The ongoing slaughter by Israeli soldiers of Palestinians demonstrating at the border of the Israeli State for the right to return to their homeland has rightly received media attention and, after a motion condemning Israel in the UN Security Council was blocked by the USA, the General Assembly passed another by a huge majority. The shootings demonstrate the total disregard of the Zionist authorities for Palestinian life and also the degree to which, by refusing to condemn and by supplying finance and equipment, the USA and major European states stand in support of Israel and are therefore complicit in its murderous actions. But the whole history of the right of return of Palestinians raises another issue of international importance and provides a historical and political lesson applicable widely, far beyond Palestine or even the Middle East.
Negotiations, Agreements and ….?
Back in 1993, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was in secret negotiation with Israel in Oslo, with Norway in the ‘honest broker’ role (but a later Norwegian Foreign Office investigation concluded that the Norwegian participants had acted as “Israel’s errand boys” – see link). Later it was to be the USA playing the ‘facilitator’ role — yes, bizarre, given the USA’s major economic and strategic interests in the Middle East and its role in supporting Israel. But then, perhaps the PLO figured they’d best have both their enemies there at the same time, both tied to whatever agreement was hammered out.
What had brought the parties to the negotiation table was the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. This uprising had begun on 9th December 1987 and had been characterised by repeated street fighting, barricades, refusal to work for the Israelis and strikes and boycotts, along with refusal to pay taxes. The Israeli state had replied with arrests and shootings, killing over 1,600 Palestinians as against 277 Israelis killed. Between 23,600–29,900 Palestinian children required medical treatment from Israeli Occupation Force beatings in the first two years (Wikipedia).
After signing the Oslo Accords in Washington, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the PLO and Yitzak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, were photographed there shaking hands with US President Bill Clinton looking on approvingly, arms almost around them, like a big friendly uncle making peace between nephews. Yizhak Rabin, Shimon Perez and Arafat were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 (a prize already devalued ever since it had been awarded to notorious warmonger Kissinger).
Much was made of the Oslo meeting and the Accords (including later meetings and agreements) in the international media with talk of coming peace in Palestine and a resolution to the conflict etc signposted and not too far ahead. These prediction proved false and hopes were dashed.
But anyone examining the situation cooly would not have been surprised. Leaving aside other issues such as whether a two-state solution was justifiable, or viable even then, or whether the legitimacy of Israel should ever have been agreed to, the right of return of Palestinian exiles had been set aside by the PLO in the final Oslo agreement, a postponement, along with a number of other big issues, such as illegal settlements, to be discussed later. The Palestinian diaspora is today estimated at 9.6 million people (see link).
Since the omissions were of issues fundamental to any solution even within the parameters of the dubious two-state solution, it would have been obvious to anyone who had their eyes open that the Oslo Accords were no solution nor even a step towards a solution. So why were they agreed by the PLO?
A belief in the Accords as a stepping-stone would not have been sustainable on its own (except for wishful-thinking liberals) and the partial withdrawal of Israeli armed forces insufficient, given that Israel controlled all borders (except the Gaza one with Egypt, in which that state colluded with Israel). In addition, the Israeli troops had the capacity to return whenever they wished (and did so many times).
The motivation has to have been status or money.
The PLO, although containing a number of Palestinian organisations at that time (but not Islamic Jihad or Hamas), was dominated by Al Fatah, a secular Palestinian national liberation organisation. Fatah had the prestige of long existence and of having withstood the Israeli armed assault at Karameh in Jordan in 1968 during which, at a huge cost, it had forced the Zionist army to retreat. The following year Fatah had reportedly racked up 2,432 guerrilla attacks on Israel too — for a population with the Zionist jackboot on its neck, that counted for a lot.
Concluding an agreement with the Israelis, who previously said they would not talk to the Palestinian resistance, might have seemed like a status-raising event to Fatah. And setting up the Palestinian Authority, which of course they would run, would definitely give them status in the eyes of many outside and even inside Palestine.
But running the PA, which would be in receipt of funds and in charge of their distribution, also managing employment, would also provide myriad opportunities for corruption and nepotism, unless the organisation were to be rigorously monitored either externally or internally. That monitoring did not happen and corruption among Fatah was rife. Only the people on the ground seemed to mind, the ones who wanted strong opposition to the Israeli occupation and whatever development could be brought about in the infrastructure and communities, along with the longer-term aims of a Palestinian state and the return of refugees and exiles. And who weren’t part of the corruption.
Failure of Agreements and Insurrection
In 2000, after the failure of the Camp David talks in the US and many failures in the Accords in the nine years of their existence, no-one seriously believed in the Oslo Accords any more and the Second Intifada began. An intifada had provided the reason to negotiate for the Israelis, however insincerely intended and now another intifada brought the negotiation period formally to a close.
As observed earlier, Fatah was the organisation to which the majority of Palestinians (certainly within Palestine) had given their support and it was a secular party (although for the first time the PLA declared the “state religion” to be Islam in 2003, where previously there had been no mention of religion whatsoever). We can assume that most Palestinians were happy to be represented by a secular organisation and perhaps even preferred it.
But in the 2005 municipal, most Palestinians voted for Hamas, a fundamentalist Moslem organisation, for the first time pushing Fatah into second place. And in the Presidential and Parliamentary elections of 2006, again. What brought about that change? Was it a sudden devotional conversion? No, it was that Al Fatah had become corrupt, was not seen to be fighting Zionism hard enough (some would have said was becoming collaborationist) and had given up on the right of refugees and exiles to return. Hamas, though not officially represented in the PLO, was running social programs, its activists seemed disciplined and it was resolutely opposing Israeli Zionism politically and militarily. And it insisted on the right of refugees and exiles to return.
Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections with a 3% lead over the incumbents. Unwilling to accept the popular will, Fatah staged an armed uprising against Hamas which, in the Gaza strip, Hamas decisively won (what the Wikipedia entry on Hamas calls a “takeover”!). For some reason, although Hamas was undoubtedly the winner electorally, they let Fatah hang on to power in the West Bank. And the US-led demonisation and isolation of Hamas in Gaza by the West began, along with a series of Israeli armed attacks from that year until 2014, including full-scale missile and air bombardments and infantry incursions, killing thousands of Palestinians including civilians, women and children and destroying much infrastructure.
Since then, the Gaza population is being squeezed with electricity supply reduced to four hours a day and hardly any fuelto run generators or transport allowed in past Egyptian and Israeli gates, its water supply contaminated by damaged sewage treatment plant, the inshore sea likewise contaminated and Palestinians fishing further out attacked by Israeli gunboats, factories bombed out ….
The message seems to be: “Get rid of Hamas, get back with Fatah and we’ll stop exterminating you.” But a delayed extermination is all it would be, as evidenced from the deeper penetration of Zionist colonist enclaves on to Palestinian land, the Zionist-only roads, the ongoing takeover of Jerusalem, the Israeli Wall, the continual theft of water and the harassment by settlers and Israeli Army of any populations of Palestinians living near to Israeli colonists.
The Processes outside of Palestine
Taking a trip back in time to 1993, we saw the Oslo Accords being hailed as a great step forward by the majority of commentators across the West. These coincided with the new interim constitution as a result of the negotiations in South Africa — so that then two major areas of conflict were being hailed as definitely on the way to a solution, to come sooner rather than later. “Peace process” became a buzz-word, firstly among the participants and some of the commentators, then in the agreed discourse of the rest of the media and politicians.
In Ireland, as the Provisionals’ leadership and the British looked at one another across the dance floor, the former wondered what they could get from the same kind of process but crucially, how to sell it to their rank and file. At the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheiseanna (annual congresses of the party), the ANC and Al Fatah (wearing their PLO hat) fraternal delegates were welcomed by hype from the SF leadership and enthusiastic reception from the floor of the hall. The ANC and Fatah of course talked up their parts of the Processes and no-one seemed to examine critically what either the South African blacks or the Palestinians were likely to get out of them.
And the Pal-African partnership continued to attend congresses, to send fraternal messages to areas of ongoing anti-imperialist resistance, to sing their siren song with a Western chorus backing. The Provisionals joined the actors and took to the stage as they neared and finally accepted the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. But with the Palestinian conflict showing no sign of resolution (unless one considers a kind of genocide of Palestinians) or even a respite — and in particular after the 2006 elections victory by Hamas — the Palestinians were no longer quoted as a good example of the “peace process”. Various actors, including South Africans and Irish, went on to try to sell the “Process” to areas of stubborn anti-imperialist resistance: the southern Basque Country, Turkish Kurdistan, Columbia, Phillipines, Sri Lanka ….. But the Palestinians (or rather Fatah) had been dropped off the billing and bowed quietly out of the Traveling Peace Process Show. They had not even an illusion to portray any more.
However, the show must, as we are often reminded, go on. It failed to deliver in Kurdistan and the Basque Country, not because the leaders of the resistance movements were not amenable but because of the unwillingness to adapt of the Turkish and Spanish regimes respectively. However, the Basque armed organisation ETA threw in the towel a couple of years ago anyway, abandoning their fighters in the jails to seek their own individual ways out through begging forgiveness of the occupiers of their land and oppressors of their people. The Turkish and Syrian Kurds were drawn into partnership with the imperialist allies dominated by the US, in their war against ISIS but also for the overthrow of the Assad regime, though deep Kurdish contradictions continue with the Turkish regime, to which it looks like the US Coalition will abandon them and they may seek an accommodation of sorts with Assad.
The Colombian FARC and MIR swallowed the Processed bait and gave up the armed struggle for a promise of a political one but those of their leaders who are resolute are being hunted by the regime, the quasi-liberated areas terrorised by the Army and assassination squads, the resistance fragmenting and disorientated. The Tamil Tigers didn’t entertain the Peace Process Show but the Sri Lankan Army were able to surround their liberated areas and bombard them to defeat, murdering their leaders and raping, murdering and repressing their followers.
The Phillipines and India? The resistance groups in both these areas are led by a Maoist-type leadership and we wait to see.
And in Ireland, after two decades since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the colonial occupier has the leadership of Sinn Féin, the former resistance, in joint colonial government, the party’s southern arm seeking admittance to the Irish comprador capitalist club, the remaining anti-imperialist resistance fragmented and the country not one step nearer to unity and independence.
The Palestinian lesson for the world
All the issues which led to these conflicts and which the processes of pacification did not address – were never intended to address – will return again, to be struggled over anew, under new leaderships. In Palestine now, that is what has been happening. The Right of Return for exiles and refugees, put to one side by Fatah in the Oslo Accords nearly three decades ago, is being demanded again on the Israeli border, the protesters (along with the ‘collateral damage’ of journalists and paramedics) being bombarded by tear gas and shot down by Israeli snipers. The Palestinians, whose leadership nearly three decades ago were chosen by US imperialism to be among the first to accept the new round of historical pacification processes and to become complicit in being its missionaries, are teaching us the fallacy of the facile promises they were made at the time.
There is another irony here: while refusing the right of return to Palestinians who were themselves exiled or are children and grandchildren of exiles, i.e within living memory, the State of Israel offers “the right of return” (sic) to people who have never been there and cannot even prove that their ancestors were, providing only they can prove their Jewishness. And a further irony: Sephardic Jews, who were expelled by the Christian kingdoms in Spain and Portugal in the Middle Ages, were being offered a “right of return” by the Spanish Government in 2014 (see link).
Over time, the people in the other areas of anti-imperialist resistance around the world will regroup, gather strength and return to the resistance. The imperialists almost certainly know this. But they have bought themselves three decades of damage to their opposition and, since they need the people as producers and consumers, cannot eliminate the deep wells of resistance. And capitalism is not about enduring solutions – they work away at undermining the resistance on a temporary basis and as for the future, like Micawber in Dickens’ David Copperfield, believe that “something (else) will turn up”.
LINKS (NB: I have deliberately chosen most background references regarding Palestine from Wikipedia, which is known to be heavily monitored by Zionist interests and also has inputs from friends of the Palestinians and therefore cannot be said to be completely favourable to either side):
The 1916 Rising, to which Moore Street is so closely linked, represented some very important events for the people of the world and it impacted on people in all populated continents of the globe.
FOR DEMOCRACY, EQUALITY
The 1916 Proclamation, printed in Liberty Hall and signed in No.21 Henry Street, just around the corner from Moore Street, is a document not only of clear patriotic and anti-colonial expression but also a democratic and inclusive one. At a time when hardly a state anywhere in the world permitted women to vote in elections, the document specifically addressed “Irishmen and Irish women”. It also clearly expressed the wish of the insurgents to overcome the religious sectarianism which had played such an important part in securing continued colonial rule: “ … religious and civil liberty … oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”
The Rising had expressed the gender equality intentions of the insurgents in more than the words of its address: women fought in the Rising and, in two garrison areas, commanded for awhile. The British colonial authorities recognised the role of some of those women by sentencing one to death, albeit a sentence later commuted, and keeping a number of them in prison even after many men had been released.
FOR GENDER EQUALITY
Irish women organised for and acted in the Rising in two separate organisations: Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army.
The women founded as an auxiliary force to the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, later to assert considerable organisational independence, wore their own uniforms and had their own female officers. Women had participated in many insurrections and resistance movements across the world but no insurrectionary force in history ever before had such a consciously women-organised force.
The women in the Irish Citizen Army had formally equal status with men and a number carried arms in the Rising and fired them at the enemy. Men acted on orders from women officers in at least two garrison areas and, in medical matters, also in at least a third.
Such a situation was of great significance in the struggle for women’s rights and gender equality, not only in Ireland but in the world.
FOR WORKERS AND SOCIALISM
The Irish Citizen Army was founded in 1913 as a workers’ defence force by trade unionists and socialists and later as a workers’ army and, despite its strongly anti-colonial stance, until the 1916 Rising, maintained a strict separation from the nationalist republican organisations of the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan. As detailed earlier, it formally recognised women within the organisation as of equal status with men.
Workers’ organisations had existed before, including armed ones but nowhere had such an armed organisation existed outside of armed conflict for so long (1913-1916), led by socialists and with equal status for men and women. In the history of socialist organisation and particularly of a revolutionary and insurgent kind, this was a development of enormous importance.
The 1916 Rising took place in the middle of the first of two huge international conflicts that were later called World Wars. WW1 was a struggle for markets, resources and strategic positions and bases between a number of states ruled by capitalists and those states recruited heavily from among the nations they had colonised; in Britain’s case, that included Ireland.
To many nationalist Republicans, the War represented an opportunity, expressed in the maxim that “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. But to many socialists around the world, the War represented a disastrous pitting of the working people under one Power against the working people of another, as well as an excuse for the suppression of demands to fulfill the needs of their workers while the capitalists gathered huge profits. James Connolly was one of those socialists.
Connolly, Edinburgh-born Irish revolutionary socialist, formerly Acting General Secretary of the Irish Transport & General Worker’s Union, had joined the International Workers of the Word, the hugely influential in the USA syndicalist organisation. As well as being an energetic organiser, Connolly was a historian and revolutionary theoretician. Connolly took to heart the resolution formally adopted by representatives of the vast majority of European socialists to oppose war and, should it come, to turn it into class war against their rulers. In the event, Connolly was one of the few European socialist leaders to live up to that resolution: as Commandant of the Irish Citizen Army, GPO Garrison commander in a rising against Ireland’s British colonial masters, James Connolly was also striking a blow against imperial and colonial war.
That aspect of the Rising, of being consciously or unconsciously against War, predated the February Russian Revolution of 1917, also in part an anti-war uprising, by ten months. And of course, predated the October Socialist Revolution in Russia by seventeen months and the nearest uprising geographically to Ireland, also in part an anti-war one, the German socialist uprising in November 1918, by two-and-a-half years. For all these reasons, the 1916 Rising, the Headquarters of which were in the GPO and later removed to Moore Street, was and remains of enormous significance in the world-wide history of people’s movements against war.
AGAINST COLONIALISM IN THE WORLD
The 1916 Rising reverberated around the world. It took place in what had a century earlier been widely regarded as the second city of the British Empire and, when it erupted, did so against the largest empire, in terms of directly-controlled areas and population numbers ruled, that the world has ever known. How can such an event be of other than huge interest, not only to other peoples under British colonial rule but also to those under the colonial rule of France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Spain, Russia and the United States? How could it not have been of considerable interest to socialist revolutionaries everywhere?
Socialists around the world discussed the Rising, at first often criticising it, while Lenin, of huge importance in the socialist movement at that time and some others commented favourably upon it. Consequently, the Rising and the War of Independence was to play an important part in the development of a revolutionary theory around the world that advocated the linking of the struggles of worker, peasant and small farmer, of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism with struggle for a socialist republic.
The Rising was a topic of great discussion in the United States and in Australia, and in the USA of financial and other support, as is well known. Connolly had been active there and had published his songbook in New York in 1910; Larkin was actually there in 1916. For a number of reasons, including the sentencing to death of Eamon Bulfin for his role in the GPO and in Moore Street, a sentence later commuted and Bulfin deported to Buenos Aires, the Rising was discussed in Argentina and in other Latin American countries (where, at that time, the British were the main imperialist power).
It was certainly discussed in the huge country of India (which at that time included what is now the states of Pakistan and Bangladesh), whose revolutionary nationalists had contact with Fenian revolutionaries from decades earlier. The Connaught Ranger mutiny in the British Army was a direct result of the Rising and the War of Independence and, before the mutiny was crushed, the soldiers and oppressed Indians had begun to make movement towards reciprocal solidarity. And we know, from history and the writings of Indian nationalists and socialists, that the Rising and the War of Independence which organically followed the Rising influenced the struggles against colonialism and imperialism in India right up to the Second World War. We are also aware of correspondence between the Nehru and Ghandi families and the McSwineys.
We know also that the War of Independence influenced African uprisings and Ho Chi Minh, later leader of successful wars against Japanese invasion and French colonialism. In South Africa, the Rising must have been a subject of discussion too, at least among the whites. John McBride, sentenced to death ostensibly for his role in Rising was probably in reality being shot for having organised and led an Irish Brigade to fight the British in the Second Boer War, which had ended but fourteen years earlier.
In Britain itself, the Rising influenced the huge Irish diaspora in England, Scotland and Wales and a significant proportion of the insurgent forces in Dublin had actually come from there. The Rising and especially the War of Independence caused a crises of a kind in British socialist thinking, threatening an irrevocable rupture between revolutionary socialists and even sections of radical social democrats on the one hand and pro-imperial social democracy on the other.
This is not the place to discuss this further but that situation, allied to anti-colonial struggles around the world, huge dissatisfaction and mutinies in the British armed forces and a growing strike movement in Britain, provided great opportunities for an Irish revolutionary movement to influence the history of the world in a direction other than that which it has taken.
For all the reasons outlined above, the Moore Street quarter should be of recognised World Heritage Status.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE AND OTHER CONSERVATION STATUS
The Irish State ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1991, which qualifies Ireland to apply for that status for the Moore Street quarter. Up to US$1 million is available from the World Heritage fund for the saving and development of a World Heritage site and funds are also available for urgent works to save it. World Heritage status attracts considerable tourist interest and substantial revenue is of course also available to the State and businesses surrounding the area from such tourist interest.
Currently Ireland has only two sites which have been accorded full World Heritage status (one of archaelogical and the other or natural, mainly geological, importance). However, another seven sites are under “Tentative” categorisation since 2010 and Dublin City is one of those. The Moore Street battleground could be afforded that full World Heritage status in its own right, which I believe its history deserves but it can also be used to strengthen the case for full such status for Dublin City.
The ten grounds on which UNESCO currently relies in order to examine the “the unique importance” of a site is admittedly rather restricted in the category of historical importance, particularly in the development of social movements. However, even under the existing list, I would submit that the Moore Street battleground meets four of the criteria: 2, 4, 6 and 8. The USA has the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall building as World Heritage sites.
Registering under EU programs may also be possible, in particular Horizon 2020.
A MOORE STREET HISTORY TOUR — A VISITOR’S EXPERIENCE IN THE FUTURE
Some decades into the future, I invite you to imagine a foreign-based tourist writing of her experience of the 1916 History and Cultural Quarter. Her name might be Isabela Etxebarria, from Argentina; she may be writing in her excellent English or perhaps her Castillian was translated.
This also formed part of my submission to the Minister’s Consultative Group on Moore Street which is soon to publish their recommendations. A number of important, not to say crucial, campaigns were excluded from that group but were permitted to make submissions. I contributed to two group contributions but this is piece is from my personal one, of which I have previously posted some sections:
“Dublin is an amazing city for someone interested in culture, literature or history. By virtue of its long existence as a centre of population, and also as a result of its history of invasions, occupations and resistance, it has enormous historical interest. It has also contributed three writers to the Nobel Prize pantheon and arguably would have contributed another one or more, were it not for certain prejudices of their times. I had read something about the Rising in Dublin against the British Empire early in the 20th Century — right in the middle of the First World War — and was eager to learn more.
I was also aware that an Argentinian citizen, Eamon Bulfin, of the Irish diaspora to my country, had raised the Irish Republic flag on the GPO, had been condemned to death after the Rising and then deported to Buenos Aires where he had functioned as a foreign representative of the revolutionary Irish Republican government. His sister Catalina had married Seán McBride, a Nobel laureate and also winner of the Lenin Peace Prize, son of John McBride, one of the sixteen executed in 1916, and of Maude Gonne, a prominent Irish Republican activist.
On Friday, we went to experience one of the famous historical tours of inner city Dublin. There are various history tours, some of which lead to a building called the General Post Office but which all the locals refer to only as “the GPO”. Other tours then take the ‘GPO’ as their starting point and it is one of those that I joined – its title was ‘The 1916 Rising – Evacuation, Advance & Surrender’.
The tickets of those participating were checked (except for children’s tours, the regulations restrict to no more than thirty at a time including ten children,) and we were handed audio earphones, radio receivers and issued with our instructions – stay with the group, obey the instructions of the guide, etc.
Our group contained some young children and a few in their late teens, with their parents. About half or more of the group looked like tourists and some asked for the foreign-language options of receivers. There was one man in a wheelchair.
As instructed by the guide in a number of languages, we tested our receivers to find the volume settings appropriate for each individual. Then our guide motioned for us to listen to our earphones … and the narration began.
Gradually, we were pulled back across the decades until we were in that amazing Rising, taking place in what had once been considered the second city of the British Empire, rising up against that very same Empire, the largest the World had ever seen.
In our imagination, aided by a commentary, it was the fifth day of the Rising and many of the buildings in the city centre were ablaze. Through our earphones, against a backdrop of booming cannon and crashing shell, chattering machine guns, rifles’ crack and whining ricochet, we could hear the crackle of flames. Irish Volunteers’ voices reported that the glass in Clery’s building opposite had melted and was running across the street like water. The heavy ledgers the Volunteers had placed in the GPO windows to protect against bullets were smouldering. Other voices added that despite fire-fighting efforts the roof was on fire and the roof lead melting. We could almost smell the smoke. Then finally, on the following day, the order to evacuate given in an Edinburgh accent – James Connolly, the socialist commandant of the HQ of the Rising, the General Post Office.
In the hubbub of people getting ready to evacuate some voices stood out: Elizabeth O’Farrell, giving instructions about the moving of the injured James Connolly; calls to evacuate by the side door and caution about crossing Henry Street, with machine-gun sniper fire coming from the east all the way down Talbot Street from the tower of the train station at Amiens Street and indeed, some bullets traveling from the west along the street too.
A man’s voice in our earphones says “It’s lucky we have oul’ Nelson there to shield us some of the way!” and we hear a few people laugh.
Then, The O’Rahilly’s voice, calling for volunteers to charge the barricade at the top of Moore Street and a chorus of voices answering, clamouring to be chosen.
Now we are out in a group and crossing Henry Street. The man in the wheelchair, having politely declined offers to push his chair, is propelling his wheels strongly along with his leather-covered hands. Brass ‘footsteps’ laid into the street draw attention to the GPO Garrison’s evacuation route. It is weird to see the pedestrian shoppers and sightseers of the Twenty-First Century as half our minds are back in the second decade of the Twentieth.
Across this short stretch to Henry Place we went, the crack of rifles and chatter of machine guns louder now in our earphones. And explosions of shells and of combustibles. The garrison scurried across this gap carrying the wounded Connolly on a bed frame and Winifred Carney, carrying her typewriter and Webley pistol, interposed her body between Connolly and a possible bullet from the train station tower.
The laneway here has murals and marking on the ground to mark the route of the evacuation. Immediately we stepped on the restored cobbles of the lane-way, the sounds of battle in our earphones receded somewhat.
“No bullets can reach us here!” shouts a voice in our earphones.
“No, but bejaysus them artillery shells can!” replies another.
Other shouts a little ahead warn us that gunfire is being directed down what is now Moore Lane from a British barricade on the junction with Parnell Street.
A sudden shouted warning about a building ahead of us, to our left, facing Moore Lane.
“See the white house? The bastards are in there too,” shouts a strong voice which I am told is Cork-accented, a representation of the young Michael Collins’. “Let’s root them out. Who’s with me?”
Another chorus of voices, a flurry of Mauser and Parabellum fire, then only the steady chatter of the machine gun up at the British barricade and the sound of bullets striking walls.
The Cork sing-song voice again. “I can’t believe it — The place was empty, like!”
“Aye, it was so many bullet’s hoppin’ off the walls made us think the firing was coming from inside,” a voice says, in the accents of Ulster.
Then an unmistakably Dublin working class accent: “Would yez ever give us a hand with this!” followed by the creak and rattle of wheels on the cobblestones as the cart is dragged across the intersection. Now we can hear the machine gun bullets thudding into the cart.
“Quick now, cross the gap!” comes the order and the dash across the gap begins. Nearly 300 men and women? Someone is bound to get hit and yes, they do and we hear that one of them died here.
Across the gap, nowadays mercifully free of enemy fire but still feeling vulnerable, we follow Pela, our guide, to the corner with Moore Street. In character, she peers carefully around as we hear machine-gun and rifle here too, but Mausers and Parabellum as well as Lee-Enfields.
“Gor blimey!” exclaims a London accent from our earphones, reminding us that some of the Volunteers had been brought up in Britain. “O’Rahilly’s lads are getting a pastin’. None of ’em made it as far as the barricade!”
An Irish voice: “Into these houses then – no other way! We have to get into cover to plan our next move.” This is followed by the sound of a door being hit and then splintering as they break into No.10, the first house on the famous 1916 Terrace.
“Careful now,” Elizabeth Farrell’s voice, followed by a muted groan of pain as Connolly is maneouvred through the doorway and up the stairs.
Pela sends the man in the wheelchair up in the lift and leads us up the stairs. When the lift and the last of our group arrive we proceed across the restored upper floors from house to house, passing through holes in the walls, as the GPO Garrison did in 1916 – except that they had to break through the walls themselves, working in shifts and our ‘holes’ are more like jagged doorways.
No.10 was the field hospital and here, represented by dummies and holograms, are the cramped bodies of wounded Volunteers and the British soldier rescued by George Plunkett. The woman of the house is trying to prepare food for the fighters.
Through a few unshuttered windows, we can see the busy street market below us going about its business, apparently oblivious of our passage above them. But then, thousands of tour groups have gone through here over the decades. The weather being fine, the transparent roof covering the street is withdrawn and through the double glazing of the houses one can just barely hear the street traders calling out their wares and prices.
We pass through those hallowed rooms, listening to ghosts. Here and there a hologram appears and speaks, echoes of the past. Dummies dressed in the uniforms of the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna and Hibernian Rifles are on display here and there. Imitation Mausers and Parabellums and Martinis, each one carefully made and to the same weight as the original, are there. They are security-chained but we know people are free to pick them up and feel the weight, as a couple of children do, to imagine carrying and firing one. But not to be flash-photographed, which is not permitted here.
Replica Cumann na mBan medical kits are on display, open so one could inspect the contents. The houses also have period furniture, fireplaces, beds …. chamber pots …. kitchens with utensils … bedrooms …..
There are dummies dressed too in civilian clothes of the time typical of that area — women, men, children (even the dog fed by Tom Crimmins, the last Volunteer to leave Moore St.).
Here are some Volunteers breaking through a wall; over there, exhausted Volunteers sleeping
We see magnified historical newspaper headlines, photos, badges and medals. A map of Dublin with fighting locations flashing on them, some of them going out as they fall, the dates appearing above them to show when that happened. But many were only surrendered on receipt of the order from Pearse or Connolly.
Snatches of poetry, of song come to us as we cross from room to room, from house to house, some of it nationalist, some traditional or folk, some even music hall from the era. And for our eyes, the holograms of the Proclamation, the portraits of the executed 16 and many others who fought and died or who survived, flags, the Tricolour, the Irish Republic, the green-and-gold Starry Plough, waving in the wind above Clery’s ….
Half-way along the terrace we come to the historical discussion between the leaders, creatively reconstructed on the basis of some witness statements. Pearse wishing to surrender to avoid further loss of civilian life (the names of the dead civilians in Moore Street, their ages and the manner of their dying appearing above him), Clarke arguing, a sob in his voice, Connolly saying maybe they should wait for Sean McLoughlin to get back (he is out preparing a diversion attack to allow a breakout) …. Then the arguments with some of the other Volunteers, Mac Diarmada having to use all his powers of persuasion.
Oh, such emotion in such short discussions! Then the decision, and Elizabeth O’Farrell volunteering to go with the white flag to open negotiations with the enemy …. even though civilian men and women have already been shot in died in that street, including one beneath a white flag.
Shortly afterwards, the faces of the dead civilians and Volunteers appear, then the sixteen executed come into view, suspended in the air in front and a little above us. We stand there while passages are read out from their trials, letters from their condemned cells, words to relatives …. Then the dates appear above them and we hear the fusillades as by one their faces blink out, until finally only Casement remains, the image of the gallows and then he too is gone. All is dark for a moment, then all sixteen faces appear again, over a background of the three flags of the Rising, with a list of the fallen rank-and-file, to a swelling chorus of The Soldiers’ Song, in English and in Irish.
At the end of the Terrace, we descend again, somewhat dazed and here view the O’Rahilly monument plaque and in our earphones hear the words of his final letter to his wife read out – he wrote it as he lay dying from a number of bullet wounds. I found my eyes moistening again as they had several times during the tour and some of the others were visibly crying – including other foreign tourists.
The end of our tour lay ahead, through the underground tunnel under Parnell Street to the Rotunda. There the Volunteers had been publicly launched and recruited in 1913 and there too, in 1916, the GPO/ Moore Street garrison had been kept prisoners without food and water or toilet, some for two days, while political colonial police came down to identify whomsoever they could from among the prisoners. Here Tom Clarke had been cruelly stripped by his captors, diagonally across the road from one of his two tobacconist shops, on the corner of Parnell and O’Connell Streets. Elizabeth Farrell had been kept prisoner in that shop too by the British, before being escorted to deliver the surrender order to a number of garrisons.
In between the shop and the Rotunda stands the Parnell Monument, as it did then, honouring “the uncrowned King of Ireland”, who had tried by mostly parliamentary means, two decades earlier, to bring about Home Rule for Ireland and had failed. British officers had been photographed in front of the monument with the “Irish Republic” flag held upside down – had they been entirely conscious of the irony?
Directly across the road from us stands a historic building too – the premises of the Irish Land League and where the Irish Ladies Land League had been formed and also raided by the police.
Now the recordings in our earphones ask us to remove our earphones and to hand them to our guide, also to listen for a moment after she has collected them. Having gathered the sets and put them away in her bag, Pela asks us all to give a moment’s thoughts to the men and women and children, particularly of the years each side of the centenary year of the Rising, 2016, who had campaigned to preserve this monument for future generations. Pela tells us that her own grandmother had been one of the activists.
Incredible though it may now seem, the whole terrace except for four houses had been about to be demolished to make way for a shopping centre, which would also have swallowed up the street market. It had taken a determined campaign and occupations of buildings with people prepared to face imprisonment to protect it for our generation and others to come. The State of those years had little interest in history and much in facilitating speculators.
Pela invited us to applaud the campaigners, which we did, enthusiastically. She then asked us to turn around and view the reconstructed building we had left. There was a plaque on the wall there “Dedicated to the memory of the men, women, girls and boys of the early 21st Century ……” In bronze bas-relief, the plaque’s image depicts 16 houses in a terrace with activists on the scaffolding erected by those who intended demolition, with a chain of people of all ages holding hands around the site and in one corner, a campaign table surrounded by people apparently signing a petition.
Once through the underpass and inside the Rotunda building, the tour officially over, we thanked our guide and made for the Republican Café. I found we couldn’t say much, as my mind was half back in 1916. My companion was quiet too as were some other from our tour but some of the children seemed unaffected, brightly debating what to choose from the menu in the Rotunda café, or what souvenir they fancied from those on display.
We took a program of events, including film showings, lectures, dramatic representations and music and poetry performances, in order to choose which to attend later. There’s also a Moore Street and Dublin Street Traders’ Museum in the Rotunda which we intend to visit, perhaps tomorrow, after some shopping in the existing ancient street market.
Some of our tour group, we could hear, including the indefatigable man in the wheelchair, were going on the short walk up to the Remembrance Garden and we heard mention also of the Writers’ Museum and the Hugh Lane Gallery adjacent to the Garden.
We’d had enough for one day, however – we were full. It was truly an unforgettable experience and I knew that for me and probably for my companion, it was something that would remain forever alive in our memories.”
As we enter the New Year, be prepared for attempts to engage us with a whipped-up excitement of elections and “new” ways of doing things. A diversion — something like a cross between those periodic shows like the Eurovision Song Context and the Lottery. And like the lottery, there will be a winner but it won’t be us. Whichever party or combination of parties succeeds, it will be the ruling class that wins. A diversion in the other sense too, in that it seeks to divert us from our path.
There is no third way, there are no alternative routes, short cuts, slip roads. There is the revolutionary road and the other. The other leads to the continuation of capitalism. But the other road is often represented as a number of different roads, and the only difference between them is in the degrees of exploitation and repression it will deliver. The non-revolutionary road can NEVER lead to social justice.
To be sure, there are many slip roads and byways on the non-revolutionary road but none of them lead to revolution; therefore they do not lead to socialism and therefore nor do they lead to overcoming the capitalist attacks on the working people and the continuing penetration of imperialism into our way of governing ourselves and our social provision, into our natural resources and into our labour power.
Every now and again, a “new” road is proposed, in which “new alliances” are sought, projects to “build a broader front” away from “clichés” and “slogans of the past”. And it turns out that there is nothing new in these roads except the words being used and sometimes not even those. There is talk of accumulation or summation of forces, for which some objectives must be dropped, for which descriptions must be toned down, for which slogans that mean many different things to different people have to be adopted. Well, either they are heading (and wanting us to follow) for capitalism or they are heading for socialism – there are no other destinations. And if they are heading for socialism, why do they not say so? Why do they not reveal their full program?
There are those who say we can reach socialism by building this wide movement with deliberately unclear slogans and program, building on the hostility towards the present state of things and the dominant political parties. How can that be, if there are basically only two roads? How can this wide movement of discontent displace the ruling class and their system, if it is not consciously heading up the road of revolution? It seems that at some point the curtain will be whipped aside by the socialists in these wide movements and the masses will be shown the monster of capitalism and will realise it is so horrible that it must be killed. And of course they will do it. How? Ah, that’s a step too far, comrade, stick with us, trust us, we’ll tell you when the moment comes.
One can see the fates of Syriza in government in Greece and of Podemos in opposition in the Spanish state to see the enormous expectations that are raised and then cruelly dashed. We have seen the like before in our history in Ireland and we will see that again. As we go into 2016 we will have such illusions of a possible electoral socialist future dangled before us, though on a smaller scale.
Elect Sinn Féin and we’ll have a really different situation, a real change – or so we are told. Nonsense – a party that has never seriously confronted capitalism, a party in fact whose President says publicly (and without correction by his party) that it does not have a problem with Capitalism. A party tried in government of a kind already, albeit in a colonial statelet, that has demonstrated itself unwilling to make a determined stand for social justice in welfare and education and which has maintained a colonial repressive police force. This is also a party which has openly welcomed leaders of US and British imperialism and signaled its acceptance of the treason of the ANC leadership to the South African masses. In the 26-Counties this party showed its eagerness to impress the ruling class with how “responsible” and “law-abiding” it is, so much so that they are not even willing to endorse the civil disobedience tactics of refusal to register for the Water Charge and refusal to pay the charge.
Perhaps, once in the Dáil they might become a revolutionary socialist party? One can of course hope (or pray) for miracles but one has no right to expect them.
Another illusion being dangled before us is the election of some kind of “Left-wing coalition”, whether it would include SF or not. We have a Dáil of 166 seats so it would be necessary to elect no less than 84 to have an absolute majority – a coalition of 84 independents, TDs from small socialist parties and whoever! And what program will this “Left-wing coalition” have that all 84 can be expected to adhere to? We don’t know and we have no revolutionary mass movement which has put forward the demands to incorporate into such a program. There is no need to even consider what measures the ruling capitalist class would take should there ever be a Dáil majority with a revolutionary program – we are not within an ass’ bray of such a moment.
Yes, I said we have no revolutionary mass movement — but I was not dismissing (nor “dissing”) the movement of resistance. For two years we have had a wide and numerous movement of resistance to the Water Charge or Tax, carrying on from the previous movements against the Household Tax and the Property Charge. With regards to the latter two, the first was successful but the second was successfully bypassed by the State by changing the law, enabling the State to collect the charge directly from our income. Whether this was illegal or not is beside the point – they did it and anyway, to whom does the law belong if not to them? Certainly not to us!
With regard to the remaining one, the movement of popular resistance to the Water Charge continues, even without much central leadership, without the practical support of the trade union movement. Those absences may have prevented it being completely taken over by opportunists and careerists and state agents but it has also prevented it from waging a campaign of sustained resistance, of presenting an agreed slate of demands of sponsors and of candidates for election, of putting real pressure on the trade union leaderships and of regular mobilisation of numbers to defend resisters being hounded through the courts and threatened with imprisonment. Nevertheless, the resistance continues.
But we should not fool ourselves that the campaign is revolutionary – it does not have as an objective the overthrow of the capitalist system. To be sure, some and even many of its supporters may wish for that – but it is not an objective of the campaign. In fact, even the demand of the abolition of the Water Charge is not a revolutionary demand — that can be achieved without overthrowing the system.
For revolutionaries, reforms and partial gains are not things to be ignored. We take our stand on them with regard to a number of criteria. In the case of the Water Charge, the great thing is that it was and is being resisted by civil disobedience and if this tax should be eventually defeated through this tactic we should celebrate the victory. We should proclaim that resistance does work, that breaking the law of the State is necessary when it impedes our progress. And that the campaign has exposed the role of the State – legislature, police and courts in repression and service of capitalism. But we should be clear with the movement that it is, however great, a temporary victory – the system remains and while that is so we are open to many, many other attacks which we can safely predict will follow.
The victory of the movement of civil resistance can be put to use for revolution – in terms of tactical and strategic lessons learned by individuals, communities and organisations. The pool of revolutionary activists can be enlarged. This can best be done in the context of a revolutionary movement which is not something we have but which it is not beyond our capabilities to build. But it will not be built by elections nor by electoral campaigns.
As the elections approach we will be gabbled at from nearly every quarter: Vote for Us! Vote Against Them! Vote for Me! Then there will be the shrill “You Must Vote!” and “You Have No Right to Criticise If You Don’t Vote!” And even the fewer but also shrill voices that shout “Don’t Vote!” and “You’re Supporting the System If You Vote!” Really, what a lot of nonsense all of that is. The system will neither be changed by us voting in its elections nor will it overthrown by us not voting in them. Nor will voting in them strengthen it significantly, except in the case of a popular boycott which is not even on the political horizon.
There is an Irish Republican tradition of standing in elections and not taking seats in the Dáil and whether one is a genuine revolutionary or Republican (choose whichever label you prefer) is judged by whether one takes that seat or not if elected. This seems to me to be a false test. There have been revolutionaries who took seats in parliaments on the one hand and on the other, reformists within revolutionary and resistance movements who worked away without taking parliamentary seats. While it is true that opportunists and careerists often wish to enter parliaments in order to further their careers and to pay off their senior party supporters, there is no guarantee that not doing so will prevent activists from being corrupted and co-opted. There are so many other rewards the system has to offer – a secure job, seat on a company board, status and recognition, special awards, publication of writings, career advancement, jobs in various institutions and civil service, funding of one’s project as a non-government organisation, paid expenses, paid travel ….. along with safety from the danger of arrest, the dawn raid, the assassin’s bullet, torture, years in prison.
We can of course vote for individuals in order to keep other individuals out or to put someone we like in or to maintain a useful few voices in the Dáil. But let us not fool ourselves that is really making a difference to the system as such. Only revolution can do that. Of course the revolutionary road is not without its switchbacks, potholes and blind turnings. Nevertheless, it is the only viable road and if we are not heading up it then we are not going to bring about any real or lasting change.
Vote or don’t but the crucial thing is to organise resistance, to contribute to it practically and ideologically. And the latter does mean not spreading illusions.
This is a timely and interesting article by Liam Ó Ruairc about the significance of the Easter Rising beyond our little parish.
Apart from that, it would seem to suffer a little from a terminology problem with regard to “imperialism”. In the world today this is not an insignificant issue. At the time of the 1916 Rising it was common for commentators to conflate the words “colonialism” and “imperialism” — and why not, since we had the British Empire, the French Empire etc. However, that same year, VI Lenin completed his work “Imperialism — the final stage of capitalism” which he published the following year but exchanging, for the censor, the word “highest” for “final”. Lenin described imperialism as the merging of finance with industrial capital and its export to the underdeveloped world and also explained how its colonialism was undermining British industrial capacity and competitiveness by starving it of capital which was instead being invested in the colonies for quick return of superprofits.
He showed that imperialism could be practiced where the developed state did NOT have colonies but instead had influence.
Decolonisation was indeed one of the big processes of the early to mid-21st Century, as quoted in the article, but it was accompanied by an increase in imperialist expansion, with the USA becoming the world leader and displacing the former colonial powers of Britain and France. By and large this was achieved without occupying countries and setting up colonies of UStaters within them.
Lenin also showed that imperialism leads to war; colonialism did too but not on the scale that imperialism has. Colonial wars were largely limited by the amount of people available to occupy colonies whereas imperialism fights most of its wars through proxies (with some notable exceptions such as Vietnam, Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, involving large committal of its troops but even there, proxies have been/are also used).
Those regimes that imperialism cultivates were later classified by national liberationists as “comprador (buyer) capitalists” or “neo-colonials”. Such an analysis of Ireland today would have to conclude that the Six Counties are a remaining British colony and the Twenty-Six a neo-colony.
In the “comment” section of the article there is a reference to another article on the same theme of international importance which is also of interest.
In less than six months, the one hundredth anniversary of the 24-29 April 1916 Easter Rising will be commemorated throughout Ireland. What is striking about the so-called ‘Decade of Commemorations’ is how insular its outlook is: the 1912 Ulster Covenant, the 1916 Rising or the setting up of Northern Ireland are seen as a purely Irish phenomenon, divorced from global trends. As Edward W. Said once noted, while the Irish struggle was a ‘model of twentieth-century wars of liberation’, “it is an amazing thing that the problem of Irish liberation not only has continued longer than other comparable struggles, but is so often not regarded as being an imperial or nationalist issue; instead it is comprehended as aberration within the British dominions. Yet the facts conclusively reveal otherwise.” This article will argue that the significance of the 1916 Easter Rising lies less in its
Reading Salvage The Bones, a well-written novel by Jesmyn Ward, all but the last chapters of which are set in Louisiana during days of the impending hurricane Katrina in 2005, I started thinking about looters.
“Looters” is the name usually given to those who sometimes operate in areas in the wake of a disaster, stealing items, occasionally also killing and/ or raping. They are generally reviled in discourses, characterized as savage opportunists taking advantage of misery and breakdown of law and order to prey on the weak and defenceless.
Although “looting” is also used to describe many of the activities of advancing victorious troops on ground won in war (and on occasion too, activities of retreating troops), those troops themselves are never called “looters”.
Yet plunder of treasure and goods was in fact one of the main reasons for invading forays or war for centuries: the Irish word “creacht” (from which, according to one theory, the colloquial Hiberno-English word “crack” —as in “the crack was great” — is derived) means, among some other meanings, loot taken from the victims of a raid – in their case, usually from another clan and the loot or “booty” often cattle, the main measure of wealth for centuries in Ireland.
Many Native American tribes raided others for horses and women (and sometimes male slaves). Groups among the Vikings, Saxons and Celts frequently sailed to other lands from which they took away slaves (probably the main booty and external trade goods for the Vikings, who made Dublin one of their slave markets). The hordes of the Mongols, the Vandals, Huns and Goths all raided and looted. They were mainly non-Christian hordes of course and what could one expect of the like?
The Christian Crusades were fought for control over the eastern spice and silk caravan routes and for land but loot was the main prize for the individual soldiers and officers. The first city attacked by the Crusaders was Damascus, a mostly Christian city. Charlemagne, that great soldier of Christendom, invaded Arab Spain in 778 ostensibly to aid three rebellious Arab chiefs against their Arab overlord, the Caliph of Cordova (Córdoba), during which he would also strike a blow against the Muslims; however he took one of his allies hostage (the Arab Governor of Barcelona) and only gave him up to another, the Governor of Zaragoza, a city Charlemagne besieged for a while, for a huge ransom of treasure. Departing then, Charlemagne took what he considered his quickest and safest route with his loot into the lands of his Frankish kingdom and went over the Pyrenees.
But some of his forces had already been near there when they sacked the Basque city of Iruña (Pamplona); in revenge the Basques (possibly aided by Asturians and Occitanians) mauled Charlemagne’s rearguard and killed most of the nobles with them. One of these was Hroudland, military governor of the land bordering Brittany, who was later romanticised as the great warrior Roland who died fighting the Muslims of Spain who threatened the Christian Europe. Unfortunately for this story, the fact is that the Basques, Asturians and Occitanians were …. yes, Christians. They just happened to have good relations with Muslim Spain (the reverse of what they were to have later with its Christian rulers).
Modern warfare is also fought for loot but not usually by the soldiers in the army. Soldiers in modern armies are paid, as indeed they were in older times but looting is not usually encouraged. Their officers will no doubt turn a blind eye to a trophy, such as a Nazi luger or bayonet or some item of Saddam’s Iraqi Army equipment, but cart or jeep loads of such items would not be tolerated and even less so personal possessions of people in invaded countries.
The Nazi armed forces, despite their apparently rigid “morality”, were a famous exception, with senior officers looting famous paintings, sculptures, gold and diamonds and corruption extending downwards to concentration camp guards. The US and especially the ARVN (the South Vietnamese government forces) invading Cambodia and Laos in 1970 and 1971 respectively were well documented sending back lorry-loads of loot. And the war-band Kurds of Barzani and Talabani, the so-called “peshmergas”, in 2003 swept into Iraqi towns and looted whatever they could — even from hospitals — as the USA invaded. But these are exceptions among modern armies.
So modern wars are not usually fought for loot then, one might think – but one would be wrong. Modern wars were and are certainly fought for loot – rubber, oil, gas, coal, metals and minerals, wood, crops, water, markets – as well as for land, strategic bases and tactical supremacy. The main difference, apart from the loot being of a grander scale in modern warfare, is that it is not the soldiers who will be collecting the loot, nor even the officers, but the capitalists and politicians (often interchangeable terms) who ordered the war. In so far as senior officers may share in the loot, it will not be through their military rank as such but as members of the ruling elite from which they are often drawn or to which they have gained accession.
But these are not called “looters” either, except maybe by people in the occupied or invaded countries and they of course are biased, aren’t they? And maybe by some socialists and communists – but that’s the kind of propaganda statements you might expect from them, right? In fact, the soldiers in modern armies are often required to shoot looters!
In the USA, the soldiers shooting looters have usually been the National Guard, or State Troopers. But the police are armed there and they have also shot looters. When it comes to such a situation in Britain, it will probably be the British Army doing the shooting. If it were to occur in the Irish state, it would perhaps be firstly the Armed Response Unit of the Gardaí, who have a number of kills under their belts already (none of them in riot, looting or shootout situations, by the way) but in any large-scale looting scare, it would be the Irish Army. It is doubtful if the FCA would be trusted to do the shooting but they might be called out as guards on some centres and to staff roadblocks.
Shooting looters might be a bit extreme, especially in countries without a death penalty, but extreme situations require extreme responses, citizens might say. We need someone to stop looters breaking into our homes, stealing our money, laptops and television and maybe killing and raping us into the bargain.
Let’s take a look at the looters, for a minute or two. They generally fall into one of two groups: the ones who are opportunistically stealing whatever is easily available without violence to person, on the one hand and those who are prepared to fight, to hurt and possibly even to kill, on the other. Sprinkled across both groups, there are two main motivations: 1) to take food, drink or smaller luxuries such as today would be TVs, Ipads and laptops or 2) to steal large amounts of money, valuable jewelry etc.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, people who were starving and dehyrating and therefore searching destroyed buildings for food and bottled water and soft drink cans were shot by police and National Guardsmen. In Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake, rioting and looting were reported in the western media but strangely, one might think, given the level of poverty of most of the Haitian population, it turned out that actually there had been very little. What there had been were demonstrations of protest against the authorities’ slow response and against opportunists appropriating freshwater sources and selling the water. However, the reports justified the first practical response of Haiti’s strongest neighbour and main backer of its political regime – the sending of US Marines to the island. They of course could shoot looters … and perhaps demonstrators too if they got too numerous and ambitious.
In the wake of a national disaster, the hardest hit are usually those further down the economic scale. The poorer one is, the less possible it would be to get far away from the disaster area and yet be able to eat, drink, wash etc. The less likely too that one’s living quarters are going to be well-built to withstand hurricane, earthquake, flood; the less likely that one has access to alternative power sources, alternative transport, food and water stocks, medicine ….1
So where will people who are without shelter, warmth, food and drink go to find these things? If the emergency relief is sufficient and very quick, most of the disaster victims will go to relief camps and centres. If it is not, or in areas for which such emergency response is difficult to reach, the people are thrown on their own resources. There will be some communal mutual aid but let us not forget we have been discussing areas of poor people – most will have little beyond what they need for themselves and their own families. So what about shops, houses of the rich and those perceived as being better off ….? Of course, their owners will be in no danger if the armed police or troops turn up to shoot the cold, the hungry, the dehydrated, the ill.
But what about those marauding opportunists, the looters who mainly want money, jewelry, expensive electronic equipment, cars …..? And murderers and rapists? We won’t shed a tear to see them shot down as the wild dogs that they are. Nasty predators on the victims of disasters! And they are, no doubt about it. One of those comes through your door or window, don’t think twice about shooting him if you’re lucky enough to have a gun or stabbing him if you don’t. Although it might be difficult to differentiate them from the ones who just want a blanket, or clean drinking water, or some food …. Anyway, luckily, those violent predatory looters tend to exist in small numbers and their victims are likely to be numbered in dozens or at most in hundreds ….
There are people who actually make money – and lots of it – from disasters. These are speculators who flock to disaster areas but they are not called “looters” — they are instead referred to as “entrepreneurs”, “niche investors” or, at worst, as “disaster capitalists”. These are often already organised into corporations and, according to Naomi Klein, one of their major chroniclers (read “Shock Doctrine”), they are organised and waiting for natural disasters and major political changes, anything that leaves most of the population in shock, to move in, privatize state services and property, impose legal and political changes allowing them to make quick profits and strip whatever assets can so be stripped.
They flocked to Haiti in 2010 as they had to Chile after the coup there in 1973, to the Soviet Bloc as it collapsed from 1989 onwards, to South Africa as apartheid was abolished in the early 1990s, to Indonesia and surrounding lands in the wake of the Java Earthquake and Tsunami of 2006. They are also circling Ireland in its current financial institutions collapse. They are new only in their level of reach and organisation – they flocked to the former Confederacy as it lost the American Civil War in 1885 but in those days they were known as “Carpetbaggers”.
These capitalists add to the disaster death toll by application of their doctrine of “the more and greater shocks the better”, by their dismantling of the safety nets of state health, welfare and education services, by their destruction of native industry and agricultures (except wherever it suits their plans to continue exploiting them), by the greater impoverishment of populations.
The looter who terrorized some people in your neighbourhood and killed a few who resisted will almost certainly be gone within the year. The disaster capitalist may well be gone in the same time or even sooner but he will have caused the deaths of hundreds or thousands in the short term and misery for millions for years to come.
We should shoot him first, surely? If you plan to do that, go well-armed, for standing guard for him and his kind are the Shooters: the police and the army.
1 In 2004, I was taking advantage of a really cheap flight and hotel deal to a quiet resort in Trinidad & Tobago. During my short stay, Hurricane Ivan, classified in that area as Category 3 (winds 50-58 knots or 111-129 mph or 178-208 km/h) struck the island. It knocked down trees, downed power lines, caused flooding and landslides. In my hotel, the guests had to make do with a repeat menu served by low lighting and later sandwiches and bottled water delivered to rooms. We experienced a short break in power before the auxilliary generator came on. Television reception was terrible – not worth watching except for trying to make sense of the hurricane diagrams on CNN.
Outside the hotel, a number of poorer people’s houses were destroyed by falling trees, landslides and flooding but I think that thankfully, only one person was actually killed on the island (elsewhere, from the Windward Islands to Latin America, Cuba [where it reached Category 5] and southern and eastern United States, it killed 191 people directly and caused indirectly the deaths of another 32, according to Wikipedia).
As the temperatures climbed back again after the hurricane, power was not restored to many houses and small businesses for days, during which refrigerated and frozen food was destroyed. Most of those houses were without air-conditioning too but then most of them had never had it anyway.
Campaigners fighting for the release of individuals or of small groups of prisoners do not usually make the case that the release of those specific prisoners will affect the macro issues which led to their activism and encarceration. This has occurred on a number of occasions, however, those of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the Kurdish PKK leader Ocalan and Basque movement leader Arnaldo Otegi being cases in point.
However, when the numbers of prisoners is large, their release is often connected by the campaigners to the objective of resolution of the conflict.
The line often taken is that “the prisoners are (or should be) a part of the resolution of the conflict” or that “release of prisoners is necessary to create goodwill” or “to win support for the resolution process”. These lines emerged here in Ireland, in Palestine, South Africa and in the Basque Country; they form part of a popular misconception, all the more dangerous because of its widespread acceptance and seductiveness.
At first glance this kind of line seems reasonable. Of course the political activists and the prisoners’ relatives, not to mention the prisoners themselves, want to see the prisoners home and out of the clutches of the enemy. The prisoners should never have been put in jail in the first place. And all the time they have been in the jail has been hard on them and especially on their relatives and friends. An end to the conflict is desirable and so is the release of the prisoners.
But let us examine the proposition more carefully. What is it that the conflict was about? In the case of the recent 30 years’ war with Britain, it was about Britain’s occupation of a part of Ireland, the partition of the country and the whole range of repressive measures the colonial power took to continue that occupation. In the case of the Basque pro-Independence movement, it was also about the partition of their country, occupation and repressive measures (particularly by the Spanish state). But what was the fundamental cause? In each case, occupation by a foreign state.
OK, so if Britain and the Spanish state ended their occupations, that would end the conflicts, would it not? It would end the anti-colonial conflicts – there would be no British or Spanish state forces for Irish or Basque national liberation forces to be fighting; no British or Spanish colonial administration to be issuing instructions and implementing repressive measures. Other struggles may arise but that is a different issue.
So, if Britain and the Spanish state pull out, leave, those struggles are over. What do prisoners have to do with it? They are obviously in that case not part of the solution, which is British or Spanish state withdrawal – though their release should be one of the many results of that withdrawal. Prisoners may well be part of rebuilding a post-conflict nation but that is a different issue. They are not part of “the solution”.
PART OF THE PACIFICATION
As pointed out earlier, here in Ireland it was said that “the prisoners are part of the solution” – and most of the Republican movement, some revolutionary socialists and some social democrats agreed with that. And British imperialism and most of Irish capitalism agreed too. But what happened? Only those Republican prisoners who agreed with the abandoning of armed struggle and signed to that effect were released. And they were released ‘under licence’, i.e. an undertaking to “behave” in future. And as the years went by, a number of those ex-prisoners who continued to be active —mostly politically — against the occupation, or against aspects of it like colonial policing, had their licences withdrawn and were locked up. Some who had avoided being prisoners because they were “on the run”, or had escaped – many of those, as part of the Good Friday Agreement, had been given guarantees of safety from future arrest but this too, it soon became apparent, could be revoked.
In other words, the prisoners’ issue became part of imperialism’s ‘peace’ or, to put it more bluntly but accurately, part of imperialism’s pacification. The issue also became part of the selling of the deal within the movement, on one occasion prisoners being released early, just in time to make a grand entrance at a Republican party’s annual congress.
The release of prisoners can be presented by those in the movement supporting pacification as evidence of the “gains” of the process. Those who argue for the continuation of the struggle then find themselves arguing not only against those who pushed the pacification process within the movement but also against some released prisoners and their relatives and friends.
THEY ARE NOT LEAVING
And prisoners continued to be hostages for the “good behaviour” of the movement. If British imperialism had left, there would have been no cause for the anti-colonial struggle to continue – so why would there be any need for any kind of release ‘under licence’ or any other kind of conditional release? Besides, the British would not be running the prisons in the Six Counties any longer. But the British are not leaving, which is why they need the guarantees of good behaviour.
Suppose the British were serious about leaving, sat down with the resistance movement’s negotiators and most details had been sorted out, including their leaving date in a few weeks’ time say, what would be the point for the British in trying to hang on to the prisoners? Can anyone seriously believe that they would take them with them as they left? If perhaps they had some in jails in Britain and were trying to be bloody-minded and hanging on to them there, well of course we’d want our negotiators to put as much pressure on the British as they could to release those as well. It would be in the interests of British imperialism to release them but the reality is that the anti-colonial war would be over, whatever ultimately happened to those prisoners.
In South Africa and Palestine, the prisoners’ issue became part of the imperialist pacification process too. It did not suit the imperialists to have numbers of fighters released who would be free to take up arms against them again. So in South Africa, they were incorporated into the “security forces” of the corrupt new ANC state, forces the corruption and brutality of which were soon experienced by any who argued with them or opposed the policies or corruption of the ANC, NUM and COSATU leadership – including the two-score striking miners the “security forces” murdered over a couple of days at Marikana in 2012.
In Palestine, the prisoners also became part of the “security forces” of Al Fatah after the shameful agreements at Madrid (1991) and Oslo (1993). The level of corruption of the Al Fatah regime and their “security forces” became so high that in order to oust them, in 2006 the largely secular Palestinian society voted for a religious party, the opposition Hamas. And then the “Palestinian security forces” took up arms against Hamas in order to deny them the fruits of their electoral victory. Unfortunately for them, Hamas had arms too and used them.
In both those countries, the occupiers had no intention of leaving and so it was necessary for them, as well as using the prisoners as bargaining chips, to tie them in to a “solution”. In fact, many of the prisoners became “enforcers” of the “solution” on to the people in their areas, i.e pacifiers in imperialism’s pacification process.
Teased out and examined in this way, we can see not only that the prisoners are NOT “part of the solution” but that accepting that they are plays right into the hands of the imperialists as well as facilitating their agents and followers within our movement, within our country.
Political prisoners, as a rule, are an important part of the struggle and need our solidarity. But for anti-imperialists, prisoners are not “part of the solution”, to be used as hostages for a deal with imperialism, even less as enforcers of a deal, forcing it upon the colonised people.
Our call, as anti-imperialists, without conditions or deals, is for the prisoners to be released and, while they remain in prison, to be treated humanely. We also call for them to be recognised as political prisoners. With regard to the solution to the conflict, there is only one: Get out of our country!
The organisation representing relatives and friends of Basque political prisoners is Etxerat http://www.etxerat.info/. A separate organisation concentrating on campaigning, Herrira, has suffered a number of arrests and closure of offices by the Spanish state in 2013 and is under threat of outright banning.
Regrettably, I cannot give a similar link for Irish Republican prisoners, because of the existence of a number of organisations catering for different groups of prisoners and often with tensions between them. One day perhaps a united non-aligned campaign will emerge, along the lines of the H-Block campaign of the past, or the Irish Political Status Campaign that arose in London after the Good Friday Agreement. There is also a non-aligned Irish Anti-Internment Committee (of which I am a part), campaiging for an end to long periods of incarceration imposed on political “dissidents” through removal of licence, refusal of bail or imposition of oppressive bail conditions.
[Article by TOM, a contributor to Socialist Voice, newspaper of the Communist Party of Ireland and reprinted with their kind permission. In essence it agrees with the analysis of Mandela and South Africa given by Stephen Spencer and Diarmuid Breatnach in an article reviewing statements of the Irish Left and Republican movement following the death of Mandela — Rebel Breeze]
The presence of such friends of genuine democracy as the war criminals George W. Bush and Tony Blair, David Cameron, Bill Clinton and such right-wing media hangers-on as Sir Bob Geldof and Sir Paul Hewson (Bono) at Nelson Mandela’s funeral raises questions about the real content of the new South Africa that appeared in 1994, when the apartheid elite seemed to cede political power to the African National Congress.
Twenty years later, given the continuing racial inequality in present-day South Africa, the much lower life expectancy of blacks and their much higher rate of unemployment, the increased vulnerability of the country to world economic fluctuations and accelerated environmental decay during his presidency, did Mandela really change South Africa? And, if not, how much room had he to manoeuvre?
For many are still remembering the Mandela years as fundamentally different from today’s crony-capitalist, corruption-riddled, brutally securitised, eco-destructive and anti-egalitarian South Africa. But could it be that the seeds of the present were sown earlier, by Mandela and his associates in government?
Ending the apartheid regime was, undoubtedly, one of the greatest events of the past century. But, to achieve a peaceful transition, Mandela’s ANC allowed whites to keep the best land, the mines, manufacturing plants and financial institutions, and to export vast quantities of capital.
The ANC could have followed its own revolutionary programme, mobilising the people and all their enthusiasm, energy, and hard work, using a larger share of the economic surplus (through state-directed investments and higher taxes), and stopping the flow of capital abroad, including the repayment of illegitimate apartheid-era debt. The path chosen, however, was the neo-liberal one, with small reforms here and there to permit superficial claims to the sustaining of a “National Democratic Revolution.”
The critical decade was the 1990s, when Mandela was at the height of his power, having been released from jail in February 1990, taking the South African presidency in May 1994 and leaving office in June 1999. But it was in this period, according to the former minister for intelligence services Ronnie Kasrils, for twenty years a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party, that “the battle for the soul of the African National Congress was lost to corporate power and influence . . . We readily accepted that devil’s pact and are damned in the process. It has bequeathed to our country an economy so tied in to the neo-liberal global formula and market fundamentalism that there is very little room to alleviate the dire plight of the masses of our people.”
Nelson Mandela’s South Africa fitted a pattern, that of former critics of old dictatorships—whether from right-wing or left-wing backgrounds—who transformed themselves into neo-liberal rulers in the 1980s and 90s: Alfonsín (Argentina), Aquino (Philippines), Arafat (Palestine), Aristide (Haïti), Bhutto (Pakistan), Chiluba (Zambia), Kim (South Korea), etc. The self-imposition of economic and development policies, because of the pressures of financial markets and the Washington-Geneva multilateral institutions, required insulation from genuine national aspirations—in short, an “elite transition.”
This policy insulation from mass opinion was achieved through the leadership of Mandela. It was justified by invoking “international competitiveness.” Obeisance to transnational corporations led to the Marikana Massacre in 2012 and the current disturbances on the platinum belt, for example. But the decision to reduce the room for manoeuvre was made as much by the local principals, such as Mandela, as it was by the Bretton Woods institutions, financiers, and investors.
Much of the blame, therefore, for the success of the South African counter-revolution must be laid at the door of the ANC leadership, with Nelson Mandela at its head. Hence the paeans of praise for the dead leader from the doyens of international reaction.
He was a friend of Ireland, it is true — I often heard him speak on Irish solidarity platforms in England. I don’t remember him supporting the hunger strikers in 1981, however. You may recall that Concannon, representing the Labour Party, visited the dying Bobby Sands to tell him that Labour would not support him or his comrades. In London, we marched to Benn’s house (VERY long, hot march) to get him to break with Labour on this but I don’t remember whether we were successful.
In the balance must also be put that when Secretary of State for Energy in a Labour Government, along with the rest of the Gvt, he conspired to break the embargo on apartheid South Africa by covertly selling them oil routed through Portuguese African colonies.
Someone referred to him as an “Ant-fascist fighter” — I don’t know about that. He served as a pilot in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa during the war. Hundreds of thousands joined up during those years and many others were conscripted. His reasons for joining could have been any, whatever he may have said afterwards. He certainly didn’t fight fascists on the streets of Britain as some did, both before and after the War.
On 5th December 2013, Nelson Mandela died. This was a major event in South Africa and in many other parts of the world. His funeral was reportedly attended by representatives of 90 states, including those of major imperialist states such as the United States and the United Kingdom. In addition, many political organisations and some national liberation organisations were invited to attend, including representatives of the Dunne’s Stores anti-apartheid strikers of 1984-1987, perhaps the most significant non-military anti-apartheid solidarity action taken in any country.
Mandela had been an iconic figure during the South African liberation struggle, both inside and outside South Africa. He was not only an educated and eloquent speaker against the apartheid system but also a senior member of the African National Congress (ANC), the major political organisation opposing the white minority regime in South Africa, and also of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party (SACP), as well as a founder of the armed national liberation group Umkhonto we Sizwe (‘Spear of the Nation’, generally known as MK), a guerilla group associated with the African National Congress. In 1964, along with nine others he was convicted of charges relating to ‘terrorism’ and sabotage and sentenced to life in jail. The UN Security Council had unanimously condemned the trial, showing that the main imperialist countries in the world were of the opinion that the SA state was wrong in the way it was handling the opposition (and probably thinking that it would encourage its overthrow in revolution).
Mandela was really launched as a practically household name and resistance icon in 1988, as anti-apartheid campaigners around the world sought to use the occasion of his 70th birthday and 26th year in prison as a focus against the SA regime. The “Mandela birthday concert” played to 15,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London and to hundreds of millions around the world in a live TV event, and to others in recorded screenings. Many famous pop and rock bands, singers, actors, comedy performers etc. contributed, with Tracy Chapman becoming famous on that event with her song “Talkin’ About a Revolution”.
That concert and other smaller ones, which were nevertheless huge events (a previous free one on London’s Clapham Common organised by Jerry Dammers, of ska band The Specials,had an estimated 200,000 in attendance), were adding to an international campaign for boycott (particularly in sport and in music), sanctions and divestment from South Africa; it had become an international pariah state.
In the 1980s, the South African white minority regime was under heavy pressure, with the internal resistance movement growing politically, in the communities and in the trade union movement. Wide-scale civil disobedience continued as part of the anti-apartheid movement inside South Africa; all of this despite police shootings, disappearances, torture, the jails being full and many of the anti-apartheid leaders being in jail too.
Recognising the vulnerability to revolution of the regime and of their investments, foreign banks were pressurising the SA regime to abandon apartheid and bring in universal suffrage. The United States, behind the scenes, was adding to that pressure.
Mandela had been moved from Robben Island prison in 1982 to the much better conditions of Pollsmoor prison, where he had regular discussion with operatives of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) of South Africa, and at some point with its leader Niel Barnard and with the latter’s Deputy Director General, Mike Louw. Almost certainly, initial approaches had been made earlier, perhaps even years earlier. At the same time, others began to have meetings with ANC leaders in exile.
Further meetings with Mandela took place, including with foreign representatives and with successive Presidents of South Africa. In 1990, the ANC was legalised and Mandela was released. In 1991 the National Peace Accords were signed and apartheid, as a legally-constituted measure, was abolished. There followed negotiations, as well as a number of crises including assassinations and communal massacres; but in 1994 the ANC took 64% of the vote in the South African national elections and formed the government.
By the time Mandela came out of jail, the ANC and MK were already riven with corruption, personality cults and dictatorial procedure. Some of MK’s training camps in other states bordering SA were run wholly or in part as concentration camps where internal critics of the way things were run, so-called MK ‘dissidents’, were tortured and at times killed. Mandela’s wife, Winnie, was in one ANC clique which had murdered at least one youth and eventually Mandela divorced her. But there were bigger cliques in the ANC from which Mandela never once distanced himself. Nor did he ever condemn the torturers and murderers of MK dissidents – in fact, many of those torturers are in the state security apparatus and some were even in his own bodyguard while he lived.
The ANC had an economic programme which was encapsulated in the Freedom Charter, part of which stated:
“The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole; all other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the well-being of the people.”
Mandela had stated shortly after his release that the Freedom Charter was not up for negotiation. In the event, not one mine, one bank or one monopoly industry was nationalised; instead the ANC government agreed to burden the state it would be running with a rich pension to apartheid-era civil servants, IMF repayments and restrictions, and also signed up to GATT and WTO1 without any consultation with its electorate.
History shows us that the elevation of a living individual as an icon in a liberation struggle is fraught with dangers, and the case of Mandela is no exception. As the ‘face’ of the ANC he led the organisation in a deal with the SA ruling class and with foreign imperialism, a deal in which formal equality and the vote was given to every non-white citizen, but in which all other social objectives and all the economic measures for which so many had suffered beatings, imprisonment, torture and death, were dumped. In terms of wages, housing and services, the vast majority of South Africans are even worse off now than they were under apartheid.
While the South African apartheid regime was certainly capable of massacring 34 protesters in one day, as the ANC state police did last year with striking miners at Marikana (and another ten a few days previously), not even they would have charged the comrades of the slain with their murders, which is what an ANC state judge did.
South African police executing striking miners at Marikana, August 2012
And certainly under apartheid, one would not have found any of the ANC, the SACP, the National Union of Mineworkers or the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) ranged against black miners striking for better wages against a foreign multinational mining company.
It was South African capitalism, imperialism and a small clique of the ANC that benefited from the deal to which Mandela and the ANC agreed, and they got richer while the mass of South Africans got poorer. Would, or even could, that deal have been clinched without Mandela’s complicity? Possibly – with difficulty, certainly. Would, or could, it have been sold if he had come out and opposed it, as others such as Desmond Tutu began to do soon afterwards? Almost certainly not. The South African regime would have had to concede at least some economic and social benefits or risk outright revolutionary war – which is precisely what releasing Mandela and legalising the ANC was intended to avoid. But Mandela went along with it all and had nothing to say – even after the police murder of 44 strikers.
Irish Republican and Left-wing responses to Mandela’s death – an analysis
So, all this being so, how did the Irish republican and left-wing groups respond to Mandela’s death? The answer is generally poorly, and the significance goes far beyond the man himself, or even South Africa; it reveals a deeply worrying general attitude to imperialism, national liberation and working class struggle, among those who are supposed to be anti-imperialist, democratic and, in many cases, for socialism. We will look at these below.
Two organisations had nothing whatsoever posted on the subject: the anarchist WSM and republican socialist éirigí. Many of the rest of the organisations took up themes in common – reference to the armed struggle in South Africa, remembering the many who fell in the struggle against the South African regime, noting the role of international solidarity with the South African people, criticism of the ANC and the South African government today, with particular reference to the Marikana massacre of striking miners by the ANC government, criticism of the perceived hypocrisy of imperialist leaders at the funeral – and, with two exceptions, a totally uncritical attitude to Mandela himself and his role in bringing about the South Africa of today.
On the ‘hypocrisy’ of the imperialist state leaders’ praise
The responses of the various parties and organisations of Irish republicanism and the left, Sinn Féin (SF), the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), Republican Network for Unity (RNU), Republican Sinn Féin (RSF), the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM), the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI), the Workers Party (WP), the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Socialist Party (SP), have been varied. On one point, with the exception of Sinn Féin and the 32CSM (who had no criticism to make), they tend to agree: the supposed hypocrisy of the western establishment in their praise of the man as a ‘peace-maker’ and a ‘visionary’. These were the same imperialists, like the British Tory party and government, who condemned Mandela and the ANC movement he helped found and lead as ‘terrorists’ and ‘murderers’.
This point initially seems a fair observation, until one digs a little deeper, and attempts to answer the question as to why Mandela’s former enemies would be heaping such praise on him today. Instead of the unfailingly imperialist and predatory capitalist governments of the world coming around to Nelson Mandela’s way of thinking, it was he who eventually came around to theirs.
When Mandela was an enemy, and seemingly a determined one, of the South African ruling class and of imperialism, he was condemned by many world leaders and, from their point of view, rightly so; when, as the public face of the movement, he helped avert revolution and safeguarded South African capitalism and foreign imperialism, they praised him; when he died, they continued their praise, and may even be apprehensive of a future South Africa without him. Is this hypocrisy? Or is it rather being entirely consistent with their position?
As stated, Sinn Féin, whether in word by the SF Lord Mayor of Belfast, Mairtín Ó’Muilleoir, or in party president Gerry Adams’ report, had no criticism of other world leaders and their words, past or present.
Rory Duggan of RNU in his speech in Dundalk dismissed the “hypocritical gathering” which would be Mandela’s funeral, which he said “will include many heads of state, who cared nothing for this brave freedom fighter when he was incarcerated by the foul apartheid regime.”
The IRSP commented on “The sickening outpouring of hypocritical tribute from the same politicians who worked against Mandela, and in the case of Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron, actually called for his brutal execution, should not pass without comment.”
No such comment was reported originating from Des Dalton, president of RSF, but it is unlikely he would have disagreed with what RNU or the IRSP had to say on the subject.
The SWP was nearer the mark with “.. one of the reasons why so many of the world’s rulers will praise him is that when apartheid was brought down neither he nor his movement, the African National Congress, went on to challenge the economic grip on South Africa of the old ruling class and of international capitalism. They compromised with the wealthy instead of taking the fight further…”
Reporting on a civic event at which the SF Mayor of Belfast officiated, its publication An Phoblacht claimed “Mandela’s triumph”, and that a poem entitled ‘Never, Never and Never Again’ “summed up that victory”:
“Never again shall I be called a ‘Kaffir’/ Never again will my children be segregated in the land of their ancestors/ Never again will I speak Afrikaans/ Isixhosa is my language/ In my land, South Africa, I shall walk free carrying no ‘Dom Pass’.”
Of course the ending of forced segregation by colour, no longer being called pejorative names, not having racial restriction on movement and being permitted to speak their language were good things and of course it was a victory to achieve them. But did people face beatings, torture, imprisonment and death to overcome those things alone? Very doubtful. In the South Africa of today, people will be segregated by class and they can speak whatever language they like in the shanty towns or housing projects lacking sanitation and running water services. The poor will be called other names by black policemen (or maybe even the same names, who knows?); the police are brutal and corrupt but black. The poor will not be free, nor anything like it.
On the many who fell in the struggle against the South African regime
The RNU site announced their vigil as being for “all those who died in the struggle against imperialism and apartheid in South Africa” and in his speech at the vigil, Rory Duggan paid tribute to “the tens of hundreds who spent decades in prison at the hands of the colonisers, many of whom met their ends on a gallows rope.” A number of those in attendance also carried placards dedicated to ANC martyrs.
None of the other organisations commented on the past martyrs of the struggle.
On the ANC-led government, social and political conditions in South Africa today
Some facts from 2007 (the situation may be better or worse today)2:
Since 1994, the year the ANC took power, the number of people living on less than $1 a day has doubled, from 2 million blacks to 4 million in 2006.
Between 1909 and 2002, the unemployment rate for black South Africans more than doubled, from 23% to 48% (down to 25.5% in 2012 – still worse than under apartheid).
Of South Africa’s 35 million black citizens, only 5,000 earn more than $60,000 dollars a year. The number of whites in that income bracket is twenty times higher and many earn more than four times that amount.
The ANC has built 1.8 million homes but in the meantime 2 million people have lost their homes.
Close to 1 million people have been evicted from farms in the first decade of democracy. Such evictions have meant that the number of shack dwellers has grown by 50%.
In 2006, more than one in four South Africans lived in shacks located in informal shanty towns, many without running water or electricity.
One would search the Sinn Féin commentary on Mandela or the funeral in vain for any criticism of the ANC or of the Government. Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, who wrote a long piece on his participation for eight days of events, along with his SF colleague McAuley, said that they were participating “as comrades in struggle honouring a comrade for whom we have the greatest admiration and respect.” Adams recalled that in 1994, Mandela said, “as he took on the mantle of President of a free and democratic South Africa: ‘Let there be justice for all.Let there be peace for all.Let there be work, bread, water, and salt for all…Let us as a Rainbow Nation keep this in focus and move forward.”
Neither Sinn Féin nor Adams apparently saw any irony in those words contrasted with the reality of life for the vast majority in SA under Mandela’s Presidency nor up to his death.
Indeed, Adams speaks of “a stirring speech from President Jacob Zuma” at the MK event, neglecting to mention the chorus of boos from MK and ANC veterans, reported on by a number of journalists, which the President’s appearance stirred. Zuma has been accused of corruption and rape but his trial was abandoned after long delays and accusations of political interference with the Prosecution.
What is absolutely without dispute is that he has been on the ANC National Executive since 1977; in 1994 he was elected National Chairperson of the ANC and was re-elected to the position in 1996. Zuma was elected Deputy President of the ANC in 1997 and consequently appointed executive Deputy President of South Africa in June 1999. He is part and parcel of the general corruption in the ANC. It was his judge who charged Marikana massacre survivors with murder of their comrades; it took a direct challenge from their legal representatives, published in a newspaper and addressed to Zuma, to have those charges dropped and the strikers released.
Adams also reported that “the event was hosted by Cyril Ramaphosa, who has close associations with the Irish Peace Process.” Indeed: Ramaphosa is also a multi-millionaire, and among his many company directorships is one on the board of the Anglo-American Platinum Company of the Lonmin mine where 44 workers were killed. It turned out that Ramaphosa had been sent for by the company to sort out the strike, and the suspicion is that the shooting may well have been part of the “sorting out”. Ramaphosa was formerly General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers until 1999, when he resigned to take up the position of Secretary-General of the ANC.
Adams goes on to mention contributions from the South African trade union federation COSATU, an organisation dominated by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the ANC and the South African Communist Party and also involved in political corruption. The SACP, which also contributed a message, runs the NUM which is also involved in, at least, political corruption and called for the Lonmin strikers to be arrested.
Neither Adams himself nor his party has commented on these aspects of, on the one hand, social deprivation among the mass of South Africans and, on the other, corruption among the ruling ANC and their allies in the SACP and COSATU, along with attendant brutal repression of workers by the state. The reason for this silence is probably the Irish ‘Peace Process’. The Palestinian resistance organisation Al-Fatah and the ANC, the first to go down the “peace process” road, were used as shining examples to convince the Sinn Féin membership and IRA to travel the same road. Al Fatah is never mentioned any more, largely as a result of the Oslo process by which they lost confidence among most Palestinian people, and were replaced as the dominant Palestinian resistance organisation by Hamas. It would hardly do to show how little was won by the ANC in the end, as a result of their own ‘process’, when that might heap more loss of faith on the 15-year old Irish one.
The 32-CSM went further than a lack of criticism of the South Africa of today, choosing to praise what they saw as the achievements of the ANC in government: “During his term in office he brought about national reconciliation among white and black South Africans, tackled the AIDs crisis, boosted employment, basic needs that were denied due to apartheid brought about and social welfare for all citizens of South Africa was introduced.”Unfortunately, these perceived victories contrast rather sharply with the reality of the facts of modern-day South Africa, where capitalism still runs rampant and unimpeded.
However, the RNU’s national PRO Ciarán Cunningham, speaking about the current situation in South Africa at their Drogheda event, was clear on the reality of the ANC’s South Africa: “…drawing comparisons between James Connolly’s ‘if you remove the English flag from Dublin castle’ argument, to the situation today in which foreign business interests see fit to murder striking workers, albeit under the flag of an apparently free South Africa.” Some of the participants also carried placards in memory of the 34 miners killed in one day at Marikana.
This theme was also taken up by local RNU veteran republican Rory Duggan:
“We gather here tonight in the spirit of National Liberation, Socialism and International Solidarity; from those perspectives it is impossible to state that the ideals espoused by comrade Mandela have been realised in today’s South Africa.”
The IRSP statement was also direct:
“… his movement, the African National Congress in time abandoned all commitment to socialism and social welfare …. Despite the ANC’s remarkable achievements in democratizing South Africa, workers there still face brutal repression, such as the massacre of 34 striking miners in 2012.”
Des Dalton of RSF commented in passing “that the current South African state falls short of the high ideals by which he lived life”.
But how is that these organisations manage to separate Mandela himself from all this? Was not Mandela an important figure in the ANC? Was he not the national icon, the binding figure, throughout the negotiation process? Was he not President from 1994 to 1999? The discourse of the republican organisations gives not even a hint as to what rationale they have for absolving Mandela of responsibility for what became of the ANC and, in particular, of the state after the end of apartheid.
The Communist Party of Ireland and Workers’ Party refrain from any criticism whatsoever of the current South African state and therefore avoid having to deal with the tripartite alliance of the ANC, SACP and COSATU.
If the CPI and WP are bound perhaps by some kind of loyalty to the SACP, with which they have fraternal relations, the Trotskyists have no such problem. The SWP attacks the social reality in South Africa, and does not shy away from some attempt at implicating Mandela himself in the ANC’s betrayal of its ideals; indeed it quotes one of his statements from as far back as 1956, in which he states the ANC’s intention to create a “prosperous non-European bourgeois class”3. However it could be argued that it is somewhat unfair to quote a statement from over half a century ago, during the development of the man’s ideas and the early days of the party.
By far the most in-depth and extensive analysis of the country and of Mandela comes from the Socialist Party,written by two members of the Democratic Socialist Movement, the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in South Africa:
“The ‘nation’ that Mandela has bequeathed is as unreconstructed today as it was before the end of apartheid, disaggregated into its two main social forces – the working class on the one side and the capitalist class on the other. SA is reputed to be the most unequal society on Earth. As many as 8 million are unemployed, 12 million go to bed hungry, millions are excluded from decent education, health and housing. The ruling ANC elite is exhibiting the same characteristics as the one which it replaced – corrupt, inept and with an insatiable appetite for self-enrichment and power.”
However, the SP statement goes further – it explicitly foists blame on Mandela himself, as opposed to his wayward lesser comrades, for the direction South Africa took after apartheid formally ended. It states Mandela’s key role in the adoption of the ‘GEAR’, the so-called ‘Growth, Employment and Redistribution’ programme, at the core of which was an agenda of privatisation and economic liberalism:
“Mandela played the decisive role in the abandonment of the Freedom Charter and everything the ANC was believed to have held sacred until then … The difference between Mandela’s reign and that of all his successors is more in style than substance … GEAR was adopted under Mandela’s presidency. In spite of the fact that Mbeki spearheaded the adoption of GEAR, he did so with Mandela’s (and that of the rest of the ANC leadership including the SACP’s) full blessing … privatisation – at the heart of GEAR’s original strategic objectives – was now the ANC’s fundamental policy.”
The piece also quotes the Guardian article written in June of 2013 by Ronnie Kasrils, a former leader of the ANC’s armed wing, central committee member of the SACP and former Minister for Intelligence in government, in which he mercilessly exposes the ANC’s shady business deals, pacts with international capital and imperialists, and their betrayal of South Africa’s poorest.4
The SP statement is the longest of those analysed here, and contains much information on Mandela’s business deals, secret pacts and the likes, all of which contributed to the destruction of the socialist ideals that the ANC at least claimed to once hold dear.
On the armed struggle
As might be expected of organisations with a history of armed struggle, albeit for some more recently than for others, the armed guerilla struggle in South Africa came in for some mention from the republican organisations.
A fair amount of the statement by RSF’s Des Dalton was concerned with Mandela’s guerrilla background and his attitude to armed struggle. Dalton claims inside knowledge of Mandela’s attendance at a lunch with Irish newspaper editors in the home of Tony O’Reilly in 2000: “…questioned as to whether or not the Provisionals should be decommissioning their arms, Mandela’s response was unequivocal, ‘…my position is that you don’t hand over your weapons until you get what you want.’ Needless to say this was a response that was not welcomed nor reported on.”
Surprisingly the 32-CSM had nothing to say on the armed struggle in South Africa or Nelson Mandela’s role in it, beyond referencing it in passing as the reason for Mandela’s being sent to prison for 27 years in 1962, for ‘sabotage’.
RNU also drew attention to the armed struggle in South Africa at a Dundalk vigil it organised on December 12th, as some of its members held up a banner bearing the name and logo of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
The IRSP alluded to armed struggle too (but only in passing), as did the Socialist Party article, which stated Mandela’s role in setting up MK with help from friendly countries such as Algeria: “His willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause is borne out by the fact that he personally undertook the task of establishing the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), secretly paying visits to countries like Algeria to seek support for the armed struggle leading him to be installed as MK’s first commander-in-chief.”
Gerry Adams, no doubt mindful of his organisation’s history up until a few decades ago, also of the emotional attachment of many of his party’s supporters to the idea of armed struggle (despite the organisation’s renunciation of it), referred to Mandela’s membership of MK more than once. He also attended Mandela’s ‘send-off ceremony’ from Pretoria which “was given over to his comrades in the ANC and to the veterans of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), or MK … Two thousand specially-invited ANC and former MK activists, and international guests from liberation and solidarity movements, were present in solidarity with the family, to give an ANC farewell to their former Commander and President.” Adams also posted, among other photos in his report, one of himself with a number of MK and ANC veterans.
None of the organisations made any reference to the ill-treatment, torture and death meted out by MK officers to a number of fighters in their training camps in other countries, particularly the Quatro camp in Angola. Stories of these were in circulation in solidarity circles by the 1980s and some testimonies were given by victims at the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s.
The IRSP drew attention to the role of anti-imperialist and communist solidarity in “that this victory would not have been possible without the widespread support of other anti-imperialists and the international communist movement. Mandela credited Cuba with helping to end apartheid: Cuba’s military intervention in Angola against South Africa led to the end of the apartheid regime.”
The CPI also took up this theme: “In one of his first speeches Mandela paid tribute to the unbreakable and unselfish solidarity given to the oppressed masses of South Africa by the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, as against the inaction and active collaboration of almost all western governments with the apartheid regime…” The WP statement echoed these sentiments, and also paid tribute to the Dunne’s Stores anti-apartheid strikers.
The RNU took the angle of Irish solidarity for the struggle, as Rory Duggan “paid tribute to the many anti-apartheid activists from the Dundalk/Newry area, who in the 1980s, raised awareness of the evils of the apartheid regime and prevented South African commercial and sporting interests from raising its head in Ireland at the time when it mattered most.”
Surprisingly nothing was said on this theme in the RSF statement or in SF’s, not even from an Irish perspective. Only one organisation (WP) referred to the Dunne’s Store strike, a specifically workers’ action, certainly the most significant solidarity action in Ireland and one which lasted years. The 32CSM statement mentions only that Mandela was released from prison in 1990 “after mounting pressure from international groups”; it does not state who or what these groups were.
Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin concluded his report saying that Mandela’s “words are all around us. The legacy of hope and courage and forgiveness and of reconciliation is one we must aspire each day to achieve. In our several conversations about the Irish Peace Process, Madiba understood at once the complexities but also the only direction we could go to avoid decades more of conflict. He supported the Peace Process in Ireland unequivocally and on the basis of equality and inclusivity.” He continued: “Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan will shortly produce their proposals for moving forward on the difficult issues of flags and emblems and the past.”
Clearly the social and political reality for the vast majority in SA is of concern to neither Adams nor SF and one may speculate that both would be happy to see a similar result from their own process in Ireland.
Similar praise comes from the CPI: “Mandela was a towering and inspirational figure, a leader of the oppressed of South Africa and beyond …
Concluding the vigil organised by the RNU, “Rory Duggan called for a one minute clenched fist salute, in honour of all those – living and dead – whose cause was embodied in the image of Comrade Nelson Mandela.”
The IRSP claims that Mandela remained “a foe of imperialism for the remainder of his life, frequently criticising US aggression and maintaining his support for socialist Cuba, Gaddafi’s Libya and Palestine” and that he “…supported Ireland’s long struggle for freedom.” According to the IRSP, “at a time when such examples are desperately needed, Mandela’s heroic example proves that revolutionaries can create lasting change.”
Dalton, for RSF, agrees: “Nelson Mandela was and remains an inspirational figure for all who are engaged in the struggle for human freedom and national self-determination” and he concludes commenting that “his legacy will remain an inspiration for those who continue to seek true political and economic democracy in South Africa and around the world.”
The 32CSM also praises Mandela as “a true freedom fighter and an anti-apartheid revolutionary who spent 27 years in prison for his beliefs.”
The lack of any criticism of Mandela and his important role in creating the state of today by any organisation other than the two Trotskyist parties is disturbing. All of those organisations would describe themselves as anti-imperialist and socialist, yet they have heaped praise on one who was key in surrendering the people’s struggles to domestic capitalism and imperialism. Do they seriously suffer from such idealistic delusions?
That Sinn Féin, the CPI and WP should not wish to criticise, even in passing, the social reality in South Africa today is even more disturbing. SF may not wish to do so for fear of undermining an example of a process that they used to recommend the Irish process, whereas the CPI and WP may wish to avoid implicitly condemning the Communist Party of South Africa. Whatever their reasons for not condemning the conditions in South Africa, to have not done so must stand as an indictment of their integrity and, particularly in the case of SF, the ultimate aims of their own parties.
Although both the SP and the SWP produced much better analyses, in particular the former, drawing on contributions from within South Africa itself, there are some disquieting elements in their analyses too. Neither of them sees a country which is, despite the presence of domestic capitalists, essentially dominated by imperialists. One wonders therefore what their analyses of the way forward can be.
For us, the experience of South Africa and of our own country raises an important question: is it even possible today for a struggle to complete the national liberation stage, without being led by revolutionary socialists? We are reminded of James Connolly’s years of work, largely unsuccessful, to build up a revolutionary socialist leadership in Ireland and his various remarks about the kind of revolution that was necessary. We do not reject Connolly’s example of uniting with the Irish Republican trend in order to overthrow British imperialism – far from it. However, we wonder whether one of his famous statements may not be paraphrased thus: “Only the Irish working class remain as the incorruptible leadership of the fight for freedom in Ireland.”
Let us sincerely hope that Mandela’s legacy will remain a cautionary tale from which we will learn and apply the necessary lessons. One of those essential lessons is never to abandon our critical faculties, and to examine real circumstances; another must surely be never to make an icon out of a living person.
1 GATT: General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade; WTO: World Trade Organisation
2Naomi Klein (2007), The Shock Doctrine – the Rise of Disaster Capitalism, chapter 10: “Democracy born in chains”