File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 382

Date: Sat, 18 Oct 1997 19:19:56 +1000 (EST)
Subject: M-I: Ahmad & Nationalism & Ireland (1 of 3)

Ahmad and Nationalism: The Irish Instance (1 of 3)            

On my recent trip to England I worked through Monthly Review V 49 No 2.  Of
especial interest to me was the enjoyably spiteful exchange that S. V.
Rajadurai & V. Geetha had with Aijaz Ahmad. (: 35-49) I like what I have
read of Ahmad's work.  Moreover in this debate he enunciated what I feel is
a very important distinction.  I do not know if any reference has been made
to it before on the list, but if it has comrades will excuse me.

Ahmad outlines two conceptions of the state

A. The Enlightenment one.  Here the state is an "ethical,, pedagogical
function designed to serve people's needs for reform and progress in the
various social and economic domains."  (:46) 

This contrasts with that conception of the state descended according to
Ahmad from Herder and Fichte:

B. "The  state embodies a general will arising not out of a common
citizenship but out of a cultural essence, based on race, religion,
language, or some other form of a primordial intimacy specific to an ethnic
entity that by definition excludes others." (:46)

Ahmad endorses A. and has little tolerance for B.  I feel that most
marxists would share this attitude and by and large I do too. Frankly I am
very inclined to regard any politics based on B. to be unfortunate and
backward and to be hopefully overcome when we begin creating the socialist
society.  But of course I recognise that one has to be a good deal more
subtle than that and one has to make lots of concessions etc.  I have been
reading Comrade Proyect's posts!  Still underneath it all I am happiest
with what I feel are socialist struggles.

Ahmad's distinction then broadly speaking provides us I feel with some sort
of means of judging the progressiveness or otherwise of a brand of
nationalist politics. Applied to my own country - Ireland I feel that by
and large Irish Republicanism is very much in the tradition of the
enlightenment.  Its founders were the Irish Presbyterians of Ulster and
theirs was a brief but brilliant enlightenment.  

Long long ago, on a list far far away Karl Carlile said that Ireland never
had an Enlightenment.  He was of course wrong. In the late 18th century the
Ulster Presbyterians represented the most advanced class in Europe.  They
enthusiastically endorsed the French Revolution.  They single handedly
saved from extinction the Old Irish Harper Culture.  They made great
advances in science and education.  But above all they represented a force
in Ireland which was absolutely non-sectarian.  

Their fate was to be brutally crushed by the British and their memory has
been almost wiped out.  It is kept alive now only by the Irish Republican
movement especially in the annual pilgrimage to the grave of the Founder of
Irish Republicanism Wolfe Tone.  But this is almost the equivalent of the
handful of Mayan peasants who make the trip to the ruins to preserve the
mere vestiges of the once great civilisation.

In the North of Ireland the direct descendants of the Revolutionary
Presbyterians of the 18th Century either know nothing of their great
predecessors or go out of their way to destroy any attempt to revive their

In the north of Ireland now the savage irony of history is that it is the
Presbyterians and the Protestants who advance a politics based on the
Fichtean and Herderian 'model'.  Theirs is a nation held together by
obscurantist religion and unyielding bigotry.  By contrast when Gerry Adams
speaks he is the direct descendent of the Irish Enlightenment.  Such indeed
is the cruel logic of the remorseless dialectic.

There is of course much to be said here about the destruction of
revolutionary Presbyterianism. From the start it must be understood that
the chief means of doing this was to increase sectarian hatred of Catholics
among the Protestants of Ulster.  In this context the following quotation
is quite illuminating

"I have increase the animosity between Orangemen and the
United Irish.  Upon that animosity depends the safety of the centre
counties of the north.  Were the Orangemen disarmed or put down or were
they coalesced with the other party, the whole of Ulster would be as bad as
Antrim and Down." (a British general writing to General Lake who commanded
the British forces in Ireland in 1798 at the time of the Great Rebellion in
Bell.G. _The Protestants of Ulster_, London: Pluto Press, 1976: 15)

This policy of direct encouragement of sectarianism was further augmented
by economic polices which saw the growth of industrialism in the North
around Belfast and the construction of a Protestant Labour Aristocracy.
Now we have had in the past to defend this concept against the likes of
Adam Rose and others from the International Socialist tendency and even
worse against the rabid renegades from the Maoist Movement represented
especially by that little Protestant Marxist Paul Cockshott - our very own
Rangers supporter.  But the facts are there.  On a whole range of fronts
Ulster Protestants enjoyed *significant* economic advantages over their
fellow Catholics.  The creation in 1922 of the Protestant statelet merely
served to confirm and strengthen that pattern.  For the doubters I urge
them to turn to Bell especially Chapter 2.  Page upon page of official
statistics carefully document the material base of Ulster sectarianism.
Given the history of the origins of Ulster bigotry it is almost funny to
contemplate the embarrassment that the British exhibit when they come to
discuss the prejudices of their most loyal supporters in Northern Ireland.
This week Blair experienced a little of this when he was jostled briefly.
Once Winston Churchill had his car nearly overturned by the same brand of
enthusiastic loyalism.

Recently Ulster Unionist leaders have had to declare that theirs is not a
politics based on religious privilege.  It has just occurred to the
brighter of them that they have to unite Ulster and that it will no longer
be good enough to simply preside over the crushing of the Catholic minority
within that state.  But the task of uniting Ulster is beyond them. Just as
the task of uniting Arab and Jew is beyond the Zionists.

In Northern Ireland the only way forward is for a politics which once again
takes up, defends and spreads the views of the heroic Ulster Enlightenment.

I will close this post with a quotation from William Orr, a Presbyterian
and  the first member of the United Irishmen to be executed.  Orr was the
son of a prosperous Co. Antrim farmer. He was hung in Carrickfergus on the
14th October 1797. His anniversary would have gone unnoticed by his fellow
presbyterians.  If they know of him at all it is only to revile his memory.
Yet he was a great person and deserves to be remembered as such. 

At his trial he defended himself in this way:-

"My comfortable lot, and industrious course of life, best refute the charge
of being an adventurer for plunder; but if to have loved my country - to
have known its wrongs - to have felt the injuries of the persecuted
Catholics, and to have united with them and all other religious persuasions
in the most orderly and least sanguinary means of procuring redress - if
these be felonies, I am a felon, but not otherwise." (in T.D., A.M. & D.M.
Sullivan (eds)_Speeches from the Dock_, Dublin, 1909: 32)

The next post will consider the nationalism of Michael Collins and
endeavour to address what conditions determine which of our two models of
nationalism will predominate. The final post if I can get round to it will
deal with Gerry Adams and it will seek to locate him within the context of 

a. peace processes,
b. the post-communism isolation of revolutions and 
c. the desire-to-come-in-from-the-cold that has gripped the ageing
revolutionaries of our time.

Source: India: Case and Great State Nationalism:  An Exchange by S.V.
Rajadurai & V. Geetha. Reply by Aijaz Ahmad, Monthly Review, V 49 No 2 June
1997: 35-39

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