Ian Birchall

Commemorating the role of the early IS

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I was most interested to read the obituary of Ian Macdonald QC (December SR). The story of a life devoted to fighting within the legal system for justice and against racism was indeed inspiring.

But I was a little surprised that there was no mention of the fact that, in the 1960s, Ian was for some years a leading member of the International Socialists (IS), the forerunner organisation of the SWP.

I knew Ian a little in those days. In 2009, when writing my biography of Tony Cliff (the founder and leader of the IS), I interviewed him about his memories of his days in IS.

Eddie The Kid

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Leo Zeilig

This is a book about us, the millions who marched against the Iraq war in 2003, and the revolutionary socialists who worked hard to build that demonstration. Unlike Ian McEwan's tedious Saturday, which sneers at the marchers from outside, Zeilig (best known to Socialist Review readers for his work on Africa) knows the movement from inside. He was himself arrested on a demo in 2002. But this is no Socialist Realist presentation of heroic revolutionaries.

A note on factions

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Alex Callinicos ("Is Leninism finished?" SR, February 2013) claims that during the recent internal debate in the SWP some comrades were "arguing for...a different model involving a much looser and weaker leadership, internal debate that continually reopens decisions already made, and permanent factions (currently factions are only allowed in the discussion period leading up to the annual party conference)."

Now I can speak only for myself here; maybe some comrades did wish this, though I don't recall such a demand being made in any document of the opposition faction.

What does it mean to be a Leninist?

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In February's issue of Socialist Review Alex Callinicos addressed the claim that Leninism is finished. Here, Ian Birchall responds to Alex arguing that he asks the question, but does not fully answer it

There is much in Alex Callinicos's article "Is Leninism finished?" (SR, February 2013) that Socialist Review readers will agree with: the inability of reformism to offer any way out of the horrors of capitalism, the need for working class revolution led by a revolutionary party, the defence of the Bolshevik Revolution and in particular of Lenin. Alex has restated themes developed by the SWP, notably in the work of Tony Cliff.

Algeria's bitter struggle for freedom

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Fifty years since Algerian independence Ian Birchall looks at the uprising that forced the French to leave

In July 1962 Algeria achieved independence after a bitter war lasting over seven years. Some 300,000 Algerians died to win their nation's freedom. The war was fought brutally on both sides, but the need for a violent independence struggle was deeply rooted in the violence French imperialism had imposed on Algeria for over a century. As philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, "It is not their violence, but ours, turned back."

Jean Genet: Act One and Act Two

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Jean Genet's life was very different to that of most writers. Abandoned as a baby, he spent his teenage years in a reformatory, became a thief and a gay prostitute and was repeatedly imprisoned. In jail he began to write. Thanks to his literary contacts his masturbation fantasies eventually became bestsellers.

This exhibition celebrates Genet as a playwright and political activist. Alongside exhibits relating to Genet's life and work are newer works inspired by themes developed by Genet.

Death of an internationalist

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Jean-René Chauvin was a French Trotskyist who lived through, and participated in, some of the 20th century's most dramatic events. Ian Birchall looks at his life


On 17 February death finally claimed Jean-René Chauvin. It seems almost miraculous that he has died now, aged 92, and not much earlier. His memoirs contain an unbelievable sentence where he states that, after his incarceration in the Mauthausen and Auschwitz concentration camps, he found the atmosphere in Buchenwald "much more relaxed".

A socialist diamond jubilee

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Sixty years ago the Socialist Review Group, forerunner of the International Socialists and later the Socialist Workers Party, was founded by a group of 21 people in a flat in Camden Road in London. Ian Birchall looks back at the struggles socialists faced then and their relevance for today.

Sixty years ago, on the weekend of 30 September to 1 October 1950, 21 people met in a flat at 866a Camden Road, London NW1, to form a new political group. It took its name from the publication it produced and became known as the Socialist Review Group (SRG). In 1962 it changed its name to the International Socialism Group and then, in 1977, to the Socialist Workers Party.

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