Month: February 2013

Archive days: A round-up of my UK visit

So I have returned from my whirlwind research trip to the UK (with a horrible return leg via London, Dubai, Singapore and Melbourne), in which I visited seven archives across the country. The archive gods were good to me and I found some very useful material on a range of topics. I calculated earlier today that 862 photos while I was there, with an average of 123.14 photos per archive (although this is skewed as the British Library doesn’t allow digital photography).

At the British Library, I looked at the bound papers of Rajani Palme Dutt. Many of Dutt’s papers are in the Labour History and Study Centre at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, but the British Library also holds six bound volumes of papers (including manuscript drafts, correspondence, pamphlets, and CPGB memorandum). I am not sure  why some of Dutt’s papers were separated and ended up in the British Library, but it may have to do with the increased tension between Dutt and the Party leadership in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

At the National Archives at Kew, I was interested in investigating the papers released from 1982, but did not find as much as I hoped. I did find some exciting material on the development of the British Nationality Act 1981, including this document (title page only):


My main research was at the LHASC at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, looking at the relationship between the Communist Party of Great Britain with the Communist Parties in Australia and South Africa. The PHM is a far more delightful place to do research, rather than the small confines of the LHASC’s old home on Princess Street. The only problem was that the archive is on the lower floor and the light in February was sometimes not enough for taking photos of archival documents. I was primarily interested in the papers of the CPGB’s International Department, which oversaw the Party’s work with other Communist Parties and its campaigning on international issues, such as anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism. One of the excellent finds from within these papers were a nearly complete set of the Africa Newsletter, published by the Party’s Africa Committee.


I also found some uncatalogued boxes of the papers and ephemera of Kay Beauchamp, who was a member of the International Department and between the 1960s ad 1970s, one of the CPGB’s experts in the area of ‘race relations’. Amongst these papers are notes for Beauchamp’s autobiography, which, as far as I am aware, has never been published.


After finishing up at the LHASC, I took an afternoon trip to Liverpool to catch up with Nick Barnett, an aspiring Cold War historian (check out his paper at the British Scholars Conference in Texas next month), who showed me the sights of Liverpool, including watching Liverpool lose to Zenit St. Petersburg at the Baltic Fleet pub and a very popular noodle bar in Chinatown. The following day I took a brief day-trip to the Hull History Centre to look at the papers of CPGB leadership figure, Robin Page Arnot, and the papers of the British committee of the League Against Imperialism. I have already blogged here on the amazing ephemera that I found in Arnot’s papers, but the LAI stuff was also quite exciting. I think a trip to the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, where the bulk of the LAI papers are, may be planned for the future!


After a week in North, I travelled back down to London to visit the Institute of Commonwealth Studies Library to look at various archival files on the Communist Party of South Africa. The ICS Library had some wonderful pamphlets from the days of the CPSA (before it changed to the SACP) and I spent hours, as well, looking through the microfilm of the CPSA weekly newspaper from the 1930s Umsebenzi: The South African Worker. If I go back to London, I have already locked in that i need to revisit the ICS Library to look at the 9 rolls of microfilm pertaining to the CPSA paper, The Guardian.


My final archive to visit was the Black Cultural Archives in Lambeth. After the closing of the archives at Middlesex University, the BCA became new home of the papers of the Runnymede Trust, but it also holds the papers of several black activist groups and figures, particularly those involved in the black feminist movement, including the papers of Stella Dadzie. From Dadzie’s papers, I found the bulletins of the Black Women’s Group from Brixton, which were fascinating, especially in their critique of the white left in this issue:


In my last week, I also travelled up to Sheffield to present a seminar paper to the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield on the topic of the ‘dynamic’ border. It was very well attended (thanks to Lucy Mayblin and Margo Huxley for organising the seminar) and I think it went rather well, despite some very curly questions.  I was quite impressed with the look of the city centre too, and hope to travel back to the birthplace of stainless steel (celebrating its centenary in 2013!) in the near future.

I had fun, but I am very glad to be home. Now it’s writing time!


Ain’t no party like a Communist Party dinner from the 1950s


Today I’m in Hull (one of my ancestral homes and former home of The Housemartins – although those two facts are not related). I was looking at Robin Page Arnot’s papers in the Hull History Centre and accidentally ordered a file that was full of invitations for Arnot to various CPGB functions. I came across a menu for the 27th Annual Daily Worker Staff Dinner and Dance held on Maundry Thursday in 1956 (29th March). The function was held at the Imperial Hotel (in London presumably) and would have been held after Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, but before the CPGB 24th Congress, where the controversy over ‘democratic centralism’ started.

So what was the menu that night?

The entree was oxtail soup.

The main course was roast stuffed chicken, with roast potatoes and vegetables.

Dessert was a choice of Coupe Jacques or cheese and biscuits.

Coffee was to be served afterwards.

(Can you imagine The Supersizers doing a tv show based on this menu? The Supersizers Go Commie!)

As well as this exciting menu, there were to be four toasts, with Mick Bennett being chairman for the evening:

The ‘Daily Worker’ – Harry Pollitt

Response – JR Campbell

Our Guests – George Sinfield

Response – Harold Poole

The after-dinner entertainment were the Ventom Swift’s Swing Serenaders for dancing and ‘old time music hall’ presented by Unity Theatre, as well as a ‘topical’ sketch by members of staff. Novelty and spot prizes were also to be handed out during the evening.

Those communists sure knew how to party!

Paper at Sheffield Uni next Tuesday (Feb 19)

I’m giving a paper at the University of Sheffield next Tuesday for the Department of Geography as part of their Human Geography seminar series. The seminar is from 4.15 to 5.15 and will be in the Ron Johnston Research Room. The details of my paper are below:

The dynamic border: The shifting determinants of the UK immigration “control” system

Much of the literature on the UK immigration/border control system discusses how the system of control has expanded and entered into most aspects of society in the 21st century, with an emphasis on ‘control’ exacerbated by the securitisation of society promoted by the ‘war on terror’, creating what is popularly called ‘Fortress Britain’. This paper looks to historicise and problematise this common-held view of the immigration/border control system in three ways. Firstly, it argues that the pervasive nature of the border into all aspects of society, including into domestic British society and abroad, has a much longer history and stems from the sweeping powers given by the Immigration Act 1971. Secondly, the paper presents a notion that the border is not an impenetrable barrier that keeps out all those seeking to enter the UK, but a fluid and shifting entity which allows some people to enter in accordance with the changing desires of the British state – the gates of ‘Fortress Britain’ are often both open and closed at the same time. Thirdly, it tries to answer the question that if the border control system is not a barrier, then what does it ‘control’? It will propose that the border is forced to allow certain groups of people to enter the UK, but it will try to impose itself upon certain groups to “ensure” that people fit the desired criteria (often under great and unwarranted scrutiny) and to keep out other undesirable elements. Controls may not be as tough as the anti-immigration lobby desires, but they are certainly not weak either, and heavily impact upon those who have to negotiate the system.

If you’re in the area, do come along. It will be awesome.

23rd anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release

On 11 February, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor-Verster Prison in Paarl, South Africa. To celebrate the anniversary of this event, let’s sit back and enjoy The Special AKA:


On a related note, anyone interested in the campaign to free Nelson Mandela and the Anti-Apartheid Movement should visit this great blog on a project run by Gavin Brown and Helen Yaffe from the University of Leicester, Non-Stop Against Apartheid: Spaces of Transnational Solidarity.

MI5 and gossip in the 1950s Communist Party

This week I have been looking at the papers of the CPGB’s Vice-Chairman Rajani Palme Dutt at the British Library and also the MI5 files on Dutt at the National Archives at Kew. In one file (KV 2/1809), I found this summary of a conversation secretly recorded by the security services concerning Dutt and other leading members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It is a fascinating piece of gossip between the Party elites:

EXTRACT from 20/11/1952 (extracted on 4/12/1952)

FALBER was heard telling BETTY REID just what he thought of Dutt. This was unprintable. He then went on to say that DUTT’s reaction to ANDREW (ROTHSTEIN) was not the same as the reaction FALBER had had, “Which was that the theoretical line – theoretical case – inevitably upsets people, and antagoni[ses] people”.

FABLER and BETTY REID continued to talk about DUTT.

“DUTT’s approach is one where you have to get theoretical clarity first, and then you work out your tactics, and you therefore get from him a kind of divorce between theory and reality.” This continued at length, and BETTY REID remarked that DUTT was inclined to have an “acid attitude” to the Party and Party activity.

Apparently the topic of discussion was Rothstein’s article on Zionism, which had allegedly upset many Jewish activists within the CPGB at the time.

Often the Party leadership during this period has been seen as a monolithic entity that all had the exact same mindset, but the historiography has shown that there were divisions amongst Dutt, Pollitt and the other high-ranking figures of the CPGB. I think this extract shows the frustration that many in the Party felt with Dutt, even at the upper echelons!

I’m off to the CPGB archives at the People’s History Museum next week, looking at the files of the International Department. Huzzah!


Discussing the CPGB 1957 Congress at Socialist Unity

I just thought I’d do a quick plug to say that Andy Newman at Socialist Unity has posted a discussion of my blogpost on the CPGB’s 1957 ‘Special’ Congress and its relevance to the current crisis in the SWP. On the outcome of the 1957 Congress and the exodus that followed, Andy has written:

A Pyrrhic victory for the bureaucratic leadership, who rejoiced in their own self-belief that they were the personification of socialism itself, but were sowing the seeds of future crises and disillusionment.

I’ll be very interested to see the discussions.

Meanwhile, I’ll be reading Rajani Palme Dutt’s papers at the British Library, just to keep on a similar theme.

The UKBA and the ‘burden of proof’

This story about the UKBA demanding ‘proof’ of someone’s sexual preference if they seek asylum after fleeing persecution for being gay, lesbian or trans- is outrageous. It is another example of the testimony of the potential migrant/refugee being dismissed by the immigration authorities as ‘not credible’ and the immigration control system seeking another form of ‘proof’, particularly deferring to the physical body. This has overtones of the practice of ‘virginity testing’ in the 1970s and other cases where the physical body has been put under scrutiny by the immigration control system, such as the physical/medical scrutiny placed upon people seeking asylum or trafficked people found in the UK.

This also raises the question of where the ‘burden of proof’ lies within the immigration control system. Technically, the ‘burden of proof’ lies with the immigration authorities and the balance of probabilities should weigh in the favour of the applicant, unless the authorities can categorically prove that the applicant is being intentionally dishonest. It should not be up to the applicant to disprove allegations of dishonesty or quash doubts over credibility made by the authorities. Since the 1970s, there has been a criticism that the immigration control system actually places the ‘burden of proof’ upon the migrant/refugee, with the authorities being very dismissive of the testimony and documents produced by potential migrants/refugees. As seen in the Anwar Ditta case of the early 1980s, there is a false assumption that the ‘burden of proof’ lies with the applicant and that the allegations made by the authorities have no need for evidence. The requirement of ‘proof’ of sexual orientation by the UKBA is the latest episode in a shameful history of the British immigration control system.


Related to this ‘burden of proof’ being placed upon the migrant/refugee and the inspection of the physical body, Marinella Marmo and I wrote this for an article on the use of x-rays in the immigration control system, which I thought was worth quoting here briefly. I especially like the quote by Fassin and d’Hallunin at the end of the paragraph:

In the UK border control system, there is a high level of suspicion inherent, with border control practices often starting from the assumption that migrants, visitors and those seeking asylum are attempting to evade or deceive the system. The default thinking of the border control system seems to assume that certain migrant groups are not who they say they are when interacting with the system. As Marmo and Smith have argued, there has been a long-standing belief in the UK border control system that migrants and asylum seekers, particularly from Asia and Africa, are potentially ‘bogus’ migrants, with constant mention by the authorities about the unreliability of the testimony of migrants and asylum seekers from these parts of the world, as well as a suspicion that documentary evidence provided by these migrants is likely to be fake. The authorities claim to weigh up decisions ‘on balance of probabilities’, but it is often the case that the border control staff begin from a point of total disbelief and shift the burden of proof onto the person applying to enter the country. With this burden of proof placed upon the individual, it is often difficult to persuade the authorities that their reasons to enter the country, as a visitor, a working migrant, a migrating family member or even as a refugee, is genuine, which is made more difficult by the presumption that testimony and documentary evidence provided by certain migrant groups is likely to be falsified. Under the intense scrutiny of the border control authorities, if testimony and documents are not considered to be convincing enough, the focus of the authorities may shift to physical examination, with the body becoming the marker of ‘truth’. As Didier Fassin and Estelle d’Hallunin (2005: 598)* wrote about refugees in the French border control system, ‘their word is systematically doubted [and] it is their bodies that are questioned’.

*Fassin, D & d’Halluin, E (2005) ‘The Truth from the Body: Medical Certificates as Ultimate Evidence for Asylum Seekers’, American Anthropologist, 107(4) 597–608