Terry from Derry: Not Such Shady Friend
by Terry Boyle
The great divide, as we term the political polarization of the present time, is often the result of a romanticized view of the past and untenable vision for the future. One example this incongruity comes to mind, when I meet with Irish Americans who, while they are proud of their ethnicity, are quite shocked to find the 40 shades of green is as politically fragmented as any other nation.
Nationalists are not simply Green, White and Orange. Unionists are not simply Red, White and Blue. When you get below the surface, you find real differences. For example, during the Troubles, our household was divided between nationalists who were socialists and socialists who were nationalists. To top it all, I occupied yet another camp, a Catholic socialist. The common denominator between us was obviously the cause socialism.
If the nationalist socialist were to define their understanding of socialism, it would be a United Ireland committed to breaking down economic disparity, providing equal access to education and a fair health service. The socialist nationalist might define their position as all of the above with the emphasis on social improvement before nationalism.
In other words, the priority lies with changing society regardless of the flag it flies. A Catholic socialist provides us with an unnecessary qualification. One would like to believe that the very essence of Christianity validates the cause of socialism. The follower of Christ should value the qualities of the Beatitudes more than nationalism.
It was not until I came to the United States that I discovered a strong reaction to the idea of socialism. For many, socialism equates communism and, for them, ‘it’s better to be dead than red.’
I was shocked and somewhat surprised by the lack of understanding of some Irish Americans who espoused to be ardent Catholics but opposed socialism without seeing the obvious contradiction to their beliefs. My brothers and I may have disagreed when it came to the nationalist cause, but we were always united when it came to the need for social reform.
Our socialism was not patterned on 40 shades of red, as it might be conveniently dismissed by those who refuse to question the jingoism of the capitalist ideologs, but on the common good. My first experience of this kind of non-thinking partisanship originated close to home.
A relative of mine, who has lived in the U.S for a long time, assumed that her Irish relatives would be nationalists first, and capitalists second. At first, we were so dumbfounded by her lack of understanding of modern Irish nationalism that we kept quiet. However, when she began to berate African Americans, illegal immigrants and basically anyone who had access to health or education simply because they were poor, our common socialist sensibilities refused to be silenced.
We, her family, were the product of a society that actively discriminated against us. Educational opportunities afforded to us were limited, housing was disproportionately doled out to those who were supportive Unionism, and had we been transported to the United States we would be anathema to her.
The ardent Catholicism she embraced did not inform her sense of charity or justice. She was definitely not a socialist, in which case she could not rightly be called a good Catholic either. This encounter was an eye-opener to my family who thought that Irish diaspora would readily identify with the immigrant, the disenfranchised and be motivated to fight the cause for the oppressed. But, this is not the case.
There are many of the diaspora who have forgotten the struggle, the pain and the hardship of leaving home for a better life. Now, that the Irish have become respectable and no longer outsiders, it is easy to lose sight of a troubled past. Many Irish men and women came to this country to survive famine, pestilence and injustice. They struggled, lost contact with their families, and at times were treated no better here than they were at home.
Still, they persevered and became a part of the fabric that has become one shade of the multi-cultural shades of America. Together, they have established themselves in positions of power, influenced the systems of justice, health and education for the betterment of society.
Then, why is there is there such a disconnection to the plight of the immigrant? Why is there such affinity with a government administration committed to the cause of capitalism and exploitation of the worker? Why is there such love for those who refuse to change the gun laws?
The great divide becomes apparent when those who have been oppressed affirm, directly or indirectly, the oppression of others. When one chooses to support a narcissist who flagrantly lies, and demeans others, the connection to a common humanity is lost.
Socialism is not a dirty word. It is not designed to take what is yours and give it to others who do not deserve it. Socialism is simply a fundamental requirement to any act of charity, love in action. It is intrinsically part of our better nature and, for those of us who believe, an act of faith, a mitzvot.
My father, brothers, and I were divided on a lot of things when it came to the cause of Irish nationalism, but we were united when it came to social change. There are as many shades of nationalism, and cultural identity but there is only one shade of socialism and it is not red, unless it indicates the blood of those who have suffered for the rights of others. Socialism challenges us to think of others, put ourselves in their shoes, and above all, pushes us become better people.