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Democratic rights in Ireland and Palestine

A tale of three marches

John McAnulty

21August 2014 

The anti-internment march in Belfast on August 10th had many points of similarly with the march in support of Palestine on the preceding day in Dublin.

Both Marches were large.

Both fervently asserted the need for unity in defence of democratic rights.

The flag and colours of Palestine were prominently displayed on each march.

At the conclusion of each demonstration a Palestinian speaker addressed the crowd.

However a wide gulf separated the marches and the movements they represented.  The understanding of the Palestinian demonstrators was largely humanitarian and liberal. That of the anti-internment demonstrators largely anti-imperialist.

The comparison favours the republican base of the anti-internment demonstrators. Many on the Palestine solidarity demonstrations see the Irish government as independent and call on it to "take action."  Parallels with Ireland's right of self-determination are ignored or, in the case of the Socialist party and trade union bureaucracy, explicitly denied. Without those parallels the only basis for solidarity is humanitarian concern.

The republicans see Ireland as a country dominated by imperialism. They see the Irish peace process as a capitulation to imperialism and are constantly struggling to draw attention to institutionalised sectarianism, state repression and the use of emergency powers to imprison their supporters. 

This, and their working class base, presents a much more sustainable platform for ongoing solidarity than the "official" movement, but the potential does not approach actuality because there is no political programme cantered on the working class and there is ongoing uncertainty about the militarist perspective of some republicans.

A march in Belfast on Saturday 16th August showed that some of the fragmentation of recent weeks has been overcome and many of the factions are co-operating. However this is informal networking without the essential political discussion necessary to build ongoing solidarity. No-one commented on the ongoing absence of the Irish Congress of Trade unions or of Sinn Fein from joint activity. The politics of the Palestinian speaker, calling for a single unified democratic state, sat uneasily beside the Socialist Party speaker's call to pray for the Israeli dead.

Irish politics is dominated by acceptance of the rule of European capital and support for a peace process that acts as a barrier to Irish unity.

With that background it is not unexpected that the solidarity movement be largely humanitarian and that the mass response is one of sympathy rather than action. 

The main beacon of hope is that, in the political graveyard following the Good Friday agreement and the rule of the Troika, politics and a new layer of youth have begun to mobilise.  When people are on the move politics stops being a series of frozen barriers between groups and becomes a series of problems to be solved through debate and joint action. 

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