Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Stan Newens remembers Ray Challinor

Stan Newens has written an obituary of Ray Challinor for The Guardian - see also John Charlton's piece for Socialist Worker. The Ray Challinor Internet Archive has also now been updated.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Tribute to Jayaben Desai

Jayaben Desai tribute, 17 April

Brent Trades Union Council is holding a tribute to Jayaben Desai and her role in the Grunwick strike of 1976-78

There will be a showing of the film “The Great Grunwick Strike - A History” by Chris Thomas followed by a discussion of the strike with participants.

It takes place on Sunday 17 April, 2.30pm to 5pm at the Tricycle Cinema, 269 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 7JR [nearest tube Kilburn, Jubilee line]

Tickets £5 from or Brent TUC, 375 High Road, NW10 2JR

Marx Memorial Library events

Marx Memorial Library Events: Spring 2011

Growing up in the shadow of Rome: Marx's Materialism and the Ruins of Trier (Lecture) – Prof. Edith Hall
Monday 28th March
6.30pm £2.50/£1 (concessions)

Karl Marx's birthplace in Trier – home to the modern Marx Museum and Centre – is justly famous. But Karl was only 15 months old when his parents moved from that address to other premises in the city. In this paper, Professor Hall seeks to reconstruct Marx's formative experiences in Trier, a city steeped in the Classical past with its triumphant arch, roman baths and palace of the Emperor Constantine.

Marx was very much the child of the European Enlightenment and this talk emphasises his lifelong debt to his birthplace and its heritage derived from the Classical world

Professor Edith Hall holds a Research Chair at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is author of many books on Classical culture and history, including Greek Tragedy: Suffering under the Sun and Theorising Performance.

Women of a Red Decade: Women writers of the Left in the 1930s (Lecture) – Prof. Mary Joannou
Monday 4th April
6.30pm £2.50/£1 (concessions)

Women writers of the left made an important contribution to the radical thinking of the day but the extent of their contribution has not been fully recognised. This lecture will discuss the achievement of some of the most politically committed authors whose work shaped and made a difference to the 'red decade'. These include Winifred Holtby, Storm Jameson, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Ellen Wilkinson, Virginia Woolf, Vera Brittain, Naomi Mitchison, and Nancy Cunard.

Mary Joannou is Professor of Literary History and Women's Writing at Anglia Ruskin University. Her research interests are the women's suffrage movement, the 1930s, and late Victorian and early twentieth–century writing. Her publications include Ladies, Please Don't Smash These Windows: Women's Writing, Feminism and Social Change 1918–1938 and Contemporary Women's Writing: From the Golden Notebook to the Color Purple.

Andrew Rothstein and the Crucible of British Communism (Lecture) – Dr. David Burke
Monday 11th April
6.30pm £2.50/£1 (concessions)

In the second part of his in–depth study of the Rothsteins, David Burke looks at the revolutionary career of Andrew Rothstein. Andrew enjoyed a long and colourful life as revolutionary, propagandist, academic and a seminal figure in the development of the Marx Memorial Library. He was a foundation member of the Communist Party in 1920, a member of the Executive and editor of the Sunday Worker.

He worked at the Marx–Lenin Institute in Moscow during the 1930s and was a world expert on Marxism. Indeed, few of his contemporary writers had such a rich and exacting understanding of the life and works of the founders of the Communist Movement.

As a prominent figure in the British Communist Party, he soon fell under scrutiny by the intelligence services and was one of the first victims of the Cold War, losing his job at the University of London.

Dr David Burke teaches at Cambridge University and is the Author of the highly acclaimed Spy Who Came in from the Co–op a biography of Melita Norwood the well known left wing and peace activist, who was a life long supporter of the Morning Star.

Che Guevara: Life and Legend (Lecture) – Lucia Álvarez de Toledo
Monday 18th April
6.30pm £2.50/£1 (concessions)

Che Guevara is a symbol of youthful protest in the West, a representative of Sixties counterculture and the face adorning the T–shirts of a million student radicals. But in the rest of the world he is something else: a charismatic revolutionary, who redrew the political map of Latin America and gave hope to those resisting colonialism everywhere.

In this lecture, Lucia Alvarez de Toledo follows Che's astonishing journey from his birth in Rosario to the heart of Castro's new Cuban government, and through to the unforgiving jungle that formed the backdrop to his doomed campaigns in the Congo and Bolivia. She shows how an idealistic medical student became an inspirational revolutionary leader whose words and actions sent shockwaves surging through an entire continent, and how he continues to inspire to this day.

Lucia Álvarez de Toledo was born in Buenos Aires and knew Che Guevara. She has worked as a journalist and as an interpreter with both the BBC and the United Nations; she has translated many works by and about Che Guevara into English, and is the author of The Story Che Guevara.

Exhibition: News International Wapping – 25 Years On
1st – 31st May 2011
(Closed for bank holidays but a special opening on Sunday 1st May 2011)
Opening Times: 11am – 5pm Monday – Friday

In January 1986 Rupert Murdoch moved The Times, Sunday Times, The Sun and News of the World to Wapping in London's Docklands. Over 5500 production and clerical workers were sacked overnight. The bitter struggle for their jobs and trade union rights lasted 13 brutal months

From Sunday 1st May for one month the multi–media exhibition will display dramatic images and accounts of the dispute and the challenges for print and media workers and all those concerned with democracy and the media.

Photographs and documents will be available for view online in the Printers' Collection Archive. The exhibition will also include selections from the work of the late Tony Hall and his Strike Graphics archive of cartoons, posters and drawings. Some items will be for sale.

The exhibition is organised by Unite the Union, National Union of Journalists, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom and is to be hosted by the Marx Memorial Library.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Radicals and Rebels

Video of Images of men and women who fought for a say in law-making for the common people of Britain. Teaching Resource. Along with quotes from poems and personal accounts from the time.

In Memoriam of Dorothy Thompson: 1923 to 2011

Compiled by Stephen Roberts: University of Birmingham
If you can't see the video google 'You Tube Pulse TV Radicals and Rebels'

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Reunion - Brixton Uprising

Brixton Uprising Reunion

On Sunday 20 March @11.15am on BBC Radio 4 (92.4-94.6 FM) The Reunion features novelist Alex Wheatle, broadcaster Darcus Howe, former Lambeth Council leader Ted Knight, and former police officers Brain Paddick and Peter Bleksley, sharing their recollections of the Brixton uprisings in April 1981.

This will be repeated on Friday 25 March @9.00am (FM only).

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Andy Stone on Niall Ferguson's 'Civilization'

As right wing historian Niall Ferguson’s new TV series celebrates European civilisation, Andrew Stone shows how imperialism has constantly stamped on freedom, not championed it...

Lascar Seafaring Workshop

Lascar Seafaring Workshop
The Global Lives and Cross-Cultural Engagements of Asian Sailors
April 14th 2011, University of Southampton

From the seventeenth century, the labour of lascars (Asian sailors working on European ships) underpinned transoceanic trade, the development and maintenance of colonial power structures, and the newly-global movement of people, materials and ideas. Lascars were among the first people to live global lives, among the first Asians to travel to and settle in Europe, to move within and produce intercolonial networks and to participate in a new international labour community. By the late nineteenth century, they were at the heart of the new urban port communities and at the forefront of maritime labour movements and politics from Europe to Australia. Yet they are remarkably underrepresented in the emerging scholarship on global histories, transnational identities and colonial and intercolonial networks to which their stories are integral. This workshop will bring together for the first time the work of the small, international group of scholars who have been researching diverse aspects of lascar seafaring, from the material worlds of eighteenth century lascars to race, gender and the politics of transnational alliance in the early twentieth century global maritime labour market.

Conference: The Luddites, without Condescension

Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities
The Luddites, without Condescension - A Conference on the 200th Anniversary of the Frame-breakers’ Uprising
Friday 6th May 10am - 6pm
Room B34
Birkbeck Main Building

This event is free and open to all

In the Spring of 2011 Birkbeck will host a one-day conference to mark the 200th anniversary of the uprising of the handloom weavers in the dawn of the industrial revolution under the command of the mythic General Ludd. Even though the movement was sparked by skilled artisans, “luddite” has ever since been a byword for technophobes facing backwards and mindless rejection of progress. The conference will gather historians of luddism and others interested in what in 1800 was called “the machinery question”, to consider not only the historical luddites, urban and rural, but also contemporary movements of direct resistance, north and south, to capitalist modernization – for example, anti-nuclear movements, opposition to agricultural transgenics, resistance to big dams. The concluding session will address the issue of modernity itself, its model of temporality and the assumption that history is future-directed.
Speakers: Amita Baviskar, Iain Boal, T.J. Clark, Peter Linebaugh
More information

Julia Eisner
Institute for the Humanities (BIH)
Institute for Social Research (BISR)
University of London
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HX
T: (0) 20 7631 6612

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Revolution in the 21st Century

Revolution in the 21st Century
A special one-day event organised in in association with Marxism 2011
Sunday 13 March
11am – 4pm
The Camden Centre
Judd Street
London WC1H 9LZ
Nearest tubes: King’s Cross & Euston
£10 waged / £5 unwaged

As the wave of revolt continues across the Middle East & North Africa this special one-day event organised in association with Marxism 2011 provides the perfect opportunity to come together and discuss the impact and the potential embodied in the revolutions.

Speakers from the frontline in Egypt and Tunisia plus:

· Alex Callinicos, author of Bonfire of Illusions and Imperialism and Global Political Economy
· Judith Orr, eyewitness to events in Tahrir Square and editor of Socialist Worker
· Tom Hickey, on what this means for Palestine
· Peyman Jafari, speaking on Iran
Workshops: Permanent Revolution - Palestine - Imperialism & the Middle East - and much more...

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Omar Barghouti book launch

Omar Barghouti, founding member of Palestinian Civil Society Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, to release New Book

BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions
The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights
by Omar Barghouti
Book Release at the London Review Bookshop Monday, March 7 at 7:00 pm, 14 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JL

"This is a book about the political actions necessary to hinder and finally to stop the Israeli state machine which is operating every day to eliminate the Palestinian people.
It is like an engineer's report, not a sermon. Read it, decide and then act."
-John Berger

"Barghouti's lucid and morally compelling book is perfectly timed to make a major contribution to this urgently needed global campaign for justice, freedom and peace."
-Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate

"Essential reading for all who care about justice and the plight of an oppressed people."
-Ken Loach

INTERNATIONAL BOYCOTT divestment, and sanctions (BDS) efforts helped topple South Africa's brutal apartheid regime. In this urgent book, Omar Barghouti makes the case for a rights-based BDS campaign to stop Israel's rapacious occupation, colonization, and apartheid against the Palestinian people. This considered, convincing collection contributes to the growing debate on Israel's violations of international law and points the way forward to a united global civil society movement for freedom, justice, self determination, and equality for all.

OMAR BARGHOUTI is an independent Palestinian commentator and human rights activist. He is a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and the Palestinian Civil Society Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from Columbia University, and a master's degree in philosophy (ethics) from Tel Aviv University.

Keith Flett on the History of the Tory Party

Opening remarks at The Making the Tories History Conference Institute of Historical Research 26th February 2011

Conferences at the IHR take a while to organise, so its fair to say that if we had decided to have this event in the last few weeks we might have focused on 1848 or the London mob. Even so the history of the Tory Party deserves the serious consideration of historians and we have some excellent papers today.
Pondering 1848 I note that Disraeli wrote to Philip Rose on the day of the great Chartist demonstration at Kennington on 10th April 1848 ‘in case there is not a provisional Government would it be quite convenient to you to let me have a thousands on the fourteenth. Let me have a line at the Carlton’.
The note demonstrates private confidence that there would not be a British 1848. Rose was Disraeli’s Solicitor who had made his money on the back of the 1840s railway boom. He was also the national agent of the Tory Party.
I have been a practicing socialist research historian for more than 30 years but I have never before considered in detail the history of the Tory Party.
Yes I both knew the late John Saville and agreed with his ideas on ‘total history’. That is that socialist historians should not just write history of or from the left. We need to understand how the class forces in society interact to grasp the direction of movement of society and the struggles in it.
Yet I haven’t given much thought to the history of the Tory Party.
As a labour historian and in particular an historian of Chartism I have studied and know a good deal about the history of the Liberal Party. There is also an excellent book by John Vincent on its formative years from the late 1850s onwards.
It is also the case that I do know a fair bit in outline of Tory history.
I know that they were lukewarm at best about the 1832 Reform Act and that there was a general crisis, split and reconfiguration over the Corn Laws in the 1840s.
I also know that Disraeli modelled a new form of Toryism in the 1860s and that in the final quarter of the nineteenth century Irish politics were a touchstone for ruling class politicians and that sections of the Tory and Liberal parties swapped sides on what appeared to be quite regular occasions.
But I did not have a sense of the Tory Party as a party.
I understood Marx’s views on it in the 1850s and John Saville’s correcting passages in his book on 1848. I also took a general understanding that the Tory Party had been one of the world’s most successful ruling class parties.
Researching the history of the Tory Party in 2011 two questions have come to mind.
Firstly while the modern Tory Party certainly started to develop and form itself after the 1832 Reform Act and partly defined itself in opposition to it, could it be said to have a coherent existence as a Party until at least the skeleton of the framework of the British State was in place?
After all if its purpose, as a modern party, was to run the affairs of that State, and that was certainly one of its key raison d’etre, then it first of all needed the State itself to exist.
John Saville one of the few historians on the left to pay attention to such matters gives a good outline of how the British State developed in his book on 1848. He notes that the first issue to be dealt with was the security of the State-particularly in Ireland but on occasion in Britain too. This was the motivating force behind the development of the original structures of the State.
These started to develop some extra areas of authority as the State- primarily the Home Office- moved into new areas of regulation with the Factory Acts and the Poor Law Amendment Act. By 1854 with the Northcote-Trevelyan report there was a structure for the civil service, and the division between clerks and decision takers,that still exists today.
At the same time there was a need to make sure that politically the developing State balanced out the representation of the old landed interests and the new industrial ones- arguably the new ‘middle class’- where these were not the same. The 1835 Municipal Government Act achieved some of this by partly democratising the machinery of the local State.
The point is that while this State, at least nationally, was in various ways in the process of formation to have a settled political party seeking to run it did not really work.
Hence we can begin to understand why in the late 1850s, with much of the early formation of the State done, the Whigs turned themselves very deliberately into a new party- the Liberals. The timing makes particular sense when looked at in this perspective.
If the Whigs transformed themselves from the late 1850s into the Liberal Party, Disraeli, for the Tories, was equally keen to construct a new framework for the Tory Party.
The 1867 Reform Act provided a powerful stimulus for this, with a new layer of electors to be related to. The Conservative Party had to become a party with local organisation in constituencies, able to organise and mobilise new working class voters.
In the 1867 Election for example, many seats went uncontested by the Party
The National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations was formed in 1867 giving the party the beginnings of a national political structure and Conservative Central Office appeared in 1870 to give a bureaucratic framework to Tory policy and Parliamentary activity.
The Party had previously been run almost as a private fiefdom. In matters requiring legal decision it was represented by Disraeli’s personal Solicitors, who also looked after finances. For a modern party this was unsatisfactory.
Disraeli, or his lieutenants, hit upon a lawyer JE Gorst to take charge of the National Union and set up a Central Office. It was clearly not a universally popular move but information on the setting up of the organisational framework of one of the great British political parties is limited.
Compared to the information about the setting up of the Labour Representation Committee, and the Labour Party itself, that exists in a number of works, the Tory Party has provoked little in the way of historical work, beyond that of the official Party historian Robert Blake. The best modern historian of the Tory Party the late John Ramsden provides a little more detail but adds no significant insight to the historical account. The only article is by Feuchtwanger in Historical Research for 1959.
While there are plenty of Tory historians therefore, historians of the Tory Party itself are remarkably limited.
Its true that the events of 1867, the Reform Act and how far radical and working class action made the Government act in certain ways or not has provoked some debate. Royden Harrison has put the case for and been answered by Cowling.

The Moment of 1867; Bagehot

1867 represented a significant moment in the history of the British ruling class. Further concessions were made on the suffrage after a discussion which had started in the 1850s. It is not the aim of this commentary to add further to the already quite extensive literature on the events of that year. Certainly however whatever weight is to given to working class influence on these events there is no doubt that there was some, and that the changes to the franchise meant that more working class men got the vote.
This was the concern for all bourgeois politicians. How would Disraeli’s shot in the dark impact on election results. There was not at this stage much thought that an independent party of labour would be formed that could challenge electorally. The possibility of specific working men standing as candidates in receptive constituencies was certainly allowed for, but the memory of the Chartist electoral challenges only 20 years before seems to have faded.
The assumption was that many working-class votes would go the Liberal Party which after all had already re-modelled itself to accommodate to some extent this constituency. In the 1868 General Election Ernest Jones stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate.
The one area of the country where the Liberal factory owners were hated sufficiently to mean that the increase in the electorate helped the Tories was in the north-west of England, as Engels comments below. His argument of course was precisely that workers needed an independent political party. Disraeli however saw the example of the north-west as something that improved Tory organisation could build on.
In terms of organisation, the Reform League provided a conduit for the Liberal Party to send out League organisers, semi-covertly, to map what the new working-class vote might be inclined to do. Disraeli’s Conservative Party had no such mechanism. In fact in 1868 the annual conference of the National Union of Conservative Associations was attended by just 8 people.
Disraeli was distracted by writing a novel and it was not until Spring 1870 that JE Gorst was appointed to set up Tory Central Office in Parliament St and to increase the number of active Constituency Conservative Associations, and hence reduce the number of seats that Liberal candidates won uncontested.
Elections in this period had to be only once every 7 years and infact Gladstone called a snap election in January 1874. Gorst had had nearly 4 years to organise the Tories and he did so very successfully indeed. One modern innovation that Gorst may perhaps be credited with developing is that he purchased, according to Ramsden, a press agency to more effectively get the Tory Party’s view expressed in the press. It was, perhaps, something that they had either not previously thought necessary or simply taken for granted. Now in the post-1867 environment it was more important and it meant that they started to get consistent press coverage for example, as Ramsden again notes in the London Evening Standard which was felt to be a ‘reliable supporter’.

Engels on the 1868 General Election
What do you say about the elections in the factory districts? The proletariat has once again made an awful fool of itself. Manchester and Salford return 3 Tories against 2 Liberals, including the milk-and-water Bazley, Bolton, Preston, Blackburn, etc., almost all Tories. In Ashton it looks as if Milner Gibson has gone to the wall. Ernest Jones nowhere, despite the cheering. Everywhere the proletariat are the rag, tag and bobtail of the official parties, and if any party has gained strength from the new voters, it is the Tories. The small towns, the half rotten boroughs are the salvation of bourgeois Liberalism, and roles will be reversed: the Tories will favour more members for the big towns and the Liberals will favour unequal representation.
Here the electors have increased from 24,000 to not quite 48,000, and the Tories have increased their voters from 6,000 to 14-15,000. The Liberals have let slip a lot, and M. Henry did a lot of harm, but it cannot be denied that the increase in working-class votes has brought the Tories more than their simple percentage, and has improved their relative position. On the whole this is a good thing. As things look now, Gladstone should have a narrow majority and will be compelled to change the Reform Bill to stop the rolling stone; with a large majority, he would have let things take their course, as usual.
But it remains an appalling display of weakness by the English proletariat. The parson has shown unexpected power, and also the cringing before respectability. Not a single working-class candidate had a ghost of a chance, but mylord Tom Noddy or any parvenu snob could have the workers’ votes with pleasure.
The howls of the Liberal bourgeois would amuse me very much were it not for this accompanying experience. To cheer myself up properly, yesterday I made Borchardt’s son-in-law, who had dutifully drudged for the Liberals, as drunk as a lord.
F. E.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Chartism Day

CHARTISM DAY: Saturday 2 July 2011

Venue: The Brotherton Room, University of Leeds Library

This distinguished annual event is held in Leeds for the first time. There will papers on a range of current and recently completed research, and a special exhibition of Chartist materials from the University’s Library and Archives. The day will conclude with a discussion of late Dorothy Thompson’s contribution to Chartist studies.

10.30 Welcome and introduction
10.40 Chartism in Wandsworth, south London: Sean Creighton (independent scholar)
11.30 Black Country Radicalism Revisited: Chartism in Wednesbury, 1838-1848: Paul Fantom (University of Birmingham)
12.20 Lunch [provided] and view exhibition of Chartist material
1.00 Chartism and the Romantics
a] ‘Ashes and Sparks': Shelley's influence on Chartist Poetry: Simon Rennie (University of Leeds) b] Shelley and the Chartists: Nichi McCawley (University of Manchester)
2.30 Paving the way for Gladstone: extra-parliamentary political lecturing in the Chartist era: Janette Martin (Huddersfield University)
3.20 Dorothy Thompson's legacy for Chartist Studies: a roundtable discussion led by Jutta Schwarzkopf (Humboldt University, Berlin), Owen Ashton (Staffordshire University) and David Goodway.
4.45 Close
Registration fee (includes lunch): £10. Please register in advance by sending a cheque (payable to The University of Leeds) to Malcolm Chase, School of History, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT. Enquiries:

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Making the Tories History Conference - brief report

As the references to 1848 and recent and continuing events in the Middle East made clear if we had organised the Making the Tories History Conference in the last few weeks, another subject other than the history of the Tory Party might have attracted larger numbers. However despite a modest attendance the quality of the papers and discussion was high. Hopefully many of the papers, or summaries of them will be posted here in due course. One practical issue that came out of the final session of the conference with Andrew Stone was the desirability of doing something around history teaching in schools, along the lines of History Workshop's 'History, the Nation and the Schools' conferences ran twenty and more years ago [Ruskin conference 1989].
Edited to add:
Keith Flett on the History of the Tory Party
Dave Renton on 'Eton and the Tories'.

Dave Renton on Eton and the Tories

Eton and the Tories (short version of paper presented at the LSHG's recent 'Making the Tories History' conference).

Let me start with a dog that didn’t bark. First, the dog: following Margaret Thatcher’s resignation as leader of the Conservative Party in 1990; the race for her successor was between Douglas Hurd, Old Etonian, and John Major, the boy who ran away from the circus to work in a bank. Hurd’s challenge initially seemed strong, but fell apart when Major raised Hurd’s background, “I thought I was running for leader of the Tory party”, Major said, “not some demented Marxist sect”. Now in the run-up to the 2010 general election, there were at least two moments when Gordon Brown attempted to play the same trick on David Cameron. The first was a bye-election at Crewe and Nantwich 2008, where Labour distributed photographs of Tory candidate Edward Timpson in a top hat, and images of what was described as his “big mansion house” outside the constituency. Labour campaign materials also included a fake “Tory candidate application form” asking: "Do you oppose making foreign nationals carry an ID card?" The suggestion was that only plutocrats opposed such a common sense idea. Again in December 2009, Gordon Brown described Cameron as a PR man (this was a reference to the sole brief period of bona fide employment in Cameron’s CV) who had drawn up his tax policies “on the playing fields of Eton”. Cameron retaliated, complaining of Brown’s “pettiness and spite”.
Why did John Major’s attack on Hurd succeed, while Gordon Brown’s attack on Cameron failed? Why, in other words, didn’t the dog bark? One answer might be over the past decade certain types of Conservative behaviour have lost their mark of offensiveness in general popular culture. Andy Beckett has written about a certain ‘Tory chic’, embodied in green, locally-sourced produce and gastropub grub (a way of living that finds a political expression in the career of Zac Goldsmith). Bankers, the target of a sustained New Labour charm offensive, rather than aristocrats, have fulfilled the role of villains in the economic crisis. Brogues, waistcoats, wellington boots (ideal for music festivals) even bowler hats are all presently fashionable. The popularity of Downton Abbey and the return of Upstairs Downstairs (albeit that both postdate the election) would fit into this model. As does the popularity of Harry Potter, playing as it does on two deep Tory motifs: the boarding school and deeper still, the country house. Certain Tory politicians notably Boris Johnson (who in having enjoyed a successful career at Eton is the closest counterpart in the present generation to Hurd) have also been able to thrive in the context of a depoliticised celebrity culture, in which a posh past is just another cultural asset.
Yet we can take the point too far. When Nick Fraser’s 2006 book The Importance of Being Eton was reviewed in the Guardian, the reviewer Dominick Donald suggested that the school’s recent revival (reflected not just in Cameron’s rise but also the fact that Charles and Diana sent their children there) was actually more down to the politics of celebrity culture (i.e. the choice of school was Diana’s not Charles’) than it was to a reconstitution of the Macmillan era establishment:

Cameron … is at once effortlessly and inoffensively posh and demotic, ticking the right social boxes for the Tory shires and wielding the right grounding in popular culture for the urban electorate. He appears to have the skills that Eton so often bestows (charm, huge self-confidence and political ability) without their frequent familiars (oiliness, arrogance and self-defeating scheming). He has used those skills to sidestep the baggage. Of course, other Tory politicians before him (Douglas Hurd, Oliver Letwin) have trodden this route. But no one - not even other Tories - believed them.

The reason, on this account, why Brown’s attempts to target Cameron failed, would be New Labour’s own well-known record of toadying to the powerful, expressed in Peter Mandelson’s remark, "We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich". Indeed there is no better illustration of the narrowness of the British political elite than that the fact both David Cameron and Tony Blair were educated, at Eton and Fettes, by Eric Anderson, Blair’s housemaster and Cameron’s headmaster, life’s attempt to imitate the Peter Sellers character from Being There.
Eton has a history, from its foundation as a community of 25 poor scholars, to the 1861 Commission which established that the Fellows of the school were dipping into the institution’s reserves to line their own pockets. The most important features of the present are the breadth of resource available to the current Eton school pupils, and the tens of millions in public funding which are required to keep the institution afloat. Without neglecting the few Old Etonians who turned against the private school system (Orwell, Hyndman), the school is best seen as an effective mechanism for indoctrinating children into the values of hierarchy and capitalism. Ross McKibbin is undoubtedly right to name the private schools, alongside the monarchy, the aristocracy, the armed forces, and the structure of industrial management, as one of the chief "ideological supports" of Conservatism over the past six decades. Attlee’s 1945 government, McKibbin laments, had a unique opportunity to abolish these obstacles to socialism. Its failure, he explains by reference to Labour’s ideology, " the socialism of a particular generation, one which drew a clear distinction between the economy and social policy on the one hand [which was deemed to be capable of reform], and Britain's status and class system on the other [which was not]." McKibbin’s point, albeit made gently, is a radical one; future generations faced with the same opportunity, he is saying, should not repeat Atlee’s mistake.
Here, I want to focus on the ways in which the history of the Conservative Party have been shaped by the presence in Tory ranks of relatively large numbers of MPs who have been educated by Eton or similar schools. Even today, the proportion still stands at the relatively high figure of 54 percent.
The Conservatives have long recruited individuals, even MPs, on an ostensibly anti-ideological basis. Long before it was possible to join the Conservatives as an individual, the only way that a person could affiliate to the Tories was by joining the Carlton Club and dining with fellow Conservatives. A century later, one part of the Conservative success in the 1950s, at a time when the Young Conservatives alone claimed 200,000 members, and the parent party could rely on a total membership of nearly three million, was the ability of the party to appear almost above politics, as a popular institution with a vibrant social life representing almost the entirety of the UK’s middle classes, irrespective of their gender, age, religion or political belief. Private schools were a recruiting ground for Conservatism, one of several institutions (the City, the Church of England, the Army, the legal professions) within which the party enjoyed nearly unanimous support.
We may note in passing that the Conservatives have largely lost this appeal in the last 60 years; a period where individual membership of the party has fallen by roughly 95 percent, from three million to 150,000. This decline can be associated with what has also been a long-term decline in the importance of the private schools, compared to which any recent revival, if there has been one, is modest.
Almost all private schools have a competitive "house" structure in which pupils live and eat with and are expected to learn habits of sociability with strangers, the selection of whom is done not from them but arbitrarily by the school. This is part of a pattern under which certain shallow competing allegiances (Oxford v Cambridge, Eton v Harrow, Liberal v Conservative) are deemed to be entirely compatible with the deep hegemony of class rule. Pupils internalise this culture of horizontal competition and express it in later life, its influence can be witnessed weekly in the scenes of MPs braying at Prime Minister’s Question Time.
The corollary of horizontal competition is vertical loyalty. At key moments in the Conservatives' history the party has been able to enter or remain in government, or has been forced out of office, not as a result of electoral success, but from the defection of MPs into or out of the party (Peelite Conservatives out of the party from 1846 onwards, Liberal Unionists in after 1886, Coalition and National Liberals in from 1916 and 1931 onwards). This kind of party opportunism has been made much easier by the fact that for much of the last two hundred years many of the leaders of both of the main parties in a usually two-party House of Commons have been educated at the same or similar schools and have been trained to approach politics in a similar way. On this model, the close co-operation that we have seen since the general election between Eton-educated David Cameron's Tories and Westminster-educated Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats is just another episode in a much longer story of class rule employing the memory of privilege to hold power.
The preponderance of private education among Tory MPs is a sign of a sort of division of labour in which the private schools in general and Eton in particular are expected to train future generations of Conservative MPs. The schools maintain relationships with the Tories. MPs frequently speak at school assemblies and meeting of the school’s various political societies. It is relative easy for children to get fast tracked from the private schools, to Oxford or Cambridge, and then immediately into junior roles working for the Tories, from which they can be picked for greater things. But the Conservative Party is not the ruling class, merely its political representative in Parliament. The super-rich, in general, are an increasingly integrated international class, whose members might have a house in London, and business interests throughout Europe, Asia or America. Private education in England is but one option for the children of the rich, and by no means the most advantageous. Precisely because of their baggage of ostentatious privilege, the Bullingdon generation are actually unrepresentative of the class whose interests they articulate. The populist Conservatism of Heath, Thatcher and Major and the bland universalism of “regular guy” Tony Blair represent a more viable long-term strategy to achieve sustained capitalist rule. These models are more akin to the ways that capitalists ordinarily do their ideological business. They work better as strategies to maintain the distinction between economic and political power on which capitalist democracy ordinarily rests. The weakness of having Cameron et al at the top of the political system is that their presence invites ordinary voters – once their popularity wanes, as it must – to look beyond the inevitability of class rule altogether.
It is this incidentally which explains the venom of Major’s attack on Hurd with which this paper opened. The reason why there was no Old Etonian Prime Minister between 1963 and 2010, despite the Conservatives’ success for much of that time, and the presence of many Etonians on the Tory benches, is that it is bad politics.
In conditions of democracy the relationship between the ruling class and its party should not be direct but requires mediation. Conservatism has remained a successful ideology in part because it has been able to speak away from itself, to present its narrow choices as a matter of the national interest. This dynamic, even a sympathetic historian of modern Conservatism John Ramsden, has described as “cynicism and semantic obfuscation”. The metaphor of obfuscation is a good one, it reminds us that much of Tory politics is about keeping things hidden. This is not a side effect of Conservative politics, so much as its central mode of expression. Seen in this perspective, Cameron’s presence is a risk to an entire way of doing politics. It threatens to make the relationship between politics and class too clear.

Dave Renton

CLR James legacy project in Hackney

From Hackney Unites, a community coalition for social justice, based in east London:

Last year we won a battle with the local authority to maintain the name CLR James for the Dalston area library. Dalston is an area with a significant Black British community and the proposal to remove the name was seen as an insult to the local black community.

However, during the campaign it became clear that many people had no idea who CLR James was or what he represented. Hackney Unites is therefore keen to build on the success of the campaign by developing a CLR James legacy project. This will concentrate on a number of areas. One of which will be developing a teaching resource for Black History month based on CLR James' work. The second will be an attempt to develop a critical analysis of his life work in the context of lessons we can learn for our current struggles.

James is a revolutionary writer who has much to say to a new generation of activists looking to resolve the contradictions involved in evolving mass movements. One thing we would like to do is to create a seminar series on CLR James, as well as podcasts/webinars on his life and work. We plan these seminars on a monthly basis starting in July, and lasting to October (when we hope to launch our teaching pack). If anyone on this list would like to know more, wants to contribute, or has ideas about how to make this project a reality, please email

CFP: "Reform Communism" since 1945

Call for papers: One-day seminar/workshop on “Reform communism” since 1945 in comparative historical perspective.
Saturday 22 October 2011.
Organised by UEA School of History in conjunction with the journal Socialist History.
Venue: School of History, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ.

The collapse of the USSR and the Eastern bloc in the wake of Gorbachev’s perestroika seemed to show that communism was essentially unreformable. It could be preserved, dismantled, or overthrown, but it could not be reconstructed as a viable alternative to capitalism, free from the defects of its Leninist-Stalinist prototype.
Prior to 1989-91, however, reform communism was a live political issue in many countries. At different times in countries as diverse as Yugoslavia, the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Western Europe, Japan, and China, the leaderships of communist parties themselves sought to change direction, re-evaluate their own past, correct mistakes and so on with the aim of cleansing, strengthening and improving communism, rather than undermining or dismantling it. In countries ruled by communist parties this process usually involved political relaxation and an easing of repression, and was often accompanied by an upsurge of intellectual and cultural ferment.
The aim of this seminar is to consider reform communism as a distinct phenomenon, which can usefully be distinguished from, on the one hand, mere changes of line or leader without any engagement with a party’s own past and the assumptions which underpinned it, and on the other, dissenting and oppositional activity within and outside parties which failed to change the party’s direction.
This seminar will explore different experiences of reform communism around the world after 1945 in a comparative context. Examples might include:
• Tito and Titoism
• Khrushchev and “de-Stalinisation”
• Kadarism and the “Hungarian model”
• Eurocommunism and ideas of socialist democracy
• the Prague Spring
• the Deng Xiaoping reforms in China
• Gorbachev’s perestroika
We are seeking papers of 5000 to 10000 words on various experiences or aspects of reform communism in history, to be presented at the seminar. Selected papers will be published in 2012 in a special issue of Socialist History ( devoted to the subject.
Proposals for papers should be submitted by 1 July 2011 to Francis King ( and Matthias Neumann ( at School of History, UEA, Norwich NR4 7TJ. Attendance at the seminar is free of charge, but space is limited. Please e-mail us if you are interested in attending.