DEMOCRACY AS A SAFE OPTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

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

Image source: Internet

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

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

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

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

Another view of western democracy
(Image source: Internet)

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

“EVERYBODY’S A DEMOCRAT”

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

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

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

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

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

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

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

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

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

DEMOCRACY: THE SAFEST OPTION

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

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

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

ORIGINS OF DEMOCRATIC SYSTEMS

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

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

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

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

 

 

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

end

LINKS AND SOURCES OTHER THAN IN FOOTNOTES

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

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

FOOTNOTES

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

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

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RIGHT TO OVERTHROW THE SYSTEM

Diarmuid Breatnach

The whisper is that a new movement is to be created, called Right to Change and that it will publish an on-line mass left-wing newspaper, which will be the first mass left-wing paper in this country since 1913 and even then, that newspaper’s distribution was mostly confined to Dublin.

In fact, a movement based on the right to change already exists, taking in not only the right to water but to housing, to social provisions, to health, to education, to natural resources – the many things that have been removed or cut or are under threat in order to pay the bankers and speculators. One supposes that this new organisation is intended to build on that movement, coordinate it etc. And no doubt put up a slate of candidates at local government and at general elections.

It is Right to Water that has given rise to this idea and no doubt a number who were prominent in it will be likewise in the new organisation.

Right to Water was not a movement, rather a kind of coordinating organisation for national demonstrations, chiefly in Dublin, against the water charges and the expected privatisation of water. In that work it has been highly successful.

The demonstrations built on the actions and mobilisation of hundreds of community groups across the country, protesting locally, encouraging people not to register or pay the charges, blocking Sierra and others from installing water meters and so on.

Many people will think that building Right to Change is the logical next move and will be enthused by it. And why not? Sure wouldn’t it be great to have a large number of TDs standing up to the System, denouncing its plans and their actions? The kind of thing done today by a few Independent TDs and others representing parties with small representation in the Dáil. Well, it would be useful but would it really make a difference?

Recently a Dáil committee set up to review the water charges and so on published its recommendations. Only 13 of the committee’s 20 members agreed with all of the recommendations but all of the recommendations stand nevertheless. Of course some of the objectors were right-wingers but many were of the Left – the System will always have a majority in the sub-systems it sets up. And if a time should come when it cannot achieve that …. well, that’s when you’ll hear the tanks clanking down the street.

Ok, granted perhaps, but it can’t hurt, can it? To have more Left TDs harassing the Government? No, of course not. Not unless we expect too much of this new organisation. Not unless we come to depend on it. And scale down our own independent activities. Hand over power to them.

That wouldn’t happen, would it? Unfortunately it has been a historical trend for popular movements to do exactly that. And social democracy always betrays the mass upon which it has erected itself. The Liberals in the further past and our ‘own’ Fianna Fáil in more recent history often promised the workers many things to win their votes. And even helped the workers push some things through from time to time. But they never promised to abolish the System, never promised socialism.

Social democracy does promise to deliver a fair and just society. It is a promise that it has been making for well over a century but on which it never delivers. It’s not just about jobbery and corruption, of which there is plenty in the corridors of power and to which many social democrats gravitate; it’s more that the Councillors and TDs elected never had any intention of abolishing the System. And in fact, will come out to defend the System whenever it is in danger. When it comes down to it, the System is THEIR system.

From time to time one hears social democrats bewailing “the unacceptable face of capitalism”, as though there exists an “acceptable” face of that system. They may talk at times about the “evils” of capitalism but will bear in mind the “good things” of capitalism too, the benefits they draw or hope to draw from the System. So criticism must be “balanced”, one mustn’t “throw the baby out with bathwater” and so on.

“The law must be obeyed”, they agree, as though “the law” is something divorced from class and politics, some immutable thing that just somehow exists. And yet just about every major social and political advance — including the right to organise a trade union at work, the right to strike and the right to universal suffrage — was won by people breaking “the law”. “The law” and its enforcers are part of the System.

If (heaven forbid) the action of the System’s police should be criticised, then we will hear phrases like “the police have a hard job to do”, the action of the ‘bad’ police is “bringing the force into disrepute”, “there are a few bad apples”, “better training is needed”, a “change in management is necessary”, etc etc. Anything but admit that the police force in a capitalist country exists in order to serve that System.

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY BETRAYS

At the beginning of May 1926, with a coal miners’ strike as a catalyst, Britain was heading towards a real possibility of revolution. The social democratic Trades Union Congress called a General Strike. In many areas of the country and in cities, no transport moved unless it had authorisation from the local Trades Council (a committee of local trade union representatives) or it had armed police and soldier escort. In less than two weeks, the TUC, at the behest of the British Labour Party, called off the strike, leaving the miners to fight on alone to their defeat in less than eight months. “By the end of November, most miners were back at work. However, many remained unemployed for many years. Those still employed were forced to accept longer hours, lower wages and district wage agreements” (Wikipedia).

Banner of a Labour Party branch of Crewe (West England) with a Marxist revolutionary slogan at a General Strike rally. Yet the leadership of the Labour Party convinced the TUC to call off the General Strike. (Image source: Internet)

There had been more workers coming out at that time but also some of the union leaders were beginning to crack, as the struggle was shaping up to be a real showdown between the System and the workers. The TUC didn’t even set up a system to guarantee no retaliations by bosses against activist workers in non-mining unions and many lost their jobs.

The Chilean Salvador Allende is often seen as a hero, a radical social democrat who stood up against internal military fascism and external CIA-led destabilisation. Workers and peasants and some sections of the middle class got Allende elected President in 1970 but right wingers and officers in the military, working with the CIA, were conspiring against him. Everybody knew this and sections of the workers asked for Allende to arm them against the coup they knew was coming. Allende tried instead to compromise and find senior officers he could work with to use against the plotters. When the military carried out the coup, there was some armed resistance but most workers were unarmed. The coup left “3,000 dead or missing, tortured ten thousands of prisoners and drove an estimated 200,000 Chileans into exile” (Wikipedia). In addition, the children of many murdered left-wingers and union activists were given to childless right-wingers and military and police couples to raise as their own.

Social democracy always betrays or ends up hung by its own illusions. Unfortunately the workers end up hanging with it also.

Moments of terror during the 1973 military coup in Chile — some of those pictured may well have been tortured and/ or murdered soon afterwards. (Image source: Internet)

In 2010, in response to Government budget cuts of between 5% and 10% on public servants, along with a levy on pensions, along with a breakdown in the “partnership” system of business and state employers negotiating with trade unions, the social-democratic Irish Trades Union Congress called a major demonstration in Dublin.  Perhaps 70,000 marched down O’Connell Street and the ITUC was threatening a general strike.  Despite escalating strike action in a number of sectors and the growing unpopularity of the Government, the ITUC abandoned the idea of a strike and instead went in to do a deal with the Government, in which they actually agreed to pay cuts and the pension levy, in exchange for some guarantees around public sector jobs. The social democratic trade union leaders didn’t have the stomach (or backbone) to take on the Government, to test the level of support for resistance.

Section of the ICTU protest march in November 2010 — the ICTU threatened a General Strike within days but instead crawled into Croke Park Agreement.
(Image source: Internet)

Why all this talk about social democracy? Well, because Right to Water is essentially a social democratic alliance. It contains Sinn Féin, the biggest minority party in the Dáil, with 23 elected representatives, third in number of TDs. Right to Water is also supported by Unite, “Britain’s biggest union with 1.42 million members across every type of workplace” according to their website it is pretty big in Ireland too, which is a “region” for the union, with 100,000 members across the land. These are forces that, while opposing the water charge, did not support civil disobedience on water meter installation nor refusing to pay the charge (although a number of their members fought along with the rest). Refusing to register and pay were the most effective ways of resisting the water charges and it is the high level of civil disobedience behind the giant demonstrations that has made the ruling class think again and promoted divisions between FG and Labour on the one hand and Fianna Fáil on the other.

But these elements did not support that policy. They want to be not only law-abiding but be seen to be law-abiding. Seen by who? Well, by the ruling class of course. SF in particular is champing at the bit to get into a coalition government but needs to show the ruling class that it is a safe pair of hands, i.e that the System will remain intact if managed by them. As indeed they have done in joint managing the regime in the Six Counties.

Of course there are many occasions when social democrats and revolutionaries can cooperate – but never by ceding leadership to the social democrats nor by depending on them, always instead by relying on their own forces and striving to educate the masses that the system cannot be reformed but needs to be overthrown …. and that the ordinary people are perfectly capable of achieving that.

AN ON-LINE MASS LEFT-WING NEWSPAPER

What about the left-wing newspaper though? Now that might be something, true enough. A source of rebuttal to the lies we are constantly getting from the media and a source of information and news which media censorship ensures most of us don’t get to read, see or hear.

If it seeks to be a truly mass paper it will need to cover not only foreign and domestic news but also sport, with sections on history, culture, nature, gardening ….. Rudolfo Walsh, who founded and with others ran the important ANCLA news agency during the dictatorship and the earlier extremely popular CGTA weekly in Argentina, until he was assassinated by the police, has been credited with two important sources of the weekly’s success: his informants within the police and army and an excellent horse racing tipster!

Rudolfo Walsh, Argentinian writer and journalist of Irish descent, his image superimposed on another of the military dictatorship that murdered him.
(Image source: Internet)

It is a big undertaking and a very interesting one.

But will the new paper practice censorship? Will it confine its discourse to the social democratic or instead allow revolutionary voices in it? Will it allow criticism of trade union leaderships, including Unite’s? Will it cover the repression of Republicans on both sides of the Border but particularly in the Six Counties? One would certainly hope so. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – and of the newspaper, in the reading.

CABRA AND PHIBSBOROUGH 1916 RISING STORY — history book launch, talks, songs

Diarmuid Breatnach

Around a hundred people attended the Cabra 1916 Rising Committee’s exhibition and launch on Saturday (7/11/2015) of their publication Our Rising – Cabra and Phibsborough in Easter 1916.

The event took place in the Cabra area itself, in the parish hall of Christ the King church. To accompany the launch, the Irish Volunteers group put on a very interesting display of artifacts from the period, including uniforms and weapons, and provided some personnel also dressed in Irish Volunteer uniforms and IRA typical clothing of the War of Independence period. Along the walls there were many period photos and a wonderful display of schoolchildren’s art on the subject of the 1916 Rising.

A shot of the attendance at the start of the formal part of the launch (Photo D.Breatnach)

A shot of the attendance at the start of the formal part of the launch
(Photo D.Breatnach)

DB singing Cabra Phibsborough Our Rising book launch Nov2015

Diarmuid Breatnach introducing songs about to sing: “Sergeant William Bailey” by Peadar Kearney (with two additional verses by Breatnach) and “Where Is Our James Connolly?” by Patrick Galvin. (Photo A.Perry)

After some time allowed for people to gather, the MC Éamonn O’Hara called people to order and after they had sat down, gave a brief background to the work of the Cabra 1916 Rising Committee, then outlined the formal part of the book launch to follow. First he introduced singer Diarmuid Breatnach.

Breatnach took the floor and explained that the songs he was going to sing were from or related to the period. “During these years of commemorations,” he said, “we are told that we should remember the First World War. Some people disagree with that but I think it is right; we should remember the War but — not in the way most of those people mean. We should instead remember that hundreds of thousands were sent to murder their class brothers in other lands, sent to their deaths and millions more to injury and tragedy, for the profits of a few.”

Some of the uniforms and flags displayed by Irish Volunteers.org

Some of the uniforms and flags displayed by Irish Volunteers.org.   (Photo D. Breatnach)

Also, when we are told that we should commemorate the First World War, they don’t mean that we should remember those brave few who dared speak out publicly against the war, who held anti-recruitment rallies or who picketed army recruitment meetings and shouted slogans there. And who paid the price of imprisonment and sometimes even death for doing so.” And yet, Breatnach went on to elaborate, those things too are part of the history of war and to his mind the most important part, since among all the wars of the past and the present, it is that trend that holds out a hope for the future.

Breatnach related that Peadar Kearney was born not far from Phibsborough – in Dorset Street, around the corner from Inisfallen Parade, where Sean O’Casey was reared. When Kearney taught night classes in Irish, O’Casey was one of his pupils.

Among the songs that Kearney wrote was a three-verse song mocking a British Army recruiting sergeant, who apparently had a pitch at Dunphy’s Corner. According to a local historian, that was outside what is now Doyle’s pub, at the Phibsboro crossroads. Breatnach said that he had added two verses of his own composition to that song.

Of course, the 1916 Rising is a part of the history of the First World War too,” Breatnach continued, “and not only because it took place during that War. For the IRB, undoubtedly, it was a case of ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’. But for some others, including Connolly, as he made clear a number of times in writing, the Rising was necessary to interrupt the War, to stop the bloodshed of class brother killing class brother across Europe.”

Some of the wonderful children's artistic impressions of the Rising on display at the launch

Some of the wonderful children’s artistic impressions of the Rising on display at the launch.   (Photo D. Breatnach)

Breatnach pointed out that the Rising in Ireland was one of the most significant internationally against that imperialist war and that it was not until February the following year in Russia that there would be another of such historical importance, to be followed later by the October socialist revolution.

Of the two better-knowns songs about James Connolly, Breatnach said one makes no mention of socialism, the Citizen Army or trade unions and that in his opinion “Where Is Our James Connolly?” is truer to Connolly’s ideology. It was written by Patrick Galvin who was, among other things a writer, playwright, screen writer and singer. Galvin died only four years ago.

Breatnach then went on to perform “Sergeant William Bailey”, followed by “Where Is Our James Connolly?” to audience applause.

The panel at the launch (seated L-R): Hugo McGuinness, Donal Fallon, Brian . Eamonn O'Hara (standing) was MC.

The panel of historians at the launch (seated L-R): Hugo McGuinness, Donal Fallon, Brian Hanley. Eamonn O’Hara (standing) was MC.   (Photo D. Breatnach)


O’Hara then introduced one of the authors of
“Our Rising”, historian Brian Hanley. “Phibsborough was an area with strong revolutionary connections,” pointed out Hanley and went on to list some of the many participants and even leaders of the 1916 Rising and later who lived in the area, including Michael O’Hanrahan, who was one of the executed sixteen.

Hanley said that although it was right of course that those who were executed for their part in the Rising should have a special place in our memories and be written about by historians, it was unfortunate that many other important participants were neglected. Nearly 100 were sentenced to death but most had their sentences commuted. Had they been executed instead, Hanley pointed out, we would have had many biographies of them, their upbringing and domestic arrangements examined, their words pored over ….. instead, we know next to nothing about them except that they participated and what their role was.

Memorabilia of the British Army were there too -- and a reminder that initially It was mostly Irish units fighting to suppress the Rising.

Memorabilia of the British Army were there too — and a reminder that initially It was mostly Irish units fighting to suppress the Rising.   (Photo D. Breatnach)


The British Army unit responsible for the suppression of insurgent activities and securing of the area was the Royal Dublin Fusiliers; this was in line with the reality of the British Army, Hanley went on to say, an organisation the main purpose of which was to suppress resistance to the British Empire in places like India, Afghanistan and Ireland. The Fusiliers killed three people in the Phibsborough area, two civilians and a Fianna scout.

Pointing out that most of those men and women who went out to fight in 1916 were not poets or dreamers, Hanley refuted the myth of blood sacrifice. Most of those people were ordinary enough, with all the hopes, excitement and fears of ordinary people, Hanley opined: “They went out with high hopes that they were going to win.”

Thanking various bodies that had supported the project, Hanley went on to point out that the book should not be considered all that had to be said on the subject and, while thanking those local people who had contributed stories and information, encouraged any others who had further information or stories, including corrections of what they had written, to get in touch with the society.

Some more of the wonderful children's artistic impressions of the Rising on display at the launch. (Photo D. Breatnach(

Some more of the wonderful children’s artistic impressions of the Rising on display at the launch. (Photo D. Breatnach)

Hanley’s presentation was followed by that of another historian, Dónal Fallon, co-author of Our Rising. “The commemoration of the 1916 Rising is much too important to leave to the Irish Government”, said Fallon, who admitted to being a newcomer to the area, in the community of which he was glad to live. Local history and community groups had a vital part to play in commemorating the important events of this centenary decade, he said, pointing out that we had already had the centenary of the Lockout, next year would be the centenary of the Rising, to be followed by centenaries of the War of Independence and the Civil War, which might be uncomfortable for some people but should not be shirked for all that.

Last of the panel to speak was historian Hugo McGuinness who said he was delighted to have contributed the Cathleen Seery-Redmond piece to the book. He laid stress on the importance of local history and people’s stories as the human element of history. McGuinness recalled that when Connolly and some others were planning a commemorative event, a female member of the committee proposed that it would be wonderful to see Connolly in uniform; Hugo commented that he found little stories like that added human charm to the big narrative of historic events. McGuinness strongly recommended people buy a copy.

"Uniform" more typical of IRA man in the War of Independence 1919-1921 or Civil War. But even in 1916, some Volunteers could not afford a uniform. Co-author Donal Fallon centre background. (Photo D. Breatnach(

“Uniform” more typical of IRA man in the War of Independence 1919-1921 or Civil War. But even in 1916, some Volunteers could not afford a uniform. Co-author Donal Fallon centre background.
(Photo D. Breatnach)

All the speakers were accorded warm applause. O’Hara thanked the speakers and asked whether there were any questions or comments. There were a few only and, announcing a historical walk to take place on the 29th, for which flyers had been placed on seats, the MC thanked the Irish Volunteers.org group for their display, thanked the audience for their attendance and concluded the formal part of the event. People remained to buy copies of the book and have them signed by the authors, or conversed or wandered among the exhibition for about an hour afterwards.

 (Photo D. Breatnach(

(Photo D. Breatnach)

end

 

GOVERNMENT SHOCKED AND CAMPAIGNERS SURPRISED AS IN EXCESS OF 100,000 DEMONSTRATE IN DUBLIN AGAINST THE WATER CHARGE


Rebel Breeze

NB: This article was written about the 11th October 2014 demonstration but arrived too late to use. Normally that would mean it just getting binned or at best getting mined for useful bits to put in a future article. However, the decision is to use this now in the run-up to the forthcoming demonstration at the end of this month against the water tax.

The size of the turnout for the anti-water charges demonstration in Dublin on Saturday 11th of October must have been something of a shock for the Irish ruling class and for their current government, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition. The implementation of water charges forms an important part of their programme to make the ordinary people pay for the crisis caused by financial and property speculators. Other parts of this programme that people have been experiencing to date over the last few years (and including the Fianna Fáil government preceding this one) have been bailing out the banks and their bondholders, financed first through the Household Charge and, after that was defeated by massive resistance, the Household Charge taxed through the Revenue Department; then the pension levy on public service workers; followed by the extensive cuts in social spending at the same time as implementing the “Social Charge”.

Marchers heading southward after leaving the Garden of Remembrance/ Parnell Square area (RTÉ tried to play down the figures to 30,000

Marchers heading southward after leaving the Garden of Remembrance/ Parnell Square area (RTÉ tried to play down the figures to 30,000

The ruling class and their government are of course well aware that the water charge is unpopular among the vast majority of the population – supporters of the tax have failed to convince the people that it is anything but another way of “paying the bankers”. But the unpopularity of a measure is no guarantee whatsoever of wide-scale mobilisation against it and the Government was probably expecting the resistance to meter installation to remain local, marginal and uncoordinated. Clearly this was one case where “Ní mar a shíltear a bhítear”.

But the size of the demonstration surprised not only the ruling class and their government but also anti-water charge campaigners themselves. “I thought we’d be doing well to get 15,000” said one long-time community activist and “If we got 50,000, we thought it would be brilliant” according to an activist from one of the political groups active on this issue. A realistic estimate of the attendance at the demonstration on Saturday puts it at between 100,000 (as quoted by an unnamed Garda source to an Irish Times reporter) and 150,000. The march from the Garden of Remembrance heading across the river before turning again towards the GPO took over one-and-a-half hours to pass a fixed spot in O’Connell Street while another large number reportedly marched from another direction also toward the GPO.

So how was it that so many mobilised?

Any attempt to answer the first question must be speculative but there are a number of indications other than the widescale unpopularity of the water charge and any measure seen as “bailing out the bankers”. One of these is the highly-publicised police repression of local protests against meter installations in a number of Dublin areas, where the population is overwhelmingly working-class and lower-middle class. These protests and the police repression, completely ignored by the national mass media, however received widescale publicity through social media, with videos posted on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. And the people sharing and sometimes posting these reports and images were for the most part not political or even community or trade union activists. Another source tapped was that of past mobilisations against the Household and Property Taxes. Much of the mobilisation took place in small to medium-sized communities where for the most part, unusually but according to my sources, the activists promoted the resistance and the demonstration rather than their own political party or organisation.

“Apart from a few political activists, only the middle-class mobilise through Facebook”, said long-time political activist to us about a year ago. “Who cares how many ‘Likes” on Facebook an event or campaign gets – it doesn’t mean anything!” said another. Rebel Breeze would have agreed with them too, knowing that the way to mobilise working class people was mostly through personal contact, door-to-door and workplace leafleting. But it seems that is no longer true and that working people, who previously used Facebook only socially, have now begun to use it politically too.

An aerial view down towards the rally after the march at GPO/ O'Connell St

An aerial view down towards the rally after the march at GPO/ O’Connell St

Why did it surprise even the campaigners?

So much for how such a large number came to protest. But how is it that the campaigners themselves were taken by surprise? Of course there may have been unexpected mobilisations in some areas where campaigners had not been active but the main reason for their surprise is almost certainly their lack of coordination. Their are a number of Left organisation and “dissident” Republican organisations campaigning against the water charges, along with a large number of independent activists of a mainly political or community background. In some areas Sinn Féin activist have been out too, although the party does not advocate non-payment or prevention of meter installation.

In a united campaign where all the activists worked towards a united mass resistance, sharing information, the numbers would not have caught them so much by surprise. Of course, their expectations might have been exceeded but each group would have been aware of the actions in other groups’ areas along with the massive rise in Facebook hits, “Likes” and “Shares” to postings of resistance and police repression. Such a united campaign against the water charge does not yet exist. A previous attempt to float such a united campaign on the Household and Water Charges foundered on a number of rocks – political party opportunism, social democratic illusions and the failure of the traditional Left to engage with the independent activist constituency and the “dissident” Republican movement probably being the main ones.

There are a number of attempts to portray the active resistance to the Water Charge as spontaneous but it is likely that where there have been no campaigners active locally, the people have responded to what they have seen elsewhere, both through anger and encouragement. On the other hand, any attempt by any group or individual to take the credit for the growing resistance or for the mass attendance at the demonstration would have to be laughable.

The “passive Irish” jibe refuted once again

Rebel Breeze has long been tired of the wailing often heard to the effect that “the Irish are not like the Greeks”, or that the Irish are passive, accept all kinds of shit without resistance, etc. etc. With the history of class and national struggle of the people of this island it is extraordinary that such an notion ever gained wide acceptance among commentators – but it did. The Irish working class has generally responded militantly and enthusiastically when they have been called to battle by what they consider a credible leadership. In Ireland, that leadership was the trade union movement and no other. In 1913 a fighting trade union was forged in Ireland and, when the employers tried to break it, the workers of Dublin (mostly) fought that attempt for up to eight months, in a city of wide-spread poverty and with most charity services discriminating against strikers and their families. In that struggle, the workers faced also the hostility of the media and state (not much has changed there) and of the main churches. Although defeated in that struggle, the union did not break and came back years later stronger than ever.

Deprived of revolutionary and militant leadership, the movement nevertheless maintained a fighting front for workers through decades of high unemployment and emigration. But in the mid-1980s the trade union leadership opted for what they called “social partnership”, an arrangement in which employers, trade union leadership and the State (which is also a huge employer) sat down and agreed the salary levels for the next period. This had a disastrous impact on the trade union movement. “Use it or lose it” is a general physiological rule about muscle : the trade union leadership became unused to strike action and, when strikes did occur, to instructing members of unions not directly involved to pass the pickets. Recruitment fell dramatically and, when in 2010 the employers and State no longer saw any point in negotiating with the trade union leadership, as they believed the leadership to be no longer capable of resistance, the latter lacked the spirit and confidence to take them on. After a demonstration called by ICTU with a threat of a general strike days away, which received a massive response from trade union members, the leadership instead opted for more negotiations, in which they agree to the pension levy on public servant workers and industrial peace in the private sector: Croke Park I (June 2010). So the workers no longer have a leadership they consider credible and the revolutionary and radical socialist organisations are too small to be thought credible and also have not generally built bases within the trade union movement from which to offer a leadership for struggle.

Nevertheless, the working people of Ireland turned out in huge numbers once again on Saturday to protest an unjust tax which is being used for an unjustifiable purpose. The class is still there, it never lost its fighting spirit – what it needs is a viable leadership. It remains to be seen whether this will be built and whether it can lead a broad militant movement against this tax and other attacks on the working class, without repeating the errors of the recent ‘broad movements’.

End.

BLACKMAILING AND BULLYING A CHILD FOR PEACE

Diarmuid Breatnach

A Derry schoolboy has been subjected to emotional blackmail and pressure by his school to sign a “peace scroll” and, arising out of an altercation over his refusal in which it was alleged he was being “sectarian”, was sentenced to two after-school detentions.  Why is he being treated in this way, what is this “peace scroll” about and who is promoting it?

According to Pauline Mellon, writing about it in her blog, a boy in her Derry community in September last year was pressured by a teacher in his school to sign a “Peace scroll” with which a Reverend David Latimer is trying to create a world record with the number of signatures. “The child was told by a teacher that he would be ‘the only child in the North not to have signed’ and was further questioned as to whether his refusal was sectarian in nature.” Not surprisingly, the child reacted to this suggestion and used a word for which the school seeks to discipline him.

The school has a policy (on “abusive language”) which makes no provision for contributing factors,” says Pauline Mellon. However, although the school Board is sticking to the letter of their policy in this regard, they seem not quite so rigorous in upholding their own procedures in other respects.

When the parents questioned the School Principal over his decision to impose two detentions and what circumstances if any he had taken into consideration, the Principal immediately cut off communication with them and escalated the issue to stage 4 of the school’s complaints procedure. Stage 4 of the school’s complaints procedure requires a written submission to the Chair of the school board from parents.”

Although the parents at this stage had made no such written submission, a sub-committee of the School Board declared that they had investigated the complaint (from whom?!) and upheld the Principal’s decision. The sub-committee had decided to use as “a written submission” some letters written by the parents to the Principal after he refused meet them, thereby violating the parents’ rights to prepare their own submission if they wished to go to Stage 4 of the Complaints Procedure and, indeed, violating the terms of the Procedure itself.

As if to underline their casual attitude to their own procedures, the School Board wrote to the parents to outline their “findings” without even using the school’s headed paper. When this was pointed out to them, the Board apologised for sending the decision on plain paper and said it would not happen again. However, there was a much more significant breach of their procedures, in that the sub-committee had kept no minutes of their meeting, about which the parents have learned only recently. Then when the parents did actually submit a level 4 submission, it was totally ignored.

As Pauline Mellon observed, the Chairman of the Board was in breach of his duties according to “Department of Education guidelines which state that the chairperson has responsibility for all meetings and must ensure that minutes of ALL meetings are retained.”

One can imagine the impact of a comparable chain of events on any individual, let alone a child studying for his GCEs. The parents took him to a counsellor, after which they wished to discuss the counsellors’ report with the boy’s form teacher. The Board prevented this meeting, confusing the counsellors’ report with the parents’ “ongoing issues with the Board”.

Nine months after the first incident in this chain of events, the Board invited the parents to meet with them. The parents brought along an observer and the Board refused to allow the meeting to go ahead with the observer present and when the parents protested, they were escorted off the premises, witnessed by an Independent local authority councillor. The Board in this case is the authority and has the power and the school is also their territory. There are a number of people on the Board. In summary, they held the advantages of power, territory and numbers – yet they refused to allow two parents to be accompanied by an observer to support them (and at a later date to bear witness to what went on, should that become necessary). One must wonder what they had to fear in allowing this one additional person …. and why.

The School Board has a Parent’s Representative on it – the parents of the child sought a meeting with this person, not once but a number of times, but the person concerned has so far failed to meet with them. This is indeed extraordinary – how can anybodfy discharge their duties as a Parents’ Representative to the Board if they refuse to meet with parents who are in dispute with the Board?

There is a body which governs Catholic schools, of which the school in question is one – the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools (CCMS). This is an organisation of the Catholic Church but receives public funding through the Northern Ireland Executive. The parents took the issue to that Council. The CCMS admitted that headed paper should have been used in writing to the parents and commented that the school’s Board had not fulfilled their role; they also noted the parents’ attempt to discuss their child’s counsellor’s report with his form teacher but would not comment on whether the refusal would be normal practice. All in all, the CCMS considered that the Board’s actions of using a letter to the Principal as a submission and refusing the parents the right to submit their own Level 4 submission were “reasonable” and “in accordance with School policy”.

Presumably in their deliberations, the CCMS had discovered that the Board’s sub-committee had failed to keep any minutes but left the parents to discover this through other means at a later date. At a later complaint to the CCMS, the Council refused to acknowledge the failure of the School Board’s Chairperson in ensuring minutes were kept, as laid out in the Department of Education’s guidelines. Finally, the CCMS denied that any breach of the child’s rights took place.

The Chairperson of the CCMS is Bishop John McAreavey, who according to Pauline Mellon, has not even had the decency to acknowledge or respond to two separate letters the parents of the child in question sent to him. This was in contrast to the Bishop of Derry, Rev. McKeown who replied to the parents after they wrote to him. “Bishop McKeown who has knowledge in these matters agreed with the parents that a common sense approach should have been taken and expressed concern that such a small matter had used up so much time and energy.”

Pauline Mellon takes a similar line in concluding her article: “… a matter that should have never made it outside of the school assembly hall from the outset has exposed the School Board in question as being ineffective, unprofessional, non-transparent and unaccountable. It has exposed CCMS, a group acting under the wing of the Catholic Church, as not having learned from previous incidents when the Church has closed ranks and has attempted to silence people.”

As to the Rev. Latimer himself, the promoter of the “Scroll” signatures, although he promised the parents to look into the matter, they have heard nothing from him since.

Who is the Rev. David Latimer?

According to the Department of Education of Northern Ireland, Rev. Latimer is “a visionary”, for which term they offer no explanation apart from his Guinness Book of Records bid for “most signatures on a scroll” and his promotion of it in the schools. http://www.welbni.org/index.cfm/go/news/date/0/key/922:1 Indeed, it is amazing that 84 schools have signed up to the project, as the article says on their website  – even more so if none of those saw any wording to endorse and to which to encourage their children to subscribe (see further below).

The Rev. David Latimer, photographed in church

The Rev. David Latimer, photographed in church

David Latimer was a systems analyst with the Northern Ireland Electricity Board and married before he decided to become a cleric. He did so in 1988 and is now Minister of two churches, the First Presbyterian in Derry’s Magazine Street and the Monreagh Presbyterian, established in 1644 across what is now the British Border in Donegal.

In 2011, David Latimer was invited to address Sinn Féin’s Ard-Fheis and did so. On that occasion he said, referring to Martin McGuinness, that they had “… been journeying together for the last five years and during that time we have become very firm friends, able to easily relax in each other’s company.”

Rev. Latimer went on to say that “The seeds of division and enmity that have long characterised Catholic and Protestant relations were neither sown in 1968 or 1921 but during the 1609 Settlement of Ulster. Mistrust and bad feelings resulting from the colonisation of Ireland by Protestant settlers were followed by centuries of political and social segregation. Partitioning Ireland did little to ease sectarian mistrust and separateness between Protestants and Catholics left in the 6 counties as each community continued to be defined by its particular religious affiliation with little mixture between the two groups.”

The impression given there is of some peaceful colony of Protestants arriving in Ireland around 1609 which led to “bad feelings” and “mistrust”. No mention of the seizure of land from the Irish and their expulsion to the hills or abroad. No mention of the suppression of the religious faith of the majority and the imposition of that of the minority, centuries of discrimination, theft of land, genocide. One can see that this might quite rationally give rise to “bad feelings” and “mistrust”. No mention of the actual promotion by the British of sectarianism and the creation of the Orange order, with the intention of breaking up the unity between “Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter” of the United Irishmen at the end of the 18th Century.

It was again reasons of “little mixture between the two groups” which Rev. Latimer went on to blame for the recent 30 Years War:
“Little wonder this part of Ireland descended into a spiral of communal disorder and violence that was to last for decades. Victims of differences, extending back across trackless centuries that have isolated us from one another it is, with the benefit of historical hindsight, not surprising that our two communities should view each other with suspicion and regard one another as ‘the enemy.’”

Dr David Latimer, First Derry Presbyterian Church, conducts a redediication ceremony on Derry's Walls. Photo: Stephen Laitmer

Dr David Latimer, First Derry Presbyterian Church, conducts a redediication ceremony on the City’s fortifications, “Derry’s Walls”. Photo: Stephen Latimer

Did the Catholics and Protestants go to war with one another in the late 1960s or at any time during the 30 Years War? No, what happened was that Catholics demanded civil and human rights of which they had been denied in that British colony-statelet since 1921; the state forces tried to suppress their peaceful campaign with batons, tear gas and bullets; right wing and sectarian forces among the Loyalists were mobilised and burned Catholics out of their homes and murdered some. The British Army were sent in to support the “Northern Ireland” sectarian police and the IRA came into limited action to counter them, after which hundreds of “nationalists” were interned without trial, followed by escalation of IRA action, the Paratroopers’ massacres in Derry and in Ballymurphy, and so on.

In fact, Latimer’s false account of history has been the standard British ruling class’ version to justify their war in Ireland for foreign consumption and to the British population throughout those years: the reasonable British with the thankless task of keeping the two tribes apart.

I found the content of the Latimer’s speech on SF’s website without an account of the audience’s reaction but according to the Irish Echo, an Australian on-line newspaper, it “received a rapturous reception from the republican audience”.

Reverend David Latimer and the British Army

Pauline Mellon says that according to the parents, “the child based his decision not to sign the scroll on Rev Latimer’s service in the British Army and with him being stationed in Afghanistan. The child also raised concerns over what he views as Reverend Latimer’s “selective” approach to local human rights issues.”

Surely the boy is mistaken? At least about him having served with the British Army? Well, actually no. In June 2008 Rev. Latimer gave an interview to the Derry Journal to explain why he felt justified in going with the British Army to Afghanistan although he had to “wrestle with his conscience”. Presumably he is an accomplished conscience-wrestler by now since he also admitted to having participated in other British Army missions for more than 20 years.

“It would be against my nature to be part of something that is creating destruction or generating pain or grief within any community”, he was quoted as saying. “The only way I can reassure myself in being part of this is that I am involved with a unit that is going out to provide resources to people who have no choice but to be there because they are under orders.”

Who are they “who have no choice …. because they are under orders”? Ah, yes, the soldiers, pilots and drone technicians who have invaded another country, killing those who resist and generally intimidating the population. Leaving aside the spurious question of “choice”, does one help justice by administering spiritual comfort to an invading army? To whom does one have a greater moral duty? The answer is clear I think and if one lacks the courage to stand up for the population the least one could do is not to offer comfort to their invaders.

Put perhaps Rev. Latimer intends to be some kind of Camillo Torres, preaching for the poor and castigating the wrongdoer? No, of course not. Well then, perhaps subtly undermining Army propaganda? He invites us to think so: “In the quieter times, I will be around for people who will have questions about what they are doing there and about God. I might not have all the answers but I am there to give a view different to the Army view.”

In what way his view might be different to that of the Army he once again fails to explain, or to inform us whether his views were also different on the other more than twenty occasions in which he served with the British Army previously. Surely if he were intending to undermine Army propaganda, he’d hardly be telling us and the Army in a newspaper interview!

http://www.derryjournal.com/news/rev-david-latimer-explains-why-he-feels-duty-bound-to-head-to-afghanistan-1-2126853

He tells us the hospital he’ll be working in over there will be treating Afghanis as well as British servicemen. Hopefully, they will be treating Afghani victims of torture in British and US Army prisons as well as children given a beating in the barracks. He won’t be trying to convert the Muslims to Christianity, he tells us. And I think we can believe that, since abusing people’s religion, their culture, customs, raiding their houses and generally intimidating them is hardly likely to incline them towards one’s religion.Rev Latimer British Army Uniform

Going on to discuss the possible dangers he would face, Rev. Latimer informs the readers of the Derry Journal that “We know the (military) base is likely to be attacked and we will undergo training in how to deal with chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.” He need not worry, the Afghans don’t have any of those weapons. However, he should exercise caution should he ever have cause to pass through the special arms stores of the British or US military, who do indeed have precisely those weapons and, furthermore, have used most of them in warfare at some point.

I will receive some weapons training, although this will be limited on how to disable a gun and make it safe.” Useful, just in case any member of the Afghani resistance accidentally drops a gun …. perhaps when calling on the Reverend to make enquiries about the philosophy of the Christian religion.

Peace” and “Peace” Treaties and Agreements

The vast majority of people would say that Peace is a good thing; despite that, “peace” remains a problematic concept and not one upon everyone can agree. And “peace” is also frequently being promoted in some part of the world by some of the most warlike states with the most horrifying armaments. For those in power, the invoking of the word “Peace” can be a powerful way of invalidating resistance, silencing dissent and of justifying the status quo which has been achieved through vanquishing the enemy in battle or by the recruitment of collaborators in the enemy’s leadership.

During WWI, the British and the French concluded the secret Asia Minor Agreement (also known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement), with the endorsement of Imperial Russia; the Agreement divided the Arab world between the French and the British should they succeed in beating the Ottoman Empire. To the shock and embarrassment of the imperialists, the Bolsheviks published the terms when they took power in 1917. Although this Agreement was intended to bring “peace” between the competing British, French and Russians, it has been in part the source of many wars with others, as well as coups and uprisings in the Middle East since then.

“Peace” does not mean the same to all: many of the British and French public during WWI would have said that “peace” meant defeating the Germans and Turks, conversely many Germans and Turks would have thought the direct opposite. The Russians mostly wanted an end to the War so “Peace” was one of the most popular of the Bolsheviks’ slogans for their October Revolution, after which they pulled Russian troops out of the War; it was one of the reasons so many soldiers and sailors sided with them.

The end of the First World War brought “peace” and “peace treaties”; among these was the Treaty of Versailles between Britain and France on one side and Germany on the other. In effect, the principal victors screwed Germany for war reparations, occupying the industrial Ruhr Valley. Many historians agree that the Versailles Treaty was a contributory factor to the later rise of the National Socialist Party (the “Nazis”) in Germany and also to the Second World War.

After WWII, the “peace” treaties  divided the world largely between the USA, the British, the French and the USSR. Some aspects of that division led to two big wars — the Korean and Vietnam Wars – and a host of smaller ones. The USA has fought 20 military engagements since WWII; the British have fought 28 and the French have been directly involved in 15 military actions or wars (these figures do not of course include the wars and coups fought by the many proxies of these powers). Furthermore, not one of those wars was fought on the territories of those states and, in most cases, took place far from them.

To look for a moment further than the three world powers above, Sri Lanka had a war going on inside it since 1983 and had peace talks a number of times. The origin of the war was the communal differences and inequalities promoted by the British when they ruled Ceylon as a colony and continued by the Sinhalese majority Government afterwards. In 2008, the ruling Sinhalese Government decided on all-out war and, abandoning the mutually-agreed ceasefire, surrounded the Tamil Tigers’ “liberated areas” with a ring of steel through which no-one could pass. They then subjected the areas to indiscriminate continuous shelling and air bombardment before sending in their troops, wiping out most of the opposing guerrillas but also thousands of civilians. According to UN estimates, 6,500 civilians were killed and another 14,000 injured between mid-January 2009.  The Times, the British daily, estimates the death toll for the final four months of the war (from mid-January to mid-May) at 20,000.

There’s peace in Sri Lanka now, all right — the peace of the grave.

Sri Lanka’s “peace” is similar to the one that followed the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland – that was “peace” after a defeat of the Irish Republican forces by bloody suppression and rabid sectarianism. Of course that “peace” was temporary only (as Sri Lanka’s will no doubt prove to be too) and was followed by other brief uprisings in 1803, 1848, 1867, the Land War 1879-’82, 1916 Rising, the War of Independence 1919-1921, the Civil War 1922-’23, the IRA campaign during WWII …. The partition of Ireland as part of the 1921 Agreement was supposed to bring peace to both parts of the country but again it proved to be a temporary one.

Despite the sectarian riots burning Catholics out of their homes and the wave of terror and repression by the Six Counties statelet in the early 1920s, conflict broke out again with the IRA’s Border Campaign of 1956-’62. In 1967 the Civil Rights campaign in the Six Counties began; the repression with which it was met by State and Loyalists caused the uprising of the Catholic ghettoes of Derry and Belfast afterwards. Then more repression, more resistance, then troops, then 30 years of war with the British Army and colonial police against the Republican guerrilla forces. The Good Friday Agreement claims to be bringing peace but history – and the ongoing repression of dissent by the statelet’s forces — indicates otherwise.

One of the reasons that peace is not necessarily brought by treaties and agreements is that they are themselves intended as temporary measures: by both parties, as in agreements between competing imperialist and colonialist powers, or by one of the parties, for example by the US Government in the case of the Native American Indians. Or they are violated by succeeding governments, as in the case of William of Orange’s promises in the Treaty of Limerick. Or they don’t deal comprehensively with the underlying causes of conflict, as with treaties and agreements between Britain and Ireland in general.

In fact, when a colonial or imperialist power seeks an agreement or treaty with a people or a weaker nation, what it is seeking is not usually peace but pacification – it wants an absence of conflict, or of resistance, so that it can continue extracting the benefits which it was doing before the people began to resist.

Or sometimes, the stronger power wants merely to delay things, to “buy time” until it is expects to be in a better position (and its opponent perhaps in a weaker one) than that which it was at the time. In 1925 the British Government intervened in a conflict between the mine-owners and the miners in Britain, paying a subsidy for nine months to prevent the miners’ pay from dropping. During that period, the Government laid in stocks of coal and bought up newsprint to prepare for a big battle with the miners’ union in particular. In 1926 they took on the British trade union movement and succeeded in forcing the TUC to call it off the General Strike within nine days of its beginning, leaving the miners to fight on alone for eight months until they were defeated.

So what kind of “peace” is being promoted by the Reverend Latimer? Some detailed plan, or some wishy-washy generalisation? That is not an easy question to answer. It is known to be an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records by having the most schoolchildren sign it which many have done, including in Donegal and Derry. Is it just a publicity stunt, where people sign up to some vague notion of “peace” which can mean one thing to one person and something completely different to another? What is the context for this “scroll”? “Peace” between whom and on what terms? Or is there a political agenda, as there was in the campaign around the Good Friday Agreement?

The Scroll’s FB page does not explain and the parents have not managed to find out; in addition a number of Google searches of mine failed to turn it up either. What is known about its origins, perhaps the only thing apart from it aiming at a world record, is that it is being energetically promoted by Rev. David Latimer.  And as we have seen, he goes on British Army missions and his role in all this is far from clear.

 

Schools in our society

Coming back to where we began, the pressure and attempted intimidation of a schoolboy is wrong and should not have been inflicted on this boy (and on who knows on how many others). It should not have been but it was and, when the parents objected, the agents of that blackmail, intimidation and repression should have backed down. And if they refused to back down, the managing agents, the School Board should have upheld the parents’ objections. And if they did not, the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools should have done so. All of them failed to do what was right.

As adults, we tend to see schools as neutral institutions, some with good standards, some not so good, with a continuum of teachers ranging from great to abysmal. Schools however do play a role in socialising children to accept authority and discipline outside the home and also into accepting ideas dominant in the society in which the school is located. Seen in that light, we should perhaps be less shocked at this treatment of a boy and his parents.

However this Guinness Book of Records project is not even part of the school’s official program nor of the State’s curriculum and it was the boy’s resistance to the undue pressure brought to bear on him that sparked the verbal response for which he is now being ‘disciplined’ and which he and his parents are resisting.

If the school were an institution dedicated to real learning, it would encourage questioning, even though its teachers and managers might find that uncomfortable at times. It would value courage and principle and instead of persecuting this boy, would encourage him and value his principled stand, his courage and his persistence. But instead it does the opposite and because the boy’s parents do value their child’s principles and courage and want to support him, they also find themselves in conflict with the school.

Such small-scale battles go on constantly everywhere in our society, in institutes of education, in workplaces, in other organisations and associations, in communities. People fight those battles, often on their own or in little groups, or they fail to resist; whichever they do will affect their individual character and their social and political attitudes thereafter, one way or the other. Drawing on those lessons can lead to understanding more general truths about society and can also help to develop the strength of character to withstand psychological and other bullying and pressure at other times in life. Fair play to the boy for his principles and the courage to stand up for them against authority figures and fair play too to his parents who are supporting him.

End.

 

Pauline Mellon’s article in her blog http://thederrydiary.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/judge-jury-and-educationers.html

 

The Irish War of Independence and the retreat from stated objectives in spite of the precariousness of the British position

(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/)

 

Diarmuid Breatnach

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.

James Wolfe in his work Mutiny in United States and British Armed forces in the Twentieth Century(http://www.mellenpress.com/mellenpress.cfm?bookid=8271&pc=9) includes the following chapter headings:

Workers pass an overturned tram in London during the 1926 British General Strike. In general, goods travelled through Britain with authorisation from the workers or under police and troop protection.

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

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.

Irish Free State bombardment 4 Courts

Start of the Irish Civil War 1922: Irish Free State bombardment, with cannon on loan from the British Army, of the Republican HQ at the Four Courts, Dublin.

 

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.

end selected extract

PROPERTY SPECULATORS ARE CAPABLE OF ANYTHING

AN ACCOUNT OF PROPERTY “DEVELOPMENT” AND RESISTANCE WHICH MAY ILLUMINATE THE DISCUSSION AROUND MOORE STREET, DUBLIN

DB distance Moore St Paris Bakery

Second “Save Paris Bakery” demonstration, 3rd March 2014, as part of Save Moore Street campaign (photo John Ayres)

Currently, a property speculator, Chartered Land, wants to build a new shopping mall in Dublin’s city centre.  The plan envisages construction from O’Connell Street (including site of the old Carlton Cinema) through to Moore St and the demolition of a number of houses in the parade in Moore Street.  How Chartered Land saw off another developer with a much more modest plan, acquired a number of surrounding sites and came to a privileged arrangement with Dublin City Council has been the subject as far back as 2012 of a TV documentary by an investigative programme of  TG4 Iniúchadh Oidhreacht na Cásca https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cx0Kah7dE80#t=469.

Hands Around Moore St. No.16

Hands Around Moore Street demonstration in 2013. The dilapidated shuttered shopfront (under a former owner’s name “Plunkett”) is No.16 Moore Street, last HQ of the 1916 Rising, occupied by Pearse, Connolly and others.

Campaigners have been resisting Chartered Land’s plan from a number of viewpoints: historical (conservation of a 1916 Rising battleground and last HQ of the Rising); architectural conservation; defending small businesses and traditional street market; opposition to yet another mall and thoughtless planning.  The latest move was the expulsion by Chartered Land of the successful small business Paris Bakery, occupying two of the houses which the campaigners wish to save.

Moore St Paris Bakery closure protest Feb2014

The first of two Save Paris Bakery demonstrations, February 2014, as part of the Save Moore Street campaign, being addressed by James Connolly Heron, grandson of James Connolly shot in 1916 by the British.

A campaign fought in a town on the eastern outskirts of London has, I believe, some lessons for people resisting Chartered Land and other property speculators.  In 1968 in the outer London borough of Redbridge, the Ilford Town Council had a plan for a ring road and car parks which required the demolition of many houses.  Whatever financial benefits were to be accrued from the plan and to whomsoever they would be going is not known to me  but one would assume there were some from the events to be outlined.  While they were applying for approval to the Dept. of the Environment AND BEFORE THEY RECEIVED APPROVAL, the Council served compulsory purchase orders on the houses in question and then forced the occupants to leave. The two-storey houses with gardens stood empty.

The Ilford Squatters’ Association, a broad group of different political parties and groups and independents, occupied some of the houses and moved homeless families into them (some of the families and some of the helpers, by the way, were Irish, including from Dublin). The campaign’s position was that they were against the “development” plan but that in any case, even if it went ahead, homeless families could and should be accommodated in houses in the meantime.

The council went to civil court and sought eviction orders which, at that time, had to name the individuals and the property in question. When the orders were granted, the squatters swapped the families at the address and moved the named one to another address.

Then the Council started vandalising the houses still empty, ripping out the stairs, smashing sinks and toilets and knocking holes through walls, ripping up floorboards. The Squatters had many volunteers and some of them had building experience; they repaired/ replaced toilets and sinks, rebuilt stairs and relaid floor boards.

The Council hired a firm of private detectives (i.e. thugs, some of them with National Front badges), and attacked two houses in what amounted to an illegal eviction. In one of them they smashed the jaw of a helper in two places and threw a child with scarlet fever out of her bed on to the floor in a bid to get the family to leave. The police stood by until a doctor arrived at a rush and said the child could not be moved; only then did the police ask the bailiffs to leave.

In another house, the bailiffs came through the street door with a battering ram to discover, as they fell through the joists, that in this house, the floorboards had not been replaced.  A medieval-type battle then took place as they tried to climb up ladders on the outside and on the inside too (for the stairs had not been replaced either). Frustrated and battered, they then set fire to the ground floor. At this point, the police had to intervene, as the houses on each side were occupied (a Salvation Army officer on one side and a GP on the other).  The bailiffs left and the Fire Brigade arrived to put out the fire.

Eventually the Council did some kind of a deal with the leadership of the Squatters’ Association and with a few remaining families and the campaign was over. By that time numerous helpers had been to civil and criminal courts and to jail on remand and some had accumulated “criminal” convictions. But the ring road was not approved for years afterwards (perhaps never) and nor was the car park.

There are two lessons from the account above, I think, for Moore St. campaigners:
1) Property speculators (“developers”) will do ANYTHING THEY CAN GET AWAY WITH to pursue their objectives
2) They will try and present the regulators with a fait accomplit, that is an accomplished fact. In the Moore St case, that means letting the named national monument buildings go to rack and ruin (as they did before) and getting rid of successful small businesses (as with Paris Bakery) and by making an ugly eyesore of Moore St. (derelict buildings, boarded up businesses, hoardings …) in the hope that opposition will crumble and people will be glad of any change to the area.

The resistance in Moore Street should continue to be holistic and every threatened part and interest should support the others.