The construction of an Independent and Socialist State that integrates Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Lapurdi, Nafarroa Behera, Nafarroa Garaia and Zuberoa.
(On the 18th I reported on the launch of the Basque organisation Jardun, a coordinating body seeking to unite Basque left-national organisations and collectives in a revolutionary movement. Since then they have published a fuller manifesto of their aims, here translated from the Castillian version.)
The construction of a society based on the power of the Basque working class, on overcoming the class struggle and on the socialization of the means of production.
Overcoming all oppression against working women.
Reunification of Euskal Herria.
Remaking Euskal Herria Basque-speaking.
The new alternative of the Basque Working People is a pro-independence and socialist political project whose ideological principles have six main points:
The national question is framed within the various oppressions suffered by the Basque Working People, oppression that in the opinion of this coordinating organisation can only be overcome through independence. In other words, when we speak of self-determination, we are referring to the undeniable right of the Basque Working People to separate from the states that oppress them and to undertake a process of building an independent and socialist state.
Before talking about socialism, it is convenient to specify what we mean when we speak of the Basque Working People. The Basque Working People is made up of everyone who lives and sells their labour power in Euskal Herria. Every worker within the Basque Working People, from the moment they suffer exploitation and oppression, that is, from the moment they suffer the blow of capital in a crude way in their day to day life, has the potential to organize the revolution. Therefore, when we speak of socialism, we refer to overcoming the class oppression suffered by the Basque Working People, on the way to creating a classless society.
We must understand that the Basque Working People cannot undertake the fight against capital alone. It is necessary to maintain contact with the different oppressed peoples and to acceptmutual aid. Even so, JARDUN will always set down an unpassable red line, that the national framework of the Basque working people can never be doubted. (Translator’s note: I was unsure about what exactly was meant by this sentence but one Jardun’s supporters told me it means that any struggle expecting solidarity from Jardun must accept the Basque people as a nation).
It is necessary to overcome the sex-gender dichotomy and the reproductive role that capital imposes on working women, in order to overcome the oppression suffered by working women and the structural reasons that originate it.
Amnesty is a strategic term that, going beyond confining itself to the freedom of all those fighterswho have worked for the freedom of Euskal Herria, implies political recognition in the eyes of working people of the struggle they have carried out and placing at the disposal of popular justice those who have systematically oppressed them.
Within the current capitalist production model, the environment suffers from overexploitation, responding to the logic of obtaining the highest possible economic performance, generating more waste than can be managed and creating a degradation that in many cases puts living conditions at risk. That is why the environmental struggle can only be approached from a root change in the production processes.
The six points outlined above that define the ideology of JARDUN cannot be understood or addressed in an isolated way, since if their achievement does not go hand in hand with the others, the only thing that we will achieve will be to perpetuate the oppression suffered by the Basque Working People. In the same way, only by addressing these points from a class point of view will the workers of Euskal Herria be able to obtain control of the productive processes and political power, neutralizing the bourgeoisie.
Although the Basque Working People have the potential to carry out the revolution, only by acquiring awareness of their situation and organizing themselves in pursuit of national and social liberation can they begin the revolutionary process, forming the Basque Revolutionary Proletariat. JARDUN needs to be the organizational space of the Basque Revolutionary Proletariat. At the same time, the working people at an organic levelshould be composed of different sectoral organizations working under the same strategic objectives, for the construction of an independent and socialist Euskal Herria.
In the same way that our predecessors faced the oppression that this people has suffered and fought against fascism in Albertia, today, it is up to us to confront the oppression that working people suffer and for that, unity is necessary, it is necessary join forces. It is time to start joining forces. It is time to start adding forces. It is necessary to get together with different groups in Euskal Herria and defend a common project. It is necessary for different groups to join JARDUN, so that each one from their own fighting trenches can contribute what they can, with a firm commitment, and thus respond as a people, as a working people to capital. Since we are very clear about the way forward and what strategy has to be carried out. And let there be no doubt that we will continue working in that direction. For those who have given their lives, for Euskal Herria and for the workers of Euskal Herria.
Looking back along the road we’ve travelled, I can see we have come a long way to get where we are today. I’ve traveled a long way. I was very young then, when I started. We all were. In particular, I remember, Carl and Eva and I, we were in secondary school, fifteen years of age.
We discussed the situation often and pretty quickly became revolutionaries. We knew people in the Party – well, we called it the Old Party after awhile, you’ll see why soon. Yes and they wanted to recruit us. If enough of us joined them, voted for them, they would be able to change things, they told us. And they had some credibility because some of them had fought in the old days, when things were even worse. Some had lost relatives killed and some had gone to jail.
But we were not taken in, we weren’t fooled. It wasn’t just that theirs looked a really slow way to change things; we didn’t believe it would ever succeed. And we thought they knew that, deep inside and were just prepared to settle for things much as they were. Make the best of it (which for some of them meant shady deals and lining their pockets).
And we were never going to do that.
We weren’t in the armed group, the three of us but we supported them. The armed group were our heroes, the sharp end of our resistance. Over time they would weaken our oppressors and in the end we’d get the freedom we wanted. And these young men and women, they really fought. They paid for their resistance too; plenty of them were killed and if caught, they were tortured and sent to jail for really long sentences.
We delighted in their successes, marched in their funerals, supported them in their struggles in the jails and, later, honoured them when eventually they were released. We did the best we could ourselves against the oppression and general injustice but without actually taking up the gun: put up posters, painted graffiti slogans on wall, held protest marches and pickets, gave out leaflets, held public meetings. Of course, the oppressors went after us and we were out there, in plain sight, more or less.
Our oppressors had made some laws under which they could declare just about anything we did illegal. Unless we sat at home and did nothing. Or joined the Old Party. They called that group of laws the Anti-Terrorist Legislation.
ARREST AND TORTURE
One night while were out postering in memory of a couple of our martyrs, on the anniversary of their being killed by the police, we got caught. They gave us a bit of a beating and took us to the police station, telling us on the way what they were going to do to us.
Under the ATL they could keep us in a police station for five days without access to any of our friends and relatives or even a lawyer. I’m sorry to say they broke me in the first 24 hours. You might think that was a pretty short period – it didn’t seem like it at the time. Being held in a dark windowless cell, hooded, being threatened with all kinds of horrible things you know they can do, listening to the screams of other people having some of those things done to them, having a plastic bag put over your head until you can’t breathe anymore and you feel sure you’re going to die, your lungs straining ….. It’s amazing how long 24 hours can seem. And even if you lasted that 24 hours, you knew there were another 96 hours to go after that.
Yes, I signed a “confession”, what they told me to say. According to the confession, we were honouring the martyrs because they wanted to overthrow the State, which is why we were putting up posters about them. We wanted more people to join the fighters to help recruitment. Not really about honouring their memory at all. “Glorifying and Supporting Terrorism” was what I was going to be charged with which, if convicted, would get me three years in jail. And the others: my “confession” was not only about me but about Eva and Carl too.
After I signed the “confession” they left me more or less alone but somewhere I could hear shouting and screaming. I thought it might be Eva and Carl, hoped it wasn’t. And I still had to wear a hood whenever any of the guards came in the cell or their doctor examined me. Well, they told me he was a doctor. I told him I felt ok – I knew the guards were listening and I’d get repeat treatment if I said anything against them. And it wouldn’t do any good anyway.
By the third day, or what I thought might the third day, I didn’t hear what sounded like a female screaming any more but could still hear shouting. And sometimes someone crying.
I know it was the fifth day when they brought us to court, put us all in the same cell, waiting for our trial to start. Eva and Carl looked pretty rough and I suppose I did a bit too. Eva burst into tears and told us she had signed a confession against us after the second day. We put our arms around her and held her while she cried. I admitted I had signed too, assuming we all had. I didn’t say I had only held out for about 24 hours, though.
Well, women detainees, they get it especially hard. As well as the rest of it, they are kept naked or semi-naked and, if on their monthly periods, refused tampons or cloths. They are fondled in their private parts, threatened with rape, humiliated and sometimes have something pushed inside them ….. The police don’t do things like that to male detainees ….. well, occasionally, if they know one is gay ….
The shock was that Carl had not signed a confession – he hadn’t broken. So how come they had brought him to trial early on the fifth day with the rest of us? Well, they must have decided he wasn’t going to break; apparently most people break by the fourth day, which is why the limit is set at five. And anyway they had our statements implicating him.
We swore we would retract our statements during the trial, declare they had been obtained under torture. That would invalidate the statements, surely?
We were tried together in a special Anti-Terrorist Legislation court. One judge, no jury. No public. We had lawyers our family and friends had got for us but they were only given five minutes with us before the trial. The Prosecutor produced the statements against us all, those of the police who arrested us and my “confession” and Eva’s. Lied through their teeth that we had made them voluntarily. They produced a statement too for Carl but his lawyer objected it didn’t have his signature, so the police couldn’t show that they hadn’t made it all up.
When we gave our evidence, Carl denied he had made any statement whatsoever and we retracted ours, talked about the torture we had suffered. Eva was magnificent, denouncing them through her tears and shaking. The Prosecutor brought the police back to testify who of course denied not only the torture but any kind of coercion. Some of them even appeared shocked at the allegations. And the doctor – his voice sounded familiar so he probably had been the man who had “examined” me — said I had made no complaint (true) and had seemed calm and rested (not possible).
The courtroom is a funny place. Things the whole world knows are not true appear reasonable while the preposterous can seem logical. Not only had they not tortured us, the police witnesses said, but they had never heard of it being done. So why had we made such detailed statements and then retracted them, accusing them of torture. Well, they were mystified about that. Except …. some had heard that this was a propaganda tactic popular among our group, to smear the police. But why then had we given them a statement at all …. well, at least two of us? Skilled interviewing, was the reply. Trained interrogators, going over the suspect’s stories again and again, exposing every contradiction.
The only thing skilled about them was in making sure they stopped short of killing us and generally left no bruises, especially on our faces. Oh yeah, and the acting in court – that was very skilled.
The case against us, with our repudiation of the statements, should have got us at most a few months or maybe even a fine for postering agitational material on public property. Eva and I got three years each, while Carl got nearly four. I suppose the fact they hadn’t broken him pissed them off and they made out he was our leader so the judge gave him extra.
Prison was bad but it was a relief after the police station. They moved us around jails a few times over the years, we didn’t often see one another and our families and friends had to travel long distances to visit us. When they were permitted to or we hadn’t been moved the day before the visit. We learned later, though no-one told us at the time, that Carl’s aunt had a serious accident on the motorway. Long distances, tiring, unaccustomed to motorway driving, bad luck …. With a couple of operations and time, she was able to walk again but the family had to invent excuses why she couldn’t visit him, especially because they had always been close.
Most of the prison warders were hostile but some were sadists, constantly trying to provoke me, finding ways to frustrate whatever little pleasure or diversion I was permitted. Sometimes it was “too wet” to go in the exercise yard for my permitted two hours daily. Sometimes the library was “closed for stocktaking” or “due to staff shortages.” All prisoner mail is opened before being given to or sent by the prisoner but sometimes I got a letter that looked like it had been spat on. Or it smelled bad. Often, it would be two weeks later than the date stamp. Some letters were returned to the sender, I learned later, marked “UNSUITABLE”. I had one returned to me, although I was always careful what I wrote, this one marked “BREACHING PRISON SECURITY” — I had made some remarks about the prison food.
Some of the social prisoners were ok whenever I was in contact with them, some were hostile, seemed fascist. Sometimes a warder would make comments about me in the hearing of those kinds of prisoners. Anytime out of my cell I felt I had to be alert, with 180 degrees vision.
I did physical exercises in my cell to keep my body healthy and studied for the sake of my mind. Law was the subject I studied most, so I could represent activists in court and file motions and so on but I also studied politics and economics.
When I got out, I enrolled in a law studies course. I wrote to Carl – I hadn’t been allowed to previously. From his letters, he seemed ok but you never know for sure, do you? Not when you know the letters have to pass the prison censor and the prisoner has to keep up a strong front also. I met Eva too, she was released same time as I but a long distance away; she was subdued, a kind of frightened look in her eyes. Not surprising but she still kept in the movement, though we each took a step back from the more illegal street work, where we could be isolated – like postering. I qualified to practice law at a basic level.
THE POLITICAL PARTY
We began to discuss founding a political party and standing in elections. The armed struggle would go on, we thought, but over time we could push the Old Party back, take a lot of their votes. After all, what were they doing (except some of their leaders and contacts lining their pockets)? We could really expose them with our policies.
So we formed a political party, a New Party, for which we had to agree to respect the Constitution. We were doing well but, just before the elections, our party was disqualified by the State. “Connections with terrorism” was the reason given. We were furious and so were our supporters. And we formed another party. The State disqualified that one and, for good measure, banned it. Now one could go to jail for being a member.
This kind of thing went on over years, different versions of the New Party and more people going to jail and we rarely got a chance to stand in elections, much less to build up momentum.
We tried forming a coalition with some more moderate elements, even some we had called “collaborationist” in the old days but the State said we would have to denounce the armed struggle to be a legal constitutional party. We couldn’t do that because we’d be turning our back on not only our martyrs but on hundreds of activists in jail. And our own people wouldn’t stand for it. By this time I had risen to General Secretary of our underground Party.
After long discussions with the leaders of the armed wing, eventually we all agreed to announce an end to the armed struggle and to hope for the legalisation of our Party and early release of prisoners. It was a hard decision but not as hard as one might think because we were all pretty worn down and our military wing hadn’t been doing all that well for some time. The State had penetrated both sides of our movement with agents and people turned informer — hundreds were in jail or awaiting trial.
What was harder was getting our supporters to agree but by managing a few meetings, ensuring we had people with a militant reputation to speak in favour of the plan, ensuring people for the idea got more time to talk than those who didn’t and a few other things, we got it through. Besides, a lot of them believed us when we whispered that it was all a game to fool our oppressors.
Eventually, after we declared our total opposition to any armed struggle and total commitment to the electoral process, we got legalised and now we are chipping away at the Old Party, though it looks like it may take a long time to supplant them.
But some of the young people, and some older ones like Carl, are saying we have compromised too much, that the road we’ve chosen is too long and anyway is never going to get us justice. These people do things we’d rather they didn’t, that we’ve dropped, like illegal postering and spraying slogans, holding illegal commemorations for martyrs, protest marches, getting into trouble with the police ….. Making us look bad.
And what’s more, unbelievable as it might seem, they’re calling us “The Old Party”!!!
What makes leaders good or bad ones? How much power should a leader have? How should they conduct themselves? How do we know when they are no longer leading us well and what can we do about it? The following piece discusses these questions and seeks to answer them.
Most people think human beings need leaders and revolutionaries and insurgents in general are no exception. There are some political-social groups who state that they are autonomous and do not need leaders but it has been my experience even in some of those groups that they do indeed have leaders and that in general they act under that leadership. It seems to be a human trait for groups to accept leadership and to follow leaders and indeed all social animals we may observe have leaders. Nevertheless, the question of leadership historically has been fraught and that is as much the case for human society in its various stages as well as for revolutionary organisations.
RESPONSES TO LEADERS – HEALTHY & UNHEALTHY
If our leaders have proved their worth to our endeavours then of course we should respect them. We should not respect them because of their class or family background. It is what one does that makes one worthy of respect, not the social class in which one was raised. And if that class background gave certain advantages in education, in leisure time to study and learn, then those are advantages we value and seek for all, which is far from respecting someone merely because they were raised with those advantages.
As to family background, it seems to me that we are haunted with an old way of looking at human society. It might have seemed natural in ancient times to give the offspring of a valued leader special respect and even to choose the successor from among his/her offspring. It does seem to be the case that some talents and traits are inherited through genes and it is also true that such a family background can familiarise one with some principles of leadership. However, history has provided us with many examples of ineptitude, malice and even madness in leaders who have greatness in their family background. It has also provided us with examples of people who rose from obscurity and from a family background of no particular note to lead masses in historic deeds.
Since we speak of respect, we should talk now about what that means. Of course, when leaders seeks to lead us, to advocate some action or policy, we should listen for if we do not, how can we benefit from what they have to say to us? We listen with respect.
But respect is not the same as servility, nor blind acceptance. We should consider what we are being told and feel free to ask questions and to challenge what we may perceive as assumptions. Further, we should accept that others also have that right, even if we ourselves are convinced in the leaders’ words. Our leaders are not infallible and nor are we.
We said earlier that it is upon what we do that we earn respect and that is so for leaders too. Every judgement on what we do must inevitably be based to some extent on an action in the past, even if it as recent a past as earlier that week, the day before or an hour ago. But one’s past does not grant infallibility and one who took correct decisions in the past can all too easily take wrong ones today or tomorrow. History has also shown us many such examples. Therefore the expectation of any leaders or of their followers that we should accept what they say mainly on the basis of their having been correct in the past is completely unjustified — however emotionally satisfying it may be to some people — and we should resolutely reject the premise.
If we are entitled to question and even challenge leaders there also comes a time when that right should be put aside for awhile. At some point it is necessary to act and endless debate does not lead to action. Nor is the entitlement to question and challenge a justification for ceaseless exercise of that right and it is also the case that such practice will in time devalue future criticism and challenge, perhaps when they are valid and should be most needed. The point at which debate needs to come to an end and a decision made, by the accepted procedures of the group, is ruled by the necessities of the situation and not by simple declaration.
CONDUCT OF LEADERSHIP
Firstly, led us observe that while it is an impossibility for everyone to lead simultaneously, everybody is capable of leadership at some time in some circumstance. Every time one of us suggests a course of action or expresses a criticism in a group, we are in effect offering leadership to others. The one who says “I think we should …” or “Why don’t we …..?” or “Maybe we could ….” are all offering leadership at that moment. Whether it would have been effective leadership or in any case is accepted or not is beside this point.
We all of us should take responsibility for our actions and their effect. In practice that means weighing up positive and negative aspects before action (should we have time to do so) and afterwards evaluating once again its negative and positive aspects. Should we be constantly hesitant or paralysed by fear of failure we cannot be effective in anything worthwhile, therefore it is necessary that we are prepared to risk making mistakes. Then we have a responsibility to learn from our mistakes which implies a responsibility to admit to them.
Leaders at any level must take responsibility not only for their own actions but for those of their followers also. The leader too must be prepared to make mistakes but should endeavour to ensure that they are not too serious, that the consequences are not too disastrous. This is a heavy responsibility which implies the need to think things through in advance and not to merely react or act mainly out of emotion. And yet, the leader must be prepared to be decisive when that is what the situation requires.
Too many individuals accept leaders as a means of abrogating their own responsibilities. All of us have responsibilities in any endeavour we join together: responsibility in sharing work, risk, and thought. If we leave consideration of the negative and positive aspects of a proposal to others, not only are we shirking our responsibilities but we are hardly justified in complaining later about the actions of our leaders.
Some leaders are seen to take on multiple responsibilities and many tasks. In capitalist endeavours this has been judged to be wasteful and ineffective in the long run, leading to inflexibility, slowness to react and “micro management”, among other faults. An insecure leader does not trust others and seeks to keep all tasks and initiatives under his/ her control. And yet, shit happens, as they say. Nothing can be completely controlled.
In revolutionary leadership this tendency to try to control everything by an individual or individuals has also been seen, with harmful consequences that include stifling initiative and learning among the group or organisation. Once this becomes established, the absence of the leader(s) mean the paralysis of the organisation and a similar effect occurs while waiting for them to make a decision. In addition, if they enemy subverts the leadership, the whole organisation and struggle becomes destroyed or at least greatly damaged.
Good leadership encourages the development of different areas by different individuals within the group and spreads participation in — and responsibility for — the decision-making. This model is often called collective leadership but within that itself there are different models too.
It would be very damaging if every individual were to act within an organisation according to how they might feel at different times and to represent the organisation externally without consulting the group. After matters are discussed and collective agreement has taken place, members of an organisation should not represent the organisation in a contrary way to what has been agreed. This is a difficult area with tensions between the right of expression of the individual and of responsibility to the organisation, one which I am unsure has ever been completely resolved.
Collective leadership is usually exercised through a committee or temporary working group and allows for different individuals taking a lead in different areas. One might note that person A regularly calls people to the overall task in hand and pushes for a monitoring of progress, while person B concentrates on developing a specific area, person C looks to the recording of decisions and person D to some external relations. There are of course formal positions in organisations and committees such as Chair, Secretary, Treasurer etc but even without formal elections one finds that successful groups develop areas of responsibility for separate individuals even without the existence of such elected offices. Furthermore, a particular responsibility may fluctuate between individuals at different times. A good argument exists for not entrenching anyone in specific roles over long periods of time. Rotation of roles and encouragement to take up new responsibilities can help broaden the experience and capabilities of members of the group or organisation and also prevent the growth of cliques and controlling leaderships.
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR
Their are certain traits which may be observed repeated in unhealthy leadership and it is well to be aware of them, both for those who follow them and for people put in positions of leadership themselves. The following list does not include timidity, hesitation and prevarication, which are also bad traits of leadership.
clearly enjoy issuing orders
direct others to do tasks they would not undertake themselves
monopolise speaking time
push for an end to debate without demonstrable necessity for the organisation
dismiss out of hand opinions opposed to theirs
expect agreement with whatever they say and resent question or challenge
regard question and challenge as treasonous, mutinous
hold grudges against those who have disagreed with them and seek to have them ignored, ostracised or demoted
seek or accept control over multiple areas of work
lie outright to their following
or do not tell their following the whole truth
call upon their past record in order to justify their actions or direction in the present
call upon their family background to justify their actions or decisions
surround themselves with a group who support them without question
flatter particular people (as distinct from commending when appropriate)
never commend any of their followers when deserved or choose only some to commend
criticise others unfairly or out of proportion to what is deserved
consider themselves entitled to special consideration above others in physical and emotional comforts
believe that rules that apply to the majority do not apply to them by virtue of their position or imagined personal superiority
Also, among the group or organisation, those who:
Always agree with the leaders or
Constantly disagree to no apparent concrete purpose
Constantly praise the leaders in private or in public
Praise a leader or leaders while ignoring or downplaying the contribution of others
Deny leaders have committed errors or wrongdoing in the face of evidence to the contrary
Make excuses for wrongdoing or errors of the leaders
Use the past record or family background of the leaders to justify actions in the present
or to imply that the leaders should be followed without weighing up their actions or what they advocate
criticise anyone who criticises the leadership rather than dealing with the point of that criticism
try to justify leaders having special consideration above others in terms of physical and emotional comfort
The exploitation of working masses and their resistance to that has been going on since ancient slave societies and has led to outbreaks of revolt down through the centuries. The Paris Commune of 1871 was the first time that the working class succeeded in taking a city and holding it for a period, developing its own instruments of making decisions and carrying them out. At little over two months it was a short-lived experiment and fell to the bloody suppression of Prussian armed forces at the invitation of deposed royalty and dispossessed bourgeoisie.
It was not until 1917 that the working class was able once again to overthrow its oppressors and this time it did so not just in a city but in an entire state, also defeating invasions to overthrow its power. But where is that today? The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 but had been crumbling within from long before that and, some would say, the working class had lost control in the early years immediately following the Revolution.
The question of leadership and how to handle it by everyone is an important one in an organisation but, for revolutionaries, is essential. It is essential not only for the conduct of the struggle but perhaps even more so for managing society after a revolution. The seeds of that management in the future must be sown in the present.
I base the above on my personal experience of decades, my reflection upon them and on reading of history. My personal experience has been mostly in unpaid social-political struggles in trade unionism, housing, political groups on a number of fronts,solidarity committees, community and education groups but also employed in few NGOs for a shorter period. I have been either a follower or part of leaderships and have erred in both on occasions while on others acted correctly. I hope that I have learned from them all — and certainly from my mistakes.
In order to concentrate thinking on the general principles I have refrained from giving particular examples of recent leadership, which might have tended to give rise to discussion about individual cases rather than the principles as a whole.
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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.
The Liberal and the Revolutionary both uphold struggle and dialogue — but disagree on emphasis and occasion, as this conversation illustrates.
No, you don’t understand. Let me put it this way ….
I do understand. I just don’t agree.
If I could only explain …. I’m sure you would …..
No, we won’t agree because we have a different view of the world, what goes on there and especially what the reasons are.
But surely we can discuss it?
Don’t you believe in dialogue?
Of course, up to a point and depending on the circumstances.
What do you mean by that?
Well, when the enemy is about to attack your barricades, for example, I believe the time is right to place your defenders and your weapons – not an appropriate time for dialogue.
That’s so dramatic.
Well, drama happens too.
What if dialogue could prevent the attack on your barricades?
Well, then I’d be for it but I can’t see how that would happen.
That’s because you close your eyes to the possibilities of dialogue.
No, it’s because I open my eyes to the current reality and to history. Let’s look at the barricade situation. Most likely the barricades have gone up to defend an area where the people have seized power. Right?
Well, that’s one possibility.
OK, well let’s explore that possibility. The State sends police and/or troops to attack the barricades, in order to take back control of the area. Right?
Well, yes. They might be under pressure to do so. Concerns about property in the area, law and order and such.
So they want to take control back and we don’t want to give it to them. What’s to be gained by dialogue?
You could persuade them that their concerns about property, law and order and so on are unfounded. You could let a couple of them in to see for themselves. Or you could try to get an intermediary.
Someone like yourself?
Well, actually I have done a mediation course.
Hmmm. And then they’d let us run the area ourselves?
They might. They might not. But without dialogue, how would you know?
Listen, their main concern is to get back control. The better we run our area the more worrying it is for them because it shows another alternative to their capitalist model. And the longer they leave ours running, the more chance that other areas might take the example. So they have to crush us and we have to defend. No middle ground whatsoever. And letting some of them into our area would only give them additional intelligence to better plan their assault and target leaders afterwards, if they are successful.
God! You’re so negative and defensive. There’s no point in trying to persuade you.
Now, that last sentence is something we both agree on. See? No point in dialogue here.
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.
Most people within the Irish state will now be aware that that socialist Paul Murphy, TD (member of Irish parliament, the Dáil), has left the Socialist Party and, with some others, intends to set up a new socialist organisation called RISE. His statement on his Facebook page was covered by a host of the capitalist media with little comment by most while left-wing chat room the Cedar Lounge had more comment than I found time or interest in reading.
A common reaction on the street was one of bewilderment at the splitting actions of left-wing parties. Elements of that were to be found in the relevant piece by Miriam Lord (see References), who comments on Dáil politics and politicians in her Irish Times column (though her sharpest treatment was of Brendan Ogle, who had mocked Murphy’s action).
I am myself, if a little surprised, not shocked nor indeed very engaged with the matter and consider it generally of little import on the prospect of a revolution in Ireland.
It strikes me, with little personal knowledge of him but based on material in the public domain, that Paul Murphy is in general a principled socialist politician and furthermore an activist who has not shirked from putting himself physically in the resistance line in Rossport, on the seas to Gaza, in Turkey against its government and in Dublin on water and housing protests. Furthermore, in the short period he was an MEP or supporting Joe Higgins when the latter had the seat, Murphy has had questions asked about the treatment of Basque political prisoners which few other politicians are willing to touch, lest they be associated with the armed liberation organisation ETA (now defunct).
However, I see no prospect of even one step towards revolution in the general conduct of any of the socialist organisations of any size in Ireland, splits or no. Of course it is helpful to have awkward questions asked of the Government in the Dáil and to gain media coverage of issues that would likely remain unmentioned, or to have their critical comments reported where yours or mine would never see the light of day. And Murphy remains in that ambit in Dáil, along with the Solidarity-PBP group — and Independents for Change are there also (now sadly missing Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, who have gone to the EU).
But that is not necessarily revolutionary work.
A TASK FOR SERIOUS REVOLUTIONARIES
Without a conjunction of revolutionary Socialists with revolutionary Republicans, I can see no hope for revolution in Ireland and, without revolution, no hope of a solution to many of the ills in our society, whether in culture, economy, environment or government. In other words, in anything really. That conjunction was a project attempted in part by British socialists and some of the Fenians of the 1840s, later by Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army (1913-’16), later still by the Republican Congress (1934-’36). It remains the unfinished task for serious revolutionaries.
Neither the Socialist Party/ AAA/ Solidarity nor the Socialist Worker/ People Before Profit/ Solidarity formations have made any effort to take up that task (nor have the Republicans, lest my criticism be thought of one part of the equation only). Nor did the anarchist Worker’s Solidarity when it was an active force. The Communist Party of Ireland does not do so nor does the Workers’ Party. So great is the disdain of these formations for revolutionary Republicans that they refuse to even challenge the daily civil rights violations of the Gardaí and PSNI upon active Republicans, or their treatment in the non-jury special courts or jails on both sides of the Border. Indeed, in case they should somehow be accused of siding with these elements, they rarely even allude to the unfinished national liberations struggle of Ireland, nor to the colonial occupation of one-sixth of its territory, while instead fully prepared to support the just national liberation struggles of nations far away.
Interestingly therefore, from public comment, it appears that Murphy wanted more cooperation with “other elements on the Left” or “Left-leaning”, in which context was mentioned Sinn Féin, while the majority in the Socialist Party refused such a project. Some people will view this aspiration of Murphy’s as a laudable attempt to mould a fragmented Left into at least some kind of united action for Irish social and political progress. I do not.
I am not against a temporary alliance of revolutionaries with social democratic forces at certain points for certain objectives. But that does not include Irish political parties who are or have been part of Irish governments or, if possible even less, so a party that is part of the administration of a colonial occupying power. In the latter category I clearly place Sinn Féin and, in the former, the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.1 In addition, SF has clearly marked a path for itself to a future coalition partnership with a capitalist, pro-imperialist party or parties in Government.
It says something about the Irish socialists that an important question for them is whether or not to ally with a constitutional capitalist and colonial collaborationst party such as Sinn Féin, whereas the question of whether to ally with revolutionary Republicans is not even on the agenda for discussion.
1One might make a temporary exception of the Greens, which have been in Government but once for a short while, admittedly shamefully so but with an honourable resignation.
Recently a number of people have been marching in Dublin, saying that they are the Yellow Vests of Ireland. This is obviously inspired by the Gilets Jaunes (“Yellow Vests”) whose protests against the French Government began in November last year and swelled to huge numbers in Paris demonstrations and riots. Some smaller groups have announced their formation in different parts of Ireland too. But there are questions concerning them.
The Yellow Vests in Dublin have been meeting on Saturday afternoons at the Custom House and marching from there. I am busy on Saturdays and on the one day I made the time to join them, I did not find them and learned later from their posts that on that occasion they had gone to Dublin Port and apparently blocked the approach road for a period.
Originally the organisers stated that there would be no leaders but then two emerged, Glen Miller and Ben Gilroy. Until last week Gilroy was serving three months for contempt of court, a sentence imposed by a judge when he learned that Gilroy had not completed the community service sentence imposed for a previous contempt of court. Held in contempt of court a number of times Gilroy has always apologised afterwards and had his contempt considered “purged”, i.e cleared. It seems that the judge in this case decided that Gilroy was playing games with the court around the issue of contempt, which is probably a fair assumption (which is not at all to say that such actions are wrong).
Gilroy took a case to the High Court alleging failure to comply with certain legal requirement and on February 4th the Judge granted him liberty on bail in his own recognisance (i.e his own financial bond) while is case was discussed and decided. However this week the Judge ruled that his imprisonment was not unlawful and revoked Gilroy’s bail, which meant he had to return to jail.
In recent years a number of groups have sprung up which oppose a number of unpopular legal procedures, for example evictions, by a mixture of physical obstruction (by numbers of people) to bailiffs but also by appealing to what they claim are laws that take precedence over the legal procedures they are confronting. The “Land League” is one of these (no organic relationship to the 19th Century Irish organisation of Davitt and Parnell) and, not unrelated to the “League” in its reliance on arcane laws and procedures, real or imagined, is the Sovereign Movement, the “Irish Republican Brotherhood” (again, despite their claim of “inheritance”, no organic relationship to the 19th and 20th Century organisation) and the Fremen.
While some people are impressed by these arcane legalisms others are bewildered by or scornful of them and, despite their claims, these organisations seem unable to point to where their legalisms have actually been ultimately successful. They have certainly succeeded in slowing down such actions as repossessions and evictions by taking up court time and numbers turning up to block an eviction will often succeed in delaying the process, without any need to appeal to any kind of legalistic underpinning. Property rights reign supreme under capitalism and certainly the Irish state is no exception to that rule; on the other hand the authorities in the Irish state tend to prefer to carry out the normal business of capitalism with as little confrontation as possible.
Summoning numbers to block or delay an eviction and to support a victim of the system in court are of course tactics of struggle honoured by time and usage in Ireland, whether against the British administration or that of the Irish State. Such reliance on mobilisation of numbers can sometimes produce small or partial victories but they hint at something else – the mass mobilisation of insurrection and revolution. And that is part of the appeal of groups such as the “Land League” and probably in part of the Yellow Vests.
But if insurrection and revolution are hinted at, we need to know whether the hints are in earnest. Calling for a general election, one of the demands of the Yellow Vests, hardly seems insurrectionary. How would that change anything? Calling for an end to a number of attacks on working people including evictions is good but how is it to be achieved? Is there an objective of overthrowing capitalism and imperialism in Ireland? We do not hear so if there is. If an insurrection is hinted at, by whom is it to be and for whom?
It is here that we run into a disturbing problem: racism, of which Gilroy and Miller have both been accused. Any movement or organisation led by racists is not going to be one for progressive change in society, let alone a socialist insurrection but worse – it is likely to be a breeding ground for fascism. And of late, fascist forces are gathering throughout most of the world and certainly in Europe. Capitalism is struggling and the workers must be made to pay the cost through keeping wages and social expenditure down and profits high. When persuasion and collaborationist workers’ leaderships are no longer effective, capitalism must fall back on naked force. Fascist movements are the frontline of that force, its leading edge and racism (or religious sectarianism, with which we in Ireland have more experience) is used to divide the lower classes, the ones that will be made to pay.
Of course not all the people supporting the Yellow Vests are racist but when an anti-immigration banner is tolerated on a march1 then it would be remarkable if racism were not being tolerated as well. And with regard to the leadership, Glen Miller’s racism is well established from his posts on social media. He has posted material against immigration, against Muslims, against Travellers and against lesbian, gay and transgender people – classical minority targets of fascism to split the working people. He also shares racist material by others including Tommy Robinson, a fascist public figure operating in England.
Gilroy is not usually so glaringly racist but he has certainly posted an islamophobic rant on social media.
One might argue that Islam is a religion and that being against it is not racism. Perhaps not, if one were against all religion, for example. But ethnicity and religious belief or organisation are often interconnected, at least in particular periods and societies. Most muslims are not white European. And the Irish certainly know from their own experience how easily anti-Catholicism became conflated with anti-Irishness, in Britain for example, in the USA (think of WASPS and the ‘Nativists’) and in Ireland under colonial rule.
Islamophobes fantasise about Moslems taking over the country, anti-immigrationists fantasise about immigrants taking over the country, racists fantasise about non-Europeans taking over the country. There are nuances between them but in the end do they matter that much? The effect is the same: society is portrayed as divided by ethnic origin rather than by class and the focus is diverted from the bankers, gombeen capitalists and their political servants an on to migrants instead.
It might be argued that “looking after our own first” is a natural outlook and not racist. But we need to look at where that comes from and where it leads. It starts from the false premise that there is a great shortage and that we should divide those scarce resources first among the Irish. But in fact there is sufficient wealth produced in Ireland to fund all the education, housing and healthcare needs of all the people, immigrants included. And this is because the wealth is produced by working people – including migrants. The problem for us all is that that huge portions of that wealth is being diverted to fund the market gambling, lifestyles and financial empires of Gombeen (Irish capitalists) and foreign capitalists and bankers. Those are the people who would be rubbing their hands with glee or happily exchanging bribes and payoffs if, instead of uniting to confront them, the workers began to fight amongst themselves, divided by race or religion.
When the 1916 Proclamation declared the objective of the insurgents to “pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation ….oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided the minority from the majority in the past”, it was addressing in part that religious sectarianism by which England had restrained the descendants of its colonists from overthrowing its colonial rule and also the pitting of Protestant against Catholic workers, a division which had been played out before 1916 and was to be enacted to even worse degree later. The “Protestants” were the “immigrants” of those years, along with their descendants2, albeit a privileged minority which migrants rarely are.
In making that statement, the insurgents of 1916 were drawing on an Irish revolutionary tradition stretching back to the United Irish of the 1790s and early 1800s, of the likes of Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and Robert Emmett. It was a tradition that ran through every revolutionary movement in Ireland since that time, through the Young Irelanders, the Fenians, the Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, a tradition that called for overcoming differences to build unity against the common enemy. That is the unity that fascists and racists seek to shatter.
Fascists may and often do verbally castigate capitalist governments, politicians, industrialists and bankers. But they end up serving them. They split the mass of the working and lower middle classes on the basis of race, they attack the defence organisations of the working class, they target other groups such as gay and lesbians, push women into the most subservient roles possible. The Nazis were “National Socialists” and part of their movement talked about nationalising industry under workers’ control. But they were backed by big capitalists such as Thyssen, Krupp and IG Farben and many others in Germany. In the USA and in Britain they were backed by Henry Ford and promoted by Viscounts Northcliffe and Rothermere, owners of the Daily Mail (until England declared war on Germany and the US entered WWII on the Allied side). The Nazis in Germany took over the trade union offices on Mayday and closed them down, forcing workers instead to join fascist unions controlled from the top, part of the State.
WHAT KIND OF UNITY?
It is interesting that while fascists divide the working people in order to facilitate their control and undermine the struggles against the capitalist class, they often cry for unity. German unity. Aryan unity. White unity. Spanish unity. British unity. Irish unity. And when people have criticised individual leading figures in these groups, in particular recently of the Yellow Vests in Ireland, they have been accused of dividing, of undermining the struggle and calls for “unity” have been raised.
Whether it is right that the court should consider it criminal for someone to hold it up to disrepute, as Gilroy and some others have done on occasion, is another question and whether three months is a reasonable punishment for “contempt of court” in another. The courts are instruments of the State which in turn is an instrument of the ruling class and as such all revolutionaries must perforce hold them in disrepute and, in my opinion, three months in jail is excessive by normal standards in this state. But cries raised by the Irish Yellow Vests against this seek to glorify Gilroy as some kind of “people’s leader” and in turn to promote the ‘Vests’ as a viable resistance movement.
Workers know that unity in struggle is necessary but have also learned over the years that calls for unity may also be used to allow collaborationist trade union leaders and politicians to continue misleading the workers. Such calls can be employed to silence questions about where the movement is going. And now they are being used, unwittingly by some no doubt, to the effect of trying to silence the challenges to such as Gilroy and Miller about their racism and where they are trying to lead the Yellow Vests.
Such calls are being used not only to stifle the criticism of the leaders’ racism but to undermine the criticism of racism itself, as though racism were some kind of Leftie concept or diversion from the real issues. In a post in defence of Gilroy on 18th January, Miller posted a long ‘plain folksy’ discourse in which he said that Gilroy and he have “no time for political correctness and the posh talk”. So according to that discourse we should ignore the accusations of racism, action is needed, and for that we need unity – we should stop bleating on about racism. But the action is often dubious, the destination vague, the unity based on lack of analysis and stifling of criticism and – ultimately – on the opposite of unity, the division of the working people and the undermining of their resistance to those who are the real source of their misery and discontent.
It is not because of the anti-racist or politically-correct posturing of anyone, whether middle class or not, that socialists stand against racism: it is not just because it is inhumane, either; it is primarily because it splits and weakens the working class and diverts anger and resentment from the real enemy.
The Yellow Vests in Ireland are by no means a fascist or even racist movement. But they tolerate racists, are led by racists and could provide a breeding ground for fascists – something for which fascists are always on the lookout.
WHAT TO DO?
So what should be our response, as socialists of various kinds?
First, I think we need to step back and examine the situation a little. The Yellow Vests here copy the Yellow Vests in Paris. Awhile back, the Socialist parties (I do not count the Labour Party in this) wanted us to copy the Greek uprising and Syriza’s electoral success. Earlier than that, some people wanted us to emulate the Indignados of Spain. And further back still, others sought to copy the Occupation movement of the USA.
It seems to me that all that striving speaks of a desperate need felt by some elements in our society, a need that cries out that something must be done; something to cure the mess that our Gombeen system has made of our health and welfare systems, of the housing crisis, of cuts to other services; that some stand should be made against paying off the bankers’ gambling debts with our hard-earned money and trying to get us to pay a third tax on our water supply when the money collected already has not been used as it should. A feeling that something should be done about the corruption of that give-away of our natural resources, about the selling of our transport, postal, telecommunications systems, about the funding of private landlords, about renewed emigration of our young. About increased hours and travel time spent just trying to stay still economically but nevertheless slipping slowly back. About evictions of people who have paid the actual building cost of their homes a number of times over. About governments that oversee this rotten system, worrying chiefly about staying in government and pleasing native and foreign capitalists; about a police force in which we find an average of a scandal per year with no end in sight and yet happy to repress people’s resistance …. and with their Armed Response Unit cars to be seen everywhere around the city centre.
Those people are right, of course. Something should be done. Something must be done. But what? There’s the rub, as they say. The working class should rise and take power, is the classic revolutionary socialist answer; also of the socialist Republicans, who tie the question to getting rid of British colonialism. Whether our revolutionary socialists in Ireland are actually revolutionary is a good question however, and in any case they are small parties. Whether our socialist Republicans are actually socialists or Republicans first is another interesting question and in any case they are splintered in groups and independents.
All those movements abroad that various people tried to emulate or reproduce here in Ireland did not succeed in changing the situation in their own lands. The USA, the country with the most billionaires in the world (and in politics!), continues to slide towards eventual downfall, in huge debt as a result of funding its military-industrial-financial system, for which billions around the world and millions inside its own borders pay with misery ….. and still the debt cannot be paid. But a huge sub-class exists, often living in city wastelands of run-down housing estates.
The Spanish state continues to squeeze its citizens, prepares to go to war against a nation seeking independence and fascist groups organise openly. Suicides prior to, during or after evictions are no longer startling news.
The Greek Left-coalition government of Syriza collapsed and prostrated itself to the EU and the IMF and schools had to close in winter for lack of heating fuel.
The French Government has alternated repression with some concessions but ultimately nothing has changed.
The growing vacuum of resistance in Ireland will be filled by a revolutionary movement based on working people in militant resistance to – and directed at – the capitalist system. Or it will be filled by fascism.
To build a revolutionary resistance movement, unity in struggle is needed and for that unity, racism must be driven out of the people’s movements. That will not be done by condemnation of racists alone. It will not be achieved only by calling for unity against capitalism. The revolutionary movement must be built and it is by action that it will distinguish itself and attract support from the militant sections of the people.
It is by its revolutionary critical discussion on politics, history, science and culture that it will inform the mass of its potential and necessary objectives.
It will not be built by theoretical declarations or arguments alone, nor by actions that are either timid or cannot be maintained, or by actions of only a few far in advance of the mass. Some of the actions will, perforce be risky and the State will exert a price.
But it is either that or – fascism awaits.
1Reported on at least one of the marches and I have seen a photograph of it
2Some Protestants were descendants of Catholics who had changed their religion to avoid persecution or land confiscation and some Catholics were descendants of Protestants who had converted or who had married a Catholic who raised their children in that faith. But largely, Anglicans, Presbyterians and other Protestant sects in Ireland were descendants of waves of colonists in particular from the 15th Century onwards, while Catholics were largely descendants of the indigenous Irish and of the Norman invaders.
There are many misconceptions about Irish politics and history and the centenary of the inauguration of the First Dáil and of the first shots fired in the War of Independence (one of several of our “wars of independence”) seems like an appropriate occasion to try to tease some of them out.
For sure, many of those misconceptions belong to those viewing us from outside but here I’d like to deal with those from among our own. These misconceptions are spread equally among the Irish Republicans, Irish Socialists, Irish social-democrats and liberals – but each group believes different ones.
To Irish Republicans (and I think I am objectively correct in not applying that to all who claim the title), the War in the Six Counties was lost because their political and military leadership, or most of it, abandoned the struggle or betrayed it. I think that is a fundamental misconception which leads to further misconceptions about what might be the way forward.
Please do not think for one minute that I am excusing the conduct of that leadership – I am not. Anybody is entitled to abandon the struggle but they are not entitled to claim their departure as a new way forward and to call on others to do the same – that is if they do not wish to be called “traitors”. Nor is anyone, least of all, entitled to take part in the colonial administration and if they do so, they have earned the titles not only of “traitors” but also of “collaborators”.
That judgement has nothing to do with peaceful versus armed struggle, parliamentary participation versus abstentionism or any such debate but is simply this: anyone who participates in colonial government is colluding with the colonist power, the invader, the appropriator. That is a truth understood by most people throughout the world.
It is a different point I am making entirely: the 30 Years War was lost because it could never have been won. To see this written or to hear it said will shock many Republicans and be seen as a kind of heresy – but that does not stop it from being true. Think about it: how could an armed struggle fought in one sixth of the country alone against a modern imperial army, possibly succeed? And that one-sixth further divided with at most 30% (and in reality a lot less) possibly sympathetic to the fighters? Who could sit down to ponder this and believe that struggle had a chance? The remarkable thing is not that it was lost or given up – but that it lasted as long as it did.
The only way that struggle could possibly win would be with the support of the 26-County State and it may well be that those who embarked upon it thought that at some point the Irish bourgeoisie would intervene in some way. They did — but to increase repression of Republicans.
A war might have been won if it had been extended across the whole state. Not necessarily an armed struggle across the whole country but certainly a social, economic, political one. It is not reasonable to expect the mass of people in the 26 Counties to fight year after year for those in only one part of the country, be it a colony or not, and have their own needs ignored. The people in the Six Counties would not do that either if the situation were reversed.
Certainly there was no shortage of issues going begging, from gender and sexuality-related civil rights, housing, unemployment, censorship, clerical domination, bleeding of the national language, sell-out to foreign capital, emigration, absentee landlords, private ownership of natural resources, sexual and other abuse by institutions. However, to take on the spread of issues oppressing or of concern to the people in Twenty-Six Counties would have meant taking on the Irish Gombeen class, its State and its supporting Church. Whether because they still had hopes of the Irish State or did not want to clash with the Church which had the religious allegiance of the majority of their followers – or because they themselves did not want to challenge some or all of those institutions,It is clear that the leadership of the Republican movement then could not bring themselves to that confrontation.
If only a struggle across the whole “island of Ireland” (sic) could possibly have won then it seems logical that only such a struggle has a hope of winning today.
Some of the Republican groups perhaps have this awareness and certainly they have been seen in water and housing protests in the 26 Counties. But they are small groups, their activity patchy, lacking collaboration with one another (even in resisting State repression). More fundamentally there is no strategic plan for organising the working class. In a way, they can’t be blamed for that: they are not communists or anarchists; no matter how revolutionary or left-wing, they are primarily and always Irish Republicans.
There is another sector whose members might well be nodding their heads in agreement with the above criticism but they too are beset by an important misconception – albeit a different one. They are the communists, socialists and anarchists who would consider themselves revolutionary, i.e who claim to believe in a revolutionary transformation of society. A general disdain of the Republicans runs through this sector, considering Irish Republicans to be simple militarists, adventurist and even sectarian.
Their disdain – or perhaps their fear of being tarred by association – is such that they cheerfully allow all kinds of abuses against Republicans by the Irish State and the colonist statelet. By “allow” I mean that they do not protest against the abuses. Ethically, this is reprehensible but functionally it is dangerous. And in a country where the most numerous section ready to take on the State happens to be Irish Republican of one kind or another, such an attitude by the “revolutionary” Left is nothing short of counter-revolutionary.
This is, in a way, the sector to which I most belong but without that disdain or political apartheid.
Nor do our tiny cliques and small parties exhibit revolutionary spirit even in straight socialist issues, being in general concerned more with peaceful mobilisations and speeches or elections to public office than direct action.
One would think that trade unions would be of particular interest to the revolutionary Left – certainly the Republican movement has paid them little attention. However one finds only small struggles to appoint some Left-winger, usually not even a revolutionary, to the heights of union bureaucracy. When issues of industrial conflict arise, one does find revolutionary socialist shop stewards pushing for militant action.
But where is the education of workers? Where is the mobilisation of revolutionaries of different parties and none to support workers in industrial action? There is in fact no such “Broad Left” organisation in Ireland (not that its example in Britain is anything to emulate) and generally strike support is used for party building. When that particular conflict is over, nothing remains that was not there already.
SOCIAL DEMOCRATS AND LIBERALS
The third sector, shaking their heads at the “militarism” of the Republicans and the “impracticality” of the revolutionary socialists, are the social democrats and liberals. Their misconception is that capitalism and imperialism can be reformed so that they no longer be rapacious.
Maybe there was a time when such a belief was reasonable (though I find it hard to imagine it) but certainly that was long ago. Sincere reformers, benevolent capitalists and aristocrats and scheming reformists have all failed to reform the system of exploitation. Indeed, what historical experience has shown is that even if a capitalist or imperialist wished to subscribe to ownership in common, his or her class colleagues would not permit it.
The electoral path, so detested by some communists and many republicans, is where social democrats and liberals most place their hope and faith. And yet, despite an occasional individual exception, what has the history of those experiments shown us? Corruption of individual activists, wholesale corruption of party leaderships; diversion from the struggles on the ground to bureaucratic struggles in parliaments; careerist trade union leaders and bureaucratic officials; disempowerment of the working people; weakening of organs of real struggle; respect for the capitalists’ laws …..
Not one government of a socialist revolutionary kind has emerged by this process and, whenever it seemed to come close, it was overthrown by military coup or foreign imperialist intervention.
But still, it might work next time, eh? To the advocates of this ideology, of these methods, history does not matter – it can be ignored, denied or expected to cease its operation.
So where does all this leave us? Yes, I know, in the proverbial cac — but how can we move forward?
This is what I think:
The Revolutionary Left needs to a) organise in a revolutionary manner among the working class and b) to defend the civil right of Republicans;
The Republicans need to unite at least against State repression and take up social and economic issues of working people;
the Social-democrats and liberals should unite with the others on issues of civil rights and social issues;
but ultimately the Republicans and Socialists should ignore reformist illusions.
And what about me?
I do what I can where I think I can have a positive effect – criticise but participate; participate but criticise. And hope to learn not only from the mistakes of others but also from my own.