<<

. 5
( 80 .)



>>

both isles from 1886 to 1916.
Loughlin claims that by emphasizing the ˜supposedly ˜˜constitutional™™
character of [Ireland™s] historical development and ignoring the bloody
struggles that more truly characterized it™, Gladstone demonstrated ˜a
striking failure of historical perception™.46 This may be true. However, we
need to remember that Gladstone was involved not in an academic
exercise intent on assessing major trends in Irish history, but in a political
attempt to establish Home Rule and parliamentary politics as the corner-
stone of a new Irish identity. Echoing Ernest Renan, R. Barry O™Brien
wrote in The Home Ruler™s Manual (1890) that a nation is ˜a people bound
together by historical associations™.47 By promoting a certain vision of the
Irish past Gladstone selected “ perhaps even invented “ the ˜historical
associations™ which he regarded as ˜binding™ if politicians wanted to
encourage the further development of popular constitutionalism. It was
of course a political use of history, and Gladstone may have made the
mistake of believing too much in his own rhetoric. However, such rhetoric
propounded a self-fulfilling prophecy “ whose aim was rooting parlia-
mentary radicalism among Irish tenants, and, in the process, outbidding
and marginalizing alternative political philosophies, which increasingly
emphasized violence and the rejection of everything English. Thus, if
Gladstone encouraged mere ˜sentimental aspirations™,48 such hopes were
formed around a solid core of political realism “ at the time certainly more
realistic and more political than either Fenian revolutionary dreams or the
implausible visions of Celtic revivalists “ and had an important impact on
the Irish constitutional tradition.

Revisionisms
As Searle has noted, the Liberal party ˜was a party of ideas and ideals,
much given to discussion and argument™.49 Its success, and that of the
political style it embodied, was partly due to the fact that many Victorians
were concerned about politics. I believe that the views articulated by these
politically aware people “ let us call them the activists “ deserve as much
attention as those of the parliamentary leaders for whom they wrote,
voted and canvassed. Jon Lawrence is certainly right in stressing the
importance for us of studying the ˜gulf between the world of political


46 47 48 49
Ibid., 289. Cited in ibid., 6. Ibid., 26. Searle, The Liberal party, 3.
Home Rule as a ˜crisis of public conscience™ 19

activism . . . and the everyday lives of potential voters™, and the strategies
which the activists adopted in trying to transcend it.50 However, the
starting point must surely remain the ideas of the ˜organic™ activists.
The existence of the latter can be perceived as ˜a romantic illusion™ “ in
Lawrence™s words “ only if we take ˜organic™ to mean that they were
˜indistinguishable in every respect from [their] fellow workers™.51 But
the very fact of their being ˜activists™ implies that they were ˜distinct™
from the rest, and the ˜organic™ simply signifies that they came from the
group for which they claimed to be speaking. In this respect, if activism
was an ˜illusion™ at all, it was one shared by the rather numerous, probably
quite ˜romantic™ and certainly very ˜organic™ campaigners who made
popular radicalism possible.52
The present work focuses on the verbal expression of ideas, values and
aspirations, but is also deeply interested in both agency and causality from
a perspective which has sometimes been described as ˜new model™ empiri-
cism.53 Like John Belchem, I am interested in ˜context and conduct, in
the way in which identity was affirmed, modified or subverted in collec-
tive political action™.54 I focus on the way popular political ideas and
ideologies (rather than simply languages) related to material interests,
given the fact that genuinely held values of liberty and popular participa-
tion could, and were, also turned into ideologies of social control. This, in
turn, involves two questions: how did perception, imagination, ideas and
rhetoric relate to the actual pursuit of concrete political aims; and how did
the latter (for example, Home Rule) acquire different meaning and
relevance for different groups? Charisma, deference and party discipline
created and sustained, but also reflected, a shared sense of purpose,
which was thus a complex phenomenon. It partly relied on the actual
common ground between these groups and their gentlemanly leaders,

50
J. Lawrence, Speaking for the people: party, language and popular politics in England,
1867“1914 (1998), 67; for a good example of a recent study inspired by this concern
see K. Rix, ˜The party agent and English electoral culture, 1880“1906™, Ph.D. thesis,
University of Cambridge, 2001.
51
Lawrence, Speaking for the people, 61.
52
Biagini, Liberty, 429“34; J. M. Bellamy and J. Saville, Dictionary of Labour Biography
(1972“).
53
J. Epstein, In practice: studies in the language and culture of popular politics in modern Britain
(2003), 127. It certainly involves a strong endorsement of realism as a philosophical
stance. The debates generated by the ˜linguistic turn™ and ˜the problem™ of cultural
history are fascinating, but are not something with which I wish to engage here. For
some recent developments see P. Mandler, ˜The problem with cultural history™, 94“117,
C. Hesse, ˜The new empiricism™, 201“7, and P. Mandler, ˜Problems in cultural history:
a reply™, 326“32, all Cultural and Social History, 1 (2004)
54
John Belchem, ˜Nationalism, republicanism and exile: Irish emigrants and the revolu-
tions of 1848™, Past and Present, 146 (1995), 134.
20 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

and partly was the product of propaganda and systematic self-deception.
But finally, it was also “ and to a large extent “ the outcome of a strategy
involving the appropriation of the rhetoric of liberty by subaltern groups
who, in the process, could subvert the hegemonic strategies of the polit-
ical elite. Here I selectively borrow Gramscian concepts to explain, for
example, how the socially inclusive language of Nationalism could be
used to foster the class interests of the better-off farmers and yet, at the
same time, galvanize landless labourers into claiming their ˜rights™; or
how political women “ another subaltern group “ could adopt and adapt
Gladstonian or Unionist ideas of liberty to their own specific and increas-
ingly assertive vision of a gender-inclusive citizenship.
This leads us to consider the notion of ˜the people™, a notion of which I
made extensive use in writing Liberty, retrenchment and reform as well as
previous publications. Initially, I borrowed it from French and American
historiography on late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century radical-
ism.55 Although vague, it was less so than Marxist concepts such as
the ˜labour aristocracy™, and actually reflected the language in which
generations of radical reformers had perceived and verbalized their own
position and role in society. Like Stedman Jones,56 I insisted on the
importance of assessing radicals and reformers on their own terms and
respecting the ˜language™ in which they conceptualized their particular
world view. In the 1990s the ˜people™ became a more complex and widely
used tool of historical analysis and was adopted by scholars such as Joyce
and Vernon, influenced by the ˜linguistic turn™,57 in response to what they
saw as the final disintegration of the ˜grand narrative™ about the linear
progression centred on the rise of ˜class™ and ˜party™. In the present work I
don™t directly engage with this debate, although I do make a rather
eclectic use of some of its results, as well as of the notion of ˜class™ and
the related Marxist and Weberian traditions. However, I also propose a
rehabilitation of the notion of ˜party™.
Vernon has a point when he argues that electoral machines limit or
˜discipline™ popular participation, and that, as a consequence of the rise of
mass parties, ˜[i]ncreasingly, if individuals were to matter as political


55
A. M. Schlesinger Jr., The age of Jackson (1953), 42“3, 124“6; A. Soboul, Les sansculottes
parisiens en l™An II (1962); E. Foner, Free men, free soil and free land: the ideology of the
Republican party on the eve of the Civil War (1970).
56
G. Stedman Jones, ˜Rethinking Chartism™, in Jones, Languages of class: studies in English
working class history, 1832“1982 (1983), 90“178; E. F. Biagini, ˜Per uno studio del
liberalismo popolare nell™eta. di Gladstone™, Movimento operaio e socialista, 5, 2(1982),
`
209“38.
57
P. Joyce, Visions of the people: industrial England and the question of class, 1840“1914 (1991);
J. Vernon, Politics and the People (1993).
Home Rule as a ˜crisis of public conscience™ 21

agents, they had to succumb to the disciplines and subjectivities of party
politics, and therefore parties shaped the terms of their political partici-
pation.™58 However, for both the Irish Nationalists and the British
Radicals, political participation was not an end in itself, an opportunity
to express one™s ˜subjectivity™, but ˜an instrument for the achievement of
concrete aims, whose definition and control needed to be in the hand of
organizations external to the dialectic of legislative assemblies™.59 They
needed to be, because the alternative was leaving them in the hands of the
traditional social elites, that is, the notables who could afford effective
participation as individuals. The latter were also those who most vocally
expressed the concerns stressed by Vernon, as we shall see (chapter 6).
Indeed, Vernon™s ˜Foucaldian™ argument against mass parties is strangely
reminiscent of J. A. Roebuck™s contention, in the 1860s, that the trade
unions ˜suffocated™ workers™ individuality, and ˜deprived™ them of their
˜freedom of choice™. Trade unionists replied that there was little ˜free-
dom™ of choice for non-unionized workers in the labour market. Was
there any greater chance of freedom and participation for the workers “
and for any other subaltern group “ in the electoral process, without party
organizations? Radical parties were the political equivalent of what trade
unions (and land leagues) were in the economic sphere. In fact, histor-
ically “ as Robert Michels pointed out at the beginning of the twentieth
century60 “ such need was most acutely felt by democratic or socialist
movements, which were the first to develop mass party organizations.
In this respect, within the broader European context the Irish party was
less ˜peculiar™ than Cruise O™Brien has argued,61 although it was certainly
different from its rivals and competitors, the Conservatives and the
Liberals. From 1885 it included a much higher proportion of farmers
and provincial journalists than either of the main British parties. It was
partly funded by the Irish diaspora overseas, including Americans, who
had a revolutionary agenda,62 and Canadians and Australians, who did
not. Moreover, between 1885 and the 1890 split over the O™Shea divorce
affair it was run in an autocratic way, like ˜a regiment led by C. S. Parnell
and by Michael Davitt™.63 However, we must also bear in mind that the


58
Vernon, Politics and the People, 337.
59
P. Pombeni, Partitie sisterri politici rella storia contemporare a (1994), 249“50.
60
R. Michels, Political parties: A sociological study of the oligarchical tendencies of modern
democracy (1915).
61
C. Cruise O™Brien, Parnell and his party, 1880“90 (1957).
62
Liberal Unionists made the most of it, denouncing the ˜Irish members . . . who . . . are
subsidised by American dollars contributed by the enemies of England™ (˜The future of
Liberalism™, LW, 5 June 1887, 1).
63
Dr Kevin O™Doherty, cited in ˜Meeting at Kells™, FJ, 16 Nov. 1885, 7.
22 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

other parties in the United Kingdom were also ˜different™, each in its own
way, especially in terms of the structure and role of their respective extra-
parliamentary organizations, such as the Primrose League and the
National Liberal Federation. Later, the foundation of the socialist ILP
(1893) and of the trade-union-dominated Labour Representation
Committee (1900) further added to the variety of experiences and experi-
ments in party organizations in the UK.
In Britain there were similarities between the Labour and Liberal party
machines, and they would need to be investigated.64 For ultimately the
question of party was not about a clash between popular ˜spontaneity™
and the ˜caucus™, or between ˜communities™ and ˜elites™, but a competi-
tion between what were “ in most respects “ rival types of ˜caucuses™. Each
was exclusive, ˜elitist™ and ˜authoritarian™ in its own way, though the one
may have been more dominated by trade union bosses than the other.
The question was simply one of power: the distribution of power within
the local association or club and the relationship between the ˜mass™
organization and the parliamentary party.65 In Liberty, retrenchment and
reform I have examined the way in which such a question related to ˜the
politics of place™, with particular reference to the rural caucus in mining
districts where it was heavily infiltrated by the locally dominant and
widely representative union.66 The latter could influence the selection
of the Liberal candidate in various constituencies in Northumberland,
Durham, Yorkshire and South Wales. When this failed to happen, it was
generally because the workers were either weakly organized or religiously
divided. However, sometimes the labour leaders who indulged in anti-
caucus rhetoric were simply those who lacked local trade union support.
The fact this could happen not only to free-market radicals like George
Howell but also to socialists like Keir Hardie indicates that it was not a
question of ideology, but one of local support. Howell and Hardie were
two of the many disgruntled radicals who felt constricted by ˜the machine™
and indulged in anti-caucus rhetoric. That the latter was often just that “
mere rhetoric “ has recently been confirmed by James Owen, in his work
on three-cornered contests in English urban constituencies.67
In this context, a dimension which needs to be borne in mind is the
anti-parliamentary orientation of much radical politics and ideology dur-
ing the period 1877“1906. This, once again, went back to Chartism,
eighteenth-century radicalism and beyond, to the army councils of

64
Lawrence, Speaking for the People, 254“7. 65 See chapter 4, and chapter 7, pp. 370“1.
66
Biagini, Liberty, chapter 6.
67
James Owen, ˜The ˜˜caucus™™ and party organization in England in the 1880s™, Ph.D.
thesis, University of Cambridge, 2006.
Home Rule as a ˜crisis of public conscience™ 23

those seventeenth-century Cromwellian revolutionaries who were often
so warmly praised in Victorian Dissenting and Radical circles.68 As far as
the Liberals were concerned, the NLF was not only a machine for
canvassing voters and winning elections, it was also a body whose aim
was the representation of popular opinion “ a ˜Liberal Parliament outside
the Imperial Parliament™, as activists would continuously boast. Thus,
provincial Liberals wanted, if not actually to ˜legislate™ for themselves,
certainly to define the programme on which their MPs should act. Party
leaders soon had reason to regret that such activists employed no empty
rhetoric: the NLF meant business, and, especially between 1886 and
1895, caused havoc (as some said), or pushed forward the cause of
party democracy (as others argued). The Nationalists had started with
similar ideas of democratic county conventions and a national executive,
but then conferred a sort of presidential trust on Parnell. The latter
generated the most effective Victorian example of a caucus, in the shape
of the INL, which relied on the strong sense of community engendered by
nationalism and farming interests. Thus if the INL was ˜a model of
authoritarian control under democratic forms™,69 until 1890 Parnell exer-
cised his power on the basis of what might be described as a popular
mandate. However, in the wake of the divorce scandal he was perceived as
betraying such trust and most of the party rejected his authority. As
Cruise O™Brien has written, the crisis was a test which ensured ˜the
adherence of Ireland to parliamentary democracy™, for which ˜we have
to thank not the principles of Parnell, but the example and conduct of the
party which he formed™.70
The debates inspired by British ˜revisionism™ pale in comparison with
the discussion elicited by its Irish equivalent. Of course, the latter has a
completely different meaning, and concerns not methodological ques-

<<

. 5
( 80 .)



>>