John Burrowes (2005) Irish: The Remarkable Saga of a Nation and a City.

I qualify for an Irish passport. My Da was born in Belfast, but lived his life in Glasgow, and fought in the second world war for Britain. When he married my mum, he moved to Clydebank. John Burrowes is telling us something we already know—many of us have much the same story.

How many? Most folk find statistic boring. My Da was born in 1923. The Irish Free State was formed in 1921, with the six counties still part of Britain. Susan McKay 2021 writes, Protestants outnumbered Catholics by a ratio of about two to one in Northern Ireland… A hundred years later almost half the population is Catholic, there are fewer Protestant than Catholic schoolchildren, and the only cohort of the population to which Protestant are in a significant majority are the over-60s. Demographics tell their own story of No Surrender being outflanked by other means.  

The story of Northern Ireland is one of betrayal. The colonisation of Ireland by the English was piecemeal and ‘plantations’ were established in the North, with the richest land for Protestant immigrant settlers loyal to the Crown. Oliver Cromwell, ‘The Great Protector’s’ troops were ruthless in killing men, women and children who opposed his forces. The best Irish estates went to his followers. We all know about William of Orange, but few people acknowledge that he had the backing and blessing of the Pope at the time at the Battle of the Boyne.

This is all background stuff from sources outside Burrowes’ ‘saga of a nation and a city.’ But when we talk about Glasgow we need to speak of the Irish Holocaust.

‘The Great Famine of 1845-51 was to inflict on the Irish misery and degradation so abject that in proportionate terms it was unequalled anywhere else in the world. More than two million were wiped from the face of the land, either dying from starvation or fever, and fleeing to whatever country would accept them.’  

The Great Replacement Theory sprouting from the lips of the moron’s moron Trump and his ilk has its roots in eugenics and religion. You’ll find it in the triumphalism of little Englanders who hark back to the age when Britain was a superpower with a controlling and hegemonic interest in most nations. We were the industrial workshop of the world. Britain made over ninety percent of the shipping with Glasgow at its hub. Trains were exported to these nascent and newly industrialising nations faster than we could build them or lay track. Glasgow was one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, outstripping London. The English gentleman was regarded as the apex of civilisation, worth several foreigners. At the base of the eugenic triangle were Negroes and Irishmen, regarded as workshy and of the lowest intelligence, unable to work machinery without supervision.

Burrowes quotes from Fredrick Engels the father of Communism.

‘Those Irishman who emigrate for fourpence on the deck of a steamship on which they are often packed like cattle, insinuate themselves everywhere. The worst dwellings are good enough for them; their clothing causes them little trouble as long as they are held together by a single thread; shoes they know not; their food consists of potatoes and potatoes only; whatever they earn beyond their needs they spend on drink. What does such a race want with higher wages? …Drink is the only thing which makes the Irishman’s life worth having…’

The Church of Scotland also promulgated hatred and division, regarding the Roman Catholic Irish as a pestilence an ‘Alien Race’ from which the best of Glasgow, the Flower of Scotland emigrated to avoid.

‘the great exodus of the Scottish race was going on,’ Reverend Mair declared to the General Assembly in Edinburgh.

‘Their places were taken by a people of a different race and a different faith, and Scotland was divided into two camps – Scottish and Irish.

In the great Glasgow conurbation there were now at least 450 000 Irish, almost every fourth person. In some areas, it was every third person. The figures speak for themselves. In 1881 there was some 327 000 of the Irish population in Scotland. In the year the report was compiled in 1921, there was 600 000…the Irish population had increased by 30 percent, but the Scottish population had only gone up six percent. Thousands fewer Scottish children were on the educational rolls…

The moron’s moron came out with the same crap. Burrowes points out,  Reverend Mair’s made up his own facts, which sounds familiar (you can have your own opinion, but not your own facts). The fertility of the Scots and Irish were broadly similar, unlike in Northern Ireland, nowadays, for example. And representatives from the Church of Scotland, at the General Assembly in 2002, in a report labelled, ‘Secteranism,’ apologised for their distortions and lies.

Lies cost lives. Many of the passengers packed together on the deck of the overcrowded ship,  Londonderry, fleeing famine on 1st December 1848, for example, thought they had escaped certain death. Many of them travelling from Sligo to Glasgow. Atlantic-gale-force winds and waves, and the engines struggled to cope. 200 passengers on the deck, including children were forced into the hold—for their own safety. Fearing flooding, hatches were closed. Screams and shouts encouraged a ship’s officer to cover the entrance and exit of the hold with tarpaulin to keep down the din and to keep it watertight. The noise stopped as the passengers suffocated. Because of the storm the ship changed course towards Londonderry. Steam and the stench of death rose out of the hold. No survivors. Cattle were better treated, because they had value.

The creation of Celtic in 1888 by Brother Wilfred in the East End of Glasgow is covered here. He modelled the new club on the success of Edinburgh’s Hibernian. Much of the ground being cleared by volunteers. Many of the players being nicked from Hibernian, who played a friendly against the newly formed club to help raise funds, which more fans attended than the Scottish Cup Final. The rivalry with Rangers was a slow burner. But it’s still burning. I still hate those bastards

In ‘Billy Boys and Tim Malloys,’ Burrowes describes the gang killing of James Dalziel (Razzle Dazzle) a runner and collector for illegal bookmaker, Pat Donnachy, and one of the best dancers in the area. The Briggait Boys from the Gallowgate invaded the Parlour Dance Hall, where Razzle Dazzle led his gang, The Parlour Boys. This was the era of No Mean City.

Billy Fullerton of the ‘Brig’ton Billy Boys’ was the kind of true blue commemorated in football chants. He worked for Tommy Gilmour, bookmaker, boxing promoter and manager, who also happened to be Catholic. Fullerton died penniless, in a single end, his funeral attended by tens of thousands, including Tommy Gilmour.

Marching season commemorating the Orange Order parading through Glasgow to remind Catholics who was in charge still goes on. It’s happening now. But whisper it, the poison has begun to seep away. Burrowes reminds of us a time when tens of thousands of Catholics and Protestants rampaged through Partick, meeting their Catholic brethren in street combat, which brought Glasgow to a standstill with rioting. A mate reminded me of the time he used to ease open his window on Kilbowie Road and fire stink bombs with a sling into the throng below. Members of flute bands now are joke figures. We no longer choke on our Cornflakes but snigger as they pass. The school system that educates Catholics and Protestants separately, however, continues. The joke is on us. No one has the political courage in secular Scotland to tackle this historical anachronism.  

John Burrowes gives an idiosyncratic and entertaining look at our past. What remains are the areas of urban poverty he names such as Calton and the Gallowgate. These areas where life expectancy is around ten year’s less than richer areas such as Bearsden. Round up the usual suspects. Whatever index you choose, we lose. Catholics and Protestants having the wrong kinds of children, poor children. In some things we’re number one and remain much the same. Glasgow’s miles better. Fuck off.    

Robert A.Caro (2003) The Years of Lyndon Johnson, volume 3, Master of the Senate.

At over a thousand pages Robert A.Caro’s biography of Lyndon B. Johnson is a hefty wedge of American history. We know power corrupts, but Caro also argues ‘power reveals’.  We’re aware of that iconic picture of Jackie Kennedy standing with the former Vice President of the United States and now President, Lyndon Johnson. Power reveals.

(But that was later, volume 4, the new Senator John F. Kennedy only makes a brief appearance, in volume 3, his father Joe Kennedy makes the offer to finance a campaign to elect his son, with Johnson, running as Vice President, much like Richard Nixon had run as Vice President for Dwight D. Eisenhower. The thirty-third and thirty-fourth Presidencies of Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower that followed the Second World War and the Korean War and post-war boom. These were giants of men, especially in relation to the moron’s moron, the 45th and current President of the United States.)

Lady Bird Johnson described her husband’s twelve years in Senate office as the happiest days of their life and that includes his stint as President.  A Senator hired by oil and gas interests in the South who bought a ticket with his name on it. The Brown brothers, whose company name was Brown & Root, for example, were willing to spend as much as it took to make Johnson a Congressman, a Senator and a President. Quid pro quo. They expected government contracts in return.

And Johnson got them for the Brown brothers. Their story follows the familiar pattern of the American dream, work hard and prosper. George Brown, for example, road building with a mule and a gang of men. Go soft on the mule and hard on the men was his motif. Then they sunk all their capital, all their savings, into a construction of a dam in Johnson’s county, the Hill Country. But would have went bust, the purchase of the land illegal, the machinery they bought for the job, a giant crane, useless junk, until Johnson sorted it with government officials (volume 2). Quid pro quo.  

The Brown brothers kept financing Johnson’s political ambitions and in return became a multinational company. They were given, for example, government contracts to build ships, even although they hadn’t worked in the field of shipbuilding before. They became big not only in the Southern States but in the United States and as American influence grew, also abroad. The Brown brothers never forgot their roots. They hated organised labour and they hated niggas, who they thought were lazy. George Brown (of the spare the mule era) labelled any state help as ‘Gimmes’. The hundreds of millions (billions by today’s standards) weren’t, of course, classified as ‘Gimmes’.

Brown & Root were one of several oil and gas monopolies that set out to destroy Leland Olds. Their attack dog was Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, quid pro quo.  Olds was chairman of the Federal Power Commission (FPC). If I were to describe Olds as a saintly man it would sound clichéd.   Caro doesn’t do that, his history of Johnson goes sideways to explain the future President’s world in more detail. Olds was part of that world, so there is a chapter devoted to his rise and destruction. And the way in which  Johnson cobbles together a Senate witch hunt, taking instruction from his business partners in Texas about strategy, because Old was a good man, Old was a mathematical genius, Old was a willing worker and servant of the public good. His Federal Power Commission stood in the way of even larger gas and monopoly profits—the oil depletion allowance, for example, government tax write-offs of tens of millions of dollars—because Olds worked out in advance what they were doing, how they were doing it and how much it cost. How much cheaper projects that harnessed the power of water and damns could be if it was done publicly, with federal aid and government stipulations. Electrical power generated sold to consumers at the lowest possible cost.  Old created transparency were oil and gas monopolies needed lies and deception in reaping monopoly profits from America’s natural resources. They wanted increased government ‘gimmes’, but they wrapped their request in the language of lassez-faire politics and private enterprise being held back by federal meddling.  The trillions of tax dollars given the richest cohort in American history by the moron’s moron is the equivalent strategy.

Johnson claimed that Old was a chameleon-like character who had inveigled himself into a position of power for his own ends. Johnson was describing himself. The oil and gas interests and the Southern Caucasus of Senators they had helped elect and keep in power had two obsessions: keeping ‘uppity’ ‘Negras’ down’ and hating Communists that subverted the American way of life. Senator Joe McCarthy’s Communist witch-hunts had no greater supporters than those from the South, including Johnson.

It isn’t much an exaggeration to suggest Senator ‘Jim Eastland could be standing right in the worst Mississippi flood ever known, and he’d say the niggers caused it, helped by the Communists’.  

Old saw first-hand how lassez-faire policies, big money and monopoly capital in the 1920s and 1930s sucked in and spat out men, women and children. A deeply religious man he despaired at those that called themselves Christian yet supported stock-market profits over Christian values and common humanity.

Johnson labelled him a red, his career was over. Johnson was lauded for his courageous attack on Old. Oil men cheered at the windfall profits put in their pocket. Old was against them, Johnson was for them. Big money has won. The FPC did as it was told by oil companies. It was no longer fit for purpose.

Another small group of men held the United States to ransom and these were the senators from the South. When Johnson entered the senate in 1948, he found out who was the most powerful Senator in the Senate—Senator Richard Russell of Georgia. Russell knew the intricate dance of Senate law and procedure and had a say-so in which committees Senators were allocated. He was a patriot. He believed although the South had been defeated by the North’s force of overwhelming numbers in the Civil War, the new Confederacy of Southern interests would never been defeated in the Senate. He would keep fighting. Civil Rights were his speciality. Calling together Southern Senators into a Caucasus they would filibuster any attempt to give the black man rights in, for example, employment, housing, or most damming of all schools. The mixing of the races, miscegenation, would Russell believed lead to the dilution of the white race and the fall of the American nation. Arguments of a kind still used in relation to immigrants today (great dilution of European values by…fill in your own fall guy here).   

Russell went along with the doctrine of his more dim-witted colleagues, for example,  ‘I like mules but I don’t bring one into my living room.’ ‘Negras’ skulls were, one of his senatorial colleagues asserted,  a quarter of an inch thicker which made their thinking slower.  Russell despite being the conduit through which the President and armed services had to come for finance to be released—for wars and aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons— did not believe a black man could be courageous. He also firmly believed with their loose moral way, they could be conduits of venereal disease. His policy of separate but equal a convenient lie, the flag the new Confederacy aligned themselves and Texas under. The flag which Johnson pledged his allegiance to those other eleven states. On his ranch he made sure a white man oversaw the work of Mexican ranch hands, who Johnson also regarded as naturally lazy.

Karen Campbell’s novel The Sound of the Hours highlights in fictional form the paradox of a regiment of black men, Buffalo soldiers, fighting against fascism in Tuscany (The Gothic Line) in Italy. Frank Chapel, a young black American soldier is turned away from a field tent serving food, and made to eat outside. Inside the tent are captured white, Nazi soldiers, they had been fighting against, being served their food, their rations.

Black soldiers coming home from the war, in reality, faced the same problems they’d left behind. Jim Crow laws. Twelve million African-Americans, around five million Negroes of voting age, only a handful could register to vote. No law and no lawyer could help them. In many Southern states they were classified as ‘a lower order of being’. Black self-determination brought white reprisals.  For example, a veteran of the war, Issac Woodward’s eyes were gouged out by a Sheriff when he was taken into custody. Two young black couples in Senator Russell’s state of Georgia were blocked in their cars by other cars and riddled with so many bullets their bodies were unrecognisable. Lynchings followed by public picnics.  

The death of Emmet Till, August 1955, in Mississippi Delta might just have been another murder of black man by white man, but for his age, he was fourteen-year-old, and the resultant national and international publicity. His mother took his body back to Chicago, where they lived, he’d been visiting relatives when he dared to go into a white grocery store and buy bubble gum and sass the white shop assistant, allegedly saying, ‘Bye Baby’.

Roy Bryant and his half-brother ‘Big’ J.W.Miliam, took him away.

Emmet Till’s mum didn’t allow a closed coffin. One eye was grouched out. They’d smashed the bones in his face with the pistols of their Colt.45 pistols, until one side of his forehead caved in. They ordered him to strip naked, and took him to the Tallahatchie River, weighed him down, beat him again and, before they rolled him into the water, shot him in the temple. An all-white jury found them not guilty of the crime, even though they’d signed a statement saying they did it. Later, since they’d been found not guilty of the crime, they were paid $5000 for telling their side of the story. They freely admitted it was a lesson in keeping uppity negras down.   

Lyndon Johnson, if he wanted to realise his dream of becoming Democratic candidate for the Presidential nomination had to find a way of placating senators rallying around the old Confederacy of Russell, who made the tail wag the dog of the United States government, but also position himself as a liberal that supported equal rights for all. He had to square the circle, while claiming not to be a nigger lover.  He was able to do so, because it was he, not Old, that was a political chameleon. He was a consummate politician who knew himself and what other man wanted. A shooting in Dallas, Texas, handed him the position he most wanted in life. But unlike the dumbest President in history, Lyndon Johnson was ready. He’d been planning for that day his whole life. He was whip smart. A poor boy, but now a millionaire, he’d realised the American dream and was sworn in as President.          

Robert A. Caro (1982) Lyndon Johnson volume 1 The Path To Power.

History doesn’t run in straight lines. Robert A. Caro has focussed on a fixed point to talk about power. What it is? How it comes about. Who wields it? And how do they use that power? And in his biography of Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), in this first of four volumes, we follow not only the tale of LBJ, who becomes 36th President of the United States, but the story of the United States, a modern history.

Novels begin with flawed characters that need or want something. LBJ was born 28th August 1908 in the Lone Star State of Texas. His grandparents had fought against the Indians and the Mexicans and this was the frontier in which nothing grew but farms. Land was cheap, farmers with little water and poor soils were literally dirt poor. His father Sam Johnson great dream was that his son would be a lawyer. His mother Rebakah’s was a college graduate and her father was a prominent attorney. Mr Sam Johnson was something, he strutted rather than walked:

‘You can tell a man by his boots and his hat and the horse he rides.’

Mr Sam Johnson was an elected official, people liked him. He had the best and his first son had more and better than most. LBJ had a baseball to play with, but would only play when he got to bat. His rules or nobody plays was a rule he lived by then and in later life.

In novels flawed characters get their comeuppance. Mr Sam Johnson was a romantic. He tried to live in the past when his forefathers had their own ranches in the Hill County and run cattle hundreds of mile to the railway line and brought home bucketfuls of dollars that would last more than a lifetime.  Mr Sam Johnson gambled his all to buy land and invest in cotton, which was on the up and up after the First World War. He borrowed from the banks, and from neighbours. The price of cotton crashed. Mr Sam Johnson, his wife and four children has to retire from public life, move from Johnson City back to live in a dog run in the Hill Country.  

People have long memories. Locals loved nothing more than chewing over when Sam Johnson thought he was something and now couldn’t pay his store bills in town. Women mulled over how Rebekah didn’t know how to keep a clean house. She wasn’t thrifty. She didn’t know how to bottle and can pears for later so her children wouldn’t go hungry. Nothing had prepared her for life in the Hill Country.

One of the strength of Cato’s biography is not only that he should turn over the pages of every of the tens of millions of government documents concerning LBJ, which took seven years,  and talk to local people who remembered him as a boy and young man, but also that he went to live in the Hill Country to find out what it was really like. There are frequent markers about rural poverty. A farmer’s son, for example, rides for twelve miles clutching twelve eggs to sell them for fifteen cents. Kids not being able to go to school in winter when it snowed because they’d no shoes. But only until chapter 27 of 37 chapters when LBJ as a congressman tries to break the monopoly of the utilities companies and get electricity to farms on the Hill Countries—prior to the Second World War—does how hard these women’s live were become apparent. Monday was washing day and Tuesday was ironing day. In dog runs with metal roofs above their heads,  working in temperatures over 100 degrees Celsius, women had to chop wood, carry and boil buckets of water to heat the irons in them to work with the crumpled washing they’d cleaned on Monday. Irons were lumps of metal with metal handles, because handles with wood coverings cost a few cents more. This was in addition to all other chores, like feeding the animals and a large family.  Farmer’s wives were round shouldered and old by the time they were thirty. They couldn’t afford doctoring so the perinatal tears most of them suffered from frequent childbirths went untreated. In the Twentieth Century they lived in the Middle Ages.  

Sam Johnson frequently whipped LBJ for not doing his chores, for refusing to carry wood or water for the mother he so much loved he wrote to her every day when he went to college and demanded letters by return post. An escape route for the poor was education.   LBJ baulked at it, but he went. He was never more than an average student, but a pattern emerges here that was to follow him all the way to Washington. He was known as ‘Bull’ (shit) Johnson to most other students. Garrulous as a manic depressive on an upcycle, his one subject and fascination was with himself. Later, when at parties and the subject wasn’t himself or his achievements, he had the ability to fall instantly asleep.   He was always ready to take the next step before others realised there was another step. To get ahead he was ready to sacrifice everyone and anyone. To paraphrase what others in the dormitory he shared in Washington with other secretaries of Congressmen and up-and-coming talent. Whatever way the (political) wind blows that’s the way Johnson goes.  His great talent, his ‘very unusual ability’ was secrecy and jumping before he was pushed.

Apart from getting others to do what he demanded, LBJ’s other ‘very unusual ability’ was hooking onto older men as mentors to smooth his path. ‘A professional son’ they never had, and asslicker of the highest order. LBJ had a preternatural talent for saying exactly what they were thinking. President Cecil E. Evans of the little Redbook college which ‘Bull’ attended, for example, paid Johnson four times in a semester to re-paint his garage because he was out of money. Similarly, Sam Rayburn a principled and laconic Speaker of the House of Congress treated LBJ as a son, even after finding out about his betrayal. President Roosevelt never did find out about LBJ’s volte-face on his Keynesian, New Deal policies, because the latter was a distant speck in his orbit and the face he was presented was always deferential, smiling and joking. Roosevelt put a stop on investigations into tax fraud involving LBJ’s backers that involved millions of dollars.   LBJ could read a man and read a room in the same way most folk can read a familiar book. He was a professional politician of the first degree.

There’s irony in LBJ’s defeat when he ran for Senate representing Texas in 1941 to a cartoon figure ‘Pass the Biscuits Pappy’ O’Daniel, a wildly popular radio talk-show host who didn’t have a policy, but embraced the flag, the Star Spangled Banner, talked about Jesus and how every farmer’s son loved their mom. This was an election LBJ had bought for him, he was already celebrating victory, when he was gazumped by other business cartels that simply bought more votes than LBJ and handed them to Pappy O’Daniel. Common electoral practice that was to spring up again when Texas interests demanded a recount of the chads in Florida after Al Gore had won the election to be President in 2009. Oh, dear, a mistake was made, business interests said it should have read George W C Bush. LBJ knew how the electoral system worked, inside out and upside down. We know how LBJ was later able to rig his next bid for a seat in the Senate and steal enough votes (volume 2). Bush had to be told and told who he was working for and why because he was so dumb. That’s power for you. I never thought we’d have a President dumber than Bush. Now we’ve got the moron’s moron going for re-election before he starts the Third World War, Pass the Biscuits Pappy and reach for the sick bag.  Now we’ve got Bull Johnson as British Prime Minister whose only policy was economic self-mutilation and getting it done quickly.  History isn’t meant to be funny.