Friday, 25 February 2011

The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg

"I want to affect people like a clap of thunder, to inflame their minds not by speechifying but with the breadth of my vision, the strength of my conviction, and the power of my expression.”


Published 28 February 2011

LONDON EVENTS – made possible by the support of Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung:

Monday 7 March at the Swedenborg Society, 7pm:
The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg launch at the Swedenborg Society - a panel discussion with chair Susie Orbach, award–winning playwright David Edgar, editor Dr Lea Haro and writer and cultural historian Lesley Chamberlain, with readings by Dame Harriet Walter. Booking and details here:

Tuesday 8 March at the LRB bookshop, 7pm:
The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg launch on International Women’s Day, founded 100 years ago by Luxemburg’s close friend, comrade and confidante Clara Zetkin, to whom many of the letters are addressed.
A discussion about socialism and feminism with Dr Nina Power, Lea Haro, Lisa Appignanesi and chair Natalie Hanman, editor of Guardian Comment is Free. Booking and details here

Wednesday 9 March at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, 6pm:
Rosa Luxemburg (1986) film screening followed by rare Q&A with the director Margarethe von Trotta, as part of Birds Eye View Film Festival 2011, celebrating women in filmmaking. Booking and more details here:

Tuesday 22 March at the LSE, 6.30pm:
Jacqueline Rose: 'Freedom is always freedom for the one who thinks differently': Rosa Luxemburg for our times
A Public Lecture co- hosted by the Gender Institute and The Ralph Miliband Programme. Booking and details here

Edited to add: a review by Sheila Rowbotham and a review of the volume in Socialist Review

John Saville: Socialist Historian

Socialist History Society Public Meeting

John Saville: Socialist Historian

Book Launch and Seminar
7pm, 13th May 2011
Venue: Bishopsgate Institute, Liverpool St

A meeting to mark the launch of the volume, John Saville: Commitment and History, a collection of essays edited by David Howell, Dianne Kirby and Kevin Morgan, published jointly by the Socialist History Society and Lawrence & Wishart.

John Saville (1916-2009) was one of the leading socialist historians of his generation, a former member of the Communist Party Historians’ Group and one of the most influential writers on the British labour movement. The meeting, reflecting his diverse interests, will involve some of those who contributed to the new book. An editor of the Socialist Register and The Dictionary of Labour Biography, John Saville also produced influential studies of Chartism, the Labour Party, British foreign policy, the state and imperialism.

Further details of the speakers at this meeting will soon be announced.

Free Admission; all welcome

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Workshop: Imperialism, Empire and Genocide

Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London Workshop Series
‘Imperialism, Empire, and Genocide’

14th March 2pm-4pm
Venue: Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House, Malet Street, London

The British Empire seems to be making a come back. Historians, politicians and journalists now speak about the positive aspects of colonialism and empire. During a state visit to East Africa in 2005 the then Chancellor Gordon Brown, commented that Britain must stop apologising for its colonial past and, instead, celebrate its achievements. He said, 'I've talked to many people on my visit to Africa and the days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over. We should celebrate much of our past rather than apologise for it.' Some scholarly work has followed the fashion suggesting that empire is more necessary in the 21st century than ever before. The new approach to the British Empire insists that we must undertake a balance view of the positive contributions made to instilling democratic values, development and political institutions. This series of workshops will take a different approach. Speakers will shed light, empirically and conceptually, on the tortured relationship between empire and modernity, colonialism and progress, disclosing the story and contemporary legacy of colonial genocide, imperial conquest and environmental destruction.

Speakers: Professor John Newsinger, Richard Gott and Dr Tom Lawson

Professor John Newsinger (Professor of Modern History at Bath Spa).Author of The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire, Orwell’s Politics, United Irishman, Rebel City, Dangerous Men: The SAS and Popular Culture, British Counterinsurgency (new edition 2012). John Newsinger will examine histories of the British Empire, the uses to which they have been put and the crimes they neglect and leave out.

Richard Gott (former Latin America correspondent and features editor for The Guardian, currently an honorary research fellow at the Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London). Author of Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution (2005), Cuba: A New History (2004). Richard Gott will be talking about his most recent book, to be published in the autumn, entitled “Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt”. The book is conceived as a revisionist history of Empire, written from the perspective of the subject peoples.

Dr Tom Lawson (Reader in History, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Winchester). Author of The Church of England and the Holocaust: Christianity, Memory and Nazism (2006) and Debates on the Holocaust (2010) Tom Lawson will be talking about his latest research into the colonisation of Tasmania where the British government is often portrayed as the benign protector of the Aborigines, unable to curb the destructive urges of the settler population. However Tom will argue this paper argues that what amounted to a genocidal policy was both formally approved in Downing Street, and emerged from an imperial culture that began at home.

This is a free event, however, to confirm attendance please email
Ms Olga Jimenez, Events Manager

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Seminar on Egypt, Tunisia and Revolution in the 21st Century

International Socialism
A seminar hosted by the quarterly journal of socialist theory

Egypt, Tunisia and Revolution in the 21st Century

Revolution in the 21st century is a reality. In less than two months, two dictators have been overthrown. In both revolutions, the entrance of the working class onto the stage of history proved decisive. The myths that the Arab world is incapable of democracy and that regime change can be achieved only through foreign intervention lie in tatters.
In this seminar, Gilbert Achcar and Anne Alexander will discuss the processes that led to recent events in the Middle East, the prospects for the future, and the implications for capitalism, imperialism and socialism in the 21st century.

Gilbert Achcar
(Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, author of The Arabs and the Holocaust and The Clash of Barbarisms)

Anne Alexander

(Research fellow at the University of Cambridge, author of Nasser: His Life and Times and contributor to Egypt: the Moment of Change)

Tuesday 22 February, 6.30pm
Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church,
235 Shaftesbury Avenue,
London, WC2H 8EP
Near Tottenham Court Road Tube � MAP
Free entry � All welcome � Please forward * * (020) 7819 1177

CFP: Social Movements Conference

abstracts due by Monday 14h March 2011

From 1995 to 2010, Manchester Metropolitan University hosted a series of very successful annual international conferences on 'ALTERNATIVE FUTURES and POPULAR PROTEST'.
We're very happy to announce that the Sixteenth AF&PP Conference will be held, between Monday 18th April and Wednesday 20th April 2011.
The Conference rubric remains as in previous years. The aim is to explore the dynamics of popular movements, along with the ideas which animate their activists and supporters and which contribute to shaping their fate.
Reflecting the inherent cross-disciplinary nature of the issues, previous participants (from over 60 countries) have come from such specialisms as sociology, politics, cultural studies, social psychology, economics, history and geography. The Manchester conferences have also been notable for discovering a fruitful and friendly meeting ground between activism and academia.

We invite offers of papers relevant to the conference themes. Papers should address such matters as:
* contemporary and historical social movements and popular protests
* social movement theory
* utopias and experiments
* ideologies of collective action
* etc.
To offer a paper, or for more information about booking etc, please contact either of the conference convenors (with a brief abstract if submitting a paper):

EITHER Colin Barker, Dept. of Sociology
OR Mike Tyldesley, Dept. of Politics and Philosophy
Manchester Metropolitan University
Geoffrey Manton Building, Rosamond Street West
Manchester M15 6LL, England
Tel: M. Tyldesley 0161 247 3460
Fax: 0161 247 6769 (+44 161 247 6769)
(Wherever possible, please use email, especially as Colin Barker is a retired gent. Surface mail and faxes should only be addressed to Mike Tyldesley)

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Reminder: Making the Tories History Conference

Just a quick reminder about the Making the Tories History Conference on Saturday 26th February. Thanks to those who have pre-registered. There is still space available but it would be useful for refreshment and organising purposes if you do let us know in advance if you're coming.
Please contact Keith Flett: keith1917[at]

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,
David Renton, Andrew Stone, Richard Seymour

Monday, 14 February 2011

Dorothy Thompson (1923-2011)

Dorothy Thompson who has died aged 87 was one of the post-1945 era’s leading socialist and feminist historians and a political activist of considerable note and impact.

She was married for many years to the socialist historian EP Thompson who died in 1993 and her work and activity can be seen as in some ways complimentary to and at the least equal to his. While Edward studied the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries for example, Dorothy focused on the period immediately afterwards- that of Chartism.

In terms of political activism both left the Communist Party in 1956, both were part of the new left in the 1960s and later went on to become peace campaigners around the CND of the 1980s. Yet both Dorothy and Edward made distinctive and independent contributions to historical knowledge and socialist politics.

Thompson, born Dorothy Towers, a third generation South Londoner, has recorded much about her early years in Outsiders: Class, Gender and Nation[1993] and in an interview she gave to Sheila Rowbotham in New Left Review 200. Rowbotham has also provided a fine obituary in The Guardian [7th Feb]

Thompson had been politically active from age 14 but at Cambridge University Girton College from 1942 she engaged both with the politics of the Communist Party and the kindred intellectual spirit of Edward Thompson. Both were involved in the project to build a railway in Tito’s Yugoslavia.

Both eschewed involvement in the academic establishment for work in adult education in Halifax during the 1950s and much of the 1960s. Change in Universities was central to the upheaval of the 1960s and Thompson moved to take up an academic post in the history department at Birmingham University from the late 1960s.

She was responsible for tutoring and encouraging a generation of socialist historians who went on to produce a distinctive body of work- often around the subject of Chartism.

From the late 1960s too her published works began to flourish. These were often ground breaking in the areas they dealt with.

She was for example one of the first to touch on the exclusion of women from labour movement histories in her essay 'Women and Nineteenth Century Radical politics: a lost dimension', published in 1976.

From 1971 with the Early Chartists she had begun to publish a series of works which were, with the Chartists [1984] for many years the landmark history of Chartism reflecting her enormous knowledge and breadth of research in this area. Her research into Chartism was ground breaking, opening up new topics of study from a focus on female Chartists to the role ethnicity in Chartist politics.

The political activism was not forgotten and Rowbotham records in her Obituary how Thompson helped to organise events around the Beyond the Fragments initiative in the early 1980s. At the same time she was active in European Nuclear Disarmanent, a campaign that specifically encouraged links with peace activists in Eastern Europe, reflecting the heritage of her decision to quit the Communist Party in 1956. In 1983 she published ‘Over Our Dead Bodies-Women Against the Bomb’.

A former student Neville Kirk has noted that Thompson was an ‘inspirational teacher both democratic and rigorous in her practice’. He argues that she put a research agenda focusing on ambiguities, nuances complexities and contradictions before adherence to a specific historiographical framework, such as the Fabian or Marxist, two dominant themes in Chartist studies.

This meant that Thompson could sometimes come up with points or issues that were awkward for Marxist historians or active socialists. As her interview in New Left Review 200 reflects she was doubtful about the political implications of the concept of progress in history for example and in later years concerned about whether people did want to be politically active. However her commitment to the left both in historical research and politics could never be doubted whatever the disagreement on specific issues.

In particular in 1956 and after she stood clearly with socialists who did not see the Stalinist States of Eastern Europe as in anyway associated with socialism.

In person Dorothy Thompson could be a sharp critic but that was combined with a friendly encouragement to historians to actually get on and do historical research and to expand historical knowledge with their findings. In the age of Wikipedia an emphasis on visiting the archives cannot be overestimated.

Keith Flett
[A longer version of this will be published in Socialist Review].

Scott Hamilton, author of a forthcoming work on EP Thompson has also shared some of his email correspondence with Dorothy, while Owen Ashton, a former student of Dorothy who edited the volume of essays in her honour, has also sent us the following:

DOROTHY THOMPSON (1923 -2011 )

As printed in 1993 when Edward Thompson died, so now sadly in 2011, these
evocative lines - taken from his brother Frank's poem, Polliciti Meliora,
( translated from the Latin as 'having promised better things') - are an
equally fitting tribute to the work of Historian Dorothy Thompson, her
remarkable life of dissent and her inspiring commitment to struggle and
''Write on the stones no words of sadness
only the gladness due
that we, who asked the most of living
knew how to give it too''
(Major Frank Thompson was captured and shot near Sofia in 1944)

Owen Ashton
Stafford, 8th February 2011

Ten years of the Stop the War Coalition


Dear Stop the War Supporter,

Stop the War will be 10 years old this September. We will be producing a graphic history book of the work of the Coalition and a film of Stop the War'shistory is also in development by the Islam Channel. Over the 10 years we have put on many thousands of meetings, rallies, protestsand demonstrations. Some local and even national events have been forgotten,but we want the book and film to contain as many of these as possible. If you have photographs, images, film footage, audio, leaflets, posters, presscuttings -- anything you have saved from either national or local events thatyou feel should be included -- please contact us at orcall Andrew Burgin on 07939 242 229. We can't promise to include everything we receive, but all will be added to the archive already created by the Bishopsgate Institute as a permanent record of the work of Stop the War. Your help would be very much appreciated. Andrew Burgin
07939 242 229

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Amy Levy: The Woman who Dared

Socialist History Society meeting - Speakers expert in her life and work will explain why Amy Levy remains important.

In a short life Amy Levy produced a remarkable collection of poetry, fiction and journalism; radically freethinking and a fierce social critic, Amy sought to live as an independent woman and professional writer. As a Jewish woman, she confronted the stifling prejudices of a male dominated and class ridden society; breaking free from her community, she moved in the radical circles of late 19th century London and was a friend of Eleanor Marx, Olive Schreiner and others; she knew George Bernard Shaw, William Morris and Oscar Wilde, who praised her “genius”.

Organised by the Socialist History Society

7pm 27th May 2011


Dr Nadia Valman, Senior Lecturer, Queen Mary, University of London

Dr Christine Pullen, author The Woman Who Dared: A biography of Amy Levy

Dr Emma Francis, Associate Professor, Warwick University

Venue: Bishopsgate Institute

Vote for the People's History Museum

The People's History Museum in Manchester had some brilliant news this week – it’s on the long list for the 2011 Art Fund Prize. This is the UK’s largest arts prize with a prestigious £100,000 award for the winning museum - so please consider voting for the museum in the online public poll, and you might want to encourage your friends and contacts to do so too.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Making the Tories History conference

Making the Tories History
organised by the London Socialist Historians Group

Saturday 26th February 2011, 9.30am - 4.30pm
Institute of Historical Research
Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1

The decision of the neo-liberal ‘Con-Dem’ coalition government to appoint the liberal historian Simon Schama over arch-Tory champion of Western imperial power Niall Ferguson, to advise them on re-designing the national curriculum for history in British schools suggests a space for debate about the nature of history and history teaching in the UK

Schama, now famous as a ‘TV historian’ was associated with History Workshop in the 1980s but subsequently discovered that he disliked the idea of revolution of any sort. More recently he has been associated with New Labour and the Obama administration in the US.

However it is Education Secretary Michael Gove that looks to be calling the shots. The Tories seem to want a return to the kind of ‘traditional history’ taught in schools decades ago, designed primarily to inspire loyalty to the British Empire. This kind of ‘history’ was effectively satirised in W.C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman’s anti-imperialist classic, 1066 and All That, which began by stressing that the only ‘memorable history’ was the “self-sacrificing determination…of the…Great British People…to become Top Nation” and concluded by noting that now “America was thus clearly Top Nation and history came to a .”

Yet the weakness of this new Conservative-led government is epitomised by the fact that the Tories also have a quite ‘memorable history’ of their own as the political party of choice of not only many notorious reactionaries but of the British ruling class as a whole–while there is also a‘memorable history’ of working class resistance to them. The Tories have subsequently long been detested and distrusted by the organised British working class movement but also wider swathes of society.

At the same time there are other sides to Toryism. George Orwell said that when you meet a clever Conservative it is time to count your change and check your wallet. The Tory Party has not survived for two hundred years simply by being vicious; it has shown a remarkable capacity for adaptation. Disraeli is the archetypal Tory thinker, but the Conference will also look at ‘left Tories’ like Harold Macmillan in the 1930s and the way the Tory Party adapted to the post-World War II world (as studied in Nigel Harris’s Competition and the Corporate Society: British Conservatives, the State and Industry, 1945-1964, Methuen, London, 1971 and 1973.). Finally the question of ‘compassionate conservatism’/ Red Toryism will be reviewed. Is it hypocritical froth or does it have a more serious ideological role?

This conference, ‘Making the Tories History’, organised by the London Socialist Historians Group aims to discuss some of the parts of the Tories’ own history as a political party that they would prefer people either forgot or knew nothing at all about. Developing ‘a socialist history of the Tories’ can help act as a weapon in the wider struggle against the Con-Dem cuts and their relentless attacks on working class people, as well as rally the resistance of those concerned in defending history from pro-imperialist propagandists like Michael Gove.


9.30am Registration and Refreshments

10.00am Opening remarks

• Keith Flett: Researching the history of the Tory Party, some issues

10.15am First Plenary - The UnModern Tory Party

• Ian Birchall: The enemy’s enemy: Disraeli and working class leadership
• Nigel Harris: The making and the unmaking of a party of the ruling class
• Discussion and summaries

12 noon - Lunch Break

12.45pm Second Plenary - The Modern Tory Party

• Neil Davidson: The strange death of conservative Scotland, 1955-2011
• David Renton: Eton, the public schools and the Tories
• Richard Seymour: The Meaning of David Cameron
• Discussion and summaries

2.45pm Break and refreshments

3pm Third Plenary - The Tory Party and History

• Andrew Stone: Closing the book on Tory school history - a teacher’s perspective
• Discussion and summaries

4pm Finish

Followed by:
Drinks and conversation, Bree Louise pub, Euston Street, NW1 [10 minute walk]

Saturday 26th February 2011, 9.30am - 4.30pm
Institute of Historical Research
Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1

Advance registration is encouraged - please contact Keith Flett at the email address above.
: 07803 167266

Edited to add: A brief report

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Ray Challinor/Dorothy Thompson

On behalf of the LSHG, it is sad to relay the news of the recent passing of two very distinguished historians of the labour movement - Ray Challinor and Dorothy Thompson - condolences to their friends and families. No doubt this blog will be carrying longer appreciations of their work in future.

Edited to add: Tribute to Dorothy

Edited to add: Obituaries of Ray