Another Result from the South African Peace Process

This is what the South African Peace Process was about, apart from black people getting the vote: white capitalists continue, a few black capitalists climb up on the back of their people, corruption rife in politics and sellout of national resources intensifies.

Cyril Ramaphosa is the current President of South Africa and of the African National Congress and formerly of the National Union of Mineworkers.  He is at least a millionaire with a seat on several company boards including that of Lonmin, the workers of which were on strike at Marikana in 2012 and were massacred by South African police.

The following is a statement by General Secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (700,000 members but most workers in the country are not unionised).  From Politics.Web (link to original posting below). 

SAFTU condemns NUM leaders’ summersault 

The South African Federation of Trade Unions condemns the sudden and opportunist summersault by the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), over the Independent Power Producer (IPP) agreement which was signed into law yesterday.

“The NUM views the signing of the IPP today by the communist turned capitalist Minister Jeff Radebe as an insult to the working class and the poor”. “The ANC led government is privatizing Eskom through the back door to satisfy their Davos handlers and white monopoly capital.”

They then make an even bigger about-turn when they say that “Workers of this country will not continue to vote and support an organization which is taking away jobs from the poor. We cannot perpetually campaign and vote for the so-called ‘New Dawn’ as narrated by Cyril Ramaphosa… The NUM demand that President Cyril Ramaphosa must stop this nonsensical IPPs and must reverse the decision. We are tired of supporting the organization which is indicating left but turning right.”

Unlike the NUM, SAFTU, and in particular its affiliate NUMSA, have been consistently opposing the IPP Agreement. NUMSA challenged it in court and argued strongly that while it does not oppose renewable energy or an energy mix, the IPP agreement will automatically result in the closure of five Eskom power stations in Mpumalanga, resulting in at least 30,000 jobs being lost.

They argued that this agreement was a move towards the privatization of the whole electricity generation sector and other state-owned enterprises. As NUMSA said: “These deals are being concluded for the benefit of crony capitalists with ties to the leadership of the governing ANC. They want to loot the state owned enterprise just like the Gupta’s were accused of doing.”

SAFTU Strike Demonstration in April (Photo from Delwyn Verasamy on Internet)

SAFTU saw the move as further evidence for its view, put forward long before Cyril Ramaphosa’s election, that an ANC government led by him would continue to pursue neoliberal policies in the interests of big business which would include handing over publicly owned enterprises like Eskom to capitalist sharks.

But until yesterday, the NUM was one of Ramaphosa’s biggest supporters. They championed his ascendancy and, given his narrow victory at the ANC national conference, may have swung enough votes to ensure his success. There was not a word then about a leader who was “indicating left but turning right” and being handled by Davos white-monopoly capitalists|

So how can they have just suddenly discovered what SAFTU has been saying for months and NUMSA for years about the ANC government’s sell-out to the interests of white monopoly capital

When NUMSA’s 2013 Special Congress withdrew its support for the ANC, the NUM were the spitting blood in condemning the very position which they themselves have now suddenly adopted. They were the most enthusiastic campaigners for NUMSA’s expulsion from COSATU and the dismissal of Zwelinzima Vavi for taking a similar political stance.

They cannot explain how they were able to support the ANC government throughout the years when it was presiding over the very same neoliberal policies like GEAR and the National Development Plan which they now denounce.

They have said nothing about Ramaphosa’s role in private business, particularly as a director of Lonmin, one of their members’ biggest and worst employers, and how he became a multi-billionaire and joined the ruling class whose interests he is now promoting.

They have also not mentioned the role of COSATU, whose leaders were also loyal supporters of Ramaphosa’s campaign. They have said nothing at all about the IPP deal, which presumably means they support it.

The NUM leadership are clearly coming under pressure from their own members, who have been enraged by the IPP deal. Many have already left to joint NUMSA, AMCU and other unions, and more would have followed if the NUM had said nothing about this. But the leaders have merely reacted with demagogic, opportunist and feigned anger, in a desperate bid to regain some credibility with their members.

SAFTU appeals to NUM rank-and-file members not to be fooled by this sudden switch by their leaders. Rather they should join SAFTU-affiliated unions which are serious about opposing Ramaphosa’s neoliberal policies, and have been consistently fighting for the socialist alternative and for independent, democratic, militant and worker-controlled unions.

In particular we urge all NUM members to join the general strike and day of mass protests on 25 April against the poverty national minimum wage, which was endorsed by COSATU, FEDUSA ad NACTU, against amendments to labour laws which will make it almost impossible for you to exercise your constitutional right to strike, and against the “white monopoly capital” which your leaders have suddenly discovered!

Statement issued by Zwelinzima Vavi, SAFTU General Secretary, 6 April 2018

http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politics/num-leaders-ipp-somersault-opportunistic–saftu

Advertisements

DANGEROUS ILLUSIONS IN A CATALAN INDEPENDIST PART

Diarmuid Breatnach

             Very recently, the pro-Catalan independence on-line periodical VilaWeb interviewed Marta Vilalta, the spokesperson for the ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia) party, an important component of the pro-independence majority in the Catalan Parlament. Her replies and statements presumably reflect the thinking in the leadership of the ERC party or, if it should not be unanimous, at least the thinking of the dominant section of the party’s leadership.

Marta Vilalta photographed during interview (Photo by online Catalan newspaper VilaWeb)

ERC has 32 Deputies in the Catalan Parlament (and two Members of the European Parliament). The other components of the Catalan independist majority at the time of writing (June 2018) are JuntsxCat (Together for Catalonia – 34 seats) and CUP (Candidatura d’Unitat Popular — 4 seats). The latter is taking the ‘confidence and supply position’ (i.e they will not vote with the Opposition and will vote to keep the Government in power if necessary).

ERC’s President, Oriol Junqueras, has been in a Madrid jail since the October Referendum, awaiting trial on charges of “Rebellion”. The party’s General Secretary, Marta Rovira, went into exile to avoid a similar fate.

The party, along with JuntsxCat, whose President Carles Puigdemont is also in exile, has faced repression by the Spanish State, as has also the cultural organisation ANC (Asamblea Nacional Catalana), whose President, Jordi Sànchez i Picanyol, is also in the Madrid jail.

The independist parties are to be commended for continuing their stance for independence and for facing up to Spanish State repression. In this, they enjoy the support of the majority of the Catalan population, as evidenced by votes in the December elections and the mobilisations and votes cast in the October Referendum, albeit disrupted by Spanish police raids to confiscate ballot boxes and assault voters and demonstrators.

But how prepared are they for the struggle ahead? How critically do they evaluate their past performance and expectations? How willing to learn from mistakes? The signs are not encouraging.

ILLUSIONS ABOUT THE SPANISH STATE

           “The Spanish State has been capable of everything …. to defeat independence and the Republic project”, Vilalta says in the course of the interview, with what seems to be an air of surprise, meaning one presumes that there was no lengths to which they were not prepared to go to suppress Catalonian independence. If the Spanish state has been capable of everything, one must assume that it will also be “capable of everything” in future, at least in the absence of some limiting factors, which were not mentioned by Vilalta (except perhaps in the context of reactions outside the Spanish state, which we can look at under the heading of “Illusions about other states”).

So this admission of Vilalta should imbue us with confidence that ERC is taking that into tactical and strategic consideration. However, this appears to be far from the reality, based on the insistence of Vilalta that their struggle will be based exclusively on both “peaceful and democratic” means; nor is this only an iteration of Vilalta’s but it has been stated repeatedly by leading figures of the ERC and of the JunstxCat, i.e of the parties with by far the most numerous deputies in the Parlament. We’ll look at this more carefully under the section dealing with Pacificism but for the moment we can reflect that history in general (and the history of the Spanish state in particular) demonstrates that the combatant that relies principally on moral and or legal means must be defeated by the aggressor who relies on force and its tactical application.

“I suppose the Spanish State understands and agrees with the International treaties that it has signed and which are included in the Constitution,” says Vilalta, in reference to the right to self-determination recognised by the Charter of Human Rights of the United Nations. Why does Vilalta suppose that the Spanish State “agrees” with this right? On the contrary, all its actions with regard to the nations incorporated within its state territory show that it fundamentally disagrees with them, at least where applied to itself. In fact, its own Constitution forbids the secession of any part of the State without a majority vote in favour in the Spanish Parliament and further underlines that the Armed Forces are the guarantors of the Constitution!

Of course, it is possible that Vilalta is being somewhat ironic here, or making a statement for its propaganda value. Maybe she only means that the Spanish State should uphold the right to self-determination in the international treaties which it has signed. Let us hope so. But surely it would be more useful to point out that the Spanish State has a record of fundamentally violating most of the human rights to which it has signed up, including some actually stated within its own Constitution? Such an exposure would help in any project of isolating the Spanish state internationally, undermine its propaganda and, crucially, help to prepare the Catalan people and their allies for what the Spanish State may bring against them.

The Spanish State has repeatedly violated not only the human rights to life (for example in running assassination squads against the Basque movement for independence); the right to serve one’s prison sentence in a prison near one’s relatives, children and friends (by deliberately dispersing its political prisoners as far from their homes as possible); the right for terminally and seriously ill prisoners to be released on parole to continue their sentences at home or in hospital (routinely violated in the cases of political prisoners); the right to freedom from torture (routinely used until very recently against political detainees and against some migrant minorities); and the right to upholding one’s language (by originally outlawing the use of Iberian languages other than Castillian and currently banning them from the Spanish Parliament).

Furthermore the Spanish State has a lively record of violating the civil rights of political activity, of assemply, of speech, of publishing, of broadcasting: it has banned Basque demonstrations, cultural and political organisations, radio stations, newspapers and even seized the financial and property assets of organisations; it has jailed Basque and Catalan (and some Spanish) political and cultural activists; jailed and fined rappers and cartoonists and social media posters elsewhere in the Spanish State. It is illegal to “insult” the Spanish King publicly in speech, writing, or other means. Fairly recently the Spanish State created a law which makes it illegal to film police misbehaviour in public, to insult them (i.e denounce what they are doing) or to hold demonstrations in the vecinity of certain state buildings, including Ministries and the Parliament, with very high fines and/ or prison sentences for transgression of any of these prohibitions.

Marta Vilalta, representing Esquerra Republicana, major party of the Catalan independist majority. (Image source: Internet)

PACIFISM

For pacifists, of course, pacifism is a principle. For others, peaceful methods and civil disobedience are tactics, i.e responses to specific issues at a particular time and place, not principles to uphold in all situations on every occasion.

It is a fact that no class has freed itself from domination by peaceful means alone and that similarly, no nation has liberated itself from colonial or imperialist domination without resorting to the use of force. This is not, in a sense, a choice for oppressed people – it is the oppressor itself which uses force and obliges the oppressed, in self-defence, to use force too.

Some recent examples will hopefully suffice to convince the doubtful. The first public actions against the division of Vietnam and the grooming by the French and USA of a puppet regime in the southern part of the nation were largely pacific. Demonstrations were suppressed and activists arrested by the puppet regime. Monks immolated themselves in public. Monks too were suppressed. Anti-imperialist forces within the southern part united in armed action with the Vietnamese state set up in the northern part of the country, which was supported by the People’s Republic of China (the Chinese communist state). Decades of terrible war followed but today the country of Vietnam is united and largely independent of imperialism.

In fact we can observe that all of the states of Europe which were formerly under the domination of another have had to rely on armed force to free themselves from their armed dominators: e.g Austria, Belgium, France (from Nazi Germany), Denmark, Holland (from Spain, France, Nazi Germany), Hungary, Italy (from France and Austria), Norway, Poland (from Russia, Nazi Germany), Switzerland (from the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and indeed the Spanish state itself (from France).

If that were not enough and though it should be, the history of the Spanish State itself shows its reliance on armed force, from the medieval period right up to the 20th Century. The Kingdom of Spain was created firstly by the joint kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, picking up other allies, driving out the Arab kingdoms (and incidentally driving out also Jews, the origin of the Sephardics, along with the Arabs, even their own allies who would not convert to Christianity. The Spanish kingdom became an imperial force outside its own state territory and conquered and plundered territories from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, the South American sub-continent, Central America and parts of what are now the southern USA. It did the same to parts of Northern Africa and the Philippines. In no circumstance did it refrain from the use of armed force.

In the struggles within the State itself, the ruling class suppressed by armed force the uprisings of the Communeros and many others regionally-based and, crucially, both the First and Second Republics, which had come into being through popular elections. To take the most recent, the ruling class instigated an uprising among its military against the elected Spanish Government, which led to what some call the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), with enormous loss of life and destruction, and the instalation by the victors of a fascist military dictatorship and a monarchy.

Unlike the other fascist states of Europe (with the exception of Portugal and even they had their Carnation Uprising), no purges of former fascist rulers took place within the Spanish State; on the contrary, the heirs of the fascist military leaders, politicians and industrialists continued in the footsteps of their parents and in the luxury of their appropriations.

Under some external and internal pressure, a veneer of democracy was drawn over the State after the death of the dictator Franco and the social-democratic PSOE and the Communist Party of Spain were drawn into an alliance with the existing fascist ruling class1 in what is often called the Transition (i.e to “democracy”). Far from this addition adulterating the fascism of the ruling class, the reverse happened and both political parties colluded in the suppression of movements of resistance both national and of class; the PSOE in government actually ran assassination squads against the Basque independence movement in the 1980s.

Hopefully this short review of Spanish State history has been sufficient to illustrate the readiness of the State to resort to violence against opposition, whether peaceful or not. What then are the prospects of a resistance which will confine itself to peaceful means alone? Its leadership will be killed or imprisoned, as will the cadres of the popular movement, repression will be the order of the day. The militants will be driven underground, dispersed and the movement will lose the initiative, which is fatal for a revolution.

As to the prospects of a comparatively small nation like Catalonia2 in insurrection against a major power and its military resources, we shall address near the end of this article.

INADEQUATE SELF-CRITICISM

With regard to the issue of preparedness for the actions of the Spanish State, Vilalta responds to a question by saying that ERC have carried out self-criticism of their inability to defend the Catalan referendum against Spanish State attack. Such an admission should not shame them nor demoralise their followers and allies (though it sometimes does so, sadly) – on the contrary, an organisation that does not admit its mistakes is unlikely to learn from them and in any case is not going to be honest with its membership and followers.

It is however worrying that a party pursuing an independist and Republican path in the teeth of the historical and well-known opposition of the quasi-fascist and monarchical state, should have been unprepared for the response of that State. Nevertheless, one could draw reassurance from the fact that ERC acknowledge their error and carried out self-criticism. Or at least, that would have been the case were it not for the fact that Vilalta states that “it is very easy to look back with perspective and think that it could have been done in a different way. I do not dare to say what we should have done differently. The decisions taken at that time, in a specific context and with the information that was had, seemed the best.”

Huge Barcelona Demonstration (in green) for self-determination on Catalonian day, Diada 11 Sep2017, three weeks before the Referendum. (Image sourced: Internet)

Whether that can be called “self-criticism” is debatable but it certainly does not qualify as adequate. It amounts to saying “we were wrong but could not have come to any other conclusion and even now I can’t think of what we could have done differently.” Which is almost to say “We are likely to be as mistaken and to prepare as insufficiently in future.”

As discussed earlier, both the history of national struggles in general and the history of the Spanish State in particular should have informed the independist forces of the full range of possible responses of the Spanish State. Those who were unable to anticipate the actions of the Spanish State need to ask themselves a vital question: “Why, despite that accumulation of historical practice, were we unable to count on a police invasion as one of the possible measures of our opponent?” A truthful reply to that question would tell them and us a lot about their limitations but their refusal to even consider the question is more worrying than whatever their current conceptual limitations might be.

ILLUSIONS ABOUT OTHER STATES

In the course of her interview, Vilata commented that “the international situation is key.” She said that in the context of forcing an unwillingtonegotiate Spanish State to, in fact, negotiate. How she sees this happening is not very clear. In this context she also said the following:

The Charter of the United Nations recognizes the right of self-determination of peoples. The Spanish government has had and has the opportunity to discuss and negotiate how other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Scotland, have done. They have opted for repression to the limit and always say no. It is they who have pursued political leaders and freedom of expression. We will continue to defend dialogue and negotiation by asserting that Spain has subscribed to the right of self-determination and confronting violence and repression.”

Leaving aside the fact that Scotland is not truly independent, somehow Vilalta envisages using the treaties referred to above to force the Spanish State to negotiate or to have “it is forced from the outside. This mandate to make it possible to negotiate can come from international spheres.” What does she mean by “international spheres”? She is not specific but in this context mentions the reversals for Spanish extradition warrants, the Catalan Members of the European Parliament (and presumably other friendly MEPs) and the Catalan politicians in exile in European countries, presumably all coordinated by the Council for the Republic, which also gets a mention.

But even in a best case scenario, how is the Spanish state to be “forced”? Economic sanctions? They can only be imposed by individual states or by groups of states, for example the EU. The European Parliament has not seen fit even to condemn in words the repressive actions of the Spanish state and, in fact, the EU President, Junkers, commented that they don’t wish to see “an EU of 99 states”, a clear indication that the independence of Catalonia and other states breaking away is not something the EU would welcome.

And in fact, even without Junker’s comments, that attitude could easily have been predicted. In the case of a successfully independent Catalonia, not only would the Spanish state be vulnerable to similar bids by other nations within its state territory but so would the French and Italian states also. It seems that Vilalta expects the EU to act against the interests of not only its Spanish member state but the interests of two other major European states as well. But why would it do that or, more to the point, why does Vilalta think they will or even might?

Possibly Vilalta envisages some kind of external moral pressure or perhaps “good neighbour advice”. With regard to moral pressure, the Spanish state, both during and after Franco, has shown itself impervious to that. Its practice of torture and impunity for torturers has been criticised regularly by relevant committees of the United Nations and the EU and every year by Amnesty International. None of that has brought about any change.

The European Court of Human Rights has found against the Spanish State on a number of occasions (failure to investigate torture allegations, illegal extension of sentences by retrospective legislation but never on actual torture, which is “difficult to prove”); the Spanish State sometimes appeals the judgement (and loses) but eventually pays the fine, releases the prisoners at their release dates and …. carries on as before.

The major European state response to the PSOE Government’s undercover campaign of terrorism in the northern Basque Country (i.e within the French State) has been to facilitate the extradition of Basque refugees to the Spanish state (sometimes without even bothering with a court appearance).

No doubt the Spanish State has been given “good neighbour” advice from time to time from European states and even by the USA, advised to appear nicer, to be more democratic etc and even advised that it was in the long-term interests of its own ruling class to do. Perhaps the Spanish State responded, with well-known Spanish fascist arrogance, that it knows its own busisness best or perhaps they replied that only an iron grip can keep Spain “Una, Grande y Libre” (United, Great and Free”, i.e non-communist). In either case, neither good neighbour nor critical state has shown an interest in taking any kind of coercive action against the Spanish State and there is no reason to believe that they will do so now.

European states may not wish to soil their hands doing Spain’s dirty work for them by extraditing refugees to Spain on dodgy European Arrest Warrants but that is a long, long was from being willing to act in a coercive way against a major European partner.

It seems almost certain that Vilalta, in discussing “international force” against the Spanish state was referring to action by other European states and traditionally when “the international community” has been invoked in discussions of ‘peace processes’ and sanctions that is generally what is meant. But there is another way of looking at international pressure.

To examine that possibility, we need to ask ourselves: What are the circumstances in which the Spanish State would be unable to send armed forces to suppress Catalan independence or, if it did, that they would be neutralised?

Such a situation could only be envisaged occurring when the State faced insurrections and similar crises in many other parts of the State at the same time as its crisis in Catalonia. And in fact the Spanish state, of all those in the EU, is probably the most vulnerable to such a scenario. Along with Catalonia and the Catalan Countries, there are the nations of Asturias and Galicia (both of Celtic culture) and the four southern Basque provinces.

Within those areas and in all others of the Spanish state, there is a major disaffection with the dominant order. Never have the institutions of banking and politicians been so widely exposed in corruption, never has the Royal Family been so condemned, nor repression by police so exposed. Unemployment is high as is work on short-term or casual contracts, the housing crisis is serious and numerous victims of eviction have publicly comitted taken their lives over the years. Both political parties of the traditional bi-party system (PP and PSOE) have lost prestige and electoral support, so that now each can only govern as a minority party and their decline has allowed the emergence of a two more sizeable parties, Podemos of the Left and Ciudadanos of the Right (without however much hope of a fundamental change from either). Huge demonstrations have taken place across the state and in particular in Madrid. The collusive trade unions of the Comisiones Obreras and the Unión General de Trabajadores have been found wanting and many independent unions have sprung up.

In other words, the prestige of the State has been slipping and its enemies multiplying. But to tap into these currents of disaffection with the Spanish State, the independist forces would need to do more than threaten the State with the independence of Catalonia. It would need to develop a social-economic program that would not only benefit the majority of Catalons but would also serve as an illuminated example to the rest of what is currently the Spanish territory.

Vilalta does talk a little about a socio-economic program emanating from the Catalan Government and local authorities but says next to nothing about its content. Last week a man about to be evicted in Catalonia killed himself and there are many others facing eviction through inability to pay their rents or their mortgage instalments. A solution to that problem would not only bring many doubters in Catalonia over to the side of the Republic but serve also as an example of what could be done elsewhere in the Spanish State. Support for a Spanish military intervention would be severly undermined in such a scenario, both externally and from within the armed forces and the breaking out of many fires across the state would leave the firefighters stretched too thinly to carry out their task.

This scenario could also affect the French state should it consider a military intervention of its own and the Bretons, northern Basques, northern Catalans and Occitans might seize that opportunity to advance their own claims for independence or autonomy.

The problem for ERC with instituting deep socio-economic changes in Catalonia and in appealing to wide national and class disaffection is that, notwithstanding the “Left” in its title, it is a bourgeois or capitalist party and can hardly be expected to cut off its own head just because it will make its legs firmer. And the JuntsXCat is even more so, at its core a liberal capitalist party.

All of which might serve to remind us of the quotation from James Connolly, a revolutionary socialist who also fought for the independence of a small nation – Ireland. Recognising that only the working class was unable to gain some advantage through a compromise with the imperialist and coloniser, he wrote: “Only the Irish working class remain as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland”. If the words “Irish” were to be replaced by “Catalan” and “Ireland” by “Catalonia”, leaving the rest of the statement intact, would it also be true?

End.

FOOTNOTES

1This was necessary for the Spanish fascist ruling class not mainly as partners in the production of the farce of ‘democracy’ but chiefly for their control of the two main non-fascist trade unions then (and still): the Comisiones Obreras of the CPE and the Unión General de Trabajadores of the PSOE, both illegal until that point but also powerful and with a potential for creating industrial and political instability.

2For the sake of convenience, Catalonia is being described here as a nation, although for many, including the ERC party, at least in the past, it is the Paises Catalans (Catalan Countries) which is the Catalan Nation, a territory extending from Pau in the French state through Catalonia to Tarragon, Valencia and the Balearic Islands.

 

APPENDIX

Link for original interview in Catalan:

https://www.vilaweb.cat/noticies/marta-vilalta-voluntat-de-fer-autonomisme-ni-una-voluntat-de-fer-republica-tota/

My full translation to English of introduction and interview:

Marta Vilalta (Torregrossa, 1984) is the spokeswoman for Esquerra Republicana since March. A journalist by profession and Parliamentary representative since 2015, Vilalta has been a member of the ERC since 2004 and, after handling several responsibilities, has now taken a step forward as a result of the repression suffered by the party, with President Oriol Junqueras in prison, Secretary General, Marta Rovira, exiled and members of the Executive persecuted and prosecuted by Spain for having collaborated in the organization of the 1st October Referendum.

We talked with Vilalta about theCatalan political situation, the Republic, autonomism, the new Government of the Generalitat, the effects of repression and the new road map that ERC must approve in its national conference at the end of June . Young, energetic and smiling, Vilalta takes this new stage as a personal challenge, but with the bitter aftertaste of having had to go through the situation of repression against the party and independence.

– Is it true that you do press conferences prepared not to answer questions? Will you respond to this interview?

– [Laughs] I did not say that! It was a joke in relation to this and Sergi Sabrià [the previous spokesman], speaking to the journalist, said laughingly that he had advised me not to answer the questions. We laughed, but it was included in the interview. I am a journalist and I am empathizing with you, it is about responding well.

-Good! Now that there is ‘effective government’, how is the Republic to be brought about?

-Firstly, getting the Government back has been an important and indispensable step towards achieving the objective, which is the Republic. We advocate that to make the Republic real and to complete it we must be strong at all levels and have all the possible tools. Therefore, this also means recovering the Government and the institutions, being connected with the social mobilization and citizenship, being strong in the international bodies, the city councils and the Parliament. We have to be stronger and stronger, to increase and have an amazingly hegemonic social majority that will allow us to bring into existence the Republic we have decided to have, but unfortunately we have not yet been able to make it effective. But it will happen, we’re sure.

-Let’s talk about the ERC strategy paper, the new roadmap to be approved. A fear has been expressed because a section of the grassroots, such as the Mayor of Montblanc, Josep Andreu, believes that the unilateral path is not given enough importance.

-I think that the debate or the controversy about the strategic presentation has been magnified, I do not know if deliberately or not. It analyzes the situation based on the lessons of recent months. It places us where we are and helps us to define what we do and with what instruments to do it in order to bring about the Republic. That’s why it is called ‘Let Us Create the Republic’. We do not rule out any path, providing it is peaceful and democratic, to arrive there. Yes, it is true that it emphasises the need to be stronger and stronger, to expand support in many sectors that share the anti-repressive struggle but yet do not see the need for the Republic. And it defines the multilateral framework of play because it is a process where many political, judicial, economic, and social agencies intervene … We need to know how to move in all this multiplicity of agencies and to maximize opportunities.

– And the unilateral path?

-The paper does not rule out the unilateral path, we understand it as part of the multilateral framework. Perhaps part of the membership thinks that we have not been explicit enough. We are in the process of making amendments so that all the membership can participate and improve the text. We debate with a wish to reach a consensus and for everyone to feel represented. We are very pleased with the level of participation, with 1,400 amendments. Some 1,100 have been incorporated to be negotiated. This shows a vital strength in the organization and the very participative health of the membership of ERC. One must shine the lights ahead to see the medium term to bring about the Republic and to see what we need to do to achieve it.

-Andreu regretted, however, that there was little participation in the territories (? Trans), and he made a public appeal.

-Yes, the call to participation should be done by all. But I insist, there has been a huge volume of amendments. In 2013, some 300 amendments were presented and now there are 1,400! There have been assemblies in the territories. We hope that on June 30 and July 1 there will also be a lot of participation because the moment requires it. The more participation, the more endorsement of the final paper.

-The CUP accuses the Government of being autonomist.

-We have heard them say this several times, but I do not agree. Whenever we have had the chance to rule, we have done it with a republican call and overtaking autonomy. Interest in autonomy is minimal. Willingness to create a republic, total. This is what the Government of the Generalitat is doing at the moment. The examples of recent days show that there is no intention to go for autonomy nor to drag out the process.

-What examples?

-We need to recover the institutions because we believe that makes us stronger. This is not autonomism, it is to put them into the hands of the citizens and in the service of the country to be able to move forward. With the first government actions alone, both symbolic and effective, it was shown that it was essential to recover the Government. Unlock the money that social agencies had to receive, more than 300 million euros, the reactivation of delegations abroad, the money to recover the quality of TV3 and Catalunya Ràdio, 250 million for social rental … Damn it, they are essential policies! And since they are destined to improve the country, we are sure that they will help us to add more people (to our support — Trans).

-The people who have doubts about independence understand this?

-This is one of the main ideas. From government action and being able to respond to people’s needs and make policies with Republican logic, we can show that with good governance and caring for the citizenship we are able to respond to needs and to improve well-being. We are convinced that this will lead us to make more people see that this is the only way to defend the social, civil and political rights of citizens. This will surely result in an increase of the people who will see that the republican project is the only alternative to guarantee well-being, social justice and equal opportunities. There is no other project that guarantees us all this. It has become clear that in Spain these fundamental rights are not guaranteed and that they have been violated. We have to be capable and must strive to explain all this.

– Will this legislature be a constituent process?

-The intention is that it will be. I cannot say when. We see it as a great space for debate about how we want the country in all its aspects. It also has to serve to reach many people who feel called to participate. In fact, the project of the Catalan Republic is the only one which will ask this of the citizens. The Spanish state will not enact any constituent process. It is only with that that many people can see the opportunity that there is an opportunity for real change and everything that implies. To think and rethink how we want to organize ourselves and how we want our society to be. This will happen, soon; we must ensure maximum participation of the convinced people and of those who feel called to participate. It will help us to add to our numbers and open the project to accumulate forces. It must be a consensual process, with territorial capillary (reach? – Trans) that allows us to know what we want and what goals to have as a country. The constituent process can be one of the tools at our disposal to exceed the limits of the Republican project.

-The conclusions of the citizens’ debate within the territory will be taken to Parliament?

-I do not know the methodology nor what the phases are. To be successful, we will have to agree with all the political, social and economic actors that can participate. Therefore, we will see what steps must be taken. It is obvious that everything that comes out of the constituent process must be channeled institutionally so that it has the effects that we want and so that it does not remain only in a debate.

-Your party has carried out self-criticism of the October events?

-Yes, it’s been done. In any case, it is very easy to look back with perspective and think that it could have been done in a different way. I do not dare to say what we should have done differently. The decisions taken at that time, in a specific context and with the information that was had, seemed the best. Everything was done with the intention of making effective the 1-O (Referendum – Trans) and to be able to vote, after facing the repression and proclaiming and bringing about the Republic. Unfortunately, we could not defend it. Maybe over time we will have more information. In any case, I really appreciate that everything that was done was because at that time it was believed that it was the best way to reach the goal that we all wanted. From now on, I think the most important thing is to learn from lessons. One of the most important is that Spain is willing to anything. We thought they ‘would not be able’, that ‘could not be allowed’, but they were.

-The Spanish state has been capable of everything.

-To defeat independence and the Republic project, it has been capable of dispensing with the rule of law and democracy. This is a very important lesson, because we moved in an ambit of democracy and defence of rights and freedoms, and we continue there. But we have seen the axis upon which Spain moves. We have to be stronger and stronger because it is the only way to face this repressive and strong State. We must continue defending all democratic channels with allies at all levels. Surely we will have a new opportunity. If we keep alive and resisting, we’ll be able to win.

– Do you have any expectation of the new Spanish government? On Thursday, Grande-Marlaska disclaimed the responsibility for bringing the political prisoners closer to home and then Llarena reminded him that this depended on the Ministry of the Interior (of which Grande-Marlaska is Minister — Trans).

– Different things. First of all, to go back a little. We supported the motion of censure (against the PP Government of Rajoy – Trans) because we believe that it was the responsible action to remove the PP and bring down Rajoy. That Government that had repressed us, the leader of repression and corruption …

-The PSOE too.

-Yes, yes. I say that was the responsible action at that time to make that government fall. Not to support the PSOE. That said, obviously, a new scenario opens, but we do not have much expectation of it. We will observe the following steps. On the concrete question of the prisoners, it is shameful what happened on Thursday. The Minister and the Judge passed the ball about the prisoners to one another. It is an aberration, an arbitrariness, that they are detained as hostages, as revenge. And we demand, it is not contradictory, that they bring them to Catalonia. It is a correct action, the law says, that they be as close as possible to families and children. If the Spanish Government had wanted to, it could have already made the decision.

-The other day you commented that any negotiation should start from the first of October. What does this mean?

-We continue defending dialogue and negotiation. If we want a sincere and effective dialogue, we must be able to speak of everything, without renunciations or initial conditions. We should not only talk about concrete demands of economic, social and sectoral policies that have been dragging on for many years, but also about the situation in Catalonia and how we exercise the right of self-determination and make the Catalan Republic real. When we say that we must start from the first of October, let’s talk about it. Conflict must be resolved through the political path, negotiation and dialogue. The 1-O is the founding moment of the Catalan Republic, marks a point of departure in our most recent history.

– Can this be negotiated with Spain?

-I suppose the Spanish State understands and agrees with the International treaties that it has signed and which are included in the Constitution. The Charter of the United Nations recognizes the right of self-determination of peoples. The Spanish government has had and has the opportunity to discuss and negotiate how other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Scotland, have done. They have opted for repression to the limit and always say no. It is they who have pursued political leaders and freedom of expression. We will continue to defend dialogue and negotiation by asserting that Spain has subscribed to the right of self-determination and confronting violence and repression.

– If we want to open a negotiation, the international field will be important. Until now, Spain has refused to accept any mediation offer. Does the Council for the Republic have any role in this regard?

– The international situation is key. When we talk about negotiating with the State, we know that it will not negotiate because it has not given any evidence (of such willingness — Trans). We must force the State to negotiate, or force it so that it is forced from the outside. This mandate to make it possible to negotiate can come from international spheres. The judicial battles of the exiles must also be taken into account. Spain has suffered the first judicial reversals because no European justice recognizes non-existent crimes that are and invented to punish and silence the people of Catalonia. International action must be organized and coordinated. It is clear that the Council for the Republic can be an instrument that helps us to make heard this voice of the demands of Catalonia everywhere and that can help us denounce the violations of rights and repression. We will help the voice that we have in the European Parliament, the exiles, the government delegations that will be reopened … With all these tools we must be able to win.

– Will Marta Rovira be part of the Council for the Republic?

-We will have see how it will be composed. Much has been said about it, but it must be ascertained how the Council is composed by the Republic. Marta Rovira was forced to leave because of this brutal persecution by Spain and will surely play a relevant and important role in the international arena in defense of individual and collective rights and freedoms. We’ll see what role everyone has.

– Does she participate in the internal life of the party?

– She is the General Secretary of Esquerra Republicana and that continues to be the case. She participates in internal meetings and we hope that in the future she will have a more public role. It continues on a daily basis in the way that new technologies permit her.

– In this situation of abnormality and repression, ERC has recovered from having the General Secretary in exile and the President in prison?

-Our organisation has suffered a brutal persecution. They have tried to behead us to weaken, frighten us and make us disappear. In addition to Marta Rovira in exile and Oriol Junqueras in prison, we have many members of the Executives accused and activists persecuted for having done everything possible so that Catalans could vote on 1-O. It was a tough blow, but luckily we are a broad, strong and cohesive organisation. Other people who have been able to take up the duties and responsibilities to continue resisting and persisting, despite the cruelty of the moment.

-The municipal elections will be a good test to measure if the base has been expanded?

-Once polling has taken place we will count and validate the majority in favor of independence and the Republic. Democracy does not frighten us. That is why we know that the Republic will end up winning. The democratic and peaceful way is ours and what we have to use to reach the Republic. In addition to revalidating the majority, we must increase it to show that we are many and that we are multiplying. The independentist movement has grown in recent years, although we still have on the margins many people who have not taken the step but that are in favor of democracy, rights and freedoms.

– Will more than 50% of the votes in the municipal councils involve some change in the political landscape?

-For a start, it places us in a new scenario. Let’s see how the correlation of forces turns out. Surpassing 50% is to pass over one of the important thresholds to validate and certify the majority in favor of independence. We will have to evaluate new steps because we will be stronger and stronger, which is what we want. I cannot specify what will happen, but it would be a very important step to advance, materialize and consolidate the Republic.

– Is it decisive if independentism wins in Barcelona?

– It is very important. But also in other important cities and other capitals, such as Lleida and Tarragona.

-The usual debate has been begun. United lists, separate lists.

-We must be able to compare the projects with everyone in all the elections, whether they are municipal or parliamentary. Confronting all ideas and projects makes us maximize results for all. The elections on December 21 were a test, distinct from September 27. When we present all together as one, it is difficult to widen the base, we are small. When we each present separately, each trying to maximize their results with their project, is when we truly achieve the maximum widening of our perimeter. With the results achieved there will be a need to agree, join and have unity of action to going ahead with the town councils and the policies that are decided. The municipalities must serve so that there are as many republican and independentist city councils as possible. We can make a qualitative leap in many areas, especially in the metropolitan area and the capitals.

-Do you think that you can govern Barcelona without a pro-independence list being the most voted? The last published survey gave a draw between Barcelona in Comú and Citizens.

-If the votes independentist lists are compiled and achieve a majority, we can govern. The Council will end up being controlled by those that who can unite and that are able to agree. So, obviously, yes.

-Will ERC agree with the communes (Catalan version of Podemos – Trans.) and the PSC (Catalan version of the PSOE – Trans.)?

– We do not rule out any option with the objective of being able to guarantee republican, independentist city councils and allowing us to develop the policies to advance. In each case we will have to look at how that turns out. Right now we do not rule it out. But our logic and the priority is to have as many republican city councils as possible for the better. We know that ERC can often be this binding agent, this project that from the centrality of the independentism can unite the most.

-Oriol Junqueras was your teacher. You have a very personal relationship with him. Did you watch the videos from inside Estremera prison?

-I did not want to see them. I have seen some images, but nothing else.

-What did you hear?

-From the little I have seen and what I know, the dignity of these people is clear. The images have been stolen and that is undignified. But their dignity, even though the State holds them as hostages in prison … They are good people. Oriol is one of the best people we know and is kidnapped because he is able to lead, bring together and unite like no one else. With an open mindedness and caring, to be in the company of people and to listen. He and the rest of prisoners are seen as a threat to the State, and that is the reason they are kidnapped.

-Well there is a government in Catalonia, change of Executive in Spain, is there a risk of normalizing the situation of political prisoners?

-We must do everything possible so that it is not normalized. This country will not be normal until all judicialization is ended, until all imprisoned people are on the street or until all exiled people return home. We know that all acts to remember reprisals, lunches and yellow dinners, actions to raise money and report the situation help to ensure it is not normalised. The prisoners tell us not to cry but rather to demand their freedom.

-The situation of the party has led you personally to have to take a step forward. How have you found it?

-It’s a contradictory and bittersweet feeling. Any new responsibility is always accompanied by enthusiasm, but at the same time I have the bitter and sad feeling of having to do it in this context. In addition, it coincided with the second round of imprisonments of Carme Forcadell, Dolors Bassa, Raül Romeva, Jordi Turull and Josep Rull. And when Marta Rovira went to exile. Therefore, in a very tough context. But absolutely convinced that we all have to fight and each one contributes the grain of sand and plays the role that falls to us in the anti-repression struggle and which at the same time advances the Republic. This we do, not only myself, but many colleagues, each with the desire to be of use for the project.

END

 

BASED ON HISTORY BUT FAR FROM IT– McCann’s “After the Lockout”.

Diarmuid Breatnach

History can and should be researched, interpreted, discussed, argued and used for lessons on current questions and projections into the future. It can also be used in fiction: as the backdrop for a novel; as a way of bringing historical events to life; as a what-if speculative story.

James Plunkett (21 May 1920 – 28 May 2003) used the Dublin Lockout as a backdrop for his Strumpet City and did it wonderfully well; Walter Macken (3 May 1915 – 22 April 1967) wrote a fictionalised account of brothers in the War of Independence and the Civil War in The Scorching Wind and also did it well1. Roddy Doyle did NOT do it well at all in his historical novel (A Star Called Henry) and sadly nor did Darran McCann in “After the Lockout”. Interestingly, the central characters in both latter books were what one might call “Left critics” of the leaders of the struggle and one is tempted to conclude that the attitudes of the central characters mirror those of their creators.

(Image sourced: Internet)

It seems fair enough that we can play with history in fiction but, when using it as a backdrop for a story, it should be accurately represented – otherwise, surely one should invent something else entirely?

Doyle did some reading on the GPO garrison’s struggle for the background of his “A Star Called Henry” but seemed to have done none for the War of Independence, in which he had his hero and heroine like a kind of Republican Bonny and Clyde living in ditches and shooting up the Free State forces. McCann seems to have done hardly any reading on the Lockout (and not that much on the GPO garrison’s fight either). Having Jim Larkin give a speech from the restaurant in Murphy’s Imperial Hotel restaurant window is bad enough – when we know he only got to say a few sentences before the Dublin Metropolitan Police ran in to arrest him – but having him then shin down a rope and get away is absolutely ridiculous.

McCann set the story of his central character, Victor Lennon, in between the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence and it has many of the elements of the story of James Gralton (17 April 1886 – 29 December 1945), the only Irish person to have been officially exiled from Ireland by an Irish government (in 1933).

The arrest of Jim Larkin after he spoke briefly from the Imperial Hotel in 1913. He did not shin down a rope!
(Image sourced: Internet)

McCann’s Victor Lennon, a communist and member of the Irish Citizen Army, gets people in his home town to build a dance hall in opposition to the local Bishop, which a mob then burns down. Gralton, a communist also, did that too, in Leitrim; however, he ran dances there and also gave talks – it was a success, to a considerable degree. The Irish Catholic Church vehemently opposed Gralton and in McCann’s novel the Bishop and local supporters also mobilise against Victor: the hall is burned down before any dance is held in it. Like Gralton’s story, there is a shooting incident around the dance hall too – a fatal one, in which Victor’s father and two IRA men are killed. But instead of being deported from Ireland, as Gralton was (illegally) by an Irish Government, which in McCann’s story had not yet come into existence, Victor heads off for Dublin to join the Volunteers in what will become the IRA and the War of Independence.

Newspaper photograph of James Gralton in the process of his deportation in 1933 (note he is described as “Irish-American” as though to justify his deportation, though in fact he was born in Ireland and did not leave for the USA until 23 years of age, subsequently returning to fight in the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence.
(Image sourced: Internet)

What actually happened after Larkin spoke briefly from the Imperial Hotel — a vicious police baton charge and indiscriminate beating of all in the area.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Roddy Doyle wrote very disrespectfully about Volunteers, Pearse and a number of other leaders and even salaciously about anonymous wives of martyred men. He did so by placing those words and thoughts in the mouth and mind of his central character, Henry Smart. McCann does somewhat the same but to nowhere near the same extent as did Doyle.

I admit to finding that lack of respect extremely distasteful but also from a historical point of view I see it as anachronistic. I find it hard to believe that those who took part in the Rising despised those who fought alongside them, no matter the difference in ideology – or that they spoke so contemptuously of their leaders, martyred or not. Disagreed, certainly – disagreed strongly, probably. But disrespect and contempt? No, that is attaching a post-Free State intellectual revisionist attitude on to participants in the Rising and in the War of Independence. Later, there would be fear and hatred, during the Civil War, but even then, none of that contemptuous and dismissive attitude.

I am not the only critic from a historical perspective, as I see from a quick Googling. Reviewing the book for the Irish Independent in 2012, Pat Hunt had this to say:

The opening section set in Dublin reads more like a 1917 Thom’s Street Directory and a survey of political events and personalities of the time. The seediness of the red-light Monto district in the inner city does not ring true. The period feel of the city of Armagh is much better realised.

The author’s editor has done him no favours. It was never possible to hop on a train at Amiens Street and hop off at Harcourt Street station (not unless one took a scenic route via Bray).

The Big Wind of 1839 occurred on the Feast of the Epiphany, not Pentecost. Forecasts of wine lakes and butter mountains (concepts that emerged with the EEC and its common agricultural policy) could not have been envisioned by even the most ardent socialist in 1917.”

Hilary Mantel, who writes historical fiction, praised McCann’s book and I can only assume that she knows very little of Irish history, nor indeed should we expect that she should – her background is not Irish. Glen Patterson, novelist from the Six Counties, praised it highly too and I assume did so on the composition of the writing, turn of phrase, story-telling etc – but I sincerely hope he did not do so on a historical basis.

After the Lockout, Darran McCann, Harper Collins 2012.

End.

 

FOOTNOTE:

1 Though not perhaps as well as the other two books in the trilogy, those dealing with the Cromwellian war and Great Hunger periods: Seek the Fair Land and The Silent People)

DEMOCRACY AS A SAFE OPTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

In most of the World, most people would say that they are in favour of a system of democratic rule – whether their states embrace that system or not. The typical western European system of government is usually called a “democracy” or a “western democracy”, with political parties representing different interests competing for popular support in general elections, the victorious party or parties then forming a government.

Image source: Internet

Since these states are capitalist and, whatever about the victory of one political party or another are clearly run to protect and expand the interests of big business (monopoly capitalism), we must ask ourselves why for the most part the capitalists and their supporting parties support the “western democratic” system and why parties who make much of their support for social justice support this system too. And why the majority of people, who are of course not at all capitalists but are in fact exploited by them, participate in this system.

But first, let us note that there are those who don’t at all like the western democratic system: chief among these are the monarchists and the fascists. Monarchists aspire to a system where society is ruled by (usually) a single individual, whose entitlement to that office is through bloodline, through ancestry. Traditionally the rule of the monarch was influenced or moderated by advisors, whether officially appointed by the monarch or by interest groups, or unofficially as with the monarch’s personal friends or lovers.

Monarchy has a long history in human society, with inheritance mostly through male lines but by no means always. Usually it was supported by a social caste or two, an upper stratum in society, or aristocrats or priesthood and often the higher priests were themselves from the aristocratic caste. This system was called feudalism and the aristocrats and monarchy controlled land, taxing the various productive classes within society. Within the aristocracy there were frequent struggles for extension of their power and (taxable) lands and, at times, against the King also.

These struggles went backwards and forwards in societies and between states also until capitalism overthrew feudalism and put its own power in place. And since capitalists have always been in a minority and as capitalism was particularly weak in its early days, the bourgeoisie (capitalists) needed the support of small businessmen, artisans, labourers of town and country, small farmers …. to be successful, they had to give those masses a reason to support the capitalists. What they gave them was some variant of democracy. The capitalists (bourgeoisie) promoted “liberty” (freedom), as in freedom of thought and speech, of religious worship, of assembly, of writing, of movement but all within certain boundaries, the extent of these depending on the country and the times. Increasingly the bourgeoisie had to grant the right to elect a government not just to themselves but to other social groups also. Second-to-last to be granted after many struggles was universal male suffrage, which included workers without any property, but last of all was womanhood, also after fierce struggles.

Another view of western democracy
(Image source: Internet)

Fascists are neither monarchists nor feudalists and though often having a single figurehead who would seem to wield monarchical power, their source is clearly within capitalism. In Germany and in Italy, fascism was supported by big industrialists but in the latter also by big landlords (who still ruled in quite a feudal way in parts of the country). Even in countries where fascist movements did not succeed in coming to power (for example the Blueshirts in Ireland and the Blackshirts in Britain), fascism was supported by elements of the ruling classes.

“EVERYBODY’S A DEMOCRAT”

Aside from the exceptions then, of monarchists, feudalists and fascists, everybody’s for democracy, right? Well, not really. The capitalists who support western democracy today may support the fascists tomorrow, if they consider it necessary. And some of the principal opponents of the capitalists, the communists, don’t support it either. They call it “bourgeois democracy” and see it as a way in which the capitalists fool the people that they are making choices to make a real difference while whichever party or parties come to power are going to ensure that the measures they take will benefit the capitalists or at the very least not harm their interests. James Connolly, a Scottish-Irish Marxist without a party, declared that “governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class”.1

In fact we may observe here that many people who are not communists believe something similar, which may account for the fact that routinely around 30% of those eligible in the Irish state do not vote.2 In Scotland, England and Wales the average turnout traditionally has been slightly higher, until the huge slump in 2001 which recorded an overall UK turnout of below 60% for the first time.3 Post-Nazi West German general election turnout climbed from over 70% to reach its highest point of over 90% in 1972 and has been falling steadily since to over 72% in 2017.4

From the highest-performing of the Nordic countries to big European powers, the average legislature election turnout varies from between just over 60% to just over 80%, while in the USA it is around 55%, which means that between 20% and 45% of people in the western democracies do not participate in their elections.5 Such ironic statements as “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, the Government gets in” are common enough and “all the parties are the same” is an even more commonly-expressed sentiment. The satirical comment from Britain that “Guy Fawkes6 was the only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions” finds a general acceptance, even often among people who do vote.

The trend towards small majorities in winning parties and of coalition governments (or governments ruling with the tolerance of an opposition party) also suggests that people can see less and less difference between the established political parties. The Irish state for example has had coalition governments of some kind since the 1981 General Election (and that itself was a very interesting year electorally, with the election and near-election of a number of Republican Hunger Strikers on both sides of the Border).

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

People vote for all kinds of reasons apart from a belief in the party for which they are voting. Some vote according to local or family tradition, while others vote for one party in order to keep out another they consider worse. Voting for a popular individual is by no means rare. Some vote to exercise what was a hard-won right and also to try and get what they consider the best out of the system. But voting in general elections does not really reflect the fundamental social desires of the population. We can see this when for example polls show that most people do not want cuts in services, yet all the main parties either propose cuts in services or have refused to rule them out of their program when in government.

It might appear that people could put together a party campaigning for social justice, get the workers and a section of the lower middle class to vote for it and take power in that way. That is certainly the whole basis on which social democratic political parties with trade union backing have sold themselves for the past two centuries. But it seems possible only in the absence of examining history and the current realities.

Public opinion is formed not only by people’s experience but also by years of the system’s indoctrination and by the current mass media – the latter not only favour the system in place but often the newspapers, radio stations and TV programs are owned by one or two capitalists. When the mass media is owned instead by the State, it follows the interests of the ruling sections of society. Low confidence in the people’s own potential also plays a big part. There are in addition legal and financial constraints, domestic and foreign, on a party in government breaking with the capitalist norms. In the last analysis, there is always the Armed Forces and the coup.

The best that a worker’s party can do through the electoral system is to cause the capitalists some difficulties around particular initiatives or introduce a few reforms but without changing the system itself.

DEMOCRACY: THE SAFEST OPTION

Given the apparent potential, despite all its difficulties, for a party to hamper the designs of the capitalist class, why do capitalists continue to support this system and as a general rule to prefer it over others, even over fascism? It’s not just because in general, despite wide-scale cynicism and falling election participation, the system works well for them. And it’s not just because fascist societies are inherently unstable in the longer run. No, it’s because the democratic system is much better for capitalism than the other alternative, which is social revolution.

When enough people feel that they are suffering under a system and that that system cannot be changed through voting, what will be logical conclusion? Clearly that a new system is necessary, one that serves the people rather than the capitalists — but that system cannot be achieved through voting. Have enough of the people thinking that and becoming organised around imagined alternatives and social revolution will be the result. Western democracy perpetuates the illusion of potential to change the system to reflect the people’s needs and desires, while fascism clearly does not.

Therefore the capitalists, who in their daily dealings of expropriation of the labour power of billions and natural resources have no belief whatsoever in democracy, go to substantial lengths to promote parliamentary democracy as either the best system of government or at least the best possible system in an imperfect world. For the capitalists, parliamentary democracy is the safer option and it worries them that engagement with the process is falling. The capitalists promote parliamentary democracy through the history and principles taught in the educational system, through laws enacted, through the mass media, through novels and films and through promotion of political or philosophy commentators. And also through denigration of who they see as opponents of their system historically or in the present. The ideal of democracy, whatever about its actual practice, is high in our culture.

ORIGINS OF DEMOCRATIC SYSTEMS

The word “democracy” comes to us from the combination of two Greek words: “demos” and “kratos” The first word means “people” and the second “power”, literally “people’s power” or “rule by the people”. It is supposed to describe the Athenian city state system developed and practiced five centuries Before the Common Era (or 500 BC) and which waxed and waned for many years until the city came under Roman dominion. However this democracy of voting rights extended only to male freemen, a very small portion of the population. Around the same time, the city state of Rome also developed a kind of democracy, built around distinct voting colleges or social groups but ruled overall by the Senate, where most of the members were upper-class patricians. Women and slaves were again excluded from this democracy, as were immigrants.

The big slave-owning societies gave way to feudalism and much is made of the Magna Carta of 1215 in Britain when barons forced King John into a written agreement to respect laws and rights – but whose? Yes, in the main, the barons’, with some limited rights for serfs and ‘free men’ (whom the barons would have needed to fight for them against the king if necessary).

The first successful overthrow of monarchy by capitalism was in Britain in 1649, when a majority of Parliament, backed by commercial and financial interests in the City of London, rebelled against King Charles I (and eventually beheaded him). At the same time, movements such as the Levellers and the Diggers sought to impose their concepts of the rights of working people on to the Parliamentarians. Over the centuries there have been many struggles for rights to vote, to belong a trade union, for relief from heavy taxation and expropriation, for fair trial etc., including the Peasant’s Uprising of 1381 and the Chartist’s struggle of 1838 to 1857. People struggling for some measure of democracy and rights were dismissed from work, exiled, jailed, deported to penal colonies, tortured and executed. But universal suffrage, with the right to vote of every citizen at the age of majority (originally 21, then reduced to 18 in 1969) did not enter the British system until 1928. The Irish Free State beat that by five years, with voting rights in the 26 Counties for men and women over 21 years of age in 1923. Of course, this was also a time of considerable repression in the land.

Meeting of Chartists and supporters in 1845 at Kennington Common, SE London. Their movement has been described as the first mass working class movement in Britain. Two of their foremost leaders were Irish.   (Image source: Internet)

 

 

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

The communists espouse a system they call “proletarian democracy” but it has not had a great record overall so far. In Soviet Russia the Bolsheviks turned quickly on their former political party allies and on movements that had supported them among workers, peasants and the armed forces and after that on many members of their own party.

Other revolutionary socialist trends such as Anarchists, Trotskists and some Marxist-Leninists say the problem was not proletarian democracy but the “bureaucratic”, “revisionist” or “Stalinist” way in which it was administered. But how did that proletarian democracy allow itself to be used in such a way? Might that not point to a serious flaw in that system?

On the other hand, Anarchism and Trotskyism have not managed to hold a society long enough for us to judge their own systems of democracy (although critics would say that their general behaviour in managing their own organisations does not give cause for optimism) and states run by people claiming to be marxist-leninists opposed to the USSR have not produced anything like democracy for the people either.

Clearly a way for people to have an equal say in decisions and to participate in their implementation is a necessity for any kind of egalitarian social or political system. Clearly also, if a fair and just society is to be achieved, power must be taken out of the hands of those who use it to exploit the labouring people and to steal natural resources. Perhaps, after a revolution and the expropriation of the rich, the broad outlines of the parliamentary democratic system can be used by the people, combined with checks prohibiting for example involvement in any profit-making schemes and the power of instant recall of a representative when a certain number of the electors demand it. Constituencies might be based on industrial and agricultural sectors and other social groups rather than as they are now, on area alone.

We might want to do away with political parties and have individuals stand on declared policies for election. We could restrict the amount of electoral literature and posters permitted per individual. Of course, we could not prevent such individuals belonging to a party but their election would be as individuals advocating certain policies and they could be elected even if disowned by their party. Such a system would help erode the practice of putting the party first before the needs of the people and encourage the election of individuals on policy advocated and on track record.

Some advocate a decentralised system of self-governing communities relating freely with one another but it is difficult to see what chance such a system would have of working initially, when the old is being overthrown but also possibly mobilising for a comeback and with other parts of the world still under capitalism.

Much more than voting will be required for a real democracy, such as means of engaging people in decision-making at all levels and in toleration of criticism. In this latter area the performance of certain political individuals and all socialist or Irish Republican parties does not give reason for optimism. Again and again we see critics expelled or silenced, or even maligned and threatened, the cult of the individual, cliques pushing for power, the promotion of the party above the interests of the masses, written words censored, untruths promoted, critical thinking discouraged. And sadly, we see many people willing to go along with these practices, whether out of physical fear, fear of isolation or simply not wishing to desert a comfortable path.

It is uncomfortable to be criticised and it is easy to lose patience with critics. However, criticism should be tolerated not only in order to encourage freedom of speech but because no matter how right we think we are and how much we’ve thought it through, we can’t always be right. At the very least, the critics oblige us to justify whatever programs we put forward and criticism can reveal faults, great or small that might otherwise have been overlooked. Toleration of criticism also helps us to relegate our egos to second place next to what is good for an egalitarian social system.

It seems clear that toleration of criticism must be an essential component of any genuine revolutionary democracy. And if that is to be practiced after the revolution, it must be practiced NOW, in our organisations of struggle whether political or social. That practice of toleration of criticism in pre-revolutionary society is one of the most important fronts of organisational struggle at this moment, in preparation for the revolution and the construction of a just society on the rubble of the old. If we fail in this, everything else we do, no matter how well, will come to naught.

end

LINKS AND SOURCES OTHER THAN IN FOOTNOTES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athenian_democracy#Etymology

http://www.theirishstory.com/2013/04/08/democracy-in-ireland-a-short-history/#.WtYBgCMrJsM

FOOTNOTES

1  James Connolly (2008). “Socialism and the Irish Rebellion: Writings from James Connolly”, Red & Black Pub

6 Guido (Guy) Fawkes was an anti-English Reformation Catholic who was discovered in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 to blow up the Houses of Parliament, for which he and others were executed in 1606.

“GAELIC IRELAND” WITH A SNEER

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

When one hears or reads the words “Gaelic Ireland”, the reference usually takes one of four forms:

  1. Historical

  2. Geographical-cultural

  3. Nostalgical

  4. Sneering

Historically

Gaelic Ireland”, when used in a historical sense, is a reference to either a time when the majority of Irish people spoke the Irish language (up to 1800 CE many scholars agree) or to a time when the Gaelic order of society was dominant or when the Gaelic Order survived in some part of Ireland (for example up to the Flight of the Earls in 1607) .

Geographically-Culturally

Perhaps used to describe those shrinking parts of Ireland where Irish remains the mother tongue, more normally called the “Gaeltacht” or “Gaeltachtaí”.

Nostalgically

This is a usage which corresponds somewhat to the historical sense above but is also imbued with nostalgia, a regret for what passed then and perhaps a wish to restore it. Despite the accusations of many of those hostile to the Irish language, relatively few people — including among Irish speakers, have any wish to return to that historical period.

Sneeringly

When referred to in this way, it is to link Irish-speaking with out-of-date things, some kind of anachronism, a backward thing, not suitable for our modern society; frequently linked also to Irish nationalism and De Valera’s concept of the desirable kind of society for Ireland and the 1937 Constitution, therefore linked also to the social and political dominance of the Catholic Church. Such a disdainful attitude is often connected to the disparaging way in which a person may speak about a “Gaeilgeoir” — it is as though the person referring to the Gaeilgeoir, which originally meant only “Irish language speaker”, has in mind a devout Catholic wearing an Aran jumper and generally unfashionable clothes and hairstyle, with a gold “fáinne” (a ring-shaped pin awarded for proficiency in Irish) in his or her jacket (probably Irish tweed).

I fear that this type of attitude is present in most enunciations of “Gaelic Ireland” — certainly outside those of the historical sense.

Although by no means associating the writer of a recent article with this contemptuous opinion of Irish speakers, there was more than a hint of a disparaging attitude expressed, in my opinion, in an article much-praised by many Republicans and some socialists, commenting on the racist expressions of some people after the recent lethal incident in Drogheda recently. Dieter Reinisch, whom I understand to be a left-wing Irish Republican, wrote to separate Irish racist commentators on the recent fatal incident in Drogheda from Irish Republicanism.

The article had a progressive intent and made some valuable points but it also linked this Irish racism with “Gaelic Ireland nationalism”1. Although the article does this through reference to individuals it smears “Gaelic Ireland” through doing so. I would doubt that those Irish racists were even Irish speakers, never mind campaigners for the retention of the language.

IRISH NATIONALISM AND REPUBLICANISM

Reinisch is of course correct historically to say that Irish Republicanism is not fundamentally linked to “Gaelic Ireland” but what is the point he is making? Irish nationalism as a force, in the sense of wanting and acting to achieve an Ireland under its own cultural-social order and not under the economic, social and political rule of a foreign power, can be traced as far back as the time of the O’Neill and O’Donnell partnership, who tried to unite the clans of the native people, the Gael, to oust English occupation from Ireland. They came close to succeeding but in the end, failed and with their exile and that of other Irish clan chiefs the Gaelic Order of society collapsed. The Gaelic Order by the way was in many ways socially superior to that of the feudal Norman invaders, which is one reason why most of the invaders adopted so much of it that, less than two centuries after the start of their invasion of Ireland, their England-based relatives called them “the degenerate English” and passed laws to forbid their adoption of Irish custom and law and end their integration into Gaelic Ireland.2

Irish nationalism continued to try to assert itself, finding large-scale expression at two particular moments in the 17th Century – firstly against Cromwell and secondly against William of Orange. Irish nationalism at that point fought in alliance with the Gall-Ghael, the Irish-speaking or bilingual descendants of the Norman invaders (“the degenerate English”, according to their England-based relatives in 1366), who were mostly concerned with preserving and defending their religion against the imposition of the English Reformation.

A kind of Irish nationalism later began to develop among the colonial settlers, a similar type to that expatriate or colonist nationalism developing among the colonists of Northern America and of what is now called Latin America. Since what made them Irish rather than English, Welsh or Scots was that they lived in Ireland (and for many, had been there for a few generations), they looked through the history of Gaelic Ireland to establish a historical background. They organised the Granard Harp Festival in 1786 and the Belfast Harp Festival in 1792. Edward Bunting noted down the airs played at the latter and published a collection in 1796 (and twice again over following decades).

The colonists of North and Latin America did not, for the most part, incorporate the original natives into their new nationalism3. They did not incorporate them in Ireland either but the United Irishmen did have that as their program and they did try to make it a reality. When Grattan’s attempt to open the Anglican-sectarian Irish Parliament to Presbyterians and Catholics failed through bribery and fear of Anglicans being outvoted, of planters losing the lands their ancestors had grabbed, the United Men became convinced that only armed insurrection could bring about a majority (male) democracy and Irish control of Irish affairs. And the symbol on their flag was that of Gaelic Ireland: the Harp. Underneath it, they had the words: “It is new-strung and shall be heard”.

United Irishmen Harp Motif
(Image sourced on Internet)

Reinisch in his article quotes approvingly on three separate occasions from the writings and speeches of Seán Ó Brádaigh. It might surprise some readers to know that this same Ó Brádaigh and his brother the late Ruairí, were Irish-speakers and writers and promoted the speaking of the language. They were for a Gaelic Ireland, albeit a Republican one. They and the organisation they helped create, Provisional Sinn Féin and Provisional IRA, unfortunately in many ways bowed to the influence of the Catholic Church, even though the hierarchy and many clergy denounced them continuously. Mac Stiofáin, who also gets a mention in Reinisch’s article, told me once that although he believed Church and State should be separated, in true republican fashion, also maintained that there should be no freedom to propagandise against religion!

Could Irish Republicanism in the 1700s not have adopted the language of the majority of the people? Some did indeed learn Irish and probably most Ulster Presbyterians, at least outside Belfast city, were at least competent in the basics up to 1798 and many probably fluent. It is hard to imagine that anyone living in Mayo in that year, whether planter or native, was not conversant with the Irish language and certainly it would have been the language of the vast majority there and in the surrounding counties. Wexford is generally agreed an exception by historians, in having been the most Anglicised of Irish counties in 1798.

English was the dominant language of the State and of the colonist administration. But also of the United Irishmen leaders, we can assume – certainly it was the dominant language of their political discourse as recorded in both their own publications and in the reports of the Crown spies and witnesses. Radical and revolutionary ideas were coming in from Revolutionary France and from the revolutionaries of the United States, as Reinisch relates but also very importantly from England – for example Tom Paine’s “The Rights of Man”. The native Irish were either totally excluded from the strata of society where – and the language in which — these ideas were being discussed or they occupied a much more insecure position in which they tried to improve their situation through English without calling down disfavour or even repression upon themselves. There was probably a strata which tried to advance itself under colonial rule and considered that Irish would ‘hold them back’.

There is very little contemporary folk record in existence in Irish of the United Irishmen and one must go to Mícheál Óg Ó Longáin4, Irish language scholar, poet and Unitedman who was “out” or “up” that fateful year, to find his “Buachaillí Loch Garman” (“the Boys of Wexford”) and lyrics of “Sliabh na mBan” to the song’s wonderful air …. and probably “Maidin Luan Chincíse” too.5

The Rising of 1798 failed as did Emmet’s attempt in 1803. Irish Republicanism and Irish nationalism continued to exist and were partly asserted by O’Connell’s campaigns for Catholic civil rights and repeal of the Union as well as by trends such as those of Mitchell and the “Young Irelanders”, most of the latter being Protestants and often hostile to what they saw as O’Connell’s linking Irish nationalism to Catholicism. Mitchell was not a democratic republican but other Young Irelanders were.

Here again, the creation (or renewal) of an Irish nationalism did not incorporate the Irish language although there were nods in its direction. Again, most of its leaders were Protestants but they looked back, as others of colonist background had before, to a Gaelic Ireland. Take Thomas Davis’ celebration of the 1798 uprising in Mayo:

That chainless wave and lovely land 
Freedom and nationhood demand; 
Be sure the great God never planned 
For slumb’ring slaves a home so grand. 
And long a brave and haughty race 
Honoured and sentinelled the place. 
Sing, Oh! not even their sons’ disgrace 
Can quite destroy their glory’s trace. 

For often, in O’Connor’s van, 
To triumph dashed each Connacht clan. 
And fleet as deer the Normans ran 
Thro’ Corrsliabh Pass and Ardrahan; 
And later times saw deeds as brave, 
And glory guards Clanricard’s grave, 
Sing, Oh! they died their land to save 
At Aughrim’s slopes and Shannon’s wave. 

Davis here looks to the history of the Gaelic clans of Connacht resisting foreign invasion, incorporating also the mostly Gaelicised Norman-Irish clan of Clanricarde, the Mac Williams who became Burkes or De Búrca.

It is well to remember, particularly for those who link “Gaelic Ireland” with Irish Catholic nationalism, that many of those prominent in the latter category had no time for the Irish language – in fact, on that issue at least, they would have seemed very at home among those today who say the words “Gaelic Ireland” with a sneer. Daniel O’Connell, who was a native Irish speaker and apparently spoke only Irish until five years of age, stated that he was “sufficiently utilitarian not to regret ….. the gradual abandonment” (of the Irish language) – and this at a time when probably 40% of the country’s population were Irish-speaking.

Portrait of Daniel O’Connell, campaigner for Catholic rights and the repeal of the Union — but no lover of the Irish language
(Image source: Internet)

Irish nationalism and republicanism continued as a strong thread through Irish history, peaking again in the late 19th Century with the Fenians. The Irish Republican Brotherhood or ‘Fenians’ as we know them in that period today contained many Irish-speakers including the famous O’Donabháin Rosa, who wrote his biography in Irish but the Irish language was still not their main language of political literature.

Some of the IRB were deeply working class and they were accepted into the First International Working Men’s Association in England, championed by Marx and Engels (the latter was learning Irish with the intention of writing a history of Ireland which sadly he did not bring to fruition). In the USA also most of the Fenians would have been working class although they included some of the upper middle class among the Irish diaspora. The Fenian conspiracy in Ireland was discovered and plans for insurrection largely upset, leaders and journalists arrested and the military units considered at risk sent away out of Ireland.

IRISH LANGUAGE REVIVAL

Another kind of Irish nationalism saw a resurgence in the later years of the 20th Century and, again, it was the Anglo-Irish, descendants of planters and mostly Protestant, who were the intelligentsia leading it. A kind of antiquarian and romantic interest in the Irish language and culture was followed by a more practical and restorative one and the Gaelic League (now Connradh na Gaeilge) was founded in 1893 by a group led by Douglas Hyde (Dubhghlas de hÍde)6, an Anglican and son of Anglican clergy, who became fluent in the language. This was followed in 1898 with the founding of the Irish Texts Society, a publishing initiative with Hyde as one of the founders and its publication of Dineen’s thick dictionary, Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla, which was first published in 1904 (and still a wonderful source of words and phrases).

The Gaelic League promoted Irish dance, games and culture in addition to the language. Although Hyde’s passion for an Ghaeilge originated in his childhood and early adolescence in Co. Roscommon, he graduated in 1884 as a Moderator in Modern Literature from Trinity College, Dublin, where he had became fluent in French, Latin, German, Greek and Hebrew.

The League/ Connradh grew fast, branches and courses attracting not only the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and upper middle classes but also other social strata. In fact it became a mass movement, with 600 branches in 1903 and through its influence the language was introduced to 1,300 national schools.7

A year later, Conradh na Gaeilge’s membership extended to some 50,000 members in 600 branches8, probably assisted by rising nationalist feeling but in turn it certainly fed that outlook. As a mass movement, it took in professionals and others of middle-class background, as well as labourers and tradesmen.

Among the many prominent Irish nationalists and Republicans (called “progressive nationalists” at the time) of those years was Patrick Pearse/ Pádraig Mac Piarais and Reinisch reminds us that his father was not Irish. Son of a Cornishman and Unitarian who formally converted to Catholicism, Pearse soon gained prominence as a writer and speaker in both English and the Irish language and also founded a school to teach through the medium of the Irish language.

Like many other active Republicans of his day, Pearse was recruited into the IRB and chosen to give the seminal oration at the interment of repatriated Fenian O’Donobháin Rosa’s body in 1915. As related earlier, O’Donobháin Rosa was an Irish speaker and when Pearse spoke at his grave, first in Irish which is rarely quoted, in the rest of his speech in English he said: “The clear true eyes of this man almost alone in his day visioned Ireland as we of to-day would surely have her: not free merely, but Gaelic as well; not Gaelic merely, but free as well.”

Pearse was chosen again as Commander-in-Chief of the insurrectionary forces in the 1916 Rising. Pearse’s memory is often attacked by ‘revisionist’ historians and some of the “Gaelic Ireland with a sneer” crowd – accusations of a repressed homosexual identity, of ‘green nationalism’, of blood-thirst etc. However, a fair assessment of his life would reveal a political activist who sympathised with the workers fighting the Lockout in 1913 and objected to Redmond’s refusal to allow women to speak at a meeting on Home Rule; would find also an individual generous with his time and energy, a talented writer who sought the creation of a modern literature in Irish on a par with those of England, France and Germany, as well as being an educator and proponent of progressive youth educational theory that stands well the test of time.

Pearse was among the people that Hyde accused of politicising the language, which Hyde gave as his reason for resignation of the Presidency of Connradh na Gaeilge. Looking back now, we might well ask how could it have been otherwise? Everything cultural of a national aspect was becoming politicised in those years: sport, song, drama, literature, journalism, oratory, lectures, representational art – even cooperatives, trade unions and some commercial ventures – why expect language to be any different? In fact, surely instead expect politicisation there first of all!

The other Irish nationalists of the time, the Irish Parliamentary Party led by John Redmond, ‘constitutionalist’, Catholic and socially conservative, expressed no great interest in the Irish language. Another branch of Irish constitutional nationalism, represented by William Martin Murphy, was no friend of the Irish language either and ran the most vicious campaigns against the Irish Republicans.

Of the Seven Signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, four (Ceannt, MacDiarmada, Mac Donagh and Patrick Pearse) were members of the Connradh. The remaining three were at least neutral or approving of the movement. Of the fifteen executions by British firing squads and one by hanging following the Rising, at least six were members of the Gaelic League. Large numbers of activists and leaders in the Republican movement from 1916 to 1922 were Irish speakers, either fluent or at least competent and christening records of the period show increasing numbers of Irish language names (or Irish versions of names from abroad) given to children. This period was the last great flowering of the Irish language as a mass movement in modern history.9

What of the Left in Ireland? A house painter by trade, Peadar Kearney (Peadar Ó Cearnaigh)10 of Catholic background joined the Gaelic League and at some point attendees at Irish classes he taught included the socialist writer and founder of the Irish Citizen Army, Sean O’Casey11 (Seán Ó Cathasaigh), of Anglican background. Irish was taught in Liberty Hall, HQ of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union.

Later, native Irish speaker Peadar O’Donnell, republican fighter, socialist activist and writer, was employed for a while teaching in Aranmore, Co. Donegal, an Irish-speaking area, where he apparently adopted socialism and joined the IT&GWU, for which he also became an organiser. In later years he founded the ill-fated Republican Congress, fought against Franco and founded The Bell literary journal. O’Donnell seems to have written little in Irish but in his acclaimed “Islanders”, the construction of dialogue is clearly derived from the Irish language. Later still, Brendan Behan (Breandán Ó Beacháin), a socialist Republican, wrote in Irish and in English and a Republican who became a Marxist, Connemara man Máirtín Ó Cadhain12, wrote in Irish and campaigned on the rights of Irish speakers and of people living in the Gaeltacht.

In and around those names there would have been many others, Left activists and supporters, unknown now but native speakers or those who learned the language, thought it important and spoke it.

Many socialists seem sometimes to think that the “unity of the working class” is best achieved by doing away with different cultures. They seem to forget that though there is one working class, there are a great many national cultures — and what a poor world it would be if those cultures disappeared.

THE STATE AND POLITICAL PARTIES

Some of the attacks on “Gaelic Ireland” seek to tie it first of all to the right-wing neo-colonial state set up in 1921, or the form it took after 1922, or as mentioned earlier, the De Valera/ Fianna Fáil state from the mid-1930s.

The New State

When the Irish Free State was set up as a compromise with British imperialism and colonialism, backed by a section of the nationalist-Republican movement and in alliance with Irish gombeen capitalism and the Catholic Church, it was actually a very insecure and uncertain endeavour. This perhaps explains the ferocity of the State in the Civil War and afterwards, with large-scale repression, 83 official executions and around a 120 assassinations of Republicans – in less than a 12-month period. Two years later, in 1924 the State faced an attempted Army mutiny and possible coup d’etat, led by Major-General Liam Tobin, with a number of prominent right-wing nationalist politicians in support.

The new owners of the State tried to ensure that nationalist symbols were not left unclaimed to be appropriated by Irish Republicans and so appropriated them themselves: the Tricolour, the Soldiers’ Song and the Irish language. However, this was no foregone conclusion nor an easy process. They had to bear in mind also the British, who had merely stepped off stage into the wings, who were also on stage in the Six Counties, as well as the large constituency of Unionists on both sides of the Border.

For example, God Save the King was played and sung at some State and many other formal occasions, though The Soldiers’ Song was sung by many Republicans. Let Erin Remember was the song favoured by some in the State and it was the air played for the Irish State at the 1924 Paris Olympics. After a struggle, The Soldiers’ Song was finally agreed as the National Anthem in 1926.

Far from being enthusiasts for any kind of “Gaelic Ireland”, the new State continued to use English as the language of administration, even in areas where 80% of the population were Irish-speaking.

A qualification in Irish was required to apply for state jobs but a high level of fluency was not needed13, “and few public employees were ever required to use Irish in the course of their work. On the other hand, state employees had to have perfect command of English and had to use it constantly. Because most public employees had a poor command of Irish, it was impossible to deal with them in Irish. If an Irish speaker wanted to apply for a grant, obtain electricity, or complain about being over-taxed, they would typically have had to do so in English.”14 As late as 1986, a Bord na Gaeilge report noted “…the administrative agencies of the state have been among the strongest forces for Anglicisation in Gaeltacht areas”15

The two main daily newspapers at the time in Ireland were the right-wing nationalist Irish Independent and the Unionist-minded Anglophile Irish Times16 and neither promoted the Irish language nor even covered Gaelic games, although they reported on rugby and cricket matches.

Fianna Fáil and the Blueshirts

Fianna Fail was created early in 1926 and in 1932, only six years later it was in government of the State. One year later, the right-wing Army Comrades Association adopted the uniform which included the blue shirt and by that time had over 30,000 members and battles were taking place between them and the IRA and other Republicans. Eoin O’Duffy had been an IRA guerrilla leader in the Irish War of Independence, a general in the Free State Army in the Civil War and Commissioner of the state’s police force, the Garda Síochána from 1922 to 1933. After Fianna Fáil’s easy re-election in February 1933, De Valera dismissed O’Duffy as Commissioner and a few months later O’Duffy took leadership of the ACA and renamed it the National Guard, adopting the straight-arm Roman salute favoured by the fascists.

That same year the Blueshirts planned a march on Dublin, believed my many historians to be a prelude to a coup d’etat; certainly De Valera thought so and, unsure of the Army’s loyalty, banned the march and subsequently outlawed the organisation. That year also Fine Gael was formed, incorporating the Blueshirts, Cumann na nGaedhal and the National Centre Party, with O’Duffy as its President.

De Valera founded the daily newspaper Irish Press in 1931 which had an alternative version of its title in Irish – Scéala Éireann – and as well as covering the GAA games, had sections in Irish. However the position of the Irish language in the affairs of the State did not change.

Though the Great Hunger caused he most impressive loss of Irish-speaking modern Ireland on the map, the percentage lost by the Irish state is greater.
(Image source: Internet)

Throughout Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments, the Gaeltacht – the Irish-speaking areas – continued to suffer deprivation of resources. Even by the early 1960s, many homes in those areas did not have electricity, running water or sewage drains. Primary schools typically had a headmaster and female teacher to administer and teach all subjects at all levels. Deprivation led to massive emigration, not only to the metropolis but also to the USA and to Britain. Today, the Gaeltacht is 9.1% the size of what it was when the Irish State was created or, in other words, the State has presided over a Gaeltacht decline of over 90%17 — as a friend commented: “Not even Cromwell or the Great Hunger wreaked such linguistic devastation”.

In the 1960s, no matter what party was in government or in local authority, Irish-language campaigners had to fight for minimal funding for land allocation, schools and broadcasting in Irish. People went to jail for civil disobedience and were fined for refusing to pay for their TV and radio licences and, briefly, a pirate Gaeltacht radio station was in operation.

The Labour Party and Sinn Féin

The Labour Party, whether to the right or left, has never shown itself to be a friend of the Irish language.

Sinn Fein (Provisional) would nominally be expected to be supportive of the Irish language but the real test is in its campaigning and practice within its own party. Its public and internal meetings are held in English (as with other Republican parties) and throughout the three decades of the war in the Six Counties it did not organise or mobilise the Gaeltacht people to improve their position and defend their communities from emigration and the penetration and eventual supremacy of the English language.

In conclusion, to associate the Irish language or culture with any of the political parties or any administration of the State is fundamentally incorrect from a historical point of view.

FOCAL SCOIR OR IN CONCLUSION

Would those who sneer when they say “Gaelic Ireland” do likewise at the mention of “French France”, “Spanish Spain”18, “Italian Italy”, “German Germany” or “Polish Poland”? I think not. No, national cultures are not sneered at by the Right or the Left in Ireland – only Irish culture and, particularly, the language.

John Kells Ingram19, an academic, mathematician and writer of planter descent from southeast Donegal (and probably bilingual), in 1843 wrote the lyrics “In Memory of the Dead” (better known as “Who Fears to Speak of ’98”). He was decrying the distancing by Daniel O’Connell and his Catholic movement from the deeds and principles of the United Irish Men in 1798. If I may paraphrase him a little to refer to the kind of Irish person today who says “Gaelic Ireland” with a sneer: “He’s all a knave or half a slave, who slights his people’s culture thus”.

Fanon20 would agree, I’m sure.

A chríoch.

SOME SOURCES AND REFERENCES:

https://me.eui.eu/dieter-reinisch/blog/dundalk-racism-republicanism/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amhr%C3%A1n_na_bhFiann#Official_adoption

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Army_Mutiny

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blueshirts

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Irish_language#Independent_Ireland_and_the_language

Black Skin, White Masks (1952), (1967 translation by Charles Lam Markmann: New York: Grove Press)

The Wretched of the Earth (1961), (1963 translation by Constance Farrington: New York: Grove Weidenfeld)

1 “……. individual Republican activists use Gaelic Nationalism to justify their anti-migrant and racist parochialism”

3The North American republicans did not admit the Indigenous People as citizens and many set out to exterminate them. Many also condoned slavery and some owned slaves. The Latin American republicans also mostly sought the expropriation of Indigenous people and also organised massacres but, for the most part, abandoned slavery earlier than the USA.

4Cork poet and strong Republican Mícheál Óg Ó Longáin (1766/-1837) is usually credited with writing Buachaillí Loch Garman and Sliabh na mBan (although one source, probably mistaken, credits his son Peadar with the latter two). Mícheál’s work as a scribe, scholar and teacher was a useful cover for acting as a United Irishmen courier.

5There are a few songs from Mayo too, by unknown authors.

6Douglas Hyde (Dubhghlas De hÍde) was elected first Uachtarán na hÉireann (President of the Irish state) from 1938-1945.

9The last to date but hopefully not the last.

10Peadar Kearney was a member of the Irish Volunteers and IRB, fought in 1916 and was interned; he became a prolific writer of nationalist ballads — but also of “Labour’s Call”, a song with very socialist lyrics – and is the co-author with Patrick Heeney of “The Soldiers’ Song”, the national anthem of the Irish state.

11Sean O’Casey (1880-1964) was born in Dublin into a lower middle-class family in straitened circumstances.

12Máirtín Ó Cadhain (1906-1970); interned by the Irish State during the 2nd World War years and later activist for the Gaeltacht which led to the founding of the Rath Cairn Gaeltacht in Co. Meath. Ó Cadhain’s most famous written work, the novel “Cré na Cille” (1949) was later translated into many languages. Ó Cadhain was also a founder and leading activist of the original Irish-language civil rights campaign Misneach which engaged in agitation and civil disobedience (another campaign by the same name now exists) in Dublin and other places.

13Hence the jibe about the mere “cúpla focal” of Irish of politicians and civil servants.

14See Wikipedia in Sources

15 Advisory Planning Committee of Bord na Gaeilge, The Irish Language in a Changing Society: Shaping The Future, p.41. Criterion, 1986 (quoted in Wikipedia – see Sources).

16Both had called for the punishment by the British of the 1916 Rising leaders but the Independent had actually called for the executions of Connolly and Mac Diarmada.

17Extrapolation from the Census statistics of the years 1926, when there were 246,811 Irish speakers in the Gaeltacht and the 2016 Census when 20,586 remained, which is 8.34% of the 1926 number or a reduction of 91%. http://www.cso.ie/en/media/csoie/census/census1926results/volume8/C_1926_VOL_8_T8,9,10.pdf

18In fact, there are ground for objecting to the terminology of “French France” and “Spanish Spain” but only because those two states do not value and even suppress the other national languages within their state boundaries, e.g Euskera, Catalan, Occitan, Corse, Asturian, Galician ….

19John Kells Ingram (1823-1907)

20Franz Omar Fanon (1925-1961) was born and raised in Martinique; qualifying as an MD and psychiatrist, practised in Algeria during the war of liberation against the French, where he was a covert member of the resistance. Fanon was a politically radical intellectual, Pan-Africanist and Marxist humanist whose written work is very influential in particular in “post-colonial studies”. He described the psychopathology of colonisation in quite accessible writing, showing how – among other things – the colonised internalise the image of themselves projected by the coloniser and aspire to the “sophistication” of the latter and his culture (see two of his works listed in the Sources & References section.

GEORGE GALLOWAY ADDRESSES ANTI-IMPERIALIST MARCH IN DUBLIN

Clive Sulish

A crowd gathered at the Dublin and Monaghan Bombing Monument in Talbot Street this evening for a short ceremony and the start of a march to rally at the General Post Office building in Dublin city’s main street. The event was organised by Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland “to highlight imperialist war-crimes around the world, from Ireland to Yemen and Syria.”

View of section of crowd before start of event with the Memorial in the background (Photo: D.Breatnach)

View of section of crowd near the Memorial before start of event
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

View of section of crowd near the Memorial before start of event
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

View of section of crowd near the Memorial before start of event
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

As people assembled, a crowd of European youngsters was noted passing by, no doubt part of some scheme to learn English and something of the culture outside their own country. Sadly their teacher passed by the Monument without calling their attention to it.

The bombings on 17 May 1974, killing 33 civilians and a full-term unborn child and injuring almost 300, claimed the highest toll of any event during the 30 Years War and was the deadliest attack in the history of the Irish State. The bombings were organised by British Intelligence agents with Loyalist participation and not one person was ever charged.

It was not a good day for the march and participants came prepared for the worst but the rain stopped just before the event and held off, apart from an occasional drizzle, until after the event, when it fairly lashed down.

George Galloway approaching the Monument to lay a floral (Photo: D.Breatnach)

George Galloway after laying wreath, hat removed for a moment in respect. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Pádraig Ó Fearghaill spoke first in Irish welcoming all who had attended, outlined the order of events and then called on George Galloway, famous British anti-imperialist politician, writer and broadcaster, to lay a floral wreath at the monument, which he did. Ó Fearghaill then called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing the Woody Guthrie song about the massacre of mineworkers in Colorado, USA, by capitalists including the imperialist John D.Rockefeller. Breatnach sang “The Ludlow Massacre”.

The march then formed up and, led by a floral wreath-holder and black flags, proceeded up Talbot Street, into North Earl Street and up to the GPO. Along the way they chanted “From Ireland to Palestine- Occupation is a Crime” and “Donald Trump/Theresa May- How many kids did you kill today?” The demonstration received a lot of support from passers by along the way and drivers of cars and buses who beeped to show support. The marchers, some of who were carrying candles or light up boards made there way to the GPO where a further crowd had already gathered.

Section of crowd at GPO (Photo: D.Breatnach)

From well-known activists participating and banners carried it was clear that the march had attracted wide support across sections of the Republican movement in parties and campaigns, with participation of independent activists of republican, anarchist and socialist background.

Section of crowd at GPO (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Outside the GPO building, Ó Fearghaill called on Máire Uí Mhaoileoin to lay a wreath in memory of those who have lost their lives as a result of imperialist war-crimes and then introduced George Galloway, who remarked that he was proud to speak outside the building that had played such a part in the first blow against the British Empire of the last century. Galloway went on to refer to continuing British occupation of the Six Counties of Ireland and imperialist interference in the Middle East and the occupation of some countries. In the latter category he praised the Palestinian Ehed Tamimi, whose 17th birthday was just that day and called her “a leader of the resistance for the whole Middle East”.

Section of crowd at GPO (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Reminding the attendance of the ongoing crime of internment, Ó Fearghaill announced a representative of a campaign around Tony Taylor, who announced he was reading a statement from Lorraine Taylor, Tony’s wife. Taylor, a Derry Republican, was detained in March 2016 and has been in jail since, without trial or even charge.

Section of crowd at GPO (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Presenting Diarmuid Breatnach again to sing the famous Eric Bogle anti-war song “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” referencing the bush-ballad of “Waltzing Matilda”, the Australian unofficial national anthem. However, following

Section of crowd at GPO (Photo: D.Breatnach)

a suggestion from a participant, Breatnach led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” in English and in Irish to Palestinian child-prisoner Ehed Tamimi. After Breatnach’s rendition of Bogle’s song, Ó Fearghaill thanked all the the participants and promised that Anti-Imperialist Ireland would continue to build up resistance against imperialism in Ireland and in the world beyond.

End

Section of crowd at GPO (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Section of crowd at GPO (Photo: D.Breatnach)

“Be Moderate” (or “We Only Want the Earth”) by James Connolly

The lyrics were written by James Connolly and published in his songbook Songs of Freedom in New York in 1907.  Diarmuid replaced the words “labour” with “workers” and “true men” with “true hearts”.  There was no indication of to what air the song should be sung (quite common, the expectation being that being would use a popular air at the time) and it has been put to at least three airs.

Diarmuid Breatnach here sings it to the air of A Nation Once Again (by Thomas Davis, ‘Young Irelander’) which is the air he heard it sung by Cornelius Cardew, an English communist composer.  This air suits it and the arrangement provides a chorus in which people can join.

The recording was done at the weekly Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign table (Saturdays 11.30am-1.30pm) with Bart Hoppenbrouwers videoing.

James Connolly was one of around 350 men and women who occupied the Moore Street area during the 1916 Rising after the evacuation of the burning GPO, which had been the HQ of the Rising.  Connolly was one of five signatories of the Proclamation who spent their last hours of freedom in those houses and one of six of the fourteen executed after they surrendered in Moore Street.

The Irish Government, property speculators and the Planning Dept. of Dublin City Council are all pushing that only four buildings in that battleground be saved and a huge supermarket be built over the whole area but the SMSFD campaign wants the whole quarter saved and sensitively developed.

end.

https://www.facebook.com/save.moore.st.from.demolition/