Fox, Richard Michael ('R. M. ') (1891–1969), writer and trade unionist, was born on 13 November 1891 in Leeds, Yorkshire, the second of four sons of Richard Fox and his wife Elizabeth (née Rathmell). Richard senior worked as a gymnasium instructor in Leeds, and later as a skilled mechanical fitter and engineer in London, and Elizabeth as a school headmistress; they were both active in the cooperative movement. Richard junior was educated at the Lancastrian Elementary School, which he left aged 14 for employment in a metal works. Joining the Socialist Party of Great Britain, he attended night classes on economics and history, read voraciously, wrote verse for small socialist publications, and was drawn to 'the struggle for bread and leisure waged by working men' (Smoky crusade, 91). After studying engineering at night school, he worked at the huge armaments complex at Erith, south-east London. He was an organiser with the Industrial Workers of the World ('Wobblies') and an activist with the Herald League, a ginger group supporting the syndicalist Daily Herald newspaper, which championed female suffrage, striking workers and Irish independence. He also strongly advocated the unity of international labour and campaigned against jingoistic militarism. Winning the national co-operative scholarship in 1914 at his third attempt, he gained a place at Ruskin College, Oxford, which was postponed indefinitely upon the outbreak of war.
As an armaments worker he was exempt from conscription (which prevented him declaring himself a conscientious objector), but he renounced his exemption and in November 1916 was imprisoned by the military. Refusing to accept military service, uniform or discipline, he was court-martialled three times and force-fed after going on hunger strike. Released on 18 April 1919, he was soon afterwards introduced by fellow Wobbly Henry Lynch to his sister, the writer Patricia Lynch (qv), then resident in London. That autumn Fox began his studies at Ruskin College and continued to write for labour publications; he was also on the editorial committee of the New Oxford Journal and wrote for the Ruskin Review. The award of a Middlesex County Council scholarship enabled two further years of study and additional writings for socialist and labour publications. Awarded the University of Oxford diploma in economics and political science (June 1921), he travelled to Russia that summer as an official 'delegate' of the Soviet regime.
Fox's support during 1920–21 for Irish independence was buttressed by reports of Black and Tan atrocities and the death on hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney (qv). He visited Dublin at Easter 1922 and was introduced to left-wing circles by Delia Larkin (qv); he also met Alice Stopford Green (qv), Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington (qv), Dorothy Macardle (qv) and Maud Gonne MacBride (qv); the latter two remained life-long friends. Fox and Patricia Lynch married on 4 October 1922 at the Roman catholic church of St Francis de Sales, High Road, Tottenham. They honeymooned in France, Belgium and Germany, and settled in Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin.
Fox wrote for a broad range of UK and Irish newspapers, journals and magazines, and was widely syndicated. In 1931 he became a sub-editor with the Irish Press, until resigning in 1937 because of ill health. He then worked as a freelance, and his articles on Irish industry, exports and tourism appeared widely through the 1950s and 1960s in Éire-Ireland, Ireland of the Welcomes, the Irish Digest and Progress. He also wrote travelogues, drama profiles and commentary, was the Dublin Evening Mail drama critic (1955–62), and a correspondent with Social and Personal.
Active in literary, dramatic and left-republican circles, Fox was a member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Irish PEN from the early 1930s. (With the latter, he was later a committee member and chairman (1965), and often represented Ireland at international PEN congress.) The Irish Press's initial editor, Frank Gallagher (qv), was supportive of trade unionism, and, unusually at the time, the paper recognised the NUJ. Fox regarded the Dublin newspaper strike of July–October 1934, which engulfed journalists and allied printing trades, as a pivotal moment in bringing Irish journalists to recognise the values of union membership, solidarity and collective action (O'Brien, 59–61). Secretary of the NUJ's Dublin branch (c.1941) and serving on the union's Irish executive, Fox was the sole Irish delegate to attend the NUJ annual delegate meeting in Britain in April 1942, at which he swayed the union's executive, then considering withdrawal from Ireland, towards a subsequent decision to register with the Irish government. The decision galvanised the union in Dublin, and Fox was nominated by the NUJ for the cultural and educational panel for the 1943 Seanad Éireann election, but was not elected.
Selections from Fox's journalism appeared in Factory echoes, and other sketches (1919), The triumphant machine (1928) and Drifting men (1930), and discussed such topics as Taylorism, the insecurity and poverty of industrial employment, and the psychology of industrial society; Fox consistently decried how mass production subjugated man to machines. He also published works of memoir and history: Smoky crusade (1937) recounted his life into the early 1920s; Rebel Irishwomen (1935) profiled Sheehy-Skeffington, Eva Gore-Booth (qv) and her sister Constance Markievicz (qv), Nora Connolly O'Brien (qv) and Helena Molony (qv), amongst others; Green banners: the story of the Irish struggle (1938) offered a popular account of the 1916–21 period, sympathetic to the role of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) in the Easter rising and to left-republican anti-treaty thinking.
After an approach by the ICA's Old Comrades Association in the late 1930s, Fox interviewed veterans and accessed original records to produce the officially sanctioned History of the Irish Citizen Army (1943), incorporating valuable personal testimony. James Connolly: the forerunner (1946) drew from secondary source material to defend Connolly's creed, simplistically analysed, emphasising his centrality to the 1916 rising. Fox published miscellaneous labour and republican pamphlets, notably Labour in the national struggle (1947) and Years of freedom: the story of Ireland 1921–1948 (1948), continuing the story of Irish independence from Green banners. He wrote works on leading figures in Irish labour history. Jim Larkin: the rise of the underman (1957) was informed by interviews with James Larkin (qv) junior, and cast the 1941 ITUC recognition of Larkin's union as redemptive, identifying Larkin not as a European syndicalist but within the 'English' school of socialism. Fox's Louie Bennett: her life and times (1958) was largely anecdotal and hagiographical, but incorporated valuable material on her early life.
In 1956 Fox was invited to visit China to mark the centenary of George Bernard Shaw (qv) (along with pacifists such as Hubert Butler (qv), David Greene (qv), Arland Ussher (qv) and others). Fox's ensuing China diary (1959) betrayed his naiveté of Chinese history and culture, and a readiness to accept the official line of the Chinese communist regime. His pacifism never wavered: taking Irish citizenship, he became a vice-president of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and consistently promoted Connolly's legacy across the fractured Irish left-wing press.
Predictably enough, Fox was construed as an apologist for Soviet communism by Fr Denis Fahey (qv) and other right-wing opponents. However, there was also some criticism of his work from the left. Sean O'Casey (qv) argued that Fox's Jim Larkin made Larkin 'look like a lighted match instead of the flaming torch the man was' (Krause, 503), while Jack Carney (qv) described it as 'highly superficial … [Fox] highlights the commonplace and ignores the important' (Nevin, 396). Peter Beresford Ellis's description of Fox's work as an 'essential first step in studies of the Irish left' is qualified by the assessment of a contemporary critic, who describes Fox as never having been 'a prominent figure in the Irish labour movement; he can best be classified as the working journalist in the background' (Waterford Standard, 25 August 1945).
Fox and his wife lived from 1932 on St Mobhi Road, Glasnevin, moving in 1939 to 39 The Rise, Griffith Avenue. They enjoyed a devoted marriage, travelling extensively together, and had no children. When Patricia's sight failed (c.1959), Fox diligently typed and corrected her voluminous manuscripts, despite maintaining a prolific output himself; he described himself as her 'secretary' in a return to the Revenue Commissioners. His extensive manuscript collection in the NLI comprises essays, fiction and poetry, and details his extensive jobbing journalism and wide range of left-wing contacts in Ireland, Britain and Europe. He died at home 28 December 1969, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery.