Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mrs Windsor's summer break

We've recently enjoyed the kitsch-fest that is the Eurovision Song Contest. No less important is a more occasional competition, the Eurovision Sycophancy contest, which has taken place over the past few weeks. London's entry was strong:

Never to be outdone, however, the Celtic Tiger came good. Dublin's entry combined naffness with a good dose of emotional saccharine to claim the prize:

Yes, the Queen is taking her summer hols in the twenty six counties. The papers were full of this being an historic moment: this was a time for moving on from the imperial past. Today's i bore the headline: "Queen Lays History to Rest". As Lizzie herself put it in a speech: "so much of this visit reminds us of the complexity of our history; its many layers and traditions, but also the importance of forbearance and conciliation. Of being able to bow to the past, but not be bound by it." Conciliation, on any sensible account, has reparation as a prior condition. We'll come back to that.

Exactly the same line is forthcoming from Mary McAleese and the rest of the south's ruling class, enthusiastically backed up by their cheerleaders in the media and Ireland's burgeoning culture industry. Republican protesters have been shouted down from a great height, like so many rednecked thugs. It should be conceded that in some cases the verdict is not without a certain truth. 

None the less, there are perfectly good reasons to oppose the visit of a British monarch to Ireland. The southern state is in dire fiscal straits, and it is difficult to see how the outlay of millions of Euros on protecting and entertaining a London-based aristocrat, can be justified at a time when ordinary Irish people are suffering the effects of austerity measures. The counter-argument will be put that the UK is a key economic partner of the south, and that good relations are worth a bit of outlay. This simply lacks credibility. Are we to suppose that London wouldn't have helped bail Dublin out if the Queen wasn't offered a few vol-aux-vents as a sweetener?

Then there is the north. Much as though it isn't done to mention the matter in fashionable circles in either London or Dublin, part of the island of Ireland remains in British hands. This, in itself, is of little importance for those who can avail themselves of the cheap cosmopolitan faux-internationalism. It is always easy for history's victors to counsel moving on from history. 

Aside from the continued British presence in Ireland, there is the means by which that has been maintained. For all the culture of amnesty, a necessary part of a welcome peace process in the north, there is a striking asymmetry between the treatment of paramilitaries and state forces. Rarely have British military personnel received anything approaching justice. Frequently families whose children were killed by the bullets of Queen Elizabeth's forces remain without the answers that would bring some kind of closure. Many questions remain about collusion between British agencies and loyalist paramilitaries, including - it should be emphasised - with respect to the bombing of Dublin.

For these and many other reasons, for the sake of lives all over Ireland, whether the still-grieving parents in Derry, or the unemployed worker eeking out a living in Dublin, the claim that Britain's imperial history in Ireland is a thing of the past should be exposed as a lie.

But it is a lie that the south's rulers are quite happy to go along with.

The present state of affairs suits the interests of the southern bourgeoisie quite nicely. They have no economic interest in the north: in fact the incorporation of the six counties, long maintained as an economic periphery to the UK and still feeling the structural aftershocks of conflict, would be an economic millstone around Dublin's already feeble neck. By the same token, positive political and economic relations are eminently desirable. Add to this the cultural inclinations of a growing urban élite, who see republicanism as passé and frankly an embarrassment, and you get a situation where neither of the two civil war parties, nor the lacklustre 'Labour' party whose job it is to prop one or other of them up in coalition, has any incentive to make the north an issue. On the contrary, the priority is the consolidation of the southern state (and therefore of partition) and the strengthening of ties with London.

In itself, this is surely no bad thing. Anything that damages the illusion that the southern government is any ally against partition should be given a qualified welcome. Likewise it is all for the good if patriotic waffle and talk of the 'national interest' disappears from anti-partition politics in Ireland. There is no more shared interest between rulers and ruled in Ireland than in any other capitalist country. Too much romantic republicanism, often claiming an alliance with the left, misses this elementary point.

The only sort of politics which can bring the history of partition in Ireland to a happy conclusion is one that appeals to the majority of the island's inhabitants, north and south, Catholic and Protestant, on the basis that they have more in common with each other than any of them do with the likes of the Queen or President McAleese. The problem at this point is that this sounds hopelessly naive, and not without reason. Successful socialist politics organised on a class basis is a long way off in Ireland.

The only choice is not between a politics of partition, of mutually back-slapping, national élites, on the one hand, and the politics of the balaclava and the armalite on the other. The politics of a mass movement in the cause of the majority is an untried option. Sadly, it's looking none-too-healthy in contemporary Ireland. The least the British left can do is give all the encouragement at our disposal to those lonely voices of a genuine socialist politics across the Irish Sea.

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