Monday, 22 December 2014

Old Boers, Bitter Enders, Jim Murphy and New Labour

This is my second post about the Boer War, you can read my previous post about Scotland, Ireland and German Boers like Paul Kruger and Stephanus Schoeman here...

I often wonder, if the young Jim Murphy read much about the history of the Boers when he and his parents moved to Apartheid South Africa for a better life. He would have done well to, because the Boer War has much to teach us about modern politics in Scotland.
For example, New Labour in Scotland seems to be increasingly offended and almost angered by the fact that they won the Indy Ref yet Nationalists are still lobbying hard for Independence.  The logic seems to be that the Yes movement should have just gone away and accepted the result. To be fair, many yes voters  have indeed given up the ghost and accept that Scotland will remain under British Rule. Yet, we too have our bitter enders just as there were the bitter enders among the Boers in South Africa who refused to stop fighting after South Africa had been brought under British Rule after the Boer War.

Then there's Jan Smuts who served as a Boer General during the Boer War, yet after the British victory he became the South Africa Prime Minister under British Rule twice between 1919 and 1948, he was also a British General during the First World War and then appointed Field Marshal during the Second World War. During his time as Prime Minister, Smuts had to struggle against an on going rebellion from "bittereinders" (bitter enders) who refused to give up the fight, as well as opposition from his Anti-British, National Party, political opponent J.B.M. Hertzog (Whose later reforms while Prime Minister improved conditions for working-class whites) and the "Old Boers" who never fully accepted British rule.

In addition to these enemies, Smuts also struggled against the rise of South African Trade Unionism, Socialists, Miners Strikes and even a General Strike. Smuts also sent the troops in several times and arrested and deported Union leaders. It's also worth noting that the great "Folk Hero" Koos Delarey led these military attack on striking workers and Trade Unionists. What happened next is kind of  similar to what we are seeing happening in Scotland right now. The Old Boers, the anti-British faction and the Bitter enders who were all deeply conservative, rural and staunchly Christian and whose ONLY goal was to win independence for South Africa and free the Union of South Africa from British rule, suddenly found themselves sharing a common cause with Socialists and Trade Unionists.

The Trade Unions, the South African Labour Party, and the Old Boers all criticized Smuts. In Smuts' own words he admitted that...  "A smashing blow had to be struck at syndicalism in South Africa. I gave that blow." It was this forceful attack on trade unionism that forged the Old Boers, the unions, and the South African Labour Party together, as a united front against what they saw as treason and tyranny.

In the same way, Scottish Labour continues to haemorrhage Leftists and Trade Unionists while the SNP continues to gain them. Murphy's staunch British Unionism is essentially forging together the cause of Scottish Independence and Trade Unionism. Just as Smuts forged South African Independence and Trade Unionism together almost 100 years earlier. Indeed, the union Unite are even now considering their future affiliation to Labour now that the party have elected Jim Murphy as its new leader.  This is because Neil Findlay was backed by 9 out of 11 trade unions affiliated to Labour while Jim Murphy on the other hand has publicly attacked the Trade Unions. Unions will now find it very difficult to back Murphy, who is after all a true Blairite.

Yet, it remains to be seen if the SNP has the ability to capitalize on this shift and become the broad, mass party of the Scottish people that Labour once was and should still be. This type of broad movement or mass party is often created through very different voices coming together in a common cause.  It seems that Labour are choosing to reject the cure offered to them by Maurice Glasman via his Blue Labour concept. Maurice seeks to restore the party to its original form, when it was a party of  trade unionists, social democrats, Christians, social conservatives, non-conformists, Labour Zionists, pacifists, anarchists, socialists and so on. The idea is that this move would have restored the party to it's working class roots through democratic engagement with various diverse community groups such as Churches which would then allow the Labour Party to the party to reinvigorate its relationships with various communities across the nation through the concept of the "Common Good" and the three pillars of "family, faith, and flag.  But it seems that this idea is just too conservative for New Labour. 

However, judging by some of the junk I read in the Sunday Pravda-Herald, the SNP may also be unable to construct a new alternative to statist and market based forms of socialism.  The wider Yes Movement has the power to put the role of self-organised groups and interests into our political and economic organisations.  The Yes movement has the ability to pick up the remnants of an older Labour Movement Tradition which put far more emphasis on Christianity, Catholic Social Thought and disestablished radical Protestantism such as political Methodism.  These were a big aspect in the rise of the Labour Movement and could also be applied to new politics in Scotland,

Yet, I am unconvinced that SNP can find a common good between immigrants and locals, workers and bosses, religious and secular. The SNP currently remains deeply statist, deeply centralist and increasingly linked to (and lobbied by) a growing number of liberals linked to the party and the Yes movement. For example, the Sunday Pravda Herald has become a weekly mouthpiece for the awful Scottish Secular Society who are overtly anti-religious, yet also increasingly pro-independence. If these ultra-secular, anti-clerical and hardline liberal elements within the Yes movement gain more influence within the SNP then they too will fail to become a broad Church, mass party. It might be best for both the SNP and The Greens (Who are also cosying up to the SSS) as well as other pro-Indy Yes groups, to distance themselves from highly divisive groups like the Scottish Secular Society, especially since the SSS actually lose every single petition they raise and every campaign they fight. Not sure if this has anything to do with their militancy and aggressive tone?  
Another example of the SNP supporters and other Indy campaigners shift towards secular liberalism is their severing of links to a vaguely Boer related people: The Flemish. Indeed, the only Boer like ethnic group of people supporting Scottish Independence at the moment are those in the Flemish Movement from Flanders.  Most Flemish Nationalists are in the moderate wing of the Flemish Movement and many have links to Trade Unions. However, not all those within the Flemish Movement are either left wing or Liberal. They are comprise of parties who are also social conservatives, traditionalists, monarchists, far right or even Christians Democrats. During the Indy Ref the support of the Flemish Movement towards Scottish Independence was used by Better Together to link the SNP to the European Far Right parties such as Vlaams Belang and the Nationalist Students Union. This in turn has led to many Yessers and SNP supporters to distance themselves from the Flanders Movement. Basque and Catalonia flags still seem ok but not Flemish ones.
Another interesting Boer parallel with Scots seems to be efforts by some in South Africa to reinvented or reappraise the role of Boer identity in the creation of Apartheid. There seems to be a trend among some political circles to point out that the Boer culture of the Free State was originally distinct from the wider Afrikaner culture which arose from the Cape Colony, a culture which came to absorb and dominate the Boer identity. The theory is that the true Boer folk were far less inclined towards colonialism since they themselves had been a victims of oppression and were refugees from Europe. The idea seems to be that they were not seeking to oppress or enslave the indigenous peoples of Southern Africa but rather sought a kind of isolationist society akin to the Amish in North America. This concept then partially exonerates the Boers from the Apartheid system which later developed in South Africa. Instead, Apartheid is seen as an extension of Afrikaner and British colonialism.

To me, this sounds very like the Scots who often seek to exonerate the Scottish Highlanders and Scots-Irish who settled in the Appalachian mountains and their descendants from having any major role in Slavery or the Confederacy. It sounds very similar to the idea that these Scots in the Appalachian mountains were poor farmers with no slaves.  The claim is that it would have been unacceptable for these independent freedom loving Scots to accept that the new lands opening up in the American west should be denied to independent poor farmers, but instead be bought up by rich slave owners who would buy up the best land and work it with slaves, forcing the white farmers onto marginal lands.

Unfortunately, I don't know enough about the complex historical reality of either of these claims about Scots in America or the early Boers in South Africa. Perhaps someone could enlighten me? 


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