Book Review: Guilty and Proud of It! Poplar’s Rebel Councillors and Guardians of 1919-25

Guilty and Proud of it Front Cover

Guilty and Proud of It! by Janine Booth.

Janine Booth. Guilty and Proud of It! Poplar’s Rebel Councillors and Guardians of 1919-25. Pontypool: Merlin Press, 2009. RRP £12.00 paperback. 

In 1921, 30 Labour councillors for Poplar in East London were imprisoned for 6 weeks because of their refusal to participate in a local government system that was unfair. They knew that they were breaking the law, but willingly sacrificed their freedom in order to challenge a law that they firmly believed was unjust. Despite strong opposition, including from within the Labour Party itself, their stand was successful, forcing the national government into an embarrassing climbdown. In Guilty and Proud of It!, Janine Booth tells the story of what has become known as the Poplar Rates Rebellion, as well as the longer conflict between the national government and the socialist Labour councillors that lasted from their election in 1919 until 1925.

Poplar council chose not to concede but to fight. And by fighting, it won. Poplar’s story – of defiance, of protests, of mass participation, of prison – has to be told. It deserves its place in the list of historical struggles that each generation of socialists and labour movement activists learn about, alongside the Chartists, the Suffragettes, the General Strike, Grunwick, the Miner’s Strike, the Poll Tax.

Booth, 2009; p. ix-x.

In the 1920s, Poplar (now part of Tower Hamlets) was one of the poorest boroughs in Britain. At the time, local governments had to pay unemployment and poverty relief benefits out of the local rates (like council tax today). The more poor and unemployed people in a borough, the more money had to be raised from the local residents. It was an unfair system which meant that the richest boroughs, where people could most afford higher taxes, actually had the lowest rates. In Poplar, Labour won 39 out of 42 council seats in November 1919. They set about using this impressive majority to make genuine improvements to the lives of working-class Poplar residents, which upset local elites, including employers and landlords.

For the next 6 years, the council would struggle with these local elites and central government, taking a defiant stance that became known as Poplarism (not to be confused with Popularism!) In 1921 the councillors demonstrated just how far they were willing to go, refusing to back down over their demands for a fairer rates system even when they were sentenced to prison indefinitely. The government backed down and the councillors were released after 6 weeks, winning significant concessions over rates.

Guilty and Proud of It! is a lucid account of a fascinating episode in London’s rebellious history. Janine Booth is a trade unionist and socialist herself, and her admiration for the rebel councillors and the stand that they took is evident. The book is less neutral than an academic book would be able to get away with, but Booth does not allow her politics to cloud her judgement. The concluding chapter of the book contains a thorough and balanced analysis, making convincing arguments about why the Poplar councillors were successful, why other councils were so reluctant to join them in their stand, and how Poplarism is relevant today. A lot of history books aimed at a popular audience do not contain this sort of critical analysis, so it was a pleasant surprise. This chapter also helps the reader link the book to wider contexts. Some may describe a book on such a short period of local history as niche, but Booth demonstrates Poplarism’s relevance to ongoing conflicts between local and national governments.

Guilty and Proud of It! is an accessible, engaging book that will appeal to anyone with an interest in London’s history, protest history, or local government.

Turbulent Londoners: Anna Wheeler, ~1785-1848

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who played a part in the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. Next up is Anna Wheeler, a feminist philosopher and author. Her great grand daughter was Lady Constance Lytton (1869-1923).


Anna Wheeler

Anna Wheeler in 1825 by Maxim Gauci, printed by Charles Joseph Hullmandel, after J. Porter (Source: National Portrait Gallery)

Anna Wheeler has been described as “the most advanced but neglected feminist and socialist activist and thinker of the period after Mary Wollstonecraft” (Hardy, 2009). Intelligent and persuasive, Anna was a significant figure in early British feminism. She was also an important node in the network of European radicalism in the early nineteenth century, bringing the ideas of French socialists and feminists to a British audience.

Anna Doyle was born in about 1785 in County Tipperary in Ireland. The daughter of a clergyman, she did not receive a formal education but learnt a lot from the people around her (e.g. family acquaintances and foreign dignitaries who visited her relatives). She was well known in the area for her intelligence, as well as her beauty. In 1800, when she was around 15, she married wealthy local landowner Francis Massy Wheeler. Francis himself was only 19 at the time, and Anna’s mother disapproved of the match. Unfortunately the marriage was not a happy one, and in 1812 Anna took her two daughters, Hanrietta and Rosina, to live with her uncle in Guernsey where he was governor. Anna travelled a lot during the rest of her life, living in London, Dublin, Caen and Paris.

Over the next few years, Anna gained a reputation in France for her intelligence and patronage of young intellectuals. In London, she became close friends with liberal philosophers such as the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham and Robert Owen, the Leader of the Co-operative movement. Her most significant friendship was with William Thompson, an Irish political economist, feminist and critic of capitalism. Francis died in 1820, leaving Anna without an income. She began translating the work of French Owenite philosophers into English.

Anna was living in Paris in 1823, whew she met French Utopian socialist Charles Fourier, She decided that London Owenites could benefit from his ideas, so she translated his dense writing on human harmony into English, at the same time making it more accessible. In 1826 she returned to London after her daughter Henrietta died suddenly.

In 1825 Anna’s collaborative work with Thompson led to the publication of Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, to Retain them in Political, and Hence in Civil and Domestic, Slavery (succinct titles were not a priority in the nineteenth century!) The book combined elements of liberal and socialist feminism, and fiercely criticised marriage as a form of domestic slavery. It argued that women needed education, the right to vote (almost 100 years before it actually happened), and alternatives to domesticity. Thompson and Wheeler challenged utilitarians, who argued for human happiness but excluded women. They also criticised James Mill’s argument that women didn’t need the vote because their interests were shared with men. Both Wheeler and Thompson were also supportive of contraception, which was an incredibly controversial issue at the time.

Anna was a well known public speaker in her own right, giving talks and lectures on women’s rights. She also published essays in the radical press using the pseudonym Vlasta. In her writing she argued that both men and women had been subjected to social conditioning by corrupt institutions. She wanted harmony and cooperation between men and women, not conflict. Anna believed that women were under the power of a learned ideology of romantic love, which concentrated their thoughts on pleasing men (perhaps she would think that this hasn’t changed). She was suspicious of arguments which gave women an inherent capacity for nurture and affection. Anna argued that women needed to act on their principles and reason to liberate themselves from customs and social conditioning.

Anna’s French friends tried to get her to Paris in the run up to the 1848 revolution, but she was too ill. She died in Camden on the 7th of May. Throughout her life she had been an important conduit for ideas between British radicals and their counterparts on the continent, as well as an influential feminist philosopher in her own right. Perhaps spurred on by her own disastrous marriage, Anna focused her considerable intellect on improving the lot of future generations of women, and for that we owe her thanks.

Sources and Further Reading

Dooley, Dolores. “Wheeler [nee Doyle], Anna.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 8th October 2009, accessed 23rd July 2019. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/46577 [subscription required to access].

Hardy, Patsy. “Wheeler, Anna Doyle.” in Iain McCalman et. a (eds) An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

McFadden, Margaret. “Anna Doyle Wheeler (1785-1848): Philosopher, Socialist, Feminist.” Hypatia 4, no. 1 (1989): 91-101.

Wikipedia. “Anna Wheeler (author).” Last modified 22nd May 2019, accessed 23rd July 2019. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Wheeler_(author).

Protest Stickers: Hull

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Hull has a wonderful street art scene, some of which has a political message (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Since January I have been living and working in Hull, an overlooked city in East Yorkshire on the Humber Estuary. I am quite easily pleased when it comes to the places I live–I have yet to live anywhere that I don’t like. That being said, Hull is a vibrant city with friendly and welcoming people, lots to do, and a thriving cultural scene (I have especially become a fan of the Bankside Gallery, where you can see fantastic street art at several locations around the city). Hull gets an average number of protest stickers for a city of its size; I have already written one post about them for the University of Hull’s Department of Geography, Geology and the Environment blog, here. But the stickers keep appearing, and so will the blog posts!

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Brexit-related protest stickers have been a feature on city streets across Britain (and further afield–I have seen them in Berlin, for example) since before the Referendum in 2016. The Liberal Democrats are the only major political party that are explicitly anti-Brexit (Photo: Hannah Awcock). 

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Bollocks to Brexit is a common anti-Brexit slogan that appears quite often on protest stickers. Here it has been altered to convey a pro-Brexit message. Sometimes people interact with stickers to change or obscure their message by writing on them or scratching parts of them off (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Extinction Rebellion is a social movement that started in Britain in late 2018, and campaigns for swift action on climate change and environmental destruction. Hull has quite an active branch (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Biofuelwatch campaigns around industrial-scale bioenergy. Currently the UK government gives £1 billion of renewable energy subsidies per year to power stations which burn wood to produce electricity. This is method of electricity production is dirty, it releases carbon into the atmosphere and it encourages deforestation. Biofuelwatch wants this money to be given to methods of producing electricity that are actually renewable (Photo: Hannah Awcock). 

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Nuclear fuel is another alternative method of producing electricity that is controversial. Stop New Nuclear is a group which campaigns against the construction of new nuclear power stations. This sticker is promoting an anti-nuclear protest called Surround Springfields in April 2019. Springfields is a site in Lancashire which produces fuel for nuclear power plants, and processes waste produced by them (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Veganism is another issue that is becoming increasingly popular in protest stickers, linked to both animal rights and climate change. This sticker is playing with the logo for Back to the Future, a popular 1985 sci-fi film. Challenge 22 is a project run by Israeli animal-rights group Animals Now. It encourages people to commit to trying veganism for 22 days, and provides support and advice (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is also promoting veganism by focusing specifically on the cruelties of the dairy industry. It is promoting The Vegan Activist, who posts educational videos about veganism on his Youtube channel (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Fur is another key element of animal rights campaign. The Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade is a grassroots, anti-fur campaign group (Photo: Hannah Awcock). 

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Jeff Luers is an American environmental activist who was sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2000 for his involvement in an arson attack on a Chevrolet dealership in Oregon. It was a very harsh sentence, especially considering that no one was hurt, and he only caused about $40,000 dollars worth of damage. His sentence was reduced and he was released in 2009, but he has taken on martyr-like status for some sections of the environmental movement. This sticker looks quite old, but I would be surprised if it has been around since Luers was imprisoned more than a decade ago. The web address on the sticker no longer exists (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is very faded, so I would expect is has been around for a few years. It is promoting an anti-war and violence message, playing on the double meaning of ‘arms’. The peace logo in the bottom left is very well known. The capital E in a circle in the bottom right, is less common, and represents Equality (Photo: Hannah Awcock). 

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Unfortunately, not all of the protest stickers I have found in Hull are progressive. This sticker is produced by the British Movement, a neo-Nazi group founded in 1968. It has been through periods of dormancy and the leadership has changed several times since then. It seems to have a small membership at the moment, but it is still disconcerting to see its logo in Hull (Photo: Hannah Awcock). 

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This sticker is advertising the National Front, another far-right fascist group, founded in 1967. Like the British Movement, it has also had periods of rise and decline over the decades, and it has quite a small membership currently. Someone (or perhaps multiple people) have obviously taken offence at this sticker at some point and tried to remove it (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I wanted to end the post on a positive note, and I love this sticker that I found on the Hessle Road. LGBTQI+ rights groups are struggling with conflict over transgender rights at the moment, but local Pride events in Britain are going from strength to strength at the moment, and Hull is no exception–the 2019 event on the 19th of July was a huge success (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Book Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Old Baggage Front Cover

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans.

Lissa Evans. Old Baggage. London: Transworld, 2018. RRP £8.99 paperback

I love reading fiction, but I have an unfortunate tendency of reading books in one sitting, so I try to avoid it during the week because otherwise I end up a sleep-deprived mess. A few weeks ago, I dedicated my Friday evening to Old Baggage by Lissa Evans, a novel about Mattie Simkin, a former Suffragette who is struggling to deal with her past and come to terms with her present. I must admit to picking this book up because of my interest in protest history, but Old Baggage is a wonderful book that will charm and engross you whether or not you are a history nerd like me.

Old Baggage is set in 1928, ten years after the right to vote was won for women over the age of 30 who owned property. Mattie Simkins is living in on Hampstead Heath with her devoted friend and former comrade Flea. Although her militant suffragette days are behind her, Mattie is still a vibrant character, quick to anger at injustice, slow to compromise, and fiercely loyal to her ideals. When Mattie realises that young women have little interest in, or knowledge of, politics, she sets out to change that by starting a group that combines physical fitness, intellectual debate, and female empowerment. The group is a resounding success, but Mattie’s single-mindedness causes conflict with the people she cares about the most, and she has to swallow her pride in order to put things right.

Some of you may know Mattie from Lissa’s first novel, Crooked Heart (2015), set during the London Blitz. I had no idea that Mattie wasn’t a new character when I read Old Baggage, and as it is a prequel you don’t need to read the older novel in order to understand this one (although I have heard that it is very good!). Old Baggage strikes a delicate balance between poignancy and humour (there were some sections that made me laugh out loud), and the fictional characters fit well into the historical events and context. It is not often that you come across a book where the two main characters are middle-aged women, and Mattie and Flea’s fierce, if a little dysfunctional, friendship is the wonderful heart of the book.

We don’t often think about what happens to activists after the cause has been won, or after they decide to stop fighting. Many of the women involved in the campaign for women’s suffrage put their energies into other causes; for example, Dora Montefiore was elected to the provisional council of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920 at the age of 69. Some, such as Adela Pankhurst and Flora Drummond, became active in right wing politics. Others settled down to ‘normal’ lives; Jessie Kenney, younger sister of the more famous Annie, became a steward on cruise liners, and Rosa May Billinghurst retired from activism. Most of these outcomes are represented in the characters of Old Baggage (including the suffragette-turned-fascist), so as well as being an enjoyable read, it is also a thoughtful reflection on what happens next. When you have dedicated your life to a cause that was dangerous and all-consuming but also thrilling and empowering, what do you do when it ends? Old Baggage asks questions about moving on and making sense of a different life that don’t have easy answers. But it’s the books that make you think that tend to be the ones you remember.

Turbulent Londoners: Winifred Horrabin, 1887-1971

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. This week I am writing about Winifred Horrabin, a socialist and writer who’s papers are held in the Hull History Centre. 


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Winifred Horrabin in 1936 (Photo: U DWH/1/36, used with permission of the Hull History Centre).

Some of the women I write about in the Turbulent Londoners series were comfortable taking direct forms of action that many people would consider extreme. Winifred Horrabin was not one of those women, preferring instead to campaign for change through her writing. Despite being deeply unhappy in her later years, Winifred made significant contributions to the socialist cause in Britain.

Winifred Batho was born in Sheffield on the 9th of August 1887. She was the fourth of six children, three of whom died in infancy. Her parents were working class and non-conformist, her father was a postal telegraph clerk and independent minister. He developed tuberculosis in his 30s, and moved to South Africa in an attempt to get better. His family joined him, but he died soon after in 1891. The family returned to Sheffield, but Winifred would develop a lasting fascination with the country. As a young woman she started writing a biography of South African novelist and social commentator Olive Schreiner that she would continue to work on for most of her adult life. Winifred shared Schreiner’s political and feminist opinions.

Winifred was an intelligent child; she could read by the age of 4. Between around 1902 and 1906 she attended the Sheffield Central School, and in 1907 she went to Sheffield Art College. It was here that she fell in love with Frank Horrabin, a staff artist and art editor for local papers. Frank shared Winifred’s socialist beliefs. Winifred joined the WSPU, and for a while worked with Adela Pankhurst (the youngest and least-well known of the Pankhurst family). In 1909 Winifred was selected by the WSPU to disrupt a speech given by Winston Churchill at a Liberal Party meeting. Activism did not come naturally to her, and she was amazed that she was actually able to go through with it.

Winifred married Frank on the 9th of August 1911, and the coupled moved to London for Frank’s work. In London they became heavily involved in the Labour College movement, joining a group called the Plebs League. The Plebs League wanted education for the workers, controlled by the working classes. The League had established the Central Labour College in 1909. George Sims was the first secretary of the League and edited Plebs, the Labour College movement’s monthly publication.

Winifred designed and embroidered the Labour College’s banner, which showed the torch of knowledge surrounded by 3 words: Educate, Agitate, and Organise. She was strongly influenced by Sims; she left the WSPU and adopted the Plebs’ argument that male and female workers should work together against the ‘producers.’ Sims argued that campaigning for the vote was collaborating with capitalism. The Plebs League claimed to want equal education for men and women, but they didn’t practice what they preached, and the Central Labour College only admitted male students.

Winifred was also influenced by HG Wells. He encouraged her to give a talk to the Fabian Society in 1912, where she argued that the abolition of private property was the only way in which women would be freed from economic slavery and gender hierarchy. Like other feminists at the time, she was pressured to put her socialism ahead of her feminism, and she struggled with this conflict. Winifred formed the Women’s League to promote the education of women workers. She wanted women admitted to trade unions and other working class organisations.

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The November 1929 issue of Plebs. At this point, Winifred was a contributor (Photo: Ragged University).

In 1914, the Horrabins became joint editors of Plebs. Support for the Plebs League declined during the First World War, and Winifred edited Plebs alone for a year after Frank joined the military. The couple also co-organised fundraising events and theatrical performances for the Pleb’s League, and wrote educational texts.

After the war, Winifred combined her international socialism with pacifism. The Horrabins were members of the Communist Party of Great Britain from 1921 to 1924, and co-wrote Working Class Education in 1924. Around this time, Frank started an extra-marital affair with Ellen Wilkinson. It’s uncomfortable to think about any of the Turbulent Londoners having flaws, but it is important to acknowledge that they were real women, and therefore not perfect. Winifred and Frank would remain married until 1947, but he had other affairs and Winifred was devastated when it became clear he no longer wanted to be with her.

During the 1930s and 40s Winifred had a successful career in journalism, writing for the New Clarion, the Miner, Time and Tide, and the Manchester Evening News. She dreamed of becoming a novelist, but this was another area of her life which would cause her bitter disappointment. Winifred moved to Backheath in the 1950s, and throughout the 1960s continued to work on her biography of Olive Schreiner, a novel, and a play about the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle. She moved to Dorking in Surrey shortly before her death on the 24th of June 1971.

Social movements need activists who are willing to risk imprisonment, injury, and even death. These are the people who get noticed, and they tend to be the ones who get remembered. But social movements also need people who are willing to dedicate themselves to the less romantic, exciting stuff like writing and fundraising. It doesn’t get as much attention, but it is just as important for ensuring that the social movement survives, if not more so. Winifred Horrabin was one of those people, and she deserves to be remembered for her contributions to British feminism and socialism.

Sources and Further Reading

Capern, Amanda. “HORRABIN, Winifred (1887-1971).” in Keith Gildart, David Howell and Neville Clark (eds.) Dictionary of Labour Biography, Volume 11. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003; 140-145.

Capern, Amanda. “Horrabin [nee Batho], Winifred [pseud. Freda Wynne].” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 23rd September 2004, accessed 14th June 2019. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/42087 (requires a subscription to access).

Simkin, John. “Winifred Batho.” Spartacus Educational. Last modified August 2014, accessed 14th June 2019. Available at https://spartacus-educational.com/Jbatho.htm

London’s Protest Stickers: Anarchism 2

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Stickers of all kinds are common on the streets of London (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 12/03/15).

Anarchist stickers are one of the most common categories of protest stickers you’ll find on the streets of London (you can see my previous post on the topic here). Some of the stickers promote anarchism in general, or celebrate prominent anarchist thinkers, whilst others promote specific groups. As with a lot of protest stickers, many of them have a sense of humour. Amongst the stickers below are examples of all of these types.

You can see where I found these protest stickers on the Turbulent London Map.

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This is one of my favourite protest stickers. I love the colours, and the way the children look so innocent, daubing their anarchist slogan onto the wall of the police station whilst the police officers are busy around the corner with the adults (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Great Dover Street, 11/05/15).

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I had to read this sticker a few times, but once I figured out what it was actually saying, I thought it was pretty clever (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Brick Lane, 12/09/15).

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The woman in this photo is Emma Goldman (1869-1940), the well-known activist and writer who played a key role in the development of anarchism in the first half of the twentieth century. This sticker is mocking the ‘Make America Great Again’ hats popularised by Donald Trump (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Cable Street, 12/09/17).

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This sticker is celebrating Lucy Parsons (c.1853-1942). She was a labour organiser and anarcho-communist, well known for her public speaking skills. Her husband was one of the men executed as part of the 1887 Haymarket affair in Chicago. She went on to be a founding member of the International Workers of the World (IWW, otherwise known as the Wobblies)(Photo: Hannah Awcock, Heygate Street, 05/05/15).

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Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) was a Russian anarchist philosopher and geographer. He was imprisoned for his activism in 1874, but escaped and spent many years in exile. He was born into a aristocratic land-owning family, hence the reference to the musician Prince, who changed his stage name to an unpronouncable symbol in 1993 so was referred to as “The artist formerly known as Prince. He changed it back in 2000 (Photo: Hannah Awcock, St. George’s Gardens, 09/10/16).

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Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) is another influential figure in the history of anarchism. He is known as the founder of collectivist anarchism (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Gordon Street, 13/04/16).

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This sticker also celebrates Bakunin, converting him into an anarchist Jack of spades. The web address in the bottom left of the sticker takes you to Libcom.org, a “resource for people who wish to fight to improve their lives.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock, St. George’s Gardens, 09/10/16).

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This sticker was produced by Anarchist Black Cross (ABC-their logo in on the bottom left of the sticker). The group supports prisoners, whether they are anarchists or not, in a range of ways including publishing prison guides, providing prisoners with political literature, and helping people write to prisoners (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Road, 09/02/16).

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The Anarchist Federation (AFED) produce a LOT of protest stickers, and you see them quite often in London. A lot of their designs feature this style. The background is normally red and black, but the red ink on this sticker has faded over time (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Guildford Street, 10/01/17).

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This is probably a controversial message for some, but AFED believes that capitalism must be overthrown, and this can only be achieved through revolution by a unified working class (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 09/02/16)

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This sticker is quoting Emma Goldman’s 1911 book Marriage and Love (Photo: Hannah Awcock, St. Guildford Street, 10/01/17)

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Rebel City is the newspaper of the London branch of AFED. It seems that there hasn’t been an issue published since no. 7, in October 2017. I like the idea London as the rebel city, but I would argue it doesn’t need much help! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 18/10/16).

 

Book Review: Triumph of Order- Democracy and Public Space in New York and London

Triumph of Order Front Cover

Triumph of Order: Democracy and Public Space in New York and London by Lisa Keller

Lisa Keller. Triumph of Order: Democracy and Public Space in New York and London. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. RRP £24.00 paperback.

Cities are incredibly complex systems, made up of hundreds of interconnecting networks. Sanitation, transportation, power, housing, local government, and public order, amongst others, all have to function successfully in order for a city to thrive. The larger the city, the more complicated and chaotic it gets, and by the end of the nineteenth century London and New York were the two largest cities in the world. The governments of these two cities, and their residents, had to strike a balance between order and liberty. Triumph of Order: Democracy and Public Space in New York and London traces the struggle to find a balance between these two, frequently conflicting, concepts in the nineteenth century.

Liberal democracies such as the US and the UK place a strong emphasis on liberty and individual freedom. However, the fact is that we are all willing to give up some of that liberty so that the government can maintain order and protect us and our property. Exactly how much of our individual freedoms we are willing to sacrifice in order to feel safe is a matter of constant debate. In Triumph of Order, Lisa Keller argues that in London and New York during the nineteenth century the balance between liberty and order tipped towards order. Using a combination of examples, archival sources, and analysis, Keller makes a convincing argument that liberty, particularly freedom of speech, was curtailed in favour of minimising the risk of disorder and violence on the streets of two of the world’s greatest cities.

The legacy of the nineteenth century was a new structure for public order, in which liberty was expendable. Great Britain and America retained a framework for free speech and assembly, but democracy as an ideal became tempered by realities of city life. The principles and practices established in the nineteenth century yielded long-lasting societal parameters affecting public space, free speech, and assembly.

Keller, 2009: p.223

Although I read academic books as part of my research and teaching, most of the books I review on Turbulent London are aimed at a more general audience. Triumph of Order is written for an academic audience, and is therefore less accessible than most ‘popular’ history books. This is not a criticism, however, just an observation; Triumph of Order is a good book, but if you are looking for something to take on holiday with you, I wouldn’t suggest this. A small criticism that I do have is that Keller is often careless with chronology. The book is structured chronologically, with the first half looking at London and the second focused on New York, but within individual chapters there is a tendency to jump back and forward between different events and time periods that can be confusing.

As someone who studies London and has visited New York, I have always been curious about how the history of the two compares. Triumph of Order highlights the parallels and differences between the two cities. Some of them are relatively obvious: London, for example, was the first major city in the world to have a professional civilian police force (1829), which had clear implications for the way free speech and protest was controlled (New York City followed suit in 1845). Other insights Keller provided are less familiar to me as a British reader, such as the idea that Americans have always been more tolerant of bodily violence and loss of life than British people. Many people have died during riots in London, but it is mostly due to accidents and the violent tactics of authorities; in New York, rioters themselves are more likely to kill people. In Triumph of Order, Keller does a good job of comparing the two cities in a way that also provides insight into them as individual metropolises.

The balance between liberty and order is a difficult issue. In Triumph of Order, Lisa Keller has produced a book that illuminates the historical structures that underpin that balance in two of the most significant cities in Western liberal democracies. That’s no mean feat.

Turbulent Londoners: Dorothy Thurtle, 1890-1973

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who played a part in the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. This post is about Dorothy Thurtle, a trade unionist and women’s reproductive rights campaigner.


Dorothy Thurtle and George Lansbury

Dorothy Thurtle with her father, George Lansbury in 1936. It was very difficult to find a photo of Dorothy, this one was published in a Canadian newspaper (Photo: Newspapers.com, with thanks to Jessamyn West for finding it for me!)

Dorothy Lansbury was born on the 15th of November 1890 in Bow, East London. She was the sixth of twelve children, although two of her siblings sadly died in infancy. Her mother was Elizabeth Brine, and her father was George Lansbury, the popular working class Labour politician. Dorothy went to an elementary school in East London, and grew up surrounded by radical politics. When she left school she worked as a clerk and accountant. She joined the Independent Labour Party when she was 16, and the National Union of Clerks (NUC) when she started work.

Like many female activists in the early 1900s, Dorothy got involved in the campaign for women’s suffrage. She was a member of the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) and the Women’s Labour League. The WFL split from the WSPU because of their autocratic structure, and Dorothy disapproved of the WSPU’s violent methods. This caused some tension in the Lansbury family; Dorothy’s brother William was imprisoned for breaking windows on behalf of the WSPU.

Dorothy met her husband Ernest through her union work; he was chairman of the London district of the NUC. They married on the 13th of August 1912, and had 2 children. Dorothy and Ernest collaborated on their political projects, in 1913 they co-authored Comradeship for Clerks. Ernest was elected Labour MP for Shoreditch in 1923, and Dorothy pursued a career in local politics. She was the General Secretary of the Shoreditch Trades Council and Labour Party, and in 1925 she was elected to Shoreditch Borough Council. In 1936 she was elected mayor of Shoreditch, becoming one of the first female mayors in London (others were Ada Salter, elected in 1922, and Daisy Parsons, also elected in 1936).

Perhaps inspired by her mother’s twelve pregnancies, Dorothy became interested in women’s reproductive rights 1920s. In 1924, she and Ernest were founding members of the Worker’s Birth Control Group (WBCG), which campaigned to get the Labour Party to commit to the extension of working class access to birth control information. Dorothy also promoted the cause amongst the Labour Party’s women’s sections. In 1926, Ernest put forward a parliamentary bill on this topic, but it failed. Dorothy was frustrated by the Labour Party’s lack of response to the campaign; she argued that it didn’t care about women’s rights, and was only paying lip service to gender equality.

In the 1930s, Dorothy took up the cause of legalising abortion alongside other veterans of the WBCG. She was an early member of  the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA), serving as the group’s Vice President until her retirement in 1962. She was also involved in the National Birth Control Council, which still exists today as the Family Planning Association. Between 1937 and 1939 she sat on the interdepartmental committee on abortion, the only member who was in favour of radical reform to the abortion law. When the committee’s report recommended no change to the law, Dorothy published a minority report, arguing that abortion should be legal on social grounds in some circumstances, especially for women with high fertility rates. She was particularly sensitive to the conditions of working class women with lots of children. For Dorothy, it was as much about social justice as it was reproductive rights; it was much easier to access an abortion if you were upper class.

Dorothy remained a strong advocated for women’s rights; in 1945, she described women as an oppressed class, and compared their position to slavery. In 1967, after 3 decades of campaigning, the Abortion Act was passed, which legalised abortion in Britain under some circumstances. In around 1970, a memorial garden honouring Dorothy was laid out in Shoreditch Park. She died on the 28th of February 1973.

When I was writing this blog post, it was very difficult to find a picture of Dorothy. It is more difficult to research women’s history than men’s, for a number of reasons, not least because they just weren’t considered as important for much of history, and there tends to be fewer surviving records about women. If we are not careful, then the contributions of women like Dorothy might disappear from history entirely. I write these blog posts because their bravery and resilience deserves to be remembered.

Sources and Further Reading

Brooke, Stephen. “Thurtle [nee Lansbury], Dorothy.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 3rd January 2008, accessed 24th June 2019. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/69843 [subscription required to access].

London Parks and Garden Trust. “Shoreditch Park.” Last modified 2nd April 2018, accessed 24th June 2019. Available at http://www.londongardensonline.org.uk/gardens-online-record.php?ID=HAC052

Protest Stickers: Berlin Part 2-Climate Change and the Environment

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A Fridays for Future demonstration in the German Bundestag in Berlin in March 2019 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I recently visited Berlin at a time when climate change and environmental protection were at the forefront of protest cultures around the world thanks to the efforts of Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement, and Extinction Rebellion. Whilst touring the German Bundestag (Parliament) with my students, I witnessed a Fridays for Future protest which involved activists handcuffing themselves to the handrails seen in the image above. In last week’s post, I wrote about Berlin’s protest stickers, but there were so many protest stickers in the city relating to climate change and the environment that it warranted its own post. Again, I must thank my colleague Julia Affolderbach for translating a lot of these stickers for me.

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Extinction Rebellion is a direct action group that was formed in the UK in the second half of 2018. Since then, branches have been set up around the world. The group use nonviolent civil disobedience to promote their ambitious demands, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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System Change not Climate Change is one of the most common slogans used by Extinction Rebellion (XR for short). The group’s symbol, an hourglass in a circle, has been around for a few years and is called the Extinction Symbol. The circle represents the earth, and the hourglass is a warning that time is running out for many species (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Fridays for Future is the name given to the weekly strikes by school children and students, demanding that adults, particularly those in power, take the threat of climate change seriously. The movement was kick started by Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old who sat in front of the Swedish Parliament every school day for 3 weeks in August 2018 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker shows the Fridays for Future logo, and includes a quote from Greta Thunberg. Many people have criticised the strikers for missing out on their education. In this quote, Greta is defending that decision. The text in pink below the logo translates as “Education strike for the climate. Every Friday. Also in your city!” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker includes a photo of a climate strike, possibly in Berlin. The slogan translates as “We are not skivving, we’re fighting!” “Klimastreik,” shown on the banner in the photo, means Climate-strike. This sticker is also responding to the criticism that students shouldn’t be playing truant in order to protest (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is playing on Trump’s slogan of “Make American Great Again,” again referring to Greta Thunberg. The quiet Swedish teenager has become an overnight celebrity in activist circles, and travels all over Europe (by train, she doesn’t fly) speaking at rallies and meeting politicians (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Although Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future have been very prominent in recent months, they are not the only groups that campaign around climate change. This sticker was produced by Revolution Germany. It doesn’t have a website, but does have a social media presence and describes itself as an international communist youth organisation. The text on the strip at the bottom translates as “No profit from our earth. Expropriate climate-killers!” In effect, it is calling for the wealth and property of those responsible for the destruction of the environment to be confiscated (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is also calling for an end to climate change, with a particular focus on coal, which is a particularly ‘dirty’ way of producing electricity (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Ende Gelände is a coalition of activists, campaign groups, and social movements calling for an end to the mining and burning of coal for electricity because of its contribution to climate change. Their actions are mostly focused around a region of open coal mines in the Rhineland, which the group claim is Europe’s biggest source of CO2. The Hambacher Forest is an area of ancient woodland near Cologne that energy company RWE AG wants to cut down in order to expand an open-pit coal mine. Activists have fought hard against this, and a final decision from the courts is expected in 2020 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker also refers to Hambacher Forest, although only as a web address which would provide the reader with more information if they wanted it (the English version of the website can be reached here). It translates as “Climate change won’t wait for you to finish your Bachelor’s [undergraduate degree]. Turn your theory into practice.” Many activists believe we have run out of time to discuss and debate climate change, and that action must be taken now in order to prevent disaster (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The German text on this sticker translates as “Expropriate energy companies! To save the environment: overcome capitalism.” It was produced by Left Youth Solid (Linksjugend [‘solid]), a socialist youth organisation. The penguins look suspiciously like those from the 2005 children’s film Madagascar, who proved so popular that they got their own spin-off film in 2014. It is not uncommon for characters from popular culture to appear in protest stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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If there is one environmental issue that has captured the public imagination more than climate change over the past year or so, it’s plastic. Both governments and businesses are facing increasingly pressure to reduce the prevalence of single-use plastics, particularly because so much of it ends up in the oceans. The image on this sticker is difficult to make out because it has faded, but it shows a sea bird that has died, possibly because of the significant amount of plastic it had ingested (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Protest Stickers: Berlin Part 1

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As with many large cities, Berlin’s street furniture has a lot of stickers, of all kinds (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Earlier this year, I went to Berlin as a member of staff on an undergraduate field trip. I had never been before, and I was really looking forward to the chance to explore a city with such a complex history, as well as a reputation for alternative culture and politics. Berlin did not disappoint; it is a vibrant city, with an admirable approach to coming to terms with the most difficult moments of its past. It has a lively culture of protest stickers too, so much so that I have decided to do two blog posts on the topic. At this point I would like to say thank you to my German-speaking colleague, Dr. Julia Affolderbach, who never once ran out of patience with me for repeatedly asking “What does this sticker say?”

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This sticker translates as “The AFD is no alternative.” The AFD is Alternative fur Deutschland (Alternative for Germany), a far-right political party founded in 2013. After failing to secure any seats in the German parliament in the 2013, in the 2017 federal elections it became the 3rd biggest political party in Germany, and many see its rapid growth as a cause for serious concern. This sticker is encouraging people to not to see the AFD as a viable alternative to the mainstream political parties, with whom many people are feeling frustration and disillusion. What the connection to Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants is I’m not sure, but it is not uncommon to see characters from popular culture on protest stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This is another anti-AFD sticker, adapting the well-known logo of the 80s hip-hop band, Run DMC. I have seen quite a lot of protest stickers using this style in my travels (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This is the remnants of a sticker produced by the AFD; the white letters in the blue rectangle with the red arrow is their logo. The only remaining text translates as “Germany protests”, but someone obviously took offence at the sticker’s message and removed most of it, so I can’t tell what the AFD is ‘protesting’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Fuck off Google is a campaign group trying to prevent Google from opening a ‘campus’ in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood. Opposition stems not just from what the campus would do to the local area, with rising housing prices and gentrification already a problem, but also Google’s questionable business and surveillance practices. So far, the campaign has been successful, and in October 2016 Google announced it will not be going ahead with its plans for a Kreuzberg campus (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I’ve got to admit, at first I thought this sticker was about the gender pay gap. When I was in Berlin, there was an event to highlight the this that involved women paying reduced fares on public transport. However, this sticker is actually about agricultural subsidies. The text at the bottom translates to: “Agricultural subsidies only for good agriculture and good food.” I assume it is arguing that EU agricultural subsidies should be used to encourage sustainable farming practices (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Women’s rights did crop up quite often in Berlin’s protest stickers however. This distinctive design was produced by BesD (the Professional Association for Erotic and Sexual Service Providers), a group of current and former sex workers who campaign on various issues to improve the sex industry (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker relates to the representation of women in advertising. It was produced by Berlin-Werbefrei, a group which is campaigning for increased regulation of advertising, including: the removal of all commercial advertising in public spaces, the regulation of advertising and sponsoring in schools, universities, and other public organisations, and the introduction of binding rules relating to derogatory and discriminatory advertising (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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As with most cities, anti-fascism is one of the most common topics of Berlin’s protest stickers. This sticker is simple, but effective at communicating its message (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker roughly translates as “Against ethno-nationalism (it is actually quite difficult to directly translate ‘volkische,’ but it is strongly associated with fascism and Nazism), sexism, anti-Semitism.” Anti-fascist groups can be quite territorial in the way that that claim space, so it is not unusual to see stickers that declare the vicinity an “Antifa area.” Jugend Widerstand is a group whose name translates as “Youth Resistance,” and it turns out this sticker is a manifestation of a dispute between two left-wing groups who dislike each other’s stances. Thanks go to the many people on Twitter who helped me with the translation and context of this sticker (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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It is also not uncommon to see stickers that encourage the viewer to “Support your local antifa.” This sticker has the added element, however, of telling people not to move to Berlin. My guess is that this is a criticism of the increasingly expensive and overcrowded housing and overstretched public services that many major European cities struggle to deal with as people move there in search of better opportunities and jobs (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Annoyingly, it seems impossible to escape from Donald Trump. This sticker is looking very good for 3 years old! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This anti-American sticker has not aged quite as well. I assume it was produced when Barack Obama was US President, so it was probably made in 2016 at the latest. It can be quite difficult to gauge the age of stickers, as most do not include a date (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Hands Off Venezuela is a group that campaigns for the lifting of sanctions against Venezuela, and against military intervention there. They were founded in 2002, but appear to be experiencing a resurgence due to the recent political upheavals in the country (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Critical Mass is a global cycling protest in which cyclists take to a city’s streets in large numbers to remind people to be mindful and respectful of other road users, and to assert cyclists’ rights to be on the road. This sticker is advertising Critical Mass Koln, which takes place on the last Friday of each month (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is in French rather than German or English, and reads “Everyone hates the Police.” The small boy in the foreground is holding a gun behind his back, hiding it from the police officers in the car who are talking to the other boy. Whilst tensions with police can be high in cities, particularly among ethnic minorities who often feel profiled and discriminated against, this is a disturbing image (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I’m not sure that this technically counts as a protest sticker, but I wanted to finish on a positive note 🙂 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).