A Wee Black Bookof Belfast Anarchism (1867-1973)

By Máirtín Ó Catháin

After the visit of John McAra (18701915), an anarchist propagandist from Scotland to Belfast in 1908, it was remarked by the press that there was clearly no hope for anarchism in Ulster. He was labelled a crank(a definition famously embraced by FrancisSheehySkeffingtonas a small instrument that makes revolutions), as he had earlier been labelled a slumdwellerby James Connollys newspaper. Such descriptions were the usual fare for anarchists whether in Belfast or anywhere else in the world and the word itself has consistently been used as a term of abuse over the years. Indeed, had the tabloids been taken at face value, many would have us believe that ‘anarchy’ reigned in Belfast on a regular basis over the past thirty to forty years. Unfortunately, that was not the case. However, the equation of anarchy with violence and chaos is nothing new and the word continues to be misapplied in almost every context from the London riots of last year to the anarchy’ of the worlds financial markets. Partly this is ignorance, partly laziness, and partly deliberate and malicious misapplication by politicians and the media. Of the more cogent explorations of labour history and politics here in the north, the picture is scarcely less misleading. Few writers and historians have given acknowledgement of the existence of anarchists and anarchist movements in Belfast though perfunctory references to small anarchist groups and publications such as the Belfast Anarchist Collective and Outta Controlhave sometimes escaped into mainstream publications over the years. This short introduction does not claim a popular but suppressed mass appeal nor even a historical continuum for anarchism here. We freely acknowledge the marginal status and relative unpopularity of the movement, though people’s misconceptions about anarchism have long been a difficulty in popularising it. It nevertheless has attracted a number of extraordinary people over the years from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth century, and the message, method and spirit of anarchism has rang out in the streets and halls of Belfast at times of great social radicalism and in periods of inveterate reaction.


Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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