On what was an extremely cold day, faith groups joined with migrants and community groups, Irish Republicans, socialists, communists and anarchists to oppose a mobilisation by racists and fascists outside Leinster House, which houses the Oireachtas, the Irish Parliament. There were a couple of moments of surges towards the right-wingers but these were contained without arrests.
The anti-racist demonstrators responded to a call for the counter-rally and occupied the space from 12.00 noon on 14th December 2019, which left the racists and fascists having to face them from the other side of Kildare Street, at the junction with Molesworth Street but, in any case, they were outnumbered at about ten to one by the anti-racists and anti-fascists. The call came from SARF (Solidarity Alliance against Racism and Fascism), Islamic Foundation of Ireland, United Against Racism and Irish Network Against Racism (INAR).
The right-wing group had called for a rally to protest about the legislation proposed by the party in Government, Fine Gael, against “hate speech”. Ironically, Fine Gael are themselves a right-wing party which was formed in part out of the 1930s Irish fascist organisation, known colloquially as “the Blueshirts” (a name by which Fine Gael are known to this day by many). Earlier this year, Gemma O’ Doherty’s Youtube account was suspended and then terminated by Google because of its anti-migrant content, which gave the racists another issue: censorship of “free speech”.
Historically fascists, when their movement is weak, have often mobilised under the banner of “freedom of speech”. This has meant not only freedom to speak out against the government in power (which many anti-fascists would also wish for) but also the freedom to demonise targeted social, ethnic and religious groups and to call for their restriction, expulsion, jailing — or even death. Immediately upon gaining power, fascists restrict the freedom of speech of all others: not only of the social, ethnic and religious groups they targeted but also of their critics, the political opposition and trade unions. In this of course they are not so different from some socialist, communist or Irish Republican groups that rail against suppression and censorship only subsequently to silence criticism within their own ranks by threats, expulsions and censorship in the media they control. The point however is not to be fooled by the “free speech” demands of fascists and racists.
All the same, this does not mean that we should support the proposed Fine Gael legislation either. “Anti-Hate Speech” legislation elsewhere was passed in capitalist states under the guise of protection of vulnerable minorities but then at times used for the protection of capitalists, royalty, government ministers and the police. If racist or homophobic incitement is the supposed target, why not specify that? Is hate itself necessarily a bad thing, if the hated object is racism, state suppression, exploitation?
A BROAD RIGHT-WING, RACIST COALITION SHELTERING FASCISTS
The origin of this right-wing coalition seems to have coalesced around former anti-corruption journalist Gemma Doherty who, some time subsequent to being fired by her newspaper after she exposed some aspects of the financial dealings of the paper’s owner, apparently underwent a transformation into a rabid anti-immigration racist. People opposed to legislation legalising gay marriage and permitting greater access to abortion gathered around her, as did others against the State’s problematic child and family agency TUSLA and some others. Accordingly it is a broad but small, generally right-wing movement of many who feel a sense of their values being ignored or undermined. How disparate at times can be judged by their demonstration at the Department of Justice building a little over a month ago, when among their signage was a banner attacking TUSLA and abuses by the Catholic Church, while a woman among their number shook a set of rosary beads at the counter-demonstration!
The confusion was illustrated yesterday too when a woman among the right-wingers could be seen flying an estelada, a flag of Catalan independentists. From a number of people from among the counter-demonstrators who spoke to her, including Catalans and other people from the Spanish state, it appears that she equated the demonstration with demanding free speech, which she rightly stated was being denied by the Spanish state to many, including Catalan independentists.
Such groups are often believers in bizarre conspiracies (nor are they alone in that) and current among some of them is a belief that the EU plans to replace Irish people with migrants. For that reason the EU, which many Irish Republicans and socialists also oppose for very different reasons, is one of the targets of this right-wing coalition.
Organised fascists, who are currently a tiny group in the territory of the Irish state (but much larger, in the shape of Loyalists, in the British colony in Ireland, the Six Counties) find themselves generally isolated in society within the Irish state and no doubt threatened too. Therefore they try to infiltrate broader anti-government groups, as they did with a brief emergence of an Irish “Yellow Vest” movement, mostly in Dublin (see https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2019/02/16/irish-yellow-vests-and-questions/) – in which they do not reveal their fascist project but present themselves as being against the Government, against corruption, for remedy of homelessness and as Irish patriots. And of course for free speech.
Nor are organised fascists the only opportunists, as a small number of politicians seeking election (or reelection) have been known to whip up fear of migrants and racist sentiment against Irish Travellers (originally a nomadic group). These offenders very recently have included an Independent TD (parliamentary delegate) from Galway and a Fine Gael candidate seeking election.
At some point of course, if they intend to come to power in society, fascists need to reveal some of their agenda but before they can do that they need to train some of their stormtroopers, public speakers and organisers and they need to command the street, at least in some areas. That was the reason for the 1930s rallies and attempted march on Dublin of the Blueshirts in Ireland, Mussolini’s Blackshirts March on Rome, the rallies and street-fighting of the Brownshirts in Germany and Moseley’s Blackshirts’ failed attempt to penetrate London’s East End. In the Spanish and Portuguese states, the fascists needed a military coup to aid them and, in the former case, the logistical and personnel assistance of the already-fascist states of Germany and Italy (a military coup was feared by the young Fianna Fáil government in 1930s Ireland too). In 2016, the need for a street presence was the reason for the attempted Dublin city centre launch of the European islamophobic organisation Pegida, which was defeated by mass mobilisation and physical opposition (for which some Irish Republicans are still being processed through the Irish courts).
Although Gemma O’Doherty and her supporters had been confronted before in Ireland, yesterday’s was the first large mobilisation against their racist anti-immigration message and it vastly outnumbered that of the racists.
POLICE AND STEWARDS SAVE RACISTS AND FASCISTS FROM A TROUNCING
Generally the two opposing forces seemed content with shouting and chanting across the street at one another, apart from the occasional anti-fascist wandering over to verbally confront the opposition. The anti-racists who in the opinion of the police got too close to the racists were sent back by the police but one of the antifascists had to approach the Gardaí (Irish state police) to remove one of the racists who had embedded himself among the anti-fascists. This seemed dangerously like asking the police to deal with the fascists whereas police bias at least is generally against the antifascists. Surely the crowd could have easily expelled him (at least) unaided?
As has been the custom with them and their intention to appear patriotic, the racists and fascists were displaying a host of Irish tricolours but this time there were a number of these also among the antifascists, along with a number of green-and-gold Starry Plough flags, as well as some communist and anarchist flags.
However, when a small group among the right-wingers pulled out the blue-and-white version of the Starry Plough, flag of the Republican Congress of the 1930s, along with the Sunburst flag of the Fianna Éireann (Republican youth group of past generations) and began waving them, a section of Irish Republicans surged forward in outrage and for a few moments the stewards and the Gardaí struggled to contain them.
Those who had brandished those particular flags were clearly delighted with the reaction they had provoked. Since at previous demonstrations of the racists and fascists they had never displayed those particular flags and, since they only made an appearance later in their rally yesterday, it seems clear that they had displayed them solely for the purpose of provocation.
A little later there was another surge from a different point which was again contained.
It was understandable, given the broad composition of the anti-racist rally, that the organisers would wish to prevent physical fighting breaking out from among their ranks on this occasion. However, there is a danger of this kind of stewarding becoming collusion with the State – or at the very least being seen to be so by sections of anti-fascists.
MIGRANTS AND IRELAND
The bubble expansion of the Irish economy for an unexpectedly long period from the late 1980s to the beginning of this century, provided employment opportunities which could not be filled by the low level of the Irish population (a result of two centuries of heavy migration from Ireland to other countries). These employment opportunities, mostly in construction and services, tended to be availed of by migrants, mostly from European states with declining or stagnant economies but also by some from states in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and China.
Although Ireland had seen foreign colonisation from Britain for centuries, it had only experienced small emigration from elsewhere, which also tended to restricted to certain periods, for example Huguenots at the end of the 17th Century and Italians in two waves, following each World War. The change in population composition in some areas at the end of the 20th Century was startling and difficult for some to which to accustom themselves (though welcomed by others). When combined with the subsequent bursting of the Irish economic bubble and cuts in public services, severe housing crisis and a health service failing spectacularly, migrants became a handy scapegoat for some people and a useful target for fascists.
Some of the migrant communities in Ireland were represented among the anti-fascists but apart from a sprinkling of black faces, were not so easy to identify. A Catalan estelada (yes, another one) revealed a small group of Catalans representing CDR Dublin and a representative of Asamblea Nacional de Catalunya Ireland also spoke from the PA system earlier in the day. Some Spanish were in evidence and a Basque Antifascist flag could also be seen but undoubtedly the largest migrant antifascist contingent was Italian. Many of these were supporters of the Sardine movement against Italian right-wing populist politician Salvini and which welcomes migrants. Perhaps a hundred strong, they sang antifascist songs, including of course the Bella Ciao and made speeches in Italian and in English.
As increasingly around the world governments become more right-wing and fascist organisations mobilise, anti-fascists need to organise too. The thesis that fascism is capitalism in crisis seems well-proven which means that antifascists should not nor cannot rely on the forces of the capitalist State to prevent the growth of fascism or to protect the social and ethnic groups targeted by fascists and racists.
Although the Catholic Church in Ireland no longer has the power it had in the Irish state since its creation in the 1920s and the fascists cannot rely on its heavy backing as in the 1930s, there is no room for complacency in Ireland or anywhere else.
Mobilisation against the fascists and racists to deny them public spaces from which to recruit and to organise is essential. And a broad anti-fascist and ant-racist unity in action needs to be built, similar to what was seen yesterday although within that broad movement there also needs to be struggle against liberal ideology. But one cannot combat sickness purely by countering infection – care needs to be given to cultivation of a healthy body too. The Ireland body is sick: sick from cultural and physical colonialism, sick from territorial partition, from racist Loyalism and native gombeenism, from underdeveloped economy and plundered resources, from housing and health crises. While these remain unresolved we can expect at least sporadic outbreaks of fascist and racist infection and quite possibly an epidemic. It is not only in the struggle against fascism that unity is needed.
From information either not available to me or unconfirmed at the time, the blue-and-white Starry Plough which had been used to provoke anti-fascists was actually seized by the latter in the scrimmage. There was apparently another, which was allegedly seized by Republicans after the right-wingers had left for which two men were arrested and handcuffed.
According to reports, one of the right-wing women attempted to kick one of the arrested men while he was handcuffed and she was also arrested.