Thursday, 8 August 2019

CFP - People's History?

People’s History? Radical Historiography and the Left in the Twentieth Century

Saturday and Sunday, 15 and 16 February 2020 at the School of History, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK
Organised and hosted by UEA School of History in conjunction with the journal Socialist History and the Institute of Working Class History, Chicago.
History has always played a crucial role in the making of the modern left, both in Britain and around the world, providing a vital tool for theoretical rationale, social critique and direct action. Whilst offering an important source of intellectual stimulus, it has equally been the cause of hot debate, controversy and division, never more so than during the twentieth century. Over the course of those ten tumultuous decades, history became the ground upon which the left struggled to define and redefine itself in response to dramatically changing times. Critique was, and continues to be, all-encompassing, from debates on historical interpretation, method, pedagogy and application, to questions addressing the very nature – or possibility – of historical knowledge itself.
This conference seeks to explore all aspects of the status and uses of history in modern left imagination.
We are seeking papers of 5000 to 10000 words to be presented at the conference. Conference themes may include, but are not limited to: 
  • History, Marxism and international socialism
  • History, class and class consciousness
  • History, philosophy and critical theory
  • History, gender, race, sexuality
  • History and (post)colonialism
  • History and/as activism
  • History, pedagogy and empowerment
  • National and international histories
  • Party histories
  • History and the role of the historian as public intellectual

Proposals for papers and any enquiries should be submitted here. The deadline for submitting proposals is Friday 29 November 2019. We shall inform all applicants as to whether their proposals have been accepted as soon as possible after that date. The deadline for receiving completed papers from successful applicants will be Monday 3 February 2020. Selected papers will be published in a special issue of the journal Socialist History. Attendance at the conference for both presenters and audience will be free of charge, but we ask that anyone wishing to attend registers in advance.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Laura Grace Ford Presents An Act of Unforgetting

At @OpenCityDocs 2019, artist and writer Laura Grace Ford (@LauraOF) will host 'An Act of Unforgetting': a programme of archival TV documentaries centred around social and political upheaval in London during the summer of 1990:

Laura Grace Ford (formerly Oldfield Ford) is a London based artist and writer concerned with spatial narratives, contested space, architecture, fiction and memory. Drawing on cognitive mapping and the dérive Ford interrogates place by mapping the psychic contours of the city. She has developed a multidisciplinary practice where spectral languages erupt as fictions and dreamings, a reconnection with emancipatory forces embedded in the city.  Ford has curated a combined programme of archival TV documentaries, placing Battle of Trafalgar (1990) alongside an episode of Summer on the Estate (1991) and will be present to discuss and contextualise the programme

Date Sat 07 September, 20:40
Location Curzon Soho
For more info and tickets see here:

Monday, 24 June 2019

Invisible Lives - Doris Hatt

Dear LSHG,
I am contacting you as I felt your readers may be interested to learn about the remarkable story of Doris Hatt, an overlooked artist who was a very active member of the Communist Party Of Great Britain whilst remaining a popular member of community life within a deeply Conservative corner of Britain during the 1930’s to 1960’s. I have two segments that tell her story which can be accessed via iTunes with a search for “Invisible Lives”, ( a not for profit venture,) or under my name. You can also access the hosting service here :
Whilst it is short notice, there is an excellent exhibition which runs for another 10 days at the Museum Of Somerset in Taunton. Again, your members may be interested to know about this.

Simon Shaw

Monday, 27 May 2019

London Socialist Historians Group seminars summer 2019


We support the ongoing IWGB action at Senate House over outsourcing of support staff. Because of this the seminars will not be held at Senate House until the dispute is resolved.  We have two seminars lined up however:

Monday 10 June 2019 - 'Kwame Nkrumah and the Dawn of the Cold War'
 Book launch with author Marika Sherwood - 6.30pm at Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE

About the book
The West African National Secretariat (WANS) has almost been forgotten by history. A pan-Africanist movement founded in 1945 by Kwame Nkrumah and colleagues in London and France, WANS campaigned for independence and unity. Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast in late 1947. The colonial government accused him of being a communist and fomenting the riots of early 1948. He was jailed. This led to the beginning of the Cold War in West Africa.
Drawing on archival research including the newly released MI5 files, Marika Sherwood reports on the work of WANS, on the plans for a unity conference in October 1948 in Lagos, and on Nkrumah’s return home. Sherwood demonstrates that colonial powers colluded with each other and the US in order to control the burgeoning struggles for independence. By labelling African nationalists as ‘communists’ in their efforts to contain decolonisation, the Western powers introduced the Cold War to the continent.
Providing a rich exploration of a neglected history, this book sheds light for the first time on a crucial historical moment in the history of West Africa and the developmental trajectory of West African independence.

Monday 17 June 'The size of the crowd. How historians have assessed numbers at demonstrations from 1848 onwards' - Keith Flett
(The paper will be posted online at to invite comments and discussion on social media.)

The deadline for the next issue of the London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter is 1 September 2019 - Letters, articles, criticisms and contributions to debate are most welcome.

The Ascott Martyrs Project

Image result for the ascott martyrs project

The Ascott Martyrs were sixteen women some with babies in arms who were imprisoned in 1873 for supporting their striking farm worker husbands in the Oxfordshire village of Ascott-under-Wychwood. The traumatic event led to a major riot in Chipping Norton and a reprieve from Queen Victoria. Their legacy today is that picketing was made legal in 1874 and local religious leaders were no longer appointed as magistrates. The project will provide continued awareness in the local schools and the wider community as well as a national online centre for information and research. The next Martyrs Day is Saturday June 20th 2020. See

Where we are coming from is that a comprehensive study of the story would make an excellent graduate project even for a Masters, There are so many gaps yet to be researched (see below). If there are researchers who interested please get in touch.

• Martyrs’ photographs • Martyrs’ house locations and graves • Duke of Marlborough's and Queen Victoria’s role • Establishment keeping control of workers and their conditions • Magistrates no longer clerics/ process? • Agricultural Union……..picketing allowed/ law changes • Politics at the time • Religion…………. Church support for landowners, beginning of the end • Baptist v Protestant………..workers v establishment • Economic situation/emigration • Verification of presentations…petticoats and dress material • Verification of Queen Victoria’s reprieve and gift of red petticoats • Oxford Gaol……..conditions and making of quilt? • Post-strike unclear for strikers • Police Role * • Media 1873 * National Press support but not local>…why?

Socialist Historians call for reinstatement of suspended Ruskin College UCU rep

                                         Solidarity with Lee Humber at UCU Congress 2019 

The London Socialist Historians Group, which organises the socialist history seminar at the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London (currently suspended there in support of an IWGB boycott over outsourcing) has backed calls for a suspended UCU rep at Ruskin College to be reinstated.

Lee Humber, the UCU membership rep at Ruskin, was suspended on Monday 1 April.

The historians say that Ruskin has a long association, not just as a trade union college, but also with socialist history itself. The late Raphael Samuel, one of the founders of the History Workshop movement and journal, was a tutor there.

LSHG Convenor Dr Keith Flett said, this is not how we expect Ruskin College to carry out its affairs. Whatever the detail of the issues at stake, and it’s clear they are serious and go beyond Dr Humber’s trade union activity, they should be sorted out by discussion and negotiation not ill conceived disciplinary measures.

Ruskin College UCU Press Release 

 Reinstate Dr Lee Humber – University College Union (UCU) Representative at Ruskin College

On Monday 1st April, 2019, The Principal of Ruskin College (Paul Di Felice) suspended Dr Lee Humber who is a UCU representative at Ruskin College. The suspension, on bogus charges, came after an overwhelming Vote of No Confidence in the Principal by Ruskin College UCU branch.

Tragically this is not an April fool’s joke and comes at a time when Ruskin College is supposed to be celebrating its 120th anniversary as a College that has strong links with the labour and trade union movement in Britain and internationally.

UCU is calling for the immediate reinstatement of Dr Lee Humber and for the bogus charges against Lee to be dropped.

We urge everyone to send emails to the Principal ( and Doug Nicholls, the Chair of the Ruskin College Board of Directors ( asking for the immediate reinstatement of Lee and clarification of why a trade union representative has been victimised by Ruskin College.

Messages of support and solidarity should be sent to the Chair of Ruskin College UCU (

Was Blanqui a Blanquist?

[Book Review from London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 67 (Summer 2019)]

The Blanqui Reader: Political Writings 1830-1880 
Edited by Philippe Le Goff and Peter Hallward Verso 2018 ISBN 978-1-78663-501-3 

Auguste Blanqui gave his name to a political doctrine known as “Blanquism”, defined by Wikipedia as the belief that “socialist revolution should be carried out by a relatively small group of highly organised and secretive conspirators.” Thousands on the left have proclaimed their orthodoxy by quoting Lenin's insistence “We are not Blanquists”, without troubling themselves to actually read what Blanqui wrote over the years. So we should be most grateful to Peter Hallward and Philippe Le Goff (and their fellow-translator Mitchell Abidor) for this valuable anthology of Blanqui's writings.

It contains a mass of Blanqui's published and unpublished writings, many of them unavailable even in French. Blanqui wrote copiously throughout his life – his hands held a pen far oftener than they held a rifle, for the good reason that he spent nearly half his adult life in jail. He wrote on everything from the nature of the universe, via religion, free will and class, to detailed military tactics. Like any honest thinker he changed his mind, learned from experience and even sometimes contradicted himself; if there is one unifying thread it is that “we are always and everywhere with the oppressed against the oppressors.”

Karl Marx once insisted that he was not a Marxist. Blanqui could have claimed with equal justice that he was not a Blanquist. In 1839 he organised an ill-prepared military rising in the hope it would ignite mass struggle; he was wrong and it led to a débâcle. He spent the next forty years considering how things might be done better. As Peter Sedgwick wrote of Che Guevara's failure in Bolivia: “Che went out there and started things. As a result, we know some more.” And the movement was much younger and less experienced when Blanqui made his mistakes.

From the beginning of the 1848 revolution he stressed the need for mass action: “If .… we seize power by a bold assault, like thieves in the night, who can say how long our power might last? …. What we need is the immense mass of the people, the faubourgs rising up in revolt.” He declared that his aim was to “arouse consciousness” and use the “lever of enthusiasm”. As Napoleon III consolidated his power he increasingly stressed the importance of consciousness: “Revolutions must take place in the mind before they can be carried out on the streets.” He dismissed insurrection as “madness”. Looking back on 1848 he insisted: “One must conquer a nation through ideas, never through force.” He repeatedly stressed the importance of education: “Schools, books, the printed word – these are the real revolutionary agents!” Some NEU members may be pleased by his claim that “teachers are the only true revolutionaries.” But he was also clear that education took place in struggle: “a strike is intelligible to all; it is the simple idea of resistance to oppression. Everyone rallies around it.”

If he saw the need for revolutionary violence - “today the only real ballot papers are bullets” - it was because of the violence of the existing order. He recalled the “many massacres …. undertaken .… in the service of despotism” including the “massacres in Manchester” [Peterloo ], with violence much greater than that of the French Revolution. He made a detailed study of the weaknesses of working-class organisation in the June 1848 rising, so that new generations might learn.

He was constantly concerned with building organisation: “organisation means victory; dispersal means death.” If the organisations he built were secretive and clandestine, that was because he was operating under a series of repressive regimes; to put the main responsibility for clandestinity on Blanqui is like blaming road accidents on pedestrians.

Blanqui recognised that the road to a socialist future would be long and complex; there would be no simple, rapid transition. “The new social organism cannot be the work of one single person, nor of a few people …. It is the work of everyone …. The river thus slowly takes shape from the confluence of a thousand springs, of billions of drops of water.” When he looked to the future he foresaw the emergence of “a whole crowd of charlatans of communism” and speculated that a “premature ….stunted version of communism might well induce many people to regret the good old days that preceded it.” How right he was.

He also glimpsed some of the more detailed aspects of the future, such as ecological crisis: “We waste coal in the most odious ways …. We are hunting whales to extinction, a powerful resource that will disappear.” There is much here that is of value, both for understanding Blanqui's own age and for reflecting on our own.

If I have one criticism it is that there is virtually nothing here from the last ten years of Blanqui's life. The volume ends with his essay Eternity by the Stars, an entertaining fantasy anticipating multiverse theory, written (as he acknowledged) as “consolation” after the defeat of the Paris Commune. But it was only a brief episode, and certainly not, as Walter Benjamin misleadingly if not mendaciously claimed, an expression of “resignation without hope”. On the contrary, the activity of his last years always pointed to future struggle.

In October 1880, just two months before his death, he wrote: “No more conscription! No more permanent army!” His slogan pointed forward to the pre-1914 syndicalist antimilitarist agitation. And there is more, much more, here that can plant ideas in the heads of a new generation of rebels.

Ian Birchall