Day-school, 9th June 2016. Manchester
‘I am not ready to join the party’, wrote the novelist Harold Heslop to leading CPGB party theoretician, Rajani Palme Dutt in 1936, recognising the forbidding level of activism expected. The mandatory Communist hyper-commitment repelled potential recruits and actual members alike, especially in the early years. But others who joined the party then and later found through Communist commitment a meaningful way of life and a framework for understanding the world.
Bringing together academics from a wide range of disciplines and former party activists, this day-school analyses the complexities of commitment in the British Communist Party over its seventy-year history (1920-1991). Papers (20 minutes) might cover, but aren’t restricted to:
• The motivations and trajectories of party ‘hardliners’ who dutifully observed party discipline and the party line, regardless of misgivings;
• Communism as a way of life;
• Expulsion and the fear of it;
• Autobiographies written by former Communists;
• Figures who struggled to reconcile vocational, professional or artistic commitments with their Communism;
• ‘Loyal dissidents’ who remained fundamentally committed to the party while often challenging and seeking to enlarge its assumptions, procedures and priorities;
• Those who challenged what they saw as dominant party perceptions that ‘race’, gender and sexuality were secondary to class as sites of oppression;
• Activists who considered their ultimate commitment as being to Communist principles from which they believed the party to have deviated, and who challenged the party on those grounds;
• Those who transferred their abiding Marxist commitments to different currents or organisations—Trotskyist, New Left, Maoist—and the complex relations with the CPGB that followed.
Part of the AHRC-funded project ‘Wars of Position: Communism and Civil Society’, the day-school will be held in the Reading Room of the Labour History Archive and Study Centre in the People’s History Museum, Manchester, and will include a tour of the CPGB archive holdings. It will mark the opening to researchers of a new tranche of significant CP archive material relating primarily to the 1950-91 period (the papers of John Attfield, Monty Johnstone and Paul Olive). The event will conclude with a round-table discussion about Communism, commitment and the archive chaired by Professor Kevin Morgan and featuring Francis King (historian, former CP activist and archivist, editor of Socialist History), and John Attfield (historian and former secretary of the Communist Party History Group).
Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be e-mailed to Ben Harker (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 1/4/16