Saturday, 25 September 2021

Socialist History Society seminars - Egyptian workers / GDH Cole

 Socialist History Society Meetings – on-line via Zoom

The Workers’ Movement and Revolution in Egypt since 1919

The meeting is free, but you must register in advance here:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEkfuipqD8rH9dQs8-MgbzQ_HADsbrSX-zf

Thursday 14th October, 6:30pm

Speaker Anne Alexander

Anne Alexander is the co-author, with Mostafa Bassiouny, of Bread, Freedom, Social Justice: Workers and the Egyptian Revolution (Zed, 2014). She is a founder member of MENA Solidarity Network, the co-editor of Middle East Solidarity and a member of the University and College Union (UCU).

http://www.socialisthistorysociety.co.uk/?p=1227

‘G.D.H. Cole: A Libertarian Trapped in the Labour Party’

Socialist History Society Meeting – on-line via Zoom
The meeting is free, but you must register in advance here:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZclcuuqrzMqH9zH6MQ4WwengfRZmH14X7lF

Thursday 11 November 2021 , 6.30pm start

A talk by David Goodway

G.D.H. Cole (1889-1959) declared forcefully at the end of his life that he was ‘neither a Communist nor a Social Democrat…but something…essentially different from both’. He had been a leading Guild Socialist at the time of World War One and that, he explained, was what he remained. Cole repeatedly described himself as ‘a libertarian’. The current volume reconstitutes Studi sul Socialismo, a collection of late articles which supposedly appeared in Italy in 1959 but never did. David Goodway has reverted to the preferred title rather than the publisher’s ‘Studies in Socialism’.

The talk will be followed by a discussion.

David Goodway is the editor of Towards a Libertarian Socialism, by G D H Cole, which is published by AK Press. The title of our talk comes from that of David’s introduction to this edition of Cole’s book.

David’s main works are London Chartism, 1838–1848 (1982) and Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow: Left-Libertarian Thought and British Writers from William Morris to Colin Ward (2006, 2nd edition 2012). In addition, David is the editor of collections of writings by Herbert Read, Alex Comfort, John Cowper Powys and Emma Goldman, Nicolas Walter and Maurice Brinton (Chris Pallis).

He is also author of The Real History of Chartism: or eight fallacies about the Chartist movement (SHS OP, 2013) and editor of George Julian Harney, The Chartists were Right: selections from the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, 1890-97 (2014).

http://www.socialisthistorysociety.co.uk/?p=1240


Monday, 20 September 2021

London Socialist Historians Group seminars Autumn 2021

London Socialist Historians Seminars. Autumn Term 2021: 

Seminars will be on Zoom - register via the links below in advance - thanks. 

From Reclaiming Our History to 1917 & the Black Atlantic, Cato St 1820 & Anti-Nazi Exiles 1933-1945

Monday Oct 4th 5.30pm Marika Sherwood - ''George Orwell told us that ‘the most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their own history’. What has been obliterated from ‘our’ history here in the UK and in what used to be our colonies?''

Register for the seminar here:

https://www.history.ac.uk/node/8133

Monday Oct 18th 5.30pm 'Book launch - The Red and Black: The Russian Revolution and the Black Atlantic' (edited by David Featherstone and Christian Hogsbjerg) - with speakers including Winston James and Olga Panova and the editors

Register for the seminar here:

https://www.history.ac.uk/events/red-and-black-russian-revolution-and-black-atlantic

Monday Nov 1st 5.30pm Judy Meewezen 'Turtle Soup and Cato Street 1820'

Register for the seminar here: 

https://www.history.ac.uk/events/turtle-soup-and-cato-street-1820

Monday Nov 15th 5.30pm Merilyn Moos 'Anti-Nazi Exiles 1933-1945'

Register for the seminar here:

https://www.history.ac.uk/events/anti-nazi-germans-1933-45

All meetings will be on Zoom again for the autumn term. A link to register and join will be circulated before each seminar


Thursday, 9 September 2021

Dissenting Traditions: Essays on Bryan D. Palmer, Marxism, and History

 

Book announcement

Sean Carleton, Ted McCoy and Julia Smith, eds, Dissenting Traditions: Essays on Bryan D. Palmer, Marxism, and History (Edmonton: Canadian Committee on Labour History and AU Press, 2021). Available on open access at: https://read.aupress.ca/projects/dissenting-traditions

The work of Bryan D. Palmer, one of North America’s leading historians, has influenced the fields of labour history, social history, discourse analysis, communist history, and Canadian history, as well as the theoretical frameworks surrounding them. Palmer’s work reveals a life dedicated to dissent and the difficult task of imagining alternatives by understanding the past in all of its contradictions, victories, and failures.

Dissenting Traditions gathers Palmer’s contemporaries, students, and sometimes critics to examine and expand on the topics and themes that have defined Palmer’s career, from labour history to Marxism and communist politics. Paying attention to Palmer’s participation in key debates, contributors demonstrate that class analysis, labour history, building institutions, and engaging the public are vital for social change. In this moment of increasing precarity and growing class inequality, Palmer’s politically engaged scholarship offers a useful roadmap for scholars and activists alike and underlines the importance of working-class history.

Introduction

  Sean Carleton, Ted McCoy and Julia Smith

 

Part I. Labour

1. Bryan D. Palmer, Labour Historian

  Alvin Finkel

2. Bryan D. Palmer, Social Historian

  Ted McCoy

3. Labour History’s Present: An Account of Labour/Le Travail Under Bryan D. Palmer

  Kirk Niergarth

 

Part II. Experience, Discourse, Class

4. Bryan D. Palmer and E. P. Thompson

  Nicholas Rogers

*5. On Polemics and Provocations: Bryan D. Palmer vs. Liberal Anti-Marxists

  Chad Pearson

6. Bryan Douglas Palmer, Edward Palmer Thompson, John le Carré (and Me): Workers, Spies, and Spying, Past and Present

  Gregory S. Kealey

 

Part III. Politics

7. Palmer’s Politics: Discovering the Past and the Future of Class Struggle

  Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin

8. The Hippopotamus and the Giraffe: Bolshevism, Stalinism, and American and British Communism in the 1920s

  John McIlroy and Alan Campbell

9. The June Days of 2013 in Brazil and the Persistence of Top-Down Histories

  Sean Purdy

10. Old Positions/New Directions: Strategies for Rebuilding Canadian Working-Class History

  Sean Carleton and Julia Smith

 

Afterword: Rude Awakenings

  Bryan D. Palmer

Selected Works of Bryan D. Palmer

Monday, 6 September 2021

Radical St Pancras Walk, Saturday 18 September

 Radical St Pancras Walk, Saturday 18 September -

meet 2pm by the Newton statue at the British Library

St Pancras has a radical history that includes William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Percy Byshe Shelley and many others. Both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels lived in the borough. Marx once applied for a job at Kings Cross station - which he didn't get because no-one could read his hand writing.

On the day of the FA Cup Final of 1908 militant suffragettes leafleted the fans as they arrived at St Pancras and Kings Cross stations (Wolves beat Newcastle 3:1). There were reports of crowds of fans marching to Wembley shouting 'Votes for Women!'

In the 1920s the council supported the building of good quality low cost housing. The Ossulston Estate was modelled on the housing of Red Vienna. In the 1950s, John Lawrence who had been a Trotskyist in the 1940s, became the leader of the majority Labour group on the council. In 1958 he caused delight by giving the council workers the day off for May Day - and infuriated the right by raising the Red Flag on the town hall. In 1960 a well supported rent strike - in protest at rent rises and severe housing shortages - led to bailiff actions. Two days of series rioting followed which was met with mounted police charges and a curfew.

Today the area is undergoing yet more change. Google has its London headquarters there. A company full of secrets and anti-union attitudes. Can tech workers - currently often atomised and unorganized - learn from the experiences of the railway workers who so much shaped this place?

This will be a circular walk of about 3 - 4 miles which will take about 2 - 3 hours.


The walk is free. To find out more, please contact Danny B at

https://commodityfetishism.com/contact/

 https://commodityfetishism.com/contact/

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

CfP: Socialism in the English-speaking Caribbean

Socialism in the English-Speaking Caribbean

Call for Papers

Organised workers’ movements first appeared as a significant social force in the British Caribbean Region Colonies before the Second World War. Anticolonial movements began to gather momentum in the region around the same time. Socialists and socialist ideas played a significant part in both movements, particularly as they developed and began to see political success in the post-war era. For the most part, these Caribbean socialisms developed organically within their societies, and both their organisational forms and their political ideas often defied the neat categorisations familiar from European socialism: revolutionary or reformist, communist or social-democratic and so on.

To explore the commonalities and differences among the socialisms of the English-speaking Caribbean, their origins, development and achievements, The Socialist History Society, The Institute of Commonwealth Studies and The Society for Caribbean Studies will be holding a series of online research seminars with a view to publishing selected papers from the seminars in the journal.
We are inviting researchers on the history of Caribbean socialist, labour and anticolonial movements to submit proposals for papers on any aspects of this history. Topics of interest may include, but are not limited to:

    • The early influence and impact of socialist ideas in the region in the nineteenth century
    • The relationship of early Caribbean socialists with socialists in Britain, the US and elsewhere
    • The impact of the Russian Revolution and the Communist International
    • Garveyism, anticolonialism and socialism
    • The Labour Rebellions of the inter-war period
    • Women and Caribbean socialism
    • The Cold War and anti-communism
    • The Caribbean New Left and Black Power movements
    • The Grenada Revolution and its legacy
    • Leaders and thinkers of Caribbean socialism
    • Race, ethnicity and socialist movements
    • Religion and socialist politics

We are seeking papers of 5,000 to 10,000 words to be presented at the seminars. Presentations themselves will be expected to last no more than 20 minutes. 

Please submit proposals of no more than 500 words to the organisers Steve Cushion, Christian Høgsbjerg and Michael Mahadeo on info@socialisthistorysociety.co.uk by 15th November 2021. Accepted proposals will be presented at one or more online evening seminars in the early part of next year (dates to be agreed). 

Authors of those papers selected for publication will be invited to revise them for a special issue of Socialist History.



Friday, 30 July 2021

Merilyn Moos - three e-books on anti-Nazi history

Three e-books by Merilyn Moos, co-author with Steve Cushion of Anti-Nazi Germans, celebrating the lives and struggles of left-wing Germans who fought the Nazis available here


Anti-Nazi ExilesGerman Socialists in Britain and their Shifting Alliances 1933-1945
German Anti-Nazis and the British EmpireThe Special Operations Executive, Deserters from the German Army and Partisan Movements in Occupied Europe
Hans JahnBiography of an Anti-Nazi Trade Unionist



Tuesday, 27 July 2021

London Socialist Historian Group seminars - a review and some dates for your diaries

What a long, strange trip it’s been. 

An academic year of socialist history seminars on Zoom. A year of socialist history seminars at the Institute of Historical Research is complete. Far from meeting in Room 304 at the IHR in Senate House in Bloomsbury, they were all done virtually on Zoom. 

Details of the seminars are below. Special thanks are due to the speakers who joined us on Zoom from Australia and Ghana. Suffice to say this would not otherwise have happened. Attendances too were hugely up, edging towards 100 for most seminars as opposed to the 15-30 that would be the usual in-person attendance. We probably had more and varied contributions from those attending than in-person seminars often get, including one made from a London bus, which would definitely not have happened previously. We will be continuing on Zoom at least for the autumn term 2021/22. Look out for provisional details. 

List of London Socialist Historians Seminars held in 2020/21:

 12 October 2020: Rhys Williams, Tom Mann and Australia: 1902 to 1909

 9 November 2020: Mark Hailwood, ‘Between 5 and 6 of the clock’: Time-telling, Time-use and Timediscipline in Pre-industrial England’ 

7 December 2020: Keith Flett, 150 years since the death of William Cuffay black leader of London Chartism in 1848. Has he been ignored by socialist historians? 

25 January 2021: Merilyn Moos and Steve Cushion, German working class resistance to the Nazis 

22 February 2021: John Newsinger, Trump and the Christian Right: A Dark Side of American Exceptionalism 

15 March 2021: Eibhlín Ní Chléirigh, Asking for the Moon: An investigation of memory and hope in activist movements 

26 April 2021: Stella Dadzie A Kick In The Belly, on women, resistance and slavery. 

24 May 2021: Simon Hannah, The Labour Parliament of 1854. 

London Socialist Historians Seminars. Autumn Term 2021: 

Seminars will be on Zoom. Details to follow nearer the time. 

Monday 4 October, 5.30pm, Marika Sherwood, ‘The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their own history’ (George Orwell). What has been obliterated from ‘our’ history here in the UK and in what used to be our colonies? 

Monday 18 October, 5.30pm - Book Launch: The Red and the Black: The Russian Revolution and the Black Atlantic

Monday 1 November 5.30pm Judy Meewezen, Turtle Soup & Cato St 

Monday Nov 15th 5.30pm Merilyn Moos Anti-Nazi Exiles 1933-1945


The Newsletter

 Letters, articles, criticisms and contributions to debate are most welcome. 

Deadline for the next issue is 1 September 2021.  Please contact Keith Flett at the address above for more information.  

Geffrye Must Fall

Museum of the Home reopens: Statue of slaver Geffrye remains in place 


The Museum of the Home (@MuseumoftheHome) in Hackney, London has re-opened after a lengthy closure for refurbishment. Some important and interesting changes have been made. One change that hasn’t been made is to remove the statue of slave trader Robert Geffrye (1613-1703) that is in a central place at the old front of the museum. 

When the Black Lives Matter movement resurged after the murder of George Floyd a year ago there was a consultation, jointly with Hackney Council, on whether the statue should be moved. 71% of the 2,000 or so local respondents said it should be. This was blocked by Ministers Dowden and Jenrick.

 This move reflects the frankly weird ideological obsessions of the present Government. Robert Geffrye funded the almshouses in which the museum, much later from 1914, came to be housed. He is absolutely nothing to do with it and there is no historical reason for his statue to be there (as opposed to elsewhere nearby). 

Indeed the unlikely source of the Daily Telegraph (11th June) has reported that Museum staff feel the statue could be better represented and explained if it was moved from its current central position to the area nearby where Geffrye is actually buried. 

The Museum has made some changes to reflect the area in which its based better. There is a new exhibition of a ‘West Indian sitting room’ from 1976 (though this might be more frequently be defined by area in 2021- i.e Jamaican, Trindadian..). 

There is a also a new film: https://www.museu mofthehome.org.uk /what-son/exhibitions-andinstallations/waiting -for-myself-toappear/ 

Stand Up To Racism (including local MP Diane Abbott, pictured) and others continue to protest. Keep in mind though that the museum staff are professionals and trade unionists. The Tory decision on Geffrye is ‘above their pay grade’. 

Keith Flett

George Osborne, the British Museum and the Culture Wars

George Osborne, Bullingdon Club member, austerity Chancellor: Will he fight the Culture War at the British Museum? 

George Osborne has been appointed to the Chair of the Trustees of the British Museum from October replacing the FT’s Richard Lambert. Osborne has had quite a number of very well paid sinecures since he stepped down as an MP in 2017 as this Guardian report notes: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2021/jun/24/exchancellor-george-osborne-appointed-chair-british-museum 

When he was Chancellor his 2010 Budget reduced funding for Museums by 15%. The BM’s recent controversial partnership with BP which has attracted protests was justified on the basis of the need to raise funds. 

Osborne claims he has always loved the BM. While his appointment certainly owes a good deal more to the chumocracy than the meritocracy he does have a 2:1 in modern history from Oxford. It is not the ideal historical perspective for the BM which tends to deal in not-so-modern history (though far from exclusively so) but it should mean he has some general appreciation of some of the historical issues the BM faces. 

Professor Dan Hicks and others have raised the question of why the BM has retained artefacts which were istolen or plundered from other countries during the imperial era. The ‘Elgin’ Marbles are the most well known of these artefacts but there are many others. Prof. Hicks has argued that while Osborne’s past is well-known we can’t be certain whether he will back Oliver Dowden’s Culture Wars approach: 

https://elephant.art/does-george-osborne-at-the-britishmuseum-signal-a-devastating-blow-to-the-arts-25062021/ 

He may have a point. Osborne after all was a neo-liberal Chancellor in a Tory Government in some ways different to the current one. It did not for example promote culture wars. As a nineteenth century labour and socialist historian the battle in my field is to get things retained in museums at all and it’s about trying to get statues of significant figures put up not taken down or moved. 

At the same time the London Socialist Historians Group has always linked academic research with political activism, and there is a keen interest in understanding more about Britain’s imperial past and making sure that the history counts in respect of modern day anti-racist and anti-imperialist politics. Hicks argues that the mood music across Europe, reflected now in Scotland, is to reflect anti-racism and to look carefully at what is retained and what is returned in respect of museum holdings. He also suggests that Osborne is aware of that and could bypass Dowden’s culture wars. We’ll see.

Keith Flett

Book Reviews: Unholy / The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump

 [From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 73 (Summer 2021)]



Unholy: How White Christian Nationalists Powered the Trump Presidency, and the Devastating Legacy They Left Behind

Sarah Posner

ISBN 978-1984820443

Random House,

 New York 2021 

368pp Paperback




The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump

Ed. Ronald J. Sider

978-1725271784 

Cascade Books,

 Eugene, Oregon 2020 

252pp Paperback 


The fact that Donald Trump was only elected President in 2016 (despite losing the popular vote) with the support of four out of every five white evangelical Christians who made up a third of his electoral support is quite well-known. But how has that support held up and how important were their votes in boosting his total in the 2020 election to the second largest vote for a Presidential candidate in US history. 

In 1984, Ronald Reagan polled over 54 million votes, in 2004 George W Bush polled over 62 million votes and in 2008 Barack Obama polled over 69 million. Donald Trump’s losing vote in 2020 was over 74 million, an astonishing total, and once again something like four out of every five white evangelical Christians voted for him. And, moreover, many evangelical pastors have taken up the claim that the election was stolen. 

Indeed, at the Trump rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol on 6 January 2021 proceedings were opened with a prayer from Trump’s spiritual adviser, Paula White, and many of those actually taking part in the attack were devout Christians convinced they were participating in a crusade to save America from Satanic secularism. Most of their pastors, it has to be said, subsequently condemned the violence, many of them blaming it on Antifa. 

This is so outside the experience of people in Britain, both Christians and non-Christians alike, that it is difficult to get to grips with, to comprehend: in the most advanced country in the world, millions of people believe in miracles as an everyday phenomenon, see great wealth as a blessing from God, and regard the country as in imminent danger of a Satanic takeover, a takeover which they believe will lead to the outlawing of Christianity and which will inevitably provoke God’s wrath. There is a long history of natural disasters being ascribed to a vengeful God punishing the country for tolerating abortion, homosexuality and other sins. Hurricane Katrina, for example, was variously blamed on a planned gay rights march in New Orleans or on the city being the birth place of Ellen Degeneres. 

Incredible as it might seem, for many people divine retribution is a real fear, something that will happen unless they do something about it and that something was re-electing Donald Trump as President. A good starting point for understanding this extraordinary situation, how it came about and its political implications is Sarah Posner’s new book, Unholy

Posner begins by recalling how sceptical she had been when Trump first announced his candidacy in June 2015. His constituency seemed to be the alt-right, appealing to them with his ‘cruel nativism and casual racism’. The fact that he ‘did not even try to tell a personal salvation story’ or display even ‘the most rudimentary Bible knowledge’ seemed to rule him out as the candidate of the Christian right, already a powerful force within the Republican Party. What she describes as her ‘aha’ moment came when she realised ‘that Trump was the strongman the Christian right had been waiting for’. While the Christian right might on the surface seem to be all about faith and values, its ‘real driving force was not religion but grievances over school desegregation, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, affirmative action and more’. Abortion should be in there as well of course. 

They saw Trump as someone who was not interested in compromise, but who would fight their corner, would save them ‘from the excesses of liberalism’. And under Trump, the Christian right became, for a while at least, ‘the most influential demographic in America’. For the Christian right, Trump was ‘God’s Strongman’. 

One thing she finds amazing is that even though Trump has had innumerable meetings with what John Fea has described as his ‘court evangelicals’, those pastors who will lay hands on him and bless him for the camera, ‘he hasn’t made more progress in speaking their evangelical language’. She puts this down to him being ‘a slow learner…a remedial student’. This is not altogether convincing. The fact is that Trump soon realised that to get and to hold onto their support, he only had to go through the motions of believing, holding up a Bible, for example, because their support, as she herself points out, was not really about religion. 

As she insists though, one man was crucial to reassuring the Christian right that Trump was to be relied on and that man was Vice President Mike Pence. He was his ‘Christian right seal of approval’. And, of course, Pence was crucial to filling the administration with stalwarts from the Christian right. Of particular interest is Posner’s discussion of the altright and its relations with the Christian right. She writes of how Steve Bannon was well aware that the alt-right was ‘too small to succeed electorally. That is why, he said, he aimed his film Torchbearer at another audience: conservative evangelicals and Catholics’. As far as Bannon was concerned, the alt-right ‘would be nowhere as a political movement without religious conservatives’. 

What Trump did was succeed in bringing the alt-right and the religious right together. A good demonstration of this was provided by the Charlottesville episode in August 2017. Here Trump performed what she describes as his ‘ongoing rhetorical dance with the altright’, reluctantly distancing himself but with a nod and a wink, but more astonishingly Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board endorsed his stand with only one member resigning: the African-American pastor, A R Bernard of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn [She corrects my mistaken belief that there were no resignations here]. This was in stark contrast to the protest resignations from his various business boards that led to their collapse. Those evangelical pastors who objected to the racism and fascism of the alt-right and urged some disassociation from them were marginalised. 

One other interesting aspect of the US alt-right that Posner reveals that was certainly new to this reader was their admiration for Enoch Powell! Posner is particularly interesting and informative on these people. 

Posner identifies the Republican operative Paul Weyrich as being historically ‘the most important architect of the New Right and the religious right’ with Mike Pence claiming him as both ‘a mentor and friend’. In 1973 he co-founded the rightwing think tank the Heritage Foundation, initially financed by the Coors family but quickly expanding its billionaire base. Today it has an annual income of $80 million. Weyrich saw white evangelical Christians as a political force just waiting to be mobilised behind the brand of hard right populism that he championed and in 1979 he, along with Jerry Falwell, had founded the Moral Majority, the first major Christian right political movement. 

Weyrich came from a Catholic background but had embraced the breakaway eastern rite Catholic Church because, in his opinion, Rome was becoming too liberal. He was always concerned about abortion and complained that the evangelicals did not take the issue seriously. As he pointed out, on one occasion, in 1970 Billy Graham had actually said that nowhere did the Bible even mention abortion! Weyrich always argued that this was an issue that the evangelical Christian right could mobilise around, but he was also absolutely frank in admitting that it was not this moral cause that brought the movement into existence. 

The great issue that provoked the likes of Jerry Falwell into political activity was opposition to the civil rights movement and the desegregation of schools. Today the Christian right itself claims that abortion was the issue that called it into being, but this is a myth. The Christian right came into existence in response to the desegregation of schools and the denial of tax relief to the hundreds of segregated Christian schools that had been set up in response across the South and West. Falwell himself ran a whites-only church (he had George Wallace speak to his congregation on one occasion) and had established a whites-only Christian school.

 In fact Falwell did not really show any interest in abortion as an issue until the end of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, until after the Moral Majority had been founded. As Posner points out, looking back on this period, Weyrich often complained of the difficulty he had getting abortion on the Christian right’s agenda.  Today, of course, no evangelical gathering takes place without a condemnation of the contemporary ‘Holocaust’ that is abortion, every year murdering millions of children, something that God will surely punish.

One of the most impressive features of Unholy is its exploration of alt-right and Christian right internationalism. Posner does not dwell on evangelical support for and involvement in Ronald Reagan’s murderous policies in South America, but instead focuses extremely productively, it has to be said, on more recent connections. The Viktor Orban regime in Hungary is regarded as in many ways showing the way forward.

There is also Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s ‘fascist president’, who speaks the same language as the US Christian right. When he visited the White House in March 2019, he had a meeting with evangelical pastors, led by Pat Robertson, who anointed him in the name of the Holy Spirit. Robertson called on God to ‘uphold him. Protect him from evil. And use him mightily in years to come’. As Bolsonaro told them, his middle name was ‘Messias’. All this was shown on Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. 

Most interesting though is the Christian right’s fascination with the Putin regime which is credited with having restored Christianity in Russia, with having reinstated the pre-revolutionary ‘Holy Russia’ of the Tsars. Indeed, the likes of Weyrich have long urged an anti-Islamic alliance between Christian Russia and a Christian USA, something that Trump obviously found tempting. The Christian right ‘has enmeshed itself in the global wave of right-wing authoritarianism, and evinces admiration for the same nativist despots who have inspired the alt-right’. This is a compelling insight. 

Posner certainly has the measure of Trump and his evangelical allies. As she writes: the evangelicals ‘needed a savior; Trump was eager to oblige because of his bottomless need for a worshipful retinue. Trump and the religious right, then, are essential to each other’s success’. They have a ‘symbiotic relationship, in which Christian right leaders regularly glorify Trump, and Trump in return gives them carte blanche to radically reshape law and policy’. Their success in this respect, for which much of the credit or blame, must, one suspects, go to Vice President Pence, has left their adherents in a powerful strategic position inside the federal judiciary right up to the Supreme Court. 

This was always the deal. Trump’s judicial appointments are ‘his most lasting assault on America’s democratic institutions’, packing the federal judiciary ‘with nominees who have espoused extreme right-wing views on race, LGBTQ rights, abortion and religion and state issues’. Where the Christian right goes now that Trump is no longer President remains to be seen, but Posner is likely to be an essential guide in charting its progress [Her discussion of Christian right involvement on 6 January 2021 and of the recently formed Jericho March organisation is available online here]. 

 Of course, it is always important to remember when examining the evangelical right that while four out of five white evangelical voted for Trump, one in five did not. Not only that, but throughout US history white Christians have been involved in supporting just about every progressive movement there has been. One needs only mention Abraham Muste who played a leading role in the 1919 Lawrence Textile strike, allied with the American Trotskyists in the American Workers Party in the 1930s and played a leading role in the 1934 Toledo General Strike, one of the decisive class battles of the period. He went on to embrace pacifism and to play a part in both the civil rights movement and in the opposition to the Vietnam War. 

But what of contemporary evangelical opposition to the Christian rights’ idolatrous embrace of Trump?

Ronald Sider, in his edited volume, The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump, has put together an interesting collection of responses, some of which are extremely powerful. One can, for example, only sympathise with Pastor Daniel Dietrich’s bemused outrage when he opens his essay, ‘Hymn for the 81%’, with the cold statement that ‘In 2016, 81 PERCENT OF WHITE EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS VOTED FOR Donald Trump after hearing an audio recording of him bragging about sexually assaulting women’. He does not mention that a number of leading pastors actually phoned Trump after the release of the tape to offer him comfort and support! 

Dietrich goes on to chronicle the multitude of other abuses they have apologised for and reproduces his anti-Trump hymn in the text. Dietrich urges that Christians have to get involved in fighting ‘white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, sexism – all the ways in which people are treated as less than the Children of God that they are’. And there is much more along the same lines.

 Of particular interest for this reader was Stephen Haynes essay, ‘”If You Board the Wrong Train… American Christians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Donald Trump’. This discusses the Christian right attempt, led by Eric Metaxas, to conscript Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis, in their cause. Metaxas is, of course, a leading Christian right ‘intellectual’, the author of the appalling Donald the Caveman children’s books, and is one of the founders of the Jericho March. As Haynes, an biographer of Bonhoeffer, argues, the evangelical right despite its attempted hijacking of Bonhoeffer is blithely recapitulating ‘the mistakes committed by German Christians in the wake of the Nazi Revolution’. 

He concludes his extremely interesting essay by insisting that the harsh reality is that Trump ‘has succeeded in Trumpifying American Christianity’. There are also useful essays by John Fea (‘What White Evangelicals Can Learn about Politics from the Civil Rights Movement’), by Christopher Pieper and Matt Henderson (’10 Reasons Christians Should Reconsider Their Support of Trump’) and more. One criticism is that there is not enough consideration of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ as preparing the way for Trump and effectively corrupting the evangelical movement. 

But let us end with Randall Balmer’s powerful ‘Donald Trump and the Death of Evangelicalism’. Balmer is a Professor of American Religious History and an ordained minister, the author of numerous books, and his considered assessment is that after a long illness in 2016 ‘Evangelicalism Died’ as a religious movement, note as a religious movement. He does, of course, add that a resurrection might still be a possibility, after all Jesus did raise Lazarus from the dead.

 John Newsinger

Tyrants of England should be sung in schools

LSHG call for singing Tyrants of England in schools rather than Gavin Williamson’s One Britain, One Nation ditty 

The traditional song, formally The Hand-Loom Weaver’s Lament, dates back to the Luddite period in British history around the time of Peterloo in 1819, and is still sung in folk clubs. It is one of the most well-known English working class songs and the words are quoted in full in E P Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class

The LSHG says that when first sung in the early decades of the nineteenth century it was seen as a truly patriotic song, defending the principles and livelihood of the 'Freeborn Englishman’ against those who were trying to sweep away traditional rights and living standards and introduce a system of market capitalism. Tyrants of England sums up well the Government of which Gavin Williamson is a part.

What’s more, unlike like his little ditty it has a two hundred year history calling out political and economic oppression. 

You gentlemen and tradesmen that ride about at will, 

 Look down on these poor people. It's enough to make you crill. 

 Look down on these poor people, as you ride up and down 

 I think there is a God above will bring your pride quite down. 

Chorus: 

You tyrants of England! Your race may soon be run. 

You may be brought unto account for what you've sorely done. 

You can hear a version of this song here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SlXUnxUQW7c 

It appears on a CD collection called 'The Iron Muse: A Panorama of Industrial Folk Song' from Topic Records. More details: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/ The_Iron_Muse

Review: Somerset Socialist Library

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 73 (Summer 2021)]


Some readers of the newsletter may be familiar with Dave Chapple, a veteran trade union activist but also a socialist historian. He has published a series of volumes in his Somerset Socialist Library mainly about the south-west. 

The link between activism and socialist history is of course one that particularly interests the LSHG since it’s a key part of our premise - robustly researched history influenced by the perspectives of political activism. 

One of Dave Chapple’s recent publications is a record of the life Keith Howard Andrews. He died at the age of 101 in 2008, and Chapple was privileged to be able to meet and interview him towards the end of his life when he still remained an active socialist. 

The book is a record of the life of a working-class socialist, and anti-imperialist. In the modern era, from the 1960s, Andrews might have ended up at University, become a student activist and led a life on the left of a rather different kind to the one he did. When Andrews grew up in the 1920s that choice was rarely available to working people. 

He led a life doing a range of jobs but at the core was his military experience. Again, to a modern generation, this might seem odd but at that time it was one of the relatively few opportunities for regular employment. Andrews was in Quetta, India and then Shanghai as a British soldier and the racism and class prejudice he experienced clearly did much to shape his politics. 

He ended up volunteering for the International Brigades in 1936 and was one of those who fought Franco’s fascists. Yet Andrews was not a soldier with a gun killing people. He was rather precisely the reverse. He was a medic who throughout his varied military service was dedicated to saving lives.

 Andrews was back in England from 1931 living in Kilburn. He had joined the Communist Party and did a range of jobs. He determined to go to Spain in August 1936 and was there until early 1938. His memories of the International Brigade may be of particular interest. On his return from Spain, as he was classified as an army reservist, he joined up again and found himself at Dunkirk. 

He survived the entire war, avoiding life threatening situations, partly through illness. After the war he eventually found work from the mid-1950s with the NHS in Somerset. He remained both a union activist and a Communist until he retired in 1972. 

Memoirs and biographies of working people flourished in the 1970s and 1980s from local and regional community presses. In the 2020s they seem again a comparatively neglected area. Dave Chapple’s record of Keith Howard Andrews’ life is a welcome reminder that accounts of working lives can recall a world we have lost, but also, in terms of union organisation and politics, a world we need to build anew.

 Keith Flett 

For more details and how to get a copy of this book see here: 

http://bridgwatertuc.blogspot.com/2021/02/dave-chapples-tribute-to-howard-andrews.html?m=1

Comment: Socialist History in danger from the Tories

 [From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 73 Summer 2021]

Both the Royal Historical Society and the Society for the Study of the Labour History have published statements underlining the danger of withdrawing the study of history from Post-92 environments (mostly former polytechnics). A link to both statements is below. 

The London Socialist Historians Group is in support. While we support and encourage political activism and research outside of the confines of traditional academic boundaries we also recognise the importance of having the possibility of studying labour and socialist history within the academy. That is why, for example, we have organised the socialist history seminar at the Institute of Historical Research since 1995. 

As both statements indicate withdrawing history from the post-92 universities would make the subject less available to working-class students unable to study far from home for a range of reasons. Further, the Government has been engaged in a process of moving funding away from ‘arts’ subjects towards science on the basis that degrees in this area add more value to the economy. 

There are of course limits to this prejudice. History teaching will certainly continue at the Russell Group universities sometimes described as the ‘elite’. While history teaching at these institutions may not always be of a traditional and conservative nature they certainly have turned out in the past generations of historians in suits with a worldview that is mostly on the right of the political spectrum.

 https://sslh.org.uk/2021/05/27/sslh-statement-wefear-for-the-future-of-labour-history-labourhistorians-and-the-next-generation-of-students/ 

The Editor notes: I studied history at what is now a post-92 university, Teesside, in the mid-1970s. It’s true of course that most of my subsequent historical research was done at an elite institution, what is now UCL. Even so a degree in history (and politics) was not a bar to getting a job in the Civil Service who took the view that the general skills learnt at degree level were quite adequate and set me off managing building projects… These experiences were a while ago now but we must not let the teaching of history itself become largely history.

 Keith Flett

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Two new articles from John McIlroy and Alan Campbell

Two New Articles

Prosopography – the investigation of the common background characteristics of a closely defined population of historical actors by means of a collective examination of their careers and lives – has proved a useful addition to the toolbox of scholars researching diverse areas of historiography. Similar work utilizing quantitative and qualitative methods might well develop our knowledge and understanding of a wide variety of working-class activists, labour movement leaders at all levels, and the personnel of proletarian parties. Despite recent stress on the centrality of agency and leadership, this approach has remained rare in labour studies.

In that context, colleagues may be interested in two recently published papers which extend our research into 74 revolutionary socialists who constituted the leadership of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) between 1920 and 1928. These two articles outline Bolshevik conceptions of leadership before analysing the 39 Communists elected to the party executive from 1923 to 1928. They are scrutinised in relation to origins, class, age, gender, ethnicity, occupation, previous affiliation and destinations. Statistical analysis is combined with biographical sketches. Additionally, attention is paid to their partners, who are often overlooked in the historiography. A distinction is drawn between a ‘core’ of 19 leaders who, in terms of tenure, dominated the EC after 1923, and more peripheral elements. Comparisons are made between the leaderships before and after 1923. The papers concluded by assessing their credentials as Marxist leaders on the Comintern model in the years before Stalinism took hold.

1. John McIlroy and Alan Campbell, ‘The leadership of British Communism, 1923–1928: pages from a prosopographical project’, Labor History online at: https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/WFAI8GCBQTT79YQARVWN/full?target=10.1080/0023656X.2021.1910806

2. John McIlroy and Alan Campbell, ‘The “core” leaders of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1923–1928: their past, present and future’, Labor History online at: https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/3CYUHFMC9B2E3HDCBDIW/full?target=10.1080/0023656X.2021.1910805

Colleagues may also be interested in:

John McIlroy and Alan Campbell, ‘The early British Communist leaders: a prosopographical exploration’, Labor History,  61, 5–6 (2020), pp. 423–465, at: https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/DAMMVDTIMTIICD4XW7I6/full?target=10.1080/0023656X.2020.1818711

John McIlroy and Alan Campbell, ‘The Socialist Labour Party and the leadership of early British Communism’, Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, 48, 4 (2020), pp. 609–659: https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/Y2BHVVI5SXIJFQYYABRM/full?target=10.1080/03017605.2020.1850817

[please note some or all of these articles maybe behind a paywall and so not freely available]

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

London Socialist Historians Group online seminars - Summer term 2021

Socialist History Seminars Summer Term 2021 

Organised by the London Socialist Historians Group with the support of the Institute for Historical Research in London

Monday 26 April 5.30pm Stella Dadzie: 'A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery and Resistance' [book launch] - register here: 

https://www.history.ac.uk/node/5665


Monday 24 May 5.30pm Simon Hannah: 'A Parliament for Workers! The Labour Parliament of 1854'

Register here for free - https://www.history.ac.uk/node/5666

 Seminars are currently held on Zoom - please check our twitter @LSHGofficial for updates

The latest issue of the London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter, 72 (Spring 2021) is now online - for the next issue, letters, articles, criticisms and contributions to debate are most welcome. The deadline for the next issue is 1 May 2021 - please contact Keith Flett at the address above for more information. 

Comment - Time to end Tory Culture Wars on History

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter, 72 (Spring 2021)]

"IT IS QUITE WRONG THAT THESE LOONY LEFT-WING WHEEZES SHOULD BE INFLICTED UPON OUR GREAT METROPOLIS.” - JACOB REES MOGG

The Tory culture war on history and those who challenge particular narratives of British history is not only continuing but expanding. Jacob Rees-Mogg has criticised the London mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans to review statues and street names in the capital in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement. He told hard right Tory backbencher Andrew Rosindell that British history should be celebrated. That would include of course the slave trade and numerous imperial conquests. 

Meanwhile education secretary Gavin Williamson, finding the task of providing safe education in a pandemic beyond him, has turned his attention instead to ‘free speech’. A 34-page policy paper has been issued which may lead to legislation.

It would be fair to say that the paper is not all Gavin’s own work but that of civil servants who are rather more professional in their approach than the education secretary. It has the temerity to refer to groups who have struggled to get free speech in the past, such as those fighting for gay rights. It doesn’t mention that the fight was in part necessary because of the Tories’ Clause 28 in the 1980s which sought to restrict discussion of such matters. 

In general though it appears to be a defence of the values of a liberal education, until one absorbs the detail. Its actual thrust is to make sure that assorted racists, Islamophobes and reactionaries can speak without protest in public settings. 

The problem Williamson has is that they already can - as the left knows all too well. The Times, which generally supports Tory culture wars, surveyed thousands of speaking events at universities and found issues with just six. Most were reportedly related to problems with organisation - missing paperwork and so on. One was a Jeremy Corbyn meeting that had to be cancelled and re-arranged because the venue was too small to hold numbers attending. 

Williamson’s ministerial colleague Oliver Dowden has also been active on the matter. The lines below relate to a communication the culture secretary Oliver Dowden has had with the ‘Commonsense’ group of hard right Tory MPs. They are the motor for the Tory culture wars. 

"History is ridden with moral complexity, and interpreting Britain's past should not be an excuse to tell an overly-simplistic version of our national story, in which we damn the faults of previous generations whilst forgetting their many great achievements. Purging uncomfortable elements of our past does nothing but damage our understanding of it." 

Dowden’s comments have drawn criticisms from many historians with the biographer of Eric Hobsbawm, Richard Evans, calling for an end to the Tory war on history. 

The point is that Dowden’s words reflect a lack of understanding of what history is, just as Williamson’s supposed defence of an abstract ‘free speech’ does. What is understood by history and what is seen as important and relevant in it varies over time. 

In particular it is informed by historical research that uncovers new historical details and suggests fresh ways of understanding our past. Recently for example I, along with others, have been wondering if the black presence in the Chartist movement was not rather greater than has been previously thought, given that Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century had quite large numbers of black working class residents, mainly sailors or ex-sailors. 

Until more research is done the answer is that we simply don’t know. If we followed Oliver Dowden’s perspective, that British history is an unchanging thing written on tablets of stone, we wouldn’t even bother to find out. 

That doesn’t seem much like freedom of thought and speech. 

Keith Flett

Plagues, Vaccines and Revolutionaries

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 72 (Spring 2021)]

Plagues, Vaccines and Revolutionaries

When Waldemar Haffkine met Shapurji Saklatvala in Colonial Bombay 

    Waldemar Haffkine (1860-1930) inoculating a community against cholera in Calcutta, March 1894    

From May 1896, Bombay (now Mumbai) in colonial India was hit by the world’s third great outbreak of bubonic plague, which had arrived in the port from China. 

Though the British authorities were determined to keep the port open regardless of the mounting death toll, by October 1896 it became impossible for them to just carry on denying the presence of the plague any longer, after doing their best to ignore the reports being sent their way by health officials and local doctors. 

As Alex Benham has noted, building on the scholarship of David Arnold in his Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-century India (1993), the British Raj responded to this outbreak in four ways which have eerie parallels to the disastrous way our Tory government has responded over the last year. 

Firstly, when they finally faced up to the reality of the outbreak they denied its seriousness - the official announcement stressed the disease was merely of a ‘mild’ type, even though they were soon recording a thousand plague deaths a month. 

Secondly, Benham notes there was ‘a constant prioritising of the economy over the lives of racialised, colonised people. The British were committed to preserving the function of the city’s textile mills and its vast port, and were willing to accept deaths as an unavoidable cost of doing business’. Indeed, ‘it was only when France threatened a total ban on Indian trade and passengers and its ports that Britain conceded to the necessity to act … quickly enacting a domestic quarantine on Bombay sea traffic, and then passing the Epidemic Diseases Act in early 1897.’ 

Thirdly, they blamed the people who were dying for the spread of the plague and what the British regime which all its characteristic colonial racism regarded as the ‘innate filthiness’ of their houses - rather than their own failure as authorities to either provide decent housing for its subjects, or act against the plague earlier.

Finally, when those among the working population of Bombay either fled for their lives, or resorted to riots after their houses were demolished, the British Empire resorted to detentions and executions – rather than trying to protect and help those suffering, Benham writes of the Raj’s ‘constant recourse to coercion’.[1]  

Yet amid the horrors of the plague emerged an unlikely hero – the Russian-born bacteriologist Waldemar Haffkine, hailed by Joel Gunter and Vikas Pandey recently on the BBC website as ‘the vaccine pioneer the world forgot’. 

Born Vladimir Aaronovich Mordecai Wolf Chavkin in 1860, the son of a Jewish schoolteacher, Haffkine grew up amid the virulent antisemitism of Tsarist Russia, but despite poverty made it to the University of Odessa.

 As the BBC report, ‘when Haffkine graduated in zoology from the University of Odessa in 1884, his reward was to be barred from taking up a professorship there because he was a Jew. He had already run into political trouble five years earlier, amid pogroms, when as a member of a local defence league he fought to stop Russian army cadets destroying a Jewish man's home. Haffkine was beaten and arrested but eventually released’.[2]  What the BBC don’t mention is that Haffkine’s politics were somewhat more radical than this – according to one writer, Haffkine 

soon saw the injustices of the Tsarist regime, which interfered constantly with the freedom of the university, and he joined the revolutionary underground movement known as the Narodnaya Volya Party [People’s Will], an illegal organisation set up in 1879. Some of its members resorted to acts of terrorism in their fight against the tyranny of the monarchy. In 1882 Haffkine was expelled from the university for sending a letter to the Rector in support of Professor Mechnikov, who was in disgrace with the authorities. In 1881 he was arrested and served a jail sentence, and he was under police surveillance in Odessa for eight years, and three times endured the extremely harsh conditions of imprisonment under the Tsarist regime.[3] 

According to another writer, in 1882, Haffkine took part in the successful assassination of Tsarist general Major General Vasily Strelnikov.[4]  After spending time in Paris to get away from the heat on him as a revolutionary in Tsarist Russia, Haffkine had a breakthrough – he developed a pioneering vaccine against cholera. This success soon led him to be appointed State Bacteriologist of the British Crown. Sent to India as a good place to test his new vaccine in 1894, Haffkine won the trust of local people to launch a mass vaccination programme firstly by working with Indian doctors and secondly by publicly injecting himself to show it was safe. In 1896, Haffkine was called to Bombay and charged with the task of developing a vaccine against the plague, something which, against the odds, he successfully achieved. 

As one writer notes, ‘There was great antagonism to the system, and many people were terrified that it would actually give them the disease rather than protect them from it. Professor Haffkine insisted always that vaccination should be voluntary; then, as now, the rights of the individual were sometimes protected. Perhaps, though, had it been compulsory, it might not have taken six years for the plague to be brought under control’.[5]  

As Gunter and Pandey note, ‘inside a year, hundreds of thousands of people had been inoculated using Haffkine's vaccine, saving untold numbers of lives. He was knighted by Queen Victoria, and in December 1901 he was appointed director-in-chief of the Plague Research Laboratory at Government House in Parel, Bombay, with new facilities and a staff of 53 … Between 1897 and 1925, 26 million doses of Haffkine’s anti-plague vaccine were sent out from Bombay. Tests of the vaccine's efficacy showed between a 50% and 85% reduction in mortality’, saving countless lives.[6] 

 This is not the place to go into the subsequent life and work of Haffkine, and why in 1903 he (unfairly, and almost certainly in part as the result of British antisemitism) fell from grace and into subsequent obscurity and neglect outside of India itself before his death in 1930 in Paris. Rather it is to record the fact that while working in Bombay amid the plague this Russian revolutionary scientist met and quite possibly influenced a young Bombay-born Parsi student, Shapurji Saklatvala, who despite his privileges in life had volunteered to help those suffering most during the plague. 

                                                   Shapurji Saklatvala

Saklatvala would later become an important anti-imperialist and the Communist MP for Battersea North in London.  In a speech in 1927 he recalled that the racism of British India meant it was difficult enough to even arrange to meet Haffkine. 

'In 1902 a plague was having a devastating effect all over India. It was to be taken in hand not merely as a grave problem, but as something to save human lives. There was a Professor Haffkine in those days, who was the first man who, with some measure of success, gave out an anti-plague serum for inoculation. His experiments were being conducted on a large scale. I was then associated as secretary with an important committee of welfare workers. The Governor of Bombay, who was then himself staying out of Bombay, immediately sent a telegram to Professor Haffkine to go to him with certain facts and figures because the matter was becoming of vital importance. 

Professor Haffkine asked me to go and assist him. I gave up my work in the office, and I went to the place where he was staying, and that was his European club. People talk about untouchability! Although I had facts and figures at my disposal which were the result of months of study, and the Professor had only four or five hours at his disposal, I was actually prevented from entering the white man’s club. 

Yet a representative of that race today talks nonsense about untouchability among the Hindus. Ultimately, when it could not be helped, the messenger of the club, after telephoning to various government officials, took me to the back yard of the club, led me through the kitchen and an underground passage to a basement room, where the Professor was asked to see me because I was not a white man.'[7] 

According to Sehri Saklatvala, whose chapter on ‘The Plague Years’ in the biography she wrote of her father The Fifth Commandment gives the greatest detail about the relationship between Saklatvala and Haffkine, ‘what a blessing’ Haffkine’s ‘presence in India was to prove to be, not only for India but for the whole of mankind’.

'And incidentally to this great cause, circumstances were to bring this Russian revolutionary, this brilliant and dedicated scientist and humanitarian, into contact with Shapurji Saklatvala. Was it perhaps Haffkine who sowed the seed of revolution in the fertile garden of Shapurji’s compassionate nature? It seems to me to be highly likely, for Shapurji was to work with the professor for six plague-ridden years … Of course, in the situation in which he was now working, Professor Haffkine had neither time nor energy for politics and devoted himself entirely to his scientific research and his unceasing efforts to inoculate as many of the population as possible. But it is surely likely that he talked to Shapurji about his experiences when the two of them met.

It is, I think, safe to assume that, when Shapurji was sent to a basement room in the European club and Professor Haffkine had to join him there, that some comment of the situation must have been made. It is recorded that the Professor was very critical of the British imperialist authorities, noting as he did the abject poverty, overcrowding and insanitary housing in which the majority of the Indians lived; he saw that the victims of the plague were to be found mostly among the poor, and scarcely any in the European or wealthier quarters of the city. When Shapurji presented him with the statistics, it is inconceivable that no comments were made and that no discussions took place between the two men. Their outlooks had much in common; and no doubt this close association between the older idealist and scientist and the young, compassionate student, must have helped to form and to crystallise the convictions of Shapurji.' [8]  

If we can be forgiven one final quote from Sehri Saklatvala, she reflects on the impact seeing the devastation of the plague in Bombay from 1896-1902 must have left on her father, who subsequently

'spent his whole life thereafter struggling to better the lot of those masses of people living in destitution, want and humiliation. What he saw in those years of the bubonic plague must have remained always in his mind. It was to those victims of circumstance that he dedicated his life. The charitable and benevolent community of Parsis, to which he belonged, always sought to alleviate the distress of the poor. This was not enough for Shapurji. He sought not to alleviate but to eliminate poverty entirely; and not only in India, but all over the world. The 1917 revolution in Russia and the events following upon it led him to believe implicitly that communism could end abject poverty; it was for this reason and this reason alone, that he devoted the rest of his life to the propagation of world communism.'[9] 

 Many have noted how comparatively well the early Soviet Republic responded to the global pandemic of not just influenza and cholera but also typhus in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.[10] 

Here it seems we have another inspiring example of how one individual Russian revolutionary scientist rose to the challenge of defeating the bubonic plague a couple of decades before – but also how the experience of witnessing the devastation the plague left in its wake inspired another figure to dedicate their lives with sincerity and self-sacrifice to the cause of revolutionary socialism, in order that such barbaric catastrophes might one day become a thing of the past. 

Christian Høgsbjerg                                                            

[1]  Alex Benham, ‘Another Nightingale: Coronavirus, Plague and the Colonial Violence of British Neglect’, New Socialist, 25 August 2020, https://newsocialist.org.uk/another-nightingalecoronavirus-plague-and-colonial-violence-british-neglect/ There is a brief discussion of the plague in Bombay in Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World (London: Verso, 2001), pp. 172- 175. 

[2]  Joel Gunter and Vikas Pandey, ‘Waldemar Haffkine: The vaccine pioneer the world forgot’, BBC website, 11 December 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-55050012 

[3]  Sehri Saklatvala, The Fifth Commandment: A Biography of Shapurji Saklatvala and Memoir by his Daughter, Originally published by Miranda Press, July 1991, First digital edition, July 2012, p. 23. 

[4] David Markish, ‘Dr. Waldemar Haffkine. The Savior Mankind Never Knew’, https://mahatmahaffkine.com/en?l=1#history 

[5]  Saklatvala, The Fifth Commandment, pp. 26-27. 

[6]  Gunter and Pandey, ‘Waldemar Haffkine’. 

[7]  Saklatvala, The Fifth Commandment, p.21. For more on Saklatvala, see Mike Squires, Saklatvala: A Political Biography (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990) and Marc Wadsworth, Comrade Sak: A Political Biography (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 1998). 

[8]  Saklatvala, The Fifth Commandment, pp. 26-27. 

[9]  Saklatvala, The Fifth Commandment, p. 30. 

[10] Vijay Prashad, ‘Either socialism will defeat the louse or the louse will defeat socialism’, 24 April 2020, republished on Monthly Review online, https://mronline.org/2020/04/24/eithersocialism-will-defeat-the-louse-or-the-louse-will-defeatsocialism/ and Charlie Kimber, ‘Russia 1917 - how a revolution beat back a pandemic’, Socialist Worker, 8 May 2020, https://socialistworker.co.uk/art/50023/Russia+1917+++how+a +revolution+beat+back+a+pandemic