Against the grain: the British far left from 1956

A general history of the post-1956 British far-left. Its contents cover a range of organisations beyond the Labour Party, bringing together leading experts to examine issues of class, race and gender from 1956 to the present day. The essays collected here are designed to highlight the impact made by the far left on British politics and society.


Introduction: The far left in Britain from 1956 - Evan Smith and Matthew Worley
PART I: Movements
1. Engaging with Trotsky: the influence of Trotskyism in Britain - John Callaghan
2. The New Left: beyond Stalinism and social democracy? - Paul Blackledge
3. Narratives of radical lives: the roots of 1960s activism and the making of the British left - Celia Hughes
4. Marching separately, seldom together: the political history of two principal trends in British Trotskyism, 1945-2009 - Phil Burton-Cartledge
5. Opposition in slow motion: the CPGB's 'anti-revisionists' in the 1960s and 1970s 98 - Lawrence Parker
6. Dissent from dissent: the 'Smith/Party' Group in the 1970s CPGB - Andrew Pearmain
7. British anarchism in the era of Thatcherism - Rich Cross
PART II: Issues
8. Jam tomorrow? Socialist women and Women's Liberation, 1968-82: an oral history approach - Sue Bruley
9. Something new under the sun: the revolutionary left and gay politics - Graham Willett
10. 'Vicarious pleasure'? The British far left and the third world, 1956-79 - Ian Birchall
11. Anti-racism and the socialist left, 1968-79 - Satnam Virdee
12. Red Action - left-wing pariah: some observations regarding ideological apostasy and the discourse of proletarian resistance - Mark Hayes
13. Anti-fascism in Britain, 1997-2012 - David Renton

Against the Grain, The British Far Left from 1956 Complete - Evan Smith, Matthew Worley.pdf4.36 MB


Jul 11 2019 23:43

Heard of this book. Great to see it on line!

Red Marriott
Jul 12 2019 18:43

A pity not to see this in it, probably too far left for it;

Jul 13 2019 16:55

There is a problem with the Attachment apparently as it only shows the First Section of the Book.
I read the chapter on AnarchoPunk/Class War etc and wasn’t overly impressed.
I found it vague and Punk is as Anarchist as Rockabilly.Lifestylism and no understanding of Anarchist politics.Class war was a Punk parody that played to stereotypes of Anarchism and no mention of DAM/IWA.
I ordered the book anyway for the chapters on Red Action and AFA which Anarchists played an important role in.

Jul 13 2019 19:40

The PDF works fine for me.

Jul 14 2019 08:17

Hello Fozzie
It’s probably my inept computer savvy rather than the Site

R Totale
Jul 14 2019 13:35

If you just want to read the Red Action chapter, it's available here:

Jul 14 2019 21:34

Thanks comrade but the book has arrived and I will read the whole thing-cheers

Noah Fence
Jul 16 2019 12:13
I found it vague and Punk is as Anarchist as Rockabilly

I don’t want to be antagonistic but I have to say the second part of this sentence really is just ignorant and silly. I’m guessing that you had nothing to do with anarcho-punk and have never read any of the lyrics, zines, pamphlets or any of the publications from Exitstencil Press?
Yes, anarcho-punk politics were mostly shit, but they weren’t all shit - as a teenager I was introduced to such ideas as direct action, feminism, opposition to hierarchy and most importantly, that the state both unjustifiable and unnecessary. How the fuck is that nothing to do with anarchism? Anyways, this set me up for a lifetime of questioning authority and eventually lead me to communism. Maybe if the ‘real’(ugh!) anarchists of the day had engaged with me and others like me, instead of turning their noses up at what they perceived as ‘not proper anarchists’ then maybe some more value could have been extracted from the damn thing. As it was, plenty of people eventually found their way to anarchism/communism after walking through the anarcho-punk gateway and I’ll wager that there are plenty on this forum that were introduced to anarchism by that very route.
Still, what a missed opportunity to connect with hundreds of thousands of young people who at least knew, if they knew nothing else, that the political system was fucked up and needed to be destroyed. What better ground could there be for introducing class analysis and organisation, and how like anarchists to be insular snobby purist fucking wankers and pass up that opportunity.
I was one of those working class kids - undereducated and frustrated and with very limited ability express my anger and frustration or to research for solid ideological theory or practice, yet I did my best, wrote lyrics for the band we formed, made my own pitiful attempts at protesting etc. Got beaten and locked up by the cops, lived with a life with a criminal record as a result of trying to create some change. Maybe I could have been taught what battles to choose instead of the stupid ineffective shit that I did? But nope, we knew fuck all about political history and theory, Crass were middle class, the music was rubbish, and so it was better to throw a massive opportunity to build a mass movement on to the dump of history and stay in the purist ghetto.

As for the piece itself, I felt it was an adequate attempt at giving an outline of something that the author neither condoned or condemned. I see nothing wrong with that.

R Totale
Jul 16 2019 14:50

Noah - have you read Beasts of Burden, btw?

Anyway, I was intrigued by the choice of years for the Renton chapter, since 97-12 was hardly the most dramatic or glorious period in British antifascist history, but then I guess there's value to studying the quiet parts as well. Anyway, on giving it a quick skimread his old SWP instincts seem to have come out in full force. There's a brief mention that AFA was in decline by the late 90s, true enough, but then it seems to give the impression that ANL/UAF were the only people doing street-level antifascism for the rest of the period. Granted, Welling might not merit much space in a history of antifascism over the past 50 years or so, but you'd think it might be worth mentioning in a history of that relatively quiet period, and to talk about stuff like Red, White & Blue festival and the EDL in Tower Hamlets 2012 without mentioning anyone other than UAF is pretty dodgy.

Noah Fence
Jul 16 2019 15:00

RT, can’t comment on your post as I only read the anarcho-punk section after my goat having been got by the comment I ranted about.
“Beasts of Burden”? No. What’s that?

R Totale
Jul 16 2019 17:15

It's "an attempt to rethink the separation between animal liberationist and communist politics", which you might find interesting - if you want to get all the way into it, there's a reply by Dauve and then a reply by the authors to Dauve's reply. Anyway, I suspect that you might find the whole thing interesting, but I was specifically thinking of a postscript at the end called "Anarcho-punk, the ALF and the miners’ strike - a cautionary tale from the 1980s". I don't actually have any first-hand knowledge of that era of history, but I always thought that was quite an interesting take on the subject.

Noah Fence
Jul 16 2019 19:43

Ok, thanks. I’ll take a look!

Jul 16 2019 20:51

I was one of those in the Punk scene but it was almost entirely lifestylist.Crass were a big influence on me and all those bands who purported to be Anarchists.Very few had an idea about Anarchism and it was vague to say the least.
The only reason Anarchy was associated with Punk was because Lydon could think of no other word to rhyme with AntiChrist in Anarchy in the UK.
Incidental at best and ignorant at worst.
I’m working class and was involved in that scene and still love the music and appreciate the real passion of some in that scene so please don’t take what I said as an insult.
Maybe im old bitter and fucking angry at the malaise Anarchism is in and the myriad of misconceptions that fuck it over.
Crass were middle class life stylists but they had an effect on me and helped me kick Religion at 15 years old but at best it acts as a prompt and because of the genre it becomes a pose or lifestyle.
It should be kept in context but in hindsight any movement that relies on a music scene to rejuvenate it is in a sad state.

Noah Fence
Jul 16 2019 21:45

Not taking it as an insult, just saying that to suggest anarcho-punk has no connection to anarchism at all is plain ridiculous. And to compare it to rockabilly is this regard is equally fantastic! Rockabilly was horribly regressive, macho and sexist nonsense with no saving graces whatsoever. Anarcho-punk, for all its many faults, at least tried to introduce an inclusive culture and was a stepping stone to anarchism to many.
I was in one of those bands, we gigged with the likes of DIRT, Antisect, Conflict, Flux, Poison Girls etc, yet despite this, I packed it in because of its lack of interaction with regular, non punk working class folk. I could see it was a ghetto and was extremely perplexed by it, so I’m no sort of apologist for it and nor do I view it through rose coloured spectacles. Credit where it’s due though, and just because Crass were from middle class backgrounds, it doesn’t de-value what they did. The class system is the enemy, not people that happen to be born into a particular category of it.
The idea that anarcho- punk has nothing to do with the history of British anarchism is reductionist twaddle. Ffs, you and me found our way here through it!
I get it, it was mostly shit, I agree, but the anarchist tendency towards throwing the baby out with the bath water is just fucking ridiculous and keeps our movement small.

Jul 17 2019 04:57

I through the Rockabilly in as a sarcastic comment and in my experience trying to push Black Flag and Direct Action to a Punk crowd was pointless to say the least.I just think it should be kept in context and I’m not demeaning individuals who felt moved to act on a cause.I just get miffed when a lot of fakirs gob off about Anarchism which doesn’t include you or those who decided to act on finding out more on Anarchism.
I was mentioned in credits on One of Conflicts albums but saw what two faced slags and opportunists they were but respect to those like Mob,PoisonGirls who had some integrity.

Jul 17 2019 16:03

Noah: July 16, 22:45

I agree with your basic point regarding anarcho-punk (viewed from the outside). At the time, the late 1970s and living in London, I felt that politically and aesthetically, it was more hopeful than the bland pop crap then dominating youth culture.

However you’re wrong about ‘authentic’ rockabilly, which was no more sexist than any other ‘popular’ music. It was basically good time music played by youths, who junked country fiddles in favour of bopping guitars, and often madcap lyrics. An example would be Don Woody’s ‘You’re Barking Up The Wrong Tree’.

Rockabilly and punk shared a similar aesthetic as skiffle - anyone could get up a group and bang out a tune. To hell with the division of labour between amateurs and professionals – let everyone play and dance if they want to!

Noah Fence
Jul 17 2019 13:52

Yes AB, you’re right about rockabilly in the context that you write. I was talking about the youth cult of the early 80’s rather than the original form. I stick by my comments on that basis.
Anyways, see you on Saturday for the event of the year!

Freemind, yeah, I get the sarcasm now. I don’t think this is you but there was and still is much snobbery amongst lefties about anarcho punk, often by people that love(d) The Clash. It drives me nuts that no credit is given to it. Even if it did absolutely nothing for anarchism at all, which I vehemently dispute, it still opened minds, healed divisions and showed kids that they could create their own entertainment and culture. What’s not to like about that?
Anyways, thanks for helping me get my knickers in a twist for a day or two - it’s actually been quite invigorating!
Btw, I was DJing on Saturday night and after reading your post slipped both Crass and Flux into my set. You are responsible for the spawning of Anarcho Techno Punk!!!

Jul 17 2019 14:19

I will see you in Court lol
Clash done one good lo and were rubbish.Flux were good especially Taking a Liberty.
Tha Agitprop and artwork of Crass/Gee Vaucher and the zines I salute but as we both agree it was a start.

Noah Fence
Jul 17 2019 14:32

Oh yeah, I visited Dial House last year. Brilliant place but there was no political conversation to be had - Pen is a full tilt Buddhist these days and Gee made excellent tea and toast but that was as deep as it went.

Jul 17 2019 18:30

Years ago I was due to visit them but it didn’t happen.They infuriate me now and are painfully middle class.Some of the slogans at their gigs ‘Their is no Authority but Yourself’ could be classed as reactionary and ambiguous and more akin to liaise faire ultra right politics.Rimbauds outright dismissal of AnarchoSyndicalism and Class struggle says it all.A nice comfortable lifestyle in which he admits the Anarchist symbol was used in an opportunist way to avoid class issues between Right and Left epitomised by the Conway Hall gig where Crass allowed the British Movement to run riot.
Like Lydon he exploited and used Anarchism in an opportunist way.
This is what makes me despair today and the only way to stop this is having clear distinct and erudite principles on fundamental issues that have no grey areas and are unambiguous on key issues like Freedom of Speech,Authority,Power etc Otherwise we encourage fakirs life stylists and middle class parasites looking for a niche at the expense of a movement with a once proud history.