As you’d likely gather from dipping into this website, I’m not the kind of person to throw anything out. Over the years I’ve built up a fairly decent collection of magazines and journals from Irish left-wing parties and movements, some of whom existed for decades and others who split before the first Ard Fhéis, so to speak. One thing we’re fascinated by here on the site is visual propaganda in the form of posters, and only yesterday a post looking at some of Jim Fitzpatrick’s work appeared on the site.
I was interested today to see the hullabaloo around this image of Chairman Mao and the men and women of Easter Week. The Irish Times, The Journal and many others have run the piece, focusing on the unusual content of the poster and asking about the origins of the poster. At first, it seemed that there was some sort of belief this poster could have originated in Communist China.
The Irish Times report for example notes:
A CHINESE propaganda poster that celebrates both the 1916 Easter Rising and Chairman Mao’s Communist Party has turned up for sale in London this week.
The Bloomsbury Auctions sale of artefacts from 20th century China includes a vivid red poster featuring a portrait of Mao above a group of armed Irish rebels, with the Tricolour flying alongside the flag of China.
The poster refers to the “54th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising” and the first anniversary of the “Historic Ninth National Congress of the Communist Party of China”.
Although no date is mentioned, both anniversaries occurred in 1970. It has not yet been possible to establish who produced the poster or where it was used.
The poster is being valued at around £1,000, which is the part of the story I find most interesting. It seems glaringly obvious to me that the poster is most likely the work of the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninst), a Maoist political organisation which emerged from the Internationalists who were based around students at Trinity College Dublin in the late 1960s. Last year we posted an interesting 1969 article on the student left in Ireland which looked at the Internationalists. In that article, written by Carol Coulter, she claimed that:
The ideology of the Internationalists developed along the lines laid down by their origin. They adopted Maoism, particularly the idealistic aspects of it, those that promoted the idea that if people’s thoughts were corrected, all would be well. From this came their line of ‘cultural oppression’, which was based on an analysis of society which said that “the main aspect of the contradiction between the working class and the bourgeoisie was cultural.
The Internationalists came to public attention in 1968 for their opposition to the visit of the Belgian King Baudouin to Trinity College Dublin. Students and Gardaí clashed on that occasion, and the incident made national headlines. The CPI-ML emerged from the Internationalists. Conor McCabe of Dublin Opinion has done excellent work on the Internationalists and the CPI-ML, and his research can be read here.
McCabe includes an image of this fantastic advertisement for their bookshop, Progressive Books, which saved me rooting out a copy of Red Patriot upstairs.
The poster having its origins with a small Irish Communist grouping may not be quite as sexy a story as a Chinese propaganda team finding influence in Irish nationalist history, but it certainly seems the much more credible theory and story. Is it worth £1,000? I’d seriously doubt it. If it is, there’s a whole load of lefties across the city who’ll be cashing in on the boxes in the attic. Jokes about Michael Collins bringing the man to Ireland are being made already of course.