The United Kingdom’s mainstream media has made much of the 40th anniversary of the 1968-69 student demonstrations, to call them a revolt or insurrection as some are, is to over-egg the pudding somewhat. Even people like Tariq Ali appear to have lost all reality about these events, seemingly believing that a comparatively small group of students, musicians, writers and sundry middle class intellectuals can create an insurrectionary movement capable of taking on the UK and French state’s. Ali wrote in a Counter-punch article entitled Storming Heaven, * “An invigorating political, cultural and intellectual fever dazzled the world. In France, the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was at the peak of his influence.” Really Tariq, what a small world you must have lived in, whilst in middle class intellectual adolescent circles Sartre may well have held sway; and may have even done a spot of dazzling I suppose, but just down the road in the Renault factories Sartre’s pretentious ramblings hardly registered with French workers; and Tariq’s hero was regarded as a bit of a poseur who has a habit of using his wife as his procuress.
Perhaps before writing this, Tariq would have been wiser to ponder the fact that many of his fellow middle class ‘revolutionaries’ from those days, went on to support right wing governments both in France and the UK. Thus it is difficult not to conclude far from a thorough immersion in revolutionary politics, their indoctrination in left politics was more of a very lite summer shower. Is it any wonder that the media has been lionizing these mockney revolutionaries whilst a far more important anniversary passed without hardly a comment in either the mainstream media or the left press, but more on that later.
As to events in the UK in 1968, Tariq Ali writes, “Compared to elsewhere, as Mick Jagger sang in ‘Street-fighting Man,’ not all that much happened in Britain that year: university occupations and riots in Grosvenor Square did not pose a real threat to the Labour Government.”
Run that by me again Tariq “not all that much happened in Britain that year.”
In that year within a part of the UK the seeds were laid that germinated into the Irish Republican Movement’s insurrection against the British State, which was to last for 38 years and in response to this insurrection, the beginning of which seems to have passed Tariq Ali by, the British army put into practice Operation Banner, which was the longest-running military campaign in British history and which was drawn up in 1968-9.
At one time the British army had 25,700 troops serving in the six counties. During the course of the war 763 soldiers and police were killed by the various Republican factions; and 300 non combatant Irish men, women and children had their lives stolen by the British Army. Thirteen unarmed working class demonstrators were shot dead on the streets of Derry in 1972, on what became known as Bloody Sunday. In total 300,000 British military personnel served in the north of Ireland during Operation Banner which eventually came to an end in 2007.
But it seems for leftists like Tariq Ali, the men and women who fought the British State and its armed forces for over 38 years, were no more that Irish working class corner boys and girls. Whilst the students who threw a few stones in Paris and Grosvenor Square whilst tapping their toes to ‘All You Need is Love,’ were the nucleus of a middle class students movement and intellectuals who could have become the core of a vanguard socialist party, instead of what actually occurred, middle class professionals and the core support base of the Thatcherite revolution. Whilst Tariq tells his readers that he and his student comrades dreamed in the late 1960s about occupying the US embassy, in 1972 these working class revolutionaries actually burnt down the British Embassy in Dublin.
As to the anniversary I mentioned above, which Anthony McIntyre reminded us of when he wrote on his blog ‘The Pensive Quill.** “The 5th of May is a solemn occasion in the [Irish]republican calendar. Few republicans young or old would fail to instantly recognize it as the date on which the leader of the H Blocks IRA, Bobby Sands, lost his life after a 66 day hunger strike against the degenerate policies of a malign and murderous British government.”
Of course the reason Bobby had become the victim of what Anthony correctly describes as a malign and murderous British government, was because Sands and the Irish Republican volunteers he commanded in the Maze prison, along with their brothers in INLA, struggled unflinchingly every waking hour for political status; and by doing so revealed the ‘liberal’ British state in all its inhumanity, barbarity, duplicity and vindictiveness. Unlike the student generation who protested in 1968-9 these young working class Irishmen posed a real threat to the British State as their courage and determination sent out a clarion call around the world, that no matter how high the British built their prison walls and how brutally they treated those they imprisoned, they could never douse the flame for freedom and dignity that burnt in these young peoples hearts.
Thus not only should this date be a solemn occasion in the Irish republican calendar, it should be carved into the memory of every fighter for human emancipation. For just as the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising marked a turn away from the bloody meat grinder that was WW1 and lit up a path for all the oppressed of the British Empire and beyond. The Irish republican prisoners resistance in the Maze and Armagh prisons, gave real dignity to the masses and all those who resist oppression.
Now that is an anniversary worth celebrating.