Friday, 28 April 2017

Tom Sibley on the May Days in Spain 1937

Tom Sibley, co-author of Revolutionary Communist at Work: A Political Biography of Bert Ramelson (reviewed here for the LSHG Newsletter by Ian Birchall) has got in touch and offered us an essay on the May Days in Barcelona in 1937. As Tom writes,

'Next week sees the eightieth anniversary of the May Day Events in Barcelona. Most informed people on the left see it as a turning point of the Civil War.  But there are deep divisions of opinion as to what  brought about the"civil war within the civil war" and what sort of  turning point it was.  On this latter question my article argues that  the outcome marked the renewal of the Popular Front and opened up the  only possibility for a Republican victory - eventually denied by the policies (appeasement and the arms embargo) of the Western powers and the contingent military ascendancy of Franco backed as he was by Hitler and Mussolini.'

The LSHG is publishing Tom's essay below as a contribution to the ongoing debate about the May Days and its legacy and we welcome any responses - please contact Keith Flett at the address above.   

The Spanish Civil War - Betrayal in Barcelona
Tom Sibley

In July 1936, international fascism launched a war of intervention against the Spanish people.  Earlier in that year the democratic forces, making up the Popular Front, were elected following a period of extreme right-wing Government in which the fascists played a leading role.  The Popular Front government was initially supported by  the left, including many members of the powerful anarchist movement, and the centrist Republican Party.  It brought forward a progressive programme aimed at democratising and modernising Spain which, at the time, was dominated by the Church, the military and the big landowners and whose industries were often controlled by foreign capital.

The Republican Government’s measures to introduce land reform in order to end widespread and abject poverty in the countryside, educational expansion and change and women’s rights were anathema to the forces of the right.  They were seen to be against the interests of the Church and were presented by the right as the first steps along the road to a communist society.  With anti-communism as its pretext the Spanish military, led by General Franco, launched a military coup in July which was immediately supported with copious supplies of trained troops and modern weaponry by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Initially Franco’s forces were repulsed in most of the big cities and towns as workers’ militias and armed police loyal to the elected Government came together in defence of the Republic.  Madrid continued to hold firm, thanks mainly to the arrival of modern weaponry from the Soviet Union and the solidarity provided by the thousands of International Brigade volunteers organised by the international communist movement. But in other parts of the country the tide turned quickly as Italian and German forces were deployed.  And the limitations of the badly organised and poorly trained militia were exposed. 

 In the face of overwhelming military force, in the early months of 1937 the Popular Unity movement splintered under the pressure of ultra-leftist adventurism culminating in the tragedy of the Barcelona May Day events, the 80th anniversary of which we mark on 3rd May this year.

The May Day events were one of the most important turning points of the Civil War (1936-1939).  In the middle of a war in which international fascism threatened to overthrow by military force a democratically elected Government, the ultra-left movement which had initially played an important part in resisting Franco’s first offensive turned against the regional government in Catalonia and launched an insurrectionary putsch.  Guns, which should have been at the disposal of forces fighting Franco, were instead turned on the state forces defending the Republic.  The insurrection was instigated by dissident anarchist militias, which had a strong base in Barcelona, encouraged by the Trotskyist influenced POUM which since the beginning of 1937 had been actively and very publicly campaigning for the overthrow of the Popular Front government in Catalonia.

What was the subtext which led to the May uprising and put at risk the whole of the Republican movement’s attempts to withstand the fascist offensive?  The underlying catalyst was the determination of the Republican Government to radically reshape the war effort following months of military setbacks.  This followed widespread demands to incorporate all militia in a national popular army with a unified command.

In Catalonia the Popular Front administration, in the teeth of opposition of both POUM and the local anarchists took measures in line with central government policies.  The Government called on the local militia to surrender their arms and join the national army.  It shut down the local patrol groups controlled by the anarchists and put policing into local government hands.  Catalonia’s important arms industry was nationalised and the Government sought to take over the strategically vital communication centre, the Barcelona telephone exchange, which until 3rd May had been controlled by an anarchist trade union committee.  All of these centralising measures were taken primarily to strengthen the war effort.  But they also threatened to totally undermine what the anarchist and POUMists saw as pillars of their strength, influence and control.  Rather than fall in line, in the interests of boosting the anti-fascist war effort, the ultra-leftists launched an insurrection against the elected government.

The immediate spark for the insurrection was the retaking by the Government of the Telephone Exchange.  The anarchists had used their control of this facility to intercept and disrupt calls between government ministers and military leaders.  This could not be tolerated in a war situation where the country was fighting for its very existence.  Consequently Government ministers ordered the police to take back into state control the telephone exchange.  Unarmed senior police officers were met with a volley of shots and a standoff followed. But the sound of gunfire and the subsequent surrounding of the Exchange by armed police officers was a signal for the anarchist militia to take to the streets, erect barricades, and bring tanks and other armed vehicles into the fray.  In the fighting that ensued in which the rebels were opposed by communist party militia and the Republican Guards, hundreds were killed or maimed.  Catalonian ministers quickly called for Central Government reinforcements and within a few days, encouraged by their national leadership, the local anarchists had laid down their arms.  Throughout the piece the overwhelming majority of Barcelona’s workers had taken Government advice to stay at home.

Eighty years later arguments still appear from both the anti-communist left (sometimes described as the anti-Stalinist left) and the liberal right suggesting that the Barcelona events were provoked by Moscow so as to crush a nascent social revolution.  Such action was necessary, the critics argue, in order to reassure western imperialist powers, with which the Soviet Union was seeking to build an anti-Hitler front, that Republican Spain was not about to usher in communist control under Soviet tutelage.  Some of the commentators also assert that by removing hopes for a fully-fledged socialist revolution the Republican Government destroyed any possibility of a military victory.  Given the balance of political forces both in Spain and internationally these hopes were entirely unrealistic.  In this they partly reflect Orwell’s crass and typically defeatist assessment made in late 1937 that whichever side won the civil war a fascist type regime would be installed in Spain.

What are we to make of these assessments?  Firstly, there is no evidence to back assertions that the Soviets provoked the uprising, as suggested in Ken Loach’s deeply flawed film, “Land and Freedom”.  On the contrary, recently opened archive material shows that the insurrection was planned months in advance and that the dissident anarchists and POUM put their sectarian and disruptive demands above the requirements of the national struggle to defeat fascism. 

In the circumstances of 1937, to call for a full blown socialist uprising would have created deep divisions in the republican movement thereby guaranteeing certain and early victory for the fascist forces.

The Barcelona events were indeed an important turning point but not as some anti-communist and liberal commentators present it.  For there followed a period during which the national Popular Army was transformed into an effective fighting force.  Despite the overwhelming military advantages enjoyed by the fascist enemy and the continuing arms embargo placed on Republican Spain by the Western democracies, the re-organised National Army supported by the International Brigade was able to hold on for a further eighteen months, giving space for Spain’s outstanding socialist prime minister, Negrin, to negotiate for increased international assistance.

The fundamental reasons for the defeat of Spanish democracy were outside the Republic’s control.  Firstly Franco could not have prevailed without the massive military support of the fascist powers.  And Spanish democracy could have survived if Britain, France and the United States had lifted the arms embargo placed on Republican Spain and put diplomatic and economic pressures on the fascist powers to stop their war of intervention.

By May 1937 it was clear to Negrin and the Communist Party, which provided the backbone to his administration, that only the centralising strategy of the Popular Front Government could stop the slide to military defeat, and consolidate the substantial and profoundly democratic changes it had instituted.  These reforms could have rapidly moved Spain from a largely backward, medieval theocracy to an advanced social democracy.  Many on the left saw such developments as important stops on the road to socialism. 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Three works by Merilyn Moos on refugee history

Merilyn Moos has been in touch to remind those interested in the history of refugees of her three important books, all published in the last 5/6 years, which all relate in different forms to her being the child of political refugees from Nazism. The first is a semi-autobiographical novel: ‘The Language of Silence’, then came the biography of her father Siegi Moos: ‘Beaten but not defeated’ (he was a highly active anti-Nazi, a well- known if somewhat dissident member of the KPD and a published writer about the role of agit-prop in revolutionary struggle: his life illustrates the little known grass roots anti-Nazi activism of the years between 1929-33), and finally ‘Breaking the Silence’ an ethnographic study of the effects on the ‘second generation’ of being the children of refugees from Nazism, based on in-depth interviews. She would be happy to send out review copies of these books to those interested in reviewing them, and is happy to also speak to interested groups about them or issues relating to refugees and history today. 
Some links:
The Language of Silence
The Language of Silence, set in London in the early 21st century, provides a remarkable exploration of the personal consequences of political events and resistance, and how these impact across four generations of one family. It is a novel of immense power, shocking in its portrayal of family life, which nevertheless inspires hope for the future.
Beaten but not defeated
Siegi Moos, an anti-Nazi and active member of the German Communist Party, escaped Germany in 1933 and, exiled in Britain, sought another route to the transformation of capitalism. This biography charts Siegi’s life, starting in Germany when he witnessed the Bavarian uprisings of 1918/19 and moving to the later rise of the extreme right. We follow his progress in Berlin as a committed Communist and an active anti-Nazi in the well-organised Red Front, before much of the German Communist party (KPD) took the Nazis seriously, and his deep involvement in the Free Thinkers and in agit-prop theatre. The book also describes Siegi’s life as an exile: the loss of family, comrades, his first language and ultimately his earlier political beliefs. Against a background of the loneliness of exile, the political and the personal became indissolubly intertwined when Siegi’s wife, Lotte, had a relationship with an Irish/Soviet spy. Lastly, we look into Siegi’s time as a research worker at the prestigious Oxford Institute of Statistics at Oxford University from 1938, becoming an economic advisor under the Labour Prime Minister, Wilson, 1966-1970, and how, finally, after retirement, he returned to writing.
Breaking the Silence
There has been extensive research into the impact of the Holocaust on the children of survivors who immigrated to the US and Israel. But very little work in this space has looked at children whose parents fled Nazi persecution before the Holocaust. Even less attention has been paid to those who ended up in Britain from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.  What was the impact on this second generation? How have the lives of these ordinary people been shaped by their parents’ dislocation? Using a series of interviews with members of the second generation, Breaking the Silence is a qualitative, interdisciplinary exploration how their lives were shaped by their parents’ escape from persecution. It offers an insight into how the exile and fear of persecution of the parents and the deaths/murder of unknown relatives has left this generation both bereft of memories and haunted by the past. 

The Socialist Standard

There is some historical information relating to The Socialist Standard, which has been published by the Socialist Party of Great Britain since 1904, on a new blog that we have been asked to share with LSHG members (for clarification, the LSHG does not have a position on the current factional issue within the SPGB which warrants this new blog itself) - for more on the history of the SPGB see The Monument: The Story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain by Robert Barltrop.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

'The Battle of Wood Green' 40 years on

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'The Battle of Wood Green’ 40 years on. Assessing the impact of anti-fascism

London Socialist Historians Group Open Forum
Monday 24 April 2017, 5.30pm
Institute of Historical Research 
IHR Seminar Room N304, Third Floor, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
All welcome - no need to book in advance

The Battle of Wood Green took place on Saturday 23 April 1977. A National Front march left Ducketts Common to march down Wood Green High Road. They were opposed by 3000 anti-fascists and large numbers of Saturday shoppers. Although there had been street skirmishes before, this was the first serious disruption of an NF march.

All are welcome to attend and discuss the Battle of Wood Green and its effect on the future of anti-fascist struggle leading up to the present day - free / donations welcome

Why The Battle of Wood Green was published:

Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Annual Luddite Lecture / The Labours of Asa

The Annual Luddite Memorial Lecture 2017

 Dr Katrina Navickas
Places and spaces of protest in the early 19th century West Riding
Wednesday 5 April, 7:30pm, Diamond Jubilee Lecture Theatre, University of Huddersfield
Huddersfield Local History Society and the University of Huddersfield History present the fourth in a series of annual lectures focusing on aspects of the history of radicalism in the Huddersfield district.
The 2017 Luddite Memorial Lecture will be given by Dr Katrina Navickas, Reader in History at the University of Hertfordshire. Not only has Dr Navickas written about many different aspects of popular protest and social movements – she provided the keynote lecture for Huddersfield’s bi-centenary Luddite Commemoration in 2012 - but she has also been investigating how digital mapping can reflect and further her research. Dr Navickas grew up in Rochdale and her most recent book, Protest and the Politics of Space and Place, 1789-1948, just out in paperback, focuses on events in West Yorkshire and Lancashire. In her Huddersfield lecture Dr Navickas will be exploring the protest spaces of the West Riding and will show how the county’s distinct topography and spaces within its towns shaped the democratic movements of the early nineteenth century. The lecture will be introduced by historian Professor Tim Thornton, the University’s deputy Vice-Chancellor, who welcomes the way in which this annual lecture series is continuing to develop. He says: ‘Katrina Navickas promises to add a further new dimension to the already rich record of talks that have taken place under the banner of the Annual Luddite Memorial Lecture. Her focus on protest in spaces and places will be of interest to specialists and to a more general audience concerned with the region’s heritage, and is testimony to the continuing and highly productive relationship between Huddersfield Local History Society and the University’. If you want to find out more about place and protest in the West Riding in the early 19th century, then do come along to Dr Navickas’ lecture at the University of Huddersfield on 5 April.


 ******** THE LABOURS OF ASA: The contributions of Asa Briggs to Labour History

Lecture Theatre G.02, Maurice Keyworth Building, Leeds University Business School, Saturday 6 May 2017

 9.30 Arrival
10.00 Greeting by Keith Laybourn and Quentin Outram
 10.05 Malcolm Chase: ‘ Samuel Smiles (and Asa Briggs) and working-class Leeds’
 10.50 John Belchem: ‘Beyond the Age of Improvement’
11.40 Joan Allen: ‘The progressive tradition & print culture at the fin de siècle: The Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore & Legend 1887-1891’
12.30-1.45 Lunch and EC of SSLH Executive Meeting
 1.30 Poster presentations of five minutes each from PhD students Ethan Hoskings ‘Partnership, Paternalism and Peace’ Hazel Perry – ‘Trades Councils’ John Kimberley – ‘Industrial Relations in Birmingham in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’
 1.50 Eileen Yeo: ‘Rival Town Halls in Glasgow: Revisioning Asa Briggs’ work on ‘the urban public sphere’
2.30 Peter Ackers and Alistair Reid: ‘The Pluralist Traditionand civic society’
 3.20 Hugh Gault: ‘The BBC, Seebolm Rowntree and social reform’
4.00 Stephen Yeo: ‘Remembering Asa Briggs’
4.45 Finish

The Asa Briggs conference will be held at G.02 Lecture Theatre in the Maurice Keyworth Building, Leeds University Business School, The University of Leeds, Moorland Road, Leeds, UK This FREE conference is open to all.
To reserve a place or find out more please send an email to Dr Quentin Outram

Save Ruskin's BA and MA courses

Please show your support in campaigning against the decision by Ruskin College to make all staff in its international labour and trade union studies department redundant - this in effect curtails the significant well-established links between Ruskin and the national and international trades union movement

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Levellers Day 2017 and Levellers Night seminar

Friday 19 May 2017 : On the evening before Levellers Day, John Rees author of 'The Levellers Revolution' will be speaking as part of the Levellers seminar at the CWU training centre at Alvescot Lodge for the Levellers Night seminar talking about ‘Scottish Covenanters, English Levellers, and “Popular” Revolutions in mid-17thC Britain’ with Laura Stewart, author of ‘Rethinking the Scottish Revolution’.  Levellers’ Day 2017 will take place in Burford on Saturday 20 May 2017 - see here for more details

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

CfP: Mobilising Militant Pasts

The extent of retrospection in culture and politics is a topic oft-commented upon and lamented. Public engagements with history and heritage are frequently lumpenly categorised as ‘nostalgia’: sanitised, selective, reassuring. Yet this obscures the sheer diversity of militant pasts in the present, and of the contexts and processes that facilitate their re-manifestation. Che Guevara’s face adorns posters and t-shirts worldwide, while Garibaldi gets dunked in tea. Historic campaigns for racial and gender equality have been regularly dramatized, including in the recent films Selma (2014) and Suffragette (2015). Internecine violence is frequently documented, and its martyrs commemorated, in the fabric of the physical environments where it occurred, as the murals of Belfast and Derry testify. Such remembering and half-remembering of histories of divided societies, of protest, unrest and insurrection, is far from inherently safe, nor easily categorised.

This conference seeks to thrust treatments and legacies of the militant past into the academic spotlight. We seek papers on retrospective representations of themes including (but not limited to):
·         Industrial action
·         Campaigns for women’s rights
·         Campaigns for gay rights
·         Campaigns for religious tolerance and freedom
·         Campaigns for racial and ethnic equality
·         Intercommunal violence
·         Protests, riots and revolutions

There exists a vast array of models available for unpicking our individual and social relationships with the past: Freud’s conception of repeating, remembering and working through; Baudrillard’s of collecting and of retro; de Certeau’s of memory and place; Hobsbawm’s of invented tradition; Boym’s of restorative and reflective strains of nostalgia. Following on from these examples, we seek papers that address the role of format-specific and contextual dynamics and accompanying motivations in shaping the way militant pasts are represented and used. When and where are different modes of representation and appropriation – such as the reproduction of imagery and motifs, re-narration, preservation of heritage, adaptation, re-enactment, anniversaries, remembrance and commemoration – employed? How are these shaped by the contexts in which they appear, whether in popular cultural forms, high politics, heritage sectors, social movements, educational institutions, biographies and autobiographies, or the internet? What purposes do they serve: nostalgia; entertainment; commodification; education; calls to action; warning or pacifying gestures? How have these narratives, images and artefacts diffuse across time and space, and across formats and forums? How have their meanings contested, and by whom?

We welcome proposals for twenty-minute presentations from all disciplines and concerned with any time-period, including those with a contemporary focus. Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words, along with a short CV, to conference organisers Ruth Adams, Dion Georgiou and Andrew Smith at by 31 May 2017.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Commemorating the Leeds Convention of 1917

To mark the centenary of the historic Leeds Convention of 3 June 1917, where some 3,500 democrats and socialists pledged solidarity with the Russian Revolution and voted to set up Worker's and Soldiers' Councils in Britain, Leeds Trades Council and the Ford-Maguire Society with the generous support of the Lipman-Miliband Trust are holding a one day event at the Swarthmore Centre in Leeds on Saturday 3 June from 10-4pm. Speakers include Michael Meadowcroft on the Leeds Convention, John Newsinger on the Russian Revolution, Janet Douglas on Arthur Ransome, Leeds and the Russian Revolution, and Jill Liddington on 'Leeds Suffrage Stories: Isabella Ford, Mary Gawthorpe and Leonora Cohen'. There will also be an evening Love Music Hate Racism gig at the Fox and Newt with American folk singer David Rovics performing.

A new centenary edition of the original conference proceedings together with other material relating to the Convention has recently been published in time for the anniversary by Spokesman Books British Labour and the Russian Revolution - the Leeds Convention of 1917, edited by Janet Douglas and Christian Hogsbjerg with Ken Coates' original introduction.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Book Launch: 1956

Dear All
I’m inviting you to the launch meeting for the new book which John McIlroy and I have edited — 1956: John Saville, EP Thompson and The Reasoner.
It’s on Wednesday, 1 March 2017 at 19.00, at Housman’s Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX.
There is a £3 entry fee, which is redeemable against any purchase.
1956: John Saville, EP Thompson and The Reasoner contains the full text of all three issues of John Saville and EP Thompson’s magazine from 1956, The Reasoner, related Communist Party documents, and an introduction and critical essays by the editors.
Housman’s events website < >.
Best wishes
Paul Flewers

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Oral History On The North East Labour History Website

The North East Labour History Society is pleased to announce that it has just published transcripts of the personal memories of sixty people from the North East. You can find these on our website at:

These oral histories are from people who have spent their lives in the co-operative movement, the mines, other industries, the unions and political activity. We think these transcripts are a valuable permanent record of peoples' recollections of their lifetime experiences.

The material we have here draws on a range of activities undertaken by North East Labour History Society members and others. 

Do take a look and tell us what you think. If you have transcripts or notes from interviews with people who have been involved in the labour  movement in the North East we would be delighted to provide space for them on our site ( As well as the name of the interviewee and a photograph, it would be helpful to have their dates, where they lived and worked, the name of the interviewer and, if applicable, the project or organisation through which the interview was done. It is important to get permission from the person who has been interviewed to put their information on this site.

David Connolly


Friday, 10 February 2017

Glad to be Gay: The struggle for legal equality

The LSE Library has a spring exhibition which runs from 9 January to 7 April: 'Glad to be Gay: the struggle for legal equality'. It draws on the unique Hall-Carpenter Archives and the Women’s Library collection to mark the 50th anniversary of a pivotal piece of legislation: the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. Before that, homosexuality was a criminal offence. With the passing of the Sexual Offences Act, homosexuality in private was decriminalised, but genuine parity still was not achieved. The struggle for legal equality continues and has only made progress by the sustained efforts of committed activists.  See photos from the exhibition here

Saturday, 28 January 2017

CfP - Manchester Social Movements conference


Dates: Conference 10th-12 April Abstracts by Monday 2oth March Papers by Friday 31stMarch

From 1995 to 2016, Manchester Metropolitan University hosted a series of very successful annual international conferences on 'ALTERNATIVE FUTURES and POPULAR PROTEST'.

We're very happy to announce that the Twenty Second AF&PP Conference will be held between Monday 10th and Wednesday 12th April 2017.

The Conference rubric will remain as in previous years. The aim is to explore the dynamics of popular movements, along with the ideas which animate their activists and supporters and which contribute to shaping their fate.

Reflecting the inherent cross-disciplinary nature of the issues, previous participants (from over 60 countries) have come from such specialisms as sociology, politics, cultural studies, social psychology, economics,  history and geography.  The Manchester conferences have been notable for discovering a fruitful and friendly meeting ground between activism and academia.


We invite offers of papers relevant to the conference themes.  Papers should address such matters as: 

* contemporary and historical social movements and popular protests

* social movement theory

* utopias and experiments

* ideologies of collective action

* etc.

To offer a paper, please contact either of the conference convenors with a brief abstract:  

EITHER Colin Barker,  
OR Mike Tyldesley, Politics Section, HPP,  
Manchester Metropolitan University  
Geoffrey Manton Building, Rosamond Street West  
Manchester M15 6LL, England  
Tel: M. Tyldesley  0161 247 3460   
Fax: 0161 247 6769 (+44 161 247 6769)  

Friday, 27 January 2017

Marx, Lenin and Anarchism: Revolution in Fitzrovia

 Footprints of London - Revolutionary London

London was the destination for communists and anarchists to meet and argue over the form that the coming revolution would take. German anarchists had lived in London since 1848 and came to police attention after assassination attempts on the Tsar of Russia. Lenin knew London well, and the final split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks took place here in November 1903, with tragic consequences for the Russian Revolution in 1917. The communists had fled police spies in Brussels to meet in Charlotte St in the guise of an anglers club.

Successive waves of exiles from France, Germany and Russia made a home in Fitzrovia, close to the British Museum where Marx and Lenin studied, yet in an area where foreigners ran the bookstores and shops. On this walk we will find the streets where the leading Communard Louise Michel lived and established a pioneering Fitrovia school, and revisit the site of the Autonomie anarchist club, linked by police to the Greenwich bomb of 1894 which inspired Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent.

Sun 26 February 2017
14:00 – 16:00 GMT

Goodge Street Station
72 Tottenham Court Road

To book tickets (£9-£12) - go to here

Monday, 16 January 2017

Book launch - October 1917 - workers in power

October 1917

​ - ​

workers in power
Book launch with Paul Le Blanc

​Hosted by Resistance Books​

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

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


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

and the IIRE


Available from
RRP £15.95; Publication: November 2016
Paperback; 234x156mm; 258pp;


What they say about the book

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

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

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

Thursday, 12 January 2017

LSHG Newsletter #60 (Spring 2017) online

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

Spring 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 24 April
The Battle of Wood Green - forty years on 
The impact of anti-fascism

The Newsletter

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

London Socialist Historians Group

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

Email: (and for address for posting cheque)

Book Review: All My Yesterdays

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

Daniel Rachel
Picador, 2016
ISBN 978-1447272687

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

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

Image result for northern carnival rock against racism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keith Flett

From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter 60 (Spring 2017) 

Archive: Twenty Years On: Raphael Samuel

Twenty Years On: Raphael Samuel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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