Carney, John (‘Jack’) (1887–1956), socialist, trade unionist, and journalist, was probably born 30 May 1887 at 2 Phoenix St., Dublin, son of Richard Carney, fitter, and Eliza Carney (née Brian); such are the details of the only registered birth of a ‘John Carney’ in 1887 in Dublin, the year and place of birth stated by Carney himself years later during court proceedings in the USA. He may have been from a protestant background. Orphaned at age two, he was raised in Liverpool, England, by his grandfather, and won a three-year scholarship to a private school for his brilliance at mathematics. Unable to continue full-time education after his grandfather's death, while employed in a chemical works (1901–7) he attended night school for a time, until precluded by exhaustion from overwork. Converted to socialism on hearing and meeting James Larkin (qv) in Widnes (c.1906), after a period on the tramp he went to Dublin to assist in the Liberty Hall headquarters of Larkin's newly founded Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU), where he helped edit the union organ, the Irish Worker. While organising for the ITGWU and working at labouring jobs in Belfast (he was a tinplate workers' helper on the Titanic), he canvassed for James Connolly (qv) in the 1912 municipal elections. During the Dublin lockout (1913–14) he met Sean O'Casey (qv), then a labour activist, commencing a lengthy friendship marked by substantial correspondence over many years.
Shortly after the 1916 Easter rising (in which, it seems, he was not actively involved), he emigrated to the USA. A gifted public speaker, with a ‘poetic and dramatic style’ (Hudelson, 130), while working in Chicago as a free-lance journalist and socialist lecturer (1916–17) he helped Larkin produce an American edition of the Irish Worker, agitated against US entry into the first world war, and worked in the 1916 congressional campaign in Indiana of Eugene Debs, veteran leader of the American Socialist Party (SP). As editor (1917–20) of a weekly socialist newspaper, The Truth, in Duluth, Minnesota, Carney, arguing the necessity of both political and industrial struggle to secure international working-class control, backed both the SP and the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Lauding Russia's Bolshevik revolution and urging resistance to the allied military intervention there, he also supported birth control and equal pay for women. A leading figure in the emergence of the American communist movement, he was among several Irish (Larkin included) prominent in the section of the SP's pro-Bolshevik Left Wing that, initially opposing formation of a separate communist party, sought to capture and radicalise the SP leadership. After the expulsion of the left-wingers at the 1919 SP conference, he was a founder of the Communist Labor Party. While accommodating his fundamental syndicalism to Bolshevik political centralism, he still insisted on the militant industrial union as the prime revolutionary vehicle in American and western European contexts. Amid the anti-Red repression of the Palmer raids, by 1920 he was battling deportation proceedings and charges of sedition and obstruction of military enlistment. After working (1920–21) on the radical Daily Bulletin in Butte, Montana, he returned to Chicago to join the editorial staff of the pro-communist Voice of Labor and campaign for Larkin's release from prison (1921–2). Imprisoned on a one-to-five-year sentence for criminal syndicalism, after serving ten days Carney and a wealthy, well connected co-defendant were both pardoned by the Illinois state governor (November 1922).
When two months later Larkin was pardoned and returned to Ireland, Carney followed; signing aboard a ship as a French chef, he was consigned to the boiler room when discovered to be neither. Continuing as Larkin's chief lieutenant, he was an official of the Workers' Union of Ireland (WUI) and helped edit the Irish Worker, organ of the Irish Worker League (IWL) (from 1923 to 1932 the Irish affiliate of the Communist International (Comintern)). He travelled several times to Moscow, either accompanying Larkin or deputising for him at meetings of the Comintern executive. At the Comintern's sixth world congress (1928) he presented an interim report on Irish affairs that accused Fianna Fáil of abandoning the national struggle, and the mainstream Irish labour movement of abandoning revolutionary socialism. On the outbreak of the Spanish civil war (1936), he joined Irish left republicans in denouncing Franco and speaking in support of the Spanish republican government. When the WUI executive, cringing before clerical consternation, moved to silence him by forbidding its officials from speaking on any but trade-union platforms, Carney resigned from the union in disgust, abruptly ending his three decades of close personal and political association with Larkin. Moving to London, he worked as a journalist; for a time he represented an Australian newspaper syndicate in the house of commons press gallery. Healing his rift with Larkin, he engaged in warm correspondence and attended Larkin's funeral in Dublin (1947). An impulsive, sometimes reckless personality, described as ‘a born rebel. . . who seeks instinctively the center of every row, and who will eagerly make one if none exists’ (Duluth Herald, quoted by Hudelson, 132), Carney could be amiable and charismatic. He died in London in 1956.
While in America Carney married (1916/17) Mina Schoeneman (1892–1974), a Chicago-born sculptor and socialist. Active alongside Carney in numerous political struggles, she was secretary of the Larkin defence committee (early 1920s). During the 1940s in their London home in Clifford's Inn, Fleet St., she hosted a salon frequented by leftist writers and artists, including the Viennese expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980), with whom she had studied in her youth. She executed a bronze portrait bust of Larkin (photograph in Nevin, after 398), now among several of her works in Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane.