Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Archive for June, 2013

A fascinating record of a playwright’s working life arrives at the Library

Posted by wcmlibrary on June 21, 2013

Two exciting boxes of donations arrived here yesterday – an archive of leaflets, posters but above all many, many playscripts from Mike Harris.  Mike has written over 100 scripts for radio, stage and TV, including soaps and serials, adaptations, one-off dramas, theatre in education, youth and children’s theatre and large-scale community plays.

MikeHarrisThe scripts include:

 Sisters (1980), about the suffragettes
 Dropping One (1982), about nuclear war
 Up the Hill (1985), about 100 years of north Manchester immigration
The Peterloo Massacre (1994), a large-scale community play
 The Battle of Bexley Square (1995), written for WCML founders Eddie and Ruth Frow and performed once in Lark Hill Place, the Victorian street in Salford Museum
 Spin (1999), a community play about cotton and immigration in Oldham
 From One Extreme to the Other (2007), about violent Islamic extremism and the far right white.

There are more details about Mike’s radio plays at www.suttonelms.org.uk/mharris.html, and there’s a bit more about his take on writing at http://makingwritingmatter.co.uk/?page_id=69.

We’re really grateful to Mike for entrusting us with the record of his working life, and we’re looking forward to people coming in to look at the scripts.  The amazing range of topics the plays cover encompasses our entire collection development policy!

Not only that but the scripts arrived in chronological order and with an index describing the genesis and content of each play.  The sort of thing librarians can usually only dream of! Cheers, Mike.

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Book Review: ‘Physical Resistance: Or, A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism’ by Dave Hann

Posted by wcmlibrary on June 18, 2013

Last night 40 people came to the Library to the launch of  Physical Resistance: Or, A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism by Dave Hann, with an introduction by Louise Purbrick.  Thanks to Louise for coming up from Brighton especially for the event, and to her and all those who contributed to making it an informed and impassioned evening. Physical Resistance is published by Zero Books – http://www.zero-books.net/books/physical-resistance

David Hargreaves, Library volunteer, reviews the book below.

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The difficulty in reviewing such a work lies in the fact that for many people their principal focus will be upon the degree to which the author has ‘correctly’ recognised the contributions of the various actors in the anti fascist struggles detailed. In writing the ‘collective history of anti-fascism’ the author inevitably highlights the sectarianism of such resistance; the changing alliances, the splits and the re–alignments, the never ending procession of acronyms.

But, this should not be the main focus of analysis. The emphasis should be upon the fact that this is an extremely able historical work containing some chapters of real quality. The use of oral history is very skilful in that the author allows people to speak and then provides well written contextual material. The skill of listening to people comes through in that it is clear that although the author knows enough of his subject to be able to have a discussion, an argument or even a row – he does not. He listens, records and respects the views of those who he interviews.

The strength of this approach is demonstrated by one of the best chapters in the book – ‘Hold Madrid for we are coming’, detailing the experience of comrades in the Spanish Civil War. Towards the end of that chapter an interviewee says of her grandfather,

‘He said what a waste it was because they were mostly people with great ideals and hopes for humanity and they were lying there dead. He never did come to terms with that part of it but he thought it was something he had to do.’

PhysicalResistanceThose words link with a significant section of the Introduction written by Louise Purbrick who notes that physical force has been largely written out of working class history. Hann, she writes, ‘presents an alternative interpretation of political action that includes physical resistance as part of an everyday pattern of opposition.’

Such resistance is unambiguously male and in many respects the book chronicles male on male violence with the refrain that the Fascists were often surprised by the ‘hardness’ of the opposing forces. The role of women, on both sides, is subordinate. This is not a criticism of the work of the author but a reflection on the fact that physical resistance is a game for the ‘boys’. There is a clear line of argument that any non violent response to Fascism would play into the hands of the enemy. The fact that some manifestations of Fascism might have failed for other reasons is not explored in any detail. In the words of the Introduction, political opposition is ‘defined by acts of participation rather than any adherence to very precisely defined ideological standpoints.’ Broad, predominantly non violent participation in, for example, the Anti Nazi League played a major role in the decline of the electoral ambitions of the National Front.

The chapter on the Spanish Civil War is critical in that it serves to ensure that the struggle against Fascism both home and abroad is given equivalence. That challenges those on the Left who can appreciate and applaud those who fought Fascism in Spain but recoil at physical confrontation at home. The author does present a consistently well presented and well argued narrative and invites the reader to consider the defining question of the work: What would you do if Fascists were intimidating your neighbourhood, beating up ‘targets’ and (throughout most of the narrative) being actively protected by the forces of law?

The strength of the work lies in the quality of the scholarship; the first hand narratives and the relentless pursuing of the core question of physical resistance. The reward of reading it lies in the fact that once finished, it must be followed by further discussion about tactics on the Left. In this work there are so many Fascists and so many false Patriots vilifying so many different scapegoats over the years that it is clear that the struggle against them must continue. The work highlights the fact that many, especially in the Labour Party, are content to ignore this unpleasant fact. Physical Resistance is a chronicle of those who did not.

Note: The author of this work died in 2009 and Louise Purbrick has done an excellent job of preparing the book for publication.

DWH

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Re-Making Guernica part three – communal sewing in Brighton

Posted by wcmlibrary on June 11, 2013

On 26 April, the anniversary of the aerial bombing of the town of Gernika in 1937 which led Picasso to paint his sombrely magnificent Guernica, we published a blog posting introducing the Re-Making Guernica project, the inspiration of a group of academics, artists and makers at the University of Brighton who invited activists to join them in creating an art of protest against fascism.  The Library played its part in their initial research about the painting coming to England. Now read on…

guernica_sew_1What is Guernica? Gernika is a place in northern Spain and Guernica is a painting by Pablo Picasso; it is a tapestry that hangs in the UN; a mug; a t- shirt. It is a rallying cry; a call to action to stand up against fascism; it is an anti-fascist banner. Guernica is many things: it has transcended its canvas and the walls of the gallery and it circulates far and wide, shifting shape as it goes. The frequency with which people are moved to recreate Guernica is testament to the ongoing power of Picasso’s image to move people into action.

A group of activists and artists are re-making Picasso’s Guernica as a banner. Re-making Picasso’s Guernica is a collective project involving people from Amnesty International, Brighton Anti-Fascists, Gatwick Visitors Group, Migrant English Project, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, University of Brighton and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

They say: ‘We have worked together to recreate Picasso’s famous shapes. We’d like to invite you to take part – come and sew! Jubilee Library, Jubilee Street, Brighton, 16 June & 23 June 2013, 12 – 4’.

For more information: remakingpicassosguernica.wordpress.com guernica_sew_2
If you’d like to stay in touch with the banner makers as the project develops, or host a sewing event or talk, email:
remakingpicassosguernica@riseup.net

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Re-Making Guernica part two – ‘an unwavering commitment to resisting injustice unites us’

Posted by wcmlibrary on June 5, 2013

On 26 April, the anniversary of the aerial bombing of the town of Gernika in 1937 which led Picasso to paint his sombrely magnificent Guernica, we published a blog posting introducing the Re-Making Guernica project, the inspiration of a group of academics, artists and makers at the University of Brighton who invited activists to join them in creating an art of protest against fascism. Now read on…

What do you think an artist is?  An imbecile who has only his eyes if he’s a painter, or ears if he’s a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he’s a poet, or even, if he’s a boxer, just his muscles?  On the contrary, he’s at the same time a political being, constantly alive to heartrending, fiery, or happy events, to which he responds in every way.  How would it be possible to feel no interest in other people and by virtue of an ivory indifference to detach yourself from the life which they copiously bring you?  No, painting is not done to decorate apartments.  It is an instrument of war for attack and defence against the enemy.

Pablo Picasso: From an interview with Simone Téry, 1945

The excitement, focus and engagement expressed by Picasso in his words above are at the heart of our project, Re-Making Guernica.

We all share a commitment to the uses of art in challenging perceptions, so that we can begin to see things in new ways, waking up lazy ways of seeing, making us aware of habits and of our tendency to stereotype, unpacking texts so as to reveal new meanings.

We also share a passionate interest in the uses of art in political struggle.  To name just a few examples, Jenny made many striking banners at Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, enjoying the ways in which they carry a message and become a permanent expression of history.  Pete has curated exhibitions for socially didactic purposes.  Jill has spent her life working on projects which foreground women, whose artefacts and events have often been written out of history.  Megha’s art practice uses sound, painting and sculpture to explore Indian women’s migration post-1990s in the era of globalisation.  Louise worked on a project to preserve parts of Long Kesh prison and curated an exhibition of materials created as part of anti-Guantanamo campaign work.  Maude was at school in Paris in 1968 and worked alongside students who were making posters, using cartoons, words and graphic forms to rally support, interrogate assumptions and create unities.  All of us have taken part in political actions where the creation of a banner, or a placard, or items of clothing or badges have been part of that action, dramatically enacting or expressing it while also inviting engagement and dialogue.

An unwavering commitment to resisting injustice unites us; many of us have been active in the peace movement and anti-fascist actions for several decades.  Several of us volunteer for organisations which support refugees and asylum seekers who have no recourse to public funds, or who are enduring indefinite detention in UKBA Removal Centres, frequently with no other contact with the outside world  Others visit Palestine to support those who endure daily trauma and indignity and whose livelihoods have been brutally stripped away.  Some of us have felt keenly the ways in which as women we have a different experience of war: we produce sons; we most frequently experience rape as a weapon of war; we are victims of trafficking – and we campaign for organisations to bring about an end to this.

In a time of austerity, we might remember our mothers or grandmothers making do and mending.  However we also recall the ways that fascists grow in numbers at times when mainstream politicians seek to blame economic hardship and social dislocation – which are the results of the political system over which they preside – upon groups that already endure forms of political exclusion: refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

We all see the collaborative process of making as a powerful antidote to the destructive powers of war and violent political systems.  Sitting down together to listen to one another, giving one another space to be heard; sharing common experiences or perceptions; muddling through the process of sewing itself, which drives some of us mad and which some of us find deeply boring; feeling upon us the beady eyes and critical gazes of our mothers or grandmothers – all so much more adept and deft with needle and thread than most of us will ever be; deciding upon stitches and showing one another how to sew them; deciding upon fabrics; talking about pieces of cloth which we have saved from our families’ pasts; showing one another little needle cases made for our mother in our childhoods; noting the humble simplicity of the tools used for sewing – their universality and their power in clothing and sheltering the world throughout history.  All of these experiences have been creative and empowering for us.  They have also shown us that it doesn’t matter how rubbish at sewing we might individually feel we are: commitment to the process and to Picasso’s work and its messages, which we are re-making, are what count more than counting perfect stitches.

Maude Casey – Re-Making Guernica project

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