Wars of Position: Communism and Civil Society

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Arts Languages and Cultures


Coinciding with the centenary of the October revolution, this project takes a new look at Communism in the West. The traditional focus of historians has been the failure of Parties to seize states. Drawing on the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, this project instead analyses Parties' sporadic and divisive struggles to transform civil society (media, education, science, culture). The project catalogues, opens and analyses significant archive material about Communist 'wars of position' across civil society and the internal ruptures within Parties that this emphasis caused. It commissions new interdisciplinary scholarship, much of it from emerging researchers, which reconstructs and compares the activities of Communists internationally. The project's events and publications foreground and scrutinise Communists who advocated approaches rooted in civil society. Two exhibitions at Manchester's People's History Museum defamiliarise British Communism for the general public by showcasing the range of its cultural concerns. A three-day international conference and edited book bring together for the first time historians of Communism and political philosophers currently debating what form Communism's fundamental idea--that exploitation of labour by capital is not inevitable--might take in the future. On one hand historically focussed, the project asks whether those currents of Communism angled at the transformation of civil society remain of relevance today, when so much of twentieth-century Communism has passed into history.

Planned Impact

The project will impact on the career of the PAA to whom the PI will transfer knowledge. The PAA will develop expertise in the collections, in web-page / database management, information handling (catalogues), events management (co-organising the conference), communicating with academic and non-academic audiences (talks, tours at day-school and conference), and in working on exhibitions. The project will create in the PAA expertise uniquely placed to assist the PHM and PI with follow-on projects around the CPGB holdings. The project will create valuable work-experience for three PHM volunteers / placement students, who will gain experience in working with primary materials on the pop-up exhibition, expanding their skill-base and enhancing their own employability and well-being; they will subsequently spread knowledge of the PHM's materials through the sector. The project will impact upon two students from the University of Manchester's MA in Conference Interpreting, who will enhance their CVs and experience working at the conference alongside a more experienced interpreter.
The CPGB archive will be positively impacted, as the catalogued section of its total archive (1383boxes) will increase by 4% (55 boxes). The LHASC will benefit in having its biggest collection (CPGB) substantially augmented (32% of the total LHASC collection). By expanding archive holdings and raising their profile, the project will support the LHASC's work of providing material for press stories, making more likely high-impact uses of the collection by the media (the LHASC's archive of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners recently informed research and media coverage for the film Pride). The project will support the LHASC's own 'impact' indicators, which include hosting four public-facing conferences / seminars per annum (the project adds two), four archive tours (the project adds two), and furnishing material for two exhibitions (the project adds two). The project and its two events (day-school, conference, combined attendance 130) will impact significantly on the LHASC's current visitor number (1300 visitors per year) and support its target of doubling that number by 2017.
The LHASC is housed in the PHM, a museum accredited by the Arts Council with a Designated Collection whose previous collaborations with academics are commended in the AHRC's 2011/12 Annual Report. This project's events will raise revenue for the PHM (catering, shop) which will in turn support the PHM's broader activities, including work in its Textile Conservation Studio. The project's events will contribute to the PHM's target of increasing visitor numbers to 100,000 per annum by 2017, while the international conference will entrench existing links with institutions overseas and open new connections. The project impacts upon, engages and amplifies the PHM's central mission statement that there 'have always been ideas worth fighting for.' The project will deepen the PHM's own knowledge of its specialist collections, thereby strengthening future PHM projects (such as the cataloguing and displaying of material from the archive of Communist artist Clifford Rowe), and enabling it to make more of its internationally significant CPGB collection, now and in the future. The pop-up exhibition will create impact in strengthening collaboration with a partner organisation, the WCML. It will strengthen links internally between the PHM's archive and exhibitions team, leaving a legacy of collaboration beyond the project's life. In revising and sharpening the Communist section of the museum's permanent display, the centrepiece of a museum which attracts 80,000 visitors per annum (12000 from overseas), the project will bolster the PHM's work of developing educational, social and cultural benefits for visitors, of enhancing the quality of life of its users, and of helping visitors to think differently about local, national and international history and their place in it.


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Title Permanant exhibition in People's History Museum 
Description A large section of the permanent display in the PHM was redesigned on the basis of my research. I selected the material, wrote the captions, advised about lay-out and provided material and narrative. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Refashioning of permanent display of major international museum 
URL http://www.phm.org.uk
Description The research on the grant has demonstrated the range and richness of interventions made by the Communist Party of Great Britain in civil society (that is, social activities that are not directly part of the government, state or judiciary). In particular it has drawn attention to the work of Communists in the spheres of trade unions, the church, education, science, literature, music, philosophy and the visual arts between 1920 and the 1990. It has demonstrated that this more cultural work was sometimes valued by the leadership of the party but also formed sites of opposition to dominant Communist logic and to narrow conceptions of politics and political work. It has shown that Communists often did best the cultural work that their party often valued least and that this work remains a visible legacy at a time when much of twentieth-communism has passed into history. It has shown that counter currents which stressed the importance of struggling through cultural interventions existed throughout the party's seventy-year history and were sometimes hidden and sometimes open. It has shown that these tensions around the sites of politics reflected and sometimes consciously expressed broader tensions within twentieth-century Communist and Marxist theory about the relationship between the state and civil society that stretched right back to debates about socialist strategy in the Soviet Union in the early 1920s. The project's international and interdisciplinary conference showed that similar impulses and debates existed within other national Communist Parties. The project has shown that may of the debates conducted within Communist Parties about political strategies in western societies with their highly developed spheres of civil society remain of relevance to contemporary debates about capitalism, class and political change, even though there's minimal dialogue between historians of twentieth-century Communism and contemporary political theorists. It has shows that when historians and political theorists are brought together, mutually challenging and enriching debates can be conducted which productively challenge both paradigms.
Exploitation Route In terms of academic routes, the impact is evident in the invitations that the PI is now accepting to contribute to various projects about communism and culture. These have included an invitation to the University of California in Santa Barbara to present work about the British reception of the work of Georg Lukacs (April 2018) and to Kings, London to talk about Ernst Fisher as part of an event on Marxist ides of beauty (July 2018). In February 2017 the PI was interviewed for an online podcast about Communist intellectual George Thomson as part of the Leverhulme funded Class and Classics project. In terms of non-academic, the catalogued papers have enhanced the collection of the Labour History Archive and Study Centre in the ways described elsewhere in this form. The dayschool brought these materials to the attention of a wide variety of users and analysed their significance. It also brought the LHASC's wider collections to the attention of attendees through an archive talk and tour conducted by the Project Archivist and Administrator, James Darby. The conference established and consolidated links between the LHASC and other institutions in the International Labour History Institutes and WORKLAB, the International Associations of Labour Museums through the archive panels and additional the archive tours. One visitor to the pop up exhibition was inspired to mount an exhibition on a similar scale chronicling the activities of Rock Against Racism in Manchester, which is currently being prepared. The PI has been offering assistance.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Retail

URL http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/rd/94acd89e-bc80-4759-be4a-7486c3e0681f
Description The cataloguing of 60 boxes of archive material was completed in June 2016 by the project archivist and administrator, James Darby. The material consists of rich and varied papers of three activists of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in the Labour History Archive and Study Centre (LHASC) at the People's History Museum(PHM), Manchester. The activists are Monty Johnstone (1928-2007), Paul Olive (1944-2011) and John Attfield (1949-). The new material comprises 5 boxes more than we anticipated as an additional accession was included in the cataloguing; the project therefore exceeded what was promised. The most significant collection is that of Monty Johnstone, which runs to 50 boxes. The grant has thus has increased the LHASC's biggest archive collection--that of the CPGB (1383 boxes)--by around 5%. The LHASC is visited by 1300 researchers per year and this grant has substantially enhanced its holdings in a way likely to increase further the number of visits made by researchers. These collections are now open to researchers and enhance understanding of British Communism's various interventions across civil society, especially in the post-war period. To showcase the new collections, the PI organised a day-school in June 2016 to coincide with their opening to the public. The event was sold-out (60 delegates) and brought together researchers (academics and independent), friends and associates of Johnstone and Olive, and members of the public. It was also attended by John Attfield, secretary of the Communist History Group in the 1970s and 1980s, who explained what he saw as the political and cultural significance of the newly opened archive material. Feedback from the event was very positive. The day-school substantially supported the LHASC's own 'impact'indicators (it aims to hold four public-facing conferences / seminars per year; the grant has added two). Attendees to the event also took an archive tour (the LHAC'S aims to arrange four per annum; the grant has added two).The 3 day international conference developed this work. Events included sessions on archives and archiving. Archivists at cognate institutions, including the Marx Memorial Library, gave presentations about their collections,and about the challenges of safeguarding and promoting the material contained. The first 'pop up' exhibition based on the project opened in the foyer of the PHM in early June 2017 and remained in place until the end of August 2017. It comprised eight printed double sided pull down banners plus exhibits in a glass cabinet. The responses of viewers were recorded in a visitor's book. The positive impact here was educational, social and cultural as the project's key findings were communicated in accessible form to the museum-going public. The event also attracted new visitors to the museum and its retail outlets. PHM volunteers and placement students also worked on the project; the work had a positive impact on their professional development. The exhibition was opened with a launch event which also marked the beginning of a three day international conference attended by 100 people (80% of them academics or PG students) from across the globe. All three of the keynote lectures were open to the public, free of charge, and were promoted as part of the People's History Museum's calendar of events and on its social media networks. Each of the public lectures was attended by around 20 members of the public. The impact here comprised the communication of the project's key concerns and arguments to the public. All three events have had a positive impact--social, educational, economic, cultural, political--on the work of the People's History Museum, one of Manchester's key museums. This new archive material has now been read by the PI and assimilated into his work in progress, 'British Communism's Wars of Position' (the preferred publisher, OUP, responded positively to the sample chapters submitted); the MS will be submitted to OUP in October 2018. A special issue of Twentieth-Century Communism, 'Communism and the Written Word', edited by the PI and which takes forward the project's key contentions, was published in April 2017. This included a 4000 word Introduction from the PI spelling out some of the project's key arguments. A special issue of the journal Key Words drawing on and developing the day-school's findings is currently in press. This includes a 6000 word introduction which develops the arguments made in the other Introduction. The PI has just finished a 5000 word entry on Monty Johnstone for the Dictionary of Labour Biography, to be submitted to the Dictionary editor in May 2018. This entry was sent to three of Johnstone's colleagues and friends for comments. March 2019 update. The Key Words issue is out and the Introduction also appeared on the Verso blog (the Verso web editor saw it online and contacted the PI). That DLB entry is now in press. Th People's History Museum have now incorporated elements of the pop-up exhibition into the permanent collection. The PI selected the material, wrote the tags and helped with design. This gives the project a permanent legacy. The 148000 word monograph has been submitted to the University of Toronto Press--a better fit than OUP given the books' expanded scope-- and has been sent out to readers. I expect the reports in April 2019. March 2020. The DNB, Key Words and Twentieth Century Communism publications are now out. The readers' reports for the monograph were extremely favourable: the book is now in production and should be published towards the end of this year. I have agreed to appear at a round table discussion organised by the Society for the Study of Labour History at the Marx Memorial Library on 15 May 2020 entitled SSLH Explore Archives Session. The event is targeted at archivists, heritage professionals, students and the public. My panel is entitled Archives in Action and is concerned with how the visibility and impact of archive material in can be raised. I will be talking directly about the project and sharing key insights with a new audience.
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Retail
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Description University of Manchester, SALC, Research Support Fund
Amount £2,180 (GBP)
Organisation University of Manchester 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2018 
End 06/2019
Description Academic advisor for Townsend Productions 
Organisation Townsend Productions
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution consultancy role on future productions
Collaborator Contribution as above
Impact I'll be making a follow on funding application to consolidate these links
Start Year 2018
Description Interview panel for PHM 
Organisation People's History Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution On the strength of the relationship built with the PHM over the course of the grant, I was asked to sit on the shortlisting / interview panel for the Head of Collections in early 2017 and did so.
Collaborator Contribution see above
Impact n/a
Start Year 2016
Description Pop up exhibition, People's History Museum, Manchester 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Pop up exhibition for 6 months in foyer at People's History Museum, Manchester, June - September 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.phm.org.uk
Description paper on Georg Lukacs and British Communism 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact paper at a symposium at UCL, Santa Barbara
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018