Provocative and insulting
There was nothing remotely progressive in the defeat of Jacobitism, argues Dave Douglass, in this response to Neil Davidson of the Scottish Socialist Party's Socialist Worker platform
I hope you will allow me a belated response to Neil Davidson’s ‘taking apart’ of “what commonly passes for Scottish history” (Weekly Worker October 16).
I hear what you say: that we are being addressed by a Marxist expert on Scottish (so-called, I presume) history. Why does this make me feel no easier about ‘inevitable’ genocide and the most brutal anti-human activity being passed off as “progressive”? Perhaps this extreme historic determinism is what passes for a communist vision of the past and what it all means?
Davidson’s, to my mind, absurd designation of King George Hanover as progressive, while Charles Edward Stuart (would-be king) and his Jacobites represented the reactionaries - indeed “counterrevolutionaries” - takes some understanding. George, it seems, represented the progress of capitalism, while the bonny lad represented feudalism and even aspects of tribalism. This is the logic that tells us the massacre of the North American ‘Indians’ was inevitable, even progressive. By the same terms Custer would be the bold progressive, dying in the cause of mankind’s progress (in an attempted massacre of a whole Indian village), while Sitting Bull was fighting for a social system even more reactionary than the Highlanders.
Following this hoary road would led us to defend the massacre and social rape of native peoples across the world in the inevitable cause of ‘progress’ and sadly the iron school of Stalin determinism has led some to do so, justifying en route the most atrocious periods of human history. That this comes from a member of the Socialist Workers Party just shows how deep that mental deformation runs in the Marxist-Leninist breed.
Allow me to object. Uneven and combined development seems to have escaped our expert. Sitting Bull’s fighters were using the most modern repeating rifles, without having to have forged an industrial revolution from their tepees. History should teach us, communists in particular, that the future is in our own hands. Certainly the mode of production will limit initially how far social aspirations can evolve, but not the basic mode of social relations and humanity. Are we seriously being told that, had Charlie handled things differently and actually succeeded in toppling George from the throne, that capitalism in Britain would have been uninvented? That the extensive mining, engineering, shipping, manufacturing revolution already well in spin would have halted and reversed?
Sorry, mate - expert or no, that is nonsense. The tapestry of capitalism evolving in Britain would have continued to have been woven, simply with a few more Celtic and ‘northernocentric’ hues perhaps, but the frame and weave would have been much the same. Social history and social relations are at base not so much about iron laws, but human aspiration. Davidson’s analysis of what the Jacobites were (in his modern Marxist - I dare bet ‘southernocentric’ - middle class view) misses the very real point of how they were perceived at the time. What did folk think they were fighting for? I can’t see anywhere in Neil’s text where he addresses the question of what the people, the masses, the folk, thought about it all. Isn’t that odd for a socialist?
Certainly he cannot take the size of the force actually mustered south of the border, guns in hands, as being an indication of the widespread support they enjoyed, in the north especially. The Manchester Regiment were the only ones raised, but there is strong evidence that at least an equally strong force could have been raised from the pitmen and keelmen and sailors of Tyneside and Northumbria in general (you well know the fate of the Northumbrian Earls of Derwentwater in both major rebellions). I have strong suspicions that Liverpool too, if given half a chance, would have marched to the pipes. The truth is, nobody bothered to sign them on.
So why did people join this rebellion and what did they think this Jacobite cause was about ? Like the Irish rebellion of 1916 and its subsequent wilful repression the defeat of ’74 and the genocide which followed coloured the sympathies of Scots and northern England folk afterwards, to the point where the Jacobites might have become a popular cause a little later, even if few would put their money where their mouths were at the time in either rebellion. Robert Burns, a man many have described as a communist of sorts, a popular poet of the people and no lover of folk in crowns, left few in doubt as to his sympathy for the Jacobite cause.
For some it was about securing a more sympathetic acceptance of catholicism, for non-catholic tolerant protestant Jacobites a more sympathetic non-proscription on how they worshipped. For others it was about nationality: Charles, for all his French-Italian manners, was seen as a Scottish king, not a German, and this made more sense to the highlanders. Certainly some saw this as a battle against the Act of Union, a deal which deeply rankled many of the clan chiefs and had been seen as an utterly humiliating betrayal joining England and Scotland under one parliament.
While John Prebble says of the clansmen: “They came out through no particular attachment to the Stuart cause, and their approval for the prince, when he put himself ahead of them in trews and plaid, was personal rather than political” (Culloden), Davidson himself quotes from a captured clansman in his prison cell prior to being beheaded: “My lord, for the two kings [that is, James and George] and their right, I care not a farthing. But I was starving. And, by god, if Mohammed had set up a standard in the highlands I would have been a good muslim for bread and stuck close to the Jacobite party, for I must eat.”
The condemned highlander is surely not saying here that he joined the Jacobite army because they were offering some lavish fare en route to the battle, because we know the poor sods didn’t get fed at all, but rather that they were seen to promise a better state of affairs and relief from poverty should they succeed, and that seems to have been a common belief. The indentured servants and convicted criminals destined for the plantations who rose to seize the ship, Gordon, in an effort to join the rebellion (too late as it turned out) were Scots and Irish who clearly saw the promise of a better life, perhaps even a better system.
What of the troops of the British army who deserted to join the rebellion? Some were Scottish and clearly felt this was a Scottish rebellion, in which they should take a stand. Some were Irish and felt the cause of Ireland and the cause of Scotland conjoined, but what of the English mutineers from the British army? What did they think they were joining? They could have just run away, absconded, melted into the mass of the great unwashed. Instead they joined a side which they deemed was worth fighting for, to the point of knowing their gruesome fate should they lose. They did not don kilt or trews, but fought on incongruously in their red coats and white gaiters. Did they simply hate everything the British army stood for and see in this as good a chance for pay-back time as any? Or did they see in the Jacobite forces, if not its leaders, a chance to have a go, to change something, to challenge something?
I think understanding the nature of the Jacobites requires the kind of empathy only working class fighters can fathom and, pardon me, but Neil Davidson whom I have never met, strikes me, in this article anyway, as a cynical, middle class academic, with the kind of allegiance to ‘Britishness’ and all that I have always found to be a red rag to a bull.
A Scottish king in battle with a German, London-based king also struck a chord with folk in northern England and, together with the Celtic and catholic connection, probably explains the presence of the Manchester men. There was perceived to be a north v south battle here, a continuation perhaps of numerous earlier battles going back before the Norman invasion, when Scotland and Northumbria challenged the south for control and sovereignty. Later, when well armed colliers and sailors marched around Newcastle with small pipes blaring, declaring Newcastle and Northumberland for Charles and Scotland in 1748, it might have been in disgust and outrage at the stories filtering down from the glens of unspeakable outrage and murder.
But why should such men join this cause? These are the same men described by the home office at the time as the “forces of atheism and anarchism” - they were to be the backbone of the physical-force wing of the Chartists a few years later. We would not expect that they would be easily won to the side of the lisping, foreign-accented, posh kid in a lang wig, so they obviously perceived something more.
Of those won to the Jacobites of course we must add those who simply believed Charles was morally and legally right, while George, they concluded, was a fake and in the wrong. They came to this conclusion without any vested interest on taking that side, perhaps even in spite of the odds stacked against them. Neil has that horrible News of the World tendency to see everything in terms of social interest, and of basically scratching the best back to scratch yours. People, even rich bastards, don’t always think like that: sometimes people will fight a corner despite their best financial interests.
Neil has chosen to describe the rebellion as a “civil war”, suggesting that Scotland was split, that it wasn’t a Scotland v England (or vaguely ‘the sooth’). I cannot agree: a few scab loyalist forces, ferocious though they were, did not characterise Scotland and especially not the highlands. (Neil says that the rebellion wasn’t a highland affair anyway. My point is there was more to it than that, but let’s not understate the highland connection. Reading the list of the men who stood at Culloden couldn’t leave you in much doubt as to who represented the bulk of the highlands in that field, and where the biggest force came from).
The native American tribes who joined with the United States in their Indian wars to kill their fellow ‘Indians’ and the cause they aspired to, the values they tried to defend, does not stop that being an anti-‘Indian’ war of conquest, plunder and genocide. The collaboration of the majority of Nottingham miners with the state during the miners’ strike of 1984-85 doesn’t mean that the state wasn’t intending to wage war on the miners per se and wipe them out socially and economically. A small percentage of scabs was never a ‘split’. The collaboration of those loyalist Indians, Scots and miners didn’t prevent the cultures of those peoples being virtually wiped out, including the ‘scab’ forces themselves.
How did the other side view the conflict? Did they see the Scottish collaborators as demonstrating this was not a war against Scotland and Scottish interests? The victory of George was hailed by the protestant English churches, ‘peaceful’ Quakers too: “As none of all thy protestant subjects exceed us, in aversion to the tyranny, idolatry and superstition of the church of Rome, so none is under more just apprehension of immediate danger from their destructive consequences, or have greater cause to be thankful to the almighty for the interposition of his providence and our preservation” (quoted in Prebble).
To the forces of George - raping, looting, burning and killing every man, women, child and animal they encountered - was there some moderation shown to the non-combatants? To the non-Jacobites? To the anti-Jacobites? There was none. If it was Scottish, it was slaughtered and often cruelly tortured beforehand. The occupying forces were openly aiming at the extermination of the clans, and the genocide of all the highlands peoples. Systematic rounding up of all livestock, destruction of all shelter, confiscation of all food stores, deportations, etc. Rebellion was to be rooted out of the land of Scotland.
Davidson comments of the ongoing genocide: “I think the clearances are a red herring because they took place much later.” John Prebble sees it this way: “The clearances, the removal of man in favour of sheep, were the most tragic consequence of the changes begun at Culloden. The battle had demonstrated that a people held in contempt may be treated contemptibly. Even the landowners who still clung to the mystic nature of their role as ceann-cinnidh eventually accepted the arguable truth that their land and their way of life could be maintained only by rent from Northumbrian graziers, after the eviction and scattering of their one-time warrior rent roll.”
Surely it is obvious that the clearances could not have happened without Culloden and the removal of the means of life which preceded them. This was the self-same plan of the United States in driving the Indians from the planes, the wiping out of the buffalo, the infection of a defenceless people with disease from which they had no immunity - the first biological warfare actually. The actions in Scotland prior to the clearance were a necessary physical precursor to them. You can’t sensibly separate them.
This is not to say protestant loyalists mobs in Edinburgh didn’t do the same as their counterparts in London - rounding up catholics, Jacobites, non-jurant protestants for the gallows or a good public burning in the aftermath of the defeat. They did. In London, however, they rounded up anyone who was Scottish - Scottish meant Jacobite - and then non-Scottish catholics for a lynching and burning of houses. Loyalist clans went on the rampage in the heartlands of the Jacobites, although perhaps less blood-curdlingly than the English troops. The difference being in a few years those clans too would be swept aside by the aftermath of the defeat of the rebellion: they had simply been too short-sighted to see it.
So, to conclude, the Jacobites were seen as progressive. To call them a counterrevolutionary movement is shameful. They attracted forces from many dissident quarters, who, if they weren’t sure what they were fighting for, sure as hell knew what they were fighting against. That this struggle strongly took on the character of a Scottish - and maybe to a smaller extent northern - rebellion is clear, to me anyway.
Support for the rebellion - odd though it might seem, standing where we are now - didn’t necessarily mean you were a royalist as such and to some extent Charles was as good a reason for a row as any. There were features in this struggle which go back to much earlier fights - about nationality, ethnicity, religion and culture, and who as well as whereabouts will the people be ruled by and from. Those questions, believe it or not, are still being asked - and largely in the same places of the same people.
I do not think in any way this was a struggle characterising reactionary, feudalistic tribalism against progressive, thrusting capitalism and a new age. I certainly do not think any of this demonstrates that there is no Scotland, that there is no Scottish identity and that a different Scottish revolutionary road might not emerge. I can, however, see how this article is highly provocative - and not in a constructive sense. It is insulting and ill-observed, to say the least.
The Jacobite rebellion, and Scottish history, deserve a deeper understanding and analysis than the one given by Neil Davidson - expert or no. A cynic, as Wilde said, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.