SATURDAY NOVEMBER 12th AN ANTI-FASCIST ACTION CONFERENCE WAS HELD IN DUBLIN CITY CENTRE, TITLED “THEY SHALL NOT PASS – 80 YEARS OF FIGHTING FASCISM”
The speakers were Dr.Brian Hanley, Dr.Mark Hayes and Ciaran Crossey, with the event chaired by Helen Keane.
I missed the beginning of the conference and unfortunately the whole of Ciaran Crossey’s presentation, arriving near the start of Brian Hanley’s to a packed conference room.
Brian Hanley gave a comprehensive history of the main components of the development of fascism in Ireland in the 26 Counties until the collapse of its impetus at the end of the 1930s. Hanley’s talk built on his Pamphlet: Ireland’s shame: the Blueshirts, the Christian Front and the far right in Ireland, (Belfast, 2016) by adding a review of Ailtirí na hAiséirghe, the minor but energetic organisation formed in 1942 under the leadership of Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin, which aimed for an anti-semitic Catholic and corporatist state.
Hanley packed all that into 45 minutes with apparently occasional deviations from his notes, full of interesting observations. Locating the thrust towards fascism in the strongly Catholic and anti-communist atmosphere of the 1930s in Ireland (with elements of anti-semitism), it was surprising to hear excerpts from speeches and right-wing periodicals of the period referring to the Fianna Fáil Government as “communist” and “under orders from Moscow”. It was interesting too to hear brief accounts of pitched battles between fascists and Republicans around the country during the height of the Blueshirt era, how much of a social base and energy the latter gave to the Fine Gael party and to accounts of the Soldiers’ Song (the Irish National Anthem) being attended to with the fascist salute (which led to violence in one cinema at least). Another interesting if somewhat disappointing snippet was that the AT&G, a trade union with HQ in Britain, was the one that most prominently took a stand against Franco in the 1930s while many Irish union leaderships took the opposite side.
The Chair announced a short break immediately after Hanley’s contribution which sadly resulted in no questions on Hanley’s contribution when the conference reconvened with perhaps 80% of the earlier attendance.
The post-break session began with a talk by Mark Hayes, well-known in Britain in particular as a veteran anti-fascist activist and organiser.
Hayes began by seeking to establish a description of fascism and then went on to dissect and disprove a number of reasons given by commentators for its incidence – religion, psychology of the masses of certain countries, psychology of fascist leaders, the middle class — but concluded that fascism occurs when the ruling class of a country is ready to implement it and able to do so. During the 1930s and ’40s, the ruling classes of a number of European countries opted for fascism while others did not. Britain for example had leaders who admired fascism, including Churchill (and Hayes quoted some of the latter’s public statements) but could not tolerate a Europe under the control of one country, which explained, Hayes said, why Britain went to war with Hitler and Mussolini.
Some individuals apart, the profile of fascists and supporters was “depressingly normal”, Hayes maintained which demonstrates that a successful rise of fascism is potentially possible anywhere. There is no firewall between capitalist democracies and fascism and commentators who maintain that “it couldn’t happen here” or that its time has run out, as one prominent commentator claims, are sadly mistaken.
The growth of fascism is assisted by the capitalist State with increasing attacks on civil freedoms and on the rights of workers. Hayes saw this as being particularly initiated in Britain under the Prime Ministership of Margaret Thatcher and her Government, with attacks on the legal rights of trade unions and the use of massed ranks of police. He drew attention to the “prevent” strategy in Britain today as a state-introduced oppressive and repressive measure.
Questions & Contributions
At the end of Hayes’ presentation the Chairperson Helen Keane opened up the floor to questions.
There were four contributions from the floor, only one of which was a question: it was about the content of the Prevent Strategy which Hayes’ had mentioned earlier. Hayes replied that managers of colleges in “the UK” now have a legal obligation to identify and report to the authorities anyone exhibiting “extremism” which is turning them into part of the police force, which was an aspect of fascist rule in society. “Extremism” is problematically identified as being in opposition to “British values” which are formulated as “moderation, fair play”, etc but those alleged values completely ignore the history of Britain’s colonial conquest and imperialism.
A contributor addressed the liberal dismay at the election of Trump, criticised the alleged feminist politics of Hilary Clinton with regard to the USA’s war policies and their effects on women elsewhere in the world; finally he expressed his belief in the necessity to stand by Russia and Syria.
Anothercontribution framed as a question but in reality more of a comment was made in relation to the history of the growth of state fascism in Britain, which the contributor ascribed to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, introduced by a Labour Government a year before Thatcher’s Conservative Party gained a majority. That year, 1974 was also the year of the killing by police of the first known anti-fascist martyr in modern times in Britain, Kevin Gately in Red Lion Square in London.
The contributor went on to express the view that although AFA had made a huge and the principal contribution to the defeat of modern fascism in Britain, the policy of “No Free Speech for Fascists” had been put forward by the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) in the very early 1970s1 before the formation of AFA2, a policy which no other political party on the Left would support at the time. That policy had been popularised through the action of the Afro-Asian Student Society, which had close links with the CPE (m-l) and which was influential in bringing about the “no platform for fascists” policy in the National Union of Students in Britain in 1974.
Hayes agreed that of course there had been earlier organisations and also stated that the actions of the Labour Government in Ireland had been fascist but felt that in Britain, Thatcher had brought about the definitive introduction of State fascism and that “in 30 minutes it’s not possible to cover every detail.”
The issue of the attitude towards “our only native ethnic minority”, the Irish Travellers, was raised by another contributor, attacking the endemic wrongs in the treatment of this group within the country and defending their need to be recognised as an ethnic minority.
The event ended with a reading by Máirín Ní Fháinnín of the translation into English of a short poem by Flor Cernuda, who after a period of post-war imprisonment in a concentration camp, worked for many years for the underground resistance against Franco’s regime. The poem’s title is Las Brigadas Internacionales.
The conference was full of interesting information and the speakers I heard were of good quality in presentation, in knowledge of history and in analysis. There was undoubtedly a lack of discussion, which was a pity. In addition I was surprised that the Dublin anti-fascists’ victory in denying Pegida their Irish launch was not mentioned – small-scale though the battle was, Dublin was as far as I’m aware the only city in a European state which Pegida had targeted to launch their party and had failed to do so, being driven out of the city centre by vigorous action.
The Dublin Anti-Internment Committee organised an information table on Internment outside the Kilmainham Jail Museum on Sunday 11th September 2016. The purpose of the exercise was to make tourists and other visitors aware of the ongoing repression and civil rights abuse that is going on in Ireland which is internment by another name. As their leaflet points out, Republicans opposed to the British colonialism or to economic attacks on their communities and who organise against them are being targeted in a process that sees them arrested, charged with ‘terrorist’ offences, refused bail (or granted only attendant by ridiculous restrictions) and then, when the case against them collapses much later and they are freed, they will still have spent years in jail.
The Dublin Committee, affiliated to the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, mobilised outside the former jail in the afternoon, displayed their banners and gave out leaflets to passers-by, tourists and visitors (not all who were from outside Ireland, by any means).
Kilmainham Jail is a Dublin prison with an important history. It was built before the Great Hunger and housed female and male prisoners, including children. Insurgents and political activists from the United Irishmen, they Young Irelanders, the Fenians, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War had been kept here, including those being deported to Australia. Robert Emmet and Anne Devlin were kept prisoner here, as were Charles Stewart Parnell and most of the Irish Parliamentary Party’s leadership. All fourteen of the 1916 sixteen executed were judicially killed in this jail and women activists were jailed here after the 1916 Rising and during the Civil War.
The Jail closed in 1924 and was falling into disrepair; the State invited tenders for its demolition but felt that those they received were too expensive and so just left the building abandoned to ruin. However a local restoration committee got going, raised some money and began repair and restoration work with volunteer labour, skilled and unskilled.
In 1966, in time for the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising, the restoration committee handed over the building to the State which, since then, has seen a huge attendance with nearly 330,000 visitors last year. Recent works moved the front entrance of the museum to the former courthouse building next door and a reported €5 is being spent on revamping the facility.
Five families with a combined total of ten children are resisting eviction from a building on Dublin’s O’Connell Street where they have been placed in emergency accommodation by Dublin City Council. The building in question, Lynam’s Hotel, has been taken over from its owner by NAMA and the families have been told that they must leave so that it can be turned into temporary accommodation for tourists. Already there are many tourists renting the rest of the 43 suites.
The families however have decided that they are not going to leave and Irish Housing Network has organised support for them. Volunteers were outside on Wednesday as one of the parents had been told that day to leave with her child, which she was refusing to do. She was then given an extension until Friday but on Thursday, another family were told to move and they too were holding out with supporters nearby. Towards the end of the day that family too was given an extension.
Some of the families in question attended the Dáil late on Thursday afternoon, where Thomas Pringle, Independent TD, asked a question regarding the situation of a junior Government Minister for Housing. Clare Daly TD reportedly had been trying to get a question asked since Monday. Presumably this question has as part of its purpose to draw media attention to the issue and to put pressure on the landlord not to evict the families.
NAMA was set up allegedly to recoup money from speculators who had overextended their credit and could not clear their debts. The idea presented to the public was that, as the Government had bailed out with public money the banks who had lent out to speculators sums far in excess of what was commercially justifiable, the State would take the properties and sell them, putting the money gained back into the public purse. What has in fact been happening is that NAMA has been selling these properties off to vulture speculators, who are snapping them up at prices well below their market value. One of these vulture speculators is Hammerson, a British-based property speculator company, which is rumoured to be looking to buy the hotel. Hammerson also has bought Chartered Land’s (Joe Reilly) property empire and with it, planning permission to demolish all but four buildings of the Moore Street quarter and to build a huge shopping centre over the historic battleground and national monument.
Many acknowledge that there is a housing crisis currently in Ireland and in particular in Dublin. The Irish State that was created in 1922 has been since its inception in support of capitalists, including speculators, but against workers and lower-middle class people. Nevertheless in the past local authorities did build some social housing to rent but these days, Dublin City Council does not want the role of managing housing and has sold off most of its stock and not built any new houses for decades.
One of the people who fought against the State we have inherited was killed by Free State soldiers in O’Connell Street and a small plaque commemorates him on the corner of the building there now. Cathal Brugha had been wounded 25 times in the Easter Rising and beat the odds to survive, though he walked with a limp thereafter. In 1919 he organised the IRA from the Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army who were willing to join. In 1921 he voted against the Treaty and in 1922 led a force of IRA against the new Free State in order to ease the pressure on the Republican forces who were being shelled at the Four Courts. He was shot down in the street this month, 94 years ago, across the street from Lynam’s Hotel.
On Friday 22nd, the IHN called a public protest outside the hotel. Although at short notice and called for 1pm, therefore during office hours, up to 30 people supported the protest. The event attracted considerable media and public attention.
Irish Housing Network is set to continue to support the families in resisting eviction and volunteers may wish to get in touch with the organisation to help maintain a support rota for the families https://www.facebook.com/irishhousingnetwork/.
On Sunday 8th May a working-class hero was commemorated in the East Wall area in which he lived. Walter Carpenter was a native of Kent, in SE England and came to Ireland to help found the Socialist Party of Ireland 1 with James Connolly in 1909 in Dublin. Among other activities a campaigner around housing issues for the Dublin working class, he reared his sons in socialist belief so that it was no surprise that both Wally (Walter jnr) and Peter joined the Irish Citizen Army and fought in the 1916 Rising. As a result of the repression of the Rising, one son ended up in Frongoch concentration camp in Wales, while the other was in hiding. Later, both brothers also fought against the Free State in the Irish Civil War; Wally was interned and went on hunger strike.
Jailed for opposing British Royal visit to Dublin
Rising to be Secretary of the Dublin Branch of the SPI in 1911, Walter Carpenter was jailed for a month for the production while speaking on a public platform of Connolly’s leaflet attacking the Royal visit that same year. Soon afterwards he was an organiser for the newly-formed Irish & Transport Workers’ Union. During the Lockout, he was sent by Connolly to Britain to rally the support of trade unionists for the struggle of the Dublin workers and was apparently an effective speaker there. That same year Walter Carpenter was elected General Secretary of the Tailors, Machinists and Pressers’ trade union, generally known as “the Jewish Union” due to the preponderance of its members being from that background.
Walter also became active in municipal politics, striving to make Dublin City Council meet its housing regulation responsibilities in the terrible housing conditions of the city of that time. There were many other sides to this campaigner too, which a read of Ellen Galvin’s pamphlet will reveal.
The East Wall History Group had earlier had a plaque erected on the wall of the house where he had lived, No.8 Caledon Road and organised an event around its unveiling on Sunday. The event began with a gathering at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre in East Wall, where an introduction to the event and to Walter Carpenter’s importance in the revolutionary and radical social history of Ireland was given by Joe Mooney, one of the organisers of the event. As well as local historians, socialists and Republicans, the event was attended by his surviving grandson, great-grandchildren and partners and their children. Also present was Ellen Galvin, who wrote a booklet on his life which was launched after the unveiling, back in the Sean O’Casey Centre.
Misfortune struck the event before it had even begun, with the news that Christy O’Brien, the piper who was to lead a march to the unveiling, had his pipes stolen from his car that very morning. Christy gives his service as a piper to many commemorative events, funerals etc. and, with the announcement of the misfortune, Joe Mooney also called for the spreading of the news in order to aid the recovery of the instrument. A set of bagpipes will cost thousands to buy or have made but it would be a rare musician or pawnshop that would negotiate for a stolen set (one which furthermore might be recognised at a musical event in the future).
(see also https://www.facebook.com/eastwallhistory/photos/a.593335330735681.1073741828.580261572043057/1042532349149308/?type=3&theater)
March to plaque past previous addresses of Irish resistance fighters
The march set off from the Sean O’Casey Centre without the piper, led by supporters carrying the banner of the East Wall History Group, a Tricolour and a Starry Plough (original green and gold version). Walking alongside were two Gárdaí and one wit commented that not only were descendants of the Irish Citizen Army present but also of the Dublin Metropolitan Police! 2
Joe Mooney had told the crowd before the march began that they would pass a number of locations where fighters for Irish and working-class freedom had lived. These were: St Marys Road, Tim O’Neill at No.8 and father and daughter Patrick Kavanagh and May Kavanagh at No.24. Christy Byrne lived at No.45 and his brother Joseph Byrne was from Boland’s Cottages off Church Road, where also Christopher Carberry lived on Myrtle Terrace on Church Rd. All these were Irish Volunteers, while May was in Cumann na mBan. In Northcourt Avenue (now demolished, roughly where the Catholic Church stands), Patrick & William Chaney were in the Irish Citizen Army and in Hawthorn Terrace lived James Fox (Irish Volunteer) and Willie Halpin (ICA).
Joe added that at the junction of St. Mary’s Road and Church Street, the local Irish Volunteers had mustered to participate in the Rising, 100 years ago and also reminded the gathering that that very day, the 8th of May, was the centenary of the executions by British firing squad of Michael Mallin of the Irish Citizen Army and of Irish Volunteers Eamonn Ceannt, Sean Heuston and Con Colbert.
Upon reaching No. 8 Caledon Road, the former home of Walter Carpenter, Caitríona Ní Chasaide of the East Wall History Group introduced Eamon Carpenter, 94 years of age and a grandson of Walter Carpenter, who addressed the crowd in thanks and also about the life of his grandfather.
“The struggles of the past are not merely for commemoration”
Next Caitríona introduced the Deputy Mayor of Dublin, Cieran Perry, who pointed out the parallels between the dire housing situation in the early part of the last century, which Walter Carpenter had campaigned against, and the housing crisis in Dublin today. He castigated the officials of Dublin City Council who, despite the votes of elected Left Councillors, refused to use all the land available to them on a number of sites to build social housing and were instead preparing it for private development with a only fraction for social housing. For as little as 5% of the €4 billion of Minister Kelly’s oft-repeated proposed finance for social housing. i.e. €200 million, Dublin City Council could build over 1,300 homes. The struggles of the past are not merely for commemoration, Cieran went on to say, but are for celebration and for continuation, as he concluded to applause.
Caitríona then called on James Carpenter to unveil the plaque, which he did, to loud applause.
After relatives and others had taken photos and been photographed in turn by the plaque and/or beside James Carpenter, Joe Mooney called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing The Felons Of Our Land. Joe explained that Walter Carpenter had been fond of singing that son, that in the course of their participation in the struggle he and his son had also been felons, as had Larkin and many others. Joe also informed the gathering that Sean O’Casey related that during his childhood, there had been a tram conductor who had been fond of singing patriotic songs, including the Felons Of Our Land, of which Casey’s mother had disapproved. It had been an revelation for O’Casey that one could be a Protestant and an Irish patriot too.
Diarmuid, dressed in approximation of period clothing, stepped forward and sang the four verses, of which the final lines are:
Let cowards sneer and tyrants frown O! little do we care– A felon’s cap’s the noblest crown An Irish head can wear. And every Gael in Innisfail (Who scorns the serf’s vile brand) From Lee to Boyne would gladly join The felons of our land.
The crowd then marched back to the Sean O’Casey Centre to attend the launch of the booklet on Carpenter’s life.
Launch of book on Walter Carpenter by his granddaughter and grandson of his comrade
On the stage in the Centre’s theatre, were seated the author of the booklet, Ellen Galvin, alongside Michael O’Brien of O’Brien Press.
Michael O’Brien, addressing the audience, said he had wondered what qualification he might have to launch the book but on investigation discovered that he had not a few connections. His own grandfather, who was Jewish, had been a founder member of the Tailors, Machinists and Pressers’ Union, of which Carpenter had been the General Secretary until his retirement and so they must have known one another at least fairly well.
Also, Bill O’Brien’s father, Thomas, had been a communistand was active with Walter Carpenter in the Republican Congress in the 1930s. Walter Carpenter and Thomas O’Brien had both also been active in the Bacon Shops’ Strike of the early 1930s. Thomas O’Brien had been jailed during that strike along with Jack Nalty and Dinny Coady, both of whom had East Wall connections; subsequently Thomas went to fight Franco and fascism in Spain, where Nalty and Coady were both killed.
Ellen Galvin spoke about Walter Carpenter’s life and his dedication to the advance of the working class and the struggle for justice. Walter had been a supporter of equality for all, including gender, a man who read much and widely, who apparently learned Irish and campaigned for allotments for rent on Council-owned land while it was unused for housing. He was against the consumption of alcohol but sympathised with people driven to its use by terrible housing conditions.
Joe then called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing Be Moderate, written by James Connolly, to illustrate what it was that people like Connolly and those of the Irish Citizen Army fought for and for which some had given their lives. Diarmuid took the stage and explained that the song had been published in New York in 1910, the same year that he had returned to Ireland from the USA. There had been no indication of an air to accompany the lyrics, as a result of which it has been sung to a number of airs. Diarmuid heard it sung in London by an English communist to the air of a Nation Once Again 3 and at least one good thing about this is that it provides a chorus, with which he encouraged the audience to join in. He then sang the song, of which the final lines are:
For workers long, with sighs and tears, To their oppressors knelt. But never yet, to aught save fears, Did heart of tyrant melt. We need not kneel, our cause is high Of true hearts 4 there’s no dearth And our victorious rallying cry Shall be “We want the Earth!”
Many in the audience joined in on the chorus: We only want the Earth, We only want the Earth, And our demands most moderate are: We only want the Earth!
Eamon Carpenter delivered an impromptu tribute to Ellen Galvin, who he told the audience had lost her mother at the age of 13 years of age, from which time she had taken over the mother’s role for her younger siblings, ensuring the were fed, dressed and cared for. This tribute was warmly applauded while Ellen seemed embarrassed but also pleased.
This was another successful commemoration of the revolutionary history and, in particular, of the working class history of their area by the East Wall History Group. It is of great importance that the working class be appraised of their own history as distinct from the dominant historical narratives and that their revolutionary traditions be remembered, not as something dead and in the past but as part of a continuum of struggle for the emancipation of the class.
If there is a weakness in a number of such commemorations it is the lack of participation by local adolescent youth in these events – which may also imply a lack of engagement by this age-group. Nevertheless, should they go searching at some future date for the information and their connection to the history of place and class, they will find a treasure trove waiting for them in the work of this History Group.
1 There exists today an organisation called the Socialist Party of Ireland (which often organises under the banner of the Anti-Austerity Alliance) but it is not directly descended from the party founded in Ireland in 1909; rather it is closer to being an offshoot of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, with which it has close fraternal relations.
2 The Dublin Metropolitan Police gained particular notoriety for the violence against organised workers on behalf of Dublin employers, especially during the 1913 Lockout, during which they killed a number of workers with their truncheons. In later years, the force became a Dublin police force under the Free State, which was later subsumed into the Garda Síochána, a fact not generally known.
3 Written by Thomas Davis, first published in The Nation, Dublin, 1844.
Politics is about the present and the future, obviously … but it is also about the past.
Different political interests interpret and/or represent the past in different ways, emphasising or understating different events or aspects or even ignoring or suppressing them entirely. There is choice exercised in whom (and even what particular pronouncement) to quote and upon what other material to rely. And by “political interests” I mean not only groups, formal (such as political parties) or informal, but also individuals. Each individual is political in some way, having opinions about some aspects of questions that are political or at least partly-political. For example, one often hears individuals say today that they have no interest in politics, yet express strong opinions of one kind or another about the right to gay and lesbian marriage, the influence of the Catholic Church, and how the country is being run by Governments.
So when an individual writes a history book, there are going to be political interpretations, although not all writers admit to their political position, their prejudices or leanings, in advance or even in the course of their writing. One historian who does so is Padraig Yeates, author of a number of historical books: Lockout –Dublin 1913 (a work unlikely to be ever equalled on the subject of the title), A City In Wartime — 1914-1919, A City in Turmoil – 1919-1921and his latest, A City in Civil War – Dublin 1921-’24. The latter was launched on Tuesday of this week, 12th May and therefore much too early for people for who did not receive an earlier copy to review it. So it is not on the book that I am commenting here but rather on the speeches during the launch, which were laden with overtly political references to the past and to the present. If a review is what you wanted, this would be an appropriate moment to stop reading and exit – and no hard feelings.
The launch had originally been intended to take place at the new address at 17 D’Olier Street, D2, of Books Upstairs. However the interest indicated in attending was so great that Padraig Yeates, realising that the venue was going to be too small, went searching for a larger one. Having regard to how short a time he then had to find one and with his SIPTU connections, Liberty Hall would have been an obvious choice. Whether he had earlier been asked to speak at the launch I do not know but, having approached Jack O’Connor personally to obtain the use of Liberty Hall, in the latter’s role of President of SIPTU, the owners of that much-underused theatre building, it was inevitable too that O’Connor would be asked to speak and act as the MC for the event.
O’Connor’s introduction was perhaps of medium length as these things go. He talked about the author’s work in trade unions, as a journalist and as an author of books about history. O’Connor’s speech however contained much political comment. Speaking of the period of the Civil War (1919-1923), he said it had “formed what we have become as a people”. That is a statement which is of dubious accuracy or, at very least, is open to a number of conflicting interpretations. The Civil War, in which the colonialism-compromising Irish capitalist class defeated the anti-colonial elements of the nationalist or republican movement, formed what the State has become – not the people. The distinction between State and People is an essential one in our history and no less so in Ireland today.
Talking about the State that had been created in 1921 (and not mentioning once the creation of the other statelet, the Six Counties) and referring to the fact that alone among European nations, our population had not risen during most of the 20th Century and remained lower than it had been up to nearly the mid-Nineteenth, a state of affairs due to constant emigration, O’Connor laid the blame on the 26-County State and in passing, on the capitalist class which it served. He was undoubtedly correct in blaming the State for its failure to create an economic and social environment which would stop or slow down the rate of emigration – but he did not explain why it was in the interests of the capitalists ruling the state to do so. Nor did he refer to the cause of the original drastic reduction in Ireland’s population and the start of a tradition of emigration – the Great Hunger 1845-’49.
Even allowing for the fact that O’Connor wished to focus on the responsibility of the 26-County State, the Great Hunger was surely worthy of some mention in the context of Irish population decline. Just a little eastward along the docks from Liberty Hall is the memorial to that start of mass Irish emigration. It was the colonial oppression of the Irish people which had created the conditions in which the organism Phytophthora infestans could create such devastation, such that in much less than a decade, Ireland lost between 20% and 25% of its population, due to death by starvation and attendant disease and due also to emigration (not forgetting that many people emigrating died prematurely too, on the journey, upon reaching their destination and subsequently). Phytophthora devastated potato crops in the USA in 1843 and spread throughout Europe thereafter, without however causing such a human disaster as it did in Ireland. In Mitchell’s famous words: “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine.” And that is what makes that period of population decline uncomfortable for some historical commentators.
Indeed, O’Connor did not mention British colonialism once, nor Partition, nor imperialism. And nor did either of the other two speakers, nor the author. I remarked on this to an Irish Republican present, to which he responded with a rhetorical question: “Did you expect them to?” Well, yes, perhaps naively, I did. While not expecting an Irish Republican analysis from Padraig Yeates and perhaps not either from anyone he would consider appropriate to speak at the launch of one of his books, dammit, we are talking about history. The presence of Norman/English/British Colonialism for 800 years prior to the creation of the Irish Free State, and its influence on that state’s creation and on subsequent events in Ireland, is worthy of at least a mention in launching a book about the Civil War. Not to mention its continuing occupation of one-fifth of the nation’s territory.
Colonialism and Imperialism and, in particular, the Irish experience of the British variant, were not so much ‘the elephant in the room‘ at the launch as a veritable herd of pachyderms. They overshadowed us at the launch and crowded around us, we could hear them breathing and smell their urine and excreta – but no-one mentioned them. The date of the launch was the anniversary of the execution of James Connolly 99 years ago, a man whom the Labour Party claims as its founder (correctly historically, if not politically), a former General Secretary of the ITGWU, forerunner of SIPTU and the HQ building of which, Liberty Hall, was a forerunner too of the very building in which the launch was taking place. His name and the anniversary was referred to once, though not by O’Connor, without a mention of Sean Mac Diarmada, executed in the same place on the same day. And most significantly of all, no mention of who had Connolly shot and under which authority.
That circumspection, that avoidance, meant that a leader of Dublin capitalists, William Martin Murphy, could not be mentioned with regard to Connolly’s death either — i.e. his post-Rising editorial in the Irish Independent calling for the execution of the insurgents’ leaders. But of course he did get a mention, or at least the class alliance he led in 1913 did, in a bid to smash the ITGWU, then under the leadership of Larkin and Connolly. This struggle, according to O’Connor and, it must be said also to Padraig Yeates, was the real defining struggle of the early years of the 20th Century, not the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence nor yet the Irish Civil War. It was in 1913 that “the wrong side won”.
One-eyed as that historical vision must be, we have to question whether it is even partially correct. The Lockout was a great defeat for the ITGWU and for the leading elements in the Irish workers’ movement. But the Lockout did not break the trade union and, in fact, it later began to grow in membership and in branches. Other trade unions also survived and some expanded. So in what manner was 1913 decisive in ensuring that “the wrong side won” in later years? The Irish trade union movement was still able to organise a general strike against conscription in April 1918 and the class to organise a wave of occupations of workplaces in April 1919.
True, the Irish working class had lost one of its foremost theoreticians and propagandists by then, in the person of James Connolly. And who was it who had him shot? Not Murphy (though he’d have had no hesitation in doing so) nor the rest of the Irish capitalist class. In fact, worried about the longer-term outcome, the political representatives of the Irish ‘nationalist‘ capitalist class for so long, the Irish Parliamentary Party, right at the outset and throughout, desperately called for the executions to halt. General Maxwell, with the support of British Prime Minister Asquith, ordered and confirmed the executions of Connolly and Mallin of the Irish Citizen Army and British Army personnel pulled the triggers; in essence it was British colonialism that executed them, along with the other fourteen.
For the leaders of the Labour Party and of some of the trade unions, and for some authors, Padraig Yeates among them, the participation of Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army in the Rising was an aberration. For these social democrats, the struggle should have been against the Irish capitalist class only (and preferably by an unarmed working class). It is an inconvenient fact that Ireland was under colonial occupation of a state that had strangled much of the nation’s economic potential (and therefore of the growth of the working class) in support of the interests of the British capitalist class. It is an inconvenient fact that the Irish capitalist class had been divided into Unionist and Nationalist sections, the former being descendants of planter landowners and entrepreneurs whose interests were completely bound up in Union with Britain. It is an inconvenient fact that the British and the Unionists had suppressed the last truly independent expression of the Irish bourgeoisie, the United Irishmen and, in order to do so effectively, had created and enhanced sectarian divisions among the urban and rural working and middle classes. It is also an inconvenient fact that the British cultivated a client “nationalist” capitalist class in Ireland and that the police and military forces used to back up Murphy’s coalition in 1913 were under British colonial control.
To my mind, a good comprehensive analysis of the decline inprominence of the Irish working class on the political stage from its high point in early 1913 and even in 1916, has yet to be written. One can see a number of factors that must have played a part and the killing of Connolly was one. But something else happened between 1913 and 1916 which had a negative impact on the working class, not just in Ireland but throughout the World. In July 1914, WW1 started and in rising against British colonialism in Ireland, Connolly also intended to strike a blow against this slaughter. As the Lockout struggle drew to its close at the end of 1913 and early 1914, many union members had been replaced in their jobs and many would find it hard to regain employment, due to their support for the workers and their resistance to the campaign to break the ITGWU. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that many joined the British Army or went to work in war industries in Britain. Although the Irish capitalist class supported the British in that War (up to most of 1917 at any rate) it was imperialism which had begun the war and British Imperialism which recruited Irish workers into its armed forces and industries.
Reaching back in history but to different parts of Europe, Padraig Yeates, in his short and often amusing launch speech, cracked that “for years many people thought Karl Kautsky’s first name was ‘Renegade’ ” — a reference to the title of one of Lenin’s pamphlets: The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky. Yeates apparently admires Kautsky and quoted him on Ireland. But Kautsky advocated no uprisings against imperialism or colonialism in the belief that “super-imperialism” (also called “Hyper Imperialism”) would regulate itself peacefully, letting socialists get on with the task of evolving socialism. Two World Wars since then and current developments have negated Kautsky’s theory but more to the point, to advocate his theory as a guiding principle at the time he did was a major ideological threat to proletarian revolution and to the evolving anti-colonial struggles of the world and therefore he was a renegade to any variant of genuine socialism and socialist struggle.
This is relevant in analysing the position of the trade union leaders and the Irish Labour Party today. They are social democrats and their central thesis is that it is possible to reform capitalism, by pressure on and by involvement in the State. They deny what Lenin and others across the revolutionary socialist spectrum declare, that the state serves the ruling class and cannot be coopted or taken over but for socialism to succeed, must be overthrown.
It is the social-democratic analysis that underpinned decades of the trade union leaders’ social partnership with the employers and the State, decades that left them totally unprepared, even if they had been willing, to declare even one day’s general strike against the successive attacks on their members, the rest of the Irish working class and indeed the lower middle class too since 2011. Indeed Padraig Yeates, speaking at a discussion on trade unions at the Anarchist Bookfair a year or two ago, conceded that social partnership had “gone too far”. Can Jack or any other collaborationist trade union leader blame that on the transitory defeat of the 1913 Lockout? They may try to but it is clear to most people that the blame does not lie there.
Two other speakers addressed the audience at the launch, Katherine O’Donnell and Caitriona Crowe. Catriona Crowe is Head of Special Projects at the National Archives of Ireland and, among other responsibilities, is Manager of the Irish Census Online Project, an Editor of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, Vice-President of the Irish Labour History Society. She is also Chairperson of the SAOL Project, a rehabilitation initiative for women with addiction problems, based in the North Inner City. It was her, I think, who made the only mention of “Blueshirts” and her also that mentioned the anniversary of James Connolly. Although her speech was overlong in my opinion for a book launch in which she had already been preceded by two longish speeches, strangely I can remember very little of what she had to say.
Katherine O’Donnell’s contribution however made a considerable impression upon me. She declared herself early in the speech to be lesbian and a campaigner for gay and lesbian rights and is Director of the Women’s Studies Centre at the School of Social Justice at UCD. O’Donnell began by praising Padraig Yeates’ work, of which she declared herself “a fan”. In a speech which at times had me (and sometimes others too) laughing out loud, she discussed the contrast in the fields of historical representation between some historians and those who construct historical stories through the use of imagination as well as data; she denounced the social conservatism of the state, including the parameters of the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage, the legal status of marriage in general and the climate of fear of prosecution engendered by the shameful capitulation of RTE to the Iona Institute on the accusation of “homophobia” (she did not mention them specifically but everyone knew to what she was referring).
Jack O’Connor, between speeches, made a reference to a giant banner hanging off Liberty Hall which had the word “NO” displayed prominently, saying that they had received congratulatory calls from people who thought it was against same-sex marriage. The banner was however against privatisation of bus services. The current banner on Liberty Hall says “YES” to the proposal in the forthcoming referendum and he said that now busmen were calling them up complaining …. to laughter, O’Connor commented that “it’s hard to the right thing, sometimes”. Presumablywhat he meant was that it is hard to know what the right thing to do is, or perhaps to please everybody.
It is indeed hard to please everybody but I’d have to say that it is not hard to know that the purpose of and‘the right thing to do’ for a trade union, is to fight effectively and with commitment for its members and for the working class in general. And that is precisely the responsibility which has been abrogated by Jack
O’Connor personally, along with other leaders of most of the trade unions, including the biggest ones for many years, SIPTU and IMPACT. And also by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. That is why Jack O’Connor gets booed now if he ever dares stand on a public platform related to trade union struggle, a treatment received also by David Beggs before he retired from the Presidency of ICTU.
Back in 2011, another giant banner hung from Liberty Hall – that time it urged us to VOTE LABOUR, as did leaders of other trade unions. Stretching magnanimity, we might give the trade union leaders the benefit of the doubt and say they had forgotten that the Labour Party had only ever been in Government in coalition, most often with the right-wing Blueshirt Fine Gael party and that its most recent spell sharing power had given us one of the most repressive governments in the history of the State. Let us imagine for a moment that these social-democratic union leaders had forgotten all that. But, after February 2011, as Labour and Fine Gael went into coalition and both reneged on their election promises, as the Coalition government began to attack the working class and the lower middle class, what is their excuse then? When did they denounce the Labour Party to their members, publicly disaffiliating from the party? No, never, and the fact that those disgusting connections continue was underlined by the presence at the book launch of a Labour Party junior Government Minister and the late arrival of noneother than Joan Burton, Minister for Social Constriction …. er, sorry, Protection.
Considering that the book being launched was about the Civil War, it is really extraordinary that no speaker mentioned the repression by the Free State during and after that war. I am certain that Padraig Yeates has not glossed over that, he is much too honest and too good a historian to do so. But that only one speaker at the launch (Catriona Crowe) should mention the sinister Oriel House and none the at least 25 murders its occupants organised, nor the 125 other murders by Irish Free State soldiers and police, nor the 81 state executions between November 1922 and January 1923, sets one wondering at just how much self-hypnosis sections of our political and academic classes are capable.
CATHERINE BYRNE, DUBLIN TD, SAID “WE SHOULD TAKE BACK OUR FLAG”. MAYBE SHE’S RIGHT ….
Dublin South-Central TD Catherine Byrne was warmly applauded when she said that they should ”take back our flag” from people who have been using it in protests against water charges and other issues. She made the statement at the Fine Gael political party’s two-day conference in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, held under strict security.
Arts Minister Heather Humphreys supported that view and told delegates in a secret session on the 1916 commemorations (a session which exposed divisions in the party): ”Some have used our flag to portray a different message – it’s time to reclaim our flag.”
(This is reprinted with minimal editing from a section of a much longer piece of mine published in English and in Spanish a year ago https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/how-can-a-people-defeat-a-stronger-invader-or-occupying-power-2/)
The War of Independence 1919-1921 and retreat from stated objectives
Three years later (after the 1916 Rising), the nationalist revolutionaries returned to the armed struggle, this time without a workers’ militia or an effective socialist leadership as allies, and began a political struggle which was combined a little later with a rural guerilla war which soon spread into some urban areas (particularly the cities of Dublin and Cork). The political struggle mobilised thousands and also resulted in the majority of those elected in Ireland during the General Election (in the United Kingdom, of which Ireland was part) being of their party.
The struggle in Ireland and the British response to it was generating much interest and critical comment around the world and even in political and intellectual and artistic circles within Britain itself. In addition, many nationalist and socialist revolutionaries around the world were drawing inspiration from that fierce anti-colonial struggle so near to England, within the United Kingdom itself.
The dismantling by the nationalist forces, by threats and by armed action, of much of the control network of the colonial police force, which consequently dismantled much of their counter-insurgency intelligence service, led the British to set up two new special armed police forces to counter the Irish insurgency. Both these forces gained a very bad reputation not only among the nationalists but also among many British loyalists. The special paramilitary police forces resorted more and more to torture, murder and arson but nevertheless, in some areas of Ireland such as Dublin, Kerry and Cork, they had to be reinforced by British soldiers as they were largely not able to deal effectively with the insurgents, who were growing more resolute, experienced and confident with each passing week.
However, two-and-a-half years after the beginning of the guerrilla war, a majority of the Irish political leadership of the nationalist revolutionary movement settled for the partition of their country with Irish independence for one part of it within the British Commonwealth.
Much discussion has taken part around the events that led to this development. We are told that British Prime Minister Lloyd George blackmailed the negotiating delegation with threats of “immediate and terrible war” if they did not agree to the terms. The delegation were forced to answer without being allowed to consult their comrades at home. Some say that the President of the nationalist political party, De Valera, sent an allegedly inexperienced politically Michael Collins to the negotiations, knowing that he would end up accepting a bad deal from which De Valera could then distance himself. Michael Collins, in charge of supplying the guerrillas with arms, stated afterwards that he had only a few rounds of ammunition left to supply each fighter and that the IRA, the guerrilla army, could not fight the war Lloyd George threatened. He also said that the deal would be a stepping stone towards the full independence of a united Ireland in the near future. None of those reasons appear convincing to me.
How could the leadership of a movement at the height of their successes cave in like that? Of course, the British were threatening a worse war, but they had made threats before and the Irish had met them without fear. If the IRA were truly in a difficult situation with regard to ammunition (and I’m not sure that there is any evidence for that apart from Collins’ own statement), that would be a valid reason for a reduction in their military operations, not for accepting a deal far short of what they had fought for. The IRA was, after all, a volunteer guerrilla army, much of it of a part-time nature. It could be withdrawn from offensive operations and most of the fighters could melt back into the population or, if necessary, go “on the run”.
If the military supply situation of the Irish nationalists was indeed dire in the face of the superior arms and military experience of Britain, was that the only factor to be taken into account? An army needs more than arms and experience in order to wage war – there are other factors which affect its ability and effectiveness.
The precariousness of the British situation
In 1919, at the end of the War, the British, although on the victorious side, were in a precarious position. During the war itself there had been a serious mutiny in the army (during which NCOs and officers had been killed by privates) and as the soldiers were demobbed into civilian life and into their old social conditions there was widespread dissatisfaction. Industrial strikes had been forbidden during the War (although some had taken place nonetheless) and a virtual strike movement was now under way.
In 1918 and again in 1919, police went on strike in Britain. Also during 1919, the railway workers went on strike and so did others in a wave that had been building up since the previous year. In 1918 strikes had already cost 6 million working days. This increased to nearly 35 million in 1919, with a daily average of 100,000 workers on strike. Glasgow in 1921 saw a strike with a picket of 60,000 and pitched battles with the police. The local unit of the British Army was detained in barracks by its officers and units from further away were sent in with machine guns, a howitzer and tanks.
Workers pass an overturned tram in London during the 1926 British General Strike. In much of the country no transport operated unless authorised by the local trade union council or under police and army escort.
4.2 The Army Mutinies of January/February 1919
4.3 The Val de Lievre Mutiny
4.4 Three Royal Air Force Mutinies January 1919
4.5 Mutiny in the Royal Marines – Russia,
February to June 1919
4.6 Naval Mutinies of 1919
4.7 Demobilization Riots 1918/1919
4.8 The Kinmel Park Camp Riots 1919
4.9 No “Land Fit For Heroes” – the Ex-servicemen’s Riot in Luton
4 4.10 Ongoing Unrest – Mid-1919 to Year’s End
The British Government feared their police force would be insufficient against the British workers and was concerned about the reliability of their army if used in this way. There had already been demonstrations, riots and mutinies in the armed forces about delays in demobilisation (and also in being used against the Russian Bolshevik Revolution).
Elsewhere in the British Empire things were unstable too. The Arabs were outraged at Britain’s reneging on their promise to give them their freedom in exchange for fighting the Turks and rebellions were breaking out which would continue over the next few years. The British were also facing unrest in Palestine as they began to settle Jewish immigrants who were buying up Arab land there. An uprising took place in Mesopotamia (Iraq) against the British in 1918 and again in 1919. The Third Afghan War took place in 1919; Ghandi and his followers began their campaign of civil disobedience in 1920 while in 1921 the Malabar region of India rose up in armed revolt against British rule. Secret communiques (but now accessible) between such as Winston Churchill, Lloyd George and the Chief of Staff of the British armed forces reveal concerns about the reliability of their soldiers in the future against insurrections and industrial action in Britain and even whether, as servicemen demanded demobilisation, they would have enough soldiers left for the tasks facing them throughout the Empire.
The Irish nationalist revolutionaries in 1921were in a very strong position to continue their struggle until they had won independence and quite possibly even to be the catalyst for socialist revolution in Britain and the death of the British Empire. But they backed down and gave the Empire the breathing space it needed to deal with the various hotspots of rebellion elsewhere and to prepare for the showdown with British militant trade unionists that came with the General Strike of 1926. Instead, the Treatyites turned their guns on their erstwhile comrades in the vicious Civil War that broke out in 1922. The new state executed IRA prisoners (often without recourse to a trial) and repression continued even after it had defeated the IRA in the Civil War.
If the revolutionary Irish nationalist leaders were not aware of all the problems confronting the British Empire, they were certainly aware of many of them. The 1920 hunger strike and death of McSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, had caught international attention and Indian nationalists had made contact with the McSwiney family. The presence of large Irish working class communities in Britain, from London to GlaSgow, provided ample opportunity for keeping abreast of industrial disputes, even if the Irish nationalists did not care to open links with British militant trade unionists. Sylvia Pankhurst, member of the famous English suffragette family and a revolutionary communist, had letters published in The Irish Worker, newspaper of the IT&GWU. The presence of large numbers of Irish still in the British Army was another source of ready information.
Anti-Treaty cartoon, 1921, depicts Ireland being coerced by Michael Collins, representing the Free State Army, along with the Catholic Church, in the service of British Imperialism
The revolutionary Irish nationalist leaders were mostly of petite bourgeois background and had no programme of the expropriation of the large landowners and industrialists. They did not seek to represent the interests of the Irish workers—indeed at times sections of them demonstrated a hostility to workers, preventing landless Irish rural poor seizing large estates and to divide them among themselves. Historically the petite bourgeoisie has shown itself incapable of sustaining a revolution in its own class interests and in Ireland it was inevitable that the Irish nationalists would come to follow the interests of the Irish national bourgeoisie. The Irish socialists were too few and weak to offer another pole of attraction to the petite bourgeoisie. The Irish national bourgeoisie had not been a revolutionary class since their defeat in 1798 and were not to be so now. Originally, along with the Catholic Church with which they shared many interests in common, they had declined to support the revolutionary nationalists but decided to join with them when they saw an opportunity to improve their position and also what appeared to be an imminent defeat of the British.
In the face of the evident possibilities it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the section of revolutionary Irish nationalists who opted for the deal offered by Lloyd George did so because they preferred it to the alternatives. They preferred to settle for a slice rather than fight for the whole cake. And the Irish bourgeoisie would do well out of the deal, even if the majority of the population did not. The words of James Connolly that the working class were “the incorruptible heirs” of Ireland’s fight had a corollary – that the Irish bourgeoisie would always compromise the struggle. It is also possible that the alternative the nationalists feared was not so much “immediate and terrible war” but rather a possible Irish social revolution in which they would lose their privileges.
Another serious challenge to the Empire from Irish nationalist revolutionaries would not take place until nearly fifty years later, and it would be largely confined to the colony of the Six Counties.