Monday, 31 January 2011

Workshop on the History of Popular Protest and Resistance

New approaches to the history of popular protest and resistance in Britain and Ireland, 1500-1900
A workshop, 1 July 2011, School of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK. Sponsored by History Workshop Journal

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Marxism in Culture seminars


Friday 11 February
The Marxism of Raymond Williams
Peter Thomas (Brunel University)

Friday 04 MarchReading Group – text yet to be decided

Friday 25 March
Spaghetti Communism? The Politics of the Italian Western
Ben Noys (University of Chichester)

All seminars start at 5.30pm, and are held in the Wolfson Room (unless otherwise indicated) at the Institute of Historical Research in Senate House, Malet St, London. The seminar closes at 7.30pm and retires to the bar.

Organisers: Matthew Beaumont, Alan Bradshaw, Warren Carter, Gail Day, Steve Edwards, Larne Abse Gogarty, Owen Hatherley, Esther Leslie, David Mabb, Antigoni Memou, Nina Power, Dominic Rhatz, Pete Smith & Alberto Toscano.

For further information, contact Warren Carter, at: or Esther Leslie at:

Migrant Workers in NHS History

A website dedicated to them

Taking Control conference

Taking Control: registration now open
SOAS, University of London, 12th March 2011
Keynote: Professor Jodi Dean
Other speakers include: Professor Peter Hallward, Dr Alberto Toscano, Dr Paul Blackledge

This conference is concerned with control. On what it means today – under globalised late capitalism – to take or be in control of institutions, whether political, economic, or academic. We are concerned with theorising how to take control, and on what to do when we take it. We want to focus not on the dangers of control – since the corrupting effects of power have been amply theorized – but rather on what it means to take responsibility and effect change, and what this change could be. That is, how can a vision for society be enacted in practical terms? What is the role of democratic participation in this process of mastering social change? And how do we remain accountable as we take control. Does taking control mean working against, within or beside the existing institutional structure?

This question remains under-theorised in contemporary critical political theory – which often remains limited to the critique of the status quo. Without the impulse to take responsibility and take control, this critique becomes meaningless – it results in a de facto acceptance. Where projects like the ‘Idea of Communism’ stop, this conference seeks to take the next step. It must be situated along work such as the Turbulence Collective’s ‘What it means to win’ volume and Erik-Olin-Wright’s ‘Envisioning Utopias’.

We are clear that the idea of communism remains important and a project to be fought for. However in the strategic question we are at an impasse, how to take control and implement a new communism? The vanguard model seems discredited, but the model of the multitude seems non-committal, a mere waiting for things to gradually come together, resulting in a de facto withdrawal from the social. Even more than this impasse, in times of late capitalism the very meaning of what being in control entails is no longer clear. We want to move from thinking about the idea of communism to implementing it.

The event is free to attend but registration is essential. Please email

Organised by ES: Philosophy Research Collective With support from the Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS Department of Politics, Goldsmiths For more information see

Saturday, 22 January 2011

LSHG News and Conference details

The vast bulk of the LSHG Newsletter # 41 Spring 2011 is now online. Highlights include Keith Flett on black Chartist leader William Cuffay, Ian Birchall on Tony Judt and how socialists should write the history of the French left, Ben Lewis on Zinoviev, Jim Grundy on 'trade unionism in cricket' in Nottinghamshire, plus other odds and ends - including archival evidence highlighting a forgotten moment in the evolution of the 'special relationship' between the Liberals and Tories in British politics. The deadline for contributions to the next issue of the Newsletter is April 1st - please contact Keith Flett for more info.

The LSHG seminar series continues as follows ( All seminars at 5.30pm, Pollard Room, First Floor Institute of Historical Research Senate House, Malet Street London WC1 - entry free).

Monday 24th January Ben Lewis:
The USPD Halle Congress of October 1920

Monday 7th February
Owen Hatherley:

Monday 21st February
John Lindsay:
The campaign for homosexual equality
from the 1970s

Monday 7th March
Professor Peter Alexander:
South Africa's Witbank coal miners in comparative
perspectives, 1890-1950

Monday 21st March
George Paizis:

Plus there is the The LSHG One Day Conference
Saturday 26th February 2011 9.30am-4.30pm
Institute of Historical Research
Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1

Speakers include Ian Birchall, Neil Davidson, Nigel Harris (author Competition and the Corporate Society: British Conservatives, the State and Industry, 1945- 1964,(1971) David Renton and Richard Seymour (author The Meaning of David Cameron).

Advance registration is encouraged - please contact Keith Flett for details:

Edited to add: Keith Flett has recently acquired a blog

Peoples History Museum statement on funding cuts

People's History Museum statement on funding cuts

Following the announcement by the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) the museum will see its funding reduced by about 15% from 2011/12 across four years in line with the Comprehensive Spending Review in October. The funding currently provides approx 20% of the total for the museum. From April 2011 DCMS plan to find an alternative body through which to channel its funding of the museum and this will continue for a four year period.

After April 2015 the People’s History Museum will no longer receive any
funding from central Government at which point an alternative sponsor (not
yet identified) will need to be in place.

Katy Archer, Director, said; “The People’s History Museum is currently funded directly by DCMS and is in conversation with the department
about the impact of the government’s decision to relinquish control and sponsorship of what they refer to as ‘non-national museums’. The People’s History Museum continues to be the national centre for collection, conservation, interpretation and study of material relating to the history of working people in Britain and their campaign for democracy over the past
200 years. We are passionate about our national remit and responsibility to tell a national story and will continue to do so.”

The museum is one of eight museums across the country that face the same
situation with regards to DCMS funding. The others are the Design Museum, the Geffrye Museum, the Horniman Museum and Gardens, Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester (MOSI), the Football Museum, the National
Coalmining Museum for England and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. The museum is waiting to hear from its main funder, the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) about the impact of the CSR on funding levels
for the museum from April 2011 onwards.

Rediscovering Zinoviev?

Rediscovering Zinoviev? The USPD Halle Congress of October 1920

From LSHG Newsletter #41 (Spring 2011)

History, to put it mildly, has not been very kind to Grigory Zinoviev. From historical character sketches to Hollywood movies he is remembered for his cowardice and dithering leadership skills, his opposition to the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917, his ruthless ‘Bolshevisation’ of the Communist International and his capitulation to Stalin.

But was there more to this ‘Old Bolshevik’ and close collaborator of Vladimir Ilych Lenin? In researching a forthcoming book in collaboration with Lars T Lih (see below) I have come across perhaps his greatest
overlooked accomplishment: his appearance at the USPD’s famous Halle congress in October 1920, speaking on behalf of the Communist International.

Unlike any other in the 20th century workers’ movement, the whole congress was (literally) split down the middle between ‘lefts’ and ‘rights’, with one chairman selected from each faction, and with the occasional chair thrown from one side of the room to the other. Speaking for over four hours in his second language of German, Zinoviev’s intervention was pivotal in steering the USPD left towards the newly-formed Communist International and rapprochement with the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).

Dubbed by the German press as one of the finest speeches of the century, it certainly lacks some of the finely-tuned style and carefully-selected language often associated with great speech-making. Yet what distinguishes it as a feat of oratory is that it is almost entirely composed of Zinoviev’s immediate, off the- cuff responses to seemingly incessant heckles and interjections from some of European Social Democracy’s heavyweights: Rudolph Hilferding, Jean Longuet and Julius Martov, to name but a few.

Zinoviev's speech defended the young Communist International against its many critics in the socialist movement as well as the record of the young Soviet Republic in Russia. Delivered against the backdrop of the Polish- Soviet War, just a few months before the inauguration of the New Economic Policy in early 1921, it was the only such public defence by a top Bolshevik leader outside the Soviet Union’s borders in Lenin’s lifetime. It reveals, as few other documents do, the self-image of the Bolsheviks at this crucial time.

What were the issues that divided the Halle congress and how adequately did
Zinoviev deal with them? What did he emphasise and what did he overlook in confronting his fierce critics head on? Does the achievement warrant a reappraisal of Zinoviev as a historical figure? Analysing this hidden gem of workers’ movement history is essential to understanding the formative years of the Communist International, the controversies that surrounded it, and the legacy that it, along with its early leader Zinoviev, has left behind.

Ben Lewis
[Ben Lewis is a translator and researcher based in London, currently working on a volume for the Historical Materialism book series entitled Karl Kautsky against revisionism: selected political writings 1898-1904. It will form the backdrop of his PhD thesis. He will be speaking on Zinoviev and the Halle Congress at the LSHG Seminar on 24 January.

Zinoviev and the Halle Congress
Zinoviev's largely forgotten speech and Martov's counterblast for the first time in English, plus introductory essays by Ben Lewis and Lars T Lih

“We are on the field of battle. The audience in the hall is divided in two sections; it is as if a knife has cut them sharply in two. Two parties are present"
Grigory Zinoviev's description of the Halle congress of the Independent Social Democrats (USPD) in October 1920.

Would the USDP and its 700,000 members opt for the Third International or attempt to stay a halfway house floating uneasily between communism and official social democracy? The Halle congress would decide. In the debate Zinoviev, Comintern's president and a Bolshevik since 1903, was pitted against not only the heavyweights of German Social Democracy. He also had to reckon with his Russian contemporary, Julius Martov, the intellectually rigorous and polemically steeled leader of the Menshevik Internationalists.

In publishing Zinoviev's largely forgotten four-hour speech and Martov's counterblast for the first time in English, this book helps to deepen our understanding of a crucial chapter in the history of the German working class movement. The text includes introductory essays by Ben Lewis and Lars T Lih, alongside Zinoviev's diary entry for his stay in Germany.

Advance orders £15 (including p&p) from November Publications, BCM Box 928, London WC1 3XX, or for more information email

A ''Socialist Historian''? Ian Birchall on Tony Judt

Judt out to the right
From LSHG Newsletter # 41 (Spring 2011)

LSHG Newsletter No. 40 contains an obituary by one “KF” of Tony Judt, twice described as a “socialist historian”. The LSHG has always had a commendably eclectic view of what constitutes socialist history, and it would be absurd to split hairs about who is or is not a socialist. But lines have to be drawn somewhere, and I think that to describe Judt as a “socialist historian” may cause unnecessary confusion. Indeed, I do not think Judt himself would have welcomed the description.

Judt wrote prolifically on a range of subjects, and it is certainly not my intention to deny that there may be much to be learnt from his works. In a short polemic it is impossible to cover all his writings, and I shall confine my attention to the area on which I have some competence: the French left in the twentieth century. Here, I believe, Judt’s work is often misleading if not positively pernicious.

KF recommends to us Judt’s article “A Clown in Regal Purple” [History Workshop 7, 1979]. It is indeed an interesting and thought-provoking article. But I was struck by a paragraph in which Judt refers to those who refuse to criticise current trends in social history because they don’t want to cause divisions among practitioners of the discipline. He compares this to “the response of Jean- Paul Sartre to the news of Stalin’s crimes. Keep it under wraps, he counselled – “il ne faut pas désespérer Billancourt”. [We must not make Billancourt despair]. A footnote explains that Billancourt was a large car-factory in the Paris suburbs, but gives no source for the quotation.

Thirteen years later, in his book Past Imperfect, Judt again referred to Sartre’s “famous warning ‘Il ne faut pas désespérer Billancourt’”. [PI 211] Again, in a book otherwise drowning in footnotes, Judt gives no source. He was a busy man, but one might have thought that in thirteen years he could have found time to check whether Sartre actually said any such thing (he didn’t).

Judt might claim that it was one of those things that “everybody” knows, just as we all know that King Alfred burned the cakes and that Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake”. As I understand it current scholarship holds that the French queen did not say this (presumably because she was too stupid, not because she was too kind-hearted). I’m not aware of recent research on Alfred and the cakes.

A conscientious historian, let alone a “socialist” one, might well have queried whether Sartre said anything so implausible. It is, after all, akin to a doctor telling a patient: “I won’t tell you you’ve got cancer because it would depress you”. But Judt never bothered to check. In praising Lichtheim’s mediocre Marxism in Modern France he stated that it “made no concessions to intellectual indolence”. [MFL viii] But “intellectual indolence" is precisely what Judt is guilty of here.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and one bogus quotation doesn’t make a rogue. But it is a symptom of Judt’s compulsive need, by any means necessary, to attack Sartre and the French left. Past Imperfect is a sustained exercise in moralising vituperation against French left intellectuals in the post-1945 period for their failure to denounce Stalinism.

This is a pity, because Judt had half a point. Stalinism did indeed have a pernicious influence on the French left in this period. But Judt seems quite unable to deal with the complexities, contradictions and inconsistencies which characterised his subject matter. Any inconvenient facts that failed to fit into his interminable diatribe were remorselessly ignored. Like the director of a third-rate movie, Judt wants nothing
but heroes (Camus, Raymond Aron) and villains (just about everybody else).

Many French left intellectuals were insufficiently critical of Stalinism. (Many, not all – but names like Daniel Guérin, Maurice Nadeau, Pierre Naville are absent from Judt’s index, blotted out of the historical record 1984-style because they do not fit the thesis.) Judt makes no effort to analyse the reasons for this – like John Major, he is concerned to condemn, not to understand.

Despite his apparent display of erudition, Judt prefers the sweeping generalisation to the study of contradictions. Thus he thunders that Sartre and most French Marxists never “batted a public eyelid when confronted with socio-economic data, reports of concentration camps, news of show trials, and so forth”. [MFL 208] Actually in the course of Past Imperfect Judt was obliged to note that Sartre and Merleau-Ponty had written in 1950 that the concentration camps meant that there was no reason to call Russia socialist, and that in 1953 Sartre’s journal Les Temps modernes had published a highly critical account of the Slansky trial in Czechoslovakia. But why should mere facts stand in the way of a good sound-bite?

Ever anxious to put blood on the hands of Sartre and his friends, Judt insists that at the time of installation of Stalin’s Eastern European satellites, “what was said and done in France served directly to bolster and justify the practices of the regimes newly in place”. [MFL 236-7] Actually in 1948 Sartre and many of his associates were involved in the Rassemblement démocratiqe révolutionnaire, whose founding statement deplored “the limitation of Communism to its Stalinist form”. This infuriated the French Communist Party, and was doubtless little reported in Prague or Budapest. Again, Judt simply ignored inconvenient facts.

Between 1946 and 1962 France was involved in two bitter and bloody colonial wars. Some French leftists, like the courageous journalist Claude Bourdet (whom Judt hated almost as much as he hated Sartre) decided that fighting French imperialism should be their main priority, and considered this more important than denouncing Stalinism. Such a position belonged to an honourable tradition, summed up in Liebknecht’s famous phrase: “The main enemy is at home”.

Judt was unwilling to admit that this might be an arguable case. Judt dismisses concern for the fate of the colonised as “hyperopia” (an eye condition leading to inability to focus of near objects: at least I’ve learned a new word from reading Judt). He claims that this “may occasionally have been beneficial for Algerians, for Chilean refugees, or for Guinean peasants. But in France itself it served only to accentuate
still further an unconcern with daily local politics and to widen the distance between marxist discourse and the real needs and concerns of workers”. [MFL 237]

On the few occasions when he refers to the Algerian war, Judt seems singularly ill-informed. Until 1962 Algeria was constitutionally an integral part of French territory, so this was not some remote “Third World” struggle but a civil war, whose violence often erupted onto the streets of Paris and other mainland cities. A great many French people had a conscript soldier (or an Algerian settler) in the family: Algeria was very much part of “daily local politics”. And like George Bush, Judt seems to have thought that torture was nothing to make a fuss about – unless, of course, it was being done by Russians.

In fact, Judt showed precious little interest in the French working class. He became apoplectic with rage at the “obscenity” of Emmanuel Mounier comparing the living conditions of French workers to those in a Russian labour camp. Perhaps it was an unwise comparison. But Judt’s conclusion seems to be that French workers had no reason to be concerned at low wages, poor working conditions, etc. They should have been congratulating themselves on not being in the gulag. As for the argument of some French intellectuals that, since the French Communist Party had the electoral and trade-union support of millions of workers, it could not be simply bypassed or denounced, that seems to have been far too subtle for Judt to even discuss it.

Finally, while in these difficult times we have to take our funding where we can get it, I wonder whether taking generous grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Nuffield Foundation in order to vilify the French left is quite the conduct of a “socialist historian”.

Judt might have claimed that his sympathies were with reformist, not marxist, socialism. In 1986 he observed in Mitterrand’s France “worrying signs” of trends towards the right and political disengagement. This he saw as “the major medium term achievement of thirty years of marxist conversation in Paris”. [MFL 238] To blame disaffection with Mitterrand on Marxist intellectuals, rather than on the President’s austerity programme and his flirtation with the far right for electoral advantage, shows a distinct lack of any political understanding.

Very briefly, I would note that Judt’s defects seem to reappear when he is dealing with other periods. Thus he cites “the dictatorial and repressive instincts of the Jacobins and Babouvists”. [MFL 107] In fact there was a vigorous debate within Babouvist ranks about democracy and dictatorship. But that would have meant looking at the question in a bit more detail; Judt’s inability to spell Buonarroti [MFL 108] suggests a lack of interest in the documentation. Why let it stand in the way of a good sound-bite?

And it was not only the French left that Judt hated. Thus he tells us that Edward Thompson is “priggish” and a “Little Englander”, and that Kolakowski’s insipid polemic in the 1974 Socialist Register means that “No one who reads it will ever take E.P. Thompson seriously again”. [R 136] (Curiously, he is rather more friendly towards Eric Hobsbawm, apparently because he never involved himself in Party activity. [R 120])

There is more to be said about Judt, and it will have to be said by others more competent than I am. But if I had to choose a single description to sum him up, it would not be “socialist historian”; it would be “charlatan”.

MFL: Marxism and the French Left, Oxford, 1986
PI: Past Imperfect, Berkeley/LA 1992
R: Reappraisals, Penguin, 2008.

Ian Birchall

Summer Game

Summer Game
Nottinghamshire Schism:
‘Trades Unionism in Cricket’

From the LSHG Newsletter, #41 (Spring 2011)

On 2nd June 1881 the Nottinghamshire cricket team that walked out at Old
Trafford was missing several regular players, including the captain Alfred Shaw and leading batsman, Arthur Shrewsbury.

The new-look Nottinghamshire did not fare well, losing the match by 10 wickets and, later, their status as county champions to Lancashire. But why would Nottinghamshire field such a weakened side?

Seven professionals had gone on strike in what became known as the ‘Nottinghamshire Schism’. As might be expected, professional cricketers’ contracts were long on players’ duties to the counties but light on their responsibilities to the players.

Between appearances for their clubs, men like Shaw and Shrewsbury arranged
exhibition matches to earn extra income. One such game took place in September 1880 when they organised a ‘North of England XI’ to play the touring Australians at Bradford. The success of that fixture helped the Nottinghamshire professionals increase their match-fee for their appearance against Australia from £6 to £20, much to the chagrin of county secretary Captain Henry Holden.

The following February, Holden wrote to Shaw, “I have been informed that you have arranged, or are about to arrange a match Nottinghamshire v. Yorkshire, to be played at Bradford… the committee strongly and decidedly object to any county match being arranged by anybody, except those...home matches arranged at the annual meeting of county secretaries at Lord’s” [1].

At a stroke this took away the right of the county’s professionals to work on the 36 days during the season when their county had no work for them. Shaw replied on 26th March and, after reminding Holden of several precedents, queried how it was that, “unknown to the subscribers to the county and also the players, fresh laws and regulations have been substituted for the laws which...governed the club”? [2].

If any restrictions on the professionals’ ability to earn their livelihood were to be accepted, Shaw and Shrewsbury wanted concessions. They argued for: greater security of employment; payment for all games in the season, as cover for illness and injury; and a guaranteed benefit match for any player with ten or more years at the county.

No agreement was reached before the first match of the 1881 season. Nottinghamshire defeated Sussex by an innings, with Shaw taking 8 wickets. At this time, the local press picked up on the story and, in an article headlined, “Trades Unionism in Cricket”, raised the spectre of New Unionism infecting the game. It reported, “that there are influences at work which have induced the players to look out for fresh grievances” [3].

One writer went further, it was, “a deliberate combination against recognised administration... it involved a distinct and material alteration in the relations between paid cricketers and their employers which vitally affected the interests of every club” [4].

Eventually, Nottinghamshire offered five of the seven, including Shaw, employment for the whole season. They refused – it was for all seven or none.

By the end of the season, Shaw and Shrewsbury were carrying out their final preparations for their 1881-82 tour to the North American, New Zealand and Australia. The other five professionals returned to the county, their dispute lost, as did Shaw and Shrewsbury the following season. And the ‘Nottinghamshire Schism’ was forgotten. At least you could be forgiven for thinking so, given its absence from many histories of the game, including that written by former Prime Minister, John Major.

Of the relationship between gentlemen and players, Major had this to say, “The distinctions were absurd and insulting, but in Victorian Britain
they were commonplace” [5]. Like much of what we now find ‘absurd and insulting’ – imperialism, racism, class snobbery – Major and his ilk may well recognise it for what it was but seem silent on how that change was effected; not by county presidents but by men such as onetime framework-knitter, Alfred Shaw.

[1] Nottingham Journal, 6th June 1881.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Nottingham Journal, 1st June 1881.
[4] James Lillywhite, quoted in Brookes, Christopher, English Cricket. The game and its players through the ages, p.150, Reader’s Union, Newton Abbot, 1978.
[5] Major, John, More Than a Game. The Story of Cricket’s Early Years, p.268, Harper Press, London, 2007.

Jim Grundy

Work in Progress: In Search of William Cuffay

In search of William Cuffay
From the LSHG Newsletter, #41 (Spring 2011)

We may owe it to Staying Power, the definitive history of black people in the UK by the late Peter Fryer, that William Cuffay is recalled by history at all.

Details of Cuffay’s life (1788-1870) are not well recorded by history. Or at least this is what appears to be currently the situation. The reality is that more research and different research questions and angles can often uncover new nuggets of detail and ways of understanding figures like Cuffay.

William Cuffay, a diminutive black tailor, was held to be the leader of London Chartism in 1848, and in particular the insurrectionary events that took place in the August of that year.

For his supposed or actual part in these events he was transported to Tasmania. He was also ridiculed in the press, in journals like Punch, as a black Chartist.

In the summer of 2010 I was one of those who made a Radio 4 programme with the former union leader Lord Bill Morris about Cuffay. Other Chartist historians involved included Malcolm Chase and Stephen Roberts. The BBC producer Philip Sellars did an excellent job in both making the programme and getting it broadcast in a primetime slot. I dealt specifically with the London aspect of Cuffay’s activity.

I met Bill Morris on Kennington Common where we talked about − for the programme − events that took place there on Monday April 10 1848. Morris had the kind of view you might have expected at that time of a former union leader. He said he could understand why Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor decided not to march on Parliament that day. Yet at the same time Morris clearly admired the spirit of Cuffay.

He also had an interesting and as far as I know new ‘take’ on Cuffay’s role. He noted that Cuffay was the organiser of that Chartist demonstration, a mammoth task involving co-ordinating several feeder marches and a number of speakers’ platforms [pre-PA systems] on the Common.

Cuffay was unusual amongst London Chartists in 1848 in that he was by no means young, and his role on that Monday suggests, though this is not yet historically proven, that his experience as a Chartist activist may well have been extensive.

So while the general feeling of historians has been that Cuffay may not have been the actual leader of London Chartism in 1848, having been singled out by the State either due to his age or his colour and perhaps both, it seems possible that he was, if not the figurehead, certainly the organiser.

Work remains to be done in uncovering this story, and it has become possible with the Chartist paper the Northern Star now digitally available on-line and searchable. It will be interesting to see what work uncovers regarding Cuffay’s activities that would have previously been very difficult to retrieve.

When Cuffay arrived in Tasmania, unlike many, he did not give up political activity. In fact, he continued to work in his trade and to be an active trade unionist. Australian historians had already been researching Cuffay, but the Radio 4 programme sparked more interest.

Just before Christmas I made a programme with the Australian public service
broadcaster ABC about Cuffay and his significance as an historical figure. This is very much historical work in progress, motored by fresh ways of looking at our history and with new technology offering us new possibilities of researching those angles.

In a related development, Red Saunders’ photo-composition of William Cuffay collecting signatures for a Chartist petition is currently on exhibition in the foyer of the Museum of London at the Barbican. The exhibition is free and will run into 2011. It has the added bonus that I also appear in the picture in period fustian costume, smoking a clay pipe and wearing a long false beard. That incidental detail aside, all in all quite a positive labour history story for a change...

Keith Flett

Book Review: 22 Days in May

‘Instant History’ and how the Con-Dem deal was done
Book Review from the LSHG Newsletter, # 41 (Spring 2011)

22 Days in May
The Birth of the Lib Dem
Conservative Coalition

By David Laws
Published 2010 by Biteback,
Paperback 352 pp
ISBN 978-1849540803

The fashion for 'instant history' is not exactly new. Indeed, it can be argued that it goes back to the beginning of the age of mass circulation newspapers. An example might be the role of the then-new Daily Telegraph during the Crimean War in the mid-1850s.

Today the demand to understand very recent political history is arguably a spin-off from the 24 hour news format found on Sky and BBC channels and on the internet.

Eric Hobsbawm famously argued that socialists needed to become 'historians of the present', but how ‘present’ should the present be?

Right-wing LibDem MP David Laws, who was briefly Chief Secretary to the Treasury after May 6th before resigning [temporarily it appears] because of an expenses scandal later in the month, has produced a book, 22 Days in May, which is substantially about the discussions between the LibDems, the Tories and Labour that led to the current Con-Dem Government.

For Labour, Andrew Adonis has queried in the New Statesman the direction and some of the detail of the account.

Laws’ book does make an interesting read. The issue for historians is how useful it is as history beyond simply being a contemporary account by a direct player. Historically, the opportunity for a senior politician like Laws to write such a book did not exist. The 30 Year Rule on disclosure of official papers and the convention that politicians did not write memoirs dealing with events covered by this time span prevented such disclosures.

Richard Crossman and others effectively challenged and dented this blanket of secrecy, but even so, Laws could only really write the book because he had resigned to the backbenches. He does not use any official papers in his account primarily because there were none. As he makes clear, discussions between the LibDems and Conservatives about coalition deliberately excluded any civil servants who might have been expected to keep an official record of what was said, and so no such record exists. In a system bound by conventions and civil service practice, this is an extraordinary way of doing things, and it may have wider historical implications.

Even so, Laws’ book reveals some interesting points. Probably the overriding one for socialists is the pressure, from the media but also from senior civil servants, to agree a Coalition Government very quickly because of the supposed impact on ‘the markets’ of political uncertainty were this not done. Full scrutiny of the small print is often left up in the air for months in countries where coalition government is more normal.

Subsequently, commentators have argued that some of the mess Clegg and the
Liberal Democrats have got themselves into relates to the haste with which a coalition was put together, with a lack of full scrutiny of the small print.

Where Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness sees ‘the horror, the horror’ of the realities of imperial endeavour, Laws sees at every turn ‘the markets, the markets’ waiting to lead all to their doom.

Laws reveals that not a huge amount of thought was given to the question that has wrecked the LibDems − tuition fees − beyond noting that it was indeed a difficult issue. It was not so for the Tories, and the LibDemswere anxious to do a deal, so there was little discussion of it in the talks.

Laws’ book may not reveal anything particularly startling in terms either of immediate politics or the longer term historical record. But it does give a good sense of the mood of those May days. As instant history it probably adds little, but as an historical footnote it is worth a look.

Keith Flett

Halcyon Days?

From the LSHG Newsletter # 41 (Spring 2011)
In 1910, Hucknall, in Nottinghamshire, had been represented by the Liberal MP, John E. Ellis, a local colliery owner, since 1885. With an election looming, the prospective candidate for the Conservative Party, Coningsby Disraeli, son of Benjamin, was to speak at a meeting in Hucknall on 18th January 1910. It never happened. The following is from the Hucknall Dispatch, 20th January 1910

Monday - Conservative Canvassers Followed and Hooted
Tuesday - Mr. Disraeli’s Meeting Abandoned and his Workers Assaulted
Wednesday- Destruction of Windows at Conservative Committee Rooms

Such, in brief, is the story to be told this week when scenes have been witnessed which leading citizens of both parties describe as disgraceful. One would have to go far back into history to find a time to equal the events of this week. Certainly the last three Parliamentary contests have furnished no such episodes for it has been possible to hold Conservative meetings up to the eve of the poll, and as for destruction of property that was never attempted during the period mentioned. Really, never was feeling so high as at the present time, and in order to place before our readers a correct statement of affairs, we have, in addition to our own observation, interviewed several persons of both sides.

As the headlines indicate, the first signs of disturbance were noted on Monday night, when a crowd of youths acted as a bodyguard of the Conservative Committee rooms in the Market place, and every person who entered was subjected to derisive shouts, and those who left the premises were followed about the streets and occasionally received tangible evidence that their best plan was to reach a place of safety as soon as possible. Hence, some of them sought refuge in the Half Moon Hotel. However, nothing of a serious nature has to be chronicled for this evening. The rumour was afloat that Mr. Disraeli was in the Committee rooms – which was not true; he had been there, along with Mrs. Disraeli, in the afternoon, nevertheless.

Coming to Tuesday, matters were peaceful enough until the shades of evening began to fall. As is wellknown, a meeting was announced to be held in the Cooperative Hall, to be addressed by Mr. Disraeli. This was not billed to commence until eight o’clock, but in good time there were huge crowds in the neighbourhood of the Market place, and, as on Monday night, the Conservative canvassers were singled out for hostile demonstrations.

It was intended that stewards should be present at the hall door in Ogle street by 7.15, and aided by the police (an extra batch of whom was drafted into the town), it was hoped that as far as possible boys and non-voters would be kept outside. However, by 6.30, there was a crowd of good dimensions round the main entrance in Annesley road (the doors of which were kept fastened), and also in Ogle street. Somehow or other, the door in Ogle street was discovered undone, and by 6.45, the staircase was packed with solid humanity (and "womanity," too as an inventor of phrases remarked). These folk had the advantage of being out of the drizzling rain (the descent of which damped not enthusiasm), but many of them would rather have been in the open air.

Once on the staircase, it was impossible to escape, and for more than two hours some of them remained there packed like sardines in a tin. One or two of the ladies showed signs of fainting, and the windows were opened to give a breathing tonic of fresh air. Upon others, it had the opposite effect, as their stiff necks bear evidence. In addition to those on the staircase, there was a huge number of people in the street, watching and pitying the prisoners on the stairs, and waiting for them to "move on" – which they never did, as we shall presently relate.

At the main entrance in Annesley road, there was a bigger crowd than ever. There was a cordon of police at the doors, but still the crowd surged forward, and those who were first in the hope of obtaining a front seat, found they were prisoners, and unable to escape owing to the pressure from behind. Mr. Bradwell, Conservative agent, and the local workers were unable to reach the doors, and had to telephone to the Cooperative offices and to the police as to the best course to adopt under the circumstances.

The suggestion was made by the latter that, in the interests of public safety, it would be the wisest plan to abandon the meeting. Mr. Bradwell did not like to yield, but after a long consultation, that course was decided upon, as the police could not undertake the responsibility of subsequent events if the meeting was held. Accordingly the light in the hall were turned out. Those outside, however, regarded that as a hoax, but when those on the staircase were turned out, the crowd gradually melted away.

When Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli passed through the town at 6.45 on their way to Newstead, the shouts indicated what was to follow. At Newstead, the candidate found a good meeting awaiting him, and generally speaking, he was accorded a good hearing. Nevertheless, he was frequently informed, "They are waiting for you at Hucknall."

The passing to and from the Conservative Committee rooms of Mr. Bradwell and Mr. Disraeli’s supporters produced ironical cheering, whilst some of them were pelted with stones and lumps of clay, whilst mud was also brought into requisition.

At length the situation became so acute that the local police telephoned to Nottingham for reinforcements, and several constables and an inspector arrived by the train due at Hucknall at 7.41. Still, the noise, crushing, and mud-slinging continued and it was at this stage that it was resolved to abandon the meeting.

Fears were entertained for the personal safety of the candidate, and, seeing that he was accompanied by Mrs. Disraeli, it was deemed a necessary precaution to intercept him, and advise him to keep away from Hucknall. Accordingly Mr. A. Cherry and Mr. I. Rhodes set out on this errand, and happened to meet the candidate on the Wighay, and matters were fully explained. The candidate was very unwilling to adopt this course, but yielding to the pressure of his supporters, and being reminded of the warning of the police, he reluctantly agreed to proceed to Nottingham by
another route, taking Mr. Cherry with them in the car.

A few minutes before eight, Colonel Rolleston, who was to have been chairman, arrived in his motor. On being noticed, the active soldier was cheered by the Conservatives in the crowd, whilst the Liberals saluted him in a different style, as will be imagined. The Colonel left his car, and proceeded up to the doors of the hall, and endeavoured to speak in the neighbourhood. This being out of the question, and recognising that the meeting was also impossible, he proceeded up Annesley road, and afterwards to Watnall Hall.

For fully an hour after the meeting had been abandoned, the greatest excitement prevailed. The police, however, had merely to look on, but their presence acted as a check to [the] destruction of property. Several free fights took place in Annesley road, and some of the people sustained bruises from stones and other missiles. In due course, the singing and shouting ceased, and by 10 o’clock the town had resumed its normal aspect.

As already mentioned, Mr. Cherry proceeded with Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli to Nottingham and returned to Hucknall by a late train. He made a call at the Committee rooms, and then took the course through the Half Moon yard to his home in Derbyshire lane. He had not gone far ere he was the subject of a cruel attack. Against the big doors leading to the back premises, and under the cover of darkness, stood some person unknown, who struck Mr. Cherry across the nose and leg with a weighty stick, and rendered him
almost unconscious. However, he managed to reach his home, his assailant meanwhile having departed from his hiding place. Mr. Cherry is now confined to his house, and under the care of Dr. Coates. No bones were broken, but Mr. Cherry is suffering from shock.

Last night there were further tumultuous scenes at Hucknall, as a result of which all the front windows of the Conservative Committee rooms in the Market place were shattered, and injuries, happily only slight, were inflicted upon two young men.

About 6.30 preparations for the display of lantern views were made from the upper window of the committee rooms, and very soon a crowd commenced to assemble.Two young men from Nottingham were in charge of this item on the programme, and whilst one of them was arranging the canvas, the other threw a picture of Papplewick Chapel on the screen. Notwithstanding that it
was not of a political nature, there was soon a fusilade of stones, brick-ends, and other missiles.

The situation at once assumed an alarming aspect, and one of the lanternists was struck with a stone on his arm, and the other on his neck. Probably thinking they might be quietened in a simple way one of them syringed water on the boys below with a little apparatus for sprinkling the street. It is asserted that not more than a pint of water was thrown down.

It is doubtful if this was a wise course to adopt in the present exciting stages, for in this case a thimbleful was as harmful as a bucketful. Anyway, the effect was opposite to what was contemplated, for there was a cannonade of missiles, and not until every window had been shattered by the boys was anything like peace restored. At each crash of glass there were roars of laughter, which acted as a stimulus to further
misdeeds. It must be stated that Mr. W.J. Calladine, a prominent Liberal, did his best to make peace among the youths. He went among them and advised them not to damage anything but his advice was not heeded.

As soon as possible the police appeared upon the scene. It is asserted, however, that the rowdyism was premeditated, for where had the boys obtained the stones so speedily? Eventually peace reigned but still knots of people lingered long gazing upon the disgraceful spectacle, and discussing the situation generally. At this rate of progress, there is no account what Hucknall will be like before next Wednesday, the polling day.

[Disraeli was defeated by the Liberal candidate, Leif Jones, an ardent temperance campaigner. Such was Hucknall's aversion to Conservative politicians at that time.]

Friday, 21 January 2011

Keith Flett on the London mob and the London crowd

1760-2010 - The London Mob and the London Crowd

From the LSHG Newsletter #41, (Spring 2011)

On the BBC's Weekly Politics programme on 9th December 2010 the historian David Starkey commented of the tuition fees protests in London that day that the capital had seen nothing like it since the Chartist period of the 1840s.

Starkey is an historian of the C16th not the C19th so he was hardly best
placed to make an informed comment. However, the broader point was well made. Whether the events in central London on 9th December really constituted a riot by either protesters or police is arguable, but there were certainly scenes reminiscent of the poll tax demonstration at the end of March 1990. That protest helped to spark a wider movement that saw the poll tax axed and is thought to have contributed to Mrs. Thatcher’s departure from No. 10.

Trying to understand these events is a problem for right-wing media commentators who believe that the era of street protest is long gone. Understanding what happens when ordinary people decide to protest has been an issue for as long as the inequalities and divisions of market capitalist society have sparked the protests themselves.

This is really, at least in part, where the term ‘the mob’ comes from. ‘The mob’ is a group of protesters about whom those in authority have little idea who, if anyone, might be leading them or what they plan to do. This worries those in authority, but it is a function of large cities like London. In crowded urban areas it is possible for people to get up to all kinds of things without it being officially noticed.

Well-off Victorians had a fear of the working classes living in areas adjacent to them - a concern that they might attack them or their property or both and then disappear back into the mysterious working class areas from whence they came. In 1848 the cry of ‘the Chartists are coming’ was sometimes heard in well-off London neighbourhoods, heralding an imminent invasion of protesters intent on creating havoc. Needless to say, in the main, Chartist demonstrations were orderly affairs. There were occasions, for example in early 1848, when Chartist influence was weaker, when less predictable protests took place.

Much the same fear underwrites current talk of ‘the mob’. It is not an anonymous group in reality. It is a mixture of the more and less committed, of all kinds of ideas and strategies and on occasion none. That is why the left, far from using the term ‘mob’, has tended to refer to ‘the crowd’. The pioneering work is by the late Marxist historian George Rudé, who wrote the classic text The Crowd in History. It could be said that the difference between ‘the mob’ and ‘the crowd’ is that the former has sometimes been reactionary, while the latter is generally progressive. That is perhaps stretching an historical point. Not all London mobs have been of the left and some attacked left-wing causes, for example during the period of the French Revolution in the 1790s, but there is a tradition of left-wing crowds, from those who stood up for ‘Wilkes and Liberty’ in the 1760s, to the unemployed who marched and rioted in London in the 1880s and who formed an audience for the marxist Social Democratic Federation, right up to the modern day with the poll tax.

It could be said that the street protests and their often chaotic nature represent an absence of the orderly traditions of the labour movement. Or we might argue that they are a force that can be organised to achieve real change. A great start pointing for better things.

Keith Flett
Edited to add: For a longer article by Keith on this topic, please see here

Friday, 14 January 2011

What's Wrong with School History?

Andrew Stone examines the state of history teaching in British schools today in the latest issue of International Socialism journal.

Imperial and World History seminars

Imperial and World History seminar
University of London
Convenors: Frank Bongiorno (KCL), Richard Drayton (KCL), Philip Murphy (ICS), Sarah Stockwell (KCL), John Stuart (Kingston), David Todd (KCL), Jon Wilson (KCL)
Germany Room, IHR, Mondays at 5.00pm, fortnightly

Winter/Spring Term, 2010

This academic year our seminars will loosely be focussed on the theme of global intellectual history, some examining the transnational history of ideas and others the interactions of ideas and imperial power.

January 17
John Stuart (Kingston), Informal Empire, Religious Liberty, Human Rights?: Egypt, 1919-48

January 31
Leslie James (LSE), George Padmore and the African anti-colonial struggle, c. 1950-56

February 28
David Scott (Columbia), Ethnography as Intellectual History: The Small Axe project and the recovery of Caribbean thought

March 14
David Armitage (Harvard), The International Turn in Intellectual History

March 21
Maurizio Isabella (QMUL), Italian debates on Empire in the Mediterranean during the

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


Just a couple of quick reminders - first the Ragged Trousered Philanthopists author Robert Tresell is being commemorated at a meeting in London on January 29th.

The LSHG seminars for Spring 2011-all at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London at 5.30pm - are as follows.

Jan 24th Ben Lewis: 'Rediscovering Zinoviev? The USPD Halle Congress of October 1920'

Feb 7th Owen Hatherley: 'The Ruins of the Urban Renaissance, or why >Blairiteurbanism was a good idea appallingly implemented'

Feb 21st John Lindsay: 'Out of the Shadows- the Campaign for Homosexual Equality from the 1970s'

March 7th (new): Prof.Peter Alexander: TBC (but on the subject of South African miners)

March 21st George Paizis: 'Panait Istrati- Revolutionary, Novelist & Friend of Victor Serge'

Sunday, 9 January 2011

BBC Radio tribute to John La Rose

What We Leave We Carry: The Legacy of John La Rose
Presented by Burt Caesar
Produced by Julian May
BBC Radio 4 11th January, 2011 at 11.30am

In 1966 John La Rose founded New Beacon Books, at first selling Caribbean and African literature from his north London home, and then began publishing himself, becoming the first black publishing house in Britain. The shop and publishing house are still active today. In the early 1980s he organised - with others - the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books.
But his whole life was one of activism and political and cultural involvement. He was a trades unionist in Trinidad, and in the mid-1950s, he co-authored, with Raymond Quevedo (Atilla the Hun), an early study of calypso. With poets Andrew Salkey Kamau Brathwaite, he co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement; he was chairman of the Institute of Race Relations; in response to the classification of some black children as 'educationally sub-normal' he became involved in the Black Education Movement and he founded the George Padmore Supplementary School for West Indian children in 1969. He was Chair of the committee that mobilised 20,000 people to march in protest through London after the arson attack in New Cross in 1981 in which 13 young black people died.
Poets, novelists, theologians, campaigners, sculptors and musicians - all gathered around the kitchen table of this erudite and generous man, liming and planning campaigns. Around that same table the actor and director Burt Caesar, who was himself influenced by John La Rose, joins his partner Sarah White and old friends Linton Kwesi Johnson, the poet and musician, Margaret Busby, founder of Britain's second black publishing house, the visiting Trinidadian scholar Susan Craig-James and Professor Gus John, who in Hackney in the 1980s, became the first black Director of Education in the country. They gather to tell his story, and consider the legacy of John La Rose.
Burt Caesar also visits the bookshop itself and the chambers of Ian MacDonald QC, who as a young lawyer allied himself with La Rose and his causes. He speaks to John's son Michael La Rose and the sculptor Errol Lloyd, who captured his intelligence and wit in bronze. Using BBC archive of John La Rose, calypso and dub poetry reggae associated with him, Burt tells the story of this remarkable man and how his influence lives on today.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

London seminar on contemporary Marxist theory


'In Search of the Young Marx's Politics'
19th January, 5pm King's College London, Strand Campus, S2.28
David Leopold (University of Oxford)
Stathis Kouvelakis (King's College, London)

The global economic and financial crisis has witnessed a deepening of interest in different forms of critical and radical thought and practice. This seminar will explore the new perspectives that have been opened up by interventions of contemporary Marxist theory in this political and theoretical conjuncture. It involves collaboration among Marxist scholars based in several London universities, including Brunel University, King’s College London, and the School of Oriental and African Studies. Guest speakers – from both Britain and abroad – will include a wide range of thinkers engaging with many different elements of the various Marxist traditions, as well as with diverse problems and topics. The aim of the seminar is to promote fruitful debate and to contribute to the development of more robust Marxist analysis. It is open to all.

Forthcoming in the 2011 Seminar Series

9th February, 5pm King's College London, Strand Campus, S2.28
Alberto Toscano (Goldsmiths, University of London) 'Marxism: A Realism of the Abstract?'

23rd March, 5pm King's College London, Strand Campus, room TBA
Esther Leslie (Birkbeck College) 'Flat Screens and Liquid Crystals: On the Politics of Aesthetics and Vice Versa'

18th May, 5pm King's College London, Strand Campus, K.3.11 Raked Lecture Theatre
Gail Day (University of Leeds) 'Dialectical Passions: Art Theory, Art History and Marxism'

Additional seminars in Spring 2011 will be announced in due course.

For further information, please contact:

Alex Callinicos, European Studies, King's: alex.callinicos [at] Stathis Kouvelakis, European Studies, King's: stathis.kouvelakis [at] Costas Lapavitsas, Economics, SOAS: cl5 [at] Peter Thomas, Politics and History, Brunel: PeterD.Thomas [at]

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

CFP: Afromodernisms 2

CALL FOR PAPERS: Afromodernisms 2
What’s really new? Blackness and Atlantic Modernism, 1907–61

Symposium: University of Liverpool, UK C
onfirmed Keynotes:Prof Tyler Stovall, University of California, Berkeley

30 June–2 July 2011

Afromodernisms 2 focuses on the relationship between the Afro-Atlantic and the modernist canon. Specifically, the symposium seeks to address the ways in which current configurations of modernism—the art and literature of the new—may be inflected, expanded, or even called into question by either localized or transnational Africanist interventions into the politics and culture of the first half of the twentieth century.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Eric Hobsbawm on How to Change the World

Eric Hobsbawm on How to Change the World

Professor Eric Hobsbawm in discussion on his latest book, How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism.

7pm, Friday 25th February 2011.

Venue: Bishopsgate Institute, Liverpool Street.

In his major new work, Eric Hobsbawm addresses the history of Marxism in the 162 years since the publication of Marx’s Capital and assesses its continuing relevance as a challenge to capitalism.

This event is free but places are strictly limited. As we anticipate high demand we ask that you send your details to Stefan Dickers to confirm your place: