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Left Archive: Our first political experiences – Starting a collection of personal accounts for the Archive November 9, 2020

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in Uncategorized.
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For some time now we’ve been thinking about the ways the Archive could begin to collate first-hand political reminiscences or observations. Parts of that might be to look at people’s first political activity, their experiences of first being part of a campaign or a political party. Others might be how political life went for them in one party or group or another and so on.

But in this immediate instance – and we’re indebted to the person who suggested this idea – we would like if people could on this thread write about their first political experience or when political consciousness first dawned for them. For some it may be a very specific event – for others a series of events or perhaps attitudes in their home as children that together built up into a political self-awareness. It might be a book that was read, an election that they noticed, perhaps a political figure who caught their attention.

You can submit your personal account on leftarchive.ie directly (using this link), or in the comments here. (Please let us know in your comment if you don’t want it added to the Irish Left Archive).

For myself I can point to a number of events that together began to coalesce into a political consciousness. One was the 1977 General Election. I was about eleven and I remember being in a clothes shop in Coolock which my mother used to often bring me to (in school the teacher asked how our parents were voting and a forest of hands went up for FF, for some reason myself and a friend put ours up for FG, but that wasn’t the case at all as will be seen below and I’ve wondered why I did that). The results were on the radio in the background and I remember being absolutely fascinated by what was being said and the sense of excitement about it. A year later there was the La Mon bombing by PIRA and my sixth class teacher in the National School in Kilbarrack put up photographs of those who died there on the class room noticeboard. Counter-intuitively two years later I found a copy of Freedom Struggle by PIRA in my fathers collection of books which had a strong influence on me for a while. In my home my mother and father would have been broadly traditional social democrat while my father in particular was a republican in his inclination, a fluent Irish speaker, was himself active in the Wood Quay campaign and matters relating to Irish culture and heritage (and was involved according to his own account in SF in the late 1950s) so that was a more generalised influence that at times extended to support for the ILP but more often was directed towards FF). So I think it was more a case of that broader positive attitude towards the left (even towards the USSR at times and most certainly towards national liberation struggles – as with Cuba and so on, and tellingly to both Israel and Palestine and those against apartheid in South Africa, and a scepticism towards the United States and in particular its cultural and political hegemony) that would have provided a foundation on which my own attitude towards the left was then able to develop. I also remember in my early to mid teens reading about Allende and being very impressed by what he sought to achieve. Thatcher was not popular in the house, particularly due to massive unemployment, but also in terms of attitudes to the North. And by 1981 and the hunger strikes one of the teachers in school who I respected most wore a black armband – though while hazily sympathetic to them I don’t know that it pushed me to anything approaching actual activism.

In terms of bringing this altogether into an even partly cohesive whole, that wasn’t to happen until later, in my late teens, and certainly nothing that would make me describe myself as a Marxist until then. In fact prior to that I had begun to read and feel an affinity with anarchism.

But I considered myself on the left from fifteen or so onwards (in the Gaeltacht around that time we were asked what parties we’d vote for and just two of us put up our hands for the… Labour Party – though during one of the elections in the very early 1980s I remember watching the election returns with my Dad and his being very impressed by how SFWP was doing), and when I had the curious experience of repeating my leaving in a fee-charging school I was very aware of class differentiation there compared to the Community School I had been in previously. I also was extremely sceptical of some of the rhetoric there of classmates in relation to the invasion of Grenada in 1983 when some of them were making out the Soviets had installed missiles there.

Which led on to a fateful meeting in a pub in Howth a little later with a former schoolmate from Kilbarrack who was a member of a party which was in the process of jettisoning the name Sinn Féin and who was clear that while anarchism was well intentioned if I really wanted to change the world there was a much more immediate way to do so and a party just right to join…

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1. alanmyler - November 9, 2020

I think for me it was the Troubles up North, and how that was constantly in the background growing up, that probably created some political awareness. My parents didn’t much talk about politics over the dinner table growing up, not openly so, which in retrospect is a bit strange as my dad was a journalist, so he was constantly talking about the news and we had newspapers in the house every day and the radio and TV news was part of the daily routine. In fact to this day he’s still a news junkie and watches Sky news when there’s nothing much else happening, and walks up to the local garage very day to buy the papers. Having lived in England for a decade from the late 50s, and then moving to Belfast for a few years until just before the outbreak of the Troubles, my parents were very positively inclined towards Britain on the whole and were quite dismissive of the Irish political establishment and how the country was held down by them, relative to the more open and free lives they had been able to experience in London etc. So I grew up in an anti-nationalist household by and large, not unionist in any functional sense, just not bought into the myths of Gaelic Catholic Ireland. My dad was a union member, NUJ, and would occasionally be late home from work having had to attend “Chapel meetings” which sounded very intriguing to me. So that was my childhood political context, a soft-Left trade unionist but aspirant middle class household, in the deep Southside of Dublin. So move on to my teen years and I think there were probably some cultural influences more than anything else that moved me further Leftwards. Certainly punk rock, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Tom Robinson Band, Stiff Little Fingers. The latter in particular really resonated with my background anti-Provo upbringing I think. Reading Orwell’s Homage To Catalonia was a factor also. Joe Strummer singing about an English Civil War, about Spanish Bombs, the Sandanistas. Like WBS all of this was creating a teenage rebelliousness that was closer to Anarchism than anything else. I remember looking through the phone book to find the addresses of the Left wing political parties to write to them for information, although I don’t think I posted the letters in the end. I do remember SFWP encroaching on my awareness early on, of all things in part because the bus I used to get into town was the 46A and one or more of the buses had big SFWP stickers on the glass panel beside the door at the front, I’m guessing because some of the drivers or conductors were sympathetic to the party. I inscribed SFWP on my metal pencil case and my Physics lab partner gave me a knowing look, saying “I know what that stands for”, which was sort of cool. SFWP’s position on the violence in the North was a big attraction for me, along with their clearly Left wing rhetoric, so that was me hooked, I was a now Leftie. It took me a further 30 years to actually become actively involved in politics, having in the meantime had endless barstool arguments with everyone I knew, having read endlessly about history and politics and all sorts, it just seemed that it was one thing to try to understand it all but maybe it was just as important to actively try to change it.

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2. NFB - November 9, 2020

Great question. My answer is going to be a bit jumbled.

I’m not sure what my first memories of politics were exactly, but I very vague remembrances of what might have been the 1992 election for the sole reason that my father bears a passing resemblance to Willie O’Dea, so to my very young eyes it was like I was seeing posters of my Dad everywhere, and it had to be explained to me.

I remember the 1996 election in America and everyone in my house wanting Clinton to win. I remember watching bits of his second inauguration and being bored.

I remember 1997 and being a bit bemused that the man in charge of the country was changing. I also remember people knocking at the door around the time, total strangers, that my parents chatted to about voting. I maintained a loose interest in politics after that, but it mostly amounted to what my parents told me. The 97 Presidential election helped a bit in that I think, I remember talking to them about who they were voting for and why.

In terms of the north, I remember being on holiday in the Algarve at the time of the Omagh bombing and suddenly it being brought home to me that the IRA were not nice people; the GFA had barely impacted on me, and apart from a vague memory of going through roadchecks after the McCabe murder, the IRA was something I only knew about from primary school education about 1916 and the WOI. I think the devastated reaction of various Irish on holiday there – we spent a lot of it in an Irish bar – probably started a revulsion in me towards physical force campaigns regards Irish republicanism.

In terms of political awakening proper, I suppose in many ways it was 9/11 and the aftermath. At that time I was a teenager, and my crowd of friends got very anti-Bush to the extent that in 2004 it was all we talked about sometimes. We were full on Michael Moore-heads, American Idiot-quoting all the time, and some of my first online routines were discussion boards talking about the Bush/Kerry election, which was my first big disillusionment with politics: I couldn’t understand how Kerry lost. I did begin to take a much bigger interest in Irish politics at the time, especially during referenda, with my parents, especially my mother, pushing me to read newspapers all the time: the Sunday Tribune was a big one. In terms of a political identity, I didn’t really have a firm one, but I generally thought FF were doing fine, and that FG had a tendency for own goals (Michael Noonan lived down the road, and everyone I know thought he was hopeless as FG leader long before the election), that SF talked too much, that Labour were over-rated. I suppose I was centre/centre-right weirdly enough (I mean, despite hating Bush Jr rabidly), and stayed that way for a while.

By the time I hit 6th year I was less interested in Bush Term 2 and more and more into Irish politics solely: I remember the CSPE exam and thinking how braindead it was that identifying the then leader of the Labour Party was a question, until afterwards a bunch of my friends admitted they hadn’t a clue. 2007 and after brought some realities home to me about how things actually worked in the country.

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NFB - November 9, 2020

On the foot of some of the other responses, I wanted to add a bit about college, when something more fully formed in terms of a political consciousness was formed. Student government is a lousy way to judge Ireland’s politics, but I do admit that Labour Youth and their often slavish devotion to the “Gilmore for Taoiseach” era put me right off them as a left-wing option, leaving only Sinn Fein, whom I disliked, and the harder-left, that I felt were no-hoper talking shops of no consequence. I had time for, but little engagement with, the big two in contrast, and I voted FG in 2011. It was an odd time really: I classified myself as very pro-union on the basis of my family, pro-immigration on the basis of experience but also defended the Kenny/Gilmore government on frequent occasions during the early years of their term.

Post-college stints of unemployment were very formative for me in terms of my current political leanings, and I came to appreciate what the harder-left offers, and centre-left options like the Soc Dems when they came around.

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3. Joe - November 9, 2020

Great idea. I’ve started marshalling my thoughts and memories on it. Could be a long process.
Thing is I’ve also been talking online with another contributor on here about doing a post on birdwatching and leftists, a sort of companion to the sporadic left gardeners’ thread (my brussel sprouts are doing very well btw, hope they all won’t be ate before Christmas).

Either or both (the How I became a leftie and the Lefties and birdwatching) should be ready before Biden is inaugurated.

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WorldbyStorm - November 9, 2020

Both would be very welcome, to put it mildly.

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4. Alibaba - November 9, 2020

When I was about twelve years old I noticed young people in a hall at the back of local shops and was fascinated to see them doing arms and feet drills. Instructions were blaring from a cassette player: “Lámha ar dheis agus lámha ar chlé”. Speaking Irish, getting a uniform and marching — I’ll have a load of that, I remember thinking —  and so I joined the club. Years later I discovered the hall was hired by many people, including a local man from Provo Sinn Féin.

I remember vividly the day my mother appeared at the back of the hall and she dragged me by the scruff of my collar out of it during practice. And of course, I was mortified. Later I asked her why she did this and she replied “You are going to get a good education. No muck here!” My mother was a Labour Party voter and for me, and I suppose for many others, parental influence strongly shaped our political pathways initially.

In my teens during the 1970s reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Nineteen Eighty-Four put me off socialist politics. Mao’s Little Red Book was once passed over to me and I flung it down in disgust on reading a reference to war being a virtue.

I joined the Labour Party and at one of the public meetings, Michael O’Leary TD was the main speaker. I spoke against something he argued and was taken aside by a branch leader and told not to repeat this incident. So, that was that for me and Labour.

My politics moved further left after entering university and getting active politically. Fighting for abortion rights and supporting H-Blocks struggles was the thing in my days. The small-c conservatism on social issues of the republican movement as I understood it, shifted me markedly more to the left, as well as reading the Communist Manifesto, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and The History of the Russian Revolution.

I was the first person in my extended family to enter university. I had to work every weekend and holidays to barely get by. These experiences stung me intensely. They determined that I would find a socialist group to join in the belief, which never left me, that my life would feel far less fulfilled if I did not give this challenge my best shot.

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5. sonofstan - November 9, 2020

Great question.

The household I grew up in was quite political, though I didn’t realise how much until, as NFB says, the obliviousness of others became apparent.
For context: I was born in 1960 and my adoptive parents were quite old by the time I arrived, so my dad was slightly older than the state he served as a soldier, and my mother was born during the civil war, though at a safe remove in London, to an Irish family. This is important because the family memory bank went back quite far: their parents were all born in the latter years of the 19th century. My dad was fond of telling how he learned to drive just past his 17th birthday in order to ferry Tom McEllistrim around Kerry North during the 1937 election campaign in the Model -T his uncle owned but couldn’t drive. He was dyed in the wool FFer, I think, though when I accused him of that, he said he’d used his postal vote (his right as a soldier) for Dan Spring throughout because he had been a neighbour of the aforementioned uncle: when i said that sort of begged the question, he got annoyed…

Politics as a practical matter of voting, and influence was bread and butter over the dinner table, though actual ideology and the like was a dangerous topic as dad wa good a declaiming, less at listening, only partly a consequence of the firing range acquired deafness.
My mum wa entirely different: active in all sorts of community organisations, and eventually achieving national office in the ICA, and later on the Council for the Status of Women. Later again she sat on some EU committee and went to Brussels every month or so, which hugely impressed me. She, and her friends, were no one’s cliched image of feminists but that’s what they were, and dad, to his credit, was totally comfortable with her activism.

First concrete memory is of Michael D. standing on a box (write your own joke) outside Salthill Church in Galway where we then lived during the 1973 election campaign. Mum stopped to listen, and was hugely impressed and I suspect, though she never said, that from then on the LP got a preference from her.

What I got was a sense that politics was a trade, a thing relatively ordinary people did, and that TDs and ministers, while useful to know, were not that special – something I think a lot of Irish people feel, and good, I think.

I became aware that I was a socialist in school, at OCS: one thing moving to Dublin (aged 14) did was force me to articulate the sort of thing that you hid in a country school for fear of being bullied as ‘brainy’. I was awestruck at meeting people who admitted to reading books, quite long ones, and could spend break time arguing about politics. It was there I first heard the word ‘stickie’ but a while before I knew what it meant….

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sonofstan - November 9, 2020

That’s the ‘early years of bitter struggle’ bit. Probably more later I’m afraid.

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Alibaba - November 9, 2020

I was born in 1960 and was an adoptee with an adoptive mother who had a leaning towards the Labour party. Snap.

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sonofstan - November 9, 2020

There’s more of us than people think! At least one more regular here for a start…

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WorldbyStorm - November 9, 2020

And all on the left…

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6. padraig66 - November 9, 2020

Wow , this could be some challenge to complete . I can’t even remember where to start >

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7. roddy - November 9, 2020

First real book I read – Dan Breen.First demonstration – The long march to Derry .I joined in as a 10 year old to walk a mile with them.First “strike” – a school walkout to protest bloody Sunday.First vote – Bernadette 1979 Euros.

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8. Aussie Irishman - November 10, 2020

It was around 1973. I think I was in fifth year at school. I read about a protest against Portuguese colonialism outside the Portuguese Embassy (in Ailesbury Road in those days) organised by the Anti-Apartheid Movement. I went along, parked my bike and joined in. I didn’t have a banner and I don’t think I spoke to anyone. Next day at school one of the priests aimed a lecture about the dangers of “associating with Communists” at me. By a bizarre coincidence he must have driven by while the protest was taking place. By the time I got to Belfield, I was ready for left-wing politics. In fact, there was some sort of boycott or protest on the week before the term began.

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9. rockroots - November 11, 2020

I grew up on a small farm in the midlands. My family were part of a very sparse community of different Protestant denominations. They were broadly nationalist but with a deep wariness of Irish republicanism. I remember an elderly aunt chasing Albert Reynolds away from our house (which she was only visiting) and telling him he’d get no votes here. Political preferences were never, ever discussed in the family, just occasional digs against a party or a politician, but they regarded the IRA as something akin to the Klan who would sooner or later be coming to get us. I know they felt very nervous during the Troubles, especially around the time of the H-Blocks, and the unspoken rule was just to keep the head down and not draw attention. They were dismayed at some of the referendum decisions on the ’80s too. My dad thought the local FG man was a fool but, by deduction, I presume he probably voted for him anyway. On my mam’s side there was the vague suggestion we might be related to Keir Hardie (we’re not, it turns out, but it was a lovely notion while it lasted).

A minibus would collect me to take me to primary school every morning, and opposite our gate was a telegraph pole which for years (I guess in the early ‘80s) had posters of Charlie and Garret sandwiched back-to-back. I spent a lot of time gazing up at this Janus-like creation and thinking that one face looked sinister and the other looked kindly – I’ll let you guess which was which – but they were the only options there and then (and largely still are). I went to a Protestant secondary school some distance away, and in the absence of any school-friends within the county I just spent all my teenage years reading about history and politics. By the age of 13 or 14 I could’ve told you the president, prime minister and ruling party of every country in the world. Whenever the opportunity arose to get a lift into a town I’d spend a few hours in the reference section of the public library taking notes and sketching out spider-diagrams of the political parties of Jamaica or Algeria. I was really drawn to the left-independence movements, to people like Lumumba, Ho and Che, and it was clear to me at a very young age that socialism was the only option for an egalitarian and ethical world. It did and still does boil down to the choice between selfishness or empathy. I was quite religious at the time due to my upbringing, and it was obvious to me that Jesus was a socialist too! I think my worldview was very black-and-white at the time: I hated Thatcher, Reagan, Paisley, the IRA, loyalists, Apartheid, Pinochet and aristocracy; I quite liked Gorbachev, Nicaragua, Cuba, Militant, the PLO and assorted People’s Republics in Africa and Asia. I had a fondness for Dick Spring, who seemed youthful and charismatic compared to the other two leaders, and for the WP, but especially for the likes of Jim Kemmy and Declan Bree who could be maverick socialists despite being from ‘the country’ like me. I remember getting plaudits from my history teacher for writing an essay on Peadar O’Donnell too, even though he hadn’t actually been the topic requested. None of my family or friends shared any of my beliefs, so it was probably my only outlet and it was nice to get that encouragement. My history teacher spoke approvingly of his visits to the USSR, so I suspect he had similar leanings.

I spent 1989 glued to Ceefax, following daily updates on Eastern Europe. I wasn’t sorry to see aging autocrats get their comeuppance, but naively hoped it was part of a renewal process that would see socialism endorsed by popular choice rather than imposed by military force. That probably carried on into 1990 when Irish Labour was welcoming back some of its dissident voices and linking with the WP in the presidential election. We had a mock ballot in school in which, pathetically, the boys and girls voted along gender lines, except for me and one other guy who broke ranks and secured victory for Mary Robinson! But after that it was profoundly disillusioning to watch former socialists abandon their principles and drift to the centre, whether it was in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, Britain or here. I didn’t go to college, where I probably would’ve found kindred political spirits. Instead I went to work in Dublin, where I found a nerdy knowledge of rock music or sci-fi was much more impressive to my new friends than being able to list prime ministers. And so it went for many, many years.

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Joe - November 11, 2020

Excellent RR. Great stuff. Really great.

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roddy - November 11, 2020

You must have got quite a gunk then when you learned that the IRA were on the ground fighting alongside the ANC,had links to the PLO and were honoured by monuments in Cuba!

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rockroots - November 11, 2020

Well, you’re not wrong, Roddy. All I can say in my defence was that there was a sense of romance reading about freedom struggles around the world, but closer to home the daily news was just so relentlessly grim through the ’80s. Call it youthful, hypocritical idealism. I’m cynical enough now to realise that most of my heroes had feet of clay.

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roddy - November 11, 2020

Politics is a mass of contradictions. I have had my heroes whose heroism I had to revisit over the years too!

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10. alanmyler - November 11, 2020

Great to hear these personal histories.

I was just reading this article in Jacobin, Why You Should Join a Socialist Organization:

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/05/join-socialist-organization-dsa-working-class

The CLR wider community seems to include people who are and aren’t members of parties / organisations. Some used to be but have since moved on. Would anyone have any thoughts to contribute on “why you should NOT join a socialist organisation”?

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Colm B - November 11, 2020

How about “why you should join a socialist organisation but T&C’s apply, the party can blow up as well go down ( in the polls) etc.?

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11. Joe - November 11, 2020

“why you should NOT join a socialist organisation”?
Cos it might interfere with your birdwatching, obvs.

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12. eoghan - November 11, 2020

Probably still in the “first political experiences” stage at the moment but thought I’d post mine as more recent perspective nonetheless.

My mother would’ve come from a rural traditionally Fine Gael background, with even a former-TD cousin, but there was never really any talk of politics growing up. Anyone who did or who attempted to talk about anything deemed too “serious” around the dinner table she’d threaten to throw water at them. As a result I don’t really have much of an idea how most of my family votes, only knowing that my Mam somehow accidentally voted for the Republican Sinn Féin candidate in the locals last year and was disgusted with herself afterwards. Growing up on the outskirts of Galway I was also pretty isolated/sheltered from any political activity, but was always a bit of a history buff. I had a vague affinity with the Green Party due to environmental concerns, and remember being impressed by John Gormley after he visited our school. My first serious intentional engagement with politics was after encountering some Anarchist ideas via tumblr.com as a teen, eventually secretly dubbing myself an anarcho-syndicalist without fully understanding what that meant.

I remember coming to college in Dublin, witnessing two English friends debating politics, and coming to the realisation that I really had no idea what I was talking about calling myself an anarchist. I effectively abandoned my short-lived stint with capital P Politics again, but began reading feminist texts, inspired by the Repeal movement and some fantastic women who introduced feminism to me. I was struck by the “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” description bell hooks used to describe US politics and knew that there were at least two words in there that I didn’t understand. Around the same time I had started getting into podcasts in a big way and discovered a US podcast called “Revolutionary Left Radio” which had started recently (and has since grown to be quite popular), and from there I basically dove head-first into Marxist history, theory, and philosophy, reading pretty much nothing else. Eventually I reached the “the point, however, is to change it” part of my study and copped that being an armchair/twitter Marxist is little more than useless. The IPCC climate report had just come out also which really made it feel like the “socialism or barbarism” adage would become a reality within my lifetime. And so I started researching left-wing orgs in Ireland.

(Curiously enough considering regulars on this site, the Workers Party was one that I was drawn to initially, but I got the impression that it was a party past it’s heyday so I never reached out to them)

I ended up settling with PBP, and the recently-renamed SWN, even though I was aware that they wouldn’t be an exact ideological fit for me as I didn’t/don’t consider myself a Trotskyist. There were a couple of reasons for this but the main ones were because they seemed to be the organisation with the most momentum behind them, I had met a few members canvassing for Repeal, and I wasn’t interested in joining any smaller sects for the sake of ideological purity. I’m still here now 2 years later so no regrets so far at least.

[Adding some extra text here because my initial post disappeared into the ether and it’s complaining about duplicate post when I try to resubmit…]

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WorldbyStorm - November 11, 2020

Great overview and particularly interesting given you went to PBP.

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13. gypsybhoy69 - November 15, 2020

I think the Daily Mirror was the catalyst for how I ended up with a political interest. Sounds like a mad statement to make but hear me out.
I think I must have always had some interest in politics as I remember the 1977 elections, when I was 8. We lived facing my primary school which was a polling station so we’d get a day, so we’d hang around at a time when electioneering was a big thing on polling day outside polling stations. I didn’t come from what seemed like a political household but there must have been some influence from my Dad. He didn’t explicitly support anybody but I must have gathered who he didn’t like.
The only politics I can remember looking back was my Dad’s grandmother who was staunchly Republican and must have been Anti-Treaty. Fianna Fail I’m guessing was supported by my Dad’s family but not obviously enough for me to see looking back. In the 77 election I can’t remember who my parents would have supported but I remember only helping the Labour workers give out election day leaflets so I’m guessing that’s who they supported. I can’t say that I developed a great interest in politics from that.
Where I did become politically interested was through the Daily Mirror it must have been before Maxwell and after Thatcher came to power. It wasn’t the Mirror that there is now. Even though my Dad would later say that he bought the Mirror for the crossword and the racing section I think he probably bought it for the politics. He loved reading Paul Foot. Back I’m guessing in the early 80’s the Mirror did sporadic specials where the paper was practically given over to focusing on one particular political issue. The one that drove my political awakening was a special on nuclear arms. with a strong CND bias. For any younger CLRers the bomb, well for me as a pre teen was a big scary thing. Did others of certain age here ever feel that? So for a long time my main political interest was following CND. At an early age I was listening to Bob Dylan, Carole King, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Janis Ian so I was obviously into a bit of hippy thinking.
After that obviously the hunger strike was a big thing but as a 12 year old I remember totally supporting a United Ireland, thinking the hunger strikers were right to protest against Thatcher and that they were political prisoners but somehow at the same time remember not supporting the methods of the IRA and Sinn Fein at that time. I knew nothing of SFWP or the OIRA at that time. I would have been totally oblivious to their existence.
Another memory I have of the early 80 is being quite frightened over one Christmas as to what was happening to miners in Poland. I can’t remember having any aversion to Communism or the Soviet bloc as a kid. But there was something in me that must have thought miners don’t go on strike for nothing which led to an interest in Solidarity. Looking back Eastern Bloc leaders just looked like scary teachers in old looking suits. They certainly didn’t go out of their way to appeal to the youth.
The next big thing of course would have been the Miners strike and I may have this wrong but I seem to remember the Mirror starting off being strongly supportive of the strike but then changing. By the end of that strike I was aware of the then WP and was very impressed by the politics of one PDR. I got involved in the WP when I was 17 enveloping election literature for the 87 election but only joined in 89. When I joined I knew nothing of the feuds with the Provo’s, nothing of Harris, Bew or Paterson or their cancerous influence, nothing of why it was wrong to support lunatic regimes like North Korea. All I had was this was a party for this young lad from Finglas South to support. A party that believed that it didn’t matter where you came from, that you had a right to question and take on those that thought it was their god given right to decide how a nation progresses.
Speaking of early influences also got me to think. My Dad who died just over a year ago wasn’t overly political but one thing I found out before he died was that he protested outside the US embassy on the overthrow of Allende in Chile. I didn’t know this at all the protests that I was on outside that embassy. I wish I had.

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alanmyler - November 15, 2020

It’s interesting that you mention the bomb and CND. I joined CND when I was living in england in the 80s, never active with them, just a paper supporter, but it was the first political choice to join something in my life. Strangely I don’t remember having that dread of the bomb, although my wife does remember that existential fear and her family praying the rosary together for world peace and against the bomb. I used to listen to Radio Moscow works service so maybe that immunised me against the bomb fear.

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rockroots - November 15, 2020

I was definitely scared of nuclear weapons, I’d say especially after Chernobyl, although ironically the agreements between Reagan and Gorbachev probably made me even more aware of them.

You’ve just reminded me that I thought General Jaruzelski looked like my granddad – he wasn’t a very cheerful man.

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alanmyler - November 15, 2020

The German TV series Deutschland 83 is good for putting across that sense of background fear about the outbreak of nuclear war. I was watching something the other evening, just flicking channels so I can’t remember what it was, but there was a clip of the Greenham Common peace camp. It all seems so distant now.

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14. roddy - November 15, 2020

Given that Labour participated in one of the most reactionary governments in history, would it not have been strange to be supporting them in 77?

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WorldbyStorm - November 15, 2020

When you’re 8 or 12 these distinctions are a bit less obvious. And for those who are older there’s the thing of coalition governments where responsibility can seem to be diluted because the larger party has all the power and then there’s the dynamic of trying to do something to FF who would otherwise be the only party in contention and then within the LP there was always and particularly during the 70s and 80s a strong anti-coalition element. It’s all a mixture and contradictory but I think that’s how it works.

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gypsybhoy69 - November 15, 2020

Cheers WBS your response is politer than my – FFS Roddy I was 8!
Obviously their participation in the most reactionary government in history went over my head then.
After watching the DUP’s response to extending lockdown up North perhaps lecturing on reactionary Government partners isn’t the best look.

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roddy - November 15, 2020

LP were among the most reactionary in that govt and govt partners are not voluntary up here.

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WorldbyStorm - November 15, 2020

To a degree roddy. There was the toxicity of CCOB, but then there was also David Thornley.

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roddy - November 15, 2020

I was not implying that at aged 8,you would have been politically savvy at all.But you were hinting that you must have been from some sort of vaguely left wing household because you leafletted for Labour.You state your fathers family were anti treaty .If so that is what surprised me – that they could entertain an out and out count like the cruiser.

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Colm B - November 15, 2020

I share Roddy’s views of that government but those of us with left politics tend to have very clear-cut view of political boundaries that sometimes blinds us to the more fluid views of the majority of people. I think Roddy is imposing a political logic on GB’s family’s politics that just doesn’t reflect reality.

My own families politics was a classic mixture of both deeply reactionary and relatively progressive views inspired by Irish republicanism/Nationalism and Catholicism as well as a vaguely leftish trade union tradition. Looking back at it from a Marxist perspective, I can discern those contradictory cross-currents but to expect people to coldly analyses their own politics in the moment, seems unrealistic to me.

The reality is that many Irish people voted Labour from 60s until the 80s because there was no obvious viable alternative to the left and also because, regardless of the real nature of that party, it was seen as a vote for a party that purportedly represented workers.

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gypsybhoy69 - November 18, 2020

I’m only getting back to this now. I dip in and out of here, sometimes leaving myself weeks of catch up but more recently due to the times we’re in it’s just days.
For the sake of accuracy I don’t really think I was implying that my family were vaguely left wing. My Republican great grandmother died when I was 5 or 6, I think so I can’t say what influence that she had on me – very little I’d imagine. Her daughter, my Dad’s mother certainly had no politics that I can point to. She had a golden pioneer pin and I can certainly tell you that had no influence on me.
What I did say was that for some reason at the age of 8 I gave out leaflets (election day flyers – whatever they’re called) once for the Labour Party – on an election day. One day, that’s it! I’m pretty sure my Dad, who died last year, so I can’t ask him, had no time for the Cruiser. I have some recollection of him liking Cluskey. He was a postman so I’m guessing there may have been some link to the union and Labour but that’s just guessing. He was not overly political but I know he never voted FF or FG from 77 on but have no idea before then. I’m guessing Fianna Fail.
I’m guessing Joe Higgins and Dermot Connolly were in the Labour Party in much the same way as Phil Flynn and Gerard Danaher SC were in Sinn Fein, at that time. Not sure what it really proves though.
Anyhoo Roddy I think the age of criminal responsibility in Ireland is 12 so I may be due a pass but rest assured I’m going to seriously chastise the 8 year old me for that day.
Did you not have your coffee on Sunday or something?

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15. sonofstan - November 15, 2020

Not directly related, but… was reading some of Simon Reynolds’ book of interviews that fed into ‘Rip it Up and Start Again’ in particular one with Green from Scritti. What comes across is that Reynolds is a bit ‘gosh! wow!’ about how embedded old school communism was in British working class communities in the 70s – he mentions Richard Kirk from the Cabs, Chris Cutler and a few others as growing up in commie households, and is a bit awed by Green’s political activites while at Leeds and later in London. Not sure if it’s that he – SR – is a bit younger than the people he’s talking to or, more likely, a class thing.
But it does seem to reflect my experience, and maybe others here, in that being exposed to hardcore Marxism in your youth wasn’t that unusual then, whereas now?
…and speaking of Leeds -and Orange Juice – Starmer’s just been on Desert Island Discs and picked ‘Falling and Laughing’ as a memory from his time up here: you start to waver, but then the rest of his choices were all the sorts of things that people who don’t really like music pick.

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WorldbyStorm - November 15, 2020

Heheh, desert island discs – probably the most deceitful or more kindly misleading music show ever. A lot of people who don’t listen to music being forced to supply lists.

Just on your other point, that’s it exactly. It’s perhaps difficult to believe at this remove how deeply embedded Marxism was in parts of the society and sometimes with that a synpathy to the USSR and more often to Cuba etc. It wasn’t that people were entirely credulous, more a sense that however flawed an effort was being made.

My uncle, a RCC priest was in Moscow in the 80s for medical reasons and was extremely positive about aspects of the society. That attitude wasn’t that unusual.

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sonofstan - November 15, 2020

That resonates: my mother, not by any stretch a fellow traveller, spent a fair bit of time in Russia and other parts of eastern Europe pre-89 and had the same positive impression of some aspects, particularly to do with gender equality.

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WorldbyStorm - November 15, 2020

I think people could be discriminating knowing the system wasn’t great to put it mildly but that there might be aspects which were positive. On a tangent… I was reading a lot last year about 85-89 and what struck me most forcibly was how constrained lives were, I’d kind of forgotten. Just on a daily basis. And in a way how unprepared the system was to engage with the growing sense of a need for change. It’s staggering reading some of the accounts of Soviet politicians who go to the US on visits, wind up in shops and supermarkets and can’t quite believe what they’re like. And these would be broadly speaking ‘reformists’. They really didn’t seem to have much sense of the world beyond.

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alanmyler - November 15, 2020

I can sympathize with those people from the eastern bloc who were overwhelmed by the western supermarkets. My first visit to a US electronic goods supermarket in the mid 90s had the same effect on me. Hundreds of meters of shelving containing a bewildering array of broadly similar goods. I honestly thought it was wasteful, like why does society need 50 different makes of almost identical 56k modems? Or fridges. Or washing machines. Or tvs. Etc. I think that’s half my present day attraction to using Aldi for the weekly grocery shop, there’s only one type of toothpaste etc., there’s no sense of angst from an over abundance of consumer choices.

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WorldbyStorm - November 15, 2020

In fairness it wasn’t just the multiplicity of similar products but the range of dissimilar products. I recall the same myself in 1989 in upstate New York just seeing how many different products were on sale. I sometimes wonder if I were to have gone to Tesco as it is now in Clare Hall then would I have the same response?

I agree re ALDI the more same sort ranges are much better but their overall scope is good in that there’s something for everyone. It certainly makes for a faster shop.

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Aonrud ⚘ - November 15, 2020

That array of near-identical products is always a great example of different models of freedom. I’d rather the freedom to spend my time how I choose over wasting it on freedom of choice in say, electricity, or broadband or insurance providers. Of course, for things like utilities, the real freedom is being the person with the wealth not to give a damn if one is cheaper etc.

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yourcousin - November 16, 2020

You know it’s funny, but my wife made a comment Saturday that is relevant to this conversation.

She had run to the department store to swap some clothes out for the boy and told me there was almost a mini riot due to staffing shortages and social distancing protocols (ie it was a big ass line).

She couldn’t help but laugh at how badly Americans put up with having to wait (it was about a 45 minute to check out). She said standing in line for food was just a ubiquitous experience for her growing up so she was just happy she had a smart phone to play games with while she waited.

So you know, perspective helps on a multitude of things.

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alanmyler - November 16, 2020

It’s something that I noticed on holidays in the US in the mid 90s that Americans had to wait in queues far longer than anywhere else I’d seen up to that point in my life. At the time I put it down to the low level of staffing that companies seemed to allocate to dealing with the public, they seemed to prioritise 100% utilisation of their front-facing employees ahead of any interest in a satisfying customer experience, something which has caught on elsewhere in the intervening decades of course. Added to that I also thought the the staff themselves were pretty shit at their jobs, slow and disinterested / disempowered, or at least more so than anywhere in Europe that I’d experienced. Anywhere outside of EuroDisney where we had to queue for over an hour to pay an excessive amount to enter the place and then queue for another hour per ride.

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Joe - November 16, 2020

What did all the Gaeilgeoirí say as they were standing in line outside the supermarket? Nothing, they were ciúin.

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CL - November 16, 2020

“Americans spend a staggering 37 billion hours waiting in line each year. Yes, that’s billion with a capital B.

Divided by the US population, this gives us slightly over 113 hours per person per year spent in queues. This number includes elderly, infants and bed-ridden people.

The queuing situation isn’t much better overseas, either. According to the How Long Does It Take To Lose Your Customer report, the average Brit now spends one year, two weeks and a day of their lives stuck in shop queues.”
https://www.qminder.com/cost-customer-service-wait-times/

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Michael Carley - November 16, 2020

Probably something to do with the number of CPers who were shop stewards at a time when the CP was bigger and unions covered a lot more people.

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16. CL - November 15, 2020

“Country Joe McDonald, whose rock band Country Joe and the Fish appeared at the Woodstock festival, remembers how strained his life was growing up in a communist family….
The term ″red diaper babies″ has several rumored origins. One is that communist parents in the ’20s were so poor that they used the red flags they received in return for their party dues to diaper their babies.”
https://apnews.com/article/e4fe9d63e8564a2f0c11adfa842f162c

“The key political event for red diaper babies in the 1950s was the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.”
https://networks.h-net.org/node/9997/reviews/10547/keene-kaplan-and-shapiro-red-diapers-growing-communist-left

“While speaking to Muslims last week, Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson revealed why he’s so protective of them. He compared growing suspicions cast on them to the plight of his communist kin.

Johnson dropped the bombshell that his grandfather had been investigated for communism and un-American activities. We can’t say we’re surprised. Add him to the parade of Red diaper babies in the Cabinet, including top White House advisor Valerie Jarrett, former political advisor David Axelrod and President Obama himself.”
https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/homeland-security-chief-jeh-johnson-another-obama-red-diaper-baby/

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17. Dr Nightdub - November 17, 2020

Definitely a pre-political memory, but the phone would ring in our house in Belfast and I’d go running to answer it like my folks had taught me to: “64567, who’s speaking please?” “It’s Paddy Devlin, is your father there?” There was a jotter beside the phone and I’d just wonder how my da had the phone numbers of all these famous people from the news, like Devlin, Gerry Fitt and co.

First actual political conversation I remember having is when the results for the 1973 general election in the south were on the radio, I was 10ish and we were still in Belfast, I asked my mum “Is this good or bad for us?” “Fianna Fail might have remembered us up here, but this new crowd definitely won’t.”

What set me on the road to perdition? We’d moved to Dublin at this stage, I was in either 5th or 6th year in school. My da comes in from work, “What did you do in school today?” “Pearse and Connolly and the 1916 Rising.” “Stay there a minute.” He goes upstairs, comes back down, gives me three small hardback books, printed “at the sign of the Three Candles, Dublin”, collections of Connolly’s newspaper columns for the Workers’ Republic. “Have a read of those, they might interest you.” Still have them upstairs.

First political activity? First year in college, going down to the GPO with a black armband the morning Bobby Sands died and wondering why there weren’t more people there.

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Dr Nightdub - November 17, 2020

Counter-intuitively, years later, my da told me that in the early 60s in London, he used to go along to public meetings of Desmond Greaves and co to heckle them, “Because they were communists and I didn’t like communists.”

A watching detective approached him and invited him to call into Scotland Yard for a chat on the QT. “But I didn’t go. I didn’t like the communists but I was no tout.”

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WorldbyStorm - November 17, 2020

That’s really interesting Dr Nightdub. It’d have been fascinating to hear some of those conversations your da had, but what memories to have of people ringing up.

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18. Joining a political party or group for the first time – Starting a collection of personal accounts for the Left Archive | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - November 23, 2020

[…] As noted a few weeks back: […]

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19. benmadigan - November 23, 2020

I first became aware of sectarianism in NI when Ardoyne was burnt out by the Loyalists in August 1969. Dad took me, still at school, to a retreat house where the people were gathering in safety and told me to do whatever I was told to do to help out with them.
I was hardly in the hall when an elderly lady wth 2 small children and a baby came over to me and gave me the infant.
“You take her” she said “I can’t cope. Not with these 2”
The family had been burned out while she had been looking after the kids because their mother (her daughter in law) had been taken into hospital. The father was out with the men, pcking up the burnt out people and driving them somewhere safe.
I gave Granny a scrap of paper with our name and phone number and – I took the baby home. Mum’s friends donated baby things they no longer needed – pram, bath, cot etc and a wardrobe fit for a princess! She stayed with us until nearly Christmas, by which time the family had found a new house and were able to take her home.
Everything was well organised in the retreat house. The monks and nuns took charge of the cleaning and meals. A local GP and lawyer were on call for advice.
I stayed there until mid September when the emergency ended. I spent my time handing out donated towels and toiletries and insisting everyone had a shower, every day (otherwise we’ll have disease running rife, as the doctor said), telephoning round other centres (no mobiles in those days) to see where relatives were “I’m here with the kids but where’s mum and dad? And my sister and her kids?”, sorting out donated clothes and shoes (mens/womens/ size/underwear / nightwear/ tops/bottoms/coats and jackets and then kitting the people out in them.
Waves of people were constantly coming in and then leaving as they found somewhere to go. They were all very quiet, even the children. Too shocked and exhausted to speak I suppose. Some of the elderly people, who had probably been burnt out before, just sat and stared into space.

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