Monday, 31 January 2011

'The market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life': Philip Pullman, Working Class Hero

It is significant that the battle against the Tory axe-men has seen some of the most likely individuals come forward as the most erudite and militant in their oppostion to the anti-working class crusade of Cameron and Osborne. First Paul O'Grady, and now Philip Pullman, have articulated the feelings of anger and indignation felt by most ordinary people in the face of vicious and ill-thought austerity cuts far more effectively than Miliband and his so-called 'opposition party'. This is one of the best pieces of polemic writing / oratory I've ever read and has honestly stirred me in a way that only Mary Wollstonecraft, Leon Trotsky, James Connolly or Tony Benn at his finest have ever managed. So here I present the full speech via False Economy:

You don’t need me to give you the facts. Everyone here is aware of the situation. The government, in the Dickensian person of Mr Eric Pickles, has cut the money it gives to local government, and passed on the responsibility for making the savings to local authorities. Some of them have responded enthusiastically, some less so; some have decided to protect their library service, others have hacked into theirs like the fanatical Bishop Theophilus in the year 391 laying waste to the Library of Alexandria and its hundreds of thousands of books of learning and scholarship.

Here in Oxfordshire we are threatened with the closure of 20 out of our 43 public libraries. Mr Keith Mitchell, the leader of the county council, said in the Oxford Times last week that the cuts are inevitable, and invites us to suggest what we would do instead. What would we cut? Would we sacrifice care for the elderly? Or would youth services feel the axe?

I don’t think we should accept his invitation. It’s not our job to cut services. It’s his job to protect them.

Nor do I think we should respond to the fatuous idea that libraries can stay open if they’re staffed by volunteers. What patronising nonsense. Does he think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is to tidy the shelves? And who are these volunteers? Who are these people whose lives are so empty, whose time spreads out in front of them like the limitless steppes of central Asia, who have no families to look after, no jobs to do, no responsibilities of any sort, and yet are so wealthy that they can commit hours of their time every week to working for nothing? Who are these volunteers? Do you know anyone who could volunteer their time in this way? If there’s anyone who has the time and the energy to work for nothing in a good cause, they are probably already working for one of the voluntary sector day centres or running a local football team or helping out with the league of friends in a hospital. What’s going to make them stop doing that and start working in a library instead?

Especially since the council is hoping that the youth service, which by a strange coincidence is also going to lose 20 centres, will be staffed by – guess what – volunteers. Are these the same volunteers, or a different lot of volunteers?

This is the Big Society, you see. It must be big, to contain so many volunteers.

But there’s a prize being dangled in front of these imaginary volunteers. People who want to save their library, we’re told, are going to be “allowed to bid” for some money from a central pot. We must sit up and beg for it, like little dogs, and wag our tails when we get a bit.

The sum first mentioned was £200,000. Divide that between the 20 libraries due for closure and it comes to £10,000 each, which doesn’t seem like very much to me. But of course it’s not going to be equally divided. Some bids will be preferred, others rejected. And then comes the trick: they “generously” increase the amount to be bid for. It’s not £200,000. It’s £600,000. It’s a victory for the volunteers. Hoorah for the Big Society! We’ve “won” some more money!

Oh, but wait a minute. This isn’t £600,000 for the libraries. It turns out that that sum is to be bid for by everyone who runs anything at all. All those volunteers bidding like mad will soon chip away at the £600,000. A day care centre here, a special transport service there, an adult learning course somewhere else, all full of keen-eyed volunteers bidding away like mad, and before you know it the amount available to libraries has suddenly shrunk. Why should libraries have a whole third of all the Big Society money?

But just for the sake of simplicity let’s imagine it’s only libraries. Imagine two communities that have been told their local library is going to be closed. One of them is full of people with generous pension arrangements, plenty of time on their hands, lots of experience of negotiating planning applications and that sort of thing, broadband connections to every household, two cars in every drive, neighbourhood watch schemes in every road, all organised and ready to go. Now I like people like that. They are the backbone of many communities. I approve of them and of their desire to do something for their villages or towns. I’m not knocking them.

But they do have certain advantages that the other community, the second one I’m talking about, does not. There people are out of work, there are a lot of single parent households, young mothers struggling to look after their toddlers, and as for broadband and two cars, they might have a slow old computer if they’re lucky and a beaten-up old van and they dread the MOT test – people for whom a trip to the centre of Oxford takes a lot of time to organise, a lot of energy to negotiate, getting the children into something warm, getting the buggy set up and the baby stuff all organised, and the bus isn’t free, either – you can imagine it. Which of those two communities will get a bid organised to fund their local library?

But one of the few things that make life bearable for the young mother in the second community at the moment is a weekly story session in the local library, the one just down the road. She can go there with the toddler and the baby and sit in the warmth, in a place that’s clean and safe and friendly, a place that makes her and the children welcome. But has she, have any of the mothers or the older people who use the library got all that hinterland of wealth and social confidence and political connections and administrative experience and spare time and energy to enable them to be volunteers on the same basis as the people in the first community? And how many people can volunteer to do this, when they’re already doing so much else?

What I personally hate about this bidding culture is that it sets one community, one group, one school, against another. If one wins, the other loses. I’ve always hated it. It started coming in when I left the teaching profession 25 years ago, and I could see the way things were going then. In a way it’s an abdication of responsibility. We elect people to decide things, and they don’t really want to decide, so they set up this bidding nonsense and then they aren’t really responsible for the outcome. “Well, if the community really wanted it, they would have put in a better bid … Nothing I can do about it … My hands are tied …”
And it always results in victory for one side and defeat for the other. It’s set up to do that. It’s imported the worst excesses of market fundamentalism into the one arena that used to be safe from them, the one part of our public and social life that used to be free of the commercial pressure to win or to lose, to survive or to die, which is the very essence of the religion of the market. Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of political power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. I think that little by little we’re waking up to the truth about the market fanatics and their creed. We’re coming to see that old Karl Marx had his finger on the heart of the matter when he pointed out that the market in the end will destroy everything we know, everything we thought was safe and solid. It is the most powerful solvent known to history. “Everything solid melts into air,” he said. “All that is holy is profaned.”

Market fundamentalism, this madness that’s infected the human race, is like a greedy ghost that haunts the boardrooms and council chambers and committee rooms from which the world is run these days.

In the world I know about, the world of books and publishing and bookselling, it used to be the case that a publisher would read a book and like it and publish it. They’d back their judgement on the quality of the book and their feeling about whether the author had more books in him or in her, and sometimes the book would sell lots of copies and sometimes it wouldn’t, but that didn’t much matter because they knew it took three or four books before an author really found his or her voice and got the attention of the public. And there were several successful publishers who knew that some of their authors would never sell a lot of copies, but they kept publishing them because they liked their work. It was a human occupation run by human beings. It was about books, and people were in publishing or bookselling because they believed that books were the expression of the human spirit, vessels of delight or of consolation or enlightenment.

Not any more, because the greedy ghost of market madness has got into the controlling heights of publishing. Publishers are run by money people now, not book people. The greedy ghost whispers into their ears: Why are you publishing that man? He doesn’t sell enough. Stop publishing him. Look at this list of last year’s books: over half of them weren’t bestsellers. This year you must only publish bestsellers. Why are you publishing this woman? She’ll only appeal to a small minority. Minorities are no good to us. We want to double the return we get on each book we publish.

So decisions are made for the wrong reasons. The human joy and pleasure goes out of it; books are published not because they’re good books but because they’re just like the books that are in the bestseller lists now, because the only measure is profit.

The greedy ghost is everywhere. That office block isn’t making enough money: tear it down and put up a block of flats. The flats aren’t making enough money: rip them apart and put up a hotel. The hotel isn’t making enough money: smash it to the ground and put up a multiplex cinema. The cinema isn’t making enough money: demolish it and put up a shopping mall.

The greedy ghost understands profit all right. But that’s all he understands. What he doesn’t understand is enterprises that don’t make a profit, because they’re not set up to do that but to do something different. He doesn’t understand libraries at all, for instance. That branch – how much money did it make last year? Why aren’t you charging higher fines? Why don’t you charge for library cards? Why don’t you charge for every catalogue search? Reserving books – you should charge a lot more for that. Those bookshelves over there – what’s on them? Philosophy? And how many people looked at them last week? Three? Empty those shelves and fill them up with celebrity memoirs.

That’s all the greedy ghost thinks libraries are for.

Now of course I’m not blaming Oxfordshire County Council for the entire collapse of social decency throughout the western world. Its powers are large, its authority is awe-inspiring, but not that awe-inspiring. The blame for our current situation goes further back and higher up even than the majestic office currently held by Mr Keith Mitchell. It even goes higher up and further back than the substantial, not to say monumental, figure of Eric Pickles. To find the true origin you’d have to go on a long journey back in time, and you might do worse than to make your first stop in Chicago, the home of the famous Chicago School of Economics, which argued for the unfettered freedom of the market and as little government as possible.
And you could go a little further back to the end of the nineteenth century and look at the ideas of “scientific management”, as it was called, the idea of Frederick Taylor that you could get more work out of an employee by splitting up his job into tiny parts and timing how long it took to do each one, and so on – the transformation of human craftsmanship into mechanical mass production.

And you could go on, further back in time, way back before recorded history. The ultimate source is probably the tendency in some of us, part of our psychological inheritance from our far-distant ancestors, the tendency to look for extreme solutions, absolute truths, abstract answers. All fanatics and fundamentalists share this tendency, which is so alien and unpleasing to the rest of us. The theory says they must do such-and-such, so they do it, never mind the human consequences, never mind the social cost, never mind the terrible damage to the fabric of everything decent and humane.

I’m afraid these fundamentalists of one sort or another will always be with us. We just have to keep them as far away as possible from the levers of power.

But I’ll finish by coming back to libraries. I want to say something  about my own relationship with libraries. Apparently Mr Mitchell thinks that we authors who defend libraries are only doing it because we have a vested interest – because we’re in it for the money. I thought the general custom of public discourse was to go through the substantial arguments before descending to personal abuse. If he’s doing it so early in the discussion, it’s a sure sign he hasn’t got much faith in the rest of his case.

No, Mr Mitchell, it isn’t for the money. I’m doing it for love.

I still remember the first library ticket I ever had. It must have been about 1957. My mother took me to the public library just off Battersea Park Road and enrolled me. I was thrilled. All those books, and I was allowed to borrow whichever I wanted! And I remember some of the first books I borrowed and fell in love with: the Moomin books by Tove Jansson; a French novel for children called A Hundred Million Francs; why did I like that? Why did I read it over and over again, and borrow it many times? I don’t know. But what a gift to give a child, this chance to discover that you can love a book and the characters in it, you can become their friend and share their adventures in your own imagination.

And the secrecy of it! The blessed privacy! No-one else can get in the way, no-one else can invade it, no-one else even knows what’s going on in that wonderful space that opens up between the reader and the book. That open democratic space full of thrills, full of excitement and fear, full of astonishment, where your own emotions and ideas are given back to you clarified, magnified, purified, valued. You’re a citizen of that great democratic space that opens up between you and the book. And the body that gave it to you is the public library. Can I possibly convey the magnitude of that gift?

Somewhere in Blackbird Leys, somewhere in Berinsfield, somewhere in Botley, somewhere in Benson or in Bampton, to name only the communities beginning with B whose libraries are going to be abolished, somewhere in each of them there is a child right now, there are children, just like me at that age in Battersea, children who only need to make that discovery to learn that they too are citizens of the republic of reading. Only the public library can give them that gift.

A little later, when we were living in north Wales, there was a mobile library that used to travel around the villages and came to us once a fortnight. I suppose I would have been about sixteen. One day I saw a novel whose cover intrigued me, so I took it out, knowing nothing of the author. It was called Balthazar, by Lawrence Durrell. The Alexandria Quartet – we’re back to Alexandria again – was very big at that time; highly praised, made much fuss of. It’s less highly regarded now, but I’m not in the habit of dissing what I once loved, and I fell for this book and the others, Justine, Mountolive, Clea, which I hastened to read after it. I adored these stories of wealthy cosmopolitan bohemian people having affairs and talking about life and art and things in that beautiful city. Another great gift from the public library.

Then I came to Oxford as an undergraduate, and all the riches of the Bodleian Library, one of the greatest libraries in the world, were open to me – theoretically. In practice I didn’t dare go in. I was intimidated by all that grandeur. I didn’t learn the ropes of the Bodleian till much later, when I was grown up. The library I used as a student was the old public library, round the back of this very building. If there’s anyone as old as I am here, you might remember it. One day I saw a book by someone I’d never heard of, Frances Yates, called Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. I read it enthralled and amazed.It changed my life, or at least the intellectual direction in which I was going. It certainly changed the novel, my first, that I was tinkering with instead of studying for my final exams. Again, a life-changing discover, only possible because there was a big room with a lot of books and I was allowed to range wherever I liked and borrow any of them.

One final memory, this time from just a couple of years ago: I was trying to find out where all the rivers and streams ran in Oxford, for a book I’m writing called The Book of Dust. I went to the Central Library and there, with the help of a clever member of staff, I managed to find some old maps that showed me exactly what I wanted to know, and I photocopied them, and now they are pinned to my wall where I can see exactly what I want to know.

The public library, again. Yes, I’m writing a book, Mr Mitchell, and yes, I hope it’ll make some money. But I’m not praising the public library service for money. I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.

I love it for that, and so do the citizens of Summertown, Headington, Littlemore, Old Marston, Blackbird Leys, Neithrop, Adderbury, Bampton, Benson, Berinsfield, Botley, Charlbury, Chinnor, Deddington, Grove, Kennington, North Leigh, Sonning Common, Stonesfield, Woodcote.

And Battersea.

And Alexandria.

Leave the libraries alone. You don’t know the value of what you’re looking after. It is too precious to destroy.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Stewart Lee on the Tory Assault on the Arts and Humanities

An interesting point here. Is it planned or just a by-product of Tory policy to re-create a world in their own image, a generation of grey-faced bankers and PR men?

Friday, 21 January 2011

New Issue of Saothar

Issue 35 of Saothar, the journal of the Irish Labour History Society, is available now via your local city / university library.


1. Conor McCabe 'The Irish Labour Party and the 1920 local elections'

An excellent article from Conor here. The article's argument is essentially that the Labour Party's 1920 election campaign was not that of a paper organisation but a well organised, well fought campaign fought on a clear programme across the whole of the island. The article goes into some depth on the relationship between Sinn Féin and Labour candidates, the nature of the party programme which contained a mix of revolutionary rhetoric and reformist demands, but was undoubtedly socialist, and some particularly interesting information on Labour candidates in Ulster. The results of the election saw Labour candidates secure 394 seats, ahead of every party except Sinn Féin who secured 550. Conor has written on the Labour Party in this period before over on Dublin Opinion. Of the Labour Party's performance, Conor writes 'it happened, and it needs to be acknowledged, before it can be analysed and understood.' This article should hopefully lead to a reconsideration of some of the dominant assumptions surrounding the Labour Party in the 1920s.

2. John Hogan 'Payback: The Dublin bricklayer's strike, 1920-21'

An interesting account of a lengthy bricklayer's strike that lasted from late 1920 until June of the following year. The article contains some interesting background information on the two unions involved, particulalrly the Ancient Guild of Incorporated Brick and Stonelayers Trade Union (AGIBSLTU), which claimed to be one of the oldest unions in Ireland and played an active role during the War of Independence. The article is particularly interesting in demonstrating how powerful and militant the Labour movement had become between the start of the century and the height of the Anglo-Irish war. In 1905 the AGIBSLTU had suffered a major defeat during a lockout with the employers, but by 1920 the union was capable of launching a militant, well organised strike that resulted in a resounding victory. According to Hogan the AGIBSLTU 'never displayed the slightest signs of weakness' and its rank and file showed unflinching determination throughout the lengthy struggle. There is also some interesting info here on the relationship between the Dublin trade union movement and the national struggle which was then at its height.

3. David Convery 'Irish participation in medical aid to Republican Spain, 1936-39'

A fascinating article by David Convery on Irish involvement in medical aid to Spain. A quick glance through the extensive endnotes makes one appreciate just how difficult Dave's task is, tracking down relatively unknown individuals often just mentioned offhand in memoirs and letters. There is some great biographical information here on a number of Irish individuals who partipated in the defence of the Spanish republic as nurses, ambulance drivers etc., whose work was just as vital to the war effort as those who fought on the front lines. You can follow Dave's research here or read his interesting article on Cork volunteers in the Spanish Civil War here. A more polished version of that article is also available in the journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society.

4. Liam Cullinane 'A happy blend?' Irish republicanism, political violence and social agitation, 1962-69'

My first published scholarly article. For that reason I can't really comment on its quality. It basically argues against the idea that the IRA by 1969 was moribund or had given up on the idea of the armed struggle, contains more information on social agitation carried out by the republican movement in this period and places the tactics of the IRA within an international context. It also argues against Goulding's leadership as being largely a failure and demonstrates how the IRA grew under his leadership (albeit slowly) and greatly increased its public profile.

Essay: Michael Pierse 'The Shadow of Seán: O'Casey, commitment and writing Dublin's working class'

A great Gramscian analysis of Seán O'Casey and other Dublin working-class writers. Pierse basically argues that O'Casey and other writers like Roddy Doyle and Brendan Behan were responding to an Irish Hegemonic cultural discourse focused on a mythical classless rural Ireland that excluded and marginalised the working-class. As such their writing can be described as counter-hegomonic in terms of consciously writing as part of an urban counter-culture. The essay also looks at O'Casey in relation to gender, class, institutional criticism and religion and, unlike other commmentary on O'Casey, doesn't just focus on the Dublin trilogy. This essay for me was the highlight of the issue and I will be keeping a close eye out for a cheap copy of Pierse's book which is currently selling for 50 pounds sterling on Amazon.

There are also obituaries of John B. Smethurst, Justin Keating and Pat Murphy, a biographical note on James Pringle and reviews of:

Francis Devine, Fintan Lane and Niamh Purséil (eds) Essays in Irish Labour History: A Feitschrift for Elizabeth and John W. Boyle
Francis Devine Organising the Union: A Centenary of SIPTU, 1909-2009
John Cunningham, Unlikely Radicals: Irish Post-Primary Teachers and the ASTI, 1909-2009
Fergus Campbell, The Irish Establishment, 1879-1914
Conor Reidy, Ireland's Moral Hospital: The Irish Borstal System 1906-1956
Fintan Lane and Andrew G. Newby (eds) Michael Davitt: New Perspectives
Martin Maguire, Scientific Service: A History of the Union of Professional and Technical Civil Servants, 1920-1990
Fintan Lane (ed.), Politics, Society and the Middle-Class in Modern Ireland
Fearghal McGarry, The Rising - Ireland: Easter 1916

Saothar:  Back Issues
It's also good to see that the ILHS has a new website under construction, though the old one was not without it's late 90s charm. It goes without saying that if you have an interest in social history then you should join the ILHS by filling out an application.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

ULA Launch Limerick

United Left Alliance Launch in Limerick
February 1st, Absolute Hotel, 8pm
Speakers: Cian Prendeville  (SP Candidate for Limerick),
Seamus Healey (WUAG) and Joe Higgins MEP (SP)

So far the Cork meeting has seen over 200 attend and
140 sign up for the election campaign, so lets keep up the good work.

The Kents of Castlelyons

It is interesting to think, given how central County Cork would be to the war of independence, the limited role it played in the 1916 rising. Outside of Dublin, there was almost no major fighting. The exceptions to this were in North Dublin where 60 volunteers under the leadership of Thomas Ashe seized a number of key buildings and attacked an RIC barracks, with fatalities ensuing on both sides. There was an attempted attack on the RIC barracks in Enniscorthy which failed and Liam Mellows led a number of attacks on RIC barracks across Galway which eventually fizzled out due to demoralisation.  In Cork interestingly, 1200 volunteers assembled in the city but dispersed due to the confusion surrounding MacNeill's countermanding order. It is interesting to consider what would have happened had the Cork units seized buildings. The rising would still almost certainly have failed but 1200 rebels in the second city could have made the British clampdown a far more difficult task.

The only action in Cork then occured near the village of Castlelyons when police attempted to arrest the prominent volunteers Thomas, David, Richard and William Kent. A gun battle ensued that lasted for 3-4 hours. Despite the Kents only having 1 rifle and 3 shotguns the RIC called on the British army to aid them. The battle ended with Richard dead and the other three brothers captured. Thomas was later sentenced to death. Kent station station in Cork is named after him.

Anyway, the reason I'm bringing this up is that I've stumbled upon an interesting short documentary made by RTE in 1966 about the Castlelyons battle. It says just as much about the battle as it does about how the rising was remembered at that time. Anyway, here is the link, via People's Republic of Cork. It requires realplayer which only takes a minute to download and install. Hopefully I'll be able to return to this incident as it makes quite an interesting case study in local popular memory.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Local Launches of the United Left Alliance

List so far:

Cork – January 12th
7:30pm in the Metropole Hotel
Speakers: Cllr Mick Barry, Anne Foley, Joe Higgins MEP, Cllr Seamus Healy, Cllr Richard Boyd Barrett

Carlow – January 20th
7pm in the Seven Oaks Hotel
Speakers: Joe Higgins MEP, Conor MacLiam & Cllr Richard Boyd Barret to be confirmed

Kilkenny – January 20th
8:45pm in Kytelers Inn
Speakers: Joe Higgins MEP, Conor MacLiam & Cllr Seamus Healy

Wexford – January 21st
8pm in the Wexford Arts Centre
Speakers: Seamus O’Brien, Cllr Richard Boyd Barrett & Joe Higgins MEP

Dublin West – January 24th
Details TBC
Speakers: Joe Higgins MEP & Cllr Richard Boyd Barrett

Dublin North Central – TBC (January 26th or 27th)
Details TBC

Dublin North – January 27th
Details TBC
Speakers: Cllr Clare Daly, Joe Higgins MEP, Cllr Richard Boyd Barrett & Seamus Healy (TBC)

Limerick – February 1st
8pm in the Absolute Hotel
Speakers: Cian Prendiville, Joe Higgins MEP, Cllr Seamus Healy

Dun Laoghaire – February 2nd
Details TBC
Speakers: Cllr. Richard Boyd Barrett, Joe Higgins MEP

Dublin North East – February 3rd
Details TBC

Dublin South Central – February8th
Details TBC
Speakers: Cllr Joan Collins, Joe Higgins MEP

Dublin Mid West – February 9th
Details TBC

Dublin South West – February 10th
Details TBC

Dublin South East – February 10th
Details TBC

Keep checking the ULA website for updates.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Comedian or Nutter? Maoists and Mass Hysteria

I've been doing a bit of digging on the public reaction to the Maoist grouping that eventually became the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist) in the early 70s. What I've found so far has been really quite amazing. For a grouping of a 100 or so overly exuberant student radicals, they attracted an unbelievably hysterical public reaction that I can't help but compare to the mood that led to the attacks on Connolly House in the 1930s or to the initial public support for Franco in the Free State. Indeed both their bookshops in Munster (one in Cork, one in Limerick) were attacked by mobs of up to a thousand people, with the tacit support of the reactionary Limerick Labour T.D Stephen Coughlan. To get a taste of just how overblown the reactions to this little Maoist grouping were, look at these examples:

'The Maoists have their plan for destroying our nation. For eliminating the Catholic church...The Communists admit that the church is a very potent power. That is why they are spending huge sums of money on the training of international agitators in the art of attacking the Church in Catholic nations. They have unlimited resources at their disposal for this purpose. Right here in Ireland they probably have some thousands of agitators. The church is under greater attack than you can imagine.'
- Father Luke Delaney, The Kerryman March 14th 1970.

'Children are very impressionable and single-minded. It is all too easy to play on their little sympathies and idealisms, precisely the methods used by our "friends" the Maoists...The leaders of 1916 gave their lives for Irish Freedom. With our lives we must preserve that freedom from all invaders, and under whatever guise they may come.'
- Letter to the Irish Independent March 26th 1970

'Some Kilkenny parents have recently complained that their children have been given copies of Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book and other communist publications such as the 'Red Patriot'. The parents concerned believe that local left-wing organisers are responsible. They also suspect that an "underground" Maoist cell is developing in Kilkenny City. One mother complained that her young daughter was given a red book by a "bearded" young man and was told that "Communism was a better religion than Catholicism". The young girl concerned was only eleven years old.
Another anxious Kilkenny mother remarked "My two young lads, aged ten and twelve, both had the Red Books. I put them in the dustbin and have forbidden to children ever to bring communist literature into the house again."
The time to stop the distribution of all communist propaganda in Kilkenny is NOW! If something is not done soon by the authorities to put a stop to the extremist activities of red agitators in Kilkenny, then the people of our fair city may find it necessary to administer justice themselves to eliminate the cause of their fears.'
- Munster Express Jan 29th 1971.

I should emphasise that those examples above present a very one-sided story. The attacks on the Limerick and Cork bookshops provoked a reaction from moderate christian groups, journalists and left-wingers in the Labour Party that was just as apalled by those attacks as Luke Delaney et al were by the existence of the Maoists. However, they do serve to show the main concerns of the populist outrage against the Maoists: the perception of the Maoists as anti-clerical, representatives of an 'alien' philosophy and the fear (due to the youth of the IRY, most of whom were students) of the young being targeted. It's in this context that I came across a very interesting letter....

From the Irish Times of January 26th 1970:

'Sir - How blind can a newspaper be? Your page one photograph of January 22nd shows the extent to which Communist infiltration of our country has progressed. Young Red Guards, their leader's name proudly emblazoned on their arms, openly parading the streets of Carlow!'

See below for the offending photograph:

And the article accompanying it:

I came across that letter yesterday and only looked up the photograph an hour ago. The only explanation is that is either another example of the incredible paranoia surrounding the Internationalists / Irish Revolutionary Youth, or the work of a comic genius. Thoughts?

P.S: It seems that the attacks on the Limerick bookshop were to some extent orchestrated by a very sinister group called the 'National Movement'. It would be helpful if anyone had any more info on them.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Zombies and Patriarchy

The Walking Dead is probably one of the most ambitous television dramas ever produced. It has movie production values and acting talent that wouldn't be out of place on the big screen. The zombies look fantastic and are unique and faithful to the style of the comic books. I must confess that I love the zombie apocalypse genre, particularly Romero and the 28 Days Later series so I was understandably excited about 'The Walking Dead' and, by and large, it hasn't disappointed.

One of the concerns I had when I first heard about a zombie serial was whether the threat and tension created by hordes of flesh eating corpses would dissipate when they were a constant presence over multiple hour long episodes. Even on the big screen there are very few films where the zombies / infected etc. remain as threatening an hour and a half in. Thankfully, the programme succeeds in creating and maintaining tension. The first half of the first episode is a great example of this. Borrowing from 28 Days Later, our hero wakes up in a hospital bed in a completely deserted building. There are signs of a struggle. A partially chewed up corpse lies in the ward. A padlocked door bears the warning 'Dead Inside' as clawing hands try to push it open in a wonderfully cinematic moment. The tension peaks when the main character must negotiate a darkened stairwell using only matches. Wthout giving anything away, the rest of the series manages to create genuinely tense scenarios like this. Whether it will continue to do this succcessfully in the next series will probably determine whether the show is a laster or enter into a spiralling decline like Lost did when the Others ceased to be a threat in the second series.

Now for the weaknesses. The first is the characters, who, with the exception of Rick and Shane, just aren't particularly interesting. The series so far has opted for doing one episode focused on action followed by one focused on character development and so on. Without fail, it is the latter that have really let the show down. The show's relatively large cast are a mix of archetypes we've seen before alongside a number of utterly banal and forgettable people whose names I can't even be arsed to remember. It isn't a great sign of the writing when you occasionally find yourself looking at your watch hoping that the uninteresting dialogue is going to be cut short by a bunch of ravenous zombies. This could prove to be a fatal weakness. Without an interesting cast of characters, it is difficult to see how TWD will be able to remain strong after dozens of episodes, even if the tension-racheting remains strong.

The second weakness of the show is it's attitude to women. You would think that in a post-apocalyptic zombie holocaust scenario that the division of labour in the family would be somewhat cut across. Er, no. The group of survivors we follow seem deeply committed to family values. The men carry the guns and protect the group while the women watch the children, cook the food and wash the clothes. The whole crux of the show seems to focus on the family, in its most overtly traditional sense. It's interesting to compare this to 28 Days Later where the central theme is the creation of an alternative family after the death of the old one, though it's important to remember that the female characters in that were active, armed and unwilling to play any kind of passive role. Even the 12 year old kills the military veteran villain!

Anyway, maybe I'm being a bit harsh, but let's hope the women get the chance to blow off the heads of a few zombies in Season 2.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

United Left Alliance Launch Meeting in Cork

The Left Alternative to Cuts, Unemployment and the IMF
Wednesday, January 12th
7.30pm, Metropole Hotel.
Speakers: Joe Higgins MEP (SP)
Cllr Richard Boyd Barrett (People Before Profit)
Cllr Seamus Healy (Workers and Unemployed Action Group Tipperary)
Cllr Mick Barry (SP candidate Cork Nth Central)
Anne Foley (People Before Profit candidate Cork Nth West)