Feb 19 2019

BREXIT AND WHAT IT MEANS IN IRELAND

The E&L blog  has been reporting the situation in Ireland since we started up. However, during  current Brexit negotiations , the  ‘backstop’ has pushed the issue of Northern Ireland to the fore. We are publishing two articles which share a lot in common in their analysis of Ireland, but which offer differing perspectives on the role of the EU. The first is written by David Jamieson and fappeared on the Commonspace blog. The second is written by Allan Armstrong and forms the seventh chapter of his new pamphlet From Blatcherism to Maybynism.

 

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  1. ANALYSIS – MICRO-POLITICS ISN’T ENOUGH – WE MUST ADDRESS

THE  PARTITION OF IRELAND

 

Debates around the UK border in Ireland and the so called ‘backstop’ bring the crisis elements of the British state into sharper focus. Continue reading “BREXIT AND WHAT IT MEANS IN IRELAND”

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Mar 02 2016

THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS

 

This article, written by Allan Armstrong (RCN) in 2015, has now been updated to include a new section 3 on Scotland. It has been moved from its earlier site.

Section A –  The UK State and Britishness

Section B –  From the Irish-British and ‘Ulster’-British ‘Insider’ to the Irish ‘Racialised’ and ‘Ethno-Religious Outsider’ to the new ‘National Outsider’

Section C – Britishness, the UK State, Unionism, Scotland and the ‘National Outsider’ 

 

A. THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS

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Introduction

The purpose of this article is to examine the concept of the national outsider in relation to Britishness, for the people of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This has been done through the further development of the concept of the outsider used in Satnam Virdee’s significant book Racism, Class and the Racialised Outsider [1]. Here he outlines the creation of the racialised outsider [2]. Mary Davis’ earlier, but also significant, Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement (3),  wrote, in effect, about the gendered outsider, without using the term.

The first part of this article will look at the historically changing position of racialised and gendered outsiders in the UK before the second and third parts address the changing position of the national outsider. Here it will be shown how the post-war British Labour government provided widely accepted ‘insider’ Britishness status for those who held hybrid Scottish and Welsh and ‘Ulster’ British identities. This though excluded the Catholic Irish living in Northern Ireland, giving a continued basis for an Irish nationalist politics based on the Irish national outsider. For a brief period in the 1960s the development of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement raised the possibility of widening the sectarian nationality-based ‘Ulster’-Britishness to create a new more inclusive Northern Ireland-Britishness, However,  an alliance of the Ulster Unionism, Loyalism and the UK state  thwarted this, leading to the re-emergence of a reinvigorated Irish republicanism, which drew support from those still treated as national outsiders by the UK state.

Furthermore, in the context of a  continued imperial decline of the UK, the 1960s saw the existing Scottish-British and Welsh-British identities becoming more effectively challenged. This led to a prolonged attempt by the liberal wing of the British ruling class to try to democratise these identities within a political framework of Devolution. The failure of the Sunningdale Agreement in the face of reactionary unionism, and the 1979 Scottish and Welsh Devolution Bills through conservative unionist opposition, followed later by the lukewarm liberal unionist nature of the 1997 ‘Devolution-all-round’ settlement, have contributed to the emergence of significant numbers of Scottish and Welsh national outsiders in relation to the UK state, whilst still not fully integrating the previous Irish national outsiders. Today, the apparent inability of the UK state, with its strong conservative unionist, and growing reactionary unionist forces, to sustain a more widely supported political settlement has led considerably greater numbers to reject any notion of ‘Britishness’, particularly in Scotland.

 

1) The notion of ‘outsider’ and ‘toleration’ in relation to the role of the UK state in creating and maintaining Britishness

In some ways the position of black people in the UK from the late eighteenth century, addressed in Virdee’s book, represents an updated version of the toleration that appeared in the early days of capitalist development. This toleration was extended both to religious and ethnic minorities who performed a significant economic role within certain states. Such toleration was found in some city-states, e.g. Venice [4]and then in some mercantile capitalist states, e.g. the Netherlands, England, then the UK. These states produced regulations and developed practices that altered the status of those they tolerated, either for better or worse.
Continue reading “THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS”

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Aug 05 2015

WHAT THE FUK? – Fascist UK, Britannia and the Far Right

Gavin Bowd’s book Fascist Scotland, Caledonia and the Far Right has given succour to unionist opponents of Scottish self-determination. Allan Armstrong (RCN) provides a republican and international socialist critique.

WHAT THE FUK?

Fascist UK, Britannia and the Far Right

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1) What is a fascist organisation?

Gavin Bowd’s book, Fascist Scotland, Caledonia and the Far Right, contains a lot of useful material about far right writings, culture and organisation in Scotland since the 1920s. However, Bowd does not define what he means by fascism, nor distinguish it from other forms of reactionary or right populist politics. These often invoke similar chauvinist, ethnic or racist themes. The purpose behind Bowd’s lack of clarity over the political basis of fascism only emerges gradually.
Continue reading “WHAT THE FUK? – Fascist UK, Britannia and the Far Right”

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Mar 25 2015

DEFINING REPUBLICANISM

John Tummon (Republican Socialist Alliance) responds to Murdo Ritchie’s (RCN) Promoting Republicanism (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/promoting-republicanism/)

Murdo Ritchie’s ‘Promoting Republicanism’ is a very important contribution to something we Republican Socialists need to keep working on until we have a theoretically rigorous and internally-tested critique of the poverty of any socialist analysis that fails to incorporate a full understanding of democracy and republicanism; only when this is in place can we think about breaking through to a position of genuine influence on the Left, let alone wider society outside of Scotland.

I see Murdo’s ‘Promoting Republicanism’ as a key stage in that development – and a very welcome one at that – and my comments, including my attempted development of aspects of what Murdo has written, are put forward in that spirit. What I increasingly find is that the most interesting left thinking in Britain comes from Republican Socialists, which was born out by the impressive quality of discussion at the recent RSA AGM in London; much of what passes as debate within the rest of the British (certainly the English) Left is stale repetition and, within Left Unity, the recycling of stale certainties from past eras in the name of ‘doing politics differently’. Unless we think politics differently, a failed practice will recur.

Continue reading “DEFINING REPUBLICANISM”

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Aug 15 2014

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF COUNTER-REVOLUTION

Kool34 sent us a comment on the articles in our recent bulletin on the First World War (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/08/09/emancipation-liberation-special-bulletin-the-centenary-of-the-world-war-i-imperialist-slaughter/#more-7342). This comment invited us to read the following article by Mark Kosman. We are pleased to draw this to the attention of our readers.

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In 1871, Karl Marx wrote that governments use war as a fraud, a “humbug, intended to defer the struggle of the classes” (1). In 1914, that fraud was so effective that not only most workers, but also most Marxists, supported their respective nation’s rush to war. Ever since then, governments have used war to defer class struggle and prevent revolution. But this strategy cannot last forever.

Continue reading “ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF COUNTER-REVOLUTION”

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Mar 13 2007

The Republic of the Imagination

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 14RCN @ 8:46 pm

The Republic of the Imagination

In August 2006, Allan Armstrong interviewed the literary critic and poet John Manson about his life and works

Could you please give us some background information about your life?

John Manson

John Manson

I was born on a croft on the coast of the Pentland Firth in 1932. My mother was widowed in 1941. Within that year, 1941-2, she lost her husband, my father, and his brother, who lived with us (both to pneumonia), and her own brother, a wireless operator, whose ship was torpedoed. She worked until 1968 with no pension, except the old age pension at 60.

In 1950 I went to Aberdeen University to study English Literature and Language and completed the first three years. In the winter term of 1952-3, I attended David Murison’s Extra-Mural lectures on Scottish Literature and must have heard of Hugh MacDiarmid’s work there for the first time. At the same time I became interested in Franz Kafka and have followed the two strands of Scottish and European (and World) literature ever since. At the same time, or perhaps a little later, I began to read articles from a Marxist point of view, although I wasn’t living in class-conscious circumstances. I started to do some writing. This was the period of the Korean War, the colonial repression in Malaya and Kenya, and the suspension of the constitution in British Guiana.

At home in the summer of 1953 I began to have a partial breakdown of health (psychosomatic) – no hospitalization – and this went on for a few years. In 1955 my mother and I moved to a smaller place in Sutherland and I recovered my health there to a large extent. For the first time, I felt free from pressure. Later I qualified as a primary teacher and taught in Fife, Edinburgh and Dumfries and Galloway.

I began to read widely in literature. Of the novels I read at that time, I expect the works of Maxim Gorky and Mikhail Sholokhov would most stand rereading. I also read the trilogies of Konstantin Fedin and Alexei Tolstoy. When Dr. Zhivago, Lolita and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich were published I read these as well. MacDiarmid published some of the Zhivago lyrics in The Voice of Scotland and introduced a selection of Pasternak’s work in a translation by his sister, Lydia Pasternak Slater (she moved to Britain before the Second World War).

The poets I read at that time were Christo Botev, the national poet of Bulgaria, in Paul Eluard’s French translation; Nicola Vaptsarov, also Bulgarian, who was shot by the Fascists; Martin Carter of (then) British Guiana, whose Collected Poems and Selected Prose, University of Hunger, was published in early 2006; and Nazim Hikmet, who is now regarded as the major poet of Turkey in the last century. I also became aware of Louis Aragon’s poetry in 1956, through his weekly paper, Les Lettres Francaises; and then read two of his 6 volume series, Les Communistes, and other novels in French. I still have a copy of a letter from Collet’s, listing eight volumes of Antonio Gramsci in Italian. Some of the other writers in whom I became interested at this time will emerge during my answers. I read the early works of Alan Sillitoe and Arnold Wesker, nearly all Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell, and at least one each of John Steinbeck, Sinclair Lewis, Erskine Caldwell and James T. Farrell.

How would you describe yourself in political terms?

A non-Party Socialist, since the dissolution of the CPGB

What do you see as the significance of the literary side of politics?

Politics is part of the public life of the times and it should be recreated as an important aspect of culture.

You see 1991 as forming a break in a certain period of literary politics. Why is this?

1991 witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It’s the end of an era in that sense, but not the end of other Communist Parties. It’s much more difficult to say how this affects the literary side of politics. The Portuguese Communist, Jose Saramago, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, for example.

You see Hugh MacDiarmid as the most important literary figure in Scotland in the 20th century. Why is this?

MacDiarmid was a great lyrical and satirical poet and he was also a national regenerator through his anti-imperialist writing. He had enormous influence on other people, mostly when they were young and this influence extended to the worlds of art, music, history, language, philosophy, politics and economics as well as imaginative literature. He made the greatest single-handed contribution to ensure that Scotland would not be, as in the line from Tom Buchan’s poem, a one-way street to the coup of the mind. He wrote instead:

For freedom means that a lad or lass
In Cupar or elsewhaur yet
May alter the haill o’ human thocht
Mair than Christ’s altered it

I never set een on a lad or a lass
But I wonder gin he or she
Wi’ a word or deed’ll suddenly dae
An impossibility.

(Complete Poems, 1, pp. 257-8, Hugh MacDairmid, Manchester, 1993.)

MacDiarmid was at the centre of a number of political and literary controversies:

  • a. His alleged Scottish fascist past
  • b. The ‘bomb London’ poem from the Second World War(On the Imminent Destruction of London, in The Revolutionary Art of the Future – Rediscovered poems by Hugh MacDairmid, edited by John Manson, DorianGrieve and Alan Riach, Manchester, 2003.)
  • c. His ‘flytings’ with Hamish Henderson and Ewan MacColl.

What are your views on these particular issues?

  • MacDiarmid was never a Fascist in the sense of a supporter of a right-wing dictatorship; he didn’t belong to a Fascist group, for example. A study of his article in The Scottish Nation (1923), Programme for a Scottish Fascism, shows that he saw ‘a Scottish Fascism’ as Nationalist –

    ‘Scotland First’ for us as it was ‘Italy First’ for them’ – and Socialist – ‘… a Scottish Nationalist Socialism … will restore an atmosphere in which the fine, distinctive traits and tendencies of Scottish character which have withered in the foul air of our contemporary chaos, will once more revive.’

    He thought that …Fascism in Italy must incline to the Left. He also quoted The Fascist Movement in Italian Life where Pietro Gorgolini says that,

    Fascism understands the immense social importance of land, hence it condemns absentee and unproductive possession, which leaves vast tracts of land uncultivated that could be highly productive.

    (Hugh MacDiarmid: Selected Prose, pp. 34-8, Alan Riach, editor, Manchester, 2000.)

    Obviously, MacDiarmid thought this kind of ‘fascism’ could be applied to the Scottish Highlands but he failed to give weight to the fact that the Peasant Leagues were being broken up in Italy at this time. At the time MacDiarmid wrote the article he was a member of the Scottish Home Rule Association, the ILP and the No-More-War Movement through the League of Nations. He was also becoming interested in Social Credit.

    Similarly, MacDiarmid took ideas from Wyndham Lewis’s book on Hitler (1931) which seemed to chime with his own.

    Hitler’s ‘Nazis’ wear their socialism with precisely the difference which post-socialist Scottish nationalists must adopt. Class-consciousness is anathema to them, and in contradistinction to it they set up the principle of race consciousness.

    (The Caledonian Antisyzygy and the Gaelic Idea in Essays of Hugh MacDiarmid, Duncan Glen, editor, London, 1969.)

    He takes over the concept of ‘Blutsgefuhl’ or ‘blood feeling’. He equates Hitler’s attacks on ‘Leihkapital’ (loan capital) with Major Douglas’s (the main advocate of Social Credit). MacDiarmid was very impulsive and often wrote reviews and articles in great haste. MacDiarmid was certainly deceived by Hitler as a man in 1932-3.

    Here are some quotations from his Free Man articles At the Sign of the Thistle:

    In view of the recent discussion in Scotland of the necessity of militant action, readers should carefully weigh what [the poet] Mr [John] Gawsworth says:-[Hitler] is as much a prophet as Mahomet, Mussolini, or Lenin, but he is an armed prophet’.
    (23/6/32)

    Compare the mental calibre of the members of the Scottish Development Council with men like De Valera in Ireland, Hitler in Germany, Gandhi in India.
    (9/7/32) The SDC had been formed in 1931.

    … it is just this vital force, this resourcefulness and colour which attracts me in Hitler as, say, against the utter nullity of Sir Robert Horne or the horrible local preacherism, writ large, of Ramsay MacDonald.
    (3/9/32)

    I agree with Hitler in one thing – probably the only thing in which I do agree with him at all – and that is his doctrine that action must not negate propaganda.
    (4/11/33)

  • b. MacDiarmid saw London as metropolitan city, the centre of empire.
  • c. MacDiarmids ‘flytings’ with Hamish Henderson were public. Ewan MacColl records his private discussions in his autobiography, Journeyman. MacColl writes:So why had he chosen to single out the folk revival as a special target for his venom? Because of the kailyard, the nineteenth century parochialism which had poisoned Scots literature and condemned it to a debilitated existence in the cabbage patch. MacDiarmid had rescued it and, with the help of a talented band of devotees, restored it to its proper role. And now it was being threatened again by vandals calling themselves folk-singers, by a movement which had within it seeds which, if allowed to germinate, would produce such a crop of weeds that the kailyard would triumph again. MacDiarmid’s fears were not entirely unfounded.
    (Journeyman, an autobiography by Ewan MacColl, pp. 284-5, Ewan MacColl, London, 1990.)

    Macdiarmid had positives as well as negatives. He drew attention to modern epics such as Pablo Neruda’s Canto General and Hikmet’s Human Landscapes.

Could you explain how you came to persuade MacDiarmid to fully publish his Third Hymn to Lenin?

On my first visit to Macdiarmid’s house, Brownsbank, in February 1955 I asked him if it had been published in full (one-third had already been published in Lucky Poet). I saw he made a mental note and he published it in the next issue of The Voice of Scotland in April. Almost fifty years later I discovered that it was originally written as part of The Red Lion project (in the mid-Thirties) and that he then realised that it could be regarded as a ‘third hymn’ – but it wasn’t directly conceived as a ‘hymn to Lenin’ like the first and second hymns. Although it does address Lenin in parts of the poem it is more of a ferocious attack on the housing conditions in Glasgow and on the modes of thought which allowed these conditions to exist.

MacDairmid: a great lyrical & satirical poet

MacDairmid: a great lyrical & satirical poet

How did you discover the material which formed the basis for The Revolutionary Art of the Future – rediscovered poems by Hugh MacDiarmid?

In 1990 the National Library of Scotland purchased (for £250,000) the archive of material which Kulgin Duval and Colin Hamilton had been buying from him in his lifetime. An American University would have paid double. This has been classified into 246 folders and notebooks. As soon as I opened one of these I realised that some important poems had remained unpublished through lack of opportunities at particular times.

Other people had realised this before but perhaps I made a more thorough search than they did and recorded them in typescript. I had made several (more limited) discoveries of uncollected and unpublished poetry and prose on previous occasions, e.g. From Work in Progress in Penguin (1970), now retitled Kinsfolk, and the eight stories in Annals of the Five Senses(1999).

Your house contains many photographs and maps of places associated with MacDiarmid. Do you see ‘place’ as being important in his work?

Yes. Langholm, his birthplace; Whalsay, where he lived in the 1930’s; and also Liverpool and London. In Liverpool he wrote the poems in the abcbdd stanza (with the truncated sixth line) which he didn’t use before or after, when he was thinking back to Langholm; and in London he began The Red Lion project perhaps because he joined the CP there in August 1934 and had also just read Allen Hutt’s pamphlet Crisis on Clydeside.

Scott Lyall’s book, Hugh MacDiarmid’s Poetry of Politics and Place was published last year by Edinburgh University Press.

You have also located unpublished Lewis Grassic Gibbon writings in your researches.

Gibbon signed a contract with Faber to write a biography of William Wallace. He never completed it, but I found the first ten pages in the National Library of Scotland. Gibbon presents Wallace, At the head of a force that bore the significant title of the ‘Army of the Commons of Scotland’ and that after his defeat at Falkirk, not again, tell on tale, did the Commons of Scotland gather to battle under their ain folk till the Covenanting times.(William Wallace – Knight of Scotland, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, with introduction Braveheart in Kinraddie by John Manson, in Cencrastus, no. 61.)

In an important literary/political debate in the 1930’s Lewis Grassic Gibbon and James Barke seemed to reject a Scottish national identity. Yet MacDairmid later claimed that Gibbon had become a supporter of a Scottish Workers Republic. What is your view of this?

MacDiarmid may have drawn this impression from his last meeting with Gibbon in Welwyn Garden City in September 1934 but there is no evidence for it in Gibbon’s writing. Less than five months later he was dead.

You have spent some time recently working on James Barke. What do you see his significance was/is in the literary side of politics?

I think The Land of the Leal remains an important popular novel. Major Operation should also be republished though it is spoiled a bit by speeches like MacKelvie’s on materialism (in the context of the novel).

Jim White, a long time member of the Communist Party, has claimed James Barke was a Party member. Why do you dispute this?

Jim only had Bill Cowe’s word for it. I’ve rehearsed the evidence in my essay, Did James Barke join the Communist Party? (Communist History Network Newsletter, 19, 2006, published by Politics section, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, M13 9PL, website)

Why do you think James Barke was a member of the Freemasons?

I’ve no evidence here. Maybe it was the Burns connection? He was also a member of the Boys Brigade 1920-22 and spoke warmly of the Brigade in an article in 1956 (among other organisations).

Sorley MacLean doesn’t appear to have figured as much as MacDiarmid, Barke or Gibbon in your work on the literary side of politics. Is there a reason for this?

The reason is that I have no Gaelic and am therefore dependent on translations of his work. I’ve read his poems and his prose collection Ris a’ Bhruthaich (1985) and Joy Hendry and Raymond Ross’s Critical Essays (1986), the interviews he gave, and I’ve also heard him reading.

You have translated several European writers, particularly from the ‘God That Failed’ tradition, e.g. the Italian, Ignazio Silone; from dissident communists, like Victor Serge; and you have been interested in and sympathetic to non-Communists like the Icelander, Halldor Laxness. Why do you draw from these traditions?

A misunderstanding here. I’ve only translated one letter of Silone from Italian and though I’ve translated two books and a number of articles by Victor Serge I only became aware of him in the 1970s. But I’ve certainly been reading and rereading Silone from time to time since the late Fifties initially because he recreated the life of peasant societies and later because he reveals the debates within the minds of some of his leading characters with regard to the Communist Party.

The poets from whom I have translated the most are Pablo Neruda (Chile), Louis Aragon (France), and Paul Eluard (France)- Communists, though Eluard wasout of the Party for a decade,roughly 1932 to 1942. They had lifelong careers as authors and wrote intensely personal as well as political poetry – Resistance poetry in the case of Aragon and Eluard, anti-Franco and anti- Yankee poetry in the case of Neruda. Another poet I have translated, Cesar Vallejo (Peru), was also a Communist. But I’ve also translated from poets whose political positions cannot be so easily identified, e.g., Eugenio Montale (Italian), Constantine Cavafy (Greek), Manuel Bandeira (Brazilian), Henri Michaux (Belgian), whose work appears in my pamphlets.

Again I’ve read and reread Laxness since the late fifties, initially Independent People, about Icelandic crofters, and Salka Valka, about fishing communities (along with the Latvian, Vilis Lacis’s A Fisherman’s Son). I have read Max Frisch (Swiss), whose novels deal with questions of identity and who was also a great dramatist; Elias Canetti, Nobel prize-winner (1981), for his threevolume autobiography; Andre Malraux (France), for his novels of the political life of the Thirties; Albert Camus (France), for his stories and his posthumously published novel, The First Man, involving the search for his roots (Nobel prize-winner 1957); many of the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (France), and more recently, the novels of the recently deceased Pramoeda Ananta Toer, who spent many years in the Indonesian gulag.

What attracted you, in particular, to Victor Serge, who has been part of the anarchist and Trotskyist tradition in the past?

I was first attracted to Serge in the 1970s through his novels, of which six have been translated into English (and one is currently being translated – Les Annees Sans Pardon. It was through Serge’s literary and historical works that I first became aware of the Left Opposition in the Communist Party; and this led to a much slighter knowledge of other Oppositionist novelists like Panait Istrati (Roumania) and Charles Plisnier (Belgium).

Why do you think there has been a resurgence of interest in Victor Serge recently?

I think Serge appeals because of his probity. But this doesn’t mean that I think he was right about all the positions he took up, particularly after the Second World War where he preferred the semi-dictatorship of the right to the Communist government which would have been in power if the ELASEAM hadn’t been defeated by our own forces (Carnets, p. 158, Victor Serge, Arles, 1985.). Recently I’ve heard that the well-known American essayist, the late Susan Sontag, wrote a preface to Serge’s The Case of Comrade Tulayev.

You are not just a literary critic and translator but also a poet. How important is this to you?

It is important to express my feelings but most of my poems are occasional rather than constructed to a theme. It’s only after they’re written that I begin to see the themes.

Why do you see the land as so important in a Scotland that has become very urbanised?

Simply my own experience.

I’ve lived the life and done the work. And it was also the experience of my forebears on both sides.

You have had a working relationship with the writer, David Craig. How did this develop?

I met David at Aberdeen University in 1951. In On The Crofters’ Trail (1990) which is dedicated to me as ‘poet and crofter’, David writes that … our discussions of literature and history have been incessant ever since.

How much influence have the places you have lived had upon you?

Caithness negative (as explained), Sutherland positive (my adopted county] West Fife positive, modern industry (then) and historical background, Edinburgh positive for its libraries and galleries.

You wrote to Emancipation & Liberation, in response to the article, Beyond Bayonets and Broadswords, which was trying to retrieve the revolutionary roots of Scottish Presbyterianism’s left wing. What prompted you to contribute to the wider discussion on Jacobites or Covenanters?

This was purely a literary interest, since the article made mention of MacDairmid’s literary use of the ‘white rose’. (Beyond Bayonets and Broadswords, Allan Armstrong, Emancipation & Liberation no. 5/6, and letter by John Manson, Emancipation & Liberation, no. 10.)

What is your view of the impact of Scottish Presbyterianism on society after your early experiences?

I found the impact of the particular brand of Presbyterianism with which I came into contact (when I was powerless myself) as harmful and repressive. I try to express this in my poem, To An Unconceived Child. Ian Macpherson’s Shepherd’s Calendar (1931) comes closest to my own experience. The author, Tom MacDonald (Fionn MacColla) called it nay-saying.(10 At the Sign of the Clenched Fist, p. 185, Fionn MacColla, Edinburgh, 1967.)

What literary projects are you currently involved in?

I’ve reconstructed the manuscript of Mature Art, which MacDiarmid hoped to publish with the Obelisk Press in Paris (before its occupation in 1940). After that he withdrew, and sometimes adapted, sections of the poem which he included in In Memoriam James Joyce (1955) and The Kind of Poetry I Want (1961). The poem has never been published in full and some parts remain unpublished. I’ve also found the plan of The Red Lion, but not all the parts.

A major project has been making a selection from the letters to MacDiarmid in the National Library of Scotland and Edinburgh University Library, which may well number fifteen thousand.

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Aug 05 2002

British Nationalism and the rise of Fascism

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:40 pm

While the Anti Nazi League concentrates its effort on fighting German Nazis, fascism has very British roots. In a shortened version of an article he wrote while in the Republican Workers’ Tendency, Chris Ford shows the link between loyalism and fascism. Chris is currently on the Editorial Board of Hobgoblin.

The British roots of fascism

In an exercise in deception British Left and Right historians have placed an Italian label on this movement. It better deserves a British one. The first movement of 20th century fascism emerged in 1910 to enforce the unity of the United Kingdom. It was a time of militant workers’ struggles and resurgent Irish nationalism. The crisis over the national question split the British ruling class. The liberal wing advocated devolution within the Union, then called Home Rule. The most reactionary wing, without a parliamentary majority, set its frontline on the Irish question. The Tory Unionist, Sir Edward Carson, raised the 80,000 strong UVF in defence of empire and against unpatriotic socialists and papist nationalists. Two decades before German generals moved behind National Socialism, British generals were backing the British nationalist UVF as a rallying force for counter-revolution in the UK. Orange reaction set about the sectarian division of the working class. It was the shape of things to come in Europe as a whole.

International revolution and counter-revolution

The Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916, followed a year later by the Bolshevik led October Uprising, heralded the International Revolutionary Wave, which lasted until 1921. Amidst the slaughter of the First World War, millions of workers and peasants rose up to challenge social and national oppression. The uprooting of capitalism and construction of a communist society was no longer a distant utopia but a living possibility. It was no coincidence that at this moment in history a movement as barbaric as fascism should emerge. World capitalism unleashed everything from its arsenal to prevent communism and to maintain its own rule. The ‘democratic’ League of Nations launched an Anti-Bolshevik Crusade. Communists at the time saw fascism as inseparable from the overall offensive of capital. Through the state, the capitalist class sponsored the fascists in a variety of ways in different countries to meet its own ends. In Italy the parliamentary Right placed Mussolini at the helm of the state; in Hungary they were the only force available to crush the Hungarian Soviet Republic. However it was in Germany that fascism played such a key role in the decisive battles of the revolution in Europe.

The UK did not escape the revolutionary wave and the working class did not escape from this fascist backlash. Whilst fascism is an independent movement, the decisive factor determining the extent of its power and influence stems from the state. In the UK the myriad fascist forces which emerged in this period were almost in their entirety initiated by the state security forces. Organisations like the BEU were engaged in activities against the workers’ movement from organising strike breaking, goon squads and intelligence work. In 1918 the far Right stood under the populist cloak of the National Democratic Labour Party, backed by the BEU. They gained 10 MPs. When the Duke of Northumberland founded the British Fascists in 1923 they received MI5 assistance. Through direct state support the early fascists formed a rightist prop to the Anti-Bolshevik Crusade.

The director of the Economic League, James White, admired the British Fascists for having achieved an end for which it has never been credited. It forced the Communist Party to abandon much of its militant activity.

The Six Counties – fascism in action

It was the Irish revolution, however, which provided the main focus for British Fascism. The same directors of the state security services which had coordinated activities in England, Scotland and Wales throughout the International Revolutionary Wave, saw their actions as closely linked to the continuation of the counter-revolution in Ireland. In 1921, having forced a Partition Agreement upon the now split forces of Irish Republicanism, they set about the task of imposing it in the Six Counties. The traditional British Left view completely fails to see any connection between fascism and this tragic episode. Field Marshall Wilson set up the Specials, a force of 48,000. drawn from the old UVF and Cromwell Clubs. Lloyd George described them as analogous to the fascisti in Italy. In the years 1920 to 1922 these British fascists forced 23,000 people from their homes and killed 400 in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Having imposed partition, Wilson and Co looked beyond Irish horizons to the rest of the UK and the possibility of forming a real conservative party. The implementation of the reaction plotted by the Real Conservatives (a name which could well be applied to the far Right of today’s conservatives, with their allies in the security services, amongst the Ulster Unionists and the British National Party!) never spread beyond the Six Counties.

Although Wilson was finished off by an IRA bullet, there are wider reasons for the failure of the first wave of British fascism and important lessons for today. Ireland was the only place in the UK that the British ruling class was challenged by insurgent masses demanding social and national liberation. The Easter Rising had demolished the liberal agenda of Home Rule under the Crown and proclaimed a Republic.

In the rest of the UK the post-war upheaval took another direction opening the way to a different solution for the British ruling class. Of the Communists, only John MacLean posed the question of a serious revolutionary challenge to the state. With the developing break up of the British Empire and the UK state he united the demand for a Scottish Workers’ Republic with slogans of Up Ireland!, Up India! and began drawing up plans for an insurrection.

However, the majority of the workers’ movement remained tied to Labourism and the majority of communists to a syndicalist struggle. The capitalist state was not challenged for political power. The class collaboration of the Labour and trade union bureaucracy provided the British ruling class with a solution within the framework of parliamentary democracy. The Crown Powers still provided the state security forces with the means to sponsor fascism, varying from military force to strike-breaking depending on what was required. The history of pre-war fascism shows that bourgeois liberal democracy and fascism are not absolute opposites. His Majesty’s government instituted fascist terror in Ireland to preserve the UK state and the façade of parliamentary democracy was allowed to remain intact.

British nationalism – reinforcing the UK state

In the past the super profits of the British Empire held together the constituent nations of the United Kingdom and united a ruling class in their British nation. With the loss of empire and facing increasingly stiff competition, the UK may appear a great power but it is in a state of terminal decline. The twentieth century saw the break up of the multinational states – most importantly the USSR and Yugoslavia. Here the once united ruling classes have retreated into Great Russian and Greater Serbian nationalism. Such nationalism, although often ignored by the Brit Left, has been ever present in the UK. British nationalism is changing and in many ways to a more dangerous beast, for the only possibility of a Britain great again is retrogression into the worst chauvinism, racism and authoritarian control. It is not the nationalism of empire building and the great white mission but of a social system in decay and for the preservation of the UK state itself. This national chauvinism has justified the attacks on Irish republicans and black communities, laying the groundwork for attacks on the working class as a whole.

Loyalism and Fascism

In the 1990’s the BNP manifesto declared that, We are dedicated to maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We oppose any devolution schemes which threaten to loosen ties between the component parts of the United Kingdom. They are standing in the tradition of British fascism which has always reflected the Britishness of the ruling classes setting its frontline on the unity of the Union.

Just as at the birth of fascism, the most reactionary forces of British nationalism focus on the Irish question. The republican communities of resistance, which formed in the 1970’s established political, social and military institutions within the territory of the UK state but in defiance of this state. In doing so they have faced the ferocity of the British ruling class and, as in the past, British fascism.

This Loyalist wing of British Fascism is not restricted to the Six Counties. Loyalism has been active for years in Scotland and England also. The Independent Orange Order in Scotland is currently the largest fascist group in Scotland openly in alliance with the UDA. It has worked closely with the largely English based BNP, most notably against republicans. In England the Loyalist activity has ranged from mobilising against the Manchester Martyrs March, the London Bloody Sunday March to engaging in covert strike breaking, eg Laings Lockout.

Whilst the traditional Left has been looking for a fascism of swastikas it has failed to see that these were Nazi symbols built out of a German nationalism. Groups like the SWP’s Anti-Nazi League like to emphasise the essentially foreign nature of fascism, painting a picture of 1930’s German Nazis. They miss the reality of British fascism feeding off British nationalism. So nationalism itself remains compatible with antifascism, the heritage of the Guns of Navarone, D-Day and We won the war. What then are symbols of British nationalism? The Union Jack, the Orange sash and the Lambeg drum. These are also the symbols which indigenous British fascism is attempting to utilise. We ignore this at our peril.

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