The Irish Revolution, early Australian communists and Anglophone radical peripheries: Dublin, Glasgow, Sydney, 1920–23

Spring 2020

‘Communism’ and ‘Ireland’ remain, as a legacy of Cold War binarisms, two subjects that rarely converge in Australian historiography. This article explores the place of ‘Ireland’ in the political imagination of the nascent Australian Communist movement between its fractured formation in 1920 and the end of the Irish Civil War in 1923. In challenging nation-centric and essentialist treatments of ‘the Irish’ in Australian political history, it foregrounds a diffuse politicisation around ‘Ireland’ itself that transcended identitarian ontologies. This article argues that, examined within the ambivalent translation of early interwar radical cosmopolitanisms in a white settler labour movement, ‘Ireland’ was a directly ‘international’, if racialised, coordinate in the imaginative geography of early Australian communism. Although the ‘Irish Question’ circulated within the existing networks of the Comintern, this contest was also produced within other ‘routes’ on the Anglophone peripheries of the Communist world. The mobile lives of Peter Larkin, Esmonde Higgins and Harry Arthur Campbell, and the momentary alliance of the Communist Party of Australia with the Sydney Irish National Association during the 1923 ‘Irish envoys’ tour, allow for these connections to be reframed in non-primordialist terms within border-crossings and transnational encounter. An investigation of the ‘Irish Question’ within transgressions of cultural boundaries, instead of ‘shared’ national histories, can facilitate its extrication from Cold War narratives of ossified ‘identity’.

Twentieth Century Communism 18 cover