Category Archives: History

East London educational charity launches documentary series on CLR James

An East London citizens TV channel and educational charity, kicked off their documentary series on renowned intellectual CLR James with a debate on the ‘Western Cannon’, after winning a heritage lottery grant to fund the project.

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Every Cook Can Govern: The life and works of CLR James

Last Saturday, Worldbytes, a charity and citizens TV channel based in Hackney, London, embarked on a two year long journey documenting the life and intellectual legacy of renowned black activist, CLR James.

At the Long Room of The Kia Oval Cricket Ground, South London, an expert panel discussed the works of CLR James, and debated whether a revised “Western Cannon” was needed for a new generation of thinkers.

The event began with a representative from The National Heritage Lottery Fund congratulating the charity for winning a £70,000 grant to produce the multimedia project.

The project, dubbed “Every Cook Can Govern: Documenting the life, impact & works of CLR James”, will include a documentary series and an on-line knowledge portal, produced largely by volunteers.

Despite disagreeing on precisely what should be included in a revised cannon, there was no shortage of kind words for CLR James. The panelists all agreed on the significance of his writing and activism.

Education system is “a dull instrument of policy”

Claire Fox, director and founder of the British think tank, the Institute of Ideas, expressed concern that the current education system is a “dull instrument of policy”.

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She said: “There is an injunction between people who want to know and the way they are taught.

“The cannon of great literature has universal experience. It allows us to break out the particulars of our experience,” she added.

Kenan Malik on The Black Jacobins

While Kenan Malik, a writer, lecturer and broadcaster, was pressed by audience members to speak about “The Black Jacobins”, CLR’s most iconic and endearing piece of literature.

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He said: “[CLR James] is perhaps the greatest poet of the anti-colonial movement. There are few figures who can match.

“He was an icon of black liberation. Undoubtedly, The Black Jacobins was his masterpiece.”

James wanted to “change the world”

Fellow panel member Selma James, an author, activist, and partner of CLR for 30 years, believed that he wanted to make the world a better place.

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She said: “James used [The Black Jacobins] as a weapon in the struggle for African independence.

“He had a passion for learning. He brought with him a profound understanding of humanism when he came to England, and offered a radically new vision of the world.”

Beyond a Boundary: More than just a game

Alan Hudson, Director of Programmes in Leadership & Public Policy at Oxford University, focused on CLR’s famous memoir on cricket, “Beyond a Boundary”, first published in 1963.

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He said: “The book is not about cricket, but how the game can express so much more… the cultivating of this powerful cultural embodiment is much more than the game itself.

“[CLR James] was able to unite everybody in a way that nobody else can. He had a powerful sensibility to the working class.”

Volunteer for WorldBytes

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The charity plan to host a “Read-a-thon” in February next year, where volunteers will take part in a sponsored live streamed reading of CLR’s work, to help raise extra funds for the project.

Volunteers can also take part in producing the documentary and on-line portal, learning on the job media skills, such as filming, editing, promotion and research.

Head on over to the WorldBytes website to find out how you can get involved.

*Pictures courtesy of WorldBytes

In response to Brendan O’Neil – The Royal Birth

Note: This is a response to an article written by Brendan O’Neil, Editor of spiked. Often I’ll write out a lengthy and researched reply but never recieve a reply from the author. Rather then let the discussion be lost as it so often is, I’m hoping this new feature will help bring them to a wider audience.

Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.

Kate’s baby and the myth of the monarchist masses
by Brendan O’Niel

My Response…

You make a fair point Brendan, it is wrong of those who oppose the broad coverage of this event to look down upon those who do enjoy it. Arrogance is a terrible thing, regardless of if you are right or not. Another criticism you could make is that by writing about the royal birth these critics are increasing media coverage of the topic, and thereby directly attributing to what they supposedly despise. Both sides are playing to their readership. The birth is a hot topic, equally if you venerate or vindicate the royal family.

But by claiming that you know what “true” Republicanism means you are committing the same fallacy as those who you claim are “public-allergic republicans”. Namely, that you know better than those who should dare to mock the royal birth. A lot of these persons however are lower working class themselves. Your image of those who support the royal family and those who don’t is grossly inaccurate. Likewise, those who oppose the broad coverage of the royal birth have an equal right to share their reasons to why they oppose it, as those who follow it should be able to without obstruction. As you rightly stated, true republicanism is about what the people have to say. By standing up for one side, you ultimately do not stand for all people.

You also make the case that the royal family are nothing but celebrities, describing Kate as a “posh” Kim Kardashian. I must contend this notion. Queen Elizabeth II is a “constitutional monarch” meaning that she acts as head of state within the boundaries of a constitution. The royal family therefore have powers still enshrined in law, and are obligated to perform certain civic duties. If people enjoy them as celebrities, then they ought not to take any money from The Crown Estate and rescind these official duties. They should find ways to earn an income through the means that celebrities do, and not depend on profits from land passed down since the 11th century, land their ancestors claimed by supposed divine right.

These issues are increasingly important and unjustifiable in this age of austerity. If the average Joe has to incur cuts to the welfare estate, then so ought to the royal family, who increased their expenditure for three years in a row now. The royal’s use around £35 million of public money a year, profits from The Crown estate. This is excluding security services, which would put this total a lot higher. For instance, in 2012 The British government spent a grand total of $52 million on property upkeep, communication, security and travel expenses for The Queen.

This seems ludicrous when we consider that the cost of the controversial “Health Tourism” issue was estimated at only £30 million a year. What do you think brings more benefit to society; financing the royal family, or providing healthcare to those who need it? The government waged a successful war against providing free medical care to Non-EU citizens, an issue that is arguably incredibly important to tourism. Yet that same government argues the monarchy are necessary to tourism, hence we mustn’t stop funding them? What an utterly ridiculous and hypocritical contention.

The important question here is do we need an official constitutional monarchy? Honestly, probably not. Do I think people ought to be follow the lives of people that interest them? Of course, I’m not here to tell people what they can and cannot do with their free time. But this is under the condition that the royal family should be treated like normal celebrities and therefore normal citizens. They should not expect any special treatment from the government in the terms of financial assistance, and should rescind their official civic duties, titles, whilst operate using only their own income that is not from The Crown Estate.

The Cave of El Castillo – Short Story


“The Cave of El Castillo
” is my imagining of a prehistoric man creating the first known piece of cave art. 

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A thick carpet of rain falls from darkened clouds that loom ominously overhead. Hidden in the undergrowth, a blurred silhouette weaves through an intricate maze of shrub and oak with gazelle like grace. It breathes heavily and rhythmically, placing each step with a perfected precision.

Suddenly the mysterious creature comes to an abrupt halt, stopping at a small clearing in the undergrowth. A faint slither of moonlight seeps through swelling clouds, revealing the unmistakable shape of a man. He wipes the pouring rain off his disheveled beard and protruding brow. The lines and contours of his muscled body are prominent through the drenched rags he wears, along with scars and abrasions that cover his back and arms. Looking up he scans a cliff face further afield, squinting his eyes thoughtfully, using his large hardened hands to block the heavy rainfall.

He postulates for a moment, then runs back into the thick canopy towards a crumbling mountain of muddied limestone. In the forest once again he moves with relative ease like a shark through water. Upon reaching the cliff face, he stops, and looks upwards at the great wall that now faces him. Slowly he starts to climb the porous white stone, placing each tentative step with caution. His thick muscular arms strain with the weight of his body, and his bare feet struggle to find grip on the slippery slopes.

With one last effort he desperately reaches the top of the cliff edge. His calloused and dirt ridden hands frantically search the floor as he struggles to find anchorage. He chances upon a sturdy ivy vine – pulling hard he lets out a deep groan, lifting his heavy body over the cliff edge. The veins on his arms throb from exhaustion, and he pants vigorously to catch his breath.

He rolls on his back and wearily pushes himself up off the ground. Walking back to the edge of the cliff, he gazes intently at the now wide open view of the forest below. Here he stood on his own secluded paradise, amongst a vast expanse of boundless green ocean. He turns back around and heads to the desolate cave he’d eyed from far down below in the clearing.

A flash of light momentarily distracts him, and a deep roar of thunder follows seconds afterwards. He moves cautiously towards the mouth of the cave. More ivy vines cover the entrance, which he cautiously brushes aside whilst avoiding its stinging nettles. Upon entering, he in confronted by an eery silence and darkness. He hesitates – doubt takes its debilitating hold.

He takes a few steps into the mouth of the cave, using the weak silver moonlight to guide him. The cavern is dry at least, and so he removes the cold and wet tattered rags that cling to his body. Naked now, he begins to clumsily search around the floor of the cavern. After a few moments he stumbles upon a few pieces of dry cider wood. Venturing further inwards he is soon swallowed whole by the darkness of the cave. Now only nothingness remains. Very calmly and patiently he begins to draw forth that miracle of flame. A small spark grows into a beacon of light. In a few moments, it has consumed the darkness that had surrounded him.

Now the fire burns a warm orange hue, and he wearily takes a seat by the crackling flames. It emanates it glorious warmth through his cold and fatigued body. His vision fixates upon the fire, which dances in the reflection of his dark black eyes, twisting and curling with the howling winds pouring in through the caverns entrance. There is little sound apart from the gentle pitter-patter of droplets falling from the vast emptiness above, the distant murmuring of the storm still brewing outside. The walls seemed to almost ebb and flow like great lakes in the dancing glow of the burning torchlight.

He throws another piece of wood on the fire which causes it to swell further. Its enchanting hue’s and elegant ballet seem to ignite something deep within the traveller’s mind. His breathing slows and takes on a rhythmic fashion. In that moment, one that is quite unlike any other before it, a strange excitement begins to rise within him, brimming to the surface, inciting him to do something never quite done before. His breath quickens and his eyes widen. No longer wet and trembling, he takes a piece of glowing cider wood off the fire, and uses it to thoroughly search between the dusty stones that lay hidden on the darkened floor. He finds a crumbling piece of limestone from the litter that surrounds him. With the aid of his luminous flame, he begins to scratch upon the undulating walls.

Within their folds and furrows he draws like a child in play. As the lines begin to take shape, a clear image emerges from between the cracks and crevasses of the caverns wall. The wild beasts that roam sweeping green fields as far as the eye can see. The graceful birds that perch in the tall birch trees, and saunter along on the summer breeze. Below the creatures of the deep, that shimmer like distant stars beneath the rolling waves. Stroke by stroke he paints onto once bare lifeless stone these shadows and reflections of the day. The tundra and the ocean, the forest and the heavens above all come to life by his hand and thought alone.

He stands back in awe. There now stood in front of him a truly wondrous sight to behold – it was the story of life. As a final act of creation, he takes the limestone chalk and chews ir in into a thick paste. Putting his hand upon the wall, he spits to create a silhouette – the artists signature now completes his great work. And so he returns to the fire to revel in his skill. However, unbeknownst to him as the storm swelled and unfurled on the young tender earth outside, a hidden danger lurked deep in the shadows. There came a thundering bellow that tore above the howls of wind and crackling of thunder. The sound was unlike any other he’d heard before, and so a burning curiosity compels him to investigate.

He approaches the cliff edge from whence he’d came. As he peers through the mouth of the cave, something grabs him by the throat from behind. He clamours for air, and he struggles to loosen its deathly hold. In but a moment, it seems as if time itself stops. Exhausted from his efforts, he cannot break free and collapses in fatigue. A deafening silence surrounds him. There is a faint murmur – and then he hears the gentle and unmistakable voice of another – the words he cannot understand however. He desperately tries to move once again but he is seemingly frozen solid. He gasps for air once more, but each breath he feels takes him closer to death. Despite his panic and unrest, the quiet stillness of the moment begins to melt into itself, unfurling and submerging into nothingness.

Darkness begins to consume the room once again as the flame starts to dwindle. The sounds of the storm, the dripping of raindrops is all that remains. In the shadows of the flame, the limestone chalk lies on the ground and on the walls now dance and play those dreams once dreamt in the darkness of night. Now here is where rests his soul, on this once bare lifeless stone, where for many moons he shall lay waiting, until he will rise once again…

The Enlightenment and Universalism

I am sure many of us have heard or read about the European Enlightenment.

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The Age of Enlightenment was a profound cultural movement of the 17th and 18th centuries. The first inklings of this revolution in thought were shown by early French philosophers around 1670. It was the well mannered Salons which were at  ‘the very heart of the philosophic community’ of France at the time. In these places of dialectical discourse a new school of thought emerged, namely, it was from these academic salons formed by the aristocratic ‘schools of civilité’ that the European Enlightenment was born.

The Church fought these first revolutionary movements until they ultimately suffered a fatal blow during the French Revolution of July 1789. It was during this uprising of the French working class and left leaning intellectuals that the French Republic was formed, thanks largely in part to the aristocracies own centuries of excess and indulgence.

It was only befitting that the Enlightenment should take shape during this time, as the individual became aware of their own power and ability to shape the world. The Enlightenment was considered to be the “spiritual enrichment of Mankind by means of his own inner values and resources”. Apart from the French academic salons, the groundwork for the European Enlightenment was also laid by renowned British intellectuals and philosophers such as David Hume and Francis Bacon, who popularised inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry.  The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza is also argued to be an important figure in the Age of Enlightenment. These along with many other proponents of empiricism and rationalism helped lay the seeds of the modern scientific method and democracy as we have come to know it.

Whilst the Enlightenment first began in Europe, it later spread to the American colonies through the writings of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers, although sadly its principles did not initially extend to slaves. Yet this period of history is still so very important for it has shaped much of the political and moral foundations of the modern world.  Rather befittingly the political and moral issues over which eighteenth century thinkers debated remain so often the issues over which we continue to differ today.

As the Enlightenment spread to Britain and throughout Europe, the Scholasticism of the medieval universities that were so prevalent from the 11th century to up until then, was questioned by this new breed of thinker. Philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and Hume refuted the divine dogma of these established schools that so closely guarded knowledge. For centuries the majority of European society had been resigned to impotent ignorance. Whilst these two thinkers took different and radical approaches to human nature and the individuals place in society, it was ultimately Hume and other ‘moral sense’ philosophers who restored this notion of humans as social beings, freeing the concept from its theological moorings. These sentimentalists began a radical conception of Enlightenment principles compared to Hobbes,  arguing that it is ‘sentiment’ that invokes an innate understanding of our common humanity, and of our instinctive desire to feel empathy with fellow human beings.

No quality of human nature is more remarkable…than that propensity we have to sympathise with others, and to receive by communication their inclinations and sentiments however different from, or even contrary to, our own.

From the Enlightenment then was this sense of Universalism born. All sentient life has universality in experience – this very idea could only flourish with this notion of sympathy, which allowed philosophers to give humankind an identity independent of God. These new Universalist’s would be attracted to the logic of universally applicable principles, rather than any belief or dogma ordained by supposed divine mandate. Human unity, solidarity, and the perceived need for a sustainable and socially conscious global order, were among the tendencies of this new non-religious Universalist thought. It provided a means of

…Recognising all peoples as of equal worth, and of embracing some kind of common good, without endowing them with immortal souls.

This period in history is very important for it has lead to a huge upheaval in the manner in which we treat another and how we come to learn about and understand the world. No longer are we shackled by blind dogma, no longer a slave to the power of religious and political institutions as we once were. The Age of Reason gave birth to human rights, modern democracy and the scientific method. Many argue that the roots of this enlightenment lay in Eastern thought, and hence the importance of this period is thereby diminished. I do not disagree with this fact, for Far Eastern philosophers dealt with the questions of ethics, morality and justice far before their western counterparts. Even the rise of classic Greek philosophy is in part due to the inspiring influences of its neighbours across the Mediterranean Sea. Still I maintain this is rather besides the point however, for all new thoughts are formed by a synthesis of old. Hence, we must not concern ourselves with the originality of such ideas.

Once we realise that we are the presiding force behind all laws of society, that we give all of societies conventions their governing power, and not a divine entity, then it is important for us to be concerned by how fair and just these regulating rules are. This notion which came from the European Enlightenment, means we must now also consider how we might continue to shape these laws for the betterment of all persons.