Month: October 2013

“Uncomradely and un-Communist” actions between the Communist Parties of the British Commonwealth

One of the arguments that I am developing in my current project is that once the Comintern ceases to function as a directing centre for the international Communist movement, individual Communist Parties start to look to several different places for guidance. For the Communist Parties of the Commonwealth, London and Moscow existed as competing metropoles and as the Chinese Revolution neared victory, Beijing rose as a further alternative  point of reference (it seems quite clear that the Soviet Union and China agreed on spheres of influence in late 1940s/early 1950s where Moscow would oversee things in Europe, while communists in Asia would follow the ‘Chinese path’).

In my research, I have been particularly interested in the strains in the relationship between the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Communist Party of Australia in the late 1940s. After the CPGB published the pamphlet Looking Ahead in the last days of the Second World War (a precursor for The British Road to Socialism that was published in 1951), the CPA criticised the CPGB for its ‘Browderist’ tendencies and for substituting the struggle for socialism for an acceptance of bourgeois democratic reformism. In 1948, the CPA published a critique of the CPGB in its journal Communist Review, taking the line of the Yugoslav government (before the fallout between Stalin and Tito) and influenced by the leftwards shift that the Cominform took under the ‘two camps’ thesis in 1947. (You can find more about this here)

But the CPA was also highly influenced by the Chinese Communist Party at this stage and had close ties to the Communist Party of Malaya (based in Singapore), who were debating whether to launch an armed insurrection against the British colonial government. Part of the CPA’s critique of the CPGB was that as the British party supported the Labour Government under Clement Atlee, they were unwilling to fully support anti-colonial rebellions in the British Commonwealth as this would upset any prospective ‘Labour-Communist’ alliance. On the other hand, the CPA was very supportive of communist anti-colonialism in the South-East Asia region (on the doorstep of Australia). With its enthusiasm for the Malayan Communist Party, the CPA could highlight the contrast between its agenda and the ‘reformism’ of the CPGB and also depict itself as a supporter of the emerging anti-colonial movements in Asia.


This leads to me this document, which I found in the CPGB archive in Manchester (CP/CENT/INT/34/02). It is a letter from the CPGB’s Political Committee to L.L. Sharkey, the General Secretary of the CPA, for using the theoretical journal of the Malayan Communist Party to attack the CPGB. The CPGB described Sharkey’s article, titled ‘The International Situation and Opportunism’, as an ‘uncomradely and un-Communist action’ which allowed ‘an entirely false presentation of the policy of our Party’. This is a great letter to find in the archives, but it is only half (or a third) of the story.

I had a look through the CPA archive at the Mitchell LIbrary in Sydney today, but couldn’t find anything from the CPA’s end. I also haven’t been able to ascertain the text of Sharkey’s article, particularly as the journal of the MCP remains unmentioned in the letter. I’m unsure whether the MCP has an archive to investigate either.

I’d be interested in any help from other people – particularly those with a knowledge of the Malayan Communist Party, who might be able to steer me in the right direction with the unnamed journal. Once again, I throw things open to you, the readers…


Seminar at Flinders University October 24

This is just a quick post to remind anyone in the Adelaide area and interested in communist history that I will giving a paper tomorrow afternoon on my current research project. It will be the first time that I will publicly discussing my research so far. Details are on the flyer below:

seminar poster


If you are able to come along, it’d be great to see you all there. I will hopefully be putting a version of the paper on this blog in the near future.

Desperately seeking sources: The Negro Worker 1933-1938


One of the difficulties of conducting my research project, ‘Communism and Anti-Colonialism in the British Commonwealth’, is tracking down some sources, particularly those from the Comintern era. One important source that has been difficult to locate in Australia is The Negro Worker, a publication edited by George Padmore and affiliated with the Communist International. The document delivery service at my university has been able to source articles (contents for the journal listed here) from 1931-32, but later articles are proving harder (and more costly) to find.

negro worker

So I turn to my readers. Is there anyone out there with access (via hard copies or microfilm) to issues of The Negro Worker from the period 1933 to 1938 (and willing to make some copies for me)? Please let me know.

Help me declutter: VHS tapes seek good home/s

In this break from the world of academia and pop culture, I am currently attempting to declutter my house and first of the (inevitable) multitude of stuff to go are a bunch of VHS video tapes. I know that the technology is becoming obsolete, but there is some great stuff here! I’m not really after any financial gain and am happy to send them wherever, but any donations to the ‘help me buy more academic books’ fund would be welcome 😉

So here is the list (for international readers, these are all PAL videos, so work in Australian and UK VCRs):


Beastie Boys The Skills to Pay the Bills

Björk Vessel

Björk Live at Shepherd’s Bush Empire 1997

Björk Volumen

Kate Bush The Whole Story

The Cure Staring at the Sea: The Images

The Cure Show

DHR Digital Hardcore!! The Videos

Lush Nothing Natural 4AD Promo video (Nothing Natural/Superblast!/For Love)

Madonna The Immaculate Collection

New Order The Best of 

Nirvana Live! Tonight! Sold Out!

Pulp The Park is Mine: Live at Finsbury Park

Radiohead 7 Television Commercials

The Smiths The Complete Picture

Sonic Youth 1991: The Year That Punk Broke

The Stone Roses Blackpool Live

The Sugarcubes Murder and Killing in Hell

Film and TV


Dancer in the Dark

The Football Factory


Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi (widescreen 1995 edition)

Alexei Sayle’s Stuff

The Best Bits of The Late Show vol. 2, vol. 3


I’d rather these videos went to a good home, so please let me know if you’re interested. Am willing to send worldwide.

Did Thatcher really ‘owe nothing to women’s lib’? Tracking down that elusive quote

After Margaret Thatcher’s death in April this year, one of the debates that emerged was over whether Thatcher was a feminist and her role as a female political leader (for example, see this blogpost from Moonbat). In these debates, one quote was repeatedly referred to: ‘I owe nothing to women’s lib’. However I have spent most of the day trying to track down the source of this quote and it seems to be an invented quote (or at least a misquotation).

thatcher kitchen

Help from twitter and the Margaret Thatcher Foundation website has helped me find a quote from 1982 that is the most similar, but it is not as pithy as the invented one. In an interview on children’s TV show, CBTV, there was this following exchange:

Boy: Prime Minister, what do you think about Women’s Lib?

P.M: I’m not very keen on it.

Boy: You’re not?

P.M: No, because I think most of us got to our own position in life without Women’s Lib and we got here, not by saying ‘you’ve got to have more women doing so and so’ but saying ‘look, we’ve got the qualifications, why shouldn’t we have just as much a chance as a man?’ And you’ll find that so many male bastions were conquered that way, whereas Women’s Lib, I think, has been rather strident, concentrated on things which don’t really matter and, dare I say it, being rather unfeminine. Don’t you think that? What do the girls think, don’t you think Women’s Lib is sometimes like that?

Girls: Yes.

P.M: Do you like it?

Girl: Not really.

P.M: No, neither do I. Because, you see, you don’t need to cease to be feminine in order to do the job well, and anyway women have been in positions of authority in the past throughout history.

(What is particularly worrying about this exchange is that the girls respond, ‘not really’, when asked whether they like ‘Women’s Lib’)

In my research, I came across two other quotes by Thatcher relating to feminism and women’s liberation. One is the famous ‘I’m not a feminist’ from 1978. Thatcher definitely said this, but I think it is worth providing the wider context of the quote as well:

Barry St. John Nevill: You are a feminist——

Thatcher: No, I’m not a feminist.

Nevill: Well, you are a feminist, but not a militant feminist. By your election as Leader of the Conservative Party and ultimate Premiership——

Thatcher: Not too ultimate …   .

Nevill: How do you think you have helped women, and where do you think militant feminists have gone wrong?

Thatcher: I think they’ve become too strident. I think they have done great damage to the cause of women by making us out to be something we are not. Each person is different. Each has their own talents and abilities, and these are the things you want to draw and bring out. You don’t say: “I must get on because I’m a woman, or that I must get on because I’m a man”. You should say that you should get on because you have the combination of talents which are right for the job. The moment you exaggerate the question, you defeat your case.

One of the times when Thatcher was actually (somewhat) positive about women’s rights was in a 1982 speech for the Dame Margaret Corbett-Ashby Memorial Lecture. She praised women’s rights, but argued that Women’s Libbers were too ‘strident’ in their demands. The quote is:

The battle for women’s rights has been largely won. The days when they were demanded and discussed in strident tones should be gone for ever. And I hope they are. I hated those strident tones that you still hear from some Women’s Libbers’.

The Battle is largely won, but we must now see women’s rights in perspective and turn our attention to how we could use human rights to build the kind of world we wish our children to in.

From my quick scouring of the Thatcher Foundation website, these seem to be the most relevant quotes by Thatcher on feminism and women’s liberation, but I’d be keen to find some more. If anyone knows where the ‘I owe nothing to women’s lib’ is from, please let me know.

EDITED TO ADD: Stephen Murray directed me towards this snippet from The Observer on 1 December, 1974, although where The Observer sourced it from is still unknown:

Thatcher quote

Research query: Did the UK left wing press cover ‘alternative comedy’?

TYO series 1

I am currently turning my series of blog posts on The Young Ones and Thatcherism into a journal article and am trying to find an answer to the following question – did the left wing press in the UK (especially the CPGB’s Morning Star and Comment or the SWP’s Socialist Worker) feature any articles/reviews of ‘alternative comedy’ in the early-to-mid-1980s? While the British left did get enthusiastic about certain forms of popular youth culture during this period, I’m curious whether this extended to comedy. I’m particularly interested in finding out whether there were any reviews of The Young Ones when it was first aired.

If anyone has access to left wing publications from this period and can check for me, or if you have memories of the left covering the alternative comedy scene, please let me know. I will be eternally grateful.

‘Outside elements’ and the 1981 riots: The Thatcher government’s profiling of the British left

British Crime - Civil Disturbance - The Brixton Riots - London - 1981

I have recently come across this document on the Margaret Thatcher archive, which publishes relevant documents from the National Archives and from Thatcher’s personal papers, relating to the 1981 riots and the suspicion that ‘outside elements’ were involved in the disturbances. Peter Shipley, a researcher of the British far left and Conservative Party adviser, wrote a minute (titled ‘Left-Wing Extremists and the Riots’) outlining the role of the far left groups in the riots and their aftermath. It is interesting as it reveals right-wing thinking about the far left at the time and overestimates the influence of the far left in some instances.

Shipley rightly points out that the left had ‘no real part in the specific events which trigger[ed] off [the] rioting’, but proposed that they contributed to the disturbances in three ways:

  1. Firstly, ‘they help[ed] to intensify and rationalise anti-police feeling long before the riots’;
  2. Secondly, ‘the Left can intervene in the course of trouble, with offers of support and guidance’;
  3. Thirdly, ‘left-wing groups invariably step in with Defence Committees and all the paraphanalia [sic] of propaganda’

Shipley argued that Trotskyist groups were concentrating their efforts in inner-city areas affected by the riots, like Brixton and Toxteth. Shipley identified the Militant Tendency as the most prominent, but what is interesting is that the other groups mentioned were some of the more obscure left-wing groups around. The Workers Revolutionary Party, the Revolutionary Communist Group and the Revolutionary Communist Party (precursor to Spiked! Online) were all identified as having a presence in Brixton at the time of the riots. The Socialist Workers Party was noted for its leafleting in Brixton and its role in the Anti-Nazi League in Southall, but it was interesting to see that Shipley did not include them in the list of far left parties with a presence in Brixton. It is also interesting to note that the Communist Party of Great Britain, the largest far left group, received no mention at all.

Shipley also makes dubious links between the riots that were occurring and the ‘trouble’ in Northern Ireland, stating: ‘I wonder what extent any organised element in the Toxteth riots might have been and inspired by the city’s Irish contingent. The balaclava masks were very remiscient of Northern Ireland’.

Parts of this document formed part of a wider document created by the Prime Minister’s department, ‘Extremists and the Disorder’, which can be found in this digitised file from the National Archives. It is interesting to see how much Thatcher overestimated the far left and its pressure groups in the early 1980s.