in recent years. And “confessions” obtained by torture continue to be used as admissible ‘evidence’ for the Prosecution even when withdrawn by the victim and the torturers denounced in court.

The ETA ceasefire continues to date and a number of other statements have been made by ETA including one in which they announced the destruction of a number of weapons, verified by a decommissioning expert. A number of “international conferences” have been held with further calls on the Spanish state to cooperate, also without significant result.

end

JE NE SUIS PAS CHARLIE (I AM NOT CHARLIE)

By José Antonio Gutiérrez Dantón / Friday 9 January 2015 (translated from the original in Castillian)

 

To begin with, let me make it clear from the outset that I consider the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to be an atrocity and that I do not believe that it is justifiable under any circumstances to make a military target of a journalist, no matter what our opinion on the quality of his journalism may be. The same is valid in France, as it is in Colombia or in Palestine.

Also, nor do I identify with any fundamentalism, whether it be Christian, Jewish or Muslim, nor indeed with Frenchified mock-secularism either, which makes a goddess of the “République”.

I present these necessary explanations since no matter how much the high priests of politics insist that we live under an “exemplary democracy” with “great liberties”, we all know that Big Brother is watching us and that any speech outside the script is severely punished. But I believe that to condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo is not the same as celebrating a magazine that is, fundamentally, a monument to intolerance, racism and colonial arrogance.

I cannot view with equanimity the constant symbolic aggression that has as its counterpart a physical and real aggression, which is the bombing and military occupation of countries belonging to this cultural horizon. Nor can I happily these cartoons and their offensive texts with a light heart, when Arabs are one of the most marginalized, impoverished and exploited sectors of French society which has historically been brutally treated.

I do not forget that in the early 1960s, in the Paris Metro, the police massacred 200 Algerians by clubbing, just because the latter were demanding an end to the French occupation of their country, which had already led to a total of a million dead “uncivilized” Arabs.

This is not about innocent cartoons drawn by free thinkers but rather about messages produced by mass media (yes, though in an alternative posture, Chalie Hebdo is part of the mass media), loaded with hatred and stereotypes reinforcing a discourse that considers the Arabs as barbarians to be contained, uprooted, controlled, represed, oppressed and exterminated. These are messages the implicit purpose of which is to justify the invasions of Middle Eastern countries as well as the many interventions and bombings orchestrated in the West in defence of the new imperial map. The Spanish film actor Willy Toledo controversially commented, no more than was obvious, that “The West kills every day. Silently.” And that is what Charlie and his black humour hides under the cover of satire.

I do not forget the front cover of Charlie Hebdo issue N°1099, in which it trivialized the massacre of more than a thousand Egyptians by a brutal military dictatorship which has the approval of the USA and of France, carrying a cartoon with a text declaring “Slaughter in Egypt. The Koran is shit: it doesnt stop bullets.” The cartoon showed a Muslim man riddled with bullets that had passed through a copy of the Koran, with which he had been trying to protect himself. Perhaps some find this funny. In their time too, the English colonists in Tierra del Fuego, Argentinia, thought it funny to have photographs of themselves taken, with wide smiles and rifle in hand, a foot on the corpses of the still-warm and bleeding bodies of the native people they had hunted.

Charlie Hebdo cartoon referring to the attack on Egyptian protesters in which 1,000 were killed.

Charlie Hebdo cartoon referring to the attack on Egyptian protesters in which 1,000 were killed.  Juxtaposed, an imaginary cartoon treating the attack on Charlie Hepdo in a similar manner.

Rather than funny, that cartoon to me seems violent and colonialist, an abuse of the fictitious and manipulated western freedom of the press. How would people react if I were to design a magazine cover bearing the following text: “Slaughter in Paris. Charlie Hebdo is shit: it doesn’t stop bullets” and made a cartoon of the deceased and gunned-down Jean Cabut holding a copy of the magazine in his hands? Clearly that would be outrageous: the life of a Frenchman is sacred. The life of an Egyptian (or Palestinian, Iraqi, a Syrian, etc.) is “humoristic” material. For that reason I am not Charlie, because for me, the life of each one of those Egyptians pestered is as sacred as is any of those caricaturists assassinated today.

We already know what to expect now: there will be speeches defending press freedom from countries which in 1999 gave their blessing to the NATO bombing of the Serbian public TV station in Belgrade, calling it “the Ministry of Lies”; countries that remained silent while Israel bombed the Al-Manar TV station in Beirut in 2006; those that respond with silence to the murders of Colombian and Palestinian critical journalists.

After the beautiful pro-freedom rhetoric will come the liberticide action: more McCarthyism, disguised colonial “anti-terrorism”, more colonial interventions, more restrictions of those “democratic guarantees” threatened with extinction and, of course, more racism.

Europe is consumed in a spiral of xenophobic hatred, islamophobia, anti-semitism (in fact, the Palestinians are Semitic) and this atmosphere has reached unbearable levels. The Muslims are already the Jews of 21st Century Europe and neo-Nazi parties are becoming respectable again, 80 years later, thanks to this detestable feeling.

Because of all this, in spite of the feelings of repulsion engendered in me by the Paris attack, Je ne suis pas Charlie.

Note on author:
José Antonio Gutiérrez D. is a libertarian political activist living in Ireland, where he participates in the movements of solidarity with Latin America and with Colombia, a contributor to the CEPA (Colombia) magazine and to El Ciudadano (Chile), and also to the international web page  www.anarkismo.net.  He is author of  “Problemas e Possibilidades do Anarquismo” (in Portuguese, Faisca ed., 2011) and coordinator of the book “Orígenes Libertarios del Primero de Mayo en América Latina” (Quimantú ed. 2010).