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The Left Archive: Z Magazine (1989) – “A New Times” for Ireland? Well, not quite. January 14, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Independent Left, Irish Left Online Document Archive.
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Here is a bit of a curiosity. Z Magazine – no, not that one, the other one produced in Ireland in 1989. Funded by the MSF union in part, it sought to present a left of centre perspective and was supported by civil society: womens groups, community groups, arts organisations and unions. It lasted, if my memory serves correct, something like three or four issues.

[incidentally, it’s been a tough one to scan due to the very faded pages. If the quality is too low tell me… and the size is a bit over 7mbs. Are any of you struggling along with dial-up connections? Again, tell me and I’ll see is there any way around this]

A quick perusal of the Editorial Board is revealing. Des Derwin, Patricia Hegarty, Brian Trench… Alastair Rutherdale, well known to some of us from USI, makes an appearance and that indicates a sort of softish nationalist/Republican aspect to the magazine. So does an implausibly youthful Trevor Sargent, and a rather more plausibly aged Richard Crotty.

I’m being a bit unkind when I mention the CPGB’s New Times project, but there is something of this in Z Magazine. So the concentration is more markedly on social liberalism than political economy or clear socialism. That such battles had a distinct edge in a society which had been through a bitter divorce referendum only three years previously (one I for one will never forget campaigning on) makes the concerns that Z Magazine expresses more understandable.

It’s a different world now. Many of the battles, divorce, contraception and so on have been won. Others have been lost or little progress has been made on them. Nicaragua looms large. But for all that this is, as one might expect, a very Irish magazine.

There is something endearingly shambolic about this project. If I recall correctly it was run, so I’m told, on a volunteerist basis. Not necessarily the best way forward when trying to create a vehicle to broaden the space for leftism in a society notoriously disinterested in same. Underfunded, amateurish on many different levels, particularly in the execution and design, and yet enunciating a clearly left of centre perspective. Perhaps the Village comes closest today to it, but that is a vastly more professional presentation reflecting a vastly changed media world. I like the way that someone thought it was feasible to produce such a magazine, but the execution? Not great… and perhaps indicative that good intentions couldn’t run a magazine alone and somewhere along the line people had to be paid.

But weirdly, the discourse within it is one that seems to me to actually – despite the specific linkages to then contemporaneous events – belong in a fairly familiar and now long lasting narrative of Irish liberal leftism. This is somewhere beyond party formations – it is telling that Sargent, Anne Speed of SF and the then somewhat detached Emmet Stagg of the ILP are the only party politicians actually interviewed – and not dissimilar to the sort of centre leftist thinking that once dominated the Irish Times.

And this returns to the ground upon which Z Magazine engages. For the Irish left there has always been three main areas of contention (which has even touched the further left groups). Firstly, and I was going to say ‘of course’ but perhaps there is no ‘of course’ when one contemplates the pragmatic realpolitic of political parties that scurried to the centre as the need arose, the approach to socialism in economic and other aspects. Secondly the national question. Thirdly social liberalism and modernisation. I’m hardly putting forward a radical or innovative thesis if I suggest that the Irish left has tended to pick and choose between these three. And the last, if only because that truly was running with the tide of history, is the one where arguably most success was seen – probably because the left was able to engage with a broader constituency beyond itself. This is not in any sense to be negative about this magazine or what it represents, but merely to point out that the concentration on certain aspects of centre left projects shading into liberal projects demonstrates some fundamental aspects of Irish political culture in a way a thousand worthy academic papers might not. Consider too that within a mere couple of years there would be a woman President, within half a decade a series of socially liberalising measures and as importantly significant economic advance which would see increasing and sustained employment growth. But the battles remain the same. The three issues remain live.

And therefore this remains an interesting resonance then, of the contemporary period, where what remains of the left is scattered across many different parties, formations and social and campaigning organisations. Much and little has changed across the twenty years.

Comments»

1. Ed Hayes - January 14, 2008

I can’t for the life of me ever remember seeing this at the time. But Trench and Derwin were involved in an earlier experiment called ‘Gralton’ about 1982-84? Are there any copies out there?

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Leveller on the Liffey - June 19, 2009

I have some copies of Gralton stashed somewhere. I’ve been planning to find a home for them some time and get them up to WBS. Will try soon.

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2. D_D - January 14, 2008

Well. well, well.

‘Z Magazine’ (which I think predated the US one) was a ‘Daughter of “Gralton” ‘ magazine. Though the remarks in the main posting above
might suggest otherwise, it was an attempt (unsuccessful) to produce a ‘Gralton’ (which closed for financial reasons) on a commercially sustainable basis, available in newsagents and employing a part-timer. The mix was also to include attractive and bright design (a factor also not credited – perhaps for good reason – in the main posting). This copy might not be the best sample. ‘Z Magazine’ folded too for commercial reasons, not long after this issue.

This Left Archive project is fascinating and historically important. Most of the material of the far and radical left is not available in hard-form libraries, never mind on line. There is more in The Linenhall Library than elsewhere. I must get around to handing over my tons to the libraries and to internet archives like this. There is a file of ‘Gralton’, and probably ‘Z Magazine’, in the National Library.

I don’t quite recognise the overall political complexion of ‘Z’ I get from a quick reading of WorldbyStorm, but, hey, different perceptions and insights are what historical, contextual and objective viewpoints are all about.

A remarkable aspect of ‘Gralton’ and ‘Z’ was that in the 80s they were attempting to build a broad and pluralistic political unity that also encompassed both the political left and those involved in the ‘movements’. Sound familiar in the recent days of the ‘anti-capitalist’/’anti-globalisation’ movements and of broad left parties in Europe? By the way, the Socialist Labour Party (now there’s an Archive!) also fore ran these broad parties. Tragically too early in Ireland – like 1916?

When time permits I should do my duty to the archives. Meanwhile, thanks for the history so far.

Des D.

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3. Sean O Siochru - January 14, 2008

Hi Des

I too was involved, and have copies of the three issues: Feb 1989, March, and May 1989. We had a tiny initial budget, paying a pittance to a few of those involved and reserving the rest for print run etc. It was produced in my office (then SUS research) on (very early) desktop publishing.

It was circulated by Newspread – this was our attempt at being commercial – and with no advertising, sold I think about 5,000 of the initial 7,000 print run. But then Newspread agreed to take only 5,000 of the second edition, which in turn sold about 3,000; so they took only 3,000 of the third. I think it could easily have succeeded, at least for considerably longer, had we not been so naive on the business front and let Newsprint treat us that way.

Des and myself – diehards – are now both involved in Dublin Community Television which in many ways is a continuation of the same ideas.

By the way, the US Z magazine came first. We took the name form it.

Sean O Siochru

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4. WorldbyStorm - January 14, 2008

Des and Sean, first thanks for the kind words about the archive. Secondly, I don’t for a moment want to slag off Z Magazine or what it was trying to achieve. I think the articles are very good and teh idea absolutely sound. I’m just not entirely entranced by the layouts… not the actual typesetting but the way it was pasted up. I’d heard something of the Newspread deal and I’d certainly think that also was a major factor in its premature disappearance. I remember seeing it in various city centre newsagents in Dublin and being quite impressed at it’s initial presence.

If either or both of you wanted to write an addendum to the above piece that would be very welcome (as indeed would any piece on Dublin Community Television). We’d also be very interested in scans (or copy to scan which would be sent back) of Gralton and any other materials and some accompanying words.

Des your thoughts on a pluralistic left of politics and movements was in a way precisely the sort of tack Marxism Today was taking and certainly would be something we here would be very much supportive of.

As it happens I genuinely do see Z Magazine as a forerunner of The Village, or as being a radical left version of the old Magill. Without the rugby – thank God!

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5. Starkadder - January 15, 2008

There is a republican blog here, which carries an interview
with Sinn Fein member Paddy Bolger, from “Gralton” magazine:

http://11sixtynine.blogsome.com/2007/02/26/gerry-adams-raymond-gilmour-provisional-sinn-fein/

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6. WorldbyStorm - January 15, 2008

Thanks for that Starkadder. It’s a long time since I thought of Gralton, but it certainly was a radical left trail blazer…

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7. DCTV »  Looking Left. - June 19, 2009

[…] The Looking Left Shoot went well last night, it focused on Gralton and Z Mag.  Two magazines that came out of the struggles and new community movements of the 1980’s.    You can read about Z Mag over on Cedar Lounge. […]

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8. Gralton and Z Magazine on DCTV « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - June 30, 2009

[…] Left Online Document Archive, Irish Politics, The Left. trackback Ah, nostalgia, how are you? I had a passing involvement in Z magazine and so I found the latest in the Looking Left series from DCTV of considerable personal interest. […]

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