Left Belfast Festival
I am newly returned from the first event in the Left Belfast Festival calender: labour historian John Gray’s talk on historic responses to capitalist crisis.
I have enormous respect for John Gray, who as well as being an historian and community activist, was formerly Librarian of the Linen Hall Library.
I first encountered him through his pamphlet The Sans Culottes of Belfast: the United Irishmen and the men of no property (1998), which offered a worms-eye view of the 1798 uprising. To my mind it was also an important alternative to the Ulster Museums’ ‘defining’ and ‘authoritative’ Up in Arms exhibition that marked the bicentennial of the United Irish rebellion.
Up in Arms presented the period as a tragedy for liberal, bourgeois ambitions, manifesting the past through the spectacular artifacts left for posterity by the political elites of the period. John Gray, on the other hand, recalled and gave centre-stage to the poor and lower classes, whose contribution to the United Irishmen was crucial although scarcely remembered by the Ulster Museum.
If, with The Sans Culottes of Belfast, Gray rescued from the ‘enormous condescension of posterity’ Ulster’s working class, in today’s talk he situated Northern Ireland in a broader history of global capitalism. It seems to me that too often the ‘wee six’ are presented as some sort of historical anomaly; somewhere outside of the historical forces that have shaped the modern world; too introverted and caught up in its own atavistic goings-on to be touched by or pay any mind to such things as the great depression of the 1930s. Gray’s contribution today offered an important corrective to such thinking.
The Left Belfast Festival carries on for the rest of this week.
A couple of dates you may want to put in your diary are tomorrow night’s talk (26th April) by Stephen Baker in Belfast Exposed, Donegal Street at 7pm and Daniel Dewesbury’s on Thursday evening (28th April) in the same venue, same time.
Stephen and Daniel are two of the most urbane and handsome men of my acquaintance.
Stephen will address the question: is there anything the Left can learn from Northern Ireland about the media? Daniel will consider the politics of identity and the role of culture in the peace process.
Full details of all the Left Belfast Festival events are here.