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 /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: 

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

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. 


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: 

It appears on a CD collection called 'The Iron Muse: A Panorama of Industrial Folk Song' from Topic Records. More details: 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:

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. 

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