Battle of Ideas

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.

Rosa, Karl 1919

We can say:
Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht,
You are no longer in the circle
Of the living
But you are present amongst us,
We sense your mighty spirit,
We will fight under your banner,
Our fighting ranks shall be covered
By your moral grandeur!
And each of us swears
If the hour comes,
If the revolution demands it,
To perish without trembling
Under the same banner
As that under which you perished.

The Black Jacobins: the Haitian revolution against slavery

This is a speech by Dan Davison, a labour activist and sociology PhD student at the University of Cambridge, for a talk on C.L.R. James and the Haitian Revolution held in July 2020. All page references are to C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (London: New edn., Penguin 2001). Video, text, and audio.

Shapurji Saklatvala: Labour's first "BAME" MP

This is part one of a series. For the other articles, see here.

In 1922, sixty-five years before before Diane Abbott and three other Labour MPs of colour entered Parliament, Indian-born Shapurji Saklatvala was elected MP for Battersea North in South West London.

Like some other Labour candidates more recently, Saklatvala was a bourgeois figure standing in a working-class constituency which was not his home. There the similarity ends.

Anti-racism: different approaches

Introducing the 2002 edition of his 1987 book There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack, Paul Gilroy was pessimistic about how curbs on immigration were entrenching racism, and about the potential of the working class. Yet he wrote: "The convivial metropolitan cultures of the country's young people are still a bulwark against the machinations of racial politics".

Black people have been living in Britain for centuries, but in small numbers, maybe 0.2% of the population in 1951. The much bigger "minorities", since the 19th century, were Jewish and Irish immigrants.

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