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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

George Tapp: No2EU Election Address

**Back in the 1970s, I voted Yes to Europe, even though people I supported like Jack Jones and Tony Benn said No. The media was full of crisi talk about the balance of payments, the pounds devaluation and rising unemployment. Labour MP Harold Wilson's National Plan was calling for new high-tech industries.

'Join Europe, we can't afford not to', everyone said. Euro money would flow into the regions followed by investment and jobs. Giant billboards said 'Jobs for the boys' if we voted Yes. So we did and the investment and jobs poured in. NOT! They left! Entire industries vanished - we got a jobs massacre!

Why do I say this was down to the EU? The first few words of its founding charter tell you everything - 'The free movement of capital, labour, goods and services'. Its what UK big money had been after all along.

Scouring the globe for the cheapest labour, building mega banks, playing the market, setting up tax havens, paying themselves mega bucks, never giving a tinkers for anything or anyone else.

The 2008 crash and recession were a warning of how this could end. We have to get back to something like Harold Wilson's National Plan - only this time bringing ibig money (most of it our pensions and savings) under control. Investment has to go into UK industry, transport, housing and health before its too late.

The Left Alternative to the EU

A progressive alliance to defeat austerity, racism and defend democracy
For EU withdrawl linked to inventionist policies
For public ownership of key utilities
For an industrial strategy
For a redistribution of wealth and income
For a referendum - using it to win the British people for this alternative


For more information go to: No2EU website

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Youth Struggle Re-ignites the North-West

This weekend saw the first meeting of the YCL in the north-west successfully rekindling the revolutionary flame across the beleaguered heartlands of the industrial revolution.

Young Comrades met in Liverpool as the district decided upon its course of action; to grow and strengthen the movement by the combined activities of recruitment and education. Comrades also enjoyed the opportunity to hear an inspirational speech from the YCL General Secretary Zoe Hennessy as well as advice from YCL Scotland Organiser Johnnie Hunter.

A calendar of events was discussed with several events being chosen for distribution of YCL literature with the aim of piquing interest in Marxism which will be capitalised on to draw members to the League. The comrades from the north-west will be collaborating with cadres from West Yorkshire to formulate literature for distribution.

Cementing the action plan the YCL sprung into action on Sunday 09/02/2013, only a day after reforming, along with members of the Communist Party at the International Brigade Memorial Trust’s (IBMT) re-dedication of the plaque in Manchester Town Hall. The YCL layed a wreath commemorating those who volunteered to fight Franco’s Fascism in Spain.

The ceremony heard readings of first hand account of the experiences of brigadiers and was accompanied by the inspirational music of Bolton’s Socialist Choir who sang, among other songs, the Internationale.
The International Brigade Memorial Trust works to keep alive the memory and spirit of the men and women from Britain, Ireland and elsewhere who volunteered to defend democracy and fight fascism in Spain from 1936 to 1939.

Those in the North-West area should attend the upcoming IBMT Conference on the 1st of March - Taking Sides: Artists and Writers in the Spanish Civil War.

Anyone interested in getting involved with the movement can contact ycl@northwestcommunists.org.uk for more information. We look forward to welcoming more members into the organisation to unite the working-class youth in its struggle against Capitalism. Onwards Comrades!

More information of the YCL: here

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A Class Figher of Vision and Principle

In 1924, Ellen Wilkinson returned to her home city of Manchester as a newly elected Labour member of Parliament and spoke to several thousand people in a cinema in Moston. Wilkinson attacked the capitalist system and its responsibility for declining wages since 1900, while the wealth in the hands of the few had grown. She said that taxes for the rich were being reduced while the poor were the "victims of the profiteer" and finished by saying: "This is not a fight for party but a crusade for the freedom of the human race."

Paula Bartley's new book Ellen Wilkinson: From Red Suffragist to Government Minister is a reminder of the amazing life of this working-class woman whose rhetoric in the 1920s is not out of place in the austerity Britain of 2104. Bartley, a feminist historian, says that "in her day, 'Red Ellen' as she became known was arguably the most famous, certainly the most outspoken, British politician.
"She was a fierce left-wing feminist who championed the poor and the vulnerable."

Wilkinson was born into a working-class family in Ardwick in Manchester on October 18 1891. It was one of the poorest areas of the city at that time and little has changed in 2014. She was one of the luckier children born in that area as, after she finished her elementary education, she won a scholarship to Ardwick Higher Grade School - which was later renamed Ellen Wilkinson High School. Winning a bursary in 1906 she combined studying at Manchester Day Training College for half a week with teaching at Oswald Road School for the rest of the week.
In 1910 she won a scholarship to read history at the University of Manchester, one of the few working-class women to do so at this time. At the age of 16 she joined the Independent Labour Party and began a lifetime of radical activity.

In 1920 she helped set up the Communist Party. Bartley feels that the role Wilkinson played in the Communist Party has not been recognised. "I knew that Ellen Wilkinson was one of the early members of the Communist Party but had not realised how influential she was in it. "Indeed the Soviets gave her and Harry Pollitt money to travel first-class to the first Congress of the Red Trade Union International in Moscow. When she returned Ellen helped found the British section of the Red International of Labour Unions, Profintern."

Wilkinson left the Communist Party in 1924 but maintained a close relationship with her former comrades. Her parliamentary career started a few months later when she was elected as Labour MP for Middlesborough East. She played a significant role in the Labour Party which, as Bartley points out, is reflected in their 1945 manifesto which she co-authored. "Let us Face the Future was a passionate, expressive, radical manifesto which had Ellen's hand, and principles, written all over it."

The Labour government of 1945 had a radical agenda based on socialist principles of providing free health care and education as well as nationalising major industries. Wilkinson was appointed as education minister with the job of implementing the 1944 Education Act.
At the Labour conference in 1946 she said: "When I went to the Ministry of Education I had two guiding aims, and they come largely out of my own experience. "I was born into a working-class home, and I had to fight my own way through to the university. The first of those guiding principles was to see that no boy or girl is debarred by lack of means ... the second one was that we should remove from education those class distinctions which are the negation of democracy."

Sadly she died on February 6 1947 and did not see the major changes brought in by her Labour government.

Whatever Happened to the Welfare State? The first meeting of the Mary Quaile Club will be on Saturday February 15, at 2pm, at the Cornerstones Community Centre, 451 Liverpool Street, Langworthy, Salford M6 5QQ. For further details see MaryQuaileclub.wordpress.com

Ellen Wilkinson From Red Suffragist to Government Minister by Paula Bartley is published by Pluto Press, £11.50

Reblogged via: Morning Star

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Statement from North West Young Communist League

After a period of inactivity the YCL will be holding its inaugural meeting in order to rekindle the flame of Communist activity amongst the youth in the North-West of England. The YCL seeks to build on a strong history of Communist activism towards a socialist goal in Britain and urges you commit to the struggle by attending this meeting which will be held at the Communist Party's North-West district congress in at Unite the Union's Jack Jones House in Liverpool on the 8th of February.

On the agenda will be; the election of district positions; the establishment of branches; a plan of political action throughout the district ; a discussion of social involvement, education & recruitment strategies.

The agenda will be discussed via email prior to the meeting, if you would like to be involved with this or would like more information, please contact the YCL at ycl@northwestcommunists.org.uk

Considering the recent hiking of the retirement age for the young, the recent privatisation of the already extortionate university fees, the high youth unemployment and the recent capitalist state-sponsored police brutality against students in London is it any wonder that the only foreseeable chance of a decent future for the young lies with socialism?

If you want to make a difference in today's society and stand up, not just for your rights, but the rights of every young person in the country then do your best to attend this meeting.

In hope and comradeship,

YCL North-West

More info about the YCL: here

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Women's history course at Aquinas College, Stockport‏

Michael Herbert will teaching a 10 week adult evening class in January at Aquinas College, Stockport on Manchester's Radical Women, beginning on 6 January 2014.

The class is open to all and there are no examinations. The course will include the roots of radical politics in the English Revolution, the 1790s radical movement and Mary Wollstonecraft, women Luddites and women at Peterloo, the Owenite feminists of the 1830s, women and trade unions. the suffragists and Votes for Women.

It will also include 3 walks in Manchester, exploring sites connected with the women's movement

For more information about the course or to book a place, please contact Sheila Lahan

tel 0161 419 9163 or email; Sheila@aquinas.ac.uk

For more information on Michael's work and guided walks, click here for his: website

Sunday, 1 December 2013

How Hyde ‘Spymasters’ looked for Commies on BBC Children’s Hour

Salford born folk singer and song- writer Ewan MacColl is remembered today more for his music than his agit-prop plays. But it was his political activities before the last war and his membership of the Communist Party that led to MI5 opening a file on him in the 1930s and why they kept him, and his friends, under close surveillance.

Secret service papers released by the national archives, now in Ashton-under-Lyne central library, offer a clue into how British intelligence (MI5) spied on working-class folk singer Ewan MacColl and his wife playwright, Joan Littlewood, who lived at Oak Cottage on Higham Lane, Hyde, Cheshire, during World War II.

MI5 opened a file on James Henry Miller (MacColl’s real name) in the early 1930s when he was living in Salford. As an active Communist Party member, he had been involved in the unemployed workers’ campaigns and in the mass trespass of Kinder Scout in Derbyshire. Before enlisting in the army in July 1940, he had written for the radio programme Children’s Hour.

In Joan Littlewood’s autobiography, she writes: “Jimmie was registered at the Labour Exchange as a motor mechanic, but he did better busking, singing Hebridean songs to cinema queues. Someone drew Archie Harding’s attention to him and from that time on he appeared in the North Region’s features (BBC) whenever a ‘proletarian’ voice was needed.”

As a BBC presenter for Children’s Hour and Communist Party member, Littlewood also came under the watch of MI5. A letter in the file, marked ‘SECRET’ (dated March 1939) and sent to W.H. Smith Esq., the Chief Constable for Hyde, tells him that Miller – known to the writer to be a Communist Party member – had taken a house in Hyde. The letter informs him that Miller works for the BBC in Manchester and that his wife, Joan Miller – another communist – broadcasts under the name ‘Joan Littlewood’ and is “said to be ‘Aunty Muriel’ of Children’s Hour.” The writer Sir Vernon Kell ended by asking the Chief Constable for Miller’s address and asked if Miller followed any other profession other than broadcasting.

Colonel Sir Vernon Kell, also known as ‘K’, was the head of MI5. An officer of the old school, Kell had served in China at the time of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 and was appointed first director of MI5 in 1909.

‘Communist looking Jews’

Writing about the spy Kim Philby, Seale & McConville say that Kell was the ‘antithesis of the terror-wielding secret police chief of public imagination’. As a public servant, he was renowned for his sense of duty, tact and discretion and ‘used his wide powers with notable restraint.’ By all accounts, MI5 in 1940 was an antiquated organisation led by middle-aged men who, while adept at keeping so-called subversives under surveillance, had little understanding of the ideas that motivated communists of Philby’s generation.

At the outbreak of World War II, it seems that under Kell’s leadership, MI5 was unable to cope with the mass of information about German agents in Britain and the ‘spy-mania’ that was a feature of British life at the time. Consequently, Kell was retired by Winston Churchill in 1941.

A letter in the file concerning Joan Littlewood is signed Major Maxwell Knight. Charles Maxwell Knight held right-wing views and after his Royal Navy service he worked for the Economic League. In 1924, he joined the British Fascisti, an organisation set up to counter the power of the Labour Party and the Trade Unions. This body put him in charge of compiling dossiers on ‘political subversives’, counter espionage, and establishing fascist cells in the trade union movement. In 1925, Kell recruited Knight to work for MI5.

A report in the file by Inspector J.E. Robinson, also marked ‘SECRET’ and dated April 1939’ tells the Chief Constable of Hyde that Miller lives with his parents and wife at Oak Cottage. Explaining that the BBC does not permanently employ Miller, the Inspector adds:

“He (Miller) does not appear to follow any fixed occupation beyond writing articles for such periodicals as may care to publish them. I understand that such publications are rare.”

He concludes by saying Miller and Littlewood seem to have no known association with communists in Hyde, but “at weekends, and more particularly when Miller’s parents are away from home, a number of young men who have the appearance of communist Jews are known to visit Oak Cottage. It is thought they come from Manchester.

In September 1939 there is more correspondence between Kell and the Chief Constables of Hyde, Ashton-under-Lyne and Cheshire. It seems Miller and other communist suspects had got work at Messrs Kenyon Ltd in Dukinfield.

Writing to the Hyde Chief Constable, Kell asks about William Redmond Morres Belcher – a worker at Kenyon’s – who, he says, has fought in Spain in the International Brigades. Admitting that he has no proof that Belcher is a Communist Party member, he adds: “his sympathies are very much to the left.” Naming three more workers at Kenyon’s: W.Sharples, R.C.Dyson and Miss B. Nash, he again admits he has no proof they are communists, but “Sharples may be identical with a man of that name who visited the USSR in August 1932.” The Chief Constable is asked to “make some inquiries…and let me know what you discover.”

The employment of Miller and his associates at Kenyon’s in Dukinfield did cause MI5 some anxiety as the firm had government contracts. It was feared the group might foment industrial unrest and in a letter dated September 1939, to Major J. Becke, Chief Constable of Cheshire, Colonel Kell wrote:

“I agree with you that the employment of these men at Messrs Kenyon’s appears to be most unusual and would be grateful if you would let me have any further information which may come to your knowledge.”

Special Branch Surveillance

Belcher, a mechanical engineer, had been employed to fit blinds to comply with government lighting restrictions. He then used his influence to get jobs for his friends without consulting the Directors. A memo dated September 1939, says:

“Messrs Kenyon’s are anxious as to whether Belcher and his associates have any connection with the IRA. I told him (Percy Kenyon), I was unable to give him any information as regards that.”

A Special Branch agent report, dated October 1939, to the Hyde Chief Constable, says that Belcher, his wife Aileen, Robert Dyson, William Sharples and Miss Beryl Nash, had all been resident at Oak Cottage while that house was under surveillance.

This report says they were all active Communist Party members and members of the ‘Theatre Union, an agitprop drama group that toured industrial areas of Britain’. This agent says:

“I have been able to listen to their conversations during the evening at Oak Cottage but I have not heard anything regarding communism or other political views.”

He informs the Chief Constable that Miller is a communist “with very extreme views and I think that special attention should be given to him.”

Apart from surveillance of this kind by Special Branch agents, the file has details of telephone taps and of intercepted letters. A memo, dated September 1943, to Colonel Allan of the GPO states: “Would you kindly let me have a return of correspondence for the next two weeks on the following address – Oak Cottage, Higham Lane, Hyde, Cheshire.”

Other memos show that bodies such as the Central National Registration Office and Passport Office were supplying information to MI5. Frequently, people who knew Miller and Littlewood, were contacted directly by the police or vice versa.

Alison Bayley, who’d been at RADA (drama school) with Littlewood, stopped Littlewood in the street one day and asked her if she’d time for a coffee. Littlewood describes this meeting in her autobiography: “I hadn’t seen her since joining ‘Theatre of Action’. ’Old times Chat?’ I asked.” Alison Bayley then told Littlewood: “I’ve denounced you to the Police. About you being a communist.” Though Littlewood assured her that the police already knew she was a Communist Party member, Bayley told her: “I felt I had to tell them, Littlewood.”

Blacklisted by the BBC

One irate middle-class father from Withington wrote to the police in May 1940, demanding that the Millers be sacked from the BBC and interned. His 18-year-old son (Graham Banks) a “fine specimen of English boyhood with good morals and ideals and a brilliant future” had, he explained, fallen into the clutches of the Millers who had induced him to leave home. Mr Banks added: “His poor mother is frantic with grief and if it should be within your province to either return him to us or else to intern him along with the others taking part in these pernicious plays, I hope you will do so.”

MI5 intervention led to the BBC blacklisting Miller and Littlewood. Littlewood had already been banned from working in Sheffield because she’d broadcast criticism of local housing conditions. Other memos reveal links between MI5 agents and BBC staff. In a memo, dated October 1939, a MI5 officer says: “I do not understand why the BBC continues to use them. Could they be warned to drop them if other people are available?”

Another memo states: “We asked the BBC to hold them (the programme) up while we obtained this file and unfortunately their (the Millers’) programme for the 11th October 1939 was about to be cancelled. Mr. Nicholls (Controller of Programmes), informed me that there was a possibility that the Manchester Guardian would publicise the matter and questions would be asked in the House of Commons. I said I would raise no objections to the broadcast of 11/10/39 but would get in touch with the BBC again.”

Though the BBC had announced in March 1941 that persons who had taken part in public agitation against the war effort would not be allowed access to the microphone, the BBC stated:“Beyond this one limit the Corporation is jealous to preserve British broadcasting as an instrument of freedom and democracy.”

The real reason for the ban on Miller and Littlewood is made clear in a memo dated April 1941 from Mr. Coatman, North Regional Director for the BBC. He points out that Mrs. Miller (Littlewood) and her husband were not only well known communists but were active communists. Mr. Coatman says:

“It must be remembered that Miss Littlewood and her husband were concerned chiefly with programmes in which they were brought into continuous and intimate contact with large numbers of working class people all over the North Region. Clearly I could not allow people like this to have use of the microphone or be prominently identified with the BBC. I therefore urge that the ban on Miss Littlewood as a broadcaster be allowed to stand.”

In her autobiography, Joan Littlewood says that following the BBC ban, Miller and herself wrote to L.C. Knight of the National Council of Civil Liberties who promised to investigate but never contacted them again. She writes: “We offered our story to the newspapers they didn’t publish it, not even the Daily Worker.”

After being called up in July 1940, Private James H. Miller was placed on the ‘Special Observation List’ “to see whether he is trying to carry on propaganda.” He was declared a deserter on 18th December 1940 and remained AWOL for the rest of the war. In this period he changed his name to Ewan MacColl. Military reports suggest he was popular with his fellow soldiers and exerted influence over them owing to his greater intelligence. He was a member of the Regimental Concert Party and produced ‘several songs and skits’. One of his songs was a particular favourite with the men:

“The medical inspection boy’s is just a bleedin’ farce. He gropes around your penis and noses up your arse. For even a Private’s privates, enjoy no privacy, you sacrifice all that to save democracy. Oh, I was browned off, browned off, as could be.”

While the song was popular with the ordinary soldiers it seems the military top brass had their suspicions. A note in the file says the song was of the normal barrack room type and didn’t appear to his CO to be subversive but “he is now inclined to think that it was rather subtle propaganda, the theme being generally disparaging to life as a private soldier and enlarging upon the fact that the discipline and alleged discomforts, to which he is subjected, although nominally in the cause of democracy, were really for the benefit of some supposedly superior class.”

MI5 and Censorship

After the war, Miller was arrested for desertion. He spent the first night of his captivity in Middlesbrough police station and was then taken to an army detention barracks at Northallerton. Later he was transferred to the Northfield Military Hospital in Birmingham where he was diagnosed as suffering from epilepsy. A psychiatrist diagnosed him to have a ‘paranoid personality with strong oedipal tendencies.’ The result of his psychiatric report led to the cancellation of his court martial on medical grounds and he was discharged from the army.

In her autobiography ‘Joan’s Book’, Littlewood speaks openly about being blacklisted by the BBC and about MacColl’s (Miller’s) desertion. She says he changed his name to MacColl ‘as a precaution’ while on the run as a deserter. However, none of this is mentioned in MacColl’s autobiography (Journeyman), which contains many gaps and omissions about his life.

Both Littlewood and MacColl played a cat and mouse game with the authorities. They were certainly aware the police were reading their letters: “Jimmie wrote to me every day, mostly jokes and nostalgia. So were mine to him. It must have been disappointing for the police who were opening them all.” They knew the police were keeping tabs on them, because so many of their friends and acquaintances were approached by the police.

Nothing can be found in the MI5 file to suggest Littlewood and MacColl were in the pay of Moscow (Nazi Germany and the USSR were allies from 1939 to June 1941). Yet a memo, dated April 1942, shows Littlewood had contact with Emile Burns, who was boss of propaganda at the Communist Party Headquarters in London.

Clearly, MI5 monitored their theatrical work and activities because they feared that as proselytising communists, their work could influence and politicise the working-classes. One of their plays, ‘Last Edition’, performed by the Theatre Union, was described as ‘thinly veiled’ communist propaganda’ and MI5 boss Colonel Kell used his influence to urge local councils to refuse them performance licenses in the same way as MI5 prevented them working for the BBC.

Joan Littlewood died in September 2002, aged 87. She has been described as a ‘subversive genius’ who broke the mould of British drama. She was best known for her work ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ and for establishing, with others, the Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal in East London. Ewan MacColl died in 1989 aged 74. He is now remembered more as a songwriter than an agit-prop playwright. His songs include ‘Dirty Old Town’, the ‘Manchester Rambler’ and ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ made famous by the singer Roberta Flack in the 1970s.

This article was originally published in Northern Voices issue 7, 2007