Archive for July 31st, 2011


Outcomes of the AGM 2011

Secretary reports on the outcome of the 2011 AGM

This year’s annual general meeting of the SHS occurred on 21 May in the Courtyard Room of the Bishopsgate Institute with Stefan Dickers in the chair.

Society members and existing committee members were all present apart from David Parker and June Cohen who both sent their apologies.

The Secretary David Morgan reported on the lively series of meetings that the Society had held over the past year, mentioning in particular the special event with Professor Eric Hobsbawm, the Society’s honorary president, talking about his new book, How to Change the World. This was the only public meeting in London that Hobsbawm had agreed to take part in to promote the book and the Society was greatly honoured by the tribute that he made to it in the remarks Hobsbawm made during the talk, an edited version of which is on You Tube, available to watch here:

On the issue of finance, Treasurer Francis King pointed out that the position was only superficially healthy because of the backlog in the publications schedule. Finances had also been strengthened by a donation of £1,000 from Tony Atienza in memory of the late Eddie Dare, for which Tony was warmly thanked.

The Society also receives some income from Lawrence & Wishart as a result of the discount offered to members wishing to subscribe to the journal 20th Century Communism. As takings at meetings were down, it was agreed that more efforts would be made to ensure regular collections. Deborah Lavin agreed to take some responsibility for this.

Francis stressed that in order to secure its long-term viability the Society needed to attract around 300 paying members; it was now about 240.

In response, he proposed an increase in rates of subscriptions based on the principle that even the reduced rate should actually cover our costs of servicing each member: after a lively discussion, it was agreed on a vote to raise the rates to £25 (full) and £18 (reduced) taking effect from 2012. The AGM also committed the Society to holding these rates for several years.

David Morgan reported on the forthcoming Occasional Publications; mentioning that the next issue would be Marx and Bradlaugh by Deborah Lavin to be followed by Willie Thompson on Hill, Dobb and Thomson. Several other interesting proposals had been offered for future OPs including one on Clara Zetkin.

Francis, who had been elected as the new editor by the editorial board in November 2010, reported on the state of the journal; he said that the first priority was to get the publishing schedule back on track so that we had two issues a year. The conference on “Reform Communism” that he was organising in October would form the basis for a future issue.

The AGM endorsed the appointment of Francis as editor along with Willie Thompson and David Parker as editorial advisers.

Warm tributes were paid to Society veteran Willie Thompson who indicated that he wished to step down from the committee after many years; Willie will continue to work on the Society’s publications, as a member of the Occasional Publications team and on the journal.

June Cohen also stepped down as co-chair and was replaced in this position by Greta Sykes; June will continue to take part in the work of the Society.

Finally, Charlie Pottins, a longstanding member of the Society and a member of the Jewish Socialists’ Group, was welcomed onto the committee.

All other officers and committee members remained in position and were endorsed by the AGM.

The meeting was followed by a public meeting on aspects of East End London history with speakers Janine Booth, Sarah Wise and Samantha Bird.

David Morgan


Poetry and Politics Do Mix

An Explosive Combination of Poetry, Politics and History

The Socialist History Society’s first ever poetry reading held on 10 June proved to be a tremendous success.

The event was conceived as a celebration of the many and various ways that poets have sought to convey a Socialist message through poetry and was also aimed at raising some much needed funds for the SHS; we are pleased to report that it magnificently fulfilled its tasks on both these counts. It was a very entertaining experience for performers and audience alike.

Warmest appreciation is reserved for committee members Greta Sykes and Deborah Lavin, who put together an extremely varied programme of readings that combined classic and modern readings.

Several other Society members contributed to the evening’s entertainment and the level of enthusiasm shown by all concerned was much remarked upon.

The event was held at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden, which proved to be an excellent venue, highly atmospheric and congenial.

The line up primarily consisted of poetry enthusiasts from the Society along with a few friends from London Voices Poetry Group and other contacts. The eclectic programme demonstrated the rich variety of what it is possible to categorise as “Socialist poetry” including works by Brecht, William Morris, Mayakovsky, John Cornford, Shelley, Heinrich Heine, Langston Hughes and Harri Webb.

The period covered stretched from the French Revolution to the modern day. Especially well received were the spirited performances delivered by Deborah Lavin, Penny Dimond (from the New Factory of the Eccentric Actor), Khatchatur Pilikian and Greta Sykes.

London Voices member Vincent Berquet gave a special presentation about the revolutionary impulses in the Marseillaise and how the anthem has been interpreted over the decades, while Gillian Oxford recited a song about the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

Jane Ennis read extracts from Morris’s Pilgrims of Hope whose theme is the Paris Commune and David Morgan read from a translation of Common Cause by the French poet Francis Combes which is a series of vignettes concerning key episodes in revolutionary history. Greta, Deborah and others also read some of their own poems. Mike Squires and David Horsley also gave readings from John Cornford and Langston Hughes respectively.

The evening raised over £100 for the Society’s funds and the enthusiastic feedback has inspired everyone to put on a repeat performance in the near future. There is certainly sufficient material around to put together several programmes.

Thanks again to everyone who made the event such a success and one that exceeded all expectations.

David Morgan


New views of Annie Besant, Harriet Law and Eleanor Marx

Radical to Revolutionary Women in the 19th century
Another look at Harriet Law, Annie Besant and Eleanor Marx

7pm, 9th November 2011

Dr Laura Schwartz on Harriet Law

Deborah Lavin on Eleanor Marx

Marie Terrier on Annie Besant

Seminar consists of three short talks presenting new views of the subjects followed by discussion

Venue for all events: Bishopsgate Institute, Liverpool St

Free entry, all welcome, retiring collection


Empire and Resistance with Robin Blackburn and Richard Gott

Socialist History Society in co-operation with publisher Verso and supported by the London Socialist Historians Group

Empire and Resistance

with two leading socialist historians of imperialism,

Robin Blackburn and Richard Gott

7pm Wednesday 12 October

The authors will be speaking about their new books The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights and Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt respectively.


2011 A L Morton Memorial Lecture: 28 September, 7.00 p.m.

This year’s annual A L Morton Memorial Lecture 7pm Wednesday 28th September 2011 Louise Raw on “The Truth about the 1888 Match Girls’ Strike and its Place in History” The speaker is the author of the book, Striking a Light: The Bryant and May Match women and their Place in Labour History, copies of which will be available at the meeting. This event is held jointly with Labour History Movement Publications (LHMP)



Film screening: Listen to Venezuela. Excerpts from the film Listen To Venezuela, mainly shot in that country in 2008 by Mike Wayne & Deirdre O’Neill, followed by a discussion with the film makers.
7pm, Wednesday 17 August
Event supported by London Socialist Film Coop.


Cromwell Reappraised

God’s Welshman?
David Morgan reviews Oliver Cromwell: New Perspectives edited by Patrick Little, Palgrave Macmillan, pb £17.99.
A new view of Cromwell as a Welshman with close and abiding affinities to the Leveller cause emerges from this new collection of essays, Oliver Cromwell: New Perspectives.
Christopher Hill’s classic study of Cromwell, God’s Englishman, was published in 1970 and there have been countless books about the great Commonwealth and Republican leader since then. Many revisionist accounts have sought to portray Cromwell as a man of contradictions; others have set out to establish that he was at best a flawed hero, a hypocrite and a religious zealot.
Cromwell’s reputation on the left has been much tarnished by his feud with John Lilburne as he has commonly been portrayed as the villain to the latter’s solid man of principle; a very different view presented in this volume gives a more detailed picture of Cromwell’s associations with the Levellers, particularly with William Walwyn, who often remains in the shadow of Lilburne. Philip Baker explains that Cromwell was sympathetic to Leveller ideas over a much longer period than is often appreciated.
In another illuminating contribution, Lloyd Bowen describes the Welsh family background of Cromwell and how this influenced his outlook. While the Welshness of the Williams “alias Cromwell” side of the family is briefly mentioned by Hill, he makes very little of it. By contrast, Bowen shows how Cromwell took great pride in his Welsh roots and took up the Welsh cause in Parliament on various occasions in the early 1640s when he was gaining a reputation as a militant puritan activist. Bowen argues that Cromwell’s important links with Wales have been almost completely ignored in both popular and academic literature.
Finally, Patrick Little sheds new light on the controversial circumstances surrounding the offer of the Crown to Cromwell in 1657 and his refusal to accept it. The offer came during a period of high tension following the foiling of an assassination attempt on Cromwell by royalists known as the Sindercombe plot, whose significance, Little says “has never been taken seriously by historians”, but which he claims shook the confidence of the Republican regime quite severely. The offer of the Crown was something of a desperate bid to frustrate royalist attempts to deny the legitimacy of the regime.
Other articles in the volume cover Cromwell’s role in the First Civil War, his early parliamentary career, Cromwell’s court, his record in Ireland and the upbringing of his successor, Richard Cromwell.
All in all this is a refreshing and highly readable series of reappraisals of a figure who is still a controversial one in English radical history more than 350 years after his death.

July 2011