Friday, 17 October 2014

Support the People's History Museum in Manchester

Reverse the £200,000 cut in funding to The People's History Museum in Manchester.

Why is this important?

The People's History Museum in Manchester is the only museum in England dedicated to celebrating the history of working people.  It tells the story of working people's contribution to this country in both peacetime and war.  It charts their struggles from the deportation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, through Lancashire mill workers during the American Civil War as well as working people's solidarity with anti-apartheid campaigners in South Africa.

And now, during the centenary of the First World War, the museum's current exhibition tells the story of the working people of Britain throughout the war.  The museum's deputy editor Cath Birchall has said: “They [the government] don’t see the importance of a national museum that shows the effects of the war on ordinary people.”  A war where approximately 750,000 people died in combat and more than a million were injured fighting abroad, and which also resulted in huge numbers of domestic casualties with as many as 100,000 dying of malnutrition and disease.

Please stop the cuts and save this national treasure.  After all, in the words of Len McCluskey, "History is not just about those who write it, but about those who live it. Working people and the labour movement have been at the forefront of all social and political changes this country has undergone over the past three centuries. We must defend the People’s Museum ... and safeguard the one museum dedicated to telling the story of us all".
Sign the petition here:

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Book Review: A Matter of Intelligence

From LSHG Newsletter 53 (Autumn 2014)

Book Review of “A Matter of Intelligence. M15 and the Surveillance of Anti-Nazi Refugees 1933-50” (Manchester University Press, 2014) by Charmian Brinson and Richard Dove.
The concern of the police and security services with lefties is not new. A book has just come out which looks at MI5’s behaviour towards the political refugees from Nazism. Their role has so far been hidden from history.
MI5 were over-concerned with German – and subsequently Austrian - Communist refugees, indeed much of their resources were devoted to their surveillance and investigation. Although nobody knows exactly how many German Communists there were in Britain up till the November 1938 pogrom (Krystalnacht), we are probably talking of about twenty comrades who identified themselves as German Communists. There were a few dozen other people who were on the fringe of the German Communist Party, or who passed through the UK on their way, usually, to the US, but altogether, there were not many people in the UK who could have been reasonably categorised as German Communist refugees.
There were reasons for the small number of anti-Nazi exiles in the UK.  The Home Office did not want Communists in the UK.  According to Brinson and Dove, from after the end of World War One, the Prussian Secret Service gave information to the MI5 about their Communists. The Home Office would have been well prepared. A tragically small percentage of people who applied for the right to land in the UK received permission to do so. This did not just apply to left refugees, but also to Jews (sometimes an overlapping category) and everybody else: industrialists, Social- Democrats etc, seeking refuge. The greater the need for asylum, for example after the 1938 Pogrom or the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the more difficult it became to get in.  In addition, German KPD refugees in the years immediately after the Nazis gained power generally wanted to stay nearer than Britain to build and maintain some sort of illegal KPD organisation which could influence the German anti-Nazi struggle.
So why were MI5 so obsessed? Two if not three of their bug-bears coincided in the person of the German anti-Nazi refugees: firstly, they were German, secondly, they were Communists and God forbid, many of them were Jews as well. Kell, who had risen to be the MI5 boss, was far more sympathetic to the fascists than the communists. The British Union of Fascists he saw at one time as a patriotic bunch, representing the interests of all, unlike those Communist class warriors.
Opening the refugees’ mail was MI5 favoured form of spying (advantageous when, as is my case, you want to research some of these people!) They also infiltrated the groups and friendship networks. The Communist exiles lived in dread. They were not allowed to participate in political activity as a condition of being granted temporary rights of residence but this was something many of these people, who had given their all in the opposition to the Nazis, pre- and post- 1933, found difficult to comply with. A small KPD group in exile was established which went against these restrictions, leaving them very aware of the possibility of betrayal: which did indeed occur. (And though it falls outside this book, it seems so great was the Government’s dislike of these exiles, that. even though they were desperate for information on and contacts with the German opposition/underground, especially after the outbreak of war, they never made use of this little bunch of well - connected exiles.)
Nor did MI5 stop with the end of the war. By mid-1940s, the USSR was seen as the enemy. Although there were a few ‘ex’-Nazis floating around, the Nazi system had collapsed and insofar as it had ever been, Nazism was no longer seen as the threat. My mother’s files were still being sent to the CIA in the early 1950s.Recently opened MI5 files have divulged that they were still keeping a close eye on Peter Pears in 1951 on the grounds that he was the Vice-President of the Musicians Union for Peace and a member of the League for Democracy, both described by M15 as ‘Communist Front organisations’. Two years later, in 1953, MI5 were concerned with Pears’ partner, Britten, as a well- known pacifist. MI5’s file on Priestley started in 1933 and effectively continued till 1960. What alerted them appears to be that he was a member of the early National Council for Civil Liberties in the 1930s. As late as 1956, MI5 had a report, presumably from a ‘spy’, of a meeting which Priestley attended about police powers! He was, they said, associated with left-wing causes, but the appreciation that ‘none [were] Communist inspired’ did not stop the surveillance.
But there is hope yet.  What emerges from this book is how much MI5 bungled everything: their priorities were to keep an eye on lefties but they concentrated on people who were harmless and let other ‘real spies’ slip by. MI5 failed to identify or prioritise the very few cases which could be defined as a ‘security risk’. They failed to spot Klaus Fuchs, the ‘atomic spy’ for the USSR until late in the 1940s. In the case of his fellow atomic spy, Englebert   Broda, it failed to take any action at all. In the case of Edith Tudor- Hart, they may have kept policemen on watch outside her house and intercepted her mail in the 1930’s, but they did not even realise she was a member of the Communist Party, never mind a crucial agent. In the meantime, however, many political refugees were left feeling overwhelmed with a fear of being spied on and deported.
The final blow for many of these anti-Nazis was internment in 1940 when anti-Nazi and a few Nazis were packed together in internment camps, some in very poor conditions. Amidst talk of a ‘fifth column’ and the enemy within, MI5 saw its task, sometimes against Home Office advice, to intern people who had the rights to temporary abode in a foreign -‘democratic’ – country because they had opposed Nazism and had to escape or die.
Why has so little light been cast on MI5’s disgraceful activities during this period? Brinson and Dove suggest their record does them no favours so they have preferred it kept quiet. This book has finally pulled together how Mi5 operated in relation to a number of anti-Nazi exiles. It is also of interest because unlike so much that is written in relation to the lead-up to the war and the barbarism of Nazism, this is a book which finally looks at the people who chose to stand up against Nazism in Germany and Austria, the people in whose shoes we tread, despite our disagreements with the Communist Party, and the responses of the British State to them.
Merilyn Moos
Edited to add: On Monday Nov 24 Merilyn Moos will be speaking in London on 'Siegfried Moos: a lost revolutionary? The story of a German Communist who fled to Britain in 1934.' as part of the LSHG seminar series.   

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Assorted London meetings of interest

Terrorism, Feminism and a Century of War,1914-2014
 Bojan Aleksov on Gavrilo Princip, the assassin who triggered World War One
Laura Schwartz on feminism and the Great War
Gabriel Levy on Putin and the war in the Ukraine
5pm, Mason Lecture Theatre
Anarchist Bookfair
Saturday 18 Oct.
Queen Mary Uni., Mile End Rd. E1 4NS.
 See for more on a day of meetings: Peter Linebaugh, Middle East, Africa, Guy Debord, feminism, anti-fascism, abortion, workplace & housing struggles etc…
Paine, Carlile, Cobbett, Chartists, Marx, Morris, Kropotkin, Bakunin, Matchwomen, Pankhurst, Goldman
author of: 'The London Hanged'
Sunday 19 October, 2.30pm
 St. Bride’s Avenue, Fleet St. EC4 1DH. Blackfriars Tube.
'Sylvia Pankhurst: Everything is Possible'
Thursday 6 November, 7pm.
88 Fleet Street,
St. Bride’s Ave., EC4 1DH.
Blackfriars Tube.

Louise Raw on Gender, Class, Sexuality and the Matchwomen's Strike

Bad Girls' Who Changed the World : Gender, Class, Sexuality & the Matchwomen's Strike.A talk by Louise Raw. Tuesday October 14,  6.30–9.00pm.  Upstairs in the Cock Tavern, 23 Phoenix Rd., NW1 1HB (Euston). Entry free. More Info:

Monday, 6 October 2014

LSHG seminar - Killing Communists in Havana

London Socialist Historians Group Seminar - all welcome 

Killing Communists in Havana: 1947 and the Start of the Cold War in Latin America 
Steve Cushion 

13 October 2014, 17:30 - 19:30 - Institute of Historical Research 
Seminars are in the Olga Crisp Room [104] at the IHR Senate House, Malet St, London, WC1 . Free without ticket. 

The Cold War started early in Cuba, with anti-communist purges of the trade unions already under way by 1947. Corruption and government intervention succeeded in removing the left-wing leaders of many unions but, in those sectors where this approach failed, gunmen linked to the ruling party shot and killed a dozen leading trade union militants, including the general secretary of the sugar workers union. Part of the objective of this attack was to increase productivity and restore profitability in the difficult post-war economic climate and the failure to achieve this would ultimately lead to Batista's coup d'etat in 1952. 

Based on material from the Cuban archives and confidential US State Department files, this paper will examine the activities of the US government, the Mafia and the American Federation of Labor, as well as corrupt Cuban politicians and local gangsters, in this early episode of the Cold War.

CfP: Workers of all lands unite?

Workers of all lands unite?
Working-class nationalism and internationalism until 1945

7th March 2015, University of Nottingham

September 2014 marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association, or First International. Between 1864 and today, the cause, practice, and history of working-class internationalism has undergone many changes, and has appeared in a dizzying variety of forms all over the globe. Yet working-class internationalism has always been defined in terms of what at first appears to be its opposite, working-class nationalism. While some historians have regarded these concepts, and the ways in which they were practically embodied, as opposites and as mutually conflicting, others have found a more complex relationship between the two, and have instead considered class contrasts, gender relations, and racial conflicts. Similarly, workers and their organizations have often struggled to reconcile internationalism as a political commitment with notions of national belonging. This polar duality had been further complicated by perceptions of racial, ethnic, and gender identities.
This conference aims to explore the relationships between working-class nationalism and internationalism prior to 1945. We invite papers on any aspect of this relationship or of these concepts from postgraduates, early career scholars, and those outside of full-time academia that have an interest in Labour/Trade Union History, Economic History, Politics, Political Theory, Race and Ethnicity Studies, and/or Gender Studies. We look forward to papers that discuss European and American contexts, but we also warmly encourage papers that predate the creation of the First International, or go beyond European and American topics discussing Asian, African, and Oceanic situations.
Topics can include but do not need to be limited to:
- Cross-border trade union and socialist organizations;
- Local experiences of internationalist organizations;
- Workers' attitudes to the First and/or Second World Wars;
- Colonialism and racism;
- Internationalist, nationalist and ethnic tensions within organizations;
- Independence struggles and socialism;
- International solidarity;
- Immigration policies in workers’ organizations, racial and ethnic prejudices amongst workers.
Keynote speaker: TBA.
Postgraduates, early career historians and those outside of full-time academia are invited to submit proposals for papers (of about 20-30 minute’s length) by the 7th January 2015. Please e-mail abstracts of no more than 300 words to Abstracts should include your name, institution and/or organization, email address, and the title of your proposed paper.
For more information on the conference follow us on Twitter (@wuniteconf2015) or consult our website:
The conference is hosted by the Department of History and the Department of American and Canadian Studies, University of Nottingham, and supported by the Economic History Society.

Friday, 3 October 2014

CfP: LSHG Conference 2015: Attlee's 1945 Labour Government at Seventy

Attlee’s 1945 Labour Government at Seventy:
What is the historical balance sheet?

A one day event organised by the London Socialist Historians Group
Institute of Historical Research
Senate House, Malet Street London WC1E 7HU

Saturday 28 February 2015
From 11.30am

In 1945 Labour was returned to office with a large majority in the election that marked the end of World War Two and the coalition Government that had ruled from 1939.

Contrary to many expectations Tory leader Winston Churchill was swept from power and replaced by Clement Attlee’s Labour Government. Many socialists look back on the Attlee Government as an example of what a left-wing Government can achieve. The Welfare State was introduced, including the NHS, and industries were nationalised.
Much of this is captured in Ken Loach’s excellent film The Spirit of ‘45
Yet the record was not all positive. The Attlee Government sent troops to break strikes, worked on developing a British nuclear bomb and laid the basis for the Cold War in Britain.

This conference, looking back over 70 years, will seek to draw a balance sheet of the positives and negatives of the 1945 Labour Government in a bid to contribute modestly towards a useful and working, historically focused agenda for the left in the present day.

Proposals [no more than 500 words] for papers should be sent to Keith Flett at by 1 December  2014.