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Why Clinton Lost and what Democrats can do about it

By Doctor Michael Herron

This blog is a departure from my usual blogs in that here I put on my previous hat of a Democrat campaign strategist.  A number of the Clinton campaign strategists may be reluctant to accept that Clinton was a flawed candidate or that their strategy was wrong, given that Clinton won the popular vote and may argue that she only lost because of the quirks of the electoral college system.  However, they knew how the electoral college worked before the campaign started.  They also knew Clinton’s potential weaknesses so they have no excuse.

Normally, the first job of the strategist is to map out the electoral battlefield, identifying what your candidate’s and opponents’ base is.  Your primary focus is then to try to win over the undecideds while leaving the task of getting your base out closer to the election.  The problem for the Democrats was that large elements of their base moved to support Donald Trump long before the election.  The fact that the Clinton campaign up to election day was talking about winning traditionally Republican states in the South while assuming it had won the Midwestern states such as Michigan and Wisconsin in its fabled blue wall meant its strategy was profoundly flawed.  For all its talk of having a superior ground game the fact that it did not have the local knowledge to know that much of its base had moved to Trump or even worse it ignored it, meant its ground game was not superior at all.

Although the result of the election was greeted as a shock, there are reasons why it should not be a complete surprise, which will be explained later.  That said, two key groups of voters voted in an unexpected way: blue collar men and women in the Midwestern states and Latinos that could be said to have swung the election Trump’s way.  There is a precedent for these voters voting the way they did, however.  In the 1980s blue collar families in the Midwest voted for Republican Ronald Reagan earning the name Reagan Democrats.  Cuban Americans in Florida have also traditionally voted Republican.  Arguably, one of the reasons for the surprise voting patterns in this election can be explained by the concept of voters having multiple identities as argued by Gary Younge of The Guardian which he defined in his article on the key constituency of Muncie, Indiana during the election, which amounted to a virtual case study.  This constituency was important because it was a bell-weather constituency for the election since both Obama and George W Bush had won it twice and Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won their primaries there.

As Younge defines it the concept of multiple identities should not be seen in the Tammany Hall sense of “vote early, vote often”, but in the sense that voters have different priorities which can change over time and through the prism of their different identities of gender, race, class and other identities they assess their priorities to choose whatever candidate they feel will satisfy their most important priorities at that time.  While it is true emotion and bias may also be factors in this choice, recognition of this more nuanced approach to voting poses a real challenge to campaigners.  Conversely, many will say that Trump hardly led a sophisticated campaign since he appealed to the base sentiments of voters, particularly around race and gender.  However, his clear message on the economy, specifically trade, whenever he did mention it, resonated with many voters who were prepared to downplay their other identities in favour of their working class one and their priority for them or their family members to regain a proper job with prospects, “The American Dream” in other words.  Voters in this election were faced with a number of choices mediated by their priorities, which will be outlined below.

Identity v Class Politics
The election of Donald Trump poses problems for progressive politics.  There has been an argument over how progressives should organise in light of this event and criticism of the identity politics around which progressives have tended to emphasize at the expense of class politics.  Some like Larry Elliott, economics editor for The Guardian have argued that this emphasis on identity politics really took off after the fall of the Berlin Wall when progressives largely accepted that the economic argument had been won in favour of the free market and limited government intervention in the economy.   Another reason for an emphasis on identity politics is the nature of modern political campaigning which breaks the electorate down into segments who can then be targeted with tailored campaign advertising.  However, the problem with this form of campaigning as Gary Younge identified is that voters have multiple identities when they cast their vote so appealing to one of these identities in campaign advertising or the wrong one may not get the job done.

Outsider v Insider
One important reason why the result of this election may not have been the shock that some believe as pointed out by Martin Kettle in The Guardian is that since 1950 only once has the incumbent party held onto the White House after a two-term presidency.  That was the elder Bush who succeeded Ronald Reagan in 1988.  According to Kettle “after eight years of the same party in power, Americans tend to vote for change.”  The elder Bush, arguably succeeded because Americans were largely satisfied with the state of the union and he was the beneficiary of a notoriously negative campaign against his opponent, Michael Dukakis.

In an election when the primaries revealed that Americans wanted change it was always going to be difficult for someone like Clinton, who was seen as the embodiment of the Washington establishment, to get elected.  Her association with the Washington establishment was too strong for her to make the claim that as the first woman president she would represent fundamental change.  Arguably, the only way the Democrats could have won in an election which demanded change is if they had nominated a candidate who would be seen as anti-establishment like either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.  The latter would have been a better female candidate since she had none of Clinton’s baggage and her message would have been similar to Sanders’ who gained substantial support in the Midwestern states won by Trump.  The argument that Sanders lost the primaries fair and square disregards the fact that the Democrat Washington DC establishment strongly backed Clinton during the primary season.

The problem with Clinton’s main strength, her vast experience in Washington DC is that she had acquired massive baggage during that time, as well as many enemies.  Trump exploited that impression in one of the debates when he turned her strength into a weakness by stating that she had “bad experience.”  In the same way he challenged Clinton’s legitimacy by alleging that she was corrupt by alluding to the various scandals the right wing had alleged she was involved in.  This was another consequence of being in the limelight of mainstream politics for such a long time.

Another problem with having the insider tag is that Americans may have grown tired of being governed by the same two political families for the bulk of the last thirty years.  This raises questions of legitimacy not just for any particular candidate but for the system itself.

Isolationism v Global Leadership

Protectionism v Free Trade
Donald Trump’s slogan “America First” suggested two main themes to his campaign, which were really two sides of the same coin.  One was for America to view global affairs through the prism of its own interests rather than to be the world’s policeman.  The other side of the coin was to reject or at least renegotiate many of the free trade deals America had made so that he could protect American jobs.  His policy on trade was clear and unambiguous.  This contrasted with Clinton’s approach on trade where she had previously supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Mexico and Canada but then during the election appeared to oppose it.  Indeed, Trump invoked Bill Clinton’s signing of NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s later support for it to undermine Hillary Clinton’s credibility on trade.  This garnered support among blue collar workers in the Midwest for Trump who blamed NAFTA for the decline of industry in their area and its relocation to Mexico.  Indeed Gary Younge found that NAFTA was the key issue in Muncie that swung that constituency to Trump.

Race v Class
Trump clearly made race a centrepiece of this campaign primarily around the issue of immigration of notably Mexicans and Muslims.  However, he juxtaposed this issue often in the case of Mexicans of how this would affect jobs and the loss of the latter to NAFTA.  It has been argued that Trump won the white vote and lost the vote of minorities.  While this is undoubtedly true of the general figures: 69% of the electorate is made up of white voters of whom 58% voted for Trump and 37% for Clinton.  Conversely, 31% of the electorate is made up of non-white voters of whom 74% voted for Clinton and 21% for Trump.  However, if one digs deeper, there are important nuances.  Trump’s share of the white vote actually declined in relation to Mitt Romney who got 59% four years earlier.  White blue collar workers in Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania voted for Obama in 2012 but many switched to Trump in 2016.  If race was the primary determining factor these voters would not have voted for Obama the first time he was nominated in 2008, never mind in 2012 as well.

As highlighted by Niall Ferguson in The Sunday Times, there are other anomalies, 29% of Hispanics voted for Trump as did 29% of Asians, 37% of other racial groups and 1 in 12 African Americans.  There is particular surprise at the large numbers of Latino voters, who voted for Trump, apparently against their own interests.  However, an article by Felicity Lawrence in The Guardian may offer a partial explanation.  According to Lawrence, NAFTA allowed American agribusiness to export corn to Mexico at artificially low prices, harming 3 million local farmers.  It also led to 1.3 million Mexicans being forced off the land, who naturally wanted to enter the US.  It may be possible that Latinos in the US are aware of the damage NAFTA has done to them and their families while elites have prospered on both sides of the border.  Since Clinton was the most associated with NAFTA during the election not only Midwestern blue collar workers have blamed her for the consequences but other groups including Latinos may have done as well.

Race v Gender
Another result of the election that has caused controversy is the fact that 53% of white women voted for Trump while 43% for Clinton.  This contrasts with a figure of 94% of black women voting for Clinton whereas 26% of Latino women voters voted for Trump. Since there was a great emphasis on gender issues during the campaign; indeed, arguably, the Clinton campaign made these central to its campaign such results have been interpreted as the consequence of either racism or misogyny.  The first argument disregards the fact that many of these women must have voted for Obama given the latter’s margin of victory four years previously.  The second argument disregards Gary Younge’s argument of multiple identities.  Women in the Midwestern states may have downplayed their gender prioritising the hope of a better economic future for them and their families through greater job prospects which they did not believe Clinton would deliver.  Of course misogyny may have played a part for some but it may not have been the only factor.

A Blueprint for Success?
Both Gary Younge and Anne McElvoy, senior editor of the Economist, identified a lack of clarity by the Clinton campaign.  Younge perceived in Muncie that voters there did not feel the Democrats offered them real change, only incremental change.  McElvoy interviewed a Clinton strategist and she was confused whether Clinton wished to continue Obama’s legacy or offered a complete break with the past and suggested that this lack of clarity was a strong contributing factor to Clinton’s defeat.  Given this conclusion, I will suggest some recommendations on how Democrats may avoid such an outcome in the future.

Democrats need a clear message on what they would do in office, to offer real practical change, not just incremental change.

Democrats should aim to achieve the broadest spectrum of support.  The two transformative presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson campaigned and governed on this basis.

To achieve this result, Democrats should reclaim from Trump and the Republicans Keynesian economics.  They should recast the Conservative diatribe “tax and spend” as “invest to grow.”  This can be used to appeal to white middle class voters as this is a staple of middle class life from buying a house, to spending on a college education to investing in pension funds. For the foreseeable future, this group along with white blue collar families in Midwestern states will be the key demographic in battleground states to win future presidential elections.

They must promise to reinvest in areas that have lost out to globalisation.  This should be smart investment that can create a multiplier effect.  This should be done in partnership with local small and medium sized businesses to create a business cluster similar to that which exists in Germany.

They need to support a broader range of candidates with varied backgrounds not just the same insiders time and again.

Since the electoral college has just delivered the result it was designed to prevent of a populist mobilising support to challenge many of the principles governing the republic one could argue that it is not fit for purpose.  This is in addition to the fact that the winning candidate has lost the popular vote in 2 of the last 5 presidential elections.  Democrats may campaign for a Constitutional amendment for direct election of the president.  However, given the fact that Republicans control both houses of Congress and a majority of the state legislatures, for the foreseeable future, this may be easier said than done.


Gary Younge “How Trump took Middletown” The Guardian 16 November 2016

Martin Kettle “It is easy to hate the man, essential to learn from him” The Guardian 11 November 2016

John Henley and Mona Chalabi “Demographics: Victory built on ‘whitelash’ from wealthy voters” The Guardian 10 November 2016

Niall Ferguson “This was no whitelash, it was a vote to get America working” The Sunday Times 13.11.2016

Felicity Lawrence “Trump is right: Nafta is a disaster.  But US workers aren’t the big losers” The Guardian 18 November 2016

Anne McElvoy “Face the facts: this was Hillary’s race to lose- and she lost it” Evening Standard 9 November 2016


What Cable Street means for Labour Today

By Doctor Michael Herron

Last Sunday marked the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. This historical event of 4th October 1936 was a watershed moment for the Labour movement in the lead up to the Second World War. It offers important lessons to the Labour Party today at a time when the Labour Party and movement has been rocked by allegations of anti-Semitism. The battle was significant for the fact that the grassroots of the Labour movement joined together with Jewish residents of Stepney in the East End of London to repel Sir Oswald Mosley and his marchers from the British Union of Fascists, forcing them to abandon their march.

The backdrop to the march and battle was fraught. Britain at the time was ruled by the National Government. Although the National Government had originally been formed by the Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald at the time of the battle it was essentially a Conservative administration led by Stanley Baldwin. The Spanish Civil War had also just begun. The Labour Party leadership was torn over officially supporting the Spanish Republican government since it feared this would upset its Catholic voters in the Northwest of England and Glasgow, who may have been concerned about Republican atrocities against Catholic clergy. This did not deter many in the grassroots Labour movement from joining the International Brigades to fight with the Spanish government against Franco. At the same time membership of the British Union of Fascists had peaked at a quarter of a million, which rang alarm bells in government. Nevertheless, according to Graham Macklin, the Conservative Party’s “resistance to ‘dangerous fascism’ however, was perhaps born of the Conservatives’ electoral neurosis than steadfast anti-fascism.”

This hesitancy was most marked in the lead up to the battle. When Mosley announced his intention to march through Jewish neighbourhoods in the East End of London, the Jewish People’s Council set up a petition signed by 100,000 people to ban the march. Local Labour MP, George Lansbury, and the mayors of the four London boroughs affected by the march requested Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, to ban the march. He stated that it would be undemocratic to do so.

A number of points need to be stressed about the battle. Many of those in leading positions such as the Labour leadership and the Jewish Board of Deputies were opposed to any action against the march that could result in violence. The opposition to the march was largely launched by local Jews and rank and file trade unionists, including mainly Irish dockers and what-ever leadership against the march was provided by the Communists. These anti-fascists were inspired by the Spanish Republicans’ struggle against Franco as they declared “no pasaran” (they shall not pass) to the Fascist marchers.

According to the Cable Street Group, Mosley’s original plan for the march on 4th October 1936 was for Fascists to assemble at Tower Bridge then divide into columns “which would march to meetings in Shoreditch, Limehouse and Bow and finally to a rally in Bethnal Green.” As the march progressed there were fights between fascists and anti-fascists but the main battle was between the anti-fascists and the 6,000 police, who were trying to clear a pathway for Mosley’s marchers. According to Nicholas Mosley, eldest son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the Police Commissioner “Sir Philip Game saw the whole occasion as primarily one concerning the police: he seemed determined to show that the streets would be controlled by his men and not by rival gangs.”

There were huge crowds in the area at the time of the march. The local press gave a figure of 310,000 whereas some eyewitnesses said there were half a million people there. The congestion and violence meant that there was only one street that seemed open to the marchers in the Jewish neighbourhood in Stepney, Cable Street. As the marchers and police entered Cable Street they ran into an overturned lorry and other barricades and were hit with “fruit, bottles and the contents of chamber pots emptied by Jewish women” and were forced back by the anti-fascists. Eventually, Sir Philip Game ordered Mosley to give up the march and turn back. Mosley later accused the government of surrendering to “red terror.”

Perhaps one of the best accounts summing up the encounter was made by Charlie Goodman who was 21, living in Mile End at the time and politically non-aligned. “And it was not just a question of Jews being there on 4th October, the most amazing thing was to see a silk-coated Orthodox Jew standing next to an Irish docker with a grappling iron. This was absolutely unbelievable. Because it is not a question of a punch-up between the Jews and fascists, it was a question of the people who understood what fascism was. And in my case it meant the continuation of the struggle in Spain.”

Arguably, the greatest lesson for the Labour Party in the years that followed Cable Street was that the Labour movement needed to be united in the face of fascism particularly when war broke out. In a sense the Labour Party took its cue from the Labour grassroots as it was the rank and file who had defeated the fascists at Cable Street.

The fact that the Labour Party was largely united meant that soon after the British war effort took a turn for the worse, as British troops were evacuated from Norway, it was perfectly placed to engineer a vote of no confidence in the Chamberlain government. As the Conservatives’ majority fell from 200 to 81, it became clear that there had to be a new Prime Minister. Churchill’s unstinting opposition to appeasement, despite his poot reputation in labour relations, made him the obvious choice to the Labour Party. It was therefore the Labour Party that was instrumental in facilitating Churchill’s rise to war leader.

Labour’s role in Churchill’s wartime government with Clement Atlee, Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison, Stafford Cripps and Arthur Greenwood as key members and its perceived unequivocal opposition to fascism in contrast to perceived Tory weakness in confronting Nazism before the war were strong contributing factors to Labour’s landslide victory in the 1945 general election. The lesson then was that a united party with a clear message could overcome even the greatest majority of the governing party.

The lessons of Cable Street for Labour today are that it should be clear what it is opposed to and it should present a united front in opposition to all groups and forces that prey on the vulnerable. The recent position against anti-Semitism in light of the inquiry led by Shami Chakrabarti is a good start. However, witch-hunts against those perceived to have betrayed the leadership and constant infighting distracts from the real struggle to maintain progressive politics and justice for those groups who most need a strong Labour Party in a world moving ever to the right. If it engages in this struggle and with competence when the pendulum of power swings again in its favour just as in 1945, it may be ready to seize the day.

Graham Macklin Very Deeply Dyed in Black: Sir Oswald Mosley and the Resurrection of British Fascism after 1945 (London: IB Tauris, 2007)
Cable Street Group The Battle of Cable Street 4th October 1936 A People’s History (London, 1995)
Nicholas Mosley Beyond the Pale (London: Secker Warburg, 1983)
Andrew Thorpe A History of the British Labour Party 4thEdition (London: palgrave, 2015)

The Wealth of Adam Smith’s Moral Sentiments

By Doctor Michael Herron

Since the early 1980s free-marketers the world over have recited the mantra that the “invisible hand” of market forces should be the guiding light of the world economy. This phrase is most associated with the work of Adam Smith, the Scottish philosopher and appears in his two most famous works “The Wealth of Nations” and “The Theory of Moral Sentiments.” While, undoubtedly, Smith was a champion of the free market, arguably, it is important to view his ideas on the free market both in the context of the time in which they were written and within his wider philosophy. This is especially true for the role he envisaged for morality to play in shaping business affairs. These points are developed in an important work by Arthur Herman entitled “The Scottish Enlightenment.”

According to Herman, it is important to note that Smith wrote his most famous work “The Wealth of Nations” published in 1776 in response to the prevailing orthodox economic theory of the time, mercantilism. This theory stipulated that there was a finite amount of monetary wealth available at any one time. It was vital then for a country to acquire as much wealth as possible while keeping this wealth out of the hands of other states. This underpinned the notion of empire, whereby the British state would enrich itself at the expense of other states, principally its main rival at the time, France.

This theory was also used by British policymakers to justify granting and supporting monopolies to certain British companies such as the East India Company to conduct trade within the British Empire. Smith had seen how such monopolies had caused friction with American merchants in the thirteen colonies who felt shut out of imperial trade. Smith believed that these monopolies, particularly, that of the East India Company were the root causes of the demands by Americans for independence from Britain.
Smith argued against this government interference in the market supporting these monopolies and believed that “every man as long as he does not violate the laws of justice is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest in his own way.” Here is the basis for Smith’s reputation as the inspiration for the free market. While it is true, according to Herman, that Smith opposed government interference in the market for either imperial aggrandizement or to promote social justice, he also debunks three common myths about Smith.

The first myth is that Smith believed prosperity in the market was due to the “invisible hand” of the market. According to Herman this was meant to be ironic. He did not believe that the market system was perfect, only better than one driven by politicians. Again, his primary argument was against the mercantile system.

The second myth is that Smith invented the concept of laissez-faire capitalism, which was in fact developed by French thinkers. Smith did believe in a strong government to defend the nation, provide a system of justice and rights to allow commerce to flow freely.

The third myth is that Smith wished to excuse big business and the merchants class from all limits on their power and influence over society. In fact, he stated in “The Wealth of Nations” “the government of an exclusive company of merchants is, perhaps, the worst of all governments for any country whatsoever.”

His observations in “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” about the real drives of human nature and the need for morality to govern human relations were, perhaps, his most important and surprising legacies to us, given how Smith’s ideas have subsequently been interpreted. Smith did not believe that most people are driven by the need to acquire material wealth and are prepared to make the sacrifices to acquire it. Only that some are and these individuals drive progress. Smith also did not believe that individuals are completely free agents with no sense of responsibility to each other. In “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” Smith argued that people have a “fellow feeling” for each other that governs their behaviour to each other. In other words, people have natural empathy for each other and there is such a thing as society.

This has implications for policymakers today. Smith’s actual ideas contradict the arguments made by free marketers. One common argument made by these free marketers is that we are all rational free agents attempting to maximize our own material welfare and that somehow this will achieve maximum efficiency of the market, in other words, the fabled equilibrium. Arguably, Smith believed that since we are governed by morality and are not completely free agents we have to take others’ interests before acting. Of course our priority is to promote our interests, but this is not taken in isolation of society. When making economic decisions we have to weigh up a number of factors not just one or two.

The most famous proponent of the free marketers’ worldview was Milton Friedman, the American economist and high priest of monetarism, the theory that controlling the money supply is the chief method of stabilizing the economy. In one of his public statements, Friedman stated that “the world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests.” While this statement does not contradict Smith, who made the same point, Friedman’s observation in his preface to Frank Knight’s book “The Ethics of Competition”, arguably, does. In this preface Friedman stated “social responsibility is a fundamentally subversive doctrine, there is one and only one social responsibility of business- to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”

Friedman’s economic theories and the aversion to Socialism of the Austrian philosopher Friedrich von Hayek were the key inspirations behind many of Margaret Thatcher’s policies in the 1980s. Friedman’s thinking was certainly in tune with Thatcher’s when she made one of her most famous comments in an interview with “Woman’s Own” magazine in 1987. She stated, “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people and people must look to themselves first.”

Perhaps the biggest contradiction between the arguments made by free marketers today and Smith’s original beliefs is their attitudes to monopoly capitalism. The Adam Smith Institute, the foremost champion of Smith’s ideas in British politics has lauded itself on its website as “one of the key drivers of the privatization revolutions in the 1980s and 1990s.” Much of this privatization has resulted in large companies acquiring monopolies over services in what used to be the public sector and over the railways. This outcome of monopoly capitalism and oligopoly, the concentration of politico/ economic power in few hands is surely the complete opposite of Smith’s thoughts on the matter. It was because of his opposition to monopoly capitalism that he wrote “The Wealth of Nations” in the first place since he believed the British government had encouraged monopolies to develop that excluded many businesses from trading profitably. If one wanted to create a true free market one should try to break up monopolies. Where Smith believed that monopolies were the unnatural results of government intervention and left to its own devices the market would right itself and eliminate monopolies, we know that often of their own accord, big businesses will tend to become monopolies and cartels against the public interest. As was the case in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was left to the federal government to break up these combinations through anti-trust legislation. To create a true free market, there is therefore a role for government to ensure that monopolies do not emerge and to protect the public interest against any harmful consequences of their trading.

In conclusion, despite Adam Smith’s work being written to confront the problems caused by the trading system of the British Empire of the 18th century it has been invoked by ardent free marketers today to support their arguments. The fact that these arguments are so out of kilter with many of Smith’s actual beliefs should give many of these free marketers pause. If their founding principles are built on sand is it any wonder that the world economic system does not work the way they say it should. It, perhaps, explains why it works for the few and not the many.

Arthur Herman The Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots’ Invention of the Modern World (London: Harper Perennial,2006)
Adam Smith The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Strand & Edinburgh, 1761)
Adam Smith An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (London: W Strahan, 1776)
The Concise Oxford Dictionary Ninth Edition (London: BCA, 1996)
Milton Friedman Preface to “The Ethics of Competition” by Frank H Knight (1935)
Margaret Thatcher in an interview with “Woman’s Own” on 23rd September 1987
Adam Smith Institute

What we can learn from 1920s America

By Doctor Michael Herron

There has been some recovery from the 2008 Crash but there are still some inherent problems with the US economy. One such problem is that of inequality. Although many would argue that inequality is just a fact of life in the American free market economy, others might argue that it poses a threat to the stability of the system itself. Indeed, some argue that the great inequality that existed in 1920s America contributed to the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

John Kenneth Galbraith identified five weaknesses of the US economy in the 1920s that led to the Crash, “the bad distribution of income”, “the bad corporate structure”, “the bad banking structure”, “the dubious state of the foreign balance” and “the poor state of economic intelligence”. “The bad distribution of income” was particularly serious since this meant as Galbraith put it “the economy was dependent on a high level of investment or a high level of luxury consumer spending or both.” This posed a problem because, according to Galbraith “both investment and luxury spending are subject, inevitably, to more erratic influences and to wider fluctuations than the bread and rent outlays of the $25-weekworkman.” The economy was thus vulnerable to a shock such as the Wall Street Crash. Furthermore, according to Richard Hofstadter, the 631,000 richest families were wealthier than the 16,000,000 poorest families, who could not meet their basic needs. In the midst of the boom of the 1920s there were simply not enough customers to buy the products supplied by American factories.

The responses of Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the Crash contrasted sharply. While Hoover refused to intervene to help the ailing American economy, FDR developed the New Deal when the Federal Government supported the American economy through deficit financing. Conservatives are probably correct in their argument that the US only finally emerged from the Great Depression with the onset of the Second World War as Western European powers bought armaments and supplies from the United States thereby fuelling the American economic recovery.

Despite this fact, arguably, FDR laid the foundations for post war economic prosperity by regulating the financial system and by reducing inequality through the imposition of a wealth tax. However, widespread prosperity only really took off in the United States when returning American servicemen received grants to go to college under the GI bill and received federal assistance to buy homes, thus relieving them of potentially heavy debt burdens. These measures greatly reduced inequality in the United States and underpinned the prosperity of the next thirty years.

In 2016 two of the weaknesses identified by Galbraith of the US economy in the 1920s are still with us today “the poor distribution of income” and “the bad banking structure” since the Glass-Steagall law of 1933, which separated investment and commercial banking, as part of the 1933 Banking Act was repealed during the Clinton presidency in 1999. Indeed, Thomas Piketty has argued that the “poor distribution of income” contributed to the Financial Crisis of 2008. The main reason for this was that since the working and middle classes did not have enough money to buy the goods and services they wanted and needed they took on more debt which was supplied on credit by unregulated banks using savings built up by the elite.
The elite 1% has, indeed, according to Piketty built up massive savings, having gained 60% of the increase of US income from 1977 to 2007. However, the nature of this wealth owned by the 1% has changed where today’s elite’s wealth largely derives from earned income through managerial salaries rather than mainly from capital such as share dividends as was the case in the 1920s. Nevertheless, this distinction is not completely clear as many of the management class that comprise the 1% have stock options that are included as part of their salaries. As in the 1920s, arguably, the elite cannot use their savings to consume enough of the goods and services produced by the US economy to comfortably sustain it compared to the 1950s when there was a much more equitable distribution of income, the result of the GI bill and similar measures.

Are Hillary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s economic programmes likely to replicate these post World War II outcomes? Taking into account the fact that after the Second World War, the United States was pretty much uniquely placed to prosper, this growth of prosperity is unlikely to be replicated. Trump’s plan of tax cuts may produce a short boost but is unlikely to solve the underlying problems of the American economy. Clinton’s proposal to subsidise American students’ college education comes closer to solving the problem. This is because, as Piketty has argued, the best way out of poverty is through the acquisition of skills and knowledge, as long as students are not saddled with heavy debts after graduation.

John Kenneth Galbraith The Great Crash 1929 (London: Penguin Books, 2009)
Richard Hofstadter The American Political Tradition & theMen Who Made It (New York: Vintage Books, 1973)
Thomas Piketty Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014)

UEFA, Respect and Israel-Palestine

By Doctor Michael Herron

The ongoing dispute between European football’s governing body UEFA and Glasgow Celtic supporter’s group, the Green Brigade, over the latter’s flying of Palestinian flags at a recent Champion’s League qualifier between Celtic and Israeli club Hapoel Be’er Sheva raises issues that go far beyond football.

The gist of the dispute is that UEFA have charged Celtic under one of their rules that prohibits “gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature.”

In anticipation of a fine being levied predicted to be around £15,000 the Green Brigade launched an appeal to raise money for two Palestinian charities, Medical Aid Palestine, which provides health and medical care to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and the Lajee Centre, a sports and arts project in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem.  By launching the appeal, the Green Brigade hoped to match the amount of the fine imposed by UEFA.  In fact, the Green Brigade have been successful in raising over £130,000 for the two charities.

Issues that arise from the controversy derive from the fact that as the Green Brigade stated UEFA has deemed the Palestinian flag to be an “illicit banner” and how this judgement poses questions for UEFA’s own “respect” agenda, its admirable campaign to remove racism from football.

To explain why UEFA’s two positions are contradictory it is first necessary to define what racism is.  As the Oxford Dictionary defines it as a “belief in the superiority of a particular race and an antagonism towards or discrimination against other races as a result of this [belief]”

Many academics, however, have generally moved away from using race as a category to define different groups of people because of its imprecision and have instead preferred to use ethnicity, which describes a social group having a common national or cultural tradition.

If one replaces race with ethnicity in the Dictionary definition one could argue that the Israeli state has exhibited racism towards the Palestinians by employing antagonistic and discriminatory policies on the basis of the Palestinians’ ethnicity that have gone from restrictions on travel, through arbitrary arrest and imprisonment to mass killing.

There are those who challenge the accusation that Israel operates a policy akin to apartheid given that Israeli Arabs have served as MPs in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.  This point is well taken, however, it does not alter the fact that Israel operates a discriminatory and punitive policy against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

Recent discrimination against the Palestinians has a long history stretching back to the founding of the State of Israel.  Some of their supporters have even argued that they have been the victims of genocide.  This article will thus trace the history of these grievances and will argue that although a number of these crimes appear to approximate genocide, they instead fall under the more general crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The first depredations against the Palestinians occurred at the end of the British Mandate in Palestine, which a British colonial authority had administered up to 1948.  A UN Commission had drafted a report which recommended partition of Palestine, whereby territory would be divided between Arabs and Jews.  In anticipation of this partition both Arabs and Jews mobilised into armed groups to seize the land.  Unwilling to manage a deteriorating situation the British virtually allowed a state of civil war to exist in Palestine.

A number of atrocities were committed by both sides; however, Jewish groups were responsible for two particularly significant acts.  On !9th April 1948 two Jewish paramilitary groups, Irgun and Lehi joined forces to attack the village of Deir Yassin and massacred 250 Palestinians.  On 9th July of that year David Ben Gurion, future prime minister of Israel appeared to have ordered the expulsion of Palestinians from the towns of Lydda and Ramle, numbering 70,000.  These civilians were force marched in what became known as the Lydda Death March towards Ramallah and hundreds particularly children and old people died from the heat and thirst.  These events were accompanied by other expulsions which totalled between 300,000 and 400,000.

Some claim these events to be an example of genocide.  Indeed, the forced marching in the Lydda Death March has echoes of the forced marching of the Armenians during the First World War genocide.  The expulsion of 300,000 to 400,000, arguably, could at least be described as ethnic cleansing.  At this point it is important to define genocide, which is commonly interpreted as the intent by a state to destroy a national, ethnic or religious group in whole or part.  In this context, these atrocities were committed not by a state since the state of Israel did not exist yet, but by various armed Jewish groups and armies some of which were violently opposed to each other as well as to the Palestinians.  Although it does not diminish the seriousness of these acts, the lack of state involvement is crucial to how one defines these crimes, which one would have to define as war crimes.

Another event that has gone down in the litany of Palestinian grievances is that concerning the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982.  These massacres occurred in the context of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon to drive the Palestinian armed organisation, the PLO, from the Israeli border.  According to TG Fraser, Israeli Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon, allowed the Christian Maronite paramilitary group, the Phalangists, into the camp to look for terrorists.  These camps had been left defenceless as PLO fighters had been evacuated from Beirut in the preceding weeks.  Before the Phalangists entered the camps, the camps were lit by flares fired by the Israeli army.  The Phalangists killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians, which the Palestinians have numbered as 2,000 and the Israelis 800.

Although Israelis did not do the actual killing, Israeli authorities must bear some degree of responsibility for the crime, indeed a number of Israeli officers were punished.  However, Ariel Sharon largely avoided responsibility although as Defence Minister and having facilitated the Phalangists entry to the camps he must shoulder the burden of blame given that he must have anticipated what the Phalangists were likely to do once they entered the camps.  This was a war crime and a case was later filed against Sharon to this effect, which this article will return to.

The intifadas of the 1980s and 90s largely grew out of tensions arising from the settlement of the West Bank by Israeli settlers, which the Palestinians viewed as a land grab.  These intifadas, or uprisings witnessed scores of Palestinian demonstrators falling victim to live fire by Israeli troops.   These killings could also be described as war crimes.

The intifadas were then followed in 2014 by the Israeli invasion of Gaza in retaliation for the Islamic group, Hamas, firing rockets into Israel.  During this invasion Israeli forces targeted civilians and demolished Palestinian homes with bulldozers.  There are some who argue that this invasion was genocide.  However, this invasion could be viewed as collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza for supporting Hamas rather than the destruction of the group as such.  As stated previously genocide means the intent by a state to destroy a group in whole or part so that the group could not reconstitute itself.  Although the Palestinians as a group in this case were left largely intact the deliberate targeting of civilians by the Israeli military has to constitute a war crime.

There is a problem, however.  In order to be sanctioned by the UN, Israel would have to be subject to a UN Security Council Resolution.  In this context, Israel’s ultimate ally, the United States has used its veto to block any such resolution. There is a loophole though in that under Belgian law persons may be charged with war crimes or crimes against humanity regardless of the nationality of the victims or the accused.  In this context, in 2001, survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacres brought war crimes charges against Ariel Sharon in Belgium while he was still Israeli prime minister.  However, the International Court of Justice later ruled that the Belgian court could not go ahead with the case since a foreign government minister enjoys diplomatic immunity.  Incidentally, this immunity may not extend to military personnel or former government ministers.

In conclusion, Israeli actions against Palestinians have far exceeded the normal definition of racism as antagonism or discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity.  It is laudable that UEFA has tried to eradicate racism in football but by defining the Palestinian flag as an “illicit banner” it has itself engaged in politics and has tacitly endorsed the racist policies of the Israeli state towards the Palestinians.  UEFA, of course, on its own, cannot force Israel to change these policies.  Only the permanent members of the UN Security Council, primarily the United States can end Israel’s virtual impunity and force it to face up to its responsibilities under international law.


Harriet Sherwood, Peter Beaumont “Celtic fans’ appeal raised £130,000 for Palestinian charities” The Guardian 24 August 2016

The Concise Oxford Dictionary Ninth Edition, Della Thompson (ed.) (London: BCA 1996)

Benny Morris The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (Cambridge: 1987)

Michael Palumbo The Palestinian Catastrophe (London: 1987)

Robert Fisk Pity the Nation (London: 1990)

TG Fraser The Arab Israeli Conflict Basingstoke: palgrave macmillan, 1995)

Geoffrey Robertson QC Crimes Against Humanity (London: Penguin Books, 2012)

Why A Memorial Must Be Raised To The Irish Famine

By Doctor Michael Herron

The prevarication of Glasgow City Council over raising a memorial to the Irish Famine needs to be answered by challenging the revisionist narrative of the Famine.

According to this narrative, the British government would not interfere with the regular patterns of imperial trade, which diverting food ready for export to feed the starving Irish would have done.  Adhering to the economic orthodoxy of the time thus explained the government’s policy.  The British government’s response to a natural disaster, the potato blight, was also marred by administrative incompetence mainly at a local level.

Conversely, the Great Hunger Memorial Committee was correct to highlight how a potato blight that affected all of Europe, particularly populations with a potato based diet in Eastern Europe, only resulted in mass casualties in Ireland with one million dead and another million forced to emigrate.

This article will explain why the revisionist narrative of the Famine is at least incomplete and ultimately wrong as it was in fact a case of genocide.  It is instructive that genocide scholar, Professor William Schabas of the National University of Ireland, Galway, has previously described the Famine as a “crime against humanity”.

To explain why it was a case of genocide, it is necessary to define what genocide is.  According to the Genocide Convention of 1948, genocide is the “intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such” comprising a number of acts including “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

The issue of which groups were affected by the Famine underpins the most common argument made to deny that a genocide was perpetrated since Irish Protestants were also affected by the Famine as well as Irish Catholics.  This is to misunderstand how genocide works.  Genocides can encompass victims other than the target group, for example, during the Rwandan genocide, a number of Hutus as well as Tutsis were killed by Hutu perpetrators.  Key aspects of genocide are the identification of the target group and separation from the rest of the community.  Oliver Cromwell had already accomplished these two steps when he banished the Gaelic speaking Irish Catholic population to the infertile West of Ireland.  The Victorian perpetrators of the genocide took advantage of this fact as they knew where the target group was located, which could then be destroyed.

Perhaps the most important and difficult aspect of the definition of genocide is proving intent.  In Katherine Goldsmith’s view intent can be defined from an understanding by the perpetrator that what they will do will probably eliminate the group.  While for Florian Jessburger intent can be determined from the circumstances in which the crime took place.

This article will show that the British government of the time had a clear understanding that its policies would probably eliminate the core group of the Irish in Western Ireland.  In addition, in its knowledge of the circumstances pertaining in the West of Ireland it deliberately inflicted on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

Intent can also be inferred from determining patterns of behaviour and policy.  A policy of “ethnic cleansing” of the Gaelic speaking regions of Britain can be perceived in the early nineteenth century.  The Highland Clearances along with the Famine were key parts of a continuum of government policy by the Hanoverian state.  It is perhaps not coincidental that these Gaelic speakers allied to the French had almost overthrown this state in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 and the Irish rebellion of 1798.

In this context it is important to note that Ireland was often a testing ground for ideas and policies that would be implemented in other parts of the British Empire.  The idea of plantations was replicated in the colonisation of North America and the use of famine as a means of population control was later adopted in India.

Perhaps a stronger motive than the strategic imperative for genocide was the economic.  In both the cases of the Highland Clearances and the Famine the landowners would derive more profit by consolidating their land free of tenant farmers than they would with them on it.  Indeed, as noted by Tim Pat Coogan, there were influential figures in the British government during the Famine including Palmerston, Landsdowne and Clanricade who owned some of the most extensive landholdings in Ireland and helped shape government policy on Ireland to suit their interests.  This does not contradict the charge of genocide, it supports it, since expropriation of the victims’ property is a common feature of genocide.

It is important to note that “ethnic cleansing”, the deliberate expulsion of a group from a specific territory, and genocide are not mutually exclusive. One can blur into the other as was the case at Srebrenica when Bosnian Serbs massacred Bosnian Muslims.  The British authorities were able to “ethnically cleanse” the Highlands of Scotland without many casualties because the population was smaller than in Ireland.  There were many millions of tenant farmers in the West of Ireland.  In order to successfully cleanse the West of Ireland, genocide would also have to be employed.

The path to genocide was a case of cumulative radicalization as the British government deployed more radical measures to resolve a crisis of its own making developing from long standing roots.

The roots of the problem were that the Irish banished to the West of Ireland occupied plots of land that were only suitable for growing potatoes.  These tenant farmers were at the mercy of absentee landlords who demanded labour as well as rent to maintain their tenancy.

According to James Handley in The Irish in Modern Scotland, the position of these tenant famers was made precarious by the attempt in 1838 to enact Irish poor law reform on the lines of the one adopted in England.  One commission set up by the British government recommended a different kind of bill to the one in England, taking into account the different conditions existing in Ireland where the problem was not that people were unwilling to work, but there was no employment available.

The Whig government of Lord Melbourne rejected the findings and instead assigned an English Poor Law commissioner, Nicholls, to compile a report more to their liking.  This commissioner recommended the establishment of 80 to 100 workhouses to accommodate 1,000 people each.  The government based its Irish Poor Law on Nicholl’s recommendations.  According to Handley, another government adviser, Sir George Lewis explained in his book The Irish Disturbances the reason for the workhouse plan “it was necessary to provide a shelter for the evicted tenant in order to lessen the ignominy and danger to the landlords in their endeavour to consolidate their farms”.

The carte blanche given to landlords by the government to accomplish this outcome was outlined by Lewis in a confidential paper written at the request of Thomas Spring Rice, first Baron Monteagle of Brandon in Kerry and Chancellor of the Exchequer in Melbourne’s government.  Lewis wrote, “in the present condition of Ireland I can conceive of no other means except a strongly guarded poor law of restoring to the landlords the power of doing what they will with their own”.

In Handley’s view the implications of this law were clear “in the light of these facts it is no exaggeration to state that the English government by its Irish Poor Law Bill of 1838 deliberately accelerated its policy of depopulation”.  Contemporary opinion was aware of the potential implications since The Times envisaged a time “when an Irishman would be as rare in Connemara as a Red Indian on the shores of Manhattan”.

When the potato blight struck the response of Charles Trevelyan, the minister responsible for Irish poor relief in both Conservative Robert Peel’s and Whig Lord John Russell’s governments appeared at first sight ambivalent but nevertheless achieved the result of making Irishmen very “rare in Connemara”.

Trevelyan did provide some relief giving food for public works and setting up soup kitchens but his attitude, according to revisionist writer RF Foster in his book Modern Ireland 1600-1972, reflected the “Whig view of economic theory” that “government intervention was to be strictly limited”.  The disbursement of food was indeed very limited.  Trevelyan opposed the import of Indian corn that could have helped to sustain the Irish.  Foster does admit, however, that Trevelyan in his book, The Irish Crisis (1848) “intimated that the Famine was the design of a benign Malthusian God who sought to relieve overpopulation by natural disaster”.

During this time Trevelyan also supported the export of food from Ireland.  Eyewitness to the Famine American journalist Henry George described the situation this provoked: “When her [Ireland’s] population was at its height Ireland was a food exporting country.  Even during the famine, grain and meat and butter and cheese were carted for exportation along roads lined with the starving and past trenches into which the dead were piled”.  Charles Trevelyan was later knighted by Queen Victoria for his work on Irish relief.

The situation was dangerous enough but one event in 1847 turned a crisis into a tragedy.  By the summer of 1847 three million Irish were receiving relief.  Due to a good harvest but not one for potatoes since no seeds had been planted, the government decided that all government relief under the Soup Kitchen Act would end in September 1847.

An Act of Parliament of that year drastically radicalized the situation and can be seen as the key turning point towards genocide.  Legislation facilitating genocide by a Western liberal democracy only has its parallel in the various Indian Acts passed by the US Congress endorsing genocide of Native Americans by the US government.  The Poor Law Extension Act of 1847 allowed able bodied persons to enter workhouses and be fed in return for work and for the first time granted the workhouses authority to provide outdoor relief.  This would be funded by local Poor Law rates not the government in London.  There was one problem, in order to receive relief anyone possessing more than a quarter acre of land would have to give up their property.  The maximum capacity of the workhouses was 100,000.  The choice facing upwards of 1.5 million was a stark one, starvation or shelter from the harsh Irish winter.  Foster accepts that the Act “boosted the landlords’ desiderata of land clearance and emigration” and resulted in “disintegrating the fabric of rural society”.

At this point a number of parallels can be made with a genocide that genocide scholars have agreed was genocide, the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turk government during the First World War.  Having studied this genocide for a doctorate “Denial of the Armenian genocide in American and French politics,” this author was struck by the commonalities with the Famine although there were important differences since the Armenians were subject to massacres while the Irish were not.  Perhaps the most important commonality is that both the Armenians and Irish were evicted from their homes.  Most of the Armenians died on forced marches into the Syrian desert where they perished from starvation, thirst and exposure to the elements; the Irish were also forced out of their homes to walk the roads often in the depth of winter and suffered starvation and exposure to the Irish climate and once they had reached their destination they often had no shelter as the workhouses were full.  Indeed, Mustafa Kemal, the founder of Modern Turkey, expressed surprise at British complaints about Armenian suffering given their treatment of the Irish during the Famine.

There are a number of reasons why this author argues that the British government perpetrated genocide through passage of the Poor Law Extension Act of 1847.  If one can accept revisionist arguments about economic orthodoxy determining policy and administrative incompetence, the Poor Law Extension Act gives the lie to these excuses. Any reasonable person would have been aware that forcing a million and a half Irish off their land as the workhouses were already overwhelmed and full to capacity would result in disaster.  The decision to force the Irish to make a choice between food and shelter, indefinite though that was, under the 1847 legislation appears to meet the requirements of article ( c ) of the Genocide Convention of “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

Emigration was an option for some although many of the population could not afford the fare.  By deliberately worsening the problem through the 1847 legislation and then leaving the Irish parishes to deal with the consequences the government in London must bear the major share of responsibility for the disaster.  It is this deliberate worsening of the situation that meets the requirements of the convention.  For this reason, this author argues that it was a case of genocide, where the British government used the opportunity of a natural disaster to deliberately engineer the mass destruction of the population of the West of Ireland.

If this charge of intent to commit genocide is accepted, then the population decline in Ireland of 2,225,000 through death and emigration between 1845 and 1851 was a result of the first genocide of Modern European History.  It is why a memorial to the Irish Famine must be raised in Glasgow.


Katherine Goldsmith “The Issue of Intent in the Genocide Convention and Its Effect on the Prevention and the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Toward its Knowledge-Based Approach” Genocide Studies and Prevention 5(3) pp238-57

Florian Jessburger “The Definition and the Elements of the Crime of Genocide in Paulo Gaeta (ed.) The UN Genocide Convention-A Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)

Tim Pat Coogan The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy (US: palgrave macmillan, 2012)

James Handley The Irish in Modern Scotland (Cork: Cork University Press, 1947)

R F Foster Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (USA: Penguin Group, 1989)

Robert Kee Ireland A History (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1980)

The Turkish Coup-Kemalism Revisited

By Dr Michael Herron

A number of reasons have been given for the recent coup in Turkey that followed those in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.  One argument was that elements of the military had been given wind of a plan to purge them by the Erdoğan government and moved to pre-empt this purge. Another that it was instigated by the Gülen movement to overthrow the government.  Another was that elements of the army had been angered by the revival of the Kurdish war and the machinations of the Erdoğan government in Syria.

However, the most common reason for the Turkish military to engineer a coup has been to protect the principles of secular government as established by Mustafa Kemal, Atatürk, which Erdoğan’s opponents claim have been threatened by Erdoğan’s government.  This article will argue that there are in fact many commonalities between Erdoğan and Atatürk but of course some vital differences.

One common argument used to criticise Erdoğan is that he wants to set himself up as a Sultan.  The revival of the Ottoman Empire in popular culture appears to chime with this idea.  However, arguably rather than wishing to be a latter day Sultan Erdoğan wants to emulate Atatürk’s presidential style and power.  To do this he has adopted some of Atatürk’s methods while rejecting a number of his key principles.

The principles of Kemalism as enumerated by William Cleveland were reformism, republicanism, secularism, nationalism, state capitalism with a further principle for foreign affairs of maintaining peaceful relations with Turkey’s neighbours.

These principles underpinned Turkey’s transformation from what Atatürk believed was the backward remnant of a multi-faith, multi-ethnic empire into a nation state that could survive in the modern world.

Many of these principles were accepted without much controversy.  Reformism, the willingness to accept new ideas was exemplified in the change from a Muslim lunar calendar to the Gregorian calendar with Sunday replacing Friday as the day of rest.  Another reform that was generally accepted was the replacement of the Arabic alphabet by the Roman alphabet.

Nationalism embodied the production of a new Turkish national and cultural identity around which Turks could rally around.  This was largely accepted although Kurds found this new identity problematic.  Populism characterised by the creation of peoples’ houses which engaged in adult education, sporting activities and political education successfully mobilised the people.  State capitalism, which was developed as a response to the depression when Turkey decided it could not rely on imports and moved to develop an industrial base was also well received in Turkey.  Regarding the final principle of keeping the international peace, throughout Atatürk’s rule relations with Turkey’s neighbours remained peaceful.

The two principles which were the source of most controversy during Atatürk’s rule were those of republicanism and secularism.  These two principles went hand in hand.  By consolidating his authority under an amendment to the Constitution of the republic Atatürk was able to enforce the necessary reforms to reduce the public role of Islam and to put it under the control of the state.

Under this amendment, as noted by Andrew Mango the Turkish president would be elected by thy assembly, his term of office would run concurrently with the assembly members and he could be re-elected, the president would appoint the prime minister who would then choose ministers from among the assembly members.  The assembly would approve the cabinet.  The President as head of state could chair the assembly and the cabinet whenever he chose to do so.  In effect the President was an “elected dictator” in all but name whose prime minister would execute his will.  This gave Atatürk the power to suppress dissent and where necessary crush opposition to his rule.

Regarding his views on Islam, Atatürk wished to emulate France’s secular approach to religion of the separation of church and state with one difference, Islam in Turkey would come under the control of the state.

Initially, Atatürk had removed the Ottoman Sultanate while preserving the Caliphate.  However, he came to see the Caliphate as standing at the head of a religions hierarchy of Islamic clerics, the ulema, who ran the religious schools, the medreses, and also interpreted the Muslim holy law, the sharia, that governed most interactions between Turkish citizens.

According to Bernard Lewis, Atatürk saw the ulema as the biggest obstacle to his efforts to reform and modernise Turkey.  Indeed, the ulema had been able to hinder reforms by previous regimes.  By removing the Caliphate Atatürk undercut the authority of the ulema, thus clearing the way for Atatürk to end Islam’s public role in the state and refocusing the allegiance of the citizenry to the nation state.  This was solidified by Atatürk replacing sharia law with a civil law based on Swiss civil law and penal and commercial codes copying those of Italy and Germany respectively.

The ending of the Caliphate witnessed an example of Atatürk’s authoritarianism.  This act had aroused opposition from Muslims around the world including two leading Indian Muslims, the Agha Khan and Amer Ali.  They had written to Ismet, Atatürk’s prime minister, requesting that the Caliphate should be preserved.  However, the letter was published by Turkish newspapers before it had reached Ismet.  As a result, the Independence Tribunal ordered the arrest of the bar association president and the editors of three newspapers for high treason.

Atatürk’s authoritarian tendencies were again brought to the fore when he was the victim of an assassination plot.  He used this conspiracy as an opportunity to round up political opponents.  These included twenty-seven members of the banned Progressive Party, five of them generals and former members of the Congress and Union Party who had previously opposed Atatürk or had split with him after the War of Independence.  Death sentences were handed out to a number of the defendants, six of the Progressive Party defendants were executed, four Unionists were put to death while five were condemned to ten years in prison for incitement to murder.

This incident has its echoes in Erdoğan’s crackdown on political opponents after the recent failed coup.  This repression has also followed a number of arrests of journalists which have multiplied in the wake of the coup.  Indeed, many in Turkey prior to the coup believed that Erdoğan wanted to consolidate power around the presidency as Atatürk had done previously, although this time to reverse many of Atatürk’s secular reforms and promote Islam as more central to daily life.

Erdoğan has also challenged Atatürk’s principle of maintaining peaceful relations with his neighbours as his involvement in the war in Syria attests.  All this may be a consequence as the Popes argue of the Turkish establishment over the years trying to preserve Kemalism in aspic rather than allowing gradual reform that would have permitted Turkey to become a more developed democracy.

In the meantime, Erdoğan has used populism and nationalism to mobilise his Conservative Muslim base to support his claims to aggrandize more power for himself.  It may be one of the great ironies that a figure like Erdoğan has used some of the principles of Kemalism as well as Atatürk’s methods to undermine the foundations of the secular republic, which Atatürk established.



William L. Cleveland A History of the Modern Middle East (Colorado: Westview Press 2004)

Andrew Mango Atatürk (London: John Murray 1999)

Bernard Lewis The Emergence of Modern Turkey (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2002)

Nicole Pope and Hugh Pope Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey (Woodstock & New York: The Overlook Press 2004)


Trumpism-Nativism Redux

By Dr Michael Herron

Donald Trump, it has been argued, is the latest in a long line of American populists. Some commentators compare him to Charles Lindbergh, leader of the isolationist “America First” party in the 1930s and 40s.  Indeed, “Putting America First” has been one of Trump’s slogans.  Others compare him to another figure of the 1930s, Louisiana governor, Huey Long or the Populist leader of the 1890s and champion of the downtrodden farmer against the railroads, William Jennings Bryan.

However, this article will argue that Trumpism harks back to an older strain of American populism, the Nativism of the 1840s and 50s. Indeed, it will demonstrate that a number of the reasons for the rise of Trumpism are similar to those for the rise of Nativism, with some important differences.

Ostensibly, American Nativism emerged as a response to a rapid growth of mainly Catholic Irish and German immigration into a United States that was predominantly Protestant during the 1840s and 50s. However, as Eric Foner and other scholars have argued this immigration only exacerbated an already fractious situation.

According to Foner, the seeds of Nativism had been sown by the economic depression of 1837-1842.   This depression had undermined the labour solidarity of the 1830s which had tended towards greater secularism in the spirit of Thomas Paine.  As this labour solidarity broke down and divided the working population on the basis of religion and ethnicity, American Protestants became open to the emerging Protestant evangelical movement, the Great Awakening.  This increased enthusiasm for evangelical Protestantism then reinforced the native born American Protestant population’s hostility to newcomers with a different faith.

The fact that this immigration was on a massive scale stoked the fires of this hostility even higher. According to Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her epic study of Lincoln, the population of the United States was 20 million in 1845.  In the space of ten years 3 million immigrants came to the United States, the vast majority from Ireland and the German states.  These immigrants had fled the Famine that ravaged Ireland from 1845 to 1851 and the failed Revolution in the German states in 1848.

This immigration encouraged some American Protestants to found an anti-Catholic party, the Know-Nothings. This party’s platform aimed to prevent the newcomers claiming citizenship until they had been resident for a number of years and to disqualify them from voting.  It also opposed state funding to support Catholic education.  This platform grew out of the general suspicion among American Protestants that the new immigrants owed their allegiance to the Pope and the Catholic Church rather than the United States.

The Know-Nothing party had widespread support in the United States in the early 1850s. It gained control of a number of cities, had strong backing in New York and won power in the state capitol of Massachusetts.  At the time, there were also a number of anti-Catholic riots in a number of cities in the North.

Perhaps the high point for this party was when under the new name of the American Party it nominated Millard Fillmore for President during the election of 1856. Fillmore also gained the support of the Whigs.  However, during the election the American Party only won one state, Maryland.

The party eventually split over the issue of slavery. Many of the northern Know-Nothings also opposed slavery whereas the Southern Know-Nothings supported this institution.  According to Goodwin, the Northern Know-Nothings split with their southern counterparts because they viewed the extension of slavery into the new western territory of Nebraska as more important than opposition to new immigrants.

These anti-slavery Know-Nothings joined with “Conscience Whigs” who were also opposed to slavery and the “Independent Democrats who had split with the Southern Democrats over slavery to form the Republican Party. However, according to Goodwin, Lincoln in particular was as hostile to Nativism as he was to slavery stating “how can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favour of degrading classes of white people”.

Nativism lived on after the Civil War particularly in the Republican Party. It came to the fore especially in New York politics against the Democrat machine that ran New York city government, Tammany Hall.  This machine derived much of its support from the Irish working class of the city.  Nativist elements in the Republican Party seized upon the deaths caused by the riots over a march by the Orange Order in 1871 to oust from power Boss Tweed and to suppress Irish working class influence in New York for some time. However, Tammany Hall regained some of its influence only to have its wings clipped when Theodore Roosevelt, then a New York assemblyman introduced a bill in 1884 to allow New York City Mayors to employ or sack employees without having to consult the board of alderman which was dominated by Tammany Hall.

Extreme Nativism had been dormant within the Republican Party for some time until it has re-emerged with the rise of Donald Trump. Some of the reasons for this re-emergence coincide with those leading to the original version of Nativism, while some differ.

It is important to stress that America for some time has witnessed a rise in evangelical fervour as in the 1840s and many of these evangelicals have given their support to the Republican Party in return for the Republican Party taking their side in the so called culture wars, particularly over the issue of abortion. Recent years have also seen the rise of the Tea Party funded by billionaire donors, which has pushed an aggressive right wing agenda.  There has been overlap between the evangelical movement and Tea Party membership and the Republican Party has pandered to both.  The United States has also seen great demographic change in recent years with the growth of the Latino population, often as a result of migration.  These are developments that Trump neo-Nativism has exploited.

Another echo of 19th century Nativism by 21st Century Trumpism is that as for questioning the loyalty of recent immigrants to the United States, Trump wants to impose a blanket ban on all Muslim migration to the US until these individuals have been proven to pose no threat to the security of the US.



Donald Trump has harnessed some of this populism but he has also manipulated opposition to globalisation among the White working class/ middle class. This globalisation, which was not so pronounced in the mid-nineteenth century has often come at the expense of the White working class.  Trump has exploited populism and this issue of globalisation to push the Republican party to the extremes particularly over the issue of immigration with his call to deport illegal migrants, undocumented mainly Mexican workers and to build a wall between the United States and Mexico as well as his anti-Muslim proposals.

The lessons of the 1840s for the present day are that once the genie of Nativism is out of the bottle, it is very difficult to put back. Nativist sentiments remained strong for many years in American politics after its heyday in the 1840s and 50s.  Arguably, they were only ultimately overcome with the election of John F Kennedy in 1960.  Although there have been many Catholic national leaders in American public life since JFK’s death in 1963 he remains the only Catholic President to date.


Eric Foner Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976)

Doris Kearns Goodwin Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (London: Penguin Books, 2005)

Michael A Gordon The Orange Riots: Irish Political Violence in New York City, 1870 and 1871 (New York: Cornell University Press 1993)

Geoffrey C Ward and Ken Burns The Roosevelts An Intimate History (New York: Knopf, 2014)