‘Scattered internationalists: Irish anarchism in the interwar world.’

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Frank Barcena and Irish-American anarchist Pat Read with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain

 

The Irish Centre for the Histories of Labour & Class held a conference on November 13th/14th, 2015 to mark the centenary of the birth of Dr Noel Browne.

Among the contributors was Morris Brodie of Queens University Belfast whose paper, ‘Scattered internationalists: Irish anarchism in the interwar world’, looked at the part played by Irish emigrants in the 1920s & 1930s anarchist movement in Britain and the USA; and at the almost forgotten Irish who fought with anarchist columns in the Spanish Civil War.

This link will bring you to the conference web site and Brodie’s talk begins 22.30 on the audio file for Panel 5 – Ireland and the International Left

The other papers in that panel are David Convery (NUIG) – ‘John Wheatley: Irish-born Minister of Health in Britain’s First Labour Government’ and Liam O’Discin (UCD) – ‘Catholics, Communists and Steelworkers, 1936-1948.’

 

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Sacco & Vanzetti – the Irish connection

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In 1920, the anarchist Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were sentenced to death in the USA, falsely accused of a robbery and murder.  This was a time when the ruling class had been given a fright by the Russian revolution, and they tried to break the growing socialist, anarchist and trade union movements.

Smithfield Square

Smithfield Square

Sacco & Vanzetti were convicted of murdering two men during the armed robbery of a shoe factory in Massachusetts in 1920. Among the members of the Defence Committee in Boston was Mary Donovan, who had been a Sinn Féin organizer.  Among those in Ireland who took up their case was George Bernard Shaw.

After a controversial trial, a series of appeals, and a large but ultimately unsuccessful international campaign to free them, the two were executed on August 23, 1927.

In 1977, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation that Sacco and Vanzetti had been unfairly tried and convicted and that “any disgrace should be forever removed from their names”.

North King Street

North King Street

In 1971 Sacco & Vanzetti, an Italian language feature film (with English subtitles) was made, with much of the filming in Dublin.  Among those appearing were Irish actors Cyril Cusack and Milo O’Shea.  The soundtrack was by Ennio Morricone, who also composed the music for spaghetti westerns like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, and A Fistful of Dollars.

New edition of MISFIT by Captain Jack White (co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army and Anarchist)

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By Phil Meyler

In this centenary year it is worth remembering the enigmatic Captain Jack White (1879-1946), co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army during the Irish Transport Workers’ Union strike in 1913

Paradoxically, Jack White was born into a loyalist and middle-class family, the son of Field Marshal Sir George White, Governor of Gibraltar.  He was brought up mixing in the highest circles of the British establishment, hardly an obvious beginning for someone who was to become co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army.

White had a colourful and diverse life. After being decorated for his part in the Boer War he resigned his commission, travelled extensively in Bohemia, worked as a lumberjack in Canada and lived in a Tolstoyan Commune in England.

Misfit tells the story of White’s spiritual inner revolution as well as the story of his part in the Irish Revolution. Prior to being instrumental in the founding of the Irish Citizen Army White had involved himself with the opposition to Sir Edmund Carson’s anti-Home Rule Bill and travelled to London to speak alongside George Bernard Shaw on the subjection of Irish Nationalism. He then went on to organise the 1913 protest meeting in Ballymoney, Co Armagh, which was addressed by Sir Roger Casement. The protest proved so effective that he was then invited to Dublin to speak on Home Rule.

White arrived in Dublin at the height of the 1913 Lockout. He met with James Connolly and Jim Larkin, and under the influence of Connelly quickly identified himself with the southern workers’ cause.

White was outraged at how the Catholic Church aided and abetted the Dublin Employers during the Lockout and this outrage was galvanised when they stopped starving Irish children of the strikers going to Liverpool ‘heathen’ homes. It was then that White and Jim Larkin called for volunteers to set up a defence force.

Some ten thousand were there, and almost all volunteered.  They were directed to the Transport Union Hall. The strike had not actually come to a confrontation however until the infamous Butt Bridge baton charge. White was arrested as one of the leaders of the demonstration and fought all the way to the police station.

After the 1916 Rising White was again arrested and imprisoned for trying to organise a strike of the Welsh miners in support of James Connolly who was imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail under sentence of execution.

Jack White, throughout the 1920s, was active in a host of organisations including The Irish Workers League and The Workers Party of Ireland, moving between Dublin, London and Belfast and now clearly identified himself with left republican politics. A regular public speaker, he also wrote for many publications including An Phoblacht.

In 1936, White travelled to Spain to help fight Fascism. Impressed by the social revolution that was unfolding there, he was attracted to the Anarchist cause and wrote the short pamphlets “The Meaning of Anarchy” (1937) and “Anarchism –A Philosophy of Action” (1937.

Returning to London in 1937, he worked with ‘Spain and the World’, a pro-anarchist propaganda group. With Matt Kavanagh, the Irish Liverpudlian anarchist he worked on a survey of Irish Labour and Irish aspirations in relation to anarchism and did a study of a little known Cork Soviet. He was also working on a second volume of Misfit, a kind of Misfit 2. The articles and pamphlets, which survive, are now preserved in the Kate Sharpley Library (www.katesharpleylibrary.net).

After his death, his second wife either alone or in conjunction with the White family, unfortunately destroyed these notes. It may have been through neglect or expediency but it was more than likely driven by White’s criticism of the Catholic Church. Whatever the reason, it was a tragic loss.

White made a final and brief reappearance in public life during the 1945 General Election campaign. Proposing himself as a ‘Republican Socialist’ candidate for the Antrim constituency, he convened a meeting at the local Orange Hall in Broughshane to outline his views. But he never actually got his name on the ballot paper.

Six months later Jack White died from cancer in a Belfast nursing home. After a private ceremony, he was buried in the White family plot in the First Presbyterian Church in Broughshane. The only thing written on the tombstone is that he was the son of Field Marshal Sir George White; there is no commemorative record or plaque anywhere.

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A Wee Black Booke of Belfast Anarchism (1867-1973)

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Historian Mairtin O Cathain’s A Wee Black Booke pulls together reports of anarchism in and around Belfast in the years from 1867 to 1973.  With no local movement for much of this period, the pamphlet looks at some individuals whose political activity merited mention in the media of the time. O Cathain’s work stops before the emergence in the late 1970s of the groups from which contemporary organisations Workers Solidarity Movement and Organise can trace their roots.

Some readers will be aware of the Irish Citizen Army’s Captain Jack White who became an anarchist after seeing the Spanish revolution in practice. The others will be unknown to all but historians. Bolton Hall and William Baillie emigrated to the USA, where Hall was involved in communal experiments, propaganda, and union organising.  Baillie was more of an individualist, though he still realised that “personal freedom was tied inexorably to collective and economic freedom.”

John McAra was a Scottish anarchist who came to speak in Belfast, where he was arrested and jailed. A group did form from his activity, but appears to have died away after the First World War.  Jack McMullen was a public speaker and socialist with anarchist sympathies, who campaigned against slum housing and unemployment in the 1920s and 1930s.

Finally there is John McGuffin, a founder member of the Belfast Anarchist Group, who was involved in the early Peoples Democracy and the civil rights movement.