In the working class movement of the left few men are better known or more respected than our old comrade Mat Kavanagh, whose seventieth birth fell on March 19th. So fresh is his outlook, however, and so energetic and enthusiastic his activity in the Anarchist movement, that many comrades will be surprised to learn of his age. Mat Kavanagh himself, has often protested when, at meetings, the chairman has spoken of his 50 years in the Anarchist movement. He declares that it makes him feel old.
A Dublin Irishman, our comrade came to England before the turn of the century. It was Kropotkin’s “Appeal to the Young” which brought him into the movement in which his life and work have been so generously spent. Since that time he has met and worked with all the great exponents of Anarchism from all European countries and America: Louise Michel – “The Red Virgin of the Paris Commune” – Kropotkin, Jean Grave, Tcherkesov, Emma Goldman, Merlino, and many other. But despite his intimate contact with all the brilliant international figures, he has always worked to see justice done to the less well-known men and women, the nameless workers without whom a movement cannot exist, and upon whom the main work of the Anarchist movement rests.
Recently he contributed a series on “Little Known Pioneers of Anarchism in England” to Freedom, and thereby placed the labours of some of these men on record. But if there is one Anarchist militant more than any other for whom Mat Kavanagh expresses admiration it is Errico Malatesta, with whom he worked for many years, and to whom he owes much of his revolutionary wisdom.
Mat Kavanagh’s work has not been confined to London. Before the last war, he worked in Liverpool and was largely responsible for the building up of a strong Anarchist movement there, and in Manchester as well. During the great general strike in Dublin in 1912, he was one of the Liverpool comrades who helped to organize the bread supplies which the Cooperative movement sent to the Irish strikers. Old militants in Glasgow remember his work when he lived there also.
In 1916, he was already in Dublin and was immediately in the midst of the Irish struggle for freedom. Twenty years later he took up the struggle of the Spanish workers in the Social Revolution and the fight against Franco (all this did not prevent the British Government from imprisoning him for a few days in 1940 under Defence Regulation 18b.)! At that time he was living at Southend where he held frequent and regular meetings and distributed Spain and the World and Freedom Press literature. The photograph above shows him speaking in Hyde Park during the Spanish war.
A determined anti-militarist, he has opposed the Boer war, the war of 1914-18, and the most recent of the “wars for freedom”. Many a time he has gone to prison for his views, and those who have been his comrades in gaol tell of how he carried on the struggle inside as well.
Mat Kavanagh claims to have brought more comrades into the movement than any other man – and this is true not only because he has himself been in the movement so long, but because he is an untiring and persuasive propagandist for Anarchism. His knowledge, experience and – not least – his geniality and kindliness makes a discussion with him not only immensely profitable but also immensely pleasurable. The great number of friends he has among socialists who by no means agree with Anarchism testifies to his qualities in this direction. Completely outspoken, he yet has no enemies – a blessing found all too rarely on the left.
He has been one of the most vigorous and valued supporters of Freedom, and the Freedom Group extend their warmest greetings to him and congratulations on his birthday.
Image caption: Mat Kavanagh speaking in Hyde Park, May Day, 1937.