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.

Workers Solidarity no.28 (Summer 1988)

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This 24 page issue marked the reappearance of Workers Solidarity after an absence of almost a year.  It had changed from a monthly 8-page paper to a quarterly 24-page magazine.  The new format saw a move away from labour exchange and Friday night pub sales to a greater concentration on events attended by people who already had some sympathy for radical ideas.  The print run was reduced to 500 and the new format saw a move away from labour exchange and Friday night pub sales to a greater concentration on events attended by people who already had some sympathy for radical ideas.

More interestingly, the editorial explains that this change was due to a loss of members who had “found it difficult to come to terms with the temporary lull in the momentum of the class struggle that we have seen in the last few years.  Instead they started to look for short cuts to socialism and eventually rejected anarchism”.  It goes on to say that “after much discussion we identified much of what went wrong and now are in a position to step up our level of activity”.   The WSM also published a statement about this, which is still online here

Among the articles are
– The fight for abortion rights five years after the 1983 “pro-life” amendment was put into the 26 county Constitution;
– An interview with the then Old Vic barman on BBC TV’s Eastenders, actor Tom Watt;
– The adoption by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions of a “radical policy document” on Lesbian & Gay Rights in the workplace.  This was at a time when gay sex was still illegal and technically punishable with life in prison;
– An explanation of “The anarchist idea: socialism and freedom”;
– Looking at Sinn Féin’s “socialism”, and concluding that it was “based on the Cuban/Russian model, which has shown itself time after time to be just as repressive as Western style capitalism.  They draw inspiration from third world National Liberation Movements, which once they have won power have shown no mercy in oppressing their on workers”.  [Since the collapse of the Soviet Union they have moved into the political mainstream and would now be happy to go into a coalition government with Fianna Fail];
– The first ‘Thinking about Anarchism’ column, which ran for twenty years.  This one tackles the question of what is the State, and why anarchists want to abolish it;
– A history of May Day, and it’s origins in the 1886 execution of anarchist trade unionists in Chicago for their part in the struggle for the 8-hour day.

Cork marks 60th anniversary of Spanish Civil War (1997)

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In 1997 a group of Cork socialists got together to put on events to mark the 60th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War and the contribution of the Irish who went over to assist the fight against fascism. The No Pasaran committee was broad based and included Kevin Doyle of the Workers Solidarity Movement, and two history lecturers, Donal O’Driscoil and Fintan Lane, from University College Cork who had written for the WSM’s magazine Red & Black Revolution.

This inclusive composition was reflected in their tributes to anti-fascist fighters from the Communist Party of Ireland, the IRA and the anarchist movement. Among those veterans who spoke at their events were Michael O’Riordan and Peter O’Connor, Irish volunteers in the 15th International Brigade, and Nora Harkin of the Spanish Aid Committee.

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The first No Pasaran bulletin has an interview with Diego Camacho of the CNT, a tribute to Charlie Donnelly, and a short piece about Spanish solidarity with the Liverpool dockers.


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The second one has an interview with Nora Harkin, notice of a workshop on ‘Collectives in the Spanish Civil War’ and of a showing of Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom.

Anarchist Worker (May/June 1978)

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Anarchist Worker, published by the Anarchist Workers Alliance in the late 1970s/early 1980s, can be regarded as one of the forerunners of the Workers Solidarity Movement. The AWA existed in Belfast and Dublin but was always more of an idea than a reality, with membership never going into double figures. The print run was about 750 (ranging from 500 to 1,500).

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As befits a first issue, we get a page about the Anarchist Workers Alliance and why it was formed. Other articles look at the McDonalds strike for union recognition, the PAYE tax protests, the post office strike, the H-Block & Armagh prison protests, and the six county Payment for Debt Act. Longer pieces look at why the CIE craft workers committee collapsed, and the law that legalised contraceptives in the 26 counties. That was Haughey’s ‘Irish solution to an Irish problem’ which required a doctor’s prescription to buy a condom.

The centre pages are given over to an explanation of how the Spanish anarchist CNT union structures itself, with the conclusion that it “tries to abolish the bureaucracy that comes with centralisation by making sure that decisions effecting workers are taken by, and only by, those workers effected.”

Black Star no.2 (February 1984)

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This second (and final) issue of Black Star appeared two and a half years after the first! Four pages are given over to graphics illustrating Proudhon’s ‘What is government?’. Other articles deal with workers councils as enabling both the overthrow of capitalism and the construction of a new society, an anti-militarist piece by Jack London, Spanish anarchism, and a biographical note about local anarchist and atheist Ida White, whose husband was the founder of the Ballymena Observer newspaper.

On the back page we see “Anarchists are now having regular discussion meetings throughout Ireland in Belfast, Cork, Ballymena and Dublin. The possibility of forming a national anarchist organisation has been discussed…” This process did see the foundation of the Workers Solidarity Movement later that year but the Ballymena Anarchist Group did not join. Instead they moved towards syndicalism. Organise!, an explicitly anarcho-syndicalist group and paper was the result.

Red And Black Revolution 7 – 2003

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The magazine of the Workers Solidarity Movement, from 2003.  This issue’s contents, as described in the magazine:

Has the Black Block tactic reached the end of its usefulness? by Severino (Barricada Collective)
As class struggle anarchists who recognise the importance of a diversity of tactics in order to attack Capital, the State, and oppression in an effective manner, we see the black bloc as an important tool of struggle. Only one tool among many, but an important one nonetheless.

Where to Now? Anti-capitalist protest – global and local by Gregor Kerr
It is certainly hard to avoid the conclusion that anti-globalisation protests that avoid direct action will kill off the movement, or at least greatly reduce participation in it.

Repressing Abortion in Ireland by Mary Favier (Doctors For Choice)
The Republic of Ireland has one of the most draconian abortion laws in the world. At present abortion may only be performed where continuation of pregnancy poses a ‘real and substantial’ risk to a pregnant woman’s life – about 5 cases per year of 50,000 pregnancies.

Direct Action against the war in Ireland by Andrew Flood
In every country after February 15th the anti-war movement was thus faced with the question of what to do next. In Ireland almost all of the direct action protests were targeted on Shannon airport. More than half dozen successful actions took place, ranging from a large scale breach of the fence in October, to physical attacks on planes as the build up to war escalated.

The dismal failure of the IAWM leadership. A critique of the politics of Trotskyism by Dec McCarthy
After months of regularly attending the Irish Anti-War Movement’s marches and particularly after months of listening to the speeches of the leading lights of the IAWM my head is buzzing with cant and rhetoric and I have that dejected feeling you get when you know you have just lost a chance that won’t be coming around again for a long time.

Industrial Collectivisation during the Spanish Revolution by Deirdre Hogan
Within hours of the start of the Spanish revolution workers had seized control of 3000 enterprises. This included all public transportation services, shipping, electric and power companies, gas and water works, engineering and automobile assembly plants, mines, cement works, textile mills and paper factories, electrical and chemical concerns, glass bottle factories and perfumeries, food processing plants and breweries.

If you want to create Socialism – it must be based on Freedom by James O’Brien
Anarchists also seek to create communism. But for us freedom plays a central role, not only in the future society, but in how we try to get there. That is why, when we talk of communism, we talk of libertarian communism.

Open Borders: The case against immigration controls reviewed by Conor McLoughlin
Most mainstream groups eventually come down clearly in favour of immigration controls and deportations, though arguing for “generosity.” This book takes a position that so far has only won over a small but growing minority and argues for the immediate ending of all border controls.

The trouble with Islam by Andrew Flood
The September 11 attacks, the Afghan war that followed from it and the ongoing war in Israel/Palestine have once again raised the issue of Islam in the minds of many anarchists in Ireland and Britain. Not just because of the role Islam has in shaping those conflicts but also because militant Islam has become a far more noticeable presence on solidarity demonstrations.