In the fifth of a multi part series Joe C narrates his experience of arrest and time served in Portlaoise Prison where he evolved into an anarchist.
How I passed the time
When I first arrived in Portloaise, for the first few weeks I spent my time between watching telly, going to the gym, reading, and helping my comrades in construction of bodhrans. Each prisoner on the landing played their part in making bodhrans. Like making anything, there are steps to be taken, a process to be followed. Each prisoner had their job in the bodhran construction process. When the bodhrans were finished, each prisoner had to paint pictures on 2 bodhrans each. These pictures would be of republican martyrs, the odd time I would paint Che Geuvara.
About 3 weeks into my incarceration, a comrade from the outside sent me in a book about Fidel Castro when he was in jail. l read in the book that when Fidel was in jail he dedicated a lot of his time to study. He studied revolutionary writings and philosophies to help him understand the struggle more and learn about how to win.
I decided I was also going to do this with my time: study writings, books on revolutionary philosophy and history of revolutions and struggles. What I read mostly for the next four years and seven months was books on Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Trotskyism. Anything to do with Marxism I tried to get my hands on to read. I read many biographies on people such as Ho Chi Minh, General Giap, Mao, Che, Fidel Castro, Lenin, Red Army Faction, Communist Party of India (Maoist); I also read a bit into anarchism and its history, I read articles and books from Bakunin, Wayne Price, Alfredo Bonanno, Proudon, Emma Goldman, and Alexander Berkman; and I also read about the different Irish revolutionaries and many other revolutionaries around the world. I read books about the different revolutions, struggles and wars that happened around the globe. I read many books on the USSR and how the Communist Party attempted to build a version of socialism. I read different books from different writers that wrote different versions of the history of the USSR. Each book had a different reason for why the USSR’s experiment to create socialism failed. The authors of the books took different sides in different disputes that happened in the USSR and other so called socialist countries. Each side blaming the failures on the other (all these arguments can be very confusing, especially since a lot of the time the authors weren't exactly honest about events).
About 12 months into my sentence I read a book by a Red Army Faction member called Margrit Schiller, it is called, Remembering the Armed Struggle. As a result of her involvement with the urban guerillas she spent a few years in jail in maximum security. She spent most of the time in solitary confinement as did all RAF prisoners. In one part in the book she described how she created an educational routine for herself each day. She broke each day into sections, reading and studying different subjects.
I copied this and did the same. I would read revolutionary philosophies and theories in the mornings, in the afternoons I would read histories of struggles and revolutions, and in the evenings I would read a biography. By sticking to this routine I learned a good bit in a short amount of time.
I tried to compare the Anarchist and Marxist ideas on revolution, class, the state, capitalism, authoritarianism, etc, with the Irish national liberation struggle and movements. I totally got what the anarchists were saying about authoritarianism in movements. I could see it in the republican groups. Living in Portlaoise prison it was a lot easier to see because in Portlaoise a different group occupied each landing. This gave me a bit of an idea of what any of the republican groups that were there might be like in power, if any of them actually ever got into power.
So to sum up, how I spent my time for the 4 years and 8 months was studying a lot of revolutionary ideology, sociology and history, and trying to compare with modern day circumstances. In all that I have read a lot about Marxism and the different splits and arguments there are. Books could be written about it all examining it, and there are many, many books on it all. But I think a lot of it just boils down to power and who holds it. Can a party or movement, no matter how revolutionary or well intentioned, be trusted to hold power and use the power to benefit everyone?
The prison block is a minute society in itself, with its own class system - a reflection of authoritarian class society. All republican groups, in some form or another, will say unity is needed within republicanism in order to defeat imperialist occupation in the north of Ireland. But reality proves different on the subject of unity. The groups that are around now will probably never join forces or unite. I think this is because of the authoritarian nature that appears to be in modern day republicanism.
Each group wants their own power. Even if one was prepared to join with the other, it's probable that the other would not join forces or unite because they would not be able to put their differences aside or maybe they might see the group as being beneath them, not being as staunch republicans / believers as them.