John Newsinger

Blacklisting the rainbow man

Issue section: 

The Xmas holidays will bring The Wizard of Oz onto TV once again. John Newsinger looks at the life of socialist Yip Harburg who wrote the song "Over the Rainbow".

As well as being one of the US's most celebrated songwriters, Harburg was a lifelong socialist and a victim of the Hollywood blacklist in the 1950s. He remained on the left until his death from a heart attack in 1981.

The American Future

Issue section: 

Simon Schama, The Bodley Head, £20

Simon Schama was one of the historians invited by Gordon Brown to meet George Bush at Downing Street on 16 June 2008. Attendance at the event was not easy, Schama tells us: he had to reconcile his "uneasy conscience" by telling himself that if he was in the history business, how could he possibly stay away? He was worried that he was being somehow "implicated". And, indeed, he was. You cannot play the role of courtier, with no matter how many private reservations, to a torturer, a mass murderer and a war criminal without being "implicated".

Speaking for Myself

Issue section: 

Cherie Blair, Little, Brown, £18.99

The relentless harrying of Neil Kinnock by the Murdoch press at the time of the 1992 general election outraged Labour Party people, among them Cherie Blair. This was when the Sun proudly boasted that its continual ridicule and abuse of the Labour leader had won the election for the Tories. Indeed, Cherie's anger was such that the Murdoch papers were banned from the Blair household.

The uprising of the 30,000

Issue section: 

Migrant workers have historically found it difficult to organise and fight. John Newsinger writes of a furious strike over conditions in New York, 1909, waged by newly organised migrant women garment workers who fought bitterly to the brink of victory, despite hired thugs and conservative union leaders

The Local 25 branch of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) had some 2,000 members working in the shirtwaist trade in 1909. They were mainly young Jewish women, immigrants from Tsarist Russia. On the evening of 22 November the branch organised a mass rally at New York's Cooper Union hall. The turnout took the organisers completely by surprise. Thousands came, both union members and non-members, and overspill meetings had to be arranged hastily in another half a dozen halls.

Class war at Christmas

Issue section: 

A Woody Guthrie song commemorates the heroic attempts by Michigan copper miners to achieve union recognition in 1913. The bosses resorted to any murderous means they could and in one incident 62 children were crushed to death. John Newsinger looks at how class war was waged in the US.

Take a trip with me in 1913
To Calumet, Michigan in the copper country
I'll take you to a place called the Italian Hall
And the miners are having their big Christmas ball

Woody Guthrie, The 1913 Massacre

The Decline and Fall of the British Empire

Issue section: 

At a time when Gordon Brown is cynically taking up the cause of Darfur in a vain attempt to find some moral high ground for New Labour to occupy, it is worth remembering the British Empire's record in the same region.

According to Piers Brendon in his new history of the empire, "British punitive expeditions in the Sudan were even more brutal than those in Kenya, at times amounting almost to genocide. Certainly, as one district officer acknowledged, they produced a crop of 'regular Congo atrocities'."

A great British tradition

Issue section: 

Government spin on the role of British forces around the world portrays them as gallant beret-wearing chaps just trying to help. Writer and anti-war activist John Newsinger recalls the events of the Great Indian Rebellion 150 years ago this month, which show how far this is from the truth

The British Empire has always responded to any resistance to its rule with ferocious repression. In 1857 the Great Indian Rebellion posed a massive challenge to the British Empire. It was suppressed with unprecedented brutality. The British adopted a policy of "no prisoners", a policy which was enforced by means of massacre and mass executions. One officer, Thomas Lowe, later remembered how on one occasion his unit had taken 76 prisoners (they were just too tired to carry on killing and needed a rest, he recalled).


Subscribe to RSS - John Newsinger