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HIRSON, Baruch (1921-1999)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0101 ICS 32
Held at: Institute of Commonwealth Studies
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Full title: HIRSON, Baruch (1921-1999)
Date(s): 1912-1998
Level of description: Collection (Fonds)
Extent: 53 boxes
Name of creator(s): Hirson | Baruch | 1921-1999 | physicist, author and South African political activist
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Baruch Hirson was born at Doornfontein near Johannesburg, South Africa on 10 December 1921, the son of a Jewish electrician. Between 1944 and 1946 he worked as the political organiser for the Workers' International League, and subsequently he combined his politics with an academic career as a physicist at the University of the Witwatersrand. Towards the end of the 1950s he joined the Congress of Democrats, the white arm of the African National Congress-led congress alliance. Highly critical of its leadership and policies, with other disaffected left-wing congress activists Hirson formed the Socialist League of Africa just before the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, and later the National Committee for Liberation/African Resistance Movement (ARM). The ARM was broken in 1964, and Hirson and other leading activists arrested and imprisoned for nine years. After his release he moved to Britain, he taught physics at Bradford and Middlesex Universities, and devoted much of his time to history and the publication of Searchlight South Africa (1988-1995), a left-wing analysis of South African politics. He wrote several books or aspects of South African history and an autobiography, Revolutions in my Life (1995). He died in London on 3 October 1999.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Baruch Hirson chiefly comprising thirty six boxes of research notes including manuscript notes, typescript drafts and photocopies, arranged by subject on topics including South African politics, trade unions, racism, imperialism, industry and economics. The collection also includes seminar papers by Hirson given at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies; photocopies of correspondence on Hirson's appointment as a Lecturer in the Department of Physics at the University of the Witwatersrand, 1960; photocopy of memoranda written by Dennis Goldberg to the South African Commission of Inquiry into the Penal System from political prisoners in Pretoria Local prison, [1974]; photocopies of material on the Soweto riots, 1976, collected by Hirson while working on his book Year of Fire, year of Ash: the Soweto revolt; roots of a revolution (1979), including press cuttings, published and unpublished papers on the riots, and material produced by the Soweto Students' Representative Council and other groups including the African National Congress (ANC), Black Peoples Convention, Cape Town University Students' Representative Council, the Black Parents Association, the University of Natal Medical Students' Representative Council and the National Union of South African Students. Also archives on South African politics, history, trade unions and social conditions; also comprising papers and correspondence used in Hirson's research. Topics include Workers' International League, Communist Party of South Africa, Workers' Party, Trotskyism in South Africa, Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania, Ruth and Amy Schechter, Cecil Frank Glass, David Ivon Jones, African Peoples Organisation, Workers Dreadnought, women's suffrage movement in South Africa, South Africa and the First World War, Mary Fitzgerald, miners in South Africa (especially strike of 1946), migrant labour in South Africa, University of Bradford School of Peace Studies, South African Coloured Peoples Congress, Searchlight South Africa correspondence and accounts (c1988-c1992), Jack Halpern draft articles and correspondence (1956-1960). Also transcripts of interviews including James Philips, Lewis Nkosi, Louis Kreel, E. J. Burford, Eli Wienberg, Sam and Sarah Woolf, Dan Mokanyana, Pauline Podbury, Anne Bloch, M. B. Yengwa, Eileen Jaffe, John Gaetsewe, Jack Hodgson (June 1977), Guy Routh, and Joan Robinson/Schedrin.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
English; Xhosa; Dutch; Afrikaans: French

System of arrangement:

Original order

Conditions governing access:

Open although advance notice should be given. Access to individual items may be restricted under the Data Protection Act or the Freedom of Information Act.

Conditions governing reproduction:

A photocopying service is available, at the discretion of the Library staff. Copies are supplied solely for research or private study. Requests to publish, or quote from original material should be submitted to the Information Resources Manager.

Finding aids:

Catalogued to file and item level (see link to repository catalogue).

Archival Information

Archival history:

The first accession of 1 box of material was deposited at ICS by Baruch Hirson, date unknown. A futher 36 boxes of his reasearch files were deposited by the family after his death in 1999.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

University of Cape Town: Students' Representative Council papers on South African disturbances, 1976 (ICS 81); There are also several other collections at ICS given or deposited by Baruch Hirson, including the papers of H M Basner (ICS 88); A L Saffery (ICS 69); Josie Palmer (ICS 57) and Neil Alcock (ICS 3).

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Compiled by Alan Kucia as part of the RSLP AIM25 Project. Revised by Sarah Drewery.

Rules or conventions:
General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G), 2nd Edition, 2000. National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Oct 2001, Modified Feb 2008 and Sept 2014

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