About Ian Bullock

I was born in 1941 in Sutton Coldfield, then part of Warwickshire; later and now an outlying area of Birmingham. Ill-advisedly, but well-meaningly, my small shopkeeper parents sent me to a local private school where I contrived to fail my 11 plus. I then spent 4 years at Boldmere County Secondary School – what was then called a 'secondary modern' – where I excelled at most academic subjects but was unbelievably hopeless at woodwork and metalwork. (Never accept an offer from me to fix your door etc! Not that you're likely to get one.)

At the age of 15 I was transferred to the local grammar school – Bishop Vesey's. I was always a year behind what I would have been had I gone there at 11 but since I was always 'young for my age' – and like to think I still am – this was not a problem. I didn't do too badly at all in O levels and later A levels – even winning a prize for English Lit and getting a high score in a English Lit S level (Scholarship level) exam.

It was not my first choice – I was hampered by the lack of Latin (a consequence of missing those early years at the grammar school) which was still a requirement for many courses then – but I did a first degree in History and Government at the University of Sheffield from 1960 to 1963. A number of factors including bouts of undiagnosed depression as well as simple stupidity and immaturity led to me doing virtually no work and I was extremely lucky to come out with a Third. My later 'academic career' – if that's the right expression – is outlined on my other – 'serious' – website (www.socialist-history.com)

After various false starts – the main one as a trainee manager for British Home Stores in London – I took a temporary teaching job at John Wilmott's Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield – a new co-educational establishment very different from the 'boys only' secondary schools that I had attended. Finding that – after all – I actually liked teaching, I then managed to enrol on the very first Certificate of Education course at Sussex University – which began an association which has continued in a variety of forms until the present day.

It was during the period of temporary teaching employment that I met my future wife, Sue. We married in 1967 and our daughter Chloe, now a self-employed interior designer who lives just up the road, was born in 1970. (see Links) Meanwhile, after completing the Cert Ed course I got a job teaching General Studies at Hall Green Technical College in Birmingham. This lasted for about 18 months. Since the 1967 until retirement in September 2003 I worked – initially teaching General Studies on a wide variety of course and A level History (mainly to mature students) – at what eventually, after two changes of title, became City College, in Brighton. During the 1980s I made continual attempts to start an Access to Higher Education course at the College, but the conservatism of the senior management – even by Further Education standards, which is saying a lot – meant that it was only at the beginning of the 1990s that I succeeded.

However, the course (which continues) was very successful with a much larger than usual number of 'pathways' or options including science, health studies, and business studies ones as well as the more common humanities based ones. The majority of our successful students went on to study at either Sussex or Brighton universities but others continued at pretty well all the various HE establishments in the UK – including ones in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some did very well indeed. In fact I can think of a few who now teach at universities. I was coordinator/manager of the course for 13 years, teaching 'Academic Studies' on many 'pathways' as well as my own, history-based pathway – Three Themes in Modern History.

The only political organisations – leaving aside the usual single issue campaigns – that I have been a member of are the Labour Party (still … am I the only one left yet?) and the May Day Manifesto Group in the late 1960s and I was also involved with Voice of the Unions in the early 1970s. Currently, I am sympathetic to Compass and I subscribe to Red Pepper. If I had to put a label on myself – something I've always resisted – I suppose I'd describe myself as a radical social-democrat; quickly qualifying that to say I mean an updated version of pre-World War I social-democracy.

My starting point for outlining my politics might be the following. Karl Kautsky was for many years before World War I regarded as the most authoritative Marxist in the international socialist movement. When he failed to support the Bolsheviks and criticised them in the work quoted from below he was attacked by Lenin in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky. This is what the 'renegade' had to say about ends and means in relation to socialism.

…Socialism as such is not our goal, which is the abolition of every kind of exploitation and oppression, be it directed against a class, a party, a sex, or a race…

Should it be proved to us that we are wrong and the emancipation of the proletariat and of mankind could be achieved solely on the basis of private property … then we would throw Socialism overboard…

That seems to me absolutely right. The acid test is progress towards ending exploitation and oppression – not adherence to 'correct' ideology.

One very big influence on my political attitudes has been the late Walter Kendall (I wrote an obituary in History Workshop Journal, Issue 57, Spring 2004 and have recently (June 2008) completed – with my friend Tony Carew – an entry for the forthcoming volume of the Dictionary of Labour Biography.) Summing up his view of the impact of 'Bolshevism' on Britain in his ground-breaking 1969 book, The Revolutionary Movement in Britain, Walter wrote

The revolutionary movement, before the transformation took place had been ultra democratic, opposed to leadership on principle, opposed to the professionalisation of the Labour movement almost as an article of faith. It was now, through its allegiance to the Communist International, committed to an unprecedented centralization of direction, to the elevation of leadership to a cardinal principle, to the professionalization of the revolutionary movement and the substitution of the idea of the liberation of the working class by its own efforts by that of liberation by the exertions of a self appointed Leninist elite.

[Walter Kendall, The Revolutionary Movement in Britain, The Origins of the British Communism, (London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969, p 300.]

I might want to make some small caveats and modifications to that, but, essentially, I believe he was right. In our 1996 book, Logie Barrow and I wrote:-

Conceivably, in fifty years time, socialism will seem as strange and mystifying as the doctrine of the Muggletonians. Yet there are reasons for doubt. Even at the height of the twin-hegemony of Stalinism and social democracy (or, as the latter's British version became, bureaucratic welfarism and nationalisation combined with constitutional do-nothingism) there were those ready to protest that both of these were travesties of socialism. Real socialism would be, above all, infinitely more democratic than either. Even for this reason alone, socialism, seen once more as a movement for ever greater democracy, may yet confound the sceptics.

[From the introduction to Logie Barrow & Ian Bullock, Democratic Ideas and the British Labour Movement 1880-1914 (Cambridge University Press, 1996 – and 2006 in paperback) p 3]

Twelve years on, the only modifications I would want to make would be to be less sceptical about the future of ('feasible' in the Alec Nove sense) socialism in the light of the current collapse of Thatcherism/Blairism/the 'anglo-saxon' model/neo-liberalism and at the same time to be a little more positive about the record of social-democracy.

I think that Donald Sassoon's summary of the achievements and failures of socialism in Western Europe in 1997 got the balance right.

Socialists not only played a crucial role in the establishment of the welfare system, but were the true heirs of the European Enlightenment, the champions of civil rights and democracy. They fought for the expansion of the suffrage when it was restricted. They fought for the rights of women more consistently and earlier than other parties, They fought against the entrenched rights and privileges of the old regime. They supported, often decisively, all the struggles against racial discrimination. They played a significant and sometimes the major role in the abolition of capital punishment, the legalisation of homosexuality and the decriminalisation of abortion.

Notwithstanding these successes, socialists neither abolished capitalism nor directed it through economic planning.

[Donald Sassoon, One Hundred Years of Socialism. The West European Left in the Twentieth Century (London, Fontana, 1997) p 768]

Both paragraphs are equally important in my view.

I'm currently Secretary of the Brighton and Hove section of the National Clarion Cycling Club. I was briefly a member of the national club in the late '70s/ early '80s but let my membership lapse. Together with my former colleague from the College, Joyce Edmond Smith and the late Ed Furey I began the B&H Club in 2004. [There'd been an earlier one which seems to have petered out in the 1960s.]

I've cycled – on and off – for most of my life. I've never been a great joiner and as a teenager cycled by myself doing 50-70 mile rides and staying in Youth Hostels. I was introduced to the YHA by taking part in a tour of Mid-Wales organised by the Eagle comic in the early 1950s. Soon after I joined the CTC – but didn't participate in any sectional activities. When I returned to cycling in the 1970s I had two spells of being a regular in Brighton CTC runs but after the mid 1980s I did less and less – partly because I was so busy with the Access course. Meanwhile, I did a couple of tours visiting Alsace and the South of France in 1978 and 1979 with my brother James, who then as now lived in Eindhoven in Holland (but didn't work, a people tend to assume, for Philips) as well as several times riding to stay with him. And quite a few tours of a few days in various parts of England and Wales.

I've never been the slightest bit interested in racing personally – but have always followed the Tour de France (and to a lesser extent other top professional races). At the beginning of the 2007 Tour in London I told a French radio interviewer (in my best French!) that I had followed the Tour since the days of Fausto Coppi. She was sceptical about this (I'd love to think it was because I didn't look old enough for it to be true) I first saw the final stage of the Tour on the Champs Elysees in 1979 and later – from the early '90s – being in Paris for the end of the Tour has become a regular event each year.

Other Interests
Without being very good at or very knowledgeable about any of these things I enjoy many kinds of music – particularly opera, orchestral music, early music (baroque especially) and jazz. I'm keen on architecture and townscape, love planning holiday trips (almost as much as actually doing them.) I miss few major art exhibitions – I'm a member of the Tate (as well as a 'Friend' of Covent Garden – one wouldn't want to be an enemy of such an august institution), but I have an equivocal attitude to much contemporary art. (Conservative in everything except politics – describes me.) I also enjoy cooking – but have little time for 'foodies'.

Since I first came here in the '60s, I've never wanted to live anywhere except Brighton. One British (or is it just English?) aspiration I've never really understood is the desire to have a 'cottage in the country' probably because I grew up on the semi-rural fringe and am more aware than most of what Marx called (I think) 'rural idiocy.' If he didn't, I've been misquoting the poor man for decades. That said the countryside – including the Sussex countryside – is great for bike rides (and walks on the Downs).

There are many other towns I enjoy visiting – among them London, Paris, Lille, Ghent, Vienna, Prague and – above all – Venice, but only a palazzo on the Grand Canal might tempt me away from Brighton. But I often wonder if my literary preferences for Shakespeare and George Eliot's Middlemarch are routed in a subconscious Warwickshire local patriotism. As regards modern fiction, Gore Vidal's introduction to his 'Narratives of Empire' strikes a chord with me when he writes about how 'historical' fiction became unfashionable (no longer true, I think).

Yet the record of the breakup of the author's own marriage the preceding summer is, most people would agree, the very stuff of solemn – no, serious fiction, the common experience. It is also, for many of us, as deeply boring as one's friend Brian, who wants to tell us just how and why he left Doris shortly after the exchange student Sonia signed on for his Barth Barthelme Burke and Hare course at East Anglia.

Quite so. And quite enough too, I think.

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