"I’ve been coming to Tolpuddle for several years now and it’s grown in an enormous way. At the heart of the festival is a really important event, namely the formation of the agricultural workers’ union in the West Country that really did change the course of history.
I make it the turning point from feudalism to capitalism/socialism because when the Martyrs came back from Australia people realised that while Parliament remained as it was, they couldn’t change the law, so they campaigned for the vote and the Chartists and the Suffragettes came out of that.
Tolpuddle reminds us we have a tradition as long as the powers that be and I think that’s absolutely critical for the future of the Movement. After all, the establishment has its music – the national anthem, the hymns, military marches and bands are all the music and culture of power – but we have our own music too and Tolpuddle reminds us of that. It gives people a historical perspective to their own struggles.
As a festival it gets better and bigger every year. The only thing I find difficult is it’s on a hill and walking down and up and sideways, I get very unstable on my pins. I go round to all the stands I can and talk to all sorts of people, who have all got their own stories to tell, and the banners – if ever there was an example of art and culture being on our side, you’ve only got to look at those banners to feel part of the Movement.
Tolpuddle gives us the confidence to keep going – that’s what’s so exciting about it. It reminds us that every issue we’ve ever fought, we have to fight over again and again. What they fought then we have to fight now.
Going to the festival is my annual injection. Without it I don’t think I could carry on. We need more Tolpuddles."
Tuesday 8 June, 6.30pm
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS),
Russell Square Campus, Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG,
Room B102 (Brunei Gallery building, first floor) MAP
Free entry / All welcome
For more details contact email@example.com or call 0207 819 1177
Other forthcoming events:
Research on Money and Finance (RMF) at SOAS and the Birkbeck Institute
for the Humanities are organising a roundtable on
'Eurozone in Crisis: Reform or Exit?'
The event will explore themes from the widely read RMF report
'Eurozone in Crisis: Beggar Thyself and Thy Neighbour'. It will also
contribute to the debate on the social, political and economic aspects
of the Eurozone crisis that was launched by the Birkbeck Institute for
the Humanities. Since the start of 2010 the Eurozone crisis has become
progressively deeper, threatening the existence of the euro as well as
the coherence of the European Union. The crisis poses questions of
economic malfunctioning and austerity policies imposed on several
European countries, but also of democracy and state relations within
the European Union. The roundtable will consider these issues from a
variety of radical perspectives.
Costas Lapavitsas, SOAS, 'Reform or Exit from the Eurozone?''
George Irvin, SOAS, 'Costs and Benefits of Default'
Costas Douzinas, Birkbeck, 'The Democratic Deficit within the Eurozone'
Stathis Kouvelakis, King's College, 'The Eurozone Crisis as a Crisis
of the State''
Alex Callinicos, King's College, 'Political Implications of the
CHAIR: Larry Elliott, Guardian Newspaper.
Date and Time: June 2nd, 6-8
Venue: Rm B33, Birkbeck College, Mallet St. WC1
The next 'Socialist Historians Up North Day School' has been organised for Sunday July 11th, 2010. All interested socialist historians (or if you are just keen on the topics we are discussing), are welcome to come along.
It is to be held at the Irish Club, Huddersfield, 86 Fitzwilliam Street, Huddersfield, HD1 5BB
(Near to bus and train stations)
Topics for July
09.45: Tea and Coffee available
10.00 to 12.15: The impact of Comintern policies on the development of the Chinese Revolution 1925-1930 (Paul Gerrard presenting)
12.15 to 1.15pm: Lunch (bring your own, but tea and coffee will be provided)
1.15 to 3.30pm: ‘The Changing State’ – aspects of feudalism and capitalism: A survey of 19th century German History (Ed Doveton presenting)
3.30pm-4.00pm: Planning and Organising the Socialist Historians; future meetings, where do we go from here
If you think you might be coming along, please let us know by e-mail, so we can make arrangements for tea, coffee and room size. Note that lunch is not provided, so bring your own.
There is no fee to attend the day-school, but we will be making a collection (guide donation £3 to £5), to cover costs of refreshments, room hire, the website, and printing agenda and papers.
'Black West Indians in Britain and the Politics of Empire, c.1931-1948'
Speaker: Daniel Whittall
Date: Wednesday 2 June
Time: 18:00 – 19.30
Room G35. University of London, Ground Floor Senate House, Russell Square
(nearest tube station is Russell Square)
A Public Meeting organised jointly by the London Socialist Historians and the Socialist History Society
Monday 17th May at 6.00pm
in the Pollard Room, the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1
Saturday 15 May (tomorrow) is also Levellers Day for those near Burford in Oxfordshire...
A one-day conference in commemoration of the life and work of Nina Fishman, late Honorary Research Professor at Swansea University, also marking the Swansea launch of Nina’s Arthur Horner: A Political Biography (Lawrence and Wishart, 2010).
Sponsored by: The Richard Burton Centre for the Study of Wales, Swansea University and the Socialist History Society
1000: Coffee and Welcome by Dr Hywel Francis MP
1030: Andrew Thorpe (Exeter University): ‘Nina Fishman’s Arthur Horner and labour biography’
1130: David Howell (York University): ‘ “The district one calls home”: D. H. Lawrence’s writing on coalfield society’
1330: Peter Ackers (Loughborough University): ‘More Marx than Methodism: Hugh Clegg and Kingswood School’
1430: Angela John (Aberystwyth University): ‘Equal partners? Gender and the writing of biography’
1530: Chris Williams (Swansea University): ‘Robert Owen and Wales. Wales and Robert Owen’
1630: Tea and Close
Swansea Museum is located close to the city centre at Victoria Road, The Maritime Quarter, Swansea, SA1 1SN.
Coffees and teas will be available at the venue. For lunch people will need to bring their own or take advantage of nearby cafes, pubs etc.
Copies of Arthur Horner: A Political Biography will be on sale at the event throughout the day.
If further information is required please contact Prof. Chris Williams (Swansea University) on firstname.lastname@example.org, or 07814 234403
Spalpeens, Gombeens, Squireens: Class Relations in Nineteenth Century Ireland.
A one day interdisciplinary conference aiming to bring together researchers whose work offers an insight into the lives of ordinary people in nineteenth century Ireland. The particular focus is on class as those lives were bound up with production, domination, exploitation and conflict.
Given the relatively sparsely documented nature of this topic and the consequent challenges to research, employing the different approaches represented by different disciplines can be of great utility in giving us a fuller picture. In addition political/elite history is still the predominate focus of research on the Irish past, but a comprehensive understanding is only possible with a commensurate orientation towards the mass of the population. It is intended that the conference will attract the participation of people from different fields including post-medieval archaeology, historical geography, historical sociology, social history, and economic history (and others are welcome).
We are particularly interested in involving postgraduate students and early career scholars.
The conference will take place in N.U.I. Maynooth on Saturday the 31st of July 2010.
Persons interested in presenting should contact the conference organising committee
Eoin O'Flaherty and Terry Dunne at email@example.com with the following:
Deadline for submission of abstracts: Monday 21st of June 2010.
There may be a nominal registration fee (e.g. approx. €20) – further details to be confirmed, we would appreciate it if people planning on attending but not presenting also notify us by Monday the 21st of June at firstname.lastname@example.org
In case you have missed it, Bill Hunter is speaking next Saturday evening (15 May) at Housmans bookshop in central London (near Kings X) 5pm, as part of the celebration of his 90th birthday. Bill is now one of the oldest, and longest serving Trotskyists in the UK with a history that goes right back to the Wicks-Dewar group, and he contributed a lot of information to the Richardson-Bornstein books. His own website hosts a number of issues of the original series of Socialist Appeal. Lets encourage him to get the second volume of his memoirs finished and into print.
Sex, Race and Class –
40 Years of the Women’s Movement
Monday, 10th May 2010 (7 for 7.30pm)
at Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London NW3
The Chapel is on Rosslyn Hill, close to Hampstead tube station (Northern line/Edgware branch) Buses 46 & 268
Suggested donation £5 Wine and nibbles available from 7pm
Veteran feminist and anti-racist campaigner Selma James will talk about the movement, forty years on from the first UK Women’s Liberation Conference in Oxford in 1970. She is the founder of the International Wages for Housework Campaign and co-ordinator of the Global Women’s Strike. Her writings include the groundbreaking The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (1972), The Ladies and the Mammies – Jane Austen & Jean Rhys (1983) and The Milk of Human Kindness – Defending breastfeeding from the global market and the AIDS industry (co-author 2002). Selma James was the first spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes. She is based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town.
Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Serving the Next Generation - The Commonwealth in the 21st Century
The Movement for Colonial Freedom
Rt Hon Tony Benn
Wednesday 9th June 2010
Lecture to start promptly at 5.30pm and to be followed by a wine reception
Beveridge Hall, South Block, Senate House
Malet Street, University of London
London WC1E 7HU
Founded by the Labour MP Fenner Brockway in 1954, the Movement for Colonial Freedom was one of Britain’s most prominent anti-colonial pressure groups in the 1950s and ‘60s. The Movement championed the cause of nationalist movements around the world and worked to expose human rights abuses perpetrated in the counterinsurgency campaigns that preceded the end of colonial rule. It was also a fierce critic of the racist policies of Rhodesia and South Africa. As the Movement’s Treasurer, Tony Benn, witnessed these struggles at first hand. His lecture promises to provide unique insights into this fascinating chapter in the history of decolonization and to offer important lessons for today’s campaigners against racism and oppression.
RSVP to Troy Rutt (email@example.com or 020 7862 8853)
We are currently organising the launch of a Levellers Association which would aim to popularise the history and heritage of the Levellers and other radicals in the English Revolution.
It would seek to involve students, researchers and academics with amateur historians, 17th century re-enactors, publishers, artists, battlefield preservation societies, trade unionists, and campaigners who want to deepen our knowledge of the English Revolution. The project is at an early stage but current sponsors include:
Jeremy Corbyn MP,
Geoffrey Robertson QC, author of The Tyrannicide Brief
Jim Holstun, author of Ehud's Dagger
Ann Hughes, Professor of Early Modern History at Keele University
Neil Faulkner, editor of Military Times
Andrew Murray, Director of Communications for Unite the Union
Dr John Gurney, Visiting Fellow Newcastle University
Caryl Churchill, playwright
Rev. Hammer, songwriter
Dr Rachel Foxley, University of Reading
Philip Baker, Senior Research Officer at the Centre for Metropolitan History
Dr Ariel Hessayon, Goldsmiths, University of London
John Westmoreland, Head of History, York College
Lindsey German, national convenor, Stop the War Coalition
Dr Geoff Kennedy, University of Ulster
Marcus Rediker, University of Pittsburgh, co-author (with Peter Linebaugh), The Many-Headed Hydra
Joel Kovel, Editor in Chief, Capitalism Nature Socialism
Dr Pete Woodcock, University of Huddersfield
Norah Carlin, author of The Causes of the English Revolution
The Socialist History Society
Dominic Alexander, books editor, Counterfire magazine
Rowan Wilson, Sales and Marketing Director, Verso Books
Clare Solomon, President-elect, University of London Union
Seumas Milne, Guardian columnist
Jon France, Nottingham University
Matthew Caygill, Leeds Metropolitan University
Dr Keith Flett, London Socialist Historians Group
Andrew Milner, Monash University, author of John Milton and the English Revolution Kate Connolly, University of Paris
This letter is being circulated on history, academic, trade union and activists lists in the hope of widening he sponsorship base of the project. Please do let us know if you would like to become a sponsor of the Levellers Association.
We are aiming to hold an initial organising meeting on Saturday 22nd May, at 1pm in Room B104, the School of Oriental and African Studies Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG (nearest tube Russell Square). If you would like to attend or if you have any ideas that you would like discussed at the meeting please do let us know.
Please respond to this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope that people can help us establish a website, newsletter, conferences, education packs, publications, artistic events and so on...but there is absolutely no obligation on individual sponsors to do any of this.
Thanks for taking the time to look at this.
John Rees, Goldsmiths College
Ben Craggs, Goldsmiths College
Tehmeena Bax, Queen Mary College
Saturday 15 May Socialist History Society AGM 1.00 p.m., followed at 2.00 p.m. by public lecture: Willie Thompson speaks on Cold War Liberalism and Liberals. Venue: Library, Bishopsgate Institute. Admission £1.50 to public lecture
Monday 17 MaySyndicalism: Lessons for today Public Meeting organised jointly by the London Socialist Historians and the Socialist History Society, 6.00pm in the Pollard Room, the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1
Thursday 10 June - Deborah Lavin speaks on Bradlaugh contra Marx - a Public Meeting organised by The Socialist History Society, 7pm, At the Bishopsgate Institute (opposite Liverpool Street)
1-5 July Marxism 2010 'Ideas to Change the World' - conference in London with hundreds of meetings, films etc and various speakers including socialist feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham, Tariq Ali and Tony Benn.
From the Editor
With a General Election just weeks away, a packed audience of socialist historians met on the last Saturday in February at the Institute of Historical Research in central London to review the history of the labour
movement’s engagement with Parliamentary Democracy and the wider issues of political democracy and corruption highlighted by the recent MPs’ expenses scandal.
The conference brought together some of the leading authorities in the field of British political history to review the history of the demand for democratic Representation, from the Chartists fight against Old Corruption in the 1830s to the present day. There were some excellent papers and some rigorous discussion on issues, from the EU and democracy to how far New Corruption has replaced the Old Corruption of the 1830s. Above all, there was a sense of the rich heritage of the engagement of socialists with democracy, all the way from Labour MPs to Soviets, which, it was revealed, were elected in 1917 by proportional representation. Logie Barrow’s paper from the Conference is now on the LSHG blog.
We also held two very successful seminars in the Spring term. Ian Goodyer spoke to an audience of veterans and those too young to have been there on his new history of Rock Against Racism, while in March John Charlton spoke to a packed house on his new book about the left on Tyneside in the late 1950s and 1960s.
An interesting range of seminars is in prospect for Autumn 2010 and Spring 2011, although a decision on the 2011 conference will be taken later. Two subjects we are looking at are the one-hundredth anniversary of the Great Unrest of 1911 and a socialist history of the Tory Party. Other ideas most welcome.
A thanks to all those who have helped during the academic year, including John who produces the Newsletter. With Tristram Hunt standing as New Labour candidate in Stoke there is a need for socialist historians to continue investigating the history of how such things became possible. Keith Flett Easter 2010
NB The deadline for contributors to the next issue of the Newsletter is the start of September 2010 contact Keith Flett at the email address above.
The Special Collections section of the Senate House Library now contains a very extensive archive of material related to the British far left. A few years ago the Richardson Collection was established; this was the private collection, built up over decades, of Al Richardson, founding editor of Revolutionary History and author with Sam Bornstein of two classic volumes on the early history of British Trotskyism [Against the Stream, London, 1986; The War and the International, London, 1986] he was generally reckoned to be one of the foremost experts on British and international Trotskyism.
To this were added the archives of Jim Higgins, a veteran of the Communist Party till 1956, and later a member of the International Socialists (forerunner of the SWP) until 1975, and for a period its full-time National Secretary. These have now been complemented by the papers of Will Fancy, a veteran left activist since the 1950s who died last summer.
Together these collections contain a mass of material on the history and publications of the British far left. There are copious sets of minutes, agendas and internal bulletins. Of course much of the material deals with internal organisation, factional disputes and disciplinary matters, questions that are probably of interest only to a fairly restricted group of aficionados. But those contributors to left-wing journals who make a speciality of denouncing their rivals might be well advised to do some research here, rather than relying on mere rumour.
But the interest of these collections is considerably broader than this. For while the far left organisations have had only a limited membership, their influence on the wider labour movement has been of some significance.
The spread of revolutionary socialist ideas in the Labour Party Young Socialists in the early sixties certainly caused the Labour leadership some anxiety, as is shown by the report of a meeting between the editorial board of the independent paper Young Guard and members of the disciplinary sub-committee of the Labour Party NEC. The Richardson Collection contains documents, including posters, relating to the Neath by election of 1945, in which Jock Haston stood as a candidate of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Since independent left candidacies are a matter of current interest, this episode might be well worth revisiting.
A fair number of individuals have passed through the ranks of the far left before finding fame and fortune in the mainstream; there is material here for the biographers of Jack Dromey, Christopher Hitchens, Kate Hoey and Lord MacDonald of Tradeston. I discovered two substantial letters by the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre which form an interesting supplement to the recent anthology of his Marxist writings edited by Paul Blackledge and Neil Davidson. [Alasdair MacIntyre's Engagement with Marxism, Leiden, 2008.] The Higgins archives are very rich, and contain items of considerable interest; I found, for example, an internal polemic by Tony Cliff about Cuba which I had despaired of ever seeing a copy of. But they have not been sorted and contain a good deal of extraneous material, including Jim’s electricity bills. Will Fancy was also an inveterate hoarder, but he carefully archived the material by subject and in strict chronological order, so that it is much easier to trace the development of events. As well as material relating to the International Socialists, his archives contain material relevant to the history of CND, the NUT and other organisations.
The period between the Roberts-Arundel strike in Stockport in 1966 and the miners’ strike of 1974 which brought down the Tory government was the most militant period of working-class activity in Britain since the aftermath of World War I. The question of how socialists could relate to and participate in these struggles, the complex interaction of the economic and the political, are central to a great deal of the material in these collections. Jim Higgins was a leading activist in the Post Office Engineering Union until he became a full-timer for the International Socialists in 1972. Will Fancy was a leading figure in the very influential rank-and-file organisation the NALGO Action Group. The Higgins and Fancy papers both contain much material relating to rank-and-file trade-union activity and organisation. These experiences of trade-union struggle and rank-and file organisation are an important aspect of our history, and hopefully these collections will open up new areas of research.
Outline catalogues of the collections are available at
http://archives.ulrls.lon.ac.uk/resources/MS1171.pdf Ian Birchall
People’s History Museum
Left Bank, Spinningfields,
Manchester M3 3ER
Tel / Fax: 0161 838 9190
The People’s History Museum in Manchester has just re-opened after a lengthy revamp and rebuild. On the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Society for the Study of Labour History the new museum may attract a few critical comments [and perhaps tweets as it’s on Twitter] from those of us who are used to researching the history of working people in difficult, cramped and often fairly miserable conditions.
Indeed, just for those who remember the old Museum the new one on the same site is a revelation. The first thing to be said is that it is light, airy, spacious and welcoming. Spread over four floors and a number of rooms and spaces, it is also free. On the ground floor alongside a cafe, shop and a building-high wall chart showing the history of labour and the left in the UK, is a temporary exhibition space. When I was there just before Easter this housed a photographic record covering people arrested on demos from the Suffragettes to the miners in 1984-5 and beyond. Again there is space to wander round and step back from the photos to take a look, for those familiar with such things being housed in the equivalent of phone boxes.
On the first floor is labour history up to 1945, that is from Chartism to the SDF and the ILP and then the CPGB. There is a lot to get in, and it can seem a bit crowded. However the design and layout are excellent as are the recorded extracts from speeches, screens and things you can push and open. Some might say this is not serious labour history, but the point is there is enough to interest a veteran like myself but presented in such a way as to engage those less well versed in the history of this great movement of ours and indeed enough to keep kids happily occupied as well. The whole thing is also colour-coded to indicate the separate strands in our history from revolution to reform.
The gallery on the second floor looks at post-1945 struggles from the 1945 Election victory to the NHS, CND, Wapping and so on. Here may be seen the more modern influences of the Morning Star and Socialist Worker familiar to those active on the left now. Again though, wider interest is not forgotten — for example in the section devoted to the history of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
One can, of course, criticise. I thought it was a bit harsh, as well as being wrong, to state that the revolutionary Marxist ideas of the SDF were rejected by the British labour movement. Rather they were a strand albeit a minority one. Further there is not enough sense of the arguments, debates and disagreements that we all know about on the left. They can be maddening and time-wasting, but they are also a sign of a movement that is alive, passionate and, because so, also sometimes argumentative.
The Museum also has the largest store of banners in the world, only a few of which can be on show. Behind the scenes the work of restoring banners goes on. There are facilities for meetings and research. The Museum holds both Labour and Communist Party archives and much else besides including the actual donkey jacket [from Harrods] that Michael Foot wore on that famous occasion at the Cenotaph.
The Museum is a must visit for anyone in Manchester and with the holiday period coming along well worth a special trip as well. Keith Flett
Review by Ian Birchall, LSHG Newsletter, 38, (April 2010)
Trotsky: A Biography
By Robert Service
Macmillan, London, 2009, £25.00
Robert Service claims that “this book is the first full-length biography of Trotsky written by someone outside Russia who is not a Trotskyist”. [xxi] As Paul Leblanc points out in his brilliant demolition of the book, this is simply untrue, ignoring substantial biographies by Joel Carmichael, Robert Payne and Ronald Segal, among others. Carmichael’s book is actually in Service’s bibliography. Service claims that Trotsky’s previous biographers have been too sympathetic to their subject - Pierre Broué is dismissed as an “idolater” [xxi] – and that he wishes to redress the balance. Those of us who admire Trotsky might in principle welcome this. Serious criticism is always useful and can help to raise the level of the argument. Unfortunately there is little new here for those who already know something of Trotsky, and Service’s case is poorly presented and inadequately documented.
Service tells us that Trotsky was arrogant.  Clearly there is some truth in this. Nobody without a powerful self-belief and recognition of their own importance could have played such a significant leadership role in the Russian Revolution, and then carried on the struggle unremittingly despite isolation and persecution. There are few modest men and women in the ranks of political leaders. But Service goes on to exaggerate his case with unsupported assertions. Thus he produces a quotation from Alfred Rosmer retailed by Max Eastman to the effect that Trotsky “has no humanity. It’s entirely absent from him”.  Rosmer is unlikely to have said any such thing. In Lenin’s Moscow [London, 1987] and elsewhere [for example, “Nashe Slovo” in Revolutionary History 7/4] he shows his warm affection for Trotsky. Trotsky’s close friendship with Alfred and Marguerite Rosmer survived their political disagreements.
Service’s other main charge is that Trotsky’s “lust for dictatorship and terror was barely disguised in the Civil War”. . He repeats the claim several times, as though that somehow made it more plausible. The Russian Civil War was fought with exceptional bitterness on all sides, and Trotsky undoubtedly used some brutal means. But Service never takes on the arguments about revolutionary terror, or how a revolutionary state might survive without it, preferring to reiterate accusations about Trotsky’s psychology. Kronstadt is evoked on several occasions, though again without any suggestion of what alternatives were open to the Bolsheviks. Since he quotes Victor Serge’s polemics against Trotsky on the question, he might have had the elementary honesty to note that in 1921 Serge – “with unutterable anguish” - supported the Bolsheviks against Kronstadt. [Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Oxford, 1967, p. 128] This is an indication that the tragedy of Kronstadt was not such a clear-cut case as those who delight in using it against the Bolsheviks seems to assume.
Service is keen to expose “silly fibs” in Trotsky’s own recollections. Few readers will be shocked to learn that Trotsky’s claims to have travelled to America second-class – when in fact he got a first-class cabin though he had only paid a second-class fare.  A whole chapter is devoted to “Trotsky and his Women” [446-54] (perhaps Service was hoping for tabloid serialisation), though there is nothing new here, merely the brief affair with Frida Kahlo which is pretty widely known.
But on the substantial political arguments Service is surprisingly thin. The whole argument between Stalin and Trotsky hinged on the question of spreading the revolution. But Service has little or nothing to say about Trotsky’s role in the Communist International. The cursory account of the Second Congress fails to mention the way in which Trotsky supported Lenin, in opposition to the likes of Zinoviev, in attempting to draw the revolutionary syndicalists into the Comintern. [254-5] He is apparently unaware of Reiner Tosstorff’s important study of the Red International of Labour Unions (Profintern, Paderborn, 2004.) Trotsky devoted particular attention to the tangled affairs of the French Communist Party, but no mention is made of his extensive writings and interventions. [Service might have profitably consulted the documents collected by Broué in Le Mouvement communiste en France [Paris 1967] or Robert Wohl’s, French Communism in the Making, 1914-1924 (Stanford, 1966)].
He does note that Trotsky opposed the disastrous March Action in Germany in 1921,  though he seems unclear as to what actually happened. He refers to “the Berlin insurrection”, though reference to Broué’s The German Revolution 1917-1923 [Leiden 2005] would show that the main strike action took place in Mansfeld and Halle in Central Germany. But then he attempts to nail Trotsky for inconsistency by claiming he changed his position by supporting a revolutionary attempt in 1923.  Now there is a legitimate argument about whether there was a potentially revolutionary situation on Germany in 1923. But there is no doubt that the situation in Germany had radically changed – maybe even Service has heard of the massive inflation of 1923. A glance at Broué or Victor Serge’s Witness to the German Revolution [London 2000] would have helped.
Trotsky’s writings on fascism in Germany – among his finest work – get only a passing mention.  Trotsky devoted the last ten years of his life to trying to draw together the anti-Stalinist left and to building the Fourth International. Service belittles this work, reducing the various disputes in and around the FI to Trotsky’s authoritarian style and “crotchetiness”.  Unfortunately the roots of sectarianism on the left run far deeper than one individual’s character defects. There is nothing new, and indeed nothing concrete, here. Service makes no mention of Tony Cliff’s biography of Trotsky, presumably because Cliff was not a recognised academic. But the final volume The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Star (London, 1993), gives a great deal of detail on Trotsky’s activity, informed by Cliff’s own active involvement in the movement. It is a far more rewarding source than anything Service has to offer.
Despite his archival researches, Service takes a cavalier attitude to Trotsky’s published works, and one often wonders if he has actually read them. Thus he alleges that in the New Course Trotsky “expressed contempt for Bolshevik veterans”.  Such claims are unwise when the text is easily available on the Marxist Internet Archive, where we find that Trotsky actually wrote “Theoretical preparation, revolutionary tempering, political experience, these represent the party’s basic political capital whose principal possessors, in the first place, are the old cadres of the party.” [Chapter One] His argument, which Service seems wholly unable to appreciate, was about the importance of drawing in and integrating a new generation of those radicalised after 1917. If Trotsky was so contemptuous of the old Bolsheviks, it would be hard to explain why so many of them were drawn to the Left Opposition.
Likewise with Their Morals and Ours. Service begins with a standard sneer at ‘dialectics” , but completely misses the main point of Trotsky’s argument, that ends and means are interrelated, so that the means must always be appropriate to the end. A quotation about “ruthlessness” is quite meaningless if ripped out of this context.
Then there are the detailed errors which accumulate until they undermine the reader’s confidence in Service. We are told that Trotsky could win support from painters but not from writers . This is justified by describing the well-known poet André Breton (sometimes misnamed Bréton ) as a painter. (Wikipedia might have helped here). Service believes Breton’s “pictures” showed “sympathy with the plight of working people”; Breton, who loathed Socialist Realism, would have been appalled.
We are told that Trotsky’s son wrote to “others in the Coyoacán household such as Bertram Wolfe”. Why Bertram Wolfe, a followed of the Bukharinite Jay Lovestone, would have been at Coyoacán is unclear. The addressee was actually a quite different person, Bernard Wolfe, who was briefly one of Trotsky’s secretarial staff. Wolfe describes his experiences in his delightfully titled Memoirs of a Not Altogether Shy Pornographer [New York, 1972]. Service could have consulted this in the British Library, but because of the book’s title he would have had to go to the Rare Books room and sit at the so-called “wankers’ table”.
And we are told that “by 1939 Victor Serge … resigned from the Fourth International”.  In fact Serge was never a member of the Fourth International. This error is particularly culpable, since Service cites as his source David Cotterill’s The Serge Trotsky Papers[London, 1994], though he does not seem to have actually read it.
Service concludes that Trotsky was “close to Stalin in intentions and practice”.  Nowhere in the 500 pages of his shoddily researched book does he produce any proof of this claim. But alongside the common assertion that “Lenin led to Stalin”, Service adds the argument that “there was no alternative”. Revolutionary socialism – socialism from below – was doomed to failure. War, fascism and starvation survive, but Service does not seem unduly bothered. All his anger is directed at a man who, albeit unsuccessfully, tried to change things. Ian Birchall
Editors note: Service's biography of Trotsky, despite the numerous errors highlighted above, for some reason won the 2009 Duff Cooper Prize. Ian Birchall has written a review of Reiner Tosstorff’s study of the Red International of Labour Unions Profintern, Paderborn, 2004. in Historical Materialism journal, 17,4 (2009).
This book, salvaged from a CWU union office, is a detailed record of activity over the years seen through the eyes of an activist who became an overseer in 1959. The second source is the discovered record book of the minutes of a union reform group (1935–37) in Bristol UPW, which was set up by the mysterious Rosa Luxemburg Group. Union activist Dave Chapple wrote the volume, his third book for the Somerset Socialist Library in Bridgewater.
The title refers to posties’ workplace slang. The book is exceptionally well illustrated with a whole chapter of cartoons; it devotes many columns to the reproduction of documents but is without an index for reference.
This short review cannot provide a full critique, but a list of chapter headings will give an idea of the contents: George Massey, Easton Boy; 1920 the UPW’s First Radical Year; The Bristol UPW’s Old Guard; A 66 year campaign for a Shorter Working Week; The Rosa Luxemburg Group 1935-37; The Cartoons of Arthur Hagg in The Post; Spain, Germany, Moscow trials; Bofors in Burma; The Bristol UPW Cold War; George Massey UPW Journal editor; Activists – political and social issues in the 1950s; The UPW and Women Workers; Workers control, Guild socialism and Whitleyism; George Massey – counter and writing P&TO Secretary; George Massey UPW Executive Councillor; The 1971 Strike in Bristol; Final Retirement,1976; and Thoughts.
I shall therefore concentrate on the chapters on the RLG, on guild socialism/workers control and on rank and file activities. There is plenty more to discuss – and possibly disagree about – on related topics in the book including a short account of the important 1971 posties’ strike. This consists largely of personal reminiscences, but the main details confirm the account in the official history of the union [Clinton]. George assisted the UPW branch activists and – acting in a personal capacity and as honorary member – staffed the UPW office, organised a levy in his own union achieving around 20% response, and went on some
local marches and demonstrations. He explains how the strike breaking telephonists were boycotted afterwards.
George Henry Massey was a Post Office member of the CPGB but broke with the Party in the 30s because he asked too many questions about the show trials of the old Bolsheviks. He re-joined after the war and stayed in, despite Hungary and all that, until after his retirement, in 1976. Meanwhile he had assumed a managerial position, while working with the appropriate CPGB Advisory Committee. He remained an honorary UPW member but was active in the managerial unions. George and three other members had set up a workplace branch of the CPGB, but as security was a key priority, they gave themselves the somewhat ambitious title of the Rosa Luxemburg Group. While this might be of some interest to those of us who once considered themselves as Luxemburgists, it turns out to have been a standard workplace branch of the now reformist Communists. The group had its own journal, secretly distributed, and was organisationally separate from union work. The main function of the RLG was secretly to lead a union reform group in Bristol, across the existing grades of PO staff, beyond sectionalism. The emphasis is on control from the bottom up, in this case the UPW constitutional commitment to guild socialism. The aim to rejuvenate the local leadership is admirable so long as other objectives are met, but in fact the reform group had little of the great Polish
socialist’s wider vision for a new society. Guild socialism, sometimes defined as the full time official’s version of workers’ control, was strong in other unions, like the CAWU, as well. The best book is not something from the academic G D H Cole but a more recent work, The Tradition of Workers’ Control by Geoffrey Ostergaard. (Freedom Press, 1997)
When George was effectively expelled by the CP, the rank and file group shuddered to a halt. For more information on the CP workplace units, see McIlroy  whose extensive research and writings on the
subject also cover a later period. Chapple is curiously non-political, and I would have liked the author to go from merely recording the facts to an analytical style that befits the Chair of the National Shop Stewards Network. For example, there are several questions which the book prompts but does not answer. Why is there not one word about the official union policy of guild socialism in the rank and file group’s Minutes? How could the RLG really be organisationally separate from the workplace? Did the rank and file activists ever break out from just workplace militancy? What was the strength and weakness of the CP workplace branches? Despite these unanswered questions and its modest intentions, this is a book worth reading. Alan Woodward
Old Corruption – and the New From LSHG Newsletter, 38 (April 2010)
A parliamentary system that had lost much legitimacy and where representative democracy was more of an idea than an actuality. Wars, debts due to war and massive greed of many of those in power. Just in case you feel this sounds rather familiar we are talking about the pre-1832 parliamentary system. The system was termed Old Corruption not least by a generation of radicals such as William Cobbett who ridiculed it and campaigned against it. Some parliamentary constituencies were so corrupt they were termed ‘Rotten Boroughs’. As Britain moved to an industrial society, population centres moved, and many old parliamentary seats were left with few if any real voters. They still returned MPs, though. In a sense, that was only an outcrop of Old Corruption, though. The core of it was a systematic working of Parliament and Government for the benefit of officials and MPs. Contracts were designed to deliver money to certain individuals, and Government jobs were often little more than sinecures. Radicals used the phrases Old Corruption, The System and The Thing interchangeably. They were complaining about an entire parasitic political system.
A recent historian of Old Corruption Philip Harling argued that it took ‘tax money out of the pockets of Britons and transferred it to a narrow band of well connected insiders through a wide variety of nefarious means’. These means included church patronage, Government contracts and policies that served the interests of City financiers. At the peak of the Napoleonic Wars, Government spending on ‘defence’ reached 30% of national income. Parliament survived, and how it did so remains a matter of historical debate. The 1832 Reform Act played an important but by no means the only role in the process. Its precise form, much argued over, was just radical enough to head off a very real threat of revolution. A range of other reforms ran into the 1840s, by which time the Chartists were agitating for a democratic place in the system rather than scrapping it. The ruling class did not, of course, do this unbidden. Above all else, it was the fury of working class opposition to Old Corruption that led to the changes. That opposition was sustained over four decades from the first years of the nineteenth century to the attempt at insurrection in South Wales in 1839 and beyond. The basic idea of working class politics was that the system of war, greed and corrupt politicians could only be contained and changed by a massive extension of popular democracy. That was what Peterloo in Manchester in 1819 was about, when campaigners for the vote were cut down by troops. The following years were a little quieter, but by 1830 the demands for democracy were back.
However, the ruling class also had other strategies to hand, in particular what Harling refers to as ‘practical improvement’. Successive Governments did indeed work to remove most of the instances of Old Corruption on the basis that it was not the system that was at fault but individual abuses of it. Without question, the argument that not revolution or root and branch reform but tackling of abuse was what was needed took some edge off the arguments of radicals.
The lessons for today may seem obvious. Firstly, the battle for the vote, hard fought and won, was designed to curb and control Old Corruption. Voting today, in historical terms, is a recognition of the struggles of those that went before us. Secondly, while the system may be in many fundamental aspects the same, two hundred years have elapsed. We need a new fight against The Thing of the twenty-first century. Keith Flett