DUBLIN PROTESTS SPANISH SENTENCES ON CATALANS

DUBLIN PROTEST AT UNJUST AND SAVAGE SENTENCES ON CATALAN INDEPENDENCE LEADERS

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time 5 mins)

Protests erupted today across the world at the unjust and savage sentences by Spanish judges on the Catalan independence activists, elected politicians and grass roots leaders. Dublin was no exception and around two hundred people gathered in solidarity protest outside the Dáil (Irish Parliament). Then they marched from there to the General Post Office building in O’Connell Street, Dublin city centre’s main street, outside of which they held a short rally.

          In October 2017, after a build-up of some years, the Catalan regional Government, by majority approved the holding of a Referendum on an independent Catalan Republic. The Spanish State through its ‘justice’ court declared the referendum illegal and sent police into Catalonia to seize election literature, ballot papers and ballot boxes. In the latter case the police were unsuccessful and on October 1st the Referendum went ahead and, despite savage police attacks on voters and people protesting the invasion (a thousand injured — one losing an eye — and one dead), a majority of voters voted Yes. Subsequently pro-independence politicians and grass-roots leaders were arrested while others went into exile. Those arrested were charged with organising a Rebellion, Sedition and Misuse of Public Funds (allegedly to fund the Referendum).

While they were found not guilty of Rebellion, the nine received the following sentences (and bans from public office of many years):

Junqueras 13 years

Romeva, Turul, Bassa 12 years

Forcadel 11.5 years

Forn, Rul 10.5 years

Cuixart, Sanchez 9 years

Three others were fined and banned from public office for a period.

Part of the long banner outside Leinster House.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
One end of the long banner outside Leinster House.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

DUBLIN PROTEST

          Around 200 protesters gathered outside Leinster House today after hearing of the sentences. They were mostly Catalans and had been asked by ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia) en Irlanda and CDR (Committee for the Defence of the Republic) Dublin to stand by for the verdict and, if anything less than Not Guilty, to assemble there at 6pm. The protest was supported by the With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin committee. People were still arriving from work at 6.30 pm and later, while some had gone to collect their children to bring them there too.

Section of crowd to left of the Leinster House gates.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Though the vast majority were Catalans, not all were: there was a very light sprinkling of Irish, a few Basaques and some people from other parts of the Spanish State. A Sinn Féin Councillor gave an interview in solidarity, as did an activist of WCLC and Manus O’Riordan, son of Brigadista Michael O’Riordan, who brandished a flag in Spanish Republican colours bearing the legend “Connolly Column”. A member of PBP was also noted there.

The flags displayed were the Estelada and the Vermelha, both standing for different trends in the Catalan movement for independence. One very long banner called for Freedom for Political Prisoners and Exiles while two shorter ones had bilingual English and Irish legends calling for freedom for the Catalan Republic and for political prisoners. A large home-made banner also called for freedom for political prisoners.

Another section of crowd to left of Leinster House gates.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

While outside Leinster House the crowd took turns chanting slogans in Catalan that translated into such as The Streets Will Always Be Ours!, Freedom for Political Prisoners! and Long Live Catalunya! to which the response was Free! After some time the crowd was addressed in Catalan by the Coordinator of the ANC in Ireland after which they the sang the Catalan national anthem, Els Segadors (The Reapers), with its roots in a popular rebellion in the 17th Century. It seemed then that an impromptu decision was taken to march in the street.

THE PROTESTERS TAKE TO THE STREETS

          Chanting slogans in Catalan and in English, with banners in front, the crowd marched along Molesworth and into Dawson Street, then into Grafton Street and proceeded to the General Post Office building, which is located in the middle of O’Connell Street, main street of the city centre. Although at some junctions they stopped traffic and in some streets no traffic could pass them, no hostility was displayed to them. One bus driver beeped her horn in solidarity, as did some cars. In some places people stopped to applaud the marchers.

The crowd takes to the streets in marching order (Leinster House in far background).
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

When they reached the GPO, the marchers drew up in two lines on the central pedestrian reservation, facing the different streams of traffic with placards, many containing portraits of the sentenced activists. After a while they gathered for a short rally, where they were addressed by two representatives of the ANC, a man and a woman, to remind them of the solidarity walk to the Sugarloaf on Sunday (see FB event pages for details).

Another section of crowd marching from Leinster House.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

After that, they were addressed by an Irish representative of With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, who told them that they were gathered opposite the headquarters of the Easter Rising in 1916.

The Irish had been ruled by a more powerful neighbour, he told the rally, that under its constitution, would not allow them independence. The Irish had had to fight for it and eventually was partly successful. The Catalans were also being denied their right to self-determination by a more powerful neighbour under its constitution and were resisting.

Section of crowd displaying placards
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Section of crowd to left of the Leinster House gates with estelada and placards. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

But were the nine jailed because they had hurt someone? he asked. Or lifted a weapon against anyone? Or even damaged buildings or property? To each question, the crowd shouted “NO!” They had been sentenced for upholding the Catalan right to self-determination, the speaker said, then applauded the Catalans for their continuing resistance and for their response here and in Catalonia to repression.

The crowd broke up after that, people talking about other solidarity actions, such as the paralysing tonight of Barcelona airport by thousands of protesters and the savage attacks on them there by police. Also that there are seven alleged CDR activists in jail awaiting trial in Madrid, 700 Catalan Town Mayors have been marked for investigation, as have also a number of school teachers.

BUT

          Borrell, the Spanish Minister for Europe commented after the sentences that now would be a time to return to normality, while the Spanish Prime Minister, PSOE (social democrat) part leader Sanchez, praised Spanish ‘democracy’.

End.

FB pages of organisations for more information

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

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

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

SF Cnclr Mac Donncha being interviewe outside Leinster House and behind him, displaying the Spanish Republic colours with the legend The Connolly Column, Manus, son of Brigadista Michael O’Riordan.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Carles Puigdemont, currently in exile in Brusssels, for whom the Spanish State have now issued an extradition warrant (also for other exiles).
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
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APOLOGIA FOR REPRESSION BY SPANISH STATE IN DUBLIN

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 10 minutes)

The “Global Spain” initiative of the Spanish State to 215 Spanish embassies and its sub-title “Touch Democracy” was presented to a small audience at the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin on Monday while Catalan and Basque solidarity demonstrators picketed outside.

While some people, perhaps in the know, were directed straight to the auditorium, a number of others, not regular users of the Instituto’s services, were asked to wait in another area but when the start time had been exceeded by 20 minutes without sign of the event, they went to make enquiries again at Reception and learned where the event was being held, entering to find it had already started.

Portraits of Catalan political prisoners and exiles displayed across the street from the Instituto Cervantes on Monday.
(Photo: D.Breatnach).

PROPAGANDA VIDEO         

          Mr. Ildefonso Castro,the Spanish State’s Ambassador to Ireland was speaking and shortly launched the event with a showing of a short video which, he said, would bring out the main questions in the initiative. In this video, Lucía Mendez, journalist for the right-wing Spanish daily El Mundo seemed to be interviewing Gabriela Ybarra about the novel she had written (The Dinner Guest). But actually later in the film Mendez began a speech about how good was the Spanish democracy while her interviewee was left with little to say. The author had said earlier that though her grandfather (a Mayor of Bilbao who had fought in Franco’s Army and supported the Dictator regime, not mentioned in the video), had been killed by the Basque armed group ETA in 1973, this was not discussed in her family. She felt that the memory of “terrorism” was disappearing and that children in school were not being taught about it, which is why she wrote her book.

In fact, Spanish media constantly refers in negative terms to ETA and a 2016 case of a brawl between Basque youth and off-duty Spanish policemen in a late-night bar, in which no-one was seriously hurt and no weapons used, was being treated in the media and by the State Prosecutors as a case of terrorism! Although the judge rejected the accusation of “terrorism”, in 2018 the youth receive a range of sentences between two and 13 years jail. An important part of the silence and lack of teaching children history is in fact about the almost four decades of Franco dictatorship and the conduct of the victors in the military-fascist uprising against the democratically-elected government of the Spanish Popular Front in 1936. And of the State assassinations and torture of captured ETA fighters and arrested Basque activists. And of the continued legal battles to uncover mass graves of Franco’s victims and try to identify the remains for the relatives.

Considering that ETA ceased its armed activities in 2012 and has since dissolved itself, the relevance and intention of the film seems to be to show an embattled Spanish “democracy”, fighting against Basque independentist “terrorism” in the past as it is now embattled with the Catalan independentists (seven activists of which it has also accused of “terrorism” a couple of weeks ago).

Some demonstrators and banner by Trinity College exit across the street from Instituto Cervantes on Monday.
(Photo: D.Breatnach).

DISCUSSION BUT NO DEBATE

          There was no discussion on the content of the film and, after its end, Víctor Andresco Peralta, Director of the Instituto Cervantes, cultural body of the Spanish Embassy, took to the stage and invited five people by name to take chairs laid out around a table. Launching into a chatty monologue full of jokey self-deprecatory comments (so many that they were actually self-promotional), he eventually asked his questions of his picked panel.

Questions included what were their earliest memories of consciousness of being Spanish, what reactions they had received about Spain from people in Ireland, or in other countries (positive and negative), what they valued about Spain, what they thought about the coup attempt in 1981 (lots of jokes about that), etc.

Referring to his father’s recent stay in hospital, Peralta asked for comparison of the Spanish health service with the Irish one (apparently the former is far better, which would not be difficult) and for other comparisons.

The discussion was skillfully managed by the showmaster to bring his group to paint a picture of a wonderful pluralist Spanish State, of freedom of expression, and of a democracy which had been able to defeat the coup attempt without much difficulty but even so, some discourse arose at times to shake the equilibrium, as when one referred to a relative telling him about the horrors of the Francoist suppression as they entered Barcelona and when another referred to the perception (mistaken, of course!) of many people outside Spain that the State was undemocratic and had violent police.

One of the panel, who appears to be an employee of the Spanish State, said she was proud of the defeat of ETA by the “Spanish democracy”.  Another said she was proud of Spanish history and culture, without explaining further. She might have meant the foremost writer of Castillian-language literature, Cervantes himself, who was exiled from the Spanish kingdom because of his anti-feudal views. Or the Andalusian poet Federico Lorca, who was executed by Franco’s soldiers; or the Malagan artist in exile Picasso, who created the famous painting of the Nazi and Fascist aerial bombing of Gernika (most of the poets, writers and artists of the era were against the military-fascist coup and the four decades of dictatorship that followed). Or about the dramatist Alfonso Sastre, whose distaste for the Spanish State’s behaviour towards the Basques was such that he moved to the Basque Country.

Perhaps the woman was proud of the defeat of the learned and tolerant Moorish colony of Al Andalus and its replacement by the racist Spanish Christian Inquisition, along with the expulsion of Arabs and Jews? Or of the centuries-long suppression of the governments of the Basques, Galicians and Catalans, along with their languages? Or of the invasion, massacre, enslavement and plunder of the indigenous people of America, the Caribbean and the Philippines? Or the invasion and colonisation of the Rif in North Africa, when the French saved the Spanish colony after the Spanish army had been wiped out by lesser-armed (and often less numerous) Berber guerrillas.

Of course she might have been referring to the revolt of the Reapers in Catalonia or of the Comuneros in Castille; or of the resistance of Spanish, Catalans and Basques to the military-fascist coup and the four decades of dictatorship …. We don’t know because she did not say.

A view of some of the protesters outside the Instituto Cervantes on Monday.
(Photo: D.Breatnach).

WHAT ABOUT THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION?

          The event had been advertised as a debate but no debate took place. Nor was there a question-and-answer session, nor engagement with the audience except to send them witty asides from Peralta and to thank them at the end.

This was too much for at least one of the small audience, an Irishman who interrupted the concluding remarks of the Director by saying, in Castillian (Spanish) that it was a pity that the question of self-determination had not been discussed. The event was taking place in Ireland, he commented, where another state had denied the people the right to self-determination on grounds of that state’s constitution also. Denied permission to exercise their right, the Irish people had to fight for it and eventually won part-independence.

Peralta commented that the Spanish people were cognizant of Irish history and appreciated it.

The Irishman replied that in the Spanish state things were the complete opposite.

Peralta commented that unfortunately there was no time left for that debate, thanked participants and audience and brought the event to a close.

Sticker on pole near the Instituto Cervantes on Monday.
(Photo: D.Breatnach).

WHAT WAS THE POINT?

          Outside the meeting up to dozen protesters had taken up positions on both sides of the street. On the Trinity College side a couple of protesters stood beside portraits of the Catalan grass-roots activists and politicians who are in jail awaiting sentence or in exile. On the Instituto side, a larger group of protesters held two banners and a Basque Antifa flag.

One of the Catalan supporters, an Irishwoman, addressed several of the panel participants as they exited. It emerged that they had not understood the nature of the event and that they thought it had to do with October 12th, which is a Spanish State celebration of its former empire and spreading of the Castillian language1 (and for which one of the panel, who seems to work for the Instituto, is organising an event in Rathmines). They said they had not seen the “Global Spain” publicity (81 pages of propaganda justifying the actions of the Spanish State and attacking the principle of Catalan self-determination and the pro-independence movement!).

There was in truth not much point in attending the event unless one wanted receive a smooth-talking patter about an imaginary State occupying most of the Iberian Peninsula. For the protesters, it was important to give a response to the paint-over job. For the producers of the show, the importance was to try to distract an Irish audience from the reality of what is an unreconstructed fascist state with a thin veneer of democracy that is constantly peeling away.

Poster seen on Dublin street near Instituto Cervantes on Monday.
(Photo: D.Breatnach).

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1 El Dia de la Hispanidad was formerly called “El Dia de la Raza Española” (Day of the Spanish Race). It is also the Spanish Armed Forces Day, obviously not inappropriately in context!

REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION

Article by El Nacional, independent and pro-independence Catalan newspaper: https://www.elnacional.cat/en/news/global-spain-advertising-campaign-democracy_426827_102.html

The Instituto Cervantes, Dublin: https://dublin.cervantes.es/en/about_us_spanish.htm

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

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

DISSIDENCE IN THE BASQUE PRO-INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 minutes)

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS, IRELAND & BASQUE COUNTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEADERSHIP CHANGE IN LINE AND DISSIDENCE

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

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

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

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

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

End.

Catalan resistance day celebrated in Dublin

(Reading time: less than 10 minutes)

Clive Sulish

The Diada, national day of Catalan identity and of resistance was celebrated in Dublin’s Merrion Square on Saturday 7th September with traditional food, drink, games and music. Catalan independentist flags and banners were also on display as were portrait placards of Catalan political prisoners of the Spanish State.

Lineup People Banners & Placards Diada Merrion Square 7 Sept 2019
Some of the attendance at the Dublin Diada lined up with banners etc (photo: D.Breatnach)

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THE DIADA

          The Diada Nacional de Catalunya (Diada for short) is the National Day of Catalonia, a one-day event celebrated annually on the 11th of September. It commemorates the fall of Barcelona during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, which resulted in Catalonia’s institutions and legal system being abolished and coming under the domination of the Spanish crown.

The Army of Catalonia backed the Habsburg claim to the Spanish throne, believing thereby that Cataloni’s national autonomy would be respected. However, the army of the Bourbon King Philip V of Spain was successful and Barcelona fell after a siege of 14 moths.

It Diada first began to be celebrated in 1888 and gained in popularity over succeeding year and in 1923 was a mass event with events all over Catalonia. However clashes with the Spanish police resulted in 12 protesters and five police being wounded and a number of arrests. Primo Rivera’s dictatorship banned it but during the 2nd Spanish Republic (1931-1939) the Catalan Generalitat (Government) made it an institutional festival. With the fall of Catalonia to the military-fascist forces of Franco and others, it was banned and celebrated only in people’s homes.

The first renewed public celebration of the festival was in 1976, following the death of Franco the preceding year and in 1977 was the occasion for a huge demonstration demanding independence for Catalonia and in 1980 was made official by the Generalitat.

With the renewed growing push for Catalan independence, the day has been the occasion for huge demonstrations demanding self-determination. For some years now the ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia), which claims to be the largest grass-roots organisation not only in Catalonia but in the world, has been the main organiser of the Diada and has used it as part of its mobilisation for indpendence (which presumably is the reason the Spanish State has put its former President, Jordi Sanchez, on trial on charges of sedition and rebellion and in detention since 2017, the verdict expected this month or next.

Although the Diada commemorates a crushing defeat for Catalan self-determination, its celebration has become an occasion of re-affirmation of that desire, a public sign of resistance. Massive demonstrations once again have been held and, as in Dublin, expatriate and Catalan diaspora communities around much of the world have celebrated it publicly this year, particularly in Europe but also in Latin America and in the USA.

Diada 2019 aerial views: https://youtu.be/qewQSS3KWyw

oznor
“So now you skip while I turn the rope.” (Photo: D.Breatnach)
child-bemused-skipping.jpg
“Ok — but what is ‘skip’?” (Photo: D.Breatnach)
dav
A good time to plan. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

THE DUBLIN EVENT

          Merrion Square, a public park in the Dublin city centre, was the venue for the Diada event organised by Catalans in the Irish branch of the ANC and by Dublin CDR (Comite de Defensa de la Republica) on a the 7th, which was a Saturday.

oznor
Photo: D.Breatnach

The area was decked out with estelladas (Catalan independence flags) and placards bearing portraits of the Catalan political prisoners (see following section on the Situation in Catalonia). Parents attended with their children and games were played with them as well as a traditional Catalan game being available for adults and a few engaged in a version of the poc fada Irish activity with camáin (hurley sticks).

flag-placards-jumble.jpg

Traditional food and drink was provided also.  Commenting on the event, a spokesperson for the organisers said:
“We had a festive and family-oriented Diada (National Catalan Day) in Dublin. We also publicised a call for freedom for the political prisoners and the right of self-determination for Catalonia.”

xavo-hitting-sliotar.jpg
Not a Catalan sport but when in Ireland …. (Photo: D.Breatnach)
oznor
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

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SUMMARY OF SITUATION IN CATALONIA

          The Catalan Parliament has twice passed a number of legal measures which have been judged “unconstitutional” by the Spanish Court and therefore cancelled. These included:

  • Increased taxes on large companies

  • a “sugar tax” on sweet soft drinks

  • ban on bullfighting

  • access to public medical care for migrants

  • ban on evictions and high rents

The growing push for Catalan self-determination found expression in a number of growing public events and in October 2017 a referendum was held. The Spanish State banned the referendum and its police raided the Government offices and other places for ballot boxes. On the day of the Referendum, October 1st, Spanish police attacked voters and referendum supporters with a reported nearly one thousand seeking medical attention. They also fired rubber bullets, which are banned in Catalonia, at peaceful demonstrators.

The Catalan right-wing anti-independence parties had called for a boycott of the referendum and many ballots were confiscated by the Spanish police. The majority of those available gave a high majority for an independent Catalonian republic (there were no other options other than “No”).

The then President Puigdemont, backed by the pro-independence majority in the Catalan Parliament, acting on their mandate, in 2017 declared an independent Catalan Republic but immediately suspended it, urged by EU advisers to seek talks with Madrid (which he reflects now was a mistake).

Subsequently the Spanish State prorogued the Catalan Parliament until new elections were held and also charged a number of politicians and social activists with sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds (allegedly to fund the Referendum). Some, like Puigdemont, went into exile and others to jail without bail; their trial is now over and the verdict is expected later this month or next. In addition, numbers of secondary school teachers have been called to testify because of their responses to the questions of pupils about the Referendum and the destruction to their schools by police and around 700 town mayors are also called to testify for allegedly facilitating the Referendum.

The elections forced by the Spanish State returned a broad political backing for Catalan independence from right to left which finds expression in a number of coalition parties (Junts per Catalonia, Esquerra Republican and Candidatura d’Unidad Popular), opposed by a substantial but minority hard-right unionist opposition coalition too (mostly Ciudadanos). The coalition based on the Catalan version of Podemos also has seats but its actual position on independence is not easy to define.

Since then, the Spanish State elections and the European elections have also returned pro-independence candidates but EU senior officials blocked Catalan MEPs who are in exile from taking their seats and another is in Spanish jail, awaiting a verdict.

End.

Freedom for all Catalan political prisoners & exiles long banner
Message in Merrion Square (Photo: ANC Irlanda)

REFERENCES:

Diada: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Day_of_Catalonia

ANC: https://assemblea.cat/?lang=en

USEFUL CONTACTS:

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

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

With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin: With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin https://www.facebook.com/WithCataloniaIreland/
Casal Catalan d’Irlanda https://www.facebook.com/casalcatalairlanda/

DON’T CARE ABOUT HISTORY?

(Reading time: three minutes)

Diarmuid Breatnach

You don’t care about history? Well, perhaps but history cares about you. Or rather, it affects you and the world you live in, explains how you got to where you are, your successes and failures – and where you might yet go.

          Of course, what I said earlier was kind of a slick answer; history doesn’t really care about you …. or about me …. or anyone else. The wind moves the trees, fills the sails, cools us or brings rain or snow – it affects us, moves us and things around us …. but is not moved by us. That is a useful metaphor because often people think they can stop some things happening by wishing strongly that they would not. Liberals and social democrats, for example …. But the metaphor breaks down – unlike our relationship with the wind, we can move things.

The shape of a tree testifies to the forces that have come to bear upon it as it was growing and its bark rings tell us of years of plenty or scarcity. To say that you don’t care about history is like, in a way, saying you don’t care about your childhood. That period of your past life and the influences that came to bear upon it and how you reacted to them have made you, to an extent, who you are today. Certainly they have hugely affected you, as any psychologist will tell.

Tree Bent by Wind in Grass
A tree shaped in its growing by prevailing wind etc, revealing an important part of its history. (Photo source: Internet)

If you really don’t care about history, you should not care whether you experience pain or pleasure. Typically, humans like to repeat pleasure and to avoid pain. But how do we know in advance what will give us pleasure or instead cause us pain? Experience. And that too is a kind of history. Which may also teach us what pleasure may be reached through pain, as for example in certain kinds of exercise – or what pleasures may end in pain, as with addictions. And we don’t only have our own experience to go on but that of many others, in their stories and in the accounts of those who have studied them. Another kind of history.

To say that you don’t care about history is to say that you don’t care about cause and effect. You don’t care about science, in other words. Science, in the sense of observation of processes and in the sense of experiment, is a kind of history. If you do this to that, in this atmosphere at that temperature, this will be the result. How do we know? It has been observed or tested, time and time again and recorded. Very like history.

Perhaps history was not taught to you in the way most suited to you at the time. Or rather, perhaps it was not introduced to you as it would best have been. A required subject to study, to gain marks and to ignore forever afterwards is hardly likely to inspire. A list of dates, of kings and queens, of prime ministers, along with their desires, though they figure in it, is not really history. “Facts” without encouragement to challenge, to interpret, to ask and to search for why and how – these drive some minds away while others learn them – but only as dogma.

History Cursive Script Blackboard

Kings, Queens, Generals and Leaders of insurgents helped make history – but they didn’t really make history, though we are told they did and often say it ourselves. No king built a castle or a city though we are often told that is what happened. People build castles and cities: they dig foundations and sewers or latrines, dig wells or canals, cut timber and stone, mine and forge metal, construct buildings, grow food, settle, take up livelihoods, raise children, study nature, perform arts, record in print or orally …. History was made by people, ordinary people mostly with a few extraordinary individuals; history was made by people like you and I.

Or perhaps you acknowledge all that but think ok, as an ordinary person, there is nothing you can consciously do to alter the course of things now? Yes, our masters would like you to think that. The reality is that you can make choices: to join that organisation or movement, participate in that action or demonstration …. or not. To vote for one person or party or another – or to abstain. To treat people in this or that way.

What will help you make those choices? Well, for a start, your experience. And experience is a personal history. I did that and this happened; I didn’t agree with that outcome so now I will do something else. But we also have the experiences of millions of others upon which to draw, across thousands of years. History.

Rights Man Book Cover Penguin French Revolution
Thomas Paine’s writings influenced republican thinking which in turn led many to revolution. A tree shaped in its growing by prevailing wind etc. (Photo source: Internet)
USA Emmet Washington DC monument
Washington DC Monument to Irish Republican revolutionary Robert Emmet, a United irishman (a copy of the monument is in Stephens Green, Dublin). He was part of a historical process. A tree shaped in its growing by prevailing wind etc. (Photo source: Internet)

You are not an isolated individual and your people, your nation or state, is not an isolated mass. The productive forces of emerging capitalism struggled with monarchy and feudalist systems and elites and produced republicanism. Republican ideas were promoted by English and French intellectuals, for example and found receptive minds among the capitalist sons and daughters of English colonists in Ireland, bringing about the bid for a democratic parliament of all the people in Ireland. When that attempt failed, the ideas impelled some to found the United Irishmen, which hundreds of thousands of others supported because they wished for freedom from the colonial power. Less than a decade after the failure of Grattan’s Parliament to admit representation by Catholic and Dissenter, the United Irish rose in revolutionary upsurge. That was in 1798 and they looked for support from republican France, which had its revolution less than a decade earlier, in 1789. The Irish and the French republicans were encouraged by the American Revolution, which had begun in 1765 and emerged victorious in 1783.

The republican revolutions were carried out by the ordinary mass of people but it was the capitalist class that they brought to power; today the working class struggle to overcome them and come into power themselves, for the first time a majority class taking power and holding up the possibility of the end of classes and therefore of class exploitation. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”, wrote Karly Marx and Frederick Engels in the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.

Communist Manifesto Clenched Fist Book Cover

You are in history. You are a product of history. What you do now affects the historical outcome to some degree at least – to one degree or another you are making history. You might as well study its process and use its lessons to illuminate your way: the distilled and concentrated experiences of millions of human beings like you.

End.

IS IT A CRIME TO HATE YOUR OPPRESSORS?

(Reading time: four minutes)

Diarmuid Breatnach

Some might say it more of a democratic duty!

A recent article of the Belfast Telegraph, a British-Unionist paper, reports that nationalist youth have built a bonfire and decorated it with, among other things, a banner representing the Parachute Regiment and another representing “Soldier F”. The article reports that the Police Service of Northern Ireland are treating this as “a hate crime”.

August 2019 Soldier F Bonfire
The bonfire preparation referred to in the Belfast Telegraph article (Photo source: Internet)

The newspaper comments also that this bonfire is associated with “anti-social behaviour” the nature of which however they neglect to specify. Although the article treats the PSNI statement as unremarkable and neglects to interrogate it as responsible journalism should do, the police statement is actually not only totally inaccurate in terms of law but also discriminatory and oppressive.

One definition of “hate crime” from an on-line dictionary is a crime, typically one involving violence, that is motivated by prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, or other grounds.

Wikipedia posts at greater length and depth: A hate crime (also known as a bias-motivated crime or bias crime is a prejudice-motivated crime which occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of their membership (or perceived membership) in a certain social group or race.

Examples of such groups can include, and are almost exclusively limited to: sex, ethnicity, disability, language, nationality, physical appearance, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. Non-criminal actions that are motivated by these reasons are often called “bias incidents“.

“Hate crime” generally refers to criminal acts which are seen to have been motivated by bias against one or more of the social groups listed above, or by bias against their derivatives. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, mate crime or offensive graffiti or letters (hate mail).

Now, how does placing an emblem or banner to represent the Paratroop Regiment constitute a “hate crime” under any of those definitions? First of all, is it a crime to burn the banner? Not in itself, no and therefore it cannot be a hate crime. But even if burning a banner were defined in law as a crime, how would it fit the definition of “hate crime” as given above? It is none of those categories above that leads to the Parachute Regiment being reviled.

It is interesting, since the issue of “hate crimes” was brought into law, how incorrectly they are being ascribed by people in authority and by mass media and, curiously, applied to people struggling for national self-determination against repressive states and also to those opposing fascists. In other words, it is progressive forces that are being accused of “hate crimes” because of their resistance to oppression and resistance. Not the reactionary forces one might suppose were the object of the classification.

Certainly, it is the discriminatory and repressive behaviour towards its large Catholic minority of the ‘Northern Ireland’ statelet since its formation which clearly fits into the definitions of “hate crime”, although often its actions were not defined as crimes since they were authorised by its repressive legislation. Nevertheless, even within the parameters of that body of legislation the Statelet and its police committed thousands of crimes, including petty harassment, beatings, torture, perjury, arson, collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries and murder.

The British Army became an active participant in those crimes when it was sent into the Six Counties to bolster the crumbling government and exhausted sectarian police. Chief among those in criminality was the Parachute Regiment, responsible for an admitted list of unarmed civilian fatalities which includes 10 in Ballymurphy in August 1971, 13 in Derry in January of 1972 and another five in July of that year on the Springfield Estate.

Book Cover Impact Parachute Regiment in Belfast 1970-73
Booklet published by the Pat Finucane Centre documenting the murderous activities of the Parachute Regiment in just four years in Belfast. The bonfire preparation referred to in the Belfast Telegraph article (Photo source: Internet)

It is perfectly reasonable, natural and, I would say healthy to hate the people who carried out those massacres. And to hate them cannot reasonably be called a crime.

Soldier F” is the only member of that regiment to have been charged with the crime of murder and to be facing trial. As a representative of that murderous regiment he did not become a public target of hate until the Loyalists chose to publicly flaunt their support for him with banners, graffiti and badges. None of those, motivated by hate for the nationalist community, were charged with committing a hate crime. However, when nationalist youth, responding to that hateful campaign of the Loyalists, place the soldier’s alias on a bonfire, suddenly it is they who are accused of perpetrating a “hate crime”.

Portadown Stands with Soldier F street bannerGarvagh Supports Soldier F Banner

Lisburn Supports Soldier F Street Banner
Photographs of a small selection of prominent street banners in different areas of the Six Counties supporting ‘Soldier F’ and the Parachute Regiment erected by Loyalists (and over which no action was taken by the authorities). The bonfire preparation referred to in the Belfast Telegraph article (Photos source: Internet)

Unfortunate it may be that the nationalist youth have focused on this individual soldier but it is not a hate crime. They are targeting him not because of race, ethnicity, colour, religion, sexuality, disability etc, etc but because of his membership of a murderous regiment and, furthermore, in response to a campaign of provocation by Loyalists against which the sectarian PSNI and Statelet authorities have taken no action whatsoever.

And you know what? Although I am not from Derry or Belfast, I hate the Paratroop Regiment too. And the sectarian Statelet and its sectarian police force and the Loyalist bigots who support it and try to suppress the democratic rights of the nationalist population, as well as of migrants, women and LBGT people.

I could get to hate the Belfast Telegraph as well.

End.

REFERENCES:

BT article: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/bonfire-adorned-with-parachute-regiment-and-soldier-f-banners-lit-in-derry-38408117.html?fbclid=IwAR2__W8lONddIRoU61aTPtGw2CKJo_oxaytKKIK1FKRs8RM_8PPHQp2Ryv0

Definition hate crime: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hate_crime

Short review of book about the Parachute Regiment in Belfast: https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2018/08/09/news/new-booklet-explores-the-impact-of-the-parachute-regiment-on-belfast-1403186/

HOW TO WIN THE WAR – GETTING INTO POSITION

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

Diarmuid Breatnach

INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Reading time this section: less than 5 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am clear that it did.

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

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

  1. against the huge wastage of Irish youth through emigration

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

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

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

  5. for the right to divorce

  6. for equality for women in law

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

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

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

  10. to improve services for the rural areas

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

  12. to secularise the education service

  13. and the health service.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PART 2: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION

(Reading time this section: 2 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unity Is Strength Image copy

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

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

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

PART FOUR: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

solidarity woodcut

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

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

End.

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