The Radical History Network(RaHN)is a blog that operates as a forum for radical history groups to publish reviews, reports and articles on various aspects of radical history, and advertise meetings and act as a discussion forum for those interested in radical history. It is broadly libertarian socialist in outlook.
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It was 35 years ago that events in Poland,
hitting the world headlines, were giving hope and encouragement to many on the
anti-authoritarian left. In London, members of the Solidarity group – including
Chris Pallis, as noted previously – were among those who reacted most promptly
and positively. [This was not a ‘party line’, however: some people associated
with the group took a less sanguine view, at the time or with hindsight. One
later recalled, “in 1980-1 over the Polish strikes … an understandable but
rather desperate desire to whistle in the dark led us all to overlook the
deeply reactionary aspects (in retrospect, these were the most important
aspects) of Solidarnosc.” For others, the most important aspect was that such a
movement should have got under way at all after so many years of repression in
all areas of life.]
The article reproduced here appeared (p.S16) in a 24-page Supplement, ‘Summer
in Gdansk’, included in the magazine Solidarity
for Social Revolution, no. 14, Oct.-Nov. 1980, pp.S1-S24, and also
A meeting was
held at the Conway Hall, on Tuesday August 26, to discuss events in Poland. It
was called under the auspices of the London Solidarity group, in cooperation
with other tendencies and individuals. The widespread interest aroused by the
Polish workers’ struggle was shown by the numbers who attended, in the holiday
season and at very short notice. The Small Hall was packed to the door,
standing room only. At the end of three hours we went away feeling that
something had been achieved: the setting up of a Polish Solidarity Committee;
planned intervention at TUC Conference with the aim of stopping the proposed
delegation of fraternal bureaucrats; and the sending of two telegrams, one
expressing solidarity with the strikers through B [initial only given] in Paris,
and one to the Polish government supporting the workers’ call for the
establishment of free trade unions.
To a considerable extent, certainly, and well worth doing. But there were some
dissenting voices (as readers of Freedom
may have noted) and criticisms which are worth considering. It could all, perhaps,
have been done better, and there may be some lessons for future occasions.
For a start,
like an earlier meeting we held in the same place (on the anniversary of Kronstadt)
this one was traditionally structured: platform of speakers and chairman behind
a table complete with jugs of water, etc., facing the rest of us, the audience.
Without claiming (cf. World
Revolution) that we only have to sit round in a circle, séance-like, to invoke
the true spirit of libertarian revolution, it is worth noting that this
non-Solidarity style of meeting accentuated one of the worst mistakes of the
evening: the fact that it looked like the presentation of a ‘united front’ from
the platform, instead of a forum open for discussion of different views.
This is important
because some of the views presented differed widely from ours: there was one
speaker from Solidarity, Terry Liddle; an anarchist, Philip Samson; and two
Poles. One [of the Poles] was an ex-Labour councillor (in close contact with
the KOR [Workers’ Defence Committee] and its publications in Polish) who gave
an interesting factual description of current events, the other a member of the
Polish Socialist Party in exile, affiliated to the Second International, who went
on about what he had said to Willy Brandt the last time they met. If the traditional
structure of the meeting was inevitable, all the more care should have been
taken to emphasise the open, un-‘fixed’ nature of the set-up – the organisers
had not met all the speakers and certainly did not know what they would be
saying. (Those who think that meetings should only be held if the organisers do know who will be there – and what
they will be saying – should say so explicitly.)
By the time the
collection was taken, and the gist of the proposed telegram(s) mooted, time for
discussion from the floor was limited to just under an hour, so that the chairman
had to be firm in trying to ensure a maximum number and variety of
contributions. Nevertheless the adverb ‘ruthlessly’, applied to the chairing by
Freedom’s correspondent, is not inappropriate.
This appeared to some extent in the debate, although quite a number of opposing
views were heard. It became more obvious when the final wording of the
telegrams was discussed. There was no chance to do this properly, the formula ‘supporting
the struggle for free trade unions’ being taken to express the feeling of the
meeting. A proposed amendment, from the only Solidarity member to speak from
the floor, that the words ‘independent class organisations’ replace the words
‘free trade unions’ was not accepted. And it was only thanks to a
quick-thinking and persistent anarchist that ‘All power to the workers’ was
added at the end of the first telegram, thus
differentiating us from the wide range of right-wingers and social democrats
currently professing solidarity with the
Poles, and suggesting that our aim was not the sort of trade unions prevailing in the West.
So we can observe,
once again, that participation in any sort of united front or concerted action
with other tendencies requires extra care in clarifying, not blurring, our
particular views. Otherwise the dominant ideology prevails by default, and we
find ourselves being used for ends we do not support – and ultimately playing
false to those we do.
MEANWHILE, AT THE OTHER POLE…
But whatever our
self-criticisms about failures of perfect libertarian practice, we can console
ourselves with the thought that it could have been worse. This was demonstrated
by the SWP meeting on the same subject three nights later, attended by a few of
us armed with leaflets, doing a ‘World Revolution’ (needless to say, WR were
also there, doing the genuine thing!). One of us even stayed until near the
After a cheering
cock-up at the beginning over what time it was due to start (Socialist Worker had said 9 p.m., Time Out 8 p.m., so they made it 8.30)
the meeting (smaller than ours) swung into the familiar routine: two quite lengthy
speeches, the first more narrative in style, the second giving the line;
collection (Let’s not hear the clatter of
coins, comrades, nor yet the rustle of paper, but the squeak of pens writing
substantial cheques); questions from
the floor to the platform, answered
in batches for added glibness; and final summings-up with exhortations to build
the revolutionary party (at this point our reporter made no excuse and left). Of
course experienced questioners took the opportunity to put a few points across.
The lad from World Revolution did his stuff, about the counter-revolutionary
nature of all unions, and two people involved in the [newly formed] Polish
Solidarity Campaign gave some information about it and asked for a statement of
the SWP position. The answer was that the SWP supported the ‘existing
rank-and-file trade union movement of solidarity with the Polish workers’ and
would not ally itself with the right wing in the unions by calling for
withdrawal of the [TUC] delegation. The SWP evidently preferred, even at this
time, to maintain its alliance with the stalinists on the Liaison Committee for
the Defence of Trade Unions.
L. W. and M. B.
Participants’ history of PSC
Other analyses are available...
A couple of titles
for further reading:
Peter Raina, Political Opposition in Poland. London,
Poets’ and Painters’ Press, 1978.
Castle and Ray Taras, Democracy in Poland, Westview Press, 2nd edition 2002.
From People's Histreh: Since the start of 2014, we have been working on
an extensive research project, looking into the cases of the 103 Sherwood
Foresters who were sentenced to death or sentenced on mutiny charges during
World War One.
approached this from the outset as a long term project and plan to publish a
series of pamphlets, looking into the individual cases as well as their wider
very pleased to announce that the third issue in our pamphlet series ‘103
Foresters’ is now available as a free download (pdf).
as we are a few weeks (three to be precise!) behind schedule, but our original
timetable was always a bit optimistic. As always, this remains a work in
Histreh - Nottingham & Notts Radical History Group
a group of people with different political backgrounds, interested in what has
been called ‘history from below‘, ‘grassroots history’ or ‘social history‘.
Nottingham and Nottinghamshire have such a long and turbulent history of
socioeconomic transformation, disturbance and conflict, there is a lot to be
unearthed. In fact, the most amazing, inspiring, shocking and outrageous
stories leap out wherever the surface is scratched.
what we do…
have been working on a number of different projects since we first got together
in late 2009. Among many other subjects, such as Chartism or the local history
of slavery, we have e.g. been remembering the successful fight against the Poll
Tax (for instance by celebrating the 20th anniversary of the custard-pieing of
local councillors). Probably
our main project to date has been our work on the riotous history of Nottingham
during the Industrial Revolution. There is of course our popular guided walk
‘To the Castle!’, retracing the 1831 Reform Riots. Our publication of the same
title, along with our pamphlet ‘Damn his charity...’ (on the remarkable events
known as Nottingham’s ‘Great Cheese Riot’), was reprinted in our paperback book
(that is ‘Loaf On A Stick Press’) were also proud to publish Chris Richardson’s
exciting book ‘A City of Light…’ on the struggles of courageous women and men
in 1840s Nottingham who challenged the inhumanities of the Poor Law, contested
charges of sedition, blasphemy and riot, confronted the forces of established
religion, and championed new forms of democratic control.
of Light: Socialism, Chartism and Co-operation – Nottingham 1844 By
Christopher Richardson Loaf
On A Stick Press; 2013 ISBN
"The Police Gazette published regular lists of deserters and absentees during the war years. These lists can tell you a lot ... including birth year, occupation, last known address and any distinguishing physical characteristics. While desertion was a capital offence during World War 1, some deserters were never caught and went on to live their lives under an assumed name." For example, a search for the surname Smith returns 248 results, and for Jones, 169. A RaHN member notes: "During the war years, the [North
London] police court was also troubled on a daily basis by soldiers who had
gone absent without leave or simply deserted.
Such matters were not of great interest and attracted little attention." - p.98 in David Barrat, The Islington Murder Mystery. Orsam Books 2012. A
useful source of incidental information about conditions in London in 1915; non-fiction but may be shelved with fiction in some libraries, e.g. Ealing.
August 15th100 Years Ago: In the summer of 1915 an ILP (Independent Labour
Party) pamphlet warned of “The Peril of Conscription”; on 29th June a National
Registration Bill was introduced by the government. According to David
Boulton, the Bill was “almost universally understood to be the first step to
compulsion” (Objection Overruled,
p.78). When it became law, August 15th was set as the date
for Registration of men of military age. As a result, it was found that about 5
million of these men “were not serving with the forces, Subtracting those in
vital occupations and the medically unfit, it was estimated that between 1,700,000
and 1,800,000 available to serve had not volunteered.” (Boulton, op. cit., p.79)
N.B. Although the event itself is not until next summer, the deadline for proposals is September 14th 2015:
"Please send a 250 - 500 word proposal, including a description of the format and content of the proposed paper, session, workshop, meeting, screenings, or performance. Include an abstract if appropriate, and the names of any other speakers or participants. AT THE TOP OF YOUR PROPOSAL PLEASE INDICATE THE CONFERENCE STRAND (A –E above) TO WHICH YOU THINK YOUR PROPOSAL RELATES MOST CLOSELY. Please submit your proposal to Katy Pettit, Raphael Samuel History Centre administrator (email@example.com) by Monday September 14th."
Independent Working Class Educationspecial
Events during Edinburgh Festival.
events free: details in the web links.]
August at 1.00
WORD POWER BOOKS
43-45 West Nicolson Street
Keith Venables and Rob Turnbull
"A Manifesto for Independent
Working Class Education"
September. London. Unite the Union HQ (new
What does the Record say?
Women, Work and Trade Unions,
Lessons for Today.
making it make sense for me!"
September. Leicester Friends Meeting House.
picnic - 196th anniversary commemoration
Sunday 16 August from 1 to 3pm the Peterloo Memorial Campaign group are
organising an event in the open space in front of Manchester Central Conference
Centre, to mark the anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre.
will be banners, marchers arriving, and the reading of the names of those who
died, as before. This year the organisers are also calling on people to bring a
simple meal of bread and cheese, to participate in The Peterloo Picnic,
'thereby completing what the protesters originally set out to do'. There will
be a giant spiderweb map, with picnic blankets marking each of the towns that
sent marchers to St Peter's Fields.
event is free but tickets should be booked in advance here.
Working Class Movement Library, Salford
51 The Crescent,
Salford,, M5 4WX
The re-arranged talk about the 1945 welfare reforms by Pat Thane takes place on Wednesday 16 September at 2 p.m.
The Library exhibition Spirit of `45: from warfare to welfare is open Wednesdays to Fridays 1-5pm (and the first Saturday of the month 10am-4pm) until 25 September.
'Protect' - new installation at
installation by Al Johnson, shared between ourselves and thePeople's History Museum,
celebrates the determination shown by the miners and their families against
implacable political determinism during the miners’ strike 1984-1985.
Al is a sculptor and was commissioned by the Mitchell Arts Centre,
Stoke-on-Trent, to make a new work to commemorate the miners' strike. Protect is the result
of that commission. The curved police riot shield acts as a central form
for the installation. These freestanding objects, both riot shield and
protective armour, are made from red stained plywood. On each shield a
statement, slogan, or quote evokes the mood and moment of the strike.
The installation is on view
until 17 September whenever the Library is open, although we particularly
encourage you to come during our 'drop-in' times of Wednesdays to Fridays
Keir Hardie centenary
conference - booking now open
Saturday 26 September 2015 will mark the centenary of the death of James Keir Hardie at
the comparatively young age of 59. But in those 59 years Hardie had changed the
political landscape of Britain. This conference, which takes place at WCML,
aims to celebrate the impact Hardie had on British society and the legacy he
left for those who followed.
There will be a keynote address by David Howell from the University of York,
followed by papers on Hardie and Wales, Hardie and Ireland, 'Hardie, Carlyle
and the Hero’ and ‘Hardie and the Great Unrest: Struggles, Strikes, and
Internationalism’. Full programme details at www.wcml.org.uk/keirhardie100.
The conference is organised by the Working Class Movement Library and De
Montfort University, Leicester
and is sponsored and supported by the North West Labour History Society, the
Society for the Study of Labour History and the Keir Hardie Society.
£20 waged and £7.50 unwaged including refreshments and lunch. Places must
be reserved and paid for in advance. Please email Royston Futter, firstname.lastname@example.org
Heritage Open Days tours
Library is marking Heritage Open Days 2015 with 'behind-the-scenes' tours on Thursday 10 and Friday 11 September at
2pm. You can book in advance via email@example.com.
For details of Heritage Open Days events across the UK head to www.heritageopendays.org.uk. Talk on William Morris and stained glassTo
mark Heritage Open Days there will be a talk at 11am on Saturday 12 September
at Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre, Tameside Central Library, Old
Street, Ashton-Under-Lyne OL6 7SG. Paul Renshaw will speak about ‘The stained
glass of William Morris in Greater Manchester’. His talk will focus on Tameside
and incorporate other stained glass designers in the Victorian era. Attendees
will then be free to visit any of the historical buildings that are open and see
the stained glass.
If you would like to book a place on the talk please ring 0161 342 4242.
Autumn talks at the Library WCML's
Wednesday afternoon talks start up again on 16 September at 2pm with a talk by Pat Thane (postponed
from June) on the 1945 welfare reforms. This talk runs alongside the Library
exhibition Spirit of '45: from warfare to
welfare, which is on until 25 September.
Future talks: 30 September
2pm 'All our own
work': the pioneers of Hebden Bridge and their co-operative mill
Andrew Bibby introduces his new book, which tells the tale of the early
worker-run cooperatives in Britain and in particular the fustian mill in Hebden
Bridge which operated for almost fifty years as a cooperative.
14 October 2pm Nat, Sam
and Ramona - the story of a Spanish Civil War photograph
A talk by Marshall Mateer based on new research from items in the WCML archive.
This is the story of three volunteers – Nat Cohen, Sam Masters and Ramona Siles
Garcia - during the early months of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. [See previous post for the Joe Jacobs connection]
28 October 2pm Artist Tim Dunbar will give a talk alongside his exhibition Guernica in Manchester
re-representation, which will open on 2 October.
Full details of all
forthcoming events at the Library can be found at www.wcml.org.uk/events =========================== Politics and
The People's History Museum (Manchester) is celebrating LGBT+ history and activism
over the bank holiday weekend. They say: 'Discover how the history of
gender and sexuality has been affected by society, politics and activism over
the past 200 years in our LGBT historytour on Friday
28 August. Then head down to venues on the Oxford Road
Corridor for Political Pride,
a weekend of alternative events to take Pride back to its roots on 29-30 August. We’ll
be there banner making, badge making and displaying some of our LGBT+
collections. The programme is packed with workshops, discussions, performances
and free family friendly fun'.
Wakefield Socialist History
*On Sunday 9th August we
have the Kinsley Evictions Guided Walk. It starts 2pm at Winding Wheel by
Fitzwilliam Railway Station. The guide is John Gill.
*On Saturday 12th September we have the
Featherstone Massacre Commemoration: more details to follow.
*On Saturday 17 October, the Wakefield Socialist
History Group are holding an event at the Red Shed, Vicarage Street,
Wakefield..starting at 1pm. THE
FALL OF SAIGON: Forty Years Since the Vietnam War. Speakers:
Matthew Caygill (Left Unity) and Stephen Wood (Alliance for Workers Liberty) Free
admission and free light buffet
From the Convenor:
The US left Vietnam in a state, Nick
Davies (2015) says, of "physical ruin." There were unexploded
shells and landmines. Agent Orange had destroyed the forests.
Orphans roamed the street and Saigon was in the grip of a heroin epidemic. The US had promised $3.5 billion in
reconstruction at the Paris Peace talks. When it lost he war it didn't
pay a penny. Rather it leaned on the IMF, World Bank and UNESCO to make
sure they too denied Vietnam any help. In the early days the country struggled. Peasants
were given ration cards in exchange for their crops so there was no incentive
to produce. Faced with these difficulties the Party
abandoned the command economy in the mid to late 80s in favour of "market
socialism." Entrepreneurs were allowed to "colonise"
spaces not filled by state managed enterprises (Brown 2015). The 7th Party Congress -five years later-
ratified policies that would integrate Vietnam "into regional and global
systems." These changes were known collectively as "doi
moi" - renewal. Foreign investors flocked in and, in 1994, the US
finally lifted its' trade embargo. Davies (2015) says there were elements in the
Party that still wanted to defend "socialism." Poverty was
reduced. Primary schools were built. There was free health care. Around 2000 however the rate of change
accelerated and the political balance shifted. State industries were sold
off. Vietnam joined the World Trade Organisation. It became a fully
integrated member of the global capitalist economy. Today Vietnam "no longer stands up for the
poor." The country's labour code has been watered down (at the behest of
multi-nationals). The "official" unions do little and the
minimum wage has been frozen. Charges have reappeared for education and
health. And all the time party officials pocket money from
privatisation. "Transparency International" says Vietnam is
*On Saturday 21 November we look at the
Left's attitude past and present to Europe at a meeting, "Europe and the
Left" at the Red Shed. Again it starts at 1pm.
Still time to see: DREAM TO CHANGE THE WORLD: THE LIFE & LEGACY OF JOHN LA ROSE
245 St John Street,
The Dream to Change the World exhibition is the culminating event in the George Padmore Institute's five year project to conserve and open up to the public John L Rose's personal archives.
John La Rose (1927-2006) was a poet, essayist, publisher, trade unionist, cultural and political activist. He belonged to a Caribbean tradition of radical and revolutionary activism whose input has reverberated across
Conference: Early Bird booking up to 13th September
Health Through Peace - November 2015 - A two-day forum for health professionals and campaigners interested in issues of
war, violence and conflict.
The organiser writes: It's shaping up to be a really interesting event. I was in Friends House
yesterday, and am excited that we'll be filling 'The Light' with so many great
speakers, ideas, and people: it's an inspiring building, and will lend itself
well to our aims!
“Between Friday, 10th April, 1981, and
Monday April 13th April 1981, serious disorder occurred in Brixton... when
large numbers of persons, predominantly black youths, attacked police,
police vehicles (many of which were totally destroyed), attacked the Fire
Brigade, destroyed private premises and vehicles by fire, looted,
ransacked and damaged shops...”
After more than a decade of repeated attacks,
arrests, harassment, beatings, racist provocations by the local
police and the Special Patrol Group, Brixton erupted in a massive uprising.
The riot - followed by more in July, part of a nationwide wave of disorder -
shocked the British state. Though quickly labelled ‘race riots’ by
the press, in fact blacks and whites had fought side by side, in the first
anti-police riots for more than a century.
We Want to Riot, Not to Work (originally
published in 1982) combines rip-roaring personal accounts of the riots from
unashamed participants, with a radical analysis of their causes, and the
response of the authorities.