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.

Read extract

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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.

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.

2012 Frank Conroy Commemoration in Kildare

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This is from the January/February 2013 issue of Look Left, the magazine of the Workers Party of Ireland.  Frank Conroy was an Irish socialist republican who served with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War.  As the final paragraph notes, wreaths were laid by organisations as varied as the Workers Solidarity Movement (anarchist), eirigi (socialist republican), Anti-Fascist Action, the Communist Party of Ireland, the Labour Party, Tus Nua (a split from the Green Party), and the Workers Party.

Although the Workers Party is in the same broad grouping as many of the world’s Communist Parties, its Look Left magazine regularly carries articles from other left currents, including anarchists.

Spanish anarchists, burning churches & George Orwell (1986)

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New Hibernia 1986click here to download

In October 1986, the above appeared in New Hibernia magazine.  Written by well known Cork anarchist Kevin Doyle, it was in reply to a letter from another Corkman, Matt J Doolan.

Doolan was a Blueshirt who had fought for Franco, with O’Duffy’s Irish Brigade, in the Spanish Civil War.  His letter can be read here.

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