Archive for the ‘lookleft’ category

More graphic non-fiction: The downtrodden and the risen people

May 15, 2013

The downtrodden and the risen people
LookLeft #15, May 2013

Looking at some recent graphic novels portraying contemporary and historical peoples’ struggles.


Big Jim: Jim Larkin and the 1913 Lockout (O’Brien Press, 2013) is the latest offering in the O’Brien Press graphic novel series depicting Irish history.

Writer Rory McConville and artist Paddy Lynch transport us a century into the past, to a Dublin where the Irish working class is struggling to flex its industrial muscle in the face of attacks by the most powerful bosses in the country.

This is the tale of one of the bitterest years in Dublin’s history, when native Irish capitalists, led by William Martin Murphy, attempted to crush the fledgling Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, led by Jim Larkin.

Larkinism, as this brand of ‘new unionism’ (organisation of unskilled workers), coupled with syndicalism (uniting all workers regardless of profession and extensive use of sympathy strikes) was known, stood at odds with the pliant social partnershipesque nature of the traditional craft unions.

The threat to profits posed by such organisational methods was intolerable, and so on 26th August, following a strike on Dublin’s trams aimed at modestly improving terms and conditions, Dublin’s bosses locked out members of the ITGWU, beginning the largest industrial battle in Irish history.


McConville’s writing is skilful and doesn’t suffer from stilted dialogue or hackneyed exposition, unlike other books in the O’Brien series.

The social conditions of Dublin’s poor are examined, and Larkin is presented as the brilliant organiser, but complex and difficult man that he was, and with Padraig Yeates as historical advisor, no liberties are taken with accuracy.

Lynch’s artwork is very effective, as rough and dark as the era it depicts, and interesting use is made of archival photographs cleverly interspersed throughout.

It is also quite witty in places, and there are cameos from the likes of Captain Jack White, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Delia Larkin and William Partridge.

There are some areas that could have been better explored; for example, although Constance Markievicz and Dora Montefiore get some page time, little is really said about the role women – including women strikers – played during the lockout.

The class antagonisms between revolutionary socialists and bourgeois nationalists, such as Arthur Griffith who described “the consequences of Larkinism [as] workless fathers, mourning mothers, hungry children and broken homes”, could also have been examined.

Overall, Big Jim is an enjoyable and unique read, as well as being a great introduction to the Lockout in its centenary year, and more accessible for those who would rather not begin with Yeates’ epic Lockout.

The Lockout would forge the consciousness of the Irish working class in the following decades, and should still resonate with us today; after all, the fight was ultimately about the right to join a union – a right still not recognised a century later.


Journalism (Jonathan Cape, 2012) is a collection of comic journalist Joe Sacco’s shorter pieces drawn between 1998 and 2011 for outlets like Time and The Guardian.

For over twenty years Sacco has been travelling the world, brilliantly documenting the lives, hopes and fears of the marginalised, suffering and forgotten – covered previously in LookLeft #5.

Grouped into regional chapters, Journalism skips across the globe from African immigrants in Malta to India’s so-called ‘untouchable’ caste.

The section on Palestine deals with illegal Israeli settlers in occupied Hebron, who live amongst – and make life hell for – the indigenous Palestinians.

The presence of 500 right-wing religious zealots, under Israeli military and state protection, has destroyed the local economy and physical attacks on Palestinians are frequent. We are also shown the devastating effects of Israeli home demolition operations in Gaza.


In Chechnya and neighbouring Ingushetia we are shown the heart-breaking situation of refugee families merely trying to survive, caught between the ruthless Russian military and Islamist separatist during the Second Chechnyan War.

In Sacco’s native Malta we discover the hidden world of African immigrants who arrive there after crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of landing in Italy.

Fleeing wars, poverty and famines, in the hope of a better life, they find themselves impoverished and attacked amongst a tiny population of 400,000 which largely hates and fears them.


Finally, Sacco brings us to India. India is a neoliberal success story or so we are told to believe.

Success, however, is something unfamiliar to India’s Dalit caste, the ‘untouchables’, who are double victims of poverty and government corruption.

Relief programs are largely cash cows for local politicians, while villagers literally steal food from rats to survive.

Despite some, self-admittedly, relatively weak material this is a satisfying compendium of Sacco’s unique work.


Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (Nation Books, 2012), a collaboration between Joe Sacco and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, sees the duo dive into the dark heart of a US we rarely hear about.

The victims of US imperialism and transnational capitalism are obvious to those with eyes to see, but what of those who are internal victims of the US capitalist system?

Days takes us on a thoroughly depressing journey through the “sacrifice zones”, urban and rural ghettos whose inhabitants – Native Americans, mining communities, the urban poor, undocumented workers – have been gutted and offered up to the great market god.

We are offered a vista of demoralised and essentially defeated peoples, hollowed out shells of once thriving communities, meagre employment, omnipresent anti-social behaviour and rampant environmental destruction. It seems drug dealing –legal and illegal – is the sole growth industry.


For example, chapter three provides an insight into the lives of once vibrant mining communities in West Virginia, now existing in the shadow of massive explosive mountaintop removal, which provides easier access to coal seams.

Not only has mining employment all but dried up as coal companies opt instead to literally obliterate the majestic Appalachian Mountains, but the by-products of this destruction have caused cancer rates, along with kidney and lung disease to skyrocket.

The coal industry is a political powerhouse with deep pockets, so government does nothing, leaving these communities to rot and die, dependent on welfare and highly addictive painkillers like Oxycontin, aka ‘hillbilly heroin’.

Those who do attempt to protest become victims of politicians, coal companies and even neighbours desperate for the little employment available.

Mostly written by Hedges, at his polemical best, it suffers slightly by the short length of the sections given to Sacco, who’s talents are somewhat wasted.

Regardless, it is a fantastic call to arms to from these two veterans of journalism from below.

As Hedges says in the final chapter, which focuses on the hope offered briefly by the Occupy movement, “If we persist, we can keep this possibility [for revolution] alive. If we do not, it will die”.



Demons, ghosts, warriors and superheroes: Irish comics today

February 22, 2012

Demons, ghosts, warriors and superheroes: Irish comics today
LookLeft #9, December 2011

Growing interest in recent years has seen a burst of activity in the home-grown Irish comic/graphic novel scene; LookLeft reviews some current titles.

The League of Volunteers

The League of Volunteers
Atomic Diner

The League of Volunteers transports readers to an alternative WWII-era Ireland, where vampires roam Dublin’s streets and mythical characters from Irish folklore exist alongside costumed superheroes. Despite Irish neutrality, De Valera has organised patriotic heroes into a secret League to protect Ireland from the Nazi menace and other dangers of a more supernatural nature – namely the goat-headed demon Bocanach, freshly released from its eternal prison by those always foolish Nazi occultists. Centuries of isolation have left Bocanach with only one objective:  the demonic reconquest of Ireland.

The mix of superheroes, mythology and alternate history invites, not unflattering, comparisons with the likes of Alan Moore’s own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hellboy and Sláine. Robert Curley serves up a smörgåsbord of curious characters including the anti-fascist street fighter Glimmerman; ex-Blueshirt Archer; human-demon hybrid Blood Rose; Lúgh Lamhfada of the Tuatha Dé Danann; and even Fionn mac Cumhaill.

The exciting plot is full of historical and folkloric references and in-jokes, and characters appear interesting and rounded (e.g. it’s implied that Glimmerman and Archer fought on opposite sides in the Spanish Civil War). Meanwhile, Barry Keegan’s simple, energetic greyscale illustrations are highly effective, giving the feeling of watching an old war film. Though perhaps not as polished as the above mentioned titles, the first two issues are extremely enjoyable.

Róisín Dubh

Róisín Dubh
Atomic Diner

It’s the dawn of the 20th Century, and Rose Sheridan’s cosy middle class life is irrevocably shattered when her parents are slain by a freshly liberated vampiric sorcerer. Herself injured in the attack, the catatonic Rose is unwillingly bound to obey Donn, Lord of the Underworld. Donn tasks her with re-vanquishing the supernatural leech, who now has a 1,400-year-old blood thirst to quench. Thus is born Róisín Dubh, demon hunter.

Issue #1 is writer Maura McHugh’s retelling of the legend of Abhartach, a power-lusting Derry chieftain whose magical dabblings render him immortal, with a taste for human blood. Hated and feared by his subjects, he was eventually imprisoned by a rival. Stephen Daly’s high contrast monochrome artwork is a perfect accompaniment to the brutal tale, and this deliciously bloody apéritif whets the appetite for the next course.

Jennifer Wilde

Jennifer Wilde
Atomic Diner

Of all three offerings from Atomic Diner, this is certainly the most original. We’re promised a 1920s trans-European romp featuring “death, espionage and revolution”, in which young artist Jennifer Chevailer and the wisecracking ghost of Oscar Wilde attempt to discover the strange secret behind her father’s murder. While extremely enjoyable, issue one is mostly exposition and scene setting, so it’s difficult to tell where the story is going. Nevertheless, its smart, sassy and sophisticated stuff from Maura McHugh; fingers crossed it will fulfil its potential.

The Cattle Raid of Cooley

The Cattle Raid of Cooley

Belfast writer/artist Patrick Brown has been publishing his brilliant adaptation of the epic Irish legend Táin Bó Cúailnge as a free webcomic for three years. Part of the Ulster Cycle Legends, the Táin relates Cú Chulainn’s defence of Ulster against Connacht’s Queen Medb. It is a violent, visceral and darkly comic tale and Brown’s interpretation doesn’t leave much to the imagination; the single-colour artwork, raw and frenetic, is reminiscent of Eddie Campbell’s work on From Hell and the story is well-crafted with an obvious passion for the subject matter. The webcomic stands at 140 pages with more promised, and if you like it you should support the creator by buying the print editions.

The Curse of Cromwell

Cromwell and William’s Irish Wars
Moccu Press

Writer Dermot Poyntz and artist Lee Grace have produced a trilogy of historical graphic novels dealing with the Cromwellian and Williamite wars in Ireland (Curse of Cromwell, War of the Two Kings and Plight of the Wild Geese). Similar to Blood on the Rose (reviewed in LookLeft #5), while historically accurate, they lack a sense of engagement. While enjoyable enough, often they feel like perfunctory military or Leaving Cert-esque histories with images added on.

Brian Boru: Ireland's Warrior King

Brian Boru: Ireland’s Warrior King
O’Brien Press

Much better is Damien Goodfellow’s debut offering, chronicling the life and times of Brian Boru of the Dál gCais who rose from minor Munster chieftain to become High King of Ireland. There are no heroes in this story, just a cast of power-hungry Gaels and Vikings whose alliances and intrigues are constantly shifting. Narrated by the wily Gormfhlaith, wife and ultimate betrayer of Boru, the book traces his life from his rise in Munster to his death at the Battle of Clontarf. The art – jagged, dark and bloody – reflects well the times depicted; unrelentingly harsh and marked by constant warring. While the Brian Boru’s legend is open to historical critique, this is a rollicking good read.

Two reviews of Dr. David Landy’s ‘Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights’

January 25, 2012

Below are two, essentially identical, reviews of Dr. David Landy’s Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights: Diaspora Jewish Opposition to Israel, for LookLeft magazine and SIPTU’s Liberty newspaper.

Identity Crisis? Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights. Diaspora Jewish Opposition to Israel by David Landy (Zed, 2011)
LookLeft #8, October 2011

Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights is a ground-breaking investigation into the relatively recent phenomenon of organised international Jewish criticism of the Israeli state. From the outset Landy, an Irish-Jewish academic in Trinity, opposes the much touted rightwing view that those involved in this field are either “self-hating Jews” or suffering from “identity crises”. He instead asserts that such groups, in their various different forms, exist because those involved are universalist in outlook and feel that, as Jews, they can play a role in ending Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.

While not uncritical of these groups, Landy points out that they have played a very important role in making both Jewish and non-Jewish criticism of Israel more “acceptable” in the mainstream than previously. This is especially true for Western Europe, where the shadow of the Nazi holocaust still looms large – no longer do people have the same fear of being painted as “self-haters” or “anti-Semitic” by Israel’s supporters. However, their positive role in wider society aside, outside of providing a relatively safe avenue for Israel-critical Jews to “come out”, these groups have thus far failed to make a serious impact within the Jewish diaspora. Landy also outlines some of the problems with the worldviews of some of these groups, a major one being that Palestinians can be essentially eliminated from their discourse, treating what is a national liberation issue instead as a “Jewish issue” that will only be solved by Jews.

In conclusion, Landy points out that although his is the first such study of this emerging movement, it is not the “definitive” account. These groups have grown and developed over the past decade – some even moving into the “boycott and solidarity” camp – and will continue to evolve in the future. Despite the sometimes slightly alienating academic jargon, for anyone interested in the Palestinian solidarity movement and/or the long history of progressive and critical Jewish thought, this book is highly recommended.


Palestine’s Jewish Lobby: Book about Jewish opposition to Israel launched in Dublin
Liberty, November 2011

Prof. David Landy

The long-standing concern for Palestine in Ireland was evident in the capacity crowd which attended the launch of Professor David Landy’s Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights: Diaspora Opposition to Israel (Zed, 2011) in Dublin’s New Theatre on the 1st November.

The book is a groundbreaking examination of the relatively recent phenomenon of organised international Jewish criticism of Israel. Landy, an Irish-Jewish lecturer in Trinity College, opposes the right-wing view that those involved in this field are either “self-hating Jews” or suffering from “identity crises”. His view is that such groups exist because those involved are universalist in outlook and feel that, as Jews, they can play a role in ending Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.

While not uncritical of these groups, Landy points out that they have played an extremely important role in making both Jewish and non-Jewish criticism of Israel more “acceptable” in mainstream discourse – no longer do Israel’s critics harbour the same fear of being painted as “self-haters” or “anti-Semitic” by that state’s supporters. However, notwithstanding this positive role in wider society, outside of providing a relatively safe avenue for Israel-critical Jews to “come out”, these groups have so far failed to make a serious impact within the Jewish diaspora itself.

The book outlines the problems often associated with the world views of some of these groups. Often Palestinians can be essentially eliminated from their discourse, treating what is a national liberation issue instead as a “Jewish issue”. As Trinity Professor Ronit Lentin, herself an Israeli, said at the launch; “The book does not shirk from the difficult question as to whether movement members’
activism is about constructing a ‘better’ Jewish identity or about genuine solidarity.”

Wrapping up the event Professors Landy and Lentin said that although this is the first such study of this emerging movement it could not be considered “definitive” as these groups have developed significantly over the past decade, and that “the thing about social movements is they are always moving”.

A recording of the launch – which was a collaboration between Zed Books, the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Trinity College Department of Sociology and Poster Fish Promotionscan be heard online here (Note: I also spoke at the launch)

Capitalism’s crisis and a progressive exit strategy

January 25, 2012

Review of Debtocracy by Katerina Kitidi & Aris Hatzistefanou (2011)
LookLeft #8, October 2011

Debtocracy is an independent, low budget film that has taken Greece by storm. Released on the internet earlier this year, it has already been seen by over one million Greeks and tens of thousands elsewhere. Using newsreel and archive footage, intercut with interviews with economists and philosophers like Samir Amin and Alain Badiou, Debtocracy presents an unashamedly left-wing view of the economic crisis that has engulfed capitalism.

While its primary focus is Greece, it also touches on the cases of Argentina in 2001, Ecuador in 2005 and the other PIIGS today. It points the finger of blame for the Greek crisis at capitalist politicians, inept economic management, EU restrictions, the loss of financial sovereignty following the adoption of the Euro, and the crippling terms of the European Central Bank and IMF bailouts. Sound familiar?

Using the Ecuadorian example, Debtocracy suggests a way out of the crisis that should also interest us in Ireland. It advocates repudiating “odious debt”, i.e. money owed for projects and investments that benefit only an elite few and not the people (in Ireland’s case, the money tossed down the banking black hole) and investment in public projects and national industry of money generated by natural resources (we have €750 billion worth of offshore oil and gas). Watch this film online at

National campaign to defeat new household tax launched

January 25, 2012

National campaign to defeat new household tax launched
LookLeft #8, October 2011

Using the cover of the EU/IMF austerity deal, the government announced the imposition of an annual tax of €100 on households. In September, a national meeting of the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes was held, at which over 200 people from 16 different counties initiated a movement that will fight this new tax through non-payment. This campaign includes virtually all left-wing organisations, with the exception of Sinn Fein.

Campaign steering committee member Gregor Kerr says, “it is clear this is just the thin end of the wedge. John Fitzgerald of the ESRI said the approximate annual take should actually be about €1,350 per household. If the government gets away with this initial €100, we’re looking at it rising to €1,300 per household within two years. It’s just another way of extracting more tax from ordinary people, which will go straight into the banking bailout black hole. On top of this, there is Irish capitalism’s privatisation agenda. Therefore, the campaign is organising for people to unite against this tax, to stand up and say ‘No! We won’t pay’”.

The campaign seeks to build a national movement that will “get the idea of non-payment out into communities quickly, even before the bills arrive, so there’s already a feeling that nobody’s paying, neither will we”.  The aim until January is “hosting public meetings and building local non-payment campaigns, with the goal of having open and democratic campaigns in every community. It’s got to be much bigger than the existing Left. If we’re to defeat the government we need to turn people, who may never have done anything political before, into organisers in their own areas”.

In conclusion, Kerr says “in bringing forward local organisers and empowering communities, we’ll not only defeat the tax, the campaign will politicise people and encourage thinking about the type of society we live in and ways change can be brought about.”

To get involved in establishing a non-payment campaign in your community, visit

Irish human rights defenders kidnapped in act of Israeli piracy

December 23, 2011

Irish Ship To Gaza crew and passengers in Dublin Airport, on their return from illegal Israeli captivity

Irish human rights defenders kidnapped in act of Israeli piracy
LookLeft #9, December 2011

On the morning of Friday 4th November, Israeli military forces violently intercepted two boats, Irish and Canadian, which were attempting the break the illegal Israeli siege on 1.6 million people in Gaza. The ships, Saoirse and Tahrir, carrying $30,000 worth of medical supplies were in international waters around 80km from their destination when the assault took place.

Fintan Lane, who was on board the Saoirse, described the “violent and dangerous” takeover saying, “it began with Israeli forces hosing down the boats with water cannon and pointing guns at us. I was hosed down the stairs of the boat. The bridge nearly caught fire and the boats were corralled to such an extent that the Irish and Canadian boats collided and nearly sank”.

The passengers were then taken against their will to Israel, removed from the boats in “in a violent manner” and detained in prison for a week. All their property was taken, and none of the electronic equipment – including an EU Parliament laptop belonging to MEP Paul Murphy – has been returned.

Murphy described the conditions in prison as “very poor”, with “conscious sleep deprivation” and “being locked up 21 hours a day”. For Murphy, this was “a glimpse of the conditions faced by many Palestinians, particularly those in the open air prison camp of Gaza”. “We were fortunate to have running water, unlike 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza”, he said.

This sentiment was echoed by former Leinster and Ireland rugby star Trevor Hogan, who felt that, “what we went through is only a fraction of what Palestinians have to go through. I hope Israel would use its power to end this injustice, but until that happens I think people will continue to call for this siege to end and should do whatever they can to lift it”.

Eventually, after a week, all 14 Irish citizens and the 13 internationals on board the Tahrir were deported by the Israeli authorities from a country they had no intention of entering.

This was the first in a series of planned Freedom Waves to Gaza, aimed at highlighting the terrible conditions in Gaza as a result of Israel’s five-year-old siege, and came after a call from 46 civil society organisations in Palestine. Due to fears of physical and/or diplomatic sabotage, as happened the Freedom Flotilla in June, the date of the next Freedom Wave is a closely guarded secret, though it will sail in the new year.

New issues of LookLeft and Rabble out now

December 22, 2011

Just a heads up that the new issues of LookLeft (#9) and Rabble (#2) are out now.

I’ve a couple of articles in the LookLeft, dealing with the Israeli hijacking of the #Freedomwaves boats in November, and a review feature looking at recent Irish comics and graphic novels.

LookLeft costs €2 and is available from these places. Rabble is free and you can pick it up in lots of places around Dublin, Cork and Galway.