Pick of the Quarter

Issue: 181

Joseph Choonara and Richard Donnelly

Dave Lyddon, who published a history of resistance to anti-strike laws in our autumn 2023 issue, has produced another article, developing arguments around the same themes for the Workers of the World journal (volume 1, number 11). Entitled, “Three Hundred Years of British Strikes: Contours, Legal Frameworks and Tactics”, you can read it online at https://workersoftheworld.net/volume-1-number-11/chapter-2

The September-October issue of New Left Review (II/143), the latest to reach us, has an article by the historian Nic Johnson, who looks at long-term ­patterns of interest rates, stretching back as far as the 14th century. Although the analysis is more indebted to left-wing variants of Keynesian than Marxist political economy, Johnson raises interesting questions about the shift in rates and its implications.

The latest edition of Terrorism and Political Violence (volume 35, issue 8) features a fascinating article by political scientist Amanda Hall, entitled “Vanity of the Bonfires? Eleventh Night Bonfires and Loyalist Influence After Negotiated Settlement in Northern Ireland”.

Hall tracks the development of the loyalist tradition of lighting bonfires on 11 July to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne, when the Protestant William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James II close to the town of Drogheda in 1690. Today, the bonfires, which can tower up to 210 feet in height, are constructed from wooden pallets and adorned with sectarian symbols such as Irish tricolours with the abbreviations KAI (“kill all Irish”) and KAT (“kill all taigs”, a racist slur used to describe Catholics).

As the article shows, although such bonfires did take place before the end of the so-called Troubles, they were usually smaller and less explicitly sectarian than today. Their growth is one expression of loyalism’s attempt to preserve its relevance in the changed political situation in Northern Ireland, where most of the material privileges associated with being a Protestant (in what was created to be a “Protestant state for a Protestant people”) have been eroded by the impact of neoliberalism.

Hall argues that the focus on the tradition of bonfires has allowed loyalist paramilitary groups retain territorial control over areas and to reiterate the sectarian boundaries between Catholic and Protestant communities. Loyalist narratives of Protestants being “left behind” by the peace process feed into attacks, both political and physical, on those who criticise the public safety risks associated with the bonfires, giving loyalist paramilitary gangs the ­opportunity to instigate violence.

As Hall points out, this is a result of how the peace process has “essentialised identities”, encouraging an understanding of the conflict simply as one between two “tribes”—a pair of ethnic groups that simply cannot get along. This obscures the political dimensions of the conflict, including the extent to which Protestant workers could be won over to unification with the South of Ireland if this was part of a more general mobilisation that advanced the interests of the working class on the entire island.

In a previous issue of Terrorism and Political Violence (volume 35, issue 7), published earlier in this quarter, German researcher Tanjev Schultz delves into some new evidence that shows important transatlantic connections between the extreme right in the United States and Germany that helped to foster one of the longest fascist terror campaigns in modern European history.

Between 1999 and 2011, the so-called National Socialist Underground (NSU; Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund) murdered nine (mostly Turkish) migrants and one police officer as well as planting bombs in the cities of Nuremberg and Cologne. The NSU was based primarily on a tiny of cell of three terrorists—Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt and Beate Zschäpe—who managed to avoid detection for over a decade because of the racism and procedural failures of the German police and security agencies. Police and the media assumed that the victims of the terror gang had simply been embroiled in feuds between Turkish gangsters, with newspapers branding the string of killings the “doner kebab murders”.

Official narratives about the NSU have tended to stress the supposed isolation of its three main members, underplaying the role of a wider milieu of neo-Nazi activists in providing ideological and logistic support (not least because many members of this broader network included informants on police payrolls). Schultz uncovers new information from court records that demonstrates that these networks of support went beyond the German fascist scene, also implicating neo-Nazis in the US.

JC & RD.