Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Race, Class, 1619 and 1620

[From LSHG Newsletter No. 69 Spring 2020]

Race,  Class,  1619 and 1620

It has been little discussed in the UK but the New York Times 1619 project about the origins of modern America has sparked a massive debate in the US.

A summary is at the link below but there is a lot more to be said. Issues of race, racism, class and patriotism, progressive or not have been at the centre of the debate with well known radical and socialist historians critical of the project.

In the UK there is an important counterpoint around 1620 and the sailing of the Mayflower where issues of race and racism are also to the fore. The link is below

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/arch ive/2019/12/historians-clash-1619project/604093/ http://www.socialisthistorysociety.co.uk /?p=707

We hope to organise a roundtable discussion on the issues and the history later in 2020.

Black History in 2020

[From LSHG Newsletter No. 69 Spring 2020] 

Black History in 2020 

2020 is the 150th anniversary of the death of William Cuffay, the black leader of London Chartism in 1848. He was transported to Tasmania after a rigged trial but continued to be a labour movement activist in Australia to his death.

The LSHG plan to mark the anniversary and encourage others to do so.

Below is a letter that appeared in The Guardian (13 January 2020) from Marika Sherwood, who the LSHG have worked with regularly over many years. In the age of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump and a rising acceptability of racism black history is more important than ever.

The Black and Asian Studies Association began campaigning about this missing history almost 30 years ago (Black British history syllabus devised for diversity in schools, 9 January). We even met the then education minister, whose ignorance of this history was as profound as that of 99% of teachers. If we want to understand our “nation” we have to look at how multicultural/ethnic it has always been. Africans, as far as we know, arrived in large numbers as a regiment in the conquering Roman armies. Some settled here, and undoubtedly some would have fathered children by native women. Two fairly recent books on black people in Tudor Britain tell us about the increase in the black population. This, of course, grew as the trade in enslaved Africans increased, and again when freedom was granted to the enslaved in the colonies in 1833.

So we should be teaching about Africa prior to the arrival of Europeans, about the wars encouraged by the Europeans to obtain prisoners of war, who were declared slaves and sold to the Europeans, and about Africans here – their treatment, work, protests about slavery and contributions to society for so many years.

It is not only the school curriculum that has to be changed, but the training of teachers. And inservice training should be provided for all existing teachers as their ignorance, one could argue, is one reason why many black pupils do badly as school. Peter Fryer’s book Staying Power, still the best on this history, should be available in all school libraries.

Marika Sherwood
Research fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London

Comment: Labour leaders and labour history

[From LSHG Newsletter No. 69 Spring 2020] 

Labour leaders and labour history 

The current Labour leadership contest has highlighted an issue that is not brought up that much - Labour leaders and their knowledge of labour history.

Rebecca Long Bailey raised the far from uncontroversial idea of progressive patriotism, something that has been discussed on the left since at least the Falklands War. She did give an historical example of the American Civil War but the history of British workers’ attitudes to it is not a simple one.

Keir Starmer wrote a piece for the Guardian about making a case for moral socialism without managing even a nod to Harold Wilson’s phrase that Labour is a moral crusade or it is nothing (associated with the origins of War on Want). Starmer however also managed to tweet on the 165th anniversary of the birth of Eleanor Marx (16 January). His background makes it difficult to call his knowledge of labour history.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/j an/15/labour-socialism-values-election-economicmodel.

While Jeremy Corbyn, like Tony Benn, has an abiding interest in history he is not by any means an historian. One Labour leader who was definitely in that category was Tony Blair. A university librarian once told me that, before he was leader, Blair had to give a speech involving a mention of the Webbs. He had no idea who they were and turned up to borrow a book on them.

Blair however was the anti-history leader. If New Labour was to be really ‘new’ it could by definition keep on banging on about the past. Blair did go as far  though as to unveil the statue of Harold Wilson outside Huddersfield station.

Wilson himself operated in the framework of a slightly different Labour politics. He was not one to miss a Durham Miners’ Gala, or to call out Communists, or those like trade unionist John Prescott, who he thought were.

As a socialist historian I think its useful for Labour leaders to know something of Labour and labour history. Perhaps being leader should require a test on the matter. It’s probably too much to hope they’d learn from it but certainly a critical awareness of recent labour history and the way Labour has reacted to and handled electoral defeats in the past 50 years would not go amiss.

Keith Flett

Sunday, 9 February 2020

LSHG Seminar - Martin Hoyles on Ira Aldridge - 17 February

Dear Comrades,

We are resuming our seminar series at the Institute of Historical Research.

Details of the first seminar are here:

London Socialist Historians Seminar

Martin Hoyles, 'Ira Aldridge, black actor in Victorian London'. 

Monday 17th February, 5.30pm, Room 304, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet St, London WC1. 

Free without ticket. Details contact Keith Flett on address above

Comrades may recall a previous seminar from Martin Hoyles on William Cuffay, the black leader of London Chartism in 1848.

Friday, 7 February 2020

The Christopher Hill Memorial Lecture 2020

The Christopher Hill Memorial Lecture in London will take place on the evening of Thursday 27 February at the Swedenborg Hall, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, Holborn, WC1A 2TH at 6pm. I do hope you can join us. The evening will be chaired by Professor Penny Corfield
and the lecture will be given by Norah Carlin on the subject of her new book,
Regicide or Revolution, What Petitioners Wanted September 1648-February 1649
. The book is a fascinating examination of popular politics as the revolution reached its decisive moment.