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

 

Two Water Meter Protesters Charged and Remanded in Custody

D. Breatnach

From Irish Collonic News:

Two Water-Privatisation protester activists were charged this week with criminal activities — refused bail as being a danger to the public, they were sent to Mountjoy Jail.

Sean Doyle head crop

Sean Doyle, one of the protesters charged and refused bail

The two, Eamon McGrath and Sean Doyle, both resident at addresses in Wicklow, were part of a group picketing the land of Mr. ‘Rowdy’ Nolan, who is renting his Rathcoole land out to GM Sierra to use as a local depot for the installation of Irish Water meters in the Wicklow area.  Both men are suffering from medical conditions and are reported to be pensioners.

Eamonn McGrath, one of the protesters charged and refused bail

Eamonn McGrath, one of the protesters charged and refused bail

On Monday 9th May, Mr. Nolan was incensed to find some protesters picketing outside his Rathcoole property and that some GM Sierra contractors were not driving through them. In order to demonstrate how things should be done, he backed his four-wheel drive vehicle into one of the protesters, Eamon McGrath, and left him limping away.

According to videos and photos taken at the scene, Mr. Nolan then quickly got out of his vehicle and approached a woman who was videoing him, and appeared to knock her and her phone camera to the ground. Not wasting a second, Mr. Nolan then turned on one of the demonstrators — Mr. Doyle — and seizing him around the head and neck, proceeded to bang his head against the rear of his vehicle.

A number of other protesters then intervened to restrain Mr. Rowdy Nolan, as did a number of Gardaí.

Subsequently, Messrs. McGrath and Doyle were arrested by Gardaí and charged under the BLIPP legislation (“Behaviour Likely to Interfere with Profits and Privatisation”) with “Failing sufficiently quickly to get out of the way of a reversing vehicle” (Mr. McGrath) and “Malicious damage with head to a vehicle” (Mr. Doyle).  They were refused bail and kept overnight in police cells.

Mr. 'Rowdy' Nolan leaving his car after backing into Mr. McGrath and just before his foray into the protesters.

Mr. ‘Rowdy’ Nolan leaving his car after backing into Mr. McGrath and just before his foray into the protesters.

The following day both men were taken to court by Gardaí, where Mr. Doyle had the effrontery to claim that he was not guilty and to make use of the opportunity to make derogatory statements about bankers, property speculators, the Government and to cast aspersions on their management of the country and to suggest it is all being done for the benefit of the rich.

The judge presiding considered the two to be too dangerous to release into the community and remanded them in custody in Mountjoy Jail until Thursday morning, when they were due to appear at Bray Magistrate’s Court.

Protesters claimed that the proceedings at Bray Magistrates’ were barred to members of the public which led to some controversy outside.  Speaking from behind a line of Public Order Unit Gardaí, a Court official, who declined to be named, addressed some people who had been refused admittance: “There is no barring of members of the public”, he said.  “It’s just that after we admitted the 25 members of the Gardaí, there was no room left for anyone else.”  Challenged to deny that refusal of admittance was abusing the civil rights of the accused and of the public, a Garda was heard to say: “You lot and your bloody civil rights!  Where do you think yez are?”  Another Court official responded: “We can’t be letting every Tom, Dick and Harry into court buildings.  We have work to be getting on with.”  A woman in the crowd was heard to respond: “Forget about Tom, Dick and Harry, it’s Joseph and Mary Public you should be letting in!”  The court official did not deign to reply.

Ms. Eva Blushyrt, Secretary of the lobbying group SLOBB (Speculators, Land Owners, Businessmen and Bankers), which has been supporting Mr. Nolan, said that it was outrageous that “decent, business people” are being “harried just for making profits any way they can.” Ms. Blushyrt added that “perhaps it is time to consider bringing back hanging for such dangerous enemies of the status quo”. In the meantime she called for “stiff, exemplary prison sentences” for both men.

Another member of SLOBB, who has interests in a central area of north Dublin inner city, alleged that both arrested men had also been campaigning for the preservation of a number of historical buildings there and blocking the development of a badly-needed quarter-mile square shopping mall in the city centre.

Mr. Nolan, with the backing of SLOBB’s legal representation, is reported to be considering legal action against the Gardaí for alleged assault. “They laid hands upon him,” said a representative of SLOBB, “and technically that’s an assault.” Mr. Nolan is said to be furious with the Gardaí and one of his SLOBB supporters was heard to say that “If the Gardaí can’t put manners on the mob with their truncheons, then at least they shouldn’t interfere when members of the public like him do so.”

One of Mr. Nolan’s neighbours commented about him that “He’s just a gentle giant.”  She appeared puzzled as to how he gained the nickname “Rowdy”.

Supporters of the men stated that a number of protests would take place at different locations at 6pm on Thursday evening.  A number of left-wing Councillors and 13 TDs, including a number representing Wicklow constituencies, have signed a statement calling for the release of Messrs. McGrath and Doyle. Ms. Blushyrt became quite angry when informed of this development and called for the public representatives’ disbarment from their elected positions for what she alleged was “blatant interference in the legal system and in its time-honoured role of defending the status quo”.

THERE IS ONE ROAD FOR US AND NO THIRD WAY

Diarmuid Breatnach

As we enter the New Year, be prepared for attempts to engage us with a whipped-up excitement of elections and “new” ways of doing things. A diversion — something like a cross between those periodic shows like the Eurovision Song Context and the Lottery. And like the lottery, there will be a winner but it won’t be us. Whichever party or combination of parties succeeds, it will be the ruling class that wins.  A diversion in the other sense too, in that it seeks to divert us from our path.

There is no third way, there are no alternative routes, short cuts, slip roads. There is the revolutionary road and the other.  The other leads to the continuation of capitalism.  But the other road is often represented as a number of different roads, and the only difference between them is in the degrees of exploitation and repression it will deliver. The non-revolutionary road can  NEVER lead to social justice.

To be sure, there are many slip roads and byways on the non-revolutionary road but none of them lead to revolution; therefore they do not lead to socialism and therefore nor do they lead to overcoming the capitalist attacks on the working people and the continuing penetration of imperialism into our way of governing ourselves and our social provision, into our natural resources and into our labour power.

Every now and again, a “new” road is proposed, in which “new alliances” are sought, projects to “build a broader front” away from “clichés” and “slogans of the past”. And it turns out that there is nothing new in these roads except the words being used and sometimes not even those. There is talk of accumulation or summation of forces, for which some objectives must be dropped, for which descriptions must be toned down, for which slogans that mean many different things to different people have to be adopted. Well, either they are heading (and wanting us to follow) for capitalism or they are heading for socialism – there are no other destinations. And if they are heading for socialism, why do they not say so? Why do they not reveal their full program?

There are those who say we can reach socialism by building this wide movement with deliberately unclear slogans and program, building on the hostility towards the present state of things and the dominant political parties. How can that be, if there are basically only two roads? How can this wide movement of discontent displace the ruling class and their system, if it is not consciously heading up the road of revolution? It seems that at some point the curtain will be whipped aside by the socialists in these wide movements and the masses will be shown the monster of capitalism and will realise it is so horrible that it must be killed. And of course they will do it. How? Ah, that’s a step too far, comrade, stick with us, trust us, we’ll tell you when the moment comes.

One can see the fates of Syriza in government in Greece and of Podemos in opposition in the Spanish state to see the enormous expectations that are raised and then cruelly dashed. We have seen the like before in our history in Ireland and we will see that again. As we go into 2016 we will have such illusions of a possible electoral socialist future dangled before us, though on a smaller scale.

Elect Sinn Féin and we’ll have a really different situation, a real change – or so we are told. Nonsense – a party that has never seriously confronted capitalism, a party in fact whose President says publicly (and without correction by his party) that it does not have a problem with Capitalism. A party tried in government of a kind already, albeit in a colonial statelet, that has demonstrated itself unwilling to make a determined stand for social justice in welfare and education and which has maintained a colonial repressive police force. This is also a party which has openly welcomed leaders of US and British imperialism and signaled its acceptance of the treason of the ANC leadership to the South African masses. In the 26-Counties this party showed its eagerness to impress the ruling class with how “responsible” and “law-abiding” it is, so much so that they are not even willing to endorse the civil disobedience tactics of refusal to register for the Water Charge and refusal to pay the charge.

Perhaps, once in the Dáil they might become a revolutionary socialist party? One can of course hope (or pray) for miracles but one has no right to expect them.

Another illusion being dangled before us is the election of some kind of “Left-wing coalition”, whether it would include SF or not. We have a Dáil of 166 seats so it would be necessary to elect no less than 84 to have an absolute majority – a coalition of 84 independents, TDs from small socialist parties and whoever! And what program will this “Left-wing coalition” have that all 84 can be expected to adhere to? We don’t know and we have no revolutionary mass movement which has put forward the demands to incorporate into such a program. There is no need to even consider what measures the ruling capitalist class would take should there ever be a Dáil majority with a revolutionary program – we are not within an ass’ bray of such a moment.

Yes, I said we have no revolutionary mass movement — but I was not dismissing (nor “dissing”) the movement of resistance. For two years we have had a wide and numerous movement of resistance to the Water Charge or Tax, carrying on from the previous movements against the Household Tax and the Property Charge. With regards to the latter two, the first was successful but the second was successfully bypassed by the State  by changing the law, enabling the State to collect the charge directly from our income. Whether this was illegal or not is beside the point – they did it and anyway, to whom does the law belong if not to them? Certainly not to us!

With regard to the remaining one, the movement of popular resistance to the Water Charge continues, even without much central leadership, without the practical support of the trade union movement. Those absences may have prevented it being completely taken over by opportunists and careerists and state agents but it has also prevented it from waging a campaign of sustained resistance, of presenting an agreed slate of demands of sponsors and of candidates for election, of putting real pressure on the trade union leaderships and of regular mobilisation of numbers to defend resisters being hounded through the courts and threatened with imprisonment. Nevertheless, the resistance continues.

But we should not fool ourselves that the campaign is revolutionary – it does not have as an objective the overthrow of the capitalist system. To be sure, some and even many of its supporters may wish for that – but it is not an objective of the campaign. In fact, even the demand of the abolition of the Water Charge is not a revolutionary demand — that can be achieved without overthrowing the system.

For revolutionaries, reforms and partial gains are not things to be ignored. We take our stand on them with regard to a number of criteria. In the case of the Water Charge, the great thing is that it was and is being resisted by civil disobedience and if this tax should be eventually defeated through this tactic we should celebrate the victory. We should proclaim that resistance does work, that breaking the law of the State is necessary when it impedes our progress. And that the campaign has exposed the role of the State – legislature, police and courts in repression and service of capitalism. But we should be clear with the movement that it is, however great, a temporary victory – the system remains and while that is so we are open to many, many other attacks which we can safely predict will follow.

The victory of the movement of civil resistance can be put to use for revolution – in terms of tactical and strategic lessons learned by individuals, communities and organisations. The pool of revolutionary activists can be enlarged. This can best be done in the context of a revolutionary movement which is not something we have but which it is not beyond our capabilities to build. But it will not be built by elections nor by electoral campaigns.

As the elections approach we will be gabbled at from nearly every quarter: Vote for Us! Vote Against Them! Vote for Me! Then there will be the shrill “You Must Vote!” and “You Have No Right to Criticise If You Don’t Vote!” And even the fewer but also shrill voices that shout “Don’t Vote!” and “You’re Supporting the System If You Vote!” Really, what a lot of nonsense all of that is. The system will neither be changed by us voting in its elections nor will it overthrown by us not voting in them. Nor will voting in them strengthen it significantly, except in the case of a popular boycott which is not even on the political horizon.

There is an Irish Republican tradition of standing in elections and not taking seats in the Dáil and whether one is a genuine revolutionary or Republican (choose whichever label you prefer) is judged by whether one takes that seat or not if elected. This seems to me to be a false test. There have been revolutionaries who took seats in parliaments on the one hand and on the other, reformists within revolutionary and resistance movements who worked away without taking parliamentary seats. While it is true that opportunists and careerists often wish to enter parliaments in order to further their careers and to pay off their senior party supporters, there is no guarantee that not doing so will prevent activists from being corrupted and co-opted. There are so many other rewards the system has to offer – a secure job, seat on a company board, status and recognition, special awards, publication of writings, career advancement, jobs in various institutions and civil service, funding of one’s project as a non-government organisation, paid expenses, paid travel ….. along with safety from the danger of arrest, the dawn raid, the assassin’s bullet, torture, years in prison.

We can of course vote for individuals in order to keep other individuals out or to put someone we like in or to maintain a useful few voices in the Dáil. But let us not fool ourselves that is really making a difference to the system as such. Only revolution can do that. Of course the revolutionary road is not without its switchbacks, potholes and blind turnings. Nevertheless, it is the only viable road and if we are not heading up it then we are not going to bring about any real or lasting change.

Vote or don’t but the crucial thing is to organise resistance, to contribute to it practically and ideologically. And the latter does mean not spreading illusions.

end

DUBLIN REPUBLICAN MEETING HEARS KURDISH REPRESENTATIVE, INDEPENDENT TD, GARVAGHY ROAD VETERAN AND REPUBLICAN PARTY LEADER

Diarmuid Breatnach

Breandán Mac Cionnaith, Erdelan Baran, Clare Daly and Brian Leeson took turns to address a meeting in Wynne’s hotel on Saturday. The speakers addressed a large audience in the open part of the conference following the internal Ard-Fheis (annual congress) of the Éirigí Irish Republican party and covered the Garvaghy Road campaign, the history of the Orange Order, the Kurdish struggle (in general and in Rojava/ Kobane in particular), Garda corruption, military use of Shannon airport by US imperialism, theft of Ireland’s natural resources, international imperialism and capitalism versus socialism. The meeting was chaired by Angie McFall.

Meirge mór AF eirigi

Main banner in the meeting room. located behind the panel during the meeting

Breandán Mac Cionnaith is General Secretary of the éirigí party and prominent as a residents’ activist and leader in resisting Loyalist parades through nationalist areas, in particular the Garvaghy and Ormeau Roads and with regard to the Drumcree siege. Until 2007 he was prominent in Sinn Féin but left the party that year after SF had agreed to support the colonial police force, the PSNI (formerly the RUC).

Preceded by the screening of a video of resistance to Loyalist marches in the Garvaghy Road, Mac Cionnaith gave an account of the formation of the Orange Order and its role from the inception of the Order and through its development. He also gave a detailed account of the long history of Orange marches through the Garvaghy Road and other areas, the siege of Drumcree and the people’s resistance, answered by sectarian murders of Catholics in the area.

Ardoyne protest 12th July 2000

Ardoyne protest 12th July 2000

The talk revealed that the Orange Order had been created at a time of revolutionary unity between sections of Protestants and of Catholics and that its purpose was to fracture that unity, which it carried out. It was from the beginning a sectarian, reactionary organisation serving the interests of the colonial ruling class in Ireland.

Along with its allied organisations such as the Apprentice Boys, the Order has a long history of provocation of Catholic areas through triumphalist marching, a practice defended by the colonial police force and in modern times until recently by the British Army. In one confrontation, Mac Cionnaith used available statistics to demonstrate that two British soldiers had been deployed for every resident of the area.

People protesting Loyalist marches on Garvaghy Road being attacked by the PSNI in 19977

People protesting Loyalist marches on Garvaghy Road being attacked by the RUC (forerunners of the PSNI) in 19977

After the break, the Cathaoirleach welcomed and introduced Erdelan Baran, a representative of the Kurdish National Congress. Erdelan’s command of English is excellent and he presented his talk well, using a few slides on an electronic display to emphasise his points, including a map showing the Kurdish population and its spread over the borders of the states of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.

The audience heard that the religion of most Kurds had been Zoroastrianism but that this had been reduced by Islamicisation. The Kurds had not been recognised as a separate nation or even really as a separate ethnic group by regimes ruling them and had suffered much repression in each of those states.

Erdelan Baran focused in particular on the development of the PKK, a party founded in 1978 by Kurdish students led by Abdullah Ocalan in a village not very far from the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in the south-east of the Turkish state. The party named itself The Workers’ Party of Kurdistan and combined communist ideology with struggle for an independent state. It was subject to repression which increased dramatically after the 1980 right-wing military coup d’état, with imprisonment and executions of its activists and others fleeing to Syria.

Less Photogenic Kurd Women Fighters

Women unit fighters of the PKK during the 1980s

The PKK developed its armed struggle which included women’s units (Erdelan showed a slide of PKK women in uniform bearing arms).

Oҫalan was captured in 1999 and imprisoned on an island in the Turkish state. He since called for a change in objectives, i.e for the movement to seek confederalism instead of a state, a system of self-determination for each area and not based on any ethnic group or national territory. Erdelan pointed towards the administrations which had been set up in Rocajava as an example of this and also of equality towards women – 80% of representation was required to be in equal gender balance.

Since the emergence and attacks of ISIL in Syria, the YPG, a development of the PKK, has been fighting fierce battles against ISIL and established liberated areas in which other groups such as the Yazidis and Turkmen have taken part in defence and administration.

Erdelan mentioned very briefly the peace process espoused by the PKK and the refusal of the Turkish government to engage in it.

Female YPD fighters in Rojava

Female YPG fighters in the Rojava area

Erdelan finished his presentation to strong applause and the Cathaoirleach indicated that there was limited time for questions. Four people addressed comments and questions from the floor one of which criticised aspects of the PKKs policy and three of which were complimentary (see final part including Comment for further details), to all of which Erdelan responded,

A break was called again by the Cathaoirleach and when the conference reconvened, she announced that Clare Daly and Brian Leeson would speak one after the other, without time for questions from the floor.

THE BARREL OF ROTTEN APPLES

A short video about popular opposition to the water charges was played showing éirigí in action before the Cathaoirleach introduced Clare Daly as the next speaker, referring to her as an Independent socialist TD. Daly took the lectern, joking that she was obviously “a warm-up act for Brian Leeson”.

Clare Daly spoke with passion about a long history of cases of Garda corruption, saying that an earlier perception of there being perhaps “a few rotten apples in the Garda barrel” had changed over the years and that now perhaps instead people believed that there might be a few good apples in a rotten barrel. Daly pointed towards the forced resignations of Alan Shatter (as Minister for Justice) and of senior Garda officers and to the whistle-blowers within the force who had used the issue of exemptions on penalty points to highlight corruption within the Gardaí. She predicted that there would be further scandals.

Clare Daly (centre, in denims) and Mick Wallace (end right) on picket line recently outside Dept. of Justice, Dublin

Daly commented on how when in the Dáil she and Mick Wallace began to expose Garda corruption they were treated as some kind of shockingly disgusting people and that even those TDs concerned with civil liberties counseled them not to take on the Gardaí. But the perception of the Gardaí publicly has now changed and this has had its impact on the Dáil. It was the struggles of the people – in particular perhaps around the water charge – and the behaviour of the Gardaí against local communities resisting – which had led to the general change of public opinion. This had facilitated and been strengthened by the exposure of a number of scandals.

Turning to the use of Shannon Airport by the US Military on its way to invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, in violation of Irish neutrality, Daly gave examples of some of the evidence available, not only from observers outside the airport but also from staff inside. One of these declared that he had stolen a gun from a plane in US military use at Shannon and of course, he could not be arrested for that since “How could he have stolen a gun from a plane the Irish Government claims is not carrying any weapons?” The planes in use are not only military planes but also chartered civilian ones and Daly gave statistics on the huge amount of US military traffic of weapons and soldiers through the airport, quoting also from a US document (part of the Wikileaks) confirming the importance of Shannon airport to their Middle Eastern military operations.

Daly accused the Irish Government of complicity with US imperialism and its war crimes. A lot of the evidence outlined and more was presented in the trial of Daly and Wallace following their arrest on 22nd July 2014 as they went on to restricted areas of the airport without permission from the authorities. They were there to carry out an inspection of US planes but were arrested and despite the evidence, in April were fined €1,000 each or 30 days in prison. Both declared then and Daly reaffirmed in her talk that they had no intention of paying the fine and await their arrest at any moment.

“There’s not much a small group of left-wing TDs can do in the Dáil to change what’s happening in the country”, said Daly, although she declared herself satisfied with the opportunity to use that forum to publicly expose a lot of what has been going on. Daly declared however that it was with the people that real impetus lay and hailed their resistance, including that of people in the room, in recent years.

THE NEED FOR SOCIALISM

Clare Daly finished her talk to a storm of applause as Brian Leeson, introduced by the Cathaoirleach as Chairperson of the éirigí party, rose to take her place at the lectern, joking that rather than being “a warm-up act” for him, Daly had “stolen his thunder”.

Leeson began his speech by outlining the need for a socialist society and suggested those who say that “Socialism doesn’t work” should be asked whether they think capitalism is working. He pointed to continual economic and financial crises, unemployment, housing crises in various forms, cuts in social welfare and health care …. and war. Wars, Leeson declared, were an inevitable part of imperialism, which is capitalism’s struggle to control natural resources and markets.

Brian Leeson speaking at an earlier meeting

Brian Leeson speaking at an earlier meeting

“This hotel and these rooms have an important place in our history” said Leeson, relating that a decision to found the Irish Volunteers had been taken in Wynne’s hotel in 1913 and in 1914 Cumann na mBan had been founded there. Commenting on recent and forthcoming centenary commemorations, Leeson said that it was people like those in the room and outside in resistance who had made that history and that the state set up in on the back of those struggles did not represent either the ideals the people had fought for or the wishes of the majority of people in the country now.

Going on to attack the economic policies of the Northern Executive in the Six Counties, Leeson castigated Sinn Féin and the SDLP who he said had given up the only area of financial control that they had and passed the buck on to the British Government. They had the opportunity, he said, to stand resolutely for a budget against social welfare and health care cuts but they passed the buck to the British Government, which implemented those cuts instead. It was essential that the Northern Irish Executive should not collapse, apparently. Leeson questioned why this should be thought so – surely the only justifiable reason to be in any government or Executive was to represent the ordinary people and the disadvantaged!

Leeson also talked about the theft and giving away of our natural resources such as oil and the planned privatisation of water which he said belonged to the people and that no government had the right to give them away nor any company the right to own them.

Leeson paid tribute to Clare Daly who was prepared to advocate for Irish Republicans in prison and had given much support to Stephen Murney and Ursula Ní Shionnaigh. He also made a particular point of welcoming Erdelan Baran and of supporting the struggle of the Kurdish people.

Commenting on discussion around a forthcoming general election in the Irish state (the 26 Counties), Leeson criticised those who talked of campaigns to elect some kind of left-wing alliance. The conditions did not exist for that to be viable project, he said, and to raise people’s hopes only to dash them was cruel and would be demoralising. People should continue their resistance and éirigí would continue their part in that as they had done up until now.

The audience gave Brian Leeson strong applause as he concluded his speech.

There were no questions and answers called for afterwards and the meeting concluded, people standing around talking, purchasing from the merchandise stall, departing or retiring to the nearby bar which had just opened.

COMMENT

Attendance, Organisation, Speeches, Participation

The room was large and full, with accents to be heard from across the country and éirigí will probably be pleased with the level of attendance. The public meeting appeared to be well organised with door security (an invited/ registered list on which my name was not but thankfully I was recognised by several and that formality waived) just outside the meeting while inside, merchandise stall, chairperson, ushers, seating, projector and screen for videos and slides, sound amplification, and professional banners (one bilingual and one in Irish only).

I saw only one photographer whom I assumed to be éirigí’s and, thinking other photos of the attendance might not be permitted, restrained myself to photographing the banners only.

Mac Cionnaith’s talk was somewhat over-long in my opinion and he is also softly spoken, which makes parts difficult to hear – and I was in one of the front seats. He also speaks without a great deal of inflection or emphasis in his delivery which militates against giving him continuing close attention. This is a pity because the content was extremely interesting and contained a lot that was new to me. I was also impressed by the amount of information that he clearly had in his head, since he rarely had to consult his notes.

Such a long talk however is unlikely to be followed by questions and answers and this proved to be the case, with the Cathaoirleach calling a break at the conclusion of Mac Cionnaith’s talk, to be followed by the next speaker on resumption of the conference.

Mac Cionnaith told me later that he usually gives this talk in two parts and with a break between them. I urged him to write and publish it as a pamphlet and I sincerely hope he does so.

Clare Daly’s and Leeson’s talks were clearly audible and well-presented and the meeting was in general well-chaired. I would offer the criticism that the time-tabling did not permit sufficient audience participation in terms of questions and answers or contributions which only occurred, briefly, after the Kurdish speaker – i.e none after the other three speakers.

All the speeches had interesting content and were relevant to political life in Ireland today. Given the organisation’s policy on abortion I would not have expected a talk on that subject, albeit the issue is a very important ongoing one in Ireland. A stranger important omission I thought was the issue of repression of Irish Republican activists both outside and inside the prisons, including the practice of internment by false charge and remand. Stephen Murney, himself an éirigí activist in Newry, had been an important example of victims of this abuse of civil rights.

Another factor was the total absence of spoken Irish from the panel of speakers or the Cathaoirleach (even to the ritual “cúpla focal”) and I am aware that some éirigí activists did express their disappointment at that (both Leeson and McPhall are Irish speakers) after the meeting.

Ideology & Political Policy

The internal part of the meeting had taken place earlier and I was not present at that so these comments refer only to the open public part of the meeting.

It was understandable perhaps that, addressing a conference organised by a party known to have rejected that process in Ireland, the Kurdish speaker skated quickly over the question of Ocalan’s and the PKK’s espousal of a “peace” process. What is less understandable is that from éirigí, no-one rose to criticise it, that being done only by one contributor from the floor, who – after thanking Erdelan in Kurdish — pointed out that such processes do not bring peace and are instead pacification processes, traveling from people in struggle from one country to those in another, subverting their struggles as with South Africa, Palestine, Ireland and now being proposed for the Kurdish people, the Basques, the Colombians, Filipinos …1

The same contributor, while expressing his great admiration for the struggle of the Kurdish people over the years, in support of which he had travelled to Kurdistan in the early 1990s as part of a trade union delegation, raised another two issues of concern to him, which were what he perceived as the elevation of Abdullah Ocalan to iconic status within the main Kurdish movement and that the YPG had declared themselves in alliance with the western coalition in Syria.  Making it clear that he was not a supporter of Assad, the contributor asked the speaker whether he thought the imperialists would hand over control of the country when their current enemy had been defeated?

The contributor’s remarks and question were greeted with scattered applause from the audience.

,Erdelan made no reply at all on the issue of a peace process but replied at length to the issue of Ocalan’s leadership and the use of his image and to a lesser extent to question of alliance with the imperialist coalition.

“Ocalan does not seek to be a leader,” said Erdelan, “and has often said ‘If anyone else wants to take on this job let him have it.’” Aside from the fact that Ocalan’s leadership per se had not been criticised except in promotion of a peace process, this reply and subsequent arguments did not address the issue of the proliferation of Ocalan’s image within the movement, the issue that had been raised by the contributor from the floor. Furthermore, the Kurdish speaker must have been aware that Ocalan had publicly argued against his threatened execution by saying that a peace process was necessary with the Turkish state and that only he could lead the movement towards it. Going on to talk about Ocalan’s 15 political publications, as Erdelan did if anything served only to confirm the adulation in which his person is held by many in the movement. The policy of confederalism is also one developed by Ocalan while in captivity, after he renounced the policy of seeking a Kurdish marxist-leninist state and, subsequently, also renouncing the policy he developed of seeking Kurdish regional autonomy within the Turkish state.

In his reply on the issue of alliance with imperialists, Erdelan was likewise quite disingenuous. He emphasised the success of the fight against ISIL and the gender equality which their administration had brought to their liberated areas, which had been in part lauded already by the contributor from the floor but which did not directly address the issue in any case. Moving on, he referred to the need for survival of the Kurds and beleaguered people and their need for weapons.

After some more of this the contributor objected to the “arms for defence line”, saying that the overall military commander in the Rojava area had publicly stated that the YPG were not only joining the coalition for arms for survival but were going to join in an offensive to overthrow the Assad Government. At this point the Cathaoirleach silenced the contributor from the floor, pointing out not unreasonably that there were others waiting to speak.

The next contributor from the floor welcomed Erdelan to Ireland. He lauded the struggle of the Kurds and the leadership of Ocalan and stated that he and a few others had picketed the Turkish Embassy when the Kurdish leader was under sentence of death. He stated that in Ireland we also often display images of leaders and heroes such as James Connolly and that we do that in order to display our support for their ideals. He lauded the administration of the Rojava areas and stated that he wished to disassociate himself from the comments the previous contributor from the floor had made. He received strong applause.

A visual affirmation of the Irish language displayed at the Ard Fheis this year.

A visual affirmation of the Irish language displayed at the Ard Fheis this year.

This contributor seemed unaware of the difference between the way and the degree to which images of James Connolly are displayed in Ireland and the way in which images of Ocalan are displayed among Kurdish supporters of the PKK. He also missed the most important difference – Connolly is dead and Ocalan is alive. Whatever errors a dead leader made he can make no further ones whereas a living leader can make many more (as history in general and ours in particular has shown) and the iconisation of a living leader makes challenging his/her mistakes within a movement extremely difficult and viewed as something in the order of sacrilege.

Another contributor from the floor asked for some more explanation of the policy of confederalism. In the course of his reply, Erdelan said that it was a democratic system that would preclude territorial expansion and that, for example, the issue of whether someone wanted a nuclear reactor in their area would be entirely a local decision. This reply in fact outlined one of the problems of confederalism in this stage of history since if local people voted in favour, for example with promises of safety and cheap power, the decision would nevertheless potentially affect everyone within a radius of thousands of kilometres – but no-one seemed to pick up on that.

The same member of the audience, responding, enthusiastically commended the Kurdish organisation on their confederalism policy and said that we should have the same here in Ireland. He (and certainly at least some in the audience) appeared unaware that a type of confederalism had been a central part of Sinn Féin’s and Provisional IRA’s progam for many years. The “Éire Nua” was such a program, originally proposed by then SF’s President Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill and strongly supported in practice by Des Fennel. This policy had encountered some opposition within the Provisional movement, particularly from supporters in the Six Counties who feared being left under regional domination of — or in constant contention with — Unionists.

The “Éire Nua” policy was overturned at the 1982 Ard-Fheis (annual conference) of Sinn Féin in what was seen by many as a victory of the Adams group within the leadership over the Ó Bradaigh one. Subsequently the policy of Sinn Féin has been for a united 32-County state and that is also part of éirigí’s policy today. Only Republican Sinn Féin and Cumann na mBan among Republican organisations in Ireland today retain a federal policy.

Overall, it seemed that the majority of the audience either did not feel equipped to engage with the issues in a critical fashion or felt that they would be going against their party (or hosts) to do so. It was highly unlikely that the majority supported the aspiration for a peace process and there must have been at least some disquiet on the issue of joining an imperialist coalition. But they remained silent. There was also of course the cultural issue of hospitality to an invited guest which may have played a part.

However, these are serious questions affecting the revolutionary movements around the world and need to be engaged with critically.

End.

FOOTNOTE

1    Is mise a rinneadh sin. I also took part in actions for the removal of the execution threat to Ocalan while having a number of discussions with Kurdish activists on the issue of iconisation. In general I worked for a number of years in London in Kurdish solidarity with people who supported the PKK and some who did not, including submitting motions to trade union branches and going on that delegation around much of northern Kurdistan in the early 1990s when it was still a war zone there. In Ireland I took part in a few pickets with Kurdish comrades and was discussing setting up a solidarity network here but some of the principal activists left the country.

While I was conscious that some others who I know would have had similar views to the concerns I expressed kept away from me, some activists did approach me during the break to express their approval of my comments, in particular on the issue of making an icon of a living leader. They had experienced a similar process with the promotion of Gerry Adams within Sinn Féin before leaving the organisation to join éirigí or to become independent activists. Nobody likes isolation and I was grateful not only for their comments but for visibly approaching me in the meeting area in view of anyone who cared to see.

STILL MARCHING AGAINST WATER TAX — 100,000-130,000 CONVERGE ON O’CONNELL STREET

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

Any hope that the Irish capitalist ruling class and their current government had that people had given up — or even had just got tired of marching — were dashed on Sunday 29th August 2015.

Hundreds of thousands gathered again from far and near; banners were on display from the West, South, North-East and North-West, Midlands, and of course many parts of Dublin and the East coast.Water woman face on

Water woman looking to left

The main march columns started off from two train stations: Connolly Station, to the east of the city and Heuston, to the west. The latter contingent crossed the river at the station then marched eastward towards the city centre along the southern quays while the other marched westward along the northern quays and then crossed the river to the north side further upriver (Essex Bridge) and turned towards the city centre. Both columns had contingents and individuals joining them en route while others went straight towards O’Connell Street, they were greeted by a musical performance from the main stage by Don Baker and other musicians, also a performance by a rapper.

Aerial shot of rally in O'Connell Street (photo: Communities Against the Water Charge)

Aerial shot of rally in O’Connell Street (photo: Communities Against the Water Charge)

STATE REPRESSION

State repression was focused on at times: the Jobstown 23 banner got strong applause from bystanders at various points along the route, another banner denounced Garda violence including pepper-spraying and a number of speakers spoke about Garda repression, including one who talked about the Special Branch opening files on anti-water tax resisters.

This banner got strong applause from bystanders at various points along the route

This banner got strong applause from bystanders at various points along the route

Stop Garda Violence banner

As usual on large demonstrations of this kind, the Gardai refrained from violence or bullying and in fact were in very low profile, in stark contrast to their behaviour and numbers when dealing with smaller numbers in local resistance to water tax and the installation of water meters.

ELECTIONS, TRADE UNIONS

Among the speakers there was of course much mention of elections and getting rid of the current capiltalist government and also statements about the fight for the Republic in history, compared bleakly to the situation in Ireland today with unemployement, emigration, cuts to services, homelessness, privatisation. John Douglas, Gen. Secretary of Mandate and President of Mandate covered many of those issues, including the Dunne’s Stores dispute and the sudden closure of Clery’s in a rousing speech. However, those two are cases in point illustrating the weakness of the Irish trade union movement today: Mandate had one day’s strike in Dunnes’ many weeks ago and have won no gains as yet, while Clery’s managed to sack their workers without the union leading even a sit-in to hold the building and stock as a bargaining chip

Belfast Trades Council banner on the demonstration -- they also had a speaker on the platform

Belfast Trades Council banner on the demonstration — they also had a speaker on the platform

A new presence on this demonstration was Belfast Trade Council, who were made very welcome and who had a speaker on the platform. He said that there was no EU directive to tax the water and that in the Six Counties they had defeated the water tax. He was not long speaking when the heavens opened and rain poured down on demonstrators and bystanders alike.

Three heads plus Galway group

SUMMARY

What today showed is a strong will to resist across the country and across a great age spread, but with noticeably lower numbers across the teenage and young adult band, as well as a relatively weak leadership of the movement.

It remains to be seen whether RTÉ and newspapers will give a reasonable estimate of the numbers and coverage or instead do the usual of quoting ridiculously low figures or remain vague about them while giving minimal space to what was a large event, with participation from around the nation, as part of the biggest civil disobedience campaign in the history of this State.

End

Video of unaccompanied rapper Stephen Murphy at rally

At the Mayo v. Dublin GAA football game in Croke Park the following day, on Hill 16.

At the Mayo v. Dublin GAA football game in Croke Park the following day, on Hill 16 (Photo from Right to Water FB page)

 

(Postcript: In their on-line report, RTÉ showed a photo of a packed O’Connell St. and said the organisers were claiming around 80,000.  Also, at the Dublin GAA football match of Mayo v. Dublin the following day in Croke Park, attended by Enda Kenny, whose seat is in that county, Dublin supporters unfurled a giant banner of Right to Water).

 

(Photos unless otherwise stated: D. Breatnach)