Sunday, November 27, 2011

BOOK REVIEW - Joe Jacobs biography

Review: Alan Woodward, After Cable Street – Joe Jacobs 1940 to 1977. 84pp. London, Socialist Libertarians, September 2011.
(Available from Housmans bookshop and at meetings).

Alan Woodward has done another service to radical history in producing this well-researched booklet, continuing the narrative of a varied and active political life begun in its subject’s posthumously published autobiography (Joe Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, 1978). Using Joe’s letters and other papers, backed up with reference to a range of background sources, he places the life in the context of its times, showing how Joe’s political ideas developed after his days as a Communist Party activist in the 1930s. Those ideas were repeatedly applied in support of working-class struggle; and against those who Joe believed would take over or sell out that struggle for their own ends.

The core chapters are: Joe and the war; Shop stewards, workplaces, unions and the occupation; Joe and the international dimension; Strike reporting; Politics and organisations. Key events – confrontation with military authority, industrial strife and organising, political debates and clashes – and Joe’s role in them are recounted along with their effects on his thinking, with frequent quotes from his own writing, some of it still unpublished notes. Relevant theories and their more notable advocates are discussed in detail, displaying Alan’s impressive knowledge of the history of leftist ideas in the 20th century. The helpful lists of dates, sources for each section, and index are further added value.

More on Invergordon: Reporting the Mutiny.

The Strike Signal
There was no news blackout on the events at Invergordon in mid September 1931 (see this blog, September 2011, and Black Flag No.234, late 2011, pp.17-19), much as the Admiralty and government might have liked to impose one. Things had moved fast, and the Cromarty Firth where the ships of the Atlantic Fleet were gathered, although distant from the corridors of power, was not so remote from centres of population and lines of communication that what was happening there could be kept secret.

The Daily Herald newspaper, the only national daily that supported the Labour Party, went to town on the story of what were seen as sensational developments. On Wednesday 16th September, when the sailors’ action was under way and its outcome unpredictable, most of the front page was devoted to different aspects of the situation, with multiple headlines. The following day almost as much space was occupied by the follow up and the announcement of the mutiny’s end result, successfully blocking the imposition of massive pay cuts. Excerpts are reproduced below.

Two of the most prominent among the mutineers refer to the Daily Herald in their memoirs of Invergordon:. Fred Copeman, later of Spanish Civil War fame, says that he was a reader of the paper, which was viewed as ‘red’ in the Navy, the Communist Daily Worker being seldom seen at all by sailors (Reason in Revolt. London, Blandford Press, 1948). Len Wincott, asserting the lack of any left-wing political culture on the lower deck, noted that ‘Even the Daily Herald was not allowed on the ships till 1926,’ (Invergordon Mutineer, 1974, p.66) He too was a reader though, and had, before the mutiny, ‘found time to pen and send an angry letter’ to the paper, not printed or even acknowledged (p.83), about an inaccuracy in one of its reports about the Navy.

Front Page News, Daily Herald, Wednesday September 16, 1931
Headlines, sub-headings, captions including:

ATLANTIC FLEET RECALLED – Official; Unrest Follows Pay Cuts Among Lower Ratings; Exercises Suspended Pending Admiralty Enquiry; Premier’s Talks with Crew of Warship at Portsmouth; Sailors hold mass meeting on shore. Photos: guns on HMS Warspite; Rear Admiral Tomkinson.

From Our Special Correspondent ABERDEEN, Tuesday

Invergordon to-night is as quiet as a village on the shore of a South Sea island.

All the ships of the fleet are lying peacefully at anchor in the bay, and there is no sign of trouble or disturbance.

Members of the town council and municipal officials assure me that for two days there has been no difficulty with members of the crew.


Meetings of the lower ratings were held ashore on Saturday and Sunday at which resolutions were passed protesting against the cuts to pay and seeking their withdrawal.

The Saturday meeting was very boisterous, for many of the sailors had been to Invergordon games, and attended the meeting in a lively mood. Extra pickets were brought on shore to prevent disturbances.

The Sunday meeting was an orderly and serious affair, at which speeches were delivered and questions asked and answered. There was no trouble with pickets or police.

Resolutions passed at the meeting were presented to the commanding officer with the request that they should be communicated to the Admiralty.

I learn to-night that a high officer travelled by air to London to-day. The lower deck hopes that he will return to-morrow with a reply to their resolutions.

All shore leave was stopped yesterday and to-day, when Invergordon was surprised to find the Fleet had not sailed, nor a single bluejacket landed.

Meanwhile no hostility has developed between the men and the bulk of the officers, and the ships seem absolutely at peace.

Yesterday spectators on the shore observed crowds of men meeting on board various ships from which sounds of cheering could be heard, followed by the singing of popular choruses.

On one ship sailors were collected in groups on deck. A party gathered round a piano and held an informal concert.

Another crowd indulged in an acrobatic performance, and this indicated that they were having time off from their usual duty.

Front Page News, Daily Herald, Thursday September 17, 1931

Headlines, sub-headings, captions including:

FLEET OBEYS “MIDNIGHT” ORDER: Sailing For Home Ports After Admiralty Promise; Crews State Their Grievances Against Pay Cuts; Cheers for the King and Flag; Commands of Officers Not Obeyed; Destroyers Lead Way Down Firth.

From Our Special Correspondent INVERGORDON, Wednesday

After a good deal of persuasion, the men of the Atlantic Fleet who have been on “strike” all day, decided this evening to obey the Admiralty order to take the ships to their home ports.

The Government’s promise to “make proposals for alleviating hardships” was conveyed to the men during the afternoon.

It was discussed at length by the crews, who then decided to ask for assurances that they would in fact be taken to their home ports.

Men Reassured

There seems to have been suspicion that once at sea the order to go home would be cancelled, and the ships sent to some distant station.

I understand that the men required a great deal of persuasion to agree to man the ships. In some cases, more than two hours were spent debating the question.

The men were finally reassured that they would be taken to their home port, and that cases of the greatest hardship would be investigated.

Valiant, which had taken the lead in the “strike”, was one of the last ships to agree to the order, and word was passed round that the men had decided to man the vessel.

About half-past ten to-night the first of the Fleet, one or two destroyers, steamed down the Firth.

The men are now confident that their representations will be investigated.

“We have not been beaten,” was the declaration of one of the leaders.

They have sent the following letter to the Admiralty: [Manifesto demanding rethink on pay cuts].

[Description of ‘extraordinary scenes on board’ on Wednesday 16th, Page Two]

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Socialisme ou Barbarie and the origins of Solidarity.

Origins of an influential
libertarian socialist organisation - 'Genesis' Part 2

The politics of the Socialisme ou Barbarie (S ou B) group were a considerable influence on Solidarity and had origins, like Solidarity, in the Trotskyist movement. The prime movers, Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort, were members of the Parti Communiste Internationale (PCI), the French section of the Fourth International. Working together from 1946 these two argued that the Stalinists in the USSR and out of it were not a part of the workers’ movement but bureaucrats who were as much enemies of the working class as the capitalists. (The US Johnson-Forest Tendency, subsequently the group round the publication Facing Reality, were thinking along similar lines at this time. Relations were close between the two groups or at least their key members for many years.) At the end of 1948 ten or twenty dissidents left the PCI and in March 1949 the first issue of Socialisme ou Barbarie was published. The choice posed in the title – Socialism or Barbarism – stemmed from the emergence of two atomic-armed superstates, both aiming for world domination. The result of the conflict between them would be atomic war and a return to barbarism for
humanity unless the power elites both east and west were overthrown by socialist revolution.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

MEETING - What does Rosa Luxemburg have to say to today's Anti-Capitalist Movements?

Speaker: Peter Hudis, co-editor of The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg (Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg Vol. I) 2011.

7.30 pm Thursday 10 November, Brockway Room, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1 (5 mins walk from Holborn Tube).

"[In the 1905 Russian Revolution] there fermented throughout the whole of the immense empire an uninterrupted economic strike of almost the entire proletariat against capital – a struggle which caught, on the one hand, all the petty bourgeois and liberal professions, commercial employees, technicians, actors and members of artistic professions – and on the other hand, penetrated to the domestic servants, the minor police officials and even to the stratum of the lumpenproletariat, and simultaneously surged from the towns to the country districts and even knocked at the iron gates of the military barracks." -- Rosa Luxemburg, 'The Mass Strike'

With comments by Kevin Anderson, author of Marx at the Margins, David Black, author of The Philosophic Roots of Anti-Capitalism, and Heather Brown, author of Marx on Gender and the Family

Sponsored by the International Marxist-Humanist Organization ( and Hobgoblin Online (