The phenomenon of Paisleyism
THE ANSWER to Paisley's rise in public favour lies, of course, to a large extent in his personality. But while every fascist movement similar to Paisleyism needs the dynamism and attraction of an intelligent demagogue, its source lies fund~entally in the political forces which give rise to the movement which the demagogue dominates.
Paisleyism started as a purely religious phenomenon. It represented the reaction of Protestants to new developments in Ulster and in the world.
In the early 1960s the Vatican radically altered the intransigent monolithic attitude it had consistently adopted in the twentieth century towards other Christian denominations and the secular world. This change was occasioned by a crisis in the Catholic Church which was revealed in the Vatican Council.
In western Europe the number of practising Catholics had fallen to a tiny fraction of Church membership and in the Third World, a resurgence of national consciousness created great strains for a Church still relying on an alien, missionary clergy.
This forced even conservative Bishops to face the evident contradiction between the absolute claims of Catholicism and its increasing lack of absolute power in the world. The documents of the Vatican Council were generally accepted as a genuine attempt by the Catholic Church to become more relevant and other Christians realised it had made the task of all the Churches a good deal easier.
In the North, it was not seen as such by many Protestants.Already inOctober, 1962, Mr. Paisley was distributing anti-Papal pampWets during the Council in Rome and in Naples. The Catholic Church remained strong in the North. While it was excluded by the State from spheres such as housing, business and higher education it remained in control of Catholic education and some allied social services. It still held a position of social and cultural controller of most Catholic communities, especially in rural areas. The Church still filled a political gap created by the weakness of the Nationalist opposition. Furthermore the sincerity of the Catholic hierarchy in accepting the thaw in Christian relations was validly questionable.
Anti - Ecumenism
It was at this time that Paisleyism developed. The Protestantism of a section of the poorer working class and the small businessmen of Ulster had ensured the economic dominance of these groups over their respective Catholic counterparts. The ecumenical movement united the Protestant petty bourgeois and the unskilled working class. These groups quite erroneously believed that the ecumenical movement was a sign of the economic integration of Catholics.
They saw their patronage in contracts, leases and rents and, for the working class, in jobs as gravely threatened. This was especially true of militantly Protestant areas in Belfast such as the Shankill. Many of its inhabitants worked in exclusively Protestant factories. Its shopkeepers depended on retaining an exclusive, higWy Protestant community to keep a regular fund of customers in the face of supermarkets which radically undercut them.
This reaction to ecumenism was greatly helped by two other factors. Many Protestant clergy openly accepted the ecumenical movement. They had never been Evangelical Protestants who believe in the classical Knoxian Calvinism which accepts the doctrine of individual" election" by God and the consequent damnation of all Catholics. But to the ordinary Protestant layman, the difference between a moderate Protestant theological stance and an Evangelical one was difficult to grasp. The ecumenical movement made the difference evident for the first time. Those who accepted ecumenism were selling out on their flock.
The seriousness of the reaction to the ecumenical movement's acceptance by the Protestant Churches was clearly shown in 1965. Paisley led a march on the Presbyterian General Assembly which was being held in Belfast. On the way, there was a riot as the march passed through the Catholic Cromac Square area. At the Assembly building they clashed with the R.U.C. and abused the Governor of Northern Ireland who was attending the Assembly. The effect of this was such that the minister of Home Affairs, M. McConnell, who had permitted the march, was sacked in the following month.
Working-class Protestants have always kept a sharp watch on their clergy and have a good deal of control in their appointment and removal. The clergyman is their class leader and is the head of the community, but they know he is economically dependent on his flock to live.
Paisleyism, in this aspect, often occurred in nineteenth-century England as a revolt against the clergy. This revolt turned to another "elected" clerical demagogue as a substitute. Paisleyism has many of the facets of revivalism and is led by typical products of the revivalist fringe of the Churches.
The acceptance of the ecumenical movement by the World Council of Churches and by all the main Protestant Churches in Ireland, except the Baptists, emphasised even further the difference between the local Churches in poorer areas and the general leadership.
Another factor in the rise of Paisleyism was the cross-border meetings of the two premiers. This was occasioned by a need for economic co-operation between both states and by a need to moderate the demands of nationalism in an effort to attract foreign capital. It did not mean that the Unionist "regime intended to give economic favours to Catholics in the North. It intended no such thing, but it was seen as such.
O'Neill's softness on the South was linked in Paisleyite thinking to the Protestant Churches' softness on Papism. An element of nationalism was added by the international religious situation. Ulster was accepted by Paisleyites to be a last bastion of Protestantism in the face of a great, international sell-out which had pervaded even the Church of England. In 1967 Paisley called on " 100,000 Orangemen to protest against the Romanising Bishop of Ripon." Paisley has frequently attacked the Archbishop of Canterbury in London. In 1966 he tried to gain admission to Rome to protest at the meeting of Pope Paul and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Then he said" The Archbishop of Canterbury is a traitor. He has broken the Constitution and the Articles of Faith." This combined provincial nationalism and fears of an international conspiracy within Protestantism. Paisley's ideology is suitably smothered in charges of a sell-out on all formerly won privileges. In this way' Paisley has formed a powerful fascist ideology. Even in the religious sphere in its hostility to change and in its dcsire to retain former special privilege, it is psychologically suited to the Protestant shopkeepers, businessmen and workers who did not gain from the economic growth of the North in the 1960s.
The Unionists in times of crisis had extended patronage to Protestant clergy in order to encourage Protestants to attack Catholics. Before 1922, Cooke and Hanna had been encouraged by the Ulster landlords and businessmen to exacerbate sectarianism. This had the desired effect of making a united Ireland impossible. After Home Rule, they had encouraged clerical demagogues to provoke sectarian troubles to strengthen Unionist control at times of crisis.
Paisley had no such encouragement.
Catholic labour, employing higher automation and by utilising foreign subsidiary units. This was especially true of the vast investment in Northern Ireland by Courtaulds which affected or took over many of the older Orange linen mills. The effects of foreign capital was to an extent offset by Unionist discriminatory economic policy. Genuinely attractive areas such as Derry and Newry which had cheap labour and little competition on the labour market were ignored.
But by sending industry to Protestant towns, a huge divergence of interest between Protestant building only have a good effect on the North. Martin Wallace of the Belfast Telegraph announced" he is not to be taken seriously as a political force." Perhaps he never was. He did not have the financial backing of huge landowners or capitalists. Television was equally hostile to him. But he had the full support of significant sections of the Protestant working class, and embittered manufacturers, farmers, disappointed Unionists, and a clutter Qf religious psychotics.
He spoke a language which every Protestant knew. Professor Corkey, a Unionist Senator and ex-Moderator of " I was followed around in
Rome by the guards of the Great Inquisition and the Pope's Gestapo. "Harold Wilson is a tool of Cardinal Heenan and Cardinal Heenan is in the pay of the Pope."
The North's economy has expanded rapidly in the last decade. About 5,000 to 8,000 new jobs per year have been created through the construction of new factories. A large part of the annual subsidy has been used to give high investment grants to foreign industrial concerns. This means that for the employed working class, the 1960s have been successful and the interest of large capital had nothing to gain from sectarianism. Thus Unionism has toned down on sectarianism. Two groups, however, were badly hit by this industrial growth. Older Ulster factories were financially undercut. This was done by using cheap contractors and manufacturers, was created.
The second badly hit group suffered from a by-product of industrial growth. Higher industrial wages brought inflation. This caused a flight from the land in the western counties. British farm prices have not risen greatly in the sixties and most Protestant small farmers have suffered a drop in real income.
Paisley was not encouraged by the state. He was jeered at, mocked and viciously lampooned by an incredulous press. On June 10, 1966, in an editorial, the Irish Independent found him so laughable, that it thought he could have the Presbyterian Church, in attempting to attack Paisley, spoke a good deal of truth. He said, "His loud protestations of Protestant principles have attracted a considerable following of thoughtless people." He also spoke the language of Carson, Craigavon and Brookeborough. The Unionist state had indoctrinated, with every means at its disposal, the Protestant population for fifty years. When it jettisoned some of its bigotry in an expansionist era, it was not surprising that people continued to believe in what Paisley represented. Gerry Fitt summed this up when he said, "the biggest crime that Paisley has committed, the cardinal sin which he has committed, is saying in public what a lot of Unionists think in private. He says it in a rather hostile, uncouth manner, bUt there are many supporters-many, many Unionists. "
Hostile Press made him a world figure
Paisley also used the hostile press to his advantage. He quickly became a world figure, in which Ulstermen were proud. In countries where religion was not at the heart of political antagonisms his brand of religious racism was found to be ludicrous in the extreme. He got enormous publicity for comparatively insignificant acts, such as his visit to Geneva to protest at the Papal visit.
He got similar publicity in Ulster. Every time he was lampooned, he grew in stature. These attacks served to emphasise the growing gap between the economic interests of a great deal of the middle classes and the rest of the Protestant community. Hitler in his day spoke of the racial beliefs of the same classes Paisley represents. Almost until he became Chancellor, the chief propaganda weapon used against him was ridicule. Ridicule is the lifeblood of fascism. Defensive groups do not like being laughed at.
Paisleyism until well into 1968 was primarily an anti-ecumenical movement with political overtones. The political factors effecting change in the North were outside Paisley's and his supporters' understanding. They could attack when a sell-out appeared obvious. His potential political power was shown in September 1964. During an election campaign he threatened to lead a march on Divis Street to remove a Tricolour in the Republican Headquarters. He forced the Government to order its removal and started a vicious week of rioting in the Falls Road area and the burning of Catholic houses in the streets connecting Divis Street and Shankill Road.
But until October 1968 at least Paisleyism remained an amorphous force. It lived on propaganda and its leadership of reaction. The Free Presbyterian Church did not define itself too closely either. Its membership grew from 1,000 in 1961 to 6,000 in 1966. But most of its members remained in other Churches and most of its congregations were outsiders.
Paisley in his protest activity had no clear strategy. He merely followed religious and political events in the " North and put forward a reactionary line. He never tried to create, as Hitler did, his own calendar of events and ritual. He merely imitated the ritual of the Orange Order, and his chief demonstrations of strength were at protests, rather than at massings of his organised followers.
The Ulster Volunteer Force
About 1964 he formed the Ulster Volunteer Force. This started as a private bodyguard of armed men who had to protect him at public meetings. Like most fascist personalities, Paisley is reputed to be a highly cowardly man. These thugs he recruited got out of hand very quickly. In June of the same year, John Scullion was killcd by them. Later in the month, Andrew Kelly, Liam Doyle and Peter Ward wcre killed on the Shankill Road. Augustus Spence, Hugh McClean and John Williamson were found guilty of these murders. At thc end of June, Mr. O'Neill banned the U.V.F. In August, the Protestant Telegraph claimed" Mr. Paisley has never advocated violence, has never bcen associated with the U.V.F. and has" always opposed the hell-soaked liquor traffic which constituted the background to these murders." Before the advent of the C.R.A., the U.V.F. probably did not grow very much and it is difficult to discover Paisley's role in it.
The same is true of the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee which Paisley publicly controls. Before 1968 it had about twelve branches in the North which spread across the Province. The fundamental problem affecting the easy growth of the Paisleyite movement is the lack of highly talentcd people involved in it. Ambitious people have firmly remained in the Orange Order and work through their local M.P. Ambitious clergymen similarly remain in the orthodox churches.
Paisleyism dwarfed by Paisley
In this way Paisleyism continues to be dwarfed by the figure of Ian Paisley. This is due to the debilitating effect on an extra parliamentary movement of the effective patronage which is still controlled by the Unionist party. With a relatively vicious power struggle taking place in the North at the moment, no really ambitious person could afford to be associated with Paisley, even if he flirted with him. Paisley probably approves of his position of leading a relatively talentless movement. Like most demagogues, he likes complete dominion over a movement. People who have for a while shared some of his publicity like Major Bunting of the Loyal Citizens of Ulster, and Rev. John Wylie while Mr. Paisley was incarcerated, are rapidly displaced.
With the advent of the C.R.A., Pais1eyism was the natural vanguard for reaction. It was the only properly publicised and organised fascist force. The Unionist Right were busy avoiding an open confrontation with O'Neill ism before the North was in full reaction to the C.R.A. It saw that Westminster could not allow an openly reactionary government to come to power. So it concentrated on ensuring confrontation between the C.R.A. and the R.U.C. and in consolidating itself at a constituency level.
The C.R.A. was an easier targct for Paisley than ecumenism. His enemy was the more traditional republican and Catholic one. He linked this with his previous stances by claiming that the C.R.A was a product of O'Neill's policies. A campaign could be launched which did not depend on infrequent visits from ecumenical ecclesiastics or occasional political windfalls. A regular, long term agitation led by Paisley was initiated with some startling successes, notably in Armagh, at Burntollet and in the general election.
The most influential leader of Protestant reaction
At the moment Paisley remains easily the most influential leader of Protestant reaction in the province. Militant Protestant forces are widely claimed by the opposition to be growing very rapidly. Paisley's personal control over these must be relatively weak. Most likely they are controlled by local Unionist bosses. Paisley could hardly control them in rural areas in the west, where the only viable Protestant organisations remain the Unionist Party and the Orange Order.
But while Paisley may not control events organisationally, his influence cannot be underestimated. Paisleyism is now definitely the ideology of large sections of the Protestant masses. He has grown immeasurably in stature in the last year. The ridicule and hatred which he received from O'Neillism has made him popular in the conservative rural areas. He can attract bus loads of people from towns where he has no organisation to "lobby" Stormont. The Unionist Right wing must look to him as a man who can greatly help or hinder them in their political ambitions. They must also learn to speak the language which Paisley has drilled into Northern Protestants for a decade.