Monday, December 16, 2013

Against sexist conditioning: "Let Toys Be Toys"

Guest Blogpost by Tessa Trabue, Let Toys Be Toys Campaigner

"A Long History...

Among the texts denounced and attitudes demolished by Mary Wollstonecraft (“Writers Who Have Rendered Women Objects of Pity”, ch.5 of VRW*), is this from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, quoted on p.178 of the Penguin Classic edition: “Boys love sports of noise and activity; to beat the drum, to whip the top, and to drag about their little carts: girls, on the other hand, are fonder of things of show and ornament, such as mirrors, trinkets, and dolls: the doll is the peculiar amusement of the females; from whence we see their taste plainly adapted to their destination...” (Emile, 1762).

Mary, by contrast, contended that “a girl, whose spirits have not been damped by inactivity, or innocence tainted by false shame, will always be a romp.” She was clear about the tendency of Rousseau’s ideas: “To render [the person of a young woman] weak, and what some may call beautiful, the understanding is neglected, and girls forced to sit still, play with dolls, and listen to foolish conversations; - the effect of habit is insisted upon as an undoubted indication of nature.” (p.179 in same).

 * Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, edited with an Introduction by Miriam Brody, Penguin Classics (1985) 1992."

It is over 250 years since Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote those words, over 220 since Mary Wollstonecraft’s riposte, and yet sadly, when we look at the way that toys are currently being marketed to children, it is apparent that many of these gender stereotypes are just as persistent today in the UK.

British women have fought for and made many gains over the last two centuries, including the right to vote, access to equal education, and in the workplace, the freedom to apply for all kinds of jobs (although the pay gap remains an ongoing issue). However, when we see the way that many toys are being manufactured and sold to children throughout the UK today, one might be forgiven for thinking that we were living in much more restrictive times. Toys that develop creative, caring, and indeed home-making skills, such as dolls, buggies, irons, play houses and kitchens, are often manufactured in pink and described as being for girls, whereas action, construction, vehicles and science toys (and sometimes even traditional games and puzzles) are marketed to boys. (Sometimes shops only have a sign for 'girls' toys; the inference we could take from this is that everything else is for boys).

This trend towards separate, gendered toys is very worrying. Don't boys grow up to become dads, teachers, nurses, chefs and hairdressers?   Don't girls become scientists, architects, pilots, and drivers? Children learn through play; how will they be able to access unlimited creative play, the fun role playing that might also help inform their future career choices, when so many types of toys are being cut off from them purely because of their gender?

Fortunately, there is a campaign that is addressing these very issues. Let Toys Be Toys is a social media campaign that formed a year ago off a Mumsnet discussion thread, made up of frustrated parents who were tired of seeing their children being sold these restrictive stereotypes, and decided to do something about it. The group uses a combination of tactics to contact UK and Irish retailers and ask them to remove ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ signs from their toy displays, including Facebook posts, tweets, meeting with the retailers themselves and old-fashioned letter writing.

The campaign has had huge success over the last year in getting 12 major retailers to agree to take down the gendered toy signs in their toy departments and let children decide for themselves what they would like to play with.

One of the group's first successes was Boots.  In April 2013, a shopper tweeted a picture of an in-store display showing a 'Boys' sign over their display of toys from the Science Museum. The picture was retweeted many times, causing outrage, and was picked up by the campaign, who contacted both Boots and the Science Museum. Eventually Boots replied and was very apologetic in their response, stating that they had "...always been proud of supporting women in science and in particular in their careers in pharmacy... It was never our intention to stereotype certain toys. It's clear we have got this signage wrong, and we're taking immediate steps to remove it from store." 

In the following month, members of the campaign met with senior management from the Entertainer toy store. This retailer had been criticised for having some of the most blatant gender segregating signage, with their stores being divided in half with huge pink ‘Girls’ and blue ‘Boys’ signs (often accompanied with a photograph of girl or a boy on the sign), and in some outlets this gender divide was further emphasised on the floor, with pink/blue carpet reinforcing the separation. The campaign received many pictures from supporters highlighting the ridiculousness of dividing the toys by gender; for example, in some Entertainer stores, all games, puzzles, science toys, costumes (including princess dresses), musical instruments and bath toys were under large ‘Boys’ signs, while all Teletubbies toys, arts and crafts items including crayons and modelling clay, and soft toys were under ‘Girls’ signs. (Some examples of the old signage can be see in the photos here). The senior management was very receptive to the campaigners’ and supporters' feedback. They agreed to get rid of the gendered signs, and are introducing new signs in their stores, with categories such as ‘Arts and Crafts’, ‘Construction Toys’, ‘Games and Puzzles’, and ‘Imagine and Play’, sometimes accompanied with photos depicting a boy and girl together.

Let Toy Be Toys’ successes have continued throughout the rest of 2013, with other major retailers such Toys R Us, and most recently, Debenhams, agreeing to phase out the gendered signs from their stores and replace with signs based on age or theme. The campaign also won the Progressive Preschool Marketing Award 2013 for their impact on sexism in the toy industry.

In addition to publicising and calling for change in problematic stores, Let Toys Be Toys also wants to promote shops and online retailers who are selling toys, books and sports equipment in a gender inclusive way. The campaign launched its ‘Toymark’ scheme in October, which awards retailers displaying good practice and labelling items by age or theme with the Toymark badge, and promotes these retailers on the Let Toys Be Toys website and on social media. So far, only a handful of retailers have achieved Toymark status and received this award, including Letterbox Library for their fantastic selection of inclusive books for children (see here for their news for the upcoming The Little Rebels Children's Book Award for Radical Fiction).

So what is next for the campaign?  The group has received feedback from retailers that, even when they take down the gendered signs and arrange toys by type, they will still appear to have displayed their toys in a gendered way, and that the problem is down to manufacturers packaging. In other words, a retailer can stock toys by ‘theme’, and place all of the dolls together, and all of the vehicles together; but if those toys are packaged respectively in wholly pink and blue packaging, it will look like a gendered display. Let Toys Be Toys plans to start approaching manufacturers to discuss the possibility of using wide range of different colours for toys packaging, so as not to put off children who have internalised that 'pink is for girls, blue is for boys.'

The campaign relies on help from its large numbers of supporters, and there are many ways to get involved. You can become a 'mystery shopper' by taking pictures of sexist toys displays and tweeting them both to the @LetToysBeToys and the retailer's twitter addresses. This often brings rapid results (using the #NotBuyingIt hashtag often produces a quick response as well). Similarly, posting pictures of displays or toys to the Let Toys Be Toys Facebook page ( is a good way both to publicise the issue and generate more in-depth conversation about it. For those who wish to remain anonymous or do not use social media, you can email pictures or general concerns to the campaigners at

Let Toys Be Toys receives no funding apart from donations from our supporters,  and is run by volunteers in their spare time. Contributions are gratefully received - no amount too small!  If you would like to help by giving a small donation, say the price of a cup of coffee, please see our Donate page for more details:

Finally, if you are interested in getting involved as a volunteer, please email us at

Campaigners against gender stereotyping in childhood:
Tessa with street-art portrait of Mary W., N E London 2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Opposition to the First World War

How it was motivated and sustained: An outline

Because those who took an anti-war position were in a minority, and challenged basic tenets of the dominant ideology, there was a tendency for them to be ignored by or written out of orthodox history for much of the 20th century. More recent mainstream work has partly compensated for earlier neglect. At the same time, their awareness of disapproved, dissident status along with a strong conviction of being in the right, led activists to propagate their opinions by publishing their own versions of events, and in some cases gave their political successors an interest in rescuing them from oblivion.

Socialists and Libertarians

With socialist parties gaining ground in the early years of the century, and employing rhetoric about workers uniting across international boundaries against the common capitalist enemy, governments might well have had misgivings about the likely popular reaction to a declaration of war. Although in the event the initial upsurge of patriotic fervour in each of the belligerent countries rather exceeded expectations – some of the most prominent labour leaders immediately came out in support of the war – there were groups and factions who took a principled stance, holding meetings and distributing leaflets denouncing the aims and actions of their rulers. Notable among those, in Britain, were the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and sections of the Herald League such as that in North London. Ken Weller’s case-study of the latter uses a variety of sources to give a picture of a population far from united in support for the war, and disinclined to suffer its effects passively.

In 1912 an anti-war leaflet, “Murder is murder” was published by well-known anarcho-syndicalist Tom Mann, incurring a prison sentence; he continued to speak out during the conflict, sometimes sharing a platform with Sylvia Pankhurst. Anarchists and libertarians, by definition “agin the government” and hostile to authority, on finding themselves in a situation where the state explicitly arrogated to itself the ultimate power over every citizen, were more or less bound to deny any justification for war. They were therefore, it is probably true to say, more consistent in their adverse response than other sections of the left – although the foremost anarchist theoretician, Kropotkin, was an unfortunate exception.

Writers, Philosophers, Pacifists

The decision not to fight might arise as a private and personal matter, not that it could remain so, especially when conscription made it punishable by trial and imprisonment, or worse. But it was often proclaimed and publicised with evangelical passion. “It was an objection to having one’s life dictated by an outside authority,” stated Edward Marten (a Quaker), while Fenner Brockway explained that he and fellow conscientious objectors (COs) were not merely resisting a Conscription Act but “witnessing for peace... Not only against the war of 1914-18, but... against war altogether.”

Views expressed by writers were, unsurprisingly, varied, complex, often contradictory, and did not remain static. There were those who, like George Bernard Shaw, felt their intelligence outraged by the reasons advanced for going to war. Others fit more closely the romantic-poetic image: starting out with excitement, even enthusiasm, later to be overcome by disillusion and despair. The negative reaction did not inevitably entail refusing to fight any more, but was perceived as subversive enough when articulated openly as in Siegfried Sassoon’s cogent criticism of “the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men were being sacrificed.” (His now celebrated manifesto was first published in the Workers’ Dreadnought).

Outspoken public opposition to the war was also voiced by some of the most intellectually high-powered thinkers of the day, in particular Bertrand Russell, who of course became and continued to be a leading advocate of international peace, still taking on the war-mongering state as a civil-disobedient nonagenarian in the early 1960s.

Some Feminists

From opposing viewpoints, both of gender stereotyping and of a rational assessment of the position of women in society, it might have been concluded that active patriotism was not something for women, and that the idea of their participation in war (anyway supposed to be vicarious or at most supportive) should be rejected. Of course, they did participate in all sorts of ways. The feminist movement had for some time been showing, in struggling for the vote, some of what women were capable of in the way of organisation, forcefulness, courage and endurance. Historians still sometimes allege or imply that “the Suffragettes” supported the war en masse, and were rewarded by the limited franchise bestowed in 1918 by a grateful state. In fact the split, already apparent, between advocates of spectacular, often self-martyring individual “deeds” and those who turned to class struggle, became explicit on the question of the war. It is famously epitomised in the contrast presented by Sylvia Pankhurst, working with women in London’s East End, and her mother and one sister exhorting young men to get out there and be killed.

Industry and the Armed Forces

Actions that subverted the war effort did not necessarily arise from, or lead to, a pacifist outlook. They did at least indicate, however, that a point could be reached – especially, and crucially, within the industrial workforce and among the fighting troops themselves – where marching along, in step with the supposed national consensus, ceased to be of paramount concern. Inadequate pay, unbearable conditions, irrational orders and enforced subjection to harsh discipline repeatedly provoked outbreaks of resistance, even at risk of the heaviest penalty. There were mutinies by British and Commonwealth troops as well as extensively in the French army. Both countries saw significant episodes of industrial militancy: France’s  ”year of unrest”, 1917, and Britain’s “Red Clydeside” with added rent strikes. Reverberations from the Russian Revolution contributed to challenging the complacency of the dominant class.

Changing Attitudes

 Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel Sunset Song (1932, first part of his trilogy A Scots Quair) gives a powerful impression of the impact of the First World War on a rural Scottish community. In it (spoiler alert) the young guy who unthinkingly goes off to join up, after a process of coarsening and de- then re-sensitising, eventually turns his back (literally) on the whole business and is shot as a deserter. Meanwhile the local conscientious objector, having held out against public opinion and official disapproval, finally and fatally decides he is unable to stay uninvolved and is killed in his turn. This kind of fictional scenario parallels the view of some historians that people in society at large, as they became aware of casualty figures and battlefield horrors, came to despise the rhetorical propaganda of patriotism and to see through the rationale for going to war – even if perversely or desperately determined to see it through to the bitter end, in a vicious spiral of yet more sacrifice to make the preceding sacrifice seem “not in vain”.

Retrospect (from 1998)

During the 80th anniversary commemorations of the Armistice, in Britain at least, there were many harrowing depictions of horrors of war, and many statements about its futility, including some from surviving veterans. It has become possible, indeed customary, to acknowledge mistakes and even denounce crimes committed by the authorities, in their conduct of campaigns and in having shell-shock sufferers “shot at dawn”. Conspicuously absent, though, was any allusion to those who consciously, deliberately opposed the war at the time, and were prepared to act individually or collectively to resist it, at whatever risk. Opinion-formers in society are evidently more comfortable with the idea of tragic victims safely entombed in the past than with any realisation that they might have tried to confront and alter their apparently inexorable fate.


Nov. 1998, revised Dec. 2013

The above fairly basic stuff, mostly from 15 years ago, is offered as a contribution to the “remembering-the-real” discussion around the WW1 centenary.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Remembering the Real World War 1

Meeting of some London folk, 21st November, 2013

[Update: The London group met again on Thursday 12th December (report to follow). Further meetings are planned monthly in the new year, starting on Thursday 16th January].

Edited report from organiser’s notes

Some (10) of us met up last Thursday to discuss ideas around counter-histories of World War 1, and taking forward opposition to the upcoming official commemorations. We had a good practical meeting with some concrete decisions…

We did agree to set up as a London group, not yet named, that would meet regularly; we hope similar groups may be set up elsewhere.

One suggestion for principles which we all liked was:-
• We honour all the dead.
• The war arose from normal capitalist social relations.
• Working class resistance stopped the war.

(These may need to be expanded on).

The London group will meet again on Thursday 12th December, at 7.30 at the Mayday Rooms, 88 Fleet St, London.
(NB: Anyone interested in a radical history of Fleet St, could come at 6.00/6.15, for a brief walking tour)

General discussion:

Events and aspects of WW1 worth doing something around:
• The networks of resistance, around the UK (and wider), supporting people refusing conscription….

Opposition to the war: leaflets shown on the cover of Ken Weller’s Don’t Be A Soldier!
• How the government acted when war came: the moments it started, they took over all the railways, stopped police leave, requisitioned all horses, introduced legislation to crack down on opposition; also changed licensing laws to try to increase production, interned “suspect” foreigners. Later introduced conscription, after initial euphoric flood of volunteers dried up in 1915; 1915 Munitions Act: government took over all factories for arms production.
On one hand this illustrates the nature of war under the modern capitalist state; on the other, its unlikely the centenary commemorations will flag these repressive measures - not like they’re going to say: hey, look, we introduced conscription! etc. We will have to bang on about all that.

• Some discussion on the myth that World War 1 liberated women
• Theories of the origins of the war: e.g, a theory that WW1 was in effect started to control rebellious working class around Europe.

• Big business: who profited from the war? New technology, armaments…
• Shared myths of war; WW2 as shared national sacrifice obviously very big. But WW1 myth needs examining.…

  Contacts with people/groups also working on this issue in other countries

Someone/ people from Bristol RadicalHistory Group were going to raise WW1 centenary at an international Radical History Conference in Berlin in October.
 [Link to BRH spreadsheet on mutinies/strikes in the British armed forces in early 1919.]
             Obviously also there will be a lot of activity in Ireland around 2016, 
              100 years since the Easter Rising…

Practical suggestions

A timeline of events planned for the official commemorations; from that we could work out some concrete plans.

Activities we could do:
• Actions at or counter to official events, to raise awareness, say we’re still here, still opposing war.
• Specific actions or demos to commemorate specific events: one that has already been suggested was the big anti-war demo in 1914, just before war was declared;
Another idea we came up with at the meeting was a demo at the reopening of the Imperial War Museum’s WW1 exhibits whenever that may be.

One of the biggest events next year will be on Remembrance Day …
              Setting up our own counterfeit war memorials, plaques etc.

•Plus: a dedicated website or blog, which could serve as a focus for groups nationally; •publicity: media stunts; music (anti-war songs from history); stickers; and publications such as a short pamphlet summing up anti-war resistance in London.

And more…

RaHN will continue to add general blogposts on this, but to keep fully up to date, join the email list:  (send an mail then reply to the email it sends to you)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

PRESS RELEASE from Alliance of Radical Booksellers

[Shortened version: full text here]

Little Rebels Award for Radical Children’s Fiction Returns
The ARB is delighted to announce that the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award for radical children’s fiction is back for its 2nd year. The award is given by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB) and is administered by specialist children’s booksellers, Letterbox Library, a not-for-profit children’s booksellers and social enterprise specialising in children’s books which celebrate diversity, equality & inclusion:

The closing date for nominations is January 13th 2014. The shortlist will be announced in April 2014, and the winner at the ARB’s London Radical Bookfair on Saturday May 10th 2014.
This year, Kim Reynolds, author of the award-winning Radical Children’s Literature (Palgrave MacMillan: 2010) and Professor of Children’s Literature at Newcastle University will be joining the 2012 Little Rebels guest judges: award-winning children’s author, Elizabeth Laird and Bookstart co-founder, editor and Eleanor Farjeon Award recipient (2006), Wendy Cooling.

The Little Rebels Children’s Book Award is a sister award to the Bread & Roses Award for Radical Publishing, administered by Housmans Bookshop, which recognises radical adult non-fiction published in the UK. Both awards are the inspiration of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers. Both prizes will be presented at the 2nd London Radical Bookfair on Saturday May 10th 2014, Bishopsgate Institute, London.
Publishers are being invited to submit children’s fiction for readers aged 0-12 which promote social justice and which were first published in 2013. Full submission guidelines can be found at

Fen Coles

Letterbox Library
Unit 151 Stratford Workshops
Burford Road
Stratford E15 2SP

Tel: 020 8534 7502

Alliance of Radical Booksellers: The ARB is a supportive community for the UK’s radical booksellers; For information on the Bread & Roses Award go to .

About the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award: Full details of the award, including the shortlist and prize giving ceremony for the previous year, can be found at: .

About the London Radical Bookfair: Hosted by the ARB, this fair was run for the first time on May 11th 2013. The fair included 50 book stalls and 20 guest speakers - full details at:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Independent Working-Class Education: Wallsend, Newcastle, 30th November

IWCE Network ( dayschool,

supported also by Labour Heritage

Independent Working-Class Education: can we rebuild the tradition?

10.30-4.30 Saturday 30th November 2013 (registration from 10.00)

Wallsend Memorial Hall, 10 Frank Street, Wallsend, Newcastle NE28 6RN

Close to Wallsend Metro station (15 mins approx from Newcastle Central station; change at Monument for Wallsend)

£6.00 including lunch

Please email to book a place

Short presentations from:


Richard Lewis, author of Leaders and Teachers, groundbreaking study of the Plebs League and WEA in South Wales, on ‘Rivalries and realities in workers’ education’


Lewis Mates, on ‘Ruskin and Central Labour College students in the Durham coalfield, 1909-14’


Hugo Radice, on ‘Imagining socialism: an everyday utopia’


John Stirling and Dave Wray, on the ‘Dig Where You Stand’ initiative


Rob Turnbull on ‘Right for the Rising Sun, Left for Swan Hunter: the Plebs League in the North East of England


Colin Waugh, author of ‘Plebs’: The Lost Legacy of Independent Working-Class Education, on ‘The Ruskin Strike of 1909’


Plenty of time for questions and discussion.


All welcome

Friday, November 8, 2013

Re-staging Revolutions Exhibition

Re-Staging Revolutions:
Alternative Theatre in Lambeth and Camden 1968-88
11th Nov - 21st Dec at Ovalhouse, Tues - Sat 3-8pm

[Beryl and the Perils, Is Dennis Really the Menace? 1979, Didi Hopkins, Claudia Boulton, Laurel-Jana Marks, Christine Ellerbeck in the dressing rooms at the Half Moon Theatre Alie Street. Photo © by Sheila Burnett]

An exhibition featuring community, experimental, Black, Asian, lesbian, gay, women’s, disabled, political, Theatre-in-Education, agit-prop, physical, visual, performance art, vernacular drama, new writing, satirical and many other theatre companies; championing a generation of artists whose work has influenced and shaped present day British theatre.

The exhibition brings together a range of material from the period, including beautiful silk-screened posters for Welfare State International, a rare poster from Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven at the Arts Lab in 1969, and a printed ‘make-it-yourself’ model of Inter-Action’s Fun Art Bus. There are also a wealth of objects from the poignant to the bizarre: the matchstick violin smuggled by Stirabout theatre company out of one of the prisons where they performed, nautical props and the ‘pissing jug’ ceremoniously presented to The Phantom Captain when they performed in Tilburg, Holland. All these along with original theatre designs for Monstrous Regiment’s Scum, original drawings from Action Space, creators of inflatable cushions and play spaces, now copied all over as bouncy castles, rare playscript editions from small presses, records from Sadista Sisters and Siren and cyclostyled low tech hand-outs that vividly evoke the times, along with a wealth of badges from campaigns from ‘Support the Miners’ to ‘VAT is a Pain in the Arts’ along with those celebrating individual companies from Spare Tyre to Joint Stock.

On 4th January 2014 the exhibition will move to Kentish Town Community Centre, 17 Busby Place, London NW5 2SB and at the start of February to Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre, Holborn Library, 32-38 Theobalds Rd, London WC1X 8PA where it will run till end of April. For details of further events, see below or watch for future newsletters.

Please send this on to your friends and other lists of interested people or follow us on facebook and twitter
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Events Programme:

Mon 18 November
Introduced by Judith Knight and Sue Timothy (Oval House programmers in the 1970s),
with a panel featuring Paddy Fletcher (Incubus), Geraldine Pilgrim tbc (Hesitate and Demonstrate) and others

Tues 3 December
With Claire Oberman, Karen Parker and Debbie Klein (formerly ‘Parker and Klein’), Stella Duffy,
Sandra Freeman, Sarah McNair, Nicolle Freni, Crin Claxton, Susan (Clark) Hayes,
Martha D Lewis and Eve Polycarpou (aka Martha and Eve, formerly known as ‘Donna & Kebab’)
Caroline Mylon, Hot Doris, Sue Frumin, Adele Salem, Steve Gooch and many more.

Thurs 5 December
Readings of the company’s plays for young people 1968-88 featuring extracts from plays
by Brian Way, David Holman, Noel Greig, Bryony Lavery and others.

Fri 6 December
The Ambiance season, Black Theatre of Brixton, Motherland, Umoja and much more.
Contributions from: Anton Phillips (Carib), Gordon Case (Black Theatre of Brixton, Temba),
Bernardine Evaristo (Theatre of Black Women), AJ Simon (Umoja). Chaired by Sola Oyeleye.

Sat 14 December
A celebration of such Christmas delights as a Cinderella Hardup (A Woman’s Right to Shoes),
Fanny Whittington and Her Glorious Pussy and the Drill Hall alternative pantos, that
shamelessly and deliciously exploited the inherent gender confusions of the genre…

All performances will start at: 7pm

Tickets £5 can be booked via Ovalhouse box office.
Unfinished Histories are also available for free bookable tours for groups. For details email contact@unfinishedhistories.comIf you have any specific access requirements such as BSL interpretation can you please let us know at least a week in advance of your visit.
Getting to Ovalhouse

and at
Kentish Town Community Centre, 17 Busby Place, London NW5 2SB

Saturday 4th Jan 2014
INTER-ACTION REMEMBERED: a day-long event exploring the impact of this major arts initiative within its Camden community and elsewhere. Details to be confirmed. To reserve a place email:

Further details including events programme [and pictures] from: or
Recording the History of Alternative Theatre in Britain (1968-88) through oral history interviews and the collecting of archive material

Friday, November 1, 2013


Summary Report, edited from organiser’s Interim Report

Past tense, Bristol Radical History Group, and a couple of other folk organised a Radical History Area at this year's London Anarchist bookfair, and we think it went well!  We will probably do it again next year.

We have put together some brief reports on the day's meetings:

1. Solidarity: Martial Law - Capitalism in Poland, 1980-89.

About 12 people attended this talk, which was very early in the day. Marcin talked about how Solidarity in Poland arose, the background of revolts in Poland over several decades, and how Solidarity's struggles against the Polish CP/state took grassroots forms, almost anarcho-syndicalist; only to face repression and mass detentions in 1983.
The arrests of many of its radical elements allowed a 'moderate' front to come to the fore, which later effected a deal with elements of the 'Communist' elite to steer Poland into the world capitalist economy - mainly by selling off Polish industry at catastrophically low rates to western firms. thus did some people get very rich. Lech Walesa's past as a police agent and moderating force through the 1970s were also discussed...

2. Running Down Whitehall with a Black Flag

Di Parkin spoke about her memories of being an anarchist in the 60s and beyond.
Highlights included:
* Being part of the hundred or so protestors that broke away from the CND Aldermaston march to picket a government nuclear bunker exposed by 'Spies for Peace'.
* Anarchists at big London demos in the 60s (hence the title of the talk
"running down Whitehall with a black flag - although as Di said, it should have been a black and red one!). This also included an account of being kettled before the term existed.
* Membership of the British section of the International Workers Association (IWA) and links with Spanish exiles.  

The questions and discussions were interesting and good natured, on:
* Di's social/cultural life as a 60s anarchist
* Her brief deviation into Trotskyism!
* Being a woman in a largely male milieu (this wasn't really an issue: "I never made the tea").

A video of a previous version of the talk is now available on the Bristol Radical History website:

3. “Anarchist Visual Art, Then and Now"

This meeting featured Gee Vaucher, legendary anarcho-punk graphic artist with Crass and with exitstencil press, active since the early eighties, and Kevin Caplicki, a member of Justseeds Artist Cooperative and DIY archivist at Interference Archive,  Brooklyn, which explores the relationship between cultural production and social movements.

This meeting was packed out. Some were turned away at the door!
Gee and Kevin mainly responded to audience questions about their work.
For a longer report on this meeting, see the file.

Gee said afterwards: "Big trouble for me is that it wasn't enough, as usual, just
when people are beginning to get their confidence to ask a question it all
dissolves and time’s up... "

4. Occupying is Good for your Health? - Hospital occupations in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, UK.

Rosanne spoke about the South London Women's Hospital occupation, 1984-5, and then Myk talked about the University College Hospital occupations of 1992-4. This was followed by Jill from the Save Lewisham, Hospital Campaign, who linked current struggles to research she has done on the Elizabeth Garret Anderson Hospital work-in of 1976-9 (which set the tone for many later work-ins and occupations in hospitals in the 1970s and 80s).
A short but interesting discussion followed about current state of the NHS and workers’ and users’ horizons within it. There were some interesting self-criticisms of the UCH occupiers' expectations and analysis, "a very honest summary of the failings of their actions" and some brief thoughts about how vital worker involvement from the hospital is vital.
There was a sense that the NHS is in a greater crisis now even than the previous eras of crisis, and that occupations could maybe be a tactic in developing and upcoming struggles.

A dossier on some UK hospital occupations, including accounts of UCH and the S London Women's hospital, and several more, is available from past Tense for Ł5, (shameless plug). But we are collecting more accounts and will hopefully produce a larger work in time.

5. British Armed Forces Strikes and Mutinies: a radical history project
for the anniversary of WW1

Roger, from Bristol Radical History Group, spoke about mutinies in the British Armed forces at the end of World War 1, and Neil, from the Transpontine Blog (and past tense), talked about struggles against the War on the Home Front, using the example of Luton. Both stressed that there is much more research to be done, to find out the hidden undercurrents of resistance and discontent, both in the military and in society in general; research that they encouraged those present to begin taking on. Given the huger propaganda onslaught and Ł50 million worth of government funding coming to present an official line on WW1 history, a growing network are preparing to both research and draw attention to those that opposed the war, resisted militarisation and subverted the war effort.

(One of the sources mentioned by speakers:)

... A well attended meeting with some really good discussion. There was a positive sense that we could link counter-historical activity with resistance to the increased glorification of war/the pedestalisation of armed forces etc in current times. Since there is so much history that undermines the official myth of sacrifice and national unity that has been created around WW1, establishment attempts to glorify it all might easily fall on their face... if we get busy...

There's an email discussion list for people interested in organising/talking/planning counter-WW1 histories. To subscribe to the list, you send an mail to:
then reply to the email it sends to you.

The exhibitions:

Gee Vaucher's striking montages and JustSeeds’ excellent People's History posters adorned the walls of the meeting room and the Anarchist Time Travellers' sharp collages (comparing the utterances of the ruling classes in the current assault on welfare and during the 1834 New Poor Law introduction) were on display on the Second Floor landing.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Greece: Anti-Fascist meeting. Nottingham, November 14

There will be a public meeting entitled
Anti-Fascist Resistance in Greece Today: Golden Dawn and Lessons for the UK
Thursday 14th November at 7.30 p.m.
in the
Chase Community Centre
Robin Hood Chase (off St Ann’s Well Road)


Maria Nikolakaki will talk about the rise in Greece of the far-right organisation Golden Dawn, which has been involved in brutal attacks e.g. on ethnic minorities and migrants. She will discuss recent developments following the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, as well as Golden Dawn’s links with the government, police and intelligence services.

Maria will also debate the anti-fascist resistance to Golden Dawn, and what lessons can be learnt for anti-fascists in the UK fighting the EDL, UKIP and the increase in anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric by all the main political parties.

Maria is an Associate Professor of Education at the University of the Peloponnese in Greece, and also an activist and trade unionist. She is a member of "Sispirosis", the biggest left coalition union of academics in Greece, and is currently involved in anti-fascist education work with secondary school students, a group that Golden Dawn is trying to recruit.

Free event
Refreshments provided

Please see the leaflet attached or on Notts Indymedia:
See also

Monday, October 21, 2013

Next RaHN meeting: updated notice

Public Meeting
A people’s history of campaigning for access to drinking water, recreation water and navigation systems

Wednesday November 13th
7.30pm, Wood Green Social Club
3 Stuart Crescent, N22 5NJ (off the High Rd, near Wood Green tube)

We hope to have speakers discussing struggles over navigation on the River Lea, the New River's relationship to capitalism and how it was subverted and challenged by Londoners, and discuss other NE London streams too. But anyone else with tales of waterways and the issues around them us are of course welcome...

For discussion, see past tense post.
Radical History Network of N.E. London
Celebrate our history, avoid repeating our mistakes, & get inspiration to help create a better society for the future

Sunday, October 13, 2013

RaHN: New general leaflet just out

available here
Free to forward, put on websites, print out (2 sided and 3 way folded!), and distribute at any events, venues and mailing lists...
Text as below (not necessarily in that order).
We’re associated with...

Haringey Independent Cinema
West Green Learning Centre, Park View Academy, West Green Road, N15. Show alternative films on the last Thursday of every month at 7pm

Haringey Solidarity Group
PO Box 2474, N8. Radical network of activists engaged in community campaigns.

London Anarchist Bookfair
Over 3,000 people attend every October and we usually have a stall and/or meeting.

Bruce Castle Museum
Lordship Lane, N17. Haringey’s local history archives are based there, and there’s an annual Haringey Local History Fair every February.

Housmans Bookshop
5 Caledonian Road, N1. ‘London’s premier radical bookshop’. They hold regular meetings on topical subjects or to launch a new book etc.

Radical History groups
We also link up with other Radical History groups across London including Hackney Radical History Network and Past Tense.
RaHN meetings
Meetings are normally held on a Wednesday, and currently occur every three months or so. We meet at 7.30pm at Wood Green Social Club, 3 Stuart Crescent, N22 - normally in room 1. The club is just opposite the Civic Centre on the High Road, at the start of White Hart Lane, 50yds from the main road (100yds walk from the bus stop at Wood Green tube station).

We have a very popular blog and archive which we add to regularly.
Get involved

Please contact us to be added to our email list to receive updates about RaHN and radical history news. You can also get actively involved in our work. 

Contact us

Graphic   Gert Arntz, whose woodcut is featured on the front of this leaflet, was a ‘council communist’, who decided the pictogram as a means of communication for the non literate. 
[picture of duplicator] Gert Arntz, Krise, 1931

History Network
of North East London

Celebrate our history, avoid making the same mistakes - and get inspiration to help create a better society for the future

Past meetings have included...

·         Community Empowerment in Parks and Open Green Spaces (in Haringey, north East London and beyond...)

·         ‘Everywhere and Nowhere’: General Strikes, Solidarity Strikes and Industrial Solidarity

·         The Past, Present and Future of Radical Pamphleteering. (Organised in commemoration of the life and work of Alan Woodward)

·         The Housing of the Working Class in Haringey

·         The London Support Committee for the Liverpool Dockers Strike

·         The Fight Against the Poll Tax in Haringey 1988-90

·         The Old Age Pension from 1908 to the Present

·         London Chartism and the 1839 Insurrection

·         The Spanish Revolution 1936 – 1939

75th anniversary meeting

·         The NHS is 60

·         Ford Motor Company versus the Workers - a short history of the conflict
Details of next meeting usually enclosed

Alan Woodward & his archives
Alan Woodward, former co-convenor of the Network, died on 20 October 2012. Alan left an extensive personal archive of radical reading matter behind him collected over a lifetime of radical working-class activity and campaigning. He wanted this material to be maintained as a local archive, open for people to use, research and read, under the administration of a libertarian group. In the long term this should be used as the basis of a local radical history library.

There are currently discussions about short, medium and long term housing of the archive. We are particularly interested in finding a Haringey-based venue, so if you have any suggestions please get in contact.

We have a bookstall which we take to various local and London wide events. We distribute small books and pamphlets produced by the group or members of the network - for free, or for sale, or for small donation.
Aims & Procedures
Our aim is to look at subjects that are local, topical, radical or of special interest. Most of our contributors are local people with specialist knowledge or experiences – and everyone is encouraged to chip in with their own views. The aim is to learn about past struggles and campaigns and relate them to present day events and movements.

We usually prepare an A4 information sheet for those attending in order to summarise the details, allow pre-reading and emphasise the importance of the subject.

Each meeting is scheduled to last 1½ hours with ample chance for discussion + up to date local reports and coming events. A facilitator is elected for each session.

Meetings are currently running every three months or so, and tend to be agreed at the one before to allow time to organise the next.

We publish documents as and when required.

 Our intention
To bring people together and spread awareness of our collective struggles in the past in order to celebrate our history, avoid making the same mistakes, and get inspiration to help create a better society for the future

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