Irish anarchist interviewed about the 1970s and 80s (part 1)

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Belfast Anarchist banner at a Peoples Democracy march (1969?)

Belfast Anarchist banner at a Peoples Democracy march (1969?)

As a teenager Alan MacSimoin joined the Official Republican Movement but soon moved towards anarchism, later being a founder member of the Workers Solidarity Movement.

In this interview filmed in October 2014 he talks about republican debates about militarism and mass politics, the Northern Ireland civil rights movement, the Peoples Democracy march from Belfast to Dublin, the successful anti-nuclear campaign of the late 1970s and the Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strike of the mid-1980s.

The man beside Alan on the picket at Dunnes Stores in Dublin's Henry Street is fellow WSM member Eddie Conlon,  later Honorary Secretary of the Teachers Union of Ireland.

The man beside Alan is fellow WSM member Eddie Conlon, later Honorary Secretary of the Teachers Union of Ireland.

The interview was conducted by the Irish Republican and Marxist History Project, and is at
http://irishrepublicanmarxisthistoryproject.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/alan-macsimoin-long-time-anarchist-activist/

 

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Workers Solidarity no.28 (Summer 1988)

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WS28 coverclick here to download

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.

Anarchist Workers Alliance leaflets (1979/80)

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AWA png

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Some leaflets from the Anarchist Workers Alliance in 1979 and 1980.  First off are two national ones about nuclear power.  The first set out their position, with two points of particular interest.  They, along with almost everyone else at that time, had believed the ‘research’ indicating that oil deposits would be exhausted within thirty years.  There may be a similarity with the “peak oil” argument of the last decade, which was also widely believed but does not appear to have been accurate.  Both of these outcomes will occur, but clearly not as quickly as had been believed by many.

The other point of interest is their rejection of ‘zero growth’ economics, “while we oppose any attempt to bring nuclear power into Ireland (or anywhere else for that matter) we distance ourselves from those who say we don’t need nukes because there should be no increase in energy usage.  Zero growth would mean more poverty, unemployment and lack of facilities.  We need more energy to create socially useful jobs, more facilities for leisure and entertainment, and better living conditions.”

The second leaflet was given out at the 5,000 strong anti-nuclear festival in 1979 at Carnsore in Co Wexford.  It calls for a campaign in the unions to win ‘blacking’ of any work to build nuclear power stations.  At that stage the ESB Officers Association had come out in opposition to nuclear power.

Today Ireland has no nuclear stations, and never had.  An account of how this was achieved is here

The others leaflets are from the AWA’s Dublin branch.
(1) An advertisement for a public meeting in the offices of the Amalgamated Transport & General Workers Union.  Today the ATGWU is part of UNITE, and the hall is now the headquarters of the Samaritans.

(2) A call for industrial action circulated at the tax reform march in late 1979.  The ICTU leadership was trying (successfully) to reassert its control over the more militant Trades Councils who had earlier organised massive demonstrations on working days to demand that more of the tax burden be shifted to the rich.  There is an interview with Sam Nolan of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, where Sam discusses the marches here

(3) A response to the declaration of a “housing emergency” in Dublin.  See here for information about the Dublin Squatters Association of the mid-1970s.

(4) And finally, one produced during the Pope’s 1979 visit to Dublin.  At a time when the Catholic Church and its influence on the state was almost beyond question (with divorce banned, gay sex illegal, and contraception restricted to married couples) it pulls no punches.  Church control of schools is seen as filling “young people’s heads with superstitious drivel about hell, god and other repressive fantasies”.

Resistance! (Dublin) no.1 (1980)

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Resistance! was produced in 1980 by members of the Dublin Anarchist Group who also ran the ABC bookshop in Dublin’s Marlborough Street. Much of the magazine is given to stories about “state repression” (H Block, Mountjoy jail, the Curragh military prison, Noel & Marie Murray, torture of criminal suspects in Sundrive Road garda station, and an uncritical short about an arson attack on a clothing factory which had a contract for Garda and Army uniforms – with no mention of the people put out of work). Circulation was about 500 copies.

Other articles of note are one criticising the Sunday World columnist Fr Brian Darcy for “writing lies and misrepresentations” attributing industrial unrest to “sinister anarchist groups” like the Socialist Workers Party!; and a review of “the right” which put Trotskyists and Fianna Fail on the same side of the left/right divide.

Believing in the concept of creating alternative anarchist organisations (unions, campaign groups, etc.) rather than being active where people already are and trying to win them over, we see a call for a new ‘syndicalist’ union and the announcement of a ‘Student Anarchist Movement’. Nothing more was heard about either. In the anti-nuclear movement, for which the Contaminated Crow magazine in 1979 listed 46 local groups, they refused to engage with others and instead set up their own Anti-Nuclear Collective. They were also sympathetic to “armed struggle” but there is no suggestion that they actually practiced it.

Only two issues of this magazine were published and the group disappeared shortly afterwards, though a couple of members were involved in the formation of the Dublin Anarchist Collective in 1983.

Among those involved were ex-Provos like Billy Jackson and Jackie Crawford, as well as Mike Gilliland (whose father was a former President of the Methodist Church), Doreen McGouran, Steve Woods, Denise Jackson.