Friday, 9 July 2010

Niall Ferguson: Who is Left & Right on the Empire?

Since the ConDem Government announced that it was going to ask Niall Ferguson to review the history curriculum there has been a debate going on in general and specialist history circles. Some of the questions:

Is Ferguson left or right; or are these labels meaningless?
Is he a neo-conservative defending the British Empire, or does he, as a historian should, present a balance sheet of positives and negatives, even if some readers think he may have got the balance wrong? (That surely should lead to healthy debate.)
What is the balance sheet on the British Empire?
Did the Labour Party invent an anti-imperialist mantle behind which it supported it supported imperialism?
Has the Labour Left a romantic view about itself in relation to Empire?
Did the Labour Left delude itself as to its ability to win the anti-imperialist argument within the Labour Party?
Did the non-Labour Left have a more realistic view of the contradictions within the Labour Party, or did the different sections of it have their own internal contradictions, including within the former Communist Party?

Throughout the past decade I have been arguing that the black and labour history movements should be doing more work on the history of white anti-colonialist/imperialist/racist activities.

BASA member Daniel Whittall suggests that the following are useful to read:
Stuart Macintyre's Imperialism and the British labour movement in the 1920s (Communist Party Historians Group. Pamphlet 64. Autumn 1975).
Nicholas Owen's The British Left and India (Oxford Univ. Press, 2007) which reviews the various branches of the labour movement in Britain and their approaches to imperialism.
Stephen Howe's Anti-Colonialism in British Politics (Oxford Univ Press. 1993).

Within the black history world the debate about the Communist Party, imperialism and black rights has been heavily influenced by the oft-expressed views of Marika Sherwood that the CP was racist. While many people will not have read it, because it is in a US journal, her article The Comintern, the CPGB, Colonies and Black Britons 1920-38 (Science & Society, Spring 1996) is essential reading to understand the basis on which she makes her case. Equally little known is John Callaghan's strong rebuttal of her analysis in Colonies, Racism, the CPGB and the Comintern in the Inter-War Years (Science & Society, Winter 1997-1998). It is not cited, for example, in Hakim Adi's recent article The Comintern and Black Workers in Britain and France 1919-37 (Immigrants & Minorities. July/Nov 2010).

What do readers of this blog think?

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