Category Archives: Unionism

Ireland’s Marxist guerrillas: the story of the Saor Éire Action Group, 1967-73

by Mick Healy, in collaboration with several former Saor Eire members

(Mick wrote an article about Saor Eire which appeared on this site in 2011;  this is an updated and expanded version of that article, including new material added by former Saor Eire members; the article has been proofed and edited by me – PF)

The 1960s was a time of upheaval and change in conservative Irish society; social attitudes, fashion and music, for instance, all changed dramatically. New social movements reflected the thinking of a new generation that, in particular, wanted more freedom. The huge student-worker protests of May-June 1968 in France, the Vietnamese struggle to remove the US States, its allies and their Vietnamese toadies, the US civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, and the national liberation struggles in Latin America and Africa galvanised opposition to the existing order. In Ireland, these events inspired people, especially the new generation, into action. This was especially the case around the civil rights movement in the north of Ireland. Among the new organisations which emerged here as a result of this new ferment and revolutionary idealism was the Dublin-based Saor Éire (SE) or, to give it its full name, the Saor Eire Action Group.

Saor Éire Action Group was established in the late 1960s by former members of the Republican Movement and newer young Irish political left activists coming together. As an organisation they claimed to have their roots in the Read the rest of this entry

What about the Protestant working class?: an analysis from 1981

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The 1974 strike against power-sharing was far more representative of Protestant working class politics than the Outdoor Relief strike of 1932

The following article appeared in the September 1981 issue of the British Marxist review the next step.  This was one of the few British left publications which understood the importance of the national question in Ireland and the struggle of Irish republicans with the British imperialist state.  Most of the British left preferred to ‘play it safe’ and failed miserably to meet their obligations to support the Irish anti-imperialist movement against the British occupation and the British state.

by Suki Gray and Carol Taggart

Introduction

Nowhere was last month’s ‘royal’ wedding more enthusiastically celebrated than in Belfast’s Shankill Road and in all the other working class Protestant areas in the six counties.  The loyalist workers are a peculiar phenomenon: Irish workers whose basic allegiance is to the British crown.  During 12 years of war the Protestant workers have formed a solid bloc with their employers and the British state: a million strong, highly armed and organised, an implacable barrier to Irish unity and independence.

The British left retains the prejudice that it is possible to unite Protestant and Catholic workers around ‘bread and butter’ trade union issues.  To refute this notion (dismissed as a “doctrine almost screamingly funny in its Read the rest of this entry

Who’s Afraid of the Easter Rising? 1916-2016

jhp55f16913a1cffTwo old acquaintances of mine – Kevin Rooney and James Heartfield – have written a new book on 1916, including looking at the response of the post-1921 establishment in the south.  I asked James to write a couple of paragraphs about the book.  I highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy.

by James Heartfield

A few years ago senior politicians from Ireland were meeting their opposites in Britain to talk about how to handle the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising.

‘The Easter Rising damaged the Irish psyche’, said the former Taoiseach, John Bruton: The Rising was ‘completely unnecessary’, and ‘led directly to the brutal violence of the war of independence and the civil war that followed’. The Rising’s leader Patrick Pearse ‘had justified the provos’ – the Provisional IRA. Bruton’s thinking echoes the prejudices of two generations of Irish intellectuals, from Conor Cruise O’Brien to Roy Foster, who have levelled forests of newsprint dismissing republicanism. In our book, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Easter Rising?’ Kevin Rooney and I show that the anniversary has always been a problem for the ruling class in Dublin, who fear Republicanism the movement because they owe their status to an agreement with the British to put it down.

British politicians shared Bruton’s wish that the Easter Rising could be Read the rest of this entry

In review: Maurice Coakley on how Britain under-developed Ireland

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Maurice Coakley, Ireland in the World Order: a history of uneven development, London, Pluto Press, 2012

I read this book a couple of years ago and meant to review it then, but other things got in the way.  To make up for the delay, I’ve done something bigger – basically a mix of summary and review:

Coakley begins with a brief survey of bourgeois and anti-capitalist attempts to explain uneven development, from Weber and Durkheim to Gramsci, Jack goody, Immanuel Wallerstein and Robert Brenner. Coakley is concerend, in particular, with the different patterns of growth exhibited in Britain (especially England but also Scotland and Wales) and does so by exploring the unequal relations between them from the medieval era onwards.

Imposition of feudalism

He notes that the Anglo-Norman conquest resulted in the division of Ireland into Gaelic and Anglo-Norman regions. While the boundaries and interactions were fluid, they possessed different social structures. In the Anglo-Norman areas, a manorial/feudal economy was developed, with the local nobility owing allegiance to the English monarch. The peasantry which worked the land for the new elite included a layer of free peasants (largely transplanted from England) and a larger layer of unfree peasants (serfs) of Irish stock. This latter group was less free than the unfree peasants (villeins) in England itself. For instance, they had no legal rights at all.

The crisis of feudalism throughout the 1300s in Europe, including Ireland, explains the decline of Anglo-Norman power and the English language. It also reduced free tenants to labourers. This produced a significant return to England by peasants wishing to avoid greater subjection. The lords in Ireland were then forced to make concessions to Irish peasants. This combined with the impact of the plague largely finished off serfdom by about 1500.

The economy, moreover, had shifted in the 1300s back largely to pasture. This meant a different form of social organisation to tillage, where peasants laboured for a lord. Pasture involved a more kindred pattern of social organisation. The Anglo-Normans were also becoming Gaelicised. But Anglo-Norman-Gaelic Ireland was a hybrid social formation because as well as the kindred social organisation the major feudal lords were more powerful than their counterparts in England who were checked by the king from above and a large lower aristocratic layer and yeomanry below. Even in the Pale there was no yeomanry.

In the distinctly Gaelic and predominantly pastoral areas of Ireland, land and cattle denoted power. Access to land was dependent on kinship, with collective inheritance. While cattle were individually owned they were also dispersed; for instance, through being loaned to poor members of a clan. There was no significant surplus product which might create and sustain a Gaelic ruling class and state comprised of bodies of armed men; rather, “the principle of reciprocity permeated every aspect of Gaelic society”, although this did not mean equality. Read the rest of this entry

Interview with republican veteran George Harrison

g-harrisonTwo months before George Harrison died, he gave a lengthy interview to the Rustbelt Radical blog.  Rustbelt has a lot of really good stuff on it, and I thoroughly recommend the site.  The person behind it is an American Mid-West marxist.  Please do go and listen to the interview – here’s how Rustbelt Radical describes George Harrison:

George was an immensely humble and decent man, belying all the media images of an IRA gun runner. Immediately at ease as we had cake and coffee served to us, the 89 year-old gave us recollections of a long life well lived in a room full of manifestations of those memories. Pictures of hunger strikers, of Bernadette McAliskey and her children hung on the wall, posters and papers from the movement were on the tables. His nurse and friend Prissy was there, along with her daughter, and it is Prissy’s voice you will hear at the very end of the interviews describing the beautiful relationship the two of them had and his impact on her.

In this lengthy interview George talks about Read the rest of this entry