Tuesday, March 24, 2015

London's radical printmaking workshops of the 1960s and 70s


The Poster Workshop was set up in London in the summer of 1968 and closed in 1971. It was inspired by the Atelier Populaire, set up in the École des Beaux Arts, Paris, in May 1968. 
Jess Baines looks back at London's printmaking workshops of the 1960s and 70s, DIY sites of political and community activism that rejected the role of the artist to participate in a network of campaign groups, radical publishers and distributors.

Between the late 1960s and 1970s numerous alternative printshops were set up across the UK, with the founding objective of producing, providing or facilitating the cheap and safe printing of radical materials. They were started by libertarians, aligned and non-aligned Marxists, anarchists and feminists, and as such were constitutive of the fractured and fractious politics of the post-1968 left. Emerging mostly at the tail end of, or just after, the 1960s underground culture, they arose in a period that saw not just the extension of political concerns to cultural ones but also the rise of community activism and feminism. Despite their differences in position, those involved in the various printshops shared common left/libertarian ground: they were, in general, anti-capitalism and anti-'the state', anti-imperialism, anti-hierarchy, anti-racist and pro-feminist. The London-based Poster Workshop (1968-1971), which recently uploaded its archive to the web, provides a snapshot of some radical concerns of the time: the political situations in Vietnam, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Angola, Iran and Ireland; apartheid; housing; racism and rights for workers. Their rhetoric was one of resistance, solidarity, fight, strike, occupation, revolution and freedom. Later, starting in the mid-1970s, the posters of screen-printing workshops such as See Red Women's Workshop and the Poster Collective, while similarly based on principles of solidarity and revolt, became, in the main, less direct calls to action and more attempts to provide alternative and critical representations of political concerns.

The 'radical printshop' itself was not a new phenomenon in Britain; printers of contentious material have been in existence in the UK - often at the risk of imprisonment - since at least the seventeenth century. However the workshops referred to here came out of a new historical constellation of technological possibility and political and cultural imperatives.(1) Their aim was not just to produce politically radical materials but also to enact those politics through their organisational and production practices. Liberation and equality would not just occur at some future event - i.e. the revolution - but through ongoing practice in everyday life. The printshops were a nodal point in a network of activist groups, radical publishers and alternative distributors, many of whom put their politics into the way they worked and organised. A significant numbers of those involved in the printshops had been to art school and were critical of the dominant cultures of both art and mass media - a critique reflected by the Poster Collective's statement that 'In most respects we have rejected the traditional cultural role of the artist. The artist is a kind of emblem of freedom, someone who is negatively free to do anything in the name of art'.(2) In a period where radical social change seemed imminent and the critique of everything essential, the move by artists to collective practice and machine printing can, in our historical imagination, be seen to resonate with the productivist turn by artists in early twentieth century Russia/USSR.

Participation and access were key concerns in the early days and articulated through an ethos of self-help and skill-sharing. An entry for a 'self-help printer', as they were initially known, in the 1974 edition of the handbook Alternative London reads, 'Crest Press […] have meetings anyone can attend on Fridays at 3.30 to decide what to allocate their printing time to the following week - they only print what they like and give preference to political posters and pamphlets. They will teach you how to print and expect you to help. You pay cost price.' (3) In the same year Jonathan Zeitlyn, who was involved in Inter-Action Trust, a community arts project in North London, began producing the booklet Print: How You can Do It, a guide to DIY printing in which he describes how by taking charge of the means of print production, we 'the people' could begin to articulate a new culture. Zeitlyn continued producing these guides until the early 1990s, when he declared that with the development of desktop publishing the DIY idea of self-publishing had become commercialised: the activity was no longer attached to collective emancipation but to individualised self-sufficiency.

For feminists, learning the technology of print, a traditionally male domain, was as empowering as the material they produced. Onlywomen Press, a group of radical lesbian feminist writers who set up their publishing house in 1974, initially operated their own printing presses, having trained in printing at Camberwell College of Art. This was not only pragmatic but felt by them to be a 'physical, material' manifestation of their feminism, along with their commitment to training women in the production process. Other women-only printshops - e.g. Women In Print, See Red Women's Workshop and Lenthall Road - shared a similar view, although in reality the capacity for training was often limited by economics. In 1986, the Greenwich Mural Workshop produced an exhibition and catalogue called Printing Is Easy…? Community Printshops 1970-1986', with work and statements from 32 different printshops. The first part of the title is indicative; the organisers had noticed that the self-help ethos had emerged as much more problematic than initially conceived and that by the mid-1980s many printshops had become essentially service points for radical or community organisations as opposed to spaces of participatory empowerment.

By the mid-1990s most of the printshops had either folded, been incorporated into other organisations or acquired conventional (that is, hierarchical) management structures.(4) Currently only two collectives survive, Calverts and Aldgate Press, both London-based offset litho printing businesses. Speculative explanations for the disappearance of the printshops would no doubt point to a number of factors, the most obvious perhaps being that print is no longer the essential media form for radical communications, and that emerging digital technologies seemed to offer a democratisation of production without the need for collectivism - although of course they are facilitating new kinds of collaborative activity. There is little written about these organisations; the only significant published source at present is the previously mentioned Printing is Easy…?. Alongside academic research project on the subject I have set up a wiki to initiate a collective history of the printshops at
http://www.radicalprintshops.org. Anyone who was involved in the radical printshops is welcome to contribute.
Footnotes
1.     The popularisation of screen-printing and the development of offset-litho meant that printing technology became much more accessible both in terms of cost and skill.
2.     From Printing is Easy… ?, ed. Carol Kenna, Lynne Medcalf and Rick Walker, London: Greenwich Mural Workshop, 1986, p.18.
3.     Nicholas Saunders, Alternative London, 1974, p.91.
4.     For example, Paddington Printshop, which started in the 1970s has evolved into londonprintstudio, still working with a 'community' but of students and artists producing their own work. http://www.londonprintstudio.com

Monday, March 23, 2015

A couple more things before the end of March

A. exhibition of feminist silk screen posters at Chats Palace

https://whatischatspalace.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/not-a-cupcake-class-in-sight/

Mainly 70s/80s material produced by feminist print collectives like See Red and Lenthall Road Workshop.

Chats Palace, 42-44 Brooksby’s Walk, London E9 6DF

<< Enlarged Lives – an exhibition of feminist related original silk screen posters is now on the walls of Chats Palace bar. Fragile Archivists invited Jess Baines, a researcher and member of See Red Women’s Workshop, to reflect on the experience of the women's movement during the 1980’s. Here is her response.

Collectively and individually these few posters provide wonderfully suggestive clues to some of the feminist and lesbian cultural activity of 1980’s London, as well as to the context in which it took place. Most of this activity had been set in motion a decade earlier as part of the women’s movement desire to come together and unravel the limitations of our own lives, not just through talking and protest, but creatively through writing, image making and performance. >>

B. Two meetings on politics of technology coming out of the Luddites 200/Breaking the Frame discussions.
-----------------------------------------------------------

/*1. 28th/29th March. ***Women’'s Gathering* on gender and the politics of
technology, focusing on reproductive technologies*

*2. Radical Science and Alternative Technology*: /From the 70s to the
Present.
-----------------------------------------------------------

*1. Women'’s Gathering* on gender and the politics of technology,
focusing on reproductive technologies,

6pm March 28th – 4pm March 29th 2015,

The Feminist Library
meeting room, 5 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7XW.


At the first Breaking the Frame gathering in 2014, women started developing a feminist analysis of the intersection between gender and the politics of technology and how it impacts on all aspects of our lives,
e.g. in food production, work, surveillance, digital technology, and health.

At this event we will continue that process, focusing on reproductive technologies. Public debate in this area has mainly been framed as science versus religious reaction, which tends to ignore any feminist analysis. We shall be asking: are these technologies of benefit to women, and if so, which women, or do they risk our health and integrate our bodies further into the patriarchal capitalist system?

Join us to explore the issues with an outstanding set of speakers:

Jalna Hanmer and Stevienna de Saille on a radical feminist analysis of reproductive technologies
Rahila Gupta on sex selection and abortion
Donna Dickenson and Carolin Shurr on international and commercial
surrogacy
Miriam Zoll on the impact of IVF on women
Outline programme
<http://breakingtheframe.org.uk/womens-gathering-28th-29th-march-2015/>

Venue is disabled accessible, recommended minimum donation £5

All self-defining women welcome. Cheap vegan food.

For more information or to book, contact info@breakingtheframe.org.uk or
visit http://www.breakingtheframe.org.uk


*2. Radical Science and Alternative Technology*: /From the 70s to the Present./

April 11th , 1pm to 5.30pm,

Feminist Library, 5 Westminster Bridge
Road, London SE1 7XW. Free.

In our highly technological industrial society, key issues hinge on the politics of science and technology. In the 1970s and 80s the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science and the alternative technology movement campaigned against harmful corporate and military uses of technology, for 'appropriate technology' and for 'science for the people.' These perspectives are critically needed in the current environmental crisis, whilst surveillance, automation and workplace hazards continue to be major issues.

Speakers:

  * *Introductions*: Hilary and Steven Rose (BSSRS), Peter Harper
    (Centre for Alternative Technology), David King (Breaking the Frame)
  * *Energy/food politics*: Les Levidow (BSSRS), Helena Paul (Econexus),
    speaker from Anti-Fracking Movement
  * *Social control/surveillance*: Jonathan Rosenhead (BSSRS), Jim
    Killock (Open Rights Group)
  * *Work hazards*: Sue Barlow (BSSRS, women and work hazards group),
    Eve Barker (Hazards Magazine), tbc

For more information contact luddites200@yahoo.co.uk or visit
http://www.breakingtheframe.org.uk

and Reminder: Picket London Metropolitan University - Sack Bob Lambert
(see previous posts on undercover policing) 
Next picket: March 27th
... Another former officer involved in the undercover policing scandal has just been sacked by a university. Anglia Ruskin University, has confirmed it will no longer employ former DCI Gordon Mills after he was exposed as one of the senior police officers who colluded with the illegal Consulting Association, responsible for the blacklisting of trade unionists in the construction industry.
Blacklisted workers and campaigners hailed the ARU decision as a massive victory.
Anglia Ruskin have taken a clear decision, whether from ethical motives, or from fear of protest and bad publicity - employing someone with Mills' record could no longer be an option. (n the light of this - how long can London Met stand by their increasingly dubious position that Bob Lambert is an appropriate person to be teaching in their institution?
PROTEST to the people who run London Met, and demand that they sack Bob Lambert.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Next Independent Working Class Education Seminar (London) and Public History event

IWCE : planning education for change
Saturday 21st March 10.30 - 3.00
London Brunswick Community Centre, Foundling Court.
See the note on the door for Room 10.
Across from Russell Square tube station.

Provisional Agenda

Meirian Jump, Archivist & Library Development Officer, 'Archives & Education at the Marx Memorial Library’
Arthur McIvor (Stratthclyde Uni.) on Working Lives, Work in Britain since 1945 
Rosa Vilbr, An oral history on Centreprise bookshop/cafe in Hackney 
Doug Wright The history of busworkers in London and the present dispute

and "We are fortunate to have Osamu Umezaki from the Osaka Labour Archive in Japan joining us on Saturday. His interests include Oral history."

Each presentation is short and a lively discussion is welcome. 

We'll also look at the IWCE Manifesto and plan future events in Leicester, Edinburgh and London.

Cost £5.00 (includes lunch). Pay on the day.

To book email Keith Venables iwceducation@yahoo.co.uk

Also on 21st March (could look in on both):
***
Public History Discussion Group

Saturday 21st March 2015
Room 209

Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY
Room on the 2nd floor- lift and stairs to all floors
Talk starts promptly at 11.30am

“Making public forgotten black histories 1750-2014: From ghostly hands to children’s memorials on slave graves” 

The talk discusses not only traditional memorials, walking trails and artworks, but also ghostly legacies of the trade, including human body parts. Taking the small slave port of Lancaster, England, as a key case study, the talk draws on recent theoretical work on corporeality, spectrality, Holocaust studies, trauma, dark tourism, the Black Atlantic and memory studies to interrogate the meanings of these legacies. It develops the idea of “guerrilla memorialisation” used historically and in recent responses to the trade.

Professor Alan Rice, University of Central Lancashire
Alan Rice is Professor in English and American Studies at the University of Central Lancashire and co-director of the recently formed Institute for Black Atlantic Research (IBAR) there. He  has degrees from the University of Edinburgh, Bowling Green State University, Ohio and Keele. He has worked on the interdisciplinary study of the Black Atlantic for the past two decades including publishing Radical Narratives of the Black Atlantic (Continuum, 2003). Alan was academic advisor to the Slave Trade Arts Memorial Project in Lancaster, was editor in chief of Manchester’s Revealing Histories Website and a co-curator of the Whitworth Art Gallery Manchester’s 2007-8 exhibition Trade and Empire: Remembering Slavery. His latest monograph is Creating Memorials, Building Identities: The Politics of Memory in the Black Atlantic (Liverpool UP, 2010) and his latest edited collection is a special issue of Atlantic Studies on the “Slave Trade’s Dissonant Heritage” edited with Johanna Kardux (2012). He is also continuing the work on black abolitionists in Britain started in his co-edited Liberating Sojourn: Frederick Douglass and Transatlantic Reform (Georgia, 1999) with a new collection in Slavery and Abolition (2012) with Fionnghuala Sweeney. He is an advisor to museums in Liverpool, Lancaster and Manchester and his latest museum publication is a catalogue essay for Manchester’s 2012 We Face Forward West African Art exhibition. His articles have appeared in a wide range of journals including, Slavery and Abolition, Atlantic Studies, Patterns of Prejudice, Journal of American Studies and Research in African Literatures. He has organised landmark events on issues in Black history in Britain including a 2013 event commemorating the mutiny of African American GIs in Bamber Bridge. He has given keynote presentations in Britain, Germany, the United State and France and in January 2012 he gave the Martin Luther King Memorial Lecture in Hamburg. He has contributed to documentaries for the BBC, Border Television and public broadcasting in America as well as appearing on BBC’s The One Show in February 2013.  More information can be found at:
http://ibaruclan.com/



***

Saturday, March 14, 2015

7th Bristol Anarchist Book Fair

Saturday 25 April, from 11am to 6pm

Trinity Centre, Trinity Road Bristol BS2 0NW

It’s that time of year again….Bristol Radical History Group’s Radical History Zone will be taking place again next month. As per previous year’s events this will take place alongside the Bookfair.
The programme of events is shaping up as follows: 

Radical History Zone

Saturday 25 April 2015, from 11.30am to 6.30pm
Hydra Books, 34 Old Market , Bristol BS2 0EZ.

12-1 Merilyn Moos: Siegi Moos and the Anti-Nazi Movement in pre-War Germany.
Siegi Moos was an active anti-Nazi  1928-1933 in Berlin, a time which ended with the Nazis gaining power and Siegi going underground, before escaping Germany altogether. Little publicity is given to anti-Nazi movement in Germany, which Siegi’s activities shed light on. Although many of the organisations which make up this movement were originally established or supported by the German Communist Party (KPD), they were in practice semi-autonomous. Indeed, the Red Front, a crucial - and from 1929,  illegal - organisation of which Siegi was an active member, and which was key in protecting working class communities against both the growing strength of the SA and the police, was far more alert to the Nazi threat than , Merliyn suggests, the Central Committee of the KPD.  Merilyn attributes Siegi’s greater awareness to his growing up in Bavaria and witnessing first the rise and fall of the Soviet Republic in 1918/19 and then the rise and rise of the ultra-right .’

1-2 "Mac" McConnell: Housing Activism and Squatting in 1970’s Bristol. Includes a screening of 18-minute documentary The Law Breakers (1973).
Mac will begin by giving a brief personal/political history of what motivated him to get involved. He will be covering the squatting campaign that took place between 1972-1974 in Ashley Road Bristol, and direct action taken like the occupation of The South West Electricity Board showrooms (SWEB,) for example.
 The BBC West documentary will feature previously homeless single parent families, a support meeting by 'Bristol Squatter's Association,' and an interview with the then council housing chief Bill Graves.

2-3 Diarmaid Kelliher: Pits and Perverts: Cultures of Solidarity and the 1984-5 Miners' Strike
All Out! Dancing in Dulais! tells the story of London Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, a group which twinned with a mining community in South Wales. The inspiration for the recent film Pride, it is one of many examples of grassroots film-making during the 1984-5 British miners' strike. After watching the documentary, we will discuss the broad range of solidarity activism during one of the most significant strikes in British labour history: trade unionists, feminists, black activists and others created a diverse support movement alongside the industrial struggle. We will explore the roots of this activism in longer histories of connections and cultures of solidarity.

3-4 Roger Ball, Steve Hunt, Steve Mills and Mike Richardson: Book and pamphlet launch: Strikers, Hobblers, Conchies and Reds: A Radical History of Bristol 1880-1939 and ‘The Berkeley Poachers’. http://www.breviarystuff.org.uk/strikers-hobblers-conchies-reds/
Members of our very own Bristol Radical History Group will share some choice snippets from their research as an appetiser to promote two new publications, including the group’s first book-length collaboration.    

4-5 Anthony Iles and Tom Roberts: Talk and discussion led by the authors of All Knees and Elbows of Susceptibility and Refusal: Reading History From Below.

5-6.30 Tracing Movements: Resistance Struggles against Immigration Controls in Europe.
Tracing Movements is a collection of films documenting struggles against immigration controls in Europe. At RHZ, we will be screening two films:
Patra, Dead End relates the campaigns to stop the destruction of migrant camps in the port-town of Patra, Greece. Today, migrants continue to live in limbo, with no chance of gaining in Greece, and stopped from continuing their westward journey.
Across the Adriatic in the fields of southern Italy, seasonal migrant workers live segregated from Italian society. The Invisible Workforce explores the obstacles migrant workers face attempting to organise together.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Remembering Chris Pallis

a.k.a. Maurice Brinton, Martin Grainger, N. Kastings (and possibly more)
10 years on – An Integrated Brainy Life
Christopher Agamemnon (he kept that pretty quiet) Pallis died on 10th March 2005. Obituaries that appeared in the British Medical Journal, Guardian and Tribune (among others) testified to the extraordinary contributions he had made both in his profession of neurology and in the sphere of left-libertarian politics. Some extracts are given below along with added recollections and documentation.
·         BMJ  2005;330:908 (16 April), doi:10.1136/bmj.330.7496.908 http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/330/7496/908
·         David Goodway and Paul Lewis, An irreverent critic of the Bolshevik revolution. The Guardian Thursday March 24, 2005 (Corrects some minor biographical inaccuracies in the BMJ account). http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,,1444577,00.html#article_continue
·         Paul Anderson, Tribune column, March 25 2005: “A socialist for all seasons.”  http://libsoc.blogspot.co.uk/2005/03/socialist-for-all-seasons-paul.html
·         George Shaw and Richard Abernethy, ‘Chris Pallis aka Maurice Brinton: 1923 – 2005’, The HobGoblin,  - sorry, this link no longer works but the item is quoted elsewhere online.
 
Among those who attended Chris’s funeral – family, medics, politicals – on 20th March 2005 were at least two founder members of RaHN, Alan Woodward and George Shaw
The headline on The Guardian obituary – “An irreverent critic of the Bolshevik revolution” was putting it mildly. The authors’ emphasis is on Chris’s writing for Solidarity, a selection of which David Goodway edited under the title For Workers' Power (2004), including the three most substantial and influential ‘Maurice Brinton’ texts: Paris May 1968; The Bolsheviks And Workers' Control, 1917-1921: The State And Counter-Revolution (a book in itself) ; and The Irrational In Politics (1970).
<< The eminent neurologist Christopher Pallis, who has died aged 81, was also the principal writer, translator and thinker for the libertarian socialist Solidarity group, which was most influential during the 1960s and early 1970s. As a neurologist, his concept of and criteria for brainstem death have been internationally adopted; and his entry on death for Encyclopaedia Britannica is a masterpiece of historical and medical summary […] 
As a reviewer and polemicist, Pallis wrote very well. His style was punchy, accessible and wickedly funny. Especially noteworthy are his vivid reports from upsurges of popular self-activity: the Belgian General Strike of 1960-61, Paris in May 1968, and Portugal in 1975 and 1976 […]
His original work went beyond Castoriadis in certain areas. The pamphlet The Irrational In Politics (1970) explores the role of sexual repression and authoritarian conditioning in generating conformity. While derivative of Wilhelm Reich, as he acknowledged, he convincingly identified 1960s sexual permissiveness as a breakthrough in the "undermining of tradition" and terminating a vicious cycle.
Pallis's political chef d'oeuvre is The Bolsheviks And Workers' Control, 1917-1921: The State And Counter-Revolution (1970). It traces the obliteration of the Russian factory committees of 1917-18 so that by 1921 factories and trade unions had been subordinated to the new Bolshevik state and the party […] >>
 

Paul Anderson in Tribune likewise concentrates principally on the political Pallis, and on Solidarity, from a more personal, ‘insider’ (for a time) viewpoint.
<< I know lots of people who are good at more than one thing, but very few who could match Chris Pallis, who died last week at the age of 81. From the early 1960s until the early 1980s he managed to combine being both one of the world’s leading authorities in neurology and one of the most innovative and stimulating voices in British left politics […] 
I was reading his work again when I heard he had died: a collection of his essays and pamphlets, edited and introduced by David Goodway, has just been published, and I was working on a review. I had been struck by how exciting I still found his writing. Brinton’s style is aphoristic, his approach to received wisdom scornful, his erudition apparent but never intrusive. Very few political writers are thrilling: Brinton was, and still is. It is very sad that he has gone, but Goodway’s book is the best possible guarantee that he will not be forgotten. >>

For Workers’ Power, a collection of writings by Maurice Brinton
edited by David Goodway, is published by AK Press at £12


Another ex-Solidarist, Dave Lamb, who developed an interest and expertise in the philosophical implications of the brain-death debate, has pointed out in an appreciation of Chris that “it might be worth considering how his contribution to both areas overlapped and complemented each other.”
Always forceful in Solidarity discussions. Above all he was a demystifier. This was also a fundamental scientific and political objective. On the one hand were the centralist Leninists and Trotskyites, and on the other were the subjective and frequent woolly ideas of various anarchists, peaceniks, and supporters of cults. Both sides were subject to his criticism. Likewise in medicine. Marshalling scientific and historical material in support of a neurological definition of death he demystified the cardio-centrists and their traditional definition on the one hand and the frequently woolly and subjective ideas of the bioethicists, philosophers and personal identity theorists on the other hand.
Then there was his wit, which he considered essential in the presentation of arguments [...]
Fair enough, and it will strike a chord particularly with  those who were in on the brain-stem death debate and heard that famous, memorable lecture – and saw the slides, not all grim  (a wiry tangle captioned “Woolly thinking” – “Don’t copy that down”; a device for sending a signal from inside a coffin, “so that if people felt they had been buried alive ..”) The primacy of consciousness and the favouring of human decision-making based on rational assessment over a mechanistic ‘fix’, as well as the humanitarian imperative to prevent suffering, are obvious points of contact and carry-over.
Sometimes the medical-political overlap was visible and the connection spelt out, an early example being Abortion: Law and reality”, Martin Grainger’s review in Agitator no.5 (pp.14-16)  of Law for the Rich, by Alice Jenkins (Gollancz, 1960). He praised the book for doing “more than to present a well argued case against the prevailing laws. It deals systematically with all the objections, medical and eugenic, ;scientific’ and irrational, that the opponents of legalised abortion put forward from time to time.” It was an unusual choice of subject for a left-wing paper at this time, and its level of well-informed seriousness probably unique. Chris was to continue to uphold women’s right to choose, and was ready to deploy his expertise in opposition to attempts to turn the clock back after the 1967 Act. As with other issues, his support was not abstract and theoretical; he would appear on demos, handing out leaflets and selling papers, regardless of anonymity or pseudonyms. He extended his criticism of the status quo to the medical profession itself, and was concerned about developments in the NHS, as shown in a detailed critique of bureaucratic changes in 1978, reproduced earlier on this blog.
 

The BMJ called Chris the “Neurologist who defined brainstem death”, recalling the kerfuffle over a  Panorama programme in October 1980 which “alleged that patients certified as brain dead sometimes recovered, and hence that the supply of transplantable organs was skewed by doctors wanting to remove organs from trauma patients who might have recovered.”
<< Chris Pallis stepped into the centre of this controversy. As a neurologist with a strong interest in general medicine, and working in a hospital that was a transplant centre, he was accustomed to diagnosing brain death. He was, moreover, an outstanding writer and teacher. He took on the unenviable job of persuading the profession and the public that brainstem death was true death, and, indeed, that it could be diagnosed at the bedside without the need for high-tech imaging. He was the author of the BMJ's ABC of Brainstem Death (1983, second edition 1995), which remains a masterpiece of clear exposition. >>

 
This episode led to Chris becoming recognised internationally as an expert on the subject, invited to travel and spread the word, and to write on ‘Death’ for the Encyclopædia Britannica, an assignment he undertook with typical thoroughness and enthusiasm, hunting up relevant sources and allusions in the library and keen to share his discoveries. At the same time he was deeply convinced of the seriousness of the project; it mattered to him that the criteria should be understood and accepted in different cultural contexts, not only to facilitate transplants and save lives, but to prevent the distress caused to relatives and waste of resources involved in ‘ventilating a corpse’. (This concern was no doubt a factor in his continuing insistence on preserving the Brinton pseudonym for his political writings, in case anything else he wrote might be dismissed out of hand as coming from a Red or loony-leftie.)
The developments in the idea and diagnosis of brain-stem death came as a response to a conceptual challenge. Intensive-care technology had saved many lives, but it had also created many brain-dead patients. To grasp the implications of this situation, society in general--and the medical profession in particular--was forced to rethink accepted notions about death itself. The emphasis had to shift from the most common mechanism of death (i.e., irreversible cessation of the circulation) to the results that ensued when that mechanism came into operation: irreversible loss of the capacity for consciousness, combined with irreversible apnea [inability to breathe]. These results, which can also be produced by primary intracranial catastrophes, provide philosophically sound, ethically acceptable, and clinically applicable secular equivalents to the concepts of "departure of the soul" and "loss of the breath of life,' " which were so important to some earlier cultures.
Copyright © 1994-2000 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. [highligting added]
It was a heady time to observe the Pallis phenomenon, especially for anyone able to see both facets of his super-activity. In the midst of the writing, lecturing, TV interviews and incisive debate (“What was the primary pathology?”), he was also keenly interested in what was happening in Poland, where the Solidarnosc movement was kicking off in a big way, and was involved in organising the meeting that led to the formation of the Polish Solidarity Campaign. (Ian Kennedy’s 1980 Reith Lectures on ‘Unmasking Medicine’ fed into the intellectual buzz too, appealing to his conviction that issues of medical ethics could and should be explained and understood outside the profession.) Once, at the height of his media celebrity, after delivering his tour-de-force lecture on brainstem death to a large and appreciative audience, Chris made his way through the eminent  colleagues and others milling round to comment and congratulate him, to ask a member of Solidarity (who happened to be employed in a lowly clerical capacity in a unit on the Hammersmith Hospital/Postgraduate Medical School campus) something about a meeting or leaflet. Whatever the demands on his attention, he could find time, for example, to collaborate on a leaflet and to discuss whatever was going on.
His political commitment was an open secret in his work environment, even if its details were hazy to many there. The word among some overseas students was that his promotion to Professor was blocked because he  was a “communist”. It was not always easy to get across the ideas either that someone of his views may not have wanted a Professorship, or precisely what those views were. Conversely, he was always known by his own name in and around Solidarity, the pseudonyms being for writing only, and comrades were aware of his profession, most probably with comparable vagueness. It was an open secret to the security services too; the risks he ran were real. As early as 1945, when he was still a student (and unregenerate Trot), his cover had been blown:
National Archives file HO45/25486: a report on the RCP and the Trotskyist movement: "In 1946 attempts to build at Oxford University and the name of Christopher Pallis, a medical student at Balliol appears who, it is said, spoke at the Neath by-election under the name of N. Kastings."
and - in Extract from New Scotland Yard (Special Branch) fortnightly summary No. 122 for the period ended 30-11-45 - "The Revolutionary Communist Party is endeavouring to secure a footing amongst students at Oxford University, and it has printed a four-page pamphlet entitled "The Manifesto of the October League" for distribution among the students.  One of the leaders is Christopher PALLIS, a medical student at Oxford, who, under the alias of N. KASTINGS, spoke at a number of Jock HASTON's election meetings in South Wales during March."
The anti-worker, blacklist-promoting Economic League reported on a meeting held at his house in 1961:
National Archives file LAB 43/368 Economic League: statement on subversive activity in the motor industry 1961 (was SECRET). File contains an Economic League Report of 27-6-61, received by the Ministry of Labour, mostly concerned with the CP and World Federation of Trade Unions. Also mentions the National Committee of Shop Stewards as a `Communist subsidiary organisation', lists a number of firms supposedly being targeted by subversives, refers to strikes of 1957-58. At the end, page 6, the report adds: `Together with the Communist-organised activities, note has also to be taken of a new subversive movement recently set up in the engineering industry. Last March a school for practical and theoretical training of industrial agitators was held at a private house ... The "instructor" was an A.E.U. shop steward from North London, who laid it down that extremist activities in the workshops must be independent of union control and that at all costs union officials must be kept out of the factories...'
In the furore after the Spies for Peace revelations his name came up again.
[The actual perpetrators were never discovered]
A full biography would doubtless have much more to reveal about this fascinating and significant life; if the insiders’ history of Solidarity comes to fruition it may contribute to this. In the meantime we have an interview, some account of is early political trajectory, and of course his own writings, many in print and/or online, plus much still to be unearthed from the faded crumbling pages of our old magazines.

L.W.