IRISH YELLOW VESTS AND QUESTIONS

Diarmuid Breatnach

Recently a number of people have been marching in Dublin, saying that they are the Yellow Vests of Ireland. This is obviously inspired by the Gilets Jaunes (“Yellow Vests”) whose protests against the French Government began in November last year and swelled to huge numbers in Paris demonstrations and riots. Some smaller groups have announced their formation in different parts of Ireland too.  But there are questions concerning them.

Irish Yellow Vest protest crossing O’Connell Bridge 15 December 2019.
(Photo source: Internet)

          The Yellow Vests in Dublin have been meeting on Saturday afternoons at the Custom House and marching from there. I am busy on Saturdays and on the one day I made the time to join them, I did not find them and learned later from their posts that on that occasion they had gone to Dublin Port and apparently blocked the approach road for a period.

Originally the organisers stated that there would be no leaders but then two emerged, Glen Miller and Ben Gilroy. Until last week Gilroy was serving three months for contempt of court, a sentence imposed by a judge when he learned that Gilroy had not completed the community service sentence imposed for a previous contempt of court. Held in contempt of court a number of times Gilroy has always apologised afterwards and had his contempt considered “purged”, i.e cleared. It seems that the judge in this case decided that Gilroy was playing games with the court around the issue of contempt, which is probably a fair assumption (which is not at all to say that such actions are wrong).

Gilroy took a case to the High Court alleging failure to comply with certain legal requirement and on February 4th the Judge granted him liberty on bail in his own recognisance (i.e his own financial bond) while is case was discussed and decided. However this week the Judge ruled that his imprisonment was not unlawful and revoked Gilroy’s bail, which meant he had to return to jail.

In recent years a number of groups have sprung up which oppose a number of unpopular legal procedures, for example evictions, by a mixture of physical obstruction (by numbers of people) to bailiffs but also by appealing to what they claim are laws that take precedence over the legal procedures they are confronting. The “Land League” is one of these (no organic relationship to the 19th Century Irish organisation of Davitt and Parnell) and, not unrelated to the “League” in its reliance on arcane laws and procedures, real or imagined, is the Sovereign Movement, the “Irish Republican Brotherhood” (again, despite their claim of “inheritance”, no organic relationship to the 19th and 20th Century organisation) and the Fremen.

While some people are impressed by these arcane legalisms others are bewildered by or scornful of them and, despite their claims, these organisations seem unable to point to where their legalisms have actually been ultimately successful. They have certainly succeeded in slowing down such actions as repossessions and evictions by taking up court time and numbers turning up to block an eviction will often succeed in delaying the process, without any need to appeal to any kind of legalistic underpinning. Property rights reign supreme under capitalism and certainly the Irish state is no exception to that rule; on the other hand the authorities in the Irish state tend to prefer to carry out the normal business of capitalism with as little confrontation as possible.

Summoning numbers to block or delay an eviction and to support a victim of the system in court are of course tactics of struggle honoured by time and usage in Ireland, whether against the British administration or that of the Irish State. Such reliance on mobilisation of numbers can sometimes produce small or partial victories but they hint at something else – the mass mobilisation of insurrection and revolution. And that is part of the appeal of groups such as the “Land League” and probably in part of the Yellow Vests.

Section of Irish Vest protest Dublin 22 December 2019.
(Photo source: Internet)

But if insurrection and revolution are hinted at, we need to know whether the hints are in earnest. Calling for a general election, one of the demands of the Yellow Vests, hardly seems insurrectionary. How would that change anything? Calling for an end to a number of attacks on working people including evictions is good but how is it to be achieved? Is there an objective of overthrowing capitalism and imperialism in Ireland? We do not hear so if there is. If an insurrection is hinted at, by whom is it to be and for whom?

RACISM

          It is here that we run into a disturbing problem: racism, of which Gilroy and Miller have both been accused. Any movement or organisation led by racists is not going to be one for progressive change in society, let alone a socialist insurrection but worse – it is likely to be a breeding ground for fascism. And of late, fascist forces are gathering throughout most of the world and certainly in Europe. Capitalism is struggling and the workers must be made to pay the cost through keeping wages and social expenditure down and profits high. When persuasion and collaborationist workers’ leaderships are no longer effective, capitalism must fall back on naked force. Fascist movements are the frontline of that force, its leading edge and racism (or religious sectarianism, with which we in Ireland have more experience) is used to divide the lower classes, the ones that will be made to pay.

Of course not all the people supporting the Yellow Vests are racist but when an anti-immigration banner is tolerated on a march1 then it would be remarkable if racism were not being tolerated as well. And with regard to the leadership, Glen Miller’s racism is well established from his posts on social media. He has posted material against immigration, against Muslims, against Travellers and against lesbian, gay and transgender people – classical minority targets of fascism to split the working people. He also shares racist material by others including Tommy Robinson, a fascist public figure operating in England.

Gilroy is not usually so glaringly racist but he has certainly posted an islamophobic rant on social media.

One might argue that Islam is a religion and that being against it is not racism. Perhaps not, if one were against all religion, for example. But ethnicity and religious belief or organisation are often interconnected, at least in particular periods and societies. Most muslims are not white European. And the Irish certainly know from their own experience how easily anti-Catholicism became conflated with anti-Irishness, in Britain for example, in the USA (think of WASPS and the ‘Nativists’) and in Ireland under colonial rule.

Islamophobes fantasise about Moslems taking over the country, anti-immigrationists fantasise about immigrants taking over the country, racists fantasise about non-Europeans taking over the country. There are nuances between them but in the end do they matter that much? The effect is the same: society is portrayed as divided by ethnic origin rather than by class and the focus is diverted from the bankers, gombeen capitalists and their political servants an on to migrants instead.

It might be argued that “looking after our own first” is a natural outlook and not racist. But we need to look at where that comes from and where it leads. It starts from the false premise that there is a great shortage and that we should divide those scarce resources first among the Irish. But in fact there is sufficient wealth produced in Ireland to fund all the education, housing and healthcare needs of all the people, immigrants included. And this is because the wealth is produced by working people – including migrants. The problem for us all is that that huge portions of that wealth is being diverted to fund the market gambling, lifestyles and financial empires of Gombeen (Irish capitalists) and foreign capitalists and bankers. Those are the people who would be rubbing their hands with glee or happily exchanging bribes and payoffs if, instead of uniting to confront them, the workers began to fight amongst themselves, divided by race or religion.

When the 1916 Proclamation declared the objective of the insurgents to “pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation ….oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided the minority from the majority in the past”, it was addressing in part that religious sectarianism by which England had restrained the descendants of its colonists from overthrowing its colonial rule and also the pitting of Protestant against Catholic workers, a division which had been played out before 1916 and was to be enacted to even worse degree later. The “Protestants” were the “immigrants” of those years, along with their descendants2, albeit a privileged minority which migrants rarely are.

In making that statement, the insurgents of 1916 were drawing on an Irish revolutionary tradition stretching back to the United Irish of the 1790s and early 1800s, of the likes of Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and Robert Emmett. It was a tradition that ran through every revolutionary movement in Ireland since that time, through the Young Irelanders, the Fenians, the Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, a tradition that called for overcoming differences to build unity against the common enemy. That is the unity that fascists and racists seek to shatter.

Fascists may and often do verbally castigate capitalist governments, politicians, industrialists and bankers. But they end up serving them. They split the mass of the working and lower middle classes on the basis of race, they attack the defence organisations of the working class, they target other groups such as gay and lesbians, push women into the most subservient roles possible. The Nazis were “National Socialists” and part of their movement talked about nationalising industry under workers’ control. But they were backed by big capitalists such as Thyssen, Krupp and IG Farben and many others in Germany. In the USA and in Britain they were backed by Henry Ford and promoted by Viscounts Northcliffe and Rothermere, owners of the Daily Mail (until England declared war on Germany and the US entered WWII on the Allied side). The Nazis in Germany took over the trade union offices on Mayday and closed them down, forcing workers instead to join fascist unions controlled from the top, part of the State.

WHAT KIND OF UNITY?

          It is interesting that while fascists divide the working people in order to facilitate their control and undermine the struggles against the capitalist class, they often cry for unity. German unity. Aryan unity. White unity. Spanish unity. British unity. Irish unity. And when people have criticised individual leading figures in these groups, in particular recently of the Yellow Vests in Ireland, they have been accused of dividing, of undermining the struggle and calls for “unity” have been raised.

Whether it is right that the court should consider it criminal for someone to hold it up to disrepute, as Gilroy and some others have done on occasion, is another question and whether three months is a reasonable punishment for “contempt of court” in another. The courts are instruments of the State which in turn is an instrument of the ruling class and as such all revolutionaries must perforce hold them in disrepute and, in my opinion, three months in jail is excessive by normal standards in this state. But cries raised by the Irish Yellow Vests against this seek to glorify Gilroy as some kind of “people’s leader” and in turn to promote the ‘Vests’ as a viable resistance movement.

Workers know that unity in struggle is necessary but have also learned over the years that calls for unity may also be used to allow collaborationist trade union leaders and politicians to continue misleading the workers. Such calls can be employed to silence questions about where the movement is going. And now they are being used, unwittingly by some no doubt, to the effect of trying to silence the challenges to such as Gilroy and Miller about their racism and where they are trying to lead the Yellow Vests.

Such calls are being used not only to stifle the criticism of the leaders’ racism but to undermine the criticism of racism itself, as though racism were some kind of Leftie concept or diversion from the real issues. In a post in defence of Gilroy on 18th January, Miller posted a long ‘plain folksy’ discourse in which he said that Gilroy and he have “no time for political correctness and the posh talk”. So according to that discourse we should ignore the accusations of racism, action is needed, and for that we need unity – we should stop bleating on about racism. But the action is often dubious, the destination vague, the unity based on lack of analysis and stifling of criticism and – ultimately – on the opposite of unity, the division of the working people and the undermining of their resistance to those who are the real source of their misery and discontent.

It is not because of the anti-racist or politically-correct posturing of anyone, whether middle class or not, that socialists stand against racism: it is not just because it is inhumane, either; it is primarily because it splits and weakens the working class and diverts anger and resentment from the real enemy.

The Yellow Vests in Ireland are by no means a fascist or even racist movement. But they tolerate racists, are led by racists and could provide a breeding ground for fascists – something for which fascists are always on the lookout.

WHAT TO DO?

          So what should be our response, as socialists of various kinds?

First, I think we need to step back and examine the situation a little. The Yellow Vests here copy the Yellow Vests in Paris. Awhile back, the Socialist parties (I do not count the Labour Party in this) wanted us to copy the Greek uprising and Syriza’s electoral success. Earlier than that, some people wanted us to emulate the Indignados of Spain. And further back still, others sought to copy the Occupation movement of the USA.

It seems to me that all that striving speaks of a desperate need felt by some elements in our society, a need that cries out that something must be done; something to cure the mess that our Gombeen system has made of our health and welfare systems, of the housing crisis, of cuts to other services; that some stand should be made against paying off the bankers’ gambling debts with our hard-earned money and trying to get us to pay a third tax on our water supply when the money collected already has not been used as it should. A feeling that something should be done about the corruption of that give-away of our natural resources, about the selling of our transport, postal, telecommunications systems, about the funding of private landlords, about renewed emigration of our young. About increased hours and travel time spent just trying to stay still economically but nevertheless slipping slowly back. About evictions of people who have paid the actual building cost of their homes a number of times over. About governments that oversee this rotten system, worrying chiefly about staying in government and pleasing native and foreign capitalists; about a police force in which we find an average of a scandal per year with no end in sight and yet happy to repress people’s resistance …. and with their Armed Response Unit cars to be seen everywhere around the city centre.

Those people are right, of course. Something should be done. Something must be done. But what? There’s the rub, as they say. The working class should rise and take power, is the classic revolutionary socialist answer; also of the socialist Republicans, who tie the question to getting rid of British colonialism. Whether our revolutionary socialists in Ireland are actually revolutionary is a good question however, and in any case they are small parties. Whether our socialist Republicans are actually socialists or Republicans first is another interesting question and in any case they are splintered in groups and independents.

All those movements abroad that various people tried to emulate or reproduce here in Ireland did not succeed in changing the situation in their own lands. The USA, the country with the most billionaires in the world (and in politics!), continues to slide towards eventual downfall, in huge debt as a result of funding its military-industrial-financial system, for which billions around the world and millions inside its own borders pay with misery ….. and still the debt cannot be paid. But a huge sub-class exists, often living in city wastelands of run-down housing estates.

The Spanish state continues to squeeze its citizens, prepares to go to war against a nation seeking independence and fascist groups organise openly. Suicides prior to, during or after evictions are no longer startling news.

The Greek Left-coalition government of Syriza collapsed and prostrated itself to the EU and the IMF and schools had to close in winter for lack of heating fuel.

The French Government has alternated repression with some concessions but ultimately nothing has changed.

The growing vacuum of resistance in Ireland will be filled by a revolutionary movement based on working people in militant resistance to – and directed at – the capitalist system. Or it will be filled by fascism.

To build a revolutionary resistance movement, unity in struggle is needed and for that unity, racism must be driven out of the people’s movements. That will not be done by condemnation of racists alone. It will not be achieved only by calling for unity against capitalism. The revolutionary movement must be built and it is by action that it will distinguish itself and attract support from the militant sections of the people.

It is by its revolutionary critical discussion on politics, history, science and culture that it will inform the mass of its potential and necessary objectives.

It will not be built by theoretical declarations or arguments alone, nor by actions that are either timid or cannot be maintained, or by actions of only a few far in advance of the mass. Some of the actions will, perforce be risky and the State will exert a price.

But it is either that or – fascism awaits.

End.

FOOTNOTES

1Reported on at least one of the marches and I have seen a photograph of it

2Some Protestants were descendants of Catholics who had changed their religion to avoid persecution or land confiscation and some Catholics were descendants of Protestants who had converted or who had married a Catholic who raised their children in that faith. But largely, Anglicans, Presbyterians and other Protestant sects in Ireland were descendants of waves of colonists in particular from the 15th Century onwards, while Catholics were largely descendants of the indigenous Irish and of the Norman invaders.

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DUBLIN PICKET AGAINST INTERNMENT AND SPECIAL COURTS HARASSED BY POLICE

Clive Sulish

 

A picket called on the British Embassy to protest against continuing internment and special courts was harassed and kept under heavy surveillance by Irish police, both in uniform and in plainclothes, with marked and unmarked vehicles.

One view of part of the protest (the main entrance to the British Embassy is behind the picketers). (Source photo: Participant in the protest)

The protest was called by Irish Socialist Republicans, Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland, Dublin Anti-Internment Committee and Abolish the Special Courts campaign, was supported by members of a number of Republican and socialist organisations and independent activists.

Another view of the picket with the entrance to the British Embassy behind them (Photo source: Picket participant)

The objective of the protest was to highlight that the undemocratic practices of using the courts to remove the political opponents of those in power continues – the use of the courts”as a propaganda cover … to remove unwanted members of the public”, in the words of Brigadier Frank Kitson (British Army). These abuses of civil rights continue through a number of methods: revoking of ex-prisoners’ licences; refusal of bail; granting of bail under conditions preventing political activity; convictions in special no-jury courts. And they continue in both administrations: the Six-County British colony and the 26-County Irish state.

A Garda Special Branch (political police) male officer, accompanied by a female officer, requiring participants to give their names and addresses.
(Photo source: Picket participant)

The harassment of the protesters outside the British Embassy was at a level to which Irish Republicans have become unfortunately accustomed: a Garda officer in plain clothes identifying himself as a member of the Special Branch and displaying his Garda identification request, accompanied by another, approached those in the picket line and required them to give their names and addresses, quoting Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act1.

This practice of taking people’s names and addresses is one of intimidation which does restrain some new people from joining such pickets. The surveillance has the same intent, being visible; highly visible on this occasion with three unmarked SB cars, two Garda cyclists and one marked patrol car (in addition to the Garda officer permanently on duty outside the Embassy). “Remember this the next time you hear or read that the Gardaí were unable to respond to a domestic violence call for a number of hours because they were “short on resources’ “, commented one of the protesters. “Or unable to refer young offenders into the Diversion Program2” added another.

Intimidatory police surveillance on the other side of the road from the protest: two unmarked Special Branch cars, two bicycle police and one patrol car. Another SB car was parked on the pavement on the same side as the Embassy, which has a Garda officer on permanent duty also.
(Photo source: Picket participant)

The drivers of a number of vehicles, especially taxis, tooted their horns in solidarity as they passed. Although the cold was penetrating through footwear to feet, the protest ended a little after an hour.

 

FOOTNOTES:

1The section authorises those questions by a Garda officer who has reasonable grounds for suspecting the interrogated may be committing or about to commit a crime – clearly inapplicable in most cases where this is used.

2https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/garda-report-shows-3500-children-escaped-prosecution-for-crimes-898197.html Although this report highlights the victims of the crimes, the youth themselves became victims of a life of mostly low-level crime and associated lifestyles of early substance use, early parenthood and, later jail and, in many cases, early death.

MISCONCEPTIONS

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

There are many misconceptions about Irish politics and history and the centenary of the inauguration of the First Dáil and of the first shots fired in the War of Independence (one of several of our “wars of independence”) seems like an appropriate occasion to try to tease some of them out.

The Irish Tricolour — national flag of the State but also quintessentially of Irish Republicans.

The “Starry Plough”, flag of the Irish Citizen Army. Today it is held to belong variously to socialist Republicans, Revolutionary Socialists and even sometimes social democrats.

The Red Flag, flown by Communists, Revolutionary Socialists and even sometimes by Social Democrats.

Flag colours of the Anarcho-Syndicalists.

A different version of the Starry Plough, usually but not only flown by social democrats. However, it was the flag of the Republican Congress in the 1930s.

For sure, many of those misconceptions belong to those viewing us from outside but here I’d like to deal with those from among our own. These misconceptions are spread equally among the Irish Republicans, Irish Socialists, Irish social-democrats and liberals – but each group believes different ones.

 

REPUBLICANS

To Irish Republicans (and I think I am objectively correct in not applying that to all who claim the title), the War in the Six Counties was lost because their political and military leadership, or most of it, abandoned the struggle or betrayed it. I think that is a fundamental misconception which leads to further misconceptions about what might be the way forward.

Please do not think for one minute that I am excusing the conduct of that leadership – I am not. Anybody is entitled to abandon the struggle but they are not entitled to claim their departure as a new way forward and to call on others to do the same – that is if they do not wish to be called “traitors”. Nor is anyone, least of all, entitled to take part in the colonial administration and if they do so, they have earned the titles not only of “traitors” but also of “collaborators”.

That judgement has nothing to do with peaceful versus armed struggle, parliamentary participation versus abstentionism or any such debate but is simply this: anyone who participates in colonial government is colluding with the colonist power, the invader, the appropriator. That is a truth understood by most people throughout the world.

It is a different point I am making entirely: the 30 Years War was lost because it could never have been won. To see this written or to hear it said will shock many Republicans and be seen as a kind of heresy – but that does not stop it from being true. Think about it: how could an armed struggle fought in one sixth of the country alone against a modern imperial army, possibly succeed? And that one-sixth further divided with at most 30% (and in reality a lot less) possibly sympathetic to the fighters? Who could sit down to ponder this and believe that struggle had a chance? The remarkable thing is not that it was lost or given up – but that it lasted as long as it did.

The only way that struggle could possibly win would be with the support of the 26-County State and it may well be that those who embarked upon it thought that at some point the Irish bourgeoisie would intervene in some way. They did — but to increase repression of Republicans.

A war might have been won if it had been extended across the whole state. Not necessarily an armed struggle across the whole country but certainly a social, economic, political one. It is not reasonable to expect the mass of people in the 26 Counties to fight year after year for those in only one part of the country, be it a colony or not, and have their own needs ignored. The people in the Six Counties would not do that either if the situation were reversed.

Certainly there was no shortage of issues going begging, from gender and sexuality-related civil rights, housing, unemployment, censorship, clerical domination, bleeding of the national language, sell-out to foreign capital, emigration, absentee landlords, private ownership of natural resources, sexual and other abuse by institutions. However, to take on the spread of issues oppressing or of concern to the people in Twenty-Six Counties would have meant taking on the Irish Gombeen class, its State and its supporting Church.  Whether because they still had hopes of the Irish State or did not want to clash with the Church which had the religious allegiance of the majority of their followers – or because they themselves did not want to challenge some or all of those institutions,It is clear that the leadership of the Republican movement then could not bring themselves to that confrontation.

If only a struggle across the whole “island of Ireland” (sic) could possibly have won then it seems logical that only such a struggle has a hope of winning today.

Some of the Republican groups perhaps have this awareness and certainly they have been seen in water and housing protests in the 26 Counties. But they are small groups, their activity patchy, lacking collaboration with one another (even in resisting State repression). More fundamentally there is no strategic plan for organising the working class. In a way, they can’t be blamed for that: they are not communists or anarchists; no matter how revolutionary or left-wing, they are primarily and always Irish Republicans.

 

REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALISTS

There is another sector whose members might well be nodding their heads in agreement with the above criticism but they too are beset by an important misconception – albeit a different one. They are the communists, socialists and anarchists who would consider themselves revolutionary, i.e who claim to believe in a revolutionary transformation of society.  A general disdain of the Republicans runs through this sector, considering Irish Republicans to be simple militarists, adventurist and even sectarian.

Their disdain – or perhaps their fear of being tarred by association – is such that they cheerfully allow all kinds of abuses against Republicans by the Irish State and the colonist statelet. By “allow” I mean that they do not protest against the abuses. Ethically, this is reprehensible but functionally it is dangerous. And in a country where the most numerous section ready to take on the State happens to be Irish Republican of one kind or another, such an attitude by the “revolutionary” Left is nothing short of counter-revolutionary.

This is, in a way, the sector to which I most belong but without that disdain or political apartheid.

Nor do our tiny cliques and small parties exhibit revolutionary spirit even in straight socialist issues, being in general concerned more with peaceful mobilisations and speeches or elections to public office than direct action.

One would think that trade unions would be of particular interest to the revolutionary Left – certainly the Republican movement has paid them little attention. However one finds only small struggles to appoint some Left-winger, usually not even a revolutionary, to the heights of union bureaucracy. When issues of industrial conflict arise, one does find revolutionary socialist shop stewards pushing for militant action.

But where is the education of workers? Where is the mobilisation of revolutionaries of different parties and none to support workers in industrial action? There is in fact no such “Broad Left” organisation in Ireland (not that its example in Britain is anything to emulate) and generally strike support is used for party building. When that particular conflict is over, nothing remains that was not there already.

 

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS AND LIBERALS

The third sector, shaking their heads at the “militarism” of the Republicans and the “impracticality” of the revolutionary socialists, are the social democrats and liberals. Their misconception is that capitalism and imperialism can be reformed so that they no longer be rapacious.

Maybe there was a time when such a belief was reasonable (though I find it hard to imagine it) but certainly that was long ago. Sincere reformers, benevolent capitalists and aristocrats and scheming reformists have all failed to reform the system of exploitation. Indeed, what historical experience has shown is that even if a capitalist or imperialist wished to subscribe to ownership in common, his or her class colleagues would not permit it.

The electoral path, so detested by some communists and many republicans, is where social democrats and liberals most place their hope and faith. And yet, despite an occasional individual exception, what has the history of those experiments shown us? Corruption of individual activists, wholesale corruption of party leaderships; diversion from the struggles on the ground to bureaucratic struggles in parliaments; careerist trade union leaders and bureaucratic officials; disempowerment of the working people; weakening of organs of real struggle; respect for the capitalists’ laws …..

Not one government of a socialist revolutionary kind has emerged by this process and, whenever it seemed to come close, it was overthrown by military coup or foreign imperialist intervention.

But still, it might work next time, eh? To the advocates of this ideology, of these methods, history does not matter – it can be ignored, denied or expected to cease its operation.

 

MOVING FORWARD

So where does all this leave us? Yes, I know, in the proverbial cac — but how can we move forward?

This is what I think:

The Revolutionary Left needs to a) organise in a revolutionary manner among the working class and b) to defend the civil right of Republicans;

The Republicans need to unite at least against State repression and take up social and economic issues of working people;

the Social-democrats and liberals should unite with the others on issues of civil rights and social issues;

but ultimately the Republicans and Socialists should ignore reformist illusions.

 

And what about me?

I do what I can where I think I can have a positive effect – criticise but participate; participate but criticise. And hope to learn not only from the mistakes of others but also from my own.

End.

Captain Moonlight and the Roscommon Evictions

CAPTAIN MOONLIGHT REVIVED: Ireland’s New Land War? — excellent article by Kerron Ó Luain, reproduced with his permission

(click on the link above to find the whole article)

“During this past week, near Strokestown, County Roscommon, a usually tranquil corner of rural Ireland, events have unfolded that exhibit undeniable echoes of the Land War of 1879-82. On 11December, three siblings in their fifties and sixties were brutally evicted from their homestead and family farm by private security goons backed by An Garda Síochána (the ‘Guardians of Peace’, aka the police) at the behest of KBC Bank, or by a receiver acting on behalf of the bank.”

The area in 1879: “Evictions of tenant farmers by bailiffs, agents, and sheriffs, with the backing of the Royal Irish Constabulary, were commonplace during this period. As were organized blockades, rent strikes, social ostracism, and other forms of civil disobedience to resist them.”

ABUSE OF POWER AND VIOLATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS IN IRELAND ARE NOT THINGS OF THE PAST

Diarmuid Breatnach

The violation of the civil rights of Osgur Breatnach (then a leading member of the IRSP) exposed in the program in the Finné series on TG4 (Irish language TV channel) shown recently and repeated a week later was set in the 1970s but the injustice did not end there.

Osgur Breatnach, photographed recently and still wanting his beating and framing investigated
(Source image: Dara Mac Dónaill, Irish Times).

          Even after a High Court admission that he and McNally had been subjected to “oppression” and his conviction thereby overturned 17 months after his jailing, the court still maintained he had beaten himself up – a fiction it maintains to this day.

Of course to say otherwise would have been to admit the Gardaí special unit that came to be known as “The Heavy Gang” were vicious thugs who fabricated “confessions”. And that the judiciary of the Special Criminal Court had, despite the medical evidence and signs of beating on all, including the three who had “confessed” and the repudiation of those statements in court, colluded with the beatings, accepted the statements as true confessions and convicted three of the men for up to 12 years’ jail. And to admit that the Court of Appeal and High Court had been complicit in accepting as a “finding of fact” which could not be overturned that they had beaten one another up (and done it to himself, in the case of Breatnach).

All of which meant that the Heavy Gang got more encouragement for their ‘work’ so that some of them were able to turn up on the scene of other scandals, including that of the false confessions of Joanna Hayes and her family (about which Gardaí nothing has been done either).

Even today, not one of those Gardaí has been even charged and the complicit judiciary and State Prosecution carried on in their jobs and in some cases rose higher.

The injustice did not stop there, for when Nicky Kelly, who had been on the run, gave himself up, even though exactly the same evidence had been used to convict him, he was told he had run over the timeframe in which he could appeal and it took four years of campaigning to get him out too. And then only for “humanitarian reasons,” so the “guilty of armed robbery” verdict still stood for his reputation, potential relationships, job prospects etc.

Another eight years later he received a Presidential “Pardon” from Uachtarán Mary Robinson.

Then the State fought the financial compensation case, taking it to the extreme of bringing Gay Byrne to court over an interview he had given Osgur Breatnach. At this point some wiser heads decided to limit the damage, pay up but with the condition that the three did not go after the police or proceed with any case about the beatings.

A facet of British and Irish civil law of which many are probably unaware is this: If the respondent (i.e the one against which you are taking the case) offers you a sum and you refuse it, and you later win the case but are awarded less than what you were offered earlier, you have to pay all the costs of the defence! You can actually end up owing money!

But back to ongoing injustice. Since not a single one of the Heavy Gang was ever even charged or disciplined over this and other similar behaviour and some were even promoted; since not a single member of the legal profession or judiciary was even reprimanded for their part in it; no warning about where the boundaries are has been given to the Gardaí much less to the judiciary. Which means that it can all easily happen again.

The defendants in the Jobstown case were not beaten up to force them to ‘confess’ but when we hear Garda after Garda, including a senior one, affirm under oath in court that one of the defendants said something which all the video evidence proves he did not, at what conclusion can we arrive other than that they were all lying? But not one of them has been charged or even disciplined either.

Conversely, the State has no problem with dragging anti-fascists to court recently and this to answer charges such as “violent disorder” arising out alleged actions preventing the European fascist organisation Pegida from launching a branch in Dublin.

12-hour protest at Department of Justice in January 2004 –Cormac Breatnach, musician and brother of heavy gang victim Osgur with other musicians including of the Ó Snodaigh family and TD Aongus, their brother.
(Photo source: Indymedia — see Links)

ARE THINGS TODAY IMPROVED?

          The Heavy Gang is not operating as such today (or at least not yet) but in some respects things are actually worse than they were back in the 1970s ad ’80s. There was one Special Criminal Court then – now there are two! The Public Order Act was brought into force in 1994 to give Gardaí great powers to repress public protests and the scheduled offence of Violent Disorder was included in that Act: three unconnected individuals at the scene of a “disorder” can be convicted under the latter provision and sentenced up to ten years in jail or fined an unlimited amount (or both)!

The non-jury Special Criminal Court on its last day in Green Street before it moved to its new location in Parkgate Street (Photo source: Internet)

Courts are imposing bail conditions preventing activists from continuing to be politically active, i.e from attending public meetings, rallies, demonstrations, pickets etc – for up to the two years it can take the case to come to trial.

And just as in the ‘bad old days’, the unsupported opinion of a Garda of Superintendent rank or over is sufficient to convict Republicans of “belonging to an illegal organisation” and visitors to the public gallery of the SCC have to give their names and addresses to the Gardaí before being admitted.

Special Branch officers still routinely and openly watch Republicans carrying out their peaceful political work and demand their names and addresses on pickets. But now not only is surveillance carried out on people’s electronic communication equipment, communication is also being blocked at times by special equipment of the Gardaí.

Sadly, as the struggle over social and political issues becomes more acute in this state, we will see more repression, as the State tries to force the whole of civil society into compliance, especially by concentrating that repression on society’s more politicised and active sectors. Already in Dublin we have seen masked bailiffs and masked police carrying out an eviction of a small token occupation group in an empty house and, a week later, armed police turning up to a dispute between a couple and their landlord.

Only by admission of wrongdoing followed by actions overturning the current impunity of the Gardaí and the judiciary can a worsening of the situation perhaps be averted. But there is no sign of that happening.

End.

 

LINKS FOR REFERENCE/ FURTHER INFORMATION

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/wronged-man-still-seeking-answers-40-years-after-sallins-train-robbery-1.3673264

https://www.indymedia.ie/article/63140?userlanguage=ga&save_prefs=true

https://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/from-heavy-gang-to-bailey-case-how-gardai-havent-learnt-lessons-30201431.html

 

 

WHAT IS THE POINT OF COMMEMORATIONS?

Diarmuid Breatnach

Summary: Fascism is mobilising across many parts of the world including the very Spanish state where it caused a war through a military-fascist coup and brought in four decades of a fascist dictatorship. The main point of commemorations of the anti-fascist resistance and of the International Brigades should be of raising the alarm and mobilising resistance anew. Why in some instances is this not happening?

What is the point of commemorations of the International Brigades? Or of the ‘Spanish Civil War’? Yes of course I believe these things should be commemorated but I still want to know what the point is.

I would think that most people would agree with two reasons:

  1. To remind us never to let fascism take over again

  2. To honour the memory of those who fought it, many who sacrificed their lives or their liberty or their health in the struggle against fascism.

I believe there is a third important reason though perhaps most people wouldn’t put it up there right away, though I doubt they’d disagree with it:

  1. To learn from the successes and mistakes of the past.

How is it then that one can go to an event to celebrate the the Irish International Brigaders but at the same time not hear a mention once in a number of hours about the mobilisation of fascist forces in Europe? How is it one cannot hear even a passing reference to the fascist forces that are stridently mobilising within the very Spanish state, at this moment? How is it that there is no mention of the Irish State bringing antifascists before the courts now for allegedly taking part in actions against the intended launch of the fascist Pegida organisation in February 2012?

Sure, we can all forget some very important point in a speech, forget to name somebody who should get a mention, etc. But all throughout the evening? And no placards or posters to challenge the rising fascism of today? That cannot be just a slip. Were it amnesia, it would be bad enough but if a tacit or tactical agreement not to remind us that would be worse, much worse.

Bob Doyle, the last of the Irish Brigaders to die, who is often mentioned at such events, would not have had it that way. In his nineties, I heard him speak a couple of times and he was always clear that the main point is to stop the fascists today. Frank Ryan, who regularly gets references at commemorative events (often without anyone mentioning he was IRA before he went out, as were many of the other Irish Brigadistas), would have agreed with Doyle, I’m sure.

TODAY FASCISM IS RISING IN THE SPANISH STATE – but then, it never went away.

          In the very territory where what is usually called the Spanish Civil War and less frequently the Spanish War Against Fascism (and other things)1 took place, Spanish fascists are openly organising, marching, threatening right now. A few weeks ago they were commemorating the dictator General Franco and Primo Rivera, founder of the Spanish fascist organisation, La Falange. Earlier in November they were provoking Catalans by having a rally in Barcelona. A little earlier still, they were provoking Basques by rallying in Altsasu, the town from which Basque youth got jail sentences of up to thirteen years arising out of a late-night pub brawl with off-duty Spanish policemen who provocatively went into an independentist bar and in which the most serious injury (if it was an actual result) was a damaged police ankle.2

Fascist organisation Falange women guard of honour for commemoration of the fascist founder of the Falange, Primo Rivera (Photo source: Internet)

All that would be bad enough if it were not that the Spanish State is actively tolerating them. Throwing fascist salutes, flying the Spanish fascist flag and shouting fascist slogans are all illegal under Spanish law; but the fascists brazenly do all these things and they do not get arrested!.

Fascist salutes and symbols at a recent fascist commemoration in Madrid (Photo source: Internet)

Of course, fascism was never defeated in the Spanish state. Fascism won there. We can shout “No Pasarán” (‘they shall not pass), the slogan for the defence of Madrid3 as much as we like but sadly, eventually sí pasaron (‘they did pass’), despite the enormous sacrifices of Castillians, Asturians, Andalucians, Basques, Asturians, Catalans and other peoples there, despite the bright internationalist spirit of the International Brigaders from well over 60 nations and states. And the victorious fascists tortured, shot, raped, humiliated, confiscated and stole food, valuables, businesses, imprisoned and half-starved the vanquished. And exported prisoners and jews to Nazi concentration camps.

Then the fascist regime consolidated their power, converting the schools to places of instruction in fascist and religious indoctrination, re-imposed a patriarchal ideology and ‘morality’ on girls and women, repressed languages other than Castillian, banned all trade unions except the fascist one, beat up and shot strikers and demonstrators, tortured independentist activists, shot some dead …. All of this went on for 40 years under General Franco.

During the first decade of that fascist reign of terror in the Spanish state, Fascism at first trampled over western and eastern Europe, North Africa, Asia …. until the tide began to turn, first in Eastern Europe and then in Asia and at last the fascist powers were defeated. Fascist leaders faced popular vengeance and Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals, executions and prison sentences. The societies they had sprung from were subjected to anti-fascist education. A great many of the guilty escaped but some were hunted down in following years.

During World War II on the other hand, Spanish fascism gave material and intelligence aid to the German and Italian fascist states and cooperated in hunts for the “French” (i.e Basque, Asturian, Catalan, Occitan and some Spanish anti-Nazi resistance, the maquis or maquisards4along the French-Spanish Border. It also sent back to the Nazis escaped prisoners, Jews and downed Allied airmen.

After the War, nothing happened to Spanish fascism (except that it sheltered hundreds of Nazi war-criminals, either permanently or on their way to South America, often with Vatican help). Fascism continued unimpeded in the Spanish state until ETA assassinated Carerro Blanco, Franco’s nominated successor and Franco himself died5 two years later.

Under internal pressure from Opus Dei and externally by European powers and especially by the USA, it was decided to modernise and rebrand the State6. The social democratic PSOE and its affiliated trade union the UGT were legalised under conditions and so were the Communist Party of Spain and its union, the Comisiones Obreras7. The conditions were that these would control their supporters (hence the trade unions) while the Transition was being carried through with repression; although republicans all, they would agree to the reimposition of a monarchy; that they – God forbid! — not go hunting fascists if they ever got into government; that they support the inviolability of the Spanish state union. The PSOE and the CPE agreed to the conditions and delivered, the latter even swallowing the fascist murder of five of its trade union lawyer members and serious injury to another four during the Transition and the PSOE swallowing the attack on the offices of the CGT.

The Transition took place in an atmosphere of hope and fear, repression against resistance: the new Spanish unionist and monarchical constitution was voted in, with regional autonomy to placate subjugated historical nations within the state; the new King, Juan Carlos de Borbón was installed. Ten years later, the Spanish State was admitted to the European Union8. That same year, the new Spanish Government under the PSOE was conducting fascist-police-military assassination squads against left-wing Basque independence activists9.

But all throughout those years and still, the fascists kept their plundered wealth. The fascist clergy, judges, civil servants, police, military and media all kept their positions and wealth. They just had to open up their ranks a little to let in the climbing social democrats and “communists”. Not one fascist was tried for any of the crimes carried out during the “Civil War” or during the Franco regime afterwards.

WHY THE FASCISTS ARE COMING BACK (but then, they never went away)

          Two things are exercising the Spanish fascists at the moment. First among these is the long struggle of the Spanish State to hold on to its forced union of the nations and regions conquered by monarchs of the Royal Houses of Spain and by fascist dictators, then maintained by both the mainstream constitutional political parties, the PP an the PSOE.

As a combination of factors combined with State repression to halt and disintegrate the southern Basque march towards independence, Catalonia took up its own struggle10. The independence movement there, which has left, right and centre elements but at base is popular and democratic and with wide support, has been steadily advancing. At institutional level, the ‘autonomous’ Catalan Government is a coalition of pro-independence forces (but with a numerous, strong, right-wing and Spanish-unionist opposition) and the majority of town councils have pro-independence majorities and Town Mayors. At grassroots level, the cultural organisation Omnium and especially the ANC (National Catalan Assembly) have organised massive independence demonstrations, a referendum on independence (disrupted with violence by the Spanish police11) and a protest General Strike. Some of the movement’s social and political leaders are in jail (four on hunger strike as this is published) and about to go on trial for their activism.

The union of the Spanish state is an article of faith for the Spanish fascists and reflected in the Spanish fascist slogan of España, Una, Grande y Libre!12 The “Una” is the forced unity, the denial of independence to the Basques and Catalans (or any others who might consider going for it).

But it is not only an article of faith for the fascists in the Spanish state, it also the case with regard to the Spanish ruling class. Catalonia and the southern Basque Country are two of the best-performing economic areas in the Spanish state and together account for a substantial part of the State’s exports and revenues, apart from land mass and extent of coast. Furthermore, the successful exit of these two regions would undoubtedly encourage similar plans among others, such as Valencia and the Balearic islands (which are also Catalan-speaking) and the Celtic nations of Galicia and Asturias. Uprisings might be the result in impoverished Andalucia and Extremadura …. None of that is a scenario which the Spanish ruling class is inclined to even consider and it has its Constitution to depend on, with legal punishment for any secession without a majority vote in its Parliament and the ultimate guarantor in the Spanish Armed forces.

All this is bad enough but a substantial section of the Spanish Left is also against any secession from Spanish State territory. The PSOE of course (which also means the UGT), since it takes its turn as the government of the Spanish ruling class, is one opponent but also the Spanish Communist Party (and the Comisiones union), much of the Trotskyist-Communist alliance of Izquierda Unida (the inappropriately-named ‘United Left’) and the populist Podemos, to which it gave unclaimed birth. For those, the argument against secession is about “the unity of the working class”13. That the “unity of the working class” against Spanish unionism, capitalism, imperialism and fascism might be achievable by agreeing to the right of secession and supporting it, while building a united front against all that is reactionary in the state, does not seem to have occurred to them. Of course their issue might be in reality about control.

DIGGING UP THE PAST

          The other issue exercising the fascists is the movement around the historical memory of the anti-fascist struggle and the effects of the 40 decades of Franco dictatorship.

Throughout the territory of the Spanish State, which currently includes the southern Basque and Catalan countries, there are graves of dead anti-fascists, usually unmarked and sometimes of many bodies together. The Catholic Church in most areas refused funeral services to the families of “los Rojos” (the Reds, i.e anyone who opposed the fascists) and the terror was such that often relatives were afraid for themselves and their children if they were too insistent with enquiries as to where their relative had been killed or buried. These burial sites are by roadsides, in quarries as well as in or near cemeteries and other places. Many of those were combatant and non-combatant prisoners who were executed, others fell in battle. Historical memory associations in different communities have been documenting the sites and trying to identify the occupants, an activity which fascists and some others consider as “causing divisions in society”.

Mass grave of executed anti-fascists in Burgos, one of many across the Spanish state.
(Photo source: Aranzadi, in El Pais newspaper — see Links).

In 2008 Judge Baltasar Garzón (since disbarred) ordered the opening up of 19 mass graves from that War14. Naive liberals and leftists (or perhaps those with very limited concerns) rushed to hail Garzón as a defender of democratic rights while ignoring his history as a judge presiding over repression of Basque independentists, including closure of newspapers and radio station, and prison sentences based on ‘confessions’ obtained through torture15. Despite Garzón’s repressive credentials there was an outcry from the Spanish right-wing and the exhumations were halted.

Also across the Spanish State’s territory there are plaques, monuments and street names dedicated to Franco and other fascist notables which in some areas have been the scene of protests. Most notable of all these sites is the mausoleum of General Franco and of Primo Rivera (founder of the fascist Falange), located within the Valle de los Caídos (‘Valley of the Fallen’). This monument, constructed in part by political prisoner labour,

covers over 3,360 acres (13.6km2) of Mediterranean woodlands and granite boulders on the Sierra de Guadarrama hills, more than 3,000 feet (910m) above sea level and includes a basilica, a Benedictine abbey, a guest house, the Valley, and the Juanelos four cylindrical monoliths dating from the 16th century. The most prominent feature of the monument is the towering 150-metre-high (500ft) cross erected over a granite outcrop 150 metres over the basilica esplanade and visible from over 20 miles (32km) away.” (Wikipedia).

The mausoleum, only 60 kilometres (just under 38 miles) from Madrid is the scene of many fascist ceremonies and demonstrations of adherence to the ideology of Franco and Rivera.

 

The Valle de los Caidos monument, containing the mausoleum with bodies of General Franco and Primo Rivera (Photo: Paul Hanna, Reuters, published in Washington Post — see Links)

 

For all of these reasons, varying forces on the Spanish Left and other antifascists spectrum have called for the removal of the cadavers of the two fascists to ordinary graves, the destruction of the mausoleums and the rededication of the whole area to the victims of fascism. When last in government, the PSOE committed itself to some of these objectives but did not carry them out. Now in government again, it has renewed that commitment which is another reason for Spanish fascist hysteria. The two main political parties of the constitutional Right (Partido Popular and Ciudadanos) combined with some smaller right-wing parties in abstaining from a recent Parliamentary motion “strongly condemning” the dictatorship and “any kind of exaltation” of the Franco regime. The motion was passed on 21st November 2918 with 97 votes of Spanish social democrats, Basque and Catalan independentists …. but there were 136 abstentions.

The Spanish Left has a serious difficulty in opposing fascism, committed as so much of the Left is to a central tenet of Spanish fascism, the current territorial integrity of the State. Also the Left in many other places besides the Spanish state is divided on how to respond to fascism in general; responses varying from replying with force by popular action to calling on the State to ban them, campaigning politically against them to generally ignoring their mobilisation.

Is it possible that some notion of preserving the ‘unity of the Left’ could be at the bottom of the silence about the growing fascism in the world and in particular within the Spanish state at some commemorative events?

THE WORTH OF COMMEMORATIONS

          The Friends of the International Brigades and other associations of what is often described as “historical memory” have done very important work in recovering the history of resistance to fascism. Not only that but also in tying that history not just to the territory of the Spanish state where battles were fought by the International Brigades but to places where those Volunteers came from in Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland. That work helps the people of those areas to locate themselves within the continuum of history and to emulate the ideals of those Volunteers should they choose to do so. The narratives of the sacrifice made and risk taken by the Volunteers counter the capitalist ethos of greed and of self-preservation above all else and suggest an alternative.

Such commemorations and monuments, if they are to survive and if they are to have real practical meaning, must also serve as calls to action, to mobilise to stop the rise of Fascism and to drive it back. And to support those who are fighting fascism, here, in the Spanish state and elsewhere. If we are to shout No pasarán! let us mean: Ésta vez no pasarán – y nunca jamás! (‘This time they shall not pass – and never again!)

end.

FOOTNOTES

1Although there people of fascist mentality everywhere in the Spanish state, they were outnumbered in most places by anti-fascists and without the logistical and manpower assistance of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, fascism could not have succeeded. Therefore many argue that it was not a civil war but instead a coup, a military uprising though supported by fascists both native and foreign. In the southern Basque Country and probably in Catalonia, some view it as a military invasion rather than a civil war. In Nafarroa (Navarra), because of the reactionary Carlist movement there, it did take on the character of a civil war and the Carlists murdered 3,000 leftists and republicans – when the Falange got there, there was no-one left for them to kill.

2A debate in the EU on a ban in all its membership against fascist symbols took place in December 2012 but has not yet resulted in a decision. A Catalan independentis MEP contributed to the discussion https://www.greens-efa.eu/en/article/press/eu-wide-ban-on-nazi-and-fascist-symbols-and-slogans/ with perhaps a rather tongue-in-cheek declaration that the Spanish Government had no interest in fascist symbolism; the truth is more complicated than that (see WHY THE FASCISTS ARE COMING BACK and DIGGING UP THE PAST sections).

3This slogan is said to have been coined for the crucial antifascist defence of Madrid by Dolores Ibarruri, known as “La Passionara” because of text she wrote in her youth and later her speeches too. She was a Basque and a member of the CPE. The slogan has been repeated many times since in different parts of the world but in Cable Street in 1936 it became a reality when an alliance of forces, chiefly Jewish and Irish community with some local Communist leadership, stopped 20,000-30,000 of Mosley’s “Blackshirts” and their escort of 7.000 police, along with all the mounted police in London, from marching through a predominantly immigrant Jewish quarter.

4Maquis” is dense scrub vegetation consisting of hardy evergreen shrubs and small trees, characteristic of Mediterranean coastal regions” (Internet description) which is where the ‘French’ rural anti-fascist or anti-Nazi Occupation resistance fighters camped and hid. “Maquisards” was the word describing those Resistance fighters in French but “the Maquis” was erroneously later applied to the fighters and their organisation.

51975.

6The Spanish State was not a member of the European Union and there was concern in many quarters about admitting an unreconstructed fascist dictatorship into membership. However, under USA patronage, it had joined NATO in 1982 and US air bases were being built across the territory. Opus Dei is a Catholic association mostly of people from professional and upper-middle classes and, in Spain, with right-wing views but with a technocratic approach rather than ideological which pitched them against the fascist Falange in the “democratisation” of the Spanish State.

7Both the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero de España) and the Unión General de Trabajadores had been illegal and persecuted under Franco, as had the more militant PCE (Partido Comunista de España) and the Commisiones Obreras trade union (in acronym in Castillian usually shown as CCOO). Those two trade unions are by far the most widespread in the Spanish state with the majority of members (except in the Basque Country and Galicia). The PSOE is one of the two mainstream political parties in the state, alternating with the right-wing Partido Popular.

8The Spanish State was admitted in 1986 but negotiations had been going on for some time.

9See GAL and BVE assassination squads operating in the Spanish and French states (1983-1987).

10Catalunya is an ‘autonomous’ region under the post-Franco Spanish Constitution, as are the two divisions of the southern Basque Country, Euskadi and Nafarroa (Navarre, Navarra). The Popular Front Government of the Spanish State had recognised the self-administering right of both Euskadi and Catalunya and they were important parts of the anti-fascist resistance; their autonomous status was revoked under the Franco dictatorship.

11On 1st October 2017, one of a number of Spanish police invasions of Catalunya last year.

12The “Grande” refers to imperial Spain and its colonies and the “Libre” to the Jewish-Masonic-Communist alleged conspiracy imagined by fascists (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Una,_Grande_y_Libre).

13This argument has over the course of time been used by sections of social democrats, Communists, Trotskyist and Anarchists against liberation struggles in colonies and also in opposition to a boycott against South Africa or Palestine. The argument of class solidarity has been employed in a manner and in situations which have actually weakened the class struggle, bound the working class to their masters in common cause and also encouraged the growth of racism. As long ago as the mid-19th Century, Marx and Engels and others argued against this identification interest with the ruling class, encouraging the British workers in their own interest to support the Irish people in their liberation struggle against British colonialism.

15 And withdrawn immediately in the non-jury court by the detainees but to no avail.

LINKS

Irish Brigades Remembered: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1656646004567977/permalink/2269647039934534/

International Brigade Memorial Trust: https://en-gb.facebook.com/groups/7123291063/

Ahaztuak (“The Forgotten”), Basque historical memory association: http://ahaztuak1936-1977.blogspot.com/

Mass grave uncovered in Burgos, one of many across the Spanish state: https://elpais.com/elpais/2016/08/31/inenglish/1472638944_315923.html

 

 

 

Packed Concert Commemorates Return of the Irish Brigadista Volunteers

Diarmuid Breatnach

A mixed audience of anti-fascists were entertained on 23rd November by a range of artists from the Irish trad-folk scene and a Spanish band performing to commemorate on its 80th anniversary the return of the Irish survivors of the International Brigades to Ireland. The event, “The Return of the Connolly Column” was organised by the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland (FIBI) and the venue, the Workman’s Club on Wellington Quay of the Dublin City Centre, was packed.

The event began with Dougie Dalby introducing Harry Owens, a Spanish Civil War historian and founder member of the FIBI. Owens gave a speech, recalling how the social-democratic PSOE Government in the Spanish State in the 1980s had not wished to support the marking and conservation of graves of International Brigaders who had fallen in battle but had been convinced to do so by Edward Heath, British Prime Minister and by the leader of the Irish Labour Party at the time, Dick Spring. FIBI had become part of that commemoration effort in visiting some of the sites but also in erecting monuments and plaques in various parts of Ireland.

Colm Morgan from Co. Louth followed, with guitar and voice, with some of his own compositions, including one about Frank Ryan – excellent material in my opinion – to be followed by Mick Hanley (guitar and voice again) accompanied by Donal Lunny. Hanley and Lunny have history, of course, not least in that great band of the past, Moving Hearts; both belong to that honourable class of Irish musicians who have not been afraid to support progressive causes including some in their own country – and who have never performed for “any English King or Queen”.

(L-R) Dónal Lunny and Mick Hanley performing at the FIBI event.
(Photo source: FIBI)

Lunny accompanied various artists at different times during the evening, sometimes on keyboard and sometimes with guitar, as well as adding vocals once also. After his pairing with Hanley, he accompanied Tony Sweeney’s excellent lively accordion-playing which drew more than one whoop from the audience. All however quietened down for Justin McCarthy reading “The Tolerance of Crows” by Charlie Donnelly, Irish poet, member of Republican Congress and Field Commander of a unit of the International Brigades and who fell at the Battle of Jarama on 27th February 1937.

Muireann Ní Amhlaoibh on whistle accompanied by Dónal Lunny
(Photo source: FIBI)

After the break excellent singer Muireann Ní Amhlaoibh sang (accompanied by Lunny) and her rendition of Sliabh Geal gCua na Féile, a song composed by an Irish emigrant working in a Welsh coalmine in the late 19th Century, was particularly beautiful. It is a lament for home and language by Pádraig Ó Míléadha, from the Déise (‘Deci’) area of Wateford.

John Faulkner, virtuoso composer and singer-songwriter, raised in London of Irish background and for many years a resident of Kinvara, Co. Galway (but almost Co.Clare) accompanied himself singing a number of songs, including Patrick Galvin’s great composition Where Oh Where Is Our James Connolly? He performed an anti-war song by Eric Bogle also, All the Fine Young Men, which he introduced saying that some wars need to be fought.

Andy Irvine playing and singing at the concert (Photo source: FIBI)

Andy Irvine took the stage second-to-last of the acts for the evening, another London import to Ireland for which Irish folk and traditional music is very grateful, a composer, singer-songwriter and player of a number of instruments, accompanied once again by Lunny, who shares a history with him in Moving Hearts and Planxty. Irvine performed a number of songs, including Woody Guthrie’s All You Fascists Bound to Lose which, though not very creative in lyrics has a chorus with which the audience joined enthusiastically.

Gallo Rojo performing at the event (Photo source: FIBI)

Last on for the evening was Edinburgh-based Gallo Rojo1, anti-fascist musical collective, opening with a reading in the original Castillian of La Pasionara’s farewell speech to the International Brigaders at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona (see Links). It seemed to me that this would have worked better for an Irish audience with a simultaneous or interspersed reading in English but it received strong applause from the audience. This was followed by Ay Carmela!, then Lorca’s Anda Jaleo! I had to leave after that but I could hear the band starting on Bella Ciao, the song of Italian anti-fascist resistance of the 1940s but based on an older song of oppressed women agricultural workers.

It did occur to me at that point that among all the great material of the evening, I had heard no song to represent the International Brigaders of nations other than Ireland which is often the case at such events. More unusually, no reference I could recall was made to growing fascism in Europe and especially in the Spanish State (it never went away there), nor to antifascists facing trial arising out of mobilisation against the attempted Dublin launch of the fascist organisation Pegida in February 2012.

Immediately outside the concert hall, the bar area held a large number of people, perhaps as many as a quarter again of the audience inside. The performances inside were being conveyed by electronic speakers to them too but I am unsure how many were listening. There was a FIBI stall there too selling antifascist material.

Overall, the audience appeared to be mostly Irish with some foreign nationals and from a broad range of political backgrounds: Communist Party of Ireland, Sinn Féin, Anarchists and independent supporters and activists of mainly socialist and/or Republican ideology.

I am informed that FIBI are currently finalising the editing of a video of the concert and this will be available as soon as possible.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

1. THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES

The International Brigades were raised through Communist parties around the world to assist in the defence of the republican Popular Front Government of the Spanish State against a military coup with Spanish fascist (and Basque Carlist) support, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Brigades consisted of volunteers from at least 65 nations2 and included Jews from a number. Early Irish volunteers enlisted chiefly in units of British and USA organisation but were present in groups from Australia and Canada too but later some made their way directly from Ireland; later too some of the Irish came to be known as the Connolly Column. The English-speaking units and some others were formed3 into the 15th International Brigade (originally the Fifth, but when added to the ten indigenous brigades of the Spanish Republic – Spanish, Catalan and Basque – became the Fifteenth). Not all foreign anti-fascist volunteers enlisted through the International Brigades, some joined Anarchist or Trotkyist militias4 and at least one, an Irishman, joined a Basque unit.

The Republican Government of the Spanish state disbanded the International Brigades on 23rd September 1938 in an unsuccessful bid to have the non-fascist European powers5 pressure their German and Italian fascist counterparts to withdraw their logistics, soldiers and airforce support from the Spanish military-fascist forces. By that time many of the “Brigadistas” were dead or captured as they had borne some of the heaviest prolonged fighting at Madrid (1936); Jarama, Brunete and Belchite (all 1937); Fuentes del Ebro and the Ebro itself (1938).

Famous photo by Robert Capa, war reporter from Hungary, showing emotional face of Brigadistas saluting (and perhaps singing the Internationale) at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona.
(Photo source: Internet)

Their formal demobilisation parade with their auxiliary recruits (including women) was held in Barcelona on 28th October, where they received the famous oration from the Basque Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionara”, prominent anti-fascist and activist of the Communist Party of Spain (see Links). It is notable that she addressed her oration to “communists, socialists, republicans, anarchists” as not only communists fought and died in the ranks of the Brigadistas.

Section of survivors of the International Brigades at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona.  (Photo source: Internet)

Another close-up from the demobilisation parade in Barcelona
(Photo source: Internet)

 

2. A DIFFERENT IRELAND

The Irish Brigadistas returning to Ireland found a society very different from that of today. Anti-communist hysteria was prevalent, whipped up in particular by the Catholic Church and supported in particular – but not exclusively – by Fine Gael (which formed in part from Blueshirts6). The Fianna Fáil Government was not fascist but was of the Irish capitalist class relying heavily on Catholic Church support and so contributed to anti-communism; all of the main media was anti-communist and finally the IRA, as well as having forbidden any of its Volunteers to fight for any other cause than Ireland’s, had expelled communists from the IRA in 1934. As with the time of repression of Republicans by the Free State, the USA seemed a good option for some of the Irish Brigadistas (some had enlisted there anyway) but there too, many antifascist war veterans found themselves subject to anti-communist hysteria and even later, when the USA was fighting fascist powers, labelled as “premature antifascists”!

Today here in Ireland the general attitude is one of respect or even pride in that part of our history, when Irish Volunteers went abroad to fight in defence of democracy and socialism against fascism7. The best-known song to date about the Irish Brigadistas is undoubtedly Viva La Quinze Brigada8 by Ireland’s best-known folk singer-songwriter, Christy Moore. Published accounts by Irish participants include The Connolly Column by Michael O’Riordan (1979) and Brigadista (2006) by Bob Doyle. Moore’s song is very popular in Ireland (and among the Irish diaspora in Britain) and a plaque listing some of the Irish martyrs is fixed to the wall by the entrance to the Theatre building of the major Irish trade union, SIPTU.

Funeral in May 1983 of Michael O’Riordan, survivor Irish Brigadista and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland (among other positions and activities).
(Photo source: Indymedia)

Michael O’Riordan survived the War and was prominent in the Communist Party of Ireland, dying in Dublin in 1983. Bob Doyle was the last surviving known Brigadista from Ireland; on 22nd January 2009 he died in England, where he had been living and had raised a family. On February 14th that year his ashes were carried by relatives and admirers in a march from the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin city centre to Liberty Hall, where a reception was held. An optimistic photographer with the byline of “anarchaeologist” reported the following day in Indymedia: “…. in a display of left unity and solidarity we will doubtless see more of on the streets of Dublin over the coming months ….. Groups attending the celebration included the main unions, Éirigí, the WSM, the IRSP and Dublin Sinn Féin. Banners were also carried by the International Brigades Memorial Trust and the Inistiogue George Brown Memorial Committee. Supporters of the Dublin branch of the Irish Basque Solidarity Campaign demonstrating outside the GPO dipped their flags as a mark of respect as the crowd passed by”. The DIBSC actually wheeled in behind the march as the tail end passed, though the reporter seems not to have noticed that.9

Supporters of the Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee lower Basque flags in honour as ashes of last Irish Brigadista to die are carried down O’Connell Street in procession.
(Photo source: Indymedia)

Relatives and friends leading procession with Bob Doyle’s ashes give clenched fist salute to Basque solidarity demonstrators they are passing (see other photo with Basque flags).
(Photo source: Indymedia)

FRIENDS OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES IN IRELAND

 

The aim of the concert was to honour the enduring legacy of the 15th International Brigade and its ongoing contribution in the war against fascism”, a spokesperson for FIBI said in a statement. “As such, it was both a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the disbandment of the Brigade and the subsequent return of the survivors to Ireland but it was also a celebration of their spirit in choosing to sacrifice everything for working-class principles.”

FIBI is an entirely voluntary organisation but does incur costs in erecting memorials, research, promotion etc. “This concert was designed to raise a modest amount to ensure the continuation of this work without having to resort to piecemeal fundraising over the next year or two. We are delighted to say we met our twin objectives of hosting a fitting occasion to coincide with the 80th anniversary of what became known as The Connolly Column and raising funds to help us continue with our efforts to ensure those who went are never forgotten.”

With its work of commemoration ceremonies and erection of plaques and monuments around the country, a work which not only reminds us of the Irish contribution in general but also links it to specific individuals from specific areas, the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland has been deepening the wider attitude of respect for the International Brigades and pride in the Irish volunteers which has been growing steadily.

Hopefully all of this will combine with and inform any action necessary to halt the rise of fascism throughout the world and of course to prevent it taking hold in Ireland.

End.

REFERENCES AND USEFUL LINKS

Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland:

http://fibi-ireland.com/site/

States from which volunteers went to fight against Spanish fascism:

http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/content/volunteers-63-countries

English translation of La Passionara’s speech read by Maxine Peake: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Xfm3o45iIE

La Passionara’s speech read in the original Castillian in front of an audience by Esperanza Alonso:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3HtLLelVeo

Brief account of some anti-communist violence in 1930s Ireland: https://comeheretome.com/2012/07/19/anti-communism-animal-gangs-and-april-days-of-violence-in-1936/

IRA expulsion of communists:

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

Video compilation of concert:

FOOTNOTES

1Not to be confused with the Mexico-based rock-ska-Latin band of the same name.

2“63 countries” are listed in one reference and I have added two, Scotland and Wales, on the assumption that they are unlisted but included under “Britain” or “UK”: http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/content/volunteers-63-countries

3 The Balkan Dimitrov Battalion and the Franco-Belgian Sixth February Battallion.

4George Orwell, who wrote Homage to Catalonia, probably the most famous English-language account of the war by a participant, enlisted in the militia of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unifacción Marxista), a coalition of Trotskyis organisations (but whose alliance with the Right Opposition was renounced by Trotsky himself). The much larger anarcho-syndicalist trade union and movement Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), closely associated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), also had militias, of which the Durruti Collumn was the largest and is the best known today. Some foreigners also enlisted in those militias.

5These powers, such as France and the UK, were following an allegedly “non-interventionist” policy but effectively forming part of the blockade preventing the Republican Government from receiving aid. Later the governments of those two states in particular tried a policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy which was unsuccessful (except in encouraging further aggression) and they ended up going to war.

6Former IRA leader Eoin O’Duffy had, with Irish Catholic Church endorsement, recruited many more Irishmen to fight alongside the Spanish military-fascist forces but they acquired a reputation for ill-discipline and in one of their only two brief military engagement mistakenly fired on fascists; they went home in disgrace in late June 1937 (a year before the International Brigades were demobilised and the surviving, non-prisoner Irish were able to return home.

7Republicans and Communists had fought the fascist Blueshirts in Ireland too and the significant contribution of participants from the Irish diaspora to the famous antifascist victory of the Battle of Cable Street (and following guerrilla attacks on fascists at Hyde Park) in London has more recently been recognised (though not yet on the main relevant Wikipedia entry).

8Originally written as Viva La Quinta Brigada (i.e “the Fifth”); however that is the name of a song in Castillian contemporary with the War and later versions of Moore’s song include a line acclaiming “the Fifteenth International Brigade” which would be “la Decimiquinta” which has three syllables too many and so “Quinze”, i.e ‘Fifteen’.

9The DIBSC had already scheduled and advertised a picket to take place on the same day in Dublin’s main street, protesting against Spanish State repression of the Basque independence movement and treatment of prisoners. Upon learning of the planned march to honour Bob Doyle’s memory, I suggested holding our Basque solidarity event earlier, lowering the flags in respect when the march approached and then following it as the tail end passed us. I was unsure of what the reaction of Doyle’s relatives and supporters might be but as soon as those at the front saw what we were doing, a number of them raised clenched fists. It was an emotional moment for me, certainly.