Sep 21 2014

Scottish Independence – A Feminist Response

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 23RCN @ 5:44 pm

Book Review: Scottish Independence – A Feminist Response, Authors: Cat Boyd & Jenny Morrison Publisher: Word Power Books

Even when we lost we felt like we had won something

It was an exciting time to be involved in Scottish politics. There was an optimism and vibe in workplaces and on the streets that I can never remember experiencing before. And even when we lost we felt like we had won something- a movement, a connection a possibility of another way of living. Obviously there was a plethora of literature, books and pamphlets and leaflets to accompany this political phenomenon. Usual stuff from the left – some of it good, some tedious but not much was inspirational. However, along came a wee book by Cat Boyd and Jenny Morrison and it captured my imagination and boosted my belief that young socialist women have ideas on class and gender which can inspire us all.

Continue reading “Scottish Independence – A Feminist Response”

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May 16 2012

Review: Onsind – Dissatisfacton

Album available at name your price with a minimum of £0

ONSIND are an acoustic pop punk band from Durham. Their name is in reference to the lack of abortion facilities in some areas of America.

I recently attended a gig put on by the Make That a Take DIY (anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-fascist and anti-homophobic) collective in Dundee featuring ONSIND and was blown away at how incredibly good their set was. Their gig had more people at it and more politics in it than most public meetings by parties.

The album is a really nice package which contains liner notes including full lyrics and each song accompanied by a quotation. Philosophers have only interpreted the world…the point is to change it – Karl Marx should give another taster at their lyrical content which also mentions weighty lefty tomes. The majority of the song are two male vocalists, one lead; one backing with acoustic guitars. Occasionally other instruments and backing singers pop up. But it should certainly be a more accessible punk album to those who don’t normally listen to the genre or it’s millions of sub-genres.

The album opens with the lines Homophobes are terrified to admit that during their lives there have been moments where they’ve wavered in their minds on the track heterosexuality is a construct. It fills you with incredible hope to be a straight male in a crowd of 90% straight males singing along to I’m not a heterosexual man, I’m not ticking your boxes, that’s not who I am and love is not a crime. To quote a recent comment on Twitter Yes, I support gay rights. No, I’m not gay. I’m against deforestation and that doesn’t make me a tree.. These kinds of attitudes and behaviour are surely a massive step forward and something possible in the kind of space provided by Make that a take that you may not get in less socially conscious live music spaces. Normally punk/metal/alternative shows are filled with macho posturing men faux fighting with their male friends. Most times it’s fine but sometimes it can spill over into the rest of the crowd and drives everyone else to the back of the venue or out of the music scene altogether.

Either he’s dead or my watch has stopped should be listened to by anyone on the left.

We have nothing to lose but our chains…I’m just another naïve prole, with revolution on the mind, but I’d fight a line of riot police if it’d help to clear the sky…Melancholia and Marxism, this must be where I belong…I’d bomb the Royal Bank if it’d blow the clouds away

A song openly calling for revolution shouldn’t need much more comment.

The other essential track to hear is That Takes Ovaries. A call at arms for men to help smash patriarchy from our position of burden and privilege as something more productive [to do with] all that spare testosterone you have to throw around. A welcome addition to the discussions around feminism and patriarchy I’m sure you’ll agree.

The closing song I could carve a better man out of a banana tells the story of a female victim of domestic violence resorting to killing her abuser. she took a knife and drove it through his back with all the strength she had left – the first song the band ever recorded showing from the start they intended to set powerful political lyrics to tunes.

Author: Alan Graham

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Dec 31 2011


Below are three reviews of Allan Armstrong’s book From Davitt to Connolly. The first one, written  by Jim Monaghan, appeared in Saothar (the journal of the Irish Labour History Society); the second one, by T.R. appeared in Socialist Voice (the monthly journal of the Communist Party of Ireland) and third is from Ted Crawford, who helps to compile the Marxist Internet Archive. A link is also provided to two other reviews by Chris Gray, in Permanent Revolution and Tara O’Sullivan in Red Banner.


This is an interesting, polemical, and well-researched book. Its first thesis is that Davitt supported alliances with progressive forces and mass movements, whereas Parnell settled for alliances with ruling class parties in Britain, usually the Liberals, though one with the Conservatives. The author characterises Davitt’s approach as ‘internationalism from below’ –  the necessary strategy for working class and oppressed populations. To prove his point, the author gives a potted history of the parallel lives of Parnell and Davitt. In doing this, he very much takes Davitt’s side, seeing him as being on the right track until he took the anti-Parnellite side in the leadership crisis of 1890-91.

Davitt was largely responsible for the greatest mass movement in Ireland since O’Connell’s time. With an agreed strategic turn by the Fenian movement, dubbed the ‘New Departure’, the Irish National Land League was set up in 1879. Its great impact in Ireland prompted agrarian agitation in Wales and Scotland, and spurred the development of early labour and trade union bodies. In the process, there was a breaking down to some degree of the hold of sectarian religious attitudes where these held sway, especially in the North of Ireland and the islands of Scotland.

Parnell is represented as a charismatic, bonapartist figure, presiding over both the Home Rule party and the Land League and manoeuvring between different factions, the Catholic church and the bourgeois parties of Britain, so as to be seen as indispensable by everyone. In spite of his rhetorical phrase, ‘no man has a right to set the boundary to the march of a nation’, he took care to distance himself from Fenianism, which provided the sinews of the movement. Once major disagreement between Davitt and Parnell was over land nationalisation. Davitt wanted the land nationalised while Parnell, backed by conservative elements and by the Catholic church, wanted peasant proprietorship. Davitt was defeated in part by a cynical assertion by his opponents that nationalisation meant ownership by the British state.

The Kilmainham treaty is seen as one of the decisive junctures where Parnell’s strategy won out. Here the author sides with Parnell’s sisters, whose Ladies Land Legue was dissolved as too radical. The mass women’s movement, set up to replace imprisoned male leaders, had the potential to become an early feminist movement. Parnell also moved to set up reformist labour movements to weaken and sideline the more radical bodies supported by Davitt. There is some mention of the American reformer Henry George, who visited Ireland and Britain in the early 1880’s and campaigned actively on the land issue. A now forgotten figure, George was probably more influential than Marx and Engels during this period, being one of the key figures in creating the atmosphere that led to the early labour movement in the English-speaking world.

The book’s second thesis is that, through James Connolly’s work and influence, ‘internationalism from below’ was developed into a fully-fledged strategy. With Connolly, seen as a Marxist successor to Davitt, ‘internationalism from below’ became a key part of the strategic orientation of the working and allied classes. In one detail, this reviewer disagrees with the author with regard to Connolly’s romantic vision that primitive communism existed in Ireland and the Scottish islands up until the seventeenth century – it was not a feudal or a capitalist society that was found in these places, but a pre-feudal form of class society.

Be prepared for many acronyms. The book packs a lot of history; more than fifty years, in a book of 204 pages which includes a good bibliography. It should persuade some readers to reread biographies of Davitt, Parnell and some of their contemporaries. And I would agree with the author’s approach, which is to look at these struggles through a different prism, that of ‘internationalism from below’.

The author is a member of the Scottish Socialist Party, which experienced its own Parnell scandal, in which the career of a leader was destroyed and former friends became enemies after the fallout.

To end, a book well worth reading.

 Jim Monaghan (in Saothar, Journal of the Irish Labour History Society)


This is an interesting but unusual book. It is not a sequential history of the lives and times of the two men in its title but, as the title suggests, a thesis on the social developments of these islands during their times. They were, however, the best examples of leadership in what the author calls “internationalism from below”, mainly for their advocacy of mass actions but also because the causes they championed helped undermine the constitutionality of the British imperial state.

The author writes: “An internationalism from below approach better appreciates the impact of the constitutional monarchist, unionist and imperial UK state (and later a divided Ireland) upon class struggles. It recognises the political and social signifiance of the national democratic movements which have contested the UK’s union-state constitution. It is also more able toaccount for the class struggles which emerged and influence each other in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.”

Michael Davitt is not as well known as James Connolly – in fact he has come to be neglected in recent years – yet he played a formidable role in the shaping of modern Ireland. As a teenage Irish emigrant he lost an arm working in a mill in Haslingden, Lancashire. His experiences in the “dark satanic mills” led to his radicalism, and he joined the Fenian Brotherhood (IRB) in 1865. Imprisoned, like many Fenians, he went on to become the main innovator of the ‘New Departure”. This was a strategy for co-ordinating the three strands of resistance to British hegemony over Ireland: the Fenians’ conspiratorial work for a republic, the parliamentary campaigns for a devolved Irish parliament under Parnell, and the mass organisation of tenants and landless farmers.

Davitt’s advanced social position – “the land for the people” – and his seeing beyond “home rule” ran counter to clerical interference, Orange sectarianism, and the fears of the men of property of the movement.

While the mass movement of the Land league did eventually break the back of foreign landlordism, it did not lead to what Davitt believed in – the nationalisation of the land – but rather to settlements that mainly favoured the middle and upper strata of Irish landowners.

On the political side, the British establishment, aided and abetted by reaction in Ireland, blocked the hopes of any settlement of the “Irish question” by destroying Parnell and his party.

Davitt, unfortunately, took the wrong side in the bitter dispute that divided nationalist Ireland, and it took another generation to restore confidence.

The book traces the other influences of Davitt within the intertwining of the social and political struggles in Britain. The Land League had set up branches in Britain, and as land reform was an issue there, common links were forged, particularly in Scotland. This reviewer, while living in Manchester in the early 1960s, remembers visiting buildings in Lancashire that were still called Land and Labour clubs and were then used as Irish and working men’s social clubs – including the one in Haslingden.

Davitt was an integral part of the diverse and radical formation of the early British labour movement as it sought to distance itself from the Liberal Part’s influence. The book traces these and later the entrance of Connolly into the Scottish scene, which shaped his Marxism.

The other great influence from this ferment of ideas and actions was the birth of “new unionism”, which eventually arrived in Ireland in the person of Larkin and Connolly.

As all epochs had a defining point, new unionism was that pivotal moment. Basically, trade union organisation had grown out of the city guilds and mutual aid societies into unions exclusively for craft workers. While at moments of tension in society and employer offensives they could be combative. they largely tended to be self-protective and sectionalist. They were breeding grounds for illusions in empire and belief in the permanence of the capitalist system. From them grew social democracy, with its achievements and its failures.

At the turn of the century, with the spread of socialist ideas came the vision of an alternative system, called socialism, and the notion of class solidarity. Such leading figures as Tom Mann, Keir Hardie and Ben Tillett urged the unskilled workers to rise out of their poverty by bypassing the craft unions and building new, open unions. Unions of dockers, gas workers and carters soon grew and challenged the employers by militant strike actions. Like all movements organic in their origin, the message was repeated elsewhere, with the Wobblies (IWW) in the United States and in Canada, Australia and elsewhere. The wave was brought to Ireland and had its apex in the general strike in Belfast in 1907 and in the Dublin Lock-Out of  2013.

Armstrong in his short book tries to show all these related struggles: for the independence of Ireland, Labour’s independent representation in Parliament, the attempt to gain supremacy for Marxism in those early battles of ideas, and the quest for the formation of mass support and its organisational forms. he calls this “internationalism from below” and credits for our consideration Davitt and Connolly with being its main protagonists. Let’s not quibble about terms but rather attempt to fit the concepts into our epoch.

While he touches on current themes and problems, he has promised to write further volumes, and in these time of debate about Scottish and Welsh independence a convergence of ideas, activity and solidarity throughout the labour and radical movements in these islands is indeed timely.

 TR, Socialist Voice (monthly publication of the Communist Party of Ireland), April 2012


Some Comments on Davitt and his role arising from reading From Davitt to Connolly by Armstrong

Let me make just a few points about this book though you will doubtless think I am too traditional a Social Democrat seeing the national problem as too simply just a social one. I am guilty of a Luxemburgist deviation perhaps.

This is that Armstrong, like most sympathetic to Irish nationalism, is in his book looking at this in too political a way, or if you like super-super structural way. The decline of what you might call Davittism and the shift to the right can be seen as a result not just of Parnell and a few traitors plus the Church, but of the real and very considerable reforms, reforms from above it is true, imposed by a cunning ruling class. I do not include the abolition of tithes earlier and Irish disestablishment 1869 which must have neutralised at least one aspect of the opposition of the Roman Bishops to the Ascendancy.

A real popular front type movement with a mass following was created by the Land League in 1879 but became increasingly difficult and eventually impossible to sustain or develop. Davitt’s own call for land nationalisation was, I think never really on. As far as I know it has not been carried through or had any support among any wide section of the rural population anywhere in the world, neither Russia during the revolution, South Asia, Latin America nor elsewhere. I stand to be corrected. Even Maclean thought only of a good system of co-operatives as an immediate demand for the crofters, while collective farms were, even for him, a more distant prospect.

The reforms were, apart from the very important concessions to tenants on rents, the first Land Bill 1881, when ¾ of the purchase price of the land was to be advanced to tenants if they wished to purchase, next 1885 the Ashbourne Act, when 4/5 of purchase price could be advanced. Many landlords sold up, and there was a big transfer of land. As perhaps a typical example my g-grandfather Major RGS Maunsell, Limerick with 134 acres (rental value £323) seems to have sold up then in 1886. (With 134 acres the family were not so grand but had grand distant relatives.) Finally the Land Purchase Bill of 1890 advanced the whole price of the farm to tenant purchasers. All of this was guaranteed by the Treasury enabling a low rate of interest to be paid and thus valuing the property at vastly more than what it would fetch in the open market (See Davitt 1890 No wonder Maunsell and many like him jumped at the chance.

When you add to this the advent of refrigeration, 1882 onwards, and thus swiftly growing imports of meat and butter to add to existing imports of cereals, hides and wool to the U.K., there was a catastrophic change to the position of the Irish landlords (and Welsh ones) and a sharp falls in land values. They just could not screw out any more rent, had to make do with much less and if they were big boys probably with huge debts, mortgages, marriage settlements etc. Though this reform was designed to benefit rich London money-lenders rather than poor Irish peasants at the expense of all tax-payers, it rapidly changed the whole Irish social structure. The whole was rounded off by the final land reform in 1903. And politically Armstrong does not give enough emphasis to the Third Reform Act and the secret ballot + local government reforms, all similar to those in the rest of the UK, which meant the political power of the Ascendancy melted away like snow in summer. Earlier reforms like the First and Second Reform Acts were not applied to Ireland in the same way as the Third but Radical pressure and perhaps the G.O.M. insisted on these political changes.

So there was nothing left of the Ascendancy in the countryside. If you want to use Hayek’s categories of “spontaneous order” they were almost instantly (25 years) replaced by a cohesive society dominated by the larger Catholic farmers socially and politically tightly controlled by massive clerical power. In Ireland the ratio of the clerics to population in the census of 1911 has never been higher and was higher than in any country in the world before or since. The Northern Protestants who were pissed off by the Ascendancy because of tithes, large landholders, lack of recognition of the “Ulster Custom” etc were also satisfied by these reforms but had the advantage of a growing heavy industry enclave to absorb population growth. So they had NO joint interests, unless working-class ones, with which to agitate with the southern oppressed layers. And there was sufficient truth to the cry that “Home Rule was Rome Rule” to whip up a quasi-fascist agitation often responded to in a similar quasi-fascist way it must be said. (What was objected to though seldom – for decency – put in print, they were Victorian hung-up Evangelicals after all, was the thought of another man in the confessional interrogating a woman about what her husband got up to in bed.) And this was before contraception etc became an issue.

Of course the call for a joint English, Welsh & Scottish agitation against the landlords for land  reform also tended to die away after 1873 as the “Great depression” weakened the power of the landed classes and the labouring classes flooded out of the countryside. Thus Sassoon in “Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man” recalls the sylvan and peaceful English countryside after the more wretched proles have all been cleared out a generation before. The English nobility swiftly got rid of the Irish estates if they had alternative sources of income while keeping the odd castle perhaps. The Welsh landlords did not get a land reform act so the smaller landowners there were buggered even if sometimes large landlords benefited because of economic growth from coal mines, slate quarries and urban rents etc as in England. The smaller Welsh gentry were not able, like my great-grandfather, who left Ireland to emigrate to Bournemouth where he could tyrannise over their dependants and become good friends with the 1920s British Fascists etc, while living off his sale money. Not much was left for the children of course. (My father thought he was an awful old sod since he did not have to admire his wife’s family after all.) And as far as I know there has been little work on the sociological connection of the numerous Irish Ascendancy emigrants and the far right in seaside southern England in the early inter-war period.

There are some interesting international comparisons such as the destruction of French Royalism in the election of 1884 as a result of the phylloxera devastation of the vineyards and the replacement of the old gentry by radicals and freemasons above all in the south. Or the disappearance rather later 1900-1910 of the mass of dangerous rural vagrants etc in France analogous with the departure of the most marginal and oppressed part of the English rural population to the towns earlier.

Ted Crawford (contributor to the Marxists’ Internet Archive)


For other reviews see:-





“In one detail, this reviewer disagrees with the author with regard to Connolly’s romantic vision that primitive communism existed in Ireland and the Scottish islands up until the seventeenth century – it was not a feudal or a capitalist society that was found in these places, but a pre-feudal form of class society.”

Jim Monaghan, review in Saothar (Irish Labour History Society)

“it is marred only by an uncritical reference to Connolly outlining “the role of primitive communism in Ireland up to the seventeenth century” (p. 161). Alas, this view of Connolly’s finds no support at all in the Irish law tracts. The subject is ably discussed in Andy Johnston, James Larragy and Edward McWilliams, Connolly: A Marxist Analysis (Irish Workers’ Group, 1990).

Chris Gray, review in Permanent Revolution, no. 20

see Chris’s earlier review posted at:-


I can only thank both Jim and Chris for their very sympathetic reviews of my book. Their sole criticism focuses on the same point, as can be seen above. These quotes refer to my own reference to Connolly. “Influenced by contemporary Irish historians, he outlined the role of primitive communism in Ireland up to the seventeenth century” (1).

Although I did not make it clear in the first edition, this was meant to be an observation rather than a point of agreement with Connolly about ‘primitive communism’. So, Jim and Chris have provided me with an opportunity to clarify my meaning.

Nowadays, most historians (including those whom Chris helpfully refers us to) agree that, whatever the degree of communal landholding, which was tribally held in Ireland by the seventeenth century, this was far from being ‘primitive communism’. Such communal landholding supported a distinctly hierarchical society with tribal chieftains and petty kings with their armed retinues, and a number of levels of ‘free’ and dependent men and their families.  Furthermore, this tributary tribal order was already giving way before more centrally imposed feudal elements.

Yet, sometimes those making a valid criticism of outdated romantic historical notions do so to point to what they consider to be the historical inevitability of ‘progress’ through a sequence of feudal and capitalist economic development. This observation in no way implies that either Jim or Chris would adhere to such a viewpoint, but it does provide me with an opportunity to address an issue that is also of contemporary interest.

Earlier Socialists, including Connolly, did not have access to Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks. These only became available during the 1970’s (2). Instead they often took their lead from Engels’ much better known, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (3). They thought his invocation of an earlier ‘primitive communism’ “opened up the prospect of Socialists being able to re-establish a communist society, but based upon a higher level of economic and social cooperation” (4).

In contrast, Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks showed that he was certainly aware of the class society that had developed in Ireland on the basis of tribally owned land. Nevertheless, later in Marx’s life, including the writings in these notebooks, he questioned his own earlier acceptance of a unilinear model of economic progress. He began to think that the still existing communal landholding, found in many areas of the world, could form the basis for a future communist order, provided this was done in conjunction with the industrially based economies bequeathed by capitalism (5).

Today, we can see the staunch resistance being put up to capitalist land seizures, particularly by indigenous peoples. This has been highlighted by the Zapatistas’ struggle in Mexico against continuing capitalist ‘primitive accumulation’. This underscores the contemporary relevance of Marx’s own distinct later understanding of global development as a multilinear process, opening up the possibility of different revolutionary paths. Such thinking would be opposed by today’s ‘capitalist inevitabilists’.


(1) Allan Armstrong, From Davitt to Connolly, p. 161.

(2) see Lawrence Krader, The Ethnolgical Notebooks of Karl Marx, (Van Gorcum, 1972, Assen, Netherlands)


(4) Allan Armstong, op. cit.

(5) see Kevin Anderson, Marx at the Margins – On Nationalism, Ethnicity and Non-Western Societies (The University of Chicago Press, 2010, Chicago & London)



“Davitt’s own call for land nationalisation was, I think never really on. As far as I know it has not been carried through or had any support among any wide section of the rural population anywhere in the world, neither Russia during the revolution, South Asia, Latin America nor elsewhere. I stand to be corrected. Even Maclean thought only of a good system of co-operatives as an immediate demand for the crofters, while collective farms were, even for him, a more distant prospect.”

Ted Crawford


Here, Ted raises an interesting wider issue, suggesting that land nationalisation policy never really had a chance, given its wider historical failure. Now, my own book does point out the problems that Davitt had with this particular policy, and suggests that it would perhaps have been better if he had followed “Engels {who} highlighted a similar problem in Germany. To deal with it, he advocated community control of the land, and the promotion of agricultural cooperation, to win over the majority of small peasants” (p. 56). As Ted observes, some Marxists later took up this suggestion, including MacLean in Scotland.

However, I would not write off the historical possibility of land nationalisation under certain socio-political conditions. After all, most of the land in the USA was initially nationalised  (albeit after being seized first from the Native Americans). Yes, it was later sold on to pioneering farmers and land speculators. Yet, there is still a quite extensive area of remaining federal state owned (i.e. nationalised) land in the form of  National Parks like Grand Canyon and Yosemite.This is in contrast to National Parks in the UK and Ireland, where the land remains privately owned.

Now, it is certainly the case that, by the period of the late nineteenth century covered in this book, any communal landownership in the UK had long given way to direct capitalist ownership or landlordism.  Yet, particularly in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, and in the west of Ireland, many small tenant farmers still retained elements of communal cooperation in their work. This contributed to their strong belief that they were, or should be, the real owners of the land that they worked.

From this initial shared experience, the socio-economic trajectories in the Scottish Highlands and Islands and the west of Ireland followed different paths. Class differentiation amongst the tenants in large areas of rural Ireland had accelerated after ‘The Great Hunger’ and the subsequent evictions of tenants. The idea of individual proprietorship took greater hold. Although, even here, this notion meant something different to small and medium-scale arable farmers than it did to the owners of large-scale ranches. The ranchers were attacked for using their control of land to replace people with animals. Charles Parnell pushed strongly for a peasant proprietorship, which conveniently glossed over this divide, in his political battle against fellow Land Leaguer, Michael Davitt, who supported land nationalisation.

However, despite the much longer standing capitalist landlordism and accompanying commercial farming found in Scotland south of the Highland Line, crofters living beyond this continued to resist the idea of peasant proprietorship. Here, Highland Land League candidates, who declared their support for land nationalisation, were able to win seats at Westminster. As it turned out, when  the state was not prepared to concede land nationalisation, the crofters settled for token rents, after the Crofters’ War. The majority of crofters resisted the option of peasant proprietorship, when it was raised again in the 1970’s and ’80’s. Today communal forms of land ownership have been making considerable strides in the Highlands and Islands after recent land reform legislation.

Furthermore, although, crofter notions of ‘land for the people’ had relatively little purchase south of the Highland Line, the Crofters War did directly inspire the coalminers, who formed a large section of the Scottish working class. Sometimes their demands took the form of taxing mineral royalties (inspired by Henry George’s land tax proposals); other times land nationalisation (inspired by contemporary Socialist thinking).

Therefore, the widely accepted idea that land nationalisation (or possibly forms of communal land ownership) never had a chance in Ireland, should perhaps be re-examined. It would be interesting to see to what extent the ultimately triumphant peasant proprietorship in Ireland depended on the political role of Parnell in the Irish National Land League and later his National League. Such a comparative enquiry could also highlight the value of the all-islands historical approach.


I was fascinated by Ted’s comments, using his past family as an example,  about the attraction of British fascism for ‘exiled’ members of the one-time Ascendancy members in Ireland. Some other figures, like William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw), also seem to have been attracted to British fascism, after their attempts to oppose Republicans during the Irish War of Independence, by supporting the Black and Tans.

If I had been writing a rounded history of the impact of the Land Leagues, I would have made more of the measures Ted mentions that the British ruling class took to marginalise the challenge they faced. I do mention the impact of the ‘Gorta Beag’ (page 32) , which was one manifestation of  the ‘Great Depression’ Ted refers to. I take the agricultural depression up more specifically in the Introduction to the second edition of my book (p. 9-10). However, this is looked at from the point of view of the tenants, and how this contributed to their resistance. Ted’s mention of the Local Government Reform Acts lies outside the time-frame of my book (although you will see a passing reference to their later impact in my footnote on page 152).

Yet, no matter  how much the deteriorating economic and political situation undermined the Ascendancy’s (the Anglo-Irish landlords) position, I do not see much evidence that this weakened the wider British ruling class and UK state attempt to hold on to Ireland. Their preparedness to resort to extra constitutional pressure (up to the  army officer mutiny at The Curragh) to stop Irish Home Rule, right up the First World War, argues against this.

The purpose of my book, though, has a somewhat different focus than providing a rounded history of land reform in the UK. Ted’s apparent concentration on objective economic pressures facing the Asecndancy landlords, as opposed to what he terms my “super super-structuralist” approach, has the effect of airbrushing out class struggle – and class struggle on a fairly epic scale at that! Now, I’m fairly sure that if Ted was making his own rounded contribution, he might acknowledge that class struggles did play their part.

However my book is dealing with the political ideas which motivated those involved in the great class struggles beginning with the Irish Land War and extending to the wave of ‘New {trade} Unionism, and how this created considerable difficulties for the British ruling class’s ability to maintain its UK state. One of the problems they faced was trying to hold together the inherited unionist form of this state. This is  a major reason why a significant section of the the British ruling class turned to Home Rule. This was their response to  the  ‘internationalism-from-below’ strategy, which originally emerged amongst social republicans like Davitt in Ireland and Radicals like John Murdoch in Scotland. Furthermore, my book also shows that the Land League struggles had a huge impact on the infant Labour (and Socialist) movements throughout these islands (which were then the whole of the UK).  In the light of the material I have provided on this I just don’t think Ted can sustain his claim that “a call for joint English, Welsh & Scottish agitation against the landlords for land reform also tended to die away after 1873.” The Crofters War (directly inspired by the Irish Land War) of the 1880’s, which radically changed the social relations in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, would be just one example, which undermines his argument here.

What I would accept is that the measures taken by the British ruling class, in the face of these challenges from below, were able to contain things, at least for a time. In addition, as Ted mentions, the serious depopulation of rural areas did undermine the significance of land-based protest. However, it did not eliminate this. Small farmer based Republican resistance in the Irish War of Independence, and later Land Raids in the Highlands and Islands, showed that rural protest continued to represent a real challenge. These experiences also fed directly into such working class protest as the prolonged slate quarry workers’ lock-out in North Wales in the early 1900’s (and the similar smaller, but nevertheless deeply rooted actions by slate quarriers at Balluchulish in Argyll).

Furthermore, one of the main points my book makes is that the focus of ‘internationalism from below’ became more centred on the working class. This could be seen as a product both of the limitations of Davitt’s politics and of the declining social significance of the rural farming population. It was James Connolly who moved the political basis of internationalism from below’ from Daviitt’s social republicanism to his own socialist republicanism. John Maclean adopted this strategy too, but only after 1919.

I hope to take these arguments forward in a follow-up volume – ‘From Connolly to Maclean’.


P.S. Yes, I do think Ted is  “guilty of a Luxemburgist deviation”! I have a lot admiration for a much of what Luxemburg wrote. This can still inform our struggles today. However, I think her approach to the ‘National Question’ was misguided – even more so that of her neo-Luxemburgist successors in the Bolshevik Party (such as Bukharin, Pyatakov, etc).

One indication of Ted’s ‘Luxemburgist’ thinking in this regard is when he writes, “that Allan Armstrong, like most sympathetic to Irish nationalism.” My whole book is designed, not only to oppose British unionist thinking on the one hand, but also Irish (and Scottish) nationalist thinking on the other, and especially their Left unionist and Left nationalist variations. These have done so much to disorientate Socialists throughout these islands. That is why I  argue for an internationalist alternative – only not the bureaucratic ‘internationalism from above’ politics focussed on the existing UK state (which in reality is just used to cover up an intrinsic British nationalism), but ‘internationalism from below’,

Luxemburg’s approach to the ‘National Question’ is not able to make the distinction between a recognition that there is national oppression, and the fact that nationalists, not surprisingly, try to take the lead of any opposition to this for their own class ends. As a result, national oppression and opposition to it become conflated in ‘Luxemburgist’ minds – they are both ‘nationalism’. Thus, anyone addressing the issue of national oppression is just dismissed as being a nationalist. Such an approach rules out the possibility  of  developing a distinctive Socialist strategy to address the specific forms of oppression being faced.  An analogy, would be those people (e.g. Belfort Bax in Davitt’s and Connolly’s time), who can not distinguish between a recognition that there is women’s oppression, and the fact that bourgeois feminists will try to lead this for their own class ends. Such Socialists have tended to dismiss anyone addressing the issue of women’s oppression as just being a bourgeois feminist. Oppression and resistance to oppression become conflated with ‘feminism’. Similarly, ‘Luxemburgist’ thinking, in regard to specific forms of oppression,  does not possess  the categories needed to deal with the issue being addressed. Therefore, it is hard to become involved in a more meaningful debate, just as it would be difficult to get somebody who is colour blind to appreciate the difference between red and green.


Allan Armstrong, 14.3.12










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Oct 23 2011

Mary McGregor reviews ‘Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story’, by Alan McCombes

Like many others who have been members of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) for a number of years, I did not want to read Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story by Alan McCombes. As a founder member of the Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA) and then the SSP, I had been filled with hope (but with no illusions) about the potential of this party as a unifying force in Scottish politics. It felt like the best chance we had had in my lifetime of building a non-sectarian, democratic, socialist party that would allow for open dissent and comradely debate. It felt for a while like the dogma so many of us had been steeled in, could be replaced by a willingness to listen and to understand, supported by democratic and accountable structures.

It was not all a bed of roses. These democratic strides had to be fought for every inch of the way. The constitution had to be protected and battles had to be waged in its defence. As a member of a very small platform, taking on the numerical superiority of other platforms, such as the CWI, the SWP and the ISM, could be pretty uncomfortable. But – and the but was huge- it was the most democratic, socialist organisation in Europe, blending campaigning and mass participation with significant electoral success in the Scottish parliament. The SSP gained first one MSP, in the form of the eponymous villain in Alan’s book, then followed on with the election of six MSPs; more than half of whom were women! Instead of small dispirited groups who hated each other plying their separate wares on Saturday morning stalls and heckling passers by, we were part of a movement where people participated in our campaigns and activities and queued to sign our petitions, knew what we stood for and liked it.

So, being part of this movement and then to watch it crumble so ignominiously before our eyes as Tommy Sheridan embarked on his Kamikaze mission against the News of the World (NOTW) was not a part of my life I wanted to revisit via the pages of Alan McCombes’ book. However…… we can only learn from mistakes if we understand them. So, Alan’s book must be an important part of that process. We may never really understand just how Tommy’s mind worked through this time but if anyone could shed light on some of the causes of the debacle, then surely it would be Alan McCombes – by his own admission, the mentor, the architect, the creator of Tommy Sheridan, the icon.

For those of us who were there, there was not a lot new in this book. It was a very easy read and McCombes’ style, though laden with simile and metaphor, has a charm, which is hypnotic. McCombes does infuse the past with a wistful rosy glow and his sincerity and pain at seeing his creation turn against him is palpable. McCombes himself comes over as the thoughtful, courageous, political apparatchik that he is. However, the book is as much about the fatal flaws of the SSP as it is about Tommy’s fatal flaw.

The RCN has rightly asserted from the start that the split in the socialist movement in Scotland can be laid at the door of Tommy Sheridan, aided and abetted by the CWI and SWP. Through his vanity and arrogance, he was prepared to sacrifice the movement to protect his image. He seemed to believe his own lies and even more worryingly was supported in pursuit of his greater glory by those in the CWI and SWP who also knew the truth but by some absurd warped logic believed it was OK to lie because those lies were against the NOTW. The fact that they were also lying to the working class became irrelevant.

Alan’s book captures the madness of the time effectively. Particularly the National Council, which took place while he was in jail defending the minutes of an SSP Executive meeting. While reading about it, I could imagine folk who weren’t there thinking it could not have been that bad. Well it was. It was probably the first time I had seen the collective, destructive power of Tommy and his new allies given full vent. Although I do not recall anyone being hit, it was none the less a violent, vicious and intimidating meeting. There was literally baying for the blood of those who refused to support Tommy. It was a meeting, which shamed the socialist movement and publicly marked the end of everything the SSP had stood for. I was no great fan of Tommy and he had turned his wrath on me on a number of previous occasions but I was shocked at this screaming, parody of a socialist leader who ranted at his enemies.

Perhaps I would not have been so shocked if I had known what Alan and Frances, and Keith and Colin all knew. Maybe if I had realised what a creation Tommy had been from the start then I would have known that this kind of behaviour was possible. It was like he had won an X Factor type competition to become the poster boy of the Scottish left. Because, what Alan’s book does make clear, is that the myth of Tommy Sheridan was a façade. He was a media creation. He oozed warmth and sincerity and cultivated the idea that he was the personification of fairness and justice. Yes he did great things – the Poll Tax imprisonment, the warrant sales bill, the oratory which could touch people’s hearts in a gifted way but it was part of an act, of a role he had chosen to play. It was a role in which he was supported and coached and protected within by his former comrades. According to Alan, Tommy was in fact shallow, self centred, lacking in political understanding and messianic from the start.

So how does this reflect on the SSP and particularly the ranks of the ISM platform from whence Tommy came? Where was the culpability on the part of the SSP in what followed on from the NOTW revelations? Well Alan’s book shows how a cult of the individual, while yielding short-term benefits, is ultimately dangerous and destructive – it is anti democratic. Tommy, like ALL other leaders, needed to be under democratic control so that his undoubted talents could be used effectively. However, within the movement and the party, he should have had no special dispensations, rights or privileges.  Tommy’s private life is his business. What Gail knew, what was accepted within their relationship, is all speculation. McCombes is right when he makes it clear that there was no Calvinistic witch-hunt against Tommy because of his sexual proclivities. The problem was that having been allowed by the party to court the media using his Mr Clean family man image, charges of liar, cheat and hypocrite could easily have been thrown at him and the SSP when it came out. Had, of course, Sheridan resigned as convenor and let it blow over; no one would have cared after the furore had died down. Instead it was Tommy who insisted on taking the NOTW to court!

When Alan explains why the minutes of the Executive meeting where Tommy told the truth were kept secret, we can see another manifestation of the SSP leadership’s fatal flaw. It was done out of concern for Tommy and his family. The irony when Tommy shows no concern for the families of those he brands as liars and scabs is not lost. However, this came before party democracy. Obviously at that stage Alan and the Executive thought the matter could be contained but at the expense of the membership. Ultimately the party leadership believed the membership had to be protected or could not be trusted.

And so it went on with behind the scenes machinations, secret meetings, secret affidavits and secret filming. Alan does the party the courtesy through the book of explaining why what happened did and why the SSP leadership took the decisions it did at each stage. It does not however mitigate the fact that during this time, loyal party members were treated as people who could not understand the full implications of what was happening. Old friendships and loyalties are once more put above party policy and democracy as neither in the book nor at any subsequent party meeting has George McNeilage been condemned by the leadership for selling his story to the NOTW.

The sacrifices that Alan and the others have made for the socialist movement are undeniable. Downfall catalogues the misery brought to their lives during this process. The book must undoubtedly have been cathartic and it was necessary. It was intended to vindicate the position of all those dragged into court against their will and cross examined by a comrade that had been revered by substantial sections of the working class of this nation. And it does that very well.

By writing the book, I hope Alan can see the mistakes that were made were not all Tommy’s, not all his, nor the leadership’s, but mistakes we all made or allowed to happen. After reading this, I became more convinced than ever before that a new type of politics is necessary if we are to attract people into socialist activity and keep them there. We need a politics that is open, democratic and where all party members are equal. We need a politics, which can debate, question and hold to account those privileged enough to be chosen to lead us. We need a politics where disagreements are not seen as tests of friendships and where principles are more important than appeasing someone’s ego. We need a politics which is compassionate and caring but at the same time, determined and honest.

The SSP went some of the way to providing this but certainly during the crisis and sadly since the imprisonment of Tommy Sheridan, we have seen signs that the damage done by Tommy Sheridan has had a catastrophic effect on the SSP, its democratic structures and its potential as a uniting force in Scottish working class politics. It is very sad but it is too easy just to blame Tommy. We need to look forward to a party where the myth of Tommy Sheridan or his like does not have to be created.

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Jan 13 2011

Around the Time of Aitken

Around the Time of Aitken

Andy McPake reviews the latest book of poetry, Around the Time of Michael from Jim Aitken. Jim has become a regular contributor to Emancipation & Liberation, and he credits us in his preface.

Around the Time of Michael is Jim’s ninth published volume of poetry and, as the quote above suggests, a continuation of his exposé on the great injustices of our times. Throughout this collection, we sense Jim’s estrangement with a political consensus that he regards as perverse and inhumane. His inability to reconcile this with the beauty of the birth of his grandson and the natural & human worlds is the dichotomy that drives Aitken’s work. This dichotomy encapsulates The Time of Michael. Aitken gives this contradiction many forms: new life and old, the humane against the inhumane and the ignorant against the searching. All of these he perceives in our times.

Fear is the new industry
the base of our prosperity
where we manufacture consent
for all the new profits we make

Crusading against capitalism is nothing new to Aitken’s poetry, but in the past his work has mostly concerned the ravages of that economic system on the peoples of other shores. While Jim’s passion for the Palestinian cause can still be seen in poems such as White Pete, Aitken’s ire is now aimed towards immorality at home. The economic slump is being used as a smokescreen by right-wing politicians who are now implementing an ideological wish list that they have been fomenting for decades; all of which amounts to the dismantling of the welfare state. Caught in the midst of a clamour to return to Dickensian levels of inequality, Aitken castigates those who would create human waste.

There is a lot that Jim Aitken does not like about the modern world. However, anyone used to using the term modern in the academic sense knows that there are few more modern than Aitken. The influences of Yeats and MacDiarmid can be seen not only in the content of his poetry, but in the form, especially Krakow, Auschwitz and After. But Aitken is a modernist poet and thinker living in a post-modern world. His convictions are dismissed as ‘grand-narratives’ by a world that has become atomised and unsearching. Throughout much of the collection, we are given the sense that Jim feels that the good and decent values are dying. We see this in Mrs Lindley and Benny, a moving reminder of how dependent we are on one another.

This collection of contradictions deals not only with inhumanity, but with humanity. The only thing that can parallel Jim’s anger is the tenderness with which he describes those dear to him. Newly Arrived & Expectancy should appeal to anyone who has had the good fortune to have been a parent or grandparent. In Another Coredila, Aitken is forced to confront the fact that he is no longer the most important person in his daughter’s life. The poet’s awareness of his advancing age is most moving in Four Months On when a musing Aitken takes a moment to contrast the youth of Michael with his own image:

I have observed him observing
as current talk goes from teething
soon, crawling after, as I stare
into my own mirror shaving
and wishing to hold back the years

Perhaps Jim should remember that with age comes wisdom. The unjust world that Aitken despises is also an ignorant one. Nowhere is he more explicit about this than in The Return of Apasmara Purusha. Hindus believe that Apasmara represents ignorance; for Jim his return is heralded by a world that is cutting education for the sake of bankers’ bonuses.

Aitken searches for wisdom in many places and the collection draws on Buddhist as well as Hindu thinking. That search is undertaken by a dwindling few living in our convenience culture, a culture that disgusts Jim, moving him to parody it in The History of Searching. In this poem, he contrasts the philosophical endeavours of bygone ages with my own generation’s dependency on Google. Btw, if you do find any yourself unaware of a person or concept mention in Jim’s poetry I have one solution for you…

The Time of Michael is a contradictory one. What is consistent is the presence of hope. Aitken believes that the vicious world into which Michael is born is not the End of History, it is not natural. The collection is a balanced one and for every uncompromising exposition of injustice is a glimmer of hope for the world. When discussing the horrors of war and poverty he is neither morbid nor voyeuristic. Instead, every line implores us to fight back, to remember that another world is possible. The poet asks us to keep our focus on Michael because he represents the future; potentially a better one. Despite its attempts to pit us against each other, the capitalist system has yet to eviscerate all that is decent within people. Perhaps the better part of our nature might win out. Here’s to Michael.

Around the Time of Michael is published by Scottish CND and is available, price £5, from Wordpower Books (

In Search Of Middle England

The political commentator said:
The new leader of New Labour
will just have to make himself
more acceptable to Middle England.’

Being a traveller, a geographer even,
I searched my atlas for Middle England.
I could find no such place so I wandered
around the post-industrial Midlands instead.

Without luck I wondered if my Scots ‘Hullo’
would be better if I tried the English ‘Hill-low’,
I tried it out. Got nowhere. Silence and laughter
met me in equal measure. Was there such a place ?

I thought maybe it all harked back to Tolkien
and his Middle Earth with all that business
about the Shires. I tried them out. Got nowhere
until some bloke whispered candidly in my ear :

‘Look Jock, there’s no such bleeding place.
Never was. It’s a huge con trick by the Beeb.
The perpetuation of a myth, that’s what it is.
It panders to an imperial past with all that stuff
about Rule Britannia and Johnny Foreigner.
You’ve got it up in Scotland too, mate.
It is designed to hold back real change to keep
all these creeps in power. Brainwashing clap-trap.
Yes, there’s toffs, but they’re few and we’re many.
Just get a load of it here. What’s great about this?
Reality is tough for people these days they believe it.
Need something to hold on to. Love the accent.’

Jim Aitken

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Nov 14 2009

Book Review: A Celebration of the Life and Work of Robert Burns 1759-1786

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 18RCN @ 8:47 pm

A Celebration of the Life and Work of Robert Burns 1759-1786 An Independent Revolutionary Radical By James D. Young; Printed and published by Clydeside Press; £3.95

What does Robert Burns mean to me? Edinburgh People’s Festival Published by WP Books; £3.00

It is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns and we have seen a plethora of publications and television programmes “celebrating” the life of the Bard. Every Scottish celeb and every Scottish public figure have been vying to claim Burns as their own or rather to claim themselves as inheritors of the Burns tradition. It is apposite therefore that J.D. Young’s pamphlet A Celebration of the Life and Work of Robert Burns 1759-1786 An Independent Revolutionary Radical, seeks to criticise the cult of Burns and to claim that the only true inheritors of the Burns legacy are independent revolutionaries and radicals like Burns himself.

Young’s pamphlet, as welcome as its message might be as an antidote to celebrity culture, makes far from easy reading. Young’s style is academic and feels disjointed. The mix of history and poetical analysis does not gel and the reader is left bemused by the seemingly endless tangents and confusing sub headings (I expected the section headed Burns Scottish Nationality and Women to give me a bit more insight than the fact that “there has not been a great deal written about these women.” However, Young does set Burns on the Scottish political stage of his time as an independent thinker and a revolutionary. The efforts of generations of establishment and often misogynistic Burns Suppers have failed in their attempts to neuter Burns. We are familiar with the tactic of the modern media of “taming” revolutionary figures. Those they cannot tame, they demonise. It is sickening to listen as some bourgeois establishment figure delivers the Immortal Memory with no understanding of Burns republicanism, his revolutionary fervour or his ability to love. Despite my personal difficulty with the writing, Young’s pamphlet is an important and timely reminder of the fact that Burns is ours. He was one of us and they have no right to claim him.

For a celebration of Burns though another publication is worth a mention. What Does Robert Burns Mean to Me published by Edinburgh People’s Festival. These personal responses to Burns’ poetry manage to covey the scope, the scale and the joy of Burns work. Wee contributions from a selection of people including Timothy Neat, (Hamish Henderson’s biographer), the late Bill Speirs (former general secretary of the STUC), Annie McRae (teacher and poet), Tony Benn, Denise Mina (author), reveal the very essence of the multi faceted Burns. This Burns IS the revolutionary, the visionary and the lover. It is the Burns we grew up with before we knew who he was. It is the Burns who is about feeling and passion and most of all about the essential quality for any would be revolutionary – Love.

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Oct 26 2008

Life With You

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 6:02 pm

by The Proclaimers

Like many people I have liked the Proclaimers for years. I really enjoy their love songs which have a Tom Leonard quality to them in terms of their ability to express profound emotions in the language of the working class. I was therefore really pleased to be given Life with you as a recent birthday present. Good to sing along to during my 40 minute drive to work I thought. And so it is – you find yourself drumming at the wheel while belting out the lyrics. This, however, is more than an album of memorable choruses. It is very angry, bitter, highly political and completely relevant.

Proclaimers album cover

Proclaimers album cover

In Recognition is a republican anthem for the 21st century as it viscerates the hypocrisy of those who buy into the honours system leaving no excuse open to those who, put the crown / before or after their name.

We could all name those so called champions of the working class who capitulate to patronage and monarchy and who leave us questioning their years of contribution to the labour movement when they eventually bend the knee to the crown for personal gain.

Celebrities too are singled out for scathing sarcasm when they take a gong for bravery upon the stage. The irony of their deed as they stand beside wounded squaddies is completely lost on them.

Blair has no hiding place as they demand an apology for the bloody carnage that is the war in Iraq. This theme is continued in The Long Haul which emphasises the consequences of the West’s current fight against evil empires which are now Islamic as opposed to those which were communist in the 20th century.

For me, by far the most refreshing tracks were those which hammered into religion in a way that was militantly secular. – New Religion and If there’s a god.

I love the clarity which expresses their disbelief that so many people will suspend their rational faculties in order to feel a sense of purpose through ridiculous nonsense. Give me a zip for the back of my head / I want to join in too sums up their contempt for those weakest seeds who need to find nourishment in the mystic and the supernatural.

Charlie and Craig are fearless in combining their popular art with the radical politics which is clearly so much a part of them. They throw in a great wee song about misogynist song lyrics which also shows their ability to stand against the ‘anything-goes’ liberal trend. They are confident enough, as they have always been, to dare to be different and not care if that is regarded as somehow homely and not hip. They are however far from playing it safe. Their lyrics are more dangerous than those of any gangsta’ rapper, who needs to call women bitches or whores.

They come through this album as really sound guys that you would want to have as your pals. They are sensitive men who are angry about huge issues. There is no narrow nationalism here. These are Scottish artists who are internationalists.

All this and sensitive love songs too. Whole wide world and Blood lying on snow are imbued with a sexy longing for physical and emotional fulfilment with someone you can love. And finally a cracking proclamation of love and commitment in Life with you. It hasn’ae been off my CD player for days. Windows down and giving it laldy – it makes going to work almost bearable.

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Oct 26 2008

Democracy 2

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 5:25 pm

Review: Alan Graham

Keynesian Economy Simulator
Format: PC
Publisher: Positech
Developer: Cliff Harris (probably in his bedroom)
Price: £15.28

Bourgeois Democracy: Another simulation

Following on from the original Democracy, Clif Harris has released a sequel: imaginatively titled Democracy 2. The game is a simulation of politics. You have been elected President of X country and have to choose which policies to implement or not and how to deal with dilemmas and problems.

The social model

Unlike its predecessor, Democracy 2 has fictional countries which are caricatures:

  • Bananistan:Socialist and Agricultural
  • Biblonia: Religious State
  • Freedonia: Liberal and atheist
  • Gaiatopia: Eco-aware state
  • Gregaria: Wealthy and capitalist
  • Koana: Capitalist Heaven
  • Malaganga: debt ridden, compulsory voting
  • Mexilando: military state, monarchy
  • Zambeezia: Agricultural, poor

One nice addition is the party system, you choose who to be rather than just have opposition. There is a large list, and like all things in this game, can be modified by the player. If you wish to be the SSP with the Tories as opposition, go ahead and add them. Fancy being the Bolsheviks, just add the title to the list.


Like the first game there is a delicate balance to be maintained. I ran the socialist state, and had managed to get 55% of the population to be members of the Socialist Alliance. The only major problem I had was an Asthma epidemic. The only link I could see was Air Quality and the biggest effect on that was air travel. To cut air travel the only option I could see was a Carbon Tax. This was unpopular with the group everybody but I figured it wouldn’t be that much. Within 4 turns there were 0 members of the party and asthma epidemic was still rife. Further playing around would probably reveal the correct balance to maintain – maybe youth clubs and free school meals with an increase in funding to state hospitals with a very low carbon tax is the answer.

Virtual socialist

Virtual socialist

And that is the beauty of this series of games, it shows in simple terms how sloganeering and promises of policies which appear to solve problems actually work in the real world and not through the lens of sympathetic media assuring us that X policy is the answer.

The one major limitation of the game is the economic model. The worldwide market crashes and there’s a recession. You see GDP plummet so what do you do? There’s no option to fiddle with interest rates or model of inflation. It means the simulation limits itself to policies and their effect but not the economy.

On Income Tax, this game seems to have the same flaw as it’s predecessor: fraud. If there is welfare fraud you can crack down on it. It doesn’t have the option of cracking down on Tax Avoidance by the highest earners. Fair enough, this mirrors real life, and you can add it in yourself, but it means you have to play a reformist by lowering income tax to allow the middle class to be moderately happy.


There has been an increase in policies to over 100, including ID cards, hybrid cars and micro generation grants. The dilemmas and situations seem about the same, with a few added and removed.

What’s new?

There have been a number of additions, Ministers, political capital, opposition groups, voter detail and encyclopaedia are the most significance.


You start off with 6 ministers, each of which have different loyalties and you can fire them and appoint new ones. Maybe it would be a good idea to replace that Tax minister who has sympathies to the Middle Class and Capitalists with John Doe who sympathiseswith Socialists and Trade Unionists? Each minister has different loyalty and experience (these generate Political Capital), the sympathies help influence those demographics to support you.

Political Capital

The major new addition to the model has been Political Capital. In the first game you could bin all the policies and add which ones you like. Now it takes political capital to raise, lower or cancel policies as well as introduce new ones. If each of the 7 ministers generate 3 political capital per turn then you get 21 each turn added to the pool. To raise income tax takes 34, to remove university grants takes 19 whilst introducing Micro-Generation grants takes 1. This reflects how much each change will cause people to support or oppose you.

Opposition Groups

The threat of a coup has been expanded with your intelligence services keeping tabs on everyone from The Army of God and the Socialist Army to the Secular Society. If you have no religious people then you probably don’t have to worry about the Army of God, if you are playing in the Theocracy and fund stem cell research whilst banning the teaching of creationism in schools, then you may have something to worry about from them although the Secular Society will probably back off a bit.

Voter Detail

Fat Cat

Fat Cat

Previously, voter demographics were defined by number and how they support your policies. It seems to have been expanded, with focus groups showing how cross sections of society support you. There is likelihood of them to turnout to vote and to vote for you. Added to this is the party membership, although this is again simplified into two parties with most votes winning the election. Once you lose it’s game over too, perhaps the next in the series will introduce multiple parties and the FPTP system: choosing ministers from your pool. It would be more in depth but move the games from being simulations to explain basic politics to being a simulation of politics.


There is still a flaw in the model however. At the start there are new options including the option to set the number of socialists in the country. Having dragged the slider to the end I was happy to see 100% socialists. Woo, I can finally try raising Income Tax and introducing Free School Meals to see my popularity grow. Unfortunately it went down. It turned out that 65% of the Socialists were also Capitalists. Each voting demographic is counted as separate and each individual voter can belong to multiple groups including contradictory ones. My carbon tax example earlier could have got the same result if 100% of people were Environmentalists but 60% were car users and 0% commuters.


Lot’s of policies and voter groups now have some explanatory notes to help you understand what they mean. When choosing Income Tax levels you can see the top levels in various countries and the income scales in the US. Choose Socialists and you can see a page of pretty non-biased explanation and some key dates from the publication of The Communist Manifesto to the abandonment of Clause 4.


There are a number of things which seem worse than Democracy: mouse scroll speed is frustratingly slow, lowering accessibility, the movement to caricature countries, the limitation on changing policies. Most of these can be addressed however through customisation. Change capital required to 0 and add your own countries.

Positive changes have included a UI update with new options and the Minister system adds a touch of realism. You can still customise it as much as you want and for a game it is very cheap with a real educational value. There is a demo available of both games which allow you to have a few turns and to get the feel of them. Overall if you don’t have Democracy, try this one, if you have Democracy then only get it if you really enjoyed it.

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Sep 29 2007

Internationalist Spirit

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 6:52 pm

Allan Armstrong reviews two albums, which address the world of migrant workers – dispossession and discrimination, longing and hope, oppression and resistance.

Road of Tears

Road of Tears

The Road of Tears

Battlefield Band, £9.50

Battlefield Band released their 26th album, The Road of Tears, last year. The theme is emigration and immigration. The album makes the link between the experience of the dispossessed from Scotland and Ireland, in the face of clearance and famine, and the plight of the world’s migrant workers today. The band’s line-up highlights Scotland’s multi-ethnic character, with the Scots, Alan Reid and Alistair White, the Irish, Sean O’Donnell and Jewish American, Mike Katz (Highland pipe player!)

The title track, written and sung by Alan Reid, sets the scene by focusing on the Highland Clearances, the Irish Famine and the Trail of Tears. This refers to the Cherokees’ march to Oklahoma, in 1838. They were forcibly, removed by US President Jackson, to the Indian Territories (Oklahoma). Four thousand, mainly women and children, died on the trail. The survivors sent money to the Irish Famine Relief Fund in 1847.

The album includes fine versions of two of Burns’ poems, sung by Alan Reid, The Slaves Lament and To A Mouse. Woody Guthrie’s Plane Wreck At Los Gatos is sung by Sean O’Donnell. Many will already know this song as Deportees from Christy Moore’s Spirit of Freedom album. Battlefield’s sleeve notes link the death of 28 illegal Mexican migrant workers in 1948 with the fate of the 18 cockle pickers who died in Morecambe Bay in 2004.

The first instrumental set includes the piece dedicated to Mr. Galloway Goes To Washington. This celebrates George Galloway’s triumph in the face of the US Senate sub-committee. There are another four instrumental sets which also show off Battlefield’s musical skills. The album finishes with The Green and The Blue, written and sung by Alan Reid, calling upon Irish migrants from Antrim and Fermanagh, arriving in Scotland to:-

Look onwards to Glasgow and all your tomorrows The future lies there, and its still waiting for you As the green crosses over to meet with the blue.

Its great to see that that some of Scotland’s leading musicians can fully live up to that Scottish internationalist spirit, so well demonstrated in Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come All Ye.

La Radiolina

Manu Chau
Nacional Records

Manu Chau

Manu Chau

Manu Chao first came to international fame for his Clandestino album, which sold three million copies worldwide, putting it just behind Bueno Vista Social Club as the best-selling world-music album of all-time. Not a lot of people know that – well not in the English-speaking world that is. Hopefully, things will change here with the recent release of Manu’s third album, La Radiolina.

Manu grew up in Paris, because his Galician father and Basque mother had to escape from Franco’s fascist Spain. Manu’s current home base is the Catalan capital of Barcelona, but he spends a lot of time in Buenos Aires, another city with a strong oppositional culture. He also visits Bamako in Mali, a major centre of world music.

La Radiolina includes songs in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and English. It has a much rockier feel compared to his first album. This is because he uses Radio Bemba Sound System for backing. ‘Radio Bemba’ is the word-of-mouth system used by the Cuban revolutionaries, led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, to communicate with each other in the forest of the Sierra Maestra.

When Manu recently toured the USA, he played to a 90,000 strong audience, at the Coachela Festival in California. They were waiting to hear their idols, Rage Against the Machine, but he won over the mainly non-Latin audience. His band performed with a banner draped across the stage – Immigrants are not Criminals. This followed the major protests organised mainly by Latin American immigrants, throughout the USA, on May Day, 2006.

The lyrics from one of Manu’s English-worded songs give an indication of Manu’s politics and highlight the reason why so many people are forced to emigrate worldwide. After verses about the appalling conditions in war-torn Zaire and Liberia, Manu finishes Rainin in Paradize with the following verse:-

In Bagdad
Its no democracy
That’s just because
It’s a US country!
In Fallouja
Too much calamity
This world go crazy
Its no fatality

Let’s get Manu’s new album up there to equal the sales of the justly famed Bueno Vista Social Club.

Battlefield Band
Battlefield Band (Wikipedia)
Manu Chau

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Sep 27 2007

It’s a Free World

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 4:29 pm

Channel 4 showed Ken Loach’s latest film, It’s A Free World on September 24th 2007. We are reprinting this review by Corinna Lotz from ‘A World to Win’ website.

It’s a Free World follows the director’s earlier feature about the Irish war of independence, The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Producer Rebecca O’Brian and writer Paul Laverty agreed that rather than another big budget effort, they wanted to make a smaller film, more of a chamber piece about the migrants’ working conditions. After The Wind that Shakes the Barley we were keen to do something that was of the moment, with a real contemporary smack to it, explains Laverty.

Somehow the character Angie just popped into my head. She was totally fictional and from the very beginning I could smell trouble. Angie is a larger-than-life peroxide-blonde Essex girl who decides to strike out to run her own recruitment agency for migrant workers in east London after being sacked by her sexist bosses.

She and her flatmate/business partner Rose operate from an old pub near a ring road in Leyton, east London, hiring out migrant workers on a casual basis. She selects the lucky ones from clusters of Poles, Ukrainians, Spanish, near Eastern men and women who turn up at dawn each morning to be shoved into shambolic white vans, their doors hanging open as they rumble off.

When her father Geoff, played by former stevedore Colin Caughlin, turns up one morning to watch, he finds the sight disgraceful, saying, I thought those days were all over.

As Angie devises ever more exploitative ways of raising cash, she moves from legality to illegality, tax evasion, and even grassing up a group of the most vulnerable migrants forced to live in caravan camps.

The film refrains from moralising, instead showing her as a contradictory personality, drawn into in vicious spiral of debt to her workers, and unable, in the end, to protect the son she believes she is providing for.

Behind the story of Angie’s opportunism and cruel exploitation of her workforce lies meticulous research by Nina Lowe, backing up Paul Laverty’s own investigations. While the characters are all fictitious, the story is underpinned by a mountain of facts including first hand research, government and TUC reports, studies by university departments including Exeter, Queen Mary College, and work by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

Reality is more dramatic and stranger than fiction, Laverty says.

Mafia activity in the underworld around migrant labour is more violent than what appears in the film. I heard Mafioso stories about people having their legs broken and worse. But we wanted to show something closer to the norm, not a shock-horror expose.

Loach insists that they wanted Angie to be a likeable person and that the world she inhabits is widespread, not an aberration. It is central to the functioning of today’s economy. Angie is actually a cog in a bigger wheel. We wanted to show the logic of the system, not just a victim of it.

The film achieves a fierce sense of excitement through dramatic twists in the plot. Angie’s hot temper and naked ambition are set against the more thoughtful personality of Rose, played by Julie Ellis. The clashes between them are amongst the most dramatic moments in the story.

With It’s a Free World, Loach and his team take their political film making on to a new level. Rather than simply highlighting the scandal of how migrant workers are exploited, they challenge the prevailing wisdom

that ruthless entrepreneurship is the way that this society should develop – that everything is a deal, everything is competitive, acquisitive, market orientated and that’s the way we should live. It seeks out exploitation. It produces monsters.

At the media screening, Loach called for the repeal of all anti-union legislation and said the unions should be much tougher and stronger so they could take action together. People are sacked for even proposing to join a trade union. If unions were free, British Airways stewards could have supported Gate Gourmet catering staff, he said.

It’s a Free World has succeeded in showing – through the conflict and unexpected actions of flesh and blood characters – the skeleton beneath the surface of society.

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