Sunday, 23 August 2020

A Short Note on Lawrence Stone’s article on ‘The Revival of Narrative’


Lawrence Stone
Quite by chance, I came across Lawrence Stone’s 1979 article on this subject yesterday evening. It was originally published in Past and Present and subsequently appeared in his 1987 collection of essays, The Past and Present Revisited. I have commented before on the way in which Stone, who was at Princeton University from 1963, lost touch with the evolution of historiographical thinking in the U.K. about the origins, course and outcomes of the conflicts of the 1640s and 1650s in the British Isles. Inevitably, perhaps, Stone was more than surprised by the development of ‘revisionism’ from the middle of that decade onwards.

This sense of disassociation has something to do, I suspect, with Stone’s account of the works of “the new British school of young antiquarian empiricists” led by Conrad Russell and John Kenyon and urged on by Geoffrey Elton. According to Stone, they were writing political narratives implicitly denying that there was any deep-seated meaning to history save for the accidents of fortune and personality and trying to remove any sense of idealism or ideology from the two English revolutions of the seventeenth century.

This was pure neo-Namierism just when that phenomenon was dying as an approach to the eighteenth-century. Stone speculated that this attitude to political history might stem from the inexorable economic decline and reduced power of Britain.

There was something quite odd about this analysis. Elton and Kenyon were historians of Stone’s own generation and, while Elton had certainly objected to the kind of economic and social determinism that appealed to Stone as an explanation of the English Revolution, neither he nor Kenyon could be accurately described as a “revisionist”.

Russell himself was in his forties by 1979 and roughly a decade or so older than figures like Kevin Sharpe or John Morrill. His act of intellectual liberation from the presuppositions of Tawney, Stone and Hill was a much slower process than that experienced by his younger contemporaries. It was also based, although this point has not been fully grasped by most specialists in seventeenth-century political history, on a mistaken reading of early Stuart Parliamentary history.

From as far back as R. G. Usher’s work in 1924, the existence of “opposition” had been disputed: John Ball’s brilliant Cambridge Ph.D. on Sir John Elliot had dealt a death blow to Whig interpretations while J.H.Hexter had repudiated the idea of a struggle for sovereignty in 1958: J.S.Roskell had explained as early as 1964 that ideas about the House of Commons exercising ‘power’ were fallacious before the end of the seventeenth century. 

Had Stone been better informed about political history, he might have made much more telling criticisms of the so-called ‘revisionists’. Between Stone and those he criticised in 1979, there was more than just a difference in approach to the study of this period. Like Christopher Hill, he had been considered up until the mid-1970s as being at the forefront of re-interpreting the seismic events of the 1640s and 1650s.

But suddenly there had been a significant change in the historiographical and intellectual atmosphere. The old assumption that political history simply reflected material changes in the economy of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish societies, that, indeed, its course had been essentially explained already, was exploded. Stone like many others was no longer a fashionable guide to these events. Admittedly, he and others tried to push back as the commentaries produced by Hexter and his allies showed. It was too late. The ‘antiquarian empiricists’ now commanded the field, at least until c.1990. Lament it as he did, Stone’s time was over.

C Thompson


Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Yvonne Kapp, Time Will Tell: Memoirs (New York: Verso, 2003), 296 pages, cloth.

"We are not women arrayed in struggle against men but workers who are in a struggle against the exploiters."

Eleanor Marx

"We see no more in common between a Mrs Fawcett [the leading light of the women's rights movement in the late 19th century] and a laundress than we see between [the banker] Rothschild and one of his employees. In short, for us, there is only the working-class movement."

Eleanor Marx

"We had to take new bearings. Though we were not deflected from our course, it marked a turning point. 'Never glad confident morning again.'" This is not a recantation but an adjustment."

Yvonne Kapp

Time Will Tell by Yvonne Kapp is an ordinary memoir by an extraordinary woman. She is best known for her excellent biography of Eleanor Marx (1855–1898). Published in two volumes in 1972 and 1976. The Verso publication is issued in one volume as part of its Marx 200 series. Verso also published Kapp's memoir.

Kapp's memoir was published very late in the day by Verso. It has joined a veritable cottage industry of memoirs of members or former members of the Communist Party of Britain. One of the more well known was Raphael Samuel's The Lost World Of British Communism[1].

Raphael Samuel's book consists of three separate articles reprinted from the New Left Review written in the mid-1980s. His primary purpose for writing the book remains unclear, although it is common for political activists to put down in writing their understanding of events that have played a crucial role in their political development. Written amidst a bitter faction fight inside the British Communist Party for political control, the book does almost nothing to further our understanding of Stalinism. The book is part autobiographical, part "social history" and part "history from below". It is almost hybrid. Most of the book takes the form of a polemic about Samuel's life inside the British Communist Party. Given the political nature of his subject, the book is remarkably free of political analysis. He also has selective amnesia towards the betrayals of the Communist Party both in the USSR and Britain.

Samuel had a very romantic view of his time in the CP and tended to see his party through rose-tinted spectacles. Its betrayals are glossed over. He says nothing of the Show Trials that were responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of old Bolsheviks. The countless betrayals of the working class by Stalinism remain untouched. Samuel, it should be said took the death of Stalin hard. He cried when it was announced and wore a black armband.

Eric Hobsbawm, who like Kapp, stayed in the CP until the end was not too polite about Communist Party memoirs saying that some authors exhibited a "twilight zone of memory".[2]

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Kapp's biography of Marx's youngest daughter rescued her from historical obscurity. The biography should be on the reading list of any young socialist today. Although overshadowed by her famous father, the book restores her place amongst the leading socialists of her day. It is hard not to agree with Eric Hobsbawm who said the book was "one of the few unquestionable masterpieces of twentieth-century biography."

Like many of her generation, Kapp's life (1903–1999) spanned nearly a century of struggle. She witnessed the rise and fall of the Soviet Union and took part in many of the great struggles of the 20th century.

Kapp joined the CP in 1935 on the way back from the USSR. Recruited by its then General Secretary Harry Pollitt. Despite being in her thirties, it would seem that Kapp was blissfully unaware of the Stalinist nature of the party she was joining. It might be added that she stayed in this state of mind until she died in 1999. Kapp joined at the same time as an increasing number of other middle-class people were joining.

Kapp led a bohemian life. She did not undertake formal education and moved from one job to another. According to one writer Kapp had until meeting Pollitt no fixed ambitions and had no political awareness. Kapp admitted that she had no sudden blinding light on the road to Damascus that awakened her political consciousness.

According to Ellen Leopold, "her life story becomes a picaresque chronicle of progressive movement activities leavened by often amusing tales of encounters with colleagues, friends, and lovers. At one moment, she is traipsing across town shouting "Arms for Spain." The next she is marching to prevent Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts (members of the British Union of Fascists that Mosley founded) from entering the predominantly Jewish neighbourhood of Whitechapel in London's East End. Or she is organising a fundraiser at the Royal Albert Hall where Paul Robeson comes to sing for refugees from the Spanish Civil War".[3]

1956

It is doubtful that her twenty years in the CP would have prepared her for the cataclysmic events that happened in 1956. In 1956 sections of the Stalinist bureaucracy turned on its commander in chief and partner in crime Stalin. Kruschev's "secret speech" was hardly secret and was not so much a political break with Stalinism but a mechanism in which to deal with the raging political and economic crisis that gripped world Stalinism.

Khrushchev's speech was typical of a man who was implicated in all the major crimes committed by the Stalinist bureaucracy. One subject all the Stalinist bureaucrats were in agreement was the correctness of the struggle against Leon Trotsky the only leading Bolshevik not to have been rehabilitated by the Stalinists. Khrushchev said "We must affirm that the party fought a serious fight against the Trotskyists, rightists and bourgeois nationalists and that it disarmed all the enemies of Leninism ideologically. The ideological fight was carried on successfully ... Here Stalin played a positive role."

Khrushchev had a very limited understanding of what social forces he was inadvertently unleashing with his speech. Far from preventing revolution, he opened the floodgates. His response was the same as Stalin and unleash terror on the working class.

The fact that Kapp brackets her house purchase in 1956 with the significant political events of the same "traumatic year"—the Hungarian uprising, Suez, and Krushchev's speech to the Communist Party Congress said a lot about her miseducation inside the CP.

In her memoir Kapp makes light of the event saying "We had to take new bearings. Though we were not deflected from our course, it marked a turning point. 'Never glad confident morning again.'" This is not a recantation but an adjustment".[4]

This adjustment did not mean leaving the party but ignited a passion for the study of the past. Kapp conceived the idea of writing the life of Eleanor Marx while translating the correspondence between Frederick Engels and Paul and Laura Lafargue.

Kapp was politically aware enough to see that writing about specific events of the 20th century such as Stalinism, bourgeoise nationalism to name but two was not possible under the control of the Communist Party leadership. It was only in a study of the past she could escape for a time its dominance. Kapp said "I have said that the idea of writing the life of Eleanor Marx arose from my translating the correspondence between Frederick Engels and Laura and Paul Lafargue. Eleanor flits in and out of the pages of these three volumes most tantalisingly. Every reference to her evoked an interesting personality who aroused my curiosity. I wished I knew more about her, but when I enquired I found there existed no biography of her".

To her credit, she did not mimic Josef Stalin's attitude to the study of Marx's family. Stalin upon looking at the file on Marx's son minuted the file "Unimportant, keep in the archives,"

Another subject that was taboo inside the CP was the question of Leon Trotsky or the leading Trotskyist party of her day Gerry Healy's Socialist Labour League. Unsurprisingly Kapp does not mention anything on the CP's hostility to Trotskyism. In her article, Lynne Segal recounts Sheila Rowbotham although not a Stalinist describing the animosity the radical and Stalinist milieu had against the Trotskyist of the SLL she writes "Nevertheless, on moving to Dalston, East London, in 1964, she joined the Hackney Young Socialists the year Harold Wilsonʼs Labour government assumed power, heightening hopes for social reforms and cultural change. There she encountered, in continued action replay, the venomous sectarian combat between differing Trotskyist factions working as ʻentristsʼ inside the Labour Party. ʻUnited Front, yes; Popular Front, noʼ, the member from Militant explained when she joined, warning her against his enemies from Gerry Healyʼs Socialist Labour League: ʻI blinked, trying to concentrate. It would be easy to get this the wrong way round, and his tone suggested the consequences could be direʼ.

Scrutinising the battle of dissenting certainties, she was quickly an expert on the ritual differences between rival Trotskyist sects, admiring their tenacity (always angry, acerbic, alert for betrayal), even while appalled by their arrogance and dogmatism (which served primarily to drive away any working-class youth they managed to recruit). It was the beginning of a permanent aversion to vanguardism, a conviction that it was not the most effective, least of all the most creative, way of winning people for progressive ends while sowing the seeds of potential intimidation or abuse. Several short satirical efforts at illustrating this over the years would culminate in her influential critique of Leninism in 1979, in Beyond the Fragments, with its call for solidarity between differing campaigning movements, creating immediate but the short-lived impact, in by then already harsher times." [5]

The unprincipled attacks on the SLL did not deter Healy and the SLL. It did not stop the orthodox Marxists or Trotskyists in the Fourth International from doubling their efforts to gain from the crisis within the British Communist Party. Healy continued to believe that Stalinism was a counter-revolutionary force. The SLL won prominent figures such as Cliff Slaughter, Tom Kemp, Peter Fryer and Brian Pearce out of the CP. They were able to double their efforts through the journal Labour Review and the weekly Newsletter to wage a political-theoretical offensive, leading to the formation of the Socialist Labour League (SLL) in 1959.

Gender

Kapp correctly places Eleanor Marx within her own time and was criticised by the feminists of her day and today refused to place Marx as a leading feminist thinker or activist. Kapp correctly states that Eleanor Marx believed that the fundamental social division was class, not race or gender.

Kapp was writing her biography at a time when inequality amongst women was growing very fast. Another more disgusting phenomena were the unbridled ambitions of various layers of the upper-middle class women who were seeking to leverage past or present abuses, to advance their selfish interests.

The project took Kapp ten years to complete. Kapp said it "drew in one way or another upon my whole accumulated experience." The book is all the more extraordinary since according to Hobsbawm, she 'never passed so much as a single examination, even at school.'

To conclude, given the enormous struggles witnessed by Yvonne Kapp, you would think that a writer with her literary gifts would have given the reader a deep insight and understanding of the "Long Twentieth Century. It is blatantly not the case with this memoir. Any young socialist looking for insight into political problems of the 20th century should look elsewhere. On the other hand, anyone interested in the early socialist movement should read her masterpiece biography of Eleanor Marx.

 



[1] See review - https://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2018/03/review-of-lost-world-of-british.html

[2] Lost worlds Political memoirs of the Left in Britain-Lynne Segal

[3] monthlyreview.org/2005/03/01/committed-chronicler-eleanor-marxs-biographer/

[4] Yvonne Kapp, Time Will Tell: Memoirs (New York: Verso, 2003), 296 pages,

[5] Formations of feminism Political memoirs of the Left (II) Lynne Segal

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Conservative Revolutionary: The Lives of Lewis Namier - by D.W. Hayton. Manchester, 472 pp., £25, August 2019,

"Far too much of modern British history is ensconced in biographies which dribble away their material without coming to grips with basic problems."

Sir Lewis Namier

Namierization-(also Namierisation) - The application of Sir Lewis Namier's methods and theories to the interpretation of a historical situation.

Louis Naimer was one of the British bourgeoisie's favourite historians. Despite being born in Poland, Naimer is considered a doyen of British History. D.W Hayton's superb biography joins to a recent list of biographies of leading British historians. In the recent past, there have been biographies of AJP Taylor, EH Carr and Hugh Trevor-Roper.

As regards Trevor Roper there have been four books of letters and journals, a book of letters from Richard Cobb and David Caute's Isaac and Isaiah which highlights the tense relationship between Isaac Deutscher and Isaiah Berlin. As regards Berlin, a historian of ideas there has been a biography, four volumes of letters and a book. In the last year alone there have been biographies of E.J. Hobsbawm and JH Plumb.[1]

There is no denying that Naimer was a gifted historian. Whether he was England's greatest 20th-century historian is open to conjecture. As the title of the biography says, he was a conservative revolutionary with many lives. He enjoyed the company of the upper echelons of the British bourgeoise including friendships with leading figures of his day, including Winston Churchill.

Throughout his career, Naimer was preoccupied not with the history of working people. For him, working people belonged to the footnotes of history. His study of history was the study of the elites, their thoughts and actions. Despite being friends with many politicians, he had a view that all politicians were after material and personal gain. He once declared that any reference to ideas in political discourse was nothing more than 'flapdoodle'. Naimer's method of working while being new at the time came under heavy criticism with some accusing him of "taking ideas out of history" and being an elite theorist which he was.

As Christopher Hill says "the Namier method proved attractive during the period of the cold war when ideologically motivated historians (however unconscious the ideology) wanted to play down the significance of principles, whether religious or political, to proclaim "the end of ideology." Here psychology became useful. The Reformation was alleged to start from Luther's bowel troubles; it spread no doubt because many Germans were similarly afflicted. Medieval and sixteenth-century heretics were dismissed as "paranoid." The underlying assumption was that opposition to any government is somehow irrational. Sir Geoffrey Elton, a much more sophisticated practitioner, discusses sixteenth-century English history as a matter of administration, sees all problems from the rulers' viewpoint. Religion, whether Catholic or Protestant, plays a minor part in his account of the century of the Reformation. "Revisionist" historians have extended Elton's analysis to explain the origins of the English Revolution, though they eschew the word "revolution." They see the English civil war as an accident, the result of a series of coincidences. Again the consequence is to minimise the ideological significance of that great turning point in English history".[2]

Given that Naimer was such an important historian, it is hard to believe that this is the first biography of him in over thirty years. As was said at the beginning of this review, this is a superb example of how to write a biography. The book is based on a significant range of sources, including new archival material.

David Hayton, who is the Emeritus Professor of History at Queen's University, Belfast, has written what will prove to be a definitive study for the next generation of scholars. Hayton's book maintains a significant amount of objectivity and avoids calling his subject matter by his first name an annoying trait of some biographers. For a reader, one of the most important things is to trust a biographer. It is more than annoying having to double-check if a biographer has got something right. Hayton is a very trustworthy biographer.

Hayton correctly shows Naimer to be a complex figure. According to one source he could be a "crashing bore" and according to another  'Once let this fellow start talking, there was no stopping him". The reader will have to make up their mind. But as Hayton believes, the historian should be judged on his work not whether he was a good diner guest or friend.

Too many reviews of Hayton's book have concentrated on Naimer's personality. However, as Christopher Hill wrote "the great historian, Sir Lewis Namier wrote three volumes about eighteenth-century England in which he argued that the high-sounding principles which Whig and Tory politicians mouthed bore little relation to their political actions. Here the spoils of office and the patronage of rival grandees were far more important. His books, written with a style and panache that few historians can rival, were a great success and established the credentials of "the Namier method": close and detailed analysis of the family and patronage affiliations of members of Parliament, of their connections with economic interests—these were the keys to understanding eighteenth-century politics. Principles were fig leaves. Namier was accused of taking the mind out of history, but he was much more cautious than that and made no claim to have discovered a universal key. He dealt with a period in which political and ideological issues were in fact of little significance among what he called "the political nation" and what others might call the ruling class. Hence his success".[3]

It is not without some truth that Namier was one of the 20th century's most original historian. He revolutionised historical study and research. As Colin Kidd, in his review, writes "Namier's impact was not confined to his historiographical patch. He profoundly changed – at least for a time – what constituted best practice in research and exposition. Where once it had seemed obvious that the historian's primary job was to narrate change over time, Namier investigated the political elite at a particular moment. By contrast with the dauntingly prosopographical analysis of Namier and his disciples, narrative as previously understood seemed quaintly impressionistic, yielding only a superficial understanding of past politics".[4]

As was said earlier, Namier was a complex figure. At the same time, it is important to understand the early influences on the young Naimer, namely his flirtation with socialism. As Hayton recounts in the book "So deep was his hostility to the old dynastic empires of central and eastern Europe — Austrian, Russian and Ottoman — that he was prepared to accept even the Bolshevik regime as a step towards the liberation of subject nationalities".[5] 

As Ng writes "Namier was almost alone, however, in his ardour for the Bolsheviks. The pressure of war had radicalised Namier to such an extent that he concluded that revolution must take place before evolutionary reform could be achieved. 'Evolution comes after the revolution to eliminate the moribund forms by a gradual process. That is why systems survive revolutions and yet cannot be killed apart from the revolution.'"4 It is a testimony to Seton-Watson's fair-mindedness and tolerance that he included Namier's article 'Trotski' in The New Europe, albeit with a note that the article did not necessarily represent the journal's point of view".[6]

But as Kidd states "We should not overplay the intellectual pedigree of Namier's ideas, however. When at Balliol between 1908 and 1911 he fell in love with the stolid, pragmatic instincts of the British governing class and the empire over which it ruled, despite the anti-semitism which prevailed in both. In 1910 he changed his surname from Bernstein to Namier, and in 1913 became a British subject".[7]

Despite Naimer's love affair with the British bourgeoisie in the early days of his career, this was a one-sided affair it rarely loved him back. Kidd, like Hayton, believed that anti-Semitism played no small role in Naimer's bad treatment during his time in academia. In 1947 Namier was passed over for the regius chair at Oxford.

One example of this anti-semitism was a nasty piece in G.K. Chesterton's weekly magazine New Witness. As Bernard Levin once wrote, "The best one can say of Chesterton's anti-semitism is that it was less vile than Belloc's; let us leave it at that."

Naimer's exclusion from academia did not halt his prodigious output of work. The publication of his books on Georgian politics (in 1929 and 1930) established him as a very gifted historian. Young historians could learn much from Naimer's attitude to historians craft.

Politically despite his misspent youth as a "socialist"[8] Namier was a Zionist and a one-nation Tory or as he put it "a Tory radical". His political outlook would shape his historiography. Understanding his historiography is made all the more difficult because one of the few standard biographies of him was by his widow. It has been said that her "inclinations were mystical rather than historiographical". Without being nasty, Hayton tends to ignore much of what she wrote. He thought it was unreliable as a source.
Namier's most important work was on the Parliament of Great Britain, in particular, English politics in the 1760s. 

According to his Wikipedia page "Namier used prosopography or collective biography of every Member of Parliament (M.P.) and peer who sat in the British Parliament in the latter 18th century to reveal that local interests, not national ones, often determined how parliamentarians voted. Namier argued very strongly that far from being tightly organised groups, both the Tories and Whigs were collections of ever-shifting and small fluid groups whose stances altered on an issue-by-issue basis. Namier felt that prosopographical methods were the best for analysing small groups like the House of Commons, but he was opposed to the application of prosopography to larger groups. At the time of its publication in 1929, The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III caused a historiographical revolution in understanding the 18th century".[9]

Like many historians of his time, his brand of historiography had a name Namierism given to it by his opponents. Like many brands "it was born, flourished and died". What of Naimer's conservativism,  J. C. D Clark highlights the difficulty "Some political scientists identify two sorts of conservatism, the procedural and the substantive? Procedural conservatism prioritises pragmatic, sensible adaptation to change. 

Substantive conservatism prioritises adherence to certain principles, beliefs, values and social forms. Whigs insist that the change to which procedural conservatism always capitulated was Whig change: Whigs could not lose. By contrast, Whigs announce that the ideologies that substantive conservatism adhered to were absurd, outdated, reactionary, implausible: Tories could not win".[10]

The reception of Hayton's biography has on the whole been very favourable as befits such a good biography. Fitting Namerism into 21st historiography is another matter. To conclude If Namier were alive today, it would not take him long to fit in with today's conservative anti-revolutionaries? One of these anti-revolutionaries Mr J.C.D Clark writes "Adherents of the Whig interpretation of history naturally tried to marginalise so devastating a critic, but the purposefulness of the Whig interpretation, its teleology, meshed effortlessly with the Marxist commitments that spread in the universities from the 1960s: the left establishment, too, had deep reasons for denigrating Namier".

It is true that Naimer "stood head and shoulders above many historians of his age in technical expertise and international range". But what is Naimer's legacy? It is a shame that so few historians are reading Naimer and that his legacy has declined to the point of virtual obscurity.

As John Cannon points out "To the world Namier was a hard, combative man; yet he was vulnerable and saw himself ringed by enemies. There are innumerable testimonies, of which those by Berlin and Toynbee are the most charitable, to his awesome loquacity, which could empty any common room. He found life hard. His childhood, he told Lady Namier, had been 'a mental register of unforgettable rebuffs', and in old age, an encounter at Manchester with a surly ticket-inspector was enough to set him brooding on the collapse of civilised values (Namier, 16, 300–01). Taylor found him 'a strange mixture of greatness and helplessness' (Taylor, 112), and Trevelyan, who had helped him to his chair, muttered, in his terse way, 'Great research worker, no historian'.[11]

Over the last forty years, the revolution in social history has indeed passed Namier by. Yet he does retain relevance for us today. One does not have to agree with the way Naimer looked at the world, but like all great historians, he should be read and learnt from. "Namier, an extraordinarily talented man, had an extraordinarily unhappy life. Perhaps that is the best definition of a Conservative revolutionary". He at least deserves a revival, and it hoped this excellent biography does the job.





[2] Under the Tudor Bed-Christopher Hill- www.nybooks.com/articles/1987/05/07/under-the-tudor-bed/
[3] Under the Tudor Bed-Christopher Hill- www.nybooks.com/articles/1987/05/07/under-the-tudor-bed/
[4] Duels in the Dark- Lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v41/n23/colin-kidd/duels-in-the-dark
[5] Conservative revolutionary: The lives of Lewis Namier-By David Hayton
[6] A Portrait of Sir Lewis Namier as a Young Socialist-Amy Ng
Journal of Contemporary History-Vol. 40, No. 4 (Oct., 2005), pp. 621-636
[7] Duels in the Dark- Lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v41/n23/colin-kidd/duels-in-the-dark
Journal of Contemporary History-Vol. 40, No. 4 (Oct., 2005), pp. 621-636
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Namier
[10] https://thecritic.co.uk/why-are-we-so-interested-in-historians-
[11] https://www-oxforddnb-com.ezproxy2.londonlibrary.co.uk/

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Evan Smith and Matthew Worley (eds), Waiting for the Revolution: The British far left from 1956, Manchester University Press, 2017; 279 pp.; £75.00 hbk; ISBN 9781526113658


Evan Smith and Matthew Worley's Waiting for the Revolution is the second volume of collected essays that examine British left-wing politics from 1956 to the present day. The first volume was called Against the Grain[1]. As in the first volume, these two radicals express their hostility to any orthodox Marxist analysis or critique of the left groups. Trotskyism is not mentioned, and there is no chapter examining the Socialist Labour League the then section of the Fourth International. Their choice of political groups and movements is a reflection of their parochial and nationalistic outlook.

Smith and Worley's book is not intended to deliver a perspective for the coming struggles of the working class but seeks "to uncover and explore the traditions and issues that have preoccupied leftist groups, activists and struggles". The second volume explores anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid struggles, alongside introductions to Militant and the now-defunct and very right-wing Revolutionary Communist Party.

In the Introduction: The continuing importance of the history of the British far left Smith and Worley maintain that despite its numerous betrayals that the Labour Party is still a vehicle for change and that left groups should move away from entryism and pressure the party to the left. As Smith and Worley write "many on the far left had written off the Labour Party as unreformable in recent years, but Corbyn' s  entry into the leadership contest after the 2015 election made a number of the Party' s leftist critics reassess their analysis of Labour. Corbyn' s victory seemed to suggest that there was political life left in Labour, awoken from its slumber by the thousands of veteran activists from the social movements of the 2000s that Corbyn had been involved in, primarily Stop the War, the and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign".

Jeremy Corbyn was put forward by Britain's pseudo-left groups such as the Socialist Workers Party and sections of the Labour and trade union bureaucracy as proof that the rightward swing of the Labour Party, beginning in the 1970s, including Neil Kinnock's betrayal of the miners' strike of 1984-85 and culminating in the New Labour government of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown could be pegged back.

As the Socialist Equality Party(SEP) stated "No one can seriously propose that this party—which, in its politics and organisation and the social composition of its apparatus, is Tory in all but name—can be transformed into an instrument of working-class struggle. The British Labour Party did not begin with Blair. It is a bourgeois party of more than a century's standing, and a tried and tested instrument of British imperialism and its state machine. Whether led by Clement Attlee, James Callaghan or Jeremy Corbyn, its essence remains unaltered."[2]

Suffice to say Smith and Worley do not agree with this analysis saying only "an understanding of the history of how the far left has operated and functioned in Britain since the 1950s is therefore important to understand the limits of a radical agenda within a reformist framework. It is hoped that this book, as well as the previous volume, will help provide readers with this understanding". What they do not say is that this book offers no way out for the working class and contains rehashes of previously failed perspectives.

In Revolutionary vanguard or agent provocateur: students and the far left on English university campuses, c. 1970-90 Jodi Burkett examines the Pseudo Left groups attitude towards the student movement. There is nothing remotely progressive or left-wing or even Marxist about the attitude of the radical groups towards the student movement and its leadership. The pseudo-left group's promotion of identity and gender issues which are prevalent in student politics over class issues belong not to the Marxist tradition but the tradition of irrationalism and anti-Marxism.

The adoption by the pseudo-left groups of identity politics is one confirmation of their extreme subjectivist and postmodernist nostrums. The philosophical outlook of these groups has enabled them as one writer puts it "to furnish a plethora of alternative justifications for lending "critical" support to imperialism.

Burkett says nothing of the pseudo lefts groups uncritical attitude towards the student leadership the NUS.The NUS in the past regularly banned individuals and organisations from hosting meetings and delivering speeches on campuses across the UK, in line with the student union's long-standing policy of providing "no platform" for offensive speakers in the name of securing campuses as so-called safe spaces.

The British pseudo-left pioneered this policy in the early 1970s as a means of lobbying the institutions of the capitalist state to proscribe speakers from the far right. The chapter 'The Merits of Brother Worth': the International Socialists and life in a Coventry car factory, 1968-75 by Jack Saunders provides an academic cover for the IS's kowtowing to the labour and trade union bureaucracies.

Towards the end of 1968 the International Socialists (IS) decided to adopt what central committee member Alex Callinicos termed "a Leninist model of the organisation". It would not see the IS turn to the working class but would see it develop very cosy relations with the trade union bureaucracies across the United Kingdom and internationally.

The IS decided to adopt the term as Chris Marsden points out " in 1968  revolutionary movements it had spent almost two decades saying would never emerge erupted across Europe and internationally. This pose of orthodoxy was considered vital in combating the danger of workers gravitating to the genuine Trotskyists of the Socialist Labour League. But the essential line of the SWP, as the IS became known in 1977, remained its insistence that the reformist and Stalinist bureaucracies were the natural leaders of a reformist working class".[3]

Making miners militant? The Communist Party of Great Britain in the National Union of Mineworkers, 1956-85 - Sheryl Bernadette Buckley. Buckley's article is a very friendly piece of a whitewash of an organisation that has the blood of thousands of workers on its hands. The CPGB played a central role in the betrayal of the miner's strike of 84-85.

As Chris Marsden and Julie Hyland point outthe Stalinist leader of the NYUM was  "Far from being the revolutionary of popular right-wing mythology, Scargill is a life-long supporter of the Stalinist Communist Party and an advocate of its national reformist programme. To the extent that he spoke of socialism, it was as a perspective for the distant future. In the meantime, what was required was the creation of a nationally regulated economy based on a mix of import controls and subsidies that would provide the basis for protecting Britain's nationalised coal industry. This was the "Plan for Coal" that he sought to commit the Labour Party and the TUC to fight for in a struggle against the Conservatives. What was demonstrated in 1984, however, was not only that the ruling class was no longer prepared to tolerate such a policy, but that there was no longer any significant constituency for such a programme within the labour bureaucracy of which he was a part.[4]

While Buckley mentions the SWP's mild criticism of the CPGB she glosses over the fact that the SWP saw  the miners strike as a fight between two giant forces, the Thatcherite state apparatus and "Scargill's Army". This conception of the struggle conveniently lets the Trades Union Congress (TUC), its affiliated unions and the Labour Party entirely off the hook.

Origins of the present crisis? The emergence of 'left-wing' Scottish nationalism, 1956-79 - Rory Scothorne and Ewan Gibbs. This is quite a shocking and blatant attempt to whitewash the role Stalinism played in the rise of "Left-Wing" Scottish nationalism. Scottish nationalism is neither left-wing wing nor progressive in any way shape or form. It is a reactionary development and goes against Vladimir Lenin's advice "not to paint nationalism red".

Despite Scothorne and Gibbs attempt to gloss over the Scottish Nationalist Party's (SNP)right-wing origins the bourgeois nationalist parties such as the SNP have no tradition in the workers' movement. The SNP is now the ruling party in Scotland's devolved Holyrood parliament.  Scothorne and Gibbs also downplay the role the pseudo-lefts promotion of a Left Nationalism in both Scotland and Wales. These lefts do not constitute, in any sense an independent political force. They are propagandists for the Scottish bourgeoisie and its chosen party.

"The SWP has shifted from being opponents of Scottish separatism to its most ardent proponents. It is a change of course driven by a realisation by the privileged, middle-class layers for which it speaks that independence could offer an excellent opportunity to gain access to political influence and financial resources—drawn from the speculative capital swilling around Edinburgh and then channelled via the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood into innumerable academic and governmental sinecures".[5]

The British radical left and Northern Ireland during 'the Troubles' - Daniel Finn. Perhaps another title for this chapter should be the pseudo lefts in Ireland a disastrous and treacherous legacy. It was only the Socialist Labour League the then British Trotskyists who opposed the sending of troops to Northern Ireland. The work of the SLL was crucial in exposing the crimes carried out by the British bourgeoisie including Bloody Sunday. It outlined the only principled and revolutionary political tasks for the British and Irish working class.

For further articles that illustrate this principled record, in contrast to the rank political opportunism of the Stalinist and fake left groups such as International Socialism, the forerunner of the British Socialist Workers Party, and the International Marxist Group, affiliated to the Pabloite United Secretariat see footnote.[6]

The point is to change it: a short account of the Revolutionary Communist Party by Michael Fitzpatrick. The fact that that this tiny and insignificant organisation gets a full chapter is indicative of the attitude the editors of this collection have towards orthodox Marxism.

The RCP began life as the Revolutionary Communist Tendency in 1976. It changed its name in 1981 to the Revolutionary Communist Party. This party was vomited into existence through a series of unprincipled splits and expulsions from Tony Cliff's state-capitalist International Socialist group, now the Socialist Workers Party. The RCT had been a faction inside the IS called the Revolutionary Opposition whose leader was Roy Tearse. This organisation did not have any distinct programme or theory. When Cliff expelled it, the organisation exploded into many different parts each one as reactionary as the other.

Tearse formed a group called the Discussion Group which predictably ended up inside the Labour Party. Another splinter group under the leadership of David Yaffe, an academic at Sussex University was called the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), formed in 1974 it was made up of predominantly of students. Its programme was a mix of Stalinism and bourgeois nationalism. It would go to denounce the working class as the beneficiaries of imperialism.

Fitzpatrick is either incapable or does not wish to explain how an organisation that was purportedly Trotskyist was to become a vehicle for right-wing bordering on fascist nostrums. As Zach Reed points out "Through such self-serving and dishonest claims, Spiked provides both an apologia and a platform for corporations and right-wing individuals and groups. Indeed "free speech" for Spiked overwhelmingly centres on the democratic rights of such layers, often in alliance with Conservative Students societies. In the 1990s, in response to the dissolution of the Soviet Union by the Stalinist bureaucracy, the RCP developed many of the concepts that underwrite the politics of Spiked-Online.

In 1990, in its magazine Living Marxism, Furedi expounded the RCP's new political line in an article, "Midnight in the Century." The liquidation of the Soviet Union and the disavowal of national-reformist programmes by social democracy were cited as proof that socialism was dead. The article typified the pervasive atmosphere of renunciation among a layer of the middle-class worldwide that was lurching to the right, repudiating any past association with working-class and "left" politics as they sought to integrate themselves into the state apparatus, academia and the trade unions.[7]

The Militant Tendency and entrism in the Labour Party - Christopher Massey. With the number of whitewashes in this book, you could paint a whole house. Massey's article is no exception. The Militant Tendency must be the only organisation that began life as a tactical orientation to the Labour Party and turned it into a strategy. The origins of the party were in Britain and was called the Revolutionary Socialist League led by Ted Grant. Anyone joining the organisation was not trained as a Marxist but were trained in the reformist political outlook of the Labour Party.

Grants claim that the organisation adhered to revolutionary socialism was always reserved for speeches and historical articles. The party's outlook that socialism could come about by a Labour government passing an enabling act through Parliament to nationalise the top 200 or so monopolies. This perspective was very similar to the Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain.

As Ann Talbot correctly points out "It must be said at the outset that Grant was not a Trotskyist when he died and had not been for a long time, if by the term Trotskyist we are to understand a revolutionary Marxist who defends the principles of socialist internationalism expressed in the Russian Revolution of October 1917. It might seem churlish to deny an old man in death the epithet he so much craved in life, but Grant's politics was not a personal matter. They were characteristic of an epoch in which bureaucratic apparatuses dominated the working class and in large part came to be identified as the legitimate leadership of the working class.[8]

It is quite apt that The last chapter Understanding the formation of the Communist Party of Britain  Lawrence Parker is on the CPGB. This organisation is steeped in betrayals of the working class too many to list here. There is an intimate connection between the pseudo-left groups and the Stalinist CPGB. The SWP printed its newspaper The Morning Star for God's sake. But you would not get this from Parker's article. In truth as Chris Marsden points out "the ability of these bureaucracies to dominate the political life of the working class in the twentieth century was rooted in the murderous suppression of the Marxist and revolutionary opposition to Stalinism in the Soviet Union, as represented by the followers of Leon Trotsky".

To conclude, it is hard to understand why Manchester University Press(MUP) gave these two radicals access to the significant resources of the university to produce another volume of what amounts to radical pulp fiction. The majority of the essays amount to a hostile attack on any conception of the working class building a revolutionary alternative to the capitalist. This is the reason that in two volumes next to no mention is made of any orthodox Trotskyist group inside or outside of Britain. As was said before the Fourth International is not mentioned in nearly six hundred pages of text tells the reader about the orientation of the two editors. The MUP should allow a rebuttal of these two volumes.






[1] See review -http://keith-perspective.blogspot.com/2019/02/against-grain-british-far-left-from.html
[2] UK general election result confirms protracted death of the Labour Party
[3] Britain’s Socialist Workers Party descends into factional warfare- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/02/14/swps-f14.html
[4] Britain: 20 years since the year-long miners’ strike- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2004/03/mine-m05.html
[5] Socialist Workers Party’s Alex Callinicos backs Scottish nationalism-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/08/12/call-a12.html
[6] Trotskyism and the Bloody Sunday massacre: a record of principled opposition to British imperialism-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/06/irel-j18.html
[7]https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/05/31/spik-m31.html
[8] Ted Grant: A political appraisal of the former leader of the British Militant Tendency-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2006/09/gra1-s27.html


Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Valerie Pearl (1926-2016)

I first met Valerie Pearl in the summer of 1966 when she was a lecturer at Somerville College, Oxford. I had gone to see her at the suggestion of my supervisor, Christopher Hill, to ask her advice on the 2nd Earl of Warwick’s mercantile connections in London in the 1640s. She impressed me with her depth of knowledge and her scholarship as she did when I met her by accident the following autumn on a train from Oxford to Paddington.

I was not, I fear, a very good conversationalist and had to improve greatly in the following spring when Hugh Trevor-Roper asked me to assist her on a project then being funded by the University’s Faculty of Modern History. I got to know her in the Manuscript Room of the British Library where she was pursuing her research into the Parliamentary politics of the 1640s. After a while, I learnt how well-informed she was about academic politics and what a good sense of humour she had.

I was saddened to note how little attention her death in 2016 attracted at that time. She had been born in 1926, the daughter of a trades union official, Cyril Bence, who was later Labour M.P. for East Dunbartonshire from 1959 to 1970. Valerie Bence was educated in Birmingham before entering St Anne’s College, Oxford. Hugh Trevor-Roper’s letters suggest that she was at that stage of her life attracted to Marxism: her doctoral research on the city of London in the early stages of the English Civil War was certainly supervised by Christopher Hill of Balliol College, the leading Marxist historian of the period then in Oxford even though she was later more drawn to Trevor-Roper’s views.

Her thesis was, so I understand, lent by Hill to Perez Zagorin, then on the far left himself, and had to be published rather hurriedly by the Oxford University Press in 1961 under the title London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution: City Government and National Politics. It was to be her only book but was seminal in inspiring later work on the city of London in the latter part of the twentieth century.

The 1960s were undoubtedly her best period as an historian. Tall, blond-haired with dark spectacles and very elegantly dressed, she wrote and published important articles on the middle group in the House of Commons after John Pym’s death and on the Royal Independents whilst a lecturer at Somerville College, Oxford. Unfortunately, her husband became ill and she was unable to take up a Fellowship at Somerville College because she could not move full-time to Oxford. Instead, she accepted a Readership in London History at University College, London at the invitation of Joel Hurstfield and Robin Humphreys.

The History Department there lacked the stellar figures to be found in Oxford (with the exception of the young Nicholas Tyacke) and, after producing articles on Puritans and Fifth Columnists in the capital and on London’s Counter-Revolution, her output came effectively to a halt. In 1981, she accepted an invitation to become President of New Hall, Cambridge in succession to Rosemary Murray and found herself submerged not just in the administrative duties of that post but also in the difficult politics of that college. When she retired in the mid-1990s, she had transformed that college’s fortunes but had not fulfilled her potential as an historian. Sadly, she was never to do so.

The obituaries published after her death were brief and not very informative. In her prime, she was a formidable scholar with extensive knowledge of the politics of the 1640s, far better informed than most contemporaries of hers. Valerie Pearl was a woman of charm and high intelligence as well as someone with a firm conviction in doing what was right for her family, friends and institutions. Her passing needs greater acknowledgement and her historiographical legacy more praise.

Chris Thompson