Republican News · Thursday 07 December 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Jack Bennett

Jack Bennett, who died last week, was one of the most incisive political thinkers and commentators of his generation. He played a prominent role in the creation of the civil rights movement of the `60s and will be remembered by many for his political column in the old Sunday Press, which he wrote under the name of Claude Gordon.

He came from an unlikely background. He was born in 1927 into a Protestant family. His father was a senior RUC officer, although one with unusually progressive views.

Jack joined the Communist Party when he was 16, during the Second World War and devoured all the classical political literature he could. The left-wing political concerns of the times were taken up with the international fight against fascism and the struggle for socialism. The domestic national question did not get much of a look-in for this and other reasons.

However, Jack followed the classical socialist position and argued that all Irish socialists should demand an end to partition and British rule. This was not a very popular issue on the Irish left at the time and eventually led to disagreements later on.

His nationalist position was not purely intellectual. He had been very affected by the execution of Tom Williams in 1942. Although Jack was never directly involved in the republican movement, he always had an affinity with it.

His republicanism was further bolstered by his marriage to his beloved Anna (née Quinn) who came from a staunch socialist and republican family from Falls Road.

After the war he worked in England and met and came under the influence of the late Desmond Greaves of the Connolly Associaton, and helped to produce their paper, The Irish Democrat.

He returned to Belfast and worked for about 20 years on the Belfast Telegraph (leaving it in the mid `70s to work on the Evening Press in Dublin, where he eventually became assistant editor.)

In 1963, he helped organise the bicentary celebration of Wolfe Tone's birth, which led to the creation of the Wolfe Tone Society. This, in turn, helped pave the way for the civil rights movement. Jack was closely involved in the creation of NICRA in 1967.

Perhaps his greatest public influence was through his ``Claude Gordon'' column in the Sunday Press. This amounted to a sustained intellectual assault on the Unionist government at Stormont and the squalid sectarian regime over which it presided.

His most devastating attacks were reserved for those liberal and left-wing circles - particuarly in the South - who sought to explain Unionism in terms of ``cultural differences''. Jack asserted - in his typical blunt manner - that one of the things which made Unionism so ``different'' was its complete lack of culture.

Like many Irish nationalists, he had a great love of English literature. He was scornful of the ``Britishness'' of the Unionists, since their attachment was only the vulgar trappings of Imperial power.

The social protest and anti-establishment content of Byron, Shelly, and Dickens would be anathema to Unionism, with its devotion to the crown and aristocracy. He argued that the Unionists' affinity was not with the ordinary British people but with their class enemies.

He continuedthis intellectual destruction of Unionism and its apogees in the introduction to the book ``Freedom the Wolfe Tone Way'', published in the early `70s. This polemic is still regarded today as a minor classic.

He had friends in both camps after the republican split of 1970, but because of his grounding in classical Marxism, he could se that the leftist position adopted by the ``officials'' was theoretically unsound.

He could see that behind the socialist rhetoric there was a retreat from the national question, which would inexorably lead to a retreat from socialism.

Although he did not agree with everything the Republican Movement did, he never resorted to the sort of opportunistic denunciations which were the stock and trade of the fasionable left at the time. He always believed that the Movement would sooner or later find its political feet.

He saw the peace process as a powerful political strategy which would scatter the enemies of republicanism and bring in a new political era in which Unionism would have nowhere to go but into the pages of history.

He had many interests. He was a Greek scholar and an Irish speaker. He was an accomplished carpenter and a maker of soda-bread, yoghurt and beer - he had a miniature brewery in the back room of his house.

His greatest source of happiness was his relationship with his wife Anna, and her death last year dealt him a devastating blow from which he never really recovered.

His is survived by his daughter and son, Helen and Owen.

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