Z Magazine, No. 2
Date:March 1989
Publication:Z Magazine
Issue:Number 2
Contributors:Claire O'Connor, Clare Farrell, Patricia Hegarty, Clare Green, Sue Richardson, Emmet Stagg, Molly O'Duffy, Tim Jones, Johnny Gogan, Joan Burton, Brian Trench, Dave Neligan, Mary Carolan, Peter McDermott, John Cane, Harry Browne
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Subjects: Contraception Labour Party Nicaragua European Parliament Election, 1989 Trevor Sargent Anne Speed Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act, 1989

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

14th January 2008

Here is a bit of a curiosity. Z Magazine - no, not that one, the other one produced in Ireland in 1989. Funded by the MSF union in part, it sought to present a left of centre perspective and was supported by civil society: womens groups, community groups, arts organisations and unions. It lasted, if my memory serves correct, something like three or four issues.

[incidentally, it’s been a tough one to scan due to the very faded pages. If the quality is too low tell me… and the size is a bit over 7mbs. Are any of you struggling along with dial-up connections? Again, tell me and I’ll see is there any way around this]

A quick perusal of the Editorial Board is revealing. Des Derwin, Patricia Hegarty, Brian Trench… Alastair Rutherdale, well known to some of us from USI, makes an appearance and that indicates a sort of softish nationalist/Republican aspect to the magazine. So does an implausibly youthful Trevor Sargent, and a rather more plausibly aged Richard Crotty.

I’m being a bit unkind when I mention the CPGB’s New Times project, but there is something of this in Z Magazine. So the concentration is more markedly on social liberalism than political economy or clear socialism. That such battles had a distinct edge in a society which had been through a bitter divorce referendum only three years previously (one I for one will never forget campaigning on) makes the concerns that Z Magazine expresses more understandable.

It’s a different world now. Many of the battles, divorce, contraception and so on have been won. Others have been lost or little progress has been made on them. Nicaragua looms large. But for all that this is, as one might expect, a very Irish magazine.

There is something endearingly shambolic about this project. If I recall correctly it was run, so I’m told, on a volunteerist basis. Not necessarily the best way forward when trying to create a vehicle to broaden the space for leftism in a society notoriously disinterested in same. Underfunded, amateurish on many different levels, particularly in the execution and design, and yet enunciating a clearly left of centre perspective. Perhaps the Village comes closest today to it, but that is a vastly more professional presentation reflecting a vastly changed media world. I like the way that someone thought it was feasible to produce such a magazine, but the execution? Not great… and perhaps indicative that good intentions couldn’t run a magazine alone and somewhere along the line people had to be paid.

But weirdly, the discourse within it is one that seems to me to actually - despite the specific linkages to then contemporaneous events - belong in a fairly familiar and now long lasting narrative of Irish liberal leftism. This is somewhere beyond party formations - it is telling that Sargent, Anne Speed of SF and the then somewhat detached Emmet Stagg of the ILP are the only party politicians actually interviewed - and not dissimilar to the sort of centre leftist thinking that once dominated the Irish Times.

And this returns to the ground upon which Z Magazine engages. For the Irish left there has always been three main areas of contention (which has even touched the further left groups). Firstly, and I was going to say ‘of course’ but perhaps there is no ‘of course’ when one contemplates the pragmatic realpolitic of political parties that scurried to the centre as the need arose, the approach to socialism in economic and other aspects. Secondly the national question. Thirdly social liberalism and modernisation. I’m hardly putting forward a radical or innovative thesis if I suggest that the Irish left has tended to pick and choose between these three. And the last, if only because that truly was running with the tide of history, is the one where arguably most success was seen - probably because the left was able to engage with a broader constituency beyond itself. This is not in any sense to be negative about this magazine or what it represents, but merely to point out that the concentration on certain aspects of centre left projects shading into liberal projects demonstrates some fundamental aspects of Irish political culture in a way a thousand worthy academic papers might not. Consider too that within a mere couple of years there would be a woman President, within half a decade a series of socially liberalising measures and as importantly significant economic advance which would see increasing and sustained employment growth. But the battles remain the same. The three issues remain live.

And therefore this remains an interesting resonance then, of the contemporary period, where what remains of the left is scattered across many different parties, formations and social and campaigning organisations. Much and little has changed across the twenty years.


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