Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Dave Gibson Labour History Lecture

The First Annual Dave Gibson Labour History Lecture
Organised by Barnsley TUC and Barnsley College UCU

'Orwell and the Workers'
With Prof John Newsinger (Bath Spa University) and author of 'Hope Lies In the Proles': George Orwell and the Left

Saturday 16 June 1pm The Civic, Hanson Street, Barnsley, S70 2HZ

The first annual Dave Gibson labour history lecture will focus on George Orwell. Orwell visited Barnsley while researching ʻThe Road to Wigan Pierʼ and his collected works contain shocking details about the state of housing in Barnsley at the time of his visit. Dave Gibson used this information in his contribution to a Workers Educational Association course on labour history in Barnsley and Graham Mustin will give a short presentation based on Dave's lecture notes.
The main talk, entitled ʻOrwell and the Workersʼ will be by John Newsinger, professor of history at Bath Spa University and an acknowledged expert on Orwell. John has written the highly acclaimed ʻOrwell's Politicsʼ and most recently ʻOrwell and the Proles: George Orwell and the Leftʼ a critical account of Orwell's politics exploring his anti-fascism, criticism of the USSR and enduring commitment to socialism.

Email: | Mobile: 07985 02800

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Tuesday, 1 May 2018

London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter #64 (Summer 2018)

The latest issue of the London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter is now online - featuring a comment piece by Keith Flett on the Peterloo massacre in the light of the current massacres of Palestinians by the Israeli state in Gaza, a review of Communist Insurgent: Blanqui's Politics of Revolution by Doug Enaa Greene and an extended second part of a review of The Origins of Collective Decision Making by Andy Blunden. The deadline for the next issue of the Bulletin is 1 September 2018. Letters, articles, criticisms and contributions to debate are most welcome.

Upcoming LSHG seminars and events 

Saturday 19 May - London Socialist Historians’ Group Workshop
Treason: Internationalist Renegades and Traitors
Saturday 19th May, 12 – 5pm Wolfson Room, Institute of Historical Research Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.
Entry is free without ticket although there will be a collection to cover expenses, but please register via the eventbrite link here if possible

The Levellers who refused to support Cromwell’s war in Ireland, the Polish troops who rebelled against Napoleon and sided with the Haitian Revolution, the Irish-American “St Patrick’s Battalion” who rejected American imperialism to fight with the Mexicans, the British people who joined the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Confederate deserters who opposed slavery, the German anti-Nazis who deserted and joined the Red Army or fought with the French Resistance and the French anti-colonialists who sided with the independence fighters in Algeria and Vietnam. There have been some rare but truly inspiring and heroic examples of internationalism throughout modern history, when those being drafted into fighting for unjust wars rebelled to side and fight against imperialist oppression. This workshop will try to recover the lives and often hidden histories of these true ‘citizens of the world’, as well as considering moments in history where the potential for anti-imperialist internationalism did not materialise. 

12 - registration
12.15 Welcome / Introduction
12.20-1pm - Rebel Warriors (chair Christian Høgsbjerg]
Soldiers of Misfortune: Napoleon's Polish Deserters in the West Indies - Jonathan North [with a contribution from Christian Høgsbjerg]
 The Saint Patrick's Battalion - David Rovics [recorded]
-1pm - Break -
1.30-2.30 - Anti-Fascism (chair: Keith Flett)
 Organised Resistance to the Nazis from within the German Workers’ Movement from 1933-1945 - Merilyn Moos
Italians and Germans in the French Resistance - Steve Cushion
3pm-4pm Anti-Imperialism (chair Keith Flett)
The India and Burma Empire: Michael Carritt and Arthur Attwood - Richard Saville
Betraying the Moribund Empire: France 1946-1962 - Ian Birchall
4pm Opening the Debate - Steve Cushion (chair: Christian Høgsbjerg)

Monday 19th June, Keith Flett - 'The Chartist Challenge in 1848. Could it have won?'
 Room 304 (third floor) at 5.30pm in the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Entry to our seminars is free without ticket although donations are welcome. We also have seminars pencilled in with agreed speakers on the 60th anniversary of CND, the school history curriculum and the history of Womens Voice for the Autumn Term 2018.   For more information on any of the above please contact Keith Flett at the address above.

Other events coming up -

Marxism 2018 - a festival of socialist ideas - 5-8 July - central London -

Blanqui - rescued from the enormous condescension of posterity

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter #64 (Summer 2018)]


Communist Insurgent: Blanqui's Politics of Revolution 
by Doug Enaa Greene 
Paperback, 292 pages 
ISBN: 9781608464722 
Haymarket 2017 

If you are of a certain age on the left your reaction to the name Blanqui is probably ‘WRONG’ and that is pretty much it. If you are younger the more likely thought is ‘WHO?’ since the name of the nineteenth century French revolutionary has perhaps not featured a great deal in recent discussions on the left.

Doug Enaa Greene and Haymarket Books have therefore done a valuable service in rescuing Blanqui from the enormous condescension of posterity. Indeed Greene makes a good case for why Blanqui deserves to be rescued.

He had a remarkably long life (1805-1881) given various attempts at revolution, spells of imprisonment often in poor conditions, and ill health. He also had a magnificent beard. Over such a long life there is inevitably a lot of detail and for that a read of the book is required. Here I will flag up a few points of perhaps key interest.

Blanqui’s view was that revolution was needed, always, but this would not come from the masses. Rather it required a dedicated band of organised revolutionaries, usually operating secretly and conspiratorially to avoid interruption by the forces of the existing order.

The conspiratorial model of revolution was the dominant one where the question arose around the world certainly up to 1848. It was used for example by the Chartists in the summer of that year with the usual unfortunate results. The problem with conspiracy as a political method is of course that it invites spies and Blanqui was plagued by accusations that he knew of such people or indeed was one.

That said, after the French Revolution on 25 February 1848, Blanqui did organise openly and tried to push the revolution further, albeit unsuccessfully.

Marx and Engels did not agree with Blanqui’s politics and often said so. They were for an open mass workers organisation. Where they did reach general agreement with Blanqui was on the principle of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

Greene argues that Marx and Engels invariably stood by Blanqui as a shining and obvious example of someone who believed in revolutionary ends even if they did not agree about the means. Greene also notes that Blanqui was thought to be a useful bulwark against Bakunin’s supporters on the First International.

Blanqui supported the Paris Commune and his supporters had a key role in it while not seeing it as a prototype model for workers’ control as Marx and Engels did. His influence continued to an extent after his death.

Some of his supporters turned to interventions in electoral politics supporting the campaign of General Georges Boulanger hoping it would lead to a coup against the Government. It did not and Greene notes that in a subsequent split the majority of Blanqui’s remaining followers aligned themselves with a nationalistic and antiSemitic political trend and disappeared into obscurity.

Blanqui had always been against all religion but his views to modern eyes would be seen as antiSemitic according to Greene. A minority of his followers did not follow that path and by 1905 found themselves part of the French Socialist Party.

It had been quite a political journey.

Greene’s biography deserves to be read not just as history, but also as an important exploration of political paths and methods which are not in the main taken by the modern left, but without question still find attraction for some.

Keith Flett 

Comment: Blaming the protesters

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter #64 (Summer 2018)] 

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From Peterloo 1819 to Gaza 2019 

The author and beard wearer Michael Rosen has commented on social media that when it comes to protests when the authorities injure or kill protesters, they invariably claim that the protesters are to blame. Certainly that seems to be the official reaction to deaths and injuries of Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border on 30 March 2018. We should be cautious about historical comparisons because we can’t be sure we are really comparing like with like. Each situation has its own specificity yet even so Rosen’s general point has validity.
When the Manchester Yeomanry cut down and killed and injured protesters for the vote at Peterloo in central Manchester on 16 August 1819, the authorities blamed this on fleeing protesters. Still, that was a long time ago. This is what E.P. Thompson wrote in The Making of the English Working Class about protest and justice at Peterloo:

If the Government was unprepared for the news of Peterloo, no authorities have ever acted so vigorously to make themselves accomplices after the fact. Within a fortnight the congratulations of Sidmouth (Home Secretary - KF) and the thanks of the Prince Regent were communicated to the magistrates and the military ‘for their prompt, decisive and efficient measures for the preservation of the public peace’. Demands for a parliamentary enquiry were resolutely rejected. Attorney and Solicitor-Generals were ‘fully satisfied’ as to the legality of the magistrates’ actions. The Lord Chancellor (Eldon) was of the ‘clear opinion’ that the meeting was an ‘overt act of treason’.. State prosecutions were commenced, not against the perpetrators, but against the victims of the day- Hunt, Saxton, Bamford and others- and the first intention of charging them with high treason was only abandoned with reluctance. If the Manchester magistrates initiated the policy of repression, the Government endorsed it with every resource at its disposal.. Hay, the clerical magistrate prominent on the Peterloo bench, was rewarded with the £2,000 living of Rochdale.' 

Interestingly on the 150th anniversary of Peterloo in 1969 the Sunday Telegraph repeated the point. Even at that distance the reality of the massacre had to be denied. The Mandrake column (20 July 1969) was headed ‘The massacre that never was’.

Reviewing a new book, Robert Walmsley’s Peterloo: the case reopened (MUP) it noted ‘most of the day’s comparatively few casualties were caused were caused by a trampling panic amongst the crowd’. That is a reassuring explanation, and even if not a factual one, a reminder about how to spin unfortunate events in the present day perhaps….

Keith Flett