The Forgotten Revolution (1974)

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The January 1974 issue of the British Libertarian Struggle included a guest article by Briege McKeown, a member of the Official Republican Movement (the collective name for Official Sinn Fein, the Official IRA and their support group in Britain, Clann na hEireann).

Apart from giving us a glimpse at views once held by the movement that evolved into today’s Workers Party of Ireland, it does contain the strange, or at least very poorly expressed, “British workers must be shown the identity of interests between themselves and those in Belfast, Derry and Dublin.  The Protestant worker in the north of Ireland must be force to face the quandary of his identity crisis by resolutions from British “trade union and left groups telling him that he is Irish and that his enemy is British imperialism, and its native gombeen collaborators in Dublin and Belfast, be they orange or green.”

This monthly paper was published by the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists (which later renamed itself the Anarchist Workers Association). ORA was part of the ‘platformist’ current within anarchism.

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On the letters page we find someone who signs him/herself simply as ‘R’ expressing a hope “that ORA soon changes its’ policy to one of solidarity with the Provisional IRA’s military struggle”. As an example of the Provos’ left wing credentials the anonymous correspondent writes “Gerry O’Hare, formerly part of the Provo leadership and now in prison in the South, is a left-wing socialist”.

Interestingly, it wasn’t long before O’Hare decommissioned himself from the ranks of the Provos and went off to join Fianna Fail.

 

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Agnes Henry, an anarchist from Tipperary (1850-1915)

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Born in Tipperary in 1850, Agnes was one of the millions of Irish who had to emigrate in search of a living.  Because British imperialism sought to keep Ireland (apart from a small area around Belfast) as a supplier of cheap food and labour to their empire, there was little industrial development and many had to leave Ireland to find work.  Agnes went to London.

She was a student of pre-school education, and together with a veteran of the 1871 Paris Commune, Louise Michel, she ran the International School at 19 Fitzroy Square.

Along with others, including future British Labour Party leader Ramsay McDonald, she lived in a communal house at 29 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury until it closed in 1892.  The tenants had their own rooms and but ate their meals together, which was considered far from respectable at the time.  According to historian Nick Heath she annoyed other tenants by wanting to discuss anarchism over breakfast!  The Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta, then in exile in England, made frequent visits to discuss anarchism with her at this address.

She wrote for the anarchist paper Freedom and conducted speaking tours of England and Scotland making the case for ‘anarchist socialism’.  Among her writings are Women under Socialism (1892), Anarchist Communism in Relation to State Socialism (1896) and The Probable Evolution of British Socialism Tomorrow (1896).

Also in 1896 she attended the Congress of the Second International held in London, acting as a delegate for French syndicalists unable to attend.

Towards the end of the 1890s she was one of several anarchists to join the Independent Labour Party, representing some temporary loss of confidence within the English movement.  Other indications of this were the decline of both open-air and printed propaganda, with the movement not recovering until around 1903.

Heath’s researches show Agnes Henry was listed on the Roll of Honour of Suffragette Prisoners 1905-1914 (compiled by the Suffragette Fellowship around 1950, based on recollections of participants), and appears to have been one of those arrested during the pre-World War 1 campaign.

One of her last public appearances was in 1912 when she spoke at a rally in Trafalgar Square as part of the successful campaign to prevent the deportation of Malatesta from Britain.

Letter to Freedom about the Carmaux strike in France

Report of a speaking tour in 1893

“In anarchism I see the only base for women to escape marriage without love and obligatory maternity, and the degrading laws and servile customs to which women of all classes have been subjected for so long”.

The Fighting Call (1936)

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The Fighting Call was a monthly bulletin, produced jointly by the London-based Freedom Group and Glasgow’s Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, in support of the Spanish Revolution, and specifically the National Confederation of Workers (CNT).

Among the writers in this eight-page bulletin were Jack White, formerly of the Irish Citizen Army, giving his impression of the mood in revolutionary Barcelona; and Mat Kavanagh, originally from Limerick, putting the case for the International Working Men’s Association (which later changed its name to International Workers’ Association).  White also compared the problems of clerical power in Ireland and Spain:

“Again and again in Ireland the revolutionary Republican movement comes a bit of the way towards Socialism, and scurries back in terror when the Roman Catholic Church looses its artificial thunder of condemnation and excommunication.

“I come of an Ulster Protestant family. There is a saying in Ulster (the north-east province of Ireland) :— ” Rome is a lamb in adversity, a snake in equality, and a lion in prosperity.” I am glad that in Catluna you have made Rome into a lamb.  In Ireland, Rome is still a lion, or rather a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  The priests inflame the mob and then pretend to deplore the mob-violence which they have instigated.  Last Easter Sunday, I had myself to fight for three kilometres against the Catholic actionists, who attacked us on the streets as we were marching to honour the memory of the Republican dead who fell in Easter week, 1916.  The pious hooligans actually came inside the cemetery and tore up the grave rails to attack us.”

This refers to an attack on the left-wing Republican Congress‘s Easter Commemoration at Glasnevin cemetary that year.

Elisee Reclus, anarchism, geography and Ireland

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Author’s Abstract

“This 2017 paper addresses the role of Ireland and Irish republicanism in the geography, biography and political thinking of the French anarchist geographer Élisée Reclus (1830–1905).  This paper sheds new light on the construction of a scientific and political discourse, one which was radically opposed to external and internal colonialisms in the Age of Empire, analysing primary sources such as Reclus’ texts and correspondence, along with his transnational networks.

Elisee Reclus

It draws on present-day debates on ‘geography and anarchism’, postcolonial Ireland and international circulation and localisation of knowledge.

Finally, it is a contribution to evaluating the importance of the ‘British Isles’ as a place for production and reception of the geographical and political works by both Reclus and the other anarchist geographer Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921), scholars and militants who lived there in different periods of their respective careers.”

Ferretti sees the importance of Reclus’ statements for present debates “in the specific features of anarchist internationalism and anti-colonialism, ideas that closely linked the national question to the social one”.

Direct links between Reclus’ circle and Irish Republicans can be seen in the correspondence between Maud Gonne when she was editor of L’Irlande Libre, and the French anarchist Jean Grave.

Although peppered with academic language, Ferretti’s paper adds to our knowledge of both anarchist georgraphy and anarchist anti-imperialism in the late 1800s.

Thanks to Liam O’Rourke of the Irish Republican Education Forum for bringing this to our attention.

Conor Cruise O’Brien, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Emma Goldman (1937)

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Conor Cruise O’Brien

When Conor Cruise O’Brien was a student at Trinity College Dublin in the mid-1930s he saw himself as a radical and contacted the legendary anarchist Emma Goldman asking her to write for the first issue of “a new revolutionary weekly which I am about to start”.

The Cruiser (as he was known) was a young liberal secularist whose first wife came from a Belfast Presbyterian republican family.  Her father, Alec Foster, was a founder member of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.

In later years he joined the Labour Party and was elected to Dail, where he became a Minister in the 1973-77 Fine Gael-Labour government.  He quickly transformed himself into a right wing pro-imperialist, sometimes referred to as the British ruling class’s “favourite Irishman”.

He became extremely hostile to Irish republicanism, discarding the views he held just a few years previously.  He also discarded his opposition to censorship when he banned members of Sinn Fein from TV and radio.  He said he wanted to “cleanse the culture” of republicanism and he would like the law to be used against teachers who allegedly glorified Irish revolutionaries. He also wanted it used against newspaper editors who published pro-republican readers’ letters.

The Cruiser supported police brutality during the 1973–77 government, “it didn’t worry me.”  At that time a special unit of the Gardai, known as the Heavy Gang, was tasked with beating ‘confessions’ out of suspects.  Towards the end of his life he joined the short-lived United Kingdom Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

TEXT OF O’BRIEN’S LETTER

Dear Emma Goldman,

My reason for writing to you is that my aunt, Mrs. Sheehy Skeffington*, who had, at my request, lent me your ‘Anarchism and Other Essays’, gave me your address and told me you might be willing to do me the favour of writing a few words for a new revolutionary weekly which I am about to start in this very traditional college.

A letter, or brief article from you would set a fine note for our first number.  Anything on anarchism, marriage (in this College women are not admitted after six o’clock nor are they permitted to pollute the male dining hall with their presence), on your recent stay in Spain, or simply a letter on the foundation of such a revolutionary magazine, would be accepted most gratefully.

Or if you prefer, something which other magazines are afraid to print.  You see we are  committed to no policy except one of attack on established tradition, and working towards individual liberty.

I am very sorry this will be a “thank you job” but like most revolutionaries we have no capital.

It would be impertinent in me to say how much I admire your work, and your struggle and how much I have been influenced by them.

Most sincerely,

Conor Cruise O’Brien

P.S. Our rooms here in College are decorated with two of the anti-fascist posters which you gave my aunt – the one with “Au viva nuestros …” and the ad. for Tierra y Libertad.  They have caused a good deal of discussion.

Hannah Sheehy Skeffington

TEXT OF GOLDMAN’S REPLY

Dear Conor Cruise O’Brien,

Thank you for your kind letter.  I was glad, indeed, to hear from someone related to my dear friend Mrs. Sheehy Skeffington, for whom I have a great admiration.  It was good of her to let you read my ‘Anarchism and Other Essays’; it is out of print now and it is therefore good to know that those who still possess a copy are making use of it.

Thank you for asking me to contribute to the Revolutionary weekly you are contemplating.  I regret I cannot do so at this moment, as I am extremely busy with organisational work on behalf of my comrades in Spain and with the preparation of material for a series of articles on the colossal constructive work that is being done in Spain.

However the, the enclosed little tribute to Buenaventura Durruti who was the great leader of the forces that drove the Fascists out of Barcelona and Catalonia, may interest you.  He was treacherously shot down a year ago this month.  If you care to include it in your first issue, I will be very glad indeed.

I am sending you by the same mail a copy of the brochure which was published last year; it will give you an idea of the life, work and heroic death of Durruti.

Emma Goldman

It was astounding to me to hear that such hoary traditions in regard to women are still prevailing in your College.  Well, there must be something organically wrong with the male members if they cannot endure the presence of the opposite sex in their midst!  Even Spain, where the status of women is still fifty years behind that in the Scandinavian countries, the United States and England, is beginning to show a different attitude than that which was held prior to the Revolution of July 19th, 1936.

I am preparing some articles for publication, among which will be one on the struggle of Spanish women for the emancipation and enlightenment of their sex, I will be glad to send you a copy when it is ready.

Please keep in touch with me and let me see your paper when it appears.  I am so glad you have posters of TIERRA Y LIBERTAD.  If I was sure that new posters and photographs would reach you, I would be glad to mail you some, but knowing of the severe censorship prevailing there, I do not like to risk sending them.


*Hanna Sheehy Skeffington was a suffragette, feminist and Irish republican.  She was a founding member of the Irish Women’s Franchise League and the Irish Women Workers Union, and took part in the 1916 Rising.  Her husband, Francis Sheehy Skeffington, was one of three journalists murdered in cold blood by the British Army officer John Bowen-Colthurst during the Rising.

 

 

 

An Irish syndicalist in Sweden (1995)

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Ciaran Casey emigrated from Ireland to Sweden in 1975.  Two decades later he was elected International Secretary of his union, the Central Organisation of Swedish Workers (SAC), and Workers Solidarity interviewed him for their Spring 1995 issue.  The SAC, formed in 1910, describes itself as “syndicalist and libertarian socialist”.

It is affiliated to the Red & Black Co-ordination of “unions following the tradition of self-management, anti-authoritarian, anarcho-syndicalist and federalist internationalist labour movement”.  Other affiliates are from Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Poland.

Irish Anarchist Review (2015)

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The final issue of the Workers Solidarity Movement’s Irish Anarchist Review appeared in 2015, and was replaced the following year by Common Threads.

iar 11

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Articles include Tom Murray on the conflict over control of water in Bolivia; Andrew Flood on the ‘Rojava Revolution’, Eoin O’Ceallaigh on left wing football culture; Sinead Redmond on maternity care and bodily autonomy; Ferdia O’Brien on the (ultimately successful) fight against domestic water charges; Cormac Caulfield and Ferdia O’Brien on why anarchists oppose the state; Eoin O’Connor on Murray Bookchin; and Mark Hoskins on the ever widening definition of ‘terrorism’ by European governments.

Former WSM member and prominant teachers’ union activist Gregor Kerr expected to “see the battle for the soul of the trade union movement intensify.  We will be faced with a stark choice – are we going to continue to build the ‘organiser’ model of trade unionism which has been so successful in recent years?  And in order to do so, are we going to rid ourselves of the stultifying bureaucracy that is preventing this move from organising to fighting?  Or are we going to allow ourselves to be brought back into a new round of ‘social partnership’?  If we allow the latter to happen, it is likely to sign the death knell of the movement that has been so painstakingly built over the past 100 years.”

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