The Miners' Next Step
Well, this is a gem and a half! The Miners' Next Step, published by a group of left-wing miners in South Wales, is probably the most important expression of the revolutionary syndicalist movement which was of real influence in the years just before the First World War.
One of the principal authors was Noah Ablett, born in the Rhondda, who attended the trade union-linked Ruskin College at Oxford. He was also a founder memebr of the Plebs League.
Ablett was working at Mardy colliery in 1911 when he helped to found the Unofficial Reform Committee, which espoused a more aggressive form of trade unionism, advocating a minimum wage and eventual miners' control of the collieries.
The back of the pamphlet promotes left-wing literature, including the journal of the Plebs League.
(In case you were wondering where I got this pamphlet, it was on sale at a stall run by the Marx Memorial Library at a gathering about radical bookshops. This was a duplicate copy in the library's holdings.)
A May Day visit today to a second-hand book sale at the Marx Memorial Library on Clerkenwell Green, where I came across four wonderful political song books.
The most interesting is People's Parodies, published in 1938. The parodies were the work of Rufus Hogg - which might have been a pseudonym for Randall Swingler - with illustrations by the Daily Worker cartoonist, Gabriel. This sort of thing -
I can't imagine the parodies were much sung - but they do raise a smile
And the striking orange cover has a Gabriel drawing of Neville Chamberlain being done over by Mr Punch - who's a pretty boy, then!
This pocket size song book was designed to be taken on the march - it seems to be linked to the Topic Records LP ( remember them!) 'Songs Against the Bomb', released in 1960.
The cover design - by Kit Cooper - is a clever riff on the CND peace symbol in the form of a note on a musical stave. It was published by John Foreman, who styled himself 'the Broadsheet King'. The pamphlet features all sorts of songs, including the work of Pete Seeger, Peggy Seeger, Ewan MacColl and Sydney Carter.
'The H Bomb's Thunder' became the unofficial Aldermaston anthem - written by John Brunner, who went on to achieve fame as a writer of science fiction. Don't know it? Here it is -
Some of the songs were stirring, tunes to stride to - others were more reflective, such as Sydney Carter's 'The Crow on the Cradle' ...
... which happily is still being sung, not least by the magical Lady Maisery -
This slender pamphlet finds space for other songs of protest and of salvation - and the inclusion of so many songs written for the post-war peace movement gives this selection a very different feel from the socialist songbooks of the time. And these songs were sung!
The New Left and Official Secrets: the curious case of Paul Thompson and William Miller
This is a wonderful reminder of one of Britain's less well known Official Secrets trials. It's from 1958 - the height of the Cold War. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had just been established, and the first Aldermaston march against nuclear weapons took place in April that year.
This pamphlet - well, more a leaflet - was published (at one remove) by one of the main titles of the emerging New Left, Universities & Left Review. It reprinted an article from the Oxford student magazine Isis of February 1958 which revealed the dubious tactics that Britain's armed forces used against the Soviet bloc and to ensure the effectiveness of their signals intelligence.
The article makes interesting reading -
The leaflet was published by the ULR Club, and the address given appears to be that of Raphael Samuel, one of the founders of Universities & Left Review.
A pencilled note on the leaflet reads: 'Postgraduate students were jailed for this.' And that seems to be true - two students were indeed locked up.
The picture agency Shutterstock has online a photo taken on 21st May 1958 with the caption: 'Paul Richard Thompson (l) And William Miller (r) - Two Oxford Undergraduates Charged Under The Official Secrets Act With Communicating Secret Information Following An Article In The Undergraduate Magazine "Isis".'' Another photo of the pair dates from two months later.
According to an obituary of William Miller - who went on to become a successful editor, publisher and literary agent - the two men were sentenced to three months in jail with the specific proviso that this should be served in a low security open jail. In other words, the judge reckoned that while there had been a breach of the Official Secrets Act, it was a nuisance rather than a threat to national security.
The other defendant, Paul Thompson, appears to be the distinguished sociologist and oral historian of that name. He was certainly a student at Oxford at the time and - more tellingly - had studied Russian in the navy during his National Service.
Major John Cartwright (1740-1824) was one of the most prominent and persistent advocates of Parliamentary Reform in the late eighteenth century and through to the Regency era. This pamphlet was published two years before the Peterloo massacre - Cartwright had been expected to attend that Reform gathering in Manchester but in the end didn't.
Cartwright was born into privilege and was eccentric and unbiddable as well as deeply principled. He was a very early British advocate of American independence, and that's - as well as his advocacy of Reform - is what he's celebrated for in the statue of in Cartwright Gardens (he lived and died nearby on what was then Burton Crescent) in Bloomsbury.
In this pamphlet, Cartwright advocates universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts and annual Parliaments and secret polling (though not the use of a paper ballot).
It's a very detailed and prescriptive proposal, and he goes so far as to sketch the lay-out of a polling station (quite a change from the open hustings then common in Parliamentary elections).
If you want to know more about the nature of the Reform Cartwright had in mind, here's the abstract he provided:
That man John Pym!
There is something magical about pamphlets and political ephemera from the era of the English Civil War. This is a really wonderful six-page tract from the run-up to the breach between King and Parliament which led to war and eventually the execution of Charles I in 1649.
John Pym was a champion of the Parliamentary cause and an opponent or arbitrary rule. He was one of the five MPs whose attempted arrest in Parliament in 1642 led directly to civil war. As you can see, this pamphlet is from the previous year - June 1641 to be precise.
Pym here addresses his demands to Charles, calling for the King to disband his army, give his assent to disputed bills and to remove Catholics from the queen's retinue. It also calls for the king to guarantee the safety of Pym and his family.
John Pym died in 1643, probably from cancer, and didn't see the full depths of the turmoil into which the nation plunged.
There's a 'lockdown' on - but that doesn't mean giving up. Indeed, it's a time to turn to passions and enthusiasms for intellectual sustenance - as well as helping family, friends and community through the pandemic.
I've just got hold of one of the key political documents of the nineteenth century. It's simply a twelve-page pamphlet - but it both was the first recognisable party election manifesto and is regarded as the founding document of modern Conservatism.
Sir Robert Peel wrote the 'Tamworth Manifesto' - here's the full text - as a statement of his views to his Parliamentary constituents in December 1834. But it was also intended for much wider circulation. It appeared in the papers and the pamphlet was widely circulated.
Two years earlier, a Whig government led by Earl Grey had seen the Great Reform Bill - the first big measure of Parliamentary reform - through to the statute book. Towards the end of 1834, King William IV dismissed the Whig government and invited Sir Robert Peel to form a Tory administration. Inconveniently for all concerned, Peel was in Rome at the time and the Tory diehard the Duke of Wellington served as acting prime minister for a couple of weeks.
Once back, Peel installed his cabinet but also sought a dissolution of Parliament and fresh elections. The Tamworth manifesto was designed to present his views - and so that of any future administration he led - to the country, particularly on the great issue of Reform which most Tories had opposed.
In the crucial passage of the manifesto, Peel declared:
'I consider the Reform Bill a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question - a settlement which no friend to the peace and welfare of this country would attempt to disturb, either by direct or insidious means'.
Peel was making clear that he had no wish to turn the clock back and undo the measure of Parliamentary reform so recently, and controversially, introduced.
He also expressed what some might see as the key principles of progressive Conservatism. He was content to abide by the spirit of Reform if that meant simply
'a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, undertaken in a friendly temper, combining, with the firm maintenance of established rights, the correction of proved abuses, and the redress of real grievances'
but he also made clear that he had no sympathy with a process of reform that
'meant we are to live in a perpetual vortex of agitation'.
That just about sums up modern Conservatism.
Peel's Tories emerged as the largest Parliamentary group in the election of January 1835 but they were well short of an overall majority. His administration lasted just three months.
In 1841 Peel regained power and presided over a notably reforming Conservative administration which culminated in his decision to repeal the Corn Laws, so splitting his party and relegating it to the opposition benches for a generation.
If Peel is remembered above all for dividing his party, he also deserves to be recalled for setting down in a few simple sentences its lasting approach to political and constitutional change.
Much joy at Much Binding
It must be almost a decade since I popped into a bookshop in Cromer, on the north Norfolk coast, and came out with an assortment of goodies. The stuff that makes the rest of my household despair, but I really love ... like an assortment of old copies of Socialist Standard and pamphlets from the left libertarian group Solidarity.
I've been meaning to go back - and in the past week I managed it.
And the good news is that Andy and Susan Slovak's shop, Much Binding (as in 'in the Marsh'), is not only still going but still awash with pamphlets, ephemera and all the sort of stuff that makes a second-hand bookshop special.
So what did I come away with? Well, a couple of 1930s copies of the Daily Worker, and of the New Clarion of similar vintage complete with details of the Clarion cycling clubs which were once such an important aspect of socialist culture (the National Clarion Cycling Club is still going, by the way).
And there was this choice piece of political ephemera - the Blastfurnacemen's ball (it sounds a bit like 'I'm Sorry I Don't Have a Clue', doesn't it!), at the Beehive Hall in - as far as I can make out - Workington in Cumbria.
And here's an election canvassing card from ninety years ago - William Preston, by the way, was a Tory and in 1929 he lost Walsall to Labour.
And then there are the pieces of ephemera which offer just a glimpse of a personal story - like this 1946 recruitment leaflet for the police force in Palestine. It seems to have been an option for those required to do National Service -
And on the back, there's this handwritten note -
'I applied in march 1947. But dad would not sign the papers.' Given what was happening in mandated Palestine in the run up to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, I think Dad made a wise decision!
If this sort of thing appeals as much to you as to me, make haste to Much Binding.
The books of New York City
I'm just back from a few days in New York - an end-of-summer break which included (the first time I've ever managed this) visits to two very contrasting second-hand book dealers. Strand Books, on Broadway and 12th near Union Square, boasts eighteen miles of books, and on the top floor has a very welcoming rare book room. I picked up there this signed copy of a title by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in my view the doyen of the Beat poets and the founder of the City Lights bookshop and imprint in San Francisco. He turns 100 next March.
Ferlinghetti has signed an awful lot of books over the years and this wasn't a first edition or anything like that - that was reflected in the modest price. I'm so pleased to have a signed Ferlinghetti.
Jose Alemany was a Catalan-American photographer with close links to the Spanish leftists; Ray Valinsky was a Pittsburgh-based Communist who gets passing mention in the minutes of the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities.
I asked in the rare book room if they had anything in the way of political pamphlets - nothing, it seemed. But a trawl round the shelves proved them wrong. I came across these really nice anarchist propaganda pieces from a century and more ago:
And top marks for the Strand's very apposite selection of badges - I love them almost as much as old pamphlets:
The following day I came across a very different type of book store - the by-appointment-only Jumel Terrace Books near Sugar Hill in Harlem, approximately 150 blocks north of Strand Books, It's run by an exceptionally knowledgeable bibliophile and librarian, Kurt Thometz, whose passion is for West African pamphlets, often libidinous in nature, and also extends to African and African-American literature and politics.
He's also an enthusiast for the American radical Aaron Burr, vice-president during Thomas Jefferson's first term and now destined forever to be remembered as the man who shot dead Hamilton, the guy the musical is about, in a duel. Burr once lived in a very stylish mansion just across the road from Kurt's place.
A real treat to meet Kurt, see some of his library and his wonderful brown stone house - and yes, I did buy a few items. Take a look ...
NHS @ 70
Britain's behemoth - its biggest public institution, its most expensive and by far the most beloved - is celebrating its seventieth birthday.
The National Health Service was the finest creation of Britain's most radical government, the Labour administration led by Clement Attlee which came to power in the 1945 post-war general election. It was the handiwork of the most left-wing of the main figures in that Labour cabinet, Aneurin Bevan. It's not the best health system in the world by a long way - it's creaking and floundering - it's beset by attempts at marketisation and privatisation ... but no government of any persuasion would dare to replace it.
The basic principle that health care should be free to all at the point of delivery is seen as sacrosanct - and what a testament to the British people's sense of social justice.
I don't normally include government publications in my collection of political pamphlets and ephemera. But I was very pleased to come across this wonderful leaflet quite a few years back - I think in a shop in Scarborough. It was issued in February 1948 to tell people what they need to do to get an NHS doctor and free services. It is written with stunning clarity. Take a read ...
Happy birthday, NHS!
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