UNITY – IS IT A GOOD THING?

Diarmuid Breatnach

One often hears it said that we need more unity, that “unity is strength” and on the other side the despairing wail (and sometimes facile sneer) that “the Left (or Republicans) are too disunited to do anything”. But rarely does one see the question analysed. Unity with whom? On what basis? For how long? Can unity actually contribute to weakness instead of strength?

I have five siblings and at times we quarreled among ourselves, especially the older ones. I remember my mother telling me about a father (or it might have been a mother), who asked his five sons (who presumably also quarreled) to bring him ten sticks as long as their hands and as thick as their thumbs. Of they went, probably quarreling about where would be the best place to get them, who should be in charge, what kind of wood etc……. But eventually, they arrived and produced the ten sticks.

The father handed one stick to each son and then asked them to snap it in two. Puzzled, each one tried and, of course, succeeded easily. Then the father picked up the remaining five sticks and tied them together in a bundle. He handed the bundle over to his youngest son and asked him to snap the bundle in two. The youngest son tried until sweat broke out on his brow but was unable to break them.

Hand the bundle over to your brother,” said the father, indicating the next youngest of the brothers. The son shamefacedly handed over the bundle. But he cheered up when he saw that brother couldn’t break it either. And so it went, the bundle passing up the line until it came to the eldest and though he sweated and strained, he also failed.

Do you see,” asked the father, “how easy it was to break any one of you on your own? And how impossible when you were all together?”

My mother had adapted an old European story attributed to a Greek slave called Aesop in the 4th or 5th century BCE but we didn’t know that then. As we grew older the story seemed to reflect a truism, one that had been incorporated into movements of resistance including defensive ones such as trade unions.1

The bundle of sticks motif on advertisement by union banner artists, with the motto “Unity Is Strength” (Source: Internet)

But of course, we also saw movements and organisations grow and split. I witnessed a lot of such activity (and participated in some of it) while working in London and some of my siblings passed through Sinn Féin, Official Sinn Féin and the IRSP and another passed through Sinn Féin and Provisional Sinn Féin (as did my father before he left that and joined Republican Sinn Féin).

And always the wailing cry all around – if only we were all united! The call for unity seems so intuitive, so basic that one rarely gets to hear any of the harmful effects of unity. But is that because there are no harmful effects? On the contrary!

IRELAND AND CHINA

The nationalist Irish Volunteers organisation was formed in 1913, ostensibly in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers the previous year with a declared aim of preventing Home Rule (a kind of national autonomy similar to that of the Dominion territories then) which had been promised to the nationalists (broadly-speaking, the vast majority of the Irish population). The Irish Republican Brotherhood, the moving force behind the foundation of the Irish Volunteers, had plans to use it in insurrection against Britain.

The nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party, the preferred conservative, constitutionalist and even pro-Empire party of the Catholic Irish bourgeoisie, at first ignored the movement. But when it grew to 100,000 members amid enormous enthusiasm, the IPP became worried it might oppose them politically and John Redmond, the party leader, demanded an additional 25 places for nominees of theirs on the Volunteers’ 25-member executive, even though it already contained some supporters of theirs. The IRB, who despised Redmond as a collaborator with British rule, held a meeting among themselves and agreed to vote against accepting that pressure. Most of them did vote against but some changed their mind and, along with some non-IRB nationalists on the executive voted in favour, so that the Redmonites were admitted on to the organisation’s controlling body.

At that time, the IPP was the largest Irish nationalist party and no other party came even close in winning the votes of Catholic men eligible to vote. It is easy to see what the majority on the executive must’ve thought when they voted to accept them: “We’ll be stronger after this, more united; the Catholic Church and the Catholic media will be friendly towards us and encourage even more recruitment. Britain will have to give us Home Rule and we can have an argument later about what kind of politics we want for Ireland when we have our own Dáil” (Parliament). On the other hand, they might have thought that unity with Redmond and his IPP would be far better than being opposed by them.

IRB men Thomas Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada and others were furious – they foresaw a time in the future when Redmond and his IPP would use their positions, along with allies they had made on the Executive, to try to sabotage the project of Irish independence, upon which the IRB had set its mind and heart. Such an event came to pass after the outbreak of the First World War when John Redmond made his speech on 20th September 1914, on the occasion of reviewing a Volunteer troop at Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow, encouraging the Volunteers to enlist in the British Army.

That call, and the resistance to it from within the movement and its executive body, led to a split which reduced the Irish Volunteers from the 170,000 membership which it had reached to a force of 12,300, the majority siding with Redmond and many going on to the war slaughter on the Continent.

The IRB continued to organise in secret among the remaining Volunteers but a number of the Volunteers’ founding executive had always been non-IRB, such as Eoin Mac Neill and The O’Rahilly, and that continued to be the case. When they learned at the last moment that the IRB nucleus planned to proceed with an uprising on Easter Sunday 1916 and calling out the Volunteers to join, Eoin Mac Neill and The O’Rahilly2 did everything they could to halt it. They succeeded only in sabotaging it sufficiently that only about on third of the Volunteers mobilised, and they mostly in Dublin, on Easter Monday instead.

The above lines in these examples are not typed to suggest that thousands of Irish would not have gone to join the British Army in 1914 or even that the whole of the Irish Volunteers would have taken part in the Rising were it not for a) Redmond’s split and b) the cancellation by Mac Neill. I reproduce them only to show that unity can have harmful effects too.

After the 1916 Rising, the survivors of Cumann na mBan, Irish Volunteers, Fianna Éireann and some from the Irish Citizen Army reformed their military organisation which in time came to be called the Irish Republican Army and fought the War of Independence from 1919-1921 against the British. The IRA and the party that had grown around them, Sinn Féin, was also a coalition of people of different ideologies and, when the British offered a partial compromise of a partitioned Dominion status “independence”, the movement split again, out of which emerged the State and its vicious Civil War, with the execution of 83 Republicans by the new State and many unofficial murders carried out by its security forces.

L-R: Chiang Kai Shek, Mao Zedong, photographed in 1945 during short-lived repetition of Chinese Nationalist-Communist alliance against Japanese invasion (photo: Jack Wilkes, Internet)

Let us go a bit further in geography though not so far in time to the unity between the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai Check, a national bourgeois party, against feudal warlords and the plunder of their country by foreign imperialists. The First United Front, also known as the KMT–CPC Alliance, was formed in 1923. Together, they formed the National Revolutionary Army and set out in 1926 on the Northern Expedition. The alliance fell apart due to factors and incidents we need not go into but the result was an anti-communist purge of Communists and the Shanghai massacre of 1927, in which between 300 and 400 were purged and 5,000 communist and trade union militants disappeared. It took the Communist Party two decades to recover their strength and begin to build their influence.

Again, recounting this history is not necessarily in order to prove that the Communists were wrong in their attempt at unity but merely to show the disastrous effect of the way in which events turned out for them and how vulnerable they were because of that unity at that time. In the 1940s, on the other hand, another unity worked out better for the Communist-led patriotic forces, though Chiang Kai Shek had to be forced into that alliance.

THE PEOPLE, UNITED, CAN NEVER BE …”

In Chile in the early 1970s, a left-wing democratic anti-imperialist movement grew. It had many different components: nationalistic and/ or social democratic petit-bourgeoisie; revolutionary communists; revolutionary socialists of other types; masses of supporters of unclear ideology but focused on social justice and opportunity to make more of their lives and the lives of their children. Its party was the Popular Unity party and the leader of this coalition was Salvador Allende, essentially a social-democrat, who was elected President.

The United States ruling class, the major imperialist power in the area, not only seriously disliked many of the policies of the new Chilean regime but also feared that the ideas might catch on in other parts of the world or, even worse, that people outside Chile in Latin America would gain hope and confidence from what was going on in Chile and attempt the same in their own countries. The problem was that the Chilean people had voted by majority for the Allende option. Well, not so much of a problem for the USA – they had disposed of democratically-elected governments in the under-developed world before. Obviously a coup was what was needed – and the CIA began to work for one.

The CIA or even 50 CIAs cannot overthrow a government – to do so they need an army of some sort. It might be by US military invasion, as they did in Nicaragua in 1912, Haiti in 1915, or Dominican Republic in 1916. Or it might be by invasion of a neighbouring region, as they did by supporting and instigating the invasion of Guatemala from Honduras in 1954 or of Iran by Iraq in 1980. The Iraq-Iran war lasted eight years but the Iranian government did not fall and Iraq was defeated. Or it might be by a “rebel” army, such as the infamous Bay of Pigs US-funded invasion of Cuba in 1961 or the Contras, funded and trained by the USA, against the Sandinista Nicaraguan Government from 1979 to the early 1990s. Or it might be the army of the very State they want to subvert — and so it was in Chile in 1973.

Now, how was it that Allende didn’t see that coming? Was he stupid? Far from it – Allende knew the history of the USA in Latin America and he knew that the commanders of Chile’s Army, Navy, Air Force and Police, and most if not all of the higher ranks of the three services too, were right-wing in ideology, some downright fascist in outlook.

Allende’s options were to try and deal with the senior military ranks and hope they would remain loyal, or to dismiss them and appoint others more trustworthy, from lower ranks. But dismissing them might precipitate the very thing he was trying to avoid – a right-wing military coup. However, that threat could be met by arming the workers.

On the other hand, arming the workers might provoke the military and police.

Both options were risky. To a revolutionary, I would think, relying on the loyalty of the military was the riskiest while the second, much less so. But Allende was a social-democrat, not a revolutionary. He chose to hope that the military would not revolt and when the coup came, it was not just he who paid with his life but thousands of his followers and others on the Left. They didn’t have enough arms with which to resist for long and arrest, torture and death awaited them. The toll of the coup was over 3,000 dead or missing, thousands of prisoners tortured, and 200,000 Chileans forced into exile.

Poster bearing the alternative slogan, sourced on Internet.
It was produced by the Ad Hoc Committee to Establish Solidarity With Resistance in Chile, on the occasion of the Speaking and Fund Raising Tour Across Canada by a Representative of the People’s Front of Chile.

Before the coup, a slogan that had become popular in Allende’s Chile declared: “El pueblo, unido, jamás sera vencido”. It has been changed by socialists abroad to “The workers, united, will never be defeated”, as though saying “workers” instead of “people” made the slogan more revolutionary. But a large swathe of the people in Chile were united, and even more united were the workers — they had marched and voted for the Allende option and were eagerly awaiting the benefits of a different regime. And still they were defeated – by a much smaller but much better armed and much more ruthless enemy.

A different slogan came into being after the coup (and perhaps it had been around earlier too but got drowned out by the other): “El pueblo, armado, jamás sera aplastado” (the armed people will never be crushed). People may argue that is simplistic and they may be right – but it contains a lot more truth and sophistication than the slogan it replaced.

IRELAND TODAY

We are constantly being urged today in Ireland towards “unity of the Left” and “unity of Irish Republicans” and, before we nod our heads in reflex action and shake them in despair, it would be worthwhile to look at this proposition a little more closely.

Firstly, what is the unity for? As a minimum it can only be, if we are to consider it a serious proposition, to strengthen our resistance and to defeat austerity measures and state repression.

Then, who are we to unite with? “The Left” means different things to different people and that too needs some exploring. For example, is the Labour Party to be included? Some would say “yes”, including many trade union leaders and activists.

Yet the Labour Party is part of a Government that is heaping austerity upon working people and of a State that is using its police, courts and jails to repress resistance. How can we unite with that? And if the Party is not the same as its members in the Government, why doesn’t the Party denounce and disown those Ministers? No, this cannot be – we cannot have unity with those who work with our enemies.

Others would include Sinn Féin in the list of groups with which we should join for “unity of the Left”. But in what way can Sinn Féin be seriously considered to be part of the Left? In the Six Counties, it is part of a Government of a colonial state and has imposed austerity on the working people there. It has also colluded in State repression of Republicans. SF is mounting no serious opposition to any austerity measure either side of the Border although it often makes the appropriate noises. It does not support the necessary and appropriate action of civil disobedience, never mind organise it. Its mantra is “Vote for us and we’ll see everything is made ok”. That is not a suitable partner in any “unity of the Left”.

Excluding Sinn Féin and the Labour Party removes the largest party and the most TDs from the proposed “united Left” and that is one reason some do not wish to exclude them. However it would be dangerously stupid to try to build unity with these and, even if temporarily successful in some imagined scenario of the future, both elements would desert and even betray us at a crucial moment when we would be preparing a campaign of serious disobedience, to say nothing of revolution.

PRINCIPLES AND TACTICS OF UNITY

Who does that leave? Well, tiny parties and even smaller groups of independent TDs and local authority Councillors, a wide variety of independent activists and a number of campaigns of varying size. Well, better small than rotten at the core, right? And there are millions of others out there yet for us to draw support from in future!

But having unity across that broad mass of individuals and organisations? How? Shall we draw up a constitution and get everyone to agree? They never will and we’ll waste valuable time on the project. Is it all hopeless then?

Not at all. What we need is agreement upon a few fundamentals – the bare necessities, as in the title of Terry Gilkison’s lyrics in the 1967 Disney film “Jungle Book”. Let’s imagine we have come together to discuss cultivating a field. We dropped the Labour Party from our work force because they had been sowing fields with weedkiller. We dropped Sinn Féin because they had sowed a part of the field with weedkiller and were arguing that we didn’t need to clear stones and weeds or dig in the rest of it.

That’s not to say that we won’t have any problems with any of those left but let’s see, eh?

So all the remainder agree that the field needs cultivating, that stones and weeds need removing and digging needs doing. There might be some who don’t (or won’t) agree on what crops to sow and when but at the moment we have the maximum unity, admittedly on paper, for the minimum tasks required.

It might be that on the first day some turn up at the appointed time, 8am and others straggle in at 9, 10, 11 …. OK, it’s early days yet. But those who didn’t turn up at all? They are on notice of dismissal. That is fair – we all agreed that this work needed doing and they are not contributing to it at all.

Now, it turns out that some got tired or bored at noon and left the job, while others worked on to 8pm. Some of those who worked until later are those who turned up later so, although not in the way we expected and agreed, they have put in their hours (and twice that of some who turned up at 8am and were gone by noon). We don’t expect people to work 12 hour shifts every day but we will set a minimum – a realistic one according to our numbers and our people.

Probably, when we started we set up a committee to administer and organise the work – organise tools, meals, accommodation, allocate work to different areas, organise delivery of fertilizer …. And later, decisions will need to be made about what seeds to sow and seasonal work priorities but we can make those at a democratic assembly. And assemblies can elect the members of the administration too – but as individuals, not as the slates of parties or coalitions.

As the year progresses, more will join the work and some will leave or be expelled – but the decision will be made on the basis of the minimum necessary work for the minimum task. If the project succeeds or is seen to be doing well, others will become interested and some of those will join. And they will see who works well and who does not, whom they feel they can trust and who not. And they will also learn to organise, propose solutions or questions, join in collective decision-making.

We may lose the small political parties along the way and some will wail at the loss. But what we have noticed about the parties up to now is that on the whole they put the Party first and the struggle (which also means the people) second. Of course not all ego-trippers, glory-hunters, niche-seekers and petty dictators are in political parties and we’ll have to deal with those individuals too, and their cliques. And not everyone in a party is a party hack. But the work decides (or it doesn’t and we learn from our mistakes) and the decisions are democratic, by popular vote of people involved in the work.

When the work required for the day or week is done or in quiet seasons we should run courses on agriculture. There will be different schools of agricultural thought – OK, fine, let each set up a school, or run workshops, print manuals, newsletters, run FB pages, etc, etc.

It seems to me that is a practical unity, one that can work. We can and I think need to tolerate differences of opinion. But anyone found spreading weedkiller on crop-ground – well, that needs dealing with very firmly. And those who don’t want to dig, remove stones, pull weeds? Their choice — but they won’t be in our workforce or eat from our field.

So, the principles developed in the example were:

  • The maximum unity on the minimum task

  • Unity in practice more than in words

  • Equal rights for all who contribute (and no special rights for anyone)

  • Freedom of speech and press (subject to the basic safeguards) for all who contribute

  • Open to all who join on the same basis

  • Democratic decision-making

It seems to me that kind of unity will indeed be strength. Unity on other bases? Disaster waiting to happen, early or late.

FOOTNOTES

1 In doing a snap piece of research for this article I note that the Nottinghamshire Miners’ Association had the fable represented on their banner – ironically or perhaps of necessity, considering the fractured history of the miners in that area. It was also on a Durham trade union banner, according to Wikipedia.

2 The O’Rahilly, seeing the Rising going ahead despite his efforts, joined it and presented his car for use in a barricade. On the Friday of Easter Week, he was mortally wounded leading a charge against rifles and a machine-gun behind a British Army barricade at the Parnell Street end of Moore Street. He died in a nearby laneway which now bears the name O’Rahilly Parade and where there is a monument to him, including a copy  of his farewell letter to his wife in his own words script.

SHUT UP AND DON’T QUESTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

You will not question the Leadership of the Organisation. That is disrespectful. Besides, they know better than you. They are more intelligent and/ or better educated or have been at it longer than you.

 

The Leadership are incorruptible and have suffered much along the way. That makes it disloyal to question them.

You don’t want to be disrespectful and disloyal, do you?

Let the Leadership do the thinking. Is that not easier?

You must not listen to those who challenge or criticise the Leadership. Those people are disloyal and disrespectful. Besides, some of the things they point out will make you uncomfortable. Put your trust and faith in the Leadership and be comfortable and at ease.

Those who challenge the Leadership are troublemakers. They seek to upset things. It is right that they be expelled and then things will return to the state with which we can be comfortable. If remaining inside the Organisation, they will create disorder. If they are outside the Organisation, their words should not be reported or their criticism printed. Their activities should not be publicised.

You know and your comrades know that you are not a troublemaker, or disrespectful or disloyal. But if you associate with those critics, the ones from outside or that left or were expelled, people will begin to suspect that you too are like them. You want the Leadership and comrades to trust you, to be at ease with you, don’t you? Best ignore the critics, not have anything to do with them.

Besides, what can they possibly have to offer, outside the Organisation?

Solidarity against the attacks of the enemy is a good thing, but not with the critics. They have forfeited any right to solidarity when they broke from or criticised the Leadership and the Organisation. They have brought all this down upon themselves.

Concentrate upon the path pointed out by the Leadership. Concentrate upon the tasks of the moment. All will be well. You are in good hands. The Organisation is in good hands. Everything is fine.

COLOURS OF STRUGGLE

Diarmuid Breatnach

Information picket (with table across the road) organized by Anti-Internment Group of Ireland in September 2014 at Thomas St./ Meath St. junction, Dublin. They returned there in December and in January supported a picket in Cork, handing out leaflets on the Craigavon Two injustice.
Information picket (with table across the road) organized by Anti-Internment Group of Ireland in September 2014 at Thomas St./ Meath St. junction, Dublin.
MEP maybe Kobane Rally London
Palestinian and Kurdish flags at a Kobane solidarity rally in Trafalgar Square, London in 2014. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flag of the ICA, flown over Murphy's Imperial Hotel in 1916
The flag of the ICA, flown over Murphy’s Imperial Hotel in 1916

 

 

 

 

I’m no shade of green,

though neath such flags I’ve oft times been,

and ‘neath the Plough in Gold on Green,

and some years back

Also the black,

aye and the red-and-black;

or Palestinian red and black and white and green,

c-n-mb-irish-republic-tricolour-flags-crowd-gpo-copy
Cumann na mBan, “Irish Republic” and Tricolour flags displayed at Dublin’s GPO by Moore Street campaign supporters. (Phoro: D. Breatnach?)

Or the Basque crosses white and green upon red …..

In solidarity I have flown all those flags I’ve said

But when all’s said and done —

though hard to choose just one —

from my heart and from my head:

I choose the workers’ Red.

Sept 2016

 

A number of the Basque flag, the Ikurrina, flying in Dublin during a solidarity protest. (Photo: D.Breatnach)
A number of the Basque flag, the Ikurrina, flying in Dublin during a solidarity protest. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

Anarcho-Sindicalist and Anarchist black flags (Photo source: Internet)
Anarcho-Sindicalist and Anarchist black flags
(Photo source: Internet)
bagladeshi-women-men-red-flags-mayday
Bangladeshis on Mayday demonstration. (Photo source: Internet)

WORKING CLASS HERO IS COMMEMORATED IN THE EAST WALL AREA WHERE HE LIVED

Diarmuid Breatnach

On Sunday 8th May a working-class hero was commemorated in the East Wall area in which he lived. Walter Carpenter was a native of Kent, in SE England and came to Ireland to help found the Socialist Party of Ireland 1 with James Connolly in 1909 in Dublin. Among other activities a campaigner around housing issues for the Dublin working class, he reared his sons in socialist belief so that it was no surprise that both Wally (Walter jnr) and Peter joined the Irish Citizen Army and fought in the 1916 Rising. As a result of the repression of the Rising, one son ended up in Frongoch concentration camp in Wales, while the other was in hiding. Later, both brothers also fought against the Free State in the Irish Civil War; Wally was interned and went on hunger strike.

Lining Up Outside SOCC
Assembling to march outside the Sean O’Casey Community Centre

Jailed for opposing British Royal visit to Dublin

Rising to be Secretary of the Dublin Branch of the SPI in 1911, Walter Carpenter was jailed for a month for the production while speaking on a public platform of Connolly’s leaflet attacking the Royal visit that same year. Soon afterwards he was an organiser for the newly-formed Irish & Transport Workers’ Union. During the Lockout, he was sent by Connolly to Britain to rally the support of trade unionists for the struggle of the Dublin workers and was apparently an effective speaker there. That same year Walter Carpenter was elected General Secretary of the Tailors, Machinists and Pressers’ trade union, generally known as “the Jewish Union” due to the preponderance of its members being from that background.

Two sections march
United in purpose but fragmented in marching

Walter also became active in municipal politics, striving to make Dublin City Council meet its housing regulation responsibilities in the terrible housing conditions of the city of that time. There were many other sides to this campaigner too, which a read of Ellen Galvin’s pamphlet will reveal.

The East Wall History Group had earlier had a plaque erected on the wall of the house where he had lived, No.8 Caledon Road and organised an event around its unveiling on Sunday. The event began with a gathering at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre in East Wall, where an introduction to the event and to Walter Carpenter’s importance in the revolutionary and radical social history of Ireland was given by Joe Mooney, one of the organisers of the event. As well as local historians, socialists and Republicans, the event was attended by his surviving grandson, great-grandchildren and partners and their children. Also present was Ellen Galvin, who wrote a booklet on his life which was launched after the unveiling, back in the Sean O’Casey Centre.

Joe Mooney with a few preliminary words about Walter Carpenter and the history of the area
Joe Mooney with a few preliminary words about Walter Carpenter and the history of the area

Misfortune struck the event before it had even begun, with the news that Christy O’Brien, the piper who was to lead a march to the unveiling, had his pipes stolen from his car that very morning. Christy gives his service as a piper to many commemorative events, funerals etc. and, with the announcement of the misfortune, Joe Mooney also called for the spreading of the news in order to aid the recovery of the instrument. A set of bagpipes will cost thousands to buy or have made but it would be a rare musician or pawnshop that would negotiate for a stolen set (one which furthermore might be recognised at a musical event in the future).
(see also https://www.facebook.com/eastwallhistory/photos/a.593335330735681.1073741828.580261572043057/1042532349149308/?type=3&theater)

March to plaque past previous addresses of Irish resistance fighters

The march set off from the Sean O’Casey Centre without the piper, led by supporters carrying the banner of the East Wall History Group, a Tricolour and a Starry Plough (original green and gold version). Walking alongside were two Gárdaí and one wit commented that not only were descendants of the Irish Citizen Army present but also of the Dublin Metropolitan Police! 2

Caitríona Ní Casaidthe presiding over the plaque unveiling
Caitríona Ní Casaidthe presiding over the plaque unveiling
Deputy Dublin Mayor Cieran Perry in the march -- he also spoke at the unveiling.
Deputy Dublin Mayor Cieran Perry in the march — he also spoke at the unveiling.

Joe Mooney had told the crowd before the march began that they would pass a number of locations where fighters for Irish and working-class freedom had lived. These were: St Marys Road, Tim O’Neill at No.8 and father and daughter Patrick Kavanagh and May Kavanagh at No.24. Christy Byrne lived at No.45 and his brother Joseph Byrne was from Boland’s Cottages off Church Road, where also Christopher Carberry lived on Myrtle Terrace on Church Rd. All these were Irish Volunteers, while May was in Cumann na mBan. In Northcourt Avenue (now demolished, roughly where the Catholic Church stands), Patrick & William Chaney were in the Irish Citizen Army and in Hawthorn Terrace lived James Fox (Irish Volunteer) and Willie Halpin (ICA).

Joe added that at the junction of St. Mary’s Road and Church Street, the local Irish Volunteers had mustered to participate in the Rising, 100 years ago and also reminded the gathering that that very day, the 8th of May, was the centenary of the executions by British firing squad of Michael Mallin of the Irish Citizen Army and of Irish Volunteers Eamonn Ceannt, Sean Heuston and Con Colbert.

Eamon Carpenter, 94, grandson of Walter Carpenter (Photo D.Breatnach)
Eamon Carpenter, 94, grandson of Walter Carpenter (Photo D.Breatnach)

Upon reaching No. 8 Caledon Road, the former home of Walter Carpenter, Caitríona Ní Chasaide of the East Wall History Group introduced Eamon Carpenter, 94 years of age and a grandson of Walter Carpenter, who addressed the crowd in thanks and also about the life of his grandfather.

“The struggles of the past are not merely for commemoration”

Next Caitríona introduced the Deputy Mayor of Dublin, Cieran Perry, who pointed out the parallels between the dire housing situation in the early part of the last century, which Walter Carpenter had campaigned against, and the housing crisis in Dublin today. He castigated the officials of Dublin City Council who, despite the votes of elected Left Councillors, refused to use all the land available to them on a number of sites to build social housing and were instead preparing it for private development with a only fraction for social housing. For as little as 5% of the €4 billion of Minister Kelly’s oft-repeated proposed finance for social housing. i.e. €200 million, Dublin City Council could build over 1,300 homes. The struggles of the past are not merely for commemoration, Cieran went on to say, but are for celebration and for continuation, as he concluded to applause.

Caitríona then called on James Carpenter to unveil the plaque, which he did, to loud applause.Walter Carpenter plaque

After relatives and others had taken photos and been photographed in turn by the plaque and/or beside James Carpenter, Joe Mooney called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing The Felons Of Our Land. Joe explained that Walter Carpenter had been fond of singing that son, that in the course of their participation in the struggle he and his son had also been felons, as had Larkin and many others. Joe also informed the gathering that Sean O’Casey related that during his childhood, there had been a tram conductor who had been fond of singing patriotic songs, including the Felons Of Our Land, of which Casey’s mother had disapproved. It had been an revelation for O’Casey that one could be a Protestant and an Irish patriot too.

Diarmuid, dressed in approximation of period clothing, stepped forward and sang the four verses, of which the final lines are:

Diarmuid Breatnach singing "Felons of Our Land" outside former home of Walter Carpenter. (Photo East Wall History Group)
Diarmuid Breatnach singing “Felons of Our Land” outside former home of Walter Carpenter.
(Photo East Wall History Group)

Let cowards sneer and tyrants frown
O! little do we care–
A felon’s cap’s the noblest crown
An Irish head can wear.
And every Gael in Innisfail
(Who scorns the serf’s vile brand)
From Lee to Boyne would gladly join
The felons of our land.

The crowd then marched back to the Sean O’Casey Centre to attend the launch of the booklet on Carpenter’s life.

Launch of book on Walter Carpenter by his granddaughter and grandson of his comrade

On the stage in the Centre’s theatre, were seated the author of the booklet, Ellen Galvin, alongside Michael O’Brien of O’Brien Press.

Ellen Galvin on stage at the Sean O'Casey Community Centre theatre and Michael O'Brien launching the book about Walter Carpenter. (Photo D.Breatnach)
Ellen Galvin on stage at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre theatre and Michael O’Brien launching the book about Walter Carpenter. (Photo D.Breatnach)

Michael O’Brien, addressing the audience, said he had wondered what qualification he might have to launch the book but on investigation discovered that he had not a few connections. His own grandfather, who was Jewish, had been a founder member of the Tailors, Machinists and Pressers’ Union, of which Carpenter had been the General Secretary until his retirement and so they must have known one another at least fairly well.

Also, Bill O’Brien’s father, Thomas, had been a communist and was active with Walter Carpenter in the Republican Congress in the 1930s. Walter Carpenter and Thomas O’Brien had both also been active in the Bacon Shops’ Strike of the early 1930s. Thomas O’Brien had been jailed during that strike along with Jack Nalty and Dinny Coady, both of whom had East Wall connections; subsequently Thomas went to fight Franco and fascism in Spain, where Nalty and Coady were both killed.

Joe Mooney called on Tommy Seery to sing The Bold Labour Men, a song about the 1913 Lockout written by a local man, which he did to strong applause. (Tommy is a member of the East Wall PEG Drama and Variety Group, in which he acts and also often sings – a recent performance, from which Tommy was unfortunately absent due to illness, may be seen here https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/from-lockout-to-revolution-performance-of-east-wall-peg-drama-variety-group/).

Tommy Seery singing "The Bold Labour Men" about the 1913 Lockout (Photo D.Breatnach)
Tommy Seery singing “The Bold Labour Men” about the 1913 Lockout (Photo D.Breatnach)

Ellen Galvin spoke about Walter Carpenter’s life and his dedication to the advance of the working class and the struggle for justice.  Walter had been a supporter of equality for all, including gender, a man who read much and widely, who apparently learned Irish and campaigned for allotments for rent on Council-owned land while it was unused for housing.  He was against the consumption of alcohol but sympathised with people driven to its use by terrible housing conditions.

Joe then called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing Be Moderate, written by James Connolly, to illustrate what it was that people like Connolly and those of the Irish Citizen Army fought for and for which some had given their lives. Diarmuid took the stage and explained that the song had been published in New York in 1910, the same year that he had returned to Ireland from the USA. There had been no indication of an air to accompany the lyrics, as a result of which it has been sung to a number of airs. Diarmuid heard it sung in London by an English communist to the air of a Nation Once Again 3 and at least one good thing about this is that it provides a chorus, with which he encouraged the audience to join in. He then sang the song, of which the final lines are:

For workers long, with sighs and tears,
To their oppressors knelt.
But never yet, to aught save fears,
Did heart of tyrant melt.
We need not kneel, our cause is high
Of true hearts 4 there’s no dearth
And our victorious rallying cry
Shall be “We want the Earth!”

Many in the audience joined in on the chorus:
We only want the Earth, 
We only want the Earth,
And our demands most moderate are:
We only want the Earth!

Eamon Carpenter delivered an impromptu tribute to Ellen Galvin, who he told the audience had lost her mother at the age of 13 years of age, from which time she had taken over the mother’s role for her younger siblings, ensuring the were fed, dressed and cared for. This tribute was warmly applauded while Ellen seemed embarrassed but also pleased.

This was another successful commemoration of the revolutionary history and, in particular, of the working class history of their area by the East Wall History Group. It is of great importance that the working class be appraised of their own history as distinct from the dominant historical narratives and that their revolutionary traditions be remembered, not as something dead and in the past but as part of a continuum of struggle for the emancipation of the class.

If there is a weakness in a number of such commemorations it is the lack of participation by local adolescent youth in these events – which may also imply a lack of engagement by this age-group. Nevertheless, should they go searching at some future date for the information and their connection to the history of place and class, they will find a treasure trove waiting for them in the work of this History Group.

Children & Parents left plaque

CONTACTS
The East Wall History Group may be contacted or viewed on FB at https://www.facebook.com/eastwallhistory/?fref=ts

Mother & 2 Daughters

Local Photographer Exhibition SOCC

FOOTNOTES

 There exists today an organisation called the Socialist Party of Ireland (which often organises under the banner of the Anti-Austerity Alliance) but it is not directly descended from the party founded in Ireland in 1909; rather it is closer to being an offshoot of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, with which it has close fraternal relations.

The Dublin Metropolitan Police gained particular notoriety for the violence against organised workers on behalf of Dublin employers, especially during the 1913 Lockout, during which they killed a number of workers with their truncheons. In later years, the force became a Dublin police force under the Free State, which was later subsumed into the Garda Síochána, a fact not generally known.

3  Written by Thomas Davis, first published in The Nation, Dublin, 1844.

4  “of true men there’s no dearth” in the original

FACING THE PAST AND THE FUTURE

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

Many people, Irish, migrant and tourist, are questioning the decision to erect banners on the Bank of Ireland building, former site of the Irish Parliament, displaying the heads of four politicians, three of whom were dead long before 1916.  These were prepared by Dublin City Libraries, a department of Dublin City Council, at the behest of the office of the Taoiseach (the Irish Prime Minister) and as part of the commemoration of the 1916 Rising.

The heads of four prominent Irish people who were against revolution
The heads of four prominent Irish politicians who were against revolution (image from Internet)

The images of Grattan, O’Connell, Parnell & Redmond constitute a coherent collection, deliberately chosen — each represented a parliamentary approach and so are in direct opposition to the revolutionary approach in 1916 of the IRB, the Irish Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan and Fianna and, in practice in Dublin, of the Hibernian Rifles.

Furthermore, each of the four politicians in their own time had a revolutionary opposition within the movement — Grattan had the United Irishmen, O’Connell the Young Irelanders, Parnell the Fenians though he flirted pretty heavily with the revolutionaries and vice versa for a while.  And of course Redmond …. had the Irish Citizen Army, the IRB, Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan and Fianna!

While some may be puzzled by the choice of images and others annoyed by them, the message of the Taoiseach’s office and of the State is very clear: “Follow the parliamentary path and not the revolutionary one.”  The subsidiary message could have been: “If you are forced into revolution, give over complete power as soon as possible to the capitalist class”. In that case, they could have put the pictures of Collins, Griffiths, Mulcahy and Higgins up, followed perhaps by De Valera’s.

Interestingly, each of those four displayed by Dublin City Council —  except Redmond — used the threat of revolution to try to get what he wanted: Grattan, to get a united Irish bourgeoisie and civil rights for Catholics, in order to win greater autonomy for the Irish capitalists; O’Connell, in order to win greater power for the Irish Catholic capitalist class and greater autonomy from England; Parnell, in order to win tenant rights and win back an Irish parliament.  Instead, Redmond tried to appeal to the colonialists’ gratitude.

Even more interestingly, EACH of the four FAILED SPECTACULARLY.  While this can be said about the 1916 Rising leaders also, the revolutionary struggle initiated by the Rising which began three years later had in another three years won more concessions than had all the many preceding decades of parliamentary effort.

In feeling the need to post their message so crassly and clumsily, the Irish bourgeoisie have revealed also their fear.  They are not ignorant of history and therefore know that commemorations are not only about the past — they very often play a role in shaping the future.  Prior to the 1916 Rising, commemorations of the centenary of the 1798 and 1803 Risings played a part in building a revolutionary patriotic atmosphere and working associations, while O’Donovan Rosa’s funeral procession in Dublin and Pearse’s famous oration at the grave of the Fenian preceded the Easter Rising by less than a year.

As throughout Ireland, all 32 Counties, the Centenary has awakened a feverish interest, the Gombeen State, which since the 1980s has been trying to downplay the whole unfortunate Easter Rising business and now finds itself obliged to somehow manage the centenary commemorations, is deeply troubled that revolutionary patriotism has been awoken too.  That too many people are comparing the various visions of the insurgents of 1916 with the reality which the gombeenmen and compliant politicians delivered us ….. and wondering whether they might not be able to make a similar vision come true, in another bid, 100 years after the previous attempt.

ends

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/dublin-city-council-defends-college-green-1916-banner-1.2571822/

 

 

THERE IS ONE ROAD FOR US AND NO THIRD WAY

Diarmuid Breatnach

As we enter the New Year, be prepared for attempts to engage us with a whipped-up excitement of elections and “new” ways of doing things. A diversion — something like a cross between those periodic shows like the Eurovision Song Context and the Lottery. And like the lottery, there will be a winner but it won’t be us. Whichever party or combination of parties succeeds, it will be the ruling class that wins.  A diversion in the other sense too, in that it seeks to divert us from our path.

There is no third way, there are no alternative routes, short cuts, slip roads. There is the revolutionary road and the other.  The other leads to the continuation of capitalism.  But the other road is often represented as a number of different roads, and the only difference between them is in the degrees of exploitation and repression it will deliver. The non-revolutionary road can  NEVER lead to social justice.

To be sure, there are many slip roads and byways on the non-revolutionary road but none of them lead to revolution; therefore they do not lead to socialism and therefore nor do they lead to overcoming the capitalist attacks on the working people and the continuing penetration of imperialism into our way of governing ourselves and our social provision, into our natural resources and into our labour power.

Every now and again, a “new” road is proposed, in which “new alliances” are sought, projects to “build a broader front” away from “clichés” and “slogans of the past”. And it turns out that there is nothing new in these roads except the words being used and sometimes not even those. There is talk of accumulation or summation of forces, for which some objectives must be dropped, for which descriptions must be toned down, for which slogans that mean many different things to different people have to be adopted. Well, either they are heading (and wanting us to follow) for capitalism or they are heading for socialism – there are no other destinations. And if they are heading for socialism, why do they not say so? Why do they not reveal their full program?

There are those who say we can reach socialism by building this wide movement with deliberately unclear slogans and program, building on the hostility towards the present state of things and the dominant political parties. How can that be, if there are basically only two roads? How can this wide movement of discontent displace the ruling class and their system, if it is not consciously heading up the road of revolution? It seems that at some point the curtain will be whipped aside by the socialists in these wide movements and the masses will be shown the monster of capitalism and will realise it is so horrible that it must be killed. And of course they will do it. How? Ah, that’s a step too far, comrade, stick with us, trust us, we’ll tell you when the moment comes.

One can see the fates of Syriza in government in Greece and of Podemos in opposition in the Spanish state to see the enormous expectations that are raised and then cruelly dashed. We have seen the like before in our history in Ireland and we will see that again. As we go into 2016 we will have such illusions of a possible electoral socialist future dangled before us, though on a smaller scale.

Elect Sinn Féin and we’ll have a really different situation, a real change – or so we are told. Nonsense – a party that has never seriously confronted capitalism, a party in fact whose President says publicly (and without correction by his party) that it does not have a problem with Capitalism. A party tried in government of a kind already, albeit in a colonial statelet, that has demonstrated itself unwilling to make a determined stand for social justice in welfare and education and which has maintained a colonial repressive police force. This is also a party which has openly welcomed leaders of US and British imperialism and signaled its acceptance of the treason of the ANC leadership to the South African masses. In the 26-Counties this party showed its eagerness to impress the ruling class with how “responsible” and “law-abiding” it is, so much so that they are not even willing to endorse the civil disobedience tactics of refusal to register for the Water Charge and refusal to pay the charge.

Perhaps, once in the Dáil they might become a revolutionary socialist party? One can of course hope (or pray) for miracles but one has no right to expect them.

Another illusion being dangled before us is the election of some kind of “Left-wing coalition”, whether it would include SF or not. We have a Dáil of 166 seats so it would be necessary to elect no less than 84 to have an absolute majority – a coalition of 84 independents, TDs from small socialist parties and whoever! And what program will this “Left-wing coalition” have that all 84 can be expected to adhere to? We don’t know and we have no revolutionary mass movement which has put forward the demands to incorporate into such a program. There is no need to even consider what measures the ruling capitalist class would take should there ever be a Dáil majority with a revolutionary program – we are not within an ass’ bray of such a moment.

Yes, I said we have no revolutionary mass movement — but I was not dismissing (nor “dissing”) the movement of resistance. For two years we have had a wide and numerous movement of resistance to the Water Charge or Tax, carrying on from the previous movements against the Household Tax and the Property Charge. With regards to the latter two, the first was successful but the second was successfully bypassed by the State  by changing the law, enabling the State to collect the charge directly from our income. Whether this was illegal or not is beside the point – they did it and anyway, to whom does the law belong if not to them? Certainly not to us!

With regard to the remaining one, the movement of popular resistance to the Water Charge continues, even without much central leadership, without the practical support of the trade union movement. Those absences may have prevented it being completely taken over by opportunists and careerists and state agents but it has also prevented it from waging a campaign of sustained resistance, of presenting an agreed slate of demands of sponsors and of candidates for election, of putting real pressure on the trade union leaderships and of regular mobilisation of numbers to defend resisters being hounded through the courts and threatened with imprisonment. Nevertheless, the resistance continues.

But we should not fool ourselves that the campaign is revolutionary – it does not have as an objective the overthrow of the capitalist system. To be sure, some and even many of its supporters may wish for that – but it is not an objective of the campaign. In fact, even the demand of the abolition of the Water Charge is not a revolutionary demand — that can be achieved without overthrowing the system.

For revolutionaries, reforms and partial gains are not things to be ignored. We take our stand on them with regard to a number of criteria. In the case of the Water Charge, the great thing is that it was and is being resisted by civil disobedience and if this tax should be eventually defeated through this tactic we should celebrate the victory. We should proclaim that resistance does work, that breaking the law of the State is necessary when it impedes our progress. And that the campaign has exposed the role of the State – legislature, police and courts in repression and service of capitalism. But we should be clear with the movement that it is, however great, a temporary victory – the system remains and while that is so we are open to many, many other attacks which we can safely predict will follow.

The victory of the movement of civil resistance can be put to use for revolution – in terms of tactical and strategic lessons learned by individuals, communities and organisations. The pool of revolutionary activists can be enlarged. This can best be done in the context of a revolutionary movement which is not something we have but which it is not beyond our capabilities to build. But it will not be built by elections nor by electoral campaigns.

As the elections approach we will be gabbled at from nearly every quarter: Vote for Us! Vote Against Them! Vote for Me! Then there will be the shrill “You Must Vote!” and “You Have No Right to Criticise If You Don’t Vote!” And even the fewer but also shrill voices that shout “Don’t Vote!” and “You’re Supporting the System If You Vote!” Really, what a lot of nonsense all of that is. The system will neither be changed by us voting in its elections nor will it overthrown by us not voting in them. Nor will voting in them strengthen it significantly, except in the case of a popular boycott which is not even on the political horizon.

There is an Irish Republican tradition of standing in elections and not taking seats in the Dáil and whether one is a genuine revolutionary or Republican (choose whichever label you prefer) is judged by whether one takes that seat or not if elected. This seems to me to be a false test. There have been revolutionaries who took seats in parliaments on the one hand and on the other, reformists within revolutionary and resistance movements who worked away without taking parliamentary seats. While it is true that opportunists and careerists often wish to enter parliaments in order to further their careers and to pay off their senior party supporters, there is no guarantee that not doing so will prevent activists from being corrupted and co-opted. There are so many other rewards the system has to offer – a secure job, seat on a company board, status and recognition, special awards, publication of writings, career advancement, jobs in various institutions and civil service, funding of one’s project as a non-government organisation, paid expenses, paid travel ….. along with safety from the danger of arrest, the dawn raid, the assassin’s bullet, torture, years in prison.

We can of course vote for individuals in order to keep other individuals out or to put someone we like in or to maintain a useful few voices in the Dáil. But let us not fool ourselves that is really making a difference to the system as such. Only revolution can do that. Of course the revolutionary road is not without its switchbacks, potholes and blind turnings. Nevertheless, it is the only viable road and if we are not heading up it then we are not going to bring about any real or lasting change.

Vote or don’t but the crucial thing is to organise resistance, to contribute to it practically and ideologically. And the latter does mean not spreading illusions.

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INTERNATIONALIST SOLIDARITY — BUT WITHOUT CRITICISM?

Diarmuid Breatnach

One cannot criticise the national liberation movement or Left political party in another country, apparently. Or so some think. Why not? “Because it goes against internationalist solidarity to do so.” “Besides, one doesn’t live in the other country or maybe know their conditions and their culture as well as does the group one is criticising.” So, one should just applaud their resistance and say nothing negative. Apparently.

Like many positions, that seems fine until you break it down a bit. So let’s take a look at this more closely. The Khmer Rouge was a national liberation organisation of socialist or communist orientation in Kampuchea (Cambodia). The Khmer Rouge had both male and female fighters and they led a struggle against US Imperialism and against feudal rule in their country. The US carpet-bombed the country and aided the Cambodian Government in resisting the Khmer Rouge, who were in turn assisted by the North Vietnamese and the Chinese. So, a clear case of which side we’re on, right? With the Khmer Rouge. Against US Imperialism and feudalism.

Khmer Rouge fighters
Khmer Rouge fighters (Photo: Internet)

But when in 1975 the Khmer Rouge leadership declared that all Cambodians needed to return to the land and, in order to implement this policy, exterminated all who disagreed or who they thought might disagree, and in the course of their programme caused hunger and illness which killed more, all of which came to a total of around 21% of the country’s population, what then? Are we still in solidarity with the Khmer Rouge then? What? No? We’re actually condemning them?

The young Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldiers enter17 April 1975 Phnom Penh, the day Cambodia fell under the control of the Communist Khmer Rouge forces.
The young Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldiers enter17 April 1975 Phnom Penh, the day Cambodia fell under the control of the Communist Khmer Rouge forces. Khmer Rouge fighters (Photo: Internet)

Good! And so we should. But what happened to “uncritical support and solidarity” and “we don’t know what’s going on there as well as the locals” etc, etc?

Ok, that was an extreme example and there was a massacre and huge loss of life. But the massacre event had a trail leading up to it and that trail could have been marked. Apparently two of the leaders back in their Paris student days had written theses advocating returning to a peasant economy. No doubt there were other signs in terms of who became leaders and how they maintained their leading positions – this was the time of the high tide of leader-worship, when in China photos of Mao and in Vietnam photos of Ho Chi Minh, predominated not only in official buildings but in public spaces and in the hands of their supporters abroad. Whether Ho Chi Minh or Mao Tse Tung were good or bad revolutionaries, or even a mixture of good and bad, is not the point. What is the point is whether it is healthy to treat living human beings as saints or gods; whether if you trust them unquestioningly today you will be able to question them (or be permitted to) if they take the wrong path or just a wrong turning tomorrow.

Now let’s take another example, much closer to home and much less in magnitude – the French Mayor of Vitry-sur-Seine in 1981 who, it was reported, in an anti-immigration demonstration, personally drove an earth mover to demolish a hostel for migrants from Mali. He was a member of the Communist Party of France and also the Party’s General Secretary, Georges Marchaise, ran a racist campaign when he stood as a candidate in the French Presidential Election that year. Now, the Communist Party of France had organised the Maquis and most of the urban French Resistance to Nazism and had led the liberation of Paris before the Allies arrived.  Surely Georges Marchaise had been elected by his large party and the Mayor of Vitry-sur-Seine not only by his party supporters but also by a majority of the people of his town. So who are we to criticise them, right? No, wrong, you think – and quite rightly so. We are not only entitled to – we should criticise them, expose them and try to get them to change.  And our criticism should also serve as a warning to any others thinking of taking the same path.

Anti-Austerity march of Communist Party of France in Paris 2012.jpeg
Anti-Austerity march of Communist Party of France in Paris 2012 (Photo from Internet)

Back to another big example now. Before WWI all the socialist parties in the world (that included what we would now call communist and social democratic parties) agreed that imperialist war would be a terrible thing and against workers’ interests. Some even vowed that if their governments tried to join a war, they would turn the imperialist war into a war against capitalism. But when it came to the crunch, the main socialist party in nearly every European country made an alliance with their capitalist class and recruited cannon fodder for them. There were very few exceptions and among them were the Irish Labour Party, which had been founded on a resolution by James Connolly in 1912 …. and the Bolsheviks. Although it didn’t openly oppose it, the Irish Labour Party was in general critical of the War and two of the party’s founders, Connolly and Larkin, overwhelmingly so. The Bolsheviks placed ending the War among their main slogans for insurrection and as a result recruited many soldiers and sailors into the actual insurrection.

OK, so would we have had the right to criticise the war collusion policies of the British Labour Party, of the German socialists, French, Italian, Belgian, Australian? Of course we would have had the right – and would have been correct to do so.

And another big example. The Shah of Persia was an ally of western imperialism and had a substantial repressive apparatus, including a huge secret service. In 1978/’79, a wide movement began to rise up against the Shah and his regime fell suprisingly quickly – so quickly that the CIA, who had their HQ for the Middle East in the country, were caught shredding their documents (many of which were pieced together again by Iranians).

There were a number of different interest groups but two important and very different ones were socialist activists, many of them students, on the one hand and Muslim fundamentalists on the other. When the Shah was overthrown, the latter group seized power and thereafter wiped out the socialists. I don’t know whether any mistakes were made by the socialists in their alliances or if anything could have been done to avoid the outcome. But if there were and if there was something, and we thought we knew what it was, would it not have been criminally negligent and uninternationalist of us not to have told them? And if necessary to have argued it with them?  And would our criticism not also help others who might find themselves in similar situations now and in the future?

Now, let’s take a minute to look at the other side of the coin. A leader of the popular movement Podemos in the Spanish state recently made a public intervention in Colombian politics the nature of which need not concern us here. But in the course of that, he denounced the Basque armed group ETA and likened them to Latin American fascist murder squads. Was he entitled to do so?

No, he was not. He was entitled to criticise ETA armed actions but in the course of that he should have taken account of the fact that the state in which he lives had practiced fascist repression on ETA for nearly a decade before it took up arms and has never ceased its repression of the Basque people since 1939. He was not at all entitled to compare ETA to fascist murder squads.

During the recent 30-year war, was the Communist Party of Great Britain entitled to publicly criticise IRA bombings in Britain, a number of which killed and injured innocent civilians? Yes, it was. But it was not correct to join the right-wing chorus denouncing them as vile murderers. And with the right to criticise also came a duty of solidarity, to campaign for British withdrawal from Ireland, against repression of the Irish community in Britain and for decent prison conditions and repatriation for Irish republican prisoners in jails in Britain (and the score of politically-framed uninvolved Irish prisoners).

To its shame, the CPGB took the road of histrionic censure but without taking up its duty of solidarity, an internationalist duty more applicable to itself than to any others around the world, since its party is based in the very colonial state that was waging war in Ireland.

I take one last example. At a certain point during the South African people’s struggle against the white racist regime (a settler ruling class which was totally supported by imperialism) it emerged that some things were not quite right within the resistance movement and, as time went on, that they were a lot worse than “not quite right”. We began to hear rumours that Winnie Madzikela Mandela was a member of a corrupt clique that had brutalised and even murdered people within the movement. But Winnie had become an icon of the struggle – a strong, handsome, militant woman with a husband, a leader, decades in jail. And the struggle seemed to be entering a crucial phase so, not wanting to undermine that struggle, we said nothing. (When her husband, Nelson Mandela was released, he agreed to an investigation into Winnie’s clique and ended up divorcing her. However, she is still a member of the ANC’s national Executive).

Worse, in a way, were the rumours of concentration camps being run by the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe in neighbouring countries which were jailing ANC dissidents, torturing and even killing them. But the struggle was at a high point …… and we didn’t want to undermine …..

Yes, beginning to sound familiar, isn’t it? Besides, for some of us, the source of these stories were Trotskyists and we didn’t trust their bona fides too much ….. But it turned out that there had been these camps and they had done the things that were rumoured …. and testimonies of some of those cases have now been documented in the Truth and Reconciliation hearings. What’s more, it seems that some of the people in the ANC leadership were not only aware of them but had a hand in setting them up.

Mandela may not have known about them while in jail but learned of them at least when released. He eventually criticised the torture carried out in them but did nothing to root out those responsible.  This is crucial in terms of what happened later.

When the South African deal was done, an accommodation between the ANC and the white settler ruling class, it was also a settlement with imperialism which not only continued its plunder of the South African resources and labour but increased it. The masses got the vote and little else but a top stream of the ANC, SACP and NUM benefited in terms of government jobs and corruption. The recent head of the National Union of Mineworkers and current Deputy President of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, is a millionaire and on the board of Lonmin, a British corporation mining platinum in South Africa.

In 2012, workers went on strike at Lonmin and other mines, looking for substantial pay rises; many were saying that the NUM was not fighting for them and wanting representation by a new union, AMCU. The mine-owners refused to negotiate, SACP said the strikers should be arrested, Ramaphosa asked the Government to crack down on the strikers, Zuma (President of the ANC and of South Africa and one of those implicated in the concentration camp scandal) covered for his Chief of Police Riah Phiyega while she organised what followed – the massacre of 34 striking miners in one day (in addition to some more over previous days) and many injured.

The Marikana Massacre of striking miners by the South African police of the ANC government. The victim in a green top or blanket is believed to a Mgcineni Noki, a strike leader, who was shot 14 times.
The Marikana Massacre of striking miners by the South African police of the ANC government. The victim in a green top or blanket is believed to be Mgcineni Noki, a strike leader, who was shot 14 times.  (Photo from Internet)

The Marikana massacre brought many of the elements that had been separately visible earlier together into high relief: ANC, NUM and SACP (South African Communist Party) corruption and jobbery; intolerance and brutality against any dissent; collusion with the white settler regime and foreign imperialists – now coupled with exploitation of black workers and murderous repression on a scale not seen in a single incident in South Africa since the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960.

Were we right to have said nothing about the activities of Winnie’s gang? And not to have tried to check out the rumours about the concentration camps? Were we right to say nothing critical about Mandela and the deal he led the people in accepting? I don’t think so. I think we had an internationalist right to speak, comrades – an internationalist duty. And it was a duty we failed to fulfill.

I could have picked so many other examples from history but I chose these as being ones on which most people would take the same side, so as to get the principle across without sectional positions being taken.

There is another very important role of criticism. It helps to clarify things for us in our own struggles. We have to think things through (hopefully) before criticising and then consider and weigh the reply we receive, then think about our reply to that as well. And so on. And many if not all of these issues will be in some way applicable to us too, either now or in the future.

But in criticising, do we abandon solidarity? Most assuredly we should not. Obviously we could have had no solidarity with Pol Pot and his clique or with his party comrades who followed them – our solidarity is fundamentally with the people and it was the Cambodian people who deserved our solidarity, which in that case had to be oppositional to the party. But we should, as well as being in solidarity with the Mali migrants in Vitry-sur-Seine in 1981, also be in support of French workers there in struggles against French capitalism, while simultaneously criticising any racist tendencies in their movement or parties.

We could and should have, were we adults during WWI, have criticised the policies of the socialist parties who colluded in the bloodbath of Europe, the Dardanelles and the Middle East, even if we had never set foot in one of the countries of those parties at the time.

Maybe it would help to bring the issue down to a more personal level. In families, we generally accept that we should express and act in solidarity with one another. Does that mean that if someone in our family does something really wrong, we should remain silent? Clearly not. We can support him in changing, we can support him in other ways but we cannot – or should not – support him in continuing to act wrongly. For the good of society, the family and even of the individual, we are obliged to point out the wrongdoing and that we disagree with it – in other words, to criticise. What kind of family members would we be if we did not do that, if our attitude were “Whatever you do is fine, no matter what it is or who ends up getting hurt, you or someone else”?revolutionary solidarity

And if we are internationalists, of whatever particular socialist trend, we have an internationalist duty to our ‘family’ around the world not only to act in solidarity but also to express criticism when we think our comrades elsewhere embark on the wrong road or take a wrong turning. Proletarian internationalism and uncritical support not only don’t go together – they are actually opposites. There may be considerations of in what manner to present the criticism but continued silence is not an internationalist option.

end

COMMEMORATING THE RISING AND WWl

Diarmuid Breatnach

I WAS INVITED TO SING A COUPLE OF SONGS AT THE LAUNCH OF “OUR RISING – CABRA AND PHIBSBOROUGH IN 1916″. Of course I was honoured to accept; the songs I chose to sing were “Sergeant William Bailey” and “Where Is Our James Connolly?” I chose them as important to the events around the Irish Volunteers and hoped they would be considered appropriate to the book launch event also.

 

These years are the centenaries of many things in our history and it is right that we should remember them. Among those things we are told that we should remember the First World War. I think the people who say that are right – we should, but not in the way most of those people mean. We should remember that in a dispute about what markets of the world should be dominated by which World powers and which resources they should have a monopoly on stealing, they sent millions to their deaths and millions more to injury and tragedy. And of course, the capitalists, the class that controlled those Powers were not among those dead and injured millions.

When those people tell us that we should commemorate the First World War and collect songs and memorabilia they don’t mean that we should sing songs against the War, collect anti-War leaflets and honour those brave few who dared speak out publicly against the war stampede of their countries. And who paid the price for doing so. And yet those things too are the history of the War and to my mind the parts of that history that, among all the wars of the past and the present, hold out a hope for the future.

Peadar Kearney, author of "The Soldiers' Song", "Sgt. William Bailey" and many other songs
Peadar Kearney, author of “The Soldiers’ Song”, “Sgt. William Bailey” and many other songs

Peadar Kearney was an Irish Republican of a Dublin skilled working class background born not far from Phibsborough – in Dorset Street, around the corner from Inisfallen Parade, where Sean O’Casey was reared. When Kearney taught night classes in Irish, O’Casey would be one of his pupils.

Kearney wrote many songs that are still sung today, the most famous of which is the Soldiers’ Song, on which he cooperated with Patrick Heeney, from Railway Street, off Gardiner Street. When the Irish Volunteers was formed in 1913, Kearney was a co-founder and his song was one of a number sung by other Volunteers during the 1916 Rising, in which Kearney also fought.

Peadar Kearney also wrote a three-verse song mocking a recruiting sergeant for the British Army, who apparently had a pitch at Dunphy’s Corner. According to a local historian, that was outside what is now Doyle’s pub, at the Phibsboro crossroads. I added two verses to that song, in order to give Sergeant William Bailey a bit of a background story.

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

James Connolly, a revolutionary socialist, wanted revolution against world war
James Connolly, a revolutionary socialist, wanted revolution against world war

Connolly was a revolutionary socialist. At the end of the 19th and very early 20th Centuries, the standard position of the international socialist movement had been against imperialist or colonialist war. In 1912, on November 24–25, the congress of world socialist parties at Basel in Switzerland, including revolutionaries and reformists, had come out clearly against imperialist war. Their manifesto was unanimously adopted at the congress. In the context of the situation created by the war in the Balkans that had begun in October 1912 and the increasing threat of world war, the Basel Manifesto called called for an unrelenting struggle against war and those responsible for it, the ruling classes of the capitalist countries. It stated that that war, if it began, “would create an economic and political crisis,” which should be utilized to “hasten the downfall of the rule of capital.”

British Army recruitment poster aimed at Irish men
British Army recruitment poster aimed at Irish men

As we know, the leadership of those parties that we now call the social democrats abandoned this position completely and championed their own ruling classes two years later as WWI broke out, cheering the workers of their countries on into uniform, to kill and be killed. There were some uprisings against the capitalists and against war but the first of any significance — and indeed of great significance — was the 1916 Rising in Ireland. The next revolutionary blow to war would not be until be a year later, with revolution in the Russian Empire.

Of the two better-knowns songs about James Connolly, the song “Where Is Our James Connolly?” is I think the best and truer to Connolly’s ideology. It was written by Patrick Galvin who was, among other things a writer, playwright, screen writer and singer. Galvin died only four years ago. Christy Moore remembers learning the song around 1970 which is probably not long after it was written – or at least published.

Patrick Galvin, author of "Where Is Our James Connolly?"
Patrick Galvin, author of “Where Is Our James Connolly?”

IN SPAIN THE PEOPLE SHOULD RULE — THAT WOULD BE DIGNITY

Rebel Breeze: This piece was received months ago but somehow got overlooked for which we apologise.  Events since then make the points in this short document perhaps even more relevant.

Red Roja describes itself as “a revolutionary marxist organisation active within the Spanish state”.  It states that it is “an autonomous organisation independent of any other party or organisation and also economically and politically independent of the State or of any other power, being anticapitalist, of the class, feminist, radically democratic, internationalist, anti-fascist and ecologist.”
(Translation D.Breatnach from http://redroja.net/index.php/que-es-red-roja/quienes-somos)

In Spain, ‘The people should rule — that would be Dignity’
Red Roja Red Network Rede Vermelha
Traducido por  John Catalinotto

The following is a statement of the organization Red Network in Spain to the Dignity marches of March 21, a year after a similar march brought 1.5 million people to Madrid to protest austerity measures.

On March 22, 2014, more than a million people from all over the Spanish state marched in Madrid for ‘Dignity’ against austerity.

On March 22, 2014, more than a million people from all over the Spanish state
marched in Madrid for ‘Dignity’ against austerity

We once again demand that those who caused the crisis be made to pay for it.

An unpayable debt is crushing us, we who suffer every day from unbearable job insecurity, dismantling and privatization of health and education, increasing retirement age, the disappearance of aid for dependents, and our millions of unemployed people who are worth less than nothing to those in power. … The austerity measures and cuts are only being used to pay for a debt created to rescue the gang of bankers, big business people and their servants in the National Assembly, who are playing chess with our lives. Besides using our suffering to line their pockets, they expect us to hang our heads and die in silence. That we refuse to do.

Regarding this, we are nowhere near satisfied with hearing only about “restructuring” or “audits” of that debt. We cannot stop at half-measures when our lives are at stake, when there can be no doubt that this debt is responsible for the criminal foreclosures, the endless unemployment and for the disappearance of even the modest steps taken against domestic violence that condemns many women to terror, suffering and death. It is not a technical problem to say, “NO DEBT PAYMENT.” It is a punch that the people can throw to demand control of their own lives.

In these times, it is understandable that there are illusions that an election can bring “victory,” that we can “throw out the PP” [the rightist Popular Party] or “get rid of the wealthy strata.” But more is needed. No one involved in the new electoral initiatives is speaking about the national and European laws that impose the payment of that illegitimate and criminal debt before anything else. Good will is not enough; neither is honesty. Proof of this is the victory of Syriza in Greece, which has not pushed back by even one step the measures the Troika [the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank] had taken against the Greek people. It has become clear who rules Greece: It’s the EU dictatorship. Democracy is an illusion.

Moreover, even this demonstration, though necessary, is insufficient. It is not enough to come together to demand “Bread, Work and Housing” (things that would only be possible after we refuse to pay the debt), or to have a great demonstration of dignity. As seen in Greece and as we see every day in our streets, bankers and big business are not going to give up lining their pockets out of good will.

We need to unite, to organize neighborhoods, towns, businesses and schools, and strike a blow together, all at one time. Only through the unification of our struggles, only if the people who are working and suffering get organized, can we bring about policies that work in our own favor.

The vote is not enough. The people need to organize. The people need to rule.

That would be Dignity.

A BLOC FOR WHAT?

Diarmuid Breatnach

From time to time people are asked to join a political bloc of some type. Should one join or not?

A political bloc is an arrangement of temporary unity, of as little as some hours of duration, for example on a demonstration, or of weeks, perhaps in a campaign to get an agreed list (i.e. “a slate”) of candidates elected or to vote a particular amendment to a resolution being proposed.

Blocs may be of longer duration, as for example with the Bolshevik bloc in the lead-up to the Russian socialist revolution. This last example is illustrative of the nature of blocs, which are generally not only for something but also against, or at least different to something else. There was a whole mass of political factions against Kerensky’s government in 1917 but the Bolshevik leadership sought to create a bloc not only against Kerensky and his followers’ maneuverings but also different to that of the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. What the Bolsheviks were for, apart from the slogan “All power to the Soviets” (the workers’, soldiers’ and sailors’ councils and assemblies), was a revolution as soon as possible, the overthrow of the capitalist-monarchist State and the creation of a socialist one (as well as pulling the Russian Army out of World War One).

Although the facts of the successful overthrow of the state and withdrawal from the War are not usually questioned by historians or political theorists, the fate of that state is. And the bloc itself had a very mixed history after the Revolution.

But what essentially is the purpose of blocs? Are they composed of like-minded people who don’t want to belong to a political party-type organisation, or perhaps of people of a variety of party political allegiances, but who want to join for the moment to promote a general idea? Or are they attempts by one group to create hegemony, to bring people of different perceptions together in temporary action, with the intention of building a more permanent organisation? Or perhaps crudely an attempt by one (or two) organisations to recruit members to their own organisations? I have over the years participated in blocs and it seems to me that different blocs have at different times been each one of those things. So I ask myself, is that ok? As political activists, should we consider blocs a legitimate type of temporary political organisation? Is each of those purposes outlined above of equal value?

A Black Bloc against repression in Germany -- location and year uncertain
A Black Bloc against repression in Germany — location and year uncertain

Around this time of year in 2010, early on in the protests against austerity, although then called “Right to Work”, back in the last year of the Fianna Fáil/ Green Party coalition government, there was a bloc formed for participating in demonstrations against the bank bailouts and consequent cuts in social spending and wages being imposed or proposed by that Coalition Government. Called the “Anti-Capitalist Bloc”, it seemed composed in the main of the anarchist WSM and what would often be described as “dissident Republicans”, chief among which at the time was the Éirigí organisation. There was a fair sprinkling of non-aligned activists (i.e. not belonging to any party or particular organisation) whose politics could be described variously as socialist republican, anarchist or communist.

Anti-Capitalist Bloc in Dawson Street, Dublin, marching to join anti-austerity demonstration at Dáíl in 2010
Anti-Capitalist Bloc in Dawson Street, Dublin, marching to join anti-austerity demonstration at Dáíl in 2010

This bloc gathered at a different rallying point to the rest of the Right to Work march but marched to meet it at the Dáil. In that role, it survived I think three demonstrations. The first one was attacked by police after the demonstrators refused to be prevented from marching to join the other demonstration.

What was the purpose of this bloc, at least in the eyes of its organisers? I have no documentation to hand but as I recall, it was to say something like: “the problem is not this or that economic measure or this or that party or government; the problem is capitalism itself.” It seemed to be implying that therefore we needed a revolution. I would and did agree with such a statement and with its implication. Not only did I agree with it

Black Bloc against the EU, possibly a section of the
Black Bloc against the EU, possibly a section of the “March for an Alternative” in London in March 2011.

but it seems to me a crucial point to make, if we are to end our vulnerability to the vagaries of the capitalist system’s fortunes and to its particular rapacity at various times.

This was a message clearly different from that of some sections of opposition to the Government: SIPTU and the ICTU were saying that there was a fairer way of sharing the burden, which was about what Sinn Féin was saying with “Tá bealach níos fearr/There is a better way”.

Reformist trade union slogan on anti-austerity march in 2010
Reformist trade union slogan on anti-austerity march in 2010

But could those participants in the bloc not have presented that point of view while still joining the other demonstration at its rallying point and marching with it? Perhaps – by each person being given specific placards, for example, agreeing a joint leaflet or by having speakers to represent their point of view. But all of those present difficulties – the production of an agreed placard slogan to say nothing of the difficulties of agreeing a leaflet. And a speaker might not be permitted by the organisers of the rest of the demonstration or their message would get lost among the others being put forward, even if the speech itself could be agreed by the bloc in advance. All the bloc participants could dress in a similar colour (like the “Black Bloc” on some demonstrations overseas in the past). But a separate bloc, marching behind a banner with a slogan with which each bloc participant could agree, was surely the least complicated way to deliver that message – and very visible. The police who attacked it certainly must have thought so.

Sinn Féin demonstration at the Dail in 2010 -- all totally reformist slogans apart from possibly the "Don't Pay the Bankers" slogan
Sinn Féin demonstration at the Dail in 2010 — all totally reformist slogans apart from possibly the “Don’t Pay the Bankers” slogan

There is another factor in such a way of organising a bloc – it permits a visible assessment of its size, of the identities of its participants (unless they go masked, as many of the Black Blocs abroad did). Of course this has a down side also in that the state’s political police can take notes on the participants for the purpose of their files. But it has a positive effect too in terms of future progressive and revolutionary action. A mailing list can be compiled for calling to future events, individuals can be introduced to other like-minded individuals, organisations can get to cooperate – all factors militating against the fragmentation of the radical and revolutionary sector.

Some people on the other part of the march accused the Anti-Capitalist Bloc of being politically sectarian. Perhaps some even thought them elitist. These are of course dangers. But was it or was it not an important statement to make, that the problem was not the governing party but the system, and that a revolution was necessary? And if it was an important point to make, was such an eye-catching way of making it not justified?

Let’s consider what happened in the months and years afterwards and where we are now. In the face of a wide-scale howl of protest at the bank deals of the Government, their economic measures, and recent individual politician scandals, Fianna Fáil were deserted by their Green Party coalition partners. FF dumped their leader and elected a new one for their party and for the Government. It was all too little, too late and they were obliged to agree to a general election, the result of which was that FF’s number of TDs (elected representatives) was cut by nearly 80%, the greatest electoral defeat suffered by either of the main political parties in the history of the state. And the Green Party was wiped out as an electoral force, almost disappearing entirely off the political map.

The electoral verdict otherwise was mixed. The main rival of FF, Fine Gael, got the most votes with the social democratic Labour getting the next largest amount. Sinn Féin jumped from four to fourteen, a Trotskyist party and a different Trotskyist led-alliance got four between them for the first time, twenty Independents were elected, most of them left-wing. But whether socialist, republican, conservative or social-democratic, all candidates had been elected on platforms of opposition to the deals the previous government had made with the banks and with the EEC’s banking regulators.

Despite that, Fine Gael and Labour formed a coalition government and proceeded — in fact — to endorse what their predecessors had done and furthermore, to intensify a regime of austerity on working people, introducing three new taxes and supporting legislation to squeeze the people still further. The message of the Anti-Capitalist Bloc was vindicated.

Would the whole demonstration marching under a banner of “Overthrow Capitalism” have significantly changed that electoral result? Extremely unlikely. But it would have posed the question to the participants and to observers. It would have effected subsequent campaigns of resistance to austerity measures and additional taxes. And it would have built a much wider consensus eight or nine years later that the overthrow of capitalism was the only solution with perhaps a growing consensus that such an outcome was possible.

Because here we are now nine years after those three appearances of the Anti-Capitalist Bloc and once again it seems a general election is looming. Once again, we see other political parties pushing forward to be elected on programs without any perspective of overthrowing capitalism. Political alliances based on continuing the system are being mooted. On social media one sees calls for for kicking out Fine Gael or Labour or both, rather than capitalism. On demonstrations against the Water Tax we hear slogans against Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael, or against the Labour Party – but few against the capitalist system. Sinn Fein seek to cut down Labour as they court the social democratic vote which, in the past, they have largely ignored (for example, they have little history in the trade union movement). The Trotskyist groups will also attack Labour, also going for the social-democratic vote as they have traditionally done.

Most people feel that the Government will fall soon but when they pose alternatives they are doing so within the framework of capitalism. That means that same class that commanded the deal with the banks and with the EU will remain in power. Their representatives in government will change but the class will remain. And if they remain, their exploitation remains. Not only that but in the present economic climate, their austerity program will remain too – perhaps with some tweaks here and there but austerity still.

A determined campaign of political leadership over the past nine years giving a clear direction of the need to overthrow capitalism could have us in a very different political position now.

So, the next time we get a call to join a bloc for a demonstration, should we rush to it? Well, not necessarily. Let us question what the bloc is for and what it aims to do. Is the bloc in question a tactic, for example like the Black Bloc, where we identify a revolutionary opposition by colour and also, by masking, make it harder for the State to identify us? There may well be a time and place for such. Or is it to declare a revolutionary principle such as “capitalism is the problem; revolution is necessary’? Or “Non-Payment of the Water Charge is what is required”? Then it seems to me that the answer is that yes, we should.

But if it is to draw some particular lines of political affiliation, for example to say that although the participants may belong to separate organisations or none, “we are all communists” or “we are all republicans” or “we are all anarchists”, then I fail to see how that helps the popular resistance movement proceed forward at all, to say nothing of revolution. If that is the purpose of a bloc, it is fine for the followers of that particular ideology but they would be best fulfilling it by holding public meetings and conferences.

On the street, we need to be motivating observers for participation in resistance, and motivating participants for unity in effective actions, for revolution. Motivation has an emotional component but also an ideological one and in that regard the message has to be to overthrow capitalism. At the moment it is that idea that needs to gain hegemony rather than any particular political party or organisation.

End.