Sunday, April 29, 2007

Thursday May 24th 2007

Oh, democracy! You spoil us. First, the Stormont election. Then the Scottish and Welsh elections. Of course, there's also the English local council elections. And now...surely not another election? Yes, indeed there is. The date of the General Election in the Republic has been made official by El Presidente Mary: May 24th. There isn't really much else to say. Swords at the ready lads.

Could we really be so lucky to get rid of Bertie and Blair in the one month? Then again, could we really be so unlucky as to get lumbered with Enda and Gordon? Time will tell.

Friday, April 27, 2007

"For a free homeland and a happy people" - the Iraqi Communist Party

One of the few signs of hope to come out of Iraq for those of us on the left over the past four years has been the efforts made by workers in Baghdad and other areas of the country to rebuild the Iraqi Communist Party. The party in Iraq was at one stage in the mid 20th century the largest Communist Party in the Middle East however its members were to suffer greatly during the Ba'athist dictatorship.

I have been following the fortunes of the party closely since the overthrow of the old regime back in 2003 and even had the great pleasure of meeting a member of the party shortly after the beginning of the occupation. It proved to be an interesting experience. A vociferous opponent of the US led invasion, my Iraqi comrade was also an equally vociferous opponent of the so-called resistance which he told me at the time would only exacerbate divisions in the country. I found his maturity and analysis during such a time of upheaval remarkable and extremely similar to the position taken by Official Sinn Fein and the Official IRA back in the early 1970s when the leftist wing of the Republican Movement in Ireland opted not to get sucked into either a guerrilla campaign against the British Army nor a sectarian civil bar but instead chose to build a firmly anti-sectarian socialist party on both sides of the border (something which they had reasonable success in doing it should be said).

I intend to return to the still relevant subject of the Official Republican Movement at a later date. For now my good comrade Harry Barnes has just completed an interesting little four part history of the Iraqi CP. I suppose you could call it a kind of introduction to the Iraqi Communist Party. You can find part one of this history of the ICP via the link below:

There is a tragic and depressing reminder of just how dismal the situation currently is in Iraq at the end of Harry's piece as we are told of the murder of Moaaid Hamid and his wife. Moaaid was Vice President of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers. If you would like to find out how the murder of a leading trade unionist and his wife has aided the struggle for Iraqi freedom please write to:

George Galloway MP
House Of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Arms are out. Legs are in.

Sinn Fein unveiled their list of candidates for the forthcoming General Election in the Republic yesterday. There wasn't really much to generate discussion in an announcement that was a bland but characteristically polished and flawlessly stage-managed piece of post-Semtex public relations by the boys and girls in green. Pat Doherty, the party's West Tyrone MP and director of elections, claims that the rosary bead brigade can make big gains in the areas outside of Dublin, and to be fair he's probably not far off the mark. The General Election will probably be in late May or early June and by that stage the Shinners will be in government up in this neck of the woods with the DUP and looking very responsible assuming power in the state they once tried to destroy. This will do them the world of good with the easily impressed and no doubt the working class protest vote in the south will also go the way of Adams and co - if only because there is no other credible alternative.

Incidentally, a quarter of Sinn Fein's forty-two candidates will be women. While the Ard Comhairle of the party would never admit it, SF these days like their candidates to be young and free of any 'baggage', if you get my drift. The most high profile of these new young charges will be Mary Lou McDonald, the MEP for Dublin who is running in the constituency of Dublin Central against big hitters like Tony Gregory, Joe Costello and even the Taoiseach himself. However, the entire male population of the island will be severely disappointed at the fact that not standing in the election will be the Sinn Fein mayor of Kerry, Toireasa Ferris. In her absence from the campaign trail here's a picture of her. Oh, the last time I checked Liz O'Donnell was still running:

Monday, April 02, 2007

He's just looking for a new England

Mark Steel once remarked that socialists have an odd tendency to buy abnormally large amounts of books which they either never get round to reading or else don't read for ages. I tend to fall into the latter category. I bought Billy Bragg's book The Progressive Patriot last October. I read it this week. And the book?  Well, the book is... interesting. Reclaiming English national identity has been a common theme of Bragg's music, writing and his various appearances on TV and radio shows as 'Unofficial Spokesperson for the English Working Class'. 

The Progressive Patriot does have some good points. Bragg is not bad at all when it comes to this old writing malarkey. He makes his argument well, he gives an intriguing history of the area where he grew up and he writes in a very open, accessible and uncomplicated style.  Where the problem lies - and I am almost afraid to say this as it is Billy Bragg we're talking about - is with the politics.

It is five years now since the release of England, Half English, the album in which Billy kick-started his one-man campaign to take his country's identity and culture back from the British National Party and the footie hooligans. An honourable aim?  Maybe to some, but an utterly pointless escapade if you ask me.

I have nothing against people having a liking for their country.  That's their choice.  If it doesn't harm anyone then that's fine by me.  And, true, I do always throw my weight behind the Irish rugby team when the Six Nations comes around each year.  Yet I am not a nationalist.  A tear does not appear in my eye nor does my lip quiver upon hearing the national anthem play or on seeing the flag flutter in the breeze.  Ireland just happens to be the chunk of earth where I live; I do not consider it an important part of my identity. So, as a socialist what message would I be sending out if I were to write here that Irish people should 'reclaim' their national identity from the Provisional IRA who have done so much to damage it over the past three decades?  Absolutely nowt.

Alternatively, what would be the point in appealing to unionists on the island to reclaim their culture from the Paisleyite bigots? Or even further afield, perhaps we should be calling on people in the United States to pull out all the stops and take the notion of 'America' back from the goons in the Bush Administration? We could go on and on. What does Billy actually think can be achieved by the English rediscovering themselves?

Things have changed in the past decade in England.  England has made something of a comeback.  Football, the sport of the masses, provides us with the best example. The European Championships which were held in England in 1996 saw something of a sea change in the way English people supported their team as the Union Jack was virtually discarded en masse by the fans.  I was in England last year during the time of the World Cup and houses, streets, shops, cars, vans and even the poor old dogs were sporting the red and white of the cross of Saint George.  Contrast that with images from the World Cup final of 1966 where it is well nigh impossible to spot one single England flag in the footage from that landmark event in the country's sporting history. It is interesting to note as well that the tournament's official mascot - a little lion called World Cup Willie - sported a Union Jack jumper despite the fact that the World Cup was played in England and not on a UK basis. 

Bragg attempts to support his demand for a new left English patriotism by pointing out that the cross of Saint George is largely free of the negative connotations of racism and empire so wrapped up with the Union Jack. This unofficial mid-nineties change of flag has been accompanied too with an end to the hooligan element once associated with the national team's travelling fans and a less aggressive, more fun loving band of England fans.

So, does all of this enthusiasm prove that English people now accept a form of dual identity? Just as the majority of Scottish and Welsh citizens incorporate those respective nationalities alongside their Britishness do English people really draw a distinction between being English as well as being British? I don't think so. From my experience of speaking with English people I think that they are well aware of this English/British question of identity but that they do not seem really bothered about it. Yes, so the odd grumble is raised every now and again by someone who feels that Saint George's Day should be celebrated on a more high profile basis but it is hardly a burning issue.  If the people of England are not at all concerned about their identity you would wonder why Mr Bragg would like those of us on the left to now begin raising it.

I am not condemning Bragg for his views on the subject of national identity as some on the left have. So what if the man is proud of the English football team?  I recognise too the point that his idea of England is a million light years removed from John Major's notorious 'warm beer and cricket' remark.  I understand Bragg's argument fully. I just happen to disagree with him.  It will not have impact on the lives of English people in any way whatsoever, positive or negative.  It is an irrelevance.

It is not the place of democratic socialists to argue for unity through patriotism.  It is our position to argue for unity through class politics. If Billy is serious about wanting to keep the youth of today away from the clutches of BNP thugs and Islamic fundamentalists then perhaps he might find the solution to this lies in him rediscovering his traditional politics rather than in him trying to influence the people of England to rediscover their identity.