Monday, 27 May 2019

London Socialist Historians Group seminars summer 2019


We support the ongoing IWGB action at Senate House over outsourcing of support staff. Because of this the seminars will not be held at Senate House until the dispute is resolved.  We have two seminars lined up however:

Monday 10 June 2019 - 'Kwame Nkrumah and the Dawn of the Cold War'
 Book launch with author Marika Sherwood - 6.30pm at Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE

About the book
The West African National Secretariat (WANS) has almost been forgotten by history. A pan-Africanist movement founded in 1945 by Kwame Nkrumah and colleagues in London and France, WANS campaigned for independence and unity. Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast in late 1947. The colonial government accused him of being a communist and fomenting the riots of early 1948. He was jailed. This led to the beginning of the Cold War in West Africa.
Drawing on archival research including the newly released MI5 files, Marika Sherwood reports on the work of WANS, on the plans for a unity conference in October 1948 in Lagos, and on Nkrumah’s return home. Sherwood demonstrates that colonial powers colluded with each other and the US in order to control the burgeoning struggles for independence. By labelling African nationalists as ‘communists’ in their efforts to contain decolonisation, the Western powers introduced the Cold War to the continent.
Providing a rich exploration of a neglected history, this book sheds light for the first time on a crucial historical moment in the history of West Africa and the developmental trajectory of West African independence.

Monday 17 June 'The size of the crowd. How historians have assessed numbers at demonstrations from 1848 onwards' - Keith Flett
(The paper will be posted online at to invite comments and discussion on social media.)

The deadline for the next issue of the London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter is 1 September 2019 - Letters, articles, criticisms and contributions to debate are most welcome.

The Ascott Martyrs Project

Image result for the ascott martyrs project

The Ascott Martyrs were sixteen women some with babies in arms who were imprisoned in 1873 for supporting their striking farm worker husbands in the Oxfordshire village of Ascott-under-Wychwood. The traumatic event led to a major riot in Chipping Norton and a reprieve from Queen Victoria. Their legacy today is that picketing was made legal in 1874 and local religious leaders were no longer appointed as magistrates. The project will provide continued awareness in the local schools and the wider community as well as a national online centre for information and research. The next Martyrs Day is Saturday June 20th 2020. See

Where we are coming from is that a comprehensive study of the story would make an excellent graduate project even for a Masters, There are so many gaps yet to be researched (see below). If there are researchers who interested please get in touch.

• Martyrs’ photographs • Martyrs’ house locations and graves • Duke of Marlborough's and Queen Victoria’s role • Establishment keeping control of workers and their conditions • Magistrates no longer clerics/ process? • Agricultural Union……..picketing allowed/ law changes • Politics at the time • Religion…………. Church support for landowners, beginning of the end • Baptist v Protestant………..workers v establishment • Economic situation/emigration • Verification of presentations…petticoats and dress material • Verification of Queen Victoria’s reprieve and gift of red petticoats • Oxford Gaol……..conditions and making of quilt? • Post-strike unclear for strikers • Police Role * • Media 1873 * National Press support but not local>…why?

Socialist Historians call for reinstatement of suspended Ruskin College UCU rep

                                         Solidarity with Lee Humber at UCU Congress 2019 

The London Socialist Historians Group, which organises the socialist history seminar at the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London (currently suspended there in support of an IWGB boycott over outsourcing) has backed calls for a suspended UCU rep at Ruskin College to be reinstated.

Lee Humber, the UCU membership rep at Ruskin, was suspended on Monday 1 April.

The historians say that Ruskin has a long association, not just as a trade union college, but also with socialist history itself. The late Raphael Samuel, one of the founders of the History Workshop movement and journal, was a tutor there.

LSHG Convenor Dr Keith Flett said, this is not how we expect Ruskin College to carry out its affairs. Whatever the detail of the issues at stake, and it’s clear they are serious and go beyond Dr Humber’s trade union activity, they should be sorted out by discussion and negotiation not ill conceived disciplinary measures.

Ruskin College UCU Press Release 

 Reinstate Dr Lee Humber – University College Union (UCU) Representative at Ruskin College

On Monday 1st April, 2019, The Principal of Ruskin College (Paul Di Felice) suspended Dr Lee Humber who is a UCU representative at Ruskin College. The suspension, on bogus charges, came after an overwhelming Vote of No Confidence in the Principal by Ruskin College UCU branch.

Tragically this is not an April fool’s joke and comes at a time when Ruskin College is supposed to be celebrating its 120th anniversary as a College that has strong links with the labour and trade union movement in Britain and internationally.

UCU is calling for the immediate reinstatement of Dr Lee Humber and for the bogus charges against Lee to be dropped.

We urge everyone to send emails to the Principal ( and Doug Nicholls, the Chair of the Ruskin College Board of Directors ( asking for the immediate reinstatement of Lee and clarification of why a trade union representative has been victimised by Ruskin College.

Messages of support and solidarity should be sent to the Chair of Ruskin College UCU (

Was Blanqui a Blanquist?

[Book Review from London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 67 (Summer 2019)]

The Blanqui Reader: Political Writings 1830-1880 
Edited by Philippe Le Goff and Peter Hallward Verso 2018 ISBN 978-1-78663-501-3 

Auguste Blanqui gave his name to a political doctrine known as “Blanquism”, defined by Wikipedia as the belief that “socialist revolution should be carried out by a relatively small group of highly organised and secretive conspirators.” Thousands on the left have proclaimed their orthodoxy by quoting Lenin's insistence “We are not Blanquists”, without troubling themselves to actually read what Blanqui wrote over the years. So we should be most grateful to Peter Hallward and Philippe Le Goff (and their fellow-translator Mitchell Abidor) for this valuable anthology of Blanqui's writings.

It contains a mass of Blanqui's published and unpublished writings, many of them unavailable even in French. Blanqui wrote copiously throughout his life – his hands held a pen far oftener than they held a rifle, for the good reason that he spent nearly half his adult life in jail. He wrote on everything from the nature of the universe, via religion, free will and class, to detailed military tactics. Like any honest thinker he changed his mind, learned from experience and even sometimes contradicted himself; if there is one unifying thread it is that “we are always and everywhere with the oppressed against the oppressors.”

Karl Marx once insisted that he was not a Marxist. Blanqui could have claimed with equal justice that he was not a Blanquist. In 1839 he organised an ill-prepared military rising in the hope it would ignite mass struggle; he was wrong and it led to a débâcle. He spent the next forty years considering how things might be done better. As Peter Sedgwick wrote of Che Guevara's failure in Bolivia: “Che went out there and started things. As a result, we know some more.” And the movement was much younger and less experienced when Blanqui made his mistakes.

From the beginning of the 1848 revolution he stressed the need for mass action: “If .… we seize power by a bold assault, like thieves in the night, who can say how long our power might last? …. What we need is the immense mass of the people, the faubourgs rising up in revolt.” He declared that his aim was to “arouse consciousness” and use the “lever of enthusiasm”. As Napoleon III consolidated his power he increasingly stressed the importance of consciousness: “Revolutions must take place in the mind before they can be carried out on the streets.” He dismissed insurrection as “madness”. Looking back on 1848 he insisted: “One must conquer a nation through ideas, never through force.” He repeatedly stressed the importance of education: “Schools, books, the printed word – these are the real revolutionary agents!” Some NEU members may be pleased by his claim that “teachers are the only true revolutionaries.” But he was also clear that education took place in struggle: “a strike is intelligible to all; it is the simple idea of resistance to oppression. Everyone rallies around it.”

If he saw the need for revolutionary violence - “today the only real ballot papers are bullets” - it was because of the violence of the existing order. He recalled the “many massacres …. undertaken .… in the service of despotism” including the “massacres in Manchester” [Peterloo ], with violence much greater than that of the French Revolution. He made a detailed study of the weaknesses of working-class organisation in the June 1848 rising, so that new generations might learn.

He was constantly concerned with building organisation: “organisation means victory; dispersal means death.” If the organisations he built were secretive and clandestine, that was because he was operating under a series of repressive regimes; to put the main responsibility for clandestinity on Blanqui is like blaming road accidents on pedestrians.

Blanqui recognised that the road to a socialist future would be long and complex; there would be no simple, rapid transition. “The new social organism cannot be the work of one single person, nor of a few people …. It is the work of everyone …. The river thus slowly takes shape from the confluence of a thousand springs, of billions of drops of water.” When he looked to the future he foresaw the emergence of “a whole crowd of charlatans of communism” and speculated that a “premature ….stunted version of communism might well induce many people to regret the good old days that preceded it.” How right he was.

He also glimpsed some of the more detailed aspects of the future, such as ecological crisis: “We waste coal in the most odious ways …. We are hunting whales to extinction, a powerful resource that will disappear.” There is much here that is of value, both for understanding Blanqui's own age and for reflecting on our own.

If I have one criticism it is that there is virtually nothing here from the last ten years of Blanqui's life. The volume ends with his essay Eternity by the Stars, an entertaining fantasy anticipating multiverse theory, written (as he acknowledged) as “consolation” after the defeat of the Paris Commune. But it was only a brief episode, and certainly not, as Walter Benjamin misleadingly if not mendaciously claimed, an expression of “resignation without hope”. On the contrary, the activity of his last years always pointed to future struggle.

In October 1880, just two months before his death, he wrote: “No more conscription! No more permanent army!” His slogan pointed forward to the pre-1914 syndicalist antimilitarist agitation. And there is more, much more, here that can plant ideas in the heads of a new generation of rebels.

Ian Birchall

Comment: 200 Years On - The Politics of Peterloo

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 67 (Summer 2019)]

Image result for peterloo mike leigh

As Mike Leigh’s film of the Peterloo Massacre is screens in the US it’s worthwhile keeping in mind that while even critics agree Leigh has the historical detail accurate, they still cannot agree on the significance of the events of that day.

It is an important point because it underlines that what Peterloo represented is not a settled question in either British history or politics. Leigh himself deliberately leaves the film open ended rather than providing an historical link to Chartism, which campaigned for the vote for men from the 1830s.

The link here is to a piece the cultural historian Dominic Sandbrook wrote in the Daily Mail on 24 August 2018. It is quite measured when it comes to the history of Peterloo, much less so in assessing what it meant. According to Sandbrook it was ‘barely a massacre’ at all which won’t be much consolation to those who were killed and injured on the day.

It’s worth remembering that the magistrate who sent the yeomanry in at Peterloo, Hulton, was a lifelong Tory and he never managed a public apology.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the attempts, mainly by those in authority, to downplay the numbers on popular protests, the numbers who attended
Peterloo on that August Monday in 1819 have also come into question.

The generally accepted figure has been 60,000 or upwards. More recently a claim has been made, using modern methods of calculating how many people can fit into a particular space, that it can’t have been anywhere near that number.

However it seems unlikely that those attending Peterloo were aware of the work of crowd theorists who calculate how many people can in theory fit into a particular space.

A much more useful way of looking at the space of Peterloo in 1819 has been demonstrated by Katrina Navickas, who was one of the advisors on Leigh’s Peterloo - see here

Keith Flett 

Peterloo in Manchester 2019

There are several notable exhibitions in Manchester this year which focus on Peterloo on the 200th anniversary.

The Peoples History Museum: details are here

The John Rylands Library: details are here

A reasonably comprehensive summary of Peterloo events in Manchester is here:

In addition Red Saunders is producing one of his Hidden montages featuring Peterloo and is crowdfunding for the costs.

There has also been criticism focusing on the point that the exhibitions don’t make the connection between Peterloo and modern-day protests sufficiently well or sometimes at all.

Monday, 13 May 2019

SHS meeting - Soviet Communes

Socialist History Society Meeting

At 2pm, on Saturday 18th May 2019

Soviet Communes - The History of Communes in the Early Years of the Soviet Union

The talk will be given by Dr Andy Willimott, author, "Living the Revolution: Urban Communes and Soviet Socialism, 1917 – 1932"

Please note the Society's AGM will be held at 1pm.

Venue: Red Lion Hall, Basement, Tresham House, Red Lion Square, entrance is via Lamb’s Conduit Passage, Conway Hall, Holborn WC1R

Free. All welcome.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Conferences - Marxism 2019 / CfP Historical Materialism 2019

Marxism 2019 - A festival of socialist ideas - 4-7 July, London 

 Capitalism is in crisis. Society is rapidly polarising between Left and Right. Marxism Festival 2019 is the place to debate how we can beat back the rise of racism, fascism and the far right. But thousands of people from around the world will also be discussing the alternative to the system that means chaos.

 Speakers include:
Omar Barghouti • Extinction Rebellion  • Ilan Pappé • Louise Raw  • Ian Angus and more!

For more information and how to book see here


Historical Materialism Sixteenth Annual London Conference 2019
Claps of Thunder: Disaster Communism, Extinction Capitalism and How to Survive Tomorrow

Central London, 7-10 November 2019

Call for Papers, Deadline 15 May 2019
For all queries, email only please:

Humanity faces an unprecedented crisis in the conditions for its long-term survival. The planet has warmed before, but never this fast. Mass extinction is a regular geological event, but it is now happening faster than at any time since the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction: a megaphase crisis in microphase time. And humanity has never before faced the comprehensive exhaustion of top-soil fecundity.
The emerging forms of authoritarian reaction are characteristically denialist about this catastrophe, from Trump’s Sinophobic conspiracism to Bolsonaro’s efforts to extirpate the landless workers’ movement. But the dominant response of fossil fuel giants is that of the majority of capitalist sectors and liberal states: to embrace ‘green’ capitalism, carbon markets, carbon taxes, and green technologies, whose total effect is to lock in carbon emissions. The Pentagon positions itself as an ally against climate change while securing the conditions for the efficient exploitation of oil and gas concealed under thawing Arctic ice. Environmental movements have coalesced and dispersed since the Seventies, but have hitherto lacked the structural, disruptive capacity, and perhaps also the strategy, to achieve the depth and scale of social transformation necessary to slam on the brakes of the crisis.
The roots of this ongoing disaster are social. The very evolution of fossil fuel use is linked a growth paradigm based upon the imperatives of capitalist accumulation ever since the beginning of the ‘industrial revolution.’ Advocates of ‘green capitalism’ have failed to offer a plausible solution to a catastrophe that is more imminent than ever. Any attempt to avert climate change requires a mobilisation of resources and a profound change in production and consumption forms that are incompatible with capitalist social relations of production. But even if such an attempt is launched tomorrow, we are likely to face a long-lasting legacy of damages to the earth system
How does communism fare in a world thus despoiled? What alternatives to the various miserable endgames mapped out for us by capital can Marxists envision? What new configurations of agency, strategy and vision are necessary for human emancipation and survival? Beyond denialism, how do we avert the potential for new climate-driven security regimes, eco-Malthusian crackdowns on the poor, and murderous eco-fascism?
This is the overarching theme for this year’s Historical Materialism Conference. We welcome papers on:
• Relationships between climate change, mass extinction and capitalism, and the consequences of ecological deterioration for the long-term reproduction of capitalism, the organisation of capitalist states, the viability of capitalist democracy, and new axes of imperialism.
• Potential for new modalities of racial capitalism, or a new form of ‘climate sovereign’ or ‘climate Leviathan’, to emerge around the militarisation of climate policy under the rubric of ‘natural security’.
• Commodification of climate change, as for example with the pursuit of carbon markets, ‘green capitalist’ technologies, and the opening of the Transpolar Sea Route and the military struggles for control over it.
• History of environmental struggles, from Bhopal to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the sometimes ambiguous role of the organised working-class therein, the salience of anti-racist and anti-colonial movements, and the ideological contest between various registers of ecological thought including eco-socialism, eco-Malthusianism, Deep Ecology, black ecology, the environmentalism of the poor, and eco-fascism.
• Popular militancy, denial, apathy, anger and ‘melancholia’ in the face of climate crisis, and the ideological or psychoanalytic bases thereof.
• Emerging forms of climate reaction, from libertarian strategies of denial/affirmation, to eco-fascist Arcadias based on racist genocide.
• Ecological and political viability of strategies of mitigation — from Green New Deals to geoengineering to ‘half-earth’ strategies — and the meaning of any plausible scenario of communist plenty in a de-carbonised future.
• The recent ecological reformulations of historical materialism, the relevance of Marxist categories for analysing the geological scales of ‘Deep Time’ on which the climate crisis is predicated, and the relationship between Marxism and the ‘hard sciences’.
The conference will also include streams on Marxist Feminism, Race and Capitalism, Work, and Sexuality and Political Economy (all to follow), but also open CfPs for paper/panel proposals that look at utopia and postcapitalist futures, the political struggles over sovereignty, the second wave of Arab uprisings and the capitalocene, Marxism and literature. In addition, the conference will, as always, be open to proposals not directly related to the main theme on all areas of Marxist and left-wing thought and politics, including political economy, political science and state theory, history and historiography, philosophy, law, cultural and aesthetic theory, science studies, and any other relevant discipline.

Please Note: Although we welcome preconstituted panels, after extensive feedback from previous years we are tightening up on panels with just titles or incomplete names. Panels should provide title, abstract and full names, emails of each participant and abstract/note of contribution (where relevant). Incomplete panel proposals will be put on the reserve list and may ultimately be rejected. We also reserve the right to reject certain papers in a preconstituted panel and to reconstitute panels as we see fit.

Conference - The Radical Sixties: Aesthetics, Politics and Histories of Solidarity - University of Brighton, 27-29 June

The Radical Sixties: Aesthetics, Politics and Histories of Solidarity 

University of Brighton, UK 

An international interdisciplinary conference jointly organized by the University of Brighton’s Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics (CAPPE); Centre for Design History (CDH) and Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories (CMNH); with additional support from Radical Futures.

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Opening public roundtable on Thursday 27 June 2019 at 5:00 pm
Bernadette Devlin McAliskeyS.T.E.P. 
Karma NabulsiUniversity of Oxford.

Conference days: Friday 28 and Saturday 29 June 
Keynote speakers:
Vijay Prashad, Tricontinental Institute for Social Research.
Cynthia Young, Pennsylvania State University.

This conference seeks to decentre the established loci of “The Sixties”. It builds on recent efforts to expand and complicate the spatiality and temporality of the global sixties and calls for new analyses of this critical historical conjuncture from the standpoint of solidarity. 
How was solidarity conceived, imagined and radically enacted in the border-crossings, both spatial and intellectual, of new revolutionaries in the “long” 1960s? How did it constitute a nodal theme for radical politics on the left? What are its intellectual frameworks and transnational politics, associated aesthetics and cultures of circulation. 

With 60 international speakers, discussions will explore notions and manifestations of solidarity as articulated in the interstices that, more than 50 years ago, opened up shared spaces of political struggle and prefigured radical horizons of possibility. Papers will expand on histories of the radical sixties to include: Chile, China, Cuba, Egypt, Finland, Greece, Guinea Bissau, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Northern Ireland, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Portugal, South Africa, USA, UK, and Uruguay, among other translocal connections.

  • For further information, registration and conference updates, please visit:
  • For all general enquiries, please contact: or

Organizing Committee
Zeina Maasri (convener); Cathy Bergin; Francesca Burke; Andrea Garcia Gonzalez; Garikoitz Gomez Alfaro; Megha Rajguru.