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.’

 

The Gurriers (1969)

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Gurriers* was produced in 1969 and handed out at University College, Dublin and also at the anti-apartheid demonstration against the Springbok Rugby tour that year.  It was produced by Phil Meyler and was heavily influenced by Raoul Vaneigen’s situationist pamphlet, The Revolution of Everyday Life.  Phil was invited to visit the University President, and his mother had a visit from the Special Branch who wanted to question him.  Phil declined both invitations.

In the Ireland of 1969 you could not publish writings like “The various images of Jesus, from the little underpants on the cross to the unbelievable Sacred Heart, all the martyrs, etc….what pickings for the sadists.  For masochist; the suffering of hellfire, threats, and the whip actually permitted.  For scapular fetishists, relics, Rosary beads, Mary’s garters, Saint Patrick’s shamrocks. Every perversion that one would ever desire..” without expecting a rather fevered response!

Gurriers cover

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Situationism is a minor variant of libertarian Marxism, originally developed by ‘avant grade’ artists.  Whilst not anarchist, neither is it hostile to anarchism.  Perhaps the high point of its influence was among students during the 1968 revolt in France.

Phil Meyler (aka Phil Mailer) was born in Dublin in 1946 and has been a teacher in Portugal, the US and Ireland for many years.  After living in London, where he was on the fringes of the ‘King Mob’ situationist group in the late 1960s, he went to Portugal in 1973 to teach English. There, he participated in the events following the Revolution of April 1974, become an editor of the newspaper Combate and managed a radical bookshop in Lisbon with other Portuguese revolutionaries.

He has been a long-time translator from Portuguese and has translated the song-lyrics and poems of José Afonso (whose song Grandola was a signal for the 1974 revolution).  He is the editor of Livewire Publications, which has published Misfit, the autobiography of Captain Jack White.  White was a founder of the Irish Citizen Army during the 1913 lockout, and one of the Irish who went to fight fascism in Spain in 1936, where he became a supporter of the anarchists.

Phil Meyler

Phil Meyler

Meyler is probably best known as the author of Portugal: The Impossible Revolution?  After the military coup on April 25th, 1974, which saw the overthrow of almost fifty years of fascist rule and an end to three colonial wars, there followed eighteen months of struggle and change, which challenged every aspect of Portuguese society.  That book is the story of what happened in those months after April 1974, as seen and felt by a deeply committed participant.

“Mailer portrays history with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader, the ‘home team’ in this case being libertarian communism. Official documents, position papers and the pronouncements of the protagonists of this drama are mostly relegated to the appendices. The text itself recounts the activities of a host of worker, tenant, soldier and student committees as well as the author’s personal experiences.” —Ian Wallace, Library Journal

 

*Gurrier: Irish synonym for hooligan or corner boy, usually applied to teenagers and younger children.

James Connolly – an anarchist connection

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from our good friends at Come Here To Me (an excellent blog of Dublin history, politics & football)

 glasgow-anarchists-1915 pngPicture of the Glasgow Anarchist Group in 1915

In Mairtin O’Cathain‘s book With a bent elbow and a clenched fist: a brief history of the Glasgow anarchists, there is a short but fascinating mention of James Connolly.

Connolly’s paper, The Workers Republic, was suppressed by the authorities in December 1914 and O’Cathain writes that it was the “Glasgow Anarchist Group that took over the printing of the paper … and smuggled it into Ireland”. Apparently, the police in Britain raided several anarchist printing presses, including London’s Freedom Press, but never caught the Glasgow group.

In Donal Nevin’s fantastic biography of Connolly, ‘A Full Life’, there is a mention of Glasgow comrades taking over the printing of The Workers Republic. However, Nevin points to Connolly’s old colleagues in the Socialist Labour Party.  More specifically, Arthur MacManus who was the one who did the setting, composing, printing and then smuggled the copies to Dublin using the pseudonym ‘Glass’. (Belfast-born MacManus, son of an Irish fenian, later became the first chairman of the Communist Party of Great Britain and was buried in Red Square, Moscow after his death in 1927.)

As Nevin backs up his claim with a reference to C.Desond Greave’s book ‘The Life and Times of James Connolly’, the evidence stacks in his favour.

Speaking of Connolly, I’ve always liked the story of Antrim-born Anarchist and Irish Citizen Army founder Jack White traveling to the Rhondda and Aberdare valleys in South Wales to try bring the miners out on strike to save his life.

jack-white pngJack White in his Irish Citizen Army uniform

On 25 May, thirteen days after Connolly’s execution, White was charged with trying to ‘sow the seeds of sedition in an area which had nothing to do with the grievances of Ireland either real or imaginary’ and at a time when ‘a peaceful settlement was being arrived at’. He was sentenced to two sentences of three months.

 

 

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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Mat Kavanagh, Liverpool-Irish anarchist (1876-1954)

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Mat Kavanagh was a Liverpool-Irish anarchist who, in a lifetime of political activity, worked alongside such well known revolutionaries as Peter Kropotkin, Rufolf Rocker and Ericco Malatesta.

This obituary was published in the British anarchist paper, Freedom, in 1954.

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Born in Limerick in 1876, he moved to Liverpool and became involved in the anarchist movement in his teenage years. A good public speaker, he often spoke at the Sunday morning anarchist meetings at the Monument in Liverpool’s city centre.

In 1912 he was chosen to be one of the speakers at the mass rally in Trafalgar Square against the threatened deportation of the celebrated Italian anarchist Malatesta.

Like the vast majority of anarchists, he took a strong anti-militarist stand during World War One. One of the great sadnesses of his life was to occur at this time. His only son was conscripted and died in the fighting.

John Hewetson in his obituary says that “in 1916 Mat went back to Dublin to take part in the activity initiated by Connolly and Larkin”. However, we have found no confirmation of this. The accuracy of Hewetson’s account is questionable as Jim Larkin was in America at that time and was not involved in the preparations for the rising.

As the Spanish civil war brought new interest in anarchism, Kavanagh spoke at the first open-air meeting of the newly-invigorated anarchist movement in Paddington in 1936, an attempt to start a series of mass meetings. It came under attack from the fascists who were successfully driven off.

The following year Kavanagh met up with Jack White of Irish Citizen Army and Republican Congress fame, who had moved to anarchism as a result of his first hand experiences whilst fighting Franco’s fascists. They worked together on a survey of Irish labour but this was lost when White died in 1940 and his papers disappeared. According to Leo Keohane, who researched White’s politics for a doctoral thesis, their intention was to “produce an anarchist’s perspective on Connolly’s ‘Labour in Irish History'”.

As Hewetson noted: “Just how far back his personal memories went was illustrated by his anecdotes about old Edward Craig whom Mat knew at the end of his life, and who, in his early manhood had been the inspirer of the Owenite Commune at Ralahine in the years 1830-33”.

James Connolly wrote about this in his Labour in Irish History.  Ralahine is close to Newmarket-on-Fergus in Co. Clare.

In a short biography of Kavanagh at libcom.org, Nick Heath adds:

“During the Second World War Mat moved to Southend. Now in his sixties, he was interned under Regulation 18b with other members of the local anarchist group, the Independent Labour Party and pacifists, when Southend was declared a ‘danger area’ by the authorities.

“Mat organised these together and demanded to see the Commandant of the internment camp. He requested that the anarchists, socialists and Jews interned there be separated from the Mosley fascists who had also been rounded up. Eventually the authorities backed down and released Mat and co, realising that the so-called anti-fascist war they were pursuing would be questioned if obvious anti-fascists were being imprisoned alongside fascists.

“Mat contributed to the pages of Solidarity, the paper of the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, which appeared from 1938 and continued throughout the Second World War.

“Mat had to move up to London where he found work as a barber. He had worked most of his life on the building sites and advancing age had meant his seeking of alternative employment.  Albert Meltzer, in his autobiography ‘I couldn’t paint golden angels’, tells us that he was not a very good barber, but had the honour of shaving George Orwell, who wrote him up in an article calling him a “an old Irish IRA (!) Anarchist hairdresser” who “used to cut my hair in Fleet Street”.

Black Star no.1 (October 1981)

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Black Star was the paper of the Ballymena Anarchist Group. Interestingly, two other anarchist papers came out of Ballymena in the 1980s and 1990s (Antrim Alternative and Organise!).

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This first issue has articles on anarchism as working class politics, marriage, the build up of nuclear weapon stockpiles, religion as a prop for the status quo, the Labour Party as a “party of government, not of the class”, and a biographical piece about local man Jack White of the Irish Citizen Army who became an anarchist after his experiences in Spain fighting against Franco.

Possibly reflecting their background in the unionist community, there is no mention of the ‘national question’, British imperialism, republicanism or loyalism.

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