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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stirring account and a book that compels you to keep turning the pages.
The People. The Rise and Fall of The Working Class 1910-2010

My dad is my reading alter-ego, his birthdays and Christmas provide me the opportunity to buy the books I'd like to be reading as presents for him. He loves books on history and politics, I do too but generally struggle to find time to read them.

For his 86th birthday I bought Selina Todd's...
Published 3 months ago by Rich67

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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars From A Trumpet of Sedition
"The working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present in its own making." E P Thompson

It is clear from even a brief count of the substantial number of reviews Selina Todd’s book has received that a historical examination of the working class in Britain is both popular and controversial. Any one dealing with the...
Published 2 months ago by K. Livesey


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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stirring account and a book that compels you to keep turning the pages., 20 April 2014
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The People. The Rise and Fall of The Working Class 1910-2010

My dad is my reading alter-ego, his birthdays and Christmas provide me the opportunity to buy the books I'd like to be reading as presents for him. He loves books on history and politics, I do too but generally struggle to find time to read them.

For his 86th birthday I bought Selina Todd's book and when it arrived I glanced at the cover and started to read the introduction, I was hooked.

My dad left secondary modern during the second world war, he worked in various manual and semi-skilled roles, was conscripted at 18 and developed his socialism via his life experiences and involvement in the Communist Party in 1950s, trade unions and the Labour Party from the 1960s. He found his way into white collar work and has since read bucket loads of books and writes pages of letters to the local newspapers in the north-east of England on a range of political issues. I tell the story of my dad as I'm proud of his achievements but also as it is the sort personal story that Selina Todd uses to chart working class history.

Throughout the book Selina Todd offers interludes from the life of Viv Nicholson who won the pools and "spent, spent, spent" but ultimately lost her wealth.

The People is full of facts, discussions of working class campaigns and injustices but what brings the history to life is the personal stories such as George McCartney, "The volunteers viewed themselves as the guardians of democracy. George McCartney, a Scottish volunteer, was certain that his peers didn't go to Spain to usher in Communism or anything like that. He went to Spain to continue the fight for freedom of a people to put a cross on a ballot paper."

The book opens with accounts of life at the beginning of the 20th century of people working in domestic service, the biggest single group at the time of working class men and women. A group that were often regarded as possessions by their wealthy employers.

The feminism that is evident throughout the book is energetic and inclusive. The stories of women campaigning provides a refreshing counter-balance to an often male orientated discussion of political struggle. The fight for universal suffrage describes both the unfairness of an electoral system that excluded all women and 5 million men without property. The bravery of the women like Hannah Mitchell who said, "without us having the vote, no one would ever put paid to the life of drudgery that trying to make ends meet caused us" is inspiring to read.

While the book is uplifting, it's also depressing to realise that the demonising of people in poverty we currently see is replicating the media's divisive portrayals poverty in the 1920s and 1930s. The policies of Baldwin's Conservatives mirror those of Cameron's coalition.

Selina Todd charts the success of the Labour Party in 1945, "Kitty Murphy was among those first time voters who put Labour into power. She had grown up in the East End of London, and had witnessed the effects of unemployment on her father and uncles. By 1940 she was a young married woman, working in the Woolwich Arsenal with her mother, father and younger brother while her husband fought abroad. In 1945 she was demobbed and cast her vote while awaiting her husband's return. The Labour slogan - "Never Again" and "Ask Your Dad" - made sense to her. "We didn't intend going back to how it was," she explained. "The Labour Party promised us that they'd do this and they'd do that and they did, they'd done it...whereas I don't think that would have happened had Churchill got back in" "

The examination of the post war Labour government both celebrates the successes of a reforming government but critics it's meritocratic method instead of an approach championing true equality. It left a question whether the 1945-51 government could have managed public ownership differently with greater worker involvement in running industry.

The post war period outlines how conditions for working class people improved as did aspiration. However, the hard work and drudgery is also clear. A search for a new Jerusalem was not as successful as Macmillan's assertion that people had never had it so good.

Selina Todd challenges the often fashionable argument about the positive nature of the grammar school system, that's an area my dad will enjoy, his experience in 1939 of failing the 11+ stuck with him.

The 1960s charts the struggle for equal pay, the exhausting nature of manual and process work and the often inhumane way immigrant workers were treated. The period saw gains in wages but economic and political power was still held outside the working classes.

The story of Jayaben Desai, an Indian woman and leader in the Grunwick dispute challenged assumptions about both the role of women and immigrant workers in accepting the status quo. While the strike was ultimately unsuccessful it did offer optimism about working class solidarity across gender and race in the 1970s.

Reading a history book about the period after 1979 seems strange. I remember those years vividly, I remember my teachers working to rule, the attacks on trade unions, the unemployment (and fear of it) and the vilification of those who need benefits. Selina Todd brings these memories back and reminds the reader of Thatcher's mantra of individuality.

The story of the working class is not drawn to a close in 2010 but is simply punctuated. Britain remains unequal, more unequal than in 1979. Trade Unions have been weakened and consequently people still are striving to have access to economic and political power. The working class has changed from 1910 but it is not unrecognisable. The story of the 100 years from 1910 offers hope of progress, highlights the importance of aspiration and recognises the necessity of organisation of the working class through the Labour movement.

I'll wrap the book up for my dad. He'll be delighted I've read it and I can be sure of a great discussion of the history through the prism of his experiences, his reading and his interpretation of working class history.

I hope whoever writes the history of the people from 2010 to 2110 will write a different story about how the Labour movement wins the argument for more equality and more importantly manages to wrestle the economic and political power to make it a different reality in the future.

A brilliant account. Thank you Selina Todd.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent reminder that class differences matter, 18 April 2014
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I very much enjoyed reading this history of the last hundred years written from the perspective and with a focus on the working class.

The first-person case studies bring the book and the history alive. They capture the solidarity, the struggle, the achievements and the advances of working people over this period. Thankfully the book does not romanticise or patronise.

In The People Selina Todd reminds us that some of the fundamental issues of inequality and imbalance of power are woven throughout this period and in many senses are more acute today. It also reminds us that governments have sought to reduce benefits and collective rights before; and that positive state led intervention and redistribution can make a positive difference; and that collective social action at local and state level is important.

Selina Todd has written an easy to read but provocative and challenging book - challenging not lest because all is still not alright and much remains to be done to secure greater equality. However, the real differences today are even more exaggerated with the super rich and the vilification of the very poor.

This book should be read by those interested in social history, politics and fairness.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue history from a different perspective, 20 April 2014
By 
AP Kempton (Cardiff) - See all my reviews
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They always say that history is written by the victors; consequently, much of written history is about Kings & Queens, Dukes & Generals. I always found this hard to swallow, as I have no affinity with any of them.
Recently though, the excellent David Kynaston has begun to "right that balance" to a degree, with his volumes based upon Mass Observation records. Here we have someone also documenting the experiences of ordinary, REAL people.
Ms Todd has roots in this community, and writes from a position of strength as a result. There is warmth and empathy, and an understanding of her subject matter that comes from that knowledge. Similarly, the role of women in this history isn't marginalised, as is often the case in many works. I look forward to her future output. PK
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars important book, 6 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010 (Kindle Edition)
She writes this in a really interesting way - using stories of real people. There is a strong bias towards the working class - but I enjoyed that.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exellent book, 30 May 2014
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Selina Todd gives you an exellent overview of the rise and fall of The British working Class and she digs a bit deeper by using stories from the everyday life in the time span.
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5.0 out of 5 stars First class history, 29 Jun 2014
By 
John B. Chambers (Northumberland, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010 (Kindle Edition)
For the first time I feel here's a book that tells the true story of the manipulation of the British working class. From the neglect of their welfare in wartime - while cajoling them to win 'the people's war - to the Thatcher years of political persecution (mainly through the carefully orchestrated attack on the unions) there's an objective narrative that should open the eyes of all readers.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The People:the rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910-2010, 23 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010 (Kindle Edition)
Not finished reading it yet! I have enjoyed the first chapter and will comment further when I have finished it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A good read., 16 Jun 2014
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I will use this as an aid to research but its a social change book which anyone who is interested in history that isn't far back and has affected us or those we know such as grandparents would enjoy. It was delivered very quickly and was in a well padded packet.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A really brilliant mix of historical evidence and peoples accounts of was ..., 20 July 2014
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A really brilliant mix of historical evidence and peoples accounts of was it was like for them - it kept my interest all the way through . Really made me rethink the history l had been taught over the years and how l view current day events.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars From A Trumpet of Sedition, 25 May 2014
"The working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present in its own making." E P Thompson

It is clear from even a brief count of the substantial number of reviews Selina Todd’s book has received that a historical examination of the working class in Britain is both popular and controversial. Any one dealing with the subject of class knows that the word is as one reviewer said “a fiercely contested concept and is not simply a descriptive taxonomy”.

Maybe this is a little surprising given that the bourgeois media, academics and politicians have for the last three decades told us that the class war is over, John Major told us that Britain was a “classless society” and Tony Blair trumpeted we are “all middle class now,” and my favorite the working class no longer exists. It is a shame that Todd has to some extent adapted to this conservative offensive with the title of her book The Rise and Fall of the Working Class.

The first thing that strikes you about this book is that is heavily influenced by the “history from below “genre. In fact the book could almost be seen as a sequel to E P Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

Selina Todd describes the period covered by the book as a “working-class century and in 1910 people “who worked with their hands constituted the vast majority of Britons”. Given that the title of the book indicates that she believes that the working class has fallen a premise that is not at all accurate, and implies that nowadays the social and numerical weight of the working class is less. Of course it is safe to say that the working class of 1910 is not the same as the working class of 2014 but according to an orthodox Marxist position it still holds the same basic relationship to the means of production. Also it is in many ways larger now given the fact that many middle class people have now been so effected by the current economic crisis that they have been forced back into the working class.

In her introduction Todd makes the claim that the motivation for the book came from an earlier period of her academic career when she found that very little work has been done on the type of working class family she came from.“ Eventually, I realized I would have to write this history myself”. She continues “the only working-class history on offer was conventional labour history — which is great, but it did mean that the only working-class people you ever heard about were those involved in. That wasn’t the full history of working-class life as I knew it from my peers at school and my own family”

I find this very hard to believe given that the last three decades has seen a veritable cottage industry grow up examining different aspects of working class life. It is also hard to believe that an academic of Todd’s standing found it hard to find material. Off the top of my head three names amongst many spring to mind David Kynaston, Andy Beckett and the prolific Dominic Sandbrook.
This is not to say that the book is without merit. It is well researched and informative. The book is part oral history, part academic and suitable for the general history buff. Todd vividly describes the oppression faced by the working class and its attempts to challenge capitalist exploitation.

In fact the strongest part of the book is Todd’s use of oral history. It is a very thorough and well researched piece of history. Todd said “throughout the book, I rely heavily on personal testimonies, gained from interviews and from unpublished and published autobiographies. I combed local studies libraries across the country to find the testimonies of over 200 people, and then I added to these by using the archives of some social surveys of working-class life in the 1950s and ’60s”.
You could say that Todd seeks to rescue the domestic workers; factory hands; the unemployed and, of course, the upwardly mobile from the condescension of history. According to one reviewer “the book is peppered with anecdotes of real people, from those working in what was little more than domestic servitude in some cases in the early part of the last century, to the militant trade unionists of the 1960s and 1970s, to the consumers of today is what sets it apart. We learn about those whose lives were changed by fame, fortune and in Vivian's case, the pools (before the greater riches of the National Lottery), to those who became the first property owners under Margaret Thatcher “.

It must be said however that Todd’s conception of class like her great predecessor E P Thompson has nothing to do with an orthodox Marxist view of class. Todd believes as did E P Thompson, that a historical materialist position cannot sufficiently explain the origins of the working class despite professing being influenced by it. “Class needs to be spoken about in a less determined way”.

In his essay on the ‘Peculiarities of the English’, E.P. Thompson gave his theoretical definition of class: “When we speak of a class we are thinking of a very loosely defined body of people who share the same congeries of interests, social experiences, traditions and value-system, who have a disposition to behave as a class, to define themselves in their actions and in their consciousness in relation to other groups of people in class ways. But class itself is not a thing, it is a happening”.
The rejection of a historical materialist understanding of the class struggle was and still is to a certain extent a hallmark of a number of historians who professed a sympathy with Marxism. It is to be hoped that Todd does not pick the bad habits of Thompson who like other historians of his generation decided to cherry pick certain aspects of a Marxist method and leave aside the most important parts such as the relationship between base and superstructure and how it affects the history of the working class.

As the Marxist Cliff Slaughter put it so well “When we say that political ideas and movements reflect the economic base we should remember that such reflection is a series of conscious acts. Men’s consciousness is formed in an environment of social institutions controlled by the ruling class, institutions of repression and institutions for educational conditioning, staffed by people trained to operate these institutions as though they were part of a naturally or divinely ordained system. The majority of labour’s own organizations have become tied to this structure of established institutions, and are staffed by the ‘labour lieutenants of capitalism’. The proletariat’s consciousness of its role has to be achieved in struggle against all these institutional forms and their ideological results. Without the highest degree of centralized organization, these ideological battles cannot be won”.
Todd does not see the working class through rose tinted spectacles but she believes that the most the working class can do is reform capitalism not overthrow it. Also her attitude towards the “labor lieutenants” is at best weak at worst it borders on a glossing over the betrayals of both the Labour Party and the Unions.

In this light it is not really an accident that the book with over 450 pages does not mention Karl Marx in its index, the Communist Party gets only two mentions. Perhaps most damagingly is her view of the most important events affecting the English working class. While it is easy to agree that the Second World War and the rise of Thatcherism are important events in the life of the English working class surely the most important political event of the 20th century concerning the working class did not happen in Britain but in Russia i.e. the 1917-The Russian revolution. If one event shaped the modern day English working Class it was that event. Yet Todd has next to nothing to say on it.

Another strange absence is that despite professing her admiration for E P Thompson, the Marxist History Group, which included E.P. Thompson, Rodney Hilton and Eric Hobsbawm to name but a few , is completely ignored. One does not have accept everything this group wrote said or did but I believe it is not possible to write a history of the English working class without examining their work
.
As the Marxist Ann Talbot said “Not only was their contribution to the writing of history significant, but also they themselves represent a particularly critical phase in British history, when Britain lost its world hegemony to the USA and class conflict became more intense. They represent a layer of socialist-minded intellectuals who looked in this period of crisis to the Soviet Union and the Russian revolution for a new model of society”.

Having said this Talbot was extremely critical of the People’s history genre of which Todd adopts hook line and sinker in her book, she continues “The Communist Party sponsored a form of “People’s History”, which is typified by A.L. Morton’s People’s History of England in which the class character of earlier rebels, revolutionaries and popular leaders was obscured by regarding them all as representatives of a national revolutionary tradition. This historical approach reflected the nationalism of the bureaucracy, their hostility to internationalism and their attempts to form an unprincipled alliance with the supposedly democratic capitalists against the fascist Axis countries. People’s history was an attempt to give some historical foundation to the policies of Popular Front—the subordination of the working class to supposedly progressive sections of the bourgeoisie and the limiting of political action to the defense of bourgeois democracy—which provided a democratic facade to the systematic murder of thousands of genuine revolutionaries, including Trotsky. It was the approach that Christopher Hill was trained in, along with E.P. Thompson, Rodney Hilton and Eric Hobsbawm, who were part of the Marxist Historians Group and came under the influence of Maurice Dobb and Dona Torr”.

It is also remiss of Todd not address her predecessor E P Thompson given that he played such an influential role in her adopting the approach of “history from below” genre. Thompson was founder of the magazine the New Reasoner, along with historian John Saville, and Universities and Left Review, edited by Stuart Hall.

Thompson and Saville were hostile to the orthodox Trotskyists represented by the then Socialist Labour League’s international revolutionary perspective. His magazine was imbued in what was then called the “English Marxist” tradition.

New Reasoner was said to advocate a “socialist humanist” version of Marxism. This was in reality nothing to with Marxism but was no more than a crude cover for his support for the Stalinist “British Road” advocated by the CPGB.

The New Left movement under the leadership of Thompson and Saville was responsible as Paul Bond says for “introducing the nationalist, ethnic and gender specific theories that have led to so much confusion over the last 30 years, as well as helping the imperialists divert workers and youth along dangerous communal lines in South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East”.

Finally if Todd continues to adopt the use of culture and gender to explain class relations it will shift her present axis further away from a Marxist position on class. The People-The Rise and Fall of the Working Class is a useful guide to certain aspects of working class life over the last century but should not be seen as a Marxist analysis. It is hoped that Todd’s next book attempts this difficult of processes.
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