Thursday, 9 September 2021

Dissenting Traditions: Essays on Bryan D. Palmer, Marxism, and History


Book announcement

Sean Carleton, Ted McCoy and Julia Smith, eds, Dissenting Traditions: Essays on Bryan D. Palmer, Marxism, and History (Edmonton: Canadian Committee on Labour History and AU Press, 2021). Available on open access at:

The work of Bryan D. Palmer, one of North America’s leading historians, has influenced the fields of labour history, social history, discourse analysis, communist history, and Canadian history, as well as the theoretical frameworks surrounding them. Palmer’s work reveals a life dedicated to dissent and the difficult task of imagining alternatives by understanding the past in all of its contradictions, victories, and failures.

Dissenting Traditions gathers Palmer’s contemporaries, students, and sometimes critics to examine and expand on the topics and themes that have defined Palmer’s career, from labour history to Marxism and communist politics. Paying attention to Palmer’s participation in key debates, contributors demonstrate that class analysis, labour history, building institutions, and engaging the public are vital for social change. In this moment of increasing precarity and growing class inequality, Palmer’s politically engaged scholarship offers a useful roadmap for scholars and activists alike and underlines the importance of working-class history.


  Sean Carleton, Ted McCoy and Julia Smith


Part I. Labour

1. Bryan D. Palmer, Labour Historian

  Alvin Finkel

2. Bryan D. Palmer, Social Historian

  Ted McCoy

3. Labour History’s Present: An Account of Labour/Le Travail Under Bryan D. Palmer

  Kirk Niergarth


Part II. Experience, Discourse, Class

4. Bryan D. Palmer and E. P. Thompson

  Nicholas Rogers

*5. On Polemics and Provocations: Bryan D. Palmer vs. Liberal Anti-Marxists

  Chad Pearson

6. Bryan Douglas Palmer, Edward Palmer Thompson, John le Carré (and Me): Workers, Spies, and Spying, Past and Present

  Gregory S. Kealey


Part III. Politics

7. Palmer’s Politics: Discovering the Past and the Future of Class Struggle

  Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin

8. The Hippopotamus and the Giraffe: Bolshevism, Stalinism, and American and British Communism in the 1920s

  John McIlroy and Alan Campbell

9. The June Days of 2013 in Brazil and the Persistence of Top-Down Histories

  Sean Purdy

10. Old Positions/New Directions: Strategies for Rebuilding Canadian Working-Class History

  Sean Carleton and Julia Smith


Afterword: Rude Awakenings

  Bryan D. Palmer

Selected Works of Bryan D. Palmer

Monday, 6 September 2021

Radical St Pancras Walk, Saturday 18 September

 Radical St Pancras Walk, Saturday 18 September -

meet 2pm by the Newton statue at the British Library

St Pancras has a radical history that includes William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Percy Byshe Shelley and many others. Both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels lived in the borough. Marx once applied for a job at Kings Cross station - which he didn't get because no-one could read his hand writing.

On the day of the FA Cup Final of 1908 militant suffragettes leafleted the fans as they arrived at St Pancras and Kings Cross stations (Wolves beat Newcastle 3:1). There were reports of crowds of fans marching to Wembley shouting 'Votes for Women!'

In the 1920s the council supported the building of good quality low cost housing. The Ossulston Estate was modelled on the housing of Red Vienna. In the 1950s, John Lawrence who had been a Trotskyist in the 1940s, became the leader of the majority Labour group on the council. In 1958 he caused delight by giving the council workers the day off for May Day - and infuriated the right by raising the Red Flag on the town hall. In 1960 a well supported rent strike - in protest at rent rises and severe housing shortages - led to bailiff actions. Two days of series rioting followed which was met with mounted police charges and a curfew.

Today the area is undergoing yet more change. Google has its London headquarters there. A company full of secrets and anti-union attitudes. Can tech workers - currently often atomised and unorganized - learn from the experiences of the railway workers who so much shaped this place?

This will be a circular walk of about 3 - 4 miles which will take about 2 - 3 hours.

The walk is free. To find out more, please contact Danny B at

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

CfP: Socialism in the English-speaking Caribbean

Socialism in the English-Speaking Caribbean

Call for Papers

Organised workers’ movements first appeared as a significant social force in the British Caribbean Region Colonies before the Second World War. Anticolonial movements began to gather momentum in the region around the same time. Socialists and socialist ideas played a significant part in both movements, particularly as they developed and began to see political success in the post-war era. For the most part, these Caribbean socialisms developed organically within their societies, and both their organisational forms and their political ideas often defied the neat categorisations familiar from European socialism: revolutionary or reformist, communist or social-democratic and so on.

To explore the commonalities and differences among the socialisms of the English-speaking Caribbean, their origins, development and achievements, The Socialist History Society, The Institute of Commonwealth Studies and The Society for Caribbean Studies will be holding a series of online research seminars with a view to publishing selected papers from the seminars in the journal.
We are inviting researchers on the history of Caribbean socialist, labour and anticolonial movements to submit proposals for papers on any aspects of this history. Topics of interest may include, but are not limited to:

    • The early influence and impact of socialist ideas in the region in the nineteenth century
    • The relationship of early Caribbean socialists with socialists in Britain, the US and elsewhere
    • The impact of the Russian Revolution and the Communist International
    • Garveyism, anticolonialism and socialism
    • The Labour Rebellions of the inter-war period
    • Women and Caribbean socialism
    • The Cold War and anti-communism
    • The Caribbean New Left and Black Power movements
    • The Grenada Revolution and its legacy
    • Leaders and thinkers of Caribbean socialism
    • Race, ethnicity and socialist movements
    • Religion and socialist politics

We are seeking papers of 5,000 to 10,000 words to be presented at the seminars. Presentations themselves will be expected to last no more than 20 minutes. 

Please submit proposals of no more than 500 words to the organisers Steve Cushion, Christian Høgsbjerg and Michael Mahadeo on by 15th November 2021. Accepted proposals will be presented at one or more online evening seminars in the early part of next year (dates to be agreed). 

Authors of those papers selected for publication will be invited to revise them for a special issue of Socialist History.

Friday, 30 July 2021

Merilyn Moos - three e-books on anti-Nazi history

Three e-books by Merilyn Moos, co-author with Steve Cushion of Anti-Nazi Germans, celebrating the lives and struggles of left-wing Germans who fought the Nazis available here

Anti-Nazi ExilesGerman Socialists in Britain and their Shifting Alliances 1933-1945
German Anti-Nazis and the British EmpireThe Special Operations Executive, Deserters from the German Army and Partisan Movements in Occupied Europe
Hans JahnBiography of an Anti-Nazi Trade Unionist

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

London Socialist Historian Group seminars - a review and some dates for your diaries

What a long, strange trip it’s been. 

An academic year of socialist history seminars on Zoom. A year of socialist history seminars at the Institute of Historical Research is complete. Far from meeting in Room 304 at the IHR in Senate House in Bloomsbury, they were all done virtually on Zoom. 

Details of the seminars are below. Special thanks are due to the speakers who joined us on Zoom from Australia and Ghana. Suffice to say this would not otherwise have happened. Attendances too were hugely up, edging towards 100 for most seminars as opposed to the 15-30 that would be the usual in-person attendance. We probably had more and varied contributions from those attending than in-person seminars often get, including one made from a London bus, which would definitely not have happened previously. We will be continuing on Zoom at least for the autumn term 2021/22. Look out for provisional details. 

List of London Socialist Historians Seminars held in 2020/21:

 12 October 2020: Rhys Williams, Tom Mann and Australia: 1902 to 1909

 9 November 2020: Mark Hailwood, ‘Between 5 and 6 of the clock’: Time-telling, Time-use and Timediscipline in Pre-industrial England’ 

7 December 2020: Keith Flett, 150 years since the death of William Cuffay black leader of London Chartism in 1848. Has he been ignored by socialist historians? 

25 January 2021: Merilyn Moos and Steve Cushion, German working class resistance to the Nazis 

22 February 2021: John Newsinger, Trump and the Christian Right: A Dark Side of American Exceptionalism 

15 March 2021: Eibhlín Ní Chléirigh, Asking for the Moon: An investigation of memory and hope in activist movements 

26 April 2021: Stella Dadzie A Kick In The Belly, on women, resistance and slavery. 

24 May 2021: Simon Hannah, The Labour Parliament of 1854. 

London Socialist Historians Seminars. Autumn Term 2021: 

Seminars will be on Zoom. Details to follow nearer the time. 

Monday 4 October, 5.30pm, Marika Sherwood, ‘The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their own history’ (George Orwell). What has been obliterated from ‘our’ history here in the UK and in what used to be our colonies? 

Monday 18 October, 5.30pm - Book Launch: The Red and the Black: The Russian Revolution and the Black Atlantic

Monday 1 November 5.30pm Judy Meewezen, Turtle Soup & Cato St 

More seminars to be announced.  

The Newsletter

 Letters, articles, criticisms and contributions to debate are most welcome. 

Deadline for the next issue is 1 September 2021.  Please contact Keith Flett at the address above for more information.  

Geffrye Must Fall

Museum of the Home reopens: Statue of slaver Geffrye remains in place 

The Museum of the Home (@MuseumoftheHome) in Hackney, London has re-opened after a lengthy closure for refurbishment. Some important and interesting changes have been made. One change that hasn’t been made is to remove the statue of slave trader Robert Geffrye (1613-1703) that is in a central place at the old front of the museum. 

When the Black Lives Matter movement resurged after the murder of George Floyd a year ago there was a consultation, jointly with Hackney Council, on whether the statue should be moved. 71% of the 2,000 or so local respondents said it should be. This was blocked by Ministers Dowden and Jenrick.

 This move reflects the frankly weird ideological obsessions of the present Government. Robert Geffrye funded the almshouses in which the museum, much later from 1914, came to be housed. He is absolutely nothing to do with it and there is no historical reason for his statue to be there (as opposed to elsewhere nearby). 

Indeed the unlikely source of the Daily Telegraph (11th June) has reported that Museum staff feel the statue could be better represented and explained if it was moved from its current central position to the area nearby where Geffrye is actually buried. 

The Museum has made some changes to reflect the area in which its based better. There is a new exhibition of a ‘West Indian sitting room’ from 1976 (though this might be more frequently be defined by area in 2021- i.e Jamaican, Trindadian..). 

There is a also a new film: https://www.museu /what-son/exhibitions-andinstallations/waiting -for-myself-toappear/ 

Stand Up To Racism (including local MP Diane Abbott, pictured) and others continue to protest. Keep in mind though that the museum staff are professionals and trade unionists. The Tory decision on Geffrye is ‘above their pay grade’. 

Keith Flett

George Osborne, the British Museum and the Culture Wars

George Osborne, Bullingdon Club member, austerity Chancellor: Will he fight the Culture War at the British Museum? 

George Osborne has been appointed to the Chair of the Trustees of the British Museum from October replacing the FT’s Richard Lambert. Osborne has had quite a number of very well paid sinecures since he stepped down as an MP in 2017 as this Guardian report notes: 

When he was Chancellor his 2010 Budget reduced funding for Museums by 15%. The BM’s recent controversial partnership with BP which has attracted protests was justified on the basis of the need to raise funds. 

Osborne claims he has always loved the BM. While his appointment certainly owes a good deal more to the chumocracy than the meritocracy he does have a 2:1 in modern history from Oxford. It is not the ideal historical perspective for the BM which tends to deal in not-so-modern history (though far from exclusively so) but it should mean he has some general appreciation of some of the historical issues the BM faces. 

Professor Dan Hicks and others have raised the question of why the BM has retained artefacts which were istolen or plundered from other countries during the imperial era. The ‘Elgin’ Marbles are the most well known of these artefacts but there are many others. Prof. Hicks has argued that while Osborne’s past is well-known we can’t be certain whether he will back Oliver Dowden’s Culture Wars approach: 

He may have a point. Osborne after all was a neo-liberal Chancellor in a Tory Government in some ways different to the current one. It did not for example promote culture wars. As a nineteenth century labour and socialist historian the battle in my field is to get things retained in museums at all and it’s about trying to get statues of significant figures put up not taken down or moved. 

At the same time the London Socialist Historians Group has always linked academic research with political activism, and there is a keen interest in understanding more about Britain’s imperial past and making sure that the history counts in respect of modern day anti-racist and anti-imperialist politics. Hicks argues that the mood music across Europe, reflected now in Scotland, is to reflect anti-racism and to look carefully at what is retained and what is returned in respect of museum holdings. He also suggests that Osborne is aware of that and could bypass Dowden’s culture wars. We’ll see.

Keith Flett