Monday, 28 October 2019

LSHG news and update

The IWGB boycott of Senate House continues and it would be fair to say that the University is being obdurate in terms of the legitimate issue of bringing outsourced workers back in-house on decent terms and conditions.

While the dispute continues it’s our job to offer solidarity. For that reason we will not be holding socialist history seminars at the Institute of Historical Research in the autumn term - a matter of regret as the IHR is not a direct party and remains the home of research history in the UK.

Historically these are matters we often talk about in seminars and it would be hypocritical to say the least to ignore them in the here and now. I have been working with others on alternative arrangements.

If supporters have ideas for speakers (and venues) do get in touch! Contributions, reviews, comments are welcome. I did attend the seminar convenors meeting in July presided over by the Director of the IHR Professor Jo Cox. I should underline that relations between the seminar and the IHR remain cordial and we hope to return there as soon as possible.

Professor Cox underlined the difficult situation the dispute had put the IHR in and its impact on staff, use and funding. While we understand the issues as above solidarity with outsourced workers must come first.

The IWGB dispute is part of a wider crisis in Higher Education underwritten without question by the activities or lack of them of the present Government.

Finally of course we supported the Climate Strike on 20th September, XR in October and will support future such actions.

Keith Flett for the London Socialist Historians Group

Upcoming seminars and events

LSHG SEMINAR - Monday 28 October 5.00pm Professor David Edgerton, Some Reflections on the Rise and Fall of the British Nation, Room S 8.08, 8th Floor, Strand Building, Kings College

Other events

Friday 1 November - 7pm 'Louise Michel, a French anarchist in London' with Constance Bantman and Martyn Everett - Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, N1 9DX - free, no booking required

Tuesday 12 November BUIRA IS Seminar on British and German Labour Unrest pre-First World
War BUIRA History of Industrial Relations Study Group. Labour Unrest pre-First World War: Germany and the UK Compared. 3.30pm for 4.00- 6.00m (Tea/ coffee from 3.30) Room tbc,
University of Westminster Business School, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS (opposite Madame Tussauds and nearly opposite Baker Street tube) The event is free and no need to register in advance but for further details , please email Michael Gold ( or Linda Clarke (

Thursday 14 November 2019, 6.30pm, Bookmarks Bookshop 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE, Launch of Treason: Rebel Warriors and Internationalist Traitors Edited by Steve Cushion and Christian Høgsbjerg

Friday 15 November, 6.30pm, Bookmarks Bookshop 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE, Launch of Mohandas Gandhi: Experiments in Civil Disobedience by Talat Ahmed

Letters, articles, criticisms and contributions to debate are most welcome. Deadline for the next issue of the LSHG Newsletter  is 1 December 2018. Please contact Keith Flett on address above for more information

Socialist Historians supporting UCU ballots / Ruskin College dispute

The pressure on staff in the neo-liberal university continues to increase. Socialist Historians, often themselves impacted, support the UCU in its continuing efforts to resist the onward march to the bottom. Below is a summary of this autumn’s action from the UCU:

There are strike ballots at UK universities in rows over USS pensions and pay, workloads, casualisation and equality. The pay, workloads, casualisation and equality ballot is running at 147 institutions and UCU members at 69 of those universities there is also a ballot for strike action over proposed changes to USS pensions. At a meeting of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) in August 2019 the universities' proposals - that will see members pay 9.6% of their salary into their USS pension, compared to 8.8% at present and 8% before the strikes - were backed by the chair, Sir Andrew Cubie.

The union said universities had also done nothing to address the declining value of members' pay, which has fallen in real-terms by 21% in the last decade, or address concerns over casualisation, equality and workloads.

The ballots close on Wednesday 30 October and the union's higher education committee will meet to consider the results on Friday 1 November. The ballots will be disaggregated so each institution will be polled separately.

Ruskin College dispute: The College where History Workshop was founded sacks union reps

Many readers of the newsletter will be aware of the dispute at Ruskin College involving the victimisation of UCU officers. Given that Ruskin has its origins as a trade union college the matter is perhaps particularly inexcusable.

Socialist historians will have special reasons for offering solidarity. Raphael Samuel, a key figure in the History Workshop movement was for many years a tutor at Ruskin. In addition several of the best known History Workshop conferences took place there including some of the earliest activities.

Ten trade union leaders have written to Ruskin College in Oxford to ask them to drop all disciplinary proceedings and withdraw threats of redundancy against staff after the college dismissed a trade union branch officer, with others subject to continuing disciplinary action, and four threatened with redundancy over the summer.

UCU branch officer Lee Humber was sacked on Friday 12 July having previously been suspended for "spurious reasons" just days after the local branch passed a motion of no confidence in the principal.
The college wants to axe four more posts in a move that UCU says will kill off all trade union higher education courses at the institution, leaving just a rump of two HE courses overall. The union said the college's proud boasts of transforming people's lives through education and its origins as a workers' college set up to strive for a fairer society meant little if it was prepared to victimise trade union reps and sack staff.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: 'Ruskin College makes much of its links to the wider union movement and origins as a workers' college, which makes the sacking of union reps all the more offensive. Staff have made it clear they have no faith in the direction the management is heading, but Ruskin's response has been to get rid of people trying to highlight the problems.
The entire social work team at Ruskin College has resigned in solidarity with victimised union reps. Social work is the biggest programme at the Oxford college.

Text of letter and full list of signatories.

We write to you in our respective capacities as General Secretaries of ten national trade unions, to raise our profound concerns about the way Ruskin College management appears to be victimising trade union reps from the University and College Union (UCU).
Given the proud history of the College - built on Labour movement values - we are concerned that this course of action is not only wrong in itself, but also risks undermining the founding principles of the institution.
As we understand it, three reps have been placed under unwarranted disciplinary investigation, whilst a further two union members have been placed at risk of redundancy. If financial circumstances are difficult, we would expect management to enter into serious discussions to explore a way of resolving the situation. There can never be an excuse to victimise or harass trade union reps.
We would ask that you drop all disciplinary proceedings and withdraw threats of redundancy and pursue a constructive approach towards working with UCU reps going forward. Otherwise, we stand ready to give our full support and solidarity to members of Ruskin College staff should they
move towards taking industrial action.
Mick Cash (General Secretary, RMT)
Michelle Stanistreet (General Secretary, NUJ)
Dr. Jo Grady (General Secretary, UCU)
Kevin Courtney (General Secretary, NEU)
Bob Monks (General Secretary, URTU)
Mark Serwotka (General Secretary, PCS)
Ian Lawrence (Chair of TUCG, and General Secretary, NAPO)
Matt Wrack (General Secretary, FBU)
Ronnie Draper (General Secretary, BFAWU)
 Steve Gillan (General Secretary, POA)

For updates please see Ruskin College UCU fb and twitter

Book Review: A Jewish Communist in Weimar Germany

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter #68 (Autumn 2019)]

A Jewish Communist in Weimar Germany:
The Life of Werner Scholem (1895-1940)
Ralf Hoffroge
Chicago: Haymarket, 2018
667pp ISBN 978-1608469963

This book provides an in-depth picture of Scholem’s personal and political life from 1919 to 1926, a period crucial to understanding the long-term impact of the revolutionary days of 1918-19 in Munich and Berlin on both the left and hard right in Germany, the isolation of the Russian Revolution and the roots of the KPD’s (German Communist Party’s) later sectarian – and catastrophic – contortions, but the author does not aim to draw out these connections.

Scholem is a figure rarely heard of in the UK. (That he fell out with the KPD in the direction of Trotskyism has not helped!) But this biography richly illustrates the contortions of the German revolutionary left in the first half of the 1920s. Despite the book’s title, the ‘Jewish’ aspect is brief. Scholem was originally a part of a Zionist youth group, Jung Juda, but he soon fell out with Zionism, criticising its ‘war objectives’. But displays of anti-Semitism were a regular event in the Reichstag where Scholem became a KPD deputy and which Scholem, unlike most of the KPD deputies, railed against, bringing out its class roots. He highlighted that the especial prejudice against Eastern European Jews, including by Western European Jews, was a matter of class. The SPD deputies, on the other hand, although not explicitly anti-Semitic, talked in code: of the ‘foreigner problem’ and not allowing more Jews into Germany.

Scholem joined the SPD’s youth organisation: ‘Workers Youth’. In part radicalised by the war, critical of the SPD for their ‘defensive’ pro-war position, sympathetic to the October/November Russian revolution, and a witness to the mass strikes and widespread street battles in Berlin, he - and many other young people - in 1917-18 joined the USPD (the Independent Social Democratic Party, a far more rooted, left-wing and activist organisation, including around anti-Semitism, than the SPD). The USPD then split, the majority, ghfee hundred thousand, including Scholem, going over to the KPD (founded in January 1919) and forming much of the KPD’s ‘left’. Scholem became the editor of the KPD paper, Rote Fahne, and then a member of the Prussian assembly.

After the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, Paul Levi briefly took over the KPD leadership. Against a background of the SPD getting more support and working class votes than the KPD, in early 1921, Levi favoured the ‘united front’ strategy, trying to attract Social Democratic workers, a position Scholem condemned, seeing it as opportunistic and likely to lapse into Social Democratic reformism.

The KPD, far from being rooted in the advanced working class, was already in historic convulsions. At the 1919 Party conference, Levi expelled the KPD’s left wing, whom Scholem strongly opposed for being ’anti-Bolshevik’, ‘anti-centralist’ and ‘syndicalist’. Heinrich Brandler, who had opposed Levi, became the new leader in February 1921. The crucial ‘March Action’ of 1921, a regional workers uprising, largely led by the KPD, was brutally crushed. This created a crisis in the KPD and the Communist International, encouraging a move away from ‘adventurism’ and towards the so called ‘united front’. Its main advocate was Ernst Meyer, the KPD’s parliamentary leader and one of the leaders of the ‘Conciliation’ faction. After this terrible defeat, what was needed, Meyer argued, was to raise workers’ daily grievances by making specific demands.

The KPD’s attempted and disastrous revolution of October 1923, the last throw of the dice to stop the USSR's isolation, was called off by Brandler (but not before Hamburg had ‘risen’). It was condemned by Scholem as ‘putschism’. Scholem then moved against Brandler.  Brandler, and 6,000 of his supporters, expelled in 1928/29, then set up the Communist Party Opposition, KPO, the Right Opposition.

In April 1924 Scholem became a KPD deputy in the Reichstag.  This is the point Scholem ‘joins’ the ‘Left Opposition’, along with Ruth Fischer (temporarily) and Arkadi Maslow, advocating a ‘revolutionary’ approach and action as opposed to a ‘united front’ with Social Democrats or trade unions.

Scholem became the ‘org’ man, the ‘party executioner’, insistent on party discipline and ‘Bolshevisation’. USSR’s isolation, was called off by Brandler (but not before Hamburg had ‘risen’) and condemned by Scholem. It was ‘putschism’.

In April 1924, Scholem became a KPD deputy. After the French took over the Ruhr in January 1923, the Left Opposition disagreed with the KPD leadership’s exploiting of anti-French sentiment and pandering to the dominant right wing, nationalist and fascist rhetoric. The KPD leadership saw its task even then as to appeal to members of the ultraright, rather than to defeat them.

But the Left Opposition’s position was defeated at the national Leipzig KPD Conference in late January, 1923, indicating their declining influence. In February, Scholem stated that there was no difference between German workers killed by the henchmen of French imperialism and the German unemployed murdered by fascists. A draft resolution prepared by Scholem in May 1923 criticised the KPD’s line of warning Ruhr workers not to fight the fascists. Scholem also condemned the KPD’s subsequent parliamentary regional alliances with the SPD, especially in Saxony: a workers government, he argued, had to come from below, not above. By April 1924, the minority: the ‘Zentralle’ (Fischer, Maslow and Scholem) became the majority.

But, amongst ever shifting alliances, the left leadership were ousted in 1925. (One reason was the declining membership: almost 300,000 in September 1923, about 100,000 in 1924.) As the ‘left’ squabbled and disintegrated, Thaelman took over as leader, condemning Scholem as a sectarian. Scholem was then removed from the Central Committee. After initiating the ‘Declaration of 700’ in solidarity with the Left Opposition and demanding more party democracy in the Soviet Union, Scholem (and other signatories) were expelled from the KPD on 5th November 1926, despite an appeal to Moscow.

Unfortunately the book does not focus much on Scholem’s increasing support of ‘Trotskyism’. In 1925, in line with the KPD leadership’s position, Scholem still saw the Trotskyist current as an anti- Bolshevist, right wing threat, only distancing himself from Stalin in March 1926 and demanding a return to true Leninism. The Leninbund, founded in April 1928 by Scholem amongst others, questioned the ongoing proletarian character of the October Revolution, considering the Soviet state to be a form of state capitalism and was critical of the position of ‘Socialism in One Country’. But the faction-ridden Leninbund soon dissolved, largely because of splits over whether to stand candidates against the KPD, which Scholem opposed. Although Scholem did not publically distance himself from the Soviet Union, in late January 1928, he publically sided with Trotsky.

Although the book does not go into detail, from September 1930, Scholem wrote for Trotskyist publications such as Permanente Revolution and, according to Ruth Fischer, corresponded with Trotsky. As early as 1922, Scholem was warning both the SPD and the KPD about underestimating the threat of a fascist dictatorship and repeatedly called for united action against the Freikorps, other right wing groups and ‘German fascists’ and supported ‘workers’ self-defence units’.

 From early on, the Nazis used him as a stereotype in their propaganda. He was arrested on 22nd April 1933, soon after the Reichstag fire in 1933. He ended up in Buchenwald in September 1938. Haffrogge asks whether the strong KPD underground there contributed to Scholem’s murder. Assigned quarry duties, he was taken off to one side by the SS guards and shot in July 1940.

Merilyn Moos

Scholem’s Stolperstein (literally ‘stumbling stone’ in Berlin. These concrete cubes with brass plates are embedded in the streets to commemorate victims of the Nazis.

Merilyn Moos is the daughter of anti-Nazi parents who fled Germany in 1933. She is the author of three published books, a semi-autobiographical novel: The Language of Silence, a biography of her father:  Beaten But Not Defeated: Siegfried Moos - A German anti-Nazi who settled in Britain, and an academic study Breaking the Silence: Voices of the British Children of Refugees from Nazism, as well as of numerous other articles. Her next book, co-written with Steve Cushion: Enemies of the Nazi state from within the working class movement, is due out early in 2020.

Comment: The history of Peterloo is still being written

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter #68 (Autumn 2019)]

The history of Peterloo is still being written 

The 200th anniversary of Peterloo in August saw a number of publications and commentaries about the event itself and its history. A Times editorial managed to dismiss modern interest in the matter as an invention of E. P. Thompson and Jeremy Corbyn, although later, having discovered the important role the Times reporter Byas played on 16 August 1819 it decided it was in fact still a rather significant event.

I would single out two books in particular. The first is the graphic novel Peterloo, Witnesses to a Massacre. Based on up to date research it tries to visualise in pictures the events surrounding Peterloo. It may be seen as a related project to Red Saunders’ Hidden montages which were displayed on central Manchester walls and the Central Library during the anniversary events. While no doubt many readers of this newsletter are immersed (as I am) in the printed word so much of modern culture is visual that these are important initiatives if the events of Peterloo are to be a continuing feature in popular memory. The best book however is Peterloo: The English Rising (OUP) by Robert Poole. Along with Katrina Navickas (and others) he has done a lot to remind us that, 200 years on, the history of Peterloo is still being written. Poole has looked carefully at the numbers of dead and injured on the day and provided a new and perhaps definitive understanding of who was involved there. The book also starts the process of defining what the impact of that August day 200 years ago was - work in which Poole is still engaged.

The anniversary rightly highlighted the important role that female reformers played at Peterloo and how they were specifically targeted by authority. It begins the importance process of understanding the politics and significance of the event beyond Henry Hunt and the Gentleman Leader. My personal interest is in the distances people walked and the time taken to be at Peterloo on that August Monday long before public transport or the car. While Kennington Common on Monday April 10 1848 saw Chartists march from across London with little or no attendance from outside of the capital, here people walked from what today would be called the Greater Manchester area. The 200th anniversary of Peterloo was a powerful reminder, among many other things, to historians that historical findings and judgements are often only provisional, and new research and new approaches can throw important new light on matters. That can be important historically and important for lessons learned in the present day too.

Keith Flett

Monday, 21 October 2019

LSHG seminar - David Edgerton 'Some reflections on the rise and fall of the British Nation'

Socialist History Seminar Autumn 2019

Monday October 28th 5.00pm 

David Edgerton, 'Some Reflections on the Rise and Fall of the British Nation', Room S 8.08, 8th Floor, Strand Building, Kings College, London.

Hosted by the London Socialist Historians Group - for more information please contact Keith Flett on the email above - no need to book in advance. 

Map of building:
A recent Guardian article by David Edgerton