Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Solidarnošč 1980: How (some of) Solidarity Saw It

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 distributed separately.          



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.
Success, then? 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.


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 end.
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. 
            Marjorie Castle and Ray Taras, Democracy in Poland, Westview Press, 2nd edition 2002.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

New pamphlet in ‘103 Foresters’ (WW1) series

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.

We 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 context.

We are very pleased to announce that the third issue in our pamphlet series ‘103 Foresters’ is now available as a free download (pdf).

Apologies 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 progress.

Please find the new pamphlet, more information about the project and links to (marginally updated versions of) Issues 1 and 2 on our blog:

103 Foresters
Mutinies and Death Sentences in the Local Regiment – 1914-18
Issue 3: Wipers, Helles and beyond – Three Foresters’ death sentences, July 1915

Loaf On A Stick Press, Nottingham 2015, digital pamphlet, 39 pages.
Distribute and quote as you like (non-commercial use only!).

Please keep an eye on our blog for upcoming publications in this series as well as other news and updates. Please contact us with comments, criticism, etc.:


People's Histreh - Nottingham & Notts Radical History Group

Who we are…

We are a group of people with different political backgrounds, interested in what has been called ‘history from below‘, ‘grassroots history’ or ‘social history‘.

As 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.

…and what we do…

We 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 ‘Nottingham Rising…’.

We (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.

For information on all our events, publications, etc. please visit our (very irregularly updated) online presence:


See also some of our other publications:

Nottingham Rising: The Great Cheese Riot of 1766 & the 1831 Reform Riots
By Valentine Yarnspinner
Loaf On A Stick Press; 2014
ISBN 9780956913968
Paperback £6
Free digital version:

A City of Light: Socialism, Chartism and Co-operation – Nottingham 1844
By Christopher Richardson
Loaf On A Stick Press; 2013
ISBN 9780956913944
Paperback £7.99
See also:

Available from Five Leaves Bookshop (, Waterstones Nottingham, Nottingham Castle gift shop, e

Friday, August 14, 2015

New WW1 publications from Bristol Radical History Group

Bristol Radical History Group have recently published two WW1 related pamphlets:

Class Cohesion versus Spurious Patriotism: A Straight Talk to British Workers, by Fred Bramley (1915). With a new afterword by Kevin Morgan (2015).

Details here:

The Bristol Deserter: Alfred Jefferies And The Great War, by Geoff Woolfe (2015).

Details here:

These go with previous WW1 related titles published in 2014/15:

Bristol Independent Labour Party: Men, Women and the Opposition to War, by June Hannam (2014).

Coal On One Hand, Men On The Other: The Forest of Dean Miners’ Association and the First World War 1910 - 1920, by Ian Wright (2014).

Related records now available on Find My Past (for a fee/sub.) -
British Army deserters and absentees in Police Gazette, 1914-1919
"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 15th 100 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) 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Listings update: summer into autumn

1-3 July 2016, Queen Mary University of London

See also previous post, for further details.
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 ( Monday September 14th."

Independent Working Class Education special Events during Edinburgh Festival.
[Both events free: details in the web links.]

Monday 17th August at 1.00
43-45 West Nicolson Street
Keith Venables and Rob Turnbull will introduce
"A Manifesto for Independent Working Class Education"

Tuesday 18th August at 7.30
Ragged University at
Leith Beer Company, 58 The Shore, Leith, 
Edinburgh EH6 6SL
Keith Venables on "A World to Win: learning from the past - making the future"
[following Donald Carrick on Genghis Kahn]  
Food available. 

FUTURE IWCE EVENTS (See website) include:

"Women Making History"
19th September. London. Unite the Union HQ (new venue)
What does the Record say?
Women, Work and Trade Unions,
Lessons for Today.

"Rewriting IWCE: making it make sense for me!"
30th September. Leicester Friends Meeting House.
Peterloo picnic - 196th anniversary commemoration

On 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.
There 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.

The 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 WCML

This installation by Al Johnson, shared between ourselves and the People'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 1-5 p.m.

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

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.
Conference Registration
£20 waged and £7.50 unwaged including refreshments and lunch.  Places must be reserved and paid for in advance. Please email Royston Futter,

Heritage Open Days tours

The 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
For details of Heritage Open Days events across the UK head to

Talk on William Morris and stained glass To 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

Politics and Pride 

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 Group News

*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 phenomenally corrupt.

*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:

An exhibition running until 29 August 2015

Islington Museum,
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 2015A two-day forum for health professionals and campaigners interested in issues of war, violence and conflict.
Organised by Medact: flyer and programme available
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!


Thursday, July 9, 2015

New Pamphlet from Past Tense

(Reprint/new edition of a 1980s classic)


The 1981 Brixton Riots

ISBN: 978-0-9565984-7-9


“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.

This publication can be bought online with paypal, at: tense publications

or by post:

write to
past tense
c/o 56a Info Shop
56 Crampton Street,
SE17 3AE

enclosing a cheque for £7.00 (including £2.00 Postage/Packing).

please make cheques payable to Past Tense Publications.

BULK ORDERS: If you would like a few copies to sell to your mates, your local bookshop or for a book stall, let 
Past Tense know, and they’ll do you a discount deal.