Like many Brooklyn Jews of his generation, Howard Zinn, an icon of the American left, questioned laissez fair American capitalism and American nationalist glorification of country. He was the author of “A People’s History of the United States,” a best seller which sold more than two million copies and inspired a generation of high school and college students to rethink American history. He was also a strong supporter of the civil rights movement and an opponent of the Vietnam war, as well as being a much-loved professor. Proudly, unabashedly radical, Zinn delighted in debating ideological foes, including his own college president, and in attacking conventional ideas, not the least that American history was a heroic march toward democracy.
Born Aug. 24, 1922, Howard Zinn grew up in Bedford Stuyvesant. His parents were Jewish immigrants who met in a factory. His father worked as a ditch digger and window cleaner during the Depression. His father and mother ran a neighborhood candy store for a brief time, barely getting by. For many years his father was in the waiter’s union and worked as a waiter for weddings and bar mitzvahs. “We moved a lot, one step ahead of the landlord,” Zinn recalled. “I lived in all of Brooklyn’s best slums.”
“NO LONGER A LIBERAL”
His parents were not intellectuals and Zinn recalled that there were no books in his home growing up. At some point his parents, knowing his interest in books, and never having heard of Charles Dickens, sent in a coupon with a dime each month to the New York Post and received one of ultimately twenty volumes of Dickens’ complete works. He became interested in fascism and began to read about its rise in Europe and to engage in political discussions and debates with some young Communists in his neighborhood. Zinn was radicalized thanks to a peaceful political rally in Times Square, where mounted police charged the marchers, hit Zinn knocked him unconscious. Zinn explained, “From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. . . The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society—cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.”
After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School, Zinn became an apprentice shipfitter in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he and a few other apprentices began to discuss books and strategize about how to improve their dangerous working conditions. Excluded from the craft unions of skilled workers, they formed their own Apprentice Association. On an overnight boat trip he organized to raise money for the association, he met his future wife, Roslyn Shechter, who shared Howard’s progressive views and was also a Jewish child of immigrants. Zinn joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, eager to fight the fascists, and became a bombardier in a B-17. While in the Air Force he was disturbed by the race and class inequality among the servicemen. It wasn’t until years after the war that he questioned the necessity of the bombs that he dropped. But at the end of the war, back in New York, he deposited his medals in an envelope and wrote: “Never Again.”
“I would not deny that [WWII] had a certain moral core, but that made it easier for Americans to treat all subsequent wars with a kind of glow,” Zinn said. “Every enemy becomes Hitler.”
After the war, he went back to interview victims of the bombing, and later wrote about it in two books. His own experience and his subsequent interviews led him to conclude that the bombing had been ordered more to enhance the careers of senior officers than for any military imperative, and he later wrote about the ethics of bombing in the context of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tokyo and Dresden, as well as Iraq.
Zinn and Roz married in 1944. While Zinn worked various jobs after the war, they lived on meager income in a rat-infested basement apartment in Brooklyn. Their daughter Myla was born in 1947 and Jeff in 1949. They moved to new public housing in 1949 and Zinn went to New York University for his B.A in history.
Thanks to the GI Bill, which paid the tuition of veterans, Zinn went to Columbia, where he earned an MA in 1952 with a thesis about a famous coalminers’ strike in Colorado, then obtained his PhD with a dissertation about the career in Congress of Fiorello LaGuardia, the reforming mayor of New York. He studied at Columbia under Richard Hofstadter who taught Zinn that American liberals were not as liberal as they thought they were, and that the two common threads in all American history were nationalism and capitalism.
In 1956, Zinn accepted a professorship at Spelman College, a traditionally black college for women in Atlanta, Georgia. Among his students were Maria Wright Edelman, the campaigner for children’s rights, and the future novelist Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple. At Spelman, he was a mentor to and later the historian of the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC), the radical student wing of the civil rights movement. Zinn took part in many civil rights protests, and he encouraged his students to join him in these marches, which angered Spelman’s president. Zinn angered the authorities at Spelman over his insistence that its students should not be trained to be ladies, but should be actively involved in politics. “I was fired for insubordination,” he recalled. “Which happened to be true.” Zinn moved to Boston University in 1964, where he quickly became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. He angered many Americans, including Boston University’s president, by traveling with the Rev. Daniel Berrigan to Hanoi to receive prisoners released by the North Vietnamese, and produced the antiwar books “Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal” (1967) and “Disobedience and Democracy” (1968). When Daniel Ellsberg, a previously gung-ho John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson administration official, came out against the war, he gave one copy of the Pentagon Papers (officially titled United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, the government’s secret history of the war) to Zinn and his wife, Roslyn. Zinn and Noam Chomsky edited what became known as the Mike Gravel edition, published in Boston in 1971-72 by the Beacon Press.
In 1980, he published his most successful work, A People’s History of the United States, which was a highly controversial revision of American history. Instead of the usual congratulatory tone of most American history textbooks, his work concentrated on what he saw as the genocidal depredations of Christopher Columbus, the blood lust of Theodore Roosevelt and the racial failings of Abraham Lincoln. He also highlighted the revolutionary struggles of impoverished farmers, feminists, laborers and resisters of slavery and war. Bruce Springsteen said the starkest of his many albums, “Nebraska,” drew inspiration in part from Mr. Zinn’s writings.
For decades, he poured out articles attacking war and government secrecy.
When President Ronald Reagan bombed Tripoli in 1986, Zinn wrote: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for a purpose which is unattainable.” He denounced the invasion of Iraq and also criticized President Barack Obama’s intensification of the war in Afghanistan. He was sharply attacked in Israel and by many of his fellow American Jews for saying that war was morally the equivalent of terrorism.
Mr. Zinn retired in 1988, concluding his last class early so he could join a picket line. He invited his students to join him. Zinn also wrote three plays: “Daughter of Venus,” “Marx in Soho” and “Emma,” about the life of the anarchist Emma Goldman. All have been produced. Zinn died in 2010.
Zinn always believed in standing up to injustice and fighting for oppression. He said near the end of his life, “Where progress has been made, wherever any kind of injustice has been overturned, it’s been because people acted as citizens, and not as politicians. They didn’t just moan. They worked, they acted, they organized, they rioted if necessary to bring their situation to the attention of people in power. And that’s what we have to do today.”
POSTSCRIPT from Rebel Breeze:
TRUMP ATTACKS ZINN AFTER LATTER’S DEATH
“If you want to read a real history book,” Matt Damon’s character tells his therapist, played by Robin Williams, in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting,” “read Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States.’ That book will knock you on your ass.”
It is very unlikely that President Donald Trump knew who Howard Zinn was before he saw the name on his teleprompter. And it is even less likely that he’s read “A People’s History of the United States.” But that didn’t stop him from saying — at the White House Conference on American History on Thursday — that today’s “left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools. It’s gone on far too long. Our children are instructed from propaganda tracts, like those of Howard Zinn, that try to make students ashamed of their own history.”
(Changed headline andtranslated from article in Publico.es by D.Breatnach)
(Reading time main text: 7 mins.)
Franco’s repression in Fregenal de la Sierra executed more than 80. Now, a second excavation seeks to recover the bodies of those who did not come to light in 2012, when the skeletons of 43 victims were recovered. The remains found indicate cruelty towards women, disrespecting them even after they were shot.
When they gave her the jacket of her son, who had just been shot, she lost her speech. She was like this for two and a half years, in silence, until she died. The father, a lifelong labourer, said on his deathbed that he bequeathed his little house to his five children. “You only have four,” one of the witnesses told him. “Until they give me the body of my son, I still have five,” replied the man. They were the mother and father of Juan Serrano García, shot in September 1936 in Fregenal de la Sierra (Badajoz1), when the rebels tricked him into returning: “They said that all those who had not committed crimes of blood, would be free of reprisals,” adds Andrés Serrano, representative of the Association of relatives of the executed from the town and Juan’s nephew.
His body was found in 2012 in a mass grave in the town’s cemetery along with 42 other bodies, although many more are still waiting in the ground. At that time, there were seven graves opened. Now, five more are uncovered to try to account for the more than 80 murdered by Franco’s troops of which there is a record. Among the bodies there is an unusually high percentage of women for the situation, points out Laura Muñoz-Encinar, archaeologist and forensic anthropologist at the Institute of Heritage Sciences (Incipit), attached to the Higher Centre for Scientific Research (CSIC), and who is participating in the exhumation.
The forced and almost physical silence of Juan’s mother testifies to the decades and decades of internal repression of the thousands of victims of the Franco regime. So much so, that Serrano learned about the story of his uncle obliquely from his mother, the political one of the family. She did not tell him directly: “An anthropologist friend wanted to interview her for a job, so I took the opportunity and told him to ask her about what happened in the Civil War. I hid in a room next to the terrace, where they were and thus I was able to hear first-hand and for the first time in my life about the execution of my uncle, the hardships my grandparents went through and the stigmatization my family suffered for being, for everyone else, ‘reds’ “, related the historical memorialist at 68 years of age.
They were in a hurry to kill them
The case of Juan, a militant in the UGT2 and of socialist sympathies, assassinated at the age of 21, is just one more. In Fregenal, more than eight dozen people who were related to politics and social struggle during the Republican period were executed. Located in Badajoz, many townspeople joined “The Column of 8,000”, coming from the north of Huelva, to flee from the fascist barbarism between the air raids. The troops took Fregenal on September 18 and three days later Juan returned to the town together with another comrade. They thought that nothing would happen to them, because they had not committed any blood-crime.
“They arrived at 10:30 in the morning and at 11:15 they were both arrested. They were taken to jail, and no matter how hard my grandparents tried to intervene with some powerful people from the town to save him from being shot, on September 22 he was murdered”, relates Serrano. The same thing happened a few meters away, in those days, in the town square: “They shot about four people in the center of town; it was an exemplary shooting. They wanted to increase the fear that there was already,” he says.
That same September 22nd, Juan’s parents had already guessed the worst. They knew that their son had been detained and that the Francoists had no mercy. Their suspicions were confirmed when, a few hours later and for greater confirmation, they were given the jacket that their son had been wearing. According to Serrano, the rebel soldiers also told them that they should stop searching, that they already knew where he was, and not to bother people, referring to the people to which they had gone to ask for compassion for their young son.
The first exhumation: 43 bodies
More than 70 years later, the team to which Laura Muñoz-Encinar, the archaeologist belongs, arrived. It was 2010 and they couldn’t start the excavation for two years. After the surveys and a research project approved by the Ministry of the Presidency, they excavated seven mass graves. “There were men and women. They were from young to very advanced ages. Among the seven women we found, one of them had a full-term fetus of between 7 and 9 months,” explains the Incipit scientist.
The change of central government in 20113 meant the cancellation of the funding allocation related to the investigation of what happened during the Civil War and the Dictatorship, so they had to wait nine long years until they were able to return to the town. Muñoz-Encinar explains that “During this time almost all the children of the victims, of which there were many, have died. There is only one daughter living, María Lobo Villa. The Francoists executed her mother, three uncles and a grandfather. Now, mainly, grandchildren and great-nephews and great-nieces remain. “
In that excavation they found the body of a woman buried between two men, something recurring according to the expert. Once again, and as always, they got the worst of it. This is demonstrated by what happened to Antonia Regalado Carballar, known as “La chata carrera” (“the flat racer”?-DB). A 22-year-old political activist, this woman transgressed the traditional roles of the patriarchal culture of the time. “They detained her and took her to the cemetery. There they physically and psychologically abused her, and several of them raped her. After killing her, said the undertaker, they put her in the ditch between the bodies of two men,” Muñoz-Encinar explains further. Serrano adds what the rebels who were there said, as the gravedigger recalled, “As men tempt you, there you have men for your whole life.” They haven’t found her body yet.
This type of symbolism, highly contemptuous for all victims and sexualized in the case of women, is not an isolated event. “In the current excavation we have already found a body face down. In a Judeo-Christian culture like ours, the placement of the bodies responds to a ritual of elevating the soul to heaven, that is why the bodies are placed face up and with the limbs stretched , and not doing it like that is a post-mortem humiliation”, the archaeologist explained.
Killed without trial years after the War
She herself points out that all the remains already found and those they are still looking for were civilian victims of extrajudicial repression, executed on the basis of the war party in force from 1936 to 1948. That is that, almost ten years after the end of the war, it was still possible to execute civilians without the need to bring them through a judicial procedure. That is what happened in Fregenal de la Sierra in 1946 to a party of guerrillas4. This is how Muñoz-Encinar relates it: “We know that they were fighting in the mountains, that they were pursued, until one night they entered a brothel. There they were betrayed and, after a scuffle, they were arrested. They were murdered, their bodies were exhibited in the street entrance to the cemetery and then put in a grave.” Also victims of extrajudicial repression years after the Civil War ended, the team of experts does not know if their bodies will be in the five graves they are currently studying and in which they have already found three bodies.
By Diarmuid Breatnach
The Spanish state territory holds more mass graves than any country in the world with the exception of Cambodia. Most of their occupants were killed during the Spanish Antifascist struggle with or without a military court hearing outside of conflict zones, that is to say, either in the rear areas of the fascist-military forces, i.e areas already safely conquered. In some of the areas, there had been little or no military resistance whatsoever but that did not halt the arrests and executions. And after the conclusive defeat of the Republic, the executions continued. Many victims, perhaps even the majority, had never even fired a gun in defence of the Republic but were considered enemies of the fascist State through their support for the Republic, their political ideology, social attitude or sexual orientation.
The punishment was not always a death sentence but people died also in prison due to massive overcrowding, disease, inadequate food or clean drinking water, water for washing or inadequate medical care.
Despite the frequent assertion that the 1936 military-fascist uprising against the elected Republican Government was to “restore Christian values” and was supported by most of the Spanish Catholic Church hierarchy, rape of women and girls was frequent, whether they were afterwards shot or not. This was widely attested in evidence by victims, witnesses and even some war reporters.
Those who survived or did not go to jail faced constant harassment, confiscation and theft of land, animals and produce; fines and public humiliation, in particular the women who were force-fed laxatives and then paraded in nightclothes or underclothes through the neighbourhood, sometimes to the doors of the Catholic church, unable to control their bowels as they walked.
Babies were also taken from murdered supporters of the Republic and later from working class women (who were told their baby had been stillborn) and given to childless fascist couples. Children of the “Reds5” were taunted at school and insulted by teachers.
After its sharpest form abated the repression nevertheless continued throughout the nearly four decades of the Dictatorship and it was extremely dangerous to even speak of disinterring the mass graves and reburying the victims in dignity, not to speak of honouring them as antifascist martyrs. Even after the death of Franco and the Transition to an alleged democracy, many kept silent to protect their families. Schools suppressed the history6. Murderers and torturers were not prosecuted. Thieves kept what they had taken. The ruling class consisted for the most part of supporters of the fascist-military uprising and their descendants and they thronged the civil service, military, police, judiciary, church hierarchy, media (State and private), the education system – along with many businesses and a number of political parties.
More recently, the work of generations of those keeping the historical memory alive, investigating, speaking, marking areas, even disinterring on their own initiatives, is bearing fruit. The Law of Historical Memory, passed through the Spanish Parliament under a social-democratic Government in 2007 helped for a little while but then fell into disuse under the PP Government, though it was not abolished.
Its renovation in 2020 by the PSOE-Unidas Podemos coalition has spurred more excavation bu the Law and its renovation had been preceded by the work over decades by volunteers of historical memory associations in many different parts of the State, such as the Basque Country, Catalonia, Asturias, Galicia, Andalucia and Madrid. The associations have been assisted by forensic experts working voluntarily. This work has helped create the political-social-cultural atmosphere in which in October 2019 the long-promised removal of the remains of the Dictator General Franco and the leader of the fascist Falange, Primo Rivera, took place from their fascist mausoleum in the Valle de Los Caidos7 (“Valley of the Fallen”, a fascist monument constructed with prisoner labour and a shrine for Spanish fascists).
Nevertheless the renovated Historical Memory Law, or its program posted by the Government, has been criticised by relatives and other historical memory activists, because it rules out any reparations. They are bitter that most of the known torturers, murderers and rapists died natural deaths without having faced even a trial and their accusers8 and that not only do their families hang on to their ill-gotten gains but that the State does not acknowledge its duty to the victims. The State itself, or one of its departments, is also engaged in a judicial-political struggle to recover from organisations and families some properties, including national monuments and one of them of UNESCO World Heritage status. Some local authorities face prosecution and reductions in allocation of central funds because they are holding on to commemorative signs exalting Franco or someone of his supporters.
Of course, the fascists and most varieties of the Right in the Spanish polity are angry at these events and link them to the struggle for Catalan independence as fatal to the Spanish State; they demonstrate and threaten a coup or some kind of repercussion, retired Army senior officers sign declarations and some rattle their sabres in public, the spokesperson of the Franco Foundation reminds the current King Felipe that it is entirely due to Franco that his father became monarch (which is true and Juan Carlos also swore allegiance to that regime, an oath which he never recanted).
Even some liberals are uneasy, feeling that “it’s reopening old wounds”, to which the relatives of the victims and others reply: “the wounds have never closed.”
2Unión General de Trabajadores, a general workers’ union allied to the social-democratic PSOE party. The union was outlawed by Franco and many of its supporters suffered imprisonment or even execution or murder without trial. It is one of the largest unions in the Spanish state today and the PSOE is one of the traditional parties of government.
3In that year’s General Election the right-wing Partido Popular won a landslide victory against the PSOE and the political climate changed considerably. Both the PP and the PSOE support the unionist and monarchist Spanish Constitution but the PP contains a harder Right, including supporters of the Franco regime and memory and outright fascists, some of which have split off at times to form the right-wing Ciudadanos and fascist Vox parties.
4Guerrilla struggle persisted in parts of the Spanish state after the defeat of the Republic, in some cases for decades.
5To sustain the fiction that they were fighting against “Communism”, (no doubt believed by many), those leading the fascist-military uprising constantly referred to their enemies as “Reds”. Some of course were but the Republic was also supported by Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists, democrats, social-democrats, revolutionary socialists, anarchists, libertarians and anarcho-syndicalists. The foreign press mostly referred to them as Republicans (sometimes as “Government supporters”) and the fascist-military side as Nationalists (sometimes as “rebels”). Communists, revolutionary socialists and anarchists predominated among the foreign volunteers who joined the Republican forces through the International Brigades and other routes (for example, Orwell, a member of the Independent Labour Party, fought with the mostly Trotskyist POUM) but they also included socialist Republicans from Ireland for example along with simply dedicated antifascists.
7An event covered in detail on Spanish TV in the style of a state funeral.
8Notable exceptions were Melitón Manzanas, Commander of the Political-Social Brigade of the Guardia Civil, a notorious torturer and Nazi collaborator, assassinated by the Basque armed group ETA in San Sebastian/ Donosti in 1968 and Admiral Carrero Blanco, Franco’s nominated successor, also assassinated by ETA in Madrid in 1973. Manzanas was awarded posthumously the Medal of Civic Merit by the Aznar Government in 1998 as “a victim of terrorism”.
The Dublin police played a fundamental role in the creation of the first workers’ army in the world, the Irish Citizen Army.
The Dublin employer syndicate’s offensive against the working-class “syndicalism” of the Irish Transport & General Worker’s Union1 began with the 1913 Lockout, in turn triggering strikes on August 26th, when workers were presented with a document they were to sign declaring that they would leave the ITG&WU or, if not a member, would refuse to support it in any action2. Most workers of any union and none refused to sign and 20,000 workers were confronted by 400 employers.
However, the employers’ numbers were added to by the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary, backed up by the judiciary. Morally and ideologically the Irish Times and Irish Independent (the latter owned by W.M. Murphy, leader of the employers) backed the employers as, to a large extent, did the Irish Catholic Church hierarchy3.
The national (non-workers’) movement was divided in its opinion: many of Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party representatives were employers or landlords and their sympathies were naturally not with the workers. But for example Seán Mac Diarmada, a republican and national revolutionary, organiser for the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood4, opposed the strike on the basis that foreign business interests would profit by the paralysing of Irish business concerns5. On the other hand, Mac Diarmada’s mentor and head of the IRB in Ireland, Tom Clarke, was sympathetic to the strikers.
Unlike the gendarmerie6 British police force throughout Ireland of the Royal Irish Constabulary, at this time the constables of the DMP were unarmed except with truncheons but even with those they managed to kill people. On 30th August 1913 the DMP baton-charged a crowd in a street meeting on Eden Quay, outside Liberty Hall, HQ of the union7. Among the many injured were James Nolan and John Byrne who died 31st August and 4th September respectively, both in Jervis St. Hospital. (see also other riots and police attacks in Sources & Further Reading below).
On the 31st Jim Larkin went in disguise to address an advertised public meeting, banned by a magistrate, in Sackville (now O’Connell) St., Dublin. In view of the behaviour of the police, most of the IT&GWU activists went instead to their rented facilities at Fairview but a large enough crowd of the committed and the curious were assembled in O’Connell Street, along with large force of the DMP. Larkin, disguised as an elderly Protestant minister arrived by horse-drawn carriage and, as befitted a man made infirm by age, was assisted by Nellie Gifford8 into the Clery’s building which housed the Imperial Hotel restaurant, which belonged to W.M. Murphy (as did the Dublin Tram Co.). In order that Larkin’s strong Liverpool accent should not give him away, Nellie Gifford did all the talking to the staff inside. Shortly afterwards Larkin appeared at a restaurant window on the first floor and, top hat removed, spoke briefly to the crowd below but, as DMP rushed into the building, tried to make his getaway.
The DMP arrested Larkin and when the crowd cheered him (led by Constance Markievicz), the DMP baton-charged the crowd, striking out indiscriminately, including knocking unconscious a Fianna (Republican youth organisation) boy Patsy O’Connor who was giving First Aid to a man the police had already knocked to the ground. Between 400 and 600 were injured and Patsy suffered from headaches thereafter; though active in the Republican movement (he was prominent in the 1914 Howth guns collection9) he died in 1915, the year before the Rising. Among those beaten were journalists and casual passers-by. Those caught in Princes Street10 between DMP already in that street and the police charging across the main street were beaten particularly savagely.
The police attack became known as “Bloody Sunday 1913” (though two workers had been fatally injured on Eden Quay the day before and are often wrongly listed as having been killed on that day).
Also on that day the DMP attacked the poor working-class dwellings of Corporation Buildings (in “the Monto”, off Talbot St11), beat the residents and smashed their paltry furniture. The raid was a revenge attack for the reception of bottles and stones they had received on the 30th, when they were chasing fleeing workers from Liberty Hall (others crossed Butt Bridge to the south side and a running battle took place along Townsend Street and almost to Ringsend.
THE IRISH CITIZEN ARMY 1913 AND 1916
Very soon after those attacks, Larkin and Connolly each called publicly for the formation of a workers’ defence force, which became the Irish Citizen Army. Around 120 ICA, including female members fought with distinction in the 1916 Rising and raised their flag, the Starry Plough on the roof of WM Murphy’s Imperial Hotel on the upper floors of Clery’s building, opposite the GPO13. A number of its Volunteers were killed or wounded in action and two of the ICA’s leaders, Connolly and Mallin, were executed afterwards; another, Constance Markievicz, had her sentence of death commuted.
A much-diminished ICA took part in the War of Independence.
The end of August 1913 on Eden Quay and in O’Connell Street may be seen as the period and birthplaces of the ICA, the “first workers’ army in the world” and the first also to recruit women, some of whom were officers.
The Jim Larkin monument stands opposite the Clery’s building, which is now under renovation but without a mention on the monument or on the building of Bloody Sunday 1913 or its background and result. Sic transit gloria proletariis
1The ITGWU was formed in 1909 by James Larkin, former organiser for the National Union of Dock Labourers after his bitter departure from that union. Most of the members Larkin had recruited for the NUDL, with the exception of the Belfast Protestant membership, left the NUDL and joined the IT&GWU.
2The provision in the declaration for members of unions other than the iT&GWU was necessary for the employers because of the general credo in Irish trade unionism that one did not cross a picket line, whether of one’s own union or of another, a credo that persisted in Ireland until the 1980s when the Irish Trade Union Council joined the “Social Partnership” of the State and the employers’ Federation. In addition, Larkin had added the principle that goods from a workplace on strike, even if strike-breakers could be got to bring them out, were “tainted goods” and would not be handled by members of the IT&GWU, nor should they be by any other union either.
3 Apart from any statements by bishops and priests, the religious charity organisation, the St. Vincent de Paul, refused assistance to families of strikers.
4 The IRB was founded simultaneously in Dublin and New York on 17th March 1858 and became known as “the Fenians”. In 1913 the movement had declined but was being rebuilt under the leadership of Tom Clarke, who went on to become one of the Seven Signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, all of which were executed b y firing squad after surrendering, along with another nine. Both were signatories of the Proclamation of Independence.
5It is one of the many ironies that on May 12th 1916, the last of the of the 14 surrendered leadership executed in Dublin (another two were executed elsewhere, one in Cork and the last in London) were Mac Diarmada and James Connolly, shot by British firing squads in Kilmainham Jail; the one an opponent of the workers’ action and the other one of its leadership.
6The gendarmerie is a particular militarised type of police force, armed and often operating out of barracks, like the Carabinieri of Italy, Gendarmerie of Turkey and Guardia Civil of the Spanish State. It is an armed force of state repression designed to control wide areas of potentially rebellious populations and it is notable that the parallel of the RIC did not exist in Britain, where the police force was mostly unarmed except by truncheon.
7Liberty Hall is still there today but a very different building (the original was shelled by the British in 1916) and SIPTU is a very different union too.
8Nellie was one of 12 children of a mixed religion marriage and was, like all her sisters (unlike the six unionist boys), a nationalist and supporter of women’s suffrage. Her sister Grace married Volunteer Joseph Plunkett hours before his execution and is, with Plunkett, the subject of the plaintive ballad “Grace” and Muriel married Thomas McDonagh, one of the Seven Signatories of the Proclamation, all of whom were among the 16 executed after surrendering in 1916. Nellie Gifford was the only one who participated in the Rising; she was a member of the Irish Citizen Army and was active in the Stephen’s Green/ College of Surgeons garrison, jailed and continued to be active after her release.
926th July 1914, when the yacht Asgard, captained by the Englishman Erskine Childrers, delivered a consignment of Mauser rifles and ammunition to the Irish Volunteers.
10Those may have been heading for Williams Lane which even today leads out from Princes Street to Middle Abbey Street (the junction of which is where James Connolly received the impact to his ankle in 1916).
11Corporation Buildings as one might expect housed working class people and the “Monto” (Montgomery Street) was a notorious red light district.
12The police station is still there, staffed by the Garda Síochána but in 1913 it housed also a British Army garrison.
13This flag, one of at least four different flags flown during the Rising, is now in the Irish National Museum at Collins Barrack. Shortly after the Rising it was noted by a British Army officer still in place upon the gutted Clery’s building and taken by him as a trophy to England. In 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Rising, the officer’s family returned the flag to the Irish people.
Actually what the hierarchy referenced fearing in a recent 95-page statement was “two Spains”, which most commentators took as being a reference to a repeat of the Anti-Fascist war of 1936-1939, with Republican Spain and Fascist Spain. The statement of the Spanish Episcopal Conference (CEE) spoke of the “stability” which the 1978 Constitution has given the Spanish State. So have they suddenly now become democrats? Of course, one can think of another way of imagining such a dichotomy: Rich Spain and Worker Spain. I think the Bishops fear another kind of civil war – i.e revolution.
The 95-page document entitled ‘Faithful to missionary sending’ was prepared not only by the collegiate bodies of the CEE but also by external collaborators. Less open to different interpretations are the other concerns raised by the Bishop’s Conference, regarding the increasing secularisation of society, the scandals around abuse of those in the care of Church institutions and pastors, along with the other scandal of church appropriation of public property, including even a UNESCO site1. The Bishops feel that some of these processes and issues are not merely accidental or incidental to modern times but rather are deliberately driven by people in hostility to the Church.
CHURCH AND POLITICS
It is customary and has been so throughout history for the dominant religious institution to have a close relationship with the dominant class in society and this has certainly been the case with the Catholic Church in the Spanish Kingdom. The Spanish ruling elite at the turn of the last century, in a country with underdeveloped capitalist industry was an alliance of two different social classes, the aristocracy and the capitalist-financier class. The social atmosphere was deeply conservative and dominated by the Catholic Church hierarchy which, through them and the religious male and female orders, controlled institutions of social and educational provision. Progressive artists were penalised and often enough went into exile.2
The First Spanish Republic, a brief attempt to liberalise and democratise the State after the abdication of King Amadeo in 1873, survived not even two years before being overthrown in a military coup, followed by repression causing the exile of many of republican leaders and supporters.
However, a wave of revolt against the conservatism and lack of democracy of the Spanish Kingdom came around again and in 1931 the Second Republic was created, overthrowing the dictatorship of General Primo Rivera. Initially the composition of the government was right-wing and the revolt of the Asturian miners was cruelly suppressed by the Army and the militarised police force of the Guardia Civil3. The right-wing government fell in 1936 when a democratic left-wing Popular Front government was elected, which set about legislating for greater social freedoms, equality and discussing autonomy for nations4 within the State.
DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT AND MILITARY-FASCIST UPRISING
That was the signal for the forces of reaction to strike and most of the military high command, allied with the fascist Falange5, staged a coup. In Barcelona, the coupists were quickly suppressed by a popular upsurge which took on a revolutionary character. In some other parts, particularly in Madrid, the coupists were suppressed too but without a revolution.
General Franco in partnership with another three generals and senior naval commanders led or joined the coup but Franco’s forces were isolated in part of North Africa (then a Spanish colony). While the ‘democratic’ European powers ‘blockaded the conflict’, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy provided the logistical support6 to get Franco’s forces to the Canary Islands, then to Spain, where they found little organised opposition but nevertheless carried out a reign of terror. The Spanish Catholic Church hierarchy and most of its priests and religious orders supported the military and fascist rebellious forces with enthusiasm.
A conflict variously called “the Spanish Civil War” or “the Spanish Antifascist War” followed, ending in 1939 with victory for the military-fascist forces, who lost an estimated 175,000 killed in action, and 110,000 died fighting for the Republic.7
Following the earlier pattern of areas the fascists had conquered, a wave of repression ensued against republicans, communists, socialists, anarchists, democrats, trade unionists, Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists, gays and lesbians, with summary executions, military tribunals and executions, mass jailing, public humiliation of women …. Estimates of executions behind the fascist-military lines during the War range from fewer than 50,000to 200,0008. Most of the victims were killed without a trial in the first months of the war and their corpses were left on the sides of roads or in clandestine and unmarked mass graves.Spain has the highest number of mass graves anywhere in the world with the exception of Cambodia9, with 740 mass graves containing the remains of some 9,000 people having been found so far. The support of the Catholic Church for the military and fascists did not waver throughout.
THREE DECADES OF FASCIST DICTATORSHIP
After that initial phase, three decades of political and social repression followed under the Franco dictatorship, again fully supported by the Spanish Catholic Church.
However, the dictatorship was always resisted to some degree or another and that resistance began to grow apace during the 1960s. The Partido Comunista de España and the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero de España, both banned, were organising underground and becoming increasingly popular. Both had affiliated trade union organisations and the Comisiones Obreras10, linked to the PCE was particularly widespread. The youth of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) broke with the conservative and inactive leadership and, joining with a revolutionary socialist movement in the southern Basque Country, formed ETA11, taking up armed struggle at the end of the 1960s.
As the Dictator aged the imperialists began to worry about the potential for a revolution in Spain and contacts in influential circles were sought to persuade the ruling class to replace the Dictatorship with a parliamentary democracy. Some elements in the Spanish Catholic Church opposed those initiatives but one which embraced it was the technocratic Opus Dei, which with some others, steered the country through the Transición.
Amidst a wave of repression including murders of activists by State and other fascist forces, with fear of an indefinite continuation of the Dictatorship, a Referendum on a monarchist and unitary state constitution was held. The PCE and the PSOE were legalised and, with their support, the 1978 Constitution received majority support. It is that Constitution which is regularly quoted when the State declines to permit the Basque and Catalan nations to even hold a referendum on independence.
In summary then, the Spanish State has evolved from a deeply conservative and repressive state, through a fascist-military uprising to a fascist and socially conservative dictatorship, all along with the support of the Spanish Catholic Church. When a revolution was feared, in consultation with imperialist advisers, the technocrat section of the Church, with the support of the social democratic and communist parties, helped prepare a transition to a parliamentary democratic form. Central to the Transition was preserving the mostly fascist ruling class and ensuring it would remain safe from any reparations, not to speak of criminal charges for murder, rape, torture, large-scale thefts …
But now, the Church hierarchy is sounding a warning. If it fears revolution, it has cause to.
VULNERABILITY OF THE SPANISH STATE
The possibility of revolution in Spain may seem far distant to most external and internal observers but two things should be taken into account:
Revolution often grows and matures very quickly from what seemed like unready conditions and
the Spanish State is by far the most vulnerable in the whole of the EU.
INTERNAL FORCES HOSTILE TO THE SPANISH STATE
The Spanish State consists of a number of nations, of which Catalonia, the Basque Country (Euskal Herria) and Galicia (Galiza) are the most obvious. But “Paisos Catalans” includes also Valencia and the Balearic Islands, all areas where Catalan is spoken and Asturias also consider themselves a Celtic nation (as does Galiza).
The southern Basque Country has spent decades mobilising for independence in a wide social and political opposition to the Spanish State and though the official leadership of its movement is now pacified, a strong potential remains there. As the momentum of the latter declined, the movement for independence in Catalonia increasingly matured and in 2017 an unsanctioned referendum returned a majority for independence. Spanish police raided polling booths, attacked the voters and later nine social and political leaders were jailed by the State while others were obliged to go into exile. The 2021 elections returned a majority of pro-independence candidates and the total vote for independence exceeded 50% for the first time since pro-independence candidates presented themselves in elections.
The movements for independence respectively in Galiza and Asturies are nowhere near at the same level as those of the Basque Country or of Catalonia but they are growing. This is true also of the Paisos Catalans and the Islas Canarias.
With regard to the wide workers’ organisations, while the Comisiones and UGT at present maintain overall control, the majority of organised workers in the Basque Country and Galiza belong to trade unions supporting independence. Intersindical, a class trade union12 movement, also supporting independence, is growing in Catalonia and the Canaries.
Generally the Spanish State finds itself increasingly isolated at home and abroad. Its repression measures against the Basques and Catalans have not only disaffected people in those nations but also, despite general media and fascist propaganda, sectors of the Spanish intelligentsia. Writers, actors, artists have experienced repression or have spoken out against the repression of members of their sector. Political activist and rapper Pablo Hasel is in jail while Valtonyc, another rapper, is in exile to avoid imprisonment, both because of their lyrics.
Repeated financial corruptionscandals have increasingly undermined confidence in the political and business classes.
FORCES SUPPORTING THE SPANISH STATE
The image of the Spanish Monarchy has suffered probably irreparable damage. The previous King, Juan Carlos, who was a visible link between the Dictatorship and the current parliamentary system but credited by liberal commentators as managing the “transition to democracy”, has abdicated. His personal reputation was damaged by a number of public relations disasters and he is now being pursued on allegations of financial and political corruption. His son-in-law is serving a jail sentence for financial and political corruption too. The current King, Juan Carlos’ son Felipe VI, though by no means compromised to any similar degree, has not built up any significant social support either, despite a generally sycophantic Spanish media.
The Catholic Church, the great organisation of social control for centuries and throughout the Dictatorship, has lost much of its influence, a fact bewailed by the Bishops in their communique. In the Basque Country and in Catalonia, the Hierarchy had little influence anyway because of its support for Franco. But the scandals of physical and sexual abuse in church institutions and by pastors, common across much of the western world, have impacted on the Church across the Spanish state too. In addition, the increasing secularisation of modern western society has also weakened the Church’s influence, as have its opposition to contraception and abortion, divorce, homosexuality and of course same-sex marriage, all of which are now legal.
Surveys indicated that only 3% of Spaniards consider religion as one of their three most important values, lower than the 5% European average, though religious festivals remain popular on a mainly cultural level.
According to the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research, as of July 2021, while 58.6% of Spanish citizens self-identify as Catholic, only 18.6% define themselves as practicing, with 40% as not practicing. Another 37% have no religion, identifying variously as atheists (15.1%), agnostics (11.5%) or non-believers (10.4%)13. The total number of parish priests, i.e the level of Church personnel most in direct contact with the population, shrank from 24,300 in 1975 to 18,500 in 2018, with an average age of 65.5 years.14
However, the COPE radio network, owned by the Catholic Spanish Bishops’ Conference, broadcasts material ranging from the conservative to the fascist and always for Spanish unionism. COPE, an acronym for Cadena de Ondas Populares Españolas (“People’s Radiowaves of Spain Network”) formerly called Radio Popular, is the second most played among Spain’s generalist radio. COPE owns music stations Cadena 100, Rock FM and Megastar FM, in addition to the Spanish generalist TV channel Trece. The station is associated with the right-wing Spanish journal DiarioABC.
The privately-owned media in the Spanish state, whether favouring the PSOE (e.g El País) or the Partido Popular (e.g El Mundo and ABC) tends to be supportive of the union and the status quo15, with the state TV networks even more so. The bias against for example Basque or Catalan independence activists is remarkably obvious, with TV cameras accompanying police on raids to arrests of activists and publication of prejudicial statements long before the accused face trial and again during the trial itself.
Both traditional main political parties have their origins in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. In common with most European parliamentary democracies, the two-party system has lost support in the Spanish state, resulting in recent governments being coalitions of political parties. This increases the potential for political thinking along class rather than party lines while also creating internal difficulties for the coalitions.
The right-wing Partido Popular was formed in 1989 but was a reconfiguration of the Alianza Popular, formed after the State’s change to the parliamentary system to give fascists and deep conservative supporters of Franco a representation in elections. Much reduced now, the PP has given rise to a chain of splits, first to form Ciudadanos, in turn shedding some members to form the more or less openly fascist Vox party. Any return of the PP to governing the Spanish state would require it to form a coalition with one or both of Cs and Vox.
The PSOE, formerly illegal under the Dictatorship, has on the surface many of the features of a western social-democratic party. However, it has been deeply implicated in repression of struggles in the Basque Country, including wide-scale torture of prisoners. Further, under the Felipe Gonzales presidency (prime ministership), the Spanish State ran terrorist squads carrying out kidnapping, torture, murder and bombings against pro-independence Basques. The operation was exposed in a series of articles in El Mundo and, although Gonzales didn’t face even a police interview, the eventual resulting list of convictions included the Minister of the Interior, Director of State Security, Sec-General of the PSOE in the Basque province of Bizkaia, Czar of the “Antiterrorist Struggle”, Bilbao Chief of Police Intelligence Brigade, another Police Chief, regional Governor for the Spanish State in Bizkaia, and a colonel, Chief of the Guardia Civil HQ in Intxaurrondo (Basque Country).
Although successfully unseating the PP Government on a vote of “no confidence” in the Government’s 2018 budget, the PSOE’s leader, Pedro Sanchez, was only able to enter government by forming a coalition with Unidas Podemos16, itself a coalition of left social-democrats, trotskyists and communists. Since the new Government took over the repression of Catalans of its predecessor, only releasing imprisoned Catalan activists on parole recently, it does not have the support of the Catalan independentists, with the exception of one major party which voted to help the Government’s budget scrape through, as did the official leadership of the Basque independence movement17.
Fascism was never defeated in the Spanish state, it merely put on a democratic mask, albeit faded and patched. The current members of the ruling class are mostly descendants of the military-fascist alliance of 1936 and virtually all beneficiaries of the Dictatorship, often sitting on wealth, industry and media expropriated from their opponents defeated in the Antifascist War. There are sections of active and militant fascists across the Spanish state with wide police and military connections, denouncing the independence initiatives in Catalonia, criticising immigration, ridiculing equality measures and parading with fascist symbols and salutes to exalt the memory of General Franco and Primo Rivera. Although some of those activities are illegal, they act with visible impunity. The Vox political party has stated openly that it wants to amend the Constitution to remove the status of regional autonomy, which they believe encourages aspiration for independence and thereby endangers the unity of the Spanish State.
Some government antifascist measures of late, along with the rise of independence activism in Catalonia have caused apprehension among this section of fascists, which finds expression in more rallies and demonstrations and increasingly threatening language and displays. The Government measures include the removal — long-promised by the PSOE — of Franco and Rivera’s remains from the mausoleum in the fascist monumental park of the Valle de los Caidos (“Valley of the Fallen”) which was built with political prisoner labour. The State’s TV service covered the event at length and in a manner resembling a homage ceremony.
Currently historical memory legislation is being promoted to assist in the discovery, investigation and honouring of the graves of the victims of Franco, while another piece of legislation seeks to make illegal any promotion of Franco or of fascism generally. The future of these initiatives is uncertain but the fact that even the current anti-fascist legislation is not upheld does not inspire confidence.
The Bishops’ concerns about the safety of the 1978 Constitutional State seem to be twofold: on the one hand they see the demands for self-determination of nations within its territory as a threat to the State while on the other hand they fear that the fascists will push matters to an extreme, i.e that “civil war” – and this time, the fascists will lose, in the course of which the State will fall. However a close reading also looks like a threat to the national liberation and democratic forces, a warning to desist from their challenges to the status quo – or else!
As to their concerns for their Church, the Bishops are correct in believing that it is under attack but misunderstand the nature of the opposition, a large part of which is more to do with resenting the privileged position of the Church within the Spanish State than a hatred of the institution and faith as a whole. The Church received €144 million in funding from the State18 in 2019, ultimately from the taxes levied on people, no matter what their religion or state of faith, their opinion of the institutions or of their activities. And the tax-payers have no control over those institutions.
Of course, the Church does have its enemies, people who will never forgive it for the role it has played in the abuse of people and for its role in history, in particular its support for the military-fascist uprising, the horrific repression during that war and again during the subsequent dictatorship.
But the Bishops are right about one thing – the Spanish state is very vulnerable. Which is no doubt also the reason for the general contradictory stance of most other states in the EU, which on the one hand wish the Spanish State would act in a more subtle way than naked repression, while on the other fearing the spillover effect of possible revolution and the territorial breakup of “Spain”.
2Cervantes, the most famous Spanish writer and much praised by the State today, never received any support from the Spanish Kingdom. In 1569 he fled a warrant for arrest due to wounding an opponent a duel. Later, his family could not afford his ransom when captured by Corsairs but his freedom was eventually bought by an organisation working to free Christian slaves in the Ottoman Empire. Employed later by the Spanish as a tax collector he was jailed briefly a number of times for “irregularities. He is celebrated as a writer not only in Spanish but his Don Quixote de la Mancha has been widely read in translation.
3The Guardia Civil is a Spanish state-wide police force but militarised — they have military ranks and live in barracks. The gendarme-type force is one common in states needing to control a disparate population with a history of rebellion, eg: the Carabinieri of Italy, Gendarmerie of France, Royal Irish Constabulary of Ireland under British rule (then the RUC in the colony, now the PSNI).
4Catalonia got its autonomy during its popular suppression of the coup attempt and, once the war was underway, three southern Basque provinces got theirs too, while the conservative Carlists in the fourth province, Nafarroa (Navarra) sided with the coup and massacred any supporters of the Government they could find. Galician autonomy was under discussion but after only two weeks of fighting in July 1936, the fascists took control and the project was abandoned. The fascists killed 800,000 people there, mostly civilians and after the hostilities.
5La Falangia Española, a fascist organisation founded by Primo Rivera (son of the General of the same name) in October 1933. It was later remodeled by Franco to unite all the fascist and right-wing nationalist organisations and from then was the only legal political party during the Franco Dictatorship.
6Both fascist powers also provided personnel, weapons, military transport, tanks …. the infamous urban centre bombing of Gernika was carried out by German and Italian planes. The Republican side received some assistance from the Mexican Government and in particular the Soviet Union and volunteers for the International Brigades. The balance of equipment and trained personnel was always however in favour of the fascist-military insurgents.
10The Comisiones today is much less under the influence of the PCE and, together with UGT, which remains under the control of the PSOE, form the two main Spanish trade unions, their leaderships institutionalised and generally collaborative with the State and for the union of Spain.
11Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Country And Freedom) was much more than the depiction of “terrorist” organisation one finds in most descriptions. It was a cultural and social Basque liberation organisation, persecuted by the Spanish State, against which it took up arms after almost a decade of repression and torture. After years of decline but during which the wider movement expanded hugely, ETA disbanded around 2012. Many of its convicted fighters remain dispersed throughout the jails of the Spanish and French states while others are in exile.
12A class union does not recruit members repressive forces (e.g. police, jailers, armed forces), nor of management in work places. Also Intersindical has a very democratic structure with an elected General Secretary permitted to serve for only two years.
15An exception is the attitude to the Catholic Church, which is generally critical in El País, in line with its more secular identity.
16Izquierda Unida (United Left), the often disunited coalition of mostly Trotskyist small groups coordinated by the CPE, formed an electoral coalition with Podemos just before the elections. Podemos arose from a small group of Trotskyists that emerged from 13M, the huge popular opposition to the Spanish State, especially in Madrid, in turn engendered by the protest movement commonly known as “Los Indignados”. Podemos rode that wave of indignation to win five seats in their first participation in elections, those to to the European Parliament in May 2014. In the 2015 General Elections on 20 December 2015, Podemos received 21% of the vote and became the third largest party in the Parliament, with 69 out of 350 seats. In subsequent elections, as part of coalitions, Podemos’ number of MPs in the Spanish Parliament has fallen consecutively to 49, 47, 32 and 26, with its 5 MEPs reduced to three. Conversely, the party’s membership is growing, according to reports.
As Limerick and Waterford county teams prepared to face one another in the GAA hurling semi-final at Croke Park stadium, anti-internment protesters and campaigners lined up outside Dublin’s General Post Office, in the city centre, to mark the 50th Anniversary on the introduction of internment without trial in the British colony of the Six Counties. Their placards, leaflets and speakers denounced the continuing practice of interning political activists in Ireland today.
The event was organised by the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, an independent and non-affiliated campaigning organisation and the supporters included a mixture of socialist Irish Republicans and anarchists. The heavy and persistent rain of the morning held off and Dublin city centre was thronged as GAA hurling supporters added to the usual shoppers. The banners and placards of the picketers drew considerable interest from those passing and here and there people stopped to discuss with them.
Some young Basque girls were curious but also delighted to see their nation’s flag, the ikurrina, being flown at the event and stopped to engage one of the picketers in discussion. Also in evidence was the flag of Amnistia, Basque organisation around solidarity with its political prisoners and against repression, along with the flag of Palestine.
Around 200 leaflets were distributed to passers-by, discussions were held and contacts were made with people interested in supporting the work of the Anti-Internment Group Ireland.
After some time in a picket line and distributing leaflets, a representative of the organisers, speaking in Irish and in English, welcomed the attendance and introduced a speaker from the Anti-Imperialist Action organisation.
Speaking in Irish as some passers-by stopped to listen, the young man said they were there to commemorate the introduction of internment and mindful of the existence of political prisoners all over the world. The were also protesting the extradition to Lithuania of Liam Campbell to face trial in a country in which he had never previously set foot.
The organisers’ representative then spoke in English about the history of repression in the Six Counties colony, how from the moment the nationalist community there stood up to demand equal rights and justice the State had responded with violence. Since the people raised the level of their resistance in response, the State in turn raised the level of its violence higher again, in a rising spiral of violence.
The nationalist community in the Six Counties had marched for civil rights and had been met with the violence of the colonial police and of the Loyalists — the speaker said — but they had continued to resist. Internment without trial was introduced to break that resistance but, knowing that would also lead to increased resistance, the State had prepared the Paratroopers to shoot unarmed civilians dead. They had done that in Ballymurphy on the very day that internment had been introduced1, he reminded his audience and later had shot dead two unarmed Cumann na mBan Volunteers (Republican women’s organisation) who were alerting people to the raiding parties of the British Army. At the start of the following year, the British Army murdered unarmed civilians again, this time in Derry2.
That year 1972, the speaker stated, had the highest death toll of any year during the three decades of the war3 and Loyalists were also bombing streets nearby in Dublin, again in 1973, killing workers. In 1974 Loyalists and British intelligence bombed the Dublin city centre again and Monaghan, killing the highest number of people killed in one day during the war4. That year too, the IRA bombed pubs in England and killed people and the State brought in the repressive Prevention of Terrorism Act against the Irish community. They jailed a score of innocent people on extremely serious charges5 and one of them, Giuseppe Conlon, died in jail6.
The speaker went on to say that although there had been hard repression before, the introduction of internment without trial and the follow-up massacres by the British Army had lit a fuse to a chain-reaction of violence for decades to follow.
Pointing out that internment consists of jailing people without trial, the speaker stated that the practice continues today, by refusing bail to political activists awaiting trial in the non-jury courts on both sides of the British Border. The Anti-Internment Group of Ireland will continue striving to expose this reality and he called on people to support the monthly pickets in the city centre and to follow the End Internment page on Facebook.
ONGOING AGITATING AGAINST INTERNMENT
As the applause died down people began to pack away flags, banners, placards and leaflets and to catch up socially among themselves or to engage with passers-by who had stopped to listen and/ or to ask questions.
Organisers of the event said they hope to hold another picket at some venue in the city centre in a month’s time – when scheduled, the event will be announced on the End Internment FB page.
1Between 9-11 August, British paratroopers caused the deaths of 11 unarmed civilians in Ballymurphy.
213 people were shot dead by British paratroopers on Bloody Sunday in Derry as they protested against internment and a 14th died later of his wounds.
3The period from August 1971 to the end of the year saw a huge jump to 136 violent deaths (including British and colonial armed forces) and the following year, 1972 is counted the most violent year of the conflict overall with 479 people killed (including 130 British soldiers) and 4,876 injured.
5The Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven, Giuseppe Conlon and Judith Ward. All were eventually cleared after long years of campaigning around them and failed court appeals.
6Giuseppe Conlon, hearing that his son Gerry had been arrested for the Guildford Pub Bombings, came to London to help him in 1974 and was swept up into the police net to become one of the innocent framed victims. Giuseppe Conlon was not a healthy man and died in his 7th year in jail, before the verdicts on the other framed prisoners were finally overturned. His son Gerry, also an innocent man in jail, was not permitted to attend his father’s funeral.
In the midst the protests in Colombia the press can be heard denouncing the vandals and various politicians from the left and right have echoed these criticisms in one way or another. The headlines speak of the destruction of private property and in some cases they try to mark a distinction between what they say is legitimate protest and vandalism.
The word “vandal”, means someone who commits acts pertaining to savage and destructive people and is who destroys a public asset or installation. Other definitions speak of destroying or damaging what is beautiful. It should be said that the Transmilenio mass transport system stations are not one bit beautiful. But should the youths be ashamed or proud of being called vandals?
We should look at the origin of the word. The first vandals were Germanic tribes that in 455 A.D. attacked and sacked Rome carrying away great riches and also destroying buildings, amongst them the Temple of Jupiter, though there is some dispute about the severity of the destruction of the city. However, they went down in history as the vandals who destroyed that city. The more modern use of the person who destroys public assets or private property or damages what is beautiful dates from the middle ages and its use is widespread nowadays.
Of course when Vicky Dávila and other right wing journalists speak of vandals they are not talking about Germanic tribes, or at least that is what we believe, though with Vicky even drug traffickers, paramilitaries and corrupt politicians are decent folk, so one is never sure about the meaning of the words that fall from her lips like the Police stun grenades.
But words and their meanings are not set in stone. Some words enter a language and in short time fall into disuse, others last for centuries and some come back to life when least we expect like when Kim Jong-un’s translator used the word “Dotard” to describe Trump. That word hadn’t seen the light of day since the US Civil War in the 19th Century. Other words simply change their meaning, sometimes slowly and on other occasions they do so more abruptly.
The press has used this word so often to describe and disparage the social protests that we may be witnesses to another change in meaning. The bourgeois press has emptied the word of any meaning and now in the marches people can be seen with placards that say Vandal’s Honour and in social media there are memes doing the rounds on the subject. One of them says “The country turned upside down and this one says, what are you and I? Well, vandals my love.” They used the word so often to describe any act of rebellion, nonconformity or to and try and shut down and discredit the demonstrators that it has lost its power, its meaning. Now it is a badge of honour for many. Vandal no longer means a savage destructive person but rather a person who fights to be heard, for justice. A vandal is whoever fights against Duque, neoliberalism and poverty.
The word is changing its connotation and once again it is closer to its original meaning, a tribe that defied an Empire, although in this case the Colombian emperor seems more like the Emperor Nero (54-68 A.D.) who played on his Lyre whilst Rome burned than the poor Petronius Maximus who only lasted a few weeks in power. Duque doesn’t play the Lyre but rather the Guitar, but there he is and Nero’s regime was one of extravagance, waste and tyranny and Nero in the middle of it all playing on his Lyre.
The sacking of Rome in 455 A.D. was the third sacking that the city suffered. There were a further five sackings after the Vandals. It should be remembered that the Vandals sacked the capital of a decadent Empire that deserved to be extinguished.
So as the meme puts it, ask the question, what are you and I? And answer:
We are Vandals my love, we damage the hated system of mass transport built with public funds legally stolen to set up a private transport business which to top it all takes 94% of the profits of a business and barely contributes a penny to its own maintenance.
We are Vandals my love, we destroy banks that receive more subsidies from the state than the poor who are denied loans by these banks, which don’t hesitate for a single moment to confiscate the houses of the poor.
We are Vandals my love, who in the face of the lives and censorship of the bourgeois press make our smothered voices reverberate on the walls of the city. Who needs Twitter when you even the poorest can see the walls?
We are Vandals my love, who in the face of the attacks by the Police throw rocks at them that are found all about the place in the poorly built public infrastructural projects, in a country where the thieves don’t know how to build a pavement and where half the bricks are badly placed.
We are Vandals my love, we fight against a decadent government and system.
We are Vandals my love, and our favourite letter is V:
V for Vengeance on the rich that kill us, rob us and lie to us.
Thousands rallied in the centre of Dublin today, Saturday 22nd May, to express their solidarity with the Palestinian people and their outraged opposition to the murderous attacks on them by the Israeli State. From O’Connell Street they marched across O’Connell Bridge, into Dawson Street and from there straight along Mount Street, across the Grand Canal and on to the Israeli Embassy. Speakers emphasised that the ceasefire, even if it holds, is in essence temporary, since the Israeli occupation has led to war after war and must inevitably lead to another, stating the need therefore to work for an end to the apartheid and similar policies of the Israeli state.
The event was organised by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which had an acapella singing group perform a few songs at the Spire and a number of speakers before they set off on the 3 km march and more speakers outside the Embassy too. Conservative estimates put the number on the march at over 5,000. The slogans shouted for the most part were: “Free, free Palestine!” “One, two, three four – Occupation no more!”; “Five, six, seven, eight – Israel is a terrorist state!” and “Boycott Israel!” “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” was another slogan.
The ceasefire is now in place since early yesterday (Friday). The current war began with two offensives by the Israeli Zionists on Palestinians in Jerusalem: the first by Israeli settlers harassing and threatening Palestinian residents in the Sheik Jarrah district that they are going to have them evicted because “all of Jerusalem should be Jewish only”; the other nearby in the vicinity of Al Aqsa mosque, where Israeli police harassed Muslims coming to celebrate the religious festival of Eid (this year on May 12th– 13th), culminating in an armed invasion of the temple by Israeli police firing rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades at the devotees. However the dates fell close also to the anniversary of the Nakba, the Castastrophe of 15 May 1948, the founding of the Zionist state, massacres of Palestinians and expulsion of more than 700,000 refugees whose descendants are in many parts of the world today, forbidden by the Israeli authorities to return.
In the 11 days of war just past at least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, have been killed by the Israeli forces, whilst on the Israeli side, despite hundreds of home-made Palestinian rockets fired at Israel, 12 people, including two children, have been killed. Many buildings in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza have been destroyed or part-destroyed, including hospitals and medical centres and there is major disruption to electrical service and water supply in a city which often experienced power and water flow cuts even in what passed for “normal” times in Gaza. Those killed were mostly in Gaza but Israeli forces killed 11 unarmed civilians in the West Bank also and wounded many, as they came on to the streets in solidarity with those in Gaza and in Jerusalem.
Street events in solidarity with Palestine were also held in cities and towns across Ireland, including Cork, Limerick, Galway, Belfast, Derry and in fact in most counties.
The police on this occasion did not carry out harassment of demonstrators1 but in at least one instance, in Northumberland Road, stopped a section of the march to wave through traffic across it, putting uninvolved pedestrians crossing on a green light in danger. This occurred despite two marchers attempting to block the traffic, the Garda calling one a pejorative name and ordering him to stand aside.
This was a job for official stewards and in fact, there were far too few of these. I saw perhaps around 20 getting instructions from the Chief Steward before the march at the Spire, some of whom seemed inexperienced but around 50 stewards were needed for a march this size, with a core of around 30 experienced. Stewards could be seen at times enforcing the rule to wear masks, as some young people removed them to shout slogans but once the middle of the march neared the Canal it was rare to see a steward.
A Far-Right group calling themselves “Rise Up Eireann” (sic — who apparently don’t even know the official name of their country) had called for events in various parts of Ireland and had advertised the GPO as being one of the venues.
With apparent lack of awareness they scheduled theirs in Dublin for the same time as the Palestine solidarity rally, 2pm. No far-Right group was seen but one individual, a prominent QAnon activist posted a video of the Palestine solidarity marchers while voicing her disgust that the cops were not batoning or even harassing the demonstrator as they allegedly do to demonstrators demonstrating “for our civil rights.”2.
Speaker after speaker at the event pointed out that Israeli massacres and other onslaughts are often followed by ceasefires and back to “normal” oppression and theft of land, until the next war. As long as Israel is an apartheid occupying state, war is inevitable and so is oppression. Some speakers urged those present to encourage people in their social, educational, community and trade union groups to sign up to boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. A much more specific direction was given by Richard Boyd Barrett TD, who urged people to write emails to their TDs (parliamentary representatives) in advance of Tuesday’s debate in the Dáil, asking them to vote in favour of the “Occupied Territories” Bill.3
A young Palestinian speaker from a Jerusalem district spoke with passion and made an interesting point, that a demonstration such as this one would be labelled “terrorist” by the Israelis and people would be liable to be shot with live rounds as well as with less lethal projectiles and gas.
It is a terrible statistical fact that in Israeli attacks on Gaza, one quarter have been children. Outside the Israeli Embassy the crowd grew quiet as a child read out the names of the children killed in Gaza, which was followed by a call for a minute’s silence in respect. The crowd was so big that out on one of the fringes, they did not hear the call and were chanting slogans.
Other speakers included a Palestinian young woman Ola at the Spire and Mags O’Brien of SIPTU outside the Embassy, where Martin Quigley, former Chairperson of the IPSC launched into a denunciation of Israel and of the Biden and the USA’s role in Palestine.
YOUTH & STARRY PLOUGH
As with other Palestine solidarity marches recently, a significant part of the whole consisted of Palestinians and other Arabs, among which the youth were particularly noticeable with young women very much to the fore and vociferous. One group of young Arab women shouted slogans non-stop from O’Connell Street to Northumberland Road, where I parted company with them to take up another position and could hear them chanting still as they marched on.
One would hope these youth have opportunities to become organised and gain experience to be leaders of the future.
I brought two flags, a “Starry Plough”4 and one in Palestinian national colours, a friend carrying the ‘Plough most of the time. There was I heard only one other on the march. It is natural and proper that we carry and fly the Palestinian national colours but it seems to me that we should carry indications of Irishness too, to represent Ireland in solidarity with Palestine. This was represented in some placards but flags are more visible and it would be good to see more of them on Palestine solidarity demonstrations.
The Starry Plough flag also aroused interest with many asking what it represented and it was good to be able to tell them that it was the flag of the army of the Irish Citizen Army, the first working class army in the world, one which recruited women and that some of them were officers.
PLACARDS & BANNERS
1Prior to last Saturday (15th) the Irish police threatened the IPSC with intervening to stop the march and huge fines for responsible individuals under Covid19 legislation; luckily the Trinity BDS Campaign took on the risk of repercussions and called the demonstration instead. On Tuesday, for a smaller march, the Gardaí kept the Pembroke Road open despite the danger of rush-hour traffic to the crowd, then continually urged demonstrators in towards the Embassy, forcing them into close contact with others and, when this was pointed out to them, just shrugged.
2In actual fact, Far-Right groups seemed to enjoy complete impunity for months as they held rallies, pickets and marches, without wearing masks or socially distancing, including at the GPO, while nearby, people picketing is solidarity with political prisoners and Debenhams picketers were harassed by Gardaí. Also, at a Yellow Vests rally in August 2020 a mob organised by the fascist National Party attacked unarmed counter-protesters with iron bars and wooden clubs while the Gardaí, instead of arresting them, attacked the victims and drove them off the quay with raised batons and violent shoves (see “There Will Be Another Day” article on the Rebel Breeze blog). A few weeks later, the cops allowed members of the NP to attack a handful of women opponents in Kildare Street and to club one of them, then again drove the victims back. On both occasions the Gardaí told press afterwards that there had been no violence but in the second case had to amend their statement hours later and weeks later charge a fascist individual with the assault.
3Under international law, it is illegal for Israel or Israeli settlers to sell products from the Occupied territories in Palestine, since they are even by UN law illegally occupied. However, the products are exported and sold in many parts of the world including all over Europe. The “Occupied Territories” Bill, if passed into Irish law, would make it an offence to import or re-sell products from those territories and would have an economic as well as a political impact. Although the Bill was framed in 2018 and supported by all political parties except Fine Gael, the Government has dragged its heels about bringing it before the Dáil to be discussed and Tuesday’s will be its Third Reading after which, with enough votes in favour, it will become law.
4“The Starry Plough” is modeled on the shape of the Ursa Mayor constellation. The original version has a green field with a plough in gold following the shape of the constellation, with the seven stars in white or silver. The plough has a sword in the position of the ploughshare. The later version, from the Republican Congress, is on a blue field with the the seven stars only in white (or silver) following the shape of Ursa Mayor and no other feature.
The oppression of the Palestinians led to an outbreak of active resistance recently in Jerusalem, to which the Israeli Army reacted with increased repression, timed to harass Palestinian Muslims during the period of Ramadan and the height of devotees attending the Al-Aqsa mosque, escalating into attacks on worshippers within the temple itself. At the same time, Israeli Zionist settlers threatened dozens of Palestinian families with eviction from their homes in East Jerusalem. Reacting to these events, one of the Palestinian organisations fired home-made rockets into officially Israeli territory, to which the Israeli armed forces responded in turn with drone missiles and missiles from its air force jets on Gaza. As Palestinians in the West Bank came out on to the streets to protest, they were fired on with live ammunition by Israeli soldiers. The death toll has climbed to 200 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, including 59 children and 35 women, with 1,305 people wounded; while ten Israelis have been killed, two of them children.
The casualty figures once again show the gross disproportion between what the Palestinians and their Zionist masters experience: in civil and human rights, citizenship, in land ownership, electricity and clean water supply, heating, fishing, education facilities, building materials, freedom to travel inside and outside the state, in depth and breadth of surveillance, in arms and defence capability, in states that support them. And in city structural damage: despite the many home-made rockets launched against the zionists, there has yet been no significant damage in Israeli towns, while their armed forces have effected large-scale structural damage in Gaza and bodies are still being pulled from the rubble.
In only one area perhaps do the Palestinians have the advantage over the Israeli Zionists: in support among the people around the world.
PALESTINIAN SOLIDARITY MARCH DEFIES POLICE THREATS
Responding to these attacks on Palestinians the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the main organisation for Palestinian solidarity in Ireland, called for solidarity demonstrations and in particular advertised a solidarity rally to take place in Dublin’s city centre for 2pm on Saturday 15th May, asking those in attendance to comply with measures against Covid19 infection, to wear masks, maintain social distancing and comply with stewards’ instructions.
The IPSC was contacted by the Irish police force, the Gardaí, who told them not to go ahead with the event, that if they did they would intervene to stop it and also made threats of €5,000 fines and prison against the organisers. In a later public statement the Gardaí declared that they “have no role in permitting or authorising marches or gatherings. There is no permit/ authorisation required for such events”! But there is apparently an ability and power to intimidate and threaten progressive organisations to deter them from organising solidarity events.
Or to kettle socialist and socialist republican Mayday marchers and demand all their names, addresses and dates of birth before threatening them with arrest if they did not disperse. Or to threaten Debenham workers and their supporters, assaulting some of them while escorting KPMG forces in to evaluate stocks during pandemic restrictions.
The predicament of the IPSC exposed the vulnerability to this kind of intimidation of a broad organisation that seeks to win friends in ruling circles. The leaders and organisers are placed in a position of not only personal but also of organisational vulnerability. Even should they be prepared to defy the State to fine and/or imprison them, would they also be prepared to damage their organisation, to lose some friends they are cultivating in the circles of political influence? What was one of the strengths of a broad organisation can thus be converted into a weakness, whereas a more radical or even revolutionary organisation, with less influence in influential circles can decide on defiance, risk fines and jail with however perhaps less possibility of influencing official opinion and ultimately, action.
Fortunately in this case one such organisation did step forward and took up the baton: the Trinity College BDS group expressed its solidarity with the IPSC on its treatment by the Gardaí and called their own rally for the exact same place and time as the original one called by the IPSC.
Video of rally at end of demonstration, near Israeli Embassy
Despite concern over Covid19 transmission and Garda threats – and the extremely short notice and much smaller circle of contacts of the TC BDS group — the response was magnificent, both in expression of internationalist solidarity and in maintenance of the right of the people in Ireland to organise such progressive events.
Before the appointed hour, people began to gather in large numbers at the Spire in O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main street and north city centre and, after being addressed by a number of speakers, set off in a march towards the Israeli Zionist Embassy near Ballsbridge, beyond the south city centre. As they marched their numbers grew until, approaching the Embassy, they numbered several thousand. Along the way, bystanders applauded the marchers and passing vehicles blew their horns in solidarity.
Marchers shouted slogans of solidarity with the Palestinians, calling for the freedom of Palestine and the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador as a mark of the Irish people’s objection to what is being done to the Palestinians.
Near the Embassy, a number of speakers addressed the crowd and after dispersing, a number of demonstrators boarding public transport to return home were congratulated by the drivers.
LESSONS FOR US
The situation regarding calling and holding the demonstration in Dublin outlined some of the weaknesses of a broad organisation when it faces repression from the State and the greater resilience of a smaller organisation in being able to defy the State. It may be necessary in future to maintain support for both types of organisation, each being appropriate for particular situations.
Also demonstrated was the necessity to openly defy unjust laws and prohibitions at times and particularly around the right to organise, to protest and to show solidarity, which the demonstrators did so well on Saturday. Such situations also reveal the difficulty for the Gardaí in carrying out repressive actions and they are reduced to threatening individuals.
THE FAR-RIGHT MARCHES TOO – FOR WHAT?
Meanwhile, a couple of hundred of the far-Right also marched in Dublin, allegedly in defence of civil liberty. Not in solidarity with the Palestinians’ civil liberties and not in defence of our civil liberty to organise to show solidarity with people in other struggles. No, they marched in defence of the right to defy health protection regulations, in proclaiming the Covid19 pandemic to be a) a hoax or b) greatly exaggerated, in claiming that wearing masks damages one’s health and even intelligence(!), in insisting that vaccinations are a) dangerous to one’s health or b) means of injecting nano-machines into people’s bloodstream in order to control them.
A clip posted by Ireland Against Fascism showed one of the QAnon Saturday screechers for months outside the GPO, Dolores Webster, aka Dee Wall, lately self-declared “digital journalist” (don’t laugh), in total ignorance of the actual reality (but when has that mattered?), broadcast a claim by video from her studio (her car), accompanied by the strains of Abba from the headphones of her head-bobbing passenger, that the “scum in the Dawl” had allowed the Palestinian solidarity march to go ahead to distract from the alleged general removal of freedom and in particular from the far-Right group Irish Yellow Vests to hold their rally on May 1st.
When all the Covid19 precautionary restrictions are removed, what will these elements have to march about? The will need to return to the topics that engaged many of them in the recent past: racism, anti-immigrants, islamophobia, homophobia and anti-socialism, along with their false patriotism. None of that is welcome of course but at least it will be without this false concern for “civil rights and freedom” and closer to the reality of what the far-Right in general stand for – and fascists in particular.
SUPERPOWER BACKING AND IMPUNITY
The current atrocities of the Zionist State, which it carries out with impunity, along with its history, starkly reveals the effect of its main backing power, the USA, and the imperialist alliance dominated by that Power. The USA backs Israel with military aid to the tune of $10 Million daily, which is aside from other direct and indirect aid. Israel is the only state in the Middle East which is not only very friendly to the USA but totally dependent on the support of that superpower. For the ruling class of the USA, Israel is the only state in the Middle East which is totally safe forever from fundamentalist Muslim revolution or from left-wing anti-imperialist revolution and is therefore an extremely important factor in the USA’s plans to totally dominate the Middle East.
This imperialist alliance finds reflection not only in the action/ inaction of governments in Europe, for example but also in the reporting of the mass media. One of the latter’s tropes is the constant emphasis on the numbers of Palestinian missiles fired, without revealing their general ineffectiveness in delivering destruction, in total contrast to the Israeli missiles. Another is their constant repetition of a lie, that “Hamas seized power in Gaza”. The truth is that Hamas swept the board in the Palestinian Authority elections in 2006. The “seizing” that was done was by Al Fatah, which usurped the results in the West Bank and installed themselves there; they tried to do the same in Gaza and, in a short fierce struggle, were beaten.
But the Western powers decided that Hamas was illegitimately in power, seized funds due to it and supported its blockading – by both Israel and Egypt. No explanation is offered in the general mass media as to how a generally politically-secular Palestinian public would turn from its decades of allegiance to Fatah to vote for the fundamentalist Muslim Hamas, which was Fatah’s surrender of the goals of Palestinian independence and freedom and the return of the refugees, in exchange for running a colonial administration with opportunities for living off bribery and corruption and Fatah’s settling down to that status quo.
CASTING A GIANT DARK SHADOW
It was not only in Dublin and in towns across Ireland that Palestine solidarity demonstrations were held on May 15th but by people across much of the world, generally in opposition to the wishes of their governments and ruling elites. It is worth thinking about how this has come about, in particular in contradiction to a mass media hostile to the Palestinians.
The Zionist state of Israel was declared in 1948, its anniversary actually only three days ago – May 14th, the first states to recognise it being the USA and the USSR. In Ireland at the time, there was general support for the new state which continued to the “June War” of 1967 and somewhat beyond. The general Irish population were horrified by the history of the Nazi-organised Holocaust and sympathised with the Jewish survivors. Irish nationalists and even Republicans empathised with the Zionist civil and armed struggle against the British (who, ironically, had begun the process of Zionisisation of Palestine). The 1966 film Cast a Giant Shadow purporting to show that struggle, starring Kirk Douglas and a cameo appearance by Frank Sinatra, was widely enjoyed and cheered in cinemas across Ireland. Though some of the film’s characters were based on real-life counterparts, the general narrative was a grotesque distortion, hiding the massacres of Palestinians and the expulsion of thousands as the Zionist state was created.
Many Irish language supporters admired how the new state had brought the Hebrew language, for centuries only spoken in religious contexts, back into everyday usage.
Yet, a few years ago, general pro-Palestinian sympathy across Ireland had become so strong that Israel’s Ambassador to Ireland declared the country “the most anti-semitic in Europe”. That of course is what the Zionists call anyone who supports the Palestinians or criticises the Israeli state harshly and only a few days ago, the current Ambassador accused some politicians of spewing hate towards Israel. He was responding not only to Left and Sinn Féin TDs who criticised the actions of Israel towards the Palestinians, but also to the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister equivalent) Leo Varadkar who commented that Israel’s actions are “indefensible” and Government Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who said at an EU conference that the EU had “fallen short” and failed to project its influence in agreeing a common position in opposition to illegal activity by the Israelis against Palestinians.
The fact that establishment right-wing politicians feel obliged to take a public stand, however ineffectively, against actions of the Israeli Zionists and implicitly against the Zionists’ biggest international backer and world superpower, the USA, is a strong indication of how much Irish public opinion has changed over decades. Since the Cast a Giant Shadow film, the state’s shadow of which we are aware now is indeed frighteningly giant and very dark. In response, the natural cultural and historical feelings of the Irish people have stirred in sympathy with the oppressed Palestinians – and in defiance of threatened police repression at home.
For months the Duque government in Colombia has been unleashing violent repression on its people, in particular those who organise or participate in protests. The statistics are frightening, which is what they are intended to be: 40 dead, hundreds injured (some with loss of an eye), nearly 170 “disappeared”. Yet the people continue to protest.
What all this has exposed is that Colombia, despite its support by western states, has no democracy and that its vaunted “peace process”, like all others elsewhere before it or since, has had nothing to do with peace but everything to do with pacification. Unlike many in other parts of the world however, its acceptance by the FARC was the prelude to intensified State repression, with assassinations of leaders and activists of popular democratic movements. Also exposed is the lie that Colombia and the USA are truly involved in a “War on Drugs”, a commodity the sale of in which most of the political class of Colombia are involved and the profits in which the financial institutions in Colombia and much of the world are active in laundering.
Meanwhile, the people are subjected to economic squeeze, they protest, they are shot, beaten, tortured, raped, disappear ….
In two weeks of protests, statistics from the Defensoria del Pueblo (a kind of Ombudsman), listed 42 dead and 168 reported “disappeared”; of the dead, 41 were civilians and one was a member of the State security forces. A 17-year-old female demonstrator was reportedly sexually abused by four police officers and took her own life afterwards. Protesters burned the station where it happened but the officers themselves remain at large.
Protestors burning the station where police officers sexually violated a 17-year-old demonstrator who took her own life afterwards.
WHO KILLED VILLA?
Lucas Villa Vasquez, an iconic figure in the peaceful demonstrations, dancing and carrying out acrobatic acts, was shot during the General Strike, was declared brain dead in hospital and had his life-support system turned off, his heart stopping finally on 11th of May. Andrés Felipe Castaño, a 17-year-old youth shot on the same day underwent two operations before he could come off the critical list.
Who killed Villa? Not Duque, the President wanted people to believe as he sent a message of condolence to Villa’s family, the first personal condolence he has offered since the demonstrations – and the killing – began, except for the one police officer killed so far. Not the Police, their Director General, Major General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia insisted, insisting his force is working hard to find the culprits and that a reward for information has risen to 100 million pesos1 for information. But people who know how these things work are only in doubt about one question: was it the police themselves who killed Villa and nearly killed Andrés Felipe, or was it one of the State-sponsored fascist gangs (which have strong links with the police and army)?
Villa has joined over 40 martyrs known to have been killed by the forces of the State; since their names are known only to their families or smaller political and social circles, Villa’s name stands for them all. As did Dilan Cruz before him, shot at close range to the head by a “non-lethal” beanbag in October 2019. And what of the nearly 170 disappeared? Are some of them already dumped into pits or rivers? Others in prison cells, awaiting their next session with the torturers? Or in the case of female prisoners, awaiting their next incident of violation?
Man in blue top and white trousers dancing in some clips was Lucas Villa Vasquez
Two Latin American league soccer matches in Colombia were affected on Wednesday: Visitors from Argentina’s River Plate team had their warm-up in Barranquilla abandoned for awhile due to the volume of police tear gas drifting in from outside and loud bangs could be heard also. That was a Copa Libertadores game and another, between Atletico Nacional and Nacional of Uruguay in Pereira was delayed by an hour due to protests there.
The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) moved matches from Colombia to Paraguay and Ecuador last week to ensure the protests did not affect games but the Copa America is due to be held in Colombia and Argentina next month with Colombia hosting 15 games including the final of the world’s oldest international tournament. The title match is due to be held in Barranquilla on July 10.
“SUSTAINABLE SOLIDARITY” WITH WHOM?
Part of the reason for the protests in the first place was the proposed tax reform by another name: Sustainable Solidarity Law. The Duque Government plans by this system to collect 23 billions in Colombian pesos (US$ 6,300 millions) by extending its tax base, to avoid any further increase in the country’s international risk qualification, to institutionalise the basic income level and build a fund to comply with its environmental protection targets.
Well, ok, but who is going to pay this tax-by-another name? According to the Minister of Finance himself, Alberto Carrasquilla, 73% is to be contributed by ordinary citizens and the rest by the companies.
Art in active resistance
In addition, the law proposes to apply the collection of Value Added Tax, which in Colombia is up to 19%, to basic consumer products such as public services (water, electricity and gas), funeral services, electronic items such as computers and other services that have been exempt until now.
Add to that ongoing State repression in the countryside, the number of unemployed nationally rising to 4.1 million as a result of the pandemic and the country was ready to take to the streets. But not ready for the repression of the demonstrators that followed.
President Duque asked the Colombian Parliament to withdraw the new tax reform which they did but the people are on their feet now, as they say there; now they have martyrs too on top of the issues they already had.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
It is up to the people of Colombia, the workers, civil servants, small business people, indigenous – to free themselves. None else can do it. But we owe them solidarity, just as we in turn have claimed solidarity (and will claim again) from others. It is difficult at the moment to see how our solidarity can express itself in much more than symbolic form, such as pickets, demonstrations, articles and memes on social media. But even those have more than a moral effect, for the Colombian Embassy staff here have as part of their duties to collect information on how the regime in Colombia is viewed in Ireland and to report that to their bosses at home. And since the Colombian ruling class needs to do business around the world ….
The Colombian masses also need to know that they do not stand alone, that others are watching, applauding them, cursing their enemies, mourning their martyrs.
We can also assist by continuing our efforts against another faraway enemy of democracy, the main instigator and protector of reaction, repression and oppression around the world, and main external supporter of the Colombian regime, trainer of its repressive forces – the ruling class of the United States of America.
Solidaridad con el pueblo Colombiano! Dlúthpháirtíocht le poball na Colóime!
TV news report on the general strike, general protests against killing by government forces; mothers and grandmothers of murdered protesters demonstrate against “Public Order” forces; Duque tries to present concern and gives a concession to students at a certain level: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xz8ed0hS6OQ