Monday, 30 April 2012

Black Flag of Anarchism fly’s over Free Derry - John McGuffin & a history of Free Derry Corner

On the 10th anniversary of the death of former Civil Rights activist and Anarchist John McGuffin, local activists including former friends and comrades gathered in Derry’s Bogside and gave the iconic monument a fitting rebellious make-over with the red and black colours of anarchism. Over the next fortnight the black flag of anarchy will fly over Free Derry corner in a fine tribute. No Gods No Masters!

The history of Free Derry corner 

On a gable wall at the end of a row of dilapidated terrace houses in Derry’s Bogside back in January 5th 1969, a local youth scrawled the words ‘YOU ARE NOW ENTERING FREE DERRY’ in the dead of night. To this day there is still a dispute as to who the shadowy youth had been with several names being banded about. However the slogan itself was said to have been taken from a free-speech campaign which was active in Berkeley University in California during the mid-sixties with 'You Are Now Entering Free Berkeley' on some of its propaganda. 

During that time student activists in Ireland, like the rest of Europe mirrored the actions developing in the Civil Rights movement of the North America. The day before in the outskirts of the city the Peoples Democracy (a radical leftish offshoot from the civil rights movement) march from Belfast had reached Derry after its participants were viciously attacked by loyalist mobs and off-duty B Specials. 

The period that followed was amongst one of the most turbulent in the history of the north, as the British Army had been deployed, removing barricades signalling an end to what became known as Free Derry.
Over the decades the wall itself, just as the words adorning it became a symbol of hope and resistance. From the days of the early Civil Rights demonstrations to Bloody Sunday and Operation Motorman, the location of Free Derry Corner had always been a gathering point for locals in good times and in bad as a place for discussion and debate. Soapbox street politics on the issues of the day, be it from the lack housing or jobs but more importantly were calls were made to organise against those in power.

Not surprising then that Free Derry Corner was the location chosen to pay homage to one of that era’s most legendary figures, John McGuffin. On the 10th anniversary of the death of former Civil Rights activist and Anarchist, local activists including former friends and comrades gathered in Derry’s Bogside and gave the iconic monument a fitting rebellious make-over with the red and black colours of anarchism. Over the next fortnight the black flag of anarchy will fly over Free Derry corner in a tribute to John McGuffin. 

The ‘Wee Black Booke of Belfast anarchism (1867-1973)’ has a brief introduction to the life and times of John McGuffin including a personal analysis of his participation in the civil rights movement to his internment and involvement in the republican movement. Here are some excerpts:

John McGuffin (1942-2002)

'There is an amusing and completely unbelievable story related at the time of John McGuffin’s funeral of his hosting the well-known American‘Yippie’ Jerry Rubin when he visited the north in the late 1960s. Passing through County Down on their way to Dublin through districts swathed in the Down Gaelic football colours of red and black, McGuffin informed his guest of how the whole area was in the grip of anarchist militants. Roadside signs emblazoned with ‘UP DOWN’ further convinced Rubin of the inspired libertarian revolutionary ethic sweeping south-east Ulster. 

It was, of course, a time of great social and political ferment and this may have made McGuffin’s legendary sophistry all the more believable. Like Rubin, McGuffin was a veteran of that ferment and an anarchist of a very particular colour. Throughout his life, he made no secret of his qualified support for Irish republicanism and centred his politics around issues relative to the state and its powers. […]

John McGuffin was born into a relatively wealthy middle class Presbyterian family in 1942. His uncle was the MP for Shankill ward from 1917 to 1921 and then for north Belfast, the Freemason and first speaker of the Stormont Parliament, Sam McGuffin, a ‘Labour Unionist’. He was sent to the exclusive Campbell College in Belfast and proceeded from there to Queen’s University where he received honours in history and psychology and then took up a lecturer’s post at Belfast Technical College. […]

It was within the confines of Queen’s University that McGuffin first came to prominence as one of the leading militants of People’s Democracy (PD), which emerged from among the student body after a frustrated civil rights march and short sit-down protest in Linenhall Street on 9 October 1969. He had already been chairman of the Queen’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) from 1964-65 and a member of the University Labour Group before joining PD. The group contained a significant number of very articulate, and in some senses, very naïve radical students from broadly Trotskyist, Left Republican and Anarchist backgrounds, but from the outset was a markedly non-sectarian, internationalist and libertarian civil rights movement.

It was open to all and had no written constitution, its main aims being: 

(1) One man, one vote;
(2) Fair (electoral) boundaries;
(3) Houses on need;
(4) Jobs on merit;
(5) Free speech; and
(6) Repeal of the Special Powers Act.

Although the body later became a more rigid organisation with a Trotskyist programme, libertarians and anarchists, such as McGuffin, argued strongly for the open and accountable democratic principles on which the group was formed, and which had attracted him to it initially, to be maintained. 

This, however, suffered its first major blow after just a few months when an earlier, albeit conservative, majority decision was taken to cancel the planned ‘long march’ from Belfast to Derry but was subsequently overturned by a minority of Young Socialists, including Michael Farrell and Cyril Toman. They held a meeting at Queen’s after most of the students had left for holidays in December 1968, unsatisfied with Prime Minister Terence O’Neill’s assurances of addressing the grievances of the civil rights movement, and vowing to carry on with the march where PD had failed. McGuffin did not agree with this tactic of usurping the broad democratic will of the students and PD, although he decided in the end to take part while still arguing his politics. 

It was during the ‘long march’ and savage attack on the demonstrators at Burntollet by police and Paisleyites, that McGuffin was written into history for having an anarchist banner on the march. Much mileage has been made out of the story that McGuffin allegedly carried the banner on his own at times throughout the march, though it is something confirmed only in some memoirs of the events and finds no verification in the major studies of the protest and period. What actually happened, according to a Belfast Anarchist Group member, was that McGuffin phoned him to bring the banner for the last stage of the march into Derry, and after the Burntollet ambush, these members joined with McGuffin and marched with the banner into Derry. However, at Irish Street in the Waterside the march was attacked by another group of Paisleyites. A Belfast Anarchist veteran takes up the story, ‘I remember sticking my pole into the face of one attacker before I was punched and kicked and the banner snatched away. The attackers must have had lighter fuel with them for only a few moments later I looked back to see the banner well alight’. […]

McGuffin’s embrace of anarchism began in 1967 and he, with Robin Dunwoody and others, was a founder member of the Belfast Anarchist Group (BAG). However, McGuffin was not present for the Group’s first meeting on 5 October 1968. He had gone off to Derry in company with a 40-strong group of Young Socialists from Belfast for the ill-fated civil rights march in Duke Street, which had been banned and was brutally beaten and broken up by the RUC, and therefore missed the initial meeting in a candlelit room above a restaurant in Upper Arthur Street. At these early meetings, a member named Roland Carter brought along anarchist books and pamphlets possibly supplied from Freedom Press in London.

The difficulty, however, was that events were moving faster than could be anticipated and ‘the need for new members to have space to grow into a proper understanding of anarchism was pushed into the background by the need to respond to the rapidly-developing situation on the ground’. Nevertheless, the BAG, with some 20 or so members had displayed some good early successes. […]

By March 1969, McGuffin was in Manchester as a speaker to the Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation (RSSF), fresh from the Burntollet march and seems also to have appraised anarchists in England of circumstances in the north and events to come. He was a principal organiser for the next major PD march from Belfast to Dublin in April 1969, which was attended by many English socialists and some 40 anarchists. Numerous anarchist flags were carried on the march and some women members of the BAG made a number of anarchist neck-scarves, ‘a typically sexist job allocation’, as one BAG member recalled. This splash of anarchist colour, however, even led some journalists to label it an anarchist march. The march was plagued by difficulties from the start, beginning with a violent confrontation in Lurgan (where it actually set off from after problems in Belfast), and ending with divisions between PD and some of the southern left- wingers.

McGuffin and BAG members decided at one point if they could get the numbers they would disrupt the Irish state commemoration of Easter 1916, using the opportunity to attack both states, though the tiredness of the marchers and the internal dissensions prevented this. There was also a minor clash with republicans over their insistence people march in military formation, though PD and the anarchists both resisted this. Possibly on this march or another about this time, one Belfast anarchist remembers some marchers even sang the republican anthem, ‘take it down from the mast’, to which the anarchists responded (to the tune of the ‘Red Flag’) – ‘The people’s flag is red and black, and you can fuck your Union Jack;
When you’re out of work and on the dole, you can stick the Tricolour up your hole!’

Some leading PD members quickly suggested this anarchist sing-a-long be abandoned. McGuffin, nonetheless, felt the march to have been a success even if this was only inasmuch as it further raised international awareness of the struggle for civil rights. […]

When the north erupted again in August ’69, McGuffin was in far-flung Morocco and unable to return until September. When he did so PD was advancing steadily towards a more authoritarian structure and an expressly Connollyite aim, though McGuffin still contributed to the Free Citizen newspaper of the group and Belfast anarchists played their part in selling it in the city. Radio Free Belfast was broadcasting regularly and McGuffin was heavily involved in the running of it behind the barricades in West Belfast. He also continued to argue for libertarian ideas and methods within PD and outside of it, though difficulties continued to arise in relation to breaking out of the student ghetto and addressing and supporting workers. McGuffin conceded this in an interview in the early 1970s, saying, ‘To a certain extent we would accept that we haven’t had an industrial policy. Our best policy would be to make shop-floor contacts but we can’t succeed there as long as the sectarian divide remains’. This was despite leafleting forays at factories in and around Belfast, such as Courtaulds, ICI and Rolls Royce.

John McGuffin was picked up in the first internment scoop on 9 August 1971, and held until 14 September that year, initially at Girdwood Army Barracks and then Belfast’s Crumlin Road gaol. His internment was to have a profound impact on his politics and his later writings and may have been akin to the transformation it inspired in fellow PDer Michael Farrell. Arguably, both men left their fellow internees with a more pronounced sympathy for Irish republicanism, scepticism about the tactics of the civil rights movement in the face of mounting state repression, and a stronger sense of anti-unionism. Within a few months both men had also come to support the Northern Resistance Movement (NRM), founded as a rival to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, and which developed what Paul Arthur has called a ‘curious symbiotic relationship’ with PD and the Provisional IRA. 

It was within PD, however, that McGuffin maintained what he called ‘an anarchist wing’ with his two closest comrades, Robin Dunwoody and Jackie Crawford, a former student of McGuffin’s at Belfast Tech who was also interned briefly. However, at a time when PD’s Free Citizen newspaper became the more pointed, perhaps more cynical, Unfree Citizen and expressed an increasing level of equivocation over IRA atrocities such as on ‘Bloody Friday’ in Belfast on 21 July 1972 when 9 people were killed and 130 injured in a city centre bombing spree, McGuffin was among the few (possibly the only PD member) to speak out publicly. He wrote in Internment, ‘Twenty-two bombs in the heart of a crowded city in broad daylight are bound to kill people no matter what warnings are given, and the Provisional IRA must bear the full responsibilities for these murders’. […]

After his internment, John McGuffin appears to have concentrated on writing for a time and it was in this area perhaps that he really excelled. His exposes of internment without trial and state-sponsored torture and systematic human rights abuses catalogued expertly and with great wit in Internment (1973) and The Guinea Pigs (1874) have stood the test of time. They are classic anti-state critiques written clearly from an unabashed libertarian perspective, and are among the very best books written about the north in the last thirty to thirty-five years.

It was also at this time that McGuffin moved from an anti-statist anarchist position more towards republicanism. His nephew, the journalist Paddy McGuffin, records this transformation in McGuffin and his comrades from ‘pacifist beliefs’ as and towards becoming ‘fully-fledged members of the Republican movement’. As a contemporary of McGuffin’s remembered, a number of anarchists mostly from ‘nationalist areas’ retreated into the wider republican family after the Falls Curfew of July 1970 in solidarity with the nascent armed campaign and/or response of the Provisional IRA. Some even went on to join Sinn Féin convinced in some way that the republicans were genuinely anti-statist and libertarian revolutionaries. McGuffin himself became a columnist for the Provisional movement’s newspaper, An Phoblacht/Republican News writing under the pseudonym, ‘the Brigadier’ from 1974 to 1981, although his acerbic pen was not uncritical of republicans themselves on occasion.

He also sat on an international committee investigating the deaths in custody of Red Army Faction members in Germany, and strengthened a long-standing friendship with various left-leaning German radicals, communists and sympathisers of Irish republicanism, while taking time out in 1978 to write the brilliant In Praise of Poteen, celebrating the ingenuity, talent and anti-authoritarian spirit of the poteen-makers as well as their historic concoctions. McGuffin’s later travails saw him re-locate to San Francisco where he became a criminal defence and human rights lawyer, before returning with his German partner and comrade, Christiane, to settle in Derry in 1998. 

McGuffin’s political associations and activity then centred around his internet-based‘Dispatches’, reporting and critiquing various political developments in the north and far beyond it. He was a supporter of the Garvaghy Road Residents in their campaign against Orange marches and travelled to Portadown to take part in protests there during the marching season. He also supported the calls of the Foyle Ethical Investments Campaign (FEIC) for the removal of defence industry giant, Raytheon, from Derry, and found time to write for the Derry News mainly in a satirical and at times libellous manner. He also produced another two valuable books, one a largely autobiographical collection of apocryphal tales and the other a biography, with Joe Mulheron, of the Derry IRA man, seafarer and general adventurer, Captain Charles ‘Nomad’ McGuinness. In all, McGuffin produced nine books, a number of which were solely in German, he finding few publishers in Britain or Ireland willing to print the works of a man described by many as ‘an intellectual hooligan.’

Written by a Derry WSM member. To check out Derry Anarchists online or how to get involved go to:

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Bernadette: One women's journey from mass protest to hunger strikes to the peace process

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Anarchist Origins of Mayday

In 1887 four Chicago anarchists were executed. A fifth cheated the hangman by killing himself in prison.

Three more were to spend 6 years in prison until pardoned by Governor Altgeld who said the trial that convicted them was characterised by "hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge".

The state had, in the words of the prosecution put "Anarchy .. on trial" and hoped their deaths would also be the death of the anarchist idea.

May Day Leaflet PDF version

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

"It is becoming increasingly obvious that austerity is not working”

With the announcement today by the TEEU and Unite that they are urging a No vote in the forthcoming Fiscal Compact Referendum allied to the fact that Mandate announced a similar position yesterday a clear division is emerging between the leading trade unions. SIPTU has basically offer its support for the treaty in return for a funded job creation plan, this is basically the union leadership buying time before it falls in line with Labour and calls for a yes vote.

 "It is becoming increasingly obvious that austerity is not working”, TEEU general secretary Eamon Devoy. “To hold a referendum when France may well change its stance makes no sense whatsoever. If the Irish Government cannot adequately defend its citizens they must defend themselves." he said.

 ICTU meets in the next few days to decide it's position. It seems likely that with David Begg urging a reluctant yes vote and SIPTU inclining this way that ICTU may well back a yes vote, nonetheless it is significant that three big unions have come out for a no vote.  The unions see their membership declining and are fearful for their future.  The grassroots household tax campaign has also shown that a substantial portion of the population are willing to fight rather than be crushed under the heel of austerity. Sensing this mood change the leadership are having to look to the future, cosying up to Labour is increasingly a loveless relationship with little future.

The trade union movement needs to grow, it needs to bring in the huge section of workers who are unorganised to insure it's future. However the unions have a severe credibility problem with many workers.  Restoring that credibility will not be achieved by opposition to austerity in word only. Firm backing for the campaigns emerging against austerity, active participation in the same and a democratisation of the unions themselves is the only way the movement can recover it's size and power.  The Independent Workers Union has gone down that road with many members heavily involved in the CAHWT and making the links between organising as communities and organising in workplaces. That sort of initiative  is one of the ways we will see the growth of the unions again.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Anarchist Alexey Sutuga was arrested and remanded in Moscow - help needed!

Alexey Sutuga, anarchist, anti-fascist and the member of "Autonomous Action" was arrested on Tuesday evening, April 17, in Moscow. It happened during fundraising effort in support of anti-fascists prisoners.

It became aware almost after a day after arrest that Alexey is now in the remand prison number two which
is also known as "Butyrka".

The police accuse him of the same charges as anti-fascist Alexey Olesinov who has already been in custody for a month - complicity in the incident at the Moscow club "Vozdukh", on 17 December, 2011, when the Nazis working for the security attacked the guests of the concert and then blamed anti-fascists in this assault.

More on this click on:

Belfast Anarchist Bookfair to take place Saturday 28th

The 4thBelfast Anarchist Bookfair will take this Saturday at 12pm in the Warzone centre, Little Victoria Street in the city centre. Hosted by Organise!/Just Books Collective there will be also a WSM stall including the latest Workers Solidarity and Irish Anarchist Review.

There will also be two talks/discussions taking place.  The first at 12.30pm on radical co-operatives, collectives and ‘free space’ will be lead off by a panel of people involved in a range of co-operatives, occupations and collectives.

The second talk, at 2pm, on a woman’s right to choose.  Entrance is free and a range of stalls present including the Independent Workers Union, Anarchist Federation and Anarchist Studies Network offering  a wide range on new and second hand books on Irish politics and history, labour history, feminism, socialism, anarchism, gender, fiction etc.

The events of the day will be followed by a social/gig in the centre from 7pm with Runnin’ Riot and That Bastard Chapman.

For those in the North West, Derry Anarchists will be traveling to Belfast for the bookfair.  Drop us an email if you need a lift to check out the Bookfair and ideas to fuel a revolution!

Poll Shows Class Divide Widening

The Irish Times/ IPSOS like all polls is only a snap shot in time they say, but polls can be helpful indicators of the public mood when they contain useful questions. This particular poll covered a number of areas the usual poll of party support, leader popularity and government satisfaction, opinion on the fiscal compact referendum and most interestingly opinions on the household and water taxes as well as a question about cutting social welfare.

A few things are clear form the poll

 1. The class divide in Ireland is becoming far more pronounced. This is shown by the clear division between the better off (ABs in pollsters terms) and the poorest section of the working class (DEs in pollster speak) on a range of issues. The ABs support the household and water taxes as a better way to raise revenue over income tax rises and the DEs favour income tax rises over the flat taxes. That is pure and simple class interest, income taxes would have to be levied on the better off, the flat taxes on everyone and thus hurt the poorest the most. The second issue that divides clearly on class lines is the idea of cutting social welfare with the better off in favour and the least well off opposed. These are quite pronounced differences class interest is coming more centre stage, the propaganda of the media and politicians of the right is weighing less with people as their income and lifestyle suffer as more and more it becomes visible just who has the wealth and the nature of the corrupt and unjust system that delivers it to them.

2. Class is defining party political choice more than ever. The better off, professionals, big farmers and "the middle class" are far more likely to vote Fine Gael, the working class Sinn Fein and left independents/ULA.  Fianna Fail is being squeezed their cross class appeal no longer has a great deal of currency, Labour having betrayed the working class yet again is in rapid decline, the middle ground is disappearing.  The media of course like to call FF,FG, Labour  centrist not rightwing as they are, but the media's influence is waning. Remember every major newspaper is pro austerity and backed the household tax, but clearly the people have rejected it. In the media there are dissenting voices but they are the odd few columnists and by and large compromised  their support for Labour or wedded to liberal notions of the state. 

This sharpening class division comes on the back of the intensification of the class war as the recession bites even deeper. In this context the Irish ruling class has been fighting to protect the interests of the capitalist class in doing this however they are having to squeeze workers and throw some of the middle class to the wolves. The abysmal reaction of the trade union leadership is a consequence both of 20 years of social partnership, the clear identification of the ICTU leadership with Labour and the interests of the capitalist class and the decline of TU membership to a largely (though not exclusively)public sector base. Thus protecting what small advantages they perceive as being possible for public sector workers becomes their key area of activity. But public sector workers have not been immune from wage cuts, cutbacks in the sectors they work in and are far from satisfied.  The result has been the absence of a fightback on a serious widespread basis by  organised workers.  

We have seen sporadic outbreaks and  heroic stands like that at Veta Cortex but theTrade Union movement has failed to rally the working class.  Cracks are showing however with unions more based in the private sector starting to buck the trend, the move by Mandate to back a no vote in the referendum is an example. In that context the rise of  household tax campaign is a great cause for hope. Unburdened by the need to play by the rules, negotiate with the state and not burdened by the dead hand of trade union bureaucrats it is a real flesh and blood campaign, organicaly part of the working class.  This expression of working class community militancy is full of contradictory and competing ideas, individuals and political groups but it is potentially the most powerful movement to emerge in Ireland since the 'Tan war.

The class war is intensifying in that context there is only one question that everyone will have to answer eventually "Which side are you on?"

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Solidarity with Marian Price: an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere

Hundreds of people gathered in Derry’s Bogside today in what was one of the largest demonstrations held yet in support of the imprisoned political prisoner Marian Price to demand her immediate release.

Marian, a former IRA hunger striker had been interned following an Easter Commemoration in Derry last year on the order of Secretary of State, Owen Paterson. She was held at Maghaberry, an all-male prison, in isolation for over ten months. Due to serious concerns about her ailing health and continuing street protests she was eventually transferred to Hydebank Woman's Prison back in February ‘on clinical advice’.

Today’s event itself was organised by a number of independent activists from Belfast and Derry and had been led by renowned human rights campaigner Monsignor Raymond Murray and a number of Bloody Sunday relatives.

The march departed from Free Derry Corner making its way through the streets to the Guildhall Square for a rally which was attended by members of the Workers Solidarity Movement.
Amongst the hundreds who crammed into the city centre the march and rally brought together a number of high profile human rights activists, former political prisoners as well representatives from various political parties and trade unionists in a show of solidarity not seen since the 1980’s prison struggle.

The rally was also addressed by Marian’s husband, Jerry McGlinchey who thanked those in who supported the campaign for justice by demanding Marian’s immediate release.

Despite periods of heavy rain today’s rally ended on a high note by a brief call directly from Marian herself where she heard a very loud and unison shout out by those gathered: “FREE MARIAN PRICE!”

Friday, 20 April 2012

Belfast bus drivers take wildcat strike action to re-instate work colleague

Belfast city centre was brought to a standstill this morning after up to 100 metro workers took unofficial wildcat action in protest against the suspension of a work colleague over ’misconduct.’ Those on strike parked their empty buses outside City Hall in a show of solidarity for a driver they say has been suspended for allegedly damaging the disabled ramp of a bus. Talks were then held between Translink bosses and union representatives in a bid to resolve the dispute.

Following a meeting on the grounds of Belfast city hall between workers and union officials with angry words being exchanged over a range of issues including working conditions, workers agreed to return to work following assurances that the sacked driver would be immediately re-instated.

This re-instatement marks a small victory. We are far more effective when we take direct action while still on the job. By deliberately reducing the boss's profits while continuing to collect wages, you can cripple the boss without giving some scab the opportunity to take your job.

Unofficial, or wildcat, action - that is, organised with other workers independent of union officials bypasses anti-union laws meaning there are no union funds to sequester. You don't provide the bosses with advance warning - giving them the opportunity to arrange scabs.

Our best weapon is organisation. If one worker stands up and protests, the bosses will squash him or her like a bug. Squashed bugs are obviously of little use to their families, friends, and social movements in general. But if all the workers stand up together, the boss will have no choice but to take you seriously. They may fire any individual worker who makes a fuss, but they might find it difficult to fire their entire workforce. 

Sunday, 15 April 2012

ICTU Protest on Welfare Cuts

Derry will host the biennial Delegate Conference of the Northern ITCU from the 17th - 18th April, that event takes place at the city hotel.

They also plan to hold a rally in the Guildhall Square in Derry city centre against Welrfae cuts on Tuesday April 17th at 2pm.

Motins etc:

Latest press release:

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Remembering Stephen: 30 Years on

This coming Thursday evening there will be an unveiling of a new plaque to Stephen McConomy.  This event will take place at 6pm at the steps on Fahan Street in the Bogside, at the same spot where Stephen was murdered by the British army 1982 aged 11 years old.

Afterwards in the Tower Hotel there will be an examination of the events surrounding his death and the campaign for justice.  Everyone is welcome.

Recent interview with Stephen's brother Emmet in the local press:

Anarchists - Who we are and what we are up to: Dublin meeting

About 80 people attended the 'Anarchists Who we are and what we are up to' meeting in Dublin last night. 

As this was a good deal more than we expected the room got packed out but the high level of interest was shown by the fact almost everyone left their contact details on our feedback form. 

This will allow us to contact them by email about future events of the types they say they are interested in. If you'f like to be a contact you can register your details and interests on the WSM website at

The discussion section, during this almost everyone left their contact details on our feedback form.

 Solidarity bookstall setup as people start arriving for the meeting - contact us if you'd like a bookstall at your event

Anarchist report from 1916 Easter Commemorations in Belfast

This year marked the 96th anniversary of the Easter Rising traditionally a time when republicans across this island come out to remember the sacrifice of fallen comrades and renew their ideals set in stone in the 1916 proclamation. It is also a time when rival republican groups set out there stall in a show of strength and support; but what is noticeable in so-called republican heartlands is a decline in overall attendance and of the wearing of the Easter lily and houses flying the tri-colour.

In Belfast, every shade of republicanism was keen to claim the mantle of Easter week with five seperate commemorations and parades taking place over just two days. This year was marked by a front page  ‘scare-mongering’ lead-off from the local Andersonstown news in an attempt at to demonise and criminalise republican opposition outside of Sinn Fein.

Since a young age I have been attending republican parades and commemorations first as a republican socialist and now as an anarchist observer. The day began with catching up with the Republican Sinn Fein parade at mid-day which was the smallest of them all with around 10 supporters, RSF is becoming akin to a religious cult with little ambition. The main oration was given by Geraldine Taylor who basically re-cycled the same speech every year which was heavy on rhetoric accusing everyone from Sinn Fein to the GAA of being ‘sell-outs’ and ‘traitors.’

Next on the list was the Irish Republican Socialist Movement (IRSM) annual parade where I caught up with comrades from German Antifa. Despite missing the last two commemorations and a noticeable increase of IRSP flags on the Falls Rd, beyond their loyal base of followers and supporters the IRSM parade has not grown in size or influence as much of the ‘left republican’ space has been occupied by Eirigi who do not carry the same political baggage.   They are rivals over claiming the mantle of James Connolly, who actually had little influence in the Proclamation apart from vague notions of ‘equality’ and ‘public ownership.’ It is clear the IRSP is here to stay, at least going by their fanatical flag waving at every picket and protest organised outside of their own organisation.

Coming out of Milltown cemetery we briefly watched the main parade organised by Sinn Fein which is still the largest even if they had to make a request for support from GAA clubs to bring out their members to outnumber their republican opposition. The sight of the Sinn Fein leadership bringing out their green colours when they are showing their true colours at Stormont by imposing savage anti-working class cuts resulting in growing unemployment and job cuts meant it was time to leave.

Monday marked the Eirigi parade or ‘Provo left’ as they have been dubbed by their republican critics, was the largest apart from Sinn Fein and, despite their own widely exaggerated figures, around 400 people took part ending at the Harbinson plot in the heart of Milltown cemetery.  The event was chaired by John McCusker and the main oration given by Daithí Mac an Mháistir of Dublin. The talk was quite positive and engaging with its main emphasis being in the words of Irish-born socialist and union organiser ‘Mother’ Mary ‘to remember the dead but fight like hell for the living.’

However, the main oration catered for every shade of disaffected republicanism present from Irish language activists, to wrap yourself in a tricolour ‘brits out’ brigade to those on the left.  Although heavy on populist class struggle rhetoric and the need to combine the social question with national liberation the reality is that republicanism has been unable to transcend the sectarian division in the North. The cross-cross and often sectarian dynamic of republicanism is a significant barrier towards this, and in times of intense class struggle, republicanism has been unable to leave the 'labour must wait' position.

Beyond its emotional and militant appeal in Ireland can the proclamation deliver a better society for all in the 21th century.  The 1916 proclamation is long on rhetoric about “dead generations” and “august destiny” but short on any sort of concrete program, never mind one that addresses the concrete needs of the working class today. This  has allowed every party and shade of republicanism to claim to stand in its tradition in the 90 years since it was first read out.

 Three years after 1916 the war of Independence started. This was Irish republicanism in its most militant period; it was simultaneously a period when Irish workers were at their most militant. Land occupations, general strikes and ‘soviets’ spread across Ireland. Yet the republican leadership saw the direct actions of these workers as a hindrance to the struggle because they were something that threatened nationalist unity.
Nearly 100 years on, Irish republicanism is at a cross-roads and has reached its critical mass.  The armed struggle over the last 30 years has delivered little of its objectives apart from providing a bargaining weapon for Sinn Fein for its complete integration into the British state and imposition of a right wing neo-liberal agenda.  Their only answer is either a return to militarism or rebuilding the relic of left republicanism.  But republicanism is unable to build a united working class movement that can transform the island and link up with similar movements internationally.

The weakness of republicanism is not in its failures but in its successes because that success requires building nationalist unity and class collaboration, whether that be it military as during the war of Independence or political as in the ‘Peace Process’. The price of such unity is always the marginalisation and removal from the agenda of any prospect of social revolution.

 Peader O’Donnell writing in 1963 observed “Many an IRA man in jail in ’22 and ’23 cursed his use as a defender of pure ideals to patrol estate walls, enforce decrees for rent, arrest and even order out of the country leaders of local land agitation”.

 It is time to bury the politics of the dead and build the politics of the living. As anarchists, the solution is in one where we realise our own class power, we can finally take control of our lives, our communities and workplaces’ free from exploitation, alienation and oppression. Real freedom and independence - not just one set of bosses replaced with another. This future, a libertarian communist one, is truly a future worth fighting for.

 The link below contains analysis of Irish Republicanism from an anarchist perspective. These range from analysis of the issues of the day to detailed re-examination of the history of the republican rebellions and movements.

Sean Matthews

 More on Anarchism and Republicanism:

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Irish Anarchists & 1916

Our archive of articles about the 1916 rising by irish anarchists and its impact including Russian/US anarchist Alexander Berkman's piece 'The only hope of Ireland'.

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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Newly elected UUP leader Mike Nesbitt shows his true class colours

Comments by newly elected Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt that “I’d actually like to live in an area of social deprivation for a day because I think it’s important to get a feel for what it’s like,” is what you would expect from someone who was born with a sliverspoon in their mouth.  Mike was  privately educated at Campbell college and Oxford university.

While sections of the media have referred to the former UTV news presenter’s comments as ‘patronising,’ they are more an indication of how divorced our local corrupt political class at Stormont are from the rest of us who are facing the brunt of their savage cuts to jobs and services including housing benefits and healthcare. An estimated 12,000 homes in Northern Ireland are set to be repossessed in 2012, thousands of public sector workers face redundancy and there are over 100,000 people out of work.

The days of turning the other cheek are over. Mike Nesbitt and this rest of his cronies on the hill have clearly laid their colours to the mast which is on the side of the rich and powerful who are making us pay for their greed and arrogance. It is time to get organised because we don’t need their pity or patronage.

Last November’s public sector strike provided a glimpse of our power and capacity as a class to show them that we mean business. They need to fear us because this is class war!