Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Working class history revival - New free courses.

The WEA (formerly known as The Workers’ Educational Association), the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education has jointly organised with the GFTU a series of online discussions about key moments in working class history from the Peasant Rebellions in 1381 onwards.  

Each 90 minute session will be facilitated by a leading expert on the topic and delivered in an inclusive and accessible manner. The courses are completely free of charge. The series is titled Their Legacy – Our History. Among topics to be considered also will be the 1549 rebellions, the development of the Chartists, the fight for the provision of adult education, great women trade unionists, Winstanley and the Diggers, the Levellers, Captain Swing, how songs changed history. 

The series begins on September 15th with Labour Historian Professor Keith Gildart discussing the origin of the modern trade union movement. A recent warning by leading academic historians that the closure of two university history departments reflected the trend that was seeing British history becoming more and more a subject for the elite, has been reflected in the adult education and trade union education worlds. Working class history was one of the primary subjects alongside politics, philosophy and economics on the trade union education curriculum. Now it is rarely looked at.   

The General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) has been working to reverse this trend by commissioning, plays, poetry, songs and graphic novels which keep this history alive in an accessible format. 

Simon Parkinson Chief Executive Officer of the WEA said: "We are dedicating this new series of history courses in memory of Nigel Todd a former WEA tutor, co‐operator and working class historian. The tradition of which Nigel was an important part deserves rekindling. Whole generations of activists in trade unions and community organisations were inspired by our history of winning rights, overturning injustices and creating greater commitments to equality. We hope future generations can feel this power and the living presence of what those who went before us achieved." (See further comment https://www.wea.org.uk/news‐events/news/tribute‐nigel‐todd) 

Doug Nicholls, General Secretary of the GFTU said: "So much of our history has been deliberately buried, people might have heard of Henry VIII, but not of equally important figures like Robert Kett or Anne Askew, and there's been a reason for hiding our past. This is going to be a pioneering series of learning opportunities led by some of our great popular educators with exceptional knowledge of the subjects covered.  

 Selina Todd, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University added: "This series represents all that is best in adult and trade union education and something that my father would have been proud of.  To forget the past is to ignore the future. The areas of study in this series cover moments in time when the people made history very decisively and with an impact still felt today."    

Contacts for further information and comment:   

Doug Nicholls,  doug@gftu.org.uk 

Phil Coward,    pcoward@wea.org.uk  

 Further information. 

Founded in 1903, the WEA is the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education, delivering over 6,600 part‐time courses for over 39,000 people each year in England and Scotland. With the active support of around 350 local branches, 2,000 volunteers, 3,000 part‐time tutors and 5,000 members, the WEA provides high quality, student‐centred and tutor‐led education for adults from all walks of life. We also maintain our special mission to provide educational opportunities to adults facing social and economic disadvantage. For further information on the charity, please visit http://www.wea.org.uk 

The GFTU was founded in 1899 and played a leading role in providing welfare services for workers and their families, campaigning for the creation of the welfare state and was the original international arm of the British Labour Movement. It provides free adult education provision for some 2,000 learners a year and a full range of services to trade unions and community organisations, and runs a hotel and learning centre, please visit www.gftu.org.uk.

Chatham Cuffay (1755-1815)

Chatham Cuffay (1755-1815) - Black dockyard worker in C18 Kent 

The life of William Cuffay (1788-1870) the black leader of London Chartism in 1848 is becoming better known but there is now some detail on his father. Chatham Cuffay (not his original first name which appears to be as yet undiscovered) came from a slave background and travelled to England on a navy ship possibly as a chef. He became one of a significant number of black workers in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century England. 

Many arrived as Cuffay had done and probably the largest cohort remained dock and ship related workers but over time they may well have had an increased presence in the wider working population. William Cuffay, a tailor, is one example of this. His father has until now remained very largely hidden from history. See 


“Chatham Cuffay, believed to have originally been from St Kitts and Nevis. His parents were possibly former slaves who had been freed but their son Chatham Cuffay was never enslaved. In 1772, he emigrated with his mother to Medway on board a naval ship under Captain Charles Proby. A young man of about 17, he was baptised in the same year in Gillingham and given his first name after the port at which he had landed. Probably later became Resident Commissioner at Chatham and it is his influence which was likely to have helped Cuffay find employment in the Dockyard as an Able Seaman and Cook. In 1780 he gained a position on the Chatham Yacht –the Commissioner’s official vessel. The plaque has been positioned where it is as this is the location the Chatham Yacht would have been moored and subsequently where Chatham, worked and boarded the ship from. Chatham appears in pay books across several years at Chatham Dockyard, the last entry being March 1803 where he is recorded as a Storehouse Labourer. Chatham is by no means the first Black worker at the Dockyard but he is the first named. He represents an unknown number of slaves that, by free will or force, boarded Naval Ships in the Caribbean and established themselves in England.”


[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 74 (Autumn 2021)]

Engels’ favourite Manchester pub and beer revealed

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 74 (Autumn 2021)]

 There are 50 volumes of the Marx and Engels Collected Works containing many letters between the two beard wearers. You can find discussion about what wines they liked and their favourite beer style (pilsner). There is very little about where they drank in London and even more so in Manchester. A fascinating blog post now reveals some Manchester detail: 


Engels drank with political allies (including Marx when in town) at the Thatched House pub off Market Street in central Manchester. It was knocked down in 1972 and is now covered by the Arndale Centre. In later years it was a Boddington’s pub. I haven’t yet been able to verify if it was owned by the brewery in the 1850s and 1860s when Engels lived in Manchester. However since the brewery dated back to 1778 it’s likely. The brewery was closed by ABInBev its current owners in 2004 and whatever beer appears under the Boddington’s brand is not Manchester brewed now. Engels of course also drank with business associates, particularly the German business community in Manchester at the Albert Club and Schiller-Anstalt club. Here he may had pilsner which was certainly available in the UK in the 1860s.

Keith Flett

Nine Elms Station, April 1848 and the Chartists

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 74 (Autumn 2021)] 

Two new London Underground stations (Northern Line branch from Kennington) are now open, Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station. Nine Elms will serve the new US Embassy (handy for demos) and New Covent Garden market. It will also serve some new (largely unaffordable) housing being built to offset the cost of the project to TFL. Both stations are in Zone 1 which reflects south London exceptionalism.

 There was however a previous Nine Elms station. It was opened in 1838 and was the terminus of the London and Southampton railway. It closed to passenger traffic in 1848 when Waterloo opened, although Queen Victoria still used to welcome royal visitors. It carried freight traffic until hit by a German bomb in 1941. The station was knocked down in 1963, despite opposition from John Betjeman, and New Covent Garden Market now occupies the site. 

When the Chartists demonstrated for the vote at nearby Kennington Common on Monday 10 April 1848 the station was used (with the full support of the railway company of course..) to hold troops in reserve who had come up from Gosport. That included 35 marine artillery soldiers with two light guns and 450 infantrymen. The expected revolutionary assault on London did not occur and they were probably not used, although some troops were deployed at Blackfriars Bridge to stop the Chartists going north of the Thames.

Keith Flett

Anniversary - 20 years of Stop the War

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 74 (Autumn 2021)] 

It’s the 20th anniversary of the Stop the War Coalition. Derided perpetually by right-wing critics and those who like wars as either pacifists or supporters of terrorism (it’s quite difficult to be both) like any social movement it has its up and downs in support. It is however still here and held a 20th anniversary event at Conway Hall in London on 18 September. 

You might be forgiven for not noticing. While the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan marked the end of a 20 year strategy by the US, the UK and others, those who said it would all end in tears (and for many much worse than that) have not featured much in media coverage. This tells you unsurprising things about the British media of course - points about its narrowness of focus that have been made many times. 

The forces that came together to form the Stop the War Coalition- CND, the Muslim Association of Britain and a spectrum of the left, perhaps primarily the Labour left and the SWP, held a meeting full to overflowing shortly after the war with Afghanistan started in late September 2001. The first demonstration took place in London on Saturday 13 October 2001. I was at both. With the invasion of Iraq pending the STWC organised what remains the biggest demonstration in British history in central London on 15 February 2003. I was there with my national union banner. 

So it went on and goes on, protesting against western military interventions, not always without controversy on the left but still often ignored by the media for whom the basic message of opposition to war was often an inconvenient one. There was an exhibition at Bow Arts featuring a lot of the art work associated with Stop the War down the years and particularly perhaps the early years. The visual aspect of the protest was key and ground breaking. It’s interesting to remember and review for those who were there but as important for those who were not, often because 20 years on they were too young. A 10 year old in 2001 is 30 now. And the need for Stop the War is not going away. 

Keith Flett

Comment - Socialist historians and the culture wars

[From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 74 (Autumn 2021)]

The Tories are continuing to prosecute the Culture War with the appointment of Nadine Dorries as culture secretary. This issue of the Newsletter rounds up a number of the interventions the LSHG has made in some particularly high profile instances. 

Dorries’s first act as culture secretary was to nod through the destruction of the Dorman Long Tower on Teesside. A monument or statue to the steel industry and steel workers on Teesside, it was grade ll listed by Historic England but that didn’t bother Dorries. In a war, tactics and strategies can vary. The Government’s aim is to invent a layer of people it calls ‘woke’ and in reality promote their history over ours. Hence statues of slave traders must stay at all costs, while the Dorman Long Tower must go.

Dorries’s predecessor Oliver Dowden had pursued a slightly different strategy along the lines of ‘retain and explain’. He oversaw a policy that no statue or monument should be moved or taken down. He claimed he preferred new statues to be erected but in fact during his tenure as Minister none were. It might be argued that much of this is simply a distraction launched by the Tories while they get on with bashing the working poor. However, it is also something that seeks to establish and dictate exactly what British history is or is not. 

That is reflected not just in statue wars but in terms of persistent interventions by Tory politicians into what history is taught in schools and universities. Labour has had very little to say on this, not least because it’s clear that the current leader Starmer is not a history man. It is however a task that socialist historians need to address and dispute rather than leave the field to Tory propagandists. 

Thatcher laid waste to industry on Teesside. Now Dorries want to destroy the industrial heritage. The Dorman Long tower at the former steel works at Redcar on Teesside was built to store coal in the 1950s. It was a fine example of brutalist industrial architecture. Unsurprisingly the Tory mayor covering the area, Ben Houchen, would prefer to have no reminders of Thatcherite destruction of jobs and industry left on Teesside. He lobbied for the tower to be destroyed - an act of Tory industrial vandalism.

 I lived on Teesside in the 1970s and 1980s including the 1980 steel strike, in which I had a supporting role. The destruction by Thatcher of people’s livelihoods and lives has left a dreadful legacy and, as Dorries’s diktat shows, the Tories are proud of that legacy. Given that Dowden went to great lengths to make sure that no bit of existing British history was in anyway moved let alone destroyed, presumably Ms Dorries will no raise no objection to a few old statues being taken down as well.


Keith Flett

Monday, 25 October 2021

Upcoming LSHG seminars

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

Register for the seminar here: 


Cato St was an attempt to violently overthrow the Government in February 1820. It failed and in the Johnsonian version of British history is written off as the work of a few deluded conspirators. In fact, post Peterloo, it had considerable support.
The 200th anniversary in 2020 has sparked a considerable amount of new research of which Judy Meewezen’s historical novel 'Turtle Soup for the King: The Cato Street Chronicles' is an important part.

Peter Linebaugh wrote in Counterpunch:
The Cato Street Chronicles, to give the subtitle to this historical novel, is as fully faithful to the historical record as may be empirically possible. Based largely on the documentation of spies, police, informers, turncoats, and provocateurs, on the one hand, and on the other the documentation, of the trade union movement, the reform politicians, and radical press, an archive that was already censored or in peril of extinction.


Monday Nov 15th 5.30pm Merilyn Moos 'German Socialists in Britain and their Shifting Alliances 1933-1945'

Register for the seminar here:


Merilyn Moos will introduce her 3 books celebrating the lives and struggles of left-wing Germans who opposed the Nazis from exile. These may be freely downloaded below.

Anti-Nazi ExilesGerman Socialists in Britain and their Shifting Alliances 1933-1945
Merilyn Moos
PDF available to download free.
More details…
Hans JahnBiography of an Anti-Nazi Trade Unionist
by Merilyn Moos
PDF available to download free.
More details…
German Anti-Nazis and the British EmpireThe Special Operations Executive, Deserters from the German Army and Partisan Movements in Occupied Europe
by Merilyn Moos
PDF available to download free.
More details…

The refugees Merilyn will be discussing almost all fled Germany as political activists, most from a working class background. They risked their lives again and again in Germany, often escaped arrest and probable death without knowing where they would end up.

Most survived. But, once in Britain, organising an anti-Nazi struggle became very difficult and there was much disagreement as to the best means. Merilyn will examine the details of a few of these refugees. One example is Hans Jahn, President of the German Railway Union. Faced with the Nazis’ attempt to break working class organisations, he tried to organise anti-Nazi resistance amongst railway workers, even when, later, he was exiled here. He  was to say that “one of the greatest tragedies is that German unions did not fight to prevent Hitler taking power in 1933”.

More ferociously anti-Nazi than many at the time in the UK, some anti-Nazi German exiles risked their lives all over again in an often uneasy alliance with sections of the British military. Some worked with SOE. A small group, almost all of whom had fought in Spain, fled to France and then were sent by the French Government to camps in Algeria. They also ‘volunteered’ to fight with the British. Thousands of Germans were conscripted into the 999 ‘Death battalions’, a sub-section of the Wehrmacht, made up largely of political prisoners. Many of them either deserted to the partisans in Greece or clandestinely supported them. Upon the partisans' defeat, a few of the German deserters escaped to Albania and supported their partisans. The tensions within British policy between being anti-fascist and pro-imperialist, are sharply exposed during the Greek civil war when the German deserters who first were fighting with the partisans  alongside the British against the Nazi forces, then fought with the partisans against the British.

It is a good time for such stories of courage and resistance to be heard.

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:

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).


‘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:

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).


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?''

Link to recording

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/fE5I0SnZXy_bBqPRMm2_UXZpPOhh8IdtUm7zMvormhPoKhnl7oeqkz5tbvsouTNG.2TLh0Ky_PkML6Lwy Passcode: z#Fg#G5&

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

Link to recording

https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/xc9VgOh7HvHPxx0UzZxDRpycWlCs40BXZ3e3gDuKGQJX2LukC_M4-1buZ_42jkq-.7H2hSukQPRO2Rg5D Passcode: !H.YbYB8

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

Register for the seminar here: 


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

Register for the seminar here:


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.


  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



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: 


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


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