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  1. I've already featured each of the books I've written or been associated with in earlier blogs. Now I want to focus on what I believe to be the most significant points in each, I'm beginning with

     

    Sylvia Pankhurst. From Artists to Anti-Fascist, edited by Ian Bullock and Richard Pankhurst,1992.

     

    I've already explained how this book came about and the valuable contributions of all the other authors. (See Blog 1) This time I want to pick out what I think are the most important aspects of my own piece -'Sylvia Pankhurst and the Russian Revolution: the making of a 'Left-Wing' Communist'.

     

    My main sources for it were Pankhurst's own paper the Woman's – later Workers' – Dreadnought and the E Syliva Pankhurst Papers at the International Institute of Social History which I had spent a week reading in Amsterdam

     

    One of my sub-headings is 'The “Invisible” Bolsheviks'. As I would show again much later in Romancing the Revolution, little was known in Britain – or elsewhere, including in Russia itself - about Lenin and the Bolsheviks before the end of 1917. I argue that the result was that ''those who supported the Bolshevik cause from afar had to construct their ideas of Bolshevik actions and policies on the basis of inference. Assumptions based on their own experience, guesswork and wishful thinking played a decisive part' (p 128)

     

    Another section of my contribution is subtitled 'Direct Democracy'. In Pankhurst's case her abiding commitment was to whatever seemed the most radical and genuinely inclusive and participatory form of democracy. I show how – even in March 1918 after the Constituent Assembly in Russia had been forcibly dissolved, with her rather hesitant support. she was still criticising the failure of the Labour Party to include the initiative, referendum and recall in its Labour and the New Socialist Order manifesto. Demands for direct democracy going back to the earliest days of the SDF had featured prominently in the more radical sections of the pre-1917 the British Left .

     

    Pankhurst became convinced after the Russian Revolution had broken out in February/March 1917 that the most democratic form was the workers' soviets though her insistence that 'Housewives' should be included indicates that her conception of soviets was not confined to industrial workers. This led her participation in the Leeds Convention and the 'Workers' and Soldiers' Council of Great Britain' in 1917, her founding her own version of the Communist Party in 1919, being a main target of Lenin's famous 'Left-Wing' Communism. An Infantile Disorder (1920) being expelled from the 'orthodox' British Communist Party in 1921, aligning herself with the Left-Communism of the original Fourth International -and eventually accusing Lenin of 'hauling down the flag of Communism' towards the end of 1922

     

    Left-Communism would soon become very much the pursuit of a tiny minority (but see Mark Shilpley's 1988 book Anti-Parliamentary Communism. The Movement for Workers' Councils, 1917-45). I did manage to get in a mention in my piece of the 'Mass Meeting to Celebrate Russian Freedom' held in Brighton on 17th May 1917 at which Sylvia Pankhurst was the main speaker. Much later my (now, sadly, late) friend Andy Durr would give me a poster advertising the meeting. It still hangs on our stairs.

     

    Ian Bullock

    https://www.socialist-history.com/

  2. My main inspiration for Under Siege. The Independent Labour Party in Interwar Britain, published, once again, by AU Press in 2017 came when I reviewed Gidon Cohen's book The Failure of A Dream. Gidon dealt with the years after 1932 and up to the outbreak of World War II when the ILP had disaffiliated from the Labour Party to pursue what turned out to be a fruitless search for a 'revolutionary policy' which would be much more radical than anything Labour was likely to come up with and both more genuinely 'revolutionary' and more democratic than that of the Communists.

     

    Romancing the Revolution had taken me into the mid 1920s with occasional references to later events so with the ILP book I was researching and writing about periods which were fairly new to me. The research took me to Manchester, Salford and Edinburgh as well as to branches of the British Library and the the LSE one in London. I was still working part-time at Sussex and Amelia Wakeford the university's research development officer helped me get a British Academy grant – the only grant I've ever received for research – which covered the considerable travel expenses

     

    A much earlier book than Gidon's in the 1960s was Robert Dowse's Left in the Centre. It had dealt mainly with the 1920s. He seems to have taken the view that when the ILP left the Labour Party they more or less ceased to have any significance. But the ILP had been the main political promoter of the idea of a Labour Party since the 1890s with Keir Hardie's 'Labour Alliance' strategy of linking up with the unions.

    Until 1918 taking part in your local ILP branch had been the main way people participated in the larger party. But the new Labour Party constitution that year introduced constituency parties and this posed an existential dilemma for the ILP. Its main raison d''être was gone – what new role could it find to perform?

     

    My own book looks at the whole of the interwar period. In the 1911 book I'd already written about the earliest years of the 1920s when there was a concerted effort to get the ILP to affiliate to the (Communist) Third International. I revisited this episode and the 'Left Wing of the ILP' in the second section of Chapter 2 of the new book This was after a look at the long career of Fred Jowett, long-time MP and briefly a government minister in 1924, who I found the most sympathetic of all prominent ILPers. He stayed in the party from its inception till he died in 1944 at the age of 80.

     

    In the 1920s the most interesting episodes were the brief period when Clifford Allan was the dominant figure and he – a former wartime conscientious objector – allied himself with future Labour PM Clement Attlee - who had fought in the war and was routinely known to the press as 'Major Attlee' – to promote a 'guild socialist' version of the programme of the party and the adoption a few years later of the well-researched 'Living Wage' demand. By the mid to late 'twenties the Jimmy Maxton had replaced Allan as the dominant figure. He clearly had charisma – almost everyone who came across him was knocked out by him - but in the 'thirties he was largely responsible for taking the ILP into disaffiliation from Labour and the fruitless search for the 'revolutionary programme' I've already mentioned.

     

    By the outbreak of war in 1939 the party had shrunk alarmingly and most members were now willing to rejoin Labour. But before they could the war intervened and with Labour joining the Churchill government and the ILP opposing the war, as they had largely done in 1914, this was no longer on. The ILP continued as a very small organisation until in the 1970s it changed its name to Independent Labour Publications and rejoined Labour.

     

    One thing about the book gave me much pleasure. I was able to quote a comment by Don Mcgregor from the the October 1939 edition of ILP's internal publication Between Ourselves. I had met Don a few times back in the '70s at Voice of the Unions editorial board meetings. He had made an indelible impression and it was good to think I'd found, and quoted, something that epitomised his approach to socialism.

     

    Under Siege. The Independent Labour Party in Interwar Britain Athabasca University Press, 2017

    Available in UK from www.combinedacademic.co.uk/under-siege, as well as Waterstones and Amazon.

    978-1- 77199-155- 1 paper
    978-1- 77199-157- 5 epub
    978-1- 77199-156- 8 pdf

     

    Ian Bullock

    https://www.socialist-history.com/