Sunday, 30 October 2016

LSHG seminar - Simon Hall on 1956: The World in Revolt

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London Socialist Historians Group seminar 

Monday November 7th  - Simon Hall: '1956: The World in Revolt'

Room 304 Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet St, WC1, at 5.30pm. Free without ticket - no need to book in advance.

Other seminars coming up - venue / time same as above

Monday November 21st - John Boughton (Municipal Dreams blog), 'High Hopes - Labour and the rise and fall of High Rise housing'.  
Monday December 5th - Merilyn Moos: 'Breaking the Silence. Voices of the British Children of Refugees from Nazism'
For more information please contact LSHG convenor Keith Flett on the email address above...

The Black Jacobins Reader

Sheila Rowbotham recently picked her top ten books of radical history in the Guardian - a fine list, which was topped by C.L.R. James's 1938 classic Marxist history of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins. As Rowbotham notes:

James, an exploratory Trotskyist who loathed imperialism, racism and class power in equal measure, writes graphically about the 1791 slave rebellion in the French colony of San Domingo (later Haiti) led by Toussaint L’Ouverture. With calls for the French revolutionaries’ liberty and equality to apply to the colonised, they overcame the whites who enslaved them, a Spanish and a British invasion and then the army sent by Napoleon Bonaparte. The memory of this revolt and of its historian have proved resilient. When I mentioned L’Ouverture and James to a Haitian cab driver in New York I was given a free ride!

Back in 2008, to mark the 70th anniversary of the publication of The Black Jacobins, the London Socialist Historians Group organised a one day conference at the Institute for Historical Research, with speakers including Selma James and Darcus Howe (see the programme here), and now almost nine years on, it is nice to finally announce that some of the proceedings from that conference together with other material and contributions from academics and activists have finally been brought together in a volume which is forthcoming with Duke University Press as part of their 'C.L.R. James Archives series', The Black Jacobins Reader - it should hopefully be out early in 2017 and be of interest to all those inspired by Sheila Rowbotham's recommendation and who want to go further than simply reading (or re-reading) The Black Jacobins itself.

Containing a wealth of new scholarship and rare primary documents, The Black Jacobins Reader provides a comprehensive analysis of C. L. R. James's classic history of the Haitian Revolution. In addition to considering the book's literary qualities and its role in James's emergence as a writer and thinker, the contributors discuss its production, context, and enduring importance in relation to debates about decolonization, globalization, postcolonialism, and the emergence of neocolonial modernity. The Reader also includes the reflections of activists and novelists on the book's influence and a transcript of James's 1970 interview with Studs Terkel.

 Contributors. Mumia Abu-Jamal, David Austin, Madison Smartt Bell, Anthony Bogues, John H. Bracey Jr., Rachel Douglas, Laurent Dubois, Claudius K. Fergus, Carolyn E. Fick, Charles Forsdick, Dan Georgakas, Robert A. Hill, Christian Høgsbjerg, Selma James, Pierre Naville, Nick Nesbitt, Aldon Lynn Nielsen, Matthew Quest, David M. Rudder, Bill Schwarz, David Scott, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Matthew J. Smith, Studs Terkel.

Read the Foreword by Robert A Hill here:

Exclusive offer for LSHG members and supporters (in the UK) - 30% discount (£18.19) when you order using code CSF117TBJR
Order online:
or by telephone: Marston +44 (0)1235 465500

Revolution - New Art for a New World - new documentary on the Russian avant-garde

A new political documentary will be showing at Curzon Bloomsbury on 10 November: 

Revolution - New Art for a New World is a bold and exciting new feature documentary which seamlessly weaves the tumultuous period of the Russian Revolution with the story of the artists that shaped it, including Chagall, Rodchenko, Kandinsky and more. 

Friday, 28 October 2016

Social Histories of the Russian Revolution series

Social Histories of the Russian Revolution series

All are welcome to SOCIAL HISTORIES OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION, a monthly series of discussion meetings, timed to take place during the run-up to the centenary of Russia’s revolutions of 1917.
Each discussion will be opened by historians, scholars working in academia who have spent many years studying the revolution in the Russian archives. But these are not academic seminars – they are open to all who share our interest in the history of the Russian revolution as a landmark struggle for social liberation. At each discussion there will be an opening talk of about 30 minutes, followed by open debate.
The emphasis in the discussion meetings will be on the social histories of the revolution – that is, how it was experienced by the mass of working people who participated.
By taking this approach we aim not to brush aside the role of political leaders, and their disputes and decisions, but rather to move beyond these well-known debates and reach a deeper understanding of the revolution as the active participation of millions of people in changing history.
We hope that by developing our theme over a year of meetings, we will be able collectively to engage in serious thinking and re-thinking about the revolution and its significance for our past and present. 
William Dixon, Brendan McGeever, Simon Pirani (Organisers)  


Dreyfus Room (2.02), Birkbeck, University of London, 28 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DQ


 Last Thursday of the month (usually), 6.30 pm

Upcoming meetings

Nov 24 – Brendan McGeever (Birkbeck, University of London): Antisemitism and Revolutionary Politics in the Russian Revolution, 1917-1919
Dec 15 – Andy Willimott (Reading University): Living the Revolution: Urban Communes in 1920s Russia and the Invention of a Socialist Lifestyle

Jan 26 – Sarah Badcock (Nottingham University): The 1917 Revolutions at Local Level
Feb 23 – Katy Turton (Queens University, Belfast): Women in Revolt: the Female Experience of the 1917 Revolutions
March 16 – George Gilbert (Southampton University): The Radical Right and the Russian Revolution
March 30 –Dimitri Tolkatsch (University of Freiburg, Germany): The Ukrainian Peasant Insurgency in the Revolutionary Period
April 27 – Chris Read (Warwick University): The Social History of the Revolutionary Period
May 25 – Barbara Allen (La Salle University, USA): Alexander Shlyapnikov and the Russian Metalworkers in 1917
June 29 – Don Filtzer (University of East London): The Working Class and the First Five-year Plan, 1928-32
Sep 28 – Wendy Goldman (Carnegie Mellon University, USA): Taking Power: Remaking the Family, Levelling Wages, Planning the Economy
Oct 12 – Lara Cook (University of York): Local Soviets in 1917-18 and their Relations with the Central Executive Committee
Oct 26 – 1917 A Century On: A Debate (Speakers TBC, including Simon Pirani (author of The Russian Revolution in Retreat 1920-1924)
Nov 23 – Gleb Albert (University of Zurich): Early Soviet Society and World Revolution, 1917-27

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

LSHG Rosmer seminar postponement

Unfortunately Ian Birchall is unwell at the moment and the seminar on Lenin's Moscow on 24th Oct and March 13 will have to be cancelled. Apologies for any inconvenience caused - we hope Ian gets well soon. 

SHS meeting - William A Pelz on A People's History of Europe

Socialist History Society PUBLIC MEETING

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William A. Pelz (Institute of Working Class History, Chicago) speaks on A People's History of Europe (also the title of his latest book, Pluto, 2016).


 Venue: Marx Memorial Library, 37a Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU.


Saturday, 15 October 2016

Conference on the 40th anniversary of the Lucas plan

BOOK NOW for a conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Lucas Plan!

Veteran trade unionists and younger activists see Nobel prize-nominated plan as inspiration for the future
November 26th, Birmingham
The Lucas Plan was a pioneering effort by workers at the arms company Lucas Aerospace to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially-useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills. It remains one of the most radical and forward thinking attempts ever made by workers to take the steering wheel and directly drive the direction of change. Read the Plan here.
Today, in 2016 — 40 years after the Lucas Plan — we’re facing a convergence of crises: militarism and nuclear weapons, climate chaos, and the destruction of jobs by automation.
These crises mean we have to start thinking about technology as political, as the Lucas Aerospace workers did.
Our conference will aim to re-open the debate about industrial conversion and democracy. 

Leading figures from the left, trade union, environmental and peace movements are coming together at a conference on November 26th with a fresh perspective on tackling current crises, using the ideas of socially useful production pioneered in the Lucas Plan. The Plan, produced by workers at the Lucas Aerospace arms company, showed how jobs could be saved by converting to make products that answer a social need, rather than weapons. To book for the conference, visit  See, or the notes below for more information on the Lucas Plan.

The conference will focus on 5 key themes:

  • The Lucas Plan and socially useful production.
  • Arms conversion and peace.
  • Climate change and a socially just transition to sustainability.
  • The threat to skills and livelihoods from automation.
  • Local/community economic and industrial planning.

Linking all these issues is the need to rethink how we can produce what people and society actually need and overcome corporate domination through their control of technology.

Highlights of the conference will include:

  • Talks by Phil Asquith, Brian Salisbury and Mick Cooney (Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Combine).
  • Screening of a new film on the Lucas Plan by Steve Sprung.
  • Contributions from: Chris Baugh (PCS), Suzanne Jeffery (Million Climate Jobs Campaign), Hilary Wainwright (Red Pepper), John McDonnell (tbc), Natalie Bennett and Molly Scott-Cato (Green Party), Romayne Phoenix (People’s Assembly Against Austerity), Mary Pearson (Birmingham Trades Council), Jim Wyke (Young Scots for Independence), Philippa Hands (Unison), Stuart Parkinson (Scientists for Global Responsibility), Dave Elliott (Open University), Dave King (Breaking the Frame), Tom Woolley (Rachel Bevan Architects), Simon Fairlie (The Land magazine), Karen Leach (Localise West Midlands), plus more speakers to be announced.

The conference on the Lucas Plan 40th anniversary will be held at Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (138 Digbeth, Birmingham, B5 6DR) on November 26, 2016. See The conference is being organised and sponsored by: former members of the Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Combine, Breaking the Frame, PCS, UCU, Million Climate Jobs Campaign, Green Party, Scientists for Global Responsibility, Campaign Against Arms Trade, and Red Pepper.

Tickets are £10/£5 concessions: To book for the conference, visit For more information, email

BACKGROUND INFO: The Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Combine’s Alternative Corporate Plan (‘The Lucas Plan’) was launched in 1976 and became famous worldwide, sparking an international movement for socially useful production and workers’ plans. Facing the threat of redundancies, the Combine collected 150 ideas from shop floor workers about alternative socially useful products that could be produced by the company, instead of relying on military orders. Many of the innovations in the plan, such as hybrid car engines, heat pumps and wind turbines were commercially viable and are now in widespread use. Although the Alternative Plan was rejected by Lucas Aerospace managers, it was instrumental in protecting jobs at Lucas in the 1970s. The Combine was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and Mike Cooley received the Right Livelihood Award in 1982. More information about the Plan, including the 53-page summary of the five 200 page volumes, can be found on the conference website,

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Raphael Samuel Memorial Lecture 2016

Raphael Samuel Memorial Lecture 2016
Alison Light: 'Between Private and Public: Writing a Memoir about Raphael and Myself'
7th December 2016, 7.00pm - 8.30pm
Wine reception to follow
This event is free of charge, but please reserve your place
Venue:    Arts 2. Lecture Theatre, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS
To locate the venue, please click on this campus map:
Alison Light is a writer and Honorary Professor in the English department of University College, London.  As the widow of Raphael Samuel, she helped establish the archive and research centre in his name.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Richard Hart Memorial Lecture

Richard Hart Memorial Lecture
Hosted by Caribbean Labour Solidarity
November 5th - 12:30 - 3:30pm
Bolivar Hall - 54-56 Grafton Way, London W1T 5DL
Free admission, but registration is essential:


     Arrive 12:30 for refreshments [£5 for curry and roti]
     Poem read by Linton Kwesi Johnson
     Welcome and update on Tivoli Gardens massacre by CLS President Luke
     Professor Richard Drayton will deliver the Richard Hart Memorial
     Closing; Kaiso by Tobago Crusoe

Bookstalls food and artists

Struggle - people's festival in Hastings on 23 October

Struggle - festival in Hastings, 23 October

A festival to celebrate the People's fight for justice with music, speakers and poetry. Topics include The Free University, Legal Aid, attacks on education, Momentum, the campus at Hastings, Socialism and the Labour Party and the role of trade unions. Speakers include Jackie Walker, Louise Raw, Gloria Whittaker, Terry McCarthy, Gill Knight, Natasha Le Roc, Maggie Lloyd and many more. Sponsored by Unite the Union, Hastings TUC and the Labour History Movement Publications. 2pm-8pm, the Printworks - attendance free.
For further details e-mail Terry at

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter #59 (Autumn 2016)

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The new autumn 2016 edition of the London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter #59 is now online - it features a comment piece by LSHG convenor Keith Flett on Labour MPs past and present and John Newsinger, author of classic work The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire writing on The Easter Rising and the Left. There is also a statement by the LSHG on MI5 and EP Thompson (it might also be noted that many other members of the Communist Party of Great Britain's Historians' Group including Rodney Hilton and Eric Hobsbawm were also under state surveillance). Ian Birchall reviews two books in this Newsletter - The Cleaner of Kastoria - a novel by Jacqueline Paizis - and Australian Marxist Tom O' Lincoln's The Expropriators Must Be Expropriated, in which he discusses the Australian Minority Movement among other matters. The deadline for contributions to the next edition of the Newsletter is 1 December 2016 - for more details and on how to join the LSHG please contact Keith Flett at the email address above. Our Autumn Seminar Series at the Institute of Historical Research begins on 10 October with Steve Cushion talking about women workers and the Cuban Revolution - for details of the seminars see here. For details of other events etc etc please follow us on twitter - @LSHGofficial.

CfP: The Labours of Asa

The Labours of Asa:
Work Inspired by the Contributions of Asa Briggs to Labour History

Call for Conference Papers:
Submission deadline: Thursday 13 April 2017
Conference Date: Saturday 6 May 2017
Conference Venue: University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
Sponsor:  The Society for the Study of Labour History

The organisers hope to obtain funding to support the attendance of postgraduate speakers.
Confirmed Keynote Speakers: John Belchem, Former Pro-Vice Chancellor and Professor of History, University of Liverpool, and Malcolm Chase, Professor of Social History, University of Leeds.

The organisers would be pleased to accept proposals for 30 minute presentations in English on themes suggested by the contributions of Asa Briggs to labour history.  We seek not to evaluate Asa Briggs’s work but to see contributions inspired by him.  Contributions concerned with any period and any place are welcome.  Contributions by Ph.D. students are particularly welcome.
Possible themes:
•    Synoptic views of Victorian Labour: An Age of Improvement?
•    VictorianPeople:  biographical and prosopographicalcontributions to labour history
•    Victorian Cities: Labour and the history of the city: Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Melbourne, London and elsewhere; Chartists, the later labour movement
•    Victorian Things: Labour and things; material culture, tangible labour
•    The ‘Language of Class’; the language of ‘mass’ and the ‘masses’
•    Labour and shopping, shopping and Labour: labour in the retail sector; shopping as domestic labour;‘workerism’, consumerism and labour
•    Labour and the BBC: labour and the media.

Asa Briggs, who died in 2016, was one of the foremost historians of his age.  He helped to create and to feed the growing interest in Victorian Britain during the 1950s and 1960s (The Age of Improvement; Victorian Cities, Victorian People, Victorian Things).  His History of the BBC was written between 1961 and 1995.  Less well known outside the field were his contributions to labour history.  His collection of Chartist Studies published in 1959 re-oriented the subject.  His collection with John Saville, Essays in Labour History, defined the specialism for many years.  His essay on ‘the language of class in early nineteenth-century England’ was path-breaking. His 1962 selection of William Morris’s writings and designs attempted a unified account of the designer, the poet, and the socialist which anticipated the cultural history of more recent years. He was a founder member of the Society for the Study of Labour History formed in 1960 and he was its first chair, relinquishing the role in 1967 to become its President.  As J.F.C. Harrison has remarked, he gave the field inspiration and he gave it respectability.

Asa Briggs had close associations with Leeds and West Yorkshire.  He was born in Keighley in 1921 and from 1955 to 1961 he was Professor of Modern History at the University of Leeds.  Leeds was one of the cities he chose to write about for Victorian Cities, a book that put the city in the company of Manchester, London and Melbourne.  He wrote a company history of Marks and Spencer, a company with its origins in Leeds and whose company archive now stands on the campus of Leeds University.  It is therefore particularly fitting that this Conference should be held in the University of Leeds.
Those interested may wish to consult Miles Taylor (ed.) The Age of Asa: Lord Briggs, Public Life and History in Britain since 1945 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

Please send proposals to
Professor Keith Laybourn, the University of Huddersfield,, and Dr Quentin Outram, the University of Leeds,

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Book Review - The Expropriators are Expropriated

 From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter #59 (Autumn 2016)
Australia’s Minority Movement

The Expropriators are Expropriated and other writings on Marxism
Tom O’Lincoln
Interventions Inc, (Carlton South, Vic., Australia), 2016
ISBN 9780994537805

Tom O’Lincoln has been an activist on the Australian far left since 1972, a leading figure in the International Socialists and more recently Socialist Alternative. He has also written extensively on historical topics, for example Australia’s Pacific War [reviewed here ] and Years of Rage [reviewed here ] For a list of many other publications see

The present collection contains a number of short pieces, including outlines of various aspects of Marxist theory. There are three essays providing an introduction to Marx’s economic theory, putting the arguments in clear and accessible language; O’Lincoln reminds us that “you and I create wealth by working every day …. share traders just shuffle it around” and that “what distinguishes Karl Marx’s economic theory is that the centre of the analysis is the production process”.

A piece on dialectics only scratches the surfaces, but reminds us that Marx bases “the dialectic on the activity, the labour and above all the class struggles of real human beings”. A critical account of the theory of base and superstructure argues that by taking human labour as a starting-point we can go beyond the false alternative of determinism and voluntarism. A more polemical piece on wage labour under Stalinism argues that in his analysis Tony Cliff “ignores the class struggle altogether”.

But I think the piece that will of greatest interest to socialist historians is the account of the Australian Minority Movement [ ], which allows us to make comparisons between the achievements and limitations of this strategy in Britain and Australia. The Australian “Minority Movement” was launched in 1931, becoming the Australian section of the Red International of Labour Unions.

The Communist Party, which played a key role in the movement, accepted the Moscow line of the “Third Period”, which described social democrats as “social fascists”, an almost insuperable barrier to united front work. But in the particular circumstances of Australia it proved to be not so much of an obstacle. The MM began to organise among unemployed working on public works projects at starvation wages. It bypassed union officials and stressed rank-and-file control, and won several strikes despite the workers having little real bargaining power. An even more effective intervention was made in the Wonthaggi miners’ strike of 1934. As one striker reported:

“On the broad committee leading the strike there are sixty activists, and in the various propaganda, relief, and other activities over 200 men and women are working hard … Wonthaggi is a town at war – on active service against the boss.”
Though obstacles were placed to bus and rail travel, strikers hired cars to send a delegation to Melbourne, which addressed at least a dozen meetings, including one of a thousand and another of 1500, and raised considerable financial support. The strike ended in victory – victimised workers were reinstated, attacks on wages and conditions were abandoned, and pit committees were recognised. A number of similar victories were won by sugar workers.

The example spread; the MM paper even reported “Bush Workers’ Committees Rally Country Toilers – Rabbit Trappers Organise At Last”. Shortage of rabbit pie would not bring down capitalism, but the MM influence spread through major industries, notably playing a central role in building railway shop committees. O’Lincoln summarises: “Wherever they were active, MM members called for shop committees; wherever these were formed, they sought to work within them and win leadership.”

The publication of workplace bulletins, with active involvement of local members, was stressed. A Kurri Kurri miner described the process:

“All this information is brought to the meeting and discussed, and comrades are selected to write and edit the articles and produce material on general campaigns. Other comrades are elected to draw up headings or print the papers, thus developing a real collective interest in the paper.”

Given the widespread distrust of unions the MM argued that non-members should be drawn into strike committees. And in areas where it did not have support the MM intervened from the outside by issuing leaflets.

The MM developed a programme for women workers, including equal pay for equal work, equal unemployment relief and and fighting dismissals of married women. It demanded that women should be represented on all strike committees and that where women were a majority of those employed in an industry, women should be in a majority on the strike committee. Strikers’ wives were organised into women’s auxiliaries.

The British experience was an important source of inspiration for the MM and provided an organisational model. But because of the Communist Party’s position there was some confusion as to whether the MM was a militant reform movement or a part of the revolutionary movement; Yet perhaps half the members of the MM were not Communist party members.

The Communist party had to warn its more zealous members not to write articles for rank-and-file bulletins which began “Do you know there is a Social Fascist Dictatorship running your union?” and urging workers to “Roll up to your next meeting and show the Fascists where they get off”. And there were real weaknesses in the MM. O’Lincoln notes “It may of course be true that some MM groups demanded unrealistic levels of activity, but there is ample evidence that the general run of MM members were, if anything, rather slack”.

By 1935, with the advent of the Popular Front, the MM came to an end. As O’Lincoln sums up: “The concept of a rank and file movement across industry lines, broader than the Communist Party’s own membership but organising workers on a class-wide basis, had been abandoned in favour of organisation within individual industries.”  Yet as he concludes, the MM rebuilt trade unionism in some areas and vastly strengthened it in others, and won a number of epic struggles. It should not be forgotten.

Ian Birchall