Tribal Social Structures

Domhnall donaloc at
Mon Feb 25 08:10:56 MST 2002

I was reading Hunterbear's recent posts and I starting thinking about Irish
society (more specifically the rural society in which I live). It became
obvious to me that it has many of the characteristics of a primitive tribal
society which he described (albeit in transition). That this was never
obvious to me until now is strange - perhaps I couldn't see the wood for the

An example is the 'interbred' nature of each village - everyone is related
(albeit distantly) and there is therefore a very strong sense of community;
births, deaths and marriages see the entire village turn out. Whilst no-one
could pretend that our society has not been influenced (heavily) by the
dominent capital modes of production - I have to note the tendencies towards
communial inter-reliance and the almost cooperative nature of many local
economic structures - like most businesses, e.g. roofing, construction, are
either relatives of one another or act like a single 'pack'. This has the
obvious impact of reducing clarity in regard to competing class-interests -
although not entirely - just within the structures of the Nationalist
populations itself, i.e. whilst a carpenter would see his 'boss' as a
special friend or even comrade, he would recognise middle-class
representatives as something different.  Indeed, to an extent the class
interests are not so cut and dried - I know a foreman who works on contract
work  - that he pays his workers doesn't detract from the underlying
similarity in his situation and theirs. To be honest, I sometimes find it
difficult to raise class-issues in this environment when it is clear that
all members of these small work-forces are being exploited (although to
marginally differing degrees). This is in no way preparing the ground-work
for a class-collaborationist position, rather it is an attempt to describe
the existence of strong communities in rural parts of Ireland and the
complicated nature of class relations within them. In this environment, it
is not wholly surprising that cooperative and social economy projects
contribute anything up to about 25% of employment.

The strong sense of community identity is reinforced by the GAA (a local and
national sporting organisation promoting indigenous sports) and the local RC
church. Strangely in the north, Unionist (settler) populations have nothing
comparable when it comes to community organisations - traditionally this has
been explained by the individualistic nature of their (very strong)
fundamentalist Protestant faith. However, taken against the nature of
'primitive' communal societies - perhaps it is due to the underlying
class-relations of the two groups. The only thing which appears to unite
Unionists is their strong commitment to the church (of whichever
denomination) and their need to stick together against the 'natives'. It
becomes very easy to see how struggle naturally assumes the form of
inter-community friction as opposed to inter-class friction - this poses a
problem for those of us with a focus on delivering a particular programme
and avoiding the pit-falls of sectarianism. The problem in virtually all
cases comes down to education and, in particular, education through
struggle. In such a society, the possibility of a 'pure' revolution is
naught - it will need to intertwine heavily in extant social forms is a
prerequisite for success. The real difficulty is in combining this very
particular form of struggle with that coming from urban areas, e.g. Dublin,
Belfast and Cork which have well defined class relations and are very much
more pure in form and content.

This insight also offers an understanding of the nature of revolutionary
behaviour in small rural villages. That it was organised on familial lines,
that splits over policy occured along family fault-lines, that bad-practices
could come about due to nepotism and the like, that outsiders are never
trusted to the second generation. All these things combine with petty
localised community loyalties to produce potential difficulties (and also go
some way in explaining the strengths) of the movement on a localised scale.
I offer this analysis as I feel an understanding of this underlying societal
structure is of key importance in enabling theorists to make realistic
criticisms of macro-scale strategy.

I am glad that Hunterbear saw fit to offer a definition of his nation - it
certainly offered an opening for me to expand my own understanding of the
society I live and struggle within.

Is mise,


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