Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Russia Conference

Nonsuch and Wallington students attended a conference together on Russian History.  Below are some reports about their views on the speakers and their research.
What do you think?  Do you agree with their reviews?




Orlando Figes


On 22nd November, the sixth form History students attended a ‘History In Action’ conference on 20th century Russia, and were given the opportunity to learn the perception and evaluation of several reputable historians. The final historian to speak was Orlando Figes - an award winning writer and professor at Birkbeck College, University of London - who gave a lecture that encapsulated the period from the February Revolution to the Civil War.  


Surprisingly, considering that each historian was only given half an hour to cover a complicated period of history, Figes’ session began with a lengthy piece of self-promotion about his books and website. After the “short” diversion from the topic of lecture, Figes went into great depth about the main historical events within his given time period. His chosen form of explanation were through historical sources, which can be deemed a success, given that source analysis features heavily in the a-level history exam.


Much of the expert knowledge Figes imparted to the audience was taken with interest. Perhaps the most insightful aspect was his analysis of the causes of the February Revolution and the Civil War; much of his focus was on the influence of violence. One reason for the revolution that Figes outlined was the fact that the majority of Serfs remained under the control of gentry and magnates, despite their supposed emancipation. A cause of the Civil war was Lenin’s drastic approach to change, including the introduction of equal citizenship and the immediate transfer of power to the proletariat, all of which worked to destroy the bourgeoisie.

Overall, the lecture did offer some valuable knowledge for use in A-levels, although Figes’ main message seemed to be: if students hope to understand Russia’s revolutionary history, they should use his website and, most importantly, pay the subscription.

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Dr Zoe Knox



This lecture by Dr Zoe Knox was considering whether Bolshevism could be considered a religion. She outlined how the Bolsheviks feared traditional Russian Orthodoxy, as it was seen to be a rival belief system with a conflicting ideology. Not only this, but religion was a major impediment to the establishment of Communist authority in the countryside, as the Orthodox Church had long had considerable control over the lives of villagers, as it was the many religious festivals and events that controlled the village calendar. Back then religion was a way of life and in Russia the religion that dominated was Christianity. When the Bolsheviks came to power there was among them the very real fear that the Church had the ability to wield more power and authority over the people. 

Dr Knox touched upon the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church had always been a powerful tool of the Russian monarchy, with the Church encouraging people to follow the tsar to a fault. The Church preached that Tsar Nicholas II was their “little father” appointed over them by God himself.

Despite the Bolshevik contempt of religion, there is much evidence to suggest that not only did they want to eradicate Russian Orthodoxy, but they attempted to create their own kind of rival religion. Knox points to the posthumous cult of personality created around Lenin that resulted in him becoming a revered, god-like figure, with his dead body in Red Square becoming a pilgrimage site much to the disapproval and despair of Lenin’s wife. Dr Knox also described the many secular festivals and traditions created by the Communists to undermine the traditional religious ones, an example being the Soviet New Year. this particular festival was a poignant dig at the orthodox church as it marked and celebrated the change from the Julian calendar which has been used by the church for centuries to the Gregorian calendar.

We enjoyed Dr Zoe Knox’s lecture, as she posed new questions and brought new ideas that we had not previously heard. As well as this we especially appreciated the way she separately analysed the cult of Lenin and Stalin. However we would have liked to see more evidence as to whether Bolshevism actually managed to replace religion especially in the countryside where the Church had been its strongest. Furthermore, she did not come to a conclusion deciding whether she thought Bolshevism could be seen as a religion or not and we would have liked to seen her own opinion.

 AE and EA



Jan Palmer

On the 22nd of November at a conference at UCL, we had the privilege to see several lecturers, including Jan Palmer, who spoke about Communist Russia during the 1900s. Palmer focused on the Stalin era and the role he took as a dictator. The speaker mentioned the steps Stalin took through his rule including his return to traditional values, the ‘Great Terror’ in 1937 and the ‘Stalin cult’ that emerged in support of the leader in 1929 and continued throughout the 1930s. For example, he explained that Stalin carried out highly publicised show trials in attempt to cause fear upon potential enemies and recriminalised homosexuality in 1933 and abortion in 1936 to attempt to return to these more ‘traditional’ values. Furthermore, Palmer spoke about the ‘Great Patriotic War’, discussing Russia’s involvement in the Second World War from 1941 until 1945 and how the victory is still a unifying story of Russia to this day.

Additionally, Palmer broke down various aspects of the Stalin era such as the five-year plans and included an overview of communism in the USSR from the 50s to the 90s and linked it to other political climates at the time such as the fascist dictatorship in Spain. Palmer also discussed how the Stalin era affected society in more unexpected ways, for example art changed from the Avant Garde and dynamic style of the futurists which had promised change and hope to the more traditional realism.

Overall, the lecture was enjoyable as his talk was engaging and Palmer successfully presented an overview of Stalin’s time in power. Furthermore, the presentation used appeared to be well thought through as it had extra context which Palmer didn’t have time to cover and images which aided our understanding of the information we were being taught. However, to improve the lecture, the speaker could have gone into more depth about specific areas of the Stalin era as the short time given for each lecture did leave us wishing for more details on certain topics he discussed. Moreover, Palmer presented us with a reasonably thorough and very engaging overview of the Stalin era which introduced us to a range of topics we could later research ourselves.

SW and AL


Professor Dominik Lieven


During November we had the opportunity to visit UCL for the day to enjoy a Russian history course in which various knowledgable speakers and historians spoke about their findings of Tsarist and Communist Russia. Professor Dominik Lieven spoke about the Russian monarchy and its challenges and failure. Lieven stated that with the empire being so diverse and large, one person leading the country autocratically was doomed to fail. The Tsar faced problems of popular sovereignty and compared to Britain and France. Russia was very backwards- property was less secure, there were less literate people and a smaller middle class. Additionally Lieven expressed his view that pre-modern Russia was very successful and no other empire had been faced in such harsh geographical context yet still achieved thorough autocracy. After the monarchy had almost collapsed in 1905 after a great economic slump and losing the Russo-Japanese war, people of Russia had already began to see the weaknesses of the Tsar. The professor also showed us that during 1905-14 there was a constitutional monarchy and the government was expanding, becoming more complicated and unpopular. When revolution came in 1917 nobody was prepared to defend the in Lieven’s words a ‘shy, untrustworthy and uninterested in politics’ Tsar, this was because the people of Russia had lost confidence in him and were unwilling to start a civil war in defence for a monarch who they thought was incapable of ruling such a large empire.

Overall Lieven gave an engaging and articulate lecture on the Russian Empire leading up to the revolution. He highlighted the strengths of the Russian monarchy which we would have normally overlooked, and how autocracy actually did benefit the people of Russia to a certain extent. This was very interesting as in class we mainly look at how the monarchy failed the Russian people and essentially caused its own demise. To improve the lecture, Lieven could have included a powerpoint to list down the key points that he had.

AK and AG


 


 


Thursday, 29 September 2016

Nonsuch on Radio 4


Radio 4's Analysis programme on Monday 26 September featured interviews with several Nonsuch Politics students and a teacher, plus a major role for the school bell! You can listen to the programme here. In it, Birkbeck Politics professor (and friend of Nonsuch!) Rosie Campbell explores how Britain is undergoing a period of rapid political change, and asks whether it is time to "Tear up the Politics Textbook" and start all over again.

Bridging Units



Over the Summer holidays, the new Year 12 History and Politics students wrote articles on either political topics of interest, or history books that they had enjoyed reading which were connected to their studies. There are plenty of examples of them below this post. Many thanks to all who took part and we look forward to more interesting articles soon!

PS: The picture is of the Gaoliang Bridge in China. Plenty more about bridges here.

Corbyn v Smith: The Battle for Labour


Since Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in becoming Labour leader, the party has undeniably descended into a damaging spiral of irrelevance. From his inability to publically rally up support for the ‘Remain’ camp, to the resignations of countless members of his shadow cabinet; Jeremy Corbyn has proved himself to be nothing but an overly opinionated neo-socialist and not very much of a leader.
Corbyn’s only competitor, Owen Smith, who’s only tactic to gain the votes of Labour members is emphasising the uselessness of Corbyn, and furthermore that if he is re-elected as leader of the party, Labour will “recede into irrelevance, being thought of as not able to take back the reins of power from the Tories”. Smith, who made a mock version of the 2020 Conservative manifesto for his speech in London, predicts that without a strongly led opposition, the conservatives will roll back the state, cut taxes and benefits, sell off social housing, and introduce hundreds of grammar schools- all of which are eventualities he feels would be averted with him as Labour leader.

But simply because Corbyn has proved in the past year that he isn’t the person for the job, doesn’t mean that sexist, anti-immigrant Smith is. Smith has made degrading and derogatory comments countless times, aimed at female politicians such as Nicola Sturgeon and PM Teresa May. From threatening to “smash Theresa May back on her heels”, to referring to a gobstopper as “the perfect gift” for Nicola Sturgeon. Smith even went as far to claim that sexism in the labour party did not exist until Jeremy Corbyn became leader.

LM

Just what is Trump's Plan to Defeat ISIS?



At his latest rally, Trump has coined idea of ‘peace through strength’, in a Reagan-esque appeal for increased military spending, making yet more promises to hold NATO members to their obligation to spend 2% of national income on defence. By increasing said spending, Trump plans to eradicate the IS claiming to ‘know more about Isis (Islamic State) than the generals do’ however when asked about said plan used his favourite way to describe it- incredibly vaguely. To add the hilarity of the situation trump says the terror group will be eradicated within 30 days, a laughable claim.

The plan is ‘great’ with its lack of description down to Trump wanting to appear ‘unpredictable’, appropriate considering his unexpected Republican nomination and controversial style of public appeal. To contrast, the democratic nominee Clinton is not afraid of the enemy knowing her ideas to ‘maintain air strikes and support local troops’.

With his only prior details being ‘bomb the hell out of IS’ and to use ‘a combination of his own plan and proposals from the generals to fight the terror group’, Trump’s lack of military experience, general knowledge of the situation and intelligence all appear to be severely lacking, just like his plan.

More on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton's foreign policies here.

EW

The Other Boleyn Girl


The Other Boleyn Girl, is yet another historical fiction by Philippa Gregory. As the third novel in the ‘Tudor Court’ series, the novel explores exactly what the title states, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, Mary Boleyn, sister of Henry VIII’s infamous second wife, Anne Boleyn. In the novel, Gregory depicts part of the turbulent reign of England’s Henry VIII through Mary Boleyn’s eyes during her time in and out of court.

Already married to William Carey and barely 14, Mary Boleyn embarks on a several year affair with the King at the beginning of the novel, giving him both a daughter and a son, albeit both illegitimate. “Keep him coming forward but never let him think that you come forward yourself. He wants to feel that he is pursuing you, not that you are entrapping him. When he gives you the choice of coming forward or running away, like then—you must always run away. But don’t run too fast. Remember he has to catch you.” Despite only a year separating them in age, Mary is disastrously more naïve than Anne, who is cunning, intelligent and skilful in the art of seduction, earning the role as Mary’s adviser in the seduction of the King.

“I shall be dark and French and fashionable and difficult. And you shall be sweet and open and English and fair. What a pair we shall be! What man can resist us?”

Mary’s golden fair hair reflects her sweet and caring disposition. “I wanted the heat and the sweat and the passion of a man that I could love and trust. And I wanted to give myself to him: not for advantage, but for desire.” Mary’s decline begins when she falls in love with the King and thus begins to lose sight of the reason as to why she was being courted in the first place. Anne understands that “anyone can attract a man” and “the trick is to keep him,” and, more importantly, Anne understands that love is not important in seducing the King. She understands that “in this world ruled by men” the aim is to rise in status, and to bring her family with her.

The favour of the King is eventually tossed from Mary to Anne. “I have overturned the order. Nothing will ever be the same for any woman in this country again.” Anne bewitches King Henry into tearing the country apart in return for her love. In order to marry her, the King breaks with Rome and brings the Church of England under his control, all for Anne to give birth to a girl, Elizabeth, after promising him she would give him his coveted son. All of this leads to Anne’s demise.

“And then the sword came down like a flash of lightning, and then her head was off her body and the long rivalry between me and the other Boleyn girl was over.”

“Jane would be the next queen and her children, when she had them, would be the next princes or princesses. Or she might wait, as the other queens had waited, every month, desperate to know that she had conceived, knowing each month that it did not happen that Henry's love wore a little thinner, that his patience grew a little shorter. Or Anne's curse of death in childbed, and death to her son, might come true. I did not envy Jane Seymour. I had seen two queens married to King Henry and neither of them had much joy of it.”

By the end of the novel, Mary is evidently less naïve and more intelligent. She is the only Boleyn sibling with her head still attached to her body after the well-known demise of Anne and George. Her conscience, at first, would not allow her to desert her siblings, albeit her husband, William Carey, advises her to protect her children, especially her son, Henry, and the now motherless Princess Elizabeth.

AA

Britain after Brexit


In spite of voting leave, many well informed advocates of Brexit would agree that the immediate economic effects of Britain’s leaving of the European Union would not be entirely positive. The less knowledgeable supporters of Britain’s leaving of the EU promote the notion that Brexit will control immigration. Pre and post the referendum, this idea has been giving a voice to racism in Britain.

It is hard to predict today what the future of Brexit will turn out to be in a decade or even five years time, but it is obvious that Britain’s planned exit of the EU is already provoking serious economic consequences. The most infamous, immediate and, arguably, the most important economic fatality of Brexit has been the value of the pound. Having sank to an alarming low against the American dollar and euro, in simple words, it seems as if us Britons have become poorer as a result of Britain’s decision to leave the EU. The pound lost 11 per cent of its value in the short space of two trading days, which raises the question that should have been answered to many less knowledgeable voters before they voted leave: how will Brexit immediately affect our economy?

Having dropped in value by around 13%, the pound, which was worth $1.50 on 23 June, is now trading at around $1.30, which is a new low for this decade, seeing as the sterling has not been at levels this low since the 1980s. On 23 June the pound was worth €1,30, but now trades at about €1,19, another alarming low.

Conversely, as a result of Brexit, the percentage of race hate crimes has vastly increased. In the weeks before and after the vote to leave the European Union, race hate crimes increased by 42%. Reports of racism have been amassing in the media, and this is no surprise. Immigration was highlighted as a common reason for Brexit amongst voters, and with the vote to leave stealing the coveted victory, those who were against immigration for racist reasons were revelling in their success.

With the value of the pound falling and the amount of race hate crimes increasing, the future of Brexit is not seeming as bright as advertised. However, some argue that the pound was overvalued before and there are, in fact, some benefits that come with a devalued pound regarding British exports and its net worth. Though there is no way to justify racism, some people believe that Brexit simply means reports of racism are piling up in the media, not the incidents themselves. Today, many people link racism in Britain with Brexit, albeit the vote for leave triumphing or the ‘problem’ of immigration may not have been the motive for all of the racist acts that have been occurring as of late.

AA

Theresa May and Grammar Schools



On 11th July 2016 Theresa May took over as Prime minister, due to David Cameron’s resignation. Having been educated at a grammar school herself, May has expressed her desire to reintroduce grammar schools in the UK.

On 9th September, May announced her plans to reintroduce grammar schools and her view that schools should have the right to choose pupils based on ability. The prime minister suggested in her plan schools becoming much more selective and she thinks the ban has been in place far too long, causing a lot of controversy amongst the public. There would be £50m of new funding put towards this plan.

The chief inspector of Ofsted thinks May’s plans will `undo years of progress’ and the labour party thinks the changes will `entrench inequality’. One of the biggest worries is that poorer pupils are under-represented in grammar schools so May declared that new and expanding grammar schools will take quotas of poor pupils or grammar schools will help run other schools to help poorer students get the same opportunities.

The prime minster stated that we are `sacrificing children's potential because of dogma and ideology’ and argues that schools are already selected on house price and wealth. Additionally specialist disciplines such as music and sport can be the basis of selection so the same approach should be taken for those who are academically gifted. The plans will also include the ability for bright children to join grammar schools, not just at 11, but at 14 and 16 as well, so all age groups receive the same opportunities.

Most people assumed an Act of Parliament would be needed to end the current ban introduced by Labour in 1998, however, this is not necessary. To ensure the system is fair, a meeting will take place on how to make the tests more inclusive so it is not limited to families who can pay for tutoring in order to pass the test. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, said his party would block these proposals to end the ban and they believe it is ` dividing children on the basis of their perceived ability at the age of 11’.

GC