Saturday was the day selected by Pegida for their Irish launch, which they had planned to do at the Dublin GPO at 3pm on Saturday (6th February). Anti-Racist Network Ireland called a demonstration for the same location from 1.30pm but from around noon bands of antifascists were on the street hunting fascists and met them at various locations with painful results for the fascists.
Founded in Dresden, in eastern Germany in October 2014, Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West) is a broad European network of loosely linked groups opposed to what they claim is the “Islamisation of Europe”. Although Dresden remains its stronghold, the organisation has spread to a number of European countries.
In January last year, marches in German cities reportedly attracted up to 25,000 people at their peak, before numbers began to drop severely, rising again however in October as politicians and media stoked fears of a massive influx of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe from war-torn countries (countries, incidentally, where some European powers have played a major role in instigating or directly carrying out those wars).
Pegida claims to be not fascist and ‘solely’ against Muslims as has been the case with so many fascist organisations in the past – they have been ‘only‘ against communism, or against Jews, or against blacks etc. The organisation has been frequently associated with general anti-immigration diatribes and in January last year derogatory descriptions of immigrants by its German leader, Lutz Bachman, in a closed Facebook discussion, were made public. He stepped down from the leadership after those revelations and the circulation of images appearing to show him posing as Adolf Hitler. The following month however he was reinstated with claims that the images were faked.
In Ireland the Blueshirts, popular name for the Army Comrades Association, mobilised and recruited in the 1930s. They were in part a response to the election of the new Fianna Fáil party, a split from Sinn Féin, in a popular national reaction to the hounding of socialists and republicans by the victors of the Civil War, 1922-1923. The Blueshirts presented themselves as Irish nationalists (even Republicans) with their targets being Communists, Jews and the IRA. Meanwhile elsewhere in Europe, fascist groups were organising, variously declaring their targets to be Jews, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, trade unionists, Roma and Sinti, immigrants, gays and homosexuals and various religious groups.
The Blueshirts were fought on the streets by Republicans, Communists and some social democrats and, when they threatened a coup, their activities were banned by the De Valera government. It seemed that the majority of the Irish capitalist class had decided that Fianna Fáil were a safe pair of hands and would manage the country better and, besides Britain might go to war with some countries where fascists were in power. The Blueshirts lost active members after that and with other right-wing organisations, formed the Fine Gael political party which became the principal mainstream opposition party from then on, occasionally going into Government in coalition with other parties.
PRELUDE TO DEMONSTRATIONS AND ANTI-FASCIST ACTION
Saturday was chosen as “a day of action” for the groups that fall under the Pegida banner, with a number of anti-immigration and anti-Islam demonstrations planned to take place across Europe. The Irish far right anti-immigration organisation Identity Ireland supported Pegida on their Facebook discussions and claimed that Saturday would see the launch of the Irish branch of their organisation. According to a report by the Russian news agency RT, Identity Ireland’s leader addressed a Pegida rally in Dresden last month.
The ARN called for a large peaceful demonstration and even encouraged people to bring their children, advertising it as “a family affair”. Some debate between them and antifascists took place on the Internet and in person on what are the effective methods of resistance to fascism to employ. One of the anti-racist event organisers, Bulgarian Mariya Ivancheva, sociologist and anthropologist based at UCD, was reported in The Journal as calling for a “nice rally to celebrate diversity”. “When Pegida are there we are ready to face them but not to confront them,” she went on to say.
Anti-fascists referred to history to verify their case that fascism has always ultimately had to be stopped by physical force and that being the case, application of that approach at an early juncture was most effective and meant less suffering for working people, ethnic minorities and other targeted groups. The response of ARN to these antifascists was that the latter were not welcome on their rally.
Many Republicans and Socialists were also angered by reports that the ARN had applied for police permission to hold their rally. Unlike in Britain or in the Six Counties, this is not required by law in the Irish state and the police are required to facilitate with traffic restrictions the right to march or rally on the streets or pavement. The antifascists’ disapproval was based on what was perceived as giving the police more power than they already had and which they often abuse. One veteran of demonstrations in Britain recalled that permission had once not been required in London either but liberals, social democrats and officials of the Communist Party of Great Britain had made it a practice to ask the police in order to cultivate good relations with them. In time, prior police permission became a requirement which at times was withheld or granted with conditions on times and changes of route.
However, subsequent to the publication of this report, I ascertained that ARN had not asked permission of the police, one of them pointing out that such is not required. The misunderstanding may have arisen from one person stating that he had informed the police that the event would be taking place. This of course is quite some distance from asking permission.
The antifascists, composed of Irish Republicans from virtually all organisations and independents, along with a few socialist and anarchist independent activists, organised their own mobile forces.
ON THE DAY
The anti-racist rally at the GPO was attended by a couple of thousand, from the Spire almost to the Jim Larkin monument and covering the road from the GPO to the central pedestrian reservation. O’Connell Street was closed by the authorities to all northbound traffic and stewards were having difficulty in preventing the rally spilling into the southbound lanes. It was addressed by speakers from People Before Profit, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, Sinn Féin and a number of other speakers, including migrants.
Clashes occurred at the pre-arranged Dublin meeting points of fascists on the Luas line with the handful of Irish fascists being attacked and some, including their leader Peter O’Loughlin and member Ian Noel Peeke being reportedly hospitalised. Clashes broke out again in the city centre at a number of points; one of the latter being at Earl Street North. It seems that some Pegida supporters had gathered at the junction with O’Connell Street and were watching the demonstration opposing them across the road and some were filming it. There were reports of some of them abusing women supporters of the antiracist rally who were near the junction with North Earl Street. The Rabble independent media group reported them shouting anti-communist insults at them (see their video link at end of article). In any case, although generally free of visible insignia and carrying no banners, they began to attract an antifascist crowd, scuffles quickly broke out and the fascists ran down North Earl Street and Talbot Street. A couple of the Pegida supporters ducked into a nearby ‘poundshop’ apparently for safety but they were followed and received a pounding.
Police stormed the shop and evicted the antifascists, lashing out at almost anyone close by, as can be seen in the Irish Times video (see link at end of article). RTÉ has lodged a complaint about one of their camera operators being deliberately struck by a police baton. The riot police with batons drawn then set up cordons with barking German Shepherd dogs behind them and cleared North Earl Street of all pedestrians, allowing no others to enter from either direction.
This cordon was maintained until a few more Pegida supporters were permitted to escape through Malborough and Talbot Streets. All of the fascists in this area at least were identified by a number of sources as being of East European background, both by their accents and appearance. Some posts on fascist sites later on seemed to confirm this (see AFA Ireland statement link at end). Earlier reports gathered by antifascist intelligence had indicated that Pegida supporters from fascist Polish organisations were planning to support the Pegida launch.
Subsequently, word reached antifascist patrols that 5-7 other Pegida supporters had gathered in a pub in Cathedral Street, again off O’Connell Street and scores of anti-fascists raced to arrive outside the pub almost at the same time as police. Another struggle with police took place outside the pub with riot police using their batons to jab and occasionally lash out, though with a degree more restraint than they had earlier at North Earl Street (perhaps due to an initial complaint from RTÉ having reached their senior officers by then). Police continued to violently push protesters and to jab with truncheons and one demonstrator showed a badly swollen and blue hand.
A standoff took place here for some time until the Pegida supporters appeared to be getting bussed out in police vans which sparked a rush of 50 or more antifascists southward down O’Connell Street. Riot police on foot and in vans followed them and at the intersection with Lower Abbey Street, drew up two cordons, one facing eastward down Lower Abbey Street and the other facing the Liffey, while crowds of antifascist gathered on the eastern pavements and Lower Abbey Street and mostly spectators gathered on the central pedestrian reservation. More police arrived and drew plastic shields out of their vans while a number of dogs were in evidence barking, one jumping up and straining on the leash towards antifascists.
Many spectators, natives and others, expressed bemusement and asked people near them what was occurring, evidence of the low level of advance news coverage by the mainstream media. Alternative, liberal, socialist and Republican media and independent sites on the other hand had given extensive coverage and encouraged people to attend the anti-racist demonstration or the antifascist action. Some among the crowd who were ‘in the know’ explained the events to one or two in their immediate vicinity. The overall atmosphere in the crowd seemed opposed to the fascists with mixed attitudes to the police and antifascists. These crowds offered fertile ground for being publicly addressed by word of mouth or leaflets but none seemed available to fulfill that role.
After some time in apparently purposeless deployment, given that nothing was moving, the Gardaí simply returned most of their forces and riot shields to their vans and most drove off. This seemed to indicate that the police maneouvre had been in the manner of a decoy while the fascists were spirited away quietly from the vacated vicinity of the pub. The Rabble video seems to confirm this.
The State, probably in anticipation of antifascist action, mobilised and deployed considerable forces. Garda vans moved through the city centre, sometimes in convoys, in addition to police on foot, mounted on horse and bicycle (though the horse police were often discreetly out of site in several locations around the demonstration area). Riot police waited in vans while other vans were stacked with plastic riot shields (which in the end were not needed, if a missile was thrown at the police it was a rare one).
In line with the general history of the relationship between capitalist states, their police forces and fascist movements, the police showed their determination to protect the fascists moving around the city centre. The eagerness of officers at times caused them some problems, including one of them striking a cameraman from the national broadcasting network, RTÉ, with a baton. On another occasion, a riot police officer can be heard calling “Hold the line!” at a time when the video shows the line is not under pressure – the only danger to the police line at that point is seen to be from over-eager officers breaking away to pursue and attack demonstrators.
A number of demonstrators and some spectators suffered bruises from police batons as well being violently shoved by police. In one video a police officer is briefly visible striking at a person lying on the ground – a visual echo of that famous photograph of Bloody Sunday during the 1913 Lockout, when the Dublin Metropolitan Police had run riot less than 100 yards away. In other footage police are seen shoving a man, apparently disorientated (perhaps by a blow to the head) to the ground at least three times although he is no threat to them and is not even resisting.
A feature of the antifascist active resistance was the unity in action across the Irish Republican spectrum, a feature that has been growing in solidarity work around Republican prisoners, in resistance to some features of repression and in the defence of the historical heritage represented by the struggle to save the 1916 Terrace in Moore Street. On this occasion however the unity in action included some SF activists. A sprinkling of independent socialists and anarchists were also among them. Some activists of the socialist, anarchist and communist organisations left the rally to join the antifascists blockading the fascists and their police protectors at Cathedral Street. There were a number of reports of football youth ‘casuals’, supporters of four Dublin soccer clubs, also cooperating in hunting for fascists. At least two of these were observed taking ‘selfies’ of themselves against a riot police background!
It is not known how many arrests were made nor what their outcome has been. Fascists were filmed being handcuffed as they were being put in police vans to take them to safety but it is unlikely they were charged. A number of fascists were reportedly hospitalised where no doubt their medical care teams will include a number of migrant background and perhaps even of Muslim religion.
The police and the Government will be considering their response but the ritual condemnations by their mouthpieces of antifascist force can be expected, as well as attempts to isolate the antifascists as some kind of hooligan or sinister element. The capitalist class will not be impressed with Pegida or Identity Ireland’s performance and, if considering building up a fascist movement in the future, will probably look elsewhere.
Both the ARN and the antifascists were pleased with the outcome of their respective efforts but liberal elements can be expected to condemn the antifascists for what the former perceive as marring the message of their demonstration. The ARN statement (see link at end of article) did so in fact albeit in muted tones, “regretting skirmishes”. In a parallel to some Jewish leaders in 1930s Europe during the rise of fascism, a Muslim religious leader was quoted criticising violent actions “by a minority” and called for defeating them by “dialogue”.
The fascists will be licking their wounds and trying to put a brave face on their defeat, also condemning the antifascists for using “undemocratic violence” or words to that effect. All fascist movements in history have been extremely violent while often, while in their growth period, presenting themselves in public as peaceful and condemning the violence of their opponents. This is a fact that liberal elements usually fail to appreciate, while other elements among the middle class are ultimately content to see their order being maintained, whether by the State or by fascists.
Whatever spin the fascists, the State, mass media or liberals may put on it, the fact remains that the fascists have been prevented from staging a publicity coup that would have raised the morale of their few recruits and encouraged more to join them. Fascist movements throughout history have required such morale-boosters and encouragement for potential recruits and, incidentally, intimidation of their opposition. What happened on Saturday in Dublin has been the reverse – the fascists and potential recruits have been intimidated and discouraged. Over 200 indicated intention to attend on the Pegida “Irish launch” Facebook event but reports on the ground in the city centre indicate a total of perhaps 30 fascists being chased around the city in small groups. The 170 or so, whether Irish or from elsewhere interested in supporting islamophobia, racism and fascism won’t be in a hurry to enlist now.
But should a new attempt be made to launch a mass fascist movement in Ireland, on whatever divisive basis, the antifascists are likely to turn out in even greater numbers.
Video and text links:
Irish Times video showing part of incident at North Earl Street which shows a number of unprovoked assaults by Gardaí on individuals, both by violent pushing and by baton blows. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/scuffles-break-out-at-launch-of-anti-immigration-group-in-dublin-1.2525530
Collage of video clips taken by independent film maker, including scenes of baton-swinging police: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHkQnkaqaoU
Great footage taken by filmer from Rabble alternative media organisation of a number of dramatic events including fascists’s faces: http://www.rabble.ie/2016/02/07/pathetic-pegida/
Short panoramic video clip of the AR demo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJNQW0pSYpY
Independent long video footage of confrontation on Cathedral Street posted on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_REls3JkxzQ#t=129
AFA statement and some other material on their site: https://www.facebook.com/afaireland/posts/1018094948250821:0
Irish Republican Left Action Against Fascism statement: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=913561958751080&id=912549568852319
ENAR Ireland photos and Anti-Racism Network statement: https://www.facebook.com/enar.ireland/posts/954399354642123
Rogues’ Gallery of fascists’ faces album: https://www.facebook.com/libertypics/media_set?set=a.10207283509858914.1073741835.1019818043&type=3&uploaded=1&hc_location=ufi
LIST OF ORGANISATIONS SUPPORTING THE ENAR RALLY:
“Supporting organisations (in alphabetical order):
Anti Austerity Alliance, Akidwa Ireland, Africa Centre Dublin Ireland, Anti Racism Network Ireland, Attac Ireland, Autistic Rights Together, Communist Party of Ireland, Conference of Religious in Ireland, Dialogue & Diversity, Dublin Calais Refugee Solidarity, Dublin City Centre Citizens Information Service, Doras Luimni, EDeNn, ENAR Ireland, Fighting for Humanity – Homelessness, Galway Anti Racism Network, Gaza Action Ireland, Gluaiseacht for Global Justice, Green Party of Ireland, Ireland Says Welcome, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), Irish Anti-War Movement, Irish Housing Network, Irish Refugee Council, Irish Missionary Union, Irish Traveller Movement, Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, National Traveller Womens Forum, Shannonwatch, Show Racism the Red Card – Ireland, SARI – Sport Against Racism Ireland, SIPTU, Sinn Féin , The Platform, Pavee Point, People Before Profit, United Against Racism, The Workers Party, Workers Solidarity Movement, You Are Not Alone.” (From their statement published on European Network Against Racism Ireland’s site)