Saturday, 28 February 2009

Bomb the middle class - The Dynamite Club

In an era of wealth and excess, 19th century French anarchists introduced terrorism as we know it. Can a fascinating new history help us understand our own violent times?

By Andrew O'Hehir

The Dynamite Club

Collection Roger-Viollet/From "The Dynamite Club"

The explosion of the bomb at the Cafe Terminus in Paris on Feb. 12, 1894.

Feb. 27, 2009 | When François-Claudius Ravachol went to the guillotine in Paris on July 11, 1892, he gave one of the great performances in the history of "la Veuve" ("the widow"), as that ingenious beheading machine was often called. Ever since the French Revolution more than a century earlier, Dr. Guillotine's invention had provided kings, murderers and revolutionaries with the opportunity to make a dramatic exit, and huge throngs of Parisians turned out to watch them take their last steps and utter their final words.

Dignified to the end, Marie Antoinette reportedly apologized for stepping on the executioner's foot: "Monsieur, I ask your pardon. I did not do it on purpose." Her husband, Louis XVI, also faced the end bravely, although his attempt to give a long-winded speech forgiving his enemies and calling for God's mercy was, quite literally, cut short. Robespierre, the revolution's greatest orator, went to his death with his jaw shattered from a gunshot wound, and could say nothing.

Ravachol, an implacable enemy of the French state and any other form of government ever devised or imagined, outdid them all. Condemned to death for three murders -- one he admitted and two he probably didn't commit -- Ravachol was a true believer in anarchist revolution, an advocate of ruthless acts of violence that would point toward the inevitable destruction of bourgeois society.

Indeed, it was because Ravachol was perceived as a symbolic scourge of an era typified by excesses of blinding wealth and grinding poverty that his execution became an object of nationwide fascination. What he represented (or seemed to) was at least as terrifying to 19th-century France as Islamic fundamentalism is to 21st-century America. It may all seem a bit quaint and romantic to our eyes -- wild-haired European men in dingy frock coats, armed with dynamite and pamphlets by Proudhon and Bakunin -- but anarchism in the 1890s was understood as a major threat to the social order, a long way from the lentils 'n' dreadlocks postgraduate subculture it is today.

As Yale historian John Merriman tells the story in his fascinating new book "The Dynamite Club," Ravachol was all smiles on the morning of his execution. He told the priest who approached him with a crucifix, "I don't give a damn about your Christ. Don't show him to me; I'll spit in his face." On his way to the scaffold, he sang a song, possibly of his own composition: "To be happy, God damn it, you have to kill those who own property! To be happy, God damn it, you must cut the priests in two!" He tried to shout "Vive la révolution!" at the last moment, while his head was in the guillotine's cradle, but got only halfway through the phrase before the blade fell.

There are other episodes one could identify as central to the anarchism panic of the 1890s, which marked the Western world's first encounter with terrorism, at least as we use that word today. In fact, Merriman's book recounts the Ravachol case only as a preamble to its main story, which is about the bombing of a ritzy Parisian cafe two years later by a different anarchist, Émile Henry. But to me the transformative, even electrifying effect of Ravachol's execution makes it a history-shaping moment and marks the invention of something new and distinctively modern.

Ravachol was a good-looking, mustachioed rogue, but he was also a career criminal and a thoroughly incompetent revolutionary. He made several efforts to kill prominent magistrates and prosecutors with bombs made from stolen dynamite, but none caused more than minor injuries or property damage. (The one murder Ravachol definitely committed was not political; he robbed and suffocated an elderly monk in a remote hilltop village.) As a charismatic martyr for the cause of violent anarchism, however, Ravachol was a smashing success. His patently one-sided prosecution and courageous death made him seem a hero to many people who shared none of his political beliefs. He inspired numerous followers and sent a tangible wave of fear through the mainstream French establishment. (Asked at his trial whether he had any regrets, Ravachol said he only regretted the society he saw around him.)

Sympathetic journalists portrayed Ravachol as a "redeemer" and compared his "sacrifice and suffering" to those of Jesus Christ, also executed at age 33. A wood-block print by artist Charles Maurin, depicting Ravachol's defiant face framed by the guillotine, was widely reprinted and pinned to the walls of working-class houses all over France. The anarchist newspaper Père Peinard taunted the bourgeoisie: "Ravachol's head has rolled at their feet; they fear it will explode, just like a bomb!" Art critic Félix Fénéon, a prominent anarchist sympathizer, observed that Ravachol's execution had done more for propaganda than all the learned books and pamphlets of Peter Kropotkin, anarchism's leading theorist. For some time to come the executed murderer's name became a French verb; "ravacholiser" meant to assassinate someone with dynamite.

Terrorist acts are in part meant to provoke the state into a Draconian overreaction, and there too Ravachol succeeded. Panicked by wild assertions that a "dynamite club" of several thousand anarchists was planning to murder the upper classes en masse, the French government (and every other major European nation) enacted increasingly repressive laws that outlawed all anarchist books and publications, ordered all foreign anarchists expelled, and repressed "associations of evildoers," a fatally vague phrase that was applied to all sorts of opposition newspapers, political groups and intellectual gatherings.

Public opinion turned against the French intelligentsia, Merriman writes, for providing anarchism with some measure of respectability. One nationalist screed titled "On Intellectual Complicity and Crimes of Opinion" blamed the wave of 1890s bombings on pamphlets by anarchist forefathers like Kropotkin and Errico Malatesta, but also on Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment," which the screed's anonymous author called "an admirable manual for assassination." I know, it all sounds strangely familiar, even if Merriman, a judicious historian to the end, makes only the most passing reference to contemporary parallels.

The twin pillars of terrorism

Among those inspired by Ravachol was the aforementioned Émile Henry, whose bombing of the Café Terminus in 1894 is the principal subject of Merriman's book. Unlike Ravachol, who was raised by a single mother in extreme poverty and lived by odd jobs and petty crimes, Henry was a genuine son of the bourgeoisie who turned against his own tribe. He had grown up in a quiet country town just outside Paris, where his mother kept an inn. He excelled in school, and had barely missed admission to the École polytechnique, France's most prestigious college for engineers. (He could have reapplied, but never did.) He worked at various clerical and accounting jobs, where his employers invariably found him diligent and pleasant.

Yet somehow this promising and intelligent young man, who was initially horrified by Ravachol's indiscriminate bombings of apartment buildings, became the author of that era's most notorious attack. At about 8 p.m. on Feb. 12, 1894, Henry entered the Café Terminus, a big and bustling Gilded Age establishment around the corner from the Gare Saint-Lazare, where he ordered two beers and smoked a cigar. (He paid, even though he was about to blow the place up. A proper bourgeois after all.) An hour later, there were about 350 people in the place, and the orchestra was playing operatic music by Daniel Auber. Henry got up to leave. Once outside he took a homemade dynamite bomb, concealed in a workman's lunch-bucket, out of his overcoat, lit the fuse with his cigar, and threw the device behind him into the cafe, where it struck a chandelier, fell to the floor and exploded.

Only one person died in the Terminus bombing, which made it pretty wimpy even by Henry's standards. (His previous bombing, although aimed at a mining company, had killed three police officers, a secretary and an office boy.) There were dozens of injuries and a popular nightspot lay in ruins, but the real effect was psychological.

As Merriman sees it, this was the first time a political terrorist had envisioned ordinary people as a legitimate target, or attacked the public life of a major city. There are other candidates for this dubious honor: One could point to the spectacular "William Tell" bombing a year earlier in Barcelona, in which 22 theatergoers were killed. (Arguably that was more targeted, in the sense that the orchestra level of a luxurious theater was the province of the ruling class.) Whoever thought of it first, the point is that at least a few violent anarchists had moved rapidly from the theoretical notion that society should be destroyed to the idea that leaders of that society deserved to die and then to the sweeping conception that anyone who supported the existing society, even as a citizen and a consumer, was effectively guilty of crimes against humanity.

Henry spelled it out for his interrogators, shortly after his arrest: He hadn't been after a particular magistrate or attorney, in the manner of other anarchist bombers, "but rather the entire bourgeoisie, of which the former was only a representative." Café Terminus was a fancy enough place, but it also stood at the heart of an increasingly fluid metropolis and was in no sense exclusive to the rich. For the price of a coffee or a glass of beer, middle-class and even working-class people could and did drop in for a glimpse of the good life.

Henry understood as soon as he was arrested that he had no chance of avoiding the guillotine, and he admitted full responsibility for the bombing. The only defense he offered at his trial was a lengthy declaration of his ideas and motives. In his statement, Henry attacked the ordinary petit-bourgeois citizens of Paris, those who lived on 300 to 500 francs a month (a middle-class income, more or less) and who applauded the actions of the government and the police. They were "stupid and pretentious," he said, "always lining up on the side of the strongest."

Anarchists had no respect for human life, he said, because the bourgeoisie had shown none. "We will spare neither women nor children because the women and children we love have not been spared," Henry continued, making it clear that he was directly blaming the complacent classes for the misery that existed on the other side of the Gilded Age's shocking social divide. "Are they not innocent victims, these children, who in the faubourgs slowly die of anemia, because bread is rare at home; these women who in your workshops suffer exhaustion and are worn out in order to earn 40 cents a day, happy that misery has not yet forced them into prostitution; these old men whom you have turned into machines so that they can produce their entire lives and whom you throw out into the street when they have been completely depleted?"

He understood that he and many other anarchists would be killed, as Ravachol and others had been killed before him, Henry told the court. "But what you can never destroy is anarchy. Its roots are too deep, born in a poisonous society which is falling apart; anarchism is a violent reaction against the established order. It represents the egalitarian and libertarian aspirations which are opening a breach in contemporary authority. It is everywhere, which makes anarchy elusive. It will finish by killing you."

You can say many things about Ravachol's brutal, charismatic nihilism, and about Henry's colder and more rational argument that ordinary citizens should suffer the consequences for deeds they permit, even passively or unknowingly, to be done in their name. You can say that they're cruel and deranged, but taken together they possess an almost biblical clarity. For better or for worse, these two ideas are the twin pillars of terrorism -- the urge to destroy, and the moral rationale for destruction -- and they've been with us ever since. Allowing for differences in terminology and context, you could say that Ravachol and Henry's attitudes and arguments are essentially similar to those of Palestinian terrorists who send suicide bombers into Tel Aviv restaurants, or for that matter to those of Osama bin Laden.

"He is perhaps a monster, but he is not a coward"

ourtroom observers were mightily impressed with Henry's declaration. As one conservative journalist wrote at the time, "He is perhaps a monster, but he is not a coward." Yet when Henry himself went to his date with "la Veuve" early on the morning of May 21, 1894 -- he lacked Ravachol's swagger, but did shout "Vive l'anarchie!" on his way to the scaffold -- the crowd was relatively small, and public reaction afterward was muted. Henry never became anything close to a populist martyr; I guess telling the public it is stupid, pretentious and guilty of terrible crimes will do that.

Henry's execution marked the beginning of the end of the anarchist panic in France, even if it didn't feel that way at the time. (An extended anarchist panic in the United States still lay ahead, from the assassination of President McKinley by a laid-off factory worker in 1901 through the Wall Street bombing of 1920 and the Sacco and Vanzetti case in 1927.) A couple of aftershocks followed rapidly: French President Sadi Carnot was stabbed to death in his carriage on the main street of Lyon in June 1894, apparently in an effort to avenge Henry. Two months later the government arrested a group of 30 anarchists and supporters, including several leading intellectuals, and tried them on wide-ranging and flimsy conspiracy charges.

As Merriman reads the historical evidence today, both sides -- the French government and the anarchist left -- backed away from an escalating confrontation. Although he defended himself eloquently, Henry had done enormous damage to the anarchist cause. Relatively few anarchists had supported bombing campaigns to begin with, and even those who believed in revolutionary violence saw a big difference between blowing up judges and blowing up cappuccino drinkers. Pioneer Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta had warned: "Hate does not produce love, and by hate one cannot remake the world."

At the same time, after the "Trial of the 30" collapsed in the autumn of 1894, with all the intellectual defendants acquitted, the French government gradually abandoned its most repressive measures. In Merriman's view, the attempt to crush anarchism had resulted only in a worsening climate of class hatred and in more bombings and killings. When anarchists were allowed to come up from underground, they channeled their "egalitarian and libertarian aspirations" into nonviolent political activities. Many became involved in the labor movement that would reshape 20th-century France as a social-welfare state, significantly lessening the brutal economic divisions that had fueled revolutionary violence in the first place.

Are there lessons in this history that apply to the "war on terror" recently inherited by the Obama administration. Merriman's general principle seems to be that in this kind of crisis, both the terrorists seeking to overthrow established order and the authorities seeking to crush them tend to overreach themselves. Each side is likely to do more damage to its own cause than to its purported enemy. I mean, think about it: Which will be worse for the United States over the long haul: 9/11 or Guantánamo Bay?

There are murkier, more psychological realms beyond that where a mainstream historian like Merriman simply isn't going to venture. These lie in the terrain first explored by Marx and Freud, those semi-discredited totems of the last century, and in a question that Ann Coulter and Noam Chomsky might answer in the same way: Does Western civilization contain the seeds of its own destruction? Or to put it another way, will Ravachol and Henry always be with us?

For Marx, this was a question of historical inevitability: The advanced industrial economy of capitalism would produce one commodity above all others, a worldwide proletariat that would smash capitalism. For Freud, this was a question of an endless, irresolvable struggle within the self and within society, a struggle between Eros and Thanatos, between sexual desire and the death wish. For a massively influential strand of 20th-century philosophy rooted in the "Frankfurt school" of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, this was the "dialectic of Enlightenment" -- the idea that the cultural and scientific flowering of modernity had also produced the death camps and the atom bomb.

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard's widely misinterpreted remark that America had secretly desired a calamity like 9/11 belongs to this tradition. It was not an apology for terrorism but an attempt to make sense of it within an analytical framework (albeit a controversial one). With increasingly rare exceptions -- John Walker Lindh in one direction, Timothy McVeigh in another -- Western society in its late consumer-capitalist phase no longer produces its own internal enemies. The job of being the nihilist force that aims "at nothing less than the destruction of all that exists," in the phrase of an outraged French legislator, has been outsourced.

As either Bill or Ted observes in one of their excellent adventures, those who forget the pasta are doomed to reheat it. In a time of economic crisis bordering on catastrophe, it's tempting to speculate once again that Western civilization teeters over the abyss, its enemies closing in on all sides. One of these days the gloomsayers may be right. But on the evidence available to date, capitalism has a way of absorbing these things after it produces them. By the afternoon of Feb. 13, 1894, a day after Émile Henry's bomb, the Café Terminus was open for business. The windows were smashed and there were visible bloodstains on the floor, and anybody who was anybody in Paris wanted to take a look. And maybe enjoy a beverage or two.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Last reunion for war heroes who came home to fight the fascists

Morris Beckman, 88, at home in Hampstead, London.

A brave band of British Jews returned after defeating Hitler to take on a new battle – against Mosley’s Blackshirts.

Mark Gould reports (Independent on Sunday)

They returned from war hailed as heroes. But the demobbed British Jews who won medals defeating Hitler were horrified to see fascist salutes on the streets of Britain.

Oswald Mosley, whose British Union of Fascists preached anti-Semitism before the war, was released from internment in 1946. His Blackshirts, dressed like Nazi stormtroopers, were revived. Jewish houses were daubed with the letters PJ – Perish Judah. Jews were beaten and taunted in the streets: “Not enough Jews were burned in Belsen.” Something had to be done.

In April 1946, 43 men and women – war heroes including Gerry Flamberg, who won the Military Medal at Arnhem, and Tommy Gould, a submariner who won the Victoria Cross – formed the 43 Group.

Morris Beckman, another founder member, now 88, explained. “The authorities were doing nothing; we were seeing newsreels of Auschwitz. We decided that as trained troops we would ‘out-fascist the fascists’.”

Last week, around 40 of the surviving street-fighters who fought British fascism to a standstill in a five-year guerrilla war held a last reunion to consider their achievements.

At a Jewish cultural centre in west London they displayed memorabilia, including Mosley’s prized personal standard and some of the graffiti that appeared on synagogues.

Mr Beckman recalled bloody battles in Ridley Road market, in what was then a Jewish area of Hackney, in east London. Mosley would stand on a van, nicknamed “the Elephant” because of its two massive ear-like loudspeakers, and stir up crowds with talk of the “alien” menace. “We would salt the crowd with groups who would fight among themselves, the police would be diverted and two wedges of commandos, the tough guys – ex-marines, guards and paras – would make for the platform and overturn it.”

By 1947 the group had more than 1,000 members: mainly in London, but also in Manchester, Birmingham, and Newcastle.

Maurice Podrow, 81, who was still in the RAF when he joined the group, admitted that at the time he was “very violent”. “At a meeting at Hyde Park Corner we couldn’t get at Mosley, so we picked on this big South African, one of his right-hand men,” he said. “I was pictured on the front of the Daily Mail punching him. My wing commander wasn’t very pleased.”

He wore a Polish army belt with a thick brass buckle “sharpened so it was a four-sided blade”. Knuckledusters, coshes, steel-capped boots and knives were used on both sides. The Blackshirts threw potatoes studded with razor blades.

Prominent Jews such as the boxing promoter Jack Solomons, who could not be seen to support street-fighting, sent donations. Every month the comedian Bud Flanagan sent a cheque for £30. Mr Beckman added that the actor Sydney Tafler helped the cause by mimicking Mosley’s hate rhetoric on a recording played to a group of Jewish businessmen. “They reached for their chequebooks, some of them donating £1,000.”

The group even considered kidnapping Mosley, stripping him and dumping him in Piccadilly Circus. Some non-Jewish supporters helped by infiltrating Mosley’s headquarters so the group knew in advance of his next meetings. Mr Beckman estimates that hundreds of meetings were broken up as a result. With support for Mosley dwindling, the 43 Group was disbanded in 1950.

The group was not without its critics, however. Some said its tactics perpetuated fascism and suggested that by ignoring Mosley his support would have faded sooner. But Mr Beckman is insistent: “In 1946 there were only two countries in Europe that allowed fascist parties – us and Franco’s Spain. Why did the authorities allow Mosley to go unchecked? Somebody had to do it, so we did.”

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Rattling the Cage: Provoking anti-Semitism - Jerusalam Post

First we left the Gaza Strip in bloodied ruins. Then we raised up a politician who, with his appeal to racism, militarism, fear of alien "subversives" and the yearning for a strong leader, fits the classic, textbook definition of a fascist.

And now, what is the talking point for our hasbara (spin) campaign? The surge in global anti-Semitism.

It's hard to avoid the impression that for the champions of Israel Right or Wrong, the surge in global anti-Semitism - which is real enough - came as a godsend. Finally, Israel and its lobbyists could get off the defensive about civilian casualties, white phosphorous and Avigdor Lieberman, and go on the offensive against synagogue firebombings, chanting mobs and boycotts.

I'm not saying Israel and its cheerleaders are happy that Jews are coming under increasing attack in Europe and elsewhere. Environmentalists aren't happy about oil spills - but oil spills are a godsend for their cause. I'm saying that the chorus of condemnations of anti-Semitism from Israelis and pro-Israel nationalists has a dual purpose - to fight anti-Semitism, which is good, and to neutralize criticism of Operation Cast Lead and the spread of Israeli fascism, which is cynical and morally deadening.

THE CLAIM we hear is that anti-Semitism today is worse than it's been since the 1930s. That may be true, but it overlooks one little thing that's different about the Jews of today compared to those of the 1930s: power. The Jews back then had none, or at least none that could protect them, while Israel, the focus of today's rise in anti-Semitism, has awesome power. Incomparably more power than its enemies have, including the anti-Semites, who are legion.

In the 1930s, Jews didn't do anything to provoke anti-Semitism. They were weak while their persecutors were strong. But today? Today's surge in anti-Semitism began with a war in which the Jewish state killed its enemies at a ratio of 100-to-1, then made a political giant out of a former bouncer whose campaign slogan was "Only Lieberman understands Arabic."

To compare Israel's predicament today with that of the Jews of the 1930s is disingenuous in the extreme. Today's rise in anti-Semitism was provoked not by Israel's weakness, but by its abuses of power, first against the Gazans, then against Israeli Arabs. The difference is night and day.

It's also disingenuous to imply, as hasbara does, that the entire wave of anti-Israel sentiment in the world is tainted by anti-Semitism. (To pro-Israel lobbyists, it's fair and acceptable to acknowledge that Israel is not perfect. Anything beyond that is suspect.) There's a great deal of moral outrage at Israel, some of it fair, some of it not. On the far side of the unfair is the anti-Semitic.

In the 1930s, only anti-Semites were incensed at Jews. Today, while there are certainly masses of anti-Semites who are incensed at Israel, they're not alone. Today the world is filled with people who are not anti-Semites yet who are incensed at the things this country has been doing. Lots of them, myself included, are Jews.

I UNDERSTAND very well that Israel is by no means to blame for most of the anti-Semitism in the world. We are not to blame for Islamic fundamentalism, or the irrational Third World Left, or the age-old anti-Jewish instincts of much of Europe and Latin America. No matter how good, how fair we are to the Arabs, the reservoirs of anti-Semitism in the world are not going to dry up.

But since this country's actions were responsible for the recent surge in the level of those reservoirs, I think there's a way of at least bringing that level down, a way that might work as well if not better than stepping up the hasbara: Let's stop fighting immoral wars. Let's stop laying siege to a tiny, destitute country. (That might stop Gazans from firing rockets at us, too.) Let's stop holding 10,000 Palestinian prisoners. (That might also help us get Gilad Schalit back.)

And finally, let's stop electing fascists to the Knesset. And if this is too much to ask of ourselves, let's at least have the decency not to bring them into the government. And if even that's beyond us, if we're going to have fascists as cabinet ministers, if we go so far as to have one for finance minister or foreign minister, then let's not complain about the next surge in global anti-Semitism, because we will have provoked that one, too.

This is not the 1930s. We, the nation of Israel, are far from being powerless, and we are far from being innocent.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Venezuela: Socialist Triumph


Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez wins a referendum that enables him to seek unlimited consecutive terms in office.


HUGO CHAVEZ GREETS supporters from the balcony of the Miraflores Palace in Caracas on February 15.

THE people of Venezuela overwhelmingly voted in a referendum held on February 15 in favour of scrapping the two-term constitutional limit on the presidency. President Hugo Chavez narrowly lost a referendum in December 2007 by half a percentage point. This time the electorate gave an unambiguous endorsement.

In 2007, there were 66 other amendments to the Constitution clubbed along with the amendment to the two-term limit. This sent a confused message to the electorate at that time. The February referendum revolved around the single-point issue of the President and other elected officials being allowed to seek unlimited consecutive terms in office. Chavez can now seek election for a third term when his current term expires in 2013.

After the Venezuelan Election Commission announced the results of the referendum, there was widespread jubilation in the capital, Caracas, and in other parts of the country. An emotional Chavez, addressing his supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace, shouted: “Long live the Revolution.” He told his supporters that the referendum results “have opened wide the gates of the future. Venezuela will not return to the past of indignity.”

Castro’s message

Cuban leader Fidel Castro was among the first to send a congratulatory message to the Venezuelan President. “Dear Hugo. Congratulations to you and for your people on a victory that by its size is impossible to measure,” the message said.

Chavez has been saying that winning the right to contest again was crucial for the consolidation of the socialist revolution he has started. Already two other leftist Presidents in the region, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, have won constitutional approvals to extend their terms in office by holding national referenda. All the three leaders subscribe to the goal of regional integration and the elimination of the long-standing American hegemonic influence in Latin America. Hence, the United States has reasons to be perturbed.

The U.S. and its allies had launched a vituperative campaign against the Venezuelan President in the run-up to the referendum. The U.S. State Department poured in huge amounts of money to aid the anti-Chavez campaign, which was spearheaded by right-wing student groups and conservative sections of the Catholic Church. The opposition in Venezuela, supported by the U.S., tried to hammer in the message that the lifting of the constitutional curbs on presidential terms would lead to a dictatorship under Chavez. The campaign theme of the opposition was that it would make Chavez “President for Life”.

Venezuelan commentators wonder why there is such a fuss in the international media about Chavez seeking a third term. They point out that Britain’s Margaret Thatcher was elected to four consecutive terms and Tony Blair to three consecutive terms. In most parliamentary democracies, there are no curbs on a leader seeking consecutive terms as head of government. As things stand today, Venezuela is the most democratic country in the world.

Since being elected in 1998, Chavez has gone to the electorate almost on an annual basis: Venezuelans have gone to the polls 13 times in the past 10 years. Under the new Constitution that Chavez introduced in 1997, just 20 per cent of the voters can sign a petition for a referendum on whether or not to recall the President or other high officials. The opposition itself, after collecting the 20 per cent signatures required, called a referendum in 2004 on the presidency, and Chavez won it handily. Chavez has on several occasions said that he does not want to be President for life; he has stressed that it would be a violation of the Bolivarian Constitution and the political system.

Instead, Chavez has been saying all along that his continuity in office for another term is important for the cause of building “21st century socialism” in Venezuela. His policies have already significantly empowered the poor. Since he became President, poverty rates have been halved. Power has been decentralised to such an extent that the common people are running their own community programmes, known as “social missions”.


Chavez set up the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which already has a support base of over five million members. Most of the progressive parties in Venezuela have united under its banner. One of the goals of the PSUV is to build a second tier of leadership in the country. Chavez has said that he needs another 10 years in power to consolidate his reforms and to speed up the nationalisation of key industries.


Chavez supporters celebrate the victory outside the presidential palace

It was no surprise to observers in the region that Chavez won the referendum so comfortably. When he took over, more than 50 per cent of the population was below the poverty line. In the past 10 years, his government has invested heavily in the poor through public health and education and job training programmes. After the government brought the national petroleum company PDVSA under its control, it put the bountiful oil revenues mainly at the disposal of the poor majority. Before 1998, medical care was mainly the prerogative of the rich and the middle class. Now it is available even in the remotest areas of the country and to all Venezuelans free of cost.

The government also set up “social stability funds”, which guarantee workers fundamental rights which include pensions, vacations and prenatal and postnatal leave. The minimum wage was raised to $286 a month, the highest in Latin America. The unemployment rate in Venezuela today is the lowest in its history. Three million hectares of land was redistributed to poor peasants. Basic food items are subsidised by up to 40 per cent. Two million people have been lifted out of poverty, and the rate of extreme poverty has been more than halved. Two million schoolchildren are provided free meals.

Despite the regime change in the U.S., Venezuela under Chavez is being viewed as America’s greatest foreign policy challenge in the region. The Bush administration tried the old tactic of encouraging military coups. But times have changed in Latin America, as the 2003 coup attempt against Chavez proved.

Both President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have indicated that they plan to continue with the discredited policies of the previous administration. The Democratic administration seems to be as keen as the previous administration to destabilise the progressive governments that have struck root in Latin America.

Diminishing influence

The U.S. is scared of the prospect of its influence diminishing even further in the region with Chavez at the helm of affairs in Venezuela for the foreseeable future. Chavez, soon after he was elected for the first time, helped Cuba tide over its economic problems by supplying oil at concessional rates. In 2007, he helped another of the U.S.’ enemies, Iran, by dispatching emergency supplies of oil to that country when there were shortages there owing to refining problems.

Chavez was the architect of the regional trade bloc, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), which is an alternative to the American-sponsored free trade zone for the region. The strong defence ties Venezuela has forged with Russia is another cause of heartburn in the corridors of power in the U.S.

Obama, in one of his first interviews after being elected President, described Chavez as a force “that has impeded progress in the region”. Obama, who is not known to be gaffe-prone, then went to the ridiculous extent of alleging that Chavez “is exporting terrorist activities” and backing “malicious groups like FARC”. FARC is the acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the main rebel group in neighbouring Colombia that has been fighting a guerilla war for more than four decades.

Chavez has been expending a lot of energy trying to find a negotiated settlement to the long-running war. Many of the hostages who were freed in recent months after being held for years thanked Chavez for the role he played.

Hillary Clinton, during her Senate confirmation hearing, also echoed her predecessor Condoleezza Rice in her description of Chavez. Condoleezza Rice had called Chavez a “negative force” in the region. James Steinberg, the number two in the U.S. State Department, was even more direct in his hostility. He told the Senate confirmation hearing that for too much time, the U.S. had “ceded the playing field to Chavez, whose actions and vision for the region don’t serve the interests of his citizens nor the people throughout Latin America”.

Chavez, by his standards, has reacted mildly so far to the verbal attacks from the Obama administration. Responding to Obama’s observation about him, he said in the second week of January that the new resident of the White House had “the same stench” as the previous President.

In his landmark speech in the United Nations General Assembly two years ago, Chavez had compared President George W. Bush to the devil and said that the hall retained the sulphur fumes emanated by the American leader the previous day. Chavez said the new American President still had time to correct his views. He added: “No one should say that I threw the first stone at Obama. He threw it at me.”

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Miner And The Copper

It is one of the abiding images of the 1984 coal strike - Guardian photographer Don McPhee's picture of a picketing miner facing up to an officer. But what happened to the two protagonists?

Martin Wainwright

The Guardian, Tuesday 24 February 2009

Paul Castle (far left) and George Brealey (right) at Orgreave in 1984View larger picture

Paul Castle (far left) and George ‘Geordie’ Brealey (right) at Orgreave in 1984. Photograph: Don McPhee

They were two men on opposite sides of one of the bitterest industrial disputes of the 20th century. Golf balls, stones and sharpened coins had been flying, police horses were about to charge, and the leader of Britain's striking mineworkers, Arthur Scargill, had been arrested in that same field outside Orgreave cokeworks, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, a few days earlier.

But for a brief moment one June day in 1984, there seemed to be a rapport between one of the solid line of officers in greatcoats and a miner who was joshing with them, wearing a toy police helmet, his whiskered chin thrust forward. As the Guardian's photographer Don McPhee pressed the button on his Nikon, the lips of both men started to curl; they seemed to have the promise of smiles not sneers.

It is a photograph that has been endlessly reprinted since - in books and magazines, on T-shirts and the programme cover of a play about the 1984-5 miners' strike. But the central relationship in the image has remained a mystery. Who were these two men and what was going through their minds?

McPhee, who died two years ago, never knew. He had to scamper to a safer part of the battlefield as 5,000 pickets tried to stop two convoys of lorries leaving to refuel Scunthorpe's steelworks. None of the writers of captions and articles accompanying the picture over the years ever found out, and friends of the miner who cut the original photo from the paper and stuck it on their welfare club noticeboard scarcely noticed when the tape lost its grip and the picture slid off and was swept up.

Then, towards the end of last year, Tony Parker, a senior BBC executive, was mulling over ideas for commemorating the strike's 25th anniversary when he came across the photograph online. Soon afterwards, he and some colleagues saw it again, hugely enlarged, at an exhibition of the work of the Guardian's Manchester-based photographers at the Lowry in Salford. Months later, after calling what seemed like every miner and police officer in Britain and trawling web clues all the way to Tennessee, Parker's colleague Lucy Smickersgill unearthed the story of George "Geordie" Brealey, the miner, and Paul Castle, the policeman.

"Geordie!" exclaims Graham Howells, the steward at Yorkshire Main welfare club where the photo once hung - alongside a smaller one, still there, of Brealey as the wicketkeeper of the pit's cricket team. Howells' face splits into a grin. "You can't but smile when you think about Geordie." Jim Cook, who stood beside Brealey at Orgreave, agrees: "If he could do you a favour, he'd do it. He always had a smile on his face."

Brealey, however, died in 1997, 12 years after the miners marched back to work at Yorkshire Main in March 1985, unbowed but comprehensively defeated after their disastrously botched last stand. He was only 53. He had transferred briefly to Maltby colliery when Yorkshire Main closed within the year, but he had lost heart. He suffered a series of strokes and finished up in
a wheelchair, unable to speak. Fatally, the paralysis spread to swallowing and he choked to death while eating an egg sandwich.

Brealey died in the house where he was born, a solid semi in Markham Square, a street in the Doncaster pit village of Edlington. His father had been a miner and his father-in-law went down Yorkshire Main at the age of 14. Mining was the community's whole life, not just a job, and it was this that the pickets at Orgreave were trying to sustain.

"We had a community culture in a mining village, self-policing, looking out for one another, and then all of a sudden we were thrown into Thatcher's class war," says Brealey's best friend Frank Arrowsmith, who left mining after the strike to train in psychiatric nursing and is now a mental health assessment officer.

"It was her war, not ours," he says over drinks at the welfare club with Jim Cook and other mates from Brealey's gang. "[Thatcher] determined it and we lost, but community spirit took us through 13 months. I was proud of what I did, so were my colleagues and my family. We still sit comfortable and sleep with our consciences clear."

Brealey's widow, Pat, has had a hard life since the strike, but she still giggles at McPhee's photograph, especially the toy helmet, which vanished in a spring clean. "He got it in Cleethorpes," she says. "We thought: we've got to get away with the kids for one day during this strike, so we all took off in the Morris Minor up the A631. George saw this hat in a shop and went straight in and bought it. 'What do you want that for?' I said. 'It's for the picket line,' he said, and that's how he started 'inspecting' the police."

Brealey had been a soldier before trying plumbing and then going down the pit, and he started play-acting once he'd got his helmet, using memories of infantry drill. "He was ever so brave," says Pat. "He had real bottle. I have another picture of him, from the Sheffield Star, 'inspecting' one of the mounted policemen at Orgreave."

Brealey's gang chuckle away as they remember the "inspecting". Jimmy Kelly says: "He was that kind of guy, very humorous. We thought he'd get snatched one day, but he didn't, he just got rounds of applause. George was able to raise a wee bit of humour for thousands of miners there fighting to save jobs against Thatcher's thugs - because that's what they were."

Even today, you won't hear a good word in Edlington for the Met from London or the Greater Manchester police. But there were other forces there such as Hampshire - who shared sandwiches on some picket lines - and Kent, to which Paul Castle belonged.

Castle is the grandson of a miner from the Kentish coalfield, which stayed out on strike longer than anywhere else, and his odyssey from Orgreave has been extraordinary. His CV includes spells in small armed units guarding Mrs Thatcher and the Queen, and he now lives in Tennessee, where he runs a personal protection advisory service. Click on and you discover, as the indefatigable Smickersgill eventually did, a burly guy in shades and fatigues carrying an assault rifle in front of a Hummer in the backwoods of America. A YouTube clip, "Paul Castle's combat course", suggests the gap between him and Brealey should have been too great to be overcome by a brief moment of good humour.

But on the phone from Nashville, Castle is not the mixture of John Wayne and Norman Tebbit you might imagine. Fighting cancer, one of his first reactions to the story of the photograph is to say how sorry he is to hear of Brealey's death. Castle didn't and still doesn't support the miners; he could not stomach their treatment of scabs. But he says: "The decent human people just got pulled into the middle of it all, like the first world war when you had German and English fighting men in trenches and the politicians and generals telling them to do this and do that. It was lions led by donkeys. Without having sympathy with what was going on in the big miners' strike, at the same time you had an awareness of what it might be like for those communities in Yorkshire. I'm not suggesting that you agreed with their line, but family background, as in my case, would give you human sympathy."

So was that meeting with Brealey a humane moment? Thinking back 25 years, and with a lifetime of police work since he took a £40 monthly cut from his butcher's wage to join the force, Castle won't pretend when he isn't sure. He says: "If I was a third party looking at the picture, I'd say it's a snapshot in time, it's getting folklore surrounding it and that's nice - it sums up the British sense of humour. But all I recall is being more interested in crowd safety than having a conversation with a miner, which we were told not to do. The photo doesn't catch the seriousness of the time."

Back in Yorkshire Main welfare, another of Brealey's friends, Gary Shephard, shares Castle's doubts. "I don't think there's rapport; George was just taking the piss out of them." "Yes," says Jim Cook, who was successfully defended by Michael Mansfield QC in court, "he was taking the P but they were decent enough to take it the way it was meant. Another force would have probably lifted him. He was lucky it wasn't the Met."

Both men are known at last, then, but one is dead and the other dubious about the meaning that so many people have read into McPhee's photograph. But there is one more piece of rediscovered evidence. McPhee had the original idea for the Lowry exhibition and was organising it right up to his death. After that, his long-standing friend and colleague Denis Thorpe took on the task, seeing the project through as a memorial.

Among the material he found was a line of negatives of the whole Orgreave sequence; not a solitary shot but four, taken within a couple of seconds. The second frame is the famous one: "Perfect geometry, Cartier Bresson's 'the moment', a picture which locks you in, wondering what's going to happen next," says Thorpe. But look at the last two on the strip of contact prints. In both, Castle's grin stands out from his poker-faced colleagues, while Brealey is clearly clowning on with his 'inspecting'.

What happened, in a grim situation with precious few other redeeming features, was a smile, not a sneer. Or, as Thorpe says, "A human moment, and that's what Don was always looking for."

• The Miner and the Policeman will be on Inside Out, BBC1, 7.30pm tomorrow in the Yorkshire region. It will be shown nationwide at a later date. A Long Exposure: 100 years of Guardian photography is at the Lowry, Salford, until 1 March.

Monday, 23 February 2009

How the BNP moved into the political mainstream

The reluctance of the three main parties to tackle sensitive issues that matter to many voters is driving people into the arms of extremists


Last week, the BNP were cock-a-hoop at taking a seat on Sevenoaks district council. It was, their candidate said, a breakthrough, even if it was one prompted by vigorous canvassing on a classic BNP issue – allocation of council houses to asylum seekers. There are though, growing signs that the BNP's message is gaining ground.

But how is it that a party that wants its 12,000 members to be sufficiently "Norse" and whose constitution uses the word "folkish", is edging closer and closer to the political mainstream? Why are so many people voting for the BNP?

In the centre of Durham, one recent Saturday, I walked past a Trotskyist stall, manned by undergraduates, and a BNP one, run by men in early middle age, all with accents from no further than five miles outside Durham. While the Trots were ignored, the BNP was swamped.

The BNP is prospering because the mainstream parties are ignoring people's concerns
BNP rosette

How come? There are no asylum seekers in County Durham, and visible ethnic minorities account for only one per cent of the population. At the last census, the district of Easington was found to be the least ethnically diverse area in Britain.

No, the reason why the BNP inspire such interest is because neither Labour, the Tories, or the Lib Dems are talking about the issues that worry people here.

Many in the North-East, and, indeed, around the country, are concerned about a loss of sovereignty, whether to the European Union, to the United States, or to global capital. And about the practical consequences of this loss, from the Common Fisheries Policy, to the Iraq War, to the credit crunch. They are concerned about a new working class whose members understand no English except words of command, know little or nothing about workers' rights here, can be moved around the country at will, and deported if they step out of line. Deference to Islam is another complaint.

A lot of people really are worried by these things. I am. So why aren't the three main parties? Proper Labourites, or Conservatives, or Liberals would be.

Otherwise, people are talking about the erosion of the traditional family and its values, not least on the airwaves; about lap-dancing clubs; about the deregulation of drinking and gambling; abouthow the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service have effectively legalised cannabis and lowered the age of consent to 13; about the Police not patrolling the streets, soft sentencing, and indiscipline in schools. Again, the BNP is the only party that has responded.

They are also talking about the real concern that the white working class has been left behind. And that no one ever mentions manufacturing, which still accounts for more than twice the GDP of the entire financial services sector, never mind the bailout-begging City. Meanwhile, because the powers-that-be are unable to distinguish between the respectable working class and the characters from Shameless, council and housing association tenants now face having Shameless characters moved in next door to them, or even in place of them.

Many people are also concerned that Scottish devolution has never been supported by the majority

The powers-that-be can no longer distinguish between the respectable working class and the characters from Shameless
David Threlfall Shameless

of eligible voters in Scotland; that a mere 26 per cent of the electorate ever supported devolution in Wales, where it is being used to entrench the rule of those in English-speaking areas who speak Welsh as a cordon sanitaire; that the government of Northern Ireland has been carved up between a fundamentalist sect and a terrorist organisation; and about how badly England has been treated.

These are the issues that the BNP advertise on their leaflets, and discuss when they campaign door-to-door. This is what they were telling the Durham public at their stall that Saturday afternoon. Far from being racist, these valid and well-founded concerns are strongly shared with ethnic minority communities. I am, myself, mixed-race. Far from being necessarily right-wing, these concerns are felt most keenly by traditional Labour supporters, who now abstain in enormous numbers, and could put the BNP third in numerous seats and second in quite a few. The BNP is far more of a threat to Labour than UKIP ever was to the Tories.

Yet neither Labour nor the other two parties are addressing these concerns. So the BNP is filling the vacuum. The terrible truth is that they are now the only force even pretending to share and articulate numerous perfectly mainstream and reasonable fears and grievances. Ignorant of and unfaithful to their own traditions, and scornful of the people whose worries these are, the main parties simply refuse to do so. Thus are people drawn into a world of racism, thuggery, and Holocaust denial.,opinion,how-the-bnp-moved-into-the-political-mainstream,2

Google’s romantic view of BNP website

You have to hand it to Google Ads - they can't be accused of discrimination. Visitors to, the bloggers' forum for the far-right British National Party, have been surprised in recent days to discover a series of full-colour banner ads for non-white dating agencies.

Inter-Racial and Muslima - "a truly Muslim marriage and matrimonial service" - are both being plugged on the BNP forum - despite the party's strong line against inter-racial marriage.

Google Ads evidently decided that because of the multiple uses of words such as Muslim and Arab the site was 'relevant' to its clients' interests.

"I thought I was on the wrong forum," wrote one visitor. Another, Sarah, Maid of Albion, wrote: "I do find it rather offensive given that the picture clearly shows an Asian man and a Caucasian woman."
- Joseph Mackertich


Sunday, 22 February 2009

Britain faces summer of rage - police

Scenes such as those seen in London in January when protestors clashed with mounted riot police at a protest over Israel's action in Gaza could become more common sights in the UK. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Middle-class anger at economic crisis could erupt into violence on streets

Police are preparing for a "summer of rage" as victims of the economic downturn take to the streets to demonstrate against financial institutions, the Guardian has learned.

Britain's most senior police officer with responsibility for public order raised the spectre of a return of the riots of the 1980s, with people who have lost their jobs, homes or savings becoming "footsoldiers" in a wave of potentially violent mass protests.

Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan police's public order branch, told the Guardian that middle-class individuals who would never have considered joining demonstrations may now seek to vent their anger through protests this year.

He said that banks, particularly those that still pay large bonuses despite receiving billions in taxpayer money, had become "viable targets". So too had the headquarters of multinational companies and other financial institutions in the City which are being blamed for the financial crisis.

Hartshorn, who receives regular intelligence briefings on potential causes of civil unrest, said the mood at some demonstrations had changed recently, with activists increasingly "intent on coming on to the streets to create public disorder".

The warning comes in the wake of often violent protests against the handling of the economy across Europe. In recent weeks Greek farmers have blocked roads over falling agricultural prices, a million workers in France joined demonstrations to demand greater protection for jobs and wages and Icelandic demonstrators have clashed with police in Reykjavik.

In the UK hundreds of oil refinery workers mounted wildcat strikes last month over the use of foreign workers.

Intelligence reports suggest that "known activists" are also returning to the streets, and police claim they will foment unrest. "Those people would be good at motivating people, but they haven't had the 'footsoldiers' to actually carry out [protests]," Hartshorn said. "Obviously the downturn in the economy, unemployment, repossessions, changes that. Suddenly there is the opportunity for people to mass protest.

"It means that where we would possibly look at certain events and say, 'yes there'll be a lot of people there, there'll be a lot of banner waving, but generally it will be peaceful', [now] we have to make sure these elements don't come out and hijack that event and turn that into disorder."

Hartshorn identified April's G20 meeting of the group of leading and developing nations in London as an event that could kick-start a challenging summer. "We've got G20 coming and I think that is being advertised on some of the sites as the highlight of what they see as a 'summer of rage'," he said.

His comments are likely to be met with disappointment by protest groups, who in recent weeks have complained that police are adopting a more confrontational approach at demonstrations. Officers have been accused of exaggerating the threat posed by activists to justify the use of resources spent on them.

Police were said to have been heavy-handed at Greek solidarity marches in London in December and, last month, at protests against Israel's invasion of Gaza. In August 1,000 officers, helicopters and riot horses were drafted to Kent from 26 UK police forces to oversee the climate camp demonstration against the Kingsnorth power station. The massive operation to monitor the protesters cost £5.9m and resulted in 100 arrests. But in December the government was forced to apologise to parliament after the Guardian revealed that its claims that 70 officers had been hurt in violent clashes were wrong.

However, Hartshorn insisted: "Potentially there will be more industrial actions ... History shows that some of those disputes - Wapping, the miners' strike - have caused great tensions in the community and the police have had difficult times policing and maintaining law and order."

Both "extreme rightwing and extreme leftwing" elements are looking to "use the fact that people are out of jobs" to galvanise support, he said.

A particularly worrying development was the re-emergence of individuals involved in the violent fascist organisation Combat 18, he said. "They are using the fact that there's been lots of talk about eastern European people coming in and taking jobs on the Olympic sites," he said. "They're using those type of arguments to look at getting support."

Hartshorn said he also expected large-scale demonstrations this year on environmental issues, with hardcore green activists "joining forces" with middle-class campaigners over issues such as airport expansion at Heathrow and Stansted. With the prospect of angry demonstrations against the economy, that could open the door to powerful coalitions.

"All you've got to do then is link in with the environmentalists, and look at the oil companies. They're seen to be turning over billions of pounds profit in issues that are seen to be against the environment."

Clinton treads softly on China visit

By Geoff Dyer in Beijing


Published: February 22 2009 17:53 | Last updated: February 22 2009 17:53

It takes quite a lot to throw Hillary Clinton off her stride, but Dai Bingguo, China’s senior foreign policy official, just about managed. “You look younger and more beautiful than on TV,” he told the US secretary of state, who seemed to momentarily blush.

Yet it was her Chinese hosts who were feeling flattered on Sunday at the end of a two-day visit to Beijing during which Mrs Clinton went out of her way to avoid picking fights with China over political freedoms and demonstrated that the Obama administration intends to form a pragmatic partnership with Beijing on the financial crisis and climate change.

Mrs Clinton was careful to demonstrate concern for human rights, visiting a church on Sunday morning and holding a session with a group of prominent women. But by signalling before she arrived that human rights “cannot interfere” with economic and diplomatic priorities, she told China’s leaders what they wanted to hear – that whatever gets said about China on the campaign trail, Washington believes the relationship between the two countries is too important to jeopardise.

“The global community is counting on China and the United States to collaborate, to pursue security, peace and prosperity for all,” she said on Saturday, during the last leg of a week-long tour of Asia.

Mrs Clinton’s emphasis on co-operation reflects the reality that China is an indispensable player in many of the issues at the top of the US foreign policy agenda, from global warming to North Korea to the financial crisis. And at a time when the US financial system is in tatters in part because of lax regulation, it becomes harder to lecture countries such as China on the superiority of the US political system.

Asked on several occasions about China’s outsized role in the US Treasury bond market, she said she appreciated Chinese continued purchases of US government debt. “By continuing to support American treasury instruments, the Chinese are recognising our interconnection. We are truly going to rise or fall together,” Mrs Clinton said in a local television interview.

The trip won favourable comments in Chinese media over the weekend, with the Xinhua news agency noting that Mrs Clinton and Premier Wen Jiabao had traded Chinese proverbs about crossing the river together.

The Beijing leg of her trip gave her fewer chances to break out of the diplomatic bubble, as she had done earlier in the week in Tokyo and Jakarta. However, she did meet a representatives from Chinese civil society, including Gao Yaojie, a 82-year-old Aids activist.

“Change really does come from individual decisions, many millions of individual decisions, where someone stands up like Dr Gao and says, ‘No, I am not going to be quiet’,” she said.

However, such comments did not spare Mrs Clinton from heavy criticism from human rights groups, which accused her of pandering to the Chinese government.

“Secretary Clinton’s remarks point to a diplomatic strategy that has worked well for the Chinese government – segregating human rights issues into a dead-end ‘dialogue of the deaf’,” said Sophie Richardson, an Asia specialist at Human Rights Watch.

The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, a Hong Kong-based group, said three religious activists had been detained on Sunday to prevent them going to the church service that Mrs Clinton attended. Several other critics of the government were put under heavy police surveillance or detained during the trip.

Activists said Mrs Clinton’s businesslike tone over the weekend was very different from the approach she took as a presidential candidate last year, when she suggested President George W. Bush should boycott the Olympics opening ceremony in protest over the clampdown in Tibet and other human rights abuses.

Also: US looks at naval pact with China - Feb-18

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis: Gerry Adams Speech - Full Text

The following is the full text of the speech by Sinn Féin Presisnet Gerry Adams to the party's Ard Fheis today.

A sense of hope and purpose

Today hundreds of thousands of people have marched in this city to defend jobs; to defend public services; to defend our standard of living, and to express their opposition to the policies of the Irish government. This Ard Fheis salutes and supports these efforts.

We also want to extend congratulations and best wishes to SIPTU which celebrates 100 years of organising for fairness at work and justice in society. From its early beginnings with Connolly, Larkin and the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, SIPTU has made an enormous contribution to Irish society and to the well being of workers and their families.

Comhghairdheas. Tá muid agus lucht oibre na hÉireann buíoch daoibh as an méid atá déanta agaibh. Ag an uair deacair seo tá sibhse de dhíth go mór mór ar mhuintir ár dtíre. Ádh mór oraibh uilig. Agus ná déanaigi dearmad. Bígí láidir agus beidh cumhacht agaibh.

Our economy is in a mess. Global circumstances may have contributed but the decisions and policies of the Fianna Fáil/Green Party government, and its predecessors, and the greed and dishonesty of some bankers, developers and speculators, have shaped this crisis and left Irish workers and their families desperately vulnerable to its effects.

Businesses are closing at an alarming rate and hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs.These are the ordinary men and women who helped to build the Celtic Tiger economy. These are the people with families to rear and often with elderly relatives to care for.

This government protects its wealthy friends and targets the sick, the elderly and children.

This government has failed the people. It has opted to pick their pockets and to mug lower and middle-income earners.

The Government should go

At the same time the Government is giving billions of euros to the banks with almost no strings attached. It is spending public money; the people’s money, to bail out its property developer friends in Anglo-Irish Bank, despite the way Anglo Irish and Irish Life & Permanent cooked their books.

And the Minister for Finance never bothered to read the relevant documents before sinking tax-payers money into a financial cesspit. Or at least that’s what he tells the rest of us.

Little wonder that this state is again being linked internationally to corruption, cronyism and cosy cartels.

The Minister for Finance should do his patriotic duty. He should go. But he should not go on his own. Mr. Lenihan should be joined by his friends. The people cannot afford them. This Government should go also.

Woody Guthrie once wrote. ‘Some rob you with a six gun, some with a fountain pen’.

Criminality of any kind is unacceptable. All categories of gangsters or banksters must face the full rigours of the law.

Agus caithfidh muidne agus caithfidh pobal uile na hÉireann cruthú nach sinne amháin na daoine a bheas thíos leis an tubaiste seo. Caithfidh muid cinntiú go mbeidh na daoine santacha a chruthaigh an deacracht seo go mbeidh siadsan ag íoc as anois.
Go dtí seo d’éalaigh siad saor.

Gun crime. Drug crime. Blue collar crime. And white collar crime must be confronted.

That means that banking executives and others, must be rigorously investigated if they have broken the law and like everyone who behaves illegally they must be brought before the courts.

In the boom times Sinn Féin urged for investment in public services and in policies that would build for the future. We argued and we insist that the economy should serve the public good. Sinn Féin warned of the consequences of ill conceived government policies. These policies and the economy they sustain serve private greed.

Our warnings were ignored.

Le cupla bliain anuas nuair a tharraing muid aire ar an phrácás bhí ár gcairde sna meáin ag spochadh asainn. Dúirt na polaiteoirí eile nár thuig muid cúrsaí airgeadais!
Cá bhfuil na fir glice seo anois?

There is a lot of talk nowadays about a golden circle. Some senior politicians and commentators behave as if they have just discovered this. Sinn Féin has been warning about our two tier society for years.

We have made the case again and again that the golden circles of the 1980s never went away. They simply regrouped. And successive governments ruled in their interests and squandered the wealth created by Irish workers.

The boom times presented a historic opportunity:

• to deliver universal first class health services

• to invest in new schools, social housing and public transport links

• to tackle disadvantage, poverty and inequality

• And to build the infrastructure required to ensure the future stability of the Irish economy

The government chose to do none of these things.

So, following years of unprecedented exchequer surpluses the Irish people are left with:

• Waiting lists for essential hospital treatments and queues in A&E departments.

• Thousands of children being taught in pre-fabs while the government withdraws special teacher support from those with special needs.

We are left with a housing list that grows longer while thousands of unsold housing units fill empty sites across the country. We are left with the withdrawal of over ten per cent of bus services from our capital city - and this on the watch of a Green Party minister!

Lest the electorate forget.

Fianna Fáil in the last election made outlandish promises they knew they couldn’t keep.

Lest the electorate forget.

Fine Gael made the same implausible promises as Fianna Fáil.

Tá rud éigin lófa fán chóras airgeadais, ní amháin ar an oileán seo ach ar fud an domhain iarthar. Ach tá cúrsaí níos measa anseo, b’fhéidir mar gheall ar an stair atá againn agus an bochtanas a chonaic muid rómhaith le tríocha bliain anuas.

Sinn Féin Proposes

Unlike other parties Sinn Féin set out proposals around job creation and the housing market that would have ensured a softer landing. We proposed tax reform that would have given the state more resources to cope with the economic downturn. Even now, if these policies are implemented they could still help turn the economy around.

This requires:

• establishing a three year job creation strategy, including support for small businesses;

• creating jobs by investing particularly in schools, rail infrastructure, in our environment and in our rural and fishing communities and disadvantaged communities;

• it means growing our indigenous export market

• it means ensuring that bank credit is available to sustain small and medium businesses.

• And it means, and this is crucial, preventing the repossession of people’s homes by the banks.

We also need to confront the culture of greed represented by the golden circle of highly placed individuals and groups in Irish society.

Bobby Sands lashed those who exploit and enrich themselves on the backs of citizens.

He wrote in his prison diary, on the 11th day of his hunger strike ‘there is no equality in a society that stands upon the economic and political bog, where only the strongest make it good or survive.’

Bobby was right.

Not one cent of public money should go into the pockets of privateers. That means an end to the hospital co-location policy where rich investors are handed valuable public land and given tax breaks to charge people for medical treatment.

Tá shin millteanach dona agus mí cheart. Níl sé cothrom agus tá réitigh agus stráteisí ag Sinn Féin ar an ghéarchéim seo. Cuirfidh muid stad air.

There should also be an end to the huge salaries and expenses given to high ranking public servants, politicians and the other high rollers who have milked the system for many years.

I include all government Ministers in this.

Let’s take the Minister of Health as an example. Her remuneration is 230,000 euros annually; this is as much as the President of the Republic of France and more than the British Prime Minister. HSE chief Brendan Drumm has a salary of 320,000 euros, plus an annual bonus of 80,000 euros. Which means we pay him more than the people of the USA pay their President. And there’s more. Bank CEO’s taking home three million euros a year; Heads of state companies on well over half a million euros. It’s obscene. It must stop.

The super rich still hide their millions through a variety of tax loopholes. These tax shelters must be closed immediately. The billionaires who make their profits in this state must pay their taxes in this state. Same as other citizens.Simple as that.

Some, including people sympathetic to our politics but worn down by conservative forces, dismiss our vision as impossible.

It will never happen they say. They feel angry but powerless.

Twenty years ago, understandably enough, they probably thought peace was impossible. But peace is possible. We have proved that. Everything is possible my friends. What is needed is political will, determination, tenacity and organization and strategies.

Progress in the North

Look at the North.

There the DUP is working with us – this is a party established to block civil rights reform, a party which opposed power sharing and the Good Friday Agreement. The DUP is now working all-Ireland institutions.

But this is not to say that everything is rosy. No one should be under any illusions. Working with the DUP is very difficult and very challenging. Holding that party to its commitments and ensuring that the equality agenda of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements are delivered is hard work.

But Unionist politicians now know that if they wish to exercise political power they can only do so in partnership with the rest of us.It is a battle a day, every day, over education, the environment, Acht na Gaeilge and much more.

But we have made progress in the transfer of powers on policing and justice, in tackling fuel poverty; in securing additional funding for economic investment and for tackling rural poverty, and in deferring water charges.

Tá muid ag obair chun clár Gaeilge iomlán a bhrú chun tosaigh sa tuaisceart. Ina measc:

• Tá ceist na nGaelscoileanna;

• Tá maoiniú do tograí teanga agus pobal; níl go leor ann ach tá Sinn Féin ag deanamh ár ndiceall níos mó a fháil.

Agus bith cinnte faoi Acht na Gaeilge.Beidh Acht na Gaeilge ann.

Caitríona Ruane is carrying out the most far reaching and fundamental reform of the north’s education system in 60 years.


Look at last year’s figures for children transferring from primary school to grammar schools: On the Falls 44. On the Shankill 10. On the Malone Road 214.

We want all children to do as well as the young people on the Malone Road. These figures are for Belfast but the story is the same throughout the six counties.

We are going to change that because all children deserve equality of access to education and we support our Minister in the necessary work to ensure that every child fulfills his or her potential. Her reforms are about educational excellence, including academic excellence for all our young people.

Along with our dedicated team of Ministers and MLAs and party activists, Martin McGuinness and our other representatives have made a real and positive difference in peoples lives. But there is still enormous work to be done.

The enthusiasm, energy and discipline of Sinn Féin ministers like Michelle Gildernew in Agriculture, Conor Murphy in Regional Development, Caitriona Ruane in Education, and Gerry Kelly demonstrate a commitment to this process and a determination to make it work.

Engaging with Unionists

For our part we fully understand the need to persuade unionists of the desirability of a shared, united Ireland.

Tá stráitéis againn.

Tá plean againn ach ní féidir an obair seo a dhéanamh gan cairde agus comhghuallaithe ag seasamh linn agus ag cuidiú linn.

Republicans and democrats believe that the union with Britain is a nonsense, even in these more enlightened times. Under the union, unionists make up fewer that 2% of the Kingdom. They would constitute 20% of the New Republic. They would be citizens, not mere subjects. They would have rights, not concessions. They would belong. They would be welcome. We have to persuade them of that. So too does the Irish government.

The British government also has its obligations. The democratic imperative demands. They must be based on the ending of British jurisdiction on this island. For our part we are the nation builders.

Our responsibility is to ensure that unionists are comfortable and secure in a new Ireland. It is their Ireland also. So it must be a shared Ireland, an integrated Ireland, an Ireland in which unionists have equal ownership.

Achieving a United Ireland

An Ireland based on citizens rights. In this spirit, I have recently called for a national conversation on how these goals can be achieved. But building a United Ireland needs more than this. It means more than a change of flags. We need to build this party everywhere. And we need to make political alliances.

We also need to build support internationally. There are tens of millions of people across the world who can trace their lineage back to Ireland. There is considerable good will in the USA for a United Ireland. We have to mobilize and organise with all of these friends and potential friends to advance our goals.

This summer Sinn Féin will host two major conferences in the USA and next year a conference in Britain. Our intention is to engage with the Irish diaspora and to marshal its political strength in support of a United Ireland.

An all-Ireland economy

But Irish unity is not just a dearly held republican and democratic aspiration - it is an economic imperative. On this island there is now a considerable market of some six million people. Since the Good Friday Agreement, trade between North and South has steadily increased. Firms on both sides of the border do business with each other on a daily basis. Hundreds of thousands of people live in one jurisdiction while they shop, study or work in the other. Progress towards creating a truly all-Ireland economy is being made through:

• The newly developed All Ireland Energy Market.

• Through Tourism Ireland - an all-Ireland body promoting Ireland abroad.

• And through InterTrade Ireland which since 2003 has benefited over 1,300 businesses and created hundreds of jobs.

The development of the Dublin-to-Belfast Motorway and the Monaghan-to-Derry dual carriageway are prime examples of the joined up thinking that our country and our economy needs.

However, much more needs to be done.

Differences in VAT, Corporation Tax, Excise Duties and Currency create barriers to economic development on both sides of the border, and cost millions in tax revenue. The removal of such impediments will create efficiencies, employment, wealth and opportunity across this island. Sinn Féin proposes and we will campaign for:

• An All Ireland Economic Committee from the Dáil and the Assembly tasked with harmonizing taxes across this island

• A joint north south Ministerial approach to promote our international food brand.

• An all-Ireland agricultural body to implement all standards that safeguard the reputation of Irish agricultural produce.

• We propose a new body bringing together universities, constituted on a similar basis to InterTrade Ireland, to act as an engine for growth in the ‘knowledge economy.’

All of these would be good for all our people, including the unionist people in the north. It makes sense, including common sense. Partition makes no sense.

Election Challenges

Sinn Féin’s status as the only all-Ireland political party will be practically demonstrated in June when we will contest every European seat on this island. But the challenge is even greater than that. Local Government elections will also take place in the south on the same day and there will be two bye-elections in Dublin.

These contests provide challenges and opportunities for republicans.

It is not enough for us to criticise governments or the conservative parties. In the Oireachtas Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Arthur Morgan and Aengus Ó Snodaigh have also brought forward constructive propositions. Senator Pearse Doherty and Martin Ferris TD have both published comprehensive reports on social and economic development in the West of Ireland, and on the future viability of agriculture and fisheries in that region.

We are bringing all these ideas to the people. We need to listen to their ideas also.

All over this island people in the voluntary and community sector, including sporting organisations, residents associations, credit unions and carers, are the glue holding our communities together.

They are the real experts. We need to listen to them and support them.

We also need to support those who campaign for positive change whether against incinerators or the desecration of sacred places or the public ownership of our natural resources, or for a greener, cleaner environment. There are groups from the Liffey Valley to Rathlin Island, from Moyross to Dominick Street, O’Devaney Gardens and West Mayo campaigning for a better life for their communities.

We have some of these campaigners here today. Céad míle fáilte romhaibh.

I want to particularly extend a céad mile failte to representatives from NEPP who are campaigning against proposed overhead cables going through Counties Cavan, Monaghan, Meath, Armagh and Tyrone. This party assures you all of our support.

Mar a dúirt mé tapaigí an deis labhairt agus éisteacht le daoine faoi na rudaí atá tabhachtach dóibh. Agus déanfaidh muid sin. Ar fud na tíre beidh Sinn Féin ag obair libh.

Sinn Féin are not Euro sceptics. We are for a European union of equal states; a Europe of democracy and transparency; a social Europe.

We objected to the last Lisbon Treaty because, unlike others, we read it. And we realised that it represented a dilution of democracy, an assault on workers’ rights, a more militarized Europe, a more centralised bureaucracy in Brussels and a transfer of power from the smaller member states to the larger ones.

The electorate agreed with us.

But all the signs are that the “Yes” camp will attempt to foist the same flawed treaty on the people. They will try to link the current economic difficulties to last year’s Treaty rejection. But such arguments are spurious and dishonest.

Ní bheidh muidne sásta seasamh siar agus ligint don rialtas dalladh mullóg a chur orainn ná ar an phobal. Dúirt an pobal cheana nach raibh siad sásta leis an Conradh Lisbon. Caithfidh an rialtas Conradh nua a fháil. Gan sin beidh muid ag rá níl arís.

It is an insult to ask citizens to consider the same Treaty again.

A new Treaty is needed. A new Treaty for new times.

This is what Sinn Féin will campaign for.

And we will base our campaign on what we consider to be in the best interests of the Irish people and the people of Europe.

New Leadership

I welcome the election of Mary Lou McDonald as the new Leas Uachtarán of Sinn Fein. Declan Kearney is our new Cathaoirleach, Dawn Doyle is our new Ard Runaí Secretary and Maurice Quinlivan is one of our Cisteoirí. I also commend the older, if I may use that term, members of our National Officer Board and I want to congratulate all the members of the newly elected Ard Chomhairle

I especially want, on my own behalf and your behalf to extend a big thanks to our friend Pat Doherty for his long years of service as Leas Uachtarán. He will continue to play a leading role in this party and in this struggle. I wish Pat and Mary, all the best for the future.

Thanks also to Treasa Quinn and Margaret Kelly our outgoing Cisteoirí who are taking up new roles in the party.


Since last year’s Ard Fheis across the globe there have been dramatic events that will have an undoubted effect on all of us. I welcome the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. As the first black American President he carries the dreams and hopes of many of his people and others throughout the globe.

Tá dea-thoil an domhain uilig ag dul leis ach tá brú mór air agus dóchas iontach ag brath air fosta.

The attack by Israeli Government on the people of Gaza in the weeks before President Obama’s inauguration was a despicable act of terror.

It was an assault on innocent women and children in a community of just 1.5 million already starved of medical supplies and essential foodstuffs and effectively imprisoned in an area the size of county Louth.

D’amharc muid ar an teilifís agus léigh muid inár nuachtáin fán chosmhuintir i nGaza agus d’fhulaing muid leo. Tá muid cinnte de go dtig réiteach a fháil ar an choimhlinct sa réigiún má bhíonn an toil ann.

The only solution that can work in the Middle East is one based on justice, which recognizes that the Palestinian people must have a homeland that is viable and sustainable.I welcome the representative of the Palestinian people, Dr Assad Abdul Rahman to this Ard Fheis. Our MEP Bairbre de Brún will visit Palestine next week. Mary Lou McDonald MEP is scheduled to go there later this year. They will bring our republican solidarity to that beleaguered people.

I also welcome Dr Ebrahim Ebrahim, Head of International Relations of the ANC, and extend our best wishes to Madiba.

And a warm welcome also to Kattalin Madariaga, MP in the Basque autonomous parliament.

And of course, Noel Corrillo, the Cuban Ambassador to Ireland.Cuba celebrates the 50th anniversary of its revolution this year. We in Sinn Fein send our warmest greetings to the people of Cuba and to Fidel and we wish him well. Beir Bua companero.

A National Revival

These are hard times for Ireland. Though people in other places, as we have seen, have harder times. But in hard times we are especially called upon to come forward.
To be positive.

Now is the time for another great national revival of our language and arts, our culture. Now is the time to build national morale. To ensure that the Irish language flourishes.

Tá obair maith ag dul ar aghaidh sa pháirtí le cur chun cinn na Gaeilge, go háirthe leis na cumainn gaelacha.Ach tá a lán le déanamh go fóill.

I commend everyone who has contributed in any way to the survival of our native language in the Gaeltacht areas.In the wider language movement. And throughout the Irish language education sector.

Tá sár obair déanta againn. Tá an teanga beo mar tá sibhse ag obair ar son cúis na Gaeilge. Tá muid buíoch daoibhse go léir.

Let me also commend An Cumann Lúthchleas Gael who celebrate 125 years of excellence this year. Let me in particular extend best wishes to my own county, County Antrim, for the summer season. All sports are good, but I’m sure everyone would agree that even after 125 years the GAA is still one of the most important and dynamic institutions on this island. The founders of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael could not have envisaged how it would develop. But I’m sure they would be proud of everything that has been achieved.

And we also should take pride in, and salute, the achievements of the GAA.

An Chéad Dáil

This year marks the 90th anniversary of An Chéad Dáil Éireann - the first and only freely elected parliament of all the Irish people.

Bhailigh muid le chéile sa chathair seo ceithre seachtain ó shin – sa Teach Ardmhéara do cheiliúrú ar an Chéad Dáil, nócha bliain ó shin. Oíche speisialta a bhí ann má bhí tú ábalta fáil isteach! Bhí an áit plodaithe.

Sinn Féin is guided by the ideals of public service and patriotism of those who assembled in Dublin’s Mansion House in January 1919.The First Dáil Éireann set out a visionary Democratic Programme of social and economic goals based on equality.
It is as relevant to the crisis in Ireland today as it was 90 years ago.

The Democratic Programme declared that Irish society would be governed “in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality and Justice for all”. And it committed the Republic “to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children” and to ensure that “no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter”. The Democratic Programme also declared “the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the nation’s labour” and that the Republic has a duty to “safeguard the health of the people”. And it promised that the aged and infirm would “no longer be regarded as a burden but rather entitled to the nation’s gratitude and consideration”.

It is little wonder the government forgot to book the Mansion House for the 90th anniversary on January 21st. The First Dáil was not about political elites, gombeen men, golden circles or cosy cartels.

It was a genuine and collective national effort to improve the lives of our people and the fortunes of our country. This was patriotism in action. This is the type of patriotism that must enthuse and reinvigorate the Irish nation now.

Genuine republican values and republican politics have never been so relevant or so necessary as they are today.

A New Alliance for Change

This great country and its people are at another historic crossroads. We have decisions to make about the core values of our society; about how we as an island people wish to live our lives.

Sinn Féin says that our society needs core values based on social justice, fairness, equality and decency. Ireland needs the determination and commitment that achieved peace out of conflict.

There can be an egalitarian alternative to the politics of greed, inefficiency, waste and corruption. These have been the hallmarks of governments in this country for too long. Their arrogance should be a call to action for the people of Ireland.

A call to revitalise the social movements and for our young people to engage in meaningful and fulfilling political activity. It is a call for a new phase of citizenship and a new generation of peaceful political struggle. I believe the time is right for a new alliance of all people and parties that want real and fundamental change.

Tá raon nua deiseanna ag oscailt dúinn. Agus ní mór dúinn bheith reidh.

The dominance in this State of two large conservative parties can be brought to an end if a new alignment in Irish politics, north and south can be created. The replacement of the current coalition at some future election by another coalition with Fine Gael as the main party would be like replacing Tweedledum with Tweedledee.

In my view the Labour Party has a duty not to prop up either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.
Instead Labour should explore with us and others the potential for co-operation in the future.

I invite all these potential allies to come together to forge a stronger, more united progressive and democratic movement for our country - one that aims to meet the needs of all citizens.

I include parties like Labour, the Greens if they can survive the fall out from their participation in this right wing government; other smaller parties ; the trade unions; the community organisations that are on the front line in the struggle for equality; Gaelgeoiri; rural agencies and organisations, including farming bodies and fishing communities; women’s groups; the students, youth organisations and those who speak for the disabled, the poor, the unemployed, the homeless and the marginalised in our society.

Sinn Féin is ready to join with all of those who want real change and who recognise that the road to real change requires unity of purpose, of ideas and of energy.

A Sense of Hope and Purpose

Of course, the forces of reaction, of conservatism, of cynicism are strong. But that should not put us off.

A lesser people would have collapsed centuries ago under the yoke of colonialism or famine or division and endless wars. The people of Ireland did not collapse. This island’s greatest asset is the genius and incorruptibility of our people. That is where the hope lies.

The people of Ireland are a decent people. We are a fair people. We are generous.
We don’t have to put up with second class citizenship. Or a two tier society. We don’t have to tolerate a golden circle of privilege and advantage. We can change it.

If we believe. If we have hope. If we work together. If we draw upon our strengths. If we really want fairness and decency and equality. We can change our society. Peacefully and democratically. That is what Ireland wants today. Ireland needs citizens to step forward. To make a commitment.

To share and create a common purpose based upon our rights as citizens. And our pride and confidence in Ireland and in our people. That is what Ireland needs today.

And that is Sinn Féin’s commitment. Mary Lou put it well last night. The day of mé féin politics have failed. Now is the time for the politics of Sinn Féin. Bígí linn.
An Phoblacht Abú