Belfast’s John McAnulty of Socialist Democracy shedding a little Marxist light in on the political and economic crises in Ireland. Below is Joe Higgins, Socialist Member of European Parliament speaking in that place on why he walked out of a Parliamentary gathering of Irish representatives. I’ll be away, hopefully to return with photos from the back roads of southern Ohio. Safe travels comrades.
Ireland: A colony once again, this time under the heel of the European Bank and the IMF
Chapter one of a savage battle between workers and capital
John McAnulty, Socialist Democracy 18 November 2010
Some sense of the convulsion gripping Ireland today is given by the editorial in the leading bourgeois journal, the Irish Times – an editorial made even stranger by the paper’s past support of Irish historical revisionism and the advancement of a post-nationalist argument that dismissed the whole idea of self-determination for Ireland and for her people as an issue in the modern world.
(Is it this that the men of 1916)…. died for: a bailout from the German chancellor … Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be the masters of our own affairs, we have now surrendered our sovereignty to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Their representatives ride into Merrion Street today….
The current crisis was provoked by the collapse of Irish capitalist strategy on 30th September and the acceleration of the pace of collapse into chaos following remarks by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor at the Seoul G20 summit.
The initial strategy of the Dublin government was always insane. Ireland’s economy is a dependent one and Irish capital has only one strategy – subservience to transitional capital. In order to reassure the bond market they gave a cast-iron guarantee to their own decayed banks and to the major European banks who provided the money. The solution was the effective nationalisation of the failed banks, the creation of a bad bank, NAMA, and massive austerity, driving down wages, jobs and services. The mixture was seasoned with the support of the trade union leadership, who demanded a ‘better fairer’ way of paying the banks while remaining in social partnership with the government. The final decoration for this concoction was a massive dose of lies that consistently underestimated the levels of bad debt within the Irish economy.
The whole edifice came crashing down on ‘Black Thursday’ – 30th Sept when something approaching the true size of the bank bailout was revealed. A strategy aimed at assuring the bond market that every penny would be screwed out the working class began to work in reverse when the size of the debt grew past the point where it became a plausible strategy. The interest on Irish debt grew to over 9% and effectively Ireland was bankrupt.
Speaking in Seoul, where she is attending the G20 summit, German chancellor Angela Merkel said in response to the Irish difficulties:
“We cannot keep constantly explaining to our voters and our citizens why the taxpayer should bear the cost of certain risks and not those people who have earned a lot of money from taking those risks.”
The strategy of Irish capital descended to farce. Merkel had no supporters in the Irish government. The idea that Irish capital would not squeeze workers of the last drop of blood was greeted with horror.
Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan welcomed supportive comments from Britain, France and Germany. Lenihan promised to unveil a four-year programme of austerity measures ahead of the Budget in December. This will involve doubling a savage cut of 3 billion euro to 6 billion euro and a €15bn ‘correction’ over the four years.
The minister said: ‘Our EU partners have confirmed their full confidence in the budgetary strategy being pursued by the Government. It is imperative that next month’s Budget be passed in the Dáil’.
The Irish government believed that by giving an absolute guarantee to bond holders they could placate the market. Now they find that it is the sheer implausibility of that promise that is bringing them down.
They boasted that there was no need to borrow money anyway until 2011. It was the strategy of Mr Micawber – the hope that something will turn up. From that point on control of the economy began secretly to shift to the European Central bank.
The growing Irish crisis has consequences for Europe. If Ireland might be unable to meet the bill then other weak economies might also default and this is reflected in the rising interest rates they are charged, thus twisting the spiral of crisis further. The ability of the European powers to handle the crisis is called into question and the euro weakens. When Merkel called into question the central tenet of Irish policy the pace of events accelerated. Merkel was swiftly corrected by the major European powers who indicated that it was simply a proposal that at some point in the future gambling in property speculation might not always guarantee a 100% return for the major banks. In any case it was a statement steeped in the rankest hypocrisy. Many of the bondholders depending on their pound of flesh are in fact the German banks whom Merkel represents. But by then the damage was done and panic turned to rout.
The imperialist strategy in their new Irish colony is to provide sufficient funds from the ECB to calm the fears of the market and then to embark in a huge experiment to see how much can be sucked out of the Irish economy over and above the astronomical proposals already in place. It is likely that many of the proposals will be drawn from the Greek experience, even though it itself shows signs of failure and has not seen a return of stability.
Conditions will include the reform or outright cancellation of welfare programmes, privatisation of State assets, cuts in capital spending, an immediate increase in VAT and a widening of the VAT base, increases in excise duties, and a widening of the property tax base. Public pensions will include the linking of the retirement age with changes in life expectancy, cuts in the highest pensions, the changing of the base upon which public sector pensions are paid so that they are linked to average lifetime earnings, the lowering of the ceiling on pension payments and the restriction of access to early retirement. Perhaps the most dramatic effect will be in the speed with which standards of living are driven down and the speed with which assets are stripped out of public and semi-state bodies.
Perhaps the biggest weapon that the capitalist have in their armoury is the connivance of the Trade Union leadership in the general strategy of capital, hidden behind a layer of bombast.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is to hold a major national demonstration on Saturday, November 27 in Dublin in protest at existing budget proposals:
David Begg, the ICTU secretary, said; “Congress believes there is a better, fairer way to do this …… Simply put we need to extend the period of adjustment and focus on jobs and growth”.
In other words we should take longer and spend more on undefined investments – a crazy scenario when the effect of a longer borrowing time would be to add billions more in interest charges and when an investment strategy demands that we borrow even more at a time when the crisis amounts to an inability to borrow any money at current interest rates applied to Ireland – this in a context where the ECB will be setting the targets and the Dail will be totally irrelevant!
There has been a protracted tussle between Europe and the Irish government when they wriggled to avoid the loan. The reason for the dispute is simple. The offer that Ireland can’t refuse is meant to protect the euro, not Ireland. It will increase Ireland’s debt and freeze it for years in special measures even more extreme than the unprecedented cuts proposed already. So there are enormous political risks for the Irish capitalists:
There is the enormous loss of face and political authority involved in the return of the country to the status of a colony.
There is the loss of the power of nationalism – a big element in defusing resistance is claims that ‘we are all in this together’ and that ‘we must stand together to save the country’.
The nationalist ideology underpins the social partnership with the trade union leaderships. Will they be able put forward a programme of collaboration with the IMF?
Above all the Irish capitalists fear a call from Europe for a fairer tax regime. They are convinced that the past success of the Celtic Tiger can be explained by a policy of setting a 12.5% rate of corporation tax. If they are forced to levy at the European average they fear that the basic assumption of their strategy – that austerity now will be rewarded by a return of the good times – will unravel and they will be swept away in the ensuing explosion.
The genie will not be put back in the bottle. Angela Merkel, the leading representative of European imperialism, can (at least for a few hours) wag her finger at the bondholders. The dependent representatives of the Irish neo-colony cannot. The trade union bureaucracy, joined at the waist to Irish capital by decades of social partnership, cannot. Yet Irish capital is doomed if it does and doomed if it doesn’t. The bill is too big to pay. Even if Ireland receives a European bailout the question remains. How is it to pay the bailout? Interventions by the European Central bank and the International Monetary Fund presume some failure by native capital and the ability of outside agencies to impose harsher austerity. This is not the case here. Irish capital has done everything it can to wring salvation from the hides of the workers. The austerity can be made harsher, but that is likely to lead to complete collapse. ECB and IMF intervention merely increases the pressure on the weaker European economies, calls into question the stability of the Euro and of the European project itself. Given the absolute failure of the Seoul conference to achieve agreement and head off global currency wars, there is no government in Europe that can feel safe.
Irish workers can cut the Gordian knot. Don’t pay! Repudiate the debt! It’s not our debt! We’re not “all in this together.” Close the dud banks – seize the assets of the speculators – set up a workers bank to manage the real economy. What have we to lose? We will find ourselves at war with the bond market, but they have already declared war on us. The proposal of an independent capitalist Ireland put forward by the majority of the 1916 rebels ran its course on November 18th, 2010. We need a new declaration of independence – the declaration of freedom from capital. Irish workers, struggling for freedom, can link up with the vast mass of European workers and oppressed who find themselves standing a short distance behind on the road we are on and struggle for a free Ireland in a United Socialist states of Europe, a beacon of hope to the entire world.
We lack one thing – self-organisation – the organisation of the working class in its own interests. That means a hard struggle against the crooks and shysters to claim to lead us. That struggle cannot be avoided.
In honor of the massive student demonstrations in London this week we post an essay written by one of Britain’s finest radical journalists, the sorely missed Paul Foot, on one of the brightest young stars the island has ever produced, Percy Byshe Shelley. Shelley is forever young, dying at only 29 and it is easy to imagine him among the throngs of young people who marched for their future. He might have written a few stanzas on the occupation of Tory headquarters had he witnessed it. Hell, he might have broken a window or two himself.
As Marx was fond of saying (quoted by his daughter Eleanor, see her ‘Shelley and Socialism’); “”The true difference between Byron and Shelley consists in this, that those who understand and love them consider it fortunate that Byron died in his thirty-sixth year, for he would have become a reactionary bourgeois had he lived longer; conversely, they regret Shelley’s death at the age of twenty-nine, because he was a revolutionary through and through and would consistently have stood along with the vanguard of socialism.”
For more Foot on Shelley, I can’t recommend his talks from a 1977 Marxism conference enough. Available to listen to, they are a wonderful way to spend an hour or two: Paul Foot on Shelly Part I and Part II. This piece entitled Poetry of Protest was first published in 1992 in Socialist Review.
SHELLEY WAS BORN 200 years ago, and all over the world he will be celebrated in two very different ways. Those who honour him as a ‘great lyric poet’ will put him on a pedestal and pay him homage. At University College, Oxford, where Shelley was briefly educated, they are planning a great feast. No one will be allowed to mention that Shelley was expelled from the college after only two terms for writing the first atheist pamphlet ever published in English.
A quite different set of celebrations is being arranged by the descendants of the people for whom Shelley cared and wrote: the common people, and especially the workers. Very early on in his life Shelley developed a passionate hatred and contempt for the class society in which he found himself. His main teacher was the philosopher William Godwin who put into English the glorious ideas of the Enlightenment. Godwin spurned all revolutionary activity. He sought to change the world by changing people’s minds – a quite hopeless project since people’s thoughts, left to themselves, are at the mercy of their rulers’ propaganda. Shelley worshipped Godwin, but could never agree with his appeals to passivity. He flung himself at once into revolutionary activity. At Oxford he wrote his pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism, which ridiculed all religion. He sent it to every bishop in Oxford demanding a debate. He was on the high road out of the city within half an hour of the first bishop choking over the freshly opened envelope at the breakfast table.
Shelley’s first long poem, Queen Mab, is a ferocious and sometimes magnificent diatribe against the social order. In Ireland he wrote and attempted to circulate his Address to The Irish People, in which he argued for an Association to campaign for Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform. When three revolutionary workers were executed after the Pentridge uprising in Nottinghamshire in 1817, Shelley wrote a furious pamphlet scornfully comparing their unnoticed deaths to the public hysteria about the death of a young princess. In the same year he wrote another pamphlet urging the sort of demands for parliamentary reform which appeared on Chartist banners 20 years later.
All this political writing and activity was carried out in almost total isolation. Shelley was inspired by the ideas of the French Revolution, but he lived in a time of counter-revolution. The great revolutionary poets of the 1790s – Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey – were stampeding to the right. Their talent and wit, so effectively directed against the politicians, kings and priests of the ancien regime, was now being deployed in their defence.
Shelley was not, as these three were, a renegade. He utterly refused to bend his opinions. He was resolutely revolutionary all his life – but his confidence ebbed and flowed according to the ebb and flow of popular movements and uprisings. After his move to Italy in 1818 his best revolutionary poetry, especially the Ode to Liberty and Hellas, were written in tune with the European revolts of the time – in Spain, Naples and in Greece. But when there was not much happening, especially when the news from England was all bad, he wrote more and more lyric poetry. His political passions were never forsaken, but they were often buried deep in lyrical metaphor.
But the anger burned furiously, never far beneath the surface. Every so often it erupted like the volcanoes he was always writing about. The most extraordinary example of this is his poem about the massacre at Peterloo – The Mask of Anarchy. The demonstration in August 1819 in St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, was at that time the biggest trade union gathering ever organised in Britain. In spite of the Combination Acts and all the other government inspired measures to do them down, the trade unions were growing in strength and influence. The main speaker at the Manchester demonstration was Henry Hunt, a working class agitator. The huge crowd came with their families as though to a picnic. It was like a miners’ gala of modern times.
The ruling class was terrified. The yeomanry, a special police force consisting mainly of wealthy tradesmen, had a single plan: to stop Hunt speaking and teach the new union upstarts a lesson. They charged into the crowd flourishing their weapons and screaming abuse. The crowd scattered where they could, but the yeomanry pursued them, slashing and stabbing with their swords as they went. Altogether 11 people died that day, and 150 more were seriously injured.
When news of this day’s work reached Shelley in Italy he was literally speechless with rage. He plunged into the little attic room he used at that time as a study. In five days he never appeared for conversation or recreation. He wrote the 92 verses of The Mask of Anarchy, without any doubt at all the finest poem of political protest ever written in our language. It has been quoted again and again in protests ever since. The Chartists revelled in it, and reprinted it. Gandhi quoted it when agitating among the South African Indians in the early part of this century. More recently it was translated and chanted during the students’ uprising at Tiananmen Square, Beijing.
THE MOST POWERFUL element in the poem is Shelley’s anger. The horror of Peterloo had fanned the flames of the fury of his youth. Somehow he hung on to the discipline of rhyme and metre. The poem is in many ways the most carefully constructed thing he ever wrote. The parameters allowed by poetic licence in a long and complicated poem like Prometheus Unbound are very wide. In The Mask of Anarchy, Shelley confined himself to the rhythm of the popular ballads of the time. He wrote in short, strong stanzas, four or (occasionally) five lines apiece, which left him very little room for manoeuvre. The result is electric. The poem starts with a description of a masquerade, in which strange and horrifying shapes appear before the poet, all of them disguised in the masks of the Tory ministers of the day. Castlereagh, the Foreign Secretary, butcher of the Irish rebellion of 1798, appears as Murder. Seven bloodhounds, the seven countries which signed the Treaty of Vienna which carved up Europe after the counter-revolutionary victory of Waterloo, follow him, fed by their master with human hearts. One by one they glide past ‘in this ghastly masquerade
|All disguised, even to the eyes
As bishops, lawyers, peers and spies.’
Shelley hated them all. They represented the chaos of the hideous class society of the time. This Chaos comes last in the parade, ‘on a white horse, splashed with blood.’ He is Anarchy. In more recent times anarchy has come to be used as a word of the left. But in Shelley’s day the word had no such progressive meaning. It meant horror, chaos, violence. To Shelley it meant what the poem says is written on the brow of the ghastly skeletal figure on the white horse: ‘I am God and King and Law.’
This line is repeated again and again by Anarchy and his sycophants as they carve their bloody path through England. The picture is one of repression and tyranny so horrible and so intransigent that change seems impossible.
Shelley’s own protest all his short life had been impotent. Many of his angriest poems end in an empty plea or hope that things will get better. But in The Mask of Anarchy he is inspired by what terrified the yeomanry at Manchester – the enormous potential power of the demonstration. His wishes and hopes now have some substance to them. What happens next in the poem, at the very height of the arrogant oppression of Anarchy and his courtiers, is an act of defiance. A ‘maniac maid’ calling herself Hope flies past with a simple message – she cannot wait any longer.
Her father’s children are all dead from starvation – every one except her. The time has come for action, apparently desperate, hopeless action, but action nonetheless:
|‘Then she lay down in the street
Right before the horse’s feet
Expecting with a patient eye
Murder Fraud and Anarchy.’
Suddenly there is change.
|‘Then between her and her foes
A mist, a light, an image rose.’
Many Shelley scholars have taken this ‘mist’ and ‘image’ to be a further sign of Shelley’s ‘prophetic vagueness’, yet another vague hope or wish. But it is much more than that. First, it is linked to the act of defiance of the oppressed. Secondly, as the poem goes on to explain, the ‘image’ changed into something quite different:
|‘Till as clouds grow on the blast,
Like tower-crowned giants striding fast,
And glare with lightnings as they fly
And speak in thunder to the sky
It grew – a Shape arrayed in mail
Brighter than the viper’s scale.’
The vague image has become a ‘shape arrayed in mail’ – the iron fist to deal with the iron heel. Moreover, on its helmet, huge and distinct so that it can be seen a long way off,
|‘A planet, like the Morning’s, lay;
And those plumes its light rained through
Like a shower of crimson dew.’
This is no gentle wish, but an armed class warrior helmeted with the Morning Star, the symbol of organised labour.
The ‘shape arrayed in mail’ is soon accompanied by an even more powerful force. Side by side with him, with every step he took towards his oppressors, ‘thoughts sprung’ among the multitude. The combination of armed resistance and thought was Irresistible. Anarchy and all his followers are vanquished.
THAT IS A THIRD of the poem. The last two thirds consist of a speech by the ‘maniac maid’ who had flung herself at the horse’s hooves and started the whole process. This is a speech of openly revolutionary agitation, which combines all Shelley’s political ideas. It starts with a definition first of slavery, then of freedom. Classic definitions of both – at a time of bourgeois revolutions throughout Europe – concentrated on the freedoms of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of association.
In Shelley’s time, when the government permitted none of these things, it seemed natural to concentrate on such matters. Then, as now, Liberty was more fashionable than Equality. What makes these definitions in The Mask of Anarchy most remarkable is that they begin and end with Shelley’s outrage at economic inequality. There are 13 verses defining slavery. All of them are about economic control. The first verse, in answer to the question ‘What is Slavery?’, goes like this:
|‘Tis to work and have such pay
As just keeps life from day to day.’
That sounds uncommonly like what Marx had to say in Capital about wages being kept to the level of the merest subsistence of the worker. One result, of course, is that the workers have no say in what they produce:
|‘So by ye for them are made
Loom and plough and sword and spade
With or without your own will bent
To their defence and nourishment.’
This is the theme of the poem – ’them and us’, they who have everything and keep it that way by fraud and force, and us who are left to suffer. There then follows a verse which shows how far Shelley had come since reading Tom Paine and Godwin. Britain had been transformed by the industrial revolution – economic growth at breathtaking speed was shifting the social scenery. Here is the process in Shelley’s definition of slavery;
|‘Tis to let the ghost of Gold,
Take from toil a thousandfold
More than e’er its substance could
In the tyrannies of old.’
The rate of exploitation of labour had grown a thousand times. The ‘ghost of gold’ took ‘from toil’ incomparably more than in the old feudal tyrannies. This idea has nothing to do with the Enlightenment. It sounds more like Marx, but is unlikely to have come from him – he was one year old when The Mask of Anarchy was written.
Slavery is economic exploitation. Freedom, then, is not a ‘name, echoing from the cave of fame’ but ‘clothes and fire and food for the trampled multitude.’ It is justice (a system of law where what happens in the courts is not bought and sold), peace, wisdom (freedom from religion), science, poetry and thought. Just as the poem seems to be drifting into idealism, Shelley suddenly breaks off in mid-verse, demanding ‘deeds, not words.’
The last part of the poem is a call for another demonstration, stronger and more committed than at St Peter’s Fields. It should be made up of all the oppressed – recruitment for it should start at the very bottom of society.
|‘From the workhouse and the prison
Where pale as corpses newly risen
Women, children, young and old
Groan for pain and weep for cold.’
The demonstration should be prepared for another attack by the yeomanry, should meet it with civil disobedience, and should go on defying the forces of the government until the government was defeated by its own impotence over a risen people. Passages in this last section seem over-optimistic today. The belief for instance that the armed forces would split from the yeomanry and take the people’s side puts too much weight on reports of such a split at Peterloo. After fascism, Sharpeville and Tiananmen Square, the appeal of civil disobedience has lost its force. Nor were there any ‘old laws of England which preferred liberty to tyranny – the old laws were even worse than the current ones. But the theme of the poem easily survives these moments of delusion – the theme of anger and defiance, the theme that the long years of Tory government and reaction would come to an end just as soon as the oppressed, especially the new working class, became determined to resist. Peterloo, Shelley insisted, would be avenged.
When he finished The Mask of Anarchy he sent it straight off to his friend Leigh Hunt, editor of the radical Examiner, But Hunt did not publish it. Publication in 1819 would have invited instant imprisonment for the author and the publisher. The poem was, after all, a call to arms, and a call so infectious and persuasive, so easy to commit to memory, that no one could predict its political impact. Hunt hung onto the poem long after Shelley’s death. He published it in 1831, as the urgent and unstoppable cry for parliamentary reform blended with a new working class resistance from Merthyr Tydfil to Glasgow. Then, and ever since, everyone who has ever been angry, as Shelley was, at the insufferable pain and arrogance of class society, has learnt the famous climax of this wonderful poem and proclaimed it with increasing urgency:
‘And that slaughter to the nation
Shall steam up like inspiration,
A volcano heard afar.
And these words shall then become
Like oppression’s thundered doom,
Ringing through each heart and brain
Heard again, again, again –
Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you.
Ye are many. They are few.’
My new favorite version of Patrick Galvin’s iconic song. It has a loss about it that none of the other versions I’ve heard before have. It is a lament, but not of the fire-side type. There’s no comfort in Connolly’s ghost invisibly guiding the Irish working class as it hovers in their consciousness here. Here, Connolly’s ghost hovers as a reminder of loss and of failure. Liam Weldon sings the song from the bottom of a grave, not atop a funeral pyre. “Where, oh where is our James Connolly?” Where oh where is our James Connolly?” “Where, oh where, is our James Connolly?” “Who then who will lead the van?”
Brendan Hughes, the lonely archetype of what the Provos, for a while anyway, liked to think of themselves as, here explains, a little simply but with genuine sincerity, the meaning of Belfast’s laughingly named “Peace Walls”. This short piece is a part of a larger Sinn Fein produced documentary (Behind the Mask) from the late 80’s, that with hindsight is surely part of the formal Sinn Fein mixed-message of that era; overt and otherwise.
That video was shot about 22 years. 16 years into the cease-fires, 12 years post-Good Friday, 9 years into decommissioning, 8 after the first devolved Stormont Assembly, 5 years after the IRA decommissioned itself and 4 years after St. Andrews and the rule of the Chuckle Brothers. In the midst of all the “seismic shift’ in thinking and ‘historic decisions’ made about how to carve up power in the new dispensation, ensuring every sect gets a taste, not an equal taste to be sure, but a taste nonetheless. Sighted the world over as a model for achieving a certain type of brokered and brokeraged “peace process”, it takes not a scratch on the surface, but a stroll in the streets to give a lie to the claim that a sectarian peace would lessen sectarian divisions; quite the contrary.
On the ground all of the newly minted and abominable jargon, those pecae processia banalities, all of the platitudes about “equality agendas” and “parities of esteem” (yuck, gag, barf) are just exposed as bullshit in the daily lives of most of Belfast’s working class. This rot begins at the top where privileges of sectarian office are bountiful, nay manifold judging by the number of politicians who are simultaneously MPs, MLAs, Council Members and chairs of various development schemes and what not. Jeesh, a feller could get rich in that racket. The rot at the top has found fertile ground on which to every kind of mold and fungus to grow on the backrooms and chambers, boardrooms and, this being Ireland, too rarely the bedroom.
I could be wrong, but I have not heard of a single, proper public school, newly opened to integration 15 years into peace. To this day ’90 per cent of children in Northern Ireland still go to separate faith schools’. As for the “Peace Walls”; none taken been removed. On the contrary; in the early 90s when the war was still on- even if behind the scenes it was the peace that was on and bugger those who might die in the meantime in a war unbeknownst to them they that they weren’t really fighting – then there were 19 walls. Today, after the New Dawn has broken on the poor blighted province? 40 stretching over 13 miles. And housing? Here’s figures from a report a few years back, there are no indications the trend has changed:
‘In 1969, 69 per cent of Protestants and 56 per cent of Catholics lived in streets where they were in their own majority; as the result of large-scale flight from mixed areas between 1969 and 1971 following outbreaks of violence, the respective proportions had by 1972 increased to 99 per cent of Protestants and 75 per cent of Catholics. In Belfast, the 1970s were a time of rising residential segregation.It was estimated in 2004 that 92.5% of public housing in Northern Ireland was divided along religious lines, with the figure rising to 98% in Belfast. Self-segregation is a continuing process, despite the Northern Ireland peace process. It was estimated in 2005 that more than 1,400 people a year were being forced to move as a consequence of intimidation’
Work may be one the few places you might rub elbows with someone across the sectarian divide as a fairly strong push was made to open up the government jobs (which is the bulk of northern Ireland’s workforce) to Nationalists. That and other laws requiring open employments practices have also made work one of the least formally segregated areas of life in the north of Ireland (the same is true in the US). In years not too previous about 80% of workers labored in segregated employment. However, that doesn’t mean that sectarian politics, including intimidation, aren’t continued practice and, in some locales, prevalent. Take the situation at Asda in Belfast this year. As for employment, from the figure of the Northern Ireland office: “In 2005, Roman Catholics comprised approximately six out of every ten unemployed people in Northern Ireland with 19,000 Roman Catholics unemployed compared to 12,000 Protestants.Overall, a higher proportion of Protestants of working age (74%) than Roman Catholics (62%) were in employment in 2005, a relative picture which has persisted over time.”
To sum up: in working class Belfast 15 years after all of those historic shifts and earthquakes and stuff you grow up on a street with only your own kind. You got to school for the first 18 years of your life with your own kind, you go to the shops and pubs in your own neighborhood, at the point where you enter the workforce a Nationalist is less likely to get a job, but more jobs are open to her (the recession and coming cuts may alter this part of the picture a bit). There she might meet folks from across the way, but never far, how could it possibly, is the sectarianism that infests her sick society. Some might call it democracy, though not me. If so, I challenge you to find someone beyond the borders of that bat-shit crazy colony who might want to live under its regime (and no, you don’t get to interview Tea Partiers; science requires standards). A strange democracy that, with no one wanting to sign up for it and ministers (of Culture!) who think the earth is 3000 years old. Where Ulster Scots demands its ‘parity of esteem’. Where politicians on both sides of the divide cut hospitals and services while they seem to make out all right and then demand you cast your lot with them to ensure your community is represented. A racket, comrades. Sectarian government can’t help but breed corruptions light and loaded. Yes, certainly a failed peace is (mostly) preferable to a failed war, but that was never the only option. And how dare it is said by Sinn Fein and others in power that critics don’t have a credible option on offer when their option is an abomination.
Maybe those numbers attesting that greater numbers of workforces are mixed bodes well for the future. In this future where a tidal wave of austerity is about to be unleashed by the Government, the British Government, on Northern Irish workers it is up to those workers to defend themselves and that will be impossible on the basis of perceived sectarian privileges. I’m not optimistic about it, but the alternative is that the struggle against the austerity be waged in defense of this our that slice of the sectarian pie. Who knows what might happen in the meantime, sick societies (and despite the peace, that society is sick with sectarianism) can do sick things. At this moment would folks are seeking alternatives let us hope that the socialist tradition, north and south, too long buried can find its way to offering such an alternative. And pose it as seriously and boldly as they can, without which the field is left to the enemy and their alternatives are austerity and, lurking behind that as its engine, a Carnival of Reaction.
It will take more years for the walls Brendan rued to come down; there is no horizon I can envisage where a United Ireland comes into view under present circumstances. For Brendan it meant that the working class of that island might come together against their common exploiters, the most among them was the British presence which survived, in part, on their division. It sure won’t come the old ways, including Brendan’s ways, however much I may admire him. It has to come from that point where the working class joins together as a class and deliver themselves up to a struggle for their own needs, rejecting their sectarian assumptions and privileges in the process, including that most decisive and divisive of privilege; the Union itself. The enemy makes that so damned hard and, by and large, the left hasn’t helped. In the mean time; a Protestant State for a Protestant People is now a Sectarian State for a Sectarian People. How wonderful an improvement.
November 6th, 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. The crisis had come to a head. South Carolina would soon secede, the War would begin. How to feel about Lincoln? Well, for what it’s worth I can say pretty confidently that he would have been the only President ever elected that I myself would have voted for. And maybe then only in 1864. Lincoln did change, it wasn’t that he took a circuitous route to get to the right place, he changed the place he wanted to go. Yes, he would have been maddeningly hard to support sometimes, especially in the early years of the war as he courted the Border States. By the end of the war you might have gladly died to protect him.
If you look at the actual politicians on hand at the time, there is not a one, with the partial exceptions of Seward and Sumner and it would have taken a revolution (possible if Lincoln lost in 1864) for them to see power, to lead this struggle to its conclusion; emancipation. He is also, by a large measure, the best writer ever to be President. Read his letters, articles and speeches. Many of them are brilliant in their own terms. There’s a lot of myths about the man and none of them need to be perpetuated, but history will continue to be kind to him. When it mattered most he stood for human freedom and fought to achieve it, paying with his life.
William Lloyd Garrison was one of those who found it maddeningly hard to support Lincoln in the early years of the war. Here he is four years later. The war had changed. Emancipation was now the purpose and the means of the war to restore the Union. Hundreds of thousands had fallen, millions had struck out for freedom. But it was not over yet. When Garrison spoke these words, in the Spring of 1864 the war had become something else, something horrific beyond all past experience. In the first two weeks of May, when this speech was given, the Army of the Potomac suffered 33,000 casualties on a ten mile meat grinder south of the Rapidan at the start of Grant’s Overland Campaign. In those two weeks the face of war itself changed as the soldiers themselves learned to dig trenches wherever they arrived, the tone of the fighting had changed as well. Gettysburg and Chancellorsville are downright gallant and civilized compared to The Wilderness and Spotsylvania. That Spring was epic. In response both to the casualties and to the change in focus of the war there was increasing anti-war agitation in the North. Copperheads were preaching sedition and Lincoln’s re-election in the Fall was far from certain. The outcome of the struggle, from the perspective of the time, was hardly a forgone conclusion. Lincoln would not retreat. This is the context of Garrison’s speech below as we remember Lincoln on his election, this day 150 years ago.
‘Grant that there are many sad things to look in the face; grant that the whole of justice has not yet been done to the negro; grant that here and there greivances exist which are to be deplored and to be redressed; still, looking at the question broadly, comprehensively, and philosophically, I think the people will ask another question—whether they themselves have been one hair’s breadth in advance of Abraham Lincoln? (Applause.) Whether they are not conscious that he has been not fully up with him, but on the whole, a little beyond them? (Applause.) As the stream cannot rise higher than the fountain, so the President of the United States, amenable to public sentiment, could not, if he wished to do it, far transcend public sentiment in any direction. (Applause.) For my own part, when I remember the trials through which he has passed, and the perils that have surrounded him—perils and trials unknown to any man, in any age of the world, in official station—when I remember how fearfully pro-slavery was the public sentiment of the North, to say nothing of the South—when I remember what he has had to deal with—when I remember how nearly a majority, even at this hour, is the seditious element of the North, and then remember that Abraham Lincoln has struck the chains from the limbs of more than three millions of slaves (applause); that he has expressed his earnest desire for the total abolition of slavery; that he has implored the Border States to get rid of it; that he has recognized the manhood and citizenship of the colored population of our country; that he has armed upwards of a hundred thousand of them, and recognized them as soldiers under the flag; when I remember that this Administration has recognized the independence of Liberia and Hayti; when I remember that it has struck a death blow at the foreign slave trade by granting the right of search; when I remember that we have now nearly reached the culmination of our greatest struggle for the suppression of the rebellion and its cause, I do not feel disposed, for one, to take this occasion, or any occasion, to say anything very harshly against Abraham Lincoln. (Long and prolonged applause.)’
William Lloyd Garrison’s Defense of Lincoln appeared in The Liberator on May 20, 1864
‘As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.’ Abraham Lincoln August 1, 1858.