Sectarianism

Announcing the chapter list for ‘Waiting for the Revolution: The British Far Left from 1956’

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Image source: Getty Images

Now that we have entered the copy-editing phase, Matthew Worley and I are happy to announce the chapter list for our forthcoming volume with Manchester University Press, Waiting for the Revolution: The British Far Left from 1956. It is the second volume that Matt and I have co-edited for MUP (the first being Against the Grain) and we are very excited to showcase new scholarship by a range of established and upcoming scholars (including a number of activist-scholars). Like the previous volume, we have tried to cover a wide variety of different groups and movements and hope that these chapters inspire further research into the British (and international) far left. So here is chapter list:

Introduction: The continuing importance of the history of the British far left – Evan Smith and Matthew Worley

1          Revolutionary vanguard or agent provocateur: students and the far left on English university campuses, c. 1970–90 – Jodi Burkett

2          Not that serious? The investigation and trial of the Angry Brigade, 1967–72 – J. D. Taylor

3          Protest and survive: the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Labour Party and civil defence in the 1980s – Jacquelyn Arnold

4          Anti-apartheid solidarity in the perspectives and practices of the British far left in the 1970s and ’80s – Gavin Brown

5          ‘The Merits of Brother Worth’: the International Socialists and life in a Coventry car factory, 1968–75 – Jack Saunders

6          Making miners militant? The Communist Party of Great Britain in the National Union of Mineworkers, 1956–85 – Sheryl Bernadette Buckley

7          Networks of solidarity: the London left and the 1984–85 miners’ strike – Diarmaid Kelliher

8          ‘You have to start where you’re at’: politics and reputation in 1980s Sheffield – Daisy Payling

9          Origins of the present crisis? The emergence of ‘left-wing’ Scottish nationalism,      1956–79 – Rory Scothorne and Ewan Gibbs

10        A miner cause? The persistence of left nationalism in postwar Wales – Daryl Leeworthy

11        The British radical left and Northern Ireland during ‘the Troubles’ – Daniel Finn

12        The point is to change it: a short account of the Revolutionary Communist Party – Michael Fitzpatrick

13        The Militant Tendency and entrism in the Labour Party – Christopher Massey

14        Understanding the formation of the Communist Party of Britain – Lawrence Parker

We hope that the volume will be available by the end of the year, or in early 2018. Further details will be on this blog as they come to us.

For those attending the Modern British Studies conference at the University of Birmingham in July, Matt and several of the contributing authors will be speaking about the collection. More details to follow soon.

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CFP: From Civil Rights to the Bailout (NIU Galway)

Here is a post from my friend David Convery:

SOCIAL MOVEMENTS, WORKERS AGITATION AND LEFT-WING ACTIVISM IN IRELAND, 1968-2010

CALL FOR PAPERS

Irish Centre for Histories of Labour and Class

NUI Galway

19-20 June 2015

From the Civil Rights Movement to contemporary protests against austerity, the years since 1968 have witnessed widespread and varied social movements in communities, workplaces and colleges throughout Ireland, North and South, that have fought for, and resisted, social change. These movements have spurred the growth of numerous organisations ranging from those advocating limited reform, to those advancing revolutionary change in society. However, despite its immediate relevance to an understanding of contemporary Ireland, the lack of historical research conducted in the agents and resisters of social change since 1968 is a noticeable gap in the study of class and politics in Ireland. This interdisciplinary conference hopes to address this. We welcome scholarly contributions of 20 minutes from established academics to students on any issue that falls under the remit of the conference title. The conference also affords us the opportunity to preserve and generate sources for the benefit of future researchers. We hope to offer workshops on oral history and the preservation, including digitisation, of documentation such as leaflets, posters and periodicals. To this end, we especially want to hear from activists in movements and organisations from the period who may be interested in sharing their experiences and documentation in a friendly and open environment.

Possible topics for papers include but are not limited to:

  • Civil Rights in Northern Ireland
  • Trade union growth, activism, and change
  • Workplace strikes/occupations
  • Left Social Democratic groups (e.g. Socialist Labour Party, Liaison of the Left, etc)
  • Socialist Republicanism
  • Trotskyist, Communist, and other Leninist groups
  • Anarchist and other libertarian groups
  • Catholic Worker, Christian Socialist groups
  • Left-wing periodicals
  • Community campaigns (e.g. housing, drugs, hospital closures, water charges)
  • Second Wave Feminism and Women’s rights (e.g. equal pay, access to contraception, divorce, abortion rights)
  • LGBT rights
  • Anti-globalisation movement
  • Anti-war movement
  • Solidarity campaigns on issues abroad (e.g. Nicaragua, Vietnam, Miners’ Strike, apartheid in South Africa)
  • Student activism
  • Media representation of social movements, trade unionism, and left-wing activism

If you wish to present a paper, please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short biography including affiliation, if any, by 31 March 2015 to David Convery at david.convery@nuigalway.ie

If you were/are an activist in this area and are interested in attending, please let us know at the same address by the same date. We would be especially grateful if you could inform us if you are willing to share your experiences as part of an oral history interview and/or have documentation which would be of interest. All documentation will remain the possession of the owner.

Further information about the conference can be found here: https://fromcivilrightstothebailout.wordpress.com/

New left history resource: SLL/WRP’s Labour Review & Fourth International

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This is just a quick post to let the usual left-wing trainspotters that the Encyclopedia for Trotskyism Online (ETOL) has now digitised the entire run of two journals belonging to the Healyite Socialist Labour League (after 1973 the Workers Revolutionary Party).

The first is Labour Review, which ran from 1952 to 1963. This was the journal of The Club, the group formed by Gerry Healy after the dissolution of the Revolutionary Communist Party in 1949 and coincided with The Club joining the anti-Pabloite Fourth International, led by the US Socialist Workers Party. Labour Review is particularly interesting in the mid-to-late 1950s for its commentary on the split in the Communist Party of Great Britain and the emergence of the new left. The journal includes articles written by several former CPGB members including Peter Fryer, Brian Pearce and Peter Cadogan.

The second is Fourth International. In 1963-64, the two wings of the Fourth International reunified, which was opposed by the SLL and the French International Communist Party. These two groups maintained the name of the International Committee of the Fourth International and published this journal. It was kept under SLL control until 1973, after which I’m not sure what happened, and re-appeared in 1978-79.

This journal is rather more expansive than Labour Review but is much more dense. It does carry some interesting material, such as the SLL’s position on Vietnam, Ireland and the invasion of Czechoslovakia. However readers of the WRP’s daily paper Newsline will be disappointed that the apocalyptic tones of the Healyites is not that apparent in the pages of this journal. But in the last issue (Autumn 1979), you see an article by Alex Mitchell celebrating 10 years of Colonel Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, an association which the WRP unfortunately fostered throughout the 1980s.

There is not a lot of SLL/WRP material on the internet, besides copies of The Newsletter from 1957-58 (see here), and this is a great resource for future research.

 

The Communist Party of Australia’s Post-War Internationalism

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Looking through documents from the National Security Archive from Georgetown University has got me thinking about the shifting allegiances of the Communist Party of Australia in the post-war era up until the mid-1970s. As I have written in another post, the CPA came out of the Second World War as quite a militant organisation and was heavily influenced by the anti-colonial wave in South East Asia, led by the Chinese Communist Party. In 1948, the CPA lambasted its British sister party for not adequately supporting the anti-colonial struggles in places such as Malaya and for indulging in ‘Browderism’.

This enthusiasm for Chinese communism and the direction put forward by Beijing/Peking lasted throughout the 1950s. Part of this was geographic, but also ideological. The Soviet Union and China had divided its attentions to different spheres after 1949, with the USSR focusing on Europe (as well as the Middle East) and China on Asia and tensions developed between the two, primarily over the subordination of China to the Soviet Union within the international communist movement. After Khrushchev’s Secret Speech about the crimes of the Stalin era in February 1956, the division between China and the Soviet Union took on an ideological bent and two communist powers raced towards confrontation with each other. The CPA shifted towards the Chinese line and were wary of ‘revisionists’ within the Soviet Union. The Sino-Soviet split came to a head in 1960 and the USSR called an international meeting of communist and workers’ parties, with each Communist Party across the world having to declare their allegiance to either Moscow or Beijing. In his book The Family File, Mark Aarons suggests that the CPA leadership was wavering over which side to join (the Communist Party of New Zealand chose to align itself with China) and it took two significant payments from the Soviet Union to assure their allegiance.

The Soviet Union sent an emissary to shore up the CPA’s position within the international communist movement and the CPA became more critical of China. As this ASIO report outlined, this realignment caused a considerable minority within the Party to revolt against the CPA leadership and in 1964, Victorian CPA leader Edward (Ted) Hill led a section of the membership out of the Party to form the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist). But while an overtly pro-Chinese element had been forced out of the Party, the new leadership of the CPA, under Laurie Aarons, was not exactly the most slavishly pro-Soviet.

As Andy Blunden has shown, the CPA was openly critical of the Soviet Union after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In the CPA newspaper Tribune, the Party stated:

We cannot agree to the pre-emptive occupation of a country by another, on the alleged threat from outside, particularly when such action is taken without prior notification to the government and CP of Czechoslovakia. … It is hard to believe that [the Soviet leaders] realise the damage they cause to their own standing and the image of socialism throughout the world by acting in this way.

Aarons made similar criticisms of the Soviet Union in a speech at the International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties in Moscow the following June, where several other CPs also used the meeting as an opportunity to criticise the USSR. In his speech, Aarons said:

Concretely, we believe that this Meeting should declare its full and unequivocal support for national independence, sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs for all nations, whether great or small, and whatever their social system. We support the amendment already proposed in the Preparatory Commission by the Italian comrades which states this clearly. This would demonstrate the moral superiority of socialism, guaranteeing fulfilment of Marx’s prediction that the new society will establish relations between nations that correspond to human relations between people. This problem is posed before us by the events of August 1968 and their consequences.

If we say openly that the August 1968 intervention in Czechoslovakia was wrong, it is not because we want to intervene in the internal affairs of the Parties which made the decision. If we say the continued presence of troops is wrong, it is not because we seek to intervene in the internal affairs of the Czechoslovakian Party, nor to comment upon its policies. We have spoken up, and speak up before this Meeting, out of a deep and heartfelt commitment to the socialist cause and to our understanding of Communist principles and ideals.

We have said, and we say again, that the intervention harmed our cause, the struggle for a socialist world. Its impact was deep, its consequences far– reaching. They will not be easily overcome; this will be all the more difficult so long as unequal relations continue. Others may disagree; we hope our debate can develop on the level of principle and theory.

Internationalism cannot be separated from a regard for rights of all nations, great or small.

In our view, internationalism cannot be identified with the state interests of any socialist country. This is all the more important when contradictions and even antagonisms arise between socialist states. Then, we must say that it is not possible to decide the issues by an appeal to internationalism.

While criticising the Soviet Union, Aarons also made some measured pro-Chinese remarks:

In this connection we have proposed an amendment to the Document, which would state our support for the restoration to the People’s Republic of China of its territory of Taiwan, illegally occupied by US imperialism by force. And we propose here a statement condemning US imperialist policies against China and in this area of Asia and the Pacific. These proposals are made in the interests of the fight against imperialism, with the aim of taking some initiative for moving towards a common stand by all components of our movement.

These open criticisms of the Soviets were seen by many as a revival of soft Maoism within the CPA. The US State Department, according to documents released by the National Security Archive, saw the CPA as ‘pro-Chinese’, but also as occupying a third position between Moscow and Beijing. Dated September 1969, the memo said:

The Australian CP statement… rejected the claims of either side to be the sole interpreter and custodian of Marxism, and thereby to assume a position of hegemony over others.

In the conclusion of the State Department’s memo, it posited what would happen to the international communist movement if more CPs became critical of the USSR – how would the Soviets deal with this dissent without driving them into the arms of the Chinese? The document said:

What cannot be predicted, however, is how Moscow would take on its critics – whether it would move to squash them…; whether it would delay and temporize in an effort partially to accommodate them; or whether it would ostensibly ignore them…

In the case of the CPA, the Party was still partially accommodated by Moscow, but the pro-Soviet breakaway party, the Socialist Party of Australia, was also courted by some within the Soviet Union. The SPA, led by Pat Clancy and Peter Symon, was formed in 1971 from those who left the CPA over its criticisms of the Soviet Union and alleged abandonment of the principles of Leninism. While the CPA had not embraced the ideas of Eurocommunism yet, as it did in the mid-to-late 1970s, it had lost its pro-Soviet (and pro-Chinese) edge and was influenced by the thinking coming out the Italian, French, Spanish and British Communist Parties.

We know from the transcribed diaries of Anatoly S. Chernyaev, a member of the CPSU’s International Department during the 1970s, that the Soviet Union were disgruntled with the direction that the CPA was taking, but did not entirely freeze them out. In March 1972, Chernyaev amended a note from the CPSU’s Central Committee to the CPA leadership conditionally offering support if the CPA’s forthcoming Congress was agreeable to them. He wrote:

The gist of the matter: the Aaronses (“revisionists and anti – Soviets”) are proposing a meeting of CPSU and CPA delegations, and they are asking us to send greetings for their Congress (March 31st).
The note: We’ll respond after your congress, depending on its results. [If we don’t like it], we will formally sever our connections with the CPA.

Elsewhere Chernyaev complained about dealing with delegates from foreign CPs, writing about the CPA’s third positionism:

Or – [John] Sendy, the chairman of the CP of Australia, which has been sticking its nose in the air at the CPSU for many years. They can’t adapt to what is going on in the world, where three cumbersome and powerful wheels (U.S., USSR, PRC) are turning, and which are so connected to each other in their momentum that no grains of sand like the Communist Party of Australia can stop them. One wouldn’t even hear a squeak if it carelessly got caught between these wheels. The best thing to do for such CPs as the Australian one is to quietly cling to the safe side of the Soviet (or the Chinese, if they like) wheel.

On the other hand, Chernyaev also met with representatives of the SPA in Moscow and ‘encouraged [them] to keep it up against the Aarons brothers’, although by 1973, when he met with Pat Clancy, Chernyaev admitted that the SPA was ‘really a lost cause’.

In the same 1973 diaries, Chernyaev described a delegation from the CPA in a very critical and unflattering light:

From September 27 – October 6, a delegation from the Communist Party of Australia (Aarons, Taft, and Mavis Robertson – a woman) was in Moscow. At the first and main meeting – with Ponomarev – they were obnoxious: Aarons made an official speech and laid out everything they have approved in their policy documents – that the CPSU is leading a hegemonic policy in the ICM, that peaceful coexistence is only the public interest of the USSR, that the Soviet Union is a country with only a “socialist base” as opposed to a socialist society, we are stifling democracy, suppressing dissent with prisons and mental hospitals, and so on in the spirit of Sakharov; the CPSU is aiming to split the communist and labor movement in Australia (followed by a series of big and small facts about our relationship with the Communist Party of Australia)…

Zhukov and I spent four hours at Sheremetyevo airport, seeing Aarons off. We informed the CPA about everything. They had been expecting a breach. It seems things are moving towards normalization after all. They understand that a break with us would isolate them from the majority of communist parties and eventually would bring them to the position of a sect.

By the mid-1970s, the CPA had taken up the ideas of Eurocommunism and Gramscism, in a similar manner to the CPGB and the PCI. It was still nominally aligned to the Soviet Union, but the SPA had taken over as the pro-Soviet organisation within Australia – with both parties being welcomed by the Soviets in Moscow. In the case of their European counterparts, these CPs slowly drifted from an explicitly pro-Soviet position in the 1950s to a Eurocommunist (and more critical one regarding the USSR) position in the 1970s, but the road travelled by the CPA was less straight forward. A question to seek an answer for is how pro-Chinese was CPA during the late 1960s and whether there was any rapprochement between the two…

The British far left and Scottish devolution in 1979

As the referendum on Scottish independence draws ever closer, Phil BC over at ‘All That is Solid’ (formerly A Very Public Sociologist) has done an excellent job of summarising the positions of the main Trotskyist groups in Britain on Scottish independence. Furthermore, someone on the Leftist Trainspotters mailing list summarised the three possible positions taken by nearly all the far left groups in the UK on the topic:

YES: Counterfire, ISG (Scotland), SWP, SPEW, rs21 (inc. IS Scotland), SSP, RCPB-ML, Socialist Resistance, Scottish Republican Socialist Movement, Class War, Solidarity, RCG, A World to Win

NO: Workers Power, Socialist Action, CPGB-ML, AWL, Socialist Appeal, CPB-ML, Socialist Fight, CPB, Spartacist League, International Communist Current, SEP, WRP (Newsline), Communist Workers Organisation (Aurora), International Socialist League, Respect

ABSTAIN / NO LINE / OTHERS: IS Network (no line but majority for Yes), CPGB(PCC) (abstain), SLP (no position but will respect outcome of vote), SPGB (abstain), Plan C, Left Unity (no position nationally but Republican Socialist Tendency pushing for Yes), Anarchist Federation (vote yes or abstain), Spartacist League (“The referendum does not pose an issue of principle and we are not taking a stand for or against independence”)

In my discussions about this with Phil, I suggested that it would be interesting to compare the positions of the far left groups with their position on Scottish devolution back in 1979. Without going to the library to get the physical copies of the various left-wing journals from the time, I have had a quick scan of the internet and found some material on the positions of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Workers Party. Material relating to Militant and the late 1970s International Marxist Group are hard to find on the internet!

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The UNZ archive of the CPGB’s Marxism Today shows that the Communist Party did support Scottish (and Welsh) devolution and devolved parliamentary bodies, but were divided over the prospect of future Scottish independence. Firstly, like many in the radical ‘Yes’ campaign today, Willie Thompson, editor of the CP’s Scottish journal Scottish Marxist, argued in 1977 that devolution offered the possibility of breaking away from centralising influence of monopoly capitalism in Britain (emanating from London) and the possibility of establishing a socialist foothold through the proposed devolved assemblies. Bert Pearce, the CPGB’s Welsh Secretary, argued that devolution was important for the advance of socialism in Britain, but warned against Scottish or Welsh independence, writing:

To recognise the right of self-determination does not at all mean that it is always and everywhere essential or progressive to opt for the separation of each nation into its own national state. The struggle for national rights, and for progress and socialism, can effectively combine and reinforce each other within a multi-national state. In Britain it is clearly in our best interests for the rapid achievement for socialism and for the quality of society when we get it, to maintain and strengthen our unity. 

Scottish Morning Star journalist, Martin Gostwick, challenged Pearce in a 1978 issue of Marxism Today, saying that he equated ‘advancing the unity of the peoples with the continued existence of the Union of Great Britain’. Gostwick’s position was that Scottish (and Welsh) devolved governments might eventually want to assert their independence and, like Thompson, Gostwick believed that this might be the starting point for a socialist alternative to the current ‘monopoly-dominated state’. However Gostwick warned that independence could not be an immediate goal and suggested the slogan ‘independence – if, and not yet’.

Glasgow Area Secretary for the CPGB, Douglas Bain, wrote in August 1978 that the Communist Party supported devolution and acknowledged that the devolution of power might lead to a longer term push for self-government (and possible independence), but highlighted that in the forthcoming referendum, the Scottish National Party might subvert the devolution debate towards nationalist ends and stifle any attempts to implement a more socialist agenda. After the failure of the 1979 referendum, Jack Ashton, the CPGB’s Scottish Secretary, stated that the prominence of the SNP in the campaign for devolution had driven many trade unionists to vote ‘no’ or abstain from voting. Ashton also blamed Scottish Labour for isolating itself on the ‘yes’ campaign and its refusal to work with others, such as the CPGB.

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In contrast to the CPGB, the Socialist Workers Party came out in favour of a possible Scottish socialist republic, offering a critical ‘yes’ vote at the referendum because the break-up of the present unionist state was necessary to challenge the capitalist status quo led from London. Taken from the Socialist Review archive, I was able to find an article on Scottish devolution and the SWP’s attitude towards the SNP. I have reproduced it below because it is difficult to link to the specific article within the archive (hopefully it is readable).

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This position was different from the one put forward the Central Committee of the SWP in September 1977, where they argued in the journal International Socialism for an abstention from voting in any forthcoming referendum. The statement said:

This means that if a referendum is eventually held in Scotland and Wales we abstain. This is not a position that means ducking the arguments. Far from it. Most of the time our members in Scotland will be arguing with people who are in the ‘Yes’ camp. We will be saying to them:

‘We do not mind if you get your devolved (or independent) parliament. But don’t believe that it will improve your condition one iota. Only class struggle can do that.’

Our abstention will mark us off from the rest of the Labour movement, retreating in fear before the new reformism, without aligning us with the Unionist, British nationalist camp.

Our position will be somewhat analogous to that of our American comrades faced with a choice between Democrats and Republicans. They know that most of their workmates will vote for the bourgeois reformism of the Democrats, and have to say to them, ‘OK, vote Democrat then – and see what good it does you!’

It’s not as nice as being able to earn the applause of one side or the other – but it is a distinctive revolutionary position that will enable us to put our politics across.

I have been unable to find anything from Militant from 1979, but found a 1992 piece from Ted Grant on Scottish nationalism. The piece is interesting because it was written amidst the schism within Militant over whether the group should become a formal political organisation or remain an entrist one inside the Labour Party, with Scottish Militant Labour being the first foray by Militant into open politics. Grant opposed this move and used this piece to attack SML.

While searching the depths of the internet, I found two interesting pieces on the Encyclopaedia of Anti-Revisionism Online regarding the positions of Britain’s Maoist parties on devolution. The Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), started by ex-CPGB member Reg Birch, opposed devolution as seen in this article. The CPB (M-L) saw devolution as part of a counter-revolutionary plot to split the working class in Britain, writing:

The British working class whether in Scotland, Wales or any other part of Britain should declare a resounding NO to devolution, or any other policies which will come in the future, aimed at dividing and weakening our class. We as Marxist-Leninists are totally opposed to divide and rule. -We have to make the ruling class’s divide and rule inoperable by our unite and liberate…

Working class unity makes it impossible for the capitalists to go on in the old way of divide and rule. Working class unity enables us to combine our tactics for defending our class with the strategy of liberating our class. Working class unity is revolutionary.

Chwyldroad nid Trosglwyddiad.

We are for REVOLUTION not DEVOLUTION.

On the other hand, the small Communist Workers Movement, a breakaway group from the CPB (M-L), supported devolution if desired, but also proposed that Scottish and Welsh workers might be better served if they remained within the UK and co-operated with the English working class. In their journal, New Age, the CWM wrote:

English communists should take on the work of convincing English working people that Wales and Scotland should have the right to leave Britain if they choose. Welsh and Scottish communists should mainly work to persuade the working people of their nations that, although they should have the right to decide whether or not to remain within the British state, they should use that right in favour of staying with the English working class in the same state.

The question of devolution back in 1979 might seem more straight forward than the referendum on Scottish independence to be held next Thursday and the disarray that the British far left has found itself in over the prospect of an independent Scotland. But looking back at these documents from the late 1970s, the British far left was far from united on the question of devolution for Scotland and Wales.To paraphrase Karl Marx, ‘once as tragedy, twice as farce’…

 

Far Left book has arrived!

I am back at work after two weeks with dreadful sickness and was happy to have received a package from MUP.

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The book can be pre-ordered from Manchester University Press now. I know that 75 quid is a tad on the pricey side, but if enough institutional libraries (and the like) buy copies now, a much more affordable paperback edition should be out next year.

Writing the History of the British Far Left: Book launch talk on Youtube

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Last month, Matthew Worley and I pre-emptively launched our forthcoming edited collection, Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956 (Manchester University Press, 2014), at the London Socialist Historians Group seminar series, located within London’s Institute of Historical Research. The launch was well attended, but was a bit more formal than I had anticipated. So I gave a 30 min talk on compiling the book (reading a few excerpts from the intro) and we had a short Q&A (which was perhaps dominated by discussion of whether the book should have included pictures).  The IHR now records most of its seminars and the talk I gave is now available on Youtube. You can listen to it below.

As with all my media appearances, I haven’t been able to listen to myself speak, but hopefully it is enlightening to others.

By the way, the book will be out in October. Please recommend it to your university, college or council library.

EDITED TO ADD: You can now also listen to the talk as a podcast here.