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George Floyd demonstrations in Ireland

A turn in the tide towards revolt?

9 June 2020

Custom House Square, Belfast (06/06/20) PACEMAKER

The Black Lives Matter demonstrations across Ireland have shown a massive upwelling of support for the protestors in the US. They show the immense power of spontaneous human solidarity. This is not "allyship" based on modern identity ideologies, but a concrete solidarity that sees racism and oppression in the Irish State and the British colonial enclave and is not afraid to say so. Initial demonstrations took place spontaneously across the island, with the main demonstrations in Dublin and Belfast. They were followed by more structured demonstrations on Saturday 6th June in Dublin, Galway, Belfast, Derry and many other centres. Although all were pressured by the police, with a number being cancelled and a Newry demonstration dispersed, turnout was in the thousands at the main demonstrations with black protestors joined by large numbers of white, mostly young, activists.

That spontaneity has already achieved much. By linking with other protests in the US and across the globe, they have forced back a racist administration that is protecting the killers and further exposed the corrupt Trump regime.

Solidarity is not simply an emotion. It is based upon a concrete reality of oppression under capitalism. Some speakers referenced a common history where Ireland's civil rights movement had drawn upon the experience of the US movement against segregation. Racism and sectarianism are bedrocks of capitalist rule that bear down on us all.

If any are in doubt about this all they have to do is reference the response of the Garda and the Northern police. That response was overwhelmingly hostile, using the covid pandemic as grounds for denying political rights rather than to try to ensure that precautions against infection were followed.

The Garda have form here, having already threatened and dispersed Debenhams workers. The retail chain had sacked its entire workforce by email and redundancy payments were to be set at the State minimum, but attempts to demonstrate, even with social distancing, were initially suppressed.

Immediate #blacklivesmatter demonstrations caught police by surprise, but this did not prevent threats that charges would be brought. The more organised demonstrations at the weekend met with threats and intimidation that led to smaller venues being canceled. The PSNI in Belfast did their best to recreate the atmosphere of the ‘68 civil rights confrontations. The demonstration was surrounded by a wall of armoured police vehicles and officers in paramilitary dress, with some in full body armour. Demonstrators were halted, interrogated, threatened, fined and a number were turned away. The organisers were informed that they were likely to be prosecuted and the meeting disrupted with loudspeaker warning that participants were breaking Covid 19 regulations - this despite the organisers marking out 2.5 metre distancing across the square. It was evident that the police action was political. In the centre of Belfast crowds were routinely breaking distance guidelines without police intervention and the police themselves were completely indifferent to social distancing. Their barricade of the demonstration caused congestion that the march regulators had sought to prevent.

The movement in the US is advancing beyond protest to develop a political programme, demanding the disbandment of the racist and militarised police force. Ireland’s political assemblies should be called upon to publicly break with and denounce the barbarism in the US. To apply the maximum pressure, political parties, unions and cultural groups should be asked for formal support. We have to link up with the US movement and global support.

And to win over the working class we have to point to parallel realities in Ireland. Racism and sectarianism run alongside mass unemployment. As the administrations North and South become more corrupt so the parties blend into each other and political opposition disappears.

At the moment there is a strange tension between demonstrators and organisers. The demonstrators offer spontaneous rejection of racism, spontaneous solidarity and unity and a mass outpouring of discontent, not to a far away repression, but to a horrific reality imposed by a decaying capitalism on young workers everywhere. They lack structure, a political programme and a strategy and they are extremely naive about the repressive system they are facing.

Traditionally the Left and pressure groups have provided structure and policy, and this is the case today in that United Against Racism, organisers of Saturday’s Belfast demonstration, is a front for People Before Profit. However the organising role stopped with physical organisation, which was itself anonymous. Proposals? Strategy? Analysis? All were absent! Of course it would be completely insensitive for a political group, largely white, to impose its views, but providing analysis and structure around which debate can take place is necessary if we are to move beyond spontaneity towards a structured political movement. The immediate danger is that a powerful political moment will dissipate as quickly as it formed.

Why the Left are so shy about policy is a matter of speculation. It may be the conversion to identity politics and the idea that the role of “allyship” is to keep quiet for fear of being patronising. It may be uncertainty about how to manage protest within pandemic restrictions. It may be the growing extent to which the major Left groups define themselves in terms of parliamentary and electoral activity.

The next phase of the battle will be defined in the US and dampened or amplified globally by the extent to which national authorities in other countries decide to respond with repression. We are at the end of a long period of defeat. Many on the American Left have retreated into electoral politics to the extent that they are now bracing themselves to vote for Joe Biden, a man with a long history of oppression of Black people and of support for wars of conquest abroad.

#blacklivesmatter is an insurrectionary movement. It has done more to damage Trump and push back against a militarised and racist police force in a few weeks than activity in the Democratic Party would do in a century.

Let's hope that the major Left groups can make the turn to insurrection. If they cannot, new groups will arise but the tide is on the move towards insurrection and towards revolution.

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