In this episode we talk to Brian Hanley about his experience of Left activism as a member of the Socialist Workers Movement (SWM) in the late 1980s and early 90s. We discuss the cultural and political influences that led him to join the SWM as a teenager in Limerick; the nature and political position of the organisation at that time; the experience of being an active member; and how the SWM changed and grew during that period.
Brian is a historian in Trinity College Dublin. We’ve spoken to him previously in that capacity on the podcast in episode 13, where we discussed The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party, which Brian co-authored.
Below are some links that might interest listeners in the context of this episode:
Brian provided a few additional clarifications to the discussion below:
Thanks again to Aonghus and Ciarán for the opportunity to do this. A couple of things struck me afterwards which maybe I wasn’t very clear on. The first one is that while the SWM in general was quite poor on Irish working class history, one big exception was a concentration on James Connolly. Bookmarks republished an edition of Labour in Irish History in 1987, with an introduction by Kieran Allen and in 1990 Kieran Allen’s own The Politics of James Connolly was published. In between public meetings on the politics of Connolly were routine. Amazing that I’d forgotten that really. One other home produced pamphlet that I recall was Goretti Horgan’s Why Irish Women must have the right to choose [see here for the 2002 reprint of this in the archive] which we sold loads of during the X Case period.
A couple of technical points, that might be lost on a ‘younger’ audience was that postering involved going out with buckets of paste and plastering up posters on anything that didn’t move. You postered until the paste or posters ran out, or you were stopped by the Guards. Generally they took the posters and your name, though I was never fined. Uniformed Guards usually couldn’t care less what the posters were about (as long as it wasn’t about them), but the Special Branch could give you more hassle.
The various trips to Marxism in London were by bus and boat, which if there was a few of you could mean a good drink on the ferry and trying to sleep until you got to Victoria. The Irish Marxism weekend was held in November at the Institute of Education in Mountjoy Square. Again it was a chance for people from across the country to get together. One year there was a football match between Dublin and a ‘rest of Ireland’ selection on one of the all-weather pitches across the road from the event. That was never repeated either because it was considered too frivolous or because we were all (with a couple of exceptions, including a current TD) fairly crap. It probably comes across anyway, but there was a high turnover of members with lots of people joining and leaving fairly consistently. On a less nostalgic note, if you were considered a dissident or critic your every failure would be pounced on, while people considered useful or loyal could get away with a lot more. I think that’s the nature of these type of parties to be honest.
The Irish Left Archive Podcast looks at Left politics in Ireland, talking to activists, writers, historians, politicians and others involved in Left organisations and movements about their experiences of participating in Left parties and campaigns. The podcast is hosted by Ciarán Swan and Aonghus Storey.
View this episode on our website: #19: Brian Hanley: Socialist Workers' Movement, 1980s and 90s.