D. Rayner O’Connor Lysaght, (Socialist Democracy, Dublin) argues that although the Jacobite Rising drew on social discontents it was incapable of resolving them postively.
Reading Dave Douglass’ passionate defence of the Jacobite Rising of ‘45, it became clear how much more relevant it is today than he seems to realise.
In the Middle East, hundreds of the oppressed and super-exploited are going out and blowing themselves up with their enemies. This is done in the name of a religious ideology of which the most definite social aspect is the affirmation of the subordinate status of one half of the human race. This allegiance does not make its advocates less oppressed or their imperial colonial enemies any less oppressive; yet the Islamists fight and die demanding more rather than less oppression. It is enlightening to read the finest political thinker produced by Edinburgh, James Connolly:-
In the first period of bondage the eyes of the subject class are always turned toward the past, and all its efforts in revolt are directed to the end of destroying the social system in order that it might march backward and re-establish the social order of ancient times – “the good old days”. That the goodness of those days was largely hypothetical seldom enters the imagination of men on whose limbs the fetters of oppression still sit awkwardly
Socialism Made Easy edition, p.41
So it was with the starving Highlanders of ‘45. So it is with the Arab volunteers of Hamas and Al Qaeda today. In both cases, the oppressed and exploited seek to liberate themselves using the nearest handy weapons. In both cases, the said weapons were/are not just blunted, but rotting.
Dave Douglass shows conclusive evidence why Highland clansmen and Northern English workers should commit themselves to the Young Chevalier. Where he fails is in showing that the said Chevalier and his associates had any perspective for liberating their plebian followers. In his later years, the not-so-bonny prince would weep drunkenly about the sufferings of his Highland followers, but he did little for them when it was possible to do anything, save of course leading them to defeat and decimation. Any consideration of his cause must include the fact that he betrayed his followers at the most basic level – by leading them without any political strategy, or any supply train worthy of the name before deserting them in the hour of defeat.
It seems probable that, had Charlie been luckier, he would have betrayed them at a higher level; that any strategy he had was based on an assumption that he could do a deal with enough sections of the current British ruling classes to facilitate his restoring something like the political status quo ante 1688.
As Dave Douglass admits,
Nobody bothered to sign on the
pitmen, keelmen and sailors of Tyneside and Northumbria. The Bonnie Prince and his clique were not interested. They sought their support amongst those with a stake in two countries. Douglass exposes this inadvertently, when he links the Northern English plebians to the Earls of Derwentwater. These cousins of the Stuarts hewed no coal and drew no water (even from the Derwent).
In fact the only thing that can be said for the Jacobite leaders is that they did not pretend to offer any social reforms. Their followers duped themselves, partially at least. Half a century previously, in the Williamite Wars, Ireland’s ‘Patriot’ Parliament had used its position of strength vis-a-vis James VII to act to remove the seventeenth century land settlements. In ‘45 no such parliament was even mooted. Charlie denounced the ‘pretended union’ of Scotland and England, but he did nothing to give his denunciation the only reality it could have: an independent Scottish parliament. (He never got far enough for a reconstituted English assembly to be imaginable.)
Perhaps he learnt much from his grandfather’s vicissitudes, or perhaps he recognised the balance of forces recorded in John Prebble’s statement that more Scots mobilised against him than for him. The only serious advance from a Stuart victory would have been toleration for Catholics. This was an obvious Stuart interest, and it would have been achieved probably by a deal with the English Anglican establishment, with the English dissenters being excluded.
Dave Douglass is correct, however, when he rubbishes the suggestion
that capitalism in Britain would have been uninvented. The financial industrial economy would have continued, but in a more autocratic, unconstitutional environment. Internationally, some of the ideological underpinning of the French Revolution would have been discredited since the 1688 Glorious Revolution would have been seen as a failure. The Bastille might have had to wait longer for its storming. On the other hand, the Stuarts would have given the American colonists more cause for their insurrection. Indeed it is likely that a second restoration would have ended in a far more complete bourgeois seizure of state power than the 1688 compromise. These last two possibilities would have been positive results of a successful Jacobite rising; but they would have been reactions to it rather than direct achievements.
Undoubtedly, the ‘45 insurrection drew on valid social discontents. Equally certain is that its leaders were incapable of benefiting or resolving them. Those commoners who joined it were duped, albeit all too willingly. Of itself suffering is no substitute for programme.