Cumann na mBan (“Women’s Association”), a female military auxiliary and counterpart to the Irish Volunteers, was founded on this day in 1914, one hundred and seven years ago. Its members took part in the 1916 Rising and perhaps even more importantly in keeping up the momentum of the militant movement for independence during martial law after the defeat of the Rising and for years afterwards. They were part of the War of Independence and the Civil War in military and political activities. Many were jailed. The Easter Lily emblem, which many will wear to commemorate the Rising, is their invention. The role of Cumann na mBan, along with that of other women in Irish history, is to this day still not sufficiently highlighted or valued.
Cumann na mBan was formed as a female counterpart and auxiliary to the Irish Volunteers, which had been formed the previous year (as had, separately, the Irish Citizen Army). The inaugural public meeting was held in Wynn’s Hotel, Thursday, 2 April 1914. It was presided over by Agnes O’Farrelly, who was elected President. The provisional executive unveiled at the meeting included Jennie Wyse Power, Nancy O’Rahilly, Agnes MacNeill, Margaret Dobbs, Mary Colum, Nurse McCoy, Louise Gavan Duffy and Elizabeth Bloxham. A constitution was adopted which stated that Cumann na mBan aimed: 1. To advance the cause of Irish liberty 2. To organise Irishwomen in the furtherance of this object 3. To assist in arming and equipping a body of Irishmen for the defence of Ireland 4. To form a fund for these purposes to be called the ‘Defence of Ireland Fund’.
It was not the first organisation of women to stand for Irish independence that century – Inghinidhe na hÉireann had been formed in 1900 as a cultural organisation and had developed a militant Irish independentist political outlook along with a suffragettist one. Inghinidhe formally dissolved itself and joined Cumann na mBan in 1914 but in effect formed one of its branches and continued to represent a trend for greater activism and female independence within Cumann.
Unlike the Volunteers, membership of the socialist Irish Citizen Army, founded in 1913, was open to both genders and the women who joined that tended to disdain the membership of Cumann na mBan because not only did they not have a social program but were, at that time, under the overall authority of the all-male Irish Volunteers.
Prior to 1916, Cumann na mBan took part in agitation and publicity actions, a number of which they organised themselves. Their marching in the procession to the grave of O’Donavan Rosa’s grave in 1915 was apparently what most impressed other women, in particular young women; they had never witnessed a self-organised women’s organisation on the streets before and the Cumann’s membership swelled thereafter. When Redmond promised Irish men to the rulers of Britain to fight in WW1 the minority part of the movement but the most active split in order to fight for independence from the UK. Cumann na mBan split also but in their case, the majority went for fighting against Britain.
In preparation for the 1916 Rising all members of the main female organisation learned First Aid and prepared field dressings for wounds, which perhaps brought them to face the physical dangers of insurrection more than did the training schedules of the Volunteers. They also engaged in anti-British Army recruitment activities which, after Britain declared War in 1914, increasingly meant being assaulted and arrested by the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary. Many also transported secret messages and weapons, often storing the latter. In an informal way, they also provided intelligence they were able to gather. Through their cultural and social activities they provided diversion for male activists as well as a cover for clandestine meetings and other activities. During the Rising, Cumann na mBan members helped deliver arms, ammunition and equipment, construct barricades, set up field hospitals, provided food and water/ tea to combatants, acted as messengers. ICA women did most of that but a number of them were snipers also and one of those, Vol. Margaret Skinnider was gunshot-wounded three times while sniping and in other military activity in the Stephen’s Green/ College of Surgeons garrison area. Most of the Dublin garrisons had Cumann na mBan in them and those in the GPO garrison were asked to leave with some wounded when the building was in danger of collapse. Three women refused to leave with them and were there at the final surrender in Moore Street: Vols. Elizabeth O’Farrell, Winifred Carney and Julia Grenan.
Around 300 women are known to have taken part in the Rising and from the relative numbers of women in CnmB and the ICA, most of those had to be Cumann members; only 157 womens’ names appear on the Roll of Honour for the Rising.
Cumann na mBan was the first organisation of its kind in the world, a point that is often lost sight of: an insurrectionary female military organisation with its own uniform and officers.
The greater role of the women in general and in particular of members of Cumann na mBan however was after the Rising when, even under martial law, they organised fund-raising for relief for families who had lost a breadwinner to death or prison; organised also public commemorations, defying arrest to keep the flame and memories alive, helping to create the sea-change in attitude to the Rising and giving a fertile ground for them to plant the seeds of resistance, along with the male and female prisoners released under amnesty.
In 1918 members of the Cumann worked to help the landslide victory for Sinn Féin in the British General Election in Ireland and then helped in the War of Independence, this time greatly organised into intelligence work but also as before as couriers, carrying and hiding weapons, caring for the wounded, running safe houses and other actions, as well as in public demonstrations and pickets, for example outside prisons. They were assaulted on occasion and jailed, sometimes replying with a hunger strike. They could not easily go “on the run” and were subjected by British Army and colonial Police to invasions of their homes and ill-treatment which included shearing their hair.
In 1921, Cumann na mBan again split over the Treaty but once more with the majority against it and in 1922 took the Republican side in the Civil War, for which they suffered repression, home invasions and imprisonment anew, this time by the forces of the Free State.
In 1926 Cumann na mBan invented the Easter Lily emblem in order to raise funds for the dependents of prisoners and killed in action fighters, in addition to those officially and unofficially executed, abducted an murdered. It is purely as a result of their efforts at this time that the emblem is so widely worn and appreciated in the wide Irish Republican movement, especially around this time of year.
Cumann na mBan ceased to exist soon after the split between the “Officials” and “Provisionals” in 1969 but women continued to be active in the political organisations and also to be recruited into the various military ones.
(note the omission of the Moore Street battlefield at the end, with a Winifred Carney, Elizabeth O’Farrell and Julia Grenan noted as staying on in the GPO but omitting to mention where they went soon afterwards, or Farrell’s important roles thereafter): https://www.richmondbarracks.ie/women-1916/cumann-na-mban/
There is a blind eye being turned to oppression in Ireland – and I use the expression in its usual meaning of “deliberately not seeing”. And it is not the Irish ruling circles I am accusing of that deliberate act, for one could hardly expect anything else of them. No, it is the Irish socialist and liberal sectors I am accusing, along with a section of the Republican movement.
All of these are in Ireland; each of these sectors either knows of this oppression or has chosen not to know. In that respect, in so far as they cry out about injustice or inequality in other areas, they are being hypocritical. And in how much hypocritical activity can one indulge and how long, before one is really and totally a hypocrite, not to be trusted on anything they say they believe?
For years, before the Good Friday Agreement, wide areas in the Six Counties suffered oppression from the colonial statelet, its police force and the imperial armed forces. Those were the working and lower middle-class “nationalist/ Catholic” areas. Prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, sections of the Irish Left and liberal consensus were actively ignoring this oppression and in that respect, nothing has changed. But what has happened since is that while smaller areas, neighbourhoods, are continuing to be oppressed, sections of the Republican movement have joined in that blindness and resultant silence.
HOUSE RAIDS, HUMILIATION, HOSPITALISATION & DEATH THREATS
From Republic Media: A statement released by the Republican party Saoradh quoted Cliodhna McCool, daughter of Kieran McCool who was arrested last week in Derry following a heavy house raid, reading a statement on behalf of the McCool family. Describing the ongoing and escalated harassment she said:
“As a family who hold strong traditional Republican views we have become accustomed to many forms of harassment and intimidation, in fact we have almost come to expect it. However, in recent months the occupiers have escalated this harassment by constantly following every member of our family during almost every aspect of our lives. Something that is somewhat creepy and very distressing is the fact they seem to have prior knowledge of where we are going to or coming from and will be there to mete out their harassment. “
Detailing incidents over the last year she continued: “In the last year alone we have been attacked resulting in my mother, father and younger brother being hospitalised and we have received death threats from British soldiers dressed in Crown Force uniforms.”
Describing the events of last week she said: “Once my father was removed from the house, what can only be described as a nightmare for our family began. My family were shouted at aggressively, verbally abused and threatened with arrest by masked gunmen.”
“My younger brother Fionn, who is autistic, was again manhandled and removed from his bed, searched and evicted from his home; as was my mother and other brother.”
Giving the public details of some of the more grim details of what a search entails for Republicans she explained: “While they were forced to leave our house they were refused access to a toilet, food or water. My mother was also denied her medication. My entire family was searched in an intimate manner of which I prefer not to go into detail; I will let you use your own imagination“
Concluding the family statement she said: “No matter what you think of our family’s politics, no family should ever be treated like this. If it was wrong in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s then it’s wrong now. Our family have feelings too and refuse to be treated as lesser human beings because politicians say it’s acceptable. It’s not!”
Cliodhna McCool’s statement was read out at a protest press conference of which the purpose was, according to Saoradh “to highlight the continued profiling and targeting of Creggan residents, community activists and those who hold traditional Republican beliefs.”
“THUGS IN UNIFORM CLIMBING OVER EACH OTHER TO GET TO ME”
Pete Cavanagh, who suffered injuries during the raid, spoke next, describing sectarian jibes and threats handed out to residents. “It was here they began to trade in sectarian and snide remarks, calling Creggan and the people in it ‘dirty and unwashed.’ Some of them began mentioning personal details of individuals gathered there. Some raised and showed off their weapons in an attempt to intimidate us. Many of the cops gathered there were very shaky and nervous. “
Describing his attack by armed police he explained:
“After trying to push us further down the street, these thugs in uniform drew their batons and launched what can only be described as a frenzied attack. It is here I was beat between two cars with my head busted open by a British baton. So reckless was this attack that these thugs in uniform were fighting with each other to get at me. They were climbing over each other to get at me again as I lay on the ground busted open. The cop who hit me called me a “Fenian prick.”
Pete also told how the police lied about how he received the injuries: “When I was in the back of an armoured car I seen and heard the inspector who attacked me tell his superior that I had fell and busted by head. But when asked at the hospital the doctor said there is no way I could have sustained this injury by either falling backwards or forwards given the severity and location of the strike. I received eight stitches.”
Despite Pete being on the receiving end of the physical attacks from Crown forces, he and another member of Saoradh were detained overnight and given bail with restrictive and oppressive measures.
A local resident Clare Friel also gave testimony at the conference:
“The actions and behaviour of the PSNI witnessed on Thursday 18th March were reminiscent of our past. These attacks, as described by our neighbours and community activists, were supposed to be of a bygone era, again that is not the case.
“What happened to the McCool family, residents of Ballymagowan and the wider Creggan community along with political and community activists has only served in raising further tensions between our young people, residents and the police.
“Our young people are sick and tired of being targeted by police; they are sick and tired of watching community and political activist being stopped and searched; they are sick and tired of seeing their school friends being stopped and searched while attempting to get an education; they are sick and tired of the fake community policing being rolled out in Creggan as the PSNI cycle around streets with armoured jeeps on every entry and exit of the estate. This behaviour can’t continue without our youth saying enough is enough! Is it any wonder they react!”
Saoradh National executive member Stephen Murney wrapped up proceedings by giving Saoradh’s analysis of recent events and in reference to other world events he said:
“Whilst this raid was taking place two women were forced to the ground outside and knelt on by several members of the British Forces. This bears all the hallmarks of George Floyd and the recent disturbing images in England. Are all members of the British Forces trained in how to attack women?
Criticising P Sinn Féin’s false promises, Murney pointed out that after such incidents the party regularly promises to complain to the authorities and have the attacks stopped which, however, continue and that the SF party’s support for “the oppressing force” is “unwavering”1.
Continuing, Murney asserted:
“On the other hand the Republican position is clear as day. These raids and attacks are the outworking of British occupation, they were wrong and unjust in previous years and decades and are wrong today. The Crown forces responsible are not welcome or wanted in Creggan, or indeed in any Republican community in the Six Counties.”
Murney called on people to support those being subjected to this harassment and violence and pledged his party to do so too.
HARASSMENT AND INTIMIDATION OF COMMUNITIES AFTER THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT
This harassment of activists and oppression of neighbourhoods has been ongoing since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement but has intensified in recent years. The colonial statelet wishes to normalise its situation, which means gaining acceptance of the population. But colonial status is not a natural or even desirable state of affairs and human history, in particular perhaps its Irish component, demonstrates that it will always be resisted. When that is so, the State moves in to harass, provoke, disrupt and intimidate the sectors that continue to resist.
Those who expect the resistance to die down and wish for acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement are being unrealistic and flying in the face of human and in particular Irish history. Whatever their wishes, when they turn a blind eye to the continuing oppression of sections of the Irish nation, they are helping it to continue. And when, instead, they support the oppressors or condemn those who continue to resist, they are in active collusion with the oppressor, the colonial invader and occupier. From a different but similar historical experience, history has given a name for such collaborators: Quisling.
One needs to ask what can account for this willful ‘blindness’ and resultant silence? Since those afflicted with the condition do not usually explain it, one must speculate and it seems to me that the following are the likely reasons:
For the socialists:
they do not wish to even seem to be endorsing armed resistance to the statelet
they wish to give no assistance to what is their biggest competition in the opposition to the status quo, along with the one with the largest working class base: the Republican movement,
For a section of the Republicans:
They do not wish to give any support to their competition inside the Republican movement
The Left and Liberals never had any difficulty in supporting the ANC despite the fact that had an armed wing, membership of which was the main charge of which Mandela was convicted. Or if they did, they kept quiet about them. They kept quiet too about the horrific practice of “Pirelli-necklacing”, when alleged informers or spies had tyres doused in petrol placed around their necks which were then set on fire.
And in a sense, that was mostly right, because the main target had to be the South African racist white minority regime and its foreign imperialist backers. Similar positions were taken with regard to the Vietnamese liberation forces and to the Palestinian resistance.
“YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A REPUBLICAN TO KNOW THAT THIS IS WRONG”
But even if one did not agree with the objectives of the ANC, the NLF in southern Vietnam and NVA, the PLO etc, that should not prevent one from speaking out against oppression of the people. Pastor Niedermeyer put it well in his famous quotation about the oppression of different groups under the Nazis. Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland put it well too when their post stated:
“Last week following a violent attack by a British Police force on women in London there was international media coverage, justified anger and protests in a number of countries including Ireland, as people rightly expressed their outrage at such disgraceful events.
“This week, as Britain’s Colonial militia in Ireland once again attacks women in Derry, some of those same Irish voices so loudly speaking out against police violence in London have said absolutely nothing. These voices remain silent because to speak out would be to raise and condemn Britain’s ongoing illegal occupation of Ireland, something they are ideologically opposed to doing. Are the women of the Creggan to be left fighting alone?
“Police violence is wrong against women in London and it is wrong in Derry. The RUC/PSNI are attempting to provoke the community in Creggan and are invading homes and attacking women and children with impunity.
“It is not acceptable for so called Socialist and progressive forces to stay silent on this. It’s not acceptable to look the other way. You don’t have to be a Republican to know that this is wrong.
“Anyone who is really an advocate for women’s liberation would be calling British Imperialism out for the violence its imperialist militia regularly perpetuates against Republican women in occupied Ireland.
“Ní Saoirse go Saoirse na mBan.”
The point about provocation is well made. It was during one such raid in Creggan on 18th April in advance of a planned Republican commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising that a Republican youth fired at the colonial police, a bullet of which tragically killed Lyra McKee, a journalist who was standing near an armoured police Land Rover2.
Those who are afflicted with the blind eye need to turn the other eye on the situation in the Six Counties and speak out. Or give up forever any credibility when speaking about injustice towards anyone.
1The Sinn Féin leadership has formerly accepted the colonial police force in the Six Counties, doing so publicly a number of times.
2Numerous politicians, State figures and mass and social media at the time called her killing “murder”, a clearly inaccurate statement and prejudicial to the trial outcome of anyone who might be charged as a result of her killing.
(Translated by Diarmuid Breatnach from Castillian [Spanish] in Publico)
(Reading time: 4 mins.)
At the end of the 1970s, an elderly woman came to to live alone in the town of Moià, 50 kilometers from Barcelona. Nobody knows anything about her. No neighbour knew her or knew anything of her past. The only thing that is becoming apparent, little by little, is her unfriendly character. The old woman doesn’t communicate much but when she does she is dry and sharp. Like a knife just sharpened. She has a reputation for being elusive and sullen. Some people joke that not even dogs dare to bark at her. She will live twenty years in the village, the last of her life. And it will only be after her departure that the mystery that surrounds her will begin to fade. Under so much loneliness and silence a secret could only throb. When they find out, those who crossed paths with her in that last bitter stage of her life will be shocked.
The first time he came across the name Anna Maria Martínez Sagi (1907-2000), Juan Manuel de Prada was reading a González-Ruano interview book. The author, in the same volume in which he conversed with Unamuno or Blasco Ibáñez, referred to that woman as “a poet, trade unionist and virgin of the stadium.” It was these last three words that triggered De Prada’s curiosity, that he began to follow the trail of that person of which he had strangely never heard. He asked colleagues, academics, and historians, but they could not help him much. He searched archives and newspaper back-issues without luck. And, when he was about to give up, a friend who worked in the Treasury found the address of his missing woman, which confirmed that she was still alive. The novelist sent her a letter so they could meet and chat about her story.
“Why do you want to resurrect a dead woman?” was the answer that came from Moià. Martínez Sagi, at age 90, had resigned herself to anonymity — or more, to oblivion. Because someone who has been famous at some point is no longer anonymous, no matter how much they disappear from the conversations or stop being mentioned in the newspaper. Rather she fades from memory. And that is what she found when she returned home from the long exile to which the conclusion of the Civil War condemned her; she had been wiped off the map. Her vibrant reports had been of no use (she had become one of the most influential journalists of the Second Republic), her penetrating verses (the poet Cansinos Assens saw in her “the heiress of Rosalía de Castro”) or her milestones as a pioneer of feminism in Spain (she founded the first women workers’ literacy club in Barcelona) during the 1930s. Her interesting and unusual life had been reduced to zero.
That enormous and valuable legacy had been buried under the mantle of the dictatorship, first, and later by the passage of time. And now it seemed that Martínez Sagi did not exist. Or, worse, that she hadn’t existed. Something that De Prada remedied when, respecting the pact they had reached, he published her unpublished work two decades after the death of the author. That volume that was released in 2019, La Voz Sola (The Lone Voice), served to begin to repair the injustice of this inexplicable ignorance.
Anna Maria Martínez Sagi became the first woman member of the board of a soccer club
But where did that “virgin of the stadium” reference come from that had piqued De Prada’s interest? Anna Maria was born into a family of the Catalan gentry. Her father was in the textile industry and her mother was a conservative woman who wanted her daughters to study in Spanish and French and not in Catalan, which she considered “a peasant language.” That child would not have mastered the language with which she would later write so many journalistic texts if it weren’t for the help of her nanny Soledad, who would also open the doors to the world of the popular masses who got on the trams, populated the bars and walked through the streets of the city centre.
In any case, Martínez Sagi’s life would not change completely until, having hormonal problems, the doctors recommended that she play sports. She felt the benefits of physical exercise. And not only that, but she was especially good at it. Skiing, tennis, swimming. There was no discipline in which that girl with agile and resolute movement did not stand out among the young men. Neither in soccer, which she practiced assiduously with her cousins and her brother. Or the javelin throw, in which she would later become the national champion. Precisely as a result of her other vocation, that of a reporter, she began to collaborate with the sports weekly La Rambla, where she met its founder, Josep Sunyol, a member of Esquerra Republicana1 party and president of FC Barcelona,2 who was later shot by the Francoists. In 1934, when the writer had just turned 27, Sunyol would even give her a position in the Barça organization to create a women’s section. In this way, Anna Maria Martínez Sagi became the first woman to be a member of a football club board.
She would last a year in office, from which she escaped as soon as she realized that those men in suits with cigar stink in their mouths didn’t really want to change anything. “The environment at that time was one of very densemasculinity,” says De Prada. “And they saw her as a threat, because she was not only a woman with her own ideas, but she also fought them to the end.” She understood sport as a necessary vehicle to lead women to modernity. She dressed in the latest fashion, she attended the demonstrations of the progressives and did not allow herself to be stepped on by anyone. In the newspapers, she interviewed from beggars and prostitutes to politicians, and she also made a name for herself writing reports in defense of women’s suffrage, which at that time was not even supported by some sectors of the Left. She also aligned herself with the proclamations of Buenaventua Durruti, who dazzled her in a speech the anarchist gave at the Palau de Pedralbes. In 1936, when the war broke out, she asked permission to accompany the antifascists to Aragon and report from the front.
Those who saw her write in the conflict say that when she heard the whistle of bullets she did not crouch low. Perhaps that reckless bravery is nothing more than a legend, but it helps to focus Martínez Sagi in the time, a person who defied roles and stereotypes. With the arrival of Franco’s troops in Barcelona, she was left with no choice but to flee to France. That circumstance would initiate the process of her loss. And would forever mark the exile, whose life continued to follow the dips of a roller coaster.
She first settled in Paris and then she went to Châtres, where she slept on the park benches and ended up working as a clerk in a fishmonger’s shop. She later joined the Resistance. “All my life I have fought against injustice, dictatorship, oppression, so I decided to join and saved many Jews and many French fleeing the Nazi advance,” she said. “It was always voluntary. I always did it because I wanted to.” In 1942 she herself was on the verge of being caught by the Gestapo, who appeared by surprise at her apartment. She escaped through a window and by miracle was saved. On French soil she also became a street painter, selling patterned scarves to passersby, and thus she met the Aga Khan’s wife in Cannes, who hired her to decorate their house for them. When she had some more money, she retired to a town in Provence to dedicate herself to the cultivation of aromatic flowers, and later she moved to the United States, where she taught language classes at the prestigious University of Illinois.
While her story jumped and changed landscapes, Martínez Sagi did not abandon poetry either, which was perhaps of all her passions that to which she gave herself most vehemently. Her poems were a mark of her existence, the sentimental record of what was happening to her. And for a long time they rested in the shadow of another woman, Elisabeth Mulder. Martínez Sagi met Mulder when the latter reviewed one of her first collections of poems and praised her, defining her as “a woman who sings among so many screaming women.” Martinez fell madly in love with her, despite the fact that Mulder was a widow and had a seven-year-old son. They came to spend a vacation together in Mallorca during Easter 1932, but the idyll was unexpectedly broken. The pressures of the young poet’s family and distancing by her lover, who never wanted the relationship to develop, ended the relationship and opened a wound that Martínez Sagi took many years to heal. “I found myself in front of you. You looked at me. / I was still able to stammer a banal phrase. / It was your livid smile … Later you walked away. / Then nothing … Life … Everything has remained the same”.
This frustrated love, conditioned by the rejection that the writer received for wanting to live freely in homosexuality, may be one of the causes that explain why the flame of her memory was allowed to go out so abruptly. Also the distancing by exile, the story of politics, inclement weather, the cruelty of memory. Faults that portray a country with very poor retention that always forgets those who matter most. Among many other reasons, that is why it was necessary for someone to renovate the name of Anna Maria Martínez Sagi and make an effort to rescue her from oblivion.To do justice.
1Republican social democratic pro-Catalan independence party that had many members killed in battle, executed or tortured and jailed during the Spanish Antifascist War and the following Franco dictatorship. Currently the party has a couple of leaders in Spanish jail, including elected members of the Catalan autonomous Government and Members of the European Parliament. The party is currently negotiating coalition government with other Catalan pro-independence parties; ERC has one seat less than Junts per Catalonia, another independentist party (D.B)
2Famous Catalan and international soccer club (D.B).
One hundred and fifty years ago this month, the working class seized control of a major city and held it for over two months – the first time any such thing had happened. They did not just arm themselves and erect barricades – they elected representation, issued directives and implemented them, day by day. And the women were very much a part of it, including some of the lower level leadership, like Louise Michel, the Breton Anarchist woman who declared to the authorities who drowned the revolution in blood: “If you let me live, I will never stop crying out for vengeance.”
We should not allow the 18th of March to pass without stopping a least a moment to ponder on that momentous occasion and the extraordinary acts taken by mostly ordinary people. If we consider that the industrial commodity production of the industrial revolution had created the working class, the proletariat, it had been struggling for centuries against the exploitation of its labour power by the capitalists, the expropriation of all production for sale in exchange for the minimum in wages required to keep the workers alive and to produce the next generation of workers to be exploited. They had participated in many failed uprisings and even successful revolutions but in the latter case, always to the benefit of other social classes.
In 1871 they were successful beyond strikes, protests, riots and insurrections and, for the first time, in their own interests – they seized a major European city, the capital of a powerful State and ran it for their own benefit.
A number of conditions obtained which helped prepare the ground for the uprising: defeat of French state in war against Germany, ceding of Alsace-Lorraine, war shortages of food, firewood, coal and medicine in plummeting temperatures and a simmering discontent from the failure of a rising the previous October and others before that. But the action that precipitated the rising that led to the founding of the Commune was the attempt of the Government to seize the old cannons in the working class Montmartre district. As the casting of these had been paid for by popular subscription, the people saw them as their property and also as their own protection (having still living memories of the suppression of the 1848 revolution among many).
The attempt by the Government’s soldiers resulted in the death of a resisting member of the National Guard, a popular armed force and this in turn led to the surrounding of the military and, when ordered to fire on the crowd, mutinies, desertions and the capture of officers. Soon afterwards the crowds began to take control and prominent high officers were grabbed and shot. By midday the Government was leaving and had ordered the regular army, which had already been retreated to the Seine, to leave and to reassemble at Versailles. Unfortunately one of the escaped was Marshall Patrice McMahon1 of the French Army.
MEASURES OF REVOLUTIONARY MANAGEMENT
The Commune organised not only the defence of the city but its running and organisation along socialist lines.
On April 1st – that no employee or member of the Commune’s salary could exceed 6,000 francs. On April 2nd, the separation of Church and State, the abolition of all State payments for religious purposes and the transformation of all Church property into national property.
On 6th April the guillotine was brought out by the 137th Battalion of the National Guard and burned to great rejoicing. On 8th April the removal of all religious symbols, pictures, dogmas, prayers from schools was decreed and began to be implemented.
On 12th April, that the Column of Victory in the Place Vendome should be demolished, as the symbol of and incitement to national chauvinism and hatreds (this was carried out on the 16th). On the 16th the Commune ordered the systematic registration of all closed factories and the working out of plans for their management into production by the workers formerly employed in them, in cooperative societies. These cooperatives were to be organised in one great union.
On 30th April, the closing of all pawnshops. On 5th May the demolition of the symbol of expiation for the execution of Louis XVI, the Chapel of Atonement.
The Commune also abolished child labour and night work for bakers, made citizens of migrants (a number of which were also prominent in the Commune), granted pensions to unmarried partners of soldiers killed and their children, postponed commercial debts and outlawed interest on them and ensured the right of recall by voters of their delegates. The Commune’s local committees organised local defences, ran schools, provided clothing for children, food for the destitute, established canteens and first-aid stations …
A number of newspapers were published during the life of the Commune, varying from communist to anarchist to republican.
DEFEAT AND MASSACRES
The French Versailles Government was unable to take back control of the city even with their own regular army without systematic artillery bombardment to clear the way through to Paris and within it also. They appealed to those who had beaten them in the war, the German generals, to help them overcome the revolutionary resistance or at least allow them to pass. On the 11th May, the French Versailles troops under Marshal McMahon had blasted their way to the City Walls, then passed by the forts the Prussians had earlier taken on the north and east of the city. As the Versailles troops drove deeper into the city, resistance stiffened and intensified as they reached the working class quarters in the eastern half of Paris. It took eight days for the regular French Army to overcome the resistance on the heights of Belleville and Menilmontant.
“And then the massacre of defenceless men, women and children, which had been raging all week, reached its zenith.”2
Despite women not having the right to vote, they were active in the struggle, including in leadership roles, though not formally. Women were not only in the rearguard but helped build the barricades and fought on them, chaired committees and took part in debates. Many were killed in battle and many survivors were tried and sentenced to prison. Louise Michel, who was one of the leading activists, in her memoirs estimated their numbers in first-hand activity at 10,000; she fought with a unit of 30 women at Place Blanche in Montmartre until they were overrun.2
At the Hotel de Ville, which had been the headquarters of the Commune, the Versailles troops executed around 300 prisoners and burned the building (since rebuilt). One group of Communards retreated to the Pere Lachaise cemetery to make their stand and there, with no weapons or ammunition remaining, 147 survivors were placed against the wall and shot, their bodies thrown into a long ditch dug along the wall.
All armed resistance ended on 28th May but not the retributions of the French ruling class (with the support of the Republican bourgeoisie).
The full number of massacred will probably be never known and estimates vary from 10,000 to 20,000. On the wall of the Pere Lachaise cemetery some years later a plaque was erected and it has been a place of annual pilgrimage since for the Left (except during the Nazi occupation).
Louise Michel, who defied the judges at her trial in December and challenged them to have her shot, was sentenced to penal exile, along with 10,000 Communard survivors, hers being to New Caledonia, a French colonial possession in the Pacific3. She arrived there after 20 months’ jail, where she met many other revolutionaries and apparently there became an Anarchist, returning to France under the general amnesty for the Communards in 1880 (and continued revolutionary activities almost to the day of her death in 1905, a few months short of her 75th birthday).
FOR THE FUTURE AND THE PAST
With the Paris Commune of 1871, the proletariat had for the first time seized and managed a major city. It would be 46 years later before they succeeded in seizing a country – Russia. In the case of the Commune, the workers had learned how to take a city but were unable to hold it against sustained external attack; with the Soviet Union, they took a country and fought off external attack but were unable hold it against subversion from within. One hundred and fifty years after the Commune’s and a century after the Soviet Union’s achievements, we are overdue for another revolution. Hopefully this time we will have learned to hold on to its gains.
The Communards sounded the trumpet proclaiming the approaching end of capitalism and gave an answer then and since to those who say a revolution is not possible or if it is, that the workers are incapable of governing themselves and supplying the means to satisfy the needs of society.
Let us take a moment to reflect and to honour.
1Descendant of Irish gentry who had fled Cromwellian confiscations and repression and settled in France.
Few Irish American women have led a more controversial life than Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. A fiery orator with a passionate dedication to social justice, Flynn dedicated her life to the working class. A militant’s militant, Flynn was arrested dozens of times fighting for the causes she espoused and served a prison term for her political beliefs. Flynn became one of the most influential labor organizers of the early 20th century, while also becoming the first female leader of the American Communist Party. Famed international journalist Eugene Lyons praised her intelligence saying she was “the most brilliant woman I had ever met.”
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the daughter of Irish immigrants, was born in Concord, New Hampshire on August 7th, 1890. The family moved to New York’s impoverished South Bronx in 1900,where Flynn attended the local public school. She later recalled, “I hated poverty. I was determined to do something about the bad conditions under which our family and all around us suffered.” Influenced by her parents to become a socialist, Flynn was kicked out of high school for giving her first radical speech, What Socialism Will Do for Women , at the Socialist Club of Harlem.
Not yet eighteen years of age, Flynn became a full-time organizer for the radical labor group The Industrial Workers of the World, or as they were more commonly known, the Wobblies. A passionate devotee of free speech, she led the first of three free speech fights in 1909 as an I.W.W organizer and over the course of her life Flynn remained a dedicated advocate for free expression, freedom of the press and assembly, and the right to a fair trial for all labor activists, regardless of their political affiliation. In 1907, Flynn met a much older Minnesota local I.W.W. organizer, J. A. Jones. Flynn later stated in her autobiography, “I fell in love with him and we were married in January 1908. She had two children with Jones, one who died as an infant and her son Fred who was born in 1910. The marriage broke up and Flynn returned to her family.
Her first major involvement in an I.W.W. job action was at the famous Lawrence, Massachusetts Textile Strike of 1912, which began when the American Woolen Company there tried to reduce the wages of its largely immigrant workforce. The workers walked off the job and the I.W.W. formed a strike committee with two representatives from each of the striking nationalities sitting on the committee. The strikers demanded a 15 per cent wage increase, double-time for overtime work and a 55 hour week. Using her powerful oratory, Flynn became one of the leaders of the strike, which became very violent. Reporters from around the country covered the strike and filed stories on the violence and the poverty of the Lawrence workers. Eventually, after management realized that it was losing the publicity battle, they settled with the strikers, giving Flynn and the I.W.W a great victory.
The following year Flynn gained even more fame for her role in the famous Patterson, N.J. Silk strike, which saw three hundred silk mills shut down by thousands of striking workers, many of whom were female. Flynn set up weekly women’s meetings on the issues. Flynn wrote in her autobiography of her experience in Paterson:
“Sunday after Sunday, as the days became pleasanter, we spoke there to enormous crowds of thousands of people — the strikers and their families, workers from other Paterson industries, people from nearby New Jersey cities, delegations from New York of trade unionists, students and others. Visitors came from all over America and from foreign countries. People who saw these Haledon meetings never forgot them.”
Unfortunately for the workers, management was able to drive them back to the mills without achieving their strike demands. Flynn continued to organize restaurant workers, silk weavers, garment workers and miners across America. She was often arrested, but never convicted. She became such a celebrated labor activist that leftist songwriter Joe Hill wrote a 1915 song, reputedly dedicated to Flynn, called The Rebel Girl. A feminist, she began to write articles and make speeches criticizing labor unions as being male dominated and deaf to the needs of female workers.
She later became romantically involved with Carlo Tresca, a fellow I.W.W labor organizer and writer. When Flynn discovered that her sister was also romantically involved with Tresca, she suffered a mental breakdown that prevented her from working for eight years. During this period Flynn lived in Portland, Oregon with birth control activist, suffragette, and I.W.W activist Marie Equi.
Returning to politics, Flynn joined the Communist Party of the United States in 1936 and began to write a women’s column for the Communist Party newspaper the Daily Worker. She quickly was elected to the party’s national committee, but as a result of her party membership she was ejected from the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a pre-World War II red scare. During the war, she played a central role in the campaign for equal economic opportunity and pay for women, as well as the establishment of day care centers for working mothers. She ran for Congress in New York and received an astonishing 50,000 votes in a losing effort. In the Red Scare that followed the war, Flynn was arrested under the Smith Act, which made it a crime to support a violent overthrow of the American government. She was convicted and sentenced to a three-year term. Flynn served her sentence in the Alderson Federal Penitentiary in West Virginia. During her incarceration she wrote a memoir entitled, in The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner (1955). That same year she published her memoir, I Speak My Own Piece: Autobiography of “The Rebel Girl.
Flynn became national chairman of the Communist Party of the United States in 1961. She made several visits to the Soviet Union and died there unexpectedly in September 1964. She was given a state funeral in Red Square. In accordance with her wishes, Flynn’s remains were flown to the U.S. for burial in Chicago’s Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of I.W. W. Members Eugene Dennis and Big Bill Haywood.
Rebel Breeze comment:
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was indeed an Irish UStater and made a point of her background, keeping the surnames of both mother (Gurley) and father (Flynn) and stating it in her autobiography.
Her ashes being taken to Waldheim Cemetery near the grave of Big Bill Heywood can be viewed as something of an irony as in 1916 she had a major rupture with Big Bill over a plea bargain that she and another organiser, Joe Ettor, had counseled three innocent miners to accept when Heywood thought they could beat the charges. In addition, the one year jail time part of the plea bargain somehow ended up as 20. According to some accounts, she and Ettor were expelled from the IWW but according to others, Ettor left and Flynn remained but generally avoiding Heywood from then on.
During the years of Flynn’s labour organising in the USA, employers often hired company thugs (including the (in)famous Pinkerton Detective Agency) to beat up those they considered agitators or union organisers, who were also targeted by reactionaries including racists and fascists. Many worker organisers were killed or permanently disabled. In addition, many were jailed by the UStater legislature or even executed, as were the Molly Maguires, Saccho and Vanzetti, five of the Chicago Eight and Joe Hill. Being even a moderate union organiser in those years required courage and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was far from being a moderate.
The construction of an Independent and Socialist State that integrates Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Lapurdi, Nafarroa Behera, Nafarroa Garaia and Zuberoa.
(On the 18th I reported on the launch of the Basque organisation Jardun, a coordinating body seeking to unite Basque left-national organisations and collectives in a revolutionary movement. Since then they have published a fuller manifesto of their aims, here translated from the Castillian version.)
The construction of a society based on the power of the Basque working class, on overcoming the class struggle and on the socialization of the means of production.
Overcoming all oppression against working women.
Reunification of Euskal Herria.
Remaking Euskal Herria Basque-speaking.
The new alternative of the Basque Working People is a pro-independence and socialist political project whose ideological principles have six main points:
The national question is framed within the various oppressions suffered by the Basque Working People, oppression that in the opinion of this coordinating organisation can only be overcome through independence. In other words, when we speak of self-determination, we are referring to the undeniable right of the Basque Working People to separate from the states that oppress them and to undertake a process of building an independent and socialist state.
Before talking about socialism, it is convenient to specify what we mean when we speak of the Basque Working People. The Basque Working People is made up of everyone who lives and sells their labour power in Euskal Herria. Every worker within the Basque Working People, from the moment they suffer exploitation and oppression, that is, from the moment they suffer the blow of capital in a crude way in their day to day life, has the potential to organize the revolution. Therefore, when we speak of socialism, we refer to overcoming the class oppression suffered by the Basque Working People, on the way to creating a classless society.
We must understand that the Basque Working People cannot undertake the fight against capital alone. It is necessary to maintain contact with the different oppressed peoples and to acceptmutual aid. Even so, JARDUN will always set down an unpassable red line, that the national framework of the Basque working people can never be doubted. (Translator’s note: I was unsure about what exactly was meant by this sentence but one Jardun’s supporters told me it means that any struggle expecting solidarity from Jardun must accept the Basque people as a nation).
It is necessary to overcome the sex-gender dichotomy and the reproductive role that capital imposes on working women, in order to overcome the oppression suffered by working women and the structural reasons that originate it.
Amnesty is a strategic term that, going beyond confining itself to the freedom of all those fighterswho have worked for the freedom of Euskal Herria, implies political recognition in the eyes of working people of the struggle they have carried out and placing at the disposal of popular justice those who have systematically oppressed them.
Within the current capitalist production model, the environment suffers from overexploitation, responding to the logic of obtaining the highest possible economic performance, generating more waste than can be managed and creating a degradation that in many cases puts living conditions at risk. That is why the environmental struggle can only be approached from a root change in the production processes.
The six points outlined above that define the ideology of JARDUN cannot be understood or addressed in an isolated way, since if their achievement does not go hand in hand with the others, the only thing that we will achieve will be to perpetuate the oppression suffered by the Basque Working People. In the same way, only by addressing these points from a class point of view will the workers of Euskal Herria be able to obtain control of the productive processes and political power, neutralizing the bourgeoisie.
Although the Basque Working People have the potential to carry out the revolution, only by acquiring awareness of their situation and organizing themselves in pursuit of national and social liberation can they begin the revolutionary process, forming the Basque Revolutionary Proletariat. JARDUN needs to be the organizational space of the Basque Revolutionary Proletariat. At the same time, the working people at an organic levelshould be composed of different sectoral organizations working under the same strategic objectives, for the construction of an independent and socialist Euskal Herria.
In the same way that our predecessors faced the oppression that this people has suffered and fought against fascism in Albertia, today, it is up to us to confront the oppression that working people suffer and for that, unity is necessary, it is necessary join forces. It is time to start joining forces. It is time to start adding forces. It is necessary to get together with different groups in Euskal Herria and defend a common project. It is necessary for different groups to join JARDUN, so that each one from their own fighting trenches can contribute what they can, with a firm commitment, and thus respond as a people, as a working people to capital. Since we are very clear about the way forward and what strategy has to be carried out. And let there be no doubt that we will continue working in that direction. For those who have given their lives, for Euskal Herria and for the workers of Euskal Herria.
(Article originally published 2017 in New York Irish History, journal of the New York Irish History Roundtable, abbreviated slightly and reprinted here with kind permission of the author)
In her article, “Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly: A Forgotten Feminist,” Wendy McElroy summarizes the paradoxes in Dr. Kelly’s worldview that make her a complex, seemingly contradictory figure: A labor radical who was deeply skeptical of unions, a medical doctor who opposed state licensing of medicine, a staunch anti-statist who broke with the most prominent individualist anarchists of her day, an ardent feminist who denied that there were “women’s rights” as distinct from “human rights.” (McElroy, “Gertrude B. Kelly”)
Kelly’s seemingly paradoxical and contradictory juxtapositions come into focus, though, in the light of her Irish birth and anarchist beliefs. Individual anarchists, like Kelly, were a group of anti-authoritarian radicals who regarded total individual autonomy and free labor as the answer to the social and economic problems of the day. Kelly believed that overthrowing power structures and maximizing individual autonomy and responsibility would create a truly free society, which would evolve organically once society had liquidated the oppressive state. Because individualist anarchists regarded labor as the source of value and exchanges of unequal values to be exploitative, they may be regarded as a part of the broader socialist movement. Kelly’s views not only were highly uncommon and radical, but they also placed her in direct conflict with the establishment: the church, the state, and the capitalist order.
Shaping Kelly’s perspectives was that in her eyes, Ireland was victim of both capitalism and the British state.
Although she left Ireland at age eleven, the experiences and opinions of her parents profoundly shaped Kelly’s perspectives. She was born into a family of Irish nationalist educators in 1862 in Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary (Co. Waterford identifies Kelly as being born in the same year but in Ballyneale, across the border from Tipperary). Her father was a schoolmaster apparently forced out of his job for his Fenian sympathies. He left Ireland in 1868, five years before Gertrude would join him in New Jersey in 1873. He would become a high school principal, but he and the whole family remained passionately devoted to Irish affairs. Her older brother, John, played a huge role in shaping her anarchist worldview.
Kelly was one of twelve children, but little is known about any of her other siblings except for John who had a profound influence on her attitudes towards Ireland and anarchism. John graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken and went on to earn a Ph.D at age twenty-two in electrical engineering. An assistant for a time to Thomas Edison, Kelly became one of the world’s foremost experts in using dynamos to transmit telephone signals. During Kelly’s lifetime he held over seventy electrical related patents and pioneered high voltage electricity generating and transmission systems.
However, he was not just a man of science; he was also devoted to Ireland and used his considerable wealth generously to advance the cause of Irish freedom. In the 1880s, he wrote articles for individualist anarchist publications including Liberty, Alarm, and Lucifer, which must have greatly influenced his sister. John Kelly spent the last years of his life supporting Irish causes, working closely with his sister. From 1916–18, he served as the president of the Massachusetts State Council for Friends of Irish Freedom. From 1920–21, he wrote a third of the Irish World’s anonymous political commentaries, and in 1921, from July to December, he and his young sister agitated for a nationwide boycott of British goods.
Despite being in America, Kelly still remained keenly interested in events within Ireland. Although she was busy with her medical studies she followed Ireland from articles in the Irish World, published in New York, and the Boston Pilot. Both newspapers featured several stories on the failure of the Irish Land Act of 1870 to improve the lot of tenant farmers, the formation of the Irish Land League in 1879, the subsequent Land Wars, the No-Rent movement, and the indiscriminate evictions of Irish tenant farmers from their land by agents of absentee English landlords. These stories cemented Kelly’s rejection of British imperialism and private ownership of land.
In 1879, John Devoy of Clan na Gael in the United States forged a broad-based coalition called the “New Departure,” with Michael Davitt of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Charles Stewart Parnell of the Home Rule League to create a joint front that united believers in physical force, agrarian agitation, and constitutional nationalism to aid the suffering Irish tenant farmer and demand Irish Home Rule from England. Parnell and Davitt were also members of the Irish National Land League. In support of that initiative Fanny and Anna Parnell founded the Ladies Land League in America in 1880 with branches in Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark, and Patterson.
Young Gertrude Kelly became an active member of the League and a vocal supporter of a No-Rent Manifesto published by the National Land League in 1881. Kelly’s understanding of individualistic anarchist philosophy was strengthened by the columns of “Honorius” in the Irish World, an organ of the Irish No-Rent movement. Honorius was, in fact, a pseudonym for the American natural rights advocate Henry Appleton, who contributed frequently to the early issues of Liberty, both under his own name and under the pen name of “X.”(McElroy, “Gertude B. Kelly”)
PROLIFIC WRITER AND FEMINIST
Anger at how British imperialist government had subverted its proper role in Ireland shaped Kelly’s anti-authoritarian worldview. Kelly was not only a dedicated Irish-Nationalist, but she was also a prolific writer and insightful social and political commentator. In articles published in the individualist periodical Liberty and the Irish World she expressed her indignation and abhorrence at the lack of fairness empathy or sense of humanity inherent in the attitude of the ruling elite towards the poor of Ireland. She contributed a number of other well-received articles for Liberty whose founder and editor, Benjamin Tucker, said of her “Gertrude B. Kelly…by her articles in Liberty, has placed herself at a single bound among the finest writers of this or any other country.” (McElroy, “Gertrude B. Kelly”).
Kelly, however, would later break with Tucker and cease writing for Liberty, a sign of her fiery independence. Kelly was more than a mere analyst of Irish anti-imperialism. She was also an avant garde feminist who understood the struggles that women faced, especially poor women, with whom the doctor had a lifelong affinity and her articles for Liberty reflect a keen understanding of the special problems females faced. In one of her articles for Liberty she developed a highly controversial argument about prostitution. Instead of seeing prostitutes as “fallen women,” Kelly saw them as economic victims. Her first article in Liberty, “The Root of Prostitution,” claimed that women’s inability to earn enough money through respectable forms of labor was the root cause of sex work. She wrote: “We find all sorts of schemes for making men moral and women religious, but no scheme which proposes to give woman the fruits of her labor. In her writing, she railed against men forcing women to conform to paternalistic codes of behavior. Men…have always denied to women the opportunity to think; and, if some women have had courage enough to dare public opinion, and insist upon thinking for themselves, they have been so beaten by that most powerful weapon in society’s arsenal, ridicule, that it has effectively prevented the great majority from making any attempt to come out of slavery.” (McElroy,“Gertrude B. Kelly”)
Despite Kelly’s sincere feminism, she could make the following statement that must have alienated her from many of the leading feminists of her day: “There is, properly speaking, no woman question, as apart from the question of human right and human liberty.” She added: “The woman’s cause is man’s— they rise or sink/Together—dwarfed or godlike-bond or free.” She saw women’s struggles in the wider context of humanity’s struggle against all forms of coercion. Women would gain their deserved social status only when all of society had also liberated itself. Kelly also became a militant suffragette, believing that women with the power to vote could solve many of the issues they faced. (McElroy, “Gertrude B. Kelly”).
In Kelly’s eyes both women and men were in fact the victims of a coercive capitalist society. Radical individualists of nineteenth-century America, like Kelly, saw capitalism as the root cause of poverty and social injustice. Kelly subscribed to the labor theory of value espoused by the anarchist individualist theoretician Josiah Warren who posited that capitalists stole the fruits of labor by underpaying the worker for his or her efforts. She also accepted the popular radical belief that capitalism was an alliance between business and government, in which the state guaranteed the rich their privileged position. Kelly considered all forms of capitalism to be what individualist anarchists called “state capitalism.”
In Irish-America, where so many fellow immigrants had climbed the ladder by joining the civil service, her anti-government stance was especially incendiary.
KELLY’S WORK AS A DOCTOR
Kelly’s becoming a physician is an extraordinary story in itself. She became one of the very few women to study medicine and become a doctor thanks to two English sisters, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell who set up the first school to grant women licenses to practice medicine, the Women’s Medical College of New York. Kelly graduated from Blackwell’s school in 1884 with an M.D. degree and became an accomplished surgeon.
If Kelly is recalled today in New York City, it is not for her important role in agitating for Ireland, but in helping the city’s poor through her work as a doctor. Although she campaigned for many deserving causes during her lifetime, her primary focus was on treating the downtrodden and poor working women and their families in the clinics she worked in. She set up such a clinic in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood where she became legendary for surreptitiously leaving cash under her dinner plate when she made house calls at the homes of impoverished patients. Kelly was also a renowned surgeon who, in addition to her work at the clinic, was a member of the surgical staff at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, the institution where she had received training. During her medical career she authored and co-authored papers on abdominal surgical procedures and other medical and health care-related issues.
KELLY AND THE RISING
Kelly would play an oversized role in the events before and after the 1916 Easter Rising. In 1901, John Redmond, who assumed leadership of the reunited Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), established the United Irish League of America to raise funds for the IPP and promote its Home Rule agenda in the United States. Dr. Kelly supported the United Irish League, even though its acceptance of continued British sovereignty over Ireland disturbed her. In accepting home rule, she reasoned that it could serve as an intermediary step before launching a nonviolent, anti-British, grassroots campaign that would lead to an independent Irish Republic.
In October of 1914, Kelly issued a call to “women of Irish blood” to join the first chapter of Cumann na mBan formed in the United States. Hundreds of women met at the Hotel McAlpin, where Kelly, Mary Colum, and Sidney Gifford, a recently arrived émigré from Dublin outlined the aims of the organization. Their chapter would follow the lead of Cumann na mBan in Ireland by raising funds and garnering support for the Irish Volunteers formed in 1913 in response to the formation of the anti-independence Ulster Volunteer Force the previous year. The declared aim of the Irish Volunteers was “to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland.” (“Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net). Chosen as president of the organization, Kelly helped set-up other branches and arranged for speakers from Ireland to address its members, conduct lecture tours and help in fundraising efforts.
When Redmond in a speech called on young Irishmen to enlist and fight in the British Army, it was too much for the anti-imperialist Kelly, who issued the following statement: “May I, as a woman, an Irishwoman and physician, spokeswoman of hundred, thousands of my sisters at home and abroad ask our leaders what it is they propose to Ireland to do—commit suicide? Admitting for the moment that this is “a most righteous war” not—”a war of iron and coal”—a war between titans for commercial supremacy— why should little Ireland have to do what the United States, Switzerland, etc., do not. Is Home Rule to be secured for the cattle and sheep when the young men of Ireland are slaughtered, the old men and old women left sonless, the young women obliged to emigrate to bring up sons for men of other climes.” (“Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net)
After the Easter Rising, Cumann na mBan’s fundraising efforts were redirected to the support of the thousands of families of imprisoned Volunteers. Kelly and other Irish women activists including Margaret Moore, a Land League veteran and labor leader Lenora O’Reilly led the highly successful fundraising campaign.
In 1917, America entered World War I on the side of the British. President Wilson threatened members of any organizations that protested against the British Empire with jail sentences. Nevertheless, in the same year Dr. Kelly was part of a group that formed the Irish Progressive Party, whose aim was to lobby the government in Washington to protest British imperialism and recognize the Irish Republic.
In 1920, Dr. Kelly would perform her greatest services to Irish freedom. She understood that women could take bold actions, such as in public protests, that would capture popular attention and focus the American public on the continued presence of Britain in Ireland, which violated one of the Fourteen Points identified by Wilson in 1918 as necessary for world peace—self-determination for small nations. The first official meeting of the activist group, American Women Pickets for the Enforcement of America’s War Aims, was held in New York on April 20, 1920, organized by Gertrude Kelly.
With Irish men in America mired in fighting one another, this women’s movement grabbed headlines through a succession of highly effective public acts, some of which created chain reactions across the eastern seaboard of the United States. In September, 1920, Kelly was one of the organizers of a female blockade of the British Embassy in Washington as response to their actions in Ireland. Kelly was arrested for her part in the agitation.
In December, 1920, the women pickets and the Irish Progressive League organized a strike at a Chelsea pier in Manhattan to protest the arrests of Irish-born Australian Archbishop Daniel Mannix, an outspoken foe of British rule in Ireland, and Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork, who was on hunger strike and near death. Kelly, Leonora O’Reilly, Hannah SheehySkeffington, and Eileen Curran of the Celtic Players assembled a group of women who dressed in white with green capes and carried signs that read: “There Can Be No Peace While British Militarism Rules the World.”(“Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net)
The strike which, lasted three and a half weeks, was directed at British ships docked in New York. Striking workers included not only Irish longshoremen but also, Italian coal passers, AfricanAmerican longshoremen, and workers on a docked British passenger liner. According to a New York Sun report it was “…the first purely political strike of workingmen in the history of the United States. The strike became famous and spread to Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Boston. When reporters asked who exactly was behind these protests, Dr. Kelly responded “American women.” (“Gertrude B. Kelly” in Irish Echo).
By the end of 1920, many thought the only prospect for an independent Ireland was an acceptance of partition. Dr. Kelly was a fiery opponent of division and expressed her views on Ireland being divided: “The thing itself is absolutely unthinkable. We have always been slaves, but unwilling slaves. Now we are subscribing to our slavery. I cannot believe that the Irish people will do this. The whole thing is a fake from start to finish. Summed up I would say that after 750 years we have given England moral standing in the world when she has none: it’s a tremendous defeat.” (“Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net)
Nevertheless, partition did take place, much to Kelly’s dismay. Bitterly disappointed, she continued her work treating the poor of the city. In the first quarter of the twentieth century she was on the “must meet” list of every Irish political and literary figure who came to the United States.
Kelly passed away on February 16, 1934. The poor of Chelsea mourned her and remembered her acts of kindness. In 1936, Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia named the Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly Playground located in Chelsea west of Ninth Avenue between Sixteenth and Seventeeth Streets in her honor. It was one of five model playgrounds developed in New York City during the mid-1930s. (“Gertrude B. Kelly Playground” in NYCgovparks.org)
The playground is perhaps the only public tribute to a woman who made an outsized contribution to Irish independence and to the City of New York. Perhaps in the future Dr. Kelly will garner more.
The original article in full may be found here, including also a list of sources: nyih32.CobbG_pdf2%20(3)%20(1).pdf
(Reading time: 1 minute; watching time: 3 minutes per video)
A choreographed protest against violence against women is sweeping the world. It was first seen on International Day Against Violence Against Women, 27th November in the centre of Santiago, the capital city of Chile. Organised by feminist group La Tesis, it formed part of the popular resistance to the the Sebastián Piñera regime and its repression, since accusations of rape and other sexual violence against the repressive forces have, according to a number of human rights agencies, amounted to 15% of the total (at least 70 separate cases in the first month of protests).
The lyrics chanted were, in translation: Patriarchy is a judge who judges us for being born
and our punishment is the violence that you don’t see.
It’s femicide, impunity for my murderer,
it’s disappearance, it’s rape.
And it wasn’t my fault, where I was or how I was dressed.
The rapist is you. The rapist is you.
It’s the police, the judges, the State, the President.
The oppressive State is a macho rapist.
This was an extremely powerful and effective protest and caught the imagination of others, with videos spread by social media and also appeals across borders by feminist networks.
No doubt the continuation of the protest will take place in other contexts but it remain a powerful and innovative call.
As with other protests in Chile, those congregating in the area were attacked by forces of the State soon afterwards — the same forces against which the protest had been organised.
An anti-fascist bookfair was held in Portugalete1, not far from Bilbo (Bilbao) in the southern Basque Country on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th September. There was ample room for the many stalls in the old disused indoor market in the town’s Casco Viejo (old town quarter), along with a curtained-off play area for children. One of the events in the two-day bookfair was a launch of the translation into Castillian (Spanish) of D’Arcy’s book “Tell Them Everything”(“Di Les Todo”). The translation was published by Sare Antifascista, one of the organisers of the bookfair and D’Arcy spoke in English at the launch, her talk translated into Castillian; also speaking was Basque ex-political prisoner Ziortza Fernandez Larrazabal.
Trembling from the illness that has affected her for a number of years (which she later commented resulted from attacks by fascists during the Greenham Common protest and later in Ireland by police) D’Arcy spoke clearly and coherently about her activism, the founding of Women Against Imperialism, the Greenham Common protest camp, her period in jail with Republican women and her activism against the USA’s military use of Ireland’s international airport at Shannon (despite the country’s constitutional neutrality).
Going on to speak about Ireland today, D’Arcy outlined some of the aspects of the notorious Direct Provision Centres for asylum seekers in the Irish state, the issues arising from the location of such centres and the opportunistic intervention of fascists against immigration. She went on to talk about the targeting on social media of those who spoke up welcoming asylum seekers or against racism and commented that the worrying thing about this development was that the fascists had a youth wing. Recalling the referendum on conditions of nationality in 2014 which had removed the rights of people born in Ireland to Irish citizenship unless they had an Irish citizen parent or grandparent, D’Arcy concluded by saying that Ireland is a racist country.
Referring to the Six Counties, D’Arcy criticised Sinn Féin for using the proposed Irish Language Act as a political football and as something with which to attack their political opposition, the Democratic Unionist Party2. Continuing, she said that “Scottish Irish”3 also existed in the Six Counties and asked why that could not be included in the Act, also quoting James Connolly that he didn’t care what language people spoke as long as they could communicate together.
Whatever about the issues in the Brexit question, the speaker said, Britain had used Ireland as a military training ground and had many bases in the Six Counties and these needed to be dismantled.
D’Arcy concluded by advising Basques to approach the Irish Consulate in the Basque Country to enquire whether it would be safe to travel to Ireland, given the US military use of Shannon Airport and the growth of fascism and racism in the country.
After the Irish speaker and speaking in Castillian, Ziortza Fernandez Larrazabal, ex-political prisoner from the locality,spoke first in tribute to D’Arcy’s record of activism. Moving on to her own activism in support of Basque independence and socialism and her five years in jail, Ziortza recounted being moved through a number of jails as part of the Spanish State’s policy and practice of dispersing political prisoners far from their homes and the strain this places on their friends and relations.
Commenting on the effects of imprisonment in Spanish jails, Ziortza said that some political prisoners had died through neglect, some had killed themselves but some had come out stronger, clearer in their minds and confirmed in their political views, which is what she felt had happened in her case. Ziortza said that some prisoners had 40 years of jail sentence and that they should be released.
After applause for the speakers, the Sare Antifaxista chairperson opened the meeting to questions from the audience. After a silence of some minutes, one man spoke in praise of the courage and commitment of both women and their record of activism. Speaking in Castillian with an Irish accent, he said he felt he had to distance himself from some of D’Arcy’s words. He felt it was important not to confuse government with people and that the Irish people were not, on the whole, racist and in fact racists and fascists had found it very difficult to organise within the territory of the Irish State.
Recounting the historical experience with the fascist Blueshirts in the 1930s, the Irishman said that they had been fought on the streets and defeated. When Pegida tried to launch their fascist and islamophobic group in the capitals of European states in 2016, they had failed in Ireland because firstly their gathering point had been occupied in advance by anti-fascists and anti-racists and, secondly the fascists themselves had been physically attacked and beaten. He talked also about a recent initiative to launch a “yellow vest” movement in Ireland but which fascists and racists had moved in to lead – that initiative had, as a result, been rejected and had faded away. Fascists are active on social media but find it difficult to hold events in public. The danger of racism and fascist organising should not be dismissed, the Irishman said but so far, in Ireland, racism and fascism was being repulsed among the people.
While it was true that the Government had proposed changing the nationality clause in the Constitution in 2014, he said, this had been part of a process across the whole of Europe. The referendum was held on that question along with another at the same time and only the social democrats and trotskyists had noticeably campaigned against the change. The vote in favour had to be seen in that context.
Moving on to the question of nation and language, he said that nations had a right to self-determination which, in many cases, was opposed by imperialism, which also damaged many languages. The loss of a language, he said, means the loss of a way of thinking and seeing, of literature, poetry and song; the loss of such is a loss for entire humanity.
A Basque woman also spoke from the floor, partly in Castillian and partly in Euskera (Basque), expressing her admiration for the record of both women speakers and referring to her own involvement in her youth in Greenham common. She went on to speak about the danger of nationalism but also in support of the rights of language and said that if there were no states in the world, she would not want one either but as long as there are, she wanted one for her own nation.
She also said that at this time it was important to support the struggles for self-determination not only of the Basques but also of the Catalans.
The event came to an end and people moved off for lunch in various bars, or to chat or to browse the bookstalls. The latter were run by a number of organisations: Inugorria Liburodenda (Gernika revolutionary and progressive bookshop), Sare Antifaxista; CNT, Mujeres Libres, IPEs, Baskale, FAI, DDT Banaketak, Periko Solabarria Elkartea, Komite Internazionalistak, Jazz Oi!, Templando el acero, Amnistía Ta Askatasuna, SRI.
1 Portugalete has a Metro station, reachable from Bilbao. The Casco Viejo (old town) is a number of narrow streets lined by bars and shops heading steeply downwards from the Metro station towards the river front, where there are a number of restaurants and bars and a nearby port museum. The interesting Puente Colgante is nearby; a pedestrian bridge across the river worked something like a horizontal lift.
2 Given that Sinn Féin makes no effort to ensure its own membership is Irish-speaking, or even its leaders (despite some of them being very proficient in the language), also that all its internal and nearly all public meetings are conducted through English, this would seem to be a correct assessment by D’Arcy.
3 D’Arcy probably meant Ulster Scots or Ullans, which is not any kind of Irish but a variant of Scots, the Germanic-English dialect once prevalent in the Scottish Lowlands (often called “Lallands”), in which for example Robbie Burns wrote. It has Minority Language Status in the Six Counties and while Irish-speakers generally have no opposition to the promotion of that dialect, hardly anyone speaks it today and it was raised as an issue by Unionists purely as a counter to the rights of Irish-language speakers. Scotland does have Scottish Gaedhlig, with over 57,000 recorded speakers (2011 Census) but this is not spoken in the Six Counties.
Report by RAÚL BOCANEGRA in Publico.es (translation and comment by Diarmuid Breatnach).
“The City Council of Seville has guaranteed on its own to provide the necessary funding — 1.2 million euros — to exhume the Pico Reja pit, in which historians believe that there are at least 1,103 bodies of of victims of the repression, led by the General Queipo de Llano, following the military coup of July 18, 1936.
This exhumation will be the largest ever to be undertaken in Spain, following that which that was carried out in Malaga, in the San Rafael Trench, between 2006 and 2009, and may indicate the path to take for the other capitals (of Spanish state regions – Trans).
The Mayor of Seville, Juan Espadas (PSOE), guaranteed that the grave will be exhumed throughout the mandate of the current Council. “It is a truly historic step in Seville and one of national importance, since it is perhaps the biggest mass grave that [at this moment] has a definite project for its exhumation,” the Councilor said at a press conference.
“And, therefore, it is also one of the most important projects in terms of Historical Memory to be undertaken in our land, due to the importance and volume of the Pico Reja mass grave. It was a commitment that this Government (i.e of the Andalusian region) gave during the past mandate to relatives and memorial groupsand today it is made a reality with this tender,” added Espadas.
“Next Friday the City Council of Seville, through the Governing Board will approve the specifications and, therefore, the public tender for a technical service for the exhumation and genetic identification of the bodies of the Pico Reja mass grave, in the Cemetery of San Fernando,” reads a statement issued by the City Council. “The ultimate goal [of the exhumation] is to dignify the memory of the people who were thrown there, give them a dignified burial and attend to the requests of their families,” adds the Council (statement – Trans).”
BEGINNING AND COMPLETION OF WORK
“Accordingly, Espadas will not wait for the Council of Andalucía or the Regional Government to sign the agreement, to which they had committed themselves. Confirming now, at the start of the mandate, the works, the Mayor ensures that the exhumation will not be delayed and will be carried out throughout this term. Municipal sources assured Público of their belief that both the Council and the Andalusian Government will collaborate with the exhumation, the Andalusian Council not before September.
Should they contribute money, the amount would be deducted from the 1.2 million that the Council calculates as necessary to carry out the works. Espadas recalled that the signing of an agreement in this regard with the Board and the County Council to finance these works is still outstanding. “And let’s hope that it is signed as soon as possible.”
“This contract guarantees the beginning of the work and its conclusion, without waiting for the remaining public administrations –- provincial, Andalusian and national — to finalise their contributions,” reads the Council’s note.
Espadas and the Delegate for the Department for Equality, Education, Citizen Participation and District Coordination, Adela Castaño, related the details of this contract to relatives of the victims and to the different organisations involved in the area of Historical Memory in Seville. “Do not fear, the exhumation and the identification of bodies will be done,” the Mayor assured them.
The company that gains the contract must include at least one historian, five professionals in Forensic and Physical Anthropology, five in Archeology and 10 auxiliary support workers. “With the maximum guarantees of scientific rigor, a survey will be performed, material collected on the surface, excavations made in the pit, exhumations and recovering of bodies and remains,” says the City Council in the note. “Likewise, it must preserve and safeguard, also with all scientific guarantees, the samples of bone remains and biological samples taken from the family members until delivery to the University of Granada for genetic identification,” the City Council insists.
The project will be be completed in three phases, explained the Council. The first concerns the exhumation itself and the identification of the bodies, along with works including: the archaeological excavation; dealing with the remains found (the excavation and the direct and individualized identification of these bodies will determine whether or not they are relatives); exhumation (identification, recording of traces of violence and individual extraction of each body or remains); forensic anthropology (that is, determining sex, age, pathologies or anomalies); anthropological analysis in a laboratory manner; and conservation and protection to preserve these skeletal remains and DNA analysis.
The second phase will consist of the presentation of a final report as a logical contribution to the history of Franco’s repression. And the last phase will be the final destination of the remains.
The City Council will respect at all times the wishes of relations about the identified remains. The unidentified remains and those which the relatives wish to remain in the same place, “will be buried in an authorised space with appropriate technical indications for future identification”.
After finishing the works, “the area will be restored as an expository and explanatory site of the historical significance of the Pico Reja pit”. The successful bidder must submit a proposal for reconstruction of the current site that includes a columned monument to honor the victims.
According to official figures, 120,000 victims have been identified (not exhumed) from 2,591 unmarked graves around the Spanish state. The areas with the largest number of graves are Andalusia in the south and the northern regions of Aragón and Asturias – in Andalusia alone, 55,000.
A mapping work undertaken by the Council of Andalusia region, which was presented publicly in the regional capital in 2011, illustrates 614 mass graves in 359 Andalusian municipalities. Only around half of the 47,000 bodies that were discovered have been identified due to there being no relatives available for DNA tracing or because calcium oxide (quicklime) had been thrown over the bodies.1
“In Malaga province alone there are 76 mass graves in 52 towns, containing the remains of 7,471 people who were killed by General Franco’s forces. The largest of these mass graves was discovered in Malaga city’s San Rafael cemetery. 2,840 bodies were exhumed in early 2010, although more than 4,500 are registered as having been buried there”.2
The usual figure given for the total of non-combat killing by Franco’s forces is 150,000 and which does not include those who died of malnutrition and lack of adequate medical care in prisons and “penal battalions” or through confiscations, or economic and financial sanctions in areas occupied by his forces. Nor does it include the civilian victims of bombing by military-fascist air force, whether of cities or of refugee columns.
Against that, the total figure for non-combat killings by the forces against Franco are estimated at around 50,000. Also, while the latter killings for the most part took place in the early months of the military uprisings, before Republican Government control could be established, most of the non-combat killings by Franco’s forces were carried out after they had beaten the resistance and occupied the area and much of it also after the war was over. Typically too, according to Paul Preston (The Spanish Holocaust (2012), Harper Press), women were routinely raped before they were shot.3
The issue of the executed after a cursory military trial or simply taken out and murdered by Franco’s forces is a live one in the Spanish state today. Before Franco’s death it was not even possible to discuss it publicly and bereaved relatives were not permitted to mourn publicly – to hold a funeral or to have a mass said for their souls according to Catholic custom or even to mark their graves.
The Transition process to convert Franco’s Spain into a “democracy” accorded legal impunity to the perpetrators of even the worst atrocities during the Civil War but unofficially extended beyond, to the years afterwards and even to murders carried out during the “Transición” itself. And why not, when all the upper echelons of police, army, judiciary, civil service, Church, media and business were and are for the most part the same people as before — or their sons and daughters? When the Head of State and of the Armed Forces, the King Juan Carlos, was specifically chosen by Franco to be his successor and even after the Dictator’s death glorified him and his political trajectory.
‘LET THE DEAD STAY BURIED’
The fascists and their descendants want the dead and their stories to stay buried and even when a very senior judge like Baltasar Garsón, who presided over the repression and torture of many Basque and Catalan political detainees (but is incredibly lauded as “a foremost human rights defender” by liberals!) decided to play a power and publicity game and and became a problem by authorising the opening of some mass graves in 2012, he was slapped with legal appeals, charges of wire-tapping and disbarred from office for 11 years.
The other graves they don’t want opened are the mausoleum of Franco himself and of Rivera, founder of the Spanish fascist Falange, who lie in the memorial park built by political prisoner slave labour to honour Dictatorship and Fascism, a shrine for fascists today. The order of the PSOE Government to exhume and transfer them to a family graveyard has been paralysed by the Spanish Supreme Court after protests by Franco’s descendants.
If the Pico Reja exhumation in Seville goes ahead and is properly documented, it will be as the PSOE-controlled Seville City Council says, of huge historical — but also of huge political – importance. Can this happen in the same region where the corrupt PSOE administration has lost power after decades without se
rious challenge and is now ruled by a de facto coalition of all the main parties descended from Franco, the Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and Vox? The Seville City Council says it can and that if necessary they will fund it all themselves. We can hope.