Archive for September, 2015


The Syrian Crisis is Part of a War Waged on Russia by the West by David Morgan

It seems clear now that the West wants to defeat Russia in Syria at all costs. This latest protracted confrontation in the Middle East can be understood as a proxy war of the US and NATO against Putin’s resurgent Russia. But Syria is just one zone of engagement in a much wider war against Russia that has been taking place since Putin started to stand up to the West. The same confrontation also occurs in Ukraine and formerly in Georgia, where Russia successfully halted, albeit temporarily, the Western advance. This amounts to a new Cold War or an undeclared war where East and West are once more in global confrontation.

To date the policy to unseat Assad has failed miserably despite the West’s imposition of punishing economic sanctions, its bombing of the country and the sponsoring, financing and training of what are little more than terrorist mercenaries. It is virtually impossible to distinguish the moderate rebels from the Islamist fanatics of ISIS (Islamic State).

read on here


Jack Goody: An Appreciation

Jack Goody: An Appreciation

Jack Goody, who died on 16 July age 95, was a social anthropologist whose influences were Marx, Weber and Freud among others. He was from the generation of left-wing scholars whose experiences in the 1930s and the Second World War were to shape their approach to academic research and influence their entire outlook on the world.

Goody had a very fertile mind and, like his contemporaries Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm, he was very productive. He was to author over 30 highly original books on subjects as diverse as the growth of literacy, writing and the organisation of society, the development of the family, inheritance and kinship, the culture of flowers and food, cooking and class and modes of production.

Again like Hill and Hobsbawm, Goody always wrote in a clear style with the minimum of jargon.

Born in 1919 to a Scottish mother and English father, Goody grew up in St Albans. He won a scholarship to read English literature at St John’s, Cambridge, in 1938, where he came into contact with Hobsbawm and other scholars who were attracted to the left.

In his ambitious last book, Metals, Culture and Capitalism (published in 2012), Goody writes about Europe and the Near East from the Bronze Age onwards, but he begins on a personal reflection stating that “my life has been much influenced by the Hunger Marches of the miners of my youth, by my serving in a regiment of Nottinghamshire miners in the war, by friends as Bevin Boys on my return, by the work of the Tavistock Institute in the coalfields after the war, of political activity of workers in the Fife coalfields, and by the attempts of Arthur Scargill and others to fight to keep the industry in this country.”

On the outbreak of war in 1939, Goody immediately joined the army and was to fight against Rommel in North Africa. Captured by the Germans during the fall of Tobruk in June 1942, Goody was to spend nearly three years as a prisoner of war in Italy and Germany.

During his time in the POW camps, Goody discovered two volumes that were to have a decisive impact on his future, JG Frazer’s The Golden Bough and V Gordon Childe’s, What Happened in History?

After the war, he returned to Cambridge to complete his studies and later carried out fieldwork in Ghana. Goody began producing pioneering comparative studies of the cultures, societies and economic development of Europe, Africa and Asia. In what is perhaps his most famous book, The Domestication of the Savage Mind (1977), Goody challenges the division between so-called “primitive” and “advanced” societies.

He was especially interested in challenging notions of Europe’s supremacy and uniqueness which he saw was related to the growth of imperialism and colonialism.

Jack Goody’s work shares some affinities with that of Victor Kiernan, Edward Said and Martin Bernal in uncovering the influences of the East on the West and vice versa.

His historical critique of “Eurocentrism” can be found in books such as The East in the West (1996) and The Theft of History (2007).

In Renaissances (2010), Goody takes a new look at the concept of the European Renaissance and argues that it was only one of many similar “renaissances” that can be found in the histories of China, India, Judaism and Islam over the course of many centuries.

In this volume, Goody dismisses traditional histories of European medicine which trace its foundations to Greece and Rome to the exclusion of the Arab, Jewish and Asian contributions; this is a “notion that displayed some of the features of what it is not entirely wrong to describe as racist thinking,” he says.

In all his books Goody is concerned with “big picture” issues in historical perspective such as inequality, which is what makes his work so deeply stimulating and readable.

While his approach was clearly influenced by Marx, Goody did not describe himself as a “Marxist” – as far as I am aware – but he did say that he was “not a non-Marxist”.

He remained strongly associated with the left, writing occasional articles for New Left Review and sitting on the editorial board of Past and Present journal. Jack Goody also gave a talk to the SHS at Marx House.

An extended interview with Goody conducted by Eric Hobsbawm can be found here:

David Morgan


A World Turned Upside Down – report

A World Turned Upside Down

This year’s A L Morton Memorial Lecture was delivered by the Emeritus Professor of History at Warwick University, Bernard Capp, renowned for his research into 17th century popular culture and politics during the ferment of the English Revolution.

His first and perhaps most well-known book, The Fifth Monarchy Men, published in 1972, was an original and pioneering account of one of the small radical sects which emerged during the mid-century turmoil. Capp felt that they had been relatively neglected by previous historians of the period.

His talk, which stimulated an enthusiastic discussion, concentrated on the radical groups “to the left” of the Levellers, namely the True Levellers or Diggers, the Ranters and other short-lived groups such as the aforementioned Fifth Monarchy Men – who were appropriately named given that most of them were indeed men.

Prof Capp explained that the 1640s was a decade noted for two key developments that provided fertile ground for the growth of radicalism: the breakdown in censorship led to the flourishing of cheap pamphlets and birth of weekly newspapers; meanwhile the flight of King Charles from London in 1642 had a great impact on the popular consciousness and undermined belief in regal authority.

Capp compared the 1640s to the upheaval of 1789 in France as a period when people began to think the unthinkable, that the old social order could be “overturned” and replaced with an entirely new form of society.  .

With the Bible for guidance, people saw the deep social unrest as signs that a new age was about to be born which would see “the rule of the godly”. Such millenarian beliefs were shared by people across the social spectrum including Oliver Cromwell and John Milton, but they were especially prevalent among the “middling sort” who made up the ranks of the New Model Army.

The fifth monarchists believed in direct action to usher in the New Jerusalem and their tendency to violence means that they never been fashionable among historians, Capp said, unlike the Diggers and Levellers, whose ideas were much more amenable to modern political thinking.

Capp pointed out that the Quakers, who have long since become a respectable religious organisation in society, trace their roots to the radical sects that emerged during the 1640s and they shared some common beliefs with the Ranters, who were one of the most subversive of all the groups.

The Ranters held that “God was within everyone” which resembles the Quaker belief in the “inner light”, but while the Quakers simply stood up to authority by refusing to remove their caps when in the presence of supposed social superiors, the Ranters brazenly swore, got drunk and rioted.

Capp stated that these various groups continue to be remembered if only as rich material for writers, playwrights and film directors. Their influence has extended well beyond this country as is indicated, for example, by the memorial to Digger leader Gerard Winstanley that was erected in Red Square by the Bolsheviks following the Russian revolution of 1917.

Bernard Capp delivered his talk to a packed meeting room at Marx House on 18th July. The SHS was honoured to be able to host such a distinguished historian.

David Morgan


Campaigns for Decent Housing Past and Present

Campaigns for Decent Housing Past and Present

Speaker Duncan Bowie

2pm, 21st November 2015

Venue Marx Memorial Library, Clerkenwell Green

Duncan Bowie will give a talk on radical and socialist campaigns for decent housing, land nationalisation and town planning in the 19th century and seek to relate them to the current housing crisis and contemporary struggles. Duncan’s book, ‘The Radical and Socialist Tradition in British Planning: From Puritan Colonies to Garden Cities’ is to be published by Ashgate later this year. Duncan is a member of the SHS committee and of the committee of the London Labour Housing Group. He is a lecturer at the University of Westminster. He is the author of SHS OP No 34, Roots of the British Socialist Movement.

Free to attend; all welcome.

September 2015