This wonderful photo of sixty years or more ago - posted here courtesy of Jean McCrindle - shows two of the key figures of the British New Left ... outside an iconic venue of the New Left.
The writing on the back says: 'Ralph [Raphael Samuel] + Edward Thompson + Ernest (the tall guy) + John, Two of the ULR coffee bar people, watching'.
E.P. Thompson (1924-1993) was a Marxist humanist, a peace campaigner and the most distinguished historian of his generation, the author notably of The Making of the English Working Class. He was a member of the Communist Party but in 1956, after the revelations of Khrushchev's 'secret speech' at the 20th Congress of the CPSU denouncing Stalin's 'cult of personality', he - along with another Yorkshire-based historian, John Saville - set up what was in effect a dissident journal, the Reasoner.
After the Soviet-led invasion of Hungary later in the year, both Thompson and Saville left the CP. They closed the Reasoner after three issues but the following year they started the New Reasoner. It was the birth of the British New Left.
Raphael Samuel (1934-1996) was also a historian and the founding figure in the History Workshop movement. He was also a member of the Communist Party, again leaving in 1956. And early in 1957 he - along with Stuart Hall, Chuck Taylor and Gabriel Pearson - set up Universities & Left Review, similar in scope to the New Reasoner, but brighter in design, more concerned about culture and aiming for a slightly younger and less party-oriented readership.
The two journals coalesced at the beginning of 1960 to form the New Left Review. It wasn't an easy alliance and Edward Thompson was at times lacerating in his criticism of Raph and of Stuart Hall, the initial editor of NLR. But those early issues of the Review are a world apart from the theory-heavy (indeed, all round heavy) NLR which emerged out of a 'palace coup' a couple of years later.
And the iconic venue?
Well, one of Raph Samuel's more quixotic ventures was to establish a ULR coffee bar, the Partisan, in Soho. It lost money - quite a lot of money - but kept going from October 1958 to early 1963 (though it was in some decline after 1961). It was a remarkable venture, a 'socialist coffee house', an 'anti-espresso bar', a meeting place with linked offices above which became the heart of a national New Left Club movement.
And all this in Soho - where Marx once lived, where generations of political emigres published and agitated, and which was seen as on the cutting-edge of cool. The coffee house was in Carlisle Street - and that fits with the photo ... it's Soho Square that looms in the background on the right.
The historian Mike Berlin made a radio programme about the Partisan - it's below - and his illustrated account of the club published to accompany an exhibition of Roger Mayne's commissioned photos of the Partisan (held at Four Corners in 2017) is worth seeking out.
The date of the photo - well probably 1958-60.
And Jean McCrindle (born 1937)? Well, she - like Raph - was brought up in a Communist household and joined the CP herself (and also left over Hungary). She was active in the New Left Clubs in Scotland where she was a student.
According to Raph (he says he changed his name to Ralph for a while because fellow-YCLers in North London found his real name impossible to pronounce), he and Jean first met at the CP headquarters on King Street in Covent Garden in the underground room where student 'aggregates' were held. He also recalled proposing to Jean when aged 21 at the summit of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh - though Jean's memory is more that they talked about getting married.
There's a celebrated photo of the couple taken at Trafalgar Square in 1956 ...
... there's no doubt about the location - you can see the National Gallery in the background. And the occasion? Uncertain - but the big political gathering in Trafalgar Square that year was the anti-Suez demonstration on 4th November.
By the end of that month the engagement was over.
Jean McCrindle - who I met this week - has herself been a lifelong activist, pioneering feminist and teacher and twice stood for Parliament.
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.
An open day for local residents today at Highgate East cemetery - that's the 'newer' of the two wings of this wonderful valhalla. It's where Marx and George Eliot are buried, and it's still open for interments.
The chunky Grade 1 listed Marx memorial dates from the 1950s - he was moved from a more hidden away spot where the stone appears to have been vandalised. Among those who followed in his footsteps, Eric Hobsbawm, Raph Samuel and Paul Foot are buried nearby. As, by chance, is George Jacob Holyoake, the cooperator and freethinker, whose grave is adorned by a bust - that's him with the stylishly long hair and beard.
And there is of course the charm of the remarkable, the outlandish and the unexpected.
Shen Liknaitzky has sent me the audio of an interview she conducted with the historian Raphael Samuel more than twenty years ago about the history of May Day. Raph talks about his first May Day march as a youngster in London in 1942, and about the 'almost vanished collective culture' in which popular festivals such as May Day thrived. Do give it a listen:
This is the raw, unedited interview. She conducted it for a long vanished World Service programme called Postmark Africa (the first programme that ever put me on air!), and if you want to hear what the edited version sounded like, here it is:
Raph was one of the commanding figures in twentieth century social history and the main pioneering force behind the History Workshop movement. He championed what has sometimes been described as 'history from below', now an integral part of the pursuit of history. He was also a warm and charismatic figure, who his many friends remember with great warmth.
The boundless intellect and radical curiosity of the historian Raph Samuel , the founder of the History Workshop movement, turned towards the end of his life to issues of patriotism, Britishness and the heritage industry. He was affectionate, even commending, of aspects - aspects, mind you - of all these seams in our national life and culture. Raph died in 1996, but David Edgar has written a wise and considerable article for the Guardian on Raph's engagement with patriotism and national identity.
I had missed the article, but it's been brought to my attention - and now I hope yours - by Felix Driver, a fellow editor of History Workshop Journal. A 'surprising and heartwarming piece to find even in the Guardian', Felix comments, 'when memories have become so short.'
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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