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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.
This essay examines how the critical theory of photography has, at least since Barthes and Sontag, developed a default position that is routinely suspicious of the political and aesthetic value of images of the dead, even as the archive of images of the dead continues to accumulate and to shock. Photographic theory seems to share the post-war assumptions that death has been eclipsed by modernity, sequestered away and rendered taboo. The project here is to give a sense of the array of photographic practice that exists in stark opposition to these assumptions, and indeed in the contemporary moment seems actively to stage an argument with the thesis of the ‘eclipse of death’. It considers work ranging from Sally Mann and Luc Delahaye to the recent projects of Edgar Martins.
This article explores representations of autoerotic death in a range of discursive fields: the media, forensic pathology, the psy sciences, literary fiction, and internet humour. It adopts a broadly Foucauldian approach to the study of the topic; i.e., rather than interrogating what sexual practices leading to autoerotic death mean, or what motivates people to experiment with these ‘extreme’ practices, it explores instead what attitudes towards autoerotic death tell us about normative cultural understandings of sexuality and gender. The article interrogates the ways in which gender norms and roles are at play in the apprehension of autoerotic fatalities, marking some of the men who die in this way as effeminate, failed men; while others are represented as hyper-masculine misadventurers. It also discusses why the rare female autoerotic fatality troubles assumptions about the nature and role of women. The biases guiding definitions of ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ sexuality and gender are thus revealed in particularly striking ways by moving the focus of interrogation away from the pathologised practices and the bodies they produce, and onto the discourses that pronounce about them.
Books reviewed: Ben Anderson, Encountering Affect: Capacities, Apparatuses, Conditions, Farnham, Ashgate, 2014, 194pp, £65.00 hardback Maurizia Boscagli, Stuff Theory: Everyday Objects, Radical Materialism, New York and London, Bloomsbury, 2014, 279pp, £16.99 paperback Elizabeth Chin, My Life with Things: The Consumer Diaries, Duke University Press, 2016, 239pp, £19.99 paperback Tonino Griffero, Atmospheres: Aesthetics of Emotional Spaces, translated by Sarah de Sanctis, Farnham, Ashgate, 2014, 174pp, £65.00 hardback
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.
Eleanor Finley and Dr Federico Venturini review Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin by Janet Biehl
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.