28
Jun
14

the levellers – shs meeting 5th july

SHS public meeting 5th July

Stan Newens
(SHS president, former MP and MEP)
speaks on The Levellers – Britain’s First Democrats.

Talk followed by discussion. Venue: Marx House, 37A Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU. Time: 2.00 pm. Admission free, retiring collection.

28
Jun
14

NOT OUR WAR – book review

Book review –
Not Our War: Writings against the First World War
Edited by AW Zurbrugg (Merlin Press, 2014)

Among the plethora of publications and opinions issued by all and sundry in the run up to the anniversary of the First World War, this book must be one of the more outstanding to appear so far. It consists of a comprehensive anthology of voices against war, the famous and the obscure, from Britain and around the world; the more famous being James Connolly, Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, Keir Hardie, Alexandra Kollontai, Lenin and Malatesta to name but a few.
Were it simply a collection of anti-war speeches and writings from leading political opponents of the ‘imperialist war’ the book would make a handy volume; but it is much more than this. It contains contributions from workers and rank-and-file activists as well as extracts from newspapers, diaries and letters of men and women who were opposed to the war as political radicals, trade unionists, socialists, anarchists, feminists, disenchanted soldiers and pacifists.
The book recovers these various dissident voices who courageously spoke out against the rising mood of patriotic fervour that marked the onset of the war in 1914. Their passionate arguments and urgent warnings against militarism, imperialism and needless carnage are still ignored to this day as contemporary politicians and historians rush to embellish the truth of what happened a century ago in order to claim the “Great” war as part of the nation’s heritage of supposed glory and unalloyed heroism.
The hundreds of short extracts that make up the volume have been painstakingly selected by editor Tony Zurbrugg and are linked together by an informed commentary that gives the context for writings that have been chosen to illustrate the diversity of opposition to the war and the richness of the anti-war arguments.
Not Our War is a powerful antidote to the incessant jingoism and nationalistic rewriting of history that characterises much of the official discussion of this horrific episode in the breakdown of modern civilisation. An essential read as we approach the official anniversary jamboree.
David Morgan

28
Jun
14

FIRST WORLD WAR TALKS SERIES

STOP THE FIRST WORLD WAR
A series of talks on opposition the outbreak of war in 1914
The talks are organised by Conway Hall coordinated by SHS committee member Deborah Lavin and supported by the Socialist History Society.
Discounts are available to SHS members who book online
First talk – 7pm, 30th September
Norman Angell – liberal, radical, socialist, pacifist or patriot?
Speaker: Martin Ceadel is a Professor of Politics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of New College where he has taught since 1979
7pm, 7th October
From Ivory Tower to Activist:
Persistent Dissent: Bertrand Russell’s response to the War and Conscription
Speaker: Chris Bratcher, former Chair of Conway Hall Ethical Society
AND
Ramsay MacDonald and World War One
Speaker: John Grigg, Treasurer of Labour Heritage and a researcher into local Labour History in West London and one time Labour Leader of Hounslow Council.
7pm, 14th October
British Labour Movement and the Outbreak of the First World War
Speaker: Prof Willie Thompson, former editor of Socialist History and prolific author
And
A Movement Divided, The Labour Movement and the Great War
A Case Study The West Riding of Yorkshire
Speaker: Prof Keith Laybourn, leading labour historian and author.

7pm, 21st October
Irish labour and the First World War
Speaker: John Newsinger, professor of History at Bath Spa University and author of Rebel City: Larkin, Connolly and the Dublin Labour Movement

7pm, 28th October
The Pankhursts at War
Speaker: Katherine Connelly, author of a biography of Sylvia Pankhurst and coordinator of last year’s Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign. Katherine is currently finishing a doctoral thesis in history at Queen Mary, University of London.
And
Isabella Ford; a socialist and feminist peace campaigner in World War One
Speaker: June Hannam, Professor (Emerita) of Modern British History, University of the West of England.

7pm, 6th November
1914 and the Schism in International Anarchism
Speaker: Pietro Dipaola, senior lecture, University of Lincoln and author of The Knights-Errant of Anarchy: London and the Italian Anarchist Diaspora 1880-1917 (Liverpool University Press, 2013)
Not our war
Speaker: Tony Zurbrugge, publisher at the Merlin Press and editor of the recent book “Not Our War” (2014)

For further information see the Conway Hall website

http://www.conwayhall.org.uk/stop-the-first-world-war

28
Jun
14

benn’s legacy assessed

The Legacy of Tony Benn
By David Morgan
The death of Tony Benn in March this year robbed the left of its most outstanding and popular representative. For decades a thorn in the side of the establishment and a scourge of capitalism, militarism and imperialism, Benn famously gave up being an MP after 50 years ‘’to spend more time on politics’’.
An inspiration for generations, Benn was a rare figure in many respects; he moved to the left as he got older to become a spokesperson for all peoples in struggle for justice and a better society in Britain and all over the world.
Always a strong internationalist, Benn’s voice was raised against political injustices in apartheid South Africa, Pinochet’s Chile and the atrocities inflicted by American imperialism on Vietnam and Iraq. He was a friend of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua and supported the rights of Palestinians and Kurds.
Benn was a tireless campaigner and countless good causes could always rely on his unswerving support. Right to his last years he kept a full diary of activism, appearing on public platforms at small meetings and huge rallies of hundreds of thousands such as the demonstrations against the war in Iraq.
Admired as a superb debater with a firm grasp of the issues and for his remarkable ability to communicate complex arguments, Benn made the left’s ideas sound like common sense. For this he was intensely disliked by the establishment and regarded as a ‘’class traitor’’ in some quarters because he identified so strongly with workers, the poor and the oppressed.
While in his twilight years, the establishment sought to reclaim him as ‘’a national treasure’’, Benn resisted and remained outspoken to the end. He stood firm in his belief in the need for a fundamental shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people, in Britain and the world over.
The Socialist History Society cannot claim any unique association with Tony Benn although he did deliver an A L Morton memorial lecture for the society some years ago. But on hearing of the sad news of his death, the society felt it appropriate to organise a seminar to begin an assessment of his enduring influence.
This was the theme of the successful event held at Conway Hall on 26 April; not only was the meeting room packed to capacity, the speakers were entertaining, moving and insightful. If success can be judged in financial terms alone, it can be mentioned that the society collected £100 in donations from individuals who attended the meeting.
The event, chaired by the SHS Secretary, consisted of speeches from people who had worked closely with Benn. It opened with brief readings by Penny Dimond, Deborah Lavin and Greta Sykes of poems on themes of war, peace and struggles for social justice that reflected Benn’s various commitments.
The speakers covered Benn’s activities as a politician, campaigner, Cabinet minister and comrade in the political struggle. Their tributes were greeted enthusiastically and stimulated a lively and well informed discussion.
Stan Newens, a colleague of Benn’s when an MP, received a standing ovation for his generous assessment of Benn’s courage as a minister in implementing innovative ideas and responsiveness to the demands of workers.
He praised Benn’s successful battle to renounce his peerage and resume his career as an elected politician.
Stan however was not an entirely uncritical follower of Benn, maintaining that his decision to launch his deputy leadership campaign against incumbent Denis Healey in 1981 was badly timed and only resulted in splitting the left.
Duncan Bowie, reviews editor of Chartist magazine, looked at the influences on Benn’s political outlook tracing his radicalism back to his Nonconformist family background.
Bowie also referred to Benn’s early interest in the wartime Common Wealth Party of Richard Acland and J B Priestley and how their ideas of ethical and cooperative socialism remained influential on his outlook throughout his life.
Benn was also a rare example of a leading Labour politician who was prepared to engage seriously with the ideas of Marx, another aspect of his legacy that was worthy of note.
Keith Flett, London Socialist Historians’ Group, insisted that Benn’s activism outside Westminster politics must be seen as a key aspect of his legacy and an inspiration for future generations.
Another aspect of Benn’s legacy was his belief in the need to learn from history, a point emphasised by most of the speakers. Indeed, it should not be forgotten that Benn was an influential populariser of the ideas of the Levellers, Chartists and Suffragettes.
Keith Flett could not resist remarking on Benn’s humorous side and how he often displayed a mischievous nature seen on one occasion in 1969 when he apparently annoyed Cabinet colleagues by unexpectedly appearing at a meeting wearing a full beard!
Lindsey German, Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, reflected on Benn’s courage as a peace activist citing his reaction to Gordon Brown’s attempt to ban rallies in central London during a visit by US President George Bush – Benn turned up at a rally wearing his war medals as a calculated act of defiance.
Ms German was dismissive of The Guardian’s depiction of Benn’s career after 1983 as one of political failure which, she said, was totally to misunderstand his public role as a popular exponent of socialist ideas which had a real resonance with masses of people.
Kate Hudson, CND general secretary, examined Benn’s long opposition to nuclear weapons from the petition against the H-Bomb in the 1950s to the arrival of Cruise missiles in the 1980s and the campaign against Trident today.
While a strong supporter of CND, Benn was often critical of the peace movement for being ‘’too middle class’’ and its lack of a socialist analysis, she said, drawing on evidence from his published diaries.
Ms Hudson also shared her memories of Benn’s kindliness as a person, an aspect of his character that needed to be stressed.
Prof Willie Thompson remarked on how Benn remained influential long after he was out of office. He pointed to his ability to advocate new ideas such as when Benn urged the labour movement to build bridges with environmental activists.
He said he had come to the conclusion albeit reluctantly that had Benn been able to lead the Labour party in power after a general election victory the nature of the political system in Britain would never have permitted him to implement his radical programme.
Prof Thompson summed up Benn as a politician who upheld the values of democracy, socialism and humanism in difficult circumstances and felt that his example would continue to influence people as they look for an alternative to the failed mainstream politics.
Stan Newens felt that Tony Benn’s name would live forever in the collective memory of the labour movement. The SHS is proud to have made its own small contribution to ensuring that Benn’s legacy remains alive and his ideas are more fully understood.
Two of the advertised speakers, Stefan Dickers and Jon Lansman, were unfortunately unable to take part due to illness and their contributions would surely have been insightful. Nevertheless, the seminar was able to convey a large part of Tony Benn’s unique contribution to the labour and socialist cause. Long may his memory and example endure.

22
May
14

Africa Liberation Day event, Goldsmiths, London 24 May 2014

Africa Liberation Day event, Saturday, 24th May 2014, 2.00 pm – 8.30 pm. Stalls, speakers, music etc.
Goldsmith University, Whitehead Building, Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Laurie Grove New Cross, SE14 6NW.
Supported by Caribbean Labour Solidarity and other groups.
Fur further details, see http://www.africanliberationday.net/node/772

04
May
14

May Days in Moscow, 2014 – two demonstrations

Since I had a free day in Moscow on 1 May, it seemed appropriate to check out the May Day events. These days in Moscow, there are several parades, demonstrations and public events on May Day – not all of them political, and certainly not all of them of the left. This year there were three large enough to have streets closed off for them. I decided to take a look at two of them. I did not bother with the largest one, which culminated in a rally in and around Red Square. It was organised by the main (pro-government) trade unions together with the Edinaya Rossiya party, as a show of support for Vladimir Putin and his domestic and foreign policies. The press reports would suggest that it was slick, well-resourced, and largely lacking in spontaneity.

The first demonstration I went to was organised by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). Compared to the Putin jamboree, its style and (some of) its messages are more easily recognisable to those of us familiar with May Day rallies in Western cities. Unfortunately, some other messages – see the pictures below – seem rather remote from the ideas of internationalist working-class solidarity that are supposed to lie at the heart of the May Day celebrations.

Some of Russia’s neo-Nazi ultra-right also held a march, later that day – a so-called “Russian May Day” – to disturb the peace of an otherwise quiet and pleasant suburb of north-west Moscow. Given the prominence of such characters in the Ukrainian events of the last few months, I was interested to see how many their Russian equivalents could mobilise. Happily, it was possible to observe that demostration without having to mix with it.

The KPRF-organised march numbered in the low thousands. It mainly consisted of KPRF members and associated organisations, but there were also small contingents from other groups. A (very) noticeable absence was the organised wider labour movement – apart from one contingent of Sheremetyevo Airport workers engaged in an industrial dispute there were no banners representing any trade union organisations.

KPRF leader Gennadiy Zyuganov (in the white cap) waits to lead the march off.

KPRF leader Gennadiy Zyuganov (in the white cap) waits to lead the march off.

The Nizhniy Novgorod Komsomol was one of the best turn-out contingents

The Nizhniy Novgorod Komsomol was one of the best turned-out contingents

Some of the more exotic groups on the march provided some different colour. The “Course of Truth and Unity” – whose programme combines religious, moral, social-justice and nostalgic themes with a somewhat eccentric economic theory – had a banner thanking Stalin for their happy childhoods, while a small contingent of supporters of the late Libyan leader Qadhafi, aided by the Red Youth Vanguard, held up the banner of Green Book socialism.

"Thank you, Comrade Stalin, for our happy childhood! From pensioners born in the USSR"

“Thank you, Comrade Stalin, for our happy childhood! From pensioners born in the USSR”

"Peace to Libya!"

“Peace to Libya!”

Other marchers took the opportunity to get particular issues off their chests, such as the dangers of feminism:

“Down with media propaganda of feminism and degeneration!”

“Down with media propaganda of feminism and degeneration!”

The proper internationalist spirit of May Day was represented by contingents, mainly of women, from Latin America, including Venezuela, and from Mozambique.

The international women’s contingent.

The international women’s contingent.

“Mozambican women against poverty, domestic violence, violation and sexual abuse of minors, human trafficking, HIV-AIDS and other scourges which afflict Mozambican society.”

“Mozambican women against poverty, domestic violence, violation and sexual abuse of minors, human trafficking, HIV-AIDS and other scourges which afflict Mozambican society.”

However, the KPRF is a diverse organisation containing many currents, including some chauvinist ones which call themselves “national patriotic”. These were also well represented on the march, although the worst examples seemed to have been the result of individual initiative rather than central party instruction. Large flags depicted the largely Russian-speaking districts of Ukraine. On the Ukrainian and Crimean questions, there is little to distinguish the mainstream KPRF position from that of Putin. Worse still, the anti-US rhetoric of official Russia these days can easily be served in a “left”-sounding “anti-imperialist” sauce, and extended to reject all sorts of “western” ideas, including, for example, anti-racism. Barack Obama’s race seemed to be an issue for some of the demonstrators. Translations of the slogans are given in the captions. Similarly, black shirts bearing old-style script, hailing the martial qualities of the Russians as a nation, seem strangely incongruous on people carrying communist banners.

Southern and Eastern Ukrainian cities: Odessa, Kherson, Khar’kov, Donetsk, Lugansk, Dnepropetrovsk, Nikolaev

Southern and Eastern Ukrainian cities: Odessa, Kherson, Khar’kov, Donetsk, Lugansk, Dnepropetrovsk, Nikolaev

Slogan on the central placard: “The collapse of Darwin’s theory! A big-eared black monkey is trying to rule the world!” This example of Russian national-patriotic wit did not seem to be particularly controversial in the KPRF contingent which was carrying these placards.

Slogan on the central placard: “The collapse of Darwin’s theory! A big-eared black monkey is trying to rule the world!” This specimen of Russian national-patriotic wit did not seem to be particularly controversial in the KPRF contingent which was carrying these placards.

I wonder whether this person was the author of the placards – he proudly posed with two of them when I pointed my camera. The one on the left says, slightly cryptically: “Hitler did not like pork fat, Ukrainian fascists!”, while the one on the right declares: “Obama, you lie brazenly without blushing! It must be good to be a negro!” His KPRF badge completes the dispiriting spectacle.

I wonder whether this person was the author of the placards – he proudly posed with two of them when I pointed my camera. The one on the left says, slightly cryptically: “Hitler did not like pork fat, Ukrainian fascists!”, while the one on the right declares: “Obama, you lie brazenly without blushing! It must be good to be a negro!” His KPRF badge completes the dispiriting spectacle.

Black shirts with the slogan “Russians do not surrender!”, holding a KPRF banner.

Black shirts with the slogan “Russians do not surrender!”, holding a KPRF banner.

“A spoonful of tar spoils a barrelful of honey”, says the old Russian proverb. However, the ultra-right’s “Russian May Day” contained no honey at all. In fact, it had only three redeeming features:

  • It was pretty small – maybe only 500 people
  • It was very thoroughly policed, which gave them little opportunity for mayhem
  • The noted neo-Nazi band Kolovrat, which was to have caused noise pollution at the end of the march, was banned from performing
  • It is worth noting that neo-Nazism is not at all attractive to most Russian national chauvinists, given its association with a regime which regarded Russians as Untermenschen to be kicked off their land, deported, enslaved or exterminated, and which launched a war of annihilation against the USSR in pursuit of that aim. There are other Russian national chauvinist traditions which have far greater traction among the population, which would not associate with the sort of elements to be found on the “Russian May Day”. The pictures below largely speak for themselves.

    The far-right march began with some Orthodox imagery and the Imperial Russian flag...

    The far-right march began with some Orthodox imagery and the Imperial Russian flag…

    ...to be followed somewhat incongruously by a small troupe of drum majorettes

    …to be followed somewhat incongruously by a small troupe of drum majorettes…

    ...then the “Political Organisation ‘Russians’”, demanding expulsion of non-nationals...

    …then the “Political Organisation ‘Russians’”, demanding expulsion of non-nationals…

    ...and then a bunch with the slogans “Glory to the Heroes”, and “Sport, family, socialism”. What they understood by any of those words is hard to fathom.

    …and then a bunch with the slogans “Glory to the Heroes”, and “Sport, family, socialism”. What they understood by any of those words is hard to fathom.

    These were followed by a small group from the “National Union” (acronym in Russian: NS)...

    These were followed by a small group from the “National Union” (acronym in Russian: NS)…

    ...and the rear was brought up by the Russian Liberation Front “Pamyat”, with its slogan of “Faith, Race and Tradition”.

    …and the rear was brought up by the Russian Liberation Front “Pamyat”, with its slogan of “Faith, Race and Tradition”.

    It is clear that, compared to the size and influence of similar groups in Ukraine today, Russian neo-Nazism remains very marginal. There are however plenty of official channels through which entirely authentically Russian forms of authoritarian nationalism can be expressed, free from the taint of association with the foreign, and anti-Russian, ideology of Nazism. The danger in Russia is not that the open far right will get the sort of power and influence that it currently has in parts of Ukraine, but rather that authoritarian chauvinist ideas will further permeate the whole political spectrum, right, centre and left.

    12
    Apr
    14

    Call for Papers: Racism and Anti-Racism: from the labour movement to the far-right. A Two-Day Conference to be held at the University of Glasgow, 5-6 September 2014

    The first decades of the 21st century have seen two worrying developments for anyone concerned with opposing oppression:
    the continuing mutation and expansion of racism into new ‘cultural’ forms, above all in the form of a virulent Islamophobia; and
    the electoral consolidation of parties of the far-right, who are not always fascist, but committed to deeply reactionary positions on most social issues, above all in relation to migration.

    These two developments are distinct, but overlapping. On the one hand, racism is more widespread than on the far right, institutionally embedded over centuries in even the most notionally liberal states and exerting an influence even in the labour and trade union movement which might be thought to have most to lose from the divisions which it engenders. On the other hand, the far-right almost always includes racism among its repertoire of mobilising issues, but has politics which extend beyond it.

    The plenaries and workshop sessions will interrogate:
    racism in all its multifarious forms;
    the new far-right of the neoliberal era (i.e. mid-1970s onwards), in both its fascist and non-fascist aspects, particularly its growing electoral impact; and
    how the different varieties of racism and the far right can be challenged on the ground, and by whom.

    Although our focus is international, no conference held in Scotland during September 2014 can avoid the fact of the independence referendum. While the national question is not our subject, any discussion of racism inevitably has to deal with its role in national formation, particularly in the case of the imperial powers of which Britain was once so preeminent. Themes which we hope to address in relation to Scotland are the reality (or otherwise) of claims that it suffers less from racism than England or other areas in Western Europe, and the reasons why, to date, it has remained relatively immune to the electoral appeal of the far-right.

    Themes which the conference might address can include, but need not be restricted to the following:

    Racism
    Racism, class and globalised capitalism
    Racism and neoliberalism
    State racisms, in particular the racialization of migration and asylum
    Anti-Muslim racism and the appropriation and mobilization of feminist discourses
    Racism and the ‘white’ working class
    Forms of anti-racist activism: from social movements to the everyday
    Theorizing contemporary racisms – Feminist, Critical Race Theory, Postcolonial and Neo-Marxist perspectives are particularly welcomed.
    The legacy of anti-Irish racism in Scotland
    Scots, the Empire and the externalisation of racism
    Different attitudes to immigration in Scotland and England

    The Far Right
    The changing class basis of far right party membership
    Distinguishing the ‘non-fascist’ far-right from fascism
    Tensions between neoliberalism and far-right policy (the Tea Party, UKIP, etc.)
    The far-right and the different phases of capitalist development
    Working class electoral support for far-right parties
    Campaigning against the far-right
    Scottish Loyalism and far-right politics in Scotland
    Why is the far-right weaker in Scotland than England?

    We invite proposals for individual papers or panels from both established academics and postgraduate students, but also from those involved in addressing racism on a practical basis in advocacy groups, community campaigns, anti-racist mobilisations and trade unions.

    Proposals should be no longer than 250 words and submitted to both organisers:
    neil.davidson@glasgow.ac.uk and satnam.virdee@glasgow.ac.uk
    by 16 May 2014

    We are grateful to the Centre for Dynamics on Ethnicity (CoDE) and Sociology at the University of Glasgow for providing financial support for the organization of the conference.




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