Hobsbawm and Ireland

James Daly james.irldaly at ntlworld.com
Fri Jul 4 04:00:48 MDT 2003

Thanks to Philip and Gary for their welcome contributions on Hobsbawm
and Ireland.

I'm afraid I was again selling a piano to a lady with wooden legs. I
really ought to sleep on these posts overnight, and hope for clarity
in the morning. I didn't mean to say that the NLR was "the most
radical opposition to the Irish struggle for 30 years". What I meant
to say was that for 30 years the NLR operated (mainly, as Philip says,
by abstention) from a *position* (tentatively held, perhaps -- but
that was enough) which was in *principle* the most radical opposition
possible to the Irish struggle -- the *two-nationist* position held by
Tom Nairn (co-author of the "Nairn-Anderson theses") and *published*,
but in his books, not in the NLR .

In principle that political position is that the Ulster Protestant
nation has a right to enforce its claim to its national territory, the
six counties of Northern Ireland. This was the position of BICO, the
"British and Irish Communist Organisation" of the time, which was
hyper-Stalinist (I use the term neutrally and purely informatively). I
have experienced their militantly *opposing* at conferences the ending
of British repressive legislation against republicans "pending the
democratic settlement of the Irish question", which means until the
war against the Irish imperialist onslaught on the Ulster nation was
successfully concluded, using all means necessary -- which in
principle would include UVF and UDA campaigns.

TV talking heads Professors Paul Bew ("David Trimble is the most
enlightened Unionist of the 20th century") and Patterson were for a
time members of that enormously energetic and influential group (the
Moscow edition of Marx and Engels on Ireland acknowledges their
copyright on the translation of Engels's manuscript History of

When it was all over bar the shouting, Patterson's article on what the
NLR sees as the *real* Irish question, namely secularist reform of the
priest-ridden South (making them worthy of association with the
progressive North), was published. About the same time NLR published a
speech by Hobsbawm which implied that the British were the only nation
not to use torture. Professors Dennis O'Hearn and Sam Porter sent NLR
an article-length letter protesting both that speech and the (malign)
neglect of Ireland by the NLR for 25 years. This was rejected by the
editor Robin Blackburn, and a battle royal ensued, the writers
appealing to the editorial board, which eventually insisted on the
letter being published, though Blackburn replied claiming credit for
NLR's every little snippet on Ireland. Presumably for PR purposes
Terry Eagleton was later allowed an article arguing that there should
be a united Ireland for the sake of the Irish Protestants.

Commentators (including Dennis and Sam) have generally missed the
point of Tom Nairn's influence. In an off list e-mail to me Jim
Monaghan has noted it. Editorial board member Tariq Ali's (F I)
support for the Irish struggle seems to have ended about 1972 or 73 --
to be followed as far as I know by silence.  An in-depth history of
the resignations from the editorial board would be interesting.



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