The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Joe & Roy Johnston:
'Water Running Uphill'?
Father & Son, Scholars & Activists, Social Democrats & Marxist Republicans

Century of Endeavour. A Biographical & Autobiographical View of the Twentieth Century in Ireland by Roy H.W Johnston.
Carlow: Tyndall Publications in association with The Lilliput Press, Dublin. Rev. ed. 2006. €40.00. ISBN 1-8-4351-080-4.
For information: .

Book Review


Seaghán Ó Murchú • 14 December 2006

When my wife looked over at what, for many hours, I'd been reading and then annotating, she marvelled: 'That's the smallest type I've ever seen!' In the 576 densely printed pages of the joint biography of his father, Joe, and himself, Dr Roy Johnston compresses an enormous amount of what he acknowledges will be more source material for historians than a polished narrative. Belying the succinct review of an earlier near namesake, Dr (Sam) Johnson, unlike Paradise Lost, I did wish this tome to be longer. Readers of The Blanket have likely more than a few studies of the Provos on their shelves. But what became after the 1969-70 split the Official IRA and SF has never received in-depth treatment for its own sake, through primary sources that document the Republican Movement's politicisation that began around 1960 and that continued long after Roy J. left the increasingly brutalised, compromised, and militarised factions competing for control of the Officials in the early 70s. The period bookended by the defeat of Seán Cronin's Operation Harvest and the Séamus Costello-INLA fracture with the Officials aroused my initial interest. Yet, Johnston warns that this tumultuous span is merely one among many. As a physicist, consultant on the international development of science, and as a Quaker and Green activist, his career far pre- and long postdates his tenure as a leader of what became the Officials. He, like his father, accomplished much political work amidst their own academic, family, and professional commitments. Reading this auto/biography, both father and son demonstrate their idealism, their pragmatism, and the wisdom, rare in activists, to balance these two characteristics.

The first URL given above provides Roy's overview of the table of contents. Johnston ambitiously has underlined links in his book that refer to his own on-line archives. Readers can e-mail him at the address provided in the introduction to request hyperlink access. The creative potential of a book that never ends, that draws the permanence of print into the transience of the screen, matches the restless curiousity and fresh thinking that he and his father both brought to many vexed issues, often Irish, some scholarly, many political, often national, and then for Roy republican, Marxist, and democratic socialist, that have challenged these two Johnstons for the whole past century. This may be the one of the first academic works, at least for the Irish context (I presume that scientists already have pioneered such hybrid publications), that combines two media and expands the potential of the book to remain relevant in our cyber-creative realm.

Given the format, and the TOC link provided, I will summarise portions and analyze excerpts at an uneven pace. While most of my comments convey for The Blanket's audience the gist of the Republican-nationalist content, I remind you that this is but part of Roy's meticulous discourse. He begins the book, and also each chapter, with a précis. A sample of this from the start of the book can be seen at:

Joe Johnston (1890-1972) of Tyrone smallholder Presbyterian stock, had three brothers in the Indian Civil Service. His family supported Home Rule within a democratic Britain. His 1913 study, Civil War in Ulster (republished in 1999; edited by Roy for UCD Press), provides a 'current affairs' treatment of the Larne gunrunning and its aftermath. Joe sensibly addressed his fellow Protestants, advocating law rather than rebellion, urging that Home Rule should be preferred to Tory manipulation of Unionists against the Liberals. Joe, a TCD classics fellow turned economist, inspired by Horace Plunkett, ran the Dublin University's Co-Op. Post-Rising, he astutely observed emerging Sinn Fein leaders who were 'well-read, well-travelled and earnest' (30) They roused the poor with idealistic political rhetoric. But, after rallying the 'labouring classes', SF 'then devoted itself to an object which could avail them nothing. That was probably a condition of its receipt of certain funds.' Joe, who favoured an all-Ireland Home Rule, apparently suspected already that SF carried within its ranks two fatal flaws: zealotry and chicanery. The father's judgment of SF would be repeated by the son over fifty years later.

Disagreeing with Partition, warning against premature referenda, Joe early saw that his wishes to better Irish society could fulfill themselves better in financially-focused efforts. While he served in the Seanad 1939-54, he devoted most of his career to economic history, lecturing, writing, and especially to co-operative programs. The land reforms attempted by the new regime post-1922, he reasoned, would not succeed. Better to place ten farmers on 300 acres where, in co-operative organisation, they could benefit from each other's expertise. Instead, the 30 acres per smallholder redistribution, Joe opined, enticed the greed of Fianna Fáil's gombeen men. Families unable to farm their land sold low to crafty neighbours. Accumulation of wealth back into the hands of a few resumed. Seeking to escape this bourgeoisie trap, Joe developed an 'obsession' that his son shared: they hated 'the negative effects of Partition, which had produced the Catholic-hegemonist environment in the "republic" within which critical thought was decidedly unwelcome, and the obverse Protestant-hegemonist northern scene.' (157-8) By 1960, Joe had to emigrate to London to support himself and his family.

By then, his son would accompany him. Roy, born 1929, early in the Promethean student group at St Columba's College in suburban Dublin continued his father's drive to better himself and others through democratically leftist, people-oriented, anti-statist strategies, But, Roy began early also to lean towards European Marxism. Father and son may have long differed on the economic methods employed, but both sought to transform post-colonial malaise into innovative energy. Fighting partition, sectarianism, and parochialism would impel activist Roy to change his nation no less than did the careful labours of his father, a scholar who longed for the farm.

Roy in the late 1940s, furthering Promethean plans, entered TCD. Fellow Marxists, he found there, too readily gripped what he calls 'the dead hand of Stalinism'. The student left at university fell into a gap between their Marxist vision and 'the intellectual requirements of Irish radical political practice as it then was. Into this vacuum flowed the resurgent IRA of the subsequent decade.' (97) Working from the mid-1950s with particle physics on the Continent, Roy began to communicate with scientists through international conferences and networks. Why, he mused, could not a similar support system strengthen the beleaguered Irish radical left?

Roy quotes Greaves' 1956 diary with its demonstrative anecdote. 'When some Party activist held an open air meeting Falls Road and Shankill Road hooligans combined to attack him. "Working class unity at last" says Roy....' (153) The dogmatic Marxism then on offer for earnest Irish radicals, unfortunately, complicated arrangements across the Iron Curtain. The party line led to the Kremlin. At TCD, Roy had gravitated towards the considerable pull exerted by C. Desmond Greaves. British Communists, logical allies of the tiny Irish far-left, sought a common front with which to tackle the 'national question'. The Connolly Association represented the progressive interests of the Irish in Britain, but their Irish counterparts lacked CA's experience. Their Dublin organisation, the Irish Workers' League, predictably became in the 50s still more mired in its internal Cold War contradictions. Unable to turn away from the Man of Steel, Irish leftists unblinkingly entered into the hypnotic spell exerted by the Comintern upon their British and European comrades. 'There was, however, nowhere else for the aspirant radical critical intellectual to go. The present writer stuck with in, and fought for a genuine critical view where and when he could.' (118)

Greaves continued to influence Roy, who combined his scientific experimentation with high-energy particle physics first in France and then at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies. Post-Hungary 1956, the Stalin monolith began to crack, and at least in theory a 'broad Left' Irish alliance was mooted. The CPGB and the CA bickered, Roy continued to shuttle back and forth —at one point working in reservations systems design for Aer Lingus— like so many of his peers between Dublin and London. There, Roy managed to mingle socially with both the Labour trade activists with whom he organised and the Communists who, of course, despised their liberal neighbours and so drank at another pub. This diplomatic skill would be honed in the 60s and 70s, and severely tested as the splits widened.

Meanwhile, Roy had initiated correspondence with the IRA chief-of-staff Seán Cronin. The Northern campaign of the late 1950s having failed by 1962, Greaves that November emerged with —Roy credits him as the 'prime mover'— the "'Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland" concept'. (168) By summer 1963, the CA's Anthony Coughlan (who receives extensive acknowledgment throughout for his own archival and critical contributions to Roy's study) and Roy joined others first gathered around QUB and then TCD who had convened the think-tank/ ginger-group The Wolfe Tone Society. Johnston notes that Cathal Goulding did not seek to ally this "Directory' with the then-'vestigial' IRA. SF minutes 'show only "fuzzy" knowledge" of WTS. (174) Still, even then, harbingers of RM internal struggle lurk. Seán MacStiofain's 1975 memoirs red-bait Roy. He and Coughlan have often since been suspected of being suspiciously London-based, if purportedly Irish, agents (or higher ranks) of the Kremlin's puppets, of the British Communists as mastered under Moscow-loyal Greaves. Such allegations against Roy and Anthony, since MacStiofain's 70s memoir, have haunted many histories of the IRA.

Taking pains to explain, Roy's book —for the first time in print that I am aware— realigns the plot. Cathal Goulding and Seamus Costello, among others, had prior to Roy's 'time of active association with the movement' sought to pull republican activists towards the left, if for the physical-force traditionalist MacStiofain too far towards the East. Roy does not blame MacStiofain (who lord knows incurred plenty of blame by the 1970s) himself. He surmises that the future Provo had been misled regarding Roy and Anthony by Goulding's own tentative inquiries towards Moscow when Seán and Cathal were in jail in 1953 and then when Goulding as Chief-of-Staff contacted the Soviet Embassy in 1963 regarding support. (Cathal was told that Moscow backed only governments, not 'revolutionary movements'!) (171)

Allying with the radical left complicated the loyalties within this embryonic RM. Roy resisted a 'simplistic, two-class model of traditional Marxism'. George Russell, Plunkett, and father Joe J. —perhaps subconsciously at the time for Roy— wished to involve 'worker-managers and self-employed' along with the usual ranks of 'workers'. (178) Co-ops encouraged, and represented, democracy at social, industrial, and commercial levels. The State did not have to loom so large.

This attraction, by mid-1964, moved Roy away from the IWL into taking a leading role in the WTS. Goulding 'wanted help in converting the IRA from an illegal army into a democratically disciplined political movement reflecting the interests of the working people as a whole, broadly based on the socialist ideas of Marx, as adapted by Connolly to the Irish situation.' (179) The 'politicising republicans' in Roy's vision could ally with trade unions, rural co-ops, smallholding farmers, Gaeltacht initiatives, and local 'Civil Liberties' advocates. Unfortunately in this reviewer's opinion, the 1964 SF Ard Fheis proposal for 'a national scheme of resistance to foreign takeover of land and industry' remained rhetoric. Ambitious plans, few to carry them out.

The 'overlay of militarist irrendentism' that marred the IRA, Johnston emphasises, weakened the 'activist visionaries' among these progressive republicans. Fenian-IRB veneration could press as dead a hand upon the RM as that of an embalmed Lenin. A couple hundred volunteers were canvassed. Whether they all accepted the leftist shift, or whether 'sea-green incorruptibles' were instructed to support it, appears uncertain. (188) The Army Council, under the presumed sway of Goulding and Costello, Roy estimates, tried to 'impose' its '"advanced thinking'". (188) Many who joined the Dublin unit, Johnston avers, sought 'romantic militarism', or a sense of adventure' (185) Roy starting in March 1965 serves 'on behalf of [Goulding's] HQ staff' as the IRA's 'political education officer'. This same spring, the organising and ideological roots of what a year later would blossom as NICRA began by WTS and trade unions to be planted.

The seeds of conflict within the RM would also soon sprout. The June 1965 Special Ard Fheis under its 'civil society enabling proposals' had considered that 'the essential work of the republican movement at present is the development of political and agitational activities and the infiltration and direction of other organisations' (188) Although this was amended to 'the giving of leadership, internally and externally', the implication remains. Added to this directive was 'the involvement of other organisations in struggles for limited objectives as a preparation for an ultimate confrontation with the British Government on the national issue.' (189) Johnston insists that encouragement, indirect or direct, for 'traditional elitist "army" thinking' should never exist alongside 'non-violent initiatives such as the NICRA, by those who were at this time promoting the politicisation process.' (188-189) He concludes that the [Neil]'Blaneyite approach' of physical-force violence to fight violence only pushed the RM into sectarian defense of the 'Catholic ghettoes' and doomed the efforts of NICRA. These activists, in his family's tradition, sought inclusive participation. They barred none on the dubious basis of a suspect class, origin, creed, or occupation that had on both the republican and loyalist sides denigrated fellow Irish citizens. Johnston supported broader fronts of unions, co-ops, progressives, workers in an all-Ireland campaign for civil change. He rejected doomed guerrilla and paramilitary warfare within or against Britain. With Connolly's 'Ralahine chapter in Labour in Irish History as a model', Johnston argues, the solution proves an 'economic democracy' by 'non-violent' methods. (190)

Such a principled stance allowed Johnston, as the Troubles began to stir, to remain a RM leader.

These secular verities also clashed with sectarian militias and tribal allegiances, with the Crown and Orangemen, with Stalinist dogma, and with those within SF and the IRA who ultimately chanted a rote sum —even if they never admitted it within earshot— republican + Catholic = RM.

Surprisingly, Peadar O'Donnell resented the younger republicans; he suspected their motives. Michael O'Riordain and Jim Prendergast's miniscule CPI endured, on the deference granted by the International Brigades' credentials of these two veterans. In Belfast, Betty Sinclair doggedly managed to lobby for CR along with Communism. However, the lapse into sectarianism soon severed CP & IWP ties with working-class Belfast Protestants. Roy's hopes for a non-sectarian NLF that defied Partition faded. CR, in his judgement, mutated into a 'crypto-nationalist' issue. (242) Protestant trade unions found their idealistic calls for 'one man, one vote' and fairness in local government elections ignored. Polarisation returned. CA & IWP pondered alliances with organised labour and NICRA, but again the disorganisation, ideological fluctuations, and comparatively small amounts of reliable activists discouraged the evolution of the RM 'into an all-Ireland democratic Marxist party having broad-based support from workers, working management, working owner-managers and self-employed.' (228) The end of the Prague Spring hastened the irrelevance of the CPNI and IWP. Greaves' own loyalty to Moscow, even after the tanks crushed the Czech protestors, accelerated Johnston's direction towards other mentors.

A National Liberation Front appealed, but by now it was too little, too late. In hindsight, Roy notes that if the split had happened earlier between Costello's eager militarists and Goulding's radical progressives, the IRA and SF would have emerged more forcefully to represent socialist republicanism as the movement's ideological foundation and practical application. The momentum that goaded marchers from Belfast to Derry and knowingly provoked the attackers at Burntollet , in Johnston's opinion, would have been halted. The slippery slope into shooting could have been prevented. Costello seems to have played his cards close to his vest, and Johnston appears to have believed in the later 1960s that Costello was among the politicising republicans more than those who favoured a return to the armed campaign. He is the impetus, so it seems, for the continuation of the Officials with physical force despite the split. Johnston also proposes that the Provos, if the reactionaries had been outflanked and cast out before 1969, would not have been able to capitalise on the perceived impotence of Goulding's politicised IRA.

Perhaps there is a contradiction, for Johnston assumes that the political campaign would have united communities and overcome divisions. His expectation of a dream that could have been fulfilled makes his memoir poignant. Despite his even-handed, determinedly detached point-of-view his regret lingers. One wonders if three thousand lives could have flourished, if countless more Irish and British men and women could have been spared pain. The collapse of the political resolution to the 'national question' cripples us still. He admits that NICRA, WTS and ICCL all acted individually more than collectively. When political progress began in the North, no peaceful, democratic, all-Ireland coalition had developed to take advantage of this opportunity. 'Fianna Fáil irredentism took over, with a strong Catholic-nationalist flavour'. (232) Whether this regression to armed conflict could have been thwarted by a broad-front, in my reading of Johnston's narrative, remains a conundrum. Republicans and nationalists could not control the opposition who itched to jump into battle, Among the RM ranks as well as across the barricades, the border, and the Irish Sea many paced and drilled with no patience for Kumbaya and sit-ins.

Later in the book, Johnston also acknowledges dirty tricks. The role of the British intelligence operatives here to discredit the soon-to-be 'official' IRA cannot be denied, and unimpeachable evidence during this period of cause and effect can elude not only present historians and recollecting participants. As Johnston analyses the general cause and effect, the 'armed B-Special pogroms of August 1969' incited reaction by hardline militants who lacked political direction, espoused sectarian prejudice, and who regressed into roles that their grandfathers had enacted on the stages of Larne in 1913 and the street theatre of 1920-22 Belfast. (232)

What about the nationalist politicians on both sides of the border? Blaney receives contempt for playing into such guerrilla posturing. Bernadette Devlin, a product of the student anarchist QUB 'ultra-left,' lacked the skills needed to represent the Civil Rights movement. Paris with its youthful Maoist poses inspired Peoples Democracy. NICRA's moderation dimmed its spotlight. Riots, moratoriums, and power demanded by any means necessary trumped marchers patiently lobbying for tenants' rights, community action, and cross-community efforts.

The 1968 Ard Fheis managed to defend the IRA and SF against its own rebels, but next year's split now became inevitable. The 'IRB military conspiratorial tradition' displayed the 'futility of military structures in politics'. (251) Refusal of constitutional options, adulation of abstentionism, and most of all the hobbling fetish of 'the physical force as principle' Fenian culture doomed Coughlan and Johnston's construction of a 'democratic popular culture, based on class alliances and common interests' rather than 'pathology' of a reactionary RM bitterly opposed to its own politicisation. (256)

The 1969 Belfast 'pogrom', Johnston suggests, was initiated by ultra-loyalists within the RUC. He estimates that the plans came from the 'top-down' to aggravate the IRA hardliners. 'To go for the guns was what the enemy wanted'. (262)

He finds in the CR demands published in the United Irishman in September 1969 parallels with the GFA. The Officials defended their political ideals, cross-border vision, and Marxist theory. He offers an intriguing aside. In late 1969 amidst what would result in the Arms Trial, he muses that Fianna Fáil feared its exposure as a 'moneyed mafia'. Land deals, such as those Joe had earlier protested in the 1930s and 40s, now favoured urban developers. (As an aside, consider how much Haughey and his cronies incur condemnation for the demolishment of so much of Georgian Dublin. Not to mention later at Wood Quay.) Grassroots politicking systems rotted as the working class remained enthralled by FF. This scenario reminds me of John McGahern's stories. I recall his old IRA veterans who simmer with controlled rage against the 26 Counties, yet were among the first to serve-as did his father in life as well as his fictional doppelganger- in the Garda Síochana. Among such willingly co-opted malcontents, FF remained if only by default or habit in local power. Such a cosy status quo could be toppled by a revived leftist movement that, as it had threatened to do in the 1920s and 1930s, rapped against Leinster House.

Cross-community democracy and the threat of a united left, Roy holds, sparked a vicious reprisal against politicising republicans. Thus, by implication, the token resolutions or clandestine shipments northwards from Leinster House towards the Provo QM's Whether intended as symbolic or not, the association of FF with the republicans, cynically and neatly, bolstered Haughey's long-term success and the claims of his party to republican bona fides. Who suffered? Not only the Catholics in the ethnic cleansing that followed in Belfast, but those who sought to erase such identifications in the name of an inclusive, secularised, and democratically socialist Ireland. I note that neither 'two nations' thesis nor stagist theory- of which comes first, national unification or the proletariat's triumph- enters Johnston's analysis. Although he does cite Brendan Clifford, whose Athol Press has published Marxian studies that can be traced to the same influences within which Johnston and Coughlan worked, Roy avoids rarified aridity.

How should Marxist policy direct militant strategy? The debate deepened rifts within the RM. Johnston determines that by March 1970, Goulding 'wanted Belfast to be undefended, and to use the ensuing situation politically to get the B-Specials disarmed. This however gave the Provisionals the role of "defenders of the people".' (284) The subsequent charge that the 'official IRA' gave away their arms to a 'Free Wales Army'- Johnston guesses this to be another British product of the 'dirty tricks department'- seems to arise from the turmoil of this spring. (286) The fatal attraction between the top-down military structure wished for by the physical-force proponents and the Stalinist CPI doomed the left-republican alliance. Johnston's broad front broke into its components: PD, NICRA, 'orange communists', Provos and Officials. Both what Johnston labels the Stalinist and the Fenian tendencies shared pathological sources in 'party-driven machine-voting in a context where a broad knowledge-based movement was most needed'. (311) CR activists were shunted aside, and the elitist qualities endemic to the traditional IRB-derived republican hauteur of the martyred few who acted on behalf of the workers are, Johnston reminds us, 'the antithesis of that projected for the type of left-wing democratic activist organisation that since 1965 or so we had been trying to build'. (314) He adds: 'This was the beginning of the end or my association with the movement.'

When the actual resignation occurred remains somewhat hazy. Still, after the start of 1972, amidst the Senator Barnhill 'episode' and the Aldershot 'incident', the Officials had played the same hand as their Provo former comrades. The gun had silenced the ideals for which Roy had spent nearly a decade in attempting to move republicans towards a non-sectarian NLF. Costello's admiration for Stalin 'because he used to rob banks for the Bolsheviks' reveals the level to which those who had once claimed to have shared Johnston and Coughlan's principles had regressed. (322) I note as a relevant aside that Johnston here also cites Tomás Mac Giolla who claimed that Tim Pat Coogan and some of his fellow Irish Press journalists were implicated along with Jack Lynch's government in diverting the CR struggle into the Official-Provo splits. (321-322)

Johnston had pulled out, he recalls, in January, yet continued to remain on good terms with his RM colleagues, and assisted their 'internal education programme'; the internment of so many republicans, the 'perceived military objectives', and the fact that so many other republicans were on the run made continued involvement untenable. (322) At this time, he also parted with his early mentor C. Desmond Greaves. Greaves had always rejected Johnston's effort to advance Marxism within republicanism. Greaves opposed also Johnston's wish to expand neo-Marxist tenets to welcome 'direct democratic control over the capital investment process by the people concerned'. (323) Greaves, as with so many orthodox radicals (quite an oxymoron?), could not allow the state to be 'a referee and not a player' in a 'market socialism model'. Johnston, rightly, traces the course of his ideas into the left-green convergence that inspire today's Green Party and, in Johnston's view, a broad-minded and typically inclusive rather than exclusive vision that he advocates as the truest rendition of Connolly's vision for Ireland. Again, the continuity of Joe Johnston's promotion of Connolly's writings in the 1920s to working-class night students in economics at TCD with Roy's own commitment to a socialist coalition that sought not to stoke class war but commercial peace shows that father and son remained faithful to their own visions.

A telling anecdote: Joe to the Irish Times had written in December 1970 that if Nelson's column had not been blown up but replaced ceremoniously with the figure of Wolfe Tone, the significance of this change on Dublin's main street would have been obvious, and would have furthered national unity more than the prank of a few republican rascals under the cover of night.

Later in the 1970s, Roy assisted the CPI with his efforts to integrate technological transfer of information between scientists from across the globe. Greaves, O'Riordain, Eoin Ó Murchú united to undermine Johnston's project. Joe's Dublin University Co-Op Society, perhaps fittingly, also died out in 1972, the year of Roy's departure from the Officials. In 1978, the last gasp of the Wolfe Tone Society expired.

Techne Associates, a commercial brokerage for scientific innovation, engaged Johnston in the next decade. From advising Labour, he moved into what would become the Green Party. Here, his dream, first conceived in the 1950s in France when he worked as a particle physicist, returned. The post-colonial model provided his next challenge. Science seemed too focused on the internal, while the imperial State's demands for technological growth appeared, in the Irish history of scientific and technological endeavours, to conflict. Cultural upheaval from pluralist tendencies worsened the stress for Irish scientists. The example of the Irish-born Marxist scientist JD (father of Martin) Bernal provided the best example of such tension that drove creative minds away towards success across the Irish Sea. The lessons learned, or those that could be avoided, from study of the Irish experience could, Johnston reasoned, educate Third World policy makers and development experts.

The 1990s found Johnston increasing his Green Party involvement. Its ideological exchanges allowed room for his re-thinking of the 'marginalised' aspects of past efforts to match idealism with pragmatism- anarcho-syndicalists, Guild socialists, co-operativists- that in the collapse of Stalinist centralized idolatry of the State might enrich future creativity among communities. Roy reminds leftists that if Marxism is to remain at all relevant, abandonment of 'top-down' schemes that perpetuate 'a centralist imperial system' must replace foolish dogma and heartless doctrine. He remains active, writing to Gerry Adams about the 1994 cease-fire, contributing to the Opsahl Commission, urging reform of the Orange Order, advising cultural minorities in the North. He hopes for a continuation of George Gilmore's Republican Congress, extended into the dimensions of decentralised Green participation and grassroots decision-making consensus.

In his conclusion, Johnston summarises the failures of the RM. The 'creative fusion' of Marxist theory with Fenian traditions fizzled under the hand of Goulding. Putting Seán Mac Stiofáin in charge of military intelligence in 1967 gave him the chance to undermine the Republican Clubs in the North and to prepare for the re-emergence of the Provos in response to the B-Specials 1969 'pograms'. This played into the wishes of the hard-core Unionist leaders. The pace of the democratic left for social reform under the CR banner was 'forced' by the PD in January 1969 at the Derry march, 'which "trailed the coat" through a series of Antrim Protestant towns, and led to the Burntollet ambush'. (411) Sectarian polarisation pushed the CR into the Catholic ghettoes, generating a chain of events leading to what the Provos manipulated, military reaction. It also pleased the Unionists and the British forces desired: 'a military campaign which could be contained, with the working people of the North increasingly divided on sectarian lines, perpetuating British rule' (412) In this book, a phrase that captures the struggle from a veteran Irish leftist: the work to achieve the just society akin to the effort to make 'water run uphill'.

Johnston lists seven lessons, from the vantage point of this book's writing in 2005.

  1. After military experience, activists find it difficult to adapt to democratic politics.
  2. Regard the State as a referee rather than a player in the economic game.
  3. Make the players- individuals or organisations- accountable to all who depend upon the economic firm.
  4. Set up fair-trade rules, foster know-how in post-imperial situations, and encourage co-op and credit approaches.
  5. Place local democratic government within national and international frameworks. Avoid government by 'in-groups' as has crippled India, Ireland, South Africa, Israel/Palestine: all of these states have 'derived from pathologies rooted in British imperial culture'. [414]
  6. Consolidate land ownership under local authority, then lease to 're-zoned users'; long-term, 'private ownership of land needs to be questioned'.
  7. Develop economies through sustainable resources.

The book concludes with thirteen appendices dealing with various aspects of Joe's involvement with economic issues, his publications, his political efforts, and Roy's scientific analyses. Comprehensive bibliographies and source references follow for the two Johnstons. While the indices are not fully complete, they selectively guide readers to frequently mentioned items.

The relevance of Johnston's lifework, and that of his father, reminded me of the debates that continued in a recent issue of The Blanket.

So many republicans courageously stood up to the Brits, verbally and physically, and paid a huge personal price. Sadly, it must be acknowledged that, when it came to speaking out against a leadership which sold out the movement and lied through its teeth, too many were found wanting. The people of no principle were able to do what they did because their followers were more loyal to personalities than ideology.

Geraldine Adams' reflections serve as a testimony to Roy Johnston and many other activists who dared to stand up for their own convictions against what became the mainstream, and eventually the safe and predictable and politically correct conventional wisdom. While many readers of The Blanket will disagree with Dr Johnston's precise diagnoses for the ills that continue to ail a divided Ireland not only in sovereignty but economic and cultural and practical control, the suggestions that he proposes to cure the patient, to resurrect the ideals for which he and his father have devoted the past century and more to healing, deserve our careful reflection. In our capitalist hegemony, the decades of Roy and Joe Johnston's thought and action offer alternatives for hope.




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

2 January 2007

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Final Step
Anthony McIntyre

Of Animal Farm and Similar Stories
Tom Luby

'Securocrats', 'JAPPS' and other 'enemies of the peace process'
Liam O Ruairc

John Kennedy

Dilseacht (Loyalty)
Mick Hall

Joe & Roy Johnston: 'Water Running Uphill'?
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Concerned Republicans
Dr John Coulter

Telling Moment at Toome
Martin Galvin

Toome Debate
Anthony McIntyre

Wrap It Up
John Kennedy

KKK Taking Root?
Dr John Coulter

British Army Step Up Recruitment Attempts
Republican Socialist Youth Movement

Is This Anti-Americanism, Or What?
Father Sean Mc Manus

Finding Christmas in Uganda
David Adams

That Which Cannot Be Denied
Mick Hall

Has Regime Change Boomeranged?
M. Shahid Alam

Chile: The Ghosts of Torture
Tito Tricot

Biblical Basics
Dr John Coulter

John Kennedy

Across A Table
Anthony McIntyre

12 December 2006

Chile: The death of a Murderer
Tito Tricot

35 Years of Silence
John Kennedy

Perpetual opposition haunts DUP
David Adams

Sucking Up to Sinn Fein
Dr John Coulter

Circling the Wagons
Anthony McIntyre

Spin Cycle
Carrie Twomey

The Hypocrisy is Pathetic
Seamus Kearney

'Provo leaders should wake up to the truth'
Carrie Twomey

Prison Protest Held in Newry
Republican Prisoners' Action Group (RPAG)

Get It Together
Dr John Coulter

The Liar is Dead. Long Live the Liar
Anthony McIntyre

Throw Away the Key
John Kennedy

The State's Bar Must Always Be Higher
Mick Hall

Zionism: Pitting the West Against Islam
M. Shahid Alam

Mental Madness
Dr John Coulter



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