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Letters to The Guardian: Tuesday 22 December 2009

posted Mar 26, 2010, 4:33 AM by Dick Pountain

Donald Sassoon describes Nina Fishman (obituary, 14 December) as "one of the most outstanding and original personalities of the British left", who promoted a perspective of "revolutionary pragmatism" for the British labour movement. In the turbulent times of the 1970s and 80s, Nina energetically supported a resolution of the conflicts in British society in the working-class interest through the introduction of industrial democracy (workers' control) along the lines of the German system of Mitbestimmung (co-determination) and through constructive British engagement with the EU. But Sassoon's description of the British and Irish Communist Organisation in which she was then involved (as I was, too) as a "rather eccentric quasi-Stalinist group" does her a disservice. It was through the tumult of contending ideas that characterised that organisation, and in which Nina engaged so energetically, that these very ideas emerged in the first place – as did many others she shared, on nationalism in Britain and Ireland, on the "British road to socialism", on the potential of the Bullock report for British labour.

Philip O'Connor


posted Mar 26, 2010, 4:28 AM by Dick Pountain


Your obituary for the Labour historian Nina Fishman (27th Jan) states that 'she refused to join any political grouping' and continues 'She became prominent in the NUM's administration during the 1972 national coal strike, after which she moved back to teaching ...'

In fact Nina Fishman was for some sixteen years a leading member of the British and Irish Communist Organisation, and in 1973, in that context, she developed a series of policy positions which, had they been followed by the Labour movement, would have rendered the rise of Thatcherism and the consequent collapse of working class power impossible.

The obituary presents her as an academic who eschewed politics but she is best seen as a political activist whose academic work was a continuation of politics by other means.

Peter Brooke

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