Battle of Ideas

Marcus Garvey and the socialists

When in our predecessor paper Workers’ Action (no.117, 1978) Colin Waugh wrote about Marcus Garvey he noted, I think rightly, that Garvey is a figure known now more by reputation than by belief. In the recent Black Lives Matters demonstrations, “Garveyism” as an entire political outlook has certainly been marginal. But “Garveyite” beliefs persist. His legacy is probably more readily accessible to people in the popular consciousness via Roots Reggae and Hip Hop.

Hitler's unwilling citizens

The resistance to the Nazis from within the German working class itself is a subject much overlooked in mainstream narratives around World War 2. The typical narrative that most people in Britain will come across is one of a relatively homogenous fascist population (minus Jews, homosexuals, Romanis, disabled people, etc.) that was overcome by the “good guys” of world politics at the time, chiefly Churchill and his plucky band of Brits. So the myth goes.

Black culture and resistance: the Harlem Renaissance

One hundred years ago, an arts movement was forming in a mainly-black district of New York City. Later known as the Harlem Renaissance, it was primarily cultural but also inescapably political. Literature, poetry, jazz, theatre, sculpture and more articulated the lives and demands of African-Americans no longer willing to be grateful that they were no longer enslaved.

O black and unknown bards of long ago.

How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?

How, in your darkness, did you come to know

How transport workers beat the colour bar

This story of colour bars in the UK railway and bus industries begins after the Second World War, when Britain had a labour shortage and people moved to Britain in increasing numbers from Caribbean countries and elsewhere.

The National Union of Railwaymen (NUR, predecessor of the RMT) declared in 1948 that: “we have no objection to the employment of coloured men in the railway industry” and that “coloured men had been satisfactorily employed on the railways over a long period”.

The "idiot of Vienna"

The expression “antisemitism is the socialism of fools” is widely attributed to the late-nineteenth-century German socialist August Bebel. In fact, Bebel did not ‘invent’ the expression. Nor did he even agree with it.

The original version of the saying is to be found in a speech by Ferdinand Kronawetter, an Austrian liberal sympathetic to the labour movement, at a general meeting of the Margarethen District Electoral Association held in Vienna in April of 1889:

Walter Benjamin: 80 years later

Things never seemed to work out for Walter Benjamin. He failed to obtain the teaching post he wished for in Germany and, for the rest of his life, made only a precarious living through his writing.

As a Jew, he fled Germany to exile in Paris, and then had to leave Paris in 1940 as the German tanks approached. Having obtained a US visa he eventually made his way to the very south west corner of France and crossed the Pyrenees to the relative safety of Spain.

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