Socialist History

Socialist History 58

Socialist History features articles, book reviews, debates and correspondence on all aspects of socialist cultural and political history. Each issue is organised around a particular theme. Previous themes include: reform communism, fascism, biography and identity, gender and sexuality, origins of the French Revolution.

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Socialist History 58

October 2020

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Socialist History 57

May 2020

Editor: Francis King

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Socialist History 56

January 2019

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Socialist History 55

January 2019

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Socialist History 54

January 2019

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Socialist History 53

January 2018

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Socialist History 52

January 2017

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Socialist History 51

January 2017

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Editorial (Socialist History 58, Autumn 2020)

October 2, 2020

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‘Tussy’s great delusion’ – Eleanor Marx’s death revisited (Socialist History 58, Autumn 2020)

October 2, 2020

The circumstances of Eleanor Marx’s death have been the subject of discussion and some controversy since she took her own life in March 1898. Particular attention has been paid to mistreatment by Edward Aveling, her partner since 1884. The revelation of Aveling’s secret marriage of 1897 is often cited as a decisive factor leading Eleanor to suicide. The recent discovery of a previously unknown letter written by Eleanor’s close friend and fellow revolutionary, Maria Mendelson, sheds new light on shocking contemporary accusations about the circumstances leading to Eleanor’s death, including sexual crimes, cruelty, blackmail and the poignant instructions Eleanor left for others to act upon after her death. This letter is considered alongside the evidence of others and the unsuccessful attempt by Eleanor’s closest friends to pursue Aveling through the courts.

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Reviews (Socialist History 58, Autumn 2020)

October 2, 2020

Peter Berton and Sam Atherton, The Japanese Communist Party: Permanent Opposition, but Moral Compass, Routledge, Abingdon, 2018; 146pp; ISBN 9780415368865, £120.00, hbk
Reviewed by Sherzod Muminov, University of East Anglia

Liam Cahill, Forgotten Revolution: The Limerick Soviet, 1919: A Threat to British Power in Ireland, Orla Kelly Publishing, Cork, 2019; 187pp; ISBN 9781912328413, €15.00, pbk
Reviewed by Emmet O’Connor, Ulster University

Vaneesa Cook, Spiritual Socialists: Religion and the American Left, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019, cloth, index, pp261, ISBN 978-0-8122-5165-4, £43
Reviewed by Dianne Kirby, Trinity College Dublin

John Green, Willi Münzenberg: Fighter against Fascism and Stalinism, Routledge, Abingdon, 2020; 288pp, 30 b/w illustrations; ISBN 9780367344726, £34.99, pbk
Reviewed by Andy Croft

Anita Prażmowska, Władysław Gomułka, I.B. Tauris, London, 2016; 296pp; ISBN 9781848851337, £95.00, hbk
Reviewed by Duncan Bowie, UCL

Danny Reilly and Steve Cushion, Telling the Mayflower Story: Thanksgiving or Land Grabbing, Massacres and Slavery?, SHS, London, 2018; 62pp, eight illustrations; ISBN 9780993010484, £4.00, pbk
Reviewed by Jonathan Wood, Plymouth

George Yerby, The Economic Causes of the English Civil War: Freedom of Trade and the English Revolution, Routledge, Abingdon, 2020; 420pp; ISBN 9780367189235, £120.00, hbk
Reviewed by David Parker

Hermynia Zur Mühlen, The Castle of Truth and Other Revolutionary Tales, Jack Zipes (ed. and trans.), Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2020, 187pp, 17 illustrations, ISBN 9780691201252, $19.95, pbk
Reviewed by Kendra Reynolds, University of Tulsa

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Editorial (Socialist History 57, Spring 2020)

May 1, 2020

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The British Labour Movement and European nationalism and socialism in the nineteenth century (Socialist History 57, Spring 2020)

May 1, 2020

In the context of the British labour movement’s current disassociation from European socialism and socialist organisations, this paper seeks to provide a chronological narrative of the comparatively strong relationship of British radicals and socialists to European republicans between 1789 and 1914. It therefore considers British Jacobinism, Chartism, the relationships with European exiles in Britain after the 1848 revolutions, the role of British trade unionists in the First International, and the relationship of the Independent Labour Party and the Social Democratic Federation to the Second International in the period before the First World War.

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A German Marxist Internationalist and the British Socialist Movement: Clara Zetkin on class and gender (Socialist History 57, Spring 2020)

May 1, 2020

Clara Zetkin (1857–1933) founded the Socialist Women’s International and was a regular Social Democratic Party (SPD) delegate to the congresses of the Second International. In order to spread the messages of women’s empowerment and socialism, she formed a correspondence network throughout Europe and beyond, and in Britain, for the first half of her career, Justice, the weekly journal of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), was her primary outlet. As relationships developed and influencers in Britain changed Zetkin’s media presence evolved – but her reputation in Britain was built on her articles and coverage in the pages of Justice. This essay tells the story of that relationship.

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Editorial: Not just Peterloo: policing popular protest since 1819 (Socialist History 56, Autumn 2019)

November 1, 2019

This issue appears amidst a sea of protest. Recent months have seen millions marching in Hong Kong and Chile, hundreds of thousands on the streets of Lebanon and Barcelona. In Khartoum, similar numbers camped out in the city forcing an end to Omar Al-Bashir’s thirty-year dictatorship, a hundred were killed by the military in June. Tens of thousands have marched in Moscow demanding open elections, with hundreds arrested. In Haiti, police have joined anti-government protests. Scores have been killed on demonstrations in Iraq demanding human rights. In Britain, around half a million marched in London in October calling for a second referendum on Brexit. As in other countries, tens of thousands have been on climate change protests organised by school strikers and Extinction Rebellion. 

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Witness seminar (Socialist History 56, Autumn 2019)

November 1, 2019

Not just Peterloo: Remembering the Anti-Apartheid protest against the Springboks, Manchester, 26 November 1969

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A Tale of Two or Three Kingdoms: Refuting the Handbook of Not the English Revolution and the modern myth of seventeenth-century ‘Britain’ (Socialist History 56, Autumn 2019)

November 1, 2019

Michael J. Braddick (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2015; 636 pp.; ISBN 9780199695898, £95.00, hbk

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Editorial (Socialist History 55, Spring 2019)

May 1, 2019

In Socialist History Issue 55, our four contributors consider how the Revolutionary Left strove to adapt Marxist theory to differing national and transnational contexts.

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Socialist political thinking in revolutionary Ireland, 1912-1923 (Socialist History 55, Spring 2019)

May 1, 2019

The Irish revolutionary period of 1912-1923 helped stimulate and develop the political thinking and outlook of the Irish left. During this period, Irish socialists and labour movement activists had to frame responses to the movement for independence, the responses of the British state, the rise of unionism, and the threat of partition. There was consensus within the Irish left on the existence of the Irish nation, the need for some degree of independence and a strident opposition to partition. In the period prior to 1916, it did appear as though Irish labour was preparing itself to challenge both unionism and nationalism for political leadership of the country as a whole. In the aftermath of the Easter Rising, however, the Irish left allowed the republican movement to monopolise leadership of the independence struggle. This resulted in the marginalisation of Irish Labour in the south and made it more difficult for activists to resist the pan-class unionist movement in the north.

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Reviews (Socialist History 55, Spring 2019)

May 1, 2019

The Italian, Al-Tanweer Press, Beirut 2014; 344pp; ISBN 9789938886481, $16.00, pbk.
Shukri Al-Mabkhout

Twenty-Nine Thousand Nights: A Communist Life by Nan Berger, Book Works, London 2017; 192 pp; ISBN 9781906012861, £15.00, pbk.
Ruth Ewan

A Spectre Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism, Belknap Press, Cambridge MA, 2018; 368 pp; ISBN 9780674047686, £23.95, hbk.
Paul Hanebrink

Georg Lukács’s Philosophy of Praxis: from Neo-Kantianism to Marxism, Bloomsbury Academic, London 2018; xvi and 248 pp; ISBN 9781474267410, £85.00, hbk.
Konstantinos Kavoulakos

Who are the English? Selected Poems: 1935-1981, Smokestack Books, Middlesbrough 2015; 139 pp; ISBN 9780992740931, £8.95, pbk.
Jack Lindsay

No Less than Mystic: a history of Lenin and the Russian Revolution for a 21st century left, Repeater Books, London 2017; 651 pp; ISBN 9781910924488, £9.99, pbk.
John Medhurst

Evan Smith, Matthew Worley (eds), The Far Left in Australia Since 1945, Routledge, London 2019; xiv + 286 pp; ISBN 9781138541580, £23.99, pbk.
Jon Piccini

The Women in the Room: Labour’s Forgotten History, I.B. Tauris, London 2018; 252 pp, 12 illustrations; ISBN 9781788312233, £20.00, hbk.
Nan Sloane

Marx and Russia. The Fate of a Doctrine, Bloomsbury, London 2019; 240 pp; ISBN 9781474224062, £19.79, pbk.
James D. White

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Trotskyism and the New Left (Socialist History 54, Autumn 2018)

February 1, 2019

John Kelly’s excellent study argues that while the British Trotskyist groups have been extremely unsuccessful in fulfilling their stated aims, principally building a mass revolutionary party, their main impact has come through involvement in wider social or political movements. This involvement has taken forms that have varied at different times and between the groups, from entryism within the Labour Party, to acting as junior partners in broader social movements in which Trotskyists might be competing for influence with other groups, to helping create and sustain movements in which they acquire a dominant influence, and finally to the creation of ‘front’ organisations exclusively controlled by a specific Trotskyist group. A related set of arguments made in relation to this Trotskyist involvement with social movements is that any success within the latter has not translated into membership gain or electoral success, has tended to be achieved at the costs of downplaying doctrine, and that these movements have often been a bridge out of, as well as into, Trotskyism.

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Editorial (Socialist History 54, Autumn 2018)

February 1, 2019

In the wake of Karl Marx’s bicentenary, and the recent centennial commemorations of both the Great War and Russian Revolutions, Issue 54 of Socialist History serves as a retrospective on Marxism’s impact, legacy and possible future. This includes two articles, originally presented as papers at Socialist History’s ‘Echoes of Revolution’ conference in Norwich in February 2018; a set of observations on Marx and Marxism for the present day, and a symposium on the history of Trotskyism. What perhaps ties each of these contributions is the notion of Marxist thought and practice as lived experience and its, often ambiguous, relationship to mass mobilisation and popular Left-wing ideals.

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Forging a Revolutionary Community Through Ritual: Communist May Days in Weimar Germany, 1919-1924 (Socialist History 54, Autumn 2018)

February 1, 2019

This article examines German communists’ efforts to construct a revolutionary political culture during the Weimar Republic. It focuses on May Day rituals from 1919 until 1924 as a window to the nascent political culture of the German Communist Party (KPD). Employing anthropological methods, this paper demonstrates how communists attempted to appropriate the historic labour holiday and refashion it into ‘fighting day’ (Kampftag) by promoting a set of militant symbolic practices designed to forge a revolutionary community. By presenting themselves as a disciplined mass, celebrants played key roles in the militant dramaturgy, resulting in both an inward political conversion and an outward public display of revolutionary commitment.

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Editorial (Socialist History 53, Summer 2018)

July 1, 2018

Issue 53 of Socialist History is another unthemed issue which brings together four articles covering a very wide range of topics and approaches.

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Reviving the Völkerabfälle: The South Slavonic Left, Balkan Federalism and the Creation of the First Yugoslavia (Socialist History 53, Summer 2018)

July 1, 2018

This article explores how the Southern Slavs, decried as Völkerabfälle by Engels in 1849, managed nevertheless to develop a distinctively social­ist movement and culture of their own, particularly from 1903 to 1914, capable of both challenging and shaping politics in the Balkans. Although heavily influenced by Marxist theoretical currents and external ideas such as Austro-Marxism, the formation of this South Slavonic Left was rooted in the social and historic contexts of its adherents’ respective homelands. Limited industrialisation, coupled with the rise of rival political move­ments such as nationalism and peasant agrarianism, prompted many on the Left to turn to the region’s early socialist heritage, specifically the phi­losopher Svetozar Markovic’s concept of Balkan Federalism. As well as providing a means by which the region could begin to modernise through closer economic and political cooperation, the perceived threat of Austro-Hungarian and Italian expansionist ambitions legitimised the left-wing belief that a Balkan Federation was now essential to the future preser­vation of regional identity and political freedoms. Consequently, the creation of the first Yugoslavian state in December 1918 was welcomed as the first step to fulfilling these goals.

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Reviews (Socialist History 53, Summer 2018)

July 1, 2018

Jakub S. Beneš, Workers and Nationalism: Czech and German Social Democracy in Habsburg Austria, 1890-1918, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2016
Lewis Young 

Mark Bulik, The Sons of Molly Maguire: The Irish Roots of America’s First Labor War, Fordham University Press, New York 2015
Liam Ó Discín 

Fedor Il’ich Dan, Two Years of Wandering: A Menshivik Leader in Lenin’s Russia, translated, edited and introduced by Francis King, Lawrence and Wishart, London 2016
Alistair Dickins

Nicholas Deakin (ed.), Radiant Illusion? Middle-class Recruits to Communism in the Thirties, Eden Valley Editions, Edenbridge 2015
Willie Thompson 

Bob Hepple, Young Man with a Red Tie: A Memoir of Mandela and the Failed Revolution, 1960-1963, Jacana, Johannesburg 2013
Steve Cushion London 

Christian Krell (ed.), Thinkers of Social Democracy. 49 Portraits, trans­lated by James Patterson, Dietz, Bonn 2016
Jamie Melrose

Chris Miller, The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 2016
Alec Burt 

Dave Rich, The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism, Biteback Publishing, London 2016
Paul Stott 

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The Man Question: How Bolshevik Masculinity Shaped International Communism (Socialist History 52, Autumn 2017)

November 1, 2017

It was a communist romance. In 1923, Croatian American communist Steve Nelson (born Stjepan Mesarsoš) met Margaret Yeager, the daugh-ter of ‘radical’ German immigrants, at the Communist Party office in Pittsburgh. As Nelson recalled in his 1981 memoir, ‘everything happened’ very quickly, and the two married the same year. Both understood that Yeager, the ‘better educated’ and ‘more sophisticated’ of the two, would not accept a ‘passive role’ in the relationship. Indeed her mother gave the nineteen-year-old bridegroom a copy of August Bebel’s Woman and Socialism as a wedding gift. Nonetheless, they soon took on stereotypical roles. He became an important activist, while she ‘tailor[ed] her life to what was required of me’. Recognising that an outsider might ‘conclude … that Maggie accepted a traditional female role because she shared the accepted view of a “woman’s place” at the time’, Nelson assured his readers that she did not: ‘As a revolutionary she consciously gave me all the breaks, feeling this would be best for the movement’. Thus a self-consciously revolution-ary union produced a paradoxically traditional marriage.

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Editorial: Legacies of October (Socialist History 52, Autumn 2017)

November 1, 2017

The Russian revolution of November 1917 – or October according to the calendar it inherited from the tsars – was the world’s first successful workers’ revolution and an inspiration to socialists everywhere. Established in the midst of Europe’s most senseless and destructive war, the new Soviet state met with concerted resistance from within and without its borders and drew on campaigns of international solidarity as part of a world-wide movement against capitalism and colonial rule. Nevertheless, when seventy-four years later the Soviet state collapsed, there was no significant movement to defend it either nationally or internationally.

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Editorial: Left Intellectuals after 1956 (Socialist History 51, Spring 2017)

May 1, 2017

In 2014, we edited a collection of essays under the title Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956 (Manchester University Press). Our objective was really twofold. First, to generate discussion on the British left in general; to bring together scholars and writers in order to present a ‘way in’ to current thinking on the history of the British left. The context of the book’s gestation was telling: the idea began in the wake of the 2010 general election and the fall of New Labour. The global economic crisis of 2008 was still fresh and its interpretation ‘up for grabs’. Yet the left, especially the Marxist left armed with a still per-tinent critique of capital, had not seemingly seized the initiative or much shaped the debate. The notion that it was ‘Labour’s fault’ – even that ‘old’ Labour spending habits lay behind the ‘crisis’ and thereby derailed New Labour and the economy more widely – held sway and was oft-repeated. The ‘moment’ of the 2015 general election was Ed Miliband’s being laughed at when he said he did not believe the previous Labour administration had spent ‘too much’.

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‘History should become common property’: Raphael Samuel, History Workshop, and the Practice of Socialist History, 1966-1980 (Socialist History 51, Spring 2017)

May 1, 2017

The History Workshop movement, a grassroots coalition of radical-academic, feminist, and labour historians founded at Ruskin College in the late 1960s under the guidance of Raphael Samuel, represents a powerful example of the fusion of political commitment with historical practice. However, outside of a handful of general commentaries, the history of the Workshop remains mostly unexplored. This article focuses on two central pillars of the Workshop’s programme, the annual workshop gatherings held at Ruskin and the History Workshop Journal, in order to examine how its socialist (and feminist) political aspirations were translated into democratic and radical historical forms. It argues that this connection between politics and history should not be simply understood in theoretical or ideological terms, but should also encompass the symbolic, aesthetic and emotional dimensions of historical practice. While critical attention is paid to the tensions and limits of the Workshop's project, the article suggests that it was precisely in the effort to negotiate the contradictions inherent in its own ideals that the relevance and productive use of the case of History Workshop endures.

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Editorial: Our History (Socialist History 47, Spring 2015)

March 1, 2015

This forty-seventh issue of Socialist History is the first with our new publisher, Lawrence and Wishart. It marks a new phase in the journal’s history, with simultaneous online publication via EBSCO. Lawrence and Wishart will be our third publisher since the journal was founded on the initiative of Willie Thompson in 1993. For our first five years we were published by Pluto Press. Rivers Oram Press took over at short notice in 1998, inaugurating seventeen years of close and very fruitful collaboration. The development of Socialist History into an attractively-designed and high quality product owes a great deal to the creativity, professionalism and commitment of Elizabeth Fidlon at Rivers Oram. But times change, and it is now essential for any publication which sells in the academic market to be available online, and with that in mind, we have moved the journal to Lawrence and Wishart.

An occasion like this is a good opportunity to look back at the history of this journal’s parent organisation, the Socialist History Society, and of its more famous predecessor, the Communist Party Historians’ (later: History) Group (CPHG).

The first ten years of the CPHG, from 1946 to 1956, has received quite a lot of scholarly attention over the years.1 Indeed, in a note to me written shortly before she died in early 2011, Dorothy Thompson remarked, ‘I am continually being asked questions about my lifetime, especially about “the CP historians’ group” which has become something of a mythical monster’. Interest in figures like Eric Hobsbawm, John Saville, E.P. and Dorothy Thompson, Christopher Hill, Victor Kiernan and others, with their subsequent high-profile careers as historians, have kept the early CPHG in the historiographical spotlight. However, the fact that many of these historians left the CPGB in the aftermath of the 1956 events has meant that the subsequent story of the CPHG itself, as distinct from its more illustrious early members, has been largely overlooked.2 In an attempt to redress the balance a little, this short survey looks mainly at the evolution of the CPHG after 1956, in the very different circumstances which prevailed in British communism after that year. It also examines how the group responded to the demise of the USSR and the CPGB itself at the end of 1991, when, in contrast to 1956, a far more profound crisis in British communism led to the renaissance of the history group as a much broader Socialist History Society.

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