Language is a treasure chest, full of jewels: history, philosophy, humour, politics, sex, literature, natural history ….. It is a chest full of wonders but it has some horrors in it too. I want now just to run my fingers through a few of those jewels, letsome of those wonders trickle through my fingers and before your eyes.
Language is composed of symbols – spoken words, then squiggles to represent those words on stone, wood, paper and electronic screens. In visual interaction, those symbols are accompanied by other symbols such as facial expression, hand gestures, bodily posture, tone, pitch, volume, emphasis …. yes, and chemical emissions. Different languages — sophisticated whole systems of symbols – have been developed for communication of information and recording but not only for those: for expression of emotion too. And each carries the history, philosophy etc of the particular culture that gave rise to that language and often many other cultures too. In turn, language comes to leave its imprint on the speakers of the language, to mold their very minds to some extent, shaping their culture. So when a language dies, much more dies than just a system of recording and communication.
We can see residues of Irish and the Gaelic culture in the way Irish people speak English, even those who have not been Irish-speaking in generations. We go to see a filum, sweep with a floor brush instead of “a broom”, reply to a question with a positive or negative of the same verb (will you go? I will/ I will not). Or we might have a thirst on us and go to a pub if the humour was on us. That pronunciation of an imaginary vowel between the ‘L’ and the ‘M’ is a residue of the Irish language and having physical and emotional feelings being on us, instead of having them, as in standard English, are the ghosts of expression in Irish. When other cultures are happy to thank us a thousand we say thanks a million, not because we are a thousand times more thankful than every other culture but probably because a million sounds like the Irish word for thousand, míle, from Go raibh míle maith agat.
* * *
Recently I was reading a novel, mostly based in Exeter, a city in Devon, SW England and I learned that the city’s name is derived primarily from the river Exe, with the ‘ter‘ being part of the noun ‘ceaster’ which meant first a Roman military camp (caster) and later, a town. Many place-names in England contain that ‘ceaster’, ‘caster’ or its variant ‘chester, for example “Lancaster” and “Manchester”.
Of course, with regard to the ‘Exe’, I could not help but think of ‘uisce’, the Irish word for “water”. And I’ve known for some time that Devon and Somerset have a great many megalithic monuments (more than Ireland even I read somewhere) and that nearby Cornwall has a surviving Celtic tongue (though spoken by few today). Anyway, I did a little digging with the help of the Oracle of Delphi, which today goes by the name of Google (which by the way in a short space of time has become an internationally-recognised noun and verb!).
The Wikipedia entry for Exeter tells us that the river Exe in the name of the city is from Old Brittonic, a Celtic language and means “ ‘water’ or more exactly ‘full of fish’”. Well that sounds pretty much like the meaning of the word “uisce” in Irish, which is also a Celtic language. But the Wikipedia entry for the river itself, as distinct from the town, says that the word “comes from the Common Brittonic word ‘iska’” meaning ‘water’ etc. But then the entry goes on to make the extraordinary claim that the word is unrelated to the word “whisky” while at the same time stating the latter word comes from classical Irish/Gaelic “uisce beatha” (‘water of life’). But since the Brittonic word for the river means ‘water’ and the Irish ‘uisce beatha’ (which became ‘whisky’) means ‘water of life’, then the words iska/ exe and uisce are obviously not only closely related but almost exactly the same!
Perhaps the entry meant something else and merely expressed it badly.
However, I am grateful to Wikipedia for drawing my attention to the connection between the Celtic words for ‘water’, ‘river’ and ‘fish’. Because the word for ‘fish’ in Irish is of course ‘iasc‘ which is not a million miles away in sound from ‘exe’ or even ‘uisce’. And if we were to stick the letter ‘P’ before the word ‘iasc‘, which the Gaels would never do, given that they avoided that letter and sound whenever they could, we would get the word ‘piasc‘, quite like the plural word for fish in Welsh, ‘pysg‘. And of course sisters of this word can be seen through some of the Romance languages, which in many ways are close to the Celtic: pez in Castillian, peixos in Catalan, peixe in Portuguese, pesce in Italian. And of course, for the astrologers, Pisces (Pis-kays) from the Latin, the star sign of the fish.
Now, the Greek word for ‘fish’ is psari, not all that similar (although it begins with the letter P too) but here’s a weird coincidence: the Greek name for the fish symbol used by early Christians, which is supposedly based on the first letters of the Greek words for Jesus, anointed, son, God and saviour ….. is the ‘ichtus‘. And the sound of ichtus is not a million miles away from the sound of iasc!
Anyway, back to Exeter, probably a Celtic settlement in a Celtic land by a river with a Celtic name, in a Celtic language, later a Roman town (perhaps preceded by a Roman military camp) with the word for ‘town’ coming from Latin, then overlaid by Saxon language.
“Old Brittonic” is the name given by philologists to the Celtic language once spoken all over Britain and of which the remaining survivors are Welsh and Cornish and, on the European mainland, Breton in Brittany and some words in Gallego in Galicia. Philologists call that branch of the Celtic languages ‘P-Celtic‘ because of its many old words beginning with the letter “P” which in Irish and other Goidelic or Q-Celtic languages (Manx and Scots Gaedhlig) begin with the letter “C”.
Exeter is an old place name in Devon and old place-names – as distinct from new ones like “Sea-View” used by property merchants to sell housing estates – tell us a lot about the history and culture of the people who named them and, often, something about their past in nature (for example all the places named after trees in this now-deforested Ireland).
Twenty-six, more than half the names of the 50 states that form the USA, are formed from Native American words or phrases. The original Americans, dispossessed, so many of them wiped out and a very small minority remaining in their ancestral lands, must find it hard to insist on the usage of their own place-names. Yet many of those have survived – European colonisers learned the names from the natives and for convenience continued to use them in their European languages so that they have now become US English words.
Of the Anglicised names of the 32 Counties of Ireland, only three are not of Irish origin – and the “English” names of those three were given to them by the Vikings. We are surrounded by the signs of our native language and culture but, for most of us, also cut off from them. This is hard to justify since unlike the Native Americans, for the most part, we have absorbed the invaders and we remain the majority on our land.
And yes, “Britain” and “Britons” were words associated with Celtic culture, derived from Praetani or Pretani, meaning “the people of Britain” and perhaps once a dominant Celtic tribe. Yes, and “Scotland”, it turns out, referred to a land in the north of Britain colonised by the Irish, to which they brought their language which has now developed into Scots Gaedhlig. And in the Middle Ages, a “Scotus” (Scot) was more likely to be an Irishman than what we today call a “Scotsman”.
And the “Scots” language of the poetry of Robbie Burns, including its practically extinct variant “Ulster Scots”, is actually based on German from Saxony and, except for some words, not Celtic at all!
Yes, it can all be a bit confusing. But interesting too.
The iconic Halfpenny Bridge over the river Liffey in Dublin seemed to be flying on Palestinian flags on New Years’ Eve. The annual event organised by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity campaign was favoured with not only a dry but also mild day this year and supporters and passers-by clicked their cameras to capture the scene, in the midst of which an Irish currach showing Palestinian colours was rowed up and down the river nearby by three women.
Communists, Socialists. Irish Republicans (both pro and anti-Good Friday Agreement) and generally democratic people lined both sides of the Bridge itself and spilled out at each end, which the IPSC had a busy stall on the south side, next to the Merchants’ Arch.
Yesterday brought to an end a year that was far from the worst in the long history of the bloody Zionist occupation of Palestine and the oppression of the Arab-Palistinian population. Even so, 149 Palestinians were killed during 2019 according to a statistical collection agency and 35 of those were children. During the same period 10 Israelis were killed, including two children. However, in December alone, nearly 45 Palestinians were killed by Israeli Zionists against no Israelis. The hugely disproportionate balance of death and injury in favour of Israeli Zionism has been a consistent pattern since the the beginning of the Occupation and makes any notion of there being a “war between two sides” deemed nonsense by many commentators who instead, see the conflict as vicious repression by the Israeli State and largely ineffective resistance by what is now a minority Palestinian population, controlled to a prison-like degree by a highly-militarised state.
USA SUPPORTING A RACIST STATE AND ILLEGAL OCCUPATION
2019 was also the year in which the USA Administration for the first time pronounced the Israeli settlements in what are termed “the occupied territories” to be no longer illegal, flying in the face of world opinion and many declarations of the United Nations. This comes after the introduction of the new Israeli citizenship law last year, pushed through by the right-wing and religious coalition with 62 votes against 55, which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, completing the process of making it officially a racist and religious state, downgrading the political, civil and cultural rights of all other ethnic and religious communities within the territory it controls. The measure was widely criticised by human rights groups around the world and within Israel itself, as also by much of the Jewish world population.
Solidarity with Palestinians is traditionally demonstrated in other places in Ireland too on New Year’s Eve as well as at various other times during the year: between yesterday and today, eight Irish cities and towns demonstrated publicly in support of the Palestinians. Some years ago the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland described Ireland as “the most anti-Semitic country in Europe”. Since what he really meant was “the most anti-ZIONIST country in Europe”, most Irish people took that comment as a compliment. It is the Zionists who try to equate Jewishness with Zionism and the Israeli State in order to further their ideological indoctrination and intimidate democratic opposition; in doing so, the put all Jewish people in danger of the backlash against the crimes of the Israeli State. Fortunately there have been – and continue to be – Jewish people, some of them quite prominent, who speak out against the crimes of Zionism but these are dubbed “self-hating Jews” by the Zionists, who heap insults upon them.
The IPSC continues to organise a number of Palestine solidarity events every year and welcomes wide participation.
At little over a week’s notice, a protest picket took place on the evening of Friday, 6th December in Dublin City’s main street in protest at the lack of democracy of the Spanish Constitution. The date chosen was the same as the public holiday designated by the Spanish State to celebrate the adoption of the Spanish Constitution by majority in 1978.
The protest was organised by three Catalonia-solidarity organisations in Dublin: With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, ANC Ireland and CDR Dublin. Calling the Constitution “a forced marriage without right to divorce”, the organisers published a statement in advance explaining the background to the Constitution and calling on people to support the protest.
The statement explained that when General Franco, the fascist-military dictator of the Spanish state, died near the end of 1975, opposition of various kinds that had illegal under the dictatorship – trade union, anti-fascist, republican, national-independentist – had been building for some time and took encouragement from his death. But State repression intensified with attacks by police, military and by fascist gangs.
“In 1977 the regime proposed to legalise their opposition parties, the PSOE and the Communist Party – on condition those parties agreed to support the installation of Franco’s nominee as King and Head of State and to control their affiliated (illegal) trade unions, the UGT and Comisiones Obreras.” This was the price for prisoners being released but no action could be taken against the torturers and murderers of thousands during the Anti-Fascist War or the Dictatorship or against those who had stolen children, raped and plundered. The (republican!) party leaders agreed and recommended the 1978 monarchical and unionist Constitution to their members and affiliated trade unions. Amid a wave of repression the take-it or leave-it Constitution was agreed in the Parliament and then in Referendum on 6th December 1978 by a large majority throughout the Spanish state, except in the Basque Country.
The statement pointed out that while the Constitution guarantees the right to self-determination, tht can be only if the majority of the Spanish Parliament agrees. in 1919 when Ireland had a majority of pro-independence delegates elected, as Catalonia has now, the text recalled that they declared independence. The statement went out to point out the close parallels of Ireland 100 years ago and Catalonia today, as the British proclaimed the declaration illegal, banned the First Dáil (Irish Parliament) and jailed elected delegates it could catch.
Although the Catalan Government has not yet been declared illegal, the statement pointed out that “seven of its Ministers and elected officers have been jailed for 13 years and others heavily fined (two grass-roots organisation leaders have also been jailed for nine years); 700 town mayors are to be judicially processed for allowing the Referendum on independence to go ahead in their towns on 1st October 2017, a Referendum when many polling stations witnessed a savage Spanish police attack that was seen around the world (but much of it not in the Spanish state, outside of Catalonia and the Basque Country). Opinion polls have shown that 70-80% of people in Catalonia want to have a referendum on independence, free from attack or threat but the Spanish State uses the excuse of the Constitution to deny them that opportunity.”
On the picket in Dublin a banner was displayed in Irish and English supporting Catalan political prisoners, along with a number of estelades (flags supporting Catalan independence), most of them of the red star variety (rather than the more common white star in a blue triangle). There was also a Basque Antifascist flag.
As the protest drew to a close, outlining their reasons for supporting the protest, a number of individuals gave short video interviews; one in Irish and Marc Loan of CDR Dublin gave one in in English.
Carles Pujol of ANC Ireland thanked everyone for attending and said a few words about the need for the protest and referred also to the Catalan political prisoners in Spanish jails. Diarmuid Breatnach of WCLC spoke briefly about the appropriateness of the protest taking place in front of of the General Post Office building, which had been the HQ of the 1916 Easter Rising against British domination. He went on to point out some of the parallels between Catalan and Irish history and concluded by saying that Catalonia today is in the same situation as Ireland was a century before.
As the protest began to conclude, another picketbegan to assemble in solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners and there was some friendly interaction between both groups. However the Catalan solidarity protesters were heading off for a performance in Dublin by Els Pets, a long-standing Catalan band in a kind of folk-rock genre.
During the band’s performance, which was enthusiastically received by the mainly expatriate Catalan audience, a number of references were made from the stage to the aspiration for Catalan independence. At one point, a band member ironically sympathised with the Irish not having a king, saying “You don’t know what you’re missing.” The Spanish King is hated by many Catalans because of his personal position with regard to violent repression against Catalan Referendum voters in October 2017 but also because the monarchy was re-imposed on a Republican Catalonia by General Franco. When the satirical song “I want to be a King” was performed, members of the audience began to blow yellow balloons and to bounce them around the area (yellow is the colour designated for ribbons supporting Catalan political prisoners).
At the end of the concert, a number of supporters lined up with placards supporting the right to self-determination, also denouncing the Constitution and Spanish State repression.
The politically-independent organisations concerned have organised more than ten public Catalan solidarity events in Dublin this year, including a cultural day in the park, film showings, talks and protest pickets. In addition, there have been organisational meetings and external meetings with public representatives and participation in a Spanish-Embassy sponsored debate (which wasn’t!).
When Basque independentists celebrated Gudari Eguna this year, the Day of the Basque Soldier, some of the celebrants were affiliates of the Abertzale (Basque pro-Independence) Left while others were supporters of the Basque Nationalist Party, nominally at least and often in reality, political enemies. However, it is not the same day for each.
The PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) commemorates the execution of 42 Basque fighters in one jail by the Franco forces on 28th October in 1937, whilst the Abertzale Left carries out their commemoration a month earlier, on the 27th of September, anniversary of the last executions under Franco (and, officially, in the Spanish state since): ETA martyrs Juan Paredes Manot (Txiki) and Ángel Otaegi Etxeberria, along with three members of FRAP (Revolutionary Antifascist Patriotic Front) Jose Luis Sanchez Bravo, Ramón Garcia Sanz and Humberto Baena, all shot by firing squads in 1975 (despite world-wide protests and riots outside Spanish embassies).
For much of the Abertzale Left, Gudari Eguna commemorates not only the martyrs of the 27th September 1975 but also all those who fought for Basque independence during the Spanish Anti-Fascist War and all who fought for it since, in particular those martyred in the struggle.
But even in agreement on that date and that purpose, there are differences too. For some years now some commemorations have been by supporters of Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (Amnesty and Freedom), who denounce the “Officials” for dropping the demand for an amnesty for political prisoners but also criticise them on many other political and cultural grounds: ceasing to push for the everyday use of Euskera (the Basque language), making political pacts with social democrats, etc.
Increasingly, ATA and the “Officials” find themselves incapable of sharing a commemoration or a platform as the latter move further down the path of accommodation to the Spanish regime, social democracy and the PNV, commemorating police killed, apologising for the ‘crimes’ of the now-defunct Basque armed organisation ETA.
JARKI – A COMPARATIVELY NEW ORGANISATION REJECTING THE ABERTZALE LEFT “OFFICIAL” LEADERSHIP
In Ireland, though they themselves might reject that appellation, the equivalent to ATA would be called “dissident Republicans” and Basques are not as touchy about being counted part of the dissidencia. But one new group has emerged which does reject that term as descriptive of themselves, while at the same time very clearly against the positions of the “Officials” and resolutely for independence and socialism.
This group is called Jarki, (of various meaning: “Resist/ Stand fast/ Push back/ Commit”; the first letter is pronounced like the Spanish “j” or the Irish “ch”).
Among other posters of factions of the Abertzale Left proclaiming Gudari Eguna in the Basque Country this September, I had seen one, very large, side by side with a declaration of position against the subjugation of the Basque nation, for socialism and class struggle. Curiously, there had been no venue advertised for a commemoration ceremony to take place. Was this group, this Jarki, not intending to have one? I made discreet enquiries, someone spoke to someone ….. who perhaps spoke to someone else ….
On Gudari Eguna this year,
27th September, I was met fairly early in the morning by my appointed guide. The mist gathered high upon the marshes and river and in the valleys as we drove higher, eventually coming out on a scenic site, the day cold but the climbing sun burning off the last of the mists. We rendezvoused with other carloads, then drove to another spot and parked. Asked to leave my mobile in the car, I accompanied my hosts on a long walk in unseasonal sun and heat to a field, where a temporary stage had been set up. It was to be a Gudari Eguna event organised by the Jarki organisation.
The security precautions were not excessive. This was taking place in the Spanish state, where fascism had never been defeated but had instead had a paint-over job in order to allow the Western states, after the death of Franco, to pretend it was a democracy. Until a few years ago, detentions of Basques had been like an epidemic, torture by police and army routine and just as routinely ignored by judges who sentenced the prisoners on the basis of their “confessions” or those of others to long years in jail. In contravention of EU and UN protocols for the treatment of prisoners, the political victims of the State had been dispersed to its furthest reaches, far from spouses, children, relatives and friends. And though the armed group ETA had ceased operation in 2012 and was now disbanded, persecution went on: that very month, 45 people of various organisations arrested in 2013, 2014 and 2015 for supporting the prisoners, including psychologists and lawyers, “supporting terrorism” according to the State, had been brought to trial1.
On the way to the rally, I saw many young men and women, in their middle-to-late teens or early twenties and also many others in ages ranging from late 50’s to 80s, also with a sprinkling of young adolescents. In other words, there were hardly any there of raising a family age. The sun was very hot now and I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist and, even so, was soon sweating.
I and one other were provided with a translator to Castillian (Spanish) for the speeches in Euskera – nobody else seemed to need one, a state of affairs that would not be matched in Irish Republican or Socialist circles with regard to our native language.
The heat beat down and I worried about getting sunburned, while at the same time very interested in what was going on. A large dragonfly wheeled above us, hovered a second then shot off. One of the folkloric Basque names for it translates as “Witch’s Needle” but it is important to recognise that in Basque society, sorgina or “witch” does not have the same negative connotations as can be found in much of western society, even today.
“THE STRUGGLE MUST CONTINUE — IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER”
A man perhaps in his 60s took to the stage and recalled his years in guerrilla resistance (i.e in ETA), his capture and the killing of his comrades (one was executed on the spot by the Guardia Civil2). He went on to talk about his yearsbeing dispersed around Spanish jails throughout the territory of the State. Speaking about the historical memory of resistance, the man commented that it was necessary to keep that alive – both of the Antifascist War and of the resistance afterwards.
Euskal Herria3 was still divided and still not free, he continued and therefore the struggle had to continue in one form or another, despite the abandonment of the path of resistance by the current leadership of the Abertzale Left. Similarly the demand had to be maintained not only for an end to dispersal but for an amnesty for political prisoners.
After his speech, a young male bertxolari stepped forward to sing his composition. This is a cultural form of social and/ or political commentary, composed by those skilled in the art to fixed rules of rhyme, length of line and a selection of airs.4
He was followed by an elderly left-wing journalist who, apologising for her inability to speak in Euskara, did so in Castillian (Spanish). She referred to her family’s history of anti-fascist struggle, both in the War and in the resistance that followed the victory of the military-fascist forces. She too spoke about the need to continue resistance to unjust regimes and for the right to self-determination.
The journalist speaker was followed by the performance of another bertxolari, this time a young female.
Last to speak was a young woman, speaking on behalf of the Jarki organisation. She recalled the anti-fascist resistance in the Basque Country in ……….. (a nearby battle during the Anti-Fascist War) and elsewhere, also by ETA in the years following the victory of the military-fascist forces. While others might try to pacify the people and to wind down the resistance, the need for active participation in resistance is as great as ever, she said. The woman ended with the call “Gora Euskal Herria askatatua eta independentzia!” (“Long live a free and independent Basque Country!”), to which all the audience (myself included) responded with a roar of “Gora!”.
The young woman then led the audience with the song Eusko Gudariak (“Basque Soldiers”, similar in content to the Irish national anthem, the Soldiers’ Song), most of us who knew the words or not with raised fists, then a couple of women let out the irrintzi5 yell, raising goose pimples on my skin.
Obviously, given my presence, not all the attendance had been Jarki activists but on the other hand, not all its supporters had been able to come either, I was told on the long walk back to the caron tired leg muscles in the blistering unseasonal heat. I joked that if I’d had my mobile with me I’d have phoned an ambulance. Some cured sausage sandwiches and a few mouthfuls of ardoa (wine) from a traditional wineskin, kindly offered where the vehicles were parked revived me somewhat for the journey back to my pickup point that morning but thankfully, we also stopped on the way for lunch and a cold beer at a Basque bar (for which my attempts to pay were kindly but firmly refused by my other travelling companions).
“MOST OF THE RESISTANCE NEEDS TO BE AT STREET LEVEL”
Later, at an appointment with a Jarki activist, I asked what the relationship with other Basque organisations was, given that his group will not accept the appellation of “dissident” and others will. He told me that they enjoy friendly relationships with a number of other Basque political and cultural organisations that have also broken away from the “Official” leadership. Jarki is a revolutionary socialist organisation for an independent Basque country and in support of the Basque language, he told me. “Although we do not at the moment put forward electoral candidates, we are not necessarily against doing so as a tactic”, he added, speaking quietly. “But the ‘officialistas’ are only interested in the electoral path and we think most of the resistance needs to be at street level”.
The organisation expects a disciplined commitment from its members, for which it also recognises the need for political education, especially of the youth. There had been wide criticism of the lack of this kind of education within the Abertzale Left since the 1990s and earlier, right up to the present.6
“The national independence and socialism of the Basque Country is of benefit to the world and the independence and socialism of other countries is of benefit to our nation,” he said in reply to my question about the issue of internationalist solidarity. He admitted that the representative of Jarki at their Gudari Eguna commemoration had not mentioned that aspect.
CALL FOR RUPTURE WITH THE SPANISH CONSTITUTION
A few days ago, while I was writing this long-overdue piece from contemporary notes, Jarki issued a national call to Basque society (translated by me from a Castillian version): “The Basque working-class people responds with rupture to the Spanish Constitution.”
The Spanish Constitution, despite not being accepted in the Basque Country7, is being imposed upon us. It is a document edited by the Francoists in a pact with the Spanish political parties. This document denies the self-determination of the peoples and besides accords to the military the role of guarantor of the union of Spain.
This Constitution designed the administrative separation of the provinces of the southern Basque Country.8
Faced with this imposition it is more important than ever that the working-class population of the Basque Country creates a revolutionary alternative which should be a political vision to lead the struggle for national construction and liberation and for socialism, the struggle for a united Basque Country, without classes.
For all those reasons we call for the organisation and mobilisation against the imposition, in which the Basque working-class population should follow its own path. Because of all that, we call for participation in the demonstration to take place on 6th December (Spanish Constitution Day) in Durango.
Although they wished to silence us, they will hear us. We have enough reasons. It is time to take to the streets. This people needs a revolutionary alternative.
1The day after 50,000 demonstrated for the right to support the prisoners and in solidarity with those on trial, Basque society was shocked when those charged admitted their “guilt” in exchange for walking free or a maximum sentence of five years’ jail for the “leaders” (instead of the up to 20 years normal from the Spanish court). The reverberations of that – the act of pleading ‘guilt’ itself but also permitting 50,000 to demonstrate in ignorance of the intention — are still travelling through the Abertzale Left and are likely to cost the “Official” leadership, who must have approved or perhaps even brokered the deal, very dearly. In contrast to the 45, another four, leaders of Askapena, Basque organisation for internationalist solidarity, charged with similar ‘crimes’, had fought the case earlier, for which they had won much respect and had beat the charges. Askapena, however, had quietly split from the Abertzale Left some years previously.
2The Guardia Civil is a militarised police force of the Spanish State with a very political role, the most active in the past against the Basque national movement and now similarly against the Catalonian. In addition the Spanish State has the Policía Nacional, also armed and active against movements for self-determination. Each region also has a separate police force, for example the Policía Foral in Nafarroa, the Ertzaintza in Euskadi, Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia, etc. And there are urban police forces too in every town or village.
3Meaning “the country where they speak Basque”, the term is now used to describe the whole Basque nation of seven provinces, three currently within the French state and four within the Spanish territory. “Euskadi”, the former term, now only describes the “Basque Authority” area of three provinces: Bizkaia, Alava and Gipuzkoa.
4This cultural form, at one time perhaps in danger of dying out, has become very popular and national competitions are broadcast on the Basque TV network. I have witnessed two bertxolari given pieces of paper laying out their respective roles (for example an Irish landlord and a Polish tenant) and, minutes later, engage in a battle of bertxos (verses) which had a Basque audience in roars of laughter and appreciation for the wit and skill of each. Close attention is paid by Basque listeners to bertxolari which, for a nation not culturally given to admiration for the song of the single voice (unless they can join to sing along), is truly remarkable. The Irish “comhrá beirte” is a similar performance art form but much less developed, certainly now, in Irish tradition.
5It is a long ullulating or yodelling cry, by males or females, said to be a call to war or to encourage Basques while fighting (it was also the name of a short-lived Basque resistance organisation functioning in the “French” Basque provinces). Such calls are common for communication of different kinds among mountain people, the sound carrying from one mountain to another and echoing but curiously enough it is also a feature of Arab culture in the desert and of some Native Americans. Example with a commentary in Castillian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcSaW6JUnUc
6That this has been neglected for decades in the Abertzale Left is a fact admitted even by many who remain within the “official” line.
7The Spanish Constitution was presented on a “take it or leave it” basis during the Transition period after the death of Franco, with much violence from police and fascist organisations and the fear of a return to the full-blown fascist dictatorship. The Spanish Communist Party with its huge and then militant trade union, Comisiones Obreras and the social-democratic PSOE, with its smaller Unión General de Trabajadores, were both legalised on condition they supported the monarchist and unitary state Constitution. In such circumstances it was hardly surprising that the referendum on 6th December 1978 brought in a huge majority for the Constitution – but not in the Basque Country, where it was rejected.
8Three of the four southern provinces, i.e those currently within the Spanish State, are under one regional government administration while the fourth, Nafarroa, has its own.
As fascism begins again to raise its ugly head in Ireland, it is necessary for all its opponents, whether social-democrats, revolutionary socialists of various types or democrats, to consider effective means to restrain its growth and to nullify its influence upon the ordinary masses of Irish society. These masses are at this point generally hostile to fascism and to racism (a seed-bed of fascism) but that can change and in history, has changed before, not just in other lands but in Ireland too during the 1930s.
Traditionally, the views on effective means of defeating fascism in western european society have varied between defeating their arguments, legislating against them or denying them any public space within which to grow. It might be useful to briefly examine the premise and experience of these different approaches in order to evaluate their efficacy.
DENYING FASCISM ANY PUBLIC SPACE
Taking the last case above first, most active antifascists, whether Anarchist, Irish Republican, Communist or Socialist, proclaim the need to physically prevent fascists gathering in public spaces or on platforms. This approach puts these elements into direct confrontation with the forces of the State which see the methods of the Antifa as illegal, as subverting their own roles and, often enough at different times, as a threat to their own plans for repression of resistance to regimes of austerity. 1
In 1970s Britain, those who advocated such an approach, despite the fairly recent history of the War Against Fascism and the 1930s struggles in Britain, were in a small minority and seen, not just by social-democrats and liberals but also by most of the socialist and communist Left, as “ultra-leftists”, “adventurists” or just plain “hooligans and thugs”.
A small English marxist-leninist party2, with its African, Asian and Latin American student connections, promoted the “no free speech for fascists” policy and managed, for awhile, to have the similar “no platform for fascists” policy adopted by the National Union of Students. Some revolutionary Communists, Socialists and Anarchists combined with some militant groups of the ethnic minorities targeted by the fascists to pursue this policy on the streets. The National Front and the British Movement found their marches, meetings, concerts3 and rallies attacked and they were eventually driven off the streets, with many sacrifices in the antifascist movement from the deaths of at least two antifascists4 to jail sentences, heavy fines and physical injuries.
In 2016, the islamophobic party Pegida was prevented by popular direct action from launching itself in Dublin. This approach does seem to have been successful in Britain, at least for decades, and in some other European areas, with ethnic and other minorities gaining a space in which to promote their culture and develop their politics. At the same time, it has to be acknowledge that many of the concerns of the ruling British elite had been successfully addressed or contained during the 1980s: restriction on the trade unions through industrial relations legislation, defeat of the National Union of Miners (1984-’85), of the printing unions at Wapping (1986-87), of the dockers through buy-outs and redundancies; repression of the Irish community through the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act 1974 and the jailing of nearly two score Irish people framed on bombing charges in five separate trials; increasing workers’ insecurity and dependence through large-scale change from being renter-occupiers to mortgage holders.
LEGISLATING AGAINST FASCISM
Legislating against fascism in western european democracies has largely been imposed opportunistically, as with France, Spain and the UK, as the ruling elites faced up to war with states where fascism was already dominant. In the Spanish state it proved ineffective and heroic popular resistance was ferociously overcome by a military-fascist uprising backed by the resources of two fascist states, while the ‘democracies’ stood by or imposed a blockade on relief for the beleaguered Republic. In France, any measures were nullified by the German Nazi invasion. In the UK, the measures proved effective due to the wartime posture of the ruling elites, facing a possible invasion and needing a mobilisation of the entire population to resist that possibility5. In the Irish state, where a new quasi-Republican government was facing the real possibility of a fascist coup aided by elements in the military, some banning measures were effective but these were preceded and assisted by popular mobilisation and direct action against the Blueshirts.
After the defeat of fascism by war and popular resistance, antifascist legislation was imposed on the defeated fascist states by victorious insurgents or by conquering forces. But today, fascism is on the rise in all those states that have been the subject of antifascist legislation. In the Spanish state, where fascism was victorious and remained so for three decades, fascists and their crimes were actually protected and, despite the democratic veneer of the “Transition”, no action was taken against fascists openly parading, displaying fascist paraphernalia and honouring fascist leaders such as General Franco and Primo Rivera (founder of the fascist Falange).
Liberal, social-democratic and even some socialist elements call for the State to bring in and to enforce legislation against “hate speech”. However, apart from being an insufficient answer, the label of “hate speech” has been used in the Spanish state to penalise denunciation of the Spanish State and its police forces.
DEFEATING THE ARGUMENTS OF FASCISM
Defeating the arguments of fascism, such as racist propaganda against ethnic minorities and for special rights for one section of the population, conservative and homophobic ideology, arguments in favour of male superiority, are argued to be necessary to defeat fascism since legal repression and active suppression can only drive those forces temporarily underground, from where sooner or later, they will emerge again.
Not quite the same but a similar non-State and pacific line is that the fascists need to be over-awed by the mobilisation of their opponents and their pariah status demonstrated to a passive public by the mass of anti-fascist numbers.
In the 1970s and 1980s in Britain, this was the dominant line among anti-fascists, among social-democrats such as the Labour Party, liberals, the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Trotskyists of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and of the Socialist Workers’ Party6. Their first tactic upon hearing of a plan for a fascist mobilisation was to build an antifascist mobilisation near the same point, to show large numbers opposing and hopefully outnumbering the fascists.
However, the fascists were already attacking ethnic minorities and other groups and hanging around oppositional mobilisations to pick off individuals or small groups. They had also attacked a number of antifascist public meetings with clubs and bottles and even a gas spray into eyes. Left-wing paper sellers were targeted on the street. Irish solidarity and other solidarity marches and meetings were also attacked and though certainly the Irish proved able to defend themselves, during the scuffles, the police were able to find an excuse to arrest the Irish marchers.
The leaders of the peaceful opposition to fascism policy refused to change their line and, as the likelihood of violent confrontations between fascists and their opponents increased, would call for a rally near the fascist mobilisation and then lead the antifascist march away from the fascists. The SWP promoted youth concerts under the banner of Rock Against Racism, but the fascists continued to mobilise.
In retrospect, it did seem as though the small and large-scale pitched battles with with fascists and with the police escorting and protecting them were what was demoralising the fascists and leading to splits within their organisation, ultimately defeating the fascist offensive of those decades.
Even so, the leaders of AFA (Anti-Fascist Action) which mobilised most of the successful actions against the British fascist organisations and their mobilisations, certainly in London, argued that it was necessary also to defeat fascism politically7 and that failure to do so would ensure a resurgence of fascism at some time in the future. This prediction has surely come true in Britain with EDL and UKIP, for example.
In my opinion, each of these approaches is necessary but overall reliance on any individual approach is likely to bring the democratic forces to tragic defeat.
The model of active denial of a public space has a position of central importance; the action to prevent the launch of Pegida proved successful and no doubt such actions will be necessary again in the future (though perhaps learning from that action to prevent or at least minimise arrests of antifascists).
I do not believe it is the role of antifascists to call for capitalist state action against fascists and any prohibitive legislation should be specifically anti-racist, anti-homophobic etc. A wide catch-all “anti-hate speech” legislation will find revolutionaries its targets more often than it does fascists (as is happening in the Spanish state at the moment).
Defeating the arguments of fascism must have a role in denying the fascists many of their recruits. As in European countries in the 1930s including Ireland and Germany in particular, some of the foot soldiers of the fascists are the oppressed poor, the educationally disadvantaged, the misguided as to who their real enemies are and where they are to be found.
In the 1930s the enemy was portrayed as being the Jews, Communists and homosexuals inside the country, whilst today those bogeymen are replaced by migrants, moslems, gays and supporters the right to choose abortion. In the 1930s the external enemy was the then-dominant European powers, France and the UK, as well as the Soviet Union; today, it is the EU.
It is not the role of anti-fascists to defend the EU (which to my mind is indefensible and which in any case will gain us nothing) but rather to point towards the real enemy, Irish capitalism and foreign imperialism. We need to show that through constant demonstration of examples and by leading struggles against those institutions.
In particular in Ireland it is of the utmost necessity to expose the nationalist posture of the fascists and racists. In two showings of Gemma Doherty supporters in Dublin recently, they flew many Irish tricolours, played ‘rebel songs’ and sang the Irish National Anthem (The Soldiers’ Song, by Republican Peadar Kearney). In a confrontation between them and the anti-fascists, it can seem that the fascists and the racists are upholding the honour of the nation. However the Blueshirts actually upheld the partition of the nation and the granting of a portion to a foreign power and fascists will end up supporting our foreign-dependent capitalist class. In addition, Irish fascists have been seen making overtures to Loyalists in the Six Counties, forces loyal to an occupying power.
Apart from the fact that we are all descended from migrants, many of those historic heroes celebrated in ‘rebel songs’ were born abroad, were descended from recent migrants or had at least one foreign parent; that list would include Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy and Mary McCracken, Thomas Davis, Tom Clarke, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Jim Larkin, Constance Markievicz, Eamon De Valera, Erkine and Molly Childers …..
We need to deny the fascists any place in popular anti-capitalist struggles, as successfully done with the brief flare of Yellow Vests organisation in Dublin and will no doubt need to be done again, for example in housing demonstrations.
Migrants need to organise themselves against attacks and increased exploitation and we need to be active in their support. This is the case too for other targeted groups; liberal cries for justice or for the application of “anti-hate speech” legislation will avail them not at all in the long run.
Having said that active denial of a public space for fascists is necessary, I would add that secret mobilisations should be for work that needs to be secret; however it is ludicrous to gather secretly and then to march out to stand in front of the fascists shouting at them. That work of visible opposition does need to be done but publicly, with mass mobilisations – antifascist forces should be able to outnumber the fascist and racist mobilisations in Ireland by a factor of ten to one. We should have effective amplification systems, play antifascist songs, and fly relevant flags (in particular, in my opinion, the Starry Plough, flag of the Irish working class in struggle in 1913 and in 1916).
It is crucial for us to realise that without revolutionary answers to crisis, fascism will present false solutions and diversions, calculated to have an appeal to sections of the population. And the revolutionary answers need to be not only theoretical but seen in practice also, actions that seem as though the revolutionaries and their allies are seriously fighting the system to advance the cause of the working people.
Fascism is one of the faces of Capitalism in specific circumstances. Ultimately, as long as capitalism exists, the danger of Fascism will never be far away.
1Recently the media reported judgement against a number of people who had allegedly attacked Irish fascists while the latter were on their way to the 2016 attempt to launch the Islamophobic party Pegida in Dublin. Others are currently awaiting trial for allegedly attacking apparently Polish fascists who were trying support the same launch. Of all the European countries where the launch of Pegida had been planned, Ireland may be the only one where this was signally unsuccessful.
2English Communist Movement (Marxist-Leninist), which became the EC Party (m-l). It was mostly active in London and Birmingham. The NUS currently has a a “No Platform” policy but which applies to specific organisations and individuals, including some British fascist and racist organisations.
3For example of the fascist skinhead band Skrewdriver.
4Both were killed by London Metropolitan Police truncheons: Kevin Gately, Leeds student of Irish parents, 1974; Blair Peach, New Zealand teacher, 1979.
5In the USA, fascism was only repressed to any great extent when the USA decided to enter the Second World War, which was after the bombing by the Imperial Japanese of Pearl Harbour.
6There were elements within all these sections that did not agree with official line and some acted in opposition to it. The SWP expelled those who practiced direct action against fascists and many of those elements went on to form Red Action and Anti-Fascist Action.
7For this premise and a partial history of the physical struggle against fascist organisations in 1980s and 1990s Britain, see for example, Beating the Fascists – the untold story of Anti-Fascist Action, by Sean Birchall, Freedom Press, 2010.
All kinds of socialists deride nationalism, as do some republicans. It is often seen as a recruiting base for fascism, for imperialism and the cause or justification for war. Indeed it has been all those things. And yet …. Perhaps the way in which nationalism has been viewed by the Left and Republicans is one-sided and its progressive potential overlooked. And perhaps taking a look at Basque, Catalan and Irish nationalism can demonstrate this.
Was James Connolly1 being reactionary when he upheld the rights of the Irish nation to separation from the United Kingdom, to self-determination? Was Thomas Davis being reactionary when he composed the words
Recently I began to question some of the criticisms of nationalism politically while at the same time I had struggled with them culturally for much longer. A few people may say that it matters nothing to them whether they are Irish, Italian or Iraqi. But most Irish people identify themselves quite strongly as “Irish”. I think that is primarily a cultural question. They have accents, sayings and history they share, character flaws and positive aspects, heroes, songs, poems, writers …. It is not the same for everyone but some of those aspects, in some kind of mix, are there for each person who identifies themselves as Irish. And of course, the sadly neglected Irish language. I don’t believe identifying oneself as Irish (or Icelandic, Iranian or Indonesian) makes one any less an internationalist.
“OK,” the socialist and the republican might say, especially the socialist, “but what does that matter? You can have regional cultures too. They do not detract from the fact that we are all socialists, fighting for the working class everywhere.”
And I would agree.
But the socialist is not finished. “It’s a different matter entirely when you elevate that cultural distinction to a political one, which is nationalism. That creed puts your nation above others and is a breeding ground for fascism and war and, in powerful nations, for imperialism.”
He has a strong case – but we’ll see.
Fascism is on the rise all across Europe and many other parts of the world and we see signs of its resurgence here in Ireland, with discourses against migrants, moslems and social freedoms on the rise. The fascists and the racists working among those discourses are indeed using nationalism as a cover and at the same time as some kind of a base. Recently, supporting Gemma Doherty, they were playing the Soldiers’ Song and Irish Republican ballads and they were waving the Tricolour. Some of them approached the antifa opposing them, asking questions like “Are we not all Irish?” 3
Now, as it happens, the national flag, the Tricolour, is not only about inclusiveness, i.e of a unity (white) between the descendants of colonists (orange) with those of the indigenous (green), but was also made by foreigners and presented by them to the Irish. It was in fact republican women of Paris, which was then amid revolution, who presented it to Thomas Francis Meagher in 1848.
Of the heroes and martyrs mentioned in the ballads, many were born outside of Ireland, including two of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence: Tom Clarke and James Connolly. Constance Markievicz too was born in England, daughter of a colonist family in Ireland; Wolfe Tone and Henry Joy McCracken, Republican leaders and martyrs of the 1798 United Irish uprising, were descendants of French Protestants. Many too were the sons of a non-Irish parent, such as Thomas Davis, whose father was Welsh and Patrick and William Pearse, whose father was English., also Eamonn De Valera, son of a Cuban father. The man who organised the sea journey to Howth with German Mausers as illicit cargo for the Irish Volunteers in 1914, Erkine Childers, was English and his wife and one of his crew, Molly, was from the USA.
On the other hand, those who made the deal with the British ruling class after years of liberation struggle were Irish — in 1921 they paralysed the revolutionary struggle, agreed to the partition of the country and in 1922 set out, even using artillery on loan from the British, to slaughter their opposition, their former comrades who wished to continue the revolution. Childers, the English gun-runner to Howth, joined the IRA in the War of Independence and in the Civil War, during which the new Irish State executed him.
The conservative forces, political and religious, that were the base of the new state and gave rise to the Civil War, had a kind of nationalism but it was quite weak. Most of Ireland became part of the British Dominions4, owed allegiance to the British Crown and “God Save the King” continued to be played at state occasions even while the Tricolour waved overhead. And it was from that seedbed that Irish fascism sprung for the first time, in the form of the Army Comrades Association, popularly known as “The Blueshirts”.
And because this fascism came from what was perceived as a State that had sold out the struggle to the foreign oppressing power, the Irish Republican movement found itself obliged to fight it and did so. From the most anti-communist right-wing Republicans to the most left-wing, they fought the fascists with publicity and physically, with fists and boots and, occasionally, with pistol shots. Socialists and democrats fought them too but it was the Republican-nationalist Government of Fianna Fáil5 that banned the Blueshirt march intended to lead to a coup and forced the organisation to back down, after which, despite enthusiastic support of the Catholic Church hierarchy, it did not again pose a serious threat of assuming state power.
Since those years and particularly since the end of WWII, Irish society has been on the whole anti-fascist in sentiment and the Irish Republican movement, with some exceptions, particularly so.
It seems to me, upon reflection, that although much of this sentiment is based on democratic and even socialist ideals, it is also, in part, a defence of Irish nationalism, a deep-seated wish for independence and self-determination, a memory that fascism in Ireland serves British domination.
And not only a memory but current reality: British Loyalism in Ireland, the militant force that garrisons and underpins colonial possession of the Six Counties (one-sixth of the area of Ireland) by Britain, is extremely reactionary. Apart from the numerous links with British (and even European) fascist groups over the years, Loyalism is deeply socially and politically reactionary. British Loyalism in Ireland is opposed to immigration, has been implicated in racist attacks on migrants, is opposed to any state recognition of the Irish language or civil rights for people of Catholic background, in addition to being against the struggles of the Palestinians, Basques, Catalans; also to gay rights and to the right to choose abortion.
SPAIN AND “THE RISE OF THE RIGHT”
In another part of Europe, there is a state which had experienced a military-fascist coup and war, after which it suffered four decades of fascist repression. Spain, after the death of the dictator Franco, went through a supposed Transition to democracy but the fascists remained in their positions of power which they handed down to their sons and daughters, these making room for a few social-democratic climbers at the table.
The November 10th elections this year in the Spanish State saw the rise, it is being widely said, of the far-right. It would seem so on the surface but one needs to understand that all the parties of the Right in the Spanish state have their origins in the Dictatorship: the allegedly “conservative” Partido Popular was created by followers of Franco; the allegedly “centre-right” Ciudadanos was formed by deserters of the Partido Popular, while the “ultra-Right” Vox was formed by deserters of Partido Popular and of Ciudadanos. There is in fact little political difference between those who vote for different parties of the Right and certainly none between those who voted for Ciudadanos before and those who have now voted for Vox. Most of the trumpeted “rise of the Right” in the Spanish territory is in fact a re-allocation of votes from one right-wing quasi-fascist Spanish party to another, rather than an increase of votes for fascism. Of course, that does not at all mean that there is no danger to popular and democratic forces but still …..
Viewing the rise of those votes for Vox and their pattern across the territory of the Spanish State, one can see that Catalonia and the Basque Country remain untouched, as any map of voting results will show. Basque and Catalan independentists tend to be proud of this, no doubt justifiably so but perhaps there is a danger here too. Do they think that at base, Basque and Catalan people are superior to those in the rest of the Spanish state? If so, they should think again …. and think deeply.
The Basque Country was, until the military-fascist coup, ruled by deeply conservative and Catholic elites. When Franco and the other Generals struck with German Nazi and Fascist Italian assistance in 1936, of the four Basque provinces within the territory, only two unequivocally decided to fight it: Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa. Alava’s resistance was half-hearted and in Nafarroa, the conservative Carlists wiped out three thousand socialists, anarchists and democrats and joined the fascist-military forces.
Until very recently, the Nafarroan regional government has been dominated by the UPN, a Basque version of the Partido Popular and, after a brief interval, they are in power again. The other three southern Basque provinces have a separate regional government which, for most of its existence, has been in the hands of the right-wing Basque Nationalist Party and the only time it has not, has been a brief period under the Basque version of the Spanish social-democratic party, the PSOE.
In 1936 the attempt to bring Catalonia into the fascist-military side was only prevented by a workers’ uprising and actual street battles. After the death of Franco Catalonia was also run, until very recently, by right-wing Catalan forces which, not so long ago, sent its regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to beat social and economic protesters off the streets and to shoot them at close range with rubber bullets, causing around a dozen young men and women to lose an eye.
On the other hand, the regional Government of Andalusia, now seen as a stronghold of the Vox party, has been ruled by the social-democratic PSOE from the moment the region had democratic elections after the Transition. However years of corruption and lack of concern for the fate of working people and high unemployment in the region has whittled away the electoral lead of the PSOE until this year, when Vox and Ciudadanos were able to combine and to take over the regional government.
FOR NATION, AGAINST FASCISM
Within both Catalonia and the Basque Country, independentist forces, which is to say, those of a nationalist and republican motivation, have evolved to be led by groups espousing left-wing ideology. Generally, the young activists and supporters are atheist or agnostic, anti-racist, liberal socially and environmentally conscious. But they also defend their language, enjoy their cultural expressions and either support independence or at least the right to self-determination. The opposition of these forces to fascism seems to me to rest on two pillars: 1) left-democratic ideology and 2) defence of the nation.
Similarly to the case of Ireland, those of unionist ideology and opposed to self-determination in Catalonia and the Basque Country tend to be on the Right with a fascist core and the major support for those fascists and unionists comes directly from the Spanish State through its police, military and judicial systems, as well as from fascist groups mobilised from outside Basque and Catalan territories. English and English-colonist nationalism tends to be based on colonial and imperialist history and thinking, to be reactionary and even fascist, features which it shares with Spanish nationalism, with the added factor that the forces creating and managing the Spanish state in its current form have been actually fascist and fascist-collusive.
I have therefore come to the conclusion that Basque, Catalan and Irish people are no better than anyone else fundamentally, including the English and the Spanish, but that the conditions governing the development of their culture and their resistance to foreign occupation and domination have given rise to a different kind of nationalism. This nationalism tends to be progressive, democratic, inclusive and anti-fascist …. and is playing a progressive role in the world.
1James Connolly (1868-1916), born into the Irish diaspora in Edinburgh, is considered by many the foremost revolutionary socialist thinker in western Europe in his time but he was also a trade union organiser, founder of political parties, journalist, historian, author and song-writer. He was a co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army, the first worker’s army in the world, which also recruited women on an equal basis.
2A Nation Once Again, published in The Nation, by Thomas Davis (1814-1845), Irish Republican journalist and song-writer.
3Protest of racist campaigner Gemma Doherty against proposed restrictions on “hate speech” at the Irish Department of Justice, Stephens’ Green, Dublin at the beginning of November this year.
4This however changed in 1937 with De Valera’s new Bunreacht (Constitution) which declared the Irish State to be a Republic and the Articles 2 and 3 of which laid claim to the Six Counties (overturned in 1999).
5A 1926 split from Sinn Féin on the issue of occupying seats in the Dáil (the Irish Parliament), it grew quickly and was soon elected to government (1932) and, as the preferred party of the native Irish capitalist class, has been in government more years than any other Irish political party. Despite its Republican origins and rhetoric, it continued to support the capitalist-Catholic Church alliance of its predecessor until very recently, when it criticised abuses by the Church of those in its care and failure to pay adequate compensation.
Conspiracy theorists get laughed at which, since some of the theories are indeed laughable, seems fair enough. Conspiracy deniers, on the other hand, get an easy time of it, which is a pity – because there are conspiracies going on. All of the time.
Then there’s simple convergence of interests, which give rise to conspiracies but can also operate independently.
A current example of convergence of interests: The EU and all its constituent governments decide that the struggle between Catalonia and the Spanish State is an internal matter for the Spanish ruling class and can they please sort it out without dragging most of Europe into the mess? In fact, if they don’t sort it out, it endangers a number of key players in the EU and, inevitably, the EU itself.
As the current President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Junker reminded everyone on the question of Catalonian independence in 2017, there are member states of the EU other than the Spanish one that are vulnerable to the same kind of ‘problem’, i.e that of a bid for separation and independence of some part (or parts) of the state in question.
And if we look at Europe outside the Spanish State, we can see what he might have meant. There’s the French state, which contains within it three provinces out of the seven of the Basque Country, a part of Catalonia, also Brittany, Occitania and Corsica. Each of those regions was at one time an independent kingdom or part of a kingdom other than that of France; each also has its own language and each has struggled against French domination at some time or other.
Italy is a state with huge differences between its north and south, a composite of many different parts that did not come under one state rule even formally until 1871, at which time the spoken language of one region could hardly be understood in another. And there is Sardinia, still with its own language and currently engaged in another struggle for independence.
The UK is in the process of ceasing to become part of the EU now but it is still a part of the pattern of alliances (and hostilities) that forms part of modern Europe. And the UK contains the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, not long out of the three-decades guerrilla war, also Scotland with a strong popular movement for independence. In addition the Celtic nation of Wales was subjugated but still has a strong language movement and there are some stirrings of nationalism in the Celtic nation of Cornwall.
Belgium is a united state but containing the French-speaking Waloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish and, although both languages are officially recognised, as polities, the two groups don’t get on very well together.
Even the separation of Catalonia from the Spanish State’s territory on its own would be bad enough from the point of view of EU leaders – but it could also precipitate the separation of the four southern Basque provinces, also of Galicia and Asturies. Which would certainly attract the interest of the southern regions of the French state.
In summary then, a successful bid for independence by Catalonia would start an “infection” (which is what Borrell, the Spanish Foreign Minister to the EU called Catalan independentism) which has the potential to cause the breakup of a number of major and medium states of the EU. And Junker also said that he didn’t want “an EU of ninety-nine states”. Of course not, such a union would be very difficult for the big European states to dominate and, in fact, those same European states would not be so big any more.
Conspiracy? Probably not – just convergence of interests. The ruling elites would have no need to get together, decide what they wanted their politicians to do, then have their various ministers sit down, formulate the policy of each state, have the foreign ministers of each get together and then inform the managers of the EU. The politicians have been trained and schooled, they know in general what their ruling elites want, without having to be told. They would react to Catalonian independence almost instinctively – with rejection. They view nationalism and independence, if it breaks up a rival power (such as the Eastern Bloc), as a good thing – but not in their own group!
THE USA IRAN-CONTRA CONSPIRACY
However, conspiracies do indeed happen, of course they do – and often. We have just passed by the anniversary of a key point in one huge one, the point when the “Iran-Contra” scandal began to break, in early November 1986. And President Reagan of the USA said that “the speculation that the US has sold arms to Iran has no foundation”, which was of course a lie. Basically, the US sold arms to the fundamentalist theocratic regime in Iran but, due to a US Congress embargo on such exports there, had to do it through Israel. They did so for two reasons, one for money to fund a military terrorist campaign against the government of Nicaragua which the US Congress would not approve, second in order to seduce the Iranian military (as they have done with the Egyptian military) and having them overthrow the Iranian regime. And the US wanted the Nicaraguan revolutionary government overthrown because it was not aligning itself with US foreign policy in what the USA considers its back yard (and a major source of raw materials) and also because a successful state of the type which Nicaragua was (then) would provide a ‘bad example’ to the other states of Latin America.
The Israeli Zionist ruling elite went for the deal because they too hoped the Iranian military would overthrow the theocratic regime and bring Iran back under the western-imperialist umbrella, as it once had been so secure that the CIA had its HQ for the whole Middle East located right there (and got caught with its pants down, or its secret documents in the process of shredding). And besides, the USA is the No.1 supporter of the Israeli Zionist regime in the world (another example of convergence of interests).
But despite the convergence of interests between the ruling elites of the USA and Israel, along with former Nicaraguan military, right-wing groups (for terrorist personnel) and US client regimes such as Honduras (for Contra bases) and Panama (for drug money to also fund the Contras, apparently through the CIA to sell in California – another conspiracy theory), a conspiracy was necessary to execute the operation. This was because of the unusual nature of the arms deal, its illegality according to US (and presumably Israeli) law and the number of partners involved. And the silent complicity of the US mass media was necessary, at least until a CIA plane delivering weapons was shot down by Nicaraguan forces over their territory and an operative, Eugene Hasenfus, captured alive.
A COMMON KIND OF CONSPIRACY
Another example of conspiracy is that of price-fixing between big companies on given products. There have been a number of these exposed over the years. A conspiracy is necessary in this case because normally, the interest of big companies is to increase their share of the market over that of the competition. But at times, they perceive that it is in their joint interests to cease cutting one another’s throats and to regulate the prices of their products by agreement among themselves. Not only is this illegal in most administrations but it runs counter to the philosophy of capitalism, i.e that competition, instead of the cooperation advocated by socialists, is good for society. The fact that price-fixing is out of the norm of capitalism requires coming to formal agreement between the participants and the fact that it is illegal and undermines capitalist propaganda, requires secrecy – hence conspiracy.
However, most of what goes on in the world when government or other reactionary elements cooperate is probably just the result of convergence of interests, easily recognised by the participants.
A CONVERGENCE OF VERY DIFFERENT INTERESTS
Generally speaking, it is when their partnerships are put under pressure that the established convergence begins to crack; when one partner or another decides that the price of remaining in it is too high or that it’s time for sauve qui peut (everyone for himself). What can achieve that level of pressure is another kind of convergence of interests, that of the masses of wage-earners, small business people, peasants and indigenous people, recognising that by acting together, they can overthrow the existing system and set up an alternative that corresponds to their needs.
An anti-fascist bookfair was held in Portugalete1, not far from Bilbo (Bilbao) in the southern Basque Country on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th September. There was ample room for the many stalls in the old disused indoor market in the town’s Casco Viejo (old town quarter), along with a curtained-off play area for children. One of the events in the two-day bookfair was a launch of the translation into Castillian (Spanish) of D’Arcy’s book “Tell Them Everything”(“Di Les Todo”). The translation was published by Sare Antifascista, one of the organisers of the bookfair and D’Arcy spoke in English at the launch, her talk translated into Castillian; also speaking was Basque ex-political prisoner Ziortza Fernandez Larrazabal.
Trembling from the illness that has affected her for a number of years (which she later commented resulted from attacks by fascists during the Greenham Common protest and later in Ireland by police) D’Arcy spoke clearly and coherently about her activism, the founding of Women Against Imperialism, the Greenham Common protest camp, her period in jail with Republican women and her activism against the USA’s military use of Ireland’s international airport at Shannon (despite the country’s constitutional neutrality).
Going on to speak about Ireland today, D’Arcy outlined some of the aspects of the notorious Direct Provision Centres for asylum seekers in the Irish state, the issues arising from the location of such centres and the opportunistic intervention of fascists against immigration. She went on to talk about the targeting on social media of those who spoke up welcoming asylum seekers or against racism and commented that the worrying thing about this development was that the fascists had a youth wing. Recalling the referendum on conditions of nationality in 2014 which had removed the rights of people born in Ireland to Irish citizenship unless they had an Irish citizen parent or grandparent, D’Arcy concluded by saying that Ireland is a racist country.
Referring to the Six Counties, D’Arcy criticised Sinn Féin for using the proposed Irish Language Act as a political football and as something with which to attack their political opposition, the Democratic Unionist Party2. Continuing, she said that “Scottish Irish”3 also existed in the Six Counties and asked why that could not be included in the Act, also quoting James Connolly that he didn’t care what language people spoke as long as they could communicate together.
Whatever about the issues in the Brexit question, the speaker said, Britain had used Ireland as a military training ground and had many bases in the Six Counties and these needed to be dismantled.
D’Arcy concluded by advising Basques to approach the Irish Consulate in the Basque Country to enquire whether it would be safe to travel to Ireland, given the US military use of Shannon Airport and the growth of fascism and racism in the country.
After the Irish speaker and speaking in Castillian, Ziortza Fernandez Larrazabal, ex-political prisoner from the locality,spoke first in tribute to D’Arcy’s record of activism. Moving on to her own activism in support of Basque independence and socialism and her five years in jail, Ziortza recounted being moved through a number of jails as part of the Spanish State’s policy and practice of dispersing political prisoners far from their homes and the strain this places on their friends and relations.
Commenting on the effects of imprisonment in Spanish jails, Ziortza said that some political prisoners had died through neglect, some had killed themselves but some had come out stronger, clearer in their minds and confirmed in their political views, which is what she felt had happened in her case. Ziortza said that some prisoners had 40 years of jail sentence and that they should be released.
After applause for the speakers, the Sare Antifaxista chairperson opened the meeting to questions from the audience. After a silence of some minutes, one man spoke in praise of the courage and commitment of both women and their record of activism. Speaking in Castillian with an Irish accent, he said he felt he had to distance himself from some of D’Arcy’s words. He felt it was important not to confuse government with people and that the Irish people were not, on the whole, racist and in fact racists and fascists had found it very difficult to organise within the territory of the Irish State.
Recounting the historical experience with the fascist Blueshirts in the 1930s, the Irishman said that they had been fought on the streets and defeated. When Pegida tried to launch their fascist and islamophobic group in the capitals of European states in 2016, they had failed in Ireland because firstly their gathering point had been occupied in advance by anti-fascists and anti-racists and, secondly the fascists themselves had been physically attacked and beaten. He talked also about a recent initiative to launch a “yellow vest” movement in Ireland but which fascists and racists had moved in to lead – that initiative had, as a result, been rejected and had faded away. Fascists are active on social media but find it difficult to hold events in public. The danger of racism and fascist organising should not be dismissed, the Irishman said but so far, in Ireland, racism and fascism was being repulsed among the people.
While it was true that the Government had proposed changing the nationality clause in the Constitution in 2014, he said, this had been part of a process across the whole of Europe. The referendum was held on that question along with another at the same time and only the social democrats and trotskyists had noticeably campaigned against the change. The vote in favour had to be seen in that context.
Moving on to the question of nation and language, he said that nations had a right to self-determination which, in many cases, was opposed by imperialism, which also damaged many languages. The loss of a language, he said, means the loss of a way of thinking and seeing, of literature, poetry and song; the loss of such is a loss for entire humanity.
A Basque woman also spoke from the floor, partly in Castillian and partly in Euskera (Basque), expressing her admiration for the record of both women speakers and referring to her own involvement in her youth in Greenham common. She went on to speak about the danger of nationalism but also in support of the rights of language and said that if there were no states in the world, she would not want one either but as long as there are, she wanted one for her own nation.
She also said that at this time it was important to support the struggles for self-determination not only of the Basques but also of the Catalans.
The event came to an end and people moved off for lunch in various bars, or to chat or to browse the bookstalls. The latter were run by a number of organisations: Inugorria Liburodenda (Gernika revolutionary and progressive bookshop), Sare Antifaxista; CNT, Mujeres Libres, IPEs, Baskale, FAI, DDT Banaketak, Periko Solabarria Elkartea, Komite Internazionalistak, Jazz Oi!, Templando el acero, Amnistía Ta Askatasuna, SRI.
1 Portugalete has a Metro station, reachable from Bilbao. The Casco Viejo (old town) is a number of narrow streets lined by bars and shops heading steeply downwards from the Metro station towards the river front, where there are a number of restaurants and bars and a nearby port museum. The interesting Puente Colgante is nearby; a pedestrian bridge across the river worked something like a horizontal lift.
2 Given that Sinn Féin makes no effort to ensure its own membership is Irish-speaking, or even its leaders (despite some of them being very proficient in the language), also that all its internal and nearly all public meetings are conducted through English, this would seem to be a correct assessment by D’Arcy.
3 D’Arcy probably meant Ulster Scots or Ullans, which is not any kind of Irish but a variant of Scots, the Germanic-English dialect once prevalent in the Scottish Lowlands (often called “Lallands”), in which for example Robbie Burns wrote. It has Minority Language Status in the Six Counties and while Irish-speakers generally have no opposition to the promotion of that dialect, hardly anyone speaks it today and it was raised as an issue by Unionists purely as a counter to the rights of Irish-language speakers. Scotland does have Scottish Gaedhlig, with over 57,000 recorded speakers (2011 Census) but this is not spoken in the Six Counties.
The Diada, national day of Catalan identity and of resistance was celebrated in Dublin’s Merrion Square on Saturday 7th September with traditional food, drink, games and music. Catalan independentist flags and banners were also on display as were portrait placards of Catalan political prisoners of the Spanish State.
The Diada Nacional de Catalunya (Diada for short) is the National Day of Catalonia, a one-day event celebrated annually on the 11th of September. It commemorates the fall of Barcelona during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, which resulted in Catalonia’s institutions and legal system being abolished and coming under the domination of the Spanish crown.
The Army of Catalonia backed the Habsburg claim to the Spanish throne, believing thereby that Cataloni’s national autonomy would be respected. However, the army of the Bourbon King Philip V of Spain was successful and Barcelona fell after a siege of 14 moths.
It Diada first began to be celebrated in 1888 and gained in popularity over succeeding year and in 1923 was a mass event with events all over Catalonia. However clashes with the Spanish police resulted in 12 protesters and five police being wounded and a number of arrests. Primo Rivera’s dictatorship banned it but during the 2nd Spanish Republic (1931-1939) the Catalan Generalitat (Government) made it an institutional festival. With the fall of Catalonia to the military-fascist forces of Franco and others, it was banned and celebrated only in people’s homes.
The first renewed public celebration of the festival was in 1976, following the death of Franco the preceding year and in 1977 was the occasion for a huge demonstration demanding independence for Catalonia and in 1980 was made official by the Generalitat.
With the renewed growing push for Catalan independence, the day has been the occasion for huge demonstrations demanding self-determination. For some years now the ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia), which claims to be the largest grass-roots organisation not only in Catalonia but in the world, has been the main organiser of the Diada and has used it as part of its mobilisation for indpendence (which presumably is the reason the Spanish State has put its former President, Jordi Sanchez, on trial on charges of sedition and rebellion and in detention since 2017, the verdict expected this month or next.
Although the Diada commemorates a crushing defeat for Catalan self-determination, its celebration has become an occasion of re-affirmation of that desire, a public sign of resistance. Massive demonstrations once again have been held and, as in Dublin, expatriate and Catalan diaspora communities around much of the world have celebrated it publicly this year, particularly in Europe but also in Latin America and in the USA.
Merrion Square, a public park in the Dublin city centre, was the venue for the Diada event organised by Catalans in the Irish branch of the ANC and by Dublin CDR (Comite de Defensa de la Republica) on a the 7th, which was a Saturday.
The area was decked out with estelladas (Catalan independence flags) and placards bearing portraits of the Catalan political prisoners (see following section on the Situation in Catalonia). Parents attended with their children and games were played with them as well as a traditional Catalan game being available for adults and a few engaged in a version of the poc fada Irish activity with camáin (hurley sticks).
Traditional food and drink was provided also. Commenting on the event, a spokesperson for the organisers said:
“We had a festive and family-oriented Diada (National Catalan Day) in Dublin. We also publicised a call for freedom for the political prisoners and the right of self-determination for Catalonia.”
SUMMARY OF SITUATION IN CATALONIA
The Catalan Parliament has twice passed a number of legal measures which have been judged “unconstitutional” by the Spanish Court and therefore cancelled. These included:
Increased taxes on large companies
a “sugar tax” on sweet soft drinks
ban on bullfighting
access to public medical care for migrants
ban on evictions and high rents
The growing push for Catalan self-determination found expression in a number of growing public events and in October 2017 a referendum was held. The Spanish State banned the referendum and its police raided the Government offices and other places for ballot boxes. On the day of the Referendum, October 1st, Spanish police attacked voters and referendum supporters with a reported nearly one thousand seeking medical attention. They also fired rubber bullets, which are banned in Catalonia, at peaceful demonstrators.
The Catalan right-wing anti-independence parties had called for a boycott of the referendum and many ballots were confiscated by the Spanish police. The majority of those available gave a high majority for an independent Catalonian republic (there were no other options other than “No”).
The then President Puigdemont, backed by the pro-independence majority in the Catalan Parliament, acting on their mandate, in 2017 declared an independent Catalan Republic but immediately suspended it, urged by EU advisers to seek talks with Madrid (which he reflects now was a mistake).
Subsequently the Spanish State prorogued the Catalan Parliament until new elections were held and also charged a number of politicians and social activists with sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds (allegedly to fund the Referendum). Some, like Puigdemont, went into exile and others to jail without bail; their trial is now over and the verdict is expected later this month or next. In addition, numbers of secondary school teachers have been called to testify because of their responses to the questions of pupils about the Referendum and the destruction to their schools by police and around 700 town mayors are also called to testify for allegedly facilitating the Referendum.
The elections forced by the Spanish State returned a broad political backing for Catalan independence from right to left which finds expression in a number of coalition parties (Junts per Catalonia, Esquerra Republican and Candidatura d’Unidad Popular), opposedby a substantial but minority hard-right unionist oppositioncoalition too (mostly Ciudadanos). The coalition based on the Catalan version of Podemos also has seats but its actual position on independence is not easy to define.
Since then, the Spanish State elections and the European elections have also returned pro-independence candidates but EU senior officials blocked Catalan MEPs who are in exile from taking their seats and another is in Spanish jail, awaiting a verdict.
SPEAKERS WARN OF RISING FASCISM, CALL FOR UNITY OF ANTI-FASCISTS
Flags of various kinds flew above a gathering in Monagear, Co. Wexford on Saturday 7th September, while a number of banners were visible among the crowd: Peter Daly Society, Connolly Association Manchester, Wexford Community Action, Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland, Friends of International Brigades Ireland, Éirigí, Connolly Column. Also in attendance was a group of young men and women dressed to represent the International Brigaders and the POUM1 milita, organised by the Cavan Volunteers group. The event had been organised by the Peter Daly Society with support from the Peadar O’Donnell Forum.
Monagear is a small village in the centre of Co. Wexford, a few kilometres north-east of Wexford town. Also known a Monageer, both words are, like most place-names in Ireland, from the original Irish language: Móin na gCaor, “the bogland of the berries” (probably of the Rowan or Mountain Ash, which in Irish is Crann Caorthainn). Not far from it are the historic place-names associated with the United Irishmen uprising of 17982 in that county, such as Boolavogue and Enniscorthy and indeed, a small commemoration garden in the village has memorial stones dedicated to that struggle and to others since.
At a signal, the gathering of people with flags and banners, led by a colour party flying the Irish Tricolour, the flag of the 2nd Spanish Republic, a red starry flag and the Irish workers’ Starry Plough, moved in procession down into the village area and assembled outside the raised platform containing the tasteful simple memorial to Peter Daly, International Brigader killed in the War Against Fascism in the territory of Spain (1936-1939).
Steve McCann, Chairman of the Peter Daly Society, with another man beside him, opened the ceremony from the memorial platform by briefly outlining the history of the Peter Daly commemorations and of the Society (founded in 2011) which he said had from the beginning welcomed the involvement and participation of Irish Republicans, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists and plain anti-fascists. After outlining the program of speeches and songs for the day, he called Gearóid Ó Machaill to give the first speech, on behalf of the Friends of the International Brigades, Ireland.
“THE IRISH ARE NOT IMMUNE TO FASCISM”
Ó Machaill opened his speech in Ulster Irish, thanking the organisers for giving him the opportunity to speak there at the cradle of Peter Daly, Irish Republican, socialist, anti-fascist. Continuing, he said that the conditions that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s are very similar to those of today. Speaking of the Republican Congress of 1936-1938, he said it had worked to overcome divisions in the working class and in the anti-imperialist movement. But it had fallen apart in disunity, unfortunately and in Ireland today, the anti-fascist forces are as divided too.
The Irish were not immune to fascism and had a strong fascist movement in the 1930s, supported for awhile by the State, X said. In the years since the defeat of fascism around most of the world, attempts to set up a fascist movement in Ireland had been smashed, said Ó Machaill but cautioned against complacency.
In some other parts of the world, workers betrayed by social democracy and hurt by capitalism, turned to hard right parties and outright fascists and it was entirely possible that such fascists would become popular while leading a campaign against bankers and even imperialism, pushing a line of “Irish for the Irish”.
“We cannot afford the divisions and need to unite ….. as Republicans and Socialists did in preventing the attempted launch of Pegida in 2016,|” said the speaker.
Steve McCann introduced the man beside him as Diarmuid Breatnach and called him to sing the first song of the selection for the ceremony and to say a few words about its content. Breatnach pointed out that migrants are often a prime target of fascists and the song he was to sing was about migrants and their treatment. On 28th January 1948,a DC-9 transporting Latino illegal migrants and “guest workers” crashed in the Los Diablos region of California and all 32 on board were killed. The radio news reported the crash but only gave the names of the crew members and the Immigration Department guard, saying the others killed were “deportees”. The names of the dead were known in their localities and were printed in local newspapers but were not deemed worthy of mention on the radio.
Wood Guthrie wrote a poem called “Deportee” about the tragedy which was put to music by Martin Hoffman, the song since called Deportees or Plane Wreck at Los Gatos. Breatnach then sang the song, the chorus of which says:
Goodbye to my friends,Farewell RosalitaAdios mis amigos, Jesús y Maria;You won't have a name When you ride the big airplane --All they will call you Will be “deportees”.
LESSON OF HISTORY – NOT LIBERALISM BUT ROBUST ACTION IS NEEDED
Mags Glennon was called to read a statement on behalf of Anti-Fascist Action. Moving on from the background to the fascist upsurge of the 1930s and the background of those who fought to defeat it, Glennon read: “Far-right parties have risen from minor subculture to government across Europe in recent years, showing the glaring need for principled and active opposition to fascist and far right forces. The most concerning aspect of this political resurgence is the support it has received from young people and large sections of the traditional working class, due to the abandonment of these people by social democrats, and other parties who claimed to ‘represent’ them. Well meaning liberalism has never defeated fascism. It never will.”
Reading from the statement, Glennon called for a “re-energising” of the struggle to defeat those “aiming to distract our communities and young people from fighting their real enemy. Where there are fascists we must oppose them.”
Glennon concluded by reading: “Appeals to the police, to parliament or to Google to censor fascists have no place in anti-fascist struggle. History has shown that robust action against fascists in Ireland has always sent them running back to the gutters to think again. Long may it continue. La lucha continua!”
“MUST ORGANISE IN WORKING-CLASS COMMUNITIES”
The MC, Steve McCann, introduced the anti-fascist and community activist as well as Independent Dublin City Councillor, Ciaran Perry. Speaking without notes, Perry outlined the historical necessity of defeating fascism politically and physically.
Echoing a previous speaker’s comments, Perry too called for unity of the antifascist forces against fascism but also against capitalism and imperialism. He said that working-class communities, betrayed by social democracy and distracted by identity politics, had become prey to the propaganda of fascists.
Fascism is a facet of capitalism”, Perry said “and therefore the enemy of the working class. The working class should be our natural constituency.”
Going on to suggest that if fascists build bases in working class communities it is because of the failure of the Left, he called on socialists and antifascists go into those communities and to build their bases there.
ESCAPE FROM DACHAU AND DEATH IN SPAIN
Breatnach stepped forward to sing a combination of two songs from the German side of the anti-fascist struggle. The German political prisoners in the concentration camps were forbidden to sing socialist songs and had written their own, one of which became famous around the world was The Peat Bog Soldiers, lyrics written by Johann Esser, a miner and Wolfgang Langhoff, an actor and melody composed by Rudi Guguel.
“Hans Beimler (1895-1936) was a WWI veteran, a Communist, a Deputy elected to the Reichstag in 1932,” said Breatnach. “In January 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany. The Communist Party was banned and in April 1933 Beimler was arrested and sent to Dachau extermination camp where, in May, he strangled his SA guard and, putting on the man’s uniform, escaped. He went to Spain where he was a Commissar with the International Brigades and was killed in the Battle of Madrid on 1st December 1936.”
He would sing two verses of the Peat Bog Soldiers, Breatnach explained, combined with the Hans Beimler song.
“THE NORM WAS FOR ALL CAPTURED INTERNATIONAL BRIGADERS TO BE EXECUTED”
The sun sinking towards the west shone over the heads of the attendance on to the raised bed of the memorial stone and its flagpoles and, except when covered by clouds, into the eyes of those on the platform. Outside the nearby pub some locals gathered and behind those gathered around the monument, others in attendance lined a low wall while nearby other local people, mostly youth, congregated for a time. Occasionally a passing car drove carefully along the street past the crowd. House martins darted above, a wasp occasionally bothered the speakers and the smokey-blue soft curves of the Silvermine Hills and Knockmealdown Mountains rose to the west.
The Chair of the event called Harry Owens to speak.
Harry ‘s speech traced the history of world events that had led up to the fascist coup and war in Spain. He also spoke about the kind of people the Brigadistas had been, quoting from their comrades, journalists and opponents. That Captain Frank Ryan had his life spared was unusual, he explained, as the tendency was for all anti-fascist officers to be executed and all International Brigaders of all ranks. Whilst the Spanish fascists wanted to execute them, the Italian soldiers tended to keep them alive in order to exchange them for Italian prisoners of the Republican side.
The death toll among officers and men in the International Brigades had been higher than the norm in warfare and the average in the Irish contingent higher still, Owens said. The food and armament supply conditions of the Republican side had been poor in many areas but almost to a man they had fought on until death, capture or demobilisation. It was their conviction, that they knew what they were fighting for and believed in it that accounted for that.
After Owens’ speech, Breatnach stepped forward to sing, without introduction, Viva la Quinze Brigada3(the song written by Christy Moore about the Irish who fought in the 15th International Brigade). The song mentions Peter Daly in the verse:
This song is a tribute to Frank Ryan,
Kit Conway and Dinny Coady too,
Peter Daly, Charlie Reagan and Hugh Bonner,
Though many died, I can but name a few.
Danny Doyle, Blazer Brown and Charlie Donnelly,
Liam Tumlinson, Jim Straney from the Falls,
Jack Nalty, Tommy Patton and Frank Conroy,
Jim Foley, Tony Fox and Dick O’Neill.
The words of Moore’s chorus rang out along the street:
“Viva la Quinze Brigada!
No Pasarán!” the pledge that made them fight;
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside,
Let us all remember them tonight.
…. and concluded with the cry “Viven!” (“They live!”)
WREATHS, THE INTERNATIONALE AND AMHRÁN NA BHFIANN
McCann called for those who wished to lay wreaths on behalf of organisations and the following came to lay floral tributes: John Kenny, activist of the Peter Daly Society; Mags Glennon for Anti-Fascist Action; Seán Doyle for Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland (who had provided the colour party); Connolly Association Manchester; and Gary O’Brien for Éirigí. Messages of support had been received from the CPI, IRSP and the Connolly Association Manchester.
McCann then called Breatnach forward to sing the Internationale, the international anthem of the working class, the lyrics of which Breatnach explained had been composed by Anarchist Eugene Pottier of the Paris Commune, in 1871, the first time the working class had seized a city. It had been written to the air of the Marsellaise but later put to its own melody by worker-composer Pierre de Gayter.
“It was written in French”, said Breatnach, “which is why I propose to sing the chorus once in French at the start but it has been translated into many languages. Youtube has a post with 95 translations ….. and there are at least three versions of it in English and people are welcome to sing along in any version they know,” Breatnach concluded before singing the French chorus, followed by two English verses and chorus.
The MC Steve directed attention to a bodhrán decorated with a dedication to Peter Daly by Barry O’Shea which was displayed by Erin McCann and which would be raffled as a fund-raising exercise at the reception inside the pub.
Steve McCAnn then called Marie Kenny Murphy and Marilyn Harris up on to the stage, where they played the Irish national anthem on flutes, with many people singing along in its Irish translation4:
Anocht a théim sa bhearna baoil,
Le gean ar Ghael chun báis no saol;
Le gunnaí scréach, faoi lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh, canaig’ Amhrán na bhFiann.
REFRESHMENTS, EXHIBITION, RAFFLE, SONG AND CONVERSATION
All the speakers had referenced the historical memory of the Anti-Fascist War on Spanish territory to the struggles of today and even of tomorrow and the selection of songs had been deliberately chosen to emphasise internationalism and workers’ solidarity from the past and needed today.
McCann thanked all the performers, speakers and participants and in particular welcomed the participation of the Connolly Association contingent from Manchester, encouraging them to attend again the following year. Inviting all to enter the local Monageer Tavern to view the Antifascist War memorabilia and to have some food, the MC brought the ceremony to an end.
Inside the local pub, the Monageer Tavern, food had been made available by the owners and the function hall was provided for the commemoration participants.
An interesting display of memorabilia of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War had been erected inside by the Cavan Volunteers history group. The walls of the function room on one side were also covered with permanent framed photographs and other images of Irish history, among which Joe Mooney, anti-fascist, community worker and activist of the East Wall History Group, spotted a photo of the Dublin docks with a docker well-known to his community in the foreground!
Music was provided by Tony Hughes with voice and guitar, singing a selection of songs including anti-racist and Irish Republican ballads, also Viva La Quinze Brigada.
When the raffle was held a search went on for the winning number ticket which eventually unearthed it in the possession of Helena Keane, seller of the tickets and who adamantly refused to take the prize. Another dip into the stubs brought Gearóid Ó Machaill’s ticket out, ensuring the decorated bodhrán would find a new home somewhere in the occupied Six Counties.
1The International Brigades were organised through the Comintern and Communist parties in various parts of the world but a number of International Volunteers came also through the mainly Trotskyist POUM, including Anarchists. One Irish volunteer went to join the Basque Gudaris and was killed fighting the fascists there.
2First Republican rising in Ireland, organised and led for the most part by Protestants, descendants of British colonists.
3Christy Moore called this “Viva la Quinta Brigada” (i.e the Fifth) but in later versions sang in English a line in the first verse calling it “the 15th International Brigade”. It appears that from different chronological perspectives one can call it either the Fifth or the Fifteenth but the mostly English-speaking brigade of the International Brigades is usually named the Fifteenth. Quinze is the Spanish word for “fifteen” and Viva la Quinze Brigada scans in the song while “decimoquinta Brigada” has too many syllables to fit.
4The Soldier’s Song was written originally in English by Peadar Kearney, an Irish Republican worker with socialist sympathies and put to music by worker-composer Patrick Heeny. It was translated to Irish by Liam Ó Rinn under the title Amhrán na bhFiann and published in 1923. Only the chorus became the anthem of the Irish State and that was not until later. The Irish-language version is the one most commonly sung at non-State occasions now.