Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Lisa McKenzie interviewed by LeftLion

Spokesman Books keenly follows local Nottingham magazine LeftLion. We read with interest Robin Lewis' interview of Lisa McKenzie, whose book Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain may be seen as a spiritual successor to Ken Coates' Poverty: The Forgotten Englishman.

A research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Lisa spent her early life in the St Ann's area of Nottingham, a council estate borne out the experimental 'Radburn' urban planning design. She describes reading Coates' Poverty when she was taking a course in social work, and realising that 'that was what [she] wanted to do. From the point of view of someone who's lived through it.'

Read the interview in its entirety here: 

Poverty: The Forgotten Englishmen is available to purchase online from Spokesman Books here. 

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

'Not as dumb as he looks' - Muhammad Ali on Bertrand Russell

In his autobiography The Greatest: My Own Story, Muhammad Ali recounts how Bertrand Russell got in contact with him, and their ensuing correspondence:


For days I was talking to people from a whole new world. People who were not even interested in sports, especially prizefighting. One in particular I will never forget: a remarkable man, seventy years older than me but with a fresh outlook which seemed fairer than that of any white man I had ever met in America.
My brother Rahaman had handed me the phone, saying, ‘Operator says a Mr. Bertrand Russell is calling Mr. Muhammad Ali.’ I took it and heard the crisp accent of an Englishman: ‘Is this Muhammad Ali?’ When I said it was, he asked if I had been quoted correctly.
I acknowledged that I had been, but wondered out loud, ‘Why does everyone want to know what I think about Viet Nam? I’m no politician, no leader. I’m just an athlete.’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘this is a war more barbaric than others, and because a mystique is built up around a champion fighter, I suppose the world has more than incidental curiosity about what the World Champion thinks. Usually he goes with the tide. You surprised them.’
I liked the sound of his voice, and told him I might be coming to England soon to fight the European champ, Henry Cooper, again.
‘If I fight Cooper, who’d you bet on?’
He laughed. ‘Henry’s capable, you know, but I would pick you.’
I gave him back a stock answer I used on such occasions: ‘You’re not as dumb as you look.’ And I invited him to ringside when I got to London.
He couldn’t come to the fight, but for years we exchanged cards and notes. I had no idea who he was (the name Bertrand Russell had never come up in Central High in Louisville) until two years later when I was thumbing through a World Book Encyclopaedia in the Muhammad Speaks newspaper office in Chicago and saw his name and picture. He was described as one of the greatest mathematicians and philosophers of the twentieth century. That very minute I sat down and typed out a letter of apology for my offhand remark, ‘You’re not as dumb as you look,’ and he wrote back that he had enjoyed the joke.
A short time after I fought Cooper, when I had another fight prospect in London, I made plans for Belinda and me to visit him, but I had to explain to him that the outcome of my fight against being drafted to Viet Nam might hold me up. The letter he wrote back was sent to me in Houston:

I have read your letter with the greatest admiration and personal respect.
In the coming months there is no doubt that the men who rule Washington will try to damage you in every way open to them, but I am sure you know that you spoke for your people and for the oppressed everywhere in the courageous defiance of American power. They will try to break you because you are a symbol of a force they are unable to destroy, namely, the aroused consciousness of a whole people determined no longer to be butchered and debased with fear and oppression. You have my wholehearted support. call me when you come to England.
Yours sincerely,
Bertrand Russell

By the time I got his letter I had been convicted and my passport lifted, just as his had been in World War I. Four years later, when my passport was returned, the friend I had made with my remark in my front yard had died. I thought of him whenever I visited England and for years I kept a picture of his warm face and wide eyes. ‘Not as dumb as he looks.’

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Nottingham Refugee Week 2016

Next month, Nottingham Beyond Borders and a host of collaborating groups will stage this lively programme of events for Nottingham Refugee Week

From 17-27th June there will be talks, film screenings, music and theatre performances, food tasting evenings and many other activities held in venues all over Nottingham, in the spirit of celebrating 'the contributions made by refugees and asylum seekers to the economic, cultural and social life of the city', and also to raise awareness of the challenges faced by refugees, and the reasons which compel them to flee and/or seek asylum.

We attach images of the programme below (click to enlarge).

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Statewatch 25th Anniversary Conference

European conference marking Statewatch's 25th anniversary

Civil liberties, the state and the European Union

10:00 - 17:00, Saturday 25 June 2016
Resource for London, 356 Holloway Road, London N7 (map)

For 25 years Statewatch has been working to publish and promote investigative journalism and critical research in Europe in the fields of the state, justice and home affairs, civil liberties, accountability and openness. We invite you to join us in London on 25 June 2016 at our Conference where there will be:

Workshops and discussions on the refugee crisis in the Med and in the EU; mass surveillance; the EU's crisis of legitimacy and accountability; the policing of protest and criminalisation of communities; racism, xenophobia and the far right; strategies of resistance and the defence of civil liberties.


Click to Book now:

Tickets provide entry to the conference, lunch and free tea/coffee/water all day.
You can choose the quantity of tickets after clicking the 'buy now' button.
You can also make a booking by post and pay with cheque or postal order - just fill in this form (pdf) and return it to us.

Click to Book now:



Ann Singleton (Co-Chair, Statewatch), Tony Bunyan (Director, Statewatch), Deirdre Curtin (Professor of European Union Law, European University Institute), Steve Peers (Professor of Law, University of Essex), Emilio de Capitani (FREE Group), Ralf Bendrath, Frances Webber (Institute of Race Relations, UK), Stratos Georgoulas (Lesvos, Greece), Gus Hosein (Privacy International), Val Swain (Netpol, UK), Steve Wright (Leeds Beckett University), Eric Topfer (CILIP, Berlin), Ben Hayes, Amandine Bach, Liz Fekete (Director, Institute of Race Relations), Matthias Monroy (Berlin), Eveline Lubbers (Undercover Research Group), Heiner Busch (Solidarité sans frontières, Switzerland), Suresh Grover (The Monitoring Group), Deborah Coles (Inquest), Dave Whyte (Liverpool John Moores University), Gareth Pierce (lawyer), Aidan White (Ethical Journalism Network), Eric Kempson (Hope Centre, Lesvos, Greece), Jean Lambert MEP (Green/EFA group), Stafford Scott (The Monitoring Group), Courtenay Griffiths QC, Ska Keller MEP (Green/EFA group), Lorenzo Trucco (ASGI, Italy), Caroline Intrand (Migreurop), Philippe Wanneson (Passeurs d'hospitalités, Calais), Vassilis Karydis (Acting Ombudsman of Greece), Staffan Dahllöf (Denmark) 

Saturday 25 June 2016

10.00 - 10.30 Registration

10.30 - 11.00 Opening plenary

11.30 - 13.00 Parallel workshops session 1: The EU in crisis

1. The crisis in legitimacy and accountability

The EU faces simultaneous crises: the refugee crisis, counter-terrorism, the rise in racism and fascism and continuing austerity. At the same time there is widespread disillusionment with EU institutions - will the EU survive and if it does what kind of EU will it be?

2. The refugee crisis in the Med and in the EU

There is a crisis in the Med with thousands dying and an almost complete failure of EU institutions and most EU governments to respond. Will we see Turkey do the EU’s “dirty work” by detaining refugees seeking to flee backed by a EU Border Force policing on land and sea – complemented by Eurosur and mass deportations?

3. Mass surveillance, technologies of control and unaccountable states

The security and intelligence agencies have survived the “Snowden revelations” and are seeking to extend their powers. How are new technologies being developed and employed by the authorities? Can meaningful control be asserted over the security-industrial complex?

13.00-14.00 Lunch

14.00-15.30 Parallel workshops session 2: Challenges and strategies

4. Racism, xenophobia and the far right

The right, the refugee crisis and the war on terror. Racists and fascists still on the streets and now in parliaments and government. And at the formal level the move from multiculturalism to monoculturalism amidst a growing authoritarianism and failing democracies. Is this inevitable?

5. Criminalising communities and policing protest

Undercover policing undermining organised dissent backed by the surveillance of social media and marginalising protest. Suspect communities and resistance. What can be done to research and expose the activities of state agencies?

6. Defending civil liberties and strategies of resistance

Campaigns in the streets, courts and communities: anti-deportation, deaths in custody, blacklisting workers, cover-ups and state crimes. Turning defending civil liberties into resistance - what can history tell us?

15.30-16.00 Break

16.00 - 17.00 Final Plenary

Click to Book now:

Our last conference was held in 2011. You can watch videos here

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Richmond Castle's Conscientious Objection 'graffiti'

Last week we spotted a BBC News feature on the conscientous objectors held at Richmond Castle during the First World War, and one of the unique ways in which they left their mark on the place: pictures and messages drawn on the walls of their cells. The article elaborates:

The graffiti features pencil drawings and inscriptions, including slogans, poetry, and portraits of loved ones.

A grant of £365,400 from the Heritage Lottery will be used to protect the work and allow public access.


Kate Mavor, English Heritage's chief executive, said the graffiti was an "important record of the voices of dissent" during the war.

She said it was vital to preserve "these delicate drawings" to ensure the stories were not lost.

High levels of moisture and damp meant the layers of lime wash and plaster on the walls were crumbling and flaking off, she added.

The full story, including excellent images of some of the graffiti, is accessible at BBC News here:

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Spokesman issue 130 gets the LeftLion treatment

James Walker reviews One Belt, One Road in this month's issue of LeftLion. For those who haven't yet found themselves a (free) copy, or for readers outside of Nottingham, his summary has been put online here:

One Belt, One Road (The Spokesman, issue 130)
Edited by Tony Simpson; published by Spokesman Books
ISBN: 978 0 85124 8509
Price: £6 

Available on our website at

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Orlando Hill discusses Mike Cooley's 'Architect or Bee?'

A bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement.
Karl Marx Capital, vol. 1, ch. 7.

I was made aware of Architect or Bee? by Mike Cooley in a meeting organised by North London Stop the War and CND. The meeting was called to discuss the forthcoming Stop Trident demo on 27 February. One of the issues raised was the effect scrapping Trident would have on employment. It was pointed out that Unite and GMB were in favour of renewing Trident as a way of securing jobs. On the GMB website, Gary Smith, GMB Scotland Acting Secretary, defends the renewal; ‘GMB Scotland will not play politics on this and will stand up for our defence workers and their communities right across the UK.’ In his opinion, any promises of alternative jobs are pie in the sky based on ‘Alice in Wonderland politics.’

These ‘pie-in-the-sky jobs’ are exactly what Cooley discusses in his book, which was first published in 1980 and has recently been republished with an introduction by Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of TUC. What would the skilled and creative defence workers wish to provide if they had the choice? If they were given the opportunity to be ‘architects’ and not just ‘bees’. Surely it would not be weapons of mass destruction.

The workers at Lucas Aerospace were forced to answer that question in the 1970s when they were faced with the threat of structural unemployment. Similar to the defence workers in Scotland, they were also producing products that society did not want. From this realisation the idea of a campaign for the right to work on products that society genuinely needed and wanted evolved.

'It seemed absurd to us that we had all this skill and knowledge and facilities at the same time as society urgently needed equipment and services which we could provide, and yet the market economy seemed incapable of linking the two’ (p.117).

The workers sent a letter to various organisations and institutions asking a simple question: ‘What could a work force with these facilities be making that would be in the interests of the community at large?’ (p.118) The result was a range of products valued for their use and not merely for their exchange value. After a visit to a centre for children with spina bifida, a vehicle was designed to help children with this condition to be independently mobile. Some members at another plant developed a light-weight portable life-support system which could be taken in an ambulance after realising that 30% of people who die of heart attacks die before they reach the intensive-care unit. Many other similarly useful products were designed. Sadly, not all were manufactured due to their incompatibility with the objectives of the market economy.

Cooley argues that if we are going to move from merrily producing commodities to producing goods that people need and want, we must change our attitude towards technology. The technology used today evolved from the concept of the division of labour. In a capitalist system in which the maximisation of profit is the sole objective and people are regarded as units of labour-power, the division of labour and fragmentation of skills is absolutely rational and scientific. However, the consequence is the deskilling of workers and alienation from reality. A division between theory and practice is created with a bias towards theoretical knowledge. The skill and practical knowledge of the worker is despised.

This growing separation between theory and practice generates confusion between linguistic ability and intelligence. If a student cannot explain how they did something, it must mean they do not understand. There is something called ‘tactic knowledge’ which our society disregards. Tactic knowledge is acquired through doing or attending to things. Cooley argues that due to our over dependency on computerised equipment we have lost the feel for the physical world around us. Work has become abstracted from the real world. Cooley is a strong believer that work is vitally important for human beings, but not the grotesque, alienated form that we see in a production line. Work is vital for human beings when it links hand and brain in a meaningful and creative process, balancing the manual and intellectual.

Cooley questions whether technology developed under a capitalist mode of production can be used to develop flexibility and creativity. Computer-aided design programmes could be used to democratise the decision-making process in architectural design. However, when these programmes are appropriated by the owners of the means of production, they are used to further alienate the designer, leading to a fragmentation of the design skills and a loss of the panoramic view of the design activity.

The designer becomes subordinate to the machine. The objective decision of the system, which is quantifiable, dominates the subjective value judgement of the designer, which cannot be quantified. According to Cooley ‘we still have the time and indeed the responsibility to question the linear drive forward of this technology’ (p.72). It would be interesting to know if in the thirty-four years since the book was first published whether we have managed to save any of this technology from that linear drive.

The practical necessity of trying to adapt forms of technology developed under capitalism, instead of creating entirely new ones, might have been one of the serious problems of the Soviet Union in its early years. In 1918, Lenin argued that:

‘the possibility of building socialism depends exactly on our success in combining the Soviet Power and the Soviet Organisation of Industry with the up-to-date achievements of capitalism. We must organise in Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system [maximising workers’ productivity through time and motion studies], and systematically try it out and adapt it to our ends’ (p.94).

Lenin’s view could be argued to be uncritical towards technology, but the context of the new soviet state’s extreme vulnerability to western imperialist intervention, and the depth of the economic crisis due to World War I, put severe limits on the revolutionary government’s options.

Nonetheless, it is clear that a different approach to technology could open up again a new vista of possibilities for an alternative economic system. Cooley envisages that socialism would be able to liberate workers from the constraints of capitalist technology:

‘Socialism, if it is to mean anything, must mean more freedom rather than less. If workers are constrained through Taylorism at the point of production, it is inconceivable that they will develop the self-confidence and the range of skills, abilities and talents which will make it possible for them to play a vigorous and creative part in society as a whole’ (p.94).

In part, this point is contradicted by Cooley’s own story, as the Lucas Aerospace workers were precisely able to demonstrate the ‘self-confidence and the range of skills’ to imagine, like Marx’s architect, ‘a vigorous and creative part in society as a while’ in practical ways. Yet, to make their consciously imagined plans a reality, we must indeed struggle for a socialism that can design and organise technology for the benefit of all human lives, and not just for the production of commodities for profit.

Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches GCSE and A level Economics and Business Studies. He is a member of the NUT, Counterfire and Stop the War.

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