I work on twentieth century British and European history, with an emphasis on the impact of external events on British politics. I specialise in three particular areas; the impact of the Spanish Civil War on Britain; China and the British left (which is the subject of my most recent book); and the history of Amnesty International and human rights campaigning in Britain. I am currently researching a book on the emergence of the human rights movement in Britain after the Second World War.
East Wind: China and the British Left, 1925-1976
East Wind offers the first complete, archive-based account of the relationship between China and the British Left, from the rise of modern Chinese nationalism to the death of Mao Tse tung. Beginning with the "Hands Off China" movement of the mid-1920s, Tom Buchanan charts the mobilisation of British opinion in defence of China against Japanese aggression, 1931-1945, and the role of the British left in relations with the People's Republic of China after 1949. He shows how this relationship was placed under stress by the growing unpredictability of Communist China, above all by the Sino-Soviet dispute and the Cultural Revolution, which meant that by the 1960s China was actively supported only by a dwindling group of enthusiasts. The impact of the suppression of the student protests in Tiananmen Square (June 1989) is addressed as an epilogue.
East Wind argues that the significance of the left's relationship with China has been unjustly overlooked. There were many occasions, such as the mid-1920s, the late 1930s and the early 1950s, when China demanded the full attention of the British left. It also argues that there is nothing new in the current fascination with China's emergence as an economic power. Throughout these decades the British left was aware of the immense, unrealised potential of the Chinese economy, and of how China's economic growth could transform the world.
In addition to analysing the role of the political parties and pressure groups of the left, Buchanan sheds new light on the activities of many well-known figures in support of China, including intellectuals such as Bertrand Russell, R H Tawney and Joseph Needham. Many other interesting stories emerge, concerning less well-known figures, which show the complexity of personal links between Britain and China during the twentieth century.
‘Loyal Believers and Disloyal Sceptics’: Propaganda and Dissent in Britain during the Korean War, 1950–1953
Ideology, idealism, and adventure: Narratives of the British volunteers in the international brigades
Labour History Review
A great deal is now known about the age, social class, occupation, and political affiliation of the roughly 2,500 British volunteers in the International Brigades. Far less, however, is known about their personal motivations. This article explores the narratives that have framed our understanding of the British Battalion, and asks how these narratives match up to the complexity of individual volunteers' lives, before, during, and after the Spanish Civil War. The article focuses on a number of particular volunteers such as Ralph Fox, George Nathan, and Wilfred Macartney, and shows how the study of their supposedly well-known lives can still yield surprising new insights. Above all, these stories warn against any temptation to romanticize the war in Spain and the role of the volunteers: a temptation that has often proved all too irresistible.
War in the Balkans: Conflict and Diplomacy Before World War I
China and the British left in the twentieth century: transnational perspectives