Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Financial Corporatism: What it is and how to fight it

A large part of the problem is that state has effectively merged with the banking industry to create a new kind of government: financial corporatism. Over the last twenty five years, investment banks like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have been welcomed into the centres of political power to help with PFI, health service reform and many other functions of government. There is a revolving door between government and the banks at all levels of the civil service. Number Ten staff , like Shriti Vadera, formerly of UBS, Jeremy Heywood from Morgan Stanley come and go between the City and Gordon Brown's private office. Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff left to work for Morgan Stanley. His boss walked into JP Morgan on a reported $1m salary for a part time job. Given this degree of intermarriage between finance and government it is hardly surprising that there hasn't been tighter regulation. The world-view of the financier has permeated public life, with disastrous consequences. This is going to have to change, and government is going to have to start disentangling itself from finance, if the present crisis is to be resolved.
The prophets of greed; THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL MELTDOWN, PART 1: An essay by Iain Macwhirter.

Contemporary capitalism is not just ‘financial’ capitalism. ‘Productive capital’ on the front line of squeezing out surplus value is not doing so solely for the benefit of the banks, and besides, also puts a chunk of their realised profit into financial assets. Contemporary capitalism is not going to ‘collapse’. It is vulnerable however, shown by its hysterical intolerance of any other economic model, while millions take objection to being squeezed for more surplus value whether through increased intensity of labour, or having the costs of their reproduction increased. To be superceded, or even reformed in any meaningful way, its own version of itself must be challenged; its legitimacy, competence and the self-confidence of structural greed.
Structural Greed by John Barker

Personally, I always knew that Blair (and of course his cronies) would be right at the heart of the global capitalist crisis when it unfolded. After promising everyone he was a 'pretty straight kind of guy' promising an 'ethical foreign policy', Blair soon waged a succession of criminal and disastrous wars based on lies. After leaving power to become a 'peace envoy' to the Middle East, Israel immediately saw its chance to besiege Gaza and threaten nuclear war with Iran. Given this, it was only really a matter of time after Blair took on a job 'advising' the bankers JP Morgan and Zurich Insurance that the entire world banking system would go into meltdown. No wonder the Archbishops of the Church of England have started quoting Marx - with the 'Tony Blair Faith Foundation' now up and running, they know they have to do something to keep the hopes of the faithful alive and stop a mass tide of atheism sweeping everything before it. Still, a chapter on the incredible lightness and joy of being a banker in the current climate would make a perfectly suitable ending for Blair's forthcoming memoirs...

For what the left can do in the face of the crisis, perhaps watch the following talk by editor of Socialist Worker Chris Bambery, and if you are in London perhaps try to attend the following meeting:

The Economic Crisis - How bad will it get? What can we do about it?
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1 (nearest tube: Holborn)
7pm, Thursday 16 October
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Larry Elliott (economics editor, the Guardian)
Michelle Stanistreet (Deputy General Secretary NUJ)
Charlie Kimber (SWP)
London bus worker
Organised by the People before Profit Charter. Oh, and watch out for spam.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Remembering Jack Johnson

100 years ago, the legendary black American boxer Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion of the world.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blogging class struggle in Britain

Two newish and excellent British socialist blogs that people might be interested to add to their links are John McDermott, a victimised UNISON activist and NEC member on the frontline of fighting Brown's public sector pay freeze and also Solomon's Mindfield, blogging mainly about student politics from SOAS in London.

Liberation Theology in the UK

'It is no use pretending that the financial world can maintain indefinitely the degree of exemption from scrutiny and regulation that it has got used to. This crisis exposes the basic level of unreality in the situation — the truth that almost unimaginable wealth has been generated by equally unimaginable levels of fiction, paper transactions with no concrete outcome beyond profit for traders. Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves; he was right about that'
Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

'To a bystander like me, those who made £190m deliberately underselling the shares of HBOS in spite of a very strong capital base, and drove it into the arms of Lloyds TSB, are clearly bank robbers and asset strippers. We find ourselves in a market system which seems to have taken its rules of trade from Alice in Wonderland. Our country has built its financial strength historically on the manufacturing of goods, where money was the medium of exchange.In the last week, we have seen its systems come close to ruin because now money is no longer being the medium of exchange for goods, but rather is the very item that is being traded. One of the ironies about this financial crisis is that it makes action on poverty look utterly achievable. It would cost $5bn (£2.7bn) to save six million children's lives. World leaders could find 140 times that amount for the banking system in a week. How can they tell us that action for the poorest is too expensive?'
Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.

The Archbishops are absolutely right - capitalism is a system based on robbery and Alice in Wonderland economics and Marx was among the first to explain why and what could be done about it.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Brown's Project for a New British Century

Apologies to readers outside Britain for once more blogging about Brown and New Labour, but his speech to Labour Party conference yesterday demands comment. And I am not talking about the delusional and downright dishonest comments that it got from Labourites. "It was absolutely brilliant. He delivered it humbly but with a passion we don't often see in Labour politicians … That was an Obama moment a la Britain," said Ian Gibson, the Norwich North MP. Even the trade union bureaucracy lapped it up. 'This is exactly the sort of agenda that people wanted to hear from their Labour government,' said Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, which is the second biggest in Britain with 1.3 million members. `He set out clearly his vision for that fair society and an action plan.' Paul Kenny, general secretary of GMB, the third-biggest union, said Brown's language was `very different to that which we have heard before' and `welcome' to his members.

In reality it was neither inspirational nor brilliant nor really (aside from a brief moment when he discussed the NHS) that passionate. In reality it felt more like a farewell speech - because it almost certainly was the last time he will address Labour Party conference as leader, and Brown knew it. The knives are well and truly out for him, despite the warm words of praise he got yesterday. More importantly, if people actually read the speech they will see that despite the odd sop to criticism from the Left within the Labour Party and trade union movement, it has to stand as one of the most right wing speeches ever made to a Labour Party conference -essentially putting forward a pro-capitalist solution to the capitalist crisis - and it is this aspect of it that makes it comparable to something by Barack Obama. For both Obama and Brown are essentially loyal servants of imperial capital - and the speech reflected that.

With a tie and a backdrop of imperial purple, Brown felt compelled to once again confirm his utter loyalty to what he called the 'new global society' under American hegemony. 'We will work with America not just to deal with the immediate security challenges in Georgia and in Iran. And I tell you that what we do together for the poor and vulnerable is an act of compassion, but it is more than that. It is what will determine whether this new global society succeeds or fails. And David Miliband, Douglas Alexander and I will do everything in our power to bring justice and democracy, to Burma, to Zimbabwe and to Darfur.' Chilling stuff for the people of Burma, Zimbabwe and Sudan.

British troops would continue to be a kind of foreign legion to American imperial power, the loyal Gurkhas prepared to pay the 'blood price' and die as cannon fodder to maintain Britain's 'special relationship' with whoever is the next American emperor. 'We pay special tribute to the heroism of our armed forces,... to their service and sacrifice in Iraq and in Afghanistan and in peacekeeping missions around the globe. Quite simply the best armed forces in the world.'

There was never going to be any sign of repentance for the war crimes of New Labour over the last decade or so in power. 'The Conservatives say our country is broken - but this country has never been broken by anyone or anything. This country wasn't broken by fascism, by the cold war, by terrorists.' Indeed not - but no thanks to New Labour. New Labour has however participated in the breaking of other countries -most notably Iraq. The innocent people of Iraq and Afghanistan who have died or been made refugees by war are of course not even worth counting let alone mentioning in a conference speech - they are truly 'unpeople'.

In terms of the economy, Brown was committed to saving capitalism from its crisis by making tax payers and workers in general pay the price for the greed and financial speculation inherent in the system. 'We are and will always be a pro-enterprise, pro-business and pro-competition government. And we believe the dynamism of our five million businesses large and small is vital to the success of our country. But the continuing market turbulence shows why we now need a new settlement for these times - a settlement that we as a pro-market party must pursue. A settlement where the rewards are for what really matters - hard work, effort and enterprise.' The key word is 'enterprise' which was mentioned over and over again during the speech. Big bonuses for City bankers was fine - providing it flowed from 'hard work, effort and enterprise'. The pay freeze - effectively a pay cut - for public sector workers would continue. 'What counts is not the pursuit of any sectional interest but the advancement of the public interest' - and the 'public interest' under Brown remains whatever the dictates of imperial capital require.

As Ellen Meiksins Wood notes in her 2003 work Empire of Capital, there is: 'an inevitable contradiction between capital's constant need to drive down the costs of labour and its constant need to expand consumption, which requires that people have money to spend. This...is one of the insoluable contradictions of capitalism.'

'But, on balance, global capital benefits from uneven development, at least in the short term (and short-termism is an endemic disease of capitalism). The fragmentation of the world into separate economies, each with its own social regime and labour conditions, presided over by more or less sovereign territorial states, is no less essential to "globalisation" than is the free movement of capital. Not the least important function of the nation state in globalisation is to enforce the principle of nationality that makes it possible to manage the movements of labour by means of strict border controls and stringent immigration policies, in the interests of capital.'

Here we come to the great underlying theme of Brown's speech - Britishness - enforcing 'the principle of nationality' in the interests of capital. One only needs to glance through Brown's speech to hear of the apparent wonders of 'Great Britain', 'this great country', 'this incredible country'. He even called for a new 'British century' as though he was living in the late 19th century: 'With Britain's great assets - our stability, our openness, our scientific genius, our creative industries, and yes our English language - I know that this can be a British century and I'm determined it will be.'

And so to that apparently most quintessentially 'British' of things: Fair Play and Fairness. Other 'lesser nations' and people are incapable of grasping 'fairness' of course - only British people can understand it apparently. Brown's vision of 'fairness' is distinctly authoritarian and reminiscent of a police state. 'We will be the party of law and order... justice seen is justice done - so you will be seeing more neighbourhood policing on the street, hearing more about the verdicts of the court, able to see the people who offended doing community payback which will be what it says; hard work for the public benefit at the places and times the public can see it. That's only fair to the law abiding majority.'

Brown's 'Britishness' also inevitably involved paying the race card against migrant workers. 'Nobody in Britain should get to take more out of the system than they are willing to put in...we recognise the contribution that migrants make to our economy and our society, but the other side of welcoming newcomers who can help Britain is being tough about excluding those adults who won't and can't. That's why we have introduced the Australian-style points-based system, the citizenship test, the English language test and we will introduce a migrant charge for public services. That's only fair to the public who play by the rules and to the new citizens who uphold the rules. So across the board, we will create rules that reward those who play by them and punish those who don't. That's what fairness means to me.'

All in all, Brown's vision of 'fairness' and 'fair play' to build a 'British Century' is a mixture of 19th century imperial nostalgia and racism towards 'the Other', 20th century totalitarian state building, and 21st century craven complicity in the Bush Doctrine and the right of the American military-industrial complex to 'full spectrum dominance', all held together with a thin grimy ideological cement of warmed up Fabian bluster and bullshit. The fact that New Labour as a Party lapped it up while preparing to stab Brown in the back in 9 months time tells you everything you need to know about the moral, intellectual and political bankruptcy of Labourism today. People in Britain and internationally do deserve 'a new settlement for new times' and 'a fair Britain for the new age'. The Labour Party, whoever is in charge, can never and will never deliver that because it is so fundamentally tied to the capitalist system, with the bloody wars and devastating recessions inherent in that system. We need to build a socialist alternative now more than ever.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Thoughts on Labour Party Conference

I write this on the day after marching to lobby the Labour Party conference in Blackpool and I am reading the newspapers. Blackpool was chock full of journalists. They crammed into the Winter Gardens, scavenging for gossip. Is Tony Blair falling out with Gordon Brown? What is Robin Cook going to say about electoral reform? At least 500 of the best journalists of our generation spent their day searching for and producing, exactly nothing. Meanwhile the march of several thousand surged through the streets. These marchers had stories to tell: real stories, about hospitals starved of nursing care, about slashed firefighting capabilities, about impoverished old age pensioners and corrupt local authorities. Yet not a single of those conference journalists even considered spending a moment with the marchers. In the next morning’s papers, full of idiotic intrigue, the entire march had been obliterated.
Paul Foot, Preface to 'Shaking the World': Revolutionary Journalism by John Reed, edited by John Newsinger (1998)

Substitute 'Manchester' for 'Blackpool', 'David Miliband' for 'Tony Blair', and remove the reference to Robin Cook, and Paul Foot's description of Labour Party conference ten years ago could have been written yesterday. Only this year, there was not only a march of thousands outside but also an alternative 'Conference of the Left' (perhaps one sign of the growing realisation of the need for a left alternative to Labourism after a decade of Blairism and Brownism (where 'Brown' stands for Blairite Reactionary Only Without Novelty). And of course both the march and the convention of the Left have been obliterated by journalists as if they did not take place. As Foot went onto note,

No wonder the word ‘journalist’ has become almost a term of abuse in socialist circles. If this is the way journalists behave, surely they must be part of the capitalist conspiracy to exploit and humiliate working people? In truth, however, the word journalist describes only a person who writes about the contemporary world. Since the single most obvious fact about the contemporary world is that is ultimately divided into two classes, a journalist can write for one class or the other. Of course it is much easier and more profitable to write on behalf of the authorities. But the history of the century is lit up by journalists who wrote against the stream.

I am afraid I was not in Manchester at all this weekend. But I have recently got 'freeview' which enables one should one wish to watch the BBC Parliament channel which has live coverage of all the three main British neo-liberal political party conferences. I would not really advise watching the Liberal Democrat conference unless one has severe flu or something, as the utterly pointless and vacuous nature of proceedings makes it depressing viewing and really suitable only for the living braindead. The odd glimpses of the Labour Party conference I have seen so far have been marginally more interesting. Every time someone makes a vaguely 'left' point (such as criticising Margaret Thatcher or the obscene amount of money sloshing around the City of London bankers in bonuses and so on) they get cheers and applause. But the gap between socialist rhetoric and the neoliberal reality of New Labour is throughout the conference left me crying out for just one person to be brave to point out the hypocrisy of it all. I was left confused. At times it seemed as if I was watching some perverse bureaucratic Stalinist rally where speaker after speaker got up to denounce the greed of bankers, the devastating legacy of thirty years of neoliberalism and the idiotic freemarket ideology of the Tories and Lib Dems while ending with praise for the Dear Leader Gordon Brown as if he was a great socialist visionary. A delegate from the 'Socialist Health Association' got up and after praising the small number of genuine reforms that Labour had made attacked the fact that the gap between rich and poor had got wider under 11 years of Labour in power. The audience applauded. Yes! I thought - at last - someone is brave enough to speak truth to power. Only then, the aforementioned delegate ended his contribution by saying 'and that is why we all need to rally round Gordon Brown and ensure a fourth term of Labour Government' - again to applause from the deluded audience which made me utterly despair of it all.

At other times, I wondered if the delegates were playing a more clever and subtle game. By attacking Thatcher and the 'Tory lunatics who believe in the free market' so openly (while in a ritualistic manner also praising the Dear Leader Brown) were they not also implicitly attacking Brown (who after all met Thatcher, praised her, and is considering shelling out 3 million quid of tax payers money on a state funeral for her)? Was this the only way they could legitimately express dissent? If anyone openly and explicitly made a socialist critique of New Labour would they be arrested under the Terrorism Act for 'inciting violence' or something?

The whole thing anyway was decidedly Stalinist - though the only thing I couldn't quite work out was whether the delegates were consciously complicit in this or were playing the game while also trying to tell Gordon Brown his Tory policies were the reason why his Government was so unpopular in the only way they could...

So what 'stories' and 'news' have the journalists told us about Labour conference so far? Well, we get a sense of the sycophancy and careerism of younger delegates.

[Home Secretary] Jacqui Smith got the best reaction, which is saying very little. Emily Benn, 18-year-old granddaughter of Tony Benn, announced that it was a "fantastic honour to be anywhere near her!"...She was rewarded with a home secretarial hug. At the end of Ms Smith's speech a few people stood to applaud, then more, but very, very slowly. It was like a standing ovation from scores of arthritis sufferers.

And apparently Foreign Secretary David Miliband thinks that the Labour Government may have made a mistake in waging war on the people of Iraq, noting 'It's clear that despite Saddam's best efforts to persuade us he had weapons of mass destruction, he didn't.' Er, lets think - what were 'Saddam's best efforts to persuade us he had WMD' again? Ah, yes, I remember now. When asked by Tony Benn in February 2003 whether he possessed chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, he replied that he did not. 'These weapons do not come in small pills that you can hide in your pocket,' he said. And this is coming from Miliband, the man who is apparently going to save the Labour Party and deliver a fourth Labour term? No, the real stories and news from Labour conference would have come not from the 'idiotic intrigue' inside the conference but from the people who marched outside in their thousands against the warmongers like Miliband inside.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Coke side of Life

'Trade unionists, for example. They stop the people from working. That's why we kill them.'

Mark Thomas explores the link between Columbian paramilitary death squads and Coca-Cola...


Friday, September 19, 2008

Anti-capitalists on the crisis

Given this week has probably been the worst week in the history of capitalism for over seventy years, the Guardian had a nice feature, (which has already been blogged here) interviewing a number of leading anti-capitalists in Britain (and a few other people) on the economic, political and ideological crisis, including Jarvis Cocker, Caroline Lucas, George Galloway, Sheila Rowbottom, Salma Yaqoob and George Monbiot. I will just select a few of the comments below:

This is a very, very serious crisis of capitalism: it has been the build-up of private borrowing that has kept the system going, and it's coming unstuck. The whole system is unwinding; the other day we saw the biggest nationalisation in the history of humanity and that still wasn't enough. Governments don't know what to do, and it's the rest of us who have to live with the consequences. The Labour party is offering no alternative, the Lib Dems are offering no alternative, the Conservatives are offering no alternative. This could be a big moment for the left. But we really need to stand up and use the "c" word, say this is a crisis of capitalism and that people are suffering. The thing is, all the media coverage yesterday was of the bankers leaving Lehman Brothers with their boxes, but the people who will really be hit are the cleaners, the secretaries - what did we see of them? We have to build resistance. Because so far we've only seen the minor problems; people stuck in foreign airports or having a bit of trouble getting a job. Things are going to get much, much worse.
Chris Harman, editor of International Socialism

This is further evidence, if any were needed, of the fact that the market is not and never can be the answer. (The need to pursue illegal wars is pretty strong evidence too, of course.) You look around the world and you see massive need on the one hand, and massive wealth on the other, and the two never connect. The market is massively inefficient, capitalism is massively unstable and turbulent, and it's insane that we are all bound to this terrible wheel of instability. The real left is making a lot of noise about this. There'll be a convention of the left during the Labour party conference, all the shades of genuine leftwing opinion, and we'll be hammering all these questions out from a socialist perspective. But if the papers and the broadcasters fail to record it, it's very difficult for these ideas to penetrate the public consciousness. The media just turns a deaf ear; it chooses not to hear it. It's a lot more interested in the careerism of whoever's after Gordon Brown's job. Will this be a defining moment for the left? It should be, of course but it's very difficult to be optimistic given our history of failure. The war against Iraq was a massive opportunity to create a coherent anti-capitalist movement, to find a real socialist alternative, and we let it slip through our fingers. This is another such opportunity, and we must not let it go. Ken Loach, socialist film director

I remember the 1930s. What the Depression did then was to stimulate antisemitism. I met Oswald Mosley in 1928 when he was a Labour MP. The next time I met him he was wearing a blackshirt. Where there is fear, there is scapegoating, and that is very dangerous. Blair and Brown based their politics on a belief in the market: the market answered all your needs and the state had to be kept out. That confidence has now collapsed and New Labour is seen for what it is. You can't, as New Labour believed, nurse capitalism. I believe a new labour movement will emerge from this with a more realistic sense of how capitalism works. There is a left convention at this year's Labour conference, a sort of parallel conference. This year's Labour conference is the first in my lifetime when you will not be allowed to vote, so the left convention will get a lot of attention. At last, after a period when we've been told to trust the gamblers, there are many relevant ideas emerging on the left.
Tony Benn, the legend that is.

This growing crisis will mean misery for working people and shows that everything we've been told about the free market has been false. At the same time, it's a big opportunity. Millions of people will be questioning why this has happened, what's wrong with the system, is it 1929 all over again? The left needs to put forward answers. People have the right to work; we have a housing crisis, so why not employ people to build more houses? We are facing great challenges, but there is also a historic opportunity for the left to remake itself. Capitalism has had its chance and failed; now it's socialism's turn.
Lindsey German, convenor Stop the War Coalition and Left List candidate for the London Mayoral elections

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New Labour's rewriting of history #94

'in freeing hundreds of millions of people from imperialism after the war (not least in India), he laid the foundations of a commonwealth of equals.'

David Blunkett on former British Labour Prime Minister Clem Attlee. Words fail me at times like this.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Histomat Exclusive: Brown's speech to conference leaked

[You would have thought with a draft version of Brown's speech to Labour Party conference being leaked to Histomat last year and with this Government's ability to lose data and memory sticks left right and centre they would have kept a tighter grip on things like this year's draft conference speech by the Dear Leader. Especially since this speech is already being seen as a 'make or break' speech for Gordon Brown's career. But anyway, someone has once again sent us a copy and it indeed makes quite astonishing, even controversial reading, and so I have put it up out of public interest, even if I of course don't agree with it.]

National Unity is Strength - National Strength is Unity
Leader's Speech to Labour Party Conference 2008

Brothers, sisters, friends and comrades.

We meet in extraordinarily difficult times. The world economy in is full blown meltdown, and because I was no longer Chancellor over the last year it has meant Britain has also unfortunately been hit by these wider global trends. As the Chancellor responsible for getting us into this mess put it so memorably and eloquently recently, economic conditions in Britain and the world 'are arguably the worst they've been in 60 years' and people are 'pissed off with us'. They might well certainly be pissed off with him. But the history of the our Party is the history of uniting to overcome all manner of adversity and triumphing against the odds. [applause]

Undoubtedly while there has been a media campaign to try and create a political crisis within our Party in the midst of the economic crisis, I personally don't see why anyone in the Labour Party or Labour Government would even consider going along with it. However, while the vast vast majority of the Party remain rightly loyal to me, as we know, there has always been a tiny miniscule self-indulgent tendency in our Party made up of those who prefer the luxury of opposition to the hard choices and grind of government. For them, internal party gossip and politicking is more fun than detailed work to steadily improve the country and the conditions of our people. The media have picked up on the antics of these tiny group of oppositionists in order to try and divert public attention from the great improvements in this country over the last 10 years under the leadership of Tony Blair and myself. And they have been great achievements, achievements so great that they do not even need mentioning here. [applause]

Franklin Roosevelt famously remarked as he embarked on the enormous task of pulling America out of the Great Depression that 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself'. But the history of our Party and our country is also instructive here - who was it who embarked on the enormous task of pulling Britain out of the Great Depression? For while few remember the details of it today, it was the great hardworking Scottish Labour Leader Ramsey MacDonald - the first Labour Prime Minister back in 1924 - who was in office in Britain when the Great Depression hit. It was back then a Labour Government which had to deal with the economic crisis. It was only a Labour Government that could deal with such a crisis. And we should never forget that it was a Labour Government which first had the vision to impose unpopular but necessary public sector wage cuts to help the British economy come through the crisis. Best when bold - best when Labour - that is our tradition. [applause]

However back then as well as today there were a disloyal minority who argued that it should not be the working class who are made to pay for what they called 'a capitalist crisis'. Just as a disloyal minority within the Party today want us to raise public sector pay and levy a windfall tax on profits, back then there was a disloyal faction who didn't want us as a Party to cut unemployment benefit.

What did the great Ramsey MacDonald do in the face of this discontent? He did what every right thinking Labour Prime Minister and Leader should do - he put the interests of the 'Nation' - Britain - before any kind of sectional 'Party' or 'Class' interest. MacDonald, together with his Chancellor Snowden decided out of loyalty to King and Country to form a new 'National Labour Party' that would not be held back by such disloyal factionalism. It was a brave honourable decision. To put King and Country before Class and Party was a truly courageous decision putting the common good before narrow interest. It showed tremendous foresight and leadership. As MacDonald told the cabinet, 'If we yield now to the TUC we shall never be able to call our bodies or souls or intelligences our own.'

In the ensuing election of October 1931, MacDonald's new National Labour Party in alliance with the other National Parties of the day, swept to power with 554 seats. The tiny rump who still called themselves 'the Labour Party' went from about 288 to 52 seats. They were humiliated as they deserved to be. MacDonald - the great Scottish leader - stayed as Prime Minister for the next four years and it was only his genius that helped Britain get its way out of the Depression.

Today the lessons of our past are clear. Only one person has the experience and the economic expertise to get our country through this crisis. It is obvious who that person is - and it certainly isn't the current Chancellor (sorry Darling). We cannot be in hoc to the trade unions as a Party and a Government. That is why if this Party should ever decide to act the way of the old Labour Party and try and replace me as leader then myself and Darling will lead the formation of a true National Labour Party to put Britain first. British Jobs for British Workers and British Bankers remains our slogan for the coming period. National Unity is Strength - and National Strength is Unity - that must be our rallying slogan as a Party. To quote the great Winston Churchill, 'Let us go forward, together.'[cheers]

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Brown's 'practical warm homes package'

This is how New Labour plans to keep people's homes warm this winter. The particular people's homes in question are in Afghanistan. Meanwhile in Britain, according to Help the Aged, 25,000 pensioners could die this winter of cold because of New Labour's refusal to levy a windfall tax on the obscene profits of greedy energy companies.


Monday, September 15, 2008

The Revolution Will Not Be Online

Though one can read a hell of a lot about past revolutions online thanks to 'Google Books', which has for example large chunks of Pierre Broue's The German Revolution up here to 'preview'. I am not really sure about 'Google Books' to be honest - in a sense it is a good thing that such stuff is online but if you actually try and read very much of it it is so full of blanks and missing pages it makes you wonder why you actually bothered and what the point is of 'Google Books' (apart from trying to get you to buy the book obviously). Or have I missed something?

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Conference: 1649 and the execution of King Charles

Call for papers: 1649 and the execution of King Charles

Conference to be held at the Institute of Historical Research Senate House, Malet Street London WC1

Saturday 7 February 2009

30 January 1649 is one of the key dates in the history of British democracy but it is commemorated nowhere in Britain. It was the day when King Charles 1st was beheaded and the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, the foundation of modern Parliamentary democracy, came into effective being. It was a revolutionary moment and it brought onto the historical stage people, ideas and movements that went well beyond anything that Cromwell and the senior leadership of the New Model Army had in mind. Brian Manning in his seminal book on 1649 notes that this was a year when popular mobilisations did not happen. There was no popular uprising to mark the Commonwealth, and no popular protest atthe execution of the King. There was however an Army revolt at Burford, also celebrating its anniversary this year, which was brutally put down by Cromwell. 1649 was also the year when Cromwell landed in Dublin to initiate brutal episodes in Ireland. This conference will look at the liberties and democratic practices ushered in by 1649 and at those who wanted to take them further.

Keynote speakers confirmed so far include

Geoffrey Robertson (author,The Tyrannicide Brief),
Geoff Kennedy (author, Diggers, Levellers and Agrarian Capitalism, forthcoming),
John Rees (author, A Rebel's Guide to Milton, forthcoming)
and Norah Carlin (author, The Causes of the English Civil War).

Papers will be considered on any aspect of the year and its legacy, but suggested topics that might be addressed include:
i) The origins of the decision to execute: in parliamentary discussions or outside parliament
ii) The relationship between execution and the civil war
iii) Discussion of whether the decision to execute King Charles was justified
iv) The connection between tyrannicide and the republican political movements or theory of the 1640s
v) The demands of the New Model Army, its relationship to parliament,and its part in the decision to execute
vi) The discussion of tyrannicide in Royalists or Parliamentarian literature after 1649
vii) The impact of the execution on movements such as the Levellers or Diggers, or on the religious movements of the time; their discussion of the execution, or its impact on their fortunes after 1649

For further information or to send abstracts of papers (up to 1,000 words) until 31 November 2008 contact the organisers at conference2008@londonsocialisthistorians.org.

Find out more about the LSHG

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

New Labour's market failure

We are now in the bizarre situation where a neoconservative Republican US administration is taking far more radical measures than a British Labour government to combat the crisis: cutting interest rates, putting cash in people's pockets, intervening heavily in the financial markets, and now nationalising the country's two largest mortgage lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac...

So writes Seamus Milne, and see also Lenin's Tomb on the dire state of British politics under Brown. What Brown could and should be doing in the midst of this economic crisis is not too difficult to work out - after all, even George W. Bush has managed it, though whether state intervention can always save the day is of course unlikely. As Mark Steel, whose generally disappointing and at times distinctly frustrating new book What's Going On? is reviewed in the latest Socialist Review, points out:

'one of Labour's slogans is still: "For the many, not the few". Maybe they've got the words the wrong way round and need to see an episode of Sesame Street that goes: "Many. Few. Here are millions of people struggling to pay higher fuel bills. They are Many. Many. Here is an oil company boardroom. Are there millions? No, there are nine. Few. Few. Many people pay bills, Few people run off with the money. Many. Few."'

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Stop the War Demonstration in Manchester

English ruling class proto-fascists #94: EA Freeman

Professor EA Freeman - he would have preferred Adolf Hitler to Barack Obama

It has become customary among the 'decent', 'pro-war Left' to bemoan the apparent general state of the humanities in academia today. As one leading 'decent' , Professor Alan Johnson, so memorably put it, 'The postmodern academic tells students that the human condition has been blighted by "western-patriarchal-racist-homophobic-logocentric-capitalist-imperialism" and talks of the "multitude" that resist this new "Empire".' In the latest issue of his 'decent' journal Democratiya, he attacks the 'high theory and low sensibility [which] are increasingly important in the mass media, the arts, the academy and in what we might call graduate-popular-culture'.

Given this the 'decents' would surely want us all to remember the 'good old days' of academia in Britain when Empire was something that was celebrated and eulogised from the lecture podium (and the scruffy 'multitude' were kept safely out of the University altogether). The academics back in the day after all would of course all celebrate 'the human condition' wholeheartedly without any reservations whatsoever. Take, for example, EA Freeman (1823-1892), a forgotten figure today, but for a period during the nineteenth century he was one of the most pre-eminent English Liberal historians of his day, author of a History of the Norman Conquest , and in 1884 appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford by William Gladstone, a friend of his, a position he held until his death. What did this 'decent' Liberal intellectual with such close ties to the English ruling class of his day have to say about 'the human condition'?

Well this is EA Freeman on Jewish people, at the time facing bloody pogroms in Eastern Europe and Tsarist Russia:

'Every nation has a right to get rid of strangers who prove a nuisance, whether they are Chinese in America or Jews in Russia'. Indeed, 'it is the natural instinct of any decent nation to get rid of filthy strangers', and Jewish people were 'an instrument of Satan'. He had no time for what he called 'this Jew humbug', positing that Jewish people somehow controlled the world's media, and arguing 'Let every nation wallop its own Jews'.

And this is EA Freeman on black Americans, then being lynched on a regular basis, while on a visit to the USA:

'The really queer thing is the niggers who swarm here; my Aryan prejudices go against them, specially when they rebuke one and order one about. And the women and the children are yet stranger than the men. Are you sure that they are men? I find it hard to believe they are men acting seriously: 'tis easier to believe that they are big monkeys dressed up for a game...I am sure 'twas a mistake making them citizens. I feel a creep when I think that one of those great black apes may (in theory) be President. Surely treat your horse kindly; but don't make him consul.'(Quotes from 'The Failure of Liberal Racism: The Racial Ideas of EA Freeman' by CJW Parker, The Historical Journal, 1981)

Is it so surprising that this racist proto-fascist was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University and celebrated among the English ruling class of his day at the high point of the British Empire? No. Nor is it surprising that the 'decent Left' today find themselves inevitably resorting to racism against Muslims in order to effectively wage propaganda war on behalf of the American Empire. The various Professors of the 'pro-war Left' have far more in common with Professor EA Freeman than they know. No wonder that fascists internationally are rubbing their hands in gleeful anticipation at the rising tide of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant racism more generally - they are happy to ride the tiger of racism all the way to the gas chambers.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Big Bill Moore

Bill Moore (1911-2008)

[If you are up on your American working class history, you will have heard of 'Big Bill Haywood', but I am guessing that far fewer readers of Histomat will have heard of the British socialist historian 'Big Bill Moore', (1911-2008) who sadly died recently, (see his obituary in Socialist Worker here) and whose life in Sheffield in many ways encapsulates the history of the wider British working class movement and its struggles during the twentieth century. I was fortunate enough to hear him talk movingly about his life three years ago at a meeting organised by the Socialist History Society in Salford, and I will never forget his descriptions of the poverty he experienced growing up in industral Sheffield. At the meeting I picked up a copy of 'History From Below', a short autobiographical pamphlet written by the big man himself in 2005. One other piece of his writing is online here, an account of Sheffield shop stewards during the First World War. In tribute to him I will reprint some early extracts from History From Below, about his life, below.]

Extracts from History From Below - By Bill Moore (2005)

'My father was a butcher, apprenticed to the Argentine Meat Co in Sheffield. When he finished his apprenticeship in 1908, the firm sent him to manage their shop in Scunthorpe. There he met my mother; they married in September 1909, and I arrived 18 months later in March 1911. Unhappily, two weeks later my mother died from puerperal fever, common enough in those days...My grandmother had thirteen children. She lost five in infancy in those dreadful 1880s and 1890s, when the level of infant mortality approached that of a southern African country today. A sixth child died in 1905 from TB. So seven survived: my father, two brothers and four sisters...

I was three years old when the First World War began in August 1914...the first to go was my uncle Jack. Strictly he was only a would-be uncle. He was engaged to Clara and they'd planned to marry in the autumn of 1914. But he was on the Naval Reserve, and was carried off straight away. In the summer of 1916 his destroyer was torpedoed and went down with all hands.Then at the end of April 1917 my Uncle Joe was killed...Ten days later, two days before his 30th birthday, my father was killed...So that was the dreadful side of the war. What was a little boy to make of it? I hated the Germans of course - so did the rest of my family. But why did countries attack each other, kill each other? And when I began to discover some simple history at school, I discovered it wasn't just our present war - history seemed full of wars. Why? Didn't anybody learn the lessons. What I hated most of all was war itself.

My first anti-war statement was in 1922 when I won a scholarship to King Edward VII Grammar School, the leading school in Sheffield, independent at that time, with a headmaster who ran an OTC - Officers Training Corps - boys in khaki drilling on the school premises, summer camp and so on. All newcomers to the school were invited to join. I refused. I wasn't the only one. There were three of us who'd lost our fathers in the war. We all refused, and in the circumstances were never pressed.

The second occasion was when I was at Oxford. I'd won a scholarship to Oriel College in 1930 to do a degree in History, and it was in the spring of 1933 that a great scandal shook the country; at a meeting of the Students' Union we passed a resolution "in no circumstances would we fight for King and Country." What a hullabaloo! These weren't a bunch of ignorant working class yobbos. They were the future rulers of Britain, the future MPs, captains of industry, bank managers, doctors...immediately that arrogant lout Randolph Churchill [son of Winston Churchill] (who'd gone down the year before) made a public statement, reported in all the papers, that he was coming back to Oxford to get that resolution expunged from the minute book. He came a month later. At the first meeting there'd been about 400 of us - the vote was 250-odd to 153 (I think). But at the recall meeting there were 900, the place was packed, we could hardly breathe. And after the lout had made his demagogic statement, the vote was: for his resolution to expunge, 138 (I always remember that figure!), with 750-odd against. What a hoot! The lout crept back to London with his tail between his legs!

The vote in both debates was, of course, mainly a pacifist one. But there was a sizeable minority (including myself; I hated war but I was never a pacifist) who thought that the form of society we lived in wasn't worth fighting for. But this was at the bottom of the worst, longest-lasting, world capitalist slump there's ever been. Starting in the USA in the autumn of 1929, it spread rapidly through the entire capitalist industrial world, which only began to emerge from it five or six years later, 1935, 1936.

I knew about unemployment...When I began at King Edward's I cycled to school: two miles up the valley to the city centre, then about a mile and a half into the more salubrious west of the city. On the two miles of the valley I was always passing groups of men at the street corners, just standing there, passing a fag round...I learned about the battles of the Labour Exchange. It took most of the '20s to get a settled Unemployment Register. It was even worse for those who didn't qualify and had to gon on relief. This meant going to the Board of Guardians and asking for some cash. They'd say: "Right, go home and the Officer will visit you." Which he did a few days later. He'd walk straight in - didn't even have time to knock, so you wouldn't have time to hide anything - and go through the house, and you had to open all cupboards and drawers for him, while he took note of all your little treasures and finished up saying, "Right, you've got this and that and this and that - sell them and then come and see us in a fortnight." You're no longer just poor, you're destitute. The most hated men in the city! The wonder is that none of them was ever strangled!

...Even that wasn't the end of the troubles for the working class: Sheffield had a special problem. The Don Valley...according to Sheffield's Medical Officer of Health, was the third filthiest place in the world after Dusseldorf in Germany and Pittsburgh in the USA. On every square mile, every month, there fell 40 tons of soot, nearly 300 tons on the valley every month, over 3000 tons every year - not occasionally, but every year, every decade from the turn of the century till 1955 when the Clean Air Act came in (and people from all over Europe came to see the new, clean Sheffield!)

Imagine being one of the 60,000 or 70,000 housewives in the Don Valley, coping with that, not for a year or two, but for a lifetime! My grandmother dusted the house from top to bottom every day. At least once a week she washed everything, all floors, lino, windows, window frames, inside and out, banisters, staircase, front door, inside and out, back door the same....Every Monday morning of her married life, she was up at four o'clock in the morning to do the week's wash...the washing had to be out by 5.30 at the latest, because by seven o'clock it had to be brought in, because the factories opened them, the furnaces were lit, and by 7.15 the soot began to fall again...Every housewife had the same problem...three quarters of them never gave in. I always remember my grandmother saying to me once: It's muck, love. Muck's our devil, but I can look him in the face and spit in his eye!" So could they all. I know of no other pride that comes within a million miles of that, pride in having a clean house, clean kids, even a clean old man, in a world of filth. Though, of course, it was never just about being clean. It was about never giving in, however bloody awful the condition of your life were. You didn't give in! Those women, wonderful women. I think I've had them on my conscience all my life. But what could a boy do, except help his old gran now and again, doing a bit of shopping to save her legs.

So there I was in the early '30s. I took my degree in History in 1933 and then spent a year at London University, studying for a Diploma in Education, because I wanted to teach history. And in the summer of 1934 I was finished and looking for a job - still in the depths of the world slump. I soon found nobody wanted teachers - they were ten a penny! I remember the figures. I can't remember how many graduates altogether were out of work, but there were more than 2000 would-be teachers, and of those, over 500 were would-be history teachers. Eventually I gave up applying to the occasional advert. I made a bit of money by tutoring the kids my old Headmaster sent me, who needed extra tuition. Then I found the W[orkers] E[ductional] A[ssociation] and began doing classes...

At the same time, I was not happy about history. What was it really about? What lessons could you draw from history? The idea that had developed in the nineteenth century that things were getting better, people's lives were improving decade by decade, was rudely shaken by the First World War, staggered by the unemployment of the '20s, and completely destroyed by the World Slump that started in 1929. Was history really just one damn thing after another? No real progress? So I was still reading widely. Three books I remember clearly. The first was The Revolutions of Civilisation by the world famous Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, who described how history was a series of civilisations that rose, developed, flourished, declined and faded away - and out of its ashes rose the next one, to go through the same routine. Babylon, Persia, Hittites, Greece, Rome, our own Western world. Was the great World Slump the end of our stage? Then Arnold Toynbee was writing his Study of History. I read the first two volumes and it was more or less the same story, though in much greater detail. Finally I read The Decline of the West by that master of gloom and doom, Oswald Spengler, who was in no doubt at all - this slump was the end of our civilisation! What to make of it?

Happily, it was at this point, in the summer of 1935, that I met a Communist Party member. He was engaged to the sister of an old friend of mine. I'd met Communists at Oxford, of course...and I'd been to one or two October Club meetings. But I couldn't stand the speakers they had - usually from London. They were so damned arrogant: they knew all the answers! I wasn't really sure I knew what the right questions were! But this fellow in 1935 was different. He'd even listen to me! But most important of all - he gave me a copy of The Communist Manifesto to read. I took it home, it was on a Friday night, everybody's gone to bed, and I sat in my grandmother's rocking chair in front of the living-room fire and opened the booklet.

It was incredible, unbelievable! Talk about Paul on the road to Damascus - it was something I can never forget! The revelation! "All recorded history is the history of class struggle!" There it was, the thread that linked all history. Through every civilisation the pattern was the same: the struggle of the mass of people to win a better life from the elite that owned everything - revolt after revolt, hundreds of them, but never achieving anything substantial because the increase in wealth was so slow over the centuries - until the Industrial Revolution gave the promise of an eventual rich life for all, once we got rid of the owners of the means of production. "Workers of all lands, unite! You've nothing to lose but your chains!"
I don't think my feet touched the ground for the next three days! And of course I immediately joined the Communist Party...

We were greatly encouraged by the victory in the spring of 1936 of the Popular Front in the French General Election, the result of its work following the agreement of socialists and communists in 1934. So one or two of us decided to go to Paris for the first Bastille day celebrations after the election victory. It was unbelievable!
We got there a few days early and found the city (in spite of a widespread strike) in full holiday mood. Every night, in every square of the city, a band was playing and people were singing and dancing all night long. We were going to bed at six in the morning and getting up at two in the afternoon. And Bastille day itself - I can't remember which square it was - Place Nationale, Place de la Bastille - but we were there watching the advance of the demonstration, spread sixty or seventy feet across the whole boulevard. And in the middle of the front row Leon Blum, the new socialist Prime Minister, side by side with Maurice Thorez, the leader of the French Communist Party, not quite holding hands, but shoulder to shoulder, grinning all over their faces. And behind them - it looked as if every other person had a red flag. All you could see was a vast mass of red flags. Everybody was cheering and dancing. According to the papers, a million people marched that day and three million watched from the sidewalks. Unbelievable! And we were saying to each other: "This is surely it - this must be it - this is where the tide turns - this is where we start dealing with Hitler and Mussolini!"'

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Oliver's Army

Oliver Cromwell - A great revolutionary of his time

When Gandhi visited Britain during the 1930s, he was told by some patronising and pompous Professor of Colonial History at Oxford that the Indian nationalist movement would win in the end if it worked peacefully for democracy and independence from the British Empire. Gandhi replied by asking the professor whether that was how either Britain or America had succeeded in winning their democracy.

The 3rd of September 2008 marked the 350th anniversary of the death of Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the great democratic bourgeois revolution which took place in England during the 1640s. John Rees describes his life here, which serves to also remind us that democracy was not bestowed on Britain by an enlightened British ruling class nor was it the product of a foreign army waging some imperialist 'civilising mission'. Rather it came from below, through class struggle. As Rees notes,

Cromwell was the decisive figure of the English Revolution of the 1640s. He came from that part of society that was to be the engine of the revolution. He was a distant descendent of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s "hammer of the monks". His family benefited from the sale of church lands at the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1540.

This development weakened the lords’ dependence on the monarch and created a new layer of landowners more likely to relate to commercial interests than to respond to old feudal loyalties. Cromwell himself noted that he was "by birth a gentleman, living neither in any considerable height, nor yet in obscurity". In the 1630s, he was, as historian John Morrill points out, "a yeoman, a working farmer. He had moved down from the gentry to the ‘middling sort’."

This new "middling sort" were more than economically opposed to the old feudal restrictions and Charles I’s taxes on new wealth. They were also ideologically opposed to the semi-Catholic forms of church hierarchy and idolatry. For them these undermined the Puritan reformation that had begun when Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church.

I once visited Cromwell's house at Ely (see picture below):

It was here that Cromwell lived for ten years after 1636, during what might be called the heroic phase of his career where he built up his New Model Army of legend. It is not a particularly big or grand house, indeed quite in keeping with a revolutionary hero opposed to privilege during the seventeenth century.

As the Civil War polarised opinion, Cromwell’s determination triumphed. His regiment, the Ironsides of the Eastern Association, was the most effective force in the army. It became the model for the whole army when it was reorganised, or "new modelled", in 1644, following the failure of the parliamentary forces to make a major breakthrough.

Cromwell pushed out the old leaders by insisting that parliament pass the "self denying ordinance" banning MPs and lords from holding command in this New Model Army – with one exception, Cromwell himself. But the real strength of both the Eastern Association and the New Model Army was that they mobilised the energy of the lower classes and did not simply rely on the gentry, the traditional ruling class of the counties.

When Cromwell was criticised for appointing a captain of horse who was not from the gentry he replied, "I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else." Cromwell’s policy, and the radical Puritan ideology that imparted discipline to these recruits from the "middling sort", transformed the military situation. This force annihilated the Royalists at the battles of Marston Moor and Naseby in 1644 and 1645.

The New Model Army proved in practice to be an ideal form of revolutionary organisation for waging class war successfully. That is why the founder of the Red Army during the Russian Revolution Leon Trotsky always paid his respects to Cromwell, who he wrote was 'a great revolutionary of his time, who knew how to uphold the interests of the new, bourgeois social system against the old aristocratic one without holding back at anything'.

Today, in Britain and internationally socialists need to take inspiration from the revolutionary history of the past in order to build up a 'New' New Model Army in the present. We can learn from Cromwell that for the new ideas to triumph over the old in a revolutionary struggle one needs to build an organisation with the ideas, determination and discipline to provide revolutionary leadership. Only then can we win the victory of democracy against imperialism, and win a new world without classes, war, and violence.

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Bertolt Brecht on War

General, your tank is a powerful vehicle.
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.
It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.
But it has one defect:
It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.

'From a German War Primer'

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Dorothy Thompson Speaks


Dorothy Thompson, author of The Chartists
will introduce Stephen Roberts, author of The Chartist Prisoners: The Radical Lives of Thomas Cooper (1805-1892) and Arthur O'Neill (1819-1896)

Saturday 13th September, 2pm
Birmingham & Midland Institute, Margaret St, Birmingham City Centre

The Chartist Prisoners tells the stories of Thomas Cooper & Arthur O'Neill. Imprisoned in 1843, these two Chartist leaders formed a friendship which lasted for fifty years. These two men led very busy lives. Cooper wrote novels & poetry, getting to know Carlyle & Dickens well, & became a Christian lecturer. O'Neill became a tireless campaigner for peace & international arbitration.

Organised by People’s History of the West Midlands.
Info 07977 057 902 or email peopleshistoryofthewestmidlands@yahoo.co.uk

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