Allan Armstrong’s new book From Pre-Brit to Ex-Brit – The Forging and the Break-up of the UK and Britishness is now available online at:- 

https://allanarmstrong831930095.files.wordpress.com/2022/02/from-pre-brit-to-ex-brit-.2.pdf

 Originally posted on 10.1.19, it has been updated.

This is an expansion of an article written in 2015 and updated in 2016.

(http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/03/02/britishness-the-uk-state-unionism-scotland-and-the-national-outsider/)

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Below is the Introduction with an outline if the book followed by a table of Contents

 

FROM PRE-BRIT TO EX-BRIT

The Forging and the Break-up of the UK and Britishness

 

An outline of the book

This book begins by showing how the United Kingdom was created, sustained itself through Union, Empire and Monarchy, and how it began to first fall apart between 1916-21.  And to understand the rise and decline of the UK and its associated British Empire it is necessary to go further back in history than the late nineteenth century.  Indeed it is necessary to go further back than 1801, or even 1707, the two key dates by which the constitutional monarchist and imperial Union came into being.

A long-term historical perspective is necessary because Right, Centre and Left British Unionists have concocted their own histories to buttress continued support for the UK and Britishness.  Their writings often go back to a dim and distant past to outline a historical continuity and inevitability for Great Briain and the UK that cannot be justified by events.  Other Nationalist historians – Irish, Scottish or Welsh – usually confine their attentions to the relationship of their particular nation with the UK, or just with England.  This book looks at historical developments throughout these islands, and where relevant beyond.

Part One of this book goes back to the ‘Pre-Brit’ in the title.  This refers to the period following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West.  Roman Britannia did not cover all the geographical territory of what later became Great Britain and never reached Hibernia/Ireland.  The ending of the old Roman Empire was followed by a lengthy period when the states of England or Scotland, or any aspiring states covering the whole of what became Wales or Ireland, did not exist.  Englalonde and Alba did develop as early states, albeit with changing territorial extents.  However, neither Eireann or Cymru were able to develop or sustain united states.  Whether later as England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales, it took much longer for these nations, socially and politically encompassing the majority of people living within their territories, to emerge, from the earlier states or from within the United Kingdom.

Part Two of this book highlights the significance of the United Kingdom becoming a specifically unionist state from 1707, reinforced in 1801.  This led to the development  of Scottish-British, Irish-British and later Welsh-British nations and identities, and when Ireland was partitioned to Ulster’-British and Northern Irish British identities (albeit not nations).  A greater ambiguity remained about the nature of England’s relationship with the UK, and consequently about English identities.

The successful promotion of hybrid British identities was very much linked with the rise of the British Empire.  Other dynastic states, including France, had ruled over territories as diverse as the Two or Three Kingdoms ruled over by successive Norman-French, English and British dynasties.  But like France they mostly later became unitary not unionsts states.  After the French Revolution, Bretagne and Acquitiane were broken up; but afer the 1707 and 1801 Acts of Union, the Scottish and Irish nations further developed within the unionist state and British Empire.

The unionist nature of the UK has often contributed to the confusion over the distinction between nations and regions in these islands.  Indeed, one strand of British unionist thinking denies the existence of nations within Great Britain, seeing only Scottish and Welsh regions, along with a number of English regions.  This book looks at the development of regions on an administrative and cultural basis.  It examines the role that specific Regionalisms have played in buttressing the UK, especially in liberal, radical and Left Unionist thinking.

This book also examines the impact of migrations, especially those more recent movements of people seeking work and better lives, and those fleeing repression.  In modern times, this has led to the creation of a number of multi-ethnic urban communities, which also have a distinctive relationship to the UK state.  The UK state’s close involvement with the British Empire, and its more recent membership of the EEC/EU, have made the issue of migrants and their relationship to nation and state a major political issue.

Most of all, this book adopts an ‘internationalism from below’ perspective.  It examines the struggles of the ‘lower orders’ in different historical contexts to show how they shaped the creation of the nations (and later part nation – Northern Ireland) making up the UK state.  It also highlights the periods associated with particular International Revolutionary Waves, when challenges were made, which looked beyond the continuing existence of the UK state. This is becoming ever more relevant today.

Parts Three, Four and Five of this book deal with the prolonged lead-up to the 1916-21/3 International Revolutionary Wave, its crescendo between 1917-19, and its ebbing from 1921, until its definite ending in 1923.  James Connolly was a major contributor to buildling a Socialist Republican-led, Syndicalist and Women’s Suffrage ‘internationalism from below’ alliance.  This played a major party in the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, which triggered th wider International Revolutionary Wave.

 

Eventually this Republican challenge was contained, as the International Revolutionary Wave, ebbed in 1921.  However, twenty-six counties of Ireland stlil broke free from the UK state.  These events signalled, right in the heartland of the British Union, that the UK state and British Empire’s days were numbered.  The Irish War of Independence provided an inspiration to anti-imperial struggles throughout the world.  And for a period before his early death, the Socialist Republican, John Maclean took up Connolly’s ‘break-up of the UK state and British Empire’ strategy in Scotland.  This until recently neglected and often misunderstood period of Maclean’s life is also examined in Part Five.

Both British Left Unionists and Irish and Scottish Nationalists have tried to claim Connolly and Maclean to support their own politics.  This book provides a challenge to their attempts.  It locates Connolly and Maclean within the initially Socialist Republican then developing wider Communist led, ‘internationalism from below’ alliance of workers and peasants, women’s emancipationists, oppressed nations and nationalities seeking freedom.  Connolly and Maclean have been the subject of more biographies and collected writings than any other Socialists born in these islands.  The majority of these works have appeared since the late 1960s, with greater numbers more recently.  This is because of the continued decline of the British Empire, the increasing relevence of the National Question and the consequent strains this places upon the Union.

Part Six of this book presents the case that the UK is today once more facing disintegration.  This could srill occur in areationary way, as the British ruling’s determination to hang on to it simperial and unionist legacy, takes us all down with it. I So this section of the book also examines those social and political forces which could ensure that the break-up of the UK happens in a beneficial way for the majority.  The British ruling class has and will continue to put up a vicious rearguard action until the bitter end.  This why the Socialist Republican, ‘break-up of the UK and British Empire’ politics of Connolly and Maclean have taken on a new relevance.  Informed by their struggles and works, we will be in a better position to bring about the ‘Ex-Brit’ demise of the UK state, highlighted in the book’s title.  And this should be located within a wider ‘internationalism from below’ perspective, as part of a global struggle for emancipation, liberation and self-determination (in its widest sense).

 

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Contents

 

INTRODUCTION

 

UNDERSTANDING THE UNIONIST NATURE OF THE UK STATE AND THE REASONS FOR ITS ONGOING DEMISE

 

The Union Flag; why it is still party time for the nations of these islands; and an outlne of the rise, hegemony and fall of the UK state make-up of the UK state; and the reasons for its ongoing demise

 

a) What does the Union Flag tell us about the UK?

b) The unionist nature of the state and the politics which flow from this

c) An outline of the book

 

PART ONE

 

FROM BRITANNIA, CALEDONIA AND HIBERNIA TO ENGLALAND, CYMRU, ALBA AND EIRINN

 

1. THE FOUR OF YORE

 

The far from inevitable development of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland as nations or states within their current territorial boundaries

a) The impact of different socio-economic systems and the role of religion

b) The emergence of four core areas in post-Roman Britannia, Caledonia and Hibernia

c) Englaland/England

d) Cymru/Wales

e) Alba/Scotland

f) Eirinn/Ireland

g) These islands at the end of the medieval period

 

2. AND THEN THERE WERE THREE

 

The kings of England forced acceptance of a more limited dynastic realm contributes to the emergence of an English nation; the uncertain boundaries of Wales within an English unitary state; the effect of the continued divide between two social orders in Scotland; and the enforced territorial unity of Ireland under the English Crown leads to deepening social division

a) A century of dramatic socio-economic change

b) These islands in 1600

 

3. REVOLUTION IN THE THREE KINGDOMS

 

The continued rise of the English nation and the invisibility of Wales as a separate polity under the Three Kingdoms and the ‘Greater English’ Republic; the legacy of two societies and the struggle between an all-islands Presbyterian settlement and the Stuarts’ wider dynastic claims limit the development of a Scottish nation; and the ethnically and religiously divided nature of Irish society acts as a barrier to the development of a united Irish nation

 a) The Stuarts’ struggle to control the Three Kingdoms and the Puritan, Presbyterian and the Independent Republican challenges, with their different class and national bases of support

b) England

c) Wales

d) Scotland

e) Ireland

f) These islands in 1660

 

 

PART TWO

 

A UNIONIST STATE FORGED IN THE FURNACES

OF BRITISH IMPERIAL EXPANSION AND

REPUBLICAN CHALLENGES

 

1. UNION AND EMPIRE – HYBRID BRITISHNESS

OR REPUBLICAN BREAKAWAY

The making of a British ruling class, united in the promotion of empire, and its decision to create a unionist state rather than a unitary nation state; the Republican challenges – the USA, the one that got away, and Ireland, the one that did not make it

 

a) The Three Kingdoms following the Glorious Revolution

b) The effect of the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland upon the development of the UK state

c) The choice facing the Thirteen Colonies – join the constitutional monarchist Union or go for an independent Republic

d) Ireland and the Republican, ‘internationalism from below’ alliance in the 1789-1815 International Revolutionary Wave

e) The UK by 1801 – the failure to create a unitary British state, the rise and fall of the Irish autonomous parliament, the realised and attempted Republican breakaway states in the USA and Ireland, and the British ruling class opts to extend the unionist form of the UK state to Ireland

 

2. FROM THE SPRINGTIME OF NATIONS

TO THE OLD ORDER REINVENTED

The expansion of hybrid British Unionism amongst the different classes in these islands and empire; the challenge of the 1847-9 International Revolutionary Wave and its defeat; and alternatives raised but suppressed or marginalised

 

a) The impact of industrial capitalism on the British ruling class and the UK state

b) The emergence of a new working class and the challenges to the new industrial capitalist order and the UK state

c) The Republican challenges in Lower and Upper Canada and their defeat followed by the 1840 Act of Union outside the UK

d) Wales – the advance to and retreat from the frontline of the challenge to the UK state

e) The lion that didn’t roar – the ‘lower orders’ in Scotland begin to support a reformed Scottish-British nation within the UK and British Empire

f) The impact of the Irish Repeal campaign, the emergence of the the Irish Confederation, and a comparison with the Chartist struggles up to 1848

g) The Democratic Associations, and the Fraternal Democrats’  ‘internationalism from below’ alliance in the 1847-9 International    Revolutionary Wave

h) The UK in 1849 – the triumph of industrial capital and the defeat the revolutionary democratic Republican challenges in Wales, Ireland and Canada help to consolidate the UK state,  the British Empire and hybrid British unionism

i) The 1854 Eureka Stockade rebellion – the Victorain colonial aftermath of the International Revolutionary Wave and the   legacy of the Chartists, Irish Confederation and the Red Republican challenge in Australia

j) How contemporary Communists and Red Republicans viewed the UK state and the future of the nations on these islands

 

3. THE BRITISH ROAD TO PROGRESS,

THE SUMMER OF THE UNION

BUT AN IRISH CLOUD ON THE HORIZON

 

The British Empire continues to underpin hybrid British Unionism; the problems promoting an Irish-British nation; the3. emergence of Welsh-Britain as the fourth nation within the Union; and the continued support for a Scottish-British nation; Irish mass migration, European asylum seekers and the response of the First International

 

a) The triumph of free market capitalism and liberal politics following the defeat of the 1847-9 International Revolutionary Wave

b) Ireland – the growing conflict between the Protestant Irish- British and the Catholic-Irish and attempts to create an Irish Republic

c) Wales – the emergence of a new Welsh-British nation and the beginning of a political struggle for its recognition

d) Scotland – the further development of the Scottish-British nation

e) The UK in the 1870s – the growing divergence between Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales

f) How the First International responded to the new political developments in Ireland and to Irish mass migration and European asylum seekers

  

 

PART THREE

 

GROWING TENSIONS IN THE UNION AND EMPIRE UNDER HIGH IMPERIALISM AND THE RECOGNITION A FOURTH NATION WITHIN THE UK

 

1. NEW BREEZES AND THEIR IMPACT UPON

THE FOUR NATIONS OF THE UK AND

THE WHITE SETTLER COLONIES

 

The transition from Liberal-led Free Trade Imperialism to Conservative-led New Imperialism; the impact of the Land and Labour Movement, a new social Republican challenge in Ireland creates a wider ‘internationalism from below’ alliance in Scotland, Wales, England, USA and Australia; the continued rise of Irish Nationalism and its compromises with the Catholic hierarchy; the continued advance of Scottish and Welsh Britain; the liberal wing of the British ruling class responds with Home Rule reform of the UK state; the conservative unionist counter-attack and the triumph of High Imperialism

 

a) The end of Free Trade Imperialism and rise of New Imperialism

b) The changeover from Liberal to Conservative hegemony amongst the British ruling class

c) Social Republicanism and the land struggle in Ireland pushes Gladstone’s Liberals into promoting the First Irish Home Rule Bill

d) The Land and Labour ‘internationalism from below’ alliance extends to Scotland helping to push Scottish Home Rule on to the political agenda

e) The Land and Labour ‘internationalism from below’ alliance extends to Wales, leading to the UK state’s growing recognition of Wales   as the fourth nation within the Union

f) The rise of the New (trade) Unionism and the Second Irish Home Rule Bill

g) The UK state following the defeat of the Second Irish Home Rule Bill

h) The retreat of New (trade) Unionism and its leaders’ limited political response to the development of multi-nation    struggles in the UK

i) How Social Republican, Labour and Socialist organisations viewed the UK state

 

 2. THE INDIAN SUMMER OF THE UK AND

BRITISH EMPIRE, NEW CHALLENGES AND

THE RETREAT TO UNIONIST INTRANSIGENCE

 The era of High Imperialism from 1895-1916; Conservative and Liberal responses; the continuing Irish challenge and the failure of the Constructive Unionist response; the competition between the Irish-British, Catholic-Irish and Irish-Irish nations; whilst the Scottish-British and Welsh-British nations follow a different pattern to Ireland

 

a) High Imperialism and Conservative and Liberal politics from 1895

b) The Second Boer War – British opposition to the ‘wrong sort’ of imperialism

c) The Second Boer War – Irish Nationalist support for ‘our kind’ of anti-Brits

d) Constructive Unionism to destructive Unionism – different ways to see off Irish Home Rule

e) The significance of the Irish Cultural Renaissance in the emergence of an Irish-Irish nation

f) The Scottish-British and Welsh-British nations continue to develop within the UK state framework

g) New (trade) Unionist, Labour and Socialist responses to the demand for greater self-determination in the constituent nations of the UK under the conditions of High Imperialism

h) Imperialism, new migration, the growth of distinct ethnic and multi-ethnic urban areas in England, Scotland and Wales and    alternative Socialist links between Ireland, Scotland and the USA

i) James Connolly and the emergence of Socialist Republicanism

 

3. THE AUTUMN CHILL OF UNION AND EMPIRE

British Unionist intransigence undermines the prospects for Catholic-Irish, non-sectarian Irish, or Irish-British nations within the UK and British Empire; different visions of an Irish-Irish nation; and the continued drive to inter-imperialist war

 

a) Conservative Unionist and Liberal Party divisions, but more fundamental agreements in the face of growing imperial rivalry

b) Labour, Socialists and the challenge of New Liberalism

c) The response of the exploited and oppressed – the impact of Syndicalism and the new Women’s Suffrage campaign on the          development of a new ‘internationalism from below’ alliance

d) John Maclean and James Connolly – differences and similarities before the First World War

e) The new wave of class struggles from 1906 and the Great Unrest from 1910-14

f) The climax of the Great Unrest – the 1913-14 Dublin Lock-Out and the impact of the new Syndicalist, Labour and Women’s Suffrage ‘internationalism from below’ alliance

g) The emergence of significant new political forces in Ireland – Sinn Fein, the IRB and Socialist Republicans

h) Reactionary unionism and the planned overthrow of the Liberal government over the third Home Rule Bill

i) British Unionist intransigence and Irish Nationalist retreats undermine the possibilities for a Catholic-Irish ‘nation’ or a non-sectarian Irish nation within the UK and British Empire

j) The IRB and Socialist Republicans become contenders in the struggle for Irish self-determination

k) A brittle Union under strain in the run-up to the First World War and the threads of a new Socialist Republican-led, ‘internationalism from below’ alliance

  

PART FOUR

 

THE DARK WINTER OF HIGH IMPERIALISM,

THE FIRST WORLD WAR

AND THE DAWNING OF LIGHT

WITH THE BEGINNING OF THE BREAK-UP OF UNION AND EMPIRE

 

 1. THE FIRST WORLD WAR AND THE REPUBLICAN SOCIALIST AND REPUBLICAN ALLIANCE FOR AN IRISH REPUBLIC

The Socialist Republican and Republican united front; and the 1916 Easter Rising and the Proclamation of the Republic

 

 a)  Chickens come home to roost – the First World War and the collapse of the Second International and British Socialism, as British Labour and trade unions back the UK government

b) The development of different Socialist strategies to bring the war to an end

c) The Socialist Republican alliance with the IRB for an insurrection to create an Irish Republic

d) The predictions of the 1916 Easter Rising’s organisers vindicated

e) The marginalisation of the Socialist Republican wing of the Re Republican alliance, following the 1916 Rising

f)   Different views of the type of political organisation required following Socialists’ experience in the Russian Empire and Ireland; and their sustainability in the new International Revolutionary Wave

 

2. THE 1916 RISING TRIGGERS A NEW INTERNATIONAL REVOLUTIONARY WAVE

 

The new International Revolutionary Wave with the renewal of the challenge to the UK state; and the different impact in Clydeside, South Wales and Ireland

 

a) The wider impact of the 1916 Rising in Scotland, England and Wales

b) The impact of the February Revolution on Socialists in Great Britain and Ireland

c) The impact of the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks upon Socialists in Ireland and Great Britain and the difficulties in trying to create a new party to meet the new needs

d) The different impact of the 1918 general election in Great Britain particularly Clydeside and South Wales, and in Ireland

 

PART FIVE

INTER-IMPERIALIST TENSIONS AND

ANTI-IMPERIALIST, REPUBLICAN AND COMMUNIST STORMS UNDERMINE THE UK AND BRITISH EMPIRE

 


1. THE SURGE OF THE

INTERNATIONAL REVOLUTIONARY WAVE AND

THE START OF THE BREAK-UP OF THE UK

 The surge of the International Revolutionary Wave to its highpoint in 1919; the development of a new Communist Party-led alliance of the working class and oppressed; post-war British imperial reaction; and the beginnings of the break-up of the UK

a)      British reaction confronts revived imperialist rivalry leading to splits in the post-war Coalition government

b)     The impact of the International Revolutionary Wave upon the working class struggle and splits in the post-war Coalition                                 government

c)      The impact of the rising International Revolutionary Wave upon colonial revolt and splits in the post-war Coalition                                     government

d)     The impact of the International Revolutionary Wave upon the struggle for an Irish Republic and splits in the post-war                                           Coalition government

e)      Major working class struggles in Ireland constrained by support either for the Union or for the Sinn Fein leadership of                                   the Irish Republic

f)      The belated impact of the new struggle for Irish self-determination upon the rest of the UK, and John Maclean’s                                abandonment of a ‘British road to socialism’

 

2. THE EBBING OF THE INTERNATIONAL REVOLUTIONARY WAVE AND THE CONTAINMENT OF THE BREAK-UP OF THE UK 

The ebbing International Revolutionary Wave to 1921/3; the Bolsheviks and British Unionist Left’s failure to promote ‘internationalism from below’; and the UK state’s counter-offensive props up a weakened Union and Empire

 

a) The limitations of Social Democratic and official Communist theories have their effect on the struggle for national self-determination

b) Struggles in Ireland constrained by the Bolsheviks’ failure to develop a new Communist-led ‘internationalism from below’ alliance of workers, small farmers, oppressed nations and nationalities

c) The political legacy of British imperialism holds back the International Revolutionary Wave during its upsurge and contributes to its ebb from 1921

d) The British ruling class flirts with Fascism in Great Britain but falls back on national Labourism to contain the working class upsurge

e) The British ruling class resorts to military repression and Fascist methods in Ireland, which contribute to the founding of a form of apartheid statelet in Six Counties Ulster

f) The British ruling class backed overturn of the First Irish Republic freezes the further break-up of the UK state

g) Roddy Connolly and James Larkin swimming against the ebbing tide of revolution in Ireland

h) John Maclean swimming against the ebbing tide of revolution in Scotland 

 

PART SIX

 

DARKENING SKIES AND CLEARING SHOWERS – THE REARGUARD ACTION TO SAVE WHAT IS LEFT OF EMPIRE AND UNION IN THE FACE OF CHALLENGES FROM ABOVE AND BELOW

 

1. TWO STALLED BREAK-UPS OF BRITISH EMPIRE AND THE UK

 

The importance of the legacy of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave for the break-up of the UK and Britishness; renewed challenges after the Second World War

 

a) The stalled break-up of the British Empire and the UK from 1923 to the end of the Second World Warb) The reappearance of the National Question during and after the Second World War

c) The marginalisation of the national democratic opposition in the UK during the Social Democratic-led Keynesian post-war boom

 

2. THE ACCELERATED BREAK-UP OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE AND ITS EFFECT ON THE UK

 

The break-up of the British Empire from the mid-1960s loosens the bonds holding the UK together; and the British ruling class turn to the EEC creates new problems

 

 a) The retreat of the British Empire and the reappearance of the National Question

b) The renewed significance of the regions, particularly in England and the ambiguous legacy of English Regionalism

c) The re-emergence of a liberal unionist response to the new challenges from the national democratic movements

d) The impact of the UK joining the EEC

 

3. THE RISE OF NEO-LIBERALISM AND THE UK STATE’S FAILED ATTEMPT TO CONTAIN NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC CHALLENGES 

The ruling class falls back again on conservative and reactionary unionism before being forced to adopt liberal unionist ‘Devolution-all-round’

 

a) The UK state’s conservative and reactionary unionist counter-offensive under Thatcher’s neo-liberalism

b) The return of national democratic resistance leads to a ‘New Unionist’ response in Ireland under the Tories

c) Labour widens the Tories’ Irish ‘New Unionism’ to cover Scotland and Wales and resurrects the old liberal unionist project as Devolution-all-round

d) The re-emergence of a Northern Irish-British identity

e) New Labour’s failed attempt at political devolution for the English regions

f) The 2008 Crash and the re-emergence of reactionary unionism in Northern Ireland

g) The Left tries to grapple with the new political situation and new challenges

 

4. THE RISE OF NATIONAL POPULISM AND REACTIONARY UNIONISM – A LAST DITCH ATTEMPT TO HOLD TOGETHER THE UK

After the Brexit vote, the ruling class turns to Right Populism and reactionary unionism

 

a) Scotland’s 2014 IndyRef1 and the inept British ruling class conservative unionist response

b) After the 2008 Financial Crisis the British ruling class hardens its Euro-scepticism whilst New Labour

c) New Labour and Con-Dem governments seek an ethnic (cultural) underpinning for Britishness and the UK state’s stepped-up attacks on migrants

d) The rise of the Hard Right and the move from Euroscepticism to Europhobia

e) The reactionary nature of the Brexit campaign and its aim to buttress the UK state, reinforce migration controls and move politics further to the Right

f) Donald Trump and the global ascendancy of Right Populism, and the emergence of a UK-wide reactionary unionist Brexit alliance

g) Completing the Right Populist takeover of the UK state in    2019

h) ‘Brexit’ undermines the position of EU migrants and opens up the prospect of further working class divisions in the UK

 

5. THE BREAK-UP OF THE UK STATE AND THE UNDERMINING OF HYBRID BRITISHNESS

A UK state Brexit and US Right Populist alliance, fragmented constitutional nationalist responses; and the possibility of a Socialist Republican, ex-Brit and ‘internationalism from below’ alliance across Europe

 

a) ‘Brexit’ and Johnson’s Right Populist election victory further undermine hybrid-Britishness

b) Competing strategies in the face of the break-up of the UK and the need for a Socialist Republican, ‘internationalism from below’ response

 

 

 

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