Wednesday, 31 October 2012

LSHG Seminar reminder

The next seminar in the autumn series of LSHG seminars at the Institute of Historical Research is on Monday November 5th

Dan Gordon [Edge Hill] will speak on 'Immigrants & Intellectuals: May 1968 and the rise of anti-racism in France'.

The seminar starts at 5.30pm and is jointly held with the Modern French History seminar so it is in room G37 on the Ground Floor of the South Block of Senate House

I appreciate that neither the time or the London location is convenient for all and we have started via the IHR to podcast seminars where possible. Unfortunately Dan Gordon's seminar will not be podcast [but you can read his book!]

However the podcast from the seminar on 15th October when George Paizis spoke on his new translation of Victor Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary is available here:

Upcoming LSHG seminars
(All 5.30pm, Gordon Room (G34), Ground Floor)
Institute of Historical Research
Senate House, Malet Street London WC1

12 November - Chris Blakey: Georges Cheron and the 1936 Hotchkiss factory soviet

26 November - Pete Brown: Shakespeare's Local

10 December - Keith Flett: History of Riots project: research update

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Online registration for HM Conference reminder

One week left to register for the Ninth Annual Historical Materialism Conference 'Weighs Like a Nightmare' (SOAS, 8-11 November). To secure advance registration discounts, register now at this site
Plenaries include:
Historical Materialism Plenary: 'Gender, Work and Reproduction in Crisis' with Silvia Federici, Kathi Weeks and David McNally
Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Prize Lecture: 'Seasons of Self-Delusion: Opium, Capitalism, and the Financial Market' by Jairus Banaji
Socialist Register Launch: 'The Question of Strategy' with Leo Panitch, Sam Gindin, Alex Callinicos, Susan Spronk, and Greg Albo
Sessions include:

2012 Venezuelan Elections and the Future of the Bolivarian Process; Absolute Hegel: Time, Money and Reification; Aesthetics and Art History; Aesthetics, Crisis, Utopia; After 1917; Anti-Racism, Anti-Colonialism and the International; Anti-Capitalist Movements; Anti-Colonial and Post-Colonial Struggles;Assessing the Egyptian Revolution; Badiou, Marxism and the Critique of Political Economy; The Body, the Psyche and the Social; Capitalist Origins and Transitions; The City in Times of Crisis; Class, Work and Crisis; Commodity derivatives, commodification and economic restructuring in the 21st Century;Communication, Contradiction and Resistance; Communist Histories; Considerations on Marxist Westerns; Crisis, Ecology and Marxism; Debt; Dialogues in Marxist Feminist Theory; Documentary's (Dis)continuities; Eastern European Marxism; Ernst Bloch's Utopian Materialism: Launch of the 'Bloch Bibliothek' Project; Encountering Althusser; Escaping the Crisis; Europe in Crisis; Fascism: Theory and History; Feminism and Anti-racism: The Hijab Question; Feminist collectives past and present; Feminist-Marxist critiques of liberal feminism; Feminisms and Marxisms in Modern Chinese Theory and Practice; Feminism, Neo-Colonialism and Empire; Feminism Politics and Contemporary Art:  Documenting, Performing, Producing 1960s - 2010s; Green Capitalism and Ecological Revolution; Grounding the “New” Movements; 'Haunted by a Radical Instability': Althusser and the Precarious Necessity of the Law; Hegel and Marx; Hegel or Spinoza: The Tendencies of Pierre Macherey; Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism Workshop; History and Militancy in Walter Benjamin; History Reborn: Specters of Revolution in Contemporary Science Fiction; History and Revolution: Thinking with the 18th Brumaire; How to think Partisan today? Between partisan art and politics in WWII Yugoslavia; Imperialism and finance; Ineluctable Narrative: Marxism, Modernity, and Representation in Art, Music, Comics and the Novel Form; Kautsky, Bernstein, Lenin; Labour, Class and Welfare; Law, Social Movements and Struggle; Labriola, Gramsci, Lukacs; Law and Struggles;Left Parties, Left Strategies; Lineages of Modernism and the Avant-Garde; Machiavelli, Marxism, and the Revolutionary Tradition; Marxism and Critique; Marxism and Feminism: Revisiting and Extending the Dialogue; Marxist-feminism as revolutionary praxis; Marxism and the Media; Maoist Movements in Sri Lanka, Portugal and India: History, Theory and Practice; Marxist Political Strategies; Memory and its Discontents; Migrant domestic workers; Natural Beauty and Negative Images in Adorno; The New Latin American Left: Cracks in the Empire; Occupation and Forced Migration: From Palestine to Kashmir; Passages from Feudalism: The Transition in Theory; The Poetry of the Future; The Political Predicament of Contemporary Art; The Politics of Reproduction; Poor People's Movements; Powers of the State; Primitive Accumulation / Accumulation by Dispossession: Theory and Strategy; Problems of Communist History; Property, Commodity and the Legal Relation; The Protest Movement and the 2011-2012 Revolutions in Context: The Opposition Movement in Russia and Global Struggles; Re-evaluating Lukacs: critical realism in political art, then and now; Remittances and Migration in a World of Inequality; Representation and Resistance in Culture; Rethinking Revolutionary History and Thought in the Middle East; Revisiting the Bolivian National Revolution of 1952; Revisiting Politics and Radicalism in Art of the 60s and 70s; Revolution; Revolution and Counter-Revolution in the Middle East; Self-Management; Snake Eggs: Older and New; Social Reproduction, Commodification and Sexualities; Spaces of Capital; Terror, the General Will and the Jacobin Legacy; Theories of Finance and Crisis; Third Avant-Garde? Art Today; Trade Unions: Limits and Challenges; Tradition and the Italian Resistance; Understanding Crises of Labour in Southern Africa; War, Resistance and Revolution; Western Marxisms; What are the implications of the turn towards ethnic politics for class struggle?; Women and Globalisation: On transition and development; Women in times of economic crisis; Work, work, work! Value, Technology, Ideology.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Meeting: Can we Rebuild the Pleb's League Tradition?

 From Colin Waugh and Keith Venables of the Independent Working-Class Education Network:
'Can We Rebuild the Plebs League Tradition?'

24 November at Northern College, near Barnsley.

Speakers include Hilda Kean (formerly dean of Ruskin College) and Alex Gordon (president, RMT).

Entry: £12.00 including lunch.

Details also at

To book, please contact:

Once more on Bert Ramelson, CND, the CPGB etc

 Peter Waterman responds to Tom Sibley on Bert Ramelson, the CND, the CPGB, etc.

Tom Sibley may well be right on the shortcomings of my memory concerning the CPGB, the Daily Worker, World News and the CND. Resident outside the UK since 1970, I do not have his access to the archives. And I would appreciate any more detailed evidence that would help me correct the account in my draft autobio.

Tom, however, protests too much. The CP had its own front organisation for peace (as for almost everything), the British Peace Committee, of which the General Secretary was, as mentioned, Colin Sweet, a leading Communist. Tom suggests enthusiastic CP support for Aldermaston, though I recall no CP banners on the marches I took part in. Nor do these appear in my possibly selective photos - though these do record a banner from another Soviet Communist front, the International Union of Students (for which I had worked, 1955-8). Nor does Tom take issue with my account of the London CP meet on the 'peace question', at which, as I argued, the CP eventually switched its energies from the BPC to the CND.

This kind of adjustment to (or collapse in the face of) unpredicted realities was typical of the CP during my affiliation with it (1951-68). For me this is not a question of virtue or vice. It is one, rather, of the CP's increasing irrelevance to a Britain that could no longer be captured by its categories. And to social movements that could neither be led nor captured by its activists. As in the case of the Youth CND, the CP activists simply jumped the King Street gun. The CND was, looking back on it, the first of what came to be called the 'new social movements', having its origins outside not only Communism but the labour movement more generally.

Tom denies my suggestion that the CP was labourist rather than socialist, arguing, rather that it was 'revolutionary', and that Bert Ramelson had insisted that militant unionism had to be 'transformed into real social change leading to Socialism'. However, this combination of militant particularism with global aspiration - which one can find also in traditional Communist (plus Maoist and many Trotskyist) parties till the present day - reduced and reduces the latter to a glowing, if ever retreating horizon. For a dire present example, consider the South African Communist Party.

The problem is nicely expressed in a Soviet (though evidently not pro-Soviet) joke:

After a Party officer has lectured a collective farm audience to the effect that Communism was on the horizon, a peasant told the speaker that he understood about Communism but didn't understand the meaning of horizon. The speaker replies: the horizon is an imaginary line between the earth and heavens that retreats as one advances toward it.

Likewise, repetition of the word 'revolution' does not make the CPGB of the post-WW2 period revolutionary. And Bert's commuting to the offices of the Prague-based World Marxist Review, seems in fundamental contradiction with Tom's insistence on CP support to the Prague Spring and to Charter 77. Once again we have a combination of attachment to Soviet Communist structures and practices with pragmatic adjustment to social movement realities.

Rather than resurrecting Bert Ramelson as an icon of revolutionary rectitude, I feel that one would do historical Communists/isms more justice in writing of them in the tragic mode. And then in the Aristotelian sense that

'Tragedy enactment of a deed that is important and complete, and of [a certain] magnitude, by means of language enriched [with ornaments], each used separately in the different parts [of the play]: it is enacted, not [merely] recited, and through pity and fear it effects relief (catharsis) to such [and similar] emotions. Poetics, VI 1449b 2-3.'

Do we need more Communist Parties and Bert Ramelsons? Or do we need, first, catharsis, and then (in less dramatic mode)  to learn from their limitations, develop new notions of human social emancipation, and of the kind of human personality and inter-personal relations necessary to such?

Peter Waterman
The Hague, 27 October, 2012

Friday, 26 October 2012

Walter Rodney Symposium

London Metropolitan University & Black History Walks present:  

Dr Walter Rodney Symposium: How Europe Underdevelops Africa.
Saturday 3rd November 10-30-5.00pm

To mark Black History Month this symposium will provide an overview of the analysis by Dr Walter Rodney in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (1972). The aim is to acknowledge the contribution made by Dr Rodney in contextualising the deliberate strategies of underdevelopment of Africa by Europe during the colonial and postcolonial periods. It will revisit his work in relation to Africa’s social and economic position today and consider the implications of neo-colonialism in the struggle for self-determination and economic independence. Extending his empirical research from 1500 – 1960s, Rodney argues that Africa’s underdevelopment and the exploitation of its resources is the direct consequence of Western Europe’s imperialistic policies. Rodney claims that our understanding of development, as related to Western Europe’s accelerated advancements under capitalism, provides the bases for our understanding of underdevelopment. The two must be compared, not just by economic factors but by a look at social indicators such as life-expectancy, levels of diseases, malnutrition and illiteracy.

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is highly praised and influential in the field of development studies and African History. Rodney is critical of the term “developing” which implies linear and probable advancement. The term “Underdevelopment” holds that this situation exists as a “paradox” despite such countries being naturally rich. This means that they are made deliberately poor - underdeveloped - through the exploitative mechanisms of capitalist economies. There will be a screening of W.A.R Stories a film by Clairmont Chung based on his life as a world renowned African Historian, political activist and scholar. A well-travelled pan-Africanist, Rodney’s oratorical skills advocated the cause of the working peoples of his native Guyana. This “grounding” with ordinary people for whom he sought justice and equal rights posed a challenge to the Burnham regime, eventually leading to his assassination.

During the Black History period it gives members of the community the chance to participate in a debate on the history and future development of Africa. London Met Students, Staff, Alumni and prospective students will benefit from the chance to engage in an open discussion of this influential work and the documentary of Walter Rodney’s life at the height of his political career up to his assassination in 1980. It offers another opportunity for London Met to collaborate with Black History Walks in projects that support the community and academic enhancement.

Presentations by leading African/Caribbean Historians:
Professor Clem Seecharan of London Met: 'The making of Rodney's HEUA, with special reference to its Caribbean underpinnings,' looking at the making of HEUA and locating the origins of some of its themes.
Dr Kimani Nehusi: focusing on education, culture and socialization and how the coloniser destroys and distorts those of the colonised.
Dr Ama Biney: “How Europe Continues to Underdevelop Africa,” will look at the contemporary forms of the subjugation of Africa on the political, economic, military, cultural, environmental levels Dr Michelle Asantewa of London Met will be co-hosting the event with Tony Warner of Black History Walks.
Extended discussions both presentation of HEUA and screening of War are intended to be solutions focussed. Cost: £5 (Free for London Met students, staff & Alumni) Refreshments & lunch provided.
Date: 3rd November 2012

 Registration 10.30am for 11.00am start end 5.00pm, 166-220 Holloway Road, Room TM237 PLEASE NOTE: You will have to use the ROCKET ENTRANCE as the Tower is closed for maintenance. Follow the directions to the room. The Rocket is located on the same side as the Main entrance about a minute’s walk away.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Further Comments on Bert Ramelson and CND

Further comments on Bert Ramelson and CND

Peter Waterman’s memory is playing tricks. Contrary to the views he expresses in his recent blog even a rudimentary exploration of contemporary (1958-1960) Daily Worker coverage and CP statements plus articles in World News shows that both the paper and the Party gave extensive and supportive coverage to the activities of CND. A few examples will suffice to illustrate this reality.

On the weekend of the first Aldermaston March the Daily Worker (2nd April, 1958) front page mobilised support under the banner headline “All set for Aldermaston”. On 3rd April, again on the front page, the Daily Worker gave extensive details of the march with its route, meeting points etc. and that day’s editorial stated “The next step in the people’s struggle is to support the Aldermaston March this weekend”. The editorial a week later said this “After the brilliant success of the Aldermaston March in which the British Peace Committee were proud to play their part...”

And so it was each year with growing reports of support from rank and file and official trade union bodies for the activities of CND, many from CP strongholds such as Heathrow Airport, Hoovers in West London, Slough and Southall AEU District Commiittees. And in Golland’s speech to the 1959 CP Congress (selectively quoted from by Birchall in previous blogs) he said “...utmost support to be given by the whole progressive movement to the Aldermaston March to London at Easter.

On the broader issue of whether the CP’s strategy was labourist rather than socialist (in the three decades Ramelson was in the leadership) our book (Revolutionary Communist at Work) gives several examples of Ramelson’s insistence that militant trade unionism was a necessary but not sufficient requirement if advances were to be made, consolidated and then transformed into real social change leading to Socialism. The Party’s approach to revolutionary strategy is outlined in the section of our book headed “the Revolutionary Road” (between pages 85-91. Several references are made to Ramelson’s approach and opposition to economism and sectionalism. Internationally, during the “Ramelson years” the CPGB gave support to the initial Prague Spring and to Charter 77.  

Tom Sibley 21st October 2012

Alan Woodward RIP

The LSHG is very sorry to have to announce that Alan Woodward [1939-2012] died on Saturday. He had a long association with the LSHG and in due course [when we can transcribe an interview he did with Ian Birchall] - an obituary will appear. In the meantime, our sincere condolences to his family, friends and comrades.  

Edited to add: With respect to relevant material on this website, a review of Alan Woodward's edited collection The NHS at 60 can be found here, while two book reviews he wrote for the LSHG Newsletter can be found here and here.  The latter - a review of Plebs: The Lost Legacy of Independent Working Class Education in particular speaks to us today - given recent events outside Downing Street by the Tory toff Andrew Mitchell and the current destruction of archival material underway at Ruskin College, Oxford.

Edited to also add: An obituary by Ian Birchall in Socialist Worker 

Edited to also add: Guardian obituary

Edited to add: An interview by Alan Woodward with Ian Birchall

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Seminar series: The Revolutionary Foundations of Modern Political Thought

Brunel Social and Political Thought Research Group Seminar Series 2012/13 

The Revolutionary Foundations of Modern Political Thought

 Following successful seminar series and international conferences in the last years, the Brunel Social and Political Thought research group will organise another seminar series in 2012/13: ‘The Revolutionary Foundations of Modern Political Thought’. This seminar series aims to explore the ways in which revolutionary politics, movements and events, and responses to them, have shaped and transformed the vocabulary of modern political thought. Brunel, national and international scholars will explore these themes in thinkers and movements ranging from the early modern period to contemporary radical political thought, in political and social theory, philosophy, film and literature.

 Term 1
 Thursday 25th October 2012, 3pm, Room H002
 Peter D. Thomas (Brunel University) The Idea of Communism and the Question of Organisation

Wednesday 31st October 2012, 12:30pm, Room LC015 (Co-sponsored by Politics and History Departmental Seminar)
Filippo del Lucchese (Brunel University) Jura communia as anima imperii: the Symptomatic Relationship between Law and Conflict in Spinoza

Thursday 22nd November 2012, 3pm, Room H002
 Luca Basso (University of Padua) Politics and Conjuncture: Marx and 1848

 Friday 30th November 2012, 3pm, Room GB251
Stella Sanford (Kingston University) Locke, Balibar and the Political Subject

Wednesday 12th December 2012, 1pm, Room LC264 (Co-sponsored by Politics and History Departmental Seminar)
 Gareth Dale (Brunel University) The Growth Paradigm: A Critique

 Thursday 13th December 2012, 3pm, Room H002
Dr Maïa Pal (University of Sussex) Historical Materialism and International Law: Developing Legal Agency in Political Marxism

Wednesday 19th December 2012, 4pm, Room LC264 (Co-sponsored by Politics and History Departmental Seminar)
 Thomas Linehan (Brunel University) Modernism and British Socialism

 Term 2

Thursday 17th January 2013, 3pm, Room H002
 Fabrizio Fasulo (University of Palermo) Raniero Panzieri and the Workers’ Inquiry: the Perspective of Living Labour and the Function of Science

Thursday 24th January 2013, 3pm, Room H002
 Giorgio Cesarale (University of Rome La Sapienza) Traces of Hegel: Reflection and Social Theory

 Thursday 7th February 2013, 3pm, Room H002
Matthijs Krul (Brunel University) The Value of Value: On the Significance of Concepts of Value for Economic History

Wednesday 20th February 2013, 3pm, GB266
 Andrea Bardin (Brunel University) From Man to Matter: Marx after Simondon

Wednesday 27th February 2013, 4pm, Room H002
Alex Callinicos (King’s College London) Deciphering Capital

 Thursday 7th March 2013, 3pm, Room H002
Neil Davidson (University of Strathclyde) Political and Social Revolutions in Historical Perspective: from the Dutch Revolt to the Arab Spring

Wednesday 13th March 2013, 1pm, Room LC264 (Co-sponsored by Politics and History Departmental Seminar)
 Nathaniel Boyd (Brunel University) “Who Thinks Concretely?” Hegel’s Critique of Political Abstraction

Thursday 14th March 2013, 3pm, Room H002
 Alex Demirovic (University of Basel and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung) Marxism and Foucault

Wednesday 20th March 2013, 3pm, LC008
 Chiara Bottici (The New School) Democracy and the Spectacle. On Rousseau’s Homeopathic Method

29th-31st May, 2013, Brunel University, International Conference (Organised by Filippo del Lucchese)
 Machiavelli’s The Prince: Five Centuries of History, Conflict, and Politics
Speakers include Antonio Negri, Etienne Balibar, John McCormick, John Najemy and Warren Montag

 All seminars take place at Brunel University.Directions to the campus can be found here:
 For further information, please contact: Peter Thomas <>

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Update on the Ruskin archives scandal

Further to this, a statement on status of destruction of archival material at Ruskin college, Oxford on 15 October 2012 by Dr Hilda Kean FRHistS

Archive material dating back to the first decades of the twentieth century of the internationally renowned labour movement college, Ruskin College, Oxford has been destroyed and material constituting its radical history has been dispersed. The integrity of the material in the college as an archive of working class history no longer exists. Sadly, this process of destruction and dispersal has not finished. This is a short summary of what has happened.

Archive material:

Student records

Unique student files from c.1900 to c.2000 containing application forms, details of union sponsorship, progress within the college, in some instances press cuttings on future activity

What’s happened?

All the contents of the student files have been destroyed. Some bare bones material has been digitised (not scanned).

Student records from 1940s

As of last week some student files remained awaiting the same fate

What’s happened?

There have been no guarantees that any of the remaining material will be saved

Records of the Ruskin Student Union

Cupboard full of records and material relating to the Ruskin Students Union collected for many years by librarian 1972 – 2004

What’s happened?

Thrown away as cupboard space was needed

Duplicate pamphlets

Duplicates of rare labour movement pamphlets including those on the history of the college

What’s happened?

Shredded – rather than given to another library – as space was at a premium in the new library

Former student dissertations

Although until recently most courses were not full degrees students nevertheless wrote dissertations. Several of these have been published.

What’s happened?

As the principal instructed, on July 11th, many have been destroyed:

‘Please do not mention the SW DiPSW work to anyone but dispose of it straight away. ..Out go those 23 boxes. Now, please. The SW BA work is different matter and will go to a SW storage area in the Rookery. I will talk to SW about this. Social Studies 2000-2003 is out, please. Straight away. We no longer teach that course. Also chuck the English earlier 8 boxes. Not to be mentioned to anyone - thanks. More recent 2 to … Same goes for Employment Relations - 2000- 2002 . Out, please. Please do the chucking straight away and I will talk to relevant tutors who are getting the rest, in advance of the move.

Records on the National Register of Archives:

These included historic labour movement collections such as the Middleton collection or those relating to Oxford.

What’s happened?

All items on the Register have been dispersed to other collections – People’s History Museum or Oxfordshire Local Record office

Historic ephemera:

Artefacts reflected the radical history of the college and were on public prominent display. These included a painting of Bernard Shaw, a plaque to Charles Bowerman, former president of the TUC, painting of Raphael Samuel, anti-apartheid photographic mural, miners’ banner from 1984-5 strike

What’s happened?

All have gone to other institutions or individuals. Miners’ banner is no longer displayed in the library but in a satellite building in a corridor on way to toilet.

Academic and former student response etc.

To date over 3,700 people have signed the petition to stop further destruction. These include: Sarah Waters, Alan Bennett, M Lewycka, Sir Brian Harrison former editor of the Oxford DNB; Dr Nick Mansfield former director of the People’s History Museum; Dr Eve Setch History publisher at Routledge; Professor Alison Light (widow of Raphael Samuel); Professor Jonathan Rose author of The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes; Stewart Maclennan, chair of the Scottish Labour History Society; Harry Barnes, former Labour MP and former Ruskin student; Professor Geoff Whitty, former director of the Institute of Education; Professor Pat Thane, co-founder of History and Policy; Alice Kessler-Harris former President, Organization of American Historians; Dr Andrew Foster, Chair of the Public History Committee of the Historical Association; Professor Geoff Eley, Chair of the History Department at the University of Michigan; Dr. Serge Noiret, Chair of the International Federation for Public History, Italy; Dorothy Sheridan, former archivist of the Mass Observation archive; Dr. Roger Fieldhouse, joint author of A History of Modern British Adult Education and hundreds and hundreds of former Ruskin students and staff.

What has been the response of the college?

In response to a letter to the Guardian (and college management) by Prof Ken Jones and 17 other distinguished academics Audrey Mullender replied on October 8th : ‘You should all be ashamed of yourselves, as senior academics, for not checking your facts. I am ashamed of my profession on your behalf.’ In response to a letter to college management by Professor Jane Caplan and 9 other Oxford historians, the principal replied on October 10th : ‘As none of you has troubled to check the facts with us despite belonging to a discipline where I thought you were supposed to go to primary sources wherever possible, I shall only respond to a request for accurate information and not to a muddled set of allegations’

Although Bishopsgate Institute advised the college management that it could could take unwanted material in July, management did not take up that offer. A statement to governors on 9 October that suggests that it did not know that such provision could be made for storing of records is highly misleading. Various people including historians advised the college management of the possibility of storing archives elsewhere, if not wanted in the college, in August and September. At that time, inter alia, the College Principal stated on September 30th ‘I also resent the allegation that I did not consult. I consulted the person in College who had relevant responsibility: the Data Protection Officer. There is no problem. It does not need to be resolved. This conversation is now closed.’

Position now:

John Prescott said when shown his own files "I was amazed how detailed they were. Every little scrap had been retained, from bills to private reports on my progress. I hadn't known how hard Ruskin had worked on my behalf to get me there."

Most of such similar files have gone. College management has not said that it will save the remaining student records despite worldwide petitioning and emails and letters.

What can people do?

Despite thousands of signatures on the petition and emails of protest we have no guarantee that the few
remaining student files are safe. Please spread this position widely and if you have not done so already write to governors asking them to stop further destruction.

The Chair of governors is David Norman, retired trade union officer from CWU

Vice chair Carole Orgell-Rosen Carole is a nominee from the Ruskin Fellowship, the alumni association.

Other members at July 2012:
Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary Public and Commercial Services Union

Jane Dixon, head of Denman College

John Fray, former NUJ deputy general secretary

Anne Hock of Popularis, a company managing ballots and elections

Roger McKenzie, Unison West Midlands regional secretary

Jo Morris, former women’s officer at TUC

Marva Small, former student

Doug Nicholls, national officer for youth work, Unite the Union

Professor John Raftery, Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) Oxford Brookes University

Pauline Ryall from WEA

Alan Shepherd,secretary of the Ruskin Fellowship, the alumni association

Colin Taylor of Oxford City football club

Van Coulter, Oxford city councillor (and former Ruskin student)

Staff members are:

Kieron Winters (Unison)

Alan Irwin (UCU)

Peter Dwyer (UCU)

2 student members:

Karl Gay

Geraldine Sherratt

and the principal Audrey Mullender

Further background:

General position


Background to what has been lost, by Ruskin librarian 1972 – 2004 David Horsfield :

What digitisation does and doesn’t mean see blog:

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Event at Salford WCML

Wednesday 17th October 2012

2pm - The Working Class Movement Library in Salford marks Black History Month with a talk by Natalie Zacek on Frederick Douglass and Manchester: a 'liberating sojourn'.

Douglass is celebrated for his activities in the abolitionist movement in the United States, but his visit to Manchester in 1846 was a crucial moment in the evolution of his thought on slavery, race, economics, and politics. This talk describes the centrality of Manchester and the North West in this radical transatlantic movement.

Natalie is Lecturer in History and American Studies at the University of Manchester.

3pm - 5pm

Andy Merrifield, author of Magical Marxism and intellectual biographies of John Berger and Guy Debord, will speak about The Enigma of Revolt: Occupy and Beyond.

Joseph Maslen (Edge Hill) will speak on “Confession to Contentment”: Growing Old on the Left in late C20th Britain

All welcome; admission free; light refreshments after. The talk forms part of the WCML 's continuing series 'Invisible Histories series. To be followed by drinks at the Crescent Pub. Organised by the  Radical Studies Network

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Legacy Centenary Event

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: A Free Talk with Music

Presented by Richard Gordon-Smith (composer) and Martin Anthony Burrage (violin, piano) of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation to mark the centenary of the composer’s death in the street of his birth.

Tuesday 16th October 2012 at 6.30 pm
(doors open at 6 pm)

At Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre
2nd Floor, Holborn Library, 32-38 Theobalds Road
London WC1X 8PA

[ ]

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was one of the founding signatories to the 1900 Pan-African Conference in London and Britain’s greatest Black classical composer. The event is to be held just a few yards from where this unique musician and proponent of equality for all was born, in Theobalds Street, Holborn.

Book Launch/film showing: Liberties of the Savoy

Special book launch and film screening

Liberties of the Savoy
Ruth Ewan (2012)

2-3pm, Wednesday 24th October 2012

Barbican Cinema 1, Level 2
Barbican Centre, Silk Street
London EC2Y 8DS

‘The idea for Liberties of the Savoy came from a number of places including a folk song called ‘The Cutty Wren’ which talks of the 14th century Peasants’ Revolt. The site of The Savoy is key to the project. I want Liberties of the Savoy to create a unique situation, all be it for one afternoon, in which the young people involved are unrestricted in their desire and ambition, where they can temporarily experience liberty of sorts.’
– Ruth Ewan

Summoning the spirit of John Ball, Wat Tyler and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, Ruth Ewan invited 200 teenagers from east London to take over The Savoy’s Lancaster Ballroom for an ambitious event, Liberties of the Savoy, which addressed the social history of the site: the immunity from prosecution wealthy debtors were offered by the historic Precinct of the Savoy, and the freedom of opulence and indulgence offered to those who can afford to guest at the hotel. Through a process of workshops, interviews and essays, young people respond to the demands of liberty through questions of injustice, class division, riots and racial inequality, in voices that resonate with the ancient call for freedom, common ownership and equality.

The book presents the plans, drawings, photographs, interviews and texts led by the students, and gathered throughout the project, alongside commissioned texts, and recipes by Martin Chiffers, executive pastry chef at The Savoy. The film, edited by Sam Hepworth, features video footage recorded by the young people, documenting both the event and the work of making it happen.

Ruth Ewan, a Scottish artist based in London, is known for creating context specific art projects, which highlight the continued relevance of particular historic moments to the present. She works with collaborators to realise her projects, which are often grounded in focused research into the social and political history of the site in which they are based.

Liberties of the Savoy is edited by Caroline Woodley and co-published by Book Works and CREATE London as part of Co-Series. Printed in an edition of 1,000 copies, full colour, 136 pages, soft cover. Designed by Åbäke, 160 x 320mm.

ISBN 978 1 9060125 42 7 – £10.00

This project was produced by Frieze Foundation as part of Frieze Projects East, with the additional support of The Savoy. It is the winner of the 2012 CREATE Art Award, the largest participatory art award in the UK and was a part of the fifth, annual CREATE summer programme alongside commissions from David Bailey, Jeremy Deller and Frieze Projects East. CREATE is a socially focused arts agency, rooted in east London and aims to open up exciting opportunities for artists to work with their neighbours in east London.

For more information contact:, 020 7247 2536

Friday, 12 October 2012

CfP: The Making of the English Working Class

Conference on The Making of the English Working Class

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of E.P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class, the Political Studies Association Communism group will be sponsoring a day conference in mid-to-late June 2013, to be held at Queen Mary’s College, University of London and co-convened with the PSA Labour Movements group. Offers of contributions are invited addressing one or more of the following themes: the Making and its reception in historical context; the impact of the text in diverse fields; developments of/ challenges to key themes of the book; contemporary relevance. Contributions that link reflection on Thompson’s contribution to contemporary political movements will be particularly welcome. Proposals (by the end of October please) should be sent to

Edited to add: See also this forthcoming event on 13 April 2013 at the People's History Museum in Manchester.

Communist History conference


Twentieth Century Communism day conference with the support of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence
 University of Manchester, Friday 7 December 2012, 10.00-5.15

Norman LaPorte: Ernst Thälmann and the Making of a German Communist
Chris Holmsted Larsen: Danish Cadres in the Comintern: Agents of International Communism or Vanguard of a National Working Class?
 David Featherstone: African American Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
Adrià Llacuna; Spanish Democracy at War against Fascism: a Militant Experience of a ‘New Type’ for British Communists
Alix Heiniger, German Communists in France and Switzerland during the Second World War
Shirin Hirsch: Chileans in Britain: Exile Politics or Communist Internationalism?
José Neves: The Foreign Road to Homeland: Notes from the History of Portuguese Communism Josep Puigsech: The Communist International, Spanish Communism in Exile and the National Question 1939-43
 Alejandro Andreassi, Karen Hunt, Pedro Ramos Pinto: roundtable and overview

This event is free to attend but advance registration is essential; for further information and to reserve your place, contact

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

London UtR meeting: The Case for a General Strike

Unite the Resistance is organising a rally in central London before the big 20 October TUC demo, to discuss the case for a general strike against austerity.
The TUC passed a resolution at its annual congress earlier this month committing it to consider ‘the practicalities’ of a general strike.
The rally will bring together trade unionists and activists to discuss this landmark call – and how it can be turned into reality.


Speakers will include PCS civil service union leader Mark Serwotka, Ellen Clifford (Disabled People Against Cuts), Jeremy Corbyn MP, BFAWU general secretary Ronnie Draper, Clara Osagiede (RMT cleaners’ grade rep, London Underground) and Sean Vernell (UCU executive, personal capacity).


Rally: ‘March for an alternative’ – the case for a general strike
7pm, Monday 15 October
Friends Meeting House, 173 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ
(Nearest tube Euston)

Book Launch: How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?

You are invited to the launch of Neil Davidson’s new book:
How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?
(Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012)
Saturday 13 October 2012
The Radisson BLU Hotel, 80 High Street, the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 1TH
The venue is a 5 minute walk from Waverley Station via Cockburn Street, Carrubbers Close or North Bridge (see link above). Parking is available on Blackfriars Street; there is disabled access.

The evening will begin at 7.00 in the Dunedin Room where Neil will give a talk on the themes raised by his book, followed by a discussion chaired by Professor Alex Law of Abertay University, Dundee. From around 8.30 guests will be invited to move downstairs to the St Giles Suite for canapés, a paying bar, music from DJ Wattrax and dancing until 1.00. For those whose musical tastes do not extend to funk, soul, disco, hip-hop and jazz, space will be available for quieter conversation and drinking outside the St Giles Suite. Bookmarks: the Socialist Bookshop will have stall open throughout the event.
Please feel free to bring partners, colleagues or comrades.

About the book
Once of central importance to left historians and activists alike, recently the concept of the “bourgeois revolution” has come in for sustained criticism from both Marxists and conservatives. In this comprehensive rejoinder, Neil Davidson seeks to answer the question “how revolutionary were the bourgeois revolutions” by systematically examining the approach taken by a wide range of thinkers to explaining the causes, outcomes, and content of the French, English, Dutch, and other revolutions. Through far-reaching research and comprehensive analysis, Davidson demonstrates that what's at stake is far from a stale issue for the history books–understanding these struggles of the past offer far reaching lessons for today's radicals.
About the author
Neil Davidson teaches sociology at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. He is the author of The Origins of Scottish Nationhood (2000) and Discovering the Scottish Revolution (2003), for which he was awarded the Deutscher Memorial Prize and the Fletcher of Saltoun award. He has also co-edited and contributed to Alasdair MacIntyre’s Engagement with Marxism (2008) and Neoliberal Scotland (2010). He is on the Editorial Board of International Socialism.
"I was frankly pole-axed by this magnificent book. Davidson resets the entire debate on the character of revolutions: bourgeois, democratic and socialist. He's sending me, at least, back to the library." —Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums
“What should our conception of a bourgeois revolution be, if it is to enlighten rather than to mislead? Neil Davidson’s instructive and provocative answer is given through a history both of a set of concepts and of those social settings in which they found application. His book is an impressive contribution both to the history of ideas and to political philosophy.” —Alasdair MacIntyre, author of After Virtue
“Neil Davidson wends his way through the jagged terrain of a wide range of Marxist writings and debates to distil their lessons in what is unquestionably the most thorough discussion of the subject to date. If the paradox at the heart of the bourgeois revolutions was that the emergence of the modern bourgeois state had little to do with the agency of the bourgeoisie, then Davidson’s study is by far the most nuanced and illuminating discussion of this complex fact. A brilliant and fascinating book, wide-ranging and lucidly written.” —Jairus Banaji, author of Theory as History
"[This] is a monumental work. Neil Davidson has given us what is easily the most comprehensive account yet of the ‘life and times’ of the concept of ‘bourgeois revolution’ … This would have been enough. However, Davidson has also provided us with a refined set of theoretical tools for understanding the often complex interactions between political revolutions which overturn state institutions and social revolutions which involve a more thorough-going transformation of social relations.” —Colin Moores, author of The Making of Bourgeois Europe

London Seminars on Contemporary Marxist Theory


The global economic and financial crisis has witnessed a deepening of interest in different forms of critical and radical thought and practice. Following successful series in the last two years, the London Seminar on Contemporary Marxist Theory in 2012/13 will continue to explore the new perspectives that have been opened up by Marxist interventions in this political and theoretical conjuncture. It involves collaboration among Marxist scholars based in several London universities, including Brunel University, King’s College London, Queen Mary University of London and the School of Oriental and African Studies. Guest speakers – from both Britain and abroad – will include a wide range of thinkers engaging with many different elements of the various Marxist traditions, as well as with diverse problems and topics. The aim of the seminar is to promote fruitful debate and to contribute to the development of more robust Marxist analysis. It is open to all.

 2012/13 Seminar Series

24th October, 7pm King's College London, Strand Campus, S-1.06, Raked Lecture Theatre
Neil Davidson (University of Strathclyde) 'How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions?'

 7th November, 5pm King's College London, Strand Campus, S-1.06, Raked Lecture Theatre
 Charlie Post (City University of New York)'The American Road to Capitalism'

14th November, 5pm King's College London, Strand Campus, S-1.06, Raked Lecture Theatre
Susan Spronk (University of Ottawa) 'Twenty-first Century Socialism in Bolivia – The Gender Agenda'

 5th December, 5pm King's College London, Strand Campus, S-1.06, Raked Lecture Theatre
 Costas Lapavitsas (SOAS) 'Financialisation: What is it and how to analyse it?'

23rd January, 5pm King's College London, Strand Campus, S-1.06, Raked Lecture Theatre
 Sam Ashman (University of Johannesburg)'Neither a Dichotomy nor a Cycle: A Marxist Approach to the Financialisation of Accumulation'

20th February, 5pm King's College London, Strand Campus, S-1.06, Raked Lecture Theatre
 Jeffery Webber (Queen Mary University of London) 'On Our Feet, Never on Our Knees! Marxism and Social Movements'

 13th March, 5pm King's College London, Strand Campus, S-1.06, Raked Lecture Theatre
 Alex Demirovic (University of Basel and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung)'Critical Theory and Critical Intellectuals'

 Further seminars will be announced throughout the year.

 For further information, please contact:
Alex Callinicos, European Studies, King's: alex.callinicos [at]
Stathis Kouvelakis, European Studies, King's: stathis.kouvelakis [at]
Costas Lapavitsas, Economics, SOAS: cl5 [at]
Peter Thomas, Politics and History, Brunel: PeterD.Thomas [at]
 Jeffery Webber, Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary: j.r.webber [at]

Saturday, 6 October 2012

New Book: "Up Then Brave Women"

Michael Herbert's new book "Up Then Brave Women”: Manchester’s Radical Women 1819-1918, will be published on 15 October by the North West Labour History Society.
It tells the dramatic story of Manchester’s radical women, who dared to challenge the status quo and campaigned for social change and political progress. It begins with the bloody massacre of Peterloo in 1819 and goes on to highlight women’s activity in the trade union, Chartist, Socialist and Co-operative movements and also the long struggle for Votes for Women which was finally successful in 1918. The book has 64 pages and many vivid illustrations.
“A fresh look at the vital and too-often overlooked contributions of radical women, an engaging and well-researched book which brings neglected facets of British history vividly to life.”
Louise Raw, author of Striking a Light, The Bryant and May Matchwomen and their Place in History.
The book retails at £9.95 (including p&p). It can be ordered from Pat Bowker, 1 Bedford Road, Salford M30 9LA. Her email address is

The Social History of Working Men's Clubs

Not just Beer and Bingo! A talk on the Social History of Working Men’s Clubs
Friends of Stroud Green and Harringay Library are very excited to announce this talk by historian Ruth Cherrington, author of a number of publications on Working Mens Clubs documenting the history and development of the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union.

  The free talk takes place at Stroud Green and Harringay Library, Quernmore Road N4 on October 13th at 3pm. All welcome.

This is fascinating piece of 'history from below' and we're very much looking forward to welcoming Ruth.

To find out more about Ruth's work see Ruth has also written about her work on History Workshop Online: Who Cares About Working Mens Clubs

Ruth's book Not just Beer and Bingo! will also be available on the day.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Ninth Annual Historical Materialism conference 2012

Ninth Annual Conference
Weighs Like a Nightmare (8-11 November, SOAS, London)
Online registration for the HM conference is now available!
HM London conference *provisional* programme online
Please note: this will change over the next few weeks so please be sure to check the final version posted 24 hours before the start of the conference...

LSHG Newsletter #47 online

The latest issue of the LSHG Newsletter is now online - contents include Keith Flett on the new refurbished William Morris Gallery, Ian Birchall's review of Donny Gluckstein's A People's History of the Second World War (with a response by the author), more discussion around Bert Ramelson, the CPGB and CND, and reviews of Dave Renton's Lives; Running and Michael Wayne's Marx's Das Kapital for Beginners

Letters, articles, criticisms and contributions to debate are most welcome. The deadline for the next issue is 1 December 2012.  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’) to Keith Flett - contact him at the email address above.  Forthcoming LSHG seminars are below:

Autumn 2012
All seminars on Mondays at 5.30pm
Entry is free, without ticket
Gordon Room (G34), Ground Floor (except 5 Nov)
Institute of Historical Research
Senate House, Malet Street London WC1

15 October - George Paizis (UCL): RetranslatingVictor Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary

5 November - Dan Gordon (Edge Hill): Immigrants & Intellectuals: May 1968 and the
rise of anti-racism in France
Joint session with Modern French History Seminar
Please note: this session takes place in the Bedford Room (G37)

12 November - Chris Blakey: Georges Cheron and the 1936 Hotchkiss factory soviet

26 November - Pete Brown: Shakespeare's Local

10 December - Keith Flett: History of Riots project: research update

Book Review: Marx's Das Kapital for Beginners

From LSHG Newsletter #47 (Autumn 2012)

Marx’s Das Kapital for Beginners
by Michael Wayne,
illustrations by Sungyoon Choi
US 2012 Paperback: 144 pp
ISBN 978-1934389591

Those who have been around for a while on the left will remember the Beginners series of books which contained text and cartoons in an effort to introduce the ideas of left-wing thinkers and activists from Marx on to a wider layer of people that might not, at least initially, be prepared to plough their way through weighty tomes of theory. The books were a successful series but in recent times other ways of popularising left-wing ideas have achieved considerable currency. One thinks of David Harvey’s web-based explanations of parts of Capital.
One might argue then that to launch a print-based Marx’s Das Capital for Beginners is a brave thing to do. At least according to the late Labour leader Harold Wilson even getting past the first few pages of Capital is no easy matter. Wilson of course was making a political point. He was an academic economist that knew what Marx was arguing perfectly well but did not agree with it. It suited him
politically to claim that he did not really understand it.
The groups of students who meet to ‘read’ Marx’s Capital still exist and for the more academically minded no doubt perform a useful purpose.  As an historian, I have never felt that tarting at page 1 of Capital and reading through it was likely to achieve enlightenment. Rather dipping in and getting a flavour of Marx’s writing and then taking it from there seems to me to work far better. In addition what is really needed here is some kind of grasp of what Marx was on about in respect of capital and capitalism. Even a basic idea will help the understanding of the text hugely.
Marx’s points are often counterintuitive, seeking to understand how things really work as opposed to how they say they do and that is the key thing to really ‘get’.  Does Marx’s Das Kapital for Beginners help with this process? Well it might. It certainly provides a way in that some may find helpful. It runs through in chapter format some of the key concepts of Capital from the commodity to value and crises. There are quotes from Capital itself and the text, together with the illustrations, tries to get underneath what Marx is saying and make it understandable for the beginner.
So one example looks at the issue of value through the socially necessary labour time required to produce an avocado sandwich. You could argue that it is an updated version of Fred Casey’s attempts to explain the dialectic via the example of a boiling kettle. It may seem a little trivial to the hardcore Marxist but explaining hard to grasp points in terms of everyday things does have a role.
The book is light on the wealth of historical examples that Marx uses in Capital, and focuses on its economic core. Again this can be understood but it is a pity to miss out the history because again that is something that the unfamiliar can grasp and indeed by doing so can start to understand the process by which Marx reached his conclusions.
The book may not work for everyone. Some may prefer to read Capital itself, others to check David Harvey’s summaries and explanations. I’d also suggest that Tressell’s ‘The Great Money Trick’ in
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists remains a great way to grasp some of the core points of Marx’s thinking. That said it is a useful addition to the literature and if it gets more people thinking about Marx’s ideas a valuable one too.

Keith Flett

Book Review: Lives; Running by David Renton

Lives; Running by David Renton
Zero Books 2012
Paperback 131 pp
ISBN 978-1780992358
From LSHG Newsletter #47 (Autumn 2012)
In a summer where Sebastian Coe’s face has rarely been more than a few minutes from a TV screen, David Renton’s Lives; Running is a timely reminder that the media’s love affair with the LOCOG Chairman has been a long one. Renton takes us back to the golden era of British middle distance running, interspersing childhood memories and reflections on the Coe v Ovett rivalry with a memoir of his own running career, while exploring the relationships in and around both.
Anyone who is old enough to remember the Moscow Olympics will recall the build-up to the games, not just the US (and potential UK) boycott but the media hype around Britain’s two middle distance runners: Seb Coe and Steve Ovett. Renton tracks this, exploring not only the press depiction of “toff v monster” to characterise Coe and Ovett respectively, but also the differences between the athletes in terms of style, emotion and attitude. Coe’s all-encompassing need to win, driven by his ultra-competitive father, versus the more magnanimous Ovett, for whom running is an important part of life, but not its whole, is a theme largely ignored at the time. In 1980 the press was far keener to demonise Ovett as arrogant and even unpatriotic, whereas Coe was always – and remains –the golden boy, meaning fans of the older athlete were often at odds with family and friends. Renton is one such fan but this is only one of a string of differences, social and political, that will emerge between the author and his peers and parents during the course of the book.
Coe’s upbringing - and in particular his father - helped to shape him as an athlete and the resultant craving to compete and win will undoubtedly have played a role in the development of his Thatcherite politics. His constant need to compete with Ovett and to take credit for his teammate’s performances portray a fear of failure but also a lack of compassion and understanding of the realities outside of the track. One quote from Coe reads: “I always had the feeling that when the gap began to disappear ... the rivalry would become greater, and with it his need to prove himself,” and you wonder whether it was, in fact, Coe who needed to prove something not Ovett.
‘Lives; Running” is about more than Coe and Ovett though; while the themes of competition and relationships continue throughout the book it is Renton’s own development within and outside of sport that we learn about. Juxtaposed with this are portrayals of his father at an comparable age, viewed via diary extracts and memories, an Oxford Rowing Blue struggling to reconcile conflicting desires for flesh and faith. Ultimately, neither father nor son will continue competitively in his chosen sport beyond his academic years but both will eventually learn to participate at a recreational level.
 Competitive sport is a bond, albeit it a fragile one, between parent and child: something that both can understand, even if it is from a different perspective. In time, sport as a bond begins to extend through to the next generation too, together with a new perception of the pride and pleasure it can bring – but it is not hard to imagine the short leap that is required to become a competitive, Peter Coe-like, parent either.
The highs and lows of winning and defeat are explored throughout “Lives; Running”, for the schoolboy, the recreational runner and the elite athletes but even this is not a simple analysis: how to compare the grimace of Coe against the clenched fist of Ovett? Or the schoolboy’s joy at destroying a field against a middle-aged runner overtaking contemporaries in a half marathon? Does it hurt more to lose the Boat Race or an Olympic Final? And would that pain be worse for, say, Coe whose father’s love was seemingly conditional on success than for Ovett, who would merely be angry at himself for defeat?
The conflicting emotions that the author has with running take years to reconcile and, even then, when the pain of defeat is no longer a concern, injuries will still hurt. The sudden, indiscriminate attack on an athlete of an injury is shown to affect both the elite, including Renton’s hero Ovett, and school runners and it is not just the discomfort that is suffered but the fact that running has been taken away. We learn about attempts at prevention but, in reality, this is often nothing more than a delay until the inevitable. Given that, the perspective that Ovett maintained will surely have helped: if running is part of life then an injury can be demoralising, if it is all that an athlete has then it will be utterly devastating.
The camaraderie – or lack of it – between Ovett and Coe is no secret but Renton shows that sport has the ability not only to provide credibility amongst peers but also to forge long-term friendships through his memoir. We find the author running in his thirties with friends he made in his teens and while other interests, such as music and politics, were key in the relationships, the role of sport is critical. But just as it helps develop friendships, running – and rowing for his father – “a life of movement” as Renton puts it offers an escape too: from school, parents, work, family and perhaps reality itself. The lone athlete will spend hours on his own, doing something he loves and, for that time, the world as he knows it does not exist.
Perhaps the whole of these sometimes conflicting attributes is that, as the author – and his father – conclude, the “life of movement…is a life fulfilled,” with the flip that “A sedentary life is a life voluntarily diminished.” And in a year when Coe’s LOCOG has drummed “inspire a generation” into the nation ad infinitum maybe this message, and the fact that a sport like running costs the participant virtually nothing in monetary terms, is one which should be heard just as much?
Hazel Potter

Save Ruskin College's archives

 I will add more of the London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter to this blog when I get a moment, but for now there is a petition here highlighting and protesting the quite unbelievable destruction of archival material at Ruskin College, Oxford - the college set up as part of the movement for independent working class education and associated with the great socialist historian Raphael Samuel that I am sure many readers of this blog will want to add their name to...

Edited to add: Update on the situation

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Further comments on Bert Ramelson, the CPGB and CND

 From LSHG Newsletter #47 (Autumn 2012)

Comments by Tom Sibley on Ian Birchall’s review of Revolutionary Communist at Work: A Political Biography of Bert Ramelson (By Roger Seifert & Tom Sibley)

Ian Birchall's sour and sometimes snide review (London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter, May 2012) fails to engage with the book’s central arguments dealing inter alia with revolutionary strategy, the relevance of Leninism to British Conditions in the 1960s and 1970s, the role of the rank and file in this period and so many other questions which Ramelson addressed, analysed and offered leadership on.
Of course Birchall is right about the year of the Gaitskell speech on nuclear weapons. The incorrect reference to this in the book is an unfortunate proofreading error (N.B. not sloppy research as Birchall alleges) and nothing sinister should be read into it. However, Birchall goes on to make a great song and dance about this as he does about the book’s failure to correct a direct quote from Ramelson, made some 15 years after the event when he was recovering from a stroke, concerning the campaign to release Des Warren. As Birchall probably knows, this omission is acknowledged by me in the Socialist Unity blog (3/1/2012, Post 180 SIBLEY), and in no way detracts from the analysis of the campaign madein the book. It is good to see that in his later intervention (see LSHG Blog 29/7/2012) these errors, which in his original review Birchall found to be “appalling” and “shameful” are now said to be “very unfortunate”, which give or take a “very” is about right.
The CP fully supported CND activities from the beginning while expressing concerns and reservations about aspects of CND’s policy position. Once it became clear that international agreement was not possible following the nefarious U2 affair (a provocation by the Pentagon designed to sabotage the proposed Summit Talks), the CP abandoned its reservations about unilateralism and, like CND, accepted that both unilateralist and multilateralist measures had their place in the struggle for a safer world.
And by the way, the Party’s change of emphasis came in May 1960, nearly two months after the Aldermaston march which Birchall claimed was swollen by thousands of CP members released from
their leaderships’ alleged opposition to CND. The CP was the backbone of CND marches in 1958, 1959 and 1960 – the movement grew and so did CP membership participation.
On the release from prison of the London dockers (the Pentonville Five) on the 26th of July 1972, Birchall focuses on the decision of the Fleet Street printmakers to strike in protest and solidarity as the “crucial turning point”. In so doing he questions and downplays the leading roleof the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions and fails to take account of the widespread nature of the industrial action across key sectors of the British economy. Most left commentators saw it differently. From Birchall’s own stable, Darlington and Lyddon (Glorious Summer p.165) say this:

… the wave of solidarity action reflected the influence of socialists, particularly CP members, and the activity of the dockers centred around Pentonville. The LCDTU, which had played a crucial role in leading opposition to the anti-union legislation, sent a formal letter to affiliated bodies calling for the implementation of the 10 June conference decision to organise industrial action.

Here as with the Con-Mech dispute Birchall appears not to understand key strands of Ramelson’s strategy, while taking every opportunity to pour cold water on its achievements. Ramelson summed it up thus:

… it is the rank and file and their shop steward committees, which are increasingly dictating the course of events. They are the real focal point of powerful and consistent struggle against the Industrial Relations Act and the Donaldson Court which it has spawned to try to use the full power of the law to smash trade unionism …. this is the power that can force a change in the policy of a number of unions and in that of the TUC and compel an all-out struggle to repeal the hated Act … .

This link between rank and file industrial struggle and left development in the labour movement, was the essence of Ramelson’s approach. On Con-Mech Birchall simply doesn’t get it. The key issue is not who paid the fines and when. Rather it is the nature of the campaign which led the deeply divided (4 votes to 3) AUEW (Engineering Section) Executive Committee, to defy the Courts by refusing to pay the fines and then to call an all out strike when threatened by sequestration. In this as the book shows, Ramelson was able to use his contacts to mobilise rank and file pressure on AUEW leaders and to persuade Scanlon of the need to stand firm.
In dealing with Ramelson’s service in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, so anxious is Birchall to protect Chris Harman’s halo he goes on to justify what he clearly recognises as a lie.
It is difficult to take Birchall’s views on this seriously. Any comrade who in the face of irrefutable evidence, can smear the reputation of a brave and principled anti-fascist fighter like Bert Ramelson, deserves contempt not attention. As is well documented, the International Brigade was engaged solely in military activity against the fascist forces and had no part in the May 1937 Barcelona events.
It is clear that the Trotskyist-influenced POUM in particular was actively promoting a campaign to bring down the Popular Front government while the latter was engaged in a life and death struggle with Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. POUM had to be dealt with in the interests of the war effort against fascism but this was a matter for the Spanish people, not the International Brigade. As a contemporary account by the redoubtable miners’ leader Arthur Horner, who was in Spain in 1937, put it

My feeling at the time was that POUM which had actually carried out an insurrection against the (Republican) government, was acting in a treacherous way against the Spanish people.
Incorruptible Rebel, p.158

Our book shows that Ramelson had the utmost respect for the soldiers in the militias organised by the anarchists. He did not, as Birchall claims, hate ultraleftists. What hatreds he had were reserved for the capitalist class. He did, however, as the book shows,find many of their leaders to be a pain in the neck.
Birchall criticises our organisation of material, particularly in those chapters dealing with the period when Ramelson was National Industrial Organiser of the CPGB (1966 – 1977). Readers should remember that the book is a political biography, not a history of industrial struggle. In this sense it is selective, concentrating on the enormous contribution made by Ramelson and the collectives in which he worked. It made sense to trace events both thematically and chronologically and by grouping for example the two miners’ strikes (1972 and 1974) to various events and developments in the struggle against the Industrial Relations Act (1971 – 1974) we felt it would assist readers’ understanding rather more than would a purely chronological account. Readers will have to judge for themselves.
However, Birchall is wrong to claim that links are not made between the various struggles and the development of confidence in the labour movement. Thus on UCS “On 28th February 1972 – the day the victorious miners returned to work having broken through the government’s incomes policy limits – the Tories caved in” (page 188). And on a more general level when assessing Ramelson’s role and the importance he gave to mobilising struggle, we summarise his approach thus,

…. struggle promoted organisation and, where successful, gave confidence in the potency of collective action as well as developing individual cadres.

Birchall is wrong to claim that the book gives “little emphasis” to the ‘disintegration’ of the CP in the 1980’s. Between pages 342 – 346 under the subheading “Analysing the Decline of the Party”, the book examines the effects of Thatcher’s policies, including mass unemployment and de-industrialisation, on the left in the labour movement.
Furthermore it states, “As well as the problems of the wider labour movement and left during the 1980’s, the CP also had to face the development of a world crisis for the International Communist movement. Ramelson himself summed up aspects of the decline thus:

The truth is that we have tended to underestimate capitalism’s capacity to adapt to the chronic crisis … while overrating our expectations of the speed with which socialism would spread its influence. In reaction to these developments many people, particularly but not exclusively those newer to the movement or from non-working class backgrounds and experiences, started to call into question basic Marxist-Leninist precepts and categories. This in turn led to enervating discussions within the international communist movement, presaging organisational splits, electoral decline and a weakening of its working-class base.

We can at least agree on one thing. Comrade Birchall correctly points out that our claim that Ramelson “had been the key political figure in bringing about the transformation of the NUM” is somewhat overstated. Ramelson was one of a small group of politically motivated activists, mostly working miners or union officials, which worked out a strategy for left advance in the industry. If you substitute “a” for “the” in the quote above, you have it about right.
Tom Sibley

CPGB & CND: Some comments on the exchange between Ian Birchall and Tom Sibley

I would like to add my tuppenyworth on the relationship of the Communist Party and CND. I was a CP member at this time, had close contact with the British Peace Committee’s then Secretary, Colin Sweet (former student organiser of the CPGB). But I was also a ‘premature’ supporter of and activist within the CND and the Youth CND (in 1958 I was 22).
I am now completing my autobiography, ‘Itinerary of an Internationalist’, which covers, well, 1936-now. In 1958 I returned to London after some two and a half years as English (and consequently Chief Sub-) Editor of World Student News. This was the periodical of the Prague-based
International Union of Students, the student front organisation of the international Communist movement. Here are a couple of hopefully-relevant extracts:


The Party had no job or even a task waiting for me. It also showed no possible interest in my views on Czecho or the IUS. I wasn’t even asked to do a report-back. Meanwhile, my eccentric ex-school and ex-Party friend, Raph Samuel, was busy with New Left Review, and with creating a Rive Gauche coffee bar and meeting place in the West End, eventually called ‘The Partisan’.
From its unreconstructed interior, however, publicity was being carried out for one of the first Ban the Bomb marches. These were organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). In so far as this had not been dreamed up by the international Communist-front peace movement (represented in the UK by the British Peace Committee) it was being ignored by the CP, which dismissed it as petty-bourgeois, pacifist and, in any case, anti-Soviet. Having lost much of my confidence in Communist Parties, even without power, I threw myself energetically into the 1958 Easter March of the CND, this one going from London to the nuclear arms establishment at Aldermaston.


By this time I had got involved with not only the Willesden YCL but the Youth Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and its monthly newspaper, Youth Against the Bomb. The editor was John Hoyland, a schoolboy YCLer – as were several leaders of the YCND – from a friendly Communist intellectual and artistic family. I became, effectively, assistant editor – another unrecognised position. However, both John and the YCND leadership were congenial and committed people. So for maybe a year I was running around London during extended lunch hours, evenings and week-ends, writing, laying out, checking proofs at the North London printers, and trying to sell the paper of what was a new, attractive, autonomous and growing movement.
The CPGB had been originally hostile to the CND, with the Daily Worker ignoring or marginalising the growing Easter marches. Finally it gave way, at a London ‘aggregate’ on the Peace Question. Here, Party ideologue, Raji Palme Dutt, performed one of his customary ideological miracles, explaining why the Party was abandoning its unconditional identification with the British Peace Committee for a qualified recognition of the CND. The CP had, of course, been correct before and it was correct again now. I got up from the floor, steam curling from my head, but controlled:

‘Would this meeting not wish to congratulate those YCLers in the leadership of the YCND, for having foreseen the significance of this new peace movement before the Party leadership did?’

Johnny Gollan, then leader of the CP, turned to his fellows on the platform and said, aggrieved, ‘No one told me that we had YCLers in the leadership of the YCND!’.

Enough said? Possibly not, at least as far as I am concerned because I returned to Prague, 1966-9, to the Education and Solidarity Department of the World Federation of Trade Unions, recommended by Tom Sibley’s predecessor in the London office of the WFTU, Tom McWhinney.
Following the Soviet invasion of Communist Czechoslovakia, 1968, and WFTU’s rapid burial of this event, I returned to the UK. In my autobio I say that in 1969 I left the Communist world. And in 1970 the world of Communism. Part of the reason for the second step was that I was not prepared to accept the CP’s abandonment of international solidarity with the workers and people of the Communist world for militant trade unionism in the UK. Which seems to have been the option of Bert Ramelson. This was a trading in of ‘global ambition for militant particularism’ (I paraphrase David Harvey).
His option did not, however, prevent Bert Ramelson from getting involved in the turgid Prague-based World Marxist Review, the last gasp of a dying Communism. Here Bert was involved with a global ambition that was increasingly empty. This whilst he was apparently ignoring the ‘militant particularism’ of Czechoslovak workers or of Charta 77, signed by Václav Havel, Jan Patočka, Zdeněk Mlynář, Jiří Hájek, and Pavel Kohout, several of them ex- Communists, heavily involved in the Prague Spring.
I do not mean here to trash the book coauthored by Tom Sibley, which I find to be generally well documented, and which I think enables us to better understand the lives and times of such British Communists as Bert Ramelson and Frank Watters (mentioned in the biography, but who, as CP Secretary in Birmingham, put the particularistic nail in the coffin of my Communism). Despite the criticism of Ian Birchall, I find the work a useful addition to the literature. But we do need to avoid romanticising British Communists, people as contradictory as those they themselves criticised for their lack of revolutionary rectitude.

Peter Waterman

Edited to add: Tom Sibley responds to Peter Waterman here