Thursday, 26 January 2012

Holocaust Memorial Day Wallchart

To mark Holocaust memorial day (30 January), a wall chart has been produced by Gaverne Bennett for UCU which can be accessed here [pdf]:
Lets make sure that what happened is never forgotten or denied.

New Unionism day school

A dayschool hosted by Workers' Liberty
Saturday 18 February 2012, 11:30-17:30

Highgate Newtown Community Centre, 25 Bertram Street, London N19 5DQ
(Archway tube)

In the late 1880s, workers (often unskilled or semi-skilled, often
migrants and often working in casualised and precarious environments)
organised militant industrial unions to fight back against their
bosses. Faced with increasingly similar conditions today, can we build
a New Unionism for the 21st century that transforms and revolutionises
the modern labour movement?

Registration: £15 waged, £8 low-waged/ student, £4 unwaged.

Speakers and sessions are:
* How the socialists organised: the life and times of Tom Mann (Cathy
Nugent and Charlie MacDonald)
* The movement for working-class self-education (Colin Waugh, further
education activist, author of Plebs, the Lost Legacy of Independent
Working-Class Education
* Finding a political voice: from New Unionism to Labour
representation (Martin Thomas and Sam Greenwood)
* Organising the unorganised: (Mick Duncan, Unite p.c; Ruth Cashman,
Lambeth Unison p.c.)
* From the Matchworkers to the Chainmakers – how women organised (Jill
Mountford and Louise Raw, author of Striking a Light, The Bryant and
May Matchwomen and their Place in History
* What came next – The Great Unrest 1911-1914 (Edd Mustill)
* Organising at work today: using the ‘Troublemakers’ Handbook’ (Kim
Moody, founder of Labor Notes magazine, academic, author — most
recently US Labor in Trouble and Transition — and activist)
New Unionism 2012? How can we reinvigorate the labour movement?
Speakers include Eamonn Lynch (Bakerloo Line driver tube driver
victimised for his union activity and reinstated following an RMT
campaign) and Jean Lane (Workers' Liberty and Tower Hamlets Unison)

Creche, cheap food and bookstalls

Conference: A Revolutionary Life: Ruth First, 1925-1982

On behalf of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (University of London) and Commonwealth Advisory Bureau, you are cordially invited to attend our upcoming conference ‘A revolutionary life: Ruth First 1925 – 1982' which celebrates the life of anti-apartheid activist, investigative journalist and scholar Ruth First. The conference will take place on the 7th June 2012, 10:00 – 19:00 at Senate House in Bloomsbury, London, and will include, among others, Justice Albie Sachs, Gillian Slovo, Shula Marks, and Bridget O’Laughlin
. Registration fee: £10 (standard); £5 (students/unwaged/retired) – includes lunch and wine reception. We hope that you are able to attend. Please feel free to circulate this message to any colleagues or students who may be interested in attending.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

New CLR James library opens

The Dalston CLR James Library in Hackney opens this week - after a campaign that involved over 2,500 people signing a petition. Gaverne Bennett writes to us about the re-opening:

'It is a tremendous victory given there was an attempt to change the name of the library. There will be a special exhibition opening about CLR James at the library the first week of March. Thereafter, there will be some kind of lecture (to be held yearly) in late March.'

Edited to add:
1. Friday 2nd March 2012 - a new CLR James exhibition will open at the library featuring different aspects of CLR James's life and work.

2. Tuesday 27th March 2012 - Gary Younge from The Guardian will be giving a lecture/talk at the library. 7-9pm. Gary will discussing/celebrating CLR James life, legacy, and relevance for today.

Edited to add: a review of Gary's lecture by Joy Francis for Words of Colour

Monday, 23 January 2012

David Montgomery 1927-2011

Jon Weiner remembers the late great historian of the American working class David Montgomery, who died late last year.

Edited to add: From Radical History Review
The radical historian, David Montgomery, who died on December 2, 2011, was the doyen of American labor history. Well known for a half dozen major works on labor and the working class in the long nineteenth century, David's scholarly work, political commitments and personal life exemplified the seamless web that animated his engagement with social justice, peace and equality.

David was also a long-time friend and supporter of this journal and it is telling that many of his former doctoral students have served on our editorial collective. In 1982, when the Radical History Review struggled as an independently financed and operated journal, David signed on as one of eleven world-class historians to serve as Associate Editors, a supportive role that lent his prestige and consequent credibility to a journal largely run by graduate students and recent PhDs. In the last decade he helped found Historians Against the War (HAW) and remained a stalwart force in the organization.

The Radical History Review will publish a fuller appreciation of David Montgomery’s life and work in a forthcoming issue. "Once Upon a Shop Floor: An Interview with David Montgomery," conducted by two RHR editors, Paul Buhle and Mark Naison, gives voice to the remarkable history of this remarkable man, historian and friend. The interview was originally published in the RHR in Spring 1980 and subsequently appeared in the RHR book, Visions of History (Pantheon, 1983).

The interview is now freely available to all at Duke University Press's RHR website:

Daniel Walkowitz, RHR Editorial Collective

Bert Ramelson conference

The Working Class Organised:
A Conference/Rally on the life and times of Bert Ramelson
and the lessons to be learned for today’s struggle

Will be held at
The Bishopsgate Institute Main Hall,
230 Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 4QH (nearest tube Liverpool St.)
on Saturday 5th May 2012 from 10am till 5pm

Admission Free

Overall Chair Rodney Bickerstaffe
Chairs Tom Sibley/ Louise Raw/ Richard Baxell
Speakers: Max Levitas, Deanna Lubelski, Kevin Halpin, Mick Costello, Keith Ewing, Mary Davis, Graham Stevenson, John Foster, Ann Field, John Haylett, Bill Greenshields and Tony Burke

If you have questions or would like to help, please contact Terry McCarthy at

Sunday, 15 January 2012

LSHG Newsletter # 44 online

Just a quick message to highlight the fact that most of the new Spring LSHG newsletter is now online - contents include Keith Flett on Occupy, David Renton on Seb Coe, Stan Newens on Ray Challinor, and advertisements for forthcoming seminars of LSHG and others such as the Socialist History Society plus of course the annual LSHG conference on 25 February on 'A History of Riots'. Other matters were also flagged up, and John Riddell's report of the session on international Communism at November's Historical Materialism conference in London was reprinted. Future LSHG seminars are listed below, while for more info on submissions for future newsletters or membership of the LSHG contact Keith Flett at the email address above.

23rd January Nicole Ulrich {University of the Witwatersrand] 'Direct Action and Colonial Rule in Eighteenth-Century Southern Africa: a survey of underclass protest'.

6th February Merilyn Moos 'From the personal to the political: Researching the KPD 1929-37'

20th February Manus McGrogan 'The revolutionary left press after 1968'

5th March Lucian van der Walt [University of Witwatersrand] 'Adding Red to the Black Atlantic: the Industrial Workers of Africa and International Socialist League’s black revolutionary syndicalists and the South Africa Native National Congress's 1917-1920 radicalisation'

19th March Roberta Wedge 'Mary Wollstonecraft: journalist, socialist, or somewhere else on the political spectrum?'

All seminars at 5.30pm
Gordon Room,
Ground Floor
Senate House
South Block
Institute of Historical Research

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Seminar on George Padmore and West Indian labour revolts

You are warmly invited to the following seminar on WEDNESDAY 18 JANUARY jointly hosted by the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies:

Leslie James, LSE '“The most completely political Negro": The convergence of George Padmore’s pan-Africanism and Marxism in the West Indian Labour Revolts, 1935-1939'

DATE: 18 January 2012
TIME: 17:30 - 19:30

ABSTRACT Born in Trinidad in 1903, George Padmore is best known either as one of the 'fathers of Pan-Africanism', or as the Communist International's most important 'Negro communist.' These categories have diminished his interest in, and support for, resistance in the West Indies. The Caribbean labour revolts, which began in British Honduras in early 1935 and culminated in the strikes, marches and demonstrations across Jamaica in 1938, became a major subject of George Padmore’s journalism and a key action point for his London-based International African Service Bureau (IASB). The IASB became heavily involved in West Indian affairs and although many see this period as Padmore’s stronger identification as an ‘African,’ it was also the period in which he was most involved in West Indian politics. This paper will show that Padmore's continued Marxism and his persistent encouragement of pan-African unity came together in his support for Caribbean workers.
BIO Leslie James is a PhD candidate in the International History Dept, London School of Economics and Political Science. She is working on a biography of George Padmore.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The 2012 Olympics - David Renton on Sebastian Coe/Steve Ovett

From LSHG Newsletter #44 (January 2012)
The Toff and the Monster

Asked in 2009 why British entries always did so badly in the Eurovision Song Context, former presenter Terry Wogan answered, “There has always been that general feeling [in Britain] of distrust of Johnny Foreigner, but, of course, it is mutual. Britain has attacked nearly every country in Europe, and people don't forget.” Perhaps with this very history in mind, bookmakers made Paris not London the favourite in July 2005 to acquire the 2012 summer Olympics. The moment at which London inched past Paris is generally said to have been Sebastian Coe’s speech to the critical meeting of the International Olympic Committee.

Now, by this stage, in Britain, Coe was best known as an unsuccessful politician in his own right. He had been a Tory MP from 1992 to 1997 and William Hague’s constant companion during the latter’s unsuccessful stint as leader of the Conservatives after the 1997 election. Very much Adam Werrity to Hague’s Liam Fox, Coe was said to spend his every morning in judo bouts with his leader, and in one unfortunate incident, the former Olympic gold medallist was left unconscious by a Hague neck lock.

The members of the International Olympic Committee almost certainly knew little of Coe’s recent past. What won them over was being addressed by a man who 25 years before had been a part of one of the greatest of recent Olympic rivalries. I have recently been writing about my own life as a runner, and as part of that endeavor I have reflected on the Coe-Ovett rivalry and on the role played by Coe in particular. Running dominated my adolescence; I was a decent county-standard runner. I would never have run but for Coe and Ovett.

Seb Coe, like Steve Ovett, grew up in a family dominated by a strong central figure. In Coe’s case it was his father Peter, a factory manager. A Channel Four documentary, shown just in time for the Los Angeles Olympics, opened with Peter Coe in a silver anorak and outsized glasses telling the story of Coe’s running career: “At 14 I really thought he was good, and at 16 I was certain that if I was patient and played it right he would be a world beater.” Peter Coe pronounced the word cer-ta-in in a slow, lumbering manner, turning two syllables into three.

When Coe was still young, his family moved from London to Stratford upon-Avon. They lived on the edge of town, and he would regularly run two miles or so into town and back again on errands for his mother, never using a bicycle, always preferring the feeling of running. Ovett tells a similar story save that in his account the errands were for his father and meant purchasing fags or cans from the corner store. Mick Ovett would even pretend to time the youthful athlete, counting out loud “three, four, five” as he left the house, and starting afresh “twenty-three, twenty-four” as he heard the sounds of his son returning home.

Ovett’s mother owned and ran a café, Mrs Coe was an actress who wound down her own career to raise a family. Coe’s twin sister was a ballet dancer in her teens, and it is said that she shared his ability to walk or run as if on air. Coe’s mother told the documentary that her son was a nervous child and he flourished only in the absence of competition. Elsewhere, it is recorded that Coe finished disappointingly in his first two efforts at the England Schools championships.

 In Sheffield, the Coes lived in Hallamshire, surrounded by doctors and university lecturers. The young Seb Coe was asthmatic and suffered from eczema and hay fever. Unlike Ovett, he failed his 11-plus. This would barely have caused a stir in the Ovett household, but in the Coe family it was seen as a shameful episode, a defect likely to bring down the status of the whole family. Peter Coe told the future athlete he could either accept then and there he was a failure, as the examination had suggested, or he could work to prove the test wrong. In his mother’s words, “He didn't achieve very much. He achieved when it didn't matter, but when it came to the tests, like the 11-plus, nerves got to him so much.” Her accent, like her husband’s or indeed her son’s, shows few signs of any Sheffield influence.

The father’s desire for the family to retain its middle class status chimed with the son’s need to retain his father’s love. He worked harder than he had thought possible. "All the top performances come", Peter Coe believed, "when it's hurting." Coe addressed his father by his first name. In his book The Winning Mind, he refers at several points to the views of his “coach”. A different parent might have allowed his son to address him directly as “father”. “I drove us both hard”, Peter Coe said. “Patience was not my virtue. I expected him to be ready on the dot for training! But he was a splendid fellow, he knew better how to live with me than anyone in the family. He learned obedience, yet by the time he grew up his father wasn’t God, he knew that I had feet of clay. We worked on the programme and he never badgered me or questioned the programme.” Over the next two years, Coe would shed his early physical weakness and develop into a decent schoolboy athlete. When Coe was barely 13 his father drew up a projection of progress up to the 1980 Olympics with an optimum 1,500 metres time of 3.30, three minutes faster than the then world record.

In the build-up to Moscow, the papers would sell Coe to the British public as “the toff” in contrast to Ovett, “the monster”. As a student, Coe talked up aspects of his life which seemed to emphasise his middle-class character, such as his admiration of the American novelists Steinbeck, Hemmingway and Bellow, his love of jazz (in 1980...), and his desire to follow his father by working in industry.

After his Gold at the 1980 Olympics, Coe spent many hours negotiating the first advertising contract for an amateur athlete, for which special dispensation was required from the running authorities. He earned a footballer’s salary by becoming the public face of Instant Horlicks. When Coe won Gold in the 1500 metres in the 1980 Olympics, his success and above all his victory over his compatriot Ovett was portrayed as a great triumph of the English middle classes. In the words of the Daily Mail, “He lifted the soul, he ennobled his art, he dignified his country.”

More was at stake, however, than just the surface distinction between the market trader’s boy and the manager’s son. For as Ovett said repeatedly, in terms of background there was more that they had in common than that which separated them. The early lives of each were dominated by a single strong parent. Both came originally from Southern England, Coe, the younger athlete, was just twelve months younger than Ovett. Both were students, even if the media insisted on taking Coe’s Sport Science more seriously than Ovett’s Art. Most people in Britain were waged employees, both Peter Coe and Mick Ovett were set apar (if, admittedly, in subtly different ways) from the working-class majority.

As well as class, the runners differed in their approach on the track and beyond. When they ran, Ovett was generally seen as a “kicker” who relied on his finishing pace, while Coe was a “bunny”, who depended on a very fast first half of the race to wear his opponents into submission. But neither style was innate, Coe’s self invention between 1976 and 1978 as a frontrunner came about for specific reasons. As a schoolboy athlete, Coe was seen as a 1500 and 3000 metre runner. Coe turned to the 800 metres late, in 1976, with his father’s blessing, after he reduced his best 800 metre time by three seconds in a single race. It became clear, without anyone planning it, that the distance suited him perfectly.

Coe’s difficulty in choosing the shorter distance is that while it suited him well, British athletics already provided a world-class rival, Ovett. Moreover this rival appeared to possess an unparalleled asset, his finish. Coe became a front-runner, in short, to defeat his rival’s best weapon. Coe’s adopted tactic of running the first lap of the 800 metres in under 50 seconds brought him both success and failure. It was the key to his first world record, over 800 metres at Oslo in July 1979, during which Coe’s 200-metre splits were timed as 24.0, 26.0, 24.8 and 27.0. The extraordinary period of the race was the third 200 metres, during which Coe powered away from a field which including Mike Boit, by now a World Cup silver medallist. The Oslo time was in turn the key to Coe’s two further world records in the next six weeks, in the mile and the 1500 metres.

The front-runner’s mantle, however, brought defeat in competition over 800 metres in the 1978 European Championships, and at the Olympics two years later. Determined not to repeat his Bronze from Prague, Coe knew not to run a first lap in less than 50 seconds. Having worked out how not to run, he forgot the simpler task of how best to race. He ran passively in the 800 metres at Moscow, leaving the way open for Ovett to claim the Olympic gold, before coming back in the 1500 metres.

The defining image of Coe is the expression on his face as he breaks the finishing line at the end of his Gold-winning 1500 metres at Moscow. Coe stands straight, with arms to each side, his upper body in a crucifixion pose. His head is pulled backwards, and the muscles at the front of his neck are tight. Every muscle in his face is pulled up, away from his neck. His mouth widens in a grimace. Even his brows are arched. I studied that image at the time and have looked it again many times since. I saw no pleasure in it then and can find none when I look at it today. It is not a look of ecstasy, it shares nothing with the much simpler images of Ovett after his Gold at Moscow: a clenched fist, the search for a particular face in the crowd, a smile. Indeed, in all the images of Ovett racing I can see only familiar emotions: fatigue, elation, desire, the anger of defeat, the joy of success. Coe’s grimace was one of those rare occasions when he allowed his deepest emotions to rise to the surface. What it shows is that he ran not in hope but in fear.

Despite his preference for left-field US fiction, Coe’s politics, as he told anyone who would listen, were the same ones that Mrs Thatcher was (in 1980) still cautious about testing on the country. Coe told one interviewer:

“I’m a great believer in personal liberty, and I do believe in the interplay of market forces. If anybody is good enough and in demand whatever field they are in, then you will find people are prepared to pay. And if somebody can make a living out of what they are good at, I don’t really see what grounds anybody can say no.”

On the running track, in his espousal of permanent competition, and in his strange combination of joylessness and fear, Coe’s success was a sign of the coming Thatcherite counterrevolution.

David Renton
David Renton’s book Lives; Running will be published by Zero Press in July 2012.

Monday, 9 January 2012

LSHG Conference 2012 - A History of Riots

LSHG CONFERENCE 2012 - A History of Riots
Saturday 25th February 2012
Midday-5pm, Room 350
Institute of Historical Research
Senate House, Malet Street
London WC1
                                                 The Exeter Bread Riots of 1854

The British riots of summer 2011 were a powerful reminder that rioting is still on the agenda even in one of the centres of market capitalism. Rioting has a long history and historical context. While authorities have tended to use the language of criminality historians have often taken a different view. The papers at this conference - the first to look at the history of riots since the events of 2011, and the broader sweep from the Arab Spring to the Occupy movements of that year - are based on original research into a range of aspects of the riot in history.

History of Riots conference 25th Feb: timetable
Room 350 Institute of Historical Research, Senate House Malet St WC1
From Revolution to New Unionism; the impact of Bloody Sunday on the development of John Burns’s politics
Riots around the Scottish Union negotiations in 1706
Memorial Day Massacre, a Chicago Police Riot
Registration from Midday
Papers and discussion from 12.30pm including introduction: Keith Flett Riots, the form of protest that could not be consigned to the history books
Round Table discussion: Understanding the history of riots today at 4pm
Afterwards discussion and beer at the Euston Tap [front of Euston station]

Entry is £10 [£5 unwaged]. We ask people to donate in advance, if possible, to speed registration on the day.
Cheques, payable to ‘ Keith Flett’, to 38 Mitchley Rd London N17 9HG
Enquiries to:

Keith Flett on Occupy and the Historians

From LSHG Newsletter, # 44 (January 2012)

The Occupy movement has shaken— if not exactly, so far—changed the world. It has pulled in not only established activists, but also protesters appearing on the political stage for the first time, angry at a world where a small group causes a massive crisis and then expects everyone else to pay for it. What should socialist historians say and do about this?

Firstly, there is a duty of solidarity, and there is a history to that. From Wall Street to St Paul’s, Occupy has been about making protests in some of the central spaces of Capital and asserting the right of ordinary people to do so. The State has reacted with varying degrees of physical and legal force. Free speech battles have been a feature of capitalist societies. In Britain much effort was put into fencing off and enclosing public spaces. Kennington Common where the Chartists gathered in 1848 is but one example. Modern commentators on London such as Ian Sinclair have emphasised how this battle for control over public spaces has continued right up to the present day. As the Occupy protesters have discovered, pretty much everywhere in central London is ‘owned’ by someone who can tell people to ‘get orf my land’.

Historians also have other duties. A new movement seeks a history and attempts also to understand history. There is a history of occupying space in recent times from the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders to Greenham Common and the Stop the War camp in Parliament Square. There is also the issue of what history can usefully be discussed and learned in the Tent Universities that are a feature of some of the Occupy spaces such as St Paul’s. I was pleased to receive an invitation to speak on the history of strikes there and impressed by the debates featured and the array of historians who have appeared.

Occupy suggests a major task for socialist historians in the year ahead. Not only to get out there and get involved but also to think about what history can usefully be discussed and how, with activists who are looking for an understanding of the history of labour movements, protest and activism. It is a history that should be informed by the disciplines of the seminar room, the library and the archive but driven by the
requirements of an activism determined to confront neo-liberal capitalism. In a sense it is a little like the ‘counter-culture’ of the late 1960s which produced numerous texts and alternative reading lists. With a youthful memory of that and direct experience of the current Occupy movement, there is no question that the latter is more political and more focused on trying to understand how capitalism does— and more particularly does not— work.

So just as the St Paul’s Occupy has organised an ‘outreach’ committee, so socialist historians need to think
of something similar. Socialist history has been made in 2011, although it is too soon to understand or characterise exactly how. As well as informing tumultuous times, historians also need to be on the streets helping to build that future now.
Keith Flett

Imperial and World History seminars

Imperial and World History seminar
University of London
Convenors: Richard Drayton (KCL), Sarah Stockwell (KCL), John Stuart (Kingston), David Todd (KCL), Jon Wilson (KCL)

Spring Term, 2012

The seminar meets on Mondays at 5 PM fortnightly, but because of ongoing building work at the Institute of Historical Research it will meet in the Woburn Suite in Senate House
This academic year our seminars will loosely be focussed on the theme of VIOLENCE

January 23
Laleh Khalili (SOAS), The Uses of Happiness in Counterinsurgencies

February 6
Toby Green (KCL) will discuss his new book on the early history of the African slave trade: The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa, 1300- 1589 (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2012)
with responses from José Lingna Nafafe (Birmingham)
and Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias PF (Birmingham)

February 20
Konstantin Dierks (Indiana and Oxford), A World Safe Enough for Imperialism? American Perceptions of Danger and Violence in the World, 1789-1869

March 5
Richard Seymour (LSE), 'Humanitarian intervention' and Liberal Imperialism

March 19
Caroline Elkins (Harvard), 'W' Marks the Spot: Document Destruction and Removal at the End of the British Empire

Tea is available in Senate House cafe before the seminar. While we are unable to offer a subsidy, any participant in the seminar is welcome to join us afterwards for dinner with the speaker.