Sunday, 3 May 2020

Neil Davidson

The London Socialist Historians Group was very sad to learn of the death of Neil Davidson (1957-2020), a socialist and trade union activist and Marxist historian and sociologist based in Edinburgh who worked at the University of Glasgow, whose work on the history of Scotland and Scottish nationalism, and wider theorisations and mediations on the nature of bourgeois revolution, the uneven and combined development of capitalism, neo-liberalism, the nature of the European Union, and the far right were thoughtful, important and powerful contributions to wider debates underway on the Left.  Our condolences to his family, friends, and comrades - RIP Neil.  
Comment by Keith Flett, LSHG Convenor
I was very sorry to learn of the death of Neil Davidson at 62. I’d known Neil for many years as a socialist and historian and its fair to say that he was amongst the earliest supporters and contributors to the work of the London Socialist Historians Group, albeit of course as one of our friends in the north.

He spoke at the 2010 conference on the vote. A synopsis is below and remains very relevant 10 years on. He also spoke at the 2006 conference on the 50th anniversary of the events of 1956 and indeed at the conference that led to the People’s History of Riots book (CSP).

It wasn’t just the writing though. He had a distinctive speaking style and presence that always made a paper by him an eagerly awaited occasion.

I had read his FB posts on being treated for a brain illness and one always hopes that matters will turn out well as treatment continues. Sadly this is far from always the case.

Neil leaves a substantial legacy as an inspiring speaker and an incisive historian as well as of course a great socialist and comrade.

Synopsis of paper given at the London Socialist Historians conference on the Vote: What Went Wrong? Held at the Institute of Historical Research on 27th February 2010

Neil Davidson ‘Social Neoliberalism, “Regimes of Consolidation” and the Assault on Representative Democracy, 1989-2008’

Neoliberals claim that the establishment of free market policies will automatically produce comparably beneficial effects in other areas of social life. Not only are these claims false, neoliberalism also exacerbates all the inherent evils which capitalism involves in all its incarnations. Consequently, so long as citizens are able to vote, and as long as they have political parties prepared to represent their interests, however inadequately, for which to vote, there is always the possibility that the neoliberal order might be undermined. Neoclassical solutions to this dilemma were twofold. The first was to ensure that only sympathetic politicians are in control of the state, if necessary by non-democratic means. The Chilean option is not however the preferred one, mainly because of the many inconveniences which military and still more fascist dictatorships tend to involve for bourgeoisies themselves. The recognition that formal democracy was desirable, but that substantive democracy was problematic, suggested a second solution, that economic activity should be removed as far as possible from the responsibility of politicians who might be expected to deploy it for electoral purposes. One of the key successes that neoliberalism has achieved for capital has therefore been to render inconceivable alternatives to the economic policies established by the initial regimes of reorientation–or at any rate, alternatives to their left. Debates now have the quality of a shadow play, an empty ritual in which trivial or superficial differences are emphasised in order to give an impression of real alternatives and justify the continuation of party competition. The increasing irrelevance of politics has given rise to several clear trends across the West, including increasing voter volatility and decreasing partisanship, indicating that many of those electors still involved casting their vote do so–appropriately enough–on a consumer model of political choice, where participation is informed by media-driven perceptions of which result will be to their immediate personal benefit. Unsurprisingly, the numbers prepared to carry out even this minimal level of activity are declining. Central to this shift were the “regimes of consolidation”, formally characterised by social or liberal democratic rhetoric, which were able to incorporate the rhetoric of social solidarity while maintaining and even extending the essential components of neoliberalism. This apparent supplementing of the naked laws of the market was originally marketed as a “third way” between traditional social democracy and neoliberalism, but is more accurately described as “social neo-liberalism”, since it involves not a synthesis of the two, but an adaptation of the former to the latter. Their capitulation represented the final stage in the normalisation of neoliberalism: the point at which it became accepted, not as a temporary aberration associated with the programme of a particular political party, but the framework within which politics would henceforth be conducted. It remains to be seen whether it can survive the renewed onset of economic crisis. (470 words)

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Jeremy Corbyn: the historical record. The most resilient of Labour Opposition leaders

Statement from the London Socialist Historians Group:
The UK General Election Gets Dirty – AN SIONNACH FIONN
The London Socialist Historians Group, which organises the socialist history seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in central London has said that Jeremy Corbyn, who steps down as Labour leader on 4th April, has been the most resilient of opposition Labour leaders from Keir Hardie in 1906 onwards.
Labour has had 18 leaders of whom only six have been Prime Minister, Ramsay Macdonald, Clem Attlee, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown of whom 4 were directly elected to Office.
The historians note that that the usual historical pattern has been for Tory Prime Ministers to remain in No.10 while Labour leaders come and go.
Corbyn faced three Tory leaders, David Cameron, Theresa May and finally Boris Johnson in his nearly 5 year stint at leader.
He was rivalled and some no doubt would argue surpassed by the Labour leader sometimes seen as his nemesis Tony Blair who as a Labour Prime Minister faced three Tory leaders himself, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard.
LSHG Convenor Dr Keith Flett said, of course you can sum up Labour leaders in various ways, including seats, votes and percentages of votes won at Elections and on the third of occasions when they have become Prime Minister their impact in Office. Tony Blair clearly has a place in the history books in these respects and perhaps for other reasons too, but Corbyn’s resilience in facing three Tory leaders in 5 years is also historically noteworthy.
For more info please contact Keith Flett at the address above.  

Thursday, 26 March 2020

London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter Index

London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter Index

The London Socialist Historians Group organises regular seminars and conferences and publishes a Newsletter three times a year, as well as other working papers and shorter pieces on our website.
The group was formed in 1993 to promote discussion of new socialist approaches to history. We are concerned to develop an understanding of the past from the point of view of the working class, exploring history from both 'above' and 'below'.  Because we are concerned with developing socialist approaches to history, we emphasise the discussion of work in progress and of recently-published work.  We are an open group, with members from outside of academia, as well as professional historians.  

All of the LSHG Newsletter past issues from 1997 onwards are now available on this website. To contribute short articles / essays/ book reviews etc for future issues of the Newsletter - and for more information on how to join and support the group in general - please contact our convenor Keith Flett at the address above.

69 (Spring 2020) - Keith Flett on Labour leaders and labour history; Merilyn Moos on 'History in the Mirror - How the Nazis rose to power'; Marika Sherwood on Black History in 2020

68 (Autumn 2019) - Keith Flett's final piece on Peterloo; Merilyn Moos on Raff Hoffroge's A Jewish Communist in Weimar Germany

67 (Summer 2019) - Keith Flett once again on Peterloo; Ian Birchall on The Blanqui Reader 

66 (Spring 2019) - Keith Flett on Peterloo at 200 and Socialist History in 2019; Ian Birchall reviews Gareth Dale's biography of Karl Polanyi and Manus McGrogan's work on the French far left and 1968

65 (Autumn 2018) - featuring Keith Flett on 1968, John Newsinger reviewing a work on evangelical Christians in Trump's America and a review by Christian Hogsbjerg of Martin Empson's popular work on rural class struggles in England, 'Kill All the Gentlemen'.  There is also notice of a new book edited by Michael Rosen, Workers' Tales.

64 (Summer 2018)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.

63 (Spring 2018) - with a comment piece by Keith Flett on the royal wedding, and a book review of Origins of Collective Decision Making by Andy Blunden which discusses the Chartists' view of democracy.  Other pieces include an obituary of William Pelz, and book reviews by Ian Birchall and Merilyn Moos.

62 (Autumn 2017) -  commentary on Marx's Capital at 150 years, and book reviews by Ian Birchall of Tom O' Lincoln's memoir, Keith Flett on Michael Rosen's memoir and Merilyn Moos on A Political Family by John Green.

61 (Summer 2017) - It leads with Keith Flett recalling the 1997 General Election on its twentieth anniversary, and noting that a new exhibition about the election is on at People's History Museum in Manchester. Last month saw the 40th anniversary of 'The Battle of Wood Green' when anti-fascists including then local councillor Jeremy Corbyn (whatever happened to him?) mobilised against the Nazi National Front and Flett also registers this anniversary and muses on the issues arising from recording such events for the historical record - see here. Ian Birchall also contributes a memoir about his experiences of attending a grammar school in Bradford in light of Theresa May's love for them - see here, while also reviewing two books relating to timely and urgent themes of anti-racism, anti-fascism and French history - The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville and The Disappearances of Emile Zola by Michael Rosen

60 (Spring 2017) Merilyn Moos on Refugees: Then and Now, and Keith Flett on historians and the world of post-truth, Raphael Samuel and Daniel Rachel's new book about Rock Against Racism and Red Wedge, Walls Come Tumbling Down -

59 (Autumn 2016) - 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. 

58 (Summer 2016) - Keith Flett on History Workshop at Forty; Lord Asa Briggs and the future of labour history and Ian Birchall on Sheila Lahr's autobiography, Yealm.

57 (Spring 2016) - Keith Flett on histories of the present and the centenary of conscription; Ian Birchall on a special issue of Revolutionary History on Clara Zetkin and reviews a new volume on the 1926 General Strike.

56 (Autumn 2015) - Keith Flett on Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Hardie; Ian Birchall reviews Celia Hughes's Young Lives on the Left and pens an obituary of Bel Druce; a review of Breaking the Silence by Merilyn Moos and Keith Flett on a biography of Angela Gradwell Tuckett;

55 (Summer 2015) - Includes Keith Flett on Coalition governments and his review of Dorothy Thompson's The Dignity of Chartism; and Ian Birchall's obituary of Jim Cronin.

54 (Spring 2015) - Keith Flett on histories of the present; Sheila Cohen completes her review of Birchall's biography of Cliff, and Birchall responds; Ian Birchall reviews The Eugene V Debs Reader (edited by William Pelz)and Flett writes on William Cuffay and the Medway by-election; and reviews Martin Hoyles's work on Cugoano against slavery.

53 (Autumn 2014): Keith Flett on the anti-war movement in 1914; Merilyn Moos on the history of MI5; Sheila Cohen on Ian Birchall's biography of Tony Cliff (part II);

52 (Summer 2014) - Includes Keith Flett on Tony Benn,  The Lawn Road Flats by David Burke and a memoir by Stephen Mann, Sheila Cohen writes on Birchall's review of Tony Cliff, Ian Birchall writes on on Workers' Internationalism and mutinies in the British Army during the First World War.  

51 (Spring 2014) - Features discussion of the First World War, Sasha Simic writes on Doctor Who at 50, plus reviews of recent Australian radical history, Dominic Sandbrook, and a discussion of The Making of the English Working Class

50 (Autumn 2013) - Featuring Keith Flett on the 1913 Dublin Lock Out and Neil Faulkner's A Marxist History of the World, Ian Birchall on the importance of socialist history and a review of James Heartfield's Unpatriotic History of World War II, Steve Cushion on the continuing debate around how socialists should characterise and remember that war, and an obituary of Terry Burton

49 (Summer 2013) -  leads with a comment piece by Keith Flett on Michael Gove's new planned school history curriculum, a curriculum which will not see any place for example for the likes of British working class history as for example outlined in Ian Birchall's review of a study of Blaydon Races, nor the Black British Rebels brought to life in a work by Hassan Mahamdallie - let alone Haitian revolutionaries such as Toussaint Louverture, the subject of a rediscovered play by the Trinidadian historian C.L.R. James which is reviewed by Gaverne Bennett. School students will I am sure however be hearing a lot about the wonders of British parliamentary democracy, so Brian Roper's recent Marxist interpretation of the rise of democracy - also reviewed in the Newsletter - is timely.

48 (Spring 2013): includes a comment piece on the importance of archives, the continuation of debates around the Second World War with a contribution by Steve Cushion, a reply by Ian Birchall to his critics on the subject of Bert Ramelson and Harry Ratner once again on the critical role of human agency in history.  There are also book reviews relating to militant anti-fascism in Britain and the life and work of Gerrard Winstanley.

[46]47 (Autumn 2012):  contents include Keith Flett on the new refurbished William Morris Gallery, Ian Birchall's review of Donny Gluckstein's A People's History of the Second World War (with a response by the author), more discussion around Bert Ramelson, the CPGB and CND, and reviews of Dave Renton's Lives; Running and Michael Wayne's Marx's Das Kapital for Beginners

45 (Summer 2012)
- highlights include a renewal of the debate over 1914 and the role of the individual in history between Harry Ratner and Neil Faulkner, Ian Birchall on the legendary Communist Party industrial organiser Bert Ramelson and Keith Flett on Charles Dickens and Charles Bradlaugh (reviewing Deborah Lavin's work). 

44 (Spring 2012): - contents include Keith Flett on Occupy, David Renton on Seb Coe, Stan Newens on Ray Challinor.

43 (Autumn 2011):  highlights include a debate about David Starkey, an article on the Liverpool General Transport Strike of 1911, and a book review of Tom O'Lincoln's Australia's Pacific War.

42 (Summer 2011): Contents include Keith Flett on 'Monarchy and Old Corruption', Ian Birchall on Ray Challinor and the 1965 Courtauld Strike and Tim Evans on Llanelli 1911 

41 (Spring 2011): Keith Flett on the London mob and the London crowd; the Con-Dem deal; and also a piece on William Cuffay; Ben Lewis on Zinoviev at Halle in 1920; Ian Birchall on Tony Judt; Jim Grundy on Nottinghamshire cricket; and an archive piece on the 1910 Hucknall by-election

40 (Autumn 2010): Keith Flett on Tony Barnsley's biography of Mary McCarthur and Tony Judt; Tim Evans again on Llanelli 1911;

39 (Summer 2010): Tim Evans on Llanelli 1911; Keith Flett on martyrs and also his review of Christopher Hitchens's autobiography;

38 (Summer 2010):  Keith Flett on Old and New Corruption; and also on the People's History Museum as a resource; Ian Birchall on Robert Service's biography of Leon Trotsky and archives of the British far leftAlan Woodward on Dave Chapple's history of George Massey and the Bristol Post Workers

37 (Spring 2010); Keith Flett on writing the history of the noughties and his review on a 19th century photography exhibition at the British Library; Ian Birchall on his work in progress writing the biography of Tony Cliff;

36 (Autumn 2009): Bob Dent on Hungary in 1930; Keith Flett's obituary of John Saville; Dave Renton on Ian Goodyer's cultural history of Rock Against Racism; a review of Janine Booth's history of Poplarism;

35 (Summer 2009): Keith Flett on John Green's biography of Engels; and Flett on 'British Jobs for British Workers', the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the 1984 Miners' Strike; Michel Aurigny on Robespierre and Babeuf; Ian Birchall reviews Life on the Track by Frank Henderson; Alan Woodward on Plebs and independent working class education

34 (Spring 2009): Keith Flett on Barack Obama and John Charlton's Hidden Chains about slavery in the North East; Ian Birchall on Richard Greeman's Beware of Vegetarian Sharks; Richard Ascough on The Devil's Whore (TV); Carlo Morelli on Jute in Dundee; Neil Faulkner responds to Harry Ratner on the role of the individual in Britain at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914;

33 (Autumn 2008): Keith Flett on 'No Return to Boom and Bust'; on Paul Pickering's biography of Feargus O'Connor; on Alan Woodward's The NHS is 60; Tom Machell on The Flying Pickets of 1972; Ian Birchall on Ralph Darlington's Syndicalism and the Transition to Communism; Nik Howard on sources of socialism in Japan;

32 (July 2008) - Ian Birchall: 'Socialism and Freedom'

31 (Summer 2008): Polemic by David Renton on the commercialisation of cricket, and by Harry Ratner on Britain's entry into the 1914-18 war and the role of individuals; an article by Megan Davies and Keith Flett on CND; research reports by Gerd-Rainer Horn on the events of 1968 and by Julienne Ford on the history of now; reviews by John Burton of Pete Frame, The Restless Generation and by Keith Flett of Di Parkin, 60 Years of Struggle: the History of Betteshanger Colliery; and an obituary of Ruth Frow.

30 (Spring 2008): Reviews of Western Marxism and the Soviet Union by Marcel van der Linden, New Approaches to Socialist History, Joan Cowell's biography of Joseph Cowen [currently missing] and The Failure of a Dream by Gidon Cohen, reports of seminars and conferences and an article by Martin Spence on socialist local history.

29 (Autumn 2007): Reviews by Keith Flett of Alistair Campbell's diaries, by Ian Birchall of 1956 and All That, the book that came out of the LSHG conference on 1956, by Dominic Alexander of Chris Wickham's Framing the Early Middle Ages, by Keith Flett of Malcolm Chase's Chartism: A New Historyand by David Renton of Harry Ratner's A Socialist at War, as well as a report by Dougal McNeill on his research into war literature.