Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Secular Socialist Sunday Schools talk

News from Nowhere Club
8pm Saturday 8 March

Roger Huddle
*Little Comrades: *
*A Secular Sunday School*
A Socialist Sunday School began in Walthamstow in 1903 and
flourished for 30 years, with up to 300 children attending regularly.

The Epicentre,
Leytonstone, E11 4LJ
0208 555 5248
07443 480 509

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Commemorating Eric Hobsbawm

  • The Society for the Study of Labour History will host a day conference on Saturday 10 May 2014 at the University Of Huddersfield to commemorate the life and work of Eric Hobsbawn, renown historian and former President of the Society. Confirmed speakers include Professor John Belchem, Professor Logie Barrow, Professor Rohan McWilliam, Professor David Howell, Professor John Shepherd, Professor Richard Evans and John Halstead. The key note will be given by Professor Pat Thane.
    Further details including a draft programme and how to register are here

Still the Enemy Within conference

Still the Enemy Within Conference
Remembering the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, learning lessons for today:
Film, long lost archive, music and debate from the strike that divided Britain and defined an era.
Date: Saturday 8 March, 12 noon-9pm.
Speakers include: Seumas Milne, Paul Mason, Women Against Pit Closures, Mike Jackson, (co-founder Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), members of Test Department, Paul Symonds, Joe Henry and other former striking miners and more.
Films include: Preview of Still the Enemy Within, Dancing in Dulais, Battle of Orgreave, Miners’ Campaign Tapes, plus UK premiere of Miners Shot Down – the Marikana miners’ struggle.
Venue: RichMix: 35 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA (nearest tube Shoreditch, Liverpool Street,)
Tickets: Contact: Facebook:

Readers of the LSHG blog may also be interested to know that The Great Strike: The Miners' Strike of 1984-5 and Its Lessons by Alex Callinicos and Mike Simons, a fine book written in the aftermath of the strike, is now online - Simons was a journalist on Socialist Worker who covered the strike at the time, and has been involved with the making of Still the Enemy Within.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

CfP: Situating Women's Liberation; Historicizing a Movement Symposium

Situating Women’s Liberation; Historicizing a Movement Symposium
The University of Portsmouth: Friday 4 July 2014
The women’s liberation movement (WLM) erupted into late 1960s Western society as a powerful force for social change, challenging rigidly defined and oppressive sex role stereotypes, promoting a set of formal demands for women’s equality and introducing terms such as ‘sexism’ and ‘male chauvinist’ into everyday language. There is little doubt that the women’s liberation movement had a profound impact, yet popular images of the original ‘women’s libbers’ portray second wave feminists as men hating, bra burning, dungaree clad harridans. There is currently renewed interest in feminism, and an upsurge of feminist activity. This has been accompanied by a desire amongst feminist historians to develop the historiography of the WLM. The aim of this one day conference is to historicize the women’s liberation movement within western society between c1968-1990.
Papers are invited in any area of women’s liberation c1968-90 in Britain, Continental Europe and North America. We are particularly interested in the following themes:
* ‘The personal is political’: consciousness raising, personal narratives, oral testimony - remembering the WLM;
* Sexuality and contraception, including lesbian, bisexual and transgender feminists, sexual violence and ‘reclaim the night’;
* Struggles at work: women’s strikes, equal pay, against sex role stereo typing – equal opportunities;
* The WLM and media: campaigns against sexist advertising;
* feminist publications;
* Black feminism/ women from ethnic minorities/ women of colour in the WLM;
* Cultural dimensions of the WLM: feminist art, theatre, writing;
* Transnational dimensions

This conference is aimed primarily at historians but will also be of interest to scholars in other disciplines, notably Literature, Cultural Studies, Sociology and Media Studies.  Please send abstracts up to 300 words to Sue Bruley ( by 4th April 2014. Website and Booking:  Local Information:

CfP: Cultures of Uneven and Combined Development

Call for Papers: Cultures of Uneven and Combined Development 
University of Warwick UK; June 13, 2014
 Confirmed speakers: Professor Justin Rosenberg (The University of Sussex) Neil Davidson (The University of Glasgow) Professor Neil Lazarus (The University of Warwick)

 "From the universal law of unevenness thus derives another law which . . . we may call the law of combined development – by which we mean a drawing together of the different stages of the journey, a combining of separate steps, an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms" (Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution).

 In recent decades the concept of 'uneven and combined development' (U&CD) has come to occupy an increasingly significant position in academic assessments of society and culture. The rise of globalized capitalism, the aggressive expansion of economic neoliberalism, and the associated emergence of global modernity as key concerns of cultural theory have all contributed to a resurgence in the deployment of this term. Together these developments therefore constitute a crucial evolution of the concept from its original inception in the early twentieth century writing of Leon Trotsky. This resurgence is witnessed, for instance, by works such as Michael Löwy's The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development (1982), Franco Moretti's Modern Epic: The World-System from Goethe to Garciěa Maěrquez (1996), Fredric Jameson's A Singular Modernity (2002) and a recent series of articles by political scientist Justin Rosenberg.

 The aim of this conference is to bring together scholars from across a variety of disciplines to examine 'uneven and combined development' and the issues arising from it: its genesis and history, its theoretical structure, its material manifestations and the renewed importance that it holds today. This is with the wider intention of cultivating a formally interdisciplinary approach to the topic, aiming to expand its boundaries as a methodology and field of study. Building upon the concept's political and economic foundations, we wish to focus in particular on cultural expressions of and reactions to the reality of a combined and uneven world-system – exploring how the existence of that system has been manifested in terms of cultural and social experience. Conceptualizing 'culture' in Raymond Williams' 'ordinary' sense, which encompasses the broad experience of everyday life (see Williams, 'Culture is Ordinary' in Resources of Hope, 1989), we welcome papers from a wide range of disciplines including (but not limited to) history, sociology, politics, literature, film and philosophy.

Questions participants might wish to consider as starting points include: What are the new material forms that U&CD takes under neoliberalism, and how do they initiate changes in the forms of their representation? What are the theoretical possibilities and problems occasioned by extending U&CD from the coexistence of modern (capitalist) and premodern modes of production to the fully capitalist world-system? How might the tendential logic of U&CD be characterized during the era of globalised capital? Where are we heading? How does U&CD qualify or intervene within contemporary debates about the future of capitalism? How does the uneven and combined character of development result in the coexistence of different temporalities (on a global and urban scale), and to what extent does this 'non-simultaneity' affect the forms of their cultural registration? What is the 'world-ecological' implication of present-day U&CD? How do logics of contemporary cultural production such as 'world literature' reflect and respond to the U&CD of capitalist modernity or postmodernity? We invite abstracts of no more than 300 words for papers of 20 minutes in length, accompanied by a short biographical note.

 Please email all abstracts and inquiries to the convenors, Dr Nesrin Degirmencioglu and Dr James Christie, at The deadline for the receipt of all abstracts is Sunday the 16th of March 2014. Further information is also available on the conference website:
This conference is funded by the Institute of Advanced Study, the Humanities Research Centre, The Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, and The Department of Politics and International Studies (P.A.I.S.)

Sunday, 9 February 2014

LSHG Newsletter 51 now online

The latest issue of the LSHG Newsletter is now online - with discussion of the First World War, Doctor Who at 50, recent Australian radical history, Dominic Sandbrook, and The Making of the English Working Class.  Readers are also reminded of our upcoming spring term seminars, while the deadline for contributions for the next issue of the LSHG Newsletter is 1 April 2014 (for more info please contact Keith Flett at the usual address).

The Bishopsgate Institute's London Courses

Make 2014 the year to discover more about London. At Bishopsgate Institute we have a range of courses that explore areas of London’s history and culture you might not have encountered before. Experience the East End in the 17th and 18th century, delve into the history of London’s squares, witness the transformation of the docklands and meet eight individuals who helped change the East End for the better. Discover why Gandhi visited Bow or hear the stories behind London’s many museums. You can also uncover radical movements in London since the 1930s or rediscover the city's lost buildings. Find out more about our London interest courses at

TV History: Dominic Sandbrook and the Cold War

 From LSHG Newsletter 51 (Spring 2014)

If you examine the zeitgeist there is something of a mood at the moment to look back to the early 1960s. There has been an extensive celebration of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Just in time for Christmas the BBC has brought out a double CD comprising most of the Beatles live recordings for the Corporation which were done in the first half of the 1960s.
The BBC is also running a Cold War theme on TV and as part of that the right‐wing cultural historian Dominic Sandbrook presented a three part series on the Cold War on BBC2. Sandbrook has a written a number of histories of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. They are entertaining reads, particularly for those, unlike Sandbrook, who are old enough to have lived through them and can remember those times.
His method is to look at the important events of history through the prism of popular culture , that is music, sport and what people were spending their money on. His conclusions however are unfailing right‐wing and Sandbrook’s opinion pieces appear in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail.
His TV series, based around the books, are also highly watchable and while we may disagree with his judgements on history, Sandbrook’s interpretation of modern British history does represent a serious challenge for the left.
He is engaged in a project to bring the recent history of modern Britain to an audience who mostly don’t remember it, and to draw the conclusion that a reading of the post‐1945 decades is that the left were wrong and the right were right.
His Cold War series has drawn more criticism than his earlier efforts, perhaps because it is about quite a specific time and issue where a good number of the participants are still very much around.
Sandbrook’s general view across the three part series is that the West ‘won’ the Cold War not so much because it was able to effectively combat the East ideologically, but because post‐1945 Western posterity proved more attractive to people in Eastern Europe, ultimately, than the societies they actually lived in.
By that Sandbrook means that it was pop music and consumer goods that were the decisive Western weapons in ending Communism not armed might or cold war warriors detailing how the East was evil.
He devotes considerable time across the three programmes to detailing how he feels the West was rather weak in fighting the alleged red menace, by inviting Russian football teams and astronauts to the UK for example.
He does take the issue of nuclear war a little more seriously, discussing Peter Watkins’ The War Game, banned by the BBC in the 1960s for an all too realistic depiction of what a nuclear war would actually mean. However when it comes to CND, the biggest post Second World War protest movement in Britain until Stop the War, of which it is part, Sandbrook can only sneer that it was comprised of the ‘well meaning Guardian reading middle class’. Since there is published research on who actually did support CND in the 1960s, which was well beyond readers of the Guardian, it is a particularly sloppy piece of history from Sandbrook.
The final programme concludes with Sandbrook talking in some detail on how the Beatles didn’t play in Russia and how Phil Collins brought down the Berlin War by playing a pop concert in Berlin.
We may grimace but at the moment Sandbrook’s version is not being challenged by a better informed history from the left. It needs to be.

Keith Flett

Conference Report: The Making of the English Working Class at 50

 From LSHG Newsletter 51 (Spring 2014)

Report of roundtable at the Institute of Historical Research Saturday 30th November

The London Socialist Historians Group organised a roundtable at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London on 30th November to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of EP Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class.
This is a brief indication of what took place, based on my notes of what was said. The afternoon was podcast and will appear on the IHR’s website in due course. In addition a book will follow from CSP in due course.
In opening the session I noted that it was more or less 50 years since the publication of the Making [in late 1963] which had initially come out as yellow covered hardback from Victor Gollancz at £3 13s. Only with the 1968 Penguin paperback did the book get a much wider circulation.
While the book remains in print it is not in the memory of all. When Jeremy Paxman asked contestants on a recent edition of University Challenge who had written it, not one could answer.
My paper was on the relevance of EP Thompson’s category of the moral economy today [I will post a summary of that separately]. The key point was that while Thompson, mostly, stuck to the point that he felt the moral economy was time bound to the late eighteenth century there is a sense in which still has currency today. What are criticisms of banks and energy companies about if not rooted in an alternative moral economy.
Marika Sherwood spoke next and addressed specifically a research agenda which is suggested by the MEWC but not covered by it- namely the black presence in the making of the English working class. We know there were three black people arrested for their part in the Gordon Riots in 1780, but we know little about them. Likewise we don’t know if there were black participants at Peterloo.
Peter Dwyer said that the impact of the Making on liberation struggles in South Africa had been huge and the reality that changing things was so much ‘more bloody messy’ than any text book would indicate is well covered in Thompson.
He emphasised that there was a need to look at lost causes and blind alleys pursued by those fighting for a better world, without romanticizing them to try and learn some lessons.
Logie Barrow argued that the Making was the most influential English history book of the Twentieth Century but wondered how the Thompsons [both Frank and E.P.] origins and time in the CPGB had coloured the framework of the Making arguing that Thompson had said little about his perspectives on post-1917 revolutionary Russia.
Finally Steve Woodhams looked at some of the background to the writing of the Making in terms of what EP Thompson had been doing during the years he had been researching and writing it. In 1947 Thompson had been in Yugoslavia and on his return became a WEA tutor in Halifax where he taught not history but literature. After a short break the Roundtable moved to a period of wide ranging discussion about the book and the influences on it.
One point made by several speakers was the Making is very weak on women’s struggles, a point noted in previous literature. Thompson’s research agenda was probed- the influence those who participated in his WEA classes for example- and the impact his association with European Nuclear Disarmanent [END] had on his future research after the Making.
His period at Warwick University was discussed and whether there was a Thompsonian school of history. There was also a discussion around Thompson’s historical method in the Making.
It was agreed that the Making still had relevances 50 years on but the precise struggles it reflected as Katrina Navickas noted earlier in the year are now perhaps being played out more on the streets
of Mumbai and San Paulo than London and Manchester.

Keith Flett

Book Review: Years of Rage - A Familiar Story?

 From LSHG Newsletter no. 51 (Spring 2014)

Years of Rage:
Social Conflicts in the Fraser Era

By Tom O’Lincoln
Interventions Publishers,
Melbourne, 2012, 251pp
ISBN: 978-0-646-57466-0
(New edition; first published 1993)

In 1975 Australia’s Labor prime minister, Gough Whitlam, was removed from office by the Governor General. In the ensuing election a right-wing coalition headed by Malcom Fraser took over. Fraser remained in power for some eight years. They were years of sharp social conflict. Fraser attempted to cut wages, to weaken trade-union organisation, to attack social services and health provision, and to normalise high levels of unemployment.
The parallels with Britain under Thatcher or Cameron are obvious. To someone like myself, whose knowledge of Australia comes largely from Neighbours, O’Lincoln’s narrative reveals many unknown events. Yet there are constant echoes of British experience. Australia’s working class has its own characteristics and traditions, and sometimes a British reader may stumble over details of history, geography or language. While in Britain people on benefits are “scroungers”, in Australia they are “bludgers”. Yet a computer would have no difficulty in translating the vile bigoted rhetoric. And it is interesting to note that the slogan “One more cut – Fraser’s throat” originated in Australia and was later applied to Thatcher.
O’Lincoln’s narrative weaves together several strands in order to give a vivid account of the years of rage. Fraser’s arrival coincided with the end of the post-war boom and the economic crisis of the mid-seventies. As O’Lincoln argues, this was an international crisis of capitalism, and therefore could not be blamed on previous government policies or excessive wage demands. He dismisses the arguments of sections of the left who wanted a strategy based on “Australian independence”.
Fraser’s strategy, however, was to face the crisis in the way that would bring most advantage to Australia’s employers. Between 1967 and 1983 the rate of profit in Australia fell by 30%. Fraser’s aim was to resist this tendency by pushing wage restraint. The Melbourne daily The Age (often compared to the Guardian) described the result: “The trade union movement has become the effective opposition to a government whose authority and arrogance had seemed invincible.”
O’Lincoln gives a full account of the various trade union struggles. But they took place in a broader
context. Australia had a vigorous left, inherited from the student struggles and the campaign against the Vietnam war in the 1960s. The 1970s saw struggles for women’s and gay rights, against the oppression of Aborigines, and around environmental issues such as uranium mining. But, as O’Lincoln shows, such campaigns tended to be most effective when they were linked to the organised working-class movement.
Within the left there was a revolutionary current, pushing for greater and more effective mobilisation and solidarity. Though it was too small to change the course of events, it did have some influence, and was at the heart of many struggles. O’Lincoln writes as a participant (at the time he was a leading member of the International Socialists), and he includes personal experiences and those of his comrades.
Among the many interesting episodes described in the book, I was particularly struck by the account of the strikes by power station maintenance workers in the Latrobe Valley near Melbourne. In one sense power workers epitomise the strength of the working class; without their labour society cannot function. Action by power workers led to 500,000 workers being laid off, cuts in transport, heating and lighting and the limitation of television to eight hours per day. Strikers stood up to the courts and
threats of troops being sent in. Yet in the end, despite their determination and despite magnificent and widespread solidarity from other workers, they were defeated, because their own union leaders did not have the political will to prevail over their opponents.
Fraser won many partial victories, but in the end, O’Lincoln shows, he “was unable either to solve the economic crisis or to smash the unions”. In 1983, a Labor government came to power under former union leader Bob Hawke. And with the conclusion to the story comes the final twist (perhaps I should add “spoiler alert”). As O’Lincoln puts it, “Labor in the eighties achieved Malcolm Fraser’s goals more fully than the conservative parties could do”.
O’Lincoln’s book, with its fascinating but sadly familiar story, will be of great value not only to historians, but to trade-union activists.

Ian Birchall

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Doctor Who at 50 by Sasha Simic

 From LSHG Newsletter 51 (Spring 2014)

“Here’s a great idea for Saturday afternoons. What do you think?”
– Sydney Newman pitching Doctor Who to Donald Wilson, Head of Serials BBC TV 1962

The fiftieth anniversary episode of Doctor Who was a great success for the BBC. An audience of 12.5M watched The Day of The Doctor as it was broadcast in the UK on BBC1 on Saturday, 23th November 2013. The episode was also broadcast in 75 other countries and was screened in selected cinemas in 15 countries The cinema takings for a one-off screening in the US alone were $4.7M. The episode broke a number of records for on-line viewing and engagement with social media including accumulating “the most tweets for a drama” (1) In it the BBC went out of its way to celebrate the show’s past, with the Doctor’s current side-kick, Clara, teaching in the same school his original companions taught in.(2) A number of economic, social, and ideological currents have transformed a modest series about a time-travelling “crotchety old bugger” (3) into a world-wide cult featuring a messianic figure akin to “fire and ice and rage…like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun…ancient and forever.” (4)

In the 2007 adventure Human Nature a temporarily human (and deluded) Doctor insists “My father Sydney was from Nottingham, and my mother Verity…was a nurse.” (5) That was an in-joke. Doctor Who started with Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert. Newman was a Canadian television producer who had worked in Hollywood and New York. In 1958, at the age of 41, he was brought to Britain by ABC television. ABC wanted higher ratings. British television was still very influenced by theatre and radio. Newman thought television drama should reflect the lives of the people who actually watched it. He was dedicated to mass quality drama for mass audiences. He later argued that British television “presented a condescending view of working class people. Television dramas were usually adaptations of stage plays, and invariably about upper classes. I said, "Damn the upper classes - they don't even own televisions!"(6)

In 1961 he accepted the post as head of drama at the BBC. By then commercial television was well ahead in the ratings war and bragging it was the “the people’s television”. Newman was given unprecedented executive powers to win back an audience for the BBC. Doctor Who was created as part of his strategy for capturing viewers on Saturday nights: “…there was a gap in the ratings between BBC’s vastly popular sports coverage, ending at 5.15 and the start at 5.45 of Juke Box Jury. What was needed was a new programme that would bridge the state of mind of sports fans, and the teenage pop music audience while attracting and holding the children’s audience accustomed to their Saturday afternoon (classic) serial” (7)

Newman built the show on the Reithian ideals that it would ‘educate, inform and entertain’: “I was intent upon it containing basic, factual information that could be described as ‘educational’ or at least mindopening… my first thought was of a space-time machine…space meant outer space, intergalactic travel, but again, based on understood fact. So no bug-eyed monsters which I had always thought to be the cheapest form of science-fiction” (8) Time travel would also provide an educational opportunity: “How wonderful if today’s humans could find themselves on the shores of England seeing and getting mixed up with Caesar’s army in 54BC, landing to take over the country; get involved in Europe’s tragic thirty years war…” (9) The show’s lead would be : “…a man who is senile but with extraordinary flashes of intellectual brilliance. A crotchety old bugger….” (10) The project was handed over to Verity Lambert - the first woman television producer to work in BBC television. She cast William Hartnell as the Doctor, an actor type-cast in ‘tough’ roles as sergeants and gangsters. She also commissioned the first scripts.

The first episode, An Unearthly Child, went out on 23 November 1963, fighting for an audience in wake of Kennedy’s assassination. It’s still an interesting piece of television. Delia Derbyshire’s treatment of Ron Grainer’s theme tune is still the best version and the TARDIS set still impresses. But Hartnell’s Doctor is an acquired taste. The heroes at this point were the two companions - Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright – teachers from 1963. The Doctor was very much an anti-hero. When the TARDIS takes the crew back to “100,000 BC” the Doctor is not above the attempted murder of an injured caveman. It’s Ian who delivers a moral lesson to the Tribe of Gum that a single tyrant “is not as strong as the whole tribe”. Only 4.4M watched the first story and the reviews were tepid. It was the second story, The Daleks, which made the show a success. The ratings rocketed up to 8M and for a time in 1964 ‘Dalekmania’ rivalled ‘Beatlemania’.

The Daleks broke Newman’s injunction against “bugeyed monsters”. They also seriously damaged the educational premise of the series. It was originally intended that science-fiction episodes would alternate with historical dramas. The ‘historicals’ didn’t fare too badly in the ratings. The adventure with Marco Polo (1964) was watched by 9.4M, “The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve (1965) drew in 6.4M. (11) But there were dramatic limitations inherent in the show’s straight historical dramas. In The Aztecs (1964) Barbara tries to stop the practice of human sacrifice only to be told by the Doctor: “You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!” This principle meant the ‘historicals’ often resulted in stories where the TARDIS crew met the great and the good as passive observers. Trying to create convincing costumed drama on a budget of £2,000 wasn’t easy. New Statesman critic John Holmstrom scorned the series’ “pasteboard Romans, Saracens (and) French Revolutionaries.” (12) When Patrick Troughton replaced William Hartnell as the Doctor in 1966, the “historicals” were phased out. Incoming producer Innes Lloyd told Television Today “One change we have decided on is to drop the historical stories because we found they weren’t very popular.” (13)

Lloyd argued the show’s appeal lay in its monsters. He told The Observer: “I want the stories to have less obvious history, more guts” (14) Lloyd preferred to spend his budgets on a single impressive set and monster costumes. This meant Troughton’s stories tended to be repeated plots featuring bases under siege. His Doctor fought Daleks, Cybermen, Yeti, Ice Warriors over and over again and his Doctor developed into a fully moral hero with the TARDIS crew materialising to instinctively help the oppressed wherever they found them before moving on. There was little overt politics in the programme at this point. That started to change as the outside world grew more militant and with the involvement of writers like Malcolm Hulke. Hulke had been involved with the socialist UNITY Theatre Company and was a member of the Communist Party in the 1950s. He wrote a few stories for Troughton’s Doctor including the 10-part anti-war epic War Games (1969) which introduced the Time Lords to the show’s mythology. He later insisted “..really all Doctor Who stories are political. I’d say it’s a very political show… although I say it myself, philosophy and politics in my science fiction, and Doctor Who in particular is a great opportunity to get across a point of view.” (15) The increasingly radical political landscape of the early seventies gave space for more politics in the show.

Jon Pertwee’s tenure as the Doctor (1970-1975) was rooted in the Quatermass stories of the 50s (The start of Pertwee’s first story Spearhead from Space copied the start of Quatermass 2 [1955] shot-for-shot). In this period the Doctor was exiled on contemporary Earth. It was argued that cutting down travel in Time and Space would result in a more adult (and cheaper) programme. The show’s producer for much of this period was Barry Letts, a man very much rooted in the counter-culture of the period being a Buddhist with leftist sympathies. Working with radical writers like Malcolm Hulke he produced a number of stories which reflected the political issues of the day. The Silurians was ‘about’ racism (1970), Colony in Space (1971) tackled Imperialism, alienation and industrialisation. In Colony in Space the Doctor is sent to a backward planet in 2471 which has been settled by a counter-culture movement because “At least it’s better than being back on Earth…No room to move, polluted air, not a blade of grass left on the planet and a government that locks you up if you think for yourself.” But the Interplanetary Mining Corporation (IMC) is after it too because: “What’s good for IMC is good for Earth”.

The Mutants (1972) paralleled apartheid South Africa, and The Green Death (1975) was based on environmental destruction and corporate greed. The Curse of Peladon (1972) reflected the negotiations about the UK joining the “Common Market” with a feudal planet mired in superstition negotiating to join an alliance of more sophisticated aliens. The follow up story two years later involved striking miners but most people missed an episode because of black-outs caused by the miners’ strike! These stories were written against the back-drop of rising industrial militancy and political radicalisation. This was a period when the Doctor fought BOSS (Bimorphic Organisational Systems Supervisor), the head of the multinational Global Chemicals, an enemy who was motivated by: “Efficiency, productivity and profit for Global Chemicals…Nothing and nobody can be allowed to stand in the way of that. Not even you, Doctor.”  The feminist movement had an influence on the show in the appearance of companion Sarah-Jane Smith who screamed less, and took more initiative, than previous ‘assistants’.

When Tom Baker took over the lead from Jon Pertwee in 1975, the new creative team – producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes – took the series in another direction. They were less politically committed and more interested in introducing elements of gothic horror to the series. The first years of Baker’s tenure were hugely popular but the increasing levels of violence drew the ire of Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers’ and Listeners‘Association. The BBC capitulated to her campaign and in 1977 instructed Hinchcliffe’s replacement, Graham Williams, to tone down the horror and replace it with comedy. Holmes submitted a political story of his own. The villain in The Sunmakers (1977) is a Usurian, an alien who conquers through loans and excessive taxation. The actor playing the part was deliberately made-up to look like Denis Healey – then Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Under the BBC’s new restrictions the show entered a period of protracted decline. Its low-budget special effects looked shoddy compared to the space-operas which filled cinemas following the success of Star Wars. By the time Peter Davison took over the role in 1981 too many stories were self-referential and caught up in its own mythology. BBC executives began to undermine what they saw as a show long-past its sell-by-date. The show moved from its traditional place in the Saturday schedules and was given a twice-weekly early evening slot as it limped towards inevitable cancellation.

There was one last attempt at a renaissance. During Sylvester McCoy’s time as the Doctor (1987-1989) a new generation of programme makers with a political agenda joined the show. When Andrew Cartmel went for the job of script editor he was asked why he wanted to work on the show. He replied: "I’d like to overthrow the government”. He later confessed: “I was very angry about the social injustice in Britain under Thatcher and I’m delighted that came into the show.” (16) Under his tenure there were a number of overtly political stories that recalled the 70s. For example the dictator Helen A, played by Sheila Hancock, in The Happiness Patrol (1988) was clearly meant to be Margaret Thatcher. Sylvester McCoy was happy with this approach:

“The idea of bringing politics into Doctor Who was deliberate, but we had to do it very quietly and certainly didn’t shout about it. We were a group of politically motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do. At the time Doctor Who used satire to put political messages out there in the way they used to do in places like Czechoslovakia. Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered. ” (17) The show did not bring about Thatcher’s overthrow. It was cancelled in 1989.

The return of Doctor Who in 2005 was a triumph, but hardly foreseen. One attempt to revive the series, Doctor Who – The Movie (1996), had already failed. Even once the new series was commissioned and underway, nervous BBC executives asked if it was too late to scrap it. (18) Russell T Davies was an inspired choice to oversee the shows return. He was an innovative television dramatist (Queer as Folk, The Return) and a fan. He went on to write more original scripts for Doctor Who than anyone and re-wrote many of the scripts he commissioned. His Doctor Who was shaped by social media, reality television and New Labour. With the war in Afghanistan and Iraq still headline news, his Doctor was a veteran of the “last, great time war” – a loner, tortured by survivor’s guilt.

There’s an interesting theme of resistance that runs through the first season of the revived series. There’s the character of Harriet Jones, a back-bench Old Labour MP who becomes Prime Minister destined to (or not – she’s later exterminated by the Daleks) lead Britain into a ‘Golden Age’. There’s the use of Socialist Worker posters declaring “No Third term for Thatcher” to establish 1987 in Father’s Day (2005), there’s an Anarchist Group in the far-future – The Freedom Fifteen – referenced in The Long Game (2005). But the necessity of eternal resistance is there because oppression seems to be eternal too. The Daily Telegraph picked up on this theme in an interview with Davies in 2009: “There are an awful lot of evil bankers and capitalists in your series of Doctor Who”. (19) His reply was very New Labour: “I was listening to this teenage demonstrator on Radio One, and she was saying ‘Ooh, I’m anti-capitalist’. I’m not anti-capitalist – look at me, I’m wearing clothes, I own a house, I’m about to catch a train. That’s what capitalism is – it keeps the whole thing running. I’m against greed, any day. But it’s not a bad society – it’s not that bad. [laughs] There are worse.” (20)

Davies’ Doctor was a catalyst. The companions who travelled with him – especially the working-class Rose – are transformed by their experiences and grow as individuals. This sits with Davies own belief in self-improvement: “You can come from anywhere, and be of any sexuality, and do whatever you want in life.” (21) Steven Moffat, who succeeded Davies as the show’s Executive producer in 2009, has a similar approach. He is capable of infuriating the right: “Doctor Who …was execrable…Labour Party supporter and chief writer Steven Moffat turned in a script that could have pleased few outside the living room of Harriet Harman. Every trite Left-wing cliché was in place....Steven Moffat's politics are his own business, but when one of the most-watched children's television characters becomes a cipher for Harmanism, then I object.” (22)

But his future is also populated by big business and capitalists. Just one example of many is Solomon the Trader featured on “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” (2012) who searches out “opportunities for profit across nine galaxies.” Doctor Who is now being made by a generation that grew up in a period of political reaction and working-class defeats. There have been 800 individual episodes telling 240 stories. Its writers seem to have absorbed the sentiment expressed by US Literar critic Fredric Jameson in Future City, (2003) that: “…it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.”

Perhaps imagining the “end of capitalism” is asking too much of the “crotchety old bugger”. If there is oppression and exploitation across time and space in the world of Doctor Who, it has always been resisted and fought. As Rose said in The Parting of the Ways(2005): “The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You know he showed you too. That you don't just give up. You don't just let things happen. You make a stand. You say no. You have the guts to do what's right when everyone else just runs away…” Events in the real world will continue to shape Doctor Who as it enters its second half-century. Perhaps we will once again see stories less centred on individual resistance and development and ones where the moral is, once again, that oppressors are “not as strong as the whole tribe”
Sasha Simic

 Sylvester McCoy on the March against Cuts in Camden

2) Indeed Ian Chesterton, the Science teacher who travelled with
William Hartnell’s Doctor seems to have been made Chairman of
the School’s Governors according to the sign outside the School
3) Sydney Newman from The Quotable Doctor Who, Blue-Eyed Books,
2010, 9781907338151
4) The Family of Blood, (2007)
5) John Smith (The Doctor), Human Nature (2007)
6) Benjamin Cook, Chaos and Creation in the Junkyard, Doctor Who
Magazine, January 2006.
10) Sydney Newman from The Quotable Doctor Who, Blue-Eyed Books,
2010, 9781907338151
11) Stephen J Walker, Doctor Who – The Scripts, The Crusaders, Titan
Books, 1994
12) New Statesman, 11 April 1965
13) Innes Lloyd, Television Today, quoted by Stephen J Walker, Doctor
Who – The Scripts, The Crusaders, Titan Books, 1994
14) Innes Lloyd, The Observer, 17 December 1966
More on Hulke’s politics here:
16) “Doctor Who in War with Planet Maggie”,The Sunday Times, 14
February, 2010
17) “Doctor Who in War with Planet Maggie”,The Sunday Times, 14
February, 2010
19) Robert Colvile, Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2009
20) Robert Colvile, Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2009
21) Robert Colvile, Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2009
22) Grame Archer’s review of the 2011 Christmas episode The Doctor,
the Widow and the Wardrobe from The Daily Telegraph, 27/12/2011

The First World War: How Should We Remember?

From LSHG Newsletter 51 (Spring 2014)

2014 marks the hundredth anniversary of the First World War and there will be no shortage of commemorations. Already there are over 100 books published on the subject and the Government has announced extensive plans for official activities which can be found on a dedicated website. In November 2013 David Cameron said

Next year we will commemorate one of the biggest sacrifices our Forces ever made as we mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. We have already announced some of the ways in which the government will be leading the tributes next year, from ensuring that school children learn about this important part of our history to protecting the memorial in towns and villages around the country which honour those who gave their lives to funding for the new First World War Galleries which will open at the Imperial War Museum London next Summer. This week Cabinet will be discussing our plans to make sure they are a fitting way to commemorate all the heroes of the First World War.

The Prime Minister’s words beg an important historical question. Who were the heroes of the First World War? Not presumably the generals and politicians who led the ‘war to end wars’ which unfortunately did not. Arguably the ‘poor bloody infantry’ who died in huge numbers in a dispute about imperial power not just in Europe but worldwide?

The official commemorations will certainly recognise that war is a terrible thing in which terrible things happen and there are plans to mark the Christmas Day truce between British and German soldiers with a football match. There are those who argue that the official view is rather too agnostic about the First World War. Writing in The Guardian earlier in the year Gary Sheffield, who is a leading historian of the period, argued that the war was in fact fought for desirable ends and that, while it is correct to mark the death and suffering it caused, in the end it was a just cause. Sheffield means of course that British imperial power was to be preferred to German imperial power which was considerably more autocratic. It is an interesting historical debate but one doubts that the First World War would have got off the ground if it had been posed as British imperialism is better than German.

There will be some good history in the official activities around the hundredth anniversary. There will be the chance to make war memorials listed buildings and a limited possibility for teachers and students to visit World War One battlefields. But what there won’t be is a focus on those who opposed the war by taking strike action while it was on, by deserting from the army and particularly by those who used it as an opportunity to try and make revolutions to put an end to imperialism of all kinds, German, British and others.

While the official commemorations will start on 4th August 2014, the London Socialist Historians held an event on 25th January which looked at the other war, the class war, and how they was reflected in that war that did not end all wars one hundred years ago. The hope is that the voices of the poor bloody infantry, those who died in the trenches and those who tried to stop war may also get some kind of hearing amidst all the pomp and ceremony.

Keith Flett

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Report from LSHG conference on World War One

Socialist Historians conference on World War One agrees research campaign agenda

The London Socialist Historians Group, has said that a conference on socialist perspectives on World War One held at the Institute of Historical Research on 25th January and attended by around 50 academics and activists has agreed a campaign agenda based on research into little explored areas of the war.

The conference heard details of new research on opposition to the First World War in France, Greece and Italy and the battle between pro and anti-war forces in the British labour movement during the War.

The research campaign agenda discussed at the conference included:
1] to participate in and encourage local research into the roots and links of conscientious objectors to the War
2] to promote the re-publication of some classic and long out of print texts on opposition to the War in Britain such as  Ken Weller’s Don’t Be A Soldier and William Allison and John Fairley’s The Monocled Mutineer [which became a TV series]
3] to back efforts to get official papers on the 1917 Mutiny at Etaples released before the current date of 2017 so that they can be researched during the centenary period.
4] to encourage more historical research on relatively little explored aspects of the First World War at home such as the importance of women’s work and action around the dilution of labour
5] to understand more about those trade unionists and socialists who voluntarily signed up as soldiers from August 1914 until the sharp drop in volunteers a year or so later that led to conscription
6] to support campaigns which raise the historical profile of opposition to the War such as that to replace Lord Kitchener on the planned commemorative coinage.

LSHG Convenor Dr Keith Flett said when we came to put together the conference we discovered a reality that Mr Gove is possibly already well aware of. Namely that most of the research and published work into opposition to the First World War was done in the late 1960s and 1970s by people who had often been born during or just after the Second World War and were no doubt concerned about the Vietnam War at the time. There has been very little done for a generation so there is a considerable volume of research work to be done

Edited to add: Ian Birchall's paper from the conference, 'The CGT in 1914' is now online