Monday, 16 January 2017

Book launch - October 1917 - workers in power


October 1917

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workers in power
Book launch with Paul Le Blanc



​Hosted by Resistance Books​


Friday 24 February, 7pm
Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Rd, N1 9DY
Drinks and snacks provided

Paul Le Blanc is Professor of History at La Roche College (USA) and author of works on the labour and socialist movements, including Lenin and the Revolutionary Party, From Marx to Gramsci, and Leon Trotsky.  An editor of the eight-volume International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest, he is currently helping to oversee the Verso Books edition of The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg.




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October 1917 – workers in power
Published by Merlin Press, Resistance Books



and the IIRE

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Available from www.resistancebooks.org
RRP £15.95; Publication: November 2016
Paperback; 234x156mm; 258pp;


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What they say about the book

‘This collection, containing both texts by participants and retrospective historical analyses, defends the achievements of the Revolution while honestly recognizing its limitations, and will stimulate informed discussion.’
Ian Birchall, socialist historian.

‘This is an important collection celebrating the legacy of the Russian Revolution in its centenary year.  Paul Le Blanc’s Introduction provides rich historical context for past events.  But the book is really about the future.‘
Tithi Bhattacharya, Professor of History, Purdue University; editorial board member, International Socialist Review.

‘A fascinating and unexpected collection of material that shines a needed light on the workers revolution of 1917. All in all, a spirited defence of the October revolution at a time when many people would like to forget all about it.’
Lars Lih, author of Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be Done? in Context, Haymarket 2008.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

LSHG Newsletter #60 (Spring 2017) online


The latest Newsletter #60 (Spring 2017) of the LSHG is now online - with comment pieces by Merilyn Moos on Refugees: Then and Now, and Keith Flett on historians and the world of post-truth, Raphael Samuel and Daniel Rachel's new book Walls Come Tumbling Down - our upcoming Spring term seminars are below:

LSHG SEMINARS
Spring 2017

All seminars take place in Room 304 (third floor) at 5.30pm in the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU and entry is free although donations are welcome.

                                                      
                                                 Monday 16 January
John Lindsay
Alan Turing’s Apple. Towards a history of ‘data science’ 

Monday 30 January
Geoffrey Bell
Hesitant Comrades: The Irish Revolution & the British Labour Movement

Monday 13 February
Daniel Rachel
Walls Come Tumbling Down: From Rock Against Racism to Red Wedge

Monday 27 February
Mike Haynes
The Peculiar Career of Colonel John Ward MP
From the SDF and General Unionism to the Russian Counter-Revolution

 Monday 13 March
Ian Birchall
Lenin’s Moscow by Alfred Rosmer


The Newsletter

Letters, articles, criticisms and contributions to debate are most welcome.
Deadline for the next issue is 1 April 2017.



London Socialist Historians Group

We receive no official funding and rely entirely on supporters for money for our activities. To become a member of the LSHG, send £10. (Cheque payable to ‘Keith Flett’)

Email: keith1917@btinternet.com (and for address for posting cheque)
Web: londonsocialisthistorians.blogspot.co.uk
@LSHGofficial 

Book Review: All My Yesterdays


Image result for walls come tumbling down

Walls Come Tumbling Down:
The Music and Politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge

Daniel Rachel
Picador, 2016
ISBN 978-1447272687

John Harris in the Guardian has written a decent review of Daniel Rachel’s book, which is a sort of cultural history of the left from the mid-1970s to the 1990s – see

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/28/walls-come-tumbling-down-daniel-rachel-review

I want to make a few history-related points on the book here. I was indeed there. I was at the battles of Wood Green and Lewisham, at the Carnivals and on the streets. I still have a pair of steel toe capped Doc Martens and they weren’t (mostly) used for industrial purposes. They were, and the book captures this well, different times.

Image result for northern carnival rock against racism

In the late 1970s I did not walk down any street without scrutinising those also walking to see if they might be fascists who were about to attack me. I don’t do that now because the current strength of organised fascism is low. Indeed I moved to my current  address in central Tottenham precisely because it is so difficult to find. Not that difficult though because the front window still has a bullet hole in it, which I’ve left as a memoir of different times. I wasn’t in when the bullet was fired, but the windows are double glazed as a precaution anyway. The times are not so different though. Racism still needs to be fought, big time in the age of Farage and Trump. Whether music will be as central remains to be seen perhaps.

Anyway, the book is essentially an oral history covering Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League, Two Tone and Red Wedge. The author has assembled quotes from a extensive range of people under subject headings in more or less chronological order.

I’d confess as a professional historian to not being that enthusiastic about oral history because memory is unreliable and quite difficult to check. I wouldn’t bet on every last statement in the book being accurate but that isn’t really the point. Instead it gives a real flavour of how culture, music and the left came together to fight fascism, racism and the right and some idea both of the breadth of the support needed to do this and the importance of having some coherent political organisation at its core, whether this was the SWP or the Labour Party or both.

Of course Red Wedge was not Rock Against Racism and the distinct parts of the book perhaps don’t have such an automatic follow on. Nor is there an attempt, understandably it being an oral history, to grapple with what precise longer term impact something like RAR had.

Since I was there and know a lot of the people interviewed well the book does read to me like all my yesterdays. But allowing old socialists to recall the past is hopefully not what it is meant to be about. It should be read by those who were NOT there both to get some sense of how movements were built and what is possible, and hopefully to inspire activity and organisation now.

You can always criticise and hopefully there is a positive purpose to that but beyond that this is a book you should read whether you were there and particularly if you were not.

Keith Flett

From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 60 (Spring 2017) 

Archive: Twenty Years On: Raphael Samuel

Twenty Years On: Raphael Samuel

It is twenty years since the death of one of the most significant socialist historians of the post-1945 era, Raphael Samuel. In the age of post-truth particularly his work, focused as it was on the recovery of working class and plebeian history and dominated by the rigour of the carefully researched footnote deserves to be not just remembered but taken as an exemplar.

Below is an obituary that appeared in Socialist Review January 1997 by Keith Flett

Image result for raphael samuel

Obituary: Artisan of history
Raphael Samuel (26 Dec 1934- 9 Dec 1996)
Keith Flett

Raphael Samuel, who has died aged 61, was a youthful member of the Communist Party Historians’ Group in the 1950s when its leading members included Eric Hobsbawm and E. P. Thompson. However, he left the CP in 1956 and as a socialist historian he was very much a child of the `new left’ and the upheavals of the 1960s.

Samuel studied under Christopher Hill at Balliol College, Oxford, in the early 1950s, but, unlike the older generation of Marxist historians, Samuel never sought academic advancement. His published work, usually under the banner of the History Workshop, was invariably a collaborative exercise, and for more than 30 years from 1962 he remained a tutor at Ruskin College, Oxford, encouraging mature trade union students to take an interest in historical research.

History Workshop collections edited by Samuel, such as Village Life and Labour and Miners, Quarrymen and Saltworkers, opened up a focus on the history of ordinary working people, and the essays were usually written by `worker historians’ ­ often students of Samuel at Ruskin.

So thirteen History Workshop pamphlets including Stan Shipley’s Club Life and Socialism in mid-Victorian London were published between 1970 and 1974. Shipley had been an AEU branch secretary in Walthamstow.


Perhaps ironically, shortly before his death Samuel was persuaded to take a long overdue and much deserved professorship at a new centre for the study of community in the East End of London at the University of East London.
                            
Samuel was a key figure behind the rise of the History Workshop movement which began life at Ruskin College, Oxford, in 1966 as an informal seminar on the English countryside in the 19th century. The principal, Samuel has related, almost closed it down, worried that students were listening to each other rather than to the lecturers. History Workshop Journal followed in 1975.

The Workshops in particular brought together large numbers of rank and file socialist historians committed to recovering the past from the viewpoint of ordinary people. Early sessions famously included topics such as `A Day With the Chartists’ which sought to recreate the ideas, experiences and conditions that the Chartists had encountered.

The Workshop in particular became very much a product, as Samuel recorded in People’s History and Socialist Theory [1981], of the events and enthusiasms of 1968. Ruskin was out on strike days before the Paris events of May 1968.

Raphael Samuel was one of the most prominent historians in the country to support history from below ­ the attempt to actively recover the history of ordinary people and their movements. In many ways this was a step forward from the sometimes rather rigid orthodoxies of more mechanical Marxist histories. It fed in directly, too, to the resurgence of socialist ideas after 1968 and to the birth of the women’s movement in which the History Workshop Conference of November 1968 played a central organising role.

Samuel could be fiercely critical of socialists with whom he disagreed. Debate has raged, for example, about whether a series of articles he wrote about the Communist Party in the 1940s and 1950s in New Left Review under the title `The Lost World of British Communism’ was an attempt to write an affectionate history from below of what it had been like to be a CP member before 1956 or an attack on any kind of left wing political activism.

He was nevertheless a great enthusiast for history and a great encourager of people engaged in socialist historical research. His energy and productivity knew no bounds, whether it was in organising meetings or producing articles.

With his untimely death socialists can make a preliminary attempt to draw a balance sheet of what Raphael achieved. The History Workshop movement, of which Samuel published a 25 year history in 1991, has declined and become, to an extent, sucked into academic respectability.

In recent years it has dropped its masthead describing it as a journal of `socialist and feminist historians’ as it has reflected the pessimism of some on the left about the prospects for change after the collapse of Stalinism. Certainly the early, welcome, focus on working class history and movements and direct links to political activity in the present have largely gone.

Gone too is the commitment to `worker historians’. In its place has come a certain attraction to the ideas of postmodernism. Both the History Workshop ­ where it still functions ­ and History Workshop Journal, however, remain battlegrounds, in historical terms, for many of the ideas, good and bad, which are current on the left.

Their influence, and that of Samuel, has been immense. Groups and publications inspired by them exist in many countries.

History from below as practised by Samuel and others has also met its limitations. In many cases it has led towards an interest in ephemera and detailed micro-
histories which, while of interest to the historian, are certainly not about changing the world. Samuel himself in recent years became increasingly interested, as his 1994 collection of articles Theatres of Memory indicates, in recovering the popular history of culture, cultural objects and artefacts. Samuel saw this interest in heritage as a real living people’s history, genuinely democratic and open to all. It is as a people’s historian rather than as a socialist historian that he would probably wish to be remembered.

Even so socialist history in this country would have been and will be much the poorer without Raphael. He kept his commitment and his ability to argue to the end. I came across him at the Bishopsgate Institute, opposite Liverpool Street station, which was to be the centre of his new chair, weeks before his death.


Despite being terribly ill he found time not only to enquire into my own research but to have a spirited debate about whether Charles Bradlaugh’s National Secular Society, formed in 1866, was a proto-Labour Party. That was Raphael, argumentative and passionate about his history to the end. He was ­ and remained ­ a real product of the 1960s with all the good and bad points that flow from that.

Republished in London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 60 (Spring 2017).

Comment: Historians and the World of Post-Truth

From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 60 (Spring 2017)

Historians and the World of Post-Truth

Particularly since Donald Trump won the US Presidential Election there has been much discussion of ‘post-truth’ and a related issue, ‘fake news’, the latter being focused on the social media site Facebook. The general idea is that Trump and his associates said what they felt like and what they thought would play well to without the slightest regard to whether or not it was true or had any relationship to reality.

The same approach was apparent during the UK Brexit referendum campaign, from the side of the political right. Michael Gove denigrated the value of ‘experts’, that is people who actually know something as opposed to those who just have an opinion or make it up. More recently hard right Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has told BBC Newsnight that experts are in the same category as soothsayers. One reaction to this is to revisit the regulation of the media proposed by the Leveson Report. But the post-truth world of stories, myths and lies goes far deeper and wider than that. One way, from the left, that an effective challenge can be built to post-truthers, is through historical research and publication.

Of course academia has plenty of both but that is hardly going to reach to many of those who are inclined to go along with reactionary ideas. This year sees the 40th anniversary of the first publication of History Workshop Journal, which at the recently published issue 82, leading with new research on the Tolpuddle Martyrs, is still going strong. It is also the 20th anniversary in December of the untimely death of Raphael Samuel, a key founding figure behind the History Workshops held at Ruskin College in Oxford and the Journal as well. The first History Workshop day event held at Ruskin in March 1967 was called a ‘Day with the Chartists’. It heard from socialist academics like Dorothy Thompson who were researching the subject but the emphasis was on what the participants could discover themselves. The idea in this case was to look at what the Chartists had been doing in their own local areas, to check original sources of evidence, for example in local record offices, and to understand from their own experience what the Chartist challenge to capital had been in the 1840s.

The Journal when it was launched placed a similar emphasis on grassroots research. There were reports about labour history to be found in archives and perhaps most of all a fascination with what working people had done politically in previous times and how. Samuel himself was invariably immersed in the details of the history of the lives of workers. His classic study of Victorian industry and labour, Workshop of the World, available free online, is notable for its large number of footnotes.


The Workshop and Journal spawned a series of pamphlets which were and remain classic studies of the detail of aspects of working class history. For example Stan Shipley’s Club Life and Socialism in mid-Victorian London uncovered the history of working men’s clubs, particularly in areas like Homerton, and how their activities formed part of the basis of the socialist movement’s development after the demise of Chartism in the 1860s. History Workshop Journal is now arguably a little more academic in style and the link to worker historians is gone. However it helped to inspire a network of left-wing history groups across the UK that carry on the tradition of researching and remembering the realities of working class life and politics. In the age of post-truth remembering reality is important.

Keith Flett

Comment: Refugees: Then and Now

From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 60 (Spring 2017)

Refugees: Then and Now - Merilyn Moos 

I want to briefly consider some comparisons between the refugees from Nazism in the 1930s with today’s refugees. First I want to touch on Government policy towards refugees in the 1930s and now. Although the British state welcomed neither the refugees from Nazism nor today’s refugees, the National Government under Baldwin, not a Government known for its liberal policies, admitted 10,000 children from the Kindertransport in a matter of months and somewhere between 40,000 -70,000 refugees altogether, many of whom arrived in the 12 months before the outbreak of war. The Home Secretary, Hoare, actually agreed to provide group, not individual, visas for the Kindertransports, which one can only wish had also been Government policy for the children in the Jungle. Of course, the numbers saved were not nearly enough.

Kindertransport memorial - Liverpool Street Station


The popular construction of the Kindertransport is now used to divert attention from how few the National Government accepted: about 1 in 10 of would-be refugees. The Kindertransport also provides this Government with ideological cover: while it only admits 500 children from the Jungle, it exhorts us about how the Kindertransport reveals how generous Britain has been towards refugees. Yet less than 4000 Syrian adult refugees have so far been accepted out of the meagre 20,000 over five years promised. Almost indistinguishable from UKIP, the Government justifies its failure to open its doors by arguing that unlike the 1930s, the refugees can go somewhere else.

 There are some similarities, for example the hostility by some towards refugees then and now. The Jews were going to take your jobs, as will today the refugees or European migrants. And though refugees from Nazism were not accused of being potential terrorists, the fact that tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the Nazis were interned in the Isle of Man and elsewhere in 1940 reveals how far they were seen as a potential fifth column. (By the way, if you were suspected of being a communist, your fate was likely to


be being shipped to Canada or Australia.) Today, refugees are presented as potentially posing a threat to national security, more so in France or the US, but also here. The terms of ‘Jews’ or ‘Muslims’ are also both ideological constructions, creating a racist stereotype as well as turning the refugee into the ‘other’.
But I want to suggest a couple of differences. The dominant discourse, since the 1970s, has been multi-culturalism. Partly thanks to the organised opposition to racists from the 1970s onwards in the UK, it is generally safe for refugees and migrants (often indistinguishable despite what the Government tells us) to appear dressed in ways with which they are culturally comfortable.
Refugees often speak to their children in their original language: their second-generation child becomes bilingual. Schools recognise Eid. On the other hand, the refugees from Nazism were encouraged to  assimilate but that was also what they generally wanted for themselves and their children.                          
Another difference is that the earlier refugees generally wanted to settle here. There was generally nothing for them to go back to. But refugees today talk about wanting to go back home. Although I don’t want to underestimate the barbarism of the war in Syria, the devastation of Libya or the civil war in Somalia, no state organised ethnic cleansing of the same magnitude is taking place as under the Nazis. At least some members of the refugees’ families will probably survive.  With luck, there will be a ‘home’ to go back to.
So the sense of dislocation by the children of the refugees may be experienced differently. It is as yet unclear how far the children of refugees from Nazism’s sense of feeling both ‘outsiders’ in the country where they were born and little connection to the country where their parents were born is particular to them. The more family members survive, the greater the possibility of the reconstitution of a family, something evidently unlikely when the family were almost all murdered. My father, I was to discover, made real efforts to find who in his family – and amongst his comrades-had survived the war. He did find a few relatives but the closest was in Italy, the furthest in Brazil. He had never known any of them before he had fled and his attempts to rebuild a network- or reconstitute a family - through letters largely petered out. Modern technology: the email, Skype and Twitter can diminish the effect of geographical dislocation and make maintaining contact easier for the modern refugee. One hopes that the modern refugee family do not maintain the silence and emotional barriers towards their children that characterise so many families of Nazi refugees.

Image result for stand up to racism refugees welcome
We are witnessing a shift in the dominant discourse towards refugees. Racist influence is increasing. As in the 1930s, the hysteria of the Daily Mail and other media outlets and the increasing UKIP-lite talk of the Government towards the refugees is legitimating a hostility towards refugees and migrants more generally. Though one has to suspect public opinion polls, it seems only just over a half of people polled supported allowing in children from the jungle.  In a period of increasing economic insecurity and inequality, we need to oppose whenever and however possible all forms of racism.

Merilyn Moos

Monday, 12 December 2016

London Socialist Historians seminars, Spring Term 2017