RIGHT TO OVERTHROW THE SYSTEM

Diarmuid Breatnach

The whisper is that a new movement is to be created, called Right to Change and that it will publish an on-line mass left-wing newspaper, which will be the first mass left-wing paper in this country since 1913 and even then, that newspaper’s distribution was mostly confined to Dublin.

In fact, a movement based on the right to change already exists, taking in not only the right to water but to housing, to social provisions, to health, to education, to natural resources – the many things that have been removed or cut or are under threat in order to pay the bankers and speculators. One supposes that this new organisation is intended to build on that movement, coordinate it etc. And no doubt put up a slate of candidates at local government and at general elections.

It is Right to Water that has given rise to this idea and no doubt a number who were prominent in it will be likewise in the new organisation.

Right to Water was not a movement, rather a kind of coordinating organisation for national demonstrations, chiefly in Dublin, against the water charges and the expected privatisation of water. In that work it has been highly successful.

The demonstrations built on the actions and mobilisation of hundreds of community groups across the country, protesting locally, encouraging people not to register or pay the charges, blocking Sierra and others from installing water meters and so on.

Many people will think that building Right to Change is the logical next move and will be enthused by it. And why not? Sure wouldn’t it be great to have a large number of TDs standing up to the System, denouncing its plans and their actions? The kind of thing done today by a few Independent TDs and others representing parties with small representation in the Dáil. Well, it would be useful but would it really make a difference?

Recently a Dáil committee set up to review the water charges and so on published its recommendations. Only 13 of the committee’s 20 members agreed with all of the recommendations but all of the recommendations stand nevertheless. Of course some of the objectors were right-wingers but many were of the Left – the System will always have a majority in the sub-systems it sets up. And if a time should come when it cannot achieve that …. well, that’s when you’ll hear the tanks clanking down the street.

Ok, granted perhaps, but it can’t hurt, can it? To have more Left TDs harassing the Government? No, of course not. Not unless we expect too much of this new organisation. Not unless we come to depend on it. And scale down our own independent activities. Hand over power to them.

That wouldn’t happen, would it? Unfortunately it has been a historical trend for popular movements to do exactly that. And social democracy always betrays the mass upon which it has erected itself. The Liberals in the further past and our ‘own’ Fianna Fáil in more recent history often promised the workers many things to win their votes. And even helped the workers push some things through from time to time. But they never promised to abolish the System, never promised socialism.

Social democracy does promise to deliver a fair and just society. It is a promise that it has been making for well over a century but on which it never delivers. It’s not just about jobbery and corruption, of which there is plenty in the corridors of power and to which many social democrats gravitate; it’s more that the Councillors and TDs elected never had any intention of abolishing the System. And in fact, will come out to defend the System whenever it is in danger. When it comes down to it, the System is THEIR system.

From time to time one hears social democrats bewailing “the unacceptable face of capitalism”, as though there exists an “acceptable” face of that system. They may talk at times about the “evils” of capitalism but will bear in mind the “good things” of capitalism too, the benefits they draw or hope to draw from the System. So criticism must be “balanced”, one mustn’t “throw the baby out with bathwater” and so on.

“The law must be obeyed”, they agree, as though “the law” is something divorced from class and politics, some immutable thing that just somehow exists. And yet just about every major social and political advance — including the right to organise a trade union at work, the right to strike and the right to universal suffrage — was won by people breaking “the law”. “The law” and its enforcers are part of the System.

If (heaven forbid) the action of the System’s police should be criticised, then we will hear phrases like “the police have a hard job to do”, the action of the ‘bad’ police is “bringing the force into disrepute”, “there are a few bad apples”, “better training is needed”, a “change in management is necessary”, etc etc. Anything but admit that the police force in a capitalist country exists in order to serve that System.

SOCIAL DEMOCRACY BETRAYS

At the beginning of May 1926, with a coal miners’ strike as a catalyst, Britain was heading towards a real possibility of revolution. The social democratic Trades Union Congress called a General Strike. In many areas of the country and in cities, no transport moved unless it had authorisation from the local Trades Council (a committee of local trade union representatives) or it had armed police and soldier escort. In less than two weeks, the TUC, at the behest of the British Labour Party, called off the strike, leaving the miners to fight on alone to their defeat in less than eight months. “By the end of November, most miners were back at work. However, many remained unemployed for many years. Those still employed were forced to accept longer hours, lower wages and district wage agreements” (Wikipedia).

Banner of a Labour Party branch of Crewe (West England) with a Marxist revolutionary slogan at a General Strike rally. Yet the leadership of the Labour Party convinced the TUC to call off the General Strike. (Image source: Internet)

There had been more workers coming out at that time but also some of the union leaders were beginning to crack, as the struggle was shaping up to be a real showdown between the System and the workers. The TUC didn’t even set up a system to guarantee no retaliations by bosses against activist workers in non-mining unions and many lost their jobs.

The Chilean Salvador Allende is often seen as a hero, a radical social democrat who stood up against internal military fascism and external CIA-led destabilisation. Workers and peasants and some sections of the middle class got Allende elected President in 1970 but right wingers and officers in the military, working with the CIA, were conspiring against him. Everybody knew this and sections of the workers asked for Allende to arm them against the coup they knew was coming. Allende tried instead to compromise and find senior officers he could work with to use against the plotters. When the military carried out the coup, there was some armed resistance but most workers were unarmed. The coup left “3,000 dead or missing, tortured ten thousands of prisoners and drove an estimated 200,000 Chileans into exile” (Wikipedia). In addition, the children of many murdered left-wingers and union activists were given to childless right-wingers and military and police couples to raise as their own.

Social democracy always betrays or ends up hung by its own illusions. Unfortunately the workers end up hanging with it also.

Moments of terror during the 1973 military coup in Chile — some of those pictured may well have been tortured and/ or murdered soon afterwards. (Image source: Internet)

In 2010, in response to Government budget cuts of between 5% and 10% on public servants, along with a levy on pensions, along with a breakdown in the “partnership” system of business and state employers negotiating with trade unions, the social-democratic Irish Trades Union Congress called a major demonstration in Dublin.  Perhaps 70,000 marched down O’Connell Street and the ITUC was threatening a general strike.  Despite escalating strike action in a number of sectors and the growing unpopularity of the Government, the ITUC abandoned the idea of a strike and instead went in to do a deal with the Government, in which they actually agreed to pay cuts and the pension levy, in exchange for some guarantees around public sector jobs. The social democratic trade union leaders didn’t have the stomach (or backbone) to take on the Government, to test the level of support for resistance.

Section of the ICTU protest march in November 2010 — the ICTU threatened a General Strike within days but instead crawled into Croke Park Agreement.
(Image source: Internet)

Why all this talk about social democracy? Well, because Right to Water is essentially a social democratic alliance. It contains Sinn Féin, the biggest minority party in the Dáil, with 23 elected representatives, third in number of TDs. Right to Water is also supported by Unite, “Britain’s biggest union with 1.42 million members across every type of workplace” according to their website it is pretty big in Ireland too, which is a “region” for the union, with 100,000 members across the land. These are forces that, while opposing the water charge, did not support civil disobedience on water meter installation nor refusing to pay the charge (although a number of their members fought along with the rest). Refusing to register and pay were the most effective ways of resisting the water charges and it is the high level of civil disobedience behind the giant demonstrations that has made the ruling class think again and promoted divisions between FG and Labour on the one hand and Fianna Fáil on the other.

But these elements did not support that policy. They want to be not only law-abiding but be seen to be law-abiding. Seen by who? Well, by the ruling class of course. SF in particular is champing at the bit to get into a coalition government but needs to show the ruling class that it is a safe pair of hands, i.e that the System will remain intact if managed by them. As indeed they have done in joint managing the regime in the Six Counties.

Of course there are many occasions when social democrats and revolutionaries can cooperate – but never by ceding leadership to the social democrats nor by depending on them, always instead by relying on their own forces and striving to educate the masses that the system cannot be reformed but needs to be overthrown …. and that the ordinary people are perfectly capable of achieving that.

AN ON-LINE MASS LEFT-WING NEWSPAPER

What about the left-wing newspaper though? Now that might be something, true enough. A source of rebuttal to the lies we are constantly getting from the media and a source of information and news which media censorship ensures most of us don’t get to read, see or hear.

If it seeks to be a truly mass paper it will need to cover not only foreign and domestic news but also sport, with sections on history, culture, nature, gardening ….. Rudolfo Walsh, who founded and with others ran the important ANCLA news agency during the dictatorship and the earlier extremely popular CGTA weekly in Argentina, until he was assassinated by the police, has been credited with two important sources of the weekly’s success: his informants within the police and army and an excellent horse racing tipster!

Rudolfo Walsh, Argentinian writer and journalist of Irish descent, his image superimposed on another of the military dictatorship that murdered him.
(Image source: Internet)

It is a big undertaking and a very interesting one.

But will the new paper practice censorship? Will it confine its discourse to the social democratic or instead allow revolutionary voices in it? Will it allow criticism of trade union leaderships, including Unite’s? Will it cover the repression of Republicans on both sides of the Border but particularly in the Six Counties? One would certainly hope so. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – and of the newspaper, in the reading.

MOORE STREET AND 1916 RISING — OF GREAT INTERNATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE

Diarmuid Breatnach

(This is another part of my personal submission to the Minister of Heritage’s Consultative Group on Moore Street. Some others may be found on https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/the-1916-history-of-moore-street/https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/the-moore-street-market-a-possible-future/https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/personal-recommendations-for-the-moore-street-quarter/ and https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/moore-street-mus…tourists-account/.

I have tackled the particular subject of the International Importance of the 1916 Rising and therefore of the Moore St. Quarter on a number of occasions elsewhere and at some greater length on Rebel Breeze here https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/the-moore-street-terrace-a-world-heritage-site/ )

The 1916 Rising, to which Moore Street is so closely linked, represented some very important events for the people of the world and it impacted on people in all populated continents of the globe.

FOR DEMOCRACY, EQUALITY

The 1916 Proclamation, printed in Liberty Hall and signed in No.21 Henry Street, just around the corner from Moore Street, is a document not only of clear patriotic and anti-colonial expression but also a democratic and inclusive one. At a time when hardly a state anywhere in the world permitted women to vote in elections, the document specifically addressed “Irishmen and Irish women”. It also clearly expressed the wish of the insurgents to overcome the religious sectarianism which had played such an important part in securing continued colonial rule: “ … religious and civil liberty … oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.” 

Site of signing of 1916 Proclamation, 21 Henry St, almost opposite end of Moore Street.  At the time the business premises and cafe of Jennie Wyse Power of Cumann na mBan was there (plaque erected in 1919 by the 1916-1921 Club). 

The Rising had expressed the gender equality intentions of the insurgents in more than the words of its address: women fought in the Rising and, in two garrison areas, commanded for awhile. The British colonial authorities recognised the role of some of those women by sentencing one to death, albeit a sentence later commuted, and keeping a number of them in prison even after many men had been released.

Headline of 1916 Proclamation and specific mention address to Irish women (sourced oh Internet)

FOR GENDER EQUALITY

Irish women organised for and acted in the Rising in two separate organisations: Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army.

The women founded as an auxiliary force to the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, later to assert considerable organisational independence, wore their own uniforms and had their own female officers. Women had participated in many insurrections and resistance movements across the world but no insurrectionary force in history ever before had such a consciously women-organised force.

The women in the Irish Citizen Army had formally equal status with men and a number carried arms in the Rising and fired them at the enemy. Men acted on orders from women officers in at least two garrison areas and, in medical matters, also in at least a third.

Such a situation was of great significance in the struggle for women’s rights and gender equality, not only in Ireland but in the world.

FOR WORKERS AND SOCIALISM

Captain White & Irish Citizen Army on parade on their grounds at Croydon House, Fairview, N. Dublin City. (Sourced on Internet)

The Irish Citizen Army was founded in 1913 as a workers’ defence force by trade unionists and socialists and later as a workers’ army and, despite its strongly anti-colonial stance, until the 1916 Rising, maintained a strict separation from the nationalist republican organisations of the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan. As detailed earlier, it formally recognised women within the organisation as of equal status with men.

Workers’ organisations had existed before, including armed ones but nowhere had such an armed organisation existed outside of armed conflict for so long (1913-1916), led by socialists and with equal status for men and women. In the history of socialist organisation and particularly of a revolutionary and insurgent kind, this was a development of enormous importance.

AGAINST WAR

The 1916 Rising took place in the middle of the first of two huge international conflicts that were later called World Wars. WW1 was a struggle for markets, resources and strategic positions and bases between a number of states ruled by capitalists and those states recruited heavily from among the nations they had colonised; in Britain’s case, that included Ireland.

To many nationalist Republicans, the War represented an opportunity, expressed in the maxim that “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. But to many socialists around the world, the War represented a disastrous pitting of the working people under one Power against the working people of another, as well as an excuse for the suppression of demands to fulfill the needs of their workers while the capitalists gathered huge profits. James Connolly was one of those socialists.

“WE SERVE NEITHER KING NOR KAISER banner on Liberty Hall (prior wartime repressive legislation), HQ of the IT&GWU, the WUI and of the ICA. (Sourced on Internet)

Connolly, Edinburgh-born Irish revolutionary socialist, formerly Acting General Secretary of the Irish Transport & General Worker’s Union, had joined the International Workers of the Word, the hugely influential in the USA syndicalist organisation. As well as being an energetic organiser, Connolly was a historian and revolutionary theoretician. Connolly took to heart the resolution formally adopted by representatives of the vast majority of European socialists to oppose war and, should it come, to turn it into class war against their rulers. In the event, Connolly was one of the few European socialist leaders to live up to that resolution: as Commandant of the Irish Citizen Army, GPO Garrison commander in a rising against Ireland’s British colonial masters, James Connolly was also striking a blow against imperial and colonial war.

That aspect of the Rising, of being consciously or unconsciously against War, predated the February Russian Revolution of 1917, also in part an anti-war uprising, by ten months. And of course, predated the October Socialist Revolution in Russia by seventeen months and the nearest uprising geographically to Ireland, also in part an anti-war one, the German socialist uprising in November 1918, by two-and-a-half years. For all these reasons, the 1916 Rising, the Headquarters of which were in the GPO and later removed to Moore Street, was and remains of enormous significance in the world-wide history of people’s movements against war.

AGAINST COLONIALISM IN THE WORLD

The 1916 Rising reverberated around the world. It took place in what had a century earlier been widely regarded as the second city of the British Empire and, when it erupted, did so against the largest empire, in terms of directly-controlled areas and population numbers ruled, that the world has ever known. How can such an event be of other than huge interest, not only to other peoples under British colonial rule but also to those under the colonial rule of France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Spain, Russia and the United States? How could it not have been of considerable interest to socialist revolutionaries everywhere?

Lenin speaking in Red Square in October 1918. He was among Russian revolutionaries who commented on the 1916 Rising. (Sourced on Internet)

Map of world empires, colonies and territories in 1914 (Sourced on Internet)

 

Socialists around the world discussed the Rising, at first often criticising it, while Lenin, of huge importance in the socialist movement at that time and some others commented favourably upon it. Consequently, the Rising and the War of Independence was to play an important part in the development of a revolutionary theory around the world that advocated the linking of the struggles of worker, peasant and small farmer, of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism with struggle for a socialist republic.

August 4, 1916: From left: Irish American labor leaders Timothy Healy, William B. Fitzgerald, William D. Mahon, Hugh Frayne (general organizer in New York for the American Federation of Labor), and Louis Fridiger. Fitzgerald, Mahon, and Fridiger represented the Amalgamated Association of Street Railway Employees of America. (Source http://irishamerica.com/2016/02/hand-in-hand-for-freedom-u-s-labor-and-irish-rebels/

The Rising was a topic of great discussion in the United States and in Australia, and in the USA of financial and other support, as is well known. Connolly had been active there and had published his songbook in New York in 1910; Larkin was actually there in 1916. For a number of reasons, including the sentencing to death of Eamon Bulfin for his role in the GPO and in Moore Street, a sentence later commuted and Bulfin deported to Buenos Aires, the Rising was discussed in Argentina and in other Latin American countries (where, at that time, the British were the main imperialist power).

Eamon Bulfin, born in Argentina and exiled there after 1916, his photo in Australian paper the Southern Cross that year. (Sourced on Internet)

Members of 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers including the leader of the 1920 mutiny in the Punjab, James Daly. (Sourced on Internet)

It was certainly discussed in the huge country of India (which at that time included what is now the states of Pakistan and Bangladesh), whose revolutionary nationalists had contact with Fenian revolutionaries from decades earlier. The Connaught Ranger mutiny in the British Army was a direct result of the Rising and the War of Independence and, before the mutiny was crushed, the soldiers and oppressed Indians had begun to make movement towards reciprocal solidarity. And we know, from history and the writings of Indian nationalists and socialists, that the Rising and the War of Independence which organically followed the Rising influenced the struggles against colonialism and imperialism in India right up to the Second World War. We are also aware of correspondence between the Nehru and Ghandi families and the McSwineys.

A young Ho Chi Minh (not his name then) at Marseilles conference in 1919
(Sourced on Internet)

We know also that the War of Independence influenced African uprisings and Ho Chi Minh, later leader of successful wars against Japanese invasion and French colonialism. In South Africa, the Rising must have been a subject of discussion too, at least among the whites. John McBride, sentenced to death ostensibly for his role in Rising was probably in reality being shot for having organised and led an Irish Brigade to fight the British in the Second Boer War, which had ended but fourteen years earlier.

In Britain itself, the Rising influenced the huge Irish diaspora in England, Scotland and Wales and a significant proportion of the insurgent forces in Dublin had actually come from there. The Rising and especially the War of Independence caused a crises of a kind in British socialist thinking, threatening an irrevocable rupture between revolutionary socialists and even sections of radical social democrats on the one hand and pro-imperial social democracy on the other.

This is not the place to discuss this further but that situation, allied to anti-colonial struggles around the world, huge dissatisfaction and mutinies in the British armed forces and a growing strike movement in Britain, provided great opportunities for an Irish revolutionary movement to influence the history of the world in a direction other than that which it has taken.

For all the reasons outlined above, the Moore Street quarter should be of recognised World Heritage Status.

UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE AND OTHER CONSERVATION STATUS

The Irish State ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1991, which qualifies Ireland to apply for that status for the Moore Street quarter. Up to US$1 million is available from the World Heritage fund for the saving and development of a World Heritage site and funds are also available for urgent works to save it. World Heritage status attracts considerable tourist interest and substantial revenue is of course also available to the State and businesses surrounding the area from such tourist interest.

Currently Ireland has only two sites which have been accorded full World Heritage status (one of archaelogical and the other or natural, mainly geological, importance). However, another seven sites are under “Tentative” categorisation since 2010 and Dublin City is one of those. The Moore Street battleground could be afforded that full World Heritage status in its own right, which I believe its history deserves but it can also be used to strengthen the case for full such status for Dublin City.

The ten grounds on which UNESCO currently relies in order to examine the “the unique importance” of a site is admittedly rather restricted in the category of historical importance, particularly in the development of social movements. However, even under the existing list, I would submit that the Moore Street battleground meets four of the criteria: 2, 4, 6 and 8. The USA has the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall building as World Heritage sites.

Registering under EU programs may also be possible, in particular Horizon 2020.

WE WANT CHANGE?

 

Diarmuid Breatnach

Yes we do – or at least most of us do. There are a few who do not.

Some people think that those few who do not want change are our rulers, the big capitalists — but they are mistaken. The capitalist class forced change to overthrow the feudal system, which was hampering their growth and the development of industry and commerce. And capitalists know that change is inevitable, so it is better to go with it than to try to stop it. That is why they set up courses such as those called “Change Management” — if change is inevitable, then manage it, the thinking goes. Manage it so that it comes out to capitalist advantage, naturally.

(Source Internet, using "change management" as search words)

(Source Internet, using “change management” as search words)

Change Management courses, particularly those dealing with personnel, emphasise managing change as smoothly as possible, making it non-traumatic. In that way, it is assumed, there will be less reaction against the change, less opposition.

But in fact, sometimes capitalism wants the exact opposite – it wants change to be as traumatic as possible. These are the situations described under the title “Shock Doctrine” by economic/ environmental activist and theorist Naomi Klein (2007). This has two mechanisms: in the first, the shocking change taking place disarms people from the psychological ability to organise resistance; in the second, the speed of the shock (or shocks) of the economic and political manoeuvres of the capitalists moves faster than the opposition can organise, achieving their goals before opposition can coordinate an effective resistance.

Klein has described how huge natural disasters such as earthquake (Haiti), tsunami (Thailand, Indonesia) and flood (New Orleans, USA) are used to force foreign or native private takeovers of sectors of the national economy while the people and the regime in power are reeling under the impact of the disaster.

Political and economic disasters are also used in this model, such as the military coup in Chile and the collapse of the USSR (in the case of Poland), the economic collapse in Bolivia, the invasion of Iraq, the financial collapse of the “Tiger economies” of SE Asia. Even a potentially beneficial change of great magnitude may be used, such as the collapse of white minority rule in South Africa, during which the black majority won formal equality and citizenship but lost control of most of the economy (and lost a lot more which I do not intend to discuss here).

There is in fact a military precursor to this which has been called, in the context of US military strategy, “Shock and Awe”. This doctrine was described by its authors, Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade (1996), as “attempting to impose this overwhelming level of Shock and Awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on … [to] seize control of the environment and paralyze or so overload an adversary’s perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy would be incapable of resistance at the tactical and strategic levels”.

Of course there were many elements of this in the Blitzkrieg of the Nazi German army in its invasions of other countries and even the medieval invasions by the Huns and of the Mongols. Cromwell employed elements of it in Ireland in his army’s massacres at Wexford and Drogheda.

Aside from needing change to overcome feudalism, managing change to its advantage and use of shock doctrine to facilitate changes it wants, the capitalist system itself promotes change as part of its system. Small capitalists combine and form conglomerates, in which big capitalists come to power and, in turn, eat up smaller capitalists in order to dominate their sphere of economic activity. We have seen the growth of supermarkets and the decline of small shops, the rise of chain stores killing independent clothes shops, chain cafes and eateries driving indpendent cafes and restaurants out of business.

Capitalists also promote inventions and discoveries so as to increase their wealth but also in order to stay in front of the competition – a capitalist concern that stays at its original level will be taken over or driven out of business by its competitors. Our grandparents hardly knew about the possibility of mobile phones and computers, let alone small hand-held audio-visual connections to the Internet; our children today play with visual electronic games, films and music before they learn to talk. To be sure, monopolies also suppress inventions but they can only do so to an extent as some capitalist somewhere will break the embargo or consensus (if the discovery can be used to make sufficient profits making the attempt worth the risk).

OK, but we want change too and, we think, what we want is not the capitalist kind of change we’ve been talking about until now, although innovations and discoveries should continue and in fact accelerate – but for the benefit of the people, not the capitalists. Technological advances and innovations that do not make big profits may nevertheless be very valuable to us for all kinds of reasons.

So, yes, we want change. But what kind of change? Change to what? Change how? There a vast panorama opens.

We want to eliminate homelessness; have an efficient universally affordable health service; not to have to struggle for a decent standard of living in food, housing and small luxuries; to enjoy universal and affordable access to education at all levels; not to harm the environment; to have the positive aspects of our cultural inheritance, including history, valued and promoted. We want equal rights and respect between people regardless of race or ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability … and freedom of choice.

In 1930s Germany, people wanted those things too, except that a lot of people were convinced that the contents of the last sentence above were harmful and not what they wanted. But there were many, many people who did want those contents too. The issue was in doubt for awhile.

In the 1928 elections the Nazi Party achieved just 12 seats (2.6% of the vote) in the Reichstag (German Parliament) and in three areas the Nazi Party failed to gain even 1% of the vote. In the Presidential elections of March 1929, the Nazi candidate Erich Ludendorff gained only 1.1% of votes cast, and was the only candidate to poll fewer than a million votes.

We know that elections are not everything – but still.

Five years later, the Nazis were in power — but even after the Communist Party was declared illegal their candidates polled a million votes.

The people definitely wanted change and the established ‘democratic’ parties were unable or unwilling to deliver it. The change the people ended up with was not probably what most had imagined and for some time it spelt disaster for Germany – and unbelievable suffering for large parts of the rest of the world … and also for millions of German citizens.

To look closer to home, people wanted change here too and from 1917 onwards they showed that electorally by voting for the newly-reorganised Sinn Féin party. From 1919 a significant section of the populace took to arms to pursue change and had the active or tacit support of a huge part of the population. But in 1921 the movement and the people split about what kind of change they wanted. A civil war followed with a heavy level of brutality against civilians and combatants, particularly by the State side, which won the contest — and we ended up with the State we now have.

Bombardment of Republican-held Four Courts in Dublin by Free State forces from the bottom of Winetavern Street (with British artillery on loan) starts the Civil War on 28 June 1922 (Source Internet)

Bombardment of Republican-held Four Courts in Dublin by Free State forces from the bottom of Winetavern Street (with British artillery on loan) starts the Civil War on 28 June 1922 (Source image: Internet)

It is well to be fairly clear about the change we want and what we do not want. There was no such general clarity in the ranks of those fighting for change from 1916 to 1921. It turned out that many who were fighting for change were fighting for different things.

Differences must have come up over the years of struggle and we know from some evidence that they did. We also must assume from the political nature of prominent people in the struggle that there were differences. Even within the IRB itself, only one of the organisations involved, there were differences that surfaced in attitude to the 1913 Lockout, the control of the Volunteers in 1914 and the Treaty of 1922.

Of course, we need maximum unity against the principal enemy. But that is unity in action only. If we put unity in thought, principles or political or social program first, as some organisations have and some others claim to do, we end up with small organisations unable to effectively counter the resistance of the ruling class to the change we want and, in the end, unable to overcome that resistance. On the other hand, if we sacrifice everything to unity against the enemy, we leave ourselves hostages to events in the future and to what kind of society will emerge from the struggle.

Somewhere between those two is where we need to be, preserving the freedom to discuss, explore and proclaim differences of opinion and social program, while avoiding unnecessary squabbles and maintaining unity in action. It is a difficult balance to strike but it needs to be done. In the midst of fighting the common enemy and striving for unity in action against it, we must fight for that freedom also inside the resistance movement, the freedom to discuss, explore and yes, also to criticise.

End.

SHUT UP AND DON’T QUESTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

You will not question the Leadership of the Organisation. That is disrespectful. Besides, they know better than you. They are more intelligent and/ or better educated or have been at it longer than you.

 

The Leadership are incorruptible and have suffered much along the way. That makes it disloyal to question them.

You don’t want to be disrespectful and disloyal, do you?

Let the Leadership do the thinking. Is that not easier?

You must not listen to those who challenge or criticise the Leadership. Those people are disloyal and disrespectful. Besides, some of the things they point out will make you uncomfortable. Put your trust and faith in the Leadership and be comfortable and at ease.

Those who challenge the Leadership are troublemakers. They seek to upset things. It is right that they be expelled and then things will return to the state with which we can be comfortable. If remaining inside the Organisation, they will create disorder. If they are outside the Organisation, their words should not be reported or their criticism printed. Their activities should not be publicised.

You know and your comrades know that you are not a troublemaker, or disrespectful or disloyal. But if you associate with those critics, the ones from outside or that left or were expelled, people will begin to suspect that you too are like them. You want the Leadership and comrades to trust you, to be at ease with you, don’t you? Best ignore the critics, not have anything to do with them.

Besides, what can they possibly have to offer, outside the Organisation?

Solidarity against the attacks of the enemy is a good thing, but not with the critics. They have forfeited any right to solidarity when they broke from or criticised the Leadership and the Organisation. They have brought all this down upon themselves.

Concentrate upon the path pointed out by the Leadership. Concentrate upon the tasks of the moment. All will be well. You are in good hands. The Organisation is in good hands. Everything is fine.

COLOURS OF STRUGGLE

Diarmuid Breatnach

Information picket (with table across the road) organized by Anti-Internment Group of Ireland in September 2014 at Thomas St./ Meath St. junction, Dublin. They returned there in December and in January supported a picket in Cork, handing out leaflets on the Craigavon Two injustice.

Information picket (with table across the road) organized by Anti-Internment Group of Ireland in September 2014 at Thomas St./ Meath St. junction, Dublin.

MEP maybe Kobane Rally London

Palestinian and Kurdish flags at a Kobane solidarity rally in Trafalgar Square, London in 2014. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flag of the ICA, flown over Murphy's Imperial Hotel in 1916

The flag of the ICA, flown over Murphy’s Imperial Hotel in 1916

 

 

 

 

I’m no shade of green,

though neath such flags I’ve oft times been,

and ‘neath the Plough in Gold on Green,

and some years back

Also the black,

aye and the red-and-black;

or Palestinian red and black and white and green,

c-n-mb-irish-republic-tricolour-flags-crowd-gpo-copy

Cumann na mBan, “Irish Republic” and Tricolour flags displayed at Dublin’s GPO by Moore Street campaign supporters. (Phoro: D. Breatnach?)

Or the Basque crosses white and green upon red …..

In solidarity I have flown all those flags I’ve said

But when all’s said and done —

though hard to choose just one —

from my heart and from my head:

I choose the workers’ Red.

Sept 2016

 

A number of the Basque flag, the Ikurrina, flying in Dublin during a solidarity protest. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

A number of the Basque flag, the Ikurrina, flying in Dublin during a solidarity protest. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

Anarcho-Sindicalist and Anarchist black flags (Photo source: Internet)

Anarcho-Sindicalist and Anarchist black flags
(Photo source: Internet)

bagladeshi-women-men-red-flags-mayday

Bangladeshis on Mayday demonstration. (Photo source: Internet)

WORKING CLASS HERO IS COMMEMORATED IN THE EAST WALL AREA WHERE HE LIVED

Diarmuid Breatnach

On Sunday 8th May a working-class hero was commemorated in the East Wall area in which he lived. Walter Carpenter was a native of Kent, in SE England and came to Ireland to help found the Socialist Party of Ireland 1 with James Connolly in 1909 in Dublin. Among other activities a campaigner around housing issues for the Dublin working class, he reared his sons in socialist belief so that it was no surprise that both Wally (Walter jnr) and Peter joined the Irish Citizen Army and fought in the 1916 Rising. As a result of the repression of the Rising, one son ended up in Frongoch concentration camp in Wales, while the other was in hiding. Later, both brothers also fought against the Free State in the Irish Civil War; Wally was interned and went on hunger strike.

Lining Up Outside SOCC

Assembling to march outside the Sean O’Casey Community Centre

Jailed for opposing British Royal visit to Dublin

Rising to be Secretary of the Dublin Branch of the SPI in 1911, Walter Carpenter was jailed for a month for the production while speaking on a public platform of Connolly’s leaflet attacking the Royal visit that same year. Soon afterwards he was an organiser for the newly-formed Irish & Transport Workers’ Union. During the Lockout, he was sent by Connolly to Britain to rally the support of trade unionists for the struggle of the Dublin workers and was apparently an effective speaker there. That same year Walter Carpenter was elected General Secretary of the Tailors, Machinists and Pressers’ trade union, generally known as “the Jewish Union” due to the preponderance of its members being from that background.

Two sections march

United in purpose but fragmented in marching

Walter also became active in municipal politics, striving to make Dublin City Council meet its housing regulation responsibilities in the terrible housing conditions of the city of that time. There were many other sides to this campaigner too, which a read of Ellen Galvin’s pamphlet will reveal.

The East Wall History Group had earlier had a plaque erected on the wall of the house where he had lived, No.8 Caledon Road and organised an event around its unveiling on Sunday. The event began with a gathering at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre in East Wall, where an introduction to the event and to Walter Carpenter’s importance in the revolutionary and radical social history of Ireland was given by Joe Mooney, one of the organisers of the event. As well as local historians, socialists and Republicans, the event was attended by his surviving grandson, great-grandchildren and partners and their children. Also present was Ellen Galvin, who wrote a booklet on his life which was launched after the unveiling, back in the Sean O’Casey Centre.

Joe Mooney with a few preliminary words about Walter Carpenter and the history of the area

Joe Mooney with a few preliminary words about Walter Carpenter and the history of the area

Misfortune struck the event before it had even begun, with the news that Christy O’Brien, the piper who was to lead a march to the unveiling, had his pipes stolen from his car that very morning. Christy gives his service as a piper to many commemorative events, funerals etc. and, with the announcement of the misfortune, Joe Mooney also called for the spreading of the news in order to aid the recovery of the instrument. A set of bagpipes will cost thousands to buy or have made but it would be a rare musician or pawnshop that would negotiate for a stolen set (one which furthermore might be recognised at a musical event in the future).
(see also https://www.facebook.com/eastwallhistory/photos/a.593335330735681.1073741828.580261572043057/1042532349149308/?type=3&theater)

March to plaque past previous addresses of Irish resistance fighters

The march set off from the Sean O’Casey Centre without the piper, led by supporters carrying the banner of the East Wall History Group, a Tricolour and a Starry Plough (original green and gold version). Walking alongside were two Gárdaí and one wit commented that not only were descendants of the Irish Citizen Army present but also of the Dublin Metropolitan Police! 2

Caitríona Ní Casaidthe presiding over the plaque unveiling

Caitríona Ní Casaidthe presiding over the plaque unveiling

Deputy Dublin Mayor Cieran Perry in the march -- he also spoke at the unveiling.

Deputy Dublin Mayor Cieran Perry in the march — he also spoke at the unveiling.

Joe Mooney had told the crowd before the march began that they would pass a number of locations where fighters for Irish and working-class freedom had lived. These were: St Marys Road, Tim O’Neill at No.8 and father and daughter Patrick Kavanagh and May Kavanagh at No.24. Christy Byrne lived at No.45 and his brother Joseph Byrne was from Boland’s Cottages off Church Road, where also Christopher Carberry lived on Myrtle Terrace on Church Rd. All these were Irish Volunteers, while May was in Cumann na mBan. In Northcourt Avenue (now demolished, roughly where the Catholic Church stands), Patrick & William Chaney were in the Irish Citizen Army and in Hawthorn Terrace lived James Fox (Irish Volunteer) and Willie Halpin (ICA).

Joe added that at the junction of St. Mary’s Road and Church Street, the local Irish Volunteers had mustered to participate in the Rising, 100 years ago and also reminded the gathering that that very day, the 8th of May, was the centenary of the executions by British firing squad of Michael Mallin of the Irish Citizen Army and of Irish Volunteers Eamonn Ceannt, Sean Heuston and Con Colbert.

Eamon Carpenter, 94, grandson of Walter Carpenter (Photo D.Breatnach)

Eamon Carpenter, 94, grandson of Walter Carpenter (Photo D.Breatnach)

Upon reaching No. 8 Caledon Road, the former home of Walter Carpenter, Caitríona Ní Chasaide of the East Wall History Group introduced Eamon Carpenter, 94 years of age and a grandson of Walter Carpenter, who addressed the crowd in thanks and also about the life of his grandfather.

“The struggles of the past are not merely for commemoration”

Next Caitríona introduced the Deputy Mayor of Dublin, Cieran Perry, who pointed out the parallels between the dire housing situation in the early part of the last century, which Walter Carpenter had campaigned against, and the housing crisis in Dublin today. He castigated the officials of Dublin City Council who, despite the votes of elected Left Councillors, refused to use all the land available to them on a number of sites to build social housing and were instead preparing it for private development with a only fraction for social housing. For as little as 5% of the €4 billion of Minister Kelly’s oft-repeated proposed finance for social housing. i.e. €200 million, Dublin City Council could build over 1,300 homes. The struggles of the past are not merely for commemoration, Cieran went on to say, but are for celebration and for continuation, as he concluded to applause.

Caitríona then called on James Carpenter to unveil the plaque, which he did, to loud applause.Walter Carpenter plaque

After relatives and others had taken photos and been photographed in turn by the plaque and/or beside James Carpenter, Joe Mooney called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing The Felons Of Our Land. Joe explained that Walter Carpenter had been fond of singing that son, that in the course of their participation in the struggle he and his son had also been felons, as had Larkin and many others. Joe also informed the gathering that Sean O’Casey related that during his childhood, there had been a tram conductor who had been fond of singing patriotic songs, including the Felons Of Our Land, of which Casey’s mother had disapproved. It had been an revelation for O’Casey that one could be a Protestant and an Irish patriot too.

Diarmuid, dressed in approximation of period clothing, stepped forward and sang the four verses, of which the final lines are:

Diarmuid Breatnach singing "Felons of Our Land" outside former home of Walter Carpenter. (Photo East Wall History Group)

Diarmuid Breatnach singing “Felons of Our Land” outside former home of Walter Carpenter.
(Photo East Wall History Group)

Let cowards sneer and tyrants frown
O! little do we care–
A felon’s cap’s the noblest crown
An Irish head can wear.
And every Gael in Innisfail
(Who scorns the serf’s vile brand)
From Lee to Boyne would gladly join
The felons of our land.

The crowd then marched back to the Sean O’Casey Centre to attend the launch of the booklet on Carpenter’s life.

Launch of book on Walter Carpenter by his granddaughter and grandson of his comrade

On the stage in the Centre’s theatre, were seated the author of the booklet, Ellen Galvin, alongside Michael O’Brien of O’Brien Press.

Ellen Galvin on stage at the Sean O'Casey Community Centre theatre and Michael O'Brien launching the book about Walter Carpenter. (Photo D.Breatnach)

Ellen Galvin on stage at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre theatre and Michael O’Brien launching the book about Walter Carpenter. (Photo D.Breatnach)

Michael O’Brien, addressing the audience, said he had wondered what qualification he might have to launch the book but on investigation discovered that he had not a few connections. His own grandfather, who was Jewish, had been a founder member of the Tailors, Machinists and Pressers’ Union, of which Carpenter had been the General Secretary until his retirement and so they must have known one another at least fairly well.

Also, Bill O’Brien’s father, Thomas, had been a communist and was active with Walter Carpenter in the Republican Congress in the 1930s. Walter Carpenter and Thomas O’Brien had both also been active in the Bacon Shops’ Strike of the early 1930s. Thomas O’Brien had been jailed during that strike along with Jack Nalty and Dinny Coady, both of whom had East Wall connections; subsequently Thomas went to fight Franco and fascism in Spain, where Nalty and Coady were both killed.

Joe Mooney called on Tommy Seery to sing The Bold Labour Men, a song about the 1913 Lockout written by a local man, which he did to strong applause. (Tommy is a member of the East Wall PEG Drama and Variety Group, in which he acts and also often sings – a recent performance, from which Tommy was unfortunately absent due to illness, may be seen here https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/from-lockout-to-revolution-performance-of-east-wall-peg-drama-variety-group/).

Tommy Seery singing "The Bold Labour Men" about the 1913 Lockout (Photo D.Breatnach)

Tommy Seery singing “The Bold Labour Men” about the 1913 Lockout (Photo D.Breatnach)

Ellen Galvin spoke about Walter Carpenter’s life and his dedication to the advance of the working class and the struggle for justice.  Walter had been a supporter of equality for all, including gender, a man who read much and widely, who apparently learned Irish and campaigned for allotments for rent on Council-owned land while it was unused for housing.  He was against the consumption of alcohol but sympathised with people driven to its use by terrible housing conditions.

Joe then called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing Be Moderate, written by James Connolly, to illustrate what it was that people like Connolly and those of the Irish Citizen Army fought for and for which some had given their lives. Diarmuid took the stage and explained that the song had been published in New York in 1910, the same year that he had returned to Ireland from the USA. There had been no indication of an air to accompany the lyrics, as a result of which it has been sung to a number of airs. Diarmuid heard it sung in London by an English communist to the air of a Nation Once Again 3 and at least one good thing about this is that it provides a chorus, with which he encouraged the audience to join in. He then sang the song, of which the final lines are:

For workers long, with sighs and tears,
To their oppressors knelt.
But never yet, to aught save fears,
Did heart of tyrant melt.
We need not kneel, our cause is high
Of true hearts 4 there’s no dearth
And our victorious rallying cry
Shall be “We want the Earth!”

Many in the audience joined in on the chorus:
We only want the Earth, 
We only want the Earth,
And our demands most moderate are:
We only want the Earth!

Eamon Carpenter delivered an impromptu tribute to Ellen Galvin, who he told the audience had lost her mother at the age of 13 years of age, from which time she had taken over the mother’s role for her younger siblings, ensuring the were fed, dressed and cared for. This tribute was warmly applauded while Ellen seemed embarrassed but also pleased.

This was another successful commemoration of the revolutionary history and, in particular, of the working class history of their area by the East Wall History Group. It is of great importance that the working class be appraised of their own history as distinct from the dominant historical narratives and that their revolutionary traditions be remembered, not as something dead and in the past but as part of a continuum of struggle for the emancipation of the class.

If there is a weakness in a number of such commemorations it is the lack of participation by local adolescent youth in these events – which may also imply a lack of engagement by this age-group. Nevertheless, should they go searching at some future date for the information and their connection to the history of place and class, they will find a treasure trove waiting for them in the work of this History Group.

Children & Parents left plaque

CONTACTS
The East Wall History Group may be contacted or viewed on FB at https://www.facebook.com/eastwallhistory/?fref=ts

Mother & 2 Daughters

Local Photographer Exhibition SOCC

FOOTNOTES

 There exists today an organisation called the Socialist Party of Ireland (which often organises under the banner of the Anti-Austerity Alliance) but it is not directly descended from the party founded in Ireland in 1909; rather it is closer to being an offshoot of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, with which it has close fraternal relations.

The Dublin Metropolitan Police gained particular notoriety for the violence against organised workers on behalf of Dublin employers, especially during the 1913 Lockout, during which they killed a number of workers with their truncheons. In later years, the force became a Dublin police force under the Free State, which was later subsumed into the Garda Síochána, a fact not generally known.

3  Written by Thomas Davis, first published in The Nation, Dublin, 1844.

4  “of true men there’s no dearth” in the original

OF WHAT USE IS HISTORY?

(words 7,420)

Diarmuid Breatnach

Of what use is history? It’s a question we may ask and, I would contend, should ask ourselves.

A lot of people would suppose that is of no real use at all – just part of one’s “education”, by which they mean gaining test certificates with favourable results, a number of which, at a high enough percentage of marks scored, will help gain access to desired employment. A probably smaller number would believe it is of some use, probably in giving them a sense of pride of belonging to a group. From my observation, it would seem that this sector, in Ireland at least, is mostly composed of working and lower middle class people. Some of these will go to third level education and study history – but very few.

Since History is a core subject on primary and secondary schools’ curricula in most countries around the World, and since at third level education entire departments of universities cater for the subject, one assumes that it must be widely considered to be of some use — by educational authorities at least. But those university departments receive funding so there must be people in political parties and perhaps industry who also think history is of value.

Many extensive libraries could be filled easily with published books of and about history, without taking into account related subjects of social studies and archaeology (for examples), not to mention historical novels, poetry and songs dealing with history, biographies, paintings, drama …. Clearly enough people think history sufficiently important to write it or to integrate it into their writing and enough companies can make a business out of publishing those products.

However, though many might agree that history is of use, the precise nature of that ‘use’ is a matter of some debate. It is linked to the question of what history is — and there’s an ongoing debate about that too. So it would be worthwhile to look at that issue first, if only to ensure that we agree on what we’re talking about.

WHAT IS HISTORY?

Los Angeles Police Sergeant Joe Friday, in the Dragnet television series of the 1950s, often asked witnesses to a crime to give him “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts”. Which is actually what most people probably think of as being history – the facts or “what happened”. They might add “when”, “how” and even “why” to the definition “what happened”. But “what happened” is not, of itself, history. And when “what happened” IS history, there’s a lot more to it than just the bare facts.

Joe Friday from the "Dragnet" TV series: "Just the facts, ma'am."

Joe Friday from the “Dragnet” TV series: “Just the facts, ma’am.” (Image from Internet)

Let’s imagine that John was knocked down in the road by a vehicle. We might say that those are facts, if there is sufficient evidence for them and, in a “history” of the event, they should be recorded. But more happened. John was taken to hospital, where he was diagnosed as being in a coma; he was operated on and put on life support regime. Those too are facts that should be recorded in the “history”.

But there are a myriad of other facts involved; for example: where John was going and why, what he was thinking, what his general health was like, what he was wearing, what he had for lunch – and that’s just about John. We could ask lots of questions also about the vehicle driver, staff at the hospital, relatives and friends visiting the hospital. And about the vehicle, the weather, the road ….. In fact, we could smother the story in an avalanche of facts. We have to select the facts that seem to us relevant and confine ourselves to those, if we want to write a meaningful (and readable) history of the event.

And how do we know which are the relevant facts? We don’t, at least not all of them – the selection of them is based on subjective opinion which may or may not be “informed” by experience. But also by ignorance, superstition, prejudice, bias – and even experience is not infallible, since it too is conditioned by place and time, among other variables.

Ask two people what, in their experience, are the dangers to watch out for in crossing rivers: the person accustomed only to African conditions might say that the main dangers are drowning, being killed by hippopotomus or being eaten by crocodiles, while another, accustomed only to European conditions, might say that drowning or slipping and incurring an injury in falling are the only possible dangers and perhaps, in winter, contracting pneumonia after hyothermia. Yet others around the world might reply “Being cheated by the ferryman” or “Bandits on the other side” and still a fifth might consider contracting illness from polluted water to be the most prevalent risk of all.

Obviously, the same question can receive different but equally valid answers in different contexts.

BIAS AND SUBJECTIVITY IN HISTORY-WRITING

EH Carr directly addressed the question we are discussing in a series of lectures which were published by Cambridge University Press in 1961 under the very title: “What Is History?” I would highly recommend this book as an introduction to the study of history to the ordinary reader who, if she or he were to read nothing else about the subject would, despite its publication date and the volumes written on the subject since, gain a good basis for understanding what history is and what it is about. And it is short.EH Carr What Is History (Image from Internet)

In an extract from The Uses of Facts, historian G. Kitson Clark comments on EH Carr’s work:
Invited to deliver the 1961 George Macaulay Trevelyan lectures, he chose as his theme the question ‘What is History?’ and sought to undermine the idea, then very much current, that historians enjoy a sort of objectivity and authority over the history they study.

At one point he pictured the past as a long procession of people and events, twisting and turning so that different ages might look at each other with greater or lesser clarity. He warned, however, against the idea that the historian was in any sort of commanding position, like a general taking the salute; instead the historian is in the procession with everyone else, commenting on events as they appear from there, with no detachment from them nor, of course, any idea of what events might lie in the future.”

The historian is an observer but she is not impartial. She has her national or ethnic cultural background conditioning her, her class background, her gender, her sexuality and her political-religious-philosophical outlook. She can try for detachment but can never truly achieve it and, if as became the fashion for a while, she claims detachment or lack of bias, her history becomes accordingly suspect. Those historians who truly believe in their objectivity are the most dangerous of all. The historian herself is in the march of history, another actor – and people in her generation will be influenced by her writing to some degree, as may others in generations to come … and future historians will have something to say about her history writing.

The bias of the historian affects not only his interpretation of what he sees but also where he looks and what he looks for. Investigating a historical battle, for example, our past traditional historians would look to see who were the generals, who the overall commanders, what regiments participated, what weaponry and tactics were deployed and, of course the political-military objectives.

The political social historian will look for the economic causes underlying the conflict and the objectives of each side, the class and ethnic make-up of the leading participants but also of the participating masses, their culture and even their food. And at the attitudes to the conflict and the battle in the home grounds of the participants. Emperors may command (thinks this historian) and generals order battle … but which economic class rules and benefits or loses? Who does the actual fighting? What do they think? How fare the people at home and those where the military campaigns are being fought?

These are not small matters, even in affecting the outcome – we know the effect of morale on soldiers. The Russian Tsar’s participation in the First World War was one of the precipitating causes of the February Revolution in Russia in 1917 – it exacerbated civilian class tensions and economic complaints, as well as impeding delivery of food from the countryside to the cities as the use of trains was diverted instead to transporting troops. Lack of supplies and effective leadership, as well as defeats, affected the morale of soldiers; the failure of Kerensky’s Government to abandon that War was even more a cause of the October Socialist Revolution later that year. Soldiers and sailors took a decisive role in supporting both revolutions.

A year earlier, the morale of the insurgents in the 1916 Rising in Dublin was such that they were able to put up amazing resistance to attacking forces at least ten times their numbers, armed with artillery and machine guns, of which the insurgents had none. Later, during the War of Independence, in May 1921, General Sir Nevil Macready, in command of all British land military in Irelandreported to the British Cabinet on the adverse impact of the resistance of the Irish people, both military and otherwise, on the morale of the British soldiers and police under his command.

Morale was also a big factor in the long attritional but successful defence of Leningrad, Stalingrad and of Moscow against Nazi forces in WWII, grimly positive on the defenders’ side and slowly seeping into negativity among the invaders.

Jumping forward in history, there was eventually huge civilian opposition to the Vietnam War in the USA as well as vehement support for it, which was splitting its society more seriously than probably at any time since the American Civil War. From 1969 to 1972 there were nearly 900 incidents recorded in which US troops in Vietnam attempted to or succeeded in killing or injuring their superior officers, typically by fragmentation grenade – they had become so common that the act gained a nickname: ‘fragging’. History records, ‘Rambo’ fantasies aside, that the USA lost that war.

THE CONSTRUCTION BASE OF THE NARRATIVE

There is no great mystery about the construction base of the story, the narrative of history. It is composed of primary sources, artifacts, secondary sources and bibliography.

Primary Sources are accounts by observers or participants, related or written (or otherwise recorded) during, shortly or a long time after the event. Those must be the most reliable, surely? Well, not necessarily. A soldier might want to justify why he ran from battle or a general to justify why he ordered a retreat or why he was defeated. A participant might want to denigrate one side, question their valour, discipline, intelligence or to depict their behaviour as bloodthirsty – while of course painting his own side’s behaviour in different colours.

We also know that witness accounts of the same event vary and that time and reflection and discussion or external manipulation can remove or add to some elements observed, in addition to ‘remembering’ ones that were not actually observed (imagined memory)1. Let’s imagine that John was knocked down in the road by a vehicle. What colour was the vehicle? Answers from witnesses immediately after the event may vary from green to blue to a number of other colours and shades. At what speed was it travelling? Some might say 40mpm, others 50 or 60. What was John’s behaviour immediately before? He wasn’t paying attention/ he was crossing with due care but the car was too fast/ maybe he could have avoided it had he been a bit more alert …. the brakes didn’t seem to work very well. And so on. 

Now suppose John was well-liked and the driver whose vehicle hit him is unknown or a member of any group that might be the subject of mistrust or dislike. After a few weeks, all actual witnesses might be convinced that John had been crossing with due care and attention, the car had been speeding and driving erratically and had hit John without giving him a chance. Furthermore there might now be a widely-held belief, the origin and justification for which may murky, that the driver had been drinking. Or that he had been involved in previous accidents. Or a theory may even have arisen that the driver had some reason to kill John – it had been no accident!

On the other hand, can an investigator ignore the accounts of eye-witnesses? Of course not – but they need to be treated with caution.

Secondary sources is the name given to accounts written by people who gather the accounts of participants and contemporary observers and other evidence. What they report finding and their conclusions form the secondary sources – somewhat like the report of the investigator of a traffic accident. So surely the removed investigator, who writes a report, can be considered more reliable?

Well, perhaps the investigator didn’t like John or was bribed by a member of the driver’s family. Or she could be suspicious of or even hostile to the ethnic group to which the driver belongs. Perhaps the investigator drove the same make of car and thought the brakes were fine, or perhaps she was on a retainer from the car manufacturers. Or most of the witnesses were female and she felt they were trying for attention and tended to discount their evidence. Or she discounted the evidence of the witnesses from a particular social class because they used unscientific words and interjected swear words and on the whole she didn’t think their education was sufficient for her to rely on their accounts. Or she was aware that John was well liked and had a lot of powerful friends and that reporting that he crossed the road without due care and attention would do her career no favours.

No investigator is completely impartial and nor is the historian, as we discussed earlier.

Artifacts are a variety of inanimate objects such a trenches, weapons and fragments of tools and utensils, medals, uniforms and clothes, jewelry, tunnels, buildings, roads, vehicles, skeletons, grave stones, letters, graffiti, drawings, rubbish tips. All inanimate and, apart from some like drawings and gravestones, must surely bear impartial witness?

Impartial perhaps but they actually bear no witness at all – they must be evaluated, described and interpreted and it is the historian or archaelogist who does that. The investigator at the scene of the accident must measure the tyre skid marks, check the brakes, identify the model, check MOT examinations, collect the reports of the paramedics and pathologist. And remember, the investigator is never completely impartial and even less so is the historian.

Bibliography (or literature) is what other historians or investigators have written about the period or events, or biographies, or additional reading throwing some light on periods, people, lands, societies or some aspect covered in the history. Sometimes they contain accounts purporting to be primary sources which cannot be checked as they are anonymous or of which the source is not clear. It is not indeed unknown for some accounts to be deliberately falsified. But even without going to those extremes, we have already commented on the many sources of bias operating upon the historian.

The political social historian, the one who is consciously and admittedly investigating from a political and social standpoint will want to know what were the economic, social and cultural backgrounds of the combatants – and not just of both supreme commanders and their generals. She will want to investigate their conditions at home and at the war front, how well they were dressed and fed. What was their opinion of the war, of their officers, of the enemy?

Letters home and from home, testimonies and biographies, oral history records, courts martial records, food commissary records, equipment inventories, reports of public meetings at home, church sermons, political speeches, demonstrations for and against war – all these will be examined to build the story. Some of these are classified as Primary Sourcess, while others are Artifacts.

Of course the historian is unlikely to examine the original sources of all these and will be relying in many cases on special-focus work done by other historians, in published articles or books. Although their original authors draw on primary sources, unless the historian now goes to these directly herself but instead quotes from the literature, they become secondary sources, in the way that they are being used.

And here we have another factor – it is difficult to examine what cannot be found. If there were no letters or personal accounts surviving, as for example from the Peloponnesian Wars, we are reliant on the accounts of historians, while taking their probable bias into account – these contain Secondary Sources and are contained in the Bibliography, i.e the books and articles written about the period or events.

In those cases we are reliant too on archaeological finds – back to artifacts again. To take another Greek example, the truth or otherwise of most of the events recounted in Homer’s Iliad are a matter of speculation and the factual existence of the city of Troy was established only by comparatively recent archaeology – later in the 19th Century (most historians by that time had come to believe it all a fable). More recent archaeology and geographical work has come to the conclusion that a battle or battles did occur and that the probable site of the Greek invaders’ camp corresponds with the account given by Homer.1

To continue with the role of archaeology, the investigation of the wiping out of five companies of the US 7th Cavalry in 1866, went some way to undermining the myth of Custer’s “charge” against hostile Native American indigenous people and a long “last stand”, of a static battle against the surrounding Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapahoe who gradually wiped out his 7th Cavalry and himself. Many elements of this story were disputed by witness accounts of Indigenous people and by their folk history or “historical memory”. According to Indigenous accounts, the battle was a short running one, as Custer’s troop had tried to attack a camp, believing it to be mostly occupied by women, children and the elderly. He didn’t know it was full of braves sleeping late. As the warriors poured out of their tents, according to those accounts, Custer and his men turned to flee, firing as they ran but were soon killed “in the time it takes a hungry man to eat a meal”. Much later, archaeological work with metal detectors found a pattern of shell cases that tended to bear out the Indigenous account.

In 1955-’56, Thor Heyerdahl’s expedition team to Easter Island were told a legend in which the people on the island had been ruled by a group called “long ears”, who were represented in the giant carved stone heads, against which the “short ears” rose up. Across one end of the island, to which the “long ears” retreated, the story went, they had dug a trench which they filled with flammable material, ready to fire if they were attacked. During an actual attack, the “long ears” fired the material in the trench but the “short ears” had found a way around and attacked them from behind, forcing them into the flames. There was indeed a depression in the ground across that part of the island but the story could have been created to explain the depression rather than the origin being the reverse. Excavating in the trench, Heyerdahl’s group found charcoal and human bones and teeth.2

What there is left to examine is of course a great help to the historian but it can also be a curse. We know how useful the Internet can be but also how much trivia and even incorrect information is stored there. Sifting through and making sense of it now is difficult enough but what will historians centuries from now make of it? In some historical periods, large number of household accounts were kept and these were preserved. Useful information, certainly but since they were available they were examined and written about by historians to a degree that was arguably out of proportion to the historical value of the information extracted.

All those things, the artifacts, the records, the personal stories, the marks left on the land, become history. But only when they are spoken about (oral history) or written about (written history). And in telling or writing about them, the historian is looking at them through his bias and, in doing that, becoming part of history himself.

THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE OVERALL NARRATIVE ITSELF

One might say that history is a story, a story of how we became who we are. In telling that story, it must also come to some kind of belief or statement about who we are now. In fact, the story teller makes an assumption about who we are now, then looks back to history, then according to findings adapts the view of who we are now, then looks back again and adapts the view of who we were and the road we travelled to get where we are now, and so on. And it is a story. In order to be history, it cannot be a totally imagined story unrelated to artifacts or scientific knowledge — but it is still a story.

So history is a story — and it needs to be, to an extent, an interesting story. Who wants to listen to a boring story? But not just for the reason of not boring the audience – the facts need to be significant. If “for the want of a nail a kingdom was lost”, as the old adage tells us, and that can be shown, then the loss of that nail was significant. But that doesn’t mean that every loss of a nail will be historically significant – indeed we might assume that most will not be. So we don’t want to fill every narrative with lost nails but nor would we want to exclude the loss of that particular nail, in that particular time, at that particular battle: the one for which the horseshoe was lost, and for which the horse stumbled, through which the king fell, and his troops lost heart and his kingdom was lost.

But was the nail loss, though significant then, a once-off, a chance in a million? If so, it is still history but not a general event in history, not one that we could apply to other battles. I don’t know, but perhaps examining horses’ shoes for possible loose nails became part of standard cavalry preparation for battle. Perhaps the cautionary tale arises from that practice and the knowledge that badly-disciplined or badly-trained cavalry or mounted infantry had suffered through insufficient attention to their horses’ shoes.

CHANCE IN HISTORY-WRITING

Some historians, especially perhaps from the Marxist school, have sought to eliminate the question of chance as factor in history. EH Carr was famous for his attack on historians who gave chance as an explanation for historical events and this is well expounded in the substantial Wikipedia article on his theory of history. What is not documented there, however, is that Carr conceded that chance had indeed influenced some important historical events and gave the example of the leader of an army who had become very ill at a crucial point during a military campaign. What Carr went on to say from that example was that yes, chance had affected the outcome but that one cannot generalise on chance and that therefore it is not worthy of historical study.

Despite my regard for Carr as a historian and a historiographer, i.e. as one who writes about the study of history itself, I wonder whether he was right on this. Napoleon famously asked about young officers being recommended to him, whether they were lucky. He seems to have ascribed great importance to “luck” and thought good luck accompanied certain people and bad luck others. He seems to have considered himself, on that basis, as lucky – but he did not neglect his study of military history, science or collection of current intelligence. His decisions then might have been influenced by feelings of luck but were not totally dependent on them.

Napoleon Bonaparte -- asked "Is he lucky?" when told about a new commander in his army

Napoleon Bonaparte — asked “Is he lucky?” when told about a new commander in his army. (Image from Internet)

And luck does seem to exist. Apart from the fact that we all know individuals who seem to be lucky and others who seem the opposite, some individuals are demonstrably more lucky at cards, for example. In scientific tests on drawing high or low cards, even when the human element is removed from the testers, some test subjects do score a higher than average rate of success. I don’t know but would expect that some subjects would also regularly achieve a lower than average score.

So it would seem to me that one can generalise about chance and luck – but only to extent that it is an unpredictable factor about which we need to be aware. Chaos theory in physics hints at this, although patterns are also being found in deeper study of chaos. And there exists a saying which sums up the importance of chance: The first casualty of any battle is the plan of attack.” This does not come from a famous military strategist but from a writer, Cory Doctorow, in a kind of science fiction novel, For The Win (2010). This statement is becoming so widespread now that I expect it to become an adage widely quoted not only among civilians but also among military strategists.

WISE SAYINGS FROM LESSONS OF HISTORY

There’s a general warning in our cultures not to underestimate the enemy. And there are many examples in history of generals underestimating the fighting ability or determination of their opponents, or their ability to cross difficult terrain. The Romans under several successive military leaders underestimated Spartacus and his band, for example, until the end of the uprising, thinking that these were a rabble to be easily defeated by Roman soldiers. Those Roman leaders paid for their mistake with their lives and the lives of many of their soldiers.

Statue in Bulgaria celebrating Spartacus, leader of the slave rebellion against Rome 72-71 BCE.

Statue in Bulgaria celebrating Spartacus, leader of the slave rebellion against Rome 72-71 BCE. (Image from Internet)

The British at Singapore in 1942 had all their major artillery pointing to sea, because the Japanese could not march through the thick jungle on the peninsula mainland– but nobody told the Japanese that, so they did and took 130,000 British, Commonwealth and Empire troops prisoner after little fighting.

The German Nazis at Moscow, Stalingrad and Leningrad in 1941, thought they would take the cities in weeks at most; not only were the struggles there long and hard but they turned out to be locations or sources of disaster for the invaders. The leaders of the French military at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 did not consider that the Viet Minh could haul artillery up mountain sides in order to fire on the French forces below. The USA overall, in the Viet Nam war, a superpower fighting essentially a “Third World” enemy in a territory smaller than the US State of Virginia, expected to win through massive firepower, airpower and technology; history records that they did not.

So we could say that the danger of underestimating one’s enemy has been a constant throughout history with harsh lessons periodically for those who failed to take account of it. Presumably its opposite, overestimation of the enemy’s potential. is also possible and no doubt there are historical examples of this too.

But this article is about history and not all of history by any means involves military affairs, although certainly a great deal of it does.

HISTORY IN EDUCATION

When all of Ireland was under British occupation, for a time the Catholic Irish (which is to say the vast majority) were obstructed from receiving education of any kind. But in the 1830s the National School System was set up and it proceeded to teach a history that would make each Irish child “Thank the goodness and the grace …… that made me a happy English child” (short school prayer)3. Patrick Pearse, himself a progressive educationalist though without formal qualification in that field, called this system “The Murder Machine” and wrote an essay about it under that title4. It was important for Britain, as a colonial power, that the Irish should identify themselves ideologically and culturally with their colonial master, in order to reduce the likelihood of movements for self-determination gaining a large following or to reduce the supply of manpower for its imperial armed forces. This was a process imposed not just on Irish people by British colonialism but was the general rule practiced by colonial powers on their subject peoples.

After Ireland gained partial independence in 1921 and the new Irish state had defeated its internal Republican opposition, it was concerned that the education system foster a kind of Irish nationalism and, apart from the addition of the Irish language to the national education curriculum, this was perhaps reflected nowhere as much as in the teaching of history.

Nations are built from different elements and it is necessary for those involved in nation-building to create a narrative that validates that which upon they are engaged. Therefore a largely shared history is necessary and where there are different elements, these need to be stitched or woven into the whole – or some deleted. The narrative may be largely ‘true’ or largely ‘not’ but all nations and all states embark upon creating such a narrative.

The national historical narrative for Ireland was basically that the Irish were Celts, Irish-speakers, sharing a common culture and ruled by the Brehon Laws, until we were first part-occupied by the Vikings and then by the Normans. The Normans in Ireland became largely Gaelicised while their brethren in England became English and then, largely because of the English King declaring himself Head of the Church instead of the Pope, most of the Irish-Normans allied with the indigenous Irish and fought at a number of junctures during the 17th Century but were defeated and the old Gaelic order destroyed. Subsequently the Irish (now including descendants of invaders and settlers) rallied and rose up again but this time for an independent Irish Republic, which subsequently they kept doing or trying to do until the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence, when they finally succeeded in part-defeating the English and won Independence for part of their country. Such was the narrative.

Since the new state was a Catholic confessional one, in which the Church was in close alliance with the temporal power, it was important that the historical narrative reflect that too and so the representation of “the island of Saints and Scholars” was prominent and the Brehon Laws, which were essentially a product of a pre-Christian, i.e. pagan society and later of “Celtic Christianity”, were not represented in standard primary or in secondary education. Furthermore, as the almost exclusively Anglican and Presbyterian leadership of the United Irishmen in 1798 could not be swept under the carpet, nor the overwhelming Presbyterian membership of the Antrim rising, it became necessary to promote the Wexford and Mayo uprisings (although it also true these lasted longer than the others) and to promote the role of Catholic priests in the Wexford Rising. It should be noted that this is not a matter of falsification but a process of emphasising the desired and glossing over the undesired aspects.

It was less logical during the 20th Century that the oppositional national movement to the colonial State, the Irish Republican movement, should also seek to represent itself as Catholic in so many ways, from public praying with rosary for their fighters condemned to die, for example, to incorporating religious services and personnel into Republican political ceremonies. This accommodation might seem particularly bizarre in view of the abiding public hostility of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy and much of the priesthood to the Republican Movement from the time of the United Irishmen up to the present.

Not only national states create a historical narrative but also national movements, both before gaining independence and after. In this narrative imagining an essentially Catholic nationalist movement, Jim Larkin, James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army were represented as nationalists – somewhat different to the Irish Volunteers, perhaps, but nationalists nevertheless. It would not do for them to have been represented as socialists with a very different programme to that of the IRB and the Volunteers, however united they were in their desire to free Ireland from British colonialism.

"James Connolly, the Irish Rebel" was the title of this LP by Eugene McEldowney, which also featured the song by the same title. Curiously enough, because McEldowney was not a nationalist and espoused a socialist republicanism.

“James Connolly, the Irish Rebel” was the title of this LP by Eugene McEldowney, which also featured the song by the same title — curiously enough, because McEldowney was not a nationalist and espoused a socialist republicanism. (Image from Internet)

As stated, not only the State created this narrative but also the Irish Republican movement, the leaders and members of which would see no contradiction in listing Connolly among the martyrs of 1916 and as one whose principles they were following while at the same time the IRA formally banned communists from membership in the 1930s 5 A song about the execution of Connolly sums it up in the title and refrain: “James Connolly, the Irish Rebel”: “He went to his death as a true son of Ireland” one of the lines of lyrics tells us but not one mention of the working class, the Irish Citizen Army, Connolly’s trade union or his socialist ideas.

HISTORICAL REVISIONISM

The term “revisionist historian” is widely seen as a term of abuse in Ireland. This is understandable since for the most part revisionist historians in Ireland have sought to undermine or destroy the previously dominant nationalist or Republican narratives and even the anti-imperialist socialist narrative which was tentatively emerging in the 1960s and ’70s (and which laid the groundwork for the overturning of the ban on communism in the Republican movement at some point during those years).

Revisionist historians in Ireland have come to be viewed not only as hostile to nationalism or Republicanism but further, as apologists for colonialism and imperialism. They are associated in the minds of nationalists and republicans with character assassination on martyrs and iconic figures of the anti-colonial movement and with depictions of the anti-colonial struggles which are even more distorted and partisan than any of the nationalist-republican view. The media courting of these historians, seemingly out of all proportion to their academic importance or degree of rigour in their investigation and research, has deepened their effect on historical perception in Irish society and caused much bitterness among those holding to the previously-dominant narrative or to a general anti-colonial and anti-imperialist viewpoint.

But in many other countries, historical revisionism has been espoused and promoted by progressive movements. In those parts of the world, historical revisionism has been concerned to ask questions like “What did so-and-so period mean to the workers/ women/ ethnic minorities at that time?” Also, “What was the role of workers/ women/ ethnic minorities in bringing about significant historical changes?” Historical revisionism also exposed the collusion with the German Nazi Occupation in a number of European countries where historians had previously sought to show the people in those countries as overwhelmingly actively resisting the Occupation. This debunking of the previous post-Occupation narratives had both positive and negative aspects, as with the debunking at times came an undervaluing of the heroism and sacrifice of those who did resist. Completely different of course were the revisionists who sought to deny the extent of the Nazi Holocaust (on Jews especially but also on Roma, Sinti, communists and socialists, homosexuals, disabled people).

But what is revisionism, actually? It is going over previous narratives and re-examining them critically, looking at alternative sources and documents, examining from a different perspective …. In fact, one might say that ALL historical writing is revisionist, to one degree or another. And essentially, that is as it should be – shoddy and dubious methodology and political motivation apart.


SO – AGAIN: WHAT IS HISTORY?

So, we can say that history is an account of events which are judged (subjectively) to be significant to the culture in which the history is being written, based on available evidence (subjectively chosen) and human accounts (subjectively “remembered”) and the whole subjectively interpreted by a person who is product of a time and place and a social, political and economic environment.

So anyone’s history is as good as another’s? I don’t think so. A historian who makes no attempt to allow for his or her bias and subjectivity, to weigh the evidence for and against, is not writing worthwhile history. And a person who does substantial research and then all the required weighing and sifting, but neglects to attempt a judgement, or whose prose is so boring that merely reading it becomes a great effort, is not writing worthwhile history. Of course, that is my subjective opinion too.

The narrative should be meaningful, based on sound research, open about its author’s bias, honest in its evaluation of sources and artifacts– and readable.

OF WHAT USE IS HISTORY?

Well, we have spent some time on answering the question “What is history?” — and now we need to go back to the original question, “OF WHAT USE IS HISTORY?”.

Of none, if we were to take Henry Ford at his word; “History,” he is famously quoted as saying, “is bunk!” Yet I doubt if even this anti-intellectual, anti-semitic and nazi-sympathiser Capitalist was entirely serious in that reply. He would surely have drawn some lessons from the history of motor-car development and mass production. Ford’s anti-semitic book, “The International Jew – The World’s Foremost Problem” (1920), drew on history and pseudo-history.

The Nazis, which Ford financed for a while, and who in 1938 presented him with their highest honour for a foreigner (though he subsequently made big money from the USA’s war against them) were certainly big on history. In proclaiming the start of the “Thousand-Year Reich” (“reign”, or “kingdom”), they were consciously seeking to surpass the 400 years of the Roman Empire; the adoption of the Swastika also drew on a historic (and pre-historic) symbol. Despite the non-Teutonic origins of the Roman Empire, the standards and flags of Nazi units with the eagle on top copied those of the Roman Legions and even the Nazi’s salute mimicked what is believed to have been the Roman salute.

The Nazis cared so much about history that they consciously went about searching for items that would agree with their view of the past and predict the future (upon some of which they had already decided), and consciously concealing items that would not support their view. Ironically, that process is most closely mirrored today in Israel’s study of the history of the Jews and of Palestine, which most non-zionist historians would agree is, for the most part, riddled with non-historical assumptions and inconsistencies. We may look with distaste or contempt at these attempts and yet need to be aware that all history is a construct and ‘national’ histories are constructed to suit a national identity. National identities in turn are constructed to suit a specific narrative which suits the dominant caste or class in the state in question.

HISTORY TELLS US WHO WE ARE, THE PATH WE HAVE TAKEN – BUT WHAT IF ….?

History tells us that we are human beings and, more precisely than any physiological examination of homo sapiens, of what we are capable – not so much as individuals, although that too, but as societies. It shows us that we are capable of measured reflexion and inflamed madness, of sadistic brutality and of great compassion, of incredible courage and craven cowardice, of sacrifice for principle and of self-seeking, of greed and of sharing, of honesty and of hypocrisy and deceit. And it also has something to say about which kinds of conditions have favoured the expression of one or the other attribute.

History shows us the path we have taken that has resulted in us being where we are now. In that, it is like an inquest or forensic examination (but on a living body), or a biography of an individual. Of course, in all cases there are some assumptions made about the body or the individual.

It also tells us what paths we have not chosen and we can only speculate, from educated to wild guesses, on what might have happened if we had chosen those other paths instead. Many historians have declared this “What If-ery” to be a fruitless field – “it didn’t happen and that’s that”, they say. Although indulging in endless “What If-ing” or failing to study what actually did happen may indeed be fruitless, it seems to me that some speculation on what might have happened is actually useful. Because we may be in a similar situation again and on that occasion may wish to try out a different path and having thought about it in advance will certainly be useful. Also, considering alternatives helps us to understand the nature and extent of what actually happened and its causes.

I hadn’t read the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper’s essay when I wrote the above but he makes a similar point:  he said Carr’s dismissal of the “might-have-beens of history” reflected a fundamental lack of interest in examining historical causation.  Trevor-Roper said examining possible alternative outcomes of history is not a “parlour-game”, but is an essential part of historians’ work and that a historian could properly understand the period under study only by looking at all possible outcomes and all sides; historians who adopted Carr’s perspective of only seeking to understand the winners of history and treating the outcome of a particular set of events as the only possible outcomes, were “bad historians”.

History tells us some mistakes to be avoided but also tells us that doesn’t prevent people from repeating them. Nevertheless, it must surely be better to study those mistakes than to ignore them. In our own history, we saw a part of the Republican movement rely on non-interference by the USA’s ruling circles in 1886, when the Fenians invaded Canada; for their support during the War of Independence, when the movement sought representation at the Paris Peace Conference and at the League of Nations; yet again during the recent 30 Years War in the Six Counties. The notion that the ruling class of the USA, at the behest of a pressure group within, no matter how numerous and organised, would go against its own foreign interests and confront another imperial power to do so, was silly in the extreme. It was silly the first time it was thought of, although at that time the US had a solid gripe against British imperialism, which had helped the Confederacy in the American Civil War. But the second and third times, there was no excuse for thinking that whatsoever. US Imperialism DID confront British imperialism sternly, and French Imperialism too and even its own protege, Israel – it did so when those three, in alliance, invaded Egypt to overthrow Nasser and seize the Suez Canal. When US Imperialism publicly condemned them, however, its rulers did so in their own interests and were telling the other two which power was now Boss of the World.

History tells us about the political biases of historians and the times in which they have written. We need to be aware of this because most of what we are going to learning about history is going to be from historians. Historians’ bias was discussed earlier on but we need to be aware of it in the specific conditions of the historian and the time, in order to understand where their writing is “coming from”. That helps us to judge how much of it to accept, how much to reject and upon how much to keep an open mind for the moment.

History is not only often about battles but is itself a battleground. In our own time we see history written from a nationalist perspective clashing with not only that written from a colonialist perspective, for example in Britain, but also from a neo-colonialist perspective, by Irish historians apologising for colonialism and imperialism. But nationalist-perspective history has also come under attack from social democracy, revolutionary socialism, left-wing republicanism and feminism. And these historical viewpoints criticising nationalist history, also clash against one another.

History hints at the future. This is strange, because the subject of history is the past.

We may view the existence of humanity as a tree, or perhaps as a tightly-knit copse of interwoven trunks: the roots are our past and history, the trunk (or interwoven trunks) our present and the branches spreading overhead, seen dimly, our possible futures.

https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/01/21/all-our-history-a-short-poem/

Diarmuid Breatnach

ALL our history is important,

not just 1916,


teaching us what we are


and what we have been.


How we came to reach the now,


of those who fought

or those who bowed,


through bloody pages,

down through the ages;


it relives the struggle to be free


and whispers soft what we might yet be.

January 2016

Diarmuid Breatnach, April 2016

Footnotes:

1  Short review of some studies in this subject at http://psychologicalresources.blogspot.ie/2011/01/real-vs-imagined-memories.html

2 http://www.archaeologyexpert.co.uk/archaeology-myth-excavating-troy.html among other sources

3. Aku Aku – the secret of Easter Island, Thor Heyerdayl (1957, version in English 1958).

4 http://www.irishmusicreview.com/labhrás%20Ó%20Cadhla.htm and other sources; the prayer or hymn was contained in a number of English Protestant publications containing collected hymns or prayers for children.

5 First published by PH Pearse in 1912 and later by Whelan’s (1916)

6. Up until the 1960s, children and teenagers in Irish schools were usually taught about Connolly as one of the Irish patriots who had signed the proclamation, whereas his socialist teachings and organisational actions were concealed. In the Irish Republican Movement, Connolly’s image was similarly employed while his teachings were ignored (apart from some with regard to colonialism) – indeed there was a ban on Communism in the IRA until the 1960s. While it is common today to find Irish Republicans as individuals and organisations openly espousing “Socialism” as part of their Republicanism, there exists a wealth of confusion about what that entails and how it is to be implemented.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carr, E.H, What Is History? (1961) University of Cambridge Press.

E. H. Carr’s Success Story”, Encounter, Volume 84, Issue No 104, 1962 pp. 69– 77.