Alan MacSimoin remembered by Des Derwin


In recent years I saw less of Alan than in previous years. Yet I regularly bumped into him and it was always an enthusiastic and humourous short reunion.  That’s because like many here Alan was involved in every campaign of the day But Alan seemed to be involved in  all the minor as well as the major campaigns. And going right back, and without a gap or a letup over five decades. And he remembered it all. And in detail!

[This is the speech Des Derwin delivered at Alan MacSimoin's wake]

The quantum and variety of his activism came not just from the unrelenting succession of his involvement and the changing focus of the hour, workplace to union to campaign to community, but from his breadth of interests and his enjoyment of various ways of reaching out to people where they were at.

So he was a school student militant, an organiser of the unemployed, a staunch trade unionist, a shop steward, a rank and file democrat, a socialist, an anarchist, a campaign and community activist, a writer, a historian, a left media editor and innovator. Some of the initiatives and groupings Alan was prominent in you may not even have heard of at this remove. Such as the Peoples March for Decent Jobs, the Dublin Umemployed Action Group, the Anarchist Workers Alliance, SIPTU Fightback.

I will dwell on only those in which I worked closely with Alan. These were in the trade union movement and the ITGWU and SIPTU in particular. Alan was involved in almost all the long series of campaigns against each centralised wage deal. My closest collaboration with him was probably on SIPTU Fightback, a regular oppositional newsletter produced in eleven editions around the last three years of the last century. Three of us - and only three - published SIPTU Fightback, and the third was Mary Muldowney. Three friends met regularly, mostly in the Batchelor Inn, to commisssion and edit a publication that represented some -  however pathetically infinitesimal - serious and concrete alternative in the largest trade union. Its demise was unfortunate and premature, but through it, and their common union work in Trinity I think, one of the biggest surprises of my life occurred. My two friends so unexpectedly but so sucessfully became united.

I want to refer to one aspect, or two related aspects, of Alan MacSimion because it may not get the proper emphasis in the coming sad yet celebratory days : Alan was a revolutionary and an anarchist. In both cases he gives the lie to any mainstream media misuse of those terms. Alan, like the times he has lived in, was far from armed insurrection. He was far from republican armed struggle too, though you will find anti-repression campaigns among the myriad he was active in. He advocated and worked for, and from the point-of-view of, a revolution in the social order, an upending of capitalism and the ruling class, of exploitation, oppression and inequality, and their replacement by the rule of working people.

In his day, our day, that meant small political organisiations and publications and not-so-small contributions to historical movements. It meant support for and encouragement of every struggle from below and unbending insistence on grassroots and rank-and-file organisation, control and freedom-to-act and act militantly. He never wavered from that, right until the end. He did in his time what revolutionary could do, mostly routine, unsung, small scale work. He did it with extraordinary relentlessness, constancy and consistency. The bigger picture was painted too,  in the intellectual contribution of the organisaton he helped to establish, the Workers Solidarity Movement, and  in his  own writings largely.  practical and for the specific occasion, which will hopefully be a lasting testimony and education.

Anarchism is a serious and respectable body of politics. Democratic in its action and aims. And none more serious than Alan's Platformist anarchism with its orientation to the organised working class. It was always my conviction, shared by no one else as far as I remember, when in the Socialist Workers Movement in the 1970s, that Alan's Anarchist Workers Association, and not any of the other Trotskyist groups, was the closest politically to us.

I want to end with two highlights of Alan in my memory, one big event and one passing quip. Not many people know this, but when the X case burst onto Dublin City centre in 1992 in a spontaeneous wave of anger the hastily organised rally at the GPO was chaired from the top of a van by Alan MacSimoin. I remember, for some reason, the impatient reaction of the crowd when Alan - doing his revolutionary socialist duty - introduced first of all a speaker from the current wornen's strike in the city.

And finally my funny story from so many about and from Alan, mostly a lot funnier mind you. During some anniversary of 1916 a few people were talking about related  things and the new histories and personal accounts of the Rising. Alan said, "As I was going into the GPO on Easter Monday to buy a stamp!

Be proud, Mary, and Alan's family and friends. Rest in power, Alan. We lose your democracy, your realism, your human touch to politics, your great knowledge, your wit and humour. Yet even for materialists you live on, in, and in what you have given to, the movement.

Des Derwin.

See also the WSM piece

Alan passes through an honour guard from SIPTU, the union he was an activist in for many years