On Friday 17 March, the Southwick Society unveiled a blue plaque to commemorate the late, great black Trinidadian cricket writer and revolutionary historian C.L.R. James (1901-1989) with special guests of honour Leila Hassan Howe, co-founder of the Race Today Collective, and editor and publisher Margaret Busby. The plaque was possible thanks in part to a letter James wrote from 290 Old Shoreham Road on 19 July 1937 that was intercepted by Special Branch who were monitoring James – like many other activists – for his anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist activism. In 1937, James was a leading activist in the British Trotskyist movement as well in the Pan-Africanist movement, and was in Southwick (just outside Brighton) that summer writing up what would become his classic history of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins (1938). In his preface he described writing the work ‘in the stillness of a seaside suburb’. The Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, led by Toussaint Louverture, was the only successful mass slave revolt in human history and saw the birth of the world’s first independent black republic outside of Africa.
Plagues, vaccines and revolutionaries
I have written a short piece on Plagues, Vaccines and Revolutionaries: When Waldemar Haffkine met Shapurji Saklatvala in Colonial Bombay for the London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter, 72 (Spring 2021) which explores the life of the little known Russian-born bacteriologist Waldemar Haffkine, hailed by Joel Gunter and Vikas Pandey recently on the BBC website as ‘the vaccine pioneer the world forgot’, including his connection to the Indian-born Communist Shapurji Saklatvala, who was elected an MP in Battersea.
Though I am not sure he would have totally appreciated being linked to an article primarily about revolutionary figures such as Haffkine and Saklatvala, I would like to dedicate this piece to the memory of a friend of mine, Ed Rooksby (1975-2021), who I knew while were both Phd students at York University in the mid-2000s, and who tragically, despite being only 46, died of Long Covid at the start of 2021. There is a bibliography of his writings here – https://rooksbyism.wordpress.com/bibliography/ – and my piece in a sense is a belated continuation of a longstanding dialogue between us about reform or revolution – one to which Ed will sadly never be able to respond to. I last saw Ed in about May 2019, when he very kindly (kindness was a characteristic of Ed) put me up in Oxford for a night while I was researching what became the little booklet I co-wrote with Geoff Brown, Apartheid is Not a Game: Remembering the Stop the Seventy Tour (2020). I never thanked him in the acknowledgements to the book – I probably just bought him a pint at the time by way of thanks – so I am recording my thanks here and now. Ed Rooksby’s untimely death – though of course just one of so many tragedies amid Covid – was so unfair on so many levels – not least as he never published his long awaited book Taking Power: Reform, Revolution, Socialist Strategy which would have brought him the audience on the international left that he deserved. Ed Rooksby exemplified some of the best traditions on the Left in his lack of sectarianism, the seriousness of his commitment to politics – and trade unionism, and his very dry wit and humour – and will be widely missed. RIP Comrade Rooksby.
Revolutions and Revisions
I am indebted to Peter Hudson of the excellent resource the Public Archive for interviewing Prof Charles Forsdick and myself about our recent work in the field of Haitian revolutionary studies – you can read the full interview with Charles and myself here
Engels in Eastbourne
Engels in Eastbourne
CMNH Conference – originally to be held to mark Engels@200 – – now forthcoming from 1-3 June 2023 at the View Hotel, Eastbourne, for more details see here
Tariq Ali, writer and filmmaker
Helena Sheehan, Professor Emeritus, Dublin City University
Terrell Carver, Professor of Political Theory at the University of Bristol
The original Call for Papers:
28 November 2020 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Friedrich Engels, the German radical philosopher who in works such as The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844), The Peasant War in Germany (1850), The Housing Question (1872), ‘The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man’ (1876), Anti-Dühring (1877), Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880), Dialectics of Nature (1883) and The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) made pathbreaking and profound contributions to modern social and political theory. As the co-thinker of Karl Marx and co-author of The Communist Manifesto and ‘The German Ideology’, he played a critical role in the forging and development of classical Marxism specifically. But like Marx, Engels was ‘above all a revolutionary’, who also played a role in revolutionary upheavals such as the German Revolution of 1848 and in the international socialist movement.
When Engels died in London on 5 August 1895, at the age of 74, his last wish was that following his cremation his ashes be scattered off Beachy Head, near Eastbourne. Marx and Engels had visited many Victorian seaside resorts, such as Margate, Ramsgate and the Isle of Wight, but Eastbourne was Engels’s favourite place and where he holidayed for extended periods during the summers in later life. Engels wrote to Sorge on 18 March 1893 for example that he had spent two weeks in Eastbourne and ‘had splendid weather’, coming back ‘very refreshed’.
As part of the wider commemorations planned for Engels@200, Engels in Eastbourne welcomes proposals for papers on any aspect of Engels’s life, work and intellectual and political legacy. Themes may then include but are not restricted to the following:
– Engels’s relationship to Marx and Marxism
– Engels’s anti-colonialism and internationalism
– Engels’s understanding of the origins of women’s oppression
– Engels’s analysis of natural science and the natural world
– Engels’s understanding of religion
– Engels’s analysis of capitalism and working class and peasant struggles
– Engels’s concept of ‘social murder’
– Engels’s role in revolutionary movements and relationship to other revolutionaries
– Representations and commemorations of Engels
Our keynote speakers:
Tariq Ali is a writer and filmmaker. He has written more than two dozen books on world history and politics, and seven novels (translated into over a dozen languages) as well as scripts for the stage and screen. He is an editor of New Left Review.
Helena Sheehan is Emeritus Professor at Dublin City University, and has academic interests in philosophy, the history of Marxism and media studies. She is the author of works including Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History and Navigating the Zeitgeist: A Story of the Cold War, the New Left, Irish Republicanism, and International Communism
Terrell Carver is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Bristol. He has degrees from Columbia University and the University of Oxford, and has held visiting appointments in the USA, Australia, Japan and China. He has published widely on Marx, Engels and Marxism, including Friedrich Engels: His Life and Thought (being re-issued for a 30th anniversary edition) and his current project is a short book Engels Before Marx coming out in late 2020 as a ‘Palgrave Pivot’.
For more info please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Christian Høgsbjerg email@example.com
Image credit: Marxists Internet Archive
Conference supported by the Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics and the Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories at the University of Brighton
For those of you near Cambridge on Thursday 6 June 2019, this book launch might be of interest:
Join Dr Priyamvada Gopal at Heffers bookshop as she talks about her new book, Insurgent Empire: Anticolonialism and the Making of British Dissent, in conversation with Dr Christian Hogsbjerg. It is a book that reframes the narrative, focussing on how resistance in the colonies changed British ideas of freedom.
Much has been written on how colonial subjects took up British and European ideas and turned them against empire when making claims to freedom and self-determination. The possibility of reverse influence has been largely overlooked. Insurgent Empire shows how Britain’s enslaved and colonial subjects were not merely victims of empire and subsequent beneficiaries of its crises of conscience but also agents whose resistance both contributed to their own liberation and shaped British ideas about freedom and who could be free. This book examines dissent over the question of empire in Britain and shows how it was influenced by rebellions and resistance in the colonies from the West Indies and East Africa to Egypt and India. It also shows how a pivotal role in fomenting dissent was played by anticolonial campaigners based in London, at the heart of the empire.
For tickets and more information please see here
For more information on Priya’s new book please see here – I am delighted to be joining Priya to help launch it in Cambridge on 6 June.
National unity demonstration against fascism and racism in London #N17
Solidarity with Bookmarks bookshop
After the horrific recent attack by ‘alt-right’ racists and fascists in London on Bookmarks bookshop – a longstanding socialist bookshop ‘founded in 1967 in a suitcase’ according to Ian Birchall, I thought the least I could do would be to just briefly put up a post in solidarity with Bookmarks. As someone who is proud to have had two books published with the help of Bookmarks bookshop in the past – Chris Braithwaite: Mariner, Renegade and Castaway (2014) and (as co-editor), Celebrating C.L.R. James in Hackney, London (2015) – indeed we had the booklaunch for the little booklet on Chris Braithwaite in Bookmarks bookshop itself – I managed to pay them a visit today (and bought a few books, and a nice anti-fascist greeting card – see photos below).
Fascist attacks on left wing (and black, women’s and LGBT+) bookshops are of course nothing new, and as Bookmarks manager Dave Gilchrist rightly noted in the Guardian, obviously have chilling historical echoes of ‘book-burning’ in 1930s Nazi Germany. In the current climate when fascists internationally are more emboldened and confident than ever thanks to the normalisation of racism by the likes of Trump and his myrmidons, we urgently need to come together to build a united mass movement against the far right that can turn the tide against them. I would also urge anyone reading this who has not already done so to visit Bookmarks either in person or through their website online and buy a book out of solidarity.
March against racism
The last 2 years has seen the biggest growth of racism since the 1930s – it’s time to turn back the tide…
Saturday 17 March – #MarchAgainstRacism in London – http://bit.ly/antiracismday18
#TrumpNotWelcome • #BlackLivesMatter • #RefugeesWelcome • No to #Islamophobia & #AntiSemitism • #NeverAgain
Two new exhibitions featuring Chris Braithwaite
Two new exhibitions out now in time for Black History Month 2017 feature the life and work of Chris Braithwaite – in Liverpool and in London.
In Liverpool, at Merseyside Maritime Museum there is an exhibition based largely on the work of Ray Costello, Black Salt: Britain’s Black Sailors and ‘reveals the contribution Black seafarers have made to some of the most significant maritime events of the past 500 years’, and runs until September 2018.
In London, Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives are hosting a new exhibition of artwork on the life and work of Chris Braithwaite by London-based artist Basil Olton, also of Barbadian heritage, who ‘has created a number of new artworks in ceramics reflecting their shared concerns of imperialism and its impact on contemporary British society. The artwork includes clay sculptures as well as archives documenting Chris Braithwaite’s surveillance by the state which have been manipulated by the artist’, and runs until January 2018. See the full programme of events here: http://www.ideastore.co.uk/local-history-necessary-fiction
Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said:
“Chris Braithwaite was an inspiring and revolutionary black socialist, trade unionist and political activist. The campaigning work that he carried out in the East End in between the wars had a profound effect on the working lives of dockers and seamen in the East End and beyond. So, it is fitting that this exhibition brings to life the work that he did and shines a light on a sometimes overlooked, but very important figure in our local history.”
RMT General Secretary, Mick Cash, said:
“We’re proud to be associated with this important memorial for a genuine working class hero, especially in our time of political instability. Chris Braithwaite’s legacy of political and industrial activism in the face of overt racism and prejudice should be on the national curriculum and both Tower Hamlets Council and Basil Olton are to be congratulated on their work to bring this memorial and exhibition about. When we look at the practice of nationality based pay discrimination in today’s shipping industry, all unions who organise seafarers and dockers have lessons to learn from Chris Braithwaite’s example of steadfast and effective campaigning to end long established employment practices that exploit and discriminate against workers to increase owners’ profits.”
The Red and the Black – The Russian Revolution and the Black Atlantic conference
2017 marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution, and among the many conferences and events being organised to mark the anniversary I am co-organising one entitled ‘The Red and the Black – The Russian Revolution and the Black Atlantic’ which will be held at the Institute for Black Atlantic Research (IBAR), University of Central Lancashire, Preston, from the 13-15 October 2017 – for more information please see here, which has details of how to register and a provisional programme to download. Keynote speakers are Professor Winston James (University of California, Irvine), Dr Cathy Bergin (University of Brighton), and Professor Hakim Adi (University of Chichester), while there will also be special performances from Linton Kwesi Johnson, Tayo Aluko and David Rovics.