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Trump is a particular type of reactionary American populist. The article tracks the history of American populism beginning with the formation of the People’s Party (also called the Populist Party) in 1891 as an agrarian movement based on anger of the Little Man against the western elite.
Deborah Grayson, Ben Little
Our new series, Soundings Critical Terms aims to explore and build on a range of theoretical resources that members of the editorial group have found helpful to their own understandings of politics. This article offers a framing statement for the series as whole, and makes a strong case for the place of conjunctural writing at the heart of the project. It looks at four key ways in which thinking conjuncturally can be of assistance to the left: as a means of analysis of periods of conjunctural crisis and contradiction; as an a priori necessity for effective political intervention; as a space open to bringing together longer trajectories of thought; and as an enabler of reflection on the shifting forces of socio-political histories. The aim is to begin to develop a rich toolkit of concepts, histories and understandings that enable us to think through what is possible, to determine the direction of future interventions, and to provide a space in which crucial differences and agreements within left activism can be explored.
Part of the Soundings Futures series, the first part of this article is an assessment of the scale of regional inequalities in Britain and the failures of the orthodox policy initiatives that have been advanced to address them. The main weaknesses of successive policy shifts have been that: overall expenditure has simply been inadequate to the tackle the scale of the problem; any expenditure on regional aid has been vastly out-weighed by other forms of government expenditure which tend to favour the more economically advantaged parts of the country; regional problems have been attributed to underlying deficits in lagging regions rather than being understood in terms of unequal power relationships between regions, or more fundamental aspects of the centralised system of British political economy. The Northern Powerhouse model shares aspects of all these policy flaws. In response, the article sets out some elements of an alternative agenda, based upon a fundamental reshaping of the structure of economic governance. Measures proposed include: much greater real political decentralisation and new forms of regional governance; an industrial policy focused on job creation in industries that offer middle-level skilled jobs, such as manufacturing, construction and healthcare; a policy of inclusive growth - one that seeks growth that promotes good quality jobs and poverty reduction; a geographical shift in central government investment patterns and a relocation of good quality government jobs to the regions.
Matthew Worley, Evan Smith
In 2014, we edited a collection of essays under the title Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956 (Manchester University Press). Our objective was really twofold. First, to generate discussion on the British left in general; to bring together scholars and writers in order to present a ‘way in’ to current thinking on the history of the British left. The context of the book’s gestation was telling: the idea began in the wake of the 2010 general election and the fall of New Labour.
The History Workshop movement, a grassroots coalition of radical-academic, feminist, and labour historians founded at Ruskin College in the late 1960s under the guidance of Raphael Samuel, represents a powerful example of the fusion of political commitment with historical practice. However, outside of a handful of general commentaries, the history of the Workshop remains mostly unexplored. This article focuses on two central pillars of the Workshop’s programme, the annual workshop gatherings held at Ruskin and the History Workshop Journal, in order to examine how its socialist (and feminist) political aspirations were translated into democratic and radical historical forms. It argues that this connection between politics and history should not be simply understood in theoretical or ideological terms, but should also encompass the symbolic, aesthetic and emotional dimensions of historical practice. While critical attention is paid to the tensions and limits of the Workshop’s project, the article suggests that it was precisely in the effort to negotiate the contradictions inherent in its own ideals that the relevance and productive use of the case of History Workshop endures.
In his essays on the inner culture of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), the historian Raphael Samuel remarked that ‘educa-tion was a universal idiom’ in the party. Unsurprisingly, an organisation so concerned with learning attracted many schoolteachers and educationalists. A significant number were present at the CPGB’s foundation in 1920,2 and the party schoolteachers’ group numbered somewhere between one and three hundred for the next decade.3 Communists who were professionally engaged with the education of children were also relatively untouched by the schism between British communism and the labour movement’s institutions of adult education, which was the result of the Communist International (Comintern) in December 1922 specifying that the Plebs League and National Council of Labour Colleges should be brought under party control.4 And when the CPGB first made serious attempts to attract professional workers in the second half of the 1930s, the party’s official historian noted that schoolteachers were represented ‘above all’ among these recruits.5 They retained this presence into the post-war period. Between 1944 and the mid-1960s the around 2000 party schoolteachers were by far the largest ‘white collar’ profession represented at CPGB national congress; indeed they made up the third largest of all occupational groups inside the party.6 But it is not just the numerical force of British communists concerned with children’s education which makes them an interesting group to analyse.
Less than a decade ago, the perception that ‘the party’ was an outmoded structure irrelevant to radical left politics was wide-spread. The striking – if inevitably uneven and contradictory – emergence and progress of actually existing leftist parties in the conjuncture shaped by the 2008 crash has transformed the terms of reference. Theoretical discussion has returned to questions about socialist strategy, and in particular the challenge of re-imagining and reinvigorating the Marxist party in new times.3 Historical analysis of the structures and experiences inherited from the past have a key role to play in this process. The national communist parties with which this journal is centrally concerned continue to haunt the contemporary radical political imagination.
The photo of Vice Admiral H.P. ‘Spike’ Blandy and his wife gleefully slicing up an atomic explosion angel cake was taken on November 6, 1946.
Often overlooked in histories of abstract expressionism is the role that anarchism as a philosophy played in the art of postwar American painters like Barnett Newman. For Newman, anarchism was not merely a programme for revolutionary action but an experimental way of life that, much like painting itself, sought to imagine a life lived free from coercive authority. Through his signature painting style, which featured vertical stripes painted on coloured canvases, Newman put forth a radical political theology based on the writings of Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza and Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin. In his art, Newman presented what might be called an anarchist sublime, an aesthetic experience that opened up viewers to the expressive capacity of being itself.
Joe Guinan, Thomas M. Hanna
The left must quickly recover the capacity to offer a radically different political economy or reap the consequences.
George Morris, Yasmine Nahlawi
For too long the Labour Party has failed Syria. But there are policy measures that Labour could promote which would contribute to a just peace in the country.
Marina Prentoulis, Katrine Marçal, Renaud Thillaye, Barry Colfer, Folke große Deters
An international discussion of the impact of Brexit and the prospects for the left.
In political discourse in recent decades, class has been repositioned as an essentially cultural historical phenomenon rather than a dynamic, lived reality connected to the changing temporalities of British capitalism. This is visible in SNP rhetoric as well as in Labour’s current ‘culture wars’. But Labour must reconnect with an economic analysis of class, for it is this that could in fact reunite the culturally polarised elements of a Labour electoral coalition.
Sally Davison, David Featherstone, Michael Rustin, Bill Schwarz
‘Stuart Hall was one of the great political intellectuals of our time – learned, perspicacious, provocative and wise. He was also a master essayist. This splendid selection, spanning more than fifty years, is a feast.’ Wendy Brown, University of California, Berkeley Read the introduction to this text for free - download the free chapter below.
Rowan Tallis Milligan
This paper examines the London squatting movement and argues that it was a key radical social movement which redefined the ownership of space and politicised housing.
This article charts the history of widespread illegal ‘blacklisting’ of active trade unionists and socialists working in the UK construction industry. Blacklisting had long been a practice by employers in the construction industry, but it was escalated after the rise of the more militant rank-and-file shop stewards’ movement in the 1960s. The consequences of these events are followed through to the present day.
The September 2016 re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, with a renewed and increased mandate, was a significant political event, which should not be overshadowed by recent electoral successes by the populist right. On the contrary, these successes make it all the more important to understand the challenges facing the left.
An extensive critique of the market conception of health provision, combined with a vision for an alternative way of running the health service. The failure of market ‘reforms’ cannot be addressed by tinkering with new models of provision.