Month: March 2014

CPSA and anti-colonialism beyond its borders

I have started my archival research in South Africa and am currently ploughing through the extensive collection of Jack and Ray Simons’ papers. One thing that is very noticeable, but not particularly surprising, is that the issue of ‘race’ and the relationship between black and white workers is present in almost every Communist Party of South Africa document. Compared with the documents of the Communist Parties of Great Britain and Australia, the CPSA seemed to be very aware of how the effects of ‘race’ and colonialism affected the labour movement in South Africa. The CPA did discuss Aboriginal rights and campaigned against the discrimination of Chinese migrants, but these issues were often relegated to the back and were peripeheral to the CPA’s main economic and political concerns. The CPGB also discussed issues of ‘race’ and colonialism (usually the ‘colour bar’ in the colonies) but once again, these ideas were not central to the CPGB, unlike the CPSA.

However, while the CPSA was very aware of the issues of ‘race’ and colonialism within South Africa, I haven’t seen a lot about anti-colonialism beyond its borders (yet). We know that the CPSA was an underground force in Southern Rhodesia and other British colonies in Southern/Eastern Africa in the 1940s and 1950s, but activism beyond the Union of South Africa is under-documented in the papers that I am currently looking at. (Obviously, once the SACP goes into exile in the 1960s, there is much more emphasis on the Party’s internationalism, especially in Africa)

This lack of internationalist anti-colonialism may be explained by the changes in the international communist movement through the Popular Front period. A number of scholars have argued that during the Popular Front era, anti-colonial activism by Communist Parties in the West was subsumed by broad-based anti-fascist work (although conflated in much of the contemporary communist literature as ‘anti-imperialism’), which meant co-operating, to a certain degree, with the pro-imperialist (yet anti-fascist) sections of the bourgeoisie. Some scholars, such as Neil Redfern (who focusses on the CPGB), have asserted that this shift in focus from anti-colonialism to anti-fascism was driven by directives by the Communist International, which changed with shifts in course with Soviet foreign policy. To some extent, Redfern’s arguments are true, but I think his dismissal of the CPGB’s actions as ‘Browderist’ is a bit much.

The reason I raise this is that I found a document from 1939 in the Simons’ papers that takes an alternative stance on the Comintern directing the international communist movement away from anti-colonial work. In a substantial document prepared for the CPSA’s 1939 conference, the Party stated:

It is true that the Party has committed a number of serious mistakes of a right character, such as, inactivity of a number of Party members, neglect in developing the National Liberation struggle which also is an anti-fascist struggle under semi-colonial conditions. It is also true that the Party has failed to carry out anti-fascist propaganda amongst the native and coloured masses, which has been interpreted by some comrades that it is the policy of the C.I. to tone down the colonial struggle, because of the possibility of Britain fighting on the side of the Soviet Union in a war against fascist aggression. At no time was it the policy of the C.I. to tone down the colonial struggle, this can clearly be seen [in] the struggles of the colonial and semi-colonial peoples in China, India, Palestine and South American Republics. What the C.I. did say was that the C.P. of South Africa should stop splitting hairs on the Independent Native republic which is the strategic slogan of the Party and which is the late stage in the Liberation struggle of this country. But comrades will realise that we have not as yet succeeded in [e]ven building an effective anti-Imperialist movement amongst the Africans nor has the class struggle and national struggle reach the stage that would make this slogan a rallying cry for acting and capture political power. To blame the C.I. for our weaknesses is going a bit too far and clearly shows the ideological trend of some comrades.

(Willie Kalk, ‘Annexure 1: Minutes of a Meeting of the CPSA, held in Johannesburg, Dec. 29th 1938 to Jan. 1st, 1939’, pp. 3-4, O13.1, Jack and Ray Simons Papers, University of Cape Town Special Collections)

Hopefully this is a sign that the archives here in South Africa will have a lot of useful material for my project!



The Smiths and the Anti-Apartheid Movement: “You have incredibly good taste”

I’ve been wanting to write something about the new online archive of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement and had been looking for some angle as a way in, inspired by Gavin Brown’s brilliant write-up on the archive’s material on the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group. And then I found this poster.


This is the poster for a benefit gig for the AAM held in December 1986 at the Brixton Academy. It may be unremarkable in the history of the AAM, but for Smiths fans, it is easily recognisable as the last ever Smiths live show. On the AAM archive, the poster is briefly described as thus:

Poster advertising a gig featuring The Smiths and The Fall to raise funds for the AAM at the Royal Albert Hall on 14 November 1986. The concert was one of a series organised by Artists Against Apartheid, formed by Jerry Dammers in April 1986. The concert was postponed because Johnny Marr was injured in a car accident and it was rescheduled at a different venue.

The importance of the gig is discussed on the excellent Smiths/Morrissey website Passions Just Like Mine, which describes the gig in much detail:

This concert, put together as a benefit for the Artists Against Apartheid, was originally due to be held at the Royal Albert Hall on 14 November 1986 but it had to be rescheduled following Johnny’s car accident. It turned out to be the last time the Smiths were on stage together, bar a few television appearances. The gig was a much more personal and lively affair than the previous Brixton Academy concert in October when the tensions behind the scenes and the exhaustion of touring could not be hidden. There was a great complicity between the members of the band, nothing hinted that within a year the Smiths would be no more. During “Still Ill”, Johnny moved next to Andy and Morrissey joined them. They could be seen smiling and laughing, as if they were in on some inside joke.

What makes this gig even more special is that it turned out to be the only time songs like “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others”, the upcoming single “Shoplifters Of The World Unite” and the “London”/”Miserable Lie” medley were ever performed by the Smiths. “This Night Has Opened My Eyes” which hadn’t been played in a long time was also done. Finally, “William, It Was Really Nothing” and the live staple “Hand In Glove” which had been dropped on the recent British leg of the “The Queen Is Dead” tour also returned.

Mike teased the audience with the drum beat to “Panic” then Morrissey said hello before the band launched into “Bigmouth Strikes Again”. The latter song was again extended with a slightly longer intro. The audience was surprised to find that at the end of “London”, soon after the usual live change from “he really goes!” to “my God he goes!”, the band moved from the song’s bridge into the fast-paced outro to “Miserable Lie”. As they switched from the former to the latter, Morrissey wildly whipped the microphone cord in loops. Instead of singing “I’m just a country mile behind the world”, he returned to the early lyric “I’d run a hundred miles away from you”. The medley was extremely well received, the crowd roared in appreciation and Morrissey thanked them by saying “You have incredibly good taste…”

“Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others” was the only song from “The Queen Is Dead” which had never been played live before. It was therefore performed here for the first and last time ever. Morrissey added an extra verse to it, it went “On the shop floor, there’s a calendar, as obvious as snow, as if we didn’t know”. This new verse and the song’s acoustic adaptation made it one of the highlights of the evening. Morrissey replied to the loud applause that number received by growling loudly “Hello!”. A few songs later, the soon to be released “Shoplifters Of The World Unite” was introduced with the announcement “This is our new single…”

After the latter song Morrissey picked a letter from the floor and placed it on the drum rise. He then picked a flower, crumpled it, threw it away, and placed another one inside his jacket, hugging it next to his heart before sending it back into the crowd. As was tradition at that point in time, he didn’t sing the repeated title chorus at the end of the crowd favourite “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”. The singer acknowledged the audience’s unfamiliarity with the following song by following its performance with the introduction “Thank you, that song was called ‘Is It Really So Strange?’.” He reversed two lines at the beginning of it and sang “Oh yes you can me and you can kick me”. A line was wittily inverted in “Cemetry Gates” to “We stonely read the graves”. Morrissey also sang “They were born, they lived, they died” instead of the usual longer line. In “Panic” he highlighted the “hang the DJ” lyric by swinging a noose around.

Returning to the stage for the first of two encores Morrissey told the audience “Thank you, we love you” then launched into a roaring version of “The Queen Is Dead”. He waved a board around during the latter number, but instead of saying THE QUEEN IS DEAD like it did earlier in the year, the board now had the words TWO LIGHT ALES PLEASE on it. The man also made a slight lyric change in that number when he sang “hemmed in like a boar between arches” instead of “stuck like a boar between arches”. At this point fans started to climb on stage. There would be about a dozen of them making it up there throughout the two encores. After this first encore Morrissey threw his shirt into the crowd and the band left the stage again. They soon returned for a final two-song encore. Morrissey roared loudly “MORE!?”, paused a bit, then teasingly added “No?!”. Final song “Hand In Glove” ended with Morrissey wailing in a high pitched voice for about 20 seconds. No one knew this at the time, but with its final line “I’ll probably never see you again”, “Hand In Glove”, the band’s first ever release, couldn’t have been a better way of saying goodbye to their audience.

Tickets were £8, £7, £6 and £5.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can now watch the whole show online:

The performance of ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’ (at 14.00) was eventually released on the ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ CD single in 1992.

So there you go, a great overlap of musical and political history!

Tony Benn interviewed by Eric Hobsbawm (1980)

Hobsbawm Benn

The death of Tony Benn this week is the second major loss for the Labourite left after the unexpected passing of RMT leader Bob Crow. As usual, the internet is already filling with obituaries, tributes to and commentaries on Benn, so I’m not sure what I can really add. So I thought readers of the blog might be interested in an interview with Benn conducted by Eric Hobsbawm in 1980 for Marxism Today. It makes for very interesting reading and highlights some of the tensions within the Labour left in the early 1980s, as well as the hope that Labour could mount a serious challenge to Thatcherism during her first term.

And for those looking at the Labour Party today, Benn made an interesting argument for how to rejuvenate Labour – through deeper trade union involvement – which seems to be the opposite to what Miliband and others are calling for nowadays. Benn said:

We must.. win the battle of Party democracy. If the trade union movement is to be induced to take a new and deeper interest in socialism, which is a precondition for mass support and social change, trade union members must be able to be sure that the policies that go through Party Conference will actually be in the manifesto and will be implemented by accountable parliamentary leaders.

If we get those elements right: a broad Party; an effective organisation to allow the trade unions to play a more active part in the Party; and a capacity to translate policy into action by using a parliamentary leadership that remains accountable, then I think we have a chance of success.

Some might say that this interview exemplifies the ‘wrong’ kind of politics being espoused by Marxism Today, Hobsbawm and the Labour left in the 1980s, but whatever your politics, it is still a fascinating interview.

New stuff for those interested in communist history

For those interested in communist history, I just thought I’d flag two new publications.


Firstly, there is a new issue (#6) of Twentieth Century Communism journal has just been published by Lawrence & Wishart. Now published twice a year, this journal has some of cutting-edge historical research on communism (particularly communism in the Western world). This issue is dedicated to the topic of anti-communism and there are two free articles – one on the historiography of anti-communism and one on the different types of anti-communism in the twentieth century. For an academic journal, Twentieth Century Communism is refreshingly affordable for non-academic reader, so I would urge you all to subscribe!


Secondly, the CPGB have now published 1000 issues of the Weekly Worker (beginning in 1993) and to celebrate have posted two articles on the history of the CPGB and The Leninistone looking at the legacy of The Leninist and one on the first conference of The Leninist group. The CPGB have already published all the back issues of The Leninist in pdf format, which is a great resource for future research into the dying days of the original CPGB.

That is it for now. So get reading!

The ideological gymnastics of R. Palme Dutt: How to avoid the ‘inter-imperialist war’ issue


During my research on the relationship between the Communist Parties of Great Britain and India, I came across this reproduction of an interview with Rajani Palme Dutt with the People’s Age (an organ of the CPI) from 1946. In the interview, Dutt is confronted with a speech by Stalin (made in February 1946) that seemed to overturn the well-established Stalinist line that the first years of the Second World War (September 1939 to June 1941) was an ‘inter-imperialist war’ (as seen with this 1939 flyer produced by the CPGB). In February 1946, Stalin announced:

[T]he Second World War differed substantially in character from the first. It must be borne in mind that before attacking the Allied countries the major fascist states – Germany, Japan and Italy – destroyed the last vestiges of bourgeois-democratic liberties at home and established there a cruel, terroristic regime, trampled upon the principle of sovereignty and free development of small countries, proclaimed as their own the policy of seizing foreign territory and publicly stated that they were aiming at world domination and the spreading of the fascist regime all over the world; and by seizing Czechoslovakia and the central regions of China, the Axis Powers showed that they were ready to carry out their threat to enslave all the peace-loving peoples. In view of this, the Second World War against the Axis Powers, unlike the First World War, assumed from the very outset the character of an anti-fascist war, a war of liberation, one of the tasks of which was to restore democratic liberties. The entry of the Soviet Union into the war against the Axis Powers could only augment – and really did augment – the anti-fascist and liberating character of the Second World War.

To align with this new argument by Stalin and not contradict the older ‘inter-imperialist’ line, Dutt had to argue that the Second World War didn’t start in 1939, but actually in the mid-1930s:

When did the Second World War begin? Everybody knows it did not begin in 1939. It began before that… We are all aware how we have traced its development right from its inception over Manchuria in 1931, growing and expanding from that to Abyssinia, to Spain, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and broadening out into the character of a full world war… It is perfectly clear that the struggle of the Chinese people against the attack of Japanese Fascism, already beginning from 1931 in Manchuria and extending to China as a whole in 1937, was an anti-Fascist people’s struggle. The struggle of the Abyssinian people, supported by the international progressive forces all over the world, against Italian Fascism was a liberation struggle against Fascism. The struggle of the Spanish Republic against German and Italian Fascism, beginning from the summer of 1936 and drawing upon itself all the forces of the world on either side was a highly developed international struggle against Fascism.

Like the idea of the ‘phony war’, Dutt characterised the ‘inter-imperialist war’ as merely a phase’ within the wider conflict:

In the course of this entire development, a phase arose in September 1939 when CHAMBERLAIN and DALADIER declared war on Hitler, not for the purpose of carrying forward the struggle against Fascism, but in fact in pursuance of their same line of policy that they were already pursuing from Munich onwards, that is, to turn Germany from the West to the East. The reactionary character of their policy was shown by the complete passivity in relation to Germany and the concentration of their military preparations through Finland for war on the Soviet Union, which was only prevented by the speed with which the Red Army broke the Mannerheim Line. All this was one phase, one episode within the Second World War. It was an episode entirely expressing Anglo-French Imperialist policy, basically anti-democratic, basically anti-Soviet, and having nothing in common with the anti-Fascist liberation struggle of the peoples. That Imperialist episode ended in the most disastrous consequences, with the over-running of Europe by Nazism. But from this arose the further consequence – the rise of the liberation struggle in Europe through the resistance movements led by Communist Parties against the Nazi occupying forces… As a result when the opportunity came in June 1941 for the alliance to be reached with the Soviet Union, the same Britain which two years earlier had rejected that alliance when offered by the Soviet Union, now with the complete agreement of all political parties and sections immediately seized the chance of that alliance. Thus, there at last developed the full and united struggle of all peoples against Fascism and the victory over Fascism, for which we Communists had striven consistently from the outset. That is the total character of the development of the Second World War, the historical character of which was this liberation struggle of the peoples against Fascism and within which the Imperialist phase of the war, the reactionary policy and ‘phoney war’ of Anglo-French Imperialism in 1939, is one episode and not the beginning of the war.

Dutt referred to Stalin’s History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) from 1938 to strengthen his assertion that the Second World War had already begun by 1939. In Stalin’s 1938 book, he talked about the ‘second imperialist war’ and stated:

All these facts show that a second imperialist war has actually begun. It began stealthily, without any declaration of war. States and nations have, almost imperceptibly, slipped into the orbit of a second imperialist war. It was the three aggressor states, the fascist ruling circles of Germany, Italy and Japan, that began the war in various parts of the world. It is being waged over a huge expanse of territory, stretching from Gibraltar to Shanghai. It has already drawn over five hundred million people into its orbit. In the final analysis, it is being waged against the capitalist interests of Great Britain, France and the U.S.A., since its object is a redivision of the world and of the spheres of influence in favour of the aggressor countries and at the expense of the so-called democratic states.

This idea of a ‘second imperialist war’ was not just limited to Stalin (and revived by Dutt). In September 1939, Mao Tse Tung announced that the ‘second imperialist war’ had begun, but referred to the war only breaking in 1939. The Trotskyist Fourth International also referred to the conflict in 1940 as a ‘new imperialist war’, but again, specified that this new war had broke out in 1939.

I haven’t found reference in any other pieces of CPGB literature to the Second World War actually beginning before 1939 (but it is still early days) and I’m wondering whether this was just a one-off ideological gymnastic routine by Dutt. If anyone has any other information about this issue, please get in touch!

EDITED TO ADD: I found this in the April 1946 editorial of Dutt’s journal Labour Monthly which is very close to the wording of Stalin’s 1946 speech:

Dutt war

Endorsements for our forthcoming book

Palgrave cover

I’m pretty chuffed at these two endorsements we have received for our forthcoming book, Race, Gender and the Body in British Immigration Control: Subject to Examination (Palgrave Macmillan) and would like to share them with you all:

“An important and revelatory study of a shameful episode in 20th century British immigration history that was shaped by imperial racism.” – Alan Travis, Home Affairs Editor, The Guardian
“It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of Smith and Marmo’s study. Their chilling documentation of abuses permitted – and vigorously denied – by the Home Office represents feminist scholarship at its best.” – Philippa Levine, Mary Helen Thompson Centennial Professor in the Humanities, University of Texas at Austin, US

These endorsements are up on the Palgrave website at the moment and remember that you can pre-order the book now.

From Scarman to Macpherson to Ellison

Since the release of the Ellison report on Thursday that looked at possible corruption and subversive undercover policing in the Stephen Lawrence case, as well as Theresa May’s announcement that there will be an inquiry into undercover police techniques since the 1990s, people have been debating whether the police had progressed in anyway since the Macpherson Report in 1999 described the Metropolitan Police as ‘institutionally racist’. Looking back at the progress (or lack thereof) between Lord Scarman’s 1981 report into the Brixton riots and Macpherson’s 1999 report, was it unrealistic for people to think that Macpherson’s findings would alter the way the police functioned (particularly in the relationship with ethnic minorities)? In 1999, Stuart Hall wrote:

Those expecting Macpherson to usher in a new epoch in black/police relations had therefore better think again. The sound of police doors – and minds – slamming shut against the drubbing and exposure they have had to endure resounds across the land.

A post-Macpherson police force coincided with a post-9/11 worldview and while elements of the police hierarchy were keen to comply with Macpherson’s recommendations, in many ways, the police became more combative, more secretive and more discriminatory. In 2009, The Guardian reported that between 2006/07 and 2007/08,  that stop and searches of Afro-Caribbean people had risen 322 per cent, while stop and searches of Asian people had risen 277 per cent. In the Reading the Riots report published in the wake of the 2011 riots, it noted that many respondents felt that the police operated as a criminal gang, with the report saying that there was a feeling that the police were ‘a collective force unto themselves’. Derek McGhee wrote about the police in the post-Macpherson era:

one could conclude that the desire to police ‘street’ criminality, or more accurately, ‘black’ street criminality, through the disproportionate stopping and searching of young African-Caribbean men on British streets has, in the end, overridden the desire to eradicate institutionalized racism from policing practices.

So Theresa May has announced another inquiry into policing procedures. While independent scrutiny of police conduct is always welcome, it is hard to believe that the matter of police corruption, discrimination and inappropriate operational behavior will be in any way resolved by this forthcoming inquiry.