Thursday, March 19, 2009

History and its lessons

Karl Marx stated an obvious truth when he said that while people make their own history they do so with the tradition of the dead generations weighing on them; That is a view disregarded by the Belfast Telegraph columnist, Eric Waugh (17th March) when he comments on those he accuses (correctly, as it so happens) of refusing to learn from history and yet himself displays considerable historical amnesia.

He was right about the Easter Rebellion of 1916; it still has a most baneful effect in Ireland. So, too, does the events of 1912 and the marshalling of naked religious bigotry by the political agents of local capitalism. Here treason and the threat of violence was Unionism’s weapon against the governing British authority (itself ultimately based to armed coercion) if it ceded to Sinn Fein’s demand for legislative power in Ireland to institute trade protection for a nascent southern capitalism.

Where does the wrong begin? With Pope Adrian IV when he gifted Ireland to King Henry II of England because the Irish hierarchy favoured a stricter imposition of a foreign feudalism in Ireland where the culture and economic practices of the old Gaelic tribes conflicted with the theological imperialism of the Roman church and its self-interested doctrine of the ‘divine right of kings’?

Should England have deliberately created and institutionalised religious sectarianism in the early 17th century and later induced division within future economic development by the device of Ulster Custom?

Should a fledgling Presbyterian bourgeoisie not have allied itself to the concept of armed struggle for an all-Ireland republic in the late 18th century when its class brethren in England was deemed to be discriminating against Irish trade?

Should the Irish Catholic hierarchy not have abided by their Church’s promulgated practice of abiding by its temporal powers when the northern state was established in 1921?

More immediately pertinent perhaps, in 1962 when the IRA virtually surrendered and admitted its lack of support from Irish nationalists for armed struggle, should the Stormont regime have denied republicans, as it did, the right to pursue their struggle by peaceful means?

The dynamic in history is economics, the process of wealth production from which the modern wage or salary earner – the producers of all real wealth – are as remote as the slave or the serf of old. The ruling class and its political agents make the rules and draw up the battle lines in their own interests, The selective presentation of history is part of that process.


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