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Picture of 1956 and all that

1956 and all that

Editor(s): Keith Flett
Contributors: David Renton, stan newens, Christian Hogsberjg, keith flett, Alan Woodward, Mike Haynes, susan williams,

Book Description

Through the Smoke of Budapest 50 Years On

The February 2006 Conference of the London Socialist Historians Group was held at the Institute of Historical Research in central London, one of a series of such conferences over the previous ten years.

Assembled were a modest group of academics and activists come to mark the 50th anniversary of the events of 1956, and to do so in a particular way. Firstly by presenting new historical research on the questions under review rather than trotting out tired orthodoxies. Secondly by linking historical inquiry to political activism.

It was queried why such a conference was held in February 2006 rather than in the autumn, and the answer was a simple one. To intervene historically in the debates of the year by setting a socialist historical agenda for doing so.

The opening plenary heard from Sami Ramidani, an Iraqi exile now lecturing at a British University, from Stan Newens, who had been present at the protests in 1956 and from Nigel Wilmott, the letters editor of the Guardian but here speaking about Hungary. The flavour was one both of historical recall of the events of 1956 and of contemporary political parallels. Indeed during this session news came through via text message that the left-wing MP George Galloway had been detained in a Cairo jail overnight and an emergency protest called at the Egyptian Embassy for later in the day.

The next two sessions focused on the key moments of autumn 1956, Hungary and Suez but again with new research examining their wider significance. Mike Haynes looks at the origins of the Hungarian revolt, in terms of workplace politics while Anne Alexander reviews the impact that Suez had on Nasser’s reputation within the Arab world and Arab nationalist politics.

In the afternoon there was a widening of the focus. One session examined the impact of the events of 1956 on left-wing organisation and in particular the orthodox Communist or Stalinist tradition. Terry Brotherton took a fresh look at the impact of 1956 on the Communist Party of GB, while Toby Abse focused on how the events of that year worked their way through in the largest of the Western European CPs, the Italian. Alan Woodward examined how the crisis of Stalinist politics opened new possibilities for libertarian left-wing ideas.

The other focused on the rise of a new left as a result of the crisis of 1956. Paul Blackledge examined the development of the theory of socialist humanism by E.P Thompson and others as an alternative to Stalinism. Neil Davidson examined the ideas of a forgotten left-wing thinker from this period Alisdair Macintyre, while Christian Hogsberg reviewed the influence of an existing Trotskyist theorist, CLR James around the events of 1956

Of course the conference could not hope to cover the huge range of possible historical issues arising from the 50th anniversary of 1956. The beginnings of the consumer society and the age of affluence; the birth of youth culture and rock’n’roll; British nuclear tests and the origins of CND and campaigns against the bomb; the new theatre marked by ‘look back in anger’. In an introduction, the editor Keith Flett reviews some of these wider trends

However the research agenda proposed by the conference was and remains an important one.


ISBN-13: 978-1-8471-8184-8
ISBN-10: 1-84718-184-8
Date of Publication: 01/05/2007
Pages / Size: 235 / A5
Price: £34.99


Tobias Abse is Lecturer in Modern European History at Goldsmiths University of London. He is the author of 'Sovversivi e fascisti a Livorno: lotta politica e sociale (1918-1922), Francoangeli, Milan, 1991, and of numerous articles on 20th. century Italian history and politics, in particular on Italian communism.

Terry Brotherstone lectures in history at the University of Aberdeen. He has edited or co-edited, and contributed to: Covenant, Charter and Party: revolt and protest in modern Scottish history (1989); The Trotsky Reappraisal (1992), History, Economic History and the Future of Marxism (1996); Gendering Scottish History: an international approach (1999); and These Fissured Isles: Ireland, Scotland and British history, 1798-1848 (2006). Amongst the subjects he has also written about are: the Declaration of Arbroath, Scottish Common Sense philosophy, Chartism, Red Clydeside, the 1984-85 miners’ strike, the oral history of the North Sea oil and gas industry, and Marxism and cultural history. From the mid-1980s until the mid-1990s he was a regular arts correspondent for the weekly Workers Press

Neil Davidson is the Secretary of the Edinburgh Central Branch of the Public and Commercial Services Union, an activist in the Socialist Workers Party and a Public Interest Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of The Origins of Scottish Nationhood (2000) and Discovering the Scottish Revolution, 1692-1746 (2003) for which he was awarded the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize. Most recently he has edited and introduced (with Paul Blackledge) Alasdair MacIntyre’s Engagement with Marxism: Essays and Articles, 1953-1974 (forthcoming in 2007).’

Keith Flett is the convenor of the socialist history seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in central London. He is the author of numerous letters and articles and has recently published Chartism After 1848. He is the chair of Haringey Trades Union Council and an activist in the IT professionals union Connect.

Mike Haynes has written widely on patterns of social and economic change. He is currently researching the changing patterns of accumulation and labour relations in the former Soviet bloc with a special focus on continuities and discontinuities

Christian Hogsbjerg is undertaking doctoral research into the late Trinidadian intellectual CLR James (1901-1989) and his relationship to British society, and have had articles on James published in Socialist History, Revolutionary History and International Socialism

Stan Newens - Labour MP for Epping 1964-70; Labour & Co-operative MP for Harlow 1974-83; Labour & Co-operative MEP for London Central 1984-99; author of various articles, pamphlets and books on historical and political subjects. He was involved in demonstrations and other activities in 1956.

David Renton has been a historian, a sociologist, a trade union official and is now an employment law writer.

Nigel Wilmott is A Guardian journalist and former Labour councillor and former Labour member