Archive for June, 2010


Dan Chatterton – London’s One Man Revolution’

Dan Chatterton – London’s One Man Revolution’
Wednesday 25th August, 7pm, at Housmans Bookshop, Kings Cross

The Freethought  History  Research Group remember Dan Chatterton: Communist atheist pamphleteer, bill poster, slum dweller, early birth control advocate, fierce public ranter, and one of the most fascinating and undeservedly obscure characters of the London radical scene in the second half of the 19th century.


Colin Ward memorial

Memorial and Celebration of Colin Ward’s life and work

Saturday, 10 July 2010, 2.00pm-5.00pm

Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1

All welcome

Ken Worpole: Colin Ward and the anarchism of everyday life “Colin Ward in conversation with Roger Deakin”, introduced by Mike Dibb Harriet Ward: On meeting Colin Ward Stuart White: Colin Ward: making anarchism respectable, but not too respectable Peter Marshall: Colin Ward in the history of Anarchism Tony Fyson: Colin Ward at work Dennis Hardy: On the margins


Putney Debates reenacted – 3 July 2010

The Putney Debates, 5.00 pm Saturday 3 July 2010, St Mary’s Church. The cast of Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, by Caryl Churchill, reenact the Putney Debates in their original setting. With an introduction explaining their historical importance, an edited version of the Putney Debates will be performed by the talented cast of Caryl Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, followed by a Q&A with the director and cast.
Programme of events supported by Verso Books (see for more details).
Light Shining in Buckinghamshire
After years of bloody conflict, an exhausted England is in the hands of radical extremists. Consumed by a burning religious passion, Parliament’s soldiers decide to kill the king. Theirs is a war to establish heaven on earth.
This is the story of the most terrifying decade in our history. Desperate to make sense of the horror surrounding them, a group of ordinary men and women cling to the belief that they will be shown a glimpse of an unspeakable, transcendent glory.

Written by Caryl Churchill 
Director Polly Findlay
Designer Hannah Clark
Lighting Designer Matthew Pitman
Sound Designer Gareth Fry
Casting Juliet Horsley
Cast Philip Arditti, Jamie Ballard, Christopher Harper, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Helena Lymbery, Michelle Terry

Arcola Theatre
14 Jul – 7 Aug 2010 8pm
31 Jul & 7 Aug 3pm & 8pm
£16 (£10 concessions)
020 7503 1646 |


Newsletter and Journal Now Available

The July issue of the SHS Newsletter is now available as is the latest edition of our journal, Socialist History.

Both titles will be mailed out to members later this week, but the Newsletter can be read and downloaded on the website.




Secularism Versus Marxism Debated

Secularism Versus Marxism; Bradlaugh Versus Marx

By David Morgan

 The great battle of ideas between Secularism and Socialism waged in the Victorian era by the leader of British Secularism, Charles Bradlaugh, on the one side, and Karl Marx, on the other, was painstakingly explained in a tour de force by Deborah Lavin at a meeting of the Socialist History Society on 10th June.

Deborah, a SHS member, writer, poet and researcher into 19th century revolutionary politics, made excellent and entertaining use of her formidable dramatic talents for verbal impersonation as she read extracts from letters of the many personalities involved in the bitter rivalry between Bradlaugh and Marx in the run up to and the aftermath of the Paris Commune and its political ramifications in Britain.

In Deborah Lavin’s colourful account, what was at stake was far more than a clash of personalities; it was a confrontation of ideologies and entrenched class positions, she argued, as they both flourished around about the same time and operated in similar circles of London.

Now largely forgotten except in specialist circles, Bradlaugh was towering figure in his day, a freethinker, an atheist and a dominant figure in the Secular movement which was a real force in the British radical politics of the mid to later 19th century. But although he came from a relatively impoverished background as the son of a solicitor’s clerk from Hoxton, leaving school very early and never having any private income to draw upon, Bradlaugh became a fierce opponent of Socialism and never appreciated the “class politics” propounded by Marx and his allies. Emerging as rivals, each vied for the allegiance of the working class with Bradlaugh exploiting his position more effectively among the public on the political stage where his reputation as an orator and agitator was high.

Marx in contrast never had the same opportunities to address a mass audience in Britain mainly because of his status as a German refugee; in fact he was much more widely known on the continent than in the country in which he made his home. His writings, written in German, were only translated into English years later and sold only a few thousand copies, while Bradlaugh’s National Reformer sold thousands each week making him a household name. He addressed huge audiences all over the country on an almost weekly basis, while the activities of Marx were much more limited. Bradlaugh’s influence was thus far greater and he was far more visible as a public figure.

Today, the status of the two men has been tellingly reversed, Deborah Lavin was keen to stress, which indicates that Marx was after all simply in a different league as his rival.

 Bradlaugh remains famous today for the “birth control” trial of 1877 where he stood in the dock alongside Annie Besant; although ostensibly a progressive cause, proponents of birth control were often social Malthusians who argued somewhat like Dickens’s Scrooge that the “surplus population” should be eliminated and that it would be achieved if the poor acted responsibly and practised birth control. The arguments of Bradlaugh on this issue were deeply anti-Socialist, Lavin stated.

Bradlaugh and Marx first clashed on the issue of Sunday opening, which the former regarded as a fight against religion, while Marx argued that it was a class issue as Sunday was the only day when the workers were free to do their shopping. Bradlaugh was prepared to advocate direct action in the Hyde Park demonstrations that took place over the issue, while Marx ridiculed this resort to violence for such a paltry cause.

Later, in contrast, the roles were reversed when Bradlaugh denounced Marx for allegedly glorifying the violence of the Paris Communards in his renowned pamphlet, The Civil War in France, which was written for the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA), but was little read in its day.

Bradlaugh had sought to join the IWMA in the 1860s but when he realised that he would not be able to dominate it, as he liked to do with any organisation in which he was involved, Lavin said, he turned his fire on Marx seizing on an opportunity during the debates surrounding the fate of the Paris Commune in 1871.

Bradlaugh showed little or no concern for the massacres of thousands of innocent Parisian citizens, men, women, old and young, by the avenging French troops, a stark fact which truly exposes a lacunae in Bradlaugh’s outlook. His only concern was to undermine Marx, making absurd and vindictive charges that he was a police spy in the pay of Bismarck and other demagogic accusations.

Bradlaugh was always a “radical”, whose limitations as a creed Deborah mercilessly exposed as obsessive constitutional reformers who largely excluded social and economic questions from their concerns; he was certainly not “intrinsically anti-capitalist”, she contended, speculating that this was perhaps why he so easily ended his career in respectability as a Liberal MP staunchly opposing the eight hour working day and other progressive measures.

Radicals in the 19th century could be profoundly “unpleasant” like the radicals of today, she said, pointing out that Margaret Thatcher used to style herself as a radical, as did Tony Blair. Bradlaugh himself was equally unpleasant, with few redeeming features, Deborah Lavin insisted.

The talk was rich in its arguments and hugely entertaining with the speaker showing a full grasp of her subject matter and a command of the audience who greatly appreciated the large number of slides depicting the personalities, events, social conditions of Paris and London and in particular those showing full horrors of the downfall of the Paris Commune. The speaker had some harsh words for Bradlaugh, with which many no doubt will strongly dispute, but his apparent failure to sympathise with the suffering of Communard dead certainly weakens any sympathies for him. And in the end, of course, it seems, Marx was the winner in the popularity stakes, at least in terms of name recognition.

The Socialist History thanks the South Place Ethical Society for helping publicise the event and was pleased to see that some Secular Society members in the audience.


Gramsci in the 21st Century

SHS Public Meeting
Gramsci in the 21st Century
A talk by Professor Anne Showstack Sassoon,
Followed by discussion.
7pm, Thursday 19th August 2010
Venue: Bishopsgate Institute, Liverpool Street, London

Professor emeritus of politics, Kingston University and senior visiting research fellow at Birkbeck College, Anne Showstack Sassoon is one of the world’s leading authorities on the work and ideas of Antonio Gramsci. Her various publications include Approaches to Gramsci (1981), Gramsci’s Politics (1988), Gramsci and Contemporary Politics, (2000) and Women and the State (1987).

Free attendance. All welcome. Retiring donation.


Love in the Time of Communism

Socialist History Society Public Meeting


Love in the Time of Communism:

Sexuality and Private Life in East


Talk by Dr Josie McLellan, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, Bristol University

2pm, Saturday, 13th November 2010

Venue: The Bishopsgate Institute, Liverpool Street, London

A specialist in the social and cultural history of the German Democratic Republic, Josie McLellan’s publications include Antifascism and Memory in East Germany: Remembering the International Brigades 1945-1989 (Oxford University Press, 2004) and Visual dangers and delights: nude photography in East Germany, (Past and Present, August 2009).

For further information see:


details of Jim Fyrth’s funeral

The funeral is on June 10th. at 2.0 p.m.  in Torbay Crematorium, Torquay.   Gathering afterwards in Totnes.

Please send us your contact details if you would like to attend and we will put you in touch with his family.


No to Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson, the British historian most closely associated with a rightwing, Eurocentric vision of western ascendancy, is to work with the Conservatives to overhaul history in schools. Amidst all the other Con-Dems cuts and attacks on education, allowing an open apologist for imperial rule to re-shape the history curriculum just adds insult to injury – and must be resisted like all the other cuts and attacks.


Jim Fyrth

It is with immense sadness that we learn of the death of Jim Fyrth, one of our most distinguished members who made an enormous contribution to the work of the SHS and its predecessor over many decades.
Jim served on the committee of the SHS for many years and only stepped down latterly because of ill health. He remained keenly interested in the activities of the Society.
We send condolences to his family.
Details of the funeral will be made available shortly.

A brief biography for those who did not know him.
Jim Fyrth

A distinguished Marxist historian and teacher specialising in British trade union and labour history of the 20th century. He took a particular interest in the Spanish Civil War, a subject on which he produced two books, one co-edited with Sally Alexander.
He was an active member of the SHS and its predecessor and a frequent contributor to Socialist History Society publications. He was also active in the Society for the Study of Labour History and contributed to the Dictionary of Labour Biography.

His Main Publications
An Indian Landscape 1944-1946, SHS OP 2001.
The Foundry Workers: A Trade Union History, 1959
Labour’s High Noon: Government and Economy, 1945-1951, editor, 1993
Labour’s Promised Land? Culture and Society in Labour Britain, 1945-1951, editor, 1995
The Signal was Spain: The Spanish Aid Movement in Britain, 1936-1939, 1985
Women’s Voices of the Spanish Civil War, co-editor with Sally Alexander, 1991
Britain, Fascism and the Popular Front, editor, 1985

I feel privileged to have known him.

David Morgan
SHS Secretary

June 2010