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.

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PART 2: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time this section: 2 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coalition: Opposition and Revolution versus Collusion and Cooption

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

An old, old debate or discussion has broken out of late. It has been inspired or regenerated by the inability of the main political parties of the ruling class to achieve a ruling majority in the Dáil, even in coalition. Another factor has been the growth of Sinn Féin seats to a number sufficient to attract another party into getting them into a coalition government. And another General Election cannot be far off.

The debate or discussion is sparked by questions something like this:

Should a coalition of revolutionary socialists and radical social-democrats put together a joint slate to present themselves and agreed policies to the electorate?

And a different question (but not completely different in the minds of some of that potential slate above, I suspect):

Should a party that presents itself to some supporters as revolutionary, to some others as radical, participate in a coalition with one of the traditional ruling class parties to form a government?

Against either of those possibilities, groups of anarchists and non-Sinn Féin Republicans, in rare agreement, declare that no such initiatives should be supported; the anarchists, because they do not believe in bourgeois elections or parliaments and the republicans, because this is not a Republic which they can legitimise by taking part in their state elections. Some revolutionary socialists and others of varying hues argue that the system will corrupt those who take part in their institutions and provide a long list of those to whom that has happened historically (and both anarchists and republicans can nod their heads in agreement at the list).

Social democrats and some others argue that an election provides an opportunity to put in to power a different administration, one which has the actual power to change things. They argue that it is their duty to take advantage of that opportunity and accept its challenges; they charge their critics with being dreamers who prefer to hold on to their ideological purity for some distant day rather than to address the real situation in the here and now.

TAKE PART IN GOVERNMENT?

There is room for some fruitful debate and discussion around some of these positions but one thing seems clear to me: it can never be permissible for revolutionaries, under any excuse whatsoever, to be part of a government to run the country for the capitalist ruling class. The capitalist ruling class is our enemy and we are irreconcilably hostile to it and must remain so. We work for the day when we can overthrow that class and put the workers in charge and no honeyed words of exception or self-deception can change that fact.

Undermine it from within? Use their institutions against them from the inside? Throughout history, all those who have attempted that (or who pretended to for their own careerism) have shown that far from subverting the system, it was they who were or became subverted.

Yes, it is a philosophical truth that just because something happened before is no guarantee that it will happen again. Even if it happened every time in the past. Although jumping from the tenth floor of a building on to hard ground has killed hundreds over time, it is philosophically possible that someone could survive it now – even unharmed. But it is not a scientific nor a historical probability. One is entitled to try it with one’s own life but not with the lives of others.

Those who formed Fianna Fáil crossed over that line not long after they split from Sinn Féin: not only that but the party soon became, despite its Republican and nationalist roots and rhetoric of being for a 32-County Republic, the preferred political party of the Irish foreign-dependent capitalist class in the 26 Counties and virtually unknown in the Six.

A Fianna Fáil election poster, possibly 1950s or ’60s.
Source: irishelectionliterature.com

The Sinn Féin we know today (Provisional Sinn Féin, as they no longer like to be called), the largest survivor of a number of large and smaller organisational splits since the days of the creation of Fianna Fáil, also crossed over that line. In a sense, they did so in an even worse (or more obvious) way than had Fianna Fáil – Sinn Féin participated in a colonial government, the administration of an armed foreign aggressor.

Old FF election poste: “There’s a better way” (source: internet)

That party is heading for entry into a capitalist coalition government in the 26 Counties, if only it can find a partner willing to accept it for the dance. Based on its history in government in the Six Counties and some other measures, the SF party leadership strives to prove to the Irish capitalist class that it can be trusted to manage the system, alone or in partnership with one of the main capitalist parties.

There’s a better way with SF too, apparently. A much more recent Sinn Féin election poster. (source: internet)

The President of the party has said that “Sinn Féin doesn’t have a problem with capitalism”. The party’s leadership refused to support the “Don’t register, don’t pay” slogan of the early campaigns against the Household Tax and later against the Water Charge (the first was defeated by popular resistance following those slogans and the second is on hold, due to a number of factors ultimately arising out of popular resistance). Dublin local authority councillors of the party voted to hand over public land on a prime Dublin site to private property speculators. The party’s leadership has shown itself publicly welcoming to every imperialist or zionist representative to visit them, including the mass-murdering political leadership of the USA and the British monarch and Commander of the Armed Forces which is enforcing the occupation of one fifth of the country.

But it is not only necessary for SF’s leadership to convince the Irish ruling class (and its foreign partners) – in order to get elected, it has to also convince its own following and thousands outside of that. So some anti-imperialist and left posturing is necessary. Of course it is opposed to the Water Charge and was also opposed to the Household Tax, it tells people – it was just that it couldn’t ask people to risk going to jail and losing their homes by taking part in civil disobedience. And it does put some of its followers out on the street in demonstrations against the Water Charge.

In defence of the vote of Dublin City councillors, it declares that through the deal, it got funding for a percentage of public housing on the site – wasn’t that good? Perhaps, but better than a 100% public building program of its own on its own land, using the many construction workers currently idle? Hardly. And once public land is gone, it is gone for ever (well, forever short of the kind of revolution that SF declares to be unrealistic).

So Left words for its potential voting public, soothing words to its long-suffering membership and acts of collaboration and collusion (and signals of more of the same) to the ruling class. And for the collaborationist careerists jumping into the party.

A SLATE OF REVOLUTIONARY AND RADICAL LEFT CANDIDATES

A revolutionary coalition with SF, even if it were to agree to such a thing, would be for any movement of resistance to cut its own throat. But what of the other parties, groupings and independent political activists?

In my opinion, it might well be worth supporting an attempt to create such a coalition, presenting a list of revolutionary or even radically progressive demands.

“But isn’t that reformist and in contradiction to the revolutionary vision?” If it were reformist, i.e with only the intention of reforming, I would say yes, it is in clear contradiction to our vision. If it were to suspend popular organisation and mobilisation and to put its faith in the outcome of the elections, I would be against it.

Workers’ and soldiers’ barricade, Paris Commune 1871. Revolutionaries took part in elections prior to the establishment under arms of the Commune, the first time in history a city was taken and put under workers’ rule.
(Photo source: internet)

But the intention here should be to form a revolutionary and/or radical Parliamentary Opposition, putting forward radical reforms which would, if achieved, make living conditions and resistance much easier for the working people and extortion and repression much more difficult for the ruling class. And meanwhile revolutionaries should never cease in their revolutionary propaganda that only the overthrow of the ruling class can bring about deep and permanent changes for the benefit of the working class.

Tom Stokes, a commentator on political affairs and media reporting for many years, in August 2015 published a list of policies or demands upon which such a slate could be based, upon which they could campaign (https://theirishrepublic.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/broad-left-policy-platform-essential-now/). Although the manifesto did not gather much publicly-expressed support at the time, it seemed to me then and seems still to be a worthwhile initiative and one to consider for any builders of a putative Left electoral slate.

A POSSIBLE LEFT SLATE MANIFESTO

This is the list which Stokes published, without any claim to it being definitive. However, a list of demands for a Slate of candidates to agree to cannot be exhaustive – there will have to give and take, as he acknowledged. The important thing from a revolutionary point of view should be that it points the way forward to resolving the economic problems facing the working class and the majority of the people in general and to the radical improvement of their rights. Further on, I give my own thoughts on this manifesto.
1 Adequate, affordable, secure housing as a right, where necessary through public provision.

2 A single-tier publicly funded, secular and excellent education system with no provision from the exchequer for private fee-paying schools with exclusive enrollment policies. Religious instruction outside school-hours. Ending the university-controlled points system for third-level entry. Free third-level or vocational education/training subject to contractual obligation to work within the state for any three of first five years post-graduation with debt-related penalties for non-compliance.

3 The right of all children to adequate housing, nourishment and provision of health and care according to need, guaranteed by the state.

4 The right of workers to employment, or to further education or training as required, including those who wish re-enter the labour ‘market’.

5 A living wage, the ending of oppressive zero-hour contracts, workers’ right-to-organise and right-to-negotiate guaranteed by the state.

6 Full equality for women including pay-rates, personal autonomy and dignity including reproductive rights. Repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Provision of supports for mothers and carers commensurate with their contribution to society for that work.

7 State ownership of essential services, natural resources & physical infrastructure. Constitutional provision for public ownership of water and protection of Mother Earth.

8 Empowerment of communities, starting with disadvantaged communities – rural and urban. State support for community initiatives to achieve personal and community empowerment.

9 Strong laws against public and private corruption with strict sanctions. Ending political appointments to judiciary. Curbing legal costs for citizens. Equal access to civil courts regardless of means. Refocusing criminal justice system and penal system. Taking politics out of policing in favour of civic obligations.

10 Realigning taxation system to shift burden towards wealthiest. Ending tax-exile status, tax loopholes and tax-havens. Enforcing Corporation Tax.

11 Properly codifying the state’s position on neutrality, opposition to war, concentration on international and intra-national conflict-resolution and peace-keeping. Adherence to international codes on prevention of torture, refugees, humanitarian obligations, etc.

12 Proper commitment to reunify the people of the island through concerted, direct, rational dialogue with the objective of creating a fully representative all-Ireland parliament based on equality, respect and civil and religious freedoms.

13 Greater local and regional democratic control as appropriate. Making government fully accountable to parliament and the people. Creation of a democratically elected upper house to speed legislation and as a counter to excessive power of parliament. Installing a publicly accessible online register of lobbyists and a publicly accessible tendering system for state acquisitions, both updated daily.

14 Regulation of media in terms of ownership and the public’s right to essential information, fairly and accurately delivered. Active fostering of ideological diversity in media in the public interest. Insistence on journalistic ethics in the public interest. Higher values of Public Service Broadcasting a requirement for state media.

15 A commitment to expedite a widespread public consultation process towards creating a new constitution for a genuine republic.

Let us examine these demands now.

1. Decent, affordable housing is an obvious necessity so as not to have people sleeping on the streets, families in unsuitable accommodation, people at the mercy of landlords and others slaving to pay the monthly rent or mortgage. And public provision is the obvious way to provide this.

2. The right to secular education as a norm is a basic democratic right and should have been a Republican demand from the outset. No church should be permitted to exercise any control over admission to — or content of — education; any religious group that wishes its children to be instructed in its religion should pay for that themselves and provide it outside of school hours. And unless we have free third-level education only those already more privileged will be able to avail of it or will plunge themselves into debt in order to do so.

(I am unsure about the inflicting penalties for not working within the State after graduation – if we provide a decent economic and social environment it seems to me that most people would want to stay or to return after they had left and we should avoid coercion where possible).

3. Children are our future and must be accorded full legal and social protection – the contrary to what our State has done for decades. How can we disagree with that?

4 &5. It seems to me that we can combine these under the right of workers to employment and training and organisation. Further, workers must be permitted to exercise their latent power in order to ensure those things are provided. We need the acknowledgement and legalisation not only of the right to strike in defence of the demands of one’s own workplace but in support of others. This would remove a gag and chain on the working class at present which prevents trade unionists, at threat of the sequestration of all or part of their funds, from supporting action by workers who are in weaker positions. If the Left Slate were to achieve this alone, even though it could all be nullified later, it would be a great step forward. Were they not to succeed in achieving it, their raising it as an objective on their platform would be a strong indication of the direction for workers to take.

6. Full equality for women under the law must be a central demand of any democratic platform. The right to abortion is a recognised right in all liberal and socialist societies with the exception of Muslim states, the USA and the 26 Counties. I myself am in support of that right but it remains a divisive issue among the largest alternative movement in this state, the Republican movement and is opposed by many others. This issue should be discussed in any Left electoral slate. Nevertheless, Amendment 8 to the Constitution has no right there and should be removed.

7. One would think that demanding State ownership of all Ireland’s natural resources would be unopposed within a Left Coalition slate. I am not convinced that would be so. And since I do not expect socialism to arrive through a parliamentary majority, I would settle for some specified areas: oil, gas, water infrastructure, sea, rivers and lakes. And public transport, water infrastructure, roads and telecommunications infrastructure.

The abolition of the Water Charge would be popular and is obviously a necessity on a number of levels, not least the democratic one that maintenance of a drinkable water supply has already been paid for in two different taxes. A change in the Constitution that would put our water services beyond privatisation would also be a great relief and a step forward.

8. No-one considering a Left Electoral Slate organisation is going to argue with “empowerment ….. of disadvantaged communities” — the difficulties will arise over how to interpret that demand, what will be the specific targets and timeframes, the amount of financial investment.

9. This is an extremely wide-ranging point. Clearly the judiciary should be separate from other forms of administration or political interests. Clearly too, those who hold posts of public responsibility should suffer strong sanctions should they behave corruptly while in office. And obviously, given a democratic society’s reliance on law to manage their affairs, taking cases should not be the prerogative of the rich, which means reducing the cost of such procedures drastically, including appeals. And it seems to me that most people would support such changes, though they would be frantically opposed by special interest groups.

10. Realigning the tax burden to fall upon the rich and closing tax loopholes (more like tax flood gates!) for the rich, ending exile tax status etc all seem commendable and fair to the people, the majority of the population, who bear the actual burden of a number of taxes. And the Left Slate could push those objectives on to whatever government gets elected, as popular demands which the bourgeois parties (and their compromisers) could not concede. But careful! The revolutionaries inside the Left Slate should make it clear that they are not for fairer taxes on the rich and working people, but instead for the expropriation of the rich, whose stolen wealth is to returned to the working class. We do not intend to become part of any government inside a capitalist society, for reasons I shall go into a little further on.

11. There is no question but that the position of the Left Slate should be for a real neutrality on the part of the State, making it increasingly difficult for the ruling class to indulge any dreams of returning to a British Commonwealth or to joining NATO. Such alliances have dire consequences not only for millions of people abroad but also ultimately at home – one consequence alone would be to facilitate foreign military intervention in the 26-County state in the event of an insurrection or even the election of a Left-leaning government. Alliances of that sort always include a “mutual assistance” clause and we can be sure that the “mutual assistance” envisaged is one between the capitalist ruling classes of the various states.

Prevention of torture should be a human rights requirement of every nation and state but, on the contrary, it is ensured in practice by none. Those who complain of their followers being tortured have been shown time and time again to be willing to inflict it themselves – always for the “highest” of reasons. There is no reason to believe therefore that no participants among the Left Slate will at some point, finding conditions favouring such a practice, indulge in it themselves. But the Slate should in any case incorporate it into its program. And thereby also, it might be said, strive to build some protection for its own members and supporters from such practices by the Gardaí and prison guards.

In the field of human rights and under the principles of internationalist solidarity, it is clear too that a Left Slate should advocate and push for a humane regime for the processing of refugees and migrant workers and their integration into the population.

12. This seems like a progressive demand but actually I do not support it. This is something perhaps for a revolutionary government and such can only come about after the overthrow of capitalism.

But I do think that the Left Slate should advocate the reunification of the island and religious freedom. Understanding the composition of the Irish Left, inclusion of reunification in the Manifesto is bound to run into difficulties from some quarters – revolutionaries, not just Republicans, will have to consider whether to compromise to some extent on this demand for an agreed Left Slate manifesto (while retaining their own political demands outside of that) and, if so, how to do so.

13. The creation of a register of political lobbyists is not actually a revolutionary demand but I think revolutionaries should support it. Such a register will help to expose the lines of communication and mutual assistance of capitalist political parties and the capitalists themselves. The same goes for tendering for State and local authority projects. But I do not support the rest of those demands. They seem to me to envisage a Left Government, trying to make the system better and, at the same time, stabilising it. This is not what revolutionaries are about. Besides which it seems to me that the creation of another parliamentary tier is counter-democratic and would tend to increased bureaucracy.

14. I understand the motivation for this but find it difficult to envisage how it might be achieves. Anti-monopoly legislation might for a while hamper media monopolisation but the experience of other countries shows that ultimately, it will not be successful. Enforcing a system of right of reply (as distinct from a voluntary one adopted by the media) for those who feel they have been misrepresented in the media is one possibility. Another might be enforcing the right of publication of a counter-report when substantiation can be provided on, for example, the numbers reported as attending a demonstration or the events during a confrontation between police and demonstrators.

But definitely, the Left Slate should push for the lifting of State restrictions on community radio and television, with the aim of facilitating a diversity of such broadcasting, including news reporting, political commentary, cultural performance and discussion, etc.

15. I do not oppose this point nor do I endorse it. A new Constitution worth having, in my view, is a revolutionary one and as such, can only be properly conceived of by a population that has passed through a revolutionary process and been, in the course of that, revolutionised and empowered.

SHOULD REVOLUTIONARIES SUPPORT THE FORMATION OF A LEFT SLATE?

“OK, so let us imagine that a credible Left Slate is agreed and presents itself for election. Should revolutionaries ask people to vote for it?”

I think so. But it should also be clear that organisation and mobilisation in struggle and resistance should not diminish one iota but, on the contrary, intensify. And revolutionaries should clearly tell the public that only the complete overthrow of the ruling class can usher in lasting change – and that the working class should prepare themselves for that struggle. But also that, whatever members of that coalition slate may say or do, the revolutionaries will never participate in any administration of the old system, i.e no national government prior to the overthrow of the capitalist system and the expropriation of the capitalist class.

“Perhaps revolutionaries should then just ignore the Left slate and concentrate exclusively on revolutionary work – organising and supporting campaigns of resistance, ideological and historical education?”

I strongly disagree. Campaigning for such a slate would bring revolutionary ideology to thousands of working people who are currently unreachable by the revolutionaries. And many people will want to know what revolutionaries think of the Left Slate and of its policies.

And anyway, just because we are revolutionaries, does that mean we are against reforms? Not at all – in our history as revolutionaries, we have been some of the most resolute campaigners for reforms and defenders of them when they have been won! However we are not reformists – the kind of people who believe in a radical or steady improvement in life by reforms but leaving the capitalist system in place.

But we are for reforms that strengthen the working class, the movement of resistance. For examples: the right of workers to combine and strike; the shorter working week and safety legislation; the abolition of child labour; universal education; the right to vote for all adults regardless of gender or property; equal rights regardless of sexuality; abolition of slavery; abolition of racist laws and regulations; the right to oppose invasion; separation of Church and State; the right to protest and campaign politically; the right to freedom of speech and of the press; universal free health care; free or cheap childcare; low-rental housing. These were all rights that we fought for and many were hard-won.

“OK, so revolutionaries could organise electoral support work for the Left Slate – but surely not participate in the actual Slate? Revolutionaries should not present any candidates, of course.”

But why not? We are not against elections in all cases. We elect people to responsible positions in our organisations, decide policies by vote at congresses, decide tactical and strategic aims by voting too. What we are against is not voting but bourgeois elections, where no real change is offered, where we are encouraged to put our faith in some representatives of the existing system and to leave things in their hands for a number of years with little control over what they say or do. Revolutionaries can make it clear that is not what we are about as well as making it clear what we are about, what we intend to do if elected – and if elected, stick to that.

Revolutionary representatives within the Dáil (the Irish Parliament), elected as part of a Left Slate, can work among the other successful candidates of the Slate to strengthen adherence to the list of demands and to combat drift away from them or towards other concessions to the ruling class.

And if we are part of the discussion on the Manifesto and the Slate, we can also participate in the fight to agree that Manifesto in the first place because it is certain that will not be an easy struggle. But let us never forget that the role of the Left in any Parliament should be to support the struggles of the working people outside – not the other way around.

NO TO A LEFT GOVERNMENT

As revolutionaries, we are for the overthrow of the system, the expropriation of the rich, the empowerment of the working people. There will be arguments and discussions about how best to achieve those aims and that’s fine. Let the people, participating in those discussions, decide, experiment, make mistakes, revise. But that can only really take place in practice when the people hold revolutionary power, i.e after the overthrow of the capitalist system.

(Photo source: internet)

Should a situation exist where a Left Government be elected, or looks likely to be elected, the social democracts and liberals will quickly call for slowing down, for less struggle, to let them get under way. At this point the capitalist class must be weak, perhaps divided among themselves on how to respond, perhaps unsure of the reliability of their repressive forces, the police and army. Or perhaps, though weakened, the ruling class is merely biding its time, organising a coup or some other event. Or, very likely, instead or in addition to the above, they are working with elements inside the Left Government or Party to seduce them, to arrange compromises, etc.

This is the point at which revolutionaries, far from resting and wait-and-see, far from facilitating a Government that is trying to stabilise the system in its hour of difficulty, should instead intensify their mobilisations, their actions, and organise the people more militantly and more daringly, pushing for more rapid enactments of popular demands. Should the ruling class be paralysed or indecisive, they should be shocked further and further, exactly as their disaster capitalists have done to national systems, as described by Naomi Klein in Shock Doctrine (2007).

We can hardly be free do all that from inside a Left Government.

Of course those in the Left Government will plead with us and with the people to give them more time; they will tell the people their great plans, perhaps plead their difficulties. They will accuse the revolutionaries of being disrupters, wreckers, saboteurs …. They may send their police to arrest us.

It will not be the first time in our history to be accused of such things. And in a sense, they will be right — we do intend to wreck the system and we do intend to wreck their project of stabilising it. We intend to overthrow it all and to bring in socialism, the organisation of society and its productive forces and resources by and for the benefit of the people. And that’s the wheel we’ll keep pushing and rolling.

End

 

Iinks:

Old election posters: https://irishelectionliterature.com/tag/old-fianna-fail-election-poster/

Dear Joan — Shocked!

Diarmuid Breatnach

Dear Joan,

I am so shocked at that verdict. What a travesty! That’s the trouble with the jury system, I often thought – it doesn’t always do what’s right. A pity you couldn’t have brought them to the Special Criminal Court, where there’s no jury at all. I bet you regret you and the Party voting against the Special Criminal Court in 2009. The judge did her best but what can you do with the likes of them – who knows where they dragged that jury up from! ‘Not Guilty’ indeed!

I attended court while you were giving evidence and I thought you were magnificent. Four days in the witness box and you managed to answer hardly any question put to you by the Defence lawyers. And in the course of it, still managing to get digs in at the Defendants — those Communist and Republican agitators! It was a most impressive performance!

Of course, in another court, on another day, you might not have got away with it so much but all due credit for playing the field and taking full advantage of the referee you had!

I have to say, your assistant Karen O’Connell was quite good too, even if she only played half the time you did – two days, wasn’t it? I had to get back to our business by then – have to keep an eye on the staff — but I read about it.

Joan Burton, Irish Labour Party
(Image source: Internet)

A pity about her slip at Jobstown, however, calling them “dregs” …. But they ARE the dregs aren’t they? Unemployed and probably all on drugs, probably unmarried, letting their kids run around and who knows what, not that I’m prejudiced but just calling it like it is. But Karen should have remembered it’s the votes of the dregs you and your party need too. Not that I’m political, really – I just want the country managed so that we can run our businesses without having disruption, or having to look over our shoulder ….

It was clever how you all tried to get over that slip, by her saying that what she meant by “dregs” was “the remainder, like what’s left in a cup of tea” … but I don’t think most people believed it. Your request to be allowed to view the video footage on your own first because you were becoming emotional was brilliant, though! Those who know you in the Dáil wouldn’t fall for you being that soft for one minute but it was a really good one to play on the jury.

How outrageous that the Defence were able to use your own Ipad conversations against you! That really shouldn’t be allowed. Doesn’t it come under an “invasion of privacy” or something? How disgusting to know their slimy hands were on recordings of your voices and of the Gardaí – makes me shudder just to think about it!

And you were right, years ago, to complain about these protesters having Ipads, just for videoing at protests. There they were, contradicting Garda evidence with their video footage! Someone should have a word with the Gardaí, though. I understand that if you want to convict someone, you need to have a number of witnesses saying he did or said something wrong. But all agreeing on one sentence which the video proves he didn’t say? That’s just embarrassing our police force! They need some kind of training – a friend called it “stitchup workshops” but funny though that was, of course you’d have to call it something else.

You warned the country about protesters having Ipads but did they listen? No, of course not – in fact some of them mocked you. They should introduce a licencing sytem for Ipads, like for guns …. and none of those yobbos would get a license.

I have to commend the fighting spirit of your daughter, Aoife. I heard she took up an extra seating spot beside her with her bag in the public gallery so none of that scum could sit beside her and, when one of them tried to, said that the area was reserved for “victims”! Brilliant! With an attitude like that, I can see her in government some day! You must be really proud of her.

What a shame the court usher wouldn’t support her, making her pick up her bag and allow one of the crowd to sit next to her. Where did they all come from? The courtroom was packed every day and hardly a one from your own Party!

The Jobstown Seven
(Image source: Internet)

That other chap, the younger yobbo, the one who got convicted of kidnapping, Jay something …. Jay Walker? No … that’s one of the characters in Star Wars, isn’t it? Anyway, HE wasn’t allowed to bring his protesting entourage into the Juvenile Court in Smithfield. That’s a much better way to manage things.

I told you two years ago, when I heard about what they did to you at Jobstown, how outraged I was and how much I felt for you (why is it called Jobstown anyway? There’s hardly a single job out there!). I don’t know why you can’t have an armed escort when you visit wild places – imagine Hillary Clinton going to visit Iraq or Afghanistan without travelling in an armoured vehicle with an Army escort!

Or maybe you could go in and out of an area like that in a helicopter, like the Army did in South Armagh. They’d have to build helipads on top of buildings ….. wait a minute, think of the extra employment! Fianna Fáil would be glad to get in on the contracts for that, I’m sure.

What I’m worried about now is …. what most people are worried about ….. well, most people who count ….. is: will the courts be able to get convictions now against those who are coming up in the next couple of Jobstown trials?

Yours always,

 

Gombina Plunderall.

 

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.

UNITY – IS IT A GOOD THING?

Diarmuid Breatnach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IRELAND AND CHINA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PEOPLE, UNITED, CAN NEVER BE …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IRELAND TODAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRINCIPLES AND TACTICS OF UNITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, the principles developed in the example were:

  • The maximum unity on the minimum task

  • Unity in practice more than in words

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

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

  • Open to all who join on the same basis

  • Democratic decision-making

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

FOOTNOTES

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

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

MINISTERIAL MEDICINE

(Created by Bart Hoppenbrouers & Diarmuid Breatnach)

Finian McGrath was an independent Teachta Dála (member of the Irish parliament) but recently joined in coalition with Fine Gael to allow them to form a minority government (with the other major party, Fianna Fáil, abstaining if they did not agree with a FG proposal, thereby ensuring the minority government could not be outvoted.  Recently Finian McGrath was also awarded a Minister’s post.DMcGrath's Medicine bottle

Previously Finian McGrath declared that he was opposed to the water charge — against which there is a huge popular movement — and would not be paying it.  However, when he was told that, as a Minister, he would be expected to give an example and pay it, he decided he would do so.

DMG Medicine label

A Marvelous Medicine Used for Years in the Curing of Rebelliousness of the Spirit, troubling Visions of Utopia and Declarations of Constancy.

As an Unguent

  • Helps dispel painful Resistance and Stiffness of Spine

  • Lubricates Joints, facilitating Climbing, Bowing, Kneeling and Bending over

As a Tonic

  • Eases painful Swallowing of Principles

  • Gives Relief from painful Twinges of Conscience

  • Facilitates Production of necessary Excuses