Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Guildford: Surrey’s other capital

By Carole Barclay
Guildford castle

Guildford is in the heart of the ‘stockbroker belt’ that houses the wealthy commuters who work the money markets of the City of London. Visitors may assume that the University of Surrey and the impressive modernist cathedral on the hill gives Guildford ‘county town’ status. In fact Surrey’s administration centre is Kingston-on-Thames, which left Surrey to join Greater London back in 1965. But you could easily be forgiven for thinking that this is the real capital of Surrey when you walk down the high street of this prosperous market town in the heart of southern Toryland.
Though somewhat off the tourist radar, there’s plenty to see in the heart of what was the old medieval centre. The Guildhall in the High Street goes back to Tudor days. Guildford museum is housed in what was once the gatehouse of Guildford Castle and the art gallery is in a 17th century town house. Both are well worth visiting along, with the nearby castle that has been recently repaired for the benefit of tourists.
 The Norman keep was re-roofed in 2004 to provide for an interpretative display and small shop. For a very modest fee you can even walk up safely to the roof for spectacular views across the Wey valley. In the summer you can see an amazing display of flowers in the castle gardens as well as a life-size statue of Alice of Looking Glass fame, a reminder of the fact that Lewis Carroll stayed nearby in his sisters' house, from 1868 until his death in 1898.
Guildford is easily reached by road and is just 35 minutes away from London Waterloo by train. It’s well worth a day-trip and it’s also an ideal base for longer visits to other attractions in the county.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Down House: A unique place in the history of science and evolution

by Carole Barclay
The works of Charles Darwin and Karl Marx shook and shocked Victorian Britain. Although they lived less than 20 miles apart from each other they never met. But Marx genuinely admired Darwin's On The Origin of the Species despite its “crude English style” and even sent Darwin a personally inscribed copy of the recently published second edition of Das Kapital in 1873.
            Down House was Darwin’s home for 40 years until his death in 1882. Darwin and his wife Emma remodelled the house and its extensive gardens, which Darwin used as an open-air laboratory. Here Darwin worked on his theory of evolution that was first published in 1859.
In Darwin’s day the house was in the village of Downe, a parish in Kent. It later became a girls’ school and the home of the Darwin Museum. Now part of Bromley in Greater London, the house, gardens and grounds is run by English Heritage and open to the public throughout the year.
            There’s plenty to see. Anyone interested in the life and times of Darwin will be fascinated by the gardens and the exhibits in the museum as well as rooms that have been restored to appear as they would have looked in Darwin’s day. There’s the inevitable visitors’ shop for books and souvenirs, and a very welcome cafĂ© in the courtyard.
But beware – plan your journey unless you’re driving because it’s not easily served by public transport. Although you can get trains from central London to Bromley South or Orpington you’ve then got to get a bus for the rest of the journey.
Down House is in Luxted Road, Downe, Kent, BR6 7JT. The house, garden and grounds are open to the public at the usual English Heritage rates. There’s free parking and Down House opens daily from April to the end of October, and on weekends only from November until the end of March.

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Fidel Castro 1926 -- 2016

By Robert Laurie

Revolutionary Democracy Volume XXII, No 2 April, 2017. £5.00 + £1.00 p&p from NCP Lit, PO Box 73, London SW11 2PQ.

The latest issue of Revolutionary Democracy has just arrived in Britain. The latest one (the first published since April of last year) contains the usual mixture of articles on contemporary India, news and views from around the globe and important historical material from Soviet sources.
            The first quarter of the journal is taken up with articles on present day India. The main ones concern the dire effects on workers of the recent sudden withdrawal of 500 and 1,000 Rupee banknotes, a move that was supposedly aimed at corrupt businessmen but which instead hit the poorest particularly severely. There is the first of a two-part detailed dissection of the latest Indian budget and another on the 2014–15 drought that has driven many desperate farmers to suicide. This time there are two articles concerning Kashmir, one of which deals with student protests in Delhi.
 Not for the first time with this journal, I found some of the articles on India a bit difficult to follow. It is difficult to know if some politicians mentioned are national or provincial figures, and some of the terminology is obscure to non-Indians. Perhaps the editors could have short introductions for each article giving the background or a general introduction to this nevertheless useful section.
 Turning to the wider world, Sergei Golovchenko, a Russian film-maker, contributes an account of recent events in the Donbas describing how an area prosperous in Soviet times has been devastated by Ukrainian fascism, but he also records the heroic resistance to the fascists.
The Labour Party of Turkey (EMEP) provides a short account of how Turkey is “Step by Step Moving Towards a Dictatorship” and a longer critique of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) whom it accuses of being “reformist”, not a position the New Worker agrees with.
This section concludes with a recent interview with the General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa in which he deplores the “ideological bankruptcy and cowardly behaviour of the SACP [South African Communist Party]”, and sees the present crisis within the ANC [African National Congress] as being largely a battle between established white capitalists and an emergent capitalist class.
            The archival material begins with another instalment of documents pertaining to discussions between the Soviet and Chinese parties. This time there is a report on a mission by Anastason Mikoyan to Mao Zedong in early 1949, just as the Chinese civil war was coming to an end. The most important revelation is that Mao himself hoped for orders and directions from the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union]. In contrast, Stalin declined saying that it was not permissible for one party to rule another, although advice might be proffered.
There is another example of Soviet advice in the form of a newspaper article on mistakes by the Japanese Communist Party who saw the occupying American forces were playing a progressive role in Japan. Although published in 1950, under the pseudonym “Observer”, its author was in fact JV Stalin.
The editor contributes a brief piece that refutes the claim that Soviet industrialisation was built by exploiting the peasantry, but that the sacrifices made during the first Five Year Plan that built the industrial economy which defeated Hitler were borne by the working class.
In addition to a detailed 1932 conference report criticising a recent book by the Trotskyite economist Preobrazhensky, we have an Indian Communist Party report on the 22nd CPSU Congress held in 1960 and an historical account of the widespread protests in the Soviet Union that defended Stalin against Khrushchev’s notorious 1956 attack on him. These were naturally most common in Stalin’s native Georgia but the article also describes protests in Sumgait in Azerbaijan in the early 1960s.
In contrast to my grumbles about the lack of context of some of the Indian material, the editorial introductions to the archive material are excellent.