Just Read… Rebels: Voices from the Easter Rising

Fearghal McGarry [2012]

Rebels: Voices from the Easter Rising 

ISBN  978-0141041278

Contemporary accounts are the first partial draft but often not the most accurate account of history, here, written by participants, structured by a historian, the compilation of quotes provides a narrative and the conveys the flavour of the Easter Rising. From the witnesses’ recollections of their schooling and other childhood influences to their accounts of what happened at Easter 1916, Rebels tells of this seismic and much-debated insurrection. The testimonies gathered from participants by the Irish Bureau of Military History in 1947 provides a real feel for the ordinary person in history, and captures the detail often absence in the general histories. To recall just two incidents: Seamus Pounch stationed at the Jacob’s biscuit factory, in the first few quiet days before the arrival of British army reinforcements in Dublin, said:

“During a lull in the fight in Jacob’s we held a miniature ceilidh – Volunteers and Fianna, Cumann na mBan, Clan na Gael Girl Scouts… a real welcome break in the serious business we had in hand.”

A testimony to the rank-and-file spirit, and indicative of the conglomeration of forces – not solely a Sinn Fein rebellion – involved in the struggle for Irish national freedom. Not quite a carnival but a celebration, not the mystic “blood sacrifice” so often stressed, but a survivor’s account and insight in an incident that contributes to the human story and commitments that makes history. In another contribution from Liam Tannam, based at the GPO, not a story about the great James Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army, but a nameless Finn. He, and a Swede appeared at the GPO to join the fight.

“The Finn[ish] volunteer was no catholic. He had no English but before he left he was saying the rosary in Irish.”

This provoked a smile and thoughts of Lenin talking in defence of 1916 with references to no pure rebellions, and Mao’s reference to revolution not being a dinner party. The range of forces that were involved in the action, and those who opposed it from within, is clear in the contributions in the book quoting Bulmer Hobson, Irish Republican Brotherhood and general secretary of the Irish Volunteers in Dublin. Among “the rebels” the warmth and affection that Tom Clark, one of the signatories to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, engendered in many activists had not previously registered with my own preference for James Connolly.

We know the insurrection was not popularly acclaimed, jeered and booed by the Dublin mob at the time. The rebels were branded as criminals, traitors, fanatics, or, at best, dangerously misguided fools in the first drafts of history   Dublin 1916.  However, the suppression of the rebellion and executions, military occupation with twenty thousand troops in the Dublin city centre alone and nightly curfews that followed meant that the Rising’s legacy would transform Ireland forever. It was the opening shots of the protracted modern Irish revolutionary struggle .

In his more conventional historical narrative, the Rising [Oxford University Press 2010] McGarry points out that within the nationalist tradition, republicanism was moved central stage, and many revolutionary-minded activists could raise “the accusation that they had failed to live up to the ideals of the Proclamation “ so central had those events of Easter 1916 become to the identity and legitimacy of the extensive rebel tradition in Ireland. In their own words are the men and women who played a part in that writing of history.


1979: The Mao Defendants


In January 1979 Avakian was amongst 75 arrested at a demonstration against (old style: Teng Hsiao-Ping) Deng Xiaoping’s visit with Jimmy Carter at the White House and charged with assaulting a police officer. In the party’s narrative this demonstration of 500 people, called by the Revolutionary Communist Party, came at a crucial time when the U.S. ruling class was arrogantly and smugly parading Deng Xiaoping around as living proof that the Chinese revolution, in particular, and revolution in general was dead and a useless pursuit.

Upholding the revolutionary line of Mao Zedong, chanting “Mao Tsetung Did Not Fail – Revolution Will Prevail” the Washington demonstration was classed as an extremely significant and powerful event of worldwide and historic importance; “At a crucial juncture it not only exposed Teng Hsiao-ping as a revisionist-traitor and his enlistment of China on the side of the U.S. war bloc, the demonstration declared that revolution was very much alive and determined to overcome the reversal in China and everything else in its path.

RCP literature presented Avakian as the most dangerous man in America, that he was the best leader the U.S. working class has ever had, that the U.S. government intended to “railroad” Avakian and the other “Mao Tse-tung Defendants because the RCP was seen by the government as “the most dangerous revolutionary organization in this country.”

The RCP and Bob did not always get comradely support from others from the new Communism Movement. The Communist Party, USA (Marxist-Leninist) article, dismissingly headlined, “Bob Avakian, The Jerk is Loose” Bolshevik Revolution, No. 1, December 1979.

While the RCP’s “infantile leftism” was condemned in a polemical piece headlined,

A Reply to the RCP: “Mao Defenders” Sow Ideological Confusion and Provoke Reaction.

“The RCP’s arrogant, self-inflated view of itself as the maker of revolution contradicts reality as well as the Marxist-Leninist understanding of who it is that really makes revolution. Unite! Vol. 5, No. 17, October 1, 1979.

The relentless activism of the organization intensified in the year following the arrests: RCP cadre and supporters attacked the Chinese Embassy in Washington, disrupted a press conference with Deng Xiaoping and marched through the streets of Washington, San Francisco and Seattle in red blazers and berets waving the “little red book” and posters of Mao Tsetung and the Gang of Four. From coast to coast, in the build up to nationwide MayDay disruptions, the RCP’s strived for its name to be become synonymous with that of Mao Tsetung. In its campaign, “A Fitting Welcome for Teng”, its main slogan was “Uphold Mao and the Gang of Four”. Those arrested in the course of these demonstrations are known as the “Mao Defendants.”

Revolutionary Worker No.88 January 16th 1981

Major events

“We do not want to be convicted! That would be a crippling blow against our Party and against building a revolutionary movement in this country.”

The defense brought out the legal question of prosecutorial vindictiveness—a term referring to any action of a prosecutor in response to the assertion of a legal right by a defendant which can appear to be a reprisal against the defendant for asserting that right. The prosecution had originally indicted the Mao Defendants in two separate groups of nine and eight, with one group charged with eleven felonies and another with fifteen (this itself was an escalation from the original charges of one misdemeanor and one felony).

When the defendants asked for a joint trial and won—a move that clearly signaled the intent of the Party and the defendants to treat this as the political trial it was and to take every opportunity to expose the politics behind it—the prosecution responded by upping the charges against all 17 to 25 felonies, one misdemeanor and a possible 241 years of jail time.

The RCP newspaper, the Revolutionary Worker covered the speech by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA at the Free Bob Avakian and the Mao Tsetung Defendants rally held in Washington, D.C., on November 18. 1979. It was also published as a separate pamphlet, Bob Avakian Speaks On The Mao Tsetung Defendants Railroad And The Historic Battle Ahead. Bob said,

They saw a disciplined, militant, powerful march of 500 people going down the street in unison chanting and delivering a clear political message, and they saw twice that number of pigs surrounding the march. And all of them to a man and woman’ said, “Goddamm, something motherfucking heavy must be going on here. I’d better check it out!” [Revolutionary Worker No.57 May 30th 1980]

Only a few days before the rally the case against the <Mao Tsetung Defendants> was dismissed in a lower court and immediately appealed to a higher one. This was a real victory- the Government had been forced to back off.  poster

The party-initiated, Committee to Free the Mao Tsetung Defendants described the trumped up charges totalling up to a possible 241 years of jail time, and the government using legal means (with pending hearings in federal appeals court) against the Chairman and the 16 other Mao Defendants as part of a continuing plot and manoeuvre as the ruling class decides its next move.

Shortly after the dismissal, the prosecution appealed. And while the brief sat in the higher court, the ruling class went about the business of laying the basis to either get the Chairman in some other way or to bring back this particular attack on a more favorable basis for them. This began shortly later with a Secret Service investigation of Comrade AvaWan based on an L.A. Times article with a so-called quote proven—even later admitted—to have been false, concerning a. threat against Carter, continued through the 800 arrests of Party members and supporters in the course of building for revolutionary May Day 1980 and the murder of Damian Garcia just a week before it; and recently intensified both with a concentrated media campaign to brand the RCP as terrorists and with the arrest of 2 revolutionaries in Atlanta on the charge of advocating the overthrow of the government—carrying a 20-year jail term—with the main piece of evidence a poster publicizing the Revolutionary Worker with a quote from Comrade Avakian on it.

Revolutionary Worker No.77 October 24 1980

Damián García, who was closely associated with the RCP and who had raised a red flag on top of the Alamo a few weeks earlier as part of building for RCP-sponsored demonstrations on May Day 1980, was murdered in Los Angeles. Avakian told the Washington rally of the attacks that the party had withstood,

And even since the Greensboro incident, these attacks have continued to intensify, with firebombs being thrown into our offices, with bullets being shot into our offices, with direct threats being made to attack and destroy our Party headquarters in various parts of the country. And direct attacks have, for example, been made on one of the other Mao Tsetung Defendants not far from Greensboro in Durham, North Carolina.

Bob Avakian Speaks On The Mao Tsetung Defendants Railroad And The Historic Battle Ahead 1981

According to Avakian’s memoirs, within this same period there were growing reports of death threats against him from various quarters.

We know that they’re still carrying out COINTELPRO stuff”

The party was coming under intense scrutiny including a Secret Service “Investigation” of Bob Avakian.

Five hundred thirty-four pages of Secret Service documents concerning Bob Avakian and the RCP which were recently released through the Freedom of Information Act, makes clearer the top level government conspiracy to crush this revolutionary Party and wipe out its leadership.

Revolutionary Worker No. 46 March 21,1980

The majority of the materials released deal with the RCP and its activities in only the last two years, in particular since the January 29th demonstration in Washington, D.C. against Deng Xiaoping. This was said to be

merely the obvious tip of a giant, submerged iceberg of political surveillance, harassment and repression being carried out against the Revolutionary Communist Party, with special focus on its Chairman, Bob Avakian, in a coordinated nationwide massive effort by the U.S. Secret Service.

What did the material reveal? In part: clear indications of both informants and actual government agents infiltrating RCP activity and prosecution being actively considered against the RCP and its members on the charge of advocating the violent overthrow of the government. While fighting these charges, Avakian went on a national speaking tour in 1979 and while in Los Angeles, gave an interview to an L.A. Times reporter. In her article, the reporter attributed statements to Avakian that were distortions, which the Secret Service then used as a pretext for an investigation, the Secret Service’s ongoing attempt to frame Bob Avakian on the charge that he allegedly “threatened the life of the president.” After being threatened with a lawsuit, the L.A. Times printed a partial retraction. The Secret Service investigation was challenged in court, and nothing ever came of this investigation

campaign ad

“And I want to emphasize-politically-we’re going to be creating political turmoil and creating public opinion around this whole case and all the issues. Because this touches on all the fundamental issues of society and the world. It touches on the developments towards world war. It touches on the nature of the dictatorship in this country. It touches on the question of revolution. Many of the fundamental questions, political questions, of society and world affairs are going to be brought out in this trial.”

BA Interview with the Washington Post given in October 1979.

However, at the time of state attention and repression, after receiving an arrest warrant, Avakian “jumped bail” and fled to France. For years the only image was a picture of a bearded Avakian, wearing a flat cap, gazing solemnly at the camera, describing : “[t]he author in exile, in front of the Wall of Communards in Paris, 1981.”

And so he remains in exile, a man persecuted in his own land.untitled

Except he wasn’t. All charges against Bob Avakian were dropped in 1982, as he admits in his book, From Ike to Mao and Beyond. My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, a memoir by Bob Avakian [2006].

In 1982, after a three-year court battle, 17 members, the “Mao Tse Tung defendants”, were acquitted of felony charges for allegedly violent activity at a demonstration in Washington, D.C.

But the chairman was still on the run, even if nobody is chasing him in self-imposed exile in France for nearly 40 years until his return to the US where “Chairman Bob” is revered by his small party in terms suggestive that he is the architect of a New World. They have established the Bob Avakian Institute to promote his words and analysis. The hyperbolic presentation of Avakian [e,g, http://revcom.us/a/423/six-resolutions-of-the-Central-Committee-of-the-RCP-USA-en.html ] maintains that there is an ongoing and ever present danger to the person of Chairman Bob and the organization he leads. The propaganda campaigns to ‘defend BA’ – as Avakian is affectionately referred too – has included a relentless poster and publicity campaign and media stunts such as back in 2007 when a group of people including well known personalities like Chuck D, Cindy Sheehan, Cornel West and others 710YHPsNKOL__UX250_had signed an ad in the New York Review of Books urging everyone to “engage” with the thoughts of Bob Avakian, and calling for the government not to suppress his freedom of speech across a full page of The New York Review of Books: an advertisement featuring the boldface words, “Dangerous times demand courageous voices. Bob Avakian is such a voice.”

All this activism contrasts with where the RCP came from: during the New Communist Movement in the US they were the most significant movement outside of the Black Panthers when in the 1970s the RU/RCP-USA had a significant presence that was embedded in the working class throughout all of the US. The government considered them a threat from their foundation; the FBI eventually decided that they were the number one threat, worse than the Weather Underground: the declassified documents that illustrate how the FBI infiltrated and helped wreck the RCP-USA were explored in the book Heavy Radicals. Of course it is also worth pointing out that the RCP-USA’s degeneration into the cult of Avakian that it is today was not just the responsibility of counter-insurgency but, as Heavy Radicals makes this point, also of unhealthy internal practices. Avakian was one of four leaders of the original RU/RCP-USA and it is not until the final split, around the post-Mao leadership in China, that he ended up being the sole authority. It degenerated into a political sect that, based on the memory of its once importance, still imagines it represents communism itself. And because of its American exceptionalism imagines it is imposing Bob’s ideas (eg, the “new synthesis“) upon the entire international communist movement.