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Remembering August 1969: Revisiting the Left Archive August 14, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Given the focus on the events of August 1969 it seems appropriate to link back to this post in the Archive.

So, here from August 1969 is a leaflet by Eamonn McCann. It stands at a point just before the Battle of the Bogside, and as was noted to me by the person who donated a copy:

..it was notable for its lack of enhusiasm about this prospect, and not at all like the celebratory accounts that you will hear in retrospect. It bears comparison with an interview from New Left Review from 1969 where McCann is again much more worried about where things are going than Mike Farrell and the others.

This person suggested that:

It reflects the divisions within the broad civil rights camp as well and the fact that… Despite attempts to paint it as essentially non-sectarian, the CR movement was essentially a mass Catholic movement once it picked up pace after August 1968 and probably could never have been anything else, because as McCann notes it was based on the unity of ALL Catholics against the state.

That’s certainly an analysis which chimes with the facts on the ground, rather than the aspirations of those who have tended to write up the subsequent histories.

What is also striking is how rapidly, from McCann’s account, ‘politics’ by which we mean our sort of politics was sidelined by the dynamic on the ground. In a passage which will be familiar in its outline of that dynamic to all who have tried to inject leftwing thinking into various contexts he [McCann] notes that:

Any attempts to put forward our own position within the movement is howled down: we are told that we are ‘introducing politics’ etc. In Derry we have finished up participating in the ‘Defence Association’ locking ourselves inside the Catholic area. Probably it is necessary. One must make some attempt to avoid a Catholic versus Protestant fight.

There’s a certain rough honesty about his use of the word ‘probably’.
He continues:

… A member of the Citizens Action Committee, delivered an impassioned speech in the course of which he said: “I don’t believe they will attack us, because they know that for three-hundred and sixty four days of the year we outnumber them’. That, to my mind, was one of the most nauseating things I have ever hard said on a public platform. But everybody cheered. Everybody seemed to think it was quite a reasonable thing to say.

It’s a protean force, nationalism – of whatever hue.

We are likely to hear more of this sort of thing. We will hear more of it because in the coming months socialists should ceaselessly and systematically criticize the conduct of the Civil rights Campaign and make it clear that recent events have in no way deflected us from pursuing our prime objective – that of uniting the Catholic and Protestant working class on a socialist programme. Everything else is secondary to this.

Rud eile, to quote Splintered Sunrise, this somewhat puts Eoghan Harris’s rose tinted view of 1968-1969 (expressed once more in Hot Press recently) and the centrality of the CR campaign into perspective. Because the CR campaign itself represented in microcosm the splits and fissures within Nationalism in Northern Ireland that would subsequently rupture entirely.

The dichotomy between what McCann and others sought to achieve, and what was actually achievable, not to mention what forms all these energies would be channeled into, is crucial to an understanding of the period.

Here’s the original discussion on the CLR from 2008.

Comments»

1. CL - August 14, 2019

“It’s a protean force, nationalism – of whatever hue”-Wbs.

“A focus on nationalism rather than internationalism will “sooner or later” take Ireland towards fascism, the veteran activist Bernadette McAliskey has warned.
https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/focus-on-nationalism-will-sooner-or-later-move-ireland-towards-fascism-1.3984320

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2. CL - August 14, 2019

““The basic problems are still with us-poverty, division…there’s a housing crisis again. It’s a different type of housing crisis, but it’s still a crisis. There was very poor housing back then. It’s a bit better now but there’s still not enough of them. Unemployment, particularly among young people is still there….
“But, still a lot of the priorities of the left 50 years ago were achieved within a period of five years in terms of electoral boundary reform, fair allocation of housing and advances in fair employment. More was achieved by the civil rights movement than armed struggle. It makes me think ‘what the f—k was that about?’ when I think about what followed.”-McCann
https://www.derrynow.com/news/battle-bogside-can-see-one-thing-led-another-didnt-seem-battle-bogside-inevitable-eamonn-mccann/279947

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3. roddy - August 14, 2019

Revisionist bullshit from both McCann and Bernie.Both their positions especially on the armed struggle were greatly at variance from what they are saying here.

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WorldbyStorm - August 14, 2019

I like and admire BMcA a lot and MvCann has been an interesting voice but got to agree even if I’d put it a bit milder. During the conflict they took a very different line and even if one says ‘ well they expected a different outcome to the one that occurred’ I think the limits of the possible were fairly clear by the period after the hunger strikes and I’m not sure they modified their views around then.

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4. yourcousin - August 14, 2019

“Who in their right mind would join the existing Free State? Nobody. Well, not me anyway”

BMcA’s use of “Free State” is telling I think.

I mean contrast the imagery that the use of the “Free State” (maidens at the cross roads springs to mind) to the sitting Taoiseach attending Belfast pride parade less than a month ago.

Typically, that terminology is something associated with *cough* “Independent” *cough* Republicans. And belies the fact that the vast, vast majority of Irish citizens recognize the validity and legitimacy of the Republic of Ireland.

Liked by 1 person

roastedsnow1 - August 14, 2019

Strangely I found myself in Donegal recently discussing with others how the Free State has changed. The reference just came out naturally. I am no republican! But of a certain age!

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