Monday, 30 December 2013

LSHG Spring term 2014 seminars

London Socialist Historians Spring Term 2014 seminars

Saturday 25th January:
Conference: The First World War- imperial war to class war. From Midday, Woburn Suit [G22/26]

Monday 3rd Feb 5.30pm Sheila Cohen, Notoriously Militant, trade unionism at Fords Dagenham, Bloomsbury Room G35

Monday 17th Feb 5.30pm Eoin O’Cearnaigh , Big Flame 1970-1984. A history of a revolutionary socialist organisation ,Torrington Room 104

Monday 3rd March 5.30pm Hakim Adi, Pan-Africanism and Communism, Bloomsbury Room G35

Monday 17th March 5.30pm Ted Crawford - Dona Montefiore and World War One, Room G21A

All seminars take place at the Institute of Historical Research, South Block, University of London, Senate House, Malet St, London WC1. Please contact Keith Flett at the email above for more information.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Ian Birchall on Poujade and the French Left

I got the idea for this paper in the Spring, at the time of the UKIP gains in the local elections. The furore caused among the mainstream parties called back to mind a half forgotten memory from my youth, the shock and alarm produced internationally by the unexpected success of the Poujadist candidates in the French elections of 1956. Obviously UKIP is a very different phenomenon in a very different world, and my title was something of a provocation; I am not suggesting that there are any simple analogies that can be read off from the historical experience. But the thought of looking at the Poujadist experience cut across another more long-term concern of mine – the history of the French left, with particular reference to republicanism, nationalism and internationalism. So I thought it might be of some interest to see how the various currents of the French left reacted to the Poujadist breakthrough...
Read Ian's full paper presented at the LSHG seminar earlier this month here

Friday, 15 November 2013

An appeal for Still the Enemy Within film

From Mike Simons:
I just want to let you know that the film to mark the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike that we have been working on for the past year achieved a real milestone yesterday with our first semi-public showing of some of the footage.
Dartmouth Films, The Fire Brigades Union and The Communication Workers Union jointly hosted the launch of our new crowdfunding campaign and it went really well.
Jane Loftus, president of the Postal Workers’ Union spoke, as Did Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union – whose members were out on strike the next day. I was particularly pleased that Dave Hopper, the Durham miners’ leader, who now runs the Durham Miners’ Gala, came down and lent us his support. He pledged £1,000 to the film, which is a real honour because the Gala always needs money itself.
In the audience were many old friends and comrades alongside the young film makers who are working all hours, without pay to make this project a reality. It was great to see Mike Jackson, one of the founders of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, Nell Myers, the NUM press officer during the strike and for long afterwards, Gareth Pierce who acted for the Orgreave defendants, a number of leading trade unionists. Lindsey German from Stop the War was there and sitting quietly at the back, Ken Loach, who today made a contribution towards the film.
It was quite a nerve wracking event for us because we hadn’t really shown anything of the film to an audience. The reaction was brilliant, however. For those who were active in the miners’ support networks in 84 – 85, or who were miners on the picket line, the clips brought back all the anger and bitterness of the strike. For those who weren’t born when the strike took place it was a real eye opener.
Anyway, we need another £30,000 to pay for archive and do some more filming. Some of you will have given money already through the initial Kickstarter campaign earlier this year or in memory of Rosey. This appeal isn’t meant to be a further ‘tax’ on people who have already given, though anything you can spare would be most welcome.
What I would really like is for you to try and tap your networks for donations. If everyone got a donation from five or ten people we would be well on our way. If you were around in the miners’ strike it would be worth trying to dig out your old friends from the support groups. If you weren’t around in the strike, many people are interested in it and in seeing the story put across from a working class viewpoint.
If you are in a union branch or on a trades council, please try to get a donation and also think about how you can use the film next year. With official backing by the FBU, CWU, NUT and the Durham miners, with the support of Labour MPs Dianne Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn and the backing of Ken Livingstone, to say nothing of Ken Loach’s backing you should be able to win support.
Please send round the link to all your friends and also follow up with a direct approach, asking people to donate. We need money quickly – both to get our crowd funding campaign off to a good start, but also to feed the film crew who are turning down paying jobs to work on this project for free.
Here you go
Many thanks

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Upcoming LSHG events

A reminder about our next two events in the autumn term series of LSHG seminars. All welcome - for further info contact Keith Flett on the email above. 
On Monday 18th November Ian Birchall - whose personal website is now available here will be speaking on Poujade: 
Monday, 18 November, 5.30 pm.
Ian Birchall
UKIP's Forbears? Poujade and the French Left
Venue: Bloomsbury Room G35, Ground floor, Senate House
On Saturday November 30th from 12.30pm there is a Round table discussion on 50 years since the publication of the Making of the English Working Class with speakers including Logie Barrow, Peter Dwyer, Marika Sherwood and Steve Woodhams: 

Saturday 30 November
12.30pm, Room 246, 2nd Floor
Institute of Historical Research
London WC1E 7HU

LOGIE BARROW: The Making of the English Working Class and Eastern Europe
PETE DWYER: The Making of the English Working Class and Third World Struggles Today
MARIKA SHERWOOD: Black Activists and The Making of the English Working Class
STEVE WOODHAMS: What Made the Making?
KEITH FLETT: The Moral Economy Today

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Support the Still The Enemy Within film

Thirty years ago Thatcher went to war. Still the Enemy Within is a documentary about the miners who fought back. 

To see the latest trailer and fundraising video, with messages of support from John Pilger, Ken Livingstone, Michael Rosen and Diane Abbott visit:


We have a whole new load of rewards this year. If you donated last year and you donate again, you will automatically go into a special loyalty raffle to win 'The Miners: Box Set' our favourite selection of films about mining and striking from both here and abroad, chosen by the team.

You can also still by tickets to our Solidarity with the Miners Xmas Meal here

We must raise another 35K by Xmas to complete this project to the standard required. With your help, we know we can do it.    Next year,  the legacy of the strike will be bitterly contested, we need to this film to give the miners a voice.

For more information visit

Friday, 8 November 2013

Seminar on RH Tawney and the history of English capitalism

Wednesday November 13, 5.30pm

Lawrence Goldman (St Peter's College, Oxford)
R. H. Tawney and the history of English Capitalism: the historian and the public

R. H. Tawney was one of the pioneers of economic and social history and spent his whole career writing about the origins of capitalism in England in the early-modern period. He taught elements of this great subject to workers students in the very first Workers' Educational Association tutorial classes in the Edwardian period, and later to students at the LSE. Never strictly academic in his approach, his interest in this subject had religious and spiritual roots and powerfully influenced the views of the inter-war generation. The wrong-headed accusation that he was a historical materialist led to one of the most famous controversies in British historiography between Tawney and Hugh Trevor-Roper over the 'decline of the gentry'. This paper will look at Tawney's work as a historian and its social and political impact.

Venue: Bloomsbury Room, G35, Senate House, ground floor

Sunday, 3 November 2013

E P Thompson on the importance of socialist history groups

I found a fascination in getting to the bottom of everything, in the sources themselves.  I got this fascination with the archives.  I suppose this plus the critical, comradely help of one or two people in particular, especially Dona Torr, and participation in the Communist Party Historians' Group, in which we had theoretical discussions all the time - this made me into a historian.

The formal and informal exchange with fellow socialists helped me more than anything I found in Cambridge University.  This is not to say that one can't, fortunately, sometimes find something in a university, but it is to emphasize that socialist intellectuals ought to help each other.  We should never be wholly dependent upon institutions, however benevolent, but should maintain groups in which theory is discussed, and history is discussed and in which people criticise each other.  This principle of being able to give and to receive sharp criticism is very important...

What we want to do is to get back to a collective converse again.  We need our radical history journals and everything ... what socialists must never do is allow themselves to become wholly dependent upon established institutions - publishing houses, commercial media, universities, foundations.  I don't mean that these institutions are repressive - certainly, much that is affirmative can be done within them.  But socialist intellectuals much occupy some territory that is, without qualification, their own: their own journals, their own theoretical and practical centers - places where no one works for grades or for tenure but for the transformation of society; places where criticism and self-criticism are fierce, but also mutual help and the exchange of theoretical and practical knowledge; places that prefigure in some ways the society of the future.

EP Thompson, interviewed in 1976, from MAHRO (ed) Visions of History (Manchester, 1983), pp13-14,  22-23

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Harry Ratner and Lionel Cliffe

Sad news about the recent passing of two socialists:

Harry Ratner, author of Reluctant Revolutionary and supporter of the London Socialist Historians Group, died peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of Wednesday morning 23rd October. His funeral will take place on Thursday 7th November at Markeaton Crematorium, Main Chapel at 2.00pm.  As was his wish there will be a non-religious celebration of his life. His wife, Olive has asked that in lieu of flowers, a donation can be made, if you choose, to Breast Cancer Awareness. Donations can be made through the undertakers. A.W. Lymn at the Ilkeston office, 01159 444 121 where Scot will take your call. Or at Markeaton on the day.
Lionel Cliffe, Emeritus Professor at Leeds University, also passed away on 23 October. Lionel had international stature for his teaching, research and policy analysis of African political economy.   He was the founder of the first centre of development studies in Dar es Salaam that developed among other things new and radical analysis of Tanzania's socialist development.  Since retiring in 2001 he  continued to be generous with his time and support for colleagues working within the sphere of African political economy and African politics. He was working on an analysis of land reform in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.  He was also a supporter of Yorkshire cricket club, and wrote about its history and the question of racism  for the recent collection Capitalism and Sport.  Lionel will be cremated at Grenoside Crematorium, 5 Skew Hill Lane, Grenoside, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S35 8RZ  on Monday 4th November at 12.30, followed by a celebration of his life, with reflections from friends and family, at Wortley Hall, Wortley Village, Wortley S35 7DB  from 1.30pm.  All those who knew Lionel are welcome to both or either event.
Family flowers only.  Donations in Lionel's memory may be given to the 'Lionel Cliffe Memorial Research Scholarship', (mark donations accordingly please) to Co-operative Bank, sort code 089075, account no. 50181461.  Plates for donations will be available at both venues.

Troubled Island

Taster perfomances of Troubled Island in London tonight and 5 nights in November
For a couple of years now Thee Black Swan Theatre & Opera Company has been working towards making the sound of William Grant Still's opera Troubled Island live again. This opera, written in 1936 in collaboration with Langston Hughes, chronicles the life of Dessalines, leader of the Haitian Revolution alongside Toussaint L'Ouverture, who went on to lead the newly independent nation of Haiti after 1804. The opera itself has a troubled past, with writer and composer falling foul of both racism and McCarthyism.
A taster of this grand opera is being performed in London on six occassions on the last day of October and five nights into November, as follows:
Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate, 7.30pm
Thursday,  31st October, Friday, 1st November and Saturday 2nd November
Catford Broadway,  8pm
Friday, 8th November and Saturday 9th November
The Wilberforce Theatre, The Museum of London, Docklands E14 4AL,  7.30pm
Sunday, November 10th

With support from Judith Anne Still and Arts Council (England).

Monday, 14 October 2013

CfP: Manchester Social Movements Conference - April 2014


From 1995 to 2013, 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 Nineteenth AF&PP Conference will be held, between Monday 14th April and Wednesday 16th April 2014.

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. Given the significance of the mass movements in numbers of countries during the early years of this decade, we especially welcome papers discussing these – while no less welcoming suggestions on other topics.

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, please contact either of the conference convenors with a brief abstract:  

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)  

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Talk with Keith Flett on independent working class education before the Plebs

News from Nowhere Club

8pm Saturday 12 October

Keith Flett

Before the Plebs
Independent Working Class Education
in the Nineteenth Century
They sought not the useful knowledge of a conventional education but really useful knowledge to take on capital. We look at this lost tradition of radical education in the working class and reflect on what it might mean for today.

News from Nowhere Club
The Epicentre,
E11 4LJ
0208 555 5248
07443 480 509

Friday, 4 October 2013

Ford Maguire society events in Leeds

Ford Maguire Society forthcoming events

Cyril Pearce (University of Leeds), author of Comrades in Conscience is speaking about War Resisters in the First World War on Wednesday, Oct 9th October at 6pm Broadcasting Place (next to Old Friends' Meeting House, Woodhouse Lane), Leeds Metropolitan University (BPAG10)

Toussaint Louverture - book launch of C.L.R. James's 1934 play about the Haitian Revolution Toussaint Louverture with various speakers including editor Christian Høgsbjerg, Joe Williams (who will read an extract from the play) and Arthur France - Wednesday, 23rd October 2013 at 7pm Leeds West Indian Centre

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Global EP Thompson conference - follow live broadcast

We invite you to participate in the upcoming conference at Harvard, Oct. 3-5, "The Global E. P. Thompson: Reflections on the Making of the English Working Class after Fifty Years." We will be hosting a truly global conversation among scholars, and we invite you to join us, either in person or online.
 We will be broadcasting live; please spread the word and tune-in, October 3-5th. The Broadcast will start at 4 PM EST on Thursday, October 3rd, and conclude on Saturday October 5th at 1 PM, EST. ( ) Broadcast viewers will be able to submit questions and participate via the Ustream Channel.
 Full Program:<> Follow the live broadcast ustream channel:
We look forward to your participation!

Fifty years ago E. P. Thompson published The Making of the English Working Class, one of the most influential social history works ever. Its approach to the history of common people, its arguments and its methods came to influence several generations of historians and others all over the world. To trace Thompson’s influences, and with it the larger story of the varied approaches to social history that have come out of them, the Program on the Study of Capitalism and the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History at Harvard University seek to initiate a global conversation among researchers across the humanities and social sciences to reflect critically on Thompson's impact on the writing of history and his enduring significance for future research. At a time of global economic crises, as scholarship returns to themes of class, inequality and political economy with renewed interest, urgency, and moral purpose, the fiftieth anniversary of the Making of the English Working Class offers a welcome opportunity to both critically reflect on Thompson's scholarship and consider the ways in which his ideas, methods and commitments can still inspire intellectual frameworks and research programs that speak to present global problems.

 Edited to add:

Celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of E P Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class- Sat 16 November 2013, Halifax

by Fiona Cosson
Join the Society for the Study of Labour History at Halifax Square Chapel for a lecture and discussion on the life and work of E. P. Thompson (1924-1993), leading radical historian and author of the seminal The Making of the English Working Class (1963) on Saturday 16 November 2013. Professor Bryan D. Palmer (Trent University, Ontario) will deliver a key note lecture on ‘History as Argument: The Contrarian Analytics of The Making of the English Working Class’ followed by a roundtable discussion chaired by Professor Neville Kirk. Panelists will include: Professor John Belchem, Professor Malcolm Chase, Professor Joe White, Professor Paul Pickering, Dr Peter Gurney, Professor D. Palmer and Dr Matthew Roberts. In the afternoon Dr John Hargreaves will lead a local history walk to the house where the Thompsons lived where a plaque will be unveiled.

LSHG Newsletter #50 now online

Featuring Keith Flett on the 1913 Dublin Lock Out and Neil Faulkner's A Marxist History of the World, Ian Birchall on the importance of socialist history and James Heartfield's Unpatriotic History of World War II, Steve Cushion on the continuing debate around how socialists should characterise and remember that war, an obituary of Terry Burton and a reminder of our forthcoming seminars.  The deadline for the next issue is 1 December - contributions to Keith Flett at the usual address.

LSHG seminars Autumn Term

London Socialist Historians Group Seminars Autumn 2013
Please note the changes in venues etc from the previous posting (now also updated)
Venue: Bloomsbury Room G35, Ground floor, Senate House unless otherwise stated
Time: Monday, 5.30pm, unless otherwise mentioned in the programme, below.
7 October
Shane C. Nagle (Royal Holloway)
Socialist intellectuals and National(ist) Historiography: The Cases of James Connolly and Franz Mehring
Venue: Room STB5, Stewart House, Basement
21 October
Book launch with Gareth Edwards (Portsmouth), Keith Flett, Hazel Potter, David Renton
Capitalism and Sport- some histories
Venue: Bloomsbury Room G35, Ground floor, Senate House
4 November
John Issit (York)
Agents of Reason, Jeremiah Joyce & Tom Paine in the 1790s
Venue: Room STB2, Basement, Stewart House
18 November
Ian Birchall
UKIP's Forbears? Poujade and the French left
Venue: Bloomsbury Room G35, Ground floor, Senate House
30 November
Roundtable discussion with Logie Barrow (Bremen), Pete Dwyer (Ruskin), respondent, Keith Flett
Remake, Remodel : the Making of the English Working Class at 50
Please note: this session takes place from 12:00-17:00 on a Saturday, in Room 246, 2nd floor, Senate House
16 December
Vaughan Melzer
Commitment, Stories from the Left. A Photographic project
Venue: Room G21A, ground floor, Senate House

A Riveting World History Lesson on Stage

A Riveting World History Lesson on Stage - The Life of Paul Robeson. Covent Garden, London, October 16 and 23. Schools Offer‏

"...According to my sister and friends YOU WERE SUPERB and her friend asked "Why is he not going round schools teaching history that way - no one will ever forget history lessons taught like that". E M, Liverpool


In the heart of London's West End this October, the award-winning Call Mr. Robeson is being performed as part of the Paul Robeson Art Is A Weapon Festival, which celebrates Robeson's life, and much else involving Black, British, African and International History. Two special schools' matinees have been scheduled, for Wednesday 16th and Wednesday 23rd October at 11.30am, to which school parties are invited, at a cost of only £7 per head. The performance is suitable for KS3 and older.
Youtube image
Click image to view trailer
Paul Robeson's life covers so much - apart from being the most famous Othello of modern times, he was also the forerunner of the American Civil Rights Movement, encompassed the battle between socialism and capitalism, and excelled in sports, law, music, film and theater. The play also introduces students to American, British, Welsh and African History - all in the life of one truly extraordinary man!! A teacher in Oxford who has now seen the play four times prepared a policy and curriclum links document, summarising the benefits to both teachers and students. You can download it here
If you click on the image above, you will see a very short trailer, and as the photo below indicates, a Q&A session follows every performance, which will further enlighten members of the audience.
Thaddeus's Philly Fringe Photo Q&A
Join us in Covent Garden and give your students a history lesson they won't forget in a long time!
Additional plays of interest
Also in the festival, The Spirit of Harriet Tubman is being performed at 2.30pm on Wednesday 16th October, and Mother to Mother at 2.30pm on Wednesday 23rd October. Both will be of interest to school students, and can also be offered for the same price. A schools pack for Harriet Tubman (written for the Canadian system) can be downloaded here.
Tayo Aluko
p.s. Please forward to colleagues you think may be interested.


What: Call Mr. Robeson. A Life, with Songs. Written and performed by Tayo Aluko, with piano accompaniment by Michael Conliffe
Web listing here:
When: Weds 16 October, 11.30am; Weds 23 October, 11.30am (schools)
Show length: 80 minutes (no interval) followed by Q&A session
Where: Tristan Bates Theatre at the Actors Centre, 1A Tower Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9NP
Ticket Price: £7 (school parties)
Suitable for KS3 and older
Box Office: 020 7 240 6283
Ticket orders for school groups by telephone only.

Book Review: More on WWII

(From LSHG Newsletter # 50, Autumn 2013)

Unpatriotic History of the Second World War
By James Heartfield
Zero Books, Winchester 2012 557pp
ISBN 9781780993782

One problem we shall encounter during the forthcoming commemoration of World War I is that even among those who recognise the First World War as an imperialist slaughter, there will be quite a few who still see the Second World War as a “good war” – some, perhaps from patriotism or antifascism, while others fall victim to nostalgia for the days of a “progressive Soviet bloc”, something increasingly prevalent in parts of a demoralised left.

Donny Gluckstein’s valuable People’s History of the Second World War has provoked an interesting debate (see here and here).  James Heartfields’s book, coming from a rather different angle, makes a further contribution to understanding. It is an impressive piece of research: 472 pages of text contain a wealth of information, and the 76 pages of notes reveal the huge range of sources that have been consulted (though unfortunately all are English-language).

My sole reservation is that the argument could have been more tightly structured, and that a fuller index would have made it more useful as a work of reference.

The book covers the whole course of the war and its impact on the shape of the post-war world. Everything is packed in, from major atrocities to minor absurdities. (One of my earliest memories is the removal of railings from the local park to make armaments; I was amused to learn that the metal was never used, but stayed in a warehouse in Durham till the 1970s. [66]) A fascinating chapter entitled “Love and War” deals with the family, prostitution and homosexuality. An excellent final section deals with the historiography of the war – the orthodox myths and the various heretics who dissented, from AJP Taylor to Gabriel Kolko.

Heartfield, as his title suggests, is very much a heretic. He will have nothing to do with the claim that the war was, at least in part, a “people’s war”. As he argues, a war that killed 2.5 per cent of the world’s population was “a war against the people”.[2] Its ultimate cause was the “drive to war” that is a “special feature of capitalist societies”.[463] Anti-fascism was quite low on the list of priorities of the allied ruling classes; as one of Churchill’s ministers put it in 1942: “smashing Hitler is only a means to the essential end of preserving the British Empire”.[55] And that Empire was based on white supremacy which could be just as murderous as Nazi anti-Semitism.

Since it was an imperialist war, Heartfield devotes a good deal of attention to Asia. Brutal as the Japanese regime was, the British ruling class approved Japanese imperialism - until its interests clashed with those of the British Empire. And the impact of the war in Asia was to spark off national liberation struggles which transformed the region after 1945.

Heartfield’s basic method is to take a series of themes, and to illustrate them with parallels from the main combatant countries. He does not ignore the very real differences between fascism and bourgeois democracy, but shows that often they were a matter of quantity rather than quality. In Britain and the US, as in Germany and Italy, “business and government worked together to hold down …. wages”. [21] Nazi Germany relied on slave labour – but the British colony of Rhodesia had a “Compulsory Native Labour Act”. [60] Gay soldiers in Germany were executed; in the US they were confined to psychiatric cells.

Everywhere the realities of class persisted. When German prisoners were landed in Canada, British privates carried the officers’ luggage because officers could not be expected to carry their own bags. In the brutal Japanese prisoner of war camps, British officers disciplined the labour of British common soldiers. Nor was support for the war anything like as solid as is often believed. 100,000 British troops deserted in the course of the war, and there were mutinies and strikes during and after the war. Contrary to myth substantial working-class areas of London were depopulated by the blitz.

While recognising the particular barbarity of the Holocaust, Heartfield insists on the danger of “isolating the Final Solution from the wider conflict”. [455] He is perhaps a little complacent in his discussion of Holocaust Denial. While he is right to point out the “weight of evidence is in no danger of being overturned”, Holocaust Denial could enhance the credibility of far right groupings who pose a real threat to working-class unity.

In more general terms, however, Heartfield is right to situate the Holocaust in the total context of the
war. Before the war Nazis had proposed deporting Jews to Madagascar – a clearly racist measure, but one that fell short of extermination. “The plan failed because Britain blocked the expulsion of German Jews – out of fear that they would come to Britain.” [301]

Heartfield gives much detail on the repressive nature of Stalin’s rule, and of the reactionary policies of Moscow-oriented Communist Parties. He tells us that the USSR was “a non-capitalist power” [54] , yet also that it was “not socialism”. [158] Perhaps, but if so what was it - and if it did not have a “drive to exploit other lands” what made it so “rapacious”? [54]

Heartfield’s work will certainly be controversial. But his accumulation of material will be an asset to all socialists, and it deserves a wide readership.

Ian Birchall

Obituary: Terry Burton (1939-2013)

My friend and colleague over many years Terry Burton, who died on August 4th aged 74, was a veteran socialist and trade unionist activist, in the last generation who did not get the chance to go to University but instead picked up his huge range of knowledge from reading books and political activism.

Born in Tunbridge Wells, Terry was in the last cohort to do national service — in the RAF from 1958-59. Terry embarked on a life of political activism. He was a member of CND in its first wave and also active in the Committee of 100. In the 1960s he was associated with the left-wing libertarian group Solidarity.  He worked in a range of jobs including a British Rail ticket clerk, but eventually settled in the NHS. He worked at the Prince of Wales hospital in Tottenham in the 1980s and when that closed transferred to the nearby St Ann’s Hospital.

A trade union activist, Terry was involved with NALGO and later UNISON. In 1990 he found himself elected as Secretary of Haringey Trades Union Council as Communist Party activists withdrew following the collapse of the Eastern Europe states.I worked with Terry as Chair of Haringey TUC over two decades and found him to be a most efficient and diligent officer, qualities not so readily available as all that in any area of society.

Terry was usually a Labour voter until the New Labour period. In 2001 he stood unsuccessfully for Haringey Council as a candidate for the short-lived Socialist Alliance. He later joined the Green Party. He often attended LSHG seminars. He was a long-time resident of the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham, having already been there for some years at the time of the 1985 riot. Visitors to his flat found a scene rather different to media images of the area. Stacked with books and papers, Terry would frequently be immersed in a detail of the progress, or otherwise, of a left-wing party in an election in some part of the world.

Beset in recent years by poor health, Terry had Parkinson’s disease and typically became active in the Parkinson’s Society. Terry however continued to get out to such events and meetings as he could, and was present at a recent Trades Council public meeting with Owen Jones in Tottenham, with the speaker assisting him in his wheelchair. He is survived by his wife and long-time friend Inga.

Keith Flett

Polemic: Parallel Wars - A reply to Leandros Bolaris

By Steve Cushion - Secretary UCU London Retired Members branch
(From LSHG Newsletter # 50 Autumn 2013)

Leandros Bolaris's attack on Donny Gluckstein's People's History of the Second World War (See Two in One in International Socialism 138, 2013), misses the point on a number of issues. The argument that there were two parallel wars, a "People's War" and an "Imperialist War" is not, as Bolaris asserts, going round in circles and does not necessarily end up accepting that the Second Word War was solely an "anti-fascist" war"(1). We surely do not judge a war by the perceptions of the participants or the public statements of the leaders; if we did this, we would see the English Civil War as merely a religious conflict and ignore the revolutionary implications. In the context of the times, a mere twenty years after First World War, any attempt to raise an army in Britain based on "King and Country" or any similar imperialist slogan would have been an abject failure and the ruling class was shrewd enough to recognise this. Therefore, the fact that most participants thought that the Allies were fighting an anti-fascist war is a tribute to skilful government propaganda and the confusion caused by the class-collaborationist politics of the "Popular Front". What people think they are doing is often at odds with material reality.

Donny Gluckstein does indeed "follow a long line of left-wing historians" with good reason: France's rulers were indeed more afraid of the Popular Front than the Germans.(2) The Popular Front was, in one sense, a corpse before it was even born, but this does not mean that the events of 1934- 36 had not badly scared the French bourgeoisie; the French working class were not crushed, but had merely suffered a setback. The Munich Agreement, Roosevelt's election promise to stay out of any European conflict and the Hitler-Stalin Pact show the reluctance of the ruling elites of all the major future Allied powers to go to war, in part because they well remembered the revolutionary situation in which the First World War ended. I would argue that the collapse of the French Army was more than just a tactical blunder by the French High Command, it rather reflected an ambivalence about the war in the minds of a ruling class whose attitude may be summed up by a 1941 letter from a Lille factory owner to his trade newspaper: 'I would rather see my country occupied by the Germans than my factory occupied by the workers'.(3) A careful reading of quote from Trotsky in Leandros Bolaris's article reveals that it was principally an attack on the folly of the Popular Front rather than an explanation of the Fall of France.

The French and British governments were forced to go to war in defence of Poland because they saw, and saw very much more clearly than Stalin, that the invasion of Poland was a prelude to the invasion of Russia. If the German army had managed to conquer Russia, that country's vast natural resources, when combined with German industrial strength, would have meant that Germany could have dominated the world economy and won any future war with any or all of the Allies. So the Allied rulers had a difficult balancing act to perform, to persuade their citizens to fight an imperialist war and to avoid that war ending in a revolutionary situation in the manner of 1914-1918. Declaring it an antifascist war was an effective way of doing this; class-conscious workers were rightly appalled at the way fascism was rolling out over Europe, smashing trade unions and workers' parties, cutting wages and putting the bourgeoisie firmly in the saddle. This fear of fascism was completely justified, however unconditional support for Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt and De Gaulle, which was advocated by the trade union bureaucracy and the Social Democrat and Stalinist leaders, was not the way to defeat fascism. These reformist workers' leaders also helped the Allies fight the war in such a way as to avoid independent working class activity: advocating no-strike agreements and promoting increased production in Britain and the USA, while urging the resistance to subordinate its activities to the needs of the Allied High Command in the occupied countries. However, given the nature of underground resistance movements, this latter aim was only partially successful.

Leandros Bolaris is absolutely correct to say that the FTP-MOI was not fighting for a return of the pre-war capitalist French Republic that had persecuted them. This was not only true for immigrant workers. Within the the French Communist Party, there was a difference of emphasis between Paris and the Pas-de-Calais. Guided by the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Paris leadership thought that they had to organise within the context of a German victory. Taking a position of neutrality between what they saw as the rival imperialisms of Germany and Britain, the official publications ignored the German occupation and concentrated their attacks on the Vichy government and French capitalism.(4) Many of their comrades in the mining basin of Northern France were convinced, however, that the war would end in revolution, as had happened in Russia after the war of 1914, and that revolution would spring from the ashes of the defeat of German fascism. French capitalism was weak, they argued, the war would weaken it still further until it became merely an adjunct of German capitalism. Julien Hapiot, head of the Young Communists in the Pas-de-Calais and a veteran of the International Brigades in Spain thought that: 'It is much better to shoot the master rather than the dog'.(5)

I am not in a position to discuss the situation in Greece, but as a contribution to the debate on the Second World War, it may be useful to look in some detail at the situation in Northern France following the German invasion. This area formed part of a Paris, August 1945.  An unarmed crowd captures a German tank "Forbidden Zone", run directly by the German authorities in Brussels and effectively cut off from the rest of France, allowing the resistance to develop with greater independence. In particular the communist party in the mining basin of the Pas-de-Calais entered into active resistance much earlier than the national organisation, many believing that the war would end in a revolution similar to 1917. While the PCF leadership in Paris was attempting to negotiate the legal appearance of Humanité, on the strength of their support for the Hitler-Stalin pact, their comrades in the North were gathering as much of the weaponry abandoned by the fleeing French soldiers as they could.(6)

A group of communist miners, succeeded in organising a mass strike against increased workloads in June 1941, involving 100,000 miners, 85% of the workforce in the region. They held out impressively for 10 days, but eventually the sheer weight of German Army repression forced a return to work. In organising a strike to resist the employers' offensive in the mines, rather as they might have done in times of peace, but coming up against the reality of the Nazi occupation, the local communists concluded that the defeat of the occupying forces was an essential prerequisite for any social progress and that this required armed action. Although they were unhappy with the national line of the party which accepted the German occupation, they had tried to ignore the problem as far as possible. Being so forcibly confronted with the German Army, they realised that they could not duck the issue and so, as the strike went on, one can see that the link between opposition to the occupation and social liberation becoming more evident in their propaganda.(7)

The employers of the region collaborated completely with the Germans and the mine owners gave the police the names of those they considered to be ringleaders.(8) As a result, 450 arrests were made, of whom 270 were deported to concentration camps in Germany and 130 never returned. The repression led many other militants to go into hiding. Emboldened and politically radicalised by the strike, many of these began a campaign of sabotage with the aim of encouraging the local population and sapping the moral of the occupying forces and their collaborationist allies. These militants armed themselves, initially for self-defence, and, from their base of support in the mining communities, started blowing up electricity pylons, derailing trains etc. This led to a need for more explosives and these were obtained by raids on the dynamite stores in the mines, which in turn produced violent confrontations with the security forces. In the North of France, the first attacks on individual German soldiers were in large part motivated by the need to obtain more weapons.

Much ink has been spilt about the wisdom of attacking individual soldiers, but less has been said about the practicalities. The first two attacks in the North turned to farce when the old pistols misfired and the assassination attempts degenerated into fist fights.(9) This inexperience could only be overcome by practice and demonstrates a major practical problem with attentism(10); when the time comes to fight, political correctness is no substitute for experience. The main political outcome of the strike was to provide the French Resistance with its most solid base. The traditional solidarity of the close knit mining communities and the anti-German, anti-Vichy and anti-employer sentiments generated by the strike enabled these urban guerrillas an unparalleled freedom of movement and support networks. In 1942 and 1943 over half the armed attacks and sabotage in France happened in the Nord/Pas-de-Calais.(11)

When the employers are seen as traitors, the class struggle appears patriotic. Overcoming this contradiction requires skilful political work by socialists, stressing the class nature of resistance. In France the reverse happened, as the tactic of the Popular Front played down the class struggle to ensure collaboration with Anglo-American imperialism. By the end of 1942, all of the original leaders of the 1941 miners' strike were either dead, in prison awaiting execution or fled to remote parts where they were not known. This allowed the national leadership of the PCF to impose its
class collaborationist, nationalist policies on newly emerging, inexperienced militants.(12)

A major objection to attacks on German soldiers is that this would hinder the appeal to mutiny or desertion. This argument ignores the fact that mutinous situations and collaboration with erstwhile enemies rarely come when their army is victorious: Russia 1917, Germany 1918, the US in Vietnam. The largest group of German soldiers who changed sides in WW2 were recruited into the Red Army after the battle of Stalingrad.(13) While German soldiers could treat France as a holiday camp, there was little incentive to rebel or even think about it. The insecurity caused by attacks on German soldiers was more likely to produce an atmosphere receptive to anti-fascist propaganda than when they were living the high life in the "City of Light". In the North of France, the tactic of individual assassinations became largely replaced by the derailing of troop trains; why kill or injure one when you can get them 500 at a time? The most famous transfer of allegiance was that of the Paris Police, who had loyally carried out the commands of their Fascist hierarchy, including being responsible for rounding up the Jews of Paris. However, in 1944, with German and Vichy France facing defeat, they saved their bacon by joining the uprising. Less well known, 300 German soldiers also joined the Paris uprising. German-speaking communists in the MOI, an immigrant workers' organisation, published a paper called Soldat im Western, at the same time as other immigrant communists were engaged in armed resistance.(14)

The two tactics, the carrot and the stick, were, I would argue, correctly seen as complementary; the real problem with the MOI approach was the Popular Front politics of that propaganda, not the tactic itself. When seen from the perspective of the MOI, armed attacks on German soldiers take on a different perspective. Many were refugees from the Spanish Civil War, both Spanish Republicans and International Brigade volunteers, others were Jews who had watched their families and neighbours being deported. During 1942 and the first half of 1943, they provided the principal active armed groups in Paris, treated as expendable by the PCF leadership.(15) It is unlikely that these fighters risked their lives for "la France"; a socialist explanation of their motivation is much more plausible and is consistent with the surviving evidence.

The French Trotskyists also had some success in spreading propaganda amongst the German soldiers and sailors in Brest, but were reluctant to take part in the armed struggle, although some, like André Calvès, a Trotskyist from Brest, did join the communist-led armed resistance group, the FTP, long before the half-hearted recognition by the European Secretariat of the Fourth International of the importance of the resistance as a mass movement, as contained in the 1943 "resolution on the partisan movement".(16) This resolution is effectively attentiste, despite its revolutionary rhetoric.(17) Had the French Trotskyists armed themselves earlier, they would have been in a much better position to implement a united front policy with other resistance groups, as well as to defend themselves from Stalinist sectarian aggression.

Donny Gluckstein's formulation of "Imperialist War" and "People's War" is a step forward in the analysis of the Second World War. He is correct to start his history of the Second World War with a discussion of the Spanish Civil War because the political question was the same: should socialists moderate their demands, play down the possibility of socialism and collaborate with an anti-fascist bourgeoisie, or should they argue that workers self-activity is the best way to defeat fascism and try to turn war into revolution. We do not expect the state to defeat the EDL on the streets of Walthamstow, neither should workers have relied on the Anglo-Americans to defeat Fascism in the 1940s. The Allies fought the war in such a way as to ensure that there would not be a revolutionary situation at the end, as there had been at the end of the previous war. Mass aerial bombardment and the insistence of unconditional surrender are examples of this approach.

Leandros Bolaris's description of the situation in Greece shows the importance the Allied governments placed on avoiding any element of socialism in the final settlement and were prepared to divert resources from the fight against Nazi Germany to ensure such an outcome. "Neither Washington nor Berlin" seems to be the correct approach to the imperialist aspects of the war. On the other hand, describing the resistance as part of a "People's War" is useful . It indicates that it was a rebellion seeking social improvements, but recognises that it was a cross class movement involving workers, peasants and elements of the petite-bourgeoisie. There was not the revolutionary leadership to turn this into a revolution, but the fear of such a revolution was still enough to win considerable social reforms.

1 Bolaris, 2013, p.148-149
2 Bolaris, 2013, p.151
3 Revue du Nord, L'Occupation en France et en Belgique 1940-44 , No 2 (hors série), Lille, 1988, p746
4 For more on the national position of the PCF at the start of the occupation: Noguères, Henri, Histoire de la Résistance en France, Laffont, Paris, 1967 ( Volume 1) Courtois, Stéphane, Le PCF dans la Guerre, Editions Ramsay, Paris 1980 Tillon, Charles, On Chantait Rouge, Laffont, Paris, 1977
5 Pannequin, Roger, Ami si tu tombes, Le Sagittaire, Paris, 1976 p90
6 Rémy, La Résistance dans le Nord, Famot, Genève, 1974 p122
7 Cushion, Steve, The 1941 miners' strike in northern France: from a dispute over soap to armed resistance. Socialist History 29, 2006 pp. 41-55
8 Michel, Joël, La mine, Gallimard, Paris, 1993 p84
9 "Carnets de Charles Debarge" Charles Debarge, a miner who became a resistence leader in the Pas-de-Calais, kept a journal up until the last days before his death at the hands of the French police. A copy may be seen in the Musée Municipal de Denain.
10 attentism was the name given to the policy adopted by the Gaullist resistence of waiting until the Allied invasion before moving to the offensive
11 Pierrart, André & Rousseau, Michel, Eusabio Ferrari, Editions Syros, Paris, 1980 p.146
12 Noguères, Henri, Histoire de la Résistance en France, Laffont, Paris, 1967 tome 2 p.229
13 Veyrier, Marcel, La Wehrmacht Rouge, Paris: Juillard, 1970
14 Collin, Claude , "Le Travail Allemand : origines et filiations", Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains n°230 2008/2
15 Courtois, Stéphane, Peschanski, Denis, Rayski, Adam, Le sang de l’étrange - les immigrés de la MOI dans la Résistance,Paris, Fayard, 1989 Manouchian, Mélinée, Manouchian, Paris, Éditeurs français réunis, 1977
16 Mandel, Ernest, Trotskyists and World War Two, 1976 - Calves, Andre, J’ai essayé de comprendre, Mémoires: 1920-1950,
17 Prager, Rodolphe, L’Internationale dans la guerre 1940-1946, Editions La Brêche, 1981(English translation by John Archer in Revolutionary History

Monday, 30 September 2013

Comment: In defence of our history

(From LSHG Newsletter # 50, Autumn 2013)

In January Owen Jones published an article in which he sharply criticised those “obsessed with replicating a revolution that took place in a semi-feudal country nearly a century ago” and claimed that “the era of Leninist party building surely ended a long time ago.”

There was a rapid rebuttal from Alex Callinicos in Socialist Review, which denounced the mindless repetition of a few sacred formulas” and argued that “genuinely carrying on a tradition requires its continuous creative renewal”.

Callinicos’s article provoked widespread comment, notably from John Riddell, who deployed formidable erudition in his account of how “democratic centralism” functioned in the early Comintern.

This is not the place to discuss those debates, and certainly not the circumstances that gave rise to them. But as socialist historians, we should be particularly concerned by one theme underlying these discussions, the question of how the study of history relates to political practice.

The argument against history is well known, summed up in Henry Ford’s famous remark 

“History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history that we make today.” 
[Chicago Tribune, 1916]. 

Owen Jones and his mates in the Labour Party would probably go along with this. It is popular with university managements, like those at Middlesex and London Met, which have closed history departments. (Middlesex, which broke its links with the past in 2006, is now running a course for Asda managers, which consists of just twelve days of classroom study in three years, plus online studies and work-based assessment.

For the left such arguments have a superficial attractiveness. Surely we should start from the concrete realities of our own time, not with memories of the past. The attitude is summed up in George Galloway’s famous recommendation that we should “stop talking about dead Russians”.

A recent manifestation is the claim that the internet, and such phenomena as Facebook and Twitter, have changed everything and opened up a totally new style of political activity.

In my view such rejections of history should be forcefully countered. To begin with there is a simple logical objection. This rejection of history, this claim that our world, in Yeats’s words, is “all changed, changed utterly”, is itself a historical judgement. To make any serious assessment of what exactly has been changed by the internet, we need to look at the history of forms of communication from the blank semaphore telegraph of the 1790s, which so excited Babeuf and his comrades, through the electric telegraph, radio and television to the internet. Only such a historical analysis can provide a basis for a proper analysis of change and continuity.

It is well-known that in revolutions those taking part frequently draw on models from the past. The French revolutionaries of 1789 saw themselves as re-enacting the Roman Republic. The Chartists often thought in terms of remaking the French Revolution. And in the Russian Revolution there was frequent reference back to 1789 and to the Paris Commune. Thus in his History of the Russian Revolution Trotsky reminds us that the Bolsheviks, in seizing the State Bank, were very much aware of the precedent of the Paris Commune:

'Almost simultaneously with the seizure of the Telephone Exchange a detachment of sailors from the Marine Guard, about forty strong, seized the building of the State Bank on the Ekaterininsky Canal. …. The seizure of the bank had to some extent a symbolic importance. The cadres of the party had been brought up on the Marxian criticism of the Paris Commune of 1871, whose leaders, as is well known, did not venture to lay hands on the State Bank. ‘No we will not make that mistake,’ many Bolsheviks had been saying to themselves long before October 25. News of the seizure of the most sacred institution of the bourgeois state swiftly spread through the districts, raising a warm wave of joy.'

Such retrospective identification was not always helpful. The confused debate about the Soviet Thermidor in the 1920s is a case in point. But it was inevitable. When human beings are engaged in radically remaking the world, they can only conceive what they are doing either in terms of pure imagination (like the Utopian socialists), or in terms of what has been done in the past. A proper understanding of the originality of a revolution’s achievements can only be achieved after the event.

In the Eighteenth Brumaire Marx noted the way in which revolutionaries constantly turn to the past:

'The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95.'

But he thought that the proletarian revolution could break with such backward-looking practices: 

'The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content.'

Undoubtedly Marx was over-optimistic about the prospects for socialist revolution in the nineteenth century, and hence underestimated the extent to which those involved in making socialist revolutions would need to learn from the past. The younger Alex Callinicos, not so weighed down with the burden of defending the Marxist “tradition”, made some interesting comments on these passages by Marx, considered together with Sartre, Benjamin and others. He observed that 

'historical materialism does not simply transcribe the pattern of past struggles passively. It seeks to assimilate these experiences of these struggles critically and reflectively. Only such an appropriation of the past can produce historical knowledge ‘whose pulse’, in Benjamin’s words, ‘can still be felt in the present’. For the point of remembering past victories and defeats is to learn from them and to put their lessons to work in the future.'
 (A Callinicos, Making History, Chicago, 2009, p. 264. The book was first published in 1987, and planned before the miners’ strike of 1984-85.)

The study of history is also relevant to a major problem in Marxist theory. The philosopher Georg Lukács put forward the concept of “imputed consciousness”, that is, the consciousness of which the working class is potentially capable, rather than that which it has at any particular point in time:

'By relating consciousness to the whole of society it becomes possible to infer the thoughts and feelings which men would have in a particular situation if they were able to assess both it and the interests arising from it in their impact on immediate action and on the whole structure of society. …. Now class consciousness consists in fact of the appropriate and rational reactions ‘imputed’ (zugerechnet) to a particular typical position in the process of production. This consciousness is, therefore, neither the sum nor the average of what is thought or felt by the single individuals who make up the class. And yet the historically significant actions of the class as a whole are determined in the last resort by this consciousness and not by the thought of the individual - and these actions can be understood only by reference to this consciousness.'
(G. Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, London, 1971, p 51.)

Now this notion of “imputed consciousness” is both essential and problematic for Marxism. Essential, because unless it can be shown that the working class is capable of a radically different consciousness than that which it has at present, then any hope of the self-emancipation of the proletariat is vain. Yet problematic because of the vexed question of who does the “imputing”. Is there some elite vanguard that knows better than the working class itself what the class should be thinking? 

The educator must be educated, but who imputes the imputer? The only way out of this dilemma is to show what the working class is potentially capable of by study of what it has achieved in the past. If we’re asked how we know that the working class could run society for itself, the only answer that is both intellectually sound and plausible in debate is one that cites the Paris Commune, the Russian soviets, Budapest 1956, Nantes 1968 and Portugal 1975. The left needs more historians and fewer philosophers.

Of course all the experiences referred to are partial. The working class has never held on to power for very long. But that is a problem that lies at the very heart of the historical process. There are no guarantees; the future is socialism or barbarism, successful revolution or “the common ruin of the contending classes”. And it was the period of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath that showed the highest level of working-class struggle yet known to human history. The successful proletarian revolution in Russia was followed by a wave of strikes, mutinies and the formation of workers’ councils throughout Europe. Germany came to the very brink of revolution, while Italy, France, Spain and Britain also saw massive struggles. The formation of the Communist International brought together various currents of the left and offered hope to millions of workers that there would be no return to the system that had produced the catastrophic World War. That’s why, doubtless to Owen Jones’s great chagrin, some of us will go on talking about Lenin and other dead Russians for some time to come.

At present we face the challenge of Michael Gove trying to manipulate the teaching of history in the interests of the social order he defends. Teachers and indeed all of us should fight Gove’s plans. But we should be clear that no government will provide the kind of historical education we need. The left needs to assume its responsibility for the historical study, research and popularisation that is central to its project. We need more bodies like the London Socialist Historians Group. The recent Matchwomen’s Festival at the Bishopsgate Institute showed what can be done with imagination and a non-sectarian approach. The historical process includes the future as well as the past, and without history we have no future.

Ian Birchall