Table-Talk

The Table-Talk of Desmond Greaves: 1960 – 1988

Insight, Ideas, Politics

Edited by Anthony Coughlan

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CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

LIFE AND LIVING 

Meaning and existence

Human nature and intelligence

Human psychology

How to live

Youth

Ageing and the passage of time

Death and dying

Women and sex 

Health and disease

Mental health

Art and literature

Music

Science and philosophy

POLITICS AND SOCIETY

History

Principles of politics

Practical politics;

Ireland and Irish history 

Partition

Irish Republicanism

Eamon De Valera

Irish Labour Party

Justin Keating and Roy Johnston

England/Britain

The British Labour Movement

America

Germany

Nations, nationalism, internationalism

Empire and imperialism

Democracy

Capitalism

Ecology and economic growth

European supranational integration

Social classes

Socialism, communism

Russia, the USSR

Revolution

Marx and Marxism

Academics and intellectuals

Education

Religion, Catholicism

Migration

REMINISCENCE OF YOUTH AND AGE

COMMUNIST PARTY

CONNOLLY ASSOCIATION

NORTHERN IRELAND CIVIL RIGHTS AND THE IRA “TROUBLES”

WRITING THE LIVES OF JAMES CONNOLLY, LIAM MELLOWS AND SEAN O’CASEY

WRITING THE HISTORY OF THE ITGWU

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INTRODUCTION

Charles Desmond Greaves (1913-88), English-born historian of the Irish national and labour movements and life-long political activist, was one of the brightest minds of his time. His Table Talk contains many original insights into human life and affairs and into Irish, British and international politics in the late twentieth century, mediated through the character and voice of an extraordinary man. Its wisdom, particularly in its two opening sections on “Life and Living” and “Politics and Society” bears comparison with that of Johnson, Coleridge or Goethe. Like theirs it offers a coherent, if unusual, view of the world. 

Historian, scientist, poet, political organiser, newspaper editor, orator and wit, Desmond Greaves’s genius confidently spanned C.P. Snow’s “two cultures”, science and the humanities. In character he was one of those life-enhancing people whose company heightened one’s sense of the potential of existence. Although without obvious vanity and a caustic subverter of cant and humbug, he did not pretend to false modesty: “I don’t suppose I have a really profound knowledge of any subject,” he said once, “except perhaps Irish history and affairs; but I think I have a wider knowledge of more things than anyone I have met.”  It does not seem an exaggerated claim, to judge by the range of topics covered here.  He was fond of quoting the favourite mottoes of Marx and Engels which they once gave in a Victorian game of questions for the Marx children.  For Marx it was, “Doubt everything”; for Engels, “Take it easy.” Greaves was well able to take it easy, especially when relaxing over a drink with friends.  His conversation on such occasions provided most of this Table Talk, which was jotted down after the event by his friend and political colleague Anthony Coughlan  who sought in so doing to recapture as closely as possible the words and tone of voice of the man himself. A few items are based on the recollections of others and some remarks by Greaves in his Journal which he repeated in private conversation.

Desmond Greaves was born in Birkenhead in 1913, across the Mersey from Liverpool when that city was still not far from its nineteenth century zenith as the greatest port in the world. He was of middle-class background and Methodist Protestant by religious tradition. His father was a Post Office official. The family was musical. His father conducted the Liverpool Post Office Orchestra and his mother had a degree in music. Greaves used say that he knew more about music than any other subject. He began writing verse in his teens and continued doing so throughout his life. He attended Liverpool University from 1932 to 1936, graduating in botany and chemistry, and went to work in Britain’s chemical industry. During World War 2 he worked for a time in Woolwich Arsenal. After the war he became chief research chemist with the coal company Powell Duffryn and had scientific patents to his name. He never married, for reasons given in the Table Talk. 

In the politically dramatic decade of the 1930s, with fascism advancing on the continent, the best of Britain’s young middle class intelligentsia moved to the Left. While at university Greaves joined the Communist Party of Great Britain, which he remained a member of throughout his life, although often a highly critical one, as remarks here show. He was always more interested in issues of nationality and imperialism than in socialism. Liverpool is near the Welsh border and across the Irish Sea from Dublin. Greaves had Irish and Welsh relations and used spend his childhood holidays in Northern Ireland. From an early age he identified emotionally with Ireland and as an adult he decided to devote himself, as he put it, to “the cause of the emancipation of the Celtic peoples”. He was influenced by the classic view of Marx and Engels that complete British disengagement from Ireland was in the interest not only of the Irish people but of the peoples of Britain.  The CPGB was the only party in Britain that held this view. Greaves early on reached the conclusion that the principle of internationalism requires the free cooperation of sovereign independent Nation States. States must be sovereign and independent and have the freedom to chose before their people can opt for any particular economic system. National independence comes before socialism in other words. He believed that classical leftwing thought had tended to neglect the factors making for stable State boundaries. For this reason Greaves opposed British and Irish membership of the EEC from the time that was first mooted in 1961. Political events since his death in 1988, with the dissolution of the multinational federations of the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechslovakia, the emergence of many new States internationally, the proliferation of national movements around the world and the tensions arising from European supranational integration, culminating in the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union in 2019, have amply confirmed Greaves’s view of the  importance  of  the  national  question for our times. 

Greaves left the chemical industry in 1951 to work full-time as editor of the Irish Democrat, London, the monthly journal of the Connolly Association.  Founded in 1938 and still in existence, the Connolly Association sought to win support in Britain, and particularly in British Labour and Liberal circles, for a united independent Ireland. Its objective was to organise the substantial Irish immigrant community in Britain in defence of their interests as residents and workers in that country and to win allies there for the Irish cause. In the 1950s, as the guiding political brain of the Association, Greaves advanced the view that the way to a peaceful solution of the Irish problem was to discredit Ulster Unionist majoritarianism in Britain through exposing there the discriminatory practices that then prevailed under the devolved administration in Stormont, Belfast – in the process winning support in Britain for the cause of Irish reunification. There followed a fifteen-year-long campaign of education and propaganda, directed mainly at the British Labour Party and Trade Unions, which did much to ensure that when, in 1968, a civil rights agitation got going in Northern Ireland itself, British public opinion was substantially behind the Irish Nationalist rather than the Unionist side. For his work in pioneering the idea of a civil rights campaign as the way to undermine Ulster Unionist majoritarianism, there is a good case for regarding Desmond Greaves as the intellectual progenitor of the 1960s Northern Ireland civil rights movement which shattered Unionist hegemony in that area. He also had considerable personal influence on some of those involved in that movement. 

Thirty years later, following the long interval of the military campaign of the Provisional IRA, Greaves’s judgement has been vindicated by the recognition by virtually all elements of Irish nationalism that a political approach along these lines, entailing a devolved legislature in Belfast and guarantees of equality of treatment and parity of esteem for both Northern Catholic and Protestant communities, is the only practical basis for obtaining majority consent in Northern Ireland for eventual Irish reunification, however long that may take. The diminution of religious-political sectarianism in that area is obviously a prerequisite for the recognition by Unionists of the political implications of the common Irishness that they share with their Nationalist and Catholic fellow countrymen and women. The Bill of Rights concept which Greaves advocated in 1968-71 prefigured the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The comments in the Table Talk on Northern Ireland from the 1960s to the 1980s are illuminating as regards the politics of that time and interesting in the light of the subsequent “peace process” which led to the ending of the “armed struggle” of the Provisional IRA in 1997. 

In the 1970s and 1980s Greaves and the Connolly Associated held that a British Government that was progressive in character should base its policy on Ireland on a “Declaration of Intent” to work towards Irish reunification in cooperation with the Irish Government. This was an alternative to the call at the time by the far-Left for the immediate withdrawal of British troops. It would also have made the IRA’s “armed struggle” redundant if the British Government had adopted such a policy. Since then Brexit in 2019 has altered fundamentally the context of such a putative Declaration.  Brexit is a victory for democracy in that it restores to the citizens of the UK their right to make their own laws and decide their own State policies rather than have these made for them by Brussels as citizens of a supranational EU Federation. In so far as Unionists in Northern Ireland supported Brexit, as the majority of them did, they supported a progressive cause. For Irish democrats and republicans, therefore, Brexit is a challenge to emulate British democrats by inducing the Irish Government to withdraw also from the EU, thereby restoring the lost sovereignty and independence of the Irish State. Post-Brexit it can no longer be a progressive call for the British Government to put the people of the Six Counties under the rule of a European Union where they would have to obey EU laws instead of British laws and adopt the euro as their currency instead of the pound sterling. That would be to put them under an even more reactionary imperialism, where they would have less democratic say in how they are governed than they have at present. The classical Republican objective of an Ireland united in independence requires the Twenty-Six Counties to regain its sovereignty by leaving the EU. The progressive call post-Brexit therefore is for Britain to be willing to assist Ireland in that goal and for Irish Republicans and Unionists to work together in achieving it. For Irish Nationalists to make a gesture to the “Britishness” of Unionists by campaigning for “Irexit” to follow Brexit would be simultaneously to strengthen their own “Irishness” and advance the political coming-together of Nationalists and Unionists that is the necessary prerequisite of any peaceful ending of Partition. Eamon De Valera always held that a united Ireland would never be a security threat to Britain. To have Ireland united inside a Federal-style European Union under Franco-German hegemony that is intent on having its own army is no more in Britain’s security interest than it is in Ireland’s. There can be little doubt that these are the courses in the  common interest of the Irish and British peoples which Desmond Greaves would be advocating today if he were living.

Greaves is best known for his work as an historian. His Life and Times of James Connolly, the Labour leader who was executed for his participation in the 1916 Rising, is widely regarded as the definitive work on its subject. In writing it Greaves had the advantage of meeting many people who knew Connolly personally. This enabled him to discover significant previously unknown facts about him, such as his place of birth and his youthful service in the British army. His Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution, a biography of the Irish Republican leader, deals with the complex political and social dynamics of the revolutionary period 1916-22 and is generally recognised as Greaves’s most important historical work. His next book, Sean O’Casey, Politics and Art, is a study of the interaction of politics and play-writing in the art of the dramatist through whose eyes many people on the political Left in Britain and on the continent traditionally viewed Ireland. Greaves brought to this work a lifetime’s interest in aesthetics.  Following it he was commissioned by Ireland’s largest trade union, the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, now SIPTU, to write its history,the first volume of which appeared in 1982. He also wrote a short biography of Wolfe Tone, the eighteenth century founder of Irish Republicanism, and a book,The Irish Crisis, which examined the background to the 1960s Northern civil rights movement and the evolution of British policy on Ireland in the modern period. This was translated into Italian, German, Russian and Hungarian. Greaves also wrote three volumes of verse, several pamphlets and a huge amount of journalism over his forty years’ editorship of the monthly Irish Democrat. His two-million-word Journal, which goes from the 1930s to the 1980s, with some gap years in the early period, is now on the internet at www.desmondgreavesarchive.com and is a valuable source of information on radical politics in Ireland and Britain over that time, as well as being a remarkable human document. 

The topics covered by this Table Talk were originally intermingled, as is normal in conversation or reminiscence, in this case spread over nearly thirty years. This collection groups cognate topics together, even if adjacent remarks were sometimes separated by years, the better to help readers form an impression of Greaves’s views on the topics mentioned. The dates of particular remarks are given where they may be relevant to the subject or significant in terms of Greaves’s personal biography.  There are naturally inconsistencies of view here and there. Sometimes the views expressed are different from what Greaves himself might have said or written publicly on the issue in question. That is in the nature of the genre. 

The opening two sections, on Life and Living and Politics and Society, will be the most interesting parts of this Table Talk for many.  These deal with with matters that are of universal or widespread concern and will give readers new insights into a wide range of topics.  They express a rounded view of life, a whole philosophy of existence. Coming from a person who was outstandingly intelligent, rational and humane, the comments here embody the wisdom of Epicurus and Lucretius: namely, that one should enjoy life as much as one can as long as one has it. “This precludes hedonism of course, and includes the social”, as Greaves remarked. And on another occasion: “We should seek to make a garden amid the chaos of the universe.”

There follow some biographical reminiscence of Greaves’s personal background and career that may interest readers who would like to know more about the man.  Then come his comments on the two British political organisations that he spent his adult life in, the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Connolly Association. Students of the modern British Labour movement will find of special interest his reaction to the internal disputes in the former body from the 1970s onward, leading up to the CPGB’s dissolution in 1991, three years after Greaves’s death. Then come Greaves’s responses to the 1960s Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement and the military campaign of the Provisional IRA, followed by comments relating to his biographies of James Connolly, Liam Mellows and Sean O’Casey and his history of the early years of the ITGWU. 

Greaves was a theorist of nationality and the national question and a lifelong critic of EU integration on democratic and internationalist grounds. His coments on European matters, including the first UK referendum on EEC membership in 1975, seem especially insightful in the light of the UK’s Brexit referendum of 2016, nearly thirty years after his death

Table Talk is not a common genre.  Few peoples’ conversation is worth recording, and even when it is vastly fewer have listeners who are likely to go to the trouble of noting down such expressions of wisdom or wit as may strike them as worth passing on to others.  Readers will judge for themselves whether Greaves was lucky in his auditors. In one of his comments here referring to Ireland he expressed the ambition of “being numbered among the people who have added to the prestige of this little island, which we cannot escape from and which I think has harboured more genius than any comparable area of earth.” This work is offered to the public on the assumption that here is Table Talk of high quality, interesting both in itself and for what it tells us about a remarkable man, someone worthy of expressing such an ambition, and how he interacted with his times.   

  Anthony Coughlan 

Trinity College Dublin, 2022

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LIFE AND LIVING

MEANING AND EXISTENCE

The devil’s anagram: “What is truth?” asked Pilate as he went to wash his hands. “It is the man before you.” The man before you is the truth, in other words. But it can also mean, man is the measure of all truth;  it means that truth is essentially concrete, not abstract.

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The young act the fool. They are up to every high-jinks and think that they know everything, when they have no idea what it is all about.  And do you know what the laugh is?  It really is about nothing, absolutely nothing at all.

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You ask what life is?  Life is one damn thing on top of another, and history is the same.

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There is no justice in heaven; and earth, where there is a little, is subsidiary to it.

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We should try to make a garden amid the chaos of the universe.

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The important thing is that you should enjoy life, for you will be dead long enough. And you know what it is like to be dead?  You have experienced it already, in the eternity that existed before you were born. You say that is a strange thought, but it is not strange at all. It is absolutely natural and there is no other logical or possible way.

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It is nonsense to claim that all life has value. That is not even true of human life.  Had Hitler’s life value? There are times when the best course is to wipe out human life.

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I had the spiritual experience in my teens of seeing through those miserable Stoics – especially that moralising hypocrite the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose doctrine was that people should submit, with himself on top of the ant-heap of course – and discovering Epicurus, and after him Lucretius who put Epicurus into verse.  Ever since I have regarded myself as a follower of Lucretius. One should live to enjoy life; and that is not a formula of selfishness of course, but includes the social. 

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Epicureanism is the basis of all sound philosophy.  For after all what does it say: that the majority of people should enjoy their lives? What could be more obvious than the good sense of that?  Contrast the Stoics and all supposed asceticism. Their views are imperialist and dictatorial. Enjoy life while you can and while you have it and do not confuse yourself by searching for meanings that are not there. It is a travesty of course to think that Epicureanism is anti-social or leads to hedonism or means that you should spend all your time doing nothing.  To enjoy life properly one needs to use all one’s energy and creative powers, although that does not mean that you should not waste plenty of time.  If you enjoy wasting time, you should do that.  Do you know how many days there are in an average life?: around 30,000; and in each day there are about 30,000 distinct small units of time,  the smallest units in which you can experience anything.  So you have 1,000 million units of time to live and you should be sure that a good proportion of them will be wasted. For in relation to what is anything “wasted”?  Epicureanism can include everything, all proper modes of conduct in every situation. That in fact is its intellectual strength as a philosophy of life. Of course Lucretius had to be careful in his day. He had to pretend to ascribe his views to Memmius, in case they got at him. 

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Life has no meaning in itself and for itself. It has no purpose apart from being itself.  People cause themselves such mental stress and trouble by thinking that life must be logical.  Life and logic have nothing whatever to do with one another.  The only purpose of life is living.  Can one give any logical reason for being alive at all?  Of course not. Logic applies to means, not ends.  One can apply logic to all the activities that one undertakes in life – indeed it is highly desirable that you should do so – but not to life itself.  My activities are logical to me and yours are to you, and it is the same with every man.  That is a basis of equality between us. But this equality refers to means. One should not look for logic in life itself, which is an entirely different category. 

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Why should one live? People torture themselves with this question and puzzle endlessly over it. They do not realise that life does not require a meaning.  It is sufficient to itself and does not have to be rational. Why should we work for the next generation and try to make the world a better place when we will not be there to enjoy it?  There is no reason and there can be no reason. It is part of the irrational in life.  Why do we live each day? So that we may go on living the next day. Human beings may have purposes, or individuals, or groups. But the idea that the universe has a purpose is quite illogical, unless one takes refuge in a religious view. How explain existence? Existence is what one must assume in order to explain anything. It antedates explanation and cannot itself be explained.  You can bring in God as an explanation, but what explains God? The bias of the theologians is towards non-being.  

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The meaning of the universe? Being on a small planet, revolving around one star, on the edge of a universe consisting of millions and untold millions of galaxies and stars, which is blowing out like a balloon for countless millions of years and is then supposed to collapse back for just as long a time, after which the whole process presumably recommences.  And this in-and-out movement may be just one cycle of one universe in a universe of universes, for all we know. Now if you were asked to imagine as crazy a picture as you possibly could, could you imagine anything madder than that? It defies the imagination, which is what I meant when I told that lady with whom I quarrelled over philosophy, that the universe was irrational[Professor Helena Sheehan, Irish philosophy academic, Dublin City University; author of “Navigating the Zeitgeist”,“Marxism and the Philosophy of Science” and other works. Greaves had an argument with her in 1976 in which he contended that meaning was solely a category of human thought and that it was irrational to speak of a meaning to the universe].  That is a bottle and my mind can grasp it. No doubt there is a relation between it and me, as I look at it.  But what relation is there between my mind and the universe? It is like expecting a fly on the lip of the bottle to master the intricacies of modern society.  It is meaningless to propose that the universe should have a meaning. That is mere anthropomorphism and self-delusion. What does make sense is that man should concentrate on making his particular bit of the universe as comfortable and reasonable as possible while he is in it, which of course will not be for ever, but will be long enough as makes no matter, assuming that he does not blow himself to pieces.  This is the doctrine of Epicurus of course, and it is the only teaching that makes sense. Engels, who had a hard scientific mind, was under no illusion about mankind’s strictly temporary tenure of this planet. How old is mankind?  Some 30 million years perhaps. Already human fertility may be slowing down and the species biologically going into decline.  He saw that there is a falling curve as well as a rising one; but give another ten or twenty million years and the human race must inevitably be extinct. Some people who are not scientists may take a more optimistic view and say that conscious life will extend throughout the universe.  That may be so, but it will not be us.

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Lots of people think the universe is rational and spend their lives trying to find meaning in it. The universe does not require a reason, any more than life itself does. It is incommensurable to our thoughts, although we do not like to admit it. People look for reasons, but there are no reasons. Ours is the reasonable part of the universe. We can understand it.  But there is no reason whatever for thinking that our minds should be geared to understanding the totality. Rationality is only a part, and that the smaller part. The higher mathematics are founded on the irrational: a2+b2=0,  a2=-b2,  a=-b and so on.  The square root of -1 is essential to mathematics. People cannot understand that the irrational requires the rational beside it, just as the square root of -1 never stands on its own in mathematics, but is always linked to something else.  

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Content is the rational element, form the irrational. The interweaving of the rational and irrational is in everything.  I have found it so in every sphere of knowledge.  I have thought of doing a study that would show the analogies that exist between different spheres of knowledge. It would be a philosophical work, a study in dialectics. It is because the universe is irrational that art is superior to science in a sense, in that it seeks to encompass the irrational.

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We are told that the universe is expanding, as if it originated in some gigantic bang. But suppose there are other universes beyond that again?  Who can tell what is it all about? There is only one answer, however you take it: God knows!

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The universe has a limit, but that does not mean there is an end to it. The universe exists in a fourth dimension and it is possible that there are other dimensions still. It is quite clear to mathematicians.  I have always thought that it was easier to imagine a universe without limit than one where a limit was reached; for what is beyond that limit? I have often wondered can the general theory of relativity be right, that nothing can travel faster than light. I believe that there are six infinities: in space outward and inward, infinite expansion and infinite sub-division; in time backward and forward; and then an indefinite gradation of laws governing the organisation of matter at differing degrees of complexity, a system of evolution of scientific laws such that each event is unique.  I have got round to thinking that Einstein may be right as I get older. Perhaps it is that when I was younger I just did not understand it: matter as a special case of motion.

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I used to think the atom was infinitely subdivisible, when I used go for what seemed most rational to the mind. Now I am not so sure.  There may be something between finity and infinity, something our minds cannot grasp at present.  It is not that the universe is not rational if it could become conscious of itself, as it were; but it is irrational as seen from our local part of it.

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The numbers we use are an arbitrary mode of thought.  There are other ways of ordering things than the decimal system. I used to be fascinated with numbers when I was a kid. I still am, I suppose, at one level, with the theory of numbers in pure mathematics. I am not interested in applied mathematics at all – not manipulation, but the theory of numbers. Take an example: there is no known formula where you can work out all the primes. Now take the Pythagorean triangle – 3, 4 and 5, and then 5, 12 and 13 and so on –  and you can get a series of them; but puzzle as I could I could get no general formula where you could get whole number triangles not involving surds. This is a very interesting thing, for it relates to fundamental processes of human thought, if only you could get at it. The prime numbers can be divided by nothing but themselves. To prove it is true – and practice always proves something – if you want to know how many messages you can send simultaneously along a telegraph wire, then you must have oscillation on primes, so that the theory of primes was vital in the development of telegraphy, scrambling units and all that; but there is no way of calculating the damn things.  It is obvious of course that it relates to geometry.  And yet a prime number cannot represent an area. The number 12 for a box is very convenient. Under the decimal system for example, you have your sizes with two eggs this way and five eggs that way. Of course it would be more convenient if you had rows of 3 eggs and 4 eggs. This is a very interesting thing; it relates to quite fundamental issues, and it has led me to conclude that the universe is basically irrational and the irrational contains the rational, not the other way round. I am quite sure that philosophically this is absolutely correct.  It is the practical higgledy-piggledy of life that teaches you sense. It is only the part of the higgledy-piggledy of life which is taken in by politics and things like that that gives you whatever chances you have got. But this reading of books, and the notion that everything that is brought into a thing comes from what is in a book, well, that is not the way to operate. You have to bring into it everything relating to theory; and the fact that you cannot fix primes, that you cannot forecast the sides of right-angle triangles, and many other similar things, all relate to the fundamental fact that the universe is incommensurable. The primes are the holes in the system. They are not the system. There can be no reason in the whole of it that matters to man.  When I said to the philosopher woman I had the argument with that there is no purpose to life and no logical reason to go on living, she asked me was I prepared to stop living then?  I bloody well am not, I told her. I don’t need any reason. 

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Our view of the universe is coloured a great deal by what we can conceive. We think the universe is comprehensible like everything around us. But what if it is beyond our comprehension?  People are attracted to the Big Bang theory – everything going in and out –  because that is something which we can conceive. But there is no reason for thinking that it is something we must be able to conceive. 

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Is there conscious life elsewhere in the universe?  I should think it is all over the place.  Not that anything is likely to be in our immediate area; in our part of the universe the narrow conditions of temperature and pressure needed to sustain life are only present on earth. 

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The origin of life has long been discovered and it has been known for a century that there is no fundamental distinction between the organic and inorganic. The people who bother themselves about these questions are journalists, not scientists.

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The fundamental of dialectics is that there is no such thing as dialectics. No words or thoughts are ever adequate to fit reality.

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The two problems that man has not solved are, first, the relation between his new technology and nature, of which whether he likes to admit it or not he is a part. And second, he has not solved the problem of the relation between man and man; and it is indeed only this that will solve the other.

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HUMAN NATURE AND INTELLIGENCE

I am a committed Pavlovian, except that I am not wholly convinced that there may not be some inherited reflexes [I.P.Pavlov,1849-1936, Russian physiologist famous for his work on conditioned reflexes, physical and psychological]. I do not believe that every human being is a tabula rasa when born. That is why I suggested reading Carl Jung, not for his myths and archetypes but because of his belief that there is an inherited element in consciousness. I believe that there may be certain innate proclivities of the human mind that are in fact transmitted genetically. They are proclivities, mind you, not ideas or anything like that. But they may make people receptive to certain things and forms of experience and thereby advance the preservation and strengthening of the species. The most important reflex of all, of course, the centre of Pavlovian psychology and what is essential in understanding man, is the reflex of purpose. The reflex of purpose in man is the highest development of evolution. It is the special characteristic of humans. The qualitative superiority of man over all other animals is that his mind can conceive of purpose, and that higher extension of purpose: policy.

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Integrity is the reflection of an overriding sense of purpose. Psychological life gets deeper and more complex from setting and attaining more complex goals. New organisations of reflexes are thereby established, in the hierarchy of purposes and complexity that characterises  an integrated person.

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Free will is an illusion. It arises from confusion regarding the reflex of purpose. All the factors contributing to a decision express themselves in reflexes, and there is no such thing as an action without a cause, as is implied by so-called “free will”.   Schopenhauer put it the right way when he said, “Man can do as he wills, but can he will as he wills?”  In other words, the fact that nothing takes place without causes does not rule out purposive action. It may look as if the future is determining the present, but that is an illusion.  The reflex of purpose can correlate with and be complementary to various other reflexes. One reflex can determine another, which is not to say that the reflex of purpose is dominant.  Most people go along most of the time without forming any particular purpose.

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Free will is the consciousness of self-regulation.

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Talk of free will is nonsense. In the last analysis you will as you have to.

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Intelligence exists, but it is incommensurable.  And I can define it for you: it is the capacity to form conditioned reflexes. If I think of a cat, the more intelligent I am the more associations I can make with it; whereas for the simpleton it is just an animal that pounces.  To think that intelligence is commensurable derives from the fallacy of assuming that rationality predominates over irrationality, that the rational numbers with which most people number things are more important than the irrational.  You say that to speak of high and low intelligence implies commensurability of some kind.  One can say that nine times the square root of -1 is three times greater than three times the square root of -1, but that does not mean you can understand it. Intelligence in music is incommensurable with intelligence in chemistry or the intelligence called for to cook the dinner.

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I believe in intelligence, but not in intelligence tests. These do not measure the capacity to form conditioned reflexes. There is a scientific and an artistic intelligence. My intelligence is scientific of course, but it is an undoubted fact that people who are not very clever but who are artistically gifted  can puzzle things out in some mysterious way that the scientist finds hard to understand. Look at Sean O’Casey. He was not a very clever man, yet time and again in his plays I have been struck and thought: that is a very clever thing; how did he make that out?

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The lower centres of the brain give out first. It is the higher centres containing the reflex of purpose that give out last.  That is why a person can be conscious of their own death.  The higher centres are above all concerned with language, which is surely the basis of what is most distinctively human.

                                                    *

I was looking at a baby in the bus, strapped to its mother’s shoulders.  The more a baby is touched and handled the quicker it will mature, for that teaches it how to develop reflexes. 

                                                    *

I would say that it is a difference of degree rather than of kind between the intelligence of the animals and that of man.  Man has intelligence that is not necessarily dominated by emotion. 

                                                    *

Democritus made astonishing discoveries about nature and the universe. He decided that the sky was not a sphere and that there were endless stars and suns. No, it was not intuition, but intelligence working upon limited information. Quite a lot can be discovered that way.

                                                    *

There should be no monopoly of knowledge, she said to me. I replied that there was a natural monopoly – the possession of a head to contain it in.

                                                    *

Everyone has the experience of discovering something unconsciously. You think of something in the middle of the night and you wonder how the hell did you think of it. I remember I was playing a chess tournament as a schoolboy and I was determined to win, and the next morning I suddenly thought, “That is the move I ought to make.” And yet I had not even in my mind a vision of the chessboard. The cells in the brain are not necessarily inactive. They have a logic of their own. Consciousness simply decides on action. It has to coordinate everything. Of course it is the superior part; you could not be without it. You know yourself that if you are in danger when riding a bicycle or something and something bumps into you, you do not have time to think of how to get out of the trouble. Your brain does it for you. The reflexes go on and you need not necessarily be conscious of them.  When I was young I could do something I cannot do now.  I could add a column of figures without thinking.  If someone asked me to multiply two numbers of several figures each, I could do it like that.  When I was at schooI I used to do exhibitions and they used call me “the ready reckoner”. I did not know then how it was done and I do not know now.

                                                     *

A sign of intelligence in the young is that they ask questions and are interested in what older people have to say. I always wanted to know how things worked and would never be content with half-knowledge, or until I got an explanation that at least satisfied me.

                                                     *

Helga MacLiam was telling me of their cat, who is going senile. It used to be always gentle. Now it is compelled to scratch anyone who comes near it and it did this to me the last time I was there. But then afterwards it came up as if it were positively distressed at what it had done, which it could not control. That shows intelligence.  But dogs I do not like.  They are nasty animals that go “Bow wow” for no reason at all!

                                                     *

To know the nature of man we need to understand the conditions in which he evolved over millions of years. It may well be that if we understand those conditions we will realise that men have an ineradicable need for some kind of religious belief. We may not hold such beliefs ourselves but it should make us more sympathetic to them.

                                                    *

Man is a wild rather than domestic animal. In essence he is more like the cat than the dog, for the cat is a wild creature in a domestic environment. In any case what real man would want to be upholstered in domesticity like the dog?

                                                    *

One of the things I have thought about a lot over the years and not yet come to final conclusions on is laughter. I met a fellow on the train some time ago, a young scientist, who said he was wondering what area of science to concentrate on.  I will give you a subject, I said, which can make your reputation and is very important. Study laughter.  What is needed is a physiology of laughter, not a psychology.  Laughter must indicate a release of tension of some kind.  Of course everything causes tensions and hence there has to be a continual resolution of tension.  Laughter is the only reflex uniquely peculiar to man, and that is surely a very important fact.  It must be a function of the higher part of the brain and possibly played quite a crucial role in evolution.  It is a function of communication as well.  No one laughs by themselves. And there is the question of the different kinds of laughter. The laugh of  a fool is different from that of a wise man or a child.  There is humorous laughter, hearty laughter, sardonic laughter. Laughter surely must have a most important function in mental health.

                                                     *

You cannot get away from the individual personality. Even when things are supposed to be decided by a committee, it is always one or two individuals who ultimately decide.

                                                     *

With what do you identify? The species? All animals? All life? Existence? 

                                                       *

The principal features of the human species – and let me tell you that the older I get the less enthusiastic I am for it – is first greed, then fear and then stupidity. Of course the fear modifies the greed and the stupidity exaggerates the fear.  And one might throw in laziness as a fourth.  It will be impossible to change man for centuries to come.  After all it took capitalism centuries to develop. Why should we expect socialism to come quickly, or at least so-called “socialist man”?

                                                    *

Character like so much else is ultimately genetics. The best education programmes cannot produce character in a man if a genetic predisposition is not already there.

                                                    *

Man lives so short a while. When he has accumulated experience and wisdom he is about to die.  Which is perhaps why things go from bad to worse and society’s problems get more intractable all the time.

                                                    *

Swift’s description of the Yahoos in Gulliver’s Travels is surely the most accurate account of the human race. And if anyone looks at them and says, “There but for the Grace of God …”, he is a fool and a knave; for he has not got the grace of God!

                                                    *

It took man millions of years to evolve, and how old is history – 5,000 years?  Surely it is obvious that what makes man what he is is the thirty million  years before that. The evolution of the human brain has always puzzled me. On speculates wny the brain is so large and why so much of it is never brought into use.  It is probably because in the conditions in which humans were evolved, capacities of the brain that are now moribund were terribly important. Think of how alert against enemies primitive man had to be while sitting on his rock. He could trace a track through forests by the turning of a leaf. No computer could process the information needed to do that. It may well that the hominoid creature from which modern man came lived in such conditions of extreme stress and difficulty that he needed a highly developed brain to enable him to survive.  He probably needed it to survive at the expense of other hominoid creatures as well as other animal species.  The brain may well have developed to enable him to be more violent, cunning and ruthless than anyone else – qualities that are still much in evidence.  I do not suppose that men are much better today than they ever were, except that in former times a big noise could only dominate a small territory – whatever he could rule from his rock or fort or castle.  Some did that and others lived in peace.  But today’s weaponry can cover the whole world  and it may well be used yet to destroy the world. It would be the logical end to the mind-boggling way in which humans carry on. 

                                                    *

I wonder sometimes how far along its lifespan is the human species. There are arguments as to whether we are one-half or one-third of the way through.  It seems probable that the more advanced a species, the shorter the period left to it. We are perhaps half-way along the time-span of the human race, but whether it is a higher or a lower species will come after this, I do not know. I am inclined to think a lower one, don’t you? 

                                                    *

Everyone I know who is twenty is getting married and everyone who is forty is getting divorced and everyone I know at sixty is going off their head. I am going off my head, you understand, except that I know it!   Homo sapiens? Insipiens rather. Do you think they will get along without destroying the planet? The chances really are against it, when you look at how stupid and greedy people are. And yet they are truly remarkable also.  When you think of all the accomplishments of the human brain, in science and in art, do you really think that there are other creatures anywhere in the universe capable of better? I very much doubt it.  I must confess to a soft spot on occasion for the human race. One cannot but be partial, I suppose, and yet at bottom I fear the worst. (1980)

_______________

HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY

He shows all the consistency of behaviour of a complex character. It is the superficial personality that acts wildly and erratically.

                                                    *

We forget that a chair is needed before we can philosophise and that the degree of intelligence needed to make the chair is far greater than that needed to weave philosophical concepts about it.

                                                    *

You ask what dialectics are? Well, one has the strength of one’s weaknesses and the weakness of one’s strengths. Think of that a bit and you will see.

                                                    *

Intelligence, rationality, courage and so on are common enough; but the rarest thing of all seems common sense. 

                                                    *

Temperament, character, intelligence: the more I live the more convinced I am that it is mostly a matter of genes, chromosomes and heredity and that the environment has very little to do with it, however much people like to delude themselves.

                                                    *

Morality is so often due to weakness, either lack of courage, or of knowledge, or of appetite.

                                                    *

One should not underestimate the amount of energy we use in controlling ourselves.

                                                    *

I was listless for the past week and only got down to work today. My brain will only work when it suits it to do so, and to talk of free will is nonsense. In the last analysis you will as you have to.

                                                    *

The true intellectual achievement is to generalise, not particularise; to clarify, not to make obscure. Yet what a small amount of the stuff produced does this.

                                                    *

You can give people everything, but you cannot give them will. Will power comes from what used be called “life-force”. Without will there is no resistance, psychologically or politically; and one’s capacity to resist is proportional to one’s general culture.  It is that which enables one to put what one is doing into perspective and to distinguish what is important from the trivial.

                                                    *

Brains are mostly hard work and discipline rather than intellectual inspiration.  Of course there is talent required in knowing what to work at and how to carry out one’s work. But perseverance and conscientiousness are the really important things.

                                                    *

I do not see a great political future for him. Things have their logic and he has got himself into a position where he is pulled in several different directions and cannot lead himself.

                                                    *.

George Gilmore  is more intelligent than Peadar O’Donnell.  George is the gloomy one who sees all the problems, but Peadar is the creative one, whether in politics or literature. You need optimism for that, and the spirit of criticism is the enemy of creation. [George Gilmore, 1898-1985; Peadar O’Donnell 1893-1986, Irish left-wing Republicans and writers]  

                                                    *

The greatest virtue is courage. You say that prudence is the first of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost, which the Church pronounces on.  Perhaps prudence decides whether one should be courageous or not.  It is anterior to courage. It is a pity they do not include courage among the Seven Gifts, although perhaps the gift of fortitude subsumes it. If courage is a positive quality, honesty is a negative one. Those virtues of the Holy Ghost are ecclesiastical ones, it seems to me. Follow them and you may come to be Pope – with the help of a little poisoning on the side!

                                                    *

You tell me that the Church puts Wisdom as the first of the gifts of God and that they distinguish it from Understanding and Counsel. That seems pretty subtle to me; but yet they are surely right to put wisdom first. It is something which only comes with years of experience. 

                                                    *

The greatest quality of a person is to be able to stand and make a fight. The opposite of that is timidity. The most important thing for parents to pass on to young people, if they can, is fighting spirit: when you go home to your mother and say that someone hit you at school, and she says, “Hit him back.”

                                                    *

The most disabling emotion is fear.  Fear destroys the ability to act and it is by action alone that one can change things.

                                                    *

He is a man of great talent, which is not to say he is a genius; for the two are as different as chalk and cheese.

                                                    *

He is clever but he suffers from the problem of what I call the second-class mind. There are first-class minds, second-class ones and third-class ones. Second-class minds are the worst.  They chaff at their own limitations and are full of envy, whereas people with third-class minds get on with the job and follow the leadership of those with first-class minds. They are not jealous of others, but are just themselves. People with second-class minds cannot tolerate those with first-class minds or follow them easily. 

                                                    *

You often find people with a constant sense of grievance, whose real grievance is not with the world but with their own limitations.

                                                    *

Modesty may be a virtue, but it is not an advantage. 

                                                    *

The key to development is always to look to the positive. Positive encouragement to the faculties can never be wrong, however seldom they may be called on to be used. Even if that young woman never writes another article, it will still be a good thing that she will have ventured once.

                                                    *

I am sure that the old division between the four types of people, the four humours, is correct. The majority are either sanguine or phlegmatic: they are the great mass of ordinary sensible people in the middle. The choleric and melancholic are the two extremes. Of course I belong to the greatest one of the lot, the sanguine.  The phlegmatic is the principle of stability and the sanguine the principle of imagination. Degrees of each are possible, naturally, and their basis is a good physical constitution. Sometimes the choleric are able to produce geniuses, but rarely the melancholic. The sanguine is clearly the superior. I am not emotional, but one might say I am excitable. Ideas excite me, but emotions leave me stone cold. I am predominantly sanguine, although a dash of phlegm can help from time to time. I never get depressed and never have a nervous breakdown. And what is more, I know that I could never have a nervous breakdown. If I am bored I do something else or go to bed, although usually I have better reasons for going to bed than boredom.

                                                    *

Self-confidence is not to be expected in the young. That is why children who know their grandparents are so lucky.  Grandparents seem to do things effortlessly, whereas children see parents as always worried and fussed. Children and grandparents are close because they see things simply. The people in between are too busy with their careers and the rat-race to realise what is really important.

                                                    *

He gets on with me because I am so much older than he is, but his mate is nearer to him in age, so he feels threatened. That is the reason children get along so easily with their grandparents, while having rows with their parents all the time.

                                                    *

Avoid the temptation of creation without labour. Yeats said after a few weeks giving speeches in the South of Ireland: “This is easy work, creation without labour”;  one should not fall for it.

                                                    *

On the whole I prefer the anarchist Shakespeare, the man who wrote Timon of Athens, to the imperialist Shakespeare who eulogized the English kings.  Do you remember Timon’s speech about money? Most people are influenced most of the time by money. Money can draw people by countless strings they are not even aware of. Its force in human affairs is mostly unrecognised. 

                                                    *

Generally speaking, people do not consider changing their course of action until its disadvantages have become apparent, and as often as not what they do then is something more foolish still!

______________

HOW TO LIVE

The young know not, the old do not, the dead cannot. Remember that the Immortals are all dead! 

                                                    *

Nosce teipsum. I met a Jewish man once who said that “Know thyself” meant, Know your limitations; and when you have reached them you should get the help of someone else.  That way you remain the boss.

                                                    *

I have always followed Dante’s motto, “Follow your own course and let the people talk.”

                                                    *

Wisdom in practical things is the beginning of all wisdom.

                                                    *

Practical men can live life like stars, blowing light in all directions.

                                                    *

We give meaning to our lives by the goals we set ourselves. 

                                                    *

In life don’t allow what you haven’t got to spoil what you have got.

                                                    *

Eat, drink and be merry:  “Be merry”, you know, is a euphemism for fornicate.

                                                    *

In this wicked world you cannot afford to be respectable.

                                                    *

To do everything to the limit is best, to work hard and to play hard.  Sickness is to do things half-heartedly.

                                                     *

I early on decided that I would never distinguish between work and leisure in life.  The one should be as pleasurable as the other and if it is not, then it should be avoided.  For an independent man leisure is work and work leisure.  It is a travesty that society should separate the two. 

                                                    *

You may straddle several fences, but it only means you will never go anywhere.

                                                    *

For great achievement intelligence must be joined to exceptional vigour; if I have been endowed with anything by nature it is vigour.

                                                    *

In times of stress it is best to restrict all thought that cannot lead to action.

                                                    *

It is not necessary to have a wife or children. The generations come to a summit and resolution in the outstanding personality.  It is unnatural and unnecessary to go on and seek to transmit oneself, for achievement is not biologically transmissable.

                                                    *

A successful marriage is the greatest happiness life can offer.

                                            *

If a marriage can be repaired, repair it. If not, treat it like a death, get the probate and wind up the estate.

                                                    *

  Knowing what you want is the most important thing in life. So much misery and discontent due to people not knowing what they want, so that they are not able to set out to get it. In love affairs and marriage most of the cross-purposes and confusion arise from this.

                                                   *

  Never do anything because somebody else is doing it. Do what needs to be done and what nobody else is doing. That is a basic political principle.

                                                   *

One’s work is the most important thing in life; if one doesn’t like that one’s life is meaningless.

                                                   *

Accept the world as it is? By Jove, you had better.

                                                    *

Nothing of consequence can be achieved without concentration. Likewise, as Charles De Gaulle said, all really worthwhile tasks are long-term. He was referring to politics of course, but it is true of other fields as well.

                                                    *                          

People accuse me of being an elitist. Of course I am an elitist and so is every sensible man.  Follow your own course.  Do you think it is possible to have respect for a man who does things because others do them?

                                                    *

The only way of getting to the top is to make sure of being born half-way there! 

                                                    *

The man of culture counts for more in the long run. The uncultured one, by contrast, thinks that the peak of happiness is leisure.

                                                    *

A man must have a movement to inspire him – and control him. 

                                                    *

If you are giving a lecture or speech in public, always seek to explore new territory. Never be content with just repeating what has been said before. 

                                                    *

Outstanding men are rare and they are more rarely still in the positions where they are most needed.

                                                    *

For men of genius genius is their normal mode of existence, so they make nothing of it.

                                                    *

I gave him a bit of fatherly advice: Never be content with half-knowledge of a subject. Always look for precise knowledge.

                                                    *

He is always reading. He does not need the help of all his reading in order to have a wife and family and a good job. I think he is always reading in order to escape. 

                                                     *

I am always somewhat contemptuous of those who spend their time reading rather than writing. I was pleased to see that he has brought out his new book. There is a legitimate pride, you know, that isn’t conceit.

                                                    *

One can devote oneself to a cause which outlasts one’s life, which one may never see achieved, as for example striving for national freedom or making the social revolution. But there is no reason one should not enjoy life while one is doing it – if one has decent health, that is. There should be nothing puritanical about revolutionaries, and if they are puritanical they are the more likely to make a mess of the revolution.

                                                    *

So many people lead utterly passive lives. In the old days every middle-class household had a piano and bookcase, but that has gone with radio, television and the motor-car. People seek passive entertainment while simultaneously there is an explosion of crime; and we have seen nothing yet.  Human beings need a purposive interaction with society. One can debate what that interaction should be; it might even be to make money, but where there is no interaction people are passive and empty, acted upon, not acting.

                                                    *

It is nonsense for people to moan about what they cannot do. They should concentrate on what they can do. 

                                                    *

Vanity separates one from the common sense of ordinary people; it is the ruination of leaders.

                                                    *

He is a person of remarkable energy; I am always interested in energy.

                                                    *

Action is the important thing: what you do.  One grows and develops by action rather than by thought. Action is primary, thought secondary. That is why Goethe’s is my favourite epigram: “In the beginning was the deed.” Most people do not know what to do, or else are too stupid or cowardly to do it. So many deeds are the result of inertia or habit.

                                                    *

If you want to make a boast you should make it loud and clear. There are few things more contemptible than false modesty.T.A.Jackson called it an extreme form of vanity – the very opposite of what it pretends to be[T.A.Jackson, 1879-1955, English socialist propagandist].

                                                    *

He is always talking about migrating to the Isles of Greece, or moving in with some other woman than the one he lives with. Yet he never does. The trouble is, they are all seeking to get out of life more than there is in it. 

                                                    *

No man can be said to have in any way reached maturity until he is thirty. 

                                                    *

Remember Cahir Healy’s advice: “Never mix things.” Always keep things that are essentially incompatible separate[Cahir Healy,1877-1970, Northern Ireland constitutional nationalist politician]. 

                                                    *

Old Palme Dutt used say to me: “But those are your strong points; it is easy to talk about them. But what are your weak points? Look to your weak points.”[R.Palme Dutt, 1896-1974, British communist theoretician] 

                                                    *

You can get an awful lot of things done if you are willing to let others get the credit for it. Others will be ready to implement your good ideas if you let them be praised for it. In deciding what to do in life it is fundamental to orient one’s ambition to take this into account.

                                                    *

The party organiser was dressed up in a dark suit, very much the professional man.  I think he admires himself; but a certain amount of illusion is needed to keep a man at a thankless task.

                                                    *

I am more and more convinced that we can at best control one-tenth or less of what occurs. The rest goes ahead as if we can do nothing about it. The small area where we can master circumstance is of course vital.

                                                    *

People must learn to be able to take decisions.  There are decisions to be taken in politics, today and tomorrow and every day we live. When we are dead other people will take decisions and we will have no say. So let us use our time while we can.

                                                    *

Marx’s motto was “Doubt everything.”  And a suitable aspiration for all Marxists I would say, although I think it is a pity the term Marxism was ever invented. Marx did not want it. Engels’s motto was “Take it easy.” Follow those two mottoes and you will live the right way.

                                                    *

Doubt everything, as Marx said, and I have often quoted that. But it goes without saying that one should strive to remain in doubt for as short a time as possible.

                                                    *

The important thing is not to know when other people are making mistakes, but to know when you yourself are. Palme Dutt used to say: “Find out where the dog is buried.”

                                                    *

There is a strong desire in human beings to make some kind of pother in life, with themselves of course in the middle of it. Yet viewed from the outside that is the most extraordinary absurdity.

                                                    *

If you believe you are right and know you cannot convince them, say nothing; for if you are right they will come round to your viewpoint in the end.

                                                    *

You will make lots of mistakes in life if you go around assuming that other people are just the same as you are, which is what we tend to believe to begin with.

                                                    *

The older I get the more I think that most of the real problems are caused by people not using their heads or thinking something through.  It is not that people are villains or deliberately plot to do evil. I used to think that when I was young.  It is just that they do not know what to do, or else they drift into doing things without thinking what the results will be.

                                                    *

There comes a moment when it is necessary to be ruthless, when either you are tough or someone else cuts your throat. The important thing is to be able to know when that moment is.

                                                    *

There are two kinds of treatment to give people: soft soap or vinegar. Each has its place and neither should be over-used.

                                                    *

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!

                                                    *

  I heard from Maire Comerford  today that old Professor Smiddy is still alive [Maire Comerford,1892-1982, Irish republican activist and journalist; Professor Timothy Smiddy,1875-1962, economist; adviser to the Irish Treaty delegation in 1921; first Irish ambassador to the USA, 1924-29]. Would you believe it?  He is nearly ninety.  “Mind you,” she said, “He has changed his opinions a lot.” I said, “Ah well, who is one to object?” The older I get the more I see that few people’s opinions are entirely right or wrong. And after all what are opinions?  Only young chaps of twenty-one see things in simple black and white terms. (1960)

                                                    *

I have had a terrible time this past year, with my sister’s death, and now I intend to enjoy myself. (1966) 

                                                    *

It becomes necessary sometimes to say, “I am the best man, I am the leader.”  And if the others obey, then it is true: one is the leader.

                                                    *

Seeing Sean O’Casey’s Plough and the Stars brought home to me the old truth: how the weak prey upon the strong. For this reason the strong must be merciless towards the weak when necessary, although it is not always easy. 

                                                    *

Never feel guilt. It is a waste of time. Guilt about the past and worry about the future are two quite useless emotions; for neither can change either, and we can only act in the present.  Find out what to do.  If you are a long time finding out and make mistakes along the way, too bad. But when you do find out, go ahead without looking backward.

                                                    *

It is absolutely pointless getting worried or upset about things you can do nothing about. Do what you can; then resolve to enjoy yourself.

                                                    *

The reason so many people are single-minded in their stupidity, holding on to completely wrong-headed views, is that they cannot compromise. You must have brains to compromise. You can only get your own way if you are strong enough and can, in effect, knock out your opponent if he does not agree with you.  It is absolutely pointless getting angry with people who won’t agree with you. If they are stronger than you, you must aim at a compromise.

                                                    *

If you did not give so much time to politics you would have more time to write books. But you do right to do what you are doing, for the books one writes are all the better for one’s being involved in activity.  It is important to remember that life is an open system. So is politics. But a book is a closed system.  Writing is a task that turns one inwards.  It is essential to be outward as well as inward. With closed systems the law of entropy prevails. Contemplation is necessary, but so is activity. Your job is teaching students. That is a semi-passive activity. The active principle is the opposite. The important thing is to give time to both the active and passive principles and do what you want to do.

                                                    *

Always envisage the worst situation and think what your response would be.  Then any other development will not come as a surprise and you should be able for it.

                                                    *

He says he does not know what to do with his personal life. I would always know what to do.  If you cannot manage your personal affairs, what other things can you possibly succeed in managing?

                                                    *

You must do what you can when you can do it and where you can do it. Any other position is anti-historical. It is to show a failure to grasp how things happen in society.

                                                    *

The most important thing in life is to broaden one’s experience, and with it one’s consciousness. Then you won’t get mentally old.

                                                    *

If you keep an interest in things you can live to be a hundred if you want to; or at least it is possible in a manner of speaking.

                                                    *

What is important is what you do; it does not matter what you feel. What is important is your objective mind, not your subjective one.

                                                    *

Romance is as satisfying as commerce, even if the satisfaction is different.

                                                    *

You cannot do much to lengthen your life, but you can do quite a number of things to shorten it.  I think that avoidance of worry is the important thing.

                                                    *

I cannot stand people who whisper all the time. If you have something to say, shout it out and then people can hear you. “Fire amidships!”  These days so many actors train for television, so that when they go on stage you cannot hear them properly. Likewise in the old days people learned to speak in public by standing on platforms. Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park trained up whole generations of public speakers. It is impossible now.

                                                    *

We do not remember things from recent years as well as we do things from years back. Perhaps it is that we do not expect too much from things.  We have seen the world.  In youth we have great expectations, either of benefits or of malevolence. But as time goes on we see how things turn out, a mixture of one and the other, so that we take things more calmly.

                                                    *

I wish you would do some decent historical work. But do not rush it. Remember that anything worthwhile will take at least ten years to do.

                                                    *

He is rather contemptuous of his old man as “right-wing”, but he will learn to be more tolerant later on.

                                                    *

I am fully convinced that the peasant on the plains of Anatolia is a happier man than the commuter in New York.  It is a great blessing to live in obscure, out-of-the-way countries.

                                                    *

Alan Morton and I agreed a long time ago that we were not lazy; we were idle! [Professor Alan G. Morton, author of “History of Botanical Science”,1981, was Desmond Greaves’s oldest friend]

                                                    *

We should be opposed to all licence and looseness of behaviour. It is quite right that people  should get as much pleasure out of life as they can, within its limits, but in a socially responsible fashion.  It is right that society should say: you can drink, but not too much; or form close relationships with women, but not promiscuously.  We should be interested in social stability and continuity and should not oppose those who uphold such principles, like the Pope and the Catholic Church. Are we not sensible enough to recognize the necessity of such a stable and conservative stand, although of course we need change and innovation too? But neither totally one nor the other. When I was twenty-one of course I would say down with stability; the more change the better. But what you can you expect from someone who is twenty-one?

                                                    *

Never criticise a man’s nationality or religion. They are not things he can be held responsible for. And they are so important that for most people that they are core parts of their personalities.

                                                    *

How pleasant it is to deal with hard people, who know their own minds. Look at Eddie Cowman and Philip Rendle  for instance [Connolly Association activists in the 1970s]. Eddie was going back to Ireland and Philip either has to pay double rent or get someone else to share his flat. Philip was sitting moaning about it and Eddie said to him: “Well, I shall be gone in ten days time and you must either get out or advertise and get someone else.”  He spoke with decisiveness, being capable of finding out what to do in a brief moment.

                                                    *

I call Alan Morton “the fine old English gentleman”. There was this Trotskyite in the University Botany Department out to get Alan. “Bump him first or he will bump you,” I said to him, and I told him how to do it.

                                                    *

“What a terribly boring woman,” he said to me, “But at least she is not malicious.”  “Yes,” I said, “but she would be more interesting if she were.”

                                                    *

I had a month’s holiday in Wales this year, to get away from people. It is the first time I stayed away for a month and it was only in the last week that I got some worthwhile ideas. In future I will never take a holiday for less than a month.

                                                    *

When you are younger you give offence so unnecessarily.  I used sometimes put things in the Irish Democrat I should never have put in.  I once wrote a review of some poems by John Hewitt, the Northern poet who used write about nature and gardens and animals and things like that. I called him “Potato Hewitt”. Imagine! Later I met him and he seemed quite unoffended.  It is foolish to cause hurt for no benefit to yourself, you know. 

                                                    *

I am much more artful now in handling people. When I think how I used to go on when I was a youngster, like a bull in a china shop!  I tell the young fellows now never to lose their temper, or if they do, to do so from calculation. 

                                                    *

Do you ever do some thinking?  You seems to be an obsessive reader.  It is important to do some thinking sometimes, you know. Each day one should do some thinking, some fucking and of course sweet fuck-all!

                                                    *                                                                

He is inclined to be touchy.  One should only take issue with intended slights and not waste one’s time imagining unintended ones.

                                                    *

He has the gaiety of all dedicated men.

                                                    *

There is an inward peace that comes from justification to oneself.

                                                    *

Whoever is tired of gossip is tired of life.                    

                                                    *

A German word not translatable into English is “gemütlichkeit”. Well, there is plenty of that in Dublin.

                                                    *

I always talk to people on trains.  I look in the dining-car for the most intelligent-looking person and sit opposite him.  That way I have met the most interesting people.  I have met the chairman of Cheshire County Council and the Chief Rabbi of Liverpool and Father Higman, with whom I travelled all the way from Dun Laoghaire to Chester for twenty-four hours because the boat was delayed, and we got through a bottle of whiskey together.  That way you find out how the world is run.  Between you and me I know how it is run, but it is useful to have it confirmed.

                                                    *

Of course I have patience. How else have I kept at this work all these years?

                                                    *

[After a day’s group outing on which there had been much drink and gossip] “Well, enough characters have been destroyed for any one day on this trip!” 

                                                    *

There will be no books read or work done while you are here at Christmas. Certain days should be regarded as manure, to fertilise the rest of the year. One should be idle on such days, although never lazy.

                                                    *

I have always noticed that the more brains a man has the better he is able to hold his drink.

                                                    *

Do you want some water? It is debatable whether whiskey improves water or water improves whiskey.

                                                    *

Twenty years ago Christmas stood out because people saved up for it and had a good time for a day or two, drinking and stuffing themselves. Now people are so well off that it goes on all the time. You can have a party anytime and Christmas continues for weeks on end – an utter waste of time.

                                                    *

Never take drugs, not even aspirin, unless you are very foolish. The only one you should take is this glass of Guinness there.

                                                    *

With the blackest black there is some white and with the whitest white there is some black.

______________

YOUTH

I must confess that I have little time for young people. I grant that they are decorative, but otherwise they have little to contribute until they are thirty at least. For most of the time until then they think all the big problems are inside their own heads, when they are really out there in the big wide world. Young people’s opinions do not count for much. Even the best of them only speak on the basis of books, not from experience. Never take any notice of what people under thirty say.  

                                                    *

There were children playing on the boat as I was crossing from Holyhead. About the nicest thing under the sun is young children playing – children when they are young, mind, not when they begin to grow up and become so-called “teenagers”.

                                                    *

He is a young man, still inclined to attach importance to every detail he reads in the papers, unable to distinguish the important from the unimportant.

                                                    *

Young people go in for drugs, pop music and useless things like that because they are not stretched enough.

                                                    *

As Hegel says, youth does not possess the category of work.

                                                    *

He is of course like many young people, seeking what does not exist.

                                                    *

What are the achievements of a man of thirty? Nothing. You speak of “Young Turks”. But I have met too many “Young Turks” in my time – too many geniuses at twenty who were beaten into tired dullards twenty years later.

                                                    *

Young people do not understand the difference between being and doing. Youth is a time of life when people bother themselves about what other people think of them, not realising that what people really judge you by is by what you do, not by what you are.  There is in fact no way of finding out what people are, other than by seeing the things they do. It is actions that count, not appearances.

                                                    *

When you are young, if you are bright you can do things beyond your years on the basis of theory. Later on experience takes over, which makes all things equal, and theory becomes much less important. The disadvantage of youth is that it cannot distinguish the important from the unimportant. It has not got standards of comparison, and so young people flounder before a flood of experience. But as one grows older one selects out the great themes of one’s life.  This does not deny the immediacy of experience of course, for the great is never the enemy of the  little.

                                                    *

When I was young I used get hot and bothered about so many things and used often wonder why the older folk seemed so unconcerned.  They used chuckle to themselves and not get worried. Now I know myself, for I understand how people go on and what they get up to. I know that most of the fuss and bother in life is about non-essential things and that most things go on anyway whatever one does and whether one bothers  about them or not.

                                                    *

When you are twenty it is impossible to learn sense. Until one is thirty you may continue to believe what a great figure you are and think you can easily cut a dash in the world.  But from then on one learns to appreciate the shifts and accommodations, the slidings forward and back and the moves a little sideways, which is how the world is really run.

                                                    *

For young people personal relations are a continual voyage of discovery.

                                                    *

The self-justification of young people has to be viewed tolerably. They are trying to be something they are not yet in the eyes of others. When you can’t help what you are, the sense of solidity is pleasurable, but it is purchased at the expense of ability to change.

                                                    *

It is a pity to be too militant about things when one is young.  There is a danger of burn-out. Wood has its own resistance and the important thing is to do what is in one to do without strain.

                                                    *

Young people do not know how to say “No” without offending.  That is why they want everything black and white. But one can learn to say “No” diplomatically.

                                                    *

When people are young they think other people are interested in them. It takes time to understand that most people are only interested in themselves. Youth is such a troublesome time, and around sixteen or seventeen is the most troublesome of all. In short I don’t think at all that youth is what it is cracked up to be.

                                                    *

Youth is naturally conservative. They are too busy acquiring potted knowledge.

                                                    *

There is something tragic about Roose Williams  and his work for Wales [John Roose Williams, CPGB organiser in the Welsh-speaking areas of North Wales.] “Have you trained anyone who will carry on after you have to give up?”, I once asked him.  “Are there any young people you can rely on?” “No,” he said bitterly.  It is a big failing, although possibly it is very much a matter of luck. 

                                                    *

Any forward party in Ireland must appeal to young people. It stands to reason when half the population is under twenty-five. Young people are best because they have no responsibilities. This means they know the difference between right and wrong. In fact they may know little else, but that is the important thing. When they get to the sticky ages of the thirties and forties they begin to acquire mortages. Although they talk plenty even then about right and wrong, they don’t do anything about it. They get better again as they get older. People in their sixties know again what is right and wrong, although they lack the energy to do much about it. (1980)

                                                    *

While these young peoples’ parents pay for them at universities they can afford to be revolutionaries. But not afterwards; that may cost themselves something. 

                                                    *

Youth movements are a nonsense. They mean that the most immature adults have the training of the young. If young people are mature enough to be interested in political affairs, they should be in the adult movement.  The danger of youth movements is that they are used by Governments to turn people against the values of their parents and in that way destroy tradition. That was done by Hitler and Mussolini, and the destruction of tradition is the result of the pop cult and youth cults of today.  In China the Maoists used the youth to make the “Cultural Revolution”. I don’t know what that was, but the last thing it was, I am sure, was anything to do with culture.  Youth is conservative, not radical. It is experience that makes people radical and youth does not have this. If you have any political movement, one’s forties are the years you should want to be in the centre of it. 

 ________________

AGEING AND THE PASSAGE OF TIME 

There is no God but time.

                                                    *

I quarrel with time, but will time quarrel with me? 

                                                    *

We want the whole of time, not just our own.

                                                    *

Think of Kutuzov and Napoleon. Napoleon was destroyed by a strategy in space. We must learn to develop a strategy in time.

                                                    *

What resolves all contradictions is time.

                                                    *

When you look at the past everything seems clear, but when you look at the future you only see confusion.

                                                    *

Life is choice. One must choose in the present so as to affect the future.  Nothing can be altered in the past.  It is characteristic of neurotics to live in the past and to be obsessed by it.  My own preferred element is time. Not space, but time, because it enables one to choose continually.  There is a line of Auden’s which I like, although I do not think much of him generally: “Time, the refreshing river”.  It is how I look at time, although perhaps when one gets old one does not always feel so refreshed.  I do not mind wasting time and never regard myself as wasting time, for one can always gain something even from doing nothing.  It is a refreshing river after all. 

                                                    *

He suffers from what I call middle age deflation: the feeling that people will not enjoy the fruits of their labour of the future, so they might as well rest and enjoy the fruit of their labours of the past.

                                                    *

It is quite right to speak of an old man’s “soaring mind”. The brain gets more dominant as the years pass. The nervous system tries to ensure its dominance.

                                                    *

How different life is when looked at from either end; it is like using the two ends of a telescope. Everything looks simple when you look down from the mountain of old age. It is a different matter viewed from the valley of youth,with every possible camouflage and obstruction put in the way.

                                                    *

We must work for future generations, which are more important than the present. We should worry over the children rather than the grandparents.

                                                    *

It is imposssible for anyone over seventy to see any point of view except their own. Evolution uses the single human being to do so much when young, and then it is allowed to fold in on itself with age.

                                                     *

Ageing and growth are aspects of the one thing, and although people say you get up to the pinnacles of your capabilities at twenty-five or thirty, and then it goes down, that isn’t right at all.  There is a rising curve simultaneously with a descending curve; and if you don’t get the descending curve you don’t get the rising one either. You have heard of what Yeats called “the old man’s soaring brain”. He is quite right. Your brain soars into the aether, while at the same time your body grows a bit thicker! Of course there comes a time when the downward curve takes charge of the upward and down you go, by the God, but you don’t hurtle down. I remember this young fellow I knew in Golders Green. He was only twenty-seven and when you are that age you are just leaving your youth behind, if you know what I mean, and  are very sensitive to people’s appearance and to the fact that you are looking a bit older than you did before. Of course when you get to forty you don’t give a bugger what you look like.  You know you are in the pot along with everyone else. If you are a man, the older you are the more important you are. But if you are a woman, unfortunately, it tends to be the other way around. I have not seen any Woman’s Lib writer point to this most important distinction between the sexes. 

                                                    *

It is easy to be a genius at twenty-one, but bloody hard at forty, and at sixty you do not believe there is such a thing.  Genius is a nonsense term anyway and I never use it. In the old days they used speak of “wit”, meaning intelligence and a bright mind. Genius, meaning being inhabited by a spirit, is a romantic conception. The thing to do is what Marx called  “universal labour”, that is work which is of value and relevance to society as a whole and not just to oneself.

                                                    *

There are certain ages which it is very nice to be: for a child at three or ten perhaps, when they are most typically children and have all their charm; for a young man around twenty-two or so, when he is over adolescence; for a mature man at forty, when he is over the high summer of his life. But after forty it is mostly downhill, with things gradually disimproving.

                                                    *

There comes a time in peoples’ lives when they decide what they want and settle for it. It rarely happens until one is at least forty.  From then on you lead a reasonably tolerable existence. It is just the same with political involvement after that age.  One reaches a balance between production and consumption in the economy of one’s existence, giving so much time to politics and so much to other things.     

                                                    *

I have not listened to the radio more than three times since my sister’s death.  But this time I was back in the family house at 6.30 pm. and Bach’s St.Matthew Passion was being played.  There was a long sunset and zodiacal light, and I cast my mind back thirty years to when I lived here as a young man, and sat listening to Bach.  The window on the side of the house was not made then – it was made in 1939, I think.  After that we had the splendid view, with the woods and the water tower that looked like a public building on the skyline.  Now the housing estate has destroyed it.  Then one looked forward as into a golden house which might conceal untold pleasures and achievements.  Now one knows only too well the limits of things, and that life does not always, or even usually, approach within miles of the favourable limits. Then all was widening. Now it is constricting and the only unknown things are evil things. (1966)

                                                    *

As one get older, one sees things more and more “sub specie aeternitatis”.

                                                    *

It is not that you get weaker as you get older. It is that the reserves of strength you have to draw on diminish.

                                                    *

The secret of long life is to have a purpose for living. When you have nothing to do with your life, why should you live?

                                                    *

As you get older you become simpler oneself, but the world comes to seem vastly more complicated.   

                                                    *

Over forty is not the most exciting or interesting time of life, but it is the most pleasant.

                                                    *

There comes a time, and sixty-five is as good as any, when it is necessary for a person normally to retire. You have been working for others long enough. Now you want to work for yourself.

                                                    *

In fact you learn nothing much when you are young, only when you are old.

                                                    *

The great value of old age is that it does not get hysterics. You do not anticipate utopia round the corner, and neither do you anticipate apocalypse. You also, at least if you are like me, do not anticipate immediate bloody extinction from something or other.

                                                    *

Old people do not like taking decisions. It is easier not to take them; they see too easily the problems that arise from following any particular course.

                                                    *

People always want to live longer, but they never want to get old.  

                                                    *

I know a thousand ways to shorten one’s life, but nothing to make it longer. 

                                                    *

He phoned me today to invite me to a party to meet his trade union superiors.  I told him that when I was young I often wondered what I would do to fill my time.  Now I find I have not enough time and I do not want to waste it, so that parties are not for me.

                                                    *

“The way they go on”… I used often be amused by my grandparents or the old folk, who used use that phrase. It used make me impatient when I was younger. I understand it better now.

                                                    *

Those who conquer the world look for more worlds to conquer. Those who have not ask not for more space but for more time to do some conquering. I have to tell myself I will not get it, so must resolve to waste as little time as possible.

                                                    *

As one gets older things usually seem to be getting worse. It is not an illusion, I say: things  actually are becoming so!

                                                    *

Peadar O’Donnell said to me once that he would never write his memoirs, for that was to turn one’s arse to history.

_________________

DEATH AND DYING

Just think of it: seventy years’ accumulation in the brain destroyed in just seven seconds.

                                                    *

Why fear death? We are not afraid of sleep; we were not afraid before we were born.

                                            *

You know of course what it is like to be dead, for you were dead already for hundreds of millions of years. There is nothing to fear about it. Mind you, that is the trouble with it!

                                                     *

Death is the one action in one’s life you never regret. It is not death that kills you, but life.

                                                     *

As has been said: “Where I am, death is not; where death is, I am not.” 

                                                     *

Einstein loved his wife and nursed her most devotedly in her last illness, spending day after day by her side. But the moment she was dead he turned to the attendants and bluntly said, “Bury her,” and walked calmly from the room to get back to his work. It is the only rational attitude. Do everything you can for the living, for there is nothing you can do for the dead.

                                                    *

The dead have no rights, and so a promise made to a dead person has absolutely no binding force. I would have no hesitation about promising something to a dying man if it would  ease his mind or make him more comfortable, and then disregard the promise immediately the person was dead. It is the only practical way.

                                                    *

I was asked by a local musicologist to give him my father’s papers relating to the Liverpool Post Office orchestra which he used conduct and I am doing so. I do not think for a moment that it matters to him. When people are dead they are dead, but there is a certain piety.

                                                    *

I do not fear death but I can imagine fearing dying. The best way to go is suddenly, without knowing it, in the middle of some work one wants to do, although people always speak as if that were a terrible misfortune.

                                                    *

I have heard it said that one loses the fear of death as one gets older and I am finding it is so.  It is nature’s way of preparing one for it, I expect. Death perches on the perimeter of existence, but one does not mind too much. Vitality drains gradually away so that eventually, in a manner of speaking, one does not worry overmuch at the thought of one’s own extinction, and the basis of this change of attitude is physical. The young man fears death because the body fights it, but the old do not feel the same way. Hence their calm in face of extinction. You say that fear of death is regret over unlived life and that the old are not fearful because they have experienced what there is to experience. It may be so, but I think lack of bodily vigour is more basic. 

                                                    *

We all die some day, if God spares us.

                                                    *

You talk of death concluding a person’s life, so that others can then assess its overall significance.  I do not like such rationalisations. I prefer Yeats: “I spit into the face of time.” 

                                                    *

Write about the political movement in Britain? Write about it in the interest of historical justice?  Does that mean then that you think the whole effort has failed, so that it only remains to write about?  And what does historical justice mean to me?  I will be dead. (1979)

                                                    *

You ask why did Liam Mellows go to his execution with his arm around a priest, saying that he forgave those who were about to shoot him? Why do men walk calmly to the gallows without trying to take with them one of those who are about to kill them, or at least resist to the last?  It is that what people believe is inevitable becomes almost biological. One’s inmost being wants to submit to it. It is the hardest thing in the world to defy the mob and stand out against society.  I would like to think that if they were going to execute me – although I am not much of a one for physical courage, mind – I would at least spit in their faces and call them bastards.

                                                    *

Keats’s phrase, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”, is such obvious nonsense. They are incommensurable categories.  And when I read his later line, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,” the nonsense becomes even more evident.  There is no such thing as a joy for ever, least of all a thing of beauty. The basic truth is that nothing, absolutely nothing, is for ever, except death itself.

                                                    *

Palme Dutt was always ill and I do not know how he managed to achieve so much.  They gave him a check-up in a Moscow clinic once and the doctors looked grave around his bedside. He asked them to show him his medical dossier and they said it was not their practice to show things to patients that might scare them. “Scare me,” that supremely intelligent man replied, “as if I could be scared at the prospect of my own death.”  That was a fine statement and typical of the man. 

                                                    *

We are moving into a time of storm and stresses, although I do not know how much of it I will see. I am not anxious to shuffle off this mortal coil, but once you are sixty-six, as I am, you may sometimes see a shadow and are conscious that it may not be long before one’s time is up.  I know quite well what it is like to be dead, for I was dead for thousands of millions of years already and shall be so again in the future. It is precisely zero, nil, a nothing.  (1979)  

                                                     *

I was at a funeral recently. One of the company was making jokes. We had to wait until another funeral was over. “Here we all are, waiting at the entrance of Golders Green cemetery,” he said. And on the way out afterwards he waved to the attendant, “See you soon, fellows.”

                                                    *

I have never heard so many lies told as at elections and funerals.

                                                    *

Death is one of the nasty things in life, unfortunately.  First it is one’s parents, and the death of one’s father or mother is the first real blow to one’s own youth.  But the really shocking thing is the death of your own contemporaries.  I have seen quite a number of mine now go under the sod, and more and more one feels like the still lucky survivor. (1980)

                                                    *

Death is irreversible, yet in that irreversibility lies a source of consolation. There is no such thing as a duty to the dead. It is we who sorrow, not they, for they have passed beyond good and evil and  we can neither injure them nor do them a service. They have passed from actuality into memory, but in preserving their memory, the only part of them capable of immortalization on earth, we perform a service not to them but to the living. Everything comes to an end. Respice finem. The important thing is to have a life well spent and, just as important, well enjoyed. When we praise the qualities of a good man at his funeral, we should resolve to distribute those qualities through our movement and society.

                                                    *

Betty Sinclair is dead. It is a pity, so let us have a drink!  She was on the phone only yesterday talking about her autobiography.  She used to say that she would set two or three hours aside for it each day, say from two to five in the afternoon. But I know what happens.  She says that she will have a drink first, and so she never begins. Most people nowadays have at least one relative they will have to nurse through a terminal cancer.  One decays in the grave but it is bad to decay gradually before one’s death.  Most sensible people would like to go in an instant with a heart attack, and you may consider yourself lucky if it happens like that. I sincerely hope it will be so in my own case. You speak of your friend’s cancer. The doctors and nurses can only continue working if they are optimistic. I remember the nurse attending my sister when she was dying with cancer. A remark of hers made a big impression on me: “I always hate it when I have to give the last injection.”  But she knew that it would be the last.  (1981)

_____________

WOMEN AND SEX

My decision not to marry? The losses, for me, would have been greater than the gains. Look at your friend, for instance, screwed down alive in his coffin.  Although having children would have been nice, and there is also companionship, if one is lucky.

                                                      *

Some of the very best women remain unmarried. They are too good for the men they have met and see through them too easily. I have seen so many women wasting their lives trying to make something of incompetent men, when what they should be doing is making something of themselves.

                                                    *

The psychology of women is unsuited to a society where all decisions are taken on the basis of competition. In a future society, organised on different principles, they will come into their own.

                                                    *

The male principle is that of variation, the female that of stability. Evolution advances through producing conditions that permit the greatest variety of accident. After all a woman produces just one egg a month, whereas a drop of human semen contains millions of spermatozoa, only one of which, successfully competing with all the others, can fertilise the egg. Such prodigality is necessary for variation. There are more male geniuses, but also more male imbeciles. Women tend to be bunched around the average in relation to all sorts of qualities, even such an ambiguous one as degree of intelligence. I have no doubt that men have more inherent combativity. Of course the sex chromosome is only one twenty-third of the lot, or rather one forty-sixth, for they are paired. Sex difference is based on one forty-sixth of the human genetic endowment, which is not to say that it is not important.  Stability and imagination are like two poles. Each naturally requires the other, as dialectics indicate.  

                                                    *

According to current claptrap the woman inspires the man to great deeds. I have more often seen the opposite. Man has enslaved woman for three thousand years and she revenges herself every minute of his life by linking him to what he has made her.  So it is no use complaining: the new man and the new woman will appear simultaneously in history if they ever do appear. 

                                                    *

I have often thought that women can be much rougher to each other than men are.  Is it because boys are always ready to put up their fists, so that they learn caution? Girls operate by snubs and sarcasms.

                                                    *

Men want to have a steady good relation with a woman that will last most of their lives; but they also want variety and breadth of experience. Everyone has to work out a balance between these contraries themselves, although society may try vainly to enforce a general rule.

                                                    *

The length of the female fertility period is doubtless due to natural selection. A woman needs around fifteen years to rear and bring up a child. If she conceives around forty she will be fifty-five when her child is grown up, and I expect that some such age as that was the normal life-span for females for millions of years.

                                                    *

Prostitution should of course be opposed and made illegal; it is an insult to every woman. The crime should be the passage of money. Any penalties should be for the client as well. Of course if there were better and more humane sex relations, more natural and in accordance with good sense, it would not occur.

                                                    *

There never was and never possibly could be a real sex change, with ova and sperm produced by the same person. It is biologically impossible.  Secondary sexual characteristics are a different matter.  It is ridiculous for people to be quarrelling with their sex or age. There is such a thing, you know, as accepting one’s fate.

                                                    *

Women are oriented towards sex quite as much as men; perhaps even more so, in my experience.

                                                    *

I do not have to become what they call an ardent feminist, because I am a man not a woman.

                                                    *

They say that behind many men of achievement one finds a woman who spurs them on. I must confess that I have never seen it, although I have seen plenty men who were held back by women.

                                                    *

Have you heard the limerick: “J.M.Keynes has all the brains; And Lopokova  has what’s ovah”? [Russian wife of English economist J.M.Keynes,1883-1946]

                                                    *

Capitalist society is obsessed with sex, which has become one gigantic commercial racket.   Pornography is everywhere, yet the vast majority of people have not even seen a cow calve.  In the countryside sex is the most natural thing in the world. In nature it is as natural as breathing. Most of the modern Women’s Lib movement ignore key issues, in my opinion.  Much of its thrust is to get women to work outside the home and so enter the sphere of commodity production, where relations are based on exchange and not use-values.  That is why it is promoted so avidly by the capitalist press. Take one example. Women nowadays are all told they must have their babies in hospital.  There they slit their cunts, in so-called induced labour, so their babies are born at a time that suits the doctors, who want to have their weekends or evenings off. Have you ever heard any of the Women’s Lib groups protest about this? I haven’t.

                                                    *

Ewart Milne has been going on about sex in the New Statesman [Ewart Milne,1903-87, Irish poet and writer].  One would think that before pontificating people would get some real knowledge of what they were talking about. Experience is the basis of knowledge here as in most spheres, although one would not think so from all the romancing and mythologising there is about.

                                                    *

The search for political correctness flourished also in the French Revolution. It reminds me of Wolfe Tone, who criticised those who went round calling themselves “Citizen This” and “Citizen That”.   “Get your Republic first,” said Tone, “and then you can call yourselves what you like.” It is the same with “chairperson” and suchlike nonsense.  Get your sex equality and then it will not matter what you call yourself.  There is even some silly woman in France who says that it is wrong that there should be male and female nouns.  She says that Women’s Lib calls for the whole French language to be changed, bless your heart. (1980)  

                                                    *

The most important thing in the wife of a political man is that she should share his politics. Otherwise every political development puts a strain on their marriage. There is not just a basis of one disagreement, but a new one every day. I could put up with things from someone who shared my political views, but to be married to someone always pulling against one on politics must be unsupportable.

                                                    *

If you get married, one thing is certain: you lose control of your own time.

                                                    *

You say that the reason there are so few famous women is that women have no wives.  There may be something in that. Yet the difference is only one chromosome, as well as environment of course. Still, probably one chromosome can mean a lot interacting with the social environment.  But look at women’s achievement in the novel. 

                                                    *

What causes homosexuality? I think it has an evolutionary basis. Like masturbation, transvestism and the like, it is a means whereby nature maintains the fertility of the species while restraining its expansion to an environmentally tolerable level.  Because human sexual capacity is continuous, there would be huge population expansion and heavy mortality unless these other outlets existed. They can be observed in apes as well.  Of course there are psychological predispositions also.

                                                    *

There is absolutely no evidence that people deteriorate through in-breeding. It is an old wife’s tale.  Even when I was a youngster beginning to study science I was completely sceptical about it. Look at the millions of spermatozoa in one drop of semen; there is such a vast variety that extensive in-breeding can only moderately reduce. You might just as well say that the human race itself will deteriorate by in-breeding with itself.

                                                    *

She is a very splendid girl. Do you see her often? I am a believer in the matching and breeding of the intellectual elite, you know.  She plays the oboe excellently and agrees with everything I say – which shows what a clever woman she is!

                                                    *

The marriage troubles of the pair of them make one think of Dostoevsky in Camden Town.

______________

HEALTH AND DISEASE

The secret of good health is continual motion.  There is daily recovery through sleep, but sleep without the expenditure of energy means either weakness of health or illness.  Yet this is the age of the motor car. Small wonder that there is such sickness around. If you want to stay healthy keep moving:  in body, in mind and in everything else.

                                                    *

The only way to stay healthy is not to get ill. 

                                                    *

There are many fine and beautiful parts of the body. Poets have hymned the face and the eyes and the rest, and there are other parts lower down that they have praised. But in my opinion the finest part of all, the part most deserving of praise, is the liver. 

                                                    *

Whatever age you are, young or old, if you have good health things are very much the same.  There is no greater or lesser mystery about the world, and one is equally concerned to stay alive at any age.

                                                    *

The active man is always the better thinker than the sedentary. A man who takes vigorous exercise comes freshly to his work and his mind is infinitely keener than someone who is cooped up all day. Hence the Greek ideal of man. Our modern heroes are the warriors of the desk. 

                                                     *

I believe that life is like war: when one’s number is on the bullet the game is up, and there is nothing you or anyone else can do about it. I am not a supporter of the so-called environmentalist school. I believe that it is the genes and chromosomes that fundamentally decide things. Most people should therefore rely on treating their own illnesses, if they are unfortunate enough to have to go and get ill, for there is little enough doctors can do for them. My confidence in the medical profession anyhow is zero. They pretend to do more than they can do and they rarely tell you exactly what that is. I only go to them if I cannot cure myself and if time does not, then their ignorance can only complement my own.  

                                                    *

I have  not a high opinion of doctors, and some of them verge on  corruption. Look at the so-called “merit awards” which the National Health Service permits them to give themselves. The most useful thing they have is experience: they have seen so many examples of the same condition before. Nurses are more honest and often know more than doctors. I always wear good clothes and a good suit when I go to the hospital for my eyes, for the doctors are very class-conscious and it means they treat you better. (1984)

                                                     *

I have been ill for the past three weeks, the first time in thirty years, a kind of gastric flu. I thought of aspirin – it contains sodium salicylate – having woken up one morning scarcely able to move. I dissolved some old aspirin that had been there for years. It did the trick and enabled me go across to the shop for alcohol.  I cured myself with aspirin and alcohol. (1986)

                                                    *

Have you heard of “spes physica”? I knew a man once who thought there was going to be a great new dawning for mankind come out of China. That was years before the revolution there.  It was because he had bad TB. Diseases of the lung give you exaltation, those of the stomach make you depressed. So if you are over-enthusiastic about something without good reason, tap your lungs! 

                                                    *

He had varicose veins and was talking of going to hospital for an operation and let the doctors at him with a scalpel. I told Helga MacLiam and she said that there were exercises that would cure them. The important thing was to change the pressure in the veins and the adjacent capillaries, by leaning with one’s legs on occasion and then altering the pressure by suddenly changing one’s position. Things like that. Doctors, they say, bury their mistakes. Young people are taught to run for cures and pills when they feel unwell. Instead they should go to bed. The trouble is, they are not stretched enough.  It does one no harm at all to be stretched on occasion. If it goes on too long, doubtless the strain will tell; but you can be strained for a long time and it is really doing you good, developing the potentiality of your body and your mind. 

                                                    *

Does life get better as one gets older? I suppose it’s as broad as it’s long. Some things get better and others get worse, but the general rule prevails that man is meant to enjoy life, as long as he has satisfied one indispensable condition: that he possesses physical health.

                                                    *

The most convincing theory of ageing that I have heard relates to health.  If something bumps off a cell or causes a malignancy – say, a cosmic ray – the body’s immune system seeks to bump it off, but cells are destroyed in the process, so that you shrivel up. Everyone therefore must get cancer eventually, if one’s heart does not give out first. Either way you have your allotted span and cannot live much beyond it.

                                                    *

Cancer is a disease of the auto-immune system; tackling it with surgery is like taking a spanner to a vegetable.

                                                    *

I do not believe the theory that animal fat is bad for you and will give you heart attacks. Fat in combination with sugar, maybe. Health is the result of the working of the whole and not of any single thing. They have found for instance that schizophrenics do not get rheumatism and that people with rheumatics do not get delusions. They say heart disease is caused by too many saturated fats. The concept of something being “caused” by another is a vulgar one. The process involved is infinitely more complicated. No one thing can “cause” an illness.

                                                    *

It is nonsense to say that something like onions is good for you.  Food is good for you, and the one drink the body needs is water.  Anything you consume will not help you to lengthen your life, but it can help to shorten it. People say that by doing such and such you will live longer, but it is the wrong way to put it. The length of one’s life is genetically determined.

                                                    *

I have never been under any illusion but that my strength was physical, not intellectual; or intellectual because it was physical. I have not been to a doctor for nearly forty years and if you ever hear that I am in their hands, then you can assume it is all up; for if it happens once I doubt if I will get out of their hands again.  There is a pattern in a man’s life: they are consistently healthy or consistently ill or they fluctuate in regular fashion, and my pattern is one of health. Touch wood!  I would like to drop down dead when I am eighty, or perhaps ninety, without any slow declension.  That is the best way to go, I think.  I would like to see the transit of Venus, which is 2004, but I doubt if I shall manage it. (1980)

                                                    *

It is good to visit one’s friends or relations either at home or in hospital when they are ill.  The recovery of health requires that one feels wanted in the world.

                                                    *

Seeing that spastic boy who was shaking brings home to one that good health is the most important thing of all, and whether one is healthy or not is largely a matter of accident. 

                                                    *

Arbitrariness surrounds us on all sides. Was not that what I was saying to the philosopher lady who wanted to believe that the universe was rational?  We try to make an enclave of rationality within it, but we deceive ourselves if we imagine that the whole is rational.

                                                     *

The unconscious does not exist. To be really unconscious means to be dead.  Even in sleep there is some consciousness, expressed by a few thousand “guard cells” in the brain that respond to outer stimuli while the millions of others are asleep.  Dreams and so on are therefore part of consciousness and, like consciousness in general, are purposive, furthering the maintenance and survival of the organism.

                                                    *

The purpose of sleep is to enable one to dream. Dreaming is the essential function, which sorts out what it is important to remember.  

                                                    *

There are silly people who have to take sleeping pills because they cannot sleep. If you cannot sleep, get up. Or take a drink before going to bed. It is the best medicine of the lot. 

                                                    *

Sleep is the most boring part of the day.

                                                    *

Alcohol is much superior to all the other drugs because it has a food value. The body is deceived and treats it as a food, not a drug. It is a poison disguised as a food.

                                                    *

Of course I can  cook well. I  am a chemist. Cooking is applied chemistry. A chemist’s nose is more analytical than any apparatus that ever was.

                                                    *

I did a study of some 170 curry recipes to discover the consistent principles of their taste: oleum, capsicum and the umbelliferae. They come from the Mediterranean meeting with the South Indian cultures following the Moghul conquest of India.

                                                    *

A fire in the kitchen? In a fire the first rule is, let it burn; the second is, put it out.

______________

MENTAL HEALTH

For good health the most important thing to have is a healthy head, for an intelligent mind can regulate everything else.

                                                    *

If mental health goes wrong, so will physical health and vice versa. There should be no rigid separation between sickness of mind and body.

                                                    *

To be well-adjusted!  It is not good to be adjusted; society is not worth adjusting to. 

                                                    *

In our society only the insane want to be normal.

                                                    *

He has gone into a depression?  Silly bloody fool, it means he is unable to face facts.

                                                    *

Of course if you feel depressed or unwell in the head you would be better advised to see a priest than a psychoanalyst.  You would probably hear more sense and it would cost you less. He would certainly do you less harm and the advice he would give you would be within a tradition, with generations and centuries of experience behind it, even if it is expressed in formulae learned by rote.

                                                    *

Depression is a reflex protecting against inactivity. If you are worried or feel what people call “depressed”, the first thing to find out is what is worrying you and then decide what to do about it. Study the problem and then adopt a policy.  It is just the same in personal life as in politics.  Never go to sleep until you have found out what is worrying you and you have decided what to do about it.  Then you will sleep sound and awake refreshed in the morning. If you cannot solve the problem, then give it up and try to get somebody else to solve it, without worrying yourself to no avail. I am convinced that most so-called depressions arise from situations of this kind, in which people are worried but do not know what worries them.

                                                    *

Her brother is depressed and lying in bed at home. “We don’t know what is wrong,” she says.  He probably wants a woman, like most men do. 

                                                    *

Over-eating is a defensive reaction to nervous strain by a basically healthy organism.

                                                    *

He got into a mess and reacted to it by falling into a “depression”.  If he had more cultural ballast it would not have happened. But he never reads and he watches television all the time.  How then can he see things in perspective when he faces a crisis?  If you feel like having a nervous breakdown, you should throw the typewriter out the window, something I did once.  Tension can only be resolved in action. If you remember that, you will never have a nervous breakdown. Or throw a chair across the room, or smash something, and experience the pleasure of doing so. It is irrational of course and shows the irrational in life, but it is less irrational than having a nervous breakdown.

                                                    *

Imagine his folly: when he had difficulties in his trade union he allowed himself to be persuaded to go into hospital to be stuffed with drugs and made incapable of doing anything – so that his enemies might get him deeper into the shit while he is out of action. Nervous breakdowns are just so much rubbish.  I would not get a nervous breakdown, although I have had much worse situations to contend with in my time than his, let me tell you.  You would not get a nervous breakdown. Cathal MacLiam would not get a breakdown.  We would not because we already know that we are mad!  I remember saying to Betty O’Shea once – she is a psychiatrist, you know: the trouble is that all the mad people think they are sane, and the sane people know they are mad [Dr Elizabeth O’Shea, Irish psychiatrist and Connolly Association member in London].  I was pulling her leg, of course, hinting perhaps that she might not be all that sane herself. And she looked at me very seriously and do you know what she said?: “You are right, you know.” And to this day I do not know whether she meant it or was trying to pull my leg in turn.  But it is true that the sane people know they are mad, for the mad people, who really think that they and the world are sane, are making an absolutely gigantic mistake.  To say that all men are mad really means to say that logic does not come into it at all. What I really mean, of course, is that sanity and insanity have nothing to do with it.  They are limited and irrelevant categories.  It comes back to the point that there is absolutely no logical reason why I or anybody else should be alive.  Life is not governed by logic. It is illogical.  That is why mad people spend their time trying to invent reasons for things that have no reason, and they have nervous breakdowns when the things they want or expect do not happen. There is no logic in life, and there is no justice either, and it is the beginning of wisdom to recognise this.

                                                          *

Barney Morgan spends his time visiting lunatics as a social worker and he tells me it is all a cod [Bernard Morgan, Connolly Association activist in Liverpool; a professional social worker]. There is no evidence that most of the treatments do any good.  They bring people into hospital, he says, and they get better for a while, largely because of the rest and the change, not necessarily at all because of the pills they give them. I knew a lady doctor in South Wales once, in Monmouthshire, the superintendent of a mental hospital. It is a county divided into a heavily industrialised part and a rural part. She told me that she had so many hundreds of patients from the industrial area, and then she asked me how many did I think she had from the agricultural area. I gave her several figures. “No, they are all wrong,” she said, “It is precisely zero.” Let them get rid of industrial society and they will get rid of mental illness.

_____________

Art and literature

Art creates new consciousness; it does not provide new knowledge. That is for science to do, which for the man who comprehends both is far superior to art.

                                                    *

All the greatest art avoids the personal or seems to; it avoids the first person and reveals through indirection.

                                                    *

The essence of art is the unexpected.

                                                    *

It is a mediocre work, neither an old thing well said, nor a new thing said badly.

                                                    *

If I had not to spend half my time selling newspapers around the Irish districts I would like to write a work on aesthetics. My advantage would be that of approaching the subject as a natural scientist. No one else in the Marxist tradition has done that.  But you would need maximum quiet for it. I worked out for myself the basis of aesthetics as far back as 1940. Roscoe Clark  did the same and although I knew him, we discovered it independently[Roscoe Clark, medical doctor in Birmingham].  It is the conditioned reflex. The basis for comprehending the finest art is to be found in the study of Pavlov’s dogs.  You know how in Pavlov something is associated with another, so that the stimulus which excites the response can be transferred to something else that has no necessary connection with it. So it is with the symbol in art, where one thing can stand for another quite unconnected with it.  Hence the association between things and symbols that is quite fundamental to art.

                                                    *

The basic principle of artistic creation is first to develop material in the tonic mode, then intrude other material in the dominant, and then resolve the latter material in the tonic.  It is a dialectical movement, seen in its purest form in the sonata, but to be found in all art.

                                                    *

Literary art is a form of showmanship, the need to capture the attention of the reader. That is the difference between a book and a thesis. The former is written for a public, the latter for a university professor, to whom it is important to demonstrate all the books one has read. History too is an art. In my book on Liam Mellows I deliberately heightened the contrast between the events before Mellows’s death, when his fortunes seemed to be improving, in order to make more vivid the contrast with his death sentence and execution.  That would be quite impermissible in a thesis, where all facts are equally important, so that the overall result is formless.

                                                    *

Try to write for the mass of people, not for academics. Most academic books are written for academics, which is why few people read them.

                                                    *

Modern life is so complex that only words, as used in prose, are adequate to express it. That is probably one of the reasons for the decline of the traditional art forms such as painting, sculpture and music.  Even poetry finds the task too difficult, so there is left only prose.

                                                    *

Literary questions can only be treated by someone with scientific pretensions on the basis that content precedes form and that until what is vital in content is unravelled, any discussion of form is supererogatory. 

                                                    *

Good satire is impossible nowadays; there are just too many things to satirise. And then there are the libel laws. What would be needed to do justice to the monstrousness of today – the pens of Swift, Voltaire and Shaw combined?

                                                    *

There is nothing so mad that people will not do it. All the time you find that life imitates art.

                                                    *

Do you not think that I am steeped in tradition? I am a believer in the classic style above all, in music especially, and in literature and writing.  The older one gets the more one appreciates how the classic style encompasses all others and includes them, although in youth I grant that one may think quite differently. 

                                                    *

Of course all good writers see themselves as custodians of language, influencing and transmitting a tradition. Accuracy of language and precision of style are essential virtues for any scientific writer.

                                                    *

When I was younger I thought that I might be a novelist. I even wrote plays and a musical. I must make sure they are well and truly burned before I shuffle off this mortal coil.  I am glad I did not become a novelist. This is not the age of the novel. Things change too rapidly and society is too unstable, except perhaps in America, where capitalist society is most stable and where novels of epic dimension are still possible.

                                                    *

I refuse to read anything if it is boringly written or has grammatical mistakes.  If someone cannot write or spell properly it is not worth paying attention to anything else they claim to do, for they have not paid attention to the most basic skills.  

                                                    *

Books after all are essentially for entertainment, and that is as true of history and politics as of romantic fiction.

                                                    *

I do not read novels for the sake of character studies. I have seen too many characters in my time to think that I will learn anything new from novels. I read them to see if they give a good picture of the times and the way people conducted themselves in the period being described, so that one can say at the end: “That is how it was.”

                                                    *

People do not appreciate how hard it is to write a book, at least one worth reading.

                                                    *

The secret of all good writing lies in large part in the use of one-syllable words.

                                                    *

I am noting the decline in correct English on the BBC News. I have a little book in which I mark down the mistakes I hear. When they come round to abolishing the Third Programme I will have the basis of a good letter to the Times. (1968)

                                                    *

I never thought too much of lyrical poetry. It is mostly about feelings rather than ideas. Feelings!  What they don’t appreciate is that everyone’s feelings are the same, or more or less so. It is their ideas are different. Nothing new can be said at this stage about feelings.

                                                    *

Mine is public poetry. Private poetry is of small interest to others. All the private things have been said too often before. The nearest thing to mine might be the poetry of Thomas Hood [1799-1845, English poet and satirist]. 

                                                    *

In youth one can produce the poetry of inspiration, with the lyricism of Swinburne or the early Shelley. But really great work is not based on inspiration but on method. That requires vast skill and experience and gives us the greatest poets, like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Blake and Yeats. These four are undoubtedly the greatest in English, and Yeats is the greatest twentieth century poet. They do not write in negatives, but in the grand positives.

                                                    *

Novel-writing is not something I could do, but with poetry it is different.  Did you know that Yeats always wrote out the scheme of a poem in prose first.  It shows that content dominates over form. 

                                                    *

I have not written verse for a long time, but it may be a case of a long gap in time between the old methods and some grand new project. (1966)

                                                    *

What I like as I get older is what I call objective poetry. I have shown you some of my juvenilia, which typically are dominated by “I”. When a man is old he is not interested in “I”. I believe iambic tetrameter, not pentameter, is the fundamental metre of English poetry and I always give my own opinions in that.  I do not think much of poetry for poetry’s sake. So much modern stuff is poets contemplating their poetic navels. Who gives a damn about feelings that are peculiar to oneself?  What is interesting are the feelings one has in common with others.   I would make no apologies for writing what I call anti-imperialist poetry. Perhaps it might influence someone. My poem The Mountbatten Award for instance: I was struck by the irony of it.  Mountbatten  was quite progressive. He had spoken out against nuclear war, in a speech they had all suppressed.  That he should be bumped off as a minor side-effect of a conflict in a country that he loved! [Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1900-79, former Viceroy of India and Chief of the British Defence Staff; assassinated by the IRA off Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo]  (1981)

                                                    *

The stanzas that I wrote on the lady who said I was not an “academic” contain libel, I am sure, so that I would not publish it.  It is really my private little joke, but I do not mind various parties getting to know that it exists, so that the lady in question may perhaps hear of it, but would be prevented by the nature of the case from making her interest known.  The last two verses, you say, are too explicit, but they contain the whole point, if the thing is to be clear to the ordinary man in the pub. Remember it is villainy, not art.

                                                    *

Yeats’s later poems, lyrical in form but astringently intellectual in content, surely make him the greatest poet in English of the century. 

                                                    *

An old man’s poetry is like dry verse.

                                                    *

The secret of literary style is to write so that when read, one’s words can only be spoken in one way, with the emphasis falling exactly where one wants it.

                                                    *

The great art of using English is the art of juxtaposition of the Latin and the Saxon word, the abstract and the concrete as they so often are, while remembering that the Saxon is dominant.

                                                    *

I take trouble with words. I sometimes spend an hour on a particular word. There is a floating participle somewhere in my Connolly book. That is why it takes me so long to write my immortal works.

                                                    *

I like the clear strong prose of Engels, where he takes pretentious ideas by the scruff of the neck and  wrings the life out of them.

                                                    *

I like the research more than the writing, although I like the writing too.  It is good to feel able to form words well into shape, to be able to appreciate the taste of a sentence. 

                                                    *

That is wooden academic writing, full of “buts”, “ands” and “neverthelesses”, to disguise its lack of grasp of a subject.  You cannot get away with that in a science or mathematics paper. The lack of integrity of the middle class shows itself even in its antithetical style.

                                                    *

Paper will take anything that is written on it. It is so easy when engaging in polemics by letter to let one’s prose run away with one.  Face to face with an opponent one can expect interruptions from the first assertion one makes. But when writing no one interrupts; you can cap one strong assertion with another even stronger, until you have demolished your enemy to your own satisfaction.  When I was young my pen was always running away with me like that and I wrote lots of things I should never have written. 

                                                    *

The more they computerise and automate printing the more unsatisfactory the final product becomes.  When things were set by hand the author could always make last-minute changes and step into the printing process several times along the way.  Now when words are set by what I call “unidentified flying objects”, you get Heaven knows what result. Several things I corrected in the final proofs of my Sean O’Casey manuscript appear uncorrected in the published text.

                                                    *

The Irish genius is inclined to action, I think. At least it seems so in its successful literary forms, the drama and short-story, where an action predominates. I think that one needs a stable, long-established and self-confident society to encourage the more contemplative forms of literature.

                                                    *

One of the pithiest headlines ever written – in an American paper naturally – about the rape of a washerwoman: “Nut screws washer and bolts”! 

                                                    *

These people who are obsessed with attacking us, the so-called “British and Irish Communist Group”  – who incidentally  are neither British nor Irish nor much of a group – sit down in the British Museum and read Marx and Lenin for a few weeks and they then affect the “grand style”.  They do not allow for a moment that someone who has spent years on the subject may have something worthwhile to say. They do not realise that one can only assume the grand style after years, as old Professor Pirani used to say. He was sixty-seven and could use it just occasionally [Marcello Von Pirani,1880-1968, German scientist in Britain during World War 2].  (1965)

————————–

Music

Music is a limited art. I doubt if there will be any further major improvements in it. The most that can be done is to go over what has already been discovered.  It is a bit like chemistry, where there are no big discoveries to be made. Literature is different. The novel, for example, will express changing social reality as long as there is a reality to express.

                                                    *

Individualism over-accelerated the development of music; its natural history has been telescoped. A few centuries should have been taken to digest Mozart before moving on to Beethoven. The musical development since the early 19th century should have been spread over a thousand years.

                                                    *

I took him to a concert in Liverpool, to improve his knowledge of music.  It was Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart.  They were in the wrong order of course. Haydn, the believer, should have been first, then Mozart the deist and then Beethoven the atheist, the greatest of them all.

                                                    *

Haydn’s was the apotheosis of popular music. No one could fail to understand it.

                                                    *

It is only in recent years that I have appreciated the sadness of Mozart’s music. When one is young one thinks it full of gaiety and sparkle. Later one understands that there is something quite different there. 

                                                     *

Mozart’s music is the most extravert of all, with nothing morbid or introspective about it.

                                                    *

European music reflects centuries of European conditioning to hysteria. It is deeply emotional music and very complex, unlike the cerebral music of India and China.

                                                    *

Opera has been absolutely central to the development of music.

                                                    *

Germany’s composers were all anti-Establishment: the only progressive tradition of a benighted nation.

                                                    *

I find the “Londonderry Air” to be absolute torture.

________________

Science and Philosophy

Where philosophy was, science is; where philosophy is, science will be.  

                                                    *

Philosophy seeks reality in a mirror made of words.

                                                    *

Puritanism is an absurdity. There would be no soul, spirit or thought without a body. Our body is the most important thing, and we should look after it. The computer may surpass some of the elements of the brain, but it will never be able to learn from experience, because for that you need a body. People forget that the brain belongs to a body, as no computer does. It is attachment to his body that makes man distinctive, not his brain.

                                                    *

The secret of the transforming power of science is that it regards the world as being what it is, whatever people think about it. It therefore pushes its enquiries relentlessly into the heart of things and finds out what makes them tick, thereby enabling us to make them tick to our dictation.

                                                    *

A proper education should begin with science subjects and then go through mathematics to embrace philosophy, politics and aesthetics later on. This sequence is usually inverted for most students, who get a smattering of the liberal subjects when they know nothing about life, and who never get a glimpse of the scientific view of nature.

                                                    *

Physics rules chemistry, chemistry biology, biology psychology and psychology all the various social “-ologies”.

                                                    *

One should never dogmatise about science. Who is to say what is scientific or what is not? I am glad to put it to the test of the impulses.

                                                    *

Everyone who wants to understand things should do a degree in science. I once knew a clever doctor whose son wanted to do medicine as well, but the father insisted, quite rightly, that he do a science degree first. It should be physics above all, and mathematics, although they do not know how to teach mathematics today. For instance they now begin with talking about sets, which are groups of things like numbers that have some aspect in common. Yet that is a highly abstract notion which a young person can only be expected to come to on the basis of lots and lots of experience. I think they base all this on intelligence tests, which are complete nonsense. The test of intelligence is not what is done in artificial conditions, but what one does in natural conditions.

                                                    *

He is studying science. That is a sensible thing. I always pay attention to a youngster who decides to study science, for it teaches them to think.   They cannot get away with not having brains, like those teaching subjects like politics or sociology.

                                                    *

I had thought years ago of writing a book on dialectics with John Eaton [John Eaton, English Marxist economist].  We made enquiries and discovered that all the scientists took dialectics for granted and that there was nothing new to be said on the subject. After all these are very general laws and principles of motion.  It is only to the philosophers who are ignorant of science that they are cause of wonder. I have written a reply to Gunn’s article on the dialectics of nature in Marxism Today, that son of a gun!  It will probably be kept until last, for it will scatter the lot of them [a reference to an article by Desmond Greaves on “The Dialectics of Nature” in “Marxism Today”, August 1977, a reply to an earlier article by Richard Gunn].

                                                    *

When Fleming discovered the idea of penicillin he gave up everything else to concentrate on finding out about it – one of the marks of a truly great scientist.

                                                    *

Those two greatest giants of thought: Aristotle and Marx.

                                                    *

The state of physics is certainly in a mess; all sorts of really fundamental things remain to be understood. (1980)

                                                    *

Honour is not given to everyone who makes really useful inventions. Who knows for instance who invented the lens, an invention that has been an unlimited boon to humanity?  But people know who invented the aeroplane and motor-car, that have been far less obviously beneficial.

                                                    *

Einstein was on the left of course, as with a man of his intelligence you would expect him to be.

                                                    *

I once thought of writing a book on cookery from the standpoint of a chemist. I don’t know if it has been done.

                                                    *

The Chinese made some technical discoveries but they never did anything much with them. The main reason, I think, is that they never got beyond hieroglyphics. Think of what an obstacle to the diffusion of innovation that was.

                                                    *

I suppose it was the invention of iron that began all the slaughter.  In its way it was as significant as the invention of gunpowder, and the invention of the atom bomb. Honour to those who invented iron and shame to those who misused it.

                                                    *

To make organic from inorganic matter one needs the element of time. How do you make a tree, or limestone, though it is possible to assemble a compound with all the properties of wood? A corpse is organic matter, but it is not living. The fundamental distinction is between living and organic matter. 

                                                    *

Certainty is impossible. Truth is an approximation always; although young people want absolutes, like God.

                                                    *

One question I don’t like people asking me is why I did something in the past. The usual answer to that silly question is that I just don’t remember.  Someone asked Anna Bennett  why she married Jack, and her answer was that she had forgotten [Wife of Jack Bennett, Belfast journalist and friend of Greaves’s]. It is usually the most accurate answer too and better than the attempts at finding reasons people make.  There are many reasons governing any major decision.  It is usually part of a large and subtle complex, which any one statement cannot possibly do justice to.

                                                    *

Mathematics is a method, although of exaggerated importance in my opinion. The important thing is the analysis of concepts, and for that one needs words above all.

                                                    *

Goethe was one of the very greatest, for he was a scientist as well as an artist. One can list the great intellectual geniuses: Aristotle, Leonardo, Marx. Some would put Shakespeare, but he was not a scientist, whereas the others were. By that standard Goethe was one of the very greatest.

                                                    *

Goethe used poke fun at Eckermann in that superb book [Johann Peter Eckermann’s “Conversations With Goethe”, 1836]. For instance Eckermann asked Goethe what would he have done if he had been born a poor man and Goethe responded scornfully that he would never have made that mistake, which Eckermann then solemnly jotted down. He was obviously poking fun at Eckermann, for he knew well that he would have been buggered if that had happened.

                                                    *

Goethe’s theory of colours: both he and the Newtonians were right and had grasped different aspects of the truth correctly, according to their standpoints.  The trouble was that they did not understand the physiology of the eye. That did not come for many decades later.

_________________

POLITICS AND SOCIETY

HISTORY

History is the supreme science, the science of sciences. Everything has a history, even the proton. All sciences are in fact historical, concerned with how things come to be and how they are changed.                     

                                                    *

A lot of history-writing is to make us forget history.

                                                    *

It is a pretence of academicism that history can be written without bias. One can no more avoid bias in history than one can in food. The important thing is that one should declare one’s partisanship and be conscious of it. Academic historians rarely do this.  

                                                    *

Napoleon remarked that history was a fable agreed upon. Rather, a fable disagreed on!  History is always from the point of view of the person writing it, who seeks, in the case of biography, to look at history from the standpoint of the person being written about.

                                                    *

The good historian will not only tell us what happened, but will suggest what might have happened if other things had been done, based on on his best estimate of the possibilities in the situation being described.

                                                    *

Peadar O’Donnell said to me, “They may win the battles, but it is our side will write the history books.” I said to him, “It is more important to win the battles. The books can wait.”

                                                    *

Events are important in so far as the people participate in them and understand them.  History is not made by heroes who create movements in their own image. The leaders are more like labels attached to different aspects of the popular will, although this is not to say their influence is negligible. Most important is the class which leads, the class whose outlook permeates the consciousness of the movement. Each class of course has its own heroes.

                                                    *

Look at how different from what was expected it has all turned out to be. Read Palme Dutt’s book on The International  and see what changes and unexpected things occurred.

                                                    *

Of course we are revisionists. We are not half revisionist enough.

                                                    *

The academic historians talk about “primary sources”, as if cabinet papers and documents are primary sources, when everyone knows that the minutes of meetings commonly leave out all the important things. They have no sense of dialectics and do not realise that the primary thing is practice and experience. Oral history, what people saw and participated in, is much more fundamental than the written record and more likely to be nearer the truth.  There is no such thing as a neutral historian; or at least one cannot be neutral except about events that are so long past that they are completely dead, like ancient history.  But to write about issues that are still relevant is like trying to plot the trajectory of a bullet.  One may know its direction, but it is impossible to say at any one time where it is. One only knows about it when it has gone by. 

                                                    *

So many academic historians go into inessentials in meticulous detail, adding a reference number for every statement. Yet they make the most sweeping general assertions without supporting evidence.

                                                    *

I don’t mind engineers or scientists or lawyers, who are experts on something.  It is the academic ideologists who bug me, the historians and so-called sociologists who pretend that history is objective truth when it is and can be only their truth.

                                                    *

There should be a dictionary of Irish Republican biography. Years ago it was I who first suggested the Dictionary of Labour Biography at a lecture in Marx House, and I thought that Marx House would have taken it up.  But it became an academic thing, although you tell me that John Saville has a good entry on Tommy Jackson in his Labour Dictionary – which is something [John Saville, 1916-2009, historian, editor of the “Dictionary of Labour Biography” in several volumes].

                                                   *

You speak of De Valera’s failures, of his subterfuges.  You want perfect truth.  But there is no perfect truth;  there is no such absolute.  History, economics, even chemistry, are coloured by the politics of the person concerned. I can assure you about that, and I know something about chemistry.

                                                    *

Historical myth is whatever the Government disapproves of.

                                                    *

We can say what we like about the past, for it cannot reply.

                                                    *                                                                

Instead of reading books he went around seeing people – the mark of the true historical researcher.

                                                    *

I marked twelve distinct references to Ireland that should have been in the index of Yvonne Kapp’s splendid biography of Eleanor Marx. She clearly had someone else do her index for her.  It is  not good practice. Do your own, for you alone know what should be put in [Yvonne Kapp, 1903-99, historian, author of “Eleanor Marx, A Biography” in two volumes,1972-6].

                                                    *

The great movements of history are generally blind. If you want to be with them it is best to be under twenty-one. When you are older you know too much and are cautious about committing yourself – with good reason. But the intelligent thereby have less influence on events. 

                                                    *

The Turkish conquest of Byzantium was one of the supreme disasters of European history, for it threw the whole focus of development on to the Atlantic seaboard and precipitated the conquest of America and the conquest of Ireland. 

                                                    *

I remember reading H.G.Wells’s Outline of History when I was left it as part of my grandfather’s library. I began it and then noticed that he had divided it into the pre and post-Christian periods: as if history went through a bottleneck and that at the bottleneck there were these three characters crucified on a hill. A ridiculous conception.

                                                    *

It is possible to write the history of England from within England, but is difficult to write the history of Ireland from within Ireland; for the motive power of events as they shape themselves is not internal economic development, but the actions of an occupying power.

                                                    *

Is the immense upsurge of interest in history in Britain and the Labour Movement today the sign of a country and a movement that has no future? (1987)

                                                    *

Maccoby’s book on the Jews and Morris’s on King Arthur are studies of major importance coming out at a time of crisis in civilisation [Hyam Maccoby,1924-2004, Jewish scholar, author of  “Revolution in Judea”,1973; John Morris, 1913-77, historian, author of “The Age of Arthur”,1973].

                                                    *

I am an historian; you are a schoolteacher. You cannot expect me to know such details.

____________

PRINCIPLES OF POLITICS

One must be ideologically victorious before one can have other kinds of victory. 

                                                     *

All great social changes are made by the mass of the people. That is the beginning of wisdom for those who want changes in society; and despite all its limitations parliamentary agitation helps the mass of the people to see more clearly what they want.

                                           * 

The principal duty of the State, and the statesman, is to defend the independence of the nation.

                                                    *

All the radical and subversive movements over centuries constitute the history of “the good  old cause”.

                                                    *

The fallacy of economism: Mrs Thatcher was going to lose the 1983 election; then she had the Falklands War and she won hands down.  I suppose the historians and sociologists will look for grand economic explanations of why the Tories were in office during the 1980s, ignoring such political facts that stare them in the face. (1987)

                                                   *

I remember years ago discussing with P.C.Joshi some of the problems he faced in India, and he summarised matters thus: “We could not solve the problem, so we split” [P.C.Joshi, 1907-80, first general secretary of the Communist Party of India, 1935-47]. The most vital challenge always is to get the theory right; then matters of practice sort themselves out in time.

                                                    *

The lack of faith of people in politics is a sign of demoralisation, for how can you change things unless you do it politically?

                                                    *

At the top, where real decisions are taken, people always talk plain language and deal with considerations any man can understand.  It is lower down that lesser men seek to make things deliberately more complex. The great political issues are usually simple and can be explained in simple terms to people.  Obscurity and complex analysis in politics are usually  indicators of fraud.

                                                    *

The silliness of going to College to “study politics”.  What is politics? The working out of policy, deciding on a course of action to achieve an end.  What end? That must be decided first. The ends of action are not to be learned from professors. Of all subjects politics is not one that can be studied from books, but must be based on one’s own experience.

                                                    *

Nothing worthwhile was ever produced by a committee, but always by an individual. Only the individual can be creative; but do not tell that to the socialists.

                                                    *

The best people and the most competent never get to the top in public life because of all the shit they have to wade through to get there. The very process of advancement corrupts those who advance. Occasionally an accident happens and a really great man gets to the top and has power to do something – a Pericles, a Lenin or a De Gaulle – but it is accident more than will-power.   Leftists always imagine that what is needed is will-power. It is as fallacious as the opposite heresy that there is nothing one can do. What they ignore is the role of accident. There was a moment in the Russian Revolution, one hour of one day, when Lenin said that that day was the one in which they should strike, and he was in a minority of one on the Central Committee.  He said that if they would not agree he would resign, and they agreed.  But even then Kamenev or somebody leaked the incident to the press. That was a case of the man meeting his hour and the hour producing the man. It was the same with De Gaulle in May 1940 [Following the fall of France to the Nazi invaders in May 1940 General Charles de Gaulle crossed to London, from where he made his famous call to the French nation to continue to resist Germany].

                                                    * 

It is practically impossible for an honest man to get into a position of power. If it is not impossible, it is bloody difficult, for the very qualities that would qualify him for leadership are the things that disqualify him.  So many of the people who are any good have to wait so long that it is too late for them to do anything when they get to a position of influence.  I consider the greatest writer in the history of the world to be Dean Swift.  Anyway, when Swift revived the dead in Gulliver’s Travels and had the Kings and Caesars before him, he said: “Three kings told me that they had never appointed anybody to any position on the grounds of their ability except by error or by the treachery of some subordinate.”

                                                    *

There are two kinds of politicians, those who want to get something done and those who want to get the credit for it.  It is astonishing how much you can get done in politics if you are willing to let others take the credit.

                                                    *

People are not great in themselves. They have greatness conferred on them by the people.

                                                    *

A political movement must act continually; otherwise it withers away.

                                                    *

It is all very well to believe that the millennium will come by struggle,  but it may also come by waiting; and perhaps it will not come at all.

                                                    *

All childrens’s heads are round, which is the reason for saying that all men are equal.  All men are equal is a truly silly slogan, for men are not equal. Everyone knows that they are very unequal. Hence the wisdom of the communist idea: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. For that is inequality, not equality.

                                                    *

Societies live only in so far as they are continually remade. 

                                                    *

The arrogance and folly of  seeking to decide policy in a committee and then imposing it from above on other people: that is typical of the outlook of many communist leaderships.  Policy should be decided on in public.  In fact major policy should be the result of the thinking of the entire nation.  I have only grasped this recently; but there are lots of things I have learned only as an old man. (1980) 

                                                    *

 It is necessary for many to pass from sentiment to policy to make a movement. 

                                                    *

The character of the great leader is to maintain principle while using the maximum of flexibility. A principle that is rigid will break; principles are best maintained by flexibility.

                                                    *

I have never in my life seen any serious political division resolved by reason.  What happens is that events make the controversy irrelevant;  it is not that one side ever proves the other wrong.  It was so with the Parnell split, and all the other splits in 20th century Irish Republicanism. 

                                                    *

There is always some truth, no matter how partial or distorted, in any belief that is held by a large number of people. The challenge is to point out the truth while separating it from the poison.

                                                    *

Most people do not realise how little the individual can achieve. Real change in society requires numbers to act. When people realise the impotence of the individual they will be ready for the first stages of communism.

                                                    *

What strikes me looking back on the 1920s and 1930s is the completely simplistic character of the times. Everything was black and white. The leftist rhetoric of the Third International was understandable.  After all they had fought World War 1 for nothing. They came back to “Homes Fit For Heroes” and what did they find?  Lloyd George had got them through the World War, but he could not get them through the peace. 

                                                    *

Countries are healthy when they are building up to progressive change, or when a change has occurred and they are going on from there. But when change has been aborted or a revolution pressed back you get quite a different political climate, like in Germany after the failure of 1848, or in Britain after the defeat on the Common Market in the 1975 referendum. People are different or they turn in on themselves and avoid the tasks that should be done. 

                                                    *

Political activity stems from disagreement. Its aim must always be to maximise agreement, to make allies rather than enemies.  A society without disagreement would have no politics.

                                                    *

When you look into history there are two things that strike you: one is how quickly things disappear and the second is how long things last.

                                                    *

His was not the politics of books but of what one learns from life.  It reminds me of one of our members when he first went back to Belfast.  “I have had enough of politics,” he said, “I am now going to enjoy life.” But politics has the habit of getting one by the scruff of the neck and refusing to let go.

                                                    *

The affinities between the Trotskyists and the Eurocommunists rather parallel the affinities of physical force Irish Republicans and a leftist economism that disdains politics.

                                                    *

Tony Benn [British Labour politician] gets plenty of publicity in the papers these days and they do not like him one bit. At the same time the fact that he gets publicity at all means that, while they do not like him, they believe that in the ultimate they recognise him as an Establishment man who is not fundamentally and dangerously opposed to all they stand for.  If he were dangerous in that sense he would get no publicity at all. The really dangerous ideas and people get no publicity and are not discussed.  I have always found it to be like that. (1975)

                                                    *

It is tragic for a country to be victorious in war. Look at the Falklands. Defeat gave democracy back to Argentina, while victory gave Britain another five years of Margaret Thatcher. Lenin was profoundly right when he said that socialists should not only oppose their own government in war, but they should actively desire the victory of their country’s enemy – which is another reason why I will not attack the Russians.

                                                    *

Everyone should know the difference between aim and policy. You modify your policy in accordance with changing circumstances and the exigencies of the moment; but your aim remains unchanged.

                                                    *

All intellectual revolutions take place within the ruling class. They are not made by the working class or outsiders. In social affairs problems are almost always solved in practice before they are solved theoretically.

                                                    *

A great politician is someone who understands the irrational. There are more irrational numbers after all then rational ones. I long ago decided that there were more things that were incommensurate than were commensurate.

                                                    *

Countries like Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Cuba, Romania and so on that behave relatively independently within the communist bloc: I doubt if it is because of any particular economic or political weight they might possess. It is because of the political intelligence of their leaders, I would say; but really intelligent leaders are few and far between. (1980)

                                                    *

Yes, things are in a bad way. But, mind you, everything has always been in a bad way!

____________

PRACTICAL POLITICS

You should always try to have a policy going into a situation, for if you do not you will be forced to adapt to the policy of others. 

                                                    *

Protest is usually futile. You must counter with policy.

                                                    *  

All fruitful political action begins in theory. Never begin something as a result of practice.

                                                    *

True radicals are never mean. A man will not risk his neck if he will not risk his purse.

                                                    *

Courage is the supreme political virtue.

                                                    *

Fruitful political action is to steer a course between two extremes: on the left-hand side sectarianism and ultra-leftism, where one takes one’s wishes for reality, and on the right an opportunist accommodation to whatever is reality, without seeking to change it. 

                                                    *

They cannot understand politics because they do not understand mathematics. If they understood mathematics they would understand higher politics.  Take imaginary quantities; they do not exist in themselves but by reason of something real with which they are associated.  Politics is full of things like that.

                                                    *

We radicals spend our lives trying to turn minority groups into majority ones, usually without much success. 

                                                    *

The art of politics is to reduce the number of one’s enemies, which one does by either making them your friends or bumping them off if you have the power. 

                                                    *

Offering advice and pressing ideas on unworthy people is a painful situation; but what else can one do?

                                                    *

The scholar tells the truth for the sake of the past; the politician tells lies with a view to the future.

                                                    *

Paper will take anything that is written on it and will never answer back. One should not think that writing is the most important political activity.

                                                    *

Walter Mackin says some clever things in his historical novels, one being that you could never win unless you don’t care if you lose.

                                                    *

If anything can be said for me – and I hope it can – it should be that I am not afraid of ordinary people.  There are plenty people in our movement who see people through the eyes of theories.  I don’t believe in it.  I travel all the time round the length and breadth of England and I always make a point of talking to ordinary people.  When I go into the dining car of the train I always sit down opposite the most interesting person I see, or the most interesting-looking, and engage in conversation.  It is not that I want to speak, it is that I want to hear what they have to say.  I think that if more of the full-time people in the Labour Movement did that and paid attention to what they heard they would discover how to make more impact.  There is a wine shop across the road from me in Birkenhead and I go into it far more often than I should.  I was in it on the day of these EEC elections and I said to the woman behind the counter, “There do not seem to be many out voting today.”  “No,” she said, “there are not.”   “Did you go and vote?” I said.  “I did not,” she said.  “Did you vote?” she asked me. “No, I did not,” I said. “Why didn’t you vote?” says I. “I don’t believe in it,” she said. There it is:  “I don’t believe in it” – the voice of the man in the street, which should always be listened to and paid attention to. (1979)

                                                    *

The dining car is better going from Liverpool to London than the other way around. They take better stuff on board when they load up at Liverpool.  Coming from London you get bits and pieces of junk food wrapped up in paper, biscuits from the Tombs of the Pharaohs and packaged cheese that you cannot see. Going the other way they have a proper cheese board and you get a proper tin of biscuits to select from. On the train I usually make a practice of sitting in front of the most interesting looking person in the dining-car, usually someone in their forties or fifties or older, who has got experience. On the Liverpool train once I was reading the Morning  Star, The Financial Times and The Guardian and this character opposite, a man in his fifties, said, “I think a person reading those papers must have interesting views. Do you mind my asking what your profession is?”  I said a writer. “And what is yours?” “Guess,” he said, and I guessed a solicitor. “Wrong.” “An accountant?”  “One more guess.” “I give up.” “I am the Chief Rabbi of Liverpool.” He was a most interesting man. He later wanted my number to keep in touch, but at the time I followed a policy of not carrying on any public or social activity in Liverpool, basing it all in London, and so I did not give it him. I was sorry later a bit. 

                                                    *

I am looking all the time for the political fulcrum, whereby small force can influence greater. 

                                                    *

One of the most important facts to grasp about politics is that what the vast majority of ordinary people want is to be allowed to get on with the business of ordinary living.  They are not concerned with politics as we understand it.

                                                    *

CDG  :  It isn’t lack of courage is important, it is lack of decisiveness. I had to fight the Transport Union over their history, but at the same time I didn’t like it [This exchange between Desmond Greaves and a friend was tape-recorded on a social occasion].

OtherWhen you are involved in a fight the psychological momentum takes you over, the furor.

CDG : Yes, precisely. But then you bloody well think you have the bastard, and you let him go. And we do it in politics, you know. I’ve done it lots and lots of time. You won’t give the kibosh because you get a kind of “Ach, for God’s sake” feeling.

Other : Have you regretted that? I suppose you have.

CDG : I have regretted it again and again that I didn’t give the kibosh.  I might actually have some moral satisfaction about not giving it, you know, but at the same time the bastards would always give it. 

Other : Ah yes: ruthlessness.

CDGYes, ruthlessness. And it goes in working class revolutions and democratic revolutions. Workers never give the kibosh and time and time again they have allowed their oppressors to talk them into a compromise, and at the end of the day they all have their heads chopped off, when they could have had the whole thing in their hands. And we all do the same bloody thing.

Other: It is peoples’ essential decency of course.

CDG: Of course it is. Because the revolt and the protest start from the principle of decency, whereas the reaction is based on the alternative. (1983)

                                                    *

For politics above all one needs experience. The young are never good political strategists, although naturally they are reluctant to recognise that fact.

                                                    *

Some people get hot and bothered when their advice is not taken. It happens often in politics. When I was a young fellow I used get upset if people engaged in a course of action I thought was daft. But now I say, why worry if people do not take advice?  If it was good advice and things go wrong, then you are not at fault and it may teach them something, although usually of course it does not.

                                                    *

Life is more complicated than blueprints. It is not true that provided you can get the word “revolutionary” enough times into a sentence you are bringing the revolution nearer!

                                                    *

The politician must trick himself into believing that he means what he says in order to be able to trick other people. It shows the value of an honest face. 

                                                     *

You won’t get something done that people don’t want. That is the golden political rule.

                                                    *

The weakness of a political movement is never an argument for a leftist policy. When in a weak position one lowers one’s demands, not raises them. 

                                                    *

The ultra-Left are always talking about a “principled approach”, but usually without saying what principle is at stake. And when one looks closer there usually is no principle involved at all. 

                                                    *

To succeed in a public enterprise one must seek to give the impression that success is inevitable. This the Government succeeded in doing in the referendum here in England in 1975, when they all voted to stay in the EEC.

                                                    *

The trouble is that when one is undertaking political activity one does not really know if it is worth doing. It is only later, when it has shown results or not, that one can pass judgement and hope to be justified. 

                                                    *

As Peadar O’Donnell said to me: A man can be right and his neighbours against him; but a man can’t be wrong and his neighbours with him.

                                                    *

In all my life and experience I have never known of a major decision to be taken on the merits of the case. It has invariably either been drifted into or unwittingly forced on those taking it. That is true of all my years of contact with Government and Parliament in London. Look at how they ignored the Bill of Rights concept for example. One needs to appreciate too the way they take decisions. The senior civil servants provide continuity of policy, while the politicians “ad hoc” from one expedient to another [The Bill of Rights was the proposal, advanced by Greaves and the Connolly Association in a letter to British Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson in August 1968, that civil rights reforms should be imposed on Stormont, Belfast, by the Westminster Parliament as an alternative to direct rule. A Bill of Rights drafted by Greaves in parliamentary form was introduced as a Private Member’s Bill in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords on 12 May 1971 but was rejected. It was later adopted as policy by Britain’s Trades Union Congress. It had parallels with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement].

                                                    *

You mention Gandhi and De Valera and criticise them for not solving their problems. But what do we know of the problems they had to solve? We weren’t there.  It is a different thing being inside the Council Chamber than being on the outside.  Have we solved our problems?  Will we? When we do, let us criticise the great men of the past.  De Valera is at present enjoying a well-merited retirement in Phoenix Park, and good luck to him! We should be slow to cast stones at him.(1968)

                                                    *

It is more important to get large organisations like the Trade Unions to take one step of progress forward than to have small politically pure ones make miles of theoretical advance.

                                                    *

Ordinary people learn by hearing their thoughts expressed by other people. That is our essential job in politics; it is not to say anything original or new.

                                                    *

It may be you go too far to the right when you get older. But you have seen so much of the evils of a leftist policy, of trying to go too fast. 

                                                    *

The truth is the exception, not the rule. People who want to tell the truth all the time should not be in politics. 

                                                    *

This seems to be a time when there is little to do but wait for better times.  The important thing is to be prepared for whatever comes, for there is such a thing as a policy of waiting. (1980)

                                                    *

To be successful in politics, find out what the gut reaction is, for nothing can resist a gut reaction. If you cannot be with it, it is futile to go against it.

                                                    *

The  utterly fatal and destructive error for the reformer is vanity. It is always vital to avoid a swelled head, and to learn and learn again.

                                                    *

Compromise on the basis of the strength of the parties is legitimate. 

                                                    *

If two sides are strongly divided and there are great forces on each side, then it is a sure sign that there is much to be said on both sides of the argument.  It was so in the 1890 Parnell split, and also in the Irish Civil War and other similar divisions. 

                                                    *

For executing tactics one needs young people; planning long-term strategy should be left to old ones.  I remember taking part in the battle of Cable Street in 1936, when thousands of police defended a few hundred fascists [in East London]. The barricades were up to the second floor of the houses.  I did not feel a trace of fear, and that arose from physical confidence.  If a policeman came after me I knew I had the physical vigour to run away. I could always be sure of dodging here and there and getting away from his truncheon; or if a barricade came down on top of me.  I could not be sure of that now. Carrying out a revolution must be left to young people; planning it is a job for the old – if it is to be successful, that is. 

                                                    *

Take things slowly and think of your second move before you make your first one.  If you do something in politics and it looks like succeeding, it will become a little bandwagon and others will join or reject it.  You must be ready for that, or else you will lose control.

                                                    *

Do you know what the most essential qualification in politics is? It is savagery. It is something I have in abundance. I cannot stand “nice” people. They are so boring, and so ineffectual.

                                                    *

You must have strong nerves in politics. Stalin said that he had not any nerves.  Certainly you must not have weak ones.  You must either fight or make peace.  It doesn’t do to hover between the two. That was Trostsky’s asinine slogan over Brest-Litovsk: neither peace nor war [ie. the treaty agreed by Lenin between Russia and the Central Powers that brought Russia out of World War 1]. But that is quite impossible. You either fight and throw everything into the fight, or else you make peace on whatever terms are necessary. There is no practical in-between course. 

                                                    *

It is important in politics to be able to weather a storm. But for that you must know your own mind.  The French CP could have said about the socialists as they were outpassed by them: “Well, it will be difficult for a few years; but these fellows are bound to make a mess of things and at the end of the day, with reputations intact, we can clean up.”  But instead they joined in the Mitterand coalition and now must carry the can for everything that goes wrong, as their support diminishes and the fascists under Le Pen rise up behind them, as I predicted would happen when they joined Mitterand’s government in 1981. (1985)   

                                                    *

In politics it is fatal to be timid. Resolution is everything. At the same time one needs to be able to make a prudent calculation of what is possible. You ask me to distinguish between timidity and prudence?  I will tell you: It is prudence when I do it; it is timidity when you do!

                                                    *

You should not lie in public affairs unless you are ready to take the consequences of being found out.  Everyone lies of course, for words are not just for communicating information, they are also for inducement. Computers can tell you if something is true or not, but they will never be able to persuade you.

                                                    *

George Gilmore may be more intelligent than Peadar O’Donnell, as you say, but Peadar was more all-round. He was better able to give leadership, and that is the most important thing [George Gilmore,1898-1985, Protestant Republican involved in the Irish War of Independence and Civil War; was a colleague of Peadar O’Donnell’s in the 1934 Republican Congress and later].

                                                    *

Peadar O’Donnell  said to me: “It does not do to get too far ahead of the column, especially on a dark night, or you lose them.” You have to stick close to the people you are leading and be careful not to advance notions too far in advance of what they are thinking.

                                                    *

He has a martyr complex. He tries to persuade them by making them feel guilty. If no one else will go out selling our paper, he must go himself and then let everyone know about it.  But it is bad policy, you know. A leader must always seem a little reluctant to lead. He must seem to be responding somehow to the demands of other people. But they just do not know how to do things.

                                                    *

People should be more artful. When I write something about how other people have behaved in our movement, I make a practice of sending it to them beforehand and asking what they think of it.  It gives them a chance of expressing an opinion.  It usually means little change, but it makes for a much smoother passage when the thing is eventually published.  For all sorts of people do not then have a comeback at you. They are pleased that they were asked and support you rather than attack you.

                                                    *

He is looking for quick results, but there will be no quick results, so he should cultivate equanimity.

                                                    *

I do not see any likelihood of profound social change in Western Europe for a long time – which is not to say that one should not bother trying to change anything. (1986)

                                                    *

Young people can do lots of things, but they are never capable of leaving well alone, of doing nothing.  They always want to reply to attacks.  I never reply to attacks. If you are attacked and are libelled, you can then decide to issue a writ if you are so inclined. But otherwise you should ignore them. Someone said to me a few years ago, “Desmond, there is a tremendous attack on you in the Irish Communist, the two-nations thing,” and asked did I not want to see it [Organ of the British and Irish Communist Group, London, which advanced the so-called “two nations theory”: that Northern Ireland Protestants and Catholics belonged to different nations].  I said, “No, I do not. It is of no interest to me.”  If we spent our time attacking those who attacked us, we wouldn’t have much time for anything else. 

                                                    *

I have seen men overwork themselves because of the strength of their conviction that a job has to be done and turn themselves into hacks in the process.

                                                    *

He will turn into a cabbage, although he will be too busy making money to realise it for twenty years.

                                                    *

He gives us sixpence when he should have given us a pound. We won’t refuse the sixpence, but we know we are being refused the pound.                                          

                                                    *

In public speaking it is vital to be clear. Clarity is everything. Never read a speech. The worse lecture I ever gave was the one I gave to the Wolfe Tone Society here in Dublin. I had prepared a particular length and then was told I had to give it in a much shorter time, so I marked certain passages and read it out instead and they actually reprinted it.  But in fact it is better to be spontaneous.  For what one loses in precision one gains by holding the attention of the audience. I remember old Dr Lee of the Liverpool Botanical Society [William Arthur Lee,1870-1931].   It was the first time I ever heard a man give a complicated lecture on a scientific subject without looking at a note. That is a very clever man, I said. How does he do it?  And someone I was with said: That is the mark of a trained mind.  Look at how that young man read his speech to the Labour History Society on the Waterford Labour Movement in the 1920s. He was slow and hesitating, showing he had no training, no experience in public speaking.

                                                    *

When I was young I decided to cultivate a relaxed style of speaking, with the occasional joke here and there, quite different from the deadpan seriousness and tendency to hector of so many spokesmen for the Left.  I remember being on a platform once with some MP and there were other communist speakers. He spoke to me afterwards, “I know you are not a communist, Mr Greaves. I know it from the way you spoke.” I was quite flattered, although for reasons other than he thought. 

                                                    *

If you want to work in politics to make society a better place or to bring about a revolution, you must realise that it may take years to see, or that no results may be seen in your own lifetime.  If you are not willing to face that you should not begin. 

                                                    *

An army is supposed to be always ready to fight the last war. The same could be said of patriots.  They are always ready for the last revolution.

                                                    *

The fault of so many people in the progressive movement is their underestimation of the political importance of writing, of defending their cause with the pen. Art O’Connor  said of the United Irishmen that they had many good men fighting for a good cause, but they could not write in its defence [Art O’Connor, 1763-1852, United Irishman; later a general in Napoleon’s army].

                                                    *

One of the reasons for the strength of the Connolly Association and why its members have been able to keep going for so long a time, is that I have always stressed that we are living in a time of defensive struggles, which require quite different tactics from offensive ones. People thereby are not encouraged to have illusions.

                                                    *

The ladder of opportunism in the British Labour Party: Be a bit careful and you get on; be a bit more careful and you may become a Chief-Whip; and by an utterly extreme and assiduous exercise in carefulness you might become a member of the Labour Front Bench !  

                                                    *

Lies unanswered spread.

                                                    *

Politics consists of getting agreement where there is disagreement. So there must always be compromise or else someone must submit. The Provisional Republicans are such utter fools these days. They proclaim all the time that what they want is a united Ireland above all else, but they lay down preconditions that make it unattainable. (1980)

                                                    *

It is easier to organise people to resist change than to initiate change. That is why it will be harder to get out of the EEC than to prevent entry in the first place. It shows the truth of Machiavelli’s saying that men are ruled more by their fears than by their hopes. 

                                                    *

When that man from the Dublin Hibernia asked me for an interview, I told him I never give interviews at my time of life.  When he seemed surprised I said, “I am too old for that kind of thing.” When I was younger I gave some interviews, to the Catholic Standard for example, and found they did not publish what I said. The only circumstance I would give interviews in now is if I were given a deposit of several hundred pounds and guaranteed the right to keep the deposit if anything I said was misreported. Naturally I have no takers. But no sensible man gives a damn about the so-called “media” anyway. Nothing of consequence is ever decided by the press; yet the young people run round in circles to oblige those fellows when they are asked to go on television. 

                                                    *

I was talking recently to Eddie Loyden [Eddie Loyden, 1923-2003, Labour MP for Liverpool Garston]. Those MPs are all the same. They are like cats about one another, always out to run one another down. You noticed that when he went on about Jock Stallard and his becoming a Whip.  I said that Stallard had resigned on a point of principle and put in a good word for him.  I decided long ago never to say anything negative about people when saying something positive might move things forward. One does not always stick to it of course. One should try never to turn the political into the personal. (1981)

                                                    *

Those academic books about international relations are really remarkably thin. There is endless talk ahout what governments do, and yet a complete omission of any reference to the necessary concern of Goverments that businesses should make profits.

                                                    *

This is a time of little political movement when we should concentrate on work of theoretical importance. (1981)

_______________

IRELAND AND IRISH HISTORY

I took the decision, deliberately and freely, to devote my life to the emancipation of the Celtic peoples.  If there is one thing I have done it is, I think, to have helped keep alive a tradition in the Irish national movement.  I believe that if you go back in history you will find a continuity of democratic and national activity going back centuries.  It is often transmitted from one generation to another by only a handful of people, sometimes in one particular place; but a tradition is there and people work and seek to build the future within it.

                                                    *

The Irish question is of international, not just local, importance.  It is much more so than the Scots or Welsh problems. I would not have devoted my life to it had I not been convinced that this was so. 

                                                    *

The most important event in Irish history is the one that did not take place: namely, that the Romans never went there. 

                                                    *

Ireland is believed to be the oldest Celtic country, but it is in fact the youngest. I believe that the vast array of Celtic myth and legend is in fact largely pre-Celtic; where the pre-Celtic influences lingered longest, now the Celtic ones do.

                                                    *

The Celts probably came up both sides of the Irish Sea.  Compare Leinster and Llwyn.  We continually see things through nationalist spectacles; in those days everyone was fewer in number and more mixed up together.

                                                    *

There is need to revise the history of Europe to do justice to the contribution of the Celtic peoples. It is an immense but necessary intellectual task. 

                                                    *

The influence of Ireland’s geography on its history is worth noting: the insular situation of the country to begin with, and also the fact that it is a plain surrounded by mountains.  If the mountains had been at the centre and the coastal areas were flat, the country would have been conquered much more easily, like Wales for example; but because of the mountains round the edge, the colonists could not establish themselves so easily.  They succeeded in the one area where there was a gap in the mountains, in Counties Dublin and Meath, and it was due to topography as much as to anything else. 

                                                    *

The historical sense of the Irish is much stronger than the English, and the reason is imperialism.  When the English were dominating other countries they had little need to learn about their own. The Irish, being dominated, were in a different position. They had plenty of things they were inclined to remember.

                                                    *

I have been reading large numbers of Victorian novels, the second-rank ones as well as the well-known ones, marking their Irish references. It gives me pleasure while giving me material for a study I would like to do sometime on the Irish in English literature. Victorian attitudes to Ireland were probably more influenced by literature than by any other single thing. (1977)

                                                    *

The coming of Patrick to Ireland was an event of European political importance. The Irish Church was Pelagian and much more orthodox in the religious sense than St Augustine.

                                                    *

Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe without an aristocracy. That was got rid of in the 17th century with the Flight of the Earls. It explains the profoundly democratic sentiment of the Irish people. There are just some things they will not take from any government, unlike the roguery and bullying governments can get away with almost everywhere else.  Aristocracy was reimposed in England at the expense of the Irish in the seventeenth century, when Cromwell parcelled out the land of Ireland to Englishmen. Today England’s failure to get out of Ireland holds back every prospect for social advance in both countries. (1980)

                                                    *

In Ireland people are not afraid of the government. They are, in countries like Germany, Russia and China. It is one of the basic tests of a society whether people are afraid of the government or not. 

                                                    *

Protestantism is the progressive religion in England, Catholicism in Ireland. The progressiveness does not lie in the church, but in the situation in which it finds itself. That is one reason leftwingers in England find Ireland hard to understand.  They think the Protestants and Catholics stand for the same thing as here, whereas Irishmen understand this country because so many of them come here to live. 

                                                    *

The Act of Union of 1800 brought an accretion to landlord power in England and probably delayed electoral reform in this country for a generation.  At the same time it made the Northern Irish Presbyterians look to their British co-religionists for support, turning them away from their Catholic fellow countrymen and undermining the promising alliance the United Irishmen had established in the 1790s.                                    

                                                    *

If the English workers had supported Ireland in 1848, at the time of O’Connell’s Repeal movement, it might have brought more of the pre-Famine migrants into Chartism and advanced things much more in Britain in the decades after that. 

                                                    *

Protestants in the Irish national movement are rarely as good as Catholics. They can be splendid people, but it is as if once they have come over to the right side they feel they have done their bit and do not exert themselves to do more, unlike the Catholics who have been on the right side from the beginning. 

                                                    *

Scawen Blunt wrote a poem on Casement which they would not publish at the time [Wilfrid Scawen Blunt,1840-1922, English poet, essayist and anti-imperialist activist]. I wrote to Andrew Rothstein  about it, who had written a book on Blunt [Andrew Rothstein, 1898-1994]. He put me in touch with Blunt’s literary heir, Lord Lytton, descendant of the literary man. I wrote to him but have not got a reply.

                                                     *

The tradition of Irish politics is to found one’s own party to get something done and agitate against the Government. In England the tradition is to press the Government to do something. 

                                                    *

The law of political motion in Ireland is different from that in Britain: in Britain the centre holds; in Ireland it is the extreme holds.  In Ireland the moderates do not overcome the extremists. What happens is that the extremists split. 

                                                    *

The lack of moral courage among the Irish, what the Germans call “zivil courage”: few countries must be so bad. They admire physical courage instead, where it is much easier to be courageous.

                                                    *

The influence of the Celtic spirit, its critical and volatile quality, is noticeable in the character of many European peoples.

                                                    *

Someone will have to say publicly sometime how premature 1916 really was: trying for a revolution when it clearly could not succeed.  If only they had waited a year or two until the conscription agitation developed.  That was what swung the people behind Sinn Fein in the 1918 election. Think of the long-term effect of the killing of men like Clarke and Connolly and MacDermott. It was an irreparable loss. 

                                                     *

I think the Irish national movement peaked in 1919. The high point was May of that year, when great masses of working-class people were involved; but there was no follow-up.  De Valera went to America because he did not know how to lead a mass movement, and probably had no wish to lead that kind of one.  Then the British went on the offensive, proclaiming the Dail county by county and arresting individual TDs.

                                                     *

The destruction of the Home Rulers in the 1918 general election left the Irish bourgeoisie without a party. The small bourgeoisie of Sinn Fein rushed in to fill the political vacuum, and Labour let them do it without a contest.  Then when the inevitable crunch with Britain came the small bourgeoisie split between the more compromising and more radical elements. The Irish bourgeoisie got back in the saddle again by joining in with the former, and they have been in the saddle ever since. 

                                                     *

A crucial event of early twentieth century Irish history was the failure of the Dail to throw its weight behind the 1919 Labour dispute in Belfast. They acted as if it did not exist, when the Belfast working class was locked in struggle with the employers. I have never seen an Irish historian draw attention to this. 

                                                     *

I like Frank Gallagher’s epigraph to his book: “To our youth, when Ireland was our oyster and Ireland was the world.”[ Frank Gallagher,1893-1962, Irish journalist and republican activist; author of “The  Four Glorious Years”, 1953]

                                                     *

The execution of Mellows was proposed by Mulcahy [General Richard Mulcahy,1896-1971, Fine Gael politician and Government Minister] and supported first by Eoin MacNeill, who was always one of the most reactionary, then by the others, and lastly, reluctantly, by Kevin O’Higgins. 

                                                      *

I respect Ernest Blythe  and rather like him, although I do not agree with him of course [Ernest Blythe, 1889-1975, Minister in 1920s Cumann na nGael Government, later director of the Abbey Theatre and writer on the Partition question]. But he believes that what he did in the Civil War was right and he has never doubted it. He would do it again if necessary, and so he can meet you man to man.  Not like Richard Mulcahy. Mulcahy would not see that “terrible man” from the Irish Democrat. when I sought to interview him for my Mellows book.  And why?  It showed he had a guilty conscience. But whenever I meet Blythe he says in his nasal Northern burr: “And how is the good old Democrat going, Dahsmond?” …  “Dahsmond”, mind you!

                                                      *

In a sense one could say that all the troubles of modern Ireland came out of Tom Johnson, whose decisions were responsible for the continual weakness of the Labour Movement subsequently [Tom Johnson, 1872-1963, Irish Labour Party leader in 1917].  And yet he was one of the nicest people you could meet.  He told me in his last years when he was an old man that he had only recently come to any understanding of what Connolly was about when it came to national independence. And I am not sure he understood it even then.  I approached him after the World War when I had the project of writing a history of the Irish working-class, and he was extremely helpful. 

                                                    *

That the leaders of the independence movement in 1916-21 were so young meant that what was an advantage to them on the battlefield was a disadvantage in the council chamber, when they came to negotiate, especially negotiate with such a wily scoundrel as Lloyd George, with a hundred civil servants doing all his preparatory work for him. 

                                                    *

The Irish Civil War was a disaster, but the real trouble was that when it began they could not fight it properly.  From the first moment there were peace efforts and attempts at negotiation.  De Valera influenced the Tipperary men from coming into Dublin to relieve the Four Courts at the very beginning, when the Republicans had real support and a chance of winning. He was not a soldier himself but he tried to stop others from going all-out fighting. And when they did not succeed in the first few days, they would have been better if they had called the whole thing off. 

                                                    * 

Michael Collins had not a political brain in his head.  Look at the mutually incompatible policies he was pursuing in 1922: enforcing the Treaty, conniving at Henry Wilson’s assassination, arming the Northern IRA. 

                                                    *

I think Sinn Fein’s participation in the 1921 election was a basic error. For they thereby recognised Britain’s right to hold an election, while North of the Border they were already implementing Partition. 

                                                    *

The Cumann na nGael party sought to get as close as possible to the Church in the 1920s: the reactionary Government needed the Church as the great legitimiser.

                                                    *

Anyone who thinks there can be a revolution in Ireland without a revolution also occurring in Europe is deluding themselves. In the past all Irish revolutions were accompanied by or preceded by a revolution in Europe. So it must be in the future.

                                                    *

The great tragedy in the history of these islands was the clash of two principles: English Protestantism and Irish Catholicism;  each of them progressive in its own country but turned against one another. The curse of Cromwell was to put one against the other; for the independence of Ireland meant the restoration of the Stuarts. 

                                                    *

While the national question remains unresolved in Ireland, nothing that is fundamentally reactionary can come from the country. If the national question were solved it could be otherwise of course. 

                                                    *

Solving the national question will not cure unemployment, but unemployment cannot be tackled while that is unsolved.  T.K. Whitaker embarked on a policy of selling the country and borrowing money and we said at the time it would end up with them not being able to pay their debts [TK Whitaker, 1916-2017, Irish civil servant and economist; in the 1960s advocated the opening up of the Irish economy to foreign capital and membership of the then EEC]. That has come about now.  Of course it has subverted the traditional values of Irish life, those which prevailed in De Valera’s day, when the country was poorer but much more independent.  Not that there can be any going back to then.  We must start from where we are. As Bob Stewart once said to me when he was ninety: Where will it all end? [Bob Stewart, 1877-1971, was sent to Ireland in 1924 by the Comintern to help found an Irish communist party; wrote an account of his life, “Breaking the Fetters”, in 1967].  (1979)

                                                    *

In Ireland progressives can seek allies even in Fine Gael. In a society like Britain, with a long-established bourgeois class, the Tories and the Liberals hardly even speak to one another, except on an official level. But in Ireland, which is such a petit-bourgeois society, all kinds of personal relations cutting across party lines are possible. 

                                                    *

The repetitiveness of Irish politics is striking. Every so often the Republicans split between physical force men and constitutionalists, and every so often Labour gives the kiss of life to Fine Gael by joining them in a coalition government, as they have just now done for the third time since 1948. This revives Fianna Fail in opposition and Fine Gael in government, while Labour jogs along as a third party. It is the anti-nationalism of the Labour Party that enables them to coalesce with the descendants of the Blueshirts. Labour would have disappeared a long time ago like other small Irish parties, were it not for the support it gets from the trade unions; for if some source guarantees money you can be sure that there will always be someone willing to look for it. (1973) 

                                                    *

Is it because Labour is so weak that the Irish bourgeoisie can afford the luxury of two big parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael?

                                                    *

I have never agreed with British trade unions recruiting members in Ireland. It stymies solidarity here in Britain and is the basis of the backwardness of the whole situation. The British Labour movement is hamstrung as a consequence, for if anyone proposes to do anything progressive, their leaders shake their heads vigorously and say, either we would lose money, or what of our members in Belfast? 

                                                    *

The National Museum, like St Patrick’s College Maynooth, was a bone thrown to the national dog. As a result it always had a  Unionist tradition.  The danger about throwing bones, of course, is that it may make the dog even more greedy and he may take a bite of one’s leg. 

                                                    *

When there is economic decay a kind of disease seizes a society, spreading slowly and insidiously and sapping attempts to prevent it.  It induces a kind of paralysis.  In Ireland you had it from 1943 or thereabouts to 1956 – the De Valera years one might say – when the working-class was almost wholly on the defensive and Bill O’Brien  decided what was done. With the Lemass years after 1956, although we did not like a lot of what was happening, there was economic movement and the working-class began to look up as well. (1979)

                                                    *

I told Kader Asmal that a constitutional history of Ireland would be so important. “You, as a South African foreigner, are the one to write it,” I said.  “You can say: here are the facts. I, a foreigner, give them to you without bias.” [Kader Asmal,1934-2011, law lecturer in Trinity College Dublin, later South African Government Minister]  The British tried out in Ireland all the devices to maintain their colonial influence that they are now using in Africa and elsewhere.  A history like that would help the newly independent countries avoid countless messes they are in, which they have been gulled into by their ignorance of British Government policy. Many of them have Constitutions that are strangleholds round their necks. A study of what happened in this area in Ireland would be of immense help. (1966)

                                                    *

Look at the dates of successive English Acts of Union: 1536, 1707, 1800.  The narrowing time-span perhaps shows the acceleration of history. Will it accelerate likewise in the decomposition of the Union?  Let us hope so, so that Ireland will not be the last to go.

                                                    *

There is need for a history of these islands from the point of view of the aboriginal peoples, a history of Ireland as seen by the people of the Gaeltacht; for all the other histories are seen through English eyes.

                                                    *

Why is there so much demagogy amongst Irish politicians? It is because the Government there is more afraid of the people than in Britain.  They know they have to keep the people’s support and so they say the things they hope will please them.  But the British Government could not give a damn. “Public opinion?”says Edward Heath to his mates, “Why should public opinion influence what I do?” (1973) 

                                                    *

It is impossible for a small country to be able to deal with more than one big problem at the same time. Ireland is confronted by the Northern problem and the problem of the EEC, although the former is likely to be more and more subsumed into the latter.

                                                    *

The Irish question helped wreck the Liberal Party, dividing the Asquith and Lloyd George Liberals and decisively shifting the political balance in Britain’s ruling class. 

                                                    *

You say Ireland has made no contribution to social ideas.  But how could it be otherwise in a country that has not got its independence?  Until wholly independent everything in that society must be affected by that fact.  The environment does not exist which enables other countries to contribute in these areas; but in the natural sciences it has been different – in medicine and mathematics as well.  And of course as you say, every major English dramatist was an Irishman, except Shakespeare, and it has been said that he probably was a Welshman, for Welsh was spoken in parts of Warwickshire when he was a young man.

                                                    *

Write a history of socialism in Ireland? It would not be difficult, in more senses than one. I have thought of doing a work on Irish Protestantism, but it would take a lot of time and work. Then something perhaps on Anglo-Irish relations, to deal with the curse of Cromwell.  Do you know what the curse of Cromwell was? It means that the English revolution was aborted by the involvement in Ireland.  It is still in operation, which is why the English working class  is caught like a rat in a trap.  They cannot do anything to help themselves until they get out of Ireland.  (1980)

                                                    *

I regard Peadar O’Donnell as the greatest living Irishman, which is not to say there were not greater before and will not be greater again. 

                                                    *

Sean Murray was talking to the Russians about the old CPI programme [Sean Murray,1898-1961, Irish communist and War of Independence veteran]. It referred to the Protestants and their progressive traditions, 1798, the United Irishmen and so on.  “And I suppose we should put something in about the siege of Derry and our glorious religion and laws?” asked Murray. “No,” said the Russians, “No nation can tolerate a Vendée [A reference to the counter-revolutionary rebellion in 1793-96 in the Vendée region of west-central France during the French Revolution, stimulated by harsh measures against the Catholic Church and the imposition of military conscription].

                                                    *

 Sean Murray went on the booze at the time of outbreak of World War 2 and the division of the Communist Party in Ireland. Jim Prendergast was sent over from London by the communists here to tell him he had three months to pull himself together or else to resign his office. Can you imagine? The impudence of it!  Murray went to Belfast and contributed to the big upsurge there during the war [Jim Prendergast, 1914-74, founder member of the Communist Party of Ireland; fought in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, following which he lived in London].  

                                                    *

The Irish general election showed the influence of two generations of national independence. An age group has arrived on the scene that took national independence for granted and voted accordingly.  It is completely different in the North, where they are still impaled on ancient history. (1977)

                                                   *

For reasons of geography and population it takes more capital investment in Ireland to make money.  I once put that to Professor Roy Geary of the Central Statistics Office.  Does this fact not vitiate all the nineteenth century statistics? I said. He was quite indignant at first, but he had to admit it probably did, although he did not do or say anything about it later [Professor Roy Geary, 1896-1983, Irish statistician; founder of the Irish Central Statistics Office].

                                                    *

Conor Cruise O’Brien says that he will continue to oppose the “myth” of 1916, but the general election that annihilated him is the refutation of his endeavours. (1977)

                                                    *

The pity is that the Irish people do not take pride enough in our achievements as a State.  If only the Republicans could rally behind the Irish Government: not necessarily agreeing with it, but supporting it vis-a-vis outsiders and pressing it to do better. For the Irish State, with all its faults, remains the most progressive State in Western Europe. It is surely the most stable. Which is not to say it has the most progressive government. I am very glad they have managed to achieve  that. It may not be saying a lot, but it is something. (1977)

                                                    *

  The Irish facility with words is surely due to their having two languages.

                                                    *

  The Dublin disease: too late at night and too early in the morning!

_____________                          

PARTITION

No power internal to Ireland is strong enough to dislodge Britain’s hold there. Therefore the Irish national movement needs allies, and the strongest potential ally is progressive opinion within Britain itself, which is organised mainly in the Labour and trade union movements. (1960)

                                                    *

Logically, there are only two ways to end the Partition of Ireland.  Either one must have enough military force to dislodge the British and unite the Protestants and Catholics by compulsion, or else, if that is not possible and it is not – even if it were desirable, and it isn’t – the only course is to divide the Protestants and win sufficient numbers of them over to realising their Irishness. That way they will come to embrace freely in time the nationalist position, for they are Irish after all, rather than English, Scottish or Welsh. It may take a generation or several generations, but there is no other way. (1960) 

                                                    *   

The Irish should say to Britain: as long as you keep us divided you have responsibility for the consequences. 

                                                    *

England does not give a curse about the internal arrangements in the North. They are only concerned about the external ones. That is what they mean by saying they wish to leave it to the people themselves to decide.          

                                                    *

It is not bigotry is the problem in the Six Counties, but stupidity, on which bigotry always rears itself. 

                                                    *

The North of Ireland is at least two generations behind the South. There is  nothing in it of the urbanity of Dublin. After all, how could one expect there to be? (1964)

                                                    *

Labour in Britain never endorsed Partition, but also never fought against it.

                                                    *

Partition is the most important question in Ireland because, after all, it is the only thing people are prepared to kill one another for.

                                                    *

I have always known that by taking up the Partition question, it would help to strengthen Irish neutrality.  By fighting on one issue one foxes those who want to defeat you on another; and even though Partition stays unresolved, one avoids having to face another problem. 

                                                    *

Ireland can be reunified on a progressive basis or on a reactionary basis. The British Foreign Office, the Americans and so on, would not be averse to it being reunified on a reactionary basis.  Naturally we cannot oppose reunification as such, for then we would be branded as pro-Partition; but of course we want it on a progressive basis. (1968)

                                                    *

I have been reading this latest offering from Bew, Gibbon and Patterson – what I call the “mew, gibber and patter school” of Irish historians [Paul Bew, Peter Gibbon and Henry Patterson, authors of “The State in Northern Ireland 1921-1972:Political Forces and Social Classes”, published 1979].  I now know the sentence I will open my review of their book on Northern Ireland with: “This is the best set of arguments for Partition you could find.” (1980)

                                                    *

For sixty years the political Labour movement in Ireland has been static. It is no more influential now than it was in the 1920s, and yet people cannot see that it is entirely due to the boundary line that was drawn across the country.  Connolly told them that it would be so, and they claim to follow him. It is hard to credit, isn’t it?  (1983)

  ______________

IRISH REPUBLICANISM

The defeat of the Republican Congress in the 1930s – thanks to the split that ensued – was in many ways as fateful as the victory of the “treaty” party in 1922. It dispersed the remaining revolutionary forces and ensured Fianna Fail predominance for decades, a predominance that is likely to last for quite some time and of which the best that can be said is that there might be worse. (1966)

                                                   *

What is the class basis of the IRA?  Clearly it is not a working class organisation. It has no connections with organised labour or the trade unions. Equally clearly it is not a capitalist organisation. There are no subsciptions from bankers except enforced ones!  So what is it? It can only correspond to the petite-bourgeoisie, which until the 1930s was the most numerous social class in Ireland, but is now overtaken by the working class. These middle strata of society – small farmers, artisans, small business and professional men and intellectuals – are under constant attack from big business, and especially imperial big business. A few of them clamber up into the moneyed class. They join Fianna Fail. A larger number is precipitated into the working class and these are influenced by socialist ideas. It is the unstable character of the petite-bourgeoisie, its fundamental disunity, its lack of one central economic interest despite its allied interests, that explains the constant changes of leadership, the disappearance of once famed names in two directions. And the only distinguishing principle by which the hard core can maintain an identity is its belief in physical force. This is what the Republican “right” poses against the politics of the Republican “left”. 

                                                    *

What keeps the Republicans together is their allegiance to the gun. Connolly pointed out long ago that the strength of the physical force tradition in Irish politics, which goes back to the Fenians, is that it unites master and man, foreman and labourer, inside one organisation. Arm and prepare!  Diverse and even opposed social elements can unite on the means of struggle rather than the end. Commitment to the gun overcomes the inherent divisiveness of the small-farmers and small-shopkeepers. But when the Republicans go political they scatter in all directions, as events show from De Valera’s original split in 1926 right down to this year’s one.  They either take an ultra-left course, or else a rightward one marked by the rankest opportunism. Or they go for a bit of both.  And they show as much arrogance in laying down the law on what is the political road as they previously did in the military business.  I very much fear that this will happen now to Goulding’s lot in Gardiner Place, while the Provisionals will become the IRA. (1970)

                                                    *

What has always struck me about the Republicans is how they waste people. They do not conserve their best talents. No doubt regarding themselves as “the government virtually established” they see their activists as infintely expendableRegarding themselves as the rightful government, they continually behave with all the arrogance of governments. 

                                                     *

The Republicans in the 1940s made a mess of politics; so they started looking for traitors, as in the Stephen Hayes case.  It is such an easy way out [Stephen Hayes,1902-74, IRA Chief-of-Staff in 1940, accused of informing on his comrades].

                                                    *

The Republicans’ weakness is on the ideological side. 

                                                    *

Cathal Goulding and the Republicans, like the Labour Party, followed the advice of the Irish Times and Michael McInerney and decided to put socialism instead of  Republicanism as the label on the bottle [Michael McInerney,1906-80, helped found the Connolly Clubs in London 1938. He was first editor of “Irish Freedom”, later “Irish Democrat” and became” Irish Times” political correspondent. In the mid-1960s that paper editorially advised the pre-split Republicans to stand for a “Workers’ Republic”, presumably under the influence of McInerney, indulged by his   editor Douglas Gageby. In 1967 the IRA and Sinn Fein made “A Democratic Socialist Republic” their policy objective, and it is the constitutional objective of Provisional Sinn Fein today].  I am told that it was Seamus Costello who pushed this change in the Sinn Fein constitution on them [Seamus Costello, 1939-77, activist in the pre-1970 IRA and Sinn Fein; founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party and Irish National Liberation Army in 1974; later assassinated].  It is bound to cause endless confusion, for from now on people will not know what they really stand for.  You would have thought they might have learned from the Republican Congress and the 1930s, for you cannot rally the mass of the Irish peoplebehind socialism. It could well be that Goulding, Garland and MacGiolla will degenerate in the end into a left-wing sect. If they looked about them at the real world they would see that all successful national liberation movements have been conducted under democratic slogans, not left-wing ones. (1970)

                                                      *

I cannot attack the Provisionals in the Irish Democrat, or the Russians for that matter, without  helping  the British Government, which I regard as worse than either of them; and so I do not carry such attacks  – which is not to say that I agree with what they do.

                                                    *

We do not have to support the Provos. We can say to the British Government: Look at what you have made them do!

                                                    *

The economic-mindedness of Ireland’s labour and trade union movement is directly responsible for the Republican military-mindedness of its small middle class. Both have their origin  in the denial of politics. (1970)

                                                    *

The Provisional Republicans and the Communists are well matched. They are quite incapable of   listening to ordinary people. They see themselves as giving “political direction” all the time. That would be acceptable only when people are really desperate – so desperate that they would take leadership from anyone. (1980)

                                                    *

The socialist movement is so divided now, and is in such a mess both in England and elsewhere, that many of those who come to the Irish movement from the socialist movement, to use the term, have become demoralised.  But those who come from the national movement have stood firm.  As Peadar O’Donnell used to say: “Those who stand on the high ground of the Republic, the rock of the Republic, are secure.” (1986)

______________

EAMON DE VALERA

Over his long career De Valera began by trying to do the impossible, then the possible and then not even the possible.

                                           *

[On interviewing President Eamon de Valera in 1962 for Greaves’s biography of Liam Mellows]  I was not under any illusion when he sent down the presidential car to Cathal MacLiam’s to take me up to the Phoenix Park, that I was not going to see someone of my own intellectual capacity. He told me, referring to Mellows, Mary MacSwiney and the rest: “They would have held their hands in the fire. I was not made of such metal.” He had more brains, I thought to myself.  He said he wanted a Republic, whereas they wanted the Republic “virtually established”. “I had to laugh at that ‘virtually established.’”, he said. “When I founded Fianna Fail, they could not be got to see that this was a way of obtaining what they wanted. I was the shameless compromiser.” When talking about the IRA, he said: “What could you do with them?  They wanted a certain end and they were set on a course that could not get it for them.”

                                                     *

He remarked also: “My training was in classics and mathematics.” Hence his head for unemotional politics.  An intelligent man will always recognize what another was attempting to do, even if he fails and regardless of what the mob says.

                                                     * 

On the IRB Dev said that he always disagreed with it. When he was first a Volunteer he found that some of his subordinates knew more about some things that were being planned than he did. When he tackled his superior officer about this he said they knew through the IRB. Then, said Dev, there will be two commands and we may get conflicting orders. No, said the officer, the IRB has a majority at HQ and we can be confident they will be able to bring the others along. The officer then asked De Valera to join the IRB as a formality. Dev said that he joined “as a formality”, but only to be sure he would know as much as his subordinates. He did not attend IRB circles or anything of that kind. He said that he saw no need for the IRB’s continued existence after 1916.

                                                     *

He showed evident pleasure when I asked him about the difference between self-determination and getting recognition for the Irish Republic. “I can explain that easily after being through it,” he said,  “Woodrow Wilson had urged self-determination; but we had exercised sef-determination in 1918. And afterwards we wanted it recognised.” 

                                                   *

As I was leaving, Dev pointed to a tree in the garden of the Áras. “Queen Victoria planted that,” he said. “How things have changed?” It was a statement in which his whole attitude was implied: “Victoria planted that and look, how strange it is that I am here now!” The proof of Ireland’s progress was that he was now its President.  

                                                    *

The Tories used the bad running of British Railways to discredit nationalization, and it is thoroughly discredited – just as De Valera by his shifts and slides discredited Irish Republicanism. (1982)

_______________

THE IRISH LABOUR PARTY

 I remember going into the Dublin Labour Party headquarters with Roddy Connolly in the late 1940s.  He sat on a rickety chair with a broken leg. “I see that this chair is minus one leg,” said Roddy, “just like the good old Labour Party.” [Roddy Connolly, 1901-80, son of James Connolly; helped found and was president of the first Communist Party of Ireland 1921; elected Labour TD for Louth in 1943]

                                                    *

Roddy once gave a centenary lecture on his father in London. “My father,” he began, “was a Marxist socialist.” It was a very good thing he said that, for it was the truth. Roddy himself is an absolute disgrace, you know, because he has more brains than you ever saw in your life. He knows what is right and he does what is wrong; and when he is talking in private conversation, he talks as if he were an entirely different man from when in public.  He talks to me as if he had all his life carried out his father’s principles. It is quite incredible; you would not believe a man could be so blind. I think the long and short of it is, he was lazy.  Young Jim Larkin was the same. He had a fine head. Alec Digges [former International Brigader] told me once that when he went to see Roddy at the time of the Republican Congress in the 1930s, he found Roddy was on the bone of his bottom, for he could not get a job and there was no food in the house. And in the end they looked all over the place and they found an onion and some margarine and they fried this onion and cut it into two between them. So Roddy might have said to himself: “Well, that’s what I get for telling the truth. I think that I’ll tell lies in future.”

                                                    *

These days Irish Labour and the Republicans are like prisoners banging their heads against the wall of the same cell – opposite walls. (1962)

                                                    *

I am pleased at Irish Labour’s general election success. After all, this was the party founded by James Connolly, not Sinn Fein. (1965)

                                                    *

Look at Michael O’Leary, a TD at twenty-eight, with a free office in Liberty Hall. Why, he has had a political career practically thrust upon him. Others would slog their guts out for years and achieve much less. He seems to have only had to lift his little finger. (1965)

                                                    *

Cathal Goulding’s Republicans are chasing an illusion if they think they can run another Labour movement side by side with the existing one. (1965)

                                                    *

This is the first time in years I have seen the possibility of a break-through in Ireland: a swing to Labour North and South, a coming together of the divided working-class in the two areas, an erosion of support for Fianna Fail and a possibility of a Fine Gael-Labour confrontation.  The increase in Labour support in the Irish cities, especially in Dublin, is surely more than a flash-in-the-pan. [The Irish Labour Party grew significantly in support and Dáil representation during the 1960s while it followed an independent course. It lost support when it formed a coalition government with Fine Gael in 1973, a pattern that repeated itself on several later occasions.]  (1965)

                                                    *

The Irish Labour Party is in such a mess today that it is worth asking whether you and the others could have done anything to prevent it. (1976) 

                                                    *

The most important task for socialists in Ireland today is to try to detach Labour from the bourgeois parties. (1977)

                                                    *

What explains the almost universal dominance of mediocrity on the Irish Left?  It is because they have left the national question to the Republicans, who are not mediocre but are very misguided.  In Britain perhaps it is because the influence of the people who were formed in the second decade of the century and who were shaped by the Russian Revolution is now dying. In Ireland it is the passing of the generation influenced by 1916. Those succeeding that generation in positions of leadership are infinitely less capable and imaginative.  Perhaps all the best people are too busy earning a living? (1977)

                                                    *

What Ireland needs is not a  “Left Alternative”, which is what all the Left-wing groups there talk about, but a national alternative.  And it is even questionable whether it wants that.  After all, is there any real evidence that the mass of Irish people want any alternative to the present government and parties?  When they are fed-up with Fianna Fail they turn to Fine Gael, and vice versa.  Should not the Left concentrate on pressing the Government to make it better than it otherwise would be, rather than posing as an alternative, which it manifestly cannot be for decades and decades?  There is no way that “socialism” can be regarded as being on the agenda in Ireland until at least a generation or more has passed.  As for revolution, the only part of these islands that really needs a revolution is the Six Counties, where they need the revolution that the South has already had.  In Britain people will not look for a revolution as long as they can fiddle things under the present system.  Revolutions take decades and decades to prepare, even centuries.  The Russian one was on the way for eighty years.  Away back in the 1870s they were talking about the pending revolution in Russia. Dostoevsky is full of it.  And as long as no revolution is in sight, the Left and the communist parties will inevitably wilt in confusion and division. (1977) 

                                                    *

There are some obvious long-term things that need to be done to solve the Irish question, and if I were a young man again I would concentrate on one or other of them. They are the conditions without which the problem cannot be solved: Labour in the South has to be won back to the politics of Connolly and become Republican; the Northern Protestants need to be won to a progressive stand through cultural links with the best elements in their past, which will break the hold of Orangeism; and in England Labour must come to want a united Ireland. In the South one should concentrate on the Labour Party and the Labour Movement, although one would want nerves of steel to survive.  As time goes on one sees the essential things; the inessential drop away. Mind you, I am not saying I know how these tasks can be done. I am only expressing the view that they need to be done. (1979) 

                                                    *

If Fine Gael goes into government on its own after the next election and ditches Labour, it would be one of the best things that ever happened.  If Labour wants to form alliances, the best thing would be for them to support Fianna Fail. (1982) 

                                                    *

I do not believe the Labour Party in Ireland can get that far, as it is coming to the fore at a time when social democracy is on the retreat all over the capitalist world. (1988)

____________

JUSTIN KEATING AND ROY JOHNSTON

I knew Justin Keating since he was a young fellow and I knew his mother May Keating, who was a wonderful woman, and I never remember meeting any other young person with such a desire to get on.  When he was only seventeen I met him at a meeting here in Dublin and I remember he used come into Trinity quite a bit.  I met him once in College Green and he told me he was concentrating on one thing now, doing some essay or other for a prize. And he said, “You know, I’ll get £30 if I get this.”  It was a competition, you see.  Roy Johnston  used to laugh at him, although he had similar traits himself.  “Will you look for a seat in the Dáil?” says Roy.  “Oh, No,” says Justin.  I expect that they must have worked out whether a seat in the Dáil was worth the money. The two of them got together. Justin wanted a job in Trinity.  I remember the occasion well. I got it from Roy’s own mouth, but it was very amusing. Justin came into the General Post Office.  It was the time of the Easter Commemoration, you see, and they were all going up in the lift to see the place where the flag was being put, and what did he do? He spotted old Joe Johnston, the professor and TCD senator, Roy’s father, and there was one other.  And there was room in the lift for only one. And didn’t Justin jump in the lift beside Roy and nudge him, whispering, “Introduce me, quick.”  Roy was bursting his sides. Justin had to be introduced before he got to the top of the building or he couldn’t be part of the honour party.  So there was a quick shotgun marriage in the lift.  I remember Justin later saying as a postgraduate student in London: “I must go back to Dublin. The world will be at my feet there. For in Dublin it is not what you know, but who you know, that counts.” It told one a lot about him. And in due time he became a Labour Minister. [Justin Keating,1930-2019, Irish Labour politician, TD and Government Minister, had been a member of the Connolly Association while studying in London in the early 1950s. He joined the Irish Workers’ League on returning to Dublin and later joined the Irish Labour Party. A memoir, edited by his second wife, Barbara Hussey, “Nothing Is Written in Stone”, was published in 2017 and refers to his work with Desmond Greaves as a young man. His first marriage was to Loretta Wine. His mother, May Keating, was a left republican activist and married to the painter Sean Keating.]

                                                    *

It is extraordinary, Roy Johnston, yourself and all the others, obsessed with the Republican movement when the only force strong enough to change the Government’s policy is the Trade Union movement. The trouble with Roy is that he wants to decide policy.  But you can only decide policy if you are elected. Then people turn to you because that is what you are there for. But you cannot decide policy by drawing up ideal proposals and documents.  If Roy got himself recognised as an expert in one area, if he had the sense to stick to one thing and concentrate on that – science or nuclear energy or something, for he is a very good scientist – he would be turned to for that. People would say if an issue arose: “Go and see Roy Johnston. He is the man who knows all about that.”  But Roy wants to decide high policy, not only for one organisation, bless the mark, but for several.  Another man like that is Derry Kelleher, a very nice man but he wastes so much time. He compiles quotations from Marx and Lenin and Connolly on the national question: that the national question has precedence over socialism. It is a good thesis but it has all been done before. He did not have to do that.  What was needed was some way in which one could put the old thesis, which everyone who knows anything agrees on, in ways that make it acceptable and will influence those who do not agree with it. [Derry Kelleher, 1919-2001, active in the pre-1970-split Sinn Fein; later Vice-President of  Official Sinn Fein; wrote several books on republican politics]   (1969)

                                                    *

Justin Keating has joined the Labour Party and will show it how to be an efficient social democratic party; and he will use all the things he learned from us to do it. Just as Roy Johnston has been doing with the Republicans: rushing in to help them when they were desperate and did not know what to do and giving them an entirely new lease of life, instead of waiting until they had to come to us. Roy thinks the IRA went to him because of his politics. It was no such thing. They wanted bazookas.  I remember the occasion well. Cathal Goulding was in Cathal MacLiam’s house, talking about bombs and electric currents. I said in passing: Roy Johnston is a man who would know about that. And that is why they went to him. I am sorry I did not keep my gob shut. [Dr RoyJohnston,1929-2019, physicist, joined the IRA in the mid-1960s and encouraged its politicisation during that decade. Cathal MacLiam was a friend of Desmond Greaves’s who used stay with him and his wife Helga at their home in Finglas and later in 24 Belgrave Road, Rathmines, Dublin, during Greaves’s research visits to Dublin for his biographies of Connolly, Mellows and O’Casey. He was a cousin of IRA leader Cathal Goulding, had been a Connolly Association member in London in the early 1950s, was a member of the Dublin Wolfe Tone Society in the 1960s and 1970s and later a trade union official with the ITGWU/SIPTU in Dublin.]   (1969)

                                                    *

You say you want to see Justin Keating, now that he is a Government minister, to encourage him to talk about the North. I would think twice about it. He will pick your brains, get all your best ideas and then produce them without any acknowledgement to you. I would let him solve his own problems and not lift a finger to help him advance himself one iota at your expense. (1976)

                                                    *

You tell me that Justin Keating says he is dropping out of politics because he is disillusioned. Disillusioned! How could any intelligent man say he had illusions in the first place. He should have looked at reality; then he would not be disillusioned. My own experience is that life is neither all rosiness nor all gloom.  It is something of a mixed bag, if you ask me. (1977)

                                                    *

If Justin Keating had detached himself, however negatively, from the Fine Gael-Labour coalition in the 1970s, it would have helped enormously. (1985)

_______________

ENGLAND/BRITAIN

It is remarkable how the historical problems of countries remain the same. For centuries England has been fighting against the threat of absorption in Europe, and so it is today. And for Ireland it has been the threat of absorption by England. (1973) 

                                                    *

There is a solidity to English society North of the Trent and a warmth of feeling that is wholly different from the South. It is because it is national.

                                                    *

Alfred is the only English monarch with the title “the Great”. And why?  Because it was a time of peace and order in the Kingdom. It is extraordinary, but the places that he ruled are still among the most progressive areas of the country and it may well go back to social traditions that stem from his time. He founded the University of Oxford in effect, and brought over Irishmen to do it. 

                                                     *

There was a war party in all the Great Powers coming up to World War 1, but I think that Britain’s burden of guilt for the war is greater than any of the others. She wanted to do down Germany and knew that only the Russians and French together could provide the land armies that would be capable of that. So she encouraged the Franco-Russian coming-together in the decade before 1914. Then she pretended to sit on the fence until the last minute, leading the Germans to think that she would not intervene if they attacked Belgium, and when that happened it gave her the excuse to throw herself and her navy on to the anti-German side.

                                                     *

English prejudice against the Scots, Welsh and Irish is far deeper than their hostility to coloureds. After all they have been trying to subdue and assimilate the Celtic peoples for over 1,000 years; they know the black and brown peoples for only a few centuries.

                                                     *

There is no statesmanship these days in the British ruling class.  They have no vision of the future and none of the historical sense that is necessary to place oneself in the present and see what one must do. But they are ruled by precedent. The politicians ask the civil servants what to do and the civil servants ask what has been done before, because that way no one can be blamed if things go wrong.  If they do what they say, after all they only did what they had done before!  For example, Lloyd George enquired should they not arrest De Valera when he was president of Sinn Fein and he was told that they had always followed a policy of not arresting or drastically interfering with the leaders of rebellious movements – O’Connell and Parnell for example – with whom they might eventually have to negotiate.  One gets a picture of a ruling class weighed down by historical precedent. They could certainly have arrested De Valera when he came back from America, but obviously they decided that it suited their interests that he return.  After all, while he was away anyone could repudiate whatever Griffith got up to. (1976)

                                                        *

In 1941 the English wanted the Irish to support the war. They never thought the Irish looked on Churchill with different eyes than they did. Churchill could never be a great war leader for the Irish, who remembered his role in Ireland in 1922.

                                                        *

It is sheer poppycock that England is in the Six Counties to protect the Unionsts from the horrid Nationalists, or to keep peace among Irishmen. England is there as part of her international defence commitments. Her rulers will naturally regret the injury to civilians which the IRA response to their policy inflicts. But just as expenditure on Northern Ireland is esentially part of the arms budget, so the civilian casualties are in a sense casualties of the “Cold War”. They are incurred in the pursuit of overall strategy. (1976)

                                                    *

To have maintained the Russian alliance after the last war would have saved England years of humiliation. But imperialism would have been in question; capitalism would have been in question. The rulers of England prefer to be capitalists on their knees before other capitalists rather than not be capitalists at all.

                                                    *

Majority rule is alright in South Africa and Rhodesia, say the English, but it is subversive and out-of-date to say there should be majority rule in Ireland. 

                                                    *

The only progressive task for the British in Ireland is to do what the Irish want.

                                                    *

Have you heard this story showing English chauvinism? There was this grande dame in Turkey. “We always take special care with the food for foreigners, my lady,” said a waiter. “But my dear good man,” she shot back. “Don’t you understand?  It is you who are the foreigners.”

                                                    *

No one would have thought twenty-five years ago that it would be a quarter-century of unexampled prosperity.  But one cannot unfortunately know the future. (1973)

                                                    *

In the old days the English working classes were always extremely responsible. It is quite wrong to think that they were otherwise, but their nationalism has been destroyed by the Common Market and all that has led up to it, so there is no reason why they should be responsible anymore.  I remember meeting a shop-steward in Cardiff, a Welshman, and was so struck by what he said that I wrote it down.  Something I said must have indicated to him that I had a leaning to the Left, for he said:  “I would like to be able to think of the good of society, but I can’t afford it.  It takes all I can to try and keep up with the boss.” No one around has social responsibility, so each section tries to grab as much as it can.  If a group of workers is told that the economy will be fucked if they go for a thirty percent wage increase, they say, “So what”, and they go for what they are strong enough to get.  When a society gets like that it is very hard for it to recover, for anything positive that is done will hurt some powerful interest. They have destroyed education, the sovereignty of Parliament has been handed to Brussels, and the English people no longer have a sense of homogeneousness as a result of uncontrolled immigration. It is small wonder they are demoralised. (1976)

                                                    *

England used be a nation of shopkeepers.  Now it is a nation of fiddlers, a whole orchestra of fiddlers. The whole economy in fact is run “on the fiddle”. 

                                                    *

The decay of the British working class is palpable, or rather of the English, for the Scots and Welsh are alright.  The English actually do believe in King and Country, so that their rulers can do with them what they like.  They may rebel against the boss and go on strike and the like, which means that their jobs are cut and there are even fewer of them around to rebel next time. But they do not rebel politically,  which is the only rebellion that counts and the only way to solve their problems.  I foresee the deindustrialisation of England, for that is what their rulers will allow. Or rather, it is their rulers who are doing the deindustrialising, shifting their capital abroad and tying Britain into the straitjacket of the Common Market. (1976) 

                                                    *

The ex-English ambassador to France has been writing about England’s decline, without mentioning that their whole policy is designed to conceal the importance of their foreign investments, which derive from an export of capital that has been going on for over a century. It is no wonder that they now find themselves de-industrialized. (1978)  

                                                    *

There was this recent press report about a private committee, consisting of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Governor of the Bank of England and the head of the Civil Service, which took all key economic decisions in the Callaghan administration and whose existence was not even known to the Cabinet.  It looks as if the truth is now coming out in the newspapers, and it is because they are confident that nothing can be done.  The English working class is caught like a rat in a trap.  Their leaders are incapable of leading them anywhere, so the powers that be are confident they can do more or less what they like. After all, look at that spineless bunch in the House of Commons.  You need only go down there and mix with them for a while to get their measure.  Jock Stallard used say to me when someone proposed something: “I wonder what he is up to now, for nothing ever happens by accident in this place.” In other words, nothing ever gets proposed on its merits. In actual fact sometimes good things happen by accident in politics, but it is best to go on the assumption that they do not [A.W.“Jock” Stallard, was Labour MP for St Pancras North, 1970-83; his wife was Irish].    (1979)

                                                    *

At every stage over the centuries of England’s involvement in Ireland there was some genuine element in England, however small, who were opposed to it.  Remember the Leveller Walwyn?  He had many successors, down to the likes of Wilfred Scawen Blunt and many people on the Left today. England now is divided into two nations, the south-east and the rest.  It is supposed to be the poorest of the larger EEC countries, but that is based on averages.  In the south-east there is no unemployment and average incomes are at German levels, which means they are so much lower in the North and North-West, in Scotland and Wales. They say Britain is a poor country, but that is nonsense.

                                                    *

You speak of the revival of German power in Western Europe and their interference in the Third World; but don’t forget the villainy of Britain. Remember that the British have invented almost every device of oppression thought up in the 20th century.  Who first invented concentration camps? The British in the Boer War. Who first thought up “shot while attempting to escape?” The British in Ireland. You say the Germans are using social democracy to subvert the Labour Movement in places like Portugal. But who first started that?  Again it was the British, when they set up tame trade unions in their former colonies before leaving them.  They may not be strong enough to be as villainous as the Germans any longer, but do not think for a moment that they would not like to be. An old skunk, but a skunk just the same.

                                                    *

We went to a peace meeting in Warrington recently that was preceded by a march from Liverpool to Manchester, staying overnight at Warrington. We thought we would go along and sell some Irish Democrats,but being a bit too old for marching we nipped along in Barney Morgan’s car and got there before the marchers to have a pint.  But what struck me about the meeting they held was that everyone on the platform was over sixty and everyone in the audience was under thirty.  Where was the generation in between? At home looking at their TV sets, I suppose, as they have been doing for the past thirty years, while the prosperous world they enjoyed totters around them and proves wholy unable to satisfy the young. (1980)

                                                    *

The commercial decline of Liverpool typifies the decline of Britain.  Once it was the greatest port in the world; now it’s but a shadow of its former self. The shipyards are for the chop under Maggie Thatcher. They are talking of closing the Manchester Ship Canal.  I suppose they will have to continue importing grain, so Liverpool will remain a grain port, but that is likely to be all. Perhaps it could become the Venice of England, living on tourism after its commercial splendour is over, like all imperial centres. 

                                                    *

The jingoism of the British press and public on the Falklands Islands: I think it is more like that of the Boer War and Mafeking than at the start of World War 1. (1982)

                                                    *

Partition made the English working-class and their rulers all thieves together.  If they were not chauvinist in relation to Ireland, would they have been so chauvinist in relation to the Falkland Islands? (1983)

                                                    *

Labour lost the British general election when Michael Foot supported Mrs Thatcher’s Falklands adventure. That in turn has probably given the Tories a decade or more of new life, for it has enabled Thatcher to masquerade as an English nationalist when she is not one. (1983)

                                                    *

This country in which I have lived for 70 years is in a worse state now than I ever thought it would get into, and the people who are trying to reform it are making a mess of it. Two things have brought it to the pass it is in: the City of London and the Labour Party! (1983)

                                                    *

Britain’s national interests are with its foreign invesments.  That is why  its rulers are not national but anti-national and are happy to subordinate themselves to the EEC and to liquidate British industry in the process. (1983)

________________

THE BRITISH LABOUR MOVEMENT

I was with Jim Fizgerald in a pub recently and we saw Harold Wilson on TV [Jim Fitzgerald, 1929-2003, Irish actor, director and television producer]. I said to him: “Now you are an actor and producer and can judge character by people’s faces. Tell me what you see on that face.”  He replied: “Well, you tell me what you see and I will tell you if I see the same.”  I said: “I see vanity, lots of vanity; and stupidity.”  “I agree with you,” said Fitz. “There is vanity, lots of vanity, and there is stupidity, but there is something else as well; I see the flash of the conman.” (1968)

                                                    *

In the rich world everyone has food in their stomachs. It is not the question of production that is primary, but the democratic question. People do not appreciate that the democratic question has priority in England.

                                                    *

The British Labour Party and its current talk about “socialism”: They believe, or pretend to believe, that socialism can be achieved without anyone getting hurt. Painless socialism is what they offer.  The vital thing to grasp about the British Labour Party is that though they want office, they do not want power. (1968)

                                                    *

The so-called “New Left” likes to make simple and long-understood social and political truths as complicated as possible. (1968)

                                                    *

It is quite amusing how people on the far-Left believe that it is possible to pass from past to future without the intermediacy of the present.

                                                    *

When I want to know the long-term plans of the reactionaries are, I always look at what the ultra-Left is up to; for they sponsor the schemes that are later taken up in disguised fashion by reaction. 

                                                    *                                                                

This year’s Trades Union Congress will be looked back to as a watershed.  For the first time in seventy years there has been a real swing to the Left, on the Common Market, on Ireland and the Industrial Relations Bill: all profoundly progressive decisions. (1971) 

                                                    *

The TUC was exciting: the excitement of being where real decisions are made and where real power lies. (1971) 

                                                    *

The current “winter of discontent” in Britain, with coal-strikes, rail-strikes etc., is an attempt by the Government to build up a crisis atmosphere. I saw it once before, at the Munich crisis, when the British ruling class was pretending to be scared.  They had aircraft guns on London Bridge and at street corners, although it was evident to any sensible person that they could not stop a man with a pop-gun.  But then a year after, in 1939, when the Hitler-Stalin pact was signed, I saw them really scared; and this time there were no such silly goings-on, not a gun or battery in sight. (1974)

                                                    *

The attitude of the British working class these days is as if it is slowly waking up and lazily flicking a whip at a scared government.  Things are commonplace now that in my young days would never have been allowed. Sit-ins, office takeovers and the like were then unimaginable.  Anyone trying them would have ended up in jail. It is a measure of the change that has occurred that no one now is surprised at these things, and there will be further changes yet. (1974)

                                                    *

The Chinese make the same analysis of the British scene as we do, but they come to different conclusions.  As someone said to me: “They tell us to strike while the iron is hot, but they expect us to make the iron hot by striking!” (1974)

                                                    *

The Tories hope for a Labour split on the economy and the Common Market, and then a National Government with themselves in it. But it would be like the 1930s. The Left will always be the real Labour Party, just as in Ireland the Provisionals will always be the real IRA. (1974)

                                                    *

The British Labour Party if they won the election would be almost as bad as the Tories, they are such a lily-livered lot.  The only times they are any good is when they are booted up the backside by the Trade Unions. With the Tories in front of them and the Trade Unions behind, they usually tend to be very reluctant troops. (1974)

                                                    *

During the election I was asked how the communist candidates would fare. Hopelessly, I said. The British people do not want socialism.  There is nothing the socialists can give them that they cannot get by fiddling or a bit of overtime.  And the election results were so close. It was so clever of the people: Homo statisticus. No one man aimed at such a result, yet the convergence of the aims of millions led to this. (1974) [There were two UK elections in 1974. The first, in February, led to Harold Wilson forming a minority Government. The second, in October, gave him a majority. In the first the Conservative Enoch Powell urged people to vote Labour  because of Wilson’s commitment to have a fundamental renegotiation of EEC membership and a referendum on that. This referendum took place in 1975.]

                                                    *

It is utterely short-sighted, this Communist policy of standing candidates in the same constituencies as progressive Labour MPs, instead of going up in safe Labour seats where they are mostly right-wingers who are in favour of the Common Market and putting pressure on them from the Left.  Lack of funds is doubtless partly responsible. (1974)

                                                    *

The Labour Party can never be the same again after the Common Market referendum battle [ie. Harold Wilson’s referendum on EEC membership, the first ever referendum held in the UK, when 67% voted in favour of remaining members of the EEC on a turnout of 64% of the electorate, having joined it two years before].  It is funny how the great breaks always come on the national question. The Tories, the English national party, have sold national sovereignty to the foreigners.  If I had the time and energy I would urge the communists and the Left generally to stigmatize the Tories as the pro-German Party.  But they would be too timid, I expect. They would regard such an epithet as “racist”, although so far as the Tories and the Common Market are concerned it would be no more than the truth. (1975)

                                                    *

The British have brought about their own downfall by their service to reaction. Stalin, who is much abused nowadays, said it in the 1920s when he remarked that the communists need do nothing to bring about the fall of British capitalism; they could leave it to the British Conservative Party. The Foreign Office people, with their deep-rooted hatred of the Russians, have lost the British Empire in the cause of anti-communism; and now they have lost their country’s independence to the Common Market in the same cause. (1975) 

                                                    *

What is happening in England now is not just the reversal of the democratic gains of the last thirty years, but of the last three hundred.  It is an attempt to turn back 1649 [ie. the year of the execution of Charles 1 following the victory of the Parliamentary forces in the English civil war, and acceptance of the principle that the monarch cannot govern without Parliament’s consent]. (1975)

                                                    *

And the Left, with its usual stupidity, has made the mistake of leaving the championing of English nationalism to the Right, to Enoch Powell and the National Front. (1975)

                                                    *

People do not appreciate that Enoch Powell is not on the right of the Tory Party, but on its left. He is the champion of English national capital. It is Edward Heath, with his Common Market policy and his subordination to the Transnational Companies, Big Capital and the Banks, who represents the real right. (1975)

                                                    *

The advance of Scots’ nationalism at this time is not necessarily an undiluted good. Remember that it is in the context of the Common Market. Nationalism on its own is in no sense an absolute principle. Would we want an independent Scotland and an England under permanent right-wing rule?  The whole balance of these islands would then be thrown even more heavily on the side of reaction. (1975)

                                                    *

The trouble with the English Left is that they think Left and Right in Ireland are the same as Left and Right in England, whereas in Ireland Left and Right revolve round the national question.

                                                   *

Did you notice the silence that fell at the Galway TUC meeting when the British TUC  representative stood up to speak: a sense that control had passed from their own hands? Control has passed from the British too, to the Common Market, but the trade unionists in Ireland were still conscious that the British were yet bigger boys, and so they listened. (1976) 

                                                    *

There is not a single statesman in the Western World since the death of De Gaulle; and not much sign of one in Eastern Europe either.  In Britain the Government Ministers have the job of selling to the public decisions that are taken by others. The Labour Party is in a mess and the Conservatives are no better. Of course, with the real decisions taken outside the country, in Brussels and in Washington, politics in Britain must inevitably become provincial. And the same goes for Ireland. (1976) 

                                                    *

The mood in Britain today is like that of Germany after 1918. They feel defeated and demoralised.  The people say: “We won the war, why are we like this; and look at what the Germans are like, who lost the war?”   The communists might make themselves into a mass party by putting themselves at the head of the defence of the nation, but they seem incapable of it, so that the way is open for the far-right and the National Front.  Hitler was able to direct the anger of the Germans against Versailles and the enemy without, who had put Germany in bondage; but I fear that the right-wing in England will make the coloured people the scapegoat, which will in fact be compatible with Europeanism. (1976)

                                                    *

To get out of the Common Market will entail altering the convictions of a generation: a gigantic task. At bottom I would say that Britain is fucked. The working-class is being threatened by competition from other countries where they can go as gastarbeiter, and they are being threatened at home by the effects of immigration, which dissolves their homogeneity. Their national feeling is being turned into colour prejudice rather than anything progressive, and the Left and the communists seem incapable of stopping it. (1976)                                      

                                                    *

I am afraid the CPGB’s “British Road to Socialism” confuses two things:  how to make people want socialism when they don’t, and how to get it when they might want it.  It gives “hard-liners” and “soft-liners” plenty abstract things to argue about, instead of concentrating on some practical thing like campaigning on the Common Market, on which they could unite and which might give them the leadership of the country.  (1977)

                                                    *

Harold Wilson was alright to stand in the way of revolution; Callaghan is needed to carry through the counter-revolution.  For the past three years there has been a swing to the right in every field in this country, revolving around Common Market membership. (1979)

                                                    *

The Left in England is permeated with delusions of grandeur. They must have a policy on every place under the sun, including on far-away Timbuctoo.  This was proper enough when London was the centre, or one of the principal centres, of world capitalist policy.  But it is no longer so.  

                                                    *

The trouble in Britain today is that anywhere you look in politics and public affairs you cannot find a person of ability.  There are plenty people with big heads, mind you, but not people of ability. There is no one of vision who can think beyond next year, and you are lucky if you can get people who will think that far. (1979)

                                                    *

I have a feeling that this is one of those times when there is a deep stirring below the ground of politics, when lots of people are moving to the Left.  It is not because of the attractiveness of the Left, but because that is the logic of where people have to go.  It is probably because of the sudden awareness of the danger of war. Mind you, it is not like the 1930s, but something important seems to be happening.  I think Ireland is much more advanced in this respect than  Britain.  I have no fear for the movement in Ireland.  Ireland is safe.  I wish I could say that the movement in Britain was safe.  The positive trends in Ireland today are in line with those in the early period of the State, the 1920s, 30s and 40s, after the diversion of the 1950s to the 70s, the Cold War years.  There is a return now to the fundamental line of development. I think I remember saying to you that Ireland is at bottom a left-wing country, not a right-wing one like Britain or Germany. (1980)  

                                                    *

Labour voted at their Brighton conference to support withdrawal from the EEC [ie. when Michael Foot was Labour leader]. They have not abandoned the bipartisan policy; they have abandoned the bipartisan objective. (1981)

                                                     *

The SDP is the real conservative party here. [The Social Democratic Party was a breakaway from the British Labour Party following Labour’s decision at its 1981 annual conference to campaign to leave the EEC. The SDP leaders were former Labour politicians Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Shirley Williams.] The crisis in Britain has pressed the Tories to the right and Labour to the left. The SDP appeals to people who want nothing to change and who think that things can go on as before, if only Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams are put in charge of them.  It reminds me of a firm we were in touch with when I was in industry. They used make lavatory bowls and these used break frequently once they left the factory, so they asked the chemists to do something to prevent this happening. The chemists added something – calcium fluoride, I think –  but the producers said they would have to alter their whole production process to incorporate that, and as this could not be done they wanted something else. Like the SDP they wanted things changed, but at the same time they wanted to go on just as before. (1982)

                                                    *

Look at the desperate state of the British Labour Party after their defeat by Thatcher in the 1983 election. There are second-raters, third-raters and thirteenth-raters contending for the leadership. This seems to be a time when only second-rate and tenth-rate people get into positions of political power, and not only in Britain. Andropov is perhaps the brightest Russian leader since Lenin, but he is in poor health. I do not expect to see any major change in this country until it gets economically completely into the shit, although I hope change before that will not be precipitated by atom bombs.  Things will not change until the early decades of the twenty-first century, when I expect revolution to sweep the Third World.  The appalling conditions in those parts cannot go on for ever, and when they generate the inevitable reaction, the scope for manoeuvre by the West will become considerably limited. I will not live to see it, but it will happen. (1983)

                                                    *

The British people got rid of Benn [Tony Benn, 1925-2014, left-wing British Labour politician, MP and Government Minister, opponent of the EEC]. Then they threw out Foot [ Michael Foot,1913-2010, leader of the Labour Party in opposition 1980-83]. Before that they had Callaghan and Wilson. Now they have got Kinnock, a younger Harold Wilson without the brains, who will prove the biggest rat in the rat race, and suddenly Labour is within a percentage point of the Tories in the opinion polls.  It proves clearly that what the English want is right-wing Labour [Neil Kinnock, British Labour Party leader, 1983-1992; later an EU Commissioner]. (1983)

                                                    *

The general election proves that the British people do not want socialism. At best they want right-wing Labour. The communists here might as well shut up shop for ten years for all the good it will do. Mind you, if they get enough of the invigorating climate of freedom and enterprise that Margaret Thatcher is promising them, the might change their minds. The British people, I long ago concluded, are the most stupid and spineless lot one could come across. They could  not blow a flea out of a trumpet!  Perhaps the fear of war will scare them out of their apathy, but I doubt if anything else will. That is part of the importance of the Peace Movement. (1983)

                                                    *

I have often thought as one crowd of right-wingers succeeds another in the leadership of the British Labour Movement, that people will eventually see through them and turn to the Left.  But it does not work that way.  It is only when a fight is made that people rally round, and the Left are not in the leadership to be able to lead such a fight. (1984)

                                                    *

The miners’ strike will make a difference in this country.  It will nourish the growing suspiciousness of Government, on top of the phone-tapping and the police build-up, which they try to hush up but don’t always succeed.  Denis Healey would be a much better Labour leader than Kinnock, who is pitiful [Denis Healey,1917-2015, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party 1980-83]. Healey is the only man in the House of Commons comparable to Enoch Powell. Kinnock will be the worst Labour leader of the lot – so far at any rate –  but by his behaviour over the past two years people cannot say that they have not been forewarned. (1985)

                                                    *

It will be a great pity if Thatcher does not win the next British election, for then she will be saddled with the mess she has created. Whereas if Labour wins, it will be they who will have to deal with it and they will be quite unable to, which will let the Tories back in due course. (1986)

                                                    *

Bringing about real change in the British Labour movement is a twenty-year or thirty-year job.  Some people are interested, but the great mass haven’t a clue and could not care less. (1986)

                                                    *

Thatcher in her third term is said to be getting more and more popular: God knows why; and as for the Labour Opposition, it might as well not exist, for all one hears of it. (1988) 

                                                    *

Much of the old distinction between Right and Left is a nonsense; some of the most important issues nowadays are neither Right nor Left.

                                                    *

The Left has frequent splits, the Right does not. It is because the Right shows the natural solidarity of the ruling class. Conservatives after all have something to conserve. 

                                                    *

I have always been struck at how cheaply some Leftwing people allow themselves to be bought.  The Right usually exacts a much higher price for selling out.

____________

AMERICA

The people I feel closest to are the Irish first, then the English working-class and then the people of America. Most of my relations are in America and they have tremendous traditions there, from which the world will one day benefit. 

                                                      *

America is so superior to England and Germany, partly because of its profound sense of democracy. In America you have rights when you have rights. In Britain you have rights, but you are considered not “responsible” if you exercise them. A British policeman has no right to enter your house without a warrant, but if he does and you complain, you will find it hard to get redress, for you will not be acting “responsibly”. I once saw an American being interviewed by a snivelling BBC commentator who was trying to put him on the spot. They were talking about something and the BBC man said: “But why should you object to that?  It would not serve the interests of your Government.” To which the American magnificently retorted: “Sir,” he said, “My Government exists in order to serve me”; and the BBC man was demolished.  In Europe it is assumed that people must serve the Government, in America that the Government serves them. The distinction measures the superiority of American democracy over the so-called “European”.

                                                    *

The Chinese speak with the voice of the hungry man who has got nothing, the Russians like a man who has got just enough, and the Americans like someone gorged with riches but anxious nonetheless about holding  on to them. (1980) 

                                                    *

The dirtiest expression in the American language, I heard Professor Herbert Schiller of California say, is national sovereignty [Herbert Schiller, 1919-2000, American sociologist and media critic, who held that the modern media endow people with a “packaged consciousness”].

                                                    *

Like so many Americans he is culturally thin.

                                                    *

South America is surely the most splendid of continents.  If I ever did go travelling it is there I would go.  But it is an American fiefdom of course.  South America is the American empire.

                                                    *

The USA is the only State strong enough to take on the Multinational Companies, for it is bigger than any of them and therefore to some extent can act independently. 

                                                    *

On this foreign takeover battle for the British helicopter industry I would be inclined to back the Americans before the Europeans, on the principle that if you are to have a boss, the further away he is the better[A reference to the 1985-6 Westland affair in which Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wanted Britain’s Westland helicopter company sold to the Americans, while her Defence Minister Michael Heseltine wanted it integrated in an EU consortium, a position that precipitated Heseltine’s resignation]. 

————————————

GERMANY

The Germans are the most nationalistic of peoples. The Irish, unfortunately, are one of the least. If a German is born in Timbuctoo he is automatically regarded by all as German. If an Irishman is born there he is regarded by his people at home as an African. It is an index of the degree of national feeling and solidarity.

                                                    *

Old Professor von Pirani was quite left-wing  in the war-years, but he became conservative after it, with the Cold War. I quarrelled with him, which I much regretted afterwards; but you know what it is when you are young. “We Germans have no zivil courage,” he used say. No moral courage. “We are guests in this country and must go with the times.” He had of course been a refugee from Hitler.

                                                    *

The trouble with the Germans is that they never had a revolution. Unlike the English and French they never cut off their king’s head. Hence their instinctive respect for constituted authority. The Kaiser’s fall in 1918 was the result of a defeat from outside, not within. 

                                                    *

The German worker identifies with both boss and State. They go for higher productivity, and foreign workers must lose their jobs first. The English workers do not respect the boss. They walk out when they are against something, but they identify with the State politically: so no one must criticise the Queen. The Irish workers, being more political than either English or Germans, do not believe in the boss either, or the Government.  The reason is that for centuries they did not have a State of their own.

                                                    *

Germany is not the most reactionary of the Western countries. That is Britain. There is a possibility of Germany breaking away from the Western bloc and being neutralised and reunified, which would scupper the EEC and NATO and enable the Russians to square the Chinese.  It is like a chess-board: If only I could get my queen into that position, then I could do such and such. But how to get from here to there is the question. These are long-term possibilities that we may not see realised in our time. (1978) 

_____________

NATIONS, NATIONALISM, INTERNATIONALISM

We want the people to rule the earth. Not that they may make a very good job of it, but they could not do worse than the present lot.  And the people, who are they?  They are divided into nations.  Therefore we want the self-determination of nations.  That is the basis of our nationalism.  It is nothing more than the expression of democracy.

                                                    *

Everything good and progressive in society belongs to the national. It is the democratic category that subsumes all others.  We should not allow people to get away with the proposition that nationalism is in any sense a bad thing.  Imperialism is bad, but nationalism should refer to everything good within the nation.

                                                    *

Nationalism and internationalism are but different aspects of the same thing. As Connolly said, the principle of democracy must operate nationally before it can operate internationally. To be a nationalist and stand for a country’s independence and culture is not nationalism but internationalism. Internationalism is the primary category.  It seeks to enable each country play its part in the world. 

                                                    *

National feelings are the most powerful group feelings of all. Independence is necessary to get national prejudice and tensions out of people’s guts. Like good health, if you have got it you can take it for granted and forget it. That is why the basis of true international cooperation is recognition of and respect for the independence of nations.

                                                    *

National independence is the pre-requisite of socialism and indeed of every other democratic “-ism”.  For how can people get the laws they want unless they have a State of their own to make them? 

                                                    *

National independence and socialism are two successive stages of one democratic transformation of society, each of which requires economic changes that it is the function of political change to bring about. 

                                                    *

The Left should seek to be the best fighters for national independence and set a good example in all other democratic movements. And the socialists should be the foremost champions of the non-socialist character of those democratic movements, ensuring that they remain open to the widest possible range of people until their objectives are obtained.

                                                    *

These fools who go on about Irish nationalism.  They do not realise that the desire of the Irish people to be independent is not nationalism at all; it is just necessity. 

                                                    *

I took up a handbook of Marxism-Leninism recently produced by the Russians: all the old stuff I had not looked at for years. I looked up “nation” and “nationality” in the index and was interested to see that their references implied that nations will remain in existence long after the advent of socialism. This was not the old idea. In Stalin’s day nations were to go out of existence and there was to be one common language – which he seemed to envisage would be Russian. (1965)

                                                   *

It is notable how being a non-imperial country can improve the whole temper of a people. In Dublin I saw a busman helping an old man off the bus and across the road with the approbation of all the passengers. Contrast central London and the general indifference of people there.

                                                     *

For a weak country to stand up for itself against a stronger, it needs quite exceptionally able people to be in charge; and where are such people to be seen in Ireland  these days? (1977)

                                                     *

My book on Liam Mellows did not get a single review in any English paper and I don’t believe the O’Casey one will either, excepting the Morning Star of course. The Connolly book was different, but of course that was socialism. There is not the least likelihood of socialism at present. It is nationalism that is a threat to the powers-that-be these days as they bow to the Transnational Corporations. (1979)

                                                    *

Scottish nationalism is a very one-sided phenomenon. It is not part of any general advance of the Left; and national independence achieved in a way that is not part of a general progressive movement could turn into its opposite.  It was quite clear to me when I visited their Scottish offices that there were some very peculiar people behind them. Could not some of the transnational companies expect to do very well out of an independent Scotland within the EEC, rather than in a Scotland which is a neglected part of the British State?  Perhaps they set up branches in Scotland and found they were being given second-class treatment by London. Also a Scottish State inside the EEC could mean permanent Tory rule in England. (1981)

                                                     *

Irish national independence decides whether, in the event of  a nuclear holocaust, all Irish cities are blown off the map, or only Belfast, or possibly none at all. There is more to it than harps and shamrocks. 

                                                    *

The 5th century is one of the most interesting of all; for then it was that the borders of the European States were essentially laid down. It set the framework of so much that is still with us. 

                                                     *

Things are changing so rapidly and there are such strains and pressures loose in the world that I consider it possible that the nations of Europe as we have known them will scarcely exist in a hundred years time. (1981)

                                                    *

Before launching a campaign on the national question we need to do the theoretical work. That is the most important thing of all.  You must win an ideological victory before you can win a political one. There are still many unsolved problems. On the national question Lenin was not consistent; but neither was Marx. What do you say about the Kurds, for example, a nation divided between four states; or the Basques, who are divided between two, although the French Basques seem quiet enough?  If it is a question of will, of wanting self-determination – and I took this view once – then what answer do you have to those who want an independent “Ulster”? You might say that they can claim independence,  although they have no right to claim to be ruled by someone else.  And if you rule that out, there might be some higher principle.  You might say that everyone has the right to self-determination and adopt the principle: “Fiat justitia, ruat lex”. But that could be rather nasty; and it is not as if we are entirely sure what “justitia” might be.

                                                    *

I decided not to attempt to define a nation.  All those books of theory on the national question that you gave me worked that way, and they are all so barren – utterly idealistic.  The thing comes before the definition, so I decided to stick with that in the conference we are having on defending the Nation State. I think that we may be on to something bigger than we originally thought by taking up this question at this time. Defending the Nation State may be the way out for the European Left. [This is a reference to the conference on “Defending the Nation State” which was organised by the Connolly Association in the Conway Hall, Red the following year; see “The Irish Democrat”,  December 1985. This conference was areaction to the Dooge-Spinelli proposals that led to the European Community’s Single European Act treaty in 1987].  (1985) 

                                                    *

We are not against internationalism, but we are against self-appointed denigrators of national sovereignty who are not responsible to anyone. 

                                                    *

The big theoretical question is whether in fact it is possible to tackle the multinational firms by means of the traditional Nation State.

                                                    *

Foreign policy is the test of a nation’s independence.

                                                              *

A nation sure of its future will respect, but not idolise, its past.

                                                    *

A huge part of the operation of international trade transactions takes place between different branches of the same firm.  It is natural therefore that the Transnational Firms should seek to internalise their operations through supranational political links, like in the EEC.

                                                    *

The theoretical fight is the most important now. All the Left-wing parties are buggered by the events of the past thirty years: the New Left, Eurocommunism and so on. Mind you, it has cost reaction a lot of money to do it. We are at the beginning of a new historical period in which the democratic question, the right of nations to self-determination, is coming to the fore again. (1985)

                                                    *

The Left, unfortunately, has never given much theoretical attention to the factors making for stable State boundaries.      

                                                    *

They say capitalism has outgrown the Nation State? But one might just as well say that the Nation State has outgrown capitalism. 

                                                    *

The national question needs to be approached from the standpoint of socialist internationalism.  On that basis it is unassailable. 

                                                    *

Thatcher says: I am proud to be British; but what a silly thing to say?  I presume that Mitterrand says he is proud to be French and Kohl is proud to be German.  As if one can be proud of anything one does not do or is not responsible for.  It shows her bogus nationalism and her attempt to calm the disquiet in the Tory Party over “Europe”. (1985) 

                                                    *

The Olympic Games are supposed to forward fraternity through sport.  In fact they stir up trouble between countries by forcing them to compete under national flags.  After all, if a man can run a record one thousand metres, what business is it of anyone what country he belongs to?  People should compete as individuals rather than as national representatives. 

                                                   *

Britain’s national interests are with its foreign investments. That is why its rulers are not national but anti-national, and are happy to subordinate themselves to the EEC and to liquidate British industry in the process.

                                                   *

All small nations are parochial of course. It is as if they taylor their interests to the field in which they feel they can exert influence.

                                                   *

Timmy Graham, the former Cork Unemployed Workers Movement man, told me once how some of the local unemployed robbed wreaths from a cemetery to make a wreath for Jim Larkin’s grave, signing it, “From the socialist sons of Cork to their socialist father, Big Jim.”  I thought to myself it should have been: “From the dead men of Cork to the dead man of Dublin!” [James Larkin, 1876-1947, Irish Labour leader, founder of the ITGWU]

_______________

EMPIRE AND IMPERIALISM

Rome is the archetype of all subsequent imperialisms, which all tended to exalt the Romans and their achievements. It would be useful to have a history of Europe from the viewpoint of the Celtic peoples, who lost out to Rome. The trouble with most existing histories is that they look at Europe through the eyes of the Romans. One should ignore the conventional wisdom of the schoolteachers, who have been taught to extol Rome.  Read Tacitus on how the Romans conquered Britain – really conquered them, seducing them with baths and villas. 

                                                    *

More and more current events remind one of the end of the Roman Empire: the madness of the cities and the emptying of the countryside, the utter waste of natural and human resources. I believe the Roman empire was one of the most evil and unfortunate developments of all time. At different ends of Europe the Jews and the Irish resisted it most vigorously.          

                                                     *

It is scandalous the way in which the Graeco-Romans overshadowed the importance of the Jewish tradition for centuries. It is a tragedy that after all that millions of Jews should find themselves placed on the wrong side today, in Israel. 

                                                    *

I believe that the Hebrews had a civilisation comparable to Greece and Rome, even superior to those, until the Romans overthrew it.  I do not have a high opinion of that lot, I assure you. Look at how they treated the Jews when they conquered them.   I once believed the Romans were the great villains, but now I am inclined to think the Greeks were not much better. Look at what they did at Melos. Thucydides describes how the people of Melos wanted to stay neutral and the Athenians said that if they did so they would slaughter the whole lot of them. And they did that very thing. 

                                                    *

The Old Testament was when the Jews were imperialist. The New Testament was when Rome was on top.

                                                    *

Someone says that Marx believed in big units, perhaps referring to nineteenth century Germany. But that was before the population grew to what it is today. Today’s problems are magnified by giant States and giant populations. Contrast ancient Greece. Everything worthwhile in Greece belonged to Athens, which was about the size of Cork. Then came exchange, which began in Lydia. It made Athens a colonial power, with that ruffian Alcibiades. They had colonies all over the Eastern Mediterranean.  Of course they did not call them colonies, but allies.  Then there came those greater ruffians, the Romans.  Remember Flavius Josephus, who said there were no trees left in the countryside around Jerusalem, so many had been cut down for crucifixions. The Jews were the other great people and civilisation of that time.  Of course the Jewish religion is immensely superior to Christianity.  Christianity is a Romanised version of Judaism, which could never have got where it did were it not for the power of Rome behind it.  Look at the miserable quality of most Christian writings from the early time. The Talmudic writings, the works of men like Hillel, are of much higher quality.  They were humanistic, unlike the Christian, with their other-worldliness and asceticism.

                                                     *

The principle of exchange was the beginning of all the trouble.  It was disseminated from Greece and places adjacent, whence came universal exchange and money. Did you know that the Temple of Archos was a bank, and similarly the oracle of Delphi? People came there to change their money.  And of course such places were sacred. Isn’t the Bank of England sacred in a similar way, with economists and newspaper editors chanting hymns and encantations to the proceedings?  Is it not truly a Holy Place? 

                                                     *

Do you remember Jonty Hanaghan? His real name was Jonathan T. Hanaghan and he was a character with theories on everything and solutions to every problem, whose “sayings” used be on sale in the Dublin bookshops [John T. Hanaghan,1887-1967, Irish writer and psychoanalyst].  I once met him at a Dublin party and he said to me that the present age reminded him of the last days of the Roman Empire when the “noble Romans” – that was the phrase he used – would cut their wrists and kill themselves rather than endure the terrible scenes around them any longer.  I think he was right that that time was similar to now, only I hope we can do something more constructive than the “noble Romans”. Of course at that time there were no social forces that could make things better.  What could a slave do? An employee is different however. He can get together with other employees.  And that is the only way in which things are perhaps better today: that there is a chance now to change things for the better if only people realise what must be done and group together to do it.  A slave had no recourse, but no one objects to being employed by his fellow citizens. 

                                                    *

There are no real choices before the people today.  All is fudged and muddled by the parties in power and their subservient media. It is a time without real politics, as it was in the latter days of the Roman Empire. And the politicians are the breed appropriate to such a  time. (1980)

                                                    *

There is a smell of the 5th century about these times.  That was one of the most interesting centuries of all, when the Roman world was collapsing. 

                                                    *

Think of the great centres of world civilisation, the Mediterranean and the Yangtse, and each wholly ignorant of the other.

                                                    *

Raymond Crotty talks about “peripheralization” as a process making countries dependent; but it is centralization of capital, not peripheralization, that does this. To speak of peripheralization when one should talk of centralization is not to think dialectically[Raymond Crotty, 1925-94, Irish economist and economic historian; critic of European integration; plaintiff in the 1987 Crotty case before the Irish Supreme Court which established the principle that a constitutional referendum was needed to ratify EU treaties that transferred sovereignty to supranational bodies; author of “When Histories Collide”, 2001, and other books].

                                                    *

Imperialism is always a money-making racket on the part of the elite of the imperial power – and their hangers-on in the elite of the dominated country.

                                                    *

It is the fate of all old imperialist cities to become tourist resorts. The empires go, leaving behind only fine buildings. Venice is the most obvious example. Now it is Liverpool’s turn.

                                                    *

The famine in Africa is due to monoculture, which in turn is a legacy of colonialism.

                                                    *

They are running down the coal industry to replace it with nuclear power.  At present the Americans cannot sell their nuclear stations since that one on Three Mile Island polluted everything. So they are selling them to the Third World and want the British to take them  as another throw-off from the arms industry. At the beginning of the next century the British will find themselves deprived of their foreign investments, with their traditional domestic industries gone. They cannot live on services alone. People say that Lenin’s pamphlet, “Imperialism”, is out of date, but if you read it you will see that it only needs to be adapted to the time that has gone on.  In his day capitalism was organised in national blocs; but imperialism has not disappeared because it has got more intermingled. From Birmingham to Cornwall old industry has closed down and it is virtually solid Thatcher country, with one big estate leading on to another.  It is the characteristic of imperialism to be a parasitic economy. Where will Britain’s workers go?  They will emigrate, or have their bargaining power diluted by cheap foreign labour, or make luxury goods, although even many of these are now imported.  A new term needs to be coined: it is no longer neo-imperialism, but crypto-imperialism. (1980)

                                                    *

It is like poor Mexico: too far from God and too near to the United States.  So far as Ireland goes, it is far from God and too close to England.  It might be better for it to be more dependent on America, if it had to be dependent on anyone. At least America would be further away. 

                                                     *

British imperialism has fallen on hard times, but it is important to remember that it still has resources, and especially the most important resource of all: experience.

______________

DEMOCRACY

One of the basic principles of democracy, and incidentally of human relations, is never to blame anyone for something they are not responsible for.  This means that it is wrong to criticise someone because of their age, their sex, their race, religion or nationality. 

                                                    *

Marx had a profound understanding of democracy.  He knew well that it was not a matter of counting heads, that a numerical majority could never make a wrong decision right.  Minorities often constitute the long-term majority, so to speak.  It was the same with people like De Gaulle and De Valera.  When De Valera wanted to know the will of the Irish people he looked into his own heart.  Some people who know nothing have professed to regard this as arrogant; but he was profoundly right.  You have to be a person of stature to do that of course. 

                                                    *

I am unashamedly West European. It is the centre of civilisation as well as the home of capitalism. Are we really in favour of democracy strictly understood, that is, rule by the majority?  If we had a World State the Chinese and Indians would have the majority. Would we want democracy then?

                                                    *

Democracy: one should not have too much faith in it. People can follow the greatest scoundrels and in the mass they are often stupid, greedy or fearful; but they can be persuaded and persuaded sometimes to good causes, and one should encourage such efforts at persuasion. 

                                                    *

You say democracy is difficult with large units and that “small is beautiful” is best in political  administration. So what do we come back to: that the best form of government is really benevolent dictatorship?  This union official said to me the other day that what struck him most after working years for the Irish Transport Union was the stupidity of people in important positions.  After all what was Lenin but a benevolent dictator? The trouble is that you cannot be sure that his successor will be equally benevolent. After him you got Stalin after all. 

                                                    *

Between you and me I have not the highest opinion of democracy. The trouble is finding any better alternative.  Today it becomes more and more like anarchy. Like in the Bible: “There was no king in Israel, and behold every man did what he thought best.” When it happens that everyone does what he thinks best, you get some rare goings-on, I can tell you.

                                                    *

This article says that there are few people interested actively in politics in modern democracies.  I  know how I would get them interested quickly enough. Double income tax overnight and put the price of everything up fifty percent.

                                                    *

Killing by silence: In the old days on the Manchester Guardian there used be a list hung up in the reportersroom: those who should be mentioned favourably and often, those who should be mentioned occasionally, and then – the most obnoxious people of deepest die of all – those who on no account were ever to be mentioned.

                                                    *

TV is the great brainwasher: it centralises control while giving people the illusion that they are free in their own front rooms.  But there was always something one could criticise.   Once it was the music hall that was criticised for causing decadence. Then there was the novel.  Or in the olden days the Bible read and interpreted by the parish clergy.  

                                                    *

A referendum is usually a device whereby the government does not give people what they want, but gives them a choice between two things that it wants.

                                                    *

In 500 years time people will look back on the political parties of today as barbarous institutions. They will hardly understand what they were about.

                                                    *                                                                

As regards electoral systems, I suppose that in every country the existing parties so arrange things as to keep new parties out; which is one of the reasons why new parties find it so hard to establish themselves.

                                                    *

They claim that the common law is one of the prides of England.  But on balance it strikes me as reactionary: a situation where judges can make up law as they go along and where they can overthrow the expressed will of Parliament.  Nowhere is this shown more than in labour law, where judges have time and time again bent statutes in a reactionary direction.  A written constitution is undoubtedly superior, for it puts a straitjacket on government; and the more straitjackets there are on governments the better.

                                                    *

Another war seems a quite possible event. Three years ago when I saw how things were going in the USA I remember saying that we would see a great peace movement develop, perhaps the greatest in history, although it might not be strong enough. And that has happened. Of course people are much more sophisticated now than at the time of World War 1. Governments can get away with much less nowadays than they could before. Television can show people what happens on battlefields.  You say look at how the strength of trade union power has grown since World War 2. But the peace movement is mostly a middle-class one. It has not come from the organised working class at all. (1982)

________________

CAPITALISM

Capitalism is a history of wars, socialism a history of mistakes.

                                                     *

It is so hard for people to see beyond the system of commodity production, which dominates all our categories.

                                                    *

There cannot be a sane and humane life for people as long as the system of commodity production persists. 

                                                    *

Taxing married women who work outside the home more heavily than unmarried couples, or giving tax reliefs for paid work while giving nothing for unpaid housework: these situations reflect impossible problems that will remain as long as the system of commodity production itself, during which people are paid wages for what they do.

                                                    *

Philosophy and ethics ­– Aristotle, Locke, Kant, Hegel and the tomes and  systems of the past three thousand  years – all essentially reflect the emergence and dominance of the system of commodity production.  And when that system is eventually superseded, the Great Philosophers will seem so much irrelevant nonsense to the people then living, who will concern themselves with entirely  different issues. 

                                                    *

Look at people getting up to every kind of craziness – exterminating millions and exploiting other millions – all for the sake of a few figures in a ledger.

                                                    *

Professor Needham asks why Chinese civilisation never developed capitalism, despite their technical discoveries.  Perhaps it was because they were too sensible.  They would lock up anyone who wanted to start behaving capitalistically – and a very sensible thing to do too. [Professor Joseph Needham,1900-95, British left-wing biochemist, historian and sinologist; author of the multi-volume “Science and Civilisation in China”, published between 1954 and 2008]

                                                     *

Capitalism’s effect on the masses: to fill their bellies it must empty their heads. 

                                                     *

The honesty of the civil service in England and her former colonies took centuries to bring about.  You should remember that it is bribery, not the opposite, that is the natural order of things.  It is taken for granted in Africa and the East.  What is bribery after all but offering the market price for a public service? It is coming in here again now, in the form of bribery by public offices and the chance of cushy berths in the private sector and denationalized industries on retirement. (1975)

                                                    *

We are now entering the Hellenistic age of capitalism, with the breakdown of communities, the pressure on nationalities and the attempted establishment of superstates. The process may not take as long as in Greece or Rome of course. (1975)

                                                    *

Although all signs point that there could easily be another World War, the peace movement has more or less disappeared and there is scarcely any anti-war propaganda.  It was different between the two World Wars, when the anti-war movement was strong and vigorous.  Perhaps it is that so many people nowadays have never experienced a war. This is true of the great majority of adults. Yet the arms keep piling up on every side and it is hard to think they will not some day be used.  It has happened before that the capitalist system can only solve its crisis through war.  Then there will be orders and profits in plenty for firms now in slump.  Between the wars I remember seeing pamphlets in the bookshops, quite respectable bookshops too, with titles like The Merchants of Death, warning about the arms trade. You see nothing like that now. (1978) 

                                                    *

What is the explanation for the unprecedentedly high wage claims now being made. I think it is that people feel they count for very little.  Local government has been all but abolished.  Everything is more and more centralised and remote from ordinary people.  People only count in so far as they consume. Capitalism has reduced them to being nothing but consumers and they seek to assert themselves as consumers rather than as citizens and demand ever larger sums for consumption. (1980) 

                                                    *

I heard this character on the BBC who was talking about the “problem” of leisure.  Leisure must be made an industry, he said.  There are millions out of work. Many of them have good unemployment benefits like in Belgium, where they get almost as much out of work as when they are in it.  The problem then becomes how to get that money off them, in case they spend it on booze or women.  That is what is meant by making leisure an industry.

                                                    *

I hear that Trinity College’s trees have been struck by Dutch elm disease: They should replace them by lime trees, which are the finest of the lot.  Or else by sycamores, that are quite fast-growing.  Or, if we were in a different kind of society, they should plant fruit trees.  Although I suppose it would be like that American company in the West Indies, which planted a line of trees leading up to their factory.  Any old thing, they said, would so, and they turned out to be peaches, so that the workers spent all their time plucking succulent peaches and did not bother turning into work on time; so they ended up by cutting down the lot.  

                                                    *

One gets the sense these days that Governments have taken their hands off the controls and are letting things rip, of societies out of all control, or of no one knowing what to do or being able to control things. Let things rip seems to be the motto. The Thatcher Government boasts openly of the Big Bank deregulation of financial markets. Heaven knows what it will lead to. (1986)

                                                    *

Every technological advance, what does it do? It helps make the big fellow bigger.

                                                    *

It is little wonder that the economists cannot agree or predict the future when the economy they purport to analyse is based on everyone doing exactly as they like. How can you predict the outcome of anarchy, when what one man does is automatically cancelled by the next man? 

                                                    *

The call is for more efficiency, which means more exploitation.

                                                    *

The great reconciler is money.

                                                    *

Labour needs capital to work and capital is monopolised. That is why there is mass unemployment. 

                                                    *

A painting by Leonardo and its perfect copy are entirely incommensurate on the market. One costs a few pounds, the other millions.  Yet the same work went into both. Both give the same pleasure to the eye. The difference in price is the result of monopoly. The art market, with its astronomical prices, is an entirely modern thing and is in effect a particular form of monopoly. 

                                                    *

The thing about the market is that it produces effects more efficiently and cleverly than any of those who are trying to play about with it, if it is left alone. Most of the important things that happen occur because they do and not because anyone wants them or tries to bring them about.  

                                                    *

They have privatised the buses and are talking about privatising the water-works and much else.  This means that there is nothing people can complain about.  If you do not like the bus service or find it inadequate, their reply is: Why not start up a bus company yourself?

                                                    *

Most trade, we are told, takes place between countries of the First World, who spend all their time sending goods to one another, with relatively little exchange with the less developed countries. But this trade takes place at the capitalist world’s prices, which do not show how the poor countries are being systematically robbed.   

                                                    *

The older I get the more I realise how absurd capitalism is. Modern technology has ensured that there  is enough to go around to ensure sufficiency and a decent life for everyone.  But instead of arranging things rationally, everything is subordinate to the pursuit of profit, continual change and continual social destruction.

                                                    *

Capitalism has the advantage of being the only self-regulating economic system that ever existed. Its problems presumably come from the fact that it requires regulating.  Those running a socialist society have no precedents to go by and seem to make all the mistakes.  There is no blueprint they can consult and they have to work things out as they go along. 

                                                     *

Have you ever worked out, by the way, why the arms race between the superpowers goes on and on when both sides have have the capacity to annihilate one another several times over? The only explanation that makes sense to me is the search for profit by the capitalist arms manufacturers; and yet one scarcely ever hears that mentioned these days in peace propaganda. (1986)

________________

ECOLOGY AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

It is not growth we need, but balance. Ideally society’s growth rate should be zero. 

                                                    *

Proper parameters for measuring economic development do not yet exist; the economic growth statistics are obviously unsuitable. What is needed is a measure of what one might call “natural growth”, which is balanced and without distortions, like growth in nature itself.  There would be development, but it would be slow and not hectic. The economists have yet even to think about such measures. (1966)

                                                    *

Most of what the ecology movement and the Green parties stand for should be in the programme of the Labour Movement. The Green programme should be a sub-set of the Red. But of course if Labour is no good, what can you do?

                                                    *

I get the impression that the Left totally underestimates the real things affecting young people these days.  They have enough money and food and they do not need a revolution to get them.  But they need a revolution to get a healthier environment, to prevent the cities being buggered up and to get a say in whatever is going on. 

                                                    *

There can be little doubt that there are too many people in the world. That is the basis of all sorts of political and ecological problems. They say that one thousand million were alive in 1800, after dozens of centuries of time. Now there are six billion and it is heading for ten billion. The consequences of this are truly mind-boggling. If nineteenth century imperialism had not messed up Arfrica and Asia the societies there would have developed at their own pace and we would not have the population explosion we see there today. So you might say  that the population problem is one of the longterm effects of capitalistic imperialism.

                                                    *

He talks about technology as if it is an end in itself. All these economists do that, but technology is for people, not the other way round.

                                                    *

It seems pretty clear that most people only learn things under the direct impact of experience. Warnings and theoretical foresight have very little impact. Look at Chernobyl. It takes something like an atomic disaster to make Governments really worried.

                                                     *

The most likely outcome of the way things are going is that the human race will annihilate itself totally before many hundreds of years have passed.  Perhaps if there were some extraordinary catastrophe, like a nuclear accident that wiped out tens of millions – and they would have to be Europeans or Americans to matter – it might bring people to their senses and give them some humility before nature. But one could never be sure. The trouble is that this is the first ruling class in the history of mankind with the power, the actual technical capacity, to bring humanity itself down with it; and  that may be just what will happen. (1965)

                                                    *

Almost every manufactured food is bad for you.

                                                    *

I object to chicken that tastes like sawdust. I object to veal that tastes like fly-paper. If anybody asks me when I tasted fly-paper, I answer when I tasted factory-farm veal. If the Irish Government had sense it could save the small farm, end the trade deficit and keep its own people at home simply by marketing the food they produce and selling it abroad under the slogan, “Irish food has taste in it”. For English food hasn’t; and the Englishman would pay a price for that taste. It’s not that he has lost his palate, you know. “Food that has taste in it” and no doctored tomatoes, battery chickens and the like could give Ireland limitless markets round the world.

                                                    *

You remember me twenty years ago being critical of motor-cars and television and all the other drawbacks of so-called “growth”.  Now I find that lots of other people are saying the same thing, so there is clearly a growing movement of protest.  It is still a minority of course, but it won’t always be. Imagine, they say our incomes are twice as high as twenty years ago because of  “growth”. But does a chicken taste twice as good or are the streets twice pleasanter to walk in? (1978)

                                                    *

Thermonuclear energy if successful, which I doubt, will push forward even more the moves to centralisation and giantism. They hope nuclear fusion will give unlimited energy, but I am not easy about a world with unlimited energy.  When I was a young man I had confidence in the human race; but I would not be willing to give it a vote of confidence now. (1978) 

                                                    *

By the early 2000s I expect that there will be a complete reversal of present trends.  You will see it, but I doubt if I will live to do so, although there are already signs of it happening.  It should see a reversal in the trend up to now of agricultural and industrial prices, with the food and raw materials producers coming into their own.  We were talking about ecology years before it became the fashion and everything that will happen henceforth should justify us. (1978)

                                                    *

The world is polluted by radioactive waste and all sorts of rubbish because monopoly wants to make profit and does not bother about the future. And if capitalism gets another lease of life, there will in due time be vast profits to be made in clearing up the pollution.

                                                    *

I think the human race is on the brink of catastrophes the like of which have not been seen before. Look at those shanty towns of Asia and South America. What if a plague or famine should sweep through them? Or if world temperatures rise?

                                                    *

After decades of sneering at self-sufficiency, which we always preached, everyone is now coming round to it. (1980) 

                                                    *

I am growing a new soya bean. Everyone with a garden should make themselves as self-sufficient as they can.

                                                    *

All the world’s deserts are ultimately man-made. 

                                                    *

All the evils of modern life arise from speed.

                                                    *

I will not go to the Scottish Highlands again, or go back to the West of Ireland. I know they have been ruined.  I prefer to remember them as they were. (1984)

                                                    *

Even in winter nature is active, although it may not seem so. Something is always going on and winter is as important as summer for living things, though in different ways.  Winter is not a dead time; if it were not so, things would be really dead.

                                                    *

In early summer every tree is different and has its own character. Later they become very much the same.

                                                    *

The sun-spot cycle, with the sun’s temperature going up and then reducing, keeping the whole thing in equilibrium, is a condition well-known to astronomers – and also to financiers, I believe.

                                                    *

The difficulty of predicting the weather is that there are too many variables.  It is probably because the atmosphere is too thin. If it were several miles thicker it would doubtless be much more stable.

_________________

EUROPEAN SUPRANATIONAL INTEGRATION

The British ruling class gave up the ghost after Suez. Churchill’s man, Eden, had to resign and the men of Munich took over under Harold Macmillan and headed straight for the Common Market. (1970)

                                                    *

You ask about the attitude of the British ruling class to EEC entry: Are they not going against their national interests?  This assumes that they have national interests.  In fact their deepest interests lie where their investments are and these nowadays are largely international. (1971)

                                                    *

The Common Market will give capitalism in Europe a new lease of life for the next fifty years. I saw from the beginning that it was meant to do that.  (1973) 

                                                    *

He asked me why socialists should not favour international organisations like the Common Market. I told him it was because the principle of democracy operates only within recognised countries.  (1974)

                                                    *

Finance capital has been the most influential sector of British business since the 1880s. The essence of Britain’s European deal is that the London financiers think they can become the financial masters of Europe, processing an increasing proportion of European financial transactions; and in return for this British industry will be sacrificed to the so-called West-European “golden triangle”. The deal is that the EEC will compensate Britain for permitting the loss of its manufacturing industry, by the City becoming the financial centre of the Common Market. (1975) 

                                                    *

Because of the EEC we are no longer seeking to advance the values of the Russian Revolution: socialism, however one might define that. Our job is rather to try to defend the democratic gains of the French Revolution: democracy and the right of nations to self-determination. Class politics are being replaced by national politics all around us, as the European Movement seeks to roll back democracy across the continent(1975) 

                                                     *                      

You cannot just say,”Withdraw from the EEC,” for people will say, “Withdraw for what?”  You can only build opposition around demands that mean something to people and can really rally them.  To make withdrawal from the EEC the first and most immediate demand is like calling for socialism as a solution for everything. There have to be shorter-run demands round which people can rally. (1980) 

                                                    *

Just as we forecast, the EEC has destroyed politics in its Member States. It provincialises politics, for it has taken away national independence. People sense that it is more and more difficult to influence events; so it depoliticises people. (1980)

                                                    *

The EEC was the first ever constitution drawn up for the sake of Big Business, without the slightest democratic element. In all other cases Big Business had, so to say, inherited a constitution with some democracy in it and it had to adapt itself to that. 

                                                    *

The EEC is based on removing all controls that have been put on capitalism in Europe and letting it rip.  It seeks to destroy overnight social safeguards which in some cases have taken centuries to build.  It will generate resistance, mind you.

                                                    *

A united Europe?  Of course Europe was united before: under the Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, under Napoleon and then Hitler; and it has fallen apart later.  There is no reason for thinking this will not happen again. 

                                                    *

If the whole EEC is to be one state, then an Irishman should be able to do an election campaign in the south of Italy. Does anybody believe he could? Does he know Sicilian? Could the Sicilian peasant come to Ireland to explain fine points of the way the Common Agricultural Policy affects him? And would the Irishman understand him if he did? It is clear that the Irishman belongs to an entirely different community from the  Sicilian. He can judge the problems of his own community, but not that of the other. And common sense tells you that it must be years and years before the Irishman and the Sicilian could become one community or think of themselves as such. But until they could do so they could not coordinate against the rulers of the EEC. They would be powerless against the transnational firms. There is one simple consequence: the workers of different countries are strongest when their relations are fraternal, not organic.

                                                    *

All things pass, and that will happen with the Common Market too. Where is the British Empire now, or the Roman Empire?

                                                    *

If the Labour Movement does not go against the EEC there can be no English politics, or British politics, only Common Market politics.

                                                    *

I regard the EEC as the development of what I call a system of financial feudalism in Europe. Its aim is to put everything under the rule of the European banks, independent of control by peoples and by governments.   

                                                    *

Ireland today, and England with her, can sing “A Province Once Again”. The control has shifted to Brussels and the governments concerned are no longer finally responsible. They contrast in their flabbiness with nineteenth century governments. There are no statesmen these days. Imagine: Thatcher versus Callaghan. Today it is impossible for people of real ability to get elected to high office. (1982)

                                                    *

It is hard to understand why Labour people and socialists in this country do not make more of the Common Market.  They talk of socialism and yet do not understand that they have signed a treaty that binds them hand and foot against adopting any socialist measures. 

                                                    *

People need to change from being against the EEC to being for national democracy and sovereignty. 

                                                    *

Look at how the French get what they want all the time in EEC diplomacy.  They have  subtlety and skill; they know how to compromise, what to give and what to insist on 

getting.  The British are completely out-manoeuvred; for their historical experience has been that of the bully, who knows only either how to threaten or to fawn. (1982)

                                                    *

The EEC looks more and more to me as if it is an anti-American thing, or an attempt by the Europeans to get more of a say for themselves.  We must think how to deal with it, for we are not getting through to people at the moment. (1988)

                                                   *

The British CP was central to the leftwing fight against the EEC in the 1975 referendum, but it abandoned that fight once the referendum was over and began to talk of Eurocommunism. If it had kept up that fight it would be leading the whole coumtry now, as well as the Labour movement, instead of being in the utter mess it is in. (1988) 

____________

SOCIAL CLASSES

There are, after all, only two classes in society in the last analysis: aristocrats and democrats, as Wolfe Tone said. 

                                                    *

The technical intelligentsia is the class which discusses the problems of society. It has consciousness of its function but no power to implement what it proposes.

                                                     *

The Irish farmers and peasantry emigrated to America, where they became businessmen and millionaires, and to Britain where they became workers.  The social differentiation of the small bourgeoisie, which should  have taken place in Ireland, occurred across the seas.

                                                    *

In England the ruling class has nothing to play off against the working class.  There is no other class like the peasantry that it can use as a buffer.  So it has sacrificed everything to the aim of defeating communism, and has got nothing in return for its pains.  

                                                    *

It is important always to reply to letters and to do so on the dot. That is one of the features of a governing class: administrative conscientiousness; and you will find that members of such a class are reliable in such matters. They have to be, because how can you run a country otherwise? And if we want to learn to rule we must do the same. In Ireland Protestants reply to letters; Catholics don’t.

                                                     *

The trouble with him is that he does not reply to letters promptly.  He has not got the psychology of the ruling class. Nor has he got the benefit of the further education that enables some attitudes of the ruling class to rub off on those who get it. I was telling him about the well-dressed upper-class man smoking in the railway compartment, and if you pointed out to him that it was a non-smoker he would be apologetic: “Of course, sir, I completely failed to notice,”  he would say,  as he stubbed out his cigarette.  But if you said the same to a working-class character, more likely than not he would get huffy and feel insulted. The middle-class man sides with the rulers. It is a small rule, but it is part of the structure protecting him; hence he must be responsible.  The working-class too must be responsible if they are to do anything, and it is part of responsibility to reply to letters. 

                                                    *

A ruling class must never show weakness, whatever else it does. I always tell the boys: never lose your temper, and if you do, apologise.

                                                    *

The courtesy and politeness of the high-up bourgeoisie: When Betty Sinclair appeared before the Cameron Commission it was “Miss Sinclair this” and “Miss Sinclair that”, and, “Could we trouble you to ask you to come again if we should have any further questions?”  Of course they employ different people for taking down minutes of evidence than for banging you on the head! [Cameron Commission, responsible for “Report on the Disturbances in Northern Ireland”, 1969]

                                                    *

Each new ruling class first copies the architecture of the class it supersedes. Thus the bourgeoisie built their residences and railway stations like castles, and the trade unions today put their officials in glass and concrete egg-boxes. The working-class has yet to evolve an architecture of its own. 

                                                    *

Nineteenth century liberalism represented a moment when the British ruling class was so confident that it could afford to allow divisions within itself.

                                                       *

Years ago I learned how the ruling class worked, during my time in industry.  They spoke and dealt with one another as an elite and took it for granted that they made the decisions. The question of consulting the people affected never entered their heads. They automatically took it that they were born to rule. The thought that it might be otherwise could not even occur to them.

                                                    *

The growth of fake socialisms all over the world reflects the crisis and break-up of the small bourgeoisie. It is as true of Ireland at present as it is of Africa. In the past in Ireland Republicanism was the ideology of the small bourgeoisie. Today that ideology is more and more becoming Trotskyism, especially among students. The small bourgeoisie today is the most oppressed class, especially in the former colonies. They see the working class, or at least certain sections of it, as more privileged and much less radical than they. For example the core of the Northern Ireland Communist Party is in Shorts aircraft factory, where the communists have support because the workers know they are the only ones they can trust not to sell out to the boss. It is regrettable but not surprising that they should be reluctant to champion the cause of the small bourgeoisie, who are Catholic as well as Protestant. (1969)

                                                    *

So-called Marxist sociologists these days undertake endless refinements on class structure and theorising about social forces. All this work really has no political relevance.  It is academic in the worst sense and only exists to bolster the reputations of certain people amongst other people like themselves.  They do not realise that most people are well able to look after their own interests. The trouble arises from the difficulty of reconciling the interests of the various classes, when some of them are essentially antagonistic to one another. That is why fruitful political work always seeks to build social unity. The reactionary is what thrives on division.  (1974)

                                                    *

The ruling classes supported everything progressive when they identified with the nation under attack. For Beethoven 1815 was like 1945, a tremendous national victory.  Then everything came down and it was outright reaction from then on. Of course some of them remain progressive, for everything produces a reaction.  The Congress of Vienna set out to create a new Europe, but it was really an attempt to have the old Europe recreated. And so it was after 1945. [The Congress of Vienna was the meeting in Vienna in 1814-15 of the European Great Powers that had defeated Napoleon to settle the new State boundaries of Europe following the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.] 

                                                      *

Ruling classes are always national, despite so-called “globalisation”. If their interests are threatened they fall back on their own government. There is no genuine global interest for capitalism. 

                                                    *

The English cannot conceive that their ruling class would betray them. This ultimately explains their political confusion.  They always identified with their ruling class in relation to others.  Now they have been abandoned and betrayed as their rulers embrace Europeanism; and they do not know it yet.  The Scots were sold by their  ruling class to the English, but got a say in the robbery in return; while the Irish did  not have a ruling class, having been abandoned by it in the 17th century, so that their rulers thereafter were clearly foreign. (1976)

                                                    *

In Britain all the really important debates take place inside the Tory Party, between different elements of the governing class as they decide what to do: on Europe for instance, on appeasement in the 1930s, and on tariff reform and repeal of the Corn Laws in the  nineteenth century. Everyone else has at most bit parts. What Labour gets up to scarcely matters.

                                                    *

The New Statesman  counts for nothing now, but in the 1930s it had a lot of influence[ie. the Labour-oriented weekly magazine]. A journal can have influence when a ruling class is divided, as of course was true of Britain in the 1930s.  This is true of many organisations as well.

                                                    *

For the past decade there has been a huge growth in Labour history in the universities. Now there is Women’s Studies as well, and they are beginning to organise courses in Irish Studies. It means that in any new sphere of class struggle that comes up, the ruling class is set to develop a policy on it to head off progressive development. (1981)

                                                    *

The working-class movement is weakened when capitalism goes into recession. Its bargaining power is strong when there is a boom. Yet that is the time when capitalism is improving things and workers do not see any need for socialism. 

                                                    *

I marvel continually at the stupidity of the Left. Instead of getting into a twist about Afghanistan or the Six Counties, they should say to their critics: “Look at what you have made them do now”, and put the blame for the trouble on the reactionaries. 

                                                    *

Revolution is always “out of date” for the intellectual bourgeoisie.  It is never “in date”.  It is always either in the past or in the future, but never now; for if it were it is they who would be revolted against.

                                                    *

Have you noticed that not a single member of the ruling class can speak any longer with conviction? Nowadays they have to employ actors like Ronald Reagan to give an impression of sincerity. (1982)

                                                    *

What always amazes me is the cowardice of the British Left.  They abandon their policy on losing an election instead of holding on to the policy until the people are convinced it is right and elect them. What is happening is the dismantling of the Welfare State and other protections against socialism which the bourgeoisie had tolerated. But it will make them  more politically vulnerable in time. (1987)

_________________

SOCIALISM, COMMUNISM

How define socialism? I would say it is a society that is run in the interests of the working class, that is  to say, the producers rather than the owners of wealth. I think a political definition is best, for it leaves to one side the question of what is the best mix of public and private goods, which is always changing anyway.

                                                    *

Nineteen sixties Britain? It will certainly be decades before they get socialism. A generation will not suffice to get rid of all the muck, lies and fat from soft-living that are flourishing now. (1964)

                                                    *

One writes about the crisis and how it points to the need for socialism, but no sooner has one developed one’s criticism than the crisis changes.  The English crisis cries aloud for a socialist solution. But it shows how changes come, not when they are needed but when there is no alternative.

                                                    *

The problems now facing mankind, and likely to be around for a long time, really call for a new Marx to solve them.  I would not like to have to deal with them anyway.  They require quite novel ways of thinking, a quite new understanding of man and social reality.  And to make a new synthesis one would have to base it on how human beings were formed through the aeons of time before so-called “civilisation” was invented.

                                                    *

The historical tragedy may be that socialism will arrive too late to save mankind.  It should have come first in England, as Marx had hoped, in the advanced and civilised countries where it is most needed and where it is now long overdue.  And its delay there has given people time to discover how to blow the world to pieces, and pollute it to distraction if they do not blow it up. Remember Engels’s warning: that the alternatives were either socialism or barbarism.

                                                    *

Capitalism cannot solve the problem of unemployment, for all the ways of increasing profits lead to employing fewer people. Productivity increases and fewer people produce more and more. Eventually doubtless there will be a People’s Car produced at no cost at all by no one, which will have to be given away for nothing to the unemployed. So that at the limit capitalism becomes socialism!

                                                    *

The vulgarity of social democracy is epitomised in Dublin’s new Liberty Hall. (1962)

                                                    *

The Cubans seem to be the most sensible of the Communist States, and  the reason is that they are not run by a Communist Party.  They packed their communists off to Russia and Castro said that if they got in charge of things no one could live.  I am sure he was right.  The Castro movement itself was a nationalist one that came from outside the Communist Party. (1972) 

                                                    *

The Chinese quarrel with the Russians: The trouble is that they are both right, each from their own point of view.  It might well be that socialism could triumph from the ruins of an atomic war, as Mao holds,  but why should we be blown up in order to achieve socialism?   I was staying recently with Billy McCullough and his wife in Belfast: very fine people, friendly, hospitable and very anti-Chinese.  They were able to point out all their doctrinal errors, but the wife was full of talk about their bungalow at the seaside, and he himself showed me round his rose-garden. Mao may well be right: the revolutionaries in the West have gone soft. Incidentally, with all their gadgets they must be bored with themselves. How else explain the rose-garden?  How could a man find time to tend a rose garden unless he were bored and had nothing else to do? (1964)

                                                    *

An attitude you don’t find in Marx but may do in Lenin and certainly do in some of those who proclaim themselves their followers: how they are in principle willing to destroy thousands for the sake of a principle. It may be because of the ubiquity of stupidity, I suppose.

                                                    *

People wonder what the communists would do if they got power. And quite rightly, for you should remember that when you have power it is the power, not your programme, that matters. So there must be other guarantees, to constrain the power and guarantee the programme. 

                                                    *

In so many socialist countries they have abolished God and replaced him by a political father. There is nothing very democratic about that. The dictatorship of the proletariat? The trouble is that the people do not want to dictate, and so the danger is that the dictatorship of the proletariat becomes the dictatorship of the Communist Party.

                                                    *

For socialism the great danger is the inner inertia arising from bureaucracy. It is a problem  how to prevent that developing and swamping the revolutionary spirit.  But who thinks a solution is going to be found in a day, or in a decade for that matter, or many decades?  This is just one of the problems that has to be faced in building it.

                                                    *

Look at the folly of the Russians: their hamfisted blundering in cultural and aesthetic matters for instance. Does it matter a bugger if someone paints a woman with three breasts.  Why should anyone be condemned or locked up for that?  By all means the State and public authorities can say: we will not buy or support such work or display it in public buildings.  But if people want to paint things like that and others are amazed, why not let them?  It should not matter to any serious person. (1975)

                                                    *

What people should bear in mind about the Eastern Bloc countries is that they are building, or trying to build, a new society without any model to go on; and they are the first societies in history to attempt this. No wonder they so often make a mess of things. Marx developed a theory of capitalism, not a theory of socialism.  There is no theory of socialism in fact, at least one that can give guidance for its construction in so many different countries at different stages of development.

                                                    *

Marx saw technology as tending to bring things ever more within the public sphere; but he did not anticipate television and the motor car, which “privatised” people and strengthens individualism in all sorts of new and subtle ways.

                                                    *

 It is perfectly understandable that people will neglect public property compared with their own.  What do you expect after thousands of years of commodity production? Perhaps after a thousand years of socialism people will take a different view, but in the meantime the best thing is that the State socialise the so-called “commanding heights”  and let small enterprise do the job elsewhere, with the State supporting its good points and inhibiting its bad. Planning is what is needed, not growth.

                                                    *

The only way to full employment is either war or socialism.

                                                    *

It is a fallacy that socialism and capitalism have no interests in common. Both systems have an interest in the water coming out of the taps – and in the achievement of national independence of course. 

                                                    *

Capitalism is a system of checks and balances. Socialism has not yet developed anything like that. For socialist regimes the economy is like a new toy which they often break before they learn how to make it work. And that takes plenty of time.

                                                    *

In capitalist society one class implies another. To some extent each balances the other and,  paradoxically, there may be a kind of protection in that. But in socialist society one class dominates everything, and what checks and balances are there as a result? The older I get the more I think checks and balances are vitally important. When I was young I was optimistic about human nature, but no longer. That is why, even in a socialist society checks and balances are needed. Perhaps there most of all. Maybe an independent trade union movement could be one?

                                                    *

In building socialism in Britain the trade unions will have a special place perhaps, along with the socialist party.  Because of the special power and influence of British trade unionism, it is bound to be in the leadership of society and there may be quite a novel balance worked out in building socialism here.  After all that would be only fitting in the country of the world possibly most in need of socialism and where it was first invented. (1970) 

                                                    *

The communists are too turned in on themselves – it is a criticism of all communist parties – too  concerned with theoretical rather than practical questions and listening to themselves rather than to ordinary people outside their ranks. All their political leaders suffer from the defect that they meet such a narrow sector of ordinary people. Between you and me I do not think too much of communist parties. (1980)

                                                    *

You ask me has there been a general failure of the Left to defend democracy and whether this is an explanation of the Left’s collapse before the Right. I would say it is due to the failure to press the case for socialism.  Of course there are many reasons.  The underlying reason is economic: the long capitalist prosperity and the deficiencies of the socialist countries.  When you tell an unemployed man he would be better off in Russia, he won’t believe you.  Also things like television and the motor car have turned people inwards and helped reduce the sense of there being a communal interest. (1986) 

                                                    *

It is curious that capitalism seems to have a more collective leadership than socialism. Changing leaders under socialism seems always to cause a crisis, but in capitalist states it happens relatively smoothly. The socialist countries have not developed that  invaluable way of getting rid of people nicely – namely, kicking them upstairs. If the Tories want to get rid of Thatcher, they will not say: Shoot her, but offer her a million pounds.  She may not like going, but she will see the million pounds and say that that after all is something worth having. And the papers will be full of what a great person she is for stepping down and all the valuable work she still has to do; and most people will be taken in by this hypocrisy. Stalin and Mao were surely off their heads in their last years.  It is curious that the rulers of capitalist countries do not go off their heads.

                                                    *

People join the Labour Party either for a career or because they believe in socialism. The cleverest ones see it as a way to a good career; the stupid ones remain idealistic and continue to want socialism, but do not know what to do to bring it nearer. So where are you? There are exceptions of course.

                                                    *

The tradition of imperialist cosmopolitanism of the British Communist Party, of being above national independence questions, leads them to adopt patronising and chauvinistic positions on other peoples’ national problems.  

                                                    *

What always strikes me is the sheer ham-handedness of the Left. I said that the French CP would go down ten percent in the elections and that in the next election they will be lucky to get anybody elected at all.  I said that they were crazy to join the Mitterrand Government in 1981.  He only wanted them there to keep an eye on them.  What they should have done was to speak honestly to the people.  They should have said that Mitterrand is a rat; he will sell you out to the EEC and the Americans, and if you put him in he will do that, and when he does that you can come to us. That way they would have grown, not diminished. Instead they have destroyed themselves – again because of lack of straightforwardness and honesty with ordinary people. (1986)

                                                    *

The British and Irish communist parties have one thing in common, and I expect it is true of many continental CPs as well: they always look to the party, never to the movement.

______________

RUSSIA, THE USSR

I know now how Russia is run, after my experience with the Irish Transport Union, writing their history. It is run by committee; although, to tell the truth, I don’t know what is the best way of running things.  I am inclined to think it is the way that causes least changes, that the ideal is balance, not growth, because changes – at least changes from some state of reasonable equilibrium – usually only make things worse. (1980) 

                                                    *

People’s attitude to Stalin at the time of the purges of the nineteen thirties?  It is hard to say. I would have to think about that, because I wasn’t primarily interested in socialism, you know. I was much more interested in the anti-colonial movement. I never went to Russia and never wanted to go. I don’t think I ever said or wrote anything to support the Stalin cult. In fact I was rather surprised at your friend, for I remember asking him once how he came to the progressive movement, and he said it was through admiration for Russia; and I was really surprised. Let me put it this way: the Stalin business affected some people, but I was under the influence of Irish republicanism and it did not affect that because, whatever it was, it was anti-imperial. The Russians were eating children, they said, and what were they doing themselves anyway? I remember when the Russians went into Hungary in 1956, I came to the conclusion that there was a power-struggle on a world scale, and the American side was the worse. Not that I did not think that there was not the most fantastic nonsense involved. It was not because I necessarily liked what they were doing, but because I disliked even more what the others were doing. 

                                                    *

In the 1930s and 1940s socialists and working class activists did not believe that such great people as Stalin, Zhdanov and so on could make mistakes. We know better now.

                                                    *  

He says that the Stalin purges were a tragedy, but that there is nothing we can do about them except recognise that. Good heavens, it is not what we can do about them that matters. Clearly we can do nothing about them; it is what we can learn. 

                                                   *

Propaganda for socialism seems to have petered out these days.  People are no longer making the rational case for socialism.  Probably it is because they do not want what they have in Russia. You say that between the wars Russia was in a bad way, but it did not put people off socialism.  True enough, the people there did not then have so much power. It is since Russia got so much power that her leaders have been able to make big mistakes and do so much to alienate other people.  For there is no doubt that they have made gigantic mistakes. Yet it is surely absurd that a situation can arise in which the Americans appear as champions of human rights in the world and the Russians are the villains. The Russians do not even seem to make any effort to reply to the Americans.  I know that their replies are not carried in the media in the West and that they do better in the Third World; but perhaps that is another indication that they have written off any hope of socialism making progress in the capitalist countries and are concentrating their efforts on the colonial ones.  Yet the outcome of the Portuguese revolution showed that the old maxim was right: that an inch of progress in Europe is worth a mile anywhere else … When you think of how that unleashed such change in Africa. Meanwhile the West European communists really do not seem to want communism, presumably because they think it would be like Russia. The “British Road to Socialism”, for instance, is really not about socialism at all. It is about what the programme  of a left-wing Labour Government might be if a miracle occurred and there were to be such a thing. (1978)

                                                   *

I remember when the Russians went into Czechoslovakia in 1968 he was in a terrible state, walking up and down the room and saying, “Oh the Russians, what shall we do?”  Of course it was a power struggle for Bohemia, and whoever controlled Bohemia, according to the old saying, would control Europe.  The Russians might have been wrong in fearing that Bohemia might fall into someone else’s hands, but it is understandable in practice that they would not want to take the risk. It might be right or wrong or middling, good, bad or indifferent, but if I were there and Bohemia was there for the taking, let us say I might be tempted  to take it.  And if the Russians are doing what they are not supposed to be doing, they are not any worse than the other side. Look at what they are doing: America going into Vietnam and so on. Well, you might say, the Russians should all be pure; but I’m very sorry, I don’t think the human animal goes in for purity very much. So there it is. The eyes of the fool are on the ends of the earth. The idea that a single person here in Ireland, or a group of people, can affect or should be bothered by all the affairs of the world, is just so much tosh. If we can move to a society that is better than the one we’ve got, doing our best in the part of the world we are living in, one settles for that if one has sense. You won’t get perfection. There are only three logical positions one can take up in the so-called Cold War. Either the Americans are right, or the Russians, or there is no difference between them, in which case there is nothing you can do.  So people must line up, critically of course, on one side of the other. If I were asked to make a judgement on the Russians in Afghanistan by pro-westerners, I would say: “Look at what you have made them do”; like we used to say as children: “Look at what you have made me do!”  It is the attitude we in the Irish movement adopt here in Britain towards the Provisional IRA when they  plant bombs and  blow things up: “Look at what you have made them do now.” (1979)

                                                    *

Russian authoritarianism and their lack of democracy may in fact be due to the way in which they hold some of their nationalities in a relatively inferior place. It may be Marx’s old rule: about nations that oppress others forging their own chains.

                                                    *

To come back to the question of free travel: the Americans say the Russians cannot travel to the West.  Everyone knows the reasons the Americans want this.  They want the Russian tourists to come West and then go back home with an appetite for the gimmickry of the capitalist countries.  They want them to get a taste for cornflakes and then go home and tell their governments they want cornflakes, which the Russians will then have to buy from the Americans. Or get a taste for the products of the pornography industry. The Russians should say, if they had any sense: we are rather hard-up as a country and cannot afford to let people travel abroad.  Also we are trying to build up socialism here and do not want our people to be infected by capitalist ways, for our people are just like everybody else and would go for cornflakes, pornography and the rest, if only they were let. They should speak the truth, in other words, instead of giving false reasons for things.

                                                    *

I suppose the Russians do not want emigration to Israel because they do not want to lose people with skills and brains, and that is perfectly understandable. Of course not allowing people abroad means that they have very crude ideas of how other people react.  Their diplomats do not mix with ordinary people.  In Lenin’s time they were good judges of Western public opinion because they had all lived for long periods abroad themselves and knew what they were talking about. But since World War 2 they have become more and more remote, except that in a small country like Ireland they can move about freely and learn about ordinary people, as they never could do in places like America or Britain. In general I think you could say that the prospects for socialism scarcely ever looked bleaker. (1979)

                                                    *

And the way they handle their so-called “dissidents” seems very stupid. It is hard to know whether they really concoct charges or whether the charges against these people are accurately reported in the West. Seemingly in Russia you can be charged with slandering the Soviet State.  But it is impossible for anyone to slander a State. It is ridiculous to attempt to make a tort of such a thing.  And when they let their dissidents go, they usually turn out to be deep reactionaries.  They are mostly middle-class and there is never a real worker among them, or someone like an engineer. Look at this man Solzhenytsin. When he first goes to the West his message is that the West should attack his own country.  Now if anyone stood on O’Connell Bridge in Dublin and shouted out that Britain should come back into Ireland, he would not be locked up or sent to a lunatic asylum, but he would hardly make any converts.  I suppose people would say that if Britain were all that great, he should go and live there himself.  The Russians should say the same and not kick up so much fuss.

                                                    *        

The attempt of the Russians to enforce socialist realism in art by administrative measures is so stupid.  It is their usual confusion between State and Party. The State makes the laws: do this, do that. The Party propounds historical materialism and a scientific philosophy of life. It educates people, but if there are people who don’t want to be educated but prefer irrational beliefs, so what? It should be the same in relation to religion, but of course they have no sense.

                                                    *

Thatcher, Reagan, Mitterrand, Kohl, the leaders of the Western world: There is no battle of giants  going on today. Rather, I would say, a battle of cockroaches; and one needs the psychology of cockroaches to understand it. You might say that I subscribe to the cockroach theory of history: that we are ruled by cockroaches! The East is not much different, mind you. Whatever about Stalin, at least in his day everyone paid attention when he spoke.  He did not often give major public speeches, but when he did the world listened. There is no one in the East who could do that today.  If there were, he would lead not only the East but the West as well, things have got so critical. (1980) 

                                                    *

The Russians and their yap about “proletarian internationalism”: if they are so internationalist, why don’t they speak out about Northern Ireland and say the British are holding on to the place to protect the North Western approaches on behalf of NATO? (1982) 

                                                    *

All the trouble in Eastern Europe began with Yalta, although what would have happened otherwise of course we do not know – a free for all would have been worse!

                                                   *

Only now do I realise what a disaster Yalta was. At the time I thought, like everybody else, that Stalin was a great fellow and could not make mistakes.  Instead of dividing Europe he should have gone for a belt of countries between the two blocs.  It would not matter if they were capitalist as long as they were neutral, like Austria and Finland today.  That would have kept Germany disarmed and prevented the EEC.  The East-West balance would then be politically much more favourable than now and there would not be all this turmoil in Eastern Europe. (1982)

                                                    *

Think of the many mistakes of the socialist countries, that have contributed enormously to holding back socialism in the West. A fundamental one is the mixing up of the Party with the State. The former should always act by education, persuasion and propaganda. The latter should always strictly abide by the law, equally applied to all citizens.

                                                    *

“Socialist man”? There is precious little sign of his emergence after fifty years of socialism. And do you think there will be after five hundred? 

                                                    *

If you are a dissident in Russia you are banged on the head. If you are a dissident in England you can’t get a job and are starved out.  It comes ultimately to the same thing.

                                                    *

Socialist societies do not pay enough attention to art, in my opinion.  They tend to see art as propaganda, which is a very crude conception.  Professor Rockel from East Germany tells me they are worried about their youth, who listen to pop music and long to travel to the West [Professor Martin Rockel, died 2003; East German celtologist at Humboldt University, Berlin].  It is no use talking to them of the sacrifices that have been made to provide them with full employment and economic security, for they did not experience these themselves and take all that for granted.  Which is why I say more attention should be paid to art; for that always contains a picture of a higher order of things.  

                                                    *

It may take five hundred years to get a really humane type of socialism. The next two hundred years may well be the worst mankind has yet experienced.  Can socialism in these conditions be really run without the most rigid type of discipline, like they have in Russia and China today? But which of us personally wants to live under such discipline?  I for one do not. (1982)

                                                    *

It is obvious now, unlike what we thought when we were younger, that capitalism will exist beside socialism for a very long time, and that they will interact in all sorts of complex ways. If the USSR had been more successful economically it might have been different.  Gorbachev is trying to change that, but as soon as he commences, look what ups and hits him on the jaw: the national question, for example this Armenian business. I was thinking what I would do in his place.  Perhaps appoint a commission and keep it talking for a couple of years, so as to buy time while he was getting on with his economic reforms.  Communism’s weakness is the national question. (1987)

                                                    *

It is easy to point to the drawbacks of socialist society, especially when they have to devote vast resources to military defence against capitalist attack. But the crucial thing for me is that the moral basis of the two systems is different: the satisfaction of rational human needs is undoubtedly superior to the dog-eat-dog principle of capitalist competition.        

                                                    *

Gorbachev has been criticising corruption in Russia.  It has become apparent that life goes on under socialism very much as it does under capitalism.  It looks as if Bernard Shaw was right: what is needed are not just social reforms, but a new species. (1988)

_______________

REVOLUTION

One can play about and make eddies in the water, but one cannot alter the banks of the stream. That is the difference between reform and revolutionary change. People conceive of revolution as if it is a river rushing over a waterfall, with everything, as it were, dissolving in chaos. When you are young you are inclined to exaggerate your own importance. You are also inclined the exaggerate the significance of single events. But it is wrong to think that history runs into bottlenecks and that single events determine the neck of the bottle.  In fact a revolution is not a waterfall but a bend in a river, with the entire society going on as before but in a new direction.  Events are never as final as they seem to be, because there are always many other events that largely cancel out the influence of any one event.  Look at those Western Left-wingers going off to Moscow and giving speeches at some conference or other, on which they doubtless think the entire political future must depend. They do not realise that nothing important is ever really decided at these conferences and that it matters scarcely a whit if they take place or not. 

                                                    *

You resolve twice in your life to become a revolutionary if you are to become one, and the second occasion is quite different from the first.

                                                    *

It is easy to be a genius at twenty when one thinks that one can walk towards the revolution, that it is no harder than crossing a ploughed field; but then suddenly a mountainous ridge of ice rears up, a giant Himalayas ahead, which one cannot walk round. 

                                                    *

To be a revolutionary at fifty and to be willing to die for the revolution is really something extraordinary.  To be one at twenty, even thirty, is nothing. One has all the time in the world. But at fifty it is different: Lenin for example.

                                                    *

Never refuse leadership: that is a basic principle of a real revolutionary.

                                                    *

The revolutionary must be a ceaseless propagandist. He must never stop. 

                                                    *

The left sectarians forget that a revolution does not occur until a shock runs through every class in society, until every class in society wants a change and not just the proletariat. 

                                                    *

It is unfortunately true that people are unlikely to favour revolution if they think it will hurt their standard of living.  How many people in Ireland today would really accept a revolution or work for one? It may happen at moments that there are exceptions to this, but rarely. 

                                                    *

Revolutions are always fought on conservative or defensive slogans.  They offer to defend what people have or used to have, not make everything new.  Look at the slogans of the French, the English, the Dutch, the Russian revolutions.  It shows the folly of the radical leftist sects.  Most people do not want revolution, quite understandably. They know about the past but they are understandably loath to get too excited over the future.  These silly people talk about “the masses”.  What the masses want is a quiet life, and what man of sense would blame them: a wife, a family and a house.  But if the masses ever do come to want a revolution, then one can be sure as anything it will come and everyone else had better get out of the way or else join in.

                                                    *

When Mao died, despite all the fuss, I doubt if it made any difference to the ordinary Chinese, who continued tilling their fields as they had always done. Whether it was Mao or the new man or the “Gang of Four” were in charge, must make no difference to the ordinary man.  The same goes for Brezhnev in Russia. Even in Stalin’s time, with all his purges, and even if they were thousands and tens of thousands, the great mass of ordinary men and women must have gone unaffected.  Now if he could no longer go to work or go home of an evening or if he no longer had a home to go to, that would be different.  Then you would have a real revolution; but changes of that magnitude, affecting millions of people, rarely come about. 

                                                    *

When you get older they say people move to the right. I think it is true and inevitable but none the worse for that.  It is a pity that many of the younger revolutionaries around us are not more to the right. Then they might be nearer to making a revolution.

                                                    *

Of course State power is crucial, but that only changes in  a revolutionary way in a situation of acute crisis. Even Lenin was in a minority of one in urging them to make the revolution in 1917 at the time they did.  There was dual power and he held that the Bolsheviks had better do it or the others would do it first and bump them all off.  It was a miracle it came off. They had no books to read to advise them.

_________________

MARX AND MARXISM

The communist movement today has to deal with a vast variety of problems Marx knew nothing about, for they did not exist in his day.  In a general way Marxism in its classical form is valid for Western Europe and North America, parts of the world where the working class is the great majority; but the problems of the so-called Third World are quite different. (1975)

                                                     *

I hear the Russians are not including Marx’s mathematical manuscripts in the English version of his collected works.  So it will not be a Complete Edition of his works after all. (1975)

                                                *

I have been invited to speak  at a weekend symposium in London on Marxism and Ireland. Not Marx and Ireland, mind you, which is quite a different thing.  With Marx you can go to what the man really said. With “Marxism”, so-called, you have to flounder through reams of misrepresentation and confusing commentary.  I was thinking of opening with a joke about the wonderful prodigality of social life, which could at once produce such a phenomenon as Marxism and “Marxism Today” [ie. the CPGB theoretical monthly, which at that time reflected the disputes between CP “hardliners” and “softliners” that racked that party].  I would have to have a copy of the latter with me to get away with it, so that it could be construed I was giving a plug: a plug of a different kind of course. (1980)

                                                    *

Marx lived all his life in a reactionary period.  He had to learn to wait and to take the long view.  That is why he is so superior to Lenin. The politics of a reactionary period, such as we have at present in Western Europe, are utterly different from those of a progressive one.

                                                   *

Lenin merits criticism for mixing up the justification of democratic and socialist demands. We stand for democracy in order to bring us nearer to socialism, he says.  But it should be: we stand for democracy for its own sake. No, I am no Leninist. Give me Marx any time; and of course Engels, who has got such humanity about him.  Remember Marx’s meaning for ideology: a false consciousness. For Lenin ideology is a good thing if it is socialist or working-class. 

                                                    *

In our part of the world we should not be paying attention to Lenin or Stalin but rather to Marx and Engels, for they did not live in times which were heroic.  They lived in unheroic times when quite different human qualities are needed; for heroism is not in people but in the times they live in. 

                                                    *

The communist countries turn things so unnecessarily into dogma, which provides fuel for their own dissidents. It is exemplified in their attitude to Marx himelf, who is supposed to be right on everything. 

                                                    *

When I did the preface to Marx on Ireland  years ago, I pointed out that there were several errors, for example that Offaly had been spelled incorrectly[Preface to “Marx and Engels on Ireland”, 1971]. But they replied that that was what Marx had put in his MS.  Years ago I saw that the algebra on the circulation of capital in Capital  was wrong and I corrected it. I do not know if they still reproduce the original, but would not be surprised if they did.  Yet no sensible person objects to corrections in things like that –  as if it were possible to avoid making these mistakes. (1980)

                                                    *

It is a pity that Marx lent himself so easily to quotation, for that helped those who wished to use us him as a dogma or a hammer to hit others with.  It arises from his style, which was dramatic and aphoristic, with the grand conclusions laid out starkly in black and white. “Religion is the opium of the people.”  But how many know the sentences that lead up to that conclusion: about religion being the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the spirit of a spiritless existence? Or the long passages of thought behind it?  Marx’s style has had a profound effect on his influence.

                                                    *

To be a Marxist one must know everything on which Marx’s own thought was based and then all the developments that have taken place since Marx was writing.  Then one can decide what to discard, for many of the things that were necessary for him are not so for us. 

                                                    *

I think the time may be coming for a new intellectual synthesis, wider than Marxism but including it. (1980)

                                                    *

You ask me why the best things are always dear and not plentifully available?  Well, some of the best things are in fact plentiful: air for example, or water.  But when you come to commodities you must go back to Marx’s theory of value.  The value of a thing is in proportion to the necessary labour time spent in producing it. And you need to supplement that by his theory of rent, which explains scarcity due to natural endowment.  The owner of a good vineyard is able to exact a premium over the owner of a poor one by appropriating the rent.

                                                    *

Marxism is part of science; it is not that science is part of Marxism. Marxism is political. Dialectics is concerned with methodology.  It is only a vulgarised Marxism that sees science as part of politics. 

                                                    *

It is such nonsense to look on the founders of scientific socialism as prophets. It just is not possible for someone of a past generation to have all the wisdom that is necessary to deal with the future. It just is not given to man.

                                                    *

Aristotle in antiquity is comparable for intellectual genius to Marx in modern times.  Aristotle was the more universal in scope in fact.  And just as people saw the world in Aristotle’s categories for two thousand years or more, before they were discarded, it will probably be the same with Marx. 

                                                     *

The later Engels is greater in some ways than Marx.

                                                    *

In the old days they believed that all truth was to be found in the Bible.  Not that they went in for questioning things, but if anyone did he was liable to be told that it if was not in the Bible it could not be true. It is the same today for many so-called “Marxists”.  If Marx had not said something on a subject, then there can be nothing new to say.  But the Bible does not mention potatoes, and there are plenty things Marx does not deal with and could not be expected to deal with, which are important for us.  It is all to save people using their own heads and thinking things through themselves. It is probably a pity that the term “Marxism” was ever invented. Marx did not want it.

                                                    *  

The academic Marxists of the New Left  do not look at things but at reflections of things, and then they move these reflections around in their books, thinking that are manipulating reality.  Their work, if you examine it, is incorrigibly idealist.

                                                    *

I have been thinking of giving a lecture to tackle some of the current Marxistical nonsense put out in all those tomes of academic sociology.  I have thought of calling it “Marxism classical and dogmatic.” (1980)

_________________

ACADEMICS AND INTELLECTUALS

The great trouble all around is the absence of people of ability.  This is in spite of the extension of so-called universities. Indeed the universities generally discourage ability; the social revolution can be made only in countries without universities!

                                                    *

One can see the way things are going and what needs to be done to prevent things getting worse all the time, but one is powerless to do anything to prevent it.  The intellectuals know what is wrong and are helpless.

                                                    *

The function of the intellectual is to make things simple, not more complex, to transmit ideas to the ordinary man so that they can move masses of people; for unless ideas do that what use are they?  To simplify without distortion is the thing to aim at.  That is the reason for the importance of epigram, which all great writers have appreciated.  But our modern sociologists and so-called political scientists do not coin epigrams. They can rarely put a dozen wholly grammatical sentences together. 

                                                    *

The analysis of concepts is historical, not logical. For all serious concepts have a history and to understand them one must ask how they have developed, who held them and why. The academic analysis of concepts is usually the opposite of the historical.

                                                    *

The trouble with most academics is that they spend all their time reading and such little time thinking.  Nothing outstandingly creative has ever been achieved by an academic. Even among the scientists with their institutes and laboratories, it was those with non-academic background and experience who made the greatest discoveries. At best academics are high-class systematisers.

                                                    *                          

So many people, especially those with an academic background, think that learning is what you get out of books, whereas the learning that is really important is based on experience. Academics are the worst possible people to give guidance, they usually have so little contact with practical reality.  I know you are one yourself, but you have been saved by participation in political events.

                                                    *

Most social theory is written by academics nowadays, the great majority of whom do not know how to write. As so often happens, political limitations lead through intellectual uncertainty to stylistic unclarity.  Most of their books are boiled-down theses. There is all the difference in the world between a book, which is written to please the public, and a thesis, which is written to please a professor: the thesis with its numbered footnote to some other thesis at the end of every sentence, and most likely not a real footnote at that, but a reference to an accumulation of notes buried at the back of the book!  

                                                    *

The trouble with most academics doing social science research is their lack of knowledge of the world.  The non-academic will often have a nose for something which he thinks is likely because of his worldly experience and this will lead him to look for something until he finds it. For the academic everything is books and paper. They tend to think of everything as arising from the development of ideas. Look at Conor Cruise O’Brien in this article on nationalism in the Crane Bag. When he wants to criticise nationalism he goes to the dictionary to define what it is.  Then he uses the abstract dictionary definition to criticise nationalism in the real world, when that nationalism is always and everywhere something arising from concrete situations, each of which is unique and local and particular. The academics use abstractions to belabour the concrete; they continually show their philosophical idealism. (1977)

                                                    *

I was amused to learn recently that there is someone in East Berlin doing a study on the works of C.D.Greaves, no less. Who knows, it may be the beginning of a new academic industry! (1980)

                                                    *

I established the proper date of  Larkin’s birth and am writing it up in the “Irish Democrat”. It will show them who can best find out something really new, the plodding academic or the active journalist. Alhough I expect the academics will ignore it and say that it was known all along. (1980)

                                                    *

Francis Devine asked me would I give them a lecture after the Labour History Society annual meeting [Francis Devine, Irish labour historian, author of “Organising History: a century of SIPTU”, 2008].  He suggested one on the problems of writing the history of the Transport Union, bless the mark.  I could tell them about problems, but they would not be problems of methodology and historical science.  So I said I would give them a lecture with red blood in it. I have been thinking since and have thought of something that has meat in it.  It would be a talk on modern Labour history and I have thought of a provocative title. I have thought of calling it “The Laputan Invasion”. This is what I call the academic takeover of history and economics these days, from Gulliver. Meretricious is one word for it, from “meretrix”, a whore. But Laputa is another word for a whore. Swift spoke of the academics trying to extract sunshine from cucumbers. Contrast the Irish hedge schoolmasters of old. They sometimes knew several languages and taught reading, writing and arithmetic; but they often spread dangerous and radical thoughts as well.  Hence the British Government set up the national school system in Ireland decades before doing the same thing in England.  Then when the Trade Unions got going in the late 19th century, they used run Sunday schools to give children radical notions. So we were given the Foster Act and universal elementary education. After World War 2, with the spread of socialism and national liberation, students became radical and got interested in Marxism, and so immediately departments of politics and sociology were set up all over the place, purveying an academic “Marxism”, a kind of scholasticism, to head off the children of the masses getting involved in serious politics. One lot of academics seeks to overwhelm one with facts and data so as to blind readers to their hidden bias and political judgements, while the other lot lets on that they do not want to come to any judgement at all and present good and bad as equally valid.  There are professorships and chairs that give encouragement to the academicizing of working-class history. Working-class people are afraid of them, for they do not have the apparatus of scholasticism and are frightened to work things out for themselves for fear of being laughed at.  An article on the Laputan invasion would show up this academicism. Their Marxism is bogus – not a radical trend of ideas with connections with real life and the working-class movement, but an abstract theory with its academic mandarins and high priests, who would not know one end of a machine from the other. It is Laputa. Next month in the Irish Democrat I am going to have a go at the academics[Greaves’s criticism of what he called “academic Marxism”, as exemplified in the work of Messrs Bew, Gibbon and Patterson –  see the entries below – was carried in the “Irish Democrat” of July 1980 and is reproduced with the title “Irish Marxism” under the tag-line “Articles” on this web-site].  I call them the Grand Academy of Lagado [ie. the capital city ruled from the flying island of Laputa in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, whose learned men engaged in fruitless intellectual schemes].  I will let them know that the Skibbereen Eagle has its eye on them! [Ironical reference to the Cork provincial weekly whose editor stated that his paper “had its eye on the Czar of Russia”]   (1980)

                                                    *

All these sociologists and political “scientists”, what I call Laputa, just cannot write anything with bite in it.  Their profundity is measured by the length of their bibliographies, which are meant to show how many books they have read and so how clever they are.  They are incapable of profound generalisations. Indeed they avoid generalisation, for it would lay them open to attack.  All the great syntheses have been by non-academics: Aristotle, Darwin, Marx, Einstein. They were not academics, bless your heart!  In the old days “academic” was almost an pejorative word. You would say, “That is academic,” meaning it was of no interest or was impractical. Now in the past two decades “academic” has become a word of praise, indicating intellectual respectability. 

                                                    *

Bew, Gibbon and Patterson, whom I call Mew, Gibber and Patter, are leading lights in what I call the Laputan invasion.  Once I came across the word “shopocracy” in their book I flung it down.  I refuse to read books like that, although on reflection I suppose I shall have to read this particular one if I am to review it [The book was “The State in Northern Ireland 1921-72, Political Forces and Social Classes”, published 1979]. (1980)

                                                    *

Look at all the vast modern academic Marx industry, where they dress up old ideas in jargon and complicated terms, making simple and straightforward things elaborate.  Anything really serious in politics should be capable of being simply put. (1980) 

                                                    *

The real cowardice of the academics is that they avoid their most dangerous critics, while firing article after article at someone mildly differing with themselves. 

                                                    *

Sociologists these days like to use of the word “societal” instead of “social”.  I always stop reading a book when I see that word.  It means the writer is trying to have one on.  Marx was amused by the academics’ use of the phrase “the social question” , as if all questions were not social ones.  What they wanted to do was to avoid referring to the property question.  It continually surprises me how social science academics have such a capacity to make things boring.  I suppose it is because most of them are of fairly limited intelligence, who work away piling up facts upon facts without a proper understanding of them: mere inky-fingers. Look at this new book on poverty amongst the Irish in nineteenth century Liverpool.  There is nothing in it about the wealth being piled up on the other side.  Yet it is impossible to understand the one without the other. 

                                                    *

People can be as critical and radical as they like in the worlds of sociology and political science.  They will always do well and get plenty of advancement, so long as they are against Russia.  They must always cover themselves by putting in some anti-Russian remark, and then they can say anything they like, for it is understood that they are basically on the right side.  I don’t think much of the Russians and the way they carry on, but I saw through that game early on and resolved never to participate in it. (1980)

                                                    *

This new book that has come out on the SDLP is an expensive tome. The academic tomes get heavier and heavier as they describe less and less. Much of it consists in proving what everyone knows already.

                                                    *

You might describe Giraldus Cambrensis in Ireland as one of the world’s first journalists, who never let truth get in the way of a good story [Giraldus Cambrensis, 1146-1223, Cambro-Norman historian who wrote the “Topography of Ireland”, which presented various fantastical ideas as facts].

_________________

EDUCATION;

Ninety percent of real education is resistance to education, the attempt to throw off what others are trying to impose. People are what they are not.

                                                    *

Education is too important to be left to teachers. They are only concerned with teaching, the rest of us with doing. The protest against the so-called curriculum reforms of the last twenty years is now coming from industry in England, for they are finding themselves with young people who cannot write grammatical sentences or even do simple arithmetic. (1978)

                                                    *

Universities are tamers of young minds.

                                                    *

The most important thing for schools to teach young people is how to write a letter. And of course   it is not just a matter of telling people how to put information together or how to ask questions. In a letter they are also presenting themselves, introducing themselves as personalities.

                                                     *

In two hundred years time everyone will have a proper scientific education and will look at life, including art, from a scientific point of view.  But in our time we are in a transitional period where most people have a non-scientific outlook and so cannot properly understand a thing.

                                                     *

Teachers in the Colleges no longer emphasise grammar and punctuation, with the excuse that right content is good enough. As if the gospel of “what’s good enough” can advance a nation.

                                                     *

They begin mathematics now with sets, which is truly silly. To grasp the principle of sets one needs a high level of abstraction and generalisation, so that one can see how all things may be grouped into categories. But this is the beginning of higher mathematics. One should in fact begin with the concrete, with the school tables of old, and as the child’s mind develops advance to more complex conceptions.

                                                     *

At universities it is the undergraduates should do the research work, to teach them how to find out things. Later they should advance to formal study courses – that being the converse of the present system. 

                                                     *

You have a duty to watch out for the best pupils and devote your attention to them. It is the principal duty of a teacher, it seems to me. I know some would call it elitism; but bugger that.

                                                    *

Being students at university together is the best opportunity both sexes have of meeting life partners of similar class and interests.

_____________

RELIGION, CATHOLICISM

It may well be that religious belief of some kind is necessary to society and may have an evolutionary role in getting people to cooperate. Certainly one should show respect for it, whether one believes in it or not.

                                                    *

It baffled me for years, the seeming indestructability of Christianity, until I read Maccoby’s Revolution in Judea, which was a revelation.  I realised that Christianity had its roots in a national revolution, an upsurge of a people looking for independence from the Romans.  And  what has contributed to giving the Christian religion its durability and appeal to people is this ancient root in Jewish national sentiment.  It expresses the longing and aspiration for freedom of an oppressed nation, and this has ever since been the secret of its appeal. 

                                                    *

The Catholic Church in Ireland has an essentially progressive character, despite its historical faults.  It derives from its deep roots in the people. The priests were the only leaders the people had in their most harrowing times, and do you think it right that they should forget this?  I have treated the Church very lightly in my book on Sean O’Casey and have tried to emphasise its progressive potential: its conservation of family life, for instance, and its opposition to the commercialisation of sex.  This potential should become clearer from now on if the Church aligns itself wih the deepest elements in the nation in opposition to the operations of the transnational companies. Let us hope that they do this. (1977) 

                                                    *

Nationality and nationalism are compounded of many elements: in Ireland the desire for self-rule, people’s interest in holding on to their land, the clash with an alien language and religion.  You might say that Catholicism is the part of Irish nationalism that is the least progressive part; but that does not mean that it is not a part all the same, and it is on balance more progressive than reactionary. The ordinary people instinctively recognise this.  You might say that historically things would have been worse if the Church had not been there than if it had: which is not to say that things would not have been better if it had been better.

                                                    *

Has it ever struck you how many of the Protestants who identified with Irish nationalism in the present century converted to Catholicism – Roger Casement for example, and Countess Markievicz?  It is as if when everything else was gone, and political nationalism as they understood it was defeated, they embraced the religion of the Irish masses as the only solid thing left. Such conversions should be seen in political not religious terms. 

                                                    *

Pat Dooley was fiercely anti-clerical. In the 1940s he had a majority on the editorial board of the Irish Democrat. Then I won them gradually around until I had the majority. But his anti-clericalism caused us a lot of trouble.  I used say I am a Protestant.  All this anti-Church business has nothing to do with me. Why involve us?  Then he went to Prague after the War to work and got a heart attack.  He thought he would go straight to hell and went back to the Church, he was so scared. Going to Hell … Imagine!  And he signed manifestos against us and everything, as being communists and so forth.  And if he went back to religion, what, I ask you, had that to do with politics?  I would have thought that if there was  a God and he went before Him, God would not be very impressed by a character who said he was fighting for such and such all his life and had now changed his mind.  He must have had a subconscious belief all along.  That is the trouble with these anti-clericals.  If you really did not believe, you would not get so hot and bothered. I have not yet faced ultimate dissolution, but I expect that if I did I would not change my mind about the things I believed in and knew were facts all my life. 

                                                    *

I think the Catholic Church is finished, now that they have abandoned the Latin Mass and are trying to modernise themselves in other ways.  Their strength was in their feudal roots and their links to stable social values, especially those of family life.  They must give way if they try to compete in the world of the transnational firms. (1981)

                                                    *

I remember J.Godolphin Bennett and his theosophists [J.Godolphin Bennett, 1897-1974, industrialist whom Greaves knew when working for Messrs Powell Duffryn; British disseminator of the theosophical system of G.Gurdjieff and P.Ouspensky]. Like all these religous people the reason was the same: they just could not face the fact of their own extinction. They cannot imagine the world after they are gone, because they cannot imagine themselves not being there. And yet they were not there for an eternity of past time, just as they will not be there for an eternity of future time. Our motto should be carpe diem and let’s get on with it.

                                                    *

I am delighted to see that he is getting married in church.  I have no belief in religion myself but I have noticed that those who have got a touch of it seem to be all the better for it.

                                                    *

The Archbishop of Canterbury says that the stock-exchange crisis is a spiritual message warning about what happens when people panic and lose confidence – not what happens when they worship Mammon! (1987)

                                                    *

Nowadays the Russians under Gorbachev are developing a more sympathetic attitude to religious faith. Is not that what we were saying they should be doing all along? I have been advocating it in the Irish Democrat for years. (1988)

________________

MIGRATION

All the rich countries are racially impure, for obvious reasons.  Racial purity is a a mark of poverty: Connemara for instance.

                                                    *

Emigration is already a defeat for those emigrating. I fully realised this only recently. It may explain something about the difficulty of organising emigrants.

                                                    *

Immigration: there is no such principle as a right to migrate, to go in huge numbers to someone else’s country and subject its communal life to intense strain. Every country has a right to decide who should come into it – as long as they are treated like everyone else once they are in it. That is the important thing. These two principles are always being mixed up by liberal and left-wing people who do not think the issue through. 

                                                    *

Palme Dutt was foolish to support West Indian immigration after the war – in complete contrast to the opposition of the Labour Movement to the importation of Chinese labour before World War 1. In 1906 they opposed it; in 1945 they accepted it.  It will take a century possibly to assimilate the new arrivals. Meanwhile the English nation is divided and demoralised, incapable of standing up to the assaults of the EEC.  Mass immigration has helped to divide the Labour Movement and enabled British capitalism to solve some of its domestic problems by employing cheap labour. Instead of raising productivity by introducing modern machinery and paying higher wages, they employ people from abroad.  Not that one can say these things publicly these days. You would be accused of being a racist.  Such an attitude plays right into the hands of the National Front and the Tories. (1978)

                                                    *

Mrs Thatcher by her anti-immigrant attacks has made racialism respectable.  She has made it an issue in the general election, probably the main issue.  I do not see what Labour can do to defeat her on it.  I have always thought that the Left and the Liberals were foolish in their attitudes to immigration.  A policy of open door for immigrants has nothing essentially progressive about it. (1978)

                                                    *

First-generation Irish immigrants would not touch an organisation like the National Front in any way whatever.  The first generation is on the Labour side.  It is in the second generation that you get Irish names cropping up among the fascists.  And why is it?  It is because their parents have brought them up ashamed of being Irish.  When the youngsters go to school they are got at by their English schoolmates for their Irish origins.  If their parents have told them of these and made them proud of them, they have nothing to be ashamed of and can stand up for themselves.  But if they have been brought up to look down on their background, they still feel insecure because they bear Irish names and have parents born in Ireland. So they try to prove themselves by seeking to be more English than the English and join bodies like the National Front. (1978) 

                                                    *

A mass organisation of Irish immigrants in Britain can only be got going if there is a movement in Ireland to push it or back it up. 

                                                    *

I have always noticed that Irish organisations on the way out try to form branches in London. Their members have emigrated and they still carry with them the political preoccupations of home.  They canot reconcile themselves to the principle that the only effective political action is that directed towards the State in which one is actually living.

                                                    *

Joe Deighan and I have often wondered why all our work amongst the Irish in Britain in the 1950s achieved so little [Joseph Deighan, Belfastman; leading member of the Manchester Branch of the Connolly Association in the 1950s and 1960s].  I think now that the process of emigration and settling in another country is so traumatic for so many people that it takes a generation for them to settle down, and it is only in the next generation perhaps that they can hope to influence events significantly in the host country. (1983)

—————————

REMINISCENCE OF YOUTH AND AGE

I was born at 9 pm. on September 27th 1913.  I always felt I was different from others as a child. It is probably a feeling all bright people have. 

                                                    *

The colour and importance of Liverpool when I was a youngster: it was then still the chief port of the world, which it had been for a century, with goods-wagons going up and down the docks on the overhead railway. You could sense its imperial character and its Irishness. Everything there was dominated by the sea.

                                                    *     

My grandfather was an atheist who was brought up nominally a Protestant, although there were Catholics in the family on both sides three generations back; so that the family background was rather religiously mixed.

                                                    *

I composed some pieces of music at seven. My father conducted the Liverpool Post Office orchestra and my mother had a degree in music. My musical talent was primarily from my mother’s side. I was fascinated by the prime numbers at that age.  I spent three weeks studying them, multiplying and dividing them before coming to a conclusion. That is why I am sure Kant is wrong when he says that a knowledge of number is a priori.

                                                    *

I went to a private primary school for a while until my parents decided I was not learning anything, though they did teach me to read. I went to school at six.  I remember once in primary school we were asked by our teacher, a remarkable woman, to write down a few paragraphs on what we would like to be when we grew up. I said that I would like to be a great novelist, a scientist and a doctor of music. I had an aunt who was a novelist, an uncle a scientist and my parents were musicians; so I wanted to do what they did, only better. Doubtless my effort stood out among all the accounts of aspiring train drivers and policemen; but I remember her comment as she handed back my paper: “Jack of all trades and master of none!”

                                                    *

If you study a lot in early life, you will be well ahead at twenty-five.  I was lucky to be left my grandfather’s library when I was young. Reading one of his books, Swift’s Modest Proposal, at fifteen gave me an ambition to be a writer. To think, I said to myself, that any man could write like that; it was astonishing. Swift is surely the greatest Irishman of all. He is certainly the most widely known.

                                                    *

My parents used organise quartets in the house when we were young. I used be asked to sing bass. My father would not allow a gramophone. He expected one to read a score if one wanted to learn about a piece of music. My sister and I would lay on charades for parents and family friends at Christmas. We would sing, “Please come … Pl-e-e-e-ase … co-o-o-me into the r-o-o-om,” parodying the banalities of opera. We would call it “operating”. It was in great demand and caused much amusement to the adults on such occasions.

                                                    *

At school I attended French classes outside the Sixth. I translated Baudelaire into English verse. The form-master said, referring to me, “Our science colleague was the only one to do this.”  I learned from this experience that while I have not much of a knowledge of French, I was not precluded from a mastery of English. Anyway, what did I want French for except to read the books? The sports teacher once said at school: “Of course you don’t come out playing, do you?”  I knew when he resorted to sarcasm that I had gained a victory.

                                                    *

I remember calling for the independence of India at sixteen in a Birkenhead Institute school debate.

                                                    *

I discovered dialectics independently when I was seventeen.  I found maths a boring subject at school. It required too much attention to detail. I prefer the capacity for generalisation, for reaching large conclusions. My memory is entirely audial.  I have a poor visual memory and cannot draw a straight line. 

                                                    *

I always had a poor opinion of teachers, with obvious exceptions of course.  There was only one teacher I thought anything of at school: Watts, who taught physics. He was quite a clever man.  He had a room he kept as a den, which no other of the teachers had.  We used think he used nip in there to take a drink from time  to time and for a dare I once went in to look and while I was inside he came in. I had to tell him why I had gone in there. I said that I was looking for the gin. “Be off with you. I do not drink,” he said, and I can still see him laughing.

                                                    *

I am not physically brave, although I suppose I would do what I had to when something came up requiring a certain amount of courage.  There was a fight once at school.  I did not want it, but when it came I stood up to it and surprised myself by doing well.  Later on I became quite close friends with the boy I had been forced to fight with. 

                                                    *

If I was better than others at school or College or in my work, I had no illusion that it was because I had better brains; it was because of good health.  My intellect was based on physical health and bodily vigour. I could outlast anyone else and, if pushed, could work harder and better than anyone in my age-group.

                                                   *

I can remember still how thrilled I was when I came upon William Blake’s lines  as a youngster: “Who his seventy disciples sent /Against religion and government.” Against religion and government: just the things I thought at the time needed to be destroyed. It is hard to realise now what a rebel I was on everything as a young fellow. 

                                                    *

Our teachers at the local Birkenhead cram-shop did not welcome our interest in the Naturalists Field Club and things like that, over which they had no control.  What a pack of fools!  I remember having an article published in the North-Western Naturalist when I was seventeen, on the colours of flowers, my first scientific paper, and the school headmaster being quite sarcastic about it.

                                                    *

Wilfred Owen had gone to the same school [English poet,1893-1918, killed in World War 1]. I wrote an essay on him for the school magazine. I remember nothing of it except that I said he was plucked from his natural element and deposited on the slaughter fields.

                                                    *

I was insufferable myself at twenty-one.  My teacher once said to me: “I suppose, Greaves, you think that you’re a genius.” Many young people do of course. To this day I am sorry I did not say Yes.

                                                    *

I would very much like to have had someone to turn to in my early twenties; but it was my father who turned to me. I remember him as one of the kindest of men. If his ghost walked in, I would certainly not be afraid of it. I cannot say this of every possible ghost, but I would say it of his. He used ask me for advice and I admired him a lot. He was not a fighter, whereas I was. I enjoy a battle. He did not. He asked my advice once about something at his work, which involved whether he should stand up and fight or not, and I advised him not to fight. I have always been sorry since that I did so.

                                                    *

I could do no wrong in my father’s eyes, even when I joined the Communist Party at twenty-one, with all the other bright young university people at the time.  He was rather Tory in his opinions and would occasionally go to Church on special occasions, although he sometimes said things that indicated he did not believe.  My mother’s sisters were suffragettes. The greatest legacy my parents gave me was music. My father left me his scores. My mother played the piano and violin. Her sisters used to sing. My mother would hold before me the day when I would know enough to study harmony.  I have studied it, but am nothing like my father.  He could read a score, a vast thing with long pages for all the different parts of the orchestra, and he knew exactly where everything was. It seemed a miracle to me.  People should study music properly.  It will always repay you and can give you more pleasure than anything else in life.

                                                    *

Today the breed of self-educated working-class intellectuals has largely died out, being replaced by countless mediocre university products. Do you know that the first Sunday schools were established by lay people to educate the masses in secular knowledge and had nothing to do with the Churches?   It was only later that the Churches muscled in on them in order to help destroy class consciousness, just as in Ireland State education was introduced to uproot national consciousness. T.A.Jackson belonged to the tradition of working class intellectuals [Thomas Alfred “Tommy” Jackson, 1879-1955, author, lecturer and communist activist]. Another one was W.A.Lee the naturalist, who probably influenced myself and Alan Morton when we were youngsters more than anyone else  [William Arthur Lee, 1870-1931; Alan Geoffrey Morton, Greaves’s lifelong friend, professor of botany at London University and author of “History of Botanical Science”, 1981]. Lee was self-educated but had managed to get himself through College and get a doctorate: not a mere PhD but a Doctor of Science no less.  He was prominently associated with the North-Western Naturalist when we were youngsters.  Alan and I belonged to the Liverpool Field Club and used go to monthly meetings where Dr Lee was present.  He was interested in Ireland and studied languages.  He did a study of the Irish names of field plants.  He urged us to pay attention to the roots and meaning of words, which I have done throughout my life.  He was a radical in his political views.  Alan came across an obituary of him in the North-Western Naturalist when working through old material for his history of botany and he sent it to me recently.  You do not get men like that now.  They got their knowledge of life and nature from experience, not from academia and books. The labour and democratic movement is all the weaker as a consequence. 

                                                    *

I did a degree in botany and chemistry.  There were no jobs available at the time, so I decided to convert it into a degree in geography, which you could do then with two years’ work; but I did not finish it.  You do not know how difficult it was to get a job in the 1930s, and I wanted to get away from Liverpool.

                                                    *

I did not bother going to lectures and classes when at university and did no work at all.  You could say I spent the time improving my mind. 

                                                    *

How did I get involved in politics? I have no idea and I think most people if asked would not know. It is like Jack Bennett’s wife who was asked why she married Jack and she said, “I don’t remember.”[Jack Bennett,1927-2000, Belfast journalist of Protestant background with whom Desmond Greaves used stay when visiting Belfast]  It was certainly not because of my parents, who would have supported me in whatever I did, it didn’t matter what.

                                                    *

Alan Morton is two or three years older than I. I remember him telling me – we were out walking and I must have been around twenty at the time – that he had decided to join the Communist Party.  I had been interested in a general way in Ireland and the danger of war at the time, but was most concerned about my own goings-on. I can still remember my reaction: “What is the communist line on jazz?”, I asked. “They see it as a symptom of the decadence of capitalism,” he said.  “I agree with that,” I said, and that night I decided to join with him. 

                                                    *

I took to politics like the proverbial duck to water. In the 1930s I used have three set speeches – on the horrors of war, the crimes of the British Empire and the evils of Partition.

                                                    *

I came across some old diaries referring to the foundation of the Socialist Society in Liverpool while I was at College.  It was in a semi-moribund state and run by right-wingers.  I got in touch with  the main secondary grammar schools that used send youngsters to the University and where there were YCL [Young Communist League] contacts, and induced a whole lot of the incoming new students to join the Society.  Then when they turned up at the first meeting they voted the existing committee out of being and installed a brand new committee of left-wingers.  It was quite ruthless and I had completely forgotten about it until I reread those old diaries.

                                                    *

John Cornford, who was killed in Spain, used sit in this very room here in Birkenhead  in the mid-1930s [ie. at Greaves’s family home at 124 Mount Road, Prenton, Birkenhead]. He used stay here sometimes when he came to Liverpool [John Cornford, 1915-36, English communist poet, educated at Cambridge;killed in the Spanish civil war]. Cambridge and Liverpool had the strongest left-wing youth movements at the time. I remember speaking at a youth conference in Sheffield with Esmond Romilly, Churchill’s nephew.

                                                    *

Meteorology fascinates me. I can remember the weather of particular months or weeks: the weather in 1932 and 1939 for instance, when a sunny July was followed by a wet October.

                                                    *

Alan Morton could not get a job in the mid-1930s, for no one wanted botanists. So he went to Germany. I remember him describing the opposition to Hitler which he found, for there was widespread opposition among ordinary people, at least then. They told a joke in the music halls: “Name a famous German whose name begins with ‘Go’.”  “Would it be Goring?”  “No.”  “Would it be Goebbels?”  “No.” “Well then, what can it be?’”  And everyone laughed, for they knew that it meant God. Later Alan went to Cambridge to do postgraduate work and now he has just finished his History of Botanical Science, which people will read hundreds of years after he is dead. (1980)

                                                    *

Once you have a job you can make your way alright. The trouble is getting started. It was hard to get a job in the 1930s, just like now in the 1980s. In the in-between period it was easy.  The state of the labour market when people are in their early twenties has a huge influence on most peoples’ lives, and that is largely a matter of luck.  My first job was got through an uncle who recommended me to a friend of his in the construction business and I became a clerk on a building site in East London.  Then after a while through another relative I was put in touch with Dr Myddleton and got my first job as a scientific chemist.

                                                       *

Old Professor Pirani, who later called himself Professor von Pirani, was the inventor of the vacuum gauge, essential for modern refrigerators and many other things.  He used to laugh at the youngsters with their books: “They read so much they do not have time to think,” he used say. He was anything but bookish himself, totally practical in his approach. Patent everything was his advice, which I took.  The one thing he had not patented himself, the vacuum gauge, would have made him a fortune [Marcello von Pirani,1880-1968, German scientist of Jewish background who left Germany in 1936; from 1941 to 1947 he served as scientific consultant to the British Coal Utilization Research Association in London before returning to Germany].   

                                                       *

Pirani said to me when I became his assistant: “Do you get ‘nervös’” – he used the German word – “when you cannot get others to agree with you?”  I said I did indeed.  And he said: “You must not get ‘nervös’,  for you will never get your way if you get ‘nervös’ when you do not get your way.”

                                                       *

In the 1940s, in judging what we did, you must remember that we were all young then.

                                                      * 

It is essential never to show fear. Once you show fear your enemy has got you.  There was this new manager at Powell Duffryn’s who began to throw his weight around [Powell Duffryn, major British coal company, nationalised in 1947, when part of it went into shipping.  Desmond Greaves was chief research chemist there in the later 1940s].   He gave himself airs and began acting incredibly arrogantly. At first he left me alone, but then he tried things on. I was by no means a big noise in the place, but I was chief research chemist and had a staff of about thirty.  You know what I said to him: “You know, Dr Francis, I have seen managers come and I have seen managers go. I do not need to be here or to be dependent on you. I should like to inform you that I am the possessor of a substantial private income, and so on …”  It was entirely bluff on my part, but it completely shut him up.  Later on we bumped him.  There were a few Indians and Africans on the staff. One day he happened to say in my presence, “I see there’s a number of darkies around here.”  I immediately got on to the shop-steward and had him call a meeting of the Union branch – it was the Association of Scientific Workers (AScW). Bill Parker and I wrote a complaint, signed by all of us, with my name at the top, protesting at the racism of Dr Francis and how it prevented harmonious working conditions and caused disquiet among the staff.  It was not really meant to be a racialist remark at all, I expect, but we used it to bump him. For they sacked him.  It is necessary to be ruthless with people like that: to bump them when you can, or else they will bump you.  One avoids confrontation until one has to, but you wait for the right moment. 

                                                    *

Bill Parker and the other research people used to say that I was not as technically sophisticated as they were, but that no one was better at handling the Board of Directors.  I think I was quite as good as the others technically but am happy to claim the diplomatic skills. One has to be artful. If you ever have something really difficult to tackle, I should be glad to discuss it.  I once fell asleep while attending a management board meeting at Powell Duffryn’s, to which I was sometimes invited as chief chemist.  I woke up on hearing one of them say, “Well, we would like to have Mr Greaves’s view.” I had no idea what they had been talking about, but I knew that they were always quarrelling and disagreeing, so that I was quite safe. “Gentlemen,” I said, “I would hesitate to venture on the stormy sea!” …  Do you know that Powell Duffryns invested £14 million in South Africa once with the prime aim of getting some staff members out there who wanted to start a pantisocracy?  I must say I would far prefer the moderate bunkum of the business world to the superlative bunkum of the academic one. 

                                                    *

The people I feel closest to are the Irish first, then the English working-class and then the people of America. Most of my relations are in America and they have tremendous traditions there, from which the world will one day benefit. 

                                                    *

I am with the aristocrats, naturally, and with the working-class, which has an aristocracy of its own; but against the bourgeoisie and petite bourgeoisie, that horde of cowards and trimmers.  

                                                     *

What strikes me looking back on the 1920s and 1930s is the completely simplistic character of the times. Everything was black and white. The leftist rhetoric of the Third International was understandable.  After all they had fought World War 1 for nothing. They came back to “Homes Fit For Heroes”, and what did they find?  Lloyd George had got them through the war, but he could not get them through the peace. 

                                                    *

I do not have a deep knowledge about anything, except perhaps modern Irish history and affairs, but I know more about a wider range of subjects than anyone else I know or have met. Engels’s mind was like that, broad-ranging rather than intensely concentrated on special areas, as Marx’s was. You could say I am an Engels man rather than a Marx man.

                                                    *

Old General Gough, whom I knew well, was bumped by Haig, as Carson had been ditched before him [General Sir Hubert Gough, 1870-1963, British army commander in World War 1, involved in the 1914 Curragh “mutiny”; of an Irish family. He was involved in the Commonwealth Irish Association during World War 2].They always ditch the Irishman when they get the chance.  Gough rang me once during the War. “I want to show you something I’ve written,” he said. I suggested a meeting in the Holborn Restaurant, which was quite a high-class one.  When we went there we found that all the waiters were Gough’s former soldiers. It was “Good day, General” and “What would you like, General?”  And even though it was the War and rationing time, we got mounds of food on our plates and had a right royal meal.  Gough said to me, “It just shows”, he said, “that an Irishman can talk anything on to his plate.” “Yes,” I said to myself, “if he is a General and is being served by his former soldiers.”   What he wanted to show me was a plan for Ireland coming closer to the Empire in return for ending Partition, or something like that.  “Now tell me,” he said, “if a man stood on a soapbox and shouted out that, wouldn’t he soon get a crowd around him?”  “Yes,” I said, “and soon there would be only the crowd and there would be no sign of him.”  This was his idea of politics, getting on a soapbox and shouting something out.  But a very decent man

                                                    *

I am a poor tactician, but a good strategist.

                                                    *

As old Joe Johnston said to me once about Ireland’s political parties – it was the day of a general election: “Today, Desmond, is the great day of decision, in the contest between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” And also, if you ask me, between Tweedlediddle and Tweedlefiddle! [Professor Joseph Johnston,1890-1972, Professor of Economics at Trinity College Dublin and one of the members for TCD in the Irish Senate; author of “Civil War in Ulster”, 1913; father of physicist and political activist Dr Roy Johnston]

                                                    *

I took the decision, deliberately and freely, to devote my life to the emancipation of the Celtic peoples.  If there is one thing I have done it is, I think, to have helped keep alive a tradition in the Irish national movement.  I believe that if you go back in history you will find a continuity of democratic and national activity going back centuries.  It is often transmitted from one generation to another by only a handful of people, sometimes in one particular place; but a tradition is there and people work and seek to build the future within it.

                                                    *

I am always somewhat contemptuous of those who spend their time reading rather than writing. I was pleased to see Desmond Ryan  bring out his new book [Desmond Ryan, 1893-1964, historian; author of “The Rising” and other books; was in the GPO in the 1916 Easter Rising].  There is a legitimate pride, you know, that isn’t conceit.

                                                    *

This period is like the years between the forties and the eighties of the nineteenth century, without revolution or great moments. Yet those who kept going unnoticed were doing a vital job. Without them, when the time came, there would have been no great moments. (1965)

                                                    *                                                            

Of course I do not care what people think of my views.  There are four or five people whose judgement I respect; but as for the Michael O’Learys  of this world…! [Michael O’Leary,1936-2006, Irish Labour Party leader, Government Minister and Tanaiste; later joined the Fine Gael party]

                                                    *

These last few years I have sometimes thought of leaving the whole bloody lot and going to my relatives in America. These academics are paid thousands of pounds to get out arguments to brainwash young people.  And no one knows or cares about the time and money I and others have put in. It makes me wild.  Look at Palme Dutt, who is now very ill.  After half a century of service they will let him die in a ditch [R.Palme Dutt, 1896-1974, executive member of the CPGB, theorist  on national and colonial issues]. (1973)

                                                    *

I am sixty-five this year. If I had been told when young that I would have books translated into several languages, I would have been thrilled; but now I am indifferent so far as myself is concerned. (1978)

                                                    *

In one’s sixties one should adopt the motto, “finish things.” Nothing that has to be completed should be left half done. Reaping must take precedence over sowing. Perhaps also I should take things more easily and not bother my head about people who annoy me. (1982)

                                                    *

I would like to give up, I can assure you; but I do not like to think of leaving people with a fight which I cannot myself continue. I shall have to give up soon in any case, for obvious reasons. (1982)

                                                    *

I got off pissed from the boat train at Amiens Street, with people having bought me drinks all the way across from Holyhead. I am treated like shit in England, but as I get towards Ireland I am treated like a lord.  It is a small thing, but you know how it is: one cannot help feeling flattered. (1982)

                                                    *

This American professor wrote to me as “Doctor Greaves”, repeating the “Doctor” in every second sentence. In my reply I said, “Non doctor sed semper doctus.”  I trust that he saw the ambiguity of the “doctus”. 

                                                    *

The main thing is to preserve the Irish culture as best one can. I got O’Growney’s Irish grammar at seventeen, one of the books that influenced me most [Fr Eugene O’Growney, 1863-1899, founding member of the Gaelic League in 1893 and Professor of Irish at Maynooth. His “Simple Lessons in Irish” was widely influential].  I know Wales almost as well as I do Ireland.  I want to help preserve that country as well. I think that, on the odds, Ireland is secure.  I won’t relax my efforts, but on balance I think things are alright, or so my political horse-sense tells me. I think that there is enough force and capacity within Ireland to see the country through the encumbrances likely to come along, although what expressions they are likely to take cannot be foreseen. But I would like to see other things preserved as well. (1982)

                                                    *

I once had the idea of the socialists in Dublin establishing an Irish equivalent of something like the Marx Memorial Library, which could be a repository of material on the Irish Labour Movement. I had thought I might make my own papers the nucleus of such a collection. But latterly I have thought that the National Library of Ireland should be the centre of all such material. After all, the staff there are always so helpful and progressive, and the Labour Movement is now so much a national movement. I have encouraged the Transport Union to put all their stuff in the National Library, for I know they would be glad to get it. And perhaps the Labour History Society should be encouraged to do the same, instead of letting it go out to UCD as some of them want to do. After all, anyone can walk into the National Library and read what they will, whereas in UCD they are fussy and ask whether you are a graduate or not. The world, thank God, is not just composed of graduates, and certainly those interested in the Labour Movement are not all graduates.  I would like to see the National Library of Ireland become a major centre for Labour and Trade Union studies in these islands. It might perhaps be possible to encourage the British Unions to treat it as a copyright library for their publications, so that in time researchers on English material would come there as well. (1982)

                                                    *

I have spent decades trying to influence the Labour and Communist movements in Britain on the national question and I can confidently say that I have as much influence now as I had at the beginning, which is zero.  You spend two hours talking to someone of influence, but then they go and are influenced for days and weeks and months by their other surroundings, and what you say is forgotten. (1982)

                                                    *

The trouble is that people decide what to do and then look for reasons and theories to justify their actions.  And if they decide to do the opposite, they will look for theories to justify that.  Talking to them or sending them documents will not change their policies. It is like the people who want to bring up their children as Plymouth Brethren and then find them drawn away by all the pop songs and amusements that bear in on all sides. 

                                                    *

I want to have one last smack if I am spared, to see if things can be got on their feet again.  Eddie Cowmanpaid me a compliment recently [Eddie Cowman, born 1952, Connolly Association organiser  in the late 1970s].  He said: “I would expect you to keep going, Desmond, when everyone else has given up.” It is a young man’s compliment, I need hardly say, but I was pleased with it.  Never give in.  I do not expect that you would give in either. (1982)   

                                                    *

I have written a long poem on the IRA in ninety-six stanzas [ie. “The Mountbatten Award”, a poem published in “Four Letter Verses and the Mountbatten Award”, 1983]. In my verse I always use iambic tetrameter for my own opinions. When you see that, you know it is the author speaking. I have thought of publishing it with a poetry collection under the title, “To the Dogs of Birmingham”.  Birmingham in my opinion is the most horrible of cities, and the dog the most obnoxious of animals; so you can imagine what its thrust is. (1982)

                                                    *                                                                

I have been a member of the Communist Party for fifty years. Would it not be stupid of me to throw away a political investment like that, however bad things are and however disgracefully they behave?  There are quite a number, I know, who would like me to go and who would be more than pleased if I should leave the party.  But whatever happens I have no intention of obliging, although they can throw me out if they wish and I would not give a damn. (1983)

                                                    *

When I was a young man I thought the East-West conflict was central and I thought it valid to charge into that particular fray.  But what I want to do now is to try and keep Ireland and Wales and countries like that out of it, or free of the worst consequences of it. I think war remains a very likely thing.  You remember Machiavelli: “It only shows the miserable ways in which wars were waged in those days: The statesmen engaged in war for years on end and scarcely anyone was killed.”  I don’t mind that kind of war. That was a very sensible man talking. 

                                                    * 

I was reading the other year an article by some American professor, writing in a scientific journal no less. He regarded it as a proof of something or other: Why should we worry about the dangers of nuclear war, he said; life on earth could well be destroyed by it in time, but it will not be in our time. We will be dead and won’t know anything about it.  Why should we suffer a reduction in our privileges for the sake of avoiding trouble after we are dead?  That is complete cynicism, the epitome of a truly fascist outlook, and I completely reject it.  Yet there is no logic that can be put against that position. (1984) 

                                                    *

I am an old man now and the most precious thing left to me is time. I do not want to waste it. I shall have a great burnery sometime soon, when I make my will and decide what papers to leave behind and what destroy. When I am dead you can decide what to do with them. I shall not know and so shall not mind. (1984)

                                                    * 

I have decided to start my second childhood prematurely. I have now reached the age of indiscretion and am going to start saying some indiscreet things: about the academics, the communists and the like.  And do not think I am looking for revolutions. Not in my time. (1985)

                                                    *

I am working to get an international conference in defence of national democracy and the Nation State.  We must put the fight against the EEC and the transnational companies at the centre of things. (1985)

                                                    *

I think that we have started something quite important with that conference we had on defending the Nation State.  It is ironic that it is the Irish who are raising the demand for the liberation of England vis-à-vis the EEC, because the English themselves have failed to take it up. But they may do in time [Conference held in the Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London on 30 November 1985, with a follow-up conference the following year. See the “Irish Democrat” coverage in the issues of February, October and December 1985]. 

                                                    *

The basis of life is illogic. You remember that philosopher woman who was arguing about the universe? Can you find any reason why anything that exists should exist? she said.  I don’t require a reason, I told her, and I do not give one.  She could not understand what I was saying. Of course she was an ex-nun, whereas I am a third-generation atheist. It brings me back to a point that has struck me in recent years: the most important thing is to understand the nature of man, what biological forces decided his nature during the period when he was subject to the principles of natural selection, which he is not of course subject to in modern society.  This is very important.  I want to finish my corpus of Irish work and then perhaps do something on Irish Protestantism and on the treatment of the Irish in English literature.  I would like to treat of these more general questions, if I am spared, so that I shall be numbered among the people who have added to the prestige of that little island, which we cannot escape from and which I think has harboured more genius than any comparable area on earth. (1985)              

                                                     *

I have not walked around Wallasey for fifty years: all those endless suburbs [Wallasey is across the Mersey from Liverpool, next to Birkenhead].  I believe that for years there was not even a bookshop in the place. It tells you something about what concerned people there. 

                                                    *

I have finished the main body of my Irish work. I doubt if I will do anything now on the nineteenth century novel and Ireland, as I once had in mind, although it gave me a reason to read large numbers of them. I would like to concentrate for the next few years on aesthetical questions.  That is the only theory I have invented and it would be a really original contribution; but I am confident I have laid the groundwork for Irish Marxism in my writings.  (1985)

                                                    *

After visiting Peadar O’Donnell  in his sick bed in Loughlinstown I said to myself, what depressing places are hospitals [Peadar O’Donnell,1893-1986, Irish socialist republican activist and novelist]. (1986)

                                                    * 

I gave the oration at the recent ceremony for Bronterre O’Brien in Hackney cemetery [Bronterre O’Brien, 1805-64, Irish-born Chartist leader and journalist]. The Lord Mayor was there, and Gery Lawlessnow a local councillor, who made a presentation dressed as a business executive [Gery Lawless, 1936-2012, Irish Trotskyist; became a Labour councillor for Hackney, London]. “You threw me out of the Connolly Association,” said Lawless, “and I don’t know what for.”  He was quite cordial. Never be vindictive, for you only put yourself on the same plane as your defeated enemy and you keep him as an enemy, whereas otherwise he might change his mind; and other peoples’ attitudes will change too. (1986)

                                                    *

I don’t know much about the present, but I do know a lot about the future, and I can tell you lots of things that are going to happen, although I would not be able to give you the exact date.

                                                    *

I foresee an era of devastation and destruction. It is going to be like the fifth century.  It may not be destruction by war, although one never knows.  Until the oil crisis came in the early seventies I thought war inevitable.  Now I think it is probable, but not inevitable. They won’t have the oil to do it, you see.  Iran has had a complete overthrow of a most reactionary government and their revolution was completely nationalistic. Many would say it was reactionary, with the Mullahs and the Ayatollahs, but that is but a sprag in the wheel.  If they want to be Muslims, are they not entitled to it?   I see it as if it were a map in front of me: it is as if it were the fifth century again. (1986)

                                                    *

There is such a contrast between the low calibre of the political leaders of this generation and those who learned their politics during the 1930s or the war. Everyone under 45 now was a child when World War 2 ended. The rising generation of leaders are the children of the long boom. They have never known anything but prosperity for most of their lives. They are also the first television generation.  Small wonder they are such mediocrities. (1986)

                                                    *

He gave up politics when Eddie Cowman became Connolly Association organiser. I think he felt he was no longer at the centre of things. Also Eddie was a dashing young man with the women and I think he felt that he should be the same, but he found they no longer wanted him as much as when he was twenty. I diagnose it as premature senile depression, for which in my case the cure is this drink here, and good strong daily doses of it! 

                                                    *

You are against this and he is against that, but do you know: I am against everything.  The more I see of things, the more I am against them!

                                                    *

How long will I keep going? Until I stop, of course. What else?

                                                    *

I think I have ten years’ good health and useful work in me yet, but I have no intention of killing myself with overwork. Marx did that. He wrote about Kapital that he had sacrificed his health in writing it; and much good or gratitude he got for it in his lifetime. I am a great believer in relaxation. (1986)

                                                    *

When the last whiff of my ashes floats up the crematorium chimney, you can be sure that there will begin such an assault on James Connolly and his reputation, the likes of which you have never seen.  It will be a development of the attacks begun already, I expect. I was lucky enough to get in early, while there were people who knew Connolly still alive.  I could quote them as telling me such and such. Like this man Newsinger, whom I call the bird of song [John Newsinger, born 1948, professor of history at Bath Spa University; member of the Socialist Workers Party].  He goes on about Mulray, but there was no Mulray. His real name was Mullery and he lived only a couple of miles from here for years.  He told me all about Connolly in Edinburgh. I knew him well, and I could strike down the Newsingers with things like that. 

                                                     *

There is a long work that I took up years ago – an epic poem no less, and I will say nothing more than that I must make a practice of sending you items in future [A reference to his unfinished comic epic poem, “Elephants Against Rome”, the first four books of which were published posthumously in 1999]. I do send stuff to Alan Morton [ie. Professor Alan G. Morton, the botanist, who was Greaves’s oldest friend], but he mislaid a copy of stuff I had myself lost, the first four stanzas of something I had done; so I think sending stuff to two people will ensure against that. (1986)

                                                    *

My talk last month on “the Irish Tradition” in Blackburn was the best I ever gave.  The table could not be seen for the brandies and whiskeys that covered it afterwards.  I began by saying that the most important event in Irish history was the one that never happened: the Romans never went there. So there was nothing of their rotten imperialism at the start.  Then there was no aristocracy because of the Flight of the Earls and so on. Mind you, I did not blame them for fleeing; but it meant that there were no native models of an upper-class left.  The landlords were different in language and religion, so that if an Irishman wanted to be “hoity-toity” he had to pretend to be an Englishman.  And then there is the respect for the Catholic clergy; for the clergy stayed in the country with the people in the penal days.  So that the Irish tradition is essentially plebeian.  I do not say working-class, for there are various classes, but plebeian. It was tremendously well received.   (1987)

                                                    *

Freda Morton’s painting of me: I think Alan may have been a little jealous that she was not doing a painting of himself. Anyway, she put it away and I did not see it for forty years.  When I saw it some time ago I saw the face of a young man of thirty. I said like Yeats: I spit into the face of time at seeing what I have become.  If this long epic poem I have been working on for 35 years is ever finished, or published, I would like that picture to go with it [a reference to “Elephants Against Rome”, four books of an uncompleted comic epic poem, published posthumously in 1999] (1988)

                                                    *

I have left it too late to retire and will keep going right on to the end now. I have decided not to write any memoirs. You know how calculations have been made about how long people are likely to live, based on their parents’ and grandparents’ ages.  Well, I have tossed the bones and think I should manage it to 84.  One never knows of course. (1988)

                                                    *

The news on the radio?  Why bother? We know already what it will be anyway. 

                                                    *

I believe in facing facts and have no trace of romanticism whatsoever.

________________

COMMUNIST PARTY

Jimmy Shields  was born in Greenock in Renfrewshire. He was of Irish background and understood the Irish question. He was a Pollitt man. Everyone was either a Dutt  man or a Pollitt man in those days [Jimmy Shields,1900-49, British communist activist, secretary of the South African CP, 1925, died of tuberculosis Harry Pollitt,1890-1960, CPGB General Secretary 1929-1956, then its chairman until his death].  Jimmy got TB and Pollitt wanted him to go to South Africa to recover.  He was invited to give a talk on Connolly in Dublin soon after the end of the War and asked me to give him Connolly’s works, as it was a long time since he had read them. I did so and took a couple of days off work to go with him.  He got ill on the way back and Pollitt blamed me.  I was quite junior and unimportant in those days.

                                                    *

I understood what makes the British communists tick years ago. It was Jimmy Shields who gave me my first real insight into their rotten chauvinism. He used be on the Political Committee and I would sometimes meet him after they were supposed to be discussing Ireland.  At that time I did not know them very well and used to think that all these issues were properly discussed. My word! I used say to Jimmy, “And what did they decide on Ireland?”  “Ireland,” he would say, “Ireland. They did not discuss Ireland at all. What they discussed was how to get some Trade Union elections in the North produce candidates who would support their policies in England.”  Trade union elections: that is what Ireland meant to them; and they are no different today. They do not consider the objective importance of the issue, which was always Marx’s criterion. They lack an historical sense, and so they take a shortsighted view of everything. Why this attitude?  It ultimately boils down to the tradition of imperialist cosmopolitanism in England. They are not concerned about English independence and so they do not expect that the Irish should bother about Irish independence.  That they regard as regressive and “divisive”.  They are not interested in the Irish question, bless your heart, but in what will get members for their own organisation. (1972)

                                                    *        

I opened my speech at T.A.Jackson’s memorial service with a paradox: “Tommy Jackson was the greatest Irishman to come out of England,” I said [Thomas Alfred Jackson,1879-1955, writer, lecturer and political activist; member of the Socialist Labour Party and founder member of the CPGB in 1920]. I mentioned our distinguished comrade Harry Pollitt, who led the strike in the South Coast docks which prevented the troops going to crush the Russian Revolution, and I said, “If Harry had been in Liverpool maybe the story about the crushing of the Irish Revolution would have been different.”  He could have taken it either way. Tommy was always the best on the Irish question, better even than Dutt or Gallacher, who were the best ones [William Gallacher,1881-1965, leading member of the CPGB from 1920; MP for West Fife, Scotland, 1935-50].  After he was dropped from the Central Committee he tended to drop out of things. I used visit Tommy regularly at Three Bridges, Sussex, down the country where he lived.  He had a wilderness of a garden out the back. “Why don’t you do something about it?” I asked. “Oh, but out there I have a special garden,” he said, “And there are three nettles in it, to which I have given names. I call them Dutt, Pollitt and Gallacher. And every morning and evening I go out to these nettles and piss on them.” Naturally the story got back. But they all admired and liked Tommy in fact … He was notoriously careless in his dress and was also fond of a drink. There was this Russian delegation in the 1920s, one of the first, when Tommy was on the CP Central Committee. Ben Bradley  was asked to sacrifice himself and take Tommy out for a drink while the others were meeting the delegation [Ben Bradley,1898-1957, British communist; active in India as a young man]. They spent the whole evening in a pub and Tommy went home having completely forgotten about the meeting. So the continentals, who are always neat, were not offended … The Irish are possibly the most careless in their dress. It is a peasant feature perhaps, part of the tradition of avoiding the taxman or landlord maybe, by pretending to be poorer than you are. Tommy Jackson was also notorious for missing meetings he was down to speak at; but he never missed an Irish meeting. Later in his life he used to charge fees for his lectures, to make a bit of money … I remember a CP congress in the Beaver Hall in London once. It must have been the early days of the War, for otherwise they would not have been able to get a booking. Tommy wanted to get a few Irish questions asked, but there was general reluctance as usual. He had a few of his cronies on the Executive though, including the chairman of the conference session, who announced that the next speakers will be Comrade A.B. and then Comrade C.D. and then Comrade Frank Jackson. Tommy was outside in the bar and someone ran out to get him to say he was called.  Then after the first two speakers the chairman said, “And I now call on Comrade Tommy Jackson.” Tommy went to the rostrum promptly, while Frank Jackson stood at the side looking very cross. Tommy gave his speech on Ireland.  Then the Chairman said: “The Standing Committee has brought it to my attention that I made a mistake in calling Comrade Tommy Jackson at this time, that it should have been Comrade Frank Jackson. But we have had a most useful and interesting contribution from Comrade Tommy Jackson, for which we are all grateful. I will now call on Comrade Frank Jackson.”  It was all a little plot and showed what had to be done to get Ireland raised in the CP in those days. Jackson made one bad error in his book, which was repeated in edition after edition until I spotted it [ie. “Ireland her Own: an Outline History of the Irish Struggle”, first published 1947, reprinted in 1970 with an epilogue by Desmond Greaves].  He referred to Ireland as a Dominion. He was a most remarkable man. There was a two-column obituary in The Times on his death. Now he is forgotten, as Dutt is almost forgotten. The younger crowd, who know nothing about him, abuse him as a “Stalinist”, whatever that is. (1980)

                                                    *

Jackson understood the Irish thing completely. He could have an Irish audience eating out of his hand. He knew not only the general history but the details and nuances.  Gallacher was the next best, then Jimmy Shields.  Dutt saw the Irish question as part of the general anti-imperialist one.  He had been bitten badly when he came to Ireland before the War, around 1939, and spoke in Kilkenny to some comrades.  Probably someone who was an IRA man spoke at the meeting. “That man has only his sincerity,” said Dutt, and he came back and wrote a report that showed no sympathy at all for De Valera’s Government.  Jimmy Shields said afterwards, “We had to put it in the waste-paper basket.” I tried for years to get Dutt to speak to the Connolly Asssociation, but to no avail. He always refused. I wanted to be able to say he had addressed it. 

                                                    *

That Jackson was so good on the Irish question was remarkable, as he was an Englishman.   He went off the Central Committee in the late 1920s because of the Dutts. He did not get on with them. He accused Salme Dutt of denigrating him because of the bad effect of his appearance when he went on delegations abroad [Salme Pekkala-Dutt,1888-1964, Estonian-British wife of R.Palme Dutt].  His daughters would periodically buy him a coat or a shirt and he would wear it for the next six months without a change. He just did not give a damn. Jackson enjoyed a lot of respect for his writings, but he was not involved in policy-making. Willie Gallacher was able to get on with everyone. He had no side, whereas Pollitt was conscious of his own importance and expected others to be conscious of it.  Dutt on the other hand was shy.

                                                    *

I knew Palme Dutt very well, from 1937 when I was 24. I used to be in his house and probably knew him as well as anybody. I’d say he was very much pro-Russian and so on. He was a great admirer of Stalin. He told me that Stalin had got this decisiveness and clarity of mind; while he was very contemptuous of Khruschev. Now I would look at it the other way round. I would prefer Khruschev a thousand times.  With Khruschev one could take a drink, whereas with Stalin, if I thought he was after me, I would be very worried.  He’d find a way to get you!  Dutt himself was not very good at taking decisions, he saw so many sides of everything.  He said that everyone around Stalin could not make up their minds, so that it was the Great Man who always took the big decisions. Things might have been much better if he had not done.  But Dutt was like that, a child of the Russian Revolution. He was a student at Oxford and went to Russia at the time of the revolution and when he came back he was asked to sign a statement that he would not speak about his travels in Eastern Europe. He refused of course. Imagine, you have this man who has seen this picture of democracy, so-called, in Russia, and when he comes back is supposed to say nothing about it. He had come back into a democracy, you see, and he must not tell the truth.  I would say that that experience influenced Dutt a lot, although he was very much an independent man, the most independent I ever met.  He was very, very remarkable and competely superior to all those other people, Pollitt, Gollan  and so forth. but that got him into an awful lot of trouble with his fellows [John Gollan, 1911-77, General Secretary of the CPGB 1956-76].

                                                    *

People talk today about the Moscow Trials as if all decent people should have condemned them.  They forget that the trials put you on the spot. Russia was confronting fascism. You had to chose whether  you sided with Russia or her enemies.

                                                    *

When the War broke out in September 1939 I remember meeting Palme Dutt in Leicester Square and asking him how things were. He loyally gave me the party line, which was to support the war, about which I was one of the few who was sceptical at the time, although I learned afterwards that he had been a minority of one on the Political Commttee in opposing it. During the first weeks of the phoney war they were all in favour of participating, except Dutt. Then when the Comintern line changed following the Nazi-Soviet pact, they changed and adopted Dutt’s view and opposed participation. Pollitt was out of the Political Committee for a while. It was a traumatic time and real unity was only restored wth the attack on Russia in June 1941. I was a youngster of no consequence at the time. Even now though, I do not know if we were right in the view we held. Who is to say? I never got a chance to ask Dutt what he thought about that time. He was not a man for reminiscence.  

                                                    *

That the Republican Congress in the 1930s was an unfortunate mistake? Did I write that? What one puts in letters or says in passing are not to be considered as public works; they should not be regarded as of the same importance. [The Republican Congress,1934-36, was an alliance of left Republican, communist and trade union groups led by Peadar O’Donnell, Sean Murray, George Gilmore and Frank Ryan. It split on the issue of whether its objective should be a Republic, which is a democratic demand, or a Workers’ Republic, which is a left-wing or socialist one. Many of its members joined the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39, and several died in Spain.]  Of course it did not succeed. One of the things it did was to send so many men to Spain who did not return. The Comintern wanted more Englishmen to fight against Franco, so Harry Pollitt  brought pressure on the left-wing Irish Republicans to join in; and Irish Republicanism is weakened to this day as a result [Harry Pollitt, 1890-1960, CPGB general secretary 1929-1956]. Pollitt was always at Sean Murray to get Irish people to go to Spain, and it was none of his business [Sean Murray, 1898-1961, Irish Communist leader, fought in the Irish war of independence; born in Co. Antrim of Catholic background; helped establish the 1934 Republican Congress with the left-wing Republican Peadar