Taking a stand against the slaughter

The Irish Neutrality League
and the Imperialist War
1914-18
Published by PANA

Reviewer: Michael Halpenny

In the present commemoration-fest around the First World War you could be forgiven for thinking that no one ever asked the question at the time – “Why should we be involved in this imperialist conflict?”

Yet to their undying credit some, a minority admittedly, including our own union did, and decided to march to a different drumbeat – that of opposition to the war.

This recent publication by the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) tells their story.

Some in Europe opposed the war because of their strongly-held Christian values: some because they were pacifists. Others, many of them from the left were not pacifists, and viewed the war as a contest between competing imperial powers in which they and workers generally should play no part.

In Dublin, the banner over Liberty Hall in that autumn of 1914 said it all: “We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser, But Ireland”

In England socialists such as Keir Hardie, George Lansbury (grandfather of actor Angela) and the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst campaigned against the war, while thousands of “conscientious objectors were later jailed or forced into uniform at the front. (Though not a pacifist, one of those was war resister and Irish trade unionist, John Swift senior).

In Germany one pacifist, Otto Umfrid, described their endeavours as akin to “fixing a truck rolling into a precipice with a thread of silk”. Other Germans, such as socialists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, were jailed for treason.

Ireland saw the coming together of a broad but disparate group of socialists, trade unionists, pacifists, feminists, republicans and nationalists under the banner of the short-lived Irish Neutrality League (INL). Its initial meeting, chaired by James Connolly, resolved to respond to John Redmond’s recruitment drive for the British Army and the tsunami of jingoism and war hysteria.

As the editor Roger Cole of Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) notes “… its core ideology was to unite all of those opposed to the imperial war and to promote Irish independence and neutrality”.

Writer, Francis Devine, gives an extensive history of the INL, and notes that in a circular of October 5, 1914, the League warned that efforts were being made by the British government and employers to force young male workers into the army – what they termed “commercial conscription”.

Historian, Margaret Ward deals with the contribution of Countess Markievicz to the INL’s activities. Aidan Lloyd with that of pacifist Francis Sheehy Skeffington’s while Jack O’Connor points to the relevance of the League’s core principles today as Europe’s ruling elites flex their muscles on both the economic and military fronts.

He argues: “We must hold firm to our union’s traditional policy of support for Irish neutrality and non-alignment…”

This publication shines a light on a little discussed and unfashionable aspect of our history, that of neutrality, but one which in the words of Francis Devine “should not be obscured”, not least because it is certain where Connolly would stand on those same issues today.

Available from PANA at http://www.pana.ie : email info@pana.ie

This review is posted courtesy of Liberty Magazine and PANA and with acknowledgement to the reviewer Michael Halpenny.

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Many shades of seduction

Fifty Shades of Grey
By E L James
Arrow Books
Reviewer: Janet M O’Brien

What motivates 100 million readers around the globe to read three installments of an erotic novel that received negative reviews with literary critics giving the style ‘no prizes’ for its prose? It has even been described as ‘poorly written’? But let’s face it; romance sells. Add explicit sexual acts that involve bondage, dominance and submission and we have a formula that traps readers as they are enticed vicariously and seduced. Once the reader is bonded (pun intended) to this intimate interplay, seduction is complete.

Through the ages female sexuality has been the subject of fascination for many male writers. Fanny Hill, Moll Flanders, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and the exploits of the notorious Molly Bloom, were all written by men. In more recent years, Anais Nin, Erica John, Linda Jaivin and Nicky Gemmell have evened the score to some degree and now E L James has blown away any traces of male dominance.

Times and women have changed. A recent national survey of Australian women has shown that there is a sexual revolution taking place and that women are very much to the fore when it comes to being adventurous as far as sex is concerned. This cultural shift has led to the burgeoning of erotic romance novels and chick-lit. The survey found that women of all ages now have a more liberal attitude to sex than any group surveyed including men of all ages and teenagers.

This trilogy is a page turner, 1624 pages to be precise; the reader is seduced from the outset with the prolonged sexual sequences. In particular, millions of women are enjoying the uninhibited sexual content. Every sex scene is fresh, explicit and varied. No two scenes read the same. Even so, at times, I skimmed some of the sex scenes to return to the development of the characters and the progress of the relationship.

Anastasia Steele, the narrator, is a young graduate who is introduced to the enigmatic and intimidating Christian Grey when she is persuaded by her friend to interview him for a student newspaper. Grey subsequently pursues Ana and introduces her to his vast wealth and power and the terms he imposes on women that are prepared to be his “submissive”. It turns out that Grey has very explicit sexual tastes and is not “a hearts and flowers kind of guy”. And he wants control over every aspect of her life. A complex relationship ensues as Ana considers his list of contractual requirements once she’s been introduced to his ‘play room’. Even though she is shocked, she finds him irresistible and wants to get close to him. So she is willing to expose herself to the extremes of his sexual needs.

Ana is no submissive. Her relationship is one that demands equal power. She yearns for romance in the traditional sense and the challenge for Grey is whether he can let go of his demons; the origins of his inability to love. In turn, he too is seduced by Ana’s independent spirit and quiet intelligence.

This is no Cinderella story, but a narrative of male/female relationships that fits the modern era. Grey seduces Ana, Ana seduces Grey and the author has seduced millions of readers with sales that far surpass novels such as “Justine” and “The Story of O” which so shocked previous generations. With “Fifty Shades of Grey” that goes to “ Fifty Shades Darker” before emerging as “ Fifty Shades Freed” E L James explores the pleasures and pains of romantic love while recognizing that sexuality is the most powerful driving force in human experience.

 

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Examining the world of work

The Empty Raincoat
By Charles Handy
Arrow Books

Reviewer: J.A. O’Brien

In THE EMPTY RAINCOAT: MAKING SENSE OF THE FUTURE, Professor Charles Handy addresses the “confusion” that stems from the “pursuit of efficiency and economic growth” in the name of progress. And he asks how work can be “re-grounded in a natural sense of continuity, connection and purposeful direction”.

In a world where organisations are growing without growing the labour force, he sees hope in the growth of independent workers, he says, “Organisations will still be critically important in the world, but as organisers not employers”.

Discussing the many “paradoxes of our times” he points out that as “productivity” means more work from fewer people we are at the same time seeing the growth of the “do-it-yourself economy” and the self-employment sector.

“This is not a temporary paradox, governments and the unemployed please note. Society and individuals will have to get more used to the do-it-yourself economy as the new growth sector. Most of us are going to be in it, whether we like it or not. Better technology means more and more of us can run businesses or services by ourselves”.

Four of Professor Handy’s previous books have dealt with “organisations” and their impact on how people work and live. In a previous work, ‘The Age of Unreason’, he presented “an optimistic view” of the way work was being reshaped. ‘The Empty Raincoat’ retains this optimism but at the same time questions the functions of organisations more closely. And while he is hopeful for the individual in society, he is “more chary” as he says, in “offering general solutions to our individual predicaments”.

“We are not where we hoped to be”, he tells us. Perhaps that is why he followed this book with one that is titled ‘Beyond Certainty’.

For five years Professor Handy, though a layman, contributed to “Thought for the Day”, a religious reflection slot on BBC Radio Four. He has been described as “A renegade professor of business with theological affinities” and in ‘The Empty Raincoat’, he asks that we rediscover “a respect for something otherworldly, something beyond ourselves”.

Even so there is radical intent in his work. Handy offers a blueprint that can be adapted to the needs of companies and individual freelancers in many industries and many nations, and provides a philosophy to support the agents of change.

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The diary of an emigrant and dissenter

Against the Wind
By J. A. O’Brien

Reviewer: Michael Halpenny

The full title of this book is Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner. However, this is not the diary of someone strenuously opposed to the Good Friday Agreement, but rather the thoughts of a working class writer, bricklayer and one time member of an earlier Republican movement, who grew up in the Dublin of the 1940s and 50s and left to work outside Ireland.

As such it is different from many books of its type which reflect the experience of those from a more rural or “provincial” setting. Donal MacAmhlaigh’s Dialann Deorai (Diary of an Exile) or the earlier Rotha Mor an tSaol (The Hard Road to Klondike) by Donegal’s Michael MacGowan stand out as examples of such tales of the lives of migrant workers in England and North America, respectively.

Born in 1936, the author, James O’Brien, grew up in the South inner-city and went to St. Louis National School in Rathmines in the period quaintly referred to by the then “Free State” as the “Emergency”.

His father was a bricklayer and his mother worked in domestic service and he tells a colourful and sometimes heart-rending tale of the difficulties faced by working class families just trying to survive.

He also tells of the casual brutality of school life and the all-pervading oppression of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, in the South Circular Road area of the city, he was also exposed to different views and experiences, those of Protestant and Jewish neighbours which helped to broaden his mind.

In particular, he was lucky enough to be raised by strong, loving, but above all, independent and class-conscious parents who were not afraid to think for themselves or stand up for their rights if required.

Leaving school he became an apprentice bricklayer and there is a wonderful chapter on his initiation into the trade and the union, called Before the Green Cloth. He writes tenderly of first love and of his political awakening. This partly derives from his experience as an immigrant worker with Yorkshire miners.

The other impulse came from the IRA Border Campaign of the 1950s at a time when it was said that young men with ambition joined Fianna Fail and young men with principles joined the Republican Movement. James O’Brien joined the Movement. Young men like Charlie Haughey joined the party of Dev.

The book covers the period up to the 1960s, including his subsequent involvement with the Connolly Association and its work with the organised labour movement in England on the injustices in the North.

While his later life took him to Australia, this memoir stands out among those which tell a wider tale than interesting anecdotes about growing up in Dublin or other places in “the Rare Oul’ Times”.

It looks into the developing mind of a young person who is not only intensely observant of the world but conscious of their class and the challenges before it, and most critically, can convey it to the reader.

Michael Halpenny
Liberty
Nov/ Dec 2014 issue.

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Extracts from reviews of ‘Against The Wind’

O’Brien’s long held view is that it was necessary to remove the gun from Irish politics. Some years later the IRA came to the same conclusion. An erudite and entertaining read.
Bendigo Weekly

Ah, yes, the Irish sure do have a way with words – a very entertaining, humorous, intelligent, loving and proud memoir. More literary gold from the “Emerald Isle”.

Wendy O’Hanlon, Acres Australia

I loved this little bit of history about a big period of sadness that happened in a proud country where people stood solid for what they believed to be right and just. A powerful story written from a heart that witnessed the country he loved torn in two.

John Morrow’s, Pick of the Week

O’Brien weaves together the many threads of history and his own life to produce an informed tale that will interest many readers well beyond the globe’s enormous Irish Diaspora.

Robin Osborne, Media Adviser

The book will also appeal to the Irish Diaspora, as O’Brien’s memories of migration to and from England for work in the lean years of 1950s Ireland will resonate with many. As thousands continue to emigrate every week for places like Australia, O’Brien reminds us in his closing lines, ‘There are Irishmen and there are men from Ireland… I am as Ireland made me. Intentionally or not’.

Dr Sarah Campbell,
Modern Irish History
Newcastle University UK

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Another Milestone Reached

This post celebrates that Being Bookish has to date had visitors from 40 countries. Thanks to all who have taken the time to explore the site and have clicked on to the various links provided.

In response to requests I am posting an update on how readers may purchase copies of Against The Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner. Copies, both in print and as an e-book may be obtained from Amazon.com worldwide. E-books can also be downloaded from http://www.kobo.com and hard copies can also be purchased from most leading booksellers in Australia, (ISBN: 1-922086-53-3).

I also have a limited number of original copies for sale that I will sign and send on request. On current exchange rates the price including postage is:-

Within Australia; $24 .95 per copy.

Overseas; $35.00(AUD) or $26.00 (US) or 20.65 EURO.

Payment can be made as listed below:

PayPal to my e-mail address (jandjobrien@bigpond.com) or pay with credit card via a PayPal e-mail invoice from me (no need to be PayPal registered and no fee for purchaser).
Please notify when money is deposited if using PayPal as although they will notify me, they may not give your full shipping address.

Apart from this site other articles I have written may be viewed on http://www.thenewwildgeese.com a site I can highly recommend you explore.

The Wild Geese Irish Heritage Partnership: Celebrating Your Brand’s Irish Story ‘Wherever Green Is Worn’

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A book for our times

The End of Work
By Jeremy Rifkin,

Tarcher/Putnam, (NY).
350pp $26.95

Reviewer: J. A. O’Brien

“Global unemployment has now reached its highest level since the great depression of the 1930’s. More than 800 million human beings are now unemployed or underemployed in the world.”

With these words American economist and author Jeremy Rifkin introduces his radical analysis of “Technology, Jobs and Your Future,” – THE END OF WORK – and warns that we could be facing the demise of civilisation as we have come to know it.

From the start of the industrial revolution, machines have been replacing workers. On the land the horse-drawn plough was replaced by the tractor, and then came the combine harvester. And with each new invention, jobs in agriculture decreased and the farm hands became factory hands. But even as new jobs were being created in industry, technology was also “trimming them down as the assembly line followed the lathe, as drills and presses increased their speeds.” At the same time as jobs were being lost in manufacturing, new areas of employment were being created in “service” areas: clerks, typists, salespeople, nurses, teachers, doctors, lawyers, to name but a few.

Rifkin argues that “Service employment saved modern economies from absolutely devastating unemployment.”

Enter the computer – the Third Industrial Revolution begins and the service industries are no longer absorbing the overspill of workers from other areas. In Australian banks, the introduction of automatic teller machines and centralised telephone services has cost the jobs of 30,000 bank employees in the past five years. And the Finance Sector Union predicts “another 40,000 jobs will go,” if more banks are merged.

No longer can we expect a job for life.

Even workers in essential services like electricity, gas and water supply have had their numbers reduced by almost 25% since 1995. In the US more than 47,000 postal workers have been replaced by “automated machines capable of sight recognition.” The new silicone sorters can read addresses and sort mail faster than postal workers.

And it is not only the unskilled and semi-skilled that are being discarded. As the public and private sectors strive to “get more from less” managers and middle managers are joining the ranks of the unemployed.

Rifkin says, “In the 1980s more than 1.5 M mid-level management jobs were eliminated. In the 1990s their ranks are swelling to include upper-middle-management executives as well.”
As unemployment spreads across classes and nations in ever more automated global economy governments everywhere are being forced to admit that there is no “quick fix” to the problem.

He discusses proposals that governments should supply credit at low-interest rates to repair or build new infrastructure in order to revitalise depressed regions and communities. A policy advocated for their respective countries by Prince Charles in Britain and the late B.A. Santamaria in Australia.

But he does not see Public Works projects as being confined to menial work and says serious consideration should be given to include social wages for skilled workers and “even management and professional workers whose labour is no longer valued or needed in the market place.” And advocates “social wage” not welfare.

Rifkin examines proposals and “solutions” such as reducing working hours, job sharing, cutting back on overtime – all requiring the consent of employers, unions and those who still have jobs.

Rethinking the nature of work he regards as the single most pressing concern facing society and he sees it happening through Non Government Organisations and what he terms the “Third Sector”. After the private and public sector he ranks “independent or volunteer” activity as being third in importance in any community. And he sees it as the “most socially responsible” of the three sectors. He cites examples of the many countries where government bodies are forging new working alliances with non-government organisations to create a “social economy”.

In France the government has been to the fore in training and placing the unemployed in third sector activities. A leading French economist says, “The social economy is not measured the way one measures capitalism, in terms of salaries, revenues etc…. The social economy is best understood in terms of results that add considerably to what traditional economics does not know how to or want to measure.”

With such provocative statements the book challenges us to examine our values and attitudes and to seek those results that best serve our world. The work should be standard reading for policy makers of all shades who may be inclined to be too “comfortable and relaxed”. The most sobering aspect of this book is that it was written before the Global Financial Crisis occurred.

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