Editorial from Irish Political Review, July 2005

Limboland Democracy

The Taoiseach is in the grip of diplomatic insanity with regard to the North. It would be intelligible if he repudiated the Agreement and said that negotiations had to start afresh. But what he did was hold the Agreement to be sacred but increase the difficulties in the way of its implementation. When the talks about a Democratic Unionist Party/Sinn Fein set-up broke down last year over the DUP demand that the Republican act of decommissioning should be filmed, members of the Ahern Government rushed in to say that much more than a photo was at issue. Instead of taking the DUP at its word and working on the issue of the photo, they claimed that what is called "criminality" was also at issue, even though the DUP had not raised it. "Criminality" was then adopted as an issue by the DUP, which could not let itself appear more conciliatory towards the Northern Fenians than the great Fenian chief in Leinster House. It seems that Ahern did this in a fit of pique because the Provos would not deliver their side of a deal which had not been made. And now, having encouraged the DUP to greater intransigence, he has to cope with the consequences.

The current position of the DUP is that it will consider entering government with Sinn Fein when Fianna Fail does. There was a time when a strong case could have been made that the very different political circumstances in the Republic and the North warranted the application of different standards, but it would not be easy to make that case now because of Ahern's diplomatic insanity. (And the strongest case is one that is now ideologically taboo in Leinster House—that the North is not a democracy, that it is politically disconnected from the state which controls it, and that the Stormont Government was not and will not be the Government of a state. Each of these grounds warrants the application of a different standard in the North.)

The Tory spokesman has come up with an interesting variation on Ahern's insistence that the Sinn Fein and the IRA are one by suggesting that, once Sinn Fein is considered to be fit for government, the IRA should be formally legalised in both States. Ahern himself appears to be suggesting that, even though Sinn Fein and the IRA are one—are two sides of the same coin—and even though the President of Sinn Fein organised the Northern Bank Robbery, the time has come for Sinn Fein to sever its connection with the IRA.

Mao Tse-tung is in the news again because of a biography which depicts him as the most comprehensively evil tyrant of the 20th century, whose unparalleled power of evil was deployed for frivolous purposes. But he made one remark which is entirely appropriate to the condition of politics in the Republic today: A Smart Alec, no matter how smart, should never be put in control of a State.

Fr. Alex Reid, of the Clonard Monastery in West Belfast, who has acted as conciliator and facilitator in the various peace moves, has been provoked into saying that the Dublin politicians are now the greatest danger to the peace process. He has told them in effect to shut up. No better advice could be given. But it is not advice that will be taken, because they are all overflowing with their various brands of self-righteous humbug.

The Robert McCartney affair pursues its peculiar course. Terence Davison has been charged with Robert McCartney's murder, and James McCormick with attacking Brendan Devine in the same incident. Meanwhile Devine has been sentenced to seven years' jail for his part in an armed robbery in February 2004 (2 years of this to be on probation). Pleas for mitigation on grounds of his drug habit and post-traumatic stress following the McCartney incident were rejected by the Court. Another case relating to receiving a stolen car in August 2003 remains outstanding. Furthermore, proceedings continue in a third criminal case over the stabbing of a pub bouncer in November 2003 in which Devine is charged with wounding with intent do do grievous bodily harm and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm. His fellow-accused in this case is Hugh MacCormick, brother of the man who later attacked him in the Robert McCartney incident. We have not seen pictures of the 'grievous' stabbing injuries inflicted on the pub bouncer by Brendan Devine and Hugh McCormick, though the long stitched cut of Devine by James McCormick has received widespread publicity. These incidents cast a different light on the McCartney incident to the rather simplistic anti-Republican view promoted by the authorities.

The new, double-jobbing, Secretary of State, Peter Hain, the former Young Liberal, has interned a Republican released under the Good Friday Agreement. No grounds have been given for the internment. Possibly Hain's purpose is to conciliate the Unionists, who saw him as a danger to their cause because they remembered what he used to say before Blair offered him a Government job. But Hain is entirely without political character. He capered about on the Left for the purpose of being made quiet by being given a job, in the time-honoured manner of British radicalism. He is now Blair's odd-job man. He is nothing whatever in his own right. We did not take him seriously some years ago when he spoke at the Belfast Unemployed Centre. His position then might be described as Flimsy Left. Today his is no more than the ventriloquist's dummy.

"It would be laughable if we came up with the only peace process in the world where democracy kills decency"—so said Tom Kelly in the concluding paragraph of his column in the Irish News a few months ago. Kelly, formerly of the SDLP, resigned from it some years ago on grounds that were never made clear. And it is now not clear why he does not join the Alliance Party. But the way he speaks his mind in the Irish News is often stimulating. In the present instance it leads one to ask what connection there is between democracy and decency. Political philosophers throughout the ages have tended towards the view that democracy is the most shameless of all political systems, and developments of the past fifteen years have not proved them wrong. The mushroom growth of an extensive pornography industry was the first fruit of democracy in Eastern Europe and Russia. And while it is not entirely obvious what is meant by 'decency' these days, one assumes that pornography is still indecent. If it isn't, then decency as a concept has lost all its meaning and it is obsolete.

The second fruit of democratisation seems to be the growth of a Mafia system, which is associated with the first fruit initially but quickly takes off on a wider basis and lays the groundwork of capitalism. A survey of the first ten years of economic development in Russia under the new democracy was published a few years ago under the title of Violent Entrepreneurs.

Democracy is now equated with free-market capitalism by the US/UK combination which dominates the world for the time being. The possibility that a society might democratically choose not to submit itself to the forces of free market capitalism is not allowed—although US/UK did not object when President Musevani of Uganda called for a democratic rejection of democracy by his people, and they complied in a referendum.

Capitalism came to Russia in two forms. Under the legal form the great enterprises of the state were sold for a song to members of President Yeltsin's inner circle. That is how the oligarchs came about. The American financial institutions which helped with the privatisation were rather shocked by the procedure. Whatever one thinks of the American system, it is indisputable that its most powerful capitalists are the great beasts in the jungle and have clawed their way to the top. And they function within and are constrained by the political life of the American Constitution. But the Russian monopoly capitalists, who are now being brought to heel by Putin, were favourites at Yeltsin's Court and acquired their immense properties as gifts awarded by Presidential decree. And when Parliament tried to interfere, the President turned the guns on it and arrested its members, to the applause of the democratic West.

The top-down creation of capitalism by Presidential decree was accompanied by a slower but sounder bottom-up development, otherwise known as the Mafia. Violent Entrepreneurs shows how in a society habituated to collective economic activity there was an absence of the kinds of institutions of civil society that grew up with capitalism in the West and were conducive to its functioning, and how a number of informal groups filled the vacuum. There were three main groups: people who had done time in the Labour Camps and were marginalised in society on release, and therefore kept up an informal association in the course of making a living outside the system; the managers, trainers and athletes of the various sporting bodies, who had operated semi-autonomously within the system; and members of the security forces who had been sacked wholesale by Yeltsin.

Mafias don't come from nowhere. It was from these groups that the spirit required for the development of Mafia capitalism came. The state system of economy was destroyed overnight, as a result of administrative incompetence on the part of would-be reformers like Gorbachev and insistent Western pressure which fed Utopian delusions, and the Mafia system developed in its place under the immensely corrupt Yeltsin anarchy. The corruption lay in the Yeltsin elite, which was supported unconditionally by the Western capitalist powers for its destructiveness. It is meaningless to apply the term corruption to the Mafia groups which developed in the anarchy. The Mafia were the creators of a new system in a situation where there was no social system at all, and out of the fierce conflicts of the Mafia groups with each other the categories of capitalist political economy began to be generated. And the "protection rackets" operated by groups of people sacked from the security forces of the disintegrating state became in effect organs of a new state. While they extorted protection money from aspiring businesses, they enabled those businesses to operate by protecting them. Protection money became, in effect, a police tax. It was, and is, crude. If it wasn't crude it wouldn't be capitalism. The establishment of capitalism is an inconceivably crude business.

Yeltsin's capitalism consisted of half-a-dozen oligarchs without an underlying system. Being unconstrained by a system underneath them in Russia, they naturally tended to merge with great capitalist enterprises in the West. They were not part of a Russian national economy, and they espoused a form of internationalism which would have placed Russian material resources directly at the disposal of the United States. It couldn't last. The cutest of them read the signs and he's now running Chelsea football team with Russian resources. The most ambitious of them is in jail. And a half-and-half oligarch, Berezovsky (half cute, half fanatic), is brooding over it all in wealthy exile. Before the last Russian election he gave expression in a BBC interview to his economic determinist belief that Putin must lose because money most have its way. It put one in mind of Anthony Coughlan's memorable anti-European statement: "You can't buck the market."

But where is the market in Russia? Not in Chelsea with Roman Abramovitch; nor in Mayfair with Baris Berezovsky; nor in Siberia with Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It's with the Mafia on the ground in Russia.

Putin recently made the shocking but indisputable statement that the destruction of the Soviet Union was the greatest political catastrophe of the 20th century. The assured framework of life for hundreds of millions of people, and for many nationalities which lived together without warfare, was broken up. Within the law of the jungle, life expectancy fell by about 20 years, and the nationalities fell into a state of war with each other (partly at the instigation of the US and the EU intent on pushing NATO as close as possible to Moscow). For a tiny handful of people life got better, but for most it got much worse. In the Western view the handful for whom life got better are the people who count. They are the quality of life and it is the destiny of the others to sustain them. But the Russian populace was never broken in to capitalist elitism.

But, while Putin describes the destruction of the old system as a catastrophe, it is not his purpose to restore it. His purpose seems to be to establish a regular framework for the Mafia capitalism which arose in the Yeltsin jungle, and thereby to restore a Russian national economy.

Violent Entrepreneurs is not a book one sees in the bookshops. Nor is another recent book on the party-political preconditions of what is called democracy, with particular reference to Russia in the 1990s. The content of that book is what this magazine has been asserting for thirty years with regard to Northern Ireland: that the functioning of what is called democracy in large states depends on the existence of a small number of stable political parties with whose policies (or at least their slogans) the electorate is familiar. A state does not consist of autonomous 'political men' any more than economy consists of 'economic men'. In both spheres the individual functions within a collectivity, and it might even be said that the more 'libertarian' a state is ideologically, the stronger its relevant collectivities are in actual politics. Strong government in libertarian Britain operates through a strong party system which regiments opinion into two great phalanxes. Elections do not register the opinions arrived at autonomously by individual voters. What they demonstrate is which party has been most successful at a particular moment in regimenting the opinion of the voters. This was explained by Edmund Burke 250 years ago, and it is more the case now than it was then.

Rousseau was of the opinion that democracy is the wrong name for this system. He held that the representative system was by definition not democratic. Democracy was the actual assembly of the people, as in the Swiss Cantons, and at the lower level in parts of the United States.

Representative government, in which large masses of people are acted upon by political parties, is something quite different. It has been made functional in a number of states on certain conditions. Those conditions were broken when the 6 Counties of the United Kingdom were concocted into Northern Ireland, where elections were disconnected from the governing of the state. And they did not exist at all in post-1989 Russia where the groups called political parties had no durable existence, and there were far too many of them.

In the light of world experience of the past 15 years, democracy is a word that should be used sparingly. And it should not be used at all in connection with politics in the North. If the round of political conflict in the Republic was subject to the veto of an external power and was entirely disconnected from the business of governing the state, what politician would call that situation democracy? Would the Justice Minister? We would say that the Justice Minister, whose sole concern is to exercise the powers of the state, would do so least of all.

Some further thoughts by independent Nationalist thinker Tom Kelly. He appreciate's McDowell's remark, on…

"…the similarities between Sinn Fein and the National Socialist Party in the 1930s. Some people within the republican movement took umbrage at this outrageous claim. Perhaps the statue of Sean Russell, the IRA leader and Nazi collaborator, was not the only thing missing its head last week…

"Some of what was said this week was priceless. In one interview, Martin McGuinness disparagingly dismissed Hugh Orde as a "British policeman" and so he is. It's disappointing in this centenary year for Sinn Fein forgets party founder Arthur Griffith's description of patriot Erskine Childers as "that damn Englishman". Not to mention former and present Sinn Fein members who before their reincarnation as Irish rebels were in fact British soldiers!"

It has been amply proved that Sean Russell's association with the German state was purely military. The party which was in ideological complicity with Fascism with the Irish Fascist party, Michael McDowell's hereditary party from which he has momentarily strayed in pursuit of power: Fine Gael. The active anti-Fascism in Ireland in that era was to be found on the other wing.

By the mid-1930s Italy and Germany were consolidated Fascist states, unquestioningly accepted as a legitimate part of the international order, and Britain was collaborating with the Hitler regime in a way that it never did with its democratic predecessors. But in Spain the issue was undetermined. And, with relation to Spain, the line-up was Fine Gael with the Fascist insurrection and the Republican movement with the democratically-elected Government of the Republic.And both sides sent volunteers to assist their parties in Spain. General O'Duffy, the founder and first leader of Fine Gael, took a company of Blueshirts to fight for Franco. Franco found it useless and sent it home in disgrace. A much larger group of Republicans went to fight for the Republic, and they fought and suffered to the bitter end. And Fianna Fail rejected Fine Gael demands in 1936 to recognise the Franco insurrection as the legitimate state power in Spain, doing so only in 1939, when after three years of warfare Franco achieved de facto power throughout Spain.

Sean Russell's visit to Germany occurred when Britain, after six years of active support for the Nazi regime, decided to make war on Germany. Fascism was not an issue in the British decision to make war. The German state was just as Fascist in 1938—when Britain helped to restore it to the status of a Great Power by conniving at the German/Austrian merger which it had strictly forbidden when both states were democracies, and by putting pressure on the Czech Government to hand over the natural fortress of the Sudetenland to Hitler—as it was in 1939 when Britain declared war on it. That being so, what made it morally heinous to have dealings with Germany after 4th September 1939 when it was OK during the preceding six years? The fact that Britain decided to make war, presumably. But that it to take the expediency of British foreign policy as the determinant of general morality.

But why criticise Tom Kelly for doing that, when John Bowman does it all the time?

A final thought from Tom Kelly:

"Recent polls suggest that Sinn Fein may have little to worry about following the McCartney murder and the Northern Bank heist. This will disappoint many who thought that the criminal activities of the Provisional movement would have resulted in some electoral damage to Sinn Fein. It is a sad indictment of where we are as a society that it does not. Sinn Fein wields a mandate as lethally as paramilitaries wield M-16s. For more than 20 years Sinn Fein has assiduously conditioned sections of the nationalist community into mirroring the most repugnant practises of unreconstructed loyalism. The appalling vista of systematic bigotry; the subrogation [sic] of ordinary people in the pursuit of false patriotism… are now as important to the nationalist psyche as it is to those on the loyalist side… Since the ceasefires, by donning a veil of democracy Sinn Fein have distracted the democratic world from the reality of Provisional criminality and the smell of sulphur… The only consolation of being duped by the Provisional movement into believing they were buying into democracy is that they also duped many of their own followers—even if that reality has not dawned on some of them yet. For the majority of the nationalist community there never was any romantic notion about murder and the representatives of mainstream nationalism were unambiguous in condemning any notion that murder could be somehow justified… Whether Arlene Foster or Michelle Gildernew holds Fermanagh/South Tyrone is irrelevant… Elections in the north have rarely solved anything and the forthcoming elections will be no different" (Irish News, 21 March).

This mental floundering is not mere gibberish. The actual elements of the situation are presented in disordered form. The source of the disorder is the passive assumption that the North is a democratic state in which certain people are behaving badly. That assumption is then retained, even while it emerges as an empirical fact that pretty everybody except the writer is behaving badly. The norm from which there is general deviation is derived from elsewhere—from two elsewheres: the states between which Northern Ireland forms a Limbo. And the undoubted fact that elections settle nothing is stated, while subversive consideration of how that could be the case is avoided.

In modern times the state has become the necessary framework of social order. It was not always so, but it is so now. The mass societies of the globalist era require strong states, whether democratic or authoritarian, as the framework of orderly life. The perverse framework of the British state in the Six Counties, deliberately established by Whitehall 80 years ago, generates disorder.

In these circumstances Martin McGuinness's remark about the Chief Constable being a British policeman bears no resemblance to Arthur Griffith's racist denunciation of Erskine Childers as an Englishman during the Treaty dispute. Orde is a functionary of the British state proper. Within Britain his opinion on a matter on which he had not enough evidence to bring a charge would be of no political consequence, nor would the opinion of the Garda Commissioner in the Republic. But in the North, Orde—who is a very political policeman—is the representative of what is in political reality an external supervisory power. He has not the organic connection with society that senior policemen have in Britain and the Republic.

Tom Kelly's observations are incoherent, but they are not gibberish. But political gibberish is the only way of describing Damien Kiberd's column in Daily Ireland on the subject of Eamon De Valera: Incapable Of Seeing Any Point But His Own (June 20). It regurgitates Ascendancy and Free State propaganda of the 1920s. The title is taken from a book by Trinity Professor Alison Phillips, who launched the canard about the low Sinn Fein vote in 1918, ignoring the fact that in a quarter of the Constituencies, where Sinn Fein support was strongest, no votes were cast because there were only Sinn Fein candidates.

Piaras Beaslai, Treatyite propagandist in the Treaty War (who is described by Kiberd as "a contemporary"), has his notorious statement regurgitated about Dev flinging "a torch into a powder magazine" in 1922. And P. A. O'Siochain, "a historian of the time", is quoted for his view that Dev was influenced by "the intense extremism of some of the leading women, in particular Mrs. Pearse, Miss Mary MacSwiney and Countess Markievicz"; and also for his analysis of "the nature of De Valera"

"he was 'only half-Irish and, for that reason, he had to appear holier than thou, more positively Irish and republican".

Half-baked psychologising in place of history. The history of it is that Collins, the military man, made a deal with Lloyd George to dismantle the Republic and was not able to carry the Army with him—and he apparently knew when signing the dictated 'Treaty', under threat of the British ultimatum, that it would be unacceptable to the greater part of the Army. That was the powder keg. The torch which exploded it into 'Civil War' was Collins's breaking of the Election Pact in June 1922, in response to another British ultimatum, and his shelling of the Four Courts with British artillery in response to a third British ultimatum.

Kiberd then re-hashes the Free State propaganda on the Treaty Oath. The Free Staters won the Election of 1922 and 1923, when the British threat of re-conquest was active. As that threat receded, and British politics fell into confusion, the Irish electorate voted Republican again. The Free State authorities, who controlled the Dail, excluded elected Republicans with the requirement that they should take the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown. When that failed to deter the electorate, the Free State announced its intention of making the taking of the Oath a condition of standing for election. The Free State was by this time no longer acting under duress from Whitehall. Its exclusion of Republicans from the Dail, with the threat of excluding them from the entire electoral process, had the makings of a real Civil War, different in kind from the Treaty War. De Valera and his group warded off that possibility, and laid the basis for democracy in the 26 Counties, by taking the Oath with their fingers crossed, and going on to take power through the Dail and abolish the Oath and other features of the Treaty. And the judgment of the electorate on the use made of the Oath by the Treatyite party is found in the fact that that party has never won a General Election 1927.

There is no substantial similarity between the situation in the 26 Counties 80 years ago and the situation in the North today. And the regurgitating of Free State propaganda against Dev could generate nothing but confusion if there was.


Limboland Democracy.

The European Union.

How To Share Our Military History?
Nick Folley (Irish Examiner)

A Final Letter To Valery.
Jack Lane

The Power And The Story.
John Martin

Peter Hart—The Issue Of Sources.
Brian Murphy OSB

Uncommon Purposes.
Pat Muldowney (from Sunday Independent, 14.06.05)

De Valera's Heir: Michael McDowell.
Joe Keenan

Tackling Bonded Labour.
Mark Langhammer (Report)

(Kilmichael Deep Throats; Another Scandal: Irish 'Neutrality; FF: The Redmondite Party? Social Regression;; Workers Must Wait; Back To Reality)

A Nation And A Half Once Again.
Brendan Clifford

Does It Stack Up?
Michael Stack

Population Trends In Ireland, 1821-2036.
Jack Lane (from Village, 24.06.05)

Still Fighting The French Revolution.
Seán McGouran

Reply To Ivor Kenna And Robert Burrage.
John Martin

Free Trade And Famine.
Pat Muldowney (Book Review)

Labour Comment
Edited by Pat Maloney

Labour Conference

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