CATALONIAN FIREFIGHTER AND TRADE UNIONIST SPEAKS IN DUBLIN

by Clive Sulish

A Catalonian firefighter and trade unionist addressed a Dublin audience to talk about the independence for Catalonia movement and the role of the trade unions in it, the repression from the Spanish State and the how the firefighters found themselves between the rampaging Spanish police and referendum voters on the 1st of October 2017.

Panel and screen at the Dublin meeting. Oriol is seated in the middle.

With some words in Irish and then speaking in English, the Chair of the meeting, Marc Loan of CDR Dublin welcomed the mostly-Irish audience to the meeting in Club na Múinteoirí (Teachers’ Club) on 13th November and outlined how the presentation would go, before opening up to questions and contributions from the audience. The meeting was part of a short tour of Irish cities by a Catalonian firefighter and trade unionist, organised jointly by three Ireland-based organisations in solidarity with Catalonia: With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, ANC Ireland and CDR Dublin.

The room lights were dimmed and an electronic presentation operated by Carles Pujol of the Irish branch of the ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia) took the audience through dates in the history of Catalonia as a nation and its relationship with the Spanish Kingdom. Then the presentation switched to some dates in international recognition of the right to self-determination of peoples, before focusing on the fairly recent attempts of the Catalan Government to legislate for its needs, legislation reduced or eliminated by subsequent judgements of the Spanish court. And thence to the Referendum on Independence of 1st October 2017, at which point the Chair presented the guest speaker.

Section of audience in the meeting and presentation screen.

The Chair introduced the firefighter from Catalonia, a slim tanned man in his forties, with shaved and balding head and lively brown eyes. Oriol Duch had the previous day addressed an audience in Derry, hosted by Derry Trades Council and the day before that in Queen’s University Belfast, organised by Belfast ANC. Mr. Duch had worked at one job or another since the age of sixteen, had been a firefighter for 15 years and a member of his union, Intersindical CSC, for seven of those. From its website, Intersindical declares itself to be a class trade union, which is to say that it specifically excludes members of state repressive forces, senior officials of state departments or management officials of companies. Mr. Duch is employed as a firefighter at the Girona Airport, Catalonia but also volunteers for the firefighting service of the Catalan Government administration, the Generalitat.

Oriol Duchs posing for a photograph outside the family and business home of the Pearse family, home of brothers Patrick and William, executed by British firing squads in 1916.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

“WE ARE NOT HEROES”

          As Oriol Duch spoke about the involvement of the firefighters as a defensive screen for voters in the October 1st Referendum in Catalonia, the projection screen showed massive crowds marching and demonstrating for independence. Catalonian firefighters had taken part in uniform in a number of those demonstrations for the democratic right to self-determination and had organised a demonstration of their own (seen on the poster for the speaking tour). The firefighters had discussed what to do since the Spanish Government had threatened the Referendum organisers and social media was full of threats too from right-wingers, including Spanish police officers and Army members. They knew that among the masses coming out to vote, there would be vulnerable people including the elderly and children and decided that those who wished to would turn out voluntarily in their uniforms and stand between the Spanish police and the crowds wanting to vote.

Manus O’Riordan, whose father fought in the International Brigades at Gandesa, mentioned a song for Catalonia he had liked and sang his translation of it into English there and then. As the applause died down, an Irish voice called for the national song of Catalonia, a song of workers’ resistance, the Els Segadors (the Reapers), which all Catalans present sang, the whole audience standing in respect.

Bringing the meeting to a close, the Chair thanked the guest speaker, the panel and the audience for their attendance and contributions (a thanks separately expressed by Oriol Duchs too) and encouraged them to keep in touch with the three solidarity organisations. He also expressed the organisers’ gratitude to the Dublin Fire Brigade and to the Teachers’ Club.

Poster for the Catalan firefighter tour shows one of the events organised by Catalan firefighters in support of self-determination for Catalonia.
(Poster design: CDR Dublin)

On the day, the firefighters distributed themselves around in a number of places, Oriol Duch told his audience, by ad hoc arrangements, the organisers arranging by texts to send firefighters to areas where they were felt to be needed. On the Sunday in question, as voters queued outside the polling stations, mostly schools closed for the day, convoys of police arrived with Spanish police in riot gear who charged into the buildings, breaking down doors and windows, to beat people and seize ballot boxes. They also attacked people waiting to vote with batons, boots and fists, Oriol Duch said, as the firefighters attempted to stand between the unarmed civilians and the police. Over 800 people that day had required medical treatment, he said (including a number of firefighters).

As the firefighter from Catalonia spoke, the presentation began to show scenes of Spanish police beating people with their truncheons, throwing others to the ground, kicking and punching them, pulling people by their hair and putting them in choke holds

“People have called the firefighters heroes but we do not see ourselves that way,” he said. “We were doing what we could to protect people and save lives, which is what we do in our job.”

DFB officer showing Oriol some of the equipment in a DFB truck.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Carles Pujol, Oriol & Diarmuid Breatnach inside the Dublin Fire Brigade museum.

A MASS MOVEMENT FOR SELF-DETERMINATION

          The Catalonian movement for independence is a mass movement that has been built especially by grassroots organisations, which have pushed the Catalan independentist political parties forward. Chief among these grassroots organisations is the National Assembly of Catalonia (whose former President, Jordi Sanchez, is one of the independentist activists jailed recently by the Spanish court). Firefighters for the Republic, of which Oriol is an active member, is a sub-group of the ANC.

Since the police attacks, others have come forward to direct mass resistance, in particular after the jail sentences of 9-13 years on seven elected public representatives and two leaders of grassroots organisations (ANC and Omnium Cultural) were announced in October. The “Catalan Tsunami” organisation contacted supporters through social media and masses followed their direction. For example, when the call to flood the Barcelona Airport with people had gone out, thousands had walked kilometres to get there and despite police violence, had effectively shut the airport down for hours. More recently, people had for a weekend closed by blockade one of two main motorways from the French State into the Spanish one, which passes through Catalonia (the other, passing through the Basque Country, was more recently shut down by Basques also — CS).

Oriol Duchs told the Dublin audience that the repression of peaceful people by the Spanish State included heavy jail sentences for “sedition” and police attacks on people in the street, “including firing rubber bullets, the use of which are banned in Catalonia but that is ignored by the Spanish police”. News media has reported that victims of rubber bullets fired at close range directly at people, contrary to instructions on their use, have caused a number of people recently to lose an eye. However, the police cannot control the masses of people, Oriol said.

After the applause for the Catalan firefighter had died down, the Chair opened the meeting to questions and comments from the audience.

Among the comments was that of an Irish woman who had been in Catalonia during the Referendum and talked about the frightening advance of the Spanish police in their riot gear and with their weapons. She disagreed with what Oriol Duchs had said in only one particular: “You ARE heroes”, she said, to applause and cheering from the audience.

An Irishman who had been there too as an international observer spoke about the police attack, which he said was fascist in nature. Another Irishwoman who had been there in a similar capacity said that she had witnessed much police violence but that the scenes depicted on the screen had reminded her just how violent those had been. She asked what people in Ireland could do to help.

From the panel the advice was to support Catalonia solidarity activities, to stay in touch through of the Catalonian solidarity organisations in Dublin, whilst from the floor an Irishman said that people should tell the elected public representatives what was going on and call for statements of support and interventions to the Spanish Government.

This brought about discussion of the posture of the Irish Government, as in recent Dáil questions to the Depart of Foreign Affairs, the responsible Minister of State had reiterated the Government line, that it was an internal matter for the Spanish State, that the rule of law had to be maintained and that the Spanish State is a democratic one with separation of judiciary and government executive. An intervention from the floor pointed out that one of the TDs (parliamentary delegates) had pointed out that in 1919 the First Dáil (Irish Parliament) had declared its independence of Britain and issued a call to the democratic nations of the world asking for recognition, although it was in violation of British constitution and law. The First Dáil had been declared illegal a few months later and its delegates hunted, arrested and jailed. “Catalonia today is Ireland 100 years ago,” he had said. Without the stance taken by that First Dáil, predecessors of all other parliaments of Ireland since, the present Government would not even exist nor would that Minister’s Department, the man commented..

“The struggle in Catalonia and the repression by the Spanish State is not ‘an internal matter for the Spanish State’”, Oriol Duch said. “It is a problem for Europe.”

Manus O’Riordan, whose father fought in the International Brigades at Gandesa, mentioned a song for Catalonia he had liked and sang his translation of it into English there and then. As the applause died down, an Irish voice called for the national song of Catalonia, a song of workers’ resistance, the Els Segadors (the Reapers), which all Catalans present sang, the whole audience standing in respect.

Bringing the meeting to a close, the Chair thanked the guest speaker, the panel and the audience for their attendance and contributions (a thanks separately expressed by Oriol Duchs too) and encouraged them to keep in touch with the three solidarity organisations. He also expressed the organisers’ gratitude to the Dublin Fire Brigade and to the Teachers’ Club.

Some of the attendance stayed around in the bar area to discuss for another hour or so.

Oriol Duchs with Derry Trades Council and other Catalan solidarity supporters on 11th November.
(Photo: C.Pujol)

POSTSCRIPT

          According to information contained in a press statement issued more recently by the speaking tour organisers, Oriol Duchs the following day paid a fraternal visit to a fire station of the Dublin Fire Brigade, as well as to the DFB’s Training Centre and Museum and was given a conducted tour of all three facilities. Also in Dublin, the firefighter had visited Leinster House hosted by Independents For Change TD Thomas Pringle, where he had met TDs Maureen O’Sullivan (Ind4C), Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Sinn Féin) and Éamon Ó Cuív (Fianna Fáil) along with Senators Paul Gavan and Máire Devine (both Sinn Féin). In a related but separate building he had also met with TDs Gino Kenny and Richard Boyd Barrett (both members of Solidarity/ People Before Profit). Oriol Duchs also took part, shared with a Kurdish representative, in a seminar on international law organised by the Law faculty of Griffiths College, Dublin.

In Belfast on Monday he had spoken in Queen’s University Belfast without contact with any political representatives but in Derry had met Eamon McCann and Shaun Harkin, both members of Solidarity/ People Before Profit and public representatives on Strabane and Derry District Council, as well as Elisha McCallion, Sinn Féin MP for Foyle at Westminster,

He met too with Derry Trades Council which, indeed, had hosted his public meeting in that city. How was it then that, considering his publicity promotion as a trade unionist, member of a trade union that organised three general strikes in Catalonia since 2017, the press statement issued by the speaking tour organisers included no mention of engagement with Irish trade unionists in Dublin, in a city where so many Irish trade unions had their head offices?

“That was not for want of trying,” responded Diarmuid Breatnach, a member of With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, to the question. “We contacted a number of trade union organisations in Dublin in order to host a public meeting or to meet with Oriol privately. One trade union quoted us commercial hire prices and failed to respond afterwards, another promised a meeting but failed to make arrangements, a number simply did not reply. It was sad, really, not only for solidarity with Catalonia, for I think Irish trade unionists would have benefited much from the interaction with Oriol and his trade union.”

Hopefully they will display a different attitude to any future such visits.

End.

Oriol in Leinster House with Carles Pujol, Cnclr. Micheál Mac Donncha (left) and Senator Paul Gavan (right).

CATALAN SOLIDARITY

Oriol in meeting with TDs Richard Boyd Barrett and Gino Kenny, also present are Diarmuid Breatnach and Tina McVeigh from With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin.
(Photo: C.Pujol)

ORGANISATIONS IN DUBLIN (joint organisers of the speaking tour)

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

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

IVY RESTAURANT PULLS THE BLINDS ON THE TRUTH

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 3 minutes)

Section of the picketers showing Dublin Trades Council banner.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Ivy Restaurant management in Dublin’s Dawson Street at one o’clock this afternoon ordered the blinds to be pulled down on the windows. This is their usual response when demonstrators arrive to picket their restaurant, as they did today. The Ivy restaurant is part of a profitable chain and in Dublin at least is using tips paid to staff by customers to help make up the staff’s wages. Bluntly, stealing tips that were paid for service by customers who assumed they were in addition to wages already received (which, as everyone knows, are low enough in the “hospitality” trade).

Some passing vehicles beeped in solidarity and many passers-by took photographs or video as the picketers lined up with placards and some banners and shouted:

Eat your steak, eat your chips, pay the staff their well-earned tips.”

Also: “Pay the workers what they’re due!”

Section of picketers
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

One observer enquired why the staff put up with it and did they have a union; he was informed that they had but two staff were sacked for organising the union and the remaining and replacement staff are frightened not only of losing their jobs but also of getting a bad reference for other work. Such staff are often migrants who are vulnerable, in need of work to buy food and pay rent and without a support network such as family in Ireland.

The sector has long been known as one of insecure work, few rights, low unionisation and low pay. However, the deduction of customers’ tips to incorporate them into staff wages seems a new low for this sector and the Ivy is by no means the only restaurant doing this. But here is where the battle has broken out and here it must be won, to encourage workers in this sector and to make it known to restaurant owners that this practice will not be tolerated.

The issue and the practice of the Ivy has been reported a number of times in the mainstream media and the solidarity protesters come every now and again, set up their placards, hand out leaflets to passers-by and shout their slogans. The Management draw the blinds. The picketers leave after about an hour (many to go back to work) and the blinds are lifted again. But the campaign has affected their business. And Unite the Union, which is supporting the sacked staff, is setting up a hospitality sector branch.

Section of picketers including both TDs (members of the Irish Parliament, the Dáil).
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Today a number of elected public representatives were on the picket line, including Cieran Perry, Independent DC Councillor and Independent TDs Thomas Pringle and Joan Collins.

If you want to support the campaign you may wish to share their posts and find other ways to help through the Stop Tip Theft Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SupporttheIvyWorkers.ie/

end.

NULLIFYING FASCISM IN IRELAND

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time10 mins)

As fascism begins again to raise its ugly head in Ireland, it is necessary for all its opponents, whether social-democrats, revolutionary socialists of various types or democrats, to consider effective means to restrain its growth and to nullify its influence upon the ordinary masses of Irish society. These masses are at this point generally hostile to fascism and to racism (a seed-bed of fascism) but that can change and in history, has changed before, not just in other lands but in Ireland too during the 1930s.

          Traditionally, the views on effective means of defeating fascism in western european society have varied between defeating their arguments, legislating against them or denying them any public space within which to grow. It might be useful to briefly examine the premise and experience of these different approaches in order to evaluate their efficacy.

DENYING FASCISM ANY PUBLIC SPACE

          Taking the last case above first, most active antifascists, whether Anarchist, Irish Republican, Communist or Socialist, proclaim the need to physically prevent fascists gathering in public spaces or on platforms. This approach puts these elements into direct confrontation with the forces of the State which see the methods of the Antifa as illegal, as subverting their own roles and, often enough at different times, as a threat to their own plans for repression of resistance to regimes of austerity. 1

In 1970s Britain, those who advocated such an approach, despite the fairly recent history of the War Against Fascism and the 1930s struggles in Britain, were in a small minority and seen, not just by social-democrats and liberals but also by most of the socialist and communist Left, as “ultra-leftists”, “adventurists” or just plain “hooligans and thugs”.

Attempt by Sir Oswald Mosely, leader of the British Union of Fascists (Blackshirts) to rebuild the fascist movement meets clear resistance in 1960s Manchester.
(Photo source: Internet)
Depiction of an earlier anti-fascist event, the Battle of Cable Street 1936, mainly against London Metropolitan Police escorting Blackshirts to Jewish settlement area in East London.
(Photo source: Internet)

A small English marxist-leninist party2, with its African, Asian and Latin American student connections, promoted the “no free speech for fascists” policy and managed, for awhile, to have the similar “no platform for fascists” policy adopted by the National Union of Students. Some revolutionary Communists, Socialists and Anarchists combined with some militant groups of the ethnic minorities targeted by the fascists to pursue this policy on the streets. The National Front and the British Movement found their marches, meetings, concerts3 and rallies attacked and they were eventually driven off the streets, with many sacrifices in the antifascist movement from the deaths of at least two antifascists4 to jail sentences, heavy fines and physical injuries.

In 2016, the islamophobic party Pegida was prevented by popular direct action from launching itself in Dublin. This approach does seem to have been successful in Britain, at least for decades, and in some other European areas, with ethnic and other minorities gaining a space in which to promote their culture and develop their politics. At the same time, it has to be acknowledge that many of the concerns of the ruling British elite had been successfully addressed or contained during the 1980s: restriction on the trade unions through industrial relations legislation, defeat of the National Union of Miners (1984-’85), of the printing unions at Wapping (1986-87), of the dockers through buy-outs and redundancies; repression of the Irish community through the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act 1974 and the jailing of nearly two score Irish people framed on bombing charges in five separate trials; increasing workers’ insecurity and dependence through large-scale change from being renter-occupiers to mortgage holders.

The sinking instead of launching of Pegida in Dublin, 2016.
Cartoon by D.Breatnach)

LEGISLATING AGAINST FASCISM

          Legislating against fascism in western european democracies has largely been imposed opportunistically, as with France, Spain and the UK, as the ruling elites faced up to war with states where fascism was already dominant. In the Spanish state it proved ineffective and heroic popular resistance was ferociously overcome by a military-fascist uprising backed by the resources of two fascist states, while the ‘democracies’ stood by or imposed a blockade on relief for the beleaguered Republic. In France, any measures were nullified by the German Nazi invasion. In the UK, the measures proved effective due to the wartime posture of the ruling elites, facing a possible invasion and needing a mobilisation of the entire population to resist that possibility5. In the Irish state, where a new quasi-Republican government was facing the real possibility of a fascist coup aided by elements in the military, some banning measures were effective but these were preceded and assisted by popular mobilisation and direct action against the Blueshirts.

After the defeat of fascism by war and popular resistance, antifascist legislation was imposed on the defeated fascist states by victorious insurgents or by conquering forces. But today, fascism is on the rise in all those states that have been the subject of antifascist legislation. In the Spanish state, where fascism was victorious and remained so for three decades, fascists and their crimes were actually protected and, despite the democratic veneer of the “Transition”, no action was taken against fascists openly parading, displaying fascist paraphernalia and honouring fascist leaders such as General Franco and Primo Rivera (founder of the fascist Falange).

Liberal, social-democratic and even some socialist elements call for the State to bring in and to enforce legislation against “hate speech”. However, apart from being an insufficient answer, the label of “hate speech” has been used in the Spanish state to penalise denunciation of the Spanish State and its police forces.

DEFEATING THE ARGUMENTS OF FASCISM

          Defeating the arguments of fascism, such as racist propaganda against ethnic minorities and for special rights for one section of the population, conservative and homophobic ideology, arguments in favour of male superiority, are argued to be necessary to defeat fascism since legal repression and active suppression can only drive those forces temporarily underground, from where sooner or later, they will emerge again.

Not quite the same but a similar non-State and pacific line is that the fascists need to be over-awed by the mobilisation of their opponents and their pariah status demonstrated to a passive public by the mass of anti-fascist numbers.

In the 1970s and 1980s in Britain, this was the dominant line among anti-fascists, among social-democrats such as the Labour Party, liberals, the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Trotskyists of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and of the Socialist Workers’ Party6. Their first tactic upon hearing of a plan for a fascist mobilisation was to build an antifascist mobilisation near the same point, to show large numbers opposing and hopefully outnumbering the fascists.

However, the fascists were already attacking ethnic minorities and other groups and hanging around oppositional mobilisations to pick off individuals or small groups. They had also attacked a number of antifascist public meetings with clubs and bottles and even a gas spray into eyes. Left-wing paper sellers were targeted on the street. Irish solidarity and other solidarity marches and meetings were also attacked and though certainly the Irish proved able to defend themselves, during the scuffles, the police were able to find an excuse to arrest the Irish marchers.

The leaders of the peaceful opposition to fascism policy refused to change their line and, as the likelihood of violent confrontations between fascists and their opponents increased, would call for a rally near the fascist mobilisation and then lead the antifascist march away from the fascists. The SWP promoted youth concerts under the banner of Rock Against Racism, but the fascists continued to mobilise.

In retrospect, it did seem as though the small and large-scale pitched battles with with fascists and with the police escorting and protecting them were what was demoralising the fascists and leading to splits within their organisation, ultimately defeating the fascist offensive of those decades.

Even so, the leaders of AFA (Anti-Fascist Action) which mobilised most of the successful actions against the British fascist organisations and their mobilisations, certainly in London, argued that it was necessary also to defeat fascism politically7 and that failure to do so would ensure a resurgence of fascism at some time in the future. This prediction has surely come true in Britain with EDL and UKIP, for example.

One of the successful antifascist battles in Portland USA, June 2018.
(Photo source: Internet)

EVALUATING CONCLUSION

          In my opinion, each of these approaches is necessary but overall reliance on any individual approach is likely to bring the democratic forces to tragic defeat.

The model of active denial of a public space has a position of central importance; the action to prevent the launch of Pegida proved successful and no doubt such actions will be necessary again in the future (though perhaps learning from that action to prevent or at least minimise arrests of antifascists).

I do not believe it is the role of antifascists to call for capitalist state action against fascists and any prohibitive legislation should be specifically anti-racist, anti-homophobic etc. A wide catch-all “anti-hate speech” legislation will find revolutionaries its targets more often than it does fascists (as is happening in the Spanish state at the moment).

Defeating the arguments of fascism must have a role in denying the fascists many of their recruits. As in European countries in the 1930s including Ireland and Germany in particular, some of the foot soldiers of the fascists are the oppressed poor, the educationally disadvantaged, the misguided as to who their real enemies are and where they are to be found.

In the 1930s the enemy was portrayed as being the Jews, Communists and homosexuals inside the country, whilst today those bogeymen are replaced by migrants, moslems, gays and supporters the right to choose abortion. In the 1930s the external enemy was the then-dominant European powers, France and the UK, as well as the Soviet Union; today, it is the EU.

It is not the role of anti-fascists to defend the EU (which to my mind is indefensible and which in any case will gain us nothing) but rather to point towards the real enemy, Irish capitalism and foreign imperialism. We need to show that through constant demonstration of examples and by leading struggles against those institutions.

In particular in Ireland it is of the utmost necessity to expose the nationalist posture of the fascists and racists. In two showings of Gemma Doherty supporters in Dublin recently, they flew many Irish tricolours, played ‘rebel songs’ and sang the Irish National Anthem (The Soldiers’ Song, by Republican Peadar Kearney). In a confrontation between them and the anti-fascists, it can seem that the fascists and the racists are upholding the honour of the nation. However the Blueshirts actually upheld the partition of the nation and the granting of a portion to a foreign power and fascists will end up supporting our foreign-dependent capitalist class. In addition, Irish fascists have been seen making overtures to Loyalists in the Six Counties, forces loyal to an occupying power.

James Connolly monument, Dublin. This Irish working-class martyr did not see Ireland until he was sent there in the British Army, from which he soon enough deserted.
(Photo source: Internet)
Constance Markievicz in Irish Citizen Army officer uniform. She was born in England to a planter family.
(Photo source: Internet)
Robert Erskine Childers and wife Molly, bringing rifles into Howth for the Irish Volunteers. Molly was from the USA. Childers was English, later he joined the IRA in the War of Independence and in the Civil War. He was executed by the Irish Free State in 1922.

Apart from the fact that we are all descended from migrants, many of those historic heroes celebrated in ‘rebel songs’ were born abroad, were descended from recent migrants or had at least one foreign parent; that list would include Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy and Mary McCracken, Thomas Davis, Tom Clarke, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Jim Larkin, Constance Markievicz, Eamon De Valera, Erkine and Molly Childers …..

We need to deny the fascists any place in popular anti-capitalist struggles, as successfully done with the brief flare of Yellow Vests organisation in Dublin and will no doubt need to be done again, for example in housing demonstrations.

Migrants need to organise themselves against attacks and increased exploitation and we need to be active in their support. This is the case too for other targeted groups; liberal cries for justice or for the application of “anti-hate speech” legislation will avail them not at all in the long run.

Recent racist and fascist demonstration at the Dáil against proposed legislation banning “hate speech”.
(Photo source: Internet)

Having said that active denial of a public space for fascists is necessary, I would add that secret mobilisations should be for work that needs to be secret; however it is ludicrous to gather secretly and then to march out to stand in front of the fascists shouting at them. That work of visible opposition does need to be done but publicly, with mass mobilisations – antifascist forces should be able to outnumber the fascist and racist mobilisations in Ireland by a factor of ten to one. We should have effective amplification systems, play antifascist songs, and fly relevant flags (in particular, in my opinion, the Starry Plough, flag of the Irish working class in struggle in 1913 and in 1916).

It is crucial for us to realise that without revolutionary answers to crisis, fascism will present false solutions and diversions, calculated to have an appeal to sections of the population. And the revolutionary answers need to be not only theoretical but seen in practice also, actions that seem as though the revolutionaries and their allies are seriously fighting the system to advance the cause of the working people.

Fascism is one of the faces of Capitalism in specific circumstances. Ultimately, as long as capitalism exists, the danger of Fascism will never be far away.

End.

FOOTNOTES:

1Recently the media reported judgement against a number of people who had allegedly attacked Irish fascists while the latter were on their way to the 2016 attempt to launch the Islamophobic party Pegida in Dublin. Others are currently awaiting trial for allegedly attacking apparently Polish fascists who were trying support the same launch. Of all the European countries where the launch of Pegida had been planned, Ireland may be the only one where this was signally unsuccessful.

2English Communist Movement (Marxist-Leninist), which became the EC Party (m-l). It was mostly active in London and Birmingham. The NUS currently has a a “No Platform” policy but which applies to specific organisations and individuals, including some British fascist and racist organisations.

3For example of the fascist skinhead band Skrewdriver.

4Both were killed by London Metropolitan Police truncheons: Kevin Gately, Leeds student of Irish parents, 1974; Blair Peach, New Zealand teacher, 1979.

5In the USA, fascism was only repressed to any great extent when the USA decided to enter the Second World War, which was after the bombing by the Imperial Japanese of Pearl Harbour.

6There were elements within all these sections that did not agree with official line and some acted in opposition to it. The SWP expelled those who practiced direct action against fascists and many of those elements went on to form Red Action and Anti-Fascist Action.

7For this premise and a partial history of the physical struggle against fascist organisations in 1980s and 1990s Britain, see for example, Beating the Fascists – the untold story of Anti-Fascist Action, by Sean Birchall, Freedom Press, 2010.

THE LIBERAL AND THE REVOLUTIONARY

The Liberal and the Revolutionary both uphold struggle and dialogue — but disagree on emphasis and occasion, as this conversation illustrates.

Struggle
(Image source: Internet)

No, you don’t understand. Let me put it this way ….

I do understand. I just don’t agree.

If I could only explain …. I’m sure you would …..

No, we won’t agree because we have a different view of the world, what goes on there and especially what the reasons are.

But surely we can discuss it?

We have.

Don’t you believe in dialogue?

Of course, up to a point and depending on the circumstances.

What do you mean by that?

Well, when the enemy is about to attack your barricades, for example, I believe the time is right to place your defenders and your weapons – not an appropriate time for dialogue.

That’s so dramatic.

Discussion, argument, dialogue (Image source: Internet)

Well, drama happens too.

What if dialogue could prevent the attack on your barricades?

Well, then I’d be for it but I can’t see how that would happen.

That’s because you close your eyes to the possibilities of dialogue.

No, it’s because I open my eyes to the current reality and to history. Let’s look at the barricade situation. Most likely the barricades have gone up to defend an area where the people have seized power. Right?

Well, that’s one possibility.

OK, well let’s explore that possibility. The State sends police and/or troops to attack the barricades, in order to take back control of the area. Right?

Well, yes. They might be under pressure to do so. Concerns about property in the area, law and order and such.

So they want to take control back and we don’t want to give it to them. What’s to be gained by dialogue?

You could persuade them that their concerns about property, law and order and so on are unfounded. You could let a couple of them in to see for themselves. Or you could try to get an intermediary.

Someone like yourself?

Well, actually I have done a mediation course.

Hmmm. And then they’d let us run the area ourselves?

They might. They might not. But without dialogue, how would you know?

Listen, their main concern is to get back control. The better we run our area the more worrying it is for them because it shows another alternative to their capitalist model. And the longer they leave ours running, the more chance that other areas might take the example. So they have to crush us and we have to defend. No middle ground whatsoever. And letting some of them into our area would only give them additional intelligence to better plan their assault and target leaders afterwards, if they are successful.

God! You’re so negative and defensive. There’s no point in trying to persuade you.

Now, that last sentence is something we both agree on. See? No point in dialogue here.

End.

Murder of peasant leader Wat Tyler by King’s man during negotiations 1381, Smithfield
(Image source: unknown artist 20th Century, Internet)

CATALONIA PREPARES FOR GENERAL STRIKE AGAINST REPRESSION AND FOR REFORMS

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: article 5 mins; strike manifesto 5 mins.)

Catalans have been preparing for a one-day general strike since Monday’s announcement of the Spanish National Court sentences against the nine Catalan independence activists, who between them received almost 100 years in jail. Today’s will be the fourth Catalan general strike since the Spanish police attacks on Catalans in October 2017. This strike, according to its main trade union organiser, is not only against repression but also demanding social, economic, political and legal reforms and promises to have massive participation. The trade union organising it is a relatively new one, Intersindical CSC, a class union, which has been growing rapidly.

Photos of faces of the nine sentenced Catalan independence political and grass-roots activists. Between them they have been condemned to virtually 100 years of jail.
(Photo source: Internet)

TSUNAMI OF PROTESTS

          On Monday the Spanish National Court announced the sentences on seven Catalan politicians and two leaders of grassroots organisations on charges of ‘sedition’ and ‘misuse’ of public funds. The ‘sedition’ charges relate to demanding Catalan independence from the Spanish State and the financial ‘misuse’ charge to allegedly funding the Referendum from Catalan Government funds. They were also charged with ‘rebellion’ but since that had already been ruled out of order in test extradition cases for Catalans in exile, the Court had no realistic choice other than to clear them of that charge. The Spanish State is now proceeding with extradition warrants against other Catalan activists known to be in exile in Europe.

In addition, two senior members of the Catalan police force are on trial, 700 town mayors are to be investigated for their role in the Referendum, along with schoolteachers for discussing with their pupils police damage to their school buildings (used as polling stations). Recently seven alleged activists of the Committees for the Defence of the Republic were arrested on “terrorism” charges and two remain incommunicado, long after the usual five days permitted in Spanish State legislation. And others have been arrested in protests against Spanish State repression.

The self-styled “Tsunami” of protests began immediately the sentences were made public. Thousands walked, drove or rode bicycles to the El Prat Airport for Barcelona and effectively closed it down until they lifted the blockade at 10pm. Many others took to the streets of their cities to protest, particularly in front of institutions of the Spanish State, which had mobilised nearly 1,000 police in preparation against them. These were reinforced by the Catalan police, the Mossos D’Escuadra, who were seen as relatively benign during the Referendum and immediately afterwards but are now reverting to their past image — some years ago nearly a dozen of Catalan protesters lost eyes from rubber bullet impacts at close range, which led to a successful popular Catalan campaign to have them banned – but that ban does not apply to Spanish police. Already one young man lost an eye on Monday night while another appears to have lost one testicle and 150 were treated by paramedics. The toll grows and includes two youth run down by police vehicles and more arrests. These figures are certain to grow in the days ahead.

Riot police confront Catalan airport blockaders on Monday (Photo source: Internet)

Thousands are also walking along motorways to other towns in a protest procession, horns of cars, lorries and buses being sounded in solidarity, while different protests gather every night.

Section of the massive crowd of protesters that shut down Barcelona’s airport on Monday.
(Photo source: Internet)

PARALYSIS OF POLITICIANS

          This huge popular wave of resistance contrasts with the seeming paralysis of the pro-independence politicians, who are in three different political coalition parties: Junts X Cat (Together for Catalonia), Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left) and Candidatura de Unidad Popular (People’s Unity Candidacy). The three together form a narrow enough majority in the Catalan regional Parlament against the Spanish unionist delegates of the PP, Ciudadanos and the PSOE, as well as the ‘neutral’ “Communs”, a coalition around the Podemos party. Although the CUP delegates will defend any pro-independence motions etc in the Parlament, they are officially in opposition. JuntsXCat and ERC run the Government together on a slim majority but they disagreed on a number of important issues, including whether to give the minority Spanish PSOE Government qualified support without any concessions from the latter and also, about their resistance campaign being directed by ex-Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, in exile in Brussels, and the group he has collected there.

But their paralysis is more fundamental: despite the activity of some of them in popular movements before they became politicians, their focus has been on electoral strategies and campaigning, preparing legislation for the Parlament and running the Government. For a number of years now the power of the street has been growing and it is clearly in the ascendant now – and that is not where the politicians feel most comfortable. Not only that — but where else now has the Spanish State left any cards to play?

THE TRADE UNIONS

          The main trade unions in the Spanish State are the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) and the Commisiones Obreras (CCOO). After Franco’s death, their legalisation and incorporation into the system was felt essential for the smooth operation of the ‘Transition” and for that reason, the major political party of each was legalised too – the social democratic PSOE and the Communist Party of Spain – so that they could control their unions. They did and they have, despite a history of republicanism and antifascism, and in 1978 ensured votes in favour of a the new monarchical and unionist Constitution while their members and others were being clubbed and shot – or blown up — in the street.

The big SEAT factory in Catalonia has majority representation in the CCOO and UGT trade unions and neither union officially supported the previous recent general strikes. However, there was leeway for ‘allowing’ an early leaving of work to attend strike day demonstrations and UGT has already this week officially condemned the Spanish State repression. How they will react later today remains to be seen.

Intersindical CSC is a ‘class union’ (i.e does not recruit personnel from the repressive arms of the State nor from management) and is in favour of the right to self-determination. Its history is recent but it organised the previous general strikes in conjunction with grass-roots independentist organisations (like the ANC and Omnium) and will do so again. The growth of Intersindical is a a source of worry for the UGT and CCOO in Catalonia.

Catalans blocking railway lines in protest.
(Photo source: Internet)

Later today we can expect blockades of all major motorways and train lines passing through Catalonia, general closures of business, services and public transport of Catalonia’s cities and massive demonstrations in cities, not just Barcelona. What will happen at the docks, airport and the SEAT plant remains to be seen. There will almost certainly be confrontations between strike supporters and the police, both Spanish and Catalan. Whether that will escalate further cannot be forecast but is very possible.

Meanwhile, outside of Catalonia in the Spanish State, both Madrid and the Basque Country hosted massive shows of solidarity on the streets while other cities, for example Caceres in Extremadura and Granada in Andalucia (the two poorest regions of the Spanish state), have seen demonstrations on the streets in solidarity with Catalonia and against the repression of the Spanish State.

Catalan protesters on Tuesday use metal fences as protection against rubber bullets.
(Photo source: Internet)

GENERAL STRIKES — COMMENT

          General strikes, if successful in mobilisation, show the collective strength of the organised workers, ideally in conjunction with their communities (families, relatives, friends, local shops, churches, sport clubs etc).

While that is extremely important in the longer run, they are not always successful in the shorter run or, to be more precise, they often fail to achieve their stated objectives. The stated objectives of this strike cannot be achieved in the short run since they confront not only a capitalist but a neoliberal Spanish ruling class and, furthermore, one in which the majority are undefeated descendants of a fascist-military uprising, civil war and four decades of dictatorship.

The overcoming of these obstacles requires, arguably, a social and political revolution and Catalonia is not at that point yet. But it may be in time, especially if the Spanish State continues to pursue its path of repression (and it is sure to do so). One-day general strikes sometimes grow into longer and sometimes even indefinite ones. Such situations are almost pre-revolutionary situations, with workers’ committees having to organise vast forces and control, manage and defend large areas.

For a Catalonia to be successful in revolution or in secession from the Spanish State alone would require that the State faces challenges on a number of fronts, including internally, that severely restricts its ability to send sufficient repressive forces to Catalonia. Such an outcome would depend completely on mobilisations in other parts of the Spanish state, which is why Spanish State, media and fascist parties’ are practically racist in their hysterical condemnation of Catalan independentism and culture, trying to whip up anti-Catalan feeling to distract from the woeful economic, social and political mess to which most of the Spanish regions have been driven.

End.

Demonstration Barcelona, part of general strike in February, protesting the start of the trial of the independence activists.
(Photo source: Internet)

APPENDIX:

GENERAL STRIKE MANIFESTO OCTOBER 18, 2019 (English language translation)

For rights and freedoms, general strike!

A new Spanish government and a new disappointment. Whether led by the PP or the PSOE, the

social gains never reach the workers. Neoliberal austerity policies persist whoever resides in the Moncloa (Spanish Government), while authoritarian repression against the common classes and, especially, against the Catalan people become the tools to curb any struggle for better living conditions and justice for the majority. As in popular times, state “socialism” now also wraps itself in the Spanish flag and patriotism to cover the miseries of a ’78 regime which strangled the bulk of the population and which is showing more and more cracks.

During election campaign times, certain parties declare limited progressive proposals, which, if they are elected to govern, will be stored again in a drawer to be sold again to the designs of an Ibex 35 (Spanish Stock Market benchmark) that does not tolerate any kind of agreement with forces that question minimally the foundations of the Spanish monarchy: the unalterable privileges of the elites and an indissoluble and centralist state model. Therefore, despite all the changes that the PSOE promised before grasping power, they faded to pass again from opposition to status quo, in another turn of the eternal Spanish political carousel so that nothing changes.

Minimum measures such as derogations from the PP’s labor reform or of the gag law, the withdrawal of vetoes against the social laws of Parliament, the already agreed reception of refugees, the imposition of rent ceilings, the setting up of a tax on banks, the renewal of the regional financing model or the publication of the list of evaders that were covered by the Montoro tax amnesty, all of those became elusive despite previously having been defended vehemently by Pedro Sánchez.

The Catalan working classes know that rights and freedoms are not only begged through voting. We learned that a century ago, after the “Canadian strike” allowed us to achieve the greatest of the victories of that era, the 8-hour working day and retirement at age 65 (The 44-day strike 1919 originating at the principal electricity company in Barcelona, Riesgos y Fuerzas del Ebro, popularly known as La Canadenca because its major shareholder was the Canadian Commercial Bank of Toronto). But not only then – history has stubbornly shown that social advances have only been achieved through struggle. Peaceful, massive and nonviolent, with the general strike as one of the clearest tools of the workers.

And on October 18 we have a new date, a new call for a general strike that should be massive to make it clear that we will not remain unresponsive to the continuing attacks upon us. The disappointment of Sánchez’s brief mandate at the head of the Government, unable to repeal the most damaging measures of Mariano Rajoy’s period, should receive a blunt response in the street, the popular masses need to empower themselves and to declare that they will not allow themselves to be stepped on again, despite the growing criminalization of protest and growing repression against anyone who dares to raise their voice.

Intersindical CSC is clear that the Catalan Republic is an essential tool to overthrow the regime of ’78 and to move towards a horizon of well-being, equality and social justice but even with this horizon always present, the struggle for rights and freedoms of the popular classes cannot cease before any institution. We will remain on our feet, once again on this October 18, to demand all rights and freedoms:

– For a minimum Catalan salary and pensions of at least 1,200 euros to be increased depending on the Catalan Consumer Price Index.

– For the repeal of the labor reforms of 2010 and 2012 and the recovery of all lost labor rights.

– For a Labor Inspection with adequate resources to deal effectively with rights violations.

– For the end of labor inequalities and the wage gap suffered by women, starting with the recovery of the annulled articles of the equality law and which referred to the world of work.

– For a Social Rescue Plan that guarantees free and universal public services, food and housing for the entire population, the comprehensive application of a guaranteed income for the citizenship and a plan for the internalising of public services which are now outsourced.

– For the application of a climate emergency agreement that reduces to zero as quickly as possible the net emissions of greenhouse gases, starting with the reinstatement of the law against climate change which was partially annulled by the Constitutional Court.

– For the approval of the scheduling of payment, unanimously agreed by Parliament, and the setting of a maximum rent level.

– For the reception of refugees, the closure of the Refugee Secure Centres and the repeal of the immigration law, to make Catalonia a truly host country and without second-class citizenship.

– For the recovery of all social laws and taxes approved by Parliament and nullified or suspended by the Spanish courts.

– For the repeal of the gag law

Intersindical-CSC http://www.intersindical-csc.cat G59792226

CHINESE PROTESTS AND COUNTER-PROTESTS IN DUBLIN

(Reading time: 10 mins.)

Diarmuid Breatnach

Chinese people protesting the proposed extradition law in Hong Kong and the repression of protests there by the authorities were outnumbered, out-coloured and out-sung by their Chinese opponents in O’Connell Street on Saturday 31st August. However the counter-protesters gave the impression of having been mobilised through the Chinese Embassy.

          Those protesting the proposed Hong Kong legislation outside the GPO seemed somewhat cowed by the counter-protesters facing them in the central pedestrian reservation. The former had some printed placards while their opponents had a massive banner bearing the legend “We Love Hong Hong”. They also had an effective public address system and a cheer-leader with a microphone and every now and again he got the whole crowd to burst into some Chinese song. Their numbers and coordination made one think of the cast of the film version of the Chinese revolutionary opera “The East Is Red.”

sdr
Counter demonstration in Dublin to Hong Kong protests solidarity demonstration. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

I chanced upon the protest by accident, cycling up O’Connell Street, not having heard about it in advance. As I neared to take a photo, I noted that among the Chinese protesting about Hong Kong, there were some placards of the People Before Profit organisation and some familiar faces.

 

Upon commenting to their leader that they had been outsung (a flippant comment, I’ll admit), he told me that those protesting about events in Hong Kong had felt apprehensive and had asked for solidarity. He commented to me that he would “always support people struggling for democracy, against extradition” etc. Perhaps – but I don’t recall seeing him (or most of his party) on pickets calling for civil rights for Irish Republicans or against their extradition from the Irish state to British administration.

I don’t believe for one minute he and his party prefer Chinese to Irish people but I do think they are much readier to take up cases of injustice where the target is not either the Irish or the British state. Which is curious for an organisation that declares a revolution in Ireland to be necessary.

SOME HONG KONG BACKGROUND

          Hong Kong has a population of around 7,300,000, which includes many who are not nationals. It is a port city of 1,104 sq. Kilometres (426 sq. Miles) and one of the most densely-populated areas in the world.

Hong Kong was occupied by the British in 1812 after they beat the Chinese in the First Opium War, fought by the British in support of their right to sell opium through Chinese ports to the Chinese, which the Emperor unreasonably thought was destroying the Chinese aristocracy and administrative classes.

The British extended their territorial base in Hong Kong to Kowloon in 1860 after beating the Chinese again in the Second Opium War (there were still unreasonable Chinese who didn’t want the British selling opium to them). From 1898 the British ran Hong Kong on the ‘legal’ basis of a 99-year lease (which actually, the British forced the Chinese to grant them) which ran out in 1997. In 1941 the British surrendered Hong Kong to Imperial Japanese forces which remained there until 1945, after which the British took it over again.

The Chinese Emperor having long gone by 1997 and the Taiwan western-supported authorities having no legitimate or believable claim, once the lease ran out, Hong Kong reverted to the main Chinese authorities, i.e the Government of China. Unfortunately for the Hong Kong people, that is the People’s Republic of China which, though flaunting communist symbols, has long ago ceased to be any kind of Communist regime but is not a capitalist democracy either.

However, under arrangements made when the British lease expired, Hong Kong maintains separate governing and economic systems from those of mainland China, expressed in the phrase “one country, two systems.”

DEMOCRACY?

          Headlines in the leaflet being distributed by the Hong Kong protesters in Dublin declared that the fight is about democracy and democratic rights. Many media commentators agree with them. Some even talk about restoring democracy to that region.

In fact, Hong Kong has never had democracy. Before Britain annexed it, the port city was run by officials appointed by the Chinese Emperor. After the British took it over, not only was there no democracy for Chinese working people but the administration was openly racist and some “public” areas there declared that no Chinese were permitted entry. In 1925, British troops and police opened fire to suppress a dock strike and demonstrations in Shanghail resulting in over 60 killed in two separate incidents. The resistance spread to Hong Kong and the port was also boycotted, which cost the British dearly.

Even in modern times, the Hong Kong administration was known to be highly corrupt and the special anti-corruption police squad became known as “the graveyard of corruption complaints”, for that is where the allegations and complaints were buried by those supposedly investigating them.

In 1967 Leftist demonstrations grew out of a strike and became wide-scale riots when Hong Kong Police moved to brutally repress them and many of the demonstrators’ leaders were arrested.

In 2013 a dockers’ strike in Hong Kong fought a hard battle against shipping transport companies for 40 days, out of which they emerged victorious. The working conditions that came to light during the struggle revealed aspects that organised workers would not accept in any capitalist democracy or even in some dictatorships.

CURRENT STRUGGLE

          The present Hong Kong authorities seem to have come to an arrangement with the mainland Chinese Government, since Carrie Law, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, introduced the bill which has sparked three months of protest. Under the provisions of this bill, an alleged lawbreaker in Hong Kong could be extradited to mainland China. When people protested in Hong Kong, the authorities sent their police to beat up the protesters and to arrest them, just as the British used to do in the old days.

And the laws that are being used to attack and jail demonstrators are exactly the same ones that have been in force for decades in British Hong Kong, as the Financial Times points out, although it suggests they were OK under the British but are “outdated now” (see References)!

Hong Kong Placards Police Don't Shoot
Photo taken on demonstration in Hong Kong (Photo source: Internet)

The opposition to the bill has seen demonstrations, occupations and strikes. On 5 August, there was a strike, this time successful, with the airport and flight industry employees playing a prominent role. The Communist Party of China is now asking for the list of Cathay Pacific employees who went on strike but the union won’t release the list. Estimates of participation in the strike vary between 300,000 and 400,000 people.

Airport public areas have also been occupied en masse which of course hits tourism and personal contact business, along with some exports and imports. On 12 August, another huge occupation of the airport brought about a threatening response from the PRC State; it sent about 10,000 armed police to the border with Hong Kong.

Carrie Law recently stated that she has withdrawn the bill which satisfies one of the demands of demonstrators but another four have been put forward:

  • Retract the classification of the protests as ‘riot’ ” (presumably with legal consequences)

  • Appointment of an independent commission to inquire into the excessive violence used by the police in the protests”

  • Dropping charges against demonstrators” (but what about those already jailed?)

  • Implement a Dual Universal suffrage to elect a truly democratic government”

WHO OR WHAT SHOULD WE SUPPORT?

          As in many of these types of struggles there are likely to be a number of elements involved among the demonstrators and strikers, including leftists, basic democrats, anti-communists (even fascists) and pro-western imperialists.

I do not see any reason to defend the current or past administration of Hong Kong – quite the contrary. Nor do I see any reason to defend the Chinese State administration which has lost all content of communism it once had and in which only some of its form survives. As far as democracy goes, the People’s Republic of China has suppressed demonstrations against corruption or by defenders of their environment, as well as hundreds of strikes and sent tanks to suppress a demonstration in Tienamen Square, resulting in an unknown number of dead, injured and jailed. On the other hand, Hong Kong is not even a bourgeois — to say nothing of a workers’ – democracy as is shown at present and in its past.

Huge Hong Kong Protest
Photo of demonstration in Hong Kong (Photo source: Internet)

It is natural that people in Hong Kong would not want to be extradited to the PRC and it seems to me that resistance to that is worthy of support along with in general the other four demands (although what “independent commission” to enquire into “excessive violence by police” can be appointed in this setup?). But the fundamental problem is that working people in Hong Kong do not control the fruits of their labour and the granting of not even all of the five demands can possibly change that. Where workers are in that situation, their rulers will alway keep repressive measures on hand for use whenever they feel the need to employ them.

Clearly the solution is not for the intervention of the USA or any other imperialist state either.

Therefore what I think we should support most is the mobilisation of the working people for socialist revolution and their participation in these current struggles will educate them as well as giving their most class-conscious elements the opportunity to enhance that education and, necessarily, organisation.

End.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION

1925 strike, massacres and boycott: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canton%E2%80%93Hong_Kong_strike

1967 anti-British rule demonstrations (somewhat biased): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong_1967_leftist_riots

Hong Kong repressive legislation is from the British: https://www.ft.com/content/d66d69aa-6ef4-11e8-8863-a9bb262c5f53

Hong Kong Dock Strike 2013: https://www.ft.com/content/80a0d4ea-ae46-11e2-bdfd-00144feabdc0

Hong Kong Police and the demonstrations: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/09/hong-kong-police-lost-trust/597205/

History of corruption in Hong Kong Police: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lui_Lok

DON’T CARE ABOUT HISTORY?

(Reading time: three minutes)

Diarmuid Breatnach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History Cursive Script Blackboard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communist Manifesto Clenched Fist Book Cover

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

End.