Author Archive for Francis King



03
Feb
16

Call for Papers: British Communism and Commitment

Day-school, 9th June 2016. Manchester

‘I am not ready to join the party’, wrote the novelist Harold Heslop to leading CPGB party theoretician, Rajani Palme Dutt in 1936, recognising the forbidding level of activism expected.  The mandatory Communist hyper-commitment repelled potential recruits and actual members alike, especially in the early years.  But others who joined the party then and later found through Communist commitment a meaningful way of life and a framework for understanding the world.
Bringing together academics from a wide range of disciplines and former party activists, this day-school analyses the complexities of commitment in the British Communist Party over its seventy-year history (1920-1991).  Papers (20 minutes) might cover, but aren’t restricted to:
•    The motivations and trajectories of party ‘hardliners’ who dutifully observed party discipline and the party line, regardless of misgivings;
•    Communism as a way of life;
•    Expulsion and the fear of it;
•    Autobiographies written by former Communists;
•    Figures who struggled to reconcile vocational, professional or artistic commitments with their Communism;
•    ‘Loyal dissidents’ who remained fundamentally committed to the party while often challenging and seeking to enlarge its assumptions, procedures and priorities;
•    Those who challenged what they saw as dominant party perceptions that ‘race’, gender and sexuality were secondary to class as sites of oppression;
•    Activists who considered their ultimate commitment as being to Communist principles from which they believed the party to have deviated, and who challenged the party on those grounds;
•    Those who transferred their abiding Marxist commitments to different currents or organisations—Trotskyist, New Left, Maoist—and the complex relations with the CPGB that followed.
Part of the AHRC-funded project ‘Wars of Position: Communism and Civil Society’, the day-school will be held in the Reading Room of the Labour History Archive and Study Centre in the People’s History Museum, Manchester, and will include a tour of the CPGB archive holdings.  It will mark the opening to researchers of a new tranche of significant CP archive material relating primarily to the 1950-91 period (the papers of John Attfield, Monty Johnstone and Paul Olive).  The event will conclude with a round-table discussion about Communism, commitment and the archive chaired by Professor Kevin Morgan and featuring Francis King (historian, former CP activist and archivist, editor of Socialist History), and John Attfield (historian and former secretary of the Communist Party History Group).
Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be e-mailed to Ben Harker (ben.harker@manchester.ac.uk) by 1/4/16

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13
Oct
15

forthcoming book: “Radiant Illusion”, ed. Nicholas Deakin

“Radiant Illusion: Middle-class recruits to Communism in the 1930s”, edited by Nicholas Deakin, with contributions from Geoff Andrews, Jane Bernal, Norma Cohen, Philip Cohen, Elizabeth Dolan, Roderick Floud, Hamish MacGibbon and Kevin Morgan, is published on 20 October by Eve Editions. Further details are available on http://www.radiantillusion.co.uk/

 

 

radiant-illusion-edited-deakin

02
May
15

First MQC publication: Northern ReSisters by Bernadette Hyland

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.

    21
    May
    13

    Symposium on Class, Identity and Immigration, University of Reading, 26th September 2013

    In conjunction with the University of Reading and Socialist History, this symposium will examine communal and radical politics in the turn of the century East End of London, particularly focusing on the Jewish and Irish immigrant communities, through discussion of political, social, and comparative history, faith and minority culture. The speakers, from a variety of academic backgrounds, will provide fresh insight into the nature of identity and how it is shaped, both in the turn of the century East End and today.
    With the recent statistics on the profound shift that has taken place over the last decade in the demographic make-up of London, and the political controversies over renewed immigration from Eastern Europe in to Britain, the question of minority ethnic identification and involvement in politics is as relevant as it was at the turn of the twentieth century. How the contemporary political Left should address these issues, and the viability of grass roots radical politics in minority communities, is a question beyond the remit of these papers. However, the arguments on class, immigration and identity in the late-Victorian and Edwardian period, presented here, approached from different disciplines and standpoints, and encompassing and utilising music, theatre, and poetry, may perhaps help to clarify the challenges faced today.
    The following papers will be given:
    ‘Morris Winchevsky’s London Years: The New Poetry of Jewish Socialism, 1884-94’ – Vivi Lachs (Royal Holloway)
    ‘Control, Cohesion and Faith: A Comparative Discussion of Immigrant Communal Control in the Fin-de-siècle East End’ – Daniel Renshaw (University of Reading)
    ‘Irish Catholic Religious Processions in Early Twentieth Century East London’ – Giulia Ni Dhulchaointigh (Trinity College Dublin)
    Towards a Cosmopolitan Account of Jewish Socialism: Class, Identity and Immigration in Edwardian London’ – Dr Ben Gidley (COMPAS, University of Oxford)
    ‘” England People Very Nice”: Multi-Generational Irish Identities in the Multi-Cultural East End’ – Emeritus Professor Bronwen Walter (Anglia Ruskin University)
    The symposium is to be held in Old Whiteknights House, at the University of Reading on Thursday 26th September 2013, with registration at 12 midday. Lunch will be provided. All are welcome, but please register as places are limited. If you are interested in attending or wish to find out more please email D.G.W.Renshaw@pgr.reading.ac.uk for further details.




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