Question on Ireland (to Mine)

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Fri Nov 3 18:32:43 MST 2000

>Philip, I totally concur. Has this insensitivity to question of
>colonialism >also got to do with the fact that Brenner and Hobsbaw's works
>are very much >rooted in the philosophical tradition of British empiricism?

Well, that's an interesting one.

Actually, the NLR 'tradition' was partly formed by people who launched an
assault on British empiricism.  For instance, in 1972 Robin Blackburn
brought out 'Ideology in Social Science: readings in critical social
theory'.  This involved papers by a number of people including Hobsbawm.
Basically this book was an assault on the 'givens' of the social sciences -
history, sociology, political science, economics etc - in Britain.  British
empiricism came in for a  lot of flack in the book.

Blackburn was a key figure in NLR, possibly the next most important in its
history to Perry Anderson.  Blackburn was also associated with the IMG (the
British section of the FI) in its most fervently pro-Irish Revolution days
in the early 1970s.  The NLR editorial board also included IMGers like
Tariq Ali and Pete McGowan, who, certainly for much of the 1970s, were
fairly pro the liberation struggle in Ireland.

So exactly how and why the NLR had such an awful track record on Ireland, I
really do not know.

Call me a bit cynical or suspicious, but I guess I would put it down to the
fact that when the Irish struggle got really difficult and stopped being
romantic for the London beret-and-fatigues-wearing chic left, and then
Irish republicans took the war to Britain itself, most of the British left
ran away - and, of course, the intellectuals ran first and furthest.

Rather sad really, because, as I said, I think that people like Blackburn,
E.P. Thompson, and even Hobsbawm, have written some really excellent stuff
on other topics.  Thompson's 'The Making of the English Working Class', for
instance, is probably still unsurpassed.

But many of these people, and it is most pronounced with the ones
associated with the British CP, really dealt only with developments within
Britain.  And those developments are only part of the story.

Also, there is a kind of tradition on the British left, that left forces
will be extremely anti-imperialist *on the condition* that the imperialists
who are being fought are not British.  So British lefties will be fervently
opposed to US imperialism or French imperialism or German imperialism.  But
there's liable to be a big silence when it comes to British imperialism.


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