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A failed political project… May 12, 2021

Posted by guestposter in Uncategorized.
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There’s been considerable discussion here and elsewhere about the fall of one prominent media/political figure this last weekend. But… perhaps, though, it is useful to pull back a little and consider the political project of which this was a part.

Because it is too much to credit to individuals all the woes of the world. But I can’t help but wonder about how a certain brand of politics and more pertinently, rhetoric, inflected, say the Workers’ Party. The WP, it is fair to say, was always going following the feuds of the 1970s to respond and react and reformulate its politics in certain ways. But the extremity of that, let alone the where matters ended up, was not, necessarily, inevitable – indeed looking at DL one could make the argument that they learned well, too well, from the lessons given and went further than their mentor. But that being the case then a political and rhetorical practice perhaps played quite some part in shaping that journey and the destination. The odd thing is how relatively low profile this was in the 1980s, at least at first, and in terms of more broadly it was only in the early to mid 1990s when public media personae took real shape. So what of the political project?

Given that political project was clearly never centred on the left or any particular political terrain except for certain periods of time that makes parsing out the meaning of it more difficult. But it is worth the effort I think because even if this was not exclusively of the left or right or centre, there was most certainly a political project there with definite goals.

And that rhetoric and political practice seems to have jumped the tracks into other organisations too.

Read accounts of the 1980s and it is clear that RTÉ was a cauldron of barely suppressed rage and animosities. Before we get too teary-eyed this was not restricted to any one side, as it were, but I think given the track record in later years it is fair to say that the sheer vituperativeness was more rather than less characteristic of some.

Yet there’s another aspect to this which bears consideration and that is that in its own terms all this rhetoric – and the project it supported – has been an absolutely abject failure. The utter bile directed against Sinn Féin throughout the last half century has functioned in almost no way to circumscribe their support. At no point can one look at specific or even general events and say ‘yes, here there was an impact in halting the rise of SF’. And it’s not even as if the very clear changes within SF in relation to their orientation to armed struggle or political activity made any difference to the manner in which they were treated.

The hostility, which tilted into complete obsession, that was characteristic of the attacks made seemingly no distinction between a Sinn Féin that was supportive of armed struggle or one that eschewed it and moved to a purely constitutional position. There was no encouragement of such moves – despite the provenance of many of those who were part of the project and their own political history, merely at best a sullen suspicion and more usually an outright disbelief which time and again was proven to be incorrect. That too was a part of the track record of failure – the statements of absolute certainty that PIRA was never going to ceasefire, was never going to abandon armed struggle, that SF was never going to accept policing, never going to enter power sharing, never going to maintain the institutions of the GFA/BA. At every single point SF did that and more. To no avail – few seemed willing to say the emperors had no clothes, and demonstrably was naked on every public outing, of which there were far far too many. Certainly the ahistoricity of the project, the indifference to the reasons for the eruption of violence in the North or how that was sustained – or as importantly how it came to an end, is striking – but was little if ever critiqued by the media or many in politics.

But there was another aspect of this. If the project never worked as intended, it is arguable that it had a chilling effect upon the early development of SF’s move away from armed struggle or perhaps more accurately the response to same, transforming what should have sensible and measured caution on the part of the broader polity to pools of outright hostility to or disbelief at the idea of PIRA cease-firing, etc. The mid-1990s saw a situation develop where it is just about possible the process could have fallen asunder completely. So there were impacts in terms of how matters developed.

And for those on the left who are sympathetic to but also willing to critique and be critical of Sinn Féin there was a sense of how that project hugely missed the point – that in fact this sort of broad based attack missed as much as it hit and functioned politically almost as a diversionary tactic.

Some might call that a bad faith approach on many sides, but particularly on the part of those championing the project. But I think it speaks of something else too. And that links in with the issue of failure. Because reading the most recent manifestation of the project’s social media arm briefly before it was consigned to history what was clear was that the account took an explicitly neo-unionist line, albeit a unionism that was limited to Northern Ireland (though on a couple of tweets even that seemed a bit blurry). Which leads to the thought that really, as someone put it to me this weekend, this was about antagonism to Northern nationalists and the expression of nationalism (telling how the SDLP continually got it in the neck rhetorically on the twitter accounts).

Yet, notably, this wasn’t quite what was expressed in more mainstream media vehicles used by those supporting the project. And therein lies another aspect of the problem. For all the talk about being barred from platforms in reality the actual beliefs were shaded, kept back presumably due to a realisation that overt neo-Ulster Unionism is not actually terribly popular in this state, and becoming less so on this island. That too could be called a form of bad faith. Many of us will have considerable respect for those who believe and support the Union – that is an entirely legitimate position, even if it is not one that some of us will hold. But there’s a real problem with people who conceal that belief, or any belief, for the sake of what appears to be expedience (and here it’s worth noting that an anonymous consistent coherent identity is not the same as a fake identity online. But if one has a public national platform the need for the former is very much open to question and there’s clearly no need for the latter).

And consider this, given the sheer isolation of the dominant forces in unionism at this point that too suggests a remarkable track record of failure. To identify with and attach a project so strongly to political forces that are conservative shading to reactionary (and just to be clear that is not true of all unionism or loyalism, some of which have progressive strands which the focus on the large battalions has in no small part tended to crowd out and marginalise) is quite some feat.

How does one take in a political class in a state, and perhaps on an island, when those taking them in have demonstrated a clear inability to succeed at stated goals? Time and again the record is one of failure. Failure of the WP, failure of the efforts to staunch the rise of SF, failure to make any difference to the downward trajectory of the UUP, failure to influence public opinion. But perhaps that’s beside the point – perhaps the point was never the outcomes but the perpetual outraged activity – after all, what sort of a world is it if the ‘problems’ were fixed and there was no reason to call on the wisdom of the ages, when constant chaos, continual alarmism, a world where extremism is always a vote away or a thought away or whatever SF is doing at the moment – to offer to those who will listen uncritically, to ensure that the overly credulous will echo the pronouncements made from on high. And perhaps that too tells us something, that if the means to keep the project in the public eye was to focus on SF and that in part became in essence the nature of the project – to keep in the public eye, well then in that respect it didn’t fail at all, at least in that limited context. But then this stops being a political project entirely and becomes something else again.

Which points to the crankish aspect to all this, a sort of performative fulminating which were the issues around it not so serious would likely be taken much less seriously in any other given context. That it wound up as the crankishness of an ageing cohort who seemed unable and unwilling to move beyond the nostrums of their earlier years, let alone to accept that the world might have changed and moved on around them is in its own way rather tragic. But it is difficult to have much sympathy when what the end result is is essentially trolling a state, and an island and the respective polities, and indeed the people inside those polities, writ large. And having had some small glancing direct personal experience of this trolling and how the media that in part enabled this was entirely indifferent to fact or accuracy or any means of redress – well then sympathy becomes an abstraction.

Comments»

1. Phil - May 12, 2021

Some years ago I was involved in a couple of “left umbrella group” initiatives here in the UK. The USP of my particular group was that we straddled (or ignored) all the dividing lines: we didn’t work exclusively within the Labour Party or exclusively outside it, we weren’t Trots but we weren’t opposed to Trots, and so on. Some of us thought we should take a similar stance wrt Republicanism, and the WP seemed like they were our boys – more so than those guys who were going around planting bombs, anyway.

Them, and anyone else who would blur the lines for us. There was a weird episode when we were revising our policy document; the publisher Neil Belton, who nobody knew except by repute, discovered he’d been a member all along and submitted a position paper about national/historical communities and the need for them to coexist and for their identity and aspirations to be taken into account and so forth. A couple of paragraphs along those lines made it into the revised document, to the great displeasure of at least half of the steering committee; I don’t think we ever saw Belton again.

In retrospect it’s the waste of effort that sticks in the mind. Yes, sure, there were lots of reasons not to support the IRA, and indeed to be highly critical of both it and its political wing; yes, sure, SF/IRA didn’t represent the whole of The Republican Tradition, and that Tradition itself didn’t have exclusive rights to the loyalty of the Left. All very good arguments, and making them and sticking to them feels like you’re doing the Duty of the Intellectual. But the question remains – particularly for people like us, who would only be offering, or withholding, solidarity from hundreds of miles away in any case – where does it get you? Where does it get anyone? The particular fall from grace that sparked off this post is only an extreme example of the crankish – or downright reactionary – places where this logic can lead. I’m also reminded of the Euston Manifesto, which again many independent-minded leftists supported for good, principled, duty-of-the-intellectual reasons. And where did it get them?

I was going to close by telling my Labour Committee for Peace and Progress in Ireland story, but googling tells me that I’ve told it on this site twice already(!). You can find it in this (informative) comment thread.

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WorldbyStorm - May 12, 2021

Spot on re the waste of time. And there was a weird distortion too of a lot of political activity or attitudes to same. For example, anti-heroin activism was missed by the party after a not awful start because the Provos got involved in the North inner city in Dublin. So a perfect example of the working class actually under pressure where something could have been done (John O’Neill of the ISN had some great ideas) was abandoned.

And couldn’t agree more re your point about Euston. Grandstanding is my feeling about all that, the appearance of activity but the absence of actual activism.

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Bagatelle's Uncapped Threadle - May 12, 2021

“Do practical good alongside all the rigorous intellectual wankery you can’t avoid” was the most sage and valuable advice I got as a pimply faced gobshite in first year college.

Ironically it was a drunk fella that was trying to give himself the advice. But he refused to listen.

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WorldbyStorm - May 12, 2021

Still good advice.

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2. Colm B - May 12, 2021

Please please please, someone write a history of the Harris grouping! Now that it’s teeth have been drawn it would be easier (and safer!). Given the WP/AC’s republican turn, who knows, they might even be willing to allow a peek at the archives!

It would be an important work because of their influence in Irish politics over the years but also, in do many ways, as a cautionary tale about for the left.

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3. EWI - May 12, 2021

The utter bile directed against Sinn Féin throughout the last half century has functioned in almost no way to circumscribe their support.

Two points:

(i) you’re assuming that the anti-PSF rhetoric is aimed at a mass audience rather than a very specific one, i.e. the classes who find themselves in positions of power in the southern state. Also that southern engagement with bringing an end to the northern war was successfully delayed until the early Nineties.

(ii) different parts of the British state may have discernibly different strategies and even aims in Ireland (including different intelligence agencies).

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WorldbyStorm - May 12, 2021

Those are interesting points and there’s no doubt an element of truth in them, but do they somewhat collapse the timeline – (i) the project during the 1980s – as it functioned in the WP did not have anything like political traction, they were politically pariahs, and even in RTÉ for all the Industrial Departments machinations there were those who opposed them, and quite effectively so (as well as which in some ways all this was preaching to the converted if it was aimed at those in power – Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil weren’t likely to be overly dealing with an SF which my reading of various accounts wasn’t bar a few outliers anywhere near ready to move to a peace process prior to the very late 1980s – Danny Morrisons diary of that period, late 1980s suggests it was only around then while he was in prison and the Soviets went into retreat that he himself began to seriously question the direction of the armed campaign).

I’m more than willing to see British agency in part, but I don’t see how that translates into anything much more than the Provisionals were capable of generating themselves in terms of pretty appalling publicly. Unforced events such as Enniskillen or the Shankill Bombing or proxy bombs meant that it surely didn’t take any great effort on British intelligence to see a disconnection between the broad majority of people in the South and SF so the impact on the peace process at that stage would have been minimal even were such a process public, which it wasn’t.

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EWI - May 13, 2021

Those are interesting points and there’s no doubt an element of truth in them, but do they somewhat collapse the timeline – (i) the project during the 1980s – as it functioned in the WP did not have anything like political traction, they were politically pariahs, and even in RTÉ for all the Industrial Departments machinations there were those who opposed them, and quite effectively so (as well as which in some ways all this was preaching to the converted if it was aimed at those in power – Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil weren’t likely to be overly dealing with an SF which my reading of various accounts wasn’t bar a few outliers anywhere near ready to move to a peace process prior to the very late 1980s – Danny Morrisons diary of that period, late 1980s suggests it was only around then while he was in prison and the Soviets went into retreat that he himself began to seriously question the direction of the armed campaign).

I think the benchmark of success versus failure here is in comparisons with other similar campaigns to affect the political stances of a population – not just anti-communist campaigns (to which I’ll return) – but stuff like climate change denialism, where the strategy was to attack the leading proponents on the other side, create a chilling effect for individuals and organisations, and the creation of ‘doubt’ and confusion.

I’m more than willing to see British agency in part, but I don’t see how that translates into anything much more than the Provisionals were capable of generating themselves in terms of pretty appalling publicly. Unforced events such as Enniskillen or the Shankill Bombing or proxy bombs meant that it surely didn’t take any great effort on British intelligence to see a disconnection between the broad majority of people in the South and SF so the impact on the peace process at that stage would have been minimal even were such a process public, which it wasn’t.

We’re never going to really know to what extent strings were being pulled with either OSF or PSF, certain careers protected or ruined, some projects ‘encouraged’ by money being routed to them (even the late 1800s business with British agents provocateur inside the Fenians, directing a disastrous bombing campaign, is still only guessed at).

But we do now know a good deal about the extraordinarily convoluted schemes aimed at undermining any traction for anti-capitalism during the Cold War, and can therefore make informed guesses as to what the same people were and likely continue to be up to in Ireland.

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WorldbyStorm - May 13, 2021

Absolutely, but that said I’m always hesitant to ignore the lived experience of those inside organisations. It’s like the Officials. What changed between people in 1968 who were wedded to armed struggle to achieve unity and 1982 who had foresworn that and were moving towards functionally unionist positions (in some respects). It wasn’t just leaderships, it was something in the experience of those within the Officials/SFWP. And of course not everyone went that route, some left earlier, some left later, but enough people stayed on board. Actually I’d argue that partition was a huge functional element. Those in the South were that bid distant from the conflict. Those in the North either left or stuck with project for dear life. But I’m not sure it took much to set the Officials in a certain direction, the logic of their own path forward began to cut them off, just as with the Provisionals there were also constraints that channeled them in certain ways. Perhaps there was artifice as well in the mix, but if so it didn’t work very well with the Provisionals – it was a long period of trying different approaches to armed struggle before it was clear they were cul-de-sacs.

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4. An Sionnach Fionn - May 12, 2021

On the blurry opinions and declarations of the neo-unionist clique in the press and academia, I never bought into the analysis that most of them simply represented some ersatz form of Free State or Southern Irish nationalism or partitionism.

In most cases I used neo-unionist in the explicit sense of the term, meaning it to describe individuals who were comfortable with the suggestion that Southern Ireland/Republic of Ireland should lie to greater or lesser degrees within a UK sphere of influence, politically and culturally.

It was quite clear that some revisionists were seeking a revision back to a pre-1921 arrangement rather than a more academic reinterpretation of Irish history, seeing a culture war campaign as the opening front in such a struggle.

I’m convinced that some well-known Irish media figures of a certain generation believe that Ireland should be an associate member or ally of the UK and that the final constitutional break of the 1930s and ’40s was a mistake. Or another mistake on top of the failure to implement home rule for the country within the UK in the first place.

The Harris types are Irish unionists not Northern Irish unionists. Or perhaps British Isles’ unionists would be a better term. Not that different in their instincts from the Scottish showbiz archaeologist Neil Oliver who sees the islands of Ireland and Britain as one historical, socio-political unit.

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WorldbyStorm - May 12, 2021

And that would elide with some on the left too who would look to London (and not dissimilar too to some in Scotland). It really is a stunning place for them to find themselves, the folk you’re talking about, essentially seeking a relationship with the UK that would of necessity see the Republic/Ireland in a secondary role politically etc.

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EWI - May 13, 2021

On the blurry opinions and declarations of the neo-unionist clique in the press and academia, I never bought into the analysis that most of them simply represented some ersatz form of Free State or Southern Irish nationalism or partitionism.

I can, as something of neccesity constructed by the civil war winners in the new Free State to ideologically weld together disparate ‘moderate’ Sinn Féiners, the former UIL/IPP and the unionist/imperial remnant.

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5. pangurbán - May 12, 2021

WBS i take it you mean the socialist party?

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WorldbyStorm - May 12, 2021

Not necessarily just them in an Irish context, one would wonder about some elements in the WP (though the sundering of that party into two has an aspect of that). There’s also perhaps a broader sentiment on the Marxist and occasionally orthodox left about Britain (in relation to Scotland) and how that functions with certain views of a united working class functionally feeding into an antipathy to independence. In fairness the CPB formally has an interesting balancing act in relation to independence and self-determination for Scotland. I don’t know how far that goes.

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Colm B - May 12, 2021

The stalinists of the CPB are completely opposed to Scottish independence. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter as their influence is long waned – even if their once strong base in the trade union bureaucracy has faded.

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WorldbyStorm - May 13, 2021

I suspected that might be the case – their public statements hedge but are clearly not delighted by the idea.

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6. CL - May 13, 2021

” The Irish Industrial Revolution ….. the foremost creation of the Industrial Section.
This document very much complemented the party’s ideological stance on the national question – effectively exonerated British imperialism from any culpability for the backwardness of the Irish economy. ”
https://magill.ie/archive/secret-world-sfwp-part-2

The exoneration of British imperialism from any responsibility for Ireland’s political and economic ills, North and South, is the basic thrust of Harris’s efforts over the years. And a theme too of Irish historiographical revisionism.
A possible influence here is Bill Warren and BICO’s claim that imperialism is progressive. Modern day exponents of this view include Niall Ferguson and Paul Johnson.
Harris served different politicians from different parties over the years but his basic support for imperialism continued.
Invoking Marx in support of this position is only possible by ignoring the extensive writings of Marx, and Engels, on Ireland.

Such a political stance is incompatible with the lived experience of many generations of Irish people. So the failure of the project is no mystery.

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WorldbyStorm - May 13, 2021

That’s a very persuasive reading CL, and agreed his ‘Marxism’ was in a way an invocation and no more. It was particularly frustrating in more recent times to see the scattered mention of the ‘dialectic’ 😦

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EWI - May 13, 2021

Harris served different politicians from different parties over the years but his basic support for imperialism continued.

Not just ‘basic’. He was an advisor to the Anglo-American stooge Ahmed Chalabi at the time of the invasion of Iraq, when they needed a Michael Collins-style proxy to hold that country for them. How that introduction was made and the relationship funded would be of great interest.

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WorldbyStorm - May 13, 2021

Funny isn’t it how his Neo-con phase is rarely mentioned.

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EWI - May 13, 2021

Funny isn’t it how his Neo-con phase is rarely mentioned.

Useful individuals tend to seek further employment, and sometimes try to adapt themselves to new ‘wars’ (thinking about all those RIC etc. who went to other parts of the empire after the WOI).

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WorldbyStorm - May 13, 2021

+1

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CL - May 13, 2021

” Harris met Ahmad Chalabi in Washington in March 2001. He said that Chalabi “reminded me of the Fenian John Devoy, plotting the removal what he saw as a repressive regime in his native land.”[1]In another account of this meeting he wrote:

I first met Chalabi in Washington in March 2001, in the company of Richard Perle, a few months after George W Bush had been elected, and met later in London where I gave him some media training. We bonded from the start, and the basis of the bond was his instinctive feel for Ireland.
Chalabi is a constitutional revolutionary in the mould of Michael Collins (he was most interested in my account of Collins’s activities), but his link to Ireland is even more practical. Back in 1998, Chalabi selected Drogheda as a “safe house” for a critical series of meetings with leaders of the Iraqi opposition in exile.[2 ”
https://powerbase.info/index.php/Eoghan_Harris

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WorldbyStorm - May 13, 2021

He’s kind of shameless.

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7. terrymdunne - May 13, 2021

The main roles of Harris, Cruise O’Brien et. al. was/is (a) to make the Provos look half-sensible & (b) to provide republicanism with a conspiracy theory scapegoat for why it all didn’t/doesn’t work – for why it wasn’t actually leading a national movement (if only if it wasn’t for Section 31, the revisionists etc…). ‘Boiling Volcano’ is a good access point into what was actually being said at the height of the Troubles, what was influencing people etc… – we tend to see it now through the prism of the early 1990s – in the 1970s the Sunday Independent was serialising Michael Farrell’s ‘The Orange State’.

Irish separatism’s 1921 victory had a profoundly conservative impact on these islands – a separate state for the 26 counties and Home Rule for the 6 counties removed from the British body politic a place that had a consistently subversive influence on it throughout the nineteenth-century. Also for most people in this country it wasn’t actually a good thing – I wouldn’t knock anyone for thinking it could have been a good thing in 1916 but we are in 2021.

Marx argued imperialism was progressive BTW (see railways in India, breaking down Chinese walls and so on). He was wrong – in fairness he was writing a long time ago – lets not play apostolic succession.

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WorldbyStorm - May 13, 2021

There’s an old joke, isn’t there that various figures have been say Soviet agents, or Provisional agents, working their way through the body politic wrecking parties and so on. Actually with Harris, CCOB etc you could almost make that case, so much debris littered across the landscape, and incredibly (in the sense that if we went back to 1983 and saw the developments from there to now) Sinn Féin very possibly the next governing party in the state.

It’s interesting, I think there’s a lot of truth in your point that there was a consistently subversive influence, that said how strong and sustained was it and how able to push back against the status quo – the counterfactual to Ireland as it became was presumably two home rule administrations on the island, both deeply conservative too and unlikely to have gone much further than the actual state and sub-state that existed in reality. And both would be – by dint of home rule itself – semi-detached from the British polity to a greater rather than lesser extent (the history of NI from its establishment to the proroguement of Stormont suggests that London was absolutely horrified at the idea of looking closely at what went on there – I’ve been rereading material from 1969 and even then with blood on the streets London was still hoping against hope that it wouldn’t have to bring in troops – let alone, unthinkable, shut down the local government). And Scotland and Wales in this present last two decades the move to some forms of self-determination have come into stark relief (almost like unfinished business from the period of national self-expression, though I think that’s too pat and deterministic an interpretation) and before that the manner in which Britain as a state has rather ignored both places and been unable to frame or contain national identities sufficiently that the political expressions of same have not gained significant power and I wonder if matters did work out in the worst possible way.

Isn’t it like everything, there’s good and bad, overwhelmingly bad with imperialism.

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terrymdunne - May 13, 2021

Yeah you are right a Home Rule parliament in Ireland or two Home Rule parliaments in Ireland might have had the same effect of separating Ireland out from Britain with an ultimately conservative outcome – as certainly the Northern Ireland/Stormont parliament did. The influence exerted by Irish movements within the U.K. in the 1800s to 1920s is just consistently underestimated.

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WorldbyStorm - May 13, 2021

Absolutely agree with you re the influence of Irish movements in the UK. It’s definitely underestimated. And in a way destabilised the situation – though I don’t know if the sheer reality of a geographically non-contiguous pair of islands was always a big ask for Britain to rule successfully into a period of democratisation and so on so that that rule would have faced something at some point sooner or later (then again there’s Japan – the distance between Hokkaido and Honshu is 43 km, that between Ireland and Wales is about 76km – which is veering wildly away from the topic but interesting nonetheless).

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CL - May 13, 2021

Taking into account Marx and Engels writings on Ireland it is difficult to believe they thought imperialism to be ‘ progressive’.

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Colm B - May 13, 2021

Actually that best assertion about Marx has been strongly contested in recent years, see Kevin Anderson’s book, Marx at the margins for a convincing argument that Marx’s views on imperialism developed significantly over the years.

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Colm B - May 13, 2021

That should just read “that assertion”.

Even in his earlier writings Marx has s not clear cut about imperialism being progressive.

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terrymdunne - May 13, 2021

“England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.”

In Marx’s writings on India & China there is clearly the position that imperialism would develop Asia (and in doing so create the material basis for the overthrow of capitalism and imperialism). For sure later writings on Ireland, the Iroquois & the Russian commune are more nuanced than the linear stages of development beloved of Moscow-line CPs – though I’m pretty sure Marx & Engels always located the focus of a future socialist revolution in the most advanced industrialized societies (Ireland was of interest because of the potential influence a situation there could exert on Britain). My point is just that anyone can play the game of apostolic succession. IMO Marx wrote the above in 1853 – the standard of scholarship of Indian history & society was very low & we are 150 years later – we know things didn’t pan out that way – but it is what actually was being written 150 years ago. I might add a lot of this stuff was ephemeral journalism and agitational literature – the main works have very little engagement with the impact of colonialism on the colonised.

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terrymdunne - May 13, 2021

Even more explicit here (‘Future Results of British Rule in India’):

“All the English bourgeoisie may be forced to do will neither emancipate nor materially mend the social condition of the mass of the people, depending not only on the development of the productive powers, but on their appropriation by the people. But what they will not fail to do is to lay down the material premises for both. Has the bourgeoisie ever done more? Has it ever effected a progress without dragging individuals and people through blood and dirt, through misery and degradation?”

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CL - May 13, 2021

” The Indians will not reap the fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the British bourgeoisie, till in Great Britain itself the new ruling classes shall have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat. or till the Hindoos themselves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether. ” Marx, NY Daily Tribune, 1853

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CL - May 13, 2021

Or maybe like Eoghan Harris their strategy was dialectical?

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CL - May 16, 2021

Marx estimated that annual British plunder from India amounted to more than the income of 60 million Indian workers. This predation was hardly conducive to the development of Indian economy and society. So Marx’s extensive historical and empirical studies of both Ireland and India show how British imperialism retarded human progress.

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CL - May 17, 2021

The comments by Marx, quoted from the Monthly Review, are from a recent book by John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, ‘The Robbery of Nature’.
” Foster (Univ. of Oregon) and Clark (Univ. of Utah) have long argued against the charge of some ecologists that Karl Marx did not take environmental limits seriously, believing that production was the key to human happiness. On the contrary, they assert credibly that Marx held capitalism, with its need for unending growth, as destructive of both the bodies of the working class and the resources of nature. ”
J.C.Berg, Suffolk University.

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Colm B - May 13, 2021

Its possible to trade Marx quotes back and forth ( he was supportive of the Indian rebels during the Mutiny and of the Taiping rebels in China) but two things that matter are: what was his overall approach and did it change. I think the answer is that he did start out with an ambiguous view – seeing imperialism for what it was: bloody, cynical, land grabbing but also opening the way for the spread of capitalism which would then lead to progressive change. While the ambiguity remained his approach to colonialism and imperialism changes to one thats less certain of its progressive role but retains its critique of its brutality and supportive of resistance.

So-called progressive pro-imperialists such as Warren, Walker, Hobson etc were definitely much more out of tune with Marx’s analysis than anti-imperialists such as Lenin, Connolly, Mariategui etc.

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terrymdunne - May 14, 2021

I don’t see the ambiguity. Either “the new elements of society” were “scattered” in India “by the British bourgeoisie” or they weren’t. Marx thought the former. By the 1960s the latter was a left-wing commonplace – i.e. that imperialism was in fact in some way distorting the development of colonised societies – a position which took many forms e.g. if there was a specific type of peripheral/dependent capitalism, if colonial/post-colonial societies were in fact feudal or semi-feudal and so on. To my knowledge Marx only argues anything like that with regard to Ireland – and never revised his views re: Asia. Even if he did – then clearly at least at one stage he held to the view that colonialism was a progressive force – which speaks to my point – rather than working through apostolic succession and holy scripture we are better seeing any theoretician in their historic context. Marx lived most of his life before the New Imperialism of the late 1800s – and that’s just it.

Likewise with Connolly whose actual influence – as opposed to his use as a totem – has been close to zero in the last 100 years – no one actually follows his writings on combining socialism & separatism – and syndicalism has not been a significant current.

In any case as we are in a period where capitalist development in a significant part of the Third World has came about through a combination of a post-national liberation state with foreign direct investment so perhaps a general revision and rethinking of all positions from 50 or 100 years ago on this question is necessary.

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EWI - May 14, 2021

While the ambiguity remained his approach to colonialism and imperialism changes to one thats less certain of its progressive role but retains its critique of its brutality and supportive of resistance.

The business with Marx’s research interest in pre-conquest Irish society would seem to suggest that he adopted an anti-imperial view on Ireland, at least before his death.

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CL - May 14, 2021

Marx referred to the economic exploitation of India by Britain as ‘a bleeding process’, – a process unlikely to produce economic and social progress.

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Colm B - May 14, 2021

This recent article counters that charge that Marx continued to see imperialism as a progressive force (the website is a bit slow to load)

https://internationalsocialism.net/is-marxism-eurocentric-part-i/

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CL - May 15, 2021

” Marx and Engels were strong critics of English colonialism in Ireland and supporters of Irish revolutionary movements throughout their adult lives. …
For centuries, the British Crown waged a campaign of conquest on Ireland, which involved murder and expropriation. …

Marx explained that the consequences of “the system of rack-renting” were extremely clear, as “the people had now before them the choice between the occupation of land, at any rent, or starvation. In this situation, he indicated, “middlemen accumulated fortunes that they would not invest in the improvement of land, and could not, under the system which prostrated manufactures, invest in machinery, etc. All their accumulations [and those of the owners] were sent therefore to England for investment.” ….
.The property relations, the rack-renting arrangement, and the conacre system created a “constant drain of rent,” which “was shown in the continual export of agricultural produce” of grains to Britain…..
The rack-renting system in which the laborers were “ground to the dust” was replaced by a “regime since 1846, [which] though less barbarian in form, [was] in effect [hardly less] destructive, leaving no alternative but Ireland’s voluntary emancipation by England or life-and-death struggle…
The solution that the English and the Anglo-Irish landlord class imposed on colonial Ireland in the period after 1846 was what Marx called a “fiendish war of extermination against the cott[i]ers…
The result of this “quiet business-like extinction,” as Marx called it, was the forced emigration, death, pauperization, and “physical deterioration” of the great mass of the Irish people…..
Marx’s analysis here coincided with what Jonathan Swift in Maxims Controlled in Ireland and Thomas Prior in A List of the Absentees of Ireland had both in 1729 called the “drain” of wealth from Ireland to England.”
https://monthlyreview.org/2020/04/01/the-rift-of-eire/

For Marx British imperialism in both Ireland and India was a system of plunder which prevented economic and social progress.

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terrymdunne - May 16, 2021

Marx’s engagement with the Russian populists & study of “primitive communism” is a move away from the linear stages model of development – so it is a move away from the idea that it is *necessary* that capitalism develop and/or fully mature in the colonial countries – it is not AFAIK a move away from the idea that colonialism was developing a “normal” (for want of a better term) capitalism in the colonised countries – it is this latter assertion – that in fact the colonised were being under-developed – which is at the heart of twentieth-century (left) views of imperialism. I have not seen Marx prefigure that perspective anywhere except in his writings on Ireland. He just wasn’t a theorist of imperialism (which is why journalism or agitational literature is what is cited as Marx on this topic).

In any case the fact that Marx actually rejected the linear stages model – that every society had to pass through to eventually become like Britain and then socialist – underscores my point as to how far Marx of the nineteenth century is from the Marxism of the twentieth century.

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EWI - May 13, 2021

The main roles of Harris, Cruise O’Brien et. al. was/is (a) to make the Provos look half-sensible

If these were the main effect, then these individuals wouldn’t have found employment at the Sindo etc. for however many decades.

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terrymdunne - May 13, 2021

Who knows maybe the editors/owners of the Sunday Independent were wrong?

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EWI - May 13, 2021

Taking into account Marx and Engels writings on Ireland it is difficult to believe they thought imperialism to be ‘ progressive’.

Very difficult to believe.

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Pangurbán - May 13, 2021

Ah BICO is back !!!😊😊

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WorldbyStorm - May 13, 2021

Did it ever leave?

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8. CL - May 14, 2021

” The purge continues….
It was an act of irreversible idiocy of The Sunday Independent …to have publicly sacked and humiliated their best and best-known columnist on grounds that would only be possible in this deranged era of journalistic self-excoriation and career-assassination…
Eoghan Harris is gone from mainstream columnar journalism. So too is Ruth Dudley-Edwards. So too am I. What we have in common is a fierce and unmitigated hostility to the entire agenda of the still-armed, IRA army council-controlled Sfira movement.”
https://kevinmyers.ie/2021/05/14/lynch-mob-journalism-triumphs-once-more/

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WorldbyStorm - May 14, 2021

What a load of nonsense. It completely ignores what he did in favour of what Myers argues he is.

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Gearóid Clár - May 16, 2021

I might be inclined to read Myers’ blog, if only for an occasional laugh, but that web layout is atrocious. To read it on a phone involves constant side scrolling. Laughably bad. Is it just terrible web design or is he making some kind of obtuse anti-technology point?

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WorldbyStorm - May 16, 2021

I’d think the former, but then again with Myers, who can be sure? 🙂

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9. pangurbán - May 14, 2021

ruth de has a column in the belfast newsletter

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10. CL - May 15, 2021

” A 78-year-old man with terminal cancer can still learn this life lesson: my cancer is not as malignant as the manipulations of Sinn Féin whose hand is heavy behind the current campaign to cancel me….

Sinn Féin has mobilised its social media army to gender a political issue and ruin my reputation by depicting me as a misogynist…

I strongly believe journalists should be allowed to use a pseudonym to fight Sinn Féin on social media….
Irish democracy is under siege from Sinn Féin, a party with a military wing – and most journalists are in denial about the danger….
Apart from this Irish Times letter, I have been offered no public redress. Sinn Féin trolls can say anything they like about me. And do. Like swimming through a sea of sewage.

But I will not meekly follow the standard script for the cancelled – abject apology and pleas for free speech. I make no apology for my Twitter account – and Sinn Féin doesn’t believe in free speech.
I will not go gently to my grave. I will fight Sinn Féin fascism with my last breath. – Yours, etc, — EOGHAN HARRIS,
https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/eoghan-harris-and-barbara-j-pym-1.4565404

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Colm B - May 15, 2021

Though this comes from a man who never showed a whit of compassion towards anyone who opposed him, on a human level, I have sympathy for him in relation to his illness – as someone who saw my own dad struggle through the horror of cancer in his last year, I would not wish it on anyone.

But what Harris is doing here is trying to divert attention, portray himself as victim and distract from his despicable actions. It won’t work: everyone can see through this – he and his minions targeted people with mysoginistic bile, labeling journalists as sectarian simply because they wrote the truth, instead of upholding his fantasy stories about the North and SF.

He and his far right allies can moan about cancel culture all they like, I’m afraid it isn’t “woke warriors” who are coming for them but rather a more powerful threat- good old bourgeois law!

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