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EAMONN McCANN pays tribute to controversial playwright JIM ALLEN.
Eamonn McCann, 04 Aug 1999
The socialist playwright Jim Allen, who died earlier this month, was a great fighter for freedom of speech. Predictably, he was let down by the literary set in Ireland.
Like all true socialists, Jim hated Stalinism as passionately as free-market capitalism. His screenplay for Ken Loach s epic Spanish Civil War film, Land and Freedom, stripped bare both the barbarism of the Franco regime and Soviet betrayal of the fight against fascism.
He found Ireland engrossing. His BBC epic series Days of Hope located the War of Independence in the rising of downtrodden people across Europe in the aftermath of the Great War. The connection between this wider class struggle, in Britain in particular, and the national struggle in Ireland is rarely acknowledged either by Irish nationalists or British chauvinists.
Jim understood how all extreme nationalisms are mirror-images of one another. It was his exploration of this theme in his play, Perdition, which made him a hate figure for Zionists.
Perdition examined collusion between Zionism and Nazism in eastern Europe during World War Two. Cooperation between militant Jews and Nazis, at first sight grotesquely improbable, was founded on the fact that they shared one key idea that Jews are inherently different to Gentiles, to the extent that they can never be accepted, and shouldn t aspire towards acceptance into non-Jewish society.
This was the basis for the Final Solution and also for the establishment of Israel.
When the Royal Court in London buckled under pressure and cancelled Perdition with Gabriel Byrne in the lead three days before the opening night in 1987, Jim spent weeks searching for an alternative before reaching agreement with the Olympia in Dublin. But the howls of outrage arose again, and despite Gabriel Byrne s angry advocacy, Perdition was cancelled here, too.
It was only last month, a few weeks before his death, that the London theatre redeemed its shame with a well-received staging of the play at the Gate.
Dublin s deaf ear to Jim Allen is rarely mentioned in relation to censorship in Ireland. The booing of the Playboy, the abuse of the Plough, the cancellation of Tenessee Williams Rose Tattoo, the banning of books by Edna O Brien, the suppression of Ulysses, etc., etc: all these episodes are regularly recounted when the dark past is recalled. But never a mention that, as late as 1987, Dublin suppressed a serious play by a distinguished author featuring the leading Irish actor of the age.
Irish literary society has blotted out the shameful fact. I saw no mention of it in any of the news pieces announcing Jim s death.
The reason is that his ideas remain dangerous. We can laugh now at the foolishness of the ban on Girls With Green Eyes, The Ginger Man, etc. The attitudes underlying that sort of censorship seem quaint, and plain silly. But Jim Allen s ideas retain their jagged edge.
The Orange Order lies when it claims to speak for all Protestants in expressing hatred of Taigs. But there s nobody more delighted than Catholic sectarians to accept the lie as truth. Thus the mutually reinforcing nature of antagonistic nationalisms. Each sustains the other. From which it follows that to uproot one we must extirpate both.
It was this message which made Perdition unwelcome in Dublin.
Most commentators have missed the connection between Drumcree and Kosovo. I d have missed it myself if it hadn t been for Eamon Delaney, who wrote helpfully to the Irish Times (June 26th) wondering if those most voiciferous in criticising NATO will be as quick to condemn the torture and mass graves now being discovered in Kosovo .
Will we hear more , he went on , . . . from Eamonn McCann, whom I heard outside the US Embassy likening the NATO operation to the invasion of the Congo by King Leopold of Belgium .
Belgium. The Somme. Drumcree. Kosovo.
Readers will know that we were highlighting the oppression of Kosovo long before NATO planners decided that the atrocities of the Milosevic regime provided as good an excuse as they were going to get for expanding their military remit out of area . The first Hot Press article calling attention to the Kosovo question was published in February 1990.
Leopold s seizure of the Congo?
We have explained here, too, that the stated purpose of the Belgian invasion was to end slavery. Leopold II was feted around the world in the 1880s for his decisive action against Arab slavers when other world leaders were offering only words. Opponents of intervention were routinely castigated for lack of concern for the suffering of the native people, or accused outright of being in cahoots with the Arab slavers .
What happened once Belgium had consolidated control was the imposition of a sickeningly cruel regime. Belgian barbarism lasted until Congolese independence in 1961. The land, fabulously rich in natural resources, was sucked dry. Tens of millions were enslaved. Torture and mass killing were commonplace. Between six and eight million people were butchered up to 100,000 a year, for 80 years.
Something strikingly similar happened in 1914, when whole populations were whipped up into a moralistic frenzy about rape and murder by German imperialism as a means of recruiting them as cannon fodder for British imperialism. With savage irony, the suffering of little Catholic Belgium was especially highlighted in nationalist Ireland.
The thousands who rallied to the flag were flung contemptuously to death along the western front. The waste of human life at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 was among the worst war crimes of the century.
It is the Somme which is commemorated at Drumcree every year, with a specific focus on the Ulster men of the 36th Division. But the Orange Order doesn t remember them with rage against those responsible for their needless deaths. Rather, in the words of local leader Harold Gracey, the Order marches in proud memory of their sacrifice .
The Drumcree march is an annual endorsement of the sacrifice of working-class lives in the service of imperialism.
The Orangemen aren t alone in this. There is a ramp of Southern Irish commentators, of whom Kevin Myers (of the Irish Times) is the most strident, who regularly repeat the old lie that the Great War was a fitting conflict for Irish people to die in, and who argue for acceptance of this view as a help towards reconciliation with Northern Unionists.
North and South, these are the ideological descendants of the recruiting sergeants of 1914.
And thus it makes sense that they now cite the suffering of the Kosovars as reason for Ireland to involve itself again in imperialist war.
Again and again and again and again. n