(en) Remembering Jack White

Thu, 6 Mar 1997 10:00:24 GMT

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This article is from the Irish Anarchist Paper =

Workers Solidarity, No 50 Spring 1997

Anarchism's Greatest Hits NO.4

Jack White

Captain Jack White is known as the man who =

drilled the Irish Citizen Army during the =

1913 lock-out. His later anarchism has been =

hidden from history by the writers of =

history books.

White belonged to the Anglo-Irish landowning =

class. James Robert - always known as Jack, =

was born in Co Antrim, at Whitehall, =

Broughshane, just outside Ballymena. As a =

young man he followed his father into the =

British army, where he saw action against =

the Boers in South Africa. =

It is said that at the battle of Doorknop he =

was one of the first to go over the top. =

Looking back he saw one 17 year old youth =

shivering with fright in the trench. An =

officer cried "shoot him". White is said to =

have covered the officer with his pistol and =

replied "Do so and I'll shoot you". Not =

exactly the attitude wanted among the =

officer classes of the army! =

Soon after this he dropped out of the army. =

Arriving back in Ireland he found Sir Edward =

Carson's bigoted crusade against Home Rule =

was in full swing. This was the time when =

the original UVF was created to threaten war =

against the British government if Ireland =

was granted any measure of self-rule. =

Jack organised one of the first Protestant =

meetings, in Ballymoney, to rally Protestant =

opinion against the Unionist Party and =

against what he described as its "bigotry =

and stagnation", that associated Northern =

Protestants with conservatism. Another =

speaker at that meeting, and coming from the =

same sort of social background, was Sir =

Roger Casement.

As a result of the Ballymoney meeting Jack =

was invited to Dublin. Here he met James =

Connolly and was converted to socialism. =

Very impressed by the great struggle to win =

union recognition and resist the attacks of =

William Martin Murphy and his confederates, =

he offered his services to the ITGWU at =

Liberty Hall. He spoke on union platforms =

with such famous names as Francis Sheehy =

Skeffington, Big Bill Haywood of the =

Industrial Workers of the World, and James =

Connolly. =

He put forward the idea of a workers militia =

to protect picket lines from assaults by =

both scabs and the blackguards of the Dublin =

Metropolitan Police. This proposal to =

create a Citizen Army, drilled by him, was =

enthusiastically accepted. Its very =

appearance, as White recollected, "put =

manners on the police". =

He later put his services at the disposal of =

the Volunteers, believing that a stand had =

to be taken against British rule by a large =

body of armed people. He went to Derry =

where there was a brigade of Volunteers who =

were largely ex-British Army like himself. =

But he was shaken by the sectarian attitudes =

he found. When he tried to reason with them =

and make the case for workers' unity they =

dismissed his case=A0as merely sticking up for =

his own, i.e. Protestants. =

When Connolly was sentenced to death after =

the 1916 rising White rushed to South Wales =

and tried to bring the miners out on strike =

to save his life. For his attempts he was =

given three months imprisonment.

He came home to find himself in a political =

wilderness. The unionists regarded him as a =

Shinner. The nationalists regarded him as =

an Orangeman! He moved towards the newly =

founded Communist Party which, with the =

first reports from Russia, seemed offer hope =

to humanity. But he had his doubts about =

them and never joined. Indeed for a time in =

London he worked with Sylvia Pankhurst's =

anti-parliamentary communist group, the =

Workers Socialist Federation.

In 1934 a special convention was held in =

Athlone which was attended by 200 former IRA =

volunteers together with a number of =

prominent socialists, Communists and trade =

unionists. It resolved that a Republican =

Congress be formed. This was a movement, =

based on workers and small farmers, that was =

well to the left of the IRA. White joined =

immediately and organised a Dublin branch =

composed solely of ex-British servicemen. =

One notable result of this was a contingent =

of British ex-servicemen marching behind the =

Congress banner through cheering crowds of =

Dubliners on a demonstration against war and =


The Congress is best known for bringing 200 =

Belfast Protestant workers to the republican =

Wolfe Tone Commemoration that year and for =

the scandalous attack on them by Sean =

McBride's IRA men who were determined that =

no 'red' banners would be seen at their =

Catholic day out in Bodenstown. =

One of the men carrying the second banner - =

on which was embroidered James Connolly =

Club, Belfast - The United Irishmen of 1934 =

- was John Straney, a milk roundsman from =

loyalist Ballymacarret who was later killed =

while fighting Franco's army at the Battle =

of the Ebro in 1939.

Congress later split between those who stood =

for class independence, those who fought =

only for the Workers Republic, and those - =

led by the Communists - who firstly wanted =

an alliance with Fianna Fail to reunite the =

country. After the bulk of the first group =

walked out (many of them demoralised and =

ending up in the Labour Party) White =

remained in the depleted organisation. But =

their reduced size did not reduce the hatred =

the rich had for them. In April 1936 the =

Congress contingent taking part in the =

annual Easter Commemoration was subjected to =

attack by blueshirt gangs all along the =


The main target of the mob was White. =

Patrick Byrne, the joint secretary with =

Frank Ryan of the Congress, describes him as =

a "tall, well built man with a clipped army =

moustache" who "used his blackthorn stick to =

advantage in close encounters with his =

attackers". Inside the cemetery he was =

badly injured by a blow of an iron cross =

ripped from a grave. Byrne and a young =

poet, Tom O'Brien, who also fought in Spain =

managed to get White away. =

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War saw =

General O'Duffy's blueshirts sending a =

contingent to help Franco. The Communist =

Party and leading republicans organised the =

Connolly Column to fight the Spanish =

fascists. Incidentaly the Irish =

International Brigade was yet one more =

example of how Catholics and Protestants =

fought together in a common class cause. =

White was thrilled with the collectivisation =

in Spain, and also with the volunteer =

militias. He learned with amazement that =

this was the work of the anarchists. =

In addition to his work with the Connolly =

Column at the front, he trained militia =

members in the use of firearms. He also =

trained women in the villages on the way to =

Saragossa in the use of pistol for defence. =

What he could not stomach was that the =

Irish, like all the International =

Brigadeers, were being increasingly =

manipulated by the Communist Party. He had =

never accepted the CP, he had just not seen =

an alternative. Now he saw that alternative =

and it was anarchism. =

There was a clash between White and Frank =

Ryan, who accused White of being a =

'Trotskyite' and a traitor. White =

relinquished his International Brigade =

command and offered his services to the =

anarchist CNT union. White was asked to =

work, with the legendary Emma Goldman, for =

the CNT in London. In the course of a few =

months in Spain he had become a convinced =

anarchist. =

It was at this time that he wrote the =

pamphlet The Meaning of Anarchism. He =

joined the group producing Freedom (the =

anarchist paper - still published in London =

- whose founders included Peter Kropotkin), =

and was one of the organisers of the regular =

meetings at the National Trade Union Club =

against Italian fascism and in support of =

the Spanish anarchists.

At this time White worked with a Liverpool- Irish anarchist, Matt Kavanagh, on a survey =

of Irish labour history in relation to =

anarchism. In 1940 White died. His body =

was hardly cold when the family, ashamed of =

Jack's revolutionary politics, destroyed all =

his papers, including a study of the Cork =

Harbour 'soviet' of 1921. =

His importance lies not in what he wrote, =

for all that survives is one short pamphlet, =

nor in any particular position he took. His =

importance lies in the link he provides =

between Irish working class history of the =

past and our anarchist vision today. All =

through his life he tried to organise =

ordinary people to defend their own =

interests and to realise the power they had =

if only they would use it. That is the job =

we have to continue and complete.

Alan MacSimoin

------------------------------------------------ This article is from the Irish Anarchist Paper =

Workers Solidarity, No 50 Spring 1997

The whole issue and previous issues can be found at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2724/anpubdx.html

-- =

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