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4 June 1998 Edition

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New in print

Cosmopolitan Welsh Volunteer

Anger's Violin
By David M Thomas
Published by Mount Eagle
Price £7.99

Owen Morgan Parry, the hero of Anger's Violin, a first novel by David M Thomas, is a tour guide, the perfect cover, it seems, for an IRA courier. Armed with ``a few languages and a knowledge of Europe'', the Welshman is a prized recruit entrusted with a package. The best laid shenanigans start to unravel soon after Amsterdam. MI6? A tout?.

You'll have to sharpen up, for this standard thriller-fare is laced with a crash course on European cultural history. Itinerant allusions abound with the glibness of a glossy travel brochure. A smattering of French, German, Welsh and Gaelic is also a bonus. The author, drawing on his experiences as an ex tour guide, flying picket, and student abroad, copiously name-drops with, at best, mixed relevance to the plot or Parry's itinerary: Descartes, Erasmus, Locke, Dante, Joyce, Beckett, Camus, Marx, Trotsky, Rosa Luxembourg, Gramsci, Lenin, Marcuse, Yoko Ono.

And the title, Anger's Violin? Well, it's a pun on ``Violin d'Ingres'' (Colin Bateman resorted to similar titular wordplay in Divorcing Jack to approximate Dvorak.) The great French painter Ingres also played a mean fiddle, apparently, and the phrase translates as ``side line''. Now ``side line'' hardly conjures an image of dedicated zeal, and we learn early that Parry intends this to be his ``one last tour and one last mission. For the cause''.

Why did the Welshman join the IRA? ``Who else [but the IRA] was there fighting that smug English ruling elite who, with all their forelock-tugging collaborators, had ground the miners into the dust and pissed and shat on the hopes of an entire generation, my generation?''. Working class anger is a commendable inner resource. But ultra-left qualms about ``individualism and opportunism'' assail Parry during the mission. What has carrying a packet across Europe got to do with the class struggle? Disappointingly, for a novel in which the nature of commitment, personal and political, is a running theme, the question goes unattended and the reader may therefore misconstrue that Irish republican politics and motivations are as muddled as the hero's.

Novels depicting the IRA on the side of angels are rare. Thomas improves on the stock thriller treatment of republicans. An exception is Ned Nolan, whom Parry likens to an SS guard: ``capable of the worst brutality by day and all Schubert by night''. The same Nolan ``went wobbly'' after a Brit interrogation, and the IRA had to send him to the Caribbean for a spot of R&R. Evidently, republican welfare provisions have vastly matured since my day. Getting the cost of a weekend at the Ardoyne Fleadh was like siphoning petrol out of a rock. And, for all I know, probably still is.

By Pat Magee

Taking the green road

The Protest Business
By Grant Jordan and William Maloney
Published by Manchester University Press
Price £40 (hb), £14.99 (pb)

The Third Revoluton: Popular Movements in the Revolutionary Era
By Murray Bookchin
Published by Cassell

Invincible Green Suburb, Brave New Towns
By Marl Clapson
Published by Manchester University Press
Price £40 (hb), £14.99 (pb)

A subtle but significant difference between the organised greens and the direct action movement is the nature of their banners. The greens display banners which proclaim their own organisation (Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and so on); activists unfurl banners which attack those who exploit (Planet Rapers, Toxic Torturers). And both want to get on TV.

But the truth, as Bob Woodward once said, is in the details. So while Jordan and Maloney's study of Friends of the Earth and the wider organised greens in Britain announces itself as an examination of why people join environmental groups and not political parties, it is much more than that.

NVDA (non-violent direct action) and DIY activists have always known that the organised greens exist to perpetuate their own careers. The general public, however, is not aware of this subtle difference. The organised greens seek to protect the environment and that is what they are seen to do. Yet as Jordan and Maloney note: ``The growth in size of environmental organisations cannot be solely attributed to the increased saliency of environmental issues. The sophisticated marketing efforts of these large-scale organisations has had a significant effect on group size: creating an activated constituency.''

Jordan and Maloney provide the statistical evidence that the organised greens are in it for themselves. Instead of leading green activity, the organised greens have fallen behind and it is only now that they are realising they may have got it wrong. You can fool the people... The scramble to protect their jobs has only been matched by the increasing voracity of actions by empowered people.

Murray Bookchin is one of the most perspicacious thinkers of the 20th century. He went off the rails a bit when he started screaming at everyone from the anarchists via the greens to the socialists in Which Way for the Green Movement and Re-enchanting Humanity. Now he's back on firm ground with `The Third Revolution: Popular Movements in the Revolutionary Era', using all his wisdom and knowledge to analyse why we must never give up in the struggle for basic human rights, why we must abolish authority, dominance and hierarchy and why only direct action coupled with a keen political knowledge will change society.

Bookchin may think no one is listening to what he has been saying for five decades but he is wrong - there's a vociferous, active movement out there empowering and changing. It's a different kind of revolution but it's a revolution still the same.

Global communities now face three major issues. Our growing population far exceeds the carrying capacity for a way of life that is low impact and sustainable for the long term. Our lifestyles are highly destructive and are far in excess of the basic needs for healthily happy families and communities. Our values and belief systems are far too centered on individualism and materialism and far too distant from ecological principles and a profound respect and reverence for creation.

Having displaced people from the land in the 17th and 18th centuries the British establishment created the social conditions for over-population. As the population under their rule soared, significantly in the post-45 war period, desperate building programmes to provide homes for the working classes on the peripheries of large towns changed the face of the landscape - bringing new roads, more development and increasing commerical activity.

Although Mark Clapson's Invincible Green Suburbs, Brave New Towns focuses on social dispersal in England, noting that new estates, new towns, new development and out-of-town hypermarkets will become a feature of the early 21st century, his observations are also relevant to Ireland. Not only have we copied the English experience we have also repeated their mistakes, creating social displacement and disempowerment. It's time for new visions.

By Robert Allen

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1