The Irish Times and Spanish anarchism (1936)

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The Spanish Civil was only a couple of months old when the Irish Times ran a report from its ‘special correspondent’ in Barcelona, L T Fleming. What made it highly unusual was that it was openly sympathetic to the republican side, and showed the popularity of anarchism.

Fleming, however, did not pay much attention to detail. He wrote about “the two Anarchist trades unions (FAI and CNT)”, seemingly unaware that the CNT or National Confederation of Labour was a union but the FAI or Anarchist Federation of Iberia was a political organisation. Any journalist in Barcelona for more than few hours in 1936 should have known the difference.

Fleming went on to say the tramway company, which had been taken over by its staff, “now belongs to the workers – but only to the tramway workers”. Wrong, they did not claim ownership, they couldn’t sell it off. It belonged to society as a whole but its management was vested in the workers. And he follows this by telling readers that “and, apparently, in flat contradiction to the anarchist theory, there goes a tendency to collectivise small industries”. Many small factories were merged into larger units, allowing economies of scale, which gave increased production and shorter working hours. Quite what anarchist theory would oppose this is unstated.

What makes this report particularly interesting is that it appeared in a country where International Brigade volunteers had to secretly make their way to Spain while O’Duffy’s Blueshirts were blessed by the bishops as they sailed beneath the Swastika on the German ship Urundi from Galway to Ferrol.

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LT Fleming reappears in the the Irish Times of December 5th 1936 with a review of Behind the Spanish Barricades, a newly published book about the war and revolution which had broken out the previous July.

In Ireland, the reports of attacks on church buildings had ignited a pro-Franco fervor among many Catholics. The review explained “There was more than one ‘real’ reason why the Church should find itself so fiercely attacked in Spain, and one of them is illustrated in the author’s quotation from the New Catechism: “Question – What sin is committed by those who vote Liberal? Answer – Usually, mortal sin.” Besides taking a close interest in politics, the Church was an enormously wealthy landlord, and, as such, was bound to be attacked in any rising of a land hungry peasantry.”

As for the story of the six anarchists carrying a coffin containing the bones of a saint, drawing their revolvers and threatening to shoot the saint if he got any heavier…

Thanks to Sam from the excellent Come Here To Me blog for these cuttings.

The impact of the Spanish Civil War on Captain J.R. White

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The 2015 issue of Saothar, the journal of the Irish Labour History Society, features new research by David Convery into Jack White‘s move to anarchism in the mid-1930s.

Although a member of the Communist Party when he arrived in Spain, he was already in contact with prominent anarchists like Augustin Souchy, and was writing for the CNT‘s English-language bulletin.  Convery sees the fact that White did not make the final break with the CP until mid-January 1937 as demonstrating “a process of thought over a number of months, rather than a sudden realisation upon his arrival in Catalonia that he was an anarchist all along”.

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This article also looks at White’s allegation, and provides good grounds for it, that the CP in London sabotaged the sending of a medical unit to Spain because he was to be in command of it.  Additionally it looks at White’s view of Catholicism (he wasn’t a fan!), and at his collaboration with Emma Goldman in the London-based CNT-FAI Defence Committee.

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A 3D quality badge of Captain Jack White, co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army and Presbyterian Republican from Broughshane in Co Antrim.  Available from Calton Books

 

If this writer has one small criticism, there is a line the article would be better without, or at least more clearly expressed:

It is true that for much of his life, White’s disposition fitted many of the characteristics of an anarchist; but it also fitted the characteristics of a socialist. (page 52)

Since its foundation in the First International the anarchist movement has always been a branch of the broad socialist movement, often referred to as libertarian socialism or anarchist-communism.

‘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.’

 

Pat Read – another Irish anarchist who fought fascism in Spain

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Sean Cronin’s* article from the Irish Times in 1969 about Irish-Americans and the Industrial Workers of the World mentions Pat Read, “an Irish born rebel who fought with the Anarchists in Spain”.  Thanks to Sam McGrath for passing this on.

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More recently Ciaran Crossey has written about Read for the Ireland and the Spanish Civil War site.  He has also authored a pamphlet, Pat Read – An Irish anarchist in the SCW.

Below is his obituary from the Industrial Worker, Nov. 22nd 1947.

Patrick J Read, former editor of the Industrial Worker, dies

Patrick J Read, former editor of the Industrial Worker, life-long battler for bona fide unionism, died Sunday morning, Nov. 16, of cerebral haemorrhage, in a Chicago hospital. His fellow workers arranged for an IWW funeral the following Tuesday.

Pat Read joined the fight against exploitation in his boyhood. He has carried on that battle in many lands. In Ireland, off whose coast he was born half a century ago; in England, in France, in Spain, in Canada, as well as in these United States. A staunch supporter of the militant struggles of James Connolly in Ireland, he carried that philosophy with him wherever he went, and did his utmost to put it into action. He was associated with the most militant syndicalists of France, proud of his membership on the CNT while fighting Franco during the Spanish Civil war, as he was proud these many years of his little red card in the IWW.

During the First World War he married while in France, but his wife died and his son was killed during WW2. He is survived by his friends and fellow workers, and by a working class whose eyes he laboured diligently to open.

Pat Reid in Spain

Pat Reid in Spain

Read was a fighter intellectually and physically. He stopped more than one of Franco’s mercenaries from further murder, and left his mark on the scabs of more than one big strike. Gifted with a warm heart, a keen mind and a caustic tongue, he lashed at the humbug and hokum of labor fakirs and politicians; at the futile reformer and the labor-shacking ‘do-gooder’.

For various reasons writing under various names he contributed much too the analysis of the labor movement. His approach was predominantly the psychology of what makes it tick – and what stops it from ticking. For many years he was endeavouring from his approach to make a complete analysis of unionism. Some of this material was run up as “The ABC if unionism”, a study of the fervour and fife that goes into the building of a union, and of the processes whereby in too many instances it has degenerated into the drabness of a labor brokerage. His more serious analyses received the limited attention such hard work usually receives; the lash of his irony is best known through an incidental piece of writing that has been reprinted many times and translated into many languages, a letter ‘Chicago Replies to Moscow’ in which he told off the Commies as they have never been told off before….or since.

The thinking of the labor movement is richer, and the fires of revolt burn the brighter, because Pat Read lived and wrote and fought.

*Cronin was a member of the IRA, and its Chief of Staff in the late 1950s.  After the failure of the IRA’s border campaign (1956-1962) he was among those republicans who moved sharply to the left.

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.