To find out about the Bristol Radical History Group's own range of pamphlets go to the Publications page.
The following list is a collection of books that have inspired Bristol Radical History Group. We hope that you enjoy them as well.
Barry Unsworth: Penguin: 1992 - Fiction
This book was published in 1992 and won the Booker Prize. It is about greed, raw capitalism and the relentless pursuit of profit, the sacred hunger, "which justifies everything and sanctifies all purposes" in the triangular slave trade. The story revolves around a conflict between Thurso, the captain of a slave ship and Paris the ship’s doctor. Life aboard the slave ship is contrasted with the life of the wealthy owners back in Liverpool.
The nature and mechanics of the barbaric treatment of "the human cargo" is described in detail. So are the press gangs, floggings, starvation rations and disease which were the reality of life for the eighteenth century seaman. Unsworth avoids stereotyping as each individual crew member and their relationship to authority is brought to life. For Thurso the welfare of the slaves competes with the welfare of the crew as the pursuit of profit places a monetary value on the human cargo. Crew and slaves are eventually brought together on equal terms as a result of a mutiny and live and strive to work together with equality and freedom in a renegade colony.
At first the narrative focuses mainly on the characters from the class that have caused all this suffering. However as the book progresses it becomes more interesting as the voices of the slaves and the sailors grow stronger. Differences emerge as life in the colony confronts the dangers from inside and outside.
Sacred Hunger may be set in the days of slavery but it's designed to tell us about our own recent history. As Unsworth himself said in a 1992 interview about the miner’s strike, "It was impossible to live in the Eighties without being affected by the sanctification of greed. My image of the slave ship was based on the desire to find the perfect symbol for that entrepreneurial spirit. The arguments used to justify it are the same used now to justify the closure of these pits and throwing out of work of all these miners".
The Given Day
Denis Lehane: William Morrow & Company: 2008 - Fiction
Italian Anarchist, Galleanists, Latvian revolutionaries, Bolsheviks, communists, NAACP, Irish cops and gangsters thrown together into a mix with immigration, racism, corruption, strikes, riot and class warfare as a city goes into meltdown leading up to the Boston police strike of 1919.
Two main characters are Danny Coughlin, Irish and son of one of Boston’s most powerful police captains and Luther Lawrence, poor and black, and on the run from racism and the mob. While Danny wrestles with his conscious over whether to follow his Father’s footsteps or to join the working class and to fight back, Luther has no choice.
If you like your cops all bad and your anarchists all good you probably will have issues with this book. But if, like me, you are a fan of hard boiled American detective fiction from Chandler to The Wire you will find this a great read and will not be able to put it down.
Half Blood Blues
Esi Edugyan: Serpent's Tail: 2011 - Fiction
Berlin, 1939. A young, brilliant trumpet player, Hieronymus, is arrested in a Paris café. The star musician was never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sidney Griffiths, the only witness that day, still refuses to speak of what he saw. When Chip Jones, his friend and fellow band member, comes to visit, recounting the discovery of a strange letter, Sid begins a slow journey towards redemption. From the smokey bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of Paris, Sid leads the reader through a fascinating, little know world, and into the heart of his own guilty conscience. Half-Blood Blues is an electric, heart-breaking story about music, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifice we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art.
The People's Act of Love
James Meek: Canongate Books Ltd : New edition edition 2006 - Fiction
Its 1919 and the civil war which followed the Russian revolution is drawing to an end. A Czech division is trapped in Yazyk, an isolated Siberian town, with the Bolsheviks advancing along the rail route into the town. Armored trains hold the key to military power. However the townspeople are made up of religious sect of voluntary castrates. (Both these groups of people existed in Russia at the time and so the events are based loosely on historical fact.) When the enigmatic revolutionary Samarin arrives in Yazyk, the town's diverse factions are thrown into conflict which then becomes a microcosm of the Russian revolution itself.
The Intellectual Life Of The British Working Classes
Jonathan Rose : Yale University Press : 2nd Resvised Edition 2010
This is a brilliant book for all people interested in the history of the working class . How good books, music and fine art moved the long revolution forward for the poor, uneducated masses, from the pre-industrial era to the twentieth century. All thinking people will be inspired by the memoirs, social surveys, statistics and research into how the working classes educated themselves.
One chapter entitled ‘What Was Leonard Bast Really Like?’ gives the reader a completely new insight into the author of ‘Howards End’. Anyone familiar with the story will know that Leonard Bast is the working class character trying to educate himself but E. M. Forster portrays him as pathetic, hopelessly trying to acquire culture from the intelligentsia, and ‘inferior to most rich people’. Another character, Margaret Schlegal, comments ‘His brain is filled with the husks of books, culture - horrible; we want him to wash out his brain.’ This chapter analyses the attitudes of some of the educated middle class authors of the time and is an example from only one part of this vast and very important book.
What is described and thoroughly researched is how many working class people acquired their knowledge and showing that the best of culture is for everyone. After 1945 the working class movement for self education rapidly declined for a number of reasons and this why the author states ‘this is a success story with a downbeat ending’.
Jonathan Rose cannot be praised enough.
Chavs: the demonization of the working class
Owen Jones : Verso : 2011
The backdrop of this book is the social and economic transformation of society in Britain over the last 30 years overseen by the political management of Thatcher and Blair; characterised by the erosion of the British organised industrial working class, through the destruction of British industry. However the book is not concerned with looking at that class war (when competing fractions of the bourgeoisie fought a war to the death while uniting to attack the combativity of the proletariat across the whole country).
Jones represents the interests of the remnants of the bourgeois fraction that lost out in the period of struggle the book covers - a fraction that ties together and unites the (supposedly antagonistic but in reality mutual) interests of manufacturers and Organised Labour.
His programme (see the conclusion) is reindustriaHsation, more mines and more factories and more 'meaningful' work for everyone (ask your grandad about that shit kids!). With political power back in the hands of individuals who are sociologically from the 'working class' more Prescott less Blair.
It's no surprise then that this book doesn't try and draw lessons from the class struggle of the period he looks at or how it's left the balance of power between us and them- it's not a manual of class struggle it's a sociology book. It focuses on Owen Jones's interpretation of a cultural/ideological element of the class war in that period; what he sees as a campaign by the dominant bourgeois fractions to demonise and marginalise the working class in all aspects of popular culture.
He suggests that the aim of this (in his opinion successful) campaign has been to encourage proletarians to see themselves as 'middle class' while viewing anyone outside of or antagonistic to the values of this 'midd.e class' as being in an 'underclass' of 'feral chav scum'.
Anyone who watches television or reads newspapers will recognise this phenomenon.
As a bourgeois intellectual, Jones is only able to understand this world within a narrow and limited framework (he is only able to imagine worlds like this one; a world with classes where we all go to work). So the book doesn't have a class analysis in the (historical) sense that we understand class.
It covers a period of defeat and retreat for the working class internationally that followed a generalised global revolt against work from the late sixties to the early seventies, Jones doesn't refers to this context - it's a revolt outside his understanding of history. In Owen's world and throughout the book the working class is the victim of history not the maker of it - shit just happens to us we don't make shit happen (that's why according to this kind of perspective we need the Left to champion and defend us).
To Owen Jones we are angels not demons and we are certainly not proletarians, to him the working class is not a class at all at least not in the historical sense that we understand class: Classes do not simply exist in themselves as defined by production (the production of things and the re-production of society) classes can only exist and be defined by their mutual antagonism to each other and their mutually antagonistic interests. Those who want to destroy this society of work and private property and those who want to defend it.
Ideas /Ideology as a material force All bourgeois ideologies must (by definition) conceal the reality of two polarised and antagonistic classes. The confusion and division that these ideologies cause is a real material (class) force against us.
So it's no surprise that the cultural campaign that Owen Jones describes both detracts attention from and disguises the fact that society continues to be drawn towards two opposing poles - as all proletarians become more and more impoverished at the expense of the bourgeois minority.
It promotes the idea that proletarians who see themselves as middle class have a different, separate and conflicting interest to those who don't. In the same way (and for the same reasons that) bourgeois ideology on race, gender and sexuality promotes the idea that black and white proletarians, male and female proletarians and proletarians who fuck in different ways have different, separate and conflicting interests.
As classes do not simply exist in themselves by their relationship to the means of production, neither do they simply exist conceptually. Proletarians might identify with the idea of the middle class and describe themselves as middle class- but that doesn't mean that the middle class exists as a class. It doesn't, it exists as an idea, an ideology and an ideological force against us and our movement (communism). In the same way the 'underclass' doesn't exist as a class, but as an idea. And there is of course nothing new or modern about these ideological divisions. The bourgeoisie has always used the idea (and fear of) an underclass to terrorise proletarians and instil labour discipline. Some proletarians have always been pushed to the margins of society some have always been forced to live outside the wages system; they are still proletarians. Owning vans, some tools or renting market stalls does not make them 'petit bourgeoisie'.
Our response to this and all other bourgeois ideology is the same, to refute and fight against this shit and assert a real class analysis. The 'middle class' /'underclass' dichotomy like all other sociology tries to make our class appear smaller than it is divided and weak and confuse us so we don't recognise ourselves and if we can't recognise ourselves we can't recognise each other, we can't see where we are and where we're struggling. We can't come together and fight together for our own class interest and only in doing this do we truly and historically become a class. The last class. To abolish classes and establish human community.
The book? It's a sociology book. That's it's limit.
The Shadow Of Marriage: Singleness in England 1914-60
Katherine Holden : Manchester University Press, 2007 : ISBN 9 780719 068928
This very well researched book concerns single men and women living in England during the early years until the mid twentieth century. Information taken from various sources, such as official records, statistics, interviews with elderly single people and institutions, create a very clear picture of people who were unmarried during those years.
The attitude of society at that time towards illegitimacy, the unmarried mother, abortion, divorce, adoption, homosexuality, is discussed. Singleness was not taken seriously as a choice of lifestyle and remained invisible because of not conforming to the nuclear family. The author examines the lives, friendships and relationships of the many unmarried people of that time.
Despite changes in the law and societal attitudes since the last century the author points out that being in a couple is of prime importance, whether the relationship is heterosexual or homosexual. The desired state in the twenty-first century appears to remain confined within the nuclear family ideology.
Singleness, friendships, and all the advantages that go with it, although naturally of great value to all human beings, still takes a secondary place.
In Contempt of All Authority: Rural Artisans and Riot in the West of England, 1586-1660
Buchanan Sharp : Breviary Stuff Publications : ISBN 978-0-9564827-2-3
Two of the most common types of popular disorders in late Tudor and early Stuart England were the food riots and the anti-enclosure riots in royal forests. Of particular interest are the forest riots known collectively as the Western Rising of 1626-1632, and the lesser known disorders in the Western forests which took place during the English Civil War. The central aims of this volume are to establish the social status of the people who engaged in those riots and to determine the social and economic conditions which produced the disorders.
The leaders and most active participants in riot were rural artisans — skilled men working in non-agricultural employments. These artisans, particularly those in the major industries of seventeenth-century England located in the forested West, were largely wage-earners. Virtually landless cottagers who relied on the market for food, clothworkers and other artisans frequently engaged in food riots and attempted insurrections during times of depression or harvest failure. These artisans exploited the common waste of the royal forests. Enclosure of the forests by the Crown threatened the livelihood of those workers who depended on the forests for raw material and pasturage. The result was the Western Rising, a series of massive anti-enclosure riots which took place in Gillingham Forest on the Wiltshire-Dorset border, Braydon Forest in Wiltshire and the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. There were also concurrent riots in Leicester Forest, and Feckenham Forest, Worcestershire. A similar series of riots followed in the 1640s.
These conclusions challenge the dominant modern view that work in rural industry was merely the by-employment of members of peasant households. Contrary to the prevailing interpretation that disaffected men of standing were generally behind disorders such as the Western Rising, manipulating popular grievances for their own ends, In Contempt of All Authority concludes that in times of economic and social distress or political dislocation (such as the Civil War) the “lower orders” of Tudor and Stuart England were provoked into self-organised direct action by very basic issues of food supply, employment, and common rights. In the course of such actions they manifested an intense hatred of the gentry and the well-to-do, whom they held responsible for existing conditions.
Buchanan Sharp is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
The Last Rising of the Agricultural Labourers: Rural Life and Protest in Nineteenth-Century England
Barry Reay : Breviary Stuff Publications : ISBN 978-0-9564827-2-3
The Hernhill Rising of 1838 was the last battle fought on English soil, the last revolt against the New Poor Law, and England’s last millenarian rising. The bloody ‘Battle of Bosenden Wood’, fought in a corner of rural Kent, was the culmination of a revolt led by the self-styled ‘Sir William Courtenay’. It was also, despite the greater fame of the 1830 Swing Riots, the last rising of the agricultural labourers.
Barry Reay provides us with the first comprehensive and scholarly analysis of the abortive rising, its background, and its social context, based on intensive research, particularly in local archives. He presents a unique case-study of popular mobilization in nineteenth-century England, giving us a vivid portrait of the day-to-day existence of the farm labourer and the life of the hamlet. Dr. Reay explores the wider context of agrarian relations, rural reform, protest and control through the fascinating story of The Last Rising of the Agricultural Labourers.
Barry Reay holds the Keith Sinclair Chair in History at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He has published extensively in early modern and modern social and cultural history and is the author or editor of eleven books, including Microhistories: Demography, Society, and Culture in Rural England, 1800-1930 (1996), Popular Cultures in England, 1550-1750 (1998), and Rural Englands: Labouring Lives in the Nineteenth Century (2004).
‘By a Flash and a Scare’: Arson, Animal Maiming, and Poaching in East Anglia 1815-1870
John E. Archer : Breviary Stuff Publications : ISBN 978-0-9564827-1-6
‘By a Flash and a Scare’ illuminates the darker side of rural life in the nineteenth century. Flashpoints such as the Swing riots, Tolpuddle, and the New Poor Law riots have long attracted the attention of historians, but here John E. Archer focuses on the persistent war waged in the countryside during the 1800s, analysing the prevailing climate of unrest, discontent, and desperation.
In this detailed and scholarly study, based on intensive research among the local records of Norfolk and Suffolk, Dr Archer identifies and examines the three most serious crimes of protest in the countryside — arson, animal maiming and poaching. He shows how rural society in East Anglia was shaped by terror and oppression in equal measure. Social crime and covert protest were an integral part of the ordinary life of the rural poor. They did not protest infrequently, they protested all the time.
Incendiary attacks were repeatedly the meeting points for large displays of collective protest and celebration, were expressions of grievance, and marked a stage in the development of the rural war. Animal maiming was a retrospective individualistic response to some personal harm and was intended to show that the powerless were indeed capable of striking back. The majority of country people never accepted the game laws. No armies of keepers, no statute book of laws, no mantraps, and certainly no titled gentleman, could dissuade them from their belief that poaching was not a crime. These actions, along with anonymous and threatening letters, were the constant reminders and realities for the landed classes to remain on their guard.
‘By a Flash and a Scare’ dispels any lingering notions of a ‘green and pleasant land’, and makes an important contribution to our understanding of life in the nineteenth century countryside.
John E. Archer is an honorary research fellow at Edge Hill University. He has published widely on 19th century protest and crime. He is currently working on the history of violence in the north west of England.
The People’s Farm: English Radical Agrarianism 1775-1840
Malcolm Chase : Breviary Stuff Publications : ISBN 978-0-9564827-5-4
This book traces the development of agrarian ideas from the 1770s through to Chartism, and seeks to explain why, in an era of industrialization and urban growth, land remained one of the major issues in popular politics. Malcolm Chase considers the relationship between ‘land consciousness’ and early socialism; attempts to create alternative communities; and contemporary perceptions of nature and the environment. He concludes that, far from being an anachronistic, utopian, and reactionary movement, agrarianism was an integral part of the working class experience and of radical politics.
The People’s Farm also provides the most extensive study to date of Thomas Spence, and his followers the Spenceans. New light is thrown on the Spa Fields and Cato Street conspiracies, in which they were involved; but their true significance lies in their contribution to English radicalism — a key factor in shaping the politics of agrarian reform in the 1820s and 1840s.
With a new preface.
Malcolm Chase has published widely on the history of radical politics and the labour movement. His other books include studies of early trade unionism and of Chartism. He is Professor of Social History at the University of Leeds.
By Rite: Custom, Ceremony and Community in England 1700-1880
Bob Bushaway : Breviary Stuff Publications : ISBN 978-0-9564827-6-1
Political philosophers (such as Gramsci) and social historians (such as E. P. Thompson) have suggested that rural customs and ceremonies have much more to them than the picturesqueness which has attracted traditional folklorists. They can be seen to have a purpose in the structures of rural society. But no historian has really pursued this idea for the English folk materials of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: the period from which most evidence survives.
Bringing together a wealth of research, this book explores the view that such rural folk practices were a mechanism of social cohesion, and social disruption. Through them the interdependence of the rural working-class and the gentry was affirmed, and infringements of the rights of the poor resisted, sometimes aggressively.
By Rite represents the results of detailed research in a wide range of sources, including the local Press, Antiquarian and Field Studies papers, county journals, local collections and archives throughout England and Wales.
Dr Bob Bushaway worked for thirty years as a University manager, part-time Adult Education tutor and was the founding Director of Research and Enterprise Services at the University of Birmingham. He completed his doctoral research at the University of Southampton and has continued to research and publish on English rural life and culture during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with a particular emphasis on popular custom and belief. Bob regularly teaches social history classes for HEIs, WEA and schools and colleges and has continued to publish and perform in the field of folk studies including the supervision of a group of postgraduate research students. He broadcasts regularly and has appeared on TV, including the Channel 4 series About Time. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute. He lives and works in Birmingham.
Luther Blisset : Heinemann (1st English edition): 2003
What a rollicking read!
This book blasts you through the religious wars of 16th Century Northern Europe at a cracking pace. The authors (all four of them) are truly steeped in the knowledge of the period's history - and it shows! The characters are real, living and, all too often, bloody participants in the protestant (in this case German Anabaptist) struggle to overthrow the Catholic Church's Holy Empire. But more, it's the story of people’s struggle to overthrow the dominant mindset imposed by the Catholic Church through its priests, bishops, cardinals and the knights and armies of landed princelings. Full of intrigue, rebellion, revolution, counter-revolution, double-cross, and double-dealing 'Q' shifts brilliantly from the thoughts, feelings and desires of the 'highest' in the land to those experienced by the lowliest landless peasant or whore.
Q shows dramatically how ideas have no national boundaries. How technology, in this case the printing press, became a tool for liberation. Just look how the internet, Facebook, mobile phones, etc. were closed down recently by various North African rulers and compare that to the efforts of the Catholic Church to prevent the spread across the continent of bibles translated into European languages and made available to the masses. How revolutionary it was to read or hear, for the first time, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", "Blessed are the poor…", etc.
In 16th Century Europe politics and religion were nigh on inseparable and religious unity was regarded by the state and religious establishments across Europe as essential for political union. Thus those who followed the teachings of Martin Luther and other reformist protestants challenged not only established Catholic belief but also the authority of the Kings and Princes of Christendom. There's a huge debate currently being led by mainstream historians who are saying that the religious wars in 16th Century Europe were just that; wars about religious beliefs. These historians challenge the counter-view that the initial Lutheran ideas of reform of the Catholic Church were then taken up by the 'middle sort' of people and by destitute peasants who craved a revolution and the establishment of a common wealth based on the original world of Adam & Eve where all was in common ownership. This book, allows us to see tsunami shock-waves of humanity sweeping away the old order and old ways of thinking and does so through the eyes of fact-fictionalised characters who will inspire all who read this book.
Q is so refreshing. Normally books about this period in European history deal with the Kings, Queens, Popes and Bishops – the 'big' names – this one rollercoasts across Europe following the lives and exploits of individuals who have few means, plenty of courage and are armed with a will to turn the world upon its head – in the face of overwhelming odds. These people changed the world. These people made us who we are today. Read this book!
Jim March 2011
Wu Ming : Verso Press Ltd. : 2009
First known as 'Luther Blisset', Bologna's fiction-writing collective return with a stylish atmospheric and provocotive saga set in British America in the years prior to the white settler uprising of 1776. There's the rub: turning received ideas on their head, as ever, Wu Ming evoke the coming rebellion through the eyes of the Mohawk nation loyal to George III, the 'Great English Father'. At the core of this sweeping, narrative, bursting with colour and character, stands the real-life war chief, Joseph Brant, stalwart but doomed in his defence of a threatened culture and society. Quite how the Italian mavericks conjure fiction of this strength and nuance from a collective remains a puzzle. But long may their drums beat.
The Darker the Night the Brighter the Stars
Friedrich Schlotterbeck : J. Barnes & P. Doyle
This is a personal account of one man’s experiences in Germany from 1933 until the end of the war in 1945. As a communist, arrested by the Gestapo, tortured and sent to a concentration camp, he describes his existence of ten years as a prisoner of the nazi regime. He gives an insight into how the system operated, mainly by brutality and betrayal. The courage and bravery of people who opposed the fascists is conveyed clearly in this account and it is an important record of ordinary working men and women who fought against the crushing force of a totalitarian state.
Landscape For A Good Woman
Carolyn Steedman : Virago Press Ltd : 1998
This book challenges what has previously been written about the working class in this country. The descriptions that have been oversimplified, putting people and their families from that background into a lumpen mass assuming the psychological sameness of all, and interpreted mainly by people who are not working class. In fact, class consciousness has often not been perceived as psychological consciousness.
The autobiographical story is told through the memories of the author's childhood during the nineteen-fifties, her relationship with her parents, particularly with her mother, and how her mother’s story is inexorably linked with hers. The mother, who has migrated to South London from a Lancashire mill town, came from a traditional Labour background but was very much a working class Tory. As a child the stories from her earlier Lancashire family history shaped her understanding of the 'terrible unfairness of things' and 'culture of longing for that which one can never have'.
The author describes her mother's attitudes towards lack of money, cleanliness, clean living, what a good mother should be etc., and what really touches the heart, is how her mother wanted to dress in the 'New Look' style of the time but could not afford to.
The child not only recognises the desires of the mother but also the social class system of the time in relation to the parent and how this results in 'meaning for their children is altered and restrained by the position they occupy in a class society'.
This book will certainly be of interest to anyone who would like to know more about working class history and will have a definite impact on any person whose childhood evolved during the nineteen-fifties. More than this, it is an original record of a working class family that the author, as a child, considered 'ordinary'!
The 43 Group
Morris Beckman: Centerprise Publications: 1993
The 43 Group is a iveting account of militant anti-fascist resistance in the UK in the years following the second world war. In existence for only 5 years, the group were mainly active in London where Mosley's British Union of Fascists were busiest in their attempts to win favour amongst the white working class. Initially comprised of 43 ex-servicemen, the Group were appalled at the xenophobic and anti-semetic ranting of the Mosleyites, who would meet on London's street corners and berate passers-by.
Many Jewish soldiers, recently returned from fighting the fascists abroad, were shocked by the level of protection given to the fascists at home by the police - all in the name of freedom of speech of course. Many of those who went on to join the 43 Group first encountered BUF rallies on their way home from cinemas showing footage of the recently liberated concentration camps.
The Groups philosophy of the "3 D's" - Discuss, Decide and Do it - were quickly manifested on the streets of London, with literally thousands of fascist meetings and rallies sent packing. Quickly gaining a reputation, The Groups ranks swelled to hundreds, organised in 'wedges' of a dozen or so. These wedges would attend a BUF rally and at a given signal would storm the speakers platform, attacking BUF stewards and speaker. The Groups military background ensured tight discipline and brutally effective actions. This, combined with a number of spies within the fascist ranks. Ensured the 43 Group almost always came out on top, closing down two-thirds of all fascist activity in the UK until it's simultaneous demise with organised fascism in Britain.
Despite the Groups ferocity when fighting the fascists, they offered no resistance if arrested by the police. This policy was in keeping with their goal of convincing the State to ban fascist organisations. The Group could not then be seen to be attacking the State. Beckmans' generation were not revolutionary. Their motivations being a desire to see off annoying idiots with megaphones and jackboots on their streets . With the BUF in utter demise by 1949 the Group disbanded, job done.
The 43 Group is a thrilling testament to the positive role militancy can play in social movements. It's also the only book I've ever read with a foreword by none other than Vidal Sassoon.
Caliban and the Witch: Women the Body and Primitive Accumulation
Silvia Federici: Autonomedia: 2003
Caliban And The Witch is a history of the body in the transition to capitalism. Moving from the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages to the witch-hunts and the rise of mechanical philosophy, Federici investigates the capitalist rationalization of social reproduction. She shows how the battle against the rebel body and mind are essential conditions for the development of labour power and self-ownership, two central principles of modern social organization (Autonomedia).
The historical understanding of the repression of witches in the 16-18th centuries has gone through several phases in the last century. Initially, feminist historians critiqued the received view that the repression was some kind of collective religious madness and rooted the debate in questions of the control of reproduction, medicine and the imposition of patriarchal power into the Middle Age village. The importance of this book is that it develops the study further recognising that there were more than just 'patriarchal' forces at bay. Federici explains how the repression was intimately linked to attempts to social engineer peasant population increases, to impose work discipline on the 'rebel body' and break up the village structures that might oppose enclosure in transition to early capitalist forms of production. This insight into the process in Europe, allows Federici to link the repression of witches to similar tactics used in the New World by the new colonial powers. This is a ground-breaking book and Federici has shown in other work the relevance of the repression of witches in this period of primitive accumulation to similar processes occurring in the globalising world of the late 20thC (BRHG).
Ehud's Dagger: Class Struggle in the English Revolution
James Holstun: Verso: 2000
One of our visiting academics said this book was 'hard but good', so I took up the challenge and read it. The reason it is 'hard', is mainly because of the first few chapters, which launch into the sometimes vicious debate between historical revisionists (who basically think history is made by powerful individuals/institutions, we are of course unimportant), the post-modernists (who think it is so complex and non-linear it is hard to say anything so they get obsessed with making minor details the centre of their theories), and the Marxists/social historians (who come from varying shades of 'the history of all previous societies has been the history of class struggles'). Holstun fights his 'class struggle' position well and backs it all up with searing (and sometimes funny) critiques of his academic opponents. The second part of the book looks at some key radical groups (the agitators in the New Model Army and the Diggers) and figures (Anna Trapnel, Edward Sexby and John Felton) in the English Revolution. There is some seriously interesting stuff here, though Holstun's background as an expert in English literature can make the text a cross between flowery and difficult. There are two absolute gems I must mention. The first chapter which tells of Cornet Joyce, the representative of the New Model Army who seized Charles I for the revolutionaries and effectively led him to his execution and Holstun's veiled call for the assassination of Henry Kissinger, which is not something you might expect to see in an academic text! (BRHG)
Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of The Third World
Mike Davis: Verso: 2001
This book is an interesting and necessary cross discipline (historical, economic and meteorological) explanation of the horrific famines in China, India and Brazil at the end of the 19th century. Starting from the premise that revisionist and even Marxist historians (Hobsbawm gives them one line in his famous trilogy) have ignored these massive events or failed to link them across these disciplines, he goes on to explain how the dogmatic free market approach of the British ruling class married with the effects of the cyclical El Niño climate changes caused the deaths of tens of millions in their colonies. Much has been made recently by historians of the famines in the Soviet Union and Maoist China in their transition from feudal to state capitalist regimes. Davis challenges those same historians to face up to the horrors of free market capitalism unleashed on feudal economic systems and asks them why they have been so silent. This is highly relevant in the current age of neo-liberal economic ideology. Perhaps most shocking is the indifference of the British officials to the holocaust they were unleashing. They watched centuries old societies collapse into chaos and cannibalism as they cruelly continued to impose their economic systems and exported desperately needed food to other markets (BRHG).
Staying Power: A History of Black People in Britain
Peter Fryer: Pluto Press: 1984
This classic text is the most comprehensive and extensively researched history of black people in Britain. The sections on the black radicals of the 18th and 19th century are a must as is Fryer's demolition of British establishment attempts to rewrite themselves as the moral and legal vanguard in the abolition of slavery. Fryer's social history not only enlightens us about individual black political figures in this process but also covers such disparate groups as boxers, musicians and soldiers amongst others. If you read one chapter, then read 'The rise of English racism'. This is probably the best analysis of institutional racism and its economic/political drivers I have ever read. A brilliant source text and vital resource for discovering the real black history of Britain (BRHG).
King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa
Adam Hochschild; Pan: 2006
This bestseller (selling over 400,000 copies worldwide) almost never came to print as numerous publishers rejected it on the grounds that people weren't interested in the history of Africa! King Leopold refers to the Belgian monarch of the late 19th century who worried about his nation falling behind in the 'scramble for Africa' cunningly organised the invasion of the Congo. Using fake philanthropic organisations (the International African Association) and armed 'scientific expeditions' (e.g. Henry Morton Stanley) the subjugation of the lands that became the 'Belgian' Congo was carried out under the greedy gaze of other European imperialist powers. As a study in deceit, manipulation of the media and the use of stealth to invade a region, this book has serious contemporary relevance. The subsequent exploitation of the natural resources of the Congo (mainly rubber) and the consequent deaths of half the population (sources suggest 10 million dead) go down as one of the most horrific colonial crimes of the 19th/20th century. It is no surprise that Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' with its infamous central character Kurtz, was based on the author's experiences in the Congo. Hochschild is clear about the genocide, not being drawn into a debate about racism, but clearly situating the colonial crimes as the direct consequence of the economic exploitation. (BRHG)
The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the 18th Century
Edward Thompson: Past and Present No. 50, 1971
This paper is famous, so I thought I better read it and I was not disappointed. Thompson is at his cheeky best, starting the article by taking the piss out of anthropologists and their complex analyses of 'exotic' cultures whilst the English working class is reduced to disorganised, amoral, sub-humans by historians. Thompson analyses the corn and bread 'riots' of the 18th century and not only shows their popular character but also the organised and often successful attempts by the so called 'mob' to control prices, quality and distribution of agricultural products. He taunts the naive establishment historians with their crude analyses of the peasantry/working class by outlining how the rioters developed their strategies of resistance to the free market and 'hoarding' in the actual Market places of many towns by an understanding of the 'value chain' (Market-Mill-Farm), which they physically followed to enforce their demands. Cracking read. (BRHG)
Time, Work Discipline and Industrial Capitalism: Edward Thompson
Past and Present Available as a PDF file here.
Another famous, readable and ground-breaking paper by Thompson, this time looking at the imposition of work discipline in the transition to industrial capitalism. He charts the change from the task orientated work of the craftsman/labourer to the division of labour in the '(manu)factory' and the consequent resistance. The use of supervision, fines, wage incentive, preaching, schooling, the suppression of fairs and sports and of course, bells and clocks to form and discipline the new working class are all examined. So if you want to find out, despite their attempts to turn us into 'Pavlov's Dogs', why 'everyone is a communist when the alarm clock rings', then this is a good place to start. (BRHG)
The Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh : Verso : 2000
Brilliant work charting the misunderstood and misrepresented history of the Atlantic proletariat during the rise of mercantile capitalism. Breaks out of the limits of the nation state set by previous social history and examines the struggles of slaves, sailors and commoners across the Atlantic from the old world to the new. (BRHG)
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea : Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750
Marcus Rediker : Cambridge University Press : 1987
Rediker redefines the sailor as a worker afloat and shows how these working men resisted authority and work discipline, created their own maritime culture, language and religion and often turned to mutiny and piracy in a bid for freedom. (BRHG)
Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age
Marcus Rediker : Beacon Press : 2004
Villains of All Nations explores the "Golden Age" of Atlantic piracy and the infamous generation whose images underlie our modern, romanticized view of pirates. Rediker focuses on the high seas drama of the years 1716-1726, which featured the dreaded black flag, the Jolly Roger; swashbuckling figures such as Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard; and the unnamed pegleg who was likely Robert Louis Stevenson's model for Long John Silver in Treasure Island.
This novel interpretation shows how sailors emerged from deadly working conditions on merchant and naval ships, turned pirate, and created a starkly different reality aboard their own vessels. At their best, pirates constructed their own distinctive egalitarian society, as they elected their officers, divided their booty equitably, and maintained a multinational social order. (Publisher)
Albion's Fatal Tree : Crime and Society in 18th Century England
Hay, Linebaugh, Rule, Thompson and Winslow : Peregrine Books : 1977
Classic set of essays shattering the illusion of a tranquil 18th Century full of happy peasants and deferential workers promoted by establishment historians. From poaching wars to smugglers, wreckers and rioters these essays provide the hard evidence for the raging class war of the period. E.P.Thompson's study on the 'incendiary letter' is absolute quality and will still send shivers up the spine of the wealthy…(BRHG)
Liberty Against the Law : Some 17th Century Controversies
Christopher Hill : Penguin : 1997
Christopher Hill was getting on a bit when he wrote this but he clearly still had lots of stuff to get out there. What a source book he has produced. Hill shows that barely a fifth of the population were content with a legal system which was enclosing the commons, crushing customary rights and creating a class of landless labourers. Highwaymen, pirates, gypsies, vagabonds, levellers and religious radicals (amongst others) fight these changes creating their own culture of resistance in the process, echoes of which still remain today. Great. (BRHG)
The Black Jacobins : Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution
C.L.R. James : Penguin : 2001
The history of the successful slave revolt on Haiti at the end of the 18th century. Find out how the rebellious slaves won their revolution against the French and then fought off the Spanish and the British who tried to grab the island. Brilliant section on the real reasons the British decided to abolish slavery. (BRHG)
The World Turned Upside Down : Radical Ideas During the English Revolution
Christopher Hill : Penguin : 1991
Find out about why it was the English Revolution and not just the English Civil War. Discover the 'third force' of the period, Levellers, Diggers, Ranters, Religious Radicals and the rebellious New Model Army that frightened the Royalists and Parlimentarians alike with their 'communist' ideas. Absolute classic, to be read aloud to your mates on stormy nights (with a few beers). (BRHG)
The London Hanged : Crime and Civil Society in the 18th Century
Peter Linebaugh : Verso : 2003
This book takes you right into the everyday life of the 18th century British working class and how their existing customary rights came directly into conflict with the new needs of emerging capitalism. Sounds boring, but Linebaugh is excellent at blending both the experiences of the individual labourer with the overall thrust of the history. This book is extremely important if you want to understand the transition from feudal to capitalist work relations. Also excellent chapters on public execution, the Gordon riots and Jack Sheppard. (BRHG)
Hotheads and Heroes : The Bristol Riots of 1831
Peter Macdonald : Petmac Publications : 1995
Full story of the 1831 uprising…
The Clouded Quaker Star : James Nayler 1618-1660
Vera Massey : Sessions Book Trust : 1999
Story of James Nayler…
The Making of the English Working Class
E.P.Thompson : Penguin : Penguin Edition 1991
Classic work charting the formation of the English working class in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Thompson not only does the business in terms of the economic history but also famously charts the lives, politics and actions of the class itself in resisting the attempts to mould them into a passive, subservient and impoverished work force. (BRHG)
Gone to Croatan : The Origins of North American Dropout Culture
Ron Sakolsky & James Koehnline, eds. : Autonomedia
Lost history viewed through cracks in the cartographies of control, including "tri-racial isolate" communities, buccaneers, "white Indians", black Islamic movements, the Maroons of the Great Dismal Swamp, the Métis nation, scandalous eugenics theories, rural "hippie" communes, and many other aspects of North American autonomous cultures. (Autonomedia)
The Devils Anarchy : The Other Loose Roving Way of Life & Very Remarkable Travels of Jan Erasmus Reyning, Buccaneer
Stephen Snelders : Autonomedia
By rebelling against hierarchical society and living under the Jolly Roger, pirates created an upside-down world of anarchist organisation and festival, with violence and death ever-present. This creation was not a purely whimsical process. In The Devil's Anarchy, Stephen Snelders examines rare 17th-century Dutch pirate histories to show the continuity of a shared pirate culture, embodied in its modes of organisation, methods of distributing booty and resolving disputes, and tendencies for high living. Focusing on the careers of Claes Compaen, a cunning, charismatic renegado who claimed to have stolen more than 350 vessels, and Jan Erasmus Reyning, who hit the seas at age 12 and became a buccaneer in the pirate jungles of Santo Domingo, Snelders paints a salty picture of the excesses, contradictions, and liberatory joys of pirate life. (Autonomedia)
Pirate Utopias : Moorish Corsairs and European Renegadoes
Peter L Wilson : Autonomedia
From the 16th to the 19th centuries, Moslem corsairs from the Barbary Coast ravaged European shipping and enslaved thousands of unlucky captives. During this same period, thousands more Europeans converted to Islam and joined the pirate holy war. Were these men (and women) the scum of the seas, apostates, traitors - "Renegadoes"? Or did they abandon and betray Christendom as a praxis of social resistance? (Autonomedia)
John the Painter : The First Modern Terrorist
Jessica Warner : Profile Books Ltd. : 2005
During the early days of the American Revolution, James Aitken, alias John the Painter, set fire to the Royal Navy dockyards of Portsmouth and Bristol, briefly striking terror into the hearts of the English. Completely forgotten today, Aitken strove to gain notoriety through various criminal acts, culminating in the arson he committed in support of the American rebels. Warner traces Aitken's life from his restless childhood in the poverty and grime of Old Town, Edinburgh, to his exploits as an indentured servant in the colonies, from his time as a British soldier-and repeated deserter-to his plots against the Crown. Aitken believed that if he could destroy British ports and thus hobble the great Royal Navy, then America would win the war. Warner points out that Aitken even tried to enlist prominent Americans, such as Benjamin Franklin, to support his plots (Publishers Weekly).
Herman Melville : 1851
Classic novel of the search for vengeance by the maimed captain of a whaling vessel sailing from Nantucket on the east coast of the USA in the 1840's. It interest for us is the view that Melville gives us below decks amongst the harpooners and sailors. This 'motley crew' consists of native Americans, Polynesians and West Africans, amongst others, all jammed together in the whaling ship 'Pequod' for a dangerous three year (!) voyage. Melville who worked on similar ships has an empathy with these 'mariners, renegades and castaways' and describes their relationships with cracking dialogue (BRHG).
Bury the Chains : The British struggle to Abolish Slavery
Hochschild : Pan Books : 2005
Thrilling account of the first grass-roots human rights campaign, which freed hundreds of thousands of slaves around the world. In 1787, twelve men gathered in a London printing shop to pursue a seemingly impossible goal: ending slavery in the largest empire on earth. Along the way, they would pioneer most of the tools citizen activists still rely on today, from wall posters and mass mailings to boycotts and lapel pins. This talented group combined a hatred of injustice with uncanny skill in promoting their cause. Within five years, more than 300,000 Britons were refusing to eat the chief slave-grown product, sugar; London's smart set was sporting antislavery badges created by Josiah Wedgwood; and the House of Commons had passed the first law banning the slave trade. However, the House of Lords, where slavery backers were more powerful, voted down the bill. But the crusade refused to die, fuelled by remarkable figures like Olaudah Equiano, a brilliant ex-slave who enthralled audiences throughout the British Isles; John Newton, the former slave ship captain who wrote "Amazing Grace"; Granville Sharp, an eccentric musician and self-taught lawyer; and Thomas Clarkson, a fiery organizer who repeatedly crisscrossed Britain on horseback, devoting his life to the cause. He and his fellow activists brought slavery in the British Empire to an end in the 1830s, long before it died in the United States. The only survivor of the printing shop meeting half a century earlier, Clarkson lived to see the day when a slave whip and chains were formally buried in a Jamaican churchyard. Like Hochschild's classic King Leopold's Ghost, Bury the Chains abounds in atmosphere, high drama, and nuanced portraits of unsung heroes and colourful villains. Again Hochschild gives a little-celebrated historical watershed its due at last (Houghton Mifflin, Publisher).
Hear an NPR review of Adam Hochschild's book Bury The Chains here (streaming audio, 5 minutes)
Below is a list of publishers who have published many of the books listed above.
Autonomedia is an autonomous zone for arts radicals in both old and new media. We publish books on radical media, politics and the arts that seek to transcend party lines, bottom lines and straight lines. We also maintain the Interactivist Info Exchange, an online forum for discourse and debate on themes relevant to the books we publish.
One of the largest radical book publishers in the English-speaking world.
Pluto Press has a proud history of publishing the very best in progressive, critical thinking across politics and the social sciences. We are an independent company based in London, with a sales and marketing office in the U.S. and distribution rights throughout the world.
Small publisher producing texts on radicals of the 19th C including Henry Hunt and William Cobbett.
Below is a list of history groups that publish pamphlets.
Living Easton produce a broad range of books about Easton's rich history. subjects include a walk along the River Frome, Stapleton Road Gas Works, coal mining and the house in which The Young Ones was filmed.
South London's history brought to life in a series of excellent pamphlets. Titles include The Mayor of Garratt - mock elections in 18th century South London, Down with the Fences! - battles for the commons in South London and Nine Things That Aren't There: a manoeuvre around the Elephant and Castle.
No Quarter is an excellent zine from Calgary, Canada that explores radical history and its connections to a radical present from an anarchist perspective and from outside the academy. It is an unusual and innovative use of the 'zine' medium to investigate hidden history. Past topics have included radical pirates, social banditry, anarchist illegalism, the English revolution and millenarian revolt. There are extensive booklists with numerous quality reviews by the author. BRHG highly reccommend this publication. Hard copies are available in 'Bloom and Curll' bookshop.
Bristol Radical History Group
Check out our very own range of pamphlets.
Google books is a large collection of books from many sources. A large selection of the books that are out of copyright can be downloaded in their entirety, for free, as Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) files. Below is a list of books that we have found interesting and that are available free on Google books.
The Bristol riots, their causes, progress, and consequences. By a citizen [J. Eagles.]. A first hand account of the 1831 uprising.
Trial of Charles Pinney. The Lord Mayor of Bristol during the 1831 uprising.
An Essay on the Impolicy of the African Slave Trade: In Two Parts. By Thomas Clarkson.
This is a collection of pamphlets that can be downloaded and printed out. Titles include A History of the Car Bomb, Mutinies and Pirate Utopias.
The Struggle Site
A website that has a lot of infomation about anarchism and some history pamphlets.
A huge collection of ready to print zines on a variety of subjects including anarchism, cooking, ecology and technology.