Friday, 7 September 2012

A Decade of Centenaries for Historical Revisionism?

A Decade of Centenaries for Historical Revisionism?

éirígíAs a two-part feature, we carry an article by éirígí Rúnaí Gineáralta, Breandán Mac Cionnaith, on the forthcoming decade of centenaries and how the partitionist institutions in Stormont and Leinster House, along with the Westminster government, are already planning to take possession of the events of one hundred years ago. The article explains the necessity for republicans, socialists and other progressives to take ownership of the legacy of the Irish revolutionary period from 1913-1923.

In the second article, dealing with the dangers of revisionist Irish history, we re-publish the text of the 1989 C. Desmond Greaves Memorial Lecture delivered by Peter Berresford Ellis.

We gratefully acknowledge The Irish Democrat for their permission to re-publish that memorial lecture, entitled ‘Revisionism in Irish Historical Writing – The new anti-nationalist school of historians’.

Peter Berresford Ellis is an historian and novelist and a regular contributor to the Irish Democrat. He is the author of A History of the Irish Working ClassHell or Connaught: The Cromwellian Colonisation of Ireland, and The Boyne Water: The Battle of the Boyne 1690. He edited and introduced James Connolly: Selected Writings.

Charles Desmond Greaves (27 September 1913 – 23 August 1988) was an Irish activist and historian. He wrote a number of books on Irish history as a Marxist historian, including The Life and Times of James Connolly (1961), The Easter Rising as History (1966), and Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution (1971). In 1941 he joined the Connolly Club, which later became the Connolly Association and became the editor of its magazine The Irish Democrat.

A Decade of Centenaries for Historical Revisionism?

Without any doubt, the period from 1913 to 1923 was indeed one of the great revolutionary periods in Irish history when the various social, economic and political movements of that time combined into a popular struggle for national liberation and sovereignty.

From 1913, a year which saw workers engaged in a momentous struggle for trade union recognition, better pay and conditions, and which also saw the formation of the Irish Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers; through to the Easter Rising of 1916 and the Declaration of the Republic; resistance to conscription and the general election of 1918; An Chéad Dáil Éireann and the commencement of a nationwide armed revolt; the establishment of workers’ soviets and alternative systems of governance; through to the Treaty and the partition of Ireland in 1921; culminating in the civil war and the defence of the Republic; this was a momentous period from which lessons can and must be drawn and learned.
The two defining documents of that era – the 1916 Proclamation and the Democratic Programme of 1919 – set out clearly the demands for national self-determination, for social and economic justice and democracy, of cherishing all the children of the nation equally, of claiming the wealth of Ireland for the people of Ireland.

Those who endorsed and supported those demands were men and women with a vision for a new, equal and free Ireland.

Sadly, they saw their vision of a radically new Ireland crushed by a foreign power, by a domestic capitalist class, and by self-serving political elites.

This month, which sees the 100th anniversary of the ‘Ulster Covenant’, heralds the commencement of what those in establishment circles in both the Six and Twenty-Six Counties have called “the decade of commemorations”.

On March 15th this year, the Six County Executive announced it had “decided to take the lead role in organising events for the forthcoming Decade of Commemorations... Ministers agreed that it was appropriate and necessary for the Executive to set the tone and provide leadership in putting an official acknowledgement process in place.”

Likewise, in the Twenty-Six Counties, an all-party group has been established in Leinster House “to inform the development and delivery of the commemorative programme for the period 2012 to 2016” and beyond.

Even the British government has joined in, giving their NIO minister, Hugo Swire, responsibilities which include ‘commemorative initiatives for centenary anniversaries’.

Stormont, Leinster House and Westminster will re-interpret and rework the events of 100 years ago to suit their collective selfish, political and socio-economic agendas.

Their single, collective narrative will be to try and convince the Irish people that the Ireland of today is, indeed, the Ireland envisaged in 1916 and 1919.

That narrative will be framed within the context of the 1921 Treaty, the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreements, which reinforced and copper-fastened partition and contributed nothing to the political, social or economic advancement or well-being of the majority of Ireland’s citizens.

The Stormont and Leinster House elites which oversee partition, which have ensured the surrender of Irish sovereignty to Britain and the EU, which have factored mass unemployment, mass emigration and growing levels of poverty into their economic policies, have made it clear that the earth-shattering events of a century ago will be commemorated on their terms.

Having set out the terms for their commemorations, Stormont and Leinster House will make available funds for those establishments’ political figures, erstwhile historians and experts to re-work and re-write our history for the ‘benefit’ of future generations.

An example of the reshaping of history which we can expect to see, hear and read during the forthcoming ‘decade of centenaries’ was given by Bertie Ahern when he spoke at a Fianna Fáil commemoration for Liam Mellows a few years ago.

Liam Mellows
Mellows, in his time, was scathing of the type of moneyed interests which, decades after his execution, Ahern and many other leading political figures of various “republican” hues have now become so synonymous with.

Mellows had written: “It would be folly to destroy English tyranny in order to erect a domestic tyranny that would need another revolution to free the people. The Irish Republic stands, therefore, for the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland. It means that the means and process of production must not be used for the profit or aggrandisement of any group or class... the commercial interest, so called, money and the gombeen men are on the side of the Treaty, because the Treaty means Imperialism and England. We are back to Tone – and it is just as well – relying on that great body – ‘the men of no property’. The ‘stake in the country’ people were never with the Republic. They are not with it now – and they will always be against it.”

Ahern ignored those published views of Mellows and, without any hint of hypocrisy or semblance of shame, asserted, “I believe that Liam Mellows would recognise in today’s Ireland a country which has vindicated many of his principles.”

Mellows opposed the two partitionist states on this island; both of which were, and still remain, hostile to the interests of Irish workers; both of which have acted against the struggles and interests of the Irish working class time and time again.

The Ireland of today bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Republic envisaged by Liam Mellows and so many others.

We must re-assert that truth.

Republicans, socialists and other progressives must now begin making preparations to challenge and counter, at every opportunity, the forthcoming propaganda campaign of those who endorse partition and who maintain the unjust social and economic systems that have been created as a result.

The ‘official’ state narratives will not be aimed at presenting any accurate historic record or unbiased analysis, but will be designed to justify acceptance and approval of the status quo in Ireland today, particularly in relation to the six counties.

At present, right across Ireland, there are more ordinary people preoccupied by the daily personal struggles of coping with the severe economic policies implemented by Stormont and Leinster House than there are with partition.

In these difficult times, when families throughout Ireland face many economic difficulties, when people are naturally concerned and worried about the future, especially about employment prospects for the younger generation, we must again educate others into the nature of the republican struggle. We need to explain that the republican struggle is not based on a selfish or narrow-minded nationalism; it is about achieving real political freedom, it is about delivering social justice, it is about economic equality for all.

James Connolly
As Irish socialist republicans, we should again assert and explain to others, as Connolly so ably did, that “the Irish question is a social question, the whole age-long fight of the Irish people against their oppressors resolves itself, in the last analysis into a fight for the mastery of the means of life, the sources of production, in Ireland.”

We must strive to convince and persuade others that what is needed in Ireland is not a grudging acceptance or resentful tolerance of the status quo but a new Irish Republic, one which will re-unify the country and which will be qualitatively different from the Twenty-Six County and Six County states that have existed for just over 90 years.

There is no need to revise our history to do that. No need whatsoever.

That new Irish Republic is the same one visualised by those men and women of principle with their deep feelings for all humanity who, a century ago, envisioned an Ireland where the economy and the nation’s natural resources would be organised to serve all citizens and not just a wealthy minority; an independent and sovereign Republic, free from all external influences; a republic where all would have an opportunity to participate in society by having the opportunity to work; a republic where the employment of all would ensure that the elderly are properly cared for, the young people educated, the sick and the ill tended to, and a society developed which would appreciate and recognise the value of each one of its citizens, irrespective of their creed or gender.

Inscribed on a wall at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin are the words of ‘An Aisling’.

I ndorchacht an éadóchais rinneadh aisling dúinn.
Lasamar solas an dóchais agus níor múchadh é.
I bhfásach an lagmhisnigh rinneadh aisling dúinn.
Chuireamar crann na crógachta agus tháinig bláth air.
I ngeimhreadh na daoirse rinneadh aisling dúinn.
Mheileamar sneachta táimhe agus rith abhainn na hathbheochana as.
Chuireamar ár n-aisling ag snámh mar eala ar an abhainn. Rinneadh fírinne den aisling.
Rinneadh samhradh den gheimhreadh. Rinneadh saoirse den daoirse agus d'fhágamar agaibhse mar oidhreacht í.
A ghlúnta na saoirse cuimhnígí orainne, glúnta na haislinge.

In the darkness of despair we saw a vision,
We lit the light of hope and it was not extinguished.
In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision.
We planted the tree of valour and it blossomed.
In the winter of bondage we saw a vision.
We melted the snow of lethargy and the river of resurrection flowed from it.
We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river. The vision became a reality.
Winter became summer. Bondage became freedom and this we left to you as your inheritance.
O generations of freedom remember us, the generations of the vision.

Republican, socialists and progressives must use this coming decade of centenaries to reclaim that vision and to share that revolutionary inheritance with others to finally create the generation of freedom.

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