Archive for the ‘Nationalism’ Category

If Wishes Were Forces: the Irish Left’s Tartan Turn

September 14, 2014

Had I been spared the cold granite embrace of Dublin, and deposited instead into the cold granite embrace of Glasgow, I could easily imagine myself voting Yes on September 18th. There are eminently rational grounds for doing so, not the least of which is the sheer mischief of the thing; the noble and democratic impulse to pull the pin, cover your ears, and see who gets smeared across the curtains, without which the progressive imagination is fatally circumscribed.

The desire to escape Tory rule is another valid argument in favour of Yes, although it would be wrong to conflate escape with liberation. Cameron’s government is simply the vestigial muscle-memory of the Thatcher/Blair hydra, shredding and clawing wildly to sate its dimly-remembered appetites, its wizened brains having long since stopped issuing coherent orders.

Retreating to a safe distance beyond its immediate reach is a sensible precaution, albeit one that won’t be achieved through nominal independence. Neither Hadrian’s wall nor all his legions would stand a chance against the latte-sipping barbarians of the 21st century, from whichever direction they attack.

Support for a Yes vote in Scotland has been universal and unstinting amongst the Irish left. This in itself is unsurprising; Ireland is perhaps the only country in western Europe with long-term experience of being administered as a bone fide colony of a world power.

Its socialist movement was inevitably conjoined with nationalism in utero, and has since degenerated towards a kind of indiscriminate poly-chauvinism which regards ethnic and national identity as the wellspring of all political legitimacy. Meanwhile, nominally anti-statist Irish libertarians perceive in Scottish separatism a ripple of the identity-based transatlantic currents which have swept them off their feet in recent years.

The prospect of Scottish independence appeals, not only to these sensibilities, but also to keenly-felt pan-Celticist ties of blood and soil. The sight of Scotland taking her place among the nations of the earth (to quote the early 19th-century hero of Irish nationalism, Robert Emmet) gladdens the heart of the national progressive, precisely because it offers a return to a politics of belonging which has long been outpaced by events and outflanked from the right in the miserable, beleaguered Republic.

For years, the re-integration of the national territory served as both means and end for the lonely kindlers of the socialist flame in post-partition Ireland. Although the vision was never elucidated in detail, enosis with the British-administered corner of the island was regarded as a panacaea for the corrupting of Ireland’s revolutionary ideals; in order to be truly socialist, it was necessary to be truly Irish, and vice versa.

This uniquely recursive brand of stagism, proceeding from the nation-state through socialism and back to the nation-state, has seen its lustre dulled in recent years. Nowhere in Europe is class war waged with more gleeful impunity from above than in the Republic, and the rationale offered by its kleptocratic regime (via the most brazenly compliant media apparatus in any liberal European democracy) is one of perverted national unity.

Sinn Féin, by virtue of effective though entirely rhetorical parliamentary opposition in the south, has snatched up the slender threads of the Irish left’s residual romantic nationalism. At the next Irish election, Sinn Féin’s momentum will carry much of the left in its train.

Even as the party openly solicits coalition with the right, it will attract the support of socialists voting, as they now urge Scots to vote, “without illusions” in the outcome (of course, the illusion of acting without illusion is itself the supreme illusion, and right up there with the Jesuit doctrine of “mental reservation” as willful evasions go).

But few truly believe in Sinn Féin’s pink-tinged national progressivism as a viable agent of change, and the party’s self-serving mendacity in Northern Ireland, where it governs in coalition with the far-right Democratic Unionist Party, has not gone unnoticed in the south.

Supporters dismiss Sinn Féin NI’s craven implementation of Tory austerity as a mere vagary of Northern Ireland’s confessional parliamentary system, echoing precisely the not-us-guv protestations of Labour Party members across the border.

But even Northern nationalists now vote Sinn Féin largely to evade the jackboot of Orange supremacism under which their parents and grandparents suffered, rather than in genuine hope of social or economic deliverance.

Thus, an independent Scotland is seen through a haze of prelapsarian Celtic sentiment from across the Irish Sea, as a misty reflection of a time when a leftist could march erect and moist-eyed beneath the billowing tricolour, without caveat or proviso, and know that it was good.

Incidentally, before we venture any further into the leftist ghetto, it’s worth noting that the majority of the Republic’s population, wholly won over to neoliberalism, labour under no such reservations.

They too support Scottish independence, but their nationalism is of a different order, entirely delimited by the borders of the Republic and viciously exclusionary (of the poor, the dole scrounger, the malcontent, the uppity immigrant or Traveller).

Ireland may not have inherited the caste-based social hierarchy of Great Britain, but a century of unfettered rule by a tiny economic elite has cultivated a middle class as virulently reactionary as any in the world.

One of the key figures in Irish socialist mythology was, neatly enough, himself a Scot. James Connolly’s exploits are familiar to most. In Ireland, his fiercely rotund face (surmounting a thick and unmistakeably revolutionary neck) occupies the place reserved for Che Guveara in most leftist iconography.

Connolly is the perfectly protean proletarian icon. His strident rhetorical internationalism assuages his equally strident, and ultimately fatal, Irish nationalism. A master of dialectical obfuscation, Connolly attempted to reconcile militant industrial Marxism with nationalist idealism (his movement’s, as much as his own; the constitution of Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army proclaimed its wish to sink all difference of birth, property and creed under the name of the common Irish people).

Armed with a pithily emphatic quote from Connolly’s playbook, a left-nationalist need fear no embarrassment. His person embodies the inextricable trinity of state, nation and class. SIPTU, Ireland’s largest trade union, whose collaborationist leadership would put any British union to shame, recycles his image constantly, and his authority is invoked even by Ireland’s ultra-Thatcherite Labour Party. The message of such idolatry is clear; class solidarity must give way to class sacrifice in order to preserve the nation, just as it did under Connolly’s leadership a century ago.

Is this lamentable state of affairs likely to be replicated in an independent Scotland? Probably not, and not merely because the referendum will be defeated, as now seems certain. For a start, it’s no longer 1920. The Scottish electorate has been painfully and extensively schooled in the realities of parliamentary betrayal. The era of the national saviour is past (not that Alex Salmond would have fooled the most credulous nationalist in any era).

But what do Scots have to fear from the SNP, under whose watch the very worst of Westminster austerity has been rebuffed? Here, the Irish example is instructive, and not simply because of the SNP’s avowed intention to replicate the Irish template of a low-corporation-tax virtual economy.

100 years ago, the moderate leadership of Ireland’s nationalist movement, supported by its small native capitalist clique, sought merely Home Rule, and the power to forge a national economy which served its own ends (just as more extensive devolution was the true prize for the SNP).

As in Scotland, it was popular pressure from below and a vision of a different society that forced the moderates towards a complete rupture with the UK. When the revolutionary fervour subsided and the final embers of radicalism had been stamped out, the Irish working class awoke to the sickening reality that it had carved its own gallows. That a state is a state is a state; a vehicle for expropriating public wealth for private gain via the path of least resistance.

The optimal result on the 18th is the one that will almost certainly transpire; a narrow No vote, after a lengthy and fervent debate which has re-awakened the concept of popular sovereignty. Not because the United Kingdom is worth preserving (regardless of the reheated Union-Jacketed tripe served up by the Guardian and David Bowie); the UK is an inherently imperialist and confiscatory national concept, just as Germany is an inherently authoritarian one.

But because the question of who governs whom and on whose behalf is one that cannot be resolved within another piratical fiefdom of finance capital, nestling in the shadow of Fortress Europe. Because these seeds of democratic renewal deserve a chance to ripen and blossom in riotous number, not to be scattered on stony soil.

Yes to popular sovereignty. Yes to crushing the Tories. Yes to democratic accountability. Yes to the elementary humanity of a public health system.

Yes is the right answer, awaiting the right question. Another client state to the empire of capital isn’t it.

The Day éirígí Saved Dublin

May 18, 2011

It won’t have escaped your attention that certain historic events are afoot in Dublin this week. How do we know they’re historic? Partly because every news bulletin hammers home the historic nature of the Queen’s historic footsteps through historic Dublin’s historic streets, in the historic course of an historic visit which will echo, historically, in the historic history books of historical history.

Yesterday, however, certain flies infiltrated the historic ointment. Like all the worst flies, they were, if the outraged histrionics of Middle Ireland were to be believed, dirty, disease-ridden and disgustingly common. Let me clarify a few things before I proceed. There are few sights which distress me more than Celtic jerseys and ranks of tricolours, especially when they’re combined. I will own to being fairly fanatically non- and anti-nationalist (in the broadest, rather than specifically Irish, sense.)

I don’t like eirígi. I think republican socialism is an oxymoron, an ideological ouroboros wherein the head devours the tail; that Connollyite national chauvinism of the éirígí/IRSP/CPI variety is a dead-end and intrinsically anti-socialist. I think attempting to shoe-horn the present political status of Northern Ireland into a classical imperialist paradigm is bargain-basement “national liberation” mumbo-jumbo of the most incoherent kind. I see no compelling argument for the inherent justice of this island’s territorial unification which doesn’t ultimately redound unto the purity or impurity of blood.

On that basis, I wasn’t particularly exercised by the impending state visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland. I knew the obsequious, hand-chafing servility of our political establishment (now entirely composed of self-seekers and opportunists; a Fianna Fáil government might, strange as it sounds, have handled the occasion with marginally more dignity) would be fairly nauseating to behold, but also fairly easy to ignore. I knew the Queen was unlikely to deliver a thundering denunciation of our dole-paying, service-providing deviancy and demand that we cut further and faster, which placed her several rungs above most of our distinguished international visitors.

Demonstrating against her visit seemed, therefore, a needless and potentially misguiding diversion for the left to engage in. Yes, it’s possible to raise questions about the inherent absurdity of monarchy, and the Queen’s role as titular commander-in-chief of the British armed forces’ murderous operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and, not so long ago, Northern Ireland. But to be honest, it’s a wee bit of a stretch (particularly with the actual executive power behind those ongoing outrages shortly to arrive in person), and Bríd Smith didn’t make a great fist of it on Vincent Browne’s show last night.

There is something to be said for the notion that the Queen’s visit represents a full stop at the end of a traumatic chapter of enmity between the peoples of Britain and Ireland; having never been aware of any such generalised enmity, I don’t see it, personally, but nor do I demean it. Equally, it’s easy to see how the gilded spectacle of a royal visit fits into the timely and convenient infantilization of Irish culture, almost as a more stately postscript to last week’s Jedwardmania.

Two things changed my mind, not on the substantive issues, but on the significance of the event. One was the ring of steel off-handedly thrown around Dublin for the duration of both state visits, and the extraordinarily casual breaches of what liberals call (when they don’t belong to other people) civil liberties, far exceeding the disruption occasioned by any industrial action in recent years, albeit with a markedly different response.

The other was the gathering realisation that the Queen’s visit was being used by our establishment to, as Hugh Green so deftly put it, “draw a line under Ireland’s revolutionary history.” Now that Ireland has graciously extended the fair hand of reconciliation to Her Majesty, we could finally see that tumultuous process of dangerous, ideologically-tinged extrication from the vampiric clutches of empire for the jejune, but above all outmoded, preoccupation it is; and certainly as nothing which holds any relevance today.

Equally, if not more, notable was the shock and awe campaign which constituted the unprecedented Garda presence on the streets of the capital. A stage-managed, bouquet-strewn popular euphoria might have better served the narrative, but there was a more important principle at stake. This was power communing with power, to the very definite and very conspicuous exclusion of the people. If you thought these were your streets, upon which to exult or excoriate as you saw fit, then, to coin a phrase, you could jolly well grow up and move on. It was an opportunity (denied the government by the low-key nature of the IMF’s presence) to reassert the violent and exclusionary power of the state, and the impotence of the people, in a way which hadn’t presented itself since the student protests last winter.

The most visible challenge to this enforced consensus came from éirígí. Well, that’s not strictly true. In fact, most of the violence (such as it was) seemed to emanate from unaligned or differently-aligned republican groups, but éirígí, being tainted with socialism, was a better fit for the low-life, simian, working-class refusnik caricature for which Middle Ireland lusted so.

Before I go on, let me add a few more disclaimers. I’m not so desperate for a foretaste of revolution that it quickens my blood to see the cops get a decent chasing, and I don’t think there’s anything heroic or particularly smart about small groups of young people without popular support throwing things at the police (in fact, a revolution could be quite neatly defined as the point at which it becomes unnecessary to throw things at the police.)

There is no justification, moral or tactical, in present-day Ireland for acts of aggressive violence against the state security forces. Yesterday’s violence, however, while unnecessary and unfortunate, was, much like the police presence itself, largely symbolic. The only people endangered by it were the alleged perpetrators.

That said, it’s questionable whether any country in which the state’s repressive apparatus can mobilise officers in their tens of thousands, shut down the capital’s main thoroughfare, harass citizens going about their daily business, and NOT have things thrown at them has any right to call itself a healthy democracy. If you think the oh-so-delicate blossom of liberty is more threatened by a handful of working class youths lobbing missiles than by swarms of riot police excluding the citizenry from its own streets on prior presumption of guilt, then you weren’t paying much attention for most of the 20th century.

The purpose of this massive police operation is to reinforce the ideological lock-down which has existed in Ireland for (conservatively) the past three years. It is about the pre-emption of politics and the stifling of dissenting voices. Now is not the time for questioning, legitimately or otherwise, the role of the British monarch or the statements such visits make about the relationship of our ruling class to their international counterparts. Now is not the time for protesting about student fees, Corrib gas or public sector pay-cuts. We are in a state of emergency.

Those small bands of protesters, by their mere presence in the face of unprecedented intimidation in service of hegemony, refused to relinquish their own democratic rights and prevented the diminution of everyone else’s from going unchallenged. For that reason, I would quite happily bestow upon them an appellation which means nothing to me but may have some significance to them; patriots.

UUP: “Hands off southern trade unions!”

March 15, 2010

This is more Splintered Sunrise’s province than mine (pun diplomatically unintended), but the Republic’s increasingly assailed trade unions found an unlikely champion this weekend, in the form of UUP councillor (and twice Lord Mayor of Belfast) Jim Rodgers.

Rodgers, in his capacity as a director of Glentoran F.C., rightfully took exception to Garda heavy-handedness at Saturday’s Setanta Sports Cup fixture between his side and Bohemians at Dalymount Park.

Our august Guardians of the Peace reportedly took exception to attempts on the part of someone in the sizeable travelling support to erect a Northern Ireland flag in the Des Kelly stand. By “erect”, they presumably mean “drape over the hoardings”, although the sight of a boozed-up Nordie casual shinning up the flagpole at the end of the Jodi stand would have been one for the scrapbook.

Quoth Cllr. Rodgers:

“I would have to point the finger at the policing, which left a lot to be desired,” he said.

“We’ve seen it before with Linfield fans. Instead of operating a sensible policing policy, they go at it like a bull in a china shop, it doesn’t help community relations.

“The Garda Siochana need specialist training in how to handle crowds. We see it with trade union demonstrations down south, they seem to overreact.”

Give the chap a fucking cigar, he’s spot-on on every score. In addition to which, he deftly avoided mentioning the Love Ulster débâcle. Any chance of shipping him off to the front line in the War on Plunder out west?

Speaking of overreactions, the story as viewed through the psychedelic prism of the Evening Herald is barely recognisable.

The Herald witnessed first hand how gangs aligned to the East Belfast club spread an air of menace and hate in and around the Phibsboro area.

As tens of thousands of rugby fans spilled out of nearby Croke Park following Ireland’s fantastic win against Wales, hordes of Northern soccer fans were intent on creating havoc less than a mile away.

This newspaper also saw how gardai tried to defuse the situation by operating a friendly attitude with aggressive Glentoran supporters.

Officials from the Belfast club said they were unhappy at the use of the dogs and the speed with which the Public Order Unit was brought in. Five men, all Glentoran fans and all in their 30s and 40s, were charged for public order offences and appeared in court this morning after being released on bail.

Three of the men were arrested shortly after the kick off in the game with the other two Glentoran fans being arrested before the game. It is believed that the skirmishes within the ground started when Glentoran supporters were prevented from erecting a Northern Ireland flag, an act seen by many as one of open provocation.

Leaving aside all Baudrillardian cogitations on whether it’s possible to see an act in a particular light if the act did not take place, the indignation evinced at the fact that these working-class thugs were practically breathing the same air as the rugger buggers exiting Croke Park is telling. I mean, little Tiernán could have heard a Northside accent or positively anything.

Anyway, four Glensmen got their collars felt and were up before Judge Cormac Dunne this afternoon. Everyone got the Probation Act and went home, which can’t but cast doubt on the submitted statement that a defendant ‘became “abusive and extremely violent to gardaí, staff and security working at the venue.”’ If he’d been “extremely violent” to anyone, least of all a Guard, he wouldn’t be going home with a smack on the wrist and a note for mother.

Actually, the only flag on display which offended me was that ridiculous little tricolour which Bohs have been sporting on the back of their collars for the past few years. Not only is it gratuitously jingoistic, but it clashes horrendously with their beautiful red and black stripes.

PS: This post was going to be a delayed reaction to the Blueshirt Blueprint, but I see WorldByStorm is all over it on CLR. It’s an interesting gambit, but why does it remind me of this?