Reviews

Review of ‘E.P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left’

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Just a quick one today. The French British history and culture site Cercles has just published my review of Cal Winslow’s edited volume, E.P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left. You can download it here.

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Book Review: ‘Searching for Lord Haw-Haw’ by Colin Holmes

The kind folk at Routledge sent me a copy of Searching for Lord Haw-Haw to review as promotion for their new Fascism and Far Right series and I am delighted to review the book below.

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Colin Holmes, Searching for Lord Haw-Haw: The Political Lives of William Joyce (London/New York: Routledge, 2017) pp. 494. ISBN 978-1-138-88886-9.
(£14.99 softcover/£75.00 hardcover)

After Oswald Mosley, William Joyce (infamously known as Lord Haw-Haw) is probably the most well-known British fascist of the inter-war period. A leading member of Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF), Joyce was forced from the party in 1937 and after passing through a series of pro-German groups and societies in the lead up to the war, fled to Berlin in the days before the Second World War started. Joyce joined a small bunch of English-speakers in Nazi Germany who worked for Joseph Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry, who broadcast pro-Nazi material over the airwaves and wrote similar tracts for distribution in German POW camps and elsewhere. As the deftest of these propagandists, Joyce became known as ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ to British listeners, who remained unaware of Joyce’s real identity (although several MI5 staff suspected that he was Haw-Haw). Captured by British soldiers trying to escape Germany at the end of the war, Joyce was repatriated to Britain to stand trial for treason. Despite having an American birth certificate (and hence US citizenship), Joyce was found to betrayed his allegiance to the British Crown and was hanged in early 1946.

Although there have been studies of Joyce’s life before, Colin Holmes, an expert historian on anti-Semitism in modern Britain, has undertaken considerable new research to bring a more well-rounded picture of Joyce and his motivations, both personal and political. Born in the United States, his family traveled to County Galway when he was a child and was a pro-Unionist protestant throughout his youth. Despite Holmes’ diligent research, there are aspects of Joyce’s life in Ireland that are unknown and the first chapter is possibly the weaker section of the biography. However his recruitment as an informant for the Royal Irish Constabulary during the Irish War of Independence and the battles he had with local Irish Republicans, explored in detail by Holmes, is important, because it shapes his future political outlook – fiercely pro-British, a believer in British imperialism and willing to be involved in political violence.

Moving to England in the 1920s, Joyce fancied himself as an academic and tried to pursue a career in English literary studies, while at the same time joining the Conservative Party. Soon Joyce found the Tories too timid and became involved the British Fascisti formed by the eccentric Rotha Lintorn-Orman. Joyce and future Imperial Fascist League leader Arnold Leese both joined a splinter party from the BF called the National Fascisti before Leese formed the Imperial Fascist League in 1929 and Joyce joined the BUF in 1932. One of the interesting things about Joyce for historians is that his journey on the right hand side of politics saw him travel through almost every organisation on the far right and Holmes does a great job to explore the various small and sinister organisations that Joyce encountered in both the 1920s and 1930s.

Joyce did not join Oswald Mosley’s New Party, but was an early member of the BUF, formed in late 1932 after Mosley travelled to the continent to witness Italian fascism in person. Joyce soon found himself in a leading position within the BUF and was known as a confident, yet vitriolic, public speaker. Holmes shows that Joyce gained considerable influence within the BUF during his tenure, but as his star rose, his relationship with Mosley soured and was eventually excluded from the BUF in early 1937.

From the time that he was kicked out of the BUF until his leaving for Germany in August 1939, Joyce, again, was involved in a number of organisations on the British far right and who pushed for stronger links between Britain and Germany. As well as the National Socialist League that he founded with fellow ex-BUFers John Beckett and John MacNab, Joyce was also associated with the Nordic League, the Anglo-German Fellowship and the Right Club. Despite a small number of wealthy benefactors, Holmes shows that Joyce was always looking for sources of income for his political ventures and his associations with many of those who pro-German were as economically motivated as they were political. Holmes also shows that MI5 had penetrated deeply into these circles by the late 1930s, although they were unable to detain Joyce before he fled to Germany in the month before the war.

Joyce and his wife moved to Germany just before the outbreak of the Second World War, using his British passport to leave the country, but not becoming a German citizen until after the war started. For several months in the early days of the war, Joyce assisted the Nazis while holding a British passport, even though he was born in the United States, and was later to be a naturalised German. This is an important detail which becomes relevant at this 1945 trial. Holmes emphasises the irony of the extreme British patriot having to renounce his British citizenship and pledge allegiance to a foreign power during the time of war.

While in Germany, Joyce worked for Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry and while also authoring works on Germany’s future triumph over Western Europe and the bankruptcy of modern Britain, he was most well-known for broadcasting Nazi propaganda in English. Although he was not the first Lord Haw-Haw, a pseudonym used by several different broadcasters, Joyce came to personify the character. Looking at the effect that Lord Haw-Haw’s broadcasts had upon British morale during the war, Holmes uses Mass Observation records to show that while many British listeners dismissed Lord Haw-Haw’s ravings and thought of him as foolish, others were perturbed by his message, particularly as these broadcast often included information about Allied losses not covered in the British media. The book also shows that from the very beginning, the security services were also listening to Lord Haw-Haw and had been informed by several contacts that the voice of Haw-Haw was indeed Joyce.

Holmes depicts how Joyce, who desired attention and praise from his German employers, was given favourable treatment in the early years of the war, but as the war dragged on, this favourable treatment dried up and Joyce started to resent living in a country where wartime restrictions were so harshly felt. Increasingly plagued by alcoholism and abusive towards his wife, Joyce raged against his situation. As the Soviets got closer to Berlin, Joyce and his wife fled westwards and Joyce was eventually captured near the German-Danish border in late May 1945 by British soldiers, who shot him in the buttocks during a quick scuffle. Injured, he was taken back to Britain and within a few months was to be put on trial for treason.

The prosecution of Joyce was complex as it hinged upon the fact that Joyce, although an American citizen by birth, had travelled to Germany on a British passport and from the outbreak of the war until July 1940 (when he and his wife became naturalised German citizens) had broadcast at the behest of the Nazi regime, who were at war with Britain. Holding a British passport implied allegiance to the British Crown and by working for the Nazis while holding this passport, the prosecution argued, Joyce committed treason. Joyce was convinced that his American birth certificate would save him, as it had Eamon de Valera who was pardoned for treason after the 1916 Easter Rising.

Holmes navigates the intricate legal arguments put forward by both the prosecution and defence, though both the initial trail and the appeal. The reader is left with the impression that the successful prosecution and the upholding of the guilty verdict was a controversial interpretation of the law as it stood, with a suggestion that it was unlikely that Joyce would be ever be found not guilty. Once the guilty verdict was upheld in December 1945, execution was quick to follow and in early January 1946, Joyce was hung at Wandsworth Prison in London. Joyce seemed to have accepted his fate and according to Holmes, showed little regret for his political views and where they had led him since the 1920s.

Colin Holmes has done more than write a biography of Joyce, with a book that also explores the social history of the British far right in the inter-war period, outlines the intrigues of the British security services during this era and delves into the legal history surrounding Joyce’s trial for treason. It is an enjoyable read that uses the life of Joyce to traverse down a number of historical paths, tying together several fields of historical scholarship. Overall an ambitious, yet very accomplished, book.

You can order a copy of Searching for Lord Haw-Haw here.

New publications: A journal article and a book review.

This is a quick post to let people know about two new publications of mine. Firstly, the International Review of Social History has published an article titled ‘National Liberation for Whom? The Postcolonial Question, the Communist Party of Great Britain, and the Party’s African and Caribbean Membership’. Here’s the abstract:

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) had a long tradition of anti-colonial activism since its foundation in 1920 and had been a champion of national liberation within the British Empire. However, the Party also adhered to the idea that Britain’s former colonies, once independent, would want to join a trade relationship with their former coloniser, believing that Britain required these forms of relationship to maintain supplies of food and raw materials. This position was maintained into the 1950s until challenged in 1956–1957 by the Party’s African and Caribbean membership, seizing the opportunity presented by the fallout of the political crises facing the CPGB in 1956. I argue in this article that this challenge was an important turning point for the Communist Party’s view on issues of imperialism and race, and also led to a burst of anti-colonial and anti-racist activism. But this victory by its African and Caribbean members was short-lived, as the political landscape and agenda of the CPGB shifted in the late 1960s.

You can access the article here.

Secondly, the Australian Labour History journal has published a review of mine, looking at two books concentrating on the Cold War and the New Left in Australia. The two books are Meredith Burgmann’s edited volume, Dirty Secrets: Our ASIO Files, and Ann Curthoys and Joy Damousi’s edited volume, What Did You Do in the Cold War, Daddy? Personal Stories from a Troubled Time. You can access the review here.

Review of ‘Against the Grain’ in International Socialism Journal

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This is a quick post to let readers of this blog know that the latest issue of International Socialism Journal, the theoretical journal of the Socialist Workers Party, has published a review of our book, Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956. You can read the full review (for free) here.

The review isn’t too bad, but concentrates on the contributions by current and former IS/SWP members. It concludes with:

Against the Grain uncovers a history of activists, actions and arguments of the post-1956 period that might otherwise not have been shared. However, it is important that the book is read with a grain of salt. For revolutionaries, the struggle of the working class and the oppressed is always the starting point. The history of the left is only useful when seen in the context of the broader class struggle; as a way of understanding how revolutionaries and other left groups have intervened in an attempt to shape and (hopefully) push the struggle forward. Unfortunately, Against the Grain does not always manage to do this successfully, as it has a tendency to look inward. Still, the anecdotes and analysis it provides give insights which, if read carefully, can help to inform revolutionaries today.

New review essay: Solidarity and transnational labour history

The latest issue of the journal Twentieth Century Communism is out now through Lawrence & Wishart. It features, amongst other things, a review essay by me on the concept of solidarity and its place within transnational labour history. The essay looks at the following four books:

David Featherstone Solidarity: Hidden Histories and Geographies of Internationalism (London/New York: Zed Books, 2012)

Christian Høgsbjerg C.L.R. James in Imperial Britain (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014)

Neville Kirk Labour and the Politics of Empire: Britain and Australia 1900 to the Present (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011)

Irina Filatova & Apollon Davidson The Hidden Thread: Russia and South Africa in the Soviet Era (Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, 2013)

If you use academia.edu, you can access the essay here.

Review of ‘Against the Grain’ in latest Labour History Review

Just a quick post to let you all know that the latest issue of Labour History Review has a very nice review of our book, Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956, by Lewis Young. I have scanned it and posted it below. And I’m happy to say that the three topics suggested for the follow up volume will be in the next volume!

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History Carnival 152

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The History Carnival continues and like Bakhtin would have wanted, here it comes to distract us all from our work (As Shit Academics Say reminds us, ‘You should be writing”). Hatful of History is delighted to bring you a selection of the recent bloggings on history and/or by historians.

The terrorist attacks in Paris last month brought out several different historical issues on what Brett Holman coined the ‘historioblogosphere’ (or the ‘unorthodox scholarly publishing platforms’ as Melissa Castan has phrased it). Peter Frost in the Morning Star looked at an earlier massacre in the French capital, the killing of over 200 protestors marching against the French occupation of Algeria in October 1961. Mark Humphries, guest posting at Historian on the Edge, rebuked Niall Ferguson’s lazy comparison between the global West’s ‘war on terror’ and the fall of the Roman Empire. And the anti-immigrant hysteria after the attacks was critiqued at Frog in a Well, using the example of the internment of Japanese Americans in the USA in the Second World War.

Other news stories, such the British MP John McDonnell’s quoting of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book in the House of Commons, led to Adam Cathcart at The Conversation to explain the hullabaloo was all about and why such a little book is so important. In more local British news, an archaeological project by the University of Reading at Glastonbury Abbey gave rise to a discussion, over at the Clerk of Oxford, about the use of the legend of King Arthur by monks at the Abbey over the centuries.

Speaking of the Middle Ages, the wonderful Notches blog featured a post by Katherine Harvey on masturbation and the Church at this time, showing that ideas about solitary sex were more complicated than we would think. The Prosecution Project blog has also recently included a discussion of the history of sexual behaviour, looking at court documents that reveal the lives of ‘queer’ Queenslanders and soldiers during the Second World War. Inspired by this post, Marion Diamond at Historians Are Past Caring has written about long-term same-sex relationships that avoided the legal gaze.

Those who have not been fortunate enough to escape the legal gaze have been the urban poor, who have often had to beg to maintain their existence. Brodie Waddell at The Many Headed Monster looks at the disparaging terms used to describe beggars historically and the use of the term ‘rich beggar’. On the urban poor in the twentieth century, the blog ‘Labourers, Porters, Charwomen and Needlewomen’ discusses those who lived on Tiger Yard Camberwell estate in 1930s London. At the Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, George Campbell Gosling explores how class, money and ‘respectability’ all informed how women were treated in maternity hospitals in the inter-war period before the establishment of the National Health Service. Still on the subject of hospitals, Helen King at Nursing Clio has looked at the history of x-rays and the treatment of the wrists over time.

Keeping with the first half of the twentieth century, Brett Holman at Airminded has argued against using the term ‘blitz’ to describe aerial bombing in the First World War. And tenuously, one of the German cities that was the recipient of much aerial bombing in the Second World War was Dresden, which then had the (possibly mis-) fortune of being rebuilt while part of the German Democratic Republic. Dresden has been, for many, a symbol of the downside of German reunification since the 1990s, but many were cheering, as The Old International noted, when local football team Dynamo Dresden unfurled the largest banner in Europe. November also the anniversary of the collapse of East Germany and Ned Richardson-Little blogged about the ‘long fall’ of the Berlin Wall at his new blog, Superfluous Answers to Necessary Questions.

While historians have focused heavily on the reasons why the GDR collapsed in 1989, there is also a growing literature on GDR (and the rest of the Soviet system) and their international solidarity with the ‘Third World’. The Imperial and Global History, run by the University of Exeter, featured another outstanding post on Soviet internationalism and Latin America by Tobias Rupprecht. At the African American Intellectual History Society blog, Reena Goldthree has written about an earlier form of internationalism, Garveyism and Pan-Africanism, and attempts by Garveyites to create a global mass movement, which rivalled the anti-colonialism of the inter-war Communist International. As well as fractious relationship with various national liberation movements, the international communist movement had problems with the women’s movement during the inter-war period. Writing at the University of Sheffield’s History Matters blog, Ben Lewis explores the role that Clara Zetkin played as a leading figure in the Bolsheviks and her role in the women’s movement.

Based on the research done by University College Dublin’s Mary McAuliffe, the Dublin Inquirer’s Louisa McGrath has also written recently about revolutionary Irish women and looks at the role that these women, particularly lesbians, played in the 1916 revolution. With next year being the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, Liam Ó Ruaric has outlined at the Irish Revolution blog, the global significance of the revolution.

Lastly, Sharon Howard, in last month’s History Carnival at Early Modern Notes, asked where history was going next. Lucy Robinson’s exciting blog post on mass observation and her diaries from the 1980s throws up ideas about the new directions that history may take us. And over at the University of Birmingham’s Modern British Studies blog, Kathryn Robinson writes about using 1980s sitcoms to analyse Thatcherite Britain.

So keep blogging! And reading blogs! And if you read something great over the next month, use the History Carnival nomination form. Art and Architecture, Mainly is up next on January 1, 2016.